:: Article

Ingrid, Her Nephew, an Investigative Scenario

By Eric Blix.

I did not know that Ingrid av Enga was my grandmother until many years after she had died and my work led me to her basement archives. The house stood empty in a row of identical bungalows erected sometime in the boom years following the war. Evidently it was the kind one could purchase from a Sears catalog, one that had arrived in pieces on the back of a truck.

Beams. Bricks. Panes of glass. Every shingle was the same in this neighborhood, even though certainly they had all been replaced at various points—likely much different points on the time line, though by whom, I could not even fathom—for these houses were older than me, and I am no longer so young. The chances of each bungalow suffering the same patterns of leaks and drips seemed high given the actualities of mass production. Oddly and infuriatingly, there were no liquored establishments in the area that I could find, so I settled for a Starbucks half a mile down the main road. Three large Americanos. A web of jitters in which one shake grew from one and grew the next and . . . What if, I wondered, each piece of that kit—for if we are to think along the lines of Ingrid av Enga it is necessary to see the neighborhood itself as a node of nodes—what if each piece had inscribed on it the secrets she had left?

It was her nephew, a heavy ball of a man named Phil or Frank (he made his living as landlord of multiple properties, none of which included this one, nor any of the proximate homes, for why would he own property here?)—it was this nephew who guided my initial tour of the house. The kitchen seemed at first of particular interest, though I refrained from verbally expressing my puzzlement, for on a very basic and inaccessible level of cognition I could see that the light held the whole of suburbia in its tint: the whole of its spatial dimensions before and now and to come, the whole of its recurring flux between renewal and decay, and not just this suburb, nor just it in conjunction with those surrounding it, but every suburb in existence and that has existed and that ever would exist—and the implicit annihilation of such as it would occur in a nuclear blast or a world-consuming flood, the film of death spread naturally and invisibly across these surfaces atop surfaces: the shingles and the bricks and the beveled Masonite . . .

“Weren’t these things built on slabs?” I said after the tour. (Hence the impossibility of Ingrid’s basement archives.)

“Well don’t that just kick the mule in the butt,” the nephew said. “Could be.”

Before leaving, he recommended a small corner bar at the edge of the city, only a couple hundred feet from the threshold of this very subdivision. For the time being, he needed to attend to a house many miles in the opposite direction, one suffering a series of constant leaks. When one stopped, he complained, another sprang up somewhere you wouldn’t even think to fix.

“Maybe I’ll join you there some time,” he said of the corner bar. He pulled a slim box from his breast pocket, bit the plastic tip of a cigarillo, and lit it. “We can talk about Ingrid.”

“Sure. That would be helpful.”

“You really should have known her.”

I sighed and tugged my beard. “Would that it were possible,” I cried.

He looked down at the driveway, perhaps at some crack in its long-neglected surface. Smoke eroded the contours of his face. “What a way to put it,” he said, smiling. “That’s good. Would that it were possible. Very good.”

The next events are difficult to render. We, the sum of us, are inventions of lingering forces. It is hard to think we don’t just exude data. Bodies that are both bodies and not. Moments that are both moments and not. What if this whole ordeal (the unceasing onslaught of infinity and nothingness on the apparatus of sense) amounts to a deliberate cohesion of zombie remnants of earlier processes long since tapered to nothingness—the inertia of pure form, wherein our meager pursuits are no longer pursuits, but are instead stale reproductions of like events. This, I have long suspected, is an ahistorical existence we lead. And so it occurred to me as my investigation intensified that we are living not within any historical moment, nor even in its grand shadow as past recedes into past, so distant back there behind us, eyes onward and future facing, but within the shallowest image of the Historical Moment (HM).

Thus I did indeed meet Ingrid av Enga’s nephew several evenings later. He seemed upset over something and would not say why, or even if, he was bothered. Typically one could not smoke in such an establishment, but the nephew began every new cigarillo immediately after he had finished the one before it. Evidence of our presence mounted—his blotted tips, his beer mugs emptied of their domestic contents, my tumblers in which the remaining droplets of liquor mixed with melting ice.

“I had a dream last night,” he said. “I kept locking and unlocking Ingrid’s house. Nothing happened. It was terrifying. I went down the front step and found myself exactly where I should be.”

His dream reminded me of a story someone once told me, in which a person had a similar dream.

