He’s at a centre / She’s at a centre / He’s at a centre / She’s at a centre / He’s at a centre / She’s at a centre / He’s at a centre / She’s at a centre / He’s at a centre / She’s at a centre / At a centre / He’s at a centre / She’s at a centre / He’s at a centre / She’s at a centre / He’s at a centre / She’s at a centre / He’s at a centre / She’s at a centre / He’s at a centre / She’s at a centre
— black midi, “Of Schlagenheim”
The first time I found myself in the place I (and perhaps you as well) have come to call the Centre, I was no older than 10. I didn’t know where I was at the time. I’m still not sure quite where you have found yourself, dear reader, but I hope that what I lack in deep truths I make up for in practical knowledge. (I would call it “street smarts”, but as you have likely already seen, the Centre has no streets.)
The first thing I must tell you about the Centre is how to escape. This is the easy part: simply know where you are, and you will be gone. At these early occasions it will likely be sufficient to think, “I am in the Centre”, and you will return to your daily routine. On the other hand, hmm, “the Centre” only means something to me, not you… I suppose if the aforementioned does not save you, you should read the rest of this document as quickly as possible. The Centre is not inherently dangerous, but one can only live so long on the food and water they bring in.
It’s not really possible to prepare for an excursion into the Centre in the traditional sense. I believe the Centre to be, in essence, a place that one can only enter by accident. No matter how I look at it, no matter how I break it down, it remains consistent: I cannot enter if I have even so much as thought about the Centre that day. In addition, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether you have entered the place at all: the Centre has an uncanny ability to blend into the surrounding environment. Although the inside is basically devoid of man-made structures or other evidence of human activity, somehow it is impossible to notice this until you are already thick “in the weeds”, in both the literal and figurative senses.
I began performing experiments. Intentionally losing myself in the winding alleyways of the old town of Narva. I would invariably do this in winter, despite the cold, because the Centre was seemingly always exactly 20°C. (You can see I did manage to sneak a thermometer in there once, by keeping it in my coat pocket for months on end, waiting for the moment to arise.) Perhaps the most peculiar way I entered the Centre was a failed trust fall vis-à-vis my “friend” Raivo. (I desperately want to know what my sudden disappearance looked like from his perspective, but as you might imagine we are no longer on speaking terms.) The more labyrinthine and confusing the place you find yourself, the higher likelihood you will soon find yourself in the Centre. Even my old brick khrushchoba, with its five identical hallways, one on each floor, can function as a gateway to the Centre if one is sufficiently drunk.
I have seen others in the Centre. You are likely not alone. The others are nothing to be concerned about–they are just as confused as you, likely even more so as they don’t have such an eloquent guide to accompany them–but do keep this in mind when you go to the bathroom. (On that note, I have never seen a bathroom in the Centre; I suppose it would be rather difficult to smuggle in even an outhouse. I would advise you to “do your business” in a space occluded by trees, or if you are in an area with tall grass you should have no problem finding someplace sufficiently secluded. From now on, you should keep wet wipes on your person at all times.)
I believe certain people are innately drawn to the Centre by the Universe. Have you ever noticed those among us who seem perpetually frazzled? Those for whom “what planet are you from, lady?” is a well-trod refrain. Who never seem to quite know where they are. I believe this to in part be the influence of the Centre. These people, they are literally transported to some alternate world and back, it’s no wonder why they would act a bit odd! And have you ever given one of these sorts of people something important, only for them to have a seemingly superhuman ability to lose it? It all ends up in the Centre. Important papers, unpaired socks, they are as common as tumbleweed in Kansas. In time, I believe my theory will prove correct.
Visiting the Centre does not have to be frightening, although it will always come as a surprise. When I find myself in the serene Centre, I consider it a sign from the powers that be: perhaps I should take a break. Think for a minute. Create a small bonfire with whatever lint and wrapping-paper I find in my pockets, to serve no purpose other than having something to stare at. See if I have anything with me that could be used as building material for an outhouse, add it to the pile under the tree. (Someday.) As far as I can tell, time does not pass inside the Centre, so take as long as you want.
As I am writing this, my health is failing. My mind is not what it used to be, to the point that I sometimes hallucinate that I am in the Centre yet again. But I know this to be impossible, as it is hard to remain in the Centre once you realize you are there. The Centre in my head is a sham, even compared to the “real” Centre that may be imaginary as well. I long to see the Centre one last time, see the things I’ve built to make my mark in the confusing void, but my longing itself precludes the possibility of returning. “Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair”, indeed. I hope to live vicarously through you, Reader, in that you might find what I have built.
P.S.: I have yet to discover a way to leave this document in the Centre where it may be of use instead of merely an idle curiosity. I have carried a copy with me everywhere I go, but I think of the Centre too often for an opportune moment to arise. I have one “backup solution” that it seems I may end up relying on: I will leave 40 copies of this manuscript on my writing-desk, perhaps with something a tad more mundane on top so I don’t appear fanatical or a lunatic to whoever is to liquidate my estate. Unbeknownst to them, they may be the executor of my literary estate as well. If these copies fall off my desk, or get “lost in the shuffle”, so to speak, I speculate that as they are my creations, they too might be able to transport themselves to the Centre, as no one will know where they belong. Either that, or this is being read by some fool who picked up my broken writing desk at an estate sale, in which case they may take me for some modern-day Ivan Bezdomny. Regardless: make no mistake, reader, you may find yourself in the Centre when you least expect it. Just remember, the only outhouse in the Centre is under the large baobab tree. Thank me when you get there.