BRACKISH WATER

By Benjamin Robinson

The question arose quite naturally during the course of our preliminary conversation and without my having to prompt Subject. It was established that a vehicle was driven to an all-night store with the purpose of purchasing a set of objects. The objects were not, at this juncture, identified, and the question of whether it was implement or utility was not an issue at that point. Subject asserted, “I was really more concerned with other matters.” We will take it up from there, with an extract from early in the session.

Object: In relation to the implement, what was your intention?

Subject: In terms of the implement’s utility, I’d no real intention at that time.

Object: Prior to the purchase, in your capacity as procurer, did you examine the object in question?

Subject: I interfaced with it for a short while before effecting the purchase, yes. There was more than one object, by the way.

Object: It was a set of objects?

Subject: A set, yes.

A subsequent exchange refined the tone of this. Softer in approach with a more convivial pace, the stroking took the form of bartering, as in the batting back and forth of a ball. Here’s a brief example, again from the first quarter.

Subject: Okay.

Object: Okay what?

Subject: What?

Object: I said okay what?

Subject: I know what you said.

Object: You know what I said what?

Subject: (Subject sniffs.) Do you perhaps have diarrhoea?

What we both took to be preliminary remarks, lead in, opening gambits were in fact stratagems at full tilt. Notice the pivotal shift from utility to implement in this exchange, which will later play such a dramatic role in Subject’s shift from raconteur to bona fide perpetrator. The tone is not heated—that will come later—but conversational in style. A gentle simmer characterises Subject’s demeanour at this point. Subject was leaning forward and looking me directly in the eye when this exchange took place.

Subject: No, see, you can’t catch me out like that, not so soon. Switching things around to try and fool me.

Object: I merely suggested you might like a glass of water.

Subject: See, there you go again. There was an implement, right?

Object: That’s what we agreed, yes, objects of some sort. A set, you said.

Subject: A set of objects, okay. At least that’s something we can agree on. (Subject laughs) And with regard to intent, with what was intended, the implementation was of no consequence at that time, right? The question of implementation didn’t arise at that time, right?

Object: That’s right, it wasn’t until the room was entered that the question of implementation arose.

Subject: (Subject appears startled.) And that’s when I flipped.

Object: (Object remains silent.)

Subject: (Subject becomes agitated.) Obviously that’s when the assailant, when the assailant flipped, obviously.

An important impasse was reached here. Subject had maintained a degree of composure up until then, expanding the agenda in an affable discussion about the future consequences of any subsequent re-enactments of our exchange, but the underlying attitude was one of agitation directed towards me, to draw me out. I was of course cognisant of Subject’s dilemma, wary of reaching the impasse too soon, given its import to my overall objective. This accounts for the reluctance on my part to pursue the (perhaps deliberate) personalisation of the perpetrator’s state, aware as I was of the possibility that Subject was attempting to undermine any evolving structure by taking ownership through identification of the means of cognitive production, slipping into a private vernacular via a tacit assumption of guilt. Note the layered response to my silence: the obviously-assailant-assailant-obviously of Subject’s final reply corralling any inferences within an inverted echo. We will later see this cognitive dissonance take a more aggressive form when the possibility of my having diarrhoea is broached once again by Subject.

In an effort to reclaim lost ground, I was able, successfully, to backtrack towards the end of the next session. Subject appeared tired and may have momentarily dropped what was up until then a watertight guard. Notice how the body is referred to as ‘the voucher’ and the assailant having flipped as ‘getting the letter’. Subject will later refer to the voucher as ‘a coupon’, ‘the coupon’, and eventually, ‘my coupon’—another attempt to utilise the vagaries of implementation.

Subject: Can you tell me a little about what happened on the 25th?

Object: I got the letter on the 25th thanking me for contacting them. They said they were sorry to learn of my experiences. My comments were very important to them, they said. I could rest assured, they said, that my comments would be shared with those involved. They asked me to accept the voucher as a token of their gratitude.

Object: Did getting the voucher make you feel more in control of the situation?

Subject: Getting the voucher was extremely gratifying, yes.

