Humans don’t have one pose, one image or one reflection. They can bend and crystallize, endure, fossilize and decay. They can prune, spoil, initiate and decline. Floral arrangements announce their arrival and departure. When a man loses himself to objects, when a man destroys his own ability to simplify his lust and solve the build up with release, when he invents danger and fools beauty into ugliness he goes blunt. As young boys some men sharpen their dicks in the sand under playground dirt. When the sun hits the school brick wall and the flowers sniff the air on a new spring day, a boy can feel it right through his pants and feels himself become part predator. To sharpen their dicks against this world is all that boys want; it is what they need, it is all they’re good for. When this is taken away they become a place for worms to dance. They sit in an underworld of clay and dirt and madness.
For weeks now it snows all night and snows all evening. Still more snow still, well into mid-morning the next day—which is today. A commonwealth of white shellac one might suggest. Or a magnificent de-skinning of snow clouds. Like a snake, another metaphor, Henry thinks, an out of season snake, now very tired from yesterday, a day of books and luminous fluorescent lights bleating down on him in his incubator of pedagogical realism.
And Henry sits up in his temporary hermitage in one robe or another. In his student life he stares blankly at pages, he stares the same way at his patrician roommate. But right now it’s the dullness of early morning and his open bedroom door and the hallway in which he casts his gaze. This, he thinks, is the life of a bug in a jar, waiting for someone to feed him a leaf and fly away forever and die somewhere else. Wine bottles lay gathering morning lint along the hallway like a bunch of toy boats. A headache pierces his temple. He barely notices until he sits up a few seconds later.
He remembers a conversation. He was drunk and began to shout. He pointed and with cocky pizzazz said, “Your sad man-made sparrow-themed murder ballads are not the panty removers you think they are.”
And Catullus replied, his eyes flecked with candlelight and disappointment, “Is that an anyways for friendships spoken?”
His mind, Henry thinks is too much like a fan of peacock feathers, his sensibility non-existent, and the way Catullus speaks is at times fatuous, but amusing all the same. He’s too thin. Too harsh, broken and antique: an antique contraction. Priceless and worthless.
Henry wants to tell Claudia all about Catullus: how harrowing it is to sit through another snack or meal with the guy. He takes off his bathrobe and walks softly, with baby goat steps towards the bathroom as a winter static follows close behind.
Henry Shaw enters the kitchen and begins to remove his hat when he sees the callow man facing him, shucking corn.
“How many to eat?” The man says, his English broken, his eyes growing both impatient and lost simultaneously.
“I don’t want any corn.”
“Oh. What to eat?”
“Let’s go get pizza.”
And so the man with the stalks of corn cleans up as best he can manage and finds his winter clothing and follows Henry out the door into the blustering late afternoon.
“Sometimes people just don’t know when to die,” Henry snaps as a cab splashes his left side.
“My woman says that she prefers to be married to no one than to me, not even if Jupiter himself should seek her,” This is what the poet Catullus used to say to the gods, giving them a graffiti-like middle finger as he and others from his day ushered in an entirely subjective movement in ancient literature. While great wars and corruption were abounding in Catullus’ world, the poet chose to write almost exclusively in gossip tropes about those in his immediate circle. But all Henry Shaw knows right now is that this man named Catullus is not dead, academic or archived, but has tomato sauce all over his chin. He sits across from Henry and, with his mouth open wide, is eating a hot slice of Hawaiian pizza. This barrel-chested individual with the long jaw and dark olive eyes has been following Henry around town now for months. Catullus blows hard across a slice with protruding pineapple.
On this blusteringly cold afternoon Henry sits in discomfort in the full gauze of winter gear he’s grown accustomed to since birth. The men are at a loud pizza parlor at a Ms. Pac-Man tabletop. Napkins are everywhere, stained in varying shades of red. The men chew and sip as their boots cry dirty tears of salt and snow. Their laces begin to thaw, breathing the warmer air with all the gratitude of a living thing. Henry begins to clean his glasses with a Kleenex then discards it into the disgusting pile of food crap manifesting at the table.
Catullus is asking Henry about the video game and its neon beacons of light and distraction.
“After you get the pellet you have to eat the ghosts.”
“Are they coldening ghosts? How can me eating ghosts?”
“It’s just a game,” Henry says, edging a greasy slice of pepperoni into his mouth. Catullus’ crude version of English has grown on him over the last few weeks; he almost always knows what the old dead man wants to say. The men eat two more slices teeming with heavy goat’s cheese and slurp back their root beers.
“It’s a really old game no one really plays anymore.”
