Fishing in Beirut

February 18, 2010

Part 3: Blue, July – Sept 2002 (scene 15)

Filed under: Character : Djinn, Part 3 : Blue — fishinginbeirut @ 10:38

He loves the sound of birdsong. The gentle morning chirp, all fresh and free of chains. He stands by his window just to hear it. These birds inhabit the trees around him, the trees planted on the street below, reaching to Allah. He smokes amid early birdcalls.
It’s another sunny day in the capital. He eats bread and wants for nothing, lost in his future dream. Holy smoke, rolling. A dark blue bird alights on the ledge, head darting about, furtively. He stands motionless to observe.
The bird struts and stretches, occasionally moving its wings, but seemingly content here. It pecks at the chipped white paint. For a second it loses its footing, recovers, and then continues as if nothing had happened. It is not scared misfortune will strike again.
He waves his hand and it’s gone. Its muscles cut the air, and the wing motion sounds like a paper bag, temporarily filled by a gust of wind. The blue bird disappears. In the sunshine morning he is once again alone, framed in his window for anyone looking up.
It’s all about generating the right heat to twist metal. Then the building will collapse into itself. This was made to work before, by others, in America. He had watched in fascination. He had felt then part of something huge and humble, this holy vengeance, although he knew not the perpetrators, nor their plan. This was what was so awing. There were others out there, with similar aims, and clearly this was no coincidence. There were forces at work. Action had been commanded. He was merely a cog in a waking machine, a chosen instrument, and he would do what he would do, undoubtedly. The time was drawing near.
He lights a cigarette, and exhales. More birds circle about. His gums bleed nearly every day, red droplets splashing into the sink. He ignores this minor happening. In its way it is purification, bloodletting, and he stares at the red lines. The trickles. It’s a small and sharp reminder.
Spill your own to take from others. Show you have no fear. Whatever is requested you must do, and nothing is outside the realm of your ability. This must be understood.
Back home he had killed for belief. Soon he will do the same. The French will pay, the West will pay, Christianity will suffer as it made others do. He knows the building to hit. Sparks and rubble, and a haughty tower reduced to dust. Plans and explosives. He stands by the window smoking a cigarette, and he can see it all before him, like the mending of a wound.
He hears children below. He is returned to his surroundings. The sun hits his face, the smoke curls away, and he smiles for an instant, alone. Birds flying and chirping. The everyday and ordinary, his external life, floats around his body. Moments waft like smoke. He stands in the morning in the city of Beirut, a city which, odd as it may seem now, was once known as the Paris of the Middle East.

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February 17, 2010

Part 3: Blue, July – Sept 2002 (scene 14)

Filed under: Character : Frank, Part 3 : Blue — fishinginbeirut @ 08:41

Frank swept the hallway. The owner shuffled by, muttering something he didn’t catch, and Frank made no attempt to make him repeat it. Sunlight cast a golden square on the tile. The dust rose and danced, aroused by the brush in the morning. The bristles whispered and hissed.
The owner returned, and seemed to repeat himself, huffily. Frank stared blankly.
“Mas fuerte!” spat his boss. “Mas fuerte!” He made muscular sweeping motions himself. “Venga, venga!”
Frank told him to fuck off in his mind, but worked with more vigour for the next thirty seconds, till the man ceased observing him and disappeared around a corner. The he stopped and wiped his brow.
“Fuck off,” said Frank. Sweat glistened on his fingers. He thought of that girl in the Italian film, the dark-haired wild one, with the slow siren smile. He leaned heavily on the brush.
“Sobre un cristal sin nubes”, he said. A crystal without clouds? The dust settled in the sun square. He resumed sweeping, disturbing particles once more, and thought of the cheese sandwich that would soon grant respite. Cheese and terrible sugary Spanish bread.
He completed the hall and stopped. Not one guest had passed all morning. In the stillness he heard a faint clock-tick, and listened to his breathing intermingling with that sound. Then this disturbed him, and he coughed unnecessarily. He rubbed his tired eyes. Sjal had told him that the eyes were the windows to the soul, but all windows need closing sometimes. He yawned in the hot lazy morning.
He finished up soon after. He walked back to his flat, climbed the stairs to his door, and gave himself a panic attack trying to fit the key in the lock. He was confused and momentarily terrified, and he frantically sought a reason while he reassured himself. This happened now occasionally.
He knew what it was. It was the feel of his pulse pumping hard in his neck, which was a natural occurrence after three flights of stairs, but was today disconcerting in the heat of Sevilla. He called round to Dev, shaky and twitching.
Dev poured water and listened carefully. He was concerned and paternal. He understood, and Frank knew this, for Dev had once been beaten severely, and his real work had begun only after the physical recovery. He folded his arms and breathed out.
“You know I can relate to this,” he said. “And so I only say this now, because I know that you know that I’m not talking through my hat. But it’s ourselves who give us the fear. And deep in your heart you know that. The head-rushes, the panic, your mind telling you something terrible’s coming. It’s fucking awful. But listen to what I learned. Don’t waste a second of this life worrying about things that might befall you. Not a fucking second Frank. The energy can be better used, and there’s nothing worse than feeling frightened of being afraid.”
He sat back and drank some water.
“It takes a long time, y’know?”

