Electroshock Therapy for Mimes
L. L. Soares
The mime had no idea how long he had been lying there, like this.
He was stretched out on the dining room table, unmoving, awaiting the next series of shocks.
He tried to brace himself for what was coming, but he knew it was useless.
The family was in the living room, watching one of the current popular sitcoms on television, yet there was no sound coming from that other room. Only the occasional hiss of canned laughter.
The mime, held tight to the table with leather straps, stared at the cracks in the ceiling. He knew that it wouldn't be too long before the family returned to resume the torture. He came to terms with the helplessness. There was no escape.
Had he tried before, to escape? He couldn't remember.
The mime was a thin man, with the lean, hungry shape of one who had learned to deny himself the simple pleasures in life in the name of his art. A man who was used to the pangs of hunger, used to internal turmoil. He wondered if these were reasons why the family had chosen him. He would not be alien to the pain they inflicted on him.
He was unable to make any noise, but he wasn't sure if they had figured that out yet. Perhaps they just thought he had a high pain threshold, or that he was such a dedicated mime that he never broke character. The truth was that he had been born mute. This was the reason he had been able to throw himself into his art so fervently. Because it did not need a voice. He had learned early to communicate through motions and facial expressions.
To distract himself, he tried so hard to remember how he got here. He thought of the day when the family came into his life. It had been an average summer Sunday, and he had been in the park, performing. The family had stayed most of the afternoon; the children laughing and enjoying the show, the parents off to one corner, watching, and occasionally whispering to one another. There was something odd about them. Something that had attracted his attention.
When he finished his last performance for the day, the father came over and asked him if he might like to come home with them, for a home-cooked meal. The man seemed genial enough. The children, a boy and a girl, tugged at his arms. He couldn't refuse them. Not that he had anywhere else to go.
He followed them and climbed into the back of the vintage station wagon with the children. During the drive, he kept them entertained with simple magic tricks, which they enjoyed immensely.
He took a coin from the young boy's ear, then made it disappear again.
The mother watched them in a rapt silence, leaning over the back of her seat, the faintest of smiles across her lips. The father would glance into his rear-view mirror now and then, noticeably pleased.
Once they reached the house in the suburbs, the mime found himself beginning to relax. After all, he knew where his next meal was coming from, the surroundings seemed pleasant enough, and he was in the company of warm, friendly people who appreciated his art. There was not much else he could desire.
If he had been able to speak, he would have thanked them all many
The mime looked away from the ceiling, away from the cracks that he stared at as he let his thoughts drift. He turned his attention to the bay window at his left. Outside, trees reached up to the sky, much as they did back in the park where he had performed.
He did not know how much time had passed since he'd performed in the park. Since they had brought him here. Days, perhaps. Not that he would have had the energy to perform after being tortured for so long. But his art was his life. He prided himself on being one of the last mimes. It was a dying art. He had read that in a magazine that someone had discarded on a park bench once. A long time ago. There wasn't any money in it, and there was nothing to attract would-be mimes anymore.
But he couldn't turn away from it. It was all he had.
Now, strapped to the table in the family's dining room, the mime
realized that he had nothing. Everything had been taken away from him. Except his
thoughts, which were getting foggier as time went on. And the knowledge
that the torture would be resumed soon.
When they had reached the house that quiet Sunday afternoon, when the family took him into their lives, he had admired the perfectly pruned bushes in front of the house, and the bright flowers in full bloom. The entire scene had suggested such care and diligence. An extreme sense of order.
Inside, everything was as organized as it had been outside. Everything had its place. When they gave him a tour of the house, he noticed that the rooms were immaculate, even the children's rooms. A big-screen television dominated the living room. Atop it were figurines of cherubs at play.
"We'd like you to relax, to feel at home," the father said. "We haven't formally introduced ourselves. My name is Jack. My wife here is Mary. The kids are John Jr. and Janet."
Everyone was huddled together in front of the mime. The perfect family. Everyone was smiling.
