The easy way out

A reading by the author:

We were in bed watching TV when we heard the loud knock on the front door. I slept in the same room with grandma and grandpa because, even at that age, I was still afraid of the monsters lurking behind the curtains at night. Grandma stood up from the bed, her white nightgown sweeping the floor, to see who it was. People in the village did not disturb their neighbors after dark unless it was an emergency. Darkness and bad news came together as if the bad news waited for the night to come in order to enter our houses. Nighttime was when fevers went up or hearts failed or stomachs burned.

There was a woman at the door. I overheard her voice, just slightly above that of the politicians complaining and arguing on TV. Then, grandma came back into the room, her hair disheveled, her head looking smaller without the flowered headscarf she usually wore throughout the day, her face unreadable in the light of the TV. She said my brother tried to commit suicide by jumping into the well of the dispensary. The woman told her that she had gone out to the well to bring in some water and there he was, climbing through the ornate wooden frame, on the verge of depriving us of his life. The woman pulled him back and he cussed at her as if she had interrupted some sort of arduous activity that required his undivided attention.

He ran away and some of the people in the village had gone after him. Grandma got dressed but grandpa did not move. He’s stupid, grandpa said, stupid to even think of doing that. I got up and dressed as well and we got out into the summer air of such sickly blue I expected to see steam coming out of my mouth. We met my brother and the woman who had stopped him where the sidewalk narrowed to make way for a patch of asymmetrical grass, by the house of the man who drowned illegitimate puppies with institutional heedlessness. And my brother seemed so small in a t-shirt whose color resembled the steam that refused to come out of my mouth.

Grandma’s robust thighs moved swiftly towards him to cover the last few feet that separated us. In her flight she cooed over my brother as if to let him know that he could have missed all this, all this love she had for him. I said something as well, something akin to the things I told him when he wasn’t doing the chores he had been assigned by mother. We brought him back home, grandma pulling him to her bosom, and put him to sleep. I did not see him look at us because I did not dare look at him, as if the suicidal gesture itself, covered in tiny black feathers, had acquired a life of its own and rolled its eyes under grandma’s heavy arm.

Rumor had it he had done it for a girl. She was a city girl and he had been dating her for a while when he saw her get into the car of another man who was much older than the both of them. You don’t do that for a woman, grandpa said, that’s stupid. When grandpa said it I thought of how grandma had to cross a river in order to marry him and how in the eyes of the villagers she had been as foreign and as subversive as a woman coming from another country. Women did that for you, they were the ones transgressing. Men had to wait and wave from the opposite shore of the river.

Brother broke up with the city girl.

But then the voices in those rumors changed and the rumors changed as well. And then it was my fault. Because the younger child always gets the spotlight while the older child had to step back and gradually recede into the darkness of the stage. I wasn’t asked to do the heavy work in the field. I was the studious one who merited the pats on the back and the congratulatory tones from the adults sitting around their coffee mugs in the afternoon when the sun was pleasant enough to permit such indulgence. My hands were soft and free of any signs of hard work. I was the one who always colored within the lines, who stayed home, who did not engage in self-destructive activities such as going to the village discotheque and getting beaten up by a bunch of drunks.

I was the one who chose the easy way out.

Architectural Design (sneak peek II)

A reading by the author:

I switched places and felt my fingernails heavy with color, as if they were conscious. I thought of touching my hair but then remembered the amount of work I had put into it and decided not to do that. Not that he cared, anyways, but it was part of my orchestrated composure. I mean, the guy was talking about his dick all the time, as if his dick was a god. He didn’t mention it casually, his dick was part of an art project. Naturally, I felt curious about the project, because then I knew it was his dick and some woman’s vagina that were featured in the collage. I hoped he would invite me to see it and deep down I knew that he would, because that’s what he was like. I could see it from the moment I had met him, at the bookshop, where I was fishing for an art album for a friend of mine. That’s when he closed in on me and the lights in the room suddenly dimmed, literally, he was towering above me, blocking the light. He said something about the art album I was looking at and I thought he was in fact talking to somebody else, so I didn’t look up. He repeated it and the way he said it seemed to dig into the texture of the day, pulling it, the way you would pull at a sweater when you take it out of the dryer. The way you would crush the fabric between your fingers to test it, to make it feel worn down. I looked up and around his head I could see a halo of stray hairs and fluorescent light.

