Aerial shot, 45 degrees above ground: silhouette (in profile) of forlorn man standing on his own. Attire: smart grey suit, crisp blue shirt, dark blue overcoat neatly folded over right arm (the arm closest to us), chequered ascot hanging loose over shoulders. He faces a scene we cannot see. All we see is the restricted view of a barren, desolate plain, cut short by the angle of our perspective. Intense glow of intrigue and excitement—emotions we cannot share—shines inside his eyes. Behind the man, what we make out to be a small section of the interior of the door of a car disappears as it’s slammed shut. Trail of sand and dust rises up in the air behind a car that remains invisible as it drives away from the character. Shot zooms in from above, curls around the lingering trail, drifts behind the body of the person standing (without impeding our vision) and holds still on a spot directly to the left-hand-side of the man. First disclosure of the sight he’s faced all along.
A premonition, an instinct, an unlikely visitation prompted this spontaneous visit to the place that had scared childhood away from his early years. You’re too young to be here, said the voice that till that day had remained locked in the safe storage of what he no longer remembered. Come back when life has spelled out its riddle to you. But there was no riddle, just like there was no doubt he had been summoned here by something—I don’t know what. All I know is I need to be here.
Slow, firm steps along the deserted plain: one, two, three hundred and sixty five hundred steps. Confident steps. Boundless steps. Short but firm steps. Longing steps tainted with the desire to be seen, to be discovered, take him to the gates of the settlement. The acid stench he associated for so long with fear returns to his consciousness. He smiles to himself as he realises fright has no scent, as he finds in the concoction of urine, faeces, semen and sweat that pollutes this place nothing more than disgust. I’ve come to my past made a wiser man.
A large, round tent—resembling the structure of an old circus—serves as stronghold to the precarious village. Wooden shacks and tin huts surround the decrepit building in no particular order. Large open spaces turn claustrophobic by the sense that you are walking through someone else’s backyard. A junkyard full of prized possessions: rusted iron chairs, old sewing machines, loose bicycle wheels, form occasional bundles that mark isolated territories. Nothing moves. Nothing shows any sign of life. Nothing apart from the myriad stray dogs and the swirling wind. In fact, nothing at all.
Tawny dogs, black dogs, small dogs, wild dogs, maddened dogs. Dogs everywhere you look, mirroring each other, fighting each other, fighting themselves, roaming, wandering, scurrying, looking for food, water, air. Dogs absolutely everywhere (on the rooftops, under the junk, along the streets); stray dogs prowling about ubiquitously, invading everything, crowding the land like flies crowd cowpat, and not one single gypsy within sight. I walk along. I walk alone. I walk unobstructed, undisturbed. I walk without looking because I am looking for nothing. I walk to be looked at, to be discovered. I walk without any fear because I know I should be here. I know I should be here and I know it should be here and yet it remains invisible. And I walk along.
The gypsies sleep or fuck or hide in this moveable town which has also become ghostly, while an overdressed man walks with neither fear nor urgency through a canine labyrinth. While the gypsies fuck or sleep or hide a specimen with rabies spits a river of foam at an overdressed man who with neither urgency nor fear asks to be led. Show me the way. Silence. A fierce exchange of inquisitive looks. The possessed animal leaps aggressively in the opposite direction, sprints maniacally out of sight. No clue. No option but to continue walking in no particular direction around the abandoned circus.
Suddenly, a path opens up amidst the filth and the barking. The stagnant air that lingers over the rest of the place finds in this alleyway an impenetrable field of energy that shields it from infection; the narrow lane seems brighter than the rest of the village; the road, devoid of roving mongrels, of rotting carcasses. He walks down this endless aisle in hope, reaches a crossroad, finds more of the same. He doesn’t know where to go, stands bemused, not even wondering, when out of an unperceived “house” emerges the unmistakable figure of Jacqueline Helles de la Boissiere. Her fiery carmine locks wildly crawling over her head, as if with a life of their own; her wide, crooked nose releasing a puff of smoke with every exhalation; her frozen albino eyes piercing space with two direct lines to the deepest, darkest secret; her plump square body distilling a detestable air of unquenchable lust. Her face bears lines of desperation; her hands pull fiercely from the serpents that grow on her head; she’s about to let out the shriek that’s destined to wedge Earth out of its cosmic slot, when she notices John Lawrence standing on his own, pondering in the middle of nowhere.
