Hybrid Moments

My son came home one afternoon with an unusual homework assignment—he was to present a friend or family member with a number of paradoxes and record their attempted answers. I was the only one home at the time, having closed my shop early with the excuse that I’d be back later that evening to conduct inventory, while my wife was busy with a committee meeting of some sort, maybe the latest go our building was having at converting some of the abandoned orchards to gardens. I prepared him a light snack while he sat at the table and cleared enough space for his notebook and worksheet. These paradoxes, he explained to me, were statements of two or more disparate facts that were unequivocally true on their own but contradictory when placed together. They were entertaining at first, being that they were easy to visualize and famous enough that even I recognized them, such as the one stating the distance a bullet travels from A to B is continuously halved so it always approaches but never quite reaches it’s destination (my son and I both agreed that our only response to such a bullet would be ducking out the way), but the paradoxes quickly turned highly mathematical and abstract. I told my son that I couldn’t make heads or tails of what was being asked of me and he’d be better suited to wait until his mother came home or to find one of the miners who lived in our building, as they surely had more experience with the figures and formulas than I did. My son said he understood and retreated to his room, leaving his half-finished snack behind. I left it out, assuming one of us would finish the
rest later, and took a nap on our couch before waking what felt like minutes later to the sound of my wife opening the front door. It was brighter outside the window than it had been when I dozed off, meaning the streetlights must have come on. My wife finished the leftovers of the snack I made while she prepared dinner. We touched briefly upon each other’s days (she had in fact been at a committee meeting, but it was about a weedy procedural issue and ended with an unsatisfactory outcome), and I told her to not bother making enough food to feed me. I’d been neglecting inventory of the store for a while now, so I was eager to get out the door before my momentum disappeared. There was an all-night grease kitchen a few doors over that would serve the function if I got hungry. I told my wife I loved her and shouted the same to my son as I left.

As my neighbors came home from their mining shifts, they clung to the staircase railing as if they’d be flung into space itself should they let go. Their faces were filthy, covered mostly with dust but sometimes with dried blood. Their clothes were ripped and torn, some arms hung in slings, and their heavy boots moved incrementally up the stairs, each step a small monument. Tomorrow morning, they’d wake up before me to do the same thing all over again until they died, which was statistically weighted to occur on the job. I kept to the other side of the stairway, letting the handrail glide beneath my palm while I nodded to any neighbor who caught my eye, though none had the strength left to nod back, though perhaps the sight of me, a man whose pace was leisurely in comparison and had no boss to yell at me if I was late, no boss that could expel my son from school, and no boss to make me question how much longer I could possibly take it, filled my neighbors with disdain. If it did, I wouldn’t blame them—when my father died in his rebel bombardment, the government still granted privileges to the surviving kin, such as the right to a closet-sized storefront in the Nakamura Arrondissement one could use to buy and sell

vybrodiscks at a modest volume until they saved enough to purchase a second-story unit nearby in a building primarily inhabited by miners (now I believe the surviving kin of rebel bombardment casualties are entered into a lotto, the winner of which is able to name a mining pit, either after the survived or something else entirely of their choosing which is why we have Mining Pit Jerome Halcyon next to Mining Pit Equipment Failure), a windfall of sorts that undoubtedly saved me from a life in the mines or even worse, and an arrangement that makes me feel guilty on some days, especially when there is a sudden vacancy in our building. But this acknowledgement is not enough to make me want to work in the mines outside the dome alongside my neighbors. Rather, it is a tension that exists alongside my other feelings like gratitude and apathy.

I wondered if this would this be the type of paradox my son would be interested in as I walked to my shop, keeping the same leisurely pace I had when descending our staircase. I determined the answer was more than likely not, and he’d probably tell me this feeling wasn’t a paradox at all, but instead an issue I had to work out on my own terms. If that were so, then maybe he’d consider the qualifications of another thought that had crossed my mind lately, one that frequently appeared as I squeezed my body between old bits of machinery and sakura boxes that cluttered the narrow alleyways that led to my shop, as I stopped for breath before opening our front door after climbing the stairs on my way home, or as I strained to distinguish the sounds that come from my son’s bedroom radio against the low hum that is the unwavering companion inside my ear: life took far more effort from me than I ever suspected it would, yet it flowed ceaselessly like a river and required no effort from me at all. If both of those things were true, surely that was a paradox, was it not? Or was that also a failure of reconciliation on my end,

