My mother put on a dress that accentuated her plush 1950’s figure and my father put on a dark business suit to go to the funeral. They were leaving me home. My father was below average height, but towered above me as he bent to kiss me goodbye. His lips came out of a cloud of Old Spice.
They left. I watched the Impala pull away through the ground-level, den window, the same window through which my pal Richie and I sneaked frightened peeks when we watched monster movies. It was a grey and windy day, ordered for the occasion. I wondered why my grandmother had to die. Even at nine, I had a religious and philosophical bent, but no way to express it. I had yet to discover nature. I had yet to discover poetry.
My father liked to talk to me about stocks and bonds. He thought if he encouraged me, I would become financially precocious and knowledgeable enough to become rich before I reached my twenties. From where he got this strange idea, that I was capable of this, I don’t know. All I wanted to accumulate was understanding, like Buddha, to understand my suffering and the suffering of the world.
The suffering of the world was clear to me, the way my father presumed the secrets of trading of stocks and bonds would become clear to me. I perceived the suffering of the world, not in words, but in my body.
After my parents left for the funeral, I sat around for a while, then got the idea to cut open a battery, one of the big square ones my father kept in the garage, the ones we’d need when the Russians unleashed World War Three. My idea came, not from scientific impulses, but religious ones. I wanted to see the power that was held inside a battery. I had the idea that I could eat the power and, as in my comic books, become a super-hero, though I was troubled by the fact that I would be required to keep arch-villains in line. That worry accompanied me out into the cold garage to get one of those batteries and some tools, tools to unlock the secrets of the universe. I didn’t see myself as someone who could dominate villains, but figured that once I had the power that hid within batteries, I would find a way.
I sawed and pried. I wasn’t good with tools. My father had never taken the time to train me. He was too busy training me to be a wunderkind investor, but I was persistent and sawed and pried some more until I had opened a battery’s case. I was crushed when all I found was black powder, nothing that looked like power at all, nothing that looked like answers.
A careless child, I tracked this black powder all through the white house, on the white carpets that I always believed were the furs of little white French Poodles. Even as I grew into adolescence, I would not let go of that belief, even as I grew into adolescence and put the final nails into my father’s boy-investor fantasies with alcohol, drugs and delinquency.
My parents finally came home from the funeral. My grief-stricken father came home. They saw the black footprints tracked throughout the house. They saw the mutilated battery I’d left in the den. Rage from grief, from the stupidity of life, from onerous obligation, quickly grew in my father…
I’m tired of my dentist threatening me with the dire consequences of not getting treatment for periodontal disease and Acid Erosion. My dentist and I have a special relationship, because during my first appointment with her, while I was under the influence of nitrous oxide, she “sexually assaulted” me, which I found quite pleasant and far preferable to other treatments she might have visited on me instead. Still, though she violated her professional ethics, she retains professional concerns, and it is true: my mouth is a mess.
After my angry father left, I was raised by a single mother who suffered from paranoid beliefs, which she passed on to me, one of which was that dentists purposely sabotage your teeth, mostly by scraping them to create cavities, to promote business for themselves. Some of my mother’s delusions I recognized as crazy, but this one made perfect sense. Therefore, I did not visit a dentist until I was in my late twenties and suffered a terrible toothache.
My dentist, who is in her forties and whom I call Dr. Humberta Humberta (to her chagrin), fixed my ailing tooth and, as I already said, provided some additional therapy for free. Therefore, as her illicit treatments continue (though they have moved to her bedroom in a luxury condominium), I humor her dental fears for me. She’s a good dentist, though I can already see that as time goes on, she’s going to become more and more insecure about the difference in our ages and, if she’s not careful, she’s going to become a royal pain in the ass about it and it will destroy our relationship.
I will have to be more and more attentive to her to alleviate her fears, to let her know that I still find her incredibly sexy, with or without nitrous oxide.
Everyone’s down on Narcissism these days (especially my dentist, my lover, who accuses me of being narcissistic). They think it’s equivalent to egotism, but it’s not. Egotism is a surfeit of vanity, while Narcissism is a life sentence. One is convicted to always have one’s most significant relationship be with oneself. It’s a difficult life, yet it has the benefit of insulating one from the loathsome concerns of others (including those of my dentist, my lover). It also makes one less vulnerable to the mass hypnosis of modern consumer culture because, when you’re a narcissist, you implicitly understand that possessions don’t matter. Only your personal drama matters, and your personal drama is like life itself: it arrives naked and departs the same way.
Oblivion follows death and precedes life, parentheses like no other, two heavily gaseous eternities. We cram life into a tube, like stuffing a sausage, an intense and fatty interlude.
Life is so short and, for soldiers killed in combat, even shorter. The shitty first draft is all they get, no chance to revise or build the narrative, add complication, anger, joy.
A Moldovan woman lifts the tongue of a wagon, but there is no horse. Where is the horse? She is too exhausted to solve problems. She lifts the tongue of the wagon and desperately hopes that God will send a horse. She stands holding it through the winter. Moldova was warmer than Moscow when her great-grandfather deserted Napolean’s army and staggered south.
She has not seen her husband for a spell. She has forgotten what he looks like. Has he taken the horse? Where has it taken him? Her children are dead or unborn. She is alone.
Rainer Maria Rilke prayed: Oh Lord, give each of us his own death.
God sneered. You humans have whined for so much in life. I’ve created a hundred thousand deaths, and that’s still not enough for you? You want more deaths than favors of ice cream. Do you want a Strachiatella death, or one with pistachios, with chunks of fudge? I’ll give you all a Rocky Road death. I’ll diminish the choices to that, even for the 1% who hogged off in life. I’ll give them a plenitude of pain and suffering. What did you want, Rainer? I’ve forgotten now.
The author: Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over eight hundred of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad, including the COMMONLINE JOURNAL. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for work published in 2012, 2013, and 2014. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition. He lives in Denver.
The artist: Daniel Ayles is a Portland, Oregon-based artist whose work bridges the gap between the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. If you are interested in exploring his body of work further, you can see examples of his art in the 2012 August issue of The Horror Zine. You may also view two collaborative pieces he did with Tiffany Luna in the 2012 November issue of The Horror Zine.