It is 8 o’ clock and, just like on any other day, Dr Blumfeld, Senior Lecturer of Art History at the Metropolitan University, can be seen stepping out of his flat on the ground floor, at the end of a long avenue which he will negotiate to reach the university buildings at the other end. Although the sky is overcast, Blumfeld sees no reason in it to complain. To whom must one complain about the weather? He thinks, as he begins walking. Something, though, irks him. Is it the oncoming of a cramp in the bowels, due to the take-away food he’s got into the habit of eating? No. Is it then a slight, imperceptible headache which the couple fornicating nosily in the flat above could have caused by not allowing him to sleep? No. Blumfeld doesn’t think it’s that either. I am quite healthy, he tells himself. What’s more, I have no financial worries at the moment nor any sort of misunderstanding with anyone in the department. Everything is perfectly alright with me, he says, realising at the same time that it could as well be the opposite. “Ha,” he utters, “the fictions you tell yourself…” Recently, shapes have been appearing to him. And now, having walked no more than 5 minutes, a gigantic eye, with concentric rings in it, has intruded in his path. As he walks towards it, more rings emerge out from the centre. When he walks away, they collapse at their origin. By no means does this gigantic eye frighten Blumfled. Intrigue, yes. But he doesn’t have time to pause and wonder about it right now. He walks around it and continues walking along the avenue’s broad pavement. But what is this! Now there is a mountain in his path, right there, on the pavement, which certainly won’t be easily circumvented. So he begins to climb it, laboriously, sweating, muttering, “What are they doing to the roads.” On this unfortunate morning, after Blumfeld will have descended the mountain, he will meet a squid hanging from a café awning, will then be forced to jump over a ditch, wade through a few small waves, and cross a rape field with crop circles in it to finally arrive at his office. It is there, looking out of the window at the still-overcast sky as his assistant hands him a glass of water, that Dr Blumfeld will say, “The Mona Lisa doesn’t have teeth.”
I heard it today: “CJ, get your ass over here!” I was at the park on the bench, on the park bench. I must have heard wrong. I listened on: “CJ!” The child’s mother may have said more than this the second time. She may have said ass again, but the name was all I was listening for. I sat dumbfounded. Why wasn’t I informed? Who decides which first and middle names can be reduced to initials? I knew AJs, BJs (God bless them), and DJs, but where were the CJs? Where was this CJ? My father named me Cecil Jesus. I never told anyone my middle name. I told everyone I was Cecil, which immediately got reduced to the first syllable. I was Cess, like Cesspool, like Shitpool. I was Shit my whole life. My only sympathizer was a BJ. Now the park-screaming mother is grabbing CJ’s little arm. She is asking him what’s wrong with him. He finally answers her: “Could Jesus hear Santa Claus?” I begin screaming: “Yes!” But it sounds like Cess. It sounds like Shit, and the mother who screamed ass stares me down while covering CJ’s small ears. CJ can’t hear Cecil Jesus, and, apparently, JC can’t hear Santa Claus.
Oh Two.Oh One.Oh Nine
The station shuffles around me. All of it. Moving bit by bit. The points, the trains, the commuters, their feet. Even the announcers’ voice. That shuffles too.
I am on the platform. I am waiting for a train. That’s what I do at station platforms. The concrete of the block, the metal rails, the yellow painted lines, the fonts, the glass on the station building. All of them are covered with a thin, twinkling, sheen. It is cold.
People stand, unconscious. A herd. Robots. It is packed on the platform. Chins into backs and necks. Like pens in a packet. Vacuum packed.
Train comes, shoulders hunch, the tide, on cue. Shuffles.
One thing doesn’t shuffle. Their breath, chilled white and rising. Spilling about. Organic, like a zoo creature.
I poke at it with my eyes.
I check it, for signs of life.
There are some parts of my own body that I can imagine myself describing.
My knuckles for example. They’re knives now, in this cold, white and sharp. The skin over them is a blanket. When warm it’s loose and pink, flapping off knotty bone. It’s translucent at the moment, and thin, stretched tight. They look brittle too. The wind is bitter, unmasking.
The back of my knees though, my eyelid. Those parts don’t say much. They don’t morph. In cold, or love, or in anger.
They don’t leave me lonely, with ten scythes hanging from rolled down sleeves. There’s an image! The frosted metal softly clinking.
They don’t ask, and they don’t get. Attention.
I doubt the others even see them, the index fingernail on my right hand, the webbing between my fingers.
The webbing between my toes. I see theirs.
And the skin behind my ear isn’t even a bit shy. He dreamed of being a pirate once, and a little later on an adventure capitalist. Beneath my hair, my scalp still wants to be an astronaught.
It’s all one job.
It’s all one job.
I shuffle with the rest, on some railway platform, some place in London. It is minus five.
I am twenty-two years old, height, weight, hair.
This Is Self-Esteem; How Life Should Be
Samuel Zane Farrell
Ever since childhood, I’ve thought of myself as somewhat physically impaired. This purely imaginary impairment has, over the years, ranged from a simple weight problem to some physical deformity. It has always made me extraordinarily unattractive.
Five years ago, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. That diagnosis, in my mind, confirmed what I’d been feeling for years. I always have been, in some way, deformed; this deformity, this personal defect (whether genetic or not) became my root, my personal excuse, for all of the imagined horrors that I’d been feeling over the years. Also, because of my diagnosis, I realized that my impairment might not only be of a physical nature, but a mental one as well. My self-esteem, my difficulties in school (every cognitive difficulty from pre-kindergarten to my collegiate endeavors) was quickly and concisely explained; it was all due to my (presumably) dormant illness.
My diagnosis, of course, led me to thinking about instances in my past in which my neurological health was shown to be somehow dodgy. A self-loathing of sorts began in me; “I could’ve, no I should’ve seen this coming!” I’d say (in either lament, good humor, or pure, defeated, sobriety.)
And now I realize that, with all of that time spent thinking about myself, I could’ve been helping others in some way. That makes me feel as if I am the most callow, shallow person on the planet.
Yet, my sense of humility allows me to say, “Awesome,” and move on with life. Now hopefully living it, not letting it simply happen to me; being happy and active, not simply passive- as life should be.