“Then why do we see here?”
“To be ironic, I guess.”
This is all happening in Waterloo, Ontario and it’s the middle of December. Henry blows what he perceives to be hot air over his bare hands. He huffs in a long, drawn-out note of agitation as he leads them down the brutal road.
“Damn bus,” Henry says, eating a mouthful of snow. “Always late.”
The bus in question has just past them and as it does they are both hit by a foul wave of winter slop. “This city just shits all over us,” he barks. Henry’s pants get the lion’s share of sludge.
They walk snail-speed past the brewery museum where a forty-foot stack of barrels rests; an eyesore landmark, Henry has always thought, for the King and Erb district.
A few steps behind, Catullus never looks up. He is about as tall as Henry, grudgingly wrapped in scarves and mittens as they move east on Erb towards Fischer-Halman where a giant grocery complex sits.
“My feet are soaked,” Henry says in a now familiar tone of complaint. This parlance is absorbed into Catullus, along with all the cruel icy temperament of nature itself.
The men reach a tiny strip mall featuring a discount video store, pet store, fish and chips restaurant, a gas station and a luminous convenience store which keeps irregular hours. Stopping midway along the row of commerce, they cross the road and head south on Amos Avenue.
“It’s too cold to get groceries.”
For the most part the homes are brick bungalows or semi-detached family units, fitted with small hedges and bulb flowers. Now however, every property is blanketed in similar depths of white. Walking in silence, their breath wraps around fire hydrants and frozen telephone poles as the mutual freezing continues.
At a simple bungalow twenty houses in from Erb, Henry stops first.
“Okay. So just in and out, no snooping,” Henry says to Catullus who remains stiff, saying nothing. “I’m picking up a book from Claudia’s place.”
There is crispness to Henry’s words, outlined in the icy fog breath from beneath his scarf and Catullus always appreciates his lucidity. They head up the front stairs and as they do so, Henry glances across the street to the house where he’s rented his room for the past six months. It’s a modest room in a house but as a student, it’s all Henry can afford. Catullus sleeps in the double bed in the basement next to the laundry room where, upon first using the washing machines with Henry, asked if the white flakes in the box were in fact snow.
As for Claudia, well, Henry met her at school about a month ago. She had just transferred to finish her final year at the University of Waterloo, studying biology and they’d been seeing each other: mostly movie dates, lunches and snowy walks to bakeries and bars.
A school bus lulls a few houses down the street letting off grade-school kids suited up for the storm in bright coats and pom-pom toques.
Henry coughs in Catullus’ direction as if the noise alone contains instruction. His stomach gurgles unevenly, reminding both men that the specter of hunger hovers like a permanent incubus toying with them in this middleweight city. Catullus’ stomach grumbles as well.
“Pizza never really does it for me; I’m still hungry,” Henry says as he takes Claudia’s keys from his pocket. “Either that or we have stomach cancer.”
Henry tongues his gums as he jostles the key into the door. “I just want to pick up a book and go. We aren’t staying.” The rooms in Claudia’s house are rented out to three students: two on the main floor and one downstairs. Claudia’s room is the furthest back and is decorated entirely in dark green. “She’ll be home from class in about an hour.”
Henry is often astonished at the way Catullus has learned to adapt to cold on his own, just as he once learned to curl his toes over hot sand, dodge a bloody cloth or outrun a whore haggling over the bill in Verona. Catullus’ every pace is punctuated with a determined stomp, inches from the heel of Henry, his host and only friend.
The men walk down a dark hallway until reaching Claudia’s room and Catullus immediately begins to trample over the bed. Despite the temperature outside, Claudia’s window is open a crack.
“What the hell! Can’t you behave for a minute?” Henry smacks the back of his head.
“I have to find that book.”
Catullus sails into silence and anger and tries to put his head out the window. He presses his fingers against the pane until they redden. He inhales softly at the winter air.
“Stop it!” Henry says with a clenched fist, resuming his book hunt.
On the main wall of the bedroom hangs an Egyptian print of a woman holding an unsheathed knife. Beside it hangs a black and white poster of Grand Central Station. Above her bed is a small window with a maroon venetian blind, which Henry has drawn. On the floor are scattered bits of clothing and an Elvis bust, immortalizing the King in his late career, complete with rhinestone collar.
Catullus stands up and moves towards Claudia’s open closet. He touches her hanging clothes. “You mention green dress and Claudia wearing it at party young time ago. But not now days right?”
Henry ignores his friend.
“The dress Henry, Claudia not wear it now I stand, but why not she wear?”
