Fortune had bestowed upon me susceptibility for fungal malaise.
It begins on a limb — usually the lower leg — as a spot much like an ingrown hair or a pimple, and with any sort of blemish, I feel the irresistible urge to tamper with it.
The first few days I scratch at it, squeeze it between thumbnails like the dispatching of a flea, until a small droplet of fluid is forced from its centre.
I guess this is how infection first sets in: I open the wound.
But being minuscule, I discredit it, thinking that it is ineffectual. Over the next few days, it develops around its rim, spreading a pinkish discolouration until quite unexpectedly, several new nodules appear, as mushrooms do in the rain.
And yet, I persist in treating it with disdain.
The itching increases, and you would think I would take that for a sign, but without any change of consideration, I pick at it, scratch at it.
There is a point when scratching the itch is quite pleasurable, which becomes yet another step taken blissfully towards disaster as, like water droplets merging, the pimples suddenly rally upon a life force, and I find a single sore the size of a small coin has manifested, fighting to form a scab over itself.
Yet the nature of the thing is to perpetuate, so as it suppurates, the pus dries into a thin hard cap that, when I squeeze it, cracks evenly over the entire surface and more pus is produced. The scab itself proves not to contain the problem, instead it acts as a lid does on a pot of stew, building up pressure as around the outer fringe of the ‘lid’ the pink growth continues to breach, much like a pot boiling over.
And the insidiousness of the thing begins to appal me, as the more I pick at it, prod at it, the faster it seems to spread roots that rupture into puckered pustules that bloom over my calves. Within two weeks it is all out of hand, and serious infection has set in. It was usually at this stage that I find myself making a frantic visit to the physician.
This time however, I was at the point where the initial pleasure of the experience did not detract from the memory of its cumulative affects. I have had such good acquaintance with the dilemma that I had taken to self-diagnosis, treating the sores with a salve I squeezed from out of a little metal tube.
My life at the moment seems overcrowded with these little metal tubes, as my domestic space was littered with assorted balms and ointments, paints and paste. My life is measured in ointments squeezed in regular instalments.
It is in itself a pleasure, the squeezing of little metal tubes and the making of little viscous worms of a consistent texture. Rolling up the ends, screwing on the little lid.
It is probably a part of the handicap, as I liked to squeeze much more than I liked to treat the problem, so the problem perpetuates. I managed to retard the growth of the thing eventually, but only after it had claimed enough surface area to put a pikelet over. Then I was left to live with this blotch that over several months almost became a permanent fixture, and I forget that I once possessed a flawless expanse of leg. A love-hate relationship developed where I stifled the growth enough to not risk it encroaching over my entire epidermis, as ghastly as that sounds, But I didn’t seem to be able to reverse the process and finally be rid of it. So I walked about, nurturing this parasite I was almost content to dole out a substantial amount of my life force and mental energy to.
I said almost.
I became tired of it. I acquired the frame of mind that some parents must suffer when they begin to suspect that their offspring are really quite gormless, that stage where battle-fatigue borders upon capitulation and the only desirable thing is resignation or an immediate fix from a deity, or a quack.
So once again I find myself in a waiting room, struggling with my reams of thoughts that appear unsolicited as the minutes begin to rack up significance.
I read in a magazine once that you can spend a grand total of a year of an average lifetime waiting for it to be ‘your turn’. Be it for the doctor, for trains, for meals, for phone calls, at the bloody post office.
My problem is that I am very good at procrastination, so all these delays seem to mingle together as I wait for someone else to make the decisions, as I shuffle along the line. I am fond of grey areas. It is my habit to shrug and raise my eyebrows.
I quietly wanted to be a part of a movement of some kind, yet no particular culture dominated me, no ideal could circumvent the other ideals, and no opinion stood up for long enough. I consciously wore simple clothes free of logos; I tore the tags off the back of my shirts.
The waiting room is a sanitised place, disinfectant has clipped the air of its depth and every lemon scented breath works into my veins an unsettling feeling that I was slowly being blanched. In fact I began to feel very conspicuous, as my infection began to itch and rising to my nostrils were the fumes of my decay: three days unwashed. Accumulated skin cells fed upon by rampant bacteria breeding in my hairy crevices, exacerbated by a nervous anxiety disorder that came from appearing in public.
I find it’s an uptight place, public space. Too full of definitions.
Skirting the walls of the room are frayed couches and plastic chairs that remind me of the ergonomic nightmares of high school. High on the wall facing the door, a carelessly painted train is caught speeding out of frame. In the middle of the room cluttered stacks of magazines are heaped on a coffee table. Yesteryears celebrities baring their teeth at me.
