Category: Extract

An excerpt: Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants

fyqgdzxt6vee113lx5vh

An excerpt from Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants by Mathias Enard, translated by Charlotte Mandell, published today:

¶ Night does not communicate with the day. It burns up in it. Night is carried to the stake at dawn. And its people along with it – the drinkers, the poets, the lovers. We are a people of the banished, of the condemned. I do not know you. I know your Turkish friend; he is one of ours. Little by little he is vanishing from the world, swallowed up by the shadows and their mirages; we are brothers. I don’t know what pain or what pleasure propelled him to us, to stardust, maybe opium, maybe wine, maybe love; maybe some obscure wound of the soul deep-hidden in the folds of memory.

You want to join us.

Your fear and confusion propel you into our arms; you want to nestle in there, but your tough body keeps clinging to its certainties; it pushes desire away, refuses to surrender.

I don’t blame you.

You live in another prison, a world of strength and bravery where you think you can be carried aloft in triumph; you think you can win the goodwill of the powerful, you seek glory and wealth. But when night falls, you tremble. You don’t drink, for you are afraid; you know that the burning sensation of alcohol plunges you into weakness, into an irresistible need to find caresses, a vanished tenderness, the lost world of childhood, gratification, the need to find peace when faced with the glistering uncertainty of darkness.

You think you desire my beauty, the softness of my skin, the brilliance of my smile, the delicacy of my limbs, the crimson of my lips, but actually, what you want without realizing it is for your fears to disappear, for healing, union, return, oblivion. This power inside you devours you in solitude.

So you suffer, lost in an infinite twilight, one foot in day and the other in night.

A

¶ Three bundles of sable and mink fur, one hundred and twelve panni of wool, nine rolls of Bergamo satin, the same quantity of gilt Florentine velvet, five barrels of saltpetre, two crates of mirrors and one little jewellery box: that is the list of things that disembark with Michelangelo Buonarroti in the port of Constantinople on Thursday, 13 May 1506. Almost as soon as the frigate moors, the sculptor leaps ashore. He sways a little after six days of difficult sailing. No one knows the name of the Greek dragoman waiting for him, so we’ll call him Manuel; we do, however, know the name of the merchant accompanying him: Giovanni di Francesco Maringhi, a Florentine who has been living in Istanbul for five years now. The merchandise belongs to him. He is a friendly man, happy to meet this hero of the republic of Florence, the sculptor of David.

Of course Istanbul was very different then; it was known as Constantinople; Hagia Sophia sat enthroned alone without the Blue Mosque, the east bank of the Bosphorus was bare, the great bazaar was not yet that immense spider-web where tourists from all over the world lose themselves so they can be devoured. The Empire was no longer Roman and not really the Empire; the city swayed between Ottomans, Greeks, Jews and Latins; the Sultan was named Bayezid the second, nicknamed the Holy, the Pious, the Just. The Florentines and Venetians called him Bajazeto, the French Bajazet. He was a wise, tactful man who reigned for thirty-one years; he loved wine, poetry and music; he didn’t turn his nose up at either men or women; he appreciated the arts and sciences, astronomy, architecture, the pleasures of war, swift horses and sharp weapons. It is not known why he invited Michelangelo Buonarroti of the Buonarrotis of Florence to Istanbul, though certainly the sculptor was already enjoying great renown in Italy. Some saw him at the age of thirty-one as the greatest artist of the time. He was often compared to the immense Leonardo da Vinci, twenty years his senior.

A

¶ That year Michelangelo left Rome on a sudden impulse, on Saturday 17 April, the day before the laying of the first stone of the new St Peter’s Basilica. He had gone for the fifth day in a row to request that the Pope deign to honour his promise of additional money. He was turned away each time.

Michelangelo Buonarroti shivers in his wool coat; the spring is timid, rainy. He reaches the borders of the republic of Florence as the clock strikes 2 a.m., Ascanio Condivi, his biographer, tells us; he stops over at an inn thirty leagues from the city.