Catullus sits on her bed, the dress is in his hands. As he spreads it out on the bed, he asks Henry for a third time, enunciating each word with acuity.
“Henry, I ask again it. Claudia never say why kept her green dress so long a while?” He says this but never takes his eyes off the dress which he’s taken from her sparse closet. His fingers brush against the vintage fabric in a slow, rhythmic way while Henry’s move through the surfaces: a small photo frame that is empty, a pile of text book receipts, several magazines and a grocery list. “I’m looking for a book. That’s all I want. Then we’re leaving.”
“Why keep dress?”
“She never said. She hasn’t worn it in seven years, OK?” The green dress worn to parties with a bright green bra underneath. That’s how she described it.
“Never why say dress green keep but never wear,” Catullus says to himself now, shaking his head and running his finger across the neckline.
When Henry sees the dress lying on Claudia’s bed, he swats the back of Catullus’ neck with a magazine.
“No! Put it away.”
“She not talk of it more?”
“Put it away.” Henry snarls, putting Claudia’s room back in order, trying to remove Catullus’ touch from the moment.
“No!” Catullus protests, his arms now tight up against his chest. He positions himself as a wedge between Henry and the green tea dress. Catullus grabs it, pushing his head through the bottom of the nearly see-through tea dress.
Henry peers through the crack of Claudia’s bedroom door down the quiet hallway.
“Claudia’s gonna be home soon. I don’t want her coming home from class seeing me and you in some fashion show dressed up like her at seventeen.”
Henry grinds his teeth and breathes in a rush as if the air itself is rich with Claudia’s scent and he is holding a reed in his mouth deep underwater to preserve her smell, her great smell of apple juice. He wants to send his friend home. To duct tape Catullus to a toilet without dinner. Catullus now has the dress on, and adjusts his body within its limits.
“Take it off!”
Distraction, he needs to distract him. There isn’t a tabletop Ms. Pac-Man within twenty minutes. A headline spittoons into his dirty mind before he continues his struggle with the man from sand and lust: micro-skirted pizzeria waitress covered in flour tells all.
“Can we put this away now? I should just chain you to a fence or something.”
Catullus sniffs the dress and sighs. Henry looks at his watch.
“All right. I like a dress a lot you know. I’ve got to go place.”
He watches Henry hang the dress in the closet a second time, brushing out the creases, making it perfect. Henry gets it just right.
“Where are you going?”
“Yes I go to play game, I taking new bike.”
“You got a bike?”
“Several dollars by policeman auction.”
“Where did you get the money?” Henry moves his body along her made bed.
“I sold music discs yours.” Catullus says calmly, smiling so big his whole face almost changes its appearance completely. “It in driveway.”
Without light or warmth of skin, modern air touches the green fibres. In the closet it sleeps behind the closed door.
Henry grabs the book and stuffs it in his coat. Near the front door he puts on his dripping boots.
Catullus is ahead of him, almost out the door. He turns to Henry, “I’ll be home nine and six minutes five eighths.” Outside Henry walks past Catullus, nearly shoving him aside and a breeze of gas station cologne from Catullus lunges at him. He stares at Catullus’ face and notices for the first time this week that a tiny constellation of black hairs is growing on the lower quarters of his face. Halfway across the road Catullus stops and Henry pulls him as if the grown man is a toy waiting for traffic. Catullus tugs down on his toque.
“Seeing you laters!”
Henry pads his pockets for his own house key while watching Catullus attempt to ride a bike in three feet of snow.
The streets are blank with sullen colours of gray and white and black. Catullus pushes his ten-speed like a plow along the street until both he and his shadows slip into the early evening. Henry shuts his front door. A sense of relief rushes through him—due in part by the end of cold and the fact that he and Catullus are no longer burglarizing Claudia’s home.
Henry unzips his winter garb and checks the clock. The refrigerator hums, the heartbeat of the kitchen clock menaces, each individual pulse teems out of his ear in slow motion. He is enlarging the scene, the contents of the house, the still plant beside the brass vent at the top of the small stairwell, separating the front door, the main floor and the basement. He flips through the book he plucked from Claudia’s bedroom, which contains several handwritten notes. He takes one of them out and places it on the kitchen counter. Cocoa, vanilla ice cream, strawberries, kiwi, etc.
On the counter lay three tube socks that appear to be bleeding. Henry examines the socks and makes an alarming noise (intolerance, shudder, disgust in a single syllable of wordless air) when he realizes they contain cooked ground beef with tomato sauce. At least they aren’t human feet. That’s all I need: an insane roommate who dabbles in decapitation.
