Fishing in Beirut

February 17, 2010

Part 3: Blue, July – Sept 2002 (scene 14)

Filed under: Character : Frank, Part 3 : Blue — fishinginbeirut @ 08:41

Frank swept the hallway. The owner shuffled by, muttering something he didn’t catch, and Frank made no attempt to make him repeat it. Sunlight cast a golden square on the tile. The dust rose and danced, aroused by the brush in the morning. The bristles whispered and hissed.
The owner returned, and seemed to repeat himself, huffily. Frank stared blankly.
“Mas fuerte!” spat his boss. “Mas fuerte!” He made muscular sweeping motions himself. “Venga, venga!”
Frank told him to fuck off in his mind, but worked with more vigour for the next thirty seconds, till the man ceased observing him and disappeared around a corner. The he stopped and wiped his brow.
“Fuck off,” said Frank. Sweat glistened on his fingers. He thought of that girl in the Italian film, the dark-haired wild one, with the slow siren smile. He leaned heavily on the brush.
“Sobre un cristal sin nubes”, he said. A crystal without clouds? The dust settled in the sun square. He resumed sweeping, disturbing particles once more, and thought of the cheese sandwich that would soon grant respite. Cheese and terrible sugary Spanish bread.
He completed the hall and stopped. Not one guest had passed all morning. In the stillness he heard a faint clock-tick, and listened to his breathing intermingling with that sound. Then this disturbed him, and he coughed unnecessarily. He rubbed his tired eyes. Sjal had told him that the eyes were the windows to the soul, but all windows need closing sometimes. He yawned in the hot lazy morning.
He finished up soon after. He walked back to his flat, climbed the stairs to his door, and gave himself a panic attack trying to fit the key in the lock. He was confused and momentarily terrified, and he frantically sought a reason while he reassured himself. This happened now occasionally.
He knew what it was. It was the feel of his pulse pumping hard in his neck, which was a natural occurrence after three flights of stairs, but was today disconcerting in the heat of Sevilla. He called round to Dev, shaky and twitching.
Dev poured water and listened carefully. He was concerned and paternal. He understood, and Frank knew this, for Dev had once been beaten severely, and his real work had begun only after the physical recovery. He folded his arms and breathed out.
“You know I can relate to this,” he said. “And so I only say this now, because I know that you know that I’m not talking through my hat. But it’s ourselves who give us the fear. And deep in your heart you know that. The head-rushes, the panic, your mind telling you something terrible’s coming. It’s fucking awful. But listen to what I learned. Don’t waste a second of this life worrying about things that might befall you. Not a fucking second Frank. The energy can be better used, and there’s nothing worse than feeling frightened of being afraid.”
He sat back and drank some water.
“It takes a long time, y’know?”

