You are reading Fiddleblack #6
Robbie D., third grader, sleepover, his heart beating against the palm of my hand.
Sara S., fifth grader, behind the fence that runs between the playground and the creek that carried her final thoughts downstream into the bay.
Melissa H., also a fifth grader, in her bedroom, the sunlight in her hair already eight minutes old when she closed her eyes to the world.
Michio, age nine, in the stairwell of School 12, in the year of Mr. Ashbery’s As We Know, by strangulation with shoelace.
Andreas, seventh grader, the world spinning in its green glory too fast for satellites and the promise of no judgment because we are New Testament now and no longer of Lamentations, “As for us, our eyes yet failed for our vain help: in our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save is. They hunt our steps that we cannot go on our streets.”
Allison, age eleven, in her brother’s car, in the back, her face pushed down into the vinyl seat, (a memory fragment: the kicking and sputtering of a wildebeest from Mutual of Omaha’s television series Wild Kingdom) and her confession, before she died, of the small animals she had hurt for no other reason that she could hurt them, and the way the sand blew in her eyes up from the low desert miles away, across the plain, her black hair pasted to her forehead in sweat.
Marcus, seventh grader, outside the mall at sunset, after a chase, the way that kids run when they are scared, too much looking over their shoulders, just the crime of running, trailing some whiff of guilt behind them and oh, Marcus, how I hated to do you.
Grant, age twelve, on a camping trip “up North,” his first without his parents, the glide of the canoe across the still lake like some signal to the depths, his head full of thoughts of the massive abstract oil paintings he saw at the museum the month previous, stirring in him the thought that the only way to unlock their secrets was to become a painter himself, and so imagining the smooth lake as a stretched canvas, his canoe the brush, and his body in the canoe the hand that holds the brush.
Miriam, age twelve, in a warehouse, where she was taken, and where I waited for her to regain consciousness so I could tell her the truth about what was going to happen, and how in the ancient Greek tales things like this—and even more terrible things—happened all the time, and how I described to her the clouds outside that raced across the sky like a sped-up cartoon, trailing behind them bits of outer space, bits that I take her to the roof to see, up the cracked cement steps and through the rusted metal door to the pitch-black rooftop overlooking other rooftops and, straight down, dead alleys.
Courtney, eighth grader, in the same warehouse, years later, after Miriam was forgotten by all but her parents and her red-haired brother, and the boy who thought he loved her, and the history teacher who had a crush on her for the names of rivers in China she memorized so well, and whose tumbling over the edge was accomplished so easily that it made you wonder why more undesired people weren’t pushed off out-of-the-way buildings every day as Courtney was now, my hands against her chest, pushing, and the way her own hands came forward to hold on—almost out of tenderness—to the one who doing this to her.
Adele, also an eighth grader, on her way to buy Viceroy cigarettes for her mom from the man who sold them to her because he loved her, as she took the shortcut between Swan’s Creek and the scrub field and, Adele, how you paused to look back at something you thought you heard and which you did hear, my voice calling your name because you were always the one for me at this very moment, your whole life bending toward this small patch of grass where your feet kicked as I hoisted you.
Maria, age twelve, in her home, an apartment, the grass outside brown from the heat wave, the air conditioning whining, the tenant upstairs vacuuming, an enormous, stray cloud passing before the sun, accompanied by the low-frequency drone of darkness, and the way Maria’s nails seemed to achieve the color of Catholic red, the Red Mass, always and forever the blood on the cross, the blood at communion, Maria fighting me back with both arms and both legs, her black hair also like a weapon somehow, the red of her nails, the air conditioner kicking in and out, the vacuum cleaner the floor above us paused as if listening and then starting back up again, the black cloud elongating itself as if, having a toehold in this world was not about to pass through it but to stay, to stay, to stay.
