Leland Pitts-Gonzalez

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 lacy shadows.

“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 sketch.

“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 to whittle.

“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 there.”

“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 insane?”

“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 restore order.

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 ludicrous.

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, next door.”

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 eyes.

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 paraphrase.”

“Excuse me?”

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 certificate?”

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 fingernails.

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 You Sleep.)

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 in ash.”

I don't know when he made this proclamation.