A Change in Perception
The blades spinning above me swished in a blurred circle below the ceiling, spinning and spinning.
The toilet on the room's other side rose from concrete. A decision would eventually have to be made: which end to put on that toilet. The swirling pump station in my stomach was sending things in all directions. The blades swished and swirled.
I was on a bed facing curtains that shone against a wide, high window. It was hot and cloudless outside. A restaurant was in a garden outside. I avoided thinking about what people were eating outside.
The hotel's receptionist's dour face epitomised all those serious people out there like him in the world of health whose philosophies devalue nothingness. I was ridiculous and so were they. We were nothing.
The blades swished. Traffic's usual roar was subdued by the garden's high wall. Life had been suspended. Nothing had importance. No dreams, no existence. Only pain and hilarity. It all came to nothing, funny that it all comes to nothing. Ha, ha, haaaaa......
A presence rose out of me. It floated horizontally, white and glowing, floating between the blades and the bed, staring at me, shining and shimmering. It was me, observing myself. It made me recall taking my early paintings to a gallery. The gallery's receptionist had long, black hair and light-brown skin. She wore black-framed glasses. She probably thought she was brilliant. What's stopping her from believing anything? Her arrogance was laughable. I shook, laughing, recalling her comment: "We only look at paintings by appointment."
She had looked down immediately to continue working. I couldn't decide who had been more naive: me or her. Her use of "we" was funny. I doubted if "we" would have been appropriate. Someone else probably made the decisions.
I imagined her observing that idiot through the window, watching him leaving with his precious creations that few people cared about. The horizontal curtain quivered with delight as I recalled imagining the New York Times hailing me as "the new Van Gogh." I shook with spasm laughter.
"The new Van Gogh," I whispered, blades swishing with my guffaws.
The horizontal, quivering sheet ascended past the superego, clinching self-perception. The swirling blades swished, their circular shadow on the ceiling my stomach's shadow. I imagined a green secretion pouring out of my skin. I could have left puddles of that secretion on the hotel reception's floor.
"What are you doing?" that serious hotel receptionist was asking in my imagination, his thin, bony face's shock beams smacking my grinning mug.
"Leaving green secretions everywhere," I replied. "My secretions were supposed to be paved with gold. Maybe there isn't enough gold on earth? I need another planet."
"Have you lost your marbles?"
His family had adored the British.
"My marbles have become a green secretion. And lack of gold doesn't help."
Lack of gold feels like a vile injustice. Probably someone could hear me laughing through the walls.
An aircraft's groan filled the heavens, roaring, earthquake sky. My stomach and the sky united, filling space. Blades spun, swishing, swirling.
Into my head came: "Just a question of time." That had been me years before referring to my "inevitable success." I pumped out guffaws. I was the glowing, horizontal sheet, the eyes of its soul. Those eyes gleamed at the wreck beneath them. The body's owner had become the most hilarious, ludicrous fool, history's dreamiest idiot. He thought he could do something special! The body quaked mirthfully. Emotional satisfaction mixed with physical pain. I didn't know what I had consumed that had caused this sickness, but its affects were unique. Imagine living with this attitude permanently!
I felt a little better. Possibility seeped back into consciousness. How mad can possibility be? Before, there had only been sickness and savage self-analysis. Now I was toying with drinking tea-of entering the restaurant's terrace and consuming Lipton's. Tea could instigate recoveries. I cultivated this charming idea. I imagined tea's sweet warmth, its medicinal brilliance. I started believing. Five minutes before, I had believed in nothing. Now saviours existed! Yes, God damn it, hope exists! Get a saviour, for Christ's sake!
Improved circumstances can create constant satisfaction! By looking straight through the thin, hovering sheet to the blurred blades of smooth swishing I could ignore the sheet's gleaming grin that shimmered with shameless bliss. It's so easy being entertaining without knowing it.
I swung my legs off the bed. I sat on the bed's edge. Now for the door. Hope fought pain. The sun showered savage light onto the garden. Stars glittered in leaves. A saviour existed!
Two Americans were in the terrace. I sat close to the hotel's front door. Although a sprint to the toilet might become necessary, I believed improvement was possible. If saviours don't exist, what are we doing here?
A white-shirted waiter with green epaulettes took my order. I was engulfed by green, green with stars. How pleasant was that green.
The waiter returned with a silver teapot and a porcelain cup. I hadn't known if the tea would be inviting. I had only hoped it would be. I poured tea into the cup. Steam swirling above the tea became a spirit leaving a magic lantern. So far, so good. I felt I could drink that tea and keep it down. I tentatively sipped. I didn't feel worse. Neutrality, no rejection, this an improvement.
Light jewelled green. Half an hour earlier, I wouldn't have been able to drink this tea. Now it looked drinkable. I even felt this development could create rewarding circumstances. Sapphire sky filled gaps between the leaves. Black branches ran through the greenery. The tree's blood was black, that preferable to green. Blood should not be green.
