hypertext, by Dylan Kinnett
A House Without Walls
Copyright © 2011 Dylan Kinnett. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or retransmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the publisher.
Published by the author.
Baltimore, Maryland U.S.A.
Portions of this text were orignially published as part of "To Win, Simply Play" a novella in hypertext, written to fufill requirments of the undergraduate writing thesis at Maryville College.
The Other Feelings
A Little bit of blood
I am Dead
Now, by the horrors which these realms surround;
By the vast chaos of these depths profound;
By the sad silence which eternal reigns
O’er all the waste of these wide-stretching plains;
Let me again Eurydice receive,
Let Fate her quick-spun thread of life re-weave.
Ovid, The Metamprphosis
“Are you with me or not?”
Owen answers, “Yes.”
Luca’s voice is soft, “No, are you with me?”
He says, “I understand.”
She says, “Never mind.”
Pain is the only feeling. Once pain is present, even older pain diminishes. Pain will stop, and with it, if it has consumed its due, pain will take with it all the other feelings. All the hate, the loneliness, the memories of terrible things, they can be made to die when the pain dies and you die with it.
Luca waits for the pain to stop, and it always does, as surely and as slowly as the sun will set, but the same sun rises again.
“Don’t look now; it’s the morning star,” Luca says. There has been a silence of hours, not exactly sleep. Owen sees the morning star. Luca stops looking.
It is difficult for Luca to forget what she has overheard about herself.
“You know, I just think that is so stupid. I mean, really, the only reason Luca ever got to be good at that sort of thing in the first place was out of necessity. Obviously, oh obviously. I mean, can you imagine, how gross, to be like required to have to get all confused and greasy in all that, and for long enough to actually figure it out, all by yourself. I mean, why didn’t Luca’s daddy do it? He was drunk. Why not pay the mechanic to do it? All the money went to pay for beer. She had to do it.”
Luca has a fury that wants to grow, until it waits at the end of every argument and hallway, and in every shadow cast by every light. It will not rock itself to sleep. It will not lock away. It will not listen to whispers or words, screams or reason, and silence doesn’t stop it. There is only one thing that it knows; it is hungry.
Luca has asked for Owen’s help with this kind of thing.
“Have you ever considered, you know, a doctor?” It’s the wrong question for Owen to ask, really. Of course Luca has considered it. The question comes up frequently. She might be in line at the grocery store, and someone will ask her about her “health”. She might run into an acquaintance at a party, who would observe her injuries, as if for the first time, as if they hadn’t already heard the whispers. People feign some sort of surprised concern. Luca tells them lies.
“How did you get that?”
“I work for a lawn mowing company,” she will say, and she does. “One of the blades had it out with me.” Both of these statements are true. She leaves it to others to link them into the lie that they want to hear. People believe, or they pretend to, so they don’t have to care. It is disheartening that Owen should suddenly resemble those other people in this way.
“I’m tired of being examined,” is the answer she gives to Owen, regarding doctors. “I don’t want to answer all those questions about it. I don’t want to admit to everything. I do that, and it’s just going to set me off. I think it’s horrible. Doctors would agree with me. It’s hard enough not to think I’m horrible, without them. I don’t want them to drug me until I’m worthless. They’ll want to study it, me and whatever. Does that answer your question?”
“I didn’t mean that kind of doctor, I just meant that, well, sometimes you get to where you should go to the emergency room. You know what I mean.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I worry about you. I worry that one day you’ll take it too far, and you won’t come back”
“Well, maybe you should stop worrying about it, then, if it’s so hard on you.”
“Maybe I should—”
“You didn’t let me finish. Maybe I should, if I were selfish. But I’m not concerned with me, here. I’m concerned with you. You could have died. I remember several times you could have died.”
“I don’t remember it that way.”
“How do you remember it?”
“The easiest cure for all of it is to just forget about it, alright! It works for everybody else. It works for me. I don’t understand why you can’t just let it be. It’s what I do. I’m me, that’s all. I am me and this is what I do. The only difference between the things that I do because of who I am and what everyone else does is that I’m the only one who does what I do. They work for me just the same though. Some people have their ways to let it out. Other people just bury it all. I’m just not like them, that’s all.”
Luca sits, silently. Her face is expressionless. Suddenly, she screams. The crisp, shrill cry shatters the hours of silence. It is a sound that hurts to hear.
“Dammit! You scared me. Would you quit!”
