The Third Eye
It was a ridiculous conversation. Perhaps I had been reading Saussure or De Man. I don’t remember. The gas fire was on in my parents’ house fizzing so you almost felt the fake logs were real. “It’s all language,” I had said, or something to that effect, trying to introduce some Post Modern vaguery into the hearth of parental certainties. My younger brother knitted his brow.
“Yeah,” he said, “I take out a gun and pop you in the head. Where is the language now?”
Death should be final, shouldn’t it? Death should be the end of reading. Yet here I stand, having removed the woodcutter’s axe from my forehead, with a curious wound that gives me a different perspective. I feel like one of those statues of saints on a gilded altar with the instrument of his martyrdom in his hand. I might have left the axe in place for greater effect, but there was a pressure from within that demanded I remove it and here I stand, seeing things in a different light.
This is not a ghost story. No. I am real enough even though I am dead. Yet the consequences of Death are not necessarily good to read. Andrew and Max got together in alliance to try an experiment: they killed me following an idea that came from my own head. It was my impetus to bring my seventeen-year-old self into the garden at the centre of the world. I wanted to rescue him from the banal horror of returning to school after three days in Amsterdam. Something was needed to set him free.
So, to my brother- even though it is too late- I say, “Death is not the last reading.”
I see things in shadows now. I wander along the lanes at night and hear the bells and whispers. I go forwards, backwards, up and down. I can appear in places at the blink of my one big eye. There are others like me but company bores me unless it be the solitary souls I find as I hush my way past. Here is Fritz, for example, who in his day was a famous psychologist.
“The problem with your reading,” he says to me, “is that you never really digested it.”
“I know what you mean,” I put in.
“Shut up and listen! You swallowed it all down too quickly and now you have to regurgitate it like a cow chewing on the cud. Introjects. You take it all in and it works its way out. No. You needed to chew it all thoroughly before you swallowed. So, you end up in distress.”
“I know what you mean.”
I know what he means. He doesn’t believe me but I know. The trouble is that I do not know of any solution. It is a basic problem of hermeneutics: that you cannot know one thing until you know the structure in which it is set. You cannot know the structure of everything until you study the component parts. Who can escape this problem? There is no way around it. I’d like to say that Death was a resolution, but it wasn’t. Was it nobler in the mind etc? Words, words, words.
C called it a pruning. The idea was that a cut would work its way back to seventeen-year-old me and bring about some useful changes. You prune a rosebush and it gives more and better flowers. That was the intention. There I was, sweet, innocent and seventeen, doped up on art and literature and unable to see how that was not going to help with any of the more urgent of life’s questions. The most urgent of these, being seventeen, was the question of how to get laid.
“Aggression,” says Fritz, “is a natural impulse. If you repress your aggression you internalise it and it will work its way out in other ways.”
“Are you still there?” I ask.
“You are not listening,” he adds.
“I listen all right, Fritzy,” I say, “but you are talking a lot of shit. If you don’t go away, I am going to kick your arse.”
He was asking for it.
I awake on the ferry. Joe is looking at me across a cruddy, formica table in the café.
“I hate you,” he says.
“Uh,” I reply.
“How can you do that?”
“You don’t even know what is going on around you, do you? People are vomiting. People are crying. And you are asleep. How the hell do you do it?”
“I just close my eyes. Try it.”
“I’ve been sitting here for three hours and you have been asleep with all this shit going down around you. Do you think I haven’t tried to go to sleep? No one in their right mind could go to sleep right here, right now.”
He was right. It was a rough crossing from Hook of Holland to Harwich in February. I walked around the ferry in the night peering over the railings at the swirling immensity of the sea as the boat seemed to take the northerly flat on its flank producing a peculiar combination of movements that I could see would be sick-making. It was entertaining to try and walk in a straight line when feet hit air instead of floor at each pace.
Something clicked into place in my head. I told Joe to fuck off and find someone else to bother with his whining and prowled around. There was a woman sitting in the bar with what looked like a whisky and she seemed to be drunk. I went up and sat down next to her.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“No one in particular,” I said.
