The Purp: Joel Tagert

DaveDanzara_WhatLiesBeneath_092_Birdy_JoelTagert_ThePurp
What Lies Beneath by Dave Danzara
The Purp
By Joel Tagert
Art by Dave Danzara
Published Issue 092, August 2021

 

The doomsayers crowded the corners but between them there was no agreement. NEW YORK WILL DROWN, read one sign. NUCLEAR WAR 10/21/35, said another. Still others mentioned plagues, droughts, assassinations, but no one took them seriously. Everyone knew the really successful prophets were behind paywalls.

As a child everyone had called her Breezy, but in college one of her professors pulled her aside and told her to ditch the nickname. Since college she’d done nothing in particular. Tried teaching children at a preschool and generally liked it, though she got angry sometimes, and finally the pay (or lack thereof) drove her back to the coffee shop where she still worked, five years later. 

Now she was convinced, suddenly, that she’d found her hidden talent. “I was thinking of trying forecasting,” she told Jared that evening as they were readying for bed. 

He frowned. “You mean a personal reading? Half of those fortune tellers are bogus, you know. Just frauds. And even if you find a real one, it won’t necessarily help you. I was talking with Ignacio at work the other day, and he –”

“I don’t mean my forecast,” she interrupted. “I mean doing it professionally. Going in for an audition.”

He looked at her like she’d announced she was going to get a tattoo of an asshole on her forehead. “Those people are crazy drug addicts. You didn’t see them downtown this afternoon? ‛The world’s gonna burn!’ and that stuff.”

She rolled her eyes. “Sure, except for Maisie Spence, and Virtuoso, and all the corporate forecasters you don’t even hear about.”

“They’re still addicts, Breezy,” he argued. “They’re just better at keeping it under control.”

“Don’t call me that,” she said. She had wanted to tell him about the dream she’d had, about the Statue of Liberty and the wave engulfing the city, but he kept at it and finally she acted like she agreed.

***

On Friday she sent Jared a text saying she was going out with some friends, and went instead to an office building in lower Manhattan. She had tied her hair back severely for the occasion, seeking a more professional look. The building was a rectangular monolith unbroken by ornament, a black fist striking the face of November. She took an elevator to the fifty-third floor, where she took a number and waited with several others, all believing they had some inkling of what was to come.

“I saw you,” one woman confided to her. She had yellowish skin, body lumpish under layers of sweaters, scarves, coats.

“When?” Brianna asked.

The woman smiled like she knew a secret. Her teeth were bad, her gums a disturbing dark bruised color. “In the winter. You’re running on the beach.”

“I like beaches.”

“You’re running away from something. Running for your life.”

It could be true. Obviously someone here thought this woman had talent, and by the wild light in her eyes she certainly believed what she was saying. “Do I make it?”

The woman’s smile fell, and suddenly she looked angry. “I don’t know. I’m not God. You take what you’re given, don’t you, no matter how much purp you got, you can’t see everything, and even if you do, you can’t take it with you. No one can remember all that, and anyway there’s always the big ones at the top fucking with things. Even if you see something you don’t know that they won’t change it. You’re just –”

“Celia Hayes,” the receptionist called from the doorway, and the woman stopped mid-rant, put her mad smile back on and stood up. Brianna wondered if they’d called her just to shut her up.

A guy sitting across from her gave her a sympathetic look. He had very dark, smooth skin, shaved head and face. Neatly dressed in tan slacks, blue button-up shirt and red sweater, but cheap, like he’d bought it all from a Goodwill rack. “Purplemouth,” he said.

“Sorry?”

“PRP addict,” he enunciated. Something Caribbean in his accent. He shook his head. “I’m surprised they let her in here at all, but maybe she had some talent once.” He rubbed his chin, musing. “Doesn’t matter. They’re not going to take her.”

Brianna glanced back at the doorway. “Why not?”

He looked off to one side. “She’s going to die next Wednesday.”

Brianna frowned. “Are you serious?”

“Yes.”

“How do you know?”

He shrugged, a little helplessly. “I dreamed it.”

“What, does she overdose?”

