Fishing in Beirut

May 17, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 20)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 8 : Te Quiero — fishinginbeirut @ 07:44

Karen smiled at the memory. The sound of a cruiser brought her back to the present. It was early June, she was by the river, but she’d been in Chicago in a daydream, a birthday party long ago. She felt the slightest tickle of spray on her face.
Sunshine, sympathy. Paris was promising gentle delight until August. She’d go home when it grew stifling, although it would be in Chicago too, and then return afresh in September, rested. Already it seemed like the days were rolling as one.
She heard a recorded announcement from the boat, an explanation. This bridge is this, is that. It’s age, significance, did Hemingway ever spit off the side. The same spiel was trundled out in French, then rehashed en anglais.
She leaned back, her hands on the cobbled quayside. She knew the exact distance from her outstretched legs to the bank. The sun was warm on her face, but there was still a coolness seeping through underneath. A suction heaviness, tiring and deadening her limbs.
She shifted position. The movement brought warmth, but then the coldness once again permeated. She was fixating on it, letting it ruin her afternoon. The feeling in her calves, her thighs and buttocks, was the dominant one, the alpha sensation informing all the rest. What she heard, smelled, all were filtered through this.
She stood up. Another cruiser could be heard approaching from the west, the battleship hum increasing in volume. It was fascinating the way the water was methodically ploughed. It was a pushing certainty, the slow movement of the boat fixed on its task.
She felt a one euro coin in her pocket. Something inside her said she’d been keeping this for a reason. She rolled it over between thumb and forefinger, not removing it from her jeans. Then she knew – it was to have exact change for a trolley in the supermarket.
She had hunger for a crepe, the butter, the sugar. Lemon juice maybe. She began walking east, along the quai. She passed under that urine soaked bridge at Saint Michel, the reeking one with the little steps down and back up again. She sensed the presence of homeless people, and heard a dog.
She eventually found herself wandering in the Jardin des Plantes. She’d decided why not, knowing she could get a bus back. The smell, the feel of plants and foliage was everywhere, a thick density of growing, feeding things. She listened to the sound of the gravel as her feet pressed into it.
She walked around, twice having to ask people for her bearings. She did this matter of factly, at ease. She had long ago learned that the manner of asking determined the response, a simple, direct question giving a corresponding reply. It was only if she made a fuss that the other grew flustered.
She came back around by the main quayside entrance. The one she had entered through, the way she would leave. A guard bid her good day as she passed under the gate frame. Without thinking she turned her head and did the same. This is what people should do in a place they call home.


May 13, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 16)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 8 : Te Quiero — fishinginbeirut @ 09:05

A week after the event it was still the only news item. The death count had become an official tally that was fluctuating less. 1,410. Of course it was conceivable more bodies would be found, but Karen knew it had stayed at this figure for two days already. She knew also that a letter had been sent to Le Monde.
The sensation caused by this discovery was refusing to abate. It had arrived in the paper’s offices on Friday 23rd, which made it late according to its postmark, but service had been disrupted. The letter provided the bomber’s rationale, and was splayed across the front page. Every other newspaper reprinted it as soon as they were able to.
Karen had heard its contents read out so many times. On the TV, the radio. Every day she took five calls from her mother, pleading with her to come home. She wasn’t sure why, but the event had seemingly hardened her resolve to stay.
She’d made sure Michel was OK, not thinking, just phoning automatically. This was on the Tuesday, twenty-four hours post-attack. He’d sounded so down, but no, he hadn’t been near the blast. The conversation ended when he launched into a speech about needing her.
“I just wanted to make sure you weren’t hurt,” she’d murmured, saying goodbye.
It was strange how occasionally she could forget everything, doing the ironing, dusting. For perhaps a five minute period there had been no bomb. Then she’d pause, and it returned. It was such a hard-to-gather-together alien thing.
Terrorist war in New York and now in Paris.
She had immediately seen it in global terms, speculating. As bad as Chirac was, surely he could avoid the mistakes of Bush. The government noises had been dignified and appropriate thus far, but what they might lead to, who knew. Often, failing to sleep, she pondered various likely and unlikely outcomes.
She hadn’t stopped walking, because she didn’t see any reason why she should. From the subdued streets, it was obvious many others did. At normally busy times of the day there was a pronounced hush, striking on a bustling thoroughfare like rue de Rennes.
General uneasiness remained in the city ambience. The buying of goods and services had a mechanical feel. The tone of life in a shop or park was one of abject confusion – the atmosphere of a wake following a genuinely unexpected death. Laughter was conspicuous by its absence.
Karen began tuning out of the endless news bulletins. It was clear how in actual fact nothing was being said. Theories, ideas, no more or less informed than her own. She took sanctuary in her everyday routine, exercising, working, and understanding the event for what it was. It was not the apocalypse. Life was still happening in Stockholm, Beirut, and Lyons.
On a bus she heard a conversation between two old women. This is what happens when we let those people live here. What people she was going to ask, but why bother. Such an attitude lives to snatch at reasons to exist. In the aftermath of September 11th, Americans grew both anti-Arab and anti-French.
Chirac said calm was necessary. Raffarin said much the same. The streets of Paris were morgue-like and uncertain, and most of the citizenry simply stayed in doors. Birds and rodents never had it so good.

