The Razor Child
"For there is no such thing as perpetual tranquillity of mind, while we live here; because life itself is but motion, and can never be without desire, nor without fear, no more than without sense."
–Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
Eric always thought of himself as a bat. He did not think this to be a singular or special condition; on the contrary, Eric thought that the world was full of bats, that the nature of man was to hide in deep, cool caves. Pain was everywhere. Hiding was a natural instinct for spiritual survival.
But Eric knew he was special. He knew he was a bat while others denied their selves, and he knew what he had to do to face the light of day, the light of enlightenment: remove the pain. Eric believed himself to be an honest man and admitted he lived in a cave, his basement apartment. He kept it neat: An easy chair was situated next to a small glass coffee table with silvery metal legs; dusted books arranged by content filled the shelves of the far wall. His kitchen sink never held dirty dishes, for he cleaned his flatware, china cups and saucers, plates and glasses immediately after eating. This was the beginning for Eric–cleaning the cave of any foul ammonia odor. He admitted he was a bat, but he would not live in guano.
If there was the slightest splotch or spill, Eric would drop to his hands and knees and scrub the floors with a small, square sponge and a brown bucket filled with tepid, soapy water; but he could do nothing about the chaotic scratches rent across all sections of his linoleum. He thought of carpeting, but that would just be shredded, too. His guest had no respect for his cleanliness, and much of Eric’s time was devoted to cleaning his unwanted tenant’s messes. The scratches were its fault, but Eric had to tolerate it, tolerate it until he achieved the tranquillity, until he was a bat no longer.
Eric fervently believed that meditation was the solution to his pain; the glass table was crowded with picture books and large magazines depicting eastern mystics sitting serenely amid the crowded deprivations of Calcutta or other exotic locales. These images filled Eric with hope. He meditated and the light was becoming more bearable. A one hundred watt bulb had been screwed into the ceiling fixture. Last night, he had thrown the gaudy red paper lamp shade in the trash. Now, he flicked the switch on the wall. Eric looked in his bright room in his bright mirror and stared at his image without flinching. The reflection was looking less and less like his old, manic self. His visage was ever more filled with air, light and free to sail on sunbeams, like the aged yogis. His grey hair seemed to be taking a silver, almost luminescent, sheen. Then, he heard a scratching–claws on wood. The beauty in the reflection flickered, lost some of its buoyancy. His child of razors was waking.
Eric grimaced and turned toward the door. His greatest pain was still facing him. He had to lance it, excise it. Leaving the apartment, he walked to the appointed restaurant without seeing his surroundings, for his mind’s eye was filled with her face. Fixed on her, he could not enjoy the light.
A man, assured and masked comfortably in his position of maitre d, greeted Eric in the plush red foyer and escorted him to the table where Jennifer was waiting. Eric kissed her quickly, reluctantly. He felt the razor slide across his mind–a cool slit that opened him, but he betrayed nothing to her, would give her no more opportunities to cut him. They exchanged pleasantries. Eric tried to listen to her monologue, but he kept seeing her face. She looked at him, shot pleasure into him right through the slit she had cut in his mind. It was a hell. All his buoyancy, his tranquillity, was dissipating. He ate mechanically, slowly beginning to hate her for robbing him of his precious goal, for giving the child the sharpest of razors. Her loving complacency angered him. Couldn’t she tell? Couldn’t she see how she cut him?
But Eric betrayed nothing as he ate small bites of his red bean and ham omelet. He savored the warmth of the eggs, the interplay of gentle, bland tastes and soft textures. It distracted him from Jennifer.
They chatted after the meal. Eric felt trapped; her rapt attention constantly pulled him from his tranquillity, constantly strove to make him a bat again, hanging upside down on a precarious ledge next to her in the cave while they would wait day after day for the sun to set, for the light to fade thinking that the company of another bat was a suitable replacement for the light–pathetic! Eric shuddered and she commented on his long walk and the icy wind blowing through Washington D.C. in October. He nodded. The waiter walked toward their table. Eric allowed himself a small, malicious comfort, knowing that soon he could shut her away. Now it would begin. He could not bear giving the child another razor, another desire drenched memory of Jennifer.