Four other people are waiting with me in the room, none of us look sick. We’re concealing our ailments from one another. It’s quite strange really, it appears as though we’re in a lounge room, not facing each other, reading magazines that are full of uselessly out of context information. Yet there we were all together in the same room, fearful of making a flurry in the air.
Reading a magazine that is out of date is like being reminded of painfully embarrassing situations preferably left to rot. Yet glamour is all too irresistible a sentiment and other people’s inanity is all too entertaining.
So there we were, preferring to steep in the purgatory of haplessness that is out of date magazines. Our faces superimposed by smiling celebrities on the magazines we sheltered behind. I began thinking to myself, what am I doing here? I’m not even sick; I’ve just got a bit of a blotch. If I were naked, however, everyone could determine my measurements, my deficiencies would be disclosed, and that man over there I would see his ingrown toenails, and the prissy old lady, I would see her skin cancers scored among the stretchmarks riven into her saggy saggy skin.
Would we then laugh at our reservations? Or would we find that it was only our clothes that differentiated us, that our diseases dressed our imaginations, and that in nudity, the symptom of an ailment is evidence of habitual, erroneous thinking?
My will power to overcome habit is weak, I have spent many hours playing solitaire on the computer while my responsibilities stacked up, then I go to bed to die in a dream drowning.
My body has become an extraneous thing that needs constant supervision.
I mean it really is a chore to have a body and with our blemishes stitched up in ragged seams, haltered into rash outfits, we strangers have furtively come together with our ailments concealed under the composure of a conventional lounge room setting.
Not wanting to appear naive, we are manoeuvred silently by fashion.
Withdrawn, with all precautions tenuously in place, the residues of your life begin to bubble over into plans, problems and pleasures. All the little things that preoccupy the brain cells burst forth from their stations and froth.
The plants are wilting due to lack of water, with the pathetic torpor of a living thing forced to eat itself for sustenance. I sympathised with them, the same way I pitied addicts and academics.
When you’ve been in a space for a little while, gotten to know its habits, you begin to notice all the little cracks. In the carpet was a saga of mishaps, spilt contents of beverages, stains worked into fibres over the years like a long process of dyeing, inconspicuous at first, but discernible after familiarity divulges its secrets.
My body is the same. There are moments when I recognise its organic frailty. My teeth are rooted to my gums, I must take care of them or they would fall out. I can see the nest of nerves threaded throughout the structure of bone and muscle, contained in a taut skin, and every injury is acknowledged upon these nerves and I can either remedy them, or find some way of working around them.
Invariably I end up enduring multiple physical failures that are somehow circumvented through making concessions in the way I move and utilise my body. But it is a precarious existence, as at any moment any additional injury could cause a chain of events that could lead to total system melt-down.
The walls themselves rendered subtle hues that have distilled through the original ‘Scandinavian View’, becoming more apparent the longer one gazed at them. Light mauves and sheer beiges that shuttled their layers back and forth during the perceptible susurrus of fading and failure, and suddenly it seemed the walls were incredibly dirty.
I remember reading that Leonardo Da Vinci noted the peculiar attribute of how a mottled wall can elicit the rise of unconscious inclinations of thought, something Sigmund Freud picked up on to develop his psychoanalytic work. Staring at blotches. It can be quite a mesmerising experience identifying the patterns emerging from a wall.
Despite the reek of antiseptic, perhaps because of, I began to feel myself terrorised, and my skin became not my envelope, but a vulnerable surface area of all too easy an access for the inestimable legion of microbes’ set to violate my composure.
It was through my skin that I felt exposed, and the frailty of the skin made my surface nervous.
Wherever there is space, all the little things will begin to come up, will find their way out into the open through cracks, through faults, will find their way upon the flat surfaces, the calm visages, proliferate, exacerbate, and eventually take over.
I imagined the waves of germs that float with the air, sifted through nostrils’ hair. That leapt from subject to subject, and I eyed my fellow invalids and wondered what kind of diseases they were harbouring. My infection began to itch tremendously, I could feel it welling up and I had to scratch at it like a dog feverish with relief and anxiety. I stood up, alarming the others and dashed hysterically over to the receptionist’s desk.
I think if I have to wait any longer I’m might start flaying myself, I told her, not liking the desperation that had crept into my voice.
The receptionist was a middle-aged woman with vivid orange hair. She had a severe fringe that scratched across her forehead, an ample bosom squeezed into a black feather-lined number and round red-rimmed glasses that gave her a mawkish, burlesque appearance.