May 9, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 13)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 8 : Te Quiero — fishinginbeirut @ 11:10

From the practical viewpoint, Michel was in trouble. He had no money of his own, and the rent contribution of his parents had gone up his nose. In more emotional or spiritual terms, his predicament was no better. The loss of his girlfriend had allowed all his confidence slip.
This confidence desertion was compounded by his poverty, because no money meant no coke. Cocaine was all he had without the warming sense of comfort brought by Karen. He had used it sparingly back then, more sparingly than recently anyway. He hadn’t seen Johnny in he couldn’t remember how long.
Six weeks? Possibly. It was the middle of April, and it was raining. He lay in bed and shivered, not sure if he could stop if he tried. The sound of a drill hummed outside.
Under the covers was hot, in a stifling, clammy way. He didn’t want to stay, but couldn’t surface. The drill pierced into his head, almost feeling like a rattling of his skull. The sweat on his hands was alarming him.
He was often tempted to ask Johnny for credit. He knew the answer in advance, but dreamed it anyway. Still, it was more than this imagined refusal that stopped him going. He didn’t want to see him, and had felt so for a while.
He propped himself up and looked around the room. His clothes were strewn about in disarray. Jeans entangled in shirts and socks, a jumper draped across a chair. He saw one of his shoes, half wedged behind a cupboard.
He got up and leaned out the window. He held this nagging insistence that Karen would call. It came and went, stronger, weaker, and it wasn’t so simple as to fade the more time passed. That morning it had been so real he was tense with anticipation.
A ladybird crawled across the windowsill and onto his hand. It opened its wings, preparing to fly. A rustle of wind kept the wings open, but the creature stayed put, its legs on his hand too small and delicate to be felt. The tiny black wing spots were perfectly round against the red.
It was Sophie who drew ladybirds, his five year old cousin from Bordeaux. She drew endless little pictures of these insects with grass and a sun. On the fridge of her family home, in her bedroom, smiling ladybirds eating or drinking tea. Michel watched the one on his arm fly off suddenly.
His nostrils itched. They were frayed and scratched and would occasionally bleed. He thought he’d rather stay at this window eternally than turn back to the room.
A queasy sensation came over him. He lurched forward and vomited onto the street. He could taste it in his throat as he gagged, the hot harshness of it. His insides stung, and the peace of the aspect was shattered.

May 6, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 10)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 8 : Te Quiero — fishinginbeirut @ 09:15

Karen walked by the river. The first Saturday in April, reasonably warm, and she knew it was between ten and eleven in the morning. Her stick scuffed off a tin can and she redirected herself slightly.
She heard a tourist cruiser approaching, a voice announcing in English and French the proximity of the Quartier Latin. The boat was coming from Pont Neuf, heading east.
She walked on, letting the morning pass by itself. Janey had called the day before, and they were going to meet later. Karen smelled fast food, and then heard teenage voices. Some happy group by the bank, sugared up and flirting.
A xylophone-like melody floated across the water. She didn’t have a clue what it was. It was caught in the air and chiming, this strange little sequence of notes. A publicity jeep, carrying an ad?
She strained to hear more. It was too late, it was gone. There was just the flow of the water, and an alarm going off somewhere. Soon these banks would be filled with tourists. Already she had noticed an increase. Still, on a day like today it was possible to walk, the congestion not so total that her liberty was gone. A dog ran by, the sound of his lead hitting the cobles.
An hour later she was at l’Hotel de Ville. She’d crossed over Ile de la Cite, taking in the feeling of a now gorgeous late French morning. Notre Dame and the American voices. The place next to l’Hotel was crowded also, but she sat at the rue de Rivoli end, letting the sun-lightened air hit her skin.
She thought of where she might walk. She didn’t want to go home, but it was of course necessary to plan a route. She could take rue du Temple, swing a left onto rue Reaumur, and then another left at rue du Louvre would bring her back towards the river. She heard a child demand ice cream and be denied the request.
The sun on her face brought back memories of Chicago. With her mother, in the garden. The sensation of her neighbourhood, the remaining presence of her father. A shadow scanned across the sun, the coolness interrupting her.
She got up and took the walk she had planned. Through the Marais and back around by the Louvre. At Pont des Arts she sat on the bridge, with performers and their audiences.
She had moments where she wondered should she go home. They had increased of late. Little nagging ideas – perhaps it would be best. Her family, her own people. She could catch a plane, touch down in O’Hare, and be back in her hometown, full of promise. But she was in her hometown now, by the water.

