(Published in Crash Test, 2005)
As night follows day, so will nothingness finally eclipse everything that is, that ever was. Many scenarios have been suggested for the end of all things—futile to enumerate them all. These epics are of an unimaginable scale, an imaginary universe inside our universe, crowded with black holes, heat deaths, whimpers, dark matters, big crunches. One thing everyone seems to agree on. We will all be dead by then. By we I mean you and me. And him and her. And you two as well. And all the animals and the plants, you get the point. But does the wind make a sound if there’s nobody to hear it? Why is the end of the universe of any concern, except maybe as poetic or mythical device for confronting mortality?
Get to the point.
Yes. Hungry. Get over and done.
Hush. You’re always hungry. Listen. The end of the world—our world, for who gives a fuck about the universe, as I was saying before, or was it you?—will have a humble beginning. It is announced on page 42 of the newspaper…
Will you give me a tin after?
—are you done pestering me? That is not for you to know. They’re mere details. I continue. Look, there’s even a blurred picture of a portion of galaxy as scanned by the Hubble. The article attempts to explain the phenomenon in layman terms. And—look at him now—his brow undergoes an intriguing transformation as he squints to read this. It folds and swells. It’s as if his whole face wants to implode into itself, a bit like the universe. Except the final dark whimper will be a display of grace and beauty, not to mention great pathos.
Or is it bathos?
His face is definitely ugly. But let us leave the subject of his appearance for a later stage. Maybe, if there is time. In detail, if possible. But you can tell, despite the ugliness, that something has caught his attention. So he is reading the newspaper in the living room, after the morning exercises, in the couch, next to the lamp, with the television on, or maybe off, I forget. Definitely before lunch, though, possibly after the morning walk, before the morning exercise, although most of the time nowadays is spent cleaning, scrubbing the house clean of memories. On the newspaper, the end of the world is not yet labelled as such. But it has struck a ring of alarm in his head, judging by his expression, despite the ugliness. From his head it quickly spreads to his pancreas and bladder, judging etc., as before. More about his pains later—too many and too futile. Some smart journalist, we forget who, has called it ‘The Ghosts of the Milky Way’.
Imagine a bidimensional creature walking in a straight line across the surface of a giant sphere. We know that the creature will eventually return to its point of origin, very much the same way Columbus thought he would reach India by circling the Earth. But the concept of a sphere will be beyond the creature’s comprehension. A similar blah blah blah blah into a ‘hypersphere’ or maybe a sphere of nth dimensions that bleh bleh bleh bleh which means the universe does no extend indefinitely. Last uhmf night scientists at yap yap yap yap yap stark confirmation uhmf umhf series of routinary tests crap crap unusual amounts of radiation leading to a groundbreaking and puzzling discovery. It seems that the light emitted or reflected by every object in the universe will one day travel the whole breadth of this hyper-sphere and return, as it were, in what can be described as a ghostly negative image of the universe. Crap crap stark confirmation blah bleh routine tests bleh bleh yap yap return to haunt us. What is startling is that the universe was formerly thought to be so vast that such a possibility was not seriously considered—the universe would end before umfh umfh crap unbelievable conclusion that the universe is much smaller than previously thought, or that maybe light behaves in a way scientists have not even suspected blah blah blah possibly that the same physical laws do not apply crap crap corners of the cosmos.
You see, he thought the end would be sudden, a flash of pain blinding all things, releasing them. This talk of return and reoccurrence has a bitter ring to it, this unexpected revenge of the universe upon itself.
Hurts. It hurts.
Of course, you fools. He doesn’t want to be reminded.
Are you done? It is night now, doesn’t matter which. In the empty house the screams have again begun. They have never ceased. He sits at the table like this, night after night in the tiny kitchen, the smallest room of the house, amidst the stove, the Mexican mirror, the two rotting chipboard cupboards, sits on the old creaking chair, the same night night after night. He sits thus, with his head covered, like a mummy. A long, tattered scarf has been wrapped—by him, I presume—around the large mass of his head. From a slit in the mask the staring eyes refuse to close.
The eyes, the main organ of knowledge—who said that?
One organ? two?
Don’t interrupt. I continue: In the house the screams have begun, never ceased. He sits thus, head wrapped, hands on the table, eyes vacant. The light outside is never still. It moves through an infinite palette of hues, glows, incessantly changing everything it touches. The screen-door is a comforting barrier between him and it. On the fine mosquito mesh, the accumulated soot of decades grows like grey moss, rendering the outlines hard to make out—small mercy. Not even at night can the world enjoy a rest from this dreadful visibility, this confining presence. While this damned messenger—this moonlight and starlight and man-made glares—meanders gleefully, setting light feet on everything, mocking the living and the dead. As if the presence of things themselves was not enough, we must endure their traces, doublings, reflections, their memories. And the traces of their doublings and the reflections of their traces, and the memories of these.