Kline, failed out of school, the year of Ms. Sexton’s The Awful Rowing Toward God, wrists twined together above the water pipe, the damp clicking of the boiler, not so much killed outright as slowly…
But no, I suppose I should tell you: what you have read thus far is a confession, a false confession, but still a confession. On some fundamental level, after all, aren’t all confessions false? (If my confessions have the cadences of realism to them, then consider their cadences of poetry, as well.) Here, chained to the desk of the Inspector, what choice do I have but to admit to the crimes that the Inspector himself has laid before me in an open folder? The crimes seem to have happened already; there are the Polaroids, after all, which on some level carry their own truth.
After fifteen days, subjected to the same tortures I myself have been accused of inflicting upon others, it is time to confess. And so I go back, with the help of the pictures, to what I have done. My crimes. The scenes of them. And then my words based on those scenes.
Beginning on the eighth day, I began to plan the murder of the Inspector and my escape, to be carried out on day sixteen, when his wife, I overheard, would be returning from abroad. He lives upstairs. I am in, I believe, a police station, and yet he habitates here which means, I take it, that this is either an unofficial police station or an unofficial home. Not that it matters: here I am, chained to a desk, and there he is, free to come and go. Some nights, half-asleep, my wrists and ankles bleeding in the shackles, I hear him listening to me through the vents, his steady, sheet-metaled breathing carrying down and through the furnace grate.
I am never alone, although I feel alone. Is that why I killed them, why the Inspector said I killed them? To somehow feel not alone? Or is that why he listens to me, to feel that way? I have been accused of wrapping a yellow nylon cord around the neck of one of them, and holding her held-open mouth against the tailpipe VW Wagon. I am not that man, not the man to rub the newly deads’ fingertips against the rough concrete basement floor erase fingerprints that did not matter.
After all, I am the one tied here in chains to this bolted-to-the-floor chair.
I have written, dutifully, the detailed sort of confessions I expect someone as provincial as the Inspector would expect to read. Local color, as they say, in broad dashes and strokes. I have included requisite scenes involving a ruddy-faced barmaid, a war veteran struggling against addictions, a crop-dusting pilot who every Saturday flies over the quarry to look at the girls swimming without tops, and other sundry characters of the sort that would appeal to the Inspector’s so-called humanism.
I have, in short, convinced him I am a writer of fictions (which I am not) and, unexpectedly, this fact has not weakened, in his mind, the truth claims of my stories of mutilation and murder. The matching of the blood and tissue beneath my fingernails and the gashes and wounds on the body of Marcus—as if the veracity of such matching was no more than mere tautology—convinced him to take the beyond-protocol measures that have resulted in my chained-to-the chair status, a status that is about to (and that just did) alter with my exchange of a false chain for the real one. Now released, it would seem that I intend to carve my way with a duct-taped-to-the-bottom-of-the desk-knife through however many human bodies I encounter out of the police station and to freedom. A serial murderer only in that the acts I am accused of committing and may well yet commit were similar and happened, or will happen, over a period of time.
It’s only fitting that, when I come across the Inspector sleeping on his side (just like my grandfather used to, in his work clothes) on a couch in a well-appointed room at the top of a staircase not far from where I had been kept, I would use the chain to murder him. It is a heavy chain, after all, and to beat a sleeping man to death with it requires, I expect, no more than four or five violent downward strokes, unblunted by clothing or the couch-back.
There is an old tale that begins like this: Just as he is about to swing the ax, there comes a knock at the door…
But there is also a second, corrupted version: Just as he is about to knock on the door, there comes an ax-blow…
And in the third, obscure version, both tales diverge and then meet again at the end, essentially erasing the narrative differences that crept between them. If it’s true that I killed all the ones I stand accused of killing, and that I subsequently killed the Inspector as well, then it must be that next I crept through the dark police station residence searching for his wife, whose return from some supposed far foreign land he had eagerly anticipated, even showing me during a respite in my interrogation a recent tattoo of her name in reverse upon his forearm, a tattoo that now resides in gunked, flayed skin stuck in the links of my chain.
