The Garden /5 — Louis Armand

in the corner an old Berber was eating a bowl of dry couscous it was late outside the prostitutes were standing around looking bored the street almost empty each of their movements appears tedious affected I’ve tried to write my way out of this impasse to approach a realisation something palpable in the end there are only ghosts spectres writing terrifies me probably because I recognise in it an echo of every cowardice & evil that I’ve committed in its name but after all why believe anything I’m telling you it’d be easier just to close your eyes & hear the muted footfall on the dirt path & leaves & smell the densely flowering hibiscus that hangs over the water where a scar of rock juts out & the air’s thinner rarefied seeping almost through the porous sandstone for how many centuries have the fearful come here to prepare themselves their mortal bodies censed & aspersed passing from the vaulted darkness into the blinding light-eternal & at the sound of rumbling in the sky she blinked her eyes open as the clouds shuddered in & out of focus & a long plume of white rippled up in the stratosphere trying by sheer will-power to hold it still for a moment to be able to trace its intricate design she let her head rest against the rock felt the heat radiating from it & in her mind the images meshed & repeated themselves each detail opening onto a whole of which it was barely a part as though it gave rise to innumerable other selves dividing & rejoining & the cliffs like mute witnesses darkening over that body in abrupted chaos or she turns her head suddenly as if a voice a gesture broken off the contour of bound arms legs forming a junction between sharply striated stone & the sky & she was staring at the sun the light invading even after forcing shut her eyes the captive image burning in her retina soleil noir the bighting lashes of its hot invisible rays in a delirium of violence barely able to breath the sky’s too near she gasps freeing her hands from the wet rope of her hair groping for the tap blindly the glass teetering on the sheer edge of the washbasin night goes & then the sky’s too near gulping the words back before they’re even spoken while in some parallel world she sees herself standing framed against the window with her gaze shifting along the street a glass raised half-way to her mouth as though somehow she’d forgotten herself the incendiary heat & already it seemed she’d been leaning that way for hours against the iron railing looking down into a well of carrion perhaps it’d been weeks not hours perhaps it’d been years the air itself was as still as a buried temple unshifting till the stones collapsed she could’ve walked about in it forever lost in the intricate Piranesi labyrinths across a bridge & around a pillar up a spiral staircase & along a vaulted tunnel across a bridge again to break off mid-air where seas & fables meet & then stepping back from the window the dispersion of light through the glass the separation of colour the mysterious containment of the visible concealed within the invisible a reflection of uncontrolled space mingled with absence my own as well as somebody else’s & always the voices her transparent body moving among them de voix en voix a word among other words she unclenched her eyes still nothing had happened the sky was the same sky suddenly open & empty revealing as though the pane had broken a seemingly limitless space the vertigo of incoherence coherence spreading across the forehead the jaw the cartilage of her neck swelling throbbing collapsing inwards upon a knot of pain till it breaks & the sadistic impulse leaps in to fill the void with the certainty of affliction M’s hair falling in black coils across the smooth nape of her neck the blackness of the hair of her sex against pale skin lips eyelashes the shadows that cleave a naked body I want to grasp hold of that flesh cling to it nothing else makes sense if I could see clearly I might recognise the strings operating the marionette the contorted mockery of limbs the languorous eyes mechanical & false this danse macabre it doesn’t matter if I sink or swim chained to eternity or a voice stumbling alone past midnight down an alleyway in the Medina a ghost grasping a severed head by its hair lantern-like & it was as if her own head had somehow become separated from her body floating unreal & the world suddenly immaterial as when the swordsman swings his blade & the head is raised from the choppingblock staring out at a leering sea one o’clock toll cloche cauchemar something scrapes along the vertebrae with its broken nails its teeth its fear of waking not waking she cries out straining to be heard their voices surging around her like a tribunal pronouncing the fatwah that every spiritual woman is a phantasm of her oppressor hahaha telling her that someone must’ve committed suicide in that room a long time ago so as to plant the suggestion in her mind the air foul with expired sweat blood vomit sperm unbreathable inducing all the expected gestures grimaces expressions of disgust & instead of recording events as they actually seemed I began to note down their failure to seem like anything at all but at the same time I tried to be objective no thoughts only events limiting myself to describing such things as time of waking daily schedule journeys encounters miscellaneous occurrences needless to say it couldn’t go on there’s a point at which you’re forced to make a distinction for example being hungry or being cold & then at other moments I