He watched me over his glasses, and for the first time I could make out in him the male gaze. As if I were selling myself on a corner in a tube top. The expression on his lips shifted subtly from mere amusement to contempt. He seemed to be saying, “I’m a doctor of psychology, not an immature boy. Please. You’re trying this on me?” But, in a certain way, it was obvious that he liked that I had finally decided to stop theorizing and show him, there, in his intellectual sanctuary, just how crazy I was.
“It’s your call,” he said. “What are you going to do to me?”
“I’m going to make some very simple gestures right here, on the sofa,” I explained. “Before I’ve finished, you will raise one hand to your head and pretend to scratch yourself or adjust your glasses. That will be the first sign of your pleasure. Then you’ll have an…an intense erection. That will be the second sign.”
“Aha,” he nodded solemnly, as if the intrusion of the sexual was the detail he was waiting for to underpin his diagnosis. But he soon smiled again. “Very well, go ahead. Should I remain seated or stand?”
“No, you’re fine just as you are,” I said, and raised my arms at a straight angle, with my fists closed and immobile, as if I were handcuffed to a wall; then I brought my knuckles together and separated them abruptly as I half-closed my eyes and opened my mouth in a precise way, to create a split image. I kept looking at Valle as I carried out these motions, but reigned in my conscience with a simple effort. Gens would have called it the “gesture of abdication.” It was a play by Giles Yilan. The original set, a pink couch, was not mandatory.
Before I lowered my hands, Valle raised his right one to his temple and scratched himself. Then he seemed to realize what he was doing and he moved it away, trembling, as if he were very cold. I tried to downplay it to minimize the tension. “You don’t have to show me the second sign. I believe you.”
Valle looked at me. It was as if he expected something more of me, an indication, an order, even though I knew he wasn’t hooked. His disconcerted expression troubled me.
“Listen, don’t worry about it,” I said. “If you had taken a sleeping pill, you’d be tired now, right? Cause and effect. Well, I did something to provoke these reactions in you, and you reacted, that’s all. Imagine you had seen a movie or a play… All I did was represent your desire, and your psinome responded.” I cleared my throat. “The…the erection will go away soon.”
He remained in the same position, his eyes glued to mine, blinking.
“I’m sorry,” I added, and when I swallowed I noticed a knot in my throat. “I just wanted you to believe me, doctor…I…need help, your help. All my friends, the man I love, my sister…they all belong to my world. What did you call it? A sham? Yes, my life is a sham…I need a little bit of sincerity.” I stopped to savor the word. My eyes stung. “I like my job, but at the same time I find it appalling. I want to quit, but my sister has followed in my footsteps and she’s gotten involved in a very dangerous hunt…I need to protect her, but I don’t know how…I don’t know who to talk to…I need someone to listen to me, someone who won’t see me as a mere mask…I know that inside I am something real. Inside I don’t pretend.” I ran my hand over my face, drying my tears. “I’m sorry…I don’t want to bother you…I’m very sorry…I hate what I am…”
Arístides Valle remained rigid, pale. If someone’s soul could be shattered by a bolt of lightning, he was the perfect picture of that just then. He waited until I had stopped crying, and then, in a very low but harsh voice, hissed through his teeth, as if he were cursing me, “Get out. Get out of here.”
I nodded and left, to cry in the street.
A more intense cold and the sticky smell of lotions: that was my first impression of the basement. My right thigh ramming hard against the corner of a metal table: that was my second. I jumped and howled in pain, tears sprang from my eyes and a few drops of piss escaped as well. I was rewarded with another sharp tug, but a moment later we stopped. It seemed that another of his subtle techniques for showing me how macho he was and how much power he held over me was to force me to do things without saying a word to me. On that occasion, I had to guess that he wanted me to get down on my knees. Pulls, shoves, and finally I kneeled. I brushed against a wall with my hands and feet. A freezing metal ring clicked around my sweaty neck and I heard some mechanism being adjusted at the back. I couldn’t sit down and I couldn’t stand, which depressed me because I knew full well what being on my knees would turn into as the hours passed.
Once again he searched for a pulse, this time on my throat. Then the lower edge of the bandage widened. His finger was like a worm beneath my left eye. I could make out a thin shaft of light, there was a screech and the bandage tore upwards.
