Fishing in Beirut

May 18, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 21)

Filed under: Character : Johnny, Part 8 : Te Quiero — fishinginbeirut @ 10:36

He stared up at the clock. A gentle sun was hitting the face, the white gleaming beneath the numerals. The rising grandness of the building was pompous, but amusingly so.
Pigeons rested on the roof tiles, gliding towards the ground to scavenge for food. Whenever one found some, an enormous fight would start. The flapping of the wings and the pecking was upsetting, but he didn’t know why. It was an ugly spectacle to witness, to be so close to.
Johnny tuned his guitar and gently touched the strings. He had placed the case out before him on the tile. The place de l’Hotel de Ville was busy but peaceful, less frenetic and fast than the piazza Beaubourg. Today, for the first time in his life, he wanted to sing to them.
He started quietly, feeling into things, never having played here before. Rising confidence raised the volume, and it began to feel natural. Soon coins were dancing in the guitar case, fifties, ones, even a five euro note. It seemed to him he was singing clearer than ever before.
His fingers pushed down the strings, new strings he had bought a week before. They were settled now, no longer slipping out of tune. He felt so centred, making chords, changing, the notes he was producing from his body and his guitar tangled up together. He glided one finger down the fret board to harmonise.
A few business types stopped before him. Three men, two women, smart suits and briefcases. The interest of two of the men was the reason they had stopped. The others fidgeted, hoping by a collective leaning motion to move the party on. After a moment it worked, the interested two showing disappointment.
Johnny moved his legs, keeping time and dispersing energy. His head rolled, and his shoulders kept tightening and releasing. The sun grew stronger, bathing the square in beautiful light. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply through his nose.
He felt the buzz of a text message in his pocket. Then another one, or maybe the sender had sent it twice. He looked up at the sky, a plane flying high overhead.
But Johnny wasn’t going anywhere. He let himself imagine what it might be like to be on that plane, travelling somewhere, excited. The tingling anticipation of coffee in another land. What was the use? He was where he was, a guitarist on a Parisian tile square.
He stood up and stretched in the sunlight. He massaged his neck, then pushed his shoulders towards his ears. He could hear the clicking of muscles bunched up, feel the strain of freeing what was used to being caught. His body was so hunched, so constantly bent and folded.
He thought he’d stay playing for perhaps another hour. He’d recently been toying with the idea of getting a job. Nothing too big or stressful, nothing intolerable, but dealing drugs was no longer where he wanted to be. It was depressing, all those fuckers with their jittery eyes and limbs.
He started another song. A slow one. His hand changed chords without him needing to think. He strummed and picked, singing loud, but gracefully, not barking it. The birds and pedestrians were sought out by his voice in the air.


May 14, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 17)

Filed under: Character : Johnny, Part 8 : Te Quiero — fishinginbeirut @ 07:43

Johnny sat there, tuning. It was an empty square. He assumed they were all spooked by that explosion, tourists and natives alike. The sound of the strings echoed off the concrete and glass.
He had only heard about the bomb two days afterwards. He’d been sick, huddled in bed, some ugly spring flu. It wasn’t until he’d ventured out on the streets that he’d seen the newspaper headlines. He’d been cocooned away, oblivious to the splash and its ripples.
Perhaps it was this absence that significantly lessened the magnitude. He’d missed the initial shock and terrifying reports. Thus, when he finally became aware, it was not so overwhelming, not so strong. Montparnasse was an area he rarely if ever visited.
He strummed a C chord, but the B string was still out. It needed to be flattened by the slightest degree. He played a progression of C, G, Fmaj7.
There is a town in North Ontario,
Extreme comfort, memory, despair.
And in my mind, I still need a place to go,
All my changes were there.”
It was fascinating to sing this song to absolutely no one. A piece of paper skitted along the ground. It blew closer, and revealed itself to be nothing. Just a torn off segment from the classified section of some rag.
Suitable apartments had been ringed in red by the owner. He stretched out, picked it up, and scanned the page. Various pricey possibilities were circled and ticked.
Johnny let the paper blow on again. It rested for a minute beside him before crawling down the slope. He massaged his forehead with his fingertips, moving down to rub his eyeballs and the bridge of his nose. His cheeks felt coarse, like unpainted brick or sandstone.
Lorena once said melody is human duty. The rhythm in your step and the lilt in your voice are your own. It’s impossible to live unmusically, so therefore a choice exists between flowing purity or low atonal drudge. Johnny considered it a fanciful idea, but not an irrelevant one.
Curious noises became audible, like a hacking cough. He listened carefully, this desperate bronchial sound shredding through the air. It rose and fell, stopping and starting, wrenched misery escaping from a stranger’s soul. Somebody in the neighbourhood was doubled up getting sick.

