A chapter from the Lobster's State of Mind
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The Lobster’s State of Mind
By: Hovav Heth
Once a month, on the first day of every month, Mickey arrives at the Dorphman residence to pay his rent. Ms Dorphman, smiling as always, opens the door. They exchange pleasantries and a few remarks about the latest news, and Mickey, six foot four inches of nearly flawless perfection, enters the living room. His shoulders are broad, his limbs are large but not overly bulging, and his hair is brown and beautiful. Elijah is waiting for Mickey in his orthopedic chair and the calculator is ready in his hands.
Mickey takes a seat in front of him and greets him politely. Between them is a round mahogany table, and soon Ms Dorphman will serve some tea and one of her excellent pies.
Elijah celebrated his thirtieth birthday two months ago. He is four foot tall and his legs are short – short even in proportion to his tiny body. His back is slightly bent, his shoulders are narrow, narrower than those of a child, his neck is eternally inclined to the left, his face is small and triangular with pointed features, his eyes are big and brown.
Elijah holds the calculator in his little hands, keys in the dollar rate and multiplies by 500. Between mouthfuls and sips, Elijah and Mickey discuss the level of the municipal taxes, the broken refrigerator and the chances for a revival of the peace process that has faded away. They smile at each other politely, the arguments are fluent and intelligent, and suddenly, the teacup slides out of Elijah’s hand and the warm liquid stains his trousers, the chair and the carpet. Ms Dorphman hurries from the kitchen with a dry towel.
“Oh, my dear, you are so clumsy! Those trousers have just come out of the wash. Oh well, when you finish here with Mickey, we shall have to get you a new pair.”
Elijah clenches his lips angrily.
“OK, OK, I’m not a little boy anymore!” But he feels very little and he is swamped with bitterness. Ever since he can remember himself, since the first day he realized how big the trouble was, Elijah has been full of bitterness. Why me? Is this a payment for sins committed in a previous life? Or perhaps I’m being punished for Dad’s many infidelities before the divorce? (Hardly likely – why would God inflict a double strike on Mom?) Maybe there’s no God and it’s all just a random genetic game.
Every time a guest enters the Dorphman residence, he looks at Elijah and exposes his thoughts to him: there is always a little smile of compassion, but mainly, Oh God, thank you for not inflicting this horror on me. Why do I agonize about the promotion denied me, the test I flunked, the costly dental bill for my kids or the hair I’m losing? All those are so insignificant when compared to this horrific existence Elijah has to lead every single day until the last day of his miserable life, this eternal bondage. Yes, Elijah should charge his mother’s visitors money; why pay a shrink huge sums of money if one visit to the Dorphman residence can make your troubles seem that much more bearable?
“I think I’ll go now, Ms Dorphman. Your cakes are a delight as always. See you, Elijah.”
“Yeah, goodbye Mickey,” says Elijah, his voice hardly audible as he watches Mickey stepping out of the living room toward the door. After Mickey has left, Elijah turns his orthopedic chair until he faces his folding walker. He grabs the walker with both hands, stands up, and begins the long journey to the bathroom as he moves the walker forward and follows it ever so slowly.
“Elijah, I’m getting you some new clothes instead of the dirty ones.”
“Yeah, yeah, Mother, thank you,” says Elijah angrily, and as the words come out of his mouth, he asks himself why is he so angry at his mother, whose devotion is the only thing standing between him and an even more difficult life (if that’s at all possible).
Elijah enters the bathroom where a pair of small trousers, a little white shirt and a pair of tiny underpants are already waiting for him on a hanger. He takes off his stained shirt and uncovers his tiny whitish upper body. He takes off his trousers and underpants to reveal the tiny penis that has never satisfied a woman and never will unless a miracle occurs, and at the age of thirty years and two months, Elijah already knows that miracles happen only in fairytales. Elijah painfully inspects his defective body in the mirror. He looks at every organ, trying to imagine what it would have looked like had he been normal. Elijah debates with himself: would he want to be someone else?
He claims that he would not, he would just want to be an improved Elijah. But on the other hand, if there were a button that would turn him into Mickey, he would surely press it – perhaps with some hesitation, perhaps without.
Ms Dorphman has installed a small bench across the bath so that Elijah can have a bath without slipping and breaking his delicate bones. His short legs prevent him from stepping into the bath, so a tiny staircase with a small railing has been installed as well. Elijah sits on the little bench, adjusts the temperature, and allows himself to enjoy the warmth of the water.
He steps out of the bath, dries himself, and puts on the clean clothes Mother has prepared for him. He stands in front of the low sink especially installed for him. In the corner there is a small glass containing a small toothbrush and a razor. Elijah rubs his face with shaving foam, places the razor on his neck, and suddenly feels a sharp pain in his finger. He curses: He’s cut his thumb, what an idiot, why can’t he get anything right? He washes his thumb and wraps some bathroom tissue around it to absorb the blood. Elijah looks in the mirror and notices that there’s some blood on his white shirt and he curses again because he knows that blood contains iron, and iron oxidizes and rusts, and that this white shirt is probably doomed.
