The End of Days and Man
Once upon a time, there was a house by the cliff facing the blue sea. It was a simple house, chipping white and rusting pipes, but one which thing stood different about this house by the cliff was it was big. From left to right it was flanked by a gigantic forest reaching to the bottom of the mountain, all part of the estate. To travel to the house you had to danger a four hour drive by ridge of rock too close to the crashing of waves for comfort and finally you’d arrive to a spacious driveway circling a fountain with a stone angel caught forever in time and space tilting a jar that no longer spills water. The house had a total of three hundred eighty nine rooms, as one could imagine this number was a chore to tend to so for a long time most of those rooms were closed off.
The house was owned by a Mr. Mann, a curious man with an even more curious story. He was forty eight years old when he stopped inviting guests to his house, almost closing himself in the old house on the cliff except to go down to the village at the foot of the village. Once a month he would buy food stuffs and pretty things for his daughter, January One. Yes, his daughter was named January One. You see, Mr. Mann’s wife died in childbirth when he was forty eight and that perhaps struck a chord to this once sociable and upright man. When before he had parties, festivals, food drives sponsored at his house, at the death of his wife there was only dust, shadows, and darkness. This sad history though does not excuse a man to name his one and only daughter with her birth date. It is time perhaps to share Mr. Mann’s curious tale.
Mr. Mann was not always named Mr. Mann. Mann is just the word ‘man’ with an extra ‘n’ added to it. But the thing is, Mr. Mann did not know his real name, he was found in behind the village church as a child, crying holding to dear life from the cold. The villagers took pity and brought him up, and did he grow. He grew handsome, smart, business minded even from youth. At legal age, he started exchanges with neighbouring villages and at the near dawn of his forties he did not come only with gold for this or that for gold, he brought home a wife. A wife so beautiful that every person in the village bowed down the first time she strode into town, thinking she was royalty. So the boy from the back of the church grew up to be a fine young man, the only problem was no one in the village actually took the time to name him. They used with pronouns or titles, of course always with affection but in the end no one thought it right to name a child not theirs. It was only at his wedding in the church, the same church where he was found eighteen years ago, that he decided on a name. The priest could not find a proper way to call him and you could imagine how awkward that was during the wedding vows. So he told him with all seriousness to call him Man, “I am Man,” he repeated holding up his fine frame. There was something comic about it, the way he called himself Man, proud and indignant. Everyone tried to stifle the laugh but when the beautiful new bride began to chuckle everyone exploded and started rolling on the floor, including Mr. Mann. The priest added an ‘n’ to the marriage license so he wouldn’t appear stupid.
At once construction was started on the house on the cliff. He wanted it big because he wanted the house to be for everyone, everyone in the village. It was a token of appreciation he said for all the love he had experienced from the village. But perhaps, maybe, although it was not said, it was because he never wanted to be that lonely child left at the back of the church ever again. And in a year’s time he moved in to the house with his wife.
Every night he held grand soirees up there. And as you would recall it takes a minimum of four hours just to get there and so shops closed early for the long drive to the cliff. No one minded the effort it took to go to the house. There was nothing much to do in the village anyway when the sun set. But at the house, electric lights would shine, shine brighter than the stars. Musicians would serenade the drunk and the bloated. Oh, those were times of prosperity, of surreal pastel joy that one only finds in fairy tale books. At night the baker, the farmer, the shop owner, the mundane died, and the villagers became sirs and madams tittering over the latest dance step from the other side of the continent.
And then it stopped. It ended as all good things do. One or two years later, Mr. Mann’s wife was in labour. Everyone in the village was there on the driveway. Everyone gathered for the birth of Mr. Mann’s child, all to give what meagre support they could afford to the man who has given the village so much. After the clock had stopped chiming in the New Year, twelve hollow rings of the bell, Mr. Mann opened the front doors to his house. His white shirt soaked in perspiration and blood. He threw the midwife to the crowd of confused faces. With a booming voice he said, “This house is closed.” And that was that, except for the long lonely descent from the mountain.
Though the villagers knew that Mr. Mann’s wife bore him a daughter through the gossip of a perennially drunk midwife who seemed to be unable to find work anymore, no one really knows what became of the body of that beautiful woman. It might be pertinent to mention though that the fish brought from the local sea the day after, tasted of blood.