"We would be very happy if you could stay the night," the father continued. "We have enough room. You could probably do with a good night's sleep, and we can bring you back to the city in the morning. That is, unless someone is going to be waiting for you."
The mime did have a place to stay, with a friend, but the apartment was plagued with roaches and it sent shivers up his spine to think of them. He shook his head, telling them that he had nowhere to go. Accepting Jack's kind invitation.
But only one night, he told himself. He was an artist, and he was proud. He could not justify infringing on this family that was being so kind to him. Just one night, and in the morning he would return to the park, using his art to entice passersby to drop coins into an old cigar box on the ground. All without words.
Jack beckoned for the mime to sit down in front of the television. The man acted as if it were the finest seat in his home, and perhaps it was. The chair was large and comfortable.
"Don't be shy," the father said, standing beside him. "You're among friends now."
The mime smiled, and looked at the children, who were sitting on the carpet in front of him, watching with intent eyes. So well behaved.
"What's your name?" the father asked.
The mime shrugged.
"Still performing for the kids, eh?" the father asked, then laughed. The children laughed as well, as if on cue. The mother had disappeared into another room that the mime took to be the kitchen. Everything reminded him of the families he had watched on television when he was a child. He almost doubted the reality of it all.
The father held a remote control and turned on the television. The children were silent as they turned themselves around on the carpet to face the big screen.
Football was on. The mime hadn't seen football in many years, and it was not something he especially missed. But it was a curiosity now. The mime remembered hearing about the great reforms that had swept over the country. In the old days, football featured actual men. He could faintly remember seeing such games. But it had been criticized as being too violent, and, after much resistance, reforms came into law that outlawed physical contact in sports. Even baseball, which the mime did not remember as being very violent at all, had been changed beyond recognition. The lawmakers had claimed that violence as entertainment was a major reason for real violence, and this was not to be tolerated. Even robots had been rejected for sports. It did not matter if real people were not being injured, if it looked real. This, of course, carried over into movies and cartoons, and all other forms of entertainment. Old movies had any violent scenes removed (and sexual ones, as well), and some old movies, deemed unsalvageable, had been destroyed altogether. All for the greater good.
On the television screen, blips moved here and there. As far removed from real people as possible. Off-screen, people would cheer for their blips now and then. Sportscasters would appear, energetic talking heads, to state their opinions on how the game was going.
Jack was engrossed in the game. He stood there, beside the mime. Occasionally, he leaned over and said things like, "Can you believe that call? The referee must be blind."
The children, still sitting on the carpet, seemed to be in a kind of trance. The mime didn't know what to do; he had never been much for television. He looked at the blips. He noticed now and then that the children would glance back at him, then turn back around, afraid that their father might notice they weren't paying attention to the screen. Once, when they glanced back at him, the mime pretended to be trapped in an invisible box. The children laughed.
"Shut up!" the father shouted. "The game is on."
The mime turned to look at him. The father was glaring down at him. He could see the rage there, behind the man's eyes. But he hadn't spoken a word.
Jack pressed the remote and turned up the sound on the television. There was the loud din of a cheering crowd.
The aroma of the cooking food, coming from the kitchen, almost relaxed the mime after the father's outburst. It had been a long time since he had had a big, home-cooked meal.
The mime tried to get interested in the game on the screen, but it bored him. Every once in awhile, he looked down at the children, but after their father's outburst they sat rigid, their eyes fixed on the screen. They dared not make another sound. The mime thought it was strange that the father did not sit down, even though there was a lush sofa against the wall. It was as if the father could not sit anywhere if he could not sit in his special chair.
The mother called for everyone to come to the table. In her hands, a roast duck steamed on a platter.
This time, Jack did not shout in response to the interruption. He even
smiled as he walked beside the mime on the way to the dining room.
After dinner, the mime sat back in his chair and felt satiated. It had been a long time since he had felt this way, and he wanted to savor it, especially since it would be a fleeting pleasure.