Michelangelo rails against Julius II, the warlike, authoritarian pope who has treated him so poorly. Michelangelo is proud. Michelangelo is aware that he is an artist of great talent.

Knowing he is safe in Florentine territory, he turns away the attendants the Pope has sent after him with orders to bring him back to Rome, by force if necessary. He reaches Florence the next day in time for supper. His servant gives him a thin broth. Michelangelo curses the architect Bramante and the painter Raphael, those jealous types who, he thinks, have served him a bad turn with the Pope. Pontiff Julius Della Rovere is a proud man too. Proud, authoritarian, and a miser. The artist had to pay from his own pocket the cost of the marble that he went to pick out in Carrara to build the papal tomb, an immense monument that would sit enthroned right in the middle of the new basilica. Michelangelo sighs. The advance on the contract signed by the Pope had been spent on furs, travel, and apprentices to quarry the blocks.

The sculptor, exhausted by the journey and his troubles, a little warmed by the broth, shuts himself away in his narrow Renaissance bed and falls asleep sitting up, his back against a cushion, because he is afraid of the image of death the outstretched position suggests.

(…)

An excerpt: Limbo by Dan Fox

Limbo for blog

An excerpt from Limbo by Dan Fox, published this week:

(…)

I imagine limbo as an extraterritoriality without walls, without corners, windows, entrances or exits. I can also cast it as ocean and desert wilderness. Or a blind-black void that has swallowed all light and matter and threatens a sublime death. ‘’Tis a strange place, this Limbo!’ Samuel Taylor Coleridge imagines ‘Time and weary Space / Fettered from flight, with night- mare sense of fleeing / Strive for their last crepuscular half-being.’ (As Ridley Scott’s Alien warned audiences: ‘In space no one can hear you scream.’) Limbo might bring to mind a zone of white nothingness. A space of minimalist perfection that looks like a giant infinity curve or the interior of a contemporary art museum. In his essay ‘Inside the White Cube’, the artist and critic Brian O’Doherty describes the effects of the ‘unshadowed, white, clean, artificial’ spaces of the art gallery, in which art ‘exists in a kind of eternity of display, and though there is lots of “period” (late modern), there is no time. This eternity gives the gallery a limbo-like status: one has to have died already to be there.’ Limbo is at the apex of visual sophistication: an extra-dimensional loft done out in luxury-plain Jil Sander grey. Empty and placid, with not even a reproduction Eames chair to interrupt the anodyne tastefulness. No mess, no colour, no life. No hint of recidivist ornament – Adolf Loos would have loved limbo. In Harold Pinter’s words, a ‘No man’s land, which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, which remains forever icy and silent.’ (And full of dread: ‘Nomaneslond’ was the fourteenth-century name for execution sites to the north of London’s city walls.) No day, no night, no seasons. ‘Lank space,’ Coleridge called it. Or is it? By definition it stands for an in-between space. Limbo appears at the edge of daybreak and at dusk. It’s a cusp word used for conversations held in the golden hour.

Limbo; that corporeal first consonant, the symbolic, annular nothing at the end of its second, the deliciously dumb sound that both sing together. How do you define a secular nothing into which you can drop anything? This green zone’s permutations are many. For comics fans, Comic Book Limbo is where old or unwanted characters are dumped by their publisher, DC: Animal Man, Merryman, Ace the Bat-Hound, The Gay Ghost. In the final instalment of The Wachowski Sisters’ Matrix trilogy, limbo is anagrammatized into Mobil Avenue subway station, and in Christopher Nolan’s action flick Inception, it’s the name of an ‘unreconstructed dreamspace’ into which a pair of lovers retreat. The titular free spirit in Andre Breton’s 1928 surrealist novel, Nadja, announces: ‘I am the soul in limbo.’ When she is committed to the Vaucluse sanitorium, the narrator observes: ‘The essential thing is that I do not suppose there can be much difference for Nadja between the inside of a sanitarium and the outside.’ The Man From Limbo is a novel written in 1930 by Hollywood screenwriter Guy Endore, later blacklisted as a Communist; limbo is the poverty from which the book’s hero tries to escape, and where Endore later found his career had slipped. The Man From Limbo is also the title of a 1950s noir detective story by John D. MacDonald in which a damaged army veteran on his uppers, coerced by his shrink to become a salesman, gets caught up in a political corruption scandal – limbo is where the anti-hero’s war trauma has consigned his dignity.

