There was to be no funeral service for Alexander Rilke. That had been his request, not to have one last marking of his existence, but instead to fade into the abyss of death alone, quietly. Rilke was gone and his departure had left the world exactly as it was, except for the powerful effect it had on the life of Amerwitz, who rose each morning set to the task of meticulously reading each of the dead man’s journals. These were almost hieroglyphic to any other man, but to Amerwitz it was as if he were reading his own handwriting. Each word seemed to take on an emotional relationship, strangely conveying the expression and cadence of spoken language. Each day the dead man’s handwriting greeted Amerwitz with a growing familiarity; the characteristics of the tangled mess of M’s and indecipherable vowels became more and more distinct to Amerwitz. With his flair for numerical systems, he adapted to these cryptic symbols adeptly, reading nuances of phrasing within them; the text to him seemed to express emotion, a depth of meaning, conveyed as though spoken aloud.
The journals on the aesthetics of the animal kingdom of which there were many, were gleeful and expressed the joy of someone enraptured with the natural world. Yet there were darker scripts, in which Rilke’s handwriting became a more violent expression; the journal on anatomical dissections and other theories, for example, were of a more dense and complex scientific language that Amerwitz could not completely understand.
Wallace paid Amerwitz a visit each week, bringing food and discussing what had been his findings over the previous week. There had been three weekly visits so far, which were now Amerwitz’s only real marker of time. Out of the sunlight, he spent his days locked away in Rilke’s cavernous library. His task, a compelling distraction, gave him an existence justified now by the work of reading. It was as if the deep void that his disappearance had created in the world had been filled by this new vocation. He was like a hunter with a primal feeling for completing his labour as though his very survival depended on it.
In his weekly visits Wallace never asked Amerwitz about his old life. Both men silently acknowledged that Amerwitz was a refugee from another reality. They would sit quietly as Amerwitz wrote a list of things he needed; stationary, toothbrush, and preference of canned goods etc. Wallace would also bring newspapers with their descriptions of what was happening in the world, but Amerwitz simply accepted them graciously and placed them under a pile of Rilke’s papers, not once tempted to look at them. It was as though Amerwitz was rewriting his world from scratch and that during this delicate operation any clue, any prompt, could send him recoiling back into the life of David Cain.
Apart from Wallace’s weekly visits, the only other human sound he heard was his own. This at first was strange, having spent his life living in New York. The silence of being alone was like another universe completely. He would speak passages of books aloud to fill the room with sound, to feel how they hung in the acoustic of wood and paper that was now his world. His sense of sound had, in this silence, become more sensitised, allowing him to hear every creaking utterance made by the room, which, as though breathing with a constant inhale and exhale, seemed almost alive, a strange phenomenon mostly caused by the vibration of the waves from the beach nearby. The entire place, it seemed, was kept in rhythmic time by the lapping tide of Coney Island and Amerwitz now stepped into motion with its currents.
One week, upon Amerwitz’s request, Wallace had brought a small dictaphone so that Amerwitz could record notes as he was reading, the scale of his labour now being so immense and rapid. These audio notes would fill the blankness of the room, creating an eerie duality to his solitary confines, as though in this reverberated voice he was in someway duplicating himself. In this machine he had a companion, a voice that would repeat his stream of consciousness at another conscious moment.
His solitary life could now, from the outside or to any other man, be compared to a prison, yet Amerwitz felt something more close to freedom than he had ever felt in his entire life. It was as if this new existence was his true self, each day measured by a journal and by how many pages he must read to become closer to what he was searching for. His new life here nearly obliterated any memory of David Cain and his existence. Amerwitz was a different man, adrift in another man’s darkest thoughts. He could not let Rilke rest. Each day presented the possibility of finding, somewhere in this impenetrable library, the answer he now pursued with a rigour similar to that of David Cain’s pursuit of money. The accumulation of tiny daily pieces of the puzzle only left him ravenous for more.
For Amerwitz, his new passion bound him not to the world like other men’s passions but to his incarnation as Amerwitz. This was all he knew now, this room, Alexander Rilke and reading. The reading was like a salvation, his mind constantly awash with another man’s words leaving no entry for David Cain’s memories. If his mind wandered into the territory of questioning his old life and what he had left behind, he forced himself into Rilke’s journals, absorbing Rilke’s words, filling his consciousness, not with his own thoughts now, but with Rilke’s.
Perhaps it was the particular cadence of Rilke’s writing that allowed for this eradication of thought. Rilke had written all these years for no one but himself. Like a whisper in a dark cave, the words were intended to dissolve as soon as they were spoken, but here, Amerwitz was resurrecting them, reanimating their bodies, speaking them aloud in the darkness to bear them back to life.
