Category: Fiction

An Extract: Moving Kings

From Joshua Cohen's new book out today
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An extract from Joshua Cohen’s new book Moving Kings, published today:

DAVID
(In Distraint)

Ye shall know them by their vehicles: those blue trucks that’re always cutting you off on your way to the airport, sides emblazoned with grimy white crowns, dinged bumpers stickered GOT A PROBLEM WITH MY DRIVING? CALL 1-800-212-KING!

Ye shall know them by their ads: on basic cable and drivetime radio, those billboards that’re always blocking the signs and making you miss the airport turn, with their offers of free estimates over the phone and 100% money back guarantees.

Or maybe, like more than 180,000 other satisfied customers served in all five of the boroughs and three neighboring states since 1948, you know them as the Courtly Couriers®, or the Royal Treatment Pros®, or the Removalists with the Regal Touch™—whom you’ve let into your home, to move your most precious possessions to your new home, or else to one of their six 24-hour, security-monitored, climate-controlled storage facilities conveniently located throughout the New York Metropolitan Area.

Or maybe, whatever you know is wrong, because you’ve just been reading their online reviews.

King’s Moving (David King, President, Spokesman, Container of Crises, Stresses, & the Distrained) was a licensed, bonded, limited-liability insured large small business that specialized in—one guess—moving … ’n’ storage … ’n’ parking … ’n’ towing … ’n’ salvage … ’n’ scrap, activities that demanded the bloodsweat of plus/minus 40 fulltime and 60 parttime employees, 50 vehicles, three lots, five garages, six 24-hour, security-monitored, climate-controlled storage facilities conveniently located throughout the New York Metropolitan Area—not to mention a headquarters in Jersey City, hard by the piers.

Above all, King’s Moving was a family business. Family owned, family operated. Family, family, family… Take that into account, Your Honor…

 

It was summer, toward the weekend of a holiday week—Moving Day (last day of the month, first day of the month), followed by Independence Day—and David King was out in the Hamptons at a birthday party for America, to which he’d been invited as a member of the Empire Club, which had required attendees to donate upwards of $4K for the privilege of drinking diluted booze and eating oversauced BBQ under the auspices of the New York State Republican Committee.

Inviting him to a party and then making him pay: that was class. That was how billionaires stayed billionaires.

And David, who’d resented even the toll to the Long Island Expressway, couldn’t help but wonder whether he’d met $4K worth of people yet—he couldn’t help valuating everything: the people, the property, the Victorianized manse shadowing the pool. His phone was vibrating again in his pocket.

He canceled the call—he was working.

He was working by attending a party at which he didn’t know anyone, or knew only that he recognized: names, faces, profiles.

It was work having to restrain himself from mentioning mergers he’d only read about, acquisitions that weren’t his, a celebrity stranger’s divorce/custody negotiations still ongoing—having to endure discussions of clean ocean and beach replenishment initiatives, when all he wanted to know was: daughter or wife? when all he wanted to know was: does anyone know where our hostis? It was work pretending he blended, he mixed, pretending he wasn’t sweating and had a second residence of his own and was a Hamptons vet and agreeing yes hasn’t the Meadow Lane heliport gotten so crowded lately? and yes isn’t Ray from Elite Landscapers just the best?

Because the fact remained that David had never been this far out on the Island before and not only couldn’t he tell you which of the Hamptons he was in, he couldn’t even tell you the number of Hamptons, or the differences between the Hamptons, or what made a Hampton a Hampton, singular, to begin with.

“Hope we’re not keeping you?” a lady said.

David said, “Come again?”

“You keep checking your phone.”

“I’ve got foreign business, never stops. It’s already July 5th somewhere.”

And he excused himself from that bezant of lawn and its assembly of skinny flagpole women flying dresses in red, white, and blue.

Ruth, his office manager, had been calling without leaving messages. Now she was gibberish txting: sorry sorry bill sick have take bill jr bball practice.

And then: anyway not finding passcard.

David made his way among tents, buffet tables of chafing and carving and bars—the trick was to keep on the move.

Kids—put David around kids and he’d fantasize about having them and only then would he recall that he had a daughter, who was an adult now—the kids were having their faces smeared native with warpaint. They bounced around on a giant inflatable galleon, parried and thrust with balloon swords.

A breeze blew in with the dung of elephant rides.

He moved among servers who made $8.75 an hourand so who made about 14 cents, 14.5833 cents, he did the figures in his head, for each minute it took them to carve him primerib or fix him a scotch or direct him and his menthols to a smoking area.

