sábado, 14 de maio de 2016
THE BRAILLE ENCYCLOPAEDIA
BLIND IN THE CITY OF LIGHT, Patricia walked carefully back through the Cimitiere Pere-Lachaise.
‘Are you all right?’ Mrs Becque said again. ‘Now be careful here, the steps are a little slippery . . .’
Patricia nodded and placed her foot tentatively on the first step. Through the soles of her shoes she could feel the edge of a stick patch of moss.
‘Are you all right?’ Mrs Becque said again.
‘I’ll be fine,’ Patricia said. ‘Really.’
All around, she could feel the shapes of sepulchres and headstones. The echoes they returned, the space they displaced, the subtle patterns of cold air they radiated; all these things gave the funeral monuments of Pere-Lachaise a weight and solidity that lay beyond sight. From the locked and chambered earth, a fragrance arose. The elaborate alchemy of decay released a damp perfume which combined with the scent of spoiled wreaths and hung like a mist around the stones. Rain drummed on the stretched skin of Patricia’s umbrella.
‘So what did you think?’ said Mrs Becque. ‘Of Wilde’s monument, that is? Did you like it?’
‘Lovely,’ Patricia said.
‘Of course, the vandals have made a terrible mess, writing all over the statue, but it’s still very impressive, don’t you think?’
Mrs Becque’s voice receded into a rainy drone. Patricia could hardly mention how amused she’d been when she’d run her hands over Epstein’s stone angel, only to discover that the balls of the statue had been chopped off by some zealous souvenir fiend. Mrs Becque would most certainly disapprove of so ironic a defacement, but Patricia felt sure that Oscar Wide would have found the whole thing thoroughly entertaining. Mrs Becque, in fact, seemed to disapprove of almost everything and Patricia was growing desperately tired of the woman’s constant presence.
‘We must get out of this awful rain,’ Mrs Becque was saying. They crossed the street, found a cafe and sat down.
‘What would you like, dear?’ asked Mrs Becque. ‘Coffee?’
‘Yes,’ Patricia said. ‘Espresso. And a croissant. Thanks.’
Mrs Becque ordered, then eased herself up out of her seat and set off in search of a telephone. Patricia took her book from her bag and began to read with her fingertips. She found no comfort there. More and more often these days, books did nothing but increase her own sense of isolation and disaffection. They taunted and teased with their promise of a better world but in the end they had nothing to offer but empty words and closed covers. She had grown tired of experiencing life at second hand. She wanted something that she had never been able to put into words.
A waiter brought the coffee.
‘Something else for you, sir?’ he said.
Patricia started up from her book. Someone was sitting at her table, directly opposite: A man.
‘I’m fine with this,’ the man said. His voice was rich and resonant, classically trained. Every syllable seemed to melt in the air.
‘I hope you don’t mind,’ the man said. He was talking to Patricia now, using English. ‘I saw you sitting all alone.’
‘No. Actually, I’m with someone,’ Patricia said. She stumbled over the words, as she might stumble over the furniture in some unfamiliar room.
‘She’s over there. Over there.’ She gestured vaguely.
‘I don’t think you’re with anyone at all,’ the man said. ‘You seem to me to be alone. It’s not right that a pretty girl should be alone in Paris.’
‘I’m not,’ Patricia said flatly. The man was beginning to disturb and irritate her.
‘Believe me,’ the man said. ‘I know what you want. It’s written all over your face. I know what you want.’
‘What are you talking about?’ Patricia said. ‘You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me.’
‘I can read you like a book,’ he said. ‘I’ll be here at the same time tomorrow, if you wish to hear more about the Braille Encyclopaedia.’
‘I beg your pardon?’ Patricia’s face flushed. ‘I really don’t . . .’
‘Everything all right, dear?’
Patricia turned her head. The voice belonged to Mrs Becque. Foreign coins chinked into a cheap purse.
‘It’s just this man . . .’ Patricia began.
Mrs Becque sat down ‘What man?’ she said. ‘The waiter?’
