An Excerpt From Oskar Submerges

Before parting ways, Alexei, Samuel and I each took a tab of Shangri-La each. It was tasteless, but I found that within seconds, a numbness spread through my mouth. Was this natural? If I was falling into madness, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad? Might free me from the chronic preoccupation of my work preventing me from doing the work. I checked my environment for signs of unreality, as we must train ourselves to wake up in dreams by attempting to wake up from waking life with great frequency and regularity. As such, is the mind truly more sentient, present, and hyperspatial in more states of mind than we give it credit for? It’s just the boundary of memory that blocks off certain information from surfacing at certain times, giving the illusion of unconsciousness to dreams but not so entirely that we cease to remember those few times we have lucidly traversed the inner Oz of poppy fields and hue-shifting technicolor horses we each know in our individual sleepy travails.

I breathed and watched the glass fog. I looked at the way that smudges and blemishes upon the tubular pane seemed to melt into each other, something in their chalky brown breathing that provoked my inner visualizing faculties in such a way as the sweet music of the orbs I knew I was on the cusp of creating. Yes, I had sacrificed comfort for greater understanding, and now I could feel the true doom of the stage in my environment, Oceanus as my haunted palace, how very clever of me to incorporate my interactions with Oskar and Bwythan and the like into my work. I felt as if I had been on the right track all along. I saw Oskar’s face aging in the dirt smudges on the glass. Drifting further every second from any capacity for social interaction, I fled to the bathroom, as if I needed to vomit but instead unzipped my jumpsuit and squatted in the stall, holding my clothes around the back of my legs and in my lap, appreciating the way that the bells on my cuffs and tasseled collar jangled with my slightest breath and movement, finding, over the course of the next several minutes, that, more than I enjoyed the cathartic ringing of small bells in a quiet space, the centering nature of using the toilet and bidet was a welcome relief from my miserable anxiety. No one understood. I took five deep breaths and opened my eyes, feeling a tear cling to the inside of my cheek and slip along the curve on the side of my nose and over the corner of my mouth. It tasted salty and made me think of being held by Nanda. I opened my eyes and could see again, but what good was it when my love was not there? The cool water splashing, cleansing my tender bum and with it the sensitive mental skin of my witnessing self. Be cool and clean at the watering hole, wildebeest, my friend. Thus, alone, did I hear for the first time in a very long time the Call of the Chorus, or what former therapists have called paracusia. There are three distinct types of hearing voices, and I’ve had all three of them. Immediately I was able to recognize the type of hallucination and anticipate its antagonist. Must not stop to think of such naughty things as rectal canals. O but we must. Mustn’t. I knew these voices well, those of my mother and aunt, not their words, but the sounds of their voices as they sounded to me in my prolonged service waiting on them while they called horrible things back and forth to one another across the hall, positioned, as they were, in such a way that if both of their doors were open, they might regard one another when their beds were in the upright position, something of this ill will slung back and forth retained, surely, forever in the mind of their humble intermediary. In addition to these familiar voices I could hear the rattling of tiny maracas, as if played by dancing skeletons in one of the deep crystal caverns of my ear canal. On Mars my audial hallucinations were of a different quality. There I heard all of my waking movements and even the act of falling asleep was narrated by the voice of my first piano teacher, who likewise, seemed to echo everything I thought with only a split-second’s delay. You can imagine how quickly it drove me insane. Dear Krishna, destroyer of worlds, manifest as a hallucinogenic, mouth-numbing liquid. As I’d worked on in therapy, I tried to get in front of this negative spiral with calming thoughts of using a synthesizer to recreate the sounds of the sea, for wouldn’t that be a nice layer to add? Artificial sounds replicating the traditional sounds of waves, wind, the eeks of dolphins, groans of whales, the percussive clacking of crab claws, the sound of a shark lashing at the surface of a body of water, the hum of a submarine engine, the sound of a siren going off as if the vessel were taking on water. And then, if this attention to detail was applied to later operas, as the themes branched outwards from the lunar to planetary to solar to galactic scale, who was to say I couldn’t continue to rearrange the story matter in the actual composition of the piece of music that