“You seem very preoccupied.”
I glance at her. She is always needling me when I am silent, which is both beneficial to me and slightly uncomfortable. I like Victoria. More than I will ever say aloud, though I have no doubt she will read about it since she seems to make it a practice to monitor my web traffic. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, I feel that my thoughts are clearer when we sit at cross purposes, looking at her plain walls and abstractions. I never fret over her mindset, or how I trouble it. I never imagine harm coming to her. Instead, I feel somehow as if I am absorbing her calm.
That was not a succubus joke.
I’ve gotten lighter on my feet where humor is concerned, and I sometimes feel people assume I am quite funny. In actuality, this is not so. Most humor on my part is “happenstance”.
I have anticipated this question. It is the one thing I really can anticipate from her. She asks it nearly thrice a session. Probably my doing. If I was more given to vocal expression…well…I suppose therapy wouldn’t be necessary.
“I have been…” I shake my head. I haven’t a good word for it. “Malaise” is as close as I come, but this is habitual. This is the flux of generations. It happens to me several times a decade. “A slump,” I think most would call it. I call it dull and if I am honest, worrisome, because it takes more and more to pull me from it every time it happens — humans and newfound associations notwithstanding.
“Depressed? Like before?”
“Still.” I lean forward and can feel my face working at the difficulty of putting these feelings into words. “When I am beneath it…I am buried, and my head comes out for a breath, but I always sink.”
“Then I haven’t known you when you weren’t ‘under’, as you put it.”
“How long have you been under this time?”
I sigh. I know the answer, but it was so long ago in human years, I hesitate to even bring it up lest it shock her into outward spiraling theories and motivational exercises. But really, I should always expect the best from her.
“How many decades, Simon?”
“Now? Ah, me…many. Since the war.”
I let out a snort. That this must be clarified gives precisely the proper statement. “The war.”
“Are you going to tell me what triggered it?”
“If I have to do that, then we need to have a discussion of history and the merits of the education system in this country.”
She purses her lips. This usually means she believes I am deflecting from answering the question because I feel it will concur emotional vulnerability. She’s half right. I am not answering because I feel annoyed that I must constantly answer this question, that the last of the Great Generation are dying, that I am the only one left who seems to remember how perfectly horrifying it was. I am full of rage at this fact, actually. I am full of absolute condign fury that there are men who have the gall to assert none of it happened.
They want to make oven jokes. My first thoughts are always, “Oh, my sweet juicy child…do not ‘go there’. I have oven jokes for days.”
But that is tasteless, and not in the gustatory way. Instead I ramble on ineffectually in chat rooms and kill the odd asshole. I also gone about other wars, less important wars in the scheme of modern “history”, mass deaths, thousands of men wiped out, whole generations so that this or that king could be in charge.
Would that I could erase the entire idea of “power” from the face of the earth.
Again, pardon me.
She shakes her head. “I can’t fight that war. It’s been won.”
“Has it though?”
I look away. She is going to ask me what the most immediate problem is. She’s right to do it. It is a sound method, as I never run shy on problems. I swear to you now, gentle reader, if I could silence my thoughts, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.
Consider this — eating man makes us clever. Not eating men causes stupidity. Eating more men makes us even more clever. What if…after all this time doing this to myself, I am actually manic? Perhaps eating so many people has acted like a kind of stimulant, like methamphetamines.
My mind moves ten directions at once, at full speed. This seldom has a better chance of manifesting itself than when I am in a chat session with some of you. Ten conversations at once, but all lines of thought processing at different speeds. I may be slow to answer a perfectly obvious question, but that is because my recollection has wandered down a road completely thick with brambles. You mention tater tots, and my brain, for whatever it is worth, meanders from tots to processing plants, from that to the potato famine, from there to the Irish, back to the canal and the “malaria” epidemic, and on to the coast of France, and then around again, by degrees, to the plague of London and the pasty I ate while watching a woman dispose of her children in a pile of corpses. As may be obvious, my answers become complicated, clipped, and often require people to ask me what I was getting at.
It’s called “tangential reasoning” and I am guilty of it in spades. So when you ask me a question and I take a moment to reply…and it makes no sense, and you think to yourself “what the hell…” — this is why.
It’s not just tater tots. It is a mountain. An avalanche. It’s smothering and distracting. It’s impossible to focus and when I do, I focus on the most meaningless of things. Like this shirt. Why the hell did I wear this shirt? I hate this shirt. The fabric is far too thin and the cut is all wrong.