Conversations collected, as they were conducted, in circles. About stocks, about realestate, stocks. About renovations and how draining it was to open a house for the season. Apparently, to have two houses meant always neglecting one of them, at least. About alarm systems, sprinkler systems, sump pumps, white vs. black mold. About politics.

David’s politics were aspirational, inferior: he was in favor of contacts, contracts, the right to not diet, and the right to jump lines at dessert stations.

David King was a man who if a longtime employee flaked on a commitment on short notice because her exhusband was too ill to take their son to a baseball practice that wasn’t even hardball but actually softball, or if his primerib came closer to medium than to the already spineless concession that was medium rare, or if his Dewar’s 18 turned out to be Dewar’s 15 or 12 or God forbid came with an icecube or even just an extra splash of water, or if the line for the dessert station was moving so indecisively slowly that his icecream would melt before he got to the toppings he liked—it wasn’t his fault that he was so decisive about his toppings—he’d scream, he’d have a conniption, and yet once he’d fudged his sundae with a cherry atop he had all the attention, all the guilty sated childlike attention, for being lectured by an Ivy League B student on the new model Gulfstreams (though David didn’t have his own plane), the best sailing routes (though David didn’t have his own boat), the best steeplechase courses (David didn’t even have a pony), how New York State was the most regulated statein the union, the state with the highest taxes, the state with the highest energy costs, the highest fuel costs, the highest insurance premiums, and a convoluted body of tort law that made even the Nazi justice system seem unbiased and lenient, and how so and so was really the only candidate to bet on, so and so the only candidate who had real plans both for the Middle East and for midsized American businesses (our composited Ivy League B student apparently knew his audience)—the only candidate who was legitimately “Pro-Growth,” and that was the line, or the jargon, that struck him, and brought to mind the image of a small modest neat building, like some fourfloor prewar walkup in the Village, which with every vote for a Republican grew taller by the floor, until it became this big shiny tower that clockhanded all of Manhattan, and then, by association, his mind flashed below his belt, which was on its last notch, and below his gut, which hung like a panting tongue over it, to his bloodless dick, which—as if his heart had betrayed the party platform, “Pro-Growth”— dangled limp and useless.

(…)

Isadora

An excerpt in Guernica from Amelia Gray's new novel
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Amelia Gray’s new novel Isadora is based on the life of dancer and choreographer Isadora Duncan. This excerpt in Guernica explores the childhood of one of Duncan’s mentors, Max Merz. 

The story of a Viennese boy who became a German man, thanks in unlikely part to Benjamin Franklin.

When Max Merz was a boy, he wanted nothing more than to grow up to become an intellectual. He was ten years old when he first had this idea, studying English under the casual tutelage of an American student who found in Max an eager pupil and extra income every other weekend at the Merz family grocery. To teach the boy clauses and tense shifts, the student loaned him a copybook featuring the writing of Benjamin Franklin. The words were designed to be traced, to hone penmanship rather than theory, but Max found utility in both. And so his very first experience with philosophy came to him in a new language. Florid and lush, Franklin’s paragraphs bloomed in his own hand, the central tenets half obscured by his own understanding but slowly revealing themselves, the curtain drawing aside.

He began to take an immodest pleasure in his book each night, arranging himself by the lamp and touching the silver nib of his pen gently to his lips as a serious scholar might before tracing Franklin’s words with passion and vigor, pausing at times as if he were inventing the ideas and then noting them swiftly, before they flew away. He repeated the action, laying sheet after sheet of parchment over the original and tracing until the words were etched onto the page.

Max loved the feeling of writing more than the process of thinking, and it was immaterial to him that the words he put down were not his own. He copied another page from memory, daydreaming of long nights at the dinner tables of his future professors at university. He would communicate with these men as equals and love them as brothers. Late into these intellectually rousing nights, the professors’ young wives would pour themselves another thimble of port and smile at Max with the same tender look of sentimental pride they had once given their husbands.

(…)

A Story About a Parasitic Relationship

“Together” by Jess Arndt, recommended by Justin Torres for Electric Lit
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Jess Arndt’s short story “Together”, with an introduction by Justin Torres for Electric Lit.

