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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

 

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)

 

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.

Random Moment (Guernica)

 

A reading by the author:

 

Your eyes, they were all wrong, your mouth as well, misplaced, not unlike those of men and women who suddenly sob or hate unknowingly, your tongue, superb knife, pride of those who step back when the job is done to have a look at their creation. Innocent as the children whose parents are dying, you grow bigger by the day, breast-fed on Macbeth’s soliloquies. There’s at least one side of you I do not know, the side that’s unaware of how I see you, the one that is as subtle as the prolonged scream of a violin abandoned in the throes of the player’s passion.

Was I supposed to notice the way you did your hair in preparation of my arrival? Because when you opened the door and the light ran out and down the stairs, and I could no longer see the way you moved, it was as if for a very long time I had been sleeping in a hole in the ground and I was suddenly awakened only to see you pulling me out. I was not struck by that instant of awakening. For a very long while I had been expecting it. What startled me was the notion that we both had hands to pull each other out, that, at a time when I had lost my faith in limbs and all was grey matter and metaphors.

And while you were speaking and sliding across the floor in your plastic chair, and the music was playing, I kept telling myself I wouldn’t allow my hands to touch you. I promised myself I wouldn’t think of your lips, that I wouldn’t turn them to language and obsession. I did, however, prepare some answers to questions such as: Why are you doing this to yourself? I had prepared a speech about them, about all of the men in my life, about how you could never be one of them. About the taxi driver who played soccer on his phone and told me he was irreparably busy, in whose house I had spent two nights, whose bony hands kept pushing my hands toward his groin while Eddie Izzard was telling jokes about vegetarian Hitler who was also a painter and couldn’t get those trees right and vouched to kill everyone in the world because of it. The taxi driver who weighed the pasta before cooking it.

About the tall gym teacher and his receding hairline, who was too young to have a receding hairline in the first place, whose mouth tasted of corn when he shoved his tongue into my mouth. The gym teacher who, out of a self-fashioned morality, told me not to call him and talked in code when I messaged him. About the man who had taken his dog for a walk and saw us making out in the car, in the parking lot by the park. About how I felt when I realized he was, in fact, looking at us. About how he turned away, embarrassed, when all I wanted to do was to get out of the car and tell him it wasn’t his fault, he shouldn’t be embarrassed. It wasn’t his fault we couldn’t express our feelings any other way.

About the forty-something guy who thought of Justin Bieber when he penetrated his uneventful lover, who was totally unaware of the fact that he, the forty-something guy, was taking me out every week to a dark parking lot by another park. He who had once told me about another quiet parking lot close to the airport and I fled knowing that, once there, we wouldn’t be watching airplanes taking off. He whose hand kept landing on my knee while I imagined scary spiders crawling up on my ankles.

About the older friend who once stood on top of me and then told me not to move while he rushed to the bathroom to wash his genitals, all of this while his companion was snoring obliviously on the other side of the bedroom wall. About how I kept my hand on his groin while we were driving up the mountains in northern Italy.

About the man who worked in a store that sold luxury handbags to wives who thought they deserved them.

About the men who had given me a ride home and whose hands lingered in a handshake. About the boy who had once kissed me on the neck out of the blue. About their eyes, and the constant nagging sensation they were just on the verge of telling me something that would change my life forever. About the fact that they never did. About the way I followed them deep into their confusion. I followed them until I finally came to understand I had mistaken their friendly interest for affection, the way one mistakes the flowered patterns of a discarded napkin for drops of menstrual blood.

Random Moment (Descent)

The shops weren’t closing, people weren’t disappearing from the streets, but the night was falling in a rush on that December evening, and I was just outside the university building having a smoke and thinking of finishing up for the day and going home. And I couldn’t take my eyes off you, glasses and jeans and shirt and fancy jacket and your way of waiting there by the garbage can on 5th Avenue, and the way the light from the streetlights fell on you and your impatience. There was that sense of recognition of you, one I could not escape whenever it occurred, that halfway point between familiarity and the acknowledged impossibility of randomness turning into significance.

