The Sorrows of Young Werewolf (eyeteeth) wrote,
The Sorrows of Young Werewolf

The head in the parlor

When I had almost given up hope, the snow-bedeviled postal service finally delivered my copy of The Psychiatrist: Personalities and Patterns, the last book Walter Freeman wrote. It consists mainly of capsule biographies of famous brain guys, larded (so far, anyway) with hilariously catty remarks about how some people were outspoken in their belief that mental illness probably had a biological basis but still wouldn't let him stick knives in their patients' heads, for whatever reason. The first biography -- of S. Weir Mitchell, aka "the guy who inspired Charlotte Perkins Gilman to write The Yellow Wallpaper, which is not a ringing accolade when you think about it" -- begins like this:
"I take the year of 1895 as the jumping-off place because of three events in that year: one, a medical landmark of first importance, the discovery of X-rays by Roentgen; two, a milestone in psychiatry, the publication of Breuer and Freud's 'Studies in Hysteria'; three, a strictly personal one, my birth."

Walter, you big dead egomaniac, I adore you. I just want to give you a big hug.

After a long period of weltschmerz and angst and hefeweizen I have been writing again, often in coffee shops with the aid of my favorite antidepressant. For some reason I can't seem to leave this story alone, but keep tacking stuff onto it.

The lamp on the table in the front hallway was made of pierced brass and looked like a censer. If she was out of the house when her father went up to bed, he turned this lamp on, presumably for her benefit; in practice it cast only enough light to hint at a few things attached to the nearby wall. (In a poem she had referred to this light as "a thinner darkness," which she still thought was pretty good.) There was a round object that Maisie knew was the thermostat and a square object that was a picture of some cousin. There was also a shape that was an old mirror with the silver coating worn away at the corners, at a convenient height for Maisie to wave her hand in front of to verify that she could see no reflection.

If he was still awake when she came in she was able to see a little more, because he would be sitting in the kitchen writing and a wedge of light would fall across the pantry and over the threshold of the hallway where she stood. The mirror would suggest the shape of her fingers. When he heard her come in he would say something inane like "Is that you, Maisie?"

"Yes," she said, putting her keys in the bowl where keys went, because what was even the point of being snide? One ineffectual gesture per day was enough.

Sitting in the kitchen writing was a new thing for him. She guessed he had started because waiting for a teenage daughter to come home at night was something fathers were supposed to do, but there were no rules about what they could do to pass the time while they were waiting. Ordinarily he did his writing on a Selectric typewriter, the only typewriter she had ever known anyone to seriously use, in his study on the second floor. He had to order the ribbons for it online. At the kitchen table he wrote in a ninety-nine-cent spiral notebook and drank tea.

Maisie picked up a box of table-water crackers on her way through the pantry and stood shoving them into her mouth one at a time. She wasn't sure why she did this when with the clarity of a hallucination she could foresee what would happen: he would close the notebook over his pen, and regard her for a moment, and then take off his reading glasses while saying, "Would you use a plate, please?"

A moment later her foreknowledge was exactly fulfilled. It was like having the world's stupidest psychic ability. "I'm eating them whole," she said, getting a plate, "and they don't have seeds."


How was it he made her feel? Not childish, because she was a child and that would presumably be an acceptable way for her to feel -- developmentally disabled was probably the term she wanted. Possibly to such an extent that she was unfit to be let out of the house. ("He is allowed to run free in the streets," Candy had recently said of her nemesis, Colin Ball, which Maisie had thought made him sound like a werewolf.) In three more years, once she'd attained her majority, she could progress to feeling childish.

"You might even sit at the table like a human being, if you wanted." He was smiling. As she had discovered during the unfortunate poetry episode, the things her father said sounded unbelievably bitchy when they were written down, but she was sure he never intended them that way. He just said things, and sometimes she happened to be in the room at the time. That was one of the reasons the poetry hadn't worked: when she tried to write about him it always ended up too intimate. This was misleading, and in particular she was afraid it would give the impression that she was a victim of incest. Someone in Misery Park was bound to be a victim of incest, just statistically speaking. Maisie's money was on its being Colin's girlfriend Nereid, who made a big deal out of having self-harming tendencies but who as far as Maisie knew only ever drew lines on her arms in ballpoint pen to indicate where she planned to cut herself later. Colin handled her like a Fabergé egg and enjoyed himself immensely doing it.

"You're right, I could."

"How was your evening? There's bark on your skirt."

This was true, she found. "I was up a tree," she said, picking it off, and was surprised when he laughed. Up a tree, he explained, was a term that used to mean in trouble, which he hoped she was not.

"I'm not pregnant, if that's what you mean."

"It wasn't, but that's good to know just the same."

It would have been perfect, actually, from a narrative standpoint. It was a made-for-TV movie and Sean Parisi (handsomer in a douchey way than he was in real life, probably with some unpleasant stubble and a scarf of some kind) had just raped her and she had come in sobbing, with bark on her skirt -- that was connected with the rape somehow. She probably didn't have a mother at all in this story, just a father who waited up for her and wrote in a spiral notebook with his old-man glasses low on his nose. (He was some kind of professor or poet.) She wouldn't even have to tell him what had happened; he'd take one look at her and know the whole story. He'd close his notebook over his pen and take his glasses off and go to the garage to get the deer rifle his grandfather had killed the head in the parlor with.

Actually, except for the part where she got raped, that would be kind of fantastic. Not that she really wanted Sean Parisi, the actual one, to get shot with a .44-40 Winchester, but it would certainly make him much more interesting than he was ever likely to be in real life. Maybe if he only got hit in the leg.

"Why do you keep the deer rifle?" she asked. There were no deer where they lived; there had not been deer for probably a hundred years. The head had been shot elsewhere.

"It's an heirloom," her father said, once again confirming her stupid psychic abilities. Everything in the entire house was an heirloom, except for some of the stuff in the basement.

* * *

See, you're not the only one with a big giant ego, Doctor.
Tags: coffee, staring at corpses, stix, storychunks, walter freeman, writing, zeppo and friends
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