Suicidio – 17

[Jonathan Trupp]

I got up in what seemed to be the middle of the night. It was the obvious conclusion to be drawn, for the room was submerged in total darkness. I could see nothing. The space beyond the opened window was equally obscure.

It did not take me long to remember that the sun would never shine through the window and into my room. That was the nature of Suicidio, after all. Continuous darkness. It could be any hour of the day by now. Maybe I had slept one hour, maybe two days. There was no way to tell.

Dell & Ramm (1882) have very convincingly discussed the disorientation, driven by constant darkness, that overtakes newcomers almost immediately upon their arrival. Such disorientation is indeed key to understand Suicidio. We will leave the subjacent physiological mechanisms involved in this phenomenon to the researchers of the mind, but the resulting functionality is straightforward: disorientation pushes the already feeble mind into the territory of frustration and detachment. Although I have argued that disorientation may not be the all-explaining panacea that Dell & Ramm (1882) defend (Trupp, Unpublished a), their general thesis has nonetheless some merit. An important caveat to consider, however, which I raised in my novel commentary (Trupp, Unpublished a), is that newcomers arrive to Suicidio already disoriented, so it is not trivial to differentiate between the already existing disorientation and any further disorientation driven by darkness inside Suicidio. However, if even an objective and equilibrated mind like mine could suffer the effects of disorientation so quickly, after the first set of slumber, one should consider much more seriously its importance. Disorientation exacerbating desperation. Desperation disorienting the mind even further. And so on.

Laying in bed, I considered whether I should allow desperation to overtake me. As an academic exercise. If necessary, I could facilitate such a process by concentrating my mind in negative thoughts. In principle, it was a sensical plan of action. I could let myself be eaten by the darkness, as some poets would put it. Be one with the purpose of Suicidio. Be an instrument and allow the present to play me. That would definitely be an alternative approach for studying Suicidio, albeit I soon understood that it would not be an appropriate one. Not in an academic sense at least. One needs to keep some distance from the subject of study. Such a distance, such separation renders objectivity and a clear path to analysis.

I sat on the bed because I did not want to think of any other stupid idea. I extended my hands in front of my face. Initially I could not see my hands but after a while I could start discerning the boundaries of my palms and the space occupied by my fingers. Then I could see or I imagined I could see the box by the bed and the candle standing on it.

I remembered a question that had been bothering me, as I prospected for the matchbox that was somewhere near the candle. “Why to allow candles in Suicidio?” Any candle had the power to dwindle the smothering darkness. Indeed, when I managed to struck one of the soggy matches and lit the candle, even the disgusting walls and the trash accumulated in the corners of the room were a pleasant sight, a relief.

The light flickered, threatening to die at any point. It was a poor quality candle, not to be trusted to keep away darkness for too long. Maybe that explained the candle, a source of comfort so short that its disappearance would redouble the anguish of being imbued in darkness, each candle distributed in Suicidio another device of frustration that would dampen the spirits. Maybe.

While the flame lasted I had time to put my clothes on and head towards the door. The candlelight finally went off as I was reaching for the doorknob.

In the corridor, darkness was absolute. I heard some weak rattling, as if someone were scratching the wooden walls with a thin straw. I used my hands and feet to feel my way. My eyes did not discern anything until I reached the street.

Suicidio – 16

[Infausto]

I hadn’t slept at all after hours of trying. Nothing new. I couldn’t tell whether I had been awake but with my eyes close or looking into the obscurity around me. Either way, by now the darkness in my room seemed to be an extension of my fuzzy brain.

No idea what time it was. It was difficult to keep track in Suicidio. I decided to give up and try to do some work instead. It was as good a time as any to patrol the streets.

I stepped into the corridor and the black infusing the walls and the air smelled as the purpose of Suicidio. I floated in that darkness and in my lightheadedness for an extended amount of time, stuck in place by my lack of motivation. As if coming to my rescue, a light appeared at the end of the corridor. The new woman popped her head from her room and looked around the area illuminated by the light escaping from her room.

I approached her. She heard my steps before she could see me.

