Cassie Hottenstein

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THE PARABLE OF THE MADMAN

by Cassie Hottenstein

Are you not the madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?” There will be time, there will be time: We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence, and I will show you something different from your shadow at morning striding behind you. The term human anatomy comprises a consideration of the various structures which make up the human organism. In a restricted sense it deals merely with the parts which form the fully developed individual and which can be rendered evident to the naked eye by various methods of dissection.[1] I should premise that I use this term in a large and metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny.

I have known the arms already, known them both, arms of the patient etherized upon a table.[2] The phalanges are fourteen in number, three for each finger, and two for the thumb. Each consists of a body and two extremities.[3] The dorsal digital veins pass along the sides of the fingers and are joined to one another by oblique communicating branches. Those from the adjacent sides of the fingers unite to form three dorsal metacarpal veins, which end in a dorsal venous network opposite the middle of the metacarpus.[4] Somewhere I have never travelled, beyond any experience, nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals the power of the patient’s intense fragility.

I will show you, madman, fear in a handful of dust, and nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.[5]

~

In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo. There are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of the wallpaper as I did? The subject of the “uncanny” is a province of this kind. It undoubtedly belongs to all that is terrible—to all that arouses dread and creeping horror; it is equally certain, too, that the word is not always used in a clearly definable sense, so that it tends to coincide with whatever excites dread.[6] A hand cut off at the wrist: as we already know, this kind of uncanniness springs from its association with the castration-complex. There will be time to murder and create the etherized patient. We have killed him, you and I. Both of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the seas? This is just to say, forgive me; they were delicious.[7]

Hurry up, please, it’s time. My nerves are bad tonight. A special variety of nerve-ending exists in the subcutaneous tissue of the human finger; they are principally situated at the junction of the corium with the subcutaneous tissue. They are oval in shape and consist of strong connective-tissue sheaths, inside which the nerve fibers divide into numerous branches, which show varicosities and end in small free knobs. Reflect how over a month ago he had cut his finger with a knife and only the day before yesterday this injury had still hurt him badly enough. He found himself transformed into some kind of monstrous vermin.[8] His fingers stood up before his eyes like pillars, enormous, blurry, and seeming to vibrate, but unmistakably four. But there had been a moment of luminous certainty, when each new suggestion had filled up a patch of emptiness and become absolute truth, and when two and two could have been three as easily as five.[9] Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become so sweet, and so cold?

Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first madman who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human anatomy. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. They speak bitterly about guys who find release by shooting off their own toes or fingers. So easy: squeeze the trigger and blow away a finger. They imagine the quick, sweet pain, then a hospital with cold tables.  And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, you weep for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall of the true, wise patient.[10] He, too, decomposes. He is dead. He remains dead. And we have killed him.

 

Texts used, in order of appearance

Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Parable of the Madman,” from The Gay Science.

T.S. Eliot, “The Love Story of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species.

T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land.”

Henry Gray, Anatomy of the Human Body.

E.E. Cummings, “somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond.”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

Sigmund Freud, “The ‘Uncanny.’”

William Carlos Williams, “This is Just to Say.”

Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis.”

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye.

Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried.”

William Golding, Lord of the Flies.

 


[1] “We need to look for pieces,” Mom explains. Saturday morning, I’m in my Poppop’s garage on my hands and knees. There are pieces missing. I don’t know how many yet.

[2] Poppop is meticulous, as always. The handsaw sways back and forth from its hook; a stained rag lays neatly folded, freshly wet; the sink tap still drips dry. Behind this careful organization, handprints trail from the once-white walls to the workbench, drying into the paint. I find desperate smears clotting in the sink: he’s washed his hands of any evidence, wiped away this mistake with the rag.

[3] There’s a fingertip wedged between the garage door and the wall. I imagine Poppop shaking the tension cord with his free hand, cursing under his breath, careful not to scream, “Let go, goddammit, let go.”

[4] There’s another fingertip on top of the bloody ladder – he must have misplaced it during his rush to the sink. Wash it away, it’ll be okay, no one has to know.

[5] It takes two extra minutes to find the third clinging by its flesh to the freshly cut tension cord. Unsalvageable.

[6] I slide on my back underneath his shiny silver Civic. At least he was careful not to smudge the car’s paint. Dad packs the cooler; I hear a ziploc baggie slosh with ice and ripped nerves.

[7] There’s the overwhelming stench of blood and WD-40. I taste metal from the back of my nose to the tip of my tongue, so I put my hands over my face to mask the scent. It grows stronger – my face is sticky. His blood was on my hands.

[8] He is perfect, perfect. In those trembling moments, when he bit his lip and tried not to scream, he took care to hang the handsaw just so on its hook: swing swing, nothing is wrong. One perfect hand and one with three missing fingertips folded a rag, shh, if I’m quiet it won’t stain. Soap will wash it away. Shh, if I’m quiet I’ll be okay.

[9] I’m counting my fingers over and over because I’m not too sure they’re still attached: one two three four five, one two three four five. Sometimes they’re there, and sometimes they’re not. His fingertips fit perfectly into my palm.

[10] Mom is trying to discuss stubbornness and assisted living and Alzheimer’s and he’s lucky to be alive the cord could have hit his face after all. My throat is full of bile; all I can retch is a wet “no.” I want to say, “We haven’t found all the pieces.”

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Cassie HottensteinCassie Hottenstein was born in Pennsylvania and raised in South Carolina before finally settling in Florida. She is a teaching assistant, writing tutor, and full-time student at the University of North Florida. She hopes to graduate in Spring of 2013 with a major in English and a minor in creative writing. In her spare time, she writes poetry, rewatches episodes of Hannibal, and obsessively collects figurines of owls. “The Parable of a Madman” is her first publication.

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