WHEREIN THE IDIOT SPEAKS OF HIS PAST...
You try being me. I have many problems. I am not respected. I am an idiot and am now being taken away for it. They came at night through the windows and put me in a large van and we have been driving for many hours now because I have been counting the seconds.
Look at my legs. They are bowed and my shin bones are soft. Please don’t kick me, I tell people, I may crumple. My arms are short too and I am incapable of hugging in any meaningful way. What does this mean? I don’t know. I have a large head that is the target of jokes and is compared to other round objects. My chest is dented and I have back fat. When I am tickled I wheeze. My only sexual encounters as a young man involved furniture, pillows. I read books. Only faggots read books, I have been told by others with larger necks than I. I used to go to bed and put my hands together in prayer to ask for some sort of transformation.
But perhaps this is a genetic thing: I am from bad stock. My father was, according to various people who know him, a cretin. He used to shave his armpits with blunt razors and talk to the television. He would walk backwards through different rooms. He was dropped on his head as a child, according to gramps. Though, it is said gramps threw him on the floor. His problems were real. Children insulted him for the way he was and the way he looked. Your father, they would say, looks like a burn victim. His hair grew in patches, little leper weeds sprouting from thick plastic-looking skin. Sometimes he only wore one shoe. Sometimes he laughed at anatomy books and sometimes he brought women home and we looked at them together. Sometimes he wore socks on his hands. ‘It’s cold,’ he said and I said nothing.
The older my father became, the more he took to his chair. We lived in an apartment where furniture from previous decades accumulated like dust. Sometimes the furniture was stacked on top of each other all the way to the ceiling. We had photographs of other family members, all presumably dead judging by the poor quality of the photographs, which sat on top of wardrobes, that were placed on the walls in a schizophrenic fashion. They had faces like horses, others had faces like Dutch vegetable farmers. There was a kitchen and a room with a table in it, with books opened at different pages. There were no walls to speak of and the room was divided by curtains like a brothel. He slept in a cot with toy tigers and bears.
I was glad he stayed in the chair. He didn’t get up unless it was to break wind, which he did with gusto. Look at me! he would proclaim, as his back straightened and his arms raised in the air. But then he would slump back down and continue staring through walls, through people.
My mother divorced my father and lived elsewhere. Many years later, I would ask my mother why she lived where she lived and she said it was because she liked to have distance from us. I see the long stretches of road from above like some sort of god and these roads look like veins or spaghetti and I believe they are an extension of my mother, little concrete ringlets of her hair. She tells me that she escaped us both and I am sad about this. I often think of travelling to see her, but she lives at such an unsociable distance, at such dizzying climes, that this is not possible. One day, I hope she will love me the way I love her.
I was born in a town called Out There. The sky was always grey here and the youth partook in activities such as peeing on vegetable patches and pooping on doorknobs. The buildings were derelict and the people simple. People went to work and spoke about politics in simple ways. They smiled and laughed with food in their mouths.
And we must remember that people here are voracious eaters. I am not. There are several food types I can’t eat. Melted cheese, for example, is one. It is aggressive and turns into strings and gets stuck in my throat. The same for spinach, pack-choi. Raw carrots. Any type of nut will linger at the back of my throat for days. Beef is difficult because I do not have an overbite and my teeth will miss the beef and just work away at air. I grew up watching other people eat food, watching it slide down their throats, watching them chew and pretending I had x-ray vision to see the food sloshing inside their mouths. I am thin and compare myself to photographs of other thin people from the past. I am so thin that I think I will disappear. You will get better once you love somebody, my mother said over the phone. I think about somebody to share my love with, but they have no face yet. They are smooth, egg-faced people and their arms are open wide forever.
I grew up looking after my father and because of this, I did not receive an education past my younger years. What is two plus two, people asked me jokingly. I went along with the joke and said five! And they asked me other questions and I would get them wrong, all of them, because I didn’t care.