We get the message. Very Platonic.
You were on the subject of his head.
His head? More about that later. I can’t see any head, only the eyes feeding on the light. And the body down below, suspended from the hook of his neck. On second thoughts, the body is not there at all, really. It is more like a wisp, a hurried afterthought. The below has wasted away while the attics of his brain have grown, the rooms multiplied and filled with the young silence. But there are old rooms, suppressed rooms crammed with old burdens. The mind is the most unreliable of narrators.
So much for the poor wreck.
More. Tell more about the light. About night.
Not much more to tell. We may praise the resilience of photons, hurled onto this undistinguished backyard. They die taking to the grave the memories of their ancient origins. Yes, brave, stubborn things, these ghostly photons. It could be added that sometimes leaves fall, when—I suppose—autumn comes, which means, logically, empirically—not sure which—that the trees come to life with the arrival of spring, it is presumed. The same leaves returned. And it rains sometimes, but this is not often, not as far as memory can stretch, not for some time anyway by the look of the dead grass and the trees out there bowing down as if to drink from the soil.
Now, though? Is it raining? spring?
That is unclear, for reasons that shall become clear shortly. These include dirty screen-door, bad eyesight, overall lack of interest in the affairs of the outside world. Whatever the case, we are finished with the night, the light and his head.
The screams? Tell about the screams.
Little can be said about the screams. The gagged shrieks, the subterranean supplications have become part of the silence now, a thread in the fabric of the everyday, harmless as the faraway traffic, the dogs barking, the occasional plane. Part of the family now, really.
But even these things are unendurable. Otherwise, explain these desperate attempts at avoidance.
Don’t rush it. It would be easier if you would shut up. And you. And you. Here’s your tin now. Easy, easy.
No, I’ve told why. Eat it. Meanwhile, having no choice, I continue. Wrapping his head in this manner serves to turn his hearing inwards, to the roaring beating of his own blood. It is a soothing sound, like the waves in the sea.That summer, in Jarvis Bay. Not a soul in sight. The log cabin amidst the sand-dunes. The seagulls scavenging the coast, glowing white, as emitting their own light. But enough of these fantasies. A few questions remain about the screams. Do they begin at the same time every night? Which days are the worst? And is it the moon that awakes her in this way? Or is it some internal mechanism, perhaps, some involuntary wrenching of the guts, lungs, throat, liver?
She can’t be hungry again, of that there’s no doubt. Does she love him? And what’s the good of questions without answers?
No more, then. No more about the screams.
The dark waters licking the grey shore.
Stop! The eyes are moving. The gaze wanders to the mirror now. He stares at his gaze staring at itself staring into itself until his head begins to swim terrifyingly (like that time…). He looks at the door instead, at the night described in the previous paragraph (description abandoned). Entire nights may be spent in this manner. They are kind, peaceful nights, with no other thoughts than those of what is immediately at hand. The gaze slides from the mirror to the door, jumps to the stove, crawls to the mirror, mirror-door, door-mirror, door-mirror-stove, mirror-door-stove, stove-door-stove- mirror.
I resume. We continue: The end will come soon, he hopes, he can only hope. In the meantime, he must keep to the appointed tasks. A hand comes to life on the table. It searches for the end of the scarf, which is secured behind his right ear, two human ears, two human eyes. The scarf unwinds, falling in a lengthening arc. Those who happen to see the face for the first time and are not deterred immediately by its lamentable disrepair, may notice the bulbous nose seemingly attached by accident, as if someone had cast it out in disgust. The size of the nose is no indication of its functionality, for the nose is useless, it can’t even pick up his own farts. It has been stripped of sensory capabilities, and demoted to an appendage of the breathing apparatus. Looking at this nose, you can see why primeval cosmologists imagined humans made of clay, shit and sperm. Let us remain on this face a while longer, since the body is not worthy of discussion. Handfuls of ashen weed perch on a long, wide skull. Alone, in the absence of observers, the face is not ugly. Beauty is a social business. But it is not beautiful either. It is a face with mouth and eyes and other faulty organs of knowledge, human enough to fool the casual passer-by.
When have the screams stopped?
Provided they have stopped.
Tomorrow, extra treat. He feels kind all of the sudden. He will go down there in the morning, yes, extra biscuits, yes.
They are in a tin on the lower shelf, to the left, in the cupboard next to the broken oven.