[T]he reality of death has also been diluted for modern man by the very machine that brings death and violence into his homes every night – television.[i]
‘I now fear death and have lost all my courage.’[ii]
The Death Channel – Channel 13 – is really a laugh-riot. Logo so completely clichéd with stylised coffin used as the number ‘1’, the ‘3’ comprising curving bones all laid over a watermark fanged skull. Yawn.
On screen: A guy in a dark purple pinstripe suit, straight as a board, coldly shaped nouveau hairstyle, clutching a steaming corporate brand coffee, a vox pop microphone stuck under his chin. He smirks before answering the question asked – ‘No. I don’t believe in superstition’. Looks down the camera, points a finger still holding the coffee. ‘But if you do, for godfuck’s sake, don’t be standing next to me when the next half-witted sociopath with a need to purge his repressed mummy-dearest childhood traumas decides to go on a spree killing day of carnage at the local Westfield. That would really fuck up my day’.
I quickly flick channels as my daughter comes running in, curling pigtails bouncing in the way they should. She’s gaunt, pale faced, doesn’t like going out in the sun. I didn’t much either at her age. I don’t let her watch Channel 13. Not yet.
‘Dad. What’s a c-c-…’
I’m really worried about her stutter. ‘Slowly honey’. It seems to be getting worse, though I’m finding it hard to tell without a definitive survey on the actual consonant sounds and the amount of times she’s what you’d call ‘sticking’, coupled with the length of time of those so-named ‘sticking’ events before the word deigns itself ready to enter the world. Simply, I am commenting on it only by my own intuition and anecdotal evidence. Knowing this, I sometimes wonder whether it isn’t her at all but a hearing deficiency on my part where my reception faculties have a kind of hesitation response to her words.
‘C-c-c…’ She’s trying so hard, face frozen, brain stuck, like she’s choking on the letter itself. ‘C-c- corpse’. Finally sneezed out, fast and violent.
‘It’s a dead body, honey’.
Eyebrows come together thinking, perplexed. ‘Oh. Is that all?’
‘Yes. But you don’t have to worry about things like that for a while yet’.
‘Hmm’. Nothing fazes my little girl. She trots away, back to her room, which is strangely devoid of normal girls-her-age related paraphernalia, being filled with only what would be described by most as the ‘bare essentials’, that being: bed, chest of drawers, wardrobe, etc., etc. They’re all white. She painted everything white. It’s, quote – glaring – unquote, in there.
I wonder where she got that from anyway, that being, the interest in identifying corpses. Hmm…
I flick back to Channel 13. There’s no actual programs on the Death Channel. Just a succession of images, jump cuts, flashbacks, memory hits.
On screen: the cracked bodies of 13 defeated rebel angels, spiked, sliding slowly down barbed ebony stakes outside the gates to the underworld as a warning against failure.
It was 13.13pm on June 30, Day of Altered Forms, the 13th day of the secret month, Triskaidecember, embedded within the ‘perfect’ 12. I was watching television like I’ve been doing since it was invented, and she just appeared. There she was. I don’t mean she turned up, like, orphaned on my doorstep like a Christmas puppy or something. No, she actually just faded into reality right before my very own eyes. I mean, even though I haven’t moved form this chair for decades now, even though I’ve grown so fat I can hardly recognise myself, (quite simply, I’m massive. I’d be regarded by almost 100% of accredited medical practitioners as ‘clinically’ morbidly obese. This makes me laugh. More of a chuckle if I preferred to be precise. I could never be morbidly obese), there was never any doubt in my mind that she was mine. Omens and symbols like that, vis-à-vis dates and times, state their case very precisely.
On screen: Judas, betrayer, joins the Last Supper, the 13th man to the table of plenty. Jesus sips from the chipped clay goblet that becomes the fabled Holy Grail. Days later he hangs near naked on a leaning hardwood cross, his skin, muscle, sinews slowly ripping around the course iron spikes hammered through his hands and feet. And the blood, the blood … It is a Friday. He is the image of death that in the 2000 plus years hence, millions will wear proudly around their neck, hang over fireplaces, dinner tables, and marriage beds.
When eternity ended, I was given form, first as a whisper, a vague collection of swirling molecules. Hard to remember it was so long ago. I’m outdated. I’m being replaced. She’ll become me. It’s inevitable. Not how I am now. A bloated, excessive cliché, full of overused symbols. Like the Death Channel. I never wanted to be like this. Totally enslaved. It’s not my fault. I’m trying to keep up, but I’m obsolete.
On screen: Some woman surrounded by reams of paper filled with manic scribblings, equations pages long. Along every wall are ready-to-fall towers of yellowing newspapers stacked to the roof. She paces, paces, paces the floorboards showing through the worn carpet, a track walked many times, the only part of the apartment not covered in the effluvia and trivial detritus of a common life. ‘Prime numbers … prime movers … primitive …’ Chews her fingernails which are already stubs, drawing blood. Scratches her forehead. ‘Reality warping mind-tricks? Mine tricks? Nine tricks? Nine ticks? No, no, no … what kind of LSD infused vodka voodoo is this?’ Stops, slaps herself in the face. Again. Again. ‘Am I the reincarnation of thirteen itself? A herald for the new coming age of number theory?’ She scrounges through the papers, grabs a long sheet, brings it up to touching her nose. Myopic vision. ‘Everything points to it. 13. Sixth prime number. Six. The number of man. Atomic number of aluminium. Atomic. Our number’s up …’ Then with a look of sudden enlightenment, eyes widening, softly, breathily. ‘Ka-boooom …’
On screen: the well-worn atomic mushroom cloud footage followed by Oppenheimer mouthing his famous string of words, recalled from the Bhagavad Gita: ‘I am become death, the shatterer of worlds’.