“Have you seen a mouse?” she asked. I didn’t answer. I was thinking that her door, and the light, and her presence, they all had opened as a butterfly opens to life, suddenly, transitioning from a pallid lump into an array of thousands of colors, lavish and incredible, but also ephemeral. Ephemeral, short-lived, shining and then gone. How saddening to know that the perfect fruit that one unexpectedly encounters will soon disappear, no matter whether one consumes it or not.

I knew I had to get some sleep at some point, but it would happen one way or another.

“How are you doing?” I asked. I couldn’t see her clearly, as if I had a layer of butter on my eyes. Her undefined body had the same color as her face. She could have been naked.

“I seem to have misplaced one of my mice,” she said as if talking to herself. “Nevermind.”

I rubbed my eyes and during that time I heard the slam of a door. When I opened my eyes I was submerged once again in darkness. I made my way to the staircase and then I left it to my memory to take me down and into the streets.

The muted lights and the phosphorescent fungi guided my steps. I didn’t search for bodies. I couldn’t care about my job. I sat on an overturned barrel and rested my back on a wall. I saw or I imagined a butterfly landing on top of a saguaro. It lingered there immobile minute after minute, the whole desert stopped breathing and waited for the butterfly to take flight again. I dissolved into the desert and waited. I was patient. Like a rock. I had time, nowhere to go.

Suicidio – 15

[The woman of the colored mice]

I arrived to the park much earlier than we had agreed to, so I was prepared for him not to be there. I sat down on a bench, fancying some peaceful time in which not to do anything at all, and let the void be the center of me.

I was sure he would appear, but I didn’t have any expectations beyond a pleasant conversation, some lively remarks, and a productive transfer of ideas. I was convinced he would deliver on that latter front.

I didn’t see him coming. He arrived and said hello as I was paying attention to the movements of some pigeons. I looked up and he was smiling. He had made an effort to look smart, although his bowtie was crooked and his ragged jacket declared the limitations of his means. Not his fault. Mostly enduring. It definitely met with my approval.

“Do you like San Francisco?” I asked after he sat down next to me.

“It’s not a bad city, but I don’t feel I belong here, somehow.”

“I think I know what you mean,” I said.

“There are some good and interesting people here, though,” he said, overextending a smile when I looked at him.

I asked him what books he had been carrying when we ran into each other at the library. The titles and authors didn’t tickle my interest. Boring-sounding stuff on civil engineering, something of the sort. Books for his studies, not for pleasure.

I liked him. Although there was a diffuse shroud of sadness about him, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. More lethargy than sadness, perhaps. As if the excitement and hopefulness that one would expect in a man of his age had been washed away, and now he was just going through the motions, one step after another along a path he was determined to trudge through, without his sight on any target.

“What do you want to do?” I asked him, being vague on purpose. I wanted to know if there was a mountain he desired to climb or any other aspiration. Maybe a special or inspiring target after all.

“What do you want to do?” A polite answer, but tiring and disappointing.

“I like solitude,” I said.

“San Francisco ain’t the place to find that.” Another weak remark, but he made me smile.

“You don’t like San Francisco?” he added.

“San Francisco is a good place. Who wouldn’t love its vitality, and its myriad of opportunities. But I prefer open spaces, that’s all. Standing on a prairie that stretches for miles in all directions, and nobody to be seen between you and the horizon all around you.” He nodded, seeming to understand.

We talked for a while. At some point our conversation got stiff and our silences took over in several ocassions. “Do you want to go and see the sea?” he asked. He was really trying, I appreciated that.

“Yes, let’s go. I will show you a good spot to see some seals.”

I felt comfortable around him. There was a sense of peace and simplicity in his actions. I could trust his words, and that was better than hearing the baroque soliloquy of a gifted mind.

Our first kiss happened that evening. A short and simple thing. Delicate but powerful, as I would have expected it to be. Meaningful only for the two of us. Nothing that special or consequential to anyone else. Why would anyone else care? They didn’t know about the island we had just created for the two of us. They would sail right by our shore without noticing the existence of our island. Perfect. Finally.

Suicidio – 14

[Infausto]

What’s the point of remembering our first encounter?

