The Writer’s Itch
Had they told him that writing stories could become habit-forming, he would never have begun to write down his silly tales; once he had begun to commit them to paper, they had come pouring out of him, of their own volition, and he had lost control over them. The children had enslaved the parent; the created had usurped the creator. What came down on paper was never altogether what he had wanted to put down; so much more would insinuate itself onto the page, until much of what he wrote became unrecognizable to him, with only hints of himself peeping through now end then, mostly near semi-colons and after the exclamation marks. The rest of it appeared to him to have been composed by some other hand, for when he read through it, he could not believe he had written such things, not because it was especially brilliant, but because it was so foreign to his nature, or at least what he thought his nature was. Writing had pulled him out of himself, so that not only was he an omniscient viewer of everything around him, but he was also a viewer of himself.
One morning, along with his abiding compulsion to write everything down - everything he dreamt, thought, felt, saw, smelled, and heard - there came an itch to bedevil him. It woke him up one night, starting with a mild itching in his knee pits, and around the nose, but then the itch got worse and worse each day, until it became an unrelenting pervasive crawling over his entire body. It was a burning, flaring prickle, which might abate in one spot, only to erupt with treble the fury in another.
So he perpetually scratched himself, until it exceeded the bounds of human toleration. His general practitioner referred him to a dermatologist, who prescribed him various ointments and balms, all of which proved ineffectual, except that it made him oily, overly greasy, slippery, and rather noisy in public; the acupuncturist efforts were even less helpful, as the prick of every little needle only added to his torment; and the exotic teas and barks prescribed by his herbalist proved of littlie relief.
His hands and arms became an everlasting blur, as they flailed about his frame like windmills, enveloping his body as he walked about, striving to catch and subdue the myriad outbreaks that ran across his accursed hide.
Yet, he always managed to write amidst this torrent of itching. The more he wrote, the more he itched and the more he scratched.
One morning he determined not to write again, thinking perhaps that it was the root of his itching problem, and that forsaking the writing would repel the itch; but to his desperation, he was loath to stop writing no matter how much it made him suffer bodily. It was a fixation that had become untamable. So he continued on in life, writing and itching, writing and itching, the two feeding off each other, until all he could write about was his itch, and that became very popular with his readership, because his itch had become their tickle, and they could not get enough of it.
But soon they wanted more than to simply read his writing; they wanted to see him write, because it became celebrated that the mere sight of him was an extraordinary spectacle. He was more than just a scribe now; he was performance artist, swinging his limbs about with frenetic elegance, captivating the viewer with a tangle of gesticulation that seemed a perfect chaos at the onset, but that grew, little by little, into a sort of bizarrely harmonious ballet that positively engrossed the onlookers; while, at the same time, twirling his quill around like a juggler or practicing knife-thrower, adroitly stabbing his inkwell to catch a bit of ink, running off a line or two with one hand, scratching an ear with the shoulder of that same arm, and with his other hand, conquering a multitude of other itches in a multitude of other places. The townsfolk came to gaze, awestruck and dumfounded.
He became the town showpiece and the village treasure, for it was a small town with little else to do than to go and marvel at the writer’s itch - until one day, a small, modest traveling circus came to town, only by accident mind you, because it had taken a wrong turn; but having taken that wrong turn, it decided to stay a while and setup for business.
Next day the crowd around the writer was much thinner, and he inquired of a few in the audience as to why the audience was so paltry; they told him that much of the town had gone to the traveling circus. So he put up his quill, donned his best clothes and wended his way, scratching and clawing, to the Show, with a bunch of hangers-on and groupies trailing behind him.
Because he had never seen a circus before, he was as besotted by it as the rest of the townsfolk. He gaped at the acrobatics of the trapeze artists; marveled at the dexterousness of the wiry contortionist; was deeply enchanted by the dwarf rider-girl with the golden bodice and the pink tutu, riding her great stallion standing up, with the same ease and blitheness as one would exhibit on a Sunday jaunt in the park.
And then there was the Amazing Freak show, where he saw a man with his organs all turned inside-out; a tiny fellow with only a stump for a body, that was just a limbless torso wrapped up like a great sausage in a butcher’s shop; a very thin, wasted chap, so emaciated he looked almost transparent; and a monstrous and pitiful two-headed, six-legged donkey.
Now he didn’t feel so unusual, and such an outsider. He was only a writer with an itch - and perhaps, just perhaps, he may have felt a tad less special for an instant – only for an instant, as his eyes caught the signboard for the next specimen in the Amazing Freak Show: the Incredible Wolf-Girl.
‘Come and see her!’ cried out the man at the ticket counter. ‘Come and marvel at The Incredible Wolf-Girl, from the depths of the dark Bolivian jungle. You’ve never seen the likes of her. Come in if you dare!’
Before he handed his ticket to the usher, he paused briefly, as he heard a hush, and then a groan issue from the tent wherein the Incredible Wolf-Girl lay. He parted the flaps of the tent and walked in hesitantly, and then quietly shouldered his way up to the front, where the spectacle was enfolding; the throng around him deferred to him because of his celebrity and yielded their place.
The Incredible Wolf-Girl was not visible to him yet; there was a ring of curious onlookers that girded her. But when they saw that the writer and his itch had come to see the spectacle, the ring of onlookers broke in the middle and gave him pass, and he approached and laid his ravening eyes on the Incredible Wolf-Girl.
Even in the throes of his deepest writer’s inspiration, and the profoundest depths of his despairing itch, he was bereft of enough words to fully express the sublimity of the vision that rapt him at that moment. The Incredible Wolf-Girl exceeded all bounds of wonderment, and made all his words dry and lifeless in comparison to her.
‘What is your name my dear?’ asked the writer.