I never had a chance to see the face that instructed me away from the place I had entered as a curious child and had exited as a startled—almost terrified—teenager but a single glimpse at this monster is enough to assure me that she’s the reason why I’m here. Life has taken its time with you. I thought you might never come. Her demeanour changes, though she remains as hideous as before. Follow me inside, don’t be afraid. He can’t disguise his sudden agitation, his lack of composure. A scruffy little dog pulls at the left leg of his wool trousers. John Lawrence turns his body in the direction of the tin shed.
Shot slowly distances itself from character’s view, zooms out slightly, begins clockwise circular motion around man’s body, starting from four o’clock. Angle shifts just before we get to see his expression (ten o’clock). Shot begins accelerated spiral motion upwards with character as focal point. Three full oscillations later we see John Lawrence from above, standing in the middle of a crossroad, ready to follow the growling instructions of an insignificant animal.
The interior of that mysterious house spells the biggest disappointment faced in the history of expectations. No pervading smell of sulphur, no cauldron in which to concoct any magic potions, not even a black cat to keep up appearances. Just a messy living room with bits and pieces of a broken life scattered around everywhere. A battered curtain of red and black beads on a narrow threshold towards the far side of the room fails miserably at separating it from the divining area. A pile of loose beads stacked on a side table spells the meagreness of the curtain.
John Lawrence is no longer intimidated by the ugliness of this woman. In fact, for the first time, he questions his prior resolve to visit this place. Without being asked, he sits on a chair, places his overcoat on a wobbly table. Jacqueline Helles de la Boissiere busies herself with futile chores that take her from one side to the other. She remains oblivious to his presence as a million tiny steps take her from one restive motion to the next. The anticipation that accompanied the prospect of a meaningful revelation has vanished with his faith in his instincts. The respect he initially felt for the horrible apparition that stands in front of him has gone the same way. What’s your name? Suddenly, a faltering neon sign that might or might not have hung by the doorway as he walked in comes alive, spelling “Jacqueline Helles de la Boissiere”. She senses his disapproval, turns her head in his direction, looks at him out of the corner of her eyes. We can’t all be Cassandras. The sight of those two empty beams of blankness reaching towards him from the side of her arched back as she leans over the chest where she keeps her cards makes his heart jump. Follow me. Don’t be afraid.
John Lawrence’s scepticism had been sucked out of his spirit momentarily by the vacuum inside her eyes but the scene inside the divination area is enough to firmly anchor it back where it had been seconds before. The cigar has been sitting in a puddle of broth that has extinguished its spiritualistic powers. The crystal ball has been stored in its case for so long that moss has clouded the inside of the glass. Jacqueline would read the coffee grains if her sight were only good enough. The cards are the only thing to trust, anyway. The words don’t permeate through John’s coat of cynicism. First card: Death. Then The Lovers. The Wheel of Fortune. I see masks. I see ploys and intrigue. I see capes. John has no patience. He leaps off his seat. What you see is a bad production of Romeo and Juliet. I’m aware of the link, thank you very much. Jacqueline Helles de la Boissiere remains completely unperturbed by the interruption. The Devil. The man with two cups: confusion. A rash decision. A visitor. He stands by the doorway determined to go, yet an irrational curiosity stops him. She lifts her eyes from the cards, drains all strength from his will. Sit down. John Lawrence listens, attentive, incredulous. The Madman. Three staves. Justice.
How can you know what they tell you when I don’t even have a question? She’s absolutely unfazed, continues her task. You will be mesmerised. Here’s Strength. And time. And suddenly, a pause. What is it? What? I do not find the Hanged Man. The shadow of a smile escapes Jacqueline Helles de la Boissiere’s mouth, shows the darkness of her rotten teeth. John Lawrence doesn’t find the joke amusing. This time he almost topples the table over on his way out. His frustration makes him resist the temptation to stay on the dark side of the bead curtain. Fear death by water, right? Quick determined steps take him to his dark blue overcoat, to the crossroads outside her house.
Aerial shot, 60 degrees above ground. Only three of four sections of the crossroads are visible (the alleyway that led John Lawrence to the clairvoyant’s shed lies behind us, away from our sight). Bewildered man (ruffled hair, dusty outfit, sweaty face) walks away from hut in hurried, clumsy fashion. Behind follows the amused figure of Jacqueline Helles de la Boissiere, restrained, comfortable. You think you have no question but I’ll give you an answer. Be aware of Gregory’s gift. And don’t fear water, fear fish. John Lawrence is already out of sight, retracing his earlier steps.
