|Literary technique||Realism||Modernism||Post modernism|
|Language and style||
Monday, February 25, 2013
Monday, February 18, 2013
Timothy Findlay on the nature of writing, madness and the relationship of dance and theatre to his writing...
“It’s vicious being a writer...one of the worst things is the inner demand that you be professional. You have to be a professional. You have to be utterly disciplined about whatever you’re ding, which is to say you have to make yourself do the thing your integrity has told you is the right thing to do, despite all the fearful and cautionary advice you get from your mind. All authors are whispered to by their characters. The characters want life, and you have to give it to them. It’s a little like rape, with no recourse to abortion. They take your body, and you have to give birth. So ‘professionalism’ is obedience, to be obedient to the whispering inside of you, among others...”
“I don’t make the map before I go...It’s all a question of recognition on my part. Testing the inner thing, whether it’s instinct or whatever you’re trusting. Trusting instinct does mean dispensing with your internal editor, but, rather, being willing to set it aside in order to explore areas of thought and experience that may be painful, frightening, and fraught with various taboos...”
“...the mad person can see things—the heart of things. Of hurt, for instance—that we do not see, because he or she has no protective walls: one thing about the ‘mad’, you see, is they don’t like lies. So this is why I seize so often upon these people as the heroes of my work. It’s only because they have this straight, flung-out connection through the mind to some kind of absolute clarity. And this is what fiction is about: achieving the clarity obscured by facts.”
“...take dance. What a dancer does is make a series of statements. And the statements are made out of gestures: gestures in a sequence. So words – words are the vocabulary of literate gesture. And the combination of your words have be a precise as the combination of gestures used by a dancer to make an articulate statement in dance. And there’s something else, I think to be said about this. You know, when you learn to dance–when you learn to move—you learn to move from the centre of your body: from the solar plexus—from the diaphragm. You learn that everything must originate and grow outward towards the conclusion of the gesture: the formation of the statement. And, as an actor, when you learn how to speak—you learn to speak from there: from the centre—from the diaphragm. And, oddly enough—and here we come to the writing—when a sentence hits—or when a paragraph hits—that’s where it hits. In the solar plexus...Words in a sentence are a written gesture. And if the cadence is wrong—if the rhythm is wrong—if a single syllable is out of place—the sentence fails...the book fails. Why? Because you have failed to impel the reader forward with every gesture...right to the ‘fingertips’—all the way from the solar plexus. That’s where books are written. That’s where readers read.”
Monday, February 11, 2013
George Bowering (Editor). Likely stories. Coach house press, 1992. Originally published in stones, penguin books, 1988.
DREAMS. Timothy Findlay.
DREAMS. Timothy Findlay.
Doctor Menlo was having a problem: he could not sleep and his wife – the other Doctor Menlo – was secretly staying awake in order to keep an eye on him. The trouble was that, in spite of her concern and in spite of her efforts, Doctor Menlo – whose name was Mimi – was always nodding off because of her exhaustion.
She had tried drinking coffee, but this had no effect. She detested coffee and her system had a built-in rejection mechanism. She also prescribed herself a week’s worth of Dexedrine to see if that would do the trick. Five mg at bedtime – all to no avail. And even though she put the plastic bottle of small orange hearts beneath her pillow and kept augmenting her intake, she would wake half an hour later with a dreadful start to discover the night was moving on to morning.
Everett Menlo had not yet declared the source of his problem. His restless condition had begun about ten days ago and had barely raised his interest. Soon, however, the time spent lying awake had increased from one to several hours and then, on Monday last, to all-night sessions. Now he lay in a state of rigid apprehension – eyes wide open, arms above his head, his hands in fists – like a man in pain unable to shut it out. His neck, his back and his shoulders constantly harried him with cramps and spasms. Everett Menlo had become a full-blown insomniac.
Clearly, Mimi Menlo concluded, her husband was refusing to sleep because he believed something dreadful was going to happen the moment he closed his eyes. She had encountered this sort of fear in one or two of her patients. Everett, on the other hand, would not discuss the subject. If the problem had been hers, he would have said such things cannot occur if you have gained control of yourself.
Mimi began to watch for the dawn. She would calculate its approach by listening for the increase of traffic down below the bedroom window. The Menlos’ home was across the road from the Manulife Centre – corner of Bloor and Bay streets. Mimi’s first sight of daylight always revealed the high, white shape of its terraced storeys. Their own apartment building was of a modest height and colour – twenty floors of smoky glass and polished brick. The shadow of Manulife would crawl across the bedroom floor and climb the wall behind her, grey with fatigue and cold.
The Menlo beds were an arm’s length apart, and lying like a rug between them was the shape of a large, black dog of unknown breed. All night long, in the dark of his well, the dog would dream and he would tell the content of his dreams the way victims in a trance will tell of being pursued by posses of their nameless fears. He whimpered, he cried and sometimes he howled. His legs and paws would jerk and flail and his claws would scrabble desperately against the parquet floor. Mimi – who loved this dog – would lay her hand against his side and let her fingers dabble in his coat in vain attempts to soothe him. Sometimes, she had to call his name in order to rouse him fro m his d reams because his heart would be racing. Other times, she smiled and thought: at least there’s one of us getting some sleep. The dog’s name was Thurber and he dreamed in beige and white.