May 5, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 9)

Filed under: Character : Johnny, Part 8 : Te Quiero — fishinginbeirut @ 07:47

Johnny was back at Beaubourg. The sun was shining, lending everything a faintly promising light. He took out a cigarette and smoked between songs.
“Hey Mister,” said someone. “Hey Mister. Why aren’t ya playin’ somethin’?” Was that an Irish accent or what? He looked up to see a small red-haired boy of eight or nine squinting at him quizzically. He was chewing gum, and the flavour was red on his tongue.
“I’m tired,” said Johnny. “Where is your mother or father?”
“None o’ your business,” said the boy, and ran off.
Buskers gathered over the far side, two young bucks in plaid shirts. A singer and a guitarist, the singer with a tambourine. They launched into some woeful Eagle’s tune, typical shit about lovers and cars. Johnny picked at his nails freeing dirt from the underside.
“Come on baby, don’t say maybe…”
“…I’ve got to know if your sweet love is going to save me!” shouted Johnny. A few people looked, and he stood up, beaming.
He hadn’t seen Michel in quite a while. A month or so, infinity by Michel standards. People pushed gently along across the square, a hit parade of flip-flops and cameras. Paris in the springtime, and the burden of the romantic myth.
Johnny contented himself with watching the throng and listening to The Eagles dudes. All the ‘classics’ leaped out, one after another in the sun. Tequila Sunrise, Hotel California.
Pigeons scampered about in search of bread left in wrapping. Discarded panini, or crepes residue. The pigeons, the buskers, the tourists, the drunks. The piazza Beaubourg was the world in a manageable size.
The sound of a saxophone was audible and then not. Johnny swivelled his head, trying to make out where it was coming from. The breeze and the chatter were revealing and then concealing the notes, lending it an extra-plaintive air. Then he sourced it, a guy in a beret hidden under the library façade.
Now he could see the guy the music was constant. His senses were working in tandem, sight aiding sound. All he had to do was keep looking, ignoring the occasional obstructions of tourist heads. This was some jazz cat who’d stepped out of a novel by Burroughs.
The Eagles effigies had abated. One of those weird moments happened, where suddenly the square cleared. It was Johnny and the jazz artist, frozen, and then there were people everywhere again, posing for pictures and feasting on crepes. The dude kept on playing, squeezing juice through the tube.
Johnny lit up a cigarette, letting all the other sounds encroach on him again – children, a siren. A pigeon landed on his shoe and then flapped away in fright, its internal radar vaguely faulty or askew.
“Welcome to the Hotel California,” said Johnny. “Such a lovely place, such a lovely face.” Then he sang it, keeping his voice gentle and low.

