No More Maps
I almost had trouble finding him. I went to visit my client fitted in
soiled overalls and boots, thinking this might be more comforting to him.
I admired the weeds tall as flagpoles around his lot (how they cloaked
the street signs already with old rags). The house was cranked up on makeshift
stilts, and I bent over and looked through the pallets to the back of
the house where there simply were more weeds. I knocked, but there wasn't
an answer, so I went past that doorframe, the sparse sunlight at his back,
and saw his smelted image as he whittled branches.
I closed the distance and reached out to touch him. In his initial message,
he had claimed his eyes were terminally open and that he had been born
without eyelids. My palm clamped down on his shoulder and I could feel
his muscles twitch, but he kept swiping away at the sticks. He looked
nothing like the man who once was Supervisor and presided over the town's
cartographers. He was scrawny and opened his maw with a foul odor, and
his feet looked more like bony claws.
“To poke my eyes out,” he said, holding one of the sharpened branches.
He lifted his head and turned around to drying ferns that hung from wire
by the one window, their spindly legs dangling coy and fussing up the
“Always the martyr,” I said. On the opposite wall was a brittle map of
the town that he had revised no less than four times since that incipient
“Have you quit smoking?” he asked.
I opened my cigarette case and handed him one. He tapped the cigarette
on his palm and stuck it in his mouth. I lit it for him and we sat there
for a minute. The pipes in the place croaked. He wore this T-shirt that
he must've been wearing for a lifetime. It was thin and the material was
already poor so that I could see through it to his nipples.
“So, I do have a chance in court?” he asked. I sat down behind him in
a comfy recliner. I put my legs up and eyed the cup of cold coffee sitting
on the table. There were three orange pills next to the coffee that he
had arranged as the points of a triangle.
“Not if you don't take these,” I said. I swept the pills into my hand
and gave them to him. He took them, placed them on the floor, and continued
“Those are to shut me up. Aren't you my advocate?”
He had the fourteen sticks. He stopped for a minute and sucked on the
last of his cigarette. I took out a pocket flashlight and beamed him with
it. He quickened his head around. His face had reddened since the last
time I saw him: inches of wormy capillaries had sprouted on his cheeks.
He shielded his face and worded some cuss, his breath reaching me like
a whiff of sour baby. “That's a hell of a thing to pull,” he said. I turned
off the light and leaned toward him. He whispered, “I can't even buy a
pack of hot dogs because the markets can't acknowledge me. You know what
it's like to have a shitload of money in an account under a name that
used to belong to you, but you can't access it because that name has been
rescinded?” He thumped the floor with one of the branches.
The Town Council had rescinded my client's identity for, as they claimed,
“illegally changing the geography of our Homeland.”
I leaned back and looked through the drapes. Across the street was one
of the houses the Council claimed he “manipulated,” having deemed, “outside
of Council authority,” and, “outside of known physical laws.”
Someone opened the drapes on the second floor. They were spying on us.
“You can get your name back if we can prove that you're…” I paused and
took a drag of my cigarette. “…capable.”
“I'm not gonna do it, god damned it. They're not gonna have me reshape
my last map. I just can't be a liar.” He poured water from a cup into
his eyes as if this would relieve the quarks of hurt. “I didn't change
the geography, man.” He shook his head. “I documented what was already
“Calm down,” I said, lighting a smoke. “I'm not asking you to reshape,
for Christ's sake. But you gotta appear—you know—somewhat reasonable in
the proceedings.” I motioned my head toward the orange pills on the floor.
“It's medicine. And the right kind. Look, I'm here to help and I don't
think the maps you've drawn are bullshit. I mean, I've gone over this
with you. But things take precedent. Like your eyes for god's sake. And
these sticks?” I walked over to one and dabbed my fingertip over the sharp
nub. “You're getting worse. It's not going to look good if they see you're
planning to poke out your eyes.”
“I know what I'm doing,” he said.
“Yea, but why are you doing it?”
He stood up and backed away from me. For a minute, I thought he'd stab
me right then. He opened his palm to the orange pills. “These little fuckers
remind me of itsy-bitsy rotten teeth of this girl I knew in elementary
school. God-awful Mercy with the hideous smile. Mercy Klein when she opened
her mouth showed everyone her rotten, orange little pitiful teeth. Dumb
Mercy of my elementary school.” He tossed them onto the gutted couch near
the window. “I just ask for my name to be unrescinded, a bit of justice.