It’s all too fast for me I can’t follow the barrage of scenes smashed together. I can’t tell which is fiction, ficto-reality, docudrama or some other cobbled or repackaged attempt at genre creation. My little girl can though. She stares for hours at the television, wide unblinking eyes, sometimes drooling. I can’t help but find it a disturbing spectacle in itself, the way she just … absorbs …
On screen: spectacular pre-dawn scene, all across France members of the Knights Templar are dragged dead and dying, ‘arrested’, from their homes, taken to shit and corpse stinking dungeons, flesh sliced from their faces and fingers, eyes burned with iron pokers, until they confess to pissing on the holy cross, denying Christ, and finally worshipping the devil, accepting his black, viscous, corrupting seed. It is Friday 13 October 1307.
Numbers. Days. Dates. They mean nothing. Superstition and hearsay. Meaning invested into arbitrary items. Sure, they were symbols and dates etc. that indicated she was mine, but that wasn’t my idea. I had nothing to do with it. Every day is Friday the 13th for me. And her. The symbols of language, writing making thought into form gave me something to cling to. Gave me substance, form, flesh. Fed and bloated on the symbols of society. The association creates a bond, like atoms grabbing together.
I think I’d much rather have kept my svelte figure. I yearn for that primitive life when I was nothing but a feeling, comforting blanket, no fear, a presence. There was an intimacy with me, a connection. I wasn’t a friend, but I wasn’t feared. It was a journey. Now … look at this … shit …
On screen: Zombie-toothed preacher holding up the tarot death card, XIII, right into the camera. Wielding the wide-hook scythe, the black hole eyes stare out of the skeleton’s skull on the card, somewhat sardonic grin. ‘Death! He is coming! Do you want to be here when he comes? He takes no prisoners! He holds no-one’s hand! He is swift and terrible! Be prepared!’
Swift and terrible? Not anymore, at least, not most of the time. So much rhetoric and spin.
‘Behold the thirteen evils in the heart of man!’
This guy is whipping himself into the proverbial ‘frenzy’, pivoting on one shiny-shoed heel, he pulls out a telescopic pointer and camera pulling back to reveal a whiteboard, he points to a list.
‘Evil thoughts! Adultery! Fornication! Murder! Theft! Covetousness!’
He pronounces each with lascivious relish.
‘Wickedness! Deceit! Lasciviousness! The evil eye! Blasphemy! Pride! Foolishness!’
She snuck up on me, standing right in my blind spot. ‘I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more than that’.
Who am I to argue?
There’s something undeniably creepy about her. Sometimes she just watches me, her eyes like remote control buttons. I catch her standing in the doorway of her room, half in, half out, gazing at … something, a one-eyed horizon stare like a machete wielding child soldier. There’s a glint of metal up her arm. Zeitgeist structure. She is Death version 2.0. Sleek and streamlined. Faster, brand new uptake, off the charts, ‘out the wazoo’. No bugs. She’ll grind the old symbols into dust. Society recreates its own images, projects its own images of death.
She will continue and I’ll pass back into the tribal collective. There’s one thing that I hadn’t counted on though, which is so supremely stupid, and at the same time so outrageously arrogant of me, that it’s undeniably infuriating. Something which hadn’t even crossed my mind, because I thought I’d ‘live’ forever.
I don’t want to die.
Now I wonder how human symbolic consciousness that engendered my fleshy existence has archaically, hideously, manages to seep into and infect my being? Where am I going to go? Where will I be? How is it that death is afraid of his own demise? Am I afraid of me? This is doing my fucking head in!
When I turn the TV off the only grinning skull I’ll see is the one reflected on the dark, blank glass of the screen. The illusion of sovereignty, of control, that I’ve entertained all these long, simple years, has been ripped right fuckin’ out from under me. And I don’t like it. Why her? Why her? This sour, pale-faced bitch. It’s not fair! What does she know about anything?
Mouth breathing noisily, she walks over and climbs up my fat rolls, kneeling on the area that is now a squishy combination of chest and gut.
‘Easy, now …’
She rocks side to side on my ample gut, trying to get comfortable and balanced. ‘W-wh-wh …’
Before I even realise I’ve opened my mouth, it’s gone. ‘For fuck’s sake! Just speak!’
Shit. You shouldn’t talk to kids like that.
Her head pitches down, question immediately erased from her mind, eyes darken, granite frown, a look that could spontaneously combust a wet cat. Then – WHACK!
The tiny brute slapped me.
Her head, like a statue, never flinched. Gazing hard at me still, deliberately and slowly, she enunciates ever word clearly. ‘Fuck. You. You fat shit’.
I forget she’s not a kid. She’s not even human. Flesh, yes. Human, no. She is death come again, the continuation of the human fracture in consciousness. The old symbols mean nothing to her. She puts her hand over my eyes, and it’s suddenly very, very dark in here. Her thumbs knead my eyeballs with a certain deadly pressure. I’m so fat I can’t even get my arms to my chest to stop her. I’m not prepared. ‘No, please, honey … not yet …’
Suddenly she pulls her hands away, and smiling innocently, displays open palms. ‘Not yet what, Daddy?’
Swift and terrible…
She kisses and hugs me. She’s absorbing everything all too fast, all too well.
Mean. She’s gonna be mean.
Dedicated to the memory of David Foster Wallace, 1962 – 2008
[i] Reanney, Darryl. The Death of Forever: A New Future for Human Consciousness, South Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1991, 17.
[ii] Epic of Gilgamesh, cited in Reanney, 92.
Originally published in Runway, Issue 13, Dead, Autumn 2009, pp.20-25.