Eli thinks that it’s weird that a stain on a shirt – such a minor problem – can probably never be solved, while the cut on his finger – a tear in a living tissue that’s so much more complicated than some silly stain on a shirt – will form a scab in a day or two and then vanish altogether.
Elijah goes to sleep. He wraps himself in the blanket, lays his head on the pillow, and within a matter of minutes, he is in another world. He is standing on an infinite white surface. Nearby, thousands of construction workers are laboring, and big trolleys are moving around carrying piles of white bricks.
Elijah follows one of the trolleys and finds out that it’s headed for a huge canal, a canyon. He approaches one of the workers, a group leader according to the inscription on his back. Elijah stretches his hand up and cautiously taps on the big man’s shoulder. He is very nervous, since he has never gotten too much respect from construction workers. The group leader looks at Elijah and turns around; he is obviously excited:
“Sir, this is indeed a big honor! I never dreamed that I would meet the big boss. Wait till the rest of the guys find out you’re here.” He shakes Elijah’s hand gently and shouts: “Guys, leave whatever you’re doing and come here, the boss is here for a visit!”
The members of the group get off a trolley and one by one, they come to Elijah and shake his hand. Some of them hug him, others burst into tears. The rumor spreads and soon Elijah is surrounded by thousands of workers, all thrilled, all desperate to meet the big boss. Elijah feels kind of awkward; he has never been anybody’s boss and he is certainly not big.
“I think there’s some misunderstanding here, I mean, I don’t think I am who you think I am…”
“It’s OK, it’s OK,” the group leader assures him. “Everybody here knows exactly who you are. Who do you think we’re doing all this for?”
The workers slowly go back to their labor. Elijah, full of curiosity, approaches the edge of the canyon and tries to understand what it is they are building there. The workers carefully unload the bricks, carry them to the bottom of the canyon and lay them with great precision one by one. A huge torn pipe is lying in the canyon and alongside it are big red puddles. The pipe is surrounded by scaffolding loaded with workers. The group leader approaches him again, bursting with pride, and says:
“A few hours ago it was twice as wide and a lot deeper and that conduit was all torn up. I expect we’ll be finished here by tomorrow.”
Elijah feels ashamed; they are all working so hard and they all seem desperately to want some encouragement from him, but he has never had the strength to cheer others on – he doesn’t even have enough strength for himself.
“This is really amazing. Can you people handle bigger projects?”
“You can count on us, we can fix it all! Everything here goes back to exactly the way it used to be.”
“Exactly the way it used to be?” Elijah asks, disappointed. “What if I don’t want it to be exactly the way it was? You should know that the way things were is sometimes a pretty bad deal. Can you handle that?”
“Maybe, I’m not really sure. I work according to the designs from the planning and design section, I’m sorry.”
Elijah feels terrible because the group leader seems upset and Elijah never meant to hurt him.
“It’s OK, forget it. Would you happen to know where this planning and design section is?”
The group leader pats Elijah fondly on the head and says: “I think it’s somewhere here.” Elijah says goodbye to the group leader and wakes up.
When he opens his eyes, the solution to his problems seems crystal clear. He gets up more energetic than ever before, driven by a surge of optimism. He takes hold of his walker and starts walking twice as fast as usual.
“Good morning, Elijah. What a smile and what a delightful mood, so much energy!” She kisses him on the cheek and he looks at her and says:
“Enough complaining, I need to get a hold of myself! What’s for breakfast?” Elijah swallows a huge portion of cornflakes and two slices of bread and, as Mom watches him amazed, he chats quite charmingly and makes witty remarks and he’s really funny! Mother can hardly remember the last time Elijah made her laugh – laugh without a strong desire to weep.
“By the way,” Elijah says, “you’re going to Aunt Sara on Friday, right?”
“Elijah, am I imagining things, or do you actually want to get rid of me for a day or two? Is that why you’re in such a good mood?” Mother is a little bit hurt and a little worried. What is Elijah planning to do while she’s away?
The problem of satisfying his sexual needs has been a concern for quite a few years. Elijah is a grown man and it seems that as far as his sex drive is concerned, he is as developed as any other male. Mother has tried to broach the subject; she has even considered finding someone who would sleep with Eli for payment – someone trustworthy who wouldn’t hurt his feelings or infect him with diseases – but this subject was absolutely taboo and she was never able to talk about it without running into a wall of angry silence.
“No, Mother, whatever makes you think that? You know how much I hate it when you leave me here alone, but… I mean, I know you need some time away from me and don’t worry, I’m not planning an orgy for the weekend.”
This morning is truly full of surprises. Elijah sees his mother’s amazement and quickly lowers his eyes, hoping to prevent further discussion of a topic he is not yet ready to talk about.