Her face froze after he spoke the carefully measured words.
In the end, Eric took no satisfaction in her pain. After all, it was tragic, but necessary. Even now he felt himself become more buoyant, more filled with the light of day, ready to become a free receptacle for all light.
But Jennifer did not relent. "Why? I don’t understand."
Eric replied, "I simply do not wish to love you anymore, Jen." Why couldn’t she accept it? Why did she have to stare so? call out to him? She tried to cut into him with the razor of need, one of the sharpest in her arsenal.
Jennifer would not easily yield: "Who’re you kidding? I see it in your eyes, the way you move toward me, lean toward me. You still love me."
Eric looked at her; already she was shrinking before him. Words for a mystic had power. He had begun to cast his spell of dissolution. Satisfied that he could resist the temptation she represented against his quest, he said, "You always were observant, Jen. And, of course, you’re right, but it’s time for me to move on, while our love is still fresh."
The slim waiter, tuxedo dressed, quietly placed the check between them. He looked at the couple, was about to say something; then, he saw the shine in the brunette’s brown eyes, a shine of too much moisture. Though curious, he retreated. The gentleman’s brief glance had pierced him, chilled him with an edge of violence, all in eyes surrounded by a passive face.
Jennifer reached for his hand, dormant on the table. Eric withdrew his slender, manicured fingers to his lap.
She said, "Eric, you’re not talking sense. We have a good thing, a really good thing. It’s genuine between us. Don’t you know how rare that is, how lucky we are?"
Eric grimaced, a calculated downward turn of his lips. Jennifer glared at him. Anger was natural. He had expected it.
But Jennifer surprised him; she was one of the few who could, saying, "Is it the money? I don’t care that you’re poor. I make enough."
Eric’s frown deepened, betraying real emotion. This was becoming painful and tedious, but Jennifer’s strong will attracted him more than her worldly savvy, her restrained elegance. She could have been a puissant mystic, could have achieved the buoyancy that comes when one is filled with tranquil light, but love had addled her. Eric breathed deeply and expelled his irritation and some of his love for her with that breath. Slowly and precisely, Eric placed his beige linen napkin upon the red table cloth as he said, "Money has ceased to concern me. Long ago, I told you that my work comes first. My work now demands that we separate–permanently."
Eric stood and left the table. She called his name once. He almost turned back, almost faltered, desiring to see her face one last time. But her eyes would conquer him; her desire called to his and that was intolerable.
The city street air made his nose wrinkle. He had lived in Washington for more than a year and he still couldn’t acclimate himself to the car fumes. The world was a filthy place. The myriad corruptions offended his delicate nose, but the unpleasant distraction helped him to push love into a room in his mind. With discipline and meditation, he would shrink that room to a closet, then just a door, and finally to nothingness, without even a memory of Jennifer. The door in his mind bulged. Her name was taboo, he decided. The name brought back too many associations, warm, romantic associations, hurtful to his ultimate goal.
In the hour that it took him to reach his block, the pushers were out and about, clustered in tight groups or singly standing on the street corners to double as look outs and salesmen. Eric watched young men in faded green army jackets, leather jackets displaying machismo, and t-shirts futilely warding the october wind. The men clutched wrinkled bills or little ziploc bags with heroin powder; another door in his mind creaked; the doorknob rattled. It was securely locked. Eric had played that game long ago and had shut that destructive door, but only until he had savored the physical ecstacy and the ravages to their fullest, with epicurean delight. Eric shrugged and passed them; some waved, recognizing a valued customer; he ignored them and walked down concrete steps to the graffiti scrawled door of his rental.
Traces of jasmine incense still decorated the air. Recent studies were evident. A large book bound with copper wire was open on his kitchen nook table. The black leather cover showed cracks of age; the binding was loose; the pages, brittle. He admired the ancient penmanship, the letters that were more runic and symbolic than directly informative. And the thickest, boldest strokes dominated the page: "When you seek it, you cannot find it." Eric allowed himself a smile; the masters always wrote that way, making everything into a riddle, trying to describe the indescribable with mere ink and parchment.
The razor child called to him from the bathroom: its perverse idea of a welcome, "Hey, ho, you’ve returned from your twilight rendezvous with Jennifer. Is she dead yet? Are you dead yet?"
