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Book extract: Insurrecto by Gina Apostol | reviews, news & interviews

Book extract: Insurrecto by Gina Apostol

Book extract: Insurrecto by Gina Apostol

Extract II of III - Days of the Dead

Insurrecto by Gina Apostol © Fitzcarraldo Editions

She had clutched the envelope given by the shy messenger, but she had never opened it.

The Intended.

True. The message from the director was for her.

A joke between them—a bond.

Though in her view he was no Kurtz: all he wanted was to finish his film.

Caz is surprised at the attendance.

There is no body, just this blasphemy, his inexplicable remains in a jar, a bowl of ashes that mocks his actual mortal substance, this foreign form of dying—as if some obscene power had turned him into what repulsed him, an indifferently presented dish.

She thinks—but how everyone is at his wake. Now they come. A critic who had mocked his ambition. His childhood friend from North Fork, Long Island, a man named Horn, or Hearne, who decided to travel last minute, coupling the funeral with a tropical vacation. A tired-looking actor, now bearing only a fleeting resemblance to his past onscreen good looks. A drunkard whom the director had known at the height of the man’s fame.

The mansion in Magallanes is too much for one man’s needs, she used to tell him, but he was oblivious to his environment, living with just a change of clothes, his soccer shorts and rugby shirts, when he found himself alone. It always seemed too vast, beginning with the entresuelo, a hall of Persian rugs and gilt mirrors, and this gloomy sala, with its mahogany decor, that always looked underfurnished, though it was full of entire living room sets straight from Silahis Antiques, a room dwarfed by that crazy fixture, the disco ball, that loomed like a sore, crystal eye over everyone, living and dead.

But now there are enough people milling about the driftwood rooms to make their sudden appearance, all of these creatures crawling out of the woodwork, a rebuke. There is no risk in respecting the dead.

Now they come.

When his movie was in peril, his funds drying up, and his producers threatening to pull out, he had passed time by telling her stories about his friends, his childhood in New York, his love for a polar bear, the first animal ever to be given Prozac. Really—Prozac?, she said. He had lived a varied life. He had been to Ezra Pound’s castle in Italy and read through the poet’s posthumous texts (Pound cursed in three languages; but in all modesty, the director said, he spoke seven; his mimicry is not a talent, he dismissed, just a genetic aberration, though his childish gift for tongues took him far). His austere and mortal advisor at Harvard, Anna della Terza of the poetic name and cowboy boots, believed he would be a scholar, like her. But the castle was full of crosses, he said, crossing himself, and Pound’s daughter, a Countess, was still a fascist so many years after the war. He couldn’t get out of that creepy place fast enough. He grew up bourgeois, he said, which explains why he liked anarchists. A vagabond post-college, though with letters of introduction in his pocket (that was the protocol then), he had hitched rides through the Riviera and felt this constant ascetic urge to shed material things, so that street urchins found themselves playing boules in his oversize jerseys, all along the Alpes-Maritimes. (His secret shame, known only to her, was that he recalled a shirt he wished he had kept, his black varsity letter, for his soccer team, with the crimson H—a frivolous wish that made him blush.) He had taught, later with hindsight’s regret, the horrors of Edgar Allan Poe to sad-eyed boys already allied to death, out in a place called Walbrook Junction in the inner city of Baltimore. He’d hung out with hippies in Christiania, Denmark, and had gone skinny-dipping on the peninsula of the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mount Athos. The monks came to arrest him, but his look of malnutrition saved him, he said, he had not eaten for days, boat-hiking in the Aegean Sea, and instead the monks offered him bread and wine. Sounds like a Jesus parable to me, Caz ribbed him. Nudeness is next to godliness, he said. He had led a picaresque life of improvised adventure.

But at the time, he did not really impress his investors.

And now it is as if all of his stories were just preludes to this final act, each one a code encrypting his sorrowful mystery. As if each adventure were not a moment in itself, vulnerable to an alternate choice. Ecstatic, not fatal. Now it is as if the conclusions were linear and ordained, leading to this end, and everything else is only cumulating retrospective. A story foretold. This falseness begotten by chronology: the way recent events—this form of death, suicide—camouflage his life’s truth.

It makes everything else he has done suspect, giving everything

shade.

It’s such crock, she thinks, how death distorts him.

He will never again be seen for who he was.

At least as she remembers him.

But who was he, she wonders.

A restless hunter, she thinks. With a monstrous vitality. Looking for something.

