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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Waiting canals – 16

The last tendrils of sunset were disappearing when Walters got back to his house. The music of a distant trumpet floated in the air, mixed with a fragrant breeze. Walters couldn’t make out the source of the music, and that was reassuring. In the same way he wasn’t able to pinpoint the location of the musician, other people might not be able to know where he was now. There were hundreds of thousands of eyes in the city, and possibly none of them were focused on him.

Walters opened the door and patted the wall inside until he found the switch for the only light in his house. A naked bulb hanging from the ceiling flickered a few times but stayed on, without the strength to illuminate the corners of the main room. An animal scurried away along a wall and escaped through one of the many holes on the baseboards and flooring.

Nothing seemed to be out of place. Or missing. Walters breathed out with relief. He didn’t know what, but he had expected some unpleasantness ambushing him in the house. He didn’t have to look over his shoulder and check the area submerged in darkness to his right, but he did so anyway, not being able to stop himself. There was nobody there, or anywhere else in the house.

For Walters, the best occasions to go back and remember the details of the different events taking place during the previous hours were those in which solitude conferred security. He pulled his notebook and had already located the last entry before he sat down on the bed. “I left boat. Don’t trust anyone. I need to go back tomorrow. Prospecting canal again. Check what happened to man in canal. Dead man. He was shot dead. I need to find woman.” Walters was surprised by the fact he still had a clear image of the woman’s face in his mind. Crisp eyes, a resolute gaze, lips that didn’t seem to have been made for smiling. He couldn’t see that type of woman lying dead in a canal. He would still search for her, but he didn’t anticipate finding her dead and vulnerable. Given the choice, he preferred not to discover anything about her. Flipping to the preceding page, Walters looked for any other reference about the dead man. “Man stuck in front of tunnel, dogfrogs pulling him! Murdered! I kept his wallet.” Walters searched his pockets and found a wallet that he didn’t recall any longer. The leather was still damp. His fingers ran smoothly over the slimy surface. He didn’t need to bring the wallet close to his nose to know that it would reek of silt and decaying algae.

Walters held the wallet on his hands for a long time. He turned it over again and again, studying the double edges and each one of the stitches, hesitant to look into its contents. When he opened the two halves of the wallet it seemed unintentional, not something he had planned to do.

Encrusted on one of the two internal surfaces, a police badge shined mutely, dimmed by its short life in the canal. Walters now hurried to investigate the rest of the wallet. Some money, not much, a few forms of identification, some papers stuck together and their ink smudged, and a couple of casino chips. But the badge was the only element that seemed to breath, to retain some life of its own.

Walters scribbled swiftly in his notebook. “Wallet belongs to policeman. Robert Smyth. Baptist. Maybe it means nothing, but baptist in methodist canal.“ Reading again the previous entries, he found no mention about a gun. “Don’t recall a gun. Search for it, for anything else tomorrow,” he added to his notebook. He remembered about the red cross that had been hanging around the neck of the policeman, and the fact that he had left the cross in his bag, in Dr. Pomme’s mansion. Would anyone rummage through his bag? Would they find the cross? Would that have any consequence? What else would they find? He couldn’t remember what other compromising item he had left in his bag.

Methodically he searched again each section of the wallet, removing all contents and placing them on the bed as he encountered them. Once empty, the wallet looked like an emaciated animal covered by a saggy skin. Still searching through the different sections, he noticed a hardened spot in the middle of a leather division. Sticking a finger in a hole at the base of the division, he made contact with a metal he immediately recognized as gold. Using his finger as a hook, he extracted a golden coin. It was a lucky charm. Recently minted. One side depicted a bald eagle holding in its claws two handguns. On the other side, a triangle was composed by a catfish, a human arm, and a box turtle, in the center of the triangle a multipetaled flower hiding an eye.

Walters kissed the coin and buried it in the bottom of one of his front pockets.

The images of the red cross around the neck of the dead man, then on his hand, then inside his bag somewhere in Dr. Pomme’s mansion where anyone could find it, all those images flashed in his mind in a random succession, interspersed with an octopus snatching coins with its tentacles, and a dogfrog looking at him intently.

The bottle of bourbon shined on the bookshelf. Walters crossed the room and opened the fridge, not knowing what it would contain. His eyes fixed on a can of Coke and a full icetray. He collected a handful of ice cubes on a hand and threw them into a tall glass, and then filled half of the glass with Coke. Rubbing his neck with the hand still cool from holding the ice, Walters walked to the bookshelf and poured all the bourbon remaining in the bottle into the tall glass. He used a finger to mix the drink, sucked his finger and took a long swig.

The Company – 16

“There aren’t many stars,” Turd said. “When I was a kid,” he added, but then he fell silent.

“Yes, only the odd one, I’m afraid,” I said, and then I threw in some words intended to be like kindling for the fire that I knew was already racking up within Turd. “Merely a sad collection of feeble hearts dying in the dirty grey of the night.”

“A sappy way to say smoke and shit coming out from the cars of the fucking rich, isn’t that what you mean? Fucking dirty grey!” he yelled. Regulating his anger was one of the few stratagems I had to enhance his health. A well placed valve stuck here or there to let some rancid steam escape from his already putrescent body. The least I could do for him.

“But, oh, the stars…” Turd went back to his rapt contemplation. He could transition from anger to lameness to the rhythm of his breathing, as if two neurons in that gruyere-like brain of his were frequently shortcircuiting and with each sparkle his mind were thrown in an alternate direction. “They are so pretty, the stars.” Turd’s face was a blotch of stupidly placed admiration.

“I don’t know. I guess,” I said, just enough words to kick his volcano into another short-lived eruption.

“Don’t fuck me over, CrazyEye!” Turd spat, shrouded in indignation. “How are you going not to know? Everyone knows that stars are pretty.” He deflated a little. “They just are. That’s just something that everyone knows. Don’t be stupid. You are just embarrassing everyone.”

“I must have forgotten,” I said, all of a sudden tired of stars and wanting to kill that line of conversation.

“Do you know what I would do if I were made out of chewing gum?” Turd asked, assuming I cared.

“How could I know? Eat yourself?” I guessed, only adding a small tinge of malevolence to my tone of voice.

“No, I wouldn’t eat myself. If I were made out of gum, I know it’s difficult to imagine such a thing, but I would stretch my arm towards the sky and I would snatch one of those stars over there, pull it from the sky, and I would bring it to my mouth, and I would devour it. I wouldn’t care how hot or hard it could be. That’s what I would do. If I were made out of gum, of course, which is a little complicated, you know.”

After throwing such stupidity into the open, Turd returned to his silence studded with stars. OldThrown, totally unaware about Turd and I, looked onto the ground instead, as if he were pretending to count the blades of grass, or using some alternative sense to locate insects crawling around. He hadn’t said anything for days. Not even a word. It seemed he had decided to definitely close his mind behind a door of his own invention. His way to say goodbye to the world the rest of us still decided to try for a little longer, day after day.

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.