I’ve heard the vicious things said about those closest to me and I’ve responded, almost inevitably, by believing them wholeheartedly, by confronting those closest to me with the content of those rumors and I have, as a result, been deprived of all but the most basic of human contact. The person sitting across from me on the bus. The lady behind the counter at the convenience store counting out the pennies I’ve handed her in exchange for a lottery ticket or a piece of candy. Don’t weep for me, though. Your eyes will become discolored. And don’t imagine I’d have it any other way just because I would. Tame your imagination by commanding it to abandon the most obvious scenarios and take up those that no one could have predicted. In this way, your imagination actually becomes a very powerful tool for deciphering the hidden structures of reality. It unearths them as efficiently as your greater anteater pulls termites from the hive. With very powerful forepaws, and a tongue half the length of its body. This it winds up and stores for later use in a specially designed pocket very close to the throat. As I meander up the street in moonlight the color of stale beer, I realize I am trying to find a similar pocket in my own throat, trying to locate it with my fingers and this will certainly give the wrong impression to those who are watching me from their front porches or the passenger seats of the sports cars that happen by. They will think I am in love with myself and that I have no use for human company. They will think I am actively trying to transform myself into another sort of creature, one with pockets in its throat and extended tongues in those pockets. But they are wrong on both counts, and I intend to prove it by speaking to the next person I see – which turns out to be a monk of some kind, meditating on the concrete. He sits cross-legged and holds his palms skyward and in each palm is what looks like a small lizard gazing out at the world with restless yellow eyes. I clear my throat and ready myself to speak (by searching desperately through my cavernous mind for an appropriate topic of conversation with which to begin), but the monk shakes his head vigorously. He has, no doubt, sworn a vow of silence and will not respond to me no matter what I say. This much is clear. One can’t get a glimpse of lizards in the palm of someone’s hand and not wish to know, at the very least, how they got there, why they don’t just scamper away. But there is no use in pursuing the matter further. Sometimes what you see must be allowed to remain unaltered, undamaged by inquiry of the sort that attempts to sort out and classify. That attempts to make the unknown known by virtue of a procedure that also manages to destroy the former even as it is turning it into its diametric opposite. The monk seems to know all of this ahead of time, seems to know what will happen if I approach, and so he turns his back on me and then turns his back on the next person who happens by and does the same over and over again for at least twenty minutes while I am watching him, and no doubt much longer after I am gone. In fact, it’s not too much of a stretch, I imagine, to say it is the monk’s entire purpose and raison d’ etre now to behave in this fashion toward anyone he meets. It is his job to befuddle those who would dig too deep into the pedigree of even the most common of God’s creatures -- the lizards that scamper and creep.
Eulalie digs the substances up with her bare hands, transports them with a wheelbarrow, I imagine. I’ve never witnessed the process myself. She won’t let me. She has secrets many decades and more old, some of which you can picture for yourself by closing your eyes and waiting for the afterimage of whatever it was you had been looking at previously to fade. Don’t move around too much as this will affect the outcome negatively and will lead you to make accusations that have no merit. The substances are usually an edible form of gypsum, coming in nearly every color of the rainbow, though they are muted somewhat after having spent countless eons in the earth. I knock on doors all down Pangolin Street but no one has seen Eulalie this evening and some of those I encounter claim never to have laid eyes on her before, though I can tell they are lying. Their lips twitch a little, their eyes dart back and forth along the street behind me. I don’t mind. I know Eulalie inspires dread in some of the locals simply because of the color of her hair, which reminds one of sunrise in the polar regions, or the way she rolls her r’s as if to suggest she is not one of us and has never been one of us. She comes from a place so far away it has no name. There are no names for places like that. There isn’t any need. Let me explain what happens when the last residue of these substances leaves your body via respiration or the function of the organs: You begin to see things on all side of you that are actually there – lightposts and wolves in cages, say – but you think they are not real. You chalk up the whole of creation to nothing more than a fleeting illusion, a dream that you will stop dreaming at any moment. And then what will you wake up to? What could possibly replace the dream you are dreaming of everything? The only possible answer is so horrifying, you redouble your efforts immediately to locate more of these substances. You overturn the whole of your life in order to acquire them. Deceive friends, cheat on lovers, carve the flesh from your own fingers if need be. Nothing will stop you. But make no mistake, it is not a lowly addiction like that which afflicts those you see in the x-rated movie houses downtown or those lined up outside the clinic on Tuesdays. It is something you must choose to do every moment of everyday for no reward whatsoever. You don’t walk away feeling elated or powerful, redeemed or understood. You don’t walk away at all. You simply continue to live in a place that allows other people to live in it with you, and other objects and other sounds and other moods. And if it weren’t for you, if it weren’t for your tireless and pointless efforts, none of what we witness every day would exist at all. Not the fountain around which people are reading their newspapers and their novels with heroines in them who can’t decide whom to love. Not the town you’ve never been to (and will probably never in your lifetime visit) one hundred and twenty kilometers north of Oslo where Edvard Munch just happened to be born.