An Introduction by Justin Torres

Jess Arndt is a great prose stylist — but what does that mean? Well for one thing, it means Arndt writes with such poetry and such precision, that the force of the communication damn near knocks you over. The sentences turn, open, and crash down on you unexpectedly, rhythmically, like waves. Great style has something to do with surfaces, but that’s not all I mean when I say Arndt is a great stylist. I mean, too, that the pace and pull of this story — and really, every story in Large Animals — works something like an undertow. At the beach as child, I remember being warned about undertow and thinking, how could it be, amidst all the foam and roar and sparkle of the ocean’s surface, that an even stronger churning went on below? But that’s exactly the experience of reading Arndt: first mesmerized by the beautiful noise of the language, then knocked down, and dragged out to another, underwater world.“Together” is a story precisely about the churning going on beneath the surface — about the awful lot going on inside each of us. Arndt reminds us that physically, psychically, we are processes; we are happening all the time. The life of both mind and body is defined by an awesome and constant churning. And outside, in our backyards, our neighborhoods, our neighbors, our lovers and bosses — the churning continues. Places and people seduce, destroy, remake us in their undertow. What we would like to understand as form — the backyard, the body — is phenomena. What we would like to understand as impermeable is always susceptible to parasitic invasion. Instability is the shared condition of life. This is a thing we know, but the knowledge quickly stales, or we are distracted from the knowledge, or narcotized, or placated with straighter, more genteel notions I can think of no better description for the transformative power of Arndt’s stories — willful.

Reading Arndt, I was reminded of Genet, and reminded specifically of Sontag’s description of Genet, in “On Style.” “He is recording, devouring, transfiguring his experience. In Genet’s books, as it happens, this very process itself is his explicit subject; his books are not only works of art but works about art.” Sontag goes on to connect style, above all, to will: “The complex kind of willing that is embodied, and communicated, in a work of art both abolishes the world and encounters it in an extraordinary intense and specialized way.” I can think of no better description for the transformative power of Arndt’s stories — willful. I suppose it’s a particular kind of lineage, a particular kind of will I’m getting at, when talking about Sontag talking about Genet, and also talking about Arndt — I suppose it’s something like the will of the lover, the will of the parasite, the will of the undertow; I suppose I am talking about the will to queer the world.

Justin Torres Author of We the Animals

Together by Jess Arndt

We had it together but we also had it when we were apart. We got it in that comedor in Oaxaca, we both agreed. Or maybe it was that little town, just a few palapas actually and a beach with a deceptive number of black dogs, called San Angelino. But it’s also quite possible that we had gotten it on the subway. Don’t forget about a head of lettuce! our naturopath said. They caravan those heads in from anywhere imaginable. And water these days — it’s no good washing with it.We made a list of what was now okay and what wasn’t. Sugar, yeast, all the essentials — out. Enter: lines and lines of herbaceous esophagus-jamming pills we swallowed noon dinner and night.

(…) 

Triptych: Texas Pool Party

Namwali Serpell for Triple Canopy
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A three-part fiction on the 2015 McKinney, Texas, pool party incident, in which a white police officer was filmed tackling and restraining a 15-year-old black girl.

Summertime

Easy does it, do it easy. It’s summertime. The bell rings, school’s out. The weather’s fine. The summer’s a natural afrodisiac. The guys are out hunting, the ladies are wearing less, checking out the fellas, deciding who’s next. The kids are flirting, too: the boys messing round with the girls playing double dutch, girls giggling like their bodies are full of bubbles. Even old folks are dancing, reminiscing on bliss, talking about the growing-up days, the first one they kissed. The smell of the barbecue, the tilt of the sun can spark a flash from the past—just like that. Yeah, you already know.

Meat grilling. DJ spinning. It’s a birthday cookout at the park across from Tatyana’s spot in McKinney. Everybody rolls up looking real fine, fresh from the barbershop, fly from the beauty shop. Bright T-shirts, jeans dark and crisp, sneaks so white they squeak on your eyes. Dudes standing around, still as ice. Girls shaking all over, moving to the music, tossing their braids, talking all coy over their shoulders. I’m gonna make you tremble. I’m gonna get you shook. The heat rises up, sings against the skin. Clothes fall off, swimsuits blossoming from beneath, in colors as neon and elaborate as the sunset to come. We dance and we dance. All of this beauty, all of this rolling, dipping brown flesh, like desert dunes in the shadow or desert dunes in the sun.

When we say dime or honey, we mean silver and gold, because summer is conspiring to make everything glint like coin. Sunshine adorns our lip-glossed lips, our bare shoulders and brows. We shine. You can see tracks glisten in the thick of that weave, you can see sweat mingle with the vaseline on those edges. Flashy phones in our hands like accessories or weapons. Chains bright enough to dazzle. Belt buckles and rings. Bottles sitting in crushed ice like broken glass. Bottles and bottles. Ice on ice. You want a splash? Wanna spark up? Snip, ftz, flame, lit. Damn, I’d hit that. (I want to kiss you on your collarbone.) Yeah, he kinda cute. (I want you inside of me.)

