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A short story by Mairi Wilson.
She was nine years old when she came of age, which is too soon for anyone to realise that they are alone, and that the entirety of their universe is contained within their skull, without connection to the universes of others. She found the knowledge a heavy burden. Her mother was mad, whatever that might mean – it might just mean tragic – and no-one cared for her. She felt that her soul had been lost somewhere, or perhaps she’d never had one, after all, how does one acquire a soul? She surmised it had to be given, first, seed-like in a name and then as a beloved You, and she had known neither. She felt cold and she was in relentless pain from her experience of nothingness. It’s strange how nothing can be so painful and exhausting.
Soulless years passed. She changed, became more curvaceous, used peroxide on her hair, pouted her lips, but noone gave her her soul, and the black hole within her, which should have been full of something which gave out energy, just became the stuffing for her outer skin, absorbing everything but never being filled. An insatiable hunger.
Soulless years passed.
She flicked the pages of her magazine; the sunlight was too bright on the pages. She laid the magazine down and enjoyed the cooling shadow it cast across her midriff. She took a sip from her cocktail, rested her head back against the cushions of the lounger, touched her sunglasses, half closed her eyes.
In her line of vision was a man on the high dive board, a glistening shadow against the sky. He turned towards her and gave her a small wave. She smiled back, raised her glass in acknowledgement. He prepared himself, launched himself into the atmosphere. He was trusting that earthly laws of gravity would not alter during his flight.
Now she closed her eyes completely and thought.
I think he might be in love with me, but then many men are, men who have never even met me. What are they in love with? The picture in the centre-fold? How can colours printed on a piece of paper make people believe they love me?
The voids she perceived made her nauseous, with gooseflesh, at 83 degrees in the shade.
She opened her eyes. She saw him reach the zenith of his trajectory. She took a deep breath and held it for him as he began his fall.
I would rather have you dive into my consciousness and my subconsciousness, unconsciousness. I do not wish to be separate from you. I would that our struggles might not be solitary. Go deeper, go deeper into the fluidity! Can you breathe here? Or do you fear you might drown? We believe we live because our hearts are beating, but I sense that they are slowing. Are we approaching death? Are we alone, or together, in death, or are we non-existent because no-one knows our thoughts?
Death sometimes seems attractive. Death wish. Sigmund Freud. He thought that we might be driven to reduce life to inanimate matter. But then he changed his mind. Is that why you leapt into space? We are driven to reduce stress, not to organic dissolution. Emotional and bodily peace are what we are driven towards, so much so that we will fight for it. Fight or flight. Warmongers and pacifists are on an equal moral footing; it’s more a question of personal style. Any war can be justified by either side because both are fighting for peace.
He folded his body into a pike and started turning over and over, over and over.
Of course, ultimate peace is not physical death, but a state more perfect than embryonic life, where all bodily needs are met, food warmth, shelter, emotional completeness, wanting for nothing, the feeling that one is loved. Ah love! That word. Upside down, heels over head, over, over, which way is up? That word.
Those words. I love you, I love you. It turns your heart over. It should all be turned over. I love you means, I want you for myself because you make me feel loved. We should be more honest about that selfish word; it would make life a lot simpler. And it goes without saying that a person who has never been loved can never say, ‘I love you’ and mean it. A soulless hungry person with empty words, like me.
If we were honest about that selfish word, we would stop being grateful when someone says, I love you. I make men feel they are loved by me, in a physical sense, so they love me, so they say, but they do not make me feel loved, so, if I’m honest, I cannot say I love them in return. Is their love better than nothing?
Her nausea and emptiness grew fiercer.
He straightened, all the time accelerating towards the water. His fingertips now touched the surface. She breathed out, then in again, to continue her life. There was nothing more she could do for him as his momentum forced the molecules of the liquid to part and he split the skin of the pool.
Surface tension. The outer boundary. Perhaps I’m only held together by surface tension. She laughed at her pun.
He disappeared below the surface and her line of vision. Her attention was caught by the heat of the sun on her legs.
Ultimately it all comes down to skin, wouldn’t you say? Descartes was wrong. He said it was all down to thinking, but it’s all down to skin in the end, sensitive skin, like mine: he only felt confident in his existence when he was thinking. Me? I have confidence in my existence in all my activities, and my being is only limited by the confines of my skin and what I do in this time and space. I do lots of things. I have to be alive to do lots of things, and the I comes from being contained, and from what is not-I being sensed and cognised as not-I. A volcano does lots of things, but it has no sensation of an outer limit, nor cognisance of what is not-I, so it cannot distinguish what is I and what is not-I, so it cannot say, ‘I do therefore I am’, as I can. Skin gives me my personal pronoun, but it does not give me my soul. And if I were dead, I would no longer be sensing what is I and what is not I. Without an I, I cannot say, ‘I do’, nor, ‘I live’. And if I were dead, my outer limit would be dissolving into the elements, so I would no longer exist. That’s why massage gives such a sense of well-being: it affirms existence.
A flunky drew close to her. “Would you care for another cocktail, Madam?” She watched her admirer pull himself out of the pool.
“No thanks, I’ll have some iced water. I’m thinking of detoxifying myself. Would you be so kind as to ask my masseur to come by?”
Huh! ‘Detoxifying myself’. She laughed to herself. Here I am, a black hole surrounded by skin and without a soul. Is it possible for an abused child to grow into an unabused adult, as if the abuse had never happened? Is it possible for me to live my adult life as if I had had a different childhood from the one which made me soulless and wanting? Justice says it should be possible. I need a bit of respect.
She watched him start chatting to a bevy of girls at the side of the pool. They were desperate to introduce themselves to him. She noticed his tanned skin, his developed musculature, his narrow hips, the profile of his buttock, his crotch. Droplets glittered on his skin, like gilding. A golden boy, a god, a divine one, one who is most blessed.
The perfect specimen for a mate. I want you for myself. I want to talk to you myself. I’m jealous of those girls. I love you.
She stood up from the lounger and sashayed over to where he stood. He spotted her.
“Marilyn!” he called.
“Mr President!” she purred.
© DR MAIRI WILSON 2004
Mairi Wilson lives in Ipswich.