My mother died, every night;
It’s safe to say, “Don’t quote me on that.”
In the second verse of “On a Plain,” Kurt Cobain sang of her eternal death, but it was my mother who had spent the previous ten years trying to kill me.
Her preferred method was poisoning, whether it was the bug juice or the chicken cutlets, and by the early ‘90s, she perfected her technique, poisoning the entire house. My father preferred to work me to death on the weekends in his yard, but he also had an extensive collection of knives hanging from a blood-red corkboard, ready to gut me like the fish we caught in the Sound.
My only recourse against mom and dad’s filicide was the numerology system I had developed under the tutelage of the Voice, loud as an earworm, bypassing bone conduction of the ear to speak directly to the mind, a melodic and hi-fi voice belonging to a god or the government, although now the Devil seems more likely. It was a troublesome childhood for me, obeying alien commandments, not letting my parents get the best of me, while at the same time, neutralizing them with safe numbers like 1, 7, or 9. Worst still, it was the ‘80s, and the New Wave Reagan Era was in full effect.
Who am I? I am 3. Three is me. It ain’t exactly lucky, but I know deep down, I am actually a number, not a man…the number three. I am typing this, but really I am counting at you.
Mother is four, bless her heart. Father is five, damn his soul. Were it not for Divorce Court, the shady body that guided my life here, my parents would’ve teamed up and killed me, arsenic and old knives, long before Nevermind was released in 1991.
Two is a mother-killer, a matricidal maniac. Just looking at the symbol (2) sends a serpentine shiver down my spine. Worse than six. Worse than three sixes. The number two contaminates everything like the Bathroom’s No. 2. I couldn’t leave a two anywhere, not even to spite my father. Two was taboo. I didn’t listen to track twos on my favorite albums. Other numbers can be personified and even the Devil’s number is sympathetic, but the two is pure evil. How could a number be that bad? Let me explain, my mother, the murder, the mystery.
All summer she was fattening me up with biscuits from the tube. Before she baked them, she inserted tapeworm eggs into the dough in the hopes that my numbers would fail me. When fall of ’91 came around, I grew lax in my enumerations as though I might be free from the impossible daily task of counting every touch, step, blink and bite. That was when my mother was finally able to poison me with one of her biscuits. I was riding my bicycle around the block when my stomach unsettled and the giant tapeworm took hold of my intestines. I spent the following week attempting to eliminate the parasite using percentages, as pure numbers had failed me. I needed to minimize the chance with which the tapeworm existed inside of me to zero.
The Nirvana song played in my head on that fateful day, implanted in my brain by psychotronic warfare, as if the Devil were singing a cappella, and in my impressionable young mind, I was particularly struck by the selfishness of the refrain: “Love myself better than you,” where the ‘you’ was obviously my mother and I had driven her to murder. I was secretly behind her attempts at poisoning. I willed her to do it, and everything from the song to the worm was my fault.
I rode back home with the biscuit churning in my gut while singing “On a Plain,” and only when I reached my driveway did I make the connection of the two, wherein Verse 2, the mother dies nightly. The eternal mother-death I had most feared. I made the connection of the two like a conspiracy theorist on CIA-grade LSD, like Alby Hoffman falling off his bicycle on acid.
Nevermind was released in ’91. Real numerologists would add the digits in the year 1991 to get: 1+9+9+1=20=2+0=2.
One time in Junoir High, I scratched my nose the wrong way and a two got stuck on the right nostril for seven years. My pinky nails have been stained with a twoish evil ever since. I was assigned to Table 2 in my cafeteria and Team 2 in gym class. My sin was all consuming and I swore off all twos, plugging my ears if any track twos came on the radio.
Meanwhile, my mother couldn’t help killing herself all the time with the same determination she had sought my death. She was poisoning herself with every bite of the chicken cutlets. I worked double-duty to purify both of our meals so that the final bite counts would turn out neutral.
In ’94, I discovered not all my peers were engaged in a holy war of numbers. That same year, Kurt joined the 27 Club, and I went to see They Might Be Giants in the City. They played “I Palindrome I,” another track two about matricide with the same sinful rhythm as “On a Plain.” I plugged my ears during most of it, playing it off to my friends like it was too loud, but they didn’t believe me. I told them I needed to “block out the high frequencies,” which was true.
Music can hold enormous power in memories and experiences, transporting us instantly to an age, location, or person. What sonic joys, mysteries, disbelief, and clarity have you experienced? Identify songs of influence in your life and explore them like variations on a theme, melding syntax and song structure, recalling the seriousness or levity that accompanies. Whether it’s an account of when a specific song first entered your life, the process of learning to play a song, teaching someone a song, experiencing the same song in different places as it weaves through your life, unbelievable radio timing, sharing songs with those in need, tracking the passing down of songs, creative song analysis, music as politics, etc, I am interested in those ineffable moments and welcoming submissions of your own variations on a theme, as drawn from your life’s soundtrack. Please email submissions to email@example.com and keep an eye out for others’ Variations.
E. M. Stormo is a fiction editor by day, writer by night, and a teacher and promoter of musical literacy at all times. His work has appeared in Thrice Fiction Magazine and Bartleby Snopes.