found myself lying awake or drifting into half-sleep time drags sometimes a voice enters or there’re voices outside someone standing at the door the sound of a clock ticking footsteps approaching & trailing off or else I’m rehearsing my own arrival the street the gate the doorway the tiled entrance hall the staircase with polished brass banister the danger’s inside your head M murmured inclining faintly towards her through the shadows reminding of a painting by Chagall the morbid gaze of a circus rider who has seen everything & nothing through a circle of pantomime & conceit false eyelashes dipped down under their own weight & lips swollen twitching beneath a dark smudge of lipstick or else you could try believing nothing because sooner or later she knows she’ll come crawling back to that stinking hole seeing herself already in a series of helpless dreamlike tableau descending beneath the waves to a room without windows the air salted like meat supplicating herself imploring begging to be taken back & sneering derisively M drew up her skirt a web of needle trails on bruised flesh do you think I care one way or the other you want to kiss the bruises but she refuses to permit it ordering you to lie face-down on the floor in front of her instead & if you still believe in her is it because you can’t remember or because you remember too well the way she use to play the virgin & whore swapping the roles reversing them because you liked it like that & watchers behind the arras the way she parted her thighs making theatrically lewd gestures with her hands inserting part of a mirror into the mouth of her vagina hudha she sneered ’eamal allh I’m telling you the story of how we went down to the sea already you’re becoming a myth enigma Sibyl I haven’t invented these things the red tincture of the water at dusk then violet grey black & later a photograph beside the bed of a woman in a white dress I know her you say those eyes I wake up M’s beside me covered in a grey film of fever sweat she’s caught in some kind of trance I can’t shake her out of it it’s like a scene in a film too real & too fake she felt like her mind was inside-out on a screen at the same time it’s me I’m the one in the room I see myself lying there & everything fading to white but she had to speak that’s what she was there for the other who was behind her said absolutely nothing it seemed like a trap at every session I waited for her to begin speaking instead of me I was certain she was keeping something back that she knew far more than she was prepared to admit from then on distrust set in & enveloped my words as well as her silence at one end of the room a darkened corridor slopes downwards there’s a set of doors which resemble the doors of a hospital ward I see myself pushing through them somehow they’ve become fluid opaque & I struggle to get past on the other side a stairway leads further down the narrowness & unaccustomed steepness of the steps unrecognisable forms emerge in the gloom the walls take on a vegetal complexity there’s a feeling of being lost inside too many details the idea that by focusing on abstractions I can avoid confronting the monster lurking somewhere nearby then for apparently no reason panic like an insulin takes hold I stagger from the room the pain hard up against the back of her eyes in the pit of her stomach she tries to throw up but they’re forcing something down her throat I’m too far away to see what it is cut-off & groping in the dark for a lightswitch I imagine is just out of reach & all the while time passing without being aware of it though I’m not dreaming either & I watch the torchlight bursting in the retina signalling with Morse code there’s danger written in the undertow trying to assess the situation objectively & make necessary adjustments to bearings but it’s not me lying on that bed in that ward looking down at myself through an inner lens of vertigo everything’s artificial & very real you’re part of an anonymous body moving through the city like one nerve-end among countless millions an electrode pulsing inside the cortex to bring dead reality back to life & at the same time I’m aware of this process as if I’m inside the things that I describe a reflex action the way the scene appears to compose itself in front of my eyes barely disguising its trick & for that instant it’s difficult to believe just as it’s difficult to believe Parrhasius’ grapes of wrath could deceived even the most unlikely bird of paradise does it matter then if she exists or if she ever existed still reaching out with your hand to part that veil & uncover the image beneath it or I’m in a room at one end a desk with a reading lamp & papers strewn about there are pieces of a torn photograph lying on top of a blue envelope smoke from a cigarette rises against the ceiling words on a page that seem to speak themselves write themselves in being spoken I’m in a corridor now the feeling of approaching someone at a distance lightshift I see myself in a window I’m underwater a pale reflection of the sun the sense of falling a hand reaches down from the other side & covers me with darkness or I’m in a clearing a large arboreal chamber with vaults supported by half-submerged columns radiating in every direction & pathways that lead nowhere a trompe-l’œil sun glares from the sky like the corolla of a flower whose petals have rotted away at the end of a long corridor again I emerge into a room that resembles a theatre space to the right & left bathtubs & showers against the back wall a many-tiered