I was rereading Bolaño’s Antwerp for the millionth time, a thin sliver of a book, a missive for and about interdimensional detectives. It was small enough to fit in the one backpack Bruce let me stuff with stuff as we got ready to leave the mountain forever. He stood in the doorway of his studio looking over his shoulder. “Quickly, quickly now”, he said, as the rumbling from the house reached out all the way across the field and buzzed under our feet. You see, I wanted to tell him, you thought you were far enough away from Behemoth’s signal to be safe but the root systems of the trees and the underground mycelium networks of fungi that bloomed off the sacred putrid buried bodies of dead animals and the intricate tangle of worms that nibble out highways and byways in the damp black soil had you linked up this whole time. Everything and everyone is connected, especially out here. Your safety and the safety you offered to me was just an illusion, I accused, but not out loud–it seemed beside the point and also my lip was swollen like an overripe grape, fat and heavy ready to burst. It hadn’t hurt the whole time inside the basement, in fact it was like Lil Mountain’s head hadn’t smashed into me at all–like it never even happened. And in a way it hadn’t, at least not to the version of me that was down there.
Now it was weeks later, and I compulsively touched the hardened wound with the tip of my tongue as I misunderstood the opening line of Section 31: “I’m walking in the park, it looks like somebody got killed.” I read the words correctly but I got the meaning wrong, despite already knowing the story, which is a simple one made from tiny pieces that get repeated and turned inside out and spun until the infinity inside each fragment is revealed from different angles like on a holographic suncatcher. (Have I already mentioned that fragments are the only form I trust?) Given the flicker frame mastery of the page-long sections it’s perhaps not an unintended effect that with each pass (and this is a book that requires being read multiple times) one reads into the lines in different ways–in this case, I understood “it looks like somebody got killed” as being an attribute of the way the park looked, like the trees and surroundings were giving off a ripe death vibe, when it actually meant that there was a straight up body lying right there, by the fountain. This clarification was only a sentence away but I got lost in the space inbetween–thinking about how a familiar place can suddenly seem different, sinister even, which is how the campsite appeared that morning. The light was diffused in a funny way, so that where it used to sparkle now there was a glare. The tents were covered with a film of moisture that ran down the sides like tears. I called out in my usual way but there was no answer. No birds, no cars, no wind. Just the apparent stillness of the earth, an illusion it maintained despite hurtling through space. So I went back in the van and read my book and when I got to the line I misread, a feeling of anxiety crept in. It was all so quiet, too quiet, so I ran out with my jacket billowing around me until I finally found The Babies a short distance from the overpass. They were placing delicate objects onto a white blanket laid out on the grass. Chunks of amethyst, seashells turned up to reveal their pearly insides, taffy colored glass pipes, Limited Edition double LP’s, broken watches and lucky bottle caps. The green of the grass radiated around the edges of the blanket, threatening to close in and take it over. A bottle of mead, a Bible filled with flowers pressed between the pages… a small picture frame with a sepia photo inside, an elderly man with large, kind eyes staring into the long lost glow of candles presented to him on a cake, and another man behind him in work clothes, a cigarette stuck out from the fingers of his hand that rested on his hip…I watched as these prized possessions were carefully rolled and then folded, so that the white blanket became a knapsack heavy with goods.
“What’s going on?” I asked, trying to be casual, despite the rising fear that they were planning to leave without me.
“I have nothing to add to the stash,” I said, not that they had asked. “All my precious belongings are invisible,” I lied.
I followed them back to camp, noticing as we walked how long their hair had become. I saw tattoos on half covered limbs. Dirty ripped denim, eyeglasses held together with tape, the cloying smells of lavender and sweet grass. We formed a straight, then curvy, then jagged line as we passed another Baby high up in a Pine tree, looking out while I was looking in, bits of poetry forming in my mind that I threw at the scene, scattered like clues for the detectives to find. I moved between the camping stoves and the cooking plates glistening with oil. We had cutting boards The Babies used to chop the garlic and slice up the veggies inside the van or on the dash of one of the cars. And of course a variety of spices, but really when it came down to it–as I liked to tell them–all I needed was a few eggs and some bread–maybe a little peanut butter and one of those green juices you buy in the supermarket. This and nicotine and a drink or two or ten and I could go on forever.
But someone had to cook. Someone had to cut the garlic so thin it was like butter. All that way back there in Brooklyn I’d started out alone and now I needed a team to keep me safe and alive.
The situation was not yet one of desperation. If they had seen someone lurking around they would have told me. But the light and the damp air were indicative of something having happened.
“Where’s Em?” I asked.
They were at once still and spinning, I realized. Doing little things here and there, putting things away, checking connections. All while appearing to barely move.
“Hey! I mean it. Where is she?”
“She’s gone,” Blackbird said, stepping over a bucket of bleach. He rubbed his nose and held out a cigarette.
“What? What do you mean?”
“Where did she go?”
“I don’t know.”
“Who the fuck does?”
“No one,” he said, in a way that struck me as too quick and loud, as though he wanted to make sure he answered before anyone else did.
“I’m going to find Bruce.”
No one said anything as I turned and ran to the parking lot. It was later, and everything was open, so it was full of cars and people pushing carts while staring at their phones. Usually the melancholy is too much so I avoid the parking lot during peak business hours, but on this day I was relieved to see people walking this way and that with their cheap looking sneakers and ill fitting pants. I relished the team logos and American flags on their shirts. A baby turned and locked eyes with me as I passed.
You are the ones, I thought.
I found the Land Rover Defender 90 parked in its usual spot, with the passenger side door open.
“Where is she?” I yelled, panting and half bent over.
“She needed some space,” Bruce said, sitting at the wheel and staring straight ahead.
“Why? What happened? Is she OK?”
He didn’t answer, and instead reached under the seat and pulled out the thick scroll of typing paper.
“Here,” he said. “It’s by Lil Mountain, as I’m sure you already figured out.”
“Why are you giving it to me now? Did you let Em read it?”
“No, it turned out she had already read most of it before we met up with her and the other Babies.”
“If that’s true, why didn’t she tell me what it said?”
“She wasn’t ready to talk about it.”
“But she’s ready now?”
“No, not at all.” Outside, in the parking space in front of us, a mother was holding a child’s hand as they watched the back door of their SUV swing slowly open.
“She just wanted to ask me one question, since she knew that by now I would have finished it, which I have.”
“Ok,” I said, as I felt my heartbeat in my ears. My stomach and my head hurt. I looked down at the scroll, it was tied together with an intricate array of gold ribbons, like the kind you’d use to decorate a present. There was writing in blue ink across the middle, in handwriting I immediately recognized as Lil Mountain’s.
“If you read, you will judge,” it said.
“What was the question? What did she ask you?”
Bruce turned and looked right at me, but not in my eyes, because this time I was the one who looked away.
“She asked me, ‘Is Lil Mountain dead?’”
“And what did you answer?”
“I said, ‘Yes, he is.’”
Image: Ryan Driscoll, The Angel
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