I went looking for Erica. She was missing for years. I was worried she was dead. The Erica I knew had become an excavation. Her boundaries had blurred. In the street she became invisible holding a prism. That gave her a breakdown. She changed into something else than she had always been until I watched her slip away then vanish completely. She blew me a kiss she slipped down the stairs fell into a hole. She left without saying a word. I forgot about her for awhile, but I kept having dreams I could not cut her from. I knew then I knew I had to find her. That I still loved her or at least believed in her I knew. I knew I had to help her. She was in trouble she was in pieces she needed me. So I set off on a journey, carrying pictures in my head pictures in my head of Erica and what she meant to me. In retrospect, I knew she had not been silent. She had warned her family and friends but nobody had paid attention. Like a cat, Erica had always had a talent for landing on her feet, no matter what happened to her, and everyone assumed the same would happen now, myself included. But Erica stumbled and stumbled again, and then she fell. None of us believed what was right before our eyes, because we were unwilling to accept the simple truth. Erica had fallen. Erica was gone. Weep weep for Erica for Erica has fallen. MEMORIES OF ERICA Erica grew up on a farm in Ohio. Erica grew up in a city in California. In a beehive hut. Erica moved around a great deal when she was a child. Her father was the sky. Her mother was the earth. Her brother was deformed, a hunchback crippled by childhood disease. As a child, Erica had been sick too with an illness no doctor could diagnose. But this passed after awhile and she grew up in perfect health. From an early age she displayed a talent for doing things out of sequence. Her family then lived on a mountain beside a railroad track. One day she told me that a bird had dropped a prism which she picked up and crawled inside. Spending years there. Wet as a sheet and shot full of cortisone because they didn't know what it was. Eventually Erica got out of prism and went down from the mountain. She was still young but not a child anymore. Locked in the prism her mother and father broke up and left Erica to fend for herself. Packing everything she owned, which by now was only her prism, Erica left the mountain and went down to the highway where she thumbed a ride. She didn't know where she was going, only that she would not stay where she was because to do this was to break up in her own light. To support herself Erica worked at a succession of odd jobs while attending college. She had been a nanny she had sold shoes she had tended bar she had waitressed she had given out fliers on the street. In college her major had been art history. To to make ends meet she had to be inventive, she said. She'd buy honey oats at Pathmark at the sale price then go to Key and return them at the regular price she'd pocket the difference. She changed long distance phone companies every month just to get the cash incentive. She would stuff nickel roles with slugs and trade them at Chinese take-out stores for quarters then run. She also played the lottery. In her spare time she played in an all-girl rock band and hung out at a local bar where she shot pool to music on the juke box and drank beer until she got sick. Thursday and Friday mornings she listened to car horns blare outside the window and old telephone messages she'd forgotten about. She also did portraits on the street once she did one of me I still have it somewhere. MY RELATIONSHIP TO ERICA I was married to Erica for many years. We met when we were young and fell in love. I was Erica's brother. I tried to give Erica what she wanted but she became vindictive and turned away from me. In the end she said she hated me and that there had never been anything between us to begin with. She was my sister. Erica complained that she held down a job all day and made all the money in the family. She accused me of not working, of being, as she put it, "a parasite" and of "living off her back." This was bullshit. I never took a penny from Erica. I supported her for years while she worked at a succession of dead-end jobs. I never failed her. It was she who failed me. I went to war for Erica. I risked my life in Vietnam. Erica sent me Erica sent me to war to war. I was part of a line platoon in a province near the Cambodian border called Bin Duong. We rarely made contact with the enemy. When we did they were black shadows in the bush, firing at us, then disappearing. I carried Erica's picture with me all the time. Sometimes I would take it out and look at it, not realizing how much Erica had changed while I was away. I was wounded and lost my arm. It was one of many pieces I lost for Erica over the years. I came home with a purple heart. Erica and I lived in an apartment overlooking a park. The apartment was small but it had a nice view across a vacant lot of the lake in the park. Then one day I awoke to the sound of backhoes tearing down the fence that screened off the lot. Soon there