I was lying on the large sofa as my mother prepared for the gala later that evening; yelling at the servants, worrying that the big bonfires won’t scare away the large Akrabut that prowled the area. Nothing would be more embarrassing than the large eight-legged creatures eating one of the guests, mom said and chuckled.
I turned up the volume on the TV.
It was a science show for children. An amazingly good-looking man in his early-twenties spoke enthusiastically about particle physics and chemistry, endowed with oversized glasses enhancing his dark brown eyes, his hair long and wild.
Topics changed: No Chemistry, No particle physics. Now: Microbiology.
Without an ounce of shame, he told a woman dressed in a white doctor’s uniform that he has an STD that causes a horrible itch in his urethra, not to mention a green discharge. She told him to undress- all this was done very professionally- scooped a bit of that spunk, placed it on a slab and pushed it under a large microscope.
Cut to the microscope’s POV, the infection: little triangular specs with small wormy tentacular arms waving.
“I’ve never seen one of these before, Steve.” She told him with a giggle of innocence. “I think you might’ve gotten yourself infected with a new strain.”
Steve, the beautiful host, made a sad face. “Is there anything you can do?”
“Well I can take it to the lab and Dr. Osmosis will probably know how to treat it.”
Oh, what a smile Steve had. That smile could fuel my fantasies for months.
Later as I showered and dressed for the party, I kept worrying about Steve, hoping Osmosis will be quick to find a cure for his malaise, and when I was all washed and perfumed and dressed impeccably in a black suit and a tie, I went down to the music room as the guests started to appear.
My good friend Julieta was there with her third husband. She waved to me from across the room. “Julius Caesar, it’s you!” she cried.
We used to be such good friends way back in the day.
We would hunt hauntings; we would creep silently behind killers on the prowl. We watched movies and wrote poetry in the wastes outside the city.
How-are-you’s and What-have-you-been-doing’s were exchanged. When her Husband went to the cocktail bar, she told me she read my latest occult book Disappearances and Wednesdays, and that she enjoyed it very much.
My mouth dropped, when I suddenly saw Steve, The TV show host, walking towards her. I thought I was dreaming. I wanted to yell. say something like “I think I must be dreaming!” but stopped myself. He came to Julieta and placed his hand on her shoulder.
“Stephen, this is my very best friend Julius Keiser Konrad Berg.” She told him. “Julius, this is my son from my first marriage, Stephen Julius Keiser.”
Flabbergasted: “Julius Keiser? You named him after me?”
Stephen put his hand forward to shake mine. “Nice to meet you sir” he said.
I held his warm hand in mine, and I understood:
I was getting old and my lifestyle hasn’t changed in forty years, and while time continued to ooze in its usual lava like pace for all my contemporaries- for me it has solidified, covered me in the ashes of a Vesuvius, left me fossilized in the rigor of my death.
“Darling” said my mother nursing her eighth glass of champagne. “Have you met Dita?”
Out of the crowd a crone appeared, face painted white, lips purple.
She was at least a hundred and one years old. Under her heavy dress I could hear the clinking of the aluminum appendages added to her body at, I’m assuming, great expense.
“Enchanted.” she croaked.
“Dita owns this land all the way up to the river in Babylon. Many of the buildings are hers as well.”
I leaned in to kiss her white wrinkly hand, and smelled dust.
“I have spoken to Dita, ” Mother continued, “And she agreed to give you one of her houses to write in. She is very interested in your book on the Paranormal and the unexplained.”
“I especially found your book about the connection of the color pink to the phenomena of teleportation absolutely fascinating,” Dita said.
She was very sharp for a woman her age. Eyes piercing and aware. If someone would have said something about her at the other end of the great hall of the villa, her ears would prick up like a Jaguar’s.
“That is very kind of you Madame…”
“Just Dita. DEETA.” she said as if she would never die.
“I will send one of my assistants to show you the place in the coming days. I think you would enjoy it there. It’s one of my favored homes.”
I bowed with tact to show my great respect. Dita disappeared again into the crowd.
A day after the party, my mother received a letter by post, telling her the Dita died, and indeed Death defying Dita was Dead.
Dearly devoted to our departed Dita Daddon. Devastated, devoured by distress and depression, we dutifully declare the deceased has demanded on her deathbed, to leave her estate of 1234 Gorgon way to Julies Keiser Konrad Berg, to his devices and desires
Mom whispered through the cigarette on her lips, “Julius this means she left her house to you. That’s so strange! Dita would never just give things away. She would let the house deteriorate in neglect for years before letting someone else live in it.”
“Well she has no need for the house now, does she, mother?”
Mother took the cigarette out and tapped her tongue. “No, no, no., dear. Don’t be dull. You don’t know Dita.”
A year passed in which I added little to my oeuvre.
At nights I found myself dreaming of Stephen Julius Keiser, Julieta’s son, and as the weeks and months passed, it was not her son which I dreamed of, but rather the New strain found in his urethra, which since then became pandemic, killing many young and beautiful men in the wastes, their orifices dripping green slime before death. Steve still lived of course, after bravely submitting himself to Doctor Osmosis experimental treatment : member dismemberment.
