Beyond Lethe

by Alexandru Ioan Despina


My name is Howard Philips and I live in Providence, Rhode Island, 454 Angell Street. I don’t know how much time has passed or what date it is all I remember is that starting on the 15th of March I became the prisoner of a dream from which I cannot wake up.

The room is unchanged. The same clothes lie thrown on a chair, the same papers half covered in writing are scattered on the floor, and during the night the blanket fell from the bed. The clock is showing, as every other day, 7:17 a.m. From somewhere far away the sun is casting its light on the white walls with abstract paintings. I try not to look out the window at the chestnut tree, thinking that maybe this small change will bring me the salvation I have stopped hoping for.

The uncertainty of the first weeks and months turned into concern and then gradually into despair. It will never turn to in indifference. I cannot but wonder what sin am I paying for.

I don’t know what I should do; I’ve already tried everything. I broke the windows, I cut down the chestnut tree, I cursed the sun, I burned my papers, I stayed awake for a whole week. Unrelenting, time always plays this day. Unchanging, uncaring, unmovable.

Any moment now she will enter the room and bestow on me a smile that warms her kind gaze. I know each of the crinkles that form around her eyes or lips when she laughs or cries, each word she will say, every shade of the paints that stain her skin. Every quiver of her voice, each of her thoughts, each season trapped behind her lids. She will walk quietly, afraid that she will wake me, and linger in the doorway. Seeing that I’m waiting, she’ll ask why I haven’t left the room yet.

By instinct I turn to the window to look for the source of the birdsong that takes me by surprise and at that moment every time she walks in. The blue flowery blouse hangs on her shoulders. She breathes heavily as if she has been running around the house. Even if I am condemned to relive these moments again and again, I cannot help admiring her.

She smiles, a bit confused, and tells me to go down and have breakfast. She goes away leaving the door ajar.

I step on the papers on the floor, walking out past her workroom, and I stop for a moment to take a glance. Everything is in the exact same place as yesterday, as the day before that, as the life before that. The easel is covered by a half-stained cloth; all the paints are dry; the brushes are scattered aimlessly on the floor, and the vine charcoal is broken into two uneven parts.

I walk on and enter the kitchen. On a plate, waiting for me, are two tomatoes, a sliced cucumber, some boiled carrots, a piece of bread, some salt and next to it a steamy mug with something that smells of mint. The same food as yesterday, as the day before that, as another time.

Today I am not going to eat. I’ll just watch her talking about things I have grown to know, to feel, to live. After the meal she will go back to her workroom and paint. Every day the same things repeated beyond counting, above any limit or edge. A day suspended in time, lost there and forgotten. A day that is in itself an eternity.

I don’t want to bother her anymore with my thoughts; I’m thankful with just admiring her. I study her eyes, her eyelashes, her nose, her lips, trying to find a clue of salvation in their design. Ashamed, I lower my gaze to her light fingers. I feel helpless because some time ago I made her cry. She doesn’t remember, but it doesn’t matter. The memory lives inside me and with each breath I carry it further.

I’m not going to tell her again what is happening to me. Never. I’ve done it already so many times, and each time I watched with a heavy heart her reactions and we embraced each other wondering what we should do next. I cannot go through all of it again, especially when I know and feel that there is no way out. I am ill, and my disease is, like life and time, imaginary.

I want to believe that I have been dreaming and that I woke up only today, but I know it isn’t so. Each gesture, each rustling of the chestnut leaves, each cloud passing across the blue sky... I don’t have to look outside the window; I know.

The first one is shaped like a bird; the second, like a snowball; and in the third I saw by turns a fly, a butterfly, a lake and for some time just the eternity that’s speaking to me. This is a dream into which I sink further and further each day, with her smile in the morning, with the humming of the bird, with each hope and word, further and further into this day.