a false equivalence, as his logic teachers might say, between life and a river? I decided I’d keep this thought to myself. I was embarrassed to bring it up to my son on his terms and he’d surely find my ideas incomprehensible if I brought them up on mine—ideas borne from a collection of patterns and symmetries that rippled across my mind in the form of memories that refused to go away and my insistence of finding significance in that refusal. If I tried to convey these memories to my son or my wife or even to one of my loyal and eccentric customers, the bets are certain that I’d stumble and fall. So certain, in fact, that I hardly find reason to try. My customers, who have little use for for me outside of supplying the price and provenance of vybrodiscks, would prefer I keep my mouth shut and continue tending shop as I do presently. My wife, busy with her council meetings, labor assignments, and supply quartering, was often so tired that by the time I opened my mouth to mention the emerald color of a new synthetic matched the head of the wooden duck my father used to keep on his deck, my words would sound like a missive from a dream she had already slipped into. And talking to my son, who had an extensively large vocabulary that bested most adults I knew, only underscored the fact that there weren’t quite the right order of words in existence to fit the bill for what I was saying (perhaps another false paradox). This difficulty in communication meant that some of my deepest and richest days of late were those spent in silence. When I open the small door to my even smaller store first thing in the morning or first thing in the evening when I conduct inventory, I’m greeted by nothing but the click of cooling systems turning on and the display of rare vybrodiscks I keep behind my counter, including an actual LP from an American band that used a skull as their calling card (this skull often being the first smiling face I encounter), and I’m then reminded that ahead of me lies a day where a word may not leave my lips until I poke
my head into my son’s room later that evening, only to find my throat is dry and slow to waken, like the 300-ton ore freighters that take off from our harbor. It is on these days that a tapestry inside my mind is allowed to unfurl, and as those days stack atop each other, I’m afforded more of the ultimate pattern—one of the flesh, time, and space that constitute my life—and while I hold no delusions that I will ever hold the ultimate pattern in it’s entirety, that does not dissuade me from relishing each portion of the tapestry, even as these portions communicate with each other in ways that are as yet beyond my full understanding. They may even be communicating paradoxes, a sentence which surely sounds charitably private, but hopefully sounds less so when you consider the occurrence of memories and how little control one has over them, much like how a river has little control over it’s ripples, or how your life has little control over time.

Take, for example, the memories that occurred to me when I locked the door behind me to conduct inventory. My son’s homework was on my mind, as demonstrated in the paragraph above, but so were my neighbors. My hardworking, unlucky miner neighbors, all of whom were younger than me and some of whom would never live to see my age. At first I thought of these neighbors as I flipped through the dusty stacks of vybrodiscks I kept underneath boxes and tucked around corners, taking note of the title and price of each. My small customer base was almost entirely composed of miners, as they were the only ones on the colony, or at least the only ones in the Nakamura Arrondissement, who had enough money to spare on extra purchases like vybrodiscks, yet no one in my building was a customer of mine—I don’t think they even knew I owned a shop, they might have thought I was a bookmaker, or perhaps a distant relative of a mine owner. It’s not that I wondered how these minders could possibly have spent their time if not in my store (after all, I was not the only vybrodisck store around and most people preferred

the radio, anyway), but I did wonder if there was a chance any of them had never seen a vybrodisck, if they spent their youth at the gym or in the library or dreaming of building a vacation home in the mountainous region or doing a million other things that didn’t occur to me when I was young and that I even struggle to imagine now (unable as I am to conceive of an alternate world that exists outside of this one), instead of chasing down collections of vybrodiscks between evenings spent inside unregistered bars and opioid dens that littered the backstreets near the former sakura orchards on the northern edge of our colony, far away from their fathers in bombardment units, essentially hiding in sakura trees known for their piss-poor quality due to withered petals that looked closer to spoiled flesh than the delicate pink that gave our colony, Okinawa Under Heaven, it’s namesake and wealth, if the miners never spent their time drinking potent moonshine, making bets with money they didn’t have, writing songs on instruments that didn’t exist, sleeping with someone they wanted to get to know, trying to reach the far side of the dome so they could touch it, swindling a sad bastard out of ration cards, thinking they had something important to say to a girl named Virginia as the both of them found the most romantic spot they could think of underneath the neon sign downtown before later recoiling in embarrassment at what they had said while still wishing the could say those same types of things again, or staying up so long they didn’t know what day it was anymore.

