Remedial Futurism
by Steven Matthew Brown

The counselor assigned to my letter often weeps by session’s end. This time he was less introspective, less, You’re all my fault, I should have done more. Instead, he spun his chair away from the observation window overlooking the cafeteria and spoke of options. At least they sounded like options at the time. He said I could confront Mr. Hobarth, or I could accept the choices I have made, and could embrace my freedom to choose. I saw this coming but I thought he’d give. He asked if I had not, in fact, known about the grading system from day one. And did I have a syllabus? He was waiting, and had begun to pace behind his desk. Yes or no?

Of course, I nodded.

There it is. And justice isn’t going to un-fail you. He was pointing at me now. We will move on, he said. We will move on. You have to. You need to see that. I want you to enter the world feeling that as long as I make the right choices I will be okay. And if my choices don’t work out then so be it. No bull, no excuses. Move on to something else. You're graduating this year. Find your passion. Express yourself. His foot was on his chair now. His arms were in the air showing the outline of his sleeveless undershirt and enormous pit stains. You reach up. Like this. See? You reach up. If there’s some kind of thing there, like this chair, you climb on to it. He did. If there is a desk that’s even higher, you climb onto that. He did. You sweep it clean of obstacles and you plant your feet wide, bend your knees a little. And you own it, see. You own the crap out of it. Right? And suddenly, you see there are things even higher you will be able to attain. Then you see the ceiling. You see it, and you see it is just white foam tiles you can push up. And the secrets out now, boy, let me tell you. The cracks start to show. You see big heavy pipes. And if you were a good man all the while, weren’t soft and lazy, you can grab the pipe and with only your own upper body strength lift yourself though the opening up into the dark, like this. See? See how strong I am?

I said I saw.

Then you are in the shining beyond. He was leaning his face down into the room now, looking devilishly handsome. Crazed.

It looks dark, I said.

He crawled off.

I escalated my complaint about Mr. Hobarth to the VP assigned to my letter. She said she knew him well, knew his classroom, and that all sales were final. So to speak. Submit a feedback chit to the interaction tub if you want. Now git.

So Remedial Futurism summer school it was.

I am feeding my little brother cream cheese and peanut butter sandwiches because he can keep those down. At some point I’ll have to go back to bacon and chocolate and protein mass to get the real weight on him. But in this heat that gets messy. He ends up lying on his back wheezing like a cancer dog.

Later we’ll fry pickles?

Yes Michael, later.

Hemlock. Always call me Hemlock on fight days.

Wipe your chin.

These are good.

I know. I should be a chef.


Chef. It’s a job. They cook in restaurants.

Are they rich?

Eat. I look down at his jaw muscles. No. Not really.

Dad said there would be re-counters at the match tonight?

Dad’s an idiot.

What’s a re-counter?

He said recruiter, I would guess. Just give it your best. Fight as though your future depends on it.

Does it really? Depend on it?

It kinda does, yes.

Dad is sitting in the den so quietly over his laptop that he might as well not be there at all. I look out the window from my place on the rug, see suburban noontime paused and motionless. I try to open my mouth to ask him if he will let me practice my presentation for Remedial Futurism on him.

You haunt this house like a ghost. Find something to do. Watch TV. Call a friend. How should I know.

He just had all his parts of a conversation at once, how we do. He looks back at his work and bounces his knee. Behind him is the family machine. I round his desk and update my TV list. Even though it’s summer, there are premiers all the time. I change my status to in a relationship while I am there. My dad’s laptop chimes and he reaches back without looking and pats my calf.

Good for you, Zoreo. Good for you.

I don’t tell him it’s just a thing I do. I don’t practice on him.

The matches are held in an empty pool. Hemlock takes the boy-fighter Half-Blind Lindsay down hard in the fifth round. Weight was not on Lindsay’s side. Judging by his name, sight wasn't either. But it was hard to determine if he was half-blind or not. It could have been a rouse, or an elaborate typo. I know a kid from Mr. Hobarth's class who submitted an entire paper that was a typo. It was a printout of a screen shot of his mom and dad doing it on their website. He bowed his head and returned to his desk near mine. Derrek, I said, cheer up. He smiled. I said, At least... but I had run out of things to say.

We go to get ice cream. With the red plastic treat shack looming behind him, I get to thinking about how toy-like success could make the world for Hemlock. I get to thinking what his future might be like as an ultimate fighter. We must have been on the same page because he looks up from his scraped knees and says, I need tattoos.

You need way more than that, bro. You need training. Grappling classes at least. This one Uruguayan guy is an actual bomb squad anti-terrorism dude. Your life will need to be one of seamless violence.

With appropriate weight he licks his green cone, shakes his head and looks sidelong at smaller boys eating their ice cream. I could get into that. Yeah. Fuck yeah. I totally could. Can I get a loan for training, you think?