The boundaries of utility are being pushed at here and tested. Where gratification is expressed, implementation is exploited to safeguard Subject’s integrity with the letter delivering a voucher masking the transition from premeditated concept to manifest actuality. My remarking that I understood Subject went to an all-night store was perceived initially as a threat, a nudging of Subject towards the point of rupture, but with the advent of the letter-voucher scenario, a more feasible implementation is, in part, established. At the same time, Subject’s utilisation of the phrase ‘they said’ undermines this scenario and, in the subsequent parley, an expulsion of the uncertainties raised by this is attempted, the discharge facilitated by the bridging taxonomy, ‘Sort I like’, followed by an elated explication of the envelope’s exteriority.

Object: You said they said in the letter they were sorry to learn of your experiences?

Subject: That’s what they said, yes.

Object: Did they say anything about the effects your experiences might have had?

Subject: It wasn’t that sort of letter.

Object: It wasn’t that sort of letter? What sort of letter was it?

Subject: What sort of letter?

Object: The letter, yes, what sort was it?

Subject: Sort I like.

Object: Sort you like? What sort’s that?

Subject: (Subject sniffs.) Dirty big brown one.

In this next exchange, note how Subject’s irritation triggers a repetition of the sniffing action and the diarrhoea assertion, followed by a reference to my having triggering it, again an attempt to flesh out, in terms of an imposed conditionality, the terms of an imposed utility.

Subject: You mean it was a purely utilitarian act on my part? If that were the case then the implement would have remained the same.

Object: Might it not have been changed in the act, altered in some way?

Subject: And it wouldn’t have entered my perception at the time?

Object: No, the effects would have surfaced later. The point of rupture occurs with the envelope.

Subject: When I opened it, you mean?

Object: Yes, when you slid your finger under the flap and saw the…

Subject: (Subject interrupts.) I thought you said the voucher wasn’t the issue.

Object: It isn’t, what’s at issue is the envelope.

Subject: (Subject becomes agitated.) As far as I can see nothing’s at steak. (Subject sniffs.) Do you perhaps have diarrhoea?

Object: (Object remains silent.)

Subject: Sorry, you must have triggered something earlier.

Object: Excuse me?

Subject: When you said I was in deep shit. You must have triggered something.

Object: I never said you were in deep shit.

Subject: I didn’t think I was.

Object: I said you were sailing close to the wind.

Subject: That must have been it then.

It’s interesting that on this occasion the diarrhoea rejoinder and sniffing action are preceded by a remark about a steak. In a subsequent exchange, the sniffing action will be replaced by a remark about a missing nasal aspirator. (Subject refers frequently to ‘the missing aspirator’). The assertion that ‘nothing’s at steak’ requires a lengthier explication that this brief synopsis allows; suffice to say the juxtaposition of visual vacuity with a gambling reference that is also a form of cooked animal flesh indicates that the more pressing aspects of the rupture are informing Subject’s strategy at this stage. Note how the reference to excrement is preceded by a geological qualification. Were the body buried locally as is suspected this might indicate the level at which it reposes. Regarding any seizures Subject may have experienced prior to or during the incident, the loss of the aspirator could impinge materially upon our understanding of the connection between his preconception of implementation and subsequent conception of utility. The end of this exchange leaves us—as far as Subject is concerned—in no doubt as to the tenor of out grip on the case. Any downward momentum is clawed back with the closing remark: ‘That must have been it then’. Note how weightless this statement is, how effortless and throwaway when it is in fact precisely the opposite.

As pointed out earlier, it was established that a set of objects was purchased in the vicinity from an all-night store, about eight hours prior to the point of rupture. If we couple this with this next exchange regarding the demeanour of the voucher in the envelope, we get a sense of the degree of subterfuge involved in the implementation. An extended period of silence preceded the exchange.

Subject: So what stage are we at now?

Object: We’re searching the apartment.

Subject: Good. Keep searching, it’s there somewhere. Did you find the letter yet?

Object: We found an envelope.

Subject: Was there a voucher in it?

Object: The envelope was empty. What sort of voucher was it?

Subject: Big, glossy one. It’d been carelessly inserted, like the person who placed it in the envelope was in a hurry, maybe pissed someone was getting something for free, it would’ve been a low-ranking employee, right, who performed such a menial task? I only mention this because it was all twisted up and ripped down the middle. Quite a gash. Have you questioned the employee concerned?

Object: Sounds like there was quite a struggle getting the voucher in the envelope.

Subject: Be sure and let me know when you findmy missing aspirator.

