Gallery 3

Gallery 3

 

He was showing off his work later that week. He slept on the bottom bunk, the bunk below his. His name was Tamdil. He had dark brown hair, a small moustache, always wearing cargo pants, tight to the knees. They lived in the slaughterhouse district of Ras Shahid, living off crackers and shitty TV. They smoked pot and listened to the news, and at night they hosted some of their friends, listening to records, counting the cockroaches on patrol. The studio sat west of Highway 3, in a little side street known for decades as Paragon. It lent itself to cheap rent, the tenants accustomed to spending late nights fighting mosquitos from their homes, spraying their homes for pests and eating from the little brick road grocery at the foot of Highway 3. The rooms were long, most of them oval shaped. At one end of the sphere, an open wall curved, expanding into a garden, connecting two halls, two tenant rooms. On the ground floor of their building, a warehouse of three floors, the upper floors smaller and rented for housing, packaging rooms in thin diametric cloves. On the other end, a curved mirror the length of the spherical wall. Yazan’s mother, Amira, and his father, Suhail, a militant member of the MQP, lived just down the street, in an old tenement building that had become like an unofficial elderly home. People were leaving their parents there, finally moving out, after years of war and interdependence, a decade of stagnation did much to revolt the familial nature of the tribe. His home was no different. His father, a nightly fishermen, earning enough money to spend, once visited him in his home. He gave him an aquarium and a box of CDs, albums he had listened to, growing up. He sat in the windowless nave, smoking a pack of cigarettes, listening to his children talk. He couldn’t understand a word they were saying. He hadn’t gone to school. Growing up, he played marbles and counted to three, that was all. He spent the season holed up inside, like a bear refusing to fall asleep while in the cave, working tirelessly the nocturnal night. That evening, Yazan had decided to take a bath if the studio remained relatively quiet. Tamdil was away for the weekend, and by the time he came back it was all going to have changed, for each and every one of them, knowing they could enforce their parts, finally becoming serious of what they had so long intended to attain. He pulled out a remote control, turning on the stereo in the corner of the room, the sound of the speakers coming to life sounding like a sonic burp. He listened to a record by his friend, Johanna, who had gone from being Johanna Yaran to Jonah Yards, to appease some known producers, who had never been to Tal Khar, likening his music to their own traditions, the vocals and the guitar. When him and Sarah had dated, before she had met Tamdil, she had once told him he showed surprising sensitivity when he listened to music alone, but in the presence of friends he often shifted, more explosive, darker, auteuristic beats. He agreed, actually, suggesting that the presence of others often annoyed him, and to compensate for his annoyance he had to balance it with stronger tempo and excessive bass, the obtuse shredding of an electric guitar, the marauding beating of resampled drums. He turned on the hot water, rinsing the bathtub before leaving the faucet to run in the bath. While the bath heated up, filling the tub, he scrubbed the toilet with the Penasil toilet scrubber he’s never sure he used correctly. The toilet was right beside the tub, which often gave him the feeling they were really one in the same. If one were dirty, the other could not be clean. They had to both be dirty or both be clean. To enjoy his bath he had to ofcourse clean the toilet, and so he did, scrubbing it intensely without bending a knee, a half committed stand he took most often while cleaning. He flipped open the small nightbox beside his bed, turning on the light switch on the head lamp. He pulled out his glasses, that he had cleaned before going to bed, and a small pouch from where he pulled a joint. Sarah was worried about him. She was prone to worrying. She was afraid all of his work was settling him out, ruining what great potential she often spoke of, speaking of his name and stature as though he were strong, knowing he had failed in almost every venture since he was very young, wayward, constantly battling away, changing his mind, seeing what could be done to force some success upon his life, hoping in some way to understand what differentiated him from others, when his luck would run out. For so long, people were asking, where have you been, what have you been doing, and only one or two friends could understand, like them, he was searching, somewhere, for his soul. Searching for it to exchange it for monetary means, for sustenance of some sort, the sustenance of support. To take what he was hearing and to allow it space, to alleviate, to grow. These were the tendencies he had been taught. Sometimes, when he was sick, and he felt downright and alone, she would ask him if he needed help, going so far as to stand beside the bed, pulling out the box itself, offering it to him. But when he was sick, he was never in the mood. For smoking, for her. Nor was he in the mood for being kind. He’s gestured with his hand for her to go away and she did just as he asked. That’s what friends are for, he thought, but he wouldn’t listen to gestures of the heart that spoke of going mad as a result of spending far too much of his time enjoying a suppression of all of his demands, repressing