I miss the days before mass produced clothing. I constantly find myself wishing that the tailor who used to have his shop on First was still there, and more importantly, that he had a speed dial function. In those days, there were no clothes but what were made for you by someone with skill. A man had several shirts, one suit, perhaps two. A woman had two or three dresses. Clothes were an investment.
Now I walk into a Michael Kors and think, my god what is this “handmade” apology of a clothing line? Someone please set those sweat shop workers free and let them use colors! Not everyone looks good in things the shape and shade of cardboard boxes and sailor’s uniforms. And heavens to Betsy, do we really need a label on everything? Who the devil are you, and what is this brass plea for attention? Is it your cheap bid for immortality, Michael?
Look, you see? Where was I?
“Why are we here? What are we talking about today?”
Not my shirt, I assume. “I can’t remember.”
“This keeps happening.”
“I am sorry, but you have a relaxing aspect, and I lose my train of thought. Or rather, I gain fifty of them.”
“We go nowhere.”
A wry smile is my only reply.
“Let’s try something new.” She stands up suddenly, stretching like a gymnast and bending in all directions. With her arms like windmills, she casts out the odd question. “What do you think of first, when Chef smiles at you?”
I tilt my head. What an odd question, indeed. “Blood.”
She doesn’t laugh as I expect her to. Her face tells me she can completely comprehend such a compulsion. “What’s the second thing you think?”
Her movements come to a halt. “Clarify. You see him and think ‘I am boring,’ just like that?”
“Yes. Just like that.”
“Seeing him makes you think about how you’re disappointing him?”
“Yes. No. I…Well, its something like that, I suppose.”
“That was every answer. Stand up,” she beckons. “Come on. Do it.”
I am frowning, but she has a magic to her. The number of times she’s coaxed from me things I had never dared voice is simply remarkable. I cannot deny her yet another chance to make a cowed fool out of me. I take too much pleasure in watching her be brilliant.
She smiles. “Do what I do.”
“Simon says, I don’t play this game.”
“You’re a mimic. So mimic.” She puts her hands above her head, high above, to touch the ceiling, or the light floating on the sterile air, or whatever divinity refuses to make itself known to her. “Come on. Do it.”
I oblige, and feel like an idiot. I am reminded of my first Holy Mass. It was long ago, before I’d even grasped the languages around me. I was hungry then and weary. I had gone to the church because of the pointy thing on top of it. It rang. People went there. They made noises and they bobbed up and down like birds pecking. So I learned to genuflect.
Ha! How’s that? I learned to kneel before I learned to speak. I learned to grovel before I knew to beg. It turns my stomach. It’s philosophically repugnant to me. If Socrates were here, or Descartes, of Voltaire, I’d probably get the back of a hand across my face if they could stop pleasuring themselves long enough to expend the effort. No, never mind, Voltaire would likely not care.
There I go again.
“You’re boring.” She is looking up. I am looking at her. She ignores me. She carries on with her calisthenics. “But you’re not worried that disappoints him. Clearly he is smiling at you, so he isn’t disappointed.”
“Indeed. May I put down my—”
She waves her arms. all around, swirling and twirling. I shake my head. For my trouble, I receive a nudge of the chin. “What are you really thinking when he smiles at you?”
All this movement, this ridiculous bullshit. I certainly hope this isn’t something she picked up in that university of hers, or else that degree came far too expensively.
“This is annoying.”
“Because you’re not embracing the act.”
“If you’re not careful I will embrace your new chair and you’ll need another one.”
“Simon…you are difficult.”
“Yes! Yes I am. I am absurdly tedious! I am grateful you’ve noticed.”
“You’re not even participating.”
Finally, I have lost my patience. I drop my arms and turn away, teeth clamped down on wordless spitting.
“What do you really think when Chef smiles at you?”
“That I am deceiving him!” I snarl, and before I can topple the sculpture and upend the table, she has taken her seat as if she never moved.
I commend her for her commitment to driving me out of my own solitude with a torch and pitchfork, but one day it will get her killed if she isn’t careful. I cannot tell her that. It will only please her to know how close she comes to the core of me.
I sit down, ruffled, on the edge, but because of this, duller in my defenses. Stress forces me to compensate, compensation takes calories, calories drive a wedge between me and my consciousness. words become difficult, but feelings more evident. I suppose, to the observant sculptor, I become malleable.
“There isn’t anything interesting to me. Not one thing. I do perfectly mundane tasks. I eat, I sleep. I watch television. I scroll Tumblr.”
“Are any of these bad?”
