Sunday, 31 January 2010
Miriam didn’t die in the fire. Miriam didn’t break her legs falling, plunge scars into her palms on the axed-in windowpanes, or let her flesh blister and bubble like heated clingfilm. She barely scuffed her knees clambering onto the ladder, and it didn’t quite seem fair. In hospital, they wiped the sooty mascara from her face, stole her physical manifestation of tragedy, said she could find her own way home. Now whenever she goes outside, Miriam wears the scarf she had tucked under the door. People sniff as she walks by in her reeking shroud, and she feels better, occasionally.
The girl wove through the backstreets and padded past the tall buildings, past the hawkers and laminate yellow shopfronts coated in hieroglyphics. Nobody stopped her. The streets were not empty, but there was a strange lull lying dense in the air. The late-night whee! was muted and the workers emptied lorries mechanically, passing boxes to one another like a silent conveyor belt. She stepped through them neatly with the softly-soft pad of an alley cat, brushed past their ankles and was gone. The unloading did not pause for an instant.
Somewhere in the Upper West Side of the city it began to rain dime-sized feathers of ash. They were luminescent, and swirled like beatific shoals of drugged fish. A dog-walker felt one land on her arm and it tingled like the tender nibble of a lover. She screamed. The air around her shifted slightly and the feathers danced a two-step hover. The lead whipped from her hand as she threw her arms above her face, and fled.
The weather should not have been this balmy; it was February, but by the time the girl crossed Houston she was dry. Although she kept her head down, behind her bangs she was grinning. Her lips picked at a smile that held secrets like a glass bauble, perfectly polished and ripe, tucked under her skirts and wrapped safe with cotton wool. She moved like Pacman through the grid of the city.
The steam which curdled from the subway grill at 28th St and 2nd Av glowed blue like a plume of smoke in a Marlene Dietrich movie. It billowed into the air and dissipated until the whole block was tinted, smogged with an additional atmosphere. It was as if the contrast had been turned up and everyone who passed by was slightly bleached out and slightly more attractive. For the ninety seven steps it took to walk through, things were better. If you listened hard enough you could almost hear the saxophone.
This wasn't the first time the girl had come here, hitching a ride on an intergalactic thumbed mission. Two years ago she had catapulted into the sewer system, her arms cramped tight round the neck of the alligator who lives in urban lore. She walked around the city for weeks and waited to catch people's eyes. The homeless and the crazies yelled as she went past, called her beautiful-princess and oh-lady and baby-doll. She rewarded them with shy smiles and flushed cheeks and thought about what she was going to do. She got lonely. After a while she went home.
She hadn't planned on returning, but she changed her mind. She hadn't planned on it because the time she had spent here before had drawn out long and lonesome like a heart monitor on a dying man. She changed her mind because there were also the Stat! moments, the points where everything flared up and illuminated for a moment before reclining into quiet again. During these moments she was happy, of course, but later when she turned over them in her mind they took on epic, glorious propensities far in excess of the moments themselves. So she came back. When things were normal she missed that feeling that perhaps her heart could crumble.
Monday, 18 January 2010
He pulls her across the room by her hair. She scutters. She isn't thinking about anything. For the first time in months there is only this, the world concentrated into sharp pinches, the edges marked deep and defined.
They are both drunk. Time jump cuts back and forth: they are on the bathroom floor; he is spitting on her face; she is bent over the sofa, eyes streaming, as he forces into her. Later she will wake up alone in another room and shudder at the beginnings of bruises and the hot reek.
In the real world, the manager told her she was fired or her father suffered a stroke or her boyfriend admitted he wasn't over his last girlfriend and turned away when she tried to kiss him. This isn't important. What is important is that things were going badly and she woke at night, eyes wide with problems. Sometimes we all need to escape.
She thinks she could become addicted to this moment. She will reach for it again and again, holding her breath for the rush. It is best not to examine ourselves too closely. There are dark places under the parts we scratch.
Thursday, 7 January 2010
Francine Prose on Volodya
I have been thinking about this a lot, winding it over and over in my mind. When we tell stories, we always try to aim for the kicker and the payoff. There is supposed to be a reason for the gun introduced and fired, we seek the clean course of motivation which sets things going in their terrible and irrevocable motion. Nothing just happens.
What if this isn't the way things really work? Children don't rip the wings off a fly to learn about the intricacies and wonder of flight.
Here I will confess: I have never been on the receiving end before. I am versed in breaking hearts and the best way to tug at the wings until the sinews and clear gum stretch out and snap, leaving a cold pus and useless socket. I never meant to hurt anyone. I killed the relationships which seemed like dying dogs howling, already half-spattered across the road, chewing at their paws to get free.
I don't believe this is like that. But perhaps that is what people say when they are on the receiving end.
There is no room for dignity. I howl and punch the walls and retch into a plastic bag, shivering and bent double. All that comes out is a thin bile. I am wearing nothing but a lace-trimmed pair of flourescent pink pants, and there is something horrifically shameful about this. I am heavy, wet meat, defeated.
He does not cry. I find this impossible to understand. I wonder how long he has known, although he tells me since yesterday only. The word is a thick lie like butter to smooth over cracks, but my cracks are hot and the foam turns rancid.
Scorpios are jealous. Always. But we are also right. She knew he was in love with me, he was destroying her with the useless truth that nothing had happened. I tried to be quieter, and bide my time. I waited while the jealousy feasted on my patience, thinking he had had his time with her, that what I was jealous of was not a future but a photobook of memories. I thought if I stayed quiet in the undergrowth I could wait this out, poised and breath held. I was wrong.
I could insist that when someone leaves you for their past it is particularly horrific, as it invalidates everything you had together. He says: what we had, it hasn't been all for nothing and I think no, it hasn't. It let you work out what you really feel for her. But any attempt to win points in some scoreboard of pain is disingenuous. In truth, all of this is wretched.
I keep coming back to Chekov, not the terrible, but the irrevocable. The things you can't take back. When I close my eyes people tumble out of skyscraper windows in grainy newsprint realities; they stopped believing what they had was worth something and the market collapsed. They stopped believing and everything they had plummeted in value until it was worth nothing. They were left with paper promises, impossible to trade for anything, not even magic beans.