It's Me Down There

Sébastien Joanniez

Illustration by Guillaume Gilbert

"I am a madman who loves mankind.
My madness is my love towards mankind."
Nijinsky - Diary

It's me down there on the roof to watch the fireworks. I've fire falling on me like rain, white and red and green and blue flakes coming towards me and I jump sideways to avoid them cos it's still fire, even as rain and snow it's still fire. I marvel. I've got the cars and the motorbikes the roads down below and the noise comes up like the streetlights to the roof, I've got the cries down below shouting oohs and aahs as if I was replying. I'm happy. It's the fireworks, the first I've seen. And I'm on the roof. I shake a bit with the happiness and the fear, I hang on to the tiles well, I'm not about to run everywhere nor stand cos I'm on the roof. I'm careful, I don't fall on the cars below. I watch. I watch and red's my favourite colour and also the rockets cos of the noise they whistle before they burst, I say it's like a bomb but with colour inside, it's a better sort of bomb. I cover my ears but don't close my eyes seeing as it's fireworks. I'm on top of the street. I've got no one next to me seeing as she don't like fireworks she says it's like war. I say nothing, I just take care not to fall cos she told me it's dangerous. Happy. I shout at the finale and ooh and aah, the sound of the explosions is like war she says that's why she don't like it, me I'm shouting with happiness and the red all over the sky's what I like best the shouts from below the cars the motorbikes I mustn't fall on them, the finale like a thunderstorm I cling onto the tiles I shout with fear it's like war and the smell of fire a cloud of fire above me, it's the end of the finale I shout again and in the street too, I can't clap else I'll let go of the tiles it's dangerous she told me so I shout hurray without clapping. The cloud goes away, the sky's black now. She says behind me at the window that I should come in, so I climb back up, I take care I don't fall I put my feet where I should, and I get to the window without slipping. I turn round, the sky is black, and the smell of fire on the roof I think of war when she says watch out, so I come inside and I go to bed.

Surely the buzzes in my ears it's because of the explosions I can't sleep, so I say the sheep one two three I count like she told me to when I can't sleep, I count as far as I can one two three...I've got the clock hands counting too and the sound of the street, people going home after the fire, I hear the cars and the horns and the crowd's going home, so I count the horns too to go to sleep. I count one two...

She tells me to get up so it's not like a dream, it's her telling me to get up so I leave my dream under the pillow with my pyjamas. I've still got a bit of night inside my head and my eyes all yellow I've got to wash she says it's not like wake. I say yes I always say yes else she won't tell me anymore to get up and I'll be dead, so I go to wash myself.

I walk along the corridor and it's always those shadows to bust my face behind the doors and robbers to kill me in the morning, in the morning I'm always scared in the corridor she says we'll change the lightbulb but still...I don't defend myself, I run quick to the bathroom, she says not to lock the door to the bathroom seeing as I could get stuck if there was a fire so I just slam the door shut. It's always cold in the bathroom with the tiling and there's no heating in the bathroom that's how cold it is. I'm shivering, she says that wakes you up.

Afterwards I brush my teeth until a hundred, she says I have to count to be sure I've washed them well so I count to a hundred and afterwards I have to spit don't have to count to spit well.

Afterwards I wash my face a bit with some water but as cold as snow running from the tap so I do it quickly she says that we'll soon have hot water but anyway she says it wakes you up too.

So afterwards I have lunch and quick quick I leave seeing as it's always at the last minute I run I run she says see you this evening and me I never say nothing I'm already outside and it's as cold as in the bathroom so I run every morning cos of being late and keeping warm, I run all the time she says it wakes you up I don't know but I run and I always arrive after time, she says I daydream on the way and one day no one'll want me anymore and I'll stay in the bathroom forever and I'll be so cold I'll be like ice so of course I'm scared.

Afterwards I am always waiting for the end.

Afterwards I go home and she asks me, asks me if I am, I am yes I say it was a normal day but her she wants to know more so I say a bit about my day and she's happy. She's curious. She lies down on the sofa with the long shirt she always has on to watch the telly it must be more comfortable and she stretches out like cats do, like a cat she is sometimes.

