The Garden /4 — Louis Armand

vainement ton image arrive à me rencontre et ne m’entre où je suis qui seulement la montre toi te tournant vers moi tu ne saurais trouver au mur de mon regard que ton ombre rêvée staring at the blank wall it was as though the words were writing themselves & He was reading them speaking them aloud tracing their forms in air this mysterious process goes on in stops & starts translating intuiting waiting or a voice emerges vaguely at first & then more persistently like a draught in an old house the circulating & stalking of something unfinished & restless in the middle of the night it’s impossible to sleep but at the same time lacking the will to write it down I’m too tired I tell myself you’re too tired it’s cold I know everything will go on regardless there’s no point exorcising ghosts they come of their own accord & what are our rituals & fictions to them in time all things must end or so it’s said but time also must have an end stretched on a line between joists pinioned geometricised the sole imprisoned observer casting helpless looks along an entire span of past & future torments but here too the illusion of a vanishing point contradicts the judgement of the eye the perspective falters the line is merely the horizon of an expectation or hope evoked in the Holy Mind as though it could be otherwise some sort of revelation to write His way beyond it to a more profound understanding shaping each phrase with an exactitude of meaning to capture it out of time where its nakedness could be made to speak to convey its secret immutability entelechy of the negative is that what she’s hoping for to conceal herself in the guise of that other to be closer to her & witness even her thoughts but in the purgatory of the visible she is herself the shadow of light angel & demimonde a bruised cadaverous form naked almost cannibalised in the eyes of others M’s death-stiffened face & bluish mouth her form took on a strange instrumentality pushing a listless hand upwards across her breasts throat flesh like wax her fingers stretched around her chin & nails touching the tongue through the face her nails through her face touching her tongue cette apparence impalpable & sombre qui a pris la forme changeant de mon ombre the idea of being haunted by a spectre the lank grave-scented hair Lilith of the Other Side Sitra Achra blood-clotted gaping wordless mouth in this vision she seemed more concrete less obscured than her physical presence the various stages of a body’s moral emotional sexual decomposition & there’ll always be the suspicion in the back of her mind that He will’ve wanted M to die that her death was in effect created by His having written it in his precious manuscript a literal death sentence hahaha providing the opportunity for a little necrophilia His laughable Hamlet act staging a wrestling match with His alter-ego inside a dead girl’s grave all virgo intacta with her strap-on gilded lily & Him playing the Sarah Bernhardt to deafening one-handed applause making popular appeal to the hackneyed idea that everyone has a double the concurrence of two souls a spectator & an actor one who speaks & one who answers & there’re shapes like words imprinted in the back of the mind but also projected onto things that I perceive without the slightest recollection of their belonging to me already as though despite myself & rendered helpless in their presence the revealed body the corpse the wounds the genitalia the all-seen eroded by the all-knowing as if prefigured in the act itself internalised at the moment of realisation not yet completed barely begun the act without completion or having been begun & this will have characterised all subsequent relationships with the desired object a series of substitutions not of the object itself but of what inhibits correspondence between meanings & events the movement of intensity confronted with naked impossibility although the word naked here is merely rhetorical to mask the sense of its being an aporia of the impossible itself as it separates from the motive & dies to itself in the body the corpse corpus no longer a body as such no longer habeas corpus or what is written in the flesh scarified by an act forced always to invent her an account to speak in the mouth to touch the breast to imagine & to see the body the sex to caress a shoulder things as difficult to show & to intend as horror & sickness & death are I do not understand why & I suffer from it what have I after all but my own death to come back to no I am not writing an account but there are others memoranda reports medical files M was pale thin moody intense her manner was inconsistent oscillating between jaded worldliness & childish enthusiasm at times she seemed to be imitating several people at once avoiding & searching mocking & pleading at the same time she believed that all of her veins had disappeared & that she was no longer alive but a ghost when she woke in the morning it was often with a sensation of loss & as each day wore on she began to experience an erosion of her bodily limits her skin seemed to become more pliable transparent until she was no longer sure of possessing any solidity she paid more & more attention to the way people looked at her she waited in front of shop windows & stole glances at herself it’s crucial here to distinguish between code & language persons are simulacra derived from a social aggregate whose code is invested for