platform with benches the walls are covered with white tiles to a height of about two metres there are openings high up covered with wire grills on a stage there is a drama unfolding various figures appear dressed as inmates of an asylum as extras voices mimes & chorus according to need they appear in white hospital uniforms their presence must set the atmosphere behind the acting area they make habitual movements turn in circles hop mutter to themselves wail scream & so on a figure emerging from the stage door according to the directions given by the author the text could be read as a series of suppressed discourses there is a plurality of the subject a delineating of the I which takes the form of an interplay of voices or a single voice divided by an indefinite number of coded proper names the slide from the one to the plural the disquieting plural of the one slipped between the narrator & the subject sometimes I feel you walking around inside me as if you were stumbling through the dark alleyways of a foreign city things exist precariously one against the other the sudden & frantic windows & those beyond with whom she couldn’t speak there’s no private self she thought staring at the image unglued from its frame & the sound of her voice her voices obscuring the impression of her face art she said opens an abyss between appearance & illusion everything had been made to stand still everything was rotting away ruined invisibly by the silence that cleaves language but perhaps it’s wrong that I have existed in the way that I have today I’ve decided that it’s because of my body that I can’t write & then because of all the bodies I’ve stolen those I wanted to be & which I thought could be made to write in my place & then I’m afraid of involving you in this charade I tell myself that I think about you often because your existence keeps me more or less on the level that you are the one person who by existing prove that I’m not a zero the vacant knocking in the skull silence knocking then silence again nothing laughter I’m torn between remorse & regret I must make up my mind & choose between the two because it’s impossible to tolerate both at once remorse because I feel guilty of having harmed others regret because I feel guilty of having harmed myself I move from regret to remorse & from remorse to regret this is what is meant by being walled-in imprisoned because my resentment is in reality directed at myself I can’t write because I can’t see how to do it without cutting the words into my body I try to imagine what it’s like to be a woman but it doesn’t seem possible I’m always so desperate despondent it’s not what I want to communicate I want to communicate perhaps that there are these moments when everything is being shaken by the head & I try to save myself by saying I have to save M the presence of someone in the dark I appear to myself completely turned inside out under my own eyes the discarded image of the body its abysses & depths what while repelling you calls you to it to deny it to see the nothing where something was before to perceive the absence the no longer being there the unnameable that describes itself in a human form like an impostor this homunculus acts a grotesque dumb show of mortality trapped in the grave ornament of its reflection a text more & more wordy diffuse & boring to dramatise its own insufficiency looking back at those mute open mouths & livid hands enraptured with fulsome applause I’ve begun to feel demented as though I’ve been dreaming all of this as a kind of recurrent nightmare that she is in fact the other the reverse the succubus which has pursued me since M’s death she enters disguised as the murderess Charlotte Corday she’s in a trance a knife slips from beneath a hospital tunic Marat is in his bathtub curled into a wound anaesthetising itself making it fall in love with itself a foetus suspended in formalin still to be born because whatever can be said of the theatre can be said of the body to traverse & restore existence in each of its aspects it seems as though all the blood all the flesh is drained away inside she fixes her gaze upon me her expression is vacant now as if she were seeing remotely a distant past in which she appeared as a figure moving in & out of her own narrative a disconnected flow of images which I see only from one point but in my existence I am looked at from all sides a semantic mirage the opposition of Art & Life suspended at the moment when neither can complete the other but I see its reflection outside myself perception isn’t in me it’s on the objects it apprehends & then to have been born blind & never to have seen myself she stops a few steps away from the audience & stands watching in silence her features as motionless as those of a mannequin in her posture & gestures partitions open unexpectedly windows hide or disclose a mystery while the body remains invisible an empty signal luring by means of the apparently banal quality of repetition towards the anonymous moment she displays her image with all its calculated reflections the entire duration of a movement that never seems to end a perpetual & meaningless agitation but if I resent Allah’s pretended suicide is it because my own negative existence is so inextricably tied up with her absence to the point that it imposes on me a self-denial that can’t simply be pretended away since my existence pales in comparison with her non-existence her no longer existing & this is what’s so impossible to bear even if I were to say to myself it’s not true