Every man needs his Jonathan.”
“And I'm working on that, but it takes time. Come here, sit down.” He
sat next to me and reeked of mulch. He put his hands on his lap.
“...if you were born without eyelids...” he said.
I came to explain the legal matter, but he stared off through the window
to that other house across the way. The Town Council had covered the street
signs with rags. They had erased all of his footsteps. His address had been
turned upside down to resemble some kind of dead language. Unfortunately,
his most recent map came out in the year when some airborne salt had eroded
the bodies of our vehicles and defaced our beloved wagons. They held his
maps responsible for all the things that were going wrong. As I explained,
my palm on his folded hands, I looked with him into that house across
the way, seeing shapes in the window.
I could feel someone watching us.
“When you put your home and those other houses outside the established
parameters of the municipality, it gave them a loophole to take away your
identity. But if we can prove that you didn't do this with any malice,
they'll designate your Christian name back to you, just like in Creation.”
“You're saying that I caused this because I'm not right…that my map is
“It's just a legal maneuver.”
He stood up and clutched one of the sharpened branches. “I should do it
to you like the boar you are.” He walked off and opened a closet in the
hallway. He threw the stick in there and mumbled something under his breath
like, “…and grandmamma killin' sects” or “…in my hand, mama'll kill this
six.” I couldn't make it out. He went into the bathroom and groaned, presumably
sitting on the toilet. He was up to something.
The Council had discerned that he'd been responsible for the catastrophes
in town because of the changes he had made on his newest map. I tried
to argue that they were just coincidences. The last map preceded the salt-erosion
of our pickups and cars, scaling through the bodies and leaving just husks
and engines. Even the town's immaculate Fire Truck gave up during a call
to placate some flames on the spot designated as the “New Civilization”
on my client's map. We've been bugging ever since. Also, the brick had
become nearly useless. Where he designated “The Epicenter of Things to
Come,” the Town had built a city wall out of the old fashioned materials:
brick, mortar, and labor. The wall tumbled during a ritual procession
of children celebrating the upward flow of rivers like the Nile, even
spanking several child heads, them dying. They concluded it wasn't a physical
problem of cement, but a conceptual one wherein the straight line was
outmoded somehow, leaving place for the fall of this great object and
all concrete eruditions to follow. My client's map had permanently damaged
some of the perfect forms of things (e.g., The Brick). They said it was
too dangerous to proceed with any new construction projects. The old map
had to be reinstated or the new one reshaped, they thought, and this would
And there was the heap of stillborns (four, I think) found on June 6 near
the roots of our giant maple tree where he said a “New Forest” would appear.
My client asserted, of course, that he was simply documenting new geographies,
and that any claim that he had caused any of the town's catastrophes was
I pounded on the bathroom door, ready to knock down the wall. It was as
if this whole predicament was concocted so he could erect walls against
me and others, he being the alone type. “Let me in. This isn't going to
solve anything,” I said, trying to conjure his old name. “This too shall
pass, as the saying goes,” I said. “It's just a matter of convincing them
that it wasn't your fault, you know.” I shifted my weight onto my bad
foot. I had banged it that morning, somehow, simply putting on my shoe.
The toenail would have to grow back. “I'm already talking to my salt expert
friend who can explain the whole thing about our darned wagons going to
shit. And I'm speaking to others about the other things. It's not you
and I want you to know I know it's not you.” I waited outside there like
some kind of chided prostitute, foreseeing what's due to me. He opened the
door, handling that crappy belt of his. I could see he had been adding
new holes to that leather because he'd been losing weight consistently
for some time.
“They're wasting me,” he said, handing me a handful of his own hair. It
sat in my hand like a trilobite fossil: sprawled, black, and dead. All
that hair made me want to wash my hands. “They sent you to collect this,
I know it,” he said.
I didn't know what he was talking about at the time. “Why would I want
your hair?” I asked. I was dumbfounded and hungry at that point. During
that period, I had come to suppress my hunger like a mediocre Machiavellian,
thinking the ends justified the means, and wasting myself, realizing that
the real catastrophe was that I had begun to repress all my drives.
“You don't think I see their spies watching me from across the street?
They're making me waste away into nothingness simply by watching me.”
I had a hand full of his dark curls, my toenail throbbing like a heart,
and all I could think of was simmering stew of the worst kind. Back then,
I would cram lukewarm gruel into my cheeks thinking that the next of many
catastrophes would be a famine or drought or both, but I'd always end
up rescinding my food even worse and couldn't pack away the energy (like
the best of parasites can) for a later date. “Why would I want your hair?”
I stared at the splotchy wallpaper. I thought maybe this wasn't wallpaper
at all lining his home, but baptisms or something leaking through from
a broken seam in a pipe.
“For the DNA, man. It's obvious they not only want to reshape the map,
but they want to expunge me from history—to clone and make a new me—as
if I had never existed. But this will not stop our town's erosion.” He
stood there, again adjusting his belt around his waist, and I couldn't
encourage myself enough to look at him in the eye.
I lost that battle. I stared at his chest through the hoary yarn of his
T-shirt. I had become afraid that I initially was wrong and that maybe
he didn't have eyelids, but I knew that was a bit paranoid and attributed
it to being famished. He said they had done it before. “Isn't that why
they sent you, my Advocate?” he said.
I stuffed his hair into my pocket. “They wouldn't clone a man from hair
alone,” I said in passing. The crude peas and blotches on his wallpaper
began to look like food. He stepped closer to me almost breathing directly
on my face. His expression was that of a lame dog hunkering down for strength.
The under part of his eyes were bluish and cold from too much thinking,
I supposed. But my stomach curdled. I cracked my knuckles and was looking
around for one of those wooded sharps.
“And what else do they need?” he asked in a hoarse woman's whisper.
I backed away from him then, literally walking backward as he followed
me until I reached behind me for the front door. Instead, I opened a closet.
In it, I made out one of his maps that looked as if it had been etched
on a pelt. The map was tacked to the back of the closet. In there, the
house's pipes wove their way through as if the architects had not planned
correctly for the flow of indoor plumbing, and they hung and elbowed through
the greater area of the closet like the legs of a Mastiff. “Get out,”
he said, closing in on me, still adjusting his belt. I thought he might
strangle me with the belt. As I sought the front door, I collided with
the couch and found my way out onto the porch. I caught one last glimpse
of him sitting on the floor, sharpening branches once again. It was that
scrape-of-bone sound the whittling made.
On the eroding pavement in front of the house, there were mounds of ground
stone or ash. They weren't large piles, but like anthills desolate among
the small mass of street surface. I kicked a couple of mounds and looked
up to the end of a pole where the street sign should have been. It was
gone, but I thought I had seen a sign there earlier. I began to walk,
but stopped as I was about to turn the corner and saw a man and a woman
standing on the porch of the house my client and I had been staring at
earlier. The man had his arm around the woman's shoulder, dressed in a
cheap black suit. His pants were too short. She was outlined in a simple
bridal uniform and had this look on her face of a dull winter. She opened
her mouth almost right before some words blurted out incongruously, “Hello,
I waved, still thinking I must put this behind me and grab at least some
stale bread to sop up the stomach acid. I stood for a moment, but I couldn't
put my finger on what was perturbing me about them. “I'm a neighbor,”
she said, still rolling her eyes as if she were an infant making out new
shapes. “You're a neighbor?” She tapped the porch wood with her flat dress
shoes as if this were part of the communication. The man, presumably her
husband, held a scroll in his hand. “We're making neighbors,” she mouthed.
It looked more like she was a dubbed movie.
I knew, then, that they were from The Council.
“I'm visiting…kin,” I said. I held my right hand to my belly like I had
to vomit. I looked back to see if my client had come out of his house,
but his front door was as shut as ever. I noticed that the side of his
house had begun to chip away to an older layer of paint—a mushroom flavor.
“Making neighbors,” she said. They choreographed their descent down from
the front steps awkwardly, almost tripping. They landed on the pavement
just across from me. She continued to plunder the air above her with her
I stood. I knew that I should've run. Instead, I cleared my throat. “You
all just get married?” I asked.
They shook their heads. “There is no one but me to matrimony and I cannot
matrimony myself,” she said. “I'm not a matrimony, however I look…” It
was obvious she was lip-syncing and it was the man who was speaking. She
continued with her lip imitations, but it was he I focused on as he read
from the scroll as if it were a script.
