The Ofi Press Magazine

International Poetry and Fiction from Mexico City

Georgina Mexía-Amador/ John Kirsch: 1 Story Published
Story by Georgina Mexía-Amador (Mexico)

Translation by Nayelli Pérez (Mexico)

Written in response to the photography of John Kirsch (USA/ Mexico)

Photos first published in The Adirondack Review

Published in The Ofi Press issue 41

 

THE NEEDLE IN THE EYE

 My brother had gone to the bank to pay the electricity bill. Two hours later, they called us from the hospital to tell us he had suffered convulsions while waiting for his turn in the line. Two weeks after the attack my brother was admitted in Las Cruces psychiatric hospital. Perhaps he should’ve done it long time ago, but neither dad nor I wanted to admit it. Or, maybe, we didn’t want to lose him after having lost mom. However, the truth stood in front of us all the time.

            Sometimes, when he was a kid, Juan started yelling, throwing things, and kicking doors, as if he wanted to get rid of something. The attacks increased when he started to work. He said they were due to stress, but after one of my friends, who was visiting me, witnessed one of his violent scenes, we decided to take him to the psychiatrist. That happened two years ago. He had been stabilized with the antidepressants Dr. Reynolds prescribed him. She had diagnosed Juan suffered from a “recurrent major depressive disorder,” which wasn’t associated with my mom’s death. Nonetheless, the doctor changed her mind after the seizure in the bank.

            I miss Juan since he is in the psychiatric, although, when that uncontrollable anger gripped him, he insulted dad and me. He used to tell us to leave him alone, that we weren’t his family, that he wanted to get rid of us. We were always patient, despite that somewhat inexplicable was brewing inside him: I looked into his eyes, into his swollen and purple eyelids. During his attacks, he’d run away from us, he’d run around the house and hit the walls desperately as if he wanted to knock them down with the strength of his fists. Afterwards, he’d cry and say: “I can’t control the world anymore.”

            The most perturbing thing was that the next day he wouldn’t remember anything about what he had said and done, and he’d say good morning affectionately. That part of him is what I miss the most in these moments, despite the fear he instilled in me, and that I felt he was a something that must’ve been exorcized from home.

            Right now I’m in his room. It’s cold and enveloped in bluish darkness. Everything is as he left it before he entered the hospital. Even the smell of his body endures, something like warm milk spilled on an old woolen blanket. I walk on the carpet slowly, almost groping. I don’t dare to turn on the light. On his bed, wrinkles that his body left are drawn on the quilt and pillow. However, I don’t touch anything that has to do with him. I trip over something on the floor and fall down on my knees between a mess of papers and notebooks; one of the plastic spirals, cold and hard, is buried in my shin. I stand up with difficulty and fumble the switch on the wall. The bulb turns on, tired, and spits out its unhealthy brightness when cables inject all their energy into it. The light. That day my brother had gone to the bank to pay the electricity bill, and from there he’d go to work: a monotonous day, ordinary, suddenly broken by something that had been accumulating in his body.

            I don’t want to see his bed, so instead I watch the mess that caused me to fall down in the dark. Juan’s backpack is on the floor with all its contents spilled on the carpet, as if it had been thrown open on purpose. I don’t want to snoop into his stuff, since his presence gravitates strongly in the room, as if he was hidden under the bed, but I can’t refrain my curiosity. “Sometimes you are far too indiscreet,” dad’s told me, and it’s true. But I can’t help it. It’s not easy to answer when everybody asks me about Juan, making fun of his being in the psychiatric: “And how is the social misfit of your brother?”, “Where is the madman now?”

            I pick up a notebook whose spiral is tattooed on my shin after the falling. I sit down on the bed afraid of reading it. I really feel Juan is spying under the bed, as when we were kids, and it seems that he’s going to grab my ankles with his thick and big hands at any time. I have to calm down. The bulb pours its white light reluctantly on my brother’s calligraphy. I don’t understand much: scribbles, scratches, circles. And when I think I’m turning the pages in vain, I stop on one that is not like the others, since in the middle of the grid sheet there is an untitled paragraph, with no date, that reads:

 

I watched it on TV today: in rural areas of remote India there are many cases similar to mine. This gives me hope and horror at the same time, because that would confirm I’m not insane and I don’t suffer anything Dr. Reynolds says. Bruises returned to my eyelids yesterday. Pain is so intense, that not even all drugs in the world could take it away from me. Awake and asleep I have felt how someone’s bony fingers open my eyes up without letting me blink to insert a very long needle, like the ones used to embroider, and then they hammer it hard until it penetrates my brain. I clearly feel the needle stirring the pink flesh of my brain and how it crosses the inside of my skull from the eye sockets. I feel how they hammer the needle against my skull and I also feel the shocks that make me convulse. I bite my tongue, my legs move without control, I feel that someone holds my head with a leather belt and tightens it around my forehead… I hate electricity. I hate light. But neither dad nor Lucía would understand… What will they think when I tell them it’s not me who throws things and kicks and insults without reason? They won’t believe me when I tell them that she has chosen me to save her, and that all this time it’s been her fury what has been showed, not mine.

