Sunday, February 22, 2015

    13 DOORS OF X

Meeah Williams

The Barking Cat Press * 2015
Brooklyn, NY * Seattle, WA

copyright 2015   Meeah Williams/The Barking Cat Press

All rights reserved.

                …she loves me not.

Door 1:  Hyperdeath

Sleep is a night that grows, a malignancy, a labyrinth of dreams, expanding in silence and out of sight, forever and ever, etc, etc, etc, ad infinitum. There’s no end to its spread or the doors that death opens beneath you and unto you. The earth is honeycombed, rotten, with freeways going nowhere.

It’s time to get up again, she thinks, waking in what she can only call a coffin, although she’d rather not. She’s naked, of course, buried naked in someone else’s memory, except for a chemise as thin as propaganda. Lies, lies, lies, that’s all that’s left. She crosses the chilled chamber on high-heels as fragile as icicles, overhearing distant switchboards. She sits at a white birch vanity to study her mirrored face for signs of rot.

The mortician has disguised her well tonight, her skin a painted moonscape starved as a geisha’s, lips drawn up in a small black strawberry, and eyes the color of a broken heart. It’s the kind of disguise that disguises nothing and yet grants her access anywhere. That is her only hope in this place where prayers aren’t answered. She has no name, no past, no memory, only a scar where her heart should be, used to be, will never be again. Her other injuries, which are massive, haven’t healed, but they’ve been pardoned, doctored by make-up artists and illusionists who transmute eternity into plastic. She has nothing left that is her own but a sense of mission, which might be said to be similar to the compulsive return of a ghost, a vacuous haunting.

The atmosphere here is thin and everything is slow-motion, intoxicated, lacking energy. Above ground the trees are withered for the season, their root-systems insinuating themselves, clutching the darkness in a stranglehold everywhere, to squeeze away what little nourishment is left. There is media, but all the stations are tuned to static, which is the language in this place. There are no clocks, but you always know when it’s time: the time is always too late. She puts down the brush, which she lifted but never touched to her perfect hair, and rises from the vanity to begin the night’s grim work.

She’s a spy, a booby-trap, a terrorist of love. She’s an assassin whose target is immortal, but who she must terminate at all costs all the same. The problem, stated simply, is this: how do you stop what has already come to an end?

She exits the stone cottage over a threshold she was meant to cross, but only once. Everything she does from here on out is unnatural. The name carved into the marble lintel above her head isn’t hers, she’s sure, although she isn’t sure of anything. It’s a family name, perhaps, but she has no family anymore, if she ever did. Anything you could call her is irrelevant at this point. But in the meantime (and it’s all in the meantime, after all) you can call her Xie.

Door 2:  Night is hunger

Every night is exactly the same as this one—and it is endless. She walks a path she’s walked many times before, her feet leaving a faint trail like unanswered love letters. The streets are wet and empty at this zero hour, the cobbles glistening with the slime of passing monsters, and almost every window black as a burnt-out tumor.

There is the sound of a ship announcing itself at harbor, but, hearing it, one wonders if any harbor really exists in this part of the city. She’s been to this area many times before—a neighborhood where she has no business being—and yet. What’s left of the leaves on the diseased trees give a little epileptic shake, and the hard grit of a post-midnight rain hits her in the face. She smells fish and roses and mortuary glue.

In the doorway of a murky brownstone, Xie spots her right exactly where she expects. The woman is sitting on the topmost stair, just out of the rain, holding an open cell phone and sobbing, her narrow shoulders shaking under the fitted denim jacket and her face crumpled like a carnation. Is she calling someone inside the abandoned-looking building, a lover, perhaps, who is inside with someone else, or has she only stopped here by chance to make her call after coming to some other kind of despair?

It’s irrelevant, but Xie can’t help but being touched by the question, pausing for a moment to consider the woman who, in another lifetime, could have easily, and fatally, been mistaken for herself. In the blue gloom of the cell phone light, the woman’s face is touched with an otherworldly gentleness like a weeping Madonna of vaguely Asiatic origin.

Several seconds pass and the cell phone light has gone out. Xie is suddenly standing directly behind the woman now, as if she’d just come out of the bombed-out brownstone. From this vantage she can see the cotton skirt stretched thin over the woman’s lap, her long musician’s hands, palms-up, lying useless on the taut fabric, still holding the dead cell phone. The woman’s bare knees are resting against each other as if unconsciously protecting her genitals and the light from a streetlamp twenty-five yards away is shining off the polished toenails of her pale feet.

Leaning forward, Xie runs a red nail along the scar-like part in the girl’s rain-soaked hair. There’s a sharp intake of breath, a little stifled cry, and she looks up into Xie’s angelically impassive face as the blade chews its way across her exposed throat.