Luca cowers from the voice. She feels wrong to have awakened herself to this. She has come up for air, into a vacuum.
The reflex relaxes out of Owen, and he catches the set to her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he says, “it’s just that you startled me.”
“Well,” her voice is tired “you know I can’t quit.” and she crosses her arms, disgusted with her being, and his. Silence feels like sleep to her. It is comfortable. To him, it is numbing.
“So do you feel better now? Maybe you’d like to eat something?" His words hurt. The word "better" does not describe her feelings, not in the least. The word implies that she is worse. It indicates fault. That seems to be his mission here, to talk when silence can’t be helped, to offer food that cannot be had, and to say "better," constantly remarking on the obvious, that this is hell, and of course, it could be better. She returns to her silence.
“Or so its back to not talking, is it. Fine. That’s just fine. Go ahead. This is getting old. I’m sorry. I’m trying to help, but, really—never mind. I need some air.”
She discovers it each time. She digs her nails into the flesh of her palms, and rakes with them. A little bit of blood does for her what the tears cannot. It cools on her skin, everything else evaporates and she sleeps.
There is no reason to sleep and nothing else to do. It’s quiet, except for the rustle and shuffle of covers. The lovers: she fidgets; he is counting fan blades against the ceiling shadows. Long arms of the dark are reaching toward the corners of the room. Neither one of them knows if the other is fully awake. Both of them are.
She curses sharply in the dark. Through the dark and half sleep, it sounds as if her voice is bodiless, belonging only to the room itself.
He can find the light switch. She’s bleeding. A strip of skin is missing from the length of her inner arm. Kneeling on the chair seat, she says,
“It won’t stop bleeding.”
“How long has it been?”
“20 minutes, maybe.”
“Okay, shit. How’s the cut? Let me see.”
She extends the arm and widens her eyes as if to say, "well, look!" She is silent. Luca’s expression is calm.
Owen doesn’t want to look. The laceration extends through layers of her skin and into the tissue. Glistening in the blood, he can see what might be muscles, or fat.
Owen moves for the phone and lifts the receiver. Luca jumps toward the phone, slams down on it with her bloody fist, smashing it with one blow. The telephone is now also a bloody wreck.
“No doctors. I told you. No doctors.”
“Would you rather bleed to death?”
“It’s hell there, with the doctors. Don’t you know? Those doctors. Hell. No. You won’t.”
She moves in an automatic fashion toward the dresser. She opens the top drawer, digs through its miscellaneous contents, and quickly retrieves a small sewing kit. The needle has already been removed from the packaging several times.
“You do it. Stitch me up.”
“Would you rather I bleed to death?”
Owen threads the needle. His hands shake.
It is difficult to pinch the slippery flesh between fingers and even more difficult to press the threaded needle through. Owen feels her blood running down his own arm. It is warm and slow. He breathes slowly.
Luca winces with the pain of the needle. Owen pulls the thread taught, joining flesh to flesh again. He pierces again with the needle. The string loses its slack as Owen pulls it. He crosses the wet string over itself, bridging the broken skin. He has no idea how this will heal.
“You’re lucky I know how to sew.”
One pill brings you down. Only half of it will take you out. The other pill brings you back. It keeps you here. Luca snaps her sleeping pill in half, freeing the drug from its time-release coating. Luca’s got the half to take her out. Without the pill to bring her back, she will sleep for three days.
She swallows casually. A moment later, Owen is startled.
“Well, aren’t you going to take the rest?”
Luca slouches on the couch.
“What do you mean, no? You can’t just give up on three whole days.”
Luca is content with her decision.
Owen speaks steadily. “Three days, that’s a lot. We’ve got rent due. It’s going to take all of our last checks for the month to make that. What are we going to do if you turn yourself into a vegetable? They’ll probably fire you!”
Luca closes her eyes. She curls herself. Owen climbs beside Luca. “Take the pill,” he says.
Slowly, she opens her eyes. Her fists are clenched by her sides. She looks at Owen as though she has never seen him before.
“Take the pill.”
Slowly, she pinches the pill from Owen’s open palm. She studies it for a second. The easy-swallow coating has changed its consistency in the sweat from Owen’s hand. This pill will not be easy to swallow. She tosses it. It sails and spins in the air above the room. It lands, on the table, or the television, or the floor and takes its place among the mess. Owen's spirit falls with it. So many tiny things have defied detection until now: shards of an old cotton ball, pieces of rice, paper fringe from a spiral notebook, sock lint, chips of candle wax, small pebbles from outside. He looks down. There are tiny frustrations everywhere.
