Freudian Jazz

This is a picture of abstract art. I've used it because it complements my surreal story.

Sometimes I wonder if I live in an apartment or an oubliette. I mean, there’s a cushy couch, rose-colored chintz curtains, a PS4 with myriad games I haven’t played yet, cigarettes and wine, but there’s this sense of feeling imprisoned. Maybe it has to do with a non-existent purpose. There’s jazz playing in the background. Benny Goodman or Art Blakey or somebody great. I think it’s Goodman’s ‘Sing Sing Sing.’ I hear the beat leading up to the feet tapping Big Band sound, and then the clarinet kicking in and then the drums again. The music plays like a movie – scene after scene. Characters in the form of bars of music or minims or crotchets dance, but I’m not dancing with them. I’m drinking again. It’s been a while since I was sober. The wine’s a cheap Indian one. I can taste the sediment in it and maybe that’s all I taste. The sediment of losing my freedom, the sediment of myriad crushed paper hopes. The sediment of dreams finally meeting hard, stony earth and I, bruised with flayed skin scuttling on roads of fire, howling like a rib-cage showing, wounded mongrel. I think I’m asking the famous existential question but without any panache – Why am I here in this place and space, slowly and steadily slipping into oblivion?

It’s Art Blakey and his quintet playing Wee-Dot. Not Benny Goodman. Or maybe it’s Benny Goodman. Jazz is like Casu Marzu: Maggots crawling all over the rotten cheese, but a delicacy, nonetheless. But lately, the wallpaper looks like moldy cheese and spiders flit around. I can see their eyes watching me: Little brothers monitoring my every movement. I’m in a dystopian, postmodern 1984. And why do I have this postcard saying, “I had a great time yesterday.” I don’t have friends or lovers. I open the refrigerator and find a severed hand! Fuck! It has beady-eyed spiders all over it, and it’s made of skin and cheese. And there’s this ringing in my ear. Make it stop! Please! Is this real? Is anything real?

The wallpaper envelops me, and I become larva in a cheese and spider cocoon. I eat my way out; biting through both the cheese and the spiders. It tastes like a corpse. But how do I know what a corpse tastes like? I escape, but the ringing in my ear is fucking killing me! The shadows look like severed arms now. I pick up the postcard. It says something else now: “You know that man isn’t free. Sartre was a liar. Dostoevsky spoke the truth. The truth will haunt you forever.” What does that mean? I start weeping, but tears don’t fall, spiders do. I crush them, and they become cheese. I put it in my mouth, and they become spiders again. They taste ugly and sore. There are spiders all over my hands with little beady eyes. The ringing becomes classical music, and then it goes back to jazz. I smell cigarettes and piss and shit. My apartment suddenly looks like a smoky jazz bar. What is going on? Why is life so complicated? Why did Adam fall? Why did Lucifer fall? Weren’t all things considered good? Then how could Lucifer deflect unless creation and God were always flawed? Or did God withdraw grace and is cruel but justifies things by using the term ‘greater good’. Damn the Elect and the reprobate! Damn Calvinism and free will! Damn the Cheese and the severed hand!

I decide to sleep, but rest isn’t forthcoming, and so, I pop a few Valiums and soon, I’m sleeping on my sofa. I wake up, and it’s morning. I snip the edge of a carton of milk and drink it straight from the packet, the white liquid drenching my shirt. I go outside and find the newspaper lying on the ground.

‘Archaeologist killed in Cheese Factory,’ the headline screams. I read on: “An Archaeologist was found dead in a cheese factory. His arms were severed.” I’ve read enough. What the fuck is going on! I feel a rush of vertigo and collapse. I dream of my mother and how I was sexually attracted to her. My father collected spiders and loved cheese. I hated the man though he was good to me. Nausea overwhelms me. I run to the bathroom and puke. I then don’t wash the stains away because of an image of a psychoanalyst that floats in my consciousness. I call my mother.

“Did you read the news lover?” She says.

“What the hell is going on!” I shout into the phone, “I’m hallucinating, and I’m terrified!”

“I’ll be right over sweetie. I’m bringing Dr. Hansen,” she says, in a voice riddled with mad ecstasy.

Why would my mother be excited? Here I am, standing on the shore, preparing for the waves of insanity to sweep over me and drown me, and she’s thrilled! I feel disgusted but then think of the things my mother did for me. But what has she done?

