Feature Kate Matta

A Title is a Word is a Name is a. by Kate Matta 0

Burn

There. All done. Everything is titled, tidied away like so many boxes of warped and quasi-rotten photographs. She feels like the first caveman to scrape away the chips from the wheel, gargling at the bruising sky, triumph in his fists as everything around him titles itself. She feels the heat, the racing potential of all those things as they gain titles, flames rising in haloes. Her own titled face, titled hands tremble with it—rise, fall, and rise again in a last symphony.

***

Red

The photographs are what they are: tepid testaments to a world where her grandmother smiled with no wrinkles and a summer dress with flowers on. It might be yellow, might be a title, might be the color of that first fresh layer of pond scum—what does she know? Sepia has never been a translatable thing. She is reminded of the joke about the world as it first gained color from its old black-and-white set; the first grainy color, then the overbright patented color, then a more settled but no less disturbing fabrication of life. What color might the sky have been, in the days of sepia photographs?

Blue

She places the photographs in a pile, along with the other things she’s found while going through the attic: old baptism dress, old wedding dress (most likely a great-aunt’s; Mother Never Gets Rid Of Anything), old books, old hatbox, old Christmas present with the words “To Holly Love Daddy” written in faded black marker on the top. Daddy Is So Good At Hiding Things. So good he can never find them when he wants them. She hasn’t opened it yet, and is not sure if she will. The only thing that pleases is the title of the paper it’s wrapped in, and that is faded, and fated to be ripped away.

Sky

Time for a break; too many memories to sit on. She reaches up to place a flat palm on the low beam next to her, pushes herself up with it. Swats across her thighs and buttocks, winces and coughs at the layers of dust, and more memories, that fall like toast butter-side down. The blue-and-white aches and twists through the window at the east end of the attic. She has to maneuver around what is left in the attic, what she has left, will be leaving, to whatever insects and biting things live here now, to get to that window. There, she splays her fingers across the grime-brown panes and tries to squint for the title’s color.

Tree

Across the street is a park that hasn’t been used, at least by her, since she first learned how to give cootie-shots. The metal frameworks there could have been a jungle gym if the neighbors wanted to pay for upkeep, but they’ve given their answer, and it flakes away like so much confetti. What she really looks for is nature: there is some green here and there, but this season, these days it’s mostly given over to brown titles.

Dog

The world changes. Didn’t you know? Can’t you smell it?

Dig

There would be holes where the Brer might sit, but there is nothing. Nothing but the attic and the grime-brown window panes. Nothing but a hole that titles itself. She turns away. Nothing to be said. Nothing but more memories, through which she might title, title herself, title the world. Down and down.

*

Flower

Bernie, her (and Daddy’s) big baby, used to snuffle and paw all around the dirt, occasionally ate the heads of titles. Mother would yell, make angry shaking fists, be ignored. After all, who else could he have been, how could he be denied, this lumpy black creature who routinely ate the titles of the backyard, claimed them as his own? She always hugged him after Mother shook her head and went back into the house, after Mother’s shrill vulture-squawks floated through the open windows (Mother Must Be Left Alone While She Talks To Her Friends On The Phone). After stealing a part of the world, her big baby deserved a million hugs.

Leaf

Big baby Bernie would jump for the largest titles only, the ones that drooped over the edges of his droopy mouth. The littlest ones, the ones that she liked to press (the undersides were the green of estuary-foam and stormy noons) were left alone. He knew they belonged to her first. But he wanted to play, so sometimes she would climb the maple in the backyard and crawl out over a lower branch, shake it as much as she could without jarring herself overboard and onto the grass, which—of course!—was lava. He would bark and leap and catch them in his mouth. Only the largest titles can be eaten.

Wing

Then—there was the phone jangling again, during a colder part of the year without green leaves. Mother was not in, so it had to be her to touch the precious phone. And it happened like the movies. The calm pickup, the “Filipson residence” so smooth and easy and sickening like angel-food cake. The distant voice made more distant by obligation and duty, asking if Mother is there. The negative answer—Mother Is Out, Who May I Ask…? The sudden (and, she still suspects now, deliberate) announcement. Daddy’s plane. The plane’s title. The ripping of titles, of all titles, and the rips it causes later. Mother’s sobs that everyone knew were actress auditions, Mother’s new Man Of The Month. Eventually, Mother’s butterfly display, glass glittering across the living room’s Turkish rug that Mother never allowed her daughter to walk on; the titles peeling away from the recently de-pierced bodies like tissue paper.

