Saturday 6 January 2024

Kalman’s Head - Short Story by Kenneth M. Kapp


Kalman’s Head

Short Story

by Kenneth M. Kapp


Kalman couldn’t sleep. He was having another one of his bad nights. He tossed and turned continually and finally got tangled in the sheets. Squeezing his eyes until he saw stars, Kalman concentrated on smoothing out the sheets from the inside with his toes. He’d had all too many sleepless nights and was good at this. Maybe I can book this as a circus actKalman and his Magical Toes. He sighed, opened and closed his eyes, and imagined a large poster advertising a traveling circus starring Kalman. He was asleep in a bed which was precariously tilted from the lower left corner to the upper right corner of the poster; at any moment he would fall out.

He sighed once more – Show some feeling, Kalman, you’re in the center ring, the spotlights are shining down on you, a band of clowns is marching in and the audience is waiting, holding their breath. He just knew he’d get a headache but then as soon as the sheets were straightened, his brows would stop throbbing and he would begin to fall asleep. However…his mother’s exasperated voice was echoing in his ear, “Kalman, stop all that noise this instant! You’re giving me a headache.” And now he muttered, “It’s the clowns, Mother. I can’t do anything about them. They’re marching to their own drummer!” It was his earliest memory.

Kalman ground his teeth until his jaw hurt. “Why, why, why, Mother won’t you leave me alone? You’ve been dead for twenty years. Enough torture. Just let me sleep.” He flopped over onto his stomach and pulled the pillow over his head, slamming his fist into the mattress. It seemed hopeless and then he remembered a technique he learned in yoga, or maybe it was a drawing class, it didn’t matter. There were all these little dents – little divots in your scull – small hollows where muscles could congregate and tighten, scrunching your face. “Tyrannical pockets of tension,” the instructor had said. “Best thing you can do is to gently massage them so the muscles can relax and your face soften. Nothing like a soft face to help you fall asleep.”

Kalman remembered how he had shown them fossae points, depressions in the skull. “Try it for yourselves just don’t fall asleep!” We all tried and a couple of my buddies made snoring noises.

He rolled onto his right side and tried relaxing again. His left ear twitched and started to itch. It was warm under the blankets and he was reluctant to reach out and scratch since the room was cold. Maybe that’s why Van Gogh cut his ear off. The itching got worse. Kalman capitulated, tunneling his left hand under the pillow to reach his head finally scratching the top of the left earlobe. As soon as he moved his fingers away, the itching began again but this time the troubling spot was dead center. He resisted and withdrew his hand, cuddling it across his chest with his right arm. Still not able to fall asleep, Kalman flopped over on his right side.

But the itching became even more intense and now his scalp was crawling. It got worse. Kalman cursed and was ready to run downstairs and have a drink. He gave in, jamming his right hand under the pillow, bending the elbow, and scratching away at the crown of his head. This time he brought his left arm out from under the covers and, after tackling the outer ear, approached the inner ear. It felt like he was chasing a bug.

Kalman took a couple of deep breaths and decided he’d use his thumb. The itch and my thumb aren’t going anywhere. He found the opening of the auditory canal with the tip of his left thumb. He went in gently and it seemed to him as if he was able to wiggle his thumb down the hearing canal, the “external acoustic meatus” – he had looked it up once – to the inside of the top of his skull. He scratched harder with the fingers of his right hand and felt a sharp nail, one he had neglected to trim, on the tip of his left thumb. Interesting, I don’t think I’ve ever done this before. It feels good though and the itching has stopped. Maybe I’ll wait it out.

He yawned once and, a few seconds later, a second time, muttering, “I wonder if I can fall asleep this way.”  He woke up refreshed with only a vague memory of playing thumbkins in the middle of the night. However when he looked at his left hand he discovered a plum on the tip of his thumb. “Wow, I don’t know how I did this!”

He couldn’t let go of the mystery and by the end of the week began a poem to commemorate the event. He blocked out some of the words:

            Kalman sat in a corner…

            Put in his thumb and pulled out a plum.

But the rest of the poem escaped him though he toyed with the idea of changing his name to Jack Horner for the sake of the rhyme.

Kenneth M. Kapp was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, an IBMer, and yoga teacher. He lives with his wife in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, writing late at night in his man-cave. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He was a homebrewer for more than 50 years and runs whitewater rivers on the foam that's left. His essays appear online in havokjournal (.)com and articles in shepherdexpress (.)com.

Please visit www(.)kmkbooks(.)com.

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