Duo went on living. He had to keep his distance from the people who brushed past him by expanding the width of Corso Buenos Aires. But he wanted to feel discouraged, curving people to one side as they passed by. Their bodies warped, flexing sideways from the ankles. They continued walking almost horizontally, one shoulder brushing against the surface of the sidewalk. As he bent them away, he felt all their unhappiness and the beginning of their happiness. He should have extruded their feelings, but they seemed unstable to him, and too vacuous to model. Refusing to live intensely, which was everyone’s unfulfilled desire; he did not want to feel part of the common defeat. What he liked was that which only had to please him because his awareness was a form of induction exercised upon him. Always convinced he had to be like other people, wanting to do this consciously was the only way to exercise his will.
Thousands of people droop to his right and left as he walks through them. But one girl is left standing in front of him, staring at him with curiosity, creating the chasm at the end of which she watches him watch her. She does not seem human. Her name is Porzia.
His hands were on his legs. Their upturned palms showed the purplish blood inside. The deceleration made him lift his head to look out. The dilation of the outside world instantaneously recomposed itself into the stiffness of the horse chestnut trees lining the street. Their foliage was a dark, purplish green. Brembo whispered that this standstill had a cause. In front of his car, a red film blocked off the road. Its monochrome alternated with scrolling diagonal lines, also red.
Outside they had felt the warmth of the night enveloping them. The crowns of the horse chestnut trees swayed silently with the stars. Rosadio had noticed the small dark shape beyond the film. Coming closer, they had seen it was a stone or a tiny dog. Duo’s skin infection kept him from touching anything, and Brembo’s and Rosadio’s little arms were too thin and delicate to move it. Brembo’s kept breaking at every listless attempt to lift it up.
The arrival of the rescue squad was announced by a dawn-like glow. Their lights filtered silently through the leaves, crumbling the darkness. Rosadio was unable to move toward them. Their uniforms were dampened by tiny cascades of a resinous, colorless liquid. They created semiliquid concretions that the other members of the squad hooked onto. Their bodies were forming a dodecahedron, at the center of which the small shape began to levitate.
Before setting off again, Brembo felt quite shaken. The film had disappeared, leaving a faint vermilion reverb. Duo saw the trunks of the horse chestnut trees begin to dilate again, instantly turning into a set of oily horizontal bands. At full velocity, they became a series of orgeats. Their monotony made him go back to looking at the reddened palms of his own hands. He was happy when he hoped to be so in the future.
Entering the old farmhouse, invaded by brambles, he can see the back of his own corpse. A man is sawing through its backbone, gurgling with pleasure. The blood stains his jacket with black streaks.
Two dogs are chasing each other blindly on the beach. The light dazzles and dismembers the vision of their silhouettes. A man with a spherical head places the back of his hand on the sand, calling them to him. The dogs wag their tails as they let themselves be folded up in his palm.
A path smothered by myrtle shrubs led to the farmhouse. Their branches were bent and the gravel rolled along the sides. There were shapeless blocks of concrete overgrown with grass. Cawing, the magpies flew to branches farther off. Dozens of rusty nails lay scattered over the cement foundation. He can make out a man’s back, bent over a workbench. He is cutting himself with a blade. Brutally dissecting his hand. He doesn’t seem to notice any foreign presence, even when Duo enters his body and fills it. The man has pulled off his fingers and warm black threads gush from the stump of his left palm. Two dogs are shyly wagging their tails by the swollen fingers.
Two dogs are chasing each other across the beach on a September day. Still panting, Duo stretches out on the sand. The sky is dotted with golden-backed clouds. An altocumulus molds itself into the shape of Porzia’s face and swoops down toward his cheek to kiss him. He smiles, feeling he is in love with it. In the abandoned farmhouse, he stumbles over his own corpse. It’s wearing the same clothes he had on earlier. His horror is channeled as a muffled noise. In the darkness, he can make out the perfectly spherical head of a man.
His father died twelve years earlier, but his presence had not completely faded. A few months ago he had come back to live with them as an inexplicable evanescence. The shadows in the house would often thicken and generate him automatically. He’d walk down the hall in silence, head bent. You couldn’t really talk to him — he was mute with sadness. His mother hid his father’s true nature with elusive answers, widening her eyes. His father would go straight to bed, snuffing himself out maliciously until the next day.
His mother would hover in front of the open door, and Duo could only make out light blue slivers of her dress. In the bedroom, which he could not enter, a Luciferian presence was creating space out of space. The sneer was not his father’s, and it distorted his memory. The past should never have returned.
With the sallow dawn outside the gate they met up in the airspace of the apartment building. The residents threw in boxes containing dying kittens, whose feeble meows could still be heard. One box held two, who had joined up so that only one would die. Porzia expressed a generic sense of pity. She was getting used to pain and surrendering to it. Filled with pity, she put all the kittens to death.