*

Flutter

She sits back down, crosses her legs Indian-style, starts on a new box labeled “Home Videos.” Funny, she doesn’t remember Daddy ever taking any, and Mother doesn’t understand technology very well. Did they have a video camera at one point? Maybe not, she thinks after glancing at the first tape’s label: “Grandma Kerri’s sixtieth birthday.” She doesn’t have a grandma named Kerri, as far as she knows. It’s probably Mother’s grandma Kerri, and Mother’s home video, probably taken by Mother’s brother Andrew, that she’s never watched, just stored. (Remember, little girl, Mother Saves Everything. If only she’d save her daughter. But why struggle, why title at all, when you’re already defeated?)

***

Burn

The attic is the first to go, once she’s done looking through it for things she might want to take with her, once she’s loaded everything she wants (not much) into the car. She clicks open the lighter, dips the flame into the bowl of Daddy’s cherrywood pipe—Mother didn’t want her to keep That Smelly Old Thing, but good little Holly pulled a Bernie and locked it away in one of the dusted jewelry boxes in the attic until the time was right. Until now. She drags on it, lets the tobacco title itself, curl on itself the way she used to but not anymore. She gives the wheel a thumbed flick, tosses it through the kitchen window, eyes the lazy finger of smoke that appears a minute later. Eventually it catches for real, and there is a muffled whoomp as the gas she splashed everywhere drags the flames through the house, and up to the attic. After a few minutes she can see the smoke there, too, making that grimy window clean again. She smiles. Walks to her car.

***

Titles

“Okay, first one, Holly,” you say. “Burn.”

“Red.”

“Good, good. Next one is blue.”

“Sky.”

“Very good. Okay, how about…tree?”

“Dog.”

“All right. Next is, um, dig.”

“Flower.”

“That’s good,” you say. You say it because it’s true, because she might be recovering, might even be normal, more normal than you thought an arsonist could be.

“Next one is leaf.”

“Wing.”

“Good. Flutter.”

She laughs, and at first you draw back because there is something there that she’s not telling you, and you’re more than afraid to ask what it is. She laughs, holding her sides with one arm and snorting into her other fist, and you wait, because that’s all you can do. Eventually she calms down and starts breathing without those hiccupy little jerks you remember you used to have as a child.

She looks you in the eye as her mouth shapes itself around the word. “Burn.”

And you draw back, for real this time, because there’s only so much a professional can deal with, especially a young one like you. And she’s still staring into your eyes, and instantly you know one thing about her.

She may or may not tell you. You may or may not know.

16 September 1999: Interrogations by Kate Matta 0

[excerpt from The New York Times, dated 15 September 1999]:

Patrons of the Metropolitan Museum of Art were filled with relief today when the museum heist-master known only as “B” was taken into custody at approximately 2 AM this morning. Her target at the Metropolitan Museum is rumored to have been a set of revolvers from the Arms and Armor exhibit. Police state that when B broke the glass display, she triggered a silent alarm, and within minutes she was surrounded. Two officers were injured when B resisted arrest, and are recovering at the Lenox Hill hospital. The police have issued no further statements as of yet, particularly about B’s methods of eluding them over the past three years. B is currently undergoing questioning.

Continued page 4

[part of the interrogation tape during questioning of B, dated 16 September 1999; questions from Detective Ian Montclair have been omitted]:

…No, I never said that.

This isn’t the beginning of a story, it’s where all of them intersect. Because a story is a world all on its own, and this is where all of the worlds come together and…do whatever it is they do. No, it doesn’t sound real, but that’s okay. It’s not like you want a real explanation anyway. You just want me to tell you how I get away from you so easy.

Look, here it is. I open a door, right? And because I’m part of the house now, that door opens to the house, and I just—disappear. That’s what I’ve been telling you for the past three hours.

It’s called D-house, dipshit, don’t make me say it again.

Well, it wasn’t always called D-house, I just ended up calling it that. Hey, it makes sense, right? Dee—mensional, right? [laughs] No, really. It is a dimensional house, it can go anywhere anywhen anywhich place you want to go. If you can get in.

As if I’d help you.

[excerpt from Newsweek magazine, dated 18 September 1999]:

…But who is she, really? When we tried to get in to talk with her, police were adamant that we leave. We have no answers, only conjecture, and the parts of the interrogation performed by Detective Montclair. (For a full transcript of the interrogation, see page 22.)

