To Kill a Deano
It was evident that Deano was not in his normal state of mind. He seemed animated, frantic – and he would not shut up. Not for the first time that week, I found myself looking at the chrome voodoo knife block and wondering whether it really did possess any “murdery” powers…
“The thing with giving up smoking,” he was saying, “is that it is a state of mind thing. Well, in many ways everything is a state of mind thing. What is addiction, after all? Surely part of addiction is the belief that you’re addicted, which suggests that a good step to giving up would be to stop thinking of yourself as an addict. Then again that’s not entirely correct, as people are given large amounts of morphine in hospital for instance, and become addicted without even realising it. They only discover they are hooked when the are discharged or stop taking it for some reason, and suddenly develop withdrawal symptoms. This means they have become addicted without having any idea – which admittedly contradicts my earlier suggestion that part of addiction is thinking of yourself as an addict, as quite clearly it is something that can creep up on you without you being remotely aware. Dear me I am getting my self in knots here aren’t I?”
Without consciously noticing, my fingers had curled round one of the voodoo knives from the voodoo knife set. Could this voodoo knife man really do my evil bidding?
“I mean, there’s that woman in To Kill a Mockingbird, do you remember?” asked Deano, brightly. “Can’t recall her name, but she’s an old woman who lives down the road from Scout. She’s been taking some painkiller – morphine I guess – for months or years and is dying, presumably of whatever condition she was taking the morphine for. Without intending to or even realising, she’s become addicted to the morphine, and she wishes to free herself from this before she dies. It’s an odd one, because she has no need to do so. She’s dying anyway, and the morphine keeps her free of pain, so why not just keep taking the stuff? Well, it’s a personal struggle for her. Even though she will lose the eventual battle with the disease, she wants to go out free and on her own terms. Actually Harper Lee is using it as a rather clever metaphor for Atticus’s own struggle in the courtroom. Like her, he is fighting a battle he knows he will lose, but is doing so for reasons of dignity and because sometimes it is not the winning that is important, but that you are fighting at all, and that you are on the right side.”
I shoved the first voodoo knife into the voodoo knife holder. The question would now be answered: was it just a novelty knife holder, or a real voodoo man?
I soon had my answer, as Deano yelped in pain and clutched his shoulder. Or was it an answer? After all, it could just be coincidence. I reached for the second blade in the voodoo knife set – and this time I did not do so unconsciously.
“This of course is what Atticus himself is doing by defending an innocent black man in front of an all-white jury in a racist and segregated part of the United States in what I assume was the 1950s. Anyway, I’m not sure how Scout comes to read to the old lady. I think maybe she’s done something bad and Atticus makes her to it as a punishment, or more likely an atonement, as he’d see it. She has to go and read to the old lady every day. Each day she reads for a bit longer, and while she’s doing it the lady becomes glazed, distracted, agitated. Or is it that she becomes less agitated? One or the other. The point is, she is breaking herself of her addiction. Each time, she tries to hold out for longer, using Scout’s presence as a guide and a distraction. Slowly, day by day, she is weaning herself off from her habit. Actually, maybe it wasn’t morphine now I think about it, as I’m not sure that’s how morphine withdrawal would work. Perhaps it’s laudanum or something. Not that that matters. Anyway, Scout of course has no idea that this is what’s going on; she just reads for longer every day, and tells us how the woman changes during the reading each time – but we the reader know what is really going on. It really is a marvellously clever and actually quite beautiful book. Seemingly very simple and fine for children to enjoy, but with an awful lot of depth and profundity going on in it, without ever being shoved in your face. Not for nothing is it one of the world’s best loved novels. Interestingly, Lee never wrote anything else. At least, I think that’s the case. Just wrote one novel and it was basically perfect, and then she hung up her pen. My guess isn’t that she had writer’s block, more that that novel was just so perfect that she’d said all she had to say. Or it could be that she was afraid that nothing she wrote afterwards could be as good, so not unlike Bobby Fischer she avoided risking her legacy by facing a new challenge that she probably couldn’t meet. I don’t think that’s the case – as if you think about it, it’s the exact opposite of what the entire book’s about, as we’ve just been learning – but it could be.”
He had spoken without drawing breath. Whatever the voodoo knife in the voodoo knife man had done, it hadn’t affected his lungs. I pushed the second of the voodoo knives into the voodoo knife man. Again Deano let out a cry of pain. More evidence – but still not proof.
“Anyway, where was I?” asked Deano, presumably rhetorically. “Oh yes, so Scout reads to the old lady, day after day, for longer each time, and then eventually, she’s suddenly told that no, you don’t have to read to her again. What’s happened is that the old lady has broken her addiction. Scout has unwittingly helped her to beat it, and now she can die free and with dignity – although presumably in pain. Personally, I’m not sure I’d bother. Not sure quite how much ‘dignity’ there is in feeling unnecessary pain, but that’s by the by; we know the point Lee is making.”
I thrust the remainder of the voodoo knife set into the chrome voodoo man, and Deano fell down dead. Still not proof though: correlation is not proof of causation.