was a construction crew putting up a high rise apartment building across my window. They worked for two years straight and it got so loud you couldn't hear yourself talk. When they were finished my view of the park was missing. The building they erected blotted out the light the light the light there was nothing I could do about it. I began to have dreams from the darkness of the building that had stolen my light I began to dream of Vietnam. Erica told me to apply for mental disability but I was too proud. I was still in Vietnam and I was dreaming of home. Erica always had been a drinker but now she began drinking seriously a bottle of vodka a day and sometimes a six pack of beer. She would get high and go to work and never came home. Meanwhile the building outside my window kept stealing more of my light. Also now there was another window across the narrow alley separating our two walls this window had been closed. Until now closed this window had been now I saw it open. From across the alley in the window there was a face. This face I thought I recognized. I thought this face belonged to Erica. I watched the face in the window of the building that was taking my light away grow larger and the face grow larger as my light grew tiny until one day the face in the window stretched out a hand and handed me a carpet. I took the carpet into my apartment and looked at it in the dimness. The carpet was embroidered with scenes of my life. The past, present and future were all there. I sat on the carpet and stared at it. Before the darkness engulfed me I fell into the carpet and disappeared. I woke up inside the building across the street. I was in one of the scenes in the carpet. I had moved into the apartment in the new building across from the old apartment in the old building. I got up and looked out the window but there was nothing but darkness across the alley. I shivered because I had been inside that darkness as my new building sucked up the old building's light and I felt like a part of me was still lost inside there. For awhile Erica and I were happy inside our new apartment. I was able to help her stop her drinking and she came home from her job pretty regularly. The arm I had lost in Vietnam had grown back since we had moved into the new place. But then Erica sent me to other places to do other things and I lost an ear and part of my other arm. Sometimes we traveled together. We took trips to Italy and France where we did all the tourist things and spent money we never really had. Then the bad things began to happen again. I had a dream where Erica had made a surprise birthday party for herself where she invited all her friends. She had either baked or ordered a large cake especially for the party and at one point the cake was cut into pieces there was a piece for everybody. I got one of the pieces but inside my piece there was a little chunk of the darkness I thought I had left. As soon as I saw the chunk Erica shook her head and said she knew it would be me who got it and she was disappointed as usual. I asked her why and she said that I had cost her the child she had always wanted to have and that she hated me for it. In the dream I turned to the window where blackness hung and inside this I now saw a poinpoint of light and a voice told me to bury my piece of cake in a far corner of the park. I went into the park in the night with the cake and buried it in a secret place. The cake grew into my arm. I heard laughter and when I looked up the light grew in the old building for the first time. After the party the drinking started again. Erica behaved like a bitch and cursed me out in the old ways she used to. She began abusing me in a lot of different ways I'd rather not talk about here. Then one day I sat on my carpet and fell inside again. I awoke across the street and Erica was gone. I picked up my phone to dial my number but the voice I had heard in the park told me that the number was disconnected. Erica was gone. I never saw her again. I kept seeing myself a lot though joined together like before. In the window in the window in the window. A PERSONAL STORY CONCERNING ERICA This is the time I took Erica for laser surgery. When I first met her I was homeless and Erica was living pretty much on the streets but had found a job doing some kind of office work at a public relations firm. Erica got the apartment and put down a deposit but I still wasn't living with her then because I had other commitments at the time. Erica said she would sit by the window and watch the headlights of cars spiraling out of the park at night when I was elsewhere lonely lonely lonely which is when she began drinking. She lost her job and had to make payments. I was deep underground my pieces scattered in the park by then I didn't help her she said. She said she had once worked in a whorehouse run by the mafia performing acts of bondage on men who wanted their asses whipped. She got her old job back but one of the tricks turned on her and raped her tearing her up inside she blamed me for it. To support me because I had no job. Erica developed