The topology of the lost aspirator finds us in familiar implementation territory concerning as it does aspects of penetration, longing, and loss. Object ambiguity is seen here to rest upon the threshold of impersonal exteriority. Subject may have in adolescence used a nasal aspirator as a form of sexual stimulus, inserting it in the anal passage then masturbating and discharging it during ejaculation. At one point, Subject became extremely agitated and denied having any knowledge of a ‘fucking aspirator’. It remains uncertain as to whether the hostility was directed towards individual acts of aspiration or against acts of aspiration in general.

Let’s move on now to the syntax of physical demeanour. This series of exchanges displays Subject’s ambiguous relationship to apertures. Note the forensic way a distinction is drawn between coughing and throat clearing, indicative of the sorts of variant behaviour common among this cognitive sub-group.

Object: (Object has been silent for approximately 10 minutes.)

Subject: (Subject lifts right leg and rests it horizontally across thigh, displaying sole of white trainer. Leg is gripped and held in horizontal position by right hand. Tread of trainer—raised zigzag with finely ribbed flashing—is abraded to smooth plane at heel and ball. Small aperture underway at ball. Subject fond of walking, or has lifestyle that necessitates large amounts of walking, or has owned trainers for a long time. Subject proceeds to pick at hole, dislodging small pieces of rubber. Subject rolls small pieces of rubber between forefinger and thumb then ejects them across the room. During this manoeuvre, Subject’s gaze shifts from aperture to ceiling. On completion of manoeuvre, Subject smiles.)

Object: (Object raises clenched fist to mouth to cough, but instead clears throat emitting series of grunting noises. Dislodged sputum is swallowed.)

Subject: (Subject glances down.) Sorry, did you say something just then?

Object: I was just coughing.

Subject: Oh. (Subject resumes looking at ceiling.)

Object: I had a frog in my throat.

Subject: (Still staring at ceiling, Subject shakes head from side to side then readjusts leg on thigh and begins toying with bowed lace of raised trainer before abruptly stopping and looking down at Object.) You had a frog in your throat?

Object: Have you never heard the expression, a frog in your throat?

Subject: (Subject mumbles something then resumes picking at hole in sole.)

Object: Sorry,I didn’t catch that.

Subject: I said I thought you said the frog was in your throat.

Object: (Object clears throat vehemently, raising more sputum which is swallowed.) It was.I just removed it.

Subject: Sorry, were you clearing your throat of the frog just then? Because I thought that’s what you did last time, when you said you were coughing. Because you might want to reappraise your position with regard to that first action of yours, you know, admit it was a throat-clearing exercise and not all the big cough it was cracked up to be.

Object: Are you finished discussing mybronchial mucus?

Subject: (Subject looks away.) Oh, is that the time?

The question of the removal of secretions, bronchial or otherwise, brings us neatly back to aspiration and the politics of utility in relation to admissions of guilt. If we consider this in conjunction with the enforced horizontal plane of Subject’s right leg—a classic levelling action and critical stress factor in our understanding Subject’s need to subdue and dominate—we see that from within Subject’s calling to account of my veracity with regard to my syntactical position, a premeditated act of deconstruction towards the encounter’s means of progression is achieved. Subject’s attitude towards the puncture wound is an attempt to circumvent any further progress within the exchange. By ejaculating, after symbolically masturbating them between the thumb and forefinger, the fragments of rubber, Subject repositions the altercation within the realms of subliminal union. And with Subject’s final repost, ‘Oh, is that the time?’ culpability is freed from circumstantial constraint.

I had already witnessed an aspect of enfolded order in something Subject mentioned during our discussion about the set of objects. During a trip to a pet store, Subject saw a dead rabbit. Subject was about eight or nine at the time. Following a discussion about whether the voucher might have been damaged when the envelope was opened, the incident was played out more fully. The hostility here is infused with pubic hair obsession. The style Subject adopts facilities the enclosing of childhood sexual abuse within the need for a pet, copulation and custodianship coalescing in an oxidised cage of betrayal. The implications contained within the paternal refusal to bifurcate will become clear when the implications of the diamondback terrapin are discussed.

Subject: A, the, my.

Object: Would you like totalk aboutthe coupon?

Subject: A, the, my.

Object: Is that a reference to the coupon?

Subject: My father was, you know, a real pain in the ass.