Owen screams, “This is hell! This is hell! I’m in your hell now, are you happy? Is this what you wanted? Is this what we wanted? Yes? No?” Owen is out of breath. Luca says nothing.
“This isn’t helping. Take the pill.”
Luca is asleep now. Owen makes plans to pawn the television.
Sallow light falls through the bathroom window. Luca operates faucets, flushes the toilet, tinkers with the toothbrush.
“Gary’s gone.” Owen finally observes.
“How was your day?”
“I thought you were dead. That's how my day was.”
“I heard,” Luca returns to the bed, like an indifferent cat.
“You were listening?”
Luca rests her head on him and says, “No, but you woke me up.” She raises her head again, anticipating something, inhales audibly and exhales, “thanks.”
Owen waits until his questions pass, without asking them. She never says why.
Owen surveys the disasterous landscape in the space around him. He dare not sit. She might wake up. She’s sleeping; she’s breathing. She is at peace.
They sleep together, they breathe together, they dream together. Owen is awake yet. His breaths are still his own. The bed feels cold. The room feels small.
He wonders, to descend into this hell with her, could he help her?
Owen tries to count it all, or arrange it in order to keep that peace. She cuts it, and it is gone. Is there a better way? The will to live and the will to die are different things.
Owen has a will of his own, as he looses it to sleep. He will follow her through this, however he has to. Even from the very bottom of her hell, he will walk her out of there.
The whole place is disarmed. The knives in the kitchen are gone to the neighbors under the guise, "We’re spraying for bugs, do you mind holding on to these?" Scissors are also missing. Even paper is hidden.
Owen must be alert to these things. He considers every physical object for its ability to be used as a weapon of any sort at all. Everything seems potentially deadly. Small things: staples and thumbtacks from the desk drawer, she feels she needs them; he fears them.
Owen remembers a roll of packing tape in its dispenser, with the wrapping paper in the living room. There is a jagged metal edge on the dispenser for cutting the tape. He locates it. There are scabs between the metal teeth.
Luca arrives back from a visit to the softball game in the park.
“It was an exciting game. The home team won.” Luca’s eyes fall gently on the living room. She breathes deeply “You cleaned. Looks nice.”
“I bet on the game,” she says, “and we kicked ass. Gary was there. He says Hi, oh, and enjoy the pizza I’m going to order with his money.”
The box with the wrapping papers is out. Luca’s first response is to look from the box, to Owen, and smile. He looks confused.
“Ok so I didn’t put everything away,” he admits. She looks at the box again. The tape dispenser is missing.
Luca doesn’t say another word until the pizza arrives. She greets the delivery coldly. She drops the food onto the table in the kitchen.
“There isn’t a pizza cutter.” She says, from the kitchen.
“It’s already cut.” Owen bites a piece. “Want some?”
Luca has nothing to say to him. She walks to where the television would be, and turns on the radio. It is set to the AM band, and it receives a broadcast of songs sung in Spanish. The voice intones slow and soft words, pleading music, probably that of some lover, tinkering with the affections of his beloved.
“What’s going on?” He asks, “You were fine a minute ago!”
Luca lands on the couch, such that her neck bends around the back of it and her head, still moving, strikes against the wall with a hollow thud. She feels her skull absorbing the blow, and savors it. She strikes again. By the third blow, or the fourth, Owen has approached her with calm arms. He cradles her head. Slowly, she moves herself free of the embrace, and suddenly, she strikes the wall again. Owen repeats himself, carefully. He tries to calm her. She escapes gracefully, and strikes her head against the wall again, and again. There is a fluidity of motion. The pizza grows cold. Its cheese hardens. This is a strange way to make love.
The paint peels on the walls here. Cars in the lot are growing rust. Cacti struggle with the weeds for the soil in the courtyard to these apartments. It is the middle of a bright, summer day.
Owen pounds his fists against the door of old man Nichols’ apartment, which is next to his. Owen clenches his fist tighter, bends his arm and puts the whole of his weight into it. He raps faster.
The inside sounds like raining rocks. Slowly, the door opens. One of Mr. Nichols’ shoulders is raised above the other, as if he expects to bear the weight of the blows himself, not that his frame could take it. Owen is in a state that reminds Mr. Nichols of the war.
“Where –” is the only word Mr. Nichols has the time to say.
