Silvestre Paradox and his Trial through Eriel Rehabilitation and La Paraja Torment Council
by Adrian Encomienda
He belonged to the House of La Pajara. It was where he found himself whenever the heroin dropped him from the sky. It was a chamber of sorts. Fences entrapped him from all angles until he was pressed up against the chain-links. He would stay this way, pondering his slow death, until he was pulled out and placed back in Erial Rehabilitation — the house in the sky. In Erial he found himself stacked upon other addicts like himself, in a thirty feet wide cradle. Their hemorrhaged torsos and naval sores hinted at a bleak but picturesque history. Their failure made way for his collapse. He knew, each time he ended up there, all reality would come back and he’d find himself on his cousin’s couch at sunrise.
Manny preferred the name ‘Silvestre Paradox’. It was a pen name that his favorite author, Arqueles Vela used. He had just finished reading an excerpt from El Cafe De Nadie—a work by Vela—when he was overcome with both dread and drowsiness. Like always, Manny was seated in his ‘bed’. His ‘bed’ was a couch. His cousin, Ernest, was drunk, asleep, and far off. Perhaps he wasn’t as far as House of La Pajara, but nonetheless, he was practically dead to the world. As Manny began to drift off and away from reality, he felt a very comforting tug at his collar. It was his father. Manny’s father was a practitioner of archaic Afro-Cuban religions, and often appeared to him at Erial.
“When are you moving in?” asked his father. Manny now stood within the house in the sky. The windows, which were painted a dull pink, were smaller than a postcard.
“Pa, I’m never coming with you. Where you are, there is nothing but pain and fire,” replied the son to his father.
Manny’s father laughed and clicked his tongue. “Where am I that you are not? Are we not both standing in the same place, son?”
“The difference is that I am a visitor and you are a permanent resident. There are doors here, I am sure, that lead to much uglier places. One may lead to hell and another may lead to—”
“House of La Pajara!” Manny’s father cut him off. He approached his son, hooves clacking on the tile, and said to him, “My son, must I remind you of the dream I had of you?”
Manny knew what his father was about to summon into the conversation, so he quickly walked toward a door which was ajar. As he stood near the door, he felt himself pulled toward the cradle in the middle of the house. The magnetism was immense; it was as if someone had placed a 10-foot flesh-magnet beneath the crib. People from every door in the house floated toward the cradle as if the house possessed no gravity. The people said nothing. They moaned and groaned, but not one of the floating people attempted to stay upright. In time, the entire cradle was stacked.
“Papa, let me wake up!” he shouted, an obvious strain in his voice. “I know about the dream, I know!”
“You have yet to see your future with my eyes. You may now see how Silvestre Paradox dies,” whispered Manny’s father as he exited the house and walked away into the sky. Manny, the bottom body in the stack, lost oxygen and consciousness.
Through his father’s eyes, Manny saw his own downward spiral. He saw how he steadily gained weight, lost vision in both eyes, had one leg amputated, and ended up in a halfway-house. He watched it like it was a film. A film which flickered from scene to scene and contained no musical score. One particular moment stilled Manny when he saw himself seated at a bus stop with a brown paper bag over his right hand. Manny could only watch as his future self removed the bag, revealing a black revolver.
“No!” Manny shouted, unable to move because the stack of bodies against him. He tried many times to squeeze himself out but couldn’t wiggle a finger much less shimmy out of the crib.
In the vision of his downfall, Manny saw himself place the revolver to the underside of his chin and shoot himself. Nothing he ever witnessed was as frightening. He saw his own body slump down and hit the sidewalk. Blood poured out of his face like a faucet being opened. For an hour, he lay this way on the sidewalk. A montage then followed the still image of him sprawled in red. The montage revealed that Silvestre had his face reconstructed horribly. He was left with a wrinkled slit for a mouth and drooping eyes. In the vision, Silvestre was the subject of an experimental face transplant. The transplant was a success, but it left him even more deformed than his initial facial reconstruction did. Manny saw Silvestre peer into the mirror ats an unfamiliar face that was much too big and wide for his head. The face belonged to a suicide victim. The donor had killed himself with a shotgun blast to the sternum. The montage ended with a brief flash of future moments. Manny screamed and wiggled his hands, and woke, sunken in Ernest’s couch in the brightness of morning.
