Pyama (first chapter draft)
I have in my hand the deed to the building. Pulled it from the pages of a book Yukyo left me. The deed’s not exactly in my name, though the name is mine. In any case it is on my person. The person I became three weeks ago. My story begins when I return from South America, where I wouldn’t have been had not everyone insisted. At first I don’t even recognize the shop fronts as part of our building, but since the driver asks me where to stop, the fact occurs to me. We get out of the cab, he helps me with my drums and I thank him for the ride. I wonder what has happened to the building. Did it become more exclusive while I was gone? Arthur is dressed in black. Also helps me with my gear. Oh, there’s black ribbons in the windows. Before I even ask, he tells me Mr. Pyama died. I know Yukyo Pyama as the founder of our building. But when it comes to getting to know a man, nothing beats his last words. Yukyo is quite particular:
“The corridor also runs through the fourth wall,” he says. Or so says his doctor.
“But the doctor does not insist upon the fact,” Arthur notes, meaning these may not have been our landlord’s very, very last words, and he spurs me on to see the great man out this afternoon. He will leave through the D corner lobby, and some people from the building will give him a last salute. I promise to be there. Indeed I find the notice of Mr. Pyama’s death in my letterbox, on top of weeks of unread mail. Some of it I mailed to myself, often with a hangover, so I’m happy with everything that arrives. The stamps read Brazil, Chile, Peru and Venezuela. The one from Mexico has not made it yet. Have I actually sent it? I open the mail in my apartment. Was the journey worth it? I don’t want to decide yet and tuck the fruit of my labor away in my safe. Stack my drums with the others. The first second in the shower I can smell Jennifer. She washes off. I turn on the news.
“What the footage does seem to show,” the newsreader says, “is Queen Beatrix actually tripping the general on the lawn right there. Next to her King Filip of Belgium, with whom the general has just inspected the guard. Is that a frown or a smile on his face? And Queen Elizabeth, further to the left, seems not to have noticed at all…until now, as she does see the general getting up on his feet. Can we run it again? Yes…there…she definitely sticks out her foot.”
“Glad you could make it,” Arthur says when I show up in the northwest corner, just in time to see the people in the lobby forming what deserves no other name than a corridor, for the coffin to pass through, which it eventually does. I look for a fourth wall. Nothing seems to qualify, except perhaps for the sliding doors behind the crowd, which stand out as a wall compared to the revolving doors in the other corners of the lobby, and lead to the garage. I keep an eye on them, even as the coffin passes me, but I see no one using them. In retrospect I know there was nothing to see. At least not the lead I was looking for. I do see Rex Mortimer, general director of the building, who speaks in our name when he bids the founder and owner a last farewell, reaching for the top of the one revolving door that separates us from the street. He unlocks a bolt or a hinge, folds the door away in two parts, making room for the coffin to pass, which the coffin does, then folds it back in place, as a sign to us mere mortals that we still are to leave the building through the garage, should we ever die here.
“The fourth wall is imaginary,” says Chris de Sitter, whom I pay a visit in my black attire, but I don’t understand. “Though it should not exist anymore,” he adds, as he welcomes me to his apartment. Now at least I know just about what he means. He is talking about a wall that used to be in the building before 1998, the year it stood completely empty. “There used to be a theatre. Now there is only the auditorium, and I doubt if that, by definition, has a fourth wall.”
“I think you mean the oratory. Suppose Mr. Pyama knew something about the building that no one else has lived to remember,” I reason. “Something he wanted us all to know. Suppose he has his doctor promise to inform us, pretending this imaginary wall was the last thing he brought up, then drinks another rice wine, before he comes to realize what is truly the last thing on his mind.”
“And that is?”
“Something infinitely less mysterious.”
“You don’t know?”
“I was being poetic, Chris.”
“Okay. I suppose that if he wanted us all to know this, it’s not just about a corridor that was forgotten,” says Chris, while he pours us each a glass of Pernod. “Perhaps he wants you to see where it leads.”
“Me? What happened to us?”
“Who knows what kind of people share your interest?”
“Perhaps nobody, Chris. That’s why we should try to find it. Haven’t you ever wondered why the building stood empty?”
“I’ve wondered how they ended every lease.”
“So they’re that kind of people. What if the doctor lied throughout, and Yukyo Pyama didn’t die, and is now waiting at the end of that corridor for the mob to come in.”
“Right,” says Chris, but we weren’t right. Yukyo would have waited for his Buddhist friends. You probably expected him to leave them the building, but in my humble opinion, he hasn’t. I will lay the deed aside for now, so I can use both my hands to write the story.
