Our Ghosts Read Us Bedtime Stores

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Rhonda Eikamp is originally from Texas and lives in Germany. Stories of hers appeared up to 2001 in venues such as Barrelhouse and The Urbanite, after which she climbed out the window for awhile. Since refenestrating in 2012, she has published fiction in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Birkensnake and Apocrypha and Abstractions. When not writing fiction, she works as a translator of German legalese, which is as crazy-making as one might think. Favorite story with defenestration: Village of the Mermaids, by Lance Olsen.

 

The Sane/Mad Continuum

Where you are, I am alive.

Jorge was captured first, hesitating at the top of the last staircase, and I saw him go, the knife across his throat a wine shadow, a blood smile to match the winner’s gloat of the totalitarian behind him who tossed his body aside and started down after me. Hope springs eternal, you would say, my god my only love, but hope sprang away then, in spurts from Jorge’s neck, across the landing, apple streams into the masonry, soaking the edges of the books on the bottom shelves. The totalitarian wiped his knife on his cowl as he came down the stairs after me, painting a red streak near his ear, and my heart grew to encompass me; to the tips of my fingers I was its beat, breasts and womb aching syncopation, trilling death, expanding to fill every book-lined hexagon in this honeycomb of our library universe. Run now, it gasped. My author, I couldn’t.

I clutched your book to me and it anchored me.

These are my theories that Jorge’s neck smiled for, that so many others have died for, heretical, intolerable to our government:

that there are worlds above and below and in all directions beyond the darknesses at the edge of our own hexagons, other peoples and cities if one could only cross that vast unknown, a place where the books are written;

that these unfailing sequences of letters stringing nonsense in unending rows of books on shelves in rooms and levels piled atop one another forever more are not the consequence of a universe made up of every possible combination of letters as our leaders believe, meaningless gibberish without author no no no the books speak – they mean and live and yearn to tell us things.

You are proof of that, these words you have written to me.
I stood waiting, ready to die for it.

And then Paul, lovely pale Paul, my last follower, whom I have held between my legs, leapt out from a niche to block the totalitarian, but too late, too slow, and I saw Paul’s throat grin red. Dying for me, and yet in the totalitarians’ belief an act without meaning, only one possibility out of many, a million universes in which other Pauls and Jorges choose not to save me, scenarios in which they hide or run away, in which they are the totalitarians. Infinities of worlds where the totalitarian’s robe is not covered in these red streaks or there is no robe or there is no totalitarian and we live in freedom. Where every option exists, there can be no meaning.

I chose to make their deaths mean.

I turned and ran down the hall, then through a room without making the book-obeisance and then down a staircase and another and it was as if I plunged into my own intestines, groped my way through my hexagonal heart that had stopped beating, until I knew the totalitarian was no longer behind me.

You must know this, you who wrote the book I clutch, that I am dead now, nowhere to run except the uninhabited dark that flows through infinite levels below.

I stopped beneath the last gourd lamp to read your words again. My discovery, the bible of the rebellion I began. Thumbed through letter-necklaces of nonsense to the one page, tattooed into my memory from the day I first discovered it, soiled now by my fingers that have caressed these words so often, the only coherent words ever found in any book the bridge between your eyes and mine. And further down as if an afterthought your disheveled hair.

And then into the dark, my blood throbbing, no days and nights, they were only constructs anyway. Each new staircase leading down, a dip into greater night. My fingers trail spines of books I cannot see. No light to seek more of your words, wherever you are.

Where you are, my author, I will be alive. I love you.

The dark is everywhere.

