By: Kit Maude
Eckersley had a loopy artist in her guest room and a boy begging at her door. Both were proving to be troublesome. The artist was loopy in the sense that he was probably insane, but also because he was stuck in a loop. Like the beggar boy, he appeared one day at Eckersley’s door announcing that he had a new performance project that he hoped to rehearse in Eckersley’s guest room. Because he was an old friend of Eckersley’s he was allowed in. He refused to say much about the performance.
The beggar boy came to Eckersley’s door at least once a week asking for clothes, food, and anything he might be able to sell. Also money, of course. Sometimes, usually, Eckersley gave him something, but sometimes she didn’t happen to have anything on her, or was in a bad mood. Occasionally, she was simply irritated by this boy who came so regularly to demand things for nothing.
The artist immediately locked himself away in the guest room. During the following forty-eight hours, Eckersley heard strange, whirring, electrical noises on the other side of the door—the kind of sounds one might hear in a laboratory, hospital or diagnostics centre—but, perhaps out of respect for her guest’s privacy, perhaps because she was afraid to know, she made no enquiries.
Eckersley, distracted by her houseguest, told the beggar boy that she didn’t have anything for him that day but instead of turning and leaving as he usually did, the boy stayed put. This was the first time that Eckersley had ever gotten a proper look at the child, and it surprised her quite how much he resembled a gnarly shrub—the kind one sees standing alone at the edge of a field whose existential status is uncertain until you get right up to it and see one or two green leaves that look for all the world like they might belong to a parasitic vine but no, are definitely a part of the shrub meaning that the shrub is still alive. While Eckersley was thinking these thoughts, the beggar boy observed her with his head cocked, waiting until he had Eckersley’s full attention.
“Yes, you do.”
“Do have something to give me.”
“What might that be?”
Forty-eight hours into the artist’s stay, an envelope addressed to Eckersley appeared stuck to the outside of the door to the guest room.
I apologize if the noise I have been making has bothered you over the past two days (or more). I have been using the latest in brain re-sequencing equipment to perform a unique experiment. I have no way of knowing whether it was successful (I write this note before the fact); I am afraid that you will have to determine that for yourself, but please finish reading this note before you come in. As you know, I have long been interested in the physical processes of the brain and how the workings of the actual grey matter affect who we are and how we think. As you also know, for many years I have suffered from occasional but severe fits of depression. Recently, these fits have been occurring more and more frequently and it has come to seem inevitable that sooner or later I shall kill myself. Once I had realized this, I immediately determined that I should like to use the sad event in my art. The question was how? A simple dramatic suicide in a public place seemed rather passé. Inviting people to observe my death in a gallery setting, or perhaps streamed over the internet, was similarly done to death (so to speak). But then I remembered the case of the man who suffered brain damage that led him to believe that every time he woke up was the first time: each waking was a momentous occasion that he forgot about a few minutes later. I can’t recall if we ever discussed that particular case but other similar ones must have come up at one time or another. I am about to attempt to take this man’s involuntary premise to the next level. Having firstly made a detailed plan to kill myself (Running as follows: Step One: have a good night’s sleep. Step Two: dress up in my favorite outfit—shirtless in turquoise harem trousers and red slippers. Step Three: eat a last meal of eggs benedict on toast with half an avocado. Step Four: wander melancholically over to the window, whistling a tune. Step Five: open window and leap out head first in what would ideally be a graceful dive but will probably be more akin to a belly flop), I propose to use the apparatus I mentioned at the top of my letter to erase the rest of my memories, thereby reducing myself to an automaton. Crucially, I also hope to wipe out the final step of my suicide plan. If successful, I shall have locked myself into a loop doomed never to come to its natural climax. As I envisage it, when I am walking towards the window, whistling a tune (TBD), I shall suddenly forget what I was doing and go straight to bed. When I wake up, I should be able to think of nothing more than the plan and immediately set about implementing it once more. I regret that my last, and I believe greatest, work of art should be taking place in your guest room but you were the only person I knew I could count on not to interfere with my preparations. I have deposited a substantial amount of money into your bank account to pay for eggs, bearnaise sauce, toast, avocados, and other sundries for the foreseeable future or, if I have been unsuccessful, to cover the cost of disposing of my body and other associated inconveniences.
My friend, thank you for reading. I hope you can understand what I am trying to achieve.
I offer you my sincere best wishes for the future.
You may now enter,
“Melodramatic fool…” Eckersley muttered, opening the door. “It’s Hollandaise sauce for eggs benedict.”
“Yes, it’s too big for you. Give it to me.”
“Why should I do that?”
“Because I have a large family and you don’t.”
“My brother’s in the guestroom right now.”
“I saw him when he came. He isn’t your brother.”
“How do you know that?”
“He doesn’t look anything like you. My brothers look just like me.”
Eckersley imagined a row of sickly looking shrubs arranged in ascending height. She realized that in fact it was not just one beggar boy who came to knock on her door every week, but one of a set of similar looking shrub-brothers.
“None of your brothers has ever asked for my house before.”
“They lack my vision,” said the urchin with a lopsided smile. “When we were all together, I was the only one who could ever find us a place to stay. We’ve lived under bridges, in trees, tunnels, abandoned houses, neglected railway carriages, old trucks, caves, underground… once we lived in a wine cellar for a month. We only left because we discovered that an old man was already living there, in one of the barrels. Sometimes the places we chose didn’t work out; they didn’t feel right, like a mosquito settling on an eyeball. Sometimes it was a perfect fit, like when a barnacle attaches itself to the belly of a whale.”
“Come with me,” Eckersley said thoughtfully.
She led the beggar boy up the stairs to the first floor and opened the door to the guest room. The beggar boy stepped curiously into the threshold. From there he saw Eckersley’s friend in the midst of what had become his routine. Having just finished his “eggs benedict,” he got up in his turquoise harem pants and, whistling snatches from La Traviata, walked over to the window. Suddenly, he stopped and looked around in bewildered despair, glaring askance at Eckersley and the boy, or at least so it seemed. In fact, his eyes weren’t registering anything, all but a glimmer of their light had been extinguished a week before. Now the artist did a sudden about turn and headed straight to bed, where he pulled the sheets over his head and closed his eyes. Next to the bed, another sheet had been pulled over another irregular bulk – the apparatus Eckersley had found after reading the letter from her friend. It looked much, if not exactly, like the equipment used during electro-convulsive shock treatment. Believing that the artist had not intended for it to mess up the look of his piece, Eckersley had decided to cover it temporarily until she could determine how legal it was, and whether it might be either sold or usefully donated.
“He’s been doing this for a week, I still can’t tell whether it’s an act or not,” she said to the wide-eyed shrub-boy, whose roots she could already see spreading out, trying to dig under the floorboards.
“Is he crazy?”
“He certainly was. I’m not sure what you’d call him now.”
“He looked so sad.”
“Well, he had just forgotten that he was about to die.”
“Why did you show me this?”
“I thought you should know what you were letting yourself in for if I gave you the house.”
“But I wouldn’t let him stay!”
“You don’t have a choice, he’s a part of the furniture now.” Eckersley was forced to take a moment to ponder how true this might be.
“You have to take your brother with you,” the boy insisted in a plaintive, bereft voice.
“You know that he’s not my brother.”
Kit Maude is a translator based in Buenos Aires. His translation of The Naked Woman by Armonía Somers was recently published by The Feminist Press. He writes reviews for Ñ, Otra Parte, and The Times Literary Supplement.