Vapor, page 25
“It was wrong of you to write that letter, to ruin my career,” said Nathaniel.
“No. It was wrong of me to have been the cause of my brother’s suffering. So now, finally, justice will be done.”
“You’re bluffing. It’s a ploy to get me to free her.”
“No and yes. I’m not bluffing, but it is a ploy. The truth is that my greatest deliverance would come if you killed her, and yet out of love and guilt, I feel I should make an attempt to save her, and the only attempt I can make is to tell you that my greatest deliverance would be if you killed her. That is what would truly put me at peace; I would then have suffered as much as my brother suffered.”
“Anna, did you know you were going out with a weirdo? It must be very disappointing to discover this on your deathbed.” He paused and turned to Damon, “So you’re telling me that the ultimate pain for you would be the pain of not having the pain. But you know, I think I’d rather simply give you the pain of having the pain.”
The phone rang. Nathaniel answered, saying, “Etiquette hot line,” and then said, “Actually, I’m sorry, that was a slip, I’ve quit my job and am no longer an etiquette expert.” After listening for a moment, he said, “No, please don’t insist. It can’t be that urgent. No, please.” He sighed. “All right. You say you’re at your own party and a woman has walked in with dog shit on her shoe, and she’s spreading it around your living room carpet, and your question to me is: Can you tell her? The answer is no, or you will forever spoil your relationship with her. Chances are the damage is not increasing but decreasing with every step. She will eventually notice the problem on her own and clean it off in the bathroom, and she will never reveal that she was the culprit. You’re welcome.” Nathaniel hung up.
Just then, there was an explosion at the door. Damon’s brother, Philip, entered the room in his wheelchair, holding a gun, an antique sword lying across his lap.
“Take that bag off her head,” he said to Nathaniel, who happened to be gunless, having placed his weapon aside after Damon handcuffed himself.
Nathaniel hesitated a moment, and obeyed.
“Now untie her,” said Philip.
Nathaniel obeyed. Philip tossed me the sword.
“Uncuff Damon,” said Philip.
As Nathaniel did so, Damon stabbed him in the arm with a hypodermic needle.
“What are you doing?” asked Philip. “Will it kill him?”
“Eventually,” said Damon. “In a few days.”
“That’s too long. I don’t want to wait that long. I want to kill him now.”
“Okay, but wait a minute. Take off your clothes, Ben,” he said to Nathaniel.
Ben just stood there and did nothing, as he became light. “I feel light-headed,” he said.
“No, you feel light, period,” said Damon.
“Do what he says!” Philip shook the gun at him.
Ben took off his clothes. He hopped up in the air and did not come back down. Damon had overdosed him; he was clearly past zero.
“What is this?” said Ben. “Am I dead?”
“I suppose, in a sense, you are,” said Damon.
“One sense is not enough,” said Philip. “He must die in all senses of the word.”
Philip rolled his wheelchair over to me and grabbed the sword from my hands.
He rolled himself under Nathaniel, who tried to swim away, in air. Philip slashed and poked his sword at him, but Nathaniel was too light to be pierced significantly. Each strike from the sword only caused him to bounce away, escaping with barely a prick.
When he reached a wall, he would push against it with his feet, to propel himself away from Damon, who came to retrieve him. Damon would tap him back, like a balloon, toward Philip’s sword. Sometimes he simply tossed him back to Philip, who swung the sword at him like a baseball bat, sending him flying off in another direction, with a shallow wound.
Nathaniel begged me to make them stop. I did nothing.
The phone rang. Damon picked up the receiver and listened. He then hung up, and said to Ben, “The woman of the party said the damage did not decrease but increased and that you can expect to receive her carpet’s cleaning bill.”
Philip continued trying to stab Ben, but unsuccessfully. So finally, Damon lifted Philip out of his chair and raised him over his head. They were standing under Nathaniel, who was hovering horizontally, face down, near the ceiling. Philip stabbed Nathaniel through the stomach, tacking him to the ceiling.
Nathaniel screamed, and then gurgled, as blood floated out of his mouth. Philip dislodged his sword from the ceiling, and was placed back in his chair by his brother. He shook the Nathaniel-topped sword like a baby shaking a giant rattle. He knocked and banged Nathaniel against the floor, cutting the sword through his stomach further.
It did not take long for Nathaniel to die in every remaining sense of the word.
Philip slid the sword out of his victim, and the bloody corpse was left to float around the room while we fell asleep, exhausted from the turmoil. When the serum wore off, the body gently landed on Damon, who woke up with a low scream.
We didn’t talk about it for three days, but finally Damon brought it up. He could tell I was upset about him having told Nathaniel to go ahead and kill me.
“No, I’m not upset,” I said. “There’s nothing you could have done, right? It was a ploy.”
“What if I’m still tempted to kill you?”
“We’ll cope with it. We’ve coped with it before, we can cope with it again.”
“Oh, reckless Anna.”
Personally, I knew how I would deal with it. I would make light of it. If I saw him staring at me dreamily in the kitchen while holding the big kitchen knife, I would wave my hand in front of his glazed eyes and say, “Hello!”