It hopped onto the kitchen table and left a puddle trailing from clawed toes. Eric snatched the book from the approaching filthy bath water.
Its laughter was light and fresh, but strong, lacking age. Its unrestrained mirth bared needle sharp teeth in its no lipped mouth, framed by a gentle, boyish face. Large blue eyes stared at Eric, sparkled at him.
"Get off the table." Eric ordered.
It hopped down and landed lightly on its feet; finger-like toes splayed outward on the faded, yellow linoleum, scarred by those razor sharp claws. It tilted its head upward and to the side as it gazed at Eric for long moments.
Then, it spoke in a sugary alto voice, "You have killed her, haven’t you?"
"In your heart, though?"
It smiled again and said, "Then, you will meditate, won’t you?"
Eric hated that razor smile, his aesthetic sense being the last of pleasures from which he wished to divorce himself. "Yes, I’ll have to meditate. My desire for her was–is strong." Eric slipped off his dark blue blazer and rolled up the cuffs of his white shirt.
It mimicked and mocked him with pretend clothes. The razor child hated to be confined, constricted, so it had refused to wear the child’s grey jogging outfit Eric had bought for it. After finishing its pantomime, the razor child lovingly traced a clawed index finger across its pink arm, where the heroin needles had bruised and swelled the flesh.
Eric shouted, "Enough, daemon. To your box!"
It scrambled into the bare pine box. Eric unwound his meditation mat, lit another jasmine cone, and assumed the lotus.
The razor child grinned within the tiny, dark box. The mystic had become so careless, so driven, so assured that he hadn’t even bothered locking the box, not that it ever gave him an excuse. It yipped its jibes at the mystic as it acted the jester, waiting for another meal.
It sneezed, the pine box irritating its soft nasal cavity. It didn’t understand smells, not yet. The mystic still hoarded the subtle pleasures. It picked at the abscessed flesh on its arm impatiently, while despising his lengthy, melodramatic meditations. At first, the mystic had tried to teach it to meditate–very persistently until it had sunk a razor tooth into his forearm. It giggled; violent lust had been one of the first things it had stolen. Taken, it mollified. The mystic hadn’t wanted that passion, any passions.
Ten minutes passed. The mystic had become so predictable. It pushed at the side of the box; the board fell; its eyes stung as light from the bare bulb struck its pupils, making them pinpricks. It groaned softly. Masochism was its now, too. Hunger gnawed at its nerves. Heroin was on the kitchen nook counter. It ran its long, thick tongue across its teeth hard enough to draw blood. Indecision. Heroin would be good, so good, but each feast with the mystic had been better than the last. The mystic could still subdue it, could, but no. The mystic was stupid. It shrugged off its heroin lust and crept into the kitchen.
Eric was seated on his grey mat. He breathed deeply, rhythmically.
It watched for any variation. None.
The razor child stretched its toes, raising them off the linoleum so that its pale, sharp claws would not clatter. It moved slowly; each bend of its pink flesh was deliberate. Seven minutes had drained away and it had only moved two feet closer. The jasmine scent plagued it. It exhaled forcefully, noisily, trying to clear the itching smell from the slits in its face that served for its nose. It froze, watching the mystic with its overly large blue eyes. No movement. Emboldened, it smiled and stepped toward him once, twice until it was squatting directly in front of the mystic. It heard his smooth, even inhalations and exhalations.
The jasmine was becoming painful. The glowing ember topped cone was directly between them and released a light grey smoke. The main feast must wait. It reached a clawed finger toward Eric’s nose, slowly. The finger touched the skin; it grimaced as beads of sweat ran down its sparse blonde hair and trickled down its forehead to foul its eyes.
It pushed the razor claw through the flesh of the mystic’s nose, but he did not stir. No blood seeped from the invisible wound. The razor child grinned. Its other hand shook with a palsy of anticipation. It withdrew its hand from the stony mystic’s face; a white mist circled and danced around the shiny claw. The razor child brought its claw under the two slits. It inhaled, drawing up the mist.
