Annette Signorini

Modern Phenomenon

Mrs. Annunciado’s eyes shift to the walls, eggshell blue. This she is certain of, she saw it on a colour chart recently when she was thinking of painting one of the bedrooms. She knows, however, that colours can be deceptive, that light can interfere with true colour. By true, she means, pure. She wonders what colour she is herself this morning in Dr. Smith’s Room, under a 100W pearl light bulb. She can see, without looking up, the number of watts stamped on the globe, she can see many things, things that other people apparently do not see.

A pair of slippers, royal blue with powder puff blue trims, arrive but Mrs. Annunciado refuses to put them on. She does not smile at the nurse’s aide or at the doctor, she is not grateful and she would like to say – “Get fucked, both of you.” She also wants to say to her doctor, “I’m disappointed in your name.”

Dr. Smith moves away from behind the desk and sits in a brown leather chair that hugs her body. Mrs. Annunciado does not think Dr. Smith is very huggable but then, she thinks, Neither am I. Perhaps this will work between us after all.

“How are you settling in?” The doctor has a canary yellow file, notepaper and pen.

Mrs. Annunciado is disappointed for the second time this morning and she declines to answer. She has not “settled in” anywhere.

The doctor persists, patiently. “Would you like to talk about how you feel, being here?” and before completing the sentence, checks the time on the clock above her door.

The clock faces the back of Mrs. Annunciado’s black curly head but she is aware, as she so often is, that the time is 11.15 a.m.

“I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation. You have been charged with several serious offences, one of which is,” and from the file on her lap, she reads, “Aggravated assault.”

The doctor’s mood changes. There is a new expression in her eyes.

“Do you realise that you could find yourself in … jail.”

This has occurred to Mrs. Annunciado but she does not want to hear it uttered out loud. Mrs. Annunciado looks up anxiously at the window. The light, although it is an overcast day, glows over the doctor’s desk.

“Did you see something, just then?”

It is impossible for Mrs. Annunciado to respond.

“Can you at least tell me about the supermarket?”

She finds herself responding without intending to, the words escaping her mouth, like moths drawn to the light that is rushing in now, like a full tide.

“I hate them.”


“The lights. The floors. Those shelves. Those deep freeze compartments.”

Mrs. Annunciado watches the doctor writing furiously and detects the smallest movement in the corners of the doctor’s mouth. A fluttering smile.

“Do you remember the supermarket incident?”

Yes, but she does not want to discuss it, dismantle it and fiddle with it so that like the mood-altering effect of light, what happened will never look the same again.

“It was sweet.”


“Sweet corn. I love sweet corn. Fresh sweet corn that is. But my family likes it frozen and peas, they like them frozen too and they insist that I buy the large 500g pack of frozen mixed vegetables which has peas, beans and corn.”

“And chicken?”

“No. Chicken, they prefer fresh. They have told me that they like their flesh fresh.”

“But you bought frozen that day,” and Mrs. Annunciado observes Dr. Smith scribbling notes. She does not need to see the writing to know what has been recorded.

‘Patient presented wearing no slippers. Appears superficially calm
but is exhibiting signs of hysteria and paranoia, constantly checks windows, is
evading questions.’

Dr. Smith does not wear make-up and does not look that much older than her patient. She has brown hair, which hangs to her shoulders in a determined straight line from her scalp.

Mrs. Annunciado wants to laugh. Hysterically. She has seen it on movies often enough and she has come across characters in books. She wonders how many there are like her, on Dr. Smith’s bookcase. She sees them outside the window. Long, cylindrical shapes with stripes across them.

“Are you aware that your husband was treated for concussion, after the incident?”

“It was bad timing.”

“Did you know there were a number of shoppers treated for corn cob contusions?”

Mrs. Annunciado looks at the eggshell blue walls. Any moment she thinks they will crack open.

“And that there were children there, that day, in the supermarket?”

She sighs. It escapes like the words. Flies to the ceiling. She can see it there, hiding in the corner.