Everett and Mimi Menlo were both psychiatrists. His field was schizophrenia; hers was autistic children. Mimi’s venue was the Parkin Institute at the University of Toronto; Everett’s was the Queen Street Mental Health Centre. Early in their marriage they had decided never to work as a team and not – unless it was a matter of financial life and death – to accept employment in the same institution. Both had always worked with the kind of physical intensity that kills, and yet they gave the impression this was the only tolerable way in which to function. It meant there was always a sense peril in what they did, but the peril – according to Everett – made their lives worth living. This, at least, had been his theory twenty years ago when they were young.
Now, for whatever unnamed reason, peril had become his enemy and Everett Menlo had begun to look and behave and lose his sleep like a haunted man. But he refused to comment when Mimi asked him what was wrong. Instead, he gave the worst of all possible answers a psychiatrist can hear who seeks an explanation of a patient’s silence: he said there was absolutely nothing wrong.
‘You’re sure you’re not coming down with something?’
‘And you wouldn’t like a massage?’
‘I’ve already told you: no.’
‘Can I get you anything?’
‘And you don’t want to talk?’
‘Okay, Everett ...’
‘Okay, nothing. I only hope you get some sleep tonight.’
Everett stood up. ‘Have you been spying on me, Mimi?’
‘What do you mean by spying?’
‘Watching me all night long.’
‘Well, Everett, I don’t see how I can fail to be aware you aren’t asleep when we share this bedroom. I mean - I can hear you grinding your teeth. I can see you lying there awake.’
‘All the time. You’re staring at the ceiling.’
‘I’ve never stared at the ceiling in my whole life. I sleep on my stomach.’
‘You sleep on your stomach if you sleep. But you have not been sleeping. Period. No argument.’
Everett Menlo went to his dresser and got out a pair of clean pyjamas. Turning his back on Mimi, he put them on.
Somewhat amused at the coyness of this gesture, Mimi asked what he was hiding.
‘Nothing!’ he shouted at her.
Mimi’s mouth fell open. Everett never yelled. His anger wasn’t like that; it manifested itself in other ways, in silence and withdrawal, never shots.
Everett was staring at her defiantly. He had slammed the bottom drawer of his dresser. Now he was fumbling with the wrapper of a pack of cigarettes.
Mimi’s stomach tied a knot.
Everett hadn’t touched a cigarette for weeks.
‘Please don’t smoke those,’ she said. ‘You’ll only be sorry if you do.’
‘And you,’ he said, ‘will be sorry if I don’t.’
‘But, dear...’ said Mimi.
‘Leave me for Christ’s sake alone!’ Everett yelled.
Mimi gave up and sighed and then she said: ‘all right. Thurber and I will go and sleep in the living room. Goodnight.’
Everett sat on the edge of his bed. His hands were shaking.
‘Please,’ he said – apparently addressing the floor. ‘Don’t leave me here alone. I couldn’t bear that.’
This was perhaps the most chilling thing he could have said to her. Mimi was alarmed; her husband was genuinely terrified of something and he would not say what it was. If she had not been who she was – if she had not known what she knew – if her years of training had not prepared her to watch out for signs like this, she might have been better off. As it was, she had to face the possibility the strongest, most sensible man on earth was having a nervous breakdown of major proportions. Lots of people have breakdowns, of course; but not, she had thought, the gods of reason.
‘All right,’ she said – her voice maintaining the kind of calm she knew a child afraid of the dark would appreciate. ‘In a minute I’ll get us something to drink. But first, I’ll go and change ...’
Mimi went into the sanctum of the bathroom, where her nightgown waited for her – a portable hiding-place hanging on the back of the door. ‘You stay there,’ she said to Thurber, who had padded after her. ‘Mama will be out in just a moment.’
Even in the dark, she could gauge Everett’s tension. His shadow – all she could see of him – twitched from time to time and the twitching took on a kind of lurching rhythm, something like the broken clock in their living room.
Mimi lay on her side and tried to close her eyes. But her eyes were tied to a will of their own and would not obey her. Now she, too, was caught in the same irreversible tide of sleeplessness that bore her husband backwards through the night. Four or five times she watched him lighting cigarettes – blowing out matches, courting disaster in the bedclothes – conjuring the worst deaths for the three of them: a flaming pyre on the twentieth floor.
All this behaviour was utterly unlike him; foreign to his code of disciplines and ethics; alien to everything he said and believed. Openness, directness, sharing of ideas, encouraging imaginative response to every problem. Never hide troubles. Never allow despair ... These were his directives in everything he did. Now, he had thrown them over.
One thing was certain. She was not the cause of his sleeplessness. She didn’t have affairs and neither did he. He might be ill – but whenever he’d been ill before, there had been no trauma; never a trauma like this one, at any rate. Perhaps it was something about a patient – one of his tougher cases; a wall in the patient’s condition they could not break through; some circumstance of someone’s lack of progress – a sudden veering towards a catatonic state, for instance – something that Everett had not foreseen that stymied him and was slowly ... what? Destroying his sense of professional control? His self-esteem? His scientific certainty? If only he would speak.
