I had been up all night searching for death certificates. They feel so firm to come upon in a desk. I woke Leontine early. I would get going now to the funeral.
"It's in Haarlem. How do you get to that village from Amsterdam?"
"There's no train there. You'll use my bike."
Thirty miles outside of Amsterdam with the sunrise. The cows on the roadside. I bike into the side of one and it accommodates us, me and Bike. It moos and moves over and I get to lay a rail system down with my tire into its specific dung.
The central church in Haarlem is so black inside with extreme darkness. It's medieval, its entire floor is made of graves. Desiccated knights surface the cinematic clack of a female heel coming this way.
"How did you get here?"
"I borrowed a bike from my new lover. She's Dutch."
"You couldn't rent a car?"
"Sorry, I don't drive stick." Why do I find myself apologizing?
"Where is her bike?"
"It is outside of the church not locked up to anything."
"We can put it into the back of my rental."
"The funeral isn't here, in the church?"
"This is just—what is this—this is an attraction." She spits the word. "This isn't real anymore." Her italics.
Her car drove so swiftly over the memory of my difficult and gratifying bike ride. Sun, cows, shit, and me. All me.
"You're acting strange," she said. "I'm trying to guess. You don't remember my name?"
Even in the dung-dark church I could tell who that was coming towards me. I smelled her. She smelled like their penthouse in Chicago and now I knew—confirmed—it had really only smelled of her. I cursed in my head. I'd really hardly known her. I would see her sometimes at the elevator. My getting off it, her getting on, she was coming home—my backpack, her roller bag—her hair full but straight and highlighted in expensive, messy stripes.
There's an immovable stone I once met that I try to touch whenever I don't want to be upset. I implacably touch the stone.
Leontine had given me, for my journey, a tight pair of gloves. "For visibility." They were very green.
Thank you, Leontine. I'm putting them on right now.
We drive even outside of Haarlem, to a small inn where there's a gathering. Friends from his childhood and lovers, too, over the years. I recognize them, aged off their photos, a lot of people in after work gear. More like a cocktail hour than a funeral. Nothing to fly internationally to. The body isn't around.
Jerome's wife, or his ex, I don't know, she finally asks, "What gloves are those?"
It is impossible to remove them.
"What are you writing?"
"Don't worry, Aviva, it's not going to be about you. Not really."
—Dashing off a telegram to Ibeka.
I stop in some grass on my way to Ireland, and feed myself. I touch my own arms, I encourage myself. I worry a little about bears, traps, and men. I hate to wear these gloves now, which are only the byproduct of an immature art project. Leontine sewed the skin herself, after shooting down the small animal. They are too tight for me, squeezing my hands in two.
I have to bury Leontine's bike in the black forest. It is better to bury it here than to lock it up somewhere if I don't really know my schedule in Ireland—how long I might be with Ibeka.
I could imagine someone saying, "It is better to be buried than locked up," without any evidence.
Ibeka meets me at the airport in Dublin.
"Should we go right away?"
"I think we should go at any time. Yes, now. Sure."
I haven't seen Ibeka in a while. A few decades. "Ibeka, I'm stupefied. Where are your bags?"
"Susan, you don't have any bags. You don't even have a pocket."
On the plane I cut off the gloves in the bathroom, using a knife. I had no choice, I had to cut into my hands, up the sides of my thumbs. I had to cross and cut into each palm pouring blood into the plane. Filling the plane with the fissure and current of my hands. I still tried to pull these gloves off, so tight and so sticky, too. I had to cut into my hands and fingers at multiple angles, sometimes down to the bone as the gloveskin had begun to graft slightly. I had to crudely shave my flesh off if I wanted these gloves (what a gift) out of my life. So long, Leontine. It was not difficult at all. Down to the bone is fine. I stole your bike and have not called you. I don't have a phone. You can't use a phone on planes.
I put the pulp of intermixed glove and hand skin and flesh into the toilet and flushed, a most satisfying aero-technic disposal. Whoosh. My bone flashed on my ring finger like a ring, like a pearl lodged in there, but gravied rubies flowed into a towel. I carried my bleeding hands in a towel out of the bathroom back to my seat—first class. I was the only woman in that section.
I had met Ibeka back then in the condo where Jerome was keeping me, in Chicago. They were in it together when I came back. I had gone out to meet Lidia, finally, for some coffee. And there was a sculpture of sexual intercourse on my bed encased in the smoke of heat so that it was waving alive.
I repositioned my disheveled telescope.
Lidia had never showed up, and then I never saw her again. She was done. I didn't even want coffee again. I offered Ibeka and Jerome some lapsang souchong.
"I can't believe you came," I'm telling Ibeka. We look like two old friends at the airport.
"What's wrong with your hands?"
"I had to take off some very tight gloves made out of gecko skin. I was suffocating, I had no idea how much of your lungs are in your hands, so I had to do it on the plane."
Ibeka goes to a shop and buys me a pair of brown leather travel gloves. She fills the gloves with antibiotic cream and puts them on me, outside on a bench in the sunshine where you're supposed to wait for a cab.