Xie feels like she’s sawing through a washing machine hose except the pressure built up inside the ribbed tube is blood and breath. Both start spewing out of the slice in the woman’s windpipe with a terrible hiss, along with mucous and chunks of vomit.

The filth sprays out of the woman and plops onto her lap and around her feet which are now slipping ineffectually on the grue-covered stair below her, providing a stark contrast to her rapidly whitening face. Death perfecting, as is its tendency, at least in the first few moments after it arrives. Words bloom in frothing blood around the woman’s mouth—a language all its own. The woman’s hands stop making those annoying and ineffectual fluttering motions and drop to her sides on the stoop as her arms suddenly flop down.

Hugging her now, Xie leans close, as if to tell her a secret or to breathe in her last breath, but she’s doing neither. The body in her arms is shuddering violently as if it were packed in ice and rapidly freezing to death with a staccato series of wet lumpy farts and the intermittent sizzle of scalding urine, which jets through her silk panties.

This is food for Xie, not the toxic fluids and spastic bloody spray paint, per se, but the energy bathing her as the light radiates off the dying woman, cocooning them both with a brief intimacy that excludes the world of good and evil.

Afterwards, Xie drags the woman into the brownstone, which is a trap from which no one ever emerges, and bounces her up the stairs to a room empty except for the mouse droppings along the baseboards and canopied with dust like an Arabic caravan going nowhere. There she quietly strips the corpse and dons the soiled clothes as much to soak up and surround herself with whatever’s left of the dying girl’s essence as to obscure her own nudity, not that it’s visible to anyone until she chooses to reveal it, usually in the last seconds of her target’s life, that’s how good she is.

She thinks of the one she’s hunting now and knows that no matter how good she is, she won’t be good enough. She can already sense that she’s been spotted, that the night is metastasized with his countless eyes and ears, a terminal night, with no hope of cure. The darkness is his flesh and his flesh responds to her and when she at last arrives to kill him, he will be ready for her, as he always is, tonight and every night for a thousand and a thousand and a thousand years.

Door 3:  Even the dead are stalked by someone

Speaking of which, someone is following her even now, like death follows each of us, only not usually so intimately. It isn’t death, of course, that follows Xie, being already dead herself (as such, she follows you), but something else, something that relentlessly follows the dead of which we know only the palest shadows: memory and regret. They are interrogators who already have all the information; torturers who never deliver the coup de grace. They don’t ask you to remember: instead they never let you forget.

She’d often seen their victims abandoned in the Lost Quarter: skin peeled off like a plum, sexless and pulpy, grinning with idiot sarcasm. The last one had reached imploringly for Xie, what was left of it, anyway, just instinctive hunger, and the very movement of the air across its exposed nerves caused it to convulse and shit itself in a symphony of agony as if administered a fatal electric shock that could not kill.

From a hole in its head of raw meat, surrounded by exposed teeth, a tongue protruded that looked like it might have been sliced with piano wire so that even the whispered plea it directed at Xie issued forth as a senseless scream of obscenity and accusations.

Fearing a trap, Xie crushed its skull with a broken chunk of concrete she picked up from the remains of a demolished bakery. She beat and beat and beat the thing until the side of the head dented and brain matter snorted out of the skinned nostrils like bluish cottage cheese flecked with blood and bone splinters. Even now, Xie couldn’t say whether it was fear or mercy that provoked her homicidal frenzy. For all she knew, the thing had been calling to her, begging for its own annihilation.

In the end, it didn’t matter what the hell it was trying to convey. Xie had destroyed it quickly and instinctively the way a cat will hide a turd, just to get it out of sight.

She’d seen the shades attack, but only once in all her days of pilgrimage, a swarm of them, for although they stalked in pairs they destroyed exclusively in swarms. They fell upon a forlorn girl, a poetess contemplating suicide, and tore her apart like a chicken, a cyclone of rape and rending that Xie watched from a distance, as if spellbound, the way one would watch a killer storm on a weather map, a swirl of abstract colored patterns, nothing more.

She was a willowy girl walking barefoot by a canal with an appearance much like Xie’s during her years at the university. Later, when the shadows had departed, Xie approached. What was left of the pale girl looked like a half of raincoat pulled inside out and twisted, a spot over which a large female animal, a camel, or even an elephant, had suffered a spontaneous abortion.

That said, Xie moves carefully through the streets and avenues by a predetermined route, catching the reflection of what is behind her in shop windows and the various random reflective surfaces to be found in the typical urban environment, such as the chrome on cars, rain puddles, empty vodka bottles, and the like, not to mention that she monitors the shadows looming along the walls and sidewalks in order to keep a lookout on whatsoever might be seeking to overtake her before she can complete her mission.

But the dead have blind spots, too. They, too, are assassinated by what they don’t see. Xie is no exception.

