The Photographer in Search of Death: Stories of the Real and the Magical

The Photographer in Search of Death: Stories of the Real and the Magical

by Michael Mirolla

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781550966862
Publisher: Exile Editions
Publication date: 11/01/2017
Pages: 152
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Michael Mirolla is the author of numerous novels, plays, and short story and poetry collections. Among his publications are three Bressani Prize winners: the novel, Berlin (2010); the poetry collection, The House on 14th Avenue (2014); the short story collection, Lessons in Relationship Dyads (2016). “A Theory of Discontinuous Existence,” was selected among the stories chosen for The Journey Prize Anthology. “The Sand Flea” was a Pushcart Prize nominee. Born in Italy and raised in Montreal, Michael now makes his home in the Greater Toronto Area.

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CHAPTER 1

THE POSSESSION

As always, Amil pops out of the trunk first, rotating his head in a 360-degree circle to examine his surroundings: an empty nonde-script room whose lack of windows gives the impression of a disguised bunker.

All clear, he says, looking back into the trunk.

Wolf emerges, blinking, eyes rimmed red.

I hope you're right this time, he says, dabbing at his eyes with a handkerchief. No more surprises.

The two men – somewhat past, as the saying goes, their prime – have always shared the same room. Not the same room in the sense of one room but rather a series of identical rooms accumulated over a period of many years. But it might as well have been one room for all it matters: bedroom-living room-bathroom-kitchen nook all crammed in one space. And, while they are free to leave the room and wander about, they always return before nightfall, as if tethered by some type of umbilical cord.

Contrary to malicious gossip, however, it isn't because of some mutual attraction, a lust for one another that makes everything else – even the possibility of disease and excruciating death – irrelevant. Nor are they related – at least not by blood. No, the truth, as is usually the case, seems of the much more mundane variety. You see, they own something in common which neither is willing to relinquish completely to the other. This ... shall we say ... possession had been acquired just prior to the sharing of that first, primal room, now so indistinguishable from the rest. And both have a vague memory of having come from different elsewheres, of journeys of some kind, a memory that seems to manifest itself in languages neither of them understand – at least not on a conscious level. What they do know is that, unless they are really forced to, they do not want to experience such vagueness or journeys ever again.

After all those decades together, filled with the cares and necessities of daily life, the unstudied routines of existence, neither any longer can actually come out and say what this possession might be – or why it is so important. Is it perhaps the antique, stretched-to-the-limit almost transparent table-lamp cover that popped up just after the last great war, after the annihilation of so much historic property? Amil says no. Wolf says yes. Or is it the massive black trunk – Prop. of A.H. & B.M. written on its side –they use when shifting from identical room to identical room?Wolf says no. Amil says yes. How about the cloudy-glassed bottles with labels that read: "Olio di ricino – Manganello"? Both shrug. The solution is obvious – to hold on to all their possessions jointly until the unique object is rediscovered. This presupposes, however, that they also have to hold on to each other, and never be out of one another's sight – at least while in the room. It is, as one might guess, this aspect of the arrangement that caused – and continues to cause – problems.

Wolf, a self-described "painter, architect, author, sensitive soul full of romantic aspirations that had been dashed before fruition," at first found this intolerable. He had fretted about his lack of privacy and his inability to act out his dreams with someone else in the room. In fact, he'd packed up to leave several times in those crazy early days when the relationship had yet to stabilize. Gradually, he has given up any thoughts of leaving. A voracious reader, spending much of his free time in the closest library he can find, Wolf claims to know about such things as symbols and metaphors and semiotics, and thus inevitably develops a theory concerning the possession.

It is non-existent, I tell you, he says, pacing as he imagined Socrates might have done. Simply a ruse invented by you to keep us together, to keep our détente going. After all, what would you do without me? You would have nothing to clean up, nothing to worry your little brain about. There's no doubt who the leader is around here. And you have intentions on my body. Oh, I know. You've held them in check till now but they'll surface one of these days. They'll burst forth. You mark my words. That bulge in your pants says more about you than all your excuses and wimpy apologies put together. That bulge defines you. That and your hairy chest. Like all your kind, you allow the physical to dictate how you conduct yourself. I, on the other hand, allow culture to dictate mine.

He also knows some of the theories behind sadomasochistic relationships (having read The Legacy of Cain, The 120 Days of Sodom, Kannibale von Rotenburg, The Serpent in Paradise, Justine ou les Malheurs de la vertu, Histoire de Juliette, ou les Prospérités du vice). Except, that in this particular case he can't decide which is which or who is who. Let alone what is what.