The last time he had felt this good was when he had been in love with a girl named Elise, a warm, gentle girl who had come the closest to understanding him. Her leaving had been the hardest thing he had ever had to deal with in his life. After she was gone, he had submerged himself even deeper in his art.
She had been the only one who had seemed genuinely interested in him. In his art.
In other relationships, people had seemed amused with his talents, even fascinated, but, as time wore on, they usually looked upon him with contempt, as sort of a fool. It wasn't a way to get ahead in the world, and most people seemed very obsessed with getting ahead.
The mime had a name once. It had been Jeff Calmont. But that seemed lost to him now. He never thought of himself as Jeff Calmont. He thought of himself, simply, as a mime. Perhaps the last one left in the world.
What made it all worthwhile was that he made children smile. He liked that.
Then again, even puppets and blips on a screen could make children laugh.
The mime wiped his mouth with a napkin, removing some of his makeup in the process.
The mother had begun clearing the table. The father sat there, watching the television screen. He could see it clearly from the dining table, and turned the sound up, using the remote control, at important moments. The children were helping their mother. They cleared off the bright, white tablecloth. Throughout the meal, everyone had been rather quiet. The mime could not be sure if they were always quiet during meals, or if they were afraid to ruin the father's enjoyment of the game. All of the family would glance at the television screen now and then, but the father never took his eyes off it.
In a way, the mime was glad. It spared him having to endure an entire conversation without speaking.
The father rose, came over to where the mime sat, and clapped him on the back, in a friendly way. The mime looked up at him, and made himself smile.
But the man did not take his hand away. He kept it there. The friendly handhold turned into a tightening grip on the mime's shoulder. Jack forced the mime to stand.
The mother removed the tablecloth carefully. She folded it neatly and put it away. When she returned, Jack forced the mime to get on top of the bare table. The mime tried to struggle, but the father was much stronger, and it seemed useless. So he stopped moving.
The children laughed strangely as the parents proceeded to fasten leather straps around the mime's wrists and ankles. The straps must have been hidden beneath the table throughout the meal. The father tightened the straps twice, to make sure the mime could not escape. The mother looked on with glassy eyes.
The family stood around him, and he waited for something to happen.
The father moved behind the mime, and he could not really see what the
man was doing. It felt like the man was fastening some kind of strange
apparatus to his skull. It all happened so fast, the mime didn't even try
to struggle. Then, suddenly, there was pain....
...Pain that seemed to last forever.
It was sharp and clear, tearing through every inch of his body like white fire. It surged through his mind, and set every hair on his head and body on end. Every nerve crackled, as electricity leapt across every synapse. The energy filled him, and it moved inside him like some kind of immense, white-hot snake, uncoiling.
Just as suddenly as it had begun, it stopped. The mime could not determine how long it had been. He kept drifting in and out of consciousness. He could not determine if his body had convulsed, which he heard happened when people were shocked. All he felt was the tingling after-sensation of the pain, and a ringing in his ears.
He had lost all concept of time. The family seemed to watch the mime
for a very long time, as intensely as they had watched the television, until
the mime's mind began to lose its hold on everything, and sought refuge in
The mime saw himself with Gerry, a frail young man with a lisp. Gerry would talk constantly. He liked to use the mime as a sounding board, and it was a one-way transaction, with the mime expected to accept all the burden, without speaking his own mind. After all, it would be too difficult to uphold his end of the conversation on paper, or with gestures, especially when Gerry started talking a mile a minute.
The mime pretended to listen, but he began to withdraw into himself. He had learned to shut out sounds and just dwell in his own thoughts. He did not want to hurt or anger Gerry, because it was so difficult to make new friends.
The mime remembered going to bed with Gerry, trying to get close, because he felt the need to be close to someone. This was after Elise. He also remembered the incredible guilt that followed after they made love. The guilt that forced him to run away from Gerry's apartment.
