Suicidio – 17

[Jonathan Trupp]

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

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

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Although I have argued that disorientation may not be the all-explaining panacea that Dell & Ramm (1882) defend (Trupp, Unpublished a), their general thesis has nonetheless some merit. An important caveat to consider, however, which I raised in my novel commentary (Trupp, Unpublished a), is that newcomers arrive to Suicidio already disoriented, so it is not trivial to differentiate between the already existing disorientation and any further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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Requiem for the Monsters – 1 – version 2

Gary the monster squats against the wall, as if trying to reduce the bulk of his body, all three meters of it. As if trying to hide all his rocky self and the sparkles from the crystals on his face. I try not to look at the monster too much. Too directly. People say the monster gets unsettled when eyes are upon him. But it’s difficult to ignore his obvious presence in the room. Especially when his mouth, neck and hands are covered in someone else’s blood. 

I have seen the monster many times before, although in most of those occasions there was much more of a distance between us, and no reason whatsoever for any interaction between us to occur. Now that we are in the same room it’s a struggle to ignore that he is only two meters away. I keep trying to focus on the victim, the minutiae of the crime scene. But the monster being here kills any possible strand of concentration. I‘m not scared, although I know too well that my gun would not even make a dent on the monster’s head. Or maybe I am scared. How to know? I should be, in any case. Most people would. Most people in the island would also feel disgusted by the monster’s proximity. I’m fine with his grey, granitic complexion, and the segmental crystals protruding from his skin. After all, it’s a monster, it’s supposed to be weird somehow. But the blood of the victim all over it, that’s what I find unnerving. That’s what complicates things, makes a bad situation even worse. Blood of the victim. Evidence. Murder. Possible unstable behavior. He could do something unexpected, out of craziness or desperation. Suddenly he could stretch his mineral arms and squeeze my head, or yell his lungs out and make my brain explode. I don’t even know if he breathes out fire. Gary may be the Rosalinda‘s inhabitant I know the least about. That was fine yesterday. Today it seems like a blatant lack of foresight on my part. “Profile the likely criminals before they commit the crime. Know their weapons, anticipate their actions.”

I had always considered Gary a safe anomaly, that type of feature in the landscape that can draw a sense of awe during a moment of contemplation, but that immediately fades away once we look somewhere else. An anomaly without much relevance to our day to day lives here in the island. In fact, before today it had been months since last I saw Gary, or heard anything said about him. It’s better that way, keeping monsters at a distance, forgetting about their existence.

But now that Gary has killed, his ugliness has become too present, too much stimuli for the senses; and his size and power are real and unpredictable. The monster is no longer something I can walk away from and contemplate from a distance, anonymously, without any involvement. I want to, I desperately want to go home, let someone else be in charge of the case, detain the monster, figure out who’s the victim, inform the victim’s next of kin. But who is going to do the job? I am the only one in the whole island that can make this job and this case justice. And that’s my problem, I’m trapped by my own efficiency into a job nobody wants to do, not even me. I definitely didn’t join the force to handle this level of mess. This intensity. Maybe this is a sign: the murdering monster, the blood, the victim broken in pieces. A sign that I should give up a job I no longer enjoy. An opportunity to start from scratch. Become someone else.

Or maybe I just need to start working, allow the pieces to fall into place and let the case solve itself. Maybe it’s just being confronted with a murder that is throwing me off. I have never been involved in a murder case before. Which was fine with me. Murder has not a place in Rosalinda. I like my criminals manageable, lame and pathetic, and being able to talk to the victims. I like small cases that I can easily forget.

But I will deal. If a murder comes, a murder we’ll deal with.

We will deal. 

A deep breath and I am already dealing. 

We will do a good job, we will follow the procedures and we will end up with a case-study report. Something I can feel proud of. We will collect all the information, tick all the boxes, write the report and whatnot. We will excel, we will reach an outcome. Then I can resign. That would be nice. But only then, once we finish with this last one. I have to do this. The others will not know what to do with all of this mess. Their idiocy will blind them again, as usual.

