I see Wales everywhere. Not whales — plural; I see Wales — singular. Not whales with a little “w”’ Wales with a large “W.” I see Wales everywhere even though there is only one. Wales cannot be replaced even as it replicates. Weird, right?
Wales has enough space to accommodate 3.1 million people. But I am not one of them. I’ve never set foot in Wales in my whole life. Despite this, Wales has become one of the most consistent parts of my life. People can come and go, and have come and gone. I’ve spent years with some people, yet never with such consistency and interest as Wales has had with me. I don’t ask to see Wales. I turn any which way and it’s there as if it always had been.
In the early stages I thought it might have been a prank. I’d wake up in the morning and see Wales on my lampshade. I’d go to the cupboard and see Wales on my coffee mug. It was a bit elaborate for a prank — and esoteric, clearly carried out by someone with strong feelings about Wales, which before this time I had none at all.
For those who don’t know, this is Wales:
But then it evolved. There it was in the clouds as I stood in line at a food truck. I could at that moment wave it off as a coincidence, but making my way through the park, a dog relieving itself left behind a yellowy puddle in the shape of Wales.
Ignoring it seemed like the best option, but over time that only made it worse, as if I was being provocative towards it. A polka dot dress became less dotty. A coworker’s Our Lady of Guadalupe-shaped birthmark on her upper arm looked strangely smeared, or exploded. A fried chicken breast had globs of batter crisped up in all the wrong places. I just couldn’t eat it.
I consulted a head doctor, having asked for referrals on the vaguest of premises (anxiety, repressive sexual panic, whatever). He couldn’t make heads or tails of it. He took out the Rorschach cards. “What do you see here?” he asked holding up the first card. “Wales,” I said. He flips to the next card. “Wales.” Next card. “Wales.” Next card. “Wales.” He looked exasperated at this point. Next card. “Two Waleses facing away from each other.” He looked at the card, then looked at me acutely. “This is a map of Cornwall,” he lied.
I cleared every inch of my apartment to see if that would reduce the sightings of Wales. I got rid of everything but the mattress. The mattress had a brownish red stain in the middle of it, source unknown, that was semicircular in shape, like an unnerving but basically harmless mole. Looking directly at it changed nothing. But giving it side glances for only a second caused me, at least, to second-guess.
But the spartan conditions did the trick for the most part. Wales seemed to keep its distance, and I was at peace.
Then the smell happened. It was a sour sort of smell; like spoiled milk and rotten apples. I could not tell its exact source but in my apartment it was very strong. I tried my best to ignore it, but you know how that works. So I went outside for long stretches, darting my eyes to keep from lingering too long on one thing, person, or surface. It made me dizzy.
When I returned from one such jaunt my door was opened and I heard banging coming from within. I saw the landlady standing stern and cross-armed in the middle of my living room while the super stood in front of her going at my wall with a sledgehammer. “Just in time for the big reveal,” she said with a sneer. All three of us stood before the huge hole, displaying a splotch of black mold at about my average male height and in the shape of the Celtic country west of England. “I think it’s time we redrew our arrangement,” the landlady said. “Seeing as how you’ve basically moved out already …” She didn’t know all of what has happening, but she knew enough to know that it wasn’t her problem. “Naturally, this is coming out of your deposit.” At some point in this exchange, the super collapsed in howls of shrill, not altogether human-sounding laughter.
Now I spent almost all of my time outdoors with intermittent shelter in hostels and among what few acquaintances who wouldn’t ask too many questions or “express” their “concerns.” I spent my days at McDonalds where I was served Wales-shaped chicken nuggets. Rather than push them queasily across the table, I ate each one with the relish of a god who scraped it off the globe like a scab over and over again. I spent my nights at one dive bar after another. In each joint, every beer can crushed the same way.
In these moments I thought to myself that I should try not just to avoid or even cope with Wales, but to take power over it as best I could. But like all my previous approaches, it worked until it didn’t.
One day I went over to the beach with a newspaper, a six-pack in a paper bag, and some chips. I sat on the sand and opened the newspaper. No news about Wales. I took that as a good sign. I ate the expectedly shaped snacks and downed half of the expectedly shaped cans and lounged back in the sand. I had grown accustomed to this arrangement by now. We had reached détente, I thought.
The beach was mostly sparse. A woman came onto the sand a few feet to the right of me, wearing a muumuu and a sunhat and carrying a cooler and some beach chairs. Nothing out of the ordinary. After she set up her space, she pulled over her muumuu and there it was contained in the swimsuit: Wales. This was an act of aggression. Then came her two children with the towel bag and the beach umbrella: Wales in pigtails and Wales in a baseball cap. I very nearly choked on my chips as the two small Waleses hit the beachball at each other while the mother Wales sat and read spy novel. “Hey,” said a man with no indication of Wales on his person. He caught me staring. “What’s your problem? You can’t have those on here.” I held the crushed beer can up to him as if that would somehow set everything right. “Don’t make me call the cops.” Everyone else was staring now. I stumbled out of the sand and puked chips and beer onto the windshield of a Wales-shaped K-car then ran off into the almost certainly Wales-shaped sunset.
All bets were off now as to what it wanted to do next. Wales was getting bored, I guess. It started with the headaches, then the chest pains, then the abdominal pains. Sometimes in isolation, a lot of times all at once. It wants me to go to the doctor. It wants the doctor to order an MRI. It wants me to see its masterwork. It wants to tell me what I already sort of know by now. This is no longer avoidance or confrontation, but resistance — refusal. I refuse to accept dominance.
This isn’t any easier than before. It’s actually harder. It comes to me at night. Every time I go to sleep it’s the same dream. I’m on an operating table. The doctor and nurses are over me, preparing to extract what they’ve deemed to be the source of all my woes. But as the open my chest, a sound comes out. Music; getting lower the longer they make the incision, until it blows them all against the wall. It’s a bit muffled and distorted. I know it, even if I can’t quite place it.