He told me he was an artist. I didn’t feel like standing up from where I was crouching, the art album still in my hands, opened at page eighty-six. The page showed a black and white photograph of a woman’s bare thighs. It wasn’t sexually explicit. The photograph was an accumulation of curved lines to the point where you couldn’t tell whether it was a woman being photographed or an accretion of dark pigments materializing out of the latte-colored background. You couldn’t tell what color the background was, but the way the whiteness fermented underneath the surface of the photo made me think of pastel colors and milk foam. His hair was unwashed and tied into a ponytail and I felt sorry for him but I had gone for so long without human touch that he seemed human enough to me. I stood up, eventually, I must have, and I was able to look at him better, but for the rest of our time together, in the bookshop and here in the teashop, I felt as little as the woman in the photograph. An accretion of black pigments that turned out to be a woman. And he turned out to be a man. And what should a man and woman do except look for each other?

He followed me around, he stood behind me in line. He boasted about a book he had found, which was some rare book and he had had the luck to find that rarity at discount price. I thought of telling him that he hadn’t been lucky, that in fact the bookstore must have lowered the price because nobody was willing to buy the book. I did not tell him that because I thought he would leave and never come back and I wanted to feel desired. We exchanged phone numbers and he promised to call me. On the subway, while I held the art album close to my chest the way girls in American high school movies did, I thought of how badly I wanted to get rid of the album, about how the woman in the picture was always going to remind me of him, and the way he towered over me as if he was entitled to do it, as if he had a right to be the way he was. I thought of the looks we exchanged at the counter when I caught him staring at my ass. I felt this tiny black hole open up just beneath my stomach when he smiled boyishly at me after I caught him staring.

And there was that stare again, on the subway, lustfully vacant but filled with the intent of a child who thinks that if he stares long enough and intensely enough at a toy in a toy store the toy will eventually become his. But there was that dying light in the sky again and I looked at it and caught it vibrating along with the vibrations of the subway. We will collide, I thought, myself and the men around me because that is what we expect of each other. And there we were, colliding over our drinks, stubbornly believing that what was happening on the inside were private matters, believing we could abscond with our thoughts, hide them well enough to be able to say that we didn’t mean what we’ve just said. And here was his face, this fishnet of human emotions, contracting with the waves going beneath and over it. When I asked him about the ratio of the photographs of his art project something got caught in the fishnet, something as undesirable as a sea creature that doesn’t count in the final weigh in and has to be thrown back into the sea. I did my best to feign domesticity as if the feelings in his face went unnoticed. They had to go unnoticed because when I saw him waiting in front of the teashop he looked like the best version of a man. It wasn’t the long hair, which made him slightly feminine. It wasn’t the beard that appeared white in the sunlight that December morning. It was the way he waited.

Architectural Design (sneak peek)

Architectural Desing Cover (Final)I was wearing a pair of brown pants when I went to the dinner, which was a farewell dinner. But I hadn’t dressed for the dinner. I had dressed for the man who was a divorcee and had a daughter who was living with him and had made pasta for dinner. I found out about the daughter, and the son, and the distant wife only after I had sucked him off in the dark, in a forest on the hills, not far from an unfamiliar street. The place was so quiet that when he moved beneath my open mouth his pants made a deafening sound. He told the daughter that he’s not eating the pasta because eating carbs for dinner was bad practice for somebody who worked out at least three times a week and didn’t see that much of a result.

