It all started the moment he couldn’t recognize his hands. They were maybe the most familiar part of his body that he watched almost the entire day while writing, painting, or holding his cigarette lazily over the armrest, but this time he noticed with horror they were alien to him.
Wrinkles, even grooves appeared, things that he’d never seen before and which, surely, couldn’t just pop up overnight. His fingers were covered in many crinkles, some deep, some smooth – a whole web that felt like a map. It came towards his wrist, drawing rivers, seas and oceans, mountains, hills and plains, all these landforms on the same holder that was once meant for something else. Besides, there was the color, too. His hands – white until yesterday, with a slight yellowish tinge towards the edges of the index and middle finger in particular – were now dark brown. They’d had this color one summer when he’d spent four and a half months on the seaside; it was the summer when he wrote his best poems and painted his scariest landscapes. Truly apocalyptic, said those who adored them at first sight. What frightened him most was his nails. Admittedly, no trace of the familiar was there. None was left of what his hands were if he was to look only at the fingertips grotesquely adorned with long sharp nails that seemed to have been cut at least half a year ago. As for him, he was very thorough with his manicure. He would cut his nails twice a week so that the white part should never be visible. But they grew back quick, indeed. After he was done trimming them, he would polish their surface with a silk strip that belonged to his mother who used it for the same purpose. Sometimes, when he thought he had dry skin, he would oil his hands with olive oil or almond oil. He was merely disgusted when he noticed the sloppy manicure of those who seized his body.
He didn’t remember anything strange happening during the night. He’d written until late at night, drank a bottle of wine and a few beers, then fell asleep with his cigarette still alight. It fell on the floor, but fortunately he’d spilled the beer in the same spot and the cigarette succumbed naturally.
All of a sudden, he felt certain he was to change into an armchair. He pictured his skinny arms rounding gradually and becoming a prop for other arms of some future owner who will seat himself into the armchair. Terrified, he imagined how they will put his apartment on sale and, after finding him in the shape of an armchair, will sell him to some slipshod stranger who will spill his wine or beer on his backrest, will have sex and spurt his fluids on his upholstery that not long ago had been the skin of a human living. He imagined he would be undoubtedly part of the patrimony of some guy, probably a manele singer, with no esthetic sense and too little value for fine things such as him as an armchair. I gotta get out of here, he thought in a terror that made his new hands clench and the long nails – deigned of some grotesque record – bite into his palms.
It occurred to him that this was happening as a natural outcome of the fact that someplace in the past he’d made a wrong choice, thus unobtrusively entering somebody else’s life. He entered with all his possessions into the life of a stranger, killed him and carried him this whole time. He fed on the other’s dreams, illusions and deceptions while his own he put aside, forgotten. He’d somehow become that stranger, taking hold of his body, and now he’d come back, bent on revenge. Whereas he lived that life, that person had all the right to claim his body back. He’s right; I’m not me anymore. I’m an armchair, he told himself horrified.
Handling clumsily his new claws, he poured a glass of vodka and decided to find out precisely what moment he’d given up being him. Thus, he might’ve had a chance to banish the stranger that insinuated into him. In fact, it was fair to say that he was the one insinuated into the stranger, emptying him, possessing him wildly.
When did this happen, after all? He always claimed that, unlike other mortals, he lived for himself, in agreement with his most intimate beliefs and – he dreamt – he was one of the most original earthlings. He thought that writing and painting express his entire gamut of feelings, the wholeness of what he ever had been. He re-read the poems when he’d had a lack of inspiration, or felt a pleasant laziness that slinked up to his fingertips that held the cigarette less firmly, then he would remember – rereading the poems or watching the colors on the canvas – of everything he was, felt, or thought.
It seemed that something happened at some point. Others saw it, but deep down inside he knew it, too. Something changed about his displaying. He lost the madness that put ablaze the page where he wrote his poems, or made the easel blow up when he dipped his brush in color. The wonder, the immersion extraordinaire in that water – now hot, now cold – that was the subconscious whence he always emerged reborn not like one who comes for the first time into the world, but richer and fuller as if his new existence had left some holes through which he accessed a past he knew better than anything else, a past he made whole, a past that was He – this wonder faded and eventually… disappeared.
“In a way”, he said to himself then, “it may be better this way. Now I can control my creations, be more rational and more cautious.” He was afraid – he had to admit it eventually – of these immersions in that water sometimes hot, sometimes freezing, without ever knowing what to expect or where this trip would lead him, oblivious to where he would stop falling. He felt that this wonderful madness subdued him, dictated his reactions, and placed thoughts in his head that became living variegated flowers he would deposit on the bier of the universe.