Still, Henry has lapses in judgment. His faculties unfurl into doubt. Like just last night he thought: Who’s that guy laying on my couch? Tapping the window to get the attention of a hick squirrel on the front lawn? He’s always here. Or walking home after the final week of Henry’s Roman Civilization course: I heard he stalked this chick and he was a rich guy and made fun of Caesar. I heard that he was in love with a teenage boy to make some chick jealous. I heard it didn’t work. I heard he killed her pet sparrow.
The toaster clicks from its holster of convention and the heated bread soars inches into the air before returning to the metal slots. Henry ignores the toast and tends to his forearm which has a small cut on it. Washing it out and applying a medium-sized Band-Aid. It seemed to Henry that it had been snowing for a month straight now with breaks of momentary reprieve, which led to short-lived flood warnings in the nearby rivers that gutted the small city like icy veins. The toast’s odour minced with the ground beef that remained in the sports socks: one large and new disgusting bouquet.
At the kitchen counter he reads a book about ancient Greek medicine, in particular the Greek physician Claudius Galen (A.D. C.130-C.20), a native of Pergamum considered by many to be the most important ancient writer on medicine. The section is called “On the Natural Faculties.” Henry reads page 155: “Suppose you should fill any animal whatsoever with liquid food—an experiment I have often carried out in pigs, to whom I give a sort of mess of wheaten flour and water, thereafter cutting them open after three or four hours; if you will do this yourself, you will find the food still in the stomach. For it is not chylification which determines the length of its stay here, since this can also be effected outside the stomach; the determining factor is digestion, which is a different thing from chylification.”
A jostling of metal and wood knocks Henry from the page and he sees Claudia walking in through the front door; the stark darkness of night outlining her white ski jacket with its fake fur trim is a welcome change. She shakes the frigid elements off her torso and speaks in a whispering cough, almost tongue-tied.
“You must be frozen!” Henry says, attempting to sooth her, and puts on the kettle. Claudia’s face unbundles from wet scarf and hat, all runny red and glistening with the cold, wet world. The snow is done with her face for now and the weather’s ghastly hiss is quarantined to the outside.
“Ahhhhhh!” Claudia cries, exhaling loudly, her mouth forming and holding a silent ‘O’ shape.
Henry tosses two bags into the teapot and notices a shift in his stomach; perhaps the oil and cheese and fountain pop’s convergence has awoken since leaving the great winter behind him and now, like a horrible dinosaur, thawing out to destroy all of…
“So cold!” Henry fills up the teapot and sets the kettle back down on the stove.
Henry looks out the window, almost anticipating the sight of a pixilated image of Catullus on his new ten-speed, ringing the bell waving like an idiot. But he’s not there. Henry poses at the window for a while longer, eventually turning back to Claudia who is leaning against a wall while trying to undo a boot; her mitten in her mouth, big toothy smile.
Henry thinks about the time he first told Catullus about Claudia, when it seemed like there was a very good chance she was becoming his girlfriend, a role she may now in fact be playing.
“She’s a friend of a friend I know from class and then I asked her out. I don’t know what else to tell you. We just started seeing each other a few weeks ago.”
“She says she saw us on the bus once.”
“That time we were do the food buyer?”
“She has honey hair…”
“And full lamb blood lips? She knows of me? That I am a one?”
“She perceives you to be my friend and roommate.”
“And you met me on Halloweens because I am ghost, a truly ghoul friend!”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“Claudia she were fun, when can I greet?”
“I don’t know,” Henry says, adding, “you aren’t confused are you? You know this isn’t Lesbia, like when you thought Leslie was Lesbia remember? This isn’t Clodia Metelli, OK Catullus? this is Claudia Martchenko. Different names for different people, OK?”
“Lesbia and Clodia are same person Henry.”
“I know. But Lesbia, Leslie, Clodia and Claudia are all different people as well.”
“As well,” Catullus repeats and nods his head.
Henry has a theory Catullus hides in line at the library, the grocery store buying videotape. He believes the students at school are talking about his new friend. Out of the corner of his gray eyes flares random acts of Catullus graffiti. He sees the poet’s disheveled lines inside his own pupils, minced with commercial voiceovers and dialogue in terrible worlds of words: Show her you’d fuck her on the first date all over again, give her Ass Pony jeans. Next time you lose a mutual mistress to one of your muggy male friends, go mutant mean on your male mate and tell her you’d do her all over again once your gout is gone and remind her that the fella she’s fondling smells like a goat. Like she doesn’t already know. Calvin, it was so good to see you the other night with that girl and of course, when I fucked you as you were fucking her at that club, it was like we were one big greasy piston, jeans eschewed, skin-skewered in desire and friendship!
