The silent embroiderer continues to weave. The rain tinkles, their spherical bodies dashing themselves against the window panes.
Her needle; quick – sharp – is the sniper resting on the water’s edge. Then it dives in, that little pinprick of red, and a flame slowly flickers on the surface of cobalt silk. That sudden flare, the inevitable anger! She stops her work, startled.
Then it quivers; dilating in a spectrum of orange, and the sudden memory of a held-back slap inches its way to the surface. A tear-streaked face, painted in hazy shades of white and grey, keeps repeating: “No, mamma.”
She tilts her head, grappling with the memory, her eyes narrowing involuntarily. The hazy film continues, unaided. But the persistence of her laconic reply rapidly gives way to the explosion. The hand moves suddenly, from out of the corner of her eye, and a tingling sting radiates across her fleshy cheeks, stippling its anger across naive flesh. “But why, mamma?” And another slap. “But why?” Slap.
Then it dims to night, as if someone had turned the light down a notch, and a blanket swims into view. Its hunched folds, pregnant with a slowly ebbing warmth and some strange, pernicious yearning now seems to her like that distant glimmer of stars, brushing against cold, stiffened feet, offering some unfulfilled premise of yet another forgotten story:
But what? And why?
She touches the cool metal, that sits neatly in the clasp of her throat, that silent observer, yielding no truth to her curious fingers, but pressing down on that hollow at the base of her throat.
Her chair creaks. The damp air clings to her. She stops her embroidery, and looks out through the dirty windows.
The cuckoo, doomed forever as that instigator of abandonment, starts crying out its wretched call in the fading daylight.
I notice the twitch marring his inscrutable expression, an ugly crack in a porcelain jar. But, before I can ask him about it, he’s already off, red-hot on his invisible mountain trail. Whatever anger he could have worked up earlier now simmers in his eyes, glowering softly in the near-darkness, two transparent eels traversing the black waters with nothing but their luminous tantalizers dangling surreptitiously off their sloping heads.
“After that he began waking up in the morning with a transparent jelly like a tadpole’s tail all over his mouth. This jelly was what the scientists call un-D.T., Undifferentiated Tissue, which can grow into any kind of flesh on the human body.”
He paused to clear his phlegmy throat.Then, beginning again, a stop-starting engine nestled in his wrinkly throat: “He would tear it off his mouth and the pieces would stick to his hands like burning gasoline jelly and grow there, grow anywhere on him a glob of it fell.”
The knife falls from his trembling hands. I nearly jump from the sudden sound of the metal clattering against the floor. In such a setting, that sound could have stopped everything in its path, I reckon. Perhaps, even time itself. Had he done it on purpose?
Not wanting to admit my skittishness, I immediately think up of something to say. “Well that was pretty interesting, Bill. Did you know that they have the potential to grow into malignant tumours? That’s what stopping them from using it legitimately. And it sounds a lot like Ditto’s function. Do you know what Ditto does? It’s the amorphous whorehouse of the Pokemon world. It’s apparently sexless. Isn’t it fascinating? You should play Pokemon some time soon.”
I tap his foot impatiently with my index finger. “Do they have video games over here? How the fuck does one come here, anyway?”
He gives me a “well, I never!” sort of look, almost pausing mid-sentence to ask me what the hell a Ditto could possibly be, but his eyes narrow and he chooses to continue his tale.
“So, finally his mouth sealed over, and the whole head would have have amputated spontaneous — (did you know there is a condition occurs in parts of Africa and only among Negroes where the little toe amputates spontaneously?) — except for the eyes you dig.”
“Well, you ain’t seen anything yet, you young fool.” he rasped.
“That’s one thing the asshole couldn’t do was see. It needed the eyes. But nerve connections were blocked and infiltrated and atrophied so the brain couldn’t give orders any more. It was trapped in the skull, sealed off.”
He picks up the knife, humming under his breath. Polishing it again with his hanky, he continues, pale blue eyes seeming to glow with an unearthly effect. A horizon that offers nothing to me, the keen follower, but the bright, blue sky –
“For a while you could see the silent, helpless suffering of the brain behind the eyes, then finally the brain must have died, because the eyes went out, and there was no more feeling in them than a crab’s eyes on the end of a stalk.”