 

The farewell dinner went rather well, except for the lump in my throat that decided to rise when I started to talk in front of everybody else. Across the table from me sat a young guy, whom I had not met before and who had affable looks and manners. I hoped with all my heart that he would like the brownies I had made specifically for the farewell dinner. I spoke in English to them because that was the language I felt most comfortable with, and they danced around my comfort, being particularly foreign to the language and to my way of speaking it.

I played around, too, trying to impress them with my pronunciation. Though I was already foreign, by default, I made myself even more of an alien by showing visible strain at talking into their own language. The food on the table was layered and we took turns at guessing secret ingredients. I sensed fish in the salad but said nothing about it. I resented not saying it because then, when asked about the secret ingredient in the salad, the cook, another friend of mine, said it was something related to algae.

I couldn’t enjoy the dinner because the divorcee was coming to pick me up at my friends’ place when I was done. For once, I had somebody to think about and expect. They told me I should come later for drinks with the secret friend. I already knew I was not going to come back the moment I told them that we might stop by. In my mind, I tried to see the divorcee with my friends’ eyes and I knew they would disapprove of him. I feared they might tell me he wasn’t good enough, that I deserved better, or that he doesn’t deserve me, because that’s what friends are for, to make you feel better about yourself and worse about the choices you’ve made.

I said goodbye to everyone, including to the cute guy who sat across the table from me, who was definitely not gay but who was ambiguous and handsome enough to be one. It was a warm evening that turned into a sweeter night, just good enough for a walk around the church on the hill. There weren’t that many people around so we might have kissed at the back of the church where the light permitted us to have been just an error in the matrix or an apparition you see with the corner of your eye. We might have kissed again by the rail that stopped visitors from plummeting down the abrupt valley bellow, and I might have been disappointed by it because with every kiss I felt like my feet were moving backwards as if I was a crab taking arms against a harmless but potentially dangerous predator.

We were in the car already when he asked me whether I was still using those dating apps, specifically the one we had met on, and which was specifically a way for men to meet and have sex. He had deleted his account and wanted to know whether I was seeing other guys in the meanwhile. And there it was, I thought, this is it, the guy who is going to take me away from myself and build a safe house along the path, a house no bigger than the car and much more welcoming than the rest of the world. And we weren’t returning to the city on the same road and that road got suddenly so quiet. In that darkness in which we existed only when another car’s lights illuminated us, I asked him whether he wanted me to delete my profile on that dating app. He said he wanted me to do that but he said it only after I had deleted my profile, after I had been asked by the system whether I was sure I wanted to delete my profile. I said yes three times and he said it once, after I had said it three times. It was wedding night, the closest we came to it, and the biggest promise we could make was the promise to keep ourselves to ourselves and not seek each other’s bodies in the bodies of other men.

I asked him where we were going as the road kept getting unfamiliar and he told me not to worry, he was not going to rape me. He took a left in the middle of the road with the familiarity of a man who was returning home to his wife and kids. When the car got silent in the dark and even the small red lights on the dashboard switched off in defeat I told him about the stars above us because somewhere deep down within my guts I believed he turned off the engine so that we could enjoy the quiet of the night and the lack of light pollution. I unbuckled my seatbelt and he started to pull me against him while whispering, a whisper barely audible above the swish of his pants, that I was very beautiful. Sei così bello, he said, and I believed him because I wanted this to be it. I wanted it to be the completed version of a manuscript I had worked on for years. One that would have all the commas and the full stops in place; one without the excessive adverbs and adjectives that every writer feared.

His hand went down my back and strained against my belt. Could you loosen it up a bit? And I did, and my erection suddenly had space to move, and I could see it pushing against the brown pair of paints whenever a car passed down the road and seemed like slowing down. I imagined policemen lighting our faces with flashlights and asking us what exactly we were doing there. I thought of the excuses we would make, the kind of excuses that would be credible only to the minds of children caught red handed with the biscuit jar.