“Then I walked to a corner bar. Not this one. I don’t think the bar from my dream actually exists, unless it’s this one.”

Something struck me about the shadow concealing his chest, the smoke uncurling from his mouth and nose. Eventually, he continued, “I met you there, or here. Let’s just say I met you here. We talked about Norwegian hand ball. Is it a real game?”

Overcome, I thought, with the knowledge of having known each other long ago. An evacuation of the mind which is an evacuation of space. These unnatural social relations we must always reenact. What was this thing speaking to me? What was that thing to which it spoke? The soot appeared in a sweeping vision, Ingrid’s sacred soot, that on which we build our grand cathedrals and our pauperish lean-tos and our matching bungalows alike.

“Ingrid,” I whispered.

“Ingrid,” the nephew repeated, hours later.

 

*

Something had changed overnight. My eyes stung with dander or sleeplessness or the residue of dreams. The spot on which I lay must have been a flower bed at one point. This was evidenced by the soil on my back. Is a flower bed continuous? A flower bed from the moment earth is tilled and a first bulb planted, a flower bed until the final one is rooted out? What if these events were to happen again? What if the bulbs were removed and transplanted elsewhere in an identical arrangement? Is that elsewhere this bed on which I lay, located at other intersections of time and space?

I stood and investigated the perimeter. To the east, a figure not unlike myself approached on foot. It was Ingrid’s nephew, holding a tray of Starbucks beverages.

“I thought you might need these, ma’am,” he said. “Thank you, kind sir.”

“Please,” he said, “spare me these unnatural social relations.”

He eyed my breasts the way men do without knowing what they are doing—for the animal patterns in their brains meander like rodents until finally achieving the cheese at the center of the maze, that is, an insight akin to but not quite self-awareness, and finally they notice what they have done, and they turn away, hoping the female before them did not see.

“I think you’ll be pleased,” he said, indicating the Starbucks cups—a form of radically condensed urbanity cradled in his palms. Three tall towers symbolizing Americano power and the global supremacy of Starbucks whose origins are mysterious and may only truly appear in some alternate reality. With these three towering cups was a fourth more stout, symbolizing the mediocre legions. I drank them all, except the stout one, which belonged to the nephew. I searched briefly for the name written on it, but damn it all if I came up just a little short.

As expected, we took the tour. As expected, I asked about the slab-built nature of this house oddly implanted within the grid of identical domiciles. As expected, he answered me with a special form of folksy naïveté. As expected, we came together on the surface of Ingrid’s drive: “Ingrid!” we moaned as one. “Ingrid!”

Afterward, I shook in his furry clutches, gazing at a hand that appeared in the space before me as a mist: my hand, or Ingrid’s, or a projection of our common bond. On its pinky finger was a ring—a duplicate, an original, of the thin gold band crowned with a tiny blue sapphire I wore on my own pinky, an heirloom with origins as secret as those of the smoggy hand itself. The fingers opened, showing me their palm. What arrived were predictions, prophecies:

More would join.

The addition of more would throw my investigation into abject chaos, as each addition would be seeking the same answers as me.

The addition of more (or rather, this series of additions, for those who would join would appear separately on the horizon, one each day fifteen minutes after the crack of dawn in a gesture of careful orchestration)—these additions would throw a wrench into things with Ingrid’s nephew, for his attentions would become less a singular lust for maidenly succor than an impossibly huge cybernetic web cast across the totality of being, dividing it and dividing it, all into equal sections, again and again, all things being equalized and equal.

Hours passed. I did not speak of these visions. Instead, I twirled the dark hairs on his wrist and licked the spiraled tips. We bedded there, on the concrete lea in front of Ingrid’s house, for no one was yet around to interrupt our unhurried pleasures. We pulled down each other’s pants and left them there, around our ankles. He told me very early on he had already undergone a vasectomy (I could put away Ingrid’s shears). Again and again, beneath the winsome Pleiades and their guardian bull, he besmirched my virtue true. We were already quite drunk. We slept and shared a dream about Norwegian handball, just as we had discussed. In the morning, as the sun first cast his rosy fingers upon us, I told him that other story of which his initial handball dream had reminded me, the one in which someone experienced a remarkably similar dream. (The depiction of the other person’s dream was the story, or perhaps the story was the fact that this other story constituted an exact reproduction of our own reality, or our own a reproduction of it).