Object: Tell me about the time you saw the rabbit.

Subject: Hetook me to this pet store down in a basement. No sign of any owner. There weren’t many animals either, just this mangy looking rabbit in a rusty cage.

Object: What was the rabbit’s fur like? Can you describe it?

Subject: It was black and wiry and crawling with lice.

Object: When did you consider the rabbit might be dead?

Subject: I knew from the start the rabbitwas dead, it was in a cage in a basement, what the fuck do you think it was doing down there, sucking on a juicy carrot?

Object: Do you see any connection here between the rabbit and the coupon?

Subject: A, the, my, a, the, my.

Object: So what happened next?

Subject: The old man flipped. He said he wasn’t forking out good money for a dead rabbit.

Object: So what did you do then?

Subject: We went to another pet store and bought a diamondback terrapin.

If we compare the above to what happened when I asked, just shortly after this exchange, if Subject would like a glass of water, we can see how, under cover of social utility, deep-seated forces push to the fore. With the repetition of the word ‘bother’, Subject is placated until the insertion of a belligerent surrogate alters the exchange’s internal dynamic and forces matters to a head. For all the self-sustaining urbanity of the banter, the verbatim of intent maintains its premeditative edge.

Object: Can I get you something? A glass of water, perhaps?

Subject: It’s okay. I’m fine.

Object: Are you sure? It’s no bother.

Subject: Well if you’re sure it’s no bother, I’ll have a glass of water.

Object: Would you like some ice in it?

Subject: Just the water’s fine.

Object: It’s no bother.

Subject: You know what, if it’s no bother I think I’ll have some ice in it.

Object: No, it’s no bother.

Subject: On second thoughts I think I’ll just have the water.

Object: There’s no hurry. Take your time.

Subject: You’re sure it’s no bother?

Object: It’s no bother, really, I’m sure. Did you say you wanted ice or not?

Subject: Look, I’m sorry. It really doesn’t matter to me either way. You decide.

Object: Don’t apologise, please, it’s no bother. I’ll be right back.

Subject: Do you know what, I’m sorry to have put you to all this trouble, getting up out of your seat and all, but I don’t think I want a glass of water now.

Object: Well if you change your mind let me know. 

It was at this point the cleaning motif emerged. Through the figure of a sanitation operative, Subject began to mentally sterilize the rupture. Prior to this, the implementation had been couched in more disparate terms, but with the primary aftermath activated things began to congeal. Refusing to yield to the tropes used hitherto to mask and mesmerise, Subject was forced to reluctantly engage with the consequences of personal transgression. Submerged in the imago of the indolent prostitute, the cleaning lady toils within a world of physical degradation, transmogrifying into the scatological ‘dirt worker’ of the exchange. It’s known Subject’s mother worked variously as a prostitute and cleaner, and the ensuing exchange should be viewed through the convex lens of these menial utilities. The attempt to turn, within an emerging sense of displacement, this binary expediency on its head showcases Subject’s ability to implement a progressively functional set of utilitarian parameters. Notice how Subject avoids the term ‘cleaning lady’ opting instead for the terms ‘dirt worker’ and ‘sanitation operative’. The final dying expression of love remains suspended in semi-determination, the image of the glass of water an elemental dissolution of self within self perceived through transparent containment of Subject’s vocal coda—an invisible clinking of ice cubes.

Subject: I don’t know, maybe fourteen or fifteen at the time. I was watching her through the window.

Object: What did she look like?

Subject: Her hands were big and chunky, not like a woman’s at all.

Object: What would a woman’s hands look like?

Subject: Small and slender, with long bony fingers.

Object: Can you describe what the woman was doing?

Subject: Her dirty blond mop was slapping off the tiles. There were suds all over the place, big soapy splatters, it was a fucking mess.

Object: Do you know who she was?

Subject: Joan or Jean I think her name was.

Object: Was she perhaps a cleaning lady?

Subject: Maybe. Dirt worker of some kind though there was more of a mess when she’d finished than when she started.

Object: Did the dirt worker operate in your complex?

Subject: It was my understanding at the time that asanitation operative was working in the area, yes.

Object: Did you ever talk to this sanitation operative?

Subject: I heard a loud thud one morning, like something hitting the ground.

Object: And you went to investigate?