I’ve seen him once or twice after the operation, his voice an octave higher, his waist widening, his eyes moist.
Julieta’s third marriage broke off at the end of that year, and her son moved into the Dita Daddon House for Castrated Survivors of Venereal Vert syndrome (VVS) and one day when we met in a small café overlooking the large mountain range encircling the wastes, she told me that she felt lonely.
I was feeling lonely too by then. I was keeping away from the young boys that usually erase loneliness from my consciousness since VVS killed most of them, and those it kept alive turned to sexless mannequins. Men my age never interested me at all.
“You know what we should do, Ju?” I said.
“We should move in together?”
“Oh Ju”, she told me. “we’re not children anymore. Those kinds of dreams don’t apply to us anymore.”
“What does being kids to do with it? We were never truly kids, Ju. And now it is even better. We’re over middle-age, we are both alone. There will be no future generation to take care of since the number of penises in creation is dwindling. It’s just VVS and us.”
“And where would you want to live? I can’t have you living in my apartment. Gustav would take it away from me if he’d think you were my lover.”
“We don’t need your house. We have Dita’s house. My mother’s rich friend. She left it to me. She told me it was her favorite home. She died and left it to me in her will. We can move in tomorrow.”
Julieta wasn’t sure, but about a week later she let me know by telegram, that she has packed all of her life in five pink suitcases and she was ready to teleport the fuck out of there and never see neither Gustavo or Stephen (now: Stephanie) ever again.
It was a huge mansion standing in the dark center of a make-believe forest. I don’t know if the trees were real or some sort of manufacture made of faux-plastic or another degradable synthetic, but under those dark green leaves it smelled like a forest. The warm wind whistled through the branches and rabbit sized fire-flies ignited sporadically.
Julieta’s driver, a large green man with a cap, dropped us at the end of the gravel road.
They got teary eyed.
“I’m going to miss you Esmeraldo,” she said to him and tried to encompass his huge body with her skinny arms. The Green giant swallowed a sob. He then got back into the car and left us there, isolated in what was now our new home.
We mounted the stone steps leading up to the front door. Gingerly I placed the key in the lock and turned it slowly. We heard the maneuvering of the internal devices and the door opened revealing a large hall. To the left a small kitchen and to the right a wide grand staircase to the second floor, stopping its vortex on a mezzanine for a rest.
“Wow.” Julietta said looking up. Her wow echoed. I tried to find the light switches.
She placed her suitcases on the floor and ran up the staircase, pretending a long dress was spinning around her. “Look Ju, I’m Anna Karenina.”
She continued up, whizzed through the mezzanine and up more stairs. I couldn’t see her when she arrived at the second story. She yelled, “You’ve got to see this!”
I gave up on the lights and followed her up.
The second story was even larger than the first. An enormous hall with wooden fixtures on the wall. In the center of the room a large piano and panoramic windows to the North, and a balcony.
Doors in a narrow hallway led to rooms in different colors. A dirty pink wash room, a purple bedroom, a yellow walk-in closet. “Oh, how marvelously decadent,” Julieta said, her face aglow.
I looked around and breathed in the stale air. Yeah, I said to myself, I can see myself relaxing here, spending the last batch of life in this villa together with my best friend. We could spend our days pretending, like when we were kids. She could be Anna Karenina and I would be Vronsky. She could be Eva Braun, and me Hitler. Just like we used to.
Julieta was also empowered by this sense of regained youth, I could tell.
She was energetic. fancifully dancing around the piano, she even came close to me and gave me a kiss. Then she continued on to another crooked staircase to the third floor.
I went after her.
No hall on the third floor, only a grid of small rooms connected by French double doors.
I passed my hands on the flaky flowery wallpaper, and came across a crack in the wall. I pressed it, and a hidden door clicked open. “Look at this,” I told her. She came over. “Oh Ju, let’s explore.”
It was very dark, so I took my phone-machine and turned on the light. More stairs curled into a tunnel. The walls bare brick. “Curiouser and curiouser” she mumbled as we went down. “Look at me Ju, I’m Alice” and curtsied.
Passages broke off from the staircase, some leading up, some down, parallel to the main. “This house is so huge,” She said.
“How long have we been going down?” she asked me.
I couldn’t be sure, but it felt like close to seven minutes. I told her so and she said “Well, in that case we are way below the first floor by now.” She was right. “I wonder where this goes.”
I said : “I heard they used to build very deep cellars in the days of the cube. I heard there were cave systems underneath this whole land, connecting the houses of the gentry to one another, so they could go to parties safely without getting eaten by Arkabut or get burned by the sun.”
“Oh Ju, If I could only have been born in those days. Lived like a Scarlett O’Hara.”
“I know.” I had those dreams too.
As we descended ever lower we began hearing the sound of running water. “Can you hear that?” Julieta asked. “It sounds like there’s a pond down there.”
