This is my first novel. A megalomaniac teacher kidnaps a man and a woman to turn them into the Adam and Eve of a free new world.
« We find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang. »
Eichmann in Jerusalem
1. ¿Is this Purgatory?
Breathe. Calm down.
(Inhalations and exhalations.)
You can’t see anything. You’re naked. You don’t know where you are. You don’t remember how you got here. You can’t hear anyone else breathing.
Nothing is covering my eyes. Either I’m blind, or there isn’t any light. I don’t know what else is in this room. No sound. Nothing alive. Let’s check. Wait, wait. Am I tied up? Could be. No, nothing.
One step, two steps. Jesus! What is that? Bricks? What the hell? I don’t have anything to clean up the blood… I hope the floor isn’t white. Shit – it burns. (The sound of his breathing for a few seconds.) Number one: the wall cuts. Number two: there isn’t anything in this room. Anything, except me. That leaves out the sex game possibility.
It feels like the basement of some building. Cien, think. I don’t own a lot of money, I’m not powerful. My wife isn’t magnificent, nor vengeful. My kids are fine, thank you for asking.
And yet, I’ve been kidnapped. In a basement. (The fidgeting of his fingers on the floor.) What would the police do? They would find me. They would ask me questions. They would want to know what my last memory is.
Officer, my name is Cien Spakoulovski. No, no, there’s no time to spell it. My last memory is getting out of the building where I teach. I am a history professor. (A snap.) Of course! Maybe it was them, those ungrateful teenagers!
(A brief silence.)
What an idiot! Maybe they can hear me. Am I crazy? Did someone put a microphone here?
When in doubt and without a lawyer, I find it best not to say anything.
(The whistling of a tune, then a cry.)
(Footsteps, suddenly, and hands banging on the wall.) Help! Open the door! Can you hear me? Help! I’ve been… I think I’ve been kidnapped! (A silence, then louder footsteps. The sound of the door opening.)
(Cien crying. Shoes that hit the floor. We hear teeth chattering, and then Cien’s whisper – a prayer.)
Our Father, who art in Heaven,
Hear my prayer,
Do not ignore the deep terror
That invades my chest
Without you as an ally
From dust to void
An obscure world
O God filled with love
(A cruel, deep laugh.)
you will never beg someone else to heal your wounds
2. Off with her head
I hate socially engaged literature. It pretends to be revolutionary but is made of words instead of actions. I recommend violence. It tends to have a wider audience. I will tell you later about the raped Congolese children. For now, I am busy.
On the stage, there are teenagers. The play doesn’t matter much because, aside from my Berenice, they are all mediocre. What I’m interested in is the wrapping paper, and today, there is one that catches my eye.
Two long legs spring from the floor, pink falls. Like summer peaks, they rise up to mountainous hips, almost a storm. It feels like rain, along the paths of the valley, but soon it is Patagonia again.
Her white skin would be beautiful on tiles.
I would pretend that she’s edible. Each one of her thin fingers would be a white chocolate bar, her tongue a red berry, and her tropics caramel, raspberry ice cream, and chocolate cake.
She would beg Swiatlo, taste me, but I wouldn’t yield.
I like doll-women.
A doll-woman is allowed to speak, walk and dance, but only if she does it superbly. Screaming, complaining and stumbling is disgraceful.
Yes, I have tamed them well. They sit in silence when I speak, speak when I sit in silence, and let me con template them for hours.
Svetlana, Carmino, Nenuphar, Glory, Lily, Zephyr, Knot, Xeres.
That girl could be one of them. I would grab her valleys at the end of the play, court her all the way to the sidewalk and let her in my van. We would go together to the House. There, she would learn quickly. Carmino would guide her.
I mustn’t think about Salome. She must be abandoned. She has committed a sin.
And this teenager is worthless. She can’t even stand up straight on her toad’s legs and she’s probably not even sixteen. Why do they insist on getting younger and younger?
Salome, because of you, I am not attracted to other women anymore. I curse you.
3. En el camino
they pat me on the road
like the wind
—You have to.
—I think you’re not listening to me.
—The last person who said no paid the price.
— Every day, I get threatened by pimps. Everyday I tell them to go to hell.
—The last girl who said no was thrown into the river.
—I can swim.
Why do they resist? After I’ve told them about the chandeliers and the lobsters, why don’t they just come? I too was a prostitute once and I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t know that He only liked women.
Now, I am a bouncer for very private events: I decide who gets in and who doesn’t – I observe faces, and when I see one with delicate traits, with a silhouette of a grasshopper, I call Him.
But this one He chose himself. Her name is Salome. She is bald, with a ginger wig. What was it that caught his eyes: her sharp face or her wild eyes? She was made for Him. I will bring her to Him.
She pushes me away with her fingers and trots to the next corner. I follow her. Her posture will improve and her shapes will become fupper and fuller after weeks of delicious meat and rest. I wonder which clothes he will choose for her. I am pretty sure that he will make her his next Doll.
Salome sighs. She must have met some pretty annoying suitors on the streets, but my proposal is more original.
—Where are you going? Come home with me.
I try a simpler language. She smiles, stops. It’s as if she felt safe again. How can I tame this creature? She hesitates for a second, so I grab her shoulders and push her against the wall. I wonder: if she knew that this is the last time a man touches her, ever, would she enjoy it more? She sighs: she must have lived this a thousand times.