Here in my room, thinking about the past seems so unsubstantial and pointless. I can sit down, I can stand up, I can kick the wall, I can punch the pillow, nothing of what happened years ago changes one way or another. Remembering is like agitating the air in the room with a spoon, once I stop I am where I was before I started. The past is the past, it’s as simple as that. Recounting our first conversation in the library is not going to help at all. It’s not going to change anything. Most importantly, I cannot be there again no matter how much I revisit that scene in my head, I cannot once more see her for the first time, unaware of the fact that our paths are colliding.

In the library we wrote our first word. The first word in a story that feels endless. As I left the library with my books, having agreed to meet her the next morning at Portsmouth Square, I should have known that that day would be a memorable one. But I guess I didn’t at the time, as I can’t recall now any incidents between my leaving the library and the time I saw her again the following morning. Just this empty, pleasant hole in my memory for that day. Come to think of it, my mind is spotted with all these blanks for events in which she wasn’t a participant, as if she were a catalyst that reinforced my memories. So I don’t even remember if from the library I went directly home to unload my books and do some reading or if I stopped in a bar to have a couple of calming drinks.

Now I look at the grime that covers everything here, and being happy while walking the streets of San Francisco under a sunny sky and the subtle fragrance of flowering trees seems as unreal as a talking cow. The reality now is the darkness and the nonsensical nature of my job. I should be out there implementing the last scheme churned out by the Major. Focusing on the particularities of the immediate hoping that that numbs my brain.

Instead I don’t move. I ask stupid questions.

What would I give to change things, to reverse things? Wrong question, some paths cannot be rerouted, only eventually weathered into oblivion. And I don’t have anything to give to secure that type of deal even if such deal was on the table.

How do I feel now? Wrong question again. What does it matter how I feel now?

Who can help me now? All such simple questions. Who can help me know, really? Nobody can. And they would try the wrong thing anyway. They would want to grab your neck with one hand, warmly squeeze your cheek with the other hand and kiss your forehead. You would want to run away for two blocks and be in a different city already, you would want to be in total darkness and sleeping, or drink profusely, or submerge yourself into an opium hole, or be a retired shoe forgotten under the bed. They would want to hug you, of course. You would want to duck their attempt and disappear, be suddenly invisible, away, dissolve into the air. They would want to tell you that everything will be ok and expect you to feel so much better right then and there. And only for you it’s obvious that the future is no longer an option, that the present is all about living in the past. Even though you know that looking back on the past is futile.

Remembering that face, that smile, that last breakfast that the two of us had in San Francisco several months later, before moving to the desert. A cup of burned coffee, a fried egg on a toast with a dollop of tomato sauce, a second cup of coffee while looking outside at that wonderful morning sky, so many possibilities, so much promise.

Remembering is so foolish.

Too bad I cannot stop doing so.

Suicidio – 13

[The woman of the colored mice]

The room is clean and spacious, I cannot complain. There’s a window with all its panes intact, and with a windowsill ample enough to fit my cage. The bed is against a corner and will suffice whenever I feel like sleeping. I will keep thinking for a while about using the tub that stands on the other corner of the room, but the idea of going and asking someone for water isn’t very appealing, especially if the only two members of staff around are the receptionist and the guy sitting down behind the desk. I couldn’t expect much help from them.

Sitting on the bed I let my eyes wander from the tub to the cage, back and forth again and again. I close my eyes but I cannot see myself falling asleep. I consider placing the mice in the tub, it’s tall enough that they couldn’t jump out, and maybe they would appreciate some open space, a chance to investigate something different. But it all seems too much effort. I also consider putting the cage on the floor and let it open so that the mice can run around the room and make the place theirs. But they could easily escape through the space below the door, and possibly through other crevices I cannot see. And if they make their way out of this room they will not come back to me, they are not magical in that sense. And nobody out there will take care of them the way I will. Not even if they have the intention of doing so. That’s why it’s so difficult to let them go. That’s why when I sell one, no matter if I provide the buyer with detailed instructions on how to feed and care for it, I cannot stop feeling guilty for all the possible mistreatments and negligence the poor mouse is bound to suffer.

I guess caring for these mice, and for many other animals, is what defines me. He always says that that’s one of my attributes he is more drawn to. However, now I realize that there wasn’t any animal involved when we met for the first time.