If they had, then surely the miners knew the northern orchards like I did, and surely they’d know those orchards were part of the so-called northern districts, a catch-all term that described the northern edge of our colony and all the undesirables that lived there. Virginia was one such undesirable and by association so was I. Where my father was a citizen patriot from the west who died for our government, Virginia’s father, who I saw once and only in passing, was an

eight-fingered rental farmer in the north orchards, his harvests so pitiful they rarely made enough to cover the water and soil fees, meaning Virginia and her sisters were more dependent on welfare than they were on reliable income, and that sense of an uncertain future from childhood had never left her, so even a fridge full of food or rights to off-colony land would not have given a floor to the bottomless pit she called her unwavering companion inside her stomach. This, at least, is what she told me years later as we spent every last bit of money we earned together on cameras and vybrodiscks, displaying a sense of careless my wife and I never replicated, the two of us instead keeping track of all our debts and assets, meaning I relinquished that impulsivity I had as a young man with Virginia in favor of my wife’s sensibility because if I hadn’t, we wouldn’t be able to send my son to a school Virginia or I could have never afforded, not even with scholarships or a letter from my father’s commander, because my son’s school is a large stone building with stained glass windows and is the type to teach their students about paradoxes and seems to provide some sort of tract for a bureaucratic position, which is precisely why my wife and I had chosen it. Some vybrodiscks I bought with Virginia back then were still with me, but I haven’t seen a camera in years. No one I knew wanted to take photos with them. It was increasingly rare to even see a vybrodisck with a actual picture on the sleeve—most of the ones I came across used illustrations. In fact, I struggle to remember why Virginia wanted to take photos in the first place. She had a reason, undoubtedly. I know because I had once sat at her feet, enraptured with her grand vision for art and what she wanted to give to the world, both of us drunk on a little moonshine we drank out of actual glass cups because the alcohol made us talkative and every idea a wonderful one, and once we got to talking like that we felt like real artists or perhaps even greater than artists, very special people with a very special love that was
so special it even found it’s way into our grand vision for our life (hers turned to ours as our talks dragged on), but now I can’t remember a single word of what she said and am doubtful I’d understand a word if I could remember. Still, when I do come across that rare photograph on a vybrodisck sleeve, my mouth takes a shape not unlike a smile and wonders if it would be the type Virginia would have taken if she ever got around to photographing those things she talked about. These vybrodiscks are more easily uncovered on inventory nights.

I needed to stretch my legs after awhile and decided to head to the grease kitchen down the alleyway. I put a vybrodisck on before I left to make the store seem occupied—not because the Nakamura Arrondissement was dangerous, though it did have its rougher edges, but because the store could feel exceptionally lonely at night, especially so after twilight had passed. I didn’t want to return to a ghostly room. The vybrodisck I chose was one that had been in my collection for quite awhile, a compilation of punk music, mostly American, from the twentieth century. It was one of the first records from my collection that I put on sale when I opened up the store. It was on sale for a long time, in fact, as that sort of music had fallen out of favor and none of my customers were particularly interested in the genre. I had played it so much that the songs were almost indecipherable, though the sound still retained the warm quality I liked that was hard to find elsewhere. I was introduced to punk music by way of Virginia, in fact. A similar compilation vybrodisck was included in a bundle sold by one of the boys Virginia knew, a bundle of the size that could easily become the cornerstone of any serious enthusiast’s collection. I was keen to be taken as a serious enthusiast back then, so when Virginia first told me about the opportunity on our way toward what might have been a poetry reading or maybe something more political, both our faces flush with the secret knowledge that the both of us had just had sex and the strangers