“She’s dead, Gary—I just—she just.” Owen is gripping a piece of paper. “In the—over there—just, there. I just got here. Is this okay? Oh my God, are you busy? I dunno. I dunno what, you have to help!” There is a wooden spoon in Mr. Nichols’ hand. He places it on the end table by the door. Tomato sauce oozes onto his electric bill.
Suddenly, as if he remembers something, Owen starts, turns and frantically ambulates back toward his open door. Mr. Nichols’ follows him.
“Oh my god!” Owen screams from somewhere in the dark of one of the rooms. He sounds amazed by it all over again.
It takes a moment for the details of the mess to settle in, coming in from the stark and shadeless afternoon light outside, and into the corner apartment, which only has two windows. From the doorway, the place looks ransacked. Everything that had once rested on a surface: books on the shelves, coffee table toppings, things from the desk, they have all been swept to the floor. A few posters have been torn from the walls. One of them still hangs by a corner. There are shards of a carafe on the kitchen floor.
Mr. Nichols makes his way toward the place where the cries were coming from.
Luca is in the bed. She has cuts on her arm again. They stand out against the pale of her flesh. She sits up.
“What’s all the noise?” She is surprised to be awake. Mr. Nichols is surprised to see her that way.
“You,” Owen looks up from her to him. “Even left, this note,” he says, in a tone between confusion, apology and relief. It is evident that a bottle, full of fifteen or twenty small pills has been flung from here.
Luca stretches toward the bathroom. “I should go be sick,”
Mr. Nichols agrees completely. “Damn straight! Now if you will excuse me, my stove is on.” He hollers back through the place on the way out. “What’s the deal with the mess?”
Owen can’t blink. “I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Sometimes,” she says, “I hurt myself.”
He replies, “Who doesn’t?”
There is a silence.
The piece of paper says: "Please don’t be angry. I have no doubt. You’ll be better soon."
Luca dials every digit but the last. There is still silence at the other end of the line. She prefers this. She hangs up the telephone. She picks it up again. She puts it down.
It is all she can do to wait for the answering machine.
“Owen, you have to come over now. Just, when you get this, I’ll be here.”
The afternoon has gone sour by the time there is a knock at her door. Luca is startled by it, shaken from an intentional trance, an ignorance. How long has it been?
“This is all going to sound very strange to you, but I have to say it and I have to say it now and I’ll only say it once.”
“What is it?”
“I want you to leave.”
“But, I just got here.”
“Turn around, walk out of that door, without looking back, and never speak to me again. If you’re ever going to do this ever, and everyone does, you better do it now.”
Luca expects him to do it. She expects him to consider the matter for only a moment, shrug, and realize that he has better things to do, and he does, and she expects him to leave now. The expression on his face is blank. Ticks of the clock are lost now that the air conditioner is on.
“Well?” Luca has fear in her voice.
“Is that all?”
“Is it? Look, I’m not trying to freak you out or anything, well actually I am. I’m trying to get it out of the way. It always happens. It always will. I like you a lot, and I think maybe you feel something similar.”
“So then you trust me?”
“Then get the hell out!” There is no more fear in Luca’s voice, which seems to belong to something else. There is another silence. As the air cools, the day slows.
“No…” Owen planned to say more, but this is enough for him. “I’m staying,” he says, as an afterthought. “Maybe I didn’t explain myself well enough.” The strength in her voice has turned abject. “You need to leave. You need to turn around and leave right now, and do not look back. I’m bad for you. I’ll be worse. It’s how I am. I’m telling you this now because it has to be your choice. If you stay, there will be no going back. There’s no looking back, whatever you do, there is no looking back.”
Owen halts her ascent into frenzy. He can’t bear to listen. He steps closer, and looks warmly into Luca’s eyes.
“Do you trust me?” Owen inquires.
“Yeah,” She looks up, right at him.
“Then I’m not leaving.”
“But are you staying?”
Luca smiles a little, and cries.
“How did you know?“
“It’s what you’re not saying.”
How do you say to someone, someone real, on a normal ordinary day in a normal ordinary situation, that you have a demon? I’m sorry Owen, you say, I didn’t enjoy this or that, or no I didn’t think that was sad, in fact I have no comment whatsoever. I am dead. Why—Owen will ask. How do you explain that? Do you say never mind?
Owen doesn’t call them demons. There are so many names for these things. Even the single names have many meanings. We all have one, and it’s all we know of that kind of thing. The only one who has, the demon we have, is the one who has it. It’s so hard to make any sense of it. It’s so hard to talk about, without the sense first. Always, there are questions.