“No. Brain tumor.”

He didn’t seem crazy, she thought. Actually very calm. With a burst of inner enthusiasm she suddenly felt that this could be real, and understood that until then she hadn’t really believed, had been unconsciously on the side of the skeptics. Now she thought dizzily, I could actually see the future. “What’s your name?”

“Damay.”

“Brianna.” She offered her hand and he took it and smiled. “I know,” he said.

***

The doctor she saw after the tests, Dr. Braun, looked to be in his mid-forties, with weathered skin and light reddish hair and eyebrows. With the pleased air of someone delivering good news, he said, “So it looks good.”

“Oh!” Her eyes widened. “So … good is good, right?”

“Yes! You’re very healthy, psychologically stable, no problems on that front. And your neurological profile, what we’d call your prognostic profile, is very promising. I could try to explain it to you, but honestly unless you have an advanced degree in neuroscience it’ll be a bunch of gobbledegook. Suffice to say, we like your profile, and would like to begin the clinical phase.”

“What does that mean?”

“Basically, you’ll be taken to another room, and given a small amount of prognostisone perzisec. We’ll monitor your responses, and afterwards ask you a series of questions about your experience.”

They were actually talking about it. PRP. The Purp, Purple Dragon, Purple Rain, Purple Haze, the Purple People Eater. “When?” she squeaked.

“It’s up to you. You can go home and think about it if you want, and schedule a later appointment. Or we can move ahead right now.”

“Can you …” She swallowed. “Will it turn my gums purple?”

He chuckled. “That kind of discoloration is an effect of the street drug. Users rub it on their gums. This, on the other hand, is pharmaceutical grade PRP administered via syringe, completely clean. For your first experience we’ll give you just five micrograms. You should regain normal consciousness within a couple hours.” Seeing her still hesitating, he continued, “We can give you some more materials to review at home, if you want to schedule a later appointment.”

“No,” she said suddenly. “I want to do it.” Before she lost her nerve. 

***

The room they took her to was completely different than the medical lab she’d expected. Comfortable-looking couches, carpet soft and thick as good latte foam, art on the walls. A door and a big mirror on the right-hand side. And for the far wall, floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the Hudson. She slowly walked over to them, hugging herself, and there was the Statue of Liberty, seen in profile. I saw this in my dream, she thought wonderingly. 

“Make yourself comfortable,” Braun said. “Feel free to use the bathroom if you need to.” He crossed to the right-hand door and went in. She glimpsed computer equipment, cabinets. The big framed mirror, she realized, was an observation window. 

After a minute’s wait she decided she did need to use the bathroom after all. When she returned Braun was wheeling a little cart out from the observation room. “Where do you want to sit?”

She chose a chaise and lay back. First he handed her a coronet like the one she’d worn in the initial testing. “Can you put this on, please?”

“Do I have to wear it the whole time?”

“Afraid so. Don’t worry, you’re not likely to even be aware of it.”

“What will I be aware of?”

“That depends. Can you hold out your right hand?” He fastened a magnetic wristband onto her arm. “This will monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, all that stuff.” He sat back in his wheeled chair. “It’s not dissimilar from dreaming. Just more intense.”

“Have you ever done it?”

“No. But I’m guessing you want your doctor to stay sober.” He smiled winningly. “Really, there’s nothing to worry about. This is a safe environment and you’ll be under constant monitoring. If there’s any advice to be had, it’s not to resist it. Just let the experience wash over you. Okay?” She nodded. “Can you pull up your sleeve for me?”

With her inner elbow bare, he swabbed the area with a little Bactine, then turned away and reached into the top drawer. When he turned back around he held the syringe with his arm loose and dangling, below the level of his thigh, keeping it out of sight until the last minute. She’d seen dentists do that, like they were sneaking up on a sidling horse. “All set?”

“Sure.” 

As he lifted the syringe she saw that its contents were a deep purple. The color of eggplant, or the night sky before the dawn. The night drew her in.

***

She thought she slept but dreamt that she would wake. She would stand up and see Dr. Braun there. He would ask, “Doing all right?” And she would nod.