around us had not, she had approached it gingerly, likely because the boy in question had shared the same secret knowledge I had with Virginia. At the time, I remember acting as if I wasn’t bothered by the connection at all, yet I failed to find any opportunity to mention it later, desperately wanting approval that I had won out in some way against the other boy, even as I traded him my electricity timetable for his vybrodiscks and Virginia and I sat in darkness for a week as I cooled her off with a large folding fan we stole from the dining room of the Laotian restaurant while I tried to catch glimpses of the labels from the orphaned light that made its way through our blinds and ran my finger across the dark purple material that contained sounds recorded decades ago on a planet I’d never see, debating which one I’d play first, imagining the feelings I would feel when I heard the vybrodisck for the first time and the grainy, decaying sounds came out of the speakers Virginia and I placed on both sides of the couch and both sides of the bed, even then I asked probing questions about the boy who owned my electricity timetable for the week. That desire and insecurity, as embarrassing and relatively short-lived as they were, are as concrete in my mind as the images of events that actually happened. The confusing part to me, or the paradox, if you will, is how both of those objects which hold equal weight in my mind can exist as different states of manner, one solid in the world of images, and one mercurial in the world of feelings. Written like that it seems to be obvious, so worded a different way I might say the confusing part is how the content of the feelings can change after I’ve already felt them, or if it is the content of the feeling that changes or only my perception of it, or if content and perception can be separated at all when it comes to feelings. This is what I thought about as I ate my dinner alone at the grease kitchen.

Ooo baby when you cry, your face is momentary. That was a line on one of the songs on the punk complication vybrodisck I had bought from one of the boys Virginia knew, a song called Hybrid Moments. It still gets stuck in my head from time to time, proving I was right when I figured I had heard the song enough for a lifetime when I sold it to an collector years later and used the money to buy an actual LP that included the song, the skull faced record behind my counter I mentioned four paragraphs ago. I still haven’t heard the actual LP—if anyone on Okinawa Under Heaven owns a working record player, they haven’t introduced themselves to me—and there are times when I regret my decision to sell my original copy.

There were a few of Virginia’s vybrodiscks that somehow ended up in my collection after we had split up. She collected deathly ones. While I can’t deny we both had a flair for the dramatic, I don’t think her interest in that sort of music was related any darker edge she might have had. Rather, it was closer intwined with her appetite for life, which tended to outweigh even my own——she was more often than not the one convincing me to leave our room and take what I could while it was still available, like all-night parties in storehouse basements where sacks of fertilizer muffled all sound or dinner parties in the northern districts where they served foods I never ate before and talked about politics and ideas, though I suppose this voracious appetite of hers didn’t necessarily exclude her from melancholy or the darker edges. You don’t hear much about it these days, but deathly music used to be quite popular—long and quiet songs that were essentially narratives about people approaching the moment of death and their journey into the beyond were all the rage. Don’t ask me why the genre caught on like it did, but you couldn’t walk past a karaoke bar without hearing someone belt out a song about passing from this mortal plane before becoming each honeycomb in a hive of bees or some such thing, whereas now

deathly songs are not much more than the butt of the occasional joke. I don’t carry them in the store, and no one asks for them, either. I doubt my son knows what a deathly song would sound like. Despite it being her favorite genre, the only time I remember hearing Virginia speak directly about why she loved deathly songs so much was when we were on the bank of a holoriver in the mountainous region on the first and only trip we’d taken together, the two of us feeling like fugitives in the midst of families on holiday with fully equipped picnic baskets and proper recreation clothes. We were on the second day wearing the same pair of work coveralls stolen from her father’s shed, as the bulky pockets were perfect for hoarding anything else we could get our hands on and we liked what the outfit signaled about us to the rest of the world. There, backlit by the digital blue of the holoriver with an empty camera hanging around her neck, Virginia told me she liked deathly songs because all the different ways the singers described death and what happened afterward made her feel less afraid and almost excited for the day she’d get to experience death herself, provided it was as beautiful as some songs claimed. Saying this embarrassed her, I think, for she immediately changed subjects and led me to some secluded place behind a rock or a tree so we could kiss each other and struggle to do something with our coveralls. I stayed silent and did not acknowledge what she told me, not because I didn’t appreciate what she said but because I found the moment so perfectly fit to the bohemian life I wanted to live that I felt no need to spoil it, and now, years later, I can remember that feeling of silence in my mouth similar to how you remember a delicacy, like a sakura cake or the sweet taste of sakura wine. On our way back from the mountainous region the next day, in the standing car of the tram, Virginia listened to one of her deathly songs, one that described the journey from bone into sand, and offered me a chance to listen. I refused, however, because I found that type
of music awful. Instead, I rested my head against the window and closed my eyes, trying to preserve how pretty I thought Virginia looked, silhouetted against the digital blue, a camera around her neck with her hair in a bun and her makeup half undone because we couldn’t afford a hotel room with a shower.

