J.D.’s Departure

Articol publicat in:EnglishProza | Aparut in:Nr. 7 ( decembrie, 2010 )
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On 10th of March, J.D. thought to himself: “I should do something with my life.” It was ten o’clock in the evening and he was alone in the house.

He was watching TV when this idea came to him. The news was on. One husband had strangled his wife because she didn’t agree with his sexual desires. An airplane had crashed over a residential area of Amsterdam. Some animals were found dead in a zoo and no one knew why. There were other news—the shocking kind, of course—but this last one in particular struck him.

He was 25 and, after graduating high school, had settled on his own in this two room apartment. He found a nice quiet job as a museum custodian and life was peachy. (Or so he thought.) He didn’t have anything to do with the outside world and that was good, too. He liked keeping everything to himself. It was more comfortable that way. He had tried to build a relationship once, had had a few good happy weeks, but eventually everything came crumbling down. Why? he had asked himself immediately afterwards. Well, the answer was as simple as a breath of air—he wasn’t good at dealing with people. He had a bad temper. His mother used to tell him that and, even though he used to deny it, he came to give her right. “You are not made for solid friendship, J.D.!” she had told him once. “Look at yourself! You are repugnant!” And it was true, all of it. God, it was true! He was not a dwarf, no, not quite, but he had something of one in him. And he fully acknowledged this after the one and only relationship was over. He stood 1.60 m and his girlfriend stood 1.70 m. Not such a big difference, one would say. But try telling it to J.D. after he had managed to get Ellen into bed and hadn’t managed to finish the job. Ellen started crying and, after a while, so did he. The next day it was all over.—And he came to give his mother right.

All he was left with was his job and his apartment. Which were both good dead things, things which made no complain, things he could control.

Once in a while his mother came to visit. She cooked for him, she washed his cloths (the same ragged jeans and shirt he used to wear in high school), and she scolded him. He didn’t mind that. He was used to it. He even liked it, in a masochistic kind of way. She understood him, that’s why. And because she understood him, J.D. loved her. He loved her more than the wax figures he had to take care at the museum.

Before he set in front of the TV that evening, sandwich and beer at hand-length distance, he had received one phone call.

“Your mother is sick, J.D.” his father’s voice had told him. “I don’t know whether she can make it through the night.”

He had said other things, too, but they were all blurred in J.D.’s mind.

After that, the zoo animals’ death came on. And he thought, in a flesh of mind he later couldn’t explain: “I should do something with my life.”

One hour later, he lay in bed. It took him more than usual to fall asleep. Images came to him. They clouded his mind like a flock of black sparrows.

First, he saw the Hitler statue he was so fond of at the museum because it had such vivid eyes. It was talking to him, whispering unspeakable things into his ears. And he couldn’t put a stop to it. It was as if he was numb all over—numb like a wax figure, he would have thought had he been in control of the situation. Hitler’s words were hard to grasp, but J.D. knew their meaning, oh yes, he knew them.

The next thing his mind’s eye saw was a crowd of people. He stood in the middle, entrapped. Everyone was pushing him. Hard, they were pushing him hard. He heard voices, too, all kinds of voices, talking all kinds of languages; loud voices, this time, not whispers. They seemed to shout at him. In a minute (or what seemed to him like a minute) he was down on the pavement.

Then, the crown suddenly disappeared. He was alone in the deserted square. The voices were gone, too. He could hear his own breathing.

And another man’s breathing, also. It took him some time to figure out whose it was. It reached his ears from something that seemed like a great distance. He tried to focus his eye-sight towards the source of that sound. In dreams, time has no substance. He knew that in the waking state, but now such a concept was far from his power of understanding. And he waited like that for what felt like weeks to him. Finally, he could identify it. And the first realization was that it was not a man’s breathing, but a woman’s. His mother’s.

He was standing in the doorway of his parent’s dark bedroom. For what he was aware of, it could be exactly during that same night. Maybe the same hour, too. His mother was badly suffering. He needn’t see her to understand that. Her breath was jerky, coming out of her body with the sound of a large lorry coming up fully-loaded on a steep road. “Mother, what’s wrong?” he tried to ask her. Words resonated only in his mind, for in the silent room no sound was heard. “Where’s father?” he asked himself and the answer came immediately in the form of a rustle from behind, from where the kitchen stood.

Suddenly he felt no longer alone, as he did while listening to Hitler’s statue talk or while standing among that unsteady crowd. His mother was here with him, maybe for the last time.

“J.D.”, she cried.