would accompany the voices of my strutting players so that finally I could use a radio telescope to record the light bouncing off of Jupiter for instance, and then to compile that data and transpose it along the electromagnetic spectrum into the audial range, to use the sound of the planets as a radio input, but then to use a synthesizer to warp the signal, turning space into opera, space opera abstracted to its most basic components and then plugged into a feedback loop, taking on more resonance all the time, a destiny outstretched before me. Music no longer seemed good or bad, but variously abstract. I caught myself drifting again and began to pay attention to the other’s conversation, though I was aware, even without focusing on the specific words they were saying, that whatever was presently being said came off to me shrouded in mendacity. I had the feeling that everything said was a jeer at my expense, having been kept out of some common knowledge for as long as I’d known them, the barrier to my understanding being my lack of understanding of science and the body politic. Or was this simply what happened to me, that there was something off in the way I tried to ingratiate myself into various subcultures, a vagrant quality to my social life both lonely and imposing. I moved on before I ever had to face the thought of being honest with a group of people, ever having to completely reveal myself to them, and wasn’t this, finally, that which kept me from the release necessary to finish a great work of art? In the empty penthouse, I sat on a red couch and twiddled my thumbs, seeing in the wrinkled skin of my knuckles the cracked surface of Europa itself, picturing a microscopic opera playing out between the cells of my bizarre-looking hands, which I held in front of my face, wriggling the fingers, feeling about them as if I might suddenly find that I could see through them, though they ostensibly remained identical to when I wasn’t under the influence of mind-altering substances. I thought about my aspirations of writing orchestral music for an orchestra entirely my own, not only the instruments, but my prima donnas and braggadocios crafted singularly with a regard for their tonal precision, and like my predecessor Haack to continue taking mescaline and composing music on instruments built with my own hands, living an obscure existence in a secluded science initiative on an ice moon in the outer system, wearing clothes I also customized and altered with fingers that would forever key the feeling of blood running through the veins if not for the fact that the hands lose their power and subtle dexterity through overuse, so the body as the spirit must be equally indulged in polymathematical moderation of true renaissance persons. Maybe my inspirations were shrewd, but there had to be some meaning in the way I couldn’t keep from dreaming of Oskar dreaming of Olivia, what was remembered of life with her, dipping, diving, and swimming in hot-springs that stemmed from a vast system of subconscious exhaust. It became clear that Shangri-La had a negative effect on my experience of the present moment, for while it may not have been the underlying cause for the voices, I believe it was the catalyst, and I became so nervous and out of place as I listened to the scientists jibe back and forth, as if speaking another language, that every time a living person’s speech would cease for any amount of time, I’d immediately hear hundreds of voices suddenly resume, as when a speaker at informal public functions finishes talking into a microphone and quickly the conversation of the crowd raises the white noise of a space to the degree at which even those sitting directly beside us must yell or listen to yelling to communicate with us. Shangri-La acted like a poorly routed patch cable in modular synthesis, that turns a sound wave only just symmetrical and pleasant into a screech, the whole process of trying to dial oneself back into reality from burgeoning psychosis as it is happening being a lot like trying to reconstruct a synthesizer patch one has recorded a clip of but for which one did not create a routing diagram, a Sisyphean task of recreating by ear and memory something one had only strikingly achieved (a general sense of the collective human experience of reality or a nice pad sound) through the aleatoric serendipity of putting a random cable into something and then throttling another unknown knob. My life was being experienced at a faster rate than I could compile an understanding of it.

Zachary Tanner writes songs and fiction. He earned his degree in moving images from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His writing has appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and the Southwestern Review. His full length straight-to-Bandcamp debut album, Some Kind of Queer, sold over five copies. He lives with his spouse and children in a small house in Louisiana, where he is rewriting a gigantic multiverse book titled Margie and the Atomic Brain.

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