By Dan Morey
Every week in group therapy we are encouraged to share what is generally referred to as life experience. The idea is to diffuse individual psychoneurotic sufferings by creating an atmosphere of empathy—rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep, as it were.
Unfortunately, the notion of life experience has always been a bit tricky for me, owing to the permeability of certain mental boundaries that in normally functioning brains serve to keep separate reality (physical-world sensory phenomenon) from that fantastical alternate dimension where one is readily convinced that a simple Morris chair isn’t a simple Morris chair at all, but is, in fact, a grotesque dwarf who wants very badly to sodomize one in some diminutive fashion.
Consequently, as I share my experiences with the group, Dr. Boylan invariably interrupts me with: “The truth please, Mr. Moreau. No one benefits from this absurd dissembling of yours.” And I do my best to accommodate him, though on certain days, as I reflect on my past, I see nothing but dwarves (so to speak), and am utterly unable to judge them on the basis of their materiality. It is only on the good days—days when my mind is ordered and capable of differentiating Morris chairs from dwarves—that I can confidently paint for the group an honest portrait of my turbulent youth. On one such recent occasion I began my story with the following introduction:
“When I was seventeen my mother and father had their throats pawed open and partially digested by a dyspeptic Rottweiler.”
Dr. Boylan immediately objected, on grounds of what he had come to term “the veracity issue.” But I would not be silenced. “Today,” I told him, “everything is as crystal. I can, at this moment, tell you exactly what it was like to live my young life; and no matter how outrageous the tale may seem, you must listen through to the end, without interruption, and understand that all of it, everything, is the absolute truth.” At this declaration, the doctor settled grudgingly into his armchair, and I began the story of my life yet again:
As I said, dear group, when I was seventeen my mother and father had their throats pawed open and partially digested by a dyspeptic Rottweiler. They died, of course, and by process of court I came into a large inheritance. Upon receiving it, I went directly to a department store and requested a full suit of evening clothes, including a top hat, fob chain, and spats. The clerk told me that a top hat was a bit much for a high school prom and then asked where, in the name of Blackwell, I’d got the idea that spats had come back in style.
I explained that I was no longer a student, and that even if I were I certainly wouldn’t be attending anything as tacky as a prom. What was a prom, really? The socially retarded sons and daughters of the proletariat preening in rented tuxedos and tawdry pageant gowns while some Aqua Velva-drenched science teacher in cheap shoes stands guard over a bowl of sickening punch, and a loudspeaker blares the sort of horrid popular music that precludes real dancing of any sort and provokes only bestial rump movements. No, I informed the clerk, I certainly would not be attending the prom. And if he didn’t appreciate the evergreen bon ton of an impeccable pair of spats, I would simply have to take my business elsewhere. Which I did. To an aged bespoke tailor who specialized in antiquarian accouterments, and who, in addition to my evening clothes, fit me for tweeds, flannels, summer linens, smoking jackets, silk cravats, and a vast array of exotic hosiery. “Full fig!” cried the delighted draper. “Full fig, my boy!”
Having established my wardrobe, I next purchased a sprawling country estate called Brocklehurst, with woods and stables and ponds, where I planned lavish garden parties, grousing expeditions, and contests of equestrian skill. To my great disappointment, the local gentry declined my invitations, and I was compelled mostly to revel with my same high school friends, on whom I tried unsuccessfully to enforce a stringent code of dress. They would arrive early in the day, spilling from their dented automobiles in ghastly denim trousers, swigging cans of beer and unsettling the horses with their raucous hoots. These friends went by names like The Godawful One, Cro-Magnon, and Mrs. Filthy; and as you may have guessed, our badinage seldom touched a high level of brilliance. But we had a good enough time, galloping on horseback after the neighbors’ Airedale or dropping full bottles of scotch from atop the folly.
And so the days passed, until my friends became convinced I was immersed in another of my so-called delusional episodes and insisted on telling tales of my previous incarnation as a pith-helmeted jungle explorer and later as a meerschaum-smoking private detective. It was all nonsense, of course. Tales told by idiots—idiots who had grown tiresome. So I began, during our folly-based bottle drops, to heave the occasional Godawful One or Mrs. Filthy over the battlements and onto the rocks below, where the gardener disposed of them in the morning.
Soon only the servants remained, and after a month of chasing maids through the boxwood labyrinth, I found that I was quite bored and not a little lonely. So I took to the town, an ashen industrial dump on the edge of a polluted lake. My glossy top hat could be seen bobbing above the crowds of grizzled factory workers and sag-eyed professionals as I popped into various pubs and clubs. At one dismal den a repugnant lout in overalls approached me with a look of malicious intent.
“Your helmet,” he said, “is on my stool.”
“Helmet?” I said. “That topper was brought straight from Bond Street, my good portly sir.”
He came closer, rolling up his filthy sleeves.
“I don’t care where you bought your Halloween costume, kid. I want it the hell off my seat.”
“And therein lies your blunder,” I said. “We are, if I’m not mistaken, in a public house. So I’ll thank you to rest your bulbous hindquarters elsewhere.”