‘No. That man. There.’ Patricia pointed across the table.
‘There’s no one there, Patricia,’ Mrs Becque said, using the voice she reserved for babies and dogs. ‘Drink up your coffee. Michel said he’d pick us up here in twenty minutes.’
Patricia lifted her cup with numbed fingers. Somewhere the espresso machine sputtered and choked. Rain fell on the silent dead of Pere-Lachaise, on the streets and the houses of Paris, covering the whole city like a veil, like a winding sheet . . .
Patricia raised her head. ‘What time is it?’ she said.
In her room, in the tall and narrow hotel on the Boulevard St Germain, Patricia sat listening to traffic. Outside, wheels sluicing through rain. Rain sieving down through darkness. Rain spattering on the balcony. Rain dripping, slow and melancholy, from the wrought-iron rafting.
She sat on the edge of the bed, in the dark. Always in the dark. No need for light. The money she saved on electricity bills! She sat in the dark of the afternoon, ate another slab of chocolate and tried to read. It was hopeless; her fingers skated across the Braille dots, making no sense of their complex arrangements. Unable to concentrate, she set her book down and paced to the window again. Soon it would be evening. Outside, in the dark and the rain, Paris would put on its suit of lights. Students would gather to argue over black coffee, lovers would fall into one another’s arms. Out there, in the breathless dark and the flashing neon, people would live and be alive; and here, in this room, Patricia would sit and Patricia would read.
She sat down heavily and, unutterably miserable, slotted a cassette into her Walkman. Then she lay back on the bed, staring wide-eyed into her private darkness.
Debussy’s ‘La Mer’ began to play - the first wash of strings and woodwind conjured a vast and empty shore. White sand, desolate under a big sky. White waves smashed on the rocks. Patricia was writing something on the sand. Lines drawn on a great blank page of sand. She could not read what she was writing but she knew it was important.
Patricia licked dry lips, tasting chocolate.
What did he look like? The man in the cafe. The man with the voice. What would he look like if she could see him?
She unzipped her skirt and eased her hand down between her legs. The bed began to creak faintly, synchronising itself with Patricia’s harsh, chopped breathing . . .
She was stretched out on watered silk in a scented room of flowers and old wine and he was there with his voice and his breath on her body his breath circulating in the grottoes of her ear and in her mouth and his skin and the mesh of muscles as he went into her
Debussy’s surf broke against the walls of her skull. White wave noise drowning out the traffic and the rain, turning the darkness into incendiary light.
The music had come to an end. The room was too hot. An airless box. Patricia was suffocating in the dark. She rose, unsteadily, and faced the mirror’s cold eye. She knew how she must look: a fat plain girl, playing with herself on a hotel bed.
‘Stop it or you’ll go blind,’ she said quietly. She felt suddenly sick and stupid. She would never meet anyone, never do or be anything. It all came down to this stifling room. No matter where she went, she found herself in this room. Reading. Always reading. Nothing would ever happen.
The dark closed in.
‘I knew you’d be here,’ the man said. ‘I knew it.’
‘I don’t see how you could just know,’ said Patricia and felt stupid. She was saying all the wrong things.
‘Oh, I know,’ he said. ‘I’m trained to recognise certain things in people. Certain possibilities. Certain inclinations.’ His hand alighted on hers and she jumped. ‘I can tell we’re going to be friends Patricia.’
‘I don’t even know your name,’ she said. She was becoming frightened now. She felt somehow that she was being circled. His voice was drawing a line around her. Sweat gathered between her breasts.
‘My name?’ He smiled. She could hear him smile. ‘Just call me L’lndex.’
‘Sorry?’ Patricia felt sure she must have misheard him. She tried not to be afraid. Being afraid was what had made her lonely.
‘L’lndex,’ the man repeated. ‘Like a book. L’lndex.’
‘I can’t call you that,’ Patricia said.
