When they came to the door I was in the kitchen, weighing the evidence against a fly that was trapped behind part of the open window. I could use last month’s LeisureLand brochure and beat it to death. This sentence amused me the most. Or I could catch it using a plastic cup. That was the second option. All the cups here are plastic, so we don’t hurt ourselves, so we don’t suddenly fall into a spasm and jam a wine glass into our eye. That much I’ve surmised. Alternatively, I could stand here trying to coax the stupid thing down the little gap between the two panes of glass to freedom, and whatever natural, inauspicious death awaited it out there, in the never-ending heat. The coma of heat we’ve come to. The windows are still glass I notice. Another oversight to make note of. I keep a list and recite it whenever anyone comes to visit. Not that they come. Aeroplanes have plastic windows, if I remember correctly. Even if I manage to get it out, it’ll probably be eaten alive by a spider, in the nook of some storage facility. Are there spiders here? Come to think of it, there aren’t many flies either. I wonder what they do with them? A gentle and completely inconspicuous rain of insecticide washes the town every fortnight, making life intolerable for all insects, didn’t you know that Robert? So this, this rogue beast, is some entirely new species. I leave it to bang itself breathless and go to answer the door.
The thing which LeisureLand has to its advantage is this: no one can remember very well what came before. Children, grand children, half cousins, step nephews, all that, they’re the ones who arrive every year or two, to sit on our couches and remind us, or half remind us, of the old world. To be honest, it’s hard to say how long I’ve been here. It’s in everybody’s interest, this forgetfulness. It seems to make less and less sense out there anyway, from what I can judge.
I remember this, this futility, from a thousand years ago. My own grandfather used to make lewd jokes and smoke a pipe and drink two bottles of whiskey a day. Or three. We’d sit in the horror, (in photos we’re still sitting there) with our bad haircuts, our itchy looking clothes, out of some obligation on the sticky leather of those couches. Christmases, birthdays, Fathers days, then just Christmases, then nothing. Then nothing. Am I like that I wonder? We speak about my body. My most humiliating grievances seem to interest them very much. They even take a certain pleasure in the whole thing, I’ve decided, enquiring about my cantankerous bowels while they sip my lemonade. God. But I vowed not to become a bitter old man. Who are you again, I think as I tell them about the enormous trauma of just taking a shit.
They pull up in their golf buggies, every now and again, laughing and sweating and calming down as they approach the door. Visitors are obliged to swap their car for a golf buggy at the gate, they can do less damage that way. Every idiot can drive a golf buggy. The streets are full of them. Full of young, bright faced, slightly dreary people up close, saving money for a year or two by driving golf buggies in endless circles around LeisureLand. They get out and inspect things. They feed the dolphins with microphones attached to their heads, they pick us up when we fall over and take photos for the record so we don’t sue them. They delegate to the not so young people, the Porto Ricans mostly, or some similar Spanish speaking demographic, who come to do the real work, the cleaning up of things. The courteous business of spraying things down, of carrying things away.
We need certain assistances, but we are actively encouraged to retain our dignity and our sense of independence. I don’t know what would happen if they stopped coming. The food people, the ones who take us to the waters edge to gape at the trained animals. The gym team. The pain easement specialists. The appliers of sunscreen.
The resentment fades. No. The resentment changes. Its learns to resist. It becomes some new species of mood, circling in the nook of my heart.
I can gaze out the window, from here, toward the twenty metre wide environmental buffer zone and listen to the water being turned on and off, the gas being employed, the coronary system of secret energies hidden inside the walls of the buildings. The fridge throbs, but you cannot hear the highway. Not from here anyway. We live in a blaze of greenery. The neighbours can be called-to, if need be and that’s encouraged. Helping one anther fosters a sense of community. For more urgent requirements we carry an alarm system around our necks at all times, in case we cannot get up. For the moment this is my preferred method, since the apartments on both sides now are empty, have been empty for days. As in most villages, pre-loved homes become available from time to time.
But that was then. If I still speak like all is well in LeisureLand, it’s because I don’t remember much else now, and I want to hold onto it. At some point, you realise, you’re all alone in here, just you and your mind playing tricks. Your conjurers mind – pulling rabbits, chopping ladies in half, throwing knives while you wait in the empty auditorium for your heart to give way. An octopus has three hearts. I just remembered. And some sharks eat one another in the womb, before they’re even born. I don’t know why these statistics come into my head. The conjurer, as I’ve said, is more or less running the show.
The heat was 36, at least. I was in the kitchen, looking out through the buffer zone toward the highway. In five billion years, I thought, the earth will be swept by a tsunami of darkness. A stellar tide will pick it up and carry it for however long into the mouth of the sun, like an offering to some monster, where it will be swallowed up. Was it too early to have drink? A fly was caught between the two window panes and was going mad because the world looked so real. I didn’t hear them arrive. They arrived with the silence of two vipers, I might later say.
When they came to the door, the heat was 36. I could hear water gushing somewhere. Secretly. I opened the door. Two men were standing very close to one another, there on my doorstep wearing, I can’t remember exactly what they were wearing actually, but looking, let’s be honest, a little tattered. Things in leisure land don’t get tatty around the edges but blossom and grow, and the gentle ambience becomes all pervading. Would you like ice tea or lemonade, I offered, thinking quickly, but it won’t be necessary, they said, are you ready? What group is today again, I asked, a little anxiously, because the days must have begun to slip. You’ll see about that, and it seemed as if they were talking together, at exactly the same moment. You’ll need some good shoes though they said all at once, and, slipping past me into the apartment they began to look around for my shoes, to peer under my bed.