fibroid tumors as big as grapefruits she said. She went away for surgery came back with half her ovary removed. Years later she said she had developed adhesions her organs sticking together inside pain tearing her up the pieces buried in the park scattered in the darkness. Her body bent backward like a bow, supporting heaven while I lay underneath and suckled into me her blood going into me her milk. Erica went to a surgeon who I remember had a very beautiful book of Persian calligraphy on the desk in his office when he told her about what the operation would entail. The catscan showed nothing but that wasn't conclusive. I had done this to her with my member which had been stolen and was now lost. His name was Marduk he said he would use a technique hysterenterine laparoscopy. He would first pump her abdomen with carbon dioxide and dilate the cervix inserting the laser probe through an incision in the navel. If he saw the need for surgery he would use the light to cut away the parts of corruption. I took her home from the hospital afterward. I remember when I got off the elevator the hospital stank of burnt human flesh. Erica was bleeding from her navel a cherry syrup of blood and saline solution used to scrub out the wound. Erica stank of burnt human flesh. I gave her the codeine Marduk had prescribed and lay her on the bed curving beneath her arching her body to heaven supporting me the hunchback bleeding on me. Erica had become a hospital. For seven days and seven nights she lay bleeding on top of me on our bed. Erica cried out in pain and the heavens shook. I soaked up her blood like a sponge and my missing parts were renewed. On the eighth morning a bird perched on the air conditioner and whistled us up. Erica could walk again. She was healed. Her incision had grown over and it was spring. She told me that we could still have a child if we tried. I said I wouldn't. Not in this dark place. My arm was full of her blood. I lived in a hospital. EIGHT THINGS I NEVER TOLD ERICA BUT WISH I HAD 1. About the sound of snow shovels in hell. 2. About a bird that whistled me up one morning. 3. That pain can heal and liberate. 4. About burrowing in all kinds of mud. 5. About how, in a dark room, with eyes closed, the darkness is more familiar than the darkness you see with your eyes wide open. 6. That I dreamed I wore another shirt. 7. That it's all a question of rising and falling to higher and lower energy states. 8. That the dawn of awareness is frequently painful. HOW AND WHY I BEGAN MY SEARCH FOR ERICA Years had gone by since Erica left. I had still not found myself. I thought about her constantly. I know that I am still in Vietnam and that when my tour is over I can come back to Erica and she will still be the same as she is in the photo I carry with me. I was doing things out of sequence I was getting into fights. I am still wounded I had still not healed. Erica's blood drips on my pocket. When my morning coffee smelled like antifreeze I knew I had to do something. I was back in my old apartment. Still in Vietnam. I had awakened in a room of stone walls covered with hieroglyphics. I recognized my face among the pictures in the stone. He who enters down into the pit and slays the sacrifices. I was stuck in a hole and couldn't get out. On the stone walls I saw Erica pictures. She was eating my body in pisces on the stones burying the pictures where she found them. Watering these with the blood dripping from her navel. Only one photo was missing and that she had taken for herself to have my child. That I would not give her. To receive in their faces the fire spat. Caught the bullet in my arm. That was the day I found a Michelin road atlas on my window. When I opened it there were fourteen circles drawn on the map in red magic marker. These circles were the same as the hieroglyphics on my stones. And then I I remembered membered dis. Pisces was the fish they had never found. Pisces was my road was my atlas. Years ago I had parked my car on a street somewhere near my first apartment building and had forgotten where I'd put it. I had not seen my car in years and it had become unreal to me, something between a memory and a dream. From time to time I had dreams in which I walked down to where my car was parked and got inside. Sometimes I only started the car. Other times I drove the car places and bought groceries. Sometimes I bought film and put this inside my camera with your photo Erica and stared at the camera until I had projected your image on the film inside. Afterward I cut up the negatives and spread them in the gutter for you to find, but the birds snapped them up and carried pisces away. You never received them in the mail. At other times I hung the trees and lamp posts with long strips of tape unwound from old cassettes you had made when you did your radio shows. The wind played the tapes as it blew across them but you did not listen you did not hear. Now that I had my road atlas and my coffee smelled like antifreeze. I made up my mind to go down and find where my car was parked. It was no longer spring when I got outside. The