Rainer by Terence Sellers

BOMB 2 Winter 1982
002 Fall 1982
Duncan Hannah

Duncan Hannah, collage, 1981. Courtesy of Steffanoti Inc.

(Rainer broods over his rejection by Anne and blames it on the vulgarity of those with whom he and she associate, that is, petty crooks, prostitutes, et al.)

“I have been smeared by them all, and worst of all by her, my ‘nauseate.’ At first concussive impact I feel this besmirchment in my throat like a strangling; then the blow, the filth passes into my intestines so I cannot eat, so my stomach devours itself and I feet constantly like retching, but I cannot bring up anything not even the black bile l am heir to; and finally their words, their veiled eyes, their whole gloating love of sickness reaches my groin, and several self-pollutions cannot allay the irritation and fury they inspire in me.

“Far worse than these pains, however, is the realization that each time they degrade me (and unutterably folly-struck was I to exempt her from their company!) I suffer it more slightly––that is to say that my capacity for disgust is deepening. It’s a nightmare that I hardly can bring myself to exclaim over. But what are my prospects, given this gradual, ‘natural’ insensibility to their ignobility of soul? Will I soon welcome their soilure with a grateful smile, and give up my place among the Elect altogether?

“Base, passive, and ignorant though she is, without the irritation of her would I know what to strive for? I might have to invent something like her, to gaze upon and reject; or could I give myself back, without this weak reactivity of mine, whole-heartedly to honor and self-esteem? I pray most earnestly that to continue taking my pleasure in her I will not have to cultivate still more despicable gutters.

“That she thrills me essentially I admit; that an ‘essential thrill’ is a vulgar notion and illogical does not prevent it from describing her affect upon me precisely. I picture myself over and over, in nervous mental tic, hurled upon her breast––beached there, weeping a little. Then the longing for her arms around me wells up and my entire body springs stiff, to the alert, and I wait. No one comes. Still, I do not relax. Oddly it is at this point of greatest anticipation that I sometimes fall asleep, in some awkward pose. Then l am spared the loosening, when I know I’ve failed shamefully and know she scorns me for the beggar and weakling I am.

“I’m ill, and more so now that I’ve written this all out, in crude hope she will read it. That still I’m dreaming of her disgusts me––I need not even say. I had yet to realize anything so devastating to every sense I possess than what she has inspired: a cruel mix of sexual passion and virulent nausea. The most loathesome acts I envision––nightmares! No, they’re not, not nightmares. For I awaken from them without trembling, the sheets aren’t sweat-soaked nor twisted around me––and I won’t begin cursing, or even cry the second my eyes open over the exhaustion that is my existence––! I must be dead. It’s true I can’t feel a thing. I don’t know anything, either, don’t know it’s a disgusting nightmare I’m in. It must be I am the nightmare.”

Terence Sellers

(Rainer, believing he has committed two murders, has fled New York and is hiding out in an unnamed city in a decrepit hotel. His psychological degeneration is in full flower.)

“Last night I dreamed I was back in Glen Echo at my foster grandmother’s house during the time my mother was bedridden. I take the elements of this dream as a further revealment of the monstrousness of my childhood which I must never forget. I have taken all precautions against a romantic elision of my beginnings, I cannot ever forgive them for what they did to me. The atmosphere of the dream was ringingly melancholy, a certain unclean film hung in the air of it. My female parents moved too slowly, gropingly through a sordid miasma I now perceive they themselves actually generated.

“It seems I was an artist and had been banished by the State to stay with these two. We were all essentially unconnected; there were implications that I had been adopted, as my mother had been. She was extremely ill and was going to die; her illness was manifest as a gripping pain that attacked her belly and breast and doubled her over. Her mouth would gape open and she would pant. This posture and her stricken mouth made her resemble a gargoyle, and she persisted in showing herself to me in this likeness throughout the dream. That she was not my real mother still attached me to her, and my banishment to her eternal influence inspired a sense of constriction, of prolonged suffocation, and of the imminent deterioration of my brain tissue.