The Wolf-Grill was dumbstruck; no one had ever asked her name directly.
‘My name is Rosalinda,’ she purred.
‘Rosalinda, such a pretty name.’
He grasped her hand, as those around him stood aghast. He stooped to kiss it, and as he touched it with his moist lips, the itch just under his lip was quelled straightaway. He dared to brush his whole chin over her downy forearm, and his chin became itch-free. She pulled her arm away with a look of revulsion, bewilderment and enthrallment all mixed together.
The writer came back repeatedly to worship the Wolf-Girl, and she felt that it was not a fool’s rapture over an unfathomable wonder, but a genuine concern for her as a person. He wooed her, until she became smitten with him; she had never known any fond affection from men before, only the leering curiosity, as they ogled at her grotesque beauty.
He took her away from that circus, and strolled with her through the park arm in arm, and that part of his arm that touched her arm was freed from itchiness. The two created quite a spectacle as they lolled about town.
Then he made her shave her wondrous fur till it was cropped short, and her pelt became all the more abrasive, and relieved his itch even better. But he wanted perfect relief from his misery so he made her shave it until it was only course stubble, and she was no longer the Incredible Wolf Girl, but only a very stubbly woman. Her superabundant stubble gave her an odd, salt-and-pepper look; she walked about in a sort of dim, speckled haze.
The stubble was the ideal solution for the writer and his itch; he rubbed himself on her perpetually; and as they walked hand-in-hand in public, he accomplished bizarre gymnastics of winding and rubbing around her to allay his itch. He mounted her many times a day, in all kinds of positions, in order to cover the maximum surface of her bristly skin.
She meekly acceded to all his outlandish whims, because she knew it made him peaceful and content; and he responded with so much warmth and fondness, and never left her side.
The circus-boss pleaded with her to let her wondrous fur grow again, to come back and be the Incredible Wolf-Girl again, but she demurred. She stood faithfully by her writer’s side.
She lost her fame as the Incredible Wolf-Girl, and he lost his will to write being so single-mindedly bent on relieving his itch; so they both lost their livelihoods and quickly floundered into profound destitution.
The circus-boss witnessed their dire circumstances first-hand, as he saw them loitering in the park, ragged, meager and panhandling for morsels, and his heart was moved to tears by the plight of his poor dear Wolf-Girl; he began to despise the writer for having taken her way from him, and for having shorn her, and having robbed her of her dignity, just to satisfy his base urges. He felt incapable of helping her all by himself, so he called up her two brothers from south of the border, who both worked as acrobats in a Paraguayan circus. He wrote to them and they wrote back to him, telling him that they would be rushing forthwith to save their poor sister.
They both arrived on the next train, and the circus-boss stood on the platform to welcome them; when they both stepped out onto the platform, the circus-boss and all the townsfolk around him went agape and rounded their eyes in amazement: the two brothers were extraordinarily wooly, and even more wolfish than the Incredible Wolf-Girl. The townsfolk mobbed them and poked at them, and fondled their rich pelts. The circus-boss barely managed to spirit them off into his waiting coupé.
‘I am Paulo,’ said the one Wolf-Boy
‘And I am Pedro,’ said the other.
‘You look astonishingly alike, besides the fur that is,’ remarked the circus-boss.
‘Because we are identical twins,’ said the one Wolf-Boy.
‘Remarkable,’ murmured the circus-boss, under his breath.
That was all the repartee the three shared; they drove in silence the rest of the way, with the circus-boss staring at the twins in the rearview mirror, as they both sat impassively in the back seat.
When the three found the lovers in the park, they were staggered and desolate with grief and pity for the young girl. The two twin acrobats pulled the ravenous writer off their sister; the writer let out the most deafening, despicable, and desperate yowl. Too engrossed in the satiation of his own all-consuming urge, he only struggled to wrap himself around his love and her soothing bristle again, and never even acknowledged the intrusion of the strangers who were tearing him away from his beloved; he had lost all sense of himself; had become fully disembodied from the reality that used to reside in him as a writer.
The circus-boss briefly thought of incorporating the writer and his itch into his freak show, but he quickly changed his mind, as the twin acrobats protested vociferously that they did not want this monstrosity anywhere near their poor sister. Besides, the artist had become too fully consumed by his art. The circus-boss also feared that the scratching and clawing might turn into a more extreme manifestation such as self-devouring, and then he feared the artist would turn on and devour his audience also. He quickly abandoned the idea.
With the loss of his great love and scratching-post, the writer’s itch increased one hundredfold in vigor and eventually drove him to complete and oblivious lunacy. The writer became a raging, bloody fiend, crazily scratching and clawing at his skin till he bled from every pore; and long strips of his hide and even some flesh dangled from his limbs. He wallowed naked in a muddy hole right behind the park gazebo.
Once the circus had struck and left town, the townsfolk sought a new diversion, so they turned their attention back onto the writer and his itch; but now they discovered that the writer no longer existed as they had know him. His art was now devoted solely to the relief of his inconceivable irritation.
The curious came to gaze at the phenomenon; came to glorify in the misery of the writer and his itch. They watched him in his constant and desperate acrobatics. Some felt sorry for him, so they brought over a discarded animal cage the circus had left behind, laid a bed of straw on the floor of it, and deposited the writer inside. They carried the cage up onto the gazebo so that the spectators could have a better view of him. But his gyrating and gesticulating were such that they quickly stirred up a whirlwind of straw dust and made the writer disappear in a miasma. His performance now tuned into a bedlam of flaxen haze and blood-spray. Because his performance now exceeded the limits of human perception, his audience, in their befuddlement, soon got discouraged and abandoned the writer and his itch to the desolation of the park.