his wants, making his behaviors, in that sense, a student of the times, a result of his outnumbered arms. Now she was with him, he thought, and it is becoming serious. The story will go on for them, as well. They will do well together, he thought. They will experience. And when they are old they will have ravaged him, savage, obscure. He walked in his room and flopped onto his bed. He stared at the ceiling in awe; how mindless it is to be a ceiling, he thought, thinking nothing nor observing, only being by being put there then disappearing by being smashed, removed, destroyed. Why is thinking so easy but being so difficult, then being so difficult but thinking so easy, he thought. I want nothing more than to just be, be be be like a stupid plate in the corner which dies because it just does and people are strangely sad for a moment but then throw it away and the soil is useless when the plant is gone and the pot becomes something else like helmet or a box. Boxes are the super best things, they never die, they just tear and rip and break holes into and they are like spaces that do not dream of being anything else or think about the past in nostalgic reverence. He closed his eyes and fell into dream, dreaming of boxes, hundreds, thousands, all kinds and colors and shapes, lying on vast lands of desert dunes, remaining unchanged, a permanence he admired. He did not see himself in the dream walking amongst the boxes but after a while began to see others, first only a few but then many, many others, showing up at the dunes trekking up and sliding down each, opening and closing boxes repetitively, obsessively, so that no box was left unopened, all boxes now changed, promises made and seen and lies forgiven, permanence destroyed, existence questioned, interpreted, constructed, doubted. He saw one little box which remained unopened and every one in the dream gathered around it, staring in awe then inching closer, closer and closer and closer and finally some brave man were standing right above the box and others were standing at the edge of a unified circle, women pleading the men to return unharmed, children weeping that their Father’s would destroy themselves, or the box, or both. Nobody dared kick over or peek into the box or force it open, everyone stood around and Kierkegaard laughed in the distance at the agreed proximity that had convinced the crowd of both heroics and safety. His body jerked as he felt himself nearing the box himself and suddenly he was awake and everything around him felt coarse and brittle and dull. Waking, he found the sun appeared and spring well on its way. He stepped outside for some fresh air. He had no intention but a sort of plan, something he could counter. He had the intention to depict the surrounding despair, but the stories still did not flood, staring at an empty set of canvases. He burned the last touches of his spliff. He looked decent, but the joint made him feel off. It was hot, and he felt nauseous. He was calm, retrievable from the abyss, but he didn’t feel well at all. He had found a black t shirt that he hadn’t worn yet, something fresh from a stack of laundry yay high. Some black jeans, black shoes. All in all looking quite bleak and ordinary. It was not unwarranted. Though he could smell the fresh scent of life, the spring hearts blooming and the sliver of shades darkening the roofed streets beside, the trilling of larks and the wild blowing wildflowers that looked like mesquite pulled form a stack of rolling hay, thundering along the street in a suffocating calm, he felt, somehow, ignorant of his wants, and for all his wanting was unable to oppose the feeling in his stomach that he was worthless. He stood by the side of the road, rolling and smoking a cigarette out of his pouch, his thoughts first to the water, some kilometers down, and the fair scent of briskets fired on a stove. The sun had for sure come out. Spring meant the winter was not in vain, but for him, it meant the emergence of another summer, and with it came heat and the unbearable cloud of inoperable dimensions and gloom. He could not work under these circumstances, and they were expected to show their paintings in the upcoming weeks. They stayed up late nights, talking about whatever came to mind. Tamdil had a crush on a young Pashtun, studying Theoretical Arts at the Academy. He always spoke about her in the common we, even before they had gotten exclusively engaged to each other, offering what little roots could be found studying abroad, though he had no blood like hers in him, they were both a shade of brown that looked familiar to them both, and would as well to their families, who took such matters more seriously than most, and when they ate, they ate with their hands, and when they hugged they embraced with their chests, drawing themselves forward in a single breath, something the foreigners abhorred. He was single, and most of the time was bored, too bored to make new acquaintances, too bored to try things out. He read the same few titles over and over, always giving him a feeling of home. The Acrobat, by Yunus Kum, The Jester, by Zahreddine. He developed his characters, trying to find their whys at the end of all their whoms. Motivationally speaking, he wanted them to appear heroic in the most banal of ways, characters who sought refuge from the world in bookstores, in supermarkets, in wearing their traditional dress. Tamdil had invited him over one weekend, to get away, to meet his family. They took the evening train, reserving a talkable cart for the two of them. Tamdil slept most