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Winter 2002Volume III Special Issue I


portal to our archives

from the editors

News & Notes

who we are & how to submit


David Ohle novel,

Motorman, was published by Alfred P. Knopf in 1972. His short fiction has appeared in Harper's, Esquire, the Paris Review and elsewhere. 

The Flocculus, his sequel to Motorman, is forthcoming in the summer of 2002 from

He compiled and edited

Cursed From Birth: the Short Unhappy Life of William S. Burroughs, Jr., forthcoming from Grove-Atlantic in February, 2002.

A native of New Orleans, David now lives in Lawrence, Kansas, and teaches at the University of Kansas.






Mother and Son

David Ohle


Mother had a new linen jacket tailored for me when I came to live in Hollywood. “My followers think the dull, oversize, coarse gray suits you wear hardly become the son of the inventor of edible currency,” she said, before presenting my measurements to a tailor from Chungking, who made the jacket.

Mother strongly urged marrying siblings to one another. “You’ll always have a pretty good race that way,” she said, and spent great energy encouraging me to perform coitus with my eldest sister, though I never did. It was my understanding that Mother intended to take the offspring and raise it as a house servant, someone groomed to care for her in her dotage.

When I was only six, just before the age of reason, she sewed my lips shut as a punishment for spitting on her night-blooming jasmine. I didn't eat, drink or speak for three days, until my brother, Freddy, snipped the thread with scissors.

Mother was about five-feet-ten, skeletal, with long, black hair, a soft forehead and dreamy eyes. She grew her own tobacco and sent it to a cigarette factory for machine rolling. When she picked up a newspaper she read every item, even the advertisements. Buffalo brand lithia water was the only kind she drank. It was excellent, she said, for renal calculi and all diseases dependent on a uric acid diathesis. She relished lying in bed all day, writing in her journal.

If an inch were added to Mother's height she would be too tall. If an inch were taken away she would be too short. Another grain of talcum and she'd be far too pale. And a touch of rouge would make her overly red.

She healed herself and she healed her family. When one of us had a cold, she added a little red currant jelly to a glass of hot whisky punch before bedtime, and that did the job. Or she’d take a pound of gravy beef, cut off all the fat, chop it fine and let it sit in water two hours. “Beef tea,” she used to say, “mighty good for you and me.” Or she’d give me a mustard bath. Two tablespoons of mustard per gallon of water. In the basin she’d mash the mustard into a paste, then gradually add it to the bathwater.

In the course of her pioneering work in perfecting edible money, using a syrup of gluten and agar-agar, one of her followers drowned in a tub of it. In the morning, as was her habit, Mother came in, signaled the followers to pedal the machinery up to full, then processed that batch, which yielded a record number of tasty bills. But it was noted a few days later that one of the workers, a quiet, hermetic type, had been found missing. Shortly after, the money began to stink. Someone noticed eyelashes sticking out of the the paper. Then everyone stopped eating it. The furor was short-lived and now all of us enjoy the many benefits of edible money.

Mother taught my brother, Freddy, to speak in a straightaway and truthful fashion, mimicking the journalese of late Americana. Freddy died one hot August day when, in an effort to lower his body temperature, he hopped into an old fridge Mother kept on the back gallery for storing certain comestibles. Though Freddy was clever enough to prop the door open with a stick, a sudden gust of wind blew across the French-occupied valley and carried the stick away, slamming the door. Mother and I were away, bathing in the Ganges, and Freddy suffocated.

His corpse appeared lifelike and normal after death, pliable of skin and ruddy cheeked. Death’s train had come, but my brother hadn’t climbed aboard.

“It hardly seems proper to bury him,” Mother said.

We kept Freddy in the sun room for many years and gave him a very fine corduroy sofa to lie on. For the most part he lay still, though when the barometer fell before a storm, his belly distended and he passed gas. When the skies cleared, the belly defated. On one occasion his dry lips parted and a whitish spew of leukorrhea spilled forth.

Mother's fondest wish was to impose the rules of dreaming on her followers. “Dreamland is unbounded,” she told the assembly, “and has none of the frailties of the body. There, eternity is compressed into a moment and infinite space is traversed more swiftly than by light. In dreams, the dead are not dead, though they die and the living do not live, though they are alive.”

In addition, mother postulated that, were it possible to retain the timelessness of the dream world when awake, by whatever means, then time would appear as eternity. At last there would be time enough to fulfill our dreams.”

Back in '22, Mother ingested one hundred and forty four sewing needles. She encased them in paraffin and swallowed the great horse pill with gusto. In a few days she complained of considerable irritation of the skin and of itching rashes. Within a week, needles were protruding from all parts of her body.