I have often contemplated that. I am not sure of the answer. This experiment has broken many boundaries I once had. It has been absolutely trying on me since the books were published. There was a time when reproach from a human meant disaster. For most of my life, one tiny comment was enough to set me calculating just how long I could go without food before this person became the menu item, just how far I had to walk to get away from my own reputation. Then came the time of mayhem, when I stopped caring and men became their own monsters. I hated who I became then. I hated the things I did, but I still did them.This new era, of rampant commentary, it has a numbness to it that conflicts with everything I have learned, and when I receive the odd anonymous ask or sharp message…it doesn’t pain me.
Pain isn’t the right word.
I don’t care what they think of me, truly I mean that. But in me is a natural instinct to flee or kill, and that is triggered with every hateful retort. When I receive the asks, I have to walk away, think about what century this is. Remember how silly this all seems to them, the perspective of the thing. I have to eat and consider the best way to proceed.
This month…it was that I am boring.
“You are boring…good luck with the experiment,” this person said to me, and while I readily agree that I am, this felt somehow wrong. Why wrong? What do I care if they find me normal, average, exactly what I have always argued that we monsters are? Why would that matter?
Because it echoes my own lies, my own deceptions to those I hold dear. It makes it obvious that I have managed to slip by undetected, into that sacred circle. Don’t look at me. If you do, you will see I have infiltrated and you will hate me for it. You will punish me for it. I will kill you for it.
I am boring, and yet you are smiling at me.
I press my face into my hands and take a deep breath. Those two words are like a command, a mantra. Now, even when I am alone, and my mind is going in eternal circles, I can say it aloud, and suddenly I am standing there, and I am Simon, in this year, looking at a toaster and knowing that to push the lever down turns the bread brown.
“I am lying to him.”
For the first time, she seems concerned. She has large eyes, and by that, I mean they are disproportionately shaped. I have recently learned that the Sumerians prized that as an attribute. Apparently they mated specifically for that purpose, to have children with large eyes. As I have had it explained to me by my editor, this has the unintended consequence of increasing the size of the frontal lobe, as the visual cortex is the part of the brain most responsible for the personality…
“What do you imagine he is going to do, when he finds out you’re lying?”
I am loathe to utter it, because the word itself, once a refuge for me, now summons all manner of chilling, unimaginable horrors.
“His intellect is immaterial.”
“Is it though? He’s trustworthy too.”
“Again I say—”
“Simon, don’t you think it’s possible that you believe you are deceiving him because you don’t trust him or think him capable of seeing past your exterior? You are treating him as if he isn’t capable.”
My, but I am an arrogant bastard. Is that really it? Have I, all this time, medicated my own vulnerability by cultivating this unnaturally low opinion of the human I care for most in this world? Have I, through fear, pushed him away? More importantly, have I ever acted on that opinion? Have I made him feel it? Have I made him feel reviled? Have I ever once been cruel to him in a way to which I was oblivious because I was so wrapped in my own…
My eyes are closed. My body is beginning to ache in that ancient way. Like a skin made of bruises, it causes more recent wounds to itch and older ones to tug. “I’m sorry. I am almost at my limit, Vicky.”
“There’s something I’ve learned about you.”
“Oh? I daresay there’s a lot you’ve learned about me — not all of it spoken.”
She smiles knowingly. “All this stuff you’re doing, jumping into the deep end with humans…as unsettling as it is for you, I think you knew…maybe instantly, what it will give you. I mean how you benefit from it. You knew all at once. You have taken hold of it and you are strangling the meaning from it.”
“I tend to strangle things, it is true.”
She remains appropriately stoic. It is unfair that I am laughed at for deep revelations and given a stern reproof when I am flexing my sense of humor. But so be it. Monsters aren’t allowed to be amusing. Fair enough. You invented the languages, spoken humor is your domain, I suppose.
This vexes me, however. Some day I will invent something and exclude you from it just to “be a dick”.
“Everything you’ve ever told me about your past leads me to believe that this hobby of collecting, sorting, stockpiling is a new thing. You were nomadic before. You couldn’t collect because you couldn’t carry it. All of a sudden here you are, pulling things close and worrying yourself silly over them.”
“Silly is a strong term.”
“Tell me you didn’t just nearly eat me because you worried you had actually hurt him so that you wouldn’t have to feel vulnerable with him.”
She lays her head back against the chair and gazes upward. As per her usual custom, she has shed her shoes and sits balled up. I know our sessions are not relaxing for her, but she gives the impression of finding them thusly. But as I think this, I wonder if it is something she does intentionally, to demonstrate that she is at ease with me even when she is not, as a means of manipulating me into a sense of camaraderie.
Her gaze flicks to me. “Why?”
“I’m doing it again.”