For the Danish game developers Playdead, Limbo is a quiet, puzzle-solving videogame about loss. In Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 1998 film After Life, a drab administrative centre-cum-film studio processes dead souls on their way to heaven. Here, social workers help the souls identify their happiest memory. The dead wait patiently in limbo as this memory is recreated for them to experience for the rest of eternity. The subtitle to John Wallace Spencer’s Limbo of the Lost, written in 1969, promises ‘Actual Stories of Sea Mysteries’. Limbo District was the name of a a short-lived but influential band in Athens, Georgia, during the 1990s. I am told that in Marseille there is a neighbourhood bar with a sign in the window which declares: ‘Bienvenue dans les limbes.’ For the Long Trail Brewing Company in the US state of Vermont, Limbo is the name of an India pale ale. On the bottle’s label a skeleton sits beneath a blood-red tree, bringing to mind the one about the skeleton who walks into a bar and orders a pint of lager and a mop.

(…)

An excerpt: Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead

Drive Your Plow web

An excerpt from the first chapter of Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, published by us today in Antonia Lloyd-Jones’s translation:

I. NOW PAY ATTENTION

Once meek, and in a perilous path,
The just man kept his course along
The vale of death.

I am already at an age and additionally in a state where I must always wash my feet thoroughly before bed, in the event of having to be removed by an ambulance in the Night.

Had I examined the Ephemerides that evening to see what was happening in the sky, I wouldn’t have gone to bed at all. Meanwhile I had fallen very fast asleep; I had helped myself with an infusion of hops, and I also took two valerian pills. So when I was woken in the middle of the Night by hammering on the door – violent, immoderate and thus ill-omened – I was unable to come round. I sprang up and stood by the bed, unsteadily, because my sleepy, shaky body couldn’t make the leap from the innocence of sleep into wakefulness. I felt weak and began to reel, as if about to lose consciousness. Unfortunately this has been happening to me lately, and has to do with my Ailments. I had to sit down and tell myself several times: I’m at home, it’s Night, someone’s banging on the door; only then did I manage to control my nerves. As I searched for my slippers in the dark, I could hear that whoever had been banging was now walking around the house, muttering. Downstairs, in the cubbyhole for the electrical meters, I keep the pepper spray Dizzy gave me because of the poachers, and that was what now came to mind. In the darkness I managed to seek out the familiar, cold aerosol shape, and thus armed, I switched on the outside light, then looked at the porch through a small side window. There was a crunch of snow, and into my field of vision came my neighbour, whom I call Oddball. He was wrapping himself in the tails of the old sheepskin coat I’d sometimes seen him wearing as he worked outside the house. Below the coat I could see his striped pyjamas and heavy hiking boots.

‘Open up,’ he said.

With undisguised astonishment he cast a glance at my linen suit (I sleep in something the Professor and his wife wanted to throw away last summer, which reminds me of a fashion from the past and the days of my youth – thus I combine the Practical and the Sentimental) and without a by-your-leave he came inside.

‘Please get dressed. Big Foot is dead.’

For a while I was speechless with shock; without a word I put on my tall snow boots and the first fleece to hand from the coat rack. Outside, in the pool of light falling from the porch lamp, the snow was changing into a slow, sleepy shower. Oddball stood next to me in silence, tall, thin and bony like a figure sketched in a few pencil strokes. Every time he moved, snow fell from him like icing sugar from pastry ribbons.

‘What do you mean, dead?’ I finally asked, my throat tightening, as I opened the door, but Oddball didn’t answer.

