Fishing in Beirut

February 23, 2010

Part 4: Causality (scene 5)

Filed under: Character : Aria, Character : Frank, Part 4 : Causality — fishinginbeirut @ 10:12

Aria went to the graveyard. Laura was studying, so she walked there alone, a grey-cloud sky impassive overhead. It was a twenty minute walk, heading eastward.
Pere Lachaise cemetery is a city of the illustrious dead. You can eat ice-cream and stare at Balzac. Maps are easily available, celebrity locations highlighted in red. On its leafy, peaceful walkways, one feels detached nonetheless, and to say that it is morbid gives quite the wrong impression. Aria felt light and kind of sad.
She was looking for Jim Morrison, and was excited to be doing so. A curious, simple moment awaited. She followed curling pathways, the map held at her side, sweet anticipation for something so mundane. The headstone of a famous man, the inscription.

Frank stood, reading. On the back of Oscar Wilde’s tomb lay a quotation from The Ballad Of Reading Gaol, a paean to Oscar’s separate status, and the sorrowful life of the outcast. “Good man yourself Oscar,” said Behan upon Wilde’s death. “You had it every way.” Frank smiled in pity, and compassion.
He had never made the trip to Pere Lachaise before, and had often wanted to. Today was as good as any. A dirt-grey sky, a rain-threat. He felt safe in the company of Oscar.
Frank had never really cared about The Doors, but maybe it would be interesting to visit Jim Morrison’s grave as well. His final resting place, after a lurid, bloated life.

Aria stood in wonder. This was fascinating, the simple, unadorned headstone, just James Douglas Morrison – no graffiti, nothing. A guard hovered nearby, making sure it stayed that way. Someone had placed a feather and an arrow on the ground. There were a few tourists circling, and then a young, scruffy guy arrived on the scene. His body language was uncertain, ill at ease.
He looked to be in his mid-twenties – tall and thin, but really not her type. She turned away. Now he was looking at her. She flicked her hair and swallowed; not feeling uncomfortable, just standing still. Yes, he was watching her all right. The guard’s radio crackled alive, and she flinched for a moment, and her eyes met this stranger’s, briefly. She saw his flickering pain.
Frank gazed at this beautiful girl, her long hair and gentle dark eyes, and thought himself desperately ugly, and blinked. His head lowered, and he coughed.
Aria smiled in kindness, but he didn’t see this, and then he turned his back and walked away. It was all too much to believe there were girls like this right now. If he was never going to touch what he held in his dreams, it was best not to fall into such reverie. Things just happen, eyes meet.
Frank left the graveyard, and descended into the Metro station. He jumped the barrier after an old man, kicking the gate to pass freely through. When the train came he boarded quickly, his stomach rumbling now, his nose cold. The carriage rattled, steadily.
Back on the surface, Aria wandered round. She passed writers, artists, and whole families with German names, all buried equally, in the soft tended earth. She paused in thought on a bench.

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February 20, 2010

Part 4: Causality (scene 2)