She doesn’t see it coming either, even though she’s seen it all before and come this way ten thousand times, countless thousands, over and over, throughout all eternity. It’s a conspiracy, some say, that even the dead are in on it, and that death itself is a conspiracy, or so this theory goes, and, if so, then Xie is playing her part to perfection, by playing ignorant.

She’s an actress, after all, and this is all an act, not a movie, exactly, but more like a loosely scripted sex-game, except maybe without a partner. It’s always possible, for instance, that this is nothing more than masturbation…
So it is in her imagination that an angel grabs her from behind, not from out of a dark alley, mind you, but right under a corner streetlamp, and leads her unresisting into a shaded courtyard between two buildings filled with sleepers—an invisible angel,  no less, because there are no other kind, except in the imagination, but not in Xie’s.

“The shadows are closer than you think. They always are,” the angel says, and by that Xie knows it’s not the shadows that have caught up with her, after all, because angels only double-speak.  Nor would an angel be urging her on to actions which could only lead to fresh memories and renewed regrets.

The whisper in her ear is like a voice inside her head, like a fantasy or dream that’s come before and will come again and that troubles her because it is so alien, as if it were dreamed by someone else.

“I am impregnated by a stranger’s psychosis,” she says, matter-of-factly, to no one, as if to depersonalize what comes next, the way a soldier will say “orders are orders” before hanging the women and children of a remote native village,  hang them like a row of dressed-out deer to send a “message” to the guerilla fighters who’ve vanished into the surrounding jungle.

“I have no choice. How can I end this until I know who the dreamer is?” she continues her monologue, looking at the gutted bodies, viscera glistening silvery inside with cum and flies. “As much as I despise it, I must keep my rendezvous. For without the information this informant can provide I can go no further nor can I retreat and I will have to abort that which offers my one and only chance of escape.”

Abort what, precisely, she wonders, what hope is it that she has, and with this question the angel she has imagined has disappeared and she is suddenly alone in the dismal  courtyard between the two buildings full of sleepers, stacked up, floor upon floor, like a dream-machine.

She is sitting on a black iron bench placed in front of a second black iron bench and between these two black iron benches is a large concrete urn of what appears were once red geraniums, once as recently as this past summer, but which is now only a wet and yellowish rot, a kettle of unregenerate decay.

At this point, Xie would be weeping if there were only time for the tears to fall.

Door 4:  The surgery and the revolution

For some time now, which means as long as she can remember, Xie has considered the hypothesis that no one exists besides herself, and if others do exist, they are so unknowable as to be, for all practical purposes, non-existent.

She is simultaneously aware that there is something wrong with this hypothesis, but what that is, eludes her, and does it matter? No, she concludes it doesn’t, at least not tactically. The resemblance of everyone to herself, for instance, has not escaped her notice, and has gone a long way towards forming this theory of a self-projected world, an inner world turned inside out, that, and the realization that anyone or anything outside herself is absolutely unnecessary to the business at hand.

She is led, then, through the broken emergency room doors of the abandoned hospital, led by a premonition down the cold corridors where steel gurneys lie overturned and the tiled floors are sugared with crushed syringes. A false air-raid siren, perhaps, has caused them all to seek shelter, even the sick, all but the infirm taking to their feet to escape the imminent catastrophe, and the others, well, who knows, wheeled off to protective underground bunkers, presumably by the staff.

Xie is not sleepwalking through this sick mall but her occluded senses have an underwater quality that suggests that the hospital is literally submerged, overwhelmed by floodwaters when the levees broke shortly after that series of muffled concussive explosions that no one remembers hearing forty-five minutes before dawn…

The elevator is the scene of a crime, or perhaps, a human sacrifice, it’s all a matter of perspective. It’s the very absence of a body that leads one to suspect this, but it would be impossible to say how. It’s not the blood, for there is none, nor torn clothes, or even a discarded ceremonial weapon: there are only a scattering of feathers. The elevator is operational, by the way, in contradiction of all logic, because the hospital is otherwise without power, even the emergency generators have been disabled. It is obviously an inside job—and it is thorough.

Xie gets out on the third floor, Ward North. Halfway down an identical corridor, identical, that is, to all the others she’s traversed already, the elevator doors close abruptly behind her and the elevator heads up in response to a call signal. Whether Xie believes in their existence or not, someone else is in the hospital, someone who may at this very moment be in pursuit of her with what bad intentions are anyone’s guess.

Though a sense of urgency has thus been added to the proceedings and herewith duly registered, it remains a sense merely: that is, Xie does not betray by expression or gesture any urgency whatsoever. She continues to move down the corridor as before, as if this were the only way she could move, which it is: almost floating.

It’s in Room 304 that she attains the climax of this episode, behind a heavily armored door festooned with all the usual dire warnings declaring it off-limits to anyone but those “authorized,” “licensed,” “sanctioned,” etc, and wearing the protective garments strictly required by the State against unnamed “biohazards.”

The door, of course, is unlocked.