It was raining quite torrentially as I entered into the municipal library. I shook my umbrella at the entrance of the circular lobby, with the black and white mosaics dancing around the central statue, and with the thin columns guarding the walls. Instead of going ahead into the main hall I took the stairs to the second floor, where there was a recently acquired copy of The Birds of America. One could say that I was fascinated by it. I had come to the library daily since I perused through the book for the first time. I obviously liked the drawings, but I think I attained even more pleasure from turning the giant and heavy pages, and possibly from the anticipation of rediscovering what creature came next.

I saw him coming down the stairs, holding an unstable pile of books with both arms. I moved to a side and I kept ascending without paying any further attention to him, until he ran into me, books flying into the air and cascading downstairs.

“Sorry, I was not paying attention,” he said.

“Don’t worry,” I answered. He hurriedly picked up most of his books before I had a chance of offering my help. During that process he didn’t look at me. After retrieving his last book he muttered “so sorry” and continued his descent, so I also forgot about that casual encounter and reinitiated my route towards the Natural History section, where there was also a window with calming views of the bay beyond the Fisherman’s Wharf. Although with the raging storm halted over the city I might call myself lucky if I were able to discern even the shape of Alcatraz Island.

As I was going to make my way into the corridor, he yelled from the bottom of the stairs. His voice echoed and filled the multistory and spacious lobby.

“Are you OK?” he had asked. Of course I was okay. He had barely touched my arm when he collided with me. I hadn’t thought he were rude or inappropriate for the collision or his scurrying getaway, just a little clumsy and inattentive. So I felt it was nice and uncommon of him to ask about my wellbeing when he didn’t have to.

Suicidio – 12

[Jonathan Trupp]

Some of my colleagues in the Department had described to me the overall experience, what venturing into Suicidio was all about. They obviously expounded the hangings, the poisonings, the shootings, the wrist-slashings, in each case painting all the anatomical gruesomeness in the annotated detail that one expects from fellow academics. They also tried their best to explain the subjective qualities that again and again assaulted the newcomers, placing an emphasis on the sticky anguish that once on you it was impossible to wash away, and the sudden but then continuing melancholy of the most absorbing sort.

I personally must doubt the trustworthiness of their theses, suppositions and opinions. I appreciate their good intentions, and their logical arguments, but one could easily see how they were just regurgitating what they had read or been told, thinking all along that their brains were churning out novel material.

If asked to be objective and to summarize my first impression of Suicidio in a simple sentence, I would say that all the fuss was a little unfounded, Suicidio was not the utterly mysterious place some people have made it seem.

In this case, however, being objective and using my unbiased although particular viewpoint could be considered to be a misleading approach. It is obviously better trying to imagine what a common person is likely to experience during the first minutes, and then the first hours, and then the first days in Suicidio.

And what my colleagues seemed to disregard quite blatantly about Suicidio, not a doubt in their rush to exhibit and praise their own experiences, could be condensed into a single word: helplessness. One enters in the aura of Suicidio and becomes powerless, unassisted, without any shred of the protection that one might have counted on in the outside world. Now alone and confronted against themselves.

I reiterate: helplessness is the key concept that explains what the common person is faced with in Suicidio. I am convinced that one could write two substantial volumes on the levels, depth, and types of helplessness that take place in Suicidio. Not the most interesting of subjects, I must say, but something that remains to be written nonetheless.

Suicidio – 11

[The kid that jumps over the city]

I was sitting on one of the beams, right over the reception desk. It was so dark up there that nobody below me could see me, even though my legs were dangling in the air and not too far from their heads. It was like they were in a cloud of light and I was floating over it, outside of it. A few times I thought about jumping down into that cloud, but I preferred being unnoticed and observing them from afar.

The woman said that she was coming from or going to San Francisco, and that she was going to stay only a few days in Suicidio. I liked it very much when she threw her key up in the air. It would have been funny if she would have thrown her key a little higher, and I had snatched it. They would have been all surprised about its disappearance, looking up into the darkness with their mouths open, waiting for the key to fall down again. Although Infausto would have known right away that it was me, even if he couldn’t see me, and he would have asked me to drop the key immediately and stop trying to be funny.

