Sometimes I wonder if I live in an apartment or an oubliette. I mean, there’s a cushy couch, rose-colored chintz curtains, a PS4 with myriad games I haven’t played yet, cigarettes and wine, but there’s this sense of feeling imprisoned. Maybe it has to do with a non-existent purpose. There’s jazz playing in the background. Benny Goodman or Art Blakey or somebody great. I think it’s Goodman’s ‘Sing Sing Sing.’ I hear the beat leading up to the feet tapping Big Band sound, and then the clarinet kicking in and then the drums again. The music plays like a movie – scene after scene. Characters in the form of bars of music or minims or crotchets dance, but I’m not dancing with them. I’m drinking again. It’s been a while since I was sober. The wine’s a cheap Indian one. I can taste the sediment in it and maybe that’s all I taste. The sediment of losing my freedom, the sediment of myriad crushed paper hopes. The sediment of dreams finally meeting hard, stony earth and I, bruised with flayed skin scuttling on roads of fire, howling like a ribcage showing, wounded mongrel. I think I’m asking the famous existential question but without any panache – Why am I here in this place and space, slowly and steadily slipping into oblivion?
It’s Art Blakey and his quintet playing Wee-Dot. Not Benny Goodman. Or maybe it’s Benny Goodman. Jazz is like Casu Marzu: Maggots crawling all over the rotten cheese, but a delicacy, nonetheless. But lately, the wallpaper looks like moldy cheese and spiders flit around. I can see their eyes watching me: Little brothers monitoring my every movement. I’m in a dystopian, postmodern 1984. Why do I have this postcard saying, “I had a great time yesterday.” I don’t have friends or lovers. I open the refrigerator and find a severed hand! Fuck! It has beady-eyed spiders all over it, and it’s made of skin and cheese. There’s also this ringing in my ear. Make it stop! Please! Is this real? Is anything real?
The wallpaper envelops me, and I become larva in a cheese and spider cocoon. I eat my way out; biting through both the cheese and the spiders. It tastes like a corpse. But how do I know what a corpse tastes like? I escape, but the ringing in my ear is fucking killing me! The shadows look like severed arms now. I pick up the postcard. It says something else now: “You know that man isn’t free. Sartre was a liar. Dostoevsky spoke the truth. The truth will haunt you forever.” What does that mean? I start weeping, but tears don’t fall, spiders do. I crush them, and they become cheese. I put it in my mouth, and it becomes spiders again. They taste bitter. There are spiders all over my hands with little beady eyes. The ringing becomes classical music, and then it goes back to jazz. I smell cigarettes and piss and shit. My apartment suddenly looks like a smoky jazz bar. What is going on? Why is life so complicated? Why did Adam fall? Why did Lucifer fall? Weren’t all things considered good? Then how could Lucifer deflect unless creation and God were always flawed? Or did God withdraw grace and is cruel but justifies things by using the term ‘greater good’? Damn the Elect and the reprobate! Damn Calvinism and free will! Damn the Cheese and the severed hand!
I decide to sleep, but rest isn’t forthcoming, and so, I pop a few Valiums and soon, I’m sleeping on my sofa. I wake up, and it’s morning. I snip the edge of a carton of milk and drink it straight from the packet, the white liquid drenching my shirt. I go outside and find the newspaper lying on the ground.
‘Archaeologist killed in Cheese Factory,’ the headline screams. I read on: “An Archaeologist was found dead in a cheese factory. His arms were severed.” I’ve read enough. What the fuck is going on! I feel a rush of vertigo and collapse. I dream of my mother and how I was sexually attracted to her. My father collected spiders and loved cheese. I hated the man though he was good to me. Nausea overwhelms me. I run to the bathroom and puke. I then don’t wash the stains away because of an image of a psychoanalyst that floats in my consciousness. I call my mother.
“Did you read the news dear?” She says.
“What the hell is going on!” I shout into the phone, “I’m hallucinating, and I’m terrified!”
“I’ll be right over sweetie. I’m bringing Dr. Hansen,” she says, in a voice riddled with mad ecstasy.
