I was standing there all alone. I thought, this is not the end of it: the neighbor singing a song, making a mockery of it all. I paced back and forth on the neighbor’s doorstep. I looked down at my hands, then quickly at the doorknob. My hands were cold. The skin around my knuckles was burning. I thought, I have to get in; I have to go through the neighbor’s door. And if not through her door then a window would be sufficient. I snapped my fingers at the thought. Suddenly I recalled a lamp I had spotted at the end of the hallway in the neighbor’s home. I imagined the neighbor’s cat curving around the lamp, her tail illuminated under the bulb. Warmth, I thought, and light. But I couldn’t remember if the lamp was on when I had first seen it, or if I had just imagined it to be—a soft, yellow light calling me through the neighbor’s door.
The wind picked up. Outside, it was slightly colder than it had been all along. I rubbed my hands together. I stuck my hands into my pockets. Then I withdrew my hands. I touched one finger to my temple, then another. I looked up at the stars. They were flickering. There was a yellowish hue around the moon. A bird darted across the sky: slick and black and singular. My brain swooshed around the back of my skull. The sky, I thought: infinitely deep, infinitely dark. I wanted to cup my hands around the stars, pluck them out of the sky once and for all.
Suddenly, I remembered the dull, black surface of the dream I had had the night before. I thought, everything burns to ashes. Lives out by whatever machinery, whatever injustice, then burns down to the very surface that held it up. The hand—I thought—the face in my dream! The neighbor was getting in the way of everything; her trembling form redoubling itself in my sleep. Wretched old lady, I thought, I will show her. Now a live memory of her invaded me: I saw the neighbor as she lingered around the yurt with her skeletal figure, then madly dashed through the trees. Yes, I confirmed to myself, I will show her. Because in addition to putting up with her in life, I should not have to put up with her in my dreams. The blood coursed violently through my veins.
Better to take a walk around her house, I thought, to take a good look before going in. Certainly her house could be just as deceptive, just as duplicitous as she herself: one countenance on the outside, another altogether on the inside, with no connection between. I leaned over to scratch my ankles. There were mosquitoes everywhere, flying about frantically in the wind. Just as I leaned over to persuade them away from my ankles, the blood drained from my veins. But it wasn’t dizziness I experienced. Rather a feeling of disorientation, because suddenly the club I had dropped in the yard behind my house days before appeared in front of my feet. How, I wondered, has it made an appearance so suddenly, and directly in front of my feet? But slowly, as I stood up, it all made sense to me: yes, I thought, the club—it is exactly what I need. Quickly, I dashed over to my yard and grabbed the club, then returned to take my place before the neighbor’s door. By now the wind had died down, the night was quiet and still. I thought, nothing could be more perfect than silence on a night like this; the stillness of dying, the silence of death, and a rush of excitement filled my veins.
Back in my original position, I practiced swinging the club around. I swung with one arm, then the other. Definitely, I thought, my right arm is the stronger of the two. I was feeling more light-hearted than ever. This is joy, I thought, this is happiness, all my investigations taking form. With a decisive air I jumped off her front steps, and turned the corner.
I entered her backyard and there I saw a goose waddling away. A goose in her back yard, I thought: under the light of the moon, a goose waddling away! The blood froze in my veins. All I could think was: ‘A goose in her back yard, stark in the middle of her yard, a goose.’ For a moment, I raised the club over my head. Perhaps the goose is an omen, I thought, and the blood started to move again in my veins. The bird waddled into the trees. Under the light of the moon the goose was slim and silver just as the neighbor had been skeletal and radiant as a beam when she dashed madly through the trees. Ha! I thought, I will show her. A loud honk returned my attention to the world. I was standing directly above the goose behind a row of trees. I placed the club down and leaned my weight into it as though it were a cane. I could ring its neck, I thought, looking at the goose. Then it occurred to me: I could spy into the neighbor’s house through the skylight on the roof. Now, in my distraction, the goose waddled away. That is what I’ll do, I said to myself, maintaining a line of thought: I will climb directly onto her roof. A moment later I was standing, club in hand, on the roof.
Was it real? I thought, and looked down at my hands.
The cat walked cautiously along the wall.
She arched her back, pointed her tail up to the sky; all of her hair upright.
But the next moment the cat leaned away from the wall. She wound between my legs, rubbed her body against the club. One moment, I thought, fearful, the next all warmth.
