Fishing in Beirut

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?


January 22, 2010

Part 1: Getting There (scene 4)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 1: Getting There — fishinginbeirut @ 08:38

Karen woke up to the radio. Tuesday. What if God was one of us it wanted to know. What if indeed. She lay silently for perhaps eleven minutes, until the thing had told her it was quarter to ten. She got up and showered.
Breakfast was always muesli and fruit juice, because they all agree this is a fantastic combination to begin a new day’s proceedings. All those authoritative voices on television health shows, which were also quoted by visiting friends reading aloud to her both French and English newspapers. Can’t go wrong with muesli and fruit juice.
Karen’s TV was essentially a bigger, bulkier radio. She often wondered what country had made it, and why the hell she’d taken it when the man upstairs had died and it was destined for the trash. Poor old Monsieur Boulier, who had always been polite.
She listened to it while ironing, or dusting around the flat. It told her many things, and plunged her aurally into hackneyed adventures. When it spoke of healthy eating she listened carefully.
She finished off the muesli and washed the bowl. Started the machine for coffee. It popped away noisily, but coffee machine popping is called percolating. This word had always seemed made-up to Karen, and she had, in the past, conducted discussions with friends on this topic. Everyone had laughed, because think of any word long enough and it’s just a crazy assembly of different sounding letters.
She was wearing the shirt that scratched her wrists while she was reading, which was always second to last on the left side of the shirts and blouses closet. It was next to the one she never wore now.
She went to the fridge and got more juice. Did some ironing. The warm feeling of the fabric where the iron had just been, in comparison with the rest. The warmth of Karen’s clothes. Birds chattered through the open window, some near some far. She leaned her head right out and felt the sun. What If God Was One Of Us came on again. She was on a different station now, but still. He could be just a slob like one of us, and this woman was determined to let us know it.
The ironing got done, and so the board went back into the tiny space between the kitchen table and the wall. It slouched against this wall in relief, free from scalding till the next time. Karen carried the clothes to her bed – she dropped and then sorted.
On the phone she spoke to her mother, enquired after life in leafy Oak Park. Got another call, switched to it, mumbled morning sweetness’s to Michel in French, and switched back to Mom. Dorothy had just adopted an Iraqi baby, who was now to be called Georgie, and Dorothy was Mom’s best friend, having at the age of 58 left husband Archie, and struck out on her own.
Dorothy was Mom’s shining light. She gave hope, while Karen was in France. She had apparently joked about how the Iraqi baby did not need swaddling clothes, because with all the international red tape he had been carried through some had inevitably stuck, and little Iraqi Georgie was now guaranteed warmth for life. Mom thought this was just so funny. Karen laughed a little too.
“So are there any plans to come home honey?” she was asked.
“No, I don’t think so – I still really like it here.”
“And how is the boyfriend?”
“Yes the boyfriend. How is he?”
“He’s fine Mom,” said Karen. “He’s fine and says hello.”
Later that night, she lay awake and listened to footsteps up above. The not-so-new New Tenant.
Old Monsieur Boulier’s face had felt like an ancient raincoat.

January 21, 2010

Part 1: Getting There (scene 3)

Filed under: Character : Johnny, Part 1: Getting There — fishinginbeirut @ 11:04

Johnny gets up, and God only knows what her name in that bed is, but he is out the door, with laces not yet tied. It’s seven or eight, an early workday morning, and the air is doing that tickling thing that makes you want to shake with joy. It’s a new day, and you’re in it. He turns up his collar and nearly trips over his laces.
Further down the street, which is called Alesia, he stops and ties them. Stops and ties them, looks like kneeling in a pew. Whatshername had clamped her leg over him when they finished, and left it there, grip-like, till morn. Between his shoulder blades throbbed slowly from the wriggling movements deemed necessary for extrication.
Whatshername was the latest in a long line of whatshernames. The most recent in his ever lengthening tights-ladder of less than twelve-hour courtships. She had kissed like she was thirsty. If he closed his eyes now on rue d’Alesia he could still be back in her room. Looking down upon her in her cramped orange bed, her face blurring, the smell of her skin. If he closed his eyes.
Johnny was 32, sometimes said 30, and others 35. Sometimes mumbled 33 – ‘like Jesus.’ Yes, behold!, the temporary Christ of the lonely single business girl, the ragged fucking Saviour, who rolled his own stone from the mouth of the cave come earthly break of day.
Every day for the past two years he had sat in front of the Centre Georges Pompidou and played acoustic guitar – not for money, not playing for the benefit of the tourists. How he fed and clothed himself was a mystery even to him, or at least was a mystery when he forgot about selling coke. He forgot as often as he could.
He arrived from Senegal three years before, known to all there as Jean, intimidated initially by choked Parisian sprawl. A room in the Goutte d’Or and the phone number of a distant cousin in case things got rough. He’d never called this cousin. Jean did become Johnny, and acquired a full-length leather coat, and lived predominantly on crisps and dry baguette, and cheap domestic champagne. He spoke English to Pompidou sightseers in a good mood, and scowled endlessly at nothing at all in a bad one. He sat there all day, was visited by many, and occasionally went entire weeks without playing so much as a note.
The darkness brought a hunger, and living things will feed. At night he walked into bars in potent places, and he knew the type he was looking for. The stylish attire, the make-up, but the bouncing of the dainty shoe on the foot and the demure dart-away glance betraying an at-heart office girl fed up competing with the boys. Where was her romance? her wistful lipcurl wondered, her mystery enigma – her knight in battered leather, whose breathing made hers fast. Well there he was across the floor, and he was looking at you.
He would wake up in the morning to another commentellesappelle.
He stopped into a bakery on rue d’Alesia and emerged a minute later with pain au chocolat. Stuffed the wrapping into a pocket and devoured. He didn’t think he’d ever been here before, but a sign said Denfert Rochereau up ahead, and that was on Ligne 4, and Ligne 4 went to Chateau Rouge, which was the closest stop to Johnny’s room on crumbling rue Leon. He could return and get the guitar, and be back at Beaubourg before today had even started.