I love

 

Deconstructing

The text is a mirror with which we may view ourselves. The many ways in which we are embedded within a system of signs (= life) ensures that our own experience is the carrier of significance in our reading of any text, the contextual noumenon the only thing holding us back from the perfectly valid assumption that it was all written by a monkey with a keyboard. We understand a text by our axiological choices, which in turn allow us to order the text’s meaning along continua – mind/body, interior/exterior, sane/mad, love/hate – in accordance with the position we assume along those lines. I write words on a page and these words are the bridge between your eyes and mine. And yet are they? From what vantage point on the continuum do you the reader view the words? If there is no fixed focal point, there can be no absolute truth, no intrinsic meaning informing a particular text. Meaning becomes a moving target. The monkeys are banging away, our designata askew, authorial intent a crock.

The lover writes I love your throat, your disheveled hair in the morning, but the woman who reads his note sees only – what? – a stalker, a one-night stand gone bad, and rushes into the arms of another man.

Fuck this.

This is unpublishable. Fuck this cycle of madness that is academic life. Publish or lose tenure. Publish or die. Derrida my derriere. There is nothing outside the text. Nothing outside my office but the hallway, that short stretch to his office. C.’s over there banging away at her right now, probably got her bent over his desk, while I hold idiot conversations on paper with dead white men. “Are we animals, Uexküll, trapped inside our functional circle? Is there a message independent of us both, dear Jacques?” Couldn’t she feel her environment laced with significance when we lay beside each other, the barrier between signifier and signified severed by my cock sliding into her? How could a love note be so misconstrued? What does “moving too fast” mean if I love you in a million universes?

I want to move fast.

I want to break down all the doors, every wall in this desiccated turd of a college, shoot down the silence with a gun.

Are you over there? Did you know I fingered your skin like a reader caresses words on a page, soaking in the sandy pulse of your blood, the electric, the god/devil continuum in your eyes, your presence?

Are you there?

 

The inspector with a knife in the library

“Another faller, boss,” Kolpinski informed him.

McElroy crouched beside the junior officer examining the corpse, felt the pain in his knees. Like dice banging around in there. Snake-eyes you lose, age calling his number, though he wasn’t that old. Just bone-weary of it all. At least the body in front of Detective McElroy was a worse mess than he was. Head shattered to a purple pulp, the rest of the guy like a rag doll, most of the turquoise robe ripped away during the long fall down the shaft, probably by protruding objects: broken railings, flagpoles, dinosaur bones – hell, who knew what they got up to on the higher levels. McElroy used a handkerchief to tilt what was left of the corpse’s head and saw the crusted black slice along the throat.

“Wake up and smell your morning breath,” he told Kolpinski. “Mushhead here didn’t fall. He was thrown.” McElroy stood and stepped to the borough’s central shaft. “Someone getting rid of the evidence.” He gazed up into the hexagonal dark that yawned like a beast maw above and then peered down into the maelstrom of nothing below and as always it made him dizzy. Not good to contemplate the depths that exist both ways. A guy could lose his breakfast that way, which in McElroy’s case would be no loss – milky coffee and a filter-tip, thank you – but he pulled back before his stomach could make it reality.

“So murder,” Kolpinski mumbled.

No accelerating-at-9.81-m/s² shit, sherlock. McElroy was bored with all these corpses. The bounce factor, he called it. Bodies fell. If you hung around a shaft for an hour, you’d see at least two whistle past. Pure chance was going to throw one now and then against a balcony rail at just the right angle to land it on the level below. Splat. A college professor who’d helped McElroy on a case once had had a theory that if the levels were infinite, then the number of people tossed or offing themselves or just accidentally slipping must be infinite too, so that at some point further down every shaft must accrete into an unmoving bung of corpses. The detritus of death blocking itself up.

McElroy’d understood that. He knew from constipation.

“From how far up you think he come?” Kolpinski asked. From his crouch beside the corpse the junior officer gazed upward with his mouth open. He looked like a primitive from prehistoric times, told the shaft was a god.

McElroy shrugged. “Ever talk to Carson in pathology? He’s got this theory you can tell how far a body’s fallen. Something to do with the nitrogen in the blood.”

