The Event of Illness — Kevin Kilroy
This diary was found among the notebooks of Lee Revzin, a poet. They are published without alteration. We have reason to believe Lee Revzin is a nom de plume.
These pages are undated, but there is good reason to believe they were written sometime between the morning of Friday, July the seventh, and the late afternoon of Sunday, July the ninth.
At that time, Lee Revzin, after traveling through Central Europe, North Africa, and the Far East, settled in Paris for three years to conclude his historical research on the Marquis de Rollebon.
Whether it might have turned out differently, or whether it was all predetermined once the magician entered the room, is not the question. The question is the diary itself, and whether or not it means something is not for the diary to tell.
The First Entry
Keep a diary to see clearly—let none of the nuances or small happenings escape even though they might seem to mean nothing. And above all, classify them. I must tell how I see this table, this street, the people, my packet of tobacco, since those are things which have changed.
This is not just a function of a regular intake of glazed pastries with pear and almond filling, it is also a function of cakes. Also, I have become fond of nuts and oils and of cream and of cheeses and when I sleep, it is with dark visions of rich dainties occupying my head. Much later, when I will be able to think about the things that happen to me, I will conclude that nothing was real except chance. But that will be much later.
For instance, here is a cardboard box. This is what I have to avoid, I must not put in strangeness when there is none. Naturally, I can write nothing definite about this Saturday and the day-before-yesterday business. I am already too far from it; the only thing I can say is that in neither case was there anything which could ordinarily be called an event.
I suddenly realize I have forgotten to relate something about the event. It involves a magician and a magician’s assistant Norton found in one of the apartments down the hall. His assistant was definitely very exotic, even if she just sort of sat around on a chair. Obviously they were invited to the event. They came late, from a job, and in full costume, his hair was white, and it lay on his head uncombed, sticking up here and there in tufts. He was tall, thin, without question past sixty, somewhat stooped. Inappropriately for the season, he wore a long brown overcoat that had gone to seed, and he shuffled slightly as he walked. The expression on his face seemed placid, midway between a daze and thoughtfulness. He did not look at the things around him, nor did they seem to interest him. He had one piece of luggage, a once beautiful now battered leather suitcase with a strap around it. Once or twice as he walked up the ramp he put the suitcase down and rested for a moment. He seemed to be moving with effort, a bit thrown by the crowd, uncertain whether to keep up with it or to let others pass him by.
What happened next defies explanation. Directly behind the magician, heaving into view just inches behind his right shoulder, the magician’s assistant stopped, took a lighter out of her pocket, and lit a cigarette. Her face was the exact twin of the magician’s. She had a prosperous air about her. She was dressed in an expensive blue suit; her shoes were shined; her white hair was combed; and in her eyes there was a shrewd look of a man of the world. She, too, was carrying a single bag: an elegant black suitcase, about the same size as the magician’s.
Just at that moment I stopped, dropped the stone and left.
I saw something which disgusted me, but I no longer know whether it was the magician or the magician’s assistant. So much for external things. What has happened inside of me has not left any clear traces. Anyhow, it was certain that I was afraid or had some other feeling of that sort. If I had only known what I was afraid of, I would have made a great step forward. The strangest thing is that I am not at all inclined to call myself insane. I clearly see that I am not: all these changes concern objects. At least, that is what I’d like to be sure of.
A Later Entry
It is not the objects, not the objects at all. It is not the words either, although often they are lovely and the contrasts are surprising when you have one in your head shaped like a rectangle and then you have another in your head shaped like a stone, for example. That is lovely, as in the sound of your voice saying them, when you say them, but it is not the fact of the objects or the facts of the words, really it is the fact of establishing the correct establishments in which to place them, that is all.
Dimly at first, I regain consciousness with a sense of having been here before, perhaps long ago, and I see the curtains fluttering by the open window and the shadow moving strangely on the ceiling. But this lasts only a moment. I begin to feel an ache in my head, to register a disturbing queasiness in my stomach, and then, finally seeing where I am, to relive a panic that grips me every time I enter this room. I grab hold of the doorknob, but then, remembering suddenly why I came here, I snatch the flashlight from my pocket and turn it on, waving it fitfully around the room until—yes, here is my room facing northeast. Below the Rue des Mutiles and the construction yard of the new station. From my room I see the red and white flame of the “Wheelhouse Motel” at the corner of the Boulevard Victor-Noir. The Paris train has just come in. People are coming out of the old station and spreading into the streets. I hear steps and voices. A lot of people must be waiting for the last tramway. They must make a sad little group around the streetlight just under my window. Unless it’s the day for the man from Rouen. He comes every week. They reserve No 2, on the second floor for him, the room with a bidet. He often drinks a beer at the “Wheelhouse Motel” before going to bed. But he doesn’t make too much noise. He is very small and clean with a waxed, black mustache and a wig. Here he is now.
I have killed someone.
There, on the ground.
Who is it?
They were waiting for me. Three of them in my apartment. My boss set me up. I escaped. Went down the back stairs into the alley. My boss was waiting for them to finish.
Under the streetlight? With the commuters?
And then they shot you?
A flesh wound, in the neck.