it’s something you she it they have invented you’re deluding yourself allowing yourself to be deluded the fact remains that I resent Allah’s pretended death & that I equally resent my inability to act or to have acted which may as well be the same thing it doesn’t matter whether this’s plausible or not what’s more I don’t feel the slightest desire to explain to offer you a real confession a convincing supplicant gesture to the leering mullahs of catharsis je demande simplement pourquoi & falling silent she stares sullenly at her mute reflection & like some mocking adversary it leers back at her a heavy veil of irony darkening its countenance saying all women have a built-in grain of indestructibility history’s a fairytale a joke a mixed message’s missed messiah a moth’s phototropia words circling & turning in a vortex of cigarette smoke coiling from mouth to lampshade angled in a furtive cancellation of the room’s geometry why furtive her hands when she opened them were clutching a photograph torn into ragged pieces because of who it’d belonged to but how can an image be stolen bought sold owned in a thousand years none of this’ll mean anything there’ll only be data & categories of deletion & as though to overcome her own impression of being scrutinised she turns the pieces over & over relentlessly enacting a kind of vengeance or by accident she begins to re-arrange them into anything but the semblance of an image mais les raisons connues ou avouées sont toujours autres & she realises Allah dies at the moment of her greatest solitude & now they’re braying from their minarets at full volume THE MEANS OF BROADCAST MUST BE SURRENDERED TO THE PROLETARIAT does good exist somewhere out there 1,000,000,000 miles away on another planet she rubs her hands over the crystal ball it begins to cloud then a clear light radiates from within I see a face a stranger or someone I can’t recognise childlike nightmares agoraphobias the monumental space of a room power always assumes an inverse relation to the diminished point of the child’s eye l’abandon de l’homme au sein de la totalité du monde forever returning to the pale green room in bed Allah was telling her about colours how they read differently from what they are when objects are separated from origin & experience feelings are opaque nerve-cell retina I look at you but see an army truck rushing by a colliding black hole angels on pinheads everything is geometry abstraction pixel mosaic I touch your breast this hand against that taught or sagging skin black on white theory isolates Art by putting it into a realm of its own is this how bodies feel one finite thing entering another or parting or duration & decay she only half-believed what He said because fucking Allah was like being in a dentist’s chair with gynaecological stirrups the taste of anaesthetic that always made her puke before passing out into vertigo timespace-travel every nerve in her body like a needle dragging across ridged vinyl on a cracked-record assembly-line this is the scene where her childhood is examined as causality of present experience looking for the central control network where they’d hidden her memory life can be insanely boring like survivor complex holocaust denial she turns to Allah are you really dead He’s smiling with Sufic tranquillity His beautiful cock plangent against her thigh she’s afraid if she lets herself come these moments will vanish forever into paranoia & rage but language is this void this unbreathable atmosphere wrenching her clit till it hurts despite or because she knows she must lose Him or me she cries violently retching into her pillow but these were only the first tentative evolutionary steps out of the Garden into the Desert what future form would sex take in the catacombs of Mars or the weightlessness of interstellar space & the corresponding enormity of an extinction that means she must recognise the words I have died as the only things belonging to her as once-upon-a-time the future belonged to the newt the salamander the axolotl but one fossilised corpse’s as good as any other it’s the message that counts haha Voyager’s Top of the Pops tune in same time next go-round on the Eternal Return sending this one out to l’il Mohmed & the camel-girls on Tharsis Rise & the Bedouin beanbag boys up at Prox & the doc from Médicins Sans Frontières & Sioux-side Mahdi with his pet drone Biff or whoever else you want to dream about out there on the frontiers weird theremins disturbing the alien atmosphere at frequencies imperceptible to the average Homo Sap tantalised by something more than self-sacrifice the rhythmic thundering of ore-trains passing on celestial tracks nameless cities fantastic landscapes flashing past in spectral stereophony on s’embarque comme dans un train pour une étoile & on s’embarque le jour ou l’on a bien décidé d’en finir avec la vie there in the dark night before the dawn of History not yet awake or asleep or writing & already imagining an END a place where God’s corpse after all the intervening aeons would at last been stripped of its mystification & the bones turned to cosmic dust twentyfour times per second like a clock from which the checking screws have been removed she lays out her memories in a posture which in punctuation is the equivalent of the two periods that introduce a subordinate clause or blossom into an endlessly florescent pornography of description deduction apposition with nothing left to be revealed in that Euclidean desert of the eye but the extinction of light itself darkness