its own sake since no particular body can entirely coincide with the code enveloped in its assigned category or in the various images recapitulating it & although I read the meaning of existence into her acts these same acts are only displayed to me whereas they are lived by her a reality independent of these visual perceptions she hides her face in her hands & her long hair falls forwards exposing her neck as the downwards floating of hair mirrors a seascape the undulation of water but it all seemed to have happened in a kind of tunnel it wasn’t real it was only when she came out of the tunnel into the light that she felt as if she actually existed & when she turned the page over & touched the back of it with her fingers its texture was like the engraving on a picture frame or the gilt frame of a mirror with too many details worked into the motif the contrast between the frame & the glass its false appearance of tranquillity tabula rasa the sky too appeared emptied out vacant a space opening onto an entirely other space neither memory nor reflection as she stood drawing a finger across its surface but without breath the line did not materialise she exhaled & closed her eyes je t’écrit au hasard ce qui me vient but where did they come from those words that seemed to erase themselves in being written the fulfilment of some inexplicable intention she took the letters & the envelopes & the torn photographs & threw them with a box of matches into the washbasin in the glow of the fire she imagined the words taking on different forms their base meanings transmuted in the upwards movement of smoke & ash consumed at last by the overwhelming nothingness to which they aspired He’d stopped typing a loud rapport from the street had drawn His attention to the window a shout another backfire before the vehicle passed by He reached for the pack of cigarettes on the desk beside the ashtray a pile of manuscript pages a newspaper a photograph of a woman with dark eyes staring straight out of it j’ai jeté le regard par la fenêtre & je l’ai retrouvé devant moi sur la table He scrutinised the woman’s image her anti-self as He lit the cigarette then let his fingers settle once more on the keys is His task to recount her in some way to turn her into metaphor dressing words in flesh in the fire of the living spirit or merely of desire but there’s no point in calling to mind the idea of an actual fire or a flame what they are has nothing to do with what we see when inner & outer dusk intermingle but how’s it possible to submit to a God that doesn’t believe in you always reinventing her to suit His purposes she could blow the world to hell & it’d never suffice He’d always have a halo on hand to suture the fragments into an image Mary Mary quite contrary why didn’t she just give in to her own unreality instead of trying to kill herself whenever the opportunity arose hahaha wasn’t she woman enough for Him just the way she was already with her mind insideout & her body at an ever-available pivot la derrière mode du prêt-à-penser she’s dreaming of the singularity at the origin of time the first night when all light left the cosmos the prologue’s an eternity of sightless beckoning an epoch of whispers hands the presences intertwine & diverge soon their faces will close around me their eyes & mouths call her to a higher plateau from which from which the empty heavens recede like an ocean suddenly flooded with a trillion kilowatts of light but the moment she looked upon it she crumbled to dust & the ocean became a  desert bound by four walls & light blinding from above & from all sides it was impossible to tell where one surface ended & another began or it doesn’t exist I destroy it the idea that seemed to hold everything together she looked up & across at the place where M was lying as if she’d somehow intuited her thoughts but no shadow was visible only noise the sound of blood throbbing in her ears & then nothing she’s as inert as a line drawn through a film of dust there at the end of her finger a barely visible smudge on the windowsill & white paint-slivers under her nail as her gaze through the smoke-filled room encountered the dressing-table mirror & immediately withdrew she asks not what the mirror symbolises but what it hides & encrypts she’s suddenly reduced to sheer inventories an ashtray on the table offers sanctuary inside its anonymous accumulation of burnings & at the end of a room the usual pantomime of naked & bored flesh the curtain rises & then falls the bodies mesh separate one taking up where the other leaves off in the background the screen of the diorama seemed to deepen the shadows more & more pronounced as though hollowed out by what takes place invisibly within them soundlessly aphonic each spectator is less capable than ever of choosing a place in view of this photographic spectre surrounded as it is by so many actual bodies humid with the smell of cheap perfume hands turning over each other in white foam & mounted with a confectioner’s skill in some implacable machinery the performance itself is slow & tedious involving many repetitions false revelations advances & retreats visible & concealed gestures which made the body less & less distinct even as its nudity became increasingly expressive of a secret shame self-disgust fear of recognition elle doit y être maintenant obsédante & fantomatique the closed space echoed her thoughts & seemed to manifest them in the damp