April 27, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 2)

Filed under: Character : Johnny, Part 8 : Te Quiero — fishinginbeirut @ 09:34

Johnny stood by the window, a cigarette in his hand. It was cold outside, mid-February grimness. He pulled off the butt and dropped the remains to its fate. Someone had been working, graffiti marks all over the opposite wall.
The confines of his room were sufficient for today. He was sure he wouldn’t leave unless it was necessary. There was a magazine centre-fold stuck next to the mirror, but maybe that was stupid. He’d only put it there recently, and now took it down.
He smoked another cigarette, returning to the window. The kebab shop up the street was emitting steam. He watched with interest for a moment, the white billows curling upward, and then a small Turk came out flapping a towel. He cursed and waved it, coughing, and laughter could be heard from inside. Johnny half-coughed half-laughed, and then turned towards something else.
The clack of high heels had caught his attention. A working girl prowled up the street, incongruous in daylight – fishnets, boots, excessive inexpensive parfum. Her dark skin was worn and made her look older. She picked at her lip as she passed the kebab shop door. The inevitable whistles and catcalls ensued. She seemed more warrior-like than sexual, a marauding fierceness coupled with regret. Her frizzy hair was like Medusa.
Johnny’s phone made him lose her. He checked it, looked back out, and she was gone. Off to do battle or maybe just taking a break. He stayed where he was, looking up in that direction at nothing at all. There was a red garage door he’d never consciously noticed.
He stared at it. It was weird – so obvious and blatant now, and so why not on every other day? It was a vibrant red, a looking-to-be-commented on shade. He spat down below and wiped his jaw stubble. Was he going blind, or could he never picture the skyline for all the clouds?
He ate some bread and pretended it tasted better. This was difficult, but better than the stale reality. He drank water and felt breadcrumbs sticking in his throat. He worked the neck muscles, trying to free them, and swallowed.
Melissa had not been around lately. He hoped for her sake it was nothing more than her mood. She was prone to lose consciousness occasionally, to collapse in a heap from not eating. He thought of her for a second, on someone’s floor, and felt cold.
In the evening he went back to the window. It was dusk, twilight, people returning from dead jobs and physical toil. Factory hands, labourers, bakery assistants, and the partners of drunks. Johnny saw a little child scamper ahead of her mother, an enormous African in traditional dress. The girl hid in a doorway and pounced, but the mother was unflappable, deadpan and burdened with bags. Ha, ha, said the girl, and received a clip on the ear.
The moon rose and emptied the darkening street. Some brothers stood around, punching their chests and saying word. American rap lingo, picked up and mixed with their own.
Johnny smoked, and nodded his head when they waved to him. It wasn’t a wave, just a raising of the hand by one. The sense of community could be strong in odd moments, everyone seeming to know where everyone lived. It was hard to escape the idea your history was known.
“Ca va?” came a call to his right.
He turned his head, and coming down the street was Michel. Johnny spat, and went to look for the key.

Karen put down the phone an

April 22, 2010

Part 7: Berlin, July 2001 (scene 9)

Filed under: Character : Johnny, Part 7 : Berlin — fishinginbeirut @ 09:03

Johnny smelt crepes wafting over. Tourists in the sunshine with food and drink in their hands. It was packed on the piazza today, hardly room to swing a dead guitar. Pretty girls and moneyed boys and cameras.
A portrait artist to the right had ensnared an American girl on his stool, and was painting her flirtily while she laughed and messed with her hair. Her friends were all standing around with ice cream and soda cans.
Johnny watched the scene easily. Their legs were tanned but too young, and he wrinkled his nose. They had bouncy ponytails, and a burgeoning awareness of feminine persuasion. They were gradually learning how their glances might come to be used.
He stood up and rubbed at his eyeballs. His teeth joined together and his cheeks squashed into his nose. To be active on this day was a superstar endeavour, and he had no intention of moving in the deadness of the heat. His boots were stuck to his socks which were part of his skin now.
He played a song and briefly attracted attention. Not from the girls but from a hobo scouring a bin. The man paused for an instant, training himself on the sound and then resuming. He talked in a fast hiss to no one and unearthed some bread.
Johnny took a call from Michel, a nervous new client recently arrived from Bordeaux. He’d met him through Lorena. Lorena was returning to Sevilla within the fortnight, feeling an urge to be back in her hometown, temporary wanderlust sated. Paris est trop she said, too stressed and too much.
A man offering shoulder massage set up a complicated chair to the left, a dentist-type apparatus with a hole for breathing as you lay. The plan was to entice customers to lie on their stomach with their face through this hole, and he would ease away their aches and pains with his muscle rub. Johnny strongly considered it, but what was the use?
The first customer pronounced the service excellent. He was an Indian portrait artist, a regular on the square, and he lay down like a dead man, relaxing into the experience and emerging revitalised. Johnny was envious, but couldn’t bring himself to approach.
Instead he went to the supermarket, picking up crisps, bread, and cheap champagne. The pop of the bottle was like the start of a party that never was. He chugged it down and broke off some bread, using the alcohol to ease the dry food down. The flavour of the crisps was not what he wanted and he dumped them.
Back on the piazza the masseur was gone, and a guy making paintings from oil had taken his place. This was real, car engine oil, and the odd black creations were spread out on the pavement for punters. Everyone looked, but nobody reached for their cash.
Johnny guessed he’d been gone for an hour and a half, wandering around at Les Halles and stretching his legs. This guy was churning off these pictures like an assembly line. One would get finished and he’d start another, his face covered by a mask for the fumes of his material. They were all much the same, and his jeans were soaked in the dark stuff.