I joined a club at the beach. A movie club. Actually, I started it, or so they say, before I went to South America. All I suggested was to use my projector and show a movie on the blind wall of the B tower, instead of using the big screen TV. So on Friday evening we are watching a snakeskin tale called Wild at Heart when we all hear a loud bang coming from the wall, like someone threw a baseball on a vent. It is a vent, and another bang knocks the frame straight out of the wall, leaving a hole in our picture as it clatters to the ground. Out the hole comes an arm, it seems, and a...tail? I aim the remote at the beamer in my window and switch from picture to bright light. The figure in the hole is a monkey. It ducks and yelps at the light, drops a yard, shrieks and dangles from the rim, before it drops the last four yards to the marble floor. We’re all surprised, but Chris is ecstatic.
“The theatre! An old theatre!” he exclaims, as he pulls my arm. Seeing the monkey make it to the edge of the beach, about to hit the concrete ocean, I rush inside to get the janitor, feeling somewhat responsible since the projector was in my window and I believe the light may have drawn the creature out. Gerald is not in his office, so I take the elevator all the way down to the first floor, where I find him with a colleague. On our way up I describe the monkey, with its long tail, black hair, and bold face, but it is already gone from the beach as we arrive. Am I sure it wasn’t a burglar in the vent? I am sure it was a monkey and so is half the movie club. Sure. The other half stands at the end of the beach to see if the monkey jumped over the edge. According to Gerald the vent belongs to the offices of Kiki Teppo, a fashion house from Kobe, in the south of Japan. I would say that over half our building is used as office space. It did stand empty once, all seventy-nine floors, with a minor exception. One I mention to Chris, who has dragged me by the arm around the corner of the B tower, and inside, supposedly to find the monkey, but actually to test his theory. Walks me past the freight elevator, which is tucked away in the corner we just rounded on the outside, toward what should be the back end of the Kiki Teppo office. He slides his finger along the wall. “You see, there are no doors along these walls,” he says to me.
“On top of the C tower there’s a weather station,” I reply, “that was still in operation when the towers were closed. Maybe they have heard about an old theatre.” By his silence I can tell that he appreciates the thought. Still no doors on this side of the hall. He smiles as we turn the corner. Doesn’t have to say a thing. Just holds still in front of the big aquarium, which fits so neatly in the wall. In the wall or in a niche? One that may have been a door? It would have been a big door. Two perhaps. Like the entrance to a theatre. I ask Chris what he is looking for.
“The corridor also runs through the fourth wall,” he states quite dryly. In the back of my head I hear: ‘They say the eagle flies on Fridays.’ That’s where I have cut the movie short. I do get to show the end of it, once we’re back outside and I’ve been up to inch the beamer to the left. Even Gerald watches. I guess he also monitors the hole. By the time we are folding up the chairs he says he believes us. There is no burglar. I consider the corridor. It also runs through the fourth wall. What else does it run through? Chris is poking Gerald to come see the aquarium. Gerald, however, is waiting for Al Muzika, the Kiki Teppo office manager, who had almost made it to Buffalo for the weekend, but had to turn around because of the burglary. When he finally arrives, he is okay with Chris and me coming along with Gerald, though he does take a picture of us, to send to his wife as proof of his detainment, before he walks us to an office entrance. One I had not figured as an entrance.
We won’t find the theatre, nor the monkey. Not tonight. I do spend it dreaming of the corridor, at least of being on a motorcycle, crossing the hall into an office, keeping the machine upright as I corner the cubicles. I recognize the scene. It’s straight from a game called Grand Theft Auto. So I hit the gas and burst through the window and out of the building, and just like in the game, I land on a lower rooftop. I can’t see the ramp that’s supposed to be here. How do I get to the next roof?
“...and therefore the Prime Minister and his Cabinet are responsible for whatever the Queen does,” the TV says.
“But she hasn’t actually upset anyone in the thirty years of her reign?” asks the newsreader. This morning it’s Jim Clancy.
“Not outside her realm, as far as we could dig up. Though there are people upset with her, who are actually upset with her father, who died some years ago, for there is little reference to what she said or did in her life. That is all kept for internal consumption,” a commenter notes.
“About that, what do people in The Netherlands make of this? Is she admired, or criticized for what she did?”
“About what she did? Well, I’ve heard someone say today that the critics are slow to respond, since they are careful, not knowing the reason she had. So perhaps, as we speak, the admirers have the upper hand.”
“We’re talking of course of Queen Beatrix, who tripped General England, who despite his name is a Swedish national, on the lawn at Laken Palace, which I mention because you previously called it the Laken Incident.”
“That’s what it’s called,” Jim is told. My job requires some attention. Six hours worth. Which is odd, because... There’s a knock on the door. I know who it is. Daisy. Brings me the dog, surprised to see me at work, since when I saw her last night in the hall, I told her I was suspended. I smile politely. I don’t believe it is right to keep a dog in an apartment building, but when I made the mistake of telling Mrs. Pinter so, she appointed me as her dog walker, so I could show him the wide open spaces I must presume exist in the city. Him being Ray. Of course, in the lobby and the elevator I am seen as the kind of man who cramps a dog in his apartment. Or so I think. But also as a guy who offers him a home. He is good in the subway and in the park he hears me up to a hundred yards. Once I was followed by a detective. I hadn’t noticed, but it proved how much Mrs. Pinter cared for her dog. She gave me a picture of me and Ray to put on my desk. If I had one. I don’t. So she could not but stay curious. Today I want to take Ray to the Bronx, but I never leave the building. War breaks out.
