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art by Wi Waffles

Theories of Pain

Rose Lemberg is an immigrant from three countries. She holds a PhD from UC Berkeley, and teaches Nostalgic and Marginal Studies somewhere in the Midwest. Rose’s short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and other venues. Her poetry has appeared in Apex, Goblin Fruit, Jabberwocky, and other venues, and has recently won the Rannu competition. She edits Stone Telling, a magazine of boundary-crossing poetry. Her website is roselemberg.net, and her blog is rose_lemberg.livejournal.com.

This is her second appearance in Daily Science Fiction.

"If pains are representations, then what do they represent?" (Maund, "Tye on Pain and Representational Content," Pain, 2006:145)
There are two large apples rolling inside his head. He's sure, yes--he can feel their waxed red skins rubbing against each other. Red delicious, the most commonly cultivated apple in the known universe. Janet insisted on buying those, even though he begged her no, you won't eat them--they're treacherous, they'll turn mushy on the way home, you'll take one biteful of elderly brown bruises and leave the rest inside the fridge to sit, and then in secret they will ooze yellowish fluid out their sagging butts. She said he was vulgar. Inside the fridge, the apples withered to blackness, their tops furry with mold; then collapsed.
But the seeds, the seeds, his fingers are full of them, black shiny pain-seeds with a tender whitish core. If you bite into them they are bitter, the kind of sweet shallow bitterness that chases away nausea. But he cannot bite hard enough, and all he can taste is skin, unwashed and smoky. Janet is late again.
She doesn't understand why it's oranges when she yells.
"My color experience represents colors, or color-like properties. According to me, there is no obvious candidate for an objectively assessable property that bears to pain experience the same relation that color bears to color experience." (Block, "Bodily Sensations," Pain, 2006: 138)
She likes the shape of fruit, the way it looks at the supermarket, washed and polished with the promise of real 100% flavor not from concentrate. Buying it is the real thing. Eating is not, she says. Waxy, lifeless doll-taste, not real like the advertisements. And so she leaves the fruit to rot, unless it's boiled into cookies.
"The sense of disruption to expectations, life plans, and 'the seductive predictability' of everyday life is a recurring theme in the life narratives of people who have experienced unexpected life events." (Hammell, Perspectives on Disability, 2006:114).
She cannot find the flavor within the wax effigies of the fruit. He has it all, inside. She yelled at him last night. The pain in his ears was oranges bursting full of juice needles like summer into his head.
How did it begin, the doctor asked. He remembers the screeching of the car, and for the first time, hot tar pomegranates. Mashed into the earth like summer's betrayal. We don't notice summer deaths, the unclaimed crushed ripe bursting into granulated red. Just a little concussion, they said, lucky bastard. The car was totaled.
His pain is trite like the supermarket aisle. Headache apples, green soapy bananas in his stiff neck. Strawberries, full and slightly moldy and nibbed in little bitter seeds, for the abdomen. Every day she goes away to work, and every night she is late in the car, and there are never, ever grapes for anything.
"But first, let us ask a prior question: what in the domain of pain corresponds to the tomato, namely, the thing that is red?" (Block, "Bodily Sensations," Pain, 2006: 138)
There are no pomegranates at the supermarket. Perhaps they are seasonal, a once in a lifetime purchase on an interstate, red and rotten like a crushed underworld.
"Living with socially de-skilled people who have undergone major personality change can be a considerable burden, straining marriages and relationships." (Wood and McMillan, Neurobehavioral Disability and Social Handicap Following Traumatic Brain Injury, 2004:83)
She came home drunk one night, smelling of someone's cheap cologne and cigarettes. She fell asleep on the edge of the bed, folded into herself, her back to him. He discovered blackberries, dark and full like the night, bursting on his tongue with the memory of that first date, when they had ridden out on their bikes, and bushes grew thick on the paths, and her polka-dot dress. Despair was blackberries and the forever sunshined cigarette smoke of someone else's body between them.
He went to the supermarket today, searched the aisles for something unexpected, but it was all the same, waxy and beautiful and harboring mold like a marriage.
"The primary needs.... a need to have hope" (Wood and McMillan, Neurobehavioral Disability and Social Handicap, 2004:55)
They say that durian is the king of fruits. It is huge and thorn-covered, and its pulp is yellow like the sun. Durian is not found in supermarkets. Its taste, they say, is an obscene explosion of flavor, brandy and cream cheese and onion dip. The smell of durian is revolting like paradise. To taste it is to hate and love and to forget and never stop.
He presses the elevator button for the fifty-second floor.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 15th, 2013

Author Comments

This story was inspired by chronic pain.

- Rose Lemberg
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