Subject: To see what had happened, yes. It was still early. I’ve always been a light sleeper. Ours was a quite neighbourhood, you know, respectable people. The sanitation operative would return home, usually drunk, at that time.

Object: And was it the returning sanitation operative?

Subject: It was the dirt worker, all right, passed out at the bottom of the stairs.

Object: So what did you do?

Subject: I held her in my arms. I could see she wasn’t going to make it. Her pupils were fixed and dilated.

Object: Did she say anything before she died?

Subject: She told me something.

Object: The dirt worker told you something?

Subject: Yes, the sanitation operative made an expression towards me.

Object: The sanitation operative expressed something to you?

Subject: That’s right, the dirt worker expressed something for me.

Object: What did the dirt worker express?

Subject: She mumbled something.

Object: Could you make out what the dirt worker mumbled?

Subject: The sanitation operative asked me to do something for her.

Object: What did thesanitation operative ask you to do?

Subject: The dirt worker asked me to get her something.

Object: What did thedirt worker ask you to get her?

Subject: A glass of water.

Object: She asked for a glass of water?

Subject: That’s right. (Subject imitates the sound of ice cubes clinking against the rim of a glass.) A glass of ice water.

We come now to the issue of the diamondback terrapin, Malaclemys terrapin, a species of turtle whose upper carapace resembles a cluster of cut diamonds. We will see in this closing section how the terrapin, a once fashionable delicacy that lives in brackish water (a mixture of freshwater and seawater) became the focal point for Subject’s sense of dissolution. In this exchange the container of water requested by the stricken sanitation operative is posited seaward with Subject’s adding salt to the wound of familial breakdown conjuring an estuary riven by tidal remorse. The posting of the dead creature in a matchbox is a commanding portent of the combustion to come. I began by asking Subject to tell me about the day the terrapin was brought home, a milestone in Subject’s disjuncture with the world. It’s impossible to portray the sense of wonderment in these exchanges, the anticipation and fulfilment that the care of a living creature bestows on a young child. In this final, brief interaction implementation and utility exit in a preternatural state, with all the rough-hewn potential of an uncut gemstone. In the recollected words of a child tending its dieing terrapin, a tempered blade sparkles with innocence and lustre, its facets yearning for the helicon debris of a corrupted virginity.

Subject: When we get it home I fill the tank with water and drop it in. First thing it does is sinks to the bottom, soI pour in some salt because terrapins live in brackish water. That’s semi-salty water.

Object: I know what brackish water is.

Subject: Anyway, as soon as I pour in the salt it comes alive, swimming to the surface with its fins wagging.

Object: Did the terrapin have a name at that point?

Subject: I deployed a number of sobriquets when addressing the terrapin, depending on the mood I was in, the sort of a day I’d had. It might be Terry, Terrance, Thomas, Timothy, Tim, when he got sick we called him terminal Tim.

Object: Terminal Tim?

Subject: Or Tim terminal. Whichever you prefer. I prefer terminal Tim. Makes him sound like a station. His tank smelled like a train station toilet.Dad said he had bacterial dysentery.

Object: Did he suffer much at the end?

Subject: I presume so, yes. There wasn’t much in the way of suffering to see though, and to tell you the truth I got bored watching him climbing up on the rock and staring off into space. By the time we’d realised he was terminal the brackish water had turned cloudy. I kept adding more salt, you see, thinking it would keep him alive. He wallowed in the sludge for a while then crawled back on his rock. When he went off his lettuce, we knew he wasn’t long for this world.

Object: You fed him lettuce?

Subject: And flies with the wings removed. To watch them squirming in the water.

Object: What did you do when he died?

Subject: I put him in a matchbox and posted him back to the shop.

Object: Did you experience a profound sense of loss?

Subject: Yes. What I really wanted was a rabbit.

And so we return to the primary implementation, to a basement with a dead rabbit in a rusty cage. Beneath the hard-bitten swagger of the skilled utilitarian, we see the depravation, the tattered fundament of a breach in the gregarious ribbons of causality. Peon to utility’s maelstrom, it’s the paternal diagnosis of bacterialdysentery (the bloody flux, as it was formally known) that brings to mind the wisdom of those salient desert dwellers, the Bedouin, whose cure for such an affliction is the consumption of fresh, warm camel faeces.

 

Benjamin Robinson

http://robinsonbenjamin.wix.com/benjaminrobinson 

 

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