The doorbell rings, and I see my mother standing with Dr. Hansen. Who’s Dr. Hansen by the way? He looks familiar, but I can’t place him.

He smiles, and says, “We’re here to help you, son. Don’t worry.”

“Mom, I’m scared. Help me!”

“Quick! Don’t waste time, doctor! He finally admitted that he was hallucinating today! We need to act! Now!” My mother yells.

The doctor and my mother lead me to my bedroom.

“So, you finally have insight into your condition. Now’s probably the best time to tell you the truth, but before that, I need to ask you how you feel about your mother,” Hansen says.

“I felt sexually attracted to my mother. It led to nausea and vomiting. I’m unwell. Just tell me what the fuck is going on!” I say and look at my mother who’s in tears.

“My sweet darling. My honeysuckle. Oh, how I’ve waited for this!” My mother squeals.

“You were always sexually attracted to your mother from the time you were three. It’s called the Oedipus complex. You hated your father and wanted to replace him as your mother’s lover. As you grew older, those feelings never subsided, but luckily for you, your mother reciprocated your feelings. She initiated a sexual encounter with you when you were fourteen, and then the two of you regularly had sex. One day, however, your father walked in on the two of you, and beat you badly, before leaving your mother shortly afterwards. He never spoke about what he saw to anyone, but your hatred towards him grew with each year, and you needed a way to escape, and so you envisioned a world that revolved around the objects your father adored like cheese and spiders so that you could destroy it repeatedly. You’d return to sanity without insight now and then, but when wounded, you’d go back to this world. During periods of hypnosis, you’d claim to see a severed hand too, but I never understood the significance of it, until you blurted out – during a period of regression when we monitored you – that you’d like to see your father’s hands chopped off because he beat you with them.

“Your love for Jazz and classical music comes from your mother playing it when you made love to her. She did it initially to make it look like she wasn’t home, and you were in your room alone listening to music. But after the divorce, she continued playing it during the lovemaking sessions because it symbolized that something special existed between you two – a connection beyond an ordinary mother-son relationship. You also reported hearing a ringing sound. That’s common in mental illness sufferers. Now, I’m not a conventional Freudian therapist, and so, I encouraged your sexual relationship with your mother because stripping you off it would have robbed you of identity altogether.

“Recently, you surprisingly regained sanity immediately after you heard that your father met with an accident. But you relapsed when you heard that he recovered fully. So, that gave me an idea. Now, I don’t care about ethics. I’m a man of pure, unadulterated science. I wanted to help you heal completely. You were my most fascinating patient, and I wanted to make a breakthrough. And so, I asked your mother to kill your father. But to do it in a unique way that involved cheese, spiders, and severed hands.

“And so, your mother and I managed to lure your father to a cheese factory on the pretext of her suffering from severe mental illness, and how it would be beneficial for her prognosis. Your father was reluctant and angry at first, but I convinced him by saying that she was always mentally unstable, and he’d only failed to recognize this. I told him to meet us at a cheese factory. The mob – with whom I have deep ties with – introduced me to the owner. The owner knew that someone was going to die in his factory, and so, he fled. He’s currently the prime suspect.

“While your mother, I and your father explored the place, your mother showed your father a spider and told him that she’d started collecting them. Your old man was still angry but calmed down a little when he heard this. He then took the spider in his hands. Your mother then grabbed a machete we’d already hidden on one of the shelves and hacked your father’s arms off with it. She then proceeded to shove a lot of cheese into his mouth to muffle his screams.

“Now, please register what we did and the way we did it carefully. Process and think. And also, recollect.”

Tears run down my eyes now. My past is lucid. The cheese and the arm and the spiders will never haunt me again. “Oh, mother! Oh, mother!” I sob in joy. She holds me. The doctor plays some jazz and leaves us. We sigh, and we moan, and we finally find closure.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Skunk Weed

Jimmy bought a new moped. “I’mma ride it to the hills, brah!” He squealed, the effects of the skunk weed which landed him in an institution where he spent hours talking to the ceiling fan and calling it his ‘Big Momma’ still affecting him. He reverted to his Indian accent now and then, but I always kept my fingers crossed, scared he’d go crazy on me.