of the night. The road passed was quiet, uneventful, scarce, but at the end of the Pulmyra the train was forced to stop. Soldiers of the Civil Guard, accompanied by members of District Command, flooded onboard. There were twenty four carts, sixteen of them local, four completely private and four first class. They swept through with a hundred men, inspecting each and every bag, every cart, regardless. It was difficult to wake up Tamdil. An officer came into the room, looking scruffy, tired. Behind him, two members of his regiment, under his control. They looked in Tamdil’s bags, first in the small briefcase, with all of his small paintings, and then in the larger bag of clothes. Finding nothing, they turned their attention to him. He always felt paranoid in front of the authorities, though he had nothing himself to hide, nothing but the idea of virtue that so often he left behind, the will to admonish those inspectors for their obvious misdeeds, the crimes they committed in time. Nothing on their person could be found, surprising him, who had thought Tamdil to have packed a few grams of hash and some coke, but afterward, having asked, was told by Tamdil he could buy some at home, and would not have traveled with them on his person. He called his parents from the train, as morning sank and the first few swallows of morning broke. They missed him dearly, they said, asking for him to consider coming home, after the residency were over. He told them he had no plans either way to stay or go, not knowing what would happen in the next few months, except that going home didn’t seem all that bad, now that he was older, more refined, less in favor of the poet’s plight, sleeping in squalor to harness the ghost. They were greeted by Tamdil’s sister, Aliyah, at the station. She was standing with her husband, Mark, on the platform floor. She looked, from what he’d heard, her usual eccentric self, dressed in a spread of pashmina gowns, collecting her body in a spread of scarves, like she was somehow hanging from clouds. Her boyfriend, Mark, older, nearly bald, the last grapes of hair stemming out behind his ears. He looked a little too serious for her obvious type, but then again, times were hard and she probably needed someone to look after her, if not the whole family. He had his pants buckled up to his waist, his evolving belly stemming out from the belt. He had slick tight slacks that were a size too small, stuffing at the neck and groin, piercing the snapper at the thigh. He wore a striped, white and blue, short sleeved shirt, with the cuff and neck opened, two buttons down. He was shorter than her but an inch taller than Tamdil, who was shorter than his sister most of his life. They shook hands. He was worried about getting too loose, feeling like he smelled, worried about sharing the nature of his breath, stuck in the cabin all night with a farting Tamdil, who surprised him by sleeping so soundly, moving at such great speed, and often burping and farting in his sleep. It was by then noon, the first few lunchers were delving into streets, sweeping their cars away from traffic. They sat in the car a while, lodged in a state of stagnation on Boulevard Haggar, the long line of date palms standing witness to their trial, parallel to traffic lights like the royal couple of a chess board, each of them daggering into the sunlit sky. Tamdil asked to turn the air conditioning on, seeing as how the car wasn’t moving. Mark didn’t want that, eeing as how much energy it would use, surprising Tamdil, who had thought him smarter than to say not o him, his future brother in law, though the word wasn’t certain and the dates were not set, he knew it was only a matter of time, his sister making sure to convince him, otherwise why stick around? Soon they were engulfed in another conflict, the main of Tamdil’s arm reaching over the board, trying to change the music, to grab at one of the plugs. Without thinking, Mark, nervous having to drive his girlfriend’s car, far more expensive than he liked to drive, under the heap of so much pressure, swatted away his arm, swiping at it with his own. It didn’t necessitate the trouble that ensued, but having removed his driving arm from the steering wheel, veered ever so slightly to the left, just about setting off the neighboring car’s alarm, veering sideways back to the right, just about setting it off as well, causing the parallel driver some alarm, whose passenger, a woman, was fair to squeal, unable to conceal her terror. Though, just as it had begun, the setting soon moved on its way, Tamdil stopped acting like a child, the music, Songs of the Ravonettes, blaring from the system. They parked in front of Alla Norma’s, famous for its lunch, afternoon dishes made for the working folk who lived some tiers above the working class. The neighborhood they turned on to was being gentrified, it was the first time Tamdil had seen it that way, and the first time for his guest as well, who was quick to take off his jacket, sitting down, glazing at the menu with a glaze in his eyes, evidently focused on the eating march. They were moved from their seats, Aliyah choosing instead to sit by th window, enjoying the sun’s rays on her eyes. Mark didn’t mind, neither did Tamdil, profiting from the slant in the open window, passing onto them a fair breeze. Neither would his guest have minded had he not already sat down, and, without thinking, removed the flat heel of his shoes, just on one foot, but still, it made it awkward for him to rise, slipping it on his foot causally, without causing too much of a fuss.