“It happened again,” said Manny to Ernest later that morning as they walked to the corner convenience store for two bottles of MD 20/20. “I ended up there again and this time I could barely escape.”
“Sleep paralysis,” Ernest responded earnestly. “It’s why you can’t move. It’s why you can never scream or escape. I mean, hell, I’ve heard you moaning and groaning multiple times.”
“Physical pain is involved in sleep paralysis?”
Ernest looked at his cousin and shrugged. “That is part of the illusion. It’s what makes it seem so real.”
They turned a corner and Manny pressed his cousin up against the alley wall. There was a look of distaste in Manny’s eyes. “My father was there. If I didn’t awake when I did, I would have been transported to that house. The one I told you about—the one that cages me for eternity.”
Ernest pushed his cousin away and brushed off his shirt. “Crazy fuck.”
“I’m telling you, man, this ain’t no sleep disorder. I’ve had paralysis like that before and it’s nothing like what’s been happening to me lately.”
“Ever consider dialing it down?”
“What?” asked Manny, a hint of confusion entangled in his tone.
Ernest pretended to inject something into his arm and stuck his tongue out, playing dead.
“Fuck you,” said Manny with a slight smile.
The two continued to walk through the alley until they reached the store of their choosing. There, they bought two bottles of cheap wine and strode home laughing and joking. On their way home, through the same alley, they encountered a homeless man crouched behind a dumpster. A very suspicious look was pasted over his haggard face.
“Hey! Fellas! Fellas!” he shouted, staggering away from the dumpster with something in his hand. “Can you spare a few dollars? You see, I got a bad arm from my time in Vietnam. My kids all live with me, but they’re out scavenging for change right now. Can you please spare a few dollars?”
The cousins looked at each other and then back at the homeless man. He had one arm. Where the other arm was supposed to be, Manny saw a shriveled stump. No, it wasn’t Vietnam. It was Heroin.
Ernest grabbed his cousin by his thin wrist and began to walk away.
“I see you!” shouted the homeless man to Manny as he was dragged away by Ernest. “You could ignore me now, but when we meet together at Erial, you’ll talk—just see!”
Manny’s eyes widened. “Let me go! He knows about it! He knows! Did you hear him?” He shouted into Ernest’s ear.
“To hell with that guy. Let’s go before he starts some shit,” replied Ernest. The two then ran off, leaving the homeless vagabond shouting incessantly.
Later, once they had gotten drunk and high, Ernest fell asleep in his hamper. Manny and Udane, Ernest’s sister, stayed awake talking at the kitchen table. She was short and slim with dark hair and white skin. Her eyes were green and sometimes greyish-blue. She was the prettiest girl Manny had ever spoken to and she was his cousin. Unlike Manny and Ernest, she abstained from both drugs and alcohol.
“When does it stop?” she said, in reference to Manny’s overuse of heroin. “Because if it doesn’t stop soon, it will only stop once you’re dead.”
“I don’t want to think about it,” he said, mellow and relaxed. “You don’t think I ask myself that same question each time I wake up?”
“But, really, when?” she remarked somberly. The two were looking through one of Ernest’s photo-albums. The photos held a mildew-like scent. “I mean, look! Look!”
Udane helda sole photograph up to him. In the photo Manny saw himself and his mother seated at a park bench with smiling faces. He appeared to be bulkier and his skin-tone was healthier.
“See how happy you were then?” she continued.
“Believe me, prima, if it was possible, I’d throw away drugs and never look back. But, it isn’t possible. Life isn’t a walk in the fucking park.”
She shook her head and examined the photograph herself.
“Don’t let them take me,” he then said, abruptly. “They’re coming.”
“Stop!” she exclaimed.
“Me? You should tell that to the ones who take me every time I get a little pleasure from the needle. My father is there, my dead dog is there, and every tweeker who’s ever died is there. Is it hell? If it isn’t then I don’t know what else to call it.”
