Abelard and Heloise
“Gangly-assed boy I was, devoid of fat, always on the verge of disease, crying into the night, as an infant and into adolescence, causing my father to take early leave of mother and, with the help of large stones, drive his body to the ocean’s bottom, where it could only take on sea brine and flounder,” I say.
I find Abelard’s poetics garbling the words coming out of my mouth. I’m speaking to myself in the mirror again. Going over what it is I will tell the detective of murders and the official magistrate, if I can convince them to hear me out.
“By the time I had come of age, there was nothing left in me of my father. I could hardly recall him. But I found in Abelard all the things I always imagined I would admire in my father. Perhaps that is why I killed him. I have gone through all the possible reasons. They all seem plausible. There are far too many to name. It mostly was a feeling that made me do it. As if something forced my hand. I had no choice. And now, with the paleness of this death reflected inside of me, refracting, I still have yet to understand my motive, or if I even had one at all. All that’s left is death and water. That make any sense to you?”
Shaking my head, clearing my thoughts, I start again. “I killed him. Look, his ledger. There’s blood all over it, his blood. Stabbed him in the heart with a butcher knife. Look, this coat. It isn’t mine. I stole it from the man who is now enjoying the fruits of my murder. Just believe me. I killed him. Now, go on, go ahead and cut off my head, hang me, poison me, drag me before a firing squad, whatever it is you do. Just let me take the punishment for what I did to that man.”
Not perfect. That is all you can hope for. Nothing.
“Abelard told me once about a man with whom he had relations, back in his sailing days. The guy was a young swarthy fellow, with blonde hair and blue eyes, ‘a face like a child,’ and a hollowed chest, on the left side. The way it happened was they had bovine on the boat that they slaughtered and ate while at sea. About a month out, the cattle got sick, bovine tuberculosis. So the sailors had to break the legs of the animals and heave them into the ocean. The young sailor got sick, couldn’t breathe. He nearly died. And when they got back to port, he was immediately taken to a hospital, where a surgeon opened him up, sawed out a few ribs and removed his left lung. He was in the hospital for almost a year. While there he met Abelard, who at that time was tending to the sick. Afterhours at the hospital, they would kiss and caress each other, tenderly, so much so the young man decided he wanted to leave the hospital for good, with help from Abelard, and continue their frolicking of flesh in the confines of a heated room, shared, where no nurse could ever interrupt them again. Abelard said he used to put his head in the hollow of the young man’s chest and would almost immediately fall asleep. The young man weakened over time, got sicker and sicker. When Abelard suggested he take him back to the hospital, the young man refused. That night, Abelard smothered the young man with a pillow while he slept. The night had been romantic, smelled of shit and smoke from the stove. Abelard claimed it was possibly the happiest day of his life. Me, I don’t know what it is I feel. I just need you to believe me. I stabbed him. He died immediately.”
A crashing of glass, the candles and lamps out of flame, a voice like a whisper coming at me from all angles, then a light at first dim then coming on brighter and brighter in the mirror. I crouch. Hide away. Cover my face. Plug up my ears. Wait.
I count aloud to seven-hundred, open my eyes, and everything is as it was. Candles and lamps alight, glass intact, abounding silences—a frightened me in the mirror, on the floor like a coward, and a sudden recognition that I will kill it, that light, shall I ever see it again.
“Listen,” I say, “I killed him, you fuckers. And if you don’t believe me, I’ll kill you, too.”
I laugh—snot like icicles from Cathedral spires, face all red as blood, lungs all kinked up inside, and the laughter hot against my cheeks.
He did not die immediately. He heaved and then settled back as I took him to the ground. Then the last bit of air in his lungs left him, a hollowed whoosh. Like wind through a bramble. He closed his eyes, appeared to be sleeping. That is when I panicked and ripped the shirt from my body, found a stone to sink it, and stole the drunkard’s coat from under his head as he slept. Everything before that had been calm, easy going, sedate, and that even while the knife went in, the gristle churning.
I guess I am more like my mother than I care to admit. Like me, she was always very cloistered in her dyings. In that way, too, I am just like my father—my father never existed save warnings of remembrance from my mother. And in this way, too, I am like my mother, like my father, like my mother—a pool for unwanted kittens.
Matters of life and death matter very little to me, actually. They are the same thing, after all. I get this all going a loop in my mind as I approach the station, the shadows of morning thick upon the streets, lights of dagger poking through clouds, clustered, head full of worms, dirt in my mouth, ready to speak.
I walk in just as before, demanding the detective of murders and the official magistrate.
I have a penknife, not the same as was left in a cold heart, but a smaller than average one, only good for slashing, should the flesh try to harm me in my wanting.
The same two fellows, the official magistrate and the detective of murders, come rushing in demanding I be removed from the building, so I pull out the little knife and start slashing at the air in front of them, occasionally stabbing myself in the cheeks for some reason, as though I need more holes in my face in order to finally breathe. Suddenly, I feel my body being pulled down from behind me. Everything goes black. I hear whisperings, then silence, only a slow smell of lamps burning.
I awake in a cold cell, a sheet over me. Finally, I think. I start fashioning the sheet into a rope. And when it is sufficiently tied to the window bars above me, I tie myself tightly into reason.
I jump off the cot. My heart pounds through my head.