On legs he couldn’t feel, he approached the bed’s dark shadow.

“I’m here”, he said.

“J.D., come closer!” she said in a harsh voice as if not hearing his words. “I need you, J.D.!”

He came even closer, guided by a force beyond his understanding. He could feel now the vibes any object emanates when nearing it. His knees hit the wooden bed and he felt weak. He needed to sit down. But the same force which led him here wouldn’t let him do so. Therefore, he remained as he was, standing.

“It’s come after me, finally”, his mother was saying. “I can’t fight it any longer, J.D.”

The skinny shape of his mother’s body was now visible to him. She was restless, he observed. She was shaking as if from cold; her limbs were fluttering pointlessly in the air; her fists clasping feverishly; her mouth was agape, lips shriveled. Life was leaving that body second by second, J.D. noticed.

“Come closer, my child,” she said with great effort.

J.D.’s knees then bent and his spine made a popping sound as he leaned over her body. Tears were springing from the corners of his eyes.

“You’re all I have left!”

The voice was now stronger, vitalized as by magic.

J.D. was close enough to notice that the woman laying in bad resembled his mother, but wasn’t her anymore. The opened mouth revealed uneven dirty teeth; the odor coming from that mouth was pestilential.

“I only have one solution left,” she said, the weakness long gone from that breathing. “They told me it’s my only chance.”

As she uttered these words, she sprung up, like a vampire coming out of its coffin. The thin blanket fell off of her body and J.D.’s amazed eyes could now see its monstrous shape.

It was naked and wet; sweat ran on the reddish skin like rivulets of dirty water in a gutter. The fingernails were long and ragged, sharp as knives. They glittered in the obscurity. Her eyes were opal red, out of the orbits, almost hanging on her cheeks. Her hair was thin and the scalp—he noticed now despite the darkness in the room—was scarred, like a radiated man’s head.

“Come to me, my child,” she whispered and her voice sounded too much like Hitler’s.

When her arms stretched to reach him, J.D. closed his eyes, amazed as he was, and wished for everything to just disappear.

But he was forced to acknowledge when he opened them again that it didn’t disappear and that it wouldn’t disappear at his mere will.

He was whistling along with the tune playing on the radio when he picked up his mail.

Three weeks had passed since his mother’s death. He had faced this fact better than he would have expected. He even helped his father arrange for the funeral. He even succeeded staying with his mother’s corps through the whole wake period. She was so beautiful, as she lay there on white satin, flowers surrounding her, bright light caressing her pale skin! J.D. found himself not once staring her intensely, like in a trance. Once he thought she was speaking to him. The words he didn’t gather, but he was sure she was trying to tell him something. He neared the coffin and leaned over her, ear close to her dead mouth. Nothing. He remained like that for a moment longer, and then took his place back on the stool. A sort of deja-vu feeling had flooded him shortly afterwards. The memory of doing the same thing not too long ago. The memory of her telling him something important not too long ago.

This feeling kept him prisoner for no longer than five minutes. After that, he came to his common concerns again, forgetting everything about what had seemed like a bad dream.

His mother was dead and he should honor that with the appropriate thoughts. His mother was no monster! She was his only friend—not even his father could ever replace her—and now she was gone for good. He was alone with no hope of ever regaining that feeling of comfort she could give him.

That was the only instance when the nightmare before his father’s call to announce her death had shed any kind of shadow upon his consciousness.

Now he looked at his mail: the newspaper, some commercial slips, a piece of shiny paper announcing the latest theatrical release, and one letter. This last one made his eye-brows rise. He never got any letters. Why, he had no friends.

He let everything aside and opened the envelope, now only humming the tune. Inside was a postcard. It looked old. He checked both its sides: one was blank, the other showed a medieval town (he thought), apparently uninhabited. A wide street caught your sight at first; then you noticed the desolated buildings on both sides. They weren’t so tall, but they surely looked ancient. J.D. couldn’t identify the architectural style; it wasn’t any of those catalogued at the architectural sector at the museum; he knew that as well as he knew his mother was dead. It was somewhat arabesque, even grotesque to look at. It gave you shivers up your spine. It was very vivid. “Like Hitler’s eyes,” he said out loud as the song ended and a new one followed. This he didn’t know, but he tried to hum it all the same. It gave him a sort of feeling of distance from the world in the postcard.

He checked the envelope, too. No sender address. He checked the postcard again and immediately stopped humming.