(…)

Kalisto Tanzi by Jana Beňová

Translated from the Slovak by Janet Livingstone, for Asymptote
Seeing People Off

An extract from award-winning Slovakian writer Jana Beňová’s new novel, Seeing People Off. Translated from the Slovak by Janet Livingstone, appearing in the April 2017 issue of Aysmptote.

Elza. Together we ate grapes and washed them down with rosé. The next day I discovered a moist grape stem in my pocket. It looked like an undecorated Christmas tree. 

Kalisto Tanzi vanished from the city, which had been hit by a heat wave. The heat radiated from the houses and streets burning people’s faces, and the scorching town seared its brand onto their foreheads. 

I stopped in front of the theater window so I could read Kalisto’s name on the posters and confirm to myself that he did actually exist. I enjoy pronouncing his name, which tormented him throughout childhood and puberty and only stopped annoying him after my arrival. I walk slowly to the other end of the city, the muscles in my legs shake slightly in the hot air. It’s noon. The only things on the planet that are really moving are drops of sweat. They run down to the base of the nose and then spurt out again under my hair. 

I’m going to buy poison. 

Ian saw a rat in the crapper last night. 

The rat-catcher has a wine cellar underneath his store. Underground we escape the unbearable heat and drink. He’s telling me how intelligent the rats are. 

“They have a taster, who tastes food first. When it dies, the others won’t even touch the bait. So we now offer the next generation of rat bait. The rat only begins to die four days after consuming the poison. It dies from internal bleeding. Even Seneca confirmed that this sort of death is painless. The other rats think their compatriot has died a natural death. But even so, if several of them die in a short time, they’ll evaluate the place as unacceptable because of the high mortality rate and move elsewhere. This gift of judgment is completely missing in some people, or even whole nations.” 

(…)

Predicting the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Bradley Sides for Electric Lit
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Bradley Sides takes a look at this year’s contenders for American literature’s most prestigious prize

Considering how unpredictable the past few months have been, it seems almost unreasonable to even attempt to predict the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. But, at a time when books — and all of our arts, really — are facing such scrutiny, shouldn’t we take every chance we get to talk about and celebrate those things that inspire us and, in so many ways, enrich our lives? I certainly think so.

At a time when books — and all of our arts, really — are facing such scrutiny, shouldn’t we take every chance we get to talk about and celebrate those things that inspire us and enrich our lives?

The Pulitzer Prize, which honors the year’s best fiction by an American writer that deals with some aspect of American life, is the Oscar of the literary world. It’s the rare literary occurrence that garners news attention; it’s the book award that results in real sells. Some Pulitzer winners are household names. William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, and Junot Diaz are all past winners. But, just like with the Oscars, there are occasional surprises that cause shock and delight. For example, few people (seriously, “few” is extremely generous) predicted in 2010 that Paul Harding would win the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Tinkers. It’s commonly known that Tinkers, published by the small Bellevue Literary Press, sold only around 40 copies the week before it won the Pulitzer. In the week following the announcement, Harding’s novel sold over one thousand copies. For every Tinkers-level surprise, there are also some decisions that aren’t so great. In 2012, the Pulitzer jury nominated David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, and Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!, but the Pulitzer board couldn’t agree on a winner. So, we were left with nothing. Talk about a bummer.

I don’t think this year will be like 2012. There’s too much at stake. The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction seems especially crucial in 2017. Every novel and short story collection that I read felt important, and even more that that, these works of fiction felt urgent. Reading fiction teaches us empathy in ways that nothing else can, and, my friends, we NEED empathy now more than ever.

Reading fiction teaches us empathy in ways that nothing else can, and, my friends, we NEED empathy now more than ever.

In looking over some of the hundreds of worthy works that could be nominated, I’m amazed at the quality of work writers gave us over the past year. There were meticulously-constructed debuts, and there were epic tomes by some of today’s most established and respected authors. Comedies and speculative works received notice alongside family dramas and redemption tales. Most importantly, diversity came to the forefront of the conversation. It’s certainly true that we have a long way to go, but writers in 2016 told stories that couldn’t have been told before. These voices were simultaneously brave and bold. We can only hope that future Pulitzer contenders will enlighten us and inspire us just the same.

