Fishing in Beirut

January 31, 2010

Part 3: Blue, July – Sept 2002 (scene 1)

Filed under: Character : Frank, Part 3 : Blue — fishinginbeirut @ 13:30

Cities are built by the strong, for the strong. Steps and curbs hamper the disabled. Everything is motion light and sound.
Frank is by the river. There’s sweat on his brow, and there are sunbathers stretched randomly on the grass around. A man who works for the city is picking up rubbish, and the sprinklers wet the areas he has cleaned. There is a water skier out there, on the river, his cries and shouts carried easily ashore. Two girls and another boy are in the boat, laughing.
Frank watches all this, the cleaner and the surfer, the birds alighting easily, and the distant sun-haze policeman on the far bank, his shirt sleeves rolled up, with essentially no traffic to direct. Frank sees this man every day, or maybe it is different men and he can’t tell, but he suspects it is the same one, always. He pulls from the joint, and the world seems sweeter, a bubble in a bubble, a crystal in a stream. The world feels vaguely sealed, and functioning.
There, across the water, is called Triana. It’s long associated with gitanos. It’s one of the oldest areas of the city, but Frank doesn’t live there. He lives by the Alameda, by the flea markets and the smack, the tiny cervecerias and the winding, broken lanes.
Sevilla makes him feel like exploding. He doesn’t stay still very long. He just moved here in June, and now it is July, with the squealing fucking scooters, and the 45-degree heat. He shares a flat with a French girl on calle Castellar, and has friends close by, in a house on calle Feria.
The walk to the river takes twenty-five minutes, and he does it every day, although it causes considerable distress. It’s like exercising inside an oven. He trudges through the dead-heat streets, sweating, and feels anger rising in his soul. The ancient streets seem to wobble and constrict, and the old women eye the extranjero through callous wizened squints. His shirt like liquid skin.
He makes it every day though, and falls down in a sweat-heap, blinking. The river can generate a slight breeze, and this is worth a great deal, when your apartment has no air conditioning. He sits beside the water.
Later he called for Dev. Dev and his girlfriend had a room in the calle Feria house, the house also containing a Dane, a Spaniard, an Argentinean and a Swede. Everyone spoke Spanish but Frank, all of them girls but Dev. Dev and Frank had gone to school together in Dublin, had smoked and drank and puked, and Frank had arrived in Sevilla about two months after Dev, eager for adventure after incapacitation.
They sat in the living room and sweated, two floors up in the thin rising house. Dev was wearing a pair of shorts and picking his nose.
“That kind of shit is like shooting ducks in a kettle,” he said, “ or whatever the phrase is. I mean it’s just so easy that…who’d be bothered?”
Frank settled into his chair, relaxed, but fidgeting nonetheless. Dev went and got two glasses of water.
“Do you want ice?” he said.
He turned around and went back to the kitchen, and Frank heard the plop of the cubes in the glass.
“So how’s the job?” asked Dev, reseating. For a week now Frank had been a morning cleaner in a fleabag hotel, revelling in the stillness of the dusty Spanish hallways. It was his calmest part of the day.
“It’s alright. It’s fine.”
A cockroach scuttled across the floor. Dev seemed to think about reaching for the broom, but then slumped in a manner that suggested he couldn’t be bothered, exhaling loudly in self-deprecation. Frank rubbed a sweat-drop cascading down his nose.
They could stay like this for hours. A plate with bread crusts sat nearby, an empty glass previously containing milk. Clinging residue. They say a glass used for milk can never be used for beer, no matter how many times you subsequently wash it. Frank eyed this innocent glass carefully, nothing about its appearance suggesting awareness of a strictly sober future. He sighed and rubbed his legs.
The Swedish girl came in and sat down. Frank couldn’t remember her name, and Dev didn’t use it in greeting. She sneezed. Frank wasn’t sure if she was 18 or 26, and his opinion on this changed with every passing moment. Her clothes were of a style befitting 1958, but she was playing with a mobile phone. He wasn’t sure if this was contradictory in a pleasing way or not.
“So Dev says you’re cleaning a hotel,” she offered, putting down the phone and looking at him full-on. Right then she was 18.
“Yeah, just in the mornings. It’s fine.”
“It’s fine?”
“Yeah, it’s alright y’know?”
He shifted in his seat. She seemed to be waiting for more.
“Jesus it’s hot,” said Dev, picking up a nearby guitar. “I can never tune this feckin’ thing.”
He handed it to Frank, who tuned it after a fashion, and handed it back. Dev started playing G and C and singing about a diner.
Sjal, for that was her name Frank suddenly remembered, listened carefully. Dev switched to a comedy falsetto, closed his eyes tightly, and bashed the guitar like a bin lid. He shook his head and tapped his foot. This rhythmical tapping was accompanied by the swish of his leg on the couch. He screeched and shook. When he was finished, he splayed back into the softness, the guitar balanced upon him, unheld. Sjal clapped and Frank smiled. She thought he was funny, and Frank supposed he did too.
“And you play too?” said Sjal to Frank. “You were what do you call it for him.”
“Yeah, you were tuning for him. So you play too right?”
“Yeah,” said Frank. “A bit.”
“A bit? So will you play a bit then?”
Dev handed him the instrument, and Frank went to tune it again – an introduction, a prop, a way of readying himself.
He sang a song about a girl, a song he had written, a girl he hadn’t known. A song about insomnia and transport. The B string went flat at some point, but nobody cared. He finished and settled, smiling at the ground. He felt pretty good. They went out for coffee, and Frank fell into a daydream. He moved his ankle about under the table to prevent stiffness. Stabs of pain were induced momentarily.
“I wish I knew what you were thinking,” said Sjal sweetly. “You seem to just go off sometimes.”
He knew he liked her now, but nothing as simple as that. Not the easy beauty of courtship. He didn’t want to impress her, he didn’t want to try. It was like discovering a relative, a connection of blood and outlook, and this is strange in the world. He moved his ankle, and wasn’t sure what to think.


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