The woman later told me that maybe she was going to sell some mice. Infausto said that pets aren’t allowed in Suicidio, because they can make people happy, but I think that mice don’t make one as happy as a dog or a cat would. Especially that yellow mouse that the woman showed me, because it looked sick, and it didn’t even move much around the cage, it just sat in a corner without doing anything. The best one of her mice was the black one, not just because it was the one that looked more like a normal mouse, it also looked smarter, like it had something to say. And its fur was so thick and soft I could have pet it for hours, although mice don’t like that, and they are too small anyway. It even had a lot of hair on its tail, which is quite rare in mice. Its eyes were also black, but depending on the direction from which you looked at it, it didn’t seem to have any eyes. Just the shape of the head, without any details.

It’s the same with coyotes over the hills at dusk, you can see their forms quite clearly but with no details on their faces. You can tell that they are coyotes but you don’t know if they have eyes or not.

I like coyotes. They are smart and graceful, and there’s no reason to be afraid of them. I remember that they didn’t normally get too close to the house and they didn’t seem to want anything from us. Actually, I saw one coyote up close only once. I was sitting down in the shade by the back door, playing with my five lead soldiers, when I saw the coyote walking towards the stable. As soon as I got up the coyote ran and hid behind the well. A few seconds later, it raised its head over the wall around the well and looked at me, then ran away, as fast as it could, raising a cloud of dust. The coyote didn’t look back, just went to do something else somewhere else.

When the woman went upstairs I didn’t feel like watching the other people. I was suddenly sad and tired. It had been a long day of removing sand from the ceiling of Suicidio. I stood up on the beam I had been seating on and I walked to the end of it, then I climbed the wall up to the hole that leads to the attic, where the mice aren’t pets or will ever be. It was so dark, I couldn’t see my mattress, my pile of clothes, or my toys. I followed the wall with my hands until I found the recess where I keep my jar full of light. The only one in Suicidio. I always cover the jar with a dark piece of cloth so that the light lasts longer. I uncovered the jar and the light illuminated most of the attic. It was a mix of shining light that I had collected when the sun was high in the sky, and oranges and reds from a wonderful desert dusk. I knelt in front of the mattress and prayed for the woman, for Infausto, and then for everyone else. Then I stretched the corners of my blanket so that it would cover the whole mattress. I removed my shoes and I felt more than ready to go to sleep. I covered the jar again and jumped under the blanket before all the light in the room disappeared. Then I only had to close my eyes.

Suicidio – 10

[Infausto]

Her presence is a series of layers over her body, each wavering independently, expanding her in several directions. Several points in time.

She has the bones of an insect, the muscles of a shark and the skin of rose petals. Her disposition is resolute but relaxed enough to change her course of action in a whiff without a second thought. Her casual and comfortable clothes showcase more her personality than her position or means. She could be the Duchess of California and she would still wear her baggy cotton pants and her undefined blouse.

Even her asymmetrical nose is a note in a melody without end, open to diametrically different interpretations.

Her presence is akin to a blistering light piercing the darkness around her.

She grabs the key to her room and she tosses it in the air to snatch it again like a rattlesnake striking without a warning. Then a quick signature in the register with the intensity of an artist who has no time to lose. She looks at me trying to understand me, unable to comprehend that that is futile, as she can only see the inscrutable facade of an unreachable building. Even if I wanted to change that, I could not do it.

Likewise, I cannot read her, I cannot answer the question “What little thought are you juggling in there, in that mind of yours?” I prefer instead to place her in a scene in the distant past, with sunlight inundating and burning the landscape, affecting the breeze as well as the open air around her. The desert calm and timeless, a blue sky without clouds, and opening for the first time the door of the house that is going to be her home from that point on. No other house to be seen in any direction. The faint path of the new line between Salt Lake City and San Francisco coming from the east, passing very close to the house, then continuing west but soon disappearing behind a mesa.

A porch runs along the front of the house, with enough depth to provide her with a pleasant and welcoming shade. There is no rush to open the door, she could easily turn around, sit down on the wooden planks and observe the wind agitating the few depressed bushes, and the rest of the landscape stretched in a comforting stillness. But the anticipation of knowing whether the inside of the house is within the parameters of what she has expected keeps her confronting the door, makes her hand push the unlock door, makes her feet bring her into the sparse living room. One door to the only bedroom. One door to the kitchen. One door to the back of the house leading to the stables, the outhouse and the well. Her eyes are attracted by the fireplace. Many good nights sitting around the crackling and the waves of warmth.