They’ve seen to everything.

The room that opens to her isn’t a conventional surgery, that’s apparent immediately, it looks more like a staff break room, only much smaller than you’d expect such a room to be. There is none of the usual machinery and fittings of a typical surgery either. The room, in fact, is relatively bare except for a six-foot conference table, an empty bulletin board, and a looted vending machine.

Surrounding the table is a small grouping of characters in blue surgical scrubs covered with dark wet stains. Let’s be precise here: there are four figures standing around the table, all but one masked. They have a smug, conspiratorial air about them when they look up, as if they are sharing a private joke at your expense, or as if they’ve been caught red-handed (in this case literally), at something clearly inappropriate, but circumstances favor them and their greater number give him an advantage. In other words, their collective posture and expression conveys an attitude of defiance, as if to say, “Yeah, so now you’ve seen, and what of it?”

On the table, which they enviously surround, the thing this grim crew seems to guard, to greedily possess, even protect, by the very positions of their bodies—this thing can best, perhaps only, be accurately described as a botched surgery. There is a body, white, too white, of indeterminate age and sex frozen in a position of extreme contortion. At its center is an alarming hole, heaped around it meat and pulped gristle, an excavation made for god knows what purpose—waiting for who or what miracle or miracle-worker to repair…but no, that’s not it at all; it’s a hole made for no purpose whatsoever, the way children, in the old game, attempt to dig to China. 

The lower extremities are covered by a bloody sheet. The upper body is exposed to view, smooth as soap. The victim’s head (yes, “victim,” not patient, is the correct term, for this could in no way be voluntary) is turned toward the door where Xie is standing, the jaw unhinged, throat tendons straining, eyes rolled back. It’s difficult to tell if it’s alive or dead, the expression, overall, recalling nothing so much as the iconography of tortured martyrdom without the benefit of anesthesia or belief in God. The face, though transfigured by pain, is somehow familiar to Xie, like an indecipherable echo of a line of perhaps once familiar poetry, like any one of three dozen or more lovers who’ve orgasmed beneath her.

“What is this place?” Xie asks herself out loud, the question largely rhetorical, as usual.

The others don’t move, but remain looking up, in frozen tableau, as previously described. It’s the doctor who answers.

Doctor? –what doctor? Others? What others—and how?

There is no one here, as always noted.

It’s the ghost of a doctor, or another figment of Xie’s imagination. That’s the most probable explanation. But, no, it’s not that at all, not exactly, not entirely. It’s more like the film of a doctor, and a makeshift surgical team, too. The image is projected on the wall by a hidden projector. The immaterial doctor is looking up from the ruined body on the table accompanied by his three erstwhile immaterial assistants in masks and gowns. He, as previously noted, is wearing a gown, but no mask, that hasn’t changed. A cigarette dangles from his lip. The tools of the trade are in his hands, scalpel in one, forceps in another, both held prissily in an affected manner, like a Yale man at his filet mignon at the club. He grins. He hasn’t shaved in days, you notice.

“Experimental sex surgery,” he says, with a sly, insinuating wink.

It’s at that moment that the fake air-raid siren goes off again and gun-fire starts popping at the head of the hallway which the paramilitary security unit has finally accessed via the broken elevator.

It’s long passed time to escape, or to wake up, and Xie, frozen to the spot, all the exits sealed, has left herself no other choice but to face what comes next, to enter unwillingly through a door that leads deeper into this enigmatic fantasy.

Door 5:  The interrogation, during which things become less clear

“Let’s go over this again, shall we?” His tone is of the sort you’d hear in idle chit-chat, small-talk on a train between two strangers, perhaps, but with an undertone of savage, uncontrollable violence lying just beneath the surface.

Xie listens as if trying to identify a bird in the woods that’s fallen silent. She’s restrained to the chair she’s sitting in, a simple wooden affair of the sort you’d find in old schoolrooms, and there’s a kind of electrical apparatus hovering about her head like an elaborate coiffure with multi-colored leads attached to her nipples and fingerpads running off somewhere she can’t follow with her eyes, her head, as it were, immobilized by a high, stiff leather collar; she’s naked, too, of course. The entire effect is hieratical, Egyptian. The general mood in the room, otherwise, is relatively normal.

Sitting across from her, in plaid shirtsleeves and loosened tie, the man cocks his head at a friendly angle, as if this were a blind date at Starbucks and he were trying to be genial, feigning interest in her thoughts, when all he really wanted to do is get laid. He’s an ordinary-looking man, mid-aged, balding, as is customary in these situations, long sideburns, and a five-o-clock shadow despite recent shaving. Xie finds herself puzzling over what must be the resemblance of this man, on some level, to herself, for otherwise, she knows all to well, she wouldn’t be subjected to this unwelcome interview.