Filed under: Character : Frank, Part 4 : Causality — fishinginbeirut @ 08:37

Frank lay in bed. He didn’t want to get up today, but he knew he’d have to, eventually. Hunger and thirst would prevail. He could hear rain outside, the swish of passing cars, and he curled foetus-like into himself, against all without and within. The room was dark, a gloomy anytime darkness, but he felt it was around midday, and was depressed by this fact alone.
He remembered the moment of impact. It just came to him suddenly, and he physically flinched and tightened. His breathing and heart rate increased. He lay on his back with his jaw like a bear trap, clenched and protruding to the point of definite pain. The room swam momentarily.
He got up and made breakfast. He didn’t want to shower or sleep. He ate quickly, anxiously, and didn’t bother washing up. Then he changed his mind and did so. He suddenly had to leave the flat, and rushed about, dressing, grabbing keys, and checking he really had done the dishes. He cracked his hip off a chair and cried out. He made sure the oven was off, checked the water in the toilet wasn’t still running, and scrambled out the door. On the rainy street he relaxed.
He slowed his pace and walked northward. He passed the Metro station for Porte de Vanves, right next to his flat, on the southern edge of the city.
“Rather the rain than a train,” he said aloud, feeling better now, and smiling at the stupidity of this. “Rather the rain than a train.”
He turned right, went down Boulevard Brune, and took a left onto rue Didot, again heading north. This street was calming for some reason. He slowed further, and felt happy now, his hands warm, despite the cold rain. He smiled, feeling genuine relief. Three workmen were gathered around a truck, and, as he passed, one of them accidentally knocked against him and excused himself. Frank felt a beautiful tickle somewhere in his head, and it’s impossible to describe how comforting this was.
He walked on, feeling light and almost crying, squeezing his fists in sheer unbridled joy. So much energy inside. He came onto bustling Avenue du Maine, and up ahead was la Tour Montparnasse. A Parisian skyscraper. There were lights on inside, piercing in the midday gloom.
Newspaper shops stuffed with pornography were scattered around and about. He entered none. He came to the beginning of rue de Rennes, leading straight and true to Saint Germain-des-Pres. He bought some roasted chestnuts, but the idea was more interesting than the taste.
Halfway along rue de Rennes his ankle gave him trouble. He stopped, grimacing. He leaned against a bus stop and eased it gently back and forth, hoping to click it free again. This sometimes took time. A few passers-by were looking, but he was used to this, and besides, there were many others who just politely minded their own business. It popped free, and he gasped in sudden pain.
He continued north gingerly, and it loosened further. The cold and rain never helped. He was shivering now, drops falling from his nose, and the cold and congestion were dampening his spirits. Car horns and shopping bags. A dog pissed against a bank machine, a door-cloaked security guard eyeing it with distaste.
Frank reached the Seine, and sheltered under Pont Neuf. There is something inexplicably cosy in standing under a bridge in the rain, despite the fact that you are cold, soaking, and there isn’t even anywhere to sit. The river was misty, and had risen slightly. A cruiser went by, practically empty save for a few downstairs, and one lunatic braving the elements on deck. Foamy waves rolled outward. Frank rubbed his hands vigorously, and sang softly to himself.

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.

February 11, 2010

Part 3: Blue, July – Sept 2002 (scene 11)

Filed under: Character : Frank, Part 3 : Blue — fishinginbeirut @ 09:43

Sjal’s friend arrived. She was smaller, blonder, a cynic with a heart, and she took to caring for everyone with gruff maternal pride. Her name was Pernilla. She shook hands with Frank upon introduction, did not kiss his cheek, and wanted Sjal to confirm the English sentences she made, although they were perfect. Her eyes held distant secrets.
The three of them, along with Dev’s girlfriend Beth, went to the flicks, and then to the bar where Dev worked. Frank’s mind swam with the film he had seen. The story concerned an Italian actress, and had been written and directed by an Italian actress, who was herself playing the lead. It was shot on digital cameras.
This character was a star in Italy, and was desperate to make a film, which shared its title with the film on the screen. Her life was a tumultuous crash of drugs, parties, and abuse, most of it self-inflicted. The film was jagged, sprawling, egocentric and sublime, with dreams, violence, and desperate, lonely sex. It was a broken masterpiece.
Frank had been struck by his feelings for this girl, because for what girl? Was this person playing herself? The film seemed to suggest it was but a fictional documentary, reality thinly disguised, and if this was true, Frank wanted to find this girl and hold her tight. To push gently the hair from her tear-stained eyes.
He took out the hand-written copy of a poem he’d read and transcribed for keeping. He carefully smoothed the page.

‘Andamos
sobre un espejo
sin azogue,
sobre un cristal
sin nubes.
Si los lirios nacieran
al reves,
si las rosas nacieran
al reves,
si todas las raices
miraran las estrellas
y el muerto no cerrara
sus ojos,
seriamos como cisnes.’

What it meant he couldn’t say. Pernilla and Sjal spoke in Swedish beside him, and Beth watched Dev, as he poured and served cervezas. Frank listened to the Scandinavian tongue. It was German but wasn’t, was Dutch but wasn’t, though Dutch was closer than Deutsch. He had never heard it before.
He put the poem back in his pocket. He had been tempted before to ask Sjal for a translation, but had always refrained. It might lose something in the meaning. His glass was nearly empty, but the girls had plenty left, so he sat there in the evening, and listened while they spoke. They laughed and joked together.
“Can you understand any of this?” asked Sjal. “Maybe we should speak in English.”
Frank said he didn’t, but they should speak in whatever they liked. She said they liked speaking English, and so he asked what she thought of the film. She sat thinking carefully, considering either her opinion or how to phrase it, and Frank felt Pernilla watching, weighing up for herself the nature of this friendship. He took some of Sjal’s beer.