And if I woke up in the middle of the night and found him standing over me with a sword raised, I’d say, “Can you please grab me a tissue as long as you’re up.”
I wasn’t sure what I’d say if he pushed me toward an oncoming subway train. I’d think about it when it happened.
Maybe I could get a whip with which to punish him if he tried to strangle me again.
Maybe I’d take a class in self-defense.
Maybe I’d keep my pepper spray on me at all times.
But things didn’t have a chance to come to that. A few days after our conversation, exactly a week after Nathaniel’s death, I found Damon floating around my living room, clearly weighing nothing. He had overdosed—I was certain of it. I knew it the instant I saw him, and I was overcome with such disgust and horror that I almost vomited.
Firmly, I said, “I want you to step on the sensitive scale.”
“It’s not necessary. What you think is the case, is the case,” he said.
I burst into tears and rushed over to him and grabbed him and lowered him and said, “What have you done?”
“I can’t live with you, Anna. You must know that. We have to accept it finally. I’ll kill you. We can’t have a life together.”
“Damon, how could you do this? I can’t live without you.”
“But with me, you won’t live.”
I was sobbing and hugging him. “You just had a problem. It could have been fixed.”
We didn’t know how long it would take for him to die. I wanted him to find a cure. After pressuring him to no end and convincing him that his murderous impulses could be toned down through psychological counseling, or maybe even through antidepressants, he finally agreed to try to find a cure for having become more cloud than man.
He locked himself in his lab for hours on end, searching, or so I thought. It turned out he was searching, but not for what I thought. He emerged a week and a half later with a big solid cloud. He had achieved his life’s goal before dying.
I was furious. I shouted at him and my breath blew him away. He grabbed onto my clothing to anchor himself to me. I accused him of b
Part of me wanted to detach myself from him emotionally, to diminish my suffering when he died. I marched out of the room, slamming the door, which he later asked me not to do again for it made him flutter around.
I tried to persuade him to spend the remainder of his time looking for a cure. I told him I’d help him, that he could tell me what to do. He refused, confessing that he had only pretended to believe he could be rid of his murderous impulses and masochistic tendencies. He didn’t want a cure, and even if he did, he said there wasn’t enough time to find one—he could already feel the rain coming. He wanted to spend his remaining time with me. So he did. It turned out to be three days. He spoke about my life, my future. He gave me advice, wished me happiness, told me how much he loved me.
And then he made love to me on the cloud. I retained my full weight, no longer willing to lighten up. I felt the cloud engulfing me, swallowing me, as if out of grief, the way I was swallowing my tears. The cloud felt too wonderful. It clashed with my pain and sadness. Damon and I should have been making love on a hard bare floor. A prison floor, perhaps.
I cried while he made love to me on his cloud. He had invented this heavenly thing, but at what cost? This was perhaps the last time we would ever make love. I held on to him tighter. Even though he had overdosed and therefore was now, technically, more cloud than man, he didn’t feel different to me. Except perhaps that he seemed more perfect than ever, more suited to me, made for me. He was my complement.
He pushed me toward the edge of the cloud, so that my head was leaning back, no longer supported by his invention, hair hanging down, swinging. I wanted to fall off on my head, if possible break my neck. But Damon didn’t let me. He pushed some of the cloud under me and covered my mouth with a kiss, suffocating me; my nose was filled with tears. I turned my head away to breathe.
I didn’t want to come. I couldn’t bear the thought of it, knowing he would soon die. But I couldn’t help it. It was cruel of my body to play this trick on my heart. Afterward, I lay there, feeling vague. Vaporous.
I wondered if the loss of fluid had brought him closer to death. Each kiss might have taken minutes off his life. His climax: How many hours might that have taken off? And that mist on his forehead, right now, was it stealing precious seconds from him?
Damon was content—I had come. He was kissing my breasts, my shoulders and neck, aware I was upset, but feeling content. I wished I could just evaporate and see how he’d feel then. I pushed Damon off of me and rolled from the cloud. I went in the bathroom, locked the door. I sat in the empty bathtub, the shower raining over me, my head against my knees. I focused on the hard cold surface I was sitting on, which I had craved.
Damon knocked softly on the door. “Are you okay, Anna?”
I took a deep, angry breath. “Yeah, I’m great.”
I heard nothing more from him just then.
It was the next day, when I returned from the kitchen, that Damon was crying.
“Why are you crying?” I asked.
“I’m not crying.”
“Yes you are. And why are you perspiring?”
I said, “Is it the end?”
“Yes, I think I’m raining.”
We didn’t even know. We had to see it happen to be sure. And we did. And we were.
He took off his clothes and I helped him step into the bathtub. I took off mine and stepped in after him. I didn’t want any of my clothing to absorb any of him. I didn’t want to lose a drop of him. We lay down, he on top of me. I held him.
“I can’t live without you,” I said.
“Yes you will. You’re strong. Do it for me, Anna. My love. Good-bye.”
I kissed him, and my mouth got wet; the water dribbled down my chin.