The girls were expected tonight. Lise and Mette, Sjal’s other friends. Frank knew this, and realised he had actually been counting the days since first hearing of them. If he was honest with himself he was excited. He was back in his flat now, feeling better after talking with Dev, and Beth had told him to call to the house at ten. They would be there by then, and what with Sjal and Dev working, she’d joked of wanting all the help she could get. Frank was shelling a nut.
The TV was on, showing the bullfights. He watched these in horror and awe. It was dreadful, yes, but it was something else too, and afternoons had been spent this way, wanting to turn it off, but not doing so. He saw the banderillas being placed.
This was the fight’s second act, the harpoon-like instruments attaching to muscle and skin, in preparation for the matador’s return to the fray. The four banderilleros slipped back toward the ring’s circumference.
It was exactly five in the afternoon. This is when it’s hottest, between about three and six. Frank wiped sweat from his brow. The matador aimed the estoque, and killed quickly with skill. Frank changed the channel. An attractive airhead was chairing a gaudy discussion on something or other on Antenna 3, and his mind began to creep towards a state of impurity. He was frightened to masturbate in this heat.
He got up and stretched. There was an ant colony on the floor. Someone shouted downstairs, but it sounded more joyful than anything. Frank found this comforting. He wiped nutshell fragments off the table with his hand, and went to the bedroom and threw them out the window. The ancient hag directly opposite eyed him malevolently. Ah, but maybe she wasn’t so bad.
He paced the flat in impatience. More ants were appearing. They were creeping down walls and marching across the floors. He swept at some with his hand. He sat down and drank a beer, feeling restless and hot. He flicked back to the bullfights.
Someone was calling outside. “Frank, Frank!” He went to the window and it was Sjal. His flat had no buzzer, and this was how people had to attract attention. It wasn’t abnormal here, and he did the same when he went to hers.
She came up and sat down, and he got her water. She drank and breathed heavily. She was looking forward to her friends coming, and she wanted him to call round later, so he’d be there when she returned from work. He said that’s what he was doing. They drank water together in the living room, and she spoke of a flamenco course she was taking. She’d been learning this dance for years. He listened to her rhythm descriptions, her talk of clapping and songs.
“Do you have a lot of ants or something?”
“Yes, I have a lot of ants or something.”
She studied them creeping around her shoe.
“Where did you live in Paris?” he asked her. He wasn’t familiar with the names of any areas, but he wanted to know.
“In the Marais. Do you know Paris?”
“No.”
“Well it’s on the Right Bank, beside the Centre Pompidou.”
“The what?”
“The Centre Pompidou. What would you say, the Pompidou Centre? It’s this big place with a library, and space for expositions or, yes, exhibitions sorry, and behind it there are people playing guitar and sitting down, and some people selling drugs and things as well. I studied in the library, and I knew a guy who used to write a book there. He was Irish too.”
“What was it about?”
“The book? I have no idea. It took place in many cities.”
They finished their water and sat. Frank moved and the couch groaned, the hot leather catching his skin. Imagine molten velcro. Sjal had to leave, and did so, and he sat there alone in the ant flat, thinking and twitching until ten rolled around.
He left at ten-thirty. He walked down calle Feria in the moonlight, some streetlights working, others emitting nothing at all. He had a plastic bag, litre beer bottles within. There was the clink of the glass, and the rustle of the plastic.
Beth opened the door.
“Where were you?” she said. “They cooked for us and everything.”
He said he was sorry and scratched his head, and she laughed and told him Sjal’s father was there too. “Thank God you brought beer, we’re all out.”
They ascended through the house and came to the roof. Frank stepped onto the tile and took in the table, the pasta, a new girl on each side of the table, Pernilla, and a tall white-haired gent of maybe 60. Two stools remained. One was pushed back a little, and this must have been Beth’s place, dislodged when she went to open the door. He sat in the other. He was introduced to Mette, a pretty blonde, Sjal’s father, who smiled warmly, and Lise, who was beside him to his right. He looked at her, said hello, looked away, and turned back in astonishment. There is no other term that will suffice.
In songs or sweet poetics, the stars would have come crashing down. He gazed intently at her face. She was bouncing her foot under the table, and her brown hair was tickling her shoulders. She had a glass of red wine.
“So I hear you work in a hotel,” said Sjal’s father, and Frank was brought back to the table, looking around and saying, “yes, just in the mornings.”
Sjal’s father was a poet. He appeared to study everything carefully, but in a vaguely amused and wondrous way, and Frank could easily see him as a poet of the ordinary, instilling it through words with a mystical import.
“I myself have worked in hotels,” he said. “It was in one of them that I found this shirt.” He touched the fabric of his white shirt, and Frank smiled in surprise. There was nothing distinctive about the shirt at all.
“There is something interesting about the coming and going of strangers, isn’t there?”
Frank agreed with this, and laughed and said there was, and he opened a bottle of beer and poured for those who wanted. Beth moved plates to make more room. The night was extremely pleasant, and ended with Frank taking Lise and Mette to play pool. Mette dozed in the corner of the hall.
Frank watched Lise shoot. She laughed and touched against him, but she wanted to win too, and he was impressed and intrigued by all she seemed to be. Maybe it’s hard to know much at first, but everything in life suggests that sometimes it is not. She seemed to have such hard-won knowledge, but yet be capable of staggering, gorgeous warmth. She was competitive but compassionate, wise but full of hope. He took a shot, potted and took another, and she encouraged and smiled. His eyes were going crazy, trying to see her and the ball at once.
Walking home, the three of them spoke of travel – of places they had been, and places they wanted to go. Frank mentioned Berlin and Chicago. They had been to Berlin themselves, briefly, but were curious to hear of Chicago, and he embellished and spun the truth, for the purpose of making a story. They reached Sjal’s door, and the girls hugged him goodnight.

