When did the patina of world weary contempt oxidize onto M's DNA?
If we abseil down his evolutionary thread will we find a banshee curdling and cursing within his mother's womb?
When he was 6, M hid in open sight. He wrote the word “invisible” on his left and right hands and if he was spoken to he would bring them up to his face. It was as if his hands were the curtains to a theatrical performance to which he had never been invited. The school counsellor simply put her arm around his shoulders and waited for reception but he was never able to tune in to her frequency.
In the years before he shot his father almost completely dead, M was a very different entity - insubstantial, opaque. He was cowed because he had no template for self respect, he was a child who had no access to childhood.
If this was a form of reactive depression (and that was a label that stuck for a while) then it was a manifestation the world into which he had been unwittingly plunged. It was a world that began and ended each day in turmoil and from which school was a hollow respite. His father surrounded him, screaming down his blood vessels into his brain, swallowing him, consuming him, excreting him.
Can we have empathy for the effigy of the demon if we know that it is fashioned by the cruelty of the stone mason’s hands?
“What is this?” asked the expensive looking 18 year old girl who occupied the high backed, restaurant chair opposite M. M was 18 and pretending to be a man but he was convincing no-one.
“Because if it is a date of some sort” she added, “then you really ought to start speaking”
The girl surveyed M as if he was an archeological relic, recently unearthed from the sands of the desert. His face was hewn from the finest uncertainty, his eyes were the embers of burning coals, recently extinguished, his mouth was a reminder that better times lay just out of reach. This was a slim M, a lithe M, even muscular in patches, it was an M who offered aggression in the guise of vulnerability.
M fixated upon the blood red cotton tablecloth tracing a single vascular thread as it pulsed along it’s singular course. From time to time he flicked his eyes up at the smile that sat across from him. It reminded him of two stars smashing into eachother at a corner of a distant galaxy. All those years later, when love had gone the way of the other dinosaurs, he still felt the same way when she smiled.
They both reached for the single menu that had been abandoned in the centre of the table at the same time and their fingers collided and recoiled.
“Don’t touch” said the girl, examining her hand as if she was searching for a bee sting that had just been lodged in it. “I cannot be touched.”
Given that this was a blind date which had been arranged by their respective
consultant psychiatrists, romance was probably unlikely, indeed survival would have exceeded most expectations. That being said, one would have hoped that the word’s “electively mute” and “unable to withstand any physical contact whatsoever” might have been been utilized at some point in the matching process.
“Have you ever heard of the child who lived in a bubble?” Asked the girl.
M fulminated. All the words had fallen out of his mouth with the sound of the bullet he had fired entering his father’s skull. He had searched for the words amongst the thoughts which had tumbled out of his father’s brain like bloody petals but they were lost, he assumed, forever.
He shook his head.
“When my mother was born”, explained the girl, “she was allergic to the world. The Spartans would have had a simple solution, but her parents objected to her being left on a mountainside for the wolves. A scientist in Namibia - Professor Lazrus had come up with a form of somatic gene therapy which had recently been successful in clinical trials on gazelle and in the absence of any conventional alternative they agreed to let him try it on my mother. A temporary habitat was created - a small bio-globe in her parent’s home in the expectation that she wouldn’t see out her first year, but she stubbornly refused to die. She kept on growing and growing and they kept adding to the globe until it had taken over their entire home like a giant gerbil run. Everything that went into that globe had to be washed in immuno-therapeutic antigen and this was very expensive and very time consuming. My grandparents tried to find a way to love my mother but she, quite literally, never touched them. In desperation they went to see Professor Lazrus and he told them what they had known in their hearts on their darkest days; not only was my mother healthier than they were, there was no prospect of her imminent death. Worst still, according to Professor Lazrus, she might never die.”
“Eventually, bankrupted and emotionally barren, my grandparents did what any responsible parent of a 15 year old adolescent in a bubble would do - they tied themselves to a grand piano and launched themselves off the top story of the third highest building in Dartford, whilst playing a duet. They took out the bassoon section of the ‘Save the Children’ marching band. Everyone had an ironic death that day.”
“My mother became something of a minor celebrity and was supported by a combination of charitable donations and media endorsements. At the age of 20 with nothing on her horizon other than the outlines of boats she could never bring in to focus, my mother wrote off to a sperm bank in Portland, Oregon. She chose a donor from the list, cited as having 20 years in Psychology and Law as fields of study and in 4 weeks she had inseminated herself. It was 9 months later, on the day I was born, that she discovered that her donor had in fact been the subject of 20 years of psychological study and that the reference to law was as a result of those studies having taken place in a maximum security psychiatric unit in Sing Sing prison.”
“I was cut out of my mother like a tumor. She never held me, never kissed me. I was toxic. I wasn’t rejected, it was more subtle than that. My mother parented me in the way that she had been parented - with a kind of meticulous distaste. I was fucked up with a degree of creativity rarely seen before, by a parent who experienced me as a complicated chattel rather than a child. When the intervention came, when they decided that a child who had gnawed through her own knuckles to the bone might be in need of a little time out from her mother, all that was left of me was a knotted ball of wool that could never be unravelled. Add to that the traits I have inherited from a father who was imprisoned at the age of 16 for the murder of 5 semi professional ballroom dancers whilst wearing the recently emptied skull of a wildebeest and you have the perfect dinner date.”
M had begun to perspire. There was an unfamiliar movement within his chest cavity, he thought he was going to be sick, but what came out of his mouth was the end of a sentence he had started to speak 8 years earlier.
“Stop” he rasped and slumped back into his chair exhausted.
The girl stopped.
“Have you ever seen the way a cat tortures a small bird?” Asked M, “never letting it get far away, desperately gentle, programmed to preserve life in order to destroy it. That was my father. Each day his criticism would kill us a little more, tiny loving wounds delivered by a man with endless ammunition. We were all damaged in different ways but it was intangible. Teachers, therapists, counsellors couldn’t get to the bottom of it, they couldn’t see that all we were, all we are, are tiny birds, waiting for the certainty of the final deadly blow.”
He was waiting for the girl to leave and inside she certainly wanted to but instead she reached out a hand and placed it close to his on the table.
“Do you think you could kiss me without touching?” Asked the girl.
M had never kissed anyone before but was sure that touching was the point of the exercise. And yet, he thought, and yet, perhaps this would be better.
“I could try” he said.