issue five

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(3188 words)
 
    nly this time I suppose I've yet to wake up.

I remember the last time; I remember it well… okay, not it exactly - that particular file's been removed from the filing cabinet of my memory, but the moments bracketing it are accounted for:

File 1: Weaving through the heaving steamy streets on my bike.

File 3: Waking up horizontal, rolling down a hallway, blinding lights flogging from above and a resounding throb in the back of my head. For the first thirty seconds of File 3 I was nothing but awareness. Wholly absent, yet more present than I'd ever before been. I had no past. And I didn't miss it - what's history anyway if not a contentment repellent? It was the most totally unfettered I'd ever felt in my life; not knowing you can't fly is the same as knowing you can. But the explanation came.

I was told I'd been unconscious for four hours. A car had hit me.

Four hours.

Where is File 2?

Maybe this is it.

There it is again: a bass reverberation through the walls, a shivering of the timbers. A rumbling like the groan of creation itself, calling to me. From somewhere above. The lights flicker.

I'm not afraid.
I'm enthralled.
I proceed.

One foot in front of the other. A dozen or so unnumbered doors, and then another with a 5, struck of steel and set upon it; I've made it to the metals now. The last two were wood… The first was scratched on in chalk.

I knew it would be open.

Blue light glows in what should be a window. It's Plexiglas. For a moment I consider going over and breaking it; to find out what's on the other side.

A bed. White sheets tucked in tightly. No pillow. Lampless bedside tables with glass ashtrays that make them seem all the more empty. Besides the bed the room differs from those previous by having a carpet, threadbare and bereft of softness though it is. As well, there are shadows.

I stand still in the no-creaking of floorboards, the no-hum of light bulbs, the no-scurrying-away of mice. The air is heavy. Dead silence. Sound waves with their backs pressed to the wall.

In the corner I see a rocking chair in front of an ancient television squatting upon an empty bookcase. I walk over and sit, expecting the chair to tilt under me. It doesn't. It's fixed to the floor somehow, at an angle that forces me to lie back into it. The spiral posts of the backrest dig into my spine. I arrange my bones between them and a test pattern flickers to life on the screen. It fades to snow and I wait in anticipation. Just like all the other rooms.

A street materialises out of the fuzzy froth and I recognize it instantly. I'm taller than I should be, the sidewalk far below as the image on the screen jerks haltingly. Looking down I see my tiny red runners dangling on either side of a head of thick hair, my stubby fingers grasping a few curls each. I'm on my dad's shoulders. I can hear him talking but am unable to derive any meaning from the juxtaposition of pitches and tones. We approach the weather-ridden wood of a slouching bungalow.

I know where this is going. I can't take my eyes off the screen. A crisp pixelated vision. A memory disrobed of the layers of illusion and fancy that protect it - packing on a precious artefact. Almost reduced, but nothing can diminish my relish of the detail I'd long since forgotten. And I would sit in this rock-hard non-rocking chair for as long as this television would allow me to relive my life. But as soon as my uncle has allowed me to choose the toy car from his shelf and I've got it in my astounded and grateful hands, I know it's over. And then, it is.


A rush of endorphins is called for and my head clears, like the window of an airplane rising into the sun above leaking clouds. But I'm still in the blue room. I'm still in this place.

I get up feeling heavy. It's as if these televisions are filling my head with the weight of a billion forgotten details, a billion drawn conclusions. A billion burst bubbles. I trudge through the dim glow to the door, which has closed. Faint white light coming from the gap between it and the floor. I pull it open, taking pleasure in the weight of the dense wood, the stimulation of my muscles, and the silent hinges.

This door 5 closes behind me and once again I'm assailed by the scent of broken fluorescent tubes. I carry myself to the end of the hallway and push on the heavy steel door leading to the stairwell glowing a soft red like a darkroom. The crimson light emanates from the sign above the door. It reads 5f. I look down the stairs and feel dread. I turn away and put my foot on the first stair leading up, and who knows ultimately where.

My compulsion upwards is so much more than the intrigue aroused by the fact that the rooms have been growing in opulence as I go, and the rush of the televisions' images ever more intense, ever more fulfilling. Ever more emptying. It's more than the rumbling electric buzz I feel coming from there. I'm cork on the lifting tide. Smoke rising. And again I wonder, Where am I?

The hard rubber banister is scarred with grooves, like some viscous Braille I'm incapable of reading because I can see. But not much. Just the red haze illuminating the grey cinderblock walls covered in graffiti. Patterns, like fractals. If I listen above the long echoes of my footfalls I can hear a hum, which gets louder as I ascend. And as I reach the glowing sign with a black 6f peeling off it, I consider simply skipping it and going straight to that which lies in wait. But there seems to be no good reason to rush. Why would I want to miss what I know is there in room 5?

And, perhaps, this is necessary acclimatization.