The next evening there was a party. It was for something or other, in Sjal and Dev’s house, and when Frank got there it was eleven o’clock, and full of people. He glanced around for Lise and saw her talking with a Spaniard. Dev ushered Frank away with the promise of whiskey, and started shouting about a Pogues CD he’d got for nothing in a flea-market. They sat in a corner and drank, various accents milling around.
“None of my fucking workmates turned up,” complained Dev, laughing and shaking his head. “Stupid bastards.”
A Dutch musician called Michael wandered over. “Hey, there’s an old guy here,” he said. From the expression on his face, maybe William of Orange was there, and Frank scanned the rooftop laughing, knowing full well it was Sjal’s father. He spied him speaking earnestly with Beth.
“You’d better watch your bird!” Frank bellowed at Dev, and Dev got all animated and hyper, pretending he was going to roll up his sleeves and settle the Swedish poet. He emptied his glass and groaned loudly.

Frank went for a piss but there was someone in there, so he waited in the hallway, comically clutching his bladder. The door opened and it was Lise.
“You’re killing me,” he shouted. “I’m dying.”
She smiled and rubbed his arm. “Why am I killing you?”
“Because my body’s going to explode, and you’re talking to some dude.”
She tilted her head sweetly. “We were just talking Frank.”
His kidneys were screaming, but he didn’t want to move. She read all this perfectly, and said she’d wait. When they went back to the roof they sat together, her beautiful legs touching his, and he poured her Spanish wine while the party lurched and shook.
“I’m gonna go to bed soon,” she whispered.
“Well I’m gonna walk you down.”
In her room she closed the door. It was dark and warm and perfect, and they sat down on the bed and embraced. They held each other tightly and spoke nothing but the truth, and this is what the world is when all your cards come up. It really was as wonderful as that.

February 16, 2010

Part 3: Blue, July – Sept 2002 (scene 13)

Filed under: Character : Aria, Part 3 : Blue — fishinginbeirut @ 10:05

Aria ate quietly. After, she washed the spoon and bowl, and replaced them where they belonged. She stepped outside. The garden was bathed in sunlight, some clothes hanging on the line. She smiled at the sight of her little sister’s pyjamas. When she was fourteen she had crouched out here in darkness, smoking a Marlboro Menthol with Laura they had taken from her mother. Coughing and spluttering.
She looked around and kicked gently at the grass. A radio could be heard from the neighbour’s. Every now and then the feel of the sea entered the garden, and it did so now, wonderfully. She breathed salty air. She went over and touched the clothes, kneading them in her palms to check for dampness. None remained. Her sister’s pyjamas, her own T-shirts and jeans. Her mother’s red blouse. All were dry and flapping.
Clothes feel different. From each other, and in wet and dry states. It would be possible to correctly identify your T-shirts, blind-folded. Possible with practise and awareness. Aria closed her eyes and experienced the fabrics, the clothes on the line in the garden. She stood on sun-warmed grass.
She was thinking of Paris all the time now, and took this as a sign of further improvement. The future was seeming very possible again. She rubbed her tongue over her teeth, and could taste the remnants of cereal. Sugar and mushed up wheat. A bird alighted on the grass nearby, a magpie. One for sorrow unfortunately, but then it was joined by another, and she laughed out loud at this lucky spectacle. Black and white birds, who would kill each other for a shiny piece of crap.
“What are you thinking?” asked her mother.
Aria hadn’t heard her approach, but wasn’t startled.
“Oh nothing, just thinking.”
Her mother drew up alongside, and smiled, ruffling her daughter’s hair. All of this had been hard on everyone. The magpies took off, one and then the other, and her mother squeezed her shoulder gently.
“Two for joy honey.”
“I know it,” said Aria, and they took each other’s hand. Sweet breeze ruffled grass.
“You’ll be able to go soon you know.”
“I know.”
“The past won’t even matter.”
Aria was amazed by her mother’s strength. The shock of what she’d learned and dealt with. Her daughter had been driven to a shadow world of pain. Benny the absent father, who’d left so long ago. Hollow, desperate, amateur photography; sad, explicit poses. Aria, attempting to repair the breech of childhood night abuse. Mother and daughter had been forced to educate themselves on trauma, but had emerged stronger, clearer. Despite the sometime ache, the past contained the worst. Aria had reclaimed herself.
The cat joined them in the garden, and little Anna too, just dropped home by a neighbour. Eight year’s wise, a pretty little girl, jumping and laughing on the grass. Describing her day in detail. Pictures and games at summer school.
They all stood together, a broken family no more, and early next year the eldest daughter would leave for France. Aria plaited Anna’s hair. What promise in the Parisian air; what would happen, who would she see? A white cloud drifted by, looking like an oval, or maybe like a plane. Yes, looking like a plane, singing softly of possibility. Anna counted her knuckles.