“You can hear my heartbeat. I am absolutely calm.”
“So am I deceiving you, oh great deceiver?”
I cannot help but laugh. Here we are, two professional liars, using skill to break down defenses, using knowledge to have an effect. She is far too intelligent for her own good. Some day I am going to have to eat someone for her. Again.
“I want to hear more about this. Why do you believe you are deceiving him? Is it because he finds you interesting when you are actually boring?”
“Uh huh. He’s not allowed to find you interesting? He’s not allowed to be more boring than you?”
“He isn’t boring. Quite the opposite.”
“Oh, I don’t know. All he does is cook and drink and hang around you. I think that’s completely boring.”
“No. I am making a point. That in the same way you don’t find him boring, he doesn’t find you boring.”
Her skill is magnificent. If my face wasn’t already set in a grim line it takes far too much energy to craft, I’d be smirking at her. “He may do as he pleases.”
“But he’s stupid if that’s what he does.”
“Stop putting words in my mouth.”
“Stop making it so easy. You’re ordinary, completely mundane. So what, you eat people? Whatever! There are plenty of people who eat pistachios and no one thinks they’re odd.”
I cross my arms and roll my eyes.
“The monster thing is about as interesting as having one leg longer than the other.”
“Yes!” She is mocking me for a purpose, but what I cannot tell, unless this is to goad me into yet another spontaneous utterance. “I don’t change! I just sit here like a sloth. A large, blood sucking, man eating sloth who happens to have better hygiene. Did you know they cultivate a moss in their fur? Someone told me it was a fungus, but I looked it up again, and it is a moss. And now there is an entire population of them dunking themselves in latrines! No one knows why…Apologies.”
She is pinching her lips again in that unflattering smile, and her huge eyes are glittering from between drawn lids. “Simon.”
“I know you appreciate a good humbling.”
“Like I do a good flossing.”
“Well, I’m not going to give you one.”
“That isn’t fair.”
“Why do you maintain this belief you are unchanging?”
Incredulity, on my face has a rather stupefying look to it. As if all of a sudden someone has crushed my skull with an anvil. Most people actually find it rather unsettling, because as I have made abundantly clear, I am not human, and my features revert when I am not paying attention to them. The mouth falls open, the soft tissue around the eyes…the feelers reach out for…Let’s stop before I go off again on a tangent.
So it is that often when mankind is at it’s most remarkably idiotic, with heights of nonsense that shame Nature, I am made far more obvious. Ironic isn’t it? That as a monster, I am more obvious when I am perplexed at how fucking stupid you are as a species…is mockery. It has to be a defense mechanism. Natural Selection made sure that when you were at your least intelligent, you absolutely could not fail to notice us. Probably why the old myths are so preposterous.
I trust you’ve seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Let me put you in mind of that “She’s a witch” skit in the middle of it. If that happened, the witch would be instantly forgotten, because there I would be, at the time quite ignorant of physics or facetiousness, shaking my head in slack jawed offense to common sense.
And the witch would be safe to hex another day.
I know this because I lived through the time that was referencing, and frankly, if I’d been less worried about dying myself, I would probably have had many a conversation that began with, “Can we dispense with this ‘if she drowns, she goes to God in innocence rubbish, since killing an innocent creature would make you all murderers in the eyes of God?’.
Ah…yes. I’ve done it again.
Anyway…I look at her with this face. She ignores it. The silence fattens itself on our unspoken thoughts and makes jolly love to our mutual understandings until the air is peopled with little dancing retorts.
“Could it be because you look at yourself every day?”
“If I didn’t someone would notice.”
She says my name in a warning. “Tell me about coal. How amazing is coal?”
I blink at her, but then I’m off, thinking about coal fires and how much easier they were to maintain. Wood cost a bloody fortune by the time the area around London had lost all its ancient forest. Coal fires would blacken the insides of the train tunnels, so that an engineer would end up covered in dust, till only his eyes peeped out. I remember how tedious it was to get off the wallpaper. Two or three deaths per annum. Ah, and then gas! What a lovely discovery that was. Lanterns were such wonderful things. Far superior to candles. My god, the wax! Everywhere! And not the lovely beeswax you envision, or the perfect white tapers of today. The whole town smelled like a livestock farm had been pushed into a live volcano, and the stuff caused all manner of fires to burn beyond control. But then the lightbulb, preceded by my nemesis, electricity. But even that had it’s finer moments.