A physician paid a call to her home and extracted them with pincers. In the first harvest, one hundred and forty three were recovered from her arms, hands, breast, buttocks, feet, the lobe of the ear, the vagina, and the corner of her false eye.

She said there was no pain attached to the needles' emergence, even though they came out invariably thick-end first and unless immediately extracted, disappeared again.

The physician said that needles inserted under the skin were known to have been borne through the muscles in many authenticated cases, coming to rest in distant parts from the place of origin, but there is no record of a needle being introduced into the stomach and then emerging from the ear, as the last of Mother’s needles had. To do that it would have had to traverse the skull, which was incomprehensible.

Mother addressed her followers in sexual matters, saying, “I think, frankly, that we should take pains to avoid the stimulation and abnormal excitement of coital passion, which in the past has done so much harm in the lives of human beings everywhere.”

I must confess, Mother was a violent-tempered and selfish paraphiliac. A prickly feeling went through her, a voluptuous pleasure, when animals were beaten in her presence, or if she read tales of cruelty, about torture, the rack, or the glinty guillotine.

We could never leave a bottle of mucilage around, as it would drive Mother into a frenzy and she would not be satisfied until I took off the rubber nipple and poured the sticky stuff down her throat.

When I was a youngster, Mother insisted I harden myself by going around naked to the waist when others wore thick, padded overcoats, and she subjected me to stringent diets of boiled roots and paw-paw fruit. When we lived in Hollywood, she forced me to wear a lock of hair on my forehead and have my photograph taken in Bonaparte's famous pose.

One day I presented her with some beetles in a match box. She slid the box open and daintily bit each of the insects in a way that would immobilize, but not kill immediately. She put them in a pile on the carpet and watched them slither and agonize and twitch. When they were dead she ate them.

Mother saved all of her bodily exuviae: phlegm, tears, stool, pus, ear wax, dandruff, vaginal discharges, nose pickings and bitten-off fingernails. She flossed between her toes with thick white yarn to dislodge specimens of the cheesy paste abundant there.

Once a week one of Mother’s followers, a moxibustionist, went to work on her, burning dry moss in little glass jars, then setting them at strategic places on her body. The heated air made them suck at her flesh like leaches to stimulate the bone marrow and encourage the production of white blood cells. Such treatments left her covered with painful red welts.

Then came the herbalist, who made her breathe the fumes of boiling garlic and ginger, drink wheat grass tea, take in Evening Primrose oil, lecithin, acidophilus, shitake tea, Taheebo and Echinacea extract and drink her own warm urine first thing in the morning.

A chill ran up my spine one morning when she summoned me to her room and grasped a handful of loose, facial flesh, pulling it outward, then letting it go. Instead of retreating, the lobe sagged in place like a doughy breast.

When I was eighteen Mother sent me to the United States where I attended Oral Roberts University, solving the problem of school expenses by constructing my own portable home at the edge of campus. It consisted of a covered wagon built on an old auto chassis, the wooden sides being covered with a canvas roof. Inside there was a bunk, a stove, a table, a chair and a rack for books. I managed to live on about ten edible bills a month by doing my own housekeeping and eating vegetables and fruits Mother sent to me, all the way from 3 Fountain Court, her London home. If one visits the Historical Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, even today, one can see my cozy wagon, reconstructed in painstaking detail, down to the chamber pot and its darkly waxen contents.

There was a time, after her trial for sedition, when Mother learned to be idle, wandering about from house to house, asking for crusts at back windows. She tattled and became a busybody, speaking things she oughtn't. Arrested, she was publicly spanked, to no avail.

In short order she was haunting the alleyways, selling tobacco to innocent children, spreading gossip like butter, until one wild night when she fell asleep sitting on a gutter's edge. By morning her feet were frozen a sickening blue.

She made her way to the Strand and begged a surgeon to take them off by any means at hand. The surgeon obliged, blowing an analgesic powder into her face before going to work with a bone saw and a chisel.

When the feet were free of their stumps, the surgeon heaved them into a nail keg and then went to the closet, selecting a pair of stout, birch shoetrees. Using metal clamps, carriage bolts, auger and tap-screws, he affixed them to her protruding ankle bone. After a period of hopping around, she grew accustomed to her new feet, walking with ease, swimming in the Thames. She had no further inclinations and soon was at work on her most ambitious work, The Book of Surprizes.

Mother tells of an occasion which found her pedaling her car along the Great Trench. As she went along she was set upon by a band of lunatics. They did nothing to her that would snuff her wick at once, and when she fainted from the awful agonies inflicted, they revived her by grasping handfuls of her hair and tearing them from the scalp.

Then they commenced their ever-more ingenious tortures. “This is fer havin’ such ‘orrible red hair,” one of them said, feeding pine needles and cones to a slow fire smoldering on her stomach.