February 15, 2010

Part 3: Blue, July – Sept 2002 (scene 12)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 3 : Blue — fishinginbeirut @ 13:46

Michel had been apologising for a week. He had sent flowers, brought flowers, had turned up unannounced with chocolates, wine, and bread. She was beginning to thaw. She knew this, was consciously aware of it, but felt fine, and had no more use for anger. She let him in on the seventh day.
He thanked her profusely, rubbing her hand in his. She smiled from the weight of affection. She no longer even wanted to ask what that package was, no longer even cared. It was good to have him back, and good to feel his hand.
He insisted on using his English, and she listened and didn’t correct.
“I have been speaking with my mother yesterday,” he said.
She boiled the kettle and reached for cups, and he took coffee and she tea. His mother had asked after her.
He went to the kitchen for more sugar, and right then the thought rose again. What had it been? She suppressed it after a second. He returned, sat down, and she felt herself stiffen as his leg touched hers. She did battle with her anger, wanting to feel nothing but joy. She had thought this was behind her, but…
Why had he sent her up there for some package? Begged her to go, and meet this guy. She was baffled and still upset.
She heard him drinking beside her. Michel Rigaudeau. He slurped his coffee gently, in a way that was normally endearing, and today she wanted to like it too, but couldn’t. She had to be honest with herself, and admit she was still resentful. She sighed and drank some tea.
“So how is your mother doing? Had she anything else to say?”
“No, not really. I think that mostly she was just to say hello. Oh, and that she has bought a new car. From German.”
“Germany.” She couldn’t help herself.
“Yes, that’s right. Germany.”
Karen drank more tea.
“I have always liked this picture,” he said. He must have been looking at the wall behind. “I like the water, and the boats, and the…how do you call the sun when it’s in water?”
“The reflection.”
”Ah yes, of course. The reflection. Yes, this I like.”
She heard the fabric of his jacket scratching, as he turned back around beside her. Then he took off the jacket, and placed it on the sofa arm. She listened as he folded it carefully.
His leg started jumping, and he sniffed and rubbed his nose. She put a hand on the leg, exasperated. These French boys could be children.
They were silent for a while, and she took her hand away. She listened to her fridge. The gentle easy buzzing always put her mind at rest, like a Zen recitation, or a child’s friendly hum. She sat back, loosening her shoulders. Yes, that picture on the wall, she liked it too, and this man beside her also. She breathed deeply. She re-placed her hand, the warmth of his knee assuring, and they sat together on the couch, in daytime.
“Je veux etre avec toi,” he whispered. “Je t’adore.”
She put her head on his shoulder. There are moments to be angry, and moments to be soft, and she touched his face, his neck, in softness. Comfort from skin. Curling into him further, she smelled his familiar smell, and Michel who’d made her travel became Michel who made her safe. They were together in a simple moment, entwined, and hurt and dislocation seemed to melt like passing snow.
Hot Parisian summer.

February 11, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 10, 2010

Part 3: Blue, July – Sept 2002 (scene 10)

