by Kris Green
It is dangerous for us to assume that we know everything, but recently I have come to discover that it is more dangerous to assume that we know anything at all; about ourselves, about each other, about the world around us. Humankind lives in the shadows. We think that with this great civilisation we have constructed for ourselves a wondrous beacon of light, and forever dispelled the darkness, but that is hardly true. You only have to visit somewhere on the very edge of civilisation to discover that lie. We haven’t dispelled the darkness, we have just made the shadows deeper, and driven them into odd corners.
This will seem strange, but it is also true. All of history is a lie. One hundred years ago mankind shivered naked on the cold savannah. I don’t mean this in any metaphorical sense. Only one hundred days ago we lost the trick of understanding the language of animals. I know this seems strange, it seems mad. It is mad. I don’t want to write these words, I am being made to. They think that if I write down my thoughts, I will recognise how insane they sound.
I am being prompted to describe myself. My name is ________, my background is in psychology, not in clinical therapy, though I have done some hours of observation – enough to know that I am exhibiting classical signs of dissociation, and persecutory delusions attendant with severe psychosis. I know the attendant physician, albeit peripherally. We studied together, years ago. Animals are machines, we obey instinct in reaction to various stimuli – both internal and external. If you observe an animal for long enough, you will learn patterns of behaviour, moreover you will begin to notice little irrational loops and whorls that cannot be accounted for by observation alone.
I have always had pets, that is where my interest in observing behaviour first began. I watched my dog, Nero, circle his bedding before lying down. I watched him circle the room before eating his dinner, always keeping close to the edges of the walls, watching what I would do, before zeroing in on his food. Both of these acts can be accounted for, the first is nesting behaviour, and its cause is well known. The second I understood because of Nero’s own particular history. He was a rescue dog, whose previous owner would beat him if he showed too much eagerness to eat after his food was put out, so Nero took to hanging back and watching his owner’s hands instead.
I have a sister, her name is __________. She’s much younger than me, and has recently suffered the trauma of a marriage breakdown. I offered her to stay with me, and to my surprise she accepted. We have never been very close. I would say that since our parents died we have become somewhat closer. I like her, but because of the distance in age between us, we never really shared much. We settled into a kind of domesticity. I am fastidious, meticulous, and so is she. If anything, her more so than I. Had we been anything less than siblings; roommates, for instance, I would say that we bonded over our mutual regard for clean toilets, and well-scrubbed oven tops.
A month passed. Then another. My sister didn’t seem in a hurry to move out, and I didn’t press her to. In fact, there was some problem over the distribution of property, her husband was refusing to sign some papers, and her living with me was convenient. At the time I was involved in a project and came home at odd hours, and with my sister there she could feed my animals and ensure the house was tidy. She also cooked well. And when the project came to an end, she continued to care for the house as if it were her own.
However, now that we could spend more time together, I began to notice strange tics in her behaviour. At first I thought it might be some repressed anxiety keeping her from one particular side of the kitchen. I have a large kitchen with the range in the centre, the sink and refrigerator on one side, separated by a wide counter-top, and on the other, a storage area with a dry pantry and a chest freezer. Over time I noticed she avoided the pantry. Time and again I observed the same pattern. For example, she would be making something and then pause and then turn as if she were about to fetch whatever it was she decided in that moment that she needed, but then she would turn back to what she was making and continue as if nothing had happened. Sometimes, if it was something she really needed, she would hold up her floury/wet hands and ask me to fetch it for her and since I have no particular aversion to the pantry, I did.
Obviously I needed to confront her about this.
I waited for a day when we were both home, and I offered to cook something. I told my sister that since coming to live with me, I felt that she was doing too much, and that I needed to do something for her for a change.
“You don’t need to,” she said.
“I feel that I must.”
“But you don’t need to. It’s fine.”
I rolled up my shirt sleeves and waved a hand.
“No, it’s been a while since I’ve cooked. I need to keep my hand in. Feel free to keep me company if you like. I got us a bottle of that Californian wine you’re partial to.”
So I grabbed a knife and some vegetables and began to peel and chop, while my sister poured us out two glasses of wine. I’d decided I would make a casserole with onions, potatoes and leeks. I was chopping the beef, and said,
“Oh blast. I need another potato to line the top of the dish. Maybe two. Be a darling and fetch a couple would you?”
