We first met in Zurich. I was a junior in college and had taken a semester to explore the haunts and jaunts of the Dadaist poets, Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball, Max Ernst, the men whose names I scrawled in the margins of my journals like old paramours. I was on my second stop; Moineşti had been first and aside from the tall monument leading into the city, little was there: a few ghosts and a subtle, insistent whiff of bad gasoline. After, I was going to make my way to Berlin then Paris before flying back to New York.
He was peripatetic, Canadian, a dirty back-packer, body worn as thin as his clothes though his spirit remained intact. I was in over my head. I had taken enough French in school to hold empty conversations and could read some more but that was my limit. Romanian and German flitted past me like larks. I made do flirting with the locals—smiling being a universal tongue—or got lucky with hand gestures or meeting people like the Canadian. A polyglot, he helped me decipher maps and passages in deteriorating books.
His lack of itinerary and willingness to follow along benefited me more than I cared to admit. I got the impression he understood anyway and viewed it as adventure-charity. He preferred speaking in aphorisms and collected local ones, though his favorites came from the American South. I couldn't help but smile as we explored the Kunsthaus, passing wood reliefs by Arp and Giacometti's spindly sculptures, and he'd say something like, “Well, I could sop that up with a biscuit.”
The Canadian—that was the only way I could think of him, even after he told me his name. Burly, yet fair, he had golden boughs of hair, a faint sienna swirl through his beard, and small hands I was loath to call feminine when I knew I meant delicate, despite the shattered nails and callouses both from playing guitar and the random, day-labor gigs he found, and the paper-cuts from the celerity of his reading—a book a day, putting me to shame. Worse, he retained that information, was able to pull the smallest fact, the most random crumb of trivia. I told him those with eidetic memories were cheaters at life, but we could use it winning bar games if we were ever in a pinch for money. Modestly, he showed me a notebook brimming with minuscule handwriting in severe black ink. “I take notes,” he said. “I can get a bit obsessive.” As soon as he filled a notebook, he typed it up. Even with all the odd jobs and traveling and helping me, he seemed to have unlimited amounts of time.
Often I woke at random hours of the night to him hunched over my laptop, smashing the keys and muttering under his breath, the glowing screen casting shadows and muddled light. The internet connection, paid for by the hour, was spotty at best. Getting the full sixty minutes was more of a miracle than any crying statue or various foodstuffs resembling prominent religious figures. Rolling over, I'd watch him until he'd either slam the computer shut in frustration or notice me and apologize, urging me to go back to sleep and promising he'd be less ebullient. When I'd ask him what he was doing, he'd say, “Just a time of low cotton.”
Perhaps I was naive to think that sleeping with someone for several weeks warranted a modicum of trust. Or perhaps I was hypocritical, expecting him to trust me without my having to offer him the same.
One morning I broke and confronted him. “Is it porn?” Being blunt showed I was cool, I got it. But he looked aghast and spat out a no. A typical refrain of his was, “That's something Americans do,” making it clear he felt a distinct us versus them nationality regardless of sharing a continent, so I expected to hear it then. Porn—something only Americans do. Right. Instead, he sighed and ran his fingers through his beard, which he was letting grow fuzzy and unruly. Both hands wildly stroked upward.
“You really want to know?” he asked. The way he said it made me pause-- did I really want to know? Curiosity got the best of me, as it often does. I nodded.
He opened the laptop and pulled up an image file. It was a screen cap showing part of a website. The Other Side of the Ice Wall it read a the top in bold, white serifed letters against a textured, Prussian blue background. Beneath that, aligned right, what looked to be some sort of hand-rendered map and then a block of smaller text about a team of explorers preparing for an expedition. The image cut off just as the text began to explain that the Earth is flat with Antarctica a frozen ring around the disc of what we know to be our planet. But a group of men alleged to have made it beyond Antarctica, to some frozen hinterland surrounded by yet another ring of ice, the Ice Wall.
“Where's the rest?”
“There isn't any more anymore,” he said, eyes alight. “Look.” He pointed at the address bar at the top of the screen cap, then he brought up a browser window and typed in the address, hit enter. Nothing. No Page Not Found, no 404 code. The address erased itself, leaving a blank white page. “It's gone.”
“You don't find that suspicious?”
I tried typing in the address myself, hit enter. The same: Nothing. “They must have taken down the site. So? What's this of?”
“If the page were deleted, there'd be an error of some sort, right? There'd be something showing a trace, a history, but there's nothing.” He sat down on the bed, facing me. “I think I found something I shouldn't have.”
“Have you even slept?”
He pulled the screen cap back up. “The part that gets cut off talks about how one man made it beyond even the Ice Wall.”
“So what's there? Yet another wall? Walls forever? Or space?” My head pounded, begging for caffeine or sane conversation.
