The Dreams of the Rabbit – 15

Instead of going to the dining room where I thought breakfast could have been served for me, I headed directly to the conservatory. I didn’t know what to expect. How many soldiers would be waiting for me in there? How likely were they to answer any of my questions? At this point, I was willing to accept whatever morsels of information the military were willing to throw at me. I was particularly hungrier for explanations about my parents and my obliged presence in the house. What did they want from me? I formulated a series of questions in my head in preparation, although they all boiled down to those two simple ones: What happened to my parents, and why had they brought me here? They obviously knew something, why not tell me? I was definitely going to ask them about my parents and I was not going to accept any more subterfuges or ‘I don’t knows’ dressed up in different fashions. For sure they had to know more than I did. If I could only have them telling me even a fraction of what they knew, I would surely be swimming in awareness and directionality.

I reached the ground floor without encountering anyone or hearing any activity at all. Other than my steps and my breathing, the house was silent. As if I were walking inside a dried-up corpse. A large decaying bird and I traversing its insides. How would I paint such a scene? Dark blues and greens, but would I be an illuminated centerpoint against them or an even darker blotch? Really, how to paint the silence?

I crossed the deserted lobby and entered into the corridor that I always associated with my father. Only three doorways, each one leading to a very different experience. On the right side of the corridor there was a door to the library. On the other side another door, a guardian protecting my father’s office. At the end of the corridor, two narrow French doors that led to the conservatory. The doors to the library and to my father’s office were closed. The ones to the conservatory were slightly ajar. Morning light escaped from the conservatory and into the corridor. The first meters of carpet closest to the conservatory had lost a long time ago their original deep red and veins of black.

The door to my father’s office was as dark and ominous as it had been any time I stood in front of it during my childhood, when in many occasions I would confront it. If I ever had to have a word with my father, this was the door separating me from his sullen bulk, the bully with a cubist nose and eyes exuding inexorable disappointment.

Not having seen anyone on the ground floor, it was easy to imagine the conservatory being empty. Especially since during my childhood I had learned to experience the conservatory as an space where I could be in solitude. I couldn’t recall ever seeing my father there. As for my mother, she loved plants and she likely spent some decent amount of time taking care of or directing others to care for her collection, but I almost never ran into her when I went there to read or to paint with the expectation of not being disturbed.

I opened the French doors and I was immediately engulfed by warmer and humid air, and assaulted with the sour stench of mildew and decaying plants. Not the dry and sweet smell that I associated with this corner of the house. Only seconds later the unpleasantness faded away and the conservatory was once again the welcoming scenario where the leisurely afternoons of my childhood had taken place.

Two paths to the right and to the left from the entrance followed the wall, whereas  a third and wider path went straight ahead towards the center of the conservatory, where a fountain was surrounded by a generous amount of open space. I liked to scatter lots of my paintings around the fountain and then rearrange them as a puzzle that would reveal an unbearably meaningful piece of art. Despite such an artistic resolution never taking place, most of what I knew about composition I learned through those experimentations with collage.

A table had been positioned by the fountain. Marcus and another soldier were sitting down around the table, looking at me.

“Please come and join us. Here, have some surprisingly decent coffee,” Marcus said, pouring some coffee from a jar and into a cup, both of which were plain and battered, a set that could have been in use by the service but that would have never been on our family’s table.

I sat down on the only other chair around the table. There was a roll left in a wicker basket. The plates from their finished breakfast only contained breadcrumbs, some smears of mustard and the skins of sausages.

“I haven’t eaten anything yet,” I said.

“There will be time for you to eat. For now have some coffee, and please help yourself to the bread roll.” I should have felt indignation for such deference towards me in my own house, but I didn’t care at all. I was beyond offense, beyond being one with and for the house.

I had a sip of coffee. It tasted foreign, a thicker and sandier brew, much better than I had expected. I brought the cup to my lips again and enjoyed each sip, while looking at the faces of the two soldiers, both portraying a mask that combined tiredness, expectation, and fear. They were in control of this situation, this gathering in a sheltered conservatory, but maybe they were as lost, confused and unsure as I was.

