Three hundred and thirty-nine. A number at once horrific, terrifying, and with a dizzying, enrapturing secret within. I never knew a number could do this to a person. When I came to after the operation, there was only one thought in my head, a number: three hundred and thirty-nine. But no, I should start . . . from the beginning.
My name is Zwattelitz, double t, starts and ends with z. Yes, the neurosurgeon - the famous one. If you’re reading this, you’ll have heard of me. I am, of course, absolutely certain that I am he, even though the external circumstances might say otherwise at present. What I am now dictating into the device secretly appropriated from my own desk (with the long, filed points of these fingernails I can do nothing with a laptop or PC) will, I am sure, not only satisfy the curiosity of a large number of people, but also carve my name into the annals of science forever. That my triumph happens to coincide with my downfall is no more than a prurient detail.
The institute I have been affiliated with for more or less my entire life is engaged in research into the anatomical localization of the functions of the brain, that first began to make progress in the war years. A soldier suffering traumatic injury to a specific section of the brain resulting from bullet wounds, shrapnel, and the like, afforded the opportunity to study the functions that were lost as a result of such an injury. How vividly I remember, in those early post-war years, the gleam in the eyes of my older colleagues as they welcomed me with animated stories about these soldiers, brought in with half his skull blown off by a piece of shrapnel that had fortuitously struck the exact area of the cerebral cortex the function of which they were so curious about, and the enthusiasm with which they went about studying it. These soldiers doubly earned their medals of honour. But that was only the opening move: since the development of advanced computer tomography, implantation of electrodes, and cerebral angiography, brain research has grown by leaps and bounds and experiments (largely kept secret from the broader public) have taken us further than anyone outside of the field could possibly suspect in their wildest dreams. We now stand on the point of unravelling the last mysteries of our grey matter, and all research centers around the world are working feverishly to ferret them out. That the Dr. Zwattelitz Institute is one of the leaders in the field is not principally due to me. This is no false modesty, as shall become clear, but now that I have resolved to reveal everything, to my as yet completely unknown colleague, Dr. Oerlemans. Apart from his qualities, I will also be revealing a few particulars concerning him, the disclosure of which he will no doubt find regrettable, but which for my own part I relish in disclosing. Dr. Oerlemans, from the University of Ghent, works here in silence. However, it will not be him, but the prosecuting attorney of the Kingdom of Belgium, the procureur des konings, to whom I must send a note of thanks when I receive the Nobel Prize. This may require some explanation.
Oerlemans is a short, unsavory Belgian, with a red, swollen face and thick glasses that make his eyes disproportionately large. Rumor had it that he was to be put forward for his own professorship, but for reasons unclear, that never happened. Why it did not was something I could not yet have suspected when he submitted his application to this institute. What was clear was that his list of publications was impressive, and he passed the committee’s review without a hint of a problem. He performed better than expectations, and I do not now have any qualms about admitting that a great deal of work published under my name was, in fact, his. He could be found in the lab until deep in the night, huddled over his microscope or peering at his screen, and I soon began to feel somewhat guilty, despite that as a single man, he obviously had little else to occupy his evenings with. I decided to plan something social, a dinner party. This was something Loulé excelled at. I did have some trepidation. Not only did I have my concerns about whether saddling Loulé with Oerlemans for an entire evening was a good idea, but I wondered whether he, as a Belgian, might be more in touch with French cuisine, and so might turn his nose up at my wife’s bouillabaisse, the only dish Loulé could do well. Once I had finally convinced her, and was planning to ask him in passing, say old boy, do you like bouillabaisse, when a misdelivered piece of mail eliminated the need to ever plan that dinner at all. The mail at the institute is brought round by a broken-down old codger, a man who passed retirement age sometime before the dawn of recorded history, who groans and mutters as he pushes his mail cart along and walks into your office without knocking. The number of times he has delivered mail to the wrong person are legion, but there is no point in complaining to him, being that he is deaf as a post. That morning, he placed a large, rectangular envelope in the incoming mail tray on my desk. What I read when I opened it was that I had to stand trial. Although it was written in an arcane language virtually incomprehensible to me, I was able to determine that I was being accused of the most horrible things, the most depraved criminal indecencies, and immediately my mind raced to Loulé. Eva, my ex-wife, must have set me up, was my first thought. The procureur des konings was ordering me to appear before the correctional court in Ghent, I read. But why Belgium? When I took a closer look, to my great relief I discovered that the addressee was not me, but rather one Henricus Godefridus Maria Oerlemans. Well well, Oerlemans, now we know what kind of stuff you’re made of. I must confess that I did not immediately realize what a windfall this might bring me. It was only when I walked to the next office down the hall, to give him the letter, and saw the fear bulging in his eyes, that I realized he would never need to taste even one spoonful of Loulé’s bouillabaisse.
Being that the hypothesis of the human soul is old hat (certainly for we academics), the next question that naturally arises is where exactly our consciousness is found in the brain. Of course, self-awareness must also be located in the brain. What makes us experience our own body as the vessel of the self, rather than, say, that of our neighbor? We must be able to identify certain specific brain cells as responsible for the manifestation of this sense of self. If these cells could be isolated, then you could relocate your own consciousness, your self, and transplant it from, say, an old and diseased body to a young healthy one. As soon as this becomes a possibility, all other transplants of organs, such as heart or kidneys, that are so feverishly discussed today, become completely superfluous: transplanting these certain parts of the brain into another body, the “ego transplant,” if you will, turns the issue of transplantation completely upside-down. For why go through the trouble of replacing a body’s parts organ by organ, when the reverse approach is so much more obvious? I must acknowledge that this simple, and so ingenious, concept is not my own, but adopted from my venerable colleague Prof. Bazarov, the very father of modern neuroscience, who I had the privilege of meeting in the flesh on one occasion. He still had an appointment at the storied institute that bears his name, though only as a relic to be trotted out and displayed to foreign visitors. There he sat, amidst a fantastic clutter of test tubes and scientific instruments he himself had developed, but which have long since been rendered completely obsolete by modern technology, in the laboratory named for him where he no longer has any shred of authority. Insiders claimed that no serious research had been done anywhere in the institute for a long time, that in fact its sole remaining purpose was to use his famous name to shake down grant funding that then disappeared into the pockets of a few administrators. On the other hand, I cannot entirely rule out the possibility that no one has noticed that he had gone senile, and his orders, where they can be deciphered at all, were still followed to the letter. Once you have made a name for yourself, anything is possible. Just to be sure, the institute had a specially appointed assistant to write down every word of gibberish he uttered. For safety reasons, his hands were tied behind his back, otherwise he would have done too much damage; the assistant would bring his coffee cup to his lips whenever he growled coffee! although she made it quite clear that this was not in her job description. Whenever this took too long for her, she simply grabbed his famous beard (so well-known from the postage stamps and posters bearing his likeness), tipped his head back, pinched his nose closed and unceremoniously dumped the entire mug down his throat, exchanging a knowing smile with the few odd admirers shuffling past the barrier rope stretched in front of his chair. Yes, this was the man who had made the discovery that the whole scientific world had waited for so long, that we, with all our researchers in all the labs and clinics across the world had been searching for with the same obsession as the alchemists of the Middle Ages who sought to turn lead into gold: localizing ego-consciousness. Bazarov found it, within a tiny, mushroom-shaped, almost voluptuous protrusion nestled between the limbic system and the cerebral cortex, known ever after as the extumefactum Bazarovi, or the Barazov for short.
After that, all of our research was only ever focused on one thing: the transplantation of the ego. Because I feared that public opinion was not ready for this, and our donors might well get nervous if they knew what we were actually working on, I swore Oerlemans to absolute secrecy. Better to not stir up any unnecessary unrest before I was able to present the results on a silver platter. Who should be allowed to occupy whom? Could that whom be a minor? A master and his student? A legitimate form of wellness treatment? A whole new body, the ultimate in plastic surgery? Whoever could afford it could keep moving into a newer, younger body, ad infinitum. The bodies themselves would, of course, be sourced from third world countries: bodies that would otherwise rot away from hunger and disease would now be spoiled, pampered, preserved. That’s how you stake your claim to eternal life (assuming that a careless lab assistant doesn’t lose your Bazarov – so many careless mistakes made in hospitals these days). And then: the sexual revolution. Everything up to now has just been the warm-up. The real one only begins when we can start gender-hopping. And think of the debates this will unleash when the haters realize the impact on the world of crime. If a bad guy still has time to serve, but has moved on to another body, do you let him sit? Someone who’s been poured into a smooth, young body might well have lost all criminal intentions, so why lock them up in their new embodiment? On the other hand, mob kingpins have mastered the art of disappearing as soon as the police are on their tails.
But we’re not there yet. In the greatest of secrecy we worked on, and I kept a sharp eye on Oerlemans. Normally, I am not overfond of Belgians. They speak Dutch, or so they say, which makes it difficult to insist on speaking English with them. But they always mean something just slightly different than you think, or they claim that they understand something you’ve just said just a little bit differently than you meant it. Their language rubs ours the wrong way, that makes them unreliable, especially because they’ll never admit that they misunderstood you. So you’ve always got to watch your step, pay attention to every word, before you know it you’ve made some kind of commitment that they’re going to hold you to. I had expressed my preference to communicate with Oerlemans only in writing, but that would have made things at the institute very awkward. Luckily, since that ill-fated mail delivery everything had taken a turn for the better: his understanding of what I needed him to do was much improved. All I had to do was look at him with that special, loaded glance, the one I had practiced, my procureur-des-konings look, and Oerlemans would drop all protest to dedicate himself to the most impossible tasks, working through the night until, trembling, he would bring me the results the next morning. Of course, the harder he worked, the more convinced I became of his crimes. Thank you, procureur des konings. But Oerlemans had his work cut out for him staying ahead of the competition. The Chinese in particular worried me. Stubborn rumors had it that they were doing experiments denied to us in the west. Removing the frontal lobes of death row inmates, changing the chemical composition, the kind of daring experiments that we could only dream of. Through this unfair competition, they gained an advantage over us. Oerlemans had to hustle. At this point he was spending day and night in the lab next to his cages full of rats and white mice, tied to his own self-designed equipment there.
“Bazarov was right,” I heard him mumble one evening, when I was already holding my jacket and about to walk out the door and go home. An innocent enough remark, because no one would have disputed it. But there was a flicker in the lenses of his glasses that said that he had found something. If there hadn’t been someone waiting for me – dinner with Loulé at De Kersentuin - I would certainly have stayed. But right then, tomorrow was early enough. The next morning, there was a memo on my desk, from Dr. O to Dr. Z. Asking me to urgently – but I had a board meeting to get to. After that, I went home early because Loulé, who was going out, had asked me to let the workmen in for the renovations. Which is why I only got the good news the day after that: Oerlemans claimed that he had succeeded in transplanting a rat ego, the rat’s equivalent of the Bazarov, in the human being. He had removed the Barazov from a particularly aggressive specimen and transplanted it in a friendly, obedient rat. Oerlemans hoped to see her start to exhibit the greedy, aggressive behavior of her companion. I told him to get back to work and stop daydreaming. Furnish the evidence that I had always been right was not that easy. But when he left, I stayed to watch, with my full attention, how the animal came to. I lifted the cover and stuck my hand in the cage. In a flash, it leapt into the air and sank its teeth into my index finger. Blood began to spurt. Dazzling, unmistakable aggression!
“Oerlemans!” my voice rang through the lab, as I triumphantly brandished my bleeding finger. In that moment, even Oerlemans’ vacant grin was pure bliss. Just look at our Oerlemans, that crazy Belgian, dancing in delight as I poked him in the side, staining his white lab coat with blood! I was just about to hug him, stomp all the test tubes and flasks to smithereens and dance on the shards, twirling around the lab arm-in-arm with my best friend Oerlemans, until I remembered just in time that for adults, this type of behavior is only permissible when your football team has won. And you’ll never be doing that with Oerlemans, who will always be rooting for the wrong team. Besides which, this was far from the incontrovertible proof we needed. We could not entirely rule out that one of the chemicals administered during the transplant was responsible for the aggressiveness, so we couldn’t be sure that after the Bazarov transplant, the essence of the one rat now lived in the body of the other. No matter how long Oerlemans poked his fat finger at that rat, no repeat was forthcoming. Could there still have been some kind of interaction, the active combining with the passive, though we had no idea how this process worked? These questions were screaming for answers.
“You understand what this means,” I said coolly, as Oerlemans feigned care in bandaging my finger. His face was right next to mine. I could even see the individual blood vessels in his terrified eyes.
“Chimpanzees? You know very well that this is quite impossible without a permit these days. Where am I supposed to get them?”
“I don’t care how you get them!” I snarled. “Call the zoos in Berlin, London, Hamburg, Hong Kong, Honolulu! Or just call – you know who I mean.”
Oerlemans’ eyes couldn’t have bugged out any further without leaving their sockets.
“Leibschnitter,” he stammered.
“I’m leaving that to you,” I said, as I withdrew my hand and turned away from him in disgust. Didn’t he get that in the presence of a future Nobel Prize winner you don’t say a name like Leibschnitter? How indiscreet of him.
So excited was I about telling Loulé the big news that evening that I forgot she would only be coming home late. She had gone to visit her ailing mother after spending the day in the city. Loulé was a real clothes horse. With each new outfit, it was as if she had put on a whole new personality: she was friendly, even obliging, with a cool, languid quality. As was her habit, after shopping she would appear in her latest acquisitions, a completely new Loulé; I think she threw the old clothes away immediately. But it never took very long before the itch set in and she had to do it all again. I had grown used to this rhythm, and because I knew the effect that new clothes had on her, I looked forward to this every bit as much as she did. I called her mobile number. I wasn’t allowed to call her mother, who had weak nerves and would get a shock from the telephone ringing in the silent house, so late in the evening.
“Why are you so out of breath, dear?”
“I just came up the stairs. You know how many stairs there are at my mother’s. I’ve told her so many times, she just can’t live here anymore. I ran up the stairs because I thought it might be you.”
“You didn’t have it on you? That’s what a mobile phone is for, darling.”
“I left it upstairs. Why are you calling?”
