Hamburger Lady or Slug Bait?
Maria was rereading a section of Samuel Beckett’s Watt for the third time. She turned off the television — there was a dearth of news and wild rumors continued to seep into the reporting — it was all too repetitive and too distracting to read and have that droning on simultaneously. She was starved for new information on the second day back from her thru-hike while the ruins still lay smoldering less than a half mile away from her Battery Park apartment. But she was growing uneasy in the same manner as she did when her father crunched about on the roof above her head in the living room. He’d cross the length of the roof and moved in a semi-circle, near the edge, handling the aerial antenna in hopes of improving the reception on their 1972 Zenith television console which had a habit of detuning. The attenuated signal would scare her as the images on the television first became ghostly simulacra and then transmogrified into a deafening cascade of pixels. White noise and snow. She set the book aside and opened her journal to yesterday’s half empty page. She drew a line just below yesterday’s entry and wrote: 09/25/2001
She needed a word of the day. She pulled the heavy dictionary, beyond the plate with the half eaten bagel, closer and opened it to a page at random. She looked out at the river, and tacked her finger to the left page. Her finger landed on “penury.” No. It was a word she was quite familiar with, that would not do. She closed the dictionary, looked out the window again, reopened it and her finger came down with more conviction, like a drunkard’s dart thrown in frustration: “trepan.”
“Ha,” she said, “oh, perfect. Now give me one I don’t know.” She closed and opened the dictionary quickly scanned her finger down the page and there: “saudade.”
“Wow, that’s been years!” She had once known the word, even used it in a paper. The word, and it’s general feeling, was only vaguely familiar now. She remembered her Modern American Literature professor in college talking about it for some minutes during the discussion of The Sun Also Rises. But quickly racking her brain the most salient point she could remember about the book now was that Hemingway claimed to have rewritten the last page 39 times. It was set in Spain, wasn’t it? But saudade is Portuguese… there was bullfighting… She didn’t remember what it meant. Perfect, that’s the word of the day. She returned to her journal, and under the date wrote:
Saudade- a deep emotional state of melancholic longing for a person or thing that is absent.
- Reread: The Sun Also Rises…
She tapered off and watched a tug make its way across the window and out. She picked up Watt again and now in silence read two pages and stopped upon reading: “… funambulistic stagger.” She looked up funambulistic in the dictionary and wrote it down as entry number two for the day. Then she wrote:
2. Trepanation, something you forgot about… It’s so delirious, but so deleterious to the cranium, but good ‘fer ‘yer soul.
No, that certainly wasn’t it, she thought. She scanned her bookcases, and spotted the thin yellow spine of the volume that would set her mind at ease. She remembered the passage was about five pages into “The Wasteland,” and that while it didn’t have the import and immediacy of lines 301-302: “I can connect / Nothing with nothing” — which were not only pithy but the lines she wrote and repeated so often a decade ago, when she was still in her early-twenties, that it became a mantra of sorts — these other lines had remained with her because of their playful sonority and archaic quality; and after all, sitting at here dining room table in the nascent year of the 21st century, they sounded completely absurd, as absurd as standing up at this moment and doing “The Charleston” might be.
She stood abruptly, as if pulled up by a noose, the chair yawling and skittering back on the bamboo floor causing the napping cat to jump to attention. She bent her right arm up with her index finger pointed up to the air and affecting a slight angle of her body to the right, and just as quickly she realized she had no conception of how “The Charleston” was actually danced. She had a vague recollection of a jaunty tune that always seemed to accompany those skittish 1920’s black and white newsreels, and some ill defined movement of either leg in opposite direction, but the more she thought about it, the more the mood waned; and within some seconds the upright pointed index finger had rotated toward her head, canted sharply at a ninety degree angle as her thumb went up at perpendicular, and the jaunty flapper finger became the skeletal outline of a gun to her temple. She turned and saw herself in the hallway mirror. Despite spending the last six months in the sun she looked stark, hollow-eyed and sallow. The cuticle she chewed bloody at the end of her finger appeared to her as the sight at the end of the barrel that would deliver her.
The cat mewed and wrapped itself around her ankle for a moment, and in that instant she snapped out of the reverie. She looked at the bloody cuticle, stuck the tip of her finger in her mouth and sucked the blood off. She bent down to pet the cat with her left hand and patted it gently away on the rump, whispering “good girl,” and went to extract the T.S. Eliot from the bookcase.
Back at her journal she wrote:
2a. Ok, while it isn’t “I can connect / Nothing with nothing;” just about all of “The Hollow Men,” or the opening to “Prucfrock,” I should be able to remember:
O O O O that Shakespearean Rag —
It’s so elegant
What shall I do now? What shall I do?
She stood again and shuffled her feet laterally and wiggled her index finger at the sky. The sky her former god recently vacated. She imagined this is what “The Charleston” might be, at the very least it matched the music jangling in her head.
“Trepanation,” she said to the cat. “Trepanation,” she said to New Jersey sitting heavy atop the river in the window. From that moment forward she never gave it a second’s second thought. She retrieved a thick red marker and scrawled TREPANATION across the next two empty pages of her journal.
Garcilazo learned of it, and moved forward, immediately buying the drill and telling Maria his plans and instructing her on how to help him. He set the date for later that week. She would come over, they would have drinks to relax, and she would drill the quarter of an inch hole into his pate at precisely midnight. His birthday.
He hadn’t so much lived these 32 years in a daydream as much as he felt that there had always been a scrim between him and the world. Everything was seen and felt at a slight remove. His emotions and his thoughts always disengaged, unable to moor with what was real or intended in this world. He saw how others acted, and he didn’t feel that way. He heard what others said and never thought in that manner. Learning that trepanation removed the filter between one’s true experience of reality and filled one with love was all he needed to hear.
She on the other hand needed a good deal of convincing. Yes, she wanted to help him; but drilling into his head, in his living room, without so much as a local anesthetic was more than she could understand. But she was aware of the bleak life he had lived and she could not deny him. He asked her to bring the Throbbing Gristle records, because he wanted to play their music while they did the trepanation.
“Thanks for turning me on to them,” he told her. “We’ll probably play ‘Slug Bait,’ ‘Hamburger Lady,’ or ‘Discipline’ real loud over the drilling. Good thing I’m out in the country. I’ve got tequila. I think we’re set.”
“Sometimes I want to suck on a beautiful word. To lick it clean.”
— Urs Allemann