“I know that you want us to tell you exactly what happened to your parents, and why you’re here, and how both things might be connected,” Marcus said.

I nodded, putting my empty cup down on the table.

“Unfortunately, I cannot tell you that. Not directly. Instead I will tell you a story and I would like to know how you feel about it, about this story. Is that alright?”

I nodded again.

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.

The Company – 15

I will say, before I briefly describe the developments of that memorable night, that parks are much more secure at night than during the day, at least for creatures of our condition. The reason is that during the dark hours anything and anyone that moves is poisonous or life-threatening. One will encounter the already mentioned different varieties of police, fascists, sour vagabonds, junkies in bad shape, drunkards, as well as many other typically nocturnal beasts, and when in the midst of such zoological assortment, all toxin and bad intentions, one will know what to expect from everyone, one will simply need to distrust anything with legs, and just by running away from any moving shadow one will maximize his impression of safety. During the daytime things aren’t so straightforward. You have people everywhere and going in all sorts of unpredictable directions. Too many bodies, and it’s impossible to run away from all of them. Most will be neutral, just like decorative automatons, whereas the murderous ones will be few and far between, and it’s difficult to tell them apart, and the hostile ones know too well how to camouflage themselves among the decorative ones and jump at you all of a sudden and gift you four punches to the face before you have a chance to see them.

Things are simpler at night. That’s why adventures and resolutions have a tendency to occur when most people are sleeping.

So there we were, then, immersed in a mid-summer and full-moon night, the three of us, Turd, OldThrown and CrazyEye, at ease, sprawled on the low slope that descended to the largish artificial lake, our feet almost touching the water. After a while the illumination coming from the other shore and whatever light the Moon could add was good enough to see our surroundings. Bats flew in repetitive loops over the lake, their silhouettes clearly defined any time the City Hall was their background. The City Hall stood as impersonal as a diamond. It was made with a resplendently white stone. Shining by itself, it was also illuminated with many spotlights directed to its walls. It was really like a bloated bug sucking all the light in the environs, forcing all the area around it to be submerged in darkness. As white as chalk, perforated with lots of windows, and possibly lots of empty rooms that could have easily been transformed into guest rooms. Each room with a bed, and each bed covered with clean sheets, and each clean sheet a guaranteed travel to placid dreams. Meanwhile we were outdoors, as delicacies openly displayed for our enemies to have their choosing, our clothes getting soaked because we had to rest on the recently watered grass. Wasted beds, warm and clean, even if they weren’t real, wasted beds on which nothing but the air slept.

It was difficult for me to avert my eyes from the City Hall. But I did so when a rustling noise raised and then diminished right behind us, on the path that ran around the lake. Possibly not the sound of an enemy, but one could never be sure. One could so easily imagine a drooling and open mouth, the tongue prodding the air, the eyes shining with a desire that wasn’t the friend of our wellbeing. I grabbed my walking stick and got up. From where I stood I could see the path. Two tiny dots shone several meters away, but then they disappeared.

“What’s up with you, now?” Turd asked, sprawled and lazy on the grass, his attention on the few stars that were visible that night.

“False alarm,” I answered, relinquishing my walking stick and letting it fall to the ground. “It was just a cat, I think. Nothing to worry about.”

“I wasn’t going to worry,” Turd bragged.

“Sure…” I sat down on the grass again, and immediately remembered the wetness on my ass.

There was this lamppost at the edge of the lake, right in front of me. I could have spat on it from where I was. There was no light coming down from it. The other lampposts circling the lake were also dead. Then, in the center of the lake stood this small islet, something ridiculous of barely two meters in diameter. In the islet a few bushes surrounded what resembled a doghouse.

Turd muttered something. I looked at him and saw him pointing to the sky with an extended and trembling finger.

