The Black Shawl
God has been appearing inside my house. I believe it must be God because there is no other explanation. It comes most often in the form of an object I’ve never seen, something that does not belong inside my house at all. It will only appear for a number of hours, then it will be gone again. Each of these objects is a secret between the house and me. I know if they were to be found by someone else they would be removed the way my father was. It is up to me to interact with the objects before they disappear, so that I can receive the message God has for me as best I can, though the messages are never clear, nor can I remember them very long after they’re gone again.
For instance, it had to have been yesterday when I came into the den and found a black shawl tall as I am folded on the dinner table in the place where dad had always sat. It smelled like ash and kind of shook the room if you looked at it too directly. I unfolded the blanket and wore it around my head and torso as a hood. I realized while I was wearing the shawl no one could see me. I could walk up to anyone and them not realize I was there, which of course gave me an incredible power over other people.
The problem was there was no one around to do this to. I was alone in the house the same as always. Still I went around for hours wearing the hood pretending it would go on like this forever. Like as long as I wore the hood I would never age and never die. I slept and ate in the hood, bathed in the hood, stood in the mirror in the hood to see what I would look like to someone else outside me even if they couldn’t see me.
Wearing the hood like that for so long began to affect my senses, I realized. After a while I began to not be able to feel where I was walking, like my whole body not touching the fabric was going numb, but then the feeling began spreading up my body into the covered parts, and I began to realize after a while how I couldn’t smell anything, couldn’t taste anything, then I could not even see what was right in front of my face. Like I was erasing myself inside the fabric. I also began to hear a certain kind of voice, like my own thoughts were becoming disconnected from me, operating outside my head, saying things like I want you over and over, and later there is something you must do for me.
I knew my legs and arms still were doing anything they wanted while I myself had no idea. It felt like I was just standing there but I knew that wasn’t true. Pretty soon I felt sure I wouldn’t be able to control myself anymore at all if I kept wearing the hood, but by now my arms wouldn’t respond when I went to lift them. I had to pull the fabric off by catching its corner on an angle and dragging my body away. Once I had it off I realized I’d gone essentially blind inside the darkness. The house around me for a long time wasn’t there, coming back only over periods of hours as colors collected themselves and knitted together to form the house.
When I could see again the den had grown smaller by like six inches on each side. The walls were painted black the way the quilt was. Worse, I or someone else had cut my hair off in my unknowing and all the bumps along my scalp were open to the light now, to anybody who would look, so much like the way the sky was the last time that I remember I could see it. This is only one part of the secret, the part that I’m allowed to know.
Now my computer won’t turn on. I mean or when it does it just shows this screen of gold light and there is a voice like someone telling me to cut my arms off or to bash my head into the concrete and it won’t stop talking until I turn the machine off again and hide it in the closet. Sometimes I can hear it from downstairs, like someone else has come in and turned it on without me and are going through my shit, though by the time I make it upstairs the machine is off again and still won’t let me in.
I am alone. I am sitting at a table, waiting. I don’t know what I’m waiting for. I get the feeling if I stop waiting before I know what I am waiting for I will never find it. My life will be destroyed by what I did not do because I did not know I had the option. There are so many different kinds of keys. I have the feeling I am both being watched and not being watched at once. It is like shaving. I watch the pictures on the wall and wait for them to change. I lay my hands palm up on the table. I open my mouth.
Blake Butler's most recent book is Alice Knott.