Why would my mother be excited? Here I am, standing on the shore, preparing for the waves of insanity to sweep over me and drown me, and she’s thrilled! I feel disgusted but then think of the things my mother did for me. But what has she done?
The doorbell rings, and I see my mother standing with Dr. Hansen. Who’s Dr. Hansen by the way? He looks familiar, but I can’t place him.
He smiles, and says, “We’re here to help you, son. Don’t worry.”
“Mom, I’m scared. Help me!”
“Quick! Don’t waste time, doctor! He finally admitted that he was hallucinating today! We need to act! Now!” My mother yells.
The doctor and my mother lead me to my bedroom.
“So, you finally have insight into your condition. Now’s probably the best time to tell you the truth, but before that, I need to ask you how you feel about your mother,” Hansen says.
“I felt sexually attracted to my mother. It led to nausea and vomiting. I’m unwell. Just tell me what the fuck is going on!” I say and look at my mother who’s in tears.
“My sweet darling. My honeysuckle. Oh, how I’ve waited for this!” My mother squeals.
“You were always sexually attracted to your mother from the time you were three. It’s called the Oedipus complex. You hated your father and wanted to replace him as your mother’s lover. As you grew older, those feelings never subsided, but luckily for you, your mother reciprocated your feelings. She initiated a sexual encounter with you when you were fourteen, and then the two of you regularly had sex. One day, however, your father walked in on the two of you, and beat you badly, before leaving your mother shortly afterwards. He never spoke about what he saw to anyone, but your hatred towards him grew with each year, and you needed a way to escape, and so you envisioned a world that revolved around the objects your father adored like cheese and spiders so that you could destroy it repeatedly. You’d return to sanity without insight now and then, but when wounded, you’d go back to this world. During periods of hypnosis, you’d claim to see a severed hand too, but I never understood the significance of it, until you blurted out – during a period of regression when we monitored you – that you’d like to see your father’s hands chopped off because he beat you with them.
“Your love for Jazz and classical music comes from your mother playing it when you made love to her. She did it initially to make it look like she wasn’t home, and you were in your room alone listening to music. But after the divorce, she continued playing it during the lovemaking sessions because it symbolized that something special existed between you two – a connection beyond an ordinary mother-son relationship. You also reported hearing a ringing sound. That’s common in mental illness sufferers. Now, I’m not a conventional Freudian therapist, and so, I encouraged your sexual relationship with your mother because stripping you off it would have robbed you of identity altogether.
“Recently, you surprisingly regained sanity immediately after you heard that your father met with an accident. But you relapsed when you heard that he recovered fully. So, that gave me an idea. Now, I don’t care about ethics. I’m a man of pure, unadulterated science. I wanted to help you heal completely. You were my most fascinating patient, and I wanted to make a breakthrough. And so, I asked your mother to kill your father. But to do it in a unique way that involved cheese, spiders, and severed hands.
“And so, your mother and I managed to lure your father to a cheese factory on the pretext of her suffering from severe mental illness, and how it would be beneficial for her prognosis. Your father was reluctant and angry at first, but I convinced him by saying that she was always mentally unstable, and he’d only failed to recognize this. I told him to meet us at a cheese factory. The mob – with whom I have deep ties with – introduced me to the owner. The owner knew that someone was going to die in his factory, and so, he fled. He’s currently the prime suspect.
“While your mother, I, and your father explored the place, your mother showed your father a spider and told him that she’d started collecting them. Your old man was still angry but calmed down a little when he heard this. He then took the spider in his hands. Your mother then grabbed a machete we’d already hidden on one of the shelves and hacked your father’s arms off with it. She then proceeded to shove a lot of cheese into his mouth to muffle his screams.
“Now, please register what we did and the way we did it carefully. Process and think. Recollect.”
Tears run down my eyes now. My past is lucid. The cheese and the arm and the spiders will never haunt me again. “Oh, mother! Oh, mother!” I sob in joy. She holds me. The doctor plays some jazz and leaves us. We sigh, and we moan, and we finally find closure.
© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)