I decided it was better to tell her when she came home. I parked myself on the couch and began to do what she had forbidden me to do: wait for her. I forced myself to not look at the clock. Just spoke with her, and still the unease would not go away. What was she getting up to, if she wasn’t shopping or tending to her sick mother? I leafed through her small, black leather calendar embossed with her golden monogram when she was washing her hair in the bathroom. There was very little in it; she was never one for writing things down. Only on Tuesday, a number, written in lipstick and circled: 339.
What did that mean? I couldn’t ask her without admitting I had been snooping around in her things, so I could only leave it at that. Just like the only other thing written there: THE BEAST. Something to do with the pets? Because I wasn’t going to find out anyway, it was better to put it out of my mind. I could have hired a private detective, of course, but that would have only got me a superficial report to drive myself mad with, and no real answers. Because once I started, I would need to know so much about her comings and goings that no one could have lived up to it. Not only would I have wanted to know who she spoke to when I wasn’t there, who she smiled at and whether it was the kind of smile that she smiled at me the first time, so wide you could see her teeth, so wide you could see those pink gums, but I would have wanted to follow her right into the dressing room at the Maison Aimée where she buys her clothes. My jealous eye like a hidden camera from which nothing escapes. Like the way she moves her hands to smooth out a crease in that one tight skirt, and that special glance that she checks herself out in the mirror with to see whether it’s sitting tight enough around her body, our shared obsession.
I had stopped thinking about it, but in the middle of the night it suddenly came to me again. She was lying in bed with her back to me, from her deep breathing I could hear that she was asleep. Carefully, with the nail of my index finger I outlined the number 339 between her shoulder blades, in the silken fabric of her pyjama. Perhaps I had half-expected her to turn to me and, still befuddled with sleep, unwittingly confess to me what it meant. Of course, she only went on sleeping.
Frankly I can admit that the type of burning curiosity within me might very quickly have taken on unhealthy proportions in another man. But I smiled about myself, noted my responses (here the true scientist betrays himself!) and their effect on my heart rate and blood pressure, which I plotted in imaginary graphs. In the same way that I started keeping track of how many times I looked at the clock in spite of admonishing myself not to. Loulé knew that I was waiting for her, of course, and there was every chance that she was staying away so long for that very reason. Because however faithful she was in reality, there was nothing she liked better than to project the idea that she was not (or, to be more precise: that she might be unfaithful, at any moment of the day), probably under the assumption that it increased her attractiveness – and that was something she would go to any lengths to do. When I was away in the lab, and she, taken by the unsavory individual that I had seen near our house for a few mornings now, hikes her skirt up, with a move of her arm on the white marble countertop, slid the crockery to the side so that it clatters to the floor (what movie was that in?). Or in the restaurant in the evening, when she excuses herself to “powder her nose”, the man at the table next to us who had been staring at her the whole time happens to also get up and follow her to the restroom, where they are now going at it; rearing her head back, with her red-brown hair cascading into the sink. No wonder she’s taking so long. When she comes back, she’ll make like her cheating is something like lighting a cigarette at the table, which she knows I don’t like and which she tries to compensate for with her endearing smile and brushing my knee with her hand, as if in exchange for that you’re obligated to take everything she dishes out. Of course, that unfaithfulness was only in my imagination. But once she figured this out, she used it to great advantage. It had always been like that, even when I just met her. It was in the espresso bar where she worked. I used to go there in the afternoons and watch her, from behind my newspaper, how smoothly she moved between the tables, brushing aside an imaginary lock of hair that didn’t fall across her face, placing a hand on her hip as she waited for an order, the way she pressed her left knee against the bar when she passed it on to the barista. I looked at a lot of young women, but she was the one who looked back. “Three thirty-nine.” She dropped the cup on the table with a clank, so the coffee spilled out, giving me the chance to complain about it, which meant speaking to her. (Three thirty-nine? That’s not what an espresso costs. My infected memory!) Six weeks later, I ended my marriage. It was in that same espresso bar that she introduced me to that Loger, a guy who washed the dishes there, or something. Heavyset, big bruiser, who I didn’t believe for a moment had anything going on with her. She only let him put his arm around her waist because I was watching. Once, after I was with her, and she had quit the café, we ran into him in the Leidsestraat. Because we were walking arm in arm, I could feel the way she shuddered, such was her revulsion to him. She pretended not to see him, and turned her face away.
Nothing for her because she liked nothing better than being seen. It was for her sake that I took her along to the receptions and dinners that I never went to before. At the faculty club, old Bosnak dropped his glass when I showed up with her. Normally he’d be the last one to leave, but this time his wife insisted they go soon after we arrived. Members who had never met me crowded around, suddenly terribly interested in the biochemical structure of the cerebral cortex. But really in Loulé (where did he find her? Where do I get a Loulé?). I heard her ringing laugh rising from a group that had gathered around her. But at other occasions, she was ignored, and from people who I had previously counted as friends I was met with hostility and distrust. “And I always took him for such a loser,” you could hear them thinking. “One of those musty old academics. We’re on to you, old man. We’ll be keeping an eye on you from now on.” I asked Loulé to start dressing more mature.
I would have preferred to stay home, myself, but Loulé loved going out. Why didn’t she stay at home more, now that I had erased the last traces of Eva, as she had demanded? After a dramatic home renovation, she had to finally feel comfortable here. She had to. The spotless white marble kitchen, the redecorated bedroom in soft pink complete with four-poster bed and all the windows, right down to the smallest, specially fitted with screens, because she was terrified of insect bites on her baby-smooth skin. These were the things that made her happy. But if she had come to me because she saw in me a good father for the children she so wanted, she was sorely disappointed. If it was true that I had ever promised her anything of the kind, in some unguarded moment, I could certainly not recall it. So instead, a house full of animals. Cleopatra, the Persian cat that the help had to brush every day, studied me haughtily from the dresser. When I wanted to collapse in my armchair, there was a hamster in it already. But the one I got along with the least was Barabbas, the white cockatoo, an ill-mannered, maladjusted beast with offensive beak. Whenever he saw me, his comb went up and he began to shriek. Loulé always said that was his greeting. She always wanted me to pet him.
“Just pretend it’s me,” she said, as I reluctantly scratched his head.
Thankfully, she was never interested in my work. Even better, she remained unaware of the existence of the other menagerie that I kept at the lab. Even as Loulé was at home with white mice on her lap, letting them lick milk from her finger, I was conducting what she would have called, had she known, the most abominable experiments on other mice just like them, in what was for her an inconceivable, mad, and perverted world. As I entered the one, I had to forswear the other. Most of the time I had little trouble doing this, and it was only a very few times that I ever unwittingly hoisted one of Loulé’s darlings by the tail in one hand, holding a scalpel in the other. Loulé's piercing scream brought me to my senses, and with an innocent smile I would let the poor thing go on his merry way. In the lab, it was no more than once or twice that Oerlemans caught me petting one of the rats.
A glance at the clock. I looked away again instantly, but it didn't matter - it counted. I had lost the bet with myself. Again. Almost two o’clock. What could possibly be keeping her? Decided to lie down. And despite my best intention to stay awake, I must have dozed off because suddenly there she was in front of me. The gleaming new pale blue dress she appeared in seemed to light up and hurt the eyes. And her perfume I had never smelled before (since she had come in quiet as a mouse so as not to wake me, it must have been that unfamiliar perfume in my nostrils that did it). Right away, I wanted to tell her the news. I raised a bandaged finger, produced a few unintelligible noises, and drifted off again.
“Oh no, you didn’t piss off Barabbas again?” I just heard her angry voice say. “Can I never leave the two of you alone?”
It was only at breakfast that she found out that this time, it wasn’t Barabbas who had got me.
“So, you’ll get a patent on it, right?” she asked as she stirred her gluten-free muesli.
Leibschnitter’s shadowy connections had finally come through: the chimpanzees had arrived. And it was one fateful evening, at the end of that unforgettable, sweltering summer, when the last rays of the sun danced off the wall full of test tubes and made even Oerlemans’ bald head to take on a melancholy glow. The kind of atmosphere where you can easily see something human in a chimpanzee. That miserable balding one, for example, the one who just kept staring at me through the bars, had something despondent in her eyes. Like Eva, my ex-wife, almost completely banished from my thoughts since Loulé. But Oerlemans, whose job it was to observe the animals day and night, assured me that this was a sullen, passive specimen that could not even stand up for herself when the others stole her food. A frightful racket jarred us to attention. That malevolent male, that we had dubbed Caligula, had sprung up against the cage and was shaking the iron bars. I took the cattle prod in my hand. He exploded in rage. Eva had long since retreated to the farthest corner of the cage. Eva and Caligula. Oerlemans was right: animals with characters as different as these were perfect for our experiments.
Exactly what you could imagine happened. I had seen it before my eyes so many times, that it had to go wrong sometime. It was only the timing that could have surprised me. A thousand times I had warned her to be more careful, because Loulé drove with the same reckless abandon that she did everything else in her life with. It had to happen sometime, and it did: hit by a truck as she made a sudden left turn coming out of the shopping center. Her car crushed like a tin can. No one understood how she could have possibly come out of it alive. Because they just happened to bring her to a hospital in the same complex where I worked, I could see her night and day. She was in a coma. For hours I sat with her, her hand in mine, stroking her cheek, playing with her hair. She’ll be fine, the treating doctor had assured me, none of her vital organs had been damaged. Sitting with her for so long, without being able to do anything, it was unavoidable that my thoughts began to wander to my work. Those last experiments had been successful. After we transplanted Caligula’s Bazorov into Eva’s skull, she not only exhibited Caligula’s aggressive behavior, but she could perform the fairly complicated tasks to get food that we had only taught Caligula. Meanwhile, Caligula’s mighty frame, which now housed Eva’s Bazorov, was under heavy sedation and it looked as though we would be able to perform the same ego transplant in reverse. But there was so much we still didn’t know: was Caligula’s Bazorov calling all the shots in Eva’s body now, or were any of host Eva’s characteristics still having an effect? We couldn’t even rule out the possibility that Caligula was adding certain traits to Eva, but was more like a passenger rather than the driver. As soon as we had any certainty on this, I would publish. The question was, would Loulé wake up in time to share my renown?
It seemed to me that her forehead was beading with sweat. The room was stuffy. Why do they keep hospitals so hot? She was wearing far too much. Luckily, I was there to pay attention to these things. Gently, I began to disrobe her. Who had put this sweater on her? Underwear she didn’t need either. I draped everything carefully over the back of a chair. I couldn’t help letting my eyes wander along the beautiful contours of her body, now that she was completely nude and I never saw her like this, so motionless save for the barely perceptible swell of her still shallow breathing. A perfect body… The next thought I had, I rejected immediately. Tore it out at the root before it could grow. I could hardly bear to think that I had even thought it. Doesn’t mean anything, I comforted myself. Only because your whole work is about body transplants, and you’ve been sitting alone for so long with this entrancing shell, whose inhabitant is away on vacation… I covered her, pulled the sheet up to her chin. Less distraction. I took her hand in mine. To keep my thoughts from going back to that place, I focused all my attention on just that hand. Her nail polish was peeling, I noticed. She wouldn’t like that. When she woke up, the first thing she would do would be to touch up her nails. She was very particular about that. She wouldn’t want to be lying here like this. I found the bottle in her handbag on the nightstand. Carefully, I went to work, taking her delicate fingers in my hand one by one, carefully painting her nails rose red. Occasionally I looked up at her face. It looked like she was smiling about what I was doing. It really was quite an unbelievable coincidence, wasn’t it, I thought, as the idea came back to me that I now admitted conditionally, only as a purely theoretical possibility, at this moment that we reached a decisive stage, Loulé was there, prepared, as it were. Success is taking advantage of the circumstances that come your way. If the infamous Dr. O. (as the media would refer to him as soon as news of this got out) had not unleashed his foul carnal desires, if the procureur des konings had not caught him in the act, if he had not fled to the north and applied to my department of all departments, and if that stone-deaf old dotard had not delivered me the wrong mail, the Nobel prize would have passed me by. The great statesman, the chess master, the successful stockbroker and the brilliant scientist all have one thing in common: they take advantage of the circumstances that come their way. My merit up to now was that I had seen mine. Or rather, smelled it (Oerlemans’ cold sweat). Now, once again, opportunity had arrived. Should I leave it lying here? To my esteemed colleagues on the faculty board, who will be the first to read this and judge me, I say: you didn’t see her. That opportunity, in the form of that young body, in full bloom, as it lay there stressed out in all its glory, simply screamed to me to be used. If you, esteemed gentlemen of the faculty board, had seen it with your own eyes, had been looking over my shoulder when I lifted up the sheet for a glance once again, you would understand.
“I’m going to steal you,” I whispered in her ear, “possess you like no living being before me has ever possessed another.” If opportunity makes the thief… But for right now, who is to say that what I was about to do was a crime? This is what I said to Oerlemans when I had summoned him. He watched silently as I took a foot in my lap to paint her toenails. “You have to look at it from the other side,” I continued, as I painted her little toe. From the side of the chimpanzees. How many more of them are we to sacrifice? Surely he had seen the misery in Eva’s eyes as she stared through the bars. Like there was something human in them. Or did these things escape him completely? Did he look the other way on purpose? Did he not have an ounce of feeling in his entire body?
“And if you intend to keep your job here,” I went on, as I drew her other foot into my lap, “you would do well to never say the name Leibschnitter. Not in my presence. Leibschnitter is a reprobate and a scoundrel. A person like that should be locked up” (the twitch on Oerlemans’ face betrayed his thoughts) “...or put immediately before the firing squad. No gentle remedies here. But our problem is, what are the Chinese doing? We have to make that breakthrough happen, before they beat us to it.”
I stopped. The room was silent save for the gentle rustling of the respirator. The kind of quiet that precedes historic decisions. Oerlemans and I both looked to the sheet covering Loulé. It looked like she had moved, just a little.
“And surely we can’t let this go unused?”
With a sudden movement I tore the sheet away from her. Oerlemans recoiled. Which of his crimes did the sight of this naked body reminded him of ? Once again I realized how much I had him in my power. I could count on him to carry out my plan.