And out of that crowd that travelled like wolves in packs downtown, your other half detached itself from the pack like a small rivulet and started flowing over into your direction, and you acknowledged him and he came to you and kissed you, and nobody cared about it except the two of you. I rolled my eyes at you both and at your gesture like I roll my eyes when an old woman refuses to take the seat you just offered her on the subway. Your encounter somewhat resembled the feet of a luminous creature, frail toes and all, like those of an angel, seen for a brief moment by drowning children before they are pulled out by a stranger and dragged on the shore.

The stranger was not saving the child, the child is beyond saving, the stranger was merely considerate of the parents and their investment, all of those years lost in the idiocy of a profane moment.

But then, just like the feet of that proverbial angel, frail toes and all, the two of you disappeared, and I was left floating on my cloud of smoke.

You laughed when I told you this story and said it was hilarious, too saccharine for your taste. You said you no longer believe in love. Once you had fallen in love with a guy out of boredom.

Moment Thirty-Two (Service)

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Akin to street vendors, the men aligned. They were stacked rather, according to their spatial nearness.  The whole thing resembled the universe before the Big Bang. Some of them had to elbow their way out of the crowd. Each of the users had chosen their best picture, for sure, and each of those pictures recreated a moment stolen out of their lives. An instant of happiness perhaps? Some of them were faceless, a glimpse of red underwear here, a patch of brownish skin over there, next to the guy who chose to show the picture of a sunset over Central Park instead of his face. And yet, a sense of security exuded from each of those instances displayed on the screen of his phone, the kind of security he craved for and hoped to have attained on that same dating app.

Sunday mornings were always like that: smell of unwashed sheets and sweat, the radiators hissing as if about to start moving, hellish creatures, the desperate sense that showering was necessary and that it was the only day of the week when he could have cake. Then the hand moving downwards, sliding in between his legs to caress morning erections. Just one look at those pictures was enough to unleash waves and waves of fantasies and pleasure. He wouldn’t touch the skin, no, he would merely rub his erection through his boxers and then smell his fingers when he stopped to prolong the sensation. There was some sort of pleasure to be taken out of it, in detecting that smell of urine on his fingers, one that mixed with the smell of tobacco stubbornly refusing to be washed away.

Then he would fall asleep again only to be awakened by the expectancy of that final relief. The cycle would be repeated a couple of times. There had been a time, a very long time before that, when he still believed in some sort of divine retribution and refused to masturbate on Sunday mornings when supposedly the Sunday mass would be happening. He would wait until the afternoon to do it. Those were the times when he had a laundry basket in the bathroom next to the washing machine. Those were the times when he used to clean the house on Saturday afternoon in preparation for the holiness of the next day. Those were indeed the times when he had a nightstand and a bedside lamp. He no longer did that. His dirty underwear was simply hidden from view in a plastic grocery bag under the bed. It wasn’t really a bed, it was merely a mattress placed over a metallic structure, one that resembled a beach chaise longue. The nightstand was a cardboard box that had originally housed a desk lamp. He was aware of the dust settling on his books, which were stacked not on shelves but on a make-believe fireplace, but could not find the energy or the will to do it.

Then the innocent glare of the phone.

The page refreshed automatically to reveal the newcomers, people who had logged on or created new profiles in the meantime. And there he was, the man with the beard and the round glasses staring at him from a selfie taken on what appeared to be a leather sofa. He had seen him before, but never had the courage to write to him. Because why would he be interested anyway? Nobody had ever been interested in him, except maybe for those who had no other choice and imagined themselves next to him. Never contact those who have the better looks. Contact the underdogs, those whose sense of security was often undermined by the way they looked and the way they subsequently saw themselves. He considered himself one of them, living on the outskirts of those dating apps, in the shadow of perfect abs, beautiful eyes and symmetrical faces that had just the right amount of facial hair to give them structure.

At times rage would come and turn him into a renegade. In those moments he promised it to himself not to go there anymore.

But then the man with the beard and the round glasses moved upwards, closer, and a message landed in his inbox. The man with the beard demanded to know how he was doing. Courteously, he replied that he had just woken up but he was still sleeping on his feet. That was a lie. He wasn’t on his feet; the coffee had not been brewed yet. The self-loathing that came with breakfast had not yet been served. But it was already late and so he thought he should just throw in the idea that he wasn’t one of those lazy guys who slept till noon because they had nothing better to do.

