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THE MEANING OF LIFE
To gather experience over countless lifetimes.

We Realize who and what we really are, and come to behave like That.

Ignorance of That and associated bad habits result in mistakes and consequential suffering.

The accumulation of experience eventually brings us to realize that we are not separate from others, which forms habitual devotion to the ultimate welfare of all.
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” ‘The Dark Lord has forbidden me to speak of it,’ Narcissa continued, her eyes still closed. ‘He wishes none to know of the plan. It is… very secret. But —‘ ”

In an animated voice, Suri’s mother, Aggie, read again from Harry Potter. The hot summer air hung like steamy wet towels in the night and mixed with the smell of the evening’s fried fish sticks to thicken the mustiness of their home. Suri was annoyed by the dilapidated condition of the furniture, shifting his weight on the open gash in their sofa. The one light in the room, by which Aggie read, cast strange shadows, even stranger with the eerie stillness of the companions seated on each person’s lap, their oppressiveness seeming to loom over them all.

Suri’s older sister, Ophie, and his twin, Ellie, seemed to be listening intently but his own thoughts were consumed with the application he’d sent that morning to Queen’s University, trying to think of some way to pay for it, if he got accepted. Aggie had forbidden them all with threats of violence and abandonment, should they ever leave home, so no one knew he’d applied. Even if it didn’t show, his companion, Sarah, seemed angry at him today. In his mind, he could hear her mumbling and hissing at him, and her flawless face seemed to frown, even sneer. But if Sarah was angry, how much more so would Aggie be? Would Aggie take Sarah away and lock her in the basement again? He couldn’t stand the idea of having Sarah taken away again.

Like the other companions were to their owners, Sarah was a part of himself, a voice of reason, of beauty, hope and guidance, besides a constant demand on his attention. Sarah’s round face with incredibly life-like color and deep-blue crystal eyes were a bigger part of his life than his sisters, even his mother. Sometimes he just gazed into those eyes for hours, trading ideas and secrets, bathing her, brushing her long blue hair, conversing with her in his head. But whenever he left the house, Sarah’s demands for constant attention always tugged at the back of his mind. She was his personal secret intimacy in an unfriendly and impersonal world.

Aggie read from the book and the companions listened every bit as intently as their owners did. Aggie’s own two companions leaned back against the wide armchair in which her great bulk reclined. Their faces, like those of the other companions, were unmoved and inhumanly placid, staring into the distance as usual, so unlike his sisters who leaned in and listened with obvious wonder at the adventures of Harry, Hermione and Ron.

Ellie snuggled closer to him, seeming close as twins will be, giving no other hint to their incest, but Suri already felt an uneasy distance from her and the others. These women were everything to him; how would he live without them? Suri had no father to look to for an example of how to act. The male companions were no help because he couldn’t talk to them about school, or college, or girls. In fact, he couldn’t talk to them at all, being able to hear only Sarah’s voice in his head. But when he left for college, he wouldn’t be alone. He would take Sarah with him. When anyone at college noticed Sarah, he’d explain her as a “collector’s item,” which indeed she was: three feet tall, fully articulated, super-realistic porcelain face, flawless blue plastic hair, and an impeccably tailored wedding gown. No one would guess she was actually alive.

Aggie finished the chapter and said, looking up at her children and the companions, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens next month, did you know?” Everyone nodded. Of course they knew. Patting her companions lightly on their backs she added, “Elizabeth and David here tell me they love the Harry Potter books so much they want to see the movie this time.”

Suri glanced at his mother’s companions, Elizabeth and David, with their ultra-realistic faces and eyes, she with her immaculate straight platinum hair, and David with his equally perfect black plastic hair, she in the small black evening gown, breasts swelling at the top, and David in his tuxedo and shiny shoes.

As real as all of the companions looked, none matched the face of Elizabeth. If Suri looked into Elizabeth’s eyes, he felt they were staring not back at him, not through him, but deep into his most secret self. While all of the companions spoke only to their owners, none of the other companions gave the incredibly creepy feeling he got when looking into Elizabeth’s eyes. But with Aggie’s announcement, Elizabeth and David just sat there, perfectly still and indifferent, as though they hadn’t heard Aggie at all. Their indifference was intimidating in the face of the emotional havoc Aggie was creating. “I think we should take them and the other companions to the movie with us,” Aggie insisted.

Suri looked at his sisters, both visibly troubled, fretfully rubbing their companion’s backs, and glancing nervously again and again into their companion’s eyes, clearly trying to deal with their companion’s chatter in their heads. Sarah’s head actually seemed to turn to face him, and exclaimed in his own head, “What the hell do you think she’s up to? She’s going to get us all beat up! Or ruined!”