I think I’m scared after all.

Breath in, breath out. Better already. Trying to breathe silently; I don’t want Gary to notice me. Although he’s a monster, what do I know about his senses. Maybe he can even hear my blood moving through my veins, arteries, and capillaries. At least right now he doesn’t seem to care about my presence. As if I weren’t here. As if I were a mere sand grain in a beach.

Maybe he is thinking his next move.

Breath in, breath out. Repeat. Just like a succession of waves lapping on the beach and then receding. 

The monster seems stable. He has not moved for several minutes. And he is completely silent. Like the rock he looks like. The head is tilted down. His bouldering brow hides his eyes. His forehead is so much like a piece of cliff, all angles and rock outcrops sticking out in random directions. It’s easy to assume that there’s not anything resembling a brain inside the head of the monster, maybe just a dried-up rock in the shape of a brain, doing the little thinking he may require.

Observing the stillness of the monster can be calming for a moment. My uneasiness, however, is now obvious, and it increases if I turn my head from the monster and focus my attention again in the victim. Just one meter from my feet. A middle-aged, caucasian man, head and arms detached, body splattered in the middle of the room. I’m not sure why, but it’s easier to look at the missing parts ripped apart and scattered around the room than at the main body. I guess the body feels more dead, more murdered.

One of the arms is incomplete, just the hand and the forearm and little else. An easy bite for the monster, having those teeth like slabs of stone with sharp edges jutting out from his mouth. One disinterested bite could have done the job. And then the rest of the arm thrown away.

The head of the victim is facing the bathroom. The matted hair is brown, unkempt. I can see an ear. It’s not covered in blood. It looks operational, like it can still hear.

I have to turn away from the monster and the victim. Just for a moment. I look at the sea in the distance. The room opens into a balcony that overlooks the beach and there is the strip of white sand and then the progressions of blues. And the horizon dividing the sea and the sky. I have always liked the horizon. The horizon is straight, clear, one can trust the horizon to be there no matter what, unchanged, unadulterated, unassuming. It’s not like this whole shit about the human or the monster condition. The horizon I can understand.

Details. I need to focus on the details. What do we know? It’s a small apartment, nothing fancy, nothing special. One small couch against a wall, a semicircular table and two chairs against the opposite wall. A separate bedroom, a separate bathroom, both opening into the living room with the victim and the perpetrator, and then the balcony. That’s it. A budget apartment. Economy tourists are always surprised by the low prices of some apartments in Rosalinda, and especially by the ones located close to the sea and with a beach view. They don’t seem to understand that the beach is just too long, there is space for everyone, both upscale mansions and rundown apartments like this one can mingle together. Why not?

How did the monster end up into this room? The ceiling is too low for him. It’s also not clear how he entered into the apartment. He must have crawled up the stairs and along the corridor. Or maybe he entered through the balcony, an easy climb for him, and then slithered into the room. I will ask him later. I don’t want him getting all agitated now. And it’s not going to change things anyway. Murderer and victim. All done now.

The sun is already high in the sky, the sand in the beach must be scorching. I don’t think the tourists care.

The tourists. We barely notice them. We know they are there, doing whatever it is that tourists do, but we can see through them or around them, as if they were diffuse clumps of fog. When necessary we can focus on them, and then we can discern their bodies in almost full detail, but we need to do so only on rare occasions. I guess I speak for myself. Those working in the tourism business must see more of the tourists than I do, but maybe even them don’t need to completely focus on the tourists. Maybe they can speak to hazy, featureless figures, and that’s sufficient to do their jobs. I should know. I should have asked someone over the years, obtained that information over some casual conversation. Over the years one accumulates so many things one should have done.

