I met Eddie at the party of a mutual friend. I’d only gone because I feared I’d comb my hair back with a shotgun if I had to spend another night indoors with the tube. Neither Eddie nor I knew many people there, so, as misfits naturally do, we gravitated toward one another and began swapping stories over a joint and a few vodka and cokes. In the manner of the elderly and the awkward, we ended up making a nuisance of ourselves by sitting on the grass in middle of a major thoroughfare between the group of smokers in the backyard and the party inside the house.
He told me that ‘Eddie’ was a relaxation of Edgar, not Edward, as his parents belonged to some underground cult which held Edgar Allen Poe as their deity. I had grown up on a farm amongst meat-and-two-veg-loving, A Country Practice-watching “normal” folk. Looking back on that night with the orderly grace of distance and time, I like to think now that Eddie didn’t really tell stories so much as spin poetry. He often spoke in lilting terms like “my life’s montage is painted in smudged greys and blacks, mostly comprised of dirty floorboards and cobweb-festooned rooms”. I’m not sure I really appreciated his depth and capacity for reflection at the time, nor the effect it would have on my imagination with the booze and pot smoke coursing through my veins.
Despite – or perhaps in rebellion of – all the Poe stuff, Eddie was a really bright and vivacious guy. He told stories which showed his philosophical departure from his parents at a very young age. How he never had friends over his place for fear that his dark secret would be found out. How he had never introduced any of his girlfriends to his parents until his last, Irene, on his thirtieth birthday. They had greeted her with sombre black formality and spoken exclusively in sonnets for the entire evening. He was single again three days later and vowed never to make the same mistake again.
I took a last deep toke on the roach while Eddie was talking and closed my eyes. As I did, my short-term memory of his face began to change: his skin grew waxy and pale, eyes swelling and sinking in shiny black sockets, his hair growing greasy and curled under a sprouting, crooked stovepipe hat. It was a curious amalgam which incorporated every bit of Gothicism I knew. This vision of Eddie as a corrupted Ickabod Crane grew ever more creepy until I couldn’t bear it anymore. I exhaled and opened my eyes, letting Eddie’s chubby, flushed and freckled cheeks, high brow and crew cut, with small, almost piggy, twinkling eyes flood back in. I huffed a soft chuckle, my eyes rolling crazily in my head. This was some good dope.
The last thing I remember before it all began was something of his philosophy. He called reality “the window”, as in “it’s all a window, man” and spoke at length about the way to change your past and future by reframing what you see. I nodded, closing my eyes again. This time I saw a gorgeous, ornate window frame, dripping gilt, its confines alive with hundreds of cherubs smiling at me and flitting their way from one giant rose to another.
Eddie kept on, only now he was talking about conspiracy theories and trying to relate these to his reality-as-a-window idea. He quoted someone: “The soul’s twisted vision through corrupted window pane – I’d rather naught, and obscure it not.” In the window, forms had begun to rise and shift, sinister and growling and cast in the palette of Eddie’s childhood. As the shadows rose the cherubs fled and the roses wilted and died. Eddie just kept on talking as the window filled my mind, its frame pushing out to the reaches of infinity. Finally an oddly familiar form unfolded within it. A rickety staircase. The rest of the room snapped into tentative focus and I saw that the staircase led down into a distended, nightmarish version of the kitchen in the old family homestead. The old wooden table which normally dwarfed the room was instead dwarfed by the space created by the curved and leering walls.
Eddie’s voice came slowly echoing as if from a long way away, “the claustrophobic veneer of moral decency chokes the goodness of things,” he paused, “like old family squabbles at Christmas.” Subtly, between the kitchen bench and the door to the backyard, a hideous skeletal Christmas tree slipped into being from the shadows.
I steeled myself and stepped through the window and down the staircase. A tingle and a shiver ran through my skull and down my spine as the scene took on depth around and behind me. Everything inside the window blurred in my peripheral vision, only taking up focus when I looked directly at something. A musty, dry scent of things long buried in sand filled my nostrils and was gone. I looked behind me and saw the window frame, infinitely small and far away.