“I don’t think that’s so odd,” he said. He clutched my lace dickey to his chest, then dropped it where we had shared the night in resplendent slumber, for nothing is better than this, more steadfast than when two people, a man and his new strange, keep a harmonious driveway.

Sixteen minutes passed.

A figure appeared to the east and approached on foot. How many years, I wondered, since Ingrid had died, or gone missing, or simply vanished? The nephew’s eyes blazed like the candles of so many vigils. The figure soon reached us, a man shrunken and battered by the thralls of age.

“How did you know her?” I said. Lovers, perhaps. An old suitor come to piece together what may have been . . . Before he could remove his pipe and answer, the nephew grabbed him by the elbow, shuffled up the step where he unlocked Ingrid’s door, kicking his pants away as he would a crawling leper. They eventually came out. The codger, he of the Inverness cape and houndstooth cap, inspected the door frame with a large magnifying glass, pipe in hand.

“Weren’t these things built on slabs?” he said.

“Well don’t that . . .” the nephew said. Stains of sweat had developed, yellowing the elastic leg bands of his Hanes. “Could be.” He locked the door again, and the codger, not before returning the magnifying glass to his black hand bag, bit from a head of cabbage. Where had he attained such a thing? (I found out soon enough, after a vigorous day of questioning, after disguising myself as a familiar friend, after cozening him with promises of magic herbs and fleshy delights.)

“Think I’ll have me a spot of shut eye,” the codger announced, having finished his snack. “It’s been a wearisome journey, and me real work is just beginning. I can’t hardly fathom it; after all these years I finally got meself another whodunnit. The poor lass was called Ingrid.

Everywhere I been has lead me here to this, her impossible basement.”

Just like that, we were three: the nephew and I loafing eternally on the concrete lea, the codger raiding Ingrid’s refrigerator for clues and snacks, sleeping on soot. Ingrid’s house had become a dwelling once more, an abode, a place of wherein the dreams of domestic bliss and robust market rates stabilized the logic of existence.

Nonetheless, we made libations so that I could describe my visions to the nephew.

Drinking made everything seem suddenly clear. Pillow talk, one could say, or more accurately, a prophecy divined in the land of the dead. I saw Ingrid’s face assemble before me as I spoke in the haven of the corner bar. The nephew listened, one hand fastened to the cigarillo between his lips, the other spread wide across his belly.

“You’ve really got some nerve, pal,” he said, “springing all this stuff on me. I’ve got responsibilities, you know. I’ve got people and places that need tending. If you can’t already tell, I’ve been spread pretty thin lately. I thought you of all people would get that.”

His anger boiled over during the night. After receiving a dose of maidenly succor (for who could refuse such comfort?) and after sharing with me a prolonged session of weeping, he expressed his fury by stripping the front of Ingrid’s house of its surfaces. One piece of weatherboard and another flew past me. The codger, as was his wont, slept through the night on a bed of rotting cabbage.

This bloody circuit board of a neighborhood. Despite my predictions, I could not piece things together. I could not make the current flow, so to speak. In the moonlight, cold and afraid, I checked the pile of debris he had hurled. Ingrid had written nothing on them. No names. No dates. No confessions of her greatest catastrophes. Only serial numbers, only the implied processes of mass production spelled in the patterns between machine-pressed particles.

The sun once more cast his rosy fingers, and presently another figure appeared beneath the eastern light. It was a working man in a wool mantel and muddy buskins. He gathered us, the codger, the nephew, and myself, on the concrete lea and regaled us with a tale of exile, bondage, and unwavering resolve. He recited the plot frantically and without much detail. In short, a spurned lover had plotted against him, back in the abundant verdancy of the our nation’s greatest city park. As a result, he was simultaneously abandoned by his flock and lover. And so he left with no destination in mind, cursing his endless misfortune.

“So here I find myself,” said he, “beaten and wearied from the deprivation of my beloved, the stately Ingrid av Enga whose unrivaled beauty cannot and will not ever be recreated in all of mankind. Every person I encountered, every auspice, every stroke of Fate has directed me here, the original manger of earth’s supreme embodiment.”

He kissed the concrete, then asked the nephew for a tour of Ingrid’s house. The nephew obliged, though not before leaving and returning with a tray of Starbucks beverages. The bastard. The duplicitous little coward. He brought us three Americanos and one stout cup. One beverage for each. I did not get my fill. The furrows of his brow spelled his lasting anger over my prophecies the night before. The torrent of tears returned and spoiled the delicacy of my eyes. I pounded fists on the ground. I tore hair from infinite follicles.