The shade produced by the greenery housed honeycombs of light. The light and shade suggested varying possibilities. I was now back to weighing things up. Titillated simplicity had departed, now back to being responsible for myself. That weight of responsibility had to be lightened by hope, now back to believing that something worthwhile could come from my existence. The glowing, horizontal sheet had been left hanging in the room, its hovering produced by the pull of the swirling blades.
Hammering hope had cracked the glass ceiling of halting ascension.
The waiter put hamburgers before the Americans. The delicate construction against reality I had built collapsed. Hamburger smell rocked my stomach. One of the men lifted the top of his hamburger and poured ketchup over that fried meat. My stomach spun out of control.
I raced into my room. Diarrhoea shot from the end on the toilet. I vomited onto the floor. My previous dreaming got revealed instantaneously by the repulsive thought that someone could inject fried brown with red into their stomach.
I lay back on the bed. My eyes watered. I was emptied of delusions, amused again by my idiocy. That glowing horizontal sheet was there again, hovering between bed and blades. It hushed with smiling enervation.
"And you thought you could do that," it said.
"And remember when," that presence said, "you thought you could achieve something without having to arse-lick? Like they were going to give it you-you?! Just like that, because you exist! What kind of moron are you? Why don't you walk into the Museum of Modern Art and say: 'I know that you've been waiting for me. Well, you don't have to wait any longer, because here I am.'"
I laughed at that creature that infiltrates the mind by showering you with accolades, turning people into imaginary, pliable cogs who bow to your irrefutable genius, swaying astounded in the winds of your brilliance, polarised by the magnetism of your cause. The horizontal sheet glowed like a bright smile.
I was now indifferent towards that infiltrating creature, free of its exaggerations. I laughed at my ambitions, even more mocking of myself than the majority.
But what did the majority know? They dismissed reality more than I did. Really, I'm lucky. When most people feel nothingness they feel bad because they have spent so much mental energy in constructing the idea that life must have purpose. But why get perturbed if it doesn't? Not caring if it doesn't have purpose makes it funny. Like a circus. You even get to entertain yourself with your imaginative excesses.
I thought again of the receptionist.
"Care to see my paintings? You'll be amazed, for I am extraordinary. You could buy this rat-infested hovel with one of my paintings. That, servant to capitalist fiends, is no lie."
The receptionist rang someone: "Sunhil—get here fast. We've got marble loss....Yes, yes...it's a clear case. The Raj's tight-lipped vice-consul would have said: 'Poor chap's gone bonkers.' I tell you, this marble loss is that severe."
I quaked merrily on the bed.
I bashed my fist down on the reception desk and yelped: "Forget Sunhil. Forget the Raj! Have you gone completely mad?! You and Sunhil could buy this dump just by reselling one of my timeless creations. Give yourself a chance, man. For God's sake! At least think of your kids, even if you have no regard whatsoever for your own puerile existence!"
My stomach jumped up and down. High-pitched chortles leapt from my mouth. The glowing horizontal sheet quivered with euphoric cynicism. There was no greater fool than myself. I could now join the human race in celebrating my existence.
"Care to have you portrait done by the world's greatest, unknown artist?" I enquired.
My stomach muscles responded to this question by bouncing uncontrollably.
"You could say: 'My portrait has been done by the only painter who's famous for being incapable of becoming famous.' Think of the privilege. Within seconds, that portrait could be worth nothing instead of merely minus infinity."
The next day, I felt tender but better. I sat outside, drinking tea. Ragged shadows were spotted gold. I felt glad to be near normal health. Delhi Belly was departing. It had taken the horizontal sheet with it. I missed that sheet.
A long-nosed, leaf face sat in a tree above me. The face had an unscrupulous demeanour. I started sketching.
My phone orgasmed: Ross. Ross believed. Everyone has someone who believes in you. They believe even more than you do.
Ross had written: "Gallery Dumont. You're on. They said: sharp glimpses of realism expressed surrealistically. I told you, you useless bastard."
I fought to believe amid beams of gratitude. Stars glittered in greenery. A bird sang. Ross, oh, Ross.
My laughter attained a new tone. It was the gallery where the woman with the black-framed glasses had produced: "We only look at paintings by appointment." I grinned, recalling her looking away, refusing to waste time on that thing before her.
The gallery owner later told me: "She confuses admin with a self-imposed genius for aesthetic discernment. We thank her for her unasked-for contributions before usually doing the opposite. But you can't argue about the aesthetic value of having her on the front desk."
Pierre Dumont wore full-length, black, Japanese ensembles with round necks. A silk scarf patterned with yellow, blue and red flowers covered his head to control his longish, white hair that the ebony of his apparel whitened even more.
"Are doubts signs of realism?" I asked.
"Self-esteem," he replied, "is opium for the talentless. Geniuses suffer self-deprecation because they know that serious competition exists."
Kim Farleigh has worked for aid agencies in Kosovo, Macedonia, Iraq, Palestine and Greece. He likes to take risks to get the experience necessary for writing. He also likes painting, wine and bullfighting, which might explain why this Australian lives in Madrid. 146 of his stories have been accepted by 86 different magazines.