 

I am Lavinia Bradley

I am Lavinia Bradley

I am Lavinia Bradley

And I’m dead.

 

*

 

Dr. K. Reynolds’ Diary

Las Cruces Psychiatric Hospital, New Mexico

April 5

 

I’ve had to get on to my colleague, Dr. Sita Pathiraja from Colombo, about Juan Fernández’ case. I’ve been controlling him with antidepressants to reduce his aggressiveness for two years, and in each phase of therapy he’s been quiet, lucid, even enthusiastic. He has had only two panic attacks during the treatment, but since his last episode in the bank I concluded that seclusion was the best for him, considering that the head of the unit of paramedics who arrived in ambulance for him, told me that when reviewing and taking his pulse, Juan inexplicably showed signs of having received a 400 volt electric shock.

            I chat with Juan about two hours every day, and I’ve commented to Sita what he reveals me on his conversations. My diagnosis of depressive disorder weakens every time for I think he must be suffering retrocognition instead, or what Sita has named as psychic reincarnation, since Juan assures he’s not insane, that he doesn’t need any medicine or treatment, and that he is doing everything possible to “help her.” When I asked him who she was, he told me: “Lavinia Bradley.” I asked him to tell me more about her and even though he told me that “her time hadn’t come yet,” he said to remember his past life in detail. Days after, Juan confessed he is Lavinia Bradley, a woman who died at age 27 (the same age as Juan) while they were practicing a lobotomy on her at this very same hospital, in 1954.

            I shuddered when he revealed this detail to me. Lobotomies ceased to be practiced at the beginning of the 1960s because they were considered cruel and ineffective in the treatment of mental disorders. The procedure consisted in inducing the patient into a comma by electric shocks and crossing his eyeball with a needle towards the brain. The latter coincides with the report of the paramedics that nursed Juan in the bank because, apparently, the convulsions he suffered were the result of a violent electric shock. Something as inexplicable as the phenomenon of spontaneous combustion.

            This being so, I’ll have to consult the files to corroborate if indeed a woman with that name died at this hospital while they were practicing a lobotomy on her. I think Sita can be interested in the idea of Juan being the reincarnation of Lavinia Bradley for in Hindu and Buddhist religions this is something totally plausible. And this is just the area in which Sita is an expert. She became famous in Sri Lanka and the south of India for disclosing the case of a girl in Ratnapura, who assured to be the reincarnation of a woman who died buried by an avalanche, and who was later recognized by the widower and her children. The story appeared in the papers and even on TV. I’m looking forward for her arrival at Las Cruces in a couple of weeks.

 

*

 

Dr. K. Reynolds’ Diary

Las Cruces Psychiatric Hospital, New Mexico

April 16

There’s no lobotomy registered in the hospital’s files. However, there is a record dating from June 23rd 1954, that states Lavinia Bradley was admitted due to symptoms of depression. She was 27 years old, and was the wife of Thomas H. Bradley. Apparently, it was her own husband who sent for the Commission of Insanity to confine her. The record reveals that during the medical interview, the patient stated: “I can’t control the world anymore.”

Now I remember. We were at the supermarket once, when mom was still alive, and suddenly my brother stopped playing with me and stared at me seriously instead. We were playing around the milk crates and an aluminum can caught his eye. It was milk formula for babies. It was as if another person had entered into his face and changed his features. Then, I remember he said something totally out of place in the lips of a four-year-old child: “Yes, I had two kids. They were lovely. My first delivery was infernally painful at that dreadful hospital with iron beds. My first baby was called Jones James Bradley, and two years later Thomas Scott Bradley was born. He was the first to be fed with milk formula. It was a novelty those days….”

 

*

 

Dr. Sita Pathiraja’s Diary

New Mexico, April 22

 

Yesterday I arrived at Las Cruces, attending to a call for help from Keira Reynolds. The last time we met was in New York, in a congress of the World Psychiatric Association.

            I’ve been aware of Juan Fernández’ case. Keira thinks it may be retrocognition, a term that psychiatrists have laughed at nonstop. A person gifted with retrocognition is able to see past events through the visions conformed by psychic residues of other individuals. Nonetheless, Keira also thinks it may be a case of psychic reincarnation, a term that I coined from cases I’ve studied in India and Sri Lanka.