So it was boredom sucking the life from him. The city, laid out like a honeycomb, always the same, a logical labyrinth, nine million people – or six or eight, the census always vague on that – in their gray iterations, forever repeating their boring sins. Get that number of people together and you’d think he’d be able to find someone for himself. Her. The her. The woman of his dreams, an idea only, as non-existent as some stuffy professor’s theory. That’s what he needed. McElroy pulled a clementine from his pocket and began to peel it with a lino knife. Someone for everyone, they said, so why not for him. He felt her sometimes at night, when the beast’s maw was close, when he became its tongue, whipped about until he curled into a ball and screamed because the goddam bed was empty.

He was about to put a section in his mouth when Lopez ducked in from a side hall wearing a look.

“I’m busy,” McElroy said.

“Hate to take you away from your first love –” Lopez glanced at the body and rubbed his nose – “but patrol just picked up this nutjob wandering the trash hexes. Almost dead, had nothing but a book with her. Kept going on about some murder. Said she come down through the empty zone. Captain wants you to talk to her.”

McElroy put his knife away. He’d have to take a look at her.
So boring.

 

Falling from Grace

I tried to touch you once. This was when we were falling, you up and me down, or maybe it was the other way around. There’s only one shaft here for those who’ve slipped and started falling, but two directions to fall in, so maybe it was inevitable that we pass each other at some point, floating in that fell grace of a moment when everything seems to slow, synapses not lightning anymore but a soft dreamy thunder in suddenly hushed air. Face next to face, unexpected, close up and personal. Passing like that, it became every moment of us, all at the same time: we were in college, you were telling that professor about Kabul and I turned to see who was talking and fell in love with your hair, then we stood in the back stacks at the library, crying, and you said, Get rid of it. You took a book from the shelf and spied through the hole you’d made because you’d heard something in the next aisle, you thought someone was listening on the other side. I don’t know if I can do it, I whispered. You said, I’ll pay for it. You did. Another moment, and we were married, walking across the dunes at Ocracoke and the salt air was an ellipse in our lungs, a long line of dots making it hard to breathe or talk because we were already getting our divorce, making ellipses of ourselves to each other.

That’s when I reached a hand out to touch your face and time sped up again. It faded, we passed, me going up and you going down or vice versa. The rush of air booming back into place, and you were gone.

I saw you once in the least likely place. I shouldn’t have been in Paris anyway, because it does things to me, the miasmic canyon air above, stoned cliff buildings that march on forever, a labyrinth, so I always flee down into the Métro, where the air is hot in winter and uriney and somehow comforting. I was waiting for a train there to take me to Boucicaut, when murmurs rose and heads turned and I saw that a man who was either high or drunk or both had slipped down into the track well and was trying to cross to the other side. I felt that slippage in my gut; I’d never seen a live disaster, death or even injury close up. Most people haven’t and never will. Others were rushing to pull alarms, there was nothing I could do anyway, and I was going to look away so I wouldn’t see it happen if a train came in, I was going to look away, when I saw you standing on the opposite platform. It was so improbable – so many points in time had had to come together to get me from Charlotte to Europe that they formed a labyrinth themselves – but I wasn’t mistaken. You’d seen me too. There was that same Belstaff jacket that must have had antique value by then. Your disheveled hair. I took it all in, and all the moments that had ceased to have meaning did again. We did things wrong, went about it backwards. Forever falling in love, but never arriving in it. Talking, until we had nothing left to say, or what there was to say had become trapped in the ellipses.

The man down on the tracks had reached the other side, but he couldn’t climb up. Too drunk or broken. He’d make it halfway up and slip back down. Other men had converged on the spot but you were closest to him and you knelt and grasped his arm, dragged at his clothes. He kept making it hard. Seconds went by. I didn’t know where the third rail was, there was a rumbling in my ears, soft thunder, starting up from the tunnel.

I thought, We’ll never be here again.

 

E n d

 

 

copyright by author, defenestrationism.net: 2014

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