April 18, 2010

Part 7: Berlin, July 2001 (scene 5)

Filed under: Character : Johnny, Part 7 : Berlin — fishinginbeirut @ 10:17

Johnny and Lorena carved a melody. She was a Spanish girl who came here sometimes, sitting beside him on the piazza and tuning up. Their guitars wove in and out and intermingled.
Her lines were clean and fluid, Andalucía tinged creations complimenting his, drawing out their sweetness. When he sang she underpinned with fills and flourishes. He leaned back and clicked through his teeth, his tongue flicking out as he hissed to complete a rhythm. Lorena murmured something meant for no one but herself.
Her hair was pulled back tightly, clamped in an almost aerodynamic ponytail. Her eyes danced about and her legs jumped like shivering. She’d once told him smiling that calm would not be found in her dictionary.
The sun shone on the Pompidou glass, and across the far side from Johnny and Lorena, an African wearing a loincloth was folding himself through a tennis racquet. His sizeable audience whooped and cheered when he emerged. He bowed and made some reference to his skinniness; they could see him indicating his bone structure, and drawing a laugh. He climbed onto a tiny bicycle and pedalled around.
Johnny abandoned playing. She continued, forming chords high up the freeboard, creating a high and beautiful delicacy, as she changed with little hammer-ons and runs. Her nails flicked the strings with her thin right hand.
He watched her, rolling two cigarettes absently. When they were ready he placed one on her knee. The body artist folded himself into a crab shape, and scuttled across the smooth tiles at speed. Little kids and their mothers observed agog.
Lorena told him of a dream she’d been having, where all the people in the world somehow knew each other. They didn’t know that they knew, but a chain existed connecting everyone alive, built on physical contact, mental interplay, and the lightning rush of desire. It was a dream in black and white, with bursts of colour.
“Out of sex and guilt I have filled an ocean,” she whispered. “All my dreams of an alternative, perfect life.” She used the Spanish for ocean and alternative, and French for the rest. She often left castilian endings on similar words. She smoked the cigarette he’d earlier made for her.
A dead bird came hurtling out of the sky. It fell directly in front of them, the violent impact creating a mess. Lorena flinched and stared at it, the beak and feathers mixing with blood and tissue. The internal organs and claws had become inseparable and blurred, a pulpy mass of outside and in. Johnny found himself wondering had it died before landing.
They got up and left it there. There was no means or incentive to scrape it away. They walked down to the Seine, descended to the quai, and sat along the bank with the water below them. Lorena was visibly shaken, shivering.
The tourist cruisers rolled past – the sun on the water, the tourists up on deck. Johnny saw a girl wave and returned it lazily. He didn’t mind seeing that bird die, not the way Lorena did. It wasn’t a tragic event but merely an act. She curled into herself and clenched her fists, and he was going to put an arm around her but declined. The spray from the engine of a boat found them on the shore.