Now that the decision had been made, I felt time was running out. Had I already seen her lips move, hear her murmur something? Maison Aimée, unless I was mistaken. How moving, that her first thought was her new clothes, but it did mean that she could come around at any moment. Still, this was not the only reason that we were forced to steal her away in the dead of night, bed and all, and roll her to the hastily prepared operating room, me in front to scout ahead, Oerlemans just roused from bed and stumbling along like a sleepy magician’s apprentice holding the IV, and the duty nurse pushing Loulé’s bed, whispering to us conspiratorially, a rush of excitement on her face because we luminaries had taken her into our confidence. It also had to do with the prejudices of the people and my fellow doctors who would not be able to stomach that it was I who first crossed that boundary. It was for that same reason that my body, after it had been placed under anesthesia and my Bazorov had been exchanged with Loulé’s, had to be secretly stored in the mortuary. This was the only part that the duty nurse raised an eyebrow over. I reserved the operating room for one week later, but I instructed Oerlemans to keep himself available in case I wanted to come back earlier, just in case. That grin on his face as he assisted me with the final preparations I ignored. Any malicious intent he tried to act on would be foolhardy. Which he soon would discover, when he read the letter I had given him and requested he open as soon as the operation was done: I had drafted a summary of all his various crimes. The original letter had been given to a notary with the instruction to open it if I did not return within the agreed period. So that was Oerlemans taken care of. But I must admit that when I lay there, prepped on the operating table - I must have looked quite absurd with my head half shaved, on the side where the incision had to be made - and I went over the last instructions with Oerlemans, a wave of excitement stifled my throat. And likewise, he as my only witness must have been impressed by the historic nature of the event, even though he gave no sign that he was. I would be the first to cross the threshold, the physical barrier of the self, and make the decisive step into the other. Until recently, the bridging of those last few meager centimeters had seemed more impossible than traveling to the end of the universe. The greatest journey of all time. That it was to be taken by this half-shaven figure of a man, to all appearances ridiculous, strapped down to an operating table, was difficult to accept for those of little imagination (which was why Oerlemans simply kept smirking). What oceans would I sail? On the shores of what new world would I soon be alighting? Compared to me, Columbus was barely a Boy Scout.
My new world: the first awakening. The discovery of possessing breasts, the roundings of belly and hip, pubic mound and soft labia, every part I touched and explored for a long time. An elegant leg, I lifted, and it moved. Yes, it really belonged to me. On the left thigh, I inspected the almond-shaped birthmark. Loulé’s hallmark. I took every part of me in with a mixture of admiration, confusion, rudiments of an old, familiar lust and the first sensations of the unprecedented new. Completely unexpectedly, I also experienced shame. I was ashamed of myself, that it was me placed within this body. How far can you go in the name of science? My first urge was to reach for the telephone and alert Oerlemans. What was today? Tuesday. He wasn’t usually in the main building on Tuesdays. Better to page him. What was his number? Strange. The only number that I could think of was 339. There was something about that number. Something that had to do with Tuesday. From within Loulé’s handbag, still in the same place next to the bed, I delved into her calendar. In my previous life I had already seen it: on the page for today, there it was. I hadn’t been wrong: the number was 339. But a shock went through me when I read what was written next to it. THE BEAST. I flushed, my neck, I didn’t know it was possible, but I blushed with my whole body. A strange, never-before experienced excitement came over me. Why was I shaking? What was I experiencing, what was happening to me.? Oerlemans must have miscalculated: libidinous adhesion stronger than expected. From the unexpected depth of a memory that could not have been mine, something arose that was disturbing, and at the same time so terrifyingly irresistible…
“I shouldn’t be experiencing this, Oerlemans,” I muttered. These alien desires of Loulé – was Oerlemans’ criminal mind behind this? Had he known more and kept his mouth shut? As soon as I was back, I would get it out of him. But right now I had to hurry.
Unnoticed, I slipped from the hospital and called a taxi. Where Loulé would go first, I had no doubt.
“That would look great on Loulé, Dr. Zwattelitz,” I said to my reflection in the fitting room at Maison Aimée – “yes, she would have definitely bought that.” Because I had to keep making the distinction. Under any circumstances, whatever happened, I had to keep speaking to myself to keep from losing myself. At the counter, I waited impatiently for my new clothes to be packed up. How slow some women move! Women who have no idea that other people might be in a hurry to get to an urgent appointment. Then a quick trip to Hunkemöller. Where I had to go after that was walking distance. Hotel Majestic, the trendiest in town. I knew that Loulé would settle for no less. Her natural balance preserved, I strode effortlessly on her stiletto heels.
“Dr. Zwattelitz,” I continued to think to myself, as I clacked along the sidewalk, “now you’re not just a scientist – you’re also a private eye. A private eye in the ultimate disguise. As soon as you’ve got the evidence, get out of there. Make no mistake.”
A taxi driver at a stoplight rolled his window down just to whistle at me. No time to look. Watch it, that manhole cover. It was only thanks to Loulé’s dexterity that I stayed standing. What I didn’t like was that the doorman who held the door for me greeted me as if he knew me. How often had she been here?
It was only in the elevator that the panic set in. What was I doing, what was I going to let happen? I had to get out before it was too late. “Help!” I wanted to scream to the elderly couple next to me in the elevator, “I have to get out of here, I’m in the wrong body, can’t you see that?” I wanted to press the alarm button to stop the elevator, but it had already stopped on the third floor.
“Have a nice day,” the couple said, and moved aside to let me out. Dimly lit hotel corridor. The carpet dampened every sound. Now that I had come so far, I might just as well sneak closer and then make my getaway. But I knew that every step I took brought me inescapably further towards what Loulé should never have let herself get into. Even though I now understood how little the poor child could resist this force stronger than herself. If even I…
In golden numbers, room 339. I stood in front of it, shaking in all my limbs. Don’t knock. I knew that this door had to stay closed. Run, disappear, dissolve into nothingness. But the beast had already smelled his prey through the door. He opened it.
“Is he still falling for the clothes trick?” Loger asked. He had already started tearing the clothes from my body, because I didn’t have to answer because he knew everything. So that’s it. And me? How was it possible? Did you really not see anything, how many t’s was it again, not a single thing, a z at the beginning and wasn’t there another one?
“Give me a child,” I whispered. “Give me a child!” I screamed.
I knew that it would be getting a good father.
CHILD DESIGN INC.
“Have something in mind, or are you still looking?” the child designer asked. He was a young man, in fact he looked so young that Carl figured he couldn’t possibly be as young as he looked. If he was that young there was no way he could have made it to the job he had here. His beaming . . . smile revealed dazzling white teeth. A little too white, Carl thought. Definitely implants. And his eyes? Maybe it was the contrast with his dark skin tone, but they were just too pale blue to be true. Tinted lenses. Definitely. Every bit as unnatural as his speech affectation, high society gay. “Please call me Serge,” he had said when he introduced himself, offering a limp handshake. Carl was sure that the loathing at first sight was mutual. But his wife didn’t share that sentiment. He knew Lizzie well enough to know that she was impressed, big time. By this mega-homo majordomo, and by the whole package: the bulbous reception area on the twenty-second floor, all in glass, even the walls so anywhere you looked you had a truly spectacular view of this part of Amsterdam: the shithole that used to be known as Bijlmer, until it rebranded itself as Zuidas. The gleaming white marble reception desk, which bore the name of the company in ostentatiously large and stylized letters:
CHILD DESIGN INC.
From the corner of his eye, Carl looked at her face. He knew that she wouldn’t come straight out with it – not right away. She wasn’t the type of woman to make straight for the things she really wanted. She much preferred to first explore every possible diversion, and then vacillate until he got fed up and made the decision for her, the decision she had already made in the first place.
“I think my husband wants to look around a little bit first,” Lizzie answered, throwing Carl the tender glance that he never saw at home anymore.
To all appearances a loving, successful couple. He, 40s, stuffed into a tailored Boss suit. Leaning towards overweight, thanks to too many business lunches that the hours in the gym weren’t quite making up for anymore. She, not unattractive, noticeably younger than he, you thought from a distance. But from a little closer you could see that she should really get a move on if she was going to have a shot at what she came here for. But all that aside, certainly not a marriage you would think had almost gone to pot due to one George Clooney. In hindsight, he blamed himself for not seeing the dramatic proportions her George Clooney fixation had taken until it was too late. He didn’t say anything when it was just watching Ocean’s Eleven, The American, and Three Kings, over, and over, and over. When she would sneak out of bed to watch them again when she thought he was asleep. That she called out that name when they… His name was Carl, not George. “You’ll get used to it,” Dr. Weintraub had said. Just like he always said. And, he had added, once she gets pregnant, you’ll see that this sort of thing goes away by itself. Carl hated Dr. Weintraub, but what could he do, since his insurance had assigned him to this putz. This balding former hippie who smelled like weed and wore the last little bit of hair still clinging to the back of his head in a ponytail. Who made it seem like whatever it was didn’t matter in the slightest. Whatever his patients said or did, didn’t mean a shit to him. He just kept looking at you over his reading glasses with that sleepy stare. You could tell that he was fighting to stay awake. Carl had thought of finding another shrink, of course. But then he would’ve had to pay for it himself. So he stayed. Even if that putz didn’t understand the first thing about him. Not that Carl didn’t worry about his wife. But about himself. About his losing sleep. He knew that, after she had watched that much George Clooney and finally crawled into bed with him, in the wee hours before morning, she expected something from him. Ever since he had figured this out, he could never really fall asleep while she was watching movies, because whether he wanted it or not, he was waiting for it. Lying there waiting for it. Losing sleep over George Clooney.
There was a time when it was something not that different from ordinary jealousy, except slipperier, because it played out in a digital realm and not as a tangible manifestation. But gradually it became clear that this was planting the seed of a much more dramatic, and ultimately all-encompassing delusion. All his struggles in the world, everything that gave rise to horror or disgust in him, had coalesced into that one leering mug: George Clooney’s. Grinning at him from the screen when Lizzie put a movie on for the umpteenth time and he hadn’t had time to clear the room, from an ad in a magazine that he had opened unsuspectingly, from a poster for his latest movie, The Monuments Men, from those commercials for Nespresso, which he had stopped drinking the first time he saw one, which didn’t help either. All that, he could have put up with. But the breaking point came on the morning of this past twelfth of June, in Amsterdam, near their home, as he was just about to get into his BMW where it was parked alongside the houseboats on the canal. A man was coming out of one of them. And the space between the car and the scooter parked next to it was too narrow for the man to get through before Carl had got in the car. So for one unexpected moment they had to stand eye to eye, so close that Carl could have reached out and touched him. The man coming off the gangway was dressed in white from head to toe and was wearing a captain’s cap with gold braiding. And then Carl saw who it was. He could only stare at this apparition in disbelief. Could it really be him, or was he so far gone that he was starting to hallucinate? “You’re… you can’t be…” was all he could stammer. The man tapped the brim of his cap with a sardonic smile, as Carl had seen in whatever goddamn movie it was (or was it the coffee commercial?). It was him, in the flesh: George Clooney. But even if he believed it himself right at that moment, thinking about it later of course it couldn’t possibly have been him. Which was the disturbing thing. The night before, he had hardly slept because of George Clooney. Obviously his obsession had become so strong that the next day he was imagining running into him in person. Which was one step too far and that’s how he had ended up as a patient of Dr. Weintraub.
“Have you ever considered the possibility,” the doctor asked, suppressing a yawn, “that maybe it really was him?” Americans are crazy about Old Amsterdam, he said. And there were plenty of celebrities who get off on hiding out somewhere, like a houseboat, for a couple of days. Strictly incognito. Short stay. In fact, all the people who own those houseboats have a little club for that, that arranges that kind of thing. But Carl wasn’t having it. Not then, right after that sleepless George Clooney night. Too much of a coincidence. Besides which, there was something not quite right. How old would George Clooney be now? The guy he had seen looked a lot younger. “He’s had work done,” Weintraub replied as he took off his glasses to rub his eyes. “All the stars have.”
Weintraub hadn’t. Without his glasses, the dark bags under his eyes stood out even more. He looked tired and worn out, which is a bad thing in someone whose job it is to listen to you and act interested. If he invested in a procedure like he had just accused that movie star of having, he could ratchet up his hourly fee some, the businessman in Carl couldn’t help thinking. Of course, a George Clooney would only do business with the most expensive plastic surgeons there are. But even still, it couldn’t have been him. For Carl, it was absolutely clear that he was suffering from George Clooney on the brain. And so ensued a pointless discussion in which the shrink, just too lazy to go into it any deeper, argued the position that the patient would normally take, and vice versa. He would have much rather taken some pills and been done with it. But instead it seemed he would have to keep coping with his condition with no prospect of getting better. Every corner he walked around, every elevator he stepped out of, every room he stepped into, at any moment he might come face to face again with that damn movie star, that devilish schadenfreude in that grin of his. In the old days, when he hadn’t known Lizzie that long, they used to take walks along the canals, on Sunday mornings when the tourists and the traffic aren’t so bad. Sunlight reflecting off the tall windows in the stately canalside houses. The famous “Golden Bend”, the most breathtaking part of Amsterdam’s most breathtaking canal. Hand in hand. Their golden age? Could hardly even imagine it now. They never did that anymore. Not since Lizzie had seen a dead cat floating down one of the canals with seagulls picking at it. Or was it because they weren’t in love anymore? That’s what Dr. Weintraub had asked, when Carl had gone and told him that. Well, you had to do something. You can’t just sit there for forty-five minutes staring at each other in silence, can you? Dead cat, he saw the psychiatrist put down on his notepad, the one and only thing he wrote down during that session (Carl was pretty good at reading upside-down, a handy skill in business meetings). But after that encounter, imaginary or not, he stayed away from every waterside where there might be a houseboat. The canals, the housefronts, everything in this city had stayed solid and stable since his youth and far before that. Only he, he had changed: reduced to a shadow of his former self: unstable, hiding out from a phantom George Clooney that might reappear at any time, any place.
He never spoke to Lizzie about it. Last night’s disagreement was about something else. They had decided it was time to have a child. (Dr. Weintraub’s observation that it would go away by itself at that point had played more than a minor role in this.) And as happened so often now that you could choose, it was a fight about whether it should be a son or a daughter.
“My heart’s set on a daughter,” she had said, with the look in her eyes that should have told him as clear as day. She knew damn well that he always wanted a son. He was always obliging, but this time he dug in his heels. So did she. Late at night, he proposed a compromise: since they couldn’t agree, why not just let nature take its course, like people used to? Gah! Her gorge rose at the very suggestion. She had no idea he was so old-fashioned, that he still lived in the Stone Age. What kind of monster would leave something as important as your child to random chance? Gamble at your poker games, not with your child! There she hit a nerve. A few nights back he had lost a fair amount of money playing poker. After that, he had no choice but to give in. The only thing left to agree on was what their daughter would look like. She had already made up her mind about that, too: Angelina. He was taken aback. Certainly was all the rage these days, but wasn’t it kind of pricey? For lack of anything better, he fell back on the old standby: “I’d just really like our child to have something special, something totally her own, you know what I mean?”
