Rorschach 1: The Rough Beast


The Lab of Love coverBy Patrick Roscoe

“Don’t ask,” I say when the dark beast wonders about my past, as if the simplest questions regarding personal history are too complicated to consider. Even name and age and place of birth remain for me elusive points beyond the reach of plain statement; I have invented and reinvented my life story so often and for so long that fact can be separated from fan­tasy only with difficulty, and never with finality. Was I born in 1962 on an obscure Mediterranean island floating off the coast of Alicante, or did I appear upon this planet three years later in some cramped Canadian town? Was my childhood dreamed amid the jungle of Tanzania’s Ngondo Hills or in a Mexican village sprinkled beneath slopes similarly tangled with green? Perhaps seven early years were spent in a cold, dark cage where I was per­sistently starved, beaten, violated; or, for an equal amount of time, until they said she was unfit, I orbited the Pacific Northwest with a mother who danced out of reach of men with eyes that burned in the dark beyond the stage. Say the pale nuns at St Cecilia’s had to care for me when I remained mute about what happened before I was found on their steps. When I wouldn’t tell who, when I wouldn’t tell why. Did my adult voice emerge when I discovered myself at the northern edge of the Sahara, adrift upon the dunes, in search of the lost oasis? Or, by then, was home a decaying rooming house in Hollywood, a corner on the Boulevard, the coffee shop where beat-up angels ruffled wet feathers and waited out the rain? In what year occurred that cold winter in Paris where, from my hotel window, I studied the tops of trees in the park across the way, as if the design they made above grey roofs might explain why I shivered here until spring? An autumn in Vienna blurs into four difficult seasons in Lisbon, bleeds into six years caught within the spell cast by garlic and orange blossoms, lit by gaudy neon on the Guadalquivir. Do you really wish to travel with me through a labyrinth of names and dates and places, in hope of discov­ering the Minotaur who with hollow voice demands the straightforward, sequential data of a past before he fills on the human flesh which embod­ies this experience? Occasionally I examine my map of skin for clues about where I have come from and what happened to me there. Lines, marks, blots. Upon my left elbow curves the thickened raised souvenir, shaped like a worm, of my fall from the top of an apple tree (twenty years ago?), from where I believed I could see to the end of the world, to the end of this existence. Adorning my forehead, at the hairline, discernible only by touch, a slight indentation betrays that a white horse’s unshod hoof once broke my skull and allowed the eager blood behind to find release. A souvenir from an L.A. knife crosses the right side of my torso; decorating my left knee is a nagging reminder of one more African accident suffered upon the Ngondo hills. Evidence of too many years in southern sunlight creases the corners of my eyes as, in bed, I explain to lovers how these scars came to mark once blank, perfect skin. Of course, this autobiography I spin like some ersatz Scheherazade may vary from one telling to the next. Of course, I’ll resort without qualms to any of my dazzling tricks to sus­tain your interest, to postpone your departure. Really, my torso was torn in Tanzania when I was ten, and not by a knife. Actually, what the knife slashed was my knee; honestly, this happened in San Francisco, not Los Angeles. In truth, I looked from a Paris window in summer, not winter. When conflicting memories disturb me with the notion that autobiog­raphy may be a science less than exact, I turn to documents designed to define a human being in the baldest terms. They offer little help: my driv­er’s licence presents a birth date found nowhere on my passport; in fact, there are three passports—one genuine and two forgeries—each suffi­ciently authentic to allow borders to be crossed without incident. Yes, I’ve travelled through the world using various identities—not because I dislike my true history and wish to eliminate it, but because of an inability to stay contained within the parameters of autobiography, of any constricting system: I still insist I can be anyone, everyone; anything, everything. For television cameras and journalists, we continually invent ourselves—all of us who inhabit this skin with its multiple layers that will ultimately be dissected and probed and analyzed in the laboratory of love—we stub­bornly embark on yet another act of experimentation, creation, rebirth. In the end, I am only a fiction: shaped by editing, subject to revision, open to interpretation, always in danger of going out of print. Every year or so, a Who’s Who entry bearing one of my names is updated with what are, hopefully, at least approximations of the truth. One day, I may perform this task with greater certainty. Would that indicate evolution, maturity, self-acceptance? Or serve instead as a white flag of defeat, an admission of limited possibilities? Such questions do not apply; the jargon that poses them rings absurd in the dark tunnels that connect longing to loss; it has no relevance to this fumbling journey. “Never mind,” I tell the Minotaur, who still insists on concrete fact, before I rewrite myself once again, this time as hero. Now named Theseus, I slay the rough beast and his desire for something more than myth.

Reprinted with permission of the publisher from Laboratory of Love, by Patrick Roscoe, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2013.

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Patrick Roscoe

Patrick Roscoe's widely published and anthologized fiction has won two CBC Literary Awards, two Western Magazine Gold Medal Awards, a National Magazine Award, and a Prism International Short Fiction Competition Prize among others; it has also received a pair of Distinguished Story citations from Best American Stories, and is frequently selected for Best Canadian Stories. Fall 2013 marks the publication of Patrick Roscoe’s seventh book The Laboratory of Love, a comprehensive collection of this author’s most celebrated fiction.