Her voice was like a moth fluttering in a closed palm.
I’m sorry Sir; the doctor is running late today. We seem to have run into a dense patch of hypochondriacs. Mostly Italian widows. It’s Easter you know.
Do you think you could hurry things up a bit? I need to get out of here. I think my mind has a virus.
She blinked at me, the corner of an eyebrow raised like a leg hooked over an armchair.
She opened up a book.
May I ask for your name Sir? What time was your appointment made for?
Nguyen. Ten o’clock.
She glanced up at the clock.
It’s already past the hour.
Yes, that’s correct.
Nothing got past this one.
You’ll just have to wait, Sir. Unless you want to make another time…
Don’t you think I’ve wasted enough time as it is?
You know, Sir, time doesn’t exist. It’s a mental measurement.
I’m wasting away by increments.
Haste makes waste, Sir, as they say. Just sit back down in the waiting room and the doctor will be with you soon.
I can’t wait much longer; it’s like limbo in there. I’ll have a fit.
Time heals all wounds, Sir.
I don’t have time to waste waiting around. I need to get on with things, please don’t make me go back in there.
Don’t you know, Sir, that patience is a virtue?
What’s the matter with you? Are you listening to yourself? Do you even hear me? You’ve been working in here too long!
She smiled at me, the beatific smile of a demi-god unfettered by specific dilemmas.
I’m sure the doctor will be with you soon.
I went and sat down, convinced that the word ‘suffer’ was invented for the use of those who enjoyed perpetuating it, rubbing spittle into the sore that had by now become alarmingly inflamed.
I hated it, the paralysis of waiting for something to happen, having to suspend my options against fate.
I had caused a disturbance, the other patients gazed detachedly over at me, like cows.
And I began to hear, ever so softly, the corners filling up with dust.
Jellyfish are remarkable animals, expanding themselves up with water, and as they do, filter out food such as plankton, particles, then expelling the water that propelled them forward. Moving, feeding in one graceful movement. They drift unhurried, sometimes alone, sometimes in ethereal swarms, timeless, persistent.
And when Arum Lilies appear from the earth, they start as little folds that peek out, enlarging and unfurling in a continuous movement. Sometimes you see a cluster of them and in each is an episode of how they grow. Eventually leaves loosen themselves from the cones and wavering upwards, stand to form long fluted stems.
From the cleft of leaf and stem a bud appears, juvenile green but lengthening with an inexorable momentum that one morning, bursts out into a heavenly white cup with flanged lips pinched at the bottom. A long deliberate stamen, ponderous with golden pollen lolling out eager to be kissed.
Clouds scudded over and it quickly lost contrast inside, the light turning grey, the room became soupy. A shucking sound came from over the receptionist’s desk. Sharpening a pencil, she nodded at the point she had extracted. A miasma had descended, and the vapours began to stretch over me.
And in the milky, barren room the walls began to revolve, retreating into their corners.
I started to space out, as I had feared. Devoid of stimulus, hypnotised by a long exposure to tedium. My eyes struggled for clarity and I became inert, a finger poked into a beached jellyfish. Hours may have past, the sun and the moon could have appeared in waves but I was without moments; the hardness of intention had dissolved, in protest, my particles broke up and separated.
I was indistinguishable from the chair, invisible from the air.
And everything came in glimpses. Magazines cascading to the floor, brown ends of plants shrivelling, yellow post-it notes curling with age on the notice board, the aloof patients like pastel paintings of absinth drinkers.
And in between the glimpses there opened huge instances proliferating with an intense anxiety as suspicion grew of my ability to judge what was actual experience and what was the desire for phenomena acting upon my nervous system. I lost faith in my imagination, as it crudely demanded greater heights of phantasmagoria. And it was the unrestrained deceit of my own system against me that frightened me. My senses became intolerable.
As the walls heaved their acute nausea, I felt my own organism sympathise with them, so my lungs and verily, my mind inflated and deflated to mirror the walls. I did not know how much longer the walls could bear buckling.
Conspicuous as a specimen on a Petri dish, I thought everyone in the room was agitated by my company; their swivelling, engaging eyes. My psychosis came out in waves, and everything bobbed upon the horizontal planes. I lost all faith in my ability to maintain composure, I was a juggler keeping twelve orbs airborne and on the brink of cracking. Every gesture became a performance, and all I wanted was the salve of a little piece of reassurance, but the only things making themselves apparent were the surfaces all around me, of walls and faces and presentation, becoming more fractured under my growing scrutiny of them. They threatened to split wide open, and to see that would mean the death of my reason.
The minutia, invisible! Terrible! Abominable!