Friends of mine from school moved up in the world and their bones grew too. ‘This is because they drank milk and you hated it,’ my father said as he lay in bed with a pale toy tiger. It’s true, too: they drank milk and grew taller. Most of the boys grew to be eight feet tall and so their opinions of the world grew too. They told me about politics and I hummed a low hum which is what I do when I don’t understand something. Hummmmmmmmmmm. They said things about foreigners which I also didn’t understand, but could feel their hatred. They were stronger than me and their opinions were, too, like their muscles: big and full of air. They told me I needed to make something of myself. They told me to look and be more like them. I asked them how but they didn’t care for my answer! They said my skin was darker and dirtier and I said I know, I know. They said my father was from a bitch country where women are sold for camels. I laughed! I said yes, yes, it’s true. I wanted to be liked. They said my mother had no hair, that she was bald and poor and I said she is, yes, and my heart broke. They reduced me to nothing. They patted my head like a bongo and I’d have to wrest myself away from their hands and walk a slow dejected walk down the road which I liked to call my avenue of sorrows.
The town where I am from is a pigshit town where the city mocks us from a distance. I see its skyline and I know that perhaps I am not welcome there. I have heard stories of the men and women who travel there and come back with ideas of the world. They are the enlightened few. The city burns on the horizon like little candle lights on a birthday cake.
My father, however, is now dead. He died a slow and painful death which I was powerless to stop. It was of a disease I do not know how to pronounce but, with the aid of doctors, can attempt to say. He started to bleed a lot and I asked him if he knew what this blood was and he said it happens to everybody all the time, you just start bleeding and you leak all your life out of you. It’s common knowledge he said. I didn’t know this.
On his death bed – which was actually more of a bucket to stop us all from drowning in his blood – he told me how crud life was. It’s just one crushing disappointment after the other, he said. You live, you’re a child, you get bullied and take exams, you fail them or you pass, then you’re a teenager and you’re angry and have bad skin. Sometimes these marks scar, son. And then you go to or do not go onto higher education and you do or do not get married and do or do not have children, but your body begins to betray you anyway. You get jobs and make money, you work half the day, sleep the other half and then you start bleeding to death like me. What is life!
I think life’s okay, I told him and he laughed and cackled blood from his mouth, my bloody old father sitting in a bucket of his own juice.
And the sex, he said, makes no difference. It’s only good, he said, if you get to indulge in all if your perversions. But most people are too nice to do this to each other.
When he died, his body had been completely drained.
And he died during a particularly troubling year, wherein certain tragedies befell my country that I, as a man of little means, was powerless to stop. People I knew died, and in rare ways. Their hearts beat irregularly and then stopped. Blood clots formed in brains and lungs and temples. A friend of mine who had never stepped foot inside a car before stepped foot in a car and was driven into a wall by a man who wasn’t wearing pants. Cancers grew in other friends and ate them from the inside and turned them bald and grey and dead. One friend hanged themselves after the death of her dog. Death had become boring now, commonplace, and I now await the next death like somebody awaiting a rerun of a television show.
I inherited the apartment where the furniture congregates. Dust on the tables and when I hit the upholstered chair where my father sat, dust would explode from it and gently settle on my face, in my hair. Dust is just dead skin and when I punched his chair, I liked to think it was my father coming back to visit me. I stopped punching the chair because I was glad he died. In many ways, somebody said, the passing of a family member is at once extremely painful and also a way of shedding skin.
And so, for a while, I was content. I gained the respect of others around me. I was not laughed at anymore. I got a dog. I named it after my father, which was Pippin. I petted it and its tail wagged. However, it was sold to me by a crook by the name of Gene, a piece of shit old man with no feet. Pippin had diabetes, which accounted for its ballooning and ultimate demise.
But there were good things. I went to the local bar and I swallowed alcohol with other men and we talked about things that men talk about, which seems to be sex and sports and financial woe.