—He will cover you in gold and satin. You’ll be safe.
—Did your parents tell you the story of Gretel?
—Of Hansel and Gretel, yes.
—My Hansel died a long time ago, and we both knew that the candy house was a trap for fools. I’d rather stay here.
—He is already on his way.
Salome looks behind me and her eyes open. It must be Him. I let go of her and turn around. The second it takes me to realize that He is not here is enough for Salome to run away. I chase her down the streets, amongst the neons of the boulevard. If this hadn’t been my job, Salome would have been a woman in a market. We would have laughed about a cooking recipe and we would have walked together. I would have told her that I don’t care for women and she would have told me that she only likes men. We would have loved and protected each other. I would have been her Hansel.
But: the mysterious ways of the lord. Salome bumps into a tense junkie, who, in retaliation, points a knife at her belly. I watch the scene unfold. It would be useless to intervene: the streets have their own rules. But if the knife touches Salome, I will have to let her go. Scars make Him crazy.
Salome and I hold our breath, while beggars – theirs is the kingdom of heaven – yell and clap.
The exhaustion of the chase, the ugliness of the scene, the brightness of the neons on my pupils; I close my eyes. I wait. I count the seconds.
I hear a disappointed grunt. I open my eyes and am face to face with Salome. In her eyes, a scared hiccup.
—I want to feel safe.
I nod, silently.
When the negotiations are over, when you got what you wanted, you mustn’t say another word, because anything might ruin the deal, don’t clap, don’t fret – walk away, on tip-toe, and let the show go on.
4. Blessed be our father
The object of this contract is the legal adoption of Berenice Kertesz, seventeen years old, hereby named BERENICE, by Swiarlo Malterres, fifty-five years old, hereby named SWIATLO.
I, Berenice, declare myself the author of this contract.
I attach the emancipation document signed by Berenice and her biological parents.
Berenice and Swiatlo will not live in the same place.
Swiatlo does not have to send any money to Berenice. He does not have any material responsibility toward her.
Incest is forbidden.
By incest, we mean kiss, stroke, penetration, oral sex, and generally all physical contact. Moreover, we also state as forbidden any sexual innuendo or expression of affection, as well as sentences that could be ambiguous from the point of view of vocabulary, grammar or tone.
They are allowed to share food, coffee, walks, trips but in separate rooms, professional endeavors – in that case, another contract shall be established.
We state as mandatory dinners on Wednesday night.
We state as forbidden all gifts.
The only exception to that rule is the case in which Berenice and Swiatlo stand at midnight under fireworks.
The duration of the contract is indefinite. If Berenice and Swiatlo decide to break it, be it by a common decision or according to an individual lack of satisfaction, they can do so.
However, no contract can be established after this one, which means that breaking the present contract implies the end of the relationship between the two people hereby named, from the destruction of the contract, to the day they die.
you will not fall in love
5. The artists’ entrance
Because of the projectors, I can’t see the name of the street nor the number of the house. The car creaks on gravel. A mansion appears. I have seen houses like this, on lucky days. No sound around, no police nor firemen, no one – this isn’t the city. And yet, it’s also missing the country air and the crickets. Suburbs, maybe?
Gigolo pushes me towards the steps – four, white: marble? – and the wooden door. He takes out of his pocket a gigantic key. A disproportionate world. I see how his hand barely touches the key, caressing, even when he turns it in the lock.
—Were your clients men or women?
Gigolo smiles without answering. I must have said something stupid. I try to think. He picks and brings women to this harem. He watches over them. In the Antiquity, that’s what eunuques used to do.
—I hope that you still have them.
He’s all done with the key and looks at me, uncertain. I’m a step ahead.
—Your jingle bells.
I push the door and come inside. I had never seen so many gala dresses, red lips, white teeth, and perfect hair – most of all: I had never seen so many beautiful women. I stand, amazed, and Gigolo catches up with me.
—These are the other ones?
Gigolo doesn’t answer and nods to some of the creatures who walk from room to room. Party in the castle tonight; welcome.
I move closer to him to whisper a question, but he steps back. He shakes his head. You can’t do that here.
He points towards the staircase. As I go up, all the doors are closed – until the third floor. It’s a bedroom. Beds are satin cushions. Between them, satin drapes. There isn’t any window on this floor. I tremble.
Gigolo smiles and encourages me to go to my cushion.
The same cushions, the same warm colors – red, most of all – but what has happened to bags, shoes, pants, toothbrushes?
—Is it a nudist camp?
—Someone will drop clothes in front of your bed every morning. You will wear it once, and at night, at bath time, you will leave it in the dirty clothes’ basket.
It seems like he’s talking about a magical world. I nod.
—You will be introduced to the Master in a few days.
I sit on my bed and look at the wall. I stay still for so long that at last I hear his steps walking away.
My voice is shaky. When he turns around, I try to smile.
—Will I see you tomorrow?
—Yes, but you won’t be able to talk to me and I won’t be able to look at you. The only man in your life is now the Master.
I think that’s when I passed out.
I woke up at once, and for the love of God, you have to believe me: I had no idea of where I was.
I was sitting down, with a white napkin on my knees, wearing a suit and a tie, my hands on the table.