heavy air like the air in a corrupted lung it slowly starves the organs & limbs of oxygen in the end there is nothing left but the hypothalamus unconsciously persisting it seemed pointless to go on but what other point was there she squeezed her head between her hands everything was suddenly stupid futile mocking stupid the very idea of Him sitting there wrapped in the idolatrous gloom like He was offering up His conscience in place of Himself grasping onto the words of others for some proof of existence & those phantoms soaring in their invented meanings a dream too incoherent & disjointed to describe besides I’ve almost forgotten it there remain the words it’s impossible to imagine one’s own death we must try to do so precisely because it’s impossible I can feel the blood circulating in my stomach I can feel my intestines you’re shaking M said the ceiling of the café bar was painted crimson she secretly calls it the abattoir do you remember M asked looking up at her with lopsided eyes but it was nothing she finished her drink & stood up her face had aged a haggard grey mask when she thought no-one was watching afraid of what was to come if not tonight some other night the humiliation of growing old don’t look at me her eyes said don’t turn away a ceiling fan hummed monotonously & afterwards thinking how the lie exposes the truth touching M’s lips with your fingers while thinking of other things places vague excuses not to admit that you too are being eaten from the inside that despite the fact you don’t show it you’re nothing but a shell teeming with ants maggots lymphocytes a group of old women in black hijabs came out onto the street & started screaming whore at a prostitute on the rue Bab Mellah haram women of Allah their screams threw up a cordon around her like a chemical hazard their sex-apartheid crottée & mirée dans le cul d’une poule morte & désirée & if she reminds you of M is it only because of your obsessive need for atonement walking quickly now in the direction of the Ville Nouvelle soon drunken French Saudi Yankee voices then a side street the humming of fuse boxes a telephone booth with a mechanical voice at the other end repeated the time she waited trying to count the periods of silence in between but her nerve failed how often has she done this alone face shadowed by the hood of a djellaba could they tell by her walk her shape her smell her radiation what she really was till reaching the avenue Mohammed V she could barely go any further paralysed with the dread of discovery as if the entire Quartier was a geigercounter & her cunt was military grade plutonium any moment now the entire array of subtle & mathematical force-fields would come crashing down around her unfolding behind its wombmask bouche à bouche a car-bomb in the street police sirens a gun fired at close range the civil-war-machine gnashes its teeth the red of her mouth the blue under her eyes the visible dark M shivered scratched at her arms I don’t want to get older she said sinking into the shadows her vitreous flesh M was dissolving in front of her becoming transparent & she could see the sickness welling up inside her knotted inchoate no she said the look on her face like a wounded animal she had no shame no human dignity seeing M like that cowering into herself she felt an urge to beat her to put her out of her misery the wretchedness inside herself she’d forced this guilt upon her the one who sees me without my seeing but it’s not enough to speculate upon which one of its four series of surfaces this figure manifests itself de plus on ne se suicide pas tout seul nul n’a jamais été seul pour naître nul non plus n’est seul pour mourir mais dans la cas de suicide il faut une armée de mauvais êtres pour décider le corps au geste contre nature de se priver de sa propre vie & je crois qu’il y a toujours quelqu’un d’autre à la minute de la morte extrême pour nous dépouiller de notre propre vie as though everything were there all at once a composition of overturned surfaces & still this singular arrangement each time one single time mounted in an apparatus that has somehow become visible but what is nakedness she asked what difference lies between my exposed body & the floor on which I am violated am I naked before you or is my nakedness a consequence an extension of your desire a mask the conditions of an operation in which violence is the more effective instrument for separating consciousness from the permission of flesh He watches from across the room it seems to take a long time the walls are bathed in a blue half-light & several figures are arranged against the far wall according to a mannerist design as He waits He lights a cigarette shading His face from the glow of the flame with His left hand from where He’s sitting the staged urgency of the scene has dwindled to lethargy a masked figure is standing beside a woman stroking His penis but fails to achieve an erection the woman has just removed a hypodermic needle from her left arm & is now vomiting on the floor somewhere off-stage the music has stopped playing He stands up to leave crossing to an unlit doorway where on the other side M’s standing with her back to the curtains watching Him approach without making a single gesture without moving a single feature of her mouth her face she looked at M’s nakedness & at her own in the mirror two bodies that seemed about to merge was it herself or another she closed her eyes & pressed