"Ah," the razor child sighed. No longer did it desire to sneeze. The complex odor–a sweetness muted by a dull background–delighted it. So this was a subtle pleasure, the razor child thought. But it did not replace the sliding ecstacy of a heroin injection. This was not worth the effort. The razor child wanted more, wanted this Jennifer, who had roused the stony mystic to such a height of agitation.
It watched diligently for two minutes, but the mystic showed no sign of being deprived of the pleasures of incense, showed nothing but a passive, inward concentration. Perfect. The razor child lifted its soft and pink hands to the mystic’s chest and advanced its claws through the white shirt.
The shirt did not stir so much as a wrinkle; the claws were too keen for the dull cloth.
The razor child shivered with excitement and fear. Here was the heart. It had dreamed of this moment. The claws smoothly entered his chest. Like a jolt of electricity, the passion shot through the razor child’s wiry arms. It moaned. The left claw sank down his chest and into the mystic’s groin.
Eric’s eyes snapped open. "Wh–what are you doing? To your box!"
With a moaning, growling voice the razor child said, "You can’t deny me and throw me into that box. Not now, not ever. I’m more you than you. Give me what is mine!" The razor child tugged, tried to free its claws from Eric’s body.
Eric heard a persistent knocking on the door, a knocking that was quickly growing louder. Jennifer’s voice called his name, saying they had to talk.
"Got it!" The razor child screamed gleefully as it tumbled backwards. Rainbow pastels danced around its razor claws; then, the aura covered its soft, pink flesh before sinking into the razor child.
The door opened.
Her high heels clicked softly against the linoleum. The razor child scrambled behind the brown easy chair. It peeked out at Jennifer, wanted to talk to her; she was so beautiful, her body veiled in immaculate, lush reds, her ears adorned with bright gold. The razor child loved her fierce, brown eyes, too. It well knew the strength they harbored. Eric’s passion–its passion flared in its small, smooth belly upon seeing those eyes.
Eric jumped up from his meditation mat, glanced at Jennifer; then, he looked wildly about the room for the skulking thief. What would Jennifer do, say if she saw his razor child? He had no doubt she would scream in terror and run from his home.
The razor child squatted behind him, just beyond her sight. He knew he must not let her see his daemon. Eric sank down into his easy chair after beckoning Jennifer to a small fold out chair directly across from him. From that angle he was certain she couldn’t see the damned child lurking behind his dull brown chair.
Jennifer wanted an explanation; she was composed. He admired that, but as she spoke, Eric felt a slow warmth drift over him. He saw the words shoot out her mouth toward him, but they shrank and melted like spring snowflakes before reaching his ears. He guessed that Jesus must have felt this way when the dove had descended from heaven at His baptism. Everything was so insignificant, so grey, so calm. He was almost nothing now, and so, Eric believed, he was almost everything now. He felt almost transparent; it was as if the light of day could pass right through his body unhindered, never stopping for recriminations or guilt. He was beyond himself, not subject to the myriad victories and losses of other men. Eric felt all this and smiled.
Jennifer stared at his condescending smile. From a tiny corner of his mind Eric realized that she had never ceased talking at him. Now, she was screaming at him.
Although he no longer loved her, Eric still felt that decorum demanded he give some comfort to the woman who had meant so much to his past life. He searched his grey mind for something appropriate, something significant, to say when he heard the brown cloth rip, loudly torn at the back of the chair. What was his daemon doing back there?
Jennifer must have noticed it. He had to say something quickly to cover up the noise; she had edged so close to him during her monologue. She must not see his razor child. He heard another tear, felt claws in the padding at his back. Jennifer had stopped shouting at him. Her eyes seemed to ask what that noise was. He blurted anything to cover up his daemon’s grating scratches, "You know, there’s still a chance!"
She seemed dumbfounded by his impromptu statement.
Jennifer reached out to touch his hand. Eric watched from his grey vantage; she seemed so childish, so needy. He decided she must leave; his daemon was exploiting her, trying to upset his newly found tranquillity. He felt a claw poke through the chair and tickle his back as it ripped upward and finally came to rest just below his shoulder blades; the claws slowly scratched him, cut into him.
Jennifer leaned over and kissed him.