The next day and the day after that, she continued to supply fun for the lunatics. A comely young female came to her and tried to make me open her mouth while she squatted over her to defecate. When Mother refused this final indignity, the lunatic fetched a brick lying by and one-by-one knocked her teeth in, smashing her jawbone in the process. Then the lunatic grasped her tongue with a pair of wooden pincers and made every effort to pull it out, though in the end she failed, only bruising it and causing it to swell and nearly choke Mother. All this seemed to convulse her, and the other lunatics, with mirth.

Another pleasantry was to amass a quantity of glowing charcoal on a strip of leather and bind it around her head. When she would swoon, the coals were removed and she would recover, but in an instant a fresh lot was applied.

She made such sport for the lunatics that her death was to be as long drawn out as possible. The children enjoyed breaking her feet in the fashion of bastinado. She was staked to a mud bank and the soles of her feet clubbed until every one of the innumerable small bones were broken and the flesh reduced to jelly.

On the third day, there were indications the band was breaking camp and preparing to move on to their next depredation. Before leaving, one of them came back and shot her in the head with a small caliber pistol, though not fatally. Even now the bullet is lodged where it came to rest and forms a pea-like protuberance there.

Last spring, while engaged in clearing out a body of marsh land, Mother came across a den of terrapins. She lined a wooden box with cotton. The terrapins were laid in rows on the cotton and covered with another cotton layer. On top of this was placed a second row of terrapins, and so on, until the box was filled, the box then covered with a blanket and stored in the cellar. There the terrapins slept through the winter while, upstairs, huddled near her stove, she illustrated her singular monograph, The Theory and Production of Edible Money.

Mother claimed a certain familiarity with the afterlife. She said to me. “It’s a place called Julep, a rough, misshapen sphere about a hundred miles in diameter. Gyrating on its poorly-defined axis every few hours, it has a circular orbit with a radius of ten thousand miles. In symbiotic association with the comet Velikovsky, Julep has meandered through the cosmos for unspecified eons.”

She believed Julep to be the actualization of Limbo, a place of benign detainment on the very border of Hell, a place where certain of the dead went, one that offered another opportunity to walk your body around, to inhale another cool breath of life.

I am a victim of ejaculatio praecox, nightly dreams that end in pollution. My semen never comes out normally and it has a peculiar consistency. If I attempt coitus I experience a severe cramp in the femoral region simultaneously with the orgasm. Only a small drop comes, but afterwards, while I am washing, the real semen flows out, as insubstantial and watery as skimmed milk.

During the Unguent War, Mother volunteered to drive buttermilk to the front. One day, on her regular run, the wagon wheel dropped into a pothole in the road and overturned. The tank burst and buttermilk filled the hole.

She was trapped beneath a fallen mule, until a kindly soldier pulled her free. She was in a sorrowful way, considering the amount of buttermilk she'd swallowed. But the soldiers gave her a dose of fit powder and made her drink turpentine to purge the butterfat.

“The art of the nimrod is serious business,” Mother always said, “best done when the moon is of a uniform grey tint.” She fished many a junefish as recreation after her days flying mail to Manila and searching for lost flyers. She believed strongly that the artificial lure was the bait of the future.

In'49 Mother published a pamphlet treating her revelations having to do with the mysterious kinetics of metamorphic rock. She said that out there, on the great plain west of here, stones were moving, some due north, some south, some indifferently. Gneiss and schist were the worst offenders.

It was obvious her notions were not taken well in the community at large. After the issuance of the publication she was subjected to cadaverine in her drinking water, sabotage of her pedal car, foudroyant, sour breath, and many a case of the bejabbers. In addition, someone plugged her stovepipe with old rags. When she started a fire in the potbelly one cold morning, the draft reversed and a smoldering swift flew out the fire door.

With the onset of menses at 9, Mother felt strong urges to become pregnant and have a baby. As a teenager she accompanied her father on big game hunts, not only observing but participating in the evisceration and butchering of kills. At 17, a mass was developed in the uterus that consisted of enlarged, degenerated placental villi growing in clusters resembling grapes. Exploratory surgery revealed a second masse, a ten-pound teratoma in the uterus, containing the small brown teeth, shriveled testes and knotted hair of an unborn brother, either of hers or mine. It was never determined.

In the latter part of '98 I went to work for an upholstering firm. A fellow worker by the name of Cirella, threw a piece of my work on the floor. I hurled a heavy pair of carpet shears at her and killed her instantly, severing an artery near the heart. Cirella and I had been on bad terms for some time. But Mother settled a fair sum of edible on Cirella's family and, by using her civic influence, fixed my stay in the lockup at a merciful week.