            Hindus and Buddhists believe that “a person’s soul” is caught in a cycle of reincarnations. In my experience, people who reincarnate adopt their last identity and remember the circumstances of their death. I’ve documented a considerable number of these cases, and most coincide that the dead person uses her new body to solve any event of her past life. I’m impartial and sometimes skeptical, but there are some cases that have shocked me to the depth of my veins: one of them took place in a village near Kalutara, where a ten-year-old boy who was cutting coconuts to be sold to the tourists on the beach, cut off four fingers of his left hand and bled to death hours later. On that same day, in Point Pedro, in the northeast of Sri Lanka, more than three hundred kilometers from Kalutara, a child was born without fingers who, when I interviewed him, assured me that he remembered when he was cutting the coconuts. He gave me all the signs of the place where he’d lived “before.” When my team and I took him with the family of Kalutara, I witnessed how he recognized those who had been the deceased’s parents. They had never met before… Not in this life, at least.

            I bear in mind how I shuddered with the case of a woman from Ratnapura who died when a mudslide buried her house during the monsoon, and reincarnated in a girl who, being in front of the widower, said: “Everything’s fine, I’m tranquil because the kids and you were saved.” If Juan Fernández’ case resembles any of these, I wouldn’t be surprised. Rather, the question is, what does Juan Fernández need to solve for Lavinia Bradley?

 

*

 

Dr. Sita Pathiraja’s Diary

New Mexico, April 23

I have met Juan Fernández today. Keira Reynolds took me with him while the rest of the patients did some exercise in the garden of the inmates’ pavilion. When he first saw me, Juan smiled with relief, as if I was somebody he had been waiting for his whole life, and said: “I’m not insane, Doc. I truly am Lavinia Bradley and I can’t control the world anymore.”

            Keira left us alone. I asked Juan about Lavinia Bradley and he revealed a series of baffling details, such as the birth of each of her children. At one point he said: “My babies… I miss them so much, although on one occasion Jones James filled the carpet with his pee.” I watched him while he talked: he was very thin, collarbones seem to jut out from the skin and his shoulder blades poked out through the hospital gown. He was pale and unshaven. Then, something weird happened: he forgot about the children and started talking about Thomas, the husband. He got enraged. Male nurses approached and one of them commanded me to stay away, but I didn’t think it was dangerous. Juan stood up and started yelling in pain. He showed me his eyes: two bruises completely covered his eyelids, like black spots. “Doctor, look at what he did to me!” I asked him, calmly: “I don’t understand, Lavinia, what do you mean?” But Juan didn’t answer. He covered his face with his hands and sat next to me. He then whispered: “It was them. I feel the needles stirring my brain again. They hammer needles in my eyes and I feel that….” But he didn’t finish the sentence. He collapsed and started convulsing on the floor, right at my feet.

            Everything happened in a second. Keira ran past me and started leading the team of nurses. They held him. They sedated him. They came with a stretcher and took him to his room. Hours later, Keira called me and told me Juan showed signs of having suffered an electric shock.

 

*

 

Dr. K. Reynolds’ Diary

Las Cruces Psychiatric Hospital, New Mexico

April 24

Sita Pathiraja has finally arrived, the psychiatrist of Colombo who is a specialist in psychic reincarnation cases. Her first encounter with Juan wasn’t so fortunate. Convulsions caused by inexplicable electric shocks have increased, and it baffles me that clinical analysis do not show any physical abnormality. His loss of weight is on the increase, but I refuse to give him more drugs.

            Today we examined Juan one more time, but the unpredictable happened again. I was walking with Sita along the corridor that leads to the general building, when one of the male nurses reached us running: “It’s Juan. Convulsions.” When we arrived at the room, nurses had held him already. Juan squirmed under the covers of his bed. When he opened up his mouth to scream, a thread of drool hanged down from his lower lip. He cried. He cursed. He kicked the bed with his bare and hairy feet. His eyelids were black and his hands clung to the mattress like hooks, as if he wanted to rip it with his long and dirty nails. Sita observed in silence, while another nurse injected him a strong dose of morphine.

            After a while, Juan was sleeping, and Sita and I left the room.

            —What do you think? — I asked her. And after a long pause, Sita said:

            —Both are suffering a lot and I’m afraid there’s only one way to end up with that.

 

*

 Dr. Reynolds spoke to dad on the phone. She told him Juan is not ok and that she had sent for a specialist in another area, because she thinks my brother suffers from “psychic reincarnation.” And in the meantime, I read on his notebook: I am Lavinia Bradley. And I’m dead.

 *

 

Dr. Sita Pathiraja’s Diary

New Mexico, April 28

 I’ve been in Las Cruces for a week, observing Juan Fernández. If this is indeed a psychic reincarnation case, it little resembles others. What they have in common is that they’re about violent and sudden deaths, that left a void, an existential residue. However, most of the cases are solved more or less satisfactorily: the reincarnated person solves what she left unfinished with her “past” family and life goes on. But this case is not that simple.