In front of me, silverware, an infinity of plates, and him.
I immediately recognized him and yet, instead of screaming his name o ask him what he was doing there, I cringed.
I’m not saying I’m proud of it; I’m just telling you things the way the were.
He said: “Just in time. I didn’t want the food to get cold.” He smiled as he said that, the kind of smile you give to the President of he eats at your house.
What I never fully understood is why he showed me his face. A good criminal, from what I’ve read, wears a mask – he didn’t. He had been my colleague in high school. He was the god of all professors. He had retired, had told me “Don’t worry, we’ll see each other soon”, and a few years later, after his disappearance, after my frustration and after my kidnapping, we met again on a banquet.
My brain froze. On the path of those thoughts, a great grey wall built up. I couldn’t face the implications. It was, it would, may it mean that –
I started putting food on my plate.
He couldn’t stop laughing. He nodded, like a crazy scientist proving his theory. I ignored him. I reached for a chicken wing and moved it towards my mouth.
That’s when something strange happened.
I knew I was not hungry anymore.
I shook on my seat and examined my chicken from up close.
My host snapped his fingers and a man, servant’s clothes, athlete’s silhouette, murderer’s face, brought me an empty plate which reflected my face – my dirty face. On my lips and cheeks, there was chicken sauce, mayonnaise, tarama, red wine, something orange – I turned toward the table and saw a carrot purée – and even chocolate mousse.
The waiter walked away and closed the door behind him.
—How do you feel?
It was a soft and somewhat rough voice, like the walls surrounding my naked body earlier. I stared into his eyes and asked myself if those were really the ones who saw me years before in the professors’ lounge and then a few years ago naked as a worm, the door barely open, bloody hands. He interrupted me:
I saw images, too quick to capture them.
The man waited, contemplating his lab rat. Scientifical, philosophical or literary experiment: no matter the title he gave it; there was something inhumane in the way he looked at me, curious but pitiless.
—I’m not hungry.
The ogre laughed. I saw his veiny hands rise and signal a closed door. Soon, there was nothing left: no food, no table. Only two armchairs near a bay window, two chairs covered in green velvet that I drowned into as in a dream, and on the other side of the window, a forest. I looked, stupid, at the trees. Birds submerged into their leaves and didn’t come back up.
Someone was observing me.
I looked at my host. His expression was cold, bored.
—Do you want to go out?
I felt a scar on my wrist. I stared at it for a few seconds, without understanding, before rising my shoulders.
—As you wish.
I saw tears in Swiatlo’s eyes. He punched the table and then my chin. I remember the next punches within a heavy and confused mist.
7. I’m a little dead
I am a suicide architect.
One day, a client told me: let’s be honest, Berenice, suicide is pretty simple, right?
On the contrary.
It is not very complicated either, I’d say. But suicide isn’t only scalping a diaphanous skin. A suicide is, more than anything else, an artwork. It’s an event, a ceremony. Like every ritual, it has its rules, its places, its methods, its language.
For instance, a masochist came to see me. He wanted a death that would hurt for days. Do you understand? There are specificities. Each suicide has to resemble the client. Take the case of an aesthetic masochist for example: you have to find for him tortures that don’t show poor taste. Your ideas for a bloodless wound helped me a lot with a client who can’t stand the color red.
And all of that is only one aspect of the process. There’s everything you want to leave behind. The fear of being forgotten remains even when the fear of dying disappears. So they ask me to give letters, put on posters, organize strikes, take one last picture or record the sounds of their agony so that I can send them to their family. Let me tell you a secret: I never do it. Suicide should be an intimate and serene gesture, not a shout if anger.
Of course, there’s also the place.
And I ask my clients to pick an exact time. They become a symbol. With the six digits of the digital clock, they make combinations, often the date of birth – or the date of death.
And there are also the clothes, the last words – sometimes silence, sometimes monologues -, the last position, props, light, music.
They like to reenact movie scenes, paintings or memories. A veteran told me the war during days until I managed to rebuild the exact scene where he had almost died. Traumatized, he was convinced that he should have died there. Thanks to me, he had the chance to.
One of them asked me to sit his corpse against the wall and put an apple on his head. I still wonder how that affected the reaction of his family, of those who found him like this. Did it help with their grief? Or are they filled with questions? who sat him down? who put the apple there? Are they chasing a murderer?
Do you think I’m a murderer?
I help other people to write their story. I don’t have any. I’m not driven by money nor power. I don’t like voyeurism, nor necrophilia.
I do this job because I find beautiful the passage between life and death. Also because despite that beauty, I postpone the moment to cross. Maybe I help others to overcome my fear and be free.
you will not give up on life before fulfilling your dreams
In Congo, some men are creatively horrific.
Let me tell you the story of a family who has no wages, nor house, nor friends, nor food. The father and the mother rebel. They think they’re ready to do anything in order for the freedom to come back.
The soldiers rape, one after the other, not only the rebel, but also the rebel’s wife, not only the rebel’s daughter, but also her baby. An eighteen-month old baby was broken by an adult dick. The shock was so brutal that the baby’s organs exploded.
The doctor was unable to save him.
If they hadn’t killed the rebel after that, what do you think he would have done? Do you think he would have killed himself? Or do you think he would have done anything in his power to change the regime?