“I called it a terrible thing, didn’t I?”
“Yes, I suppose it is terrible, but you don’t have it. It’s not that bad.”
(You’re just crazy that’s all.)
Owen hears Luca try to tell him how much it hurts, whatever it is, however it’s called. Owen struggles to define it. That, surely, is his demon.
I looked at myself once, and I felt like my demon had gotten me too. I was one of the dead people, or just as bad. I felt like mine had gotten to me too. I looked as if my blood was rotting, as if maybe my veins had been thick roots and my arteries were vines, and they kept the green and the rich things coursing through me, but that maybe it had gotten damp and dark, so swampy and rotten. I had to fix it. It seemed a ridiculous notion at first. It only feels like these rotten roots should be cut before they brought their food to a rotten plant. They’re not actually rotten roots at all, they’re flesh. I will not rot while I’m alive. The whole reason these parts of me feel rotten is that there is a problem that makes them feel that way. That problem has a solution, probably, one with nothing to do with cutting open roots, real or imaginary. Aside from that, though, it makes sense. It feels like it makes sense. That has to count for something.
You can’t really act on feelings when feelings aren’t real. Does that make sense?
There are so many more bodies than souls. It is easy to see. Bodies don’t look the way babies feel to look at, with the wonder in their eyes, the teary fear, and all that feeling in their voice. Even when they pry themselves into being, covered in blood, they look alive. They scream, and it’s terrible. It sounds like they feel like they’re saying "It hurts to be!" or maybe they’re only saying "I’m a little apprehensive about this," but they say it as they’ve never said anything before, and they have absolutely no idea whether they’re ever going to say anything again, so they give in to it.
We need good doctors, and good mothers. If that baby should pry itself into dead hands, especially at the very first, then the blood and the fear, they stay, or it feels that way. This is probably why some people baptize babies.
Only Luca is sleeping now. Owen wonders whether she can hear him when he says, under his breath. “I can do without scissors, knives, staples, even paper, but you can’t ask me to live in a house without walls. It just isn’t possible.”
When it’s over, there is a still quiet balance, something like peace. There is no reason to fear. Pain is realized and death is close. There are no arguments in the mind, no observations either, except for the immediate. There is only now. Everything else has fallen away.
Spinning and dizzying lights, cacophonous siren sounds fill the air. There is a sharp knock at the door, and then another.
“What the hell is that?” Luca’s nostrils flare out. Her breath comes in blasts.
“I told you not to call anyone,” she says, struggling to stand, but Owen is holding her. Luca stops grabbing at the shattered glass, scattered on the bedroom floor. Her lower torso is still bleeding, and scabs are growing on the triangles of glass still in the window frame.
“I didn’t call anyone.”
After the third knock, the police enter the apartment. They follow the voices. Two officers enter the bedroom, a male and a female.
“We have received a call for this address— something about a suicide attempt.” They can see that Owen has his hands full here, holding her back from the glass.
Suddenly, the animal panic in her comes to a stop. She stands, calmly. She meets eyes with the woman officer.
“You’re bleeding” she says, “We’re here to help.”
Luca turns back toward Owen and gives him a savage look. She seems intent on killing him, for an instant, but it fades. She smiles.
“I’m sorry,” she says, sweetly, “but really, there’s no need to bother with little me.”
Owen rises from the ground. The other officer removes a pair of handcuffs from his belt.
“Is that your blood on the window there?”
Luca touches the holes in her flesh.
The female officer places an assuring hand on Luca’s shoulder. Luca shirks it. “How did that blood get there? Did he hurt you?”
Luca shakes her head. “It only hurts a little when he holds me back from it.”
The handcuffs are cold and uncomfortable. The hard metal presses against her tender wrists. The officers lead Luca out to their car, explaining,
“You are not under arrest, but it is our procedure that if someone presents a clear personal danger,” One of the officers looks back toward Owen, "or a danger to others, then we must take them to a doctor for observation.”
Luca follows along calmly "yes" she says "of course" she says.
They open the police car for her to get in the back of it.
“Thank you” she says.
The neighbor, is standing outside his apartment, with his arms crossed. He is satisfied with what he sees.
Owen looks back toward Luca as he walks away from where she is. Like the image, the idea of her recedes from him, back into her own space. Owen has his hand on the door to the apartment. He turns the knob, pushes the door and thinks; he may never walk through this door again.