He generally doesn’t say much. He must have Mercury in a reticent sign, I reckon it’s in Capricorn or on the cusp, in square or maybe in opposition to Saturn. It could also be Mercury in retrograde – that produces reserve. We left the house and were instantly engulfed by the familiar cold, wet air that reminds us every winter that the world was not created for Mankind, and for at least half the year it shows us how very hostile it is to us. The frost brutally assailed our cheeks, and clouds of white steam came streaming from our mouths. The porch light went out automatically and we walked across the crunching snow in total darkness, except for Oddball’s headlamp, which pierced the pitch dark in one shifting spot, just in front of him, as I tripped along in the Murk behind him.

‘Don’t you have a torch?’ he asked.

Of course I had one, but I wouldn’t be able to tell where it was until morning, in the daylight. It’s a feature of torches that they’re only visible in the daytime.

Big Foot’s cottage stood slightly out of the way, higher up than the other houses. It was one of three inhabited all year round. Only he, Oddball and I lived here without fear of the winter; all the other inhabitants had sealed their houses shut in October, drained the water from the pipes and gone back to the city.

Now we turned off the partly cleared road that runs across our hamlet and splits into paths leading to each of the houses. A path trodden in deep snow led to Big Foot’s house, so narrow that you had to set one foot behind the other while trying to keep your balance.

‘It won’t be a pretty sight,’ warned Oddball, turning to face me, and briefly blinding me with his headlamp.

I wasn’t expecting anything else. For a while he was silent, and then, as if to explain himself, he said: ‘I was alarmed by the light in his kitchen and the dog barking so plaintively. Didn’t you hear it?’

No, I didn’t. I was asleep, numbed by hops and valerian.

‘Where is she now, the Dog?’

‘I took her away from here – she’s at my place, I fed her and she seemed to calm down.’

Another moment of silence.

‘He always put out the light and went to bed early to save money, but this time it continued to burn. A bright streak against the snow. Visible from my bedroom window. So I went over there, thinking he might have got drunk or was doing the dog harm, for it to be howling like that.’

We passed a tumbledown barn and moments later Oddball’s torch fetched out of the darkness two pairs of shining eyes, pale green and fluorescent.

‘Look, Deer,’ I said in a raised whisper, grabbing him by the coat sleeve. ‘They’ve come so close to the house. Aren’t they afraid?’

The Deer were standing in the snow almost up to their bellies. They gazed at us calmly, as if we had caught them in the middle of performing a ritual whose meaning we couldn’t fathom. It was dark, so I couldn’t tell if they were the same Young Ladies who had come here from the Czech Republic in the autumn, or some new ones. And in fact why only two? That time there had been at least four of them.

‘Go home,’ I said to the Deer, and started waving my arms. They twitched, but didn’t move. They calmly stared after us, all the way to the front door. A shiver ran through me.

Meanwhile Oddball was stamping his feet to shake the snow off his boots outside the neglected cottage. The small windows were sealed with plastic and cardboard, and the wooden door was covered with black tar paper.

(…)

An excerpt: Scenes from a Childhood by Jon Fosse

om0gokchpkz3uwjceloc

An excerpt from our latest fiction title, Scenes from a Childhood by Jon Fosse, translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls.

IT’S MAYBE FOUR O’CLOCK

It’s maybe four o’clock when Trygve and I go out to the old barn. My grandfather built this barn but now it’s fall- ing apart, the unpainted planks in the walls are rotting away, there are holes in the wall you can see through in some places and a couple of roof tiles lying in the net- tles, three more sticking out of a puddle of mud. A rusty hook is hanging from the door-frame. The door is hang- ing from the door-frame too, attached with hay-baling cord, swinging crookedly. A warm summer day, after- noon. Trygve and I sit on a large round stone a few yards from the barn. There are plastic bags under our legs with our lunches inside, slices of bread with brown cheese, we each have a soft drink. It’s hot. We’re both sweating. Mosquitoes are buzzing round our heads.