‘You can: You must.’ He reached out and took her hand. It was like a soft trap, fastening around her wrist. ‘Dear Patricia. You must. You will. I will show you such things . . .’ The fear was almost unbearable. She wanted to run. She wanted to go back. Back to that room, that book, like the coward she was. The man was holding open a door. Beyond lay darkness, it was true, but then again, Patricia was no stranger to the dark.
‘L’lndex,’ she said.
When Mrs Becque returned to the cafe to collect Patricia, Patricia had gone. One of the waiters had seen her leave with someone but found it impossible to describe the man. No one could describe the man. He had come and he had gone: a grey man in the rain. Invisible. The police were alerted. Half-heartedly they scoured the city, then gave up. Patricia’s parents mounted their own futile search. The newspapers printed photographs of a rattler plump, blind girl, smiling at a camera she could not see. Her eyes were pale blue, their colour diluted to invisibility. Eyes full of rain, like puddles in a face. Very soon the papers and the public lost interest. Patricia’s room lay untenanted. A stopped clock. The girl was never found and the police file stayed open, like a door leading nowhere.
The chateau might have seemed like a prison were it not for the fact that it appeared to perpetually renew its own architecture. No door ever led twice to the same room, no corridor could ever be followed to the same conclusion, no stair could be made to repeat its steps.
Additionally, the variety of experiences offered by life in the Chateau was of such diversity that life outside could only be timid and pale by comparison. Here, there was no sin which could not be indulged to exhaustion. Here, the search for fresh sensation had long ago led to the practice of continually more refined atrocities. Here, finally, there were no laws, no boundaries, no limit, no judgement.
And the motto above the door read simply ‘Hell is more beautiful than Heaven.’
Tonight was to be a special night. In the red room, in the room of the Sign of Seven, whose walls beat like a heart, Patricia lay in a tumble of silk cushions. She found a vein in her thigh and slowly inserted the needle. After the first rush, her head seemed to unlock and divide like a puzzle box. Her nervous system suffered a series of delicious shocks and smoke spilled into her brain. She licked red lips and began to shake. The tiny bells pinned to her skin recate to her shudders. Her body became a tambourine. She drew a long breath. The room was hot and sweat ran on her oiled skin, trickling from the tongues of the lewd tattoos which now adorned her belly.
Above the pulse of the room, Patricia could hear the boy spitting, still spitting. L’lndex had allowed her to touch the boy - to run her nails through his soft hair, to pluck feathers from the dipped and ragged wings he wore on his back and to finger the scars of his castration.
‘What’s he doing?’ she said dreamily. ‘Why is he spitting?’
L’lndex had come back into the room. He closed the door and waited for the boy to finish.
‘He’s been spitting into this grass,’ L’lndex said. ‘Here.’
Patricia took from him a beautiful crystal wine glass. L’lndex knelt down beside her. Heat radiated off his body and he smelled faintly of blood and spiced sweat.
‘The boy is an angel’, L’lndex said. ‘We summoned him here from Heaven and then we crippled and debauched him.’
‘Our own little soiled angel,’ L’Index continued. ‘Come here, angel.’
The boy shuffled across the room, slow as a sleepwalker. His wings rustled like dry paper.
‘What shall I do with this?’ Patricia asked, weighing the glass in her hand.
‘I want you to drink it,’ L’Index said. ‘Drink.’
Patricia dipped her tongue into the warm both of saliva.
‘He has AIDS, of course,’ L’Index said casually. ‘The poor creature has been the plaything of God knows how many filthy old whores and catamites. As you might expect, his spit is a reservoir of disease.’ He paused, smiling his almost-audible smile. ‘Nevertheless, I do insist that you drink it.’
Patricia heard the boy whimpering as he was forced onto his hands and knees. She swirled the liquid round in the glass.
‘Drink it slowly.’
She heard the chink and creak of a leather harness. A match was struck. Was there no limit to what he
would ask of her?
‘All right,’ she said, nosing the glass like a connoisseur. It smelt of nothing. ‘I told you. I’ll do anything.’