April 30, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 5)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 8 : Te Quiero — fishinginbeirut @ 07:45

Michel climbed off the whore, her eyes like a fish. She was Nigerian and clearly repulsed by him. He hoisted up his trousers, his belt clicking off his zip. The walk back out to the street was the part he was dreading.
It was still bright, half-four in the afternoon, a weak sun on rue Saint Denis and the music from clothes shops. Tinny techno with no heart or soul. He scurried around a corner and nearly hit a loitering homey. “Quoi,” said the boy, open mouthed.
Michel excused himself, walking on. He felt he really needed a toilet quick. That old nervous bowel-loosening, catching him short on rue des Lombards. He ducked into a tourist restaurant and hurried to the throne.
He emerged and was right beside Beaubourg, but didn’t want to see Johnny. His stomach was dancing, all churning, and his heart beat fast. He had a sudden urge to retch, but no matter surfaced. He just did it there on the street, the muscle action sore.
Soon afterwards he did get sick, under Pont des Arts, urine in the air. A homeless man’s dog sniffed against him and disappeared. Michel read some chalk on the wall saying Defense de pisser.
He leaned upon a wood beam, his body shaking and his eyes unclear. The smell of the place caught in the throat like acid. His cocaine use had increased dramatically. Karen was gone, and she’d been his reason to be.
He stumbled down along the quai side. His pulse was jumping in his wrist like a jackhammer surge. It was odd to be outside in such physical discomfort, the feelings in his body more appropriate to staying in bed. For the tiniest second he desperately wanted his mother.
He sat on the ground. It was dark; heavy clouds, the water beginning to move violently, like before a storm. It had risen, he was sure of that, and he watched and listened to the current roll. The river was menacing in the darkness, no tourist boats, nothing. The coldness of the ground made him want to get up but he did not.
“I hate Michel,” he said. “I hate fucking Michel.”
A roar of traffic from the Right Bank Expressway drowned him out.
He stayed for some time, reluctantly standing eventually. He took the Metro home and fell into bed. It was true perhaps that he wasn’t handling things well, true what Johnny had said. He needed someone in his life or his life didn’t happen.

April 28, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 3)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 8 : Te Quiero — fishinginbeirut @ 07:34

Karen put down the phone and shivered for a second. She wasn’t even cold, it was just a body twitch. The typical office noise was around her, appliances, sales chatter. But now there was no Claire and lunch was long.
The phone rang again, and as she fielded some routine enquiry she thought of Michel. It was months before, pre-Christmas, since she’d heard from him, and anything he might do now would be too little too late. Time had simply parted them and she wasn’t sure how.
She took a stroll after work, just walking in the office vicinity before going home. A friend, and a lover, vanished in the past. She had compartmentalised her life – Claire her workfriend, Michel her boyfriend. Now these two were gone, and Janey she rarely saw.
The wind was biting, howling in and out of crevices, design spaces in office facades and vulnerable pockets of car parks. She tightened firmly her scarf, and lowered her chin.
Rounding a corner a gust hit her, whistling through her body and making her pause. She lowered her head still further and squeezed shut her eyes.
At home that night she listened to the radio. A jazz station playing John Coltrane. She wondered what it was like to make such notes from your breath.
The drums were frenzied yet clinical, the bass a slithering eel. It was cacophonous or perfect and she didn’t know which. She tied her hair into a ponytail, sitting on her bed fully clothed. A strand of hair behind her ear slipped out and hung down.
The DJ came on and said that track was from A Love Supreme. Then she went on about the suffering in Coltrane’s life. Poverty, spiritual anguish, shooting smack to relieve toothache and other physical pain. He was an unusual man who could pick his nose right in the middle of a concert.
Karen stood up and stretched. She went to the kitchen and leaned out the window into the night. It was too cold to do this for long, the air sharp in her nose and mouth. The occasional sounds were harsh on her tingling ears.

