My name is Leckerdam and this is how my children killed me.
I was lying on the floor in my overcoat, drunk and raging, when my daughter Liotta appeared from the shadows beside the fireplace and tossed a bucket of white ashes into my face. I was blinded. She shouted ‘Anderdam! Anderdam!’ I scooped the muck from my eyes, regaining my sight in time to see my son lift a coal hammer as high as he could; its fat steel head swept down, I turned away and it struck me on the nose which tore off and flew into the fire where it settled, sizzling. Liotta hit me on the head with the bucket so hard that I span and slapped onto my back. Anderdam stepped forward and began striking again and again at my shins, my knees, my thighs. He worked up my body, breaking, shattering. He broke my ribs as if they were kindling. Blood sprayed hot and sour into my mouth. I felt pity for myself. I was not ready to die.
I stripped the glove off my left hand with my right and raised it with the last of my strength so that its flawless mass could shine in the orange firelight, could draw all eyes, all minds to itself—my golden hand—from wherever they were in the room. But my son merely lifted his hammer once more and struck me a final blow—a powerful one for a boy his age—my skull cracked like a crab shell and my brain was destroyed.
Liotta lay a blanket next to me, Anderdam rolled my body on top and they wrapped me up, tucking me in neatly. The children each took a lever, jammed them in the groove that runs between the floor and the hearthstone, and with great difficulty raised and slid the slab to reveal the mouth of the pit underneath. They each took a foot and dragged, then pushed me over the edge. I fell heavily into the ash and dust and lay there twitching and leaking.
The hearthstone was shoved, grinding over the floor before thumping back into place, leaving me alone and dead in the warm dark.
My children are mine.
On Liotta’s sixth birthday I tired of her as she was: happy, celebrating, being celebrated; and with my golden hand I took a hot coal from the fire and pressed it to her forehead. She screamed, of course; she has always had a beautiful voice. The scorch was deep and left a wound that never quite healed, that wept continuously; whereas her eyes, from that day, never shed another tear.
She asked me, ‘Daddy. Why why why why why why?’ But that was just her age. I raised my hand and she stopped.
Anderdam is a great boy; a grand, strong, rousing, sporting, cheering, contending, unthinking chunk of boy. He outran the hounds when he was seven, and when he was ten he hurled a stone over the wide lake and the dark woods, over the fields and the weed-strewn strand, across the seething sea to the island where it struck sparks on the roof of the old tower which, catching fire, burned all away.
First I bent his throwing arm and then his left leg, and then I twisted his head so that it would not sit right. Anderdam opened his mouth to make what he could of his new deformity but nothing sounded. He has been wordless ever since.
From the dark and the warmth under the stone I can hear the rumble and crack of the fire. Anderdam and Liotta will be seated close by, she will be leaning forward from time to time stirring the supper pot; it bubbles and farts, loaded with carrots, potatoes and thumb-sized pieces of fatty pork. Soon they will eat the stew from two big, brown bowls, dipping their faces into the savoury steam, sucking up the stock from their spoons, chewing the good meat.
There are small creatures down here that scuttle over what is left of me. Great crowds of bacteria bloomed in my corpse, feeding on me, wasting my substance, raising up a stink for a while before dying away. I still have the desire to gather up my bones, to dispose of them in various poses; to dance, to fight, to feed, to fuck, to punish. Although I no longer have the flesh to pull my sticks around, I have this voice and whatever it is that digs down into this pit of words and the pit itself, which is almost a body. The golden hand lies with me in the dark, the fingers twitch but that has nothing to do with me.
When I was a young man I left home, with its filthy corners and broken furniture, its inward-turning eyes and low sobbing, and I went out in search of a purpose. I turned my back on the woods, where foxes wept and owls barked and the charcoal men wandered in the shade like dark, friable ghosts. And I walked into the city, where the lights deafened me by pushing their small points into my eyes, large blocks of colour, and no-colour, made the blood in my eardrums quicken, thicken. The sounds blinded, my eyes shuttered at the shouting, grating, breaking noise of the streets, the shrieking steel of the elevated railway, the scattered horns of the massing, surging traffic.
The mud and the brown and the green of the country made me sink into the shit of myself but the heavy city, with its hard, clear edges, let me float and separate, disarticulate. Flopping down into a heap of thoughts and signs and desires that was matter that didn’t matter, a giddy, accelerating swirl that felt joyful and pointless.