her hand against the cold glass at the same time as another hand pushed against hers though M was lying as before head tilted slightly back to the side & jaw set only now the eyes were open black enamelled snake eyes but she mustn’t have spoken after all turning back to the window it was the breathing the sound of breathing that’d changed she’d woken just as she always did while M was standing in front of the window with the water running in the washbasin she felt M’s eyes narrowing on her & it was all she could do to say something anything whatever came into her head to fill the silence to ward off the viciousness of that gaze it’s not me not I the ventriloquist puppeteer with a hand wedged up her fake cunt all the time I hear myself saying this as if in a dream as if one day I’d woken up in a stranger’s room & when I spoke to myself it was in somebody else’s voice begging to be let go straining at the ropes handcuffs electric cables bound to the four corners of a wire bed-frame the Ô so very becoming welts raised by the whip the rubber hose the razor-burn the smell of cordite as if you’d been fucked dry by an AK-47 flies buzzing all over everything the doorways walls hung like a meat factory she tasted blood thick in her throat there’d been no warning the explosion had blown-out the entire front of the café & people men mostly but also women & children were lying in the street yes it’d be impossible not to become a ghost even without the presence of others without the presence of oneself even or with nothing more than a trace here where I am alone daylight is rootless unsituated each moment brings about a dispersal I wake up M’s standing at the washbasin with her hand resting on the tap she is looking over her shoulder towards the door with a vacant faraway expression I thought somebody was in the room & she imagined someone entering taking her in the palms of their hands & turning her over & over in the café bar she watched the hand of her reflection tremble as it took a glass of water from the table she felt that hand strangely raise the heavy glass to her lips felt the water enter her mouth her throat & what if she tried at that moment simply to breathe go on till you can’t stand it anymore then give it up if you don’t want to give up go on till you can’t stand it anymore it’s not just a moment or a succession of more or less complete images but a hollowness a passage of time which has been ranged in tiers directed played with neutralised annulled a malign presence behind each of her words water she said glass & the glass falling to the tiled floor & breaking into hundreds of gleaming pieces innocence frayed with culpability the feeling of passing through a slight & lukewarm event her stockings were laddered there were traces of blood on her pale skin she began to speak but somehow her words seemed to withdraw before she could articulate them & gradually she became hysterical gesturing with more & more animation till her entire body had become a grotesque ballet mécanique the deliberately percussive way M pronounced her name the name that she’d given her she let her hands drop to her sides her mouth half open her eyes had become full of confusion il est dur & lourd de m’aimer & la vie est amère à ceux qui m’aiment but what did they want with all their words & their solicitous glances casting out at her like nets set adrift in the sea she was swimming against that tide the millions of glinting lures arranged in constellation the fish-mouths & fish-bodies & there in the very midst of that carnage a drowned animal stares back at her with large sympathetic eyes & what if suddenly all those creatures were to come alive & see her lying naked in the Garden of Reproach at the scene of the crime as if she herself had committed it as convenient as a fait accompli but she didn’t know where the voices were coming from whether they too were inside her or whether her body moved through them la somnambule & curled up in the position of a foetus in a womb till the worst was over to forget to stop thinking & no more questions but what if she were still there what if she were to find Him standing in the doorway waiting for her to wake up it’s cold & the air stings her eyes He pushes his womanly hand up between her thighs to take hold of her secret manhood saying each day is the eve of the end of time but still the shadows play against the columns tapering to ceilings stained black with time mercurial & nefarious a trail of black ants on the wall & her contradicted sex quivers beneath His manipulations in a theatre where so many fates are offered His tongue makes syllogisms on her skin cocaine-numb because a poem too should intervene in the world even at the most inopportune switching of the codes so that the illusion might form once again of sitting on a bench in Marseille overlooking the canal the harbour wall the rocky beach the stone columns standing above the water & in your hand you held a postcard exactly depicting the details of the scene in front of you although nothing seems to join up to cover the white surface beneath the image it seems that white is invading the picture from all sides the impression that it was already mid-day I look up at the belfry at the bell swinging gradually in the sunlight gradually swinging but I do not hear it at this moment it’s far away it’s the object of a mere reverie but even as I deny it in my mind I clutch in vain at its meaning it’s