Guilt is Strange


Guilt, he thought, is strange. It is one of only a few emotions that have a physical effect upon the body. It is a stomach-tossing, throat-tugging, head-pumping thing. He had felt happiness a few times and, although it too had some physical effect, he concluded that it doesn’t have so profound a grasp over the human body as guilt. Sadness is also different. He considered the tears he had shed within his life and they seemed, now, to have been superficial. Perhaps they have a more apparent physical effect; noticeable to a beholder and not just the sufferer, but it still was no match. Excitement, although this was a rare feeling for him, came closer. It hums within a person and acts upon the organs in a very conspicuous way. Yet none of these, he decided, came close to the current feeling. None made him feel so nauseous, so grave, so psychologically convulsive as guilt.

The only emotion that came near to it, he considered, was terror. He had often been provoked by a horror film or by a sinister shadow on a midnight ceiling. He had felt terror, then, only mildly. Now his guilt took the form of extreme terror. His remorse became violent fear. His mind had difficulty understanding his own thoughts but he knew, for sure, that he became terrified by the idea of living. The prospect of waking tomorrow frightened him. He imagined looking into his refrigerator not with the usual disappointment but with horror. He imagined watching television with dreadful, not normal, eyes. He imagined feeding his cat with uncontrollable trepidation. He didn’t want to live anymore, but he didn’t know what that meant. The things he passed on his walk, mundane things, seemed to invoke a different feeling. Normally he would pass them over with indifference, perhaps without noticing some at all, but now they became strange and unknown. The unfamiliarity teased his mind then, steadily, began to throttle his soul. He seemed to recoil from the normality that surrounded him and he surrendered himself to the darkness of his mind, a mind that began to trick him. The people he passed were just shadows of the beings he had seen before. They became half-dead creatures with cold eyes, soundless footsteps with writhing limbs. They seemed to ignore him, or perhaps they couldn’t see him. They’d look if they knew, he thought. Sounds became ominous and echoed into the recesses of his mind. Light became dark and the city descended upon him. His heart strained to the roar of the menacing shadows and his spine stiffened with the cold sweat of the night. He paused.

And then he ran. He ran past the shadows and the echoes. His feet spun off the world beneath him. The air bit him and his eyes watered. He stumbled over the pointless root of an oak, and fell into the meaningless hedge of a garden. He ran on and soon became aware that his eyes were not watering. He was crying. Tears of euphoric terror, perhaps the first real tears of his life. He thought of his father and his mother, whom he had barely known. He thought of his job and his unfriendly friends. He decided that he hated them and, also, that they hated him. He thought of his past and all that did not mean anything to him now. He thought of futility and of meaning. He hated everyone, he hated his job, he hated his house and he hated his bed, his refrigerator, and his clothes. He couldn’t face another dripping tap, or another brown envelope. He hated his whole life and it was too late to change any of it, so he ran.

And then he stopped. He became aware that he was standing outside his front door. The shadows had gone and the echoes became distant. His mind, whilst still troubled, composed itself with the thought of the evening ahead. He took hold of the handle and appreciated its cold simplicity. Tonight is the night I kill myself, he resolved whilst opening the door. Finally his life had a purpose.