Now, there was someone in that town. It was far in the distance, but he could still make out its shape. He closed his eyes for a second and, when he opened them, the person in the picture was closer. He could tell its figure. The similitude struck him.

“We are watching you,” the announcer said on the radio.

J.D. closed his eyes once again. His temples were throbbing. Opened the eyes. Even closer. There could be no mistake now. The picture-person was him!

“Take good care, J.D.!” the announcer spoke once more.

The next moment, J.D. felt a cold touch on his fingers. He dropped the picture on the floor.

“No, no, no,” he kept on repeating like an expiable spell. He pressed his palms against his eyes, rubbed them hard, rashing them, making tears come out. “No, no, nonono—“

“Here, J.D., look here,” a voice called at him. His own voice.

“No, I won’t look. No!”

Stubbornly.

But he did look. Yes, he did. He was curios by nature; that’s what had attracted him at the museum custodian job—he could dig up all sorts of forgotten things.

He saw the postcard lying on the floor face up. He saw something trying to crawl out of it. Something that looked too familiar not to be human fingers.

First there came two of them, feeling the margins of the yellowish paper; then came other two; and, finally, the thumb. They clasped at the margins of the paper with self-confidence. The fingernails had been recently clipped, it seemed, and they were shining in the morning light like razorblades. After a long pause, the next hand’s fingers appeared through the gap in the picture. They took the same posture as the first. They started pulling at the margins, enlarging the hole. Some threads of hair made their appearance. They were dark brown, like his own.

The hole was now wide enough to let the head get through. And it did get through; with a popping sound it did, like coming out of an elastic canvas. The hands came out, too; first to the wrists, then to the elbows, and, finally, whole, to the shoulders.

“You could give me a hand, don’t you think?” the picture-J.D. said with a grin.

“Nononono—“, the real J.D. said. His palms were fighting to get to his eyes and shelter them from that sight, but something held them.

“As you wish,” picture-J.D. said, “I guess I can do it myself.”

His bust was now all out of the picture. Another ten centimeters and it would be out navel-level.

J.D. noticed that his doppelganger was wearing the exact same cloths as he was wearing now. “Nononono—“, he was thinking.

The picture-J.D. was now knee-level out of the picture. He was crawling out of its surface like a cat might crawl out of a small hole in a fence.

The ankles, now; same sneakers in his feet; same laces.

“There, I have done it!” he voiced, shaking and patting his cloths to strengthen them. “Now, let’s talk!”

They were sitting face to face on the living-room carpet, cross-legged. The radio had been shut-up, but J.D. couldn’t tell by whom or when. All he remembered was his twin taking him by the hand and leading him here. He didn’t oppose any force. He knew it wouldn’t do him any good. The picture-J.D. was in command now; he had no power over the present situation. Like in that nightmare he now remembered well, when he had been led against his own will towards his mother’s bed and had been forced to look her into her eyes and listen to her words. J.D. had a feeling that this same twin of his had been behind the wheel then too.

“It’s nice how you arranged things around,” J.D.’s twin said in an evident attempt to break the ice. “It’s comfy.”

J.D. said nothing. Just looked and listened. Like in the dream.

“You are awfully quiet today, J.D. Is everything OK?”

A long pause.

“Well, I guess I will have to do all the talking.”

He looked at J.D. with a shrewd eye, trying the gather from his reaction some sort of response.

“I’m your only friend now, J.D.,” he continued. “Now that your mother’s dead—poor soul, she suffered a lot, didn’t she?—I’m all you have as of friends. No, don’t deny it, J.D., I know I’m right.”

He tried to touch his hand, but J.D. retracted it, hiding it behind his back.

“They told me you were shy, J.D., but I didn’t think the problem was so… acute,” the twin said. “Doesn’t matter, anyway. We are trained to deal with every situation.”

Another sharp look on the twin’s behalf. Another still reply on the J.D.’s behalf.

“Let’s cut to the chaise, would’ya? I’m here because you have to come with me, J.D. We have places to go and things to see together. It’s part of your becoming. Everyone has to do this at a certain moment. Some do it earlier and some later. Some try to resist it and some give to it with all their heart. We know people are very different. We understand that. But, still, we must do our job and lead them. I’m your guide, J.D.”

I don’t need any guide! J.D. wanted to shout out loud, but his vocal cords were rusty and stiff.

“Your mother, oh yeah, she was one of those who wouldn’t come! We let her alone, but we have watched her closely. That’s why she had become so paranoid lately. When time approaches one can feel our presence; can feel us watching him or her. She tried to escape, to fool us, J.D. We don’t like that, J.D. We understand people, I’ve already told you that, but we have a limit to that, too. She forced that limit. And we were forced to take her unawares.”—A pause in the twin’s speech, then: “I believe you have met her just before her departure.”