“What do you plan to do in the hills?” I asked Jimmy, but deep inside I already knew the answer. “I’mma find a bootleg pill man. They sell some fine quality hashish,” he whispered, bending low on his moped and there was something terrifyingly odd about the way he did that, but then again this was Jimmy. Everything was odd about him. He slept with his feet on the pillows and his head where his feet should be, he drank scotch with mixed fruit juice, he managed to get some old cuckold to film while he fucked the man’s wife, he joined a book club and turned it into a Wednesday swingers party. I don’t how he did it. I think he had this weird cult of personality. It never worked on me, but it certainly did charm a lot of others into giving into his twisted fetishes.

I always wondered if Jimmy made up his exploits until he introduced me to the old cuckold and his wife at a cafe. The old sleazebag asked me if I wanted to join Jimmy and plough his wife. I politely declined. The last thing I needed was an amateur porn video starring me, some older woman and Jimmy of all people, while a cuckold, jacking off shouted, “C’mon son. Fuck her harder!” I guess I’ve seen enough amateur porn to know how it worked. I’ve decided to stick to watching it; the monitor separating me from the actuality.

I also walked into the swinger party by accident. Jimmy’s mother asked me to fetch him one Wednesday and I said, “Yeah, he’s probably at the book club. I’ll fetch him.” I then called Jimmy and asked him where he was, and he gave me directions to some apartment complex. I could hear loud music in the background but didn’t make much of it. He couldn’t have possibly converted a book club into a swinger party, could he? I wondered. I finally found the place in some cul-de-sac and asked the watchman for directions to Room 125. He looked at me with disgust and spat: the red, betel leaf juice tainting the parking lot. I wondered what I’d done wrong.

I knocked on the door and Jimmy opened, clad only in his pajamas. I went in and the stench of weed overwhelmed me. I then heard loud music and ferocious moaning from the rooms.

“What the fuck’s happening here?” I yelled at Jimmy and he said, “Peace fam. Lighten up. We just havin a good time, that’s all.”

I needed to get the fuck out because nothing good happened when Jimmy started speaking thoroughly in his Indo-African American accent. But I’d promised Jimmy’s mom that I’d bring him back and so, I grabbed him by the wrist and started pulling him out of the door.

“Nigga, you need to lighten up,” Jimmy barked before screaming, “Help! Terrorist!”

And some butt-naked girl ran out of one of the rooms and screamed at me.

“Leave Jimmy alone! Leave him alone terrorist!” She shrieked, her tits bouncing while she hysterically jumped up and down.

“Calm down,” I said, “His mother needs him.”

“Jimmy’s got no momma,” she said in some bizarre Indo-Chinese-British- African American accent.

“No, he does, and I’ll call the police if you don’t go back to whatever you’re doing.”

“I’m doing Jimmy you fat tit! And I’m not letting him go until I’m done!” she yelled and slapped me, and Jimmy started crying.

“I’mma lose it brah!” He whined and I had a panic attack.

“C’mon Jimmy,” Big breasts said softly, “I’ll fuck yer brains out until you’re happy again.”

“For real! Bitch please! You don’t know what I’mma lose.”

The girl then started crying and I took the opportunity to cart Jimmy away.

We raced past houses and ramshackle huts, Ganesha processions and Hindu activists and gay parades and livestock and restaurants and finally reached Jimmy’s house.

“I’mma lose it,” Jimmy squealed as I bodily lifted him and carried him home.

“You’ll be fine Jimmy. Just think of the bootleg pill men and the hills,” I said, dropped him on his bed and went out and smoked a cigarette.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Nathaniel and June (Part 1)

This is an image of the blue sky and the clouds. The picture is more complex than my depiction of it and I've chosen it because it depicts depth and intricacy to me. My piece is an intricate portrayal of a relationship.

Nathaniel was a man of quirks and eccentricities. He was a self-absorbed artist who spent his time brooding. He was once an idealist, but years of looking at Fate’s rugged, unwashed face threw him in a pit of nihilism. Nathaniel loved June but found it hard to express himself and make her feel loved and respected. He’d brush off her attempts at conversation with a nonchalant ‘hmm,’ or a ‘uh huh.’ He’d spend hours losing himself to his art though he’d given up on his dreams of getting published. He’d realized some time ago that the road he walked on was potholed, broken and covered with layers of dust and ash like a waltzing grey swirl caressing each contour of the landscape. But that didn’t keep him from writing and writing, chasing the will-o’-the-wisp, and revolving on that carousel of delusion.

