a madman’s lullaby

it’s an obsession, the doctor said, but you disliked hearing that word, obsession. it wasn’t the colour that you disliked. in fact, you said, the word is colourless but tastes like burnt toast.
      obsession, your brother once said, is hazy-lavender.
      my son’s words are extraordinarily colourful, but he’s never tasted language. 
my words are neither coloured nor flavoured.  

at the time, you were trying to figure out what becomes of meaning when two coloured words rub up against one another. what happens, you asked, when two primary-coloured words, such as sunshine and concrete (yellow and blue), bump into each other? does that make meaning green? is concrete-sunshine green?
	perhaps, i said. 
        perhaps concrete-sunshine is green. 

i don’t know how spirals work, you told the doctor. only that they do. only that spirals are the fingerprints of god.  

what is called a beautiful bouquet nauseates me. what i admire is the macabre scent of a single flower dying, with the colours fading and the petals so brittle they disintegrate when rolled gently between fingertips. what i admire are flowers that delight in death and decay.  

for several years we, your father and i, brushed off your infatuation. a phase, we told one another. a passion. just a creative preoccupation. 
     at times you endeavoured to hide your desire, tried to act as if nothing was going on. but there was no point, you were transparent. you wanted to be normal. but you disliked normal: fleshy-umber with an aftertaste of dirt.  

as a small child you nurtured certain words, such as: galaxy, the sharpest red; and the fairy-floss flavoured yesterday; and bright-electric blue, with a hint of peppermint, ripple. your favourite word was purple, which just shimmered and tasted of plums. this made jacaranda-mauve, 8, your favourite number.
      i remember how your dark eyes shone as i listened, nodding my head in agreement. i still cherish those moments, when your reasoning made sense to me.

there are certain sounds, like the fracturing of autumn leaves underfoot, that evoke something within me reminiscent of childhood. even still, during these times of tender nostalgia, i lack some fundamental ingredient in existence. i lack the flavour of being real. as a child i would tell myself that if i believe i exist then i think i exist then i do exist. 

every picture, every early doodle you drew was a maze of spirals. the repetition, the troubled insistence of curved lines, alarmed me. the absurd intricacy, the assiduous attention to detail, always astonished me. 

let’s presume that, in a twist of fate, you were born with this passion. let’s presume that, indeed, you fell in love with a shape:
     a spiral …
     a pattern persisting in time. 
     a romance, unfolding slowly: an early fascination followed by appreciation, adoration. and in an instant: lust becomes love. 

     the outline sweet and terrible
     shaped like a madman’s lullaby
     how dangerous … you wrote
     to finally have something worth losing. 

did you use your whole body to taste that first instance of love? did pure silence vibrate within you? did diabolical joy dance in the shadows of your loneliness? did you tremble with pleasure and, for a measure of unutterable instances, were you free? 


when you finally started speaking, your little voice always sounded plagued by pain. as if every word uttered had just escaped your mind, tortured. each word released in a state of mutilated shock. 
     you were four. 
     i was more than alarmed. 

your father denies synaesthetic tendencies. but i remember how thrilled i was by the idea that we’d created synaesthetic twins. as though, together, we’d produced humans with a language of their own. i imagined the microscopic meeting, dancing, twisting, twirling and replication of our genes occurring in a helix of colour and flavour. 
     i was mystified by my own capacity to create. i was mystified that my children could feel the smell of words, that they could see the silence that follows each sound, that my children were four-dimensional. 

we gave you butterfly nets, snorkel sets and totem tennis for your eleventh birthdays. that night, when i tucked you into bed, you said: sometimes i wonder about the silent colours, the ones i can’t see. then i feel empty. then i bash my fists into my eyes until i’m lost in colour. then i feel better. 
     you were attempting to explain. i was attempting to understand.


once i had a dream within a dream where reality and fantasy both had instantaneous lifespans. one could not interfere with the other for one became the other. reality was fantasy and fantasy was reality. reality was not to be confused with fantasy and instantaneous lifespan was not to be confused with average lifespan. but in this dream within a dream the spiral was the only one who left everything as it was, the spiral was neither fantasy nor reality, but the spiral was a real thing. i woke sobbing, and my pillow was damp with tears.

as a child you spent your days building kaleidoscopes: aluminium tubes; triangles of mirrors; tiny windows; and coloured-plastic globes caged in acrylic perplexity. you spent your nights peering into the soul of colour. 

‘my soul is a black whirl pool, a vast vertigo circling a void, the racing of an infinite 
             ocean around a hole in nothing.’
                        —	     Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet. 

in a later attempt to explain, you told me your thoughts simply appear in the form of spirals, circles that begin but never end, continuous circles refusing to return to the same point. 
que será será, i thought, my daughter’s mind moves fatalistically into the future. 
	other times, you said. my thoughts begin as a single interstellar spec and spiral inwards, evasively entangling my mind. twisting my thoughts, tighter and tighter, until i’m completely fixated, isolated, and confined in despondency. 

in lipstick you wrote on the mirror: like ripples in a galactic pond, my lover’s spiralling arms simultaneously embrace me and show me the way. Our passion moves in circling waves. 
	then you carved three deep spirals, one on each thigh and one on your left wrist, allowing the pain to orbit out of you. i found you coiled, like a haunted fetus, in a pond of your own rippling blood. 

we’re here to help, they told you. 
     you didn’t go peacefully. 
     with the brown buckles strapped tight, you screamed and struggled in the straightjacket until, finally, you passed out.  

                     ‘i’m no more your mother
                     than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow
                     effacement at the wind’s hand.’
                                                         —	Sylvia Plath, Ariel


a form of objectophilia, they told us, an intense love of inanimate things. 
        you rejected this completely. 
	spirals, you said, give birth to animate matter. they shape the precise instant when inanimate matter is endowed with sentience. spirals are the pulsing lifeblood of all inspiration, of all creation, of all thought, of all being. circles that begin but never end. spirals are the souls of things.  
	tell us, they asked, why do you hurt yourself? 
	that was your first admission, this is your eighth. 

you have less spirals in the asylum and the medication locks every word, every sound, every number in a military green flavoured of hailstorms. you spend your days horizontal, in sedated fits, tangled in bedsheets. you spend your nights in heavy silence believing your lover waits in the shadows just beyond the gate. 


Image: ‘Barbed Wire’ / Alan Levine


Read the rest of our Autumn Fiction edition:

The fish’, by Rebecca Slater

A long breath’, by Stuart Wilkinson

Dance of the mobiles’, by David Turnbull

Stevi-Lee Alver

Based in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, Stevi-Lee Alver has had her fiction, poetry, and reviews published across Australia and the United States. Rochford Street Press published her chapbook Cactus in 2016.

More by Stevi-Lee Alver ›

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