“It was quite hard to relate to,” said Sjal. “For me anyway. Her life was totally removed from mine, basically in every way, and for that reason I felt really far from it. So I’m not sure what I thought.”
Pernilla said she liked it more. Said she understood it. Frank had known this would be so, despite having just met her, and he watched carefully as she tried to articulate her feelings without mentioning whatever personal references she may have had. She was skirting something dark.
Frank got more beer for everyone, because if they didn’t drink it, he would. The night consolidated, evening light now gone. Dev served beer to Americans who couldn’t have been more than sixteen, their attempts to be adult failing to disguise the pure light of incredulous excitement. You can’t do this in the Land of the Free.
Frank and the girls drank slowly, needing to be nowhere else. Dev disappeared for a while to change a keg. This Cruzcampo beer was relaxing if it was anything, or it certainly was that night anyway. Frank felt happy right in the moment. Sjal and Pernilla spoke of their friends’ imminent arrival, in English, telling Frank their names and interests. Lise and Mette. He laughed at all these names, and they laughed at him for laughing.
Dev came back and stopped working, what with hardly any customers now, and two other bar staff on duty. He splashed a beer down beside the others.
“This place is terrible isn’t it?” he said, looking around and clicking his tongue in disdain. “Sometimes I want to start throwing things, just to see what’ll happen.”
He laughed at his own comment, and swivelled his head with a mock manic look in his eyes.
Beth drank from his glass.
Pernilla asked Dev to tell a story. He cleared his throat, and looked at Frank to share the humour in this. He had a glint in his eye.
“Let me see now,” he began, lapsing into pure country shtick. “Sure what feckin’ stories would I know?”
The Swedes were enchanted already, and Dev knew it, and in that moment Frank was reminded of how good a friend he really was, and always would be. Dev with his curly hair.
“I remember one time when I was back on the farrrrrrrrrrm,” said Dev, tugging at imaginary braces, “and there was a feckin’ goat that needed milkin’ quare fast. Jaysus, them were the fuckin’ days, y’know.”
Frank knew that Dev’s entire farming experience was limited to one school trip, but he naturally made no mention of this. Dev warmed to the theme.
“Anyway, this feckin’ goat, yeah. He never liked me. He never liked me one feckin’ bit I tell ya.” He smiled warmly. “He was an oul bollox.”
The girls were in stitches, and Beth and Frank basically were too, even though they’d heard this shit many times before. Dev kept catching Frank’s eye.
“So I walk up to him, yeah,” said Dev, “ this oul bollox of a goat. And he’s givin’ me the evil eye.”
He cleared his throat again, and took a swig that’d put out a fire. He swished it round his mouth like a cartoon.
“And I says to him; ‘what’s wrong with ya? Sure don’t ya need milkin’ quare fast?’ And he stands there lookin’, the evil eye fixed on me like a gun.”
“But surely you can’t milk a male goat,” said Sjal, and suddenly everyone realised just how ludicrous this story really was. It seemed to Frank that Dev was only sussing this aspect now as well. He laughed and drank more beer.
“I dunno,” he said. “I wouldn’t say you can. But there’s a first time for everything, y’know?”

So they finished drinking and left the bar, going somewhere else for wine and coffee. They passed the cathedral all bathed in lights. Moorish and Christian building, vying to praise the Lord, and tourist maps for money, all scattered on the ground. Sjal and Pernilla spoke gently in their Swedish, and nobody else said anything at all.

February 8, 2010

Part 3: Blue, July – Sept 2002 (scene 8)

