Last Night on the Subway


My eyes were bleary and grey. I stood stoop-shouldered, when I stood, as if I was afraid I would bump my head on the ceiling. For some reason I was surrounded by beautiful women. My life had become a Chinese finger-trap. An obese woman in the corner, thighs large and powerful, eyed me suspiciously. The shirt I wore was too loose. In the subway “mirror” — the windows over the black tunnel — my image distorted and stretched so much that I didn’t recognise myself. I looked old, and beaten, like a weathered peasant carrying something heavy on his back, and I wondered if that was what I really looked like. Most likely I saw the frustration of not seeing, my eyes bleary and grey because of eye-drops administered specifically, I am sure, to remind me that I need glasses.

In the seat across from me another old man — I’m sure he wasn’t my reflection — winked and pulled a small steel cage out from behind his coat. Inside were a few leaves, a bit of dirt, and a frog. The amphibian’s throat distended rapidly: I noted that the frog seemed nervous.

“No!” said the old man, “he is only tired. He is a wrestling frog, and tonight he has bested three fierce opponents, finishing them in the manner that I have taught him.”

“And what manner is that?”

“Why, he bites off their heads. That is why they call him ‘The Red Mouth’.”

‘The Red Mouth’ had my blue eyes. “He must like you,” the old man said, setting the cage gingerly in my lap. I studied the frog carefully. He really did seem tired. And there was a pride in him that I couldn’t deny.

When I looked up again the old man was gone. He must have got off at the previous stop, though I didn’t notice it. I didn’t know what to do with the frog so I brought him home and put him on the little table by my bed.

“Are there flies?” the frog asked.

“There will be flies,” I responded, unsure of whether or not there would be flies.

That night the frog whispered dreams into my ear.

“Then I walked into the next chamber. The ceiling was lower than in the previous chamber, and it was covered with thick cobwebs that kept getting tangled in my hair. A gust of damp wind smothered my torch. I kept one hand on the ancient rock wall to my right and walked nineteen feet along this wall, until it ended at a joint, and then I walked four feet up the new wall until I came to the chamber’s exit. The next room was small and I quickly discovered it was only the upper landing for a set of stairs. I paused at the top of landing, unsure whether to proceed further or turn back. I could hear rushing water at the bottom of the stairs and I did not know what that meant. The walls themselves were damp. My fingers traced over what seemed to be an inscription, but of course I could not read it…”

When I woke up, I felt very tired, as if I had spent the night doing gymnastics instead of sleeping.

A Post in July


There are always a few days of self-consciousness. But then I come back to the routine of normal life. I require whatever it is I’ve abandoned and have now taken up again. This could apply to anything. If one stays indoors for too long, one begins to fear going outside. But when a trip outside is finally ventured, one sees that going outside is nothing to be afraid of.


Two weeks ago we were in the country, and all was green and ephemeral. Roads twisted and curved through fields of long grasses, low scrubland dotted with rocks, and stands of claustrophobic sumach. In the sky clouds formed, heavy white portents of the week of rain to come. Looking at a finger jutting down from the stomach of an impressive cumulus cloud, I thought it sad that few look on such formations and feel fear or wonder; that clouds are often ignored, being natural, known and categorised. It is sad because for those whom science is their superstition — not scientists — anything natural and known is looked on with scorn.


Except in cases where one side has clear motives — court-mandated psychological evaluation sessions, for example — therapy is the development and presentation of personal narratives. I’m not sure the therapist has much to do with it. If this sounds too obvious, it is.


Today I wonder about “right conduct”. I admire those who, from an early age, had a relatively clear picture of who they were and how they were to act. In my case, without examples, direction could only be gleaned from trial and error, mostly error. If a character on a television show you liked said something that jarred with your internal morality, it wasn’t that the character was wrong, or even that he or she may have been wrong. The character (and whatever action) was, to the child who didn’t know any better, probably correct, and now had to be slotted into a personal belief system that included that action and the action’s antithesis.

It is good to be challenged, but the system I’m describing is mostly dictatorial. For a child left to his own devices, without guidance, the media is a trusted friend to be understood and decoded. What do children who are left to interpret Ashley Madison commercials by themselves think, I wonder? Someone should really think of the children, because in the Western world they are, unless blessed with vigilant parents, largely without an Almanac. The brain can be re-trained later in life, if one works hard enough, but it is better if the brain doesn’t have to be re-trained.