I walked over to the kitchen counter. I had dropped the club. The cat followed me. I took a seat on one of the stools. The cat jumped onto the counter. From a distance she inspected my face. I looked out the window. A few leaves ruffled slightly in the wind, gave a small shudder. A bird gave out a low whistle, then took off into the night. Everything went still. Everything went silent. I looked around. The house was quiet, motionless except for the cat. I reached out to touch her and felt her breath against the palm of my hand. Could it be, I thought, and by whose hands? I looked at the club. I had left it leaning against the couch. I couldn’t differentiate the club from my hands. Ten fingers, I thought, two hands. I inspected the furniture. Deep reds and browns, floral patterns. Ten fingers, I thought, as I looked at my hands. They could be performing any gesture: flying across the keys of a piano, digging soil, folding a napkin.
No, I thought. It couldn’t have been. Because certain things are of a category that one remembers. Not a lot of time, I thought, has gone by. Minutes, organized into units. How many minutes had gone by?
Then, as if suddenly, an image of the shards came back to me. I watched the skylight shatter as I relived the memory. I looked up to where the skylight had been, then traced the rectangular chunk of sky down through the opening to the floor, where the shards were glistening with late night rain. I shrugged my shoulders, puckered my lips. No matter, I thought. Because everything has already been done. Everything, I thought, in this room, and beyond this room, everything has already happened and been done with, dealt with. There is no doing, I thought, no matter, nothing left to do in this world. I felt my heart die down. Now the cat was walking among the shards. I thought, she must be taking pleasure, avoiding the sharp triangles, the pointed edges. Because she was extending her paws, licking them intermittently as she tiptoed around the shards. I looked back up at the skylight. One moment, I thought—and then it was as though my mind were a film of memories, because I saw an image of myself standing over the skylight, staring at my reflection, which is to say: I saw myself twice. And it was a slight pause in time, an interruption, and everything shattered: tiny bullets of glass flew through the night like shooting stars.
A lump of icy flesh, I thought, as I looked at the neighbor’s head turned to one side. I walked out of the kitchen, down the hallway. Should I go, I wondered, back inside? In her bedroom everything looked wounded. There was a purplish hue on the walls, over her bed, on her furniture. I looked down at my hands. I felt my arms detach from my shoulders. I watched them float away. Could it have been? I thought, and imagined her gaping mouth form an answer. I saw a reflection of myself in the bedroom window. Couldn’t I get away? I thought. I was standing in her doorway. Was it real? I wondered, and backed away. A moment later I was in the bathroom, kneeling on the tile floor.
I turned the tap, stuck my head under the shower, scrubbed my neck. Couldn’t I have imagined it? The water ran over my head. Her two eyes: icy, grey lakes drifting farther and farther apart from each other as though her face were a land being stretched to its limits. I walked back into her bedroom. I left the water running in the bathroom. It was a sudden urge. I turned her body over. A mass of mangled branches. First to one side—I inspected her back—then the other. There was a streak of blood running from her mouth to the back of her neck. I pulled her hair up. The blood, I thought—looking down at my hands—the icy lump of her flesh. I heard the water spill over the bathtub and spread across the bathroom floor. Lovely, I thought, in this moment, the sound of water pouring over a tub. It will be an icy winter, I thought, and pulled the covers over her frame. I walked back to the couch. I left the water running. I thought, let the earth sink. The cat curled onto my lap. Everything faded.
A sedentary feeling grew at the base of my chest. For a moment nothing mattered. Was it me, I thought, wasn’t it me? I heard the water trickle out of the bathroom. I imagined the water getting absorbed by the bedroom carpet. Then, as though in the distance, I heard a door slam, I heard voices. I heard a man draw out a roll of tape. I stroked the cat. Everything, I thought again, has already happened, even the end. I heard a loud noise. I felt my body stiffen. The room turned. It spun around. Everything spun with it: Fra Keeler, I thought, the papers, her trembling hand. It was a mere instance. Because one moment—then I felt someone turn me over, clasp a cold thing around my hands—one moment, I thought, and then the next.
The car drove quickly. I saw three park benches, a sparrow on a branch. The lights turned from green to red. Each time the car stopped, I counted the seconds. Up to forty and then back down again, until I was pushed down onto a metal chair. A heavy-set man stood in front of me. A few other men stood behind him. I heard: Yes Sir. I heard: No Sir. Then there was a clicking. The door slid open. The men left. Everyone except for the one heavy-set man, who by now had moved closer to me. How much time has gone by, I thought, since I have been here? Minutes, I counted, years. Anything in between. I looked down at my hands. I hardly recognized them.
‘Are you going to talk this time’ the man asked, ‘or as usual keep your silence?’
Keep my silence, I thought, now versus when? I looked around the room. There was nothing familiar. A room, I thought, like any other. A plain room with a buzzing noise circling inside of it.
He took a step closer. I felt something tighten at the back of my neck. Death, I thought, wars, it is all the same thing. Because wars—and I felt a blow hard against my face—wars—and just as I picked the word up, it trickled down my lip.
