Fishing in Beirut

May 8, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 12)

Filed under: Character : Aria, Part 8 : Te Quiero — fishinginbeirut @ 07:40

There’s always something you’re going to learn. You’re going to find it out, and you didn’t want to. In Laura’s case this was the truth of what Aria had done. Her actions, and what led to them.
She remembered the day, Aria having called in the early morning. Saturday, and Laura groggy on the phone.
“What, you want to talk now? What’s wrong? What’s the matter?”
Laura had known there was something the matter for months. This had affected their relationship, made it hard and uneasy and false. Conversations like actor line rehearsals. Wiping foam from the dishes in their Paris apartment, Laura smiled, and felt sad and alone.
Marie came in. She’d been in the other room, tidying around and re-arranging. She said a room never grew stale if its contents were moved.
“Ca va?”
“Ouais ca va. Tout va bien?”
“Oui – mais je suis fatigué.”
“Moi aussi,” said Laura, “moi aussi.”
Marie dried the plates and the rest. She stacked them and put them in cupboards. The day was overcast and threatening rain, bringing a heaviness inside as well. The lack of energy in the air was infectious and tough to counter.
Laura smiled at Marie. The way she just came in and helped immediately. It brought back a memory of when it was the two of them here, before Aria arrived. It was a flashback experience to see Marie stacking the plates.
Laura rinsed a cloth and ran it over the table. It caught in a splinter and the noise tingled through her teeth. It was that momentary shiver, a whistling blackboard intake, a feeling induced by chalk, or nails, or some such. She rolled her shoulders and carried on with the job.
A crack of sunlight appeared, a laser beam across the wet surface, and then thinned even further and was no more. Music from another apartment suddenly took its place. It rushed in, fast heavy metal, startling the two of them by how loud and unexpected it was. The thump of the drums, and lyrics all dense with misogyny.
“Oh, mon Dieu,” said Marie, putting her hands over her ears. Laura closed the window, but was laughing at the same time.
“You don’t like that?”
“Quoi?” shouted Marie, not hearing.
There was a commotion down in the courtyard, the same middle-aged shrews who complained about the bin usage, now up in arms over noise pollution. Pretty soon the offensive ditty ceased.
“C’est fini,” said Laura, making a finished motion with her arms. Marie took her hands away. The silence was broken by the clucking tones from below, the women, having dealt with the music, seizing on the opportunity to once again fuss over the bins. The wrong material was always in the wrong compartment.
“Les poubelles encore?” asked Marie.
“Ouais,” said Laura. “Naturellement.”

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May 7, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 11)

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

Djinn wrote a letter, and then rewrote it. He wanted to send this to a newspaper, to arrive the day after the event, so it had to be precise, and legible. It would land in the offices of Le Monde when his body was charred. He could not let them think it was a random or meaningless thing.
He had terrible pain in his back, and stretched gingerly, feeling ugly friction and strain. Judging by his discomfort, it might be something more than a twist. He reached around to rub at the area, massaging as best he could. Then he stretched too far, and the pain nearly made him cry out.
Young people in the hallway surprised him for a second, their voices and laughter passing by his door in a rush. They were running down the stairs into freedom. He breathed and stood completely upright. Awareness of pain was bringing more pain in his shoulders and legs.
Ninety minutes passed with him relatively immobile. It was serious effort to walk to the bathroom and piss. Fortune or the lack of it dictated the agony didn’t cease, but instead remained quite active, feeding off itself, adding to his distress. Finally he managed to lie down on the bed and try to sleep.
When he awoke, not having really slept any, the immediate impact of his predicament hit him hard. He couldn’t get up. He was sure of this, knew it instantly, and lay there inert, gripped by a genuine paralysis. It wasn’t even painful anymore, merely numb and disconnected from his head.
Silence and darkness were all around him. He prayed through the silence and darkness and towards Allah. If it was decided he would next week do this, that he would take revenge for his country and its suffering, he must walk, and function. Only by bodily control could he carry out his task.
He focused all his energy on rising. His muscles shook, but he failed in his attempts to sit. Sweat broke out on his forehead, tiny helpless beads, and the pain from earlier came flooding back from the force. Never in his life had he known such incapacity.
He sat up eventually. He pushed himself into a position that was a crouch or a hunch. He stared straight ahead into blackness not seeing a thing. It was a struggle to believe, but a struggle he knew he would win.

