Dr. Haveman, I don't believe you appreciate what that means.
You think I'm crazy. I hardly blame you. Thinking me sane is so much more dangerous than neatly assigning to me whichever pathology you have chosen. The things I claim to have seen, to have done, to be able to do . . . you perceive madness in me, and this keeps you safe, you think. Shall I break the seal for you, doctor? Shall I offer you proof to pierce the thick preconception of your training?
What do you suppose would do the trick? What would force you to at least consider, even briefly, the alternative - that I am what I say I am? What if I wrote down something you've kept hidden? Something you've never breathed a word of, not even to Joy? Yes, I think so. A thing no other person could possibly know.
The boy. Yes, I think I'll tell you about the boy. What you thought to yourself when he slipped from you - I should say, when you let him slip. He was wearing a green scarf and his eyes went wide with a bully's fear as he saw your intent. He was your best friend. That's what everybody thought.
What did he say to you as you let go? Do you remember?
Did he say "Don't, Sammy. Please don't. My mama won't find me here." Wasn't it that, Dr. Haveman?
And what did you think to yourself, over and over and over? For hours down there in the dark?
Was it this: "Finally, finally, finally finally finallyfinallyfinallyfinally . . .?"
Don't worry, he was right. They never found him. Still to this day. Your secret is safe, and I am incarcerated in a psyche ward, so who would believe me?
So. Now I think you will read the rest of this. Now, perhaps, you'll really hear my story. Now, perhaps, you will stop creating such neat little boxes to put your problems in. A diagnosis is so clean to you. It's disgusting how secure it makes you in your notion that science will keep you from the creeping strangeness, disgusting how easy it makes it for you to dismiss my every word when your job by definition involves listening to me. Insanity is not so strange, and affliction by it doesn't make one automatically incorrect. Believe me, doctor, sanity is the thinnest membrane over an ink-black pudding. When I think back on it now, it seems so strange. All I did was open a door.
"I am your grandfather." His first words to me.
* * *
The bum stood flat-foot on the porch. He wore his beard tangled and filthy and curling like an invasive vine to his checkered hunting cap. The jacket covering his spindle arms was threadbare. Snow on his pink vinyl boots. Not pinkish. Pink.
Lewis blinked, the warm milk in his hand forgotten. A rush of hot air and a faint stink met him.
"I'm your grandfather," the bum said again. Lewis wondered where his grandfather could have found pink boots in his size, and why he was letting this drifter in, and why it was so hot suddenly, and why it had been so long since his granddad had come by the house.
"What? No hug for your old pop-pop?"
Dutifully, Lewis hugged him and pulled away. Beneath the rags the . . . the . . . granddad was warm. No. Hot. He was hot. Like he was burning. He felt sort of like Alice, all heat and bones. With this though, he remembered suddenly and whispered:
"We need to be quiet. Alice is upstairs, she's . . ."
"No need to wake the wifey. I'll stay in the basement."
Grandad walked past him, into the house, leaving Lewis confused. Living below sea level meant no basement; nevertheless, Lewis nodded, as though granddad had just said something rational. But . . . What basement? Why had it been so long since Granddad had stopped by? Why was it warm in January? Lewis rubbed his eyes and tried to concentrate. Here he was, catatonic and granddad was visiting.
"Pop-pop, it's been so long . . ."
Granddad belched, a deep meaty sound. Lewis turned to him, stopped, stared. Under the kitchen light, granddad had become brutally visible, the reality of the filth which caked him inescapable. His white rat-nest beard was yellowed from nicotine and cigarette tar and it settled on his soiled pea-green jacket like a decaying sloth. His hair was shaggy and matted down, and when he spoke
"Yep, been forever. Mind if I take that milk, kiddo?"
when he spoke Lewis saw his mouth with its shy huddle of brown tooth-stumps pushing out in a ring around pink tongue-meat. Lewis proffered the glass, and the hand receiving it was creased with grime; the crescents of the fingernails black and chipped. Lewis looked down at the man's plastic boots, pink and shiny like a six-year old girl's first purse. Lewis wiped his face and realized that he was sweating - sweating! - even though the old house let wind run through it like a pack of greyhounds. On her good days Alice's fever went down and then she needed the space heater. And he was sweating? It was hard to think.
Everything was so slow.
Grandad took the milk down in large, choppy gulps and threw the glass away, almost absent-minded. It struck the refrigerator, bounced once, and rolled across the floor, unbroken. Lewis winced. Alice was sleeping, she'd finally gotten to sleep. Why would Grandad be so inconsiderate?
"Thanks sonny," the dirty stranger said, "That hit the spot."
"Hey!" Lewis started, and then Grandad looked at him and it all got slow again. He wiped his feet again. Awkward as it might be, he wanted to reprimand the old guy. He couldn't have any more noise. Alice needed . . .