Filed under: Character : Frank, Part 3 : Blue — fishinginbeirut @ 08:39

Sjal twirled the liquorice. It was red and black and sugar frosted, and seemed to hold more appeal as an accessory than food. She laughed and placed it down. Frank sat opposite, no drink before him as he’d just arrived, sweating and sore after walking from the river. They were at a café right outside her house.
It had been a strange moment, as he walked down the road in the stress heat, the ravaging extreme, and there she had appeared, dressed in red and white, looking cool, at peace, and quite content to see him. He’d sat down and dropped bread he’d bought on the pavement. She drank her café solo and they talked of coloured string, the subject not as vital as the joy of words to say. They laughed at misunderstandings. Frank ordered nothing, the waiter never appeared, and the advancing clock pleasingly subdued some of the sun’s excess. She told him about Malmo.
He played with an unopened sugar pack. He learned of a connecting bridge between her city and Copenhagen. Spanish voices passed. She asked things about Dublin, was curious and real, and he answered like a teacher, and wasn’t quite sure why. He said the only Spanish word he knew was casa.
She said friends of hers were coming soon. One would be here in a few days, and would be staying who knows how long, with two others coming later, and staying just a week. Friends from Stockholm. The sugar conga’d in the packet like sand in an African shaker, as he shook it up and down rhythmically. The car they’d seen on fire lurched down the street, the bonnet black and pockmarked, a veritable hazard to the occupant, and, indeed, anyone else in the vicinity. Frank checked his bread was still there.

February 6, 2010

Part 3: Blue, July – Sept 2002 (scene 6)

Filed under: Character : Frank, Part 3 : Blue — fishinginbeirut @ 08:39

Dev spat an olive stone.
“They’re addictive these things,” he spluttered. “This is my third jar today.”
Frank had made soup in his apartment, but he had no idea why, as the two of them sat there eating, sweating for God and country. It was siesta in Sevilla.
“So they made you sweep the parts you’d already swept?” said Dev. “Just to be doing something.”
“Yeah.”
“For fucks sake.”
Frank pushed away his soup bowl and wiped his brow.
“It wasn’t even dirty in the first place,” he muttered. “They don’t have any fucking guests.”
Dev sat up and rolled a joint. A big cone that could floor an elephant. He folded, rolled and licked, his tongue protruding from the left side of his mouth, like an eager child, engrossed in what he was doing.
They smoked in silence.
“When I was about six,” said Dev, “I got my first erection. This wasn’t in the gaff my parents have now, it wasn’t in Dublin. It was when I was a kid, in Navan. It was summer, really hot – not as hot as this obviously, but y’know, hot. I was in the garden, or we were in the garden I should say, cause it was me, Johnno, and PJ. Jesus, fuckin’ PJ. Last time I saw him he was on parole. Anyway, yeah, we were in the garden yeah, me Johnno and PJ, and y’know, summers day, I think we had ice-cream or something. I was six. Anyway, the next-door neighbour was out sunbathing, like, in her garden, and I mean, fuck, what a fuckin’ slapper. Lying there real kind of, I don’t know…there was only a little fence between the two gardens. I couldn’t see over, but I could see through. She was lying out there, covered only in a towel, and I mean, it was obvious to us, through the fence at six years old, that there was nothing underneath. I’d say she was about thirty. Anyway, she’s lying there, we’re watching, and the thing is, she knew we were watching, y’know? She knew. So…what does she do? She takes off the towel. This is Navan, 17, 18 years ago. And she knew we were watching, y’know? She takes off the towel, lies there, totally naked, and we were watching through the fence, and, I mean, we had never seen anything like that before. She was about thirty I’d say, and she wasn’t bad. But what a fuckin’ slapper, y’know? To get your thrills from doing that. And that was the first time. Just lying there, y’know..?”
Frank exhaled slowly. The air of a confession hung over this story, and Dev had seemed nervous in the telling. Frank glanced at him now, and he was smoking. He was leaning back again, silent. A scooter went by outside, a churning headwreck growl, and Frank’s knee flinched, in sudden shock from the sound.
Dev stood up and went to the window. He spat down below. Frank finished the smoke and stubbed it out, wiping tobacco entrails off the table with his left hand. They rained slowly toward the floor, a waterfall of matter, a tumbling little shower that the ground was calling home. He spied an ant and squashed it.
“Sometimes I don’t know about this fuckin’ place,” said Dev, his voice half muffled with his body leaning out. “It’s a bit of a shithole to be perfectly honest.”
He laughed then, easy and fine with himself, and Frank smiled also, because the man by the window was right.
“So leave,” he taunted gently, standing up to stretch, and he moved toward the window, where Dev was leaking spit.
“Leave for somewhere new.”
“I might,” said Dev, dribbling, laughing and foaming and mad, his body now suspended over a twisting cobbled street.
“I could leave and go to Holland, and never go back home, and draw and smoke and dance, just like nature intended.”
He spat down below, and laughed as he wiped his chin.