 

I JUST CAN’T GET THE GUITAR TUNED

I just can’t get the guitar tuned and the dance is about to start. There’s already a big crowd in the room, most of them people involved with the event and their friends and girlfriends, but still a lot of people, when I look up from the shelter of the long hair hanging down over my eyes I see them moving around the room. I’m bent over my guitar, turning and turning a tuning knob, I turn it all the way down and the string almost dangles off the fretboard, all forlorn, and then I strum on it while I turn the knob up, up, I hear the tone slide higher, I strum on two strings, now is this right? no, it always sounds a little off, doesn’t it, and I turn it more, I turn and turn, up and down, I turn it and turn it and the drummer is pound- ing for all he’s worth and hitting the cymbals and the bassist is thumping too and the other guy on guitar is standing there strumming chord after chord and I just can’t get this damn guitar in tune. I turn the knob more, and the string breaks. I push my hair back and shout that the string broke. The others just keep the noise going. I unplug the guitar and go backstage, I have spare strings in my guitar case. I find a new third string. I change the string, turn the knob until the string is on. I walk back onstage. I plug the guitar in again and start tuning it. I can’t hear anything. I shout for the others to stop play- ing. They stop. I try to tune the guitar. I can’t do it. I ask the other guitarist to give me the note, he plays a G on his third string. I turn the knob.

Little more, he says.

I turn it a little more. I look at the other guitarist and he shakes his head a little. I turn it a little more, strum the string. He looks up, stops, listens.

Little higher, he says.

I turn it a little higher and strum.

Little more, he says.

And now it starts to sound right.

Almost there, he says. Maybe a little more. I turn it a little higher and strum.

Little lower, he says.

I turn it down slightly and strum.

Damn it, he says. Take it all the way down, we’ll try it

again, he says.

I turn the knob all the way down. He plays the open

third string on his guitar. I start to turn the knob up. I hear it getting closer. It’s getting closer. I see the other guitarist nod. I turn it a little more. And now it sounds right, almost perfect.

Almost, the other guitarist says.

I turn it a little more and now it’s off, I turn it more and I hear it getting closer again. A little more.

Careful now, the other guitarist says.

I turn it a little bit more. And I hear the string break. Fuck, I say.

Go get another one, the other guitarist says.

I go backstage again and go to the guitar case to get

another string. But I don’t have any more third strings. I shout and say I don’t have any more third strings, I say I need to borrow one, and the other guitarist goes to his guitar case and looks for a string. I see him put one knee on the floor and dig around in his guitar case and look for a string. He looks at me.

I don’t think I have one, he says.

He digs around in his guitar case some more. He gets up and shakes his head.

Nope, he says. No G string.

Then I guess I’ll have to play with five strings, I say. That’ll probably work, he says.

People are already here, I say.

That’ll work, he says.

 

THE AXE

One day Father yells at him and he goes out to the wood- shed, he gets the biggest axe, he carries it into the living room and puts it down next to his father’s chair and asks his father to kill him. As one might expect, this only makes his father angrier.

 

IT HAS STOPPED SNOWING

It has stopped snowing. Geir and Kjell are out in the new snow but they’re not going skiing, no they’re busy with their snow shovels, pushing the snow around and beating it down flat and hard. I’m standing at my win- dow spying on what they’re doing out there. I ask my mother if I can go outside and she says OK. I bundle up, gloves and everything, and go outside. I run over to Geir and Kjell and ask them what they’re doing and they say they’re going to play car and make streets and a tun- nel and everything in the snow. I run home and get two cars. I come back and Geir and Kjell have finished with the snow shovels and they’ve already started working on the construction. And then Geir and Kjell and I build a tunnel, and a garage, and a house. This is going to be great. Geir loads snow onto the truck with an excavator. Kjell drives the snow in the truck, then dumps it out. I build a road. We are working and building. We don’t know what will happen next but we crawl around in the snow, humming and whistling, driving and dumping. Snow is falling steadily on us, light and white, so that the road has to be cleared again and again. We work and build and clear the road. Time passes, but we don’t notice. We plough the road and gravel it with the light- est new snow. We don’t notice that some slightly bigger boys, boys we barely know even though they live only a few houses away, have come walking up to us through the yard. The boys don’t live far away but we don’t know them. They stand and look at us. They ask what we’re doing, and we say we’re playing car. They ask if they can play too, and we hand them our cars, our excava- tor. Then we stand and watch the other boys play. They yell louder and push the wheels down into the road, they laugh and shout.