We also need to deal frequently with tourists, of course. They have a tendency to get involved in criminal acts. But by we I mean Officer Babette. I think she’s too incompetent to handle anything but petty crimes. The fact that she assures to enjoy solving fighting disputes between tourists, disorderly conduct by boisterous drunks, and urination incidents does not say much on her favor. I wonder if she focus on the tourists all the way. Maybe she can see something that we cannot. I should also know that. But that would require having a conversation with Babette, and thinking about tourists.

From here I can hear the subdued murmur of their activities. I can effectively ignore and not see the hundreds of bodies lying down or walking back and forth from the water. I almost see a deserted beach and the calm extension of turquoise water transitioning into the dark blue of the ocean. But I cannot block the cacophony of their chatter and their screams.

I wonder if tourists are either amused or insulted when they learn we choose not to see them. They may not care as long as the temperature remains high and the drinks keep coming. 

The door to the apartment opens and Seb steps in.

“What took you so long?” I ask in a reproaching voice, but he smiles back at me. As usual, he flaunts his beauty and his youth as a key that could effortlessly open any doors. He’s relentlessly annoying, but happens to produce good work most of the time. I’m unlikely to get anyone better to work for me here in Rosalinda. All the talent resides in Catalina, being ten times larger and much more populous and sophisticated. But nobody from Catalina would want to move to Rosalinda, unless they were running away from something. We don’t have anything they don’t already have, we only dedicate ourselves to accommodating the stupidity of the tourists, we are just a pleasant but unnecessary rock in the middle of the sea.

“You told me to bring all this shit,” Seb replies, dropping two large duffle bags on the floor. He has the potential to excel, but I think he tries not to, maybe he thinks that that would diminish whatever sense of self he has. One only needs to look at his uniform to get discouraged. I doubt it has ever seen an iron. And the sleeves rolled up all the way to his shoulders is not precisely a sign of professionalism. He will say things like “in a tropical island comfort trumps etiquette’” and I will want to slap him across the face. I also know that the locals are unlikely to expect allegiance to the code and regulations, and may even prefer the incompetence that Seb portrays so well. He’s on their side and I am the outsider, no matter that I was born here all the same. Being a woman in charge of the police makes me even more of an anomaly, more of an outsider to the eyes of many.

“Did you call Catalina for backup?”

“I did, yeah.” He sounds exasperated. On purpose, of course. He knows today he can get through me more than usual. “I called the Catalina station as you asked me to, and that took forever, lots of chit-chatting. They are so bored over there, you cannot believe it. When I told them about this,” he points to the monster and the cadaver, “they were just flabbergasted, I can tell you that.” 

Flabbergasted. I’m surprised to hear that word coming out from his mouth, although my surprise may say more about me than about him.

“Are they going to send someone from Catalina, then? That’s the only thing I told you to ask.”

“No,” he snaps, and I can tell he is fishing for a stupid remark, but he settles with a shrug. “They said it’s up to us. I don’t think they want to deal with monsters. Not their thing.”

“I guess you didn’t mention that we have never dealt with a murder here, and that they have much more experience than us, and that some supervision might be appropriate?”

“Nah, but you know what they are going to say if you put it like that. I mean, it’s quite a clear-cut case, ain’t it?” Seb nods in the direction of the monster. “It’s not like we are going to mess it up and charge the wrong guy.”

Instead of expressing my annoyance out loud, I turn around and recite his rights to Gary. “Gary, I am going to charge you with murder.” I try to discern if he is listening. I try to be ready for any bad reaction. For a while there’s no movement and I think he may be sleeping, but then he nods. His hair, like a bundle of weathered ropes, swings forward and then smacks his face. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” Of course he will have an attorney, I feel silly mentioning that. Among many other things his father has an army of attorneys. “Do you understand what I said, Gary?” 

Gary nods again. “Sorry,” he says. You can tell he has tried to lower his voice, but it still comes out loud and deep, like the sound of a tuba.