At times, it felt like cheating. Immersing into this madness, always present, that you could find only by a simple stretch of your arm, the madness always rewarding that gave you what you were searching for unknowingly and more, seemed like a solution that placed him ahead of the other creators who didn’t have it available like a last resource. I should probably compete with those like myself, he started to tell himself over and over again, first as stray thoughts, then more and more obsessively. The ordinary ones that create only helped by the riches of a healthy mind didn’t have at hand this artifice, the plunging into the madness, into the temperature changing waters, taste and smell at will. They were deprived from the start and he began to take this idea very seriously. He felt guilty. So, little by little, he refused the immersion. He refused it so many times that, in the end, he forgot where to look for it – and he lost it.
The waters were always different, never the same. Now, he would write and paint as he wished. He gave up being the slave of a feeling and made a rigorous schedule. He would ward off any reminisce of an inspiration. When he felt like writing, he would go out walking and come back only when his ideas had fled from his mind. The same went for painting. He would sit in front of the easel and paint whatever he meant to. He would build and improvise, being prouder now of his creations than he was when he would let himself be carried by deceiving waves. He didn’t want any other ideas, no inspiration, no feelings. But sometimes he would yearn so much that even the pain itself from yearning drew him dangerously to Her, the dark wonder, the unpredictable, the irrational. He’d have wanted a touch, however little, a hug of the black velvet, a loss and an abandoning in its soft and demonic arms. When he felt this way, he would go out walking again and succeed, in the end, to settle the desperate beats of his heart.
Was that the moment when he’d lost himself? Was it then when he entered somebody else’s world or other being’s body? If so, where was he, which body did he end up into?
But then he couldn’t understand why he should be different and pay for a single moment of alienation. All the people he knew were living their lives pretending to be somebody else. It was yet a human trait – the ability to be someone else than who you really are. So why was he denied the luxury to immerse in the superficial, the coziness, the anonymity given by moving off the edges? Why would he be the only human being doomed to be what he really is and not something else?
He thought how easily the people say the words “I thought you were somebody else” when they see someone on the street and take him for somebody else. This remark doesn’t seem really amazing and, yet, how big a truth was it hiding. Only now did he understand. He saw himself, as of now, looking as himself for all eternity. Flinching every time when some stranger on the street seems to make a gesture that would remind him of his old self, suspecting him of stealing, of being the fraudulent owner of his personality that he bred, cared, despised, loved and, in the end, lost.
And if I catch him, how do I take it from him? it occurred to him, and the thought filled him with terror. Maybe it’s his for ever, just like the stranger who entered me and will never leave. It sounds so strange… the thought that someone will never leave you.
Then he understood, terrified, that he couldn’t control his hands. Maybe they’ll start to write somebody else’s poems, they’ll paint somebody else’s paintings. They would fake even the memory of what he was, so that the world will say at his death:
“He was nothing more than a fake.”
He felt for his wrists in terror. He had the feeling he was groping the hands of a man he had just met and who’d put his hand out for him to shake.
These hands could make me a criminal, he said to himself, looking at the nails that curved menacingly over the fingertips. These hands could kill, these voracious claws could rip apart all that was ever dear to me. The hands could make him not only a stranger or some special kind stranger, but also the opposite of what he was once, all that he hates in the world, his brought-back alter-ego that dwells at the end of the world. No! I refuse!, his mind retorted, feeling ever so far away, slipping into a kind of sleep. He was so tired!
Then he decided to hang himself and leave a note to ask as a last wish that, upon the discovery of his body, his hands be cut off and fed to the fire.
Ana took the fly spray out of her pocket and sprayed it into the air. The first ones to fall were those on the ceiling. Among them, two little ones who fled to safety into some nooks, but the merciless substance reached them and killed them. They flitted their wings a bit more under the tearful eyes of their helpless parents. The Fly-Sage stood still, contemplating the carnage with sadness. He had foreseen the apocalypse that was to come, tried to warn them it could be a trap, but no one listened. It was always the same: as soon as they’d found food and a good place to rest, the flies seemed to go berserk and you couldn’t reason with them. Somehow, it was his fault, too. He wasn’t as convincing as in his youth, lately. He sometimes felt that he’s entered some other fly’s body, a weak helpless species; he felt that he wasn’t the sage everybody should listen to, as though some other being took control over him. His visions weren’t as powerful as in his youth, either. I’m losing myself, and my whole species will be crushed, he said to himself and a surging pain seized him up to his wings. He didn’t want to know any more, to feel, to be responsible for this monstrous apocalypse, to see his own people dying. He pushed off of the ceiling and throw himself into the killing spray jet.
–Translated from the Romanian by Dan BUTUZA