Fishing in Beirut

April 5, 2010

Part 6: Things As They Are (scene 14)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 6: Things As They Are — fishinginbeirut @ 10:59

The ice on the ground was unpredictable. As he slipped and nearly fell, Michel cursed and grabbed a railing top, steadying. He was in Jardin du Luxembourg, having just been turned down for a part in a play. It wouldn’t have suited him anyway.
He’d arrived for the audition early, taken a quick snort and rehearsed, but he knew the lines were no good for him, the character impenetrable and cold. Nevertheless, he’d attempted it.
It was six months since he’d found any theatre work, and he wondered sometimes was he foolish to not audition for ads. Was it still selling out if you had to? Borrowing money from his parents was getting harder with each visit, his mother clucking and fretful, his father dismayed by his son. It might nearly be easier if he was angry with him.
Michel sat down, rubbing his hands and shivering. The expelled performance adrenalin had him horny. He could never think of Karen in this humour, feeling it a betrayal of her to do so. Instead he would settle for a magazine, or recall some skinflick once viewed.
There weren’t many people in the park, and those that there were weren’t idle. They were moving from one thing to another. He felt savagely depressed in that moment, cold and alone on a bench, while the world carried on unaware of him. He gripped at his hands and his elbows.
Only his bones made him move again. They were aching and stiff, and so he stood up and walked to relieve them. He left by the south exit, and crossed over Saint Michel. The cold was stinging his cheeks. He jumped on a bus that was heading back north, grateful to just sit and be carried. Some gangsta’s slouched on and didn’t pay.
The bus wound its way toward Bastille. It was arrested in traffic near the quai. Michel bit his fingernails and watched the people, crossing the road and scurrying along the path. What was that phrase from the English, a ratrun or something like this. He knew what was meant by it anyway.
When he got off it was growing dark. He walked from Bastille to Belleville, and on to Colonel – Fabien. He entered his apartment and sat down. He’d left a razor blade on the coffee table, and he stared at it in quiet loathing. It was making him look like a fool.
Washing his face in the sink he started crying, the low and useless bulb a witness to his tears. He saw himself as a ghoul or a sleazebag, a creature less than nothing, his weakness without end. He hit at his face with a dirty towel. His need, his lust, his unfulfilled ambition. He was a twenty nine year old loser.
He climbed into bed and then climbed out again. He stood there clenching his fists. It was freezing, he was just wearing his T-shirt, and he tensed up his body to inflict some more pain. His useless fucking body.
He spat on his own floor and once again was crying. He didn’t even have Karen now. Of course she’d left him forever, of course there was no way back. Who would want a fucking loser like him. He punched his own stomach, his chest. To even go to that audition was a mistake. He threw the blanket from the bed around himself. He went out to the coffee table, and used the razor blade to make lines.

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March 28, 2010

Part 6: Things As They Are (scene 8)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 6: Things As They Are — fishinginbeirut @ 12:20

Karen told Michel they had a problem. He was crying when she hung up the phone. She had got right into it, her suspicions and her fears, and she knew by his reactions that she’d caught him unawares. Had ambushed him.
She cried a little herself, re-casting her mind over the conversation. She thought she’d been quite harsh, tetchy. Still, it was killing her. Drugs was a subject foreign to her, irrelevant really, but the change in his energy and mood was devastating and weird. Once she’d noticed it, it was everywhere.
He had protested meekly like an infant, had pleaded with her, but she could tell. What kind of drug was it anyway? She knew of cocaine, speed, and these were fast and kinetic – was it one of these he took? She hadn’t asked, hadn’t wanted to right then, but now she did, now she wondered. He put this stuff in his body.
She got up and went to the kitchen. What was her next move from here? He would call of course, but how to handle it. She didn’t know who might advise her.
She drank some water and thought furiously. Her mind was racing around. The water enveloped her tongue, its coldness bringing clarity, and she took deep breaths until her brain had quietened. She heard a man laughing.
I’ll just let things relax, she thought. I’ll just have to see where this one goes. The man laughed again from wherever.
Sitting on the couch she felt all stressed again, so she got up and rolled her neck. Then she kneaded her fingers. These little exercises never failed to produce results, putting her back in touch with herself, and her priorities. Worry was counter productive.
She felt the air in her nostrils, the softness of it, and she moved her hands. Her wrists bent. Her left elbow cracked as she extended her arm, feeling power and calm. Her neck grew warm and she sensed it. The hairs on her head came alive, the muscles in her calves went tight. Then her hip shuddered.
She went loose, weightless, and the pain passed. Slowly she commenced again. Her knees and thighs braced, bearing weight while she pivoted. Her spine was gently aligned.
As anxious energy vanished, she surrendered completely to the movements. Her mind didn’t think or create. It was empty, hollow, a space alive with peace. The tempo of the world was slower. She stretched and swayed hypnotically, or that’s the way it seemed, no separation of her consciousness. She joined with the nothing outside.
Michel would call when he was ready to. Then she would know what to do.

