One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz. – Lou Reed
“No moral to this story, you will be saying, and I am afraid it is true.” – Joan Aiken
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’s because I have no 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 and characters as bars of music or minims or crotchets dance, but I’m not dancing with them; I’m drinking again.
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 hopes, the sediment of dreams 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 myself the famous existential question, but with no panache—Why am I here in this place and space, 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. The wallpaper also looks like mouldy cheese and spiders flit around. I can see their eyes watching me: Little brothers monitoring my every movement in a 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! 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, eating 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 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. Dostoevsky spoke the truth, which will haunt you forever.” What does that mean? I weep, but tears don’t fall, spiders do, and when I crush them, they become cheese, and when I put the cheese in my mouth, it becomes spiders again.
They taste bitter. There are spiders all over my hands with little beady eyes, and the ringing in my ears becomes classical music, and then it goes back to jazz. I smell cigarettes and piss and shit. My apartment looks like a smoky jazz bar. What is going on? Why is life so complicated? Why did Adam fall? How could did Lucifer fall? Weren’t all things considered good? Then how could Lucifer deflect unless creation was always flawed? 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. When I wake up, it’s morning and I snip the edge of a carton of milk and drink it straight from the packet, the white liquid drenching my shirt. The newspaper is lying on the ground outside.
‘Archaeologist killed in Cheese Factory,’ the headline reads. I read on: “They found an archaeologist dead in a cheese factory with severed arms.” I’ve read enough. What is going on? I feel a rush of vertigo and collapse. I dream of my ex-wife, Becky. Her father collected spiders and loved cheese, but I hated the man. Nausea overwhelms me, and I run to the bathroom, puke, and don’t wash the stains away because of an image of a psychoanalyst floating in my consciousness. I call Becky.
“Did you read the news, dear?” She asks me.
“What the hell is going on?” I ask her. “I’m hallucinating, and I’m terrified!”
“I’ll be right over, sweetie. I’m bringing Dr. Hansen,” she says.
Why would my ex-wife 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 Becky has done for me. But what has she done?
The doorbell rings, and I see Becky standing with Dr. Hansen. Who’s Dr. Hansen, by the way? He looks familiar, but I can’t place him.
He says, “We’re here to help you, son. Don’t worry.”
“I’m scared. Help me!”
“Quick! Don’t waste time, doctor! He admitted he was hallucinating today! We need to act! Now!” Becky says.
The doctor and my ex-wife lead me to my bedroom.
“So, you have an insight into your condition. Now’s the time to tell you the truth, but before that, I need to ask you how you feel about Becky,” Hansen says.
“I hate her father! It led to nausea and vomiting. I’m unwell. Just tell me what is going on!” I say, and look at Becky, who’s in tears.
“My sweet darling. My honeysuckle. Oh, how I’ve waited for this!” she squeals.
“Becky never attracted you. You hated her father and wanted to replace him as the alpha male in her life, because you had unresolved Oedipal issues. As time passed, those feelings never subsided, but luckily for you, she broke ties with her father. That aroused you, and you started seeing her in a new light. Her father, however, had his own Freudian issues. One day, he sneaked into your house, walked in on the two of you, and beat you badly. He never apologised for what he did, and your hatred towards him grew with each year, and you needed to escape, and so you envisioned a world that revolved around the objects her father adored like cheese and spiders so that you could destroy it. 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 its significance, until you blurted out—during a period of regression—that you’d like to see your father-in-law’s hands chopped off because he beat you with them. Your love for jazz and classical music comes from Becky playing it when you made love to her. After the divorce, you continued having a sexual relationship with her and she played jazz and classical music during the lovemaking sessions because it symbolised something special that the two of you had — an otherworldly connection. 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 Becky because stripping you off it would have robbed you of your identity. Recently, you regained sanity after you heard her father met with an accident. But you relapsed when you heard he recovered. So, that gave me an idea. Now, I don’t care about ethics. I’m a man of unadulterated science. I wanted to help you. You were my most fascinating patient, and I wanted to make a breakthrough, and so I asked Becky to kill her father. But to do it in a way that involved cheese, spiders, and severed hands. And so, Becky and I lured your father-in-law to a cheese factory on the pretext of her suffering from severe mental illness, and how it would be beneficial for her prognosis. He was reluctant and angry at first, but I convinced him by saying that Becky was always unstable, and he’d only failed to recognise this. That made him feel vindicated. 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 Becky, me, and your father-in-law explored the place, she showed her father a spider and told him she’d started collecting them. Her old man calmed down a little when he heard this. He took the spider in his hands. Becky then grabbed a machete we’d hidden on the shelf and hacked her father’s arms off with it. She shoved a lot of cheese into his mouth to muffle his screams. Now, please register what we did and the way we did it. 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, Becky! Oh, Becky!” I say joyfully. “Let’s reconcile and never give up on each other again.” My ex-wife holds me. The doctor plays some jazz and leaves us. We sigh, moan, and find closure.