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Ma, It’s Psychosomatic

by Anelise Chen

The mornings were the worst; he wanted to wake up and kick somebody only there was nobody to kick and he was too hung over to get up anyway. The hours left him as he rolled around in his bed, the only comfortable place in god’s whole existence. Eleven Fucking A.M., he thought, of course, hadn’t you already been squinting into the sun, did you think that was the white, white walls, did you think this was your mother, turning the light on and leaving it on, like she used to do to keep you from oversleeping? It never ceased to amaze him that time passed. People grew older in their sleep; people who dream grew older even faster, having to vie with invisible foes, that old friend, insecurity.

He inspected his bald moustache in the mirror and wondered whether it was worth the continuing embarrassment. It was so important to have facial hair that demanded respect, but his attempt seemed premature. One night he asked the dishwasher at the bar what he thought about his moustache, and the dishwasher said: “I can only put men in two categories: dirty, not dirty. Smelly, not smelly. Don’t be askin’ me anymore, you feel me? Ask a girlfriend or something.” What the hell, he thought, why do black guys always have to be so homophobic? They fucking take themselves so seriously.

On the contrary, the moustache would come through, eventually; he felt that his body would do that for him. He felt he was already a real man. Because it wasn’t that he had nothing to do, no, he had an entire list of things that were absolutely too demanding to ever get done in the year. He had to finish writing his script, get it signed to a movie, find a new job, a new place to live. He had to prove that getting kicked out of school was the best thing that could happen to an artist. Yet these tasks were huge, they taunted him, he felt he could never sculpt them properly, not with his bare hands.

The shadows of them pressed behind his eye, a sensation that never let him feel at ease, it made him want to go, to move, but he also felt paralyzed at the same time. If he didn’t have to work so much, things would be different. He would be more productive. If he didn’t have this mental block, if he didn’t have so much anxiety, things could happen. Although he did get this idea at work yesterday to write something…about the snow, because the parking lot area behind the bar was covered in snow, and he felt that there was something meaningful to be said about a blanket of clean white covering the filth he knew to be underneath. The snow, it was fuzzy, freshly fallen, and had the lines of a perfect marble sculpture, it reminded him of documentaries he’d seen about the Arctic shelf, the lines were so austere and correct. Yet underneath the snow was a pile of human shit left by Paul one drunken evening, which must have evaporated by now, a crust of shit, a dehydrated shit, a skeleton of shit. Because nobody would admit to the crime, nobody would pick it up, and it was left there, testing everyone’s tolerance. No doubt Paul himself forgot he’d done it.

—“You did it man, I saw you. I was right there. You even wiped your ass with a sock, I don’t know whose sock, but that’s what you did.”

—“I would never shit in the middle of a parking lot, I’ve been drunk before, don’t you think I can control my own bowel movements?” So all of them migrated the smoking circle several yards away, until the smell subsided, and then the dried pile of shit was just like something you saw but didn’t see.

After that quick spark of inspiration, his energy waned. Tell yourself, one step at a time—easy, first write one page, and then the next, and things will slowly unravel. But then even these small tasks were difficult. He read part of a story during one of his half-hour breaks, and in the story the character says, “Mother, I only have a desire for art, but I have no creativity, to talent, no soul—I could not fly.” My god, he thought, slamming the book shut. That’s me! That sickly pale invalid is me.

He remembered the one time he brought his script to work. After one of the waitresses read it, she said it was too literal. “I can see your script,” she said. “That’s not good.” She said to think more like Harmony Korine. “Isn’t he your favorite? He’s a genius, don’t you think? He jams every moment with details, and it’s fascinating. You should do that.” She said. “What about my Banksy poster,” he said, “That’s a detail isn’t it?” She laughed and said, “Signifying what?” He felt his face growing hot. “Signifying that he’s young and hip. And that he’s a little bit postmodern.” Then she said, “Oh is that all?” and didn’t get it. “Have you ever been to France,” he said, “I have, for a year. They are all very into graffiti there.”

That particular waitress had such a dumb face. She wore dumb glasses that are meant to “hide her face” because she is in the “ultimate low self-esteem mode,” but she was really doing it to detract attention from her dumb face. “Whatever,” he said, and walked away to polish some silverware. Then, another waitress came and asked if he was crying. What idiots, he thought. You have no idea. Was it his fault his life was overrun with women? Men would be much better artists without women. They who have created this inescapable cult of coziness; where all they want to do is eat dessert and listen to sad music.

He sat down in a chair by the window and rolled a cigarette. His parents had gone to work; he was alone in the house, but he could never be too sure. He was listening to Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and thinking about this perfect idea for another story: The cockroaches run out of the wall. She watches Gummo for the zillionth time. She falls asleep, the refrigerator door is open, something is yellow, spilt mustard, it is dripping onto the cracked ceramic tiles…there is a sound, an animal, gnashing its teeth…

Anelise Chen is the literary editor for the Dirty Pond.  Her favorite lunch cart is the jerk chicken storefront on Whalley Avenue.

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