Henry brings Claudia a mug of tea. He pours some for himself and puts the toast back into the bag of bread and grabs his wallet and keys.
“We should get going soon,” Claudia suggests, blowing over her mug. “What’s that smell?”
“My roommate was cooking his garbage I think,” Henry says, joining Claudia in the foyer.
“It’s freezing,” Henry says, putting his boots on slowly. “We should take a cab.”
“Yeah, but let’s walk to the store; I need to go to the ATM.”
When a young man can’t lift himself up out of his bed grave, when his pants and head mesh and become madness, a madness that is unwilling to dissolve for relief in the mouth of a candy-happy stranger: there is only desire.
The primal urge Catullus has to leap out and claw at the air we walk through is strong. This sensation plagues him with a contrasting sense of numbness and curiosity. In what he feels are endless days and nights of wander, where he bides his time dulling eyeteeth against uneven sides of concrete and trees, park benches and exposed copper pipes – he feels incomplete, missing parts of a full life.
It’s like he’s a young animal teething. This shameful desire is raw, fluorescent—a homemade bruise kept in midnight drawers next to his bed. He tries to describe this sensation to Henry as a slow river of lovesick gravy hardening inside a lonely condom. But his words don’t match up, instead he says, “a slow ribbon of lump chick gray stoning inside a lovely coffin.” Or “show liver of lovestick graves stiffing inside lone sock.”
Back from badminton, Catullus parked his bike against Claudia’s house and finds the side door open. He quietly roams to her bedroom where he runs his hands across the light green tea dress she wore with loud dark green underwear so long ago.
He rubs the dress where Claudia’s breasts would rest and imagines her going to a party, her hair tied back in a long ponytail dangling down to her ass. Her pale gothic make-up coupled with the weak material of the dress, shifting across the bright green rayon solids of her bra. Slipping out of her suburban home to a teenage caliber backyard handgun party… One time she shot a gun; it was her boyfriend’s, years ago.
The shot she fired into the woods ruffled that dress, all part of a gunpowder lullaby before the party sex, the car sex, the continuous sex. Catullus imagines all of it.
He stares at the hem intensely until the background changes to a summer backyard party with music and youthful noises. Catullus cranes his neck away from the dress and begins to howl into the party mirage, howling mindlessly into the hot summer sky which curves around Claudia’s bedroom. His howl is shrill and brutal, and bounce all over the empty house but outside no one bolts out onto the street. No one sits up from their couches and opens the curtain.
The mirage dissipates and Catullus notices Claudia’s bedroom window is cracked open slightly and fresh air touches his lips. He closes his eyes and lies beside the dress. A black-and-white photograph of Henry and her rests on a book. It is unframed and collecting sparse dust. She wears his bowler hat. He’s in her sweater and the whites of their eyes appear startled.
His stomach growls out a multi-second gurgle and the sensation of hunger splashes around inside. It must be the dinner hour, Catullus thinks, and hastily changes gears. Time must go home, to make eating.
He notices the bathroom light is on across the hall and walks towards the glowing distraction, now clutching the green dress. He shuts her bedroom door behind him and enters the bathroom stealthily. Evidence of grooming and a recent bath are in abundance: towels, underwear, lipstick, Q-tips and cotton balls. He looks in the mirror and sees a frosted glaze in his own eyes.
In Catullus’ recent nightmare, one he only shares in part to Henry, he and Lesbia (the real Lesbia from his real life) meet at a busy intersection in this new hellish urbanized world in which he’s been thrown. However, it’s a warm season and not the cold he’s struggling to acclimatize to in his waking life with Henry. Catullus has but three dollars. The greeting she gives him is cold, cordial and rapid. No mention of his lengthy letters or the golden birdcage gift: a gift his consciousness, in the dream at least, knows and tells him he’s given her. Where you are taking me?, she asked after a few words. And the dream really begins…
Catullus is foaming on the inside: a real werewolf in the making. Women in yoga pants sway by the new couple now in slow motion but Catullus feels paralyzed and falls deeper into an insane silence, which Lesbia will surely never forgive. In the dream he deposits the missed opportunity of women and their tight exercise equipment into a tomb of unnecessary preoccupation which grows throughout the seventy minutes of subconscious mind terror. Remembering his poverty, Catullus cannot fathom a reasonable suggestion to the posit “Where are you taking me?” Finally she proposes the public library. They take a cab. Lesbia (5’2”, 102 lbs.) sinks into his lap then rolls her ass over his legs onto the empty seat, overwhelmed by the strong smell of onions. Catullus makes no attempt at dialogue with the driver, willing his psychic dreamstate abilities to conjure up a conduit between them and the driver. The mere fact this is happening, Catullus believes, is absolutely fantastic. The onions are heated, the scent erotic and out of left field. He just knows it’s onions and so does Lesbia. They never say the word.