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.

March 23, 2010

Part 6: Things As They Are (scene 3)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 6: Things As They Are — fishinginbeirut @ 09:53

Karen was sure he took something. The summer feeling had not gone away, and by August she’d decided that her boyfriend was on drugs. This certainty played havoc with her sleeping.
She was at work with her mind elsewhere, tossing and returning to her thoughts. She spoke on the phone to her clients. Ever since she had banished doubt from the equation, she’d tumbled permanently into a stale pool of possible options. She flicked through the same thoughts, repeatedly.
Could she help him if she left him?
Would he hate her if she tried?
Did she know what she was talking about, and know what she was feeling, and was it really dreadful if her boyfriend took some drugs?
These were crashing questions often.
She walked by the river keeping distant from the bank, along the cobbles. She could hear the Right Bank traffic. The water made aching lap sounds, salivating against the rock slope, below her. She smelt the smoke from a cigarette.
Passing under a bridge with the echo of her steps, her foot struck something solid, and she stumbled for an instant. Recovering, leaning heavily on her stick, she was hit with a blast of pungent urine odour, the harshness overpowering in her throat and in her nose. She staggered shakily through the tunnel.
Out the other side, sweet air on her face again, she moved to her left to lean against the wall. She felt with her stick for a concrete bench she knew must be around somewhere, and, finding it, sat down. Her strength returned quite quickly.
“Il fait beau aujourd’hui,” offered someone.
“Oui,” she echoed back. “Il fait beau.”
She heard his footsteps receding, as he ventured on with what sounded like a small dog in tow. The water licked and sluiced.
She returned the way she had come, ascending from the quai to the roadside, and crossing at the nearby lights. She walked down what she knew to be rue des Saints Peres, took a left onto Saint Germain and a right onto rue de Rennes, and was nearly home. Two more turns until her building.
She boiled water for tea in her apartment, and realised with a start she hadn’t thought of Michel the entire time. She wished this forgetfulness would return. Trying to forget would initiate the old dance of wanting something and failing because you wanted it, so she concentrated instead on the tea-taste in her mouth. If Michel had returned than so be it.
The tea was delicately scented, a fruit and herb aroma that could clear her mind at once. She sat back and drank it slowly. Michel and her Michel options swam within her, fading, repeating, making more and less sense. She tried imagining exactly what that Beirut picture looked like.
Her cell phone rang but she ignored it, knowing today it wouldn’t be Mom, and not in the mood to talk to anyone else. She heard the buzz of a text received, someone having left a message. She finished her tea, swallowing the last of it, just the taste and the smell quite faint but still there. She placed the cup on the side table.

March 19, 2010

Part 5: Natural Light, Oct 2001 – Jan 2002 (scene 12)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 5 : Natural Light — fishinginbeirut @ 08:37

