EACH NIGHT my grandfather finds my mother not in the house he goes out looking for her. I can see the pain in his eyes. He won’t let me go with him. And he won’t let my grandmother go either. Even when she pleads.
She could be anywhere. He might find her huddled against a nearby tree, in a ditch, or in a stall in one of the cowsheds. Sometimes, he finds her deep in the woods. He uses the dogs to help him. Then he doesn’t get home till the early hours of the morning. They arrive, my mother shivering, he hugging her in blankets. He always finds her without clothes. Even when it is very cold. Whatever the hour I get out of bed. My grandparents don’t know what to do. They don’t want to send her to live among strangers.
The people in the village know what’s happening. However quiet they they try to keep it. I know they know by the strange looks some of them give me. They can’t make up their minds whether to smile in a patronising act of sympathy, or to look at me with grim reprimand. Most want to avoid eye contact altogether. So do I.
The quickly hushed whispers down at the post office are enough. That along with the turning of backs in the small supermarket whenever I enter. It makes it easier for me to steal things, which I begin to do. I steal anything, whether I want it or not. Most times I just throw the things away.
I see a message of sorts in their attitude in the silence that falls when we pass along the road. But I am too young to understand what it is. They seem to be steering their children away from me too. I hate my mother then, and start to cross to the other side, as soon as I see anyone coming towards me. I wish so much to go back to Trondheim where nobody knows how strangely my mother is behaving. In Trondheim I can be invisible like the man I once saw in a film. I would love to be able to make myself invisible so no one could see me, like that man.
At night I lie craving sleep for hours hoping I will wake up in Baklandet where everything will be back as it was before that warm, late afternoon the man who made my mother laugh like spring came by our cafe table to destroy our lives forever in the same way he must have destroyed the lives of others. The man whose name I will never say. I wish I could wipe that evening from history forever.
The evening my mother goes down to the lake never to return she comes into my bedroom at grandfather’s house and tucks me in extra tight. So tight I complain I can hardly breathe. Her cheeks are wet with tears. I feel their wetness on my face as she kisses me over and over. I taste their salt. I ask her why she is crying. She shakes her head and says it’s nothing. It doesn’t matter anymore. Nothing matters anymore. She tells me I am a good boy and she hopes I will learn to forgive her. It is the last time I ever see her.
From that moment I hate myself for ever having hated her for going out with no clothes, and cry myself to sleep each night. It is my fault she went to down to the lake. It is my fault she had tears in her eyes as she tucked me in bed. It is my fault for hating the man who made my mother laugh like spring before the morning he beat her face black and blue because of me. I heard him shout at her to get rid of me.
“I feel a need to admit the worst dream I ever had,” I was telling Dr Finkel, even though I knew he was paying scant attention, The roccoco carving on his Tønsberg summer house was suffering heavily in a fresh onslaught from armies of a more resilient strain of termites a large American pharmaceutical company had developed in order to sell some stronger genetical modified chemical stuff to kill them. But even that wouldn’t deter them. Dr Finkel said it seemed to create a reaction not dissimilar to ladling Beluga caviar on tiny portions of toast. And it cost almost as much. I could hardly get a word in.
“My problem is I still can’t quite bear to put it into words. Or even think of what sort of words to put it into. And if I do, you are the only person I can think of to tell,” I said.
“Well, I’m sure I’ll hardly listen to one word of whatever you say,” Dr Finkel assured me, “I usually don’t bother, so don’t worry. My mind’s on termites. Even with all the forests there are in Scandinavia, the greedy little bastards still prefer eating houses of national historical importance.”
“I’m not even sure I should be telling you this, even though you are a psychiatrist. It feels so wrong. Like a terrible betrayal.”
“If it’s that bad, perhaps you oughtn’t bother. These things usually turn out to be far more trivial and boring than most people think. And it’s very hard for me to feign interest for very long, however rich and famous the patient might be. It’s the constant seeking attention I find so annoying. They’ll say almost anything to get it.” He stroked his chin, deep in thought. “Do you know? Sometimes, I feel like burning the little bastards out. Just spraying petrol everywhere, striking a match, and letting them fry!” Assuming he had swayed back to the termites, I attempted to continue with voicing my own pressing problem.
“Even now it causes me shame and embarrassment to think of. Let alone talk about. The thought of it makes me cringe so much I want to curl up into a little ball and disappear into nothing.”
“Now, that I would like to witness. But take no notice of me. As you never fail to remind me, and I would love to forget, I am your psychiaitrist. You can tell me anything. We psychiatrists don’t really bother to listen to much of anything our patients tell us, let alone try remember it. But we are psychiatrists, so just you carry on getting off your chest whatever you think you have to.
