I buried him today, just the priest and I holding quiet vigil as the casket was lowered into the dank earth. He was a good man as I had known him--that is, until he went mad. Perhaps now he was finally free to find peace.
It should have not surprised me, the package left on my door just hours after his internment, for he was always one for dramatic timing. Within was a letter requesting one final favor in return for the remainder of his paltry earthly possessions. With the package were keys to his apartment, a package of photos and a deck of note cards individually wrapped in numbered envelopes.
As I climbed to the six-story walk-up, I weighed the photos safe in the manila envelop, his instructions at once clear and cryptic. I was to open each small envelope and follow the bulleted instructions to the letter, the next to be opened only when the task of the previous completed. I imagined myself humoring him in this final act of his mind’s play. Arriving at the door painted thick with age, angry dog barking for food or fear from the neighboring apartment, I let myself in.
I surveyed the dingy dwelling. The bare apartment echoed even my thoughts as I entered. The tin roof and wallpaper were whitewashed as if to eliminate the chance that color would impede his final act. In the center of the room a stack of journals surrounded a single wooden chair upon which rested his fine camera. I opened the next note.
"•The camera is yours
"•Sit in the chair
"•Read the journals in numbered order, important parts are marked.
"•Open the next card."
Like I said, clear.
Honestly, I did not want to read the journals, fearful they would draw me into his madness. Relenting to the wishes of a friend, I placed his prized possession on the floor and sat upon the creaky chair. The journals were filled with the tightly written script of the mad, but I knew the outline of the story before I started from the many times I had tried to intercede during his downward spiral.
He had met her during a night out with us boys, the woman that would become his wife and tormentor. As the wedding grew near, he fervently defended both her possessive nature and wicked disposition. I, as a matter of fact, stood in his wedding. As the priest asked us to "speak now or forever hold your peace," he beamed with self-delusion of love. She, on the other hand, scowled, daring any one of us noodle back bitches to make a sound. I still shiver at the thought of those shockingly beautiful, indigo-blue eyes, shattered with complicated etchings of green and violet, piercing through my soul. They were, to all accounts, the most beautiful eyes imaginable. Also, the scariest things that I had ever seen. His happiness is my only concern, I consoled myself, in justification for my cowardice.
Years later, I would pick up the story again. He called me without warning and launched into his tale without preamble. "Dude, I did it! I finally got away from that witch." He filled me in to the rest.
He woke one morning and realized that he was being drained of all his creativity and goodness by that ‘evil woman.’ He had to act before he went mad, so he pulled all the money from his bank account and took flight during the middle of the day. Job, car, future - be damned, the only thing he saved was his camera. I was shocked, but again just thinking of my friend’s happiness, I relayed my congratulations. He continued with his tale, describing the woman of his dreams that he had met that very same day. A lovely redhead with mesmerizing green eyes. He seemed so happy that I did not question his luck. We rang off and went on with our lives.
Our contact picked up over the next couple of years...after leaving the green eyed girl, in middle of the night while she slept on in their small bed, he called me from a payphone collect. "Look man, I am telling you, they’re the same person." I interrupted, trying to talk sense into him, "I understand that you are attracted to that type but..." He snapped in near hysterics, "God damn it man--I mean they are the same god damn person!" Just as suddenly, his voice trailed to a whisper, "I have to get out of here...I am sure of it...I'll call you back." He rang off.
After that, his diatribes became even more desperate, ever more frequent. He would call in bliss from a recent escape, only to tell me of a new love that he had met. He would describe them so completely, I felt like I know them all; slender waists or supple curves, freckled Asian skin or near Indigo West African, hair the color of midnight or sun-kissed radiant, there was never a specific body type or race, but they all had beautiful eyes. The poetry he applied to them, I dare not paraphrase. Just as suddenly, he would call some years, then months, finally some days later in a panic, telling me it was her again. The one that chased him. The one after his very soul. His theories became more desperate, speculations of surgery turned into complex meanderings about the supernatural.
The last time, it was not he who called but a police detective. According to the detective, my friend had taken a "swan dive from the sixth floor, luckily missing the pedestrians below." I was listed as his next of kin in the short note he left behind.
The next card: "Brother, open the package and lay out the pictures in order. I know you don’t believe me but this is the only way. They do not lie."
Shaking my head, I opened the package containing photo prints and a small jeweler’s glass. A colored shot of one beautiful woman was followed by a black and white print on which a pair of eyes--hers--was isolated, filling an 8x10 photo. From the descriptions, those eyes had followed him from that very first blue-eyed devil he had married.
The card continued, "...those are pictures of all my ex-loves. I am sure they are the same woman. Can you see it? They are the same, I printed them in black and white to help you see it."
I examined the pictures closely, then even more closely with the jeweler’s glass. They were all pulled at random angles from the larger photos. Each was marked along the bottom in his tight script, calling out the date of their acquisition, the name of the subject and location. Each to my untrained eye looked exactly the same in black and white. The same cracks of darker accent providing character to a lighter background. The faces around the irises grew older in time, wrinkles around the eyes marking the only difference. I opened the last card.
"You may never believe me. You may continue to look for an earthly explanation, or forget all this as the ramblings of a madman, but I am convinced, this is the same woman. She is changing shape, size, race, voice--everything but those beautiful eyes, my friend. The German’s would have called he a doppelganger; to me she is of the devil. There is only one way for me to escape. When you read this, it will already be done."
So this is why. The poor man finally gave in to his madness.
I looked at the photos again; those wicked eyes seemed to follow me...
Those eyes did not lie.
Luis Guzman bounced around the world returning happily bruised and thankful for the company of his children in Northern Virginia. He is an avid reader of speculative fiction and a geek in the most venturous sense.
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