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.

Suicidio – 7

[The woman of the colored mice]

Right before the side windows are covered with a sudden slap of wood and we are like inside a tunnel, one of the horses whinnies again and I remember the first time I was on a horse. I was a child and I couldn’t believe the size of the animal. I was terrified, the head of the horse being as large as me. Someone placed me on the saddle and offered me the reins, which I grabbed as if I were already falling. From that point on, I was waiting for disaster to happen, the head would turn and devour my arms or the tail would reach my neck and strangle me. Life is normally simpler, of course. The horse jumped and I flew into the air. In that instant I regretted I wasn’t one with the horse any longer.  But one instant later there was no horse, there was no fear. During some moments there weren’t any directions, I was just floating, alone, in a white space. Later on I woke up on a bed, or a lap, some place safe enough that I cannot remember. Between the time I was still floating in the air and the time I went to sleep, I was so light I felt out of my body and I could see my future, mostly a future that wouldn’t happen, even though there were colorful mice digging, chewing and sleeping, and there was a house I would live in.

In the dark, the inside of the carriage seems to have expanded, and waiting becomes a much more evident and involved task than it was before, and one pays more attention to any sounds, even the meaningless ones. The sad man sights again, much louder now, it seems. I cannot hear the old woman sobbing, she might have stopped.

Seeing the future then. As a child or now, the important thing is not to sit and wait to see what becomes present, reality, and then past. The important thing is to tell apart the truthful future from the imaginary. The mice is something that has already happened, but the house I still need to inhabit with someone I will meet is also true. Both events are equally true, come to think of it, all in that floating memory, the future one being as true as the present one.

When we enter in Suicidio the darkness is not only darker, it also becomes and sounds more confined, like an overcast night dancing inside a box. There’s the flutterings of creatures outside and a grinding noise that sounds as two pieces of rusty metal scrapping against each other. Also a loud whisper that I imagine coming from either a fat giant or a distant tornado.

The carriage stops and before we understand that we have arrived the side door opens. “Welcome to Suicidio,” a man outside chuckles, holding a candle but wavering it so much all over the place that it’s a miracle it doesn’t go extinct. He has two eyepatches, one covering each eye. Just like a fly. Each eyepatch is for the most part a piece of opaque, black glass, surrounded by an engrossed rim of reddish leather. The youngster is the first to get off, as if propelled out of the carriage by a spring mechanism. I look at the man and the woman still sitting down, and I’m ready to let them exit before I do, but they remain seated and I just go. The youngster has already gotten his suitcase from the back of the carriage and heads toward an open door in the adjacent building. The man with the two eyepatches has walked up to that door, still holding the candle with one hand, the other arm extended and pointing towards what awaits beyond the door.

Suicidio – 6

[Jonathan Trupp]

Now we were so close to Suicidio that I could see the walls of fabric being shaken by the wind and I could imagine I was able to hear the constant blasting noise of the canvas being pulled out and then whipped again. In reality what I was hearing were the puffs and whinnies of the horses. They must also have sensed the asphyxiating presence of Suicidio, growing stronger and stronger. I heard the snap of the whip and the horses whinnied again, but we kept moving ahead. As I was trying to imagine the inner layout and machinery of Suicidio, I noticed two people right outside of it, dressed up in black uniforms, standing together and holding two adjacent sections of the wall with both hands.

The coachman turned his head back, glanced around the side of the cart and saw me perched on the window and looking out.

“Get your melon inside,” he yelled. As soon as I obeyed, two shutters banged over and covered the windows. I could no longer see the outside but enough light still passed through the spaces left between the shutters and the sides of the windows, and through the gaps between the wood boards that made the sides of the cart. I could still see the features of the woman who was sitting in front of me.

During the whole trip she had seemed distant and not too interested in what was going on. At some point I was  studying her face while she was looking outside. What thoughts were wavering in that brain of hers, producing a frown, then a smile.  When she turned her head and her eyes found mine I looked down and she must have thought that I was perusing her anatomy in an inappropriate manner. Her gesture of pulling down her skirt was a clear sign of protection. Not at all my intention, obviously.

For a few minutes I kept asking myself why such a young and healthy-looking woman had opted to end her days in Suicidio. I decided to ask her exactly that same question without any dilation. I just needed the proper cue to unleash my words.

I spent some decent amount of time rephrasing my introductory question in my head and it still seemed unpolished. However, the man sitting next to me breathed in a lot of air and blew once again a huff of displeasure, and before the man took his next breath I had started to summon my question, without my conscience noticing.

“I’m very sorry to interrupt you, and I realize that I should have already introduced myself and maintained a conversation at some previous time in our journey, but some times, of course, my name is Jonathan Trupp, you may have not heard about me, which is totally understandable, but I cannot stop myself from wondering how is that a young and healthy-looking person like yourself has resorted to Suicidio, if you don’t mind me asking,” I said.