            Keira and I looked up in the archive if Lavinia Bradley died in the hospital due to a lobotomy, but there isn’t any record about it. We also searched in the civil registry for the supposed sons she had with Thomas H. Bradley, but there’s nobody with those names. Nonetheless, that is not the weirdest: Thomas H. Bradley signed Lavinia’s admission to hospital in 1954, but his death certificate says he died in 1953.

            I have more questions than answers: either somebody forged Thomas Bradley’s signature or he didn’t die in 1953. Did Juan make up the names of those kids? If so, where did he hear about them or how did he know that one Lavinia Bradley really lived and was confined here? And what surprised me most was, if those kids never existed, how can a man describe in such detail and pain the experience of delivery?

            Bruises on Juan’s eyes appear and disappear. Juan says time for “saving Lavinia” has come, and before convulsions start, he holds his head in despair and threatens to gouge his eyes out. Right now, I have in front of me a few drawings he made: one of them shows a wooden electric shock box, and, in the other, there’s a long needle beside a metal hammer: yes, precisely all the implements that were used to practice lobotomy before it was forbidden. But, how does he know?

            “I can’t control the world anymore” is what Juan yells before convulsing. Every time it becomes harder to control him and prevent he hurts himself. I suspect that it may be necessary to reach the climax to make this come to an end… Although, certainly, the resolution won’t be in the same way as in all the cases I’ve treated in Sri Lanka and India. There’s too much pain in here, too much guilt: death instinct.

            Darkness has fallen over Las Cruces. There’s not a single sound outside. No light in the immensity of the desert. Everything is drawn as if something in the middle of this calm was about to burst.

            And it is so: the telephone rings.

 

*

I am Lavinia Bradley. I’m 27 years old and I can’t control the world anymore. Everything overwhelms me and these men from the Commission of Insanity have taken me with them because Thomas says I’m insane. Change diapers, prepare feeding bottles with baby milk formula at three a. m., wash clothes, please your husband, and listen on the radio that Eisenhower is going to invade Vietnam, and you’ll see how you too go crazy. I’m in the operating room within four white walls. They wrap my head and I feel electric shocks all over my body. These doctors want to kill me. They gave me electric shocks over and over again. My ears are buzzing. My teeth bite my tongue. My body arches without control and my pale legs twist under the covers. And when they think I no longer feel anything, they put needles in my eyes and stir my brain. I am Lavinia Bradley. And I am dead.

 

*

Barred windows. Walls painted gray. Consulting rooms. Elevators. Round bulbs reflecting like white eyes on the dusty floor. The smell of death, of insanity: anonymous and dirty hospital clothes.

            Keira Reynolds phoned Sita Pathiraja. She was desperate. Juan was convulsing again and the team of nurses couldn’t control him. Once they met at the psychiatric hospital, Sita and Keira ran towards the pavilion where the unfortunate Juan Fernández was confined. They heard the commotion. Nurses came and went between a confusion of shouts and indecipherable orders. “Hold him! Stop him!”, Keira shouted, and she ran with Sita towards the end of a corridor with green walls. Nurses struggled to catch someone who was on the floor yelling at the top of his lungs: “I can’t control the world anymore! I can’t control the world anymore!”

            Under a tired and white lamp that was on a corner, an old electric shock box was placed on a table.

            Nurses came with a stretcher and they tried to restrain Juan and sit him up, but he was kicking and twisting. Dr. Reynolds kept giving orders and waving her arms, and when it seemed everything was already under control, and that they had managed to hold him to the stretcher, an intense and piercing shout was heard that all the windows of the corridor creaked. The two doctors and the male nurses backed off, feeling an unspeakable horror.

            Juan sat on the stretcher, half naked, with the hospital gown torn hanging from his bony shoulders. He cried and thick tears fell copious from his left eye. A thick dribble drooled from his lower lip into his neck and chest as he sobbed, splashed by blood. Blood also trickled down his forearms and dripped incessantly from his elbows to his thighs and the sheets of the stretcher, creating expanding red spots.

            With his right hand, Juan Fernández held the eye he had gouged out and, with his left hand he was slowly removing a long needle from the eye socket, just like the ones psychiatrists ever used to drill patients’ brains.

About the Collaborators

Fiction: Georgina Mexía-Amador (Mexico City, 1985) has a BA in English Literature (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) and a MA in Medieval English Literature (The University of York, UK). She writes poetry, novel and short-stories. She has published in magazines in Mexico and England, and used to edit the bilingual literary magazine Micolo's Barbershop. She is the author of the artist-book Las tentaciones de Asurbanipal. Her website is http://papeldestraza.weebly.com (Spanish).

Photography: JOHN KIRSCH is an editor for an English-language publishing company in Mazatlan, Mexico. Prior to moving to Mexico, Kirsch worked as a reporter and occasional photographer for newspapers in Iowa and Texas. He has a B.A. in journalism from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and an A.A. in photography from Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa.