I light another cigarette, toss the match into the ashtray, and resume pacing around the room.
I ask, Is this what you meant when you said what you said to me that day in the pet shop?
“Don’t be so specific, man.”
Please. That time when Antonia and I were walking together.
Raat! Two peas in a pod.
Exactly. Is this what you meant? The superstitions, the followings? Beethoven said she is a goddess.
“…I knowww all there is to knowww about the crying gaaame…”
What do you mean?
Raat! Cut it off.
Cut what off?
“It’s not my fault.” “God made me this way.”
Electra, please. You’re mixed up. That’s not what I mean. I could plainly see under the black light that her hands bear the signs of stigmata.
Raat! “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”
Well, that’s more in the right direction. But will you tell me: is that what you meant?
She’s no more a goddess than I am.
So that is not what you meant?
“Welllll, I do an’ I don’t.”
I ash my cigarette. I plead, Electra, I need to know.
Everything goes red.
Sheis th eMessi ah.
From behind a cloud of silt and ink, Beethoven unfurls a single tentacle, a limb as thick and twice as long as my own arm. Its suckers smush against the transparent boundary, warp and flatten, silent. They look just like the eyeless faces of burning, screaming souls.
The red ends.
I can hear my father now: Sinjoro devas marŝi, ne kuri. ‘A gentleman should walk, not run.’ But I wouldn’t expect him to understand my urgency.
I am out of breath when I top the stairs and enter the doors of the Kant-Gump Lane Branch of the Public Library. Behind me, amongst the tourists in the street surrounding the statue of our city’s founder, two women—one shouting, the other sobbing—are pointing and gesturing at me while being restrained by police officers in black uniforms.
Under the light of stained glass and chandeliers, amidst the smells of paper and stone, I get to the books I need: leatherbound, brittle pages. In 1224, two years before his death, St. Francis of Assisi manifested stigmata of the Christ, the first known instance of such a thing ever reported. Without cause, he bled from hands and feet as well as from his rib, where Jesus was speared on the cross. St. Bonaventure’s Major Legend (1266) records an anecdote about a portrait of St. Francis that temporarily displayed stigmata right before the eyes of the painting’s matron and a fellow witness, the marks becoming visible only when the two contemplated the miracle and vanishing from view just as swiftly. Nothing I read convinces me that the resultant stigmata tradition is anything more than a few hundred hoaxes exploiting superstition, but I cannot deny what I saw on Antonia’s hands under the black light in the bug suite.
A true stigmatic manifests all five wounds: both hands, both feet, and the flank of the torso. Outside the library, I stop to light a cigarette. A man with a shaven head wearing an orange toga and sandals kneels a few feet from me, his lips moving in prayer.
Everything turns red.
Imea nsh eis theM essiah.
I light another cigarette. I ask, Yes but what does that actually mean? Why does she have Christian stigmata on her? Of all things?
S he is the thirdr evela tion.
Fine, but why not the Sixth Sun or Shiva or Shangó?
Shebea rs thewounds ofcruxi ficti on. Ripp edf rom thec ross, handsa ndf eetsplit, and shehas heal ed andi srebo rn.
I think, I have no god. Or, at best, if I do, it’s the invisible hand. But not a thing worthy of worship. By no means.
An tonia is theo pposite ofyou.
The red ends.
In a brass Art Nouveau birdcage at the top of an eye-high pedestal, my new pride and joy snares and swallows yet another weevil.
She is magnificent, I say.
Antonia hugs my arm, leans her temple on my shoulder. On cheese prom México! Electra wheel loaf her.
I’m sure she will.
Antonia sighs, squeezes me tighter. A welcome gesture of sincere affection.
And yet my skin crawls. Ripped from the cross as Beethoven said. I think, For what crime was she punished? What heresy?
Antonia is the opposite of you. If so, I wonder: What is it she lacks?
I hear boots; the Frenchman appears. Stetson hat, bolo tie, velvet brocade on a gunfighter blazer.
Howdy patron, he says. Il dit que le camion livrera les dauphins demain soir.
I ask, Will the shipment include the herring?
He claps me on the back. Oui, bien sûr. Ils auront besoin d’accéder à l’ascenseur de service.
I’ll be sure to meet them when they arrive.
We shake hands.
Avoiding him, Antonia walks down an aisle, each animal in a cage or tank clamoring as she passes.
I unlock the door to my flat to find Rascal eating the remains of a pillow cushion. Goose down floats in the air like snowflakes, drifts of it piled against the walls. The cedar ribs of the sofa’s carcass horrorsplay from under torn fabric. What’s worse, Eve is balled in a corner where she never sits. She is licking in her groin what is an obvious wound. Neither Eve nor Rascal pay me any mind when I enter with the birdcage.
Raat! Who’s the fox?
She is your new companion, Electra. A Socorro mockingbird. From the Revillagigedo Islands.
Raat! Can we name her Elvis?
Of course we can.
The good news is the Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaeles in no. 20 moved out. They leave a letter they drop through the mail slot. I don’t have to open it and see that it is in fact from them to know so. Chimpy tosses it in with the rest in the now second mail closet (which is already near knee high).
Now all I need is no. 21.