Waiting Canals – 15

Walters walked by a narrow canal at a slow pace, looking at his surroundings with interest, relaxed and content. He didn’t seem to notice the awfulness around him. The air was hot, heavy with humidity, mosquitoes were landing on him, and the sour putrefaction of a dead body hidden somewhere perdured in the air as he moved, but Walters didn’t rush, enjoying the gratifying calmness that followed each one of his steps. He didn’t mind the sensation of his overheated body dissolving into the mugginess, the discomfort of another sweltering August evening. He was alone, he felt safe, and that was relevant to him. Most relevant.

He had been walking along this narrow canal for a while now, not completely sure how he had gotten here. Lines of hanging clothes and larger pieces of white fabric were stretched between buildings on both sides of the canal, a fragmented roof that isolated him from the city and imbued him with a sustained serenity.

He still remembered leaving Dr. Pomme’s mansion not more than an hour ago. He was also convinced he had left his equipment bag in the mansion. Maybe it had been his idea or maybe someone else had suggested it, he wasn’t sure. Either way, it had been a good arrangement, as he had to return there tomorrow. He definitely appreciated not being loaded with his bag now.

Why was he in this particular street? He had never been here before.

He had exited the mansion on a boat, but he had not remained for too long on it. That he knew for sure. From his present sense of safety, he remembered very vividly having experienced a sudden urge to abandon the boat, a need to be away from that boat and its occupants. From Jameson. From someone else who had been piloting the boat. Someone he had already forgotten for the most part, gladly, only a few disconnected remnants in his memory stuck to the undefined shape of a man: dark and clammy hair, a greyish shirt, a religious tattoo on an arm.

Nothing happened on the boat, his main memory about the incident a mere sour remembrance centered around that burning need to be away from the resplendent boat, and away from Jameson and the other person, that need heating up his temples, making him dizzy, scared of fainting in front of strangers, possibly enemies. Walters also recalled very clearly Jameson‘s face reflecting relief when he said that he wanted to be dropped off right where they were. Jameson asked if he was sure and Walters lied, saying that he had businesses to attend in that particular area, and that he knew exactly how to find his way back home.

That was it, then, he was walking back home. Somehow he was confident he was heading in the right direction.

Walters stopped where the canal he had been following intersected a wider canal. One bridge with four arms gave him the option to continue in any direction. He could walk up to the center of the bridge, right over the confluence of the two canals, and then take any of the three new directions, or retrace his steps and go back the way he had come, or jump over the bridge and into the water and swim wherever his instinct took him. It didn’t matter which way he chose. Any option would eventually take him home. There were always several valid solutions to the Memphian labyrinth. He would meander and eventually, one way or another, find himself in the streets he recognized around his house.

He could have selected one particular street, ending up in a busy lane with street vendors behind improvised stands well serviced with produce, freshwater creatures, or imports from New Orleans or St Louis. He could stroll around the stalls without a goal, observing the details, avoiding meeting the eyes of strangers. A fishmonger, obese and sickly-looking, sitting down on an upturned bucket, flies prospecting his bald head and his sweaty back, could have remained as a fleshy statue. Or the fishmonger could have turned around and stared at an intricate portal, floral and animal motifs carved in strange combinations, the closed doors leading to a courtyard where a flight of stairs would conduct one to a corridor on the second floor, at the end of it a simple door and behind the door a room with one window and a large oval table crowded by nine agitated members of the upper-classes. The only woman in the room Walters might have recognized, as he had seen her photograph only a few hours before. Although instead of the plain stare printed on the paper, he would have been confronted by fury in her eyes. “We can either do it right and be done with all of this nonsense, or keep fighting like children for years and years,” she would have yelled with the cadence of a politician. “But you are proposing to kill lots of people,” a man across the table would argue without conviction, as if to feed her fire with new coals. “Eventually they will decide to do the same to us, when we cannot control it. We are now in a position in which we can resolve this for good and start living like we deserve.” They would play with their words, pretending that they were getting somewhere, when in reality they had all been in agreement for months.

