Somebody has replaced my chair with a child. It was a beautiful chair. A rocking chair fashioned by my father.
It makes no sense.
Though, of course, one mustn’t give credence to anything in this town. The town has a population of god-knows-what and its name does not interest me much either.
The child is a genius. It is dressed in a purple smoking jacket. It has sandy hair and wears corduroy trousers. It is rosy cheeked and does not remind me of my own, uglier, children.
It was smoking a pipe. The smoke filled the office. It also filled the lungs of my employees. It managed to aggravate my lungs, too. I coughed three times. I put my hands to my mouth to halt the germs from escaping my vessel. I coughed again.
Look, on my hand: tar coloured phlegm.
The employees, they begin to leave. I only have two employees. Their names are Suskind and Clyde. They are immigrants. Suskind is Danish. Clyde is African.
Clyde was his name because somebody had called him it. When he was born, he wasn’t given a name. He told me, once, that when he was born, the only thing he was given was the curse of life.
Clyde was a depressing fellow to be around.
In many respects, I am glad to see them go. The child says he is glad too. I point out that he doesn’t know them from Adam. The child scolds me for using Adam, not God.
The office isn’t really an office. It is a hut, of sorts, constructed from oak trees. This hut, it was built by my father. His name was Gottfried. He was of German descent. He came to America to forge his own path.
Notice the use of was, not is. He is dead.
He died due to an accidental poisoning. It was on a summer’s day. I remember this clearly. He was playing the goat for us children. Fooling around, you could say. And he pointed the blowpipe to his chest and told me to blow hard down the hole. He told me to kill him. It was a joke. He laughed, I laughed, my sister laughed, my mother laughed.
I blew; he died.
There was a poison arrow in the blowpipe. It contained curare. He died within minutes.
Curare is the poison of the Indians. A blowpipe, if used with superbes poumons, can carry for at least sixty metres.
It took one hundred-thousandth of a gram to kill him.
The child comes forward, puts a paw out, says: ‘put her there, partner!’
Of course, I reciprocated the handshake. I ‘put her there’ and, unintentionally, rhymed with my following sentence: ‘where is my chair?’
There is no answer. The child decides to whinny like a horse and gallop around my hut. I am furious. Why, after thirty-six years on this earth, can I not fathom the mysteries of the human heart?
Why can’t I understand the intricacies of the tastes of others? My doctor said I had an inability to feel emotions. He called it anhedonia. I called it boredom.
I probably should’ve said this: the office isn’t an office, it’s a hut and the hut isn’t really a hut.
It’s a pharmacy.
What year is it? The inquisitive reader ponders.
The child has an answer to everything, of course: ‘It’s 1865 and this is a pharmacy out on the frontiers of the Old West.’
You can’t deny it: the child is pretty clever. My children have slush for brains and their genitals have not – and never will – form properly.
Not that this aggrieves me.
Gottfried – can I call him pops? Ah, old Pops! – specialised in curatives and poisons. His livelihood was a life and death.
He specialised in contradictions. He would often say he loved me. He would – equally – state that he hated me, too.
Gottfried was a terrible role model. I believe I have a part of him in my very soul. Is this why I can’t feel? Is this why I can’t organise my thoughts?
And now, my only respite in this godforsaken hut – this cabin, this office, this place on the edge of nowhere – my chair, my precious spine-soothing chair, has been replaced by a five-year-old genius.
Slimeball. But my attention, he has.
The child really knows how to get to me, of course. He says: ‘You’ve got a wife and two children?’
‘And she bothers you?’
‘Your children. They’re afflicted?’
‘With club foot and progeria?’
The child is correct. One of my children has progeria. My little boy, Nat. He has a bulbous head riddled with veins. He looks like a very serious onion. He looks elderly.
The child speaks clearly. His voice sounds like a soothing water, soaking my innards. My wife, in comparison, sounds like a foghorn.