“A great gang of travelers appeared, and all of us were taken to my foster grandmother’s house. But it was huge inside. The passageways and doors had all been made narrower than ordinary to impede free movement or hasty exits. After innumerable turnings we were herded into a long, narrow room divided into cubicles as large as toilet stalls. The room was so black I had to feel my way into the cubicle assigned me. There were those who had been brainwashed and those who were still resistant and sullen. I unpacked my belongings and this diary was among them.

“My foster grandmother entered my stall, she hated me but said nothing, just steamed like a burnt pot with an unspecific fury. By a special gesture I deflected this fury from me. It was then intimated that I would be staying in the cubicle for the rest of my life. I couldn’t believe this and kept on acting as though I were only visiting. But I felt panicky and took out my diary, when a girl-inmate came over and told me it was a forbidden object. I ignored her because I knew it would be a long time before the nurses and attendants focused clearly upon me in the dark and began their work to vacate me. Sweetly, stupidly the inmate whispered, I’m telling you this, because I know you will want to know everything you are supposed to do, that you don’t want to do anything wrong or break any rules. This feeble hissing made my skin crawl. I then fell into a state of absolute panic, even though I really wouldn’t succumb for years and years. It took a while for an inmate to rate the full treatment.

“When I woke up I realized that now I was at the point of the full treatment. Both these bitches had forced me to this, had run me into the ground; when I thought about their stupid pushing me around, how they never left a person alone for a second! So here I was in a foul, dark cubicle I myself had likened to a toilet stall the first day I arrived. They were still working on me, still trying to break me down and terrorize me, turn me into obedient muck.”

Rainer checked the clock. It was too early to get up, but too hot to fall back to sleep. The room inspection had to be done, and Rainer sighed dramatically and rose from the naked mattress. He had fallen asleep drunk and was fully dressed. He removed his shoes, and stood with his back to the door. He then turned to his right and began working counterclockwise around the room. Immediately to the right of the door was a greasy black-painted bureau. He rand his hands lightly over the cigarette-scarred top, as though he were testing its temperature. Each drawer was then yanked out and flipped upside-down, and all of their surfaces given the once-over with his hand. The inner frame was checked, and pulled away from the wall so the back could be perused.

Rainer pushed himself between the bureau and the wall and shoved it to the center of the room. His soft, pallid face shone with the effort. He slid himself along the wall, feeling the dusty green paint up and down to the corner of the room. He then retreated to his first position, and repeated his caress of the wall along the baseboards. Nothing. He dragged a chair over and laboriously continued his possession of the room as far up to the ceiling as he could reach. Satisfied, Rainer reassembled the bureau and began the operation on the next wall.

Emerging from the closet where he had spent close to half an hour feeling the walls, shelves, ceiling and baseboards he quietly shut the door, stood and stared at the shut door, then reached out and opened it a crack. He ran his hands over the formica top of the table next to the door, paused, then flung the closet door open. “Well?” he hissed and thrust his head “aggressively,” as he later styled it to himself, into the closet. Nauseous and weak as this incident made him feel, he continued his handling of the table and the one chair, glancing repeatedly at the gaping door.

A stuffed arm-chair had been ejected from the room on the first day of his arrival as too dangerous. “Bad enough to have a mattress,” he’d murmured as the landlord dragged it out. “Impossible to vacate upholstered things absolutely.” The man was certain he had heard his new tenant incorrectly, though Rainer had articulated clearly and had looked right in his face as he spoke.

“Once the review of the room is completed, and all necessary improvements have been executed and all inconsistencies balanced, it is time to leave the room. It would seem logical that if the room had now been made safe, I could rest here perfectly enclosed. But eventually, with no small solemnity, must I approach the door, dressed for the street. While in the room, I avoid looking at the door at all times; the review of the room does not include the door (useless to inspect the source, I know there’s no helping that infected area). Besides, I know well enough that if there were someone outside, the flimsy structure would not withstand their intent. One rigorously concentrated look would thrust the door aside––

“I listen long at the door to assure myself no one is in the passageway. No one must see me emerge from this door, the idea that I might be associated with this door is utterly repulsive. I can easily imagine those hideous degenerates in avid discussion of me, and one day with the full sense of their right to do so, pounding at my door with the idea of forcing me to respond to their inanities. These wretches are constantly yammering at each other, clotting the atmosphere with their pathetically ordinary opinions. Such mediocre monsters are an extreme peril to me.