“You don’t need to say anything, Gary,” I tell him. “Seb, why don’t you go ahead and make yourself useful, take some pictures and then search for fingerprints. And you called the doctor, right?”

“Yeah, he’s on his way. But why exactly do you want me to look for fingerprints? What do you expect me to find?”

“Just do it. Let’s go by the book on this one, if you don’t mind.”

“Whatever you say, boss. Good thing it’s a clear-cut case, at least. Like I said, no real investigation. No mystery to solve.”

“I guess so, Seb, I guess so.”

“What a mess you have created, Gary,” Seb says while taking pictures of the cadaver. “Too much sun on that head of yours? Going a little crazy in there?”

“Leave him alone, Seb.”

“I just… felt hungry, I think,” the monster roars. “It just made sense. I’m so sorry. I don’t know how it happened. But I didn’t think about it. It was quick.”

I like the idea of it having been quick.

“If you were so hungry why didn’t you eat it all up?”

“For the last time, Seb, stop harassing the suspect.”

“Well, your father is going to be very pleased with you, eh?” Seb laughs at his own remark. 

I tell Seb to shut up again, this time I yell. But he’s right. I am not looking forward to discussing the case with Jeremiah, the Governor of Rosalinda and Gary’s father.

The Company – 17

The components of The Company were rusty and faulty. What were we, compared to the massive exuberance of the City Hall across the lake? Three mangy bears without teeth, our wounds accumulated one on top of another. We were three lumps of custard, even if we wrapped ourselves with delusion and thought otherwise. And delusion was one of our few strengths. We could make ourselves believe anything. I could imagine that my shape was that of a faun, and that I had been invited to City Hall by the Major himself, and that after peacefully slumbering under perfumed bed sheets I had left City Hall during the middle of the night, with a shiny pair of horns on my temples, and I had been dancing and prowling until falling exhausted on the grass where I was now seating. Imagining was easy, at least for me. I could see myself jumping into the water and becoming a carp, then leaping into the sky and hitting with my tail the moon as if it were a tambourine.

That carp image seemed to accumulate a real weight and plunge into the lake, as I could see now waves on the water moving towards me. There seemed to exist no reason for those waves to be so well defined, as there hadn’t been any breeze that could generate them. But the waves were there, real, separated by ample spaces, progressing with certain weakness. The epicenter where they were being produced had to be around the island in the middle of the lake.

I gave a quick look at my two comrades, to make sure they were not monkeying around and throwing pebbles at the lake. But it wasn’t them, both of them continued to be rapt in their respective realities: Turd philosophizing about the stars, and OldThrown possibly impaling his daughter in some hidden nook of his lucubrations. So it wasn’t them. And the waves persisted, new ones were being generated. If anything, they were even more visible now, several successions of waves intercrossing each other.

This was a momentous time, I could tell. I could smell a big event jumping on us like a ferocious bear and dragging us with it whether we wanted it or not. I could have yelled  a deservedly colored exclamation of surprise, something along the lines of ‘cow balls’, which is a favorite of mine, as I am a sucker for paradoxes. Cow balls indeed, because the source of the waves was getting closer to the edge of the lake where we were camped. It was approaching The Company! I had to open my eyes even further when I caught a glimpse of an iridescent shadow. No distinct contours, just an uncertainty ready to be materialized. I could have doubted my eyesight, because darkness was too thick and nothing could stand out, but there was not such an excuse a few seconds later, when the bulk became a creature, alive, with a purpose, a beast that crawled effortlessly over the water, along a slow but implacable path, emitting a shower of glistening iridescences. Moving towards The Company without fear, as if flaunting that lack of fear at us.

The beast, with that exasperating slowness, kept nearing The Company for the longest time. I tried so hard to discern its features that my imagination painted a succession of fanciful creatures, to the point that when the beast clearly appeared in front of my eyes it took me a while to understand that I was no longer envisioning. And there it was the snake-like neck, the green and purple reflections stolen from a hundred hummingbirds, the body simply drawn as an oval, and I then figured out the reason why someone had gone through the trouble of putting an islet in the middle of the lake. I was also all of a sudden imbued with a desire to hunt.