And it kept happening, again and again, result after result far estranged from any cause. Soot tracked in from elsewhere, forms appearing to the east; each day over the course of nearly seven years, a new figure appeared describing a different version of Ingrid av Enga. Dicks who had been lead here by intuition, deduction, and forensic trails. Elderly people who had grown up orphaned, each one claiming to have been sent by one agency or another. Nobles and rustics whose histories had been plagued by her elusive image. They all received the tour from her nephew, every last one on them separating me further from him—from the archives that I was sure would supply evidence to satisfactorily conclude my investigation. The nephew would leave and return as always with trays from Starbucks, though his trips necessarily increased in frequency and intensity. Like the undead sprawl of suburban development, the trays and the people they were for multiplied without any justification of their number. He had become bitter and worn out. Just as I had envisioned. Just as Ingrid herself had told me.

The last to appear was a beggar. A beard extended beyond the delicate curvature of a waist. The natural fineness of narrow shoulders was disgraced by invincible stains of soot. An immediate affinity developed between this beggar and the flockless shepherd. For an entire year, they hung around the edges of the yard, whispering things into each other’s ears. Perhaps they were mocking the men stooped over discarded trays, scrutinizing the surfaces magnified by glass. Perhaps they regaled each other with tales of their torturous journeys here. Perhaps, in the worst case scenario, they shared insights as to the truths of Ingrid av Enga. My greatest wish was to whisper similarly into the ear of Ingrid’s nephew, but he was nowhere to be found. Tending, perhaps, to his properties. Drinking, possibly, alone. My voice emitted to no audience. Ingrid, I breathed, over and over. Ingrid . . .

It came to pass, that with a grief heretofore unimaginable this beggar pointed out an obfuscated truth: the mosses and vines and leafy fingers we had all failed to notice were reclaiming Ingrid’s house.

“You all have reduced my house to squalor,” the beggar cried. “You all have eaten the contents of my refrigerator with no thought of recompense and no intention to leave. This is not your pasture. This is not your halcyon enclave. For your treating of it so, I now claim what is due.”

She flung off her beard to reveal a face that would perhaps have been of unrivaled beauty were it not for the tribulations of sadness and age.

“I am no beggar,” she declared, “but am Ingrid av Enga herself, returned from my exile to restore my home.” With that the flockless shepherd bowed in supplication, wept in joy, and supplied her with a quiver and a bow. A general din grew among the throngs. The dicks considered the evidence (there was none) and lobbed interrogations at her, which she refused to answer. The orphans held photographs their agencies had given them, comparing the visage before them to those on paper. The nobles and the rustics did what they always do; they fought for position in order to cling to her knees and beg for her affections.

For my part, I stood behind the racket. I saw no correlation to the face that had appeared to me earlier, no resemblance when I held my ring up high. I suppose one could say that I instigated things with my shouted accusations that this person was not Ingrid, far from it, but was instead some ridiculous imposter. Before she could sling a single arrow, she was trampled to death by the throngs. Even now they continue, to this day many years hence, committed to a useless stampede that avenges nothing and leads them nowhere, as if the power of their first thrusts has fueled and sustained every identical gesture since. Imagine the view from above. The cloud of soot rising to consume the grid of houses—Ingrid’s, all those standing idly near it. That earthy collective of particles that had before been dormant, now come to rest upon the shingles and the windows, upon the beveled Masonite, across the cells of our lungs. It is something I consider every evening in that corner bar, where I drink alone, contemplating the empty seat across from me that had on many occasions been occupied. Some leak must have sprung up somewhere—must have given rise to a different one. In my visions, I no longer see her face.

Instead it is her nephew. I ask him what is happening, what is the nature of this madness, this confounding repetition of moments and forms, but, frightened, he does not answer. What wholeness is this?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eric Blix
is the author of the short story collection Physically Alarming Men (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2017). His writing has appeared in such journals and anthologies as Best Small Fictions, The Collagist, Caketrain, The Pinch, and others. His story, “Doctor on a Hill,” appeared previously in 3:AM. He currently lives in Salt Lake City, where he studies in the PhD program in creative writing at the University of Utah.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, June 11th, 2019.