His pants were all I could hear in the silence. They were constantly moving and the sound was one with the sound of my desire. A constant hush to my racing heart and yellow-eyed fears that stood suddenly attentive to the movements of the night like restless rabbits. The pants went all the way down and I couldn’t stop but wonder why he had to do that. It seemed a prodigal gesture that made me think of his ass touching the seat of the car the way I thought of my sweat when we went running together in the park and he brought me home by the same car. He pushed my head against his erection and told me to suck it with a voice I had not heard before, the voice of men in bed, slightly above a whisper but coming from somewhere just bellow the tongue, as lascivious as a tongue click.

I said nothing when he asked me where I would like him to come and he didn’t finish, because my legs were pushing against the floor of the car as if forcing the car to move forward into the sweet darkness, above the city vibrating with knowledge. It was on our way down that he mentioned his wife and kids, his wife’s accidental pregnancy when he was barely eighteen, and the daughter who came in second and was no longer a mistake. I did not look at him on the way down. I paid attention to the trees on the side of the road that seemed like half-raised hands in a mock high-five. I wanted to go back to the farewell dinner where the men were still too ambiguous to be something other than what I wanted them to be.

But before all this, before the dinner and the brown pair of pants, before all of it, I knew we were bound to fail. I was just waiting for the right moment to say it wasn’t working, well after I had realized that it was in fact not working.

Ripe, a novel in three parts

Ripe is the first novel I ever wrote. Though I call it a novel only for the sake of a generic, if not childish, necessity. I started writing the first part in 2009 when I had just completed my undergraduate studies and spent the whole summer reading and writing. A couple of years later I wrote the second part. Then I thought the endeavor wouldn’t be complete without a third part. Since it’s a novel about the painful process of acquiring maturity and of discovering oneself I thought a third part would close the circle, and close it for good.

Ripe is also a novel about the nature of light. I’ve always been fascinated with the textures of light, its whims, the way it often appears as a mood rather than a stream of rays. But more specifically, it’s a novel about how different people have different light around them. Some of my characters appear in a golden light and some of them have no light at all. There are mirrors and beds around these characters, windows, closets, a mental geography that has stayed with my writing and with me since then.

There’s no structure to this novel, it does not follow a narrative except the one you could deduce from what’s being said. The structure is the novel itself, there’s no chronological order but episodes coming from different moments of my life. Ripe is an end in itself, an ax digging into the trunk of a fallen tree. It’s an attempt to reconstruct that tree, to bring it back to the exploding leaf buds, the greenery of Spring, and to force it back into that final admit of defeat, the falling.

Ripe is a novel that must be read, I think, in small doses because it might smell like gasoline, or like fresh paint. And like all of my novels, this one is dedicated to a person I can’t name directly but who has haunted my writings, whatever shape they take. All of my novels, in fact, are a prolonged apology to that particular person.

You can download the full version, for free, here: ripe-a-novel-in-three-parts

The effete, novel and social category

10352397_10201907955522302_8911305111952872968_nI wrote The Effete, a novel set in an utopian community on the outskirts of an unknown city, in 2013, and for the first time in my writing career I was experimenting with names. I don’t usually give names to my characters because most often I’m afraid that people who know me will be able to recognize themselves in the things I write about. By not using names, I also want to maintain the widest aperture to the reader, let him or her do part of the work of fiction, fill in the blanks, as well as liberate my characters of a certain excess of interpretation. From this point of view, The Effete is different: though there are no more than a couple of characters, they have a name, they are identifiable. The very title of the novel is a name in itself, one describing a social category. In the Theatür, the motherly company that in the end becomes a way of life and a metaphor for the reality that I myself have been experiencing for quite a while, “the effete” are those who have been expelled from the ranks of presumably “normal” human beings and who have sought refuge in a world where they are being told exactly what they are. No embellishments, no fancy language, the effete know where they stand. The rest is variation. And love.

The Effete is now available for free download here: the-effete-2016.

Enjoy!