I don’t know. Wipe your chin. We can look into it this winter.

Can we find out now?

I have a lot on my plate, Michael. Be patient. We’ll do it together, how’s that sound?

Evenings are calm times. His piano reciting drifts to me in my tree. What goddamn talent. Aflame with melody, I think -- I think, I am on fire. I see how easy it would be to premise my presentation for Remedial Futurism on that sensation, the feeling of being consumed and not being in control of it, of having something on you that gets inside you and then makes you to ashes. Or, what if it wasn’t a presentation at all but just me standing there on fire? His mind gets better with patterns as he practices. His hands and arms and thighs get bigger with time. Sadly, that will end him as a pianist: things stiffen or break or become altogether too strong for a pianist with each passing fight. Already, the wandering notes have the sparse angular quality of a far away soundtrack.

The neighbor girls are like rats in the yew bushes. One head erupts, then the other, cobwebbed and greasy-faced. They chew something and eye me and I think about Christmas, about my counselor, and about how I do not want to disappoint them. I want to fulfill my potential, whatever that is. I want to do the thing that is fulfilling my potential even if I never discover my potential. I don’t want kids like these girls.

The girls have killed a squirrel. That was their activity in the yew bushes. Hey. Go show your parents, I say. Think about what you did.

We do this pretty often, one girl says. I don’t feel like introspection is going to solve this one. The other girl belches. They look intensely into me. Your little brother’s hot, she says, and they are gone into the yews.

It is tomorrow, one of those sweltering days when packs of chewing gum lost in cupboards perfume the house. My final presentation isn’t coming along so well. I stripped my failing paper from Mr. Hobarth’s class down to just the closing thesis and have tried to restructure something in reverse: Media created artificial life long before science. But I’m stuck.

Things are in progress when I arrive at the conference room. Christmas yields the floor to Celina, who starts hyperventilating at the thought of presenting. She tips forward like she might roll out of her chair. Next, she locks her arms under her thighs. She breathes loudly. We all watch, which is a potent group activity with us arranged in a circle, our eyes wide in our heads. Must we do this every session? Although the carpet is tear-colored, I see her tears dripping, beading and then pooling on its hard berber pile. Always some new detail. She has no dandruff today.


Yeah, Christmas?

Maybe you would like to update the group on your presentation while Celina gets some air in the hallway?

I feel like I would love to try, Christmas.

Well give it your best.

Thanks for your support. I clear my throat, rise and step to the middle of the circle. We used to present at the front of the classroom by the monitor, but too many people too frequently inched toward the potted fig in the corner from where they could more confidently mumble their wildly remedial notes. I am here before them now. I have no fear of public speaking. My problem is content. I have nothing. Well – I have a list of every TV show I have ever watched. I clutch the comfortingly thick slab of paper tightly.

Since this is a practice run, I would like to just sort of riff off the theme of creeping suspicions? I have the creeping suspicion that it is too late.

The room is quiet. Through the steel fire door, Celina can be heard exhausting her final whimpers.

Louder, please, Zoreo.

I said that Since this is a practice run, I would like to just sort of riff off the theme of creeping suspicions, and that I have the creeping suspicion that it is, like, too late.

Too late for what? one girl snarls.

Zoreo? Christmas stands, places her hands between her knees and leans forward to speak. Hi, let me just interrupt you there. You’re doing great, and you should be really, really proud. You’re obviously not getting any shier in front of us. She giggles. They giggle. But I cannot help noticing that you had a lot more last week. Wait, she says. She lifts the remote and holds it out, one hand still clenched between her knees, and presses something and we have to watch as she skims over me sitting, listening, picking my nose, running my hand over my mouth, until she gets to my last pre-presentation.

As representations of reality swell to rival, or like even precede, in our minds, the represented, everything threatens to collapse into symbolism, from, like, statecraft to cleaning one’s toilet. As everything becomes possible, everything becomes impossible to talk about.

What happened between last week and this week?

I don’t know what to say. So I say that. I say, I would like to go, or sit down at least.

When I see Celina walk back into the room, I feel like we are about to reenact some addict reunion show. At first you can hear the soft collapse of carpet under her wide feet. The relief applause starts, slows and tapers. We as a group are somehow practiced in the tedium of her life support. She squeezes the tissue and cackles once and turns and runs out as she had before, at which time I sit myself down, unnoticed.

The kneecaps in this circle beg for Hemlock’s best pressure point and grappling work. This centers me on him and home as Maggie, a sweet and well-prepared girl, gives her final presentation on the subtle psycho-erotica of trouser fit in twentieth century situation comedies, her thematic examples being the Andy Griffith show and Eddie Albert of Green Acres. She has original interviews with their great-something-grandchildren, and lots of visual aids. I slip out while the lights are still low. Celina is there in the hall. Her mood ring is on suicide watch. I hug her. I’d like to stay, but I really need some pillow time before my presentation and Hemlock’s quarterfinal. I honk and wave as I exit the lot. I imagine her waving one of her tiny wet hands at the back of my car.

