The symptoms of his madness were as follows:
1 He painted his room the colour of her eyes. This was not easy as her eyes were not one colour but a thousand. These thousand colours were not available on any Dulux Card so each one had to be specially mixed by the young man at Homebase following precise but poetic instructions: the tip of a Kingfisher’s tail caught in the sunlight; where the Mediterranean melts into the sky as you look north from Algiers in the early morning; verdigris at dusk; the petals of a narrow-leaved lungwort… The list went on. But it has to be said that he ended up with more paint than he needed.
2 He was jealous, even of the books she read. So he stole them off her shelves and pretended to burn them in her garden, then posted the ashes through her letterbox. He meant it as a joke, an extravagant gesture, but she was not amused. Not even when he returned the books unharmed, ringing the doorbell and running off like the naughty child he felt himself to be.
3 He believed they had met in a previous life, in many previous lives. No, believe is not a strong enough word. He knew this was so. He learnt to meditate as a way to access his memories of their previous lives together. Then he told her about the things they had done together – hiding from persecution in a cathedral crypt, floating along the Nile in a royal felucca, riding with the barbarian hordes, biting the apple in the Garden of Eden – in the hope of jogging her memory.
4 He made a pilgrimage to the place of her birth and stopped strangers on the street and asked them if they knew her. And when one old lady said, ‘Oh yes, but she doesn’t live around here any more,’ he answered, ‘I know. She’s my girlfriend.’ Then the old lady looked at him strangely as though she didn’t understand. He tried to reassure her with his laughter, but she backed off.
5 He lost his friends, bored them away. His only subject of conversation was her: she was his weather, his politics, his sport, his showbiz gossip. He only felt the loss of his friends when he realised he had no one to talk about her to. And so…
6 He logged on to the Internet and joined a chatroom for the lovesick. Like millions of others around the planet, he poured his feelings into the ether. The strange thing about this chatroom was that none of the people who belonged to it read what the others contributed. They only wanted to express themselves, not to inter-act. They had no interest in anyone else’s feelings, only their own.
7 He filled his computer screen with her name. Then sent the page to print. Then made a hundred photocopies. Then bound the pages into a document which he carried with him everywhere.
8 He called her every day. Not just every day, every hour. Occasionally five times in one hour. She was always the one to hang up and as soon as she hung up he would call her back. ‘What’s the matter? Are you cross with me? Why did you hang up?’ He would accuse her of not loving him and in his anger he would say things that he regretted. This time he would hang up. Then he would ring back again, immediately, and beg forgiveness. But if she was cross with him she wouldn’t pick the phone up and he would be left beseeching her answer-machine.
9 He sent her things. Letters in which he accused her of a thousand cruelties but declared his willingness to forgive her; and his love. He sent her gifts, too. Flowers, of course. But other things more imaginative. In fact, he gave his fantasy free rein. Theirs was a relationship in which nothing was to be hidden. Shame was the only taboo. And so the gifts he sent her were expressions of his secret desires. Handcuffs, underwear, giant vibrators.
10 He wrote a book and paid for it to be published. He dedicated to her. ‘For Laura, my only love.’ It was a dark tale of mad passions and murders and suicide pacts, deeply pornographic in parts. Perhaps it scared her, but if so it was his love that scared her, for his love was capable of anything he had written. To prove it he sent her a dagger and urged her to plunge it into his neck if she did not love him, mirroring an episode in his book. If she did not murder him he would take it that she loved him.
11 It was another symptom of his madness that such a proposition did not strike him as absurd; that he was willing to take her failure to murder him as encouragement.
12 He experimented with pain. He drove a Stanley knife into the back of his hand and fainted. There was a time when he would never thought of doing such a thing.
13 He sent her the blade and the bandage he had wrapped his hand in.
14 He never slept. Never.
15 He lost his job because of her. His boss called him into his office and asked him pointblank why so many couriers had been sent to a particular address in North London when as far as he knew they had no customers there. He also confronted him with an itemised telephone bill. He also asked him who Laura Janice McKenzie was as the name occurred with monotonous regularity on documentation that he had processed.
16 After he lost his job he did nothing about finding a new one but decided to spend all his time making sure she was safe. He knew she would get angry if he told her he was going to do this, so he watched over her in secret.
17 He forgot to eat. He had no money, anyhow. He had spent the last of his money on a pair of high-powered binoculars and a bugging device.
18 He spent most of his time listening to the tapes he made of the inside of her empty flat. He found the recorded silence strangely comforting.
19 He lost his room. He got behind on his rent and so the other people in the house got together and had him thrown out. He didn’t mind. He was spending most of his time on the street following her now.
20 He was willing to forgive her anything. Even when she hung up on him. Even when she returned his letters unread. Even when she changed her telephone number and went ex-directory. Even when she moved without telling him where to. Even when she got a court order preventing him from coming within half a mile of her presence. Even when she had him arrested for breaking the court order. Even when he found out she’d got married.
21 He knew that he would never have any peace while she was alive. Not in this life. He remembered the happiness of their previous lives together and decided it was time for their next life together to begin.
This is one of the stories in The Bridge that Buñuel Built .