For three long years, no one had dared venture up the mountain. The road to the house was closed off by barbed wire. Mr. Mann was so very sad and the villagers respected his mourning. Sometimes he could be seen in the village to gather supplies, his beard unkempt, his stench overwhelming. But no one told him. No one dared. They just gave him the canned goods, the sweets, the dresses, and dolls that he wanted. When he left, they stole looks as his car disappeared into the foliage.
It was a surprise to all when the period of mourning ended, when joy once again descended to the village and its benevolent patron. It was a Sunday afternoon, and everyone was leaving church when they noticed a bent figure in the distance pulling down the wire fence and the sign that said keep out. In a trance, one by one, the populace walked slowly to Mr. Mann as he was putting the wire into the back of his truck. “Come on up,” he said, bearing a lonely smile to the ground, “My daughter is lonely.” Cheers and applause rang through the streets, cheers and applause for the darkest tragedy that would befall them all.
It was a parade of jeeps and farm trucks through the forest, a parade quite familiar but also quite missed. Food and wine was brimming from the vehicle’s backs, paid for in full by the man on the cliff. Children sang songs, and the adults salivated over the feast that would come before them. And as the cars’ engines died in the driveway, Mr. Mann came to greet them in one of his finest suits. He looked older, more tired, but he was definitely still handsome.
“Welcome again to the house in the cliff,” he began his speech, “I apologize for my selfishness over the past three years. How could I turn my back to the people who brought me up from an abandoned childhood? Well today, I will make amends. We will eat and drink like we have never before. Woe is the man who is not in danger to fall over the cliff after so much fine wine.” And, everyone laughed. He’s back they thought to themselves, finally Mr. Mann is back! “But please pardon this old man for a request. You see, my daughter is very lonely up here.” And as if on cue, the curtains of the highest window fluttered. “She needs playmates and playmates her age, not this craggy flesh that you see before you. I propose that this house become an orphanage, bring me the lonely, the hungry. I will take care of them.”
Stunned the villagers missed their turn for applause. They were wondering how one man could take care of so many children. But that was soon forgotten after the drinks have been passed.
And so it came to be that the house on the cliff became an orphanage. After two years, it housed a proud number of three hundred sixty five children. Some of the villagers even sent off their own sons and daughters for adoption but it was considered a kindness since they would be better taken cared of up there. All of them became polite boys and girls. Every Sunday, Mr. Mann would drive them down in a gigantic bus, and they would pray outside the church. And so smart too, they were the only people in the village who could read besides Mr. Mann himself. Everything was well, so well that the villagers even forgave the weird names Mr. Mann bestowed on the children. January Two, January Three and so on. Three hundred sixty five children for the three hundred and sixty five days in a year. Anymore, and Mr. Mann apologetically turned the poor orphans away. There is after all no December Thirty Two.
But paradise rarely lasts long enough to bear fruit. It was New Year again when the doctor’s car came from the city. It drove in such haste that it almost mowed over an old woman crossing the street. Whispers began darting from house to house, from store to store, and soon enough the village was in agreement. This is a bad omen. Everyone was terrified remembering that New Year so many years ago when Mr. Mann’s wife died and an angel of a man turned into a monster. Afraid, the village did not sleep, everyone wanted to hear the news from the doctor. Surely he would stop by in the village after his work up in the mountains or maybe he would at least to that old woman. A breath could not be heard and no strand of hair stirred as the night dragged on.
It was nearing midnight when the thunderclaps of gunshots were heard from a distance and the doctor’s car rolled down from the cliff. Everyone knew they had been right. This would only be a harbinger of greater troubles. When a man loses his wife, he mourns, but when a man loses his only child, he loses his sanity. At the break of morn the next day, the fishermen came to the village with their woven hats off. Two men were holding the body of a child in a white satin gown. At January 2, January One was found dead. Though mortified, the feeling of sadness was the one that struck the villagers the most. One by one, they dropped to their knees and prayed for salvation although it was not certain who’s. Later on, the doctor’s body was carted to the village as well, his body riddled by shotgun holes. No one dropped to their knees for him. No one even cried.
It became a routine. Daybreak would bring another child’s death. January Two at the morning of January 3, January Three at the morning of January 4, and so on. Of course, he villagers tried to stop the crazy man on the cliff but what use were their picks and sickles to a shotgun?
That was the End of Days, a sad terrible tragedy for our village, and on the next New Year when we thought it would finally stop, since there were no more children to be thrown off the cliff, the body of Mr. Mann was found in the sea, and the fish since that day has always tasted of blood.
BJC l December 2013