I do not know when my fever began in earnest. I am sure it had been bubbling up inside of me for many twisted months. There was no surefire moment when it turned from an egg to a blastocyst to an embryo to a fetus to a tumor. One can never sense when these things shift, but try as I might to dissuade myself, when I look back, I think of a few characteristic sights and sounds, a few pockets of my memory which must have meant something. Marshall Library; Crawford hall; an ebony table under my gaze; an
open page of British Medical Journal, the December 1998 volume. Sounds, too: sniffles, shuffles, throat clearing, dust clearing, shelf clearing, anything to hold off the penetrating quiet. Unlucky silences always seemed to follow me.
Why was I there? I, of all people, would know what happens to poor Phineas. Everyone knows what happens to poor Phineas when he slams that tamping iron down. The chain of connections I would usually make in my lectures was that the tamping iron hit the granite, the granite sparked, the spark ignited the charge, the charge exploded, the explosion propelled the tamping iron through Phineas’ handsome skull, entering his left cheek, destroying most of his left frontal lobe, and leaving the top of his skull with an entourage of fragments to follow. It was all simple enough: physics and anatomy were sufficient to explain it; one could throw in a little psychological speculation if they really felt like it, although history would always bring up the rear and destabilize the facts at hand.
They thought the poor fellow would barely live, and he didn’t... he coughed out a teaspoon of brain matter, had his head encased by the doctor’s wraps, and one day was awfully different. Phineas had died and Phineas replaced him, but no one could say where the new one came from and where the old one went. He became a coach driver in Chile. This was all elementary, all quotidian formalities I would tell the new students to entice them.
I had never found myself resorting to such debasing fantasies as this. The Ballad of Phineas never existed, of course. There was only a scholarly medical article in my hand, citable, readable, with an abstract, a specified intent, peer-reviewed. Those bastards didn’t care for the worries on Phineas’ mind.
I hadn’t even read past the first sentence. I was staring at a cock-eyed syllable when mean pictures clouded my head. Something wonderful lived in Phineas’ world, his mind could be anything anyone wanted it to be. I felt it was arguably my place to insert an impotent fantasy, to fill his husk with my own latent fears. But perhaps this is what did it. This was the misstep, the catalyst of this fever which has never quite left me, which has never left off grieving me...