I ask you all those questions without expecting an answer. I see that you’re trying to say something. Listen. For weeks I have endured your whining, I have seen you sigh in the streets and in the school’s stairway, saying how much you hated your teacher’s job and your idiotic students. Do you remember the day you asked me how I made my students love me? You seemed so desperate that yours despised you. There’s only one secret: I like to teach, and they can tell. Can you feel it now? I love snapping my truths into your brain.
You are allowed to whine.
But if you’re not happy, then do something about it. Others did it in circumstances where they stood to lose it all.
I chose you as an example. I chose you because you think you’re clever but you lack wisdom. I chose you because your mediocrity moved me to tears. I followed you for months, I retired to dedicate all my time to you, and now you are here. You are heard to become the first man.
I’m talking about freedom.
Listen to the song of the world to understand better the essential. Listen.
You’re still crying. I won’t dry your tears. You provoked that tsunami yourself. Control yourself. Breathe. This Flood is useless. Listen.
In Mexico, the president sent the army against the drug traffickers. The soldiers had little education, muscles without brain and a huge fear of the mafia. They killed, shit, judged. They kidnapped and tortured. One day, I remember, they threw twenty bodies in the river of Veracruz. Some were corpses of fifteen-year-old teenagers. They hadn’t been to court. Maybe they were innocent.
It does not matter whether you want to change the world or only your miserable life, what matters is having faith. Nothing is impossible. If your dream is to fly, without wings nor plane, then do it. The end of the fall will be brutal, but if you jump from a tower, you will have time to enjoy it. Do you understand?
In the subway, at night, a woman was raped by six seventeen-year-old friends. There was a surveillance camera in the station. The policeman saw what was happening on a screen. But instead of helping her, he masturbated.
I talked once with an anorexic girl, who cuts herself every time she feels anguish, has a son with a mercenary and smokes weed every day to forget.
You must know the story of great artists, concentration camps, dictatorships, bodies in the desert of Chile, affairs and revenges, brotherly and fatherly murders, women who put their babies into the freezer.
You were my colleague. Now, you are my son. Cien, I’m not pretending that the world is innocent. I know it isn’t. You, pretend. Don’t listen to what I say. Hear it only today. There are things to change, that is what you need to know. Don’t let others’ atrocities contaminate the ideal that you need to keep. Close your eyes, focus on the image of a better world, and work every day to build it around you. You will travel, you will go spread the good word.
Don’t give up. You will feel the temptation a thousand times, and a thousand times you shall resist. There will be other temptations, so sweet: love to pursue, friendships to build, kids to impression and passions to grow. But there are only a game, and by the time you’d understand that, you’d be too old. They are what’s most sublime in life, but they are not for you.
You will never taste these joys because your role is to offer them everywhere. Anybody could take your place but nobody will want to. Cien, I need you to dedicate your life to this mission.
Stop crying, I’ll take your muzzle off.
Her curves float and the walls tremble.
Salome walks in a hallway of the harem. She demands a change. Her revolution doesn’t use shouts nor punches, nor flowery love. The land of her rebellion is other people’s bodies.
When she arrived at the harem, she read the Master’s ten commandments on a wall. She knows them by heart.
This one in particular had distressed her:
you will not get lost in the softness and exaltation of strokes
Unlike what some would say – a feminist would tell her one day: “Reaching freedom by being locked up? That’s so naive. Have you ever really been locked up? You’ll see.” – the deprivation and absence teach you sometimes plenitude. When you walk to the end and maximum depth of obscurity, when all you can see is jump or die, you suddenly learn the real meaning of words.
The real meaning of words can guide us toward happiness.
Salome explored. Women had approached her in dark corners. All were so pitiful, with short breath. She had cradled them and liberated them of their frustration.
But she knew that reaching for the mountains of these women gathered in a suburb wouldn’t change anything. She had to face the Master.
“I’ll free you”, she whispered to another body. She looked up, saw that it was Gigolo: he was staring at the place where their bodies had touched with eyes as huge as the Moon, and she started laughing, laughing to be locked up without being insane, how she would have liked to be insane!, everything would have been absurd and nothing would have been unacceptable, and she would enjoy the satin and forget the walls.
The next body was a tiny valley – like a promise. She foreshadowed the ecstasy but pulled herself away from the dream. In that house lived chimeras that she needn’t touch anymore. What she wished for were open doors. There were only arms, hips and thighs. Adelaide had kissed her one night before falling sleeping next to her.
The breath, the short breath of athletes and trumpets’ players, the short breath of bodies, the kinky breath of Isadora when she whispered good night.
Lily heard the stroking of her fingers. She contemplated the body of Salome, who devoured banquets, hugged pillars and could stay for hours under some drops of water.
She saw her walking toward the prohibited sanctuary. Lily hid behind a pillar. Moving her hands, she called the others, and each one took place behind one of the pillars, above the steps that led to the pool and to the Arabic prince’s tent in which the Master slept.
They were moving simultaneously as if they were mirror reflections. They shivered when they heard the Master moaning. They frowned and moved their ear closer when the moaning accelerated and when serpentine silhouettes emerged from the tent. But when they say Salome pulling a man by the hand toward the swimming pool, everything broke. Her paralyzed eyes stared at those two hands, one touch the other, and at the rules, the ten commandments, and at the fingers again, the phalanges that stroked each other, and they felt their heart breaking, and were filled with panic. In a world where everything is a commandment, when a rule is broken, the universe explodes.