A locked-room puzzle.

One of his favorite plotters, Edgar Allan Poe, had invented the terrible geometry of very physical, almost cinematic ways of disappearing: each crevice and cranny in a deteriorating mansion could be a clue, however unforeseen.

Uh-huh, Caz said to him—I’m an English major. I know those stories. No need to explain them to me.

But despite the detail in the cases that fantastic writer produced, he said, there are no signs of intrusion either at ingresses or exits—no discernible clues for why the victim dies.

Such stories, Caz told him, have a name. They are called locked-room puzzles.

Hah. That’s a great title for a movie, he said.

Thank you, said Caz.

But you have to make it, he said.

I’m not writing a movie.

But you should, he said.

Sometimes, she thought, though she loved him, Ludo sounded like a man whose world had relevance only to him—and he made things up that he had no business designing.

Poe’s solitary delight, Ludo went on, was to astound the reader by deliberately withholding the clues.

But she had loved those moments when he went off on a tangent, explaining in detail a problem about his fictions, as if she could in any way help him. It was his deep absorption in his own plots, which were always in flux, that drew her to him. For Ludo, all ideas had alternate endings. After talking to him, she would return to her home as if she, too, were on the verge of transformation, like his stories. The unstable nature of the filmmaker’s art paradoxically gave her a sense of fulfillment—as if, similarly unfinished, she had license to make of her own life whatever she wished.

Caz thinks: those stories had fooled her all along, the complicated inventions of his favorite writer, Edgar Allan Poe. The locked-room puzzle, the terribly physical configuration that undergirds the horror of Poe’s mastery, the intricate construction of a mystery tale so carefully mapped, a graduate thesis Ludo had forewritten with footnoted remarks that he had foisted on a nice professor, John Duble, a schizophrenic poet at Johns Hopkins—Poe’s annotated, indexed, geometric constructions might be, after all, mainly metaphysical.

A room no one enters, a final solitude.

A philosophical horror.

What the fuck, Ludo.

Will we never stop thinking about why you died?

Is your goddamned death your final, fucking, goddamned lockedroom puzzle?

She sits there scowling before the funeral guests.

Ludo’s absurd plots about obscure wars in irrelevant lands gain resonance in the telling of his friends’ sketchy scenarios, now that the gaps have a haunting message with the inventor gone. Everyone speaks in whispers, the way disappearance becomes the story when to her it is his presence—his vibrant magical presence— that is missed.

Caz wants to kill everyone else, all of his friends who have outlived him. She imagines herself training her eye on all of them, these chattering, random guests, shooting them all with his old goddamned Colt .45.

It is possible they feel the same about her.

They nod their heads at the brown woman as if not knowing how to pay respects to the one he did not marry yet came to his wake. It is said they had quarreled, an amicable parting nonetheless, as he had intentions of returning home, to the Catskill Mountains in New York. There were his wife and child, after all, traveling somewhere around the world—though they did not bother to come. So his friends, in muddled respect, throw her a bone of their avidity, a glance hurriedly cast.

The wife—that is, her lawyer—had sent her regrets. Someone explains she is somewhere, in the hill towns of Le Marche, or was it the perched villages of the Riviera—anyway, incommunicado, with their curly-haired child, all wrapped up in Igorot scarves.

No one speaks to her, the brown one, the mistress.

The Filipinos are already at the mah-jongg tables, stacking the noisy tiles. The extras, American soldiers from a naval base, and their newfound friends, gaffers just in from the abandoned location in Giporlos, are smoking as usual like kaingin in the corners, wide-eyed as they stare at the stars. Smog from the pig roast mixes with the smell of weed. On the director’s desk in his studio by the sala are his note cards for the movie that had almost lost financing. Vases full of red roses fill the rooms. Frail, falling petals rustle on a manila envelope, on scattered photo cards on his abandoned desk. The mahogany rooms now smell of pork, pot, and roses. The cinematographer at loose ends, an Italian, stares at a hand-drawn trail traced in pencil and tacked on a wall. Who knows what it is for? Is it of Catbalogan or the Catskills? Is it of Hanoi? Hong Kong? Is it a railroad in central Massachusetts or a river path in Sohoton? The loudmouth critic from New York, a member of the aborted press junket, wanders into the dead man’s studio. The two men confer, and though one speaks little English and the other is drunk, a consensus arises.

Without a legend, no one will tell where that unfinished trail goes.

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