I say nothing I don't I look, often I don't know what to look at I lower my eyes but now of course I look at everything I can. She says I mustn't look at her like that so she'd think I'm going to kill her or eat her, but it's not to eat her just the opposite...So I look less seeing as else she's scared she says laughing.

I sit down on the sofa, at her feet, on the edge seeing as if she's lying down there's no room for the two of us. It's the news she says because you've got to keep up with things, have to know she says what's happening in the world on the telly so her and me we watch the news...It's war she says again, she keeps saying it's war and I say nothing. I think about the fireworks. I dream. Afterwards I stop dreaming seeing as she says I'm dreaming again. I ask if I can go on the roof again, no you can't she says so I think that if I was a cat I'd go out on the roof whenever I want but I'm dreaming again I guess...

Afterwards I have to eat seeing as afterwards I have to have a wash. I'm hungry I say and her she can't say nothing she's watching the news, I ask if it's still war, she says I've got to be quiet and if I'm hungry I should just eat so I go into the kitchen and I've got the war behind me. I take a plate, I don't ask whether she's hungry too seeing as I've got to be quiet, and I eat. I always eat all on my own because of the news.

Afterwards I go to wash myself I go behind her on the sofa, I don't make a sound going over to the bathroom and it's even colder than in the morning so quickly quickly I wash and sometimes I cry from the cold but not loud enough for her to hear me I'm careful I've got to be quiet.

So afterwards I go and see her for good night. I think about kissing her else there's horrible dreams I've got without kissing her and the news has finished but it's still war. I say good night but softly as if I was blowing bubbles, and her she smiles at me in her long shirt she says good night to me too must be so I won't be afraid and she always kisses me by my ear so I can hear she's kissing me. Sometimes I sit down on the sofa and I watch the war with her but not always seeing as afterwards I have to go to bed.

I'm her love she says sometimes. Then it's just as if I was still dreaming.

In the daytime I'm like a different person than with her, I'm the other side of myself, I'm different, I say if I looked in a mirror I wouldn't be here I'd be somewhere else, with her no doubt. So I try not to think about it else I'll get lost and they tell me not to think. Else I'll get lost. My head's in the clouds they often tell me as if I wasn't from this planet so I say no I'm not no I'm not but it's as if I hadn't said anything, they always say that in the clouds, but well if it was true I wouldn't be like this, I'd be a different colour. I've got to keep quiet here too, I've got to keep quiet everywhere I think it's better this way otherwise there'd be so much noise if we all talked at the same time we wouldn't hear each other. So there have to be people like me who keep quiet.

I work. I work all day, she says life's like that you have to work for the happiness there is in getting up in the morning and going to work and helping make prosperity, she says like that I'm happy so, well, if that's all it takes then I'll work. I say the same as her anyway, she understands what I'm like. I wake up and my mouth's full of sleep still and I get up for happiness' sake. And then I work.
I'm on meat for the fridge and sometimes when my head's not in the clouds so much I'm on packing. That's the best thing to do packing...But I'm almost always on the fridge.
So I've got the weight of the meat on my shoulder and my back all red because of the blood obviously it runs down and I go into cold storage but it's like a fridge, and in there I've got hooks above my head with chains and everything, I have to hang the meat up there, I say it's like a hangman, and after I go and get another one and on my shoulders and it's starts all over again like I said. I work like that.
I've got a white apron as well all red cos of the blood.
I've got some boots to walk in as well seeing as there's blood everywhere streams to step over better to have boots otherwise it stains and afterwards she says I bring blood home, she don't like that blood's like war she don't like it, sometimes she faints if I tell her things about my day she's sensitive, so better have boots.
I've got white gloves and a white hat too.
I'm all white at the start of the day. I say if I had red clothes it'd be easier.

At work I'm the moron, it's like it's my name seeing as if someone says moron I look round.
She says it's not my name that I have to stand up for myself about that but with so much meat on your back it's not easy to stand up for yourself...

Me I'm never saying anything else than hello and goodbye at work, she says those are the most important things and that between hello and goodbye you can say things like about the weather or women children or things like that but I prefer not to say anything else. Seeing as they make fun.
So and then I'm like my tongue's upside down, I'm speechless when they make fun, I don't feel like laughing or crying I'm like a stone when they make fun. So better not say anything else.