Filed under: Character : Johnny, Part 3 : Blue — fishinginbeirut @ 08:40

Johnny cut the powder. He chopped lines, and she snorted it from his bed, half-covered by a faded African rug. She was scarred across her breast. Why he let her come here he didn’t really know, but mostly when she called he was prone to answer yes. It was easier.
Her hair was blond but darkening, and her hands shook involuntarily. She called him ‘J’. The rug was across her belly and thighs, and she was sitting in a lean, her left arm on the dirty mattress for support. He had four lines done on the back of some book, and he handed it to her.
“Je pense parfois que tu me detestes,” she told him. He reassured her she wasn’t hated. There was someone calling on the street outside, and Johnny bade her be silent till he strained to hear if it was for him. Satisfied it was not, he reseated.
“Cover up your tits,” he said roughly, and she scowled and did so. The rug was now exposing her thighs, and he exhaled in frustration and jumped up, clicking his tongue and fingers simultaneously. From a drawer he fetched a tablecloth, threw it at her fast, and when she failed to move, he draped it ‘cross her legs. Now she was head and feet.
“J’ai trop chaude maintenant,” she murmured. He rolled his eyes and removed the cloth. She kicked her legs as if they had just been freed, and he reached over to knead her calf. She purred from somewhere sad.
“Oui bebe,” she offered low, and his hand went slightly up. He continued, advanced, stroked the pallored skin, and reached a point of contact that both right then desired. She lay back.
His phone rang. He thought about ignoring it, but then he picked it up, and talked of drugs and money with his right hand in the girl. She twisted while he spoke.
“All of that is not possible at once,” he said. This guy sounded English, and had his number from Michel. Johnny was going to have to talk to Michel. He stood up abruptly, and she hit him with her foot, a hiss of sharp annoyance pushing from her mouth. He batted the foot away, and removed himself to the window.
“Next week,” he said to whoever. “Next week will be OK.”
Two children were playing football down below. An African and a Turk, judging by the latter’s jersey. The World Cup had just ended, Brazil the champions since June 30. Johnny watched the kids volleying. He didn’t want to see his room, her body, the drugs and books and guitar strings, everything strewn about randomly. He wanted to watch this. Soccer. Football. Wholesome activity. Zidane and Figo, and the pursuit of excellence. His call ended, and he stared, transfixed.
The ball bounced on the concrete. The children passed with skill. He wanted to be down there, to be running, to be sweating from exertion as the body muscle pumped. To be asexual and uncaught. To never know lust, desire, betrayal or relief. To be the man who runs with the ball. To have no knowledge of women, of drugs, of the mechanics of the city. To kick and sweat in peace.
He heard her calling his name.
“J,” she whispered. “J, viens ici. Je suis desolee.”
He turned back to reality.
Walking over gently he climbed on to the bed, and she worked on his belt as he pushed off the rug. The springs creaked in protest, the bed so old and bent. They lay side by side, hands exploring skin, and when she kissed his lips, he felt his soul relax. The ball skidded off the kerb outside.

February 9, 2010

Part 3: Blue, July – Sept 2002 (scene 9)

Filed under: Character : Aria, Part 3 : Blue — fishinginbeirut @ 10:11

Aria spoke to Laura on the phone. Her mother would not be happy with the expense. San Jose to Paris costs a fair amount per minute, but friendship is important, money somewhat less. Laura had recently met a guy called Lukas, and cooed down the phone as Aria just laughed. He was a writer.