And she drank, slowly, savouring the bland, flat taste of the boy’s saliva. The whole glass, to the dregs. As she drank, she could hear the boy gasp - sodomised. Patricia licked the rim of her glass.
‘You were lying,’ she said. ‘AIDS. I knew you were lying.’
The boy cried out with the voice of a bird. L’Index had done something new to him. Patricia waited for L’lndex to undo the harness and sit down beside her.
‘I knew I was right about you, when I saw you all those months ago,’ L’Index said. He tugged on the ring that was threaded through her nipple, pulling her toward him. Automatically, she opened her mouth and allowed him to place an unclean treat on her tongue.
‘I knew you were worthy of admission.’
‘Admission?’ said Patricia. ‘Admission into what?’ The sound of her own voice seemed to recede and return. She was beginning to feel strange.
‘Do you remember when I mentioned to you the Braille Encyclopaedia?’ L’lndex asked.
‘Yes.’ Fragments of music flared in Patricia’s head. Choral detonations. She felt that she was falling through some terrible space.
‘The Braille Encyclopaedia. Yes. What is it?’
‘Not a thing,’ L’lndex said. ‘A society. Here. On your knees. Touch me.’
He took her hand.
‘But you’ve never let me . . .’ she began, growing excited. White noise blasted through her, like a stereo pan, from ear to ear.
‘I’m letting you now,’ he said. ‘You’ve shown a rare appetite for all the sweet and rotting fruits of corruption. Sometimes I’m frightened by your dedication. Now, I think it’s time you were allowed to taste the most exquisite delicacy.’ He set her hand on his bare chest. Her fingers brushed his skin and she started.
‘What is it?’ Patricia tightly traced her fingertips across tiny raised scars. Alarm returned as she realised that his entire body, from neck to feet, was similarly disfigured. She ran along a row of dots, suddenly unable to catch a breath.
‘It’s Braille,’ she said. ‘Oh, God, it’s Braille . . . I feel so strange . . .’ He filled her mouth and stopped her speech. Like a nursing child, she sucked and swallowed and allowed her hands to crawl across his skin.
‘You drank angel spit,’ L’Index said. His voice was full of echoes and ambiguous reverberations. ‘You drank the rarest of narcotics. Now it’s time to read me, Patricia. Read me!’
Entry 103 THE DEFORMATION OF BABY SOULS
Entry 45 THE HORN OF DECAY
Entry 217 THE MIRACLE OF THE SEVERED FACE
Entry 14 THE ATROCIOUS BRIDE
Entry 191 THE REGIMENTAL SIN
Entry 204 BLEEDING WINDOW.
Patricia snatched back her hand and pulled away, terrified. L’Index came into her face, spattering her useless eyes.
‘What are you?’ she whispered. She blinked and sperm tears ran down her cheeks. Somewhere, the fallen angel whimpered in darkness.
‘There are several hundred of us,’ L’lndex explained. ‘And together we form the most comprehensive collection of impure knowledge that has ever been assembled. Monstrous books, long thought destroyed, have survived as marks on our flesh. Through us, an unholy tradition is preserved.’
‘And what about me?’ Patricia said.
‘One of our number died recently, ‘L’lndex said. ‘It happens of course, in the due process of time. Usually, we initiate a relative, often a child, My grandfather, for instance, was the Index before me. In this case, however, that was not possible. Part of my job is to find a suitable successor . . .’
Gripped by an extraordinary fear, Patricia dropped to the floor.
‘Don’t be afraid, Patricia,’ L’Index said: ‘Not you.’
As she lay there, he pissed on her hair. She lifted her face into the hot stream, grateful for an act of degradation she could understand. It helped her to know he still cared.
‘Will you abandon your last claim to self? Will you embrace the final release, Patricia? That is what I’m asking of you. Will you step over the threshold into a new world?’
‘You sound like an evangelist,’ she said. His urine steamed in her hair. Patricia breathed deeply, inhaling a mineral fragrance. Slowly her heart rate came to match the pulsing of the room. She thought of what she had been and of what he had helped her become.