I awake to total darkness, no smell from the lamps, not a sound, not ever of even stillness in the night. I start up from the cot and place myself in the center of the room. There are sharp little beams of moon coming through the window, just enough light to see that there are matches by the bars, a little tray of bread and cheese, a tankard of water, a candle, and a single cigarette, rolled by uncaring fingertips. I light the cigarette, watch my shadow dance across the wall, flickering, and realize that I am not alive, was never alive. Cannot be alive, won’t be alive, never, never will be—consequently, I will never live to tell this tale. This is fine, this nothing of me, of all of us. I feel nothing. Neither do I wish for a single day of flesh and flash to bring me into this world. Were it to happen, there would be nothing to worry about. Still, that is not my wish. I wish for nothing. Nothing to fear, nothing, I am nothing, nothing at all, nothing more than your shadow. Go back to sleep, I say. Don’t worry. The world’s a shadow. Shadows can’t hurt you. Not much.
Next morning the tenders are unroping my neck of bedsheet and covering me with cloth, trying to warm me. Thing about it is, the smell of homicide and suicide mingling, smells something like rotten oysters found hidden deep in the knickers of a dead cabin boy. Delicious. I can almost taste them, taste it all. And out of nowhere I start to feel the pounding in my head subside into slow waves of panic. Things aren’t familiar here. The room has altered nearly completely into a room I’ve never been. Must be a hospital they’ve taken me to. I ask one of the orderly-looking fellows if he could please bring me a piece of paper and pencil. He nods his ugly mug, turns, and trots away, walking like something has been stuffed into his anus—must be a bottom bitch, as they say.
He returns and puts the paper down before me, gives me a book for a hard surface, and a nub of green pencil for scrawl. He says, “Here you are,” and smiles, then continues, “I admire what you’ve done.”
I say, “Thank you, but what exactly, sir, is it you think I’ve done?”
He says nothing, just winks, puts his hand on my shoulder and walks away.
I begin my scrawl about the paper, but damn, I forgot to ask. “Sir,” I say. “Where am I? And why exactly am I here?”
The orderly-looking fellow comes back, smiling, “You don’t know?”
“You’ve thrice died.”
“What is this place?”
“It’s the place you come to if and when you die thrice. A college—the department of science, to be precise.”
I don’t say anything, and the man does not utter another word, rather turns and goes about his rounds, so I set about my scrawling. I see it is night again, perpetual night, thus the candles burning along with some artificial lights—the moon outside the window hung like a dead bird’s wing, unflapping.
Thus I prepare to begin my own ledger.
Gilles de Rais was a tattoo across Abelard’s chest, a face filled with murder and hate, which brought him joy, having killed in the thousands—men, women, and children alike. He had on hundreds of occasions sprayed their blood across his bare organ and instructed their corpses into sexual angles they had long suppressed. He would drain them, fuck them, chew their lips with sharpened teeth—spit the remnants into a giant bowl, which, once full, would be thrown to the dogs under the auspice of crucifix. Abelard worshipped Gilles de Rais, yet he had not much the stomach for murder himself. He was a voyeur of the art form, though, collecting knives and fantasies rather than the stealing out and gutting of souls, the making of pale white sheets of their meat. No, he left the business of butchery to me, which I obliged out of a deep personal need.
On the paper I scrawl Abelard’s face as it looked as I drove the knife into his chest. My ledger starts thus, with his face contorted in pain. Then these, the lives I took to please him, to gain his love and affection, to make him happy. He would not hurt a fly. But what he did, what we did together was pick a person, usually a young sailor, or a widow, or, on at least one occasion, a child, and set about the task of stalking, skulking through the night. And once we felt it safe enough to get off unscathed, I would slip into their house or corner them in a lonely alley or beside the docks all shaded by cargo, and, with Abelard on-looking at various and indeterminate distances, beat and stab them, repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly, and then, silently, stilly, watch as their blood emptied their flesh, ran red into the streets or the grass or the sand or the rug, the color in their eyes yellowing, until their faces eventually were worn slack by gravity and scream, hung open and stuck. Shortly after, still stained with death and night, their ghosts would enter me by way of Abelard’s hips, his fingers gripped tightly about my skull, with thrusts.
I begin a list of names:
Ms. Bundren: House
Mr. Hyde: Dockyard
Mr. Joyce: Dockyard
Mr. Boddington: Alley
Mr. James: Dockyard
Mr. Swift: House
Mrs. Christie: Beach
Miss Temple: Schoolyard
Abruptly the orderly-looking fellow interrupts my reeling in of memory, sets a glass of water and a pill down beside me, and says, “Take that.”
I look at the pill, suspiciously, and say, “You take it.”
He looks at me stunned, “But sir, it’s the pill you requested.”
“I did not request a pill.”
“You certainly did. It’s you nightly cyanide capsule. It helps you sleep.”
I jog my memory, nothing comes, only flesh and blood and a love so deep and wide it consumes me—the jaws of an immense and unjust machine, unnamable. Perhaps not Abelard, just an idea, what I wanted for me, in me, outside me, always—a corpse for approximations. The moon dies. My eyes open to a fire.
Troy James Weaver is from Wichita, Kansas. His work had appeared widely online and in print. His new novel Temporal is out now from Disorder Press.