The girls were expected tonight. Lise and Mette, Sjal’s other friends. Frank knew this, and realised he had actually been counting the days since first hearing of them. If he was honest with himself he was excited. He was back in his flat now, feeling better after talking with Dev, and Beth had told him to call to the house at ten. They would be there by then, and what with Sjal and Dev working, she’d joked of wanting all the help she could get. Frank was shelling a nut.
The TV was on, showing the bullfights. He watched these in horror and awe. It was dreadful, yes, but it was something else too, and afternoons had been spent this way, wanting to turn it off, but not doing so. He saw the banderillas being placed.
This was the fight’s second act, the harpoon-like instruments attaching to muscle and skin, in preparation for the matador’s return to the fray. The four banderilleros slipped back toward the ring’s circumference.
It was exactly five in the afternoon. This is when it’s hottest, between about three and six. Frank wiped sweat from his brow. The matador aimed the estoque, and killed quickly with skill. Frank changed the channel. An attractive airhead was chairing a gaudy discussion on something or other on Antenna 3, and his mind began to creep towards a state of impurity. He was frightened to masturbate in this heat.
He got up and stretched. There was an ant colony on the floor. Someone shouted downstairs, but it sounded more joyful than anything. Frank found this comforting. He wiped nutshell fragments off the table with his hand, and went to the bedroom and threw them out the window. The ancient hag directly opposite eyed him malevolently. Ah, but maybe she wasn’t so bad.
He paced the flat in impatience. More ants were appearing. They were creeping down walls and marching across the floors. He swept at some with his hand. He sat down and drank a beer, feeling restless and hot. He flicked back to the bullfights.
Someone was calling outside. “Frank, Frank!” He went to the window and it was Sjal. His flat had no buzzer, and this was how people had to attract attention. It wasn’t abnormal here, and he did the same when he went to hers.
She came up and sat down, and he got her water. She drank and breathed heavily. She was looking forward to her friends coming, and she wanted him to call round later, so he’d be there when she returned from work. He said that’s what he was doing. They drank water together in the living room, and she spoke of a flamenco course she was taking. She’d been learning this dance for years. He listened to her rhythm descriptions, her talk of clapping and songs.
“Do you have a lot of ants or something?”
“Yes, I have a lot of ants or something.”
She studied them creeping around her shoe.
“Where did you live in Paris?” he asked her. He wasn’t familiar with the names of any areas, but he wanted to know.
“In the Marais. Do you know Paris?”
“No.”
“Well it’s on the Right Bank, beside the Centre Pompidou.”
“The what?”
“The Centre Pompidou. What would you say, the Pompidou Centre? It’s this big place with a library, and space for expositions or, yes, exhibitions sorry, and behind it there are people playing guitar and sitting down, and some people selling drugs and things as well. I studied in the library, and I knew a guy who used to write a book there. He was Irish too.”
“What was it about?”
“The book? I have no idea. It took place in many cities.”
They finished their water and sat. Frank moved and the couch groaned, the hot leather catching his skin. Imagine molten velcro. Sjal had to leave, and did so, and he sat there alone in the ant flat, thinking and twitching until ten rolled around.
He left at ten-thirty. He walked down calle Feria in the moonlight, some streetlights working, others emitting nothing at all. He had a plastic bag, litre beer bottles within. There was the clink of the glass, and the rustle of the plastic.
Beth opened the door.
“Where were you?” she said. “They cooked for us and everything.”
He said he was sorry and scratched his head, and she laughed and told him Sjal’s father was there too. “Thank God you brought beer, we’re all out.”
They ascended through the house and came to the roof. Frank stepped onto the tile and took in the table, the pasta, a new girl on each side of the table, Pernilla, and a tall white-haired gent of maybe 60. Two stools remained. One was pushed back a little, and this must have been Beth’s place, dislodged when she went to open the door. He sat in the other. He was introduced to Mette, a pretty blonde, Sjal’s father, who smiled warmly, and Lise, who was beside him to his right. He looked at her, said hello, looked away, and turned back in astonishment. There is no other term that will suffice.
In songs or sweet poetics, the stars would have come crashing down. He gazed intently at her face. She was bouncing her foot under the table, and her brown hair was tickling her shoulders. She had a glass of red wine.
“So I hear you work in a hotel,” said Sjal’s father, and Frank was brought back to the table, looking around and saying, “yes, just in the mornings.”
Sjal’s father was a poet. He appeared to study everything carefully, but in a vaguely amused and wondrous way, and Frank could easily see him as a poet of the ordinary, instilling it through words with a mystical import.
“I myself have worked in hotels,” he said. “It was in one of them that I found this shirt.” He touched the fabric of his white shirt, and Frank smiled in surprise. There was nothing distinctive about the shirt at all.
“There is something interesting about the coming and going of strangers, isn’t there?”
Frank agreed with this, and laughed and said there was, and he opened a bottle of beer and poured for those who wanted. Beth moved plates to make more room. The night was extremely pleasant, and ended with Frank taking Lise and Mette to play pool. Mette dozed in the corner of the hall.
Frank watched Lise shoot. She laughed and touched against him, but she wanted to win too, and he was impressed and intrigued by all she seemed to be. Maybe it’s hard to know much at first, but everything in life suggests that sometimes it is not. She seemed to have such hard-won knowledge, but yet be capable of staggering, gorgeous warmth. She was competitive but compassionate, wise but full of hope. He took a shot, potted and took another, and she encouraged and smiled. His eyes were going crazy, trying to see her and the ball at once.
Walking home, the three of them spoke of travel – of places they had been, and places they wanted to go. Frank mentioned Berlin and Chicago. They had been to Berlin themselves, briefly, but were curious to hear of Chicago, and he embellished and spun the truth, for the purpose of making a story. They reached Sjal’s door, and the girls hugged him goodnight.

The next evening there was a party. It was for something or other, in Sjal and Dev’s house, and when Frank got there it was eleven o’clock, and full of people. He glanced around for Lise and saw her talking with a Spaniard. Dev ushered Frank away with the promise of whiskey, and started shouting about a Pogues CD he’d got for nothing in a flea-market. They sat in a corner and drank, various accents milling around.
“None of my fucking workmates turned up,” complained Dev, laughing and shaking his head. “Stupid bastards.”
A Dutch musician called Michael wandered over. “Hey, there’s an old guy here,” he said. From the expression on his face, maybe William of Orange was there, and Frank scanned the rooftop laughing, knowing full well it was Sjal’s father. He spied him speaking earnestly with Beth.
“You’d better watch your bird!” Frank bellowed at Dev, and Dev got all animated and hyper, pretending he was going to roll up his sleeves and settle the Swedish poet. He emptied his glass and groaned loudly.

Frank went for a piss but there was someone in there, so he waited in the hallway, comically clutching his bladder. The door opened and it was Lise.
“You’re killing me,” he shouted. “I’m dying.”
She smiled and rubbed his arm. “Why am I killing you?”
“Because my body’s going to explode, and you’re talking to some dude.”
She tilted her head sweetly. “We were just talking Frank.”
His kidneys were screaming, but he didn’t want to move. She read all this perfectly, and said she’d wait. When they went back to the roof they sat together, her beautiful legs touching his, and he poured her Spanish wine while the party lurched and shook.
“I’m gonna go to bed soon,” she whispered.
“Well I’m gonna walk you down.”
In her room she closed the door. It was dark and warm and perfect, and they sat down on the bed and embraced. They held each other tightly and spoke nothing but the truth, and this is what the world is when all your cards come up. It really was as wonderful as that.

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