For all the companion chatter in everyone’s heads, the room crackled with electric silence. His sisters looked every bit as frightened as Suri felt. The companions had always been a strict family secret. Every time any of them had described the secret to a friend or outsider, or shown one of them to a visitor, they had been severely chided and bullied for being so weird. Everyone had learned to fear discovery of their secret. This outing was a terrible idea, yet the notion of contradicting Aggie was even more terrible. Aggie could send any of them to the hospital, bleeding or burned without warning. Suri looked again at Elizabeth and David, freakishly unmoved and aloof, yet for some reason, Suri suspected that Elizabeth was behind this, but for what reason he could not guess.

Aggie leaned forward toward them all in her an enormous brown dress that outlined her huge, sagging, bra-less breasts. Her 49-year-old face was almost transparent for lack of sun. It had a drooping mongoloid look, and a scary angry frown had become a permanent expression above her sagging chin. “I’ve thought about it a lot,” Aggie continued. “I’ve been wanting to show more of the outside world to the companions for a while. They never go out. David has always been my guide and guardian, but David never wants to do anything outside the house. Now he wants to see a movie, so this is our chance. We’ll bring them into the world, yet keep them hidden in plain sight. We’ll take the subway to a theatre far away, where nobody will recognize us. We’ll carry the companions in shopping bags, as if they were just dolls.” She hugged David and Elizabeth with excitement. They shook stiffly. “Won’t that be wonderful?” she asked, looking from one to the other, giving them another squeeze. “Eh?”

Only Suri’s twin, Ellie, timidly spoke up. “What about the secret? You said we have to keep the companions secret because other people will bully us again about them. We’d be breaking the secret. People will be angry.”

Aggie dismissed her daughter’s concern with a backhanded flick of her bloated white wrist, at which Suri and the others flinched reflexively, from painful experience. “We’ll just be careful about it so no one notices we’ve taken them out of the shopping bags.” Suri and his sisters didn’t respond. Nobody wanted to argue with Aggie. Everyone feared her when she was angry. Even in their teens, beatings with a wooden kitchen spoon, or a leather belt were common. Once, when making french-fries, Aggie had threatened to throw the boiling oil on them, and had threatened them all with a butcher knife on several other occasions. Nobody knew what to expect of Aggie at any given moment; she might blow up without cause or warning, so they all avoided her anger at any cost.

***

Suri watched the other patrons with popcorn, drinks and candy in their hands, file through the entrance and scatter throughout the huge quickly filling theatre. As planned, they’d arrived a full hour before an evening show, after shopping hours in the mall had just ended, so their huge paper bags wouldn’t be out of place. Aggie chose seats in the front row of the theatre, just above the access aisle so the companions would get a full close-up view of the enormous screen. When the house lights came down for the seemingly endless train of commercials, still following the plan, they swiftly removed the companions from the shopping bags, hoping to attract as little attention as possible.

Suri had been dreading this day. In all his life, they had never gone out of the house with their companions. Sarah was eerily silent about it; normally Sarah had something to say about everything he thought. Suri had considered finding some excuse to avoid the trip, but as always, heeded Sarah’s warnings about his mother’s fury. Sarah was just as afraid of Aggie as he was. So he went with them as expected, with Sarah tucked in her shopping bag. But through the whole trip he was constantly, nervously looking around with wide frightened eyes, to the point where, on the subway and in the queue at the theatre, people stared at him for this reason alone. Of course, their staring made Suri even more nervous, which attracted even more attention. He was relieved when they finally found their seats, but he couldn’t help sitting up sideways on the edge of his seat, looking back and forth and around at everyone taking their places. This behavior continued to attract attention to him and to Sarah, who was very conspicuous, sitting on his lap.

Aggie’s huge bulk took up most of a theatre seat so David had to stay in the shopping bag on the sticky floor at her feet. She held Elizabeth on her lap, stroking her hair and back in an attempt to calm her. Aggie was stroking Elizabeth and hugging her because she was, like all the companions, anxious in this first foray into a public place. The companions were all stiffer than usual, anxiously complaining and chattering into their owner’s heads, as if mirroring each owner’s worries.

Ellie seemed less worried than the others. She leaned carelessly against Suri, stroking her own companion, Christopher. Christopher matched Sarah in so many ways that they might be twins, like their owners. Christopher’s face seemed to be made of the same porcelain mold as Sarah’s, but of course didn’t have the long dark eyelashes that Sarah had, nor the red lipstick and rouge; but the eyes and cheeks and jaw had the same rounded perfection. And of course, while Sarah was dressed in a wedding gown, Christopher was in a tuxedo. It seemed to Suri that Ellie’s Christopher was always staring at his own Sarah, staring at her in a disturbing way. Suri wondered what kinds of things Christopher told his sister, in her head. Maybe he was telling her to do things, things that were wrong, forbidden things, like fuck her brother, and keep him right there beside them while she did so.