She gets her luggage and heads toward the stairs, disappearing in the darkness. I hear each one of her first steps. Just like beats of a resonating heart. When I know that she must have found her room and be searching for a candle, the veins in my temples are still beating at the rhythm of her lingering steps.

Suicidio – 9

[The woman of the colored mice]

Outside the carriage the air is hot and stifling, like a summer day walking through the marshes of my childhood, swapping the mosquitoes away. I realize that I will start sweating soon and I tell myself to move slowly, without any unnecessary exertions.

I look up and I’m first surprised by the sky, the darkest I’ve ever seen. I then experience the mirage of foreign stars, even though my brain remembers that is mid afternoon out there, over the saguaros and the extensions of dunes. A few tiny holes, punctured through the roof, allow in an infinitesimal amount of the light outside. Just titillating speckles here and there that resemble stars in a nightly sky but that don’t contribute much to the almost inexistent illumination within Suicidio.

In fact, the candle held by the man with the two eyepatches, standing behind me by the open door, is the main source of light along the street. There are also some weak candlelights delineating windows in some of the two-storied buildings across the street.

With time one gets accustomed to the darkness; with time one gets accustomed to almost anything. And the vague light inside Suicidio enables me to see the form of the carriage and the uneasy horses, and the outlines of the buildings on the other side of the street. The roof of Suicidio seems to be resting on top of the buildings, with the stretch that hangs over the street sagging several feet down, as if the desert outside were pushing in, wanting to squash the anomalous outgrowth under the sand.

I go to the back of the carriage to retrieve my belongings. The ground is bare soil, hard and uneven, each depression filled with a shallow puddle. The darkness, the humidity, the unpleasantness, it all reminds me more of some unsavory back-allies in San Francisco than of the undulating tranquility of the desert. Traveling miles and miles through a wild landscape just to end up where we started.

The cage and my suitcase are as secure as when we departed, the rope still tensely stretched around them. I undo the knots and loosen up the rope. I grab the cage with both hands and slowly place it on the ground, waiting for the man behind me, the one with the two eyepatches, to approach me and offer to help me; I’m ready to tell him that I don’t need his help, I can manage perfectly fine, thank you very much. I get my suitcase down, hold it with one hand and with the other hand I lift the cage, trying to minimize any side movements.

The man with the two eyepatches is still by the door, grasping his candle as if he were a lighthouse. As I walk towards him I can see the other two passengers, the old woman and the failed businessman, finally getting out of the carriage. I don’t pay any more attention to them. They are in an undertaking of their own, with their own rules and their own destination, along their way dancing to a music that I cannot hear.

I put the cage and suitcase down by the man with the eyepatches. “Would you mind shedding some light over here?” I ask while kneeling down and raising one side of the cloth covering the cage.

The man also kneels down and moves his candle closer. “What do you have in there?” he asks.

“Just some mice.”

Six of the eight mice are out and about. They don’t seem to be distressed. The only blue mouse is hanging from the bars that compose the floor of the second level. Squeezing my finger through the side bars, I tap the hiding bowl and the other two mice step out, the yellow mouse and one of the green mice.

“They have colors,” the man says. I then realize that he can see through his eyepatches. Not sure how. I’m more inclined to believe in magic than to be impressed by his adaptation to the gloom.

“Would you want to buy one?” I say, although I know when disinterest is in the house.

“I’m afraid not, you know,” he murmurs. “You should be going in, anyway. The sooner the better, you know.”

“Yes, of course,” I say, more grateful than really understanding what he means.

The inn’s reception is barely illuminated. The youngster is being attended by a receptionist behind a desk. To the left of the desk there are some open doors that seem to lead to an open space, perhaps a courtyard. To the right there is a flight of stairs ascending to the upper floor.

The youngster starts to walk towards the stairs but then he stops and looks back at the receptionist. It doesn’t seem like he’s going to get what he wants. The receptionist waves with his hand towards the stairs. The youngster sighs and heads for the stairs. “Next,” the receptionist says some seconds later.