What had puzzled him most about Rilke’s writing was that he had for all those years written only for himself. It was as though the act of writing was the only way to obliterate his memories. The thoughts and ideas Rilke expressed never pursued any argument, they were written without thought of the reader, or anyone who might, by chance, stumble on his words and try to make sense of them. They were therefore not communications of ideas within the world but instead those operated on the level of consciousness itself. Now re-awoken by the reader Amerwitz, it was as though Rilke’s consciousness was alive and operating in tandem with his.
For Amerwitz, each day presented the opportunity to live within another man’s consciousness and to Amerwitz this was his true salvation. He, the mutable automata for the reanimation of Rilke’s great mind, was like an avatar existing to revive the dead man’s thoughts.
The ‘Sisyphus Gene’ was the name Rilke had given to the dark green leather books. These were the most undecipherable of all Rilke’s works, thousands of pages of tiny lines marked on a grid on transfer paper, scrawled with heavy violent notes along the margins. Amerwitz knew that this was key to unlocking the secret of Rilke’s law. The abstract mapping on the grid paper followed a pattern which, although unintelligible to him, was recognisable as a map of some kind, no doubt a complex mapping of human genomes. More curious though, were the notes with which Rilke narrated these sequences. Each margin was filled with complex, detailed ideas on possible relationships between each dot, each tiny strain of protein molecule knit into a symbiosis of meaning by each other dot that circles around it. Forming, embodying, becoming real; each alignment of particles purposely fitted another. To Amerwitz this made absolute sense, the cause and effect of it all. Every microcosmic incident linking to another had been the exact logic of his previous world of financial systems. It was as though the system he had known innately had another incarnation; logic and reason linking all incidents in the system together with each protein particle drifting through its microcosmic universe, binding itself to others, a chain of necessary allies in the motion of being in the world. Each moment pressing forward along a destined path, through sinews, pulsing through blood and flesh, electrifying nerve endings, thoughts, impulses and actions. It all made sense to him, the logic of it all. Its system was like an innate knowledge to Amerwitz. In parallel to his own world of trade, symbiosis and brute survival, it seemed there was a connection between all of these systems, from the monstrous beast of the market to these complex scientific calculations of Rilke. He has always seen the market as an anatomy, limbs connected by muscle and flesh. Perhaps that was why he was so adept as its master—it was like an extension of himself, a limb he had not discovered at birth, but once revealed to him, felt thoroughly connected to his body. He could conjure its actions, will it to move.
This was his secret skill. It allowed him to see differently from other men. He could predict its motions and understand that there was indeed pattern to it all. Even when in chaos (all chaos after all has a pattern) his former life’s skill had been to decipher a pattern. There was a code, a secret transmission of what to do next. That was what had been his special talent—David Cain could see pattern in the market, appearing before him almost as an apparition, as a thickly woven tapestry that could only be viewed once you stood at it from afar. Where other men could not make the connection, Cain could see it coming, the pattern being the key to his mastery of capitalism. He knew that the true understanding of what Rilke had spent his life searching for in these details, would be in deciphering a pattern to it all.
But there was one tiny red square, made by Rilke in each genome map, which identified one piece of the puzzle that was unexplainable. Amerwitz knew that whatever this tiny red square meant was indeed something that bothered Rilke and escaped all the logical justification of every other facet of his meticulous mapping. The tiny red square was an anomaly, something that seemed not to follow the rules and logic of Rilke’s calculations. When it appeared in the genome patterns, all hell would break loose in Rilke’s chaotic script. It was as though it was a character, an entity appearing to disrupt the order of the world Rilke had created.
The red square bothered Rilke, and now Amerwitz was subject to its whims. Each time he followed a train of Rilke’s thought, to find a resolution, it would appear like a road-block taunting his expectations. It also appeared as a symbol, a notation within other texts. Rilke had marked books in his collection, on literature, history and biology, with this tiny demon. As Amerwitz again leafed through the book on the architecture of Dresden, one that Rilke had shown him the night they had first met, he noticed something he had not seen that night. Throughout the book, markers created by this tiny red square dotted the text and photographs. Statues of angelic forms were mutilated by red squares, obliterating their faces. It seemed as though they had spread like a virus from Rilke’s genome drawings to all the other texts in the library. Most chilling of all was that the photograph of the hippopotamus, a sombre floating creature, had been almost obliterated by the red squares. This was not how Amerwitz remembered it from that night with Rilke. It had been pristine and un-interfered with then.