In an instant, J.D. lived again all that horror: his mother’s heavy breathing, her cry for comfort, You are all I have left, her transformation, the harsh voice, I only have one solution left

“She said you told her she had one last chance left!” J.D. burst out loud. His eyes almost came out of their sockets.

“Well, well, look who has a tongue!” the twin said. “Well, she did say that, didn’t she? It was a mistake on our behalf, I admit it. She lived with the illusion that she could be saved if she convinced you to go with us in her place. But, my dear, such things never happened and they never will happen. Everybody has to do it on their own.”

Even though it was still morning, the sun-light started to dim.

“And your time has come, my dear. You won’t be alone any longer in this cage of a life. Remember the dead animals in the zoo? They have to come too. Only that we take them a bunch at a time. We are very busy with the humans and we aren’t left with much time for the animals. On the other hand, they don’t resist our will and they are easier to handle.”

J.D. started feeling himself again. The fear was diminishing and he could now put this situation into the right frame. This was a pass-out, yes it was, he must have stumbled over the hem of the carpet and fallen on the floor while picking the mail, in the process banging his head on the phone-table by the door. He would soon come to and laugh over this whole stupid event.

“It’s real, J.D., don’t you think the things you think,” the twin said, getting up and starting walking up and down the room. “I’m very real and so is what is happening to you—“

“Which is?” asked J.D., half smiling, half grinning.

“It’s time for you to die, kiddo!”

When the twin uttered these words, all the morning light went out as if God had put the light-switch on Off.

“You’ll come with me whether you want it or not!” the picture-J.D. almost screamed and his posture seemed threatening now. His eyes had gained the opalescent reddishness J.D.’s mother’s own eyes had had in his nightmare. Even his voice reached as he spoke these same words a different scale, a baritone-like one.

“We’ll go a beeeeauuuty-fooool place, kiddo!” the twin spoke and his voice was like thunder. “We’ll go an ancient place. I’m sure you’ll like it. After all, you like dead things, things which cannot harm you, things which you have to discover and, when you have done so, you can master at your own will. You are one of us, kiddo, don’t you see? Why do you think I have the exact same look as yours?”

J.D. got up on his feet, too. He saw his stiff legs move. His mind was crystal clear. He understood his twin perfectly. He was right. More than right, he spoke his exact mind! This had never happened to him; not even with his mother!

“Unlike all the others, you have the chance to find your true self in death.”

At his own surprise, J.D. discovered that he was the one who spoke these words.

The next surprise was to notice that he was alone in the room, and that the room was now brightly lighted.

I should do something with my life, J.D. remembered having thought not so long ago. He didn’t understand then what this change should be, but now he did.

He got out of the room and headed towards the kitchen. On his way he looked at the hallway’s floor. There was no postcard there. And no envelope on the phone-table, either. Only the newspaper, the commercial slip and the piece of paper announcing him that Lord of the Rings, part II, The Two Towers was now out at theatres all over the country.

This didn’t stop him, though; he knew now what he had to do.

He entered the kitchen and opened the knives drawer. He took the big and shiny and sharp one and, holding it like a golden key, he sat down.

What he had to do with his life was to take it! To cut the cordon linking him to this ugly zoo garden and set himself free to his true land of wonders.

He positioned the knife between his bare feet, blade up. He looked at it for a moment. His eyes were swimming in tears. Why had he waited so long for this? Why had he accepted to be entrapped inside this hideous cage for such a long time?

“Forget all these tormenting questions,” a voice told him, his own voice, “everything will be all right now that you know the exit.”

He knew it, all right. It was a picture showing an ancient land, a land no one knows anything about, until the final moment, a land he was meant to live (well, die!) in from the very beginning.

That picture he saw now instead of the knife pointing to him. And towards that picture he plunged now, open hearted and open mouthed, following the lead of his twin.

Copyright © 2003 by Mircea Pricajan

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Un comentariu »

  • oliviu craznic said:

    excellent! And I also LOVED The Shadow, hope one not-so-far-away day I will read it in english too 🙂 (the kingsian atmosphere and the wonderful developement of characters were AMAZING – i am fascinated by complex characters, I believe a book is made by the characters most than anything else…) congratulations, and thank your for having the chance for enjoying True, Pure Horror in Romanian Style! I want more!

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