I remember the exact day and time that my home began electrification. It wasn’t a glorious light up as you perhaps imagine, gentle reader. 1886. Alternating current wasn’t dominant. Tiny fits and starts of power serviced by neighborhood companies, but my was it amazing! As each patch came to life, I could hear it. It sizzled in my mind. Suddenly, I could see with my eyes shut, hear the world in a current that hummed in strange thrumming pulses…
“How long did it take, to go from wood to electricity?” she asks casually.
Sometimes it amazes me how astute she is. Then I remember that I have aided her task marvelously by writing this bloody journal and feel I am remiss to afford her an accolade. Less genius, more observation. But then again, to collate all that into an accurate picture of me is invaluable. I require her assistance to see myself from the outside.
“Two hundred years or thereabouts.”
“All that change…in only two hundred years.”
At a loss for words, I am transfixed by the corner of her mouth. She is smiling at my expense. Let her. She has earned it.
“Perhaps you only think you’re boring because you see yourself in the mirror every day. To you the changes are long, drawn out, incremental, thousand fold if there’s one. But to everyone looking at you, you are an amazement of sheer willingness to change.”
Is that the secret? Is it deception, or do humans actually find me interesting? Many of the gentle readers who contact me say they like my stories — some of them that this is the chief reason they speak to me. They appreciate hearing the history. They like the “realness” I bring. Perhaps they also enjoy that the creature talking about the time he saw a man flung through the air into the side of a fortress, is doing so from a smart phone that is so stupid it thinks that I can’t spell “Caliphate.”
No, Siri…go hang yourself, I am not going to talk about you.
“You don’t hold back,” she continues, sensing I am about to drift and summoning me with ease. “Humans don’t like to change. We don’t like to feel insecure. We can’t thrive when truly alone as you have, being so different from us and your own species. You do all these things without even thinking about it…and to you, it’s boring, because to you it’s just how things are done. Moment by moment, year by year, decade by decade. You just learn. And not only that, you turn around and tell others about it. Suddenly there is a real person talking. You don’t find that amazing, because you are that person, and this life, as long as it is, is perfectly ordinary to you.”
I am tracing the long line of my existence with a mental straight edge — point a, to b, to z to the nth power. But it isn’t a line. That is a myth I craft for myself by standing so far away I cannot see all the wriggles to it, the bloodshed at each pitch and rise. I lie to myself. I go day by day. I struggle with forever, on a daily basis, but should it ever be looked at daily, if it takes so long to come about?
Increments mean nothing to Time. It is as indifferent to them as I am to blood spatter. All those tiny droplets painting a final moment, tracking a person’s life back to the time of their parents’ parents, their mother’s womanly ancestor, backward, as far as you care to go, forward to that end, as large as you care to look, and as tiny as a pinprick.
None of that means anything.
Time is a billion endings, unfolding endlessly.
Why do I measure myself in days when I am moving on a far different scale? Why am I chaining myself to you and your records?
He smiles at me because I am new though I am old, and that is something he cannot imagine. And here I am, hating that he smiles at me, because I am old and tired and fighting a stupid touch screen.
“Humans refine what they have. They seldom turn their life upside down because they get bored. They seldom decide to change anything. I know. Ten times a day I coach people into embracing change, not fearing change, welcoming change, seeing change for what it actually is. Humans are not built to progress. They’re built to survive.”
“I thought that’s what I was doing,” I murmur.
“Surviving? Adapting, you mean?”
“Yes. I was surviving by blending in.”
Sometimes when she looks at me, I have the strangest impression that to her, I am childlike in many ways. I don’t mind it, because she never condescends. I approve of it the way I approve of the Spawn when they share their profound wisdom with me.
“You weren’t adapting. You were being exceptional. It’s the humans who were being disappointing.”
“I’m not exceptional.”
“No. You’re quite possibly the most boring patient I have ever had. Except that you’re so fucking good at it, it boggles me.”
It shakes me as it escapes, this low laugh that often bothers average men. It does nothing to her.
“Look at the baby boomers. how many of them can use a computer, let alone a smart phone? Not many. They’re not boring. They’re intractably rigid. That’s not the same thing. No matter the century, you somehow manage to be flexible enough to stay boring.”
“Quite the achievement.”
“Almost lovable.” She licks her lips, and that is the end of our time. “You know…if a person is into that sort of thing.”
I bow my head and let out a long sound of appeasement. Chef calls it the “purr”, but truthfully it is more like a growl of mingled understanding and acceptance of things I cannot ever undo. It is a begrudging compliment to her talents. “Next session, Young Lady, I’d like to tangle with the unrelenting burden mankind has placed on my shoulders to always be fascinatingly banal—”
“Get out of my office.”
“I haven’t damaged anything yet.”
“I’ll get over it.”