In the cell, which was the breeziest and most comfortable in the jail, I was provided nightly doses of peccary steak, navy beans and buttermilk while my cap, my umbrella and my violin were left hanging close at hand. To amuse myself, I gave fellow prisoners charts of their phrenological traits. When that bored me, I played my fiddle.

Mother and I were sleeping soundly together about 5 o'clock one morning when a lunatic wearing ornamental headgear and pajamas presented himself at our bedside. He had one foot in the bed when Mother woke up and screamed. The intruder merely grinned and lay down in the bed, pulling up the quilts and preparing to sleep. Mother grabbed the lunatic and tried to gain mastery over him by holding him to the floor and rinsing his moustache with chloroform. Despite all, the lunatic managed to wiggle off into the kitchen, only to return with an empty molasses tin and slam it over Mother’s head. A rim on the inside of the can sliced her tongue and wedged behind her gum, as she wasn't wearing her teeth. I ran to the shed and got a pair of tin snips to remove the can, but when that proved too dangerous, glycerin was applied and the tin came off easily. Only the very tip of the tongue was lost, falling into the carpet, and was never found.

While visiting French Settlement Mother was hit in the face with some acid thrown from a rear window. The servant of a well-to-do settler was the guilty party. She slipped to the pavement, impeded by a loss of vision. When she called out for help, a Sister of Charity bathed her eyes with violet water and dabbed them with the whites of eggs.

The servant, when questioned, said, “I was only taking lacquer from an old parson's bench and threw the used-up acid out the window. How could I have known that such a personage as yourself might choose that moment to walk by?”

Bee stings are a specific in the cure of lockjaw. I once had occasion to use them on Mother. She had been picking plums and standing on a ladder when a pig entered the yard. Naturally the dog gave chase, bumping the ladder and throwing her to the ground, fracturing both thumbs.

Three days later, the monad of tetanus invaded her body and she grew comatose. Realizing the hopelessness of the case, I turned to the bee sting. I removed Mother's clothing and strapped her to an old hickory stump. I lathered her face, throat, breasts and scalp with honey and retired to the house.

The bees soon came in great numbers, stinging her many times, so that her head was swollen twice normal size and her breasts, the very ones that nursed me, looked like strawberry torts. But the cure was effective. In a few days she was well enough to bake her macaroons, address her followers, and recite vespers.

On a visit to Far Rockaway I stopped at Mother's summer home. The two of us had a pleasant chat on the patio. She demonstrated her method of steeping mugwort tea, a solar procedure. She placed a glass pitcher on the lawn, in strong sunlight. When the tea was sipped, it had none of the tannic bitterness imparted by tin pots.

It was her day to fiddle in the garden, she explained, and invited me to pass the time reading magazines, presenting me with a tray of them. I selected one which included an article by her, entitled,’On the Monad of Tetanus.’

I relaxed on the patio, listening to the hum of cicadas and the rasp of grackles in the camphor trees. Suddenly, Mother cried out, “I'm bitten! I’m bitten! Help me!” She danced crazily, waving a hand sickle at rabid skunk. The skunk had been hiding in the peonies and had bitten her on the calf.

She lay near death at the Pasteur Institute for the best part of a week, suffering hydrophobia. The most modern medication, it is said, could not sustain her life. Before long, she was dead.

Mother loved the practical joke, asking to be buried in a lace nightgown and seated in her pedal car with the seat slanting comfortably. To quote from her will: “In the afterworld, distances are great. One needs a good, fast pedal car.”

Unembalmed, and as prescribed, she was placed behind the steering wheel, a jug of lemonade and a box of sandwiches on the seat within easy reach. Her little dog, Mulligan, sedated, was placed in her lap.

The pedal car was lowered into the ground by a crane, and dirt piled atop it, making an impressive mound.

Two weeks later, a court ordered a disinterrment, in light of evidence that the circumstances of Mother’s death had come under suspicion. The mound of dirt was excavated with a backhoe and the car lifted out. When the door was jimmied open, Mulligan hopped out into the light of day, wobbling but very much alive. When the interior of the pedalcar was examined, what had happened was clear: Mulligan had awakened to find himself in a desperate situation. As if resolving to make the best of things, he survived by eating the sandwiches and contriving to pull the stopper from Mother's lemonade.

Finally, when the sandwiches were gone, Mulligan had little choice but to begin eating Mother. It is fortunate this happened at the later stages of her entombment, as she was left generally intact, aside from a section of the throat which was nibbled away.

Now Mother’s partially restored remains can be viewed at the Unguent Museum in Pisstown. It is kept on a catafalque made of an opalescent material, illuminated by concealed lamps. During the day, the shrine looks like an ordinary glass structure, but when darkness comes the lamps are turned on and Mother is bathed in a ghostly fluid.

© 2002 by David Ohle