Pops! He had a wife, too. She was a big boned Bertha of a woman who rarely shaved her pits and shins and had nipples the size of marshmallows. Her lips were always liver-purple, face pale – drained – and constantly pensive.
She was my mother.
Her name was Schwarzkopf Schwarzkopf.
She was addicted to opium. A Chinaman – tall and thin and yellow – used to provide her with sixty grams of opium tincture by forging prescriptions for her.
She died, too, in time. As we all must.
She died with her Dajensthen cradled in her arms. Her massive left nipple was lactating.
Good opium contains at least 10% morphine, experts say.
Mother’s had zero.
The child sits down on the counter, wiping away the dust, telling me he was as American as they come. I said I am too, but the child seemed to guffaw, suggestive he thought I was telling a porky?
I believe this child is an angel. Or, at least, a cherub in disguise.
Cherub with a pipe.
And the child, it reminds me of my wife and her behaviour:
‘I saw your wife galumph out from Glaser’s saloon, gigantic with gin, wearing not a shred of decent cloth ‘pon her shithouse frame.’
Of course, my face goes turnip and I am ashamed and wonder and wonder why my wife acts the way she does, why she persists in carrying out such rambunctious rituals.
‘Child, what shall I do?’
My mother’s name translates, roughly, to:
Black head, Black head.
Of course, I ask questions and it does not answer. When you need help the most, help is often preoccupied with the cooking, Gottfried used to tell me.
You need to be careful in a town like this. The sheriff is a reprobate. He has his eye on me. But I know things about his son.
Even saw his son climb out from the well only last week. He emerged and was soaked through, wearing what seemed to be women’s face powder and panties.
And the citizens. Is it enough to tell you my pharmacy – home to some of the world’s deadliest poisons and curios – is the most popular place to shop in town?
The women, I find, mostly shop for arsenic.
Why, even Old Hilly, Old Martha, Old Sally, Old Jane, Old Mary, Old Edith: even they seem to have new husbands now.
In their gardens, I spy earthly rectangles of about 6ft x 2ft tattooing God’s green grass.
The child says I’m weary. He says my hair dropped out because I am sad. He says I cannot muster up an erection because I am sad. He says I look like I have jaundice because I have jaundice.
Of course, he’s not wrong. I ask the child again: what oh what oh what oh what shall I do about my wife?
And what of the children?
The child mentions potassium cyanide, jokingly.
Gottfried, knowledgeable in all poisons, told me Countess Mathilde Chorinsky was killed using cyanide in Munich, 1867.
Her room had been prepared beforehand to accommodate a chum for high tea. The hotel employees burst into the room and found cakes and tea, untouched.
I tell the child: it’s getting late.
The child is rosy cheeked and looking happy. As happy as I can remember anybody looking in my entire life.
And he tells me of the ten inmates – invalids – who died in Jitschin, after being gassed. All an accident, of course.
The authorities were meant to gas out the insects, see. And the Spanish were good at this. Even had a guild called fumigadores that specialised in this. They were a guild of gassers.
In Jitschen, they not only killed the insects, but they killed all ten invalids, too. They were found by the authorities. The invalids’ heads were slumped into their chests. They looked like they were asleep. Like chubby youths, rolls of fat reeling off beneath their chins.
The child bids me farewell: ‘Farewell, farewell!’
I’ll never forget the advice the child imparted to me. About my wife and children. I needed to ask some questions about myself, too. Where’s the money going to come from after November? ‘S’cold out, now. Need to wrap up.
I rush home. To fix the family crisis.
Legumes! I shall cook legumes!
Of course, we must all realise that my mind is prone to folly.
I walk home past scraggy acres, hands incubated inside my jacket pockets. The rain, it starts. It keeps going. My legs walk across this alluvial land, the rain water whoring itself upon the ground.
I see a man, old and unwise, crab walk to his outside clutching a scabbard. I think of my lout of a wife and my two children.
And then I think did I ever really have a chair in the pharmacy.