His was a peculiar case. A case in which he had complete insight into his distance from reality, but made no effort to bridge the gap. A paperweight of unhealthy defense mechanisms had him trapped, and the swirling mass within the paperweight was slowly psychically and emotionally asphyxiating him, but he made no effort to pry himself free and find his own.

Now, there’s nothing in this world more fascinating than an intelligent fool, and by that definition, Nathaniel was the most captivating man in the world. He’d make the same mistakes and then find himself ensconced in a cocoon of guilt where he’d writhe in agony before purging himself of the unhealthy emotion and undergoing a painful metamorphosis of sorts. But unlike the Butterfly that dazzles us while it’s with us with its jubilance and effervescence, Nathaniel would regress again once he stumbled upon the same obstacles. But the truly fascinating aspect of all this was that Nathaniel knew his way around these obstacles, but was helpless in translating his ideas into action.

Nathaniel’s love for June bordered on worship. He believed that they were twin souls and that the loss of one will lead to the death of the other. But there were times when he despised her. He hated her when she didn’t conform to his vision of perfection and loathed himself more for hating her. If colors depicted emotion, then Nathaniel’s affection for June took the form of every hue. He sometimes burned red with passion, felt the green stab of jealousy, retreated to a blue ocean of calm when she was warm, nestled himself in pastures bold and green when he dreamed of brighter futures of togetherness, and thought in black while tears coated his cheeks when he dreamed of the harrowing reality they’d eventually face.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

A portrait

This is a portrait of a man in black and white. I've used it to depict tortured personality that yearns for freedom.

Well, I’ve known him from school and I’ll admit that he was natural. He did win a writing competition besting me with the sharpest prose. But later, he quit writing altogether and took to another field that never suited him. A field filled with authoritarian therapists and pseudo-scientists trying to decipher maladjusted minds with cryptic jargon, and abstract sentences: Wrestling with creativity and trying to stuff it into a box, before crumpling it and tossing it into a wastebasket of indifference. I guess that got to him, because he couldn’t fit into one particular genre of ‘thought’ and he eventually quit, picked up a pen and started writing again. But doggerels of years, forced him to re-learn all that he’d forgotten, and I guess in that sense he taught himself how to write. The irony was that he did this while he sat in the patient’s chair, listening to those very therapists prescribing him with machine gun doses of antidepressants, anxiolytics, mood stabilizers and antipsychotics. He initially speckled his poetry with the softest tears of naïvety, but I’ve learned now that he is his biggest critic, his biggest judge and that might be both an axe and a box of treasures. He eliminated his writings once he got popular, tried getting off the medication, and tried religion, but a certain doctrine from Geneva haunted more than it ever saved. And then began a period in his life which no hermeneutic will ever explain. The last we met, I was balding, struggling with similar side-effects (albeit to a lesser degree) and I tried setting him up with a girl who was seven years older. He said, “I’ll think about it,” and that right there is the problem. He did date her eventually, but he probably thought twice before making love to her, and wondered if passion will lead to something that lasts or if it will fizzle out. And so, he gave up on her, and thought about everything, except when he wrote, because then something strikes like lightning, and it just spills on a page – verbal vomit that strangely has structure, but I guess it’s better if he thinks and pours out syllables on a page, stringing together alliteration, drawing from every other eclectic source, and the suicidal aspects of his own life, because when he ghosts away, that’s when he suffers the most. I mean that’s when he gives into utter madness. He once walked on the street at two in the night, tried gouging out his eyes, stepped on thorns, and came back home completely befuddled and disoriented. He thought it was penance. Fortunately, some slight wand of fate always prevents him from going the distance. And then he’s back to writing, stitching together pieces, and it seems like each time he disappears and comes back, he gets better at what he does. I always thought sorrow is the muse that makes a few, but I guess I’m wrong; it’s inner torture. And from what I’ve read, I thought his writing parallels Perrin Aybara’s life: very moralistic and willing to go the distance for art, but it doesn’t. It’s definitely not Matrim Cauthon because you won’t find him frequenting bars and writing bard poetry, even though he says that’s his favorite character from the series. No it’s Rand, starting naïve, and then judging himself and letting his anger flare though each line, before finally struggling to break free, and then walking into a new age. But then that’s a series. I think by now everybody knows that art and life are not completely connected. Anyhow, he’s back on his medication, and writing to survive, and I read from a distant land with a wife that I often hate, and a son that I love, and I’m glad as long as he thinks and reads and thinks, and then writes, because if he vanishes, I’ll have to call immediately and find out that he’s done something terrible to himself again, and I don’t want that.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

What lies buried

This is a blurry image of a prison cell. I've used it because my piece involves an unreliable narrator addressing his brother who's on death row.