Then there was Judy, who one day decided it was her job to fend for him. She used to eat lunch in the park every day; that's how they met. She used to work in a bank nearby. She was attracted to him because of his looks, and even though he had been used for his looks before, by men and women, he wanted so badly to be wanted that he allowed himself to fall in love with her. Maybe it wasn't really love, but that didn't seem to be important.
She did not want him to perform in the streets. She wanted to change him, to convince him of the necessity of what she called a "normal life." He knew that, in reality, she was ashamed of being involved with someone who was a street performer, and wanted him to fit in better. She even encouraged him to go on job interviews, but he would never go. She would buy him new clothes, and send him off, doing her best to convince him that his disability should not prevent him from finding a good job. But he knew that no one would hire a mute. He wandered the streets aimlessly, and then went back to her, shaking his head, telling her without words that it was pointless. He felt that she knew that already, but that she was punishing him in some way. Torturing him. He pretended to go on the interviews she set up because she fed him, gave him affection. But he resented the way she wanted to mold him into someone who could better fit into the world around him. A world he had never really needed or wanted to be a part of.
He continued to perform in the park. This resulted in outbursts from
her when he returned to her apartment at night. He often forgot to remove the
makeup or change his clothes. He wanted her to know. Their fights
eventually eroded the emotions he thought he felt for her. When they
parted, she did not seem particularly upset, and he wondered if she had
ever truly cared for him, or if she had just seen him as some kind of
experiment. A challenge.
Memories flowed like colored wax within a hot lava lamp. Memories of touches and kisses, and eyes peering into his. And then he remembered Elise again.
Elise had also been a street performer. She had played a guitar on street corners and in subway tunnels. She had been playing in the park when they met. Things were so easy with her. She even knew some sign language, and she tried to learn more. It made communication a lot easier.
"Be mine and mine alone," Elise said to him once. "I love you so much."
She had encouraged him in his art. They had even performed together in the park. They had an act. She would play guitar, and he would dance and perform.
But Elise had been prone to severe depressions, and, despite their love, he could tell she was getting worse as time progressed. One day, she just ran off on her own, and he had no idea where to find her. He'd searched all over the city. Later, he learned that she had thrown herself in front of a car. He had been asked to identify the body, after someone had told the police they remembered seeing the two of them together. Lack of speech created for a tense scene at the morgue. He had nodded his head when they asked if he knew who she was. He had written her name down on a piece of paper.
Elise. That was all he wrote. He didn't know her last name. She had left
it with a life she had run away from.
Tears ran from the mime's closed eyes as he remembered these things.
Suddenly, he came out of the darkness. His eyes shot open like guns firing. He found himself staring at the ceiling again. The cracks were still up there, like signposts to nowhere.
And he waited. Hot and cold sweat were fighting for room on his brow.
From the other room, the mime could hear the television rambling on. There was a laugh track, which suggested yet another sitcom. No one in the other room was laughing.
The mime felt they would grow bored of him soon, and they would set him free so that he could return to his art once more. He would carry scars, but so would they. He had to hurt, because they hurt. That was their justification. He thought about it, and hated them for it.
But it was getting harder and harder to think. And his memories, they
were getting hazy. Names and faces were starting to get interchangeable.
He tried so hard to concentrate on his memories between sessions, but it
would only be a matter of time before he lost his past completely. As he
remembered Gerry and Judy and Elise, it was like he was visiting them all
one last time, before they were purged from his mind forever.
The mime, cold on top of the dining room table, heard the television switch off. He knew that they would be coming for him. He knew that he was helpless to stop them and he could not resist.
There were a lot of things the mime did not really understand, as the family entered the room and formed a circle around him, but he was aware that he was their entertainment. In his pain, he was performing for them.
And he decided to indulge them. For he was nothing if not a performer.
L. L. Soares was born two days before Halloween. His work has appeared in such places as Cemetery Dance, Gothic.Net and the anthology The Best of Horrorfind 2. His story "Second Chances" received an Honorable Mention in sixteenth annual edition of The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling.
He lives in the Boston area with his wife and fellow author Laura Cooney.
Published by permission of the author.