“So when do you think it will be possible?” Laura asked.
“Soon,” said Aria. “Soon. I think maybe a few months, or a little longer.”
“That’s cool. I’ll be here.”
Aria twirled the phone cord, and felt happy and sad at once. She knew that she was mending, but memories remained. Would they always? She ran her foot along the kitchen floor, moving back and forth, speaking low to Laura, who’d never let her down. Tears welled. She cried and laughed while talking, so good to hear this voice, the promise of the future all sweet and almost real. They laughed like little kids. The cat appeared beside her, blinking and relaxed. It yawned its peaceful greeting, the way it always did. Love circled.
“So tell me how you’re feeling – I really want to know.”
Aria told her, was not ashamed with Laura, did not feel wrong or dirty, or sickened by her past. Strength is unquantifiable. Light played on the lino, engulfing the cat as the day wound on, and they talked without remission, so much to hear and tell. Her mother came back, wasn’t angry at all really, and let them keep on talking, to see her daughter smile again.
Aria felt so happy. So tingling, shining, moving happy, talking to her best friend on another continent. Already this moment was crystallising, being stored deep somewhere warm, because she knew while in it how truly great it was. She was remembering and experiencing at once. She felt the cuffs of her sweater against her wrists, paid attention to this while talking, and noticed her body growing warmer, more relaxed. A stiffness seemed to melt. She moved her neck and shoulders, rotated it’s called, and placed full awareness on her cheek against the phone. The fridge touched her elbow.
Laura said something in French. Aria was momentarily confused, but then Laura explained that some guy was asking how much longer she was going to be. Aria tried to imagine the view from a Parisian payphone standing in her kitchen, west of San Jose. She was sure image and reality didn’t match.
“Anyway,” said Laura, “ I won’t stay too much longer. Now there’s an old woman behind that guy who was hassling me. I’m causing a jam.”
Aria heard the sound of other voices. They said their goodbyes to one another, ending with a promise to be together soon. Aria listened to the line going dead before she herself hung up. The city of Paris shrunk into nothingness, her portal having closed, the living breathing difference no longer hers to hear. She stood silent in America.
An empty cereal packet lay on the counter, with a smiling cartoon character holding out a spoon. She ate this stuff for comfort, and the cat played with the box. Aria stayed inert, the day pulsing around, and felt a little tickle, deep behind her nose. One time they’d made her cut her toenails, when they were too long. We don’t shoot nails and shit they’d said. She heard a bird through an open window, but not from the kitchen; from a window open somewhere in the daytime rhythm house. She saw dust peeping out under the fridge.
The cat rolled on his back, shimmied across the lino, and scratched playfully at her jeans in his upside down position. His belly was soft and exposed. With his twitching unconscious whiskers, and carefully sheathed claws, his love and trust were neutral – clear and evident. She watched in slow affection. Truth is both big and everyday, profound and commonplace, and sunlight on a surface is as pure as burning hope. To travel, to care, to love and to be loved, to nurture one another in the darkness and the pain. Things are hardest at the point of desire.