Karen met Michel at her metro station. He had bags of Christmas presents bundled in his arms, and she offered to carry one but he refused. He asked her to accompany him northward.
On the train they spoke about Christmas time, and Michel said it was his favourite time of year. The carriage rumbled and shook them. He wanted to go to Chateau Rouge, saying he had a present for a friend there. After, they could walk in Montmartre.
When they got to the station they pushed up the stairway, Michel guiding her with his voice. One of his parcels touched against her for a second, and he apologised, sounding out of breath. They emerged into bustle, and walked noisy, crowded streets at a slow pace. She knew this was near her attack site. Michel apologised again, saying it wouldn’t be much longer, and then they were stopped on the pavement, and he was shouting up at somebody.
A gruff voice answered, and came down to open the door. Karen heard a rustling interplay, the giving of the gift presumably, and then Michel was introducing her, saying this was Johnny. Johnny asked her nationality, and spoke English out of courtesy. She didn’t bother mentioning she spoke French. Michel did, saying he couldn’t understand, but Johnny ignored his pleas for a language switch, and talked so much Karen couldn’t hope to initiate one. They chatted about the weather.
She felt comfortable in his presence, temporarily forgetting Michel, and concentrating on the voice. It was rough hewn, scraped, story-filled. He said he was Senegalese, a musician, and the harsh Northern weather had sandpapered his skin. She asked where he learned his English.
“It’s like gravel my skin, can you feel it?”
Before she knew it her hand was raised, touching his face, unknowing as to whether it had reached or been placed there. She traversed his cheek.
Michel coughed out of awkwardness.
“Tu veux partir, cherie? Il est tard.”

They left. They journeyed back to St. Sulpice, neither saying very much, and she wondered in her head what fire she was feeling. It was otherworldly. Michel gave her some presents to carry this time, and they ventured up the stairs into the night.
Later, alone, her mind returned to his face. The feeling of the skin. In his voice lay authority, mystery, desperation. She had wondered then how his eyes were, and had never really dwelled on this in meeting someone before. She had learnt it didn’t matter.
She turned over and tried to sleep, and did so after a spell. But the lurching of her dreamscape awoke her. She sat up in her nightdress, the covers half falling, permitting stabs of cold. Muscles ached from positioning.
Life was the thrust of the everyday.
Death was the shrinking from life.
Rest and good food lead to peace.

March 16, 2010

Part 5: Natural Light, Oct 2001 – Jan 2002 (scene 9)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 5 : Natural Light — fishinginbeirut @ 11:30

Karen was happy on Sunday. A smoke-smell remained on the living room furniture, but Friday night’s party could be deemed a success. There was rain falling.
She’d spoken at length with a man called Michel, and agreed to give him her number. He’d told of his upbringing in Bordeaux, his hopes, his fears, and she’d been drawn in by this openness, which was not like guys back home. Neither was his evident interest in her. Perhaps because of this, or just the buzz of a gathering, she felt so light today, remembering the feel of that night. Of friendly strangers.
Janey rang and gossiped about everyone, asking Karen’s opinions and fishing for thoughts on Michel. Karen was diplomatic. The rain hit the window pane in wind-assisted swishes. Karen said goodbye and was silent.
All she heard now was this rain-swishing, a delicate brushing cadence. Then a car passing. She got up and walked about, put on her raincoat but discarded it, not wishing to go outside. A lone bird began to screech somewhere.
She got a whiff of Michel’s aftershave, from the sensory memory bank, and smiled to herself briefly, half-embarrassed to feel so girlishly young. She felt her heart beating.

March 10, 2010

Part 5: Natural Light, Oct 2001 – Jan 2002 (scene 6)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 5 : Natural Light — fishinginbeirut @ 08:39

She’d moved in the day before. It was down near St. Sulpice. She was still organising things, shifting the furniture around. Honing her specifications. She picked up an ashtray and placed it back down. Janey had friends who were smokers.
Karen was having a flat-warming this Friday night, in two days time. There was work to be done before that. Unpacking, arranging, some decoration. Home-making.
In the kitchen she drank some water, rubbing the sink-top surface. Allow all these things become familiar. She walked around on the linoleum slowly, and there were places that squeaked and places that didn’t. There was a lump near the doorway.
Janey had promised to bring plenty of people, because Karen knew nobody else. Karen had laughed at this fact. She smiled at it now, dusting a shelf, and wondered at who might turn up. She tied back her hair with a band.
She thought of the man who attacked her, but didn’t feel anything now. It was past and irrelevant. In the evening she hung her Beirut picture on the wall. It still held the soul of her grandfather. She went for a walk and returned feeling fresher, eager for newness and life. The fridge made a hum like a kid.
So this was her new city, and the neighbourhood felt right. Central. She’d lived in the suburbs back home. She was close to the river here, to its sound and its sense, and she planned on walking there regularly in peace. A fly buzzed.
She was looking forward to her job. The challenge. To the people, the experience, the simple and the strange. To everything. She was ready for all that there was.
Mom called and asked questions. It was nice to recount what she’d done. She left out the attack altogether, cause Mom would have jumped on a plane. Karen described her apartment, where all her items would go. She liked this.