She held her breath for a moment. Counted to ten.
‘Yes,’ she said hoarsely. ‘Yes.’
They came singly, they came in twos and in groups: the Braille Encyclopaedia. Some were driven in black limousines with mirrored windows and no registration plates. Others walked, haltingly. Men, women, hollow-eyed children. They came from all directions, travelling on roads known only to a few mad or debased souls. They came and the doors of the Chateau opened to receive them. There was an almost electrical excitement in the air. The current ran through enchanted flesh, conjuring static in the darkness. Blue sparks played on fingertips as the Braille Encyclopaedia made its way into the Chateau. They were, each of them, blind, even the youngest. Silent and blind, blue ghosts, they entered the darkness. And the doors closed behind them.
Patricia did not hear them enter, nor did she hear L’lndex welcome his guests. She sat in her chamber, listening to the fall of surf on an interior beach. On the bedside cabinets were vibrators, clamps, unguents, suction devices, whips: all the ludicrous paraphernalia of arousal. She was familiar with each and every item and she had endured or perpetrated every possible permutation of indecency the body could endure.
Or so she had thought.
She touched her own smooth skin. She had removed the bells and the rings and towelled the oil away. Her skin was blank, like a parchment upon which L’lndex wished to write unspeakable things. The music of Debussy crashed through her confusion.
We are all of us, she thought, written upon by time. Our skin is pitted and eroded by the passage of years. No one escapes. Why not then defy time by becoming part of something eternal? Why not give up all claim to individual identity and become little more than a page in a book which renews itself endlessly? It was, as L’lndex had said, the final surrender.
Patricia removed her headphones and made her way downstairs.
L’lndex was waiting for her and he introduced her to the members of the Braille Encyclopaedia. Blind hands stroked her naked body and, finding it unmarred, lost interest. She trembled as, one by one, they approached and examined her with a shocking frankness. Shameless fingers probed and penetrated her: the dry-twig scrapings of old men and women, the thin, furtive strokes of wicked children. By the end of their examination, Patricia teetered on the brink of delirium. Her darkness filled with inarticulate flashes and fireworks displays of grotesque colour and grossly ambiguous forms.
‘They don’t speak,’ she said. It seemed terribly important.
‘No,’ said L’lndex simply.
She felt them crowd around her in a circle, felt the pressure and the heat of unclothed flesh. No sound. They made no sound.
‘Are you ready?’ L’lndex asked, touching Patricia’s shoulder gently. She nodded and let him lead her into a tiny room at the back of the Chateau. Soundproofed walls. A single unshaded bulb, radiating a light she could not see. L’lndex kissed her neck and instructed her not to move under any circumstances. She wanted to say something, but she was too afraid to speak. The words jammed at the back of her throat.
And then the door opened. Someone she did not know came into the room. Patricia suddenly wanted to run. The light was switched off and candles were lit, filling the room with a sickly sweet narcotic scent.
Patricia heard then a thin metallic ring. A sharp-edged sound. The brief conversation of scalpels and needles and blue-edged razors.
‘L’lndex?’ she said nervously. ‘L’lndex, are you there? I’m afraid . . .’
No one answered. Patricia rocked on the balls of her feet. The air was too hot, the candle-smoke too bitter. She gulped lungfuls of oily, shifting smoke. Someone came toward her, breathing harshly, sometimes mewing.
‘L’lndex?’ she whispered again, so quietly that it was no more than the ghost of a name. In her head, the noise and the colours mounted toward an intensity she felt she could not possibly bear.
The first cut caused her to spontaneously orgasm. Her brain lit up like a pinball machine. She swayed and she cried out but she did not fall as hooks and needles were teased beneath her skin. Moaning, coming again and again, Patricia was delicately scarred and cicatrised. Alone on a private beach, she realised what word it was that she had scrawled in the sand. And in that moment of understanding the surf surged in and obliterated every trace of what she had written. Her identity was finally erased in the white glare of a pain so perfect and so pure that it could only be ecstasy. Fat, awkward Patricia was at last, at last, written out of existence by articulate needles.