(…)

From Im Stein to Bricks and Mortar

Katy Derbyshire on translating Clemens Meyer
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Translating a book title is rarely an easy feat. Think of Die Verwandlung, rendered as either Metamorphosis or The Metamorphosis – do we need that definite article or not? The first two translations into German of Crime and Punishment were entitled Raskolnikow, followed by many called Schuld und Sühne (meaning something like “guilt and atonement”), then in the 1920s a couple of Verbrechen und Strafe (“crime and punishment”), then a spate of either Raskolnikow or Schuld und Sühne or variations on the two, and back to Verbrechen und Strafe in Svetlana Geier’s most recent iteration from 1994. The shorter and more meaningful a statement, the more difficult it can become to capture it faithfully in another language. And there are few short statements that hold more meaning than book titles.

Clemens Meyer’s Im Stein is one of those conundrums. It’s a long novel, 654 pages in English, with a short title. Two words, two strong beats, not a common phrase but immediately clear. The literal meaning is easily rendered: in the stone. But to my mind, the obvious choices rock and stone are tainted words in English, hackneyed and dulled by overuse in popular culture:

The Sword in the Stone

The Rolling Stones

Rolling Stone

Like a Rolling Stone

Stone cold sober

Sticks and stones

A stone’s throw

Between a rock and a hard place

Rock ‘n’ roll

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Rock around the Clock

Punk rock

Dad rock

Brighton Rock

Crocodile Rock

Jingle Bell Rock

And so on, very possibly ad infinitum.

I knew I didn’t want either of those words to anchor my translation, to drag it down from vaguely mystical to banal. But what to do? The novel plays on different kinds of stone – the bedrock of the city in which it’s set, gemstones, brick walls – all of which can be called “stein” in German, at least in the elastic way that Meyer uses language. For a while, the working title was Hearts Like Diamonds, a phrase used frequently in the book to sum up women working in prostitution. I liked that it brought those women into sharp focus, but it had the distinct disadvantage of sounding like a romance novel. Which the book is not, by a long shot.

One of the less literal meanings with which Meyer imbues the word Stein is that of real estate. If the novel has a main character other than the city itself and the rock being drilled into beneath it, then it’s AK, a football hooligan turned property magnate who lets apartments to prostitutes. It’s his move into “bricks and mortar” that takes him from providing security services for the sex trade – muscle – to providing shelter and infrastructure – stone, if you like. And that was the mental leap I needed. Once I hit on it, I went back through the translation to sow seeds for my title, adding flourishes to the prose where I felt it could take it. This is the kind of writing that can take it, so we now have sentences like this:

The music echoes across the bricks and mortar, through the rock and stones.

Or like this:

And if you think back to those years between time and stream, between bricks and mortar, between rock and hard place, there’s no way back and that’s a good thing too, even though things are hotting up again now; there weren’t any apartments or luxury girls back then, or as good as none.

Or like this:

The markets and marketplaces are becoming more and more linked, steel and concrete town halls, the meat markets expanding, the bricks and mortar, sticks and stones, the rock growing, in a red-lit circle where everything’s linked, the rubbish truck, the fat woman, the Coke, the Viagras, the blockers, uppers and downers, lost cats, the right to sexual self-determination, scraps of memory like old police badges, the Angels on their motorbikes, peat mosses, flyovers, sixty-six municipal brothels in 1865, trade chronicles, he burrows in the old files, real estate on silver strings leading all the way to Italy, and the fall of the real-estate boss Silvio Lübbke, three bullets, boom, boom, Dead Peepers Alley, houses for pocket money, clues, clues, the country air so clean and pure, soon they’ll be building here but we’ll stop the diggers, the question is, who brings three bodies out to this mire, this swamped puddle, where everyone knows they won’t decompose, when you can dig holes in the sandy ground of the heath or drive out to forest lakes like the ‘Blue Eye’, and there must be anglers there who discover the remotest of lakes, the woods arching around the north-eastern belt of the suburbs and incorporated villages to the south, all of it flat as a pancake.

Clemens himself still isn’t keen because there are other books with the same title, so this piece is partly a defence of my choice. But I stand by it, for several reasons. Firstly, the stone is still there under the surface, even though it’s now clearly manmade, one meaning standing in for all the others. The phrase is something I can imagine all of the book’s characters using, something earthy and real. More important though is the sound: it still has two beats, Bricks and Mortar. Still short and sharp – a trochaic rhythm, I’m told. And when I pronounce my title – and it feels like my title, because I had to fight for it a little bit – it comes out in my accent, which is from London, and I hear a secret echo of rhyming slang concealing one woman, at least. There’s a daughter gone missing in the book, too, and so my title is for her.

Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead

Olga Tokarczuk in Granta magazine
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An excerpt of Olga Tokarczuk’s 2009 novel Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead, transated from the Polish, has been published in Granta magazine:

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 an ambulance having to take me away in the Night.

Had I examined the Ephemerides that evening to see what was happening in the heavens, I wouldn’t have gone to bed at all. Meanwhile I fell very fast asleep; I helped myself with an infusion of hops, on top of which I took two valerian pills. So when in the middle of the Night I was woken by hammering on the door – violent, immoderate and by that token boding ill – I couldn’t come to. 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 I were on the point of losing consciousness. Unfortunately it happens to me lately, and is to do with my Ailments. I had to sit down and repeat to myself several times: I am at home, it is Night, someone’s banging on the door, and only then did I manage to get a grip on 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 to himself. Downstairs, in the cubbyhole for the electrical meters, I’ve got the disabling gas Dizzy gave me because of the poachers, and that was what I was now thinking about. I managed in the darkness 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 the neighbour, whom I call Maladroit. He was pulling around him the tails of the old sheepskin coat I sometimes saw him wearing as he worked by the house. From under the coat his legs protruded in striped pyjamas and heavy hiking boots.

‘Open up,’ he said.

With undisguised astonishment he cast an eye at my linen suit (I sleep in something Mr & Mrs Professor wanted to throw away last summer, which reminds me of a fashion from long ago 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 struck dumb with shock; without a word I pulled on my tall snow boots and threw on the first fleece to hand off the nearest hanger. Outside, in the stream of light falling from the porch lamp, the snow was changing into a slow, sleepy shower. Maladroit stood beside 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 angel wings.

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

He generally doesn’t say much. He must have Mercury in a silent 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 which reminds us every winter that the world was not created for Man, and for at least half a year it shows us how very hostile it is to us. The frost brutally assailed our cheeks, and white clouds of steam came streaming from our mouths. The porch light went out automatically and we walked across the crunching snow in total darkness, except for Maladroit’s headlamp, which pierced the pitch dark in one shifting spot, just ahead, as I toddled along in the Murk behind him.

‘Haven’t you got a torch?’ he asked.

Of course I had one, but I wouldn’t be able to find it until morning, by the light of day. It’s always true of torches that you can only see them in the daytime

(…)

They Told Me the Story From the Lighthouse

Chimene Suleyman in the White Review
Cinque Ports Arms Dreamland Hall Side Margate 600 x 421

Chimene Suleyman’s fiction contribution to the White Review in April 2012:

I found Margate watching the sea and I walked the streets thinking they had left it sometime in the 70s, like an old street sign hanging pleadingly over shut cafes. It was an old stand-up comedian who had been successful; lived a rock and roll lifestyle; pissed away his money on hookers and gambling; become an alcoholic; and performed the same routine from ’79 in the backs of pubs to old men who all wished they could disappear.

 It was a wonderful place. My bag was small, not enough clothes for the time there, and a playlist of Stevie Nicks in my ears that soundtracked the walk up the seafront. Out of place Fleetwood Mac posters, too small for the cases they were in, too old to be hanging along the railings. The B&Bs shouldered each other, grey cream grey again. A pretty town – full of fish and chip shops that didn’t open, and Mayfair packets chased down the road by wind. Spring hadn’t come, which was fair enough, given that the fat woman with the red dyed hair was stood outside Dreamland in a red vest top, shrugging off the grey sky.

 The pub served whiskey and cokes that I took my time with, watched one eye on the football score on the screen across from my head. It felt like a holiday. No real worry for my things, which I left across my seat when I stood out front of the pub smoking, listening to people who knew each other, talk. When the pub shut, drunker than I wanted to be, I walked towards the seafront to the line of B&Bs that stood mostly empty. I rang the doorbell, and the Lebanese man turned the key on the other side of the glass door, opening it. Just him and his wife, and a small child that smelt of shit who turned circles in what should have been their living room. A brown desk and an old computer in the corner as their reception area.

 – You waiting for somebody? – No. I tell him. – You shouldn’t wait for anyone, he says, – no one is worth it. – No, I say, – it’s just me. – No dirty weekend? he says. – No. – That’s ok, he says, – it’s ok to be here alone, he says, – it’s ok. I paid, took my keys and followed him up to the second floor, where the clean double bed was all I wanted, and the shower pissed over the toilet.

(…)

Fitz Carraldo Editions