Kill Yourself

My sister took the bread-knife and held it to her throat in the kitchen.  She said she was going to kill herself but any fool could see that it was the bread-knife and it had a serrated edge so you would have to saw your way through your neck if you wanted to die.  And since I hated her, I hoped she would do it.  But Mum wrestled her to the floor and pinned her down.

As they fought, I looked at the rotting pile of garbage that was lying on the floor beside my sister’s head.  I watched the flies making their hungry circles around the potato peelings and teabags and the dark brown puddle from something that was once alive and now was wriggling back to life again in a larvae feeding frenzy.

Mum gripped my sister’s wrist and the knife just lay there in the filth. Soon it would be slicing bread again and my sister would have to find a more effective way to kill herself. The voices in her head were telling her to do it. So she had no choice. But this time there was no sign of blood.

If you were a child growing up with insanity you will know, as I do, that awful sense of numbing anxiety as you wait for the next petrifying episode. The hideous nightly hauntings.  All the time, trying to be a normal kid. Helpless in the face of problems that even the grown-ups could not solve.

The Ghosts That Live Inside Us

I hear that some people don’t believe in ghosts. That’s alright. When they were tiny children, they had orange nightlights glowing in their bedrooms after dark, reflecting little moons and stars on the ceiling.  And their mothers tucked their blankets in cozily around them while they drank hot chocolate to the whispered tales of Beatrix Potter.

They didn’t have ancient slaves living inside their bedroom walls who cried to escape and cracked their knuckles in the night like giant walnuts.  And they didn’t hear the funeral music booming on the bellows organ, louder, louder until their beds shook in the dreadful violence of the night.

And they didn’t know of the man who hanged himself in their toilet.  A man whose eyes bulged out like giant green marbles, swinging there by his neck from the water pipes.

And they didn’t have a sister who locked them in the cellar where it was so black they wouldn’t know if their eyes were open or closed.  Counting up to a thousand and saying the Lord’s Prayer, rocking back and forth in that silent breathless prison.

Nor did they hear that girl who screamed in the attic, abandoned by the gypsies who fled in the night.  Or a sister who painted a picture of the thing that came into her bedroom time and again and told her to kill herself.  A picture so utterly terrible, they had to burn it, like it was alive.  But it never died.

I can close my eyes to things I do not want to see.  But I cannot blank the images of things I have already seen.  I can press my hands tightly over my ears.  But I cannot erase the sounds of those endless screams.

I am glad for you if you do not believe in ghosts.  Some of us live with them.  They are inside our heads and they are real.

A Terrible Accident

As I walked up the path, I knew the front door shouldn’t be open.  And there was Joan from next door, blocking my path and saying why don’t I go with her to her house and have a nice cup of tea and maybe a chocolate digestive biscuit.  And she held out her arms across the door and even though she was a big woman, I ducked and ran right past her and into the kitchen, with her shouting for me not to go in there.

That’s when I saw our other neighbor, the man who kept rabbits and had to drown some of them because he had too many.  He was mopping the floor and he didn’t look up because he was deaf.  But he knew I was there, standing at the kitchen door, with Joan right behind me trying to pull me back.

The kitchen wallpaper was decorated with roses.  Mum loved those roses but not that black-brown stain that went halfway up the wall from where the fumigator sprayed his poison.  At least it killed those lice, wherever they came from.  And now the wallpaper had another color.  It was sprayed with purple-red and some of it was going brown.  You can make purple, I thought, by mixing blue and red together.

And under the kitchen table was another purple-red puddle that looked like a clown’s face, smiling up at me.  Even the cat’s bowl was full of purple-red liquid.  But the cat was gone.  And so was my sister.  I hated my sister but I was worried about the cat.

It was later that evening that I found the cat, alive outside our backdoor.  But my sister wouldn’t be coming home anytime soon.  There had been a terrible accident.

At ten years old, I was too young to be told the truth.  But I know now, here in another place, older of course.  I know now that the stains couldn’t be washed off the wallpaper.  But it was easy to wash the blood off the cat’s bowl.

All The Mad Men

They built these lunatic asylums in the corridor-style around a central building so that they could segregate the sexes and the dangerously insane from the simply disturbed and delusional.  The dangerously insane have to be locked up and shackled for all of our protection.  Iron shackles were the best but then that clever French upholsterer invented something called a straitjacket.  No one can get out of that device.  They can’t even scratch their noses or go to the toilet without asking politely for help.  Of course, with all the staff shortages around here, there’s usually no-one to ask so they just piss their pants, or worse.

Some say the straitjacket is an instrument of torture but you should hear about the terrible wheals those iron shackles left on their wrists and ankles.  Then the flies would lay their eggs in the wounds and soon enough the maggots would be everywhere.

But confinement is so temporary, so crude, so failing in a cure.  They tried ice baths and that certainly silenced them for a time and then they passed out.  When they regained consciousness, the skin was peeling off their bodies like wet tissue paper.  Fortunately, with the invention of the transorbital lobotomy, they can use an instrument as simple as an ice pick, pushed up through the eye socket into the frontal lobes of their brains and stir it around.  They don’t even need to use an anesthetic.  Lots of patients die, of course, and some wake up as cabbages.  But perhaps it’s all for the best.  After all, they are quite insane.

There are bars on the windows, as you would expect, so no one can escape.  I just hope that they never mistake me for an inmate.

Because I’m not insane.  I’m only visiting.

I Think I Erased You

I am now meeting people I know, only to find that I have erased their names and entire personalities from my conscious memory.  It is only a prominent mole, a facial tick or a crooked nose that makes me realize that I do indeed know this person but have no recollection of how.

I am failing to recognize people I know on an increasingly regular basis.  I think this is a defensive mechanism and it is the antithesis of recognizing strangers.

It all comes back to a simple issue.  Our brains were developed in a village and the most people we could ever expect to know was one hundred.  As a consequence, we have a limited capacity for remembering people.  If a stranger came into the village, we would have to quickly get to know him to determine if he was a friend or foe and if he was staying.  But if we want to remember someone new, then someone else has to be erased.  I meet a lot of people so I think I have unconsciously developed a technique for erasing people without me even knowing it.  It’s not personal.

My previous strategy of deliberately ignoring everyone, whether I know them or not, has not worked.  My family and close friends found it too distressing.  I explained my theory and they presented me with an alternative thought: that I am becoming senile and should accept that things will only get worse.

So I should write my will now, while I am of sound mind and body.  And before I erase the people I love from my memory.

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