MONDAY 20th SEPTEMBER

 

Whenever I experience a nightmare these days, like earlier this morning, I am in the habit of turning violent.  I refuse to be intimidated.  Usually, a sudden uprush of retaliatory anger has the effect of obliterating the nightmare, and I lie awake feeling slightly annoyed that I was obliged to resort to something which had the effect of waking me up prematurely.  If I can't force myself back to sleep as quickly as possible, I lie there fantasizing or, alternatively, thinking over the chain of events which led up to the crisis.

     Now from what I can remember about this particular chain of events, a man in a raincoat and trilby, whom I had never seen before, stepped through my french windows and tried to strangle me whilst I lay in bed.  When I realized what he was up to, I struggled free and yelled, at what seemed like the top of my voice: 'Piss off, you stupid sod!' and began to lash out at him with my fists.  Then I suddenly woke up with a start and discovered that I was in an empty room.  The mysterious stranger had evidently beat a hasty retreat!

     So far as I can now recall, most of my nightmares over the past few years have assumed a similar pattern; retaliatory abuse of the most expletive kind serves to dispel the impending calamity, and the assailant, whether human or otherwise, suddenly finds himself confronted by more opposition than he had evidently bargained for.  However, as a child my nightmares were very different, both in substance and outcome, and often took the form of a chase.  I would almost invariably encounter a hairy monster, a sort of large ape-like beast who frequented derelict houses at night and who may well have been a sort of perverted father-figure come to steal me away from my mother.  How or why I got to these houses I shall never know, but I was usually alone and, like most young children, highly inquisitive.  Now at sight of the monster, which either appeared on the scene from around a corner or out of a dark hole in the ground, I would beat a hasty retreat.  But, as it was night, everywhere was dark and forbidding, which caused me to experience considerable difficulty in finding my way home.  At the same time I somehow sensed that the monster was hot-on-my-heels, though I could never force myself to look back in order to acquire concrete verification.  The initial glimpse of him had evidently been enough!

     What really troubled me, however, was that I couldn't escape quickly enough; for my efforts to evade his pursuit were gradually becoming harder and harder, and I felt my legs overcome by an incredibly overpowering heaviness, as though I were wearing deep-sea diver's boots or the ground possessed a powerful magnetic quality which inhibited movement.  Now while this was going on, and I was desperately struggling to quicken my pace, it occurred to me that the monster was steadily gaining ground, that he need only stretch out a large hairy claw and I would be done for, torn limb-from-limb or eaten alive.  Terror-stricken, I turned to face my pursuer, who by this time had borne down on me, in order to experience the worst.  But my last-moment panic invariably woke me up, and I would lie drenched in sweat with my head ducked under the blankets and my heart pounding away like it was about to explode.  Fortunately for me the explosion had already taken place, since the nightmare was blown to pieces!  All that remained to do then was to prevent my imagination from going back over the sordid details of the chase and digging up fresh evidence against me, fresh horrors from the dungeon of my petrified soul.  Had I been able to get quickly back to sleep, this problem would never have arisen.  But my imagination usually had ideas of its own, and the more I struggled against it, to avoid a recapitulation of the dream sequence, the more dedicated it became to frustrating my struggles until, an hour or so later, my soul was a hideous prison of mortal fears!

     As it happens, I don't experience such ghastly nightmares these days, probably because I'm old enough to look after myself and am more psychically evolved, in any case.  But I still hide most of my head under the bedding, as though to shield it from the proximity of invisible powers who only come out, as it were, at night.  That is undoubtedly a legacy from childhood, as is an occasional tendency of mine to discern the outlines of faces, masks, profiles, disguises, etc., in a variety of small patterns and/or nondescript shapes, doubtless because I still have an active imagination.  At the age of five or six I was often frightened by the many projections cast by shadows, by the 'bogeymen' who inhabited the curtains, appeared behind lampshades, paraffin heaters, clothes hangers, and other domestic objects, hugging the walls with their ominous silhouettes.  I almost expected to see one of these silent projections move and slowly turn towards me, in order to petrify me with a pair of piercing eyes which, until then, had remained firmly closed, and thus hidden from view.  It must have been similar to the suspense I subsequently felt at the cinema during the introduction to those old Edgar Wallace thrillers (I think!), when a metallic man slowly swivelled around in his chair and you waited breathlessly for a full view of his authoritative face, that apparently omniscient gaze which encompassed everyone and everything, and from which you knew there was no escape.  Long before I was regularly taken to the cinema I must have attributed similar powers to the shadows which haunted my room, because I could never force myself to sleep unless the light was left on,  so that things remained exactly as and where they were.  Then I knew what I was up against, that the shadows had fixed limits.  Once the light was turned off, however, there would be no limit to what they could get up to; they might feel protected against detection and multiply in the dark, like frenzied ghosts.