April 12, 2010

Part 6: Things As They Are (scene 21)

Filed under: Character : Johnny, Part 6: Things As They Are — fishinginbeirut @ 09:11

Johnny was cooling on his film fetish, having exhausted the Pariscope of material. The problem was the films never changed. He divided the coke into wraps, and placed these little balls into a drawer. He reached over lazily for the guitar. He certainly had more luck with women than B strings, cause the damn thing had snapped on him again. He strummed a chord and it sounded dead without it.
The other day Michel requested information about women. The how, the why, and the where.
“If you give friendly compliments, you’ll get friends,” Johnny had told him, “and if you praise them like they’re goddesses, you’ll get sex.” Michel had rubbed his chin and thought it over.
Johnny pulled out the drawer and counted how many wraps there were, and then slid it shut. He leaned out the window and spat onto the street, watching the saliva trajectory, and the impact.
He continued doing this for the next five minutes, uncaring of the attention of the old woman across the way. He spat till his mouth was liquid free. It’s an addictive thing – constant spitting prompting more spitting, and then finally you just have to stop. You’d dehydrate and shrivel up and die.
He went back inside to get some water. He opened the drawer and counted the wraps again. There were eleven. Eleven fucking wraps, no more no less, and no need to ever count them again.
The day was threatening activity, a foreboding unknowable something promising drama of some kind. He felt it unquestionably in his bones. He stretched his arms and yawned. Sleeping was a thing of stops and starts now.

That night he went out and picked up Claire. Some English girl who spoke good French. Worked in an office and wanted out. Of the job and of the city. He listened to her hard luck story and she brought him back.
She had an elusive quality he’d seen plenty of, a passive kind of taking it. It was empowering and the opposite at once. For him and for her and for them. He wanted to be gone when he was sated, but she held him coldly, with strength. They lay there and their breath intermingled.
His nerve began failing him. She was staring into his eyes. He clicked his tongue but she was unfazed, and it seemed like an excavation she was conducting for his soul. Not born of warmth but of stoicism. He looked back angrily, undressed and with many tables turned. This girl was a mistake and a killer.
Eventually she slept and he didn’t. He wanted to leave but could not. She wasn’t holding him, he was physically free, but he kept looking at this fucking woman, who had him because he had her. She was right without saying a word. He got up with much effort, staring at her as he dressed, and was back on the street.

April 6, 2010

Part 6: Things As They Are (scene 15)

Filed under: Character : Johnny, Part 6: Things As They Are — fishinginbeirut @ 10:23

Johnny got up very early. He’d been going to the movies for a week now, checking the guide and travelling through town. Hable con Ella, Scarlet Diva, La Haine and City of God. Every great film made him want to see another.
This morning, on the southside at Balard, they were showing Once Upon A Time In America. The full, uncut, four-hours. He guzzled his coffee and left.
On the Metro, standing, rattling along between Chatelet and Cite, he was reminded of a trip once taken. He had spent a day in London in his youth. There, he’d spied what he took to be Cosmo girls, revelling in their natural habitat. Pretty mid-twenty year olds, tottering about the high street in search of bags and shoes. These were women with make-up and highlights, armed with enormous sexual vocabularies. Their love lives in reality consisted of lying still like cadavers, wondering why the fool on top wasn’t making the earth move. They were sexy and empty at once.
Anyway, he was in no mood for thinking of them, and eagerly awaited the film like a child on Christmas morn. He paid for his ticket and entered. The theatre was very small, maybe 12 rows of red seats, and he slipped in mid-aisle near the back.
When it started, with a phone endlessly ringing, he noticed there were only two other people present. He hadn’t been aware of the fact. They were both closer to the front than he was, a man and a woman, not together. On the screen a soft breast was exposed.
There was a break after two hours, and he stood outside with the others, smoking amidst small talk. It was a funny moment, the three of them in the middle of the day, sharing smoke and conversation in a quiet part of the city. The day was cloudy and still, no hint of sun rain or wind, just a slow and gentle day, with a chill to it.
The woman had Christmas shopping to do afterwards, an MP3 player pre-paid for to collect. Johnny didn’t know what that was. She told him and then he remembered, it was just he’d never heard of the name.
The next two hours passed quick, spent in the company of gangsters and deceit. De Niro and Jimmy Woods had their differences. Johnny scratched a shaving cut around where the jugular vein was, or at least where he’d always thought it was located. Maybe his anatomy was shaky.
He let the credits roll out before leaving, the amount of people involved in film-making unreal. The construction of a movie took an ant colony. He read the names of hundreds whose remit he couldn’t fathom.
Every other moment leaves a distant one forgotten. Every other name does much the same. They scrolled past, Mark this and Sarah that, and he understood quite clearly that a life was nothing more. Seconds blazing in your consciousness, and then lost.