For preservation’s sake I had to reassure myself of what I thought was happening, opening a running commentary of my experiences to keep them in check. Using my injured imagination to distract myself from total capitulation. It was the others, it was they who were responsible, how could I maintain normality when stones were being cast against me. How could I make decisions when each one was fraught with treachery? I accused them of inane things, I criticised their dress sense, calculated their attitudes. How dare they hold themselves against me and judge me for their own self-esteem?
Then I relented and made up excuses for them. I became pragmatic. How could they not assess me? When any sense of security is such a precarious thing, when we are all victim to the sway of popular belief, when the mainstream is an organism that works only to assimilate all in its path, and the individual who rebels is strengthened only by a resolve that goes beyond himself, and the individual who dares stand out is seen as weakening the group.
Of course it was entirely my own fault. I hadn’t looked after myself. I was blasé.
But was I not deserving of love? Then why am I not loved? And I understood that pragmatism was the round boundary of reason, that to encourage humanity was noble, that in its favour was the ideal, and its failure was in idealism.
Oh the persistent fucking accumulation!
These people pretending to be oblivious are shuttled together, sending each other psychic messages that they are all right because they maintain the norm. And I was a dissident, a mutation. I can read their gestures, but they think I don’t know it. Bacteria are replicating upon them as well!
And it is a blanket of bacteria that connects as all, and traces of them are carried to me, and I can taste their thoughts, and their intentions are marked upon my skin through their very vibration.
I know precisely what is going on, I’m keeping up with it, oh yes I certainly am. Keeping an eye on it, I know the exact design of everything all at one, I can pinpoint the trend, and its because all the little things work to inform me.
But self-doubt is my shadow, and it whispered upon my creed that I was really consuming upon myself, that I was analysing my analysis, and did not see that my mind was part of the entropy. And did not see the distortions I had made as I bent to spiral down, as I bent life to my own image, as I had chosen to gather only what is relevant to me, that I was the experience, yet the experience was without me.
I had thought to the end of reason, left babbling, dabbling in the powder of description, slurried my collection of opinions. It was an exponential moment that leaves one without words, such as the fantastic tale of a lifetime staggered into an instant, or a cinema of dreams in the sleep of a minute.
It was a perpetuated wound I had going, an itch I couldn’t resist.
I must have dozed off, because the next thing I knew the room had been vacated. The receptionist had left her seat, and a profuse silence had frozen the waiting room.
The air was thick and resistant, I could barely breathe, I had to consciously draw upon it.
It was all somehow stagnant. I began to feel sick. The air was disgusting; it had the aftertaste of mildew.
My sore began to itch, I pulled up my trouser leg and to my dismay, it had grown! Encroached from the top of my knee all the way down to the ankle. I ran around the waiting room, I ran down the hall to the doctor’s surgery, I flung his door open and all I saw was a skeleton. Caught in its perpetual grin.
I needed treatment; I needed restraint; I wanted someone to give me a prescription.
I wanted a solution!
I opened the doors to all the rooms, but no one was there, just that diseased taste in the dense air. The light had a silted quality; murky clouds of dust were visible swarming by the windows.
I searched the whole place, but could not find a soul.
I felt desperate, anxiety flooded my valves and I just wanted something to happen.
I thought that perhaps they had all gone home, perhaps they hadn’t seen me slouched down in the chair? But a glance at the clock said it was still early in the afternoon, just past one, surely it was too early to close a surgery? Maybe they had gone to lunch?
Maybe if I just waited some more, they’ll be back?
So I sat down, and waited.
I waited a long time.
I could feel the fungus replicating by instances, stealing along millimetres, foraging along under the surface of my skin. Creeping up my leg, up my body. Surfacing. My distress increasing.
The oppression of it taking over paralysed me and the longer I waited the less I felt able to instigate, as my epidermis grew fragile, lifted and began to flake. I found the facility to make the next step had left me, I was wedged into a stunned condition of inertia. I couldn’t push the starting friction over into impulse. I couldn’t find purchase to propel the idea.
Something was happening to my nerves; they agitated. I was desperate, I wanted to do something but I didn’t know what.
The phone rang; I nearly came to pieces. It’s ring came plaintively, calling out, I couldn’t answer it, yet I couldn’t bear the sound of it. I counted the agonising number of rings, twelve before whoever it was hung up. Waves of anger and helplessness swept through me.
I could feel crumbs of myself loosen as I trembled, released upon the floor, drift into air. I wanted to shout for help. Where is my voice…? I felt I was running out of time, but I waited, in case someone should come, before something should happen.