from The Childe

by Peter Gannon Crumlish

Byron could see little driplets of condensation on the ceiling. He lay on his back near the window trying to see the sky. It didn't seem worth it to be sitting up since all he was doing was subsisting. It had grown so hot that when he stood up his skin would begin to pucker and turn into blisters. So it seemed more sensible just to lie on the ground.

But after several hours it became increasingly clear that his body was now taking on the form of the ground. He was becoming one dimensional. If he looked down at his feet he could see his heels spreading out on either side of his feet the way a map of the world will spread Europe out on one side and Asia on the other. It seemed obvious now that he thought about it. Soon the back of his knees would begin to peek out on either side of his kneecaps and of course his buttocks would lie like elephant ears on either side of his groin. He wouldn't be able to see it unless he took his boxers off.

What disturbed him the most was the flattening of his head. It was just about the only thing that he could definitely point to as a negative about lying on the ground. Otherwise there was little that would get him up. This was serious. It wasn't just the idea of looking in the mirror and seeing that lobe back there on either side of his forehead like a hammerhead shark. It was just that he didn't like the idea of shifting around his brain. Whatever happened to his body was O.K. To him it was expendable-- in fact, the sooner it was expended, he believed, the sooner he would achieve a state of pure mindfulness.

This was just a theory.

But it made good sense, he felt. It was the ascetic's choice. Deny that the body exists, deny that the world around you exists. Then the only thing left is your own head. If there is nowhere else to go, eventually out of sheer necessity you will have to go inside. Of course he had made a kind of record, a real achievement for the number of days, weeks even, that he succeeded in spending just outside his head. He was like a Simeon Stylites sitting lonely and removed from the world. But not actually doing anything instead.

Eventually, he had to go in. But it was like an operation in which they give you only local anesthetics. He must spend all day floating through his mind and yet all the while his eyes are open and he can see the room and his body can feel the heat and his skin drips with humidity and his hair lies so lank so heavy so too heavy like a mop. . . .

He sat up quickly. He ran his hand though his hair. God, it was long and thick and heavy and hot. He lay down again. Now, where was I? I was remembering something. Um-hm. It was something important. I had it a second ago. Yes, yes, what was it now?

God. I just forgot. He sat up again. His hair fell into his eyes. He pushed it aside. It was long enough that with his head bent over it fell on his shoulder and kind of scratched. He ran his hand through it. It was knotted and damp. Exactly like a mop. One of those gray twisted things that never dry that you keep in a closet for really ugly messes. You can't ever dry them let alone clean them. They just suck up whatever nasty liquid was spilled, whatever smell, it would just take it on, selflessly add it to all the others it has had to accept over the years, back to the closet where it will get nicely mildewed and the smells will sort of gel and ferment and create a new dominant smell like a union or a confederation of smells with awesome powers and a self-identity greater than any one individual odor could possibly have on its own.

That's exactly what my hair is like. He held it in both hands as if he were about to rend it. It was a very biblical pose he attempted. He sat with his legs bent under him, his baggy saggy dingy boxers like some swaddling cloth, his emaciated belly fish white and having that little semicircular dish running below the navel just above the pubic hairs, that little starving pot-belly (Jesus had one, the starving Buddha too, St. Sebastian). A clump of hair in each hand like scales weighing their worth. He made his face into one of those ecstatic expressions, eyes pathetically reaching upward, the eyebrows two arched backs stretching to heaven.

He stopped doing this and looked down at himself. He was truly thin. There was no denying it. He went from just barely overdoing it with cocktails, Claudia cooking for him every single night such food mmmmmm he was almost too fat almost pudgy. Some might have said robust. But let's face it he had been positively getting to be undeniably unforgivably over the weight he was used to. Something had to be done. And he did. Barely, what, two and a half months? and he was virtually unrecognizable. In fact, he was beginning to suspect that not only was he virtually unrecognizable he was rapidly becoming unsubstantial. Not just invisible, no substance. He looked down at his hand. Surely he could see the floor boards through it. Well, maybe you can't but it's plain as day to me. In fact, I can see the grains of wood too. I bet if I hold it behind my back, he thought, placing his right hand against his kidney. See, exactly. Just what I suspected. I can see straight through my ribs. Of course my vital organs would be the first to go. Or would they? Perhaps they would be the last. So the skin is the first to go and then muscle, of course, and then lastly the organs.

