Signs of Love (which is not part of Don’t Kill Me ...) >
by Sally Reno
“Have I not seen the Cumaean Sibyl with my own eyes? She who, because of her great age was suspended in a cruet for eternity, when the boys asked what she desired, replied, ‘Boys, I want to die.’ ”
The widow folded linen. Three years of her life she had been a young wife and … nothing else ever, really. Dario had been eight years older than Jane, which had seemed to her a lifetime of wisdom. She chewed her food nicely and spoke well but what she knew was almost entirely theoretical. She was packing because the studio apartment she had shared with Dario locked up too much value for a 24 year-old woman, alone and in a dead-end job, to keep as a place to sleep and eat. A storage unit in the building’s cellar had sold for $801,000. Bruce Barnes was asking $29.9 million for his vast establishment on the 6th floor, pitching it as, “above the tree-line.” Jane, with just 666 square feet, was four floors above Barnes on the Central Park side.
The lights flickered, went dark. She did not see the lightning framed in the window behind her, but saw the flashes reflected in the glass in front of her. Then came the thunder. The lights came back on. Jane did not have a problem with thunderstorms, even though, up here with all the copper and the electro-magnetic anomalies, they could be quite spectacular. Tucked in under the most complex and distinguished roofline in Manhattan, with its turrets, dormers, balconies, gables, cupolas and pavilions, the apartment felt very safe. The Dakota was a double security building with both a doorman in an external guardhouse and an internal conciergerie in the porte cochere. It had thick sandstone walls throughout. Dario used to say that only gargoyles with mountaineering equipment would be coming in through any of their windows. When they would wake to the tubercular coughing of pigeons, they would laugh and say the gargoyles were singing.
The Dakota’s gargoyles were not the working gargoyles that crouch, leering over cornices, spewing rainwater away from the masonry and cautioning pedestrians against their own hidden natures. The Dakota’s leisured and purely gnomic grotesques did have proper Hell-spawn faces, bat wings and curly dragon tails. Jane did not have a problem with gargoyles. Up here, it was only the shrieking wind that sometimes chased around the steep, fantastic terrain that frightened her.
Jane and Dario had mutually confessed their irrational fears. His terror from early childhood had been the specter of a ‘crazy old woman’ somehow mixed up with memories of his grandparents’ feeding ritual: With a photo of his dead mother beside his place at the table, they would arch over him, tendrils of their corpse breath reaching for him, exhorting him to eat. Eat! Then he would vomit and they would reproach him with his mother’s disembodied disappointment in his refusal to fatten. Jane, who had no problem with witches and had noted Dario’s specific avoidance of the word, ‘witch,’ had kissed the hollow of his neck. Soothing, she had reminded him that the mob of architectural ornament that surrounded them here – crenellations, finials, crockets and the graven artefixa – had, at the first, been invented to prevent witches from landing broomsticks on the roof.
Jane got up from the floor. Strega Nona, her cat, followed her across the room. It was procrastination really, the packing. She should be talking to realtors. The 9th and 10th floor studios were built for servants’ quarters in 1882. This had no longer made economic sense into the second half of the 20th century. Jane’s unit had been one of these but was properly a ‘maisonette’, in the sense of having a (tiny) second floor. Yoko Ono had once used a 10th floor studio for a storage unit. Ono had paid self-advertised male prostitute Dotson Rader $150,000 for it in 1978. Here, the reasoning Jane was tracking became muzzy … why would The Dakota’s co-op board, which had notoriously rejected Cher, Billy Joel, Carly Simon, Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith, have accepted Rader as a tenant, even if only as a toy in the attic? Yet they had. That would have been in 1973, the same year as the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion. Was it possible that both verdicts had been influenced by the considerable popularity of the film, “Rosemary’s Baby,” a few years earlier? The lights went out. Strega Nona bolted up the spiral staircase, never touching a stair, yowling like the damned. Jane waited for the lightning. All at once, the floor moved under her; the ceiling fell; the building collapsed around her.
