Are people afraid of you Beth?
Pauses to understand the question and nods, certain. Eyes cocked wide, plain and kind of elegant.
Who’s afraid of you Beth?
She nods again.
Attaching the question to the wake of the first truth, she holds her left canine loose between finger and thumb. The sound of her bodyweight reorganising on this cream, puffy couch is a resonant seashell to your ear: baffled heaving, washing and seeping; black crags and compacted sands – until she’s still and looks at him, certain again.
Mh hmmm, your brother. And at night time, what do your parents do to your door?
Lock it shut.
Soft, nearly singing in the way of some small, American children. Is she from the South or is it her young, naturally floppy mouth that makes the ‘L’s and the vowels long and sweet, and the ‘sh’ percussive?
Why do they lock it shut?
Cos they don’t want me to hurt John.
Presumably a sweating man, under pressure of interview, might sag down on the edge of his seat; palms on knees, prepared to answer a question so as to not invite further ones. The girl pinches the top of her sweatshirt and drops it back a bit as the interviewer draws out a nasal joining word. The whole thing hangs more confidently.
What do you want to do to your Mommy and Daddy and brother?
What do you kill them with?
(…The programme you are about to see was compiled from the actual therapy tapes of Dr. Ken Magid, a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of severely abused children; children so traumatized in the first years of life that they do not bond with other people. They are children who cannot love or accept love, children without conscience, who can hurt or even kill without remorse.)
And so on.
A grown woman watches the film repeatedly with unwaning interest. She’s aware that for her, the repetition of this and other scenes from “Child of Rage” is alluring, and glad that three doors and four floors keep her separate at that time.
Her reliably returning attention to the sultry violence of the girl in the documentary is indicative of a desire that no longer adheres to the moods and moves of her life: this crushing departure; that episode snapped closed. Apart from anything else at all, the grown woman desires to be radically alien. She is transfixed by the murderous child with no conscience, and wishes to become the same.
In the eyes of the law of her state, the child couldn’t be convicted of crimes. She is an abuse victim, and far off the threatening age at which a juvenile can be tried as an adult. The grown woman, however, doesn’t care about these details. Nor does she want, in her own mind, to absorb the child’s legal flexibility. Rather, she wishes to know within herself the child’s absence of conscience and her freedom to act, whilst – crucially, however – maintaining a clear-headed, non-psychotic, and co-operative attitude towards her own culpability and the concrete consequences of the judicial conventions and punishments adherent to the adult she has physically become. She believes that she has everything to lose.
It would not be right to think about the approaching loss of her “life” as a cardigan left on public transport. If it were, we’d be looking at a generic, that never suited her anyway; a garment that retained heat poorly, kept her in tune with a desire for longevity and helped her pass as a contemporary woman. Heavy, yellow cotton with elastane and many iridescent, yellow beads. A little lace. Tight around the wrists maybe. Occurrences of violence that for their softness and common-ness, could not easily be described as such.
For the grown woman, this bifurcation (is that a penile term?) – the desire to carry out actual violence, coupled with but also departing from an equivalent desire for penalty is not sado-masochistic madness, and not freedom either; it’s an un-sublimated acknowledgment of her visceral desires, and her interest in the world at large. What a thought!
The grown woman isn’t special, one-of-a-kind. She lacks education: not overly sad or happy; she’s not run of the mill, not already different to everyone else.
Naturally, the dreamy notion of the longevity of one’s freedom, amongst other things, might prevent the exercise of certain wills and also preclude fascination with an intimate knowledge of systems of justice and discipline. It might prevent the eventual (not far off) curtailing of the “life” as the woman knows it, via deplorable acts; but our woman doesn’t think of these things.
Her base-line temperament is always quite plain. She doesn’t snaffle away excitement in a humble fashion. That said, she’s not so excited as to forget to smile at the man in the corner shop, or to take the rubbish out for the last time or to cancel her direct debits. Yes, we are to understand that they will trace a certain kind of intent that won’t be disentangled from a certain kind of sanity in her case.
