A macabre story of a recluse isolated from society.
|Lorenzo's basement smelled like a humid mixture of lemon juice and formaldehyde, and it looked like a poor, haphazard representation of a mortuary crossed with some kind of sick laboratory. The lights were always on, fluorescent and piercing, illuminating all Lorenzo's projects, strewn out across the tables arranged strangely around the room. A cot sat meticulously made in a corner of the stifling room, next to the heater. He never left the basement.
Sylvia rarely came down, only to bring her estranged nephew his meals and various pills throughout the day: blue, pink, circular, capsules, pills with numbers etched into them. Take with food, take on an empty stomach, do not mix with alcohol. In the midst of her menopause, Sylvia had enough of her own hot flashes and sweats without journeying into the basement more than she had to. Besides, Sylvia thought, Lorenzo doesn't even talk to me or to anyone.
Paranoid schizophrenia was the original diagnosis, a long, ridiculously complicated term that Sylvia had originally scrawled on a gum wrapper she found in her purse to remember. Over the next couple of years, the diagnosis had altered and changed in small ways, but that didn't matter. She had the word memorized.
9:25 am Sunday. Sunday. The best day of the week in Lorenzo's opinion. The word itself looked so calm and beautiful printed in his logbook. Who wouldn't love a day made from the sun? The sun was bright. And warm. He wrote this in his logbook, next to his list of inventory.
He always did inventory on Sunday mornings.
His specimens were sprawled out helplessly on an expansive metal table in front of Lorenzo, who felt a strange surge of pride looking over his work. They were like peasants kneeling before their king.
Sylvia had mentioned lightly when she first met him that he didn't really look like a Lorenzo. She had said that the name made her think of a broad-shouldered, olive-skinned Italian with thick, black hair, and perhaps even with a moustache, too. Sylvia's impression of the name was probably the closest thing to an exact opposite of her nephew, who was tall and thin. The term Sylvia used was "gangly." Lorenzo always remembered the conversation with a bitter sneer stretching across his narrow face. That dumb bitch.
The first batch of moths, the younger ones, fluttered like whispers in their cage, clambering up the walls and wiggling their antennae lovingly at him. The edges around his eyes crinkled with delight although he did not smile. They recognized him. They'd be ready soon.
He turned to the old batch, wilting and starving, clucking morosely at him through the gaps in their cage. Lorenzo's mouth twitched slightly at the corners. His peasants were like sad, beautiful women, like those geisha dancers he had read about in those colorful travel magazines of Aunt Sylvia's.
Sighing, Lorenzo peered in at the miserable little dears. Perhaps it was time to prepare the crop, he thought, marking a symbol in his logbook.
The door to the cage opened with a dull, rusty creak. Lorenzo's practiced slivers of fingers graced the little parched body of the grayest mouth, a female, one who had laid several batches of eggs in her prime. A prime specimen.
The moth quivered between Lorenzo's fingers like a lamb being led to slaughter. He shushed his pet, caressing his antennae gently with his free hand. The moth screeched pitifully as Lorenzo's stride calmly and purposefully enveloped the room. She screeched louder, fluttering against death, as Lorenzo lunged out and pinned her little body against the scalding metal of the heater next to his bed. Lorenzo grit his teeth against the sharp pounding of the moths pleads resonating against his eardrums. "Don't worry, don't worry," he murmured underneath his breath as the moth burned away, turning into a still shell of a creature. When the moth had twitched its last movement, Lorenzo exhaled heavily through his nose and closed his eyes in mourning, in finality. Carefully, he laid the moth's carcass on the table to dry out.
He did the same with the other four moths, the same procedure with the two white ones, the yellow, the dusty blue, each scream pulling inside his stomach.
Sylvia pursed her lips at the new issue of The National Enquirer and picked absently at a wart on her left ring finger. She lifted her gaze from an article entitled "I Slept with a Vampire!" to the crystal clock on the mantelpiece. Twenty ‘til seven. Sylvia sighed, tucked the magazine under her chair and out of sight, stood up, smoothed her skirt. "Better start the coffee," she muttered to herself. Frankly, Sylvia hated Sundays, the day invented by persnickety old women who enjoy nothing by attending church, gossiping, and knitting potholders. And belong to book clubs.