Back in the bedroom she lay down and slept with her clothes on. She awoke in the early morning shivering and climbed under the sheets. Traffic sounds were already audible, the beeping of horns like John Coltrane. Parp, parp, honk went the cars, and all that was missing was the scattershot fills of the snare.

April 24, 2010

Part 7: Berlin, July 2001 (scene 11)

Filed under: Character : Aria, Character : Karen, Part 7 : Berlin — fishinginbeirut @ 10:07

They went shopping on Michigan Avenue. In a coffeehouse on the corner of Monroe, Karen again felt frustration from her mother ordering for her. She knew she meant no harm, but was stressed nonetheless.
“I’m not gonna have that Mom. I haven’t even decided yet.”
“Oh, I’m sorry honey. It’s just that normally you – ”
“I know Mom, I know.”
It was pretty busy around them. A lunch time rush in the centre of downtown, and Karen felt hurried and observed, maybe inaccurately. The kinetic jolts of her mother made her painfully aware.


In a snack bar in San Jose Aria finished her burger. She drank Sprite and watched the diners come and go. She surprised herself when the straw reached the end and she started slurping. All of the ice in the world was nestled in the cup.


In a café in the 6th, the newly arrived Michel Rigaudeau from Bordeaux fiddled with his napkin. His hair needed cutting and his shoes begged for repair, but this was only because he liked them, and resisted buying new ones. The waitress watched him curiously, but not in that way.
An old man called Boulier sat at the far end, an infrequent visitor, with his hat and his cane. He occasionally came here having strolled in the park with the pigeons.


Karen and her mother left the shop. On the street they ran into Dorothy, who was complaining about Archie and the ways he drove her mad.
“I’ll leave him one day you know, permanently.”
They said goodbye and went to get the El, pushing through throngs with the office workers freed.
“Hold that fucking door!” cried someone, pointlessly.
The train rattled westward, moving through Cicero and Austin, heading home. The heat was stifling, bodies everywhere and humidity high. Karen held her stick and felt sweat on her palm.
“It’s just incredible what crowds there are. I knew we should have tried to beat the rush. I said that honey, didn’t I, that it would be like this.”
Karen agreed, yes, you said it, wanting to be back in the garden, or somewhere at least. She heard a man selling cookies like a preacher from the slum.
“Oh yes, and then the LORD told me something. He said Leroy, for that’s the name I was born with, he said LEROY, you go out and sell those cookies, for ME, and for the CHILDREN. And I am IMPLORIN’ all you good folks here today, to BUY some of these here fine cookies, and help us all spread a little love. Every little cent’s another miracle.”
Karen closed her ears to him, concentrating on her breath. Her stomach rose and fell while the air flowed. This trip would end, this day, this month and whatever was coming. She would go to Paris and be happy, and start something new.

April 19, 2010

Part 7: Berlin, July 2001 (scene 6)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 7 : Berlin — fishinginbeirut @ 07:53

Karen balanced the toast on her hand while buttering it. Her fingers and her thumb and the bread made a perfect triangle. Her mother entered the kitchen and said good morning, an open window permitting sounds like the chirping of birds. Karen listened to their singing carefully, six little arias blending to make a bigger whole.
She finished and stood up, washing the implements, and replacing them. French grammar and syntax were in her brain. This morning she’d learnt the future for I will and I’m going to. Future forms were actually easier than those for the past. She had homework to do for tomorrow’s class, sentences to construct and read out. She worked with the aid of a dictaphone.
In the garden she sat with her walkman. She drank some iced water and ran her fingers through the grass. It was so strange to know she was leaving, every phone call to Janey an oddity in itself. She’d hang up and remember she wasn’t kidding.
Her mother came out and sat beside her. Karen took off her headphones having heard her over the sound. They talked of the flowers in the garden, her mother saying the sunflowers were as high as the fence. A lawnmower from a yard in the vicinity hummed benignly.
Her mother had picked up a summer cold, and coughed occasionally, excusing herself each time. She voiced her concerns over Paris. The lawnmower stopped, giving an initial eerie quietness, the kind that arrives when people are unconsciously talking very loud, and then the reason for this evaporates. They realised they were shouting, and laughed. Karen heard her mother scratching at her face and exhaling.
“I really do wish you’d reconsider. You don’t know that city, and at least here I know how you are. I worry for you, and I’m not sure how much you appreciate that.”
“I do Mom,” said Karen. “But I have to do this for myself.”
There was a pause and her mother continued.
“I don’t think it will be good for you. I mean going to Europe alone. You’ve never done anything like this honey. And your father never trusted those French.”
Karen laughed out loud, a laughter flecked with sorrow, and told her mother to stop. She was going and this was ridiculous. It’s still a few months away she said. Are we going to have this conversation every day? Her mother was silent, batted away until the next time, which could be tomorrow, the next day, or this afternoon. Her persistence was the key to her personality.
Karen went inside and entered the bathroom. She brushed her teeth and hair. She knew her mother was worried, and sometimes this worried her too, but come on, it was fine. She was intelligent, capable, and, you know, Janey would be there to meet her. She sighed and reached for some floss.
“Have you had your breakfast yet honey?”
Her mother was shouting from the garden.
“Yes,” droned Karen to herself. She felt hemmed in and cramped by this scrutiny, and it strengthened her resolve to depart. She slammed the bathroom window in frustration.

