Maurice felt there was something misguided in fate’s gesturing when, at four o’clock in the summer, hope[1] struck his face like a child’s fist. He thought how this was the worst thing that could have happened: a beautiful person to distort his clear vision, his miserable framing of things, who he would no doubt tell himself he loved, but not tell them. Here, he thought, comes the onslaught of silent pleading: please, host me like a bath, he will ask this person, with his noisy eyes and pervasive muteness (he has in the past been told that he conducts himself like a murderer). Oh Maurice, you are in danger. Oh Maurice, hope is on the way. Oh Maurice, you must kill yourself today.

That beautiful person hovered around him like a specter—his problem, as he knew it to be, was that he was always denying people form, investing where he lacked vision. He went home to write the note. The note was addressed to no one, which was pretentious of him. He hated his note as soon as he’d started it, which lended his killing himself further explanation, which is why he had to hate his note. It was the only note for him, like a philosophy lecture, but in this one he denounced philosophy because he taught philosophy and he felt volatile. He soothed himself with the conviction that it would be more pompous to leave behind a note-less mystery. He liked the thought of the mystery. He liked the thought of deceiving the mystery.

It was pride, he suspected, that swelled his foot, of all the lively options, with death. He was halfway through the note, two pages so far, which he knew was an extravagant length, when it began to ache. There was something formal to the pain, as in his foot felt the ache the way his hand felt the structuring of sentences produced at the fingers’ bases. He was to die at the hands of his dumb foot, drama without dignity. The gestures were flimsy, the action was full; likewise, the beautiful person was a modern dancer, perhaps not in reality, but certainly in his closed study, with his aching foot. He was hyper-conscious of his appendages when the person grabbed his attention with their pelvis, thrusting it so that it was all he could see. They are very good in their industry, he thought, while his foot killed him. Maurice stared at them, at their gesticulating centre, long enough that their skin fell away—he felt as if the curtains were drawing back insidiously for him—and it was just an orchid of bone left, bloomed bare. The orchid moved through space with a slinky inevitability that felt like doom, and he thought how he was poised for these abstractions like a cat is for a mouse that it will not catch, and he hated how he presumed himself the predator, even in death. The orchid of bone danced into shape and out of substance, and a long shade of hair above them, that prompt of a person, gave him something material to love, and so to hate.

He keeled over toward the foot and cradled it despite his cumbersome length and inflexibility. A model airplane atop a bookshelf took failing flight and began to putter around the ceiling, emitting clumsy and pollutant fumes. His study was mostly dark wood—he didn’t even know what kind—because he had money and he was solitary, and among his fundamental character flaws was the photographed portrait of actress Rita Hayworth, which he had hung on the most serene-looking wall and fetishized utterly. He looked around, he looked down; he thought, this note is ridiculous, I can’t allow myself to leave this. Did this mean pride would save Maurice? Of course not; consider his swelling foot. He thought how there was too much conviction in the things he said and he couldn’t be allowed conviction; consider the precarious airplane above him. He wondered what would be a retrospective of a suicide that was successful only by way of implying an unintentional death. He really thought that far forward so he could bring himself down to the speed of the present, and he thought how he had a current that he could not stop, except that it was inside of a water fountain, and probably a baroque water fountain, as needless on the outside as it was on the inside, as needless and selfish as considering the architecture of one’s own thinking. A suicide plot had just increased the pace of flow but had not changed the path of circulation, the lilt of the ailing. There will be no supreme complaint that prompts overflow, Maurice concluded. He was wrong to pick this day, wrapped up in hope of love. Summer meant nothing; hope meant everything; the fountain was his constant season.

The bonier the dancing lack of a lover got the farther away they felt, because the further the dancing lack flooded Maurice, the further Maurice flooded Maurice. This is all the good a note will do, he knew. Words to supplement weight. This has always been his problem: loving language as one does a blanket, or, a restraining jacket. He had read about the influence bodily conditions bear on the mind, and the weight the mind bears on the body, and he was limping then with those words. This superfluous note, demoting his value—his lack of value—to paper: and really, this is how you kill yourself. So, he thought, I should kill the note.

What was preventing him from reaching his resolution was the fact that he knew these objects were meant to goad him into a resolution. He had planted them himself, of course. Of course, Maurice, of course. He began thumping his agonizing foot against his skull, because suddenly he was curling up into a vault. Fine, he thought, I’ll die with a dumb half-note, on the brink of impossible change. His father was a pilot. His father was a cheater, and he jested too much. That’s why there’s a plane, he knew. That’s why it’s failing, he knew.

But the shrunken package of a person in the corner, of a deeply ambivalent age, was a blind spot, and so, a horrible relief. He occurred at the climax of aching isolation when all Maurice was thinking was my foot this foot the foot the foot. Rita was jabbering tongues at him, which was almost but not quite enough to erect his attention (how dare he think of sex in death); and the emblem of his own lack, that once beautiful idea, now too much an emblem to be an idea, which was all they were ever going to be, which is why he might as well have brought himself down to the base level of bodies by departing from them entirely (all anyone should think of in death is sex), spun and spun about him; and the toy airplane was emitting the terms of its interpretation in ugly loud clouds of exhaustion. Maurice was certain that he was too smart for his self-annihilation, the way only a stupid person could be, that the only possibility of fatality was not suicide but homicide, the force that works from the outside in, at the base of the hand of a misguided murderer, who should be misguided because intention ruins everything.

So thank god for this other person. He didn’t even look like Maurice. Maurice cared very much about what the person thought of him, because Maurice had no idea who he was. It was unclear whether he was a shy boy or a mute man, but Maurice got the sense he was in full formation, and so he felt a pang of elation. This person occurred like an exclamation point and then he started shrieking, not in pain, but in pronouncement.

The pain had now stitched itself through Maurice’s shin and was circling the knee; he couldn’t crawl, so he slugged himself toward his cryptic companion—he just wanted to get closer—who remained unphased and shrieking, a gaping mouth and noiseless eyes. Maurice watched the person punch him, punch any possible identifications out of his frame, punch the you and the I away. It was the best thing that could have happened. Thank god that fist exists, he thought. Maurice is punching Maurice in the face, he thought. This is hope, the brain was shrieking.

[1] From the painting titled, “At 4 O’Clock in the Summer, Hope…” by Yves Tanguy

Sarah MacKenzie is a graduate of Concordia University's English and Creative Writing program where she was the 2016 recipient of the Irving Layton Award in Fiction. She has stories in The Stoneslide CorrectiveBad NudesThe Void Magazine, Plasma Dolphin, and The Puritan.

Image: Auprès des sables, Yves Tanguy (1936) (flickr: cea+)

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