Each new face filled up her face. She shifted rapidly, without putting up physical resistance. He wanted to change her way of thinking. A subtropical sunset was displayed on the ring that enclosed them. Between each face, she smiled at him, and when he embraced her, another face would arrive. The level was full of foam, lower than their water, very dark. The depths minimized their legs. The single water droplets were on Porzia’s breasts. The sun had gone down almost all the way. The pitch-dark sea surrounding them solidifying on the brownish sand as they looked at the palm groves. He kissed her as her faces ran softly by under his lips. The waves on Porzia’s shoulders. Their deep and distant sound.
His group was moving down a gravel path. He was surrounded by their softly deflating jumpsuits. They had the viscosity of milk and were covered in an intricate mesh of seams. They gave off a very pale gray glimmer that left a small, globular trail in the undergrowth. Everyone stopped in front of a huge block of limestone jutting from the tree-covered side of the mountain. Its polished surface held thousands of miniature rainbows. The mesh of Duo’s jumpsuit had stiffened, making up for the timidity of his movements as he stood before the shining rock. All around it, the soil was being excavated to make it jut out more. These cleaned edges were meant to increase its iconic value.
Duo did not perceive himself to be a conscious unit; rather, he saw himself as an autonomous, distant body that let itself be urged on by his companions. One of them had brushed by, giving Duo the sensation he had passed right through his arm. His arm was stretched out toward the pump, and the cushions of the jumpsuit wrapped around it were slowly deflating with utter innocence. He had let the pump slip down through the serration of his gloves. They had passed him the drill and the gleam of its fairing formed thousands of reverberations at the edges of his gloves. He was leaning on the drill, but it didn’t seem to be resting on anything. He was no longer standing vertical, and found himself tilted far forward as if his trunk had disappeared and his shoulders were joined to his hips. Someone immediately forced him to rotate upward in an unnatural way, grabbing his ankles. He saw the head of one of his companions slide toward him, enveloped in an amber-lensed visor, and wasn’t sure whether he was about to faint or fall asleep. The visor rose up, molding itself to his; their lenses adhered to each other and slid open. Inside the helmet that had hooked onto his own was Brembo, laughing and asking whether he was okay. Duo didn’t want to reply because Brembo was gelatin. Porzia was also gelatin to him, and when they made love he had the urge to kill her. Her pale skin was too beautiful or not beautiful enough to exist. Porzia had never felt so loved, but what he really desired was not in her.
They stretch two hundred kilometers up. Milan stretches two hundred kilometers. The thermoforming steel skeleton from which their height emerges. Violence made concrete in the form of a black tuber that emerges onto the streets, putrefying on the sidewalk. The passage of cars becomes the fluid current that makes their substance relative. Messages wait in line for the sorting process that will deploy them. Each passerby is preceded by an individual screen deciphering the information directed at him, indicating the point he occupies in the interconnecting network. The oxygen, pressed to the ground, no longer lies to her. I didn’t manage to keep you by my side. Imagining you close, you remain merely a stylized figure. A building breaks its façade down into thrilling sections. Connected to all the screens is the architectural structure — as if I had never existed. The volumes shift — rotating, reassembling, rotating. The lines of juncture emerge from the line-like filaments. Some kids developing rostrums laugh. Duo steps back when the rostrums arrive, surrounding him for a few seconds. Piazza Cordusio is packed with people who were homing in. Fluttering like a leaf, Brembo arrives, settling into my back. His head half-penetrates my neck, saying hello. Rosadio also arrives, settling into Brembo’s back. All the light dazzling our pallor.
Her forearm is on the ground. He was sorry; he didn’t mean to break it. He apologized for having squeezed her so tight. Shut inside the booth, Porzia was crying. He could never have been truly happy with her.
The first fingers were emerging from her elbow. They formed small bulges under the sheets. The hand grew, moving away from her elbow. Her soft skin filled with blood under the sheets. The hospital was turquoise fading to the white of her skin. Her bed was at the center of a room that stretched for several kilometers. The walls were impossible to make out in the distance in the fading of the turquoise. Sitting by it, Duo felt he loved what he would never love enough.
Now she was sleeping and her face was that of an angel. Other beds had arrived, now very far away. A shade of purple had caused night. A point of light had come to check on her, hovering for several minutes at the center of the sheets. Duo watched until it disappeared. If Porzia had woken up during the night, seeing her shyness he would have known he could be happy with her. And knowing it could have made him happy.