     Well, whatever they did, I no longer worry about them at all.  Yet I can still detect the outlines of strange faces, masks, etc., if I choose to stare at my flowery wastepaper bin or crazy-patterned lino some evenings.  There is nothing particularly frightening about this propensity, which would hardly be worth calling hallucinatory.  Nevertheless, the fact remains that I can occasionally construct an imaginary face or two if I really focus my attention on doing so, if I allow my adult imagination to wander a little in the direction of Salvador Dali's 'paranoiac critical' methodology. 

     However, when I awoke from this morning's nightmare I didn't in the least imagine that 'bogeymen' were lurking in the shadows.  But, all the same, I couldn't get back to sleep as quickly as I'd have liked to either, nor did I fancy the idea of allowing the night air to caress my ears.  So I must have been dozing for quite some time before I entered the next dream (of which I now retain only the vaguest of recollections), though a dream or two later I was dancing with an attractive dark-haired girl who also permitted me to fondle her breasts.  Naturally, I would have preferred this episode of my dream life to continue much longer than it did; for when I squeezed her tits, she thanked me warmly and cried: "Oh, do it again!" over and over, as though she hadn't been toyed with in ages and my service was consequently of especial significance to her.  So I made every effort to be of further assistance and when, all-too-soon and for some unaccountable reason, I woke up ... I felt bitterly disappointed that the dream in question hadn't permitted me a few additional and, as it were, deeper intimacies besides.

     But there you are!  I experienced both heaven and hell in one night.  My dream life had once again become more important to me than my waking one.  Indeed, so much so that, when I eventually crawled out of bed this morning, it was with the ominous feeling that my next round of dreams would have to be paid for at the high cost of a day's intensive labour.  My new literary venture was awaiting me, in consequence of which I would be compelled to mould something from the various notes made during the past two weeks.

     Of course, if things became too onerous I could always read for a couple of hours, visit a museum or art gallery, take a lengthy stroll, or even go to the cinema.  Yes, why not?  My last visit to the cinema had been several months ago and, as far as I could now recall, it had amounted to an extremely memorable experience.  I had seen an adaptation of Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf, with Max Von Sydow in the title role, and it had made such a profound impression on me that, for an entire week, I could think of nothing else.  In fact I re-read the novel (for about the fifth time), and then went and saw the same film at a different cinema the following week!  For films like Steppenwolf and, for that matter, Siddhartha (another Hesse adaptation) are comparatively rare, in fact so rare that, when you see them, you're aware of experiencing an important film event, the sort of event that probably won't occur too many times in your life, particularly when you reflect on the crassly violent nature of the countless commercial films which continuously swamp the market with their mass-produced inanities and vulgarities. 

     However, in returning to the present, I'm not really anticipating any such important event, filmic or otherwise, today.  It will probably be one of those lukewarm days that drag along in a rather monotonous fashion - the sort of day with which the ailing Harry Haller was apparently well acquainted!

 

 

MONDAY EVENING

 

When I eventually settled down to doing some writing this morning, it had gone ten o'clock.  I added some more notes to my current notebook, thought out the plan for the first chapter of my prospective novel, and toyed with a few potential character names.  With my conscience slightly appeased, I had lunch, took a short stroll, read a dozen pages of Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, and resumed writing until tea time.  After that, I listened rather half-heartedly to the radio, which was broadcasting the 6.00pm news.

     However, at the moment I am in the process of recording some fresh thoughts, particularly about the money in my pocket. Admittedly, there is nothing remarkably strange or unusual about it.  But what does strike me as a little odd is the fact that it only fully dawned on me today, whilst I was handing some silver across the counter at The Cornerstop Café (a different place, incidentally, from the one I invariably have breakfast in), that it wasn't really mine, since it had undoubtedly passed through many thousands of hands before me and had probably collected as much unspeakable filth, in the process, as one either cared or dared to imagine.  I was fiddling with the coins in my pocket, feeling their edges, weighing them on my fingers, caressing their obverses and reverses absentmindedly, when suddenly, as though from a stunning flash of insight, I realized that this money was essentially communist, that it belonged to everybody ... from the richest of the rich to the poorest of the poor.  I almost threw the silver I was holding into the greasy, outstretched hand of the plump waitress, in order to be rid of it as quickly as possible and thus 'decontaminate' myself.  It would have been far too demoralizing for me to have thrown up my lunch there and then on account of a handful of dirty coins!

     Yesterday, the day before yesterday, and any number of days prior to that, I wouldn't have given the matter as much as a single thought.  My chief concerns were (a) to have enough money to get by on; (b) to make sure I didn't lose any; and (c) to ensure that I kept a constant check on my spending.  Today, however, I acquired an additional concern: I wanted to wash the rest of my coins under the tap in order to sterilize them!  I somehow feared that my hands, and possibly even my mouth, had already become 'contaminated', in which case it was too late for me to rectify anything; my skin would be swarming with thousands upon thousands of ugly germs which had been transferred from the dull, greasy, piss-smeared coins in my pocket.  Indeed, my mouth was at that very moment probably seething with countless microbes which had no business being there.  It would be justice to smoke them out with the aid of the worst imaginable cigarettes, to rid myself of these pestiferous little monsters that thrive on dirty coins!

