Justine - Excerpt
An orange spot in the dark. A meteor has fallen. I head that way. Toward the heat. And the house. The flames are orange. They stretch up in the sky red licks the wood burns. My house is burning. People are here. They’re standing around the house that’s mine, and they’re watching it, or are also just now arriving. They shout. They draw, push, urge me forward. I’m standing next to the hedge. The flames leap hop, hop, hophophop from wall to roof to bush. My phone’s in my pocket. I can’t get it out. I think I’ve forgotten it’s there. No. I have it. And here comes Vita. She has a phone. She’s dialing. She says: Hello. She says it. My house is burning. The flames are black, leaping. You can’t save it, Vita says, she says: What’ll you do? Dry-powder extinguishing. Then the workshop collapses. It groans, cants outward tumbles inward. Settles onto the lawn pumps embers onto my hands. A child screams and cries. Mom screams the child screams for a mom. And there she is. I can see her. In flames. The fire devours a breast and an arm melts down to fat. Bent Launis shouts. They’re coming, they’re coming. The sirens seethe of wheels. A massive firetruck. A massive firetruck is coming. Firemen spring out, spring over great gaps, pull out the hose, turn on the spigot, pull on their masks, pump water onto the house and onto the workshop. The farmhouse roof squeals, bows, is warped, is coming down. Snaps. Falls. Ends.
First there’s a headache and a throat and a person prone on a couch. They belong to the hands, which hurt. It’s me. It’s me that is me. I’m sure of that now. A growth on the couch, a cushion-wedged tumor. I’ve woken up on Vita’s couch, still in my clothes.
I reach for something. A bottle maybe. No. A body. I reach for a body. I’m in Vita’s house. It’s Vita’s body I’m reaching for in the light from the window. Morning falls onto my boots. I lean forward to loosen the laces and see that there’s mud on the floor. Or vomit. My fingers won’t, and the laces snarl.
Now she comes from the bedroom, parts the drapes with her hand, steps in or out. It’s not a Dream, it’s Reality in a shirt she looks like a young girl who fibs. Or a ghost, the way she blends with the drapes.
“I’m here,” I say.
“You’re here,” she says. “Indeed.”
“You need to sleep.”
“I need to wake up.”
I’ve got an uvula in my mouth and a tongue that’s swelling. I can barely get Vita down, it’s so crowded in there. She’s almost transparent with her eyes she’s seen my house.
“Let’s go down and see it,” I say. “I’d like to see it, too.”
“It’s not going anywhere,” she says. “In any case, you should do something about your hands first.”
I’d like to go to the bedroom with her. She’s probably going to change clothes. Oh, won’t you stay with me? Go down to the house with me, won’t you? You and me. C’mon.
I head into the hall and look at myself in the mirror. Strange. My head looks too small for my shoulders. Shrunken. My mouth looks like an asshole. Is that really me? Yes. You.
I splash some water on my face. It’s so still around my face soaks the liquid up. Vita is somewhere else in the house, I don’t know where.
“I’m doing it,” she says from that place, “Now I’m really leaving.”
She evaporates. I think.
Three two one, she’s leaving now. I think.
[. . .]
A very young policeman who takes down the report about the fire and the house. It’s all minutiae. He’s only asking the standard questions, he says, and then he explains the investigative process. It’s important, he says, to find the cause of the fire so that they can rule out criminal activity. Generally, though, that’s just important for the insurance, he tells me, and asks do I understand? Yes, I understand. Am I insured? I am. Who owned the house? I did. Where was I when the fire started?
I sit on my side of the table and look at him and wonder if he knows it was Grandpa’s house that burned. How would he know that? He definitely doesn’t know that I have an exhibition in September, and that the works I was going to show were in that house, packed away in the plastic and cardboard that burned so beautifully. Actually, I was just waiting for the movers to come and pick everything up.
“I was at the pub and came home and saw it burning,” I say.
I wasn’t there celebrating, there hasn’t been anything to celebrate in a while, Vita doesn’t want to be with me anymore, and so I left. I just left, it’s been a while, a couple of weeks at least. Or was it just the other day? Last night? What’s happening? She was right there, now she’s not, and anyway, I think she stayed until morning.
I watch the officer, he’s so blue. He watches the paper and the pen as it wanders the spaces. He flips the page over and continues writing on yet another clean surface.
Vita doesn’t want to go to Iceland with me. She doesn’t want to go anywhere with me, she says. Why should she? Hey you, it’s over. Now she’s sitting at home and waiting.
The policeman has finished writing, there are no more questions. He says:
“Well, that’s it then. Goodbye.”