I can create thousand of situations, I can make her laugh, cry, I can bring her to despair, I can make her hit me, stop loving me, but I can’t in any way break free. I’ve tried. We fought, I ran through the poppy field, I took all the pills in her third bathroom drawer, I used the blade of the knife on my hands. I cried, I struggled, I fell down on my knees begging.

Without knowing when, indifference is trying to creep into my soul. My thoughts refuse to quiet down and keep searching for a solution.

She rises from the table. I promised myself not to let her out of my sight. That I will lose myself in this life and spend the whole day watching her. If I’m quiet, she’ll play with my hair and kiss my temples. If I speak with her, she will listen, and afterwards she will go paint.

She never lets me see it. She’s hiding it. She says it is to protect me. I get up and take her hand. I can feel her wrist pulse and I wonder how come she doesn’t remember. I want to hold her, to say goodbye. No matter how hard I try to deny it, for some time the days have become false and faded. Each one is in itself an ending. A chill passes through my body, I know it. I feel it.

Worried, she asks me what’s wrong. “Nothing,” I answer; she doesn’t need to know anyway. She wouldn’t have remembered about it tomorrow even if I told her. I assure her that everything is going to be fine and she retreats with a smile to continue her Sisyphean work.

I’m leaning on the wall and watching the dots appear and disappear on the TV screen. Soon, on the windowsill a pigeon will land and try to eat, swinging with its head the too large pieces of bread. Then another one will join it.

I could reread the books in the library or the papers in the bedroom, or try to remember something, anything. I don’t know who I am and sometimes I ask her laughing, mimicking lucidity. Or madness. But each time she throws me a reproachful look as if I’m testing her. She smiles hesitatingly and gives a vague answer.

I’m not going to insist this time. I’ll wait for the moment when she goes to the fountain and sneaks in the work room. This is the only thing I haven’t done yet. Even if it means that I’ll betray her. She told me to stay away many times. But still... the last thing, the only thing left.

34 minutes left; 21, 14, 7, 3. I hide and listen as the sound of her footsteps fades. Everything is in the same place as before. The brushes and colors are dry. With a shaking hand I move the cover away from the painting. It doesn’t resemble the other ones. It’s almost finished, just some minor strokes are needed. I could probably finish it myself now; it’s not likely she will ever complete it.

I look at the very detailed background and I can see that it is the living room of this house, exactly the way I know it, with one exception, an exception that in my mind contours itself as something important. Next to the window there is a machine that I don’t remember ever seeing before.

On the sofa it’s me, and she is sitting next to me. On the armchair a smaller man. A small man. A child... without knowing what the word means it came detached to my mind.

Near the door, ready to enter or leave, an old wrinkled man stands. What does it mean? I can’t explain but I feel fascinated by that machine. I trace my fingers over the paint trying to make out from the strokes of the brush the details that elude me. In a way it feels... it seems familiar.

I know these figures. Like memories that I have tried to suppress. That I hid in the depths of my mind, burying them with other images with days and words and useless fights.

Afraid, I put the cover back on the canvas hoping that she will return. I take a turn around the room, pretend that nothing happened. I go to the kitchen to try and eat the rest of the food and then, crying, I run outside. I look for her, call her I run to the field. I return to the house, panting. She’s nowhere to be found. She has disappeared as if she never was. I had to look! To betray her! Despair laces the air as it become denser and harder to breathe. What have I done?

That happened yesterday. I know because I wrote it down on paper. As I opened my eyes in the morning, I knew that something was different, but I couldn’t say for sure what. It was 8:49. I bit my fists and started searching again although I know that I will not see her again.

I am a prisoner of another day. I try to remember what I did with the machine, but I can’t, and this uselessness suffocates and defeats me.

I wanted to finish her painting, but I saw it isn’t even started. Blank canvas. Without much deliberation I took a rope and hanged myself on the chestnut tree in the courtyard.

That was yesterday. Today I am going to crush my fingers. I want to feel what I did, to know the guilt I am carrying. To understand the loss.

Only tomorrow does eternity begin.


Copyright © 2013 by Alexandru Ioan Despina

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