Mimi thought about her own worst case: a child whose obstinate refusal to communicate was currently breaking her heart and thus, her ability to help. If ever she had needed Everett to talk to, it was now. All her fellow doctors were locked in a battle over this child; they wanted to take him away from her. Mimi refused to give him up; he might as well have been her own flesh and blood. Everything had been done – from gentle holding sessions to violent bouts of manufactured anger – in her attempt to make the child react. She was staying with him every day from the moment he was roused to the moment he was induced to sleep with drugs.
His name was Brian Bassett and he was eight years old. He sat on the floor in the furthest corner he could achieve in one of the observation-isolation rooms where all the autistic children were placed when nothing else in their treatment – nothing of love or expertise – had managed to break their silence. Mostly, this was a signal they were coming to the end of life.
There in his four-square, glass-box room, surrounded by all that can tempt a child if a child can be tempted – toys and food and storybook companions – Brian Bassett was in the process, now, of fading away. His eyes were never closed and his arms were restrained. He was attached to three machines that nurtured him with all that science can offer. But of course, the spirit and the will to live cannot be fed by force to those who don’t want to feed.
Now, in the light of Brian Bassett’s utter lack of willing contact with the world around him – his utter refusal to communicate – Mimi watched her husband through the night. Everett stared at the ceiling, lit by the Manulife building’s distant lamps, borne on his back further and further out to sea. She had lost him, she was certain.
When, at last, he saw that Mimi had drifted into her own and welcome sleep, Everett rose from his bad and went out into the hall, past the simulated jungle of the solarium, until he reached the dining room. There, all the way till dawn, he amused himself with two decks of cards and endless games of Dead Man’s Solitaire.
Thurber rose and shuffled after him. The dining room was one of Thurber’s favourite places in all his confined but privileged world, for it was here – as in the kitchen - that from time to time a hand descended filled with the miracle of food. But whatever it was that his master was doing up there above him on the table-top, it wasn’t anything to do with feeding or being fed. The playing cards had an old and dusty dryness to their scent and they held no appeal for the dog. So he once again lay down and he took up his dreams, which at least gave his paws some exercise. This way, he failed to hear the advent of a new dimension to his master’s problem. This occurred precisely at 5:45 A.M. when the telephone rang and Everett Menlo, having rushed to answer it, waited breathless for a minute while he listened and then said: ‘yes’ in a curious, strangulated fashion. Thurber – had he been awake – would have recognised in his master’s voice the signal for disaster.
For weeks now, Everett had been working with a patient who was severely and uniquely schizophrenic. The patient’s name was Kenneth Albright, and while he was deeply suspicious, he was also oddly caring. Kenneth Albright loved the detritus of life, such as bits of woolly dust and wads of discarded paper. He loved all dried-up leaves that had drifted from their parent trees and he loved the dead bees that had curled up to die along the window sills of his ward. He also loved the spider webs seen high up in the corners of the rooms where he sat on plastic chairs and ate with plastic spoons.
Kenneth Albright talked a lot about his dreams. But his dreams had become, of late, a major stumbling block in the process of his recovery. Back in the days when Kenneth had first become Doctor Menlo’s patient, the dreams had been overburdened with detail: ‘over-cast,’ as he would say, ‘with characters’ and over-produced, again in Kenneth’s phrase, ‘as if I were dreaming the dreams of Cecil B. De Mille.’
Then he said: ‘but a person can’t really dream someone else’s dreams. Or can they, Doctor Menlo?’
‘No’ had been Everett’s answer – definite and certain.
Everett Menlo had been delighted, at first, with Kenneth Albright’s dreams. They had been immensely entertaining – complex and filled with intriguing detail. Kenneth himself was at a loss to explain the meaning of these dreams, but as Everett had said, it wasn’t Kenneth’s job to explain. That was Everett’s job. His job and his pleasure. For quite a long while, during these early sessions, Everett had written out the dreams, taken them home and recounted them to Mimi.
Kenneth Albright was a paranoid schizophrenic. Four times now, he had attempted suicide. He was a fiercely angry man at times – and at other times as gentle and as pleasant as a docile child. He had suffered so greatly, in the very worst moments of his disease, that he could no longer work. His job – it was almost an incidental detail and had no importance for him, so it seemed – was returning reference books, in the Metro library, to their places in the stacks. Sometimes – mostly late of an afternoon – he might begin a psychotic episode of such profound dimensions that he would attempt his suicide right behind the counter and even once, in the full view of everyone, while riding in the glass-walled elevator. It was after this last occasion that he was brought, in restraints, to be a resident patient at the Queen Street Mental Health Centre. He had slashed his wrists with a razor – but not before he had also slashed and destroyed an antique copy of Don Quixote, the pages of which he pasted to the walls with blood.
For a week thereafter, Kenneth Albright – just like Brian Bassett – had refused to speak or to move. Everett had kept him in an isolation cell, force-fed and drugged. Slowly, by a dint of patience, encouragement and caring even Kenneth could recognize as genuine, Everett Menlo had broken through the barrier. Kenneth was removed from isolation, pampered with food and cigarettes, and he began relating his dreams.