Happy Burden

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Hybrid Species

 

The moment I sat at the computer to write about the day, add significance to it so as to make it more meaningful, less resentful, I heard its strained whisper. I saw it. I watched it as it stretched like a sleepy cat inside the hands and feet of my mother and father after my brother and his wife, and his dog, had eaten their share of the birthday cake that was so cyclic so as to bring back memories of the one from last year, and left. I overheard it in the indistinct babble floating like a cloud above the background TV music and coming from the kitchen at the far end of the hallway. I sensed it in the way mother was loading the dishwasher, and in the way father sighed. That silent expectancy, the hope that had been, at one point in the past, sentenced to death and was now inching closer to the scaffold.

There had been no candles, no pictures were taken, as if, deep down, we didn’t wish for the moment to be memorized in any way. The cake was a proof of that. None of us seemed to have the emotional energy to light the candles and watch father make a wish before blowing them out. What was there to wish for anyway? When a toast was finally given and the glasses clinked my sister-in-law sighed and I knew what she meant by that. I didn’t say anything, just raised my glass, brimming with still water, and pushed it against the other glasses and hoped to be covered by the sound of their good wishes. I knew perfectly well what she meant by that when she got out of the kitchen to grab her coat and her eyes were glassy and slow, as if she had cried or was about to. She sighed again and whispered something about shitty lives while she lovingly stroked their panting, carefree dog.

It was then that I suddenly felt huge and disgusting, incapable of acting, and I felt I was being blamed for something. Not something I had done personally but something I was a part of, something I had unconsciously condoned. I knew she was condemning us and, by extension, I knew she had tutored my brother into blaming us as well. I saw it in the way he took the money when it was handed to him by my father, in the way he told his usual stories this time calibrated to a nervous tone, and punctuated by nervy bursts of laughter.

And somehow I understood them perfectly well, and I was aware of the things that were not being said, the way a child is aware of his parents’ lying. But I wouldn’t have been able to articulate that understanding had I been asked to do it. It was then that I wanted to make my disgust apparent, turn it into a knife and threaten all of them, my thirst for blood and vindictiveness dancing playfully at the back of my tongue. There it gurgled like the beginning of laughter and descended into my guts only to heighten my nausea. It had been pacing back and forth ever since that morning.

It had nestled there and yet every morning I chose to ignore it. But that day, when me and my mother sat at the kitchen table to chop the boiled potatoes and the carrots, and the pickled cucumbers, I had vowed to it that I was going to finally release it. I told it that the day had finally come and that it wasn’t too selfish of me to do it on that particular day. It felt as if I had irrevocably decided to make an offering in the shape of a birthday gift to both my parents: a truth wrapped in the showily expensive paper of disappointment.

There, at the kitchen table, a yellowish potato in her hands, mother had talked of death and the weight of solitude, and of past kitchen adventures, and that whole speech felt like a landing strip on which I simply had to parachute myself and hope for the best. But I kept swallowing the words and pushing them back, and shoved salad and mayonnaise down my throat to muffle the moans. Then mother started peeling the mushrooms and cutting the prosciutto into small chunks and I had to remove myself from the room and pretend I had some work to do on my computer. When I got back to the kitchen mother began her usual speech about my brother and his wife and their financial problems. About the bank loan that had gone unpaid and had been forgotten for more than eight years. About the admonitions one of the bank managers had issued during my brother’s last visit to the bank, and about the trip to England my brother took to meet a woman he had met online. The money had been spent on that trip but, my mother assumed, my brother was too ashamed to confess it to his wife. Nothing had come out of that long-distance relationship and women from the past had to stay in the past. That particular woman, who had in fact spent a couple of days during Christmas at my grandparents’ house, stayed in the past but the forgotten bank loan kept returning, ever more threatening.

I wanted to tell mother that I would never do something like that. No women would loom over and threaten our domestic contentment, not only because I had never made any bank loans to appear financially stable, but also because there had been no women in my past. There were no such men either. This last bit of information was an essential part of the argument I had prepared for the day. Yes, something was off in my case, something was wrong, but I had chosen not to act upon that wrongness. I had not indulged my craving for the bodies of other men, I had not promised my love to anyone. There was no boyfriend, no love affair. Tentatively, I also wanted to add to it the promise that I would never ever indulge that craving because happiness was not something I saw myself attaining. It was something I could live without. This final part felt like a closing excuse, I knew it, one last attempt at preparing them for the transition, pacify them, help them sleep at night.

