Checklist of Provocations for a Psychical Breakdown
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Touchpad"
Originally featured on 01-14-2010
As part of our series "The Future Was Now"

-significant other discreetly cheated on you [blank]

-significant other openly cheated on you [blank]

-your unfaithfulness came to the attention of significant other [blank]

-dissatisfaction with your job [checkmark]

-inability to find a job in desired field [blank]

-failure to achieve an answer other than ‘no’ when entreating strangers to sexual encounters [pen wavers over the box, starts to draw the tail of a checkmark, then vigorously crosses it out]

-financial debt [blank]

-eating disorder [blank]

-substance addiction [checkmark]

-legal trouble [blank]

-fear for safety [blank]

-religious adjustment/loss of faith/conflict of faith [pen hovers and then scribbles “fuck you” beside the blank box]

-the current political administration and/or state of the economy is to your dislike


Wynand crumples the paper, slams the clipboard on the floor and walks out of the waiting room with the balled up questionnaire in his fist. He walks the seventeen blocks home in the rain, holding up the ring finger of his left hand between his eyes an inch in front of his face while he walks—a method of relaxation he was taught in his boyhood. Wynand does not remember who, or what book, he had learned it from.


If you close one eye and move your finger so that you see it vertically in the middle of your vision, and then look with the other eye without moving your finger, neither edge of it will appear vertical. It is impossible to position your finger such that both eyes will see it standing straight up. The same can be attempted with two fingers or three. Focusing completely on your finger’s effort to defy optics can achieve escape from a disagreeable situation such as a prison sentence or a feud with a loved one.


His breath still feels like a load of bricks crushing his stomach, like something that neither enters nor leaves his body. His diaphragm contracts and the brisk movement of his legs feel connected to his diaphragm. He folds his ring finger back into his palm and drops his hand to his side. His shirtsleeve hugs his wrist tighter as it wets. The sprinkle of water on his face collects on his shirt collar.

The finger method having failed, he turns his attention to the stagnant non-breath filling his chest. The sensation of weight is that of a landfill of compiled words that his tongue rejected and sent back down his throat, coursing through all the dark tunnels and capillaries that led to the furnace of thoughts not spoken. The thoughts—backlogged over months, a year, two years, time indefinite—are no longer specific. There are no suppressed feelings to pick through and reenact in any simulated catharsis. The weight crushing his stomach is a decomposed slush of nothing that can only be nothing. Dissatisfaction with job, lack of sex, substance addiction—irrelevant labels for nothing.

There are other methods of diffusing nothing from the body. Wynand recalls one.


Tuck your head between your ankles. If you can’t reach that far over, stretch as low as you can, bending at the waist. Good. Now inhale through the count of eight. Slow count. Fill your lungs with as much air as you can. Hold your breath for one, two, three, four, five, six. Slowly rise up to a standing position as you exhale, one vertebrae at a time, last thing is the head. I want your lungs completely deflated as you stand at your full height looking straight ahead. Now with your lungs empty, stretch your palms up to the ceiling and let’s count to six, slower than before. Good. Keep holding your breath, and now this time stand on your left leg and bend at the waist, reach your arms forward with your weight in front of you and your right leg straight back, hold for one, two, keep holding your breath, this is supposed to hurt, five, six, keep holding, seven, eight, good. Breathe now, back to a standing position. When you’re ready, bend over and tuck your head between your ankles, we’re doing it all over again.


Wynand’s new used laptop computer sits running on his desk, screen slanted toward the ceiling reflecting an oblong yellow glare from the kitchen window. Not thinking about the unforeseen system crash of his previous computer, and the loss of five months’ worth of intimate work that bit the cyber-dust with it (computer failure should have been the first item on the therapist’s checklist—being forsaken by data is no less scaring than a lover’s indiscretion), he peels off his damp sweatshirt and drapes it on the back of his chair. The apartment is quiet.


I’m not saying this is true, the vendor at the secondhand electronics store on SE 5th had said between coughing fits, but this computer’s got some supernatural shit, like it’s haunted or some shit, that’s why I’m selling it so cheap. The fuckjob who sold me it, little curly-headed wide-eyed freak from the university, motherfucker was talking so fast spit flew out of his mouth, stood right where you’re standing, his arms all shaking and convulsing, head twitching every which way, looked like a goddamned troll on a bad acid trip. I didn’t catch a fraction of what he was saying, but I understood the gist of it, and I’m telling you his story—an abbreviated version, obviously—just for your entertainment, so you know what you’re purchasing.

Dude was crazy, I mean…way I look at it, you buy a used car, you’re buying all the grit the previous owner left in it, the gum under the driver’s seat, the sweat stain on the backseat cushion from when his uncle banged his old lady on the fourth of July, the stuff you can’t see, the stories, dig?

Everything that’s for sale’s got a little piece of the bastard who sold it, and I’m mongering a lick of the motherfucker’s craziness, like—like a computer sandwich with crazy for mustard. I’m an honest man of business and I’m truthful and straightforward about this kinda shit. You look like you got a head on your shoulders, you don’t believe in no Santa Clause or haunted Charlies or witchdoctor occult fairytale business so this probley don’t mean jack to you, and I’m not trying to insult you whether you believe in that stuff or not, I’m just telling you like I heard it. Damn, I wisht you could see that stout, fidgety motherfucker, spooks me out just thinking about him standing right here in my shop flapping his gums. Be honest with you, I almost threw that laptop in the trash.


Wynand thinks about the things he wants to say to people, about the people he wants- needs to say them to, tries to picture their faces but only sees their backs.

A tendon between his back and his hip yelps as he sits down, and then he feels fine. The moisture stuck in his beard from the rain trickles over his jaw and his chest shivers.

He thinks about the therapist’s office to which he had been referred, thinks about returning. The crumpled questionnaire is still in his back pocket. It is surely wet, parts of the paper stuck together, but the questions might still be legible. Thinking about the questionnaire, Wynand is relatively certain that such services can be of no value to him.

He brings the ring finger of his left hand down over the touchpad of his new used laptop computer and pauses there. Wynand thinks about the vendor from the secondhand electronics store, and about what, according to the ranting of an eccentric troll-like motherfucker sequestered in academia, was destined to happen if he, Wynand, dared to press his lips to the touchpad, and if he further dared to close his eyes.

Although the vender on SE 5th did not elaborate further on that matter, Wynand knows from his studies of cross-cultural mythologies that in order to work, the magic will require him to do a lot more than merely kiss the touchpad and close his eyes. It will require a prepared mind.

Upon the ritual being fulfilled and the magic being achieved, Wynand thinks about what she will look like, standing in his quiet apartment, or sitting on his desk when he opens his eyes and parts his lips from her salty pure lips. She will surely be beautiful, with flowing hair and innocent eyes, and she will surely be naked, as she has not at any previous place or time had opportunity to be born into the world, despite her mature form. He thinks about what her first words spoken will be, assuming they will be spoken in English. Her brain will contain all the knowledge of a new used computer, the intellect of the curly-headed wide-eyed motherfucker combined with the first two chapters of the novel Wynand has composed. For lack of a keyboard and a flat screen, Wynand will have to compose the rest of it with his whole body using her whole body as his medium.

He thinks of checkmarks and blank boxes. He thinks of the straight edge of his finger, and while he’s thinking, the muscles in his lips and tongue relax to the consistency of sand spilling onto the smooth, rigid black square and he gives in completely.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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