Then I walked along the tracks, through dark tunnels occasionally lit by train lights and yellow soot-covered lanterns. They were strangely attractive to me these people waiting for trains below the earth, and once or twice as I walked I stopped to consider them. Mostly though I walked, and walked and walked, and stopped walking and rested with my cold feet in a puddle that held some special appeal for rats. The rats, intent upon their puddle, which probably had a little oil or meat or rotten lettuce in it, paid me very little attention, although one or two of them attempted, in desultory fashion, and with no luck at all, to bite my ankles.
As for emptying my bladder, I usually did this in the far corner of the alley, behind the bin and with my back to the street. My bowels were another matter, and for this I would climb into the bin to ensure privacy. There was also a number of plastic garbage cans beside the bin, and from one of these I was usually able to find a sufficiently clean newspaper to wipe myself, although once, in an emergency, I was forced to use a page from this diary.
I have always thought of myself as a man who likes to be alone. For the past five years, in fact, I have actively sought it. But it is only now, as life continues in the alley, that I begin to understand the true nature of solitude. And of all the things I have discovered during these days, this is the one I do not doubt: that I am falling. What I do not understand, however, is this: in that I am falling, how can I be expected to catch myself as well? Is it possible to be at the top and the bottom at the same time? It does not seem to make sense. Sense makes to seem now doesn’t it?
Another Entry from a Later Day
Something has happened to me, I can’t doubt it any more. It came as an illness does, not like an ordinary certainty, not like anything evident. It came cunningly, little by little; I felt a little strange, a little put out, that’s all. Once established it never moved; it stayed quiet, and I was able to persuade myself that nothing was the matter with me, that it was a false alarm. And now, it’s blossoming.
For instance, there is something new about my hands, a certain way of picking up my pipe or fork. Or else it’s the fork which now has a certain way of having itself picked up, I don’t know. A little while ago, just as I was coming into my room, I stopped short because I felt in my hand a cold object which held my attention through a sort of personality. I opened my hand, looked: the duck.
Yes, the duck.
That is how I got the duck, which I think I still have.
Is that you? I whispered.
I was standing in the warm dark holding a sharpened feather duster. Not a duck. The duck never really leaves my apartment. The duck is not really all that interesting. Not really as interesting as the gift I had been given previously by the individual I now imagined was standing before me in the dark, was breathing before me in the dark, and which I keep always in my pocket and that seems impervious to explanation, although I do make some attempt in my earlier description of the event.
I’m not going to explain myself here. In spite of this diary, I want you to go on thinking of me as dead. Nothing is more important than that, and you must not tell anyone that you’ve heard from me. I am not going to be found, and to speak of it would only lead to more trouble than it’s worth.
I want you to understand that I haven’t lost my mind. I made certain decisions which were necessary, and though people have suffered, leaving was the best and kindest thing I have ever done.
I beg you not to look for me. I have no desire to be found, and it seems to me that I have the right to live the rest of my life as I see fit. Threats are repugnant to me—but I have no choice but to give you this warning: if by some miracle you manage to track me down, I will kill you.
It’s finished: the crowd is less congested, the hat-raisings less frequent, the shop windows have something less exquisite about them: I am at the end of the Rue Tournebride. Shall I cross and go up the street on the other side? I think I have had enough: I have seen enough pink skulls, thin, distinguished and faded countenances. I am going to cross the Place Marignan. As I cautiously extricate myself from this diary, the face of a real gentleman in a black hat springs up near me. Accompanied by an exotic lady in an expensive blue suit. The handsome American mustache sown with silver threads. And the smile, above all, the admirable, cultivated smile. There is also an eyeglass, somewhere on a nose.
It is one-thirty. I am eating a sandwich in the Cafe Mably, everything is more or less normal. Anyway, everything is always normal in cafes and especially the Cafe Mably, because of the manager, Monsieur Fasquelle, who has a raffish look which is positively reassuring. It will soon be time for his nap and his eyes are pink already, but he stays quick and decisive. He strolls among the tables and speaks confidently to the customers.
Is everything all right, Monsieur?
The fat man stares at Monsieur Fasqulle. But, just before he crosses his path, he turns his head away and said to the gentleman with the hat and eyeglass, Would you care for a pastry?
He ate very neatly with one hand cupped against his chest to catch stray crumbs and flecks of icing.
It is a fine pastry, the gentleman said.
It is, the fat man replied.
They don’t skimp on the custard.
No they don’t.
So often, he said, they skimp on the custard, and the fruit and paste is left to fend for itself; one should not have to feel sorry for the fruit that passes one’s lips.
I nodded, this seeming like useful information.
It is so infrequently, the fat man continued, that I entertain.
But you do occasionally?
Very occasionally, although once I had an event here.
Were there any casualties?
They both looked around the room.
Did you come to it?
It is possible.
It was a great event. There was a magician present and his assistant came.
They sat quietly a moment.
Are you still hungry?
I have wasted valuable time, and now I must rush forth onto the street, hoping feverishly it is not too late. Norton will not be gone forever, and who knows if he is not lurking around the corner, just waiting for the moment to pounce?
The worst of it began then.
Kevin Kilroy is a writer, teacher, psychic, and horseplayer, living in Kansas City. His first novel, The Escapees, is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil this spring. His work has been published by Akashic, Fact-Simile, Hot Whiskey, Poets & Artists, and elsewhere. Looking to re-enliven the archetype of the teacher, Kevin is at work on a documentary called Folk Heroes: Stories from The National Teachers Hall of Fame.