Otherwise I'm happy as she says I'm innocent, but the other day I slipped and I fell in the blood in the stream and with my boots and the carcass that falls on top of me as well I had blood in my socks and my hair and everywhere seeing as she didn't say anything to me since she fell over too, but not in the blood eh she fell over with fear cos of all the blood I bring back. That was certainly worse than war.
I looked to see about her heart but no more noise for her so I'm worried.
I said I didn't mean it about the blood I've got on me and about falling in the stream it could happen to anyone, I say I won't do it again seeing as if she's dead I'd rather not do it again. And I look for her heart in her arms in her head I shake I say you can't lose your heart like that it's not possible, so I push on her stomach and I blow into her mouth I count like I know how to and so she wakes up to smile at me and tell me off about the blood, it's obviously all because of that...
Afterwards I have to go and wash quick before she falls over again you never know so I say I'll wash myself harder than normal...

I don't want her to leave me like that all alone.

I kiss her sometimes as if I was her fiancé seeing as I can since I'm her love she told me so just goes to show that I can.
So I take her hand and I kiss it where I want to, so she tells me stop but really quiet with her smile as if it were carry on she was saying so I carry on. I kiss her and we lie down on the sofa and she takes off her long shirt seeing as I'm her fiancé.
So afterwards I have to do what she says and I'm not allowed to say what she does seeing as it's the secret she told me so I don't say, but it's like a dream what she does.
Afterwards I've got to go to bed and she stays on the sofa for the television, without her shirt seeing as she's better like that with how hot it is after the secret.
I think that she's beautiful and that I never want her to go away even for death or anything at all seeing as there's this need I've got for her and there's my heart that's breaking if I think about that so I mustn't think about it I say to myself but I can't help it I think.
So I come back over to her and I can't sleep I say so she understands and she hugs me but so strong as if I wanted to go away, so without her shirt I say I love you. I say it in my head otherwise it'd make too much of a racket if I said it out loud.

I dream. I dream I'm in a dream. I snore to get to sleep and I think of nothing apart from my dream. So afterwards I'm in the snow in the mountains and I run to get right up to the top. I run. I run and I look up to the top to get there quicker but with the snow under my feet I slip and I keep coming back down. So I try to cling on I grab hold of the stones I graze myself and keep slipping further and further down. I'm going to fall I'm slipping so much I tell myself so I call and my voice bouncing back to me and the mountain talking to me through the stones so I shout so as not to slip I say I just want to get to the top but the snow under my shoes so I think about taking off my socks. The avalanches all around me I've got snowdust in my eyes and the mountain scolding me I say again it's for peace I don't want to go up there for war. So I collapse with the avalanches I'm in the snow to slide all the way down and I think of my socks up there. I tumble down I fall and I'm a long time falling for hours and hours so I grab on to some branches and I stop myself falling. I'm in the tree. I'm safe. I see the avalanches below. So I sit in the tree and I wait. I'm like a bird. I think about flying. I fly. And I go up to the top of the mountain. I fly up. And I'm a long time flying up seeing as I've got little wings like matches I say I'm like a tiny thing. So I get to the summit and I touch down without slipping with my small feet. And I'm me. So I look and there's blood everywhere on the other side I say it's rivers and oceans of blood that I see. So I rub my eyes with the snow and I look again and it's still the same so I say it's really worth it. So I sit and I cry like ice and I stay there.
Afterwards I go off in my dream and I cry anyway so I say it's as if my dream was real.

For the last time I say I want a train so she says no, it's no as usual, so I say yes I do but it's like I said nothing, I want a train seeing as I could play like that with a train you can play with I say without one you can't play anything so it's quite simple, but its still no it's always no when I want something so I get angry, most likely I say things and she hears things and it's never the same, so I think about shouting I say I'll break my stars and I'll break my presents I'll break everything seeing as I want a train so she says no again, so I can't see anything anymore seeing as I've got too much blood or tears or swirls in my eyes, I've got arms like snakes and I think about suiciding I say that it'll be her fault so she says no to make me even angrier then I run I run I bang my head against a wall I say like this it's her fault if I smash my face and she holds onto me to stop me but not strong enough for me I'm stronger than her and I hit things I break the lamp and my presents I don't want any so she holds onto my hands I'm like a tree she says to me please and I shake I've got sand in my mouth to stop myself I say a train please I say like she said, my head hurts I've got blood running down my nose she holds my fingers I've got her hand on my face to heal me, so she strokes my hair like she knows how to.
She doesn't say anything.
Afterwards I fall asleep on her lap.