“I know what you mean: you mean you’re going to get stingy when it comes to your kids. Even though every study shows that beautiful people have a better life. From day care on, in school, in job interviews, who they have a shot at fucking. So why the hell wouldn’t you pick a model with a proven success rate?”
There was not a lot he could say in response. The evenings that followed were not unpleasant. She recognized that he really did have to look around before making a definitive choice. So he had license to check out websites, not only Angelina’s but a lot of the other stars baring it all online. She didn’t even bat an eye when he pulled down a long-unopened suitcase from the attic, which turned out to be full of a collection of yellowed photos of Kim, Bo and Elle, fond memories of his youth (jacked off for the first time out in the bike shed). Indeed, their impending parenthood breathed new life into their relationship.
At Lizzie’s response the child designer flipped a switch, bringing down a screen to show them the most popular models. Around the time of the medical breakthrough that had made copying DNA profiles possible, Child Design Inc. had made the very smart move of licensing the look of the world’s biggest stars. Of course, no one could guarantee that as the child grew up, he or she would have the exact same look as the examples shown here. But the service included a subscription for the plastic surgery department, so any complaints could be taken care of immediately.
“And the birth?”
“Your birth is just like any other. Or, actually, even better: you know what you’re getting.”
Lizzie shot a glance at her husband. The painful part was that he knew what was going through her head: sure, I can let nature take its course, but then I run the risk of the baby looking like him. She had been married to him long enough to detest the thought. Once, back in the Golden Bend days, they had been in love, and if they had decided to have kids right away, back then, it might have been different… but the benefit of older and wiser is that you don’t react as emotionally as you used to. Put the child’s interest first. Like with every new technology, there were the naysayers who claimed that at a certain age the child was going to hit an identity crisis. At the age when the child discovered that she wasn’t the only one, but there were ten or twelve other genetic look-alikes of Jennifer, Cameron, Pamela, and of course, Angelina, running around at school. But that’s something that you deal with by talking to your child. And showing her exactly where she came from. That’s something she can see with her own eyes, because of course as good parents, hers had not only recorded every aspect of the birth from start to finish, from the arrival at the clinic to the cutting of the umbilical cord – good parents go back even further, all the way to conception, and explain all that, too. Luckily Lizzie and Carl had been smart enough to record everything, from their first coitus on. The camera was there to make sure that when the time came, the kids knew everything and could see it with their own eyes (“...watch, now here’s where your father’s penis penetrates my vagina…”) what really brought them here. It was the same reason the recorder on the table between them was on; even the consultation with the child designer was being recorded, so when the child started asking questions she could hear for herself how her parents had made the responsible choice for her physical appearance.
Like, for example, the breathtaking design that Serge had now conjured up on the screen. Her eyes were striking, grey-green like Audrey Hepburn’s. But when you looked closely you saw that the left one was slightly different than the right: it had a little brown in it. “Different color eyes,” Serge explained as he pointed with his laser pointer. “Pretty bold choice. But it’s really becoming a trend. Maybe a little daring, not for everybody... then you’ve got something really exclusive. But you need to be daring.”
“What a beauty,” Lizzie sighed. “But those lips – aren’t they too… puffy?” “That’s really in style right now,” Serge answered, somewhat stung. He began to wonder whether these people were really in his target group. Maybe they couldn’t even afford it and were just wasting his valuable time. He reached to grab one of the magazines on the table and flipped it open. Yes, the lips on the model on the very first page he opened to were exactly like in the design. As he flipped through, you saw that every single star, every model, every celebrity in it, without exception, had those same lips. That clinched it for Lucy. Carl knew that it was high time to intervene, or else it was just going to get more expensive.
“We had actually already decided,” he said hastily. “We decided on... Angelina.”
“Good choice,” Serge said, pressing a few buttons in the blink of an eye and changing tack like a seasoned salesman. There she was on the screen already, first in full glory (if somewhat more modest glory than in the illegal copy he had watched last night), and then in baby version.
And even Carl, who until now had not been much of a baby person, had to admit it: you could just see it in those tiny little features on that tiny little baby, where she was derived from. Lizzie clapped her hands together. Those adorable ears! That precious little nose! Those pouty lips! Like a little cuddly Angelina doll! Tears welled up in her eyes. A whispered “How sweet...” was all she could manage to say. She had that same wistful look that she once, in another lifetime, had for him. He had forgotten that she could ever look like that. But now that look was going to cost him money, a whole lot of money. He was prepared for it, but when Serge told them the price he still turned white. And what was their guarantee? What if Serge here was not a master designer at all, but a master fraud? If it turned out to be all a scam, and the product came out an unsightly hag, the bosses of Child Design Inc. would be long gone, laying on a beach in Bermuda with all their cash. But it was already too late: there was no changing Lizzie’s mind now.
There was no denying that Dr. Weintraub had been right about one thing: since she had gotten pregnant, Lizzie had lost all interest in George Clooney. Not once had he caught her watching his movies in the middle of the night, or even going to his fan page – not even once. And the closer it came to the big day, the crowning moment of their revitalized relationship, he even started to think that when she lay in his arms, she wasn’t imagining being in George’s.
Everything had been made ready for that special day. Family, friends and acquaintances had been invited and the response was so tremendous that a grandstand had been set up in the operating room, which was now packed to capacity. Not leaving anything to chance, Lizzie and Carl had hired a professional video crew. And the audience wouldn’t have been complete without child designer Serge. Just a precaution - if one of those little ears or a corner of that cute little mouth was not to the customer’s satisfaction, there were procedures for that, a little adjustment, a minor makeover, all covered under warranty of course.
Because it wasn’t a high-risk birth, Dr. Weintraub as his psychologist didn’t have to be physically present, but he was following it on the monitor on his desk and had a live connection with the operating room. With the bare-bones rates the insurance paid this was only barely financially viable, and only because he could monitor multiple births at the same time on multiple connections. As father-to-be, Carl had a direct connection to Dr. Weintraub by headset. This was actually required, because the latest figures from the National Bureau of Statistics indicated that strangulations of newborns had increased dramatically in the last reporting period, particularly in the higher income brackets.
When the big moment arrived, a cheer went up even before the umbilical cord was cut and the proud father could lift the newborn baby up for the whirring cameras and forest of mobile phones. And it wasn’t even Carl who saw it first, because from the grandstand there were already cries of excitement and surprise. Only then did he see it, too: it’s a boy!
“Surprise, surprise!” Lizzie called out, clapping her hands. She was already sitting straight up in bed, hair done and made up for the recording. The camera zoomed in on the bewildered face of Carl. That was the exact moment that Carl lost it. Overcome by all the joy, the tears streamed down his cheeks. Without telling him, she had made them implant the boy gene instead of the girl gene after all. And had even kept it a secret all this time! So she could make sure to make his dream come true and give him the surprise of his life. This was the ultimate, true love. How he had misjudged her!
He just couldn’t get enough of parading the baby to his family and friends, who all applauded and drummed their feet so hard that the grandstand might really have almost collapsed. Dr. Weintraub said something unintelligible in his ear, seemed to be trying to warn him about something that got lost in the tumult. If he had been there in person, Carl would have even let him into the group hug that spontaneously broke out on the grandstand. Who would have thought it! That this could ever happen to him. He could barely comprehend it. It was only when the initial surprise started wearing off that he took a real look at the baby for the first time. He started to recognize something, something in those dark brown eyes that gave him an uneasy feeling. And that mouth, that jawline, the whole face… there was no mistaking what was this was going to grow into, it was entirely clear who this was going to be, who this was…
“You’ll get used to it,” he heard Dr. Weintraub’s sleepy voice say in his ear, but it hardly registered. Everything around him began to blur, to disappear, faded into blackness. With the exception of the one, who he kept staring at in complete horror. Because there was no question about it: what he was holding, what he had rocked in his arms, was baby George Clooney.
“Now listen, Carl,” Dr. Weintraub’s voice squawked in his ear. “I get it, I really do, I know what you’re feeling. We’ve got to just talk it out in your next session. But right now, I want you to take a deep breath and keep listening to me. No, don’t do anything stupid, Carl. What’s that, what are you doing? Carl? Hands off – Carl, he’s turning blue, get your hands off of his neck! Now, right now, I’m telling you. Don’t make me call security… Are you listening to me? Can you hear me, Carl? Carl!”
Brendan first met her on a Friday evening when a cold wind swept across the East River into Brooklyn. It was a mild November until then but the time for overcoats and scarves had arrived as bitter winds sailed south on the Hudson to the boroughs.
He exited the Bedford Avenue station and prepared for a cold gust of air . . . channeling down the staircase, turning his head towards the banister. The Williamsburg streets were busy with people pouring into the bars to secure tables for the night. He walked down Driggs Avenue towards Grand Street where he was due to meet his roommate, Peter, at a bar they frequented the previous summer. The biting air clung to his shaven face while he waited at a set of traffic lights on Metropolitan Avenue to change colour. It was Peter’s friend’s birthday, a girl he studied drama with at Trinity. Peter convinced Brendan to attend after he first declined his invitation.
“I know you don’t know most of the old crowd but they’re all very nice. Besides it might be good for you to have a night out, Bren. Don’t you ever miss the old days? We’re not in our thirties yet.”
“The old days are a blur, Peter,” he said.
An evening with people he didn’t know well meant strained conversations and fighting the drink’s lure. He told himself to stick with stout, it was going to be a long night and if he allowed himself an early whiskey things could get away from him. The bar was wedged between two restaurants with blue steel bars covering the front windows, Iona engraved in gothic lettering above the door. The wooden furnishing and old photographs of Dublin gave the impression of an actual pub.
He ordered a pint, seeing Peter and the group sitting in the beer garden. The glass trembled in his hand as he approached them. Brendan tried to lock eyes with Peter who was rolling a cigarette and deep in conversation with a gangly boy with long, rakish hair hanging over his eyes. He hovered over the table for a minute before his friend, Hannah, saw him.
“Hey, Bren. God, it’s been ages,” she said, standing up and giving him a hug.
“Yes, long time no see,” he replied, holding his hand up to everyone in greeting. He ran a hand over his fringe and brushed back his dark curls.
Brendan took a seat beside Hannah and everyone continued with their conversations, their voices echoing around the beer garden. He sipped his stout, looking around the group. They were the types he never knew in university – beautiful and intellectual and wealthy.
“Can you believe it’s been over ten years since Freshers’ week? God we were so awkward,” a girl with auburn hair said. They all laughed and Brendan stared at the water dripping from the gutter onto the ground, this talk of old flings and lecturers boring him.
“That seems a long time ago,” the tall boy said. “Sure look at us now, scattered in all corners of the globe.” Brendan turned his head towards the door, as if expecting to see one of his friends but they were all far from Brooklyn.
“How’s work going, Bren? Hannah asked, taking a sip of her cocktail.
“Oh it’s fine, thanks. They’re letting me go home for Christmas so I can’t complain.”
“That’ll be great, Bren, Christmas at home is wild. Have you met my friend Sarah by the way?”
A girl with chestnut brown hair seated beside Hannah leaned forward. He hadn’t noticed her at first but she struck him there with her brown eyes, sitting on the bench in a denim jacket. Her hair was tied in a short bow with a red bobbin. She had a slim face with clusters of small freckles dotted on her cheeks.
“No, I don’t believe so. Nice to meet you.”
“You too, Peter’s told us a lot about you.”
“All good I hope.”
“Oh, it was a glowing review,” she said and smiled at him.
“Well, Peter’s always been a good liar,” he said, bowing his head.
“Who wants another drink?” Hannah asked.
“I’ll have the same,” Sarah said, holding up her empty glass. Her long fingers were wrapped around the pink straw hanging from the rim.
“What about yourself, Bren? Hannah asked.
“Sure, another pint thanks,” he replied.
He’d have to buy a round now so he didn’t look tight. She slid across the bench to face him.
“So how long have you lived here, Brendan?”
“Three years, Sarah.”
“It’s so different to Dublin, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it’s another world.”
She leaned her slender frame against the wall, the collar of a white blouse protruding from her black jumper.
“But I do miss Dublin at times,” he added.
“Yes, me too. Do you think you’ll stay here?”
“Hard to say. What about you?” Hannah returned with the drinks on a tray before she could answer. Brendan smelt their vodka as it crackled against the ice, tempting him to order a whiskey.
“It’s time for dancing, they’re all waiting for us at Copa. Everyone finish your drinks,” the tall boy announced. Brendan finished his pint, the cream slivering to the bottom of the glass, wiping some from his mouth. Sarah let out a short laugh.
“This is why I shouldn’t drink stout,” he said, wiping his lips with a napkin.
They stood up to leave, he waited outside for Peter while the others walked on. He was sporting a new haircut and silk shirt beneath his quilted jacket. The wind blew down the road, flanked between redbrick houses built behind low black gates and paved yards.
“Winter’s here now,” Peter said.
“Do you know that girl, Sarah?”
“We did a few plays together in Trinity.”
“She seems nice.”
“Don’t get any ideas, Bren,” he said.
“I wasn’t,” Brendan said, craving a drag of his cigarette.
The next bar was on a street corner beneath the Williamsburg Bridge. A tug boat drifted on the murky water, its city pennant flapping in the wind. People huddled underneath the streetlamps and blew into their cigarettes. There was a short queue, three girls in heavy make-up wearing short skirts stood ahead of them.
“I need a whiskey,” he said.
“I thought you were off the hard stuff,” Peter said.
The bouncer called them forward, Brendan produced his driving licence and waited for Peter inside the doorway. It was a narrow establishment with exotic music shaking the walls. Peter found the group by a set of tables, giving out hugs and pecks on the cheek. Brendan walked towards the bar, joining a crush of people crowded around the glossy countertop. Two men with slicked back hair wearing pressed shirts were whispering in each other’s ears and pointing at girls on the dancefloor. He squeezed beside them and ordered a bottle of beer with a whiskey. The music pierced his ears and he was kept waiting five minutes for a drink, handing over a twenty dollar note.