Then, without any warning, he flings the knife, which whistles past my ear and hits a giant checkerboard now hanging on the wall – the same shades of black and white as his mask. For the first time, I catch a glimpse of a little black teardrop tattooed below the right eye, smoky iris crouched at a far end of the portico. I turn back to see where his knife has landed.
And I hereby come to the conclusion of Reading Naked Lunch! I’m not very good at writing legible reviews (if you see this attempt over here) so this was my way of compensating somewhat! I wanted to capture the feelings I had when I was writing this, and feel that I could have done better, but this may well become a springboard for future projects.
As I lower my head into the basin, I stare at the ceiling. There’s a crooked line, a visible crack, where the paint has started to peel. My hairdresser runs cold water on my hair and I close my eyes. The man doesn’t reappear. Nothing. Yes.
On the radio, a girl sings, “It was all just a mad daydream…”
Then I am led back to my chair. My bony butt does not savour the moment when my butt is re-introduced to the cold, hard seat. I look at the book. There it is, the red and yellow standing out in sharp contrast against the black upholstery, its cheery colours almost refuting what I had read earlier. I frown. Strange…it had looked so…inculpable, earlier. Was ‘inculpable’ the right word?I pick up the book again. Shit. A voice, ingratiatingly obnoxious, inserts itself between my ears.
“Real funny, too, at first.”
The man’s mouth slid forward in a grin, not losing the momentum.
“Did you miss me now, then?”
In place of the gentleman is now a hideously painted two-faced harlequin, ageing face painted half in white and half in black. He steps out neatly from a pile of something that slides around his stockinged feet in the darkness – I peer at the something – then I make out a quarter of a collar belonging to a smooth, crisp shirt – then a dark liquid pooling around his feet – blood!
The knife is nowhere to be seen. But the harlequin sneers at me and casts a mawkish glance at the something.
“Well, that’s just my old skin! My meat costume, I call it.It hurts like hell – always difficult when you start removing the skin round the balls – but I’ve always preferred myself this way. What d’you think?” He strode forward, clasping my hand in his. Cool and clammy. I swallow.
He smiles, his pale blue eyes twinkling merrily, then drops his voice to a growl. “Don’t give me that squeamish look, you insufferable piece of shit.” He pulls me forward in a crushing hug. Eeew. He smells utterly of junk. The sweet smell of opium perfumes his next whisper, the stench of death nailing my metaphysical coffin shut. “You know very well that I am I, but you are also I…” He forces me to my knees.
“You know you want it.”
Planting his foot on a stone with strange symbols that seemed to have sprouted out of nowhere (they look like…hieroglyphics), he utters the first sentence. A look of spellbound serenity enters the blue of his eyes.
“He had a number he called “The Better ‘Ole” that was a scream, I tell you. I forget most of it but it was clever. Like, “Oh I say, are you still down there, old thing?”
Then he paused, possibly for dramatic effect.
“Nah…I had to go relieve myself.”
In spite of my rather unfortunate position, I laugh. Dear god…
He sighs. “I wish I could get you to talk now, but you’ll have to listen to me first.” His mouth twitched.
Then, he mutters: “Pompous bastard.”
“After a while, the ass start talking on its own. He would go in without anything prepared and his ass would ad-lib and toss the gags back at him every time. Then it developed sort of teeth-like little raspy in-curving hooks and started eating.”
“Holy shit! What sort of asshole is that anyway – ” but he shushes me. He drones on:
“He thought this was cute at first and built an act around it, but the asshole would eat its way through his pants and start talking on the street, shouting out it wanted equal rights.”
“Sounds like Asperger’s to me! Or the current state of this world, at least…” I manage to blurt out, before he hits me on the head. “Ouch – fuck off!”