Mom and dad spent the day cutting flowers and arranging them in a magnum vase. I throw his keys on the counter and pierce a drink pouch and watch them carry the thing, towering, wobbling, across the yard, onto the back deck. The dahlias catch on the top of the door wall frame. Mom’s eyes focus on the landing site on the kitchen table. Dad’s eyes are nowhere specific. They float around the room like he is blind and brain-damaged. Suddenly he shouts: Emotions Resources says? Emotions Resources says? Let me talk to Ali. Put Ali on the phone.

Their understanding of how things are set down differs, but I do not believe the remnant understanding suffers from him being on the phone. The arrangement lists, pauses at an angle, rocks back and settles with mom there, arms out, eyes wide, and my dad walking away shouting about some product roll-out. He shouts. It’s called Leukemia, Ali. Though that may be the product’s code name or its outcome.

Dad doesn’t have Leukemia, does he?

No. She rolls her eyes at the idea of him off through the doorway to the den. How was class?

She is completely obscured by the arrangement. I tell her I am not optimistic. But it serves to refresh my love of home and family.

Well that’s a good thing. Have you considered wording your presentation as an emotional out-pouring? A confession of some sort? Then they’re cornered and you can move on with your life. She nods her head, agreeing with herself. I hear you’re thinking about culinary school? Leave it to you to choose the only profession where strangers shit out all your hard work.

I was just joking with Michael. My phone rings and I answer as she leans her cheek in for a kiss.

Have fun at work, I say. I answer my phone without kissing her. It is Michael. He is nervous and wants to cancel the match and needs to talk now. I ask him where he is.

Upstairs. I heard you come in. Come up. Now.


Sit tight. Do not cancel the match. We need this.

Who are you talking to?

No. No no no. I’ll be there in a minute.


What ma?

Kiss! She leans in and all at once jumps back shrieking. Bees!

One bee, mom, and it’s all sleepy. Get a cup and that letter there. On the letter I can see the pollen wads are nearly as large as the bee’s head. With the phone locked between my ear and shoulder I kiss my mom and free the bee into the darkness of the lawn and hang up the phone and breath.

I’ll get you a headset on my way home in the morning, Zoreo. Bye. She waves. I grab a fistful of protein squeezables and a pouch of smoked ham and move for the stairs.

The economy will have to hold up for entertainment sports to continue in non–lethal forms. I don’t blame Michael for doubting Hemlock’s capabilities. On and on for both of us. Thinking becomes impracticable, or at least impractical. Waking life becomes an extension of insomnia. Demolition derby thoughts. The eyes always race to catch up. Losing all the time. For certain of us in Remedial Futurism, the best we can hope to accomplish this summer is to discover a half-truth with which to settle down and snuggle. I comb over my thick TV slab while eating ham. Once he has finished his protein we workshop some new submission holds. He needs to stay ahead. I am exhausted. When we go to make bedtime sandwiches, there is a cloud of bees lethargically harassing the now-barren flowers. Again and again. I would have thought they’d stop, or go die against the door wall. I am too tired to escort them home.

Asters and dahlias, Michael says, pausing with his hand on the light switch.

It is tomorrow. Dad serves fruit-filled breakfast bars and we disperse to habitual feeding spots. I’m fucked, as concerns the presentation. Maybe I’ll do this five more times and be in the same graduating class as Michael. Isn't that a thought.

What am I finding? I have reordered and repositioned the list every conceivable way. I widened and shrank margins, cropped headers and changed fonts. A Different World. Absolutely Fabulous. Alien Nation. America’s Most Wanted. Arrested Development. Enhancement through thievery? It is all I can do not to read the titles aloud one by one and cry about how it doesn’t seem to tell me anything about anything. Thousands of hours: gone. Or not gone but ballooned, hardened inside of me. I have the list, and I feel dirty reciting it in private. A Different World. Absolutely Fabulous. Alien Nation. America’s Most Wanted. Arrested Development. The shame of saying these things in front of the circle. But that is all I can do. I will read the list and like it.

It is my turn to bring coffee, which delays me. I set the boxed bag down by the cup dispenser and holler out Joe, come get it. Faces I never got to know turn to look at me with flat, tearful eyes. Christmas is at the front of the room with her hand held over her face, deliberately still. What did I miss? I walk over with a tray of coffees and notice they’re all snacking on cookies. I think, Oh how perfect I brought coffee just now. I notice even the guys are crying, like this one sporty type named Stripe. He leans toward me and whispers, She’s workshopping one of her own pieces. Dude, that’s how it’s done. He dries his eyes and says with a mouth full of cookie, I'm like paralyzed by her technical grace.

