Mammals, I Think We Are Called: Dividual

A man look at his reflection in a train station mirror


Number 12 of the eighteen stories in my debut short story collection, Mammals, I Think We Are Called.

Doctors battle a psychological disease brought on by taking selfies, using a radical therapy that shatters identity in order to reshape it.

Read an excerpt:

1. The Doctor’s Notes
Sometimes we have to chop the patients’ hands off (it’s a case of survival) to convince them that, yes, this is real, this is happening, this physical body is you, is yours.

“We’ll grow them back,” we reassure them, but even this doesn’t usually get much of a reaction. (Or, if it does, all they want to know is whether the new hands can grow back different to how they look now.)

They sit and stare at the bandaged stumps, but they don’t see them. Sometimes they mutter and glance wildly around the room in what we now know is a search for a mirror. Sometimes I find my eyes following theirs – empathic mirroring. To be encouraged in most circumstances. I force my gaze into a fixed position in front of these patients.

At the very least, the stumps prevent the patients taking photos. To add to the complexity of the illness, we know it isn’t the mirror alone; it is the photos taken in the mirror. Even imagining a photo being taken leads to subtle shifts in how they present themselves.

Exasperated, we may eventually say something like: “It doesn’t matter what you look like.”

“I already know what I look like,” is a typical reply.

Invariably, the self that is described by the patient (in rare moments of lucidity) bears little physical resemblance to the self seen in a mirror.

The hand-chopping was preceded by an experiment in which the eyes were (temporarily) removed. At first, of course, we used a blindfold, but people cheated and pulled it off when our backs were turned.

The experiment failed. It was too quick and too frightening for the patients. They had no experience of consciousness without sight. This, we are slowly realising, takes much practice and they hadn’t been trained. Rather than let go, they clung more than ever to ‘the true selfie’, something they created from a mash-up of famous people (a lot of them about): singers, models, whoever they wanted.

It seems obvious now that would happen.

Those few of us doctors left who have an orientation to the real world know it is a race against time because how long before we, the new minority, succumb to the illness all around us? We cling to objective reality (what else can we do?) to counteract the non-responses of the subjects, now making up most of the world. It is a precarious position, but we must keep the fire of the exterior world alive because otherwise the subjects will cease to engage with material conditions, including other people, and, eventually, society will end.

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