The green head rose. The two eyes stared at me, defiantly.

Waiting Canals – 17

Stepping into the balcony, Walters ignored the sweltering air and focused instead on the repetitious chorus of the locusts.

The surface of the canal was as black as the sky. He couldn’t see through the column of water, but he knew that there were no treasures down there, nothing he could call a treasure. When he first arrived to Memphis he had envisaged prospecting the canals and finding all sorts of riches. Maybe not gold ducats or pieces of silver, but something of value long lost under the sediment, or forgotten in some room under the water, something he could sell, that would allow him to be back on his feet again. He couldn’t recall ever finding anything worth taking to a pawn shop. But it was only a question of time, especially once he ventured on the submerged levels of abandoned buildings. He kept finding excuses not to go there, even thought those were the places where he would find the treasure that was waiting for him.

Something jerked to his right. He couldn’t see anything for a while, until his eyes detected a fishing line catching some of the moonlight. The movements of the line translated the struggles of a creature trying to escape under the water.

Walters straddled the fence that separated his balcony from the adjoining one, extended his arm and knocked on the neighbor’s window. Without waiting for an answer, he returned to his balcony and sat down, putting his feet on the table. By the time the door to the other balcony opened, he had dumped his drink and was trying to remember whether he had any other bottle of alcohol stashed anywhere in the house.

An obese man stepped out onto the other balcony. He moved slowly, except for his face, which seemed a foraign object stuck atop an underperforming body.

“Thanks, man” he said to Walters, grasping the fishing rod and diligently pulling a two-feet long catfish from the water, hitting its head against the railing with a splattering thud, throwing the fish in a basket on the ground, baiting the hook and flinging it back into the middle of the canal.

“Do you want a beer?” the neighbor asked.

Walters raised his empty glass. “Yes, please,” he said.

The neighbor required several steps to turn around on the spot, and then disappeared into his house. Many minutes later he made his way out again, holding a six pack, which he placed on the small table in his balcony. He sat down, grabbed a can and extended his arm, without moving the rest of his body. Walters had to get up and reach for the can. Back on his chair, he opened the can and swallowed several gulps of cold beer.

“That’s the third one I got today,” the neighbor said, using his eyes to point towards the basket where the catfish had landed. “I’m gonna fry them after we finish these beers. Are you still gonna tell me you ain’t interested in having some?”

“I’m afraid so. I’ve seen what they eat and I prefer not to partake on it.”

“You stubborn bastard. Oh well, more for me. I don’t really give a shit what they eat. They were still alive when I got them, weren’t they? If it didn’t kill them, it won’t kill me, ain’t that right?”

“Probably so.”

A boat approached from the left and slowly passed in front of them. They looked at it as it came and until it left. Long minutes of silence. An unexpected parade. The man on the boat, sitting by the tiller, pretended not to see them.

Even after the boat had been long gone, the two men remained quiet, drinking their beer, enjoying not thinking about anything of relevance.

“Any news?” Walters asked after accepting a second can of beer.

The neighbor turned to Walters and investigated him for a long time, as if he had never seen Walters before and he had to decide whether to trust him or not.

“Don’t know, man, things have been very weird lately. Too quiet. Kinda weird that all those protests have stopped. You don’t see many people in the streets, it’s like we are in the middle of a storm and everyone is at home, waiting until it’s safe to come out again.”

“Sounds like a truce between the methodists and the baptists.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure, man,” the neighbor said, the sweat droplets on his face wobbling like white jellyfish. “Something is cooking, that’s for sure. Detentions have been going on for while, I can tell you that. I don’t think it’s safe out there, and I think most people feel the same. There’s enough shit to be concerned about. There were all these people protesting for this and that for weeks, although my feeling is that most of them didn’t know the rules of the game, and now they are all suddenly gone, or hiding, or whatever.”