I followed a man down the street. Other men followed me. We all walked up the crumbling steps of a liver-brown house, the door blackened steel, the windows black and blinded. The men and I gathered in a large basement room with drinks, with music, with sparkling coloured lights, with comfortable chairs, with a giant pair of legs sticking out of a plain grey wall, with everything that you can find between a woman’s legs. The feet kicked and scuffled on the tiled floor as the men, one at a time, dropped their pants and did their business.
I waited and watched. A janitor appeared, mopped the floor and left.
Everyone stood around laughing and joking about the legs, mocking the feet, the toes, the candy pink paint on the toenails, the hairy sex. I thought that they might start dancing but that would have been wrong. I stood and walked across to the wall. I checked the legs to make sure that they were not my mother’s and I pushed my hand into her and kept on pressing until I was in up to my elbow. My arm warmed, became hot and then hard but still mobile; I could ripple my fingers. I pulled out and every man saw that I now had a golden hand.
A blank, white light now governed my mind, agitation my heart, bitterness my tongue, folly my judgement, pride my shame and rage my overpowering hand. I had perfected myself.
At once, in the street people recognised my distinction and wanted to name and approach me and my various powers of inversion, diminution, unlearning, distraction; their jaws swung loose as if broken, jabbering to me as I passed: ‘Reach me! Reach me!’ These were the unpained.
Those who already lived with pain—the burned, the shattered, the eaten-alive—sensed the possibility of not-pain without knowing the terrible, unbalmable itching that would take its place.
I found a great square with a park where some people played chess, some roller-skated and others sold or bought puny drugs.
A crowd gathered around me muttering. I breathed in the air. A good, full smell like a clean butcher’s shop. A policeman approached, his fat body swaddled in a too-large black uniform. His gun a piece of sweating licorice. A lean man in a silver-gray suit and the face of a flayed dog pushed him out of the way.
‘I am the mayor.’ He made a smile that didn’t cover his whole face. ‘You may kill whoever you wish except…’
I caught him by the throat and squeezed once. The mayor burst and slopped to the ground. The police officer kneeled and kissed my bloody hand. I looked up through the waving branches of the plane trees at the sun and closed my eyes. I was expecting silence but pushing through the small circle of quiet that surrounded me was the boring, irregular clamor of the city.
When I opened my eyes the crowd was still there, looking at me, expecting more. I thought for a while of killing again—how that would feel, what it was for, what it would mean—and everyone began to look like corpses waiting to fall.
I realised that one body was enough.
I took a newspaper from a bench and wrapped it around my arm and the crowd soon went away. I was free to walk the streets, to enter and leave my apartment, to steal from the stores, the galleries, the museums; to eat uncharged in the cafés and restaurants, to drink in the bars. I rode the subway, the cabs even, and on one occasion, in a passing limousine that carried a couple in tuxedo and ball gown. I took their diamonds and dress watches and threw the partygoers out into the ochre snow, sitting with the door open for a moment while I laughed. I asked the driver to go round the block. I gave him the glittering junk and went down the steps of another bar.
Everyone except the bartender turned to look at me as I walked in. Everyone looked away again except for a woman in a blue, plastic dress sitting on a stool in front of a zinc counter with a full shot glass and a pack of cigarettes. As she gazed she grew larger and began to shine with a harsh, white light that illuminated itself and nothing else.
‘I have almost everything I need,’ she said. ‘What are you for?’
I showed her my hand.
‘I’m leaving the city.’
‘You’re not in the city.’
‘Are you coming with me?’
Her name was Hannah and I became her husband.
We boarded a train for the end of the line and many hours later stepped out with the other passengers and their trunks and goats and chickens. They quickly disappeared.
The land was mud. Cold and green, it stank of slurry. Hannah and I had nowhere to live so we looked to the horizon and found the darkest point and walked towards that. Our bags became burdensome and we dropped them on the dirt. The sky lowered and spat ice at us. Hannah spat back, the sun came out and we were home. A cabin, that we took as our own, at the edge of a wood as wide and dark and full of death as the sea. The bed was narrow so we made our children on the floor.
The years of infancy were sleepless and shit. Hannah ground out her teeth as the children nursed, spitting the fragments into the fire, and when the enamel was gone and her beautiful mouth was all stumps she got to her feet and spoke.
‘I give in. What’s mine?’
‘I’ll take that.’
And she walked out.
My children are mine.
I can hear them above. Liotta crying because she can. Anderdam talking, his tongue unknotted but thickened and halting, becoming reacquainted with the peristaltic push of words from throat to mouth to air.
Now that my children can live outside my hate I know that I am dead.