She considered my question for a while. “Business,” she finally said with an air of mystery, of holding something back.

“What type of business, if you don’t mind me asking?” I probed with a neutral, welcoming voice.

“Mice,” she said. In all honesty, I cannot say I care too much for mice.

“Oh, mice, that’s very interesting,” I said. “What do you do with the mice?”

“I’ll try to sell a few and then I’ll keep moving.”

“Oh, you sell mice. Of course. Most interesting. Good business, is it?”

“Only in San Francisco, really. But it’s a good idea trying to expand the business from time to time.”

“Oh, yes, right,” I was able to say.

Now that she seemed to loosen up and be ready to maintain a lively conversation, I did not have anything to add. I find all aspects of the selling business most uninteresting and soporiferous. All the mystery and captivating personality that I had imagined her to be covered with had dissipated. She had been transformed into someone that would try to sell me a pair of mice, a cage, a satchel of grain and a pet owner’s manual.

She regained some of her initial allure when the shutters came down on the windows. In the semidarkness she seemed worried, as if she had been keeping a secret and suddenly realized that someone was on to her and her secret was going to be revealed.

All of a sudden we were in total darkness and I could not see her anymore.

We were inside Suicidio.

Suicidio – 5

[Infausto]

The miles and miles of canvas are like a saggy skin. Not perfectly spread but covering Suicidio in its entirety. Without the canvas Suicidio would just be several blocks of wooden buildings in the middle of the desert, drenched by nothingness and dried and cracked by the sun. The canvas is a barrier that isolates Suicidio’s contents from the desertic landscape and creates a self-contained universe below it.

Suicidio is like a black, giant tick with its head turned inwards. It doesn’t care about what happens outside. It’s too busy sucking itself dry. Suicidio’s function is to discourage the soul from remembering about hope, about the distracting elation from fleeting and colorful moments, like seeing a robin pulling a worm from the ground and dashing away. Its function is to plunge the thought in wet hollows. Outside the canvas, light, life. Below, Suicido, a city draped by the black of fabric, darkness, filth and depression.

I know that most people enter Suicidio thinking that some sort of hell awaits for them, sufferers burning in fire pits, red devils torturing with their tridents and claws, worms eating the eyeballs and crows pecking at the cheeks. However, the canvas is pulled aside long enough to let the cart enter in Suicidio, and soon after that all expectations are frustrated as the passengers step down and they are already inside a building, somewhere that looks like a porched driveway although it’s too dark to discern anything beyond a meter away, and there is a lack of imagery, the only illumination a candle jabbed into a candlestick nailed to a wall, burning by an open door. Maybe a sigh ensues, a shrug of shoulders, and in that moment of disappointment Suicido has already started its slow process of painting a layer of sadness on the previous layer of regret. No hurries to overlay the next coating of sourness. After all, no one in Suicidio worries about efficiency (well, maybe the Mayor does), it all comes down to results.

Suicidio – 4

[The woman of the colored mice]

The sky is placid, nice white clouds that don’t move on the sky, no signs of danger. It would have been nice to have a little of light rain, to wet the sand, make it solid. The carriage has been raising clouds of yellow dust all morning, lapping on the sides and through the windows, all the shoes making a grinding noise any time they relocate and press against the boards.

Just a little of rain, that scent of possibility, of regained momentum, of closing the eyes and breath all the senses in and out, especially at dusk, or at night while lying by a window and looking over the park and into the bay.

But there is no rain in those clean clouds, those cut-out shapes that seem to have been pinned on the sky just to be contemplated.

With each jolt of the carriage, the other passengers find an excuse to glance at each other, a second or two of looking for reassurance, I guess. There is the youngster embracing his books. There is the fat, middle-aged man, most likely a businessman, with a bowler hat, a yellow bowtie with black dots, yellowish stains on his black jacket. There is an old woman dressed in simple black clothes, all her body covered except for her hands and her face any time her laced veil is lifted by a sudden gust entering through the open windows. She is crying without shaking or grimacing, passively, like she’s not even noticing the flow of tears. I’m next to this old lady, mostly looking through the window on my side, but anytime I turn to look through the other window I’m drawn to her grey curls that must be fake and the tears drying on the plain fabric over her chest.

It’s quite annoying the youngster peeping at me. He has been eyeballing my legs and breasts from the beginning. Not too subtle, but the most bothering part is his stupid smile, his sense of superiority. One can tell how full of himself he is just by how he keeps adjusting his worn-out tie.

The horses start to complain and the carriage slows down. There are two nasty whipping noises, the horses scream in disapproval but we start going again. That youngster sticks his head out of the window, then looks at me and, while smiling, tells me that he can see Suicidio, we’ll be inside Suicidio in less than five minutes, he proclaims. Then he pops his head out of the window again, like a dog excited to be out after hours of home confinement.