The group sat down for lunch, their menus right in front of them, a small paperback menu, sixteen pages in all, designed, as it said on the Leaflet, by Mireille Shalhoub Design. The logo was a small baby elephant eating with its tusk, slurping up a spaghetti, watched over by some friends, a giraffe and a baby lion, other animals of the foreign wild. The paper was pink, and the font dark brown, and the logo on the pages either white or baby blue, depending on the page’s style, each section uniquely designed, the pastas given their own sort of style. Aliyah pointed it out to their guest, who was studying the contents of the entrée page, relying on Tamdil for the wine. She guided their attention to the fifth page, where the salad section was itself designed, each item appearing as it would on a plate, in the bowl, in a salad, the tuna sashimi on a bed of beetroot and a wasabi sauce, served on a small porcelain platter, as opposed to the larger portion salads, like the California Smash or the Green Parole, the base at the bottom, in the form of a word, constituting its own harboring space, and the croutons or parmesan and chili flakes somewhere at the top, like crows that spend their afternoons on roofs, or trees that grow solitary on the mountain’s wild zenith, where the soil gives way to sediment stew, and in the middle of the hand drawn depiction, the proteins and the added carbs, the vegetables and the herbs and vines.

“Are you enjoying the program,” Aliyah asked.

“Yes,” he said, rather politely, holding his breath.

“What will you do after,” she asked.

“I’m not sure.”

“Will you move back home?”

“I don’t know.”

He hadn’t thought about it yet. He hadn’t been home in so long, the longest it had ever been, though it hadn’t really been that long, but for him, and for those, like him, who had spent so much of their life surrounded by family and friends, who were accustomed to weekend brunches at an uncle or aunt’s, and afternoon tea on their best friend’s porch, it had felt like long enough, having enjoyed at first the excitement that comes with estrangement from all things loved and known, and those things he had for so long adapted, though knowing he had so long abhorred. The morning and evening traffic. The lack of public transportation of any adequate means, only those few ramshackle buses that added to the clogging traffic jams. He hadn’t seen his parents in some time, either, though that was a feeling he could not ignore, missing so much that saving comfort, that came with the feeling of being home. Aliyah ordered three appetizers in the middle, a burrata in green pesto sauce, a steamed melanzane and a side of green beans in a garlic tomato sauce. They brought out a basket of bread, two small cups to provide a puddle of oil and to sprinkle sea salt. Aliyah refused the offer, explaining that she had just started a diet, to prepare for summer, for the beach. Though she did implore for a cup of sea salt and for the waiter to pepper the cup of oil.

“Do you want some balsamico as well,” she asked?

He shook his head. She motioned for the waiter to bring some, either way, incase they wanted it with the burrata, or happened to change their minds. Tamdil, seated by the door frame, his back to the door, the window’s jarring signals in ear shot of his face, spent the entire meal on his phone, pausing between breaths to yawn. They ate in peace and quiet, Mark lifting the towel off his leg to tuck into his shirt, to shield himself from the spraying oil.

“How long will you stay with us,” Mark asked, feigning interest. He couldn’t tell whether he really wanted to know, or if he had been excused, informed, by Aliyah, to do so, to act like caring, to conform.