When the lightning came, glowing red and branching, burning the backs of her eyelids like magma, there was no thunder. A voice, not human, hissed in an unintelligible language. She could not feel or find her arms or legs. No, they were present but numbed, bristling with dysesthesias. Her legs were piled beneath her at improbable angles. Her arms were tied at the wrists to something above her head. There was agency in this. She had not been bushwhacked by an act of nature but by a person. Should she scream and never stop screaming? She did not want to be left hanging here for all eternity like the Cumaean Sibyl. But no, that wasn’t going to happen, was it? Waves of pure horror migrated up and down her spine as she realized that the situation she found herself in, whatever it was, must be entirely her own fault. She passed out again.
The body knows things the mind has forgotten. Open to it. Feel. Learn. No. Not any way in Hell. Not yet. The pain would be insupportable. She wasn’t ready. Yet…what was her situation? She would have to find out. She was still wearing only her nightshift, stiff and sticky now. There was no cell phone hidden in its folds, would be no rolling around to squeeze out a pocket call. Were her legs broken? Don’t go there. She could open just one eye. Even so, her vision was obstructed by a web of her own hair before her eyes. A sinister globule slid down a single tangle, gathering gravitas to fall. She would have to be able to turn her head…like so… an horrific grinding sound came from the back of her neck with a combustion of red pain.
Closed-head injuries. Did she know anything about these? Not really. Blunt force traumas to the face. How about these? Yes, a little. Blunt force trauma to the prefrontal cortex may engender subsequent psychopathic behaviors. Severe blunt force facial traumas have a unique ability to imprint themselves on victims’ psyches such that they may re-live those traumas spontaneously… a ballplayer who has eaten a fastball or a child fallen face-first into a dry swimming pool may re-experience that trauma over and over as a kind of waking nightmare. Swell. This was not a fruitful line of inquiry. She would need Bigger Thoughts.
There are only two questions in all philosophy: the epistemologic and the ontologic. That is, “How do we know what we know?” and, “Who’s asking?”
There are only two true emotions: fear and love. Everything else is iteration. We live our lives on an emotional slackrope slung between the twin towers of “Please don’t kill me.” and “I’m in love.”
Everything is composed of atoms, which are mostly empty space.
Time and Matter do not exist. Only Consciousness is real.
Also true, no doubt, but still ...
“There is One Universal Law of Nature: Everything freezes!”
Not true. Mr. Freeze was misinformed. Ice, like diamonds and pearls, requires an impurity to form matrices around. Absolutely pure water may be super-cooled but will not freeze. Given the ineluctably fractal nature of manifest reality, what does this imply?
… She was getting off track again here.
Who is this guy and what does he want? She has no clue. How does she even know that her attacker is a man? Get real. Does she have any enemies? Not that she’s aware of but this is dicey … what about nihilists? He isn’t a burglar. Burglars are shy and non-violent … aren’t they? And any thief who could get into Jane’s maisonette could have just as well slid down a chimney into any of the Barnes’ seven fireplaces and whatever pools of mermaids lay beyond them. Was it her job? She worked for the Zoning Board. Could anyone get this upset over a zoning board ruling? Yes. But why target Jane? Because people who hurt women physically believe that all young women sleep with their bosses. And are complicit and culpable bitches anyway. This could go anywhere and she is wasting time. It doesn’t matter right now who or why. A better question would be: Where is he now?
She listens attentively. Gently, she opens the eye. Miraculously, the globule, though further down the spiral, has not yet fallen. Remarkable how mortal threat stops time. The Taoist adepts viewed stopping time as the greatest of the Arts of Longevity. J’espere.
Soon she would have to move which would mean letting the pain in. What does she know now? Only this: She does not want to die here, now, like this. And…he is still here.
* Petronius Arbiter, late 1st century AD
This story continues with The Lightning Killer #2
published 7 March 2015