I'll be pleased when the stomach goes, he thought. Not that I've been that hungry recently, but it would be nice to know I don't have to worry about that. Anymore.

Maybe the hair is holding me back. It's delaying the whole process of dissubstantiation. It's weighing me to the earth, so to speak. If I were to remove it, cut it off, say, I just might float up to the sky, to the heavens! It would certainly make me a lot cooler.

He stood with the assistance of the windowsill and walked to the bathroom. He couldn't be imagining it. It really was noticeably hotter when you got above three feet. There is no one to vouch for it, that's true, sir. But, well, just try it yourself, go ahead. See? It is hotter. You can almost see the division. If you had one of those heat graphs the ones that use colors or better yet a pair of goggles that showed heat changes, I'm sure they make them, they must somewhere, you'd be able to see it as plain as the hand in front of my face, though that won't be true for long.

He decided to wait for a second by the table. Just catch his breath relax feel the blood rushing through his head. He could hear his heart beating somewhere inside. Of course, soon I'll be able to see it. Just like in science class.

The table was rickety. No way it could support him should he try to sit down. It was strong enough for the typewriter which he knew for a fact was extremely heavy. He had carried it from the thrift shop on Fourteenth. It was exactly what he needed. Without looking he knew that the numbers were so old-fashioned that they were set slightly above and below the line as they used to do, the tail of the three and the five and the nine hanging a little below, the five waving that top part like a hat taken off in greeting. It was worth carrying it the whole six blocks and several avenues over here. Of course I was stronger then. I still had flesh I hadn't yet begun my dissubstantiation. As I recall I was nothing but substance then. Very little else I am afraid. Or was afraid rather.

He pushed himself off from the table and continued the six foot journey to the small bathroom. He admired his hair in the mirror as he leaned on the large porcelain basin. It had darkened again with all the time spent indoors out of the sun. It was very long, very Nineteenth Century. High forehead, widow's peak (slight) it hung in waves that curled at the bottom. Claudia liked it. Liked to run her hands through it. Just like in the movies. She has nice hair, he thought. Of course she will always complain about how bad her hair is how lucky I am to have such good hair. Such a waste giving it to a boy. She deserved that hair. And of course any mention of trouble with it and she would immediately pounce. "Oh, stop it. You're so lucky to have that hair. Don't let me hear you complaining about it."

Perhaps she was right, it was a waste to give nice hair to a man. They only want to cut it off anyhow. Or they're made to. If it would only just lay flat and behave and not stick out.

He opened the medicine chest. Of course there was no pair of scissors. He went to the kitchenette and took a knife from the drawer. Very primitive you must say. He stood again before the mirror, took a lock and sawed it off. It didn't really come off easily. It really came off from the pulling. He sawed some more. Ow. OW. OOOW. This is stupid. He looked at the mirror. Well, too late. No turning back. He continued yanking and sawing.

Eventually he had most of it off. It was uneven, jagged you might say. He looked like a convict. Or a convalescent. It looked terrible. He quickly turned away. In the other room there were no mirrors. Just heat. And humidity.

He sat on the edge of the cot. Well, it is cooler without all that hair. He ran his hand over the stubble and clumps. A poorly executed crew-cut. But he could feel skin through the hair just as he could feel air on his scalp. Definitely an improvement. He slipped off the cot to the floor. Definitely cooler under three feet. His head lay against the floor and he could feel the wood against his scalp. It was definitely lighter as well as cooler without it. Soon I'll just start floating up, floating away. Soon there will be nothing left but my mind.

He watched the little driplets of condensation on the ceiling.

Copyright © 1994

Enterzone Copyright © 1995

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