The entrees arrived. Mark was handed a skirt lemon steak, Aliyah a charred red snapper, drizzled with sea salt and a fresh green olive puree. Tamdil ordered the tofu lemon fritters, a recent convert to the vegan trend, though he wasn’t sure if the fritters themselves were vegan, not really knowing how they were made. Their guest ordered the plain green salad beside an avocado toast, with the choice of a boiled egg on the side. They had three more drinks each. The bill came out to one hundred and fifty five, excluding the service charge, the tourism tax and the value added tax, and excluding the bill as well, bringing the total to two hundred and twenty five dollars, give or take a few cents here and there.

“Well, before Color Copy, most cafes were sourcing their coffee from one of two locally sourced farms. I don’t want to name names, but we know that most of the coffee we were drinking at the time was grown on the Habayas farm, in Nahr Adwan. They cared little for sustainability and the aromatic sense of differing plants, focusing on the profits, their eyes glued to the margins. We know what the market is like, and with the situation, ever wavering, ever still, the demands goes through transitions, cycles, flatlining during times of unrest, surging in times of great enthusiasm. It’s how it works. I recognized that we couldn’t find this, we had to find a sustainable model that takes into account these waves, so we can ride both ends to perfection. Out of the blue, I got a call one day from Rami Rasman. He owns a restaurant in D’Euve, just off the embankment. He was having trouble getting his coffee from he likes. He knew that my friend, Ayman Ramahal was working for his father, out in Duport. They own a lot of buses, a lot of trucks. They have al ot of these things, lying around. They carry machinery, hardware, from one place to the other. It’s all very advanced. It’s really something incredible, when you enter this sort of cave like place, where they all exist, like a huge gut in the middle of the city, it’s marvelous. We can all go there some time, if you want. I can show you what I mean. Something spectacular. I know you go skiing in Ras Amin. Imagine those mountains, and imagine that they are the other way around, all the way to the bottom, the people living like ants, hundreds of meters underground. It takes seventeen days to drive the first five hundred meters south. It’s really a world underground. And they’re all so smart, they’re genius. The pulleys, the lifts, the triangular curves that lead in opposite directions. I don’t know how to explain it. I wish I had pictures. Maybe I can connect my phone. Do you have Rabazz?”

“The application?”

“Of course,” her mother answered. “We have it on Odes. Do you want to show us some pictures?”

“That would be nice, wouldn’t it mom?”

“Yes, why not. Come and show us some pictures, habibi, come sit over here. I was worried we wouldn’t have enough time to get to know each other. You were only coming for three days, at first, were you not. And now look at us, everyone sitting together, enjoying. The night is young, as they say. Do you want some more wine?”

“It’s great to be here, really. When Joyce asked me to come along, I was very happy.”

“I can imagine. It must get so lonely and dark at home, where you two live. It’s so difficult over there,” her mother said.

“We never go to the capital.”

“Ana I go all the time,” Ahlam said, waving the spoon from the potato salad in the air, lifting it form one dish to another. “If it were up to me, we would all have to move there and perform like they perform. They enjoy themselves. What can be wrong with that? If there is anything wrong with it, I don’t know. Tell me, why shouldn’t we enjoy ourselves from time to time?”

“Of course we are enjoying habibti.”

“No we are not.”

“We are, we just like to do it differently. Why do you have to act so smart?”

“I want us to learn how to live, like everyone else, really live. See things like they are.”

“Don’t believe what it looks like from the outside. Nothing in this world is as it seems until you look up close, or you are inside it.”

“How are your prospects?”

“Well, we’ve had five positive years, with three full quarters of earnings. I bought a seven percent share in the company, when I started to think smart. I realized I could afford it, even if I lost in the beginning. Now I’m doing well. There is even more benefit for restaurants to buy from us, than from anyone else. We have exposed the city’s corrupt system on customs, and we are presenting our own decree of rights. We get along great with the government. They really don’t mind. So I think we are fine.”

“And your shop is protected?”

“Certainly.”

“How?”

“We have contacts, like everyone else.”

