Pharmakon — Marc Nash

Hell does not smell of brimstone. Instead its fetid scent is of mucus. Held on the outside, rather than confined to the interior. Like the devils themselves now at large. The tang of me, my self-tang, a hellfire balefire indicator that an episode is poised to descend. That the devils are about to take possession of me. I credit that whenever I was developing in the womb, that inchoate clump of cellular cellulite me, I was antecedently the wrong way round; that my surface was already exterior, my insides stationed within, before that genetically programmed process of gastrulation that turns you inside out for a final time, to form you into a skin bag with tripes. So mephitic visceral emanations coat my skin, the efflux constantly refluxed upon my hide. The wretch who makes all and sundry that come into contact with him retch. Even though I billow with no ill-willow. Genes may have carved my outline, but my anti-psychotic meds shape me further. Not the fine detail of the sculptor’s final chiselled movements, but ballooning my body through the never ending starvation. No matter how much food I consume, (because my stomach is everted and cannot hold owt) I remain famished, while other pills pinch and plug my sphincter that can no longer regulate its flow (because I insist, it is turned the wrong way out). I am the Tantalus who gets to snaffle all the fruit from the overhanging branches. The gods have no need of pulling it away, because it’s putrescent. Not innately so, merely that all my food smells of mucus. For all my prescriptions actively but ineffectively counteracting one another’s side effects, the nasal saline drops cannot erase the mucal baseline. Can’t efface the faulty central feature of my face. I only get it in the one nostril mind. Perhaps I should adopt the hook of the synchronised swimmer to stop up that olfactory cavity. But the word synchronous perennially unnerves me. Because I have no one to synchronise with other than my selves. My devils.

Linguistic Or Twist:
Tables nip at me. Like crabs, or kittens. At my legs and ankles mainly. But sometimes also my diaphragm. When I am folded by a chair at flush communion with the table. Partaking of my food or addressing some household bills and subscriptions. If I am tummy tucked tight so that I crest the table’s pane – increasingly since the chemically catalysed spread of my girth – then that lip bites and snuggles into my flesh as well. Probably because it is smothered by my mass and hard pressed to breathe and is merely struggling to perdure. But it applies unfailingly my legs, cut off from sight beneath. I am only aware of their continued existence by the press of other unseen legs, those of the table. A sightless trial of combat, a blind bout. Foot wrestling. Shin-kicking without buffering straw being wadded in our hosiery. The Victorians weren’t misconceived in covering table legs up behind fabric. Nesting tables are the worst, mob handed as they are behind their innocent assemblage. I may only need recourse to one planar surface, yet there remain a dozen legs jabbing and licking at me. And not in the lapdog sense of ‘lick’. Although definitely in the boxer’s sense of ‘jab’. Moreover, even occasional tables are persecutory. For I need them to be more than just occasional. I need them to persist. A waxing and waning war of continuity for the both of us. Scientists – bound by far more rigorous rules of procedural analysis than the doctors who pronounce my mind less than sanitary – have adumbrated the rules of behaviour for even the smallest particles of matter that remain invisible to the naked eye. And tables, like any matter, are composed of atoms and still tinier sub-atoms. So the edge of the table is not veritably the end. It shifts and moves as the particles that compose it make their locomotions. And I can spot that agitation. Most folk cannot, by the accident that human scale is significantly expanded above that of the particulate realm, so that the images of our objects seems to hold stabile, rather than manifest the improbabilities of their quantum structure. Perhaps the Impressionists could also perceive the quantum nature of things, hence their approach to borders and berms. Mind you as a group they exhibited a fruit basket full of manias and maladjustment. I see the tables move as well as feel their effects. I see them shimmer and dance. Others make claims for poltergeists. Or the power of telekinesis. One external force, one emitted from within. Pish on both as stuff and nonsense. The table moves in its own right, not at my mental hand, nor that of some supernatural. I am not mad, I just coexist at the quantum. So I undertook to denature the table. Chopped all mine up for firewood. Even though my trousers became martyrs to food spills eating off my lap. With forms filled in but punctuated with holes and gouges where the unbuttressed nib of the pen had gone through. (Is a desk, a writing desk, actually a table? I couldn’t take the chance so the bureau went the same way as the dropped-leafed, purged in a garden bonfire). Since I accorded that tables had performed a necessary function, I was forced to avail myself of alternative surfaces. Hard-back books. The television screen, with the documents desirous of inscription held up to the flat vertical. Eating posed more of a challenge. On tippy-toe I ate from a plate perched on the mantlepiece, my calves screaming at the exertion burning up the calories before I even replenished them. Else I sat in the bay window with the trencher wedged against the window sill. Or just spooning off the hob of the cooker itself. Under the summer sun I was able to dine straight from the lawn, making every meal a picnic, even my breakfast cereal. Sharing it with the ants. Having earthworms bore through my buffet. You don’t get that with a table now do you? Though I suppose a dining table could be infested with woodworm. But these surrogate flat tops of course also had dancing atoms and worse to mock and spite me. I had recast and converted them only into the very definition of occasional tables. Morphed their function and with it their nomenclature, but only temporarily. The word ‘table’ itself is drawn from the word ‘tabula’, a tablet ripe for inscription, for a recording, for a serving up. I could not purge the word from the lexicon, for with it would disappear all language which stems from its essence. There can never be any mind over matter, since words cannot contain matter’s subatomic energies. Call a doctor quick! No, not that sort. A head doctor. No, look at him talking to himself there, he needs a doctor of linguistics. Ideally a professor with a doctorate.