I'm not working tomorrow because of my head. I'm ill she says so I'm not working.

They're words I don't understand for my illness, names that are like centipedes to say that it's inside my head from banging against the wall or things like that. It's not like a cancer illness or one you can see in someone's face it's inside the head.
So I see doctors and there are questions they're asking me for hours, and whether I piss in my bed and whether I'm afraid of spiders and whether and whether, I answer when I know but I never know. It's true sometimes I piss in my bed but in the morning it can dry, I say I can't know whether I piss or whether I don't piss. And then with spiders it's the big ones I don't like but I'm not afraid of the little ones so what am I supposed to say? I'm sure I always answer wrong.
She says that they're meant to help me all these questions but if they were meant to help me my head wouldn't hurt even more when I come out.
She waits for me in the room just to wait with some books and some coffee, she's not bored she reads magazines.
So sometimes I've got wires on my head with a screen that makes sounds and drawings to show what's going on in my head, I don't like that seeing as they can find out everything I'm thinking so I think about stupid little things I pretend. Afterwards I get dressed again and I have to go somewhere else and they give me some cubes and I make rectangles and drawings.
Sometimes I meet people, I don't say anything seeing as they've got heads like a cooking pot they're like pulp inside their heads, so I say to the doctor I'm not like them I get a bit angry but not that much else I'm staying here she told me, I just say calm that I want to go home seeing as it's true I don't want to live with doctors and mad people from the cooking pot I'm not like that me.
So I do more tests and afterwards I go home and I don't know what I've seen that no one's telling me, she knows she does but there are no small names to say what I've got, so it's in the head and that's all. To get well she says I'm not to get angry again I'm not to hit my head like that again or nothing so I say yes but it's simple, I say with a smile like I know how to sometimes, it's simple: I want a train. So she sighs. She often sighs like that, she's got too much air maybe or it's when I exasperate her. She always says that I exasperate her, it's like the name of an illness that is.

So for example I've got beauty spots I have, she says that that doesn't mean anything that she's already seen beauty spots on ugly people and so it doesn't mean anything. But sometimes I don't think like her, I say that it must mean something seeing as otherwise they wouldn't be called that they'd just be called spots or something else, so she says no and I say yes and there are hours of yesing and noing for the two of us so in the end she sighs and she says you exasperate me.
Afterwards she stops talking for a long time as if I weren't there without looking at me or nothing as if I didn't exist anymore, so I talk anyway I do I say things seeing as I'm there...But she don't reply. Sometimes I'm like a ghost to her. So I go away from her seeing as in any case it's as if I were see-through...
I go down the stairs quiet, if she remembered all of a sudden that I'm there she'd open the door and she'd say sorry or something so that I come back and I'd come back that's for sure. I say that's what I think as I go down but she never opens the door.
So I go into the street and I put my hands in my pockets and I walk. I walk on the pavement, I've got shop windows and signs and streetlights in my eyes dazzling me and yellow and white headlights, I think of millions of things that come into my head, I bash into people sometimes seeing as my head's too in the clouds they tell me so I say it must be the illness so I watch out I walk where I can I don't want to run over...
I've got my coat up to my chin I blow cold it's winter, the shutters of the shops are iron and squeak so I say it's like sirens and alarms and horns I put my hands over my ears again because I'm thinking of everything at once her me, it's not the same for the shop windows seeing as they're glass and the street like an earthworm I can dance or sleep if I want. I'm back to front of everything but I don't park like the cars, I eat up the gutter I'm made of concrete I sing like a toad, I bash into people again her me because I say sorry seeing as it's all because so I take off my shoes like in my dream I'm slipping too much in the road I'm scared of avalanches. The cars in front of me I haven't got any headlights so the horns and tyres like sirens I'm not allowed here they say to me you're mad I don't say anything I see things inside me I cross over I go through a red light and the blood don't scare me it don't I've got medicine I'm ill I can count on the fingers of my hand I can say that I know I cross over and the speeding cars I avoid and I shout seeing as I haven't got a horn and I get to the other side. I've got people saying to me you're mad you're mad so I think of everything me her I think of everything I wipe I'm sweating and I've got shouting in my head so I fall over and I close my eyes to keep my shouting inside I want to sleep I say I'm tired. I've got people carrying me I'm like a little child I go to sleep softly as if I'd never come into the world.