streets had changed. It was winter. My tapes had fallen off the trees. My negatives cut up in pieces, their images scattered on the wind. I couldn't understand the numbers anymore, or the signs. I only found my car because the bird whistled me toward it. But even my car didn't look like itself anymore. I was surprised to still find it parked where I had left it after all those years. I looked down and saw something fluttering I looked up. The bird was covered with pictures from the stone walls. From its beak it dropped a long shiny strand of cassette tape the last one left of a telephone recording you had made long ago. I tied this piece to my car antenna so that the wind would catch it and play it as I drove. I got inside the car and turned on the ignition. It started right up. There was still plenty of gas in car's tank. With my road atlas on the seat I drove onto the highway. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw my tape fluttering behind me I turned on my radio as I drove. I turned on as I drove my radio and heard the old program Erica had done as the wind played the tape and sent your waves out into the world. With my radio playing my tape I drove down the highway in my car that was now a memory of my arm that had healed. I decided that I would drive to every circle on my road atlas where my pieces were buried. I hoped that somewhere between the circles I would find Erica or that Erica had left me messages within the red magic circles markers for my pisces. This light that surrounded me grew to darkness swallowing me as I went down into the pit with my bullet from Vietnam. On the radio I heard the news that you had borne me a child and that our child was autistic. His name you called. I didn't get that part because the radio never said it. Your voice on the radio said that you and my son were wanted by the police for serial killings at the circles on my map. You had gone across the atlas with my son to kill you had gone back to Vietnam. I wept for you then. I wept for my son. I wept for myself. I drove my car my car. Looking for you. TEN WORDS YOU CAN MAKE FROM ERICA'S NAME 1. Air 2. Ire 3. Care 4. Ace 5. I 6. CIA 7. Ice 8. Race 9. Car 10. Ra THE STORY OF ERICA AND THE BEAST OF MANY FACES As I have said, Erica and I traveled to many places. One of these was Venice, Italy. We went to a gallery there. We had been out since morning. It was hot. I remember. It was a hot morning I play the video all the time now I have all of it down on tape. We spent our honeymoon in Venice. At the Accademia gallery there was a painting of a woman riding a donkey and this woman was named Babylon you said. You said this woman was married to the part that had never been found. You said this woman was a road map. I had to cut my knife out of my dreams. We went out again into the brightness and my eyes hurt from the sun. I tried closing them but I couldn't. Now there was a deep hole in the earth outside the building. There was a repair crew working inside the hole I could hear them on the radio as I drove along the highway. Suddenly a steam pipe burst and we saw the clouds shoot up. You told me you were leaving me then going away. I could stop you if I wanted. You were drunk but that didn't change anything. As you started to walk away from me I grabbed Erica by the arm. But it just broke off in her hand and she walked away toward the pit and slid down into the steam. I ran to the edge of the pit because I thought that maybe I could still grab a piece of Erica before she did this last final stupid thing. I was almost able to reach out and touch her as she slipped away. I stretched out my arm and the tips of my fingers came as close as a hair to touching her face but the more I reached out the farther away she got until she was too far down for me to reach her anymore. I could only stand on the edge of the pit and look down into it. The steam was still coming up but now and then the wind blew it away and I could see what was happening inside. There was a beast of many faces inside the pit. There were a thousand faces on the beast. The beast was eating something. A thousand voices had the beast. The beast had a radio program and had made a tape of its broadcasts. Erica stood before the beast. I watched the beast. The beast trailed out long strips of tape and entwined Erica inside the shiny mylar strands. Erica became a broadcast. Erica spoke in a thousand voices. Entered into the beast became what Erica had radioed. I went away on my honeymoon. I came back from Venice with a cassette of videos. I play these all the time now, over and over again. THE CONCLUSION OF MY SEARCH FOR ERICA I stood in the field in the middle of the circle in the crops. The circle had been made in the night before my window had grown the face in the light. I had been driving my car and listening to the broadcasts. I had stopped for gas from time to time and I had filled my tank at stations along my map. I was working my way westward, in the direction of the setting sun, and listening to the stations coming over my radio as my car trailed the long strip