His face slowly slides like the slow, tumultuous motion of melted wax, taking on the mantle of exaggerated tragedy. “It would get drunk, too, and have crying jags – nobody loved it and it wanted to be kissed same as any other mouth.” He produced a handkerchief with ‘W.S.B’ embroidered on it in gold thread and dabbed at his eyes. When he removes his hankie, it is streaked with black and white. I roll my eyes, as I involuntarily sniff, and dodge the incoming whack from his bony fist. Then he continues, his tragic visage shape-shifting, mercurial quick, into that of the boy-faced mask of righteous petulance:
“Finally it talked all the time day and night, you could hear him for blocks screaming at it to shut up, and beating it with his fist, and sticking candles up it, but nothing did any good and the asshole said to him: “It’s you who will shut up in the end. Not me. Because we don’t need you around here any more. I can talk and eat and shit.”
He pauses again, and then takes out a pistol from nowhere (Nowhere at this point now looks like a legitimate place, but just not in front of my eyes), wiping the barrel with his handkerchief.
“Be careful with where you point that thing, boy!” I hiss under my breath.
His face cracks into a smile. “Did you know that I never, ever miss?” At the mention of ‘miss’ his mouth starts to slide down at the corner, taking on a resemblance to a sad clown rather than a cackling harlequin. “Unless, of course, if you count that one, terrible time…” Then his face hardens.
I’m sorry for the delay! This was supposed to be posted earlier this week, but lots of stuff happened this week and I wasn’t able to squeeze in any time to edit these pieces. This chapter describes my first introduction to The Word, which I thought was incredibly funny because it describes how the current world has actually gone to shit.
And here’s the rest of the chapters for your catch-up in the Reading Naked Lunch mini-series. 🙃
Then, I reopen the book, hair dripping in protest under the steam machine. My eyes immediately shift to off-focus. Go away, reluctance! The page starts swimming. The words seem to look like tiny ants crawling all over the paper. Hell no – it’s still the same gibberish. I want to toss my head in frustration, but then I suddenly remember that I have a hot steamer directly above my head. I try to turn my head to my left and catch a glimpse of the customer next to me, cheerfully chatting to another hairdresser.
The gentleman walks over and stands in front of me. “You have a choice. You know where the pivot is.”
Pivot? What is it? My eyes skim past a sentence. I ain’t know no pivot…“Did I ever tell you about the man who taught his asshole how to talk?” Where the hell was that pivot? Where is the –
“This ass talk had sort of a gut frequency. It hit you right down there like you gotta go.”
“You know when the old colon gives you the elbow and it feels sorta cold inside, and you know all you have to do is turn loose?” The gentleman grips hold of the knife and pulls it out, inspecting the blade, cleaning off the wood chips stuck to the tip of the knife.
His pale eyes reflect the cat’s eye glint from the blade. Then, his lips start moving, humming a melody that synchronizes with the enunciations of my tongue. The felt hat slips over his egg-shaped head. “Well this talking hit you right down there, a bubbly, thick stagnant sound, a sound you could smell.” He starts to take his coat off. The knife drops to the floor. His crisp, tailored shirt comes off, revealing a bony, exposed chest. A scar traces its jagged teeth over the expanse of his skin, right where the heart is. I can see the slight quiver that betrays the location of his human sensitivity. His hands drop towards his pants. His movements, oblivious, to my stare. His innocence, blatantly oblivious, to my shame. Do I avert my eyes? Or do I continue this horror peep show?
He picks up the knife. Then he stops humming. Speaking in a gravelly voice, he rumbles: “This man worked for a carnival you dig, and to start with it was like a novelty ventriloquist act.”
He proceeds to do the unthinkable. A laugh first escapes his throat, then, just as swiftly, the knife plunges into the territory of that scar. A blast of cold air hits my neck as my hairdresser removes the steamer from my hair. The scene abruptly squeals to a stop. The man vanishes. She gestures towards the washstand, speaking in kindly tones, the voice matching the image of her harmless, round face…
I shiver. I am glad, for I have not a single chance to witness whatever could have come next.
Congratulations for coming this far! If this rambling was to your liking, here’s Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. Happy reading!