Placed on my chair is a mahogany-colored teddy bear cookie. I lift it and notice then the glasses drawn in frosting. Christmas draws her hand away from her face. Her arms are all bandaged at the wrists. She has glasses on today.

Do we need, greater proof of, our mortality, than the rust smell, of blood?



She falls to an egg position and the group stands to applaud. I grab the cookie in my teeth and clap, too. Once the iron flavor reaches my brain it is too late to spit it out. And it would be rude, with her watching me from the floor. I remove it and set it on the chair and down two scalding coffees and turn and leave before the applause subsides. Pretty intense, huh? Celina is in the hallway as usual.

Yeah. Remedial or not, I am not cut out for this. She smiles, which is not un-pretty, and looks at me differently. I have a number of things more I could say, but don’t. Her mood ring is unchanged.

Are you leaving? You can’t leave. Don’t.

I’m leaving, yeah.

Did you present? Oh my God you presented and I missed it. I was really looking forward to what you had to say. She reaches out and touches my elbow with one of her small hands. I’m sorry, she repeats. Congratulations.

Thanks, I say. But I didn’t present. I’m not going to.

Her chin ticks back into her neck. Today’s the last day. You won’t graduate. You know that right Not, like, to tell you things or whatever.

My brother has a match I cannot miss.

Well... she says. She raises a little-handed fist into the air meekly. I go.

My dad confronts me on the way I parked his car. He isn’t talking now, but the confrontation stretches to fill the whole evening before the match. He is confronting me by being in the living room watching foreign poor.

Metal roofing is God’s gift to the rural fool, he says, looking at me with accusing, predicting eyes.

I jangle the keys in front of him and he nods.

The Nicaraguan wants it more than Hemlock, and I am afraid there’s nothing I can do about that. Though heaven help me, I try. Think about Mr. Tomlisczak, I shout to the areas of the boy knot I believe to be my still-conscious little brother. Think about what he did to you. White tile! I yell. Cheap cologne! Soft towels! The triggers don’t enrage him this time. He goes down hard in the second.

The Nicaraguan’s coach is a good guy. He comes to shake hands and give me Hemlock’s ear in a small baggy with ice. Maybe next time, you know?

Yeah, Maybe. Thanks for this.

Your hermano...

Corazon, I say, touching my fist to my chest over my heart. I know. But it’s not enough. He needs more training. He needs...

The coach lows like a cow and tips his head about, left to right to left. Yes? he asks laughing. He needs...?

In the car I give Michael a tranquilizer and his ear.

I did bad. He looks at me. I said I did bad.

We have to get you to the clinic. Where’s your chip card?

I don’t know. Mom had it.

Look in the glove box. Be careful with the bag. Don’t crush it.

I’m not.

Do you see it?

He retrieves his old card. Here, he says.

Put the gummy thing around your wrist. Don’t lose it.



I heard you.

Do you want me to come in? I’ll come in. Go in, I’ll wait. He shouldn’t be alone when he’s sedated, and if it wears off, the shame of losing will hit him all at once. I swallow two, enter the clinic.

There is a shooting at the other end of the waiting room. By the time we figure out what happened, the man’s neighbors have lifted him back into his chair. A woman, a wife maybe though young, goes off grumbling about starting paperwork over from scratch.

Michael is yelling for me several aisles away. Now I am awake.

Check it out, he says as I catch up to him.

I check it out. It is a robotic ear. Mom’s going to be pissed and I say as much.

No she won’t. This is way better. I have advanced hearing and connectivity. I just found the game pack. Pretty sweet, huh?

You’re hopeless. His eyes rock off as he does something to the ear with is mind. Why’d you choose green?

Money, I guess. I dunno. Nature or whatever.

Dad fell asleep watching genocide. Michael isn’t allowed to watch it before bed, but a defeated Hemlock sure deserves a treat. I make sandwiches. By the time I get back into the living room the anti-inflammatories have worn off and his lips are too swollen to get food past. I set both of our plates aside, not really hungry when I think about it.

Where’s your ear, anyway? What did they do with it?

He shrugs.

I shrug.

He turns all the way around and looks at dad, then looks at me again and gestures writing.

No, I say. I blew it off. A few more times and we’ll be classmates. How would you like that?

He crosses his eyes and tries to stick out his tongue.

We fail at our imaginary lives, bro. They're imaginary, and somehow, we still friggin fail.

He nods, looks at me and nods again more conclusively.

I’m not cut out for education.

I surf away from the bodies organized in rows. I know all of these shows and just sort of flick. I go to recorded material and select wrestling. With the remote, I gesture at the screen, to the two bodies struggling to overcome one another for prize money. He looks for a moment, shakes his head. We keep surfing, wounded and silent and anticipating as if searching for a scheduled time of crying we misplaced. Headlights arc across the living room wall.

Ryan Francesconi