nothing but a bell ringing but which I can’t hear can’t yet hear & as she walked back towards the road she felt the light pierce her fire living the death of air earth living the death of fire it was late they were in a bar a jazz recording was playing loudly then M had fallen over still holding an empty glass the broken pieces cutting deep into the palm of her hand & she stared seconds passed then she cried out her eyes were searching for something becoming frantic suddenly she burst out laughing the sound jolted M kissed her on the mouth moi lips against lips moi moi her breath tasted of an infirmary like an undeveloped negative exposed to light it was almost one o’clock a woman on the opposite side of the platform was hysterical laughing with a dissonant grating laughter there was a sudden commotion laughter turning to stifled screams she’s losing her head she thought it reminded her of M how whenever she started getting nervous she’d talk about having her head chopped off causing you to picture her undressed at the guillotine whenever she was being observed by strangers she would conjure up each detail of the mechanical apparatus & describe herself hands tied behind her back feet bound together knees on the board the stocks locked around her throat the blood basket gaping up at her & the cosmological perturbation of the cast-iron blade inching across the nape of her neck from another dimension the plume of blood & hair as the head was hoist into the sky they say that the eyes still see that the tongue still writhes & down below the arms & legs still shudder the nervous corners of her mouth twitched as she blew out a trail of cigarette smoke but nobody could care whether I’m alive or dead she groaned her eyes looked past Him on the other side of the room a crowd had gathered around the screaming woman a man cursed trying to drag her outside by the hair somebody struck her hard across the face & for a time there was silence she appeared to be unconscious her arms dangling against the floor the serene look on M’s face when she lay passed out on the carpet how the eye shadow deepened around her eyes the hint of bruises that gave her a disturbing sensuousness no nothing’s changed meaning I spend nights awake locked in my room not answering the telephone but it’s meaningless to speak of illness once the emotions are dead watching the streetlights go out along the avenue one after another the faint constellations ever fainter as mist enveloped them & their image faded & somewhere Tangier perhaps she was looking out across the water as a ferry passed the headland its stern lights sinking in the blackness & for a moment it was tantamount to being alone on an island of catastrophic debris far out in the ocean with only the surge the crescendo the sibilant after-hiss of the waves & without facing Him said like the mouths of purgatory but if I’ve been understood my message can’t’ve been clear for example did Allah lie to expose a hidden truth or vice versa is this His way of punishing me by not punishing me stained head to foot with red earth like a Berber witch on a sacred escarpment brushed by the wind in melancholy communion the resigned undertaking as with her tattooed hands she layer-by-layer uncovered the unnatural ineluctable character of M’s body beneath its veils rotten meat trembling with yellow maggots for those who see me naked I replace all other desire caught in the avoidance of looking either at the empty space across the table or at the half-reflection in the window a feeling of incompletion & the impossibility of ever being other than a fugitive from my own gaze I run from it turning away from the other I turn towards I’m at its mercy I retreat I plead I say my name it escapes me between the lips barely touching the tongue it’s no longer mine whose then it’s getting dark behind the eyes the darkness without escape no windows doors no light switches no outside the darkness is absolute it’s the absolute darkness in which everything is contained & of which everything is composed but the parts do not add up there is no whole no simple antithesis to say that He was absent already from the night she envisaged a moth-dance of words towards the slightest glimmer to escape the fate of the mouth of that particular mouth caught up in a play directed by forces beyond its control il y a un quelque chose qui détroit ma pensée un quelque chose de furtif qui m’enlève les mots que j’ai trouvés but these already are somebody else’s words I feel that my consciousness is being disturbed my being aware of things motives causalities never certain that I’m not playing some idiotic game with myself since my suffering is a farce in comparison with M’s no the scene in the bar must have happened differently M was smoking clumsily spilling cigarette ash down the front of her shirt & smudging it each time she tried to brush it away with that short agitated gesturing of her hands she was glancing distractedly about the room her fingernails you could see were bitten down to the flesh all of a sudden she wrenched at my arm her hand was shaking we have to get out of here she hissed the music slowed down torpor follows like an immovable sphinx absorbed in its own enigma

Louis Armand is the author of novels including The Combinations (2016), Cairo (2014), & Breakfast at Midnight (2012). In addition he has published a number of collections of poetry & theoretical works. He lives in Prague.