Passage Out of Context

“The professor tied Baby Winkie with twine to his desk and offered her a wide variety of foods, of which she would eat only cheese balls and chocolate-covered ants.  He had had to walk a dozen miles to procure these for her, and he placed them before her each morning and afternoon in two gold-leaf bowls.  But Baby Winkie’s whimpering didn’t cease.

For many days she sat on top of the desk staring out the dirty window at the woods, murmuring, ‘Papa, Mama, Papa,’ as she used to call Winkie when she was helpless and tiny, when he nursed her night and day with his own breast.  She kept waiting for Winkie’s face––the one face like her own––to appear in the underbrush.

Instead, the professor’s plaintive eyes and neat gray beard loomed over her night and day.  ‘Shh.  Shh,’ he’d whisper.  Occasionally, though she knew it was useless, she bit him.

‘Now, now,’ he’d mutter, rapping her smartly on the nose.  ‘No!’

Baby Winkie despised these attempts to ‘train’ her, especially since the stinging blow was a relief compared to her bereavement.  Three times a day she squatted over the side of his desk and let the shit drop to the floor, and three times a day he slapped her for it, shoving her toward the litter box he’d purchased and shouting, ‘In the box!  Go in the box!’ as if she hadn’t yet understood.  After maybe the hundredth time, she turned to the professor and said, quite distinctly:

‘The cycle of prohibition: Thou shalt not go near, thou shalt not touch, thou shalt not consume, thou shalt not experience pleasure, thou shalt not show thyself; ultimately, thou shalt not exist, except in darkness and secrecy.’

Unknown to her captor, when the cub wasn’t grieving for her lost parent, she was reading.  She had taught herself in a day; desperation had made learning easy.  She read by moonlight while the professor slept.  Within a few weeks she had skimmed through all his notebooks, hoping to discover some news of Winkie, and then gone on to assimilate all the knowledge contained in the hermit’s jam-packed bookshelves.

It wasn’t that she hoped to reason with him––she understood this was impossible––but that her despair, which had grown day after day, simply required utterance.  Her own words being too good for him, she chose others’; playful even in misery, the child simply said the first thing that came to mind.  ‘Foucault,’ she added now, in a weary parody of a proper citation.

This last touch startled her captor, but only for a moment, and then her unexpected venture into speech was swallowed by his many theories about her.  These continued to fever his mind, perhaps even more so now that he possessed her.  He took out a fresh notebook and sat down to observe his pet, as he did each morning.  He wrote: ‘Cloth and stuffing––vegetable.  Metal and glass––mineral.  Biting and defecation––animal.  Speaking and singing––human.  Existence––impossible!’

Seeing what he’d written, and his evident satisfaction with it, Baby Winkie rolled her eyes.  ‘Do you think that anything that is not beautiful is necessarily ugly?  And that anything that is not wisdom is ignorance?  Socrates, as reported by Plato.  Why is there more craving than there is in a mountain.  Why.  Stein.’

The professor experienced slight discomfort at this last utterance, but shook it off.  He noticed only that her eyes looked sad and ancient.  ‘Old, yet young,’ he noted.  ‘Compelling, yet scary.  Cute, yet grotesque…’

‘Your tale, sir, would cure deafness,’ said his obsession coldly.  ‘What seest thou else in the dark backward and abysm of time?  Shakespeare, The Tempest.’

Now the hermit frowned.  ‘Disturbing,’ he wrote.  ‘Sometimes B.W. seems to micmic with an intention––as if she meant what she said, choosing enigma.  It’s as if she’s joking with me, at my expense.’

Baby Winkie went to her dish and disdainfully ate an ant.  ‘He made a collection of butterflies and asked his mother for arsenic in order to kill them,’ she said.  ‘On one occasion a moth flew around the room for a long time with a pin through its body.’  She sat down glumly.  ‘Freud.  The dream is made witty because the straight and nearest way to express its thoughts is barred to it.  Ibid.  Song of the bleeding throat!  Whitman.’

The professor had expected the little creature to be a pure voice of innocence in his life, yet she spoke in his own language, that of books, which echoed back to him across a vast sadness.  He continued uneasily: ‘Her choice of food, for instance: a genuine preference, contempt––or both?’

For a moment Baby Winkie tried to empathize with the hermit’s complete inability to empathize.  Peering into his soul, she saw a wall, behind which things seethed.  It made her head hurt.  ‘For free association really is a labor,’ she whispered, ‘so much so that some have gone so far as to say it requires an apprenticeship.  Lacan.'”

~Clifford Chase, from the thrillingly bizarre Winkie

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