When the call ended she went to bed. It was late now. Outside on the street two lovers were fighting, the woman berating the man. Karen was asleep when they reconciled.

March 6, 2010

Part 5: Natural Light, Oct 2001 – Jan 2002 (scene 2)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 5 : Natural Light — fishinginbeirut @ 08:43

Karen got lost on the Metro. She was sure she had counted correctly, but maybe there was something she’d overlooked. Things were tricky in a new town. She had seemingly emerged at Barbes instead of Anvers, and she could hear the sound of some type of market.
A fist dug into her back. He was saying something, scouring her pockets, tiny flecks of spittle flicking on her cheek. She froze, motionless. His other hand rifled her jacket, her jeans, and the fist pressed spinally inward, alert.
A whore, a bitch, he was calling her these names, and while she understood it, she couldn’t form a reply. Her mouth refused to move. His free hand punched her hip, and in that moment she was aware of letting go of her stick. She felt her fingers open, but didn’t hear it fall. Saliva prickled her neck now.
This man behind her smelt of aniseed. His arm around her waist now, his fist still in her back. His right cheek touched her left one. Then he was gone, or maybe he was gone for a moment, before she realised. Her body was shaking and taut.
She shook and sobbed, and felt her skin grow warmer. Not just her skin, but beneath it. Her tears were warm on her face. She cried and shook convulsively, the world receding and gone. Then the everyday life sounds were audible again – cries, shouts, buses. Somebody’s dog sniffed her leg.
She moved to her left and leaned against a wall. She wiped at the tears on her face. The sounds on the street were now clear as a bell, the scuffing of shoes, the coughs. Karen was totally alone. She felt in her pocket and her wallet was gone. Her money and forms of ID. A credit card from home now needing cancellation.
She started walking. She returned to the Metro confused but determined, and moved down the passage in what she hoped was the right direction. She asked someone near her on the platform. On the train she started relaxing, knowing that she’d left the scene. Janey had warned her about this area. Barbes, La Chapelle, Chateau Rouge. Watch your bag, and your person.
She got off near Janey’s apartment, at Ternes. She relaxed further amidst opulence. Remembering the turns to be taken, she reached rue Fourcroy, and entered. Janey was still at work. Karen got some water and sat down on the sofa.
She felt sensations of him touching her. Her elbows and forearms grew tight. She braced herself on the couch, and trembled some more for a while. Warmth spread. Janey returned and they spoke of the ordeal. Karen cried a little.
“I know some people who’ve had stuff stolen up there. Let me ring the bank and cancel the card, so that’s one thing you don’t have to worry about. It’ll only take a second.”
Karen let her do it. She suddenly felt extremely tired, and the prospect of moving at all was unwelcome. She heard Janey’s voice from the bedroom. Karen had made contact with various companies online before travelling, and the response to her resume so far had been good. As soon as she signed a contract, Janey said there’d be no problem finding an apartment.
She settled back in the softness, dozy. Her body was concrete or lead. It was good to be here, despite today’s fright, and she sensed in her heart that the future was strong. Karen was in Paris two weeks.