Another nondescript hallway perforated with unnumbered doors and then one with a 5, the number now a polished brass, hard lines cut sharp and severe, rounded tail full and seductive in its loop. I go in.

This room's lit by a profusion of candles, from votives resting on the hardwood floors to thick sticks in wrought-iron candelabras hanging from the ceiling and mounted on the walls papered paisley. The room is alive with dancing shadows as the flames flicker and flinch. Nothing stands still. Except myself. There's a thick heat coming from the atomized fire and I feel my skin warming. The air is hot and close. I notice I'm wearing nothing.

It takes a moment for me to spot the television, reflecting the swarm of flames. It's on a footstool in the centre of the room. A cushion is in front of it and I settle down into it. It's made of slick satin, oil against my skin. Cross-legged I sit, back upright, hands in my lap. A dharma carved of human flesh and bone.

And then the television is on, as though it had never been off. The wide screen fills my field of vision. My mind's eye corrects the imperfections of the medium and as far as I can tell I'm right in it again. I'm not watching a television.

How long's it been since I saw this face? It might as well be no time at all. And maybe it isn't. All I see is her face and neck, features straining, muscles and veins pressing against the skin, as though mad for escape. Her mouth's open, perfect ivory teeth jutting out from her taught lips, an animalistic show of strength. Her eyes are closed and she's breathing heavily. I can feel her fingernails on my back. Other than the pressured intensity of the moment, it's the only physical sensation I feel. It's enough.

Who remembers her name? But I remember her. I remember it. I'm aware of her breath upon my neck, raising the hairs there. And the sound of her, caressing my eardrums, so angular, yet airy. So essential.

The screen goes blank and her face disappears. The candles have gone out. My blindness heightens the sensation of her fingers upon me and the soul arresting sound of her air in my ears. My body trembles, a string plucked by a feather, by nothing but air molecules, the subtlest of sensations, the most beautiful of vibrations.

The television flashes back to life, but the image is blocky squares of light, like a camera zoomed in on the screen, boxes of transitioning tint, the pace gathering until with one tremendous effort an effusive white light falls upon me like a blanket of lightning, forcing me back onto the hard floor.

The afterglow of the ineffable light persists in my eyes as I lie disoriented and drained. But then it's gone and the wavering shadows reign again. I get up and stumble over to the door, weak, avoiding the drops of fire. I'm back out in the hallway. The intensity of the room has thrown me, almost scared me. The fear is so alluring.

I close the door behind me and hear it again, feel it again: the rumble from above, but this time it's softer, less physical. And so I can read more into it - layers of texture I hadn't noticed, chromatics, an enticing melodic hum that ravages me with its beauty.

I run. To the end of the hall, past all the anonymous doors and into the stairwell, not looking down this time for fear that curiosity with self-destruction will finally take control and compel me to at last throw myself off the bridge. Best to shove temptation aside; you never know what your mind is capable of making you do.

I take the stairs three at a time. Floor 7. The number 5 door. This one made of pearlescent black marble, two intersecting planes, veined through with white. I barge in. A penthouse apartment minus the view. The floor-to-ceiling windows are there, an opaque inky black, like looking out into a clear night sky where every star's doused and dead. There's light but I can't discern from where it's coming, as though the molecules of the air itself are leaking visible energy. My eyes race over Rothkos on the walls and the grand piano in the corner, the burgundy leather sectional and the burnished aluminium coffee table, and shelves stocked with the fading spines of aged books. My gaze settles on the movie screen on the wall directly across from the entrance. I hurry over and settle into the leather suspension lounge, which bends to my weight. The light fades and the screen comes to life.

I'm in the rear seat of a car. People in the front seat. We're driving, along a highway, some highway I know well but don't know - like I don't know these faces, these voices. The trees that pass by and the lake down below the guardrail fill me with the comfort of familiarity and attachment. The music playing is music to my ears. But the solidity falters, and the sights outside the window start sliding in a way I know instinctively they shouldn't. My heart starts racing. I remember.

I'm seeing the rock-cut dead ahead, then I'm looking down the highway we've just travelled down. I know where this is going, but the dumbstruck wonder is the same. Black ice. Then terror engulfs me. Not terror. Self-interested stupor is better - terror requires time to consider and there's none. It's an animal awareness of danger and an absolute disregard for anything more than the immediate moment. Because I'm convinced this is it. I know that we're going over the cliff. How could we not? Even still, my subconscious mind is preparing for survival. What else would it bother preparing for?

And then we're stopped. On the opposite shoulder. On the edge of the drop, two metres ahead of the guard-railed section. The dance is as over as if it had never begun and I know we're staying put. It was close, but it wasn't. The only thing that can be is that which is and it could never have been anything else. We're braced, stunned and silent.


I lift my arm and wipe the perspiration beading down my temples. I breathe deeply, willing my heart to ease up. And yet it won't. The restlessness grows and grows. An impatience with anything less than complete. Half coloured pages. Half truths.