The heavy-set man stepped back. He lit a cigarette, took a big puff, then let the cigarette hang between his lips. Second in command, at one point—I thought I heard him say—you were. Again, I looked at his lips. For a moment, I recalled the smell of burning flesh. I remembered the mosquitoes buzzing everywhere, settling on the corpses. The heavy-set man: his lips, they were sealed, he was silent. He turned around, but only halfway, then looked at me again.
‘Nothing?’ he asked, hanging his head from his neck.
‘Nothing,’ I responded.
He took a long, sweeping look at me, the same way he would have looked, I thought, at a good mass of garbage.
‘Now, how,’ he began to speak, but stopped himself. His voice, nothing but peeling bark, I assured myself. I watched him remove the cigarette from his lips. He lit another, and made a gesture as if to say this one is for you.
‘I don’t smoke,’ I said.
‘A lot of refusal you got going,’ he responded.
Son of a bitch, I said to him in my head. And I must have looked at him hatefully because the next moment he said:
‘If you are going to curse, you should really commit to cursing. Out loud,’ he said. The yurt flashed before my eyes for a second.
‘You are putting up a good fight,’ he said.
‘No fight,’ I said.
‘That is not what I would call it,’ he sighed. ‘You’re monosyllabic, you’re silent; it’s a fight. Like it or not that is what it is.’
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘Sir,’ he responded, ‘there are ways of talking, and this isn’t one of them.’ And I thought, really, he is quick to jump to conclusions. Perhaps I will receive another beating. I rolled my eyes into two tiny bullets. He took a step towards me. There was still a bit of blood trickling down my lips. I shifted. I looked away.
‘You are afraid,’ he said, ‘what are you afraid of?’ he said, having taken all the mockery in the world and stuffed it down his larynx.
‘Nothing,’ I said, and he took a step back and lit another cigarette.
‘Nothing?’ he asked.
‘Nothing,’ I responded.
‘Not even your own death?’ he asked and slid a stack of papers across the desk.
‘Take a look at these,’ he said, ‘and tell me what you think.’ He tapped his index finger against the papers, as if to say look here, and I spied near his finger something very familiar across the page. The death related papers, I thought, forgery, murder, and the lights went out in my head.
‘No,’ I said, shrugging the feeling off, ‘not even my own death.’ I couldn’t stand the way he was drumming his fingers against the papers.
‘Now we’re talking,’ he said, drawing his hand to his hip, ‘though, that isn’t what I would venture to say,’ he added.
‘No,’ I said.
‘No,’ he responded. And then he said: ‘do you think this is some sort of a game?’
‘No,’ I said, ‘no game.’ And I felt the blood drain out of my legs.
‘How long have you been living there, in that house?’ he asked.
‘An indeterminate period,’ I said.
‘Don’t be a smart ass,’ he responded, and then he picked up the stack of papers and he left.
A sudden departure. Truly, I thought, life is one fickle moment. I slid my hand across my lip. Blood, I thought, murder, the unfriendly events. Because, I thought, wasn’t I already dead? I looked around the room. Hardly anything was making sense. I had the distinct feeling of having cut off various parts of myself. I am empty, I thought, my core is dead. For a moment the buzzing sound in the room died down, then resurfaced again. The door slid open. The detective walked in. Three other men walked in behind him. Suddenly I remembered the parts of a body scattered across the land as though they had all along been separate elements: there had been an explosion. My eyes refocused. One of the three men stood behind the detective and fingered his belt. He had a gun tucked into his trousers, another hoisted on his belt. The detective walked over to the table. He put down a tape recorder, and a glass of water next to it.
‘Drink up,’ he said. And I lifted the glass of water and drank it.
‘Now,’ he said, and I saw the man behind him drag his finger across the gun he had hoisted on his belt. Death, I thought, another set of unfriendly events. I felt a blow across my head. The buzzing in the room subsided. My neck tensed. My head snapped back; everything faded. I felt some blood trickle down the side of my face. The blood crystallized, it made a distinct sound near my ear. This I thought, must be the sound of death.
The yurt reeled in front of my face. Like a wild horse, I thought, caught in mid air.
I walked in, one foot in front of the other.
I stumbled across something: a body, I thought, and then I realized it couldn’t have been, because I suddenly remembered the canoe amidst the yurt. Outside, the rain began falling, at first softly, then a bit more harshly. I lay down, I reached for the oar, I grabbed hold of it. The rain fell through the trees. The ground soaked up the water. I felt the canoe rise. A great body of water, I thought, above the earth. I watched the water gather. One moment, I thought, and then the next—and I couldn’t tell if it was blood or water—I let everything drift away.