Had Rilke, that night, defaced the image with these red poisoned markings as a final act before dying? This had left the most potent clue as to the meaning of these markings. Amerwitz knew he had been close to Rilke that night, close to a revelation that would tie these symbols within the pattern he was searching for. The realisation that each book in the entire room was now part of Rilke’s puzzle served only to increase Ameritz’s workload. He would now have to decipher every single book within the library to find the pattern and logic of this viral image.
The arrival of the red virus had given Amerwitz sleepless nights. When he did eventually sleep his dreams were haunted by the tiny forms. Each night they would visit, penetrating the darkness of his sleep with crimson shape. The hippopotamus had mutated into a large elephant, violent and screeching through unconscious moments. In one of his most disturbing dreams, he saw the elephant limp and motionless, hanging from a scaffold. This macabre execution, imagined in his dream, became an inescapable monstrous apparition that taunted him. The dream was so vivid and real it was a though he could physically feel it.
Something about the cold of the dead elephant’s perforated skin shook Amerwitz. His mood of hopeful inquisitiveness, the passion of discovery in his new world slowly turned into a dark isolated tunnel of thought. Each day, Rilke’s books, which had earlier offered solace and refuge from his own thoughts, now triggered deep nightmares from Amerwitz’s subconscious.
A thought then occurred to him, a thought so piercing that once it occurred to him it could not be removed from his mind. Perhaps by reading Rilke’s rants each day for weeks, he had absorbed the dead man’s world so much so that it was now fixed to his own unconsciousness, his mind being not his own, but shared with Alexander Rilke. Like a dark master, Rilke’s shadow fell across Amerwitz’s every thought, mutable and mutated by this as though possessed by a spirit. He wanted an escape, but something within him drew him to this room, his body unable to leave the mausoleum of Rilke’s ideas.
One day, feeling slightly dizzy and gasping for fresh air he staggered to AR’s door. However, his exit was halted when he was gripped by panic at the sight of the sign in the window. The previously auspicious image of a joyful elephant, which he had first observed illuminated that day with Wallace, now took on a deathly echo of his screeching nightmares. He quickly ran back into the library away from the mocking image: it was his only attempt to leave for the past few weeks and it’s gruesome abortion cemented his status as prisoner within Rilke’s word bound tomb.
His relationship with Wallace too had become strained. Lately Amerwitz had become more and more frantic. Something had changed between them he was certain. The bundled copies of the New York Times had ceased to arrive; Wallace was now only bringing the bare necessities. On the previous visit Wallace had sat in silence as though trying to figure something out, measuring each expression on Amerwitz’s face for tiny clues. This week it seemed he had found part of the puzzle he had been searching for and he relaxed into a kind of cruel knowledge. He asked to see evidence of this week’s findings, his role as sole supplier of food and other essentials, now ushering in a new-found air of confidence. He demanded a transcript of the dictaphone tapes and any other research. Perhaps his early encounters had been a kind of courtship, tentatively cultivating a paternal friendship, gently coaxing the novice’s investigations. Now this disguise as benign elder had dropped away, revealing a grimacing truth. Had this man tricked Amerwitz in some way? Was there something more to this place? His isolation producing a deep paranoia, Amerwitz had begun to suspect that Wallace somehow had gained access to the room while he was sleeping. Each morning tiny little changes occurred. Books he had placed out for reading the next morning had been replaced by others and opened on specific pages. And suspicion was heightened when Wallace arrived one day, not on the regular Sunday, but as a random intrusion. It angered Amerwitz that his secret world here could be ruptured suddenly without warning. Wallace seemed panicked, demanding that Amerwitz return the dictaphone to him. Amerwitz had used it to document his readings from the first week and had merged it now with his own thoughts; it was an extension of his cerebral self, shared flesh and mechanical object. He barely allowed it out of his hand. The raspy voice, this counterfeit Amerwitz made of metal stretched across taught tape, born down here in the darkness.
What only a few weeks ago had been a tool, a machine of practicality to record, to archive, had now taken on a voice, perhaps even a conciseness, of it’s own. The voice had moved further and further from any recognisable version of Amerwitz, as though his own voice were betraying him into these violent rants held within the machine. Now venomous and tortured, they would catch him off guard, even seem to be in conflict with his own ideas, arguing a contrary theory to his finding. Wallace too could tell this, as though the voice emerging from the machine was a more sinister version of Amerwitz—a deeper, older, gnarled sound that was no longer a sonic mirror to Amerwitz but rather a distinct voice of its own.