At first there seemed to be only the dreams and nothing else in Kenneth’s memory. Broken pencils, discarded toys and the telephone directory all had roles to play in these dreams but there was never any people. All the weather was bleak and all the landscapes were empty. Houses, motor cars and office buildings never made an appearance. Sounds and smells had some importance; the wind would blow, the scent of unseen fires was often described. Stairwells were plentiful, leading nowhere, all of them rising from a subterranean world that Kenneth either did not dare to visit or would not describe.
The dreams had little variation, one from another. The themes had mostly to do with loss and with being lost. The broken pencils were all given names and the discarded toys were given to one another as companions. The telephone books were the sources of recitations – hours and hours of repeated names and numbers, some of which – Everett had noted with surprise – were absolutely accurate.
All of this held fast until an incident occurred one morning that changed the face of Kenneth Albright’s schizophrenia forever; an incident that stemmed – so it seemed – from something he had dreamed the night before.
Bearing in mind his previous attempts at suicide, it will be obvious that Kenneth Albright was never far from sight at the Queen Street Mental Health Centre. He was, in fact, under constant observation; constant, that is, as human beings and modern technology can manage. In the ward to which he was ultimately consigned, for instance, the toilet cabinets had no doors and the shower room had no locks. Therefore, a person could not ever be alone with water, glass or shaving utensils. (All the razors were cordless automatics). Scissors and knives were banned, as were pieces of string and rubber bands. A person could not even kill his feet and hands by binding up his wrists or ankles. Nothing poisonous was anywhere available. All the windows were barred. All the double doors between this ward and the corridors beyond were doors with triple locks and a guard was always near at hand.
Still, if people want to die, they will find a way. Mimi Menlo would discover this to her everlasting sorrow with Brian Bassett. Everett Menlo would discover this to his everlasting horror with Kenneth Albright.
On the morning of April 19th, a Tuesday, Everett Menlo, in the best of health, had welcomed a brand-new patient into his office. This was Anne Marie Wilson, a young and brilliant pianist whose promising career had been halted mid-flight by a schizophrenic incident involving her ambition. She was, it seemed, no longer able to play and all her dreams were shattered. The cause was simple, to all appearances: Anne Marie had no sense of how, precisely, the music should be and she had not been able to master it accordingly. ‘Everything I attempt is terrible,’ she had said – in spite of all her critical accolades and all her professional success. Other doctors had tried and failed to break the barriers in Anne Marie, whose hands had taken on a life of their own, refusing altogether to work for her. Now it was Menlo’s turn and hope was high.***
Everett had been looking forward to his session with this prodigy. He loved all music and had thought to find some means within its discipline to reach her. She seemed so fragile, sitting there in the sunlight, and he had just begun to take his first notes when the door flew open and Louise, his secretary, had said: ‘I’m sorry, Doctor Menlo. There’s a problem. Can you come with me at once?’
Everett excused himself.
Anne Marie was left in the sunlight to bide her time. Her fingers were moving around in her lap and she put them in her mouth to make them quiet.
Even as he’d heard his secretary speak, Everett had known the problem would be Kenneth Albright. Something in Kenneth’s eyes had warned him there was trouble on the way: a certain wariness that indicated all was not as placid as it should have been, given his regime of drugs. He had stayed long hours in one position, moving his fingers over his thighs as if to dry them on his trousers; watching his fellow patients come and go with abnormal interest – never, however, rising from his chair. An incident was on the horizon and Everett had been waiting for it, hoping it would not come.***
Louise had said that Doctor Menlo was to go at once to Kenneth Albright’s ward. Everett had run the whole way. Only after the attendant had let him in past the double doors, did he slow his pace to a hurried walk and wipe his brow. He didn’t want Kenneth to know how alarmed he had been.
Coming to the appointed place, he paused before he entered, closing his eyes, preparing himself for whatever he might have to see. Other people have killed themselves: I’ve seen it often enough, he was thinking. I simply won’t let it affect me. Then he went in.
The room was small and white – a dining room – and Kenneth was sitting down in a corner, his back pressed out against the walls on either side of him. His head was bowed and his legs drawn up and he was obviously trying to hide without much success. An intern was standing above him and a nurse was kneeling down beside him. Several pieces of bandaging with blood on them were scattered near Kenneth’s feet and there was a white enamel basin filled with pinkish water on the floor beside the nurse.
‘Morowetz,’ Everett said to the intern. ‘Tell me what has happened here.’ He said this just the way he posed such questions when he took the interns through the wards at examination time, quizzing them on symptoms and prognoses.
But Morowetz the intern had no answer. He was puzzled. What had happened had no sane explanation.
Everett turned to Charterhouse, the nurse.
‘On the morning of April 19th, at roughly ten-fifteen, I found Kenneth Albright covered with blood,’ Ms. Charterhouse was to write in her report. ‘His hands, his arms, his face and his neck was stained. I would say the blood was fresh and the patient’s clothing – mostly his shirt – was wet with it. Some – a very small amount of it – had dried on his forehead. The rest was uniformly the kind of blood you expect to find free-flowing from a wound. I called for assistance and meanwhile attempted to ascertain where Mister Albright might have been injured. I performed this examination without success. I could find no source of bleeding anywhere on Mister Albright’s body.’