February 4, 2010

Part 3: Blue, July – Sept 2002 (scene 4)

Filed under: Character : Frank, Part 3 : Blue — fishinginbeirut @ 09:51

Frank and Sjal and Dev ate olives. It was another sweltering day. They were at an Alameda café, and a heroin addict who used to be a ballerina was floating about for change. Sjal gave her something. A child threw a tomato on the ground in a tantrum, and his parents weren’t overly concerned. He wanted chocolate instead.
Frank had a fair amount of chocolate in his back pocket, but not like the kid wanted, and himself and Dev smoked some discreetly. A stalling car engine burst up in flames. There were shouts of surprise from the driver, hurling himself from his vehicle, pleading in his eyes for someone to approach. Their waiter strolled over with an extinguisher.
The event aroused interest for about thirty seconds, and then everyone forgot and went back to whatever. Frank watched carefully. The burn smell was in the air, in the hot already burning air, and he ate another olive, and gazed at the poverty and dust. The man was thanking the waiter, “gracias, gracias,” and this in itself was unusual, because nobody in that city says thanks. “Vale,” said the waiter, and walked off.
“Is anybody hungry?” said Dev.
Sjal ate an olive.
“Hungrier than this I mean.” He swung back in his chair and yawned. “I’d love a big roast chicken and spuds. With gravy and peas and carrots.”
Sjal eyed him in amazement, and Frank laughed softly, bemused and amused at once.
“Feckin’ roast spuds as well,” said Dev. “And stuffing.” He made an exaggerated lip smacking sound, and then a moan of pleasure, and spat an olive stone back into the world.
“Spuds and stuffing and chicken. Ya can’t bate it.”
So they went for food, but sandwiches and crisps – Dev’s mind far bigger than his belly. Sjal didn’t eat meat. She told them she had lived in Paris, had seen a lot of great films there, and once found a key ring on the Boulevard Saint Michel. She took it out, and it was a pink bear that lit up if you pressed a button. They couldn’t see this very well, but she semi-covered it in her hand and it was better.
It was made of a glass-like plastic, and had a red dickie-bow. It looked somewhat the worse for wear. Frank and Dev held it. Handing it back, Frank thought he thought something, but then dismissed it. He turned away with a frown. She put it back in her pocket, and Dev stole one of her crisps.
That night there was a flamenco show, a cantankerous affair of wailing and death, and they sat there drinking, Frank rotating his ankle muscles again and again, a cracking sound audible. Today had been tough, and the pain was acute now. Sjal adored this music, was spellbound and moving and light, her duende eyes dancing also, both yearning and pulsing at once. She took a drink and ate a peanut.
Dev got up for beer. The music grew more intense, a cathartic clenched cacophony, and Frank watched in wonder, as Sjal shamanically swayed. She was there and not there also. Almond eyes, and a young face lined with faint anxiety, from thought upon thought upon thought. Her knuckles were tapping the table. She turned to look at him then, but he felt he couldn’t be seen, and maybe in her trance-state she detected the system breach. His hollowness in need. This was July and sweetness, the damage a year before, and Frank in Spanish night-time doesn’t know what is to come. He’s had the pain, the repair, the physical re-knitting of the cartilage and bone. But the thunder hasn’t rolled yet, the soul has not yet screamed, and the sense of dislocation has just begun to loom.

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.
“Yeah.”
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.”
“Tuning.”
“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.

January 27, 2010

Part 2: Aria (scene 3)