“When I am certain no one is out there, I yank the door open, slam it to––fortunately it locks from within, I need spend no time with key––and dash for the staircase. I climb up a flight or two and then descend to further confound anyone I may pass.

“Theoretically once I am on the street I may do anything I wish––that’s what everyone thinks. There is much more to it, for with the increased potential is there a direct rise in the ratio of danger. Therefore when out of doors, I am more at ease for there is only one safe way to behave. Though my room is of a fixed dimension, five strides by three, I have more freedom there. Outside I dare not wander idly as many do, all unaware nor may I crane my neck and gape as I notice certain frayed specimens doing, too open, too ready for just anyone’s regard! I must walk in as straight a line as possible, following my interior line, not stop to speak to anyone, and gaze directly before me. There are numerous rules connected with the exact motion of my legs and arms I can go into in some future entry. It is necessary to ignore all traffic signals, to act exactly contrary to them. In observing these rules of conduct I am able to slough off the worst of the parasites that as each day draws to close become more wild in their desire to attach themselves to me.

“I do not go straight into the hotel upon turning into my street, but install myself in the booth by the window of the luncheonette directly across the street. From this vantage point I may observe all who enter and exit and determine the safest possible moment to enter the hotel. On these warmish days the proprietor keeps the lobby door open and I can see him reading at the desk. If anyone is sitting in the one metal frame chair in the tiny lobby I can see their legs. The window of my room is the one farthest to the right on the third floor. I keep my eye alert to that portion of my door I can see through my open window. If anyone is in there, even if they are crawling about on their hands and knees to avoid being seen, I will know about it, because I would see the door open. I often forget to watch the entrance in my intense concentration upon this section of my door, I sit transfixed, sometimes fearful of blinking my eyes for one second, convinced that when I lose my vigilance the intruder will pick that moment to leave the room. When this effort has run its course and I am exhausted, almost––but not wholly!––despairing of the truth of my conviction, I throw myself at the street––only to double back in a panic and check to see if the door is moving. My irritation at the necessity of this surveillance is intolerable at this moment, and I fervently wish for the detective to stroll around the corner and arrest me––arrest my thoughts!

“At last from sheer inertia I am pushed into the hotel lobby. There is just nowhere else to go. I shudder to reflect upon the amount of time I have spent advertising my interest, my connection with this pit. When I try to reconstruct exactly how much time it was precisely, I find I failed to check my watch upon bolting from the restaurant. Somehow I never remember to do that, and the difference between its being six minutes or nineteen minutes is a perilous and significant difference indeed.

“The proprietor of this architectural loathesomeness looks up and through me with filmed eyes. We do not greet one another. I determined this silence on the first day. Fortunately this inclination is his own as well. I have observed other tenants shuffling on the dull linoleum before his desk, sputtering with small talk and showing embarrassed smiles. They all seem to have guilty secrets he knows about. He gazes upon them with naked contempt. At last they climb the stairs to their toilet-stalls and he irritatedly shakes and snaps one of his interminable newspapers.

“I make for my room. I meet no one. Check the room for interference before I settle in…the dresser first, all the drawers. I feel sick to see the maid’s put liner paper in the drawers again, and have to sit down for a minute. Does she think I’m using it for drawing paper, or what? I pull the nails out of the side window and turn each drawer upside-down into the sewer that is the air-shaft, and secure the window again. Everything else satisfactory tonight.

“Except for the closet, hangers in the closet again, I actually cursed aloud at the sight of them. Out the window with them––and only in a trap like this would the maid leave a dust ball behind. This I have to rip apart and examine before I let it fly out the front window. I wait till it has blown a long way off, some of the things they leave behind let you think they’re gone, that you’ve gotten rid of them, and they proceed to double back on you, and hide themselves more treacherously. I shut the window, and the little room is a sweat-box within five minutes.”

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