The blood was someone else’s.
‘Was there a weapon of any kind?’ Doctor Menlo had wanted to know.
‘No, sir. Nothing,’ said Charterhouse.
‘And he was alone when you find him?’
‘Yes, sir. Just like this in the corner.’
‘And the others?’
‘All the patients in the ward were examined,’ Morowetz told him.
‘Not one of them was bleeding.’
Everett said: ‘I see.'
He looked down at Kenneth.
‘This is Doctor Menlo, Kenneth. Have you anything to tell me?’
Kenneth did not reply.
Everett said: ‘When you’ve got him back in his room and tranquilized, will you call me please?’
The call never came. Kenneth had fallen asleep. Either the drugs he was given had knocked him out cold,
or he had opted for silence. Either way, he was incommunicado.
No one was discovered bleeding. Nothing was found to indicate an accident, a violent attack, an epileptic seizure. A weapon was not located. Kenneth Albright had not a single scratch on his flesh from stem, as Everett put it, to gudgeon. The blood, it seemed, had fallen like the rain from heaven: unexplained and inexplicable.
Later, as the day was ending, Everett Menlo left the Queen Street Mental Health Centre. He made his way home on the Queen streetcar and the Bay bus. When he reached the apartment, Thurber was waiting for him. Mimi was at a goddamned meeting.
That was the first night Everett Menlo suffered the first of his failures to sleep. It was occasioned by the fact that, when he wakened sometime after there, he had just been dreaming. This, of course, was not unusual – but the dream itself was perturbing. There was someone lying there, in the bright white landscape of a hospital dining room. Whether it was a man or a woman could not be told, it was just a human body, lying down in a pool of blood.
Kenneth Albright was kneeling beside this body, pulling it open the way a child will pull a Christmas present open – yanking at its strings and ribbons, wanting only to see the contents. Everett saw this scene from several angles, never speaking never being spoken to. In all the time he watched – the usual dream eternity – the silence was broken only by the sound of water dripping from an unseen tap. Then, Kenneth Albright rose and was covered in blood, the way he had been that morning. He stared at Doctor Menlo, looked right through him and departed. Nothing remained in the dining room but plastic tables and plastic chairs and the bright red thing that had once been a person. Everett Menlo did not know and could not guess who this person might have been. He only knew that Kenneth Albright had left this person’s body in Everett Menlo’s dream.
Three nights running, the corpse remained in its place and every time that Everett entered the dining room in the nightmare he was certain the would find out who it was. On the fourth night, fully expecting to discover he himself was the victim, he beheld the face and saw it was a stranger.
But there are no strangers in dreams; he knew that now after twenty years of practice. There are no strangers; there are only people in disguise.
Mimi made one final attempt in Brian Bassett’s behalf to turn away the fate to which his other doctors – both medical and psychiatric – had consigned him. Not that, as a group, they had failed to expend the full weight of all they knew and all they could do to save him. One of his medical doctors – a woman whose name was Juliet Batemen – had moved a cot into his isolation room and stayed with him twenty-four hours a day for over a week. But her health had been undermined by this and when she succumbed to the Shanghai flu she removed herself for fear of infecting Brian Bassett.***
The parents had come and gone on a daily basis for months in a killing routine of visits. But parents, their presence and their loving, are not the answer when a child has fallen into an autistic state. They might as well have been strangers. And so they had been advised to stay away.
Brian Bassett was eight years old – unlucky eight, as one of his therapists had said – and in every other way, in terms of physical development and mental capability, he had always been a perfectly normal child. Now, in the final moments of his life, he weighed a scant thirty pounds when he should have weighed twice that much.
Brian had not been heard to speak a single word in over a year of constant observation. Earlier – as long ago as seven months – a few expressions would visit from his face from time to time. Never a smile – but often a kind of sneer, a passing of judgement, terrifying in its intensity. Other times, a pinched expression would appear – a signal of the shyness peculiar to autistic children, who think light as being unfriendly.
Mimi’s militant efforts in behalf of Brian had been exemplary. Her fellow doctors thought of her as Bassett’s crazy guardian angel. They begged her to remove herself in order to preserve her health. Being wise, being practical, they saw that all her efforts would not save him. But Mimi’s version of being a guardian angel was more like a surrogate warrior: a hired gun or a samurai. Her cool determination to thwart the enemies of silence, stillness and starvation gave her strengths that even she had been unaware were hers to command.
Brian Bassett, seated in his corner on the floor, maintained a solemn composure that lent his features a kind of unearthly beauty. His back was straight, his hands were poised, his hair so fine he looked the very picture of a spirit waiting to enter a newborn creature. Sometimes Mimi wondered if this creature Brian Bassett waited to inhabit could be human. She thought of all the animals she had ever seen in all her travels and she fell upon the image of a newborn fawn as being the most tranquil and the most in need of stillness in order to survive. If only all the natural energy and curiosity of a newborn beast could have entered Brian Bassett, surely, they would have transformed the boy in the corner into a vibrant, joyous human being. But it was not to be.
On the 29th of April – one week and three days after Everett had entered into his crisis of insomnia – Mimi sat on the floor in Brian Bassett’s isolation room, gently massaging his arms and legs as she held him in her lap.