I was blinded by the explosion of whiteness, my gaze clouded by tears, but the face of the man leaning over me became increasing clearer.
“Hello,” he said.
There is nothing like seeing a monster.
I’m not talking about seeing them in those police photos chosen by the media to try to show us how evil or how normal they seem, I’m talking about seeing them out in the world, surrounded by their things, inches from your face.
I’ve seen several, and despite their differences, there is one trait they all share. It’s as obvious as their mouth, their nose, or their eyes. No actor in any film about psychopaths has been able to depict it. It’s their inimitable mark of distinction.
And it’s this: the monster never sees you.
He can be looking at you or not, remain silent or speak, treat you with contempt or take an interest in you, laugh along with your jokes or comfort you as you sob. It doesn’t matter what he does, or where he directs his eyes, he never sees you. And when you look upon a monster for the first time, that is exactly what you notice. To the monster, you are invisible.
I don’t know the reason for that. I’m not a scientist. Gens asserted that it was due to the fact that they were completely given over to their psinome. They live inwardly. It’s as if their eyes had been placed in backwards, the black pupils facing the dark interior of their skulls and the white, unproductive globe peeking out of the socket. It is a very strange thing, and it paralyzes me every time I sense it, because I’ve always believed that anything that has a face, everything that looks at you, that talks and smiles, is a human being.
But there are exceptions.
I looked into that man’s face for barely a second, and I knew. It was him. All the rest were banal details: about forty years old, stocky, angular face, thin lips, dark brown hair. He could have been an aging rock star or one of those professors their students are crazy about. He wore a black shirt and pants and brown Camper boots. He had plain rings on both the thumb and ring finger of his left hand.
I didn’t give a shit what he seemed like: he was the Spectator.
And I sensed his desire. The atrocious desire he felt for me, only comparable to the yearning I had to destroy him.
Both of us, each hungry for the other, meeting face to face.
After saying “Hello,” he lifted his open hand and tore the tape off of my mouth. Then he slid the serrated knife he had used to cut the bandage between the rubber gag and my cheek. It was some sort of electric cutter. He placed the blade flat against my face, but without touching it, he pressed a button and I felt the air rustling and the rubber straps break with a snap.
I didn’t spit out any saliva. My mouth was a barren wasteland, my lips were dry and chapped, and my tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth. I moaned and coughed. I saw a plastic bottle come toward me and I drank eagerly, spilling part of the contents onto my chin and jeans. The water was so cool that tasting it was like kissing the man you love for the first time. But as I drank, I sank the fingernails of my hands tied behind my back into the wall behind me, until it hurt. “Never let your prey manipulate you: if he gives you pleasure, try to make yourself feel uncomfortable,” advised Gens.
When I had emptied the bottle, the Spectator took it away and smiled.
“Who…are you?” I whimpered, in my role as victim.
“Oh, you already know that.” He waved his ringed hand. “And I know who you are. Let’s not waste time. You’ve made something special for me. I want to know what it is.”
When I saw him disappear through the back door after entering a security code, I returned my attention to the boy. My knees were hurting from the position I was in; my thigh was hurting from having hit the table, and must have been bleeding too; my cheek and the side of my mouth had started to swell up; I was still thirsty and I still had to pee and now I was hungry. I stockpiled all of that to turn it into emotion. They were physical complaints, but I transformed them into a tone of voice.
The boy was picking up empty sandwich wrappings when I called him. He looked at me.
“Pablo, you help me, I’ll help you, okay?”
He didn’t answer. I glanced at the back door. The Spectator had left it ajar after going downstairs to the second basement. I had heard his footsteps. How long would he take before returning with “the things”? I didn’t think he’d be long. And maybe he was watching me with hidden cameras, but I figured I didn’t have anything to lose by trying.
Gens had said, “The boy could be the key. It’s unlikely that he’ll consider you an ally, but, even still, try to recruit him.”
Pablo kept cleaning and tossing trash into a white metal wastepaper basket. He dropped a can like his father had moments earlier, but he patiently repeated the operation and wasn’t satisfied until the lid of the wastepaper basket was completely closed. “He is obsessive in his chores,” I thought. I tried to appeal to his practical side.