January 19, 2010

Part 1: Getting There (scene 2)

Filed under: Character : Frank, Part 1: Getting There — fishinginbeirut @ 11:17

Frank sat by the river and smoked grass. The October sun made flashes on the water, disturbed only by passing sightseeing cruisers. He spat off the quai, shivered in his filthy jacket, and eyed forlornly a small girl waving from a boat. She smiled with dancing eyes, but he didn’t lift his hand.

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.’

Frank knew this poem off by heart, but he didn’t know what it meant. Never picked up Spanish in Sevilla, never had the inclination to. He saw this lack of knowledge as being utterly unimportant, because the sheer act of recitation bore its own weight for him. He rubbed an insect bite on his hand, and by doing so set in train a constant need to do so. Gratification only came when he stopped.
There was a smell of urine from the bank below. He shifted about, his jeans scraping stone. The night before he had been out walking late, and had looked up and seen a man in a window, like a distant yellow TV screen, talking on a phone. Silhouetted dreadlocks, and the warm African French carried down softly on the chill wind.
“Non, mais dis-moi,” the man had murmured. “Je ne peux pas attendre.”
If you could get up to that room, and go down that phoneline, and wind up next to the other speaker, what world would you have entered? Is it a bedroom or a kitchen, a bathroom or a hall? Maybe you’d be in an alley, on a street, and what is it that’s needed, and what just cannot wait? And what if after this call someone called the caller, this man who’s somewhere else, and you went down that phoneline, and on and on. Would you end up right beside someone you know? Would you have passed by needles and agony to get from here to there? Have spied on naked skin, heard yelping dogs? What worlds are behind walls? Can you be connected to that man in the window by a snaking chain of people, and neither of you know it, and never will you know?
Frank had let his mind wander and thrown away his beercan, and wound up nowhere but home, alone and out of drink. Now a day later he sits by the Seine, and he won’t even wave to a child from who knows where, a child who when she’s fifty will say once I was in Paris.
He rolled his neck and spat. Slick saliva puddle kissing pissy Paris ground. He lay down on his back and there were no clouds overhead. Concrete coldness seeped through the hair on his head, permeating the back of his skull, hurting the bones. He sat back up and re-attacked the insect bite. It gave as good as it got.
There was a flutter to the left, and he turned to see a pigeon strutting about like one of those rappers talking ice and bitches, head and shoulders in motions of brain dead arrogance. Raised his arm violently, and it hopped and cooed and flew. There was near stillness by the water now. Ripples.
Frank got up and pissed by the quai wall. Two American tourists marched by, the woman clucking in disdain. The swish of anoraks and jeans. He watched them powerwalk over the cobbles, gesturing as they spoke. They grew smaller, too distant to be heard. Then they disappeared around the bend.