“Let me just refresh your memory: She was seen to rip open plastic bags and hurl frozen vegetables around the aisles. Corncobs collected two customers who required treatment by ambulance officers. The Security Guard was called and he observed a woman lifting a trolley into the deep freeze section where the high-bake apple pies were stored. The Security Guard suspected the woman of possessing a weapon and rushed her from behind but as he approached she spun around and smashed a No. 18 frozen chicken over his head. The guard collapsed into the freezer on top of the Blueberry Danishes. As it turns out, the guard was her husband.”

Mrs. Annunciado does not speak. No one believes her, about the neat squares on the lattice trellis, squares like honeycomb in a beehive, except they are not for bees but for the big insects, the lattice creatures, bigger than hornets, bigger than giant wasps with stingers protruding from their rears. There is a room in her house where she can view them, coming and going, along the lattice fence. They are angry creatures, not placid; they do not pleasantly go about their business. They have dark goggle-like rings around their bulging bug eyes. With the proliferation of lattice in the neighbourhoods, they have been multiplying at a rapid rate. Mrs. Annunciado is afraid to go outside now, she was afraid to go to the supermarket, in case she was followed. They excrete a gluey substance not unlike honey and she knows she cannot reveal any of this to Dr. Smith, that the psychiatrist will translate phallic symbolism and apply Freudian psychoanalytic approaches. She read it somewhere in a novel.

But there comes a time when the moment is right. Perhaps, being a woman, she can get through to Dr. Smith, that she can make her understand the real significance of the situation which is not her own creation.

“It’s the lattice creatures,” gambles Mrs. Annunciado. Dr. Smith half smiles again and Mrs. Annunciado wants to let her know that she gives herself away every time she does this.

“Could you explain the latest creatures?”

Mrs. Annunciado wants to correct her incorrect pronunciation but she does not. “Latest” could in fact, while leading her down a different path, be the direction she is intended to travel in.

“I see them from my window.”

“Can you describe them for me?” Dr. Smith’s pen is a little manic.

“I suppose, they look a bit like frozen chooks. They are big and plump and iced-over. They glisten in the sun.” And that day at the supermarket they had followed me inside. By the time I arrived at the freezer section they were in there, depositing their embryos.

“Are you able to explain to me what happens when they melt?” There is a tone in the doctor’s voice like a mother talking to a child. Mrs. Annunciado now feels trapped inside a story that is no longer hers.

The light in the room changes as the clouds appear in the afternoon sky. The eggshell blue walls darken.

“I would like to see the kids.”

Dr. Smith looks directly into her brown eyes. No half-smile now. “You have been unwell Mrs. Annunciado. Your husband is taking care of the children. I think for the moment we should try and work out what has been happening with you and look at some strategies that can help you deal with these problems.”

Mrs. Annunciado’s skin shrinks, it contracts around her rib cage, squeezing her pulsing, red blob of a heart.

“My children no longer prefer the taste of fresh vegetables. They have joined the quick and the dead”

“The quick and the dead?”

“Chickens. They kill them quick and freeze them.”

“Was the frozen chicken incident then, a way of saying how you felt?”

Possibly, she concedes to herself. All she has to do is say it.

“Yes. Yes, I think it was an act of rebellion. I wanted to show them how far things had gone and that we may as well go all the way. The Triple F Way.”

“Triple F?”

“The Frozen Food Family Way. But I think inside, I was struggling. I knew how much they hated frozen chicken.”

Dr. Smith is busy writing everything down: ‘Patient appears to be suffering from Frozen Food Neurosis.’

“Did you discuss how you felt about the meals then, with your family?”

Mrs. Annunciado deliberately shifts forward in her chair. She has studied body language from a book with a yellow cover and she knows this will impress Dr. Smith, that it will suggest she is telling the truth.

“No. Perhaps I should be more assertive. I have thought of doing classes. I know my self-esteem is very …” and she looks at Dr. Smith the way a dog does when it wants to be let in.

“There are classes right here. You can start tomorrow morning.”

Mrs. Annunciado sees the walls darken further as the daylight declines. The two women smile, together. The patient looks hopeful – like a dog, seeing the door ready to open.