Lesbia hands the cab driver money and they exit. They spend the entire afternoon flipping through magazines, art books and newspapers. Catullus learned nothing more about Lesbia’s desires, feelings and emotional landscape. She is withholding but present. Again, Catullus knows it’s a dream, and he has no choice in the matter. The moment feels like he is inside a painting without words or animation. Language itself and its consequences seem unimportant. A problem arrives when Lesbia’s desire arrives to eat food in a wave of beautiful famine, Catullus nearly faints. (6’1”, 192 lbs.) He explains that he has no way to pay for a meal. That his friends won’t lend him anymore money and that he has been robbed nightly since his arrival several days ago. Into another cab, this time lightning and shadows, the dream is not steady, they embrace. She mounts him and he recalls her familiar scent. “Wait, wait,” Lesbia moans and kisses, the letters in her words remain inside and out of her lips and he can’t stop staring into her big dessert-plate-sized eyes, covered in creamy syrup and he begs the moment to never end—imagines her begging for it to extend into a long-playing loop of flesh and grip and animalistic panting with furious precision and familiarity. “Please, Catullus,” she begs him, as though whatever she is hinting at is a matter of life and death. The scent of hot and sour soup is potent for a while. Suddenly he puts it all together in the backseat, this wild sweat, this pain in his side—“I’m in love with a maniac, dominatrix, ghostly sex addict, the most gorgeous thing imaginable... I should quit her now, immediately, without another pulse…get out at once... jump... save yourself! Become stone!” Breathing returns.
Catullus feels her hand on his leg, arousing him to fevered states of heart-bleating chaos. Her face is relaxed; her eyes wide open, full, shining with curiosity. “That’s better,” she says, “I’m fine now.” They near his home. She has the cab driver park around the corner. Facing one another, hands clasped, knees to knees.. He holds her for several more minutes, as if returning to the earlier mention of an oil painting, the silence broken now only by the phantom howls of nocturnal vermin. Lesbia will call tomorrow from her aunt’s place. In his ear she whispers, “I will always be in love with you so long as water runs through Blithe.” Lesbia has made Catullus newborn. Renders him new and empty headed, full of wonder. Days pass. Catullus hears nothing from this renewed secret lover. When he can escape sleep he thinks of long poems to write but doesn’t write them. How long will she be in town he wonders.
After Catullus posts a letter to Lesbia’s aunt’s he goes for a walk in the park. It is early spring and the mud smells strong and the air is cold and crisp. Later that day, still running as best he can throughout the narrative framework of his nightmare, Catullus returns to the library. There’s a message. It’s from Lesbia. The sight of her handwriting makes Catullus feel like he’s about to pee. She will meet him tomorrow at midnight. But he must not contact her at her aunt’s place. This is where he wakes up.
At dinner Henry orders chilled carrot soup and the most inexpensive entrée. “So Claudia tells me you’re studying fine art?” Henry wrinkles his nose attempting to repress his dramatic mask of anxiety remover and explains he’s studying history, adding “I hope to teach it someday.” He’s twisting a napkin with one hand as he continues speaking in, at first, a nearly monotone voice until he refreshes his cadence with a liberal sip of wine.
“And this is your last year of studies?”
He nods in agreement, more or less to continue the focus back on his diatribe; never bothering to make eye contact with either of Claudia’s parents – or for that matter, Claudia herself. These figures at the table are but sparkling periphery for the time being and Henry can hear himself babbling, “I’ve come to the conclusion that ancient man who helped foster literature and moral high-grounds suffered almost exclusively from ecstatic hallucinations which in turn they claim to have heard voices and committed heinous acts on their loved ones acts they committed because they were told to but not by gods but from their own messed up subconscious. Those who survived kept these myths going, never sharing with anyone, at least in the form of stories and ledgers what really went on. But someone must have known the truth about all these decapitating maniacs who gouged eyes and stretched limbs and Narcissus, that myth bugs me the most because we don’t even care about the myth anymore just the word of course to describe someone who is self-obsessed. I’m sure it wasn’t stone that someone turned into after gazing at their reflection in a stream. They were probably beaten to death or drowned. But for whatever reason, those who know what really went into the making of the Greek myths and all that other horseshit thought that a culture of fear was more important than one of rational thought. Head injuries could have easily led to moments in which the patient and let’s face it, doctors on the site or not these people were patients in the most sensible use of the term, the patient believed he or she could speak to gods or a group of immortals and during these conversations he or she could be told something by these higher-ups which of course over centuries becomes a malleable myth that defines history and a bunch of generations of people who are supposedly responsible for shaping the modern world. Fables, Bible passages or a fully developed character like Zeus or Jupiter or Hades you know all come from some idiot hitting their head on a rusty pot. All designed by the person experiencing these interactions to tell everyone how special they now are because they were chosen as a vessel of intellect by a divine, made up celebrity right? Then someone finds a highly edited version of what really happened from this made up headache of an account right, in some bushel 300 years later and it’s manicured into myth.”