January 17, 2010

Part 1: Getting There (scene 1)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 1: Getting There — fishinginbeirut @ 11:18

And so that’s a blind girl at the bus stop. It’s windy, busy on the street, and the bus comes along and she doesn’t put out her hand, and the bus doesn’t stop, and her name is Karen. It’s rue de Vaugirard, outside Jardin du Luxembourg, at three o’clock in the afternoon. Her brown hair is blown and whipped, but she has only been told it’s brown, and that doesn’t mean a thing.
Her mother told her age two her hair was brown, and told her many times after. My name is Karen and my hair is brown and my eyes are blue, and I cannot see. But it doesn’t matter.
Karen thinks she hears the bus engine approach and puts out her hand, but it’s a truck, and it’s busy on the street, and it does not stop, because it’s a truck. She is confused and thinks the bus is passing, and calls out stop, holding aloft her white stick. She doesn’t know what’s happening, and people must be looking now. She senses attention, is sure of it in fact, directed at her, but what difference does it make? She pushes back her hair, and moves to the wall.
How many people noticed this? She sighs and coughs, and she’s pissed that bus didn’t stop. Now her boyfriend will be waiting, and he’ll grow anxious, and she’ll grow anxious on his behalf. Everybody tells her to buy a cell phone. Probably she should. She’s twenty-six, and they tell her she’s gorgeous. They told her in Chicago, and everyone tells her here.
Michel is gorgeous. She knows that for sure. The way he feels, the way his breath feels, the way it quickens when they… the way it’s not his skin that’s warm, but more his body underneath. He’s waiting for her now, north of the river, and he’s probably getting worried. She exhales slowly, with shoulders rising falling.
Someone else has arrived beside her. There is the rustle of a jacket, a face being scratched, male, and almost imperceptible breathing. Suddenly a heavy intake and exhalation, nasally, which sounds like a thunderclap as she listens carefully.
The man coughs, sniffs, scratches his face again. Forties? A cougher past his youth certainly. A man with an affliction, an affliction or a prop, born of sinuses, or habit, or tar settled snugly on the lungs. A faint and commonplace prelude of death, and a nag to go along with his having to wait for a bus. Karen rubbed her hands, and waited silently.

January 15, 2010


Filed under: Character : Frank, Part 1: Getting There — fishinginbeirut @ 11:47

There’s someone dying on the balcony above. They’re coughing and coughing, and it doesn’t sound good. An ominous death rattle. It blends with the music in Frank’s room, and its harshness is somehow exacerbated. It starts and stops, and there is silence, and then suddenly a volley of phlegm-flavoured drum roll crackles in the dusk, and ripples out to mix with occasional traffic, birdcalls, and Frank’s music. Frank’s music from the flat below.
Frank is 23, and lives in Paris. He sits in his room, plays solitaire with a three-card turnover. His hair is too long, but he has no friends here who will cut it. He doesn’t want to go to a hairdresser.
Many people have cut Frank’s hair. Some are no longer friends, and some are, and live in Berlin, and Chicago, and Sevilla, and elsewhere. Dublin too, where Frank was born.
The coughing won’t stick to a pattern. It starts and stops, and there is silence, and then suddenly…The interval is never the same. It’s the sound of an ailing body Frank is hearing. A sharp and frightening cough, braying for all the sick and lonely of the world.
It’s not dark yet, but the sun is slipping. The birds move toward their homes in military formations. Traffic occasionally, but less than before. Frank’s music is making him cry. He wants to hear the air, the space, the distant freeway motion, not this wretched coughing, and no longer this oily tune. He turns it off abruptly, and there’s nothing on the street below. The coughing’s gone, and that’s a faraway carhorn. It’s peaceful and small, and oddly too it’s warm – strangers going home in cars he doesn’t know. He moves to his window and wipes his trickling cheeks, and leans out, solitary, in the cool evening calm.
And then there is the cough.
He pushes back in disgust. Slams the window, but feels too hot and stuffy. Opens it again, resigning himself to this raucous torture. A bronchial hacking, slashing at his ears.
Frank’s trousers are torn in several places. Random holes here and there. His shirt is creased and open.
“Open up your shirt honey,” a girl had said once, with laughter, and gentle calming mockery. A distant, distant time, a half-forgotten place.
“Open up your shirt, and let me touch your skin.”
An Italian girl in a German city, who said shirts opened up, and performance opened out.
“Open up your shirt,” and Frank had complied.
He walks around the room in a circle, making it bigger, smaller, on each tiny lap. He paces about, and God’s sky darkens.
Buttons coming free, his breathing growing rapid.
“Open up your shirt Frankie, open up your shirt.”


The coughing has abated, the day is fully night. Frank’s cigarette glows brightly, and you won’t find a light on here. Breathing growing rapid, in a distant, distant place.

January 13, 2010


Filed under: Part 1: Getting There — fishinginbeirut @ 19:36
Fishing in Beirut is a novel I wrote between 2002 and 2006. Please see here for more details. It begins with a poem called Earth by Federico Garcia Lorca. Thanks for reading, Steven Callaghan (

We walk on
an unsilvered
a crystal surface
without clouds.
If lilies would grow
if roses would grow
if all those roots
could see the stars
and the dead not close
their eyes,
we would become like swans.

– Federico Garcia Lorca

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