98 REASONS for BEING
She moves this girl
that is pretending to be me: moves between forest and street
without effort. Sometimes she is even here beside me. I
see her at the corners of my eye: an image, a shadow, a
face. She looks like me. When she smiles it is not a kind
smile, but a sad taunting one. With the face comes lies.
I will not take him, she says, or this will not hurt.
She sews like I sew. Her stitches point the same way and her needle catches the
light in time with mine. When my customers talk to her they think they are talking
to me. Wonderful work, they say, and she simpers. Maybe I simpered too.
My mother brings her my books and when she has finished my work she receives
the kisses that should be mine. They are light things, resting like some brilliantly
coloured insect on my head. It will not hurt she says, and strokes the skin behind
my ears. This does not hurt she says in a voice that I know. But the insects
sting. They bite tiny holes and inject their poison. And she holds down my arms.
Hoffmann inspects Angelika’s work: the blister she
applied a few days ago has worked well. The skin behind
Hannah’s ears is red, raw, the top layers coming
away like bark from a felled tree. He pats her shoulder
then turns to his desk to where Jacobi’s equipment
is unpacked and waiting. He pulls a cloth band from a box.
It is supported by a collar of wire so that it makes the
shape of a shallow coronet. A length of wire is swept over
the top and where it joins with the cloth a series of metal
junctions leads eventually to two rod-shaped electrodes.
Come, she says, pulling me
so I cannot refuse. This will not hurt. Around me,
so many leaves, so many branches.
She pulls me forward, pushes me down and I become entangled.
From the twigs come crawling insects seeking out their
friends. She holds me there. She makes a crown from thorns
and presses it over where the insects lie. They sting again.
This will not hurt. A man’s voice now. If I could
peer through the leaves I would see him. Not Kurt. You
would not do this. You would kiss my hurt away. The leaves
are turning into soil. I can smell them: brown and blonde
like her hair.
'This will not hurt.' Wearing
gloves, Hoffmann accidentally touches one electrode with
another. There is a spark and
a short sharp whiff of burning rubber. Hannah’s scream
jerks her head away so violently that the complicated headress
is dislodged. She shuts her eyes, screws them up, so her
eyelashes are almost hidden in the folds of her lids. She
clenches her fists and thrusts them down hard on her lap.
'Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohainu, Adonai Echad...'
'What is she saying, sir?'
Hoffmann finishes readjusting the headress and listens. “Hebrew. Some
sort of prayer.” He looks at the girl. She seems paler than ever. His
hands hover uncertainly over the electrode near her ear. But Jacobi has claimed
some success with this method. He shifts position slightly, so he is standing
directly in front of her , squatting slightly so he can hold her eyes level
'Hannah, look at me.'
Her eyes do not open. Instead her voice becomes louder
'V’ahavta et Adonai Elohecha,' Her voice rests a while on each syllable.
'Hannah!' The doctor's voice is louder.
Her eyes open. For a few seconds he knows that she sees him.
'You know that I am trying to help you?'
She nods, her face white and rigid.
'Good. Now listen to me, this treatment will make you feel better. It is a
little frightening maybe, but if you will just sit still, this will all be
over very quickly.'
'But the Devil was laughing in my ear! It must be the Devil. Only He would
do such things.'
'Nonsense.' he tuts, turning to examine the connections to the pile.
'He sent insects to sting me, and then He... '
'Just sit still.' Then holding the girl’s shoulder steady with one hand
with the other reaches for the electrode and draws it closer to her head. 'This
will not hurt you.'
I see his face. When I close my eyes I see his face. It
is not like the face I have seen the Catholics draw, but
something paler. This demon is not from a hot place but
from somewhere cold. He parts the leaves with long nailed
fingers. He breathes the scent of burning hair and from
his eyes come sparking needles. I hear my father chanting.
His voice becomes mine. My God, the soul You have placed
within me is pure. You created it, fashioned it and breathed
it into me. You constantly safeguard it for me...
But this demon will not be chased away with words. He clutches
me to him. He covers me in layers of his own, fine and
sticky like spider’s webs. He
wraps me in them again and again, turning me over. I shall love the Lord my
God with all my heart, all my soul...The words come louder and faster until
they stop. There is nothing there. Just an emptiness that sucks me in like
the heated glass of the physician’s cup once drew in my flesh and then
blood. I call for Jehovah and then I call for you. No one answers. The emptiness
pulls everything away. As the small lacerations of the physician’s scarifier
once yielded their precious fluid so this cap draws me away now. There is nothing
of me left.
As the electrode is finally hooked into position her lips
stop, the jowls of her cheeks twitch and the skin that
covers them stretches like cotton drying over a frame.
Angelika finds herself holding her breath. 'Is she all
'Of course she is.' Hoffmann’s hand hovers over the electrode. Jacobi
has not recommended a precise time in his notes. He squats down to inspect
her face. Her eyes are closed again, stretched up into her forehead as if someone
is pulling them there, and her mouth is open, the teeth clenched in a cadaver-like
grimace. He wills himself not to reach out, not to touch. It is too early to
stop the experiment just yet. Hannah’s mouth gives a sudden little gurgle.
The doctor tuts. This assistant’s fussing is irritating his nerves. 'Angelika,
if you cannot be quiet, you will have to wait outside. The patient is quite
comfortable. There is no need for alarm.'
How did I fall here? I do not know. It is the place where
leaves turn to soil, where nothing lives except the white
small fungus that grows from dead things. There is no need
to move. No need to search for a way out. If I lie still
enough the fungus will consume me too. The leaves fall
and make no sound.
For a few seconds after the gurgling
stops he doesn’t
move. He pretends he doesn’t see Angelika’s
eyes flick from his face to his patient. He is almost certain
that Jacobi recommended at least five minutes in his last
communication. He passes his hand in front of the girl’s
mouth but there is no movement of air, no sensation of
warmth. His hands leap quickly then to his gloves. He hurriedly
shoves just one onto his right hand and then fumbles at
the electrode at the hook at the top of the pile.
'I think it’s worked sir, look.'
But when Hoffmann looks at the girl it seems to him that
she looks back at him with the face of an idiot. All her
anger, fear and spirit has been replaced
with a void. She has slipped further down Griesinger’s slope of symptoms:
from melancholia to stupor. When Angelika offers her her hand she takes it
meekly and rises to her feet. Her pulse is weak, slow, a distant flutter and
when Hoffmann tips back her face and examines her eyes he feels that he is
falling into such a bottomless place that his hands reach out to feel the solidity
of her chair.
© Clare Dudman 2004