“What’s your story? Go on. Give it to me. I’ve got all night.”
“Got a cabin?”
I was floating around watching myself like a spirit from Valhalla. I was curious. You understand that I would never have had the bare-faced cheek to crack onto an older woman on a night-crossing. Was she good-looking? All women are good-looking. She had blonde frizzy hair. She wore a necklace of black beads around her neck and she played with them as she looked into my eyes.
“You are hot,” she said and laughed. Then she looked at her drink and ran her finger around the rim of the glass. I didn’t say anything and she looked up into my eyes. I could see a complex of emotions and feelings that I could not interpret. I blew her a kiss.
“You have to be kidding, right?” she said.
“Nope,” I said and smiled.
Then she led me away to her cabin.
At this point I have to say that me ceases being me. Well, he is me in the sense that I recognise parts of this young man but he is no longer me as I float disembodied in the room watching him fumble with a bra-strap and make a poor attempt at sex with this drunken woman. “Goodness me,” I say to myself, “What have they done?”
“Who are you?” she says.
“You know what?” he replies, “I don’t even know. But thanks for that. It was good. Hope it was good for you.”
He pulls his clothes together- he never got fully undressed- and heads out into the boat again. I am curious about the woman. I want to see what she does, how she reacts, but she is drunk and she slumps into her pillow and goes to sleep. Her story interests me. I want to know who she is and where she comes from. I want a fuller picture and I am suddenly aware that Seventeen is not going to give me any stories. He is going to run along from one meaningless conquest to another.
“Is there no middle way?” I wail and my voice is caught in the wind that whips around the cables and spars of the thrumming boat as it heads its way west to England.
Am I a Polyphemus or a Buddha? What is the point of this middle eye? It sits in my forehead like a useless boulder in a giant vagina. Worse still, if I blink the flaccid prepuce of skin that is the eyelid, my vision goes misty. My original eyes are clouding over and I shall no longer be able to see. I shall no longer be able to read. The text will disappear and I will be left with the poor remnants that have stuck in my memory- scraps of verse, phrases from speech. Fritz was right. I should have digested my reading in preparation for this day. When I consider how my light is spent, I rage against the dying of the light.
An edge of desperation tinges the deep melancholy of my yearning for something lost that I have only even dreamt. It never existed, but I long for it: freedom and union. Words, words, words: Love only can with quick access unlock the way, when all else stray the smoke, and exhalations of the breast. Yet there they come. I was entangled in the world of strife, before I had the power to change my life and now Max and Andrew and a woodman’s axe have cut the knot.
Below this shallow sea are dinosaur bones and Viking shields. The ferry chugs its mechanical path. Teenagers chat in their friendship groups. Their minds are as closed as their bodies are lithe and supple. The hope of the world, a new generation, making its way back to the same old certainties, putting up tribal barriers, sighing for the familiar anomie of their own institutional corridors and renouncing the opportunity to break out. None of the school groups talks to any of the others. The teachers mouth formal courtesies and quickly turn to policing their own. I can feel a giant tear forming in my new eye. Yes, even before the arrival of the idiot screens, they trained young people to look down instead of up, quashed their curiosity, dressed them in flags and banners and made them cheer.
No one can see me as I float in the space between them all. Only I can see the giant salty teardrop collide with a tacky abstract painting as the ferry lurches, breaking into a thousand smaller drops and spraying across the cafeteria. Light refracts through the droplets and I become dizzily aware of a refulgence in the room, double-blinking my eye and multiplying its extraordinary effect. By instinct I put my hands to my eyes and find a tender skin covering the hollows. I have become a disembodied one-eyed beast, with an extraordinary power to see- yes to read- the aching lonely hearts of a boatful of teenagers whose one great gift, language, is lodged with them useless as they titter and giggle in ape-like huddles.
“Break through!” I want to say, but my voice comes out as a sigh and the tears continue to build behind my forehead.