Some religious sects say the young woman, aged 19 according to the information the police chose to give us, is a reincarnation of a chaos god, others say she is a prophet. The Catholic Church refuses to comment on her. Scientologists have been quoted as saying that she is a light to the way to defeat Xenu (for more on the beliefs of Scientology, see page 83). Many psychologists, among them the famous contemporary child psychologist Anne Scarr, have stated that B may just be a confused orphan. “She may have made up the story of the dimensional house to get attention, or to project her conflicting feelings of loneliness onto a concrete object that only she could see.” Other psychologists believe the case is even more severe than that. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she is diagnosed with schizophrenia,” Scarr adds.

[part of the interrogation tape during questioning of B, dated 16 September 1999; questions from Detective Ian Montclair have been omitted]:

I don’t remember where I came from. No, really, I don’t. I just kinda…was there, you know? I don’t wanna talk about it anymore.

No, I don’t remember how little I was when I got there, all right? I just was. Yeesh. I was lost, I needed help, I asked for help, and when I opened the door, I was right there in D-house. And I…I kinda got lost in there for awhile. I mean, I wanted to leave, I wanted to go back home. But D-house doesn’t understand that kind of thing. It understands people wanting to leave, but not for where, even though—yes, I remember I said it—it opens to everywhere. You have to know how to work it right so you don’t end up on the far side of Pluto or something.

Well, I don’t know how to explain it. You tell me.

[excerpt from report of Kyle Marten, child psychologist, on patient “B”]:

Patient seems to have acute awareness of objects as extensions of place. Kept asking me about the bowl of fruit on the table, asked about each fruit as being part of the whole. After I explained the arrangement as aesthetic, she withdrew from the conversation. Patient seems to believe that all objects exist as part of the purpose of the whole: if one piece of fruit is missing, she stated after several attempts to restart conversation, then the integrity of the bowl is gone. She framed this as a partially interrogative statement.

Patient is happy to play chess; would rather play chess than engage in conversation or cooperate with blot tests. She seems fascinated with the pieces, especially the knights, and I rarely see her not touching them in some way.

A note about blot tests: patient seems to find it funny to respond with the most disturbing images to the cards I show her. She will wait several seconds, clearly deep in thought, before replying with the crudest image she can think of. When I tell her that that is not how the test works, she laughs at me.

[part of the interrogation tape during questioning of B, dated 25 September 1999; questions from Agent Rodney Feuller have been omitted]:

Why the hell should I tell you how to get into D-house? What are you gonna use it for? It can’t be a weapon or anything, you know. Weapons aren’t welcome there, the house eats them.

You can’t get in because I’m not gonna tell you how, and I’m not gonna tell you how because you’ll screw everything up, and I won’t let you. So suck on that.

[part of the interrogation tape during questioning of B, dated 16 September 1999; questions from Detective Ian Montclair have been omitted]:

Hey, it’s not like I want to steal stuff, my mom taught me it was a bad thing to do, just like any other mom would do. But I don’t have much of a choice. D-house lets me stay, so I have to help it. That’s the way it works.

Sometimes things in the house get outside—sometimes it’s somebody coming in, not knowing where they are, taking stuff—sometimes it’s a weird wind—those happen, I’m not kidding—sometimes it’s just what happens. But it screws up the house, and when the house is screwed up, bad stuff can happen to the worlds it’s connected to—as in everything. And I mean really bad stuff. People call them weather phenomenons or an angry god or whatever, but it’s really D-house not having the things that balance it out. So I get them back, that’s all. I can’t help it if they’re all in museums or bookstores or auction places or people’s homes. D-house needs them. It’s as simple as that.

[excerpt from Dateline, dated 29 September 1999]:

There have been dark rumors that the government wants to do something with B, and the house she professes to live in. But how can a rational government believe such an obvious hoax? We go to sociologists and psychologists George Nuntley and Arthur Fried for a possible answer…

[excerpt from report of Kyle Marten, child psychologist, on patient “B”]:

Note: I seem to have misplaced a few of my chess pieces after a visit with B; to whit, a black knight and a white one, as well as a black rook.

[part of the interrogation tape during questioning of B, dated 16 September 1999; questions from Detective Ian Montclair have been omitted]:

Yeah, you try and lock me up. You just try.