“Be more specific. If you want my daughter’s hand, I want to know she is safe. I don’t trust any of you. you are young and spoiled. you never had to work for anything, it landed in your hands. Even if you worked your entire life, you didn’t face what we fought. You don’t know what it will be like, when the next one comes. The last will have been a blessing. A piece of cake. Now, we are stuck in the dark. Go on. Tell me more about your model for protection. How do you play your cards?”

“Paul’s shop is beautiful, Dad, you would love it. It’s smart, it’s cute, it has everything of all worlds. Really spacious, four beautiful couches that I picked. I had auntie Ahlam help me pick them out. And we have a coffee table from Spars, it’s really, really nice. It looks generic but it’s beautiful.”

“Why didn’t you go with Batroun?”

“We negotiated for four weeks, when he finally gave us his blessing to recreate an original design, he had tripled the price, then we were walking one day on Avenue Montand and saw this new showspace.”

“You have to visit us,” he said, accepting two ice cubes into his glass. “You would really like the space. It’s really nice. It’s charming in the winter. Gorgeous in the summer, when we open the roof. It’s never really so hot, and we can sit under the shade, or if you want to tan, although here it is always possible, isn’t it,” he asked, reaching over from the seat to the end of the boat.

“I’m from Ishvar, we used to go swimming with dolphins.”

“Wow, that’s nice.”

“So pretty, we go all the time.”

“I had the idea to go straight to Ahlam. I told Paul. He hadn’t met her yet.”

“But you met last week?”

“Yes of course. We had dinner together.”

“She’s very nice. Very geniuine.”

“She liked you,” her mther said.

“I told him, she knows how to get what she wants. She’s sixty five years old, a mother of three, and a widow. Two daughters and an unruly son, who thinks, of all things, he’s going to become a talk show host. They all went to Crescent High and graduated with honors. She asked me right away when I called her, how old is he? You know, because I always date guys older than me. I told her he’s two years older. She laughed and said that’s fine.”

“And she was helpful.”

“Totally. I told her he’s onto something great and I want to be part of it. I know how tired you and dad are that I’ve taken so long in figuring my stuff out. I just couldn’t find something to hold on to.