Tell me, a man called Brad said, tell me who loves women more than me?
Can say that again, another said, presumably agreeing with Brad. Brad was nine feet tall and his neck bulged with veins as thick as carrots.
Brad, how’s that garage coming along?
Tell me who loves them more, he said.
Brad was apparently building a garage to fit in his many cars. These are the things I learnt in the world of giant men who drank milk more than me.
I learnt that some men hit women and others didn’t. One of the men, slightly smaller than the giants, said he liked to prey on foreigners. I like to kick them in the backs of their knees, he said, and then jump on their heads. He told me that certain races had softer skulls, others harder and that this determined the force of his attacks.
We ate eggs together, the men and I. We swallowed oil and smoked cigarettes. Sometimes we compared the size of our muscles and listed people we’d like to kill and how.
I enjoyed this and could feel myself becoming something that was close to happy. I was, perhaps, part of something.
But then they came. It was too good to be true, this life I had been leading. It was all a ruse, my dead father said in my head. They were always coming for you. You’re different. You’re darker and your blood is tainted, he said. I can see him now, my dead father, in a smoking jacket and corn cob pipe. I see him there in wherever he is and he’s surrounded by other dead family members and they’re all having a very average time.
The men came at night and they were dressed in black and armed with questions. They broke in through the window and pissed on my dog, much to my chagrin.
They held batons too, others wooden planks with nails in them and they said they were not afraid to use them on my body. I said nothing but I believe I was scared because I urinated myself. The ringleader said put these clothes on and I did, I put on what seemed to be the bedclothes of an 19th century British man, complete with a night hat that drooped down my the back of my neck.
I was cuffed and put into the back of the van. I was alone in there and it was cold.
Where are we going, I asked the ringleader.
He slapped me across the face and I think that perhaps I deserved it. He told me as much: you have a face that was born to be assaulted. I didn’t disagree.
Once, when I was young, I was asked to come to the front of class and answer several mathematics questions. I stood up from my chair and my legs were wobbling. My shins had become soft again, I thought. I wished I had the disease from Awakenings so nobody would bother me again. But there I was, standing up, walking to the front and the teacher was, I believe, making an example of me. I told the teacher I didn’t like mathematics, that I liked books and drawing better and they said to me who needs that, who needs stories. I said I do, which as a child was enough. Who needs drawings, the teacher said. The teacher was mostly made from tweed and had so much hair on her face I could barely make out her eyes, which were there, beady and judgemental. Who needs drawings? I said me, it helps. Helps what? Just the day, I said. So I was brought to the front to see what I remembered about equations and formulas. I was asked about different triangles too, about to work out X. The questions came slowly and I attempted to answer them. I was blushing. I knew my face had gone red and when I am nervous I get erections, which I still to this day do not understand. What is X, the teacher asked. I looked at the floor and to this day I still remember the wood on the floor and have, years later, wished to see this wood again. On the wall, drawings from the other children, stick figures mostly and I believe if you can’t progress from stick figures to fully formed hands with knuckles and shading, you are doomed. By the end of the questioning, I was exhausted. I was crying. Children laughed under their breath. The teacher was satisfied, I hoped. But they weren’t and I was moved to a class with special children, his words not mine and was made to feel stupid and now, as an adult, I still remember this, remember that the teachers made me feel stupid, the children made me feel stupid, my parents made me feel stupid, my country made me feel stupid and I think they meant this to put me down, but instead it created a hard sugar rock of anger somewhere in my chest cavity and one day I believed it would melt and consume my body.
This is what I thought in the van, as the men slapped me and when I asked where we were going again, I got a slap and an answer: to a place of correction.
To fix my stupid ass once and for all, they said, and I said nothing back.
Oliver ZARANDI is the editor of FUNHOUSE, a magazine of bodies, diseases and sex. His work has recently appeared in FANZINE, Hobart, Little White Lies and Vol 1: Brooklyn.