May 6, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 10)

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

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

May 5, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 9)

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

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

May 4, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 8)

Filed under: Character : Aria, Part 8 : Te Quiero — fishinginbeirut @ 08:42

Aria bought chicken, peppers, and tomato puree to make a sauce. She had rice already, but needed milk. Curry powder and bread she nearly forgot, but then remembered, and went back down through the aisles and had to queue again. A tiny little kid stole a stranger’s juice at the checkout.
Dinner was going to be for four people. Herself and three others in her life, all of whom she loved. Laura was making salad, Marie was getting wine. She could send a text to Frank and that would be that.
The walk home took her past scaffolding and bars. It was only five minutes, but she heard six different tongues. Builders, drinkers, loiterers on the street; the multicultural city, functioning as one.
She pushed in the front door, the wood expanding occasionally, and needing to be forced. There was music coming from inside, and then she saw Laura and Marie, washing cutlery and singing.
“Well, I got it. A little girl stole some guy’s juice just after he paid for it.”
She put down her bags and stretched, feeling light in her head.
Movement to her right made her turn. A cat charged across the floorboards and jumped onto the sill. All three girls saw it simultaneously, the black feline streamline so alien in the flat. It stopped to lick its paws, and looked at Aria full on. Did it feel it was safe at the window and no longer need run?
They stared as it went about its business, cleaning, stretching, and eyeing the roof. Its whiskers twitched as it crinkled up its nose for some reason. Then it sneezed, sneezed again, and Aria laughed.
“It’s the curry powder. The smell must be crazy to a cat.”
The cat seemed to confirm this by sneezing again. Then it spilled itself out the window and was gone. Marie went to see if it was still down there, but there was nothing, just the bins and the courtyard and the steps. Aria unpacked the shopping and prepared to cook.

May 3, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 7)

Filed under: Character : Frank, Part 8 : Te Quiero — fishinginbeirut @ 10:02

Frank was writing about his time in Sevilla – meeting Lise and Sjal, and drinking with Dev. It was an odd but beautiful experience to put things down. In a way, dredging up these memories for a book was a method of releasing them, a benign and gentle freeing of thoughts in his head. He would scrutinise them closely on paper and then find they were gone.
Writing let him taste and smell in ways he’d forgotten. Sevilla was sensually rebirthed to be fully let go. He remembered small moments – light on glass, wine, laughter. His body seemed to rewind also, and his ankle grew sore.
He stopped for a moment. He rotated the muscle and cartilage till it loosened and felt warm. Slowly he read over what he’d done. He didn’t know if it was any good or not, and he didn’t really care. One man’s gimmick is another’s startling insight.
He walked around the room with his pen in his mouth. Some paper fluttered towards the window and he hurried to retrieve it. It was a page where he and Lise played pool in some dive.
He heard a helicopter in the distance and then silence returned. He wanted to write about Aria and wondered if he could. Might he jinx the sweetness of his reality? It was better to finish the Sevilla section before contemplating this.
He wrote down a conversation between Lise and Sjal. An English conversation, because they didn’t want the others excluded. It was something to do with awareness when you entered a room.
Lise had said she unconsciously registered who was where upon entering a room. She thought Frank did it also but Mette did not. He transcribed these sentences as best he could, knowing exactness was impossible and approximation would do. It was funny to use people’s words to fill up a page.
He boiled water for mint tea, taking a break and leaning out the window. March, and the weather was suggesting perhaps it was May. This was two years in a row – unexpected sunshine in February and March. When he thought of his discomfort a year ago he was amazed at so much change.
He re-commenced writing, drawing linguistic pictures of Andalusia. Once, Sjal and Pernilla had taken him to the coastal village of Torrox, and he remembered clear blue water and banana splits. They stayed in a house owned by Sjal’s parents, with a rat in the kitchen.
Busily, he jotted down descriptions. He didn’t know any of these people now. Probably he could meet them again and still not know them, or maybe not. Perhaps he’d get re-acquainted with them afresh. The sun hit his desk and dust was visible. Aria’d told him that dust made her think of a plane.
He swished his hand through the air. Dust particles scurried and re-aligned. He was going to write something about humans being like dust, but deemed it pretentious. Humans are more like moths, attracted to what can hurt.
He didn’t know how long these memoires were going to be. He thought he would write about Berlin and leave Chicago alone. Reminiscences of Berlin and Sevilla would be perfect.
Aria sent a text and he read it three times. He smiled at his foolishness, but there are worse crimes. I’m making dinner tonight. Come over x. A bird on a balcony opposite broke into song.

Aria bought chicken, peppers, an

May 1, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 6)

