So why did I start thinking about Edgar Allan Poe while getting my hair cut yesterday? What happened was, after the barber had finished doing what he was paid to do, he suddenly began thumping and slapping my head all over – kneading like dough, almost, the more delicate parts of my skull. (I must have a stern demeanour when seated in a hair saloon, because I’m invariably asked if I wouldn’t like a full head massage, since "tension must be released". I say "no" but then they always throw in the skull-whacking act anyhow, as a freebie.)
Anyway, the man had been banging on my head harder than usual and after this had gone on for some time I started wondering exactly how compact the human skull is in its more fragile places. And then the exhilarating last bits of Poe’s story "The Facts in the Case of M Valdemar" leapt into my mind. The story ends with this fascinating notation:
"…his whole frame at once – within the space of a single minute or less, shrunk – crumbled – absolutely rotted away beneath my hands. Upon the bed, before that whole company there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome – of detestable putrescence."
[Note: No one - no one uses italics the way Poe does.]
How would this overenthusiastic barber react, I mused, if in the course of his violent thumping a customer’s skull caved in beneath his hand, revealing a loathsome – why try to improve on the phraseology of a great writer – a detestable putrescence? And what mood would such an incident create in the saloon?
Not ideal ruminating for a lazy Sunday afternoon, I realise, but it did bring a smile to my face. And that made the barber happy too – he thought he was responsible for the tension release – so it ended well. I doubt Edgar A P intended his macabre tales to provide such all-round pre-Christmas cheer.