Or Walters could take a different street, heading in another direction, passing by a group of men playing cards on the floor, later another group in deep discussion over the best fuel for a barbeque, and finishing in an alley submerged in the most utter silence. The smell of wet cardboard being consumed by fungi, and the air emanating from rusty wires and chains somehow prickling his palate, he would gravitate towards a wooden fence, and find a spot where to squeeze between two planks and find himself into a waste ground overgrown with grasses, walk around a mattress partially digested, and stand in front of the entrance to a den buried into the ground. Listening carefully he would have heard the arrhythmic shrieks of fox pups, suckling, patiently growing their blue fur and their blue eyes in the darkness, unaware of their conception, of their existence, of their destinies. Walters would have stared at the den, and experienced a wave of reassurance knowing that more blue foxes would roam the city. He would have knelt down on the ground and exude his fear to feed them.

The Dreams of the Rabbit – 14

As I opened the door I was assaulted by the aromas of fried sausages and over-boiled coffee. I immediately remembered this funny thing about the accumulation of odors in the most random spots around the house. It didn’t matter that the kitchen were tucked way on the ground floor. Some particular smells created in the kitchen wafted into the porous walls and found their ways to these and those corners of the house, where they stagnated for hours.

I only had to walk a few steps toward the stairs and I completely lost my connection with the odoriferous remnants from the kitchen. Gone were the sausages and coffee, once again I was left with the more ordinary mix of dust, mildew and decaying paper. A mix that if I had been asked to describe as a color would have forced me to choose a yellowish green. The color of early autumnal leaves, fallen, wet, oozing into the ground. The same color as the thick carpet which covered most of the corridors in the house, including the one that was supporting me now.

I walked down the corridor without any sense of urgency. At the end of the corridor there would be the stairs, and the stairs would take me to the dining room next to the kitchen where the breakfast should be waiting, but then there was nothing else on my agenda. No reason whatsoever for me to rush.

Along the walls of the corridor there were several paintings. In fact, most of the walls in the house were populated with hanging paintings, never two similar frames in sight, as if frame variety had been a more crucial factor on how to display the paintings than the contents within the frames. I recognized some of the paintings as I walked by them. Others I was sure I had never seen, like this expressionistic representation of two cats facing each other. These new pieces must have been acquired after I left the house, or reclaimed from some secret vault I didn’t know anything about. As for the paintings that I did recognize I remembered them collecting dust in different parts of the house. It was like someone’s job had entailed going around the house and swapping paintings, maybe in a perpetual search for the perfect arrangement. Frames being, one could assume, a main consideration in such an ever going rearranging scheme.

The corridor ended in a landing well illuminated by two windows. There was only one flight of stairs, going down.

I had not spent much time on this top floor as a child, but now I appreciated the sense of tranquility and safety offered by being relatively far away from the bulk of activity that took place on the ground floor. I reconsidered whether I wanted to go down to the ground floor or back to my room.

Pushed against the corner of the landing stood an stylized elephant. I had always thought that it was carved on wood and painted, but now I realized it was made out of ivory and coated with a layer of dirt. It didn’t matter one way or another, it was still the same ugly piece. But how many more times would this situation repeat itself, me recalling a feature from the past but only partly or incorrectly, having to accept that I had never really known an important aspect about that feature in question. And feeling this disconnect with the house. I would have thought that all my childhood years being imbued in this house would have granted me some right to feel bound to the place. For ever vaccinated against feeling like a stranger in this house that saw me growing. But the house, after all the interceding years in which I had been away, didn’t seem to want to accept me back. Was the house mad at me, at my infidelity, unwilling to forgive all those years in which I had not only been away, but even worst I hadn’t carried it in my thoughts?

Houses don’t have feelings, I know. Silly thoughts. But I would have understood anyway. After all, I had totally ignored the house during years. It hadn’t existed even in my dreams. I would have held a grudge if I were the house.

Before I started to descend the stairs I heard the wooden cracks made by someone coming up. I first thought that maybe the person in question wouldn’t go all the way to my floor. I remained still, waiting and hoping that the advancing noises would gradually dissipate on a lower floor, and then disappear. I didn’t feel like interacting with anyone yet.

