The Schedule of Loss | Emily LaBarge | Granta

The Schedule of Loss

Emily LaBarge

Pierre says I should lie in exactly the same position, just like how it happened, for as long as it happened, and for as long as it takes until the pain comes out of me, otherwise it will never leave. It will be stuck inside, forever, and it will do bad things. I picture myself lying first on my front, face down, neck bent sideways; then on my left side, hip twisted at an awkward angle; then on my right side, curled into a foetal position. It is possible that my body did other things during the time that it was lying on the ground, but I cannot remember. I would have to do this for seven hours? I ask. Maybe longer, Pierre says. You mean, I think, it could take forever? You can do it anywhere, he says. Choose a place you feel safe and will not be interrupted. But you have to do it.

I imagine myself lying down – prostrate, a chalk outline, a dead man’s float – and then, after some blank period of time, a sticky, tar-like substance oozing out of me in a viscous pool that spreads thickly, coagulates, peels itself off the ground, pulses, contorts and vanishes into thin air with a dark, creaking moan, after which I am, all of a sudden, free. Unfortunately, this does not happen, and I do not even attempt to do as Pierre suggests. I now regret this. Perhaps It is stuck inside forever, most certainly It does bad things. Though I remain unconvinced that It would have been so easy to get rid of, just like that, all in one go.

When the six men with their masks and their guns and their knives and machetes and screaming and terror arrive, we are about ten minutes into watching Mrs Doubtfire, the good-natured 1993 family comedy about a divorcé who impersonates a no-nonsense Scottish nanny so he can spend time with his family. I see a flash and movement in the corner of my vision and suddenly the men are there. I did not hear them coming. Maybe I heard them coming. I did. I did not. The film continues to play in the background as they ransack the house, force us to the ground, put blankets and pillowcases over our heads, hold guns to the back of our skulls, whisper in our ears – we don’t want to hurt you, but we will – grope our bodies, tie my father’s hands, hit him with the end of something blunt, his back, his head. After three of the six men leave, leave us cowering on the ground, leave the other three men ‘in charge’, the film continues, continues to play. I hear familiar lines, It was a run-by fruiting! and Frank, make me a woman! and the chorus of Aerosmith’s ‘Dude Looks Like a Lady’ and Robin Williams as Daniel Hillard, the divorced father desperate to see his children, Did you ever wish you could sometimes freeze-frame a moment in your day, look at it and say ‘this is not my life’? As it happens, Daniel, I do. But I do not know that one of the men now ‘in charge’ is sitting on the couch watching the film until I hear him laughing at one of the most famous trailer gags in which Mrs Doubtfire, trying to learn how to cook, accidentally lights her blouse on fire: My first day as a woman, and I’m getting hot flashes! The man laughs, hard, and dangles his machete idly over the arm of the couch. I watch him through a small hole in the crocheted blanket that has been hooded over my head.

Once the movie is finished, after it is stuck on the Menu for what seems like an eternity, the looped soundtrack for which is a cartoon bird voiced by Williams singing ‘Figaro’, one of the men turns the television off and begins to fumble through the small selection of CDs – Christmas music – we have brought with us. He doesn’t want anyone to be able to hear us, I realise, when we XXX or XXXX or XXXXX or X. He chooses Agnus Dei, a compilation of classical religious choral music performed by Edward Higginbottom and the Oxford New College Choir, boys with voices high and pure, like angels. The subtitle of the album is ‘music to soothe the soul’, but it is filled with songs that are actually imploring cries of anguish: Lord, have mercy and Hear my prayer, O Lord and Have mercy on me, O God, in English, Latin, German, ancient Greek. There are Beatitudes, Ave Marias, psalms, hymns, several variations of Ave Verum Corpus (Hail, true body) and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God ), which are both liturgical chants. The most beautiful are the most ominous, from Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem – a Mass for the dead, whose text variously begs for delivery and absolution, for mercy upon the deceased at the Last Judgement.

This music plays and plays until the men leave. Every time the CD finishes, one of them walks over and plays it again, and again, again, again. I begin to use the number of repetitions to count time, to keep track of how many hours they have been here, we have been here, when will it end. The music plays so many times, so many requiems, that I begin to think and then vividly hallucinate that I am witnessing my own death Mass. Could this have something to do with the Christmas a few years ago when my parents sat us down and told us, with a strange sense of ceremony, they did not believe in God any more? Not a surprise to us, already never-believers, but somehow a momentous thing, they believed, to announce. To be Godless. A family decision. A family requiem. A family death Mass. The End.

The End.

Once I think this, I cannot not think this, cannot not imagine it and what it will involve, the family death Mass, The End, cannot not recall the fear, heart-pounding, unbelievable, and appearing at unexpected times for years after.

Francisco de Zurbarán’s Agnus Dei (1635 –1640), which hangs in the Prado, is said to be one of five versions the painter did of the subject. In it, the titular lamb lies slumped on its right side, neck softly extended forward, across a charcoal-grey surface surrounded by dark shadows that seem to both emanate from and enclose the brightly front-lit figure. The lamb’s gentle hooves are crossed over each other and trussed to form an X that extends towards the viewer. Painter and writer Antonio Palomino wrote in 1724 of an art lover in Seville who ‘has a lamb by this maker’s hand, painted from life, which he says he values more than one hundred living rams’. Other of the five paintings contain iconographic elements, such as sacred inscriptions about the lamb’s holy character, or a halo around its head. But the Prado’s Agnus Dei fuses the religious with the still life, carefully rendering the manner of the lamb in the latter – an isolated study of a subject against a neutral backdrop, with a focus on texture, detail, volume. Although the lamb’s face is passive, resigned even, it is not possible to tell whether he is yet dead. Maybe he is just lying there, waiting.

Emily LaBarge

Emily LaBarge is a Canadian writer based in London. She has written for Artforum, Bookforum, the London Review of Books, the Paris Review and 4Columns, among other publications. Dog Days will be published by Peninusla Press in 2024.

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