He felt her lips against his; he felt the razor claw push through his back. The greedy daemon was using him. His heart beat wildly as she pressed against him. He was sandwiched between her willing body and the sharp claws at his back that prodded him toward her embrace. His blood was coursing through his body, running through him; he saw her face so close to his. The grey, warm calm had vanished. He heard the razor child laughing behind him.
He gripped her neck and pushed her violently from him. Her shoulder struck the folding chair and overturned it as she fell onto the scratchy linoleum.
Eric stood, shrugging off the razor child’s hand from his back. Jennifer was staring at him, staring through him. He wanted to help her. He loved her, even at the cost of the grey peace he had so briefly savored. But she could never love him, not now. Directly behind him the razor child was standing on the back of the easy chair and grinning at him. He was sure from Jennifer’s shock that she had at last seen his razor child.
Jennifer’s mouth was agape; she clutched her bruised shoulder; the hurt in her eyes cut into him.
"No!" he screamed, but blood clogged his throat. Pain engulfed his body; everything was either too beautiful or too ugly to his eyes; every sound grated too loudly in his ears, and the pain from the razor cuts was unbearable, but Eric could only gurgle a continuing scream as he held his bleeding throat.
A kaleidoscope of pains and pleasures roiled through his mind as he watched his blood spurt from every slice the razor child had ever cut into his flesh. It flowed freely now, thick and burning hot, covering his hands, pouring out his chest, his groin; blood slid from his lacerated nose and into his mouth to choke him. Behind him he heard the razor child giggle. Eric wanted to curse the evil, evil razor child, who had opened his wounds just when he had wanted her, loved her.
He saw the fear tighten Jennifer’s mouth to a horrified scowl as he frantically clutched at his wounds and brought his red hands to his face. He was staggering across the room, trying to find bandages, and moaning on the sudden pain that tore at him. He grabbed the picture magazines on his glass table, frantically ripped the serene photographs from their binding, and tried to staunch his wounds, but the blood ran in rivulets over the glossy paper. All the while, his razor child paced him and mocked him, and laughed at Eric’s dance of pain and pleasure. Eric repulsed himself and was sure all this blood was completely repulsing Jennifer, as was the razor child, displaying its pink, little body so boldly. He never knew, never believed that one body could hold so much blood. It made messy puddles on the floor and slid into the scratchy grooves on the linoleum.
And it was so very hot. His blood burned him; how could the razor child have ever dared to cut into blood that was so hot, so painful?
That pain began to ebb, though the blood still gushed from his body. He collapsed onto the slippery linoleum. His sight was dimming.
Jennifer bent over him and cried while looking down at him and shaking his arm. She screamed, "Ohmigod! What’s wrong? Get up, Eric. What’s wrong with you? Say something. Ohmigod, it must be a heart attack!"
The rushing of his blood filled Eric’s ears.
Then, he saw the razor child press its ghastly face close to his. Its hot breath was surprisingly sweet. Eric had never been so tired. He was dying, he guessed. He knew he needed blood to live, though he had never had that thought until this moment, when the haze surrounding his eyes muted the radiant, dreadfully bright, blue of its eyes and the sumptuous, searing red of Jen’s dress. The mystic’s head lolled to the side and he whispered to the child, "No, no, don’t let Jennifer see you. Don’t let her see me like this–too hot, too much blood."
He saw the razor child’s large, devouring eyes stare into his; Eric tried to spit in those hungry, beautiful eyes, but only a little hot blood dripped down the side of his mouth as he convulsed and shuddered on the linoleum. As his trembling fingers slid across the floor toward Jennifer, he wondered at the sudden smoothness of his shiny linoleum. Who had repaired his floor? Then, exhaustion finally overtook him; his blood chilled at last; Jennifer faded to a distant whisper; his razor child disappeared.
Eric was quiet and Eric was calm. All was dark. All was quiet.
Peace. Peace at the end.
His mind whispered over and over his name to him. He was Eic, he admitted. And he lived and living, he knew dawn would come. The tempting light shined beyond the mouth of the cave and, he stretched a tiny thought tendril towad the light, open and bright.
After he whispered that thought in the cool, dark cave in his mind, he heard a faint echo of mocking laughter.
His child of razors was waking.