Joyce had gotten the idea to go straight to the source from Ahlam, her aunt. Ahlam Shabtour knew how to get what she wanted. She was sixty five years old, mother of three, and a widow. Two daughters and an unruly son, all of whom went to Crescent High and graduated with honors. Her niece, Joyce, had recently become infatuated with a boy around her age, who she had grown up with but who hadn’t ever noticed her growing up. She was two years younger, that was probably why. She thought that he was on to something great, and wanted to be a part of it. Her mother could not care less what it was, but she had gotten so frustrated waiting for them to make something of themselves, not like some magical road to fame and fortune, but at least a decent start in the world, at least to make some pitiful little mark to ensure that after she collapsed dead in her house, dying of coronary asphyxiation, as was surely going to be the case, being what claimed her mother and father and their parents before them, she wanted to be sure they would be alright, that they would live fairly in the world and be taken care of, knowing she could no longer rely on the help of her parents or her husband or their oldest friends, who had all entered some sad state of loneliness and emptiness, reflecting the emptying port. She arranged to come by the shop for a cup of coffee to discuss with Paul her needs. She arrived in a fuchsia convertible, with the windows drawn and the speakers blaring noisily. Paul was waiting outside for her, surprised that she drove herself, someone who, judging by her name, he thought might have a lot of money. He didn’t mind meeting people who could serve as some contact in the future. He’d only launched his business with the help of consulting magnate Mehmet Ali Sons, who placed him in two week long seminars at the Business Inventory Institute of Ideas, where he networked among different clusters of industries and peoples with different interests hoping to hit it off. He made two partners in those week long seminars. One of them, Bahij Jarrar, was there for the very same reason, recognizing a loophole in the coffee sourcing industry that could allow him great leverage to get his work done. He had long black hair tied in a ponytail, a thick radical’s beard, wearing a tailor suited Tutu Giro suit, his Foye watch and Danziger necklace fully visible and exposed. They drank sake martinis three nights in a row before they realized they were in love, not with one another, though that wouldn’t have bothered either of them, but with their own ideas. They had needed that sort of camaraderie and excitement that came with the public forum, to realize the gold that sat in their heads, waiting to be vanquished into the public realm. The other person they met, over the noodle dinner at Harem Spice Bar, on Avenue Rose, was the one and only Tanzim Bey, the son of the great Ulach Bey. He had been quiet the entire seminar, but people knew him by his name, plastered on his shirtfront just like everyone else. He hadn’t tried to look good, to look the part, wearing a checkered open chested shirt with black cargo jeans and brown hunter’s boots. He was extremely thin and his slight undercut made him look quite unhealthy, compared to most of the well fed boys among the entrepreneurial class. Eventually, they became good friends, enjoying his despotic pessimism, his irregular views on social issues, while they found his high headed ideas to be valorous and comedic, offering enough humor to enliven their lives. They drove through traffic, weaving their way through back alley streets, passing the corner store on Rue Najjar, the toy store he frequented as a child, the stairs of his grandmother’s home now evident, the building beside it having long been destroyed, the yellow and white façade standing in plain sight, the smell of their widow walk curtailed by the jarring sense of jailed anise rising from an open courtyard, blessed behind four stringent walls, the steps to the elementary, the orthodox school on Avenue Abbas. They crossed the open checkpoint at Army Cross. Mark flashed his papers as they were waved straight through. Aliyah hadn’t taken off her gold framed sunglasses, courtesy to the guards. She lay her tired head against the passenger side door, the length of her slender arm climbing from the window like the pouring outreach of a serpent vine, tapping her nails against the beige hardboard, one, two, three taps at a time. They drove home. It was a quiet drive. The checkpoints were all open. They parked on the street, by the large water fountain that sprays from two heads, a landmark that once attracted visitors. He wanted to go to sleep. Tamdil wanted to go out. He wanted to see his friends, to tell them he was home. He brought out two towels, one for the body, the other smaller, for the face, both of them rugged and hard, the way he knew he liked them. He showed him his room, dropping him off at the end of the hall. He took a one hour nap, and after, woke up to take a warm shower, finding Tamdil drying himself off at the end of the hall. The electricity in the house was partially out, he could hear the sound of a generator powering the motor, struggling to make up its due. Walking downstairs, he bumped into the parents. The father, Hakim, was smoking a cigar, drinking from a glass of water on tap. The glass was full of ice, and there was a small plate of lemons sliced to the brim, waiting for his fingers to snap them. He waited by the sink after shaking hands. Tamdil entered the room from the opposite door, passing a silver fridge, two meters tall, and a small black cat, sitting in a basket of straw. Hakim waited for them to Leave the room before lighting his cigar. Tamdil’s mother was at the foot of the couch inside the adjacent room, playing with the television remote, evidently confused. Tamdil sat beside her, stroking her leg, helping her figure the channels out. Her voice rang out over the static calm, the television itself was on mute.

“What channel is Surveillance on?”

“Channel 94,” he said, “Check 94.”

She played with the channels, toggling the cable from the remote. There was a cooking show on 94, but not the show she was looking for. She asked again, this time stamping the remote against her palm, showing her frustration.

“Did you change the channels?”

“Of course I didn’t!”

“Isn’t there a list or something?”

“You threw out the magazine!”

“You sure?”

“Positive!”

The servant, Regina, came into the room, stepping out from beside the wooden closet, her face appearing by the frame of the door, her body refusing to appear with it.

“Dinner’s ready,” she said.