His weight, by now, was shocking – and his skin had become translucent. His eyes had not been closed for days – for weeks – and their expression might have been carved in stone.
‘Speak to me. Speak,’ she whispered to him as she cradled his head beneath her chin. ‘Please at least speak before you die.’
Nothing happened. Only silence.
Juliet Bateman – wrapped in a blanket – was watching through the observation glass as Mimi lifted up Brian Bassett and placed him in the cot. The cot had metal sides – and the sides were raised. Juliet Bateman could see Brian Bassett’s eyes and his hands as Mimi stepped away.
Mimi looked at Juliet and shook her head. Juliet closed her eyes and pulled her blanket tighter like a skin that might protect her from the next five minutes.
Mimi went around the cot to the other side and dragged the IV stand in closer to the head. She fumbled for a moment with the long plastic lifelines – anti-dehydrates, nutrients- and she adjusted the needles and brought them down inside the nest of the cot where Brian Bassett lay and she lifted up in his arm in order to insert the tubes and bind them into place with tape.
This was when it happened – just as Mimi Menlo was preparing to insert the second tube.
Brian Bassett looked at her and spoke.
‘No,’ he said. ‘Don’t.’
Don’t meant death.
Mimi paused – considered – and set the tube aside. Then she withdrew the tube already in place and she hung them both on the IV stand.
She looked down then with her arm along the side of the cot - and one hand trailing down so Brian Bassett could touch it if he wanted to. She smiled at him and said to him: ‘not to worry. Not to worry. None of us is ever going to trouble you again.’ He watched her carefully. ‘Goodbye Brian,’ she said. ‘I love you.’
Juliet Bateman saw Mimi Menlo say all this and was fairly sure she had read the words on Mimi’s lips just as they had been spoken.
Mimi started out of the room. She was determined now there was no turning back and that Brian Bassett was free to go his way. But just as she was turning the handle and pressing her weight against the door – she heard Brian Bassett speak again.
‘Goodbye,’ he said.
Mimi went back and Juliet Bateman, too, and they stayed with him another hour before they turned out his lights. ‘Someone else can cover his face,’ said Mimi. ‘I’m not going to do it.’ Juliet agreed and they came back out to tell the nurse on duty that their ward had died and their work with him was over.
On the 30th of April – a Saturday – Mimi stayed home and made her notes and she wondered if and when she would weep for Brian Bassett. Her hand, as she wrote, was steady and her throat was not constricted and her eyes had no sensation beyond the burning itch of fatigue. She wondered what she looked like in the mirror, but resisted that discovery. Some things could wait. Outside it rained. Thurber dreamed in the corner. Bay Street rumbled in the basement.***
Everett, in the meantime, had reached his own crisis and because of his desperate straits a part of Mimi Menlo’s mind was on her husband. Now he had not slept for almost ten days. We really ought to consign ourselves to hospital beds, she thought. Somehow, the idea held no persuasion. It occurred to her that laughter might do a better job, if only they could find it. The brain, when over-extended, gives us the most surprisingly simple propositions, she concluded. Stop, it says to us. Lie down and sleep.
Five minutes later, Mimi found herself still sitting at the desk, with her fountain pen capped and her fingers raised to her lips in an attitude of gentle prayer. It required some effort to re-adjust and re-establish her focus on the surface of the window glass beyond which her mind had wandered. Sitting up, she had been asleep.
Thurber muttered something and stretched his legs and yawned, still asleep. Mimi glanced in his direction. We’ve both been dreaming, she thought, but his dream continues.
Somewhere behind her, the broken clock was attempting to strike the hour of three. Its voice was dull and rusty, needing oil.
Looking down, she saw the words BRIAN BASSETT written on the page before her and it occurred to her that, without his person, the words were nothing more than extrapolations from the alphabet – something fanciful we call a ‘name’ in the hope that, one day, it will take on meaning.
She thought of Brian Bassett with his building blocks – pushing the letters around on the floor and coming up with more acceptable arrangements: TINA STERABBS ... IAN BRETT BASS ... BEST STAB the RAIN: a sentence. He had known all along, of course, that BRIAN BASSETT wasn’t what he wanted because it wasn’t what he was. He had come here against his will, was held here against his better judgement, fought against his captors and finally escaped.
But where was here to Ian Brett Bass? Where was here to Tina Sterabbs? Like Brian Bassett, they had all been here in someone else’s dreams, and had to wait for someone else to wake before they could make their getaway.
Slowly, Mimi uncapped her fountain pen and drew a firm, black line through Brian Bassett’s name. We dreamed him, she wrote, that’s all. And then we let him go.
Seeing Everett standing in the doorway, knowing he had just returned from another Kenneth Albright crisis, she had no sense of apprehension. All this was only as it should be. Given the way that everything was going, it stood to reason that Kenneth Albright’s crisis had to come in this moment. If he managed, at last, to kill himself then at least her husband might be able to sleep again.***
Far in the back of her mind a carping, critical voice remarked that any such thoughts were deeply unfeeling and verging on the barbaric. But Mimi dismissed this voice and another part of her brain stepped forward in her defence. I will weep for Kenneth Albright, she thought, when I can weep for Brian Bassett. Now, all that matters is that Everett and I survive.