Ray starts it in the elevator. Barks even before it reaches the beach. As the door opens I see a dog Mrs. Pinter has warned me for. Ray jolts. I hold. The other dog is in the way of the other elevator. We have to cross. It’s not a handsome fight. The dogs break a pot that is holding a yucca. I look at the other dog walker. We have to keep the dogs apart, so I, leaving first barks unsaid, insist to be the one who will go to the janitor. Gerald. His door is closed, so I decide to fess up when I return from the park. Yet I find him downstairs in the lobby, like I did last night, and Ray must have seen the front door’s appeal. I explain about the yucca. Gerald takes us up again, views the damage and clears it up. I ask him what the broken pot will cost me. He shrugs as Ray dribbles impatiently across the floor. Says I can buy it myself. They are sold downstairs, in the C corner, the northeastern part of the building. Saves him the paperwork. So I go and buy a pot just like the one Ray broke. I also see the bamboo chairs like we have on the roof, or the patio, as Daisy calls it. She walks Ray there. Ray? I lost him and should have known. I bite my lip. Narrowly see the chum running out of the store, leave my change at the counter and follow him off the floor, carrying the pot down the stairs and back to our private lobby. For a moment I doubt his mastery of the revolving door, yet by the time I’ve made it through myself, Ray is gone from the lobby. So is the doorman. I place the pot aside, next to another one just like it, and walk to the front door. The staff is giggling. Outside I see the doorman walking my dog on the edge of the sidewalk. Just in time, as it appears. Of course, I shouldn’t have taunted him with the outside light. Now he is done. Runs back in, yapping at the elevator. I can only shrug and take the pot upstairs. Gerald says I should be glad he did not do his business in the store. He knows how I feel about the situation. I help him fill the pot.
“Are you still here?” asks Mrs. Pinter. Ray heard her first, as she came down the stairs.
“This is Gerald,” I say.
“Mr. Mills,” she nods politely. “Did you do this?” she asks Ray, pointing at the yucca. Gives me a frown. I tell her about the other dog and how I lost Ray at the store. Finally she asks me: “Who is Jennifer?”
“Someone you might have seen at my door,” I answer. I had forgotten about Jennifer. “Did you speak to her?”
“Yes, on the phone. You must reach her at once.”
“What did she say?”
“As I explained...”
“No, Daisy, what did she say literally?”
“Oh, was it code?”
“I hope so.”
“I believe she wanted me to ask you if you would make it to the phone right away.”
“Would or could?”
“Does it matter? Could. So, shall I walk the dog, or do you want to use my phone?”
“He’s already been.”
“Indeed,” she says, as she hands her phone at my gesture. “It’s the last call,” she adds, so I call back the number. Jennifer answers surprised, for she did not expect to hear my voice for another hour.
“I hung up on you yesterday. Had to play a movie,” I tell her, hoping for her to pick up where we left off. She doesn’t, so I say: “I got some work done today.”
“Deveraux wants to renew the contract,” she finally says. “Now that you’re not here,” she adds, as if I didn’t figure that out myself. I tell her I saw a monkey. And not to worry about Deveraux. He is peanuts.
“Your spy at the office?” wonders Daisy. I just nod. Ray wags his tail. Gerald wants to say something, probably about the monkey, but he is too shy in front of Mrs. Pinter. She steps away, toward the doors, to let Ray reach the first marble slabs of the beach and us have our privacy. See, he wants to run. Gerald takes the opportunity to share his doubts with me.
“According to the map of the building, we saw the whole office yesterday. At the north end Kiki Teppo comes to within fifteen feet of the elevators. But...”
“...the map could be off? Maybe that’s what Mr. Pyama is trying to tell us,” I figure.
“So you say. And you also say there’s room enough for a small theatre to the back of their hindmost storage rooms, but I don’t think it adds up to the thirty foot the two of you believe are still missing. Yet...”
“...we did not find an air-duct?”
“No, I was going to say: yet I’ve seen the aquarium. It’s a prop,” he concludes. I don’t understand. “That means we’re not that far from a fourth wall,” he smiles. And assumes I know. But I don’t. “In theatre, the fourth wall is imaginary,” he tells me eventually, “supposedly between the actors and the audience, and exists as such to deny the presence of the audience. As if what happens on stage is not a play, but something that actually occurs between four walls.”
“So is Chris right? Has there ever been a theatre in this building?” I ask him, and he nods. Though he shrugs as well, so as to say he knows not where. Daisy comes in with Ray. She has a twinkle in her eye. I am sure she saw the monkey. She just doesn’t want to say.