I'm up and to the door and as I open it I'm assailed by the call of the upper floors. The dynamics have deepened, the harmonies soaring and the melody lilting, the caress of the tones upon my mind almost sexual. The siren call. Cotton batten's been removed from my ears. I never even knew it was there. I can't get enough. I want to press the sounds into me, cram the notes deep into myself so that they become me and I them. If I'd a knife I'd gouge out a route for them. The lunatic frustration of nearly-there.

I flee. Toward it. No one to lash me to the mast. Down the hall and up the stairwell, resounding deeply with the echo of the door slammed behind me, tightly sprung.

The floor. 8f. I enter. Going wherever the path leads me. Caution thrown to the hurricane. And here, 5, like a cheap brooch, free with a child's doll. A mosaic of fake gestures. Except that the fake plastic gemstones set upon a plastic gold oval backing are nothing other than the real thing.

I push.
It opens.
I enter.

I've never been in a ballroom before, but you know one when you see one. Chandeliers glitter with the light of their multitudinous faceted reflections of raw flame. The blank-faced orchestra in the corner churns away robotically, unseeing. Mahler's resurrection - spoons in contrast to the aural perfection leaking like liquid diamonds from above. Across the black and white tile floor I float, over to the red velvet chaise lounge in the centre of the room, surrounded by four plasma wide-screens suspended from the ceiling. I lie down and wait for the memories to come.

Abruptly the orchestra stops, as though unplugged. Again, a vision through a windshield, only this time I see my own hands on the wheel. Headlights light up the dark highway in front of me. And I know exactly what's coming. Ahead of me are the crimson taillights, weaving between the lanes, catching themselves at the edges of the road. My breaths quicken as my vision narrows and then goes dark, before snapping back to life in full resonant reality. My mind needs no help in recalling the nuances of this memory.

The two taillights, bloodshot eyes, glance this way and then that over the road. From the left, another set of lights, these white, appear on the horizon. They converge on the red, and I watch as they get brighter and brighter, and then red and white snap violently out, replaced by a darker image, that of sparks and fibreglass panelling reflecting shards of light as the two cars smash into each other and twist sideways in a viscous clutch, then are pulled apart by their own momentum. The damage done. Really done.

My heart and mind race, one-focussed.

I press the gas to bridge the gap, then slam on the brakes. The two crumpled cars have come to a silent taunting halt. I jump out and run up alongside the car nearest. The driver is - was - a young man in a black sport coat and white shirt done all the way up to the top button. He wears no tie. I can tell by the angle at which his head rests in relation to his shoulders that he's dead. Other than at funerals I've never seen a dead body before, but I'm not phased. I'm an automaton. That's why.

The other car.

Its front end is no longer that. I approach the twisted steel and look in the shattered window of the driver's side door. I see in the back a child seat, a twisted lifeless body strapped into it. I sense something give way, inside me. So deep it doesn't even feel like me. I look at the woman in the driver's seat. From the stomach up she seems to be growing out of the dashboard. She's gasping. Blood pulses out of a gash in her forehead. But inches from me. I reach out and touch her hair. I expect a spark of lightning, but she just gurgles. Then she goes silent. I jab my fingernail into her temple and she twitches. I discern a word, "Miranda…" I regret touching her. The sounds die. I hold her still. The blood stills.

A feeling wells up inside me. It surprises me. The memory is nothing new. But the feeling is. I can only call it hatred. I hate this woman. I shake her head. Then I shake it violently. Nothing. I slap her. Nothing. I scream at her. Nothing. The anger grows and I want to strike her, to beat her. I feel nauseated.

The blood coagulates on her temple.
A river in winter. 
The television flicks off.

I'm livid. I want to live! I don't want any more of these disjointed memories. I want.

The noise rises again. Just one more set of stairs. The sound moves me and I can do not but follow it. I find my way out and back into the electricity scented hallway and the stairwell. The sound is the purest love, the highest attainment, seemingly a thing I've searched for through a lifetime. The thing you love. The thing we all have and pack away upstairs as if not even there. And then the last stair is behind me.

The same hallway. The beauty is piercing me now and I welcome it like a masochist as it tears into me. The door with the 5 is there. Right in front of me. The 5 a glowing pure light, borderless and boundless, hovering. I can wait no longer. I press the door open, awed by possibility and my imagination. The only thing I can expect from this is something. Something I've yet to have a memory born of. A memory is a smudge, messy and indefinite, a mute vision through a thick storm-glass window. But this, this is reality.


The music climaxes in a soft roar and dies away. And the light I see is more mundane that I could have imagined. Like waking from a dream.

A square room.
Stuccoed white walls.
A decrepit picnic table.

A clear light bulb hanging from a cord over the centre of it, swaying.
A damp wind blowing.
And nothing more.



*

M  C  R

This work is copyrighted by the author, jp Rodriguez. All rights reserved.

A bashed head.
It must be.
Another one.
O
File 2
jp Rodriguez