The smell of beef vegetable soup hung heavy in most rooms of his house, but the old man was in the attic, which smelled like a used book store in a hamster cage. Through the purple panes of a stained window his gibbous eyes watched human life streaming in the streets. The boxed orbits of ordinary everybodies winding on through a sequined chaos of trees.
There had not been much outside the plotted points of the everyday to see when looking out through any one of the sixty-four panes of glass opening the four beat sides of his broken house to the world, not before yesterday, when he saw him for the first time. Once a day a mailman injected documents of no importance through the brass slot of the front door, the name Exley Thompson stamped in over the numbers. Nothing else entered. No one else bothered him. Not his long-dead wife or his nowhere son, not the nurse they'd paid to invade his home once his health began to crinkle, not anyone. Men and women left for work beside the half-sun in hard-pressed clothing and eyes full of blood. Men and women returned home under no sun, worn bloodless and smudged, insensate.
Children saw. They giggled and smashed and felt it all, wondering what was until they didn't, until they'd grown. Black birds tore holes in the sky like retinas. Fat squirrels got blown open in the street.
He had not left this house in eight years. Not since that first morning his heart thumped hollow, having lost its echoed other, winding on over blank faces without assignment. He had lain in bed beside his wife for three full days before he let them take her away. Later they took the bed.
But this new one is different, he wrote in his notebook, crossing out different and pressing the word real down hard into the bound page. His next door neighbor's houseguest or son or squatter - the man with the ostrich egg eyeballs - existed, he was aware of being. Exley watched him for four days on no sleep and three cans of soup before he placed the 911 call. His voice in the recording made him sound like a smoker. He wasn't. Had he made the call one day earlier he might have stopped it.
11AM. Lives as if there are no straight lines. Walks in circles, wide arcing, backwards, crossing over and over and over and through, no hope. There is too much of him inside. Moves and breathes between the folding, folding, folding, nowhere to go but in. He is wearing a suit today, 3 piece, all black. Black tie, black shoes, no hat. His beard is full and neat. His head is bald, shaven clean and glowing slightly in spurts under shafts of refracting light, tattooing dead leaves on his live skin. He smokes a cigarette that never burns down (?). He's been trying to ascend the 12 small steps leading up to the front door of the Murphy house for 39 minutes. Stepping up 4, down 2, up 3, up 1, down 4, his upper body leaning severely leftward, curling his vertebrae into a question mark. He wobbles badly, unable to straighten.
Exley backed away from the attic window and sat down on a trunk full of dried up mascara applicators and old photographs. He almost cried, but began to write again instead.
(1) Has this man been diagnosed with a mental illness?
3AM. In the dining room, under a puce painting framed in gold he sits on the floor with an ear to the red wall, taking violent notes every few minutes in a small brown book. He writes from left to right, turning the book ninety degrees every time he reaches the edge, always spiraling in to the center of the page. Rising to his feet now he looks angry. Appears to be arguing with someone in the room, but he is alone there. Reading from the book now, getting louder. Can almost see the word shapes on the window panes like subtitles in the fog, pulsing, as if born within my own brain. Walking in circles now, speaking softer. Stopping every few steps to connect dots on his palm or flip through the book and not find what he's looking for or trace some complex pattern in the air, boxing himself in. Sits on the floor again, head down, hands over ears. Nothing. No movement. 30 minutes pass. I put down the binoculars and sit down in the armchair. Room all dark around me. No lights on in the house. Faint crosses on the wall, rain bead shadows gathering on all sides. Will I be able to read this in the morning?
The letters felt official under his fingertips, like words pressing out of a nickel. Exley ran his fingers over the page and stared into black until he slipped off the haptic scene to hallucinate for a few minutes. When the rain started pinging hard in the gutters he blinked twice and took in one big breath before rising back up as straight as he could manage, splining slowly, one click at a time. He picked up the binoculars and began writing blind once again everything he witnessed from the blacked out room where his son had slept until he was sixteen.
Ear to wall again. Writing with his left hand now, spiraling out backwards from center until right up off the page and onto the back of his hand. Zoomed in full I can still only make out a few of the words penned in reverse on his white skin: If _ _ _ _ your _ _ _ _ sky's gone _ , kill yourself.