Every Monday, whether the urge is there or not, they strip down and fight. Evenly matched physically (Wolf short and wiry; Amil short and stocky), these bouts are usually decided by an opponent's slip, a new feint, an inventive grapple. As well, they are able to wrestle without causing too much damage to each other (except the one time when, in the heat of the moment, Amil had bitten Wolf on the buttock – and to prevent a reccurrence Amil is now obliged to remove his teeth before combat). During these wrestling matches, the two engage in a ritual litany of insults. But, although the tone seems to mark them as insults, neither really understands the specifics nor how they relate to them. An example:

It is non-existent, I tell you, he says, pacing as he imagined Socrates might have done. Simply a ruse invented by you to keep us together, to keep our détente going. After all, what would you do without me? You would have nothing to clean up, nothing to worry your little brain about. There's no doubt who the leader is around here. And you have intentions on my body. Oh, I know. You've held them in check till now but they'll surface one of these days. They'll burst forth. You mark my words. That bulge in your pants says more about you than all your excuses and wimpy apologies put together. That bulge defines you. That and your hairy chest. Like all your kind, you allow the physical to dictate how you conduct yourself. I, on the other hand, allow culture to dictate mine.

He also knows some of the theories behind sadomasochistic relationships (having read The Legacy of Cain, The 120 Days of Sodom, Kannibale von Rotenburg, The Serpent in Paradise, Justine ou les Malheurs de la vertu, Histoire de Juliette, ou les Prospérités du vice). Except, that in this particular case he can't decide which is which or who is who. Let alone what is what.

Every Monday, whether the urge is there or not, they strip down and fight. Evenly matched physically (Wolf short and wiry; Amil short and stocky), these bouts are usually decided by an opponent's slip, a new feint, an inventive grapple. As well, they are able to wrestle without causing too much damage to each other (except the one time when, in the heat of the moment, Amil had bitten Wolf on the buttock – and to prevent a reccurrence Amil is now obliged to remove his teeth before combat). During these wrestling matches, the two engage in a ritual litany of insults. But, although the tone seems to mark them as insults, neither really understands the specifics nor how they relate to them. An example:

Wolf: May you hang upside down until your testicles fall off.

Amil: May you spend your last days in a burning hut.

In keeping with the idea that only the joint possession holds them together, they won't acknowledge each other if they happen to meet on the street. Not even a nod or second look. They are strangers till they return to the room where, each night according to a pre-arranged schedule, first one and then the other examines and catalogues every article they own. It is probably true that most of these articles hadn't been found or bought together; nevertheless, they are now possessed jointly. Both allow this to happen – as long as the objects remain. A pair of reading spectacles ("Ruhnke Opticians") will one day be uncovered by Amil, on the next used by Wolf; pants and coats ("Lattimer Collection") are shared; a black fez with eagle decoration is worn by each on alternate days.

Amil rejects Wolf's theory. In fact, rejects all theories. Despite vague recollections of having been a teacher, or perhaps some type of civic leader or union organizer, he prides himself in being a practical man, a man of the world. He insists the possession is real –and somewhere to be found. The problem is that they haven't searched well enough. And he feels it is quite possible it will turn up at any moment, fresh and unharmed by the passage of all these years. This is possible even if nothing has appeared in the previous search. Amil's views are bolstered by the fact new things do materialize each time they examine their possessions, thus necessitating an updated catalogue daily. Not that the possession has turned up as yet, but it is only a matter of time before it does appear – or re-appear, to be more precise. Precision is Amil's outstanding attribute. When asked, he tells the time precisely, down to the second; measurements are precise; thoughts are precise; the world is a precise place with one word for every object or action – and should be run like a train schedule. It was his idea, for example, to examine their room nightly. Wolf hadn't been in favour at first, saying he knew its contents by heart. But he quickly changed his mind when he saw that Amil was going ahead without him and finding things never before seen.

The balance in the room – between living space, kitchen nook and the accumulation of material goods – is kept by the judicious disappearance of articles at crucial moments when the piles of clothes, furniture, baubles and antiques threatens to inundate them. There are no set rules for these disappearances, neither priority nor value of goods. Newly found as well as ancient articles vanish; important and trivial alike. Like all men who consider themselves important, Amil and Wolf have developed a very laissezfaire attitude towards these articles and they are quickly forgotten in their all-consuming search for the possession. This possession is conceived in terms of everlastingness or indestructibility. It has simply been misplaced for the moment and both look forward with great anticipation to the day it will make itself found.

To date, their discoveries appear to have been of a random nature, without any discernible pattern that they can make out. But, of late, the objects they turn up are becoming increasingly nefarious. In rapid succession, a shotgun (with "A.H." beneath the trigger guard), a gold-plated pistol, a silver knife and a cudgel (inscribed with "Dux") are unearthed. Wolf attributes this to Amil's evil thoughts. He's decided long before that the articles appear and disappear through the action of their minds, a fused telekinesis, a link also buried in the past. That he's never been able to consciously think up an article doesn't deter him from formulating what he calls his "thought-article-thought" theory.

Amil doesn't help. He greets the theory with laughter and denies all connection between the articles and his thoughts even when pinned to the ground by Wolf one Monday and forced to say "thought-article-thought" several times in succession. These moments of sweaty intimacy can normally be put to good use by Wolf when he comes out on top. For one thing, he is able to extract confessions which otherwise wouldn't be forthcoming. Amil enjoys confessing – that he fantasizes winning an argument on genetic purity with Pope Pius XII; that he once voted for a socialist party; that he masturbates while imagining a steam engine chugging along and pulling into a station. But, of the strange and potentially hazardous articles of late, he admits to knowing nothing, even when Wolf comes dangerously close to snapping his forearm. Accompanying the appearance of these weapons is the vanishing of useful and time-worn articles such as their beds, shoes and underwear, things which have never disappeared before.