“You may not believe it, but psychaitrists also have lives beyond the consulting room. We eat expensive food, drink fine wines, go to the theatre, take luxury holidays in Cancún and throw magnificent dinner parties just like ordinary people do. We even watch the telly sometimes. Life isn’t all listening to loonies, if you’ll excuse the expression. But nobody wants to hear about my termites. Not for a minute. Even my wife. ‘Oh, no, not the termites, don’t tell me about the termites again. I can’t bear to think of them creeping around the house. Keeps me awake all night.’ That’s tabu. Nobody wants to hear about my termites. Even the man who sold me the stuff that”s supposed to get rid of them doesn’t want to hear what a failure he is.”
“Well, I’m listening, but I wanted to tell you…”
“People tell me things, even you couldn’t dream of in this consulting room. They can be completely confident in the knowledge that anything they tell me in this consulting room will not go beyond these four walls. Let alone be spread around the bar across the road at lunchtime. Well, sometimes things slip out, but mostly not. Names are never mentioned, anyhow. Mainly because I can’t usually remember who said a word of what. I just don’t listen. Anyway, I’m terrible with peoples’ names. There are so many to remember. So, I sometimes make things up. Much more interesting. For me, at least
“I can’t remember any examples at this moment to tell you. Something to make you feel better about yourself, and help you free yourself up a bit, Never mind, I’m sure one will come back to me. But even if it does I’ll be duty bound not to tell you.” He winked. “Nevertheless, though it may seem out of place to say to a patient of mine, but I just can’t bear hearing other people’s problems all day long. All those stories you patients find so fascinating are utterly boring to people like me who hear them all the time. Am I boring you? You’ve gone awfully quiet.”
“That’s becasue I ‘m trying to get this important…”
“There was one man, who did have a a very interesting story to tell, but I’m duty bound not to say a word. He was once a political leader. Totally mad. Totally, totally mad. I should’ve had him taken away in an ambulance and locked up. And would’ve done had he not been a governement minister at the time, Thank God he was only in charge of an army in a country so small as Norway.”
I was starting to feel Dr Finkel was trying to steal my limelight on purpose. as some sort of revenge for having to listen to my Big Bang theories so often. Now, after building up the courage to tell him about one of my horrible childhood experiences for months, he kept on talking abut himself and his termites. “And luckily they lost the following elections. Imagine if we’d gone nuclear.”
“Though your story is extremely fascinating, mine is so absolutley revolting you might not be able not to listen. Even if you wanted to. You might clap your hands to your ears to keep the words out.” I was desperate to get his attention, “It’s disgusting, I’m telling you. It’s filthy. Filthy, filthy, filthy. It’s so depraved, it could almost be called satanic. And embarrassing and humiliating at the same time. Almost impossible even for me to admit to myself, let alone mention to someone else. Apart from anything, it amounts to a terrible affront to my dead mother’s memory.”
“A very good beginning, I must admit. You really are starting to get my interest here. Filthy is a very good adjective. Filthy, I like it. Satanic, even better. Depraved, yummy.”
“It goes against all religious teachings, is deeeply immoral and offensive, and is highly unnatural in a sexually perverse way. I think it’s illegal too. Not to dream, of course. Although it might be. Though that might be difficult to prove in a court of law. It must be difficult to locate witnesses who only appear in dreams.”
“That’s all right, forget all that nonsense, just tell me. Get to the filthy depraved bit.” I didn’t like the way he was rubbing his hands together. It seemed as thuugh he was lookng forward to hearing something that was causing me great discomfort even thinking. I hadn’t seen him like that that in a very long time.
“I’m a highly qualified doctor, you’re protected by patient doctor privilege here. Nothing said in this room goes beyond these four walls. I can’t emphasise that enough.” From some of the other thngs he’d been telling me, I wasn’t entirely convinced.” The police couldn’t prise it out of me even if they attached a couple of electric cables to my testicles and whipped my back with a nail-studded belt. They could cut out my tongue, and I still wouldn’t tell.”
“Well, you couldn’t if they cut out your tongue.”
“That’s true enough, but I was just trying to demonstrate how dedicated I can be when the call comes. What I’m trying to say is that we psychiatrists get to know everything there is to know about people’s rude bits. They’re the most interesting. We’ve heard every perversity you could ever think of. Or dream of. And more. Nothing can shock or disgust us.”
Despite his reassurances, he seemed too anxious to hear. I was becoming completley unconvinced I could trust him.
“It’s considered one of the perks of the job,” he said disconcertingly. And then added, “Only to some, of course.”
I was about to disclose something I hadn’t even dared to tell my friends in one of those truth games, and Dr Finkel could scarcely contain his glee. It didn’t seem professional. And yet, at the same time, I felt a deep urge to relieve myself of this terrible dark secret I’d been harbouring for too very long. If I couldn’t trust Dr Finkel, who could I trust?
