Jorge Luis Poe

The neurasthenic detective is in the habit of going on Sunday mornings to the art gallery to listen for rumours. This (late) morning he spends some time lingering outside the toilets watching footage, projected on a wall above him, of Monet painting in his garden at Giverny. The lily ponds in the background look murky, grey and indistinct. Monet has a cigarette stuck in his mouth but the solid mass of burnt ash doesn't fall, not even when he bends down for some unknown reason, perhaps to retrieve a brush off the ground, perhaps to add some colour to the palette he holds in his left hand. After watching carefully for a minute or two the detective decides Monet's cigarette has gone out, also that it was probably one he had rolled himself out of thick black shag tobacco. Maybe when he pauses he will relight it and smoke as he attempts to assess how the work is progressing. On the floor above the detective overhears a report coming in on a security guard's radio: a man has been seen leaving the gallery with a painting-sized package under his arm, did he come from the gallery shop or from somewhere else? The guard does nothing, even though the message is repeated several times. Meanwhile a young woman in a floral blouse, it has orange hibiscus on a black background he notes with distaste, is brazenly picking a bit of paint off a painting of Nebuchadnezzar on fire falling over a waterfall and concealing it in the top pocket of her blouse, just over the rise of her left breast. The detective leaves the gallery none the wiser. He skips lunch and goes for a walk in the Botanic Gardens instead, where he finds feathers in the grass, a fake castle walled off behind a yellow and white plastic fence, ibis quarrelling, or are they dancing, in the crown of a palm tree and many bats hanging upside down from branches in bright sunlight. Sometimes they stretch out one or both of their leathery wings and then he observes the slightly orangey transparency of the membranes stretching between the fantastically elongated fingers. Near the lily ponds, with their luxuriant green foliage, extravagant pink-fringed white flowers and seed pods like shower heads, he listens while some German tourists speak of catching one of the monstrous old man carp and throwing it on a barbeque to cook and eat. He concludes they are joking and moves on. There is, he knows, a glamorous orchid among the Rare and Threatened Plants but when he goes to look it has been dug up from its plot and taken away. There is a man wheeling a wheel barrow disappearing up one of the avenues, leaving a trail of fresh earth on the concrete path but the detective does nothing, perhaps after all he is only a gardener and employed here, perhaps that is not an orchid in the barrow at all but some kind of rhizome that needs re-positioning—who can say? The same young woman he saw in the gallery is kneeling in the Succulent Garden taking a cutting from a silvery looking plant with sculptured leaves, she looks up as he passes and seems to wink but he can't be sure, the day is hot and bright, he has come out wearing neither a hat nor sun glasses, his eyes are sore, that's the neurasthenia, other classic symptoms are fatigue, anxiety, headache, impotence, neuralgia, depression, he has them all. He watches the young woman in the floral blouse walk jauntily out of the sun-hammered Succulent Garden and knows, all at once, that he must either sit down or fall over. Along a quiet leafy avenue he finds a bench in the cool shade of a flowering magnolia and takes refuge there, looking up into a sky so blue it seems almost white and the buildings clustered on the skyline are white too, with metallic flashes from their strangely angular ornaments, ethereal as a future city, one that is seemingly in the act of vaporizing into that white hot blue sky. Dysautonomia, he thinks, that was the word the doctor used, a disease that refers to an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system ... just then the woman in the floral blouse comes into view again, that is the third time, it cannot be coincidence, she must be following him, why? As she walks by something falls from her hand, is it a clue, a fleck of paint, a corner of the leaf of a succulent? As he bends to see there comes a roaring in his ears and he feels himself falling forward except there is nothing there in which to fall, just a void, not a black void but a white one, white as the Aleph, he thinks, white as the longest lasting rose, white as silence or as a sepulchre; and just before oblivion descends or rises he sees an infinity of images, as in the painting of the bride descending a staircase, they are all him, or rather they are shadows of his former selves on their progress through this fatal afternoon and before that through all the other interminable days of his life ... infinite selves, he thinks, and before me infinite space, what drives me onwards is a consequence that lies already behind me, I am falling into a void without motivation or intent, without cause or sense, without remedy ... He was acting suspiciously, the young woman later tells the police. I think he was following me but I don't know why. No I didn't see him fall, I heard it and when I turned around, there he was lying on the path, with that shockingly large pool of blood spreading out from his broken head. I have never seen so much red, she goes on but the policeman says that's enough, now what is that you have in the left pocket of your blouse? Where did you get it? Why? While in the hospital, conveniently near by, the detective lies unconscious, his head swathed in white bandages through which, surreptitiously, the red blood seeps.

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