“It’s another five,” the bartender shouted, sleeved tattoos running down both his arms. He snatched a ten out of Brendan’s hand and walked over to a pair of tall blond girls flashing their credit cards.
Brendan decided to run after finishing his drinks, letting the cutting wind guide him home and delay his sorrow with a joint before bed. He drank his whiskey and then the beer in a few sips, squirming through dancing couples and back out into the night. The lights of the bridge rose and fell along the suspension cables, twinkling stars over the river. She was smoking a cigarette on the footpath.
“Are you leaving?”
“Not yet,” he said.”
“Can we share this? I can never finish a whole one.”
“Sure,” he said, walking towards her and extending his fingers beneath her grip on the filter.
“Thanks. I was just about to ask Peter for one,” he said, taking a deep drag and handing it back to her.
“You looked like a man who was making an exit.”
“I was just getting some air, it’s hard to catch your breath in there.”
“If you say so,” she said, dropping her arm and holding the cigarette by her waist. The glint in her eyes shone through the darkness.
“So you come here often?”
“First time, I haven’t been out in a while,” he said.
“Yes, Peter said you prefer staying in most nights,” she said, blowing out a wisp of smoke.
“He’s making me sound reclusive.”
“You were just leaving though?”
“I’ve exhausted all my small talk for an evening.”
“Same, my cheeks are also going red,” she said, handing him back the cigarette.
“They look fine from here,” he said, exhaling and tossing the cigarette on the ground. He clenched his jaw and darted his eyes towards the pavement.
“Come on, they might be getting worried about us.”
She tugged on the sleeve of his coat and pulled him towards the door. Brendan was flushed as she disappeared into the crowd, fearful of losing her to the night and its brazen boys. He ordered a whiskey to keep his tongue loose and thoughts sparse. She pushed off the bar, moving away from the group who were huddled together on the dancefloor, and back over to him. He stood against the wall, watching people dance and mouth the lyrics.
“You’re not in the mood for dancing?” she asked.
“I feel Peter does enough for both of us,” he said, the lampshade’s silhouette running down her cheek line.
“Yes, taller boys always look awkward dancing,” she said, looking up into his blue eyes with loose strands of silky brown hair falling over her eyelashes. He thought about reaching out and tucking them behind her ear, clasping his fingers around the glass.
“This place is so loud,” he shouted in her ear.
“You should see Berlin, the nights don’t get started until around four.”
“That sounds way too intense.”
“Yes, I much prefer just going to the pub.”
“Me too,” he said, wishing he had the nerve to take her hand in his.
The whiskey glazed Brendan’s vision and doubts as the night ran on. He felt himself falling deeper with each sip, prepared to profess something foolish to her.
“Are you going to ask me something?” She bit her bottom lip, piercing her cherry red lip gloss.
“I might,” he whispered, dropping his head and leaning in towards her when the lights came on.
“Everybody make your way to the exit,” one of the bouncers shouted while the music still played over the speakers.
She walked ahead of him, turning back and smiling. His chest felt weak watching her tread around the tables as time slipped through the shadows. Outside, she turned to face him on the top step, shifting the weight from her heels onto her toes. He wanted to grab the back of her neck and feel those lips against his until the bridge’s lights faded with the dawn. She glanced sideways, tucking her chin into a tartan scarf.
“Where to next then?”
“It’s getting late,” he said.
His throat was dry from the whiskey and tobacco. He didn’t want to just be a boy she flirted with, forgotten once the sun had risen over the flat rooftops. Peter and Hannah appeared outside and ushered them both into a taxi.
“Bring us home, we’ll drop the lads off first,” Hannah said from the front seat.
His heart sank, scrambling his thoughts to keep the night going. The car turned onto Broadway and drove under the rumbling rail tracks. There was a clamour about the night passed and all the ones soon to come.
“Do you have anything planned for you last day, Sarah?” Peter asked.
“Oh, not much. My flight’s in the evening so I won’t be delaying.”
“It’s a long journey to Berlin,” he said.
“Yes, ten hours from here.”
Brendan was silent, staring at the streets of Brooklyn through the window. The buildings melded through his drunken regard. Their knees hovered inches apart, never to touch. The taxi stopped outside their apartment complex and he stepped out, handing a ten dollar note to Hannah. He gripped the door handle, staring at her.
“Goodnight,” she said.
“See you soon.” The driver shifted gears and the car pulled away, cruising through the traffic lights.
“Bren, open the fucking door, I can’t feel my face,” Peter bellowed. He walked between two parked cars and up the stoop, turning the key.
They stumbled out of the elevator and into their apartment. Peter went straight to bed, leaving his tobacco on the dining table. Brendan rolled a cigarette and walked into his cold, dusty bedroom. He leaned his head on the window frame and struck a match, blowing into the pane. The golden towers of downtown sparkled under dark clouds. He finished half the cigarette and went to bed.
“Just let it go, Bren,” Peter said the following evening, offering scant consolation.
He blended his regret with whiskey. The rest of the weekend passed with a frost covering the pavements, spent fighting the fading of her grace from his heart.
Love is pain and comfort. Love is something easy to recognise. It pulls you into it's deathly strong grip and holds on to you forever. It hurts but it's worth it. But sometimes, the hurt is bad and just gets worse. Sometimes, love is never good. You think that you're okay, or you will be. Everyday you wake up and say . . . to yourself "Today will be a better day. I'll get better." But you won't, and you know you won't. One-sided love is a fate worse than death. It's like there's constantly a pair of large hands wrapped around your throat, preventing your breathing, blurring your vision. They don't even know how much you hurt though, and if they did, they wouldn't care. Love hurts, no matter what you do to try and fix that. It will always hurt. But love is a necessary to be classified as human. Humans have emotions, and one of the basic emotions they have is affection. Without feeling love towards something or someone, then you're no different from an animal. The feeling of love is like a constant strain on your heart and lungs. Your breath always catches when you see them and you can't breath for a few moments. It feels like someone is sitting on your chest, putting a heavy weight on your heart. Your stomach flutters and flips around, and you almost feel sick. It's constantly bad but oh so good. It's an essential part of living your life, and you can't escape that pain and comfort.
Love is like a rollercoaster, with the highs and lows; the ups and downs. Love will find you in the weirdest places -- a party, a sporting event -- and grab hold of your heart with an ungodly strength. Power. Lust. Love is all of those -- and more. For when you're in love, you feel as though you are the luckiest person . . . in the world . . . even if your love is an honest-to-God lunatic.
I've loved Ashley since I was ten. We started dating two years ago, when I asked her out to our Freshman Prom. At first, our love was everything I thought it would be . . . until Ashley became clingy, greedy, almost obsessive. I didn't like this new Ashley, yet I didn't leave her -- even when she pushed me away from my friends or followed me around wherever I went, as though she was a lost puppy dog. After all, I loved her and the idea of living without her -- while freeing -- scared me stiff.
We as humans do crazy things for love. No; love does crazy things to us. Love can drive a healthy person insane; a good girl into a rebel, a virgin into a slut. Look at what love did to Ashely. Look at what it did to me. For it was love that kept me attached to Ashley like glue . . . and has yet to loosen the bind. Sometimes, I think love is the most beautiful thing ever. Lately, however, love has been more of a chore. There are days when I wish I hadn't fallen in love in the first place, for once you've dived into a relationship, it's a whole lot harder getting out.
Funny thing about having friends is that you will rarely know if they are truly your friends. In my few years of life I have learned that sometimes your so-called friends will let you down. Sometimes you will find out that someone you would consider your friend is simply using you for his or her own benefit somehow. . . . Human beings are, for the most part, social creatures and require the mutual investment of time and effort into friendships with other people. Of course, there is an exception to every observation. To this observation, the exception is I.
I can honestly say that in my sixteen years of life I have only had one true friend. I met her when I was seventeen years old, and to this day I have only loved her more with each passing day. She has always been the only friend I've ever needed.
It's so difficult to see her this way. I'm staring at her, and she is staring back at me, but it isn't like before, it isn't like when we were in love. It really pains me to see her this way. Where the hell did things go wrong. I can't believe that I'm actually sitting here with a pistol on my lap contemplating whether I'm going to shoot her in head or just leave her here to rot. I had to do it. I had no choice. She would've killed me if I hadn't. Her hands are tied in front of her body with zip ties, and she is securely tied with a rope around the railing of the stairs leading out of the basement of our home. Blood is dripping from her eyes as she stares at me grinding her teeth as if savoring the taste of my flesh. She knows she can't get loose so she is calmly waiting for her opportunity to pounce.
I wrap my hand around the pistol grip tightly and I hold it up to the side of her head. I begin to cry uncontrollably.
"I-I love you, Jennifer." She stares up at me still grinding her teeth. All I see in her eyes now is hate and primal instinct when before I could find in her gaze the sweetest love I ever felt. Once again I say, "I will always love you, Jennifer." I squeeze back on the trigger, close my eyes. Fire and a single bullet exit the pistol, and enter her brain. Her body goes limp. Once again I am with no friends. I am all alone.
It was the night that he would never forget. How precisely it began was anyone’s guess, as the starting line was quite fuzzy. His earliest recollection involved finding himself driving along an empty road. The details were quite clear and easy to remember, as was the finish. The location was unrecognizable and the road . . . unknown, but the scenery looked a touch familiar. All was still, the trees hovering over the road lay silent with the dead of the breeze, and even the wheels and engine of the car emitted no sound, as if it were hovering over the road.
Before long he was out of the vehicle and in the company of a young girl, no older than twenty years of age. His world froze as he could not help but watch and admire the radiant gaze she casted towards him. Despite being well versed socially, this was a new experience for the young man. Her brown hair and brown eyes seemed to glow in a way that he had never witnessed from the formerly dull color, as the shine of her spirit illuminated his heart. As she approached him, he could not help as though feel like it were a fantasy, quite fitting, as he knew that he was indeed dreaming. Situations like this are restricted to the imagination and forbidden from reality. As she made her way towards him, a loud buzzing sound began to ring all around them, as the girl frantically placed a note in his hand.
Within the blink of an eye, Eric was back at home, waking up in his bed the next morning as the clock continued screeching in his eardrums...
Eric has just met the girl of his dreams, quite literally. Unbeknownst to him, this fantasy is going to become as real as the love and affection he feels towards her. However, nothing is ever easy when it comes to an attraction as strong as this one. All is fair in love and war, and as Eric is about to learn, the battle for his heart is just beginning...
Twenty-three years old and fresh out of college, Eric had enjoyed many a dream and dated many a woman; he was generally not the fantasizing daydreaming type. Nothing compared to the magnitude and unprecedented raw emotions that permeated from that dream however, as he took a few moments to collect himself as he sighed and reminisced about the night gone by.
As he walked into the bathroom to prepare himself for the day he just so happened to glance down at his hands before washing them, and he was thankful for doing so, as he saw something unusual on his hand. Eric was stunned, as something was written. A series of numbers appeared to be scribbled. The more he thought about the phenomenon, he seemed to recall a tingling sensation during the dream when she clutched his hand. Must be purely coincidental, his logic dictated towards him, despite the fact that he had not touched an ink pen in weeks and had not been in the vicinity of anything that provided a rational explanation. Was it possible that it was a message from the beautiful girl, some type of psychic or telepathic transference?
Eric’s heart skipped a beat at the notion that it might be her phone number, or some other type of communicative tool. It was not a phone number as there were only five digits, much to his chagrin. One, Four, Three, Two, was the series of numbers, at least from what he could gather as they were barely legible. The pattern failed to make any sense, and with nothing further in the way of clues or numbers, the distraught young man abandoned hope in his mystical search and had breakfast.
The despair and dismay of the day fades as Eric falls asleep that evening, replaced with the delight of the previous night as he begins to dream. Once more he finds himself with the gorgeous girl of his dreams, hair flowing like an angel as he holds her hand and opening his mouth to deliver a deep, tender kiss before he speaks. Might as well make the most of this dream after all! “What is your name?” he asks the delicate beauty in a soft voice.
“Emma Hill,” she responds with a voice as gentle as he could have imagined and as tantalizing as her rich brown eyes.
“My name is Eric London,” he mutters, his voice trembling more noticeably than at first.
She nods slowly, smiling. “Yes I know.”
“You do? How do you know me, I don’t recall ever having seen you at Coastal,” he replied, inferring the name of his alma mater. She stares blankly at him confusingly in response as if she does not understand.
“What did you give to me last night, your phone number?” he asks.
“I do not have a telephone machine. That is my address,” she replies.
It is now Eric returning the favor by delivering a look of confusion, a look that transforms into panic as the aroma of smoke fills his nostrils and an orange blaze of fire crawls along the ceiling. “We’ve got to get out of here,” he says tugging her hand.
Along the way out the door he lost his grip, finding himself outside as the fire slowly spreads along the rooftop. Emma appears in the doorway as Eric lifts himself up off the ground. He begins to feel dizzy, as he knows that he is drifting back. The dream will soon be over. “What street?” he shouts to her, acknowledging her initial message to him, and eager to learn of her location before he wakes up. “Badger Road,” she replies in what could best be described as an elegant whisper, as Eric awakens in his bed again, with her voice echoing in his mind as if she were there standing in the room beside him.
This time there was more information to aide in the search of telekinetic prowess, in the form of a name and street address. Furthermore it was Saturday, enabling Eric as much time as he needed to put on his detective hat and play the role of supernatural sleuth. Unfortunately it soon appeared as though all the time in the world would be of no help in uncovering any answers.
Inquiring into the whereabouts of 1432 Badger Road, Eric was saddened to find that there did not appear to exist any residence or address with that label anywhere, not in the United States or even nearby Canada for that matter. Although the girl said that she did not have a telephone number, Eric thought it was still worth a search in the directory, as he flipped through the yellow pages. There was no Emma Hill to be found, but he kept the page bookmarked in the hope of tracking down a relative. Things were quickly looking dire. In fact, there was no Badger Road anywhere to be found on any street map in a five hundred mile radius area. Desperate, he began phoning through each Hill in the book, casually and awkwardly asking for Emma, and receiving nothing but a response indicating a wrong number. After dialing four numbers he began to accept the fact that the dreams were based solely on a figment of his imagination. There was simply no trace of her to be found.
