:: Article


By Hugh Smith.

The patient spent the entire day ‘rolling apples to and fro.’ Only in this way, could he ‘know himself.’ ‘Everyone,’ he said, ‘is their floor, the floor where they live.’ I agreed with him to an extent, thinking of my floor, long and flat, quietly expressive in the manner of all wooden things, but I said nothing, maintaining as always my professional distance (‘only ever nudge,’ my line manager says, ‘the armoury of the psychiatrist consists entirely of nudges… never disturb the patient’s lineal intuition, salvation is an entirely lineal phenomenon.’). The patient ‘watched the apples rolling’,’ and only by means of the ‘the exocentric roundness of the apples, not by means of the apple itself,’ for which he had ‘no time whatsoever,’ only on account of the roundness, the ‘rolling roundness’ (or ‘rolling roundedness,’ he perhaps said) did he come to know his floor, its contouring, and only on account of the contouring did he come to know where he was. He was a question, he said, which could ‘only be answered by the apples rolling.’ ‘The rollingness and roundness,’ he went on, ‘had a startling explanatory effect on me, I was no longer asking questions, rather something was being explained to me, by the very roundness (or rollingness) of the apples. I didn’t know who I was, but I knew where, and I was comforted by this, since surely soon after knowing where one is one also knows what. An overwhelming explanatory effect,’ he repeated, ‘divided equally between the rollingness and the roundness,’ though the apples became ‘increasingly bruised as time went on,’ he said (becoming very sad, I thought), ‘as the physical gave way to its biological origin, its inner death.’ He said ‘gave way’ with a great deal of disappointment, total despair perhaps, as though it were beyond endurance that the apples became bruised after being rolled endlessly up and down his floor, a cement floor by the way, which he’d mentioned in a prior session, a session devoted to the words cement and floor in various combinations. It was almost sexual, I’d thought, the exhaustive ways in which he put these words into relation (cement, floor) though of course I didn’t say so, on account not only of my line manager’s first rule (aforementioned) but also his second and ‘ultimate rule,’ ‘don’t say it’s about sex.’ (The psychiatrist, he says, must ‘cultivate an absolute trust in the transparency of language,’ ‘its anti-sexual transparency.’ Language is ‘just another noise in the room, nothing more,’ my line manager says.) Observing the bruising, the patient became ‘suddenly and violently conscious’ that the ‘sale value of apples was deteriorating,’ that the apples had become ‘completely worthless, in capitalist terms,’ he said, making the most of the turns and evasions of the word, neglecting to mention the vowels, and paying excessive attention the remaining sounds, as though he was never quite sure he was going to reach the end of the word, a ‘deholed word,’ he said, ‘all the absence squeezed out, until nothing is left.’ He was momentarily distracted by this word and then returned to his testimony, explaining that he felt ‘profoundly anxious’ about the ‘declining sale value of my apples,’ (I didn’t intervene to tell him that the sale value of apples after say, forty rolls was hardly much more than after thirty-nine, or even after two or three). He then started, he said, to become ‘preoccupied to the exclusion of all else, including myself,’ with the sale value of the floor on which the apples were rolling. I wanted to say, how can you sell a floor, how can you sell a cement floor? I have the greatest respect for my line manager and his theory of lineal salvation, but it occurred to me nonetheless that what this man needed was not continuity at all, what this man really needed, I thought, was constant, violent and randomised interruptions, a committee of friends or relatives who would constantly burst on him at the least opportune moments, with outrageous requests, ‘mother my children forever, and me as well,’ ‘can you come to dinner with me tomorrow at four o’clock, bring fresh pancakes, enough for twenty-eight people,’ this man could be rescued only by a shower of impossible requests, I thought, he needed to be forced to endure the furthest limits of the practical, inundated with incomprehensible sexual requests framed as absolutely necessary, a close friend bursting in on his privacy with his insane rolling apples, ‘love my body for an hour or I will die,’ he needed to be completely immured in blunt interpersonal need, forced to take charge of hundreds of desperate children, all of which spoke completely different languages, or none at all, he’d need to teach each child not only a language but language in general, while procuring food, shelter, for each child, only by living at the centre of a web of incongruent and practically (not theoretically, above all not theoretically!) impossible tasks, to which he was under strict moral obligation to perform, only