The Dreams of the Rabbit – 16

“The story goes like this,” Marcus said, lighting a cigarette and taking a long drag. “Once upon a time there was a king and a queen happily going about their royal businesses. Their son had been away for several years collecting adventurous moments, but they were not worried for him. They understood that their son had to follow his own path. Besides, they were busy enough dealing with whatever it is kings and queens need to deal with. Important stuff, I’m sure. Their relatively pleasant and peaceful existence, however, was interrupted by an evil army that fought its way kingdom after kingdom, extending like fire across a prairie in summer. This army was too strong to be opposed. Fighting back would lead to defeat and annihilation, at least with the typical and mundane forms of fighting the assailed kingdom had at its disposal. But, you see, the king had a special book. The king read from the book and the creatures in the book were embodied and they defeated the army, the enemy from abroad. At least for a while. But  that’s beyond the point. More interesting was the fact that the king, the queen and some of their close associates got trapped inside the book. Some of the ones left behind tried to read the book to release the king and the queen, but they were unable to do so. To them the words were smudges without any resemblance to their own language or any other languages they were aware of. Meanwhile, the foreign army regrouped and spread again like a revived fire across the kingdom. The enemy had, once again, the upper hand.”

I had grown impatient over what I thought to be a bunch of nonsense and I opened my mouth to assert my displeasure, but Marcus raised his voice and continued talking.

“On the stage of this ongoing war, linguists from different corners of the kingdom, and even from farther away, came to decipher the book, attracted by an eventual reward but mostly by the possibility of succeeding where so many others had failed. However, none of these linguists managed to read even a word, and they started to say that the book was not a book at all. Around this time, the son of the king and the queen decided to return to the devastated kingdom and he was told that his parents had been trapped inside the book and that there was not any way to get them out, as nobody could decode the writing on the pages. The son opened the book and studied the meaningless words until the hazy borders of the letters became sharper. Now there was a pattern, a path across the pages that he could follow. The book accepted him. He could now read the book, even if he did not understand what the words and sentences meant. As he uttered the absurd words out loud, his parents and their entourage got out from the book. Somehow they oozed through the pages. Somehow they materialized around the book. Also, in the process of learning to read the book the son also mastered how to control the creatures that lived in the book, and some of them incarnated as weapons that could not be defeated, and they marched against the enemy of the kingdom, and the war dissipated as if it had never been more than the fart of a dog.”

“The fart of a dog? That’s an interesting image,” I said.

“Thanks,” Marcus responded, throwing the end of his cigarette into the dead fountain.

During my childhood the base of the fountain had always been full, and trickles lapping down the central floral structure seemed to refresh the air around it. I used to dip the tips of my saturated paintbrushes into the water, just to see the abstract movements expanding, tendrils rotating, turning into themselves. The cigarette butt burned now on the dry concrete and the smoke twirled in a column that behaved like those paint creatures unfolding in the water.

Marcus glared at me without deference, like waiting for me to surrender and to hand over whatever precious object I were hiding.

“So this imaginary book you were talking about, is it somewhere in the library?” I asked.

“There is not such a book. It’s just a story. I simply told you a story.”

“A metaphor of some kind, then? I guess I’m the king’s son.”

“Everything is a metaphor or can be one if you try to cajole it hard enough. I just think that that story will make you think. I hope so.”

“Who are you, Marcus?”

Marcus smiled. It was definitely the first smile I had witnessed on him. I hoped it would be the last.

“You know what? That’s a good question, one that I should ask myself more frequently. Right now I am just a soldier enjoying not being shot at. And that keeps me quite busy.”

“What do you want me to do, exactly? Other than listening to your stories?” Once again, I felt very tired. Wasted. And it was still morning.

“Well, you know what? Maybe you can find that book after all.”

Suicidio – 16


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.

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.

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.