“If you help me, I promise your papa won’t hurt you. We will be together.”
“We can’t beat my father,” he said suddenly. “He is very strong.”
“But we can escape.”
“He will catch us. Papa runs a lot.”
“You know the area. We could hide in the countryside.”
“No, I’m not good at hiding.”
It had been a mistake to pressure him. I saw him handling something and I changed my tone.
He shrugged his shoulders. It was a small toy that he had taken out of a clear bag. It might have come in the package of potato chips or candy: a black pumpkin on a flexible wand. When he shook the wand, the pumpkin’s eyes sparkled and a wailing voice was heard. I remembered that it was less than a week until Halloween. After shaking it a couple of times, the boy seemed to get tired of it and he bent the wand as if trying to break it. I saw that he was so given over to this new task that I thought I’d use it to gain his trust.
“You’re not going to be able to break it like that,” I said. “It can bend.”
“One of the kids in my class does it,” he declared. “His name is Naru and he’s Hindu, not Indian.”
“Good for Naru. But wha t do you want to do? Take off the pumpkin?”
“No. Break this.”
After planting a yellow boot onto the wand and pulling with no luck, he brought it up to his teeth. I noticed that on the table without holes lay the electric cutter. But I was careful not to mention it: he didn’t seem to be the kind of boy who would neglect the most obvious tool. I tried to think like him in order to help him.
“Listen: If you pull any more, you’re going to hurt your teeth. That plastic is harder than gum. Try this: Bite it and turn it around while you have it clenched between your teeth. Twist it.” The boy obeyed. “That’s it. Now, pull from one side to the other…”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said suddenly, contemplating the bitten piece. Then he threw the toy into the wastepaper basket. The pumpkin wailed a bit and then was quiet.
“Pablo, do you know how to open this collar?” I lifted my chin so he could look at it.
“Yeah. I can open it. It’s easy.”
“And then you could cut the bands around my hands with that tool…” I gestured with my head to the cutter. “What do you think? You could do it, right?”
He seemed to be thinking it over. The forced position on my knees was beginning to drive me crazy. I switched my weight from one kneecap to the other.
“Are you one of those tricks?” he asked, looking first at the cutter and then at me.
“No, I’m not a trick, Pablo.”
“If I help you, Papa will go to jail.”
I thought quickly.
“No, he will go to a hospital. They will cure him there.”
“Papa is sick?” The face beneath the blue cap didn’t change expression.
“Well, first they’ll have to examine him, right? Maybe he’s not, but they need to find out. We have to help him too… You don’t want him to keep doing the things he does, right?” I looked at the door out of the corner of my eye, attentive to any noise.
“The things he does… that he does to the girls…”
“You aren’t girls, you’re whores.”
The way he said it wasn’t even impatient. It was just as if I had mispronounced a word and he was correcting me. I ignored his comment and smiled.
“Pablo, if I’m free when your Papa comes back, I will convince him to go to the hospital…”
“And what if he doesn’t want to?”
“Then I’ll do what he tells me to.” The lies had to be simple, and it was important not to let him think them over too much. “And now, why don’t you try freeing me?”
A glance at the cutter. Another at me.
I pricked up my ears, but there was only silence. The door the Spectator had gone through was still motionless.
The boy picked up the cutter and kneeled beside me.
“That’s it, Pablo…” I encouraged him. “No, wait… First take off this collar…”
“No, first the bands,” he replied. He held up my forearms and pulled upwards and back, forcing me to strain the chain on the ring around my neck. I tried to help him and separated my hands as much as I could, to give him easier access to the bands. But what he did was trap my left pinky in one of his fists and extend it. There was a sound like a piston, and the electric blade sliced off my finger in a single cut.
My shriek was stifled by the collar, since the horrible pain made me leap forward. I was choked for a fraction of a second, but then I was able to breathe again as I arched backward. I knew that I would be strangled if I fainted, which would happen soon, because the blood was leaving my head as it flowed from the stump, and even though I couldn’t see it, I felt its warmth soaking the legs of my jeans. My vision clouded over, and I couldn’t maintain the position on my knees with my torso raised. The collar began to choke me.
Something hit my cheek. It was my pinky: the boy had thrown it at me.
“Die,” he said without emotion.