She put down her glass and got out of her chair, and then stopped.
“You’ve enough potato there, you don’t need another,” she said, sitting back down.
“I’ve chopped these all up wrong. They’ll do fine for inside the dish, but I wanted some thin slivers so the top will have a nice crust, and for that I need at least two more potatoes.”
“Why not make dumplings instead?”
“I don’t have any suet.”
“I can run down to the store and buy some. It’ll only take five minutes.”
“You’ve been drinking.”
“Ten then, I’ll walk.”
“You’d rather walk ten minutes to the store than walk two metres to the pantry?” I fought to keep the amusement from my voice, but I failed. Her own smile slipped, and she frowned.
“No, it’s just I think I rather prefer dumplings,” she said, a little forcefully.
“And I think,” I said, “that this dish is better with potatoes on top.”
“Fine!” she threw up her arms. “I won’t have any of your stupid casserole,” she turned and was about to walk into the sitting room.
“_______,” I said her name. She stopped, and turned back. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I know things are strange right now. I know you’re having a hard time, and I know we haven’t spoken much about it, brother to sister. But I am here for you.”
Her look softened.
“I know you are,” she sighed. “And I do appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”
“Will you come back into the kitchen?” I said. “I won’t make you go into the kitchen pantry if you don’t want to.”
Her frown returned.
“What do you mean by that?” she said.
“I’ve noticed you’ll do anything to avoid the pantry.”
“No I don’t.”
“Yes you do. You do it all the time. When you first came to stay you told me how much you loved pasta, and you used to cook it all the time. I keep the pasta in the dry store, so you don’t cook any pasta.”
“I made spaghetti last week!”
“Only because you said I didn’t have any. You bought a packet to use.”
She was frowning again. Her mouth was set in a line.
“This is bullshit,” she said. “I’m not afraid of the fucking pantry.”
“I believe you,” I said. “This is obviously some trauma associated with your break up.”
She glared at me.
“I can’t believe this,” she unfolded her arms. “I’m going to prove it to you.”
With that she marched over to the pantry and threw the curtain aside. That’s when I saw it. It wasn’t much of a thing. Just a shadow. But it had always been there.
I don’t know if __________ saw it too, but I know what I saw, and it was this. Her eyes glazed over, and she turned around, a look of triumph on her face.
“See!” she said. She held up a potato. I had not seen her pick it up.
“Okay,” I said. Then I picked up the knife and walked over to the pantry.
“What are you doing?”
“I just want to check something.”
She must have realised there was something wrong; a note in my voice, maybe. I don’t know what my face must have looked like, but hers went white as ashes, and she got out of my way.
The kitchen pantry looked as it always had. There was nothing sinister about it. It was ordinary. But I know what I had seen. I stabbed the knife upwards into the corner, and felt my arm slow, and drift slowly out of the way, losing force. I didn’t want to stab the air, I thought. This is senseless. I must look insane.
But I know what I saw.
“What are you doing?” my sister repeated.
“It’s nothing,” I said. And I stabbed upwards again.
This time I felt something take hold of my arm, my elbow bent until I was holding the knife at my own throat.
“Oh my god,” I heard my sister shout.
“It’s nothing,” I said. I was calm, but I was struggling to keep the point of my knife from breaking skin. I don’t think I succeeded, because I felt something wet drip down my neck, though I wasn’t in any pain. My arm felt cold and numb, as though it didn’t belong to me anymore.
My sister ran out of the room.
What happened next is that I blacked out. I woke up in hospital and gave a statement, then I was referred for psychiatric evaluation. That’s why I am here.
Kris Green was born, got a bit older and continued living. He hasn’t died yet. Sometimes he writes stories. He has written three novels you will never read. One day he hopes to get a bit older, and then die.
Julinu (a.k.a. Julian Mallia) is a Maltese bipedal mammal that derives pleasure from translating thoughts into imagery. He is also passionate about fine art, music and drumming. After a few years working in advertising, Julinu moved to Brighton where he is currently reading for a Masters Degree in Sequential Design / Illustration.