After ten minutes in, I start to rub my eyes, not from my annoyance at my blurred vision, but from the unpleasant shock of what meets my eyes. Holy shit…
In the monolithic fog of pungent chemicals, line after line of violent gay sex and repulsive, anti-social behaviour runs past my eyes. I see oppressed towns where gaunt-faced inhabitants ruin themselves on the cheapest junk available. Leering mouths. Some sort of bloated, fleshy epigram starts floating in front of my rapidly blinking eyes, turning green and insect-esque by the blazing light of the late afternoon that illuminates the salon every time someone comes into the salon, quietly demanding its share of space snatched by the artificial fluorescent tube. I squint, hoping to clear my eyes. But the green tinge refuses to dissipate. It clings to my vision like a filmy piece of green plastic, sparkling at the edges, reminiscent of the crinkly green plastic that I used in making DIY lanterns as a kid.
The window shutter of thin flesh promptly severs my link to the immediate world in a quick blink. I try to imagine something else, groping for that sense of vague familiarity swimming in the darkness of this intimacy. But it’s no use – as my eyes blink open, the salon and all its sights and strong smells floods into view, the receding waves plunging me into bright, bright light. The fluorescent tube’s glare stings my vision. I squint again and wrinkle my nose.
White light. UV rays. White light being split into seven rays…an ultraviolet spectrum. Ultraviolence. No, wait.
A blood orchid slowly blossoms from the tip of a trembling needle. The clean snap of young, swan-like necks –
To my left, the hairdryer continues to whine. Scissors continue to snip. I try turning my head to see where my hairdresser is, but I’m restricted by the large steamer that sits over my head. I see only a pair of fleshy arms attached to something. Tch tch tch. Then a thought, morbid as only something imaginable can be, cracks a smile. What if hands had eyes to see what they were snipping? Would they have any morals to discern for themselves? Snip, snip snip – what the fuck am I reading? I slap the book shut.
I need to recuperate.
The silent gentleman (which, in retrospect, could have been pretending to sleep earlier) now gives a very obliging response.As he speaks, the brim of his felt hat slides over his eyes, softly glowing (?) in the distance. “You are too tired.”
Yes. I am too sleepy. Yes – that could be it. Okay. I’ll stop now and read it again later in the evening –
Silently, he takes out a knife with a beveled edge, and, in one smooth motion, flings it, where it hits the board with a resounding whack.But instead of whack, I hear No!
Confusion and Denial, the consorts of reluctance start laughing as they spinning my head round like a globe. The more I think about it, the more my head threatens to spin off its own axis. Where is the rotational axis, the thread that holds it all together? This does not compute. This does NOT compute –
I am not asking to be raped mentally. I am only reading to pass my time while waiting for my scalp to stop burning; for my hair to break free of its kinked bonds, goddamnit. Snip, snip, snip.
Then the realization hits me. What the fuck? Are you serious –
Need to jolt your mind? Chapter 1 of Reading Naked Lunch is over here!
The salon appointment arrives, twirling its skirt of forced gaiety on a Sunday morning whirl. We quickly set off, passing by tired aunties resignedly pushing their little aluminium trolleys filled with fresh produce from the market. Blue, pink, metal – Tudungs, hijabs and bobbing, unwashed hair. Pimply faces. Eyes squinting under a merciless sun. Mynahs squawking, pigeons going about deceptively innocent businesses.
My bad sleep last night means that I find myself trudging through a slightly hallucinatory state. This is soon confirmed by a speedy ball of barking cinnamon fur weaving itself through its owner’s legs, nearly tripping him up. Trying to get a hold on my own fatigue, I mutter: “That is a poodle. A dog.” Goddamnit. I need more sleep. The acrid smell of coffee, interweaving with the simpering smell of condensed milk, drifts my way, an invisible seduction rising from the hovering pinpricks of light in the distance. This is where the coffee shops call home. This is also where I call home.