thus might this man be saved, though of course I said nothing, all I did in fact was stop listening. He ‘despaired entirely, of the sale value of my floor, my apples, everything,’ he was saying, when I started listening again, he’d only bought two apples and even those he’d ‘picked up on the cheap,’ thinking it foolhardy to purchase apples at full price if he was only going to roll them up and down his floor, he had ‘righteously bartered with the salesperson’ and got the apples down to a ‘significantly reduced price,’ the salesperson selecting the two least saleable apples, he said, perhaps apples that should have already been disposed of, but such as it is often a couple of fruit can be found in unsaleable condition at the bottom of some bucket (‘if you nose around,’ he said), and it wasn’t long, he said, before he started thinking about his own sale value, ‘my own inner fungibility, my deepest trait,’ ‘it was as though I were falling head first into my own inner fungibility,’ ‘I wanted to be the apple at the bottom of the bucket,’ he said, he felt ‘thoroughly displaced,’ ‘struck by a sort of dark lightning,’ he wanted to sell himself, in exchange for what, I asked, ‘in exchange for being sold, it’s the only thing I’m worth, if I’m worth the act of selling, I’ll sell myself for the time it takes for anyone to buy me,’ he said, to whom, I asked, ‘to the first taker,’ what if no one will take you, I asked, a provocative question, and perhaps not entirely de rigueur, but he was becoming quite removed, though with a quiet confidence, a kind of nonchalance which I thought unseemly in the psychiatric context, what if you sell yourself for nothing, I repeated, for the being sold as you say, but no one buys you, ‘so what,’ he said, he was becoming really quite pleased with himself now, ‘I’ll sell someone else,’ and he looked quite happy suddenly, the anxiety all planed away by his recuperated intention, to sell if not himself then at least someone, to whoever would buy him (or anyone else), and he began to settle into a strange self-assured silence, ‘what apples,’ he finally said, when I prompted him, hoping something of psychological significance might still be gleaned from the topic, ‘do you have some,’ he asked, suddenly fresh-faced, ‘if you do,’ he said, and it was clear it was all starting up again, he looked at me mischievously and I thought, he’s going to make me an offer, try to get his hands on the apples which he thinks I have at some cutthroat price, and hurry home and return to the rolling, why not, I thought, it’s better than him trying to sell himself on the streets (for nothing), which is probably a crime, perhaps not a crime per se but it could easily be taken for one, either way it would be a bad move, while nosing around looking for apples at a cutthroat price is in itself quite sensible, even advisable in fact, and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of bruising on an apple, I thought, some people think it makes the experience more interesting, or rather there’s something so finished in an apple that it’s better to have a way in, a way to avoid addressing the essential roundness of the thing, which is quite unpleasant, when you think about it, the total impenetrable roundness, there’s something vulgar about ‘breaking in’ to an apple, when you could have just left it where it was, there’s an aura of stillness about round things, I thought, an impenetrable aura of stillness which it’s necessary to forget, except perhaps in a sculpture park, which is probably where a man like this belongs, a sculpture park attendant I thought, looking at him very closely now, he had started to cry slightly in the meantime, at least he had become very much unable to speak, why aren’t you a sculpture park attendant I almost said, but I was beginning to think I should probably bring the session to a close, and my job was to hear the words he said, not to say words to him, ‘the less words you say,’ my line manager says, ‘the better for everyone involved,’ ‘the more words the patient says, the better for everyone involved,’ ‘five thousand words minimum, in a row,’ my line manager says, ‘or else nothing has happened,’ is there anything you’d like to add, I said, before we finish, though it was obvious there was nothing he would ‘like to add,’ he was really sobbing now in fact, a good sign that he’s run out of things to say, I thought, and he always sleeps better, he once said, after crying, ‘tears are at the very centre of my sleep strategy,’ he’d said in a prior session, he should’ve been a sculpture park attendant, but somehow he didn’t quite manage it, I thought to myself as he was leaving, settling deeper into my chair, as far as I could go, thinking about what I wanted to have for dinner, wondering if I’d ever be able to eat food again.

Hugh Smith is an English teacher/transcriptionist/writer from London. He has poems in The Poetry Review and aborted prose in Gorse and on his website.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019.