Then she strode forward and put out her hand for Everett’s briefcase, set the briefcase down and helped him out of his topcoat. She was playing wife. It seemed to be the thing to do.
For the next twenty minutes Everett had nothing to say, and after he had poured himself a drink and after Mimi had done the same, they sat in their chairs and waited for Everett to catch his breath.
The first thing he said when he finally spoke was: ‘finish your notes?’
‘Just about,’ Mimi told him. ‘I’ve written everything I can for now.’ She did not elaborate. ‘You’re home early,’ she said, hoping to goad him into saying something new about Kenneth Albright.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I am.’ But that was all.
Then he stood up – threw back the last of his drink and poured another. He lighted a cigarette and Mimi didn’t even wince. He had been smoking now three days. The atmosphere between them had been, since then, enlivened with a magnetic kind of tension. But it was a moribund tension, slowly beginning to dissipate.
Mimi watched her husband’s silent torment now with a kind of clinical detachment. This was the result, she liked to tell herself, of her training and her discipline. The lover in her could regard Everett warmly and with concern, but the psychiatrist in her could also watch him as someone suffering a nervous breakdown, someone who could not be helped until the symptoms had multiplied and declared themselves more openly.
Everett went into the darkest corner of the room and sat down hard in one of Mimi’s straight-backed chairs: the ones inherited from her mother. He sat, prim, like a patient in a doctor’s office, totally unrelaxed and nervy; expressionless. Either he had come to receive a deadly diagnosis, or he would get a clean bill of health.
Mimi glided over to the sofa in the window, plush and red and deeply comfortable; a place to recuperate. The view – if she chose to turn only slightly sideways – was one of the gentle rain that was falling onto Bay Street. Sopping-wet pigeons huddled on the window-sill; people across the street in the Manulife building were turning on their lights.
A renegade robin, nesting in their eaves, began to sing.
‘Please don’t interrupt,’ he said at first.
‘You know I won’t,’ said Mimi. It was a rule that neither one should interrupt the telling of a case until they had been invited to do so.
Mimi put her fingers into her glass so the ice cubes wouldn’t click. She waited.
Everett spoke – but he spoke as if in someone else’s voice, perhaps the voice of Kenneth Albright. This was not entirely unusual. Often, both Mimi and Everett Menlo spoke in the voices of their patients. What was unusual, this time, was that, speaking in Kenneth’s voice, Everett began to sweat profusely – so profusely that Mimi was able to watch his shirt front darkening with perspiration.
‘As you know,’ he said, ‘I have not been sleeping.’
This was the understatement of the year. Mimi was silent.
‘I have not been sleeping because – to put it in a nutshell – I have been afraid to dream.’
Mimi was somewhat startled by this. Not boy the fact that Everett was afraid to dream, but only because she had just been thinking of dreams herself.
‘I have been afraid to dream, because in all my dreams there have been bodies. Corpses. Murder victims.’
Mimi – not really listening – idly wondered if she had been one of them.
‘In all my dreams, there have been corpses,’ Everett repeated. ‘But I am not the murderer. Kenneth Albright is the murderer, and, up to this moment, he has left behind him fifteen bodies: none of them people I recognize.’
Mimi nodded. The ice cubes in her drink were beginning to freeze her fingers. Any minute now, she prayed, they would surely melt.
‘I gave up dreaming almost a week ago,’ said Everett, ‘thinking that if I did, the killing pattern might
be altered: broken.’ Then he said tersely; ‘it was not. The killings have continued...’
‘How do you know the killings have continued, Everett, if you’ve given up your dreaming? Wouldn’t this mean he had no place to hide the bodies?’
In spite of the fact she had disobeyed their rule about not speaking, Everett answered her.
‘I know they are being continued because I have seen the blood.’
‘Ah, yes. I see.’
‘No, Mimi. No. You do not see. The blood is a figment of my imagination. The blood, in fact, is the only thing not dreamed.’ He explained the stains on Kenneth Albright’s hands and arms and clothes and he said: ‘It happens every day. We have searched his person for signs of cuts and gashes – even for internal and rectal bleeding. Nothing. We have searched his quarters and all the other quarters in his ward. His ward is locked. His ward is isolated in the extreme. None of his fellow patients were ever found bleeding – never had cause to bleed. There were no injuries – no self-inflicted wounds. We thought of animals. Perhaps a mouse – a rat. But nothing. Nothing. Nothing ... We also went so far as to strip-search all the members of the staff who entered that ward, and I, too, offered myself for this experiment. Still nothing. Nothing. No one had bled.’
Everett was now beginning to perspire so heavily he removed his jacket and threw it on the floor. Thurber woke and stared at it, startled. At first, it appeared to be the beast that had just pursued him through the woods and down the road. But, then, it sighed and settled and was just a coat; a rumpled jacket lying down on a rug.
Everett said: ‘we had taken samples of the blood on the patient’s hands – on Kenneth Albright’s hands and on his clothing and we had those samples analyzed. No. It was not his own blood. No, it was not the blood of an animal. No, it was not the blood of a fellow patient. No, it was not the blood of any member of staff...’