The wait is simply boring—not even irritating, just dull. A passenger with an expired visa, a foreign woman who has missed her flight and can’t speak a word of English. All I need is to change the return date on this ticket for today. Certainly sir, come this way. Confident brown eyes browse documents, touch type on the computer, handle the request with an air of routine. That’s a long journey just for two days. John Lawrence would have replied any other day. Any other day, John Lawrence would have assessed the effect of his charm on those confident brown eyes. John Lawrence wouldn’t have known—any other day—how to draw the pathetic smile of helplessness that presently pulls his lips and eyes together. There we are, your ticket has been changed free of charge for the twenty ninth of February. Your flight is being checked-in on counter twenty five around the corner. Is there anything else I can do for you today, sir? God no! Just get me out of here.
Sombre white man sitting on a plane by the window in a row all by himself. Smart grey suit, creased; crisp blue shirt, unbuttoned; coat and ascot neatly folded away on seat next to him. A veil of slumber falls upon John Lawrence’s eyes. His head nods from side to side as he trades consciousness for sleep. Ladies and gentlemen we would like to ask for your full attention as the crew will now advise you of the safety procedures aboard this Boeing 757. Swollen, bloodshot eyes come alive to the habitual pain of disrupted sleep. Outside, a large ball of fire slowly crawls under a line of clouds. There are eight clearly indicated emergency exits on this aircraft. Oxygen masks, life vests. John Lawrence browses the in-flight magazine looking to kill the minutes before take-off.
The sunset gains preponderance with altitude. The entire western skyline glows with the radiance of the vanished sun. A film of white clouds accentuates the contrast between the scarlet twilight and the cobalt sky. A small, sharp pocket of clarity suddenly breaks through the cotton-like surface underneath. Three seconds later the gap is filled with the yellow-orange glint of an overpopulated urban area: man’s own version of the sun. Scotch and soda bubble away, tickling John Lawrence’s palate. What ever came over me? Left hand reaches from left temple to right eyebrow, falls over eyes, presses eyelids with thumb and middle finger, releases tension, holds weight of head on palm.
Was that the emptiness of sleep? No ice cubes swim on the watered-down whisky anymore. Heading flat north at thirty thousand feet all you can see is the pitch black sky above, mirrored by the pitch black coat of impenetrable clouds underneath. Between them sits the thin, long dividing line of the crepuscule rising low above the clouds, spreading a narrow glimmer of yellow light that quickly fades into pale green before turning into a darkening patch of blue. On the background of all this, absurd but present, the reflection of myself presiding over what I see, over what I think. Suddenly, a fleeting flashlight leaves a trail of smoke behind. Stars don’t shoot at thirty thousand feet. Was that a close call? Another plane? Imagination? May I have another scotch and soda, please? We change direction, leave all light behind. The only accessory that adorns the night now is the intense shimmering of a lone star hanging slightly above the horizon line. I wonder if that’s what I saw. And, how could it be? The booze takes its toll on my reasoning. Maybe I will sleep after all.
Aerial shot, 45 degrees above ground. Weary, heavy-hearted man walks out of arrivals terminal. Strong gust of wind unsettles hair, prompts shiver. Shrunken body under dark overcoat moves towards taxi stand. John Lawrence flags last available taxi. Shot zooms in towards the front of the cab. In view: grill of an old car, face of taxi driver behind windscreen, back door swinging open.
Please let me get this cab, I’m already late for my own birthday party. John Lawrence’s startled mind fails to process the information. I was flagging it from the other side but it didn’t see me. Green eyes, aquiline nose, captivating smile. I have no luggage, we both fit in there.
Where’s it gonna be, boss?
Soft grave voice gives instructions, lingers in the air like the fragrance of a perfume. We’ll drop her off first, then you can take me home. Short period of evasive looks followed by you look like you need a drink. I look like I had one too many on my flight. Why don’t you join my party? The theme is shipwrecks and you look like you just come from one. Fear death by water. Or was it fish? A glance at the traffic ahead reveals the presence of that lone star hovering slightly above the horizon line. Is that where we’re heading? And, in that case, I might join you for a quick one.
Montague Kobbé (montaguekobbe.com) is a German citizen with a Shakespearean name, born in Caracas, in a country that no longer exists, in a millennium that is long gone. He is the author of the novel The Night of the Rambler and the bilingual collection of flash fiction Tales of Bed Sheets and Departure Lounges. He has kept a column in Sint Maarten’s The Daily Herald since 2008 and has translated over twenty photography books with Spanish publisher La Fábrica. His new novel, On the Way Back (Akashic, 2016) tackles issues of racial and social prejudice on Anguilla with a large dose of humour.