Walter Ego

by on June 21, 2023 :: 0 comments

photo "A Place for Heads" by Tyler Malone

Milan, Italy

I’m walking up the steps of San Maurizio’s Church wearing the regulation Covid mask that moves in and out as I breathe or talk behind it. It filters the air rendering it odorless, which contradicts the clear day.

I will dance the reader through the following dialog.

Commence with anything, I tell myself.

Anything? I ask.

Anything, I answer. It could begin with you asking me questions.

Questions like, where is this happening?

Exactly, and I answer, it’s happening in front of a church.

Which church?

Now you’re catching on. And I answer it’s the oldest monastery in the city.

By the way, who am I?

Your name’s Walter Ego.

Do you mean like alter ego?

Precisely, I say while the light dims as we enter the church together.

Inside, we pause in front of a suggestive early Arcimboldo fresco of a beheading, and I place my hands on my brow, reminded of my splitting headache.

My counterpart says you didn’t take your pills.

My pills? They are more like our pills, but who says they’re ours, the shrink? I only went to him for my sick leave justification. Walter, you’re supposed to be the wise guy, not me.

Do you mean the pills don’t work? he asks dumbly.

Aren’t you listening? We don’t need pills. There’s nothing wrong with us that calls for medication. It’s paperwork to stay out of work, understand?

I got it.

Thank you. And it’s good you do because psychiatrists often invent mental disorders to keep themselves working.

Do you mean their patients are not sick?

Not unless they take the pills.

And no one does anything?

The doctors remain employed, the drug companies have a guaranteed market, anyone who counts for something is happy. No one listens to some poor bastard that’s just a little stressed out. Pharmaceuticals can produce the effects they are supposed to eliminate.

What a scam!

You bet. And some people, like us, whose conscience bothers them for embellishing their illnesses to get out of work, begin taking the doctor’s poison out of guilt.

Why did you bring us to this church?

We’re here to contemplate the idea of faith and where it can bring a person.

(Through a tight passageway, we move to the rear of the church where a chic tour guide leads a group of five young women — all wearing violet surgical masks — lengthwise along 16th Century wall paintings of women martyrs.)

“This is the cloistered section of the monastery,” the tour leader says and takes on a progressively satirical tone as she continues.

“The paintings on the wall give off a clear message: suffering can be good and noble, and each saint depicts the subject of a feminine martyrdom.

“All of these female martyrs painted on the walls were models for the monastic women, prohibited from venturing outside these partitions.

(She motions toward a wall filled with paintings of martyrs)

“There’s Saint Lucy, she shows off her gouged-out eyes, and Saint Catherine stands by her torture wheel and Saint Agatha with her severed breasts on a platter.”

(I guide my dual personality out of the range of people who might think I’m talking to myself.)

Why are you taking up so many issues with me? asks Walter.

I’m practicing the stream of consciousness, as in James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.

You never liked those authors. Why imitate them?

It’s a question of transforming something I don’t like into something I do.

Do you mean like the I Ching, The Book of Changes?

Yes, because it uses stories with psychological icons that connect to our inner psyche.

And then what?

The stories represent the infinite possibilities that unfold silently in our brains which help us make choices.

Do you mean to say stories of things that happened to predict what will happen?

Yes, like we use the study of history.

And why are you raising this discourse?

It’s a distraction.

A distraction?

Yes, from the terrible headache, we had.

Oh, I forgot about the headache. How did you do that?

I used the powers of suggestion, a little mental hocus pocus.

Tell me more. I like this subject.

It’s outgrown its usefulness.

How so?

You don’t want the headache to come back, do you?

Well no.

Then there’s no sense in explaining this mystery. It’s like what Joyce called an epiphany.

It sounds like a leaver-right to me.


Yes, leave her right here.

And how will we resolve the question of faith?

Each case is different. We’ll take it as it comes.

Okay. But one more thing.


I like Siamese Twins for the title.

No, Walter Ego is better.

Pull in your horns, you are part of the action, not all the action. Siamese Twins is fairer.

But that title gives the story away. No publisher will print it.

Kurt Vonnegut recommends giving the reader as much information as soon as possible. I say, to hell with surprises. Why don’t we compose this piece for ourselves for once?

Okay, I’ll go along with that.

So, we’ll end it here and title this piece Siamese Twins?

Yup, says Walter as he gets up to leave the church.

When he exits, the bright sun confounds the eyes adjusted to the blurred indoors, while the air remains odorless behind the mask.

The title seemed settled, but impulsively, just before the story went out, Walter added a denouement sentence and put his name on the heading in capital letters.

editors note:

There’s dialog between us and the past, but what about us and our past? ~ Tyler Malone

Leave a Reply