I approach the desk and I see a second man behind the desk. He is sitting on a stool, with a hood on and his arms crossed in front of his chest. I put my belongings down and as I make my way up again I look at him. He is serious but not angry. Possibly unhappy, which is to be expected. Not necessarily bored, able to entertain himself. If I had to choose a friend in this town, he would be so far the main contender. He opens his mouth but doesn’t talk immediately, as if changing his mind and finding himself trying to decide what to say.

“What does bring you to Suicidio?” he says.

“It just seemed the right place,” I say. An ambiguous answer to cover my back. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it’s totally inappropriate. Most times it comes out with an instinctual quickness that leaves me surprised for a while.

“I’m very sorry but we don’t have any more rooms available,” the receptionist says with the mechanical voice of a well-crafted automaton. “If someone dies we can offer you their room. In the meantime, there is some space in the cellar. There are rats but they don’t bite too much.”

“A cellar? I cannot believe you don’t have any rooms.”

“We don’t. The cellar will do.”

“Is there any other decent establishment?” I say, trying to insinuate with my intonation that theirs is beyond any decency. The receptionist, however, remains unmoved, dry like a piece of cardboard.

“I’m afraid this is the only hotel,” he says. “You need to go that way and enter into the first room to your right,” he continues, pointing to the open doors submerged in darkness. “You will arrange your will with the people in there and they will let you know how to get to the cellar.”

“I’m not going to spend the night in any cellar. I’m actually not sure I want to be in one of your rooms even if you had one.”

The receptionist glares at me without any sympathy or interest. “Life is not fair,” he says, as if that sentence were supposed to convince anyone into accepting his conditions.

“When does the carriage leave again? I don’t care if it goes back to San Francisco or anywhere else. I prefer to endure ten more hours in that carriage than to spend a night in your stupid cellar.”

“You are just a visitor, then?” the man sitting on the stool asks with some amount of delight in his voice. He even sounds relieved.

“Yes, I was planning on staying one or two nights, three as a maximum. Most likely just the two.”

“We may have something for you,” he says without shifting his position on the stool, without smiling, without unfolding his arms.

“Let me see what we have, again,” the receptionist says straightaway. He opens the register and flips a page back and forth several times, as if trying to remember what’s that he’s looking for. “It seems that we have one available room, after all.”

“One of our best rooms, actually,” the man on the stool adds, even though he cannot see the register from his low viewpoint.

Suicidio – 8

[Jonathan Trupp]

Right before I stepped into the building, the only thing that I could see beyond the door frame was an indeterminate, foggy light, as if the moon were hanging at eye level and shrouded behind dense clouds. I thought that this was most likely a consequence of the haze filling up the streets. Once inside, as soon as I crossed the threshold, the darkness around the source of the light resulted so intense that that light, created by four stationary candles, and the scene by them illuminated became an attractant, a mesmerizing beacon that dragged me towards it. One immediately forgot about the remaining space beyond the light, about the impression that the room was a claustrophobic space, and that one would have to discover later on whether the room was larger than it seemed, or whether it was merely a decently-sized closet.

Two of the candles, thick and with generous pools of melted wax around the wick, stood at the extremes of a small, elongated table. The other two, much thinner and with more vivacious flames, were inserted in candlesticks attached to the wall behind the table.

A man was standing between the table and the wall. His face was covered with dry sand, emphasizing the wrinkled skin of one that has spent years exposed to the desert. His hands were resting on the table. A mere receptionist. He seemed bored and uninteresting. Not someone I would care to question in order to gather insights about Suicidio or any aspect of life.

Also behind the table but further away and to a side, a second man, sitting on a stool and reclined against the wall, with one leg crossed over the other. This second man was wearing black clothes, an ample hood like that of a monk over his head, shadowing his face to the point that I could not even determine if he was shaven or not. On his left chest there was a grimacing skull around a noose, both items embroidered in yellow if not in gold thread.

This was the first time that I saw a badge with the grimacing skull, although I had read about it in two separate interviews published in the section “Beyond SF” in The Bay Tribune. In one of those two interviews, the badge was simply mentioned in a long list of jumbled recollections about Suicidio. The other published interview was much more usable, containing very precise descriptions of several individuals involved in the running of Suicidio, including a person referred to as ‘the one in charge,’ and some workers, most of them with black clothing with a skull and a noose as an emblem. I must say that I have been judging that particular interview with some degree of skepticism, given that it also mentioned a cocktail that in an instant and painlessly would turn a man into a granite statue, as well as the notion that fire and sadness could be mixed together into a paste that would dissolve in water. Of course it is the reader’s endeavor to disentangle the truth from the exaggeration. Relativity, subjectivity, and the rest.