I began to panic and played upon his crotch with my own eyes. I then turned
around and saw my client in his window, staring at this couple and me.
Their wordings continued as I tried to sign something to him inconspicuously
with my hands down around my hips like, These are them, but he didn't
pick up on me doing this. His new neighbors must have been investigators
or spies, I had concluded. I got caught up with trying to warn him that
these were probably them and we were then in our last leg of the proceedings—that
this conversation, was, in fact, part of The Trial. My client had the
knife near his chest, whittling those branches like he had no other nervous
tick to confide in. But the couple was saying, “Please…please…return the
The man, eyeing me through glasses as a thick as a manhole cover, handed
me the scroll of paper. On it was our whole conversation written out in
courier as if this conversation had been scripted long before. There were
descriptions of our gestures, almost accurate illustrations of that day's
weather and shade, so I skipped down to where I was supposed to respond.
I didn't bother looking at what they had said (since I had missed it trying
to warn my client), and simply read in the most monotone imitation of
my own voice, “Excuse me? I…don't…understand.”
I handed the scroll back to the man who swiped it away from me and whined
out the woman's part. Her lip-quivering and miming had become lamer, colder,
insincere. She had been lip-syncing his voice. “As I was saying, since
we are neighboring, you will please rescind our neighbor's hair and birth
The man passed the script back to me, and I had the idea of eating the
damn scroll. I cleared my throat and I likened my voice to the child actor
I once pictured myself as. I read aloud, “But will this be enough? But
will we not need more DNA? But will he not do the same thing once he is
reinvented? But will not the map designate the catastrophes once again?”
I knew this wasn't anything I would've said because I'm not as stilted
and retarded as this, but I knew I had to go along. I looked back to my
client in his window, but his drapes were closed and there was no light
in there whatsoever. I turned back to the woman. She continued to graze
the upper thunder with her eyes (the climate itself going a bit fucked)
as if to read the clouds for snow or hieroglyphs.
“Go with the hair,” the man whined, his arm still lying on top of the
woman's shoulders. She mouthed it, but I could've sworn she did it poorly
and even worse than before. I think she mouthed, Get Out. Save yourself.
Perhaps she had been mouthing this warning all along.
I entered my client's home the next day, again getting lost on the way
there and ending up at first on a path that led to our giant maple tree,
but finally made it. He was gone. Someone had restored a bit of order
back to the cartographer's living space, though. He stood great with a
top hat and cane in a photograph of himself and a man—a man that looked
like my client—at a ball celebrating the achievements of dead mayors, framed
on his wall, and with a great smile. The picture was autographed, Philosopher
of Calamity! That was a big joke.
On a piece of scratch paper were some of the etchings of his newest map.
“I have observed that at least three homes will be the epicenter of disaster,”
he had written. “It is there I have discovered the undoing of physics.”
There was a bloody finger print in the margin. “In impossibility,” he
wrote, “I have discovered animate meat…humans a priori.”
On another crumpled piece of paper, in penmanship that looked like pubic
hair, was part of the conversation I had with his neighbors.
I shivered and nearly hacked up a lung.
I began to gather as much hair as I could: from brushes, in-between seat
cushions, on top of his greasy pillow, etc. I was also told to gather
There's nothing I fear more in this world than hair and fingernails.
I was to gather bills, opened and unopened, from the floor and put them
in specially marked, plastic containers. Throw any uneaten food from the
fridge into Wednesday night's garbage (particularly leftovers, like the
curdled ham that was in there making the place peculiar). Get rid of eyeglasses.
Just throw them in a heap somewhere. (There were three hundred forty-nine
horn-rimmed glasses—one without lenses—that I eventually put next to
that giant maple tree—and eleven prescriptions for others). Put clothes
in a pile next to the neighbor's leaves and burn them to cinders. Save,
please save, his birth certificate (and anything with his name on it).
Leave the maps there. Again, just leave them. (I came across three bottles
of orange pills and thought of taking one. The label warned, Will Make
But his diary, I kept for myself. They didn't mention it, so I just put
the thing under my coat and walked away with it. There were three entries,
each strangely enough, in different penmanship, as if he had written them
using different hands each time, but that would only account for two:
“I will be known.”
“They will not give me back my name.”
“Fourteen months after I write this, the town will be entirely buried
I don't know when he made this proclamation.