Some ran to their room, but the rest stayed there, behind the pillars, watching.
Salome kept her eyes stuck in Swiatlo’s as she took him, now with two hands inside of his, walking backwards, inside the pool. They entered the water. Their clothes floated around their silhouettes. Salome breathed deeply, so did he, and their heads disappeared beneath the surface of the water.
Lily felt her heart stopping.
No woman asked for help. None could take her eyes away.
They let her die there, because that world didn’t mean anything anymore. They stared for a long time, until they heard the breathing calm down and saw the bodies resting in peace.
you will never give up on your prophetic path
10. Shifting sands
“This was an old woman’s apartment, an adorable cabaret singer, she died a few months ago, nothing original, a pancreatic cancer, something incurable they said, she asked me to sell the apartment and give the money to the kids, the advantage is that the neighbors aren’t here a lot so they might take a while before discovering the smell, and we just might finish our decomposition calmly.”
“It’s a students’ campus, that way we can listen to those people filled of future, or at least hope, anyhow we can listen to them living, and that can help, I mean that can motivate in death, meaning it can add some cheerfulness, some festive atmosphere, that’s what I thought, it might be nice.”
“I love this place, in case you care, this is my favorite, it has as much alcohol as we want and projectors, it’s a nightclub, usually full of preadolescents who pretend to drink and fuck, but the point is that we can do a real job on light, colors, music, it’s a bit showbiz and marketing, so that can be practical.”
“We have to hurry up if we want to do this tonight, pick faster or visit faster, come, no, we already said that you don’t call me your daughter, I signed the contract because if I’m gonna die young, I prefer to die with someone who matters to me, it’s funny I always said I’m an architect of suicide but I won’t kill myself and in the end it seems that I will, I prefer to die now rather than die alone, anyway, it doesn’t matter, the thing is I won’t get to have grandchildren, nor will you so… shall we?”
“The river docks, this is the place where lovers bring their lovers, girls somewhat happy or beautiful or stupid it depends on who and when, why am I telling you this, old memories this is the place where I gave my first kiss and it as nice and even if he brought the other ones here I don’t care because I as happy here and I think he was too and that’s what matters, so if you want to die where I was in love, that would enable us there give that story an ending, well to give mine an ending.”
“This is my apartment. Do you want to visit it?”
You stare at your veins as if they mattered.
They don’t matter.
Color around the edges.
Your breath shortens and you drown me in vapor. Breathe in before sticking the knife in. It can be your friend if you know how to tame it. Use it tenderly.
Don’t fret. This is your only way to get out of here. Look at my shadows on the wall: they will haunt you during your sleepless nights if you don’t put an end to this. The world here is crumbling down – they have taken your breath prisoner, and since it was too much to hold in two hands, they stored it in glass tubes. The wind took them away. There’s no more oxygen for you. I remember the sound that glass made when it broke against mosaics. It sang of ruptures.
I know you love him, Salome, but give up. Not like this. I’ve told you many times the myth of the cave; now, you are in it. You don’t have much time left – he will come, soon, to find you in the tent and stroke your hips with his agile and powerful fingers. Are you waiting for him? Leave him, run. Don’t be stupid.
Drop the mirror. I won’t stop looking at you while you paint yourself.
Not the veins, my angel, they won’t free you from this place. The face.
Start beneath the eye. The line of your dark rings should guide your hand. There it is; very well.
Let your tears drop: their salt will close your wounds.
Your face all red and brown, do you think that he will still want to be with you? Or will he let you flee this metronome residence?
I love you, Salome, I whisper these words for your own good.
Now, follow the drawing of your bone cheeks.
Don’t give up, you almost made it. You are already disfigured anyway, so there’s no point in wanting to turn back.
Look at his face, at the Master’s expression of pain. Don’t worry about your tears, I’ve already told you they’ll close your wounds.
No, no need to stick the knife again.
Your skin burns of ugliness and shame. And his? Why do you think he is turning red? Fury? Suffering?
Run, now, since there isn’t anything left here for you.
He looks at me. I don’t move. I see his face reflected infinitely in the mirrors, no exit. I think I’m going to die here. Will he rape me before or after killing me?
He has bruises on his body – as if he had been bumping on doors and tables, as if he were blind. Can he hear me screaming? I wonder if he’s deaf. For an hour, I think, he has been looking at me.
He doesn’t look evil, that’s funny, it’s what I’ve been told about predators. They have the appearance of normal men, like him, civil servants in suits who hate their job.
We are in a mirror room, me tied up on the floor lying down impossible to get up to at least seem to have dignity how could he feel ashamed of attacking a human being with me barely looking like an animal like this, he sitting down against the mirror in front of me trembling looking at me with his twelve eyes I think he has twelve eyes maybe it’s because of my tears I see him twice or three or five times I don’t know my heart beats too fast.
He grunts. I think he is trying to say something. A speech before getting started? I start screaming for no reason. I see my reflection get red, inflate like a balloon, I would like to fly, fly and burst, disappear before the worst happens.
The worst is being locked up here.