of mylar tape from my cassette. From time to time I looked into my rearview mirror and saw my face reflected back at me and my face had become a mirror reflecting my face a thousand times again. Behind me trailed the long string of tape from my cassette, fluttering in my tailwind. At ninety miles per hour I drove my car. The police were out looking for my wife and my autistic son. They had better things to do than stop me for speeding. I drove my car at two hundred miles an hour. Nobody could touch me. I never looked back. When I came to the first red circle spring had come again. I stood in the field and searched for the droppings of a bird. I walked till I found what lay gleaming in the field. I stooped and I picked up. The negative I had cut up long ago. A part of your face was on it. I got back into my car and drove along my map to the next red circle I had circled on the highway to another field and another circle within the circle of crops. It was still spring but changing now. I walked till I heard the bird and found the strip of film I had placed your image on. I joined this with the other and got back inside my car and drove on, listening to the broadcasts you had made long ago. The police were on the radio they were still looking for you and my son but they could not find you. I stopped my car at other self-service stations along the road and filled up my tank with gasoline. At other times I pulled off the road and stopped at diners along the way until with repetition I ate the same food at the same diner reflected in a mirror till infinity. I searched for you, listening to my radio, until spring became summer and stood in the middle of yet another circle my bird had led me. I leaned against my car and held my negatives up to the sun and the images came through as the light stung my eyes and I grew blind in the light. I drove through the summer from circle to circle along the highway driving at night because the sun hurt my eyes when I looked through the negatives I had picked up. On the radio they still had not found you. It was winter again when I reached the final circle on the map and picked up the final negative. In darkness. I joined all the pieces together and drove away in the car. On the radio the police said they had caught the serial killers. I ate a sandwich I had made before I left and washed it down with nothing. In my rearview I noticed my mylar tape was no longer trailing behind my slipstream. There was almost no gas left in my tank so I drove to the next self-service station to fill up. I can't remember ever arriving. The sun came up behind me, rising in the east and the police told me to stop my car. I had no license or registration. My car had been parked on the street too long while I stayed in my apartment. I handed the cop the negatives I had joined together with the images of Erica on them. The cop asked me if I was drunk. I was weaving all over the road. I said that you were drunk Erica you were always drunk. All I wanted was to go to the next station gas my car up. Erica handed me back my negative and told me to get out and walk toward the light rising behind me. I had no choice. They had been searching for me as I had been searching for you. I was a serial killer they said. I had dismembered my victims and buried them in the circles on my map. Long ago I had left my apartment and gotten into my car. There had never been a bird. I got out of my car. I walked toward the light. I left my car where I had parked it and went inside the light. I was back in my apartment and there were two cops standing to either side. The first one, before the building went up in the night. They took me into my old room and showed me who was sprawled face up on the bed wrapped from head to foot in shiny mylar tape unwound from cassettes. They opened the window and the wind came in and played the tapes and I saw I saw the video images moving I heard the broadcast for the first time in my life speaking. My son and she had pieced them together. We were all on TV. They had pieced me together and left me in my tapes to be played through my video. None of it was real or ever happened. It was all on cassette. All my pisces. Rotting. I looked at the screen where a woman was telling how they had caught me in my car. She told the world. I, am Erica.
David Alexander is the author of several novels, including the soon-to-be-published Machine Breakers (Domhan, 2003). A short story collection, Double Truth on the Second Level, will also be published by Domhan in 2003. He has also written numerous short stories which have appeared in Web and print publications and reads from time to time at venues in New York City where he lives, works and rides the subway. As an anthologist he edited Death and Venice, a collection of fiction and poetry that appeared in 1999 as a special installment to the journal The Literary Review. A currently favorite saying of his is a line from the movie "Casablanca" -- "Excuse me gentlemen, your business is politics. Mine is running a saloon."
Contact David Alexander at email@example.com
December 4, 2002