‘I woke up a long time ago,’ the man with the beard replied, ‘but still in bed lazy, under the covers, where it’s warm and cozy and nobody can see me.’ And then that ambiguous laugh. Hehe. ‘Go back to bed!’

He said it was okay. The man with the beard smiled. That man was no fun, he thought.

‘I noticed you before,’ he wrote to the man with the beard, ‘and thought you were very nice, but I never had the courage to write to you.’

‘That is very sweet of you,’ the reply came seconds after, ‘I am just an ordinary guy. I noticed you too.’

Liar.

‘I like ordinary guys,’ he told the man with the beard, ‘and I just love the fact that you are so much taller than me.’ The man with the beard and the round glasses was also older, more than ten years older, and had an air of rough maturity about him. He liked that. He was tired of all those little boys who didn’t even know how to have sex. Not that he was a master of sex, but still, a man has to have his dignity.

After they exchanged pictures and told each other how handsome they were, there came the silly question. The question wasn’t silly in itself. He had been expecting it. After all, the man’s intentions were specified in his profile. The man with the beard was looking for “clean and respectful guys, professional, no drama, quiet”, and considered himself average, more of a top, if it came to that. He was also “relationship oriented” and, more than anything, urged his fellow hunters to be polite and engage in conversation only if they were interested in having one. Honesty was also appreciated. “Cuddling?”, said the name of his profile.

‘I apologize if it’s premature’, the man with the beard said.

‘Sure, why not’, he told the man with the beard and the round glasses. He needed to get out of bed, had to get out and do something. He wanted to appear adventurous. He wanted to seem disillusioned and raw.

‘I do sleep in boxers’, the man said, ‘but I will change in pajamas. Where do you live?’

In outer space he wanted to say because where he lived was just that, a room in which he slept, a place where he simply found himself, a hiding place. He told the man an approximate address.

‘You want to come over? Or want me to come to you?’

He told the man with the beard that he had roommates, even though they were long gone to work that morning. He wanted the man to imagine these faceless roommates that wouldn’t appreciate a stranger coming into their home to cuddle with the other stranger.

‘That’s fine’, the man with the beard replied, ‘you come here then.’

The sudden materiality of the situation made him cringe. The man was serious but there was still time to back down and offer some sort of excuse. Maybe he should go back to sleep. Maybe some other day.

‘I don’t know whether I want to come out of bed right now.’

‘I know’, the tall man replied, ‘it’s a tough call.’

The man’s location popped up on the screen. It wasn’t far, but the idea of having to get up, taking a shower, and going out was simply too unappealing. He was also afraid. He had always been afraid of them. Feared their gaze and silent judgments, imagined them hating him, scorning his awkwardness. That is why excuses always had to be invented.

‘It’s alright’, the man said probably noting his hesitance, ‘maybe some other time.’ And he appreciated that. Everything sounded better when it was out there somewhere, about to happen, lost between the folds of a future tense. Beautiful things might happen in the meantime. A beautiful relationship maybe, the man of his dreams might be just around the corner.

‘Don’t sound so sad,’ he told the man with the beard, ‘it breaks my heart.’

‘I understand,’ the man replied, ‘you are all cozy in your bed, me too, and just want to sneak in and cuddle, feel the warmth of the body and relax…’

And suddenly the warmth was so real he could smell it, feel the rigidness of the body breathing next to him.

‘Isn’t that the most amazing feeling in the world?’

There was a long pause. He closed the app and returned to his erection, thinking of the warmth that the man with the beard had planted in his mind. He imagined the roughness of the man’s beard on his face and the red sores it would leave behind. He felt the numbness of the sores that would form around his mouth, that mute reminder, imagined his grunts.

Minutes later the reply came. ‘I feel it now in my mind’, the message said, ‘holding you tight.’

‘It’s like when you hear somebody else’s breath so close to you it becomes a mantra and you wish your breathing could be in sync with it.’

The tall man with the beard and the glasses agreed, it was just like that. ‘Or if you are on top of my chest, hearing my heart beat, your leg slightly over my leg, your arm over my shoulder.’

He told the man with the beard and the glasses that he needed to take a shower first and the man thought it was cool. Then, under the shower he thought of everything that had been said, and he thought he was so weak, so fucking weak.

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