That is, until he found something a trifle unsettling. Given that it was 2008, he was able to conduct his search beyond the mere contours of a phone book and street map, spending twenty additional minutes scouring the Internet for proof of the existence of an Emma Hill residing at or near a Badger Road. Tucked away in the results provided by the search engine was a newspaper article from 1912 that positively matched her name and the street.
It was not a major headline adorned with any “extras,” rather it was nothing more than back page fodder, a side note. From the tiny microprint Eric could make out that the article involved some type of calamity, a fire of some sort. Three pictures were included in the article, and in the second photograph included a grainy image of the girl from his dream, Emma Hill. The terms “succumbed to fire at the age of twenty” and “Badger Road,” stole the breath from his chest as a shiver caromed down his spine and filtering throughout his extremities as if they were falling asleep.
Rising to his feet in order to shake off the unsettling feeling, the physical exertion was no match for the mental gymnastics that clamped down upon his mind and left him exhausted, uneasy, and struggling for answers. They were dreams. The experiences each night felt very artificial and surreal, with the exception of the aura of Emma and the searing heat of the fire. She was real, just as was the deadly blaze. The warmth of her presence was now replaced with a chill that clouded the air. If his worst thoughts were realized and she was a ghost, how did she know who he was? What more, what ulterior motives did her intentions entail? Eric had never met a ghost before, much less date one. He had not even believed in them, and now he was in love with one.
There was no official town historian that Eric could speak to in order to learn more about the incident, but an elderly neighbor of his did happen to work as a librarian, and was the best he could hope for. If this were a movie, the elderly man would know firsthand a wealth of information from the tragedy, and whom Emma Hill was, where she was born, died, and buried, in addition to merely knowing where she lived and the whereabouts of a Badger Road. This was real life and the elderly neighborhood had never heard of a girl with any such name or a road named after any wintry critter, although he was able to inform Eric that he might be able to find out from a source or two that knew the history of the town better than he did. When asked what his interest was, Eric lied and said that his cousin was doing a report on an off-mentioned historical remnant from the town.
Creating a fictional cousin and lying to the elderly to obtain information would generally be frowned upon, but Eric was justified in his actions given that there was no way he could tell anybody the truth. Three hours later, the phone rang and the raspy old voice of the elderly man began to speak, informing Eric that there was indeed used to be a Badger Road in town, and that it had been renamed Morrison Road after a city surveyor in the early 1930s. What more, this was not a faraway road in a mysterious area; Morrison Road intersected with a thoroughfare that Eric had recognized, given that it was distanced only a handful of miles away.
Initially wishing to wait until Sunday morning to investigate the area, his eagerness gets the better of him as he sets out to track down his gorgeous ghost, unwilling to leave his dreams up to chance that night of another encounter.
Pulling out of his driveway, his heart begins to beat as he shakes his head and lets out a nervous bout of laughter, “So it’s come to this! Can’t believe I’m actually doing this,” he says to himself. Within minutes he was rumbling down the busy thoroughfare of Range Road before making the turn onto Morrison road. Things began to feel a little bit eerie as he drove deeper into the wooded area, with not so much as another single car within the vicinity. The still of the trees made their calm presence known much as they did during his dream. A dense fog began engulfing the area as he switched on the bright headlights to make his way through the thick of it.
Then, the faint outline of a house took shape, almost appearing out of thin air just like a ghost, as he pulled in the gravel driveway as the car slid to a crawling halt. 1432 Badger Road, this was the place, and it looked just as it had in his dreams. Walking up to the sidewalk, he stopped in his tracks as the door opened slowly, so slowly as to make a nice cliffhanger for a commercial break. Swallowing the lump in the back of his throat, his eyes widened as Emma greeted him in the doorway.
“Eric!” she exclaimed, a look of excitement on her face.
“Emma,” he whispered, before repeating it so it was audibly discernible to her ears as he reached the doorstep. “Are you...this sounds ridiculous, so I’m just going to blurt it out. Do you happen to be a ghost?” he asks.
A saddened expression overtakes her face as her smile vanishes away as a frown takes its place. She looks into the ground in sorrow before eyeing something off in the distance, before returning her gaze to the love of her death, and acknowledging the truth with a slow nod.
“You know I’ve never dated a ghost before, and I’m not sure I have been clamoring for a long distance relationship,” he says with a chuckle in an attempt to break the sullen moment. The door opens automatically as she places her finger on his lips as he shuts his mouth. Raising his hand to her chin he looks into he deep brown eyes of his dreams and kisses her tender lips. Amazing how everything can change in an instant. Logic, as powerful as it may be is no match for the elixir of love, a raw emotion so powerful that it can transform a scientist into a fool, or turn a man from a preacher into a heretic while under its spell.
Eric was no match for its might. Analytical reasoning and logistical concerns fell by the wayside. Whatever negotiation of terms or formalities were not written or spoken between the two of them, as the two engaged in conversation simply by reading their facial expressions and eyes. Nothing needed to be said.
It was fitting that Eric was a young man of average looks, he was no star athlete and had never been popular, but she was all Emma could ever ask for. For the gorgeous girl next-door looks of Emma, she likewise was no ones idea of a supermodel—-but she was for Eric. That’s the way it goes, and as impossible as love may seem, it is between a man and a woman, there are only two sexes, and it is not as if one must find a match of blood type to find a mate. Had he glanced around Eric may have noticed that Emma was telling the truth when she explained that she did not have a telephone machine, nor was there a television or computer, just a collection of turn of the century wooden furniture and a phonograph record player. So immersed and enamored with Emma he was at that moment, that he would not have noticed a cauldron of buried treasure if it was spilling and spitting gold towards him or raining down from the ceiling upon him, much less a lapse in time. Funny how sometimes nothing else matters.
At some point Eric caught a glimpse of the bright yellow moon outside, as he lead the girl of his dreams outside. Reluctant at first to leave, she gave in and stepped outside with him. She would have gone anywhere with him after all, and the feeling was mutual. It was beautiful outside her home, as her family of farmers had a field that stretched as far as the eye could see. Under the moonlight, it was special.
“I would have thought that you would be cold, cool, icy to the touch, given your ghostly quality?” he asked as he gently caressed and held her hands. As every young man learns, sometimes the best play is to abstain from speaking.
“Being with you has warmed my heart along with my spirit, that is what you are feeling,” she explains as he looks up into his eyes. His reply would prove to be slightly more profound than the last words he had spoken.
“Emma, love does not come from the lines of a poem or from the pages of a storybook of fairy tales. It does not come from the bright glow of the moon lighting up the sky or all of the stars up there shining down into your eyes from heaven. It comes from the way I look deeply into your awe-inspiring eyes and down at your lips, and”...he exclaims as he kisses her so deeply and meaningful that he can taste her soul along with the essence of her restless spirit, one that had waited for years for Eric to come along. Eric could have died right then and there and it would hardly have mattered, for he could live another million years and this moment was never going to be toppled on his list of memories. He clutched her with his arms as he juggled his breathing with what was the more important exercise. The two continued embracing each other, each wanting it to continue forever, with neither wanting the moment to end. In a way, it never would.
At long last it subsided as the two smiled at each other, before continuing to walk in the field holding hands. Eric did not know what he was talking about; he just began to speak, as his former clumsy anxiety had been replaced with a sense of invincibility. Unable to feel a change in sensation along the palm of his hand, no more than a few paces later he looked beside himself and she was gone. Looking back towards the house, down at the ground, up in the distance, and all around, she was nowhere to be found.
“Emma!” he began calling out, baffled about the loss of his girl. Did she disappear on purpose? How could she do this, he thought? Hey you!” a voice boomed from the distance, only this was not the sweet and gentle caress of Emma, rather it was the harsh, shrill tone of a stark raving mad homeowner, none too pleased about a trespasser at this hour of the night.
“Excuse me, sir, have you seen a young lady come through here?” Eric asked in a disheartened and defeated tone.
“I ain’t seein’ nothin,’” the man responded with grammar a dictionary short of mediocrity. “You got trouble?” he asked.
Taking one more glimpse around, the realization dawned upon Eric that Emma was gone. “No, no trouble. We were just playing a flashlight tag game with friends, I apologize for disturbing you and trespassing,” he said as he left the area, holding his head down in shame, not unlike Emma had done when pressed about the current state of her existence. Glancing up at the address of the home, 1432 Badger Rd. had been replaced with 3444 Morrison Rd, and the exterior of the house was clearly remodeled and different from what it had been when he had pulled up earlier.
Eric had endured some long and perplexing drives home from dates in the past, but each of them had paled in comparison to the wrangling that was taking place in his head this time. Would she return to him? Should he return to her? Did she just seek one deep kiss before she was on her way to eternity? It would be just like a woman to pull such a stunt, even in death.
Unable to sleep upon arriving home, Sunday was long and agonizing before the love struck young man indulged in a glass or three of wine and took a nap around five o’clock that evening as the sleep deprivation finally caught up and got the better of him.
As the REM cycle of sleep began playing in his brain, the voice of Emma called out to him, repeating the same statement over and over. “Come back, I cannot leave. Come back, I cannot leave.” Over and over again, like a chorus in an awful yet agonizingly catchy pop tune. The dream began taking shape, as he saw her and embraced her yet again. “Stay with me, we can be together forever,” she whispers in his ears, beckoning him to come be with her by her side. The two share a kiss as the fire returns to the home, flames rolling around the walls and ceiling and turning the house into a cauldron.
He knew what would happen if he stayed behind, and although he was attracted to her beyond words he could not help but decline to follow her, as Emma sadly understood. This experience did feel very dreamlike as he felt as though he were walking backwards out of the house and around the falling embers, as his eyes remained affixed on the girl. Taking a glance at her one last time, he left the yard as smoke exits the specter of the burned house. Looking back, he sees that the house has disappeared into the mist, with only faint clouds of smoke remaining from the rubble. He knows that he is leaving Badger Road for the final time.
This dream was different aside from its sad ending, as it felt almost pre-ordained, fabricated and conceived as if it were a movie preview, a coming attraction for what he could expect to happen if he made the trek up to Badger Road again. A warning, perhaps from Emma, perhaps from his subconscious, it didn’t matter. Eric could not move forward on his life to follow this ghost into the afterlife, if that was indeed what she was asking for. Timing is everything, and this was hardly the time or the place to follow in such fatal footsteps. That being said, the quick dream was in no way a fitting final chapter. Eric had to return and say goodbye once and for all, and he had to do it in person. The majesty of the kiss under the moonlight and stars very well may not have been eligible for duplication, much less improvement, but he needed one last kiss, just as Emma did.
It was about seven o’clock and getting dark by the time Eric had left his apartment to make the final trek into the past and into his heart. The prior evening he ventured up Morrison road wearing shaggy clothes, not expecting to find anything. This time he had showered and was freshly shaken, dressing as well as he possibly could have for the occasion.
There was no still in the air this night, rather a cool breeze that had the trees around him dancing. Other cars made their way down Morrison as a sinking feeling came over him. What if the magic was gone, and that dream was the final goodbye? Such a notion was too painful to imagine, although he accepted the fact that he had to get used to it either for, as the goodbye was coming in the event that he was able to see her once more.
Pulling up to the Morrison Road address, his heart sank as the house of 2008 stared back at him. Lowering his head onto the steering column, Emma’s words returned to him. “Come back, I cannot leave,” they seemed to whisper in the wind, calling out to him to continue his mission. Unsure of whether those words originated in his head or from beyond, he glanced up to find the house just as he had remembered it the first time he set foot on the property. The friendly Badger Road address greeted him, as he smiled and leapt out of the car. Emma was waiting for him as he reached the door.
“You disappeared last night because we went too far outside? You can’t leave your house, is that correct?” he asked as he responded with a nod. “I could live here with you forever, would that not work?” he asked, desperately seeking clarification and resolve as she began retreating back into the home.
“Emma, Emma wait,” he cried out as he followed her inside. “That dream I had this afternoon, did it mean what I think it meant?” he asked as she nodded once more. At that moment Eric knew what was going to happen, he had lived it before, at least in his dream. The final moment was approaching, the last goodbye. He did not understand how all of this worked, nor could he ever fully understand it all. Just how she found him, why she could see him in dreams, but would not be able to do so any longer, her attachment to the house. The rules were not fully clear, and if there were any loopholes he knew not of them. What he did completely understand was that the time was nigh, and he was not going to waste what remained of it by asking any further. This was the end, the final moment that he feared.
“Emma dear, I love you more than anything I have dared love before, but I cannot leave behind my life. There are others there that I love too, family and friends, I may not know much about you aside from our time together but I am sure that you can understand this,” he explained to her as she wrapped her arms around him, looking up at him like a puppy dog, only this girl wanted a kiss.
“I want you to come with me,” she whispered in his ears just as she had in the dream. This moment proved to be the final goodbye as Eric kissed her with all of his might, all of his passion, and all of his heart, a heart that from its very bottom, had produced so much love for the girl that he would have to repay to his aching muscle massive amounts of debt given the loans of emotions it had provided to him.
Kissing her as if a hangman was standing nearby readying the noose and waiting for the end, in a sense Eric knew that such symbolism was very telling of the truth, as the fire began crackling and heating up the interior of the house. The traumatic scene that had once ignited flames of heat while extinguishing the spirit of Emma had ingrained itself on the physical location of 1432 Badger Road and was replaying itself in the fabric of time like a broken record, immersing Eric in it.
For the young and love struck this moment was not the time to conjure up images of tragedy and catastrophe, or similes and metaphors, and despite the scalding temperatures nipping at the skin of Eric, it was no match for the fire burning in his heart.
It was time to go, as Eric followed through on the promise he made to himself to leave behind Badger Road forever. Now was the final goodbye, as the heat increased in tenacity and now began physically burning both Eric and Emma. The time to safely leave the house had passed, as the fire and ceiling fell all around them as they continued to embrace. Leaving her behind forever would be far more painful than any agony a mere fire could inflict, and a life with an insatiable void was far worse than death. Funny what we realize in the heat of the moment.
It was not so bad, and would all be over soon, a formerly heartbreaking ending was receiving a heartwarming reboot, and in its wake would be a new and glorious beginning. Emma’s nightmares had crumbled away in the fire, and the dreams she shared with Eric had now become a reality, as her unfinished business was at last complete. Amazing how a kiss of affection can change even the most steadfast of plans. Timing is everything, even if the timing does not make particular sense at that particular moment under the circumstances. Everything does tend to happen for a reason in life—and sometimes in death.
