“He won’t use his elbows.” — Penelope Gilliatt
I need someone to think for me since, as the days close in around me, my mind is blunting: I can only bend my head over such activities as the calculation of the Paschal-cycle, the charting of the milkenway, the cataloguing of diseases in animals like headgargle, chinscab and dotehead… I, nainsell, suffer more than the beasts of the ground. My mind can only live in its memories, when I was muster master in the peninsular wars, puddle-poet and butcher’s broom, when I exorcised some ablacks for the Nabobess of Jawfoot and retrieved my friend the cheesemonger from the coal-gum that had oozed from his chimney one night, when I furdled gorcock corpses to roast upon bonfires of town-weed for the poor folk and extracted nut-bones that had grown, like brittlegrey string-beans, over my uncle’s world-famed gem sculptures, when I was stirrer of imrich, pod-lover hunter with grig bait, muter of dagglings, dulcifier of those men who had suffered too many curtain-lectures and wanted to know how to become digamists, soother of bees’ inflamed honey-bags, cat-band manufacturer for the doors to artists’ courtyards and etching-grounds and, umwhile, when I, nainsell, was brainwright to a man who suffered as I do now. I thought for him day and night out of the goodness of my heart… And what things I saw were no pretty sights. He prowled, with me by his mind’s side, with a seven-shooter grasped in his hand, the trey of spades card in his hat-band, swarms of rosy-marbled moths flocking to the beams from his eyes and, ods-fish, he turned out to be hunting for spatling-poppies (recognizable by their red blooms and glistening saliva dripping down the stalks). They could evidently be made into the thickest imrich to sup, which could then be sold to the workers at the elbow-tongs factory, when they returned home at night along the terraced streets, hungry and gloomy at having to face the inevitable curtain-lectures from their wives. My friend, for whom I was acting as brainwright, told me that they would give more than just a few shillings for such hot soothing broth. Hence the need for spatling-poppies… None of it made sense. None of it does now, as I yearn for my own brainwright. I myself have no friend, not even a wife (who drew her last curtains six Easters ago). I just suffer dotehead, silently, wordlessly… And I remember only the memories, the offices I held (the teasing out of the shorling from the morling wool, being in charge of the offertory at penny-weddings, disentangling nut-bones, muting daggle, thinking for others and so on). The Paschal-cycle has come full circle, my numb brain tells me, and my wife may renew her curtain-lectures from the grave, return to me as the ablack that once haunted the Nabobess of Jawfoot, and turn my brain on her wheel of sorrows. But, no, too fanciful by half. I climb the trap-stairs, yesking on spatling-poppy stew, tufftaffaty hat keeping my head warm. Ods-fish, I forgot the elbow-tongs to loose the cat-band on the sloping door at the head of the stairs. I need to get in. My brainwright sits in the roof, come down, via the milken way, from God, and wants to interview me for a new office, apprentice lavatory cleaner in Heaven… But I can’t get in, and my brain, yes, I feel it finally cheesing over. The last thing I recognize is the trey of spades in the band of my tufftaffaty hat as I put it down beside my nainsell gorcock corpse which daggles down the stairs like a puddle-poet full of incomprehensibilities.
(Published as THE BRAINWRIGHT in STAND MAGAZINE 1990)