February 8, 2010

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

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

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

February 7, 2010

Part 3: Blue, July – Sept 2002 (scene 7)

Filed under: Character : Karen, Part 3 : Blue — fishinginbeirut @ 11:25

Karen dressed in silence. Her body registered the covering of clothes. She had awoken in plenty of time, did not feel pressed or pressurised, and dressed with deliberation, the day all fresh and new.
She ate the muesli, drank the fruit juice. The washing of the breakfast implements took maybe two minutes, and she placed them back in their drawers and shelves and presses. She wiped down the surface. Her mother leapt into her mind, and there began a conversation therein that came increasingly to resemble an argument. She wiped the surface and did battle with her mental mother, but then cut loose and suppressed these thoughts, for there is no greater stressor than internal conversation. She put the cloth down in the sink.
The morning feel was soothing, imbuing her with a sense of calm, wise, melancholy. If our lives are free from evil, well is this just the best that we can do? She brushed her hair and teeth, combated wrinkles and dryness, and applied lipstick and perfume.
She was ready to leave the flat. The lift hummed in old familiar compliance, and she reached the bottom and the street. A bus or something roared by. She swept the ground with her stick, advancing easily, mounting and dismounting kerbs and steps. So Karen, in her time, reached the St. Sulpice metro.
She was never at her most comfortable on these trains. Of course, they were fine, nothing had ever gone wrong, not really anyway, but they were firmly classed under ‘necessary evil’, and she took a bus, or buses, if time or route would allow.
She sat there amidst the rattle and the din. The human noise of coming, going, shifting, talking was everywhere. She had thirteen stops, heading north, before she got to Chateau Rouge. She was on an errand for Michel.
She had met this man before. Once, at Christmastime. She had touched his weary face, had heard his rumbling voice. Had listened to the rasp while he murmured in his phone. He would be here now, at the Chateau Rouge metro station, because he had stuff for Michel, and Michel was in Bordeaux.
The call had come the night before. Michel, sweet, pleading, on the phone from his parents house, with his please, it would mean a lot. Collect some stuff from this guy, you remember him, cause I can’t make it back, and he says he can’t wait. Karen had wondered why, where was the urgency in this, but Michel said I don’t know, and he’d sounded so sincere.
So here she was on the train. Friday morning. They got off, they got on, they shuffled here and there, finding seats and excusing themselves. She was sure some eyes were on her. This was the tenth stop she counted, so this was Gare de l’Est, with three more to go. She thought of the El back in Chicago, those childhood trips downtown with her mother, and then later with friends, or alone. The strangeness of her first drink. She remembered just how cold, just how to the bone freezing, that city got, and however bad Paris was, ice and snow in Chicago made for nightmares without end. Temperatures of death, and streets of crystal traps.
The train reached the stop. She moved through the exit door, and people pushed past, surging, the many who don’t pay and evade the dumb control. She heard others jumping over the barriers.
Coming up the stairs and into the day, the sound of markets – fish, carpets, fruit – was everywhere. Her left hand gripped the rail. There was the feel of other bodies, other human beings, clambering about. The heat of breathing souls. As she reached the final step, she heard a sudden cough, and turned to face this man, knowing who it was.

February 6, 2010

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

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

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

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