The wife, locked in the bathroom like some Wendy except different in that she only needed to be asked once to come out. And in opening the door, and letting me have at her, a form of suicide, I would think later.
Her body on the floor already accumulating around it a kind of super-gravity, me falling into it (what was left of it) and in struggling to pull myself up and away from her and her blood and that place and the Inspector’s accusations and evidence and finding instead that when I finally freed myself from her body the room itself had changed, doorless now, evacuated of anything that I could hang meaning onto, not blank but absent, absent from itself, as if fucking architecture could be psychotic, locked in the mind of a room in a psychotic building whose black hole gravity seemed centered now in the body of the Inspector’s wife, where absence itself had become a presence, a terrible presence, more like a void than a room.
How much time passed? Was it to be measured in minutes or hours? Days, perhaps? The wife, stomped dead now and her husband the Inspector, flayed dead, also, by chain. The room reassembled into its former shape. I open the re-appeared door and walk through the same green-lit hallway and then down the stairs and past the interrogation room where I had been chained and into a lobby-like area that suggests neither a police station nor a home but, rather, a hotel. Elevators. Marbled floors. Chandeliers. A luggage rack on wheels. And a glass-paned revolving door that appeared to lead to another hotel lobby precisely the same as this one.
Both tales diverge and then meet again at the end. I move through the revolving door and find myself either in a replica lobby or back in the original lobby. I go through the door once again, and once again I find myself removed into a duplicate space or the same space, impossible to tell. I think of Kline, his bound wrists, or else the Polaroid of Kline presented to me by the Inspector as evidence of my guilt. He was among the ones, apparently, murdered by my hands. I either killed the boy or I didn’t. And the others: Miriam, Marcus, Sara, and the rest. Chained to the desk in the interrogation room, I was confronted with evidence of my atrocities, or was it the other way around? Was it I who confronted the Inspector with evidence of his unspeakable crimes?
And if so, was it I who was the Inspector all along, interrogating the nameless narrator? This would explain why I have no memory of the murders other than through the Polaroids, and yet looking back over what I (presumably “I”) have written, there seem to be details that only someone intimately familiar with the murders could know, such as the memory detail about Wild Kingdom’s dying wildebeest. But such details are, after all, just words, hardly in themselves proof of actual past events. In any case I find myself now (what really does it matter if I’m the Inspector or his subject?) in this impossible hotel lobby, where with every passing moment things are beginning to look and feel more and more like cheap props. The elevator doors, for instance, turn out to be thick cardboard spray painted metallic gold. There is nothing behind the check-in counter. The phones have no cords.
I go through the revolving door yet again and enter into the same lobby, this one even more fake-looking than the previous. And then through the door once more into a replica lobby whose generation loss has degraded objects into fat, pixilated images of images. I try one last time, and let the door spin me through into the lobby on the other side, which of course happens to be (or look) exactly the same, except this time it’s even more depixilated, a copy of a copy of a copy, the elevator doors barely even the semblance of authentic elevator doors, a ghost-echo of the real thing, and even if I wanted to return to where this all began I wouldn’t know which position to assume, that of the Inspector, or that of the one interrogated by the Inspector, the one who, unchained, has murdered those who accused him of murdering all those children, and whose mind has been subjected to an act of terrorism, an act that began and ended with the Inspector’s wife whose bludgeoned and stomped-to death-body began to exert black hole, gravitational lensing, pulling out in what felt like fast unspooling thread all the thoughts from my head until even the room itself was drained of features, and me wandering down into this lobby or series of lobbies unsure and still unsure if I am the Inspector or the caught-killer or someone else entirely, some presence off to the side of the page, the side of the universe, peering in, decohering patterned space into dead space, a space blank and black enough to hold those murdered by my will and by my hands as well as the countless others who shall be murdered yet.
Nicholas Rombes’ work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Oxford American, Exquisite Corpse, WigLeaf, The Believer, Prick of the Spindle, and other places. He writes a column for The Rumpus and is author of the 33 1/3 book Ramones.