“I once…” I began tentatively.
“Go on, don’t be afraid.” Dr Finkel had drawn up a chair, which he was stitting so dangerously at the very edge of, I thought it might tip over, and he would fall onto my chest. He was leaning right into my face. His breath smelt of stale pipe tobacco.
“Well, I once…”
“Come on, come on, spit it out. We haven’t got all day.”
“Well, I once dreamed, I once dreamed…you swear you won’t ever tell anyone?”
“I swear, I swear, I swear. I’ve already told you, I’m a psychiatrist. If you choose not to take my word for it, look at all the certificates on my walls. Now spit it out, Your time is almost up, anyway.”
“Well, I once dreamed, I once dreamed. You do promise? Say it.
“I promise, I promise, I promise!”
“Not to tell anybody.”
“I promise not to tell anybody.”
“Well, I once dreamed. I once dreamed. I once dreamed I fucked my mother.” Dr Finkel jerked back in his chair. He looked absolutley disgusted. And somewhat disappointed at the same time.”There, that’s all I wanted to say. And now I’ve got it out, it’s your problem.”
“It’s the last thing I wanted to hear. My problem? Termites are my problem. And my wife. Go on,” he said, “However depraved, that can’t be all the is to it. There has to be more than that.” Yet I wasn’t really convinced he wanted to hear any more. Already what I’d told him had made him look extrememly uncomfortable. And, to my mind, a shade guilty. “I’ll need more than that,” he said, “Not too much though. I need to know whether… this is a bit hard to say…”
“If you’re trying to ask me if I enjoyed it, I didn’t,” I said.
“No, I that even entered my mind. Interesting to know though. I was just trying to get over the horror of it. It’s the one thing I dread to think my patients might tell me. It brings to mind the terrible image of me fucking my own pure mother. Not that I ever wanted to. I certainly wouldn’t want you imagining that. No, no, no, not that. God forbid! But the image of it. It’s there now, becsue of you. She was such a very good mother, who could never imagine any adolescent boy harbouring such debased image. Especially her one and only son. She was thoughtful, kind, charitable and very obliging. Not in that way, of course. I wouldn’t want you thinking that. She was Hungarian.
“I could never imagine fucking her. And now you go and put it in my mind. I can’t even imagine you fucking your mother. Or me fucking your mother, for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, I actually wouldn’t want to imagine fucking your mother. I couldn’t. I don’t know what she looked like,” he said. “Not that it should make any difference. What she looked like. I mean, not everything’s about looks, Your mother could’ve been as ugly as a pig and I still wouldn’t want to fuck her, if you get what I mean. It’s just that I couldn’t. Even if I did want to. But I don’t.”
“I could show you a photo,” I said
“Don’t be disgusting. What are you trying to suggest? What she looked like should be of no matter whatsoever. Not to me, at least. I am not in the habit of imagining fucking any of my patients’ mothers while holding her photo in one hand and bashing away at my penis with the other. It’s not professional” He seemed to have become very unsure of himself. I didn’t believe him. And could quite imagine him doing just that. “Just in case you were thinking otherwise.” He slowed down a bit. “There, you have it. I’ve got it out.
“These are delicate matters,” he went on for no reasson I could imagine, “and one must be very careful about what one says. Some psychiatrists may even go further than thinking about fucking their patients’ mothers. They might even do it. And, if they heard about your case, they might even ask if you enjoyed it in ways that suggested ulterior motives for wanting to know the details.”
“Now you come to mention it, I can quite see that.”
“Well, did you?”
“Did I what?
“Did you, er, did you, did you receive any pleasurable sensation from the unspeakable act that was a product of your unconsciosness state of mind while you were dreaming of what you did to your mother? Was there a culminative finaility to the process noticeable on the bedsheets, Did you see a stain? Or feel any wetness? Not that it’s of importance to me. But did you?”
I didn’t know how to answer.
“I don’t remember. I don’t think so.”
“So, without wanting to sound impolite, she wasn’t much of a looker then?”
“Actually, she was stunningly attractive. She turned men’s heads wherever she went, That was part of the problem. But I can’t say I enjoyed fucking her in the dream. I’m not even sure it could be classified as proper fucking. It was more symbolic, of you see what I mean?”
“No, I don’t. I don’t see what you mean, Did you fuck her in your dream or didn’t you?”
“I don’t really know. I didn’t really know what fucking was, I was too young. About five years old. In the dream it was just a motion I went through. Almost like sticking a finger up someone’s nose and bringing out some snot. I didn’t attach any importance to it until much later, when I realised the disgusting and immoral symbolic nature of the dream. And when I remember it now I try not to think of fucking her in reality because it never happened like that. It seems improper.”