Meanwhile, he is waiting, with mock patience, for an answer, but Xie hasn’t properly heard the question. She has instead fallen inexplicably asleep and been dreaming of mass graves, a dozen hills in the green summertime, crowded with angels, crosses, and obelisks carved from stone, each bearing a word of a tongue no longer spoken.

“So many are the dead, so many the places to which they will never return, and the world we pass through nothing but their absence”

This line, or one very similar, speaks itself inside Xie’s mind and at first she thinks it’s the man speaking, but it’s not, he’s saying something else entirely, and in the act of confirming this, she finds herself re-focusing her attention on him, but only briefly.

He repeats his question and although the words are not spoken in a language unfamiliar to Xie, she fails to understand all the same, as if the syntax has been chosen with a deliberate disregard of the normative rules of grammar, intentionally garbled, in other words, to release some other forbidden shadow meaning that our ordinary everyday language keeps carefully concealed.

He has, Xie can’t help but notice, tufts of black hair growing on the tops of each thick finger.

The hum of bees.

 Xie, wonders: Are the wires attached to her nipples, her fingerpads, and now, she realizes, to probes inside her vagina and anus, as well as needled at strategic points along her vertebrae, and god only knew where else, and, of course, let’s not forget the multilayered contraption on her head—are these the source of the bee-hum. Are they devices recording or transmitting?

If neither, what then?

They brought her to this room for observation after she was found wandering in a restricted zone, dazed and incoherent, unable to produce her papers, or even to recall her name. She offered no reason for her presence in the forbidden sector, nor any resistance upon detainment, but remained, for the most part, mute, when questioned by the soldiers on the scene, giving rise to speculation that she might be an escaped patient from a nearby ward for the experimental treatment of sexual autistics that had been destroyed in a recent terrorist bombing.

This, anyway, is what they tell her. According to the records, of the forty-three patients originally assigned to the ward, nineteen had been killed or wounded in the attack, eleven had already been recaptured, and the rest were still unaccounted for.

Xie was one of the rest. One of the unaccounted for. As per always.

She was placed under provisional arrest, held without charges, pending interrogation, this being the law of the land for undocumented refugees as per Executive Emergency Order No. 7717 instituted immediately after the heinous, unforgettable, needless to say, unforgiveable incidents of fifteen April. She was taken back to headquarters where she’d been held in a 3x5 cell in utter isolation for an indeterminate period of time under twenty-four hour observation. But who was observing and what they were looking for remains unknown. What seems clear from the subsequent questioning, which Xie realizes is happening even now as she recounts these fragmented false memories, is that whatever whomever has been looking for…it has not been found.

They must be looking for someone else, she thinks; it must be a case of mistaken identity. It makes no sense otherwise what this balding, mid-aged man with the glistening black hairs on the backs of his knobby knuckles is asking, asking repeatedly, in a tone that reminds one of casual chit-chat but with an undertone of savage, uncontrollable violence.

Perhaps it really is the humming of the bees in her head, or, on second-thought, they might be flies, that is distorting his words.

She only catches sketchy fragments of his question, like a poor radio transmission from somewhere that’s been largely destroyed. Piecing it together as best she can, filling in the blanks, the question seems to go something like this, “Why is it that you don’t love me?”

The room is shaken by distant tremors, like seismic shocks, as if miles above ground and far away, the bombs are falling again, but that might be wholly imaginary, some effect they are producing within her own physiognomy to induce the deep psychological terror that she is under attack from an enemy common to us all.

This kind of thing is common: the border between inside and outside in these Final Days has grown so porous, anything can get through.

Us? Who’s that? There is no “us.” From the start, “US” was nothing but a fantasy. Do they think she still believes in “us?”

She knows enough not to disabuse them of their misperception. Let them think she still believes. It’s safer for her that way.

Meantime Xie says nothing, what can she say? Fact is, she’s lost interest once again. The man, the inspector, or whatever he is leans forward and whispers in her ear, perhaps trying to make himself heard above the humming or buzzing he must know fills her head, but what he says makes almost as little sense as what he said previously, which Xie has already lost in a blizzard of static and meaningless signals; in fact, what he says now might even be identical, or at least, indistinguishable, to what he said before.

In either or any eventuality, the words act as a hypnotic trigger or prompt the start of a session of guided imagery and Xie sees a colonnade of statues where she is replicated ad infinitum in stone all the way to the vanishing point and yet she cannot locate the seat of her consciousness anywhere in this scene. It is thus from some theoretically omniscient vantage point that she sees the men wandering down the endless central gallery, like dreamers in an x-rated museum, touching, as lepers might, her stone tits, her stone ass, her stone cunt.

She feels nothing, nothing she feels, and there is no rain, but an intermittent and concussive thunder beyond the horizon like the bombing of a distant city and a dull red flutter of soundless light.

And there, illuminated along the perfect and insensate thigh, only a millimeter in length, almost invisible, is a tiny crack, like the trace of a long dried tear.