The holoriver is gone now, replaced by a makeshift village you might find in the Alpines on Earth, or at least the equivalent of what our poor little colony imagines such a village to be. I discovered this first hand when I brought my family there recently, long after the rumors Virginia had traded our colony for another on the frontier had faded from my mind, but before my son started studying paradoxes in school. My wife and I strolled behind my son as he ran to every storefront along the main road trying to open each door, even the ones that were purely decorative. He had a healthy interest in Earth at that age, much like I was interested in spaceships and war platoons when I was young, and that was primarily the reason my wife and I decided to close shop for the week to take him to the mountainous region—that was likely the closest my son would ever get to Earth, and seeing the joy on his face as he handled replica wooden toys, ceramic bowls, straw brooms and horse saddles was worth the income we’d lose from my misfit customers who waited outside my shuttered store to see what new vybrodiscks I managed to snag each week. We held hands as we watched our child, both of us surely feeling something close to happy, perhaps even beyond it. The boulevard was on an incline that slowly crept toward the foothills of the mountains, and I was struck by how strenuous I found it, having nearly stopped to catch my breath had it not been for the pride I felt in front of my son and the other young mothers there. I couldn’t imagine running around to find a secluded spot behind a boulder or a tree to do something with a pair of coveralls, let alone do the same on little sleep and a

stomach full of nothing. I turned to my wife and saw her smiling, looking not at our son, but at an old man in traditional costume playing an instrument I’d never seen before, a long string held taut between the end of a stick and a bucket. He plucked it at different intervals, the sound changing depending on where he held his finger, and whistled a melody to complement the tune. People crowded around him, including my son, who eventually gave up on the stores full of things we couldn’t afford. The old man pluck and sang at an alarming rate. The faster the music played, the more people started to dance until finally a makeshift jig broke out which included me, my wife, and my son as participants. We swung each other around and our dancing morphed from a halfhearted attempt at a joke to a serious attempt at expression. It’s safe to say we lost ourselves in the music, and it’s still a cherished memory in my family, one that almost has a mythic status that can crack a smile on even our stories days. When the music stopped, everyone who had money to spare gave some to the old man, with my son giving him a large portion of the small allowance we’d provided for souvenirs. The old man accepted it from my son with both hands, and I noted he had only eight fingers, which, according to my wife when I mentioned it later that night over an overpriced dinner in the hotel bar after we’d put our son to bed, was a common occurrence for the old sakura farmers who worked with complicated blunt tools that were eventually replaced with expensive machinery before the industry died altogether.

I wonder, then, if the same replacements will someday come for the miners, who eat in the grease kitchen beside me on late nights, help their children with paradox homework, and frequently flip through vybrodiscks with mangled joints and facial disfigurements, the price they pay for giving our colony a renewed raison d'être, sometimes missing two, four, or even eight fingers, an absence I see when they flip through vybrodiscks with mangled joints and when they

place their hands against the glass to look at my window display on their way to a bar or lord knows where else, which then causes me to wonder if any of them ever pause long enough to look up at the small sign above the door announcing the name of my store, Virginia Slims, the name of an extinct American cigarette brand named in a song my wife and I danced to at one of our early dates that also hints at the small confines of my store. Will the miners ever get a replacement for their dangerous tools? If they do, some miners will surely champion the progress production and capital have brought to their profession, while others will bemoan the loss of the old ways and resent the march of time that has little concern for their personal preferences. I suspect the majority of miners, however, will accept their new tools with little thought and have brief, fragmentary reveries about their old tools without having much time to stop and think about why these memories resurface when they do and whether it’s possible to string any number of these memories together to paint a portrait of significance or if their memories are more akin to oil patterns in water, digital aberrations in a holoriver, or clouds on Earth, meaning they are formless and any pattern given to them is an aftereffect, or if both statements are true. I’m being coy, of course, but I do wonder about the miners. I don’t have an answer for the question, at least not one succinct enough for my son to record.