visible & somewhere she was standing in the middle of a ruined amphitheatre the crumbling blocks of white marble in wide concentric hemispheres like space rippling outwards on a fluid surface from the point where she stood I opened my mouth & a stone fell out the wind coursing through the trees & between the distant peaks of the mountains a liquid & crescent moon slipping towards the desert strange to come back after so many years & standing in the middle of that room the ghostliness & corporeality of cigarette smoke drawn by the gravity of lamplight & the wallpaper turning orange & then red in the sullen glow beyond the courtyard voices trailing off into nothingness dawn she thought staring down at the pool of black water dawn reddens everything & somewhere there was a memory of sunlight streaming through an open window the white paint cracked & peeling from the window frame the panes unwashed the wrought iron patterning the grey & textured wall the incommensurable passage from the apparent to the real from the boulevard despite the curfew music drifted up the languor of a singer’s voice the bondage integer of a rope-dancer’s slow intoxicated movements each note seemed to hang in space to resonate at the very edge of hearing she imagined a deep & profound violence concealed in those half-words a crisis towards which the difficult music must ultimately tend like a mirror falling in slow motion frame by frame & the voice of someone barely conscious calling out as though from a great depth each syllable stretched beyond recognition & in the mirror was it herself frozen there petrified at the end of vertigo a fraction of time drawn out to a point when everything seems motionless & then the glass strikes the floor shatters into hundreds of tiny slivers the music stopped & for a moment there was silence a pulse beat before voices entered again concealing the emptiness she inhaled deeply clenching her teeth the orange glow of a cigarette above a pale sea of blue smoke the coolness of the stairs leading up from the foyer the blue of the tiles & the way the staircase curved in upon itself like a nautilus she glanced back & through the patterned archway she could see where Allah was sitting in the next room with His back towards her at his desk she could see His eyes framed in a mirror above the typewriter as though they’d somehow become detached from His body & were floating in mid-air like the funereal ceremonies of non-existent beings & without the outlandish technologies of cinema yet the doubt that He couldn’t see her was as paralyzing as the idea that the cosmos itself was a separate entity that her existence was limited entirely to its frontiers that all He could see were unknown things turned to words that were gradually replacing her in an untraceable removal of a past that only she could remember & not for very much longer no there was nothing glamorous about absence erasure black-out it wasn’t possible just to strip off her appearances & re-enter the picture by an alternative route even pretending to be Him slipping clozapine in His tea the idea was completely stupefying the only choice He says is to be at one with your role handing her the script & telling her she’d have to have the lines ready by the next morning I can’t go on like this she’s supposed to say in the first scene ten everything would work as a kind of flashback providing explanations causes motives but it would’ve been better just to begin with her already dead that way He could write anything He wanted too it wouldn’t even have to make sense since it’s obvious only insane people kill themselves not like the rest of humanity the very picture of sane but was there any possible way out that didn’t lead to a dead-end hahaha trust a woman to universalize her suffering as if humanity should drag its shit from one end of the universe to the other simply for her sake like blowing bubbles in a goldfish bowl look how the Crab Nebula sheds a tear for the birth death resurrection of little baby Jesus the critics are in raptures they’re beginning Allah for an interview what’s the central idea of your film they’re aware of their own humane consciences prettified by quote art literature philosophy unquote but the truth was He didn’t look anything like His reflection let alone the autographed promotional photographs that’d been circulating to whichever theatres in the country the imams hadn’t forcibly shut down yet in each enactment of this ritual something approaches in the guise of another a place or an action of indefinite consequences like rain in peripheral vision nothing’s certain & at the same time what she seeks to convey assails her with the impossibility of its ever being conveyed I say it assails me & I’m forced to fight or flee but already the responsibility’s overwhelming I see myself standing far off in the distance watching these events unfold with a critical & disinterested gaze so that in my mind’s eye I see the cells divide & leave their remainder pressed under the polished lens of a microscope the skin up close is porous & blotched she touches the glans & its cold the hair at the base of the shaft reminds her of leeches clinging to a piece of drowned scalp & grey lips blood & mucous this unlikely birth in a halo of torn flesh girthing the malformed skull mouth open tongue & eyes swollen she can’t see clearly nor can she breathe properly there’s a constant & elusive noise coming from behind her like the voice of an underwater swimmer

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.