     What really amazes me, however, is that I hadn't thought about this problem before, but had treated my money somewhat matter-of-factly (as people usually do when they've never been accustomed to real bellyaching poverty), without in the least suspecting that it could have had a most unhygienic history; that, for example, somebody could have dropped a 10p coin on the dirty pavement or not washed his hands after going to the lavatory; that a disease-ridden prostitute could have reached into somebody's sweaty pocket to extract a few crumpled bank notes and a little loose change, or pushed a 50p coin across an ash-stained, beer-stained, sweat-stained, spew-stained counter in some dingy neighbourhood pub.  Everybody and anybody, from a king to a beggar, could have nonchalantly, unwittingly, playfully fingered these coins in exactly the same way as me, without in the least suspecting the true extent of their filth.  Even the local health inspector wouldn't have known exactly what he was dealing with.  For this really is a case of 'Where ignorance is bliss ...'

     Anyway, I'm not going to let all this bother me too much, since I don't value my life that highly, even though I find it difficult to be flippant about it.  In fact, the most seemly thing to do now would be to make a point of only touching money - notes as well as coins - when I have to, in order to minimize the risk of infection.

     These wretched flies!  I am sure they have a mind of their own.  No sooner have I begun to eat a peanut-butter sandwich and to shoo the filthy insects away than they turn spiteful and converge on me from all directions, like kamikaze pilots.  I ought to do the job properly and swat them all to death, knock the stale air out of their filthy lungs, but I don't possess a fly-swat, nor even a newspaper today.  You would think, though, that the little wretches would leave you alone when you've given-up struggling with them, that they would take the hint and become reasonable.  No such luck!  One of the little buggers seems particularly bent on revenge.  He is even going so far as to wander around the rim of my mug until he arrives at the place against which I normally put my mouth and, doubtless encouraged by the obnoxious residue of stale tea, has now begun to rub his front legs together as though to gleefully deposit something unspeakably despicable upon it, the dirty little shit!  Absolutely no sense of decency!  Right now the only thing that concerns him is how best to irritate me.

     Yes, but if by ill-luck he gets out of here alive he will settle on the first piece of tempting filth his big wild eyes lead him to, quite as though I had never existed.  Indeed, he will probably become part of a colony of fellow shit-mongers.  And if he then encounters a member of the opposite sex with whom he fancies some kind of coital arrangement is feasible, he will leap upon her and do everything in his power to breed more flies.  The only thing that really matters to him is to revel in as much sex, filth, spitefulness, and flying as his comparatively short and highly precarious existence will permit, to die after a full, adventurous, and productive life.  That is doubtless why he refuses to waste any more time over a slightly humiliated human being like me, but continues to do exactly as he pleases, despite my obstinate protestations.  He absolutely refuses to acknowledge my moral superiority over him, the egotistical little pig!

     Still, I shouldn't allow myself to become so upset over this relatively trivial intrusion.  I haven't fallen so low.  If I were a scientist, however, I could quite understand it.  Flies, rats, spiders, skunks, frogs, lizards, worms, lice, and snakes are often the very justification of a scientist's existence, his raison d'être.  He can rattle off a hundred-page thesis on genetic anomalies in rats without batting an eyelid.  He has compiled immense volumes of highly erudite material concerning the lower animals, and sometimes concerning things far below them - for example, microbes.  From these and similar investigations he has instigated remarkable breakthroughs in the world of organic knowledge.  His distinguished colleagues clap vehemently and spontaneously in unanimous appreciation of his important findings, and from laboratory to laboratory, lecture hall to lecture hall, country to country, his knowledge of rats, spiders, flies, and other such lowly creatures has steadily increased his authority and overwhelming prestige.  The age of rats is on the wane; they will soon be virtually extinct.  When Professor Ratcatcher has completed his studies and is satisfied with his findings, there will be little reason for their continued existence.  After all, it's mainly through such studies that, thanks in large measure to the professor's perseverance and unshakeable optimism, man will be able to aspire towards his noblest achievements to-date, that he'll embrace the future with fresh hope and, above all, as strong a desire to eliminate flies and spiders as he previously showed with regard to the more accessible vermin.  So be it!  I leave Professor Ratcatcher to his worthy task, and just hope that he doesn't treat the coins in his pocket with the same insouciance as most of us now treat flies!

     Now it is time for a short nocturnal stroll.  If I don't get a change of air soon, there'll be a strong possibility of my suffocating to death and being metamorphosed into a fly or something equally disagreeable, like one of Kafka's enigmatic characters.

 

 

Bookmark and Share