Or love stain.

Door 6:  Intermezzo, because it must be

Xie wakes in her room, her chamber, her coffin, her crypt, exactly as before, as always, and the journey, she knows instantly, must be undertaken all over again. Her failure, capture, and imprisonment is disappointing, to be sure, but hardly unexpected, and there’s nothing to be done but to do it all over again.

Once more she must escape the tomb, resurrect herself, and assay an approach to her ever-elusive target. An approach that this time will not be detected and intercepted by the considerable obstacles arrayed against her.

Assassination, like a seduction, is a matter of mood and timing. Nothing can be forced, and reluctance, regret, and guilt must be charmed away, as in a fairytale. For only when the heart is open will the shot fly true and destiny, in triple retrospect, be realized.

Two steps forward, two steps back, it’s a kind of dance that can be mistaken for going nowhere at all and can’t be measured in ordinary terms by how far one’s traveled or how far one has yet to go, but must be appreciated as a thing of beauty in itself, like a dance, as I said, and true, but also, perhaps, like action painting, with blood spatters.

And so Xie sighs, flutters open her viole(n)t eyes, and sees the unfinished roof of roots holding back the endless weight of earth and suffocation. She rises from the bier of stained and tattered silk, etc. etc., and crosses to the white birch vanity under the surveillance cameras installed for an audience of necrophiliacs among which, my love, you are numbered.

Her every move is thus catalogued and captioned, her every pose captured as if premeditated (which it is) in a series of stylized gestures as iconographic as the Stations of the Cross before which men masturbate, indeed, in prayer. They are, of course, synonymous with the vidclips from the galleries of pornographic websites.

“Your mission, my dear, ultimately and teleologically,” her father tells her, touching the chart with his laser pointer, “is to raise through warmth, moisture, and imagination, the temperature of the cum residing in the alembic of the testicles, to the boiling point so that it rises, rejecting gravity, through the sacred lingam, and, by the by, gushes forth in that moment of magickal chaos in which anything, anything at all, might be born.”

Okay, its true, Xie thinks, brushing out her hair, which is longer, as it was when she was younger, this man was not her father, per se, or maybe he was, it makes no difference, for no girl knows her father, not unless, well, never mind.

No, this man was the Father behind all fathers, the imaginary father, the Father that doesn’t exist, the spook Father, God, the director of Central Intelligence, the hidden camera, that nagging sense of paranoia that always lingers, always lingers, the man in the white coat who, looking down at his clipboard, says in bored and routine monotone, “Please remove your gown and lie back with your feet in the stirrups, Miss ummm (fill in the blank).”

He looks up again and his eyes are the color of the dust on one of the moons around Saturn. “Okay,” he says, “let’s have a look at you.” And just like that his forceps, like the mandibles of a voracious Middle Eastern insect, are inside your most private of parts.

Door 7:  Variations of Ten Thousand Wednesdays

…and, of course, Xie wakes, as she always wakes, in the same place as before, specifically, her casket within the misnamed mausoleum beneath the colonnade of giant yew trees glistening in the quiet rain at three a.m., etc.

She rises, crosses the cold stone floor, barefoot, as previously mentioned, and sits at the white birch vanity, checking her ceremonial makeup, as the surveillance cameras record the entire scene on all thirty-six monitors in the empty guard room—the screens in question showing a grainy blue video of a vacant room that will later, after the crime, be examined frame-by-frame, and marked with technical graphs and notations indicating splatter patterns, lines of fire, and other arcane measurements that will be quite indecipherable, even mysterious, but which will appear to be vaguely divinatory in intent—but of what?

This sense of determinism that seems to weigh upon her every movement gives Xie an air of great weariness, even reluctance, as if she were moving underwater at the bottom of an empty swimming pool. Of course, that makes no sense, none of this does, and yet Xie, finishes brushing her long black hair all the same, and, weeping quietly, walks, head bowed, to the strategically unlocked door, as if deep in prayer, or memorizing her lines for the next scene in a play in which she has no role.

All of this will happen again, we already know this, it’s no surprise: the escape into the city, the weeping woman on the stairs, the murder, the concealment of the body, the search of the abandoned hospital, the capture and pointless interrogation, it all keeps happening, recorded carefully each and every time, repeated but never seen, endlessly re-interpreted as if with every repetition some new clue might be discovered that would provide, at last, the long-sought answer that we’ve been seeking, the key that will reveal everything, but, alas, no…

Door 8:  With a Kiss, All Things Return to Worms

Let’s imagine, then, for the sake of argument that something could happen, even if only hypothetically, if Xie were actually able to break the endless cycle of which we’ve been so painstakingly describing up to now—if, in fact, she were to be even temporarily resurrected, what might happen then…what might come next?