As he rained, he became less opaque, more transparent, like vapor. He was harder to see, his eyes harder to find on the tiled background, his outline harder to make out, his voice harder to distinguish from the distant hum of traffic.
And I had some questions left, that occurred to me when it was almost too late, inevitably. I asked them, but I was no longer sure if the voice that answered me came from him or from my mind.
The last thing I heard was, “I love you, Anna.” It was a whisper, like a breeze.
“I love you too,” I said loudly, but there was no answer. “Did you hear me? Did you hear me?” But I heard nothing.
My hands were now against my chest, and he was gone. I saw nothing and heard nothing, not even my own mind.
I was lying naked in his shallow water. I laid there a long time, bathing in him, surrounded by him. I was crying.
“I can’t live without you,” I repeated, hoping it would bring him back.
His water cooled, and I sat there still, shivering.
When I finally got out, I dressed without drying myself and went to the nearest kitchen-wares store. I would waste no time preserving his water. I didn’t want to lose any of him in the drain, in case it leaked slightly, or through evaporation.
I was crying as I looked in the store for what I needed. But I couldn’t find it. I knew what I was looking for, but I couldn’t remember the name of it, so I went up to the salesman and tried to control my emotion as I said, “I’m looking for that thing that’s used when people die, to put their water into a smaller container.”
He stared at me blankly, shaking his head. I persisted.
“It’s the instrument that is used when people die, when you want to transfer their body into a jar and you don’t want to lose any of their water. You would use this instrument for that, for the transference.”
He looked at me without answering, stunned. He finally said, “I don’t know what you mean.”
I drew the outline of a funnel in the air, with my hands. I said, “You pour water in the top, and it goes into a container with a smaller opening.”
“A funnel?” he said.
I didn’t recognize the word, so just stared at him no less blank than he had stared at me.
He led me to a funnel, and I nodded and sobbed more, and took the funnel and paid for it. I did not like the look of the funnel. I did not like the sight of it.
I stopped by the supermarket and bought four gallons of water. I emptied them on a corner of the sidewalk, and carried home the now much lighter four empty plastic containers.
I scooped Damon’s water out of the bathtub with a glass, and poured it in one of the gallons via the funnel. It was a long process, but I continued until the four gallons were full. Then I bought four more gallons at the supermarket and repeated the procedure. Then again four more gallons. I continued until I had filled up twenty gallons with Damon’s water. When the water in the bathtub was too shallow for me to scoop, I mopped it up with a sponge and squeezed it over the funnel, filling up two more plastic gallons. Finally I was done. His water took up twenty-two gallons.
I placed the gallons in my bedroom, near my bed, and the days began to pass. Sometimes I left the caps off, sometimes on. I did all sorts of things with the gallons. I tried to listen to the water, in case Damon could speak to me. I peered in and tried to see his eyes.
Before dying, Damon had left me lots of Light Serum (as we came to call it); enough to last me for the rest of my life, in case I wanted to be light a lot. He left me its formula, to do with as I liked—it was up to me to decide if I thought the world needed it, could benefit from it; he said he didn’t care about the world. He should have known that I didn’t care about the world either.
Anyway, I couldn’t get myself to release the formula as long as I was grieving. It would be too frequent and painful a reminder of him if everyone started being light all the time and
He also left me the formula for solid clouds and for small clouds. In addition to these elaborate instructions on paper, he had told me, in simplified form, the solution for solid clouds: it was to take the water by surprise, to abruptly change the speed and pattern of the whipping. It was a sort of trap that tricked the water into a position that was very unnatural for it, a position where it was no longer free, it was a prisoner of itself, it couldn’t float apart: each part of it was attached to the other.
I kept the solid cloud in my bedroom, and kept my bedroom locked; I didn’t let anybody go in. No friends. No one. At first I kept the solid cloud in my bedroom closet; I didn’t want to see it. I was still angry at Damon for creating it instead of working on a cure that might have saved his life. But eventually I started sleeping on the solid cloud, occasionally. Damon had said solid clouds last a few years before they rain.
I didn’t release the formula for solid clouds either. Having people riding around on clouds, everywhere, wouldn’t be great for my healing.
And I didn’t inject myself with the light serum. I had no desire to be light; my heart felt too heavy.
I missed Damon unbearably. I continued acting in films, but I always carried with me at least one of his gallons. And when I’d go out to dinner, I’d bring a small part of him along in a very pretty little glass bottle in my bag. I even had a vial on a chain around my neck, in which I carried an even smaller part of him, against my breast. Sometimes I unscrewed the tiny lid and spoke to the water inside, like talking into a microphone. Sometimes I just unscrewed the lid to let him in on the conversation, in case he could hear. I often told his water that I wanted him to come back to me, that I couldn’t take it.
My grief may have endowed my acting with additional richness and depth, for I was nominated for an Oscar. I went to the Academy Awards, about nine months after Damon died. For the ceremony, as a tribute to him, I injected myself into lightness, down to one-twentieth of an ounce. I wore heavy shoes to compensate. I won the Oscar for Best Actress. I went on stage to receive the award, and I made my speech.