She came to her senses and found she was still standing. The spills of blood streamed down her body, pooling on the floor. She touched her stomach. The raw wounds stung but she could not help but run her fingertip along the lines of Braille. She read one sentence and could hardly believe that such abomination could possibly exist let alone be described. Her whole body was a record of atrocities so rare and so refined that the mind revolted from the truth of them. How could things like this be permitted to exist in the world? She felt dizzy and could read no more.
‘I’m still alive. I’m still alive,’ was all she could say. At last, she fell but L’lndex was there to catch her.
‘Welcome to the Encyclopaedia,’ he said, salting her wounds so that they burned exquisitely. ‘Now you are Entry 207 - The Meat Chamber.’
She nodded, recognising herself, and he led her out of the room and down an unfamiliar corridor. She could feel herself losing consciousness. There was something she had to ask him. That was all she could remember.
‘The Chateau,’ she said, slurring her words. ‘Who owns the Chateau?’
‘Can’t you guess?’ L’lndex said.
He brought her into the ballroom, where they were all waiting for her. Hundreds of people were waiting for her. She smiled weakly and said, ‘What now? Can I please sit down?’
‘These gatherings happen only rarely,’ L’Index said. ‘The entire Encyclopaedia is not often assembled together in one place and so our lives take on true meaning only at these moments. I can assure you that what is about to follow will transcend all your previous experiences of physical gratification. For you, this will be the ultimate, most beautiful defilement. I promise.’
He sat her down in a heavy wooden chair.
‘I envy you so much,’ he said. ‘I’m only the Index, you see. The mysteries and abominations of the flesh are denied to me.’
He pulled a strap across her arms, tugged it tight and buckled it.
‘What are you doing?’ she said. ‘Is this the Punishment Chair? It’s not, is it?’
She began to panic now as he clamped her ankles to the legs of the chair. The Encyclopaedia was arranging itself into a circle again. Footsteps sounded down the corridor.
‘This is the Chair of Final Submission,’ L’lndex said. ‘Goodbye my love.’
And he clamped her head back.
‘Oh no,’ she said. ‘Wait. Don’t . . .’
A clumsy bolt and bit arrangement was thrust into her mouth, chipping a tooth and reducing her words to infantile sobs and gobblings.
The footsteps advanced and the Encyclopaedia parted to make a passage. Shiny steel chinked slyly in a leather bag. L’lndex leaned over and whispered in her ear.
‘Remember, you may always consult me.’
She bucked and slammed in the chair but it was fixed to the floor by heavy bolts.
‘Oh my sweet,’ L’Index said. ‘Don’t lose heart now. Remember what you were: alone, lonely and discontented. You will never be lonely again.’ His breath stank of peppermint and sperm. ‘Now you can pass into a new world where nothing is forbidden but virtue.’ A bag snapped open. A needle was withdrawn. It rang faintly, eight inches long.
‘Give yourself up now to the world of the Braille Encyclopaedia! Knowledge shared only by these few, never communicated. Knowledge gained by sense of touch alone.’
And she finally understood then, just before the needles punctured her ear-drums. Her bladder and her bowels let go and the odours of her own chemical wastes were the last things she smelled before they destroyed that sense also. Finally her tongue was amputated and given to the angel to play with.
‘Now go,’ L’Index said, unheard. There was sadness in his voice. His tragedy was to be forever excluded from the Empire of the Senseless. ‘Join the Encyclopaedia.’
Released from the chair, The Meat Chamber stumbled into the arms of her fellow entries in the Braille Encyclopaedia. Bodies fell together. Blind hands stroked sensitised skin. They embraced her and licked her wounds and made her welcome.
She screamed for a very long time but only one person there heard her. Finally she stopped, exhausted.
And then she began to read.