I breathe in and get punched in the face for my efforts with the stench of hot oil. Thankfully, hunger never discriminates. We turn to the right, walk down the hotch-potch variety of shops and stop at the second-hand shop, gazing past stagnant pools of antiquated junk that has now invaded the vacuity in front of the next shop like some malevolent virus. Cassette players, music CDs, sad-looking branded fashions, silver watches eaten by the time of rust…
The shopkeeper, a little lady with red hair the same shade as her sprightliness, smiles at us and we exchange polite banalities. I look at her crimson hair, nails and smile. Red lips disappearing into the void of pink flesh, where the lipstick fails to cover her paleness, enveloping its voluptuousness over little, sharp teeth. I think she looks a little like a vampire. I catch myself in time, just before the words leave my mouth and into the beautiful yonder of a potential social blunder. My internal alarm screams at me: YOU FUCKING IDIOT –
We open the door. A little bell tinkers. Again, another assault on the senses by sharp hydroxide, the ceaseless chattering in dialect, hairdryers screaming up a storm…dear god. I sit down and take off my spectacles. My uncomfortably naked eyes starts to squint under the fluoroscent glare. To make up for it (fuck knows why, honestly), I start smiling vaguely at my reflection. I make out two panda-shaped blots in the Impressionist lens of my myopia.
Shit, that could have been a grimace. Horrified, I quickly revert to blinking obscurely at my own visage. The torturous procedure of hair relaxation soon commences, but only after an hour since the lady besides me takes up much of my hairdresser’s attention.
The perfect time to start on my book! I lean back as much as I can, squirming in the fake leather seat as I do so, and open my book…
I love the immediate sensory thrills of the wet market in real life. Dried cuttlefish stinking away in large styrofoam crates, the raucous calls of stall owners hawking their wares, having a speedy breakfast of soybean curds and fried dough fritters on a particularly cramped table…
This strange, thin man – who is he? This skulking shadow of a gentleman, peering from neatly pressed suits…I stare at my computer screen. Fascination has me in its cool grasp. Horn-rimmed glasses. Very long arms. They are thin and spindly. His expression, hard to read in the fading light, fixes me with a very cool stare. I start frowning.
Who are you, strange man?
My tentative point of entry: a second-hand copy with yellowed pages. US Grove Edition 2001. Large font splashed all over the cover in red and yellow. It arrives, suitably, in a poorly-looking envelope. My fingers tear away at the thin paper. This also marks my first foray into the delights of Internet purchases. Books – nothing too tricky. I don’t need measurements or expiry dates. A quick Goodreads lookup and a cursory glance at the synopsis will do. I quickly flip through the pages with some interest. What will this book bring to the fore? Then, something catches my eye, and my fingers pause mid-page in papery playback.
A green line, a horizontal literary crack – I’ve stumbled onto an annotation! Signs of its second-handedness has revealed itself. The ink has seeped through the thin page to the back, its garishness setting off silent bells. What promise did that single line pledge to the person before me? What did that sentence exactly mean to him – or her? Or it? My eyes alight on the visual tidbit, tittering. Mmmmmm….
Then this strange man says, “Fondle this line with curiousity.”
Huh? Okay, fine – whatever you say, strange ol’ man…
“NAKED LUNCH – a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.”
I turn my head back to my tiny stack of library books. Someone at the back of my mind starts to mutter a mantra, a disembodied voice that echoes from the bottom of a dry well. “No, it’s not time for you to read that yet…” I start chewing on my lip, being as predictable as any anime trope that involves the not-so-subtle glint of spectacles. There’s only two choices for me to pick. Which one will it be?
After some consideration, I place it back on my groaning bookshelf, uttering a silent “sorry” to its groaning weight. As I settle on my bed, ready to frolick with another anonymous character on page 114, my right eye registers the red and yellows of the cover, now saddened by the dimness to the equivalent of dark mustard and menstrual stains. The enclosed darkness of my bookshelf seems to coccoon my book tightly in its wooden bosom, as if protecting it from my hungry gaze with its stare of death. Excuse me – but did you just buy me to add to your collection of pretentious literature? Fuck me. I could swear that Proust book almost gave me that exact accusatory statement.
I quickly resolve to stop being so bookishly promiscuous and thunk down a mental note to read it during my salon appointment.
I initially wanted to write another lengthy, mind-twiddling discourse on Burroughs (which would make no sense in the end, lol) but fictionalizing my Naked Lunch reading seems more fun then another attempt at cracking the dry desert. So here is the first chapter of Reading Naked Lunch, which I will split into six chapters. A proper story with a beginning and an end, readers. Finally.