As the sixth Harry Potter movie began to play, and the spooky Warner Brothers logo formed out of the angry storm clouds on the screen before them, Aggie began periodically leaning down to whisper to David what was happening on-screen. Suri couldn’t help noticing with alarm that this attracted the attention of nearby patrons who whispered and pointed. Others farther away noticed this disturbance and did the same. Suri watched in mute horror as wave upon wave, the entire theatre, it seemed, took notice of them and whispered and pointed at them and laughed amongst themselves. Why, oh why hadn’t Aggie chosen the back row?

Oblivious to all of this and excited with the start of the movie, Ellie snuggled closer to Suri. She kissed his cheek and softly cupped his balls with her left hand as she stroked her companion’s back with the other. Suri quickly shifted Sarah’s position on his lap to hide Ellie’s hand, the companion swaying rigidly back and forth in the act. But Suri feared only to have attracted more attention by trying to hide Ellie’s hand; he heard whispers behind them. He wanted to push Ellie’s hand away, but it felt too good. How could he go away to university and leave the serene oblivion he always felt when Ellie squeezed his balls while he was inside her? With Ellie’s hand resting absent-minded on his balls, he hardly noticed what was happening on the screen. At 18 she had such a beautiful slim body, (particularly beautiful sans clothing, Suri thought) in spite of her small boyish breasts, the family’s drooping eyes, flat nose, thin lips and unattended hair. To Suri, she had such an enchanting name: Euryale [you-RYE-ellie], the gorgon sister of Medusa. So much more beautiful than the name their mother had given him. In his mind flashed a scene where Aggie watched Star-Trek with awe and wonder at the resurrection of Surak, the ancient philosopher who established the anti-emotion movement among the Vulcans. Why had she named him after such a cold emotionless person? He felt anything but cold and emotionless. He was hot and tormented.

The companions all screamed into their owner’s heads as the Weasley home came under attack by Bellatrix. Everyone covered their companion’s eyes with their left hand so they wouldn’t see the fury of the attack and the burning house on the screen. Suri noticed Aggie furiously stroking Elizabeth’s hair and whispering reassurances, shielding her eyes with her other hand and again bending down to tell David what was going on in the movie. He was acutely aware that people around them watched her do these things, whispering and laughing. Looking at the shopping bag at Aggie’s feet, Suri remembered her telling, time and again, the story of how she had found David.

Aggie had told them that she’d run away from her drunken abusive mother with a visiting plumber when she was sixteen. He’d gotten her pregnant and disappeared, leaving her without a home or support. She said she’d heard a beautiful doll speak to her from a store window one night, telling her in her head that he promised to make everything OK for her if she did his bidding. Following the doll’s orders, she had broken the window with a brick and stolen him. The doll told her to call him David, and she did. He had calmed her down and offered her friendship, sympathy and understanding, the likes of which she had never known before. In return David demanded, just as all the companions demanded, that she keep him close to her always, offer him food and wine at the dinner table, and take David into her bed to lie next to her warmth. That was how the first companion had been found.

David convinced Aggie to go to the Children’s Aid Society for help. They had taken her in, given her a home, and helped her through her pregnancy. After Ophie was born Aggie had become so depressed, she thought about killing the baby and herself but David talked her out of it and again helped her survive. With David’s urging, she contacted a social worker from the state welfare system who rented her an apartment. That was how David found a home, and how Aggie and Ophie became his support and his family. That was how David had become the head of their household.

Suri looked over at Ophie, now a grown woman of 32 years with a short dumpy figure that was not flattered by the Salvation Army clothes she wore. She had her mother’s slightly mongoloid drooping eyes, flat nose, and razor thin lips that looked like a crooked slash in her pasty white face. Ophie had managed to find a job at a checkout counter at the grocery store without leaving the family, and working long hours, got the family off welfare support. She was stroking the hair of her own companion on her lap, as they watched the movie together.

He remembered Ophie proudly telling of how, when she was first struck by the monthly curse, Aggie had presented her with a companion of her own and named him Michael. Michael was like a three-foot Ken doll wearing only knee-length white shorts, ripped and tan, with brown hair, square jaw and deep brown glass eyes. Ophie had looked frightened when she recounted how Aggie had told her firmly that Michael was everything a boyfriend could never be. Aggie’s threatening assertion must have worked very well because Suri was sure Ophie had never had a boyfriend. In fact, like everyone else in the family, she never had any friends. Like everyone in the family, she spent all her free time at home, tending to her companion. Ophie usually spent long hours alone in her room with Michael, rarely, if ever, coming out of her room except to work or eat or use the bathroom.

