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.

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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.