He gets up and walks towards me quickly. I can’t stop screaming. I don’t know what I am trying to prove with my screams. The voices of instinct are mysterious. I scream, scream, scream, scream, scream, scream, scream, scream, and suddenly he slaps me. I stay silent, almost relieved. So that is what we are here for, then. So that is really what we are for, then. Perfect; let’s dot this. He, on the contrary, runs, runs in the opposite direction, runs and smashes against a mirror. He falls down. Blood appears. It appears in every reflection. There is blood everywhere. Bloody, bleeding, blood-filled, he has cold blood and warm blood, and the blood that spreads and mine that freezes.
Suddenly I recognize him, just like that, almost without wanting it, he looks at me, I look at him, and there it is, he’s the guy who slept with Salome a few months ago and who then followed her a bit pathetically, a bit desperately, I think he was in love with her, and Salome told him I don’t fall in love, but he kept on seeing her, he was a romantic. He had a weird name, a name from another country.
I wonder if I should tell him, if I should talk to him about Salome to get him to calm down a bit, but he probably knows, that’s probably the reason I’m here for his vengeance, so that he can cry and burp out the rage of heart-broken lovers.
He tells me Breathe. He asks me not to scream. It makes me want to scream. He apologizes for slapping me. I don’t move. He says he won’t hurt me. That he prefers to die here, locked up by the other imbecile who fills him with roasted chicken and makes him forget him about it. That even between four walls, imprisoned like a chicken in a slaughterhouse, he still has something: freedom. He doesn’t have to kill in order to survive. He can just die.
His monologue makes me laugh. That irritates him, of course, the fact that I don’t take seriously his grand heroic act, but I am breaking down. I tell him you’re an imbecile, an idiot, we will die no matter what, just do it, just get out of here. Now I do deserve to be slapped. Am I finding excuses for men who want to abuse and kill me? And who is the famous evil man who has us locked up? Why isn’t he with us? Oh, there’s a camera on the roof. Oh, there’s another. In each corner of the room. He’s here. In a way. A voyeurist.
Hey, I tell him, wouldn’t you untie me? I see him doubting. He is a hero, but I might be a cold-blooded murderer. He looks at me again, animal, with the mistrust of survivors. I shrug, I tell him it doesn’t matter. He says Okay. We stay quiet.
After hours, or maybe days, or maybe a million years, we were hungry. We weren’t bored because we knew that at any time the other one could kill us. It is a hypothesis that maintains the mind alert. We could have taken this time to know each other better, but instead of that, we just waited. I don’t really know what we were waiting for, but for us it made sense, staying like this, me tied up on the floor uncomfortably lying down in the position of a defenseless animal, him covered in his own blood and sitting down on the other side looking at me as a beast as the one who survives, in silence.
Years later, the voyeurist came for us. I think he was tall and that anytime he stood somewhere, the light hid behind him.
I woke up home.
In my little room at the end of the world, with the neighbors who pee in the staircase, the elevator full of dog hair and all the newspapers that I have been keeping for years and that grow in piles covered with ink near the sink.
On the table, there was a bouquet of roses. A short letter, too, beautiful calligraphy, like the one of an aristocrat, and it said
One, two, three
Chair, rope, rat
The rodent bites thee
The chair tumbles flat
Four, five, six,
Alice blind in a hole
The spoon and the needle’s fix
Unleashed you fall
Alice’s rabbit hole
Seven, eight, nine
—This is so bad. You’re playing with rimes instead of writing a poem. Tell it right.
—I’ll tell you.
Hang, overdose, bullet in the heart, slit your wrist, cut them sharply, knife in the heart, knife in the neck, wake up in the hospital, try again, jump, steal, provoke a policeman, explore a dangerous neighbourhood, insult a thief, take off from the roof of a tower, give an elephant too many laxatives, walk inside the mouth of a snake, say son of a bitch to a giant of two meters and fifty centimeters unless it’s a spaghetti without muscles, rape a child in a state where they still have death penalty in the US, get involved in drug trafficking, put heavy stones in your pocket and go for a swim in the lake, send a threat letter to the president and tell him the exact place where you will be putting a bomb and put a bomb in that place and sign the letter with your name and address, put a bomb and don’t tell anyone about it and stay there, drive a plane if you can’t drive a plane, drive a car fast towards a tree, drive a car and keep going faster past the cliff, lie to a Russian Mafioso, get a cut and go swim with the sharks, get AIDS and refuse treatment, publish an ad in the newspaper that says
DEAR SERIAL KILLERS, IF YOU WANT, I’LL BE AT HOME TOMORROW ON LIBERTY AVENUE 200 SECOND FLOOR APARTMENT A, I WILL NOT BE ARMED AND THE POLICE HAS SWORN THAT THEY WOULND’T DROP BY, I DO NOT HAVE AN ALARM AND I WILL LEAVE THE DOOR OPEN, I AM TALL BROWN HAIR FIFTY YEARS OLD COME
Salome sings while she wanders through the rooms of the harem. She plays alone with her body like a friendless child. In the streets of her ghetto, she caresses everything she has hurt.
Swiatlo went mad when he saw her. He broke everything. Like a storm, he spent days and nights destroying it all.
One day, seeing her asleep by the pool, he woke her up and made love to her. He told her something complicated about ugliness and beauty, and all she heard was that he was in love.