I waited while the noises kept ascending and getting closer. They were very near now. I knew that soon I would face someone. There was nothing else to do but to look down at the landing at the end of my flight of stairs, where soon the incoming person  would step into the scene. I had time to count the number of stairs from that landing to the landing in which I was standing on. Fifteen. And then again, one to fifteen. I have always liked to transform numbers into images. A group of fourteen sheep contemplating the one sheep that had abandoned the flock and was running toward the mountains that made the background.

A maid appeared on the landing. She came up three steps before she noticed me and she immediately stopped. She rummaged in her apron pockets and didn’t seem to find what she was looking for; she then pulled out a piece of cloth that had been hanging from her belt and started to rub the wooden rail halfheartedly.

I didn’t recognize her. I could say that I had never seen her, but I couldn’t be sure. She was approximately my age.

“Good morning,” I said.

“My lord,” she greeted me. That took me by surprise. I didn’t recall anyone treating my father or myself like that during the whole time I had lived in the house.

“People say that you have come back just for the money,” she said before I had time to tell her that she didn’t need to call me ‘my lord’. “You know, there isn’t a recently dead cow that won’t attract the vultures, that type of thing. That’s what people are saying.”

“What people?”

“You know, people in town.”

“Well, I’m not here for the money.” What money, anyway? Was she talking about cash or property value? Come to think of it, the house and its contents alone should be worth a substantial amount. For the first time I became aware of the fact that if my parents were dead I would be the likely owner of the house, absurd extensions of land and more than half of the town itself. Until now I had seen myself outside from the scene, when in reality I was one of the main characters, if not the centerpiece of whatever drama was unfolding around me.

“That’s what I thought, personally,” she said.

“I’m glad to hear,” I said, stopping myself from asking her if she knew anything about this money that people seemed to think I was so interested in. What was she supposed to know? As if able to read my thoughts, she said “I’d be surprised if there’s any, really. Like real money, I mean.”

“What else are people saying?” I asked.

“People are saying that you will sell the house, all the land, and then go away.”

“I never thought about doing such a thing.”

“I didn’t think you would. It would be like you selling the town. How does that even work? What about the people living in the town?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“I wouldn’t know what to do.”

“I don’t have any intention of selling the town, even if that were possible.”

“It makes me feel better that you say that. Because I wouldn’t know what to do if I was forced to leave. What could I do?”

“I don’t know,” I answered after seriously considering her question for a few seconds. “I don’t know.”

“Me neither, that’s the problem.”

She stopped pretending to clean the rail and hang her rag back on her belt.

“Do you like geese!” she asked.

“Geese? I cannot say I care much about geese,” I said. She seemed disappointed with my answer. “Why?”

“There are two soldiers waiting for you in the conservatory, my lord,” she said, and then she ran away down the stairs.

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.

The Company – 14

Animated by such seductive distance, so welcoming to our fossilized joints and dried-up  muscles; and animated even more by our recent memories of what we had hunted in such a lovely park, during the next days, and quite regularly from that time on, we became habitual tourists to its interconnected paths. Not as frequently as we would have desired, though, as we couldn’t neglect our dominions and properties during prolonged periods of time, since we are as likely to be robbed as anyone else. And we also tried not to stay for too long during each one of our visits, because getting too comfortable in that park wasn’t safe. The park was a very lavish and giving place, and as a consequence it was battlefield after battlefield once you became aware about that rough dimension, which perhaps common folk were able to ignore.

The park was then the stage for a succession of battlefields and undesirable encounters. Our best strategy consisted on setting up and breaking camp with speediness and randomness, not giving to our butts the time to get too acquainted with a comfortable bench, a dry patch of lawn, or the collapsed and restful segment of a column in a purposely laid set of ruins. Always in search of the least troubled areas in the park, these ever changing with the unpredictable tides of our enemies. For example, it was a good idea to avoid any contact with other vagabonds armed with more teeth than us. Doing so didn’t tarnish our pride in the slightest. There is nothing wrong with surviving. Similarly we turned around and walked in a different direction if we saw any druggie coming out from their high, any despaired robber meandering with an erect knife or clenched fists, any drunkard in the mood to throw rocks or empty bottles of wine, not to mention the terrifying hordes of spoiled children hunting for whatever could be turned into a prey or a game. All of them were serious enemies and deserved our scurrying away as soon as we saw them. All of them however were merely soaked and discarded puppets compared to the police officers and the fascists.