The book club Sylvia grudgingly belong to consisted of three other women, women who prided themselves on reading only books advocated by Oprah, women who prided themselves on having their recipe for lemon bars featured in the annual county cookbook. Women Sylvia despised.
As she brewed the coffee in the kitchen, dreading the coming of seven o'clock, Sylvia wondered if she'd be happier if she could just hide away in a basement like her nephew.
Lorenzo started the second process at nine, long after the clacking of heels and gales of false, plastic laughter upstairs had died away. Scalpels and razors, shining underneath the fluorescent lights, were lined up next to the five dead moths. Lorenzo's fingers, lithe and careful, plucked up the scalpel and sliced into the fragile, powdery wings of the first moth. Throughout the following hour, Lorenzo cut, chopped, and ground the moths into dusty powders. With a miniature set of tongs, he selected portions of each powder, mixing the portions into a glass vial. The different colors swirled and drifted together, and Lorenzo could feel the back of his mouth salivating with anticipation. This certainly would be a perfect Sunday. Lorenzo smiled.
He was fifteen when, bored, he had discovered what it was like to snort moths. He had gotten the idea thinking about the year before in the upstate mental hospital, about the cocaine he and the other patients would share in the bathroom. In Sylvia's basement was one small window that could be pushed open. Sometimes he'd push it open to hear the sounds outside and to smell the dew on the grass. That's when the moths began to come.
He would place the powder into a long line on a table, and, using a rolled up scrap of paper, would snort up the remains of the insects. The result was exhilarating.
Colors and shapes would explode in front of his eyes, on the backs of his eyelids, and his tongue would tingle deliciously with cold sensations inching tantalizingly over his taste buds. His skin would feel light and porous, like air was blowing right through his body. But the best thing was the visions.
The visions ranged from simple, entertaining ideas playing like movies in front of his eyes to full-blown psychic predictions. As the months droned on in the monotony of his basement sanctuary, Lorenzo created new powders, new combinations, prodding the visions to grow in size and details, becoming more and more real.
This Sunday marked the most profound vision yet.
It was so real, so tangible, like he was actually there, rather than just seeing it played out before him. His hair was sleek and made entirely out of light, like he was a god or an angel, and his fingernails were long and shining. Aunt Sylvia was there, naked, lying on her bed, rubbing her hand between her legs and moaning like a wounded animal. Her graying hair was limp with sweat, and her eyes flared with fear at the sight of him. Suddenly, he was naked as well, his penis erect and a deep red. A knife or something was held in his hand, and he could see its reflection in Aunt Sylvia's frightened eyes. Time fragmented itself as the edges began to blacken around the vision. The last thing he saw was the splotches of blood and oily bodily fluids splattered thickly across his sweaty, naked skin.
The vision died, collapsing in on itself.
Lorenzo opened his eyes and stood up, his erection pressing against the fabric of his jeans. The vision was even more real than life, more real than him standing there, barefoot. It had to be real, it had to be a sign.
Silently, he removed his clothes, folding them neatly and laying them on his bed. There was no knife on his table, so he picked up the scalpel, twiddled it thoughtfully in his hands. The metal stairs creaked underneath his weight as he climbed up them, willing himself to move slowly. The excitement, the anticipation was overwhelming. It consumed his entire being. It was what he was meant to do.
He could hear Aunt Sylvia snoring in her bedroom, so deep in sleep she didn't even stir when the door let out a resounding creak as Lorenzo pushed it open. She wasn't naked like in his vision, but in a filmy white nightdress that was so sheer he could see her breasts through it clearly, her red nipples.
He could have watched her for a bit, watched her breath rise and fall, listened to her snore. Instead, he struck right away, not leaving any time for sentiments. Sylvia spasmed as Lorenzo jammed the scalpel into her throat, twisting it deeper and deeper, blood running out over his hands. Her eyes opened, blue, bulging in their sockets and she died, watching her nephew smile blankly as he knelt on top of her, keeping her in place.
He kept twisting the scalpel long after he knew she was dead, stopping when the surface of the blood started to coagulate on the bed sheets. Lorenzo stood back, let out a whimper, and ejaculated onto his aunt's corpse. He sighed in exhaustion as it stopped, leaning forward to rub the semen into his aunt's skin, pushing up her nightdress to get it over her legs and between them.
Lorenzo prodded her cheek with his finger, feeling the tender flesh. He cut a slice off with the scalpel, taking care not to cut himself. And began to eat.