THE PEOPLE OF THE LACANDONIAN RAIN FOREST
You have to ask directions from a guard, you have to show i.d. You have to find the building, in a complex littered with abandoned earth-moving machinery, where there are no people, nothing lives, no voices even of birds. The grass thins until it is mud. There's B block. You have to find the entrance and you have to go in.
You have to find the ward, down a longer hall than you believe in, that stretches improbably, like a trompe l'oeil hall devised by a set designer for the diabolical lair of the arch-fiend. You think you're drawing near the hall's end, but you're not. You grow tired like it's uphill. Then there's room 28; that's what the guard said.
Taped to the safety glass, a worn sheet of paper, dimly photocopied, gives fire safety regulations. Only that includes the scribbled appellation, Alexandra Ward. The door's thick in an exaggerated, engineered, way, like doors on aircraft. When you press the bell, its ring is faint as breath.
Through the safety glass, the hall seems more denuded than is right. It seems evacuated. This must be the wrong place; but a nurse, a barrel-chested and abbreviated African, in street clothes whose edges seem blunted for the benefit of someone's therapeutic atmosphere, a man in soft-soled shoes perhaps not a man, a eunuch defused, made harmless like a declawed, barkless pet, a nurse name-tagged Elias opens. You pronounce the name of your former husband. I am here for, you put it that way.
Elias says, oh, yes. Without superfluities he guides you to a corridor, down which your former husband comes in a lagging, doltish gait not his. But a tranquilised bear's gait. Golem's gait. He lumbers up and calls you by a pet name you had forgotten these seven years.
You two walk in the fine rain to a disgusting cafe. Handy to the massive hospital, the Star Cafe repeats its unclean gloom, is like a metastasis of hospital growing in the park. Its maritime prints are like touches calculated by well-meaning staff to make this like a real cafe. It's like a public toilet, though, and we just order tea though we were hungry. We order glaucous tea. The cafe guy is sullen, maybe cause of the just tea. We should have ordered hearty meals. And shovelled them into the garbage pail, why not? You're earning;
you pay. This is this new phase of your life. You are the one who pays. You feel gracious, plus a faint entitlement you graciously waive, foregoing expectation: Amos is sick.
Amos tells you that
he'd left his mother's house in the middle of the night, psychotic. Amos walked to Hampstead Heath train station and stretched out beside a bench. Then Will Self, the writer, spoke to him through his (telepathic) stomach, threatening to murder him. Amos opened up his stomach and informed Will Self that the people of the Lacandonian rain forest would kill Will Self with their Õblowpipes if he didn't desist. Will Self retreated anxiously.
Amos needed to kill himself then. He leapt up to his feet and paced, agitated, waiting for a train. The train came with a weird display of yellow gleam and thunder. He would have then destroyed himself, but happily, Cesar Vallejo sent Amos his light. Amos collapsed, unable either to die or live. Railway staff appeared in their striking caps and he was sectioned; Amos describes the caps like they are emblematic of the virtue in the honest railway staff,
and he tells it all with hoots of laughter. You always found his rain forest people funny too. You both have a good time, although you realise your former husband thinks the spirits in his stomach are as real as this, the naff tea, the conversation. You're popular with him cause you'll own that you don't know if ghosts are more real than the Star Cafe. You sympathise with letting fine hypersignificant ghosts over-rule the Star Cafe. At one time, you would have said hell to the world and advocated it.
Will Self was not in that delusion solely as an idiosyncratic choice of famous person. Will Self and Amos were old school friends. At thirteen, they spent every day together, boy inseparables. They played chess and traded ideas on relativity. They were scholarship boys and they were smarter than anyone else in the world at that time. The friendship waned in their twenties.
At 30, when Amos married you, he hadn't talked to Will in seven years. The last Amos had heard, Will Self split to ride a motorbike through the outback. Amos then suspected Will Self had perished in the Australian desert, Will was that kind of lost drug addict then, he was nobody then.
Then you saw Will's picture in the Evening Standard. He was a literary star, just suddenly.
In the title story of Will Self's first book, 'The Quantity Theory of Insanity,' a young man goes to start a new job at a London mental hospital. That story is based on Chekhov's Ward Number 6. You've read Ward Number 6 a couple times; in it, a young, idealistic doctor moves to a town in Siberia, where he finds a claustrophobic world of mediocre minds and inhumanity. He himself is soon corrupted by the brutal system at the mental hospital where he is hired. Isolated and despairing, he befriends an inmate who, despite his madness, is more clear-sighted and good than the 'sane.Ó The doctor's finally interned as a madman, considered so largely due to his association with the honest mental patient. Yet the reader – and the mental patient in the story – feel the doctor has received his comeuppance for the part he plays in the evil institution. And you don't remember Will Self's story.
And Amos' mother always points out, insinuating, that Will Self's father was a Non-Conformist preacher; as if this constituted child abuse and made Will what he was.
And after you left Amos, Will Self dogged your steps. You never met him, but he haunted your life's periphery. Everyone you knew knew him. One had Will Self write the introduction to her book. Another put up shelves for Will Self's mother. He was rude, people said, or else remarkably thoughtful. Still no one read his novels.
He became an abstraction for you, signifying worldly success. He is your husband's fatal loss. He is the fact that justice and injustice are the same thing, he is the axe that falls because it does. The fact that other people's good fortune excludes you and judges you. And the winners are a black horde against which you do battle, pit your naked warriors, your innocents of the Lacandonian rain forest.
You left the Star Cafe and walked around the unimpressive park. It was thin grass and one dirty swingset. You reminisced about your month in the Provence when Amos wrote diary entries all day every day and drank red table wine. You had panic attacks then; you thought every sound was a nuclear missile.
And one frigid evening at that time, Amos, for lack of gloves, put on a pair of oven mitts to ride the moped to a bar. He draped a second pair of oven mitts beneath the helmet, protecting his cold ears. His trousers were held up with a bungee cord; their fly was split. Amos carried this with great panache, as if the whole world enjoyed the joke. As if the mad were glorious, and madness were integrity, and all the French agreed on this point. He wanted to be mad. He wasn't yet mad.
You kept walking through the dull park although it kind of rained. You did three loops, and you were tired by simply walking. You felt like lying on a bench and leaving it to someone else. It drizzled and you could have reminisced about Avignon, the grand Palais des Papes, the silver plane trees and broom, but you just walked at last and didn't speak.
And this feeling you would cut out your heart to save someone, it's never any use. This fixation on one's love that is meant to change some person's world. It's like, my dick will change your world. It's pompous.
Then it was time for you to leave, is all.
Amos said, 'Will you come back and see me, Sasha?' and you said you would.
Then he went in the gates while you just stood there watching.