She sat with her legs spread wide and the smell of her own urine revolted her. She lifted her hand from within the toilet seat and held the white stick out and nearly shook it as if it was one of those paper things with perfume sprayed on it. Music played hard from the flat above and she thought of the . . . raves she had been to: the tablets she had taken. The first time she took E was with a friend, David, and they ended up lying in the communal garden of his flat. It was the middle of June.
‘I’m so hot, I’m roasting, are you hot?’
‘A little, yeah.’ He said.
She took off her top and lay on the grass, the blades tickling her lower back. Her bra felt tight, too tight and she took it off. He had seen it all before, it didn’t really matter and she didn’t think once of the neighbours and their windows with blinds not pulled. The music from the club still ringed in her ears and she wriggled in the grass, dancing to her own tune.
‘When my mum died I thought I’d never see her again, but I don’t know,’ she was saying, writhing in the grass, ‘I think she’s sort of everywhere.’
David didn’t answer and she wasn’t sure if she had spoken the words or simply thought them. It didn’t matter. She lay there thinking of her mother, and how she died too soon. She spoke to her in her mind and answered herself in her mother’s voice.
‘Were you afraid, knowing you would die, knowing that you had never believed in anything?’
‘Of course I was,’ the voice not quite right, too much of her own voice mingled with it, she couldn’t get the slight twang of an English accent into it, ‘but I was more afraid of what I was leaving behind, not what would happen next.’ That was better, the ‘next’ had the right upward inflection, the way her mum would always finish a sentence as if asking a question.
‘Have you ever felt like this mum? So connected in a way that doesn’t even make sense.’
‘Only once Sophie, and that was when I found out I would be a mother, when I found out about you.’ The intonation wasn’t right; she wanted to re-phrase her answer.
‘Only once Soph, when I knew I was pregnant, I felt like I was more important than any other person.’ It wasn’t right, she was thinking, her mother would never say that, but it would have to do, there were too many questions she had to have answered.
‘What should I do mum? I feel I have no purpose, no drive anymore!’
‘Don’t be silly Soph,’ that was it, that’s what she would say, ‘you’re only twenty-one, nobody is supposed to know what they want to do at twenty-one.’
‘I know mum, but I just feel so useless, you know.’
‘You could never be useless! Where’s all this coming from, this isn’t you.’
‘I know. I just can’t seem to shake it you know, I’m turning into one of those self pitying twats.’
‘You better not be, remember Aunt Jane and how we would laugh at her, kicking each other under the table. This isn’t you Soph, tomorrow everything will be better, you’ll see.’
‘I miss you so much, you know that right, and you know how much I...’
‘Sophie, stop. You don’t need to tell me and I don’t need to tell you. Now I think we should get off the grass and head inside.’
‘Soph, come on it’s getting fucking cold and your tits are on display, I’m heading in let’s go.’
‘Yes, you complete twat, who else?’
‘Don’t call me that!’ She picked up her bra and t-shirt and headed inside and not long after blinds in windows closed shut.
How long had it been? It seemed like more than two minutes had passed but nothing had appeared, she looked at the two empty spaces on the test and waited. She tried not to think of what she would do if that little blue line appeared, how a future would change through one thin line, or there would be no blue line and no change and she couldn’t think of which outcome was worse.
She looked in the mirror and tried to find her eyes in the reflection, stared at her ears, one with a sharp corner and the other as round as an o. A tiny scar above her left eyebrow always made her look like she had made a mistake plucking the hairs away. Her mouth was wide and she had soft lips and they spoke to her through the glass.
‘You whore. You liked it didn’t you,’ the reflection tied her hair in a tight pony tail, ‘running off finding sympathy when you were the one who wanted it, asked for it.’
She didn’t answer but looked beyond the image of herself and onto the shower in the background. The shower that needed cleaning, the shower that still had blood and dirt trapped at the plughole.
‘Hey sexy!’ His voice was rough and had a twang to it that made her turn around. He was tall and broad and seemed to cast a shadow over her. She was drunk and flirtatious and hadn’t been fucked in weeks.
‘Hey yourself,’ she said with a wink. Not really knowing what that meant but too drunk to really care. Tequila made her flirt.
‘Can I get you a drink?’
He sat next to her and put his hand on the inside of her leg and she let him, and he moved it slowly up and back down, each time getting higher, and she let him, and soon his fingers were inside her and she let him, she let him use three fingers and she let him make it obvious that he was finger fucking her in the middle of a crowded bar.
‘Let’s get out of here?’ he said as he pulled his fingers sharply from inside her.
She walked behind him and she stumbled in her heels and her knickers were wet with what he had done and she felt like thunder or lightning and she watched how he walked, as if each step was important. She guessed his name was Nathan, named after his grandfather who he had never met. She thought he was proud of his name and his footsteps that she followed without question. He worked when he wanted, she thought, he did what he wanted, she thought, I want him inside me, she thought.
He walked on the outskirts of the park but didn’t enter. He stopped and climbed a wall and he reached down and pulled her up and his face never changed. He helped her down from the wall, letting her drop at the last second and he jumped down and pushed her to the grass.
‘Take your underwear off.’
He unbuckled his belt and took his pants off completely and his penis curved at the top and she went to grab it but he pushed her to the grass and turned her over. She saw that he had the most piercing blue eyes she had ever seen and then she was facing the grass. He spat on his dick and then was inside her. It hurt and she tried to tell him to slow down but he pushed her face hard into the grass and she could taste it in her mouth and she could feel him in his stomach. She felt like she was bleeding and she tried not to care. He took himself out and put it in her asshole and he rammed it further and further in and she screamed into the grass and her eyes filled up with something like tears.
Nathan, she was saying, Nathan I like it when your rough! Role play was always her favourite. The kids were at home, she thought, all was well, and they were ten years together. He spread her legs and she could feel everything widening but trying to tighten.
‘I knew you were a whore the moment I saw you!’ and he bit her shoulder hard until he drew blood and he spat in her hair.
She tried to squeeze in and push out. Nathan, she thought, you won’t be getting breakfast in bed tomorrow. She didn’t know she was screaming.
‘Shut up you fucking whore or I’ll make this really hurt.’
He had his best performance on tonight. She thought of them coming there on their first date after meeting in her favourite bar. How they walked arm in arm together and he told her this was his favourite spot in the whole city. She thought of how every time she walked past it she thought of his eyes and delicate smile.
She was crying and she tried to smile at her lover but she couldn’t. His face was rough. He hadn’t shaved in days and she thought she would have to make him before work on Monday morning.
‘I love you Nathan.’ She smiled.
He slapped her across the face and thrust one last time and then pulled out sharply. He put on his pants and buckled his belt on a loose notch and began to walk away.
‘Nathan, where are you going? Nathan!’
‘You’re some crazy bitch!’ He climbed the wall and she saw his head fall behind the wall and she cried and she reached between her legs and there was shit and blood all over them.
She was crying and her reflection was smiling. A wide smile, unlike her own and her hair was tied tight, and she screamed at her.
‘You fucking whore!’
She didn’t look at the test. She didn’t want to, not yet, although it would be ready. It would be the most accurate of fortune tellers. Instead she decided to turn on the shower and let it run. She was still sore and she had a bite mark on her shoulder that she couldn’t stop touching and rubbing and smiling to herself. Bad boy Nathan, she thought. She laughed at herself and turned to the mirror while the shower washed away the mementos. It was fogging up and her face was changing through the fog. Changing into something she thought she could like one day, something others would smile at and say, what a pretty face you have, and she would blush and say thank you, thank you that’s very kind of you. A face a mother would have; a face of experience. I always knew you’d be beautiful, she said, even as a child I knew you’d be beautiful. She smiled a wide smile and the mirror fogged up completely and she slowly placed her finger on the condensation.
She left the bathroom and went to make tea.
‘Anyone want a cup of tea?’ she screamed, no answer.
They must all be out, she thought, and Nathan would surely be back soon so she decided to make two cups, just in case he fancied one when coming in from work. She let the water boil and watched it. She took two cups from the cupboard and left them on the counter. The kettle boiled but there was still a hissing sound and she walked to the bathroom and the shower was on. She tutted and said aloud, damn kids, and she laughed a little chuckle out loud. She went in and on the mirror was written ‘whore’.
He knows, she thought, Nathan knows everything. She rubbed it off quickly and sat on the toilet to think of how best to explain. She looked at the mirror again and there was nothing there. She turned off the shower. She picked up the pregnancy test and saw the blue line stretch out among the white. This will cheer him up she thought, this will make Nathan happy.
She threw it into the bin and rubbed her shoulder.
We met at a bright bar. She was wearing the kind of dress that told me she loved being beautiful. Though we’d spoken in a few text messages, we knew very little of each other. She told me she’d ‘stalked’ me - the sinister vocabulary of the social media generation. We went on to ‘rape’ each other frequently. After a . . . while, on ethical grounds, we agreed to change the term to ‘hijack’. Not a whole lot better really, in hindsight.
Not many nights later, we were entwined, embracing in spite of everything: in spite of the distance, in spite of the heat and in spite of the darkness. To spite the darkness.
There were to be lighter times, too; the weight we respectively bore became distributed between us. ‘We get to carry each other’, I painted on a square canvas splattered in colour, after we’d known each other a couple of years. She displayed it in her room, and hid it under her bed every time I dropped her. Which was often, at that time.
Though obscurity often muddied our love, the romance was rife. I made us a soundtrack, so we could construct our narrative around Chet Baker, Nina Simone… Sometimes she accused me of pretension, but I knew my coy romanticism was part of the appeal. So I kept it up.
At the beginning, I’m not sure if I was a good friend, or even a good lover. Later, as I stood to lose her, I knew I was a fantastic fuck, and an undoubtedly terrible friend. I’ve never been sure when our entwinement grew roots so deep that it could be called ‘love’. On days when I was feeling lighter and stronger, able to carry her, I told her that my entrancement in that bright bar was the beginning. On darker days, I told her that I didn’t know anything.
We began writing to each other, although we were sleeping together every night. For her birthday I wrote her a story to go with our soundtrack. She cried as I read it to her, one chapter for every song. I had written a beautiful story – a kind of medley of Romeo and Juliet and a Woody Allen film.
I can still see just enough. I see that I’m lucky she’s still here; I see that part of me resents her for not leaving. I can even still see the light, sometimes. And there’s no doubt that we had light. Light enough to flourish. The first postcard she sent me from the other side of the bed, said: ‘Let it Grow’.
Now, there’s just enough light to survive. ‘It’s not dark yet,’ Dylan assures us on the last track.
Love the driving force that binds two souls through its dark embrace.
A force that takes hold beyond known measure and when the being that created that spark passes on wheat you to do?
That perfection is missing from your soul as the second half of you has gone, you stare into an emptiness that is deep within you that . . . you do not understand and there is only one thing that can sure it.
You begin the search looking for that sensation to bring back the then link that brought you together, but it obtainable with another, so there is only one way forwards, to look to the forgotten past.
In the dark recesses of the human psyche knowledge was once found, knowledge over life and death, the transcendence of the two forms.
What fuel can power such a dark method of uniting the lost than that of love? The emotion that can transcend space and time by seeing the imagery of a person of the past can ignited the strongest longing.
Looking into ancient tomes and that may bear fruit to reunite, searching and scribing, always fuelled by the dark desire of being reunited but not within death, within life, life eternal, life returned.
Love brings people together and love's the driving force pulling them together, holding them together through the ether.
The gaping hole of loss drowns out the words of caution and a night with the desire of love lost returned to flesh, the oldest of acts is performed, and a desire created.
Imperfect was the physical result but the spiritual reunion is once more.
The lovers returned to flesh together through darkest necromancy, together forever, in festering corpses, blinded by loves power to flaws, reunited once more, joined spirits hence forth.
I am a slave to my own heartbeat as the darkness behind my eyes vibrates. The rain plays a dolled-up symphony behind my curtains. The trees scream their refusals at the lights of the city and the lights stare back, dumbstruck. Sometimes, the road across the street opens its talons and invites me to come play with its . . . painted white lines.
It was a Sunday evening she went. It would have been easier if she hadn't said goodbye – for now the memory of her walking away is forever ingrained in my memory. If only she had left without a trace – disappeared – wiped away any memory of her from my home, from my head. Taken the photographs and the empty mascara tubes with her.
When we'd finished, I could barely remember her name – now I scrawl it on bus stop walls and office desks as though it is my aphorism for life. As though somebody will see it, and refer me to her.
I have lost her, and I am forever searching for her. Searching down the back of the settee, behind the microwave, on top of the fridge in the back room. As though I will grasp a finger or a hand and be able to pull her back into my world.
I move, now, from office to office, from job to job. I'm not looking for anything – something is looking for me. Now that Longing has been let into my life, he stands in the corner of my bedroom with his hood up and his knife out, waiting to carve a letter into my gut, waiting to gouge streams of stop-lights into my arms. Longing's scent is the perfume all the girls buy. Longing's taste is every lip-gloss. Lonn-gihng.
The idea is what I miss. Not her. Not her frog-like face or her slight double chin. Not her constant reminder of my inferiority. Just her concept – her ideology.
Now exists a process of iconoclasm. Though I attempt to bring her back, attempt to reassemble what she stood for, I must destroy her. Must destroy Veritas.
She was no tarnished magnum opus; rather, the tarnish on the piece. She was the breeze shaking the curtains; the muddy footprints rather than the floor; the strap holding the cup.
Did my daughter know? Of course my daughter knew. How could she not? She was too old to be naïve and too young to be fooled by my untruths. She used to gaze at me with Nero eyes – eyes which glazed with the knowledge of thousands of years of torture and pain, pain which she caused, eyes evolved through a world of outré fantasies and daisy-chained dreamers, eyes of the blessed. Eyes, more than anything, of love.
When she was a child, she used to adore me. Adore me more than anything – more than the heart-shaped necklace her mother bought her, more than the warmth of her mother's milk. And her mother was jealous. It was obvious. The ends of her thumbs would stain yellow with envy and her teeth rotted out of her no-good head. The red marks in the creases of her arms taught me all I know about jealousy. And their subsequent absence – that teaches me all I need to know about love.
I relish the cherry-juice-stain on my trousers.