Henry again can hear himself babbling and feels charged. He has another glass of wine and notices a sludge forming in his guts; it’s a slow oozing sensation like hardening batter or something.
Claudia walks in gusty strides, her boots kicking up the snow in frantic steps. The road seems haunted in tinsel as reflective garbage and recycling tins wink in their temporary cemetery. Henry eyes Claudia’s hand, which is just out of reach. Each step he takes he gets closer to its precarious position amongst the chaos of snow.
“It’s like walking inside of a snow globe,” Henry says, half a chuckling trailing off into night.
“So why were you so weird at dinner? It was kind of aggressive.”
“I was nervous, maybe I had too much wine, I rambled on,” Henry offers, eyeing her movements as she slows down through a patch of unshovelled snow.
“It was a bit much for a first impression: more like ten first impressions or like impression 1-14 in one sitting,” Claudia says, her face a scowl of snow and Maybelline and fog breath.
“And what happened to dessert? I thought you were going to allude to that somehow and we’d invite them back for coffee,” Claudia says, synching her purse up over her bunchy shoulder. “But you didn’t even offer.”
“I felt like it wasn’t the right time,” Henry says, the sting of tonight’s assignation now tingling and loud.
“What set you off on that rampage?”
“I guess, school, the pressure and the what the fuck am I doing with my life of it all you know. I sit in class and half the time I don’t even know what the fuck the students are talking about or how they come up with these impromptu speeches for the teacher. So I guess I just I dunno; wanted to sound like I was benefiting from an education.”
“None of those ideas were yours?”
“Mostly, uh, you know, things we discuss in class or other people come up with, yeah I guess none mine. So you worked at that restaurant when you were a teenager?”
“Yes, I already told you that. Don’t try and change the subject.”
“Oh shit,” he says under his breath. Ahead in the distance, a familiar figure looms. He stops, and Claudia notices, “What?” Henry’s heart pounds in recognition, he coughs out a combination of Oh Shit! Oh Fuck! Shit! Oh Shit, Shit, Shit!
Pirouetting in the middle of street is Catullus.
“What?” Claudia asks.
But just as quickly s Henry caught him in his eyes, Catullus has completely disappeared and the animated snow that plumes hard continues a seasonal dance.
“Nothing, come on,” Henry says.
Claudia pauses along his driveway, “Why is your front door open?”
“Roommates must be home I guess.” A friction noise is coming from the house and shadows crash against available light.
“What the hell is that?”
“I don’t know,” Henry says, touching the doorknob slowly, as a new percussive triple thud is heard.
Claudia lets out a half-scream, cut off by her woolen hand across her mouth. Henry opens the front door and his eyes can do nothing but focus on small birds, a half dozen or so, milling about the kitchen in panicked flight.
And then Claudia really screams. The sound ping-pongs up and down the street. And she falls. Henry takes his eyes off the livestock and turns around. Claudia is sprawled on the porch against the metal railings; holding her head. “What happened? Ice?”
“Something pulled me backwards.”
Henry helps her up, “You OK?”
“Uh, No!” He brings her inside.
Claudia reaches for the door. “I’m going home!”
Catullus seizes her arm.
“No!” Henry shouts. The lights go out and Henry senses a hand over his mouth, and then an additional sensation, that of a moist cloth. The birds are still making a racket. Claudia’s screams fill the room. “Are you trying to scare me Henry?!”
“Stop!” Henry shouts, but is pushed through the darkened living room and thrust onto the couch where he’s struck across the jaw and crudely blindfolded. The way his head feels now reminds him of fainting during school assemblies as a child: hour-long presentations on cancer, anti-drug campaigns or leukemia. The combination of topic and enclosure always had the same effect: blacking out. He can no longer hear Claudia. It’s like he’s falling asleep.