Dear brother,

I read your last letter and it moved and shook my core because the date nears, and the court has dismissed all our appeals. You told me about Sara deciding to move on, having found another man, and about how she has never brought little Ruth to visit you though she’s twelve now. I always believed that Sara wanted to protect Ruth from a scarred childhood impression of seeing her father in chains, given an hour to pour his heart out and weep because that sort of thing leaves an ugly, indelible stain on the consciousness, and it’s usually suppressed before those grotesque colors coat all sense of identity later in life, making the person see things in monochrome. So, in that sense I believed that Sara was justified. But what outraged me was her questioning your innocence. Now, here was the woman who stood by you these last ten years, meeting lawyers and filing appeals. A woman who knew you from childhood, experienced so much with you as your friend, sweetheart, lover and wife, who knew the ins and outs of your labyrinthine personality, who stood by us when we couldn’t bear seeing mother suffer so much, and then eventually be snuffed out by cancer’s gale. I called her but she doesn’t pick my calls. She’s cut ties with both of us, as if we were putrefying sores so gangrenous that there isn’t any other course but amputation. Now, I don’t know what happened on the 27th of August, all those years ago when some homicidal, spree killer got away and you took his place like Christ did for the Church. I use such strong Biblical symbolism because I believe in your innocence, and even if they stripped off my skin, my blood and bones would cry for justice, my dear brother. Forgive me if all this sounds like hyperbole. I assure you it’s not. I saw you the previous evening with your friends in a local bar, enjoying yourself and infusing the place with your honest vivacity, and I can’t believe that the same person resorted to doing something so vicious and heinous to an innocent family who lived a few blocks away the next day. You didn’t even own a gun. But why did you not say a word and remain mute during the trial like someone unsympathetic and unafraid? You refused to answer questions properly, and your monosyllabic replies enraged me. And though a few witnesses saw another man dart from the house, you strangely dismissed that claim. They caught you with the weapon and blood-stained hands, but you stood trial in a place between light and dark; neither defending your innocence or pronouncing your guilt. You, the brother I looked up to, a man of integrity who never conformed to the Janus-faced parade with their gaudy robes masking reptilian skin, suddenly seeming somewhat catatonic. You, who despised the hypocrisy of ‘perfect’ people and embraced fractured finitude suddenly seeming conniving. You knew something that you’re still unwilling to share, didn’t you? And somewhere deep inside I know it too, which is why we can never look each other in the eye for an extended period during visitations. I’ve searched and dug but can only unearth hazy traces of who, why and what. Traces just as blurred as my days of addiction back then. So, tell me. Just throw it at me. Let it rip through me that the lamb sacrificed himself for the degenerate. And if you have the proof, clear your name. I’ve avoided asking you this because our memories are contortions of actuality. But as the day nears, I sense things inching their way to the surface, and I need to know. I don’t want your sacrifice or love, just the truth.

Yours

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Caged

This is a picture of a tiger in a cage. I've used it to depict animalistic lust which is a prominent theme in my story.

The day we broke up, the dying Sun was a blackish crimson like the color of menstrual blood. The only sounds heard were the incessant cawing of crows that sounded like the noises a lunatic in unendurable emotional throes makes. There was a slight drizzle, but it wasn’t like the soft healing rain that people enjoy. It felt acidic and bitter; sharp like little tungsten needles piercing flesh; grim and nihilistic.

She said, ‘I never loved you, and I don’t know why I put up for four years,’ and though that statement echoed my own feelings, I was bitter, and I felt it – some green, thorny reed pulsing in my chest, urging me to lash out at her. Anger gripped me like caffeine intoxicates you when you’ve had too much coffee. A manic thrill flitted around each thought of mine, scratching at their surfaces and creating a terrible itch like an allergic rash – red scales imprinted on chest and stomach. I wanted to wound her emotionally. I wanted to crush her with words like a rattlesnake’s bite. But I bottled up my rage and just walked away with seething hatred in my eyes.