I first met Charles Goffman in the spring of 1984 when I attended a guest lecture he was giving on Neurochemistry at the University of Manchester. Even then, at 27, he exuded an intellectual maturity far outweighing his years or indeed status within the scientific community. A few years later, when the opportunity . . . arose to work on an experimental research project he was heading titled 'A biological basis for love' I abandoned my life in England and set off for America.
I was a mere boy, barely into my twenties, whereas Charles was already doing battle with heavyweight scientists, politicians and philosophers of the time. Throughout most of those early months at 'Goffman Bio-Solutions' I kept my head down and diligently turned in report after report. Interns didn’t work directly under Charles however he would occasionally sweep through our lab like a force of nature and leave me feeling somewhere between excited and nauseous.
Although it was science that catapulted us into the same sphere it was poetry that brought us together. When I discovered that Charles regularly frequented poetry evenings at Berkeley, I railed against my social anxiety and went along.
At each event there were about 30 people and I believe me and Charles were the only two with no background in the arts. The de facto president of the club was a floppy haired, cravat wearing 'wordsmith' called Sebastian. The club members, even Sebastian's colleagues, didn't come to see him reinforce negative stereotypes, they came to see Charles and listen to his meditations on everything from Shakespeare to the mind-body problem.
He was a straightforward man and both his poetry, and his favorite poets, reflected this fact. Charles read Bukowski, Hemingway and Frost. He loved masculine writers that explored man's relationship with the natural world, yet he firmly believed flowers should stay in the ground and remain out of prose. I myself was not impartial to melodrama. At the time I was a big fan of Joy Division as well as the melancholic musings of Morrissey.
However, my affection for these artists did not compare to the love I had for Edgar Allan Poe. Although Poe has been credited with creating the gothic genre, I feel a lot of his work has been misrepresented as morbid. If anything I believe it to be life-affirming.
The moment eventually came when I had to give a reading to the others. It was out of the question I would compose anything myself; I was far too shy. I knew it had to be Poe's sonnet on Science. I just prayed Charles would view the great man the same as I.
Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car,
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?
I cannot remember directly reading the words themselves, it was though my fragile conscious departed from my physical self. I floated above the room watching myself speak, as if in a dream.
I was lauded by Charles for picking an oft forgotten classic that was as relevant then as the day it was written. As I'd hoped, the words of Poe had forged a silent unbreakable bond that would last until this day, the day of his death.
Over the next few months we became confidants, friends and then soul mates. To say I loved Charles would be a gross understatement. His charisma so overwhelmed me it was more akin to a worshipping on my part. Can one be in love with their God?
Charles decided it was a good idea to keep our relationship a secret. The world was not as tolerant then as it is now and he thought our circumstances would be ammunition for the ever growing list of people who were trying to halt his work. I have no doubt now that Charles was ashamed of his homosexuality. A childhood spent in forties Wyoming cast shadows into an adult life that no amount of enlightenment seemed able to elucidate.
Those were the best days of my life and for a number of years, I believe his too. In the early nineties the research project made a series of breakthroughs in our understanding of the production and regulation of the hormones Dopamine and Oxytocin. It was ironic that our own love blossomed in a time when we were unravelling the chemical codes that it comprised of.
There was no cataclysmic event that precipitated the decline of our relationship. The man I knew in those early days at Berkeley began to slowly change. He grew less affectionate, not just toward me, but people in general. He was far less willing to engage in debates about philosophy, literary theory or humanism. It was as if he began viewing the brain as a computer and people as machines. His study, once littered with classic works of art, of couplets and stanzas, of words that were more than letters, gone. In their place textbook after textbook, anatomical diagrams and chemical equations, the cold dead language of Science.
I tried my best to bring him back. I called old friends, even Sebastian whom I knew he disliked, but at least thought would stir up some emotion in him. I organised excursions to the great European capitals. We went on tour after tour of the worlds finest art museums. It was all to no avail. Some part of Charles had died, in his desire to understand the biology of man, he'd negated the part of us which is divine. Poe had been right.
I had one last hope: poetry. It was our own language, a tendril to a higher power and the only thing powerful enough to stop the ossification of his mind. But it wouldn’t do this time to parrot the words of others, I would write my own poem:
Love! thou tentacles wrapped around my heart
Tangled in your web, my mind unspun
The affection I feel tearing me apart
How did I get so far from where I begun?
Deep In my mind you planted a seed
Shoots filling the cracks in my psyche
What was once a flower is now a weed
Hades hath gone and replaced Aphrodite
I know what's happening in my brain
From where the torment comes and how it begins
But there is Naught that can assuage the pain
As my neurons drown In oxytocin
Here it is, my final hypothesis
I'll never break free, your love is an octopus
I delivered the poem to Charles and took a sabbatical from work. I wanted to give him some time to consider what his life would be like without me in it. I went back to England and set about building bridges that I'd razed to the ground all those years earlier when I'd absconded to the States. Six months after my departure Charles called to say that he needed to speak to me. He had an urgency and passion in his voice I'd seldom heard in the previous decade. I arrived back on the next flight and immediately went to see him.
'You've done it, you've changed everything!' He placed his large hands on my shoulders and peered at me with his mahogany brown eyes.
I stared up at Charles and then began to weep into his broad chest. 'I knew it Charles, I knew you weren't gone. It's ok. We can go back. The music and the dancing and the poems... the poems, Charles!'
'I don’t think you understand,' I felt him flinch and then draw back out of my grasp.
He reached for the mouse on his desk and opened a presentation that he had prepared for the rest of the faculty.
'Imagine,' he said, 'Imagine if we could show that love is just a construct. A function of the body as inducible as blinking or salivation.'
'But Charles,' I walked back towards him, ' How can you say...'
'It was you, it was you', he took me in his arms again, ' The Octopus, The Octopus of Love.'
I felt a pang of dread reverberate through me.
'It has changed everything,… it will change everything... look he reached down again and started scrolling through the pages. Cephalopod research is an untapped resource... and there are no testing bans... these creatures have developed their own unique intelligence over the last one billion years. They have the same ability as mammals, to formulate both short and long term memories.'
'I don’t... I don’t.' I felt myself getting light headed.
'They are strictly asocial creatures, psychopathic cannibals,' he continued ' not like us or dogs or cats. Their behavior shows no markers of kinship... Although its early I believe we can induce in these aliens a state of love. We can show that love is merely a chemical compound.'
'But that wasn’t what I was trying to say! This, this is immoral.'
Charles shook his head. 'We have unlocked the chemical codes of affection and attraction... God is love... We Are God!'
A video appeared on the screen of a squid shooting ink into a rough approximation of a heart. Charles continued to talk but I didn’t listen, I couldn’t. My temples began to throb as though the blood inside my body was too thick for my veins. For a moment the world turned black around me and then I was back in the place I'd been 30 years earlier at the poetry reading, outside my own head, an onlooker floating above us.
The doppelganger in the office proceeded to pick up a heavy desk ornament and cave Charles' skull in. He collapsed to the floor, dead.
A lot will be written about me and Charles in the coming years. He will be eulogised as a genius and rightly so, I will be condemned a madman, and perhaps so too this is justified. My time is running out so I will not speculate any further on this.
Each man kills the thing he loves, I know that I cannot live in the world that Charles set out to create and so too I cannot live in a world without him.
My life has been a dream within a dream, a poem within a poem.
This is my confession.
It was the night he was taken away from me.
There he was, naked, lying on the bed, his bones seemed to be ripping off the skin, his pale soft skin. It was a vision of death, of sickness, or maybe regret.
Killer - they wrote on the walls.
I was sitting over our bedroom desk, having a smoke and gazing through the . . . curtains. I couldn't sleep.
The night was colored by tones of red and orange, the colors of a city that never takes a rest, that is always watching, always watching you.
I knew I was waiting, somehow.
I never liked his ways. I never loved him truly. He seemed to me like an adventure of a girl that had to much time on her hands, but in that moment, that particular hour that I could not sleep, or let myself sleep, I looked at him and I saw the man that I loved. Somehow, somewhere along the way I started loving him.
Nietzsche said that one must be careful when looking at the abyss, because the abyss can look back at you. Loving him was like this, but that night the monster was sleeping and I was guarding.
The cigarette smoke floated around, the house was quiet, the floor outside was shaking, I could hear the sound of everything getting closer, of my fate changing, of my heart breaking.
The sirens echoed in our street like a thunder, I shed a tear. He woke up and looked at me, terrified, terrified of me being so calm, so aware, so quiet.
They broke the door, flashlights. Everybody down. I kept smoking my cigarette. There it was - the abyss staring at me - those blue eyes - my baby, my vile reckless child was gone.
Love is like a paraselene. A moon dog. You can't always see it, you don't always feel its presence, but it's always there. Gravity pulls it close to the moon which represents the soul, and the minute you see it, the second you feel its presence, it shines brighter than anything ever has before.
People generalise the . . . symptoms of love to the cliche of what happens in movies. Butterflies gliding around your gut, sparks flying when a lover walks by, wishful thinking and possibly even sex. Yet are they aware of the deeper, darker expressions that are surreptitiously part of the deal of falling in love, the sad, tear droplets that beat in the heart to the sound of the soul? Being in love, truly in love, means opening up your innocent little heart and handing it over to someone who will either hold it, or drop it. It means lying in bed awake at 4:56am mentally exploring the galaxies in his eyes, or kissing her forehead hoping to free her soul, it means letting him plant flowers in your lungs and embracing on the cold floor whilst they grow. Someday, they'll blossom into roses and although they're beautiful sometimes they wilt and you forget how to breathe.
All in all, love isn't just a feeling. It isn't the reason for the purple hickey on your neck. It's not even a drug, because although addictive drugs can be combatted. No. Instead, love is oxygen. Love is billions of tiny particles in the air colliding into each other, sucked in by human life. Species crave love like they crave oxygen. Without it, we suffocate and we die.
love! Is the key to life and opens your heart to another personand if youjizz don't know if you love then you might need a booster. It is like a youtube cupid floating down for me the gates of heaven. Is staring you in the face and you don't even know it. You know i was there. You could be staring it lightens face . . . darts. Love! Is your heart and soul if you can't find it then you might need someone to guide you in the direction. Later in life you will find it and use heelys settle down and whatever. Honestly love is like a reward it is a feeling it's your whole life. You might be best friends auto electrical workers work with each other. Love is a part of your life and you can't kick it out everyone needs a bit of love. Make the right decision a couple lessons. Make the right choice.
Love is the ultimate adrenaline rush.
It is also one of humanities greatest achievements, humans live for it they would die for it. You would not die for someone if you were content or upset with them, so why if you loved them. The answer is simple, it is because love is the same as tea.
Yes, tea. When you first . . . begin to fall in love the water begins to boil. As you pour the water into your flowery tea cup and place the tea bag in it the soft color of the tea begins to seep through the cup just like the beginning of the relationship where their personality begins to show.
As you wait the soft aroma of the tea begins to waft into your nostrils and you remember them: the way the corners of their lips curve up into a crooked smile, the way their eyes light up was they look up at you, the way their arms wrap around you as their body curves to yours.
You drop in two sugar cubes because you like your tea sweet, just like you like their voice. As you stir your tea with your fancy silver spoon you watch the colours swirl around and melt the sugar. You wonder if they like you just as much and think you’re sweet for baking them cookies or cake or muffins.
You like milk in your tea, though not all people do, it settles to the bottom of the cup until you continue to stir it. It is at this point where all can go wrong, all love stories reach this point. It is a point where you are unsure whether to continue, whether you truly love this person.
You decide to continue but place your cup on a saucer in case anything goes wrong, what if they become dissatisfied with you? What if you’re not enough to make them happy? You take the cup but it spills because your hand is shaking ever so slightly, the saucer catches it and you’re pleased you thought to put it there.
There is that one moment, when you take the first sip, when you know you made the perfect cup of tea. It is in that moment that you know it was fate. This was meant to happen, it was inevitable, you had to be with them or else you would go mad.
Everything is utter bliss, every moment with them is like diving off a plane, swimming with a shark, catching the perfect wave, taking the perfect picture: everything is in that moment.
This cannot last forever for even the warmest of teas grows cold eventually; the true test is being able to drink the tea even when it’s cold. But you simply cannot and soon enough you forget about it and find a different cup but you cannot go of that golden flowery one because the cup was so perfect and so you find a way to destroy it. Maybe not on purpose but one day you tire of seeing it and snap, you become:
Mad as a Hatter.
The cup is clashed and clingled until it shatters spilling all the tea everywhere. You find new ones and repeat the process until all is a giant array of broken pieces and cold tea. You simply cannot stop, you need to try them all maybe then will you truly have the perfect cup. It is impossible for you live not for the end result but for the process, your hands are cut by delicate porcelain pieces and you bleed everywhere yet you cannot stop craving for it. It makes you feel alive, wanted, craved and no matter how many times your cup shatters you will continue hunting for new ones.
It makes you crazy.
I was crazily in love with a girl at school. I went to ask her for a valentines day dance but she said the John had already asked her. He was my best friend. I walked into the podigious halls which majestically curved and slanted. The fire was roaring like a fire bursting out into the blue to catch a prey. My best . . . friend was also in love with this girl. He seemed like he was winning her as they lent over to kiss each other. For me this was heart-breaking so I pulled a prank on him and puled down his trousers. Everyone looked at him and laughed at him we then got into a massive argument. "I love her more" He said, I was outraged and yelled "You stole my girl, I hate you so much". We went on like this for at least 5 minutes and then we realized that it already had 500,000 views on you tube and my crush had left.
She never talked to either of us again and me and John made up but we were still bullied so much.
By Ethan McEwen
Love..... as defined is " A profoundly tender, passionate affection for another." Love is much more than that. It can not be defined, it must be felt in a way words can not describe. It consumes you, slowly taking over you. You can fall in love, meaning you plummet in to a state where all you can think is that person. . . . And in an instant they become your world. Love is complication and destruction but also care and respect. It may break you, only to rebuild you and break you again and again. But without it you have no trust, no compassion, no other feeling. Love plays in to all the other feelings too. Anger, happiness, sadness..... because in order to feel that way you must have some sort of care for what lead you to feel that way. If you love something, it makes you happy and it's loss would devastate you, it's controversy would anger you. We need to feel, to strive, to have something to look forward to. Love may hurt because it isn't perfect but it's wonders are perfect to us.