April 1, 2010

Part 6: Things As They Are (scene 11)

Filed under: Character : Johnny, Part 6: Things As They Are — fishinginbeirut @ 10:26

It was the 15th of November. Soon another year would end, 2004 would usher in, and he would still be here, dissatisfied. The exile alone on the square.
He spat on the ground and a wing flapped. Pigeons could be eaten if boiled. He thought of this for a second, boiling all the pigeons in the streets. They were bothersome and utterly without merit. He swiped his arm angrily to disperse them, a movement which he felt defined his life. Another week and he’d retire till the springtime.
Johnny was not conscious of how much he missed his homeland. Sometimes, at two or three in the morning, he became so. But that was different. That was half-awake, murmuring, maybe in someone else’s bed. It was unreal and forgotten by daybreak.
The night before he had dreamt of Michel’s girlfriend. Of following her down the street and watching her undress. Was this unwholesome owing to her blindness? He was more concerned by this than the fact she was with Michel, and he thought it funny he should think of her when he’d only seen her twice. Not for a year or more either.
He stood up and the years echoed. The history of his endless routine. He stretched, yawned, scratched at the back of his neck. He would grow old performing these functions.
The wind started blowing, carrying flecks of rain. He ran/walked to shelter under the bowels of the building, huddling near two security guards who sentried the Pompidou elevator. One of them nodded hello. Johnny took out some cigarettes and made a half-hearted gesture to offer them. Both men declined. He lit up, shielding out the wind, and dragged passionately. There was very little else he could do.
A Dior bag blew across the emptying piazza. A well heeled woman clattered after it. Her shoes clopped like a horse’s hooves , her skirt riding up her leg. Johnny watched ambivalently, aware the guards did also.
She recovered the bag with her hair all aflutter. Her highlights needed to be redone. Johnny dropped the cigarette and spat onto the tile. He was disgusted by his callousness in watching her. A part of him had delighted in her predicament, her exposure and mishap, and he wondered why this could be, why it was his attitude. The guards started talking about her legs.
He left the square and went to the movies. He paid in an abundance of change. Five and ten cent pieces, lining the pockets of his jacket, were handed over for entry. The ticket girl rolled her eyes. It was a film by Michael Mann. Heat starring Robert de Niro and Al Pacino, all alive with the mystery and beauty of the world. A heavyweight meditation, masquerading as criminals and cops. It was profound, breath-taking, cool and neon blue, a soundtrack like a soul humming. Destined to be revered for generations.
Johnny watched in solitude, aching from the images. Loneliness and the drive to be lonely. He rubbed at his eyes and pretended he was nowhere, a floating being unburdened, left in aesthetic contemplation. Would his body let him continue feeling this way?
Afterwards he departed gingerly. His psyche had been breached or brought to life. He drifted down the streets feeling different and much younger, a part of him quite certain that the future wasn’t dead. It just needed gentle coaxing.

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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