“It is up here,” she said, pointing at his head.
“It is not.”
Days came and went, and Manny found himself seated outside with Ernest, drinking. On the red glass table between them, there were needles, latex bands, and lighters. Ernest had gotten skinnier within only a few weeks. His flesh was wrinkly and yellowed. Manny noticed, but said nothing. Instead he urged his cousin to continue with his deadly habits. It somehow comforted him to know that someone besides himself was addicted.
“The dream my father showed me ended with me killing myself because of complications from the face transplant. It was like a domino effect; my addiction led me to shoot myself which then made things much worse. Hell, it seems quite unrealistic. Do you think it will come true?”
“Dreams aren’t visions. They are just things we see when we aren’t awake. They have no meaning. Think of them as sleep films.”
Manny took another big swig from his malt beverage and nodded. As he did so, he peered into the distance and saw his deceased black dog standing on top of a car. He quickly stood up and tried to speak, but stuttered.
“What is it now?”
“Harold. I see Harold.”
“Ah, now I think you’re just fucking with me,” laughed Ernest.
“Come here, Harry.” Manny beckoned and approached the black dog. The dog whimpered and lowered its head. “Look who it is! Me—daddy!”
Just as he placed his hand on the dog’s head, it snarled and bit his hand. Manny let out a gruesome shriek and fell against a fence behind him. Ernest then stood up and pursued the fleeing Harold.
“Leave him be—leave it,” pleaded Manny as he wrapped his bleeding hand with the bottom of his shirt.
“That wasn’t your dog, Manny,” Ernest said, horrified. “Harold was black, but this dog was brown. He was foaming at the mouth.”
Manny began to speak, but stopped short. Ernest helped him to his feet and they retreated to their pad. The rest of the night they toked in dead silence.
Over the next week, Manny’s health deteriorated at a rapid rate. Against his will, he was taken nightly to Eriel House where he was hooked up to large machines that looked like fast-food playpens. He was stripped to his underwear while wires and cables were inserted into his every orifice. There was no immediate pain, but there was psychological damage. Harold, the black dog, was an intermediate channel between House of La Pajara and Eriel House. Whenever Manny tried speaking to him, he would turn the other way, still panting like a normal dog. Before Manny’s descent to House of La Pajara, he would always wake up. When he awoke, he still felt tubes and wires protruding from his body. His nights continued to be this way until he was no longer able to move from the couch; his body too frail, his mind too far, and his pain too great. Neither was he able to speak or move his head.
One night, when Manny awoke from his visit to Eriel House, he saw Ernest at his side. Of course, he couldn’t speak, so he just stared at his cousin. Ernest placed a damp washcloth on his cousin’s forehead and wiped the excess foam away from his mouth.
“Don’t worry, brother. It’ll be over soon. The drugs, the addiction, the visits to Eriel and La Pajara—it’ll all end.”
Manny, wide-eyed and afraid, did not nod or budge. He just stared into Ernest’s sunken eyes. He wondered what exactly it was that brought him to death so quickly. He only hoped that Ernest would soon follow him. But, most of all, he was glad that his punishment would no longer be divided between two houses, but would end indefinitely. Had he been able to smile, he would.
He closed his dry eyes for a brief moment and then opened them again. When he looked around, he saw the inside of Eriel House. Ernest was no longer present, but Manny’s father and his clicking tongue were. His hooves came clacking down the ugly pink corridor.
“Silvestre Paradox!” he said, sustaining the S in Silvestre.
The gaunt, pale addict rolled his eyes back and moaned. He was then taken, by Harold and his minions, to a gurney. The gurney was rolled through a mile-long hallway which led to House of La Pajara. Harold’s minions stood Manny upright and lowered a fence both in front and back of him. Fences entrapped him wherever they could fit. Manny shouted for Ernest and when that didn’t work, he shouted for Udane. When neither answered, he shouted for Harold, his black dog. When there was no reply, he cried out long and deep. He kept telling himself, as he was pressed up against the fences with a foaming mouth, “When I wake up, everything will go back to normal.”