The bloodcurdling roar of the shark that emerges from the sidewalk, ripping at his ribcage and tearing off his arm. Many bystanders are bursting with laughter. The shreds of his arm disappear into the shark’s oversized jaws. He checks whether there is blood spurting from the gash in his torso. Upon contact with oxygen, the blood is clotting into large gummy globules that fall down his side. A few finely innervated scraps of tissue rise up rhythmically with the beating of his heart. His sweater begins to recompose the missing sleeve, filling it with a fake arm. All around him an amused crowd of curious people is gathering. The shark has fled into Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Duo hears the shouts of the attendants who have caught it and are clubbing it. Light filters down affectionately through the glass ceiling. The expectant hum is multiplying. The shark is lying stunned by a bookshop window and some children are tugging its tail. As he is loudly urged on, at his side the iTunes hostess is offering him the dagger with which he was supposed to avenge himself. The dagger was supposed to open the shark’s stomach, slicing up its digestive tract to recover its contents. Duo looked at the silvery reflections covering the blade of the dagger that would perform this operation even if he did not wield it.
Many years before he had megasimplified the feelings he was unable to understand, he had wrapped them up, tying the bundles in different colored rubber bands. He used to keep them in the drawers of his wardrobe, dividing them up summarily. Every time he did not understand his parents’ behavior, he would run to his room to compare the emotions they seemed to have felt. On the rug he lined up the emotions in the sequence he thought had been expressed. He would often fall asleep waiting for the hypothetical sequence to be confirmed. And sometimes, as his mother got him into his pajamas, he would open his sleepy eyes and see it pulse tepidly because its validity had been confirmed. At school when he pulled out his books, he spotted a megasimplification lying at the bottom of his backpack. If his classmates had known they would have mocked him.
Porzia, you’ve altered your face again. Now it is different two hundred times. The one I had chastely imagined is different. My memory of when I pulled you close, to feel protected, and your understanding vanishes as Divide comes between us. Divide comes between us, pushing us apart. He pushes us apart, taking us to the opposite shore of ourselves. As if we had never known each other. We look at each other as if it were the first time. We don’t like each other, and as we move apart horizontally from each other we move apart vertically from ourselves. I remember the sweet sound of your voice. You called yourself vain as you accepted my compliments. Divide has altered the way we remember each other. I have been happy with you or unhappy. I have been unhappy with you. I was on the other side of myself. The one that was unhappy with you. As I called your voice beautiful and you vainly accepted my compliment. Everything has changed, but we should never have seen it change. From the other side of us, in the shadow of our unhappiness, Divide comes to push us farther apart. We no longer have any reason to seek each other out. We do not fall on each other anymore. We are desperate — if we could only admit it. With sudden anguish. And the memory of when I let myself be embraced by you. I wanted to protect you, but longed even more to let you protect me. You fell asleep holding me in your arms. Divide has replaced the contents of the body you held tight. He has turned it into a scorched trunk that is crumbling. Divide has freed us from each other. We loved each other but that has no meaning anymore. We don’t know the meaning of love. And why should we look for one? I have been unhappy with you or I have been happy. I have been happy with you. I heard the reassuring sound of your voice behind me. You caressed me and I regressed in your arms. You called yourself vain and smiled. I felt happy letting you embrace me. I have been happy with you. But happiness has no meaning anymore, and there is no point in looking for one now.
The cold, still seeping through his clothing, became tolerable as its own memory. The gusts of wind came one after another with identical violence, each the same as the next. The sky turned opaque and colorless. The reverberations disappeared and others took their place with a blinking effect. Something continued to change, painlessly. The sun moved down to form a sunset, but there was no sunset. Part of the skyline was repeatedly highlighted. The modifications that had changed its appearance over time came back to life through historical layers. One appearance overlaid the last, letting it fall back. The old appearances piled up and could be brought back to compare with the current one you desired. Duo watched the lights of the skyscrapers draw him a huge smile. They made him feel truly alive, as if he were dead. Nothing lived more intensely than its own memory. Nothing existed concretely, nothing concretely. A highway viaduct had risen up and thousands of people pretended to drive cars along it. They mimed partially turning the wheel as thousands of curves arrived. The cars flipped over, catching fire, and fell into the void, then started over from where the highway rose up out of nothing. When he was little, close to his parents, there was nothing. His bedroom hung perpetually in the afternoon. A pale, motionless sun came in. The colors melted into each other and the objects they belonged to melted into each other. He felt something indefinable that came from the erasure of what he had been obliged to forget. Lying on his pillow, lying on his pillow, things began to emerge from his brain. They followed the vertical line that went through the roof. A blind fulfillment filled in what was emptied out. His mother felt joy when she saw him transmit it. His father felt joy when he saw him transmit it.
I want to kiss you as if we are in the world we have always longed for. Baby, I want to tell you that the nothing is still here.
(Excerpted from Massimo Grimaldi’s Snowblind, unreleased. Translated from Italian by Johanna Bishop)
Massimo Grimaldi (b. 1974, Italy) is an artist who lives in Milan.