Crappy road, they say.

You can’t fucking drive on a road like this, they say. They have to repair the road, it’s a bad road, Geir

says.

You can’t fucking repair a road like this, they say. These road workers are useless, they say. Making such a crap road, they say.

I want my car back, Kjell says.

Your crappy car, they say.

That car’s useless too, they say.

It’s all a bunch of shit, they say.

What’s that? they say.

A car park, Geir says.

Huh, a car park, they say.

You can’t park there, they say.

 

Brother in Ice

Alicia Kopf for Granta
Brother-in-ice-WEB-300x460

An excerpt from Alicia Kopf’s Brother in Ice (translated from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem and published by And Other Stories) is featured in Granta 142: Animalia.

Research Notes I

PENGUINS

The penguins of the Antarctic were a new discovery for the explorers, who began filming them in the early twentieth century. Everyone was soon taken with the sweet creatures; people wanted to see images of the playful penguins. But if you’ve seen Encounters at the End of the World, by Werner Herzog, you’ll know that sometimes a penguin will voluntarily separate from the group and head in the opposite direction, away from the sea, toward its death.

 

SOUTH POLE

There’s a store downstairs on the street level that sells frozen foods. The cashier is tall, blond, stocky. He reminds me of Amundsen, the explorer.

 

PEAKS AND POLES

The Sherpas and the Inuit have similarities. The former reach the summit every day, the latter helped everyone discover the North Pole.

 

NEWS

The mountaineer Ferran Latorre gave up on his ascent of Everest in order to rescue a sick Sherpa.

 

THE WHITE RABBIT

When I was little, my mother worked in a small-town school. Its playground was the woods. Once I saw a bunny nestled among the roots of a tree. But it wasn’t one of the typical rabbits that camouflage themselves amid the brown tones of the Mediterranean landscape; it was a white rabbit. When I got closer I saw that it was quite big; stock-still, it stared at me with its red eyes. It let me pick it up and I realized it was panting. I decided to take it to the vet, but on the way there, in the car, it died.

 

WHITE DEATH

Death by freezing is called sweet death, or white death. It is somehow linked to sleep, because of their apparent likeness, as opposed to the violence of a death by fire. Those who’ve seen it up close say that there’s nothing sweet about an icy grave; freezing is as terrible a death as burning.

Yet ice retains the body’s shape the way images do; it is like photographs. Photography is to its subject as ice is to the interred explorer: a thanatological process that presents us, abruptly, with a body from the past.

(…)

 

An extract: Arkady by Patrick Langley

z7pio2wppitqmso36k2d

An extract from Patrick Langley’s debut novel Arkady, published today.

I. ANOTHER COUNTRY

A fan stirs the room’s thick heat as the officers talk. Jackson wags his legs under the chair and watches his shoes as they swing. The officers speak about beaches. A pathway. Red flags. The story does not make sense. When they finish it, Jackson looks up. The door is open. It frames a stretch of shrivelled lawn and a column of cloudless sky. Colours throb in the heat.

‘Do you understand?’ the woman asks.

‘We are sorry,’ says the man.

Blue uniforms cling to their arms. Black caps are perched on their heads. Jackson peers into the caps’ plastic rims, which slide with vague shadows and smears of light. The officers mutter to each other and swap glances with hooded eyes. The breeze through the door is like dog-breath, a damp heat that smells faintly of rot.

‘Where’s my dad?’ asks Jackson.

The man’s thumb is hooked through his belt. He stands like a cowboy, hips cocked.

‘We don’t know,’ he sighs. ‘Our colleague saw him a moment after. We’re sure he’ll come back soon. You have a small brother? We take you to the place, and you tell him. Tell him your father is coming back. We’ll find him. I promise. Right now.’

