Fishing in Beirut

March 25, 2010

Part 6: Things As They Are (scene 5)

Filed under: Character : Johnny, Character : Karen, Part 6: Things As They Are — fishinginbeirut @ 10:35

Michel took a hit to get started, leaving the flat more immune to the day. He felt he could easily go to the post office, post the letter, get the bus to Chatelet, and buy some credit for his mobile. He clenched his fists and sensed that confidence arriving.
On the bus after that post office thing, which he handled admirably with a minimum of fuss, he watched his right leg jumping and couldn’t make it stop. He heard a baby babble behind him. The other passengers included an old man and two old women, and they looked to him so happy, touching each other’s arms as they spoke. He watched with his natural discretion, and wondered in awe whether they were always like this, or had something incredible happened for them today. It was nice to believe in the former.
At Chatelet he got off, and the air-hiss let the door close. The engine revved and was distant. He stood on the street and then entered a tabac, emerging afterward with phone credit. He could do with another quick snort.
He was very near the Pompidou, and he debated dropping by Johnny or leaving it till later. Maybe leave it until later. He walked north up rue Saint-Denis, and pushed through the curtains of one of those outlets, their gaudy facades and porn-strewn windows rendering him helpless. He went straight to the toilet, snorted, and began browsing.
These were girls with elastic bodies – stretched and contorted and their pubic hair cropped. They were many, but the same. He picked up and replaced magazines and videos, and you could only tell the difference by the colour of their hair. There were all kinds of tastes accommodated.
Other men shuffled around him, maybe ten in the shop, and it stretched back a little. It was easy to pretend they weren’t there. He hadn’t looked at any faces, hadn’t noticed any items of clothing, and he was comfortable in the knowledge that they were likewise aloof. He took a quick peek at the sex-toys.
Later when he did go to Johnny, he approached him from behind, and startled him by sitting. He drew up alongside, coughed, and flopped down. Johnny had broken a string on the guitar, the B string he was saying, and Michel watched as he unhooked it, throwing the two parts away. They were all coiled up and fraying.
Johnny strode off to replace the missing string, his weird charisma still present when he was not. Michel was fatigué on the piazza. He scanned lazily about, the scenery essentially a constant, some other tourists replacing the last day’s group. He thought for a time about Karen.
Johnny returned and popped a champagne bottle, a far from quality smell escaping when he did. They drank and the cold liquid made them shiver. Johnny shifted and some condoms fell out of his pocket, and he hissed in annoyance as he quickly placed them back. Michel was going to laugh but then didn’t.
“I recall in the summer and we did the English.”
“Of course you recall,” spat Johnny. “It was only a few fucking months ago.”
He had bought a whole new set of strings, and he was busy ripping out the old ones. Michel watched him discard them.
“Yes, in the summer and we did the English.”
Johnny raised his eyes up to heaven.
Michel stood and yawned theatrically, and Johnny turned the pegs to stretch the new strings. They’d wander out of tune for about two days now. He listened to the ascending pitch, wrestling the pegs around, so caked were they in rust. The instrument rattled and moaned.
“I’m like a bird,” sang Michel. “I don’t know where my home is, I don’t know where my phone is.”
Johnny stared at him, horrified. It sounded like a cat in a blender, and those weren’t the lyrics anyway. Plus, he couldn’t remember what song it was.
Michel continued singing, and Johnny tightened the strings. Together the sound was unbearable. People were gaping with pained expressions on their faces, and a beggar who was passing stuck his finger in his ear. Pigeons took off in a hurry.
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, screeched Johnny. Like a motherfucking bird.
He twisted the pegs and clawed at the strings like a lunatic, a cacophonous racket blundering into being. Michel kept singing as he had been. They now had the attention of probably everyone on the piazza, no one particularly welcoming of this din they were inflicting. A dog began howling like a wolf.
They kept at it for about five minutes, and, when they stopped, the silence was total and eerie. It was life with an absence of volume. Gradually, people started moving and speaking again, looking in their pockets or playing with their phones. For that five minute period of noise pollution, Michel and Johnny had controlled the square. They smiled and returned to their drinking.


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