February 28, 2010

Part 4: Causality (scene 10)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 4 : Causality — fishinginbeirut @ 11:32

Karen and Michel were walking. Michel described the scenery, in English, until she asked him not to. He held her hand instead. They were in Parc de la Villette on a Sunday afternoon.
“There are very huge trees,” said Michel, unable to resist, and she squeezed his hand and he stopped. Someone rolled by on a bike.
Michel went to the bathroom, and came back soon after, slightly hyper and more alert. He rubbed and touched against her.
“Relax,” she said. “Today I want to relax.”
They walked on slowly, and she could feel the strain as he tried to keep his fidgeting to a minimum. Sometimes she wondered whether…but always dismissed it as silly. She didn’t know what she was talking about anyway. She could hear birdsong and distant voices, and then the sound of two bikes passing. A woman called out to a man.
Later they made love, and she stroked his hair as he lay breathing against her. His breath massaged her skin. His day’s energy was spent, and nothing else remained now, save a promised sleep. She put her arms around him, shielding out the world.
“Your English is really good now sweetie. You’ve improved such a lot.”
He murmured something inaudible. They had not made love in his apartment for some time. She relaxed into its feeling.
She knew he was asleep now, the breathing and the weight, and she let his body lie there, a human stone. Her legs were warm and tired.
Sometimes she worried about him. She knew he worried for her. Sometimes she wondered what his life was, and did she actually know him at all. Other times she deemed this ridiculous – a banal conceit, applicable to anyone when in a certain mood. She sighed in warm contentment, her lover’s skin her own.
His behaviour today in the park. Was today the first such occurrence of this, or maybe the fourth or fifth? The nineteenth? Was this a part of their life, unnoticed until now? She struggled to recollect. The change in his mood, the tension and speed. Was she aware of this always, unconsciously?
He coughed and was still once again. She squeezed close her eyes in defence. She must think uninterrupted. A foreboding something flicked through her body. Maybe she’d only created it; brought it on through worry, not discovered a dormant dread. His weight was strong on her chest now.
The tension and speed, the package she’d got. She didn’t know what she was talking about anyway. She rested her cheek on his hair.
Michel woke up and they spoke about nothing. She avoided all questions and doubt. He asked about use of the conditional, and she tried to remember herself. Thinking of these things can drown out your knowledge.
Within an hour he was back asleep. On her breast as before. She slowly pushed him off her, turning on her side and curling inward. The warmth of the bedclothes spread. The conditional is “would”; yes, she’d said it right. Possibility.
Michel began to snore, a bee-like droning hum, and her shoulder now was tickled, by the out-push of his breath. He was sleeping, and she loved him.

February 22, 2010

Part 4: Causality (scene 4)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 4 : Causality — fishinginbeirut @ 08:32

Karen dreamed in colour. She woke up and tried to remember, but couldn’t recall any images. Just colour. She got the bus to the office and fielded calls – handling enquiries, patching people through, talking to clients from Boston to Bordeaux. She liked the feeling of the swivelling chair.
For lunch they went to a local café. The food there was generally more pleasant than the waitress. It was just Karen and Claire, a workmate and a friend, and they ate and talked of Julie, who’d gone to Amsterdam. The waitress messed up the order.
Back on the street they walked in silence, digesting, taking a moment before work re-commenced. Karen never minded walking alone, but it was better with two. A pair of eyes at hand. They crossed the road and took a right.
“Maybe we should take another way,” said Claire, “there seems to be some kind of demonstration up ahead.”
They turned and retraced steps. Karen loved Claire’s London accent, possessing as it did a delicacy she felt hers lacked. She was sometimes conscious of being an American, in light of the roiling world.
“What did it look like they were protesting?” she asked.
“Non a la guerre.”
“That stupid fucking war.”
The rest of the day went by in a blur. The feel of the office was one of random chaos. Later that night she remembered pausing once to drink some water, and, in her memory, that moment seemed to take place in total silence. All the bustle and din temporarily ceased, and she was separate and detached, magnificently.
It’s funny how time can do this, create aching perfection from seconds long past. We slow down, speed up, alter unconsciously shaping events, and all to make things function, a life as a narrative. Karen in midday silence. When the water touched her tongue, it was like she could remember every other single time it had done so, clearly and distinctly. From birth and maybe before. It was remembering so as to forget.
Today Claire had told of how she’d miscarried aged 21. Seven years in the past. Karen had listened in sadness and shock, wishing then she could see her face in that café, and not merely touch her tears across a table. Claire had never told anyone before. There isn’t much to say with true pain, the loss of a child that was never a child. There isn’t much to say or to do.
“Non a la guerre! George Bush non!” The chants and screams of peace, another little memory.

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