Filed under: Character : Aria, Part 8 : Te Quiero — fishinginbeirut @ 09:42

Laura picked up her discman and put it in her coat. She was in the park, with a break between lectures. This place was called l’Observatoire, just behind the Jardin du Luxembourg and south of the Sorbonne. It was a narrow strip of greenery with kissing couples and joggers.
The sun was shining, the warmest day in quite a while. It was early March. Laura had been listening to Aimee Mann, thinking of the days when herself and Aria sunbathed at home. Three years is both a long time and an instant.
Four children walked by in a line, with their minder a little behind them. They held each other’s coats with tiny hands. The first one stopped, bending to examine some gravel, and halting the entire train. The other three waited placidly and then moved on.
Inside her mind Laura sat thinking. She remembered a quote from an old Japanese man on TV. Watch a football match like you’re watching a tree in the garden. Just look, and be contented by the looking. It had been on a programme to do with stresses of the modern age.
She took in the scenery around her, the trees, grass, walkways and people. For a second she had the strongest sense they were the same. No difference existed between a woman and a flower. Every single eyelash and every blade of grass were at one. Then it was gone, and she was smiling.
She stood up and prepared to return to college. She gathered her jacket and bag and the packaging from her lunch. It wasn’t a difficult afternoon, the emphasis firmly on exams now, and she knew despite her tiredness it would easily pass. The traffic on St. Michel grew louder as she approached.
She crossed the road and entered through the gates. The smells and bustle of the corridor made her feel quite young. Finding the correct room, she sat down near the back and rooted for a note pad. All of her colleagues, or most of them, shuffled about.

Later she studied in the library. It was easier to get work done here what with Aria and Marie. Two guys nearby giggled over a lad’s magazine, pictures of cars and tits holding them rapt. Laura tried to concentrate on her assignment, but it was hard, and she had to ask them to stop. They stared at her like she was a shrew, but that was their problem.
The book-lined shelves granted more peace occasionally than the study area. She wandered among them, only half-heartedly searching for books. The wood smelled of lonely academia, a frustrating accrual of knowledge with no experience at all. Reading about blood is not the same as the sharpness of the knife swish.
She leaned her head against a philosophy tome. Michel Foucault’s Folie et Deraison.
She laughed silently for a second, because sometimes that described her mind. All those philosophers, with their theories on the ways we breathe.
That night she lay in bed and dreamed of a boy who might understand her. He’d have zero interest in hairgel or strategies of cool. She turned over unconsciously, folding into herself due to a sound. A magnified shard of reality infringed on her sleep.

April 30, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 5)

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

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

April 29, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 4)

Filed under: Character : Djinn, Part 8 : Te Quiero — fishinginbeirut @ 09:07

Djinn flung the frozen lasagnes into the compartment and slammed the door. His fingers were numb and wet from melting ice. He cursed to himself and rubbed his hands on his jacket. A thread caught his nail and the feeling was nearly more than he could take.
The plan had been delayed. It should have happened by now. He had encountered certain difficulties. The attempt to procure vital material had been met with suspicion by hardware store employees, and he’d been forced to retreat. Now he was buying small quantities at irregular intervals.
He surmised that records must be kept. When, where, how often, designated products were bought. It made sense, but he’d failed to think of it. It was better to travel throughout town, obtaining small, insignificant amounts, with no discernable schedule or regular sum. It was time consuming, but the alternative was possible failure.
He walked back to the storeroom and sat down for a moment. The light in here was softer than the harsh neon strips. He closed his eyes and listened to his breath in his body. The simplicity of breathing was what he was looking for now.
He stood up and returned to work. The freezers were taken care of and now it was on to the drinks. Endless fizzy bottles of sugar and dye, being consumed, and needing to be replenished. He watched a fat man fill up his trolley with shit.
The lemon flavour was low, clearly popular at this time of year. Someone pushed past him and grabbed two more bottles in a rush. He stood still, enraged by this brusqueness, and then slowly turned around and headed for the store. A dropped tin of peas meant he also needed the brush.
The peas had travelled far and wide, an unwelcome fact he discovered upon his return. They were under other produce and hiding in cracks. He swept as best he could, finding it amazing how much dust could accrue. He’d only cleaned that floor that morning.
His hand was sore against the ageing brush. The wood was coarse and splintering, jagged needles pushing his skin. He knew the best solution was a towel wrapping.
“Pardon,” said someone. “Le vin, s’il vous plait?” He pointed in the right direction and the customer shuffled along the aisle.
After work he walked the streets. A light picked up his shadow and then it was lost, only to re-emerge in the beam of another. A prostitute said Bonsoir and he put his head down.
He came around a corner and walked into some skinheads. They pushed against him on purpose and his balance was gone. He crashed sideways on top of a bin, feeling its corner smack his hip as the stench hit his nose. Fucking Muslim they called him, Fucking Al-Qu’ida.
He lay on the ground. They circled above momentarily, spat, and went on. He listened until their footsteps were faint and straightened his clothes.
Dreadful shame made him shake for an instant. He looked about wildly, to see if someone had seen. There were lights on in apartments, but no figures in the windows. He clenched his fists and felt tight pain in his jaw.
The garbage men were trawling about, jumping on and off their trucks and seizing the waste. Djinn watched silently, feeling calmer now. That job might actually have been better than a supermarket stint. Out in the air, clinging to a truck, learning about the city and not dealing with the French. Just throwing all the stuff into the back and climbing on again.
He looked up at the sky and tasted blood on his lip. He hadn’t been hurt, but was insulted they’d managed to draw blood. The taste was bitter copper, returning from whence it came.

April 28, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 3)

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

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

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

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