Filed under: Character : Frank, Part 2 : Aria — fishinginbeirut @ 08:36

“C’est vraiment degueulasse ca,” said someone, as Frank pissed between two parked cars. It was very hot today, and he was very drunk. The offended girl swivelled onwards, talking rapidly to a colleague. Frank eyed their departing posteriors, pincered in the impotent rage of drink.
The heat shimmered in the air. There was dust and fumes. He walked purposeless, the can sloshing in his pocket, foaming. There was a tightness now within him, but he couldn’t pinpoint where.
On he went to nowhere, hot and ill at ease. The sound and presence of other people caused disgust and irritation. Solitude brought mindless rage, and uncomprehending terror. He hurt most of the time. He hurt, and jittered. He walked the streets in agony, propelled forward by a hostile distant body. There was no wholeness or unity, because something had been breached.
Jackhammers ripped pavements, and dust and noise were constant. He was on rue Beaubourg, and up ahead was the enormous Centre Georges Pompidou. A jutting piece of Notre Dame lay further, across the river, scaffold-covered. He spat, and coughed, and spat again. Reached into his pocket and gulped messily. He took a right after Hotel de Ville, and walked riverside to Pont des Arts. Descended to the quai and pissed again, thirsty, sweaty, and hot.
Maybe Frank could cure his own disease. Maybe nights in Buddhist temples, and the endless peace of a vast Aboriginal desert. Maybe this is needed. But this is all external, as distant as falling leaves, or perfect lovers. As untakeable as time. Frank’s problem lies within. It isn’t even really a disease.
The sun burned, next to Pont des Arts. He was directly in its glare. Two girls asked him for a light, and he was rude and didn’t know why. The cruisers hummed past, and the water rolled like heaven. Homeless men climbed down from the beams that were their homes, and went to forage. You could see their sleeping bags and cardboard – makeshift domesticity, sentried by ravenous dogs.
Frank lay down, and tried to be still. There were people sunning themselves all along the right bank quai, and he eyed them gingerly. They didn’t seem nearly as hassled by this glorious weather as he was. They didn’t seem hassled at all. He stretched, and shifted. He knew that whatever was wrong was getting worse. Some days he felt so excited he just babbled randomly at strangers, but most days were so rotten he could lash out at a post-box. He stared skyward, and sighed.
He half-heard someone laughing, and his heartbeat suddenly quickened. He sat up abruptly, some memory reflex triggered, with it the damp feeling of nerves on a sunlit dental Tuesday. He probed his pocket for a tissue, and instead came out with a map of the Berlin U-Bahn. It was crumpled, and frayed. It had parted from a lover, and he’d kept it ever since. Monica, from Italy. The stop names were familiar, but eerie too and foreign. Bismarck Strasse, Friedenau, Markisches Museum, Neukolln.
He looked at it carefully, following train lines, blinking in remembrance. The U7, the U6, the connection between the two at Mehringdamm. The Innenraum. Frank was hot and uncomfortable, but nostalgia was granting merciful relief.
He sighed and cried a little. Days before this torture, and awareness of futility. He blinked and sniffed, and attempted to relax his facial muscles, his shoulders moving up and down as he fought to align his breathing. He saw a seagull on the water. All the vacant dreams he had, and the dead weight of knowing they’d stay in his head. The U7 gets you from Neukolln to Blisse Strasse, and he’d made that journey one time, with flowers in his hand.

January 23, 2010

Part 1: Getting There (scene 5)

Filed under: Character : Frank, Part 1: Getting There — fishinginbeirut @ 08:50

When Frank left, Berlin had put one thought in his head: freedom soars over all. Then came Chicago, came Sevilla, and freedom started drifting. If he craned around his neck, and stared back into the past, the bus out of Berlin was when the bubble burst.
That soup stain on his trousers is not going away. Its orange has faded a dull and mucky brown, and it looks unsightly if you walk down rue de Rennes. That’s what Frank is doing, this chill December weekend. There are girls with dainty black gloves and precision perfect make-up. There are grown men who could best be described as boys, and some of them with dainty black gloves also. Stylish beige attire abounds, saliva lips of shoppers like aroused blood dogs. Frank is uncomfortable in this. Nauseated.
He reaches Montparnasse and collapses to the ground. He hasn’t eaten in two days, because he wanted to test his strength. He gurgles and spits, and there’s a tingling in the limbs. It’s warm, fuzzy – tiny internal dots of rhythmical motion. Frank is on the ground beside a congealed chewing gum.
A security guard from a lingerie boutique helps him up. He is fixing his collar for him when Frank sags scarily. He is only standing now because of this man.
All around there are people. All around, too much is going on. Voices from everywhere, with a sharpness to the afternoon air. Frank is assisted to a bench by his benefactor. Wood meets bone and tissue as he slumps. The man is enquiring after his present awareness, but Frank can’t remember the French he knows. His whole face is lolling.
What do you do when you’re not you, and your consciousness is refusing to acknowledge it? When the world is strong and cruel, your soul has gone astray, and there is no sense of comfort inside your unknown skin. Where begins the healing course of action?

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