Layers of Fear

(Description: A painting of a reading room with wooden wall-to-wall closets, a portrait of a child-demon and a chair next to a fireplace)

Psychological horror is a redundancy. Violence for me is intimacy inverted. The mind’s dark train whistles through several cratered fiction in this phantasmagoria. Violence is its own origin and completion. The first thing you learn here is that every room is a palindrome. All that you want to transcend never stops speaking back to you in a self-same way from whichever direction you consider it. Every fear is ribboned in scrolls of synapse. It is not what you fear but how — the mimesis of hemorrhaged paint, the darkened orifices of doors aching with batik of blood; you become time ‘s spectral mobius strip. You are the room–you find eyes sharpened into buried beartraps. Your limbs feel whittled by the invisible gaze. This beautiful room, this burning damask. You skin yourself within the unselfing. You puff your cheeks to billow at the pause where air becomes light and flickers in a mimicry of snakes. There is a hierarchy of ghosts tied to each other in a perpetual rat king. You imagine jaws of anthracite teetering at a cave with its ribcage full of bleached butterflies: a riddle of wings, a skein into which you are slowly knotted too. If you listen closely you can hear your shoulder blades snap–you can feel the feathers rip through the flesh. Lorca’s duende of the animal and the angel in ouroboros.

The skin is a variety of contingency: in it, through it, with it, the world and my body touch each other, the feeling and the felt, it defines their common edge. Contingency means common tangency: in it the world and the body intersect and caress each other. I do not wish to call the place in which I live a medium, I prefer to say that things mingle with each other and that I am no exception to that. I mix with the world which mixes with me. Skin intervenes between several things in the world and makes them mingle.

– Michel Serres, The Five Senses

Skin is the largest organ — a sea of sensation; bridge & water. Digital ether numbs the distance between boundaries of sagas and boundaries of screens. To touch is a form of arson. Here is a fire that kindles but does not consume. In this frame, I hallucinate the legend about a library in ancient India that swallowed its holocaust for fifteen years and inside it burned the alchemy of philosopher’s stones, unmapped glossology — an epoch of ciphers. Each path of smoke curled into the mask of a sacrifice. Something arises but inwardly: a mirror catches a wave and you begin to drown in thin air. Every name could be a synonym for ash. Every body evolves into a muted scream. Every face turns into a lost key. The compound interest accrued on certain nouns — muscle memory, wisdom tooth, phantom limbs. Can this labyrinth of sinew hold the whole story? Can the tooth root a knowledge only revealed through decay?

The bicameral mind argues about the “illogic” of consciousness. If you took apart the weaving at the center of schizophrenia, you get “to split” & “heart and/or mind”. Here the heart has turned into a hole for the fire to slip in and out as per convenience. When we speak of schizophrenia, we speak of a dissociation between reality and its receptacle.

Hold a flame to the edge of paper. Watch the contour run back to the center. Watch how we participate in our own decline.

If you look for her, you most certainly will miss her. She is a shadow of sulfur dropping and rising through the elevator shaft. She is when darkness is more grey & inconsistent than black and complete. On the way you collect notes; torturuous ephemera. You can mark a spot x and say — Iam here except no you aren’t because x is not x just the memory of x. It is a thing that exists only within the resonance of absence. The painting is a tuning fork. The vibrations ricochet through the dancing floor of your nightmares. A loss of love is common and specific and eternal. We continue to hollow the viscera, we continue to penetrate the moan.

They were noble automatons who knew not what they did.

– Julian Jaynes referring to the Trojan War in The Bicameral Mind

In a conversation, someone reminds me how it is sometimes towards the end of love that we reach our lowest depths, become the most profane version of ourselves. I wonder if there is a kind of meanness that sleeps in certain people, tucked beneath all brawn and guts like an ancient organ. I wonder about what happens to children born without mooring. I wonder if every child is hoaxed into believing that that every child is loveable. Are there those amongst us who were never meant to be loved? Forensic psychiatry tells me that people grow into not away from their deviance. What if it is an undisclosed axiom for refraction, this sunflower trick of the bent self?

a babel of sound. / Each cries a secret. / I run among them, reach out vain hands, and drown.

– Conrad Aiken, The House of Dust

In the stopgap I wish this story had a different language. Time to time, it hobbles uncomfortably as if an awkward teenager who has cut his hand in his friend’ house, worried about the…dot…splattered on the expensive bathroom tile.

When you have ruptured in finite ways, you begin to gather your slices in infinite ways. It is ironic that death induces such tremendous fear when it is the most explicit of life’s gestures. You are aware. It doesn’t lie. You knew this hand would strike you. It was put in place to strike you. There is not much to fear in the grasp of the absolute. What can and should turn us whiter than our eyeballs is the presence of all these reciprocal, regenerative altitudes and breakwater; what has not been revealed to us but waits for us with the patience of a painter’s dead muse.

Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.

– L. Mencken

Hence we must refrain from ‘normal’ and ‘masculinity’. They have outlived their welcome. Why did we welcome them anyway? If hope is a thing with feathers then doubt is a thing with claws. I shake myself into visibility by digging into the dirt of you. I must unbury myself by using the convenient shovel of your body. I see myself in you. I see myself through you. I can only satisfy the extent of my existence in context to how others receive me or how I receive others. Without them, I am just a disembodied voice. An echo locked in a mason jar.

When you have lived your whole life like a child holding his breath underwater, you know that silence is not clean. Never has been.

Scherezade Siobhan is an award-winning psychologist, writer and a community catalyst who founded and runs The Talking Compass — a therapeutic space dedicated to providing mental counseling services and decolonizing mental health care. Her work is published or forthocming in Medium, Berfrois, Quint, Vice, HuffPost, Feministing, Jubilat, The London Magazine among others. She is the author of “Bone Tongue” (Thought Catalog Books, 2015), “Father, Husband” (Salopress, 2016) and “The Bluest Kali” ( Lithic Press, 2018). Find her @zaharaesque on twitter. Send her chocolate and puppies — Tweet at her @zaharaesque.



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scherezade siobhan or scherezadenfreude. psychologist. writer. runs thetalkingcompass — personal website —