To say that it is evening is to say very little; it is evening, it is always evening, and she is haunting the streets as she always does, like a breeze that shifts the leaves of the potted geraniums outside the Plaza Hotel or the luminous eyes of an unknown actress on a movie poster staring out seductively at nothing, as the streetlights change over an empty intersection, hours and hours before dawn.

She rides the subways, the bone-white of her face flashing into and out of view, startlingly beautiful, but hollowed out like a mask of vengeance no longer worn by anyone. It was outside of a cozy French bistro that she saw them, sitting at a small iron table beneath the burgundy umbrella, the female just a smile behind fashionable dark glasses, little more, unimportant, something petite and vivacious, full of life and electrical excitement, albeit temporarily.

She could have been anyone, what difference did it make (and yet it did, it made all the difference in the universe, that’s one paradox). It was him who had the spotlight, the unblinking eye of the camera, alternately charmed and stunned, and Xie watched this man whose hands she could feel inside her still, like a spirit-surgeon, caressing her internal organs, an intimacy that should have healed, that should have magically lifted out the pain and disease, but instead, placed it irretrievably inside her, an ache as deep and empty and eternal as the frozen center of the cosmos would have been before the cosmos even existed, moons and worlds and star systems, the explosion of all that, but unexploded.

After a light supper, salmon crepes for him, tartines for her, they strolled up Broadway towards Lincoln Center where the spray from the fountain blessed them all like holy water shaken from the stolen fronds of some mythic underworld tree.

He clasped her hands at first, said something tender and irreproducible; it made the woman smile, and their eyes shared the same light from somewhere far away for longer than seemed possible. (Oh how Xie hated her in that excruciatingly timeless moment, a feeling like falling in a dream, and she woke with a kiss that had the impact of finding a snake in one’s bedsheets, never had she felt a kiss so profoundly, this kiss that hadn’t even touched her lips, this kiss that had been place on someone else’s mouth, that wasn’t meant for her).

Of the inevitable, do we even speak of it, is it necessary, is anything? Let us speak of it. The cab ride across town, the easy banter with the doorman (several missing minutes in the elevator) the lights on in the seventh-floor apartment, and then, only minutes later, off, as if the last star in the sky had burned itself out like a cigarette on the lip-like flesh of Xie’s heart.

If I had not died before, she thought, I’d die again. If I had not been buried, I’d never wake. If forever meant oblivion, I would never have loved, etc., all these phrases, pregnant with meaning, but meaning nothing, flashed ceremoniously through her mind like a slide show of a romantic Stations of the Cross, each slide as shocking as the instant of a head-on collision, and all of it, each panel, printed and displayed in 40x40 format at an upscale gallery where everyone who’s anyone among the Hampton set is sipping hummingbird aperitifs and tastefully discussing one of the more arcane social aspects of sexual cryogenics…

{Next slide, please.}

Door 9: After Love, This

And then she is climbing up a concrete stairway, the kind at the center of buildings used in the event of a fire or other emergency, often the only thing that remains standing after a disaster, shattered, charred, the tower at the core of things, the central spiral of what was once a whelk shell in the trough of the retreating tide, but, as noted, she is going up, not down, so it’s not a matter of an emergency (or is it?).

She isn’t attempting to escape from some the catastrophe (is she purposely going towards it?)  Are the elevators out of order, requiring her to take the stairs?  That might well be, except that the building she’s in doesn’t have a central emergency stairwell made of reinforced concrete to be used in the event of fire, terrorist attack, earthquake, etc. but an ineffectual and outdated network of metal ladders and rusted catwalks, (a.k.a. a fire-escape) bolted to the side of the plum-colored brickwork.
It was one of those nights, in other words, that snag a corner of your consciousness and won’t let go, a little fish-hook in the brain, the kind of all-pervasive sensation that “things aren’t quite right” that one might have in a dream, but that having while awake makes everything that much more unreal.

“It’s all made of tissue-paper,” Xie whispers as she climbs, tentatively touching everything. “I could rip right through it, tear the world to shreds…” but then what would I see, something worse, what could be worse, there’s always something worse, no it can’t be worse than this, but what if, not it can’t, etc.

Love, when it ends, is like a city that is no more, a vast expanse of rubble and burnt plastic, punched tickets, expired visas, and bones pounded into dust. Here, the phones never work and the network is always down, the connection is forever lost and every message is undeliverable. This is a wasteland of fatal errors where language is a code no more decipherable than the wind, a noise once full of intimations and imaginings, but stale and empty in itself, all white noise and junk mail.

What survivors still stalk this fallout zone are stripped to essentials, brief and cannibalistic, their features stamped with idiot lusts and cancerous hunger—it’s a wonder you never noticed this before.

A wonder. And a mercy.

What happened here, what unspeakable disaster, to reduce the world to this, to what we feared would one day happen, to reveal what had been behind the mask all along? And now that it has happened (and stands revealed), whatever it is, how do we go on, or do we?