"It's too hot for gloves." I want to whine. I can't believe her, does she always have antibiotic cream on her person??
"I think you'll want these covered and protected, for at least today. Then we will put your hands in the direct sunlight for hours tomorrow. Scarring is good."
I register it. I'm going to be with her, somehow, tomorrow, too. The world is not ending tonight, and we are not parting in a few hours either. The conditions are set for a new morning's air to instigate scarring on me, with Ibeka in a supervising role, tomorrow.
I tell her about my bike ride. I want to brag.
"I don't know how you do these things without a phone. It was just you on country roads? How did you know the direction?"
"I've acquired a lot of metals in my body over time, Ibeka, and I use them."
"Metals, Ibeka, even if they were alloyed when they were ingested, become tribal in moving flesh. A metal wants to touch its own kind, inside and outside of the human body—it's verified. There is so much copper, as we know, in Ireland. What is the agrico-mineral current in a potato? Exactly. So in this instance, I could sense the copper in me rushing together, to go to Ireland. It had been interspersed in my tissues, causing, as you can imagine, some health problems, but now that I wanted to go to Ireland to meet you it moved together to one of my shoulders, and I biked. But Ireland is past some water, as you know, and so I flew here, too. I buried my bike in the woods outside of Hamburg."
"But Susan, you said you biked from Amsterdam. If you were in Hamburg, you went the wrong way."
"I actually had biked all the way to Poland before I realized this. I couldn't believe it, the copper was so wrong."
"So you turned around?"
"Yes, I took a bus from Sczcezin back to Hamburg. They let me put Leontine's bike on the front."
"Who is that?"
There are others who visit Dolores O'Riordan all around. Some are singing the songs of The Cranberries with real talent. They are not even softening her songs. They are celebrating, with accuracy, her sour trill. They are duplicating with tenacity by her body the pure feeling of her elbows and her vest. It is like a rustic small festival out here, and it is hard to become close to the stone, littered and shaggy with notes.
"Should we just go?"
"This is nice. Relax."
"I remember your elaborate tea station at the condo, of course the telescope."
"That's all gone now. Ibeka, I can't even drink tea." I have to keep my eyes away.
The moon coming on, the clotted up skull of the sun.
"Are you still in Chicago, Susan?"
"No, of course not. Where are you now?"
"I'm in Dublin. I thought you knew. I thought you must be following my Instagram? Why you thought of me for all of this?"
"Conveniently? Because you live here?"
"I work for the board of tourism."
Convenience is disgrace. She asks me, she wants to know, if I'm rich.
Ibeka's studio, at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, had been bare, but her.
I first saw her during the open studios—other students showing off mid-process paintings, sculptures, lots of felt and stitched together shit-smeared stuffed animals. She only wore an apron. She was washing some invisible dishes. There was a stack of plates, a rag for drying, a sponge, a deep sink and a rack.
The invisible plates, in her hands, began to bend. They got much larger and grew heavy in her arms so that you could see her veins working. She began to wash the body of her sister, who had died at the beginning of her first semester at school. It was amazing that she kept attending. She held the body awkwardly over the sink in her empty studio.
"I never asked you, Ibeka, how your sister died. I have always wanted to know. Do you ever grant this information to anyone?"
I had never felt able to ask. I did not know her well. I never would if I did not know this, the angle of the snatching.
"She died of pain. She was on a lot of pain medication, for her back," Ibeka said, but she was lying. She was speaking of Dolores O'Riordan. "She was in the bathtub, the coroner's report said."
Ibeka had put ounces, up to a pint of dishsoap up her pussy and asshole and was queefing and farting bubbles into her empty studio, which did not even have a sink in it. It was all just performed. She even had had a real sink taken out of her studio, that they had initially given her to wash out paintbrushes, so that she could perform only this pantomime. She prepared the floor with a thick base of maybe quarts and quarts of antibiotic cream so that the bubbles, when they squirted out of her body and landed, stayed on the floor. The antibiotic cream was very accommodating to them, and more bubbles than ever were coming from her almost naked body.
She washed her little sister for a long time, who might have been bleeding depending on what happened. She put her down on the floor. Her sister's body popped the bubbles, as if grief could concretize a pantomime and also consecrate student art.
I was standing in the doorway with a cluster of other visitors to the open studio days at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Late fall. Jerome was standing next to me, holding our coffees. "It's frustrating," he said, "there's nothing to buy. I would take that home and play it on repeat, if I could."
The older I grow, the more I think of myself as guilty for having loved people who didn't love me. I had wanted to ring the bell over Ibeka.
"How the fuck did she do that?" Jerome desperately wanted to know, about the bubbles. He really couldn't tell. He was wearing a long vinyl coat, boisterously applauding and already approaching, splooching his shiny boots through the cream. He gave me my coffee, with so much cinnamon in there.
I could see her trick, very clearly. Ibeka was very evident to me. I have swallowed so much metal in my life, and these bells integrated into my flesh mid-swing don't say what it was.