The days pass by and Elijah prepares himself: he has taken the old saw out of the storeroom and hidden it under the table. He is quite anxious for Mother to leave and he can hardly hide his anticipation: he walks back and forth with his walker like a lion in a cage. In these three days he does more mileage than he’s done in thirty years.
The big day is here! Mother makes her last preparations for departure. She packs and asks again and again if there’s anything he needs and will he be all right and does he know exactly where the food she prepared for him is and who to call in case of emergency, and he tries to calm her down. Finally, Mother is at the door and she hugs and kisses him and Elijah reminds her that she is only going for two days and it’s not such a big deal. Mother is out! The door closes behind her and Elijah can hear her footsteps fading away. There is only peace and quiet and Elijah feels a great sense of serenity.
It’s afternoon and Elijah begins the preliminary ceremonies. He prepares a cup of tea, which he drinks with a big slice of Mommy’s excellent pecan pie. He watches a movie on cable TV; seated on his orthopedic couch, he is perfectly calm. He takes a shower, shaves, and when night comes, he goes into his room and shuts the door behind him. Elijah bends down and picks up the saw, lays it on the table, and observes it with deep concentration. Elijah imagines that his feelings at this moment are similar to those of a samurai about to commit seppuku. Those samurai presumably didn’t see this act as the end of the road, but rather as the beginning of a new road, since they believed in the transmigration of the soul. Elijah is also about to embark on a new path, but he does not intend to go through the rather problematic stage of death. Elijah will be like a caterpillar that turns into a butterfly.
Elijah brings the chair closer to the desk, holds on to the desk, and lays his head upside-down on it, his hair pressed against it. He has devoted a great deal of thought to this plan, and an inverted head is essential for success in removing his head, otherwise his brains might all spill down through his open neck, and that type of mishap could probably never be rectified. Elijah breathes steadily; he looks at his body with his upside-down eyes, looks at his belly bent against the desk. He holds on to the desk with one hand and takes the saw in the other. Elijah looks at the saw one last time to make sure there is no rust on it, for he would certainly not want his new body to be infected. He places the serrated edge of the saw next to his neck and it tickles him slightly. Elijah takes a deep breath. He is completely calm and confident as he begins to move his hand backwards and forwards. Elijah begins to feel his head becoming slowly separated from his feeble body. His hand is moving swiftly but cautiously, and then he accelerates his movements in order to saw through his spine. No blood is spilt since Elijah’s work is very precise.
The saw has nearly cut through; the little piece of skin connecting his head to his body gets cut off, and Elijah sees his little body sliding backwards to the chair. The saw slides from his hand and Elijah (the head) lies face down on the table, thoughts swirling. Elijah is exhausted by the effort. It’s already late at night and he feels his eyes slowly closing. His open neck is defiantly pointing at the ceiling and he expects to wake up with a new and better body attached to him.
Elijah wants to dream again about those thousands of workers laboring ceaselessly to create his new body. He thinks that a special effort will be required since time is short (until Mommy comes back on Sunday) and the present challenge is truly awesome. Instead, he dreams about Odelia, his high-school teacher. The class was about to go on its big annual trip, and Elijah announced, as he always did in such cases, that he wouldn’t be able to attend. Odelia said that she and some of the students would gladly push him in the wheelchair so that Elijah could take part in at least some of the activities: “Remember, Elijah, that all our problems begin with our head and that with a strong will, everything can be overcome.” Elijah thought she had some nerve, that Odelia. He would like to see how she would manage if she had a four foot crippled body.
Elijah also dreams about Rona, the prettiest girl in class. Elijah used to gaze at her with yearning eyes and the only attention he ever got from her was a sympathetic smile and the occasional “good morning.”
Elijah opens his eyes and blinks at the sunbeams penetrating the slits in the partly closed shutters. It’s morning already. Elijah wants to stretch, but unfortunately, there is nothing to stretch so far. He looks at his body lying on the chair and then begins to notice that something has changed. At first he doesn’t quite grasp what it is he is seeing, and then he realizes that his neck (which was sawed away from him) has grown a chin and jaws from which lips are coming out. Elijah’s head begins to sweat; this is not going quite according to his plan. He tries to calm down because he knows that if he shakes his head, it might capsize and his brains will spill out like jam on the floor.
A nose and eyes and cheeks are growing and it’s already known that this monster’s head looks identical to his own.
Elijah doesn’t understand this joke, and he begins to cry
for what’s the purpose of this game?
Why create another head if it’s practically the same?
The process is nearly done, his skull begins to close and his hair is growing long.
When the creation is complete, the monster’s eyes begin to glow, the door he opens, he is about to go.
Before he leaves, he looks at Elijah and there is sadness in his eyes.
My father head, for what I’ve stolen I do apologize
But now, father head, farewell, I wish you all the best
The world is wide, I have to set out on my quest.