'He Had Tried to Have His Testicles Removed on the NHS'

A metaphysical meditation on the meaning of life, told in the form of the spiritual awakening of a man who wanted to be a woman in Britain.

by David Keenan
Dec 5 2016, 5:00am

This story appeared in the December Fiction Issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

Johnny McLaughlin explains the situation with Remy's father that it has something to do with ideas of fate predestination and genital mutilation as the keys to the kingdom or as a secret path to a holiday on a black beach in your mind somewhere, either way having something to do with how we all felt back then every one of us in a way.

Big Remy's father had walked away from family life when Remy was in his teens. He was a fairly well-known scientist and philosopher (though there were just as many people that thought of him as a crackpot and an occultist). There was a story that he had become a eunuch in a backstreet operation (though really it was more like an S&M torture session) where he had hooked up with a group of subterranean gays that practiced cock and ball torture. He had tried to have his testicles removed on the NHS (the story ran) but when he was laughed out of his GP's (who suggested psychiatric counseling instead) he placed a personal ad in a gay magazine offering his genitals up for use and abuse in return for their skillful removal. Of course the story only went to prove that Big Remy came from a long line of homos. But the most interesting aspect of his father's story (one which I only found out many years later) was the papers he had written during his short career as an academic (at Coatbridge College), in particular a semi-autobiographical tract that had been suppressed by the college entitled "Fate Is Only Once," where he elucidated his theory of space and time (and their relationship to thoughts and deeds). The theory ran something like this (and inevitably I'm paraphrasing and simplifying and maybe even misunderstanding) but the essence of his argument was that there was some kind of disjunction between actions and thoughts. It wasn't that they were parallel occurrences, in his view actions were eternal and forever but thought was something that happened in time and that came to pass only once. He used a really mundane example (which made it all the more convincing).

He talked about a time where he was on holiday with his wife (his ex-wife, obviously). It isn't clear where he was holidaying but we can presume it's somewhere on the coast (not at the seaside, we're not talking Blackpool or Burntisland here), somewhere exotic and eccentric (New Zealand, perhaps, or even Sausalito, the scene of his future castration), but maybe that's just the poet in me. They pull up at a picnic spot (we can imagine that in the distance there are mountains, I see them as being snow-capped, for some reason) and in front of them there's a crystal-clear sea that could even be a lake, a body of water that somehow has the feeling of revelation, of clarity (which may or may not be the same thing), and dark sand, black sand (if you can imagine such a thing). It's lunchtime and they're both hungry from the drive. He rustles something up on the gas stove in the camper van (eggs and salsa is my guess) while she sets up some foldaway chairs and a table on the black-sand beach at the edge of the sparkling waters. At this point he goes into obsessive detail (which is important in terms of his argument). He mentions the transparency of the sea, which he says completely refused to hold their reflections, even though the sun was behind them, and in the distance a group of adventure-sports enthusiasts parachuting out of the sky cast a series of perfect silhouettes across the surface (and at this point he interrupts the text with an odd piece of ornamental syntax, a set of square brackets [[[]]] that also weirdly looks like the view from a prison cell where, of course, it is difficult to cast a shadow, as the sun doesn't have much to go on), and then he describes the preparation of the meal in some detail, he talks of chopping, grating, folding, frying, stirring, melting, he talks about the cutlery, the blunt knife, the silver fork that had already become tarnished and he talks about taking the two plates down to the beach (to this black beach I have in my mind) and of seeing his wife sitting there (disconcerted, as anyone would be, by the lack of her shadow) and of course nowhere does he mention what they actually eat (which seems significant), he talks about the whole process, the preparation, the transfer, the devouring, but not at one point does he mention what it is he has actually prepared. All the while he talks about feeling like he's in a play, following some kind of script that has been written specifically for him (a dream role, in other words), and the whole thing culminates when his wife returns to the camper van and he starts to clear off the plates (plates of who knows what) and he goes to kneel down on the grass (something he would never normally have done, after all he has a nice pair of slacks on and the label says dry-clean only) and just as he does so he notices two small indentations in the grass (just the shape of his kneecaps) and he slots his knees into them, they fit perfectly, so much so that he becomes convinced that he has created the holes himself and that he isn't so much living forward in time as reliving.

He kneels down and settles into the pose (a moment of humility is what he calls it—all the time he maintained his Christian faith, despite the testicles and the philosophy, which either makes it more confusing or elucidates it completely) and as the moment extends, as he lives through it (his wife in the camper van in the distance, the parachutists falling from the sky, the pure clear water, the remains of their lunch on the plates, the precise patterns of rust on the cutlery), it comes to seem as if it was written in eternity, as though his secret self (his guardian angel, he called it) had constructed this total artwork that had lain in wait for him (or more properly that had always existed and that was now somehow revealing itself to thought).

It was right at the moment that he found himself kneeling in the grass and scraping food from the plates (exactly what we'll never know) that he says that he felt like he caught up with himself (briefly, it's true), that he drew neck and neck (let's say). As he saw the red waste liquid streaming down the inside of the white bag (I imagine a tomato salsa in a bin liner as much as a close-up on a tubercular lung) he extrapolated the experience into a Christian outlook. He redefined thought as judgment. You are given this life, he writes, this precise set of occurrences: and you are asked to judge it.

© David Keenan, 2017 (Faber & Faber Ltd)

This story appeared in the December Fiction Issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.