TOLLHOUSE

I

It happened somewhere. To understand whats real and what only seems to be, you have to keep in mind how you got there. But what good is thinking about it, when your feet are soaking wet, and you want to sleep. It can be done, surely, but with much effort.

I didnt care at all. Whatever. I just went through the grass of the steppe. If I was feeling anything, it was indifference. My bag was heavy, which was unpleasant. But otherwise — whatever. The rain was coming down in a drizzle; I was getting used to my wet shoes. When I stepped upon the asphalt pathway it was easier to walk, but still, whatever. I turned around: it looked sinister. The street lamps were on, but their light was spreading in spots: you could only see the asphalt right where the light was falling. Nothing around it. I had to go on. Because of the unexpected roughness of the asphalt, my feet only felt more sodden. I was very angry with the damp grass. I was thirsty.

The path forked. It descended to the right and went up to the left. I had to decide where to go. I saw a lit up building from afar; that's where I wanted to go, but I couldn't figure out which path would take me there. I decided to take the left path up but soon noticed that I was wrong, the lights on the building were now below. I had to return. But that was fine: going downslope was easier. I went the right way, and saw cement slabs, building carcasses sticking out from the ground. Unaffectionate shadows. I passed by them.

I reached the building. The lights ahead were dim. From afar they had looked very bright. And it became quite cold, all of a sudden. But what could I do, I entered. Inside, there was a row of chairs in front of the TV, about five old people sitting there. I went to the attendants window. Inside was a woman of extraordinary size. I told her: hello; and she told me: the documents. I took the folder out (it was deep in my bag, didnt get soaked much), gave it to her. The woman started going through the folder with unexpected friskiness. She moved her fingers around as if they could bend whichever way. But I just attributed it to my sickly condition.

She told me: you have to go further. Further where, I asked. I was afraid shed tell me to go outside again. She replied: to this window in the next wing, you go down the stairs, then to the right, you reach a dead-end and then see a window, just like this one. Very well, I said, thank you. I started my descent and saw the janitor. So wrinkled, excessively wrinkled, Ive never seen anyone as wrinkled as her. It was uncomfortable to watch, eerie.

I was walking in the basement now. I realized those were residential spaces. And I noticed how strangely the residents must have lived. Baby strollers here and there. I was amazed: how can one live there with children, it was so muggy, so unpleasant. Children must have been sick all the time. Well, ok. I took my folder out before approaching the new window. There was a woman inside of this one, as well, elderly, but very neat, I was glad, I thought: well, finally, the one decent person in this place. She went through my papers so slowly and then had a coughing fit. It was a dreadful sound as if her throat was being torn to pieces as if someone plopped two pieces of raw meat against each other. But I wasnt put off. She gave me a key, told me about the rules, how to return the key, other things. I asked: where can I wash myself? Ah, Ill tell you when we get hot water. And she smiled at me, almost tenderly. I asked where the room was, and went. The horrid coughing carried with me from behind.

I wanted to lie down. I was looking forward to finally lying down. At the ropes end. The corridor reminded me of a hospital, but much darker, and old. Not quite abandoned, but also not kept. Still, it was tidy.

When I opened the door, I saw that the room was for three people, but there was no one, all the beds were empty. Its good, I thought. But then I smelled something irksome. I started looking around the room, maybe something got spoiled, and I could throw it away to get rid of the stench. I touched the wall and realized that, for one, it was warm, and that the odor was coming from it — or from behind it.

So I realized that I couldnt stay in that part of the building. The walls, and pretty much everything reeked with a disgusting warmth; the revolting stench was permeating the air. I could not stand being there, let alone sleeping. I left the room and could breathe in. Theres a kind of vile warmth that comes from a garbage pile, where the garbage is damp and old enough to spawn a new life. Thats the kind of warmth that I felt in that place.

I got a new key. She told me something else, made a joke maybe, but I didnt care, I just wanted to lie down. I went to another corridor, then a room. It was a little chilly, the furniture arranged in a kind of maze. I took the sheets, the blanket from the wardrobe. The room was empty, so I made one of the beds, the one I liked. I undressed and lay down. Glorious.

I was getting warmer even though I could feel the frigid steel bed frame, the floor through the mattress and the blanket. I started thinking how good it was that I didnt have to go to the bathroom (I didnt even ask where it was). I recalled being hospitalized once, and the hospital had similar corridors. Nobody went out to smoke: some patients were too lazy, some couldnt physically do it. So they all smoked in the bathroom. The nurses kept cursing and tracking down the smokers. But I was thankful. Its better to smell cigarettes than the usual toilet smell, you know.

I cant say that I had enough sleep, I couldnt even understand if I did sleep at all, but it felt much better. I went upstairs to get outside. It seemed sunny but when I went out of the building, I could only see a gray sky and the haze. I went looking for a shop to buy some water. But there was no one in the street. Then I passed by a construction site; there were some workers there. They could not understand my question, probably. I just wandered around and then found a store. More construction workers were eating some grub there. I didnt ask for grub, just for some tea. While I was drinking it, it became dark.

It was bewildering: the sky was covered with clouds, but the moon shone through. I looked at the moon and saw the halo of light around it. And then I realized that the halo was moving. And if I looked at the moon long enough, it became red. A large red moon, with its spots becoming black stripes. The halo was orange. There was no mistake now that it was a moving thing. It seemed as if the halo was boiling and was made up of a swarm of insects. I tried to figure out what the halo was.  I fancied I saw some small kind of bats, but it became motionless as I looked straight at it. I judged that my eye had been deceived. I quickly lost any interest.