Amil laughs it all away. Sticking the gun, knife and cudgel in his pants and shouldering the shotgun, he goes off singing songs in languages that he doesn't even recognize: "Salve o popolo d'eroi /Salve o patria immortale / Sono rinati I figli tuoi." He doesn't mind not having shoes and underwear. After all, revolutionaries/highway robbers/pirates seldom wore them. Beds can also be dispensed with if one is willing to curl up in a corner and cover oneself with straw.

Wolf, on the other hand, collapses into a state of intense moroseness and paranoia (something always near the surface in his case). The weapons worry and frighten him. He envisions all sorts of accidents, blood everywhere, the last room filling up with more and more possessions (without them, with no one to put a halt to them – or worse, with someone else enjoying them). Or slowly being covered with dust, an archaeological display for the benefit of future inhabitants. Perhaps suicide would be the best: a single bullet ripping through both of them. Only, who would pull the trigger? He would, of course. He is the only one who can be trusted. Amil would move out of the way at the last moment. They'd have to fight over the honour of pulling the trigger. A combat in the heroic style. Wolf in loincloth, the knife gripped tightly between his teeth; Amil in military uniform, slapping the cudgel against his open palm. No matter how romantic such thoughts appear in the abstract, they always turn ugly – and dangerous – when the details are worked out.

These are the conditions at the time a singular event takes place to throw everything off-kilter, to begin an entropic cascade. Wolf, in the hope of at last coming up with a definitive explanation for the appearance and disappearance of the articles and out of fear that Amil might become violent, invites a librarian friend to come up to the room and participate in one of the searches. When Amil takes Wolf aside and demands an explanation for this strange female's presence, Wolf informs him that, aside from Basha's book cataloguing, she dabbles in astrology and telepathy and the study of signs. But this is unheard of, Amil whispers, casting a dubious glance at the imposing woman who stands with hands on hips, nose haughtily in the air. You can't bring someone else in here, he hisses. It's supposed to be just the two of us. Too late, Wolf says with an oily smile. I already have. And, unlike you, this is one person who can carry on a decent conversation. Wolf turns his back and walks away towards the librarian-astrologer. Amil looks at him for a moment, fists clenching, then slinks off to sit in his private corner.

Wolf, busy being garrulous with his new-found friend, ignores him. After a brief conversation about her name, which she says means "Daughter of God," the two sit down and begin their search in earnest, marking down what they find on the list and checking it against the previous night. Until that is, Basha comes across the tightly stretched, translucent table-lamp covering. Her reaction, a jumping back as if the covering were about to wrap itself around her, has Wolf scratching his head. What is that? she asks, having trouble catching her breath and with one hand across her throat. How dare you ... She takes another deep breath. You lured me in here to show me ... that. No, no, no, Wolf says. I just wanted to show you how things appear and disappear. You're sick, she says. You're both sick in the head. Sick fucks. I'm going to call the police. You can't have things like that ... But, but, but, Wolf says, picking up the lamp and holding it out towards her. It's just a table lamp. Tomorrow, it'll be gone. You hear that, God? She looks up to the ceiling. Just a table lamp, he says. The police, I tell you. They'll know what to do with you.

Basha takes a step towards the door. Wolf reaches for her coat sleeve while blubbering that it is all a misunderstanding. That it is all Amil's fault. That if she doesn't like table lamps she just has to wait and it'll vanish. No problem. Silly old lamp. Basha pushes him away, sending him across the room. Wolf stumbles to the floor. You'll be sorry. There are laws against this. She turns and reaches for the door handle. As she does so, Amil springs up, shouts: Long live the squadristi! and hits her across the back of the head with the cudgel. With exactly the amount of force needed to stun but not kill her.

Amil drops the cudgel. Turning, he follows Wolf who is circling the edge of the room. Wolf stops and looks back at him. But neither sees the other. Instead, Wolf sees a pile of human bones that keeps growing, that keeps swallowing the space around it; Amil sees a series of identical men, naked, skeleton-thin, squatting painfully over chamber pots, the diarrhea pouring out of them like fetid, stagnant water. Killer! Wolf and Amil scream at the same time before lunging at each other.

Assassino! Amil shouts.

Attentäter! Wolf retorts.

A noise from near the entrance makes them hold up. Still somewhat stunned, Basha is trying to crawl away, reaching up for the door handle with one hand and clutching a purse with the other. She is muttering: Please God, not again. Don't let it happen again. Help me ...

I'm sorry, Wolf says, smiling and offering her his hand. My friend has emotional control problems. Prone to outbursts. Neglected childhood and all that.

I'm prone to outbursts, Amil says. That's a good one. What happened the last time?

Please ...

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The Photographer in Search of Death"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Michael Mirolla.
Excerpted by permission of Exile Editions Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

The Possession,
Exorcism,
Start,
The Photographer in Search of Death,
The Saviour,
Asgard's Light,
Bandages,
The Anarchist,
The Box,
Strangers,

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