They sat me on the couch, so to speak. In any case I found myself sitting on the couch while these two men knelt and did up my shoelaces. The swift, economical gestures of men trained in such things.. Out on the street they had me by the arm, and they led me toward a golf buggy and gently touched my head like policemen do, in films I remember. All’s well now that we’re in the buggy I thought, though upon closer inspection this thought didn’t seem to hold much water. The two men were in the front, bouncing up and down a little on the pebbly track, and every now and again one of them would turn over his shoulder to look at me and smile brightly, flashing his teeth.
We came to a stop at the gate. The man in the booth smiled and said something I didn’t catch, to which I smiled back and we climbed out of the buggy with our ticket and walked over toward where the cars were parked, slowly because I am old and I have osteoporosis and high blood pressure and the two men understood this, were paid, no doubt, to understand this. It was bakingly hot. Teams of visitors were getting in and out of cars – troops of bright coloured children trailing after their parents through the maze of vehicles, playfully inflicting their obscure little cruelties on one another. And I half thought, well, this is a little adventure, as I let myself fall into the back seat of their car, some sort of Ford, I think, but new or newish and had the door closed gently on me by the two men.
How wide open the world was as we drove out of LeisureLand. We passed service stations and takeaway food places and the occasional small block of scrub, where a few horses were picking at the grass. How long had it been, since I’d seen all this stuff? We passed strange warehouses, and two-story office complexes with demarcated staff parking attached and a place called SexyLand in big pink letters. How brightly the coloured flags flapped above the car yards. And how insane it all seemed, how purposeful and exhausted and terrifying – these buildings and signs and roads and people driving, like us, through the bleak midst of it. I felt a rising wave of nausea pass, and a little tumour of fear put its spurs into the tissue of my stomach and clung. Recklessly I pressed the window down, and took in a burst of the world’s air. What the hell’s going on, I yelled out. Who approved this stupid exercise? One of the men turned to look at me. You have a long way to go, I thought I heard him say above the sound of wind, you should get some rest, and it was true, I felt exhausted all of a sudden, laying my head back against the upholstery in resignation and closing my eyes. The window rose of its own accord and I could hear the two men saying something to one another in the front. I couldn’t make anything out, but then, I remember, I was on my hands and knees, listening to a scratching sound, which seemed to be coming from beneath my bed, from a long corridor of darkness, where something was moving. In the dream I was pressing the emergency alarm around my neck again and again, uselessly, and then I began to crawl in after whatever it was. Too much darkness beneath ones bed, a faulty alarm, these were other things to put on the list of oversights I thought. A person could get trapped under their bed looking for their shoes, with no recourse to help. The scratching was getting louder.
When I woke we were driving through the night down a road lined by trees that continued further than you could discern into the darkness. The sound which the tyres made on the road was smooth, even soothing, it was a decent road though we were far from anywhere it seemed, but above this noise was a constant ticking, the staccato sound of insects – moths and little fruit flies (and something else like rain), hitting the windscreen in their thousands. It was discernibly colder than before. I rubbed the window clear and looked out into a whiteness that struck me like a page from an old encyclopaedia I had loved as a child. The world beyond the road was being gently and unrelentingly buried by a drifting hail of ice. Snow, of all things, I thought, realising that I had prepared, in my way, to never see such a thing again. I felt something in me weaken its grip. One of the men turned from the front and handed me a plastic cup, with a red plastic straw sticking out of it and a small packet of something, biscuits. Then the man produced a rough woollen blanket and, twisting in his seat, began pulling it up over my knees.
Maybe I dozed off again. The world doesn’t hold your attention like it does when you’re young. They’ve come to show me snow, I thought, these two bastards, and it made about as much sense as anything then, I supposed, as I watched the world falling softly through the foggy glass.
When I woke again, the car had stopped and the men were shaking me. A weak morning sun was coming up coldly behind them and snow was drifting into the car through the open door. They helped me climb free of the back seat, slowly, and I heard myself complaining about my bones, though I barely had time to stand there shivering, wrapped in the blanket before I felt them take me by the arms and lead me out into what I supposed had once been a field. Now everything was dazzlingly white. The ground sunk and crunched beneath our feet and steam came pouring out of us. A wind was rising and we bent into it, the three of us, squinting and breathing.
They led me through the haze for a long time and then we stopped. This is where we leave you, they said. I turned to them, standing behind me and it seemed then, through the squall, as if they were joined somehow, like Siamese twins, or like a snake born with two heads.
That’s your direction they said, pointing toward more nothingness, keep going that way. They smiled at me and turned and I saw them disappear into the sleet-mist just like that. I stood there like an idiot for a minute, getting frostbite no doubt and not knowing what to do. I looked again at the direction they had indicated, and then, since what choice did I have, I tightened the blanket around my face and stepped forward. The snow was being blown about in circles now and even if I’d chosen to turn back I wouldn’t have known which way to take. That’s how I began to walk, slowly, through every pain. Sometimes a man doesn’t come out of a snowstorm.