Scanning up from hand to wrist to forearm Exley saw the strange scenes tattooed there. Stark depictions of peacock rainbows washing out clusters of beasts and demons, a bald vagina winking blood, a fetal skull, blue and brown eyes raining down over it all, Death up top over a half-sun. He continued up from shoulder to neck until he was looking directly into the doubled man's face looking right back at him, or through him, and the walls, clear out the back of the house into black everything. The binoculars hit the floor.
The wild body of a long worm sent quick shots of fear and peace down his hollow regions. Its protean segments went corkscrewed, rippling hypnotically from soft to stiff in the gasping mud. Exley grabbed the key and set the wet stone back into its fitted cup like a flat runged molar. He'd seen Mrs. Murphy retrieve the spare key only twice over the twelve year span they'd lived next door. He cleaned the grit from the grooves as he hurried up the steps to the front door. Once inside he lowered the hood of his rain coat and removed his boots on an ugly green rug. His watch read 6:42. He did a quick check of his notes to gauge his time frame.
5:55PM. Shirtless, jogging through lower level rooms.
His notebook tucked back into his coat pocket, Exley walked straight to the fireplace and removed the brown book from under the hearth, careful not to displace any of the cinders, cushions, eyeglasses, bed sheets. He read two passages at random before he heard a key slide into a tumbler.
in too deep there's never any going back to back before when is now why I always double dose doubled in I don't know but seems to seem like I've always gone too far overtop the everyday enough is never enough for the all-the-time keeps on screaming into me not hearing so just stay trying to keep head up on high to listen to her there standing she has complicated lips and egg-drop eyes bleeding down blue to purple to pink and black all down her white fucking face veins and hair pulled back tight back so tense all over her pink tits look funny that way how her clothes stay on still I'm here somewhere in this brain here inside this body is just a body built of bones and meat and fat and wiring tangled in the gristle under all this color booming neon up and down the spectrum full on so bright the echoes smell funny bleeding on strong the bloom's breath mainlining right out the top of her skull like someone hit the jackpot big money grand prize but slot machines just can't keep up so flip living from nothing coins pouring out gold as gods with no sound or weight now in this place we're all rich in breath but too soon dead but I'm still alive here somehow and breathing and sitting on this bench here in this park here and she's still screaming or choking or speaking soft as whisper seems inappropriate but it's okay because my heart's still beating and I'm still laughing because I am human and I am real and I am here
The second passage Exley read consisted of his own words, which he'd written, into his notebook, within his own house, the notes he'd taken down to document the demented actions of a demented man. His words in this man's hand, written out in a single line across the bottom of each page, beginning on the middle-most and strung across all subsequents until getting jammed up on the back cover. Flipped protean and mostly indecipherable, his words ended there, part syntax, part symbiosis, all strange enough to clip free from all logic. But, he stared into the chaos just long enough to see the first veins of pattern form within the white spaces, the interlocking blank between the words. With his eyes crossing one, two, three degrees from center, he was afforded a quick flash of the monkey in the madness beforeclick
there was no one at the door. The door remained fixed, shut, unmolested. As was he, stark still, standing, socked, mouth ajar. He placed the brown book back under the hearth and quickly reversed all previous steps, leaving behind three gray eyebrow barbs within the book, two faint boot prints on the rug, and one eyeless witness spiraling down into the earth.
The fire snapped yolk-yellow ephemerals up into the shaft, warming the red walls of the Murphy house uteral. Just that one room throbbing light, a lit pit casting a single shadow at the center of a blacked house. Neither man moved for a long time. Exley watched him standing there with his back to the fire, his dark specter shifting on the wall. The man appeared to be speaking softly when he finally left the room. Exley saw him cross over upon exit, leaving the light with his hand out in front of his face, tracing the opening to the interlocking invisible.
He couldn't find his notebook anywhere, so Exley wrote out his final questions on the attic wall with a thick black marker.
(1) Do I know this man?
Exley picked up the phone and dialed 911, but did not stop writing frantically down the wall.
(10) Will I wake up next to her?
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