The Monk And His Guardian
God Inhabits the Evening
An ecstatic itch, a nibble, gripped him at the waist and without fastening his belt, he knelt to pray on the cobbles where he had just urinated. His robe, already damp, drank the liquid like an animal. His skin burned beneath his dirty clothes. It was all part of his conversation with god. There would be others, under different circumstances. The night was prepubescent. God would sit alongside him as he pinched its ripeness.
He wandered the gray streets alone that night, his guards and hangers-on dispatched at the last revel, and absorbed the dirt mixed with the city like a fluid that carried holy disease. Crows and other scum-colored birds watched him and he watched back. He touched people he passed under the streetlights, women mostly but men too, with his eyes. His eyes demanded a connection, almost physical. They hurt without it. Eyes that felt the need to carry god. To put god inside of people. To gift them love and fear.
Spoke to the lice in his hair as he lurched drunk on vodka and foreign wine, headed off to love the whores. He let his hands brush against old women and reeking trashbins he passed in the street. He tried to slip the thought of his tongue into the minds of people leaving restaurants. He had seen the entire city contained in an egg that afternoon, with the palace like a flame in the center. He wanted to lick the egg. He knew it would happen.
The whores did not suffer from the visions he suffered. They did not see that the world would burn, but they had their own problems to live with. He belonged to the whores, he thought. Peasants, workers, and autocrats. The palace and the roominghouse. The city and the distant hills of his birth. The world belonged to him and he to it. Suicide rates had tripled in the countryside and he could feel war coming. He belonged to the living and the dead.
The rat appeared like a demon. Ran out in front of him and died. The whores could wait for his body. He bent down and picked the rat up. The animal was cupped in his hands now. He squeezed softly, as he would a tender breast. It was not yet dead, it was only dying. He let their breath touch. We are all only dying, he whispered. If the rodent were to live, it would be forced to meet death twice. There were always options to be weighed. The rat disappeared into his eyes.
Journal Excerpt: Late Summer, 1914
August 15 – The continent is set to burn in the west and I am left to guard the backwards wizard in his apartment. The apartment is five bedrooms on the second floor of a roominghouse in a factory district I have never had the occasion to visit before. I sit downstairs, out front, beneath the arch. I loathe the people who walk past. I miss my station outside the Winter Palace. I take no pride in my current position.
I have been here since the end of June when the wizard was sliced opened by a syphilitic lover, her face too disfigured for him to recognize her until she had her knife in his sternum. It happened the same day as that archduke was shot. The world has changed since then. I no longer bother to polish my boots. Nobody admires them. The wizard spits on them when he slugs past in the night. I hold my breath when I am near him. Dark clouds are anchored above the building.
August 20 – The monk came home stinking of anise and insulted the concierge’s wife. Then pinned her to the wall and licked her face before pounding upstairs to his apartment. I watched in the doorway as the woman leaned against the wall, shaking, terrified and flattered at once.
September 2 – A battle I did not fight in. The enemy arriving in trains. I picture them consolidated, a single colossal mass of pointed helmets. Our armies were crushed. 80,000 dead or broken, I am told. I get my news during my shift break. When I am guarding his door, no one speaks to me.
I pray for the hard lives of my countrymen now more than ever.
September 10 – He came downstairs this morning with the tip of his cock out, talking into his beard about god. His speech starts and stops like a cockroach sneaking in the parlor. He halts, then rambles, then suddenly halts, starts singing. They say he has a wart on his penis that brings pleasure to the insides of a woman. I could not see it.
September 12 – I am reviled by many for my current assignment. I can feel it in their eyes when I tell them who I work for. The other guards tend to him at parties, follow him to the brothels and clubrooms. They dervish to gypsy music, milk him for ass and drink. There are guards with other, more tenuous assignments who are said to pay him to them keep away from the front. I stay behind and guard the apartment. I tell myself that I am looking after his daughters.
September 13 – I read the paper and see cartoons of him, black spots like rotten caviar in the places where his name has been censored. I listen to his séances at night. Women laughing and moaning at his god. I hear it in my dreams. The other day, I went home eager to hold my wife and eat bread with my children at the table. I do not have a wife. When I got home my house was empty, as it should be. Is madness catching? I fear I am cursed, not at all once, but a curse that comes on slow like a disease.
September 17 – I would fight the war rather than sit at my post beneath the arch, waiting for him to ooze in and out of the building. Last night he squatted next to me and left a shit. He spoke to me about the weakness of the labia as a part of the anatomy. I am still somewhat unfamiliar. His shit was like a tiny mountain. I kicked it into the street with my boot.