“You would, would you?”
“I would indeed.”
“Well that’s too bad, junior. Because I happen to like this seat.”
With that, the brute hopped onto the stool, crushing my hat with his great buttocks and sweeping its flattened remains to the sticky floor.
After this insensitive handling, I vowed to avoid contact with common people altogether, and quickly fell in with a gang of infamous, though very wealthy, rakes. Together we lived heedlessly, spending freely at roulette tables and parlors of oriental massage. I passed hour after indolent hour lounging in opium dens or sitting about cafes with decadent artists, many of whom I patronized in exchange for the use (and frequent misuse) of their sylphish models.
I eventually took up with an actress know as Sabine, a siren of the stage with soot-black eyes and an indifferent manner. She refused to live in the country, so I procured an apartment in town where I made love to her corpse-like body as she puffed on cigarillos and read Expressionist poetry. Sabine longed to play Lola-Lola in The Blue Angel, and convinced me to back a lavish production at the neglected City Playhouse. It was an immediate flop, due, without question, to Sabine’s insistence on performing in her native Germanic tongue.
A few weeks later I entered our boudoir and discovered her in the arms of Arturo Lampopo, the famed Spanish director. An outburst of jealous passion overtook me, and I attacked the unfaithful vamp with all the violence I could muster. As I choked her, she lay motionless, repeating in her blasé tone: “Harder, if you please. Harder. Ja, das is gut.” When Sabine finally expired, I turned my mad eyes on Lampopo, who sauntered out the door with a casual Olé!”
By this point, my profligate spending had nearly ruined me, and after gambling on an ill-conceived dramatization of The Private Life of Susan B. Anthony, which opened to a crowd of ten (mainly my butler Mimms and his family), and which closed three days later to an empty house, I was completely insolvent. So, with a heavy heart, I sold my beloved Brocklehurst and moved back with my grandfather whose legal ward I in fact still was.
The old codger was tickled to see me.
“Well, well,” he said, as I slipped out of my Burberry. “If it ain’t Mr. Fancy Pants. Thought you’d be at the opera tonight.”
When I told him I was broke, he chuckled and wheezed.
“Please try to rupture something vital,” I said.
“Damned fools, the lot of you,” he said. “You, your late father, your silly dead mother. Asses, all. Why do you think I’m the only one still around? I’ll tell you why: because I have common sense. Something your father sorely lacked. How many times did I tell him not to marry that gypsy?”
“Yes, gypsy,” he said, contorting his gummous face into a sour pucker. “Your mother was half gypsy. Why do you think that Rottweiler tore her neck out? I’ll tell you why: the Gestapo bred those Heinie dogs to sniff out gypsies. It’s in their blood. Vicious animals. And with a nose for the swarthies.”
He took up a jaundiced newspaper from the coffee table and spread it over his lap.
“Can you feature that,” he said. “They went and fried the Rosenbergs.”
“You really need to renew your subscription,” I said.
“I was over there in ’45, you know.”
“Gypsy country! Hungary, in fact. The war had just ended and this Manxman and me got left behind in Budapest. We’d been stewed to the gills for two weeks and hadn’t changed our fattygews in nearly as long. I remember this gypsy woman who used to come in the bars…”
And on he prattled, even as I walked out humming Dvorak’s Slavonic Rhapsodies. I thought I’d pay a visit to the thrift store downtown and see if they had any flowing scarves or gold earrings, but when I opened the door a shocking sight confronted me. There stood my father, restored to life in a corduroy suit. Then my mother appeared, equally revenant, but more attractively garbed, in a red cocktail dress.
“I knew we’d find him here, ” said Father.
“It’s been two days,” said Mother, “Were you holed up in this empty house the whole time?”
Something short-circuited inside my head, and I slumped against the door.
“We thought you’d gone to the dance,” said Father.
Their faces were stretched and wavered, like I was viewing them through warped glass.
“The prom,” said Mother.
I heard a crack, and the glass splintered. Their faces went all askew.
“Why did you come here?” said Father.
“Oosy Hamcotter,” I said.
“It’s happening again,” said Mother. “He’s slurring.”
“To see Grandfather?”
“You know your Grandfather’s dead.”
They helped me to the car and asked if I needed a Desipramine. I told them that sounded desperate, and laughed.
“What about some food?” said Mother.
I didn’t want any food, but I felt I should ask them for something, so I requested a dog.
“You want a bog?” said Father.
“I think he said dog,” said Mother.
I shook my head yes and told them to make it a Rottweiler. Then I put my arm around Father’s neck, and when he turned to smile at me, I slid the wallet from his jacket with slick gypsy flair.
And that, I told the group, pretty much sums up my teenage years.
Dan Morey lives in Erie, PA where he relentlessly pursues the longnose gar, great northern pike, and mighty bowfin in the weedy waters of Presque Isle Bay. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in many publications, including Giant Robot, Sein und Werden, Splitsider, Feathertale Review, The Eunoia Review, Lowestoft Chronicle, Ducts, Hobo Pancakes, Smokebox, The Bookends Review, and the Erie Times-News.