Portrait of a Cat Remedy,

An excerpt from the novel Doctor Pluss,

by Rob Couteau





Published in:

Rockhurst Review,
spring 2007 (MO: Kansas City) and Psychological Poems: Journal of Outsider Poetry, 2009 (CA: San Francisco)

“No, doctor; I don’t wanna do no talking. I don’t wanna see nobody. I wanna be alone. Alone! That girl’s driving me crazy! I can’t take it no more! That’s what started it: Bernice and her radio! Makes me sick! I need quiet! Quiet! That’s what I need!”

   Marilyn Boubou glared with moist, red-rimmed eyes, her fists raised in anger. But her rages were nothing new. In this despairing cubicle he’d weathered many a fit and tantrum, many a sad shout and futile gesture of resign. And it always ended the same way. Marilyn cocooned like a modern-day mummy, the sheets wrapped round her head, her silhouetted profile pointing up, sarcophagus-like, her oversized shoes poking from under the blanket.

The cat?”

   “Yeah, doctor. Big old cat.” She covered her face again with the bed sheet and murmured, “It hurts. Hurts my chest. Don’t know what I’m gonna do with that old cat. I wish there was a medicine to drive it out of my body. It disturbs my motion. And now the brain’s gone! Been torn to pieces! Trying to figure out how to get it together. But I know it’ll never be well again.”

   An oversized feline resided in her chest, its stiff fur scratching her vulnerable innards. Each ungainly movement reminded her that she was no longer the master of her fleshy abode. For when the beast groaned, Marilyn groaned. When it scowled, she raised the roof with a wily, witchy lament. When it lay down to rest, then she, too, grew unaccountably immobile, graying with a haughty leaden despair.

   He was sorry to hear it had returned, because now she would inflate like a balloon unless something could be done to destroy it. For it was tragically convenient to blame her awkward obesity and her fierce primal appetite upon this crazy cat of the fleshy sphinx, this lazy Egyptian feline entombed within, lost in a drifting, timeless time of metempsychosis and crocodile gods, of the loopy eye of the ankh–the cross with a teardrop on top–mystic symbol for who knows what: into the loop one entered and never again returned, adrift with the sacred crocodiles and lost in a thick bed of reeds asway in a warm, mosquito breeze, the muddy Nile lapping you along to your mother’s teat which is the grand fan of the delta: lush black earth of Moses and Nefertiti and Alexander and Akhenaton, all had wet themselves in her deltoid lap–let me wash you clean with my dirty waters and raise your material soul to a vast glittering realm of death, death, death–great Egyptian fantasy that delivered us to Hades where we left this paltry life of the living and gladly marched to the everlasting realm of the deceased.

   And through the eye of the ankh they watch us now, those of us left upon this squalid earth, every last one of us orphaned and Marilyn orphaned, too, but somehow aware that she must lie there on the bed, lie there and await deliverance, lie there and suffer the cat: Akhenaton’s cat or Ramses’ cat or Nefertiti’s cat or whoever owns this damned cat, please, get rid of it, for–she pleads with the doctor–she doesn’t know why God allows her to suffer such terrible beasts, such

monsters of reality.

And the doctor jots this into his book, the notes immortalizing, like hieroglyphs in cold stone, a sorrowful prayer offered to an archaic yet not-so-distant deity of despair.

   And Marilyn sits up with the sheet draped majestically from her shoulders, her harsh tone reduced to a barely audible, Delphic whisper:

    “No, I don’t think I’ll ever be well ... someone’s infesting brainwaves ... someone’s tampering with the brain. Maybe they even removed it. From morning till midnight, there’s no peace with that thing they put in my goddamned head.”

That damned cat.

   “Yes, that damned cat! It took bites from me. Scratched me with its claws. Or its teeth. Or whatever. The fur of that animal, it’s irritating my poor stomach. Oh, that beast. It’s agony! It’s too hungry! It eats all my food! I’m living off air! It consumes my liquids! Doctor, I can’t rest, because at night it stands up, and it hurts my innards.”