‘Mr Amerwitz, I think you have become too deeply involved in this business of Rilke’s law. I worry about this. Whatever dark theory it is that destroyed Alexander Rilke’s life, seems now to be having the same effect on you. Perhaps it is time you returned to your own life, and leave Alexander Rilke’s to the dead. I cannot keep coming here Mr Amerwitz. It has been months now. I have other clients Mr Amerwitz and the world is not as it was a few months ago. Rilke left a small sum, mainly in investment bonds that I use to buy food and supplies for you each week, but this is dwindling… Last year it might have been considered a lot, but not now. With the collapse, wealth is not what it once was in America Mr Amerwitz.’
‘Wealth in America’ the two words stood together, a brotherhood of sounds when spoken aloud. There was an accusatory air to his statement. Perhaps Wallace has found out who he was. The silent past that sat between them for weeks was now bursting into the light. Maybe he was a wanted man now, his face emblazoned across news-stands, and the name ‘David Cain’ ticker-taped through the streets of New York. He was certain Wallace knew something, an answer to his obsessive questioning that he would not reveal. Wallace would always leave within an hour, almost exactly as though the room itself might penetrate him and bind him to it. He knew the spell it could cast, the trap that would hold the visitor in the grasp of timelessness, just as it had done to Rilke all those years ago and now to its new captive, Amerwitz. He would never stay longer than one hour this was sure. The two men waited the last ten minutes in silence, each knowing that there was an unspoken confrontation, each wordless in accusation of the other. Then Wallace rose, leaving the supplies—a bag of canned food, bread and three packets of cigarettes—stacking them in their usual place in the cupboard before quietly exiting the room, pausing only to exchange a glance at Amerwitz. The glance was an assurance that he would return next week. Like Amerwitz, Wallace was bound to this thing now. Part jailor, part prisoner, his weekly visits to Rilke’s library were a dark duty now to which he was captive.
For a moment Amerwitz experienced a slight pang of guilt following Wallace’s departure. Wallace, the only other living soul who knew of Amerwitz’s extisence, the two men though strangers were allies now in this burdensome task, a equal conspirator to his deathly investigations. Perhaps he had been too harsh, his paranoia forcing him to take out his frustrations on his only companion. Wallace had, after all, brought food these last few weeks and if he did know the truth about the tangled Amerwitz/Cain identity, he had certainly kept it within his trust. But this brief sympathy was soon dismissed as suspicions of Wallace’s secret visits were enflamed again. Amerwitz arose one morning to see that a book he had placed for reading the evening before had been removed from his desk and was replaced by another. He looked around the room to discover how the intruder had gained entry, before approaching the book, The Circus in America . It was not one he had seen before in Rilke’s collection. It was a hardback picture book containing photographs from the history of the American travelling circus. He flicked through pages of growling lions and whip cracking masters before landing on a page that seemed to be turned down slightly at the corner—a marker taking him to the correct spot. A horror like no other he had ever felt before struck him. Before his eyes was an image, morbid and crueler than he could have ever expected. The image was of a large elephant hung from huge industrial scaffolding. He looked closer to see the smiling faces of men as they proudly had their photograph taken with the tragic beast. The image was an exact replica of the strange apparition from his dream. Here, in the flesh of an image, was sealed a deathly curse on Amerwitz. His entire body was overcome with remorse as though this image contained all the sadness of the world. In the animal’s flaccid, lifeless body was communicated something to Amerwitz in that single image, more than volumes of Rilke’s scientific prose. He peered at it closer to harness its full revulsion. It seemed to be an old image taken perhaps at the turn of the 20th century. It was too awful to be imagined to be a fake, the smiling faces of the men, something about the look in their eyes said that this was true, this miserable lynching was real. He scanned the image further, and there in the bottom left hand corner was what he had been looking for, Rilke’s tiny red marking, brandished its authenticity. It was indeed confirmation that what Amerwitz had dreamt and was now seeing before his own eyes were somehow all connected to Rilke’s dark project.