She opened her eyes. Her limbs were like distant planets, her head floating far above the sun of her heart. She stood up. Dr. Braun asked, “Doing all right?” She nodded.

I will walk to the window. She walked to the window. This was the beginning. She saw it rippling outward from there, saw her path through the building as she left. She was upset about what she had seen. She would stand in the elevator and look at the numbers and know who was getting on. She would tell the taxi driver his brother was in the city and where to find him.

She would walk home half in a daze, half in a panic, feeling frozen at the knowledge. Jared would be depressed. He would have lost his job. He would be irritated by her absence. She would lie and say that she was drunk and Mary Anne had bought shots. 

She was still walking toward the window. Each step was writ in stone. They formed a continuum that extended onward endlessly. She thought of Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, the stuttering images.

She would return to this place and see the doctor again and again. She would become important to them. Jared would be angry but would let her pay the rent.

She would quit her job. She would split with Jared. She would change apartments. She would become distant from her friends. Mary Anne would see her and look afraid. 

Flashes, images on a fluttering film reel. Damay, who she’d only just met in the waiting room: Damay’s flashing smile, Damay in bed, Damay walking with her in orange-leafed woods with a fearful feeling. Something was coming. She would lay in bed alone, a phantom pain in her shoulder, blood on the walls, people shouting. 

A crowd in the streets, hungry and shouting. A blue banner, a white fist holding a sheaf of wheat. Gunfire.

Something was coming. She was at the window. This is now, she tried to think, but when she raised her hands to her face it was just one bubble in the stream, one flickering frame in the reel: she raised her hands, she had raised them, she would raise them, she was raising them. She was holding her head in her hands and staring out at the city below her, at the time radiating out from this point, at the Statue of Liberty, who seemed to turn toward her in concern.

“The wave,” she whispered, in warning and terror, only it wasn’t a wave but a blinding flash of light that seared some inner eyelid. Another flash, or the same one over again, and again, like God’s camera, but now she heard the boom and the roar and saw the fire exploding out through the city, a giant’s fist smashing the buildings to glowing shards at a thousand miles an hour, hundred-story structures disintegrated to puffs of dust in a fiery hurricane. 

She heard the screams, a million cries of mortal anguish rising in a single howl only to be silenced by the next flash of light. She saw the panicked and futile attempts at escape, cut short by flash after flash, the city pounded flat and melted to glass. She saw the firestorm rising above the annihilated city. 

“No,” she cried. “No, stop it, stop it!” She was weeping and shaking, she was hammering her fist on the glass, she had fallen to her knees, she was burning and blasted along with everyone and everything she had ever known. Then Braun was beside her holding a pneumatic syringe, murmuring useless reassurances. She looked up at him pleadingly, tears streaming down her face. “We’re going to die,” she told him. “We’re already dead. We burn, we burn alive –”

“It’s okay,” he said calmly. “Everyone sees that the first time.” With a hiss like letting the air out a tire he pressed the syringe against her arm.


Joel Tagert is a fiction writer and artist, the author of INFERENCE, and a longtime Zen practitioner living in Denver, Colorado. He is also currently the office manager for the Zen Center of Denver and the editorial proofreader for Westword.


Check out Joel’s July Birdy story, Prism and Prison, here.


Dave Danzara has spent most of his life creating art. Born and raised in California, Dave won a scholarship to Laguna Art Institute of Southern California in 1994. His influences can be found in pop culture, sci-fi, fantasy, film and music. Graphic design and digital collage art have become Dave’s passion and signature. Thanks to social media, Dave has attracted the attention of musicians worldwide and has created album artwork for several bands of various genres. From Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Los Angeles, California, Dave’s art has been featured in many art galleries. He has 10 years of experience as a freelance videographer and is the Director, writer and Producer of “The Video Craze” documentary film. He is the owner of Vector Invader Productions. He has been involved in numerous freelance projects and short films. Dave enjoys the challenge of creating art; for him, it is a lifestyle. Find Dave’s work on Instagram: @lostintimedesigns


Check out Dave’s July Birdy art piece, The Killing Moon, here.

Scroll to Top