 

They are staying on the side of a mountain, a short but twisting drive away from the nearest coastal town. The hotel is enormous. From a distance it resembles a castle, its high walls strong and stern, its red roofs bright against the mountain’s grey. The valley below is dotted with scrubby bushes and half-finished breezeblock homes. At its centre, a dried-up riverbed runs through copses of stunted trees: a jagged path connecting the hotel to the town.

Frank is in the crèche with the other toddlers. They crawl and stumble on the floor, slapping primary-coloured mats with chubby palms. Jackson glances at the sprinkler outside. Threads of water glitter like glass until they shatter and fall. He asks the woman when the children go home.

‘When does the session finish, you mean?’ she asks. She is English. Her eyes are the dull blue of cloudless skies. ‘Is everything alright?’

Jackson’s brother is in the far corner, a monkey teddy in his hand. He is wearing his robot pyjamas; his smile makes Jackson smile.

‘You can come back at five o’clock, if you like,’ the woman says. ‘We have a painting class. Do you like art? You could do a jigsaw?’

Frank smacks a beat on the monkey-doll’s stomach. Thump-thump!

‘The one in the corner,’ says Jackson.

‘You know him?’

‘He’s my brother.’

The woman smiles at Jackson, briefly narrowing her eyes. ‘He’s very good,’ she says.

 

The swimming pool is white and blue. It hurts Jackson’s eyes to look at it. In the evenings, before dinner, his mother will swim for a while and then relax on a lounger, sunglasses masking her eyes, and read a book while their father plays tennis, goes walking, or naps. Today a strange woman has taken his mother’s lounger. Her legs are bronzed and dimpled, with blue worms squiggling under the skin. Her lips are the colour of cocktail cherries, sticky and red.

‘You alright there pal?’

The man is on a lounger. Gold things shine at his knuckles and neck: he is either a king or a thief.

‘Here on your own?’ The man is from Jackson’s city. That voice. ‘Where are your parents?’ He is wearing skimpy Y-front trunks, the kind Jackson’s mother calls budgie smugglers. His tanned skin shines like oiled meat. ‘You speak English? Española? Where are your parentés, your grandays persona? Big people, you know?’ He chuckles. ‘Mum? Dad? Parents? No?’

A waiter appears with a tray. On his tray is a bright blue drink in a tall glass shaped like a space rocket. A wedge of pineapple, skewered on a toothpick, glistens in the sun. The woman places her hand on her heart and – ‘Ah!’ – her teeth flash as she gasps.

‘My man,’ says the man on the lounger, clicking his fingers. ‘Over here.’

The woman slips the fruit into her mouth.

‘Of course,’ says the waiter, smiling. The red splodge on the pocket of his shirt is the hotel’s logo: a mermaid sitting sadly on a rock. ‘Another beer, sir?’

Everyone smiles.

The budgie-smuggler shakes his head. ‘This boy,’ he says, ‘he’s been standing there for the last five minutes. Hasn’t said a thing.’

‘I see,’ the waiter says.

A crucifix hangs at the waiter’s neck. His nose is long and straight, like a statue’s. He is tall and strong and has very white teeth but his eyes are too close together. ‘Hey lil’ man,’ he says, walking over, smiling so wide the creases reach his ears. ‘You looking for your mother? You want me to try and call her?’

Jackson squints. Sweat pours down his forehead and stings his eyes. ‘She doesn’t have a phone,’ he says. ‘People call her all the time and she hates it. I went to tell Frank, but he’s playing with a monkey.’

The waiter frowns and sticks his lower lip out. ‘There’s no monkeys here.’

Jackson explains about the crèche.

‘Ahhhhh, sea sea sea – your baby brother! I remember now.’ Spanish people love the sea, they say it all the time. ‘Well, let me think.’ The waiter taps his chin with a finger. ‘Ah, I saw your father this morning. He bought a snorkel from Reception.’

Jackson nods. ‘That was before.’

When the waiter squats beside him, the muscles on his lower legs bulge. He smells of lemon peel, soap, and sweat.

‘Why don’t you come with me,’ the waiter says. ‘We’re gonna do a search. I’m sure she’s not far.’

(…)

Fitz Carraldo Editions