* * *

Two months later and the patient who went berserk in the supermarket is a New Woman. She has discovered through therapy that she has been repressing feelings of rage all her life until the eventful incident in the supermarket. She now blesses the incident, thanks it for having been the springboard for a new life and with the assistance of her therapist, she has written a shopping list for change. She holds regular meetings with her family who are converting to the new Triple F Way – they have morning chants – “Fresh is best!”

Dr. Smith informs her patient that there is a new trolley on the market, which she believes, will revolutionise the shopping experience. She advises Mrs. Annunciado to purchase shares in the company so that she can achieve economic independence, befitting her New Woman status. Enquiries by Mrs. Annunciado disclose that shares are only offered starting from 1,000 units. Together with Dr. Smith, she weathers this setback, all the while practising positive affirmations.

Under Dr. Smith’s tutelage she is ready to return shopping. She preps herself beforehand having undergone intensive desensitising. She enters the supermarket. She begins to perspire under the harsh fluorescent lights. She breathes to an eight-six count and passes through the frozen food section keeping her eyes fixed on the aisle ahead. She turns into the fresh food section and sighs. She feels it escape, hit the roof. But she successfully ignores it. She hears background music urging her to forget her budget and go for broke. She applies visualisation techniques and imagines she is not in a supermarket at all, but at an outdoor market, somewhere in sunny Samoa, and plucks broccoli, Brussels sprouts and long curling snake beans into clear plastic bags, then settles them quietly into the trolley. She experiences a rush of elation. Yes! She completes her shopping, puts the contents in her car boot and starts the engine.

On her way home, she sings, “I am powerful and I love it,” when something catches her attention. She brakes suddenly, goes to the boot and takes out the wheel spanner. She enters a yard and attacks a lattice trellis until the police arrive.

* * *

Dr. Smith writes an article for her Association magazine entitled, ‘The Emergence of Frozen Food Syndrome as a Modern Phenomenon’. She receives an award for her pioneering research. Mrs. Annunciado’s husband is awarded a medal for his act of bravery during the supermarket incident. Mrs. Annunciado draws pictures of the creatures she sees. They have found a way of entering her room at the hospital. She tells everyone that the creatures are preparing to take over the world and whilst none of the staff believe her, she develops quite a following among the other patients who are more open minded and accepting of new ideas and approaches than the professionals.

One day an artist of some repute visits a relative in the hospital and happens to catch sight of Mrs. Annunciado’s drawings. He seeks permission to display the artwork in a gallery. The response is phenomenal and he becomes Mrs. Annunciado’s agent. She is considered a discovered talent and students make appointments to interview her. One art critic writes, “Annunciado demonstrates an ability to tap into ancient archetypal images and render them a modern significance. She is an artist of pure genius.”

It is the word she had been waiting for. Pure. It triggers in her a cathartic reaction.

Following her release from hospital, she moves into a city apartment on the tenth floor. She paints her walls midnight blue. She sets up a telescope on the balcony and every day for several weeks pushes her eye up against the lens. Because there is a fresh breeze that always blows from the south Mrs. Annunciado feels quite at home.

She watches them arrive in small groups as they settle on the lattice trellis of the downstairs courtyards. She leaves saucers of milk on the balcony ledge where the big creatures glide in when the sky begins to darken. For two hours during weeknights she paints her creatures, tapping into their ancient symbols and myths. On weekends her children visit and offer interpretations of her work. These she writes in a yellow notebook, which she is preparing for publication. Around the corners of her mouth can sometimes be detected the faintest of smiles.

From a newspaper article after a recent interview, she reads carefully: ‘The artist’s smile is as enigmatic as the work. Her recent exhibition, Modern Phenomenon, with its phantasmagorical depictions of diabolical creatures in tones of pure colour reminds one of Hieronymus Bosch.’

Upon reading the learned critic’s comments Mrs. Annunciado wants to laugh a little hysterically but suppresses the impulse. Instead she takes to the article with a pair of scissors, slipping it into her folder of press clippings that will soon be handed over to her publisher. She would like to call the forthcoming book, ‘A Fresh Approach’.

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