Though he didn’t know much about his older sister by 14 years, Suri worried that he might end up like her, a squat plain homebody with nothing in life but work and these people, living under the command of the companions and Aggie’s unpredictable rages. But then he came to the same terrible realization as always, a realization he always made himself forget: pudgy figure aside, he was already like her, right now. He needed to make more of himself. He needed to get away, like Ophie never did.

Ellie lightly squeezed his balls again and still gazing at Ophie in the theatre, he realized that Ophie caressed and sometimes kissed her companion in ways very much like a boyfriend. His own growing erection brought to mind a flash image of Ophie in the cowgirl position on top of Michael, who’d been fitted with a strap-on.

Shaken and confused by Ellie’s dangerous attention, he looked away from Ophie, trying to focus on the movie. Again he shifted Sarah to see the whole screen better, trying to make sure Ellie’s hand was hidden beneath.

But Suri’s mind returned to sex as soon as Ellie’s hand moved again. He wondered whether Ophie was really having sex with Michael, and if so, what would Aggie do if she found out about it. He remembered Aggie’s often repeated proclamation: “They don’t eat, they don’t shit, and they don’t fuck. They don’t get drunk, they don’t call people names or leave young girls to starve with a baby on the way. They’re perfect and beautiful like we can never be. They’re like the Vulcans, Suri.”

But that was the whole issue, wasn’t it? Aggie wasn’t right about the companions at all. She made them out to be perfect and emotionless, but they were anxious, demanding, devious and clever. They told their owners to do things, sometimes bad things, but always things that made themselves safer and got themselves more attention. Attention was like nourishment to them. They fed on it. They needed it. They constantly demanded more. And while no one in the family had enemies, thanks to the guidance of the companions, none of them had friends either, partly because none of them had time or attention for anything but their companions. But, Suri thought, they offered so much in return — a kind of deep companionship that no friend could ever offer or even understand.

And it wasn’t true they didn’t fuck. Suri knew David had sex. He remembered Ophie telling them a secret story once, of how Aggie had disappeared for a few days, returning with a companion for David, whom she called Elizabeth. Elizabeth was the most beautiful of all the companions in the family, with long perfect platinum hair, pouting red lips, large breasts, wide blue eyes and long dark lashes. Ophie had said she’d seen Aggie playing with them, Elizabeth and David, making them lie together in different positions, David always between Elizabeth’s spread legs. Ophie said that ever since her arrival, Elizabeth had become the new head of the household. Elizabeth could make any of them do anything she wanted, simply by making Aggie say so.

Ophie also said that Aggie was pregnant with him and Ellie shortly after she had disappeared. Oh god! What if he got Ellie pregnant? What if Aggie found out he and Ellie had been screwing? Again Suri became acutely aware of the people around him in the theatre. He thought everybody must be staring and pointing at them because of Ellie’s hand on his crotch. He shifted away from Ellie so she had to remove her hand. He pretended to be tending to Sarah, but he was really freaking out about all the people who seemed to be watching him, and Ellie’s hand, instead of the movie.

Still freaking out, he broke into a sweat, and Sarah began yelling at him, in his head, “Calm down you idiot! Get a hold of yourself before you get us in trouble!” But every movement around him heightened his sense of panic and his mind became a blur of images: Aggie with the boiling oil, David staring through him, Ophie on top of Michael, Elizabeth’s strange eyes, Ellie’s naked body, the people all around him, laughing at him. He needed to escape from the staring eyes around him and from his family’s secrets.

Suri shoved Sarah into the shopping bag, whispered to Ellie that he needed to take a piss and rushed out of the theatre clutching the bag. Sarah seemed to struggle against the paper bag, screaming in his head, “What are you doing? The movie isn’t over! Sit down right now!” He was confused and frightened, yet excited. For him and Sarah, this would be their escape from everything, he thought, as he rushed out into the street.

He turned to run away to, to… he didn’t know which way to go. With a shock he realized that, of course, he had nowhere to go and didn’t know how to live without his family. He looked down at the shopping bag where Sarah screamed, “Go back, you fool! Go back right now before anyone realizes you’ve left!” He stood there on the sidewalk, afraid and disoriented. He felt like an idiot for acting so rashly without plans. At that Sarah laughed at him, “You’re a joke! You’re a stupid joke!” He stumbled a few feet into a glass bus shelter and collapsed onto the bench. Visibly shaking, he took Sarah out of the bag, sat her on his lap, and hugged her tightly. A long moan welled up from deep within his chest. As they passed, people walking on the sidewalk stared at the bizarre spectacle that he and Sarah made. Sobbing aloud, he shut his eyes against them all and waited there for his life to make sense.

The End

Mer-Amun MerAmun

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