In theory, one expected that the police would concentrate their efforts on their meaningful fight against the different colors and shapes of fascists. After all, the fascists were the noisiest and most despicable creatures in the land. And one still saw from time to time some policemen chasing down a herd of fascists, catching some, treating them to quite harsh treatment. And in consequence the fascists held some substantial amount of resentment against the police. It was a well established war, without an end in sight. A conflict that over the years had accumulated animadversions, cunning tactics and a sense of purpose that fulfilled both parties. The only problem is that, despite such mutual and fierce confrontation, we were right in the center of their fighting pit, because the police and the fascists hated us in equal measure, and in such a passionate way that both killing machines always preferred persecuting us than bothering to play enemies between them. Conjunctures like these had to be taken with considerable equanimity.

One night, traveling like nomads across the park to make it more difficult for our enemies to sniff our presence and hunt us down, we ended up by the lake that partly encircles City Hall. We surveyed the area and saw nobody. There was a secluded spot behind a bench, with a short patch of lawn descending towards the lake, City Hall standing on the other shore. White and potent lights were pointed at the neoclassical building, the immense columns as guards who would never fall asleep. On our side of the lake there weren’t any lights, as the park was closed to the public and officially deserted. Our hideout was thus pleasantly dark, the only illumination irradiating from City Hall and painting the surface of the lake with wavery strings of light. The darkness that shrouded us was sweet and would protect us. We could lie down and let go of our fears for a while. Regain ourselves, place ourselves in a state of mind in which we could approach greatness again.

Waiting Canals – 14

Walters sank to the bottom of the canal, as if wanting to distance himself from the outside world up there beyond the surface. It was a calming experience to be surrounded by the still clumps of green and brown algae scattered at random, stoically anchored to the thick layer of mud layering the floor of the canal.

The wall of reeds lining the farther side of the canal strengthened the darkness around Walters. Darkness equalled protection. He floated right over the mud but without disturbing the sediment. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary that he could see.  Maybe because he wasn’t expecting to find anything. Some delicate algal tendrils caressed his cheeks and fogged his vision, but that was fine, you didn’t confront or avoid the environmental features of the canals, you had to accept them and be one with them.

Walters swam towards the center of the canal. He looked up and could see the sun rays hitting the surface and creating sparkles in motion, and there it was, the submerged and dangling piece of the shawl, a foreign object that could however pass as a giant slug or a floating medusa. The white cloth signaled the centerpoint of his search. Walters preferred to have a definite starting point in order to better triangulate all his subsequent movements. He felt the urge to swim up, stretch his arm and grab the cloth to investigate it and perhaps learn something from it. But the two men outside the water were likely to be looking at exactly that spot, and Walters didn’t want to be perceived by them, it was better to be alone for now.

Walters turned his light on, pointing it forward and parallel but close to the floor, and then rotated his body ever so slightly, surveying a great extent of the canal around him. Still nothing out of the ordinary. Mostly broken pieces of rotting wood, glass bottles, and small objects that over the years had been camouflaged under a carpet of moss-like algae. Small fish swam near the bottom of the canal and their behavior didn’t seem to be affected by any recent events, something that Walters was convinced he was able to discern. Nothing suggested that some type of large body, as the one from the woman he was looking for, had disturbed the surroundings in any way.

To get a different perspective, Walters swam up a couple of feet and pointed his light downwards. He noticed a faint path on the floor of sediment. Something had been dragged along the bottom of the canal. And it had happened two or three days ago given the shallow groove and smooth edges of the path. In another couple of days new sediment would settle on the floor of the canal and that path would disappear.