The harem was about to reach its own natural death. With a tyrant in love and a disfigured doll, the commandments broke down one after the other. Nothing made sense.
He had created a universe in which his divine word didn’t leave any room for absurdity or incoherence. All of a sudden, that is what swooped in, like a whip-lash, as if to prove that nothing, literally nothing, on this Earth, makes sense.
The two of them shared a tender love, a love of fabrics and caresses, they looked at each other for hours, they sighed for hours, they didn’t say anything because there wasn’t anything to stay, there was something in the other’s body in the
that went way further than anything they could have told each other in a thousand years.
They were in love, and one day, he disappeared.
Then she started singing again. It was a new song, and she sang it all the time.
Nobody seemed to understand it and she didn’t give a fuck. She broke again everything he had broken. She fell asleep near the pool. But every time, she woke up alone. She stared at the tent. She contemplated it for so long that she looked like a statue.
Finally, all the women of the harem sang her new melody, like a chorus of angels, and thus, cured her.
Glimpse a glitter of stardust
Colliding against the Moon
Do these celestial wanderers
Teach you how I’ll always marvel
At the glare of the awakenings
And the brutality of our encounters
When at night we melt through walls
Ghosts gasping in eternal glory
I’ve gathered the get-aways
In the harsh cries of the shadows,
Silenced mutinies linger long
My closed lips hiding caged butterflies
The eclipse seizes my elliptic soul
Seductive sins sinking in nostalgia
But this mist of mysterious mysery
Shall never fade away the shivers of our waltzes
look at the spectres in your mirror in the eyes
Q – What were you doing on the night of the kidnapping ?
A – I was kidnapped.
Q – What were you doing on the night of the kidnapping ?
A – I was going home.
Q – What were you doing on the night of the kidnapping ?
A – Aren’t you gonna ask anything else?
Q – What were you doing on the night of the kidnapping ?
A – I don’t like this game.
Q – What were you doing on the night –
A – I’m tired. What do you want me to tell you?
Q – What were you doing on the –
A – I was leaving school. I had finished my classes for the day.
Q – What were you doing on –
A – Outside of school, I wanted to smoke but I couldn’t, because my wife had made me promise I would quit. So when a student from my class told me sir sir are you okay, I said yes, but then I thought about smoking and I got angry, so I said no.
Q – What were you doing –
A – I said no, and I told him I couldn’t stand how stupid all my students were. I think he didn’t know what to stay, so he offered me a cigarette. I told him he was even more stupid than I thought.
Q – What were you –
A – That’s all. Then I waited for the bus.
Q – What were –
A – Do you understand anything? Are you a robot? Did Swiatlo create you? This is a madhouse.
Q – What –
A – NOTHING, ASSHOLE. Nothing. Like every night. I wasn’t doing anything because I never do anything, not any night, not any day, I wake up I eat I shower I talk I breathe I say I drink I think something I walk sometimes I take the bus sometimes I don’t know which bus I’m taking but I take it anyway because it’s all automatic systematic robotic, you see I don’t do anything, because not choosing anything is not doing anything and it has been twenty years since I have not made one single choice.
do not forget that only you hold the key to your freedom
This is how the girls of the night thank me.
The pool cries out of solitude.
They loved me. My mazes transformed their misery into mythical martyrs. They were the gala ladies, the placid courtesans; they flee.
This threshold that they were never going to be able to cross, now they fly above it, night swallows.
I’ll stay alone.
Where is the master?
They killed Gigolo.
His bloody heart on a golden plate.
My silent anger suffocates me.
They leave me, they leave me, ungrateful.
Where is Salome?
Where is Salome?
Where is Salome?
Salome is on the threshold, Salome is the threshold, Salome is the sign that the impossible doesn’t exist, she is transhumance, nomadism, she is a plane with wheels and a plane with wings, she is my ruin.
Just like the scars on her face will never go away, these women will follow her to the end of the universe. She won, the Salome, she corrupted the aesthetic dream of my majestic Swiatlo. I am so afraid that he might come back furious to bruise my walls and skin. You should have held on to them, he would yell, throwing the chandelier on me.
I will shiver, I will cry the tears that the rain will drop through my holed roof, I will let my paintings dust and dissolve along the decades, I won’t exist anymore someday, I will be ruined, I have been ruined.
Have I been sacrificed?
Did he knew I would be sacrificed?
Did he choose to sacrifice me?
Was he right to sacrifice me?
Can a sacrifice be right?
I accept resigned my ruin.
17. Utter darkness
The camera blinks.
It turns towards a movement. What is it? It looks like a silhouette.
The camera blinks, and activates its night vision. There it is, it can see. It is a man, a man as naked as a worm, a bruised man, a man locked up from within. A man crawls.
The camera wakes up her other camera friends. In the middle of the night, the man they watch over flees like a thief. They start laughing, all of them, hysterically, they blink, they blink.
“The whiner flees.”
They’re all staring. They don’t want to miss it. This is even more important than the day when the young woman – blink, blink: “What was her name?”, blink, blink: “Oh, yeah, Berenice” – had come and they had heard the word hanging and they had refused to understand.
Camera number one stares at the naked man who stands up. It sees the knees shaking, the lips tremble, a grimace. It looks, holding its breath, at the prisoner who walks on tiptoes the steps that separate him from the door, one, two, one, two, there’s the handle, and he opens the door.