Perhaps we don’t go on, but then it’s clear we do, or is it? Is it possible that we just imagine we go on?

“Hello, hello, I know you’re there,” Xie prays, her voice trembling this side of glossalia, “please pick up, please, I want to talk to you, just for five minutes.”

She’s standing under the broken arch of what used to be the entrance to an office building at 38th and Broadway, that is what you think, but the address could be anywhere, a ruins in Pompeii or the rubble in the aftermath of the Dresden bombing.

She is talking into a cell phone that is connected to nothing whatsoever, a message machine, perhaps, a forever spooling tape like on the interrogator’s table, God’s ear, an information harvester like the NSA, and into this inattentive, indiscriminately-recording device she speaks her confession, a bit of evidence, never-to-be-heard, forever inadmissible.

“Please pick up, please,” she chants in a language of her own desperate invention, a language that, in any event, no one even hears, like the language of whatever god one believes in, who might be defined as is anyone who doesn’t answer.

“Please don’t do this,” she pleads and gasps, as if she were being strangled, or perhaps she has finally crossed over into speaking in tongues, after all, and this we can only guess is what she is saying, now and next and forever, “Please answer. I love you…”

Door 10: In the room next door….

There is always a door we don’t want to open, how many fairytales tell us that, a door behind which something sits and waits for us, sits and waits to be revealed. The very thing we’ve hidden from ourselves, but cannot forget, the symptom we ignore that kills us.

That’s the door Xie stands in front of now, a white door of painted aluminum, numberless, scratches around the lock where a key jabbed and missed repeatedly in the dark of numberless nights, a featureless white door otherwise, silence, cold to the touch, anonymous, did we say aluminum?

She stands outside this door, the last door, behind which all the mysteries are resolved, all questions answered, the door that has drawn ((and repelled)) her from the start, and, yes, its locked, and yes, she has a key, a key he’s probably forgotten she still has, or maybe not, but she doesn’t enter. The exit from this nightmare right in front of her, but she doesn’t enter, doesn’t open this final door, but waits, and waits….for what?

Is it like delaying an orgasm, an orgasm that will shatter you, render you defenseless, in other words, to the annihilation of love?

((Much later, this delay will haunt her with ‘what-ifs.’ What-if, for instance, she had opened the door at the moment just described? Would things have worked out differently? Would she have been in time, would she be laughing on the Cape right now, the sea wind in her hair, etc? But we jump-cut ahead of ourselves…))

Let us say, and say it simply, that she delays the inevitable, slipping surreptitiously into the room next door, a dingy room of yellow walls, small, cramped, as in old rooming houses of the 1950s, newspapers stacked and tied with rough hemp in bundles on the floor, a small writer’s desk pushed beneath the only window, the view, over an adjacent tarred rooftop, of a trapezoid of street approximately the length of her thumb and forefinger stretched to their limit.

A stained coffee mug, discarded pens, several pages of someone else’s manuscript tuned over to the blank side, the topmost sheet no longer blank, but covered with lines that seem to be sliding rightward off the very paper. A letter it seems, a letter begun and abandoned and begun again, aborted and reconceived so many times it doesn’t carry a salutation or any preamble, but begins, as they say, in medias res, like a Greek tragedy.

Xie doesn’t need to read it to now the text, indeed, she can’t read it, written as it is in some antediluvian language, a pre-Edenic text that is basically the fossilized imprint of some strange winged creature crashed to earth, not an angel exactly, but not a pterodactyl either, something fallen in the mud, unable to rise, and suffocated: a hieroglyph that died in her heart ((if, perchance, you were to autopsy her post-mortem, remove her heart, and bisect it lengthwise, you would find this archetypal symbol on the chambered cave-walls therein)).

So it is in this room that Xie sits, night after night, a cheap pen in her hand, poised, the tip long dried-out, no words left, a fugitive, writing an apologia for those who accept no apologies, a confession for those who do not forgive, and explanation for those who cannot help but misunderstand.

Her text submitted to translators and censors, given to actors and interpreters and psychologists and linguists, to policemen and critics, submitted to a jury of her peers…what is left but to acknowledge a confession no longer bearing any resemblance to our actual crimes? What is left but to sign our names, our names that will adorn our tombs and tell nothing of ourselves, nothing but that we were born, we died, and can deny our guilt no longer?

We admit, in other words, everything.

There is no sound from the room next door. Is he out? Asleep? Can she put off breaking the silence any longer, answering the question, following the trail of blood? Can she put off answering the door? What door?

The door she hid behind, but behind which they’ve found her all the same, as she knew they must.

“Open up, I know you’re in there!” they shout with authority.

It’s here.

The pounding on the door, the destiny that must be met, the lover you’ve been awaiting to with held breath.

The one who you know beforehand will rend you limb from limb.