He followed me to the coffee maker, keeping his voice low. “That's the thing,” he said. “If the planet is finite, as we all assume it to be, then there has to be an end, a limit. If Antarctica was the ledge, then beyond that should have been space, somehow. But it wasn't. And then beyond that—” He spoke faster, “And that's ignoring the fact that you shouldn't be able to get beyond the Ice Wall—not without pretty severe equipment. Do you know what we're talking about here?”
“Ignoring the fact that the Earth isn't flat,” I said. “This is some silly hoax.”
He had brought the laptop with him and was holding it up close to my face, jabbing a finger at the screen. “It means everything has been a lie. This man, Edward Rollington. I have to find him. I have to talk to him. I tried the email, but it bounced back.”
I had questions, the most pressing being: How had I not realized prior to this moment that the Canadian was bat-shit? He'd always given off the air of being free-spirited, adventurous, yet still practical, the one with the few extra dollars or a pack of matches tucked away for emergencies. My reading of him was expanding and I considered closing the cover, finding a new, less experimental book. Taking liberties and pushing boundaries was fine for the Dadaists, but honestly, I didn't want that much of it in my daily life.
The coffee dripped. The Canadian continued talking. I heard a few words: government cover-up, revolution, utopia, everything we've been seeking. At this I wanted to interject that I was seeking enough information to finish my thesis so I could graduate early but I poured myself a cup instead. His spiel climaxed with him saying that this could disprove everything we thought we knew to be true about life itself. Didn't I want to be a part of that?
“I don't know, Cel,” he said. “All political ramifications aside, I feel like I've stumbled onto some deeply mystical shit. You know when you just feel something? Like, why did I think to grab a screen cap? Had I just book-marked the page as I normally do, I'd have nothing right now to go on.” He stared at the image. “This is something bigger than me and it's my duty—my destiny—to pursue it. ”
No, I changed my mind. I had no other questions. Survival sometimes means knowing when to ignore those more emotional parts of yourself and jump ship.
I decided against staying in Paris. I would give myself the day in the library then head back to the States early. I had enough information for my thesis, the rest I felt confident I could find perusing the university's online resource library or, doing the Dada thing, make up. Rebellion tasted sweet, even with knowing it were a poison that could end the academic career I questioned still wanting. Prior to his sudden outburst of on-the-other-side obsession, the Canadian had made a rather convincing argument of tuning out, as he said in antiquated jargon.
He nearly had me nodding in joining him for his return back home to Canada, somewhere northwest, freezing yet free. Had me imagining a log cabin with white billowy smoke from the chimney. Snow with boot-prints leading off into the woods, sky a shattered white. Inside, my domain, with everything mid-century modern and impractical and me fighting against fighting against gender roles in a frilly apron and high heels—this last part making me laugh into my coffee, but the funniest part was the Canadian actually grew up in Toronto. His mother was a surgeon, his father a CEO of some powerful tech company; for all his threadbare rucksack and sleeping in hostels posturing, the Canadian was loaded. How else would we have been able to afford, even in reverie, all that Karl Springer furniture up in Whitehorse? Unfortunately, having more money than Bono couldn't buy one sanity so I packed up our cabin into neat little boxes and smashed them smaller and smaller until I could no longer see those beautiful lacquered goatskin Onassis chairs.
After breakfast I slipped on my boots and sweater and said I was off. I wished he'd offer to join, to throw his new-found destiny aside, but I knew he wouldn't; already back hunched over the laptop, he typed, frantic, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lip. He grunted in my direction as I left.
That evening he waited for me, eyes blood-shot, knee bouncing. “There's been contact,” he said before I was fully inside. He leapt up and locked the door. “Rollington. He's in Spain, of all places! I kept Googling until I found an email address that didn't bounce back and he responded, asking me to call him. After a few moments of pleasantries, I cut the bullshit and asked point blank about the ice wall and the website. He said we should meet in person. I'm going to head out tomorrow.” He paused. “I hope that's okay. I know your research—but didn't Francis Picabia spend some time in Barcelona? Maybe while we're there you can find something.”
“Actually, I'm almost done with all I need.”
He squeezed my shoulders and kissed my forehead. “Hoo doggy.”
“Actually, I'm catching a plane in the morning, back to New York.”
“Early?” He sat down on the bed.
“You know this isn't going to amount to a hill of beans,” I said.
“Us?” he asked after a minute.
“The ice wall,” I said, though I meant both.
“This ain't all vines and no taters,” he said. “I can feel it.”
“I'm not stopping you,” I said, “but I'm not joining you either.”
Back in New York, I finished my thesis, graduated and took a job at a magazine in Midtown. Mostly I edited copy and ran for coffee, but the nights spent walking through cement parks made it worth it. I figured the Canadian had found a suitable distraction, a senorita in Spain with pretty, bare feet, a healthy knowledge of wine and more patience for Dixieland jargon than me. I had met someone in advertising. His deeply parted undercut and Hugo Boss suits made him the Canadian's opposite in appearance and politics and I was quite alright with that.
But then I received a postcard. It was blank except for my address and a postmark of two months prior, mailed from Chile. Another came the following week. The final card showed up ripped and stained but with his unmistakable small print: It's real.