Ours was a slipshod romance based on ideas of who we were and who we’ll become. The problem with such romances is that when they hit hard ground, the idealism quickly evaporates like nail polish remover or acetone, leaving a pungent stench. Then a bleakness sets in and the lush grandiosity is replaced by a wasteland, littered with scraps of ‘what should have been.’

We made the mistake of staying together despite the staleness and the acrid stench. We were far past even a hint of recovery, but we pushed on, though we secretly despised each other. I guess the need for companionship even if it’s toxic and volatile makes people do stupid things. We complimented each other, but there wasn’t any depth to anything we said. Everything became an ostentatious façade of the clichéd three words said, or pure lust gripping us like myriad demons and making us devour each other – possessed, insatiable and hedonistic.

‘I love you,’ she’d say after semen like little glaciers coated her breasts and stomach.

‘I love you too,’ I’d say, cleverly masking my nonchalance.

‘Where do you think we’ll be five years from now?’

‘I don’t know; possibly married with a child and a dog.’

‘Yeah, and we’ll be successful writers too.’

This trite, mundane small talk enveloped every conversation we had like smog enveloping a footpath. And strangely, it was only after sex that we’d even bother to engage in longer conversations.

There’s a difference between lust and love, and lust can often imitate love like Satan masquerading as an angel of light as the good apostle put it. Lust is an impatient, reckless muse. She gives you half an hour of pleasure and then dumps you, making you fall into an intense pattern of introspection as complicated as the designs you see in a kaleidoscope.

Love, however, is patient and soft and selfless (or so they say). I’ve never known her though I’ve romanticized her using sonnets and lyrical passages in my prose.

‘Do you want to get a cup of coffee?’

‘Sure.’

‘How about we go to this new café on Church street? I’ve heard the ambiance there is terrific.’

‘Yeah, why not?’

This sort of conversation marked our relationship like a birthmark marks a finger when boredom seized us, and we felt sorry for ourselves. It’s tragic that you see something in a person that was never there and cling to the chimera like you’re clinging to a branch you somehow caught when you fell from a cliff.

Sleazy sex and cigarettes; squalid thoughts and booze; dirty lifestyles and cock and cunt; thinking in shades of black and white. All this slowly creeps into the archetypal deluded relationship like the serpent in Eden who destroyed Adam and his progeny.

In the end, I was living with her in a sordid apartment, squandering my time, while self-loathing and hatred for her was the bile I was holding back using all my effort. Eventually, it reached a stage where I had to puke. I had to relieve myself of the artificiality and inanity. But she took the first step.

We had a fight, and it was only the second fight we’d ever had, but the redundancy of our relationship like a classic Macintosh computer broke our wills.

‘Is all this only about sex?’ She asked me with a look of disgust after we’d had an intense session that lasted nearly an hour.

‘What if it is?’ I said, and I knew I’d said something I could never take back.

‘I’m not a whore, you bastard! I need something more than just physical satisfaction, and I can’t believe you just said that!’

‘I didn’t mean it that way. I don’t even know why I said that.’

‘Yeah, but you did. What’s deeply rooted in the heart always untangles itself and becomes an utterance.’

‘Look, I’m sorry,’ I said halfheartedly, ‘I never meant to hurt you.’

‘Then why did you say what you said?’

‘I don’t know. All I know is that there was something else on my mind, and I just said something stupid,’ I lied.

‘Stop lying. Maybe you’re right though. Maybe these four years have only been about sex. I’ve longed for intimacy, but I’ve never found it with you, and I don’t think I ever will.’

‘What do you mean? Do you want to find it with someone else? I’ve tried hard to make this work, you know, but you’re always so distant and preoccupied,’ I said with a hint of insecurity.

‘I’m preoccupied! You’re the one who’s never there. All you do is mumble now and then, and honestly, I’m sick of it. ‘

‘Do you want to break up? Is this what this is all about?’

‘No.’

We avoided each other for the next few days, but we did eventually break up. Thinking back, I didn’t want her to find someone else, even though I was relieved that we weren’t together.

Freedom at last! It took a few days processing it. No more pretentious conversations, no more hypocrisy, no more sacrifices to altars of nothingness, no more suppressed hate like a pustule festering inside, no more us.