April 17, 2010

Part 7: Berlin, July 2001 (scene 4)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 7 : Berlin — fishinginbeirut @ 07:49

Karen closed her eyes and thought about sleeping. Thinking about it makes it hard to bring it on. She could hear her mother in the next room, not settling down yet, opening drawers and presses. The spirit of her one year dead husband might never let her rest.
From the street outside someone bleeped-on a car alarm. Karen heard whoever trudging up a drive and some steps. Porch door opened, hall door, and then both closed, re-ushering silence. She guessed it was Jackie or Bill, some neighbour working late.
This summer night she had decided to go to bed early. It was a way of taking stock of her life and of feeling like a child. Lying on her back with the top window open, she listened to laughter and traffic, the occasional intermittent sounds of the American night. Oak Park in Chicago Illinois in the house she was born.
Bill or Jackie came back out, and called to someone, and she knew it was Bill. She picked up strains of conversation about the Bears and how they sucked. Beer cans were popped in the warmth of the soft July evening, the men standing on the pavement, probably longing to raise the hood of the car and check the sparks and stuff worked. Karen lay in bed and was awoken to memory.
She thought of her father – how quick he’d be out to join them, ignoring the calls of her mother and barrelling down the stairs. He’d mosey on over and say My God and it’s a wonderful evening.
She turned on her side to invite a different subject, leaving her father and the boys by re-positioning herself. Her mother closed a drawer and then opened it again or a different one.
Karen sat up. She crossed her legs yoga-like, cupping her hands and letting the thumbs lightly touch.
Bill’s companion said loudly “I reckon I’d a caught that.” She breathed deeply to the count of ten, the air filling her lungs and expanding the abdomen. It was easier to think less when the rate of the breathing was slowed.
A motorbike roared past, swallowing Bill’s conversation, and leaving a silence after it was gone. Had the two men been startled by its suddenness? Momentarily they resumed again, but it was only to say goodnight, the violent sound having killed the encounter unconsciously. Karen lay back down and this prompted her to sleep.

April 7, 2010

Part 6: Things As They Are (scene 16)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 6: Things As They Are — fishinginbeirut @ 07:39

Karen wanted to call him. That old clichéd something stopped her each time. Perhaps it was his failure to call her.
The first week of December was drawing to a close, dragging the year along with it. Cold and rain had assumed its ownership. The streets were slick treacheries, her skin frozen and wet. It was like they’d made a pact to further her misery.
It was difficult not to dwell on things with conditions so inclement. Hard to not submit to mental strife. All she could do was juggle theories on his silence, and why she shouldn’t make the call instead. All she could do in effect was wait.
She spoke to Claire on her lunchbreak, looking for reassurance or guidance or a lie. They discussed it and their coffee grew cooler. Karen drew little rings on the table with her finger, making them bigger, smaller, on each lap. She bumped a little chip in the smoothened surface.
Claire was teasing out ways of possibly prompting him, but Karen wasn’t interested in that. It was going to have to take the course it took. They ordered more coffee with the time still on their side, and changed the subject.
“I’m not sure how long I’m going to stay here. This job, this city.”
Karen was surprised to hear such a thing.
Claire had seemed quite settled, longterm, but maybe something had happened, or she’d simply had enough. Of offices, or France. Karen asked why, what is it, but Claire fell suddenly silent, the energy changing. The topic had retreated as it had come.
It was quiet too as they returned to work, Karen unsure of Claire’s mood, or how to engage with it. She heard familiar sounds of kids and motorbikes. They took the same turn where before there had been a protest, but today continued onward, unobstructed. A breeze announced itself and brushed their hair.
Back in the office Karen felt Claire slip away, not really saying anything, just departing. Karen walked to her own desk, and sat down. She knew Claire was across the room, settling back again also, taking off her coat and preparing to work the phone. There was chatter and the buzzing of machines.

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