"Oh her?" Granddad laughed. "Don't worry about her. She won't be waked up none."
Lewis squinted. Why was his Grandad such a young man? He seemed to be in his late thirties, though the dirtiness might have added even ten years to him. His granddad had been a sober man with silver hair. Kindly but grave, like a totem carved from solid Lutheranism.
"Your wife. She won't get waked up is what I'm telling you. She won't even hear a thing. Not her."
"Are you . . . are you sure you're my grandfather?" Lewis asked, and then it slowed and pulled and stretched and then his grandfather, the one he'd remembered as a boy was there.
"Of course I'm your grandfather, my boy," Granddad rumbled. "Who else would I be? Now come on with me."
"Where are we going?"
"To the basement."
"But we don't have one."
Grandad put an arm around him, protective, chummy.
"We do now, my lad," he said.
The rest was all mist.
* * *
Yes, with his first words to me he told me he was my grandfather, and yes, I let him in, though he was filthy, though he was a stranger, though he was clearly younger than me. Though my I knew well that my granddad was dead. Now that I can better relate to him, I think it must have been his little test, and his little joke, too, an obvious lie rather than a subtle one, as a way of proving his mastery. He dominion. And I do relate to him, doctor. I have allowed myself to be kept here for many months now. I could walk out when I like, and indeed I will do just that soon, but for this long time I have abided, and allowed my incarceration to continue. I have allowed it for the same reason he allowed me to be sent here. Do you want to know the reason? It is a simple reason, though I will allow you to chew on it for a long time.
Here is the reason: Because. Just because.
It brings to mind the reason he gave when I asked him, right before he left, why he'd chosen me.
"Your house is green," he said. "I like green."
This, doctor, is how lives are ruined.
Do you know that I am standing right behind you, now, as you read this? You'll have to take my word for it. I presume that just now, in your attempt to spin around, realized that you are unable to move.
Do you finally believe me? You must, mustn't you? And to think, all this time you have known I was guilty. You thought it was perhaps a mercy killing, but you knew beyond doubt it was me who had done it. You know so many many things, yes? What else do you "know"?
I didn't kill my wife, sir. Worse than that, sir, worse than that.
Read on, Dr. Haveman. What else do you have to do?
* * *
The first thing he was aware of was the heat.
Lewis awoke from mist to find himself sitting, cross-legged, in a carpeted jungle. A naked man sat across the fire, picking meat from a large bone. Blood covered his face and chest and arms and when he smiled his remaining teeth were bloody.
Where are we?
In the Basement.
What basement? Which basement? Where are we?
We are in the heart of things. We are where it started for such as us. We are in the Basement.
Lewis looked in panic around the small room. Ceiling and floor were covered with deep red carpet. Walls were solid verdant foliage, vine and bark and leaf, tiny acacias fronds and Egyptian palm branches and huge green elephant ears drooping. Entrance and exit not in evidence. He stood and faced the naked man.
Where are we? Lewis shouted, but the man simply looked suddenly quizzical.
You've said that already. Sit.
Lewis sat, cross-legged, automatically, as though guided by strings. He realized that he was naked as well, and that there was a thick wetness on his lips.
Wipe your mouth.
His hand raised itself and came away bloody.
Who are you? he whispered and the man came to him and sunk his teeth in.
I am you the man laughed and he said I am you I am you and he said I am you.
* * *
You have heard this story before, but you've heard it without belief. And, as I finish this, I wonder, do you believe even now? Has that maddening overconfidence finally left your eyes? If I have a goal, it is that. I will visit you again, someday, I think, just to find the answers.
Tell me, doctor. What color is your house?
Don't worry, I won't be visiting soon. You'll have plenty of time to think of when it may be. Why, it could be any bump in the night, any knock at the door! But I'll leave you for now, just because. When you wake up after finishing this you'll have a bad headache and I will have vanished. You can search for me if you like, but I won't be found. You can guess where I am going, if you have been listening to me. In case you haven't been - and I admit the distinct possibility - I'll simply tell you. I'm heading for the start of it. The center of the jungle. He left me a picture of the oldest place. The true basement. I'm going.
What? You wanted a map?
What I have told you is real, and it did happen. You don't remember this (because I told you not to), but during our last session I had you hop on your left leg for an hour. Is it sore? Now you know why.
And your mind! Did I suggest that I had pried out of you one of your deep secrets? Oh, Doctor Havemen, it is not you who have been studying me. I've explored the dark cobwebs of your soul. You lie revealed to me now, and I have the taste of you. When I return, we will talk, you and I, about many things. About that boy. You did kill him, you know.
It may be humid when we have that conversation. It may be hot. But I do think I should close, my time is up. You are finished with your rounds. I hear your coming footsteps.
Until We Meet Again,