There is also “not caring” that much. She dumps her car at the station: “Dumps” in the sense that although it was parked in the normal way, it’s now abandoned. Slowly it will get that look: leaves collecting, dust, fluff, tickets; women and children wafting past.
The grown woman had only planned the following route inasmuch as it wasn’t satisfying to think of falling into things immediately… There ought to be some time for enjoying the immanence of what is going to happen to her, she thinks, to get a sense of what it feels like before the membranes of social acceptability – like finely textured, transparent sacs pushing against her shoulders and bobbing under the seat – start to rub great holes.
The road she takes is unbearably loud, so loud you might have said something was wrong with the car. Local radio did a feature on it, she remembers: they put the tarmac on upside-down, that was the theory; rough side up like a cat’s tongue. No better explanation.
From the train window there are stacks of back gardens. And allotments too, dingy ones and nice ones where someone actually goes. The general buzz and shrill emanations from the carriage don’t phase her much.
“Look at them dogs! I’d love a big back garden.
I’d kill everything, probably. Can you kill grass? Nearly Christmas! Spider Man socks, brand new coat with fluff round the hood. Age 11 – 12. She’s only 7! Getting really chubby. Lexie got a new skirt and dungarees. Hang her up on the line! There’s plenty of sweets in the fridge for you to ‘ave. I’m not people… I’m your sister! Who’s that big? Huuahahahahahaaaaa….. That photo’s mint. It’s excellent. I can’t liiiiiiive if living is without you. I did one of those quizzes the other day. That tells you what musical represents you. I got Singin’ in the Rain. Quite chuffed. It’s because I’m a party animal – apparently.”
She sleeps a bit, remembering. ‘Shocking, horrifying, fascinating… the full documentary…’ The bell music played on a synthesizer with some reverb over the credits that she always ignored because it framed it all as kitsch.
…Tim is the minister of a small Methodist church in the South. He and his wife, Julie, have been married for twelve years. Unable to have children of their own, they decided to adopt. In Februrary of 1984, they received a call from the department of Social Services telling them they had two children available for adoption. They were told that Beth, nineteen months old and her brother, Jonathan, seven months old were normal and healthy.
The postponing of action might have been a red herring, she starts to think. The indulgence in a train journey was perhaps a mistake. Some purity of vision is starting to cloud. She had thought she would go to the city, to the zoo maybe, but the man next to her is too distracting, for example.
He’s taking a picture of the woman in front who has relieved herself by hanging a ponytail over the back of her seat. It’s long and wavy and reaches the neighbouring man’s knee.
“This kind of hair activity should be ILLEGAL.” He types.
The grown woman is hurt. She forgets her plans for a moment to feel hurt. She can’t say why, exactly, but – caps lock? Make no mistake! lock, not the accidental capitals of the elderly that turn every miraculous email into a shout.
The woman with the ponytail, unaware, presumably, of contact with any object behind her, has crossed her legs, slid down in her seat and taken up space. Unaware, you understand, except perhaps by virtue of that hard-to-attribute feeling that heavy hair hanging from the head can create. The length is intimately known by the owner; the propensity for movement is familiar, the weight pulling (not unpleasantly) on the scalp informs her of something about spatial relations.
She thinks about the zoo, and about how there was going to be flamingo feathers flying, gorilla chests exploding in the field, amongst other things. So dramatic. But it’s quite clear now it will just be her and him.
Resolute, she moves to let him pass and follows off the train. The air outside seals the deal in a way that is like the first day back at school: the hopeful horror of learning and community. Black twigs on the trees and fallen leaves. After the exit slope he turns a corner down a wet, residential street, which for the grown woman, is a wormhole. She is on the precipice, and all molecules feel apparent.
But she’s not a diva, and there is a certain eventfulness about any transgression.
With no further preamble, she catches him up. Through layers of soft, grey leather and cotton (or something) he comes to be on the end of this tool of hers, which she is still clutching as weight starts to be felt, unbearably, through the handle.