Now that Walters knew what he was looking at, he could see that a large area of the substrate directly under the shawl had been disturbed. There was no particular pattern, as if whatever body used to muddle the sediment had been moved around in all directions for a while. Possibly a struggle. And then the path had been drawn away towards the left and along the center of the canal.

Walters followed the path. It meandered from time to time, as if the body that plowed the path had been dragged by a group of drunkards. But there was still some apparent directionality, a target somewhere.

At some undetermined point the path turned directly towards the wall of reeds, where it ended. There was some space on the wall of the canal without any reeds that accommodated a submerged tunnel opening into the canal. A dead man was pressed against the entrance to the tunnel. Three dogfrogs were trying to pull the body into the tunnel in vain, even though the tunnel was wide enough for the body to be easily hauled into it. Iron bars blocked the top half of the tunnel entrance and the head of the body was stuck between two of the bars, and the dogfrogs were only using pure force to tug the body. Their feet and side fins were an agitated frenzy of activity. They would relinquish their hold, bite at a different spot and resume their aggressive pulling. This was the most active Walters had ever seen them.

Two of the dogfrogs scattered and disappeared into the tunnel when Walters started to swim towards the body. The third dogfrog moved between the dead man and Walters, as if to protect its dear possession. It bit the left side of the man’s face and dislodged the head from between the bars, but as Walters kept approaching it also scurried away into the tunnel. The dead man drifted down a little, sitting down on the mud in a more natural position, his freed head now resting on the bottom bar.

Walters used his light to survey the area around the body. He didn’t see anything that could be associated with the dead man or the woman he was supposed to find. There was just the body of the man, sitting in front of the tunnel. To Walters the man seemed to be ready to turn around and start swimming into the tunnel. To find someplace where to hide his death. Most of his face was gone, ripped apart by the dogfrogs.

A gargoyle carved from a block of granite had a rope wrapped around its neck and wings. The other end of the rope was wrapped around the waist of the dead man. The head of the gargoyle was now resting on the man’s stomach, like a pet lamenting the demise of its owner. The man wore a white shirt, which very clearly showcased three gunshots to the chest. Most of the blood had been washed away, the now subtle stains framing and accentuating the bullet holes. Walters didn’t recall ever being so directly exposed to an assassination, so it was a little surprising for him not to be moved in the slightest. Maybe it was the serene stillness of the body, sitting between the reeds and with fish swaying around him as if he were now a rock or a decomposing log. Maybe it was the water cleansing and taking away his humanity, leaving behind just an emotionless husk.

Around the neck of the man hung a red cross. Walters unfastened the chain that had survived the repeated biting and tugging of the dogfrogs. It was an oversized and heavy cross, with red enamel coating a metallic base. Walters dropped the cheap-looking chain and pushed the cross into an elastic bag attached to his belt. Not thinking twice about it, he inspected all the pockets of the dead man, only finding a leather wallet, which he squeezed into his bag without bothering to look at its contents.

Placing his light on a shoulder of the dead man, Walters illuminated the interior of the tunnel. Green algae covered all the surfaces for the first three feet, then brown algae took over. The tunnel continued straight as far as Walters could see. The interior of the tunnel was only inhabited by floating shrimp and minuscule and slow-moving fish. No sign of the dogfrogs or any clue about where the tunnel might lead to.

Walter’s desire was to move the body of the dead man aside and start swimming along the tunnel. He could sense there was something of value to be discovered somewhere in there, going deeper into the city than he had ever gone. Even though he understood that now was not the time to survey that tunnel, which possibly would lead to a system of further interconnected tunnels and other inner spaces, it was difficult to resist the urge. Maybe he could enter the tunnel and just swim for a while, until he reached the first intersection or chamber. But he knew that once he reached that point he would be unable to go back, he would feel pressed to keep exploring.

Finally choosing not to go into the tunnel, Walters assessed where the entrance to the tunnel was in relation to the spot under the shawl and his entrypoint into the canal. He also estimated where the two men were standing on the courtyard and where he would exit the canal if he swam directly to the other side of the canal across from the tunnel.

