Tales of the Asp: Dead Relatives, by Aidan Butler

     For several weeks in May and early June the Asp read the obituary column in the Times, noting the names of men who had died while still young. Doing minimal investigative work, he was able to locate four of their bereaved mothers.

     When Mothers' Day came the Asp sent flowers to the mothers with cards signed, ostensibly, by their dead sons.

     One of the sons scolded his mother harshly for ignoring him over the past several weeks.

     Another son hinted strongly that he was interested in an oedipal tryst with his mom, and invited her over to discuss the matter. The card offered the address of his cemetery.

     The third son sent a dozen roses, "because their color reminds me of your menstrual blood, Mommy -- very important, since your periods seemed to me to be your body's way of celebrating my birth; each menstrual flow was a liquid poem from your body to my heart. I think your organs meant for me to bathe in it, Mommy, or for you to use it as ink for writing on my body. We really must get closer than we are, Mom -- I look forward to that very much."

     Another son wrote his mother a brief confession: when he was a child, he would sit up late into the night drawing sketches of her, then shred them meticulously, muttering curses, wishing doom upon her. Later, he would write elaborate, fanciful stories about how she might die: by choking on the scent of her own perfume, for example, or by accidentally puncturing her jugular vein with the pointed end of a wire coat hanger.

     "But honestly, Ma, I've finally grown to appreciate you. You are a monster by no fault of your own; your profound psychological problems resulted from sickening self-abuse at an early age, and I forgive you for your horrible mistreatment of me: your Cuisinart words, your soul-demolishing criticism: it's all part of your innate wretchedness, and we must all learn to forgive our tormenters."

     For several months after the men's deaths the Asp sent daily photocopies of the obituaries to the mothers to remind them of their tragic loss. For several months after that, the Asp sent them -- again, every day -- colorful photographs of other, complete families: beaming, proud parents posing with their healthy, happy children. He frequently changed the types of envelopes he used and their exterior writing so that the mothers could not predict the contents.

     After that he began sending them suggestive gifts: Ken dolls with their heads snapped off; teddy bears with their hearts impaled by long pins; ripe plums or peaches with their pits gouged out violently.

     Gradually, the items he sent became less obviously symbolic of death. He began sending single cookies, crushed to bits; pencils broken into tiny pieces; keys bent to a curl; marbles pounded to dust; sheets of white typing paper smudged with dirt; individual argyle socks with small holes in them, and so on. The only thing in common among the objects was some sort of damage, or defect. Over time the Asp trained the mothers to see any imperfection in the world around them as a sign of their own bereavement.

Tales of the Asp
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