Amerwitz’s elephant had entered his consciousness like a foul spirit guide. He knew it would lead him to the true horror of which Rilke’s theory had been hinting, yet how had it penetrated his dreams before he had seen it in the photographic flesh? Did his subconscious now belong entirely to Rilke? Were his dreams nothing more than footnotes to Rilke’s fiendish apparitions? He needed to find out more about this image; the horror of it was unimaginable. The book itself was stuffed with clippings from local papers from a town called Erwin in Tennessee and it appeared that the ghastly event happened on September 11, 1916. ‘Murderous Mary’ was the headline, ‘Hung for murdering circus keeper, Red Eldridge’. ‘Rogue Mary Hung’. The story told how Mary, the 20-year-old elephant with Spark’s travelling circus had been led to drink water in the stream by her inexperienced roustabout handler. When she bent to pick up a discarded piece of watermelon by the side of the road, her handler, anxious that he not loose control of the mammoth in his care, poked her sharply with a nail-ended stick which sent the otherwise calm elephant into a rage. Witnesses reported seeing Mary knock over Eldridge against a drinks stand before crushing his head underneath her foot. The town of Erwin bayed for Mary’s blood until she was publicly executed from one of the lumber derricks in the old railroad yard. Crowds of onlookers watched as Mary’s body was hoist up by an iron chain, The newspaper descriptions told of how the first attempt failed as Mary’s massive body was too heavy for the 1,500 ton chain. Eyewitnesses reported how the animal’s body creaked as her pelvic bone shattered on impact with the ground. When the second attempt to hang Mary succeeded, the initial cheers of town folk to murder the elephant had been dampened by the gruesome event itself. Spark’s Circus moved on to the next town but something had changed forever in the town of Erwin. This image sealed the town’s fate. The former lumberyard stood silent and empty, local people tried to forget what they had seen and been part of, but the memory of what happened that September evening was inescapable. The town no longer looked to the future; it was sealed now forever in the image of the hanging elephant.
The town of Erwin was now also in Amerwitz’s mind. That dark business with the elephant meant something and his dreams that night were filled with sinister cavernous tunnels, each one swirling toward the next, greeting him at every turn with mutated circus hands, dragging him further into something, deeper underground. He felt a physical pain through the night as though his unconscious body were being snapped at with tiny pins. His waking conscious did not present any relief. His body was limp and his hands, now the only part of his body that presented any visual recognition of self were pale, the veins blue and standing on end pushed through the skin as though they too had been witness to last night’s dream world trauma. As he searched through his wooden food store he noticed how things had been rearranged, his coffee packet had definitely been opened. His paranoia was fierce but Amerwitz was indeed a meticulous man, each detail of his world in this tiny room was familiar and he had mapped his existence within it exactly. As he turned to examine further evidence he made out an envelope on the table in the centre of the room. This was not his doing. The letter, a glass of water adjacent to it, was addressed ‘Mark Amerwitz’. This small tidy white paper presented the evidence that he indeed was not alone in this place. His heart raced as he sat down and slowly unsealed the envelope.
Dear Mark Amerwitz
I have been watching you now for some time. Your findings on Rilke’s
theories are of great interest, and your passion and dedication to your
work here are admirable. I know you have many further questions as
to the full extent of Rilke’s work, in particular Rilke’s law and what this
exactly means. I too have been studying his work for many years
now; I hope I could answer some of his questions for you. However
your recent mental state seems erratic and I only ask that before we
meet that you please take one of these, therefore I can be assured
of my safety.
The signature ‘H Rilke’ struck him sharply. He was torn between the indignation of being spied on possibly for weeks now and a compelling need to follow this to a conclusion, even if it was not on his own terms. The letter had enclosed a capsule of diazepam, he would have to ingest these pills to be allowed to meet this mysterious H Rilke, but who could this person be? The letter mentioned Rilke’s theories. The promise of answers to these questions was too enticing. Amerwitz’s mind was racing, his sleep had been erratic for days now, filled with dark visions. The pills did not seem like such an awful idea to him now. He had recognised them immediately. In his former life, Michelle had always kept a prescription in her nightstand, a trusted ally for sleepless nights and moments of the dark depression which she silently endured. Its effect afforded her a pacified sleepwalking through the world, the almost there, but not quite-ness, of a true somnambulist. Its necessity was an unspoken fact never uttered as dependence. Diazepam. He paused for a moment to pretend it was his choice, as though he still had the will to choose whether or not to follow this to its conclusion. Amerwitz had been sucked deep into the heart of this thing now. Like the labyrinth of his dream, it was turning and unfolding now, and he was a helpless passenger to his own fate. He held the drugs in his hand. His eyes pulsed against the back of his brain. He felt an overwhelming fatigue from his sleepless coma. At least they might allow for some respite, a drugged moment of calm away from the frenzy of this shared subconscious with the dead Rilke he had been experiencing. He took the glass of water and swallowed the white pills and waited.Jesse Jones is an artist from Dublin Both excerpt and images are from part of Jones’ From the Centre of the Elephant , an ongoing project. More information can be found on the project website: centreoftheelephant.wordpress.com