II

Its as if everything is fine as if thats how things are around here.

I came back to my lodgings. I opened the bag; there were mostly papers and documents inside. The papers are the heaviest, they seem light but are not, in fact. I looked at mine: the medical record, the diploma, letters, certificates. And then I noticed something moving in the stripe of light coming from beneath the door. I looked and saw a rat. I pretended not to notice, continued looking through the papers. And then I was surprised, for the first time in a long while. I dont usually like rats. Im not afraid of them, but I tend to avoid them. And here I am, sitting next to a rat as if thats how things should be. I realized I couldnt tolerate it. I made a clatter. The rat hid behind the wardrobe. Oh well, I thought. I sorted my papers and lay down (left the light on, so the rat wouldnt run around).

A short while later, it reappeared. I made a noise — it hid. Then it came creeping out again. I let it creep a little and then banged my fist against the floor. The rat took cover. I realized that it was coming from a different corner of the wardrobe — must have had crossed it from within. I had no food, nothing, only papers, so I couldnt be of much interest to it. It must have been looking for a way out. It must have appeared from behind the wardrobe, so I had to make it go back there. Each time I made a noise, it hid. After a while, I had managed to teach it to hide each time I snapped my fingers — or so I thought.

At some point, I must have fallen asleep. The next time I opened my eyes, I detected the rat in the room. I got angry, I realized that I couldnt sleep like that. I decided that if it couldnt find the way out on its own, I had to usher it to the corridor. I got up, opened the door. I dislodged a loose baseboard to use as a stick and kept waiting, to shepherd it out of the room. It was not moving. I scratched the baseboard against the floor, but it didnt help. I kept waiting. Finally, the rat reappeared in the light. I steered it with the baseboard, but it went back to hiding beneath the wardrobe. I realized that shepherding it was futile. I had to make it find its way.

The wardrobe was right next to the door. I saw the rat peek out: it was interested in the corridor. I accidentally made a noise – it went back. Some time later the rat made another foray. I sat down, afraid to move or make a sound. The rat had gone out of the room already, was moving gingerly down the corridor. I was ready to stand up and close the door behind it when it was scared by something and rushed back beneath the wardrobe. Only at the third attempt did the rat manage to stay in the corridor — it went behind the molding and stayed there. I understood that it had found a new safe space and didnt need my room anymore. Relieved, I closed the door.

III

I must have dozed off for a while, and then something new emerged. I got up, packed the bag and opened the door to the corridor. It was bright. The place where the rat had gone did not exist anymore. There was a half-open door, small in size. I bent down and went through. My bag strap was caught on the door handle, I pulled at it, forced it off and entered.

A bitter cold assailed me.

The door turned out to be leading outside. I was amidst a steppe. I noted, with satisfaction, that the gray, cold grass was dry. It was too vivid for the middle of the night. The stars in the sky were intensely bright and seemed to me to twinkle very little. I saw nothing moving, in earth or sky or sea. I kept moving forward without any particular reason and kept thinking. I thought about the beginning of the century, of all the horrible, sadistic things we had seen, of wars, of sleep paralysis, of the hospital, of the unreasonable way your life ended. All this time I was so indifferent because the background music was my melody of you. Nothing could move me after you had gone after I stopped knowing where you are and whats up with you after you had gone silent forever. Where can I go if I can never touch you again. What can I do with my stockpile of love and tenderness, once meant for you. The key to it belongs to you, and each new thought I have, each new movement opens up way more pain, that I cant get rid of, can only try to relinquish, to resign from the whole part of me, from memory, from gender, from, from from.

I just realized. The darkness grew apace; a cold wind began to blow in freshening gusts from the east. In the diminishing light, I realized something. I opened the bag. My papers, but also the big folder. Your papers.

Im very sorry. How, where did everything go and why. Why wish you that your years would backwards run till they meet mine. My only wish.

I shivered, and a deadly nausea seized me.

Where could they go, my days spent with you. Why doesnt love go away with the physical body. It doesnt go away with age, a constant of gravity. Our ages so in date agree that twins do differ more than we.

To merge with you, nay that the difference may be none, he makes two not alike, but one. Why were we given this, why did we cross each others paths never again to become one?

In another moment, the pale stars alone were visible.

Stars know of lonesomeness more than we do. They know about infinity, about the valour of waiting. They consist of each others parts, wringing themselves out. Touching is all that we possess. Our eyes, our ears, our taste, smell, touch do in one combine. When I touched you, when I loved, tell me what was yours, and what was mine?

A horror of this great darkness came on me.

Alone in the dark, in the infinity of waiting. Here nothing can be changed. What if this is the sole thing given to us, if we only have one chance in lives to become one, to cherish the touching, a glance at each other. To keep the chord vibrating, which will later sound in the infinity and the emptiness. Because there will be nothing to play, no music.

You now only exist within me.

Im a diagonal, and so am I, were one again, and any figure can be drawn over us, — we had always loved the circle.

And it's all as if nothing else exists. None too much, none too little. All that was over.

 

 

Konstantin Filonenko has a sociology diploma from Moscow State University, with a specialty in cinema and transformation of religious forms in the information society. He used to work as a PR strategist and created concepts for brands and urban projects. Konstantin’s interests include the influence of archaic and collective memory on everyday life, as well as future and space. He now teaches and reads pop culture lectures in Crimea.