The ad man saw this and held it up as I uncapped two bottles of beer. “What's real?” he asked. “Is this some campaign you guys are doing? I told you, if you needed someone—”
I handed him his IPA and took the card from him. “That's a joke from someone I used to know,” I said and tucked it, with the others, between a pair of books on one of my shelves.
“I shouldn't feel jealous, should I?” He looped his finger around my belt and pulled me close. Laughing, I shook my head and ignored the creeping unease. When I kissed him he tasted like hops.
A week later, we returned late one night to my studio door having been kicked in.
“Don't go in,” the ad man said, already reaching for his phone. I pushed forward and found my stuff spilling from shelves and drawers onto the floor. He grabbed for me, but I stepped away.
“There's no place in here to hide,” I said. “Just help me pick this shit up.”
“Shouldn't you wait for the police?” he asked. We cleared a spot on the couch and waited. When the officer knocked on my door, I jumped. The ad man let her in.
“Was anything stolen? She asked.
“We didn't want to touch anything,” I said, looking around. My bike, my television, a pair of spiked Louboutins a friend had lent me—all were still there, “but I don't see anything missing.” She said she'd file a report and suggested I get a sturdier door with a better lock. “Thanks,” I said, and muttered, “for nothing” under my breath as she left.
The ad man spent the night and while I wasn't the clingy sort, I kept my one arm linked through his and my leg curled around his waist. Throughout the night I awoke breathless, thinking I had heard a boot against the door. Trying to fall back asleep, I listened to the city, mostly silent so late, except for a helicopter, its chopping whir not fading before I did.
This became my new nightly pattern. Wrenching awake in fear and then listening to the helicopter to lull me back to sleep where I dreamt of the Canadian. He hiked through a blustery blueblack void, stopping over to look over his shoulder at me and whisper, It's real.
The ad man was staying over again the night I woke from the dream realizing the Canadian had already told me It's real on the postcard. I slid out of bed and, using the streetlamp outside to see by, began pulling my books off my shelf.
“Hey,” I whispered toward the ad man. “Hey.”
He rolled over and blinked at me.
“When you helped me put my stuff away, did you see any postcards? Remember the one you thought was a promo?”
Since we were both awake, I flipped on the light. “I had a few postcards tucked away, but now I can't find them. You didn't throw anything away, did you?”
“Turn that off,” he mumbled. “Get over here. I'll help you look in the morning.”
I relented and crawled back under the covers because I knew the postcards were gone. That's what whoever had broken in had wanted. “It's real,” I said to myself.
At work, I found the Canadian's father's company phone number. The receptionist who answered sounded like she were dressed head to toe in bubblegum pink and I pictured Barbie with her azure eyes and oddly bent arms. I sensed her plastic smile melting from her face when I asked for the Canadian's father.
“He's not in,” she said with a voice that could chain a rottweiler.
“It's really important,” I said. “It's about his son.”
The line went silent and then a booming voice said, “You need to stop concerning yourself with my son.”
“Mr. Dulles, my name is Celia Monahy and—”
“I know who you are. Stop concerning yourself with my son.” The way he said it made it seem like he was trying to do me a favor. The click of him hanging up the phone sounded like a prison door slamming.
Dread, a bicephalic beast, followed me the rest of the day. It had two voices, each only able to repeat one line.
Stop concerning yourself.
Stop concerning yourself.
I knew I couldn't stop, the voices or myself.
The city rushed through me like wind through a sieve and I rushed through it. At the library I jockeyed for a computer, not knowing what to look for, not knowing what I hoped to find. Emailing the Canadian got my messaged bounced back at me. Googling him brought similar results: Nothing. Everything I tried: Nothing. As though it could sense I was on the edge of giving up, the voice repeating It's real started screaming.
“Shut up,” I said in a whisper at first and then a shrill cry. Library security appeared and I dashed past, making my way out into a sunlight blocked by a helicopter. That familiar sound that shouldn't have been soothing but was. I stopped to listen and feel my heartbeat slow down.
“Miss Monahy?” A man in a dark grey suit and black sunglasses latched his hand onto my elbow. Onlookers would have seen the gesture as proprietary but friendly, as though this man with the unremarkable face were gently leading me to lunch. “Miss Monahy, you need to come with me.”
How quickly the voices stopped once they realized even though I could hear them, I had no option left to help them. How quickly my body relaxed. Ducking into the back seat of a silver sedan, I settled back into the cool black leather and enjoyed the silence.
About the author:
Shae Krispinsky lives in Tampa, FL. She used to front the band ...y los dos pistoles but now either does the solo singer-songwriter thing or her cat-rap purrformance art project, Purr Purr Purr. As founder of the Adventures for the Adventureless Club, she joins a merry group of explorers around the weird and wacky Sunshine State. She writes for Articulate Suncoast and her fiction has appeared in Vending Machine Press, The Milo Review, Drunk Monkeys and more.