Afterwards I hear the rain falling, the drops.
I'm lying down and I hear.
The rain falling.
I hear voices and shoes doors slamming far away. I'm somewhere else I say in a bubble so I open my eyes and everything's white above me like staring at the sun, I say I can't look for long so I close my eyes and little by little I get used to it.
I've got voices around me now, people are asking me about things I don't understand, I'm thinking about her I am to know where she is I ask. They don't answer me. So where am I I say seeing as I don't know but I've got no more voices around me, I'm all on my own with the rain and the door that is slamming a bit. I want I say I want to look somewhere else whether she's there. I shout out to call, I try I try moving but my arms are trapped I can't I say please like she told me to. Nothing. So I get angry I shout louder I shake and I can see more. I'm in a room and I see doctors in the corridor, I say I want to go I shout but it's as if I weren't saying anything so I collapse. I say inside my head I'm not like that. I say I want her here.
Afterwards I cry.
Afterwards I wake up again and I've got a doctor nearby I say I don't want to stay I say I'm not like that so he says I've got to rest and he gives me some medicine so I swallow and I say nothing seeing as I'm too tired.
Afterwards I go to sleep.

Sometimes I wake up and it's night. I never know when it's time. I'm waiting for her to be here.

Sometimes I dream that she sits down next to me and she takes my hand and she says to me come so I come and we leave for outside in my sheet I run behind her I laugh I giggle with happiness at seeing her so I take off my sheet and I do the secret with her and I wake up and she's never there so I shout I scream seeing as I'm not like that I say the doctors in my room and inject me so I go to sleep and I dream of something else. I dream of the dark because.

I eat in my bed she used to say before that I'm not to do it seeing as the crumbs and everything falls in the bed and it's disgusting she used to say, but here it's like that I eat in my bed.

I can't leave because of my illness. I look outside sometimes through the window. There's rain or snow or sun. I think soon she'll be here. To wait I count the storms, I count one two...

First I think of breathing. Then I think of her. I think of her. I've got air around me I put my arms my legs like a cross I'm at the start. I say I take my tongue with my teeth I bite I die. I want to think of her and her shirt like a sheet I want to cling on I'm balancing on the world on the roof on her me. I'm for her and against her I'm like a wolf seeing as I've got teeth to bite I think of war like she says there's always war in the news. And I jump. I let go. It's my head down. I've got draughts of air in my ears whistling and piercing me to cry out. I cry out. I've got my round mouth and my tongue under my teeth I'm in flight I approach the lights I look out the window I've got eyes for the tiny things I can see the doctors and the hospital rushing past. I think of the cellar of my room of school I'm like a child I sing what they tell me to I'm under orders I tidy up and I mess up I'm in the cellar as a punishment I'm for beating they say be quiet I say yes I always say yes I've got scabs on my knees on my back seeing as I'm for beating so I'm always in the cellar so I sometimes say I say in my head dad to know to be sure and I keep my hands in front of my face and I'm scared to piss. I think of my bottom of looking in the mirror I think of I'm speechless under the table I'm scraping around on the ground I'm waiting to eat I pick up whatever falls down. I think of her of her hands on my stomach for the secret I want to come back I want to go back I cling on but it's too fast the air whistling and the lights approaching me I arrive. I think of I'm like a man in the cellar I'm crying otherwise I hit my head against the wall and I think of falling on the ground I smash my face in and the rest on the road I bite I die I cut off the whole of my tongue and I think quick quick of her I love you I say with the blood in my mouth I blow bubbles I close my eyes to keep everything inside my head and I feel my tongue falling next to me I keep quiet.

translated from the French by Simon Pare