The living room is perfumed in hot chocolate and cabbage soup, a disgusting medley of domestic aromas. Henry’s blindfold is partially drooping and he notices Claudia is bound and hogtied but not blindfolded. She is eye-bulging towards Henry in spastic gestures of pure fear.
Blinking and nose-breathing, Henry, equally fettered, attempts to hop his chair towards her. He’s tonguing and biting away at his gag and demonstrates a strong desire to speak to her.
As he lunges towards her, he thinks about her behaviour at the restaurant; she did nothing to stop him from his elongated lecture. He can’t even remember what he ordered. Maybe a burger covered in beige sauce, some type of meat pie? Her parents were quiet and withholding. He’s thirsty. His mouth tastes of cough syrup. What will happen if they survive? At least one of them will get hurt, perhaps not badly. Maybe there’s a way to get out of this one. Maybe not. And Claudia will complain that the evening just got worst, even if it ends up getting better. Claudia always complains. She will complain about this forever. Henry hates that personality type and likes to tell Claudia she’s too cynical for his tastes sometimes… but the truth is this has happened before, with Leslie. Poor women. He does this to all of them. Last time it was Leslie he spent hours trying to catch any sparrow that hopped on the front lawn. Thought her name was Lesbia. Now this one, Claudia; he must think I said Clodia. Henry digs deep and almost has his left hand free. Poor women: all of them, really. All suffering in his poetic discourse, headed into the final stanzas of pain and regret.
Catullus is plugging in a blender; his movements throughout the kitchen are loquacious. He’s wearing Claudia’s now infamous green tea dress and is cutting a large piece of cardboard. Fewer birds flutter; some now lay still, possibly dead on the floor. From the living room where they are bound, both are audience to his menacing noise. Henry sees but a fragment of what this man is about to do. He is lighting a candle now and glances over at them without a word.
Scissor sounds take centre stage now and it is entirely possible that Catullus is trimming his pubic hair in the kitchen. Henry wants to tell Claudia about his new roommate’s strange habits. He has seen Catullus do this before, placing the short clumps of antique curly hair into an empty soup can he had forgotten to add to the recycling earlier in the day. The cream of celery label wearing thin from hot water abuse.
Catullus blows out the candle, inhaling the strong familiar gray streams and holds up a crude chainsaw fashioned from the cardboard. Henry hisses at Claudia to get her attention. “Don’t worry; his name is Catull…(he’s about to sneeze) …us, he’ll start to cry about now and pass out. This happened a while ago.” In proximity to her now Henry begins to pick away at her knots with a free hand.
The blender sounds off and sends a bolt of hostile energy into everyone. Henry’s got her hands loose now and pushes his own fetters off with his feet. As she lowers her gag and blindfold, she screams, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?! I’m getting out of here!” She stands up and grabs her backpack and as she does, turns around, clocking Henry in the head with her heavy load. “This isn’t funny!”
Henry watches Catullus move the chainsaw limply into the air, mimicking the actions of a real chainsaw as the blender’s metallic symphony continues.
“Don’t worry, watch: he’ll start sobbing now and moan himself to sleep.”
“What are you talking about, you psycho!”
Henry rubs his head. He watches Claudia sprint across the street and enter her car, which is parked in her driveway. The backlights glow and it backs out at a jittery, uneven speed.
He turns to Catullus who has since put down his makeshift chainsaw (he has even drawn some buttons and outlined the jagged teeth that run around its intense chain) and is drinking from a large mug of wine.
“I told you what would happen if you did that again,” Henry says, looking up the stairwell from the hall. “You were in my room again. You saw the box with the chainsaw in it. That’s how you knew how to draw one and cut it out. You are so retarded.”
Catullus is silent. Henry walks towards the hallway mirror and in it continues his dialogue with Catullus who he sees slouched over at the kitchen counter. The blender roars on.
Henry rolls up his sleeve. “Now real fear and sorry begins my plucky friend,” Henry says, staring into the mirror and meeting his own icy stare. The sound of a drill fills the cold air. “That wine you have been drinking is laced with sleeping pills.”
He walks menacingly towards the hallway and opens the closet door and gets out a small blue power drill and plugs it in.
“A simple quarter inch hole in your skull, some soft lighting, music, more merlot, muriatic acid gently tearing into the frontal lobe…”
Henry plugs in the drill near the mirror and stares blankly at himself once more. He guns the drill and, with a dented smile, pulls the noisy tool up towards his skull.