In any case, according to my information, the man in black clothes, perched on his stool with an air of transcendence, bearing that skull on his chest, was a Suicidio civil servant. It was difficult to tell because of the hood and the darkness around him, but he seemed to be looking at me without care, intensely, searching for the weak spot to launch a bite. What was his precise occupation, I wondered? A policeman would have been my guess. I never considered the necessity of law enforcers in a place where its temporary citizens were condemned by themselves to death. But there are always going to be some laws or interests that someone will want to have protected. It was very telling how little I could discover during my sustained months of research about the legal and administrative inner workings of Suicidio. Either an operation that ran so smoothly behind the scenes that no one paid any attention to it, or the result of a perfectly designed and orchestrated campaign of secrecy.

“What does bring you to Suicidio?” the standing man asked with a paused and monotone voice. He did not seem invested in the question, me, or himself.

I was ready to lie to him, displaying in all sorts of detail my fake pretension to pursue self-annihilation. I was ready to surrender my passport, to fill in all the required forms. I was ready to be interrogated or to expose my reasons if asked. In summary, I was ready to try my best to convince them about the fact that I had come here to be another lost soul in Suicidio. Before I could start articulating my lies, however, the worker in black muttered “You are a passerby, aren’t you?” He did not move either before or after uttering that question, thrown at me in such a definite tone that it did not seem to require any answer from my part.

His question took me by surprise, a direct punch that sank my plan with an astonishing immediacy. Please let me reiterate that my plan all along had indeed been to pretend that I had come to Suicidio to die. I had devised my story and rehearsed possible conversations in my head many nights after coming back from the university, also practising a series of saddened faces and retorts of my hands, following the instructions given to me by other students who were more taciturn and experienced in these matters than me, a likely consequence of their poorer upbringing or circumstances. I was going to say that my girlfriend had dumped me and that without her my life did not have any further meaning. Not the most dramatic, but one of the main reasons to commit suicide from the long, ordered, and annotated list that I have compiled after reading articles, interviews, novels, and having conversations with people from all strands of life. I was going to say that without my girlfriend’s love the only alternatives were either eternal pain or death. I needed them to believe my lie so that I could become an insider, instead of an observer from afar. Being an insider they would not ask the questions that would allow them to know that I was here to study their movements, to produce the most interesting analysis of Suicidio ever attempted. Also, being an insider would not bias so much the answers from my interviewees. Once people realize that they are being studied and not just in the middle of an unremarkable conversation they tend to become suspicious and to close up like a cockle.

One of the first things I would miss out by not being seen as a searcher of death was the upfront writing or rewriting of my will. You arrive to Suicidio and they take care of you. In return they simply want to receive all or most of the money that you leave behind. The reports that I have been accumulating indeed mention that “you need to register when you enter Suicidio” and that “Suicidio is mainly funded by cashing in the wills of the clients” (Sanders et al., 1883; but see Smith & Ramm, 1881). I find such an arrangement to be very fair. Death-seekers do not pay any fees before arriving to Suicidio or during their stay, independently of whether it lasts minutes or weeks, they only need to  complete and sign a formalized will in which they surrender all their possessions to Suicidio in case of their demise within the confines of the city. Only if they obtain what they came to Suicidio in search of will they pay any money. And by then they are not around to care one way or another.

“If by a passerby you mean that I will eventually leave Suicidio all cognizant and beating, then, yes, I am,” I said.

“Can you pay for a room?” the man on the stool asked in a snappy manner. Such a deep voice too.

“Yes, of course I can.”

“Just give him a key and move him over,” he said to the other man, the one standing in front of the table.

“Room number six, top floor,” the standing man said without much of a delay, offering me a humid key and pointing at the stairs.

“Don’t you need my name at least, a glance at my passport?” I asked.

“We can do that tomorrow or when we have time for you. Right now we have clients coming,” the man on the stool said, indicating with his head my three fellow travelers, who were between me and the exit door, waiting in the dark.