Camera number two is so surprised that it has the hiccups. It wants to cry and laugh, it doesn’t know what to think. It looks at the tiny man and wants to yell FASTER FASTER. It sees him roaming the hallway. He doesn’t look neither behind him nor at the sides. Step by step. He doesn’t know where he’s going. He’s opening every door.
Camera number three has a panoramic vision, so it stops and takes its time. It sees the creature open a door – a room full of mirrors, still covered in the blood of his freedom – and close it. It sees him open another one – a dining room and a living room window velvet seats the smell of banquets. It waits for him to finish looking, with teary eyes, waits for him to finish, he finishes and closes the door.
Camera number four would like to guide him and tries to cough, but nobody can hear it. It cries, helpless.
Cameras number two, three and four see the man pushing a door – the medical office, where he was, in his robe, answering questions, a question, always the same question, maybe he’s gone mad – and close it.
The three cameras watch the man trip. Curled up on the floor, he gives up. He cries. He screams. He hits the walls, because the pain inside him is so strong that no physical pain can be any more painful. He hits, yells, scratches his skin. There it is, thinks camera number two, he’s gone mad.
Camera number four hits the wall and says It’s unacceptable, You don’t put a man in a cage to teach him good manners, It’s unacceptable.
Camera number three is more pragmatic. It’s time to move on, it whispers to the prisoner. See, you’ve come out of the cage. Stop opening the doors of the rooms you already went it. You know them already. Go away.
But the man is a ruin.
He drowns in his own tears. There are so many of them that they fill the hallway, that he swims in them, that he floats in them, and he thinks he should have brought stones, rocks, to put them in his pockets, and drown, and forget all the horrors he has listened to and the terrified look of the woman in the mirror room and the questions without answers and the forgotten banquets and seeing without seeing and utter darkness and utter darkness and utter darkness how could he forget the utter darkness could he ever forget the utter darkness
Camera number three blinks.
The prisoner looks up towards it. Their eyes meet. All of a sudden, rage appears in his pupils, in the midst of the black hole.
Rage rises him up, helps him take a few steps.
He sees the stairs.
Camera number three feels its eyelids close. “I told you”, it says to camera number four, whose relieved sobbing intensifies. Everybody blinks one last time, and then they go to sleep.
Down the stairs, the man looks around him. On the first floor, everything was order, function, there was one room per story and one story per room and there was no complications, in fact the screening room, where was the screening room, he hadn’t opened the door of the screening room, but no it wasn’t a screening room, it was his own life and a weird voice, the voice of a man, who repeated in his ears the atrocities of the world, and repeated them again, and said it was all for his own good.
On the four walls, the four walls surrounding infinite piles of papers, newspapers, notebooks, books, movies, wrappings, pictures – the world – in the middle chaos, and on the four walls, a video. A talking video. Silhouettes and voices. Cien watches, silent, unable to breathe. What’s going on what’s going on what’s going on what’s going on what’s going on what’s going on
The face of Swiatlo appears, near the camera, huge on the wall, huge on the four walls.
The prisoner looks around him. No one. Who is he saying good afternoon to?
The walls have voices.
The walls have a voice.
The prisoner looks at the walls, at the face, at the eyes of Swiatlo.
“You finally fulfilled my dream. Listen. I freed fifty women. You will recognize them because of their beauty. The folders on the floor, around you, they’re pictures of them, dates of birth. But Salome… Salome is the only one, the breathless one, Salome is for you, I have built her every day to offer her to you. You met her a long time ago, do you remember? She was the prostitute you pretended to fall in love with. She only loved herself and you didn’t love anyone. Now you are both cured. Salome is not a prostitute anymore, she is a traveler, a disfigured vagrant, a furious feminist. She will know how to teach you the way of the body and of love. Trust me. Find Salome.”
The prisoner can’t breathe, he feels pain in his chest, a knot in his throat, he can’t swallow, the mist in his brain, he can’t think, the face of the man steps back on the walls, it’s a room, it’s a room, he can’t breathe, there’s something locked in his lungs, what is it, what is it, Swiatlo is in a room with a young woman, they take each other’s hand, they take each other’s hand, the man says “Wait” and looks to the camera.
The little woman is Berenice, he yells BERENICE but the word gets lost in his throat, he sees his student dancing in circles, emptying bottles of what of liquid of alcohol maybe of whisky, on the carpet, the drops fall and fall infinite fifty percent proof fall.
The kidnapper snaps his fingers.
“Cien, you are free.”
Swiatlo and Berenice lie down. Between them, a pool of alcohol. Around them, alcohol. Berenice hands Swiatlo a lighter.
Cien throws himself against the walls. They’re only videoprojections. He can’t touch them. He doesn’t want them to die. He throws himself again and again onto the white stone, the white stone where he can watch the suicide of the kidnapper and his adopted daughter. There are more and more scars on his arms and face, faster and faster, until his face and the whole room turn red, red blood – red fire, red burning on the alcohol drops, red of Berenice’s screams.
Swiatlo stays silent.
And then, nothing.
A few hours after fainting, Cien wakes up. On the floor, pictures of beautiful women in a suburbs house.
On the walls, a dark room. He can’t see what’s inside, but he shivers.
may my death prove to you the infinite freedom of man