The Galatea of Cotard
We watch the dusk-drenched pyramids from our hotel room balcony and I say: “You got it all wrong, ma. He is not dead. We are.” Her stony face immobile, she wouldn’t look at me: “He has been dead for well over a decade, dear. You are confused.” I fidget and she hates it. I smirk, she hates it even more. I say: “He got me with a child. I had to rid myself of it.” She nods, exasperated.
I glance furtively at the inordinately large screen of my iPhone. Dali’s “Galatea of the Spheres”. Like her, I sense the wind howling among my molecules. I am grateful for the stillness of the air. The faintest breeze would have dispersed me irretrievably. I tighten my grip on the ornate banister and stare down at the teeming street. Where my womb used to be there is nothing but a weed-grown ruin. I feel its weather-beaten absence, scraped at diligently by doctors with scapulas and scalpels. I saw the blood emitted by my body, oozing from my genitalia, a wrathful, tar-black admonition.
“Are you hungry?” Her grammar and syntax always impeccable. I study my parent’s profile: the erstwhile firm chin now buckled, the flabby contours of her once muscular arms. Her stomach gone, like mine. Her eyes are tearful, the knuckles of her sculpted hands are white.
I chuckle bitterly: “Dead people don’t supp, mother. I expired during the operation, remember? When they extracted it ...” There is a moment of dead silence. “My succubus to his incubus.”
She takes a deep breath and exhales the words: “If you are truly deceased, then how are we conversing?”
That’s an easy one. “In our minds. In mine and yours. You took your own life, mama, when you found out. I stumbled across your lifeless body in the dark.”
She pinches me hard, her fingers clawing, clinging, burrowing deep. The flesh changes hues in protest. There is no pain, just a sudden blush and then it reverts to its waxy countenance. “This hurts,” – she declares – “I can see it on your contorted face!”
I am tired of being denied, of being negated so. “Father had me several times, mother, lasciviously. He got me pregnant. I went to a clinic. You visited me there. You were with him.”
She nods and shuts her hazel eyes:
“It was a psychiatric inpatient facility. They gave you medicines and electroconvulsive shocks. They diagnosed you with Cotard’s Syndrome. You were depressed, delusional, and suicidal. I had no choice. I am sorry.”
The intoxicating sounds of the street: donkeys braying; peddlers advertising their wares, often in rhyme; a muezzin’s call for prayer, nasal and atavistic; beggars whining, abscessed arms resting on amputated, fly-infested stumps. Death is everywhere. We are touring Hades and its infernal monuments: the pyramids, the sphinx, pets and people embalmed, fragile hair intact, desiccated eyeballs resting in grimy sockets, skeletal hands folded on disintegrating fabrics.
“Why are we here?” – I demand – “Why did you bring me here?”
My mother hesitates, bites her lips, cracks her fingers, all very atypical. Her nervousness is contagious and unsettling. She is always so composed. She is still a very beautiful woman. I have to remind myself, almost aloud, that she is a corpse, an apparition, an unreal projection of my mind or hers.
“I thought it would do you good,” – she finally utters enigmatically: “all this devotion to eternity, the afterlife, this unflinching and fearless obsession with death. It reminds me of your fixation, but it is not delusional and fallacious. Maybe it will give you the courage to confront ... I don’t know ...” – she tapers to a wistful whisper.
I reposition on the reed recliner. She notices my discomfort and raises her perfectly-plucked eyebrows:
“Uncomfortable, dear? One would have thought that you would be ...”
“ ... impervious to the inconveniences of the flesh.” – I complete the sentence for her. “I am, but my spirit isn’t. It needs time to adjust. My decay and putrefaction in the hospital were very sudden.”
“Ah!” – says mama, her gaze farsighted, contemplating the missing golden apexes of the pyramids.
There is a long silence, punctuated by eerie disembodied sounds emanating from the neighbouring rooms. A couple is making love passionately and audibly. The woman screams, it sounds like agony. The man growls. Mother seems unperturbed.
“You find it difficult to accept that we have all died, that we are nothing but memories.”
“No,” – my mother’s tone is strict – “I find it painful to come to terms with your delusion that you are the disembowelled remnant of my daughter, that you are a rotting corpse, and that your father violated you which led to my demise. It’s all untrue, a figment of your overcharged mind and overburdened psyche. And despite abundant evidence to the contrary and notwithstanding many courses of treatment, you are still bent on your version of morbid fantasy. I resent it for your sake as much as mine.”
“Tomorrow we will visit the pyramids?” – I point at the distance. My mother perks up: “Yes, love, we will. Anything special you would like to do and see?”
I would like to visit graveyards. I would like to lie prostrate among the decomposing earth and smell the roots of flowers. Father is there. He bequeathed me hell and left. I would want to hurl it in his face. But, I exclaim none of these wishes. I merely shrug and shut my eyes, obscenely abandoning my face to the sun’s slanted caresses. I can feel my mother’s querying look upon me.
“One good thing,” – I try to comfort her – “is that the dead can never die again. We are both immortal now.”
My mother gulps and tries to control her wavering voice:
“Why do you prefer immortality to mortality, child?”
“I am afraid of dying, mummy.” – I mumble, now drowsy – “I have been through it once and didn’t cherish the experience.”
Mother laughs harshly: “What is death like? You’d be among the first to enlighten us. Others have never made it back, you know.”
I, lazily: “It’s like evaporation, an inexorable fading, an incremental shutting down of faculties and functions. It is this graduality that renders it so intolerable, I guess. The predictability of your own annulment.” – I sat up: “You remain conscious to the very last nano-second, you see. Even beyond, when you are no more. There’s no respite, you are forced to witness. Some unfortunates are never gone for good.” – I shudder.
“Ghosts,” – says my mother, but without scorn.
“Ghosts,” – I concur and rest my head on my mother’s plump shoulder. She strokes my hair and sings softly to herself. The sun is golden now, concealed behind the massive structures on the far horizon. In the emptiness that’s me, a steering, an alignment of the atoms, a coherence that is almost being.
“I love you, Mom,” – I say.