Can you imagine?

   “That’s about it. That’s all that’s wrong. What else? It’s big. It’s heavy. It’s no ordinary cat. An ordinary cat’s small. This one’s immense. Like a tiger. I don’t know why it wants me, because I don’t want that crude beast. If I can’t rid myself of it, then, surely, I’m gonna leave this world. Leave, by an irritation of the skin. Or by cancer. Now I know what cancer is. Cancer is incurable. And that cat’s a cancer. It says, me-ow. All my life, I’m scared of cats. They stick their heads into garbage cans, sniffing and poking with drippy black noses–for food!”

   Obviously, Pluss reasoned, she’d projected her uncontrollable hunger instinct onto the mirage of an obstinate psychic cat. But what good would such an insight bring? With Boubou, the talking cure was useless. She couldn’t think with her head, because now her bosomthe ancient seat of thought and emotionwas activated as the center of cognition, and all it could do was meow.

   A soul-numbing medicationsomething to dull or obliterate the hallucinationwas the obvious solution. But she refused to take anything. She dismissed the importance of psychotropic medication because mental illness is one thing, doctor, but a cat … that’s an entirely different problem–one your mental medicines can’t resolve.

   Since he was forbidden to deceive a patient, he was supposed to refer to it as a hallucination. To discuss it as a cat–real or imaginary–was considered feeding into a patient’s delusional system: a negative reinforcement of morbid fantasy. Yet, he knew that accepting a patient’s truth–no matter how bizarre–was the only means of gaining access to such peculiar psychic realities.

   But perhaps there was a path beyond such morbid truths: a portal leading to more artful realities.

abandoned by reason
 produces impossible monsters;
 united with her,
she is the mother
of the arts.

   He smiled to recall those wondrous lines, penned by the old master himself, Francisco de Goya.

* * *

   When he informed Marilyn of the new anticat medicine, she blanched with surprise. It was available, he said, at all the local pharmacies. If she agreed to take it, he would instruct the nurse to administer it.

   As they spoke, a glimmer of hope sparked in her teary eyes. At once, she agreed to try it. The only remaining problem was the need to maintain secrecy.

   He tried to warn her, to dissuade her from repeating anything. Director Moorman had to be placated, and kept from the truth, at least for now. But Marilyn’s attention had already drifted away, and she withdrew to her cocoon, her head wrapped in tattered sheets.

   Discretion and secrecy. For this no longer involved the mundane tasks of a psychiatrist, or even the supramundane responsibility of someone such as St. Francis and his idyllic bestial splendors. Instead, it bordered on the magic of Goya and his fanciful lithographs, the Caprichos: satiric fantasies spun in a dark mirth, with such amusing titles as The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters; Dream of Inconstancy; and God Forgive Her.

   Although Goya’s sinister cosmos hosted no vicious tomcats, there were plenty of bloated wide-eyed owls; demented and threatening bats that stretched like an elastic horror across a night sky; and slouching midnight lynx that surrounded a host of supine bedeviled men. Men haunted by compulsive night fancies, with dozens of hallucinated cuckoo clocks ticking and tocking a maddening cacophonous beat across the centuries, into unexpected times and places.

   Such as this one, here and now.

   He glanced at his watch. Time was short; the need for discretion great. But he harbored no illusions regarding his patients’ incessant, indiscriminate need to converse: to prattle to all and sundry. Persuaded by innumerable counselors to share their innermost secrets, it was no wonder they complained of feeling perpetually voided. Robbed of any fecund, nourishing darkness, unmercifully poked and meticulously prodded, they were deprived of every deeply harbored shame, of every unfathomable joy. To talk they must: chatting and blabbering aimlessly and endlessly, lest anything take root and grow in the hushed secret guilt of being.

And the pill grew claws
and swallowed the cat.
And that was that



 fine art

Updated: 27 June 2011 | All text Copyright 2011 | Rob Couteau | key words:novels about schizophrenia psychology psychosis art and madness literature cure hallucination cat