“More like a river.”
“Do you think there could be a river under our house Ju?”
“If there is, it will be the only river with flowing water in the entire continent.”
“Where does it lead?”
“Well, they say all rivers lead to the sea.”
“… ‘and the sea is never full’…. Where is that from?”
We left that question hanging in the air.
Julieta complained of a chill. “Let’s go back up.”
We did, and the way up took ten minutes. Once in a while we slipped on the damp green moss which began covering the steps.
Weeks passed and we got settled into our new environment. I chose a mauve colored bedroom on the second floor, while Julietta preferred the grid-like endlessness of the third. There is no real boundary between one room and the other up there, she told me. Each room merges with the rest. She said it felt right to live like that, in a flowing waterfall of dwellings. I needed structure and stability, but Julietta wanted fluidity.
Most of the days we left each other alone. I was writing a new book about the hidden cave systems alleged to crisscross the earth underneath the wastes. I would frighten myself with stories I made up, faked eye-witness interviews about creatures living endless lives in those depths. While my brain was swollen with nightmares, Julietta was painting her rooms; found old furniture in hidden crawl spaces, and began experimenting with perfumes, mixing lotions and potions , essential oils and synthetic flowers from the garden. At nights we would meet, brew hot coffee, smoke her family’s brand cigarettes, talk about our wasted youth and flick the ashes in an urn branded with my family’s seal.
We had no television-machine and our phone machines were out of service, but Julietta dreamed of war, and when she told me about it, the war became real for me as well. While smoking and drinking coffee at nights I would ask her who’s winning, how many casualties did we suffer, and sometimes the amount of dead and dying got me down.
I said to her, “Not only did the VVS destroy our future, now the devil is out to destroy our present, poisoning our minds with war.”
“Ju, do you believe in the Devil?” she asked me. She was scared of the Devil even though she didn’t believe in God.
“Somebody must hate the human race.” I told her. She inhaled and I thought maybe my next book will be about the Devil. But I never got to write my next books, because one evening, I disappeared.
We were sitting on the patio and I told her “Ju, would you be up for another cup of coffee?”
She breathed in the evening air, smelling in it the small particles of smoke blowing in from the battlefields in the distance. “I would love that.” she said with sadness in her eyes.
She was old that night, the night I disappeared. I would say we were both in our seventies. “I’ll make us some.”
When I slowly rose from my chair, joints aching, muscle sore, lightning struck, thunder rumbled. With a bent spine I made my way inside to the kitchen, carrying my old body with sighs, hanging on to the walls and the furniture so as not to misstep.
She heard me going into the hall. She was sharp for her age, ears alert like a jaguar’s.
She heard me in the kitchen putting water in the pot, opening the cupboards for the coffee we ground ourselves, and then suddenly, silence, complete.
She lit another cigarette in her old fingers, and put it to her lips.
She heard the water boiling in the pot.
She heard them spilling on the cooker, hissing.
“Ju?” she called out to me.
I didn’t reply because I was not there.
She was worried. Put out her cigarette in the ashtray made of tusk, and slowly walked to the kitchen, occasionally stopping because her bones were soft.
The cupboard was open. The coffee cups were on the tiles with just the right amount of sugar. The hot water evaporated into a cloud of steam about the stove. “Where are you Ju?” she asked the air.
She spent the entire night looking for me.
She searched across the second floor and then in her web of chambers, holding a candelabra in her hands to better light the kaleidoscope of colors and textures that made up her living quarters. She found nothing but a nice scent of unnameable perfume
She went to sleep distressed. A childlike part of her mind told her she might find what she was looking for the next day. That what was lost will be regained.
About three months later it was winter.
Heavy snowfall paled the dessert, and the fake flowers in the garden froze and wilted.
She was in her room listening to music, when she remembered the hidden doorway found once upon a time, in one of the walls. Maybe what she was looking for incessantly, instinctively was down there. It led somewhere, that door. That much she remembered.
A meticulous search began.
She went over all the walls of the huge house, looking for the crack of a secret door. Every wall she explored she marked X with what remained of her purple lipstick. It couldn’t be. She thought to herself. I remember the door in the wall. But she couldn’t find it, and the entire house was marked with X’s, and another purple lightning flashed in the distance.
Her search lasted the better part of a decade.
She forgot what she was looking for, except that it had to do with a door. But what door? The house was full of doors. She remembered that once she had had a son.
At the end of that decade she disappeared as well. But there was no one who looked after her. No one who forgot what he was looking for but remembered to look for something, like an itch at the edge of consciousness,.
She disappeared wearing pink, 101 years after moving into Dita’s house.
When I disappeared, it was Wednesday.
— Amir Naaman, born in 1984 in Israel, now lives in Berlin. He has published short stories and poems in the Israeli literary magazines Majan, Lot and Eruvin. His first novel Jonkei hadvasch (The Hummingbirds) was published by Tangier press in 2020. He has previously worked as a postman, cook, and bookseller. He now works as a personal trainer in Berlin-Neukölln.