Shank was a psychoanalyst — NOT a psychotherapist. Her specialty was analyzing people she had never met. Specifically, she analyzed authors, those who wrote enough to have created a “body of work,” a series of books — sometimes meant to create a “brand” by using a particular lead character or some other device to string the stories together. Even nonfiction writers could be analyzed if they had a special subject, like industrial crimes or office dynamics.
She was not welcome at writer’s groups because her approach was always dissection, cutting, getting down to the skeleton and possibly showing just how rickety it was, or surgically extracting the heart and showing it to the world as mushy or dead. She never admitted that a perfectly healthy author might write about rotten subjects without actually being rotten his or her self. It was an essentially cynical and sophomoric premise but she knew her readers and there were a lot of them. They were not very sophisticated or motivated enough to turn the tables on her.
Anyway, she worked in a particular “space” mostly occupied by the young and a few old hippies who read her for laughs. Her words were formatted in surprising ways — like those old poems in which the subject of a tree was echoed by arranging the words to look like a tree — and interspersed with strange video clips with moving indecipherable glimpses. The whole “body of work” — hers had to be on the Internet because of the clips so it wasn’t a book — was an invitation to projection. She knew this and worked it. Nothing was there — word or shape — without consciousness that the culture had taught most people associations that would make them desire (new cars) or dread (fat).
She was delighted to have discovered, on a back channel provider few people used, a writer she called “Troubadour.” Like her, he used clips that were hard to decipher because they were dark, but his writing was also shadowed. There was no location except that they were always in the debris fallout of civilization — old warehouses where the giant rusted chains swung creaking from high girders and huge industrial fans turned slowly in whatever wind there was because the wall itself was fallen. Or buckled rail lines that curved along cut banks reinforced with cement blocks that had collapsed broken onto the useless steel. Sometimes there was graffiti, often incongruously meant to focus on love and sex in opposition to each other.
The humans — there WERE people now and then, mostly in the distance or as a dismembered part sticking around a corner — either wore black leather or were bare, their flesh almost larval in its shocking pale segmented assemblage. It was sci-fi, humans in an inhuman world, standing before the giant discarded machinery of locomotives and cranes, cables as thick as a wrist, half-unwound from frozen hoists. The sound tracks behind the quotes from existential Cold War philosophers were children’s voices, sometimes telling something and once in a while singing a little nursery song, maybe in French or Spanish or even Chinese.
“Troubador”, she claimed, was an embittered old man who could not find anything good in the world except for his frail memories of childhood which he disguised by using foreign languages. He was one of those power mongers who neglected all his human connections in order to be invulnerable, but was in fact all based on industrialism and when that crashed, he could see only darkness. He was blind to any light in the world, or any hope except the occasional bird that flew too quickly past his view-finder for him to realize it had happened.
She taunted Troubador, which Analytics showed was good for her hit numbers. Everyone loved a fight and was hoping that Troubador would fight back by ripping into Shank. It didn’t happen. Sometimes the most painful act is silence and it appeared that Troubador knew it.
For a while she floated the notion that in fact Troubador had died and his books and posts were now written by his widow. The columns that constantly hoped for trouble and rumours to feed their own productions were “on it” and began to find clues in the major cities of America, because clearly the writing was located there. Then journalists took an interest and the hackers figured out where she herself was, a nondescript apartment near a major university with a good library.
When she had been a student there, she had occasionally fallen into depressions which a counselling service declared were caused by paranoia and borderline personality syndrome. They encouraged her to talk about childhood disappointments and traumas, but in fact she could not remember any. There had not BEEN any. Hers was a very boring suburban childhood in the Pacific Northwest where it rained all the time. The counsellors were either Jewish or Black, either from Manhattan or Alabama and could not conceive of such a place as where she grew up. She ended up parked in contempt all over again.
Finally a journalist tracked her down at the Crepes Suzette Café one Sunday morning and managed to block her from leaving by telling her he knew who Troubadour was and that he lived not far away. She was just curious enough to stay for the information, which he wrote on a napkin. It was a cloth napkin — this was a quality place. She put the napkin in her pocket. The waitperson noticed but didn’t say anything. The critic didn’t carry a purse but only a billfold like a guy. (The journalist wrote that down. He talked about her in his column as a person of “fluid gender” and thus unable to commit or grow where she was planted.)
When she went by the Troubadour’s place, which was supposed to be in the back of an abandoned storefront, all she found was a couple of squatters who ran when they saw her. That night she dreamt that he was there and that they instantly had an affinity she’d never felt before. The dreams persisted and became an ephemeral “body of work” that sort of cut in on her ideas for her daytime paid work. That was inconvenient but not deadly since she had a good bit of money in the bank. Some of it was from agreeing not to analyze certain writers.
The vid clips in her dreams were somewhat clearer than the ones she made in real life for her critical blog. There began to be mirrors and someone moving past them. Maybe it was Troubadour. At bedtime she encouraged herself to stop and focus on that mysterious figure, hoping her subconscious would pick up on the request.
It worked. The camera stopped, the figure turned — she hardly recognized the person. It was hard to take it in. There was no Troubadour. The person she saw in the mirror was Hacker, herself. She told no one. She moved to a small town in Arizona and became a librarian. In that town no one thought she was mysterious at all. But at night she was still Hacker/Troubador — she just didn’t record any of it, not even to write it down. It passed through her consciousness unrecorded. Daytime sane/nighttime psycho. A classical pattern. She enjoyed talk shows that tore people apart and watched them on YouTube while she ate breakfast, smiling into her coffee mug.