She soon found another lover, and that strangely felt like someone had clamped my heart with crocodile shears. I felt like someone boxed me in an iron maiden of emotion and slammed the door shut. But what fascinated me was me getting aroused thinking of her and her new lover in bed. It was an ugly mix of bitterness, turmoil, and libido. I spent days masturbating to the thought of them having sex and writhing in self-pity at the same time. I’d then think that I was a sick freak and masturbate to that thought too.

I stopped caring about personal hygiene; walked to the liquor store in the pants I’d shagged in and years passed as I watched my life ebb away. Was there a part of me that loved her? Did I miss the sex? Do deluded romances also have an aspect of actual, tangible, beautiful emotion that we suppress? I couldn’t get over her, and I still haven’t. I guess things will never be the same, but what’s ironic is that they were shitty to start with.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

The mythos of reasoning

This is an image of a dolphin trapped in a bottle. I've used this surreal image because my story is an absurd one about a man trapped in a bizarre environment.

That day, I found myself on purple grass under a green sky. There were two moons in the sky and half a sun that burned furiously. I was sweating profusely, but when I wiped a little sweat off my forehead, I realized that I was sweating blood. I panicked. I shuddered. I thought I was approaching death. I wasn’t weak though. And so, I ran. I ran past trees with whalebone trunks and leaves that looked like caterpillars. They seemed alive. I ran past a lake brimming with all sorts of cats. I tried rationalizing things. Was I in hell? Did some ‘event’ transport me to another dimension? Was this the afterlife? I tried bringing everything I saw around me to the level of my reasoning, but I struggled. And so, I sat down and tried to recollect. My memory was fragmented. I only remembered a station…a train…a loud thud. Then it dawned on me. I was in a coma after an accident, and this was a lucid dream! Then something attacked me. Something feral but invisible. It tore a chunk of flesh out of my left arm that was already sweating blood. I screamed in pain. I shrieked. I yelled for help, but I soon found myself drifting out of consciousness. I woke up later to find myself missing an arm, although I didn’t feel it. Then I felt a burning sensation where my missing arm was. I hypothesized again and thought it must be phantom limb and phantom pain that I was experiencing in a lucid dream because the doctors had amputated my arm in the real world. I still hadn’t woken up from the coma, I thought.

As the days passed, I felt hunger and thirst and drank from the lake of cats. The water tasted like piss. I then managed to fashion a weapon of sorts out of metal reeds I’d collected (I can only call them that) and slay two cats and eat them raw. They tasted like fish, and they didn’t bleed when I sliced them open. And then, I found myself falling into a pattern of sorts. I avoided any strange animal I came upon. And I saw many – three-horned rhinoceroses with gills, elephants without tusks and tails, cougars with blue coats, walking on seven legs…I hoped the invisible predator would never return. Years or what seemed like years passed and my reasoning was failing. My instincts, however, had sharpened. As I explored the strange biosphere, I encountered both things and occurrences that had a supernatural or surreal aspect. I started wondering if aliens had abducted me and placed me under observation in an unnatural habitat to see how I’d respond. But that didn’t explain how I’d healed from having my arm torn off. Had they changed me before placing me here? Had they tampered with my biochemistry and my human nature? Was I becoming an alien myself? Is this how they captured other species and transformed them into creatures like themselves?

Then one day, a memory flashed in my head. A memory of a hospital. And I thought that perhaps everything I’d known was simply a hallucination. I was just a mentally ill man in an asylum living out a terrifying make-believe reality, completely oblivious to the truth. But that posed another question. How could I have known the true world unless I’d experienced it at some point? Was I a functioning individual who suddenly had a psychotic breakdown because of a personal catastrophe? And then I wondered if anything was real. We spend our lives looking for answers, but what if there aren’t any questions, to begin with? What if some sentient being somewhere dreamt us all into existence, and when its dream turned into a nightmare, earthquakes, and plagues and train accidents occurred? What if this being’s dream made room for each creature – man, woman, child, animal, bird, fish, and dreams within the massive dream made each life? And when a dream within the dream took a surreal turn, realities got turned inside out. This was an absurd explanation, or perhaps a profound one, I don’t know, but it was the best I could think of.

Now, I still live here in this bizarre place. Centuries or what seem like centuries have passed. I still sweat blood and don’t have an arm. I look at my broken reflection in the lake of cats and it looks the same. I haven’t aged. I’ve stopped praying for help. The invisible monster never returned. I hunt. I eat. I survive.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)