Child’s Play:
There are ten children in attendance at the playgroup. Though they are a mite too tender of an age to actually function as a group. Their lively imaginations are not quite lithely honed enough to admit any insertions from a peer. Take those two boys there; one is building a tower from Lego to interrogate the heavens; the other pushing a tipper truck along the highway of his imagination. But the tipper truck creeps up to the unused bricks and scoops them up, whereby each time the architect swats the truck away and upends its dumper to reclaim his building materials. Were they to be imaginatively co-operating, he could be taking delivery of fresh supplies. But instead they are battling over the same toy. In the squabble of their divergent worlds, both are dragged from their respective imaginations back into a third, genuinely shared realm of unsharing. The two will only converge distressingly, when Master tipper truck reaches his tipping point and plumps for driving his vehicle straight into the tower to bring it crashing down. And they’re both back in the room, a miserably cold scout hut, with scuffed and scruffy donated toys. Yet each of the ten gathered do share one feature. They are vocalising in their play, albeit babbling to themselves. Each pilots their unmanned toy, be it the tipper truck, the edifice, the space rocket, the farmyard, the doll. Their imagination spelling itself out, even as it is reinforcing their syntactical vocabulary. Their afflatus projected outwards, their language aggregated accordingly. They are sketching out scenarios and appending words to them. Tentative little dramaturgies. Forging a mission control. And when they grow up and the toys get put away, they will also file away such rehearsed exchanges, for unfurling only in the appropriate social circumstance. The animism will cease, their ideation only exercised when they address other persons in the flesh. Their thoughts no longer having to be uttered during the processing. But I’m going to utter my thoughts here and now all the same. There are ten children in attendance in the play group. Statistically one of them will be gay. Two point five will experience a mental health issue. One tenth of one of them will turn out to be schizophrenic like me. One tenth, what’s that, an arm? Amputation is something I have encountered in my phantasms. An all too real sensation that my foot is gangrenous, so the brain goes into overdrive with terror as I envision the extremity being expertly excised, the flood of oxygen thereby sequestered by that greedy little organ causes further necrosis in my afflicted leg, so that the surgeon’s hacksaw has to move up and go to work just below my knee, ratcheting the anxiety yet further, prompting further deprivation in the tissue of the benighted member and necessitating further disseverance at the top of the thigh. So it never stays at one-tenth, not when the exponential terror of mind is involved. Nothing perseveres in proportion. Rounding up to the nearest whole number, one of these children will be struck by fragmentation of their being. Their thought processes as expressed here, will chronically continue to be a) directed at themselves b) heard as if vocally projected but c) not projected in a voice they recognise as their own, but someone external to them. And so the child grows into the adult, but one that either unwittingly, or consciously, repudiates your language and its communicative framework, for one of his own, with bespoke grammar and inflection. I am of the conscious school. Unlike you, I am a prime number. Uniquely indivisible by anyone else but myself.

I have pursued my own learned investigations with a monomania you would scarcely credit for someone with a supposedly fractured mind. Modus tollendo ponens. The definition of psychosis involves being cut off or removed from reality. But how is that even possible when there is no such thing as a reality to break away from? That way only madness lies, oh really? Apparently this way – your way – madness doth lie, to which I am barely living, living proof. Reality is purely constructed by our brains, that is internally. Our evolution has left us with a perception system that is mainly scrutinising for variegation. Our eyes do not reproduce vision like a camera lens, they scan against established templates of reality that the brain holds and really only alert to differences from these norms. It is those templates that construct reality. What things should look like, with everything in place. Way back in our history, a divergence from the expected vista could represent a threat and therefore triggered our flight or fight response. This is still in play, though on far less taut a spectrum. So who are you, any of you, to say that we schizophrenics are seeing things that are not really there? We all have dreams right? Our eyes are shut, yet the brain is projecting all sorts of visual illusions and even auditory ones. Well my waking life is little different. You are the ones not seeing. Tamely abiding by the stunted presentations of your brain’s theatrical backdrops and stage flats. The schizophrenic refuses to abide by the dubious evidence of his senses, for good and bad. The outpourings of our minds are less tram-lined and trammelled than yours. We are more primed for peril. We have stayed closer to our ancestors. Paranoid? Don’t get me wrong, no one is out to get me, least of all the headshrinkers who don’t get me at all. What you perceive as benign in the environment, we see as more menacing. This is a political and philosophical disposition of mind, rather than one of wonky psychology. For in this modern world, the bombardment of incitement and information is so huge, your rutted, circumscribed minds are almost completely oblivious to it. Whereas our lithe minds, so open to anything, can catch them full on the current. We are well set for our dopamine being overstimulated for any spate and surge, since that’s what happens to us everyday. You with your carefully dosed brain chemicals, will become swept away by the torrent of stimuli and overloaded with data and you will go under. You will drown in your own welter of information. We may well become your doctors and shrinks. Otherwise you stand to be over-aroused to death. We are the future. Your future. We were just years ahead of our time.

Marc Nash has published five collections of flash fiction and his fifth novel will be published in 2018 by Dead Ink Books. He collaborates with video makers to produce digital storytelling. He lives and works in London. @21stCscribe on twitter