Everett’s voice had risen.
‘Whose blood was it?’ he almost cried. ‘Whose the hell was it?’
Everett Menlo lighted another cigarette. He took a great gulp of his drink.
‘Well...’ He was calmer now; calmer of necessity. He had to marshal the evidence. He had to put it all in order – bring it into line with reason. ‘Did this mean that – somehow – the patient had managed to leave the premises – do some bloody deed and return without our knowledge of it? That is, after all, the only possible explanation. Isn’t it?’
‘Isn’t it?’ he repeated.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘It’s the only possible explanation.’
‘Except there is no way out of that place. There is absolutely no way out.’
Now, there was a pause.
‘But one,’ he added – his voice, again, a whisper.
Mimi was silent. Fearful – watching his twisted face.
‘Tell me,’ Everett Menlo said – the perfect innocent, almost the perfect child in quest of forbidden knowledge. ‘Answer me this – be honest: is there blood in dreams?’
Mimi could not respond. She felt herself go pale. Her husband – after all, the sanest man alive – had just suggested something so completely mad he might as well have handed over his reason in a paper bag and said to her, burn this.
‘The only place that Kenneth Albright goes, I tell you, is into dreams,’ Everett said. ‘That is the only place beyond the ward into which the patient can or does escape.’
Another – briefer – pause.
‘It is real blood, Mimi. Real. And he gets it all from dreams. My dreams.’
They waited for this to settle.
Everett said: ‘I’m tired. I’m tired. I cannot bare this any more. I’m tired...’
Mimi thought, good. No matter what else happens, he will sleep tonight.
He did. And so, at last, did she.
Mimi’s dreams were rarely of the kind that engender fear. She dreamt more gentle scenes with open spaces that did not intimidate. She would dream quite often of water and of animals. Always, she was nothing more than an observer; roles were not assigned her; often, this was sad. Somehow, she seemed at times locked out, unable to participate. These were the dreams she endured when Brian Bassett died: field trips to see him in some desert setting; underwater excursions to watch him floating amongst the seaweed. He never spoke, and, indeed, he never appeared to be aware of her presence.***
That night, when Everett fell into his bed exhausted and she did likewise, Mimi’s dream of Brian Bassett was the last one she would ever have of him and somehow, in the dream, she knew this. What she saw was what, in magical terms, would be called a disappearing act. Brian Bassett vanished. Gone.
Sometime after midnight on May Day morning, Mimi Menlo awoke from her dream of Brian to the sound of Thurber thumping the floor in a dream of his own.***
Everett was not in his bed and Mimi cursed. She put on her wrapper and her slippers and went beyond the bedroom into the hall.
No lights were shining but the street lamps far below and the windows gave no sign of stars.
Mimi made her way past the jungle, searching for Everett in the living room. He was not there. She would dream of this one day; it was a certainty.
He did not reply.
Mimi turned and went back through the bedroom.
She heard him. He was in the bathroom and she went through the door.
'Oh,’ she said, when she saw him. ‘Oh, my God.’
Everett Menlo was standing in the bathtub, removing his pyjamas. They were soaking wet, but not with perspiration. They were soaking wet with blood.***
For a moment, holding his jacket, letting its arms hang down across his belly and his groin, Everett stared at mimi, blank-eyed from his nightmare.
Mimi raised her hands to her mouth. She felt as one must feel, if helpless, watching someone burn alive.
Everett threw the jacket down and started to remove his trousers. His pyjamas, made of cotton, had been green. His eyes were blinded now with blood and his hands reached out to find the shower taps.
‘Please don’t look at me,’ he said. ‘I...please go away.’
Mimi said ‘no.’ She sat on the toilet seat. ‘I’m waiting here,’ she told him, ‘until we both wake up.’
Monday, February 4, 2013
“...the dreamer, while he is sleeping, takes his dreams as real...”
(diary entry, November 18, 1911)
“...as someone said to me, I can’t remember now who it was – it is really remarkable that when you wake up in the morning you nearly always find everything in exactly the same place as the evening before. For when sleeping and dreaming you are, apparently at least, in an essentially different state from that of wakefulness; and therefore ... it requires enormous presence of mind or rather quickness of wit, when opening your eyes to seize hold as it were, of everything in the room at exactly the same place where you had let it go on the previous evening. That was why, he said, the moment of waking up was the riskiest moment of the day. Once that was well over without deflecting you from your orbit, you could take heart of grace for the rest of the day.”
(passage deleted from The Trial)
“...breakdown, impossible to sleep, impossible to stay awake, impossible to endure life, or, more exactly, the course of life. The clocks are not in unison; the inner one runs crazily on at a devilish or demoniac or in any case inhuman pace, the outer one limps along at it usual speed. What else can happen but that the two worlds split apart, and they do split apart, or least clash in a fearful manner.”
(diary entry, January 16, 1922)
“...perhaps my insomnia only conceals a great fear of death. Perhaps I am afraid that the soul – which in sleep leaves me – will not be able to return.”
(diary entry, March 15, 1922)
Frank Kafka, diaries 1910-1913 ; 1914-1923. Edited by Max Brod. Schocken Books, New York, 1971.