Walters secured the light to his belt, turned around, executed several strong arm strokes to cross the width of the canal, hit the bottom of the canal with his feet and propelled himself up before hitting the wall, grabbed the rim with both hands and pushed himself into the air, landing on the courtyard and walking towards the two men in as smooth a single move as possible. Being surprising was another form of shielding yourself.

“Well, did you see anything?” Dr. Pomme asked when Walters stopped in front of him.

Walters removed the mask from his face and hung it around his neck, untied his wetsuit and pushed his hair back with both hands.

“No, I didn’t see anything of relevance,” Walters said. He judged that his answer was not too far from the truth. However, he immediately worried that the two men would see through his deception. “It was too dark, I need a more powerful torch. Also, because of the current created by the boats and such I would really need to survey a quite long stretch of the canal before I can tell you whether there is something in there or not.” Dr. Pomme seemed pleased with that explanation.

“What’s your rate?” Jameson asked. Walters was surprised by that question. He didn’t recall having a rate or ever thinking about such a thing.

“Fifteen dollars per hour plus expenses, including any gear that gets damaged during the job,” Walters said, wondering if that was a reasonable amount.

Dr. Pomme nodded. “See to it,” he said to Jameson, and then he turned around and headed towards the house.

Walters reckoned that he could have asked for more money, but he would be happy to forget about it as soon as he could get out of there.

The Dreams of the Rabbit – 13

I woke up several times during the night, although on each occasion I returned to a deep sleep almost immediately. No dreams I could later remember. No obsessive thoughts invading me. Only a sense of floating in the middle of the room and an undetermined uneasiness, all mixed with a pleasant smell of pine trees.

As my moments of awakening started to be illuminated by the morning light, it took me longer and longer to fall asleep again, and I had more time to gaze at the dead fireplace, the cherubs in the painting hanging over it, and the spots on the wall where the plaster had fallen to reveal an archipelago of elongated shapes.

At some point I gave up on sleeping. I put on the same clothes I had worn the day before and went to the window.

My mind was clearer than on the previous day, more aware about everything, it seemed. But it wasn’t my typical sense of self. How could it be, though? I was misplaced. I was in a place that I recognized and at the same time was alien to me. And what was my purpose here, my role? Such a pity to be in possession of a clear mind without a purpose.

The window was high enough that I was only able to see the tops of trees and the sky. A clean and intense blue accentuated by well defined, easy to paint clouds. And the very deep green of old pine trees. Also easy to paint.

In fact, come to think of it, everything is so easy to paint. Especially when the image is devoid of any interesting features. It’s like brushing a horse, it’s simply a question of time and perseverance. One move, then another, and so on. But it’s so pointless painting a scene devoid of any interest or purpose. Brushing a horse at least accomplishes something.

As in many other occasions I considered that maybe I should forget about the whole business of painting for a while. Give a rest to the musing of my artistic attempts and doubts. And maybe during two or three days I shouldn’t paint anything at all, not even a straight line. It wouldn’t only be a way of not getting frustrated, it might also be a cleansing experience that could take me to new grounds. As suffering a cold, I just had to be patient and wait for a few days. See who I was after those days and what I would be able to create. Maybe in a couple of days I’d approach a bare surface, I’d soak the brushes in what I’d consider the most appropriate substance, and I’d start to stain and to build up in a way that I’d consider to be the most meaningful while being drenched by conviction on myself. Maybe.

But nothing else about painting then. Finito, for now.

I moved away from the window and there wasn’t anything in the room inducing me to stay there, so I decided to go downstairs and find something to do somewhere else. Not a burial, it would seem. I really thought before leaving Barcelona that that would be the focal point of my visit here. Burial, blackness, rituals. That’s the only reason I brought the black jacket I never wear. But without bodies, without official deaths, you obviously cannot have a burial. Although who knew what’s what around here? Not me. Talking to some people here you got the impression that my parents weren’t dead at all, that at any point they could walk into the house, retire to the library and ring the bell, and my father would request a brandy and an early snack, and my mother a whisky and soda.

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.