“Well, it would now she’s dead. What I reallyI mean is, it would be improper whatever state she was in.”
“It was as though I had to.” I said. “Then I woke up, many years later realising what the dream meant, and was so disgusted with myself, I vomited all over the sheets.”
Dr Finkel was fidgeting with his fingers. He had got up from the chair, and was pacing up and down the room looking extremely disturbed. I felt he needed some reassurance.
“The dream was so horrible I couldn’t even remember I’d dreamt it for years. You see, I’d pushed it into the furthest reaches of my subconscious. That only made things worse, when I did remember, because I began to think I might really have fucked my mother, and was pushing it out of my mind. I felt so guilty. I know I really did put a finger up her nose once. But that was just a joke. And then I realised I couldn”t have fucked her. I would have been too young. But you know how insecure adolescents are. I was a teenager, and so full of sperm it was leaking into my underpants even when I wasn’t thinking of sex. I suffered unwarranted guilt over things I hadn’t done, but sometimes thought of doing. I would have fucked any girl who would have let me, and I felt guilty about that. But none did. I once got so horny I thought about fucking one of grandfather’s dogs. But it didn’t like me and barked at me as though it knew what I had in mind. And I thought that was important. And I felt guilty so about that too, because I told my friends I had. Not the dog, but pretended it was a girl and I really did fuck her, even though I didn’t really know how you did it. I lied because I thought everybody else had, and didn’t want to be the only one, who hadn’t. So I came out in lots of spots, which I’m sure were the result of too much masturbation.”
Dr Finkel stopped in his tracks. He seemed to have pulled himself together a touch.
“Now that is quite interesting,” he said, “you think too much masturbation causes spots?” He was feeling his face all over. I thanked God he seemed not to have been listening to everything I’d said. I was wrong. “But as to the other… the other thingy, the whatsit with your mother, though I have heard about the condition, you’re the first patient to tell me about it in person in truth. I suppose I should ask you to go on,” he said. And then flapped his hand in a fluster. “No, no, no, on second thoughts don’t think I want to hear anymore. I don’t think I could bear it. in fact, I find it disgusting. It brings to mind of of how it might be fucking my own mother again. Twice in one afternoon would be more than I could bear. Not that I ever did it a first time. Just the thought, of thinking it again, It makes me feel sick. Not that she was so good looking either.”
“So you have thought about fucking your own mother?” I asked, “And she’s dead isn’t she? That would be having incestuous and necrophiliac thoughts at the same time. At least I only dreamed of fucking my mother. And that actually only amounted to putting a finger up her nose while she was she was still alive. You don’t get much choice in what you dream, but you do in what you thnk. and you thought about it.”
“How could I not think about it when I’m always terrified that every crazy fucker that comes in here is going to tell me he thought of fucking his own mother all the time. But that doesn’t mean I spend all my time thinking of fucking my own mother. How could you think of such a thing”
“I didn’t, you told me you did. Twice in one afternoon. I never knew your mother so it wouldn’t have occurred to me. Not even once.”
“No, I didn’t think it twice, I just thought how disgusting the thought would be if I had thought it. It makes me think how horrible the thought of fucking my own mother would be. It’s horribly perverted. One of the worst perversions I could think of. I mean, you could think of,”
“I thought you might sympathise.”
“Sympathise with incest? I may be a psychiarist, but that doesn’t mean I’m not human. Psychiatrists have prejudices and feelings too, you know.”
“I know it’s disgusting, but I didn’t do it, I only dreamt I did it. Well I only think I dreamt it. I’m sure it was a dream, or I wouldn’t have said it, would I? Can’t we just forget I said it?”
“You might be able to. But I will never be able to. By the way, perhaps it might help if you brought that photo of your mother with you next session.”
Anything to hold onto my room.
Sometimes, I ride my little bicycle over to the tiny village of Nordland on the north end the island of Værøy at the southern tip of the Lofotens. I wander in the long summer grasses and wild flowers that reach way above my head. I pick great armfuls of them, and make my way down to the little cemetery to lay them on those graves that look as though nobody has visited them in many years. I spend hours wandering round the cemetery that year visiting my ‘friends as start to call them. I read out their names, and talk to them. Occasionally, I ask them to take messages to my mother, if they should ever meet her. Wherever she is. She doesn’t have a grave. They never found her body.
Perhaps she doesn’t need one yet. Maybe she’s not really dead. Katrina is a Catholic, she tells me killing yourelf is one of the worst sins you can commit. I can’t think my mother would do that. Perhaps her punishment is to spend eternity looking for my kittens at the bottom of the lake near my grandfather’s farm.
My grandmother never came with us on that trip to Værøy. Grandfather says she lost interest in the outside world that grey, misty autumn evening my mother walked down to the lake never to return.
Copyright © 2013 Bryan Hemming