The words returned when my brother left, after all the sighs had been uttered, and they lingered there on my tongue, watchful, their eyes gleaming like those of an animal in hiding. The taste of them made me walk around the apartment. They made me sit on the chair for which there was no space at the kitchen table. They made me follow the edges of the wooden cupboard in the kitchen with my fingers. Even long before that, while the men were still chatting over beers and the cake looked even gloomier, my prepared speech came back bulkily, furiously, screaming at me when I had finished that last cigarette and I was getting back into the kitchen from the balcony. And while my right foot was still suspended over the threshold I had a vision of their future faces: mother would look like she was about to burst into laughter, my sister-in-law would be smiling, and both my father and brother would be frowning, deeply, a frown akin to that necessary when tedious work was performed. They wouldn’t know, of course, that maybe I had built a life around this ultimate shedding of light, that I had built a career around it, that I had carefully avoided all of those classic mistakes so that no reproach could be issued when the time came.

Yet, once I was back inside, the speech subsided, or rather it was covered by all those sighs and the knowledge and the guilt that came with them. There was still time for certain words to be spoken. Phone calls came in between, additional birthday wishes, and mother filled the silence with a conviction I came to recognize as not her own but an echo of my father’s. A conviction tinged with negligence almost, and a blind faith into everything my father said and did. Somehow, I knew they wouldn’t react, and I was almost sure that in their solitude, or when I wasn’t in the same room with them, they would smile at the thought, at my inappropriateness, at my unspeakable transgression. And maybe, later on, when the bitter medicine settled on the bottom of the glass, they would reconsider my brother’s transgressions, and think that maybe they weren’t so bad after all.

Random Moment (Guernica II)

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Björn Griesbach

 

A reading by the author:

 

Seeing the world through the eyes of a fish you see me in ways and colors I could not see myself, stolen from the world, perched on the mountains of my mind, my left hand raised not to catch a glimpse of the sun but to hold on to the entrails of my beautiful gods. Against their ruins I throw my own body to deface it, make it resemble something you could have feelings for. Today, I make myself ugly, awakened, as leeches are, by the smell of the pulsating warm limbs of mindless children, just to give you reasons to uphold your lack of nerve. For once, let your blood talk. Because nobody has ever had the courage to tell me they loved me and you are no different.

I often wonder whether it’s a question of time, or timelessness. Do you postpone your words, promise to utter them tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow? Because when I look up I can only sense the narrowness of a breathing tube, its transparency made to resemble that of swimming jellyfish. The narrowness that curbs upwards like the momentary thrust of anticipation. The narrowness that then plunges downwards and curls into itself, struggles to reach the tiny mouth of a machine. Will that be the moment when you will finally say something? When the plastic lips will finally touch in a kiss bound to go on forever? Say it now, while you can still distinguish between the brownish hues of my skin and the sheets in which I sleep as in a cocoon. For once, let your blood speak, because if I speak the leeches will come out of my mouth and you will turn away, disgusted.

Then I will tell you about the sounds that come from the walls, and the way sometimes construction cranes resemble the skinny limbs of a praying mantis. What are they praying for? I’ll speak of resonance and the ground we stand on, which was once a battlefield. Of the bed we could be sleeping in. Of how I don’t want to imagine you with your back turned to me. Of how I often feel as if people are afraid of me. Is it because they know I’m afraid of their emotions? I am, in fact. But not because I’ve never went through them. It’s because whenever I see them do it I feel as if they are taking something away from me. In time, I got used to it, and started giving them everything until, at the end of the day, I would feel depleted. I gave them my dreams and kept the nightmares for myself. I offered them my hopes and they took them. I gave them my time. And I will keep doing that until you finally decide to speak.