They were served marinated chicken in a glazed honey lime, the rim of the dish peppered with parsley, garnished with the trileaf cloves. He put on his afternoon clothes, a pair of black skinny jeans, Warehouse sneakers, which he carried outside of the room so as not to have to put them on inside, and a plain white t shirt two sizes too big. He walked down the spiral staircase that connected his floor, shared with his brother, with the living room and reception area downstairs. He found his father, Hakim, seated on his favored sofa, reading from a book. He looked up at him and smiled. He was happy to have him around again, even if only for a short while. He worried about him, worried about his future plans, as he always seemed to get involved in a range of things without ever sticking to it. Hakim had worked his way up to where he was finally able to take control of his own life and bury the hatchet on a life of struggle. Things had soured of late, however, due to a tightening on credit controls, and a suction of reserves in the Central Bank. Things would go from odd to bad quite fast, and from bad to worse quite soon, but for the moment, he was content. The lights were in the room were turned on even though it had a healthy array of light streaming in from the outside. The living room was wide and spacious, with three seating areas and a fireplace that connected two, and a long high standing bar, with metal earrings connecting it to ground. The floor was pure marble and the walls were fastened with pure Cedar wood. A painting by Rustoff and another by Safieddine hung either side of the fireplace. Five lowlying chandeliers draped from the upraised ceiling, surrounding each was a little cove. The central chandelier was the largest, and the nipples were cuts of different healing stones. After a few months of such habit, he found that he had built a small collection, a series, still life portraits of items in the house he took pleasure in observing. Some of the images were skewed. Notably, the vase that carried the long snout of the bamboo root was plumper than its physical form. The reproductive errors in his work, he reasoned, were due to his lack of indecision, and not, as would be common among beginners, due to a lack of patience, which would be more threatening to his work than a simple concern over decisions. He spent some of his holiday mornings inspecting the drawings, careful not to approach a drawing too soon, reserving his interest mainly for portraits that had simmered for a while. He would spend the afternoon mimicking the brushstrokes in the air. It was a secret he kept to himself. Along with the paintings. Until finally, one day, arriving somberly to the studio after going to the movies with some friends,  dinner and movie with some friends, hoping to enjoy a couple hours of painting before it was time for bed, he came upon a painting that pulled him from his quiet state and engaged him. It was a painting that had been troubling him. He had even once considered speaking of it to his friend, Tamdil, the next morning, but the words never spoke from his mouth, tired as he was of explaining why it was he so failed so constantly. He remembered Sylvia, who worked with all the non governmental organizations in handling the affairs of orphans, and children fleeing the Lower Ward during the war. She had once spoken of a series of paintings in a gallery she visited, the Thames Gallery in District 1, where the author had taken careful effort to replicate the image of his birth in striking detail. But the image, as the author observed, had to evolve over time, as it was, by his bringing it into contact with the material world, subject to time. And so the image was allowed to evolve, and over time he came to evolve with it. The cause became so great, that for the artist, he had to perpetually recalibrate the painting to stand as a perfect reproduction of his own contemporary life. And so as he grew, the painting had to grow in accordance. It embodied his entire life, and encompassed his being. He grew obsessed with the painting, and over time would speak of the painting as though it were more than him, of greater use and important. He had become, to use his words, a total subject of the painting. In his notes, available for brief visual scanning at the reception and gallery exhibition, the artist stated that he was only able to accept his condition as a subject to the painting of his own portrait, when he realized he was in fact destined, by birth, to give that sacrifice. He quoted the thinker, Slavoj Zizek, defines the slave hero in his admission of Judas as “the hero of the New Testament, the one who was ready to lose his soul and accept eternal damnation, so that the divine plan could be accomplished.”[1] He claimed to have risen over his own base desires, to fulfill the tribute that had claimed decision over his life. But it hadn’t led him astray, he said. On the contrary. The great mission had cleared his vision, so that he came upon the road to death safely and at calm. His own painting was not so severe, of course, but he enjoyed the anecdote. It filled him with a sense of purpose. Such was the feeling when Habib had asked him to sit in on the writing of his inaugural address to parliament, and to the state. It was a pride for District 21, he thought, and so he accepted. Naturally, the painting aching before him involved the memory of a woman, and the importance of a landscape, familiar to his own. Over the course of several sessions, the landscape changed form, altering to a new state of his perception. It had begun in full of brightness of day, but it had transformed slowly into a more macabre piece. He had sketched the familiar façade of the London Hotel, that carved into the blanched dome of the Martyr’s Mantel, at the center point of Paragon. He had chosen the location as a refuge form the unlikely curiosity of his wife, who would recognize nothing strange ni his painting an obvious homage to the symbolic heartbeat of his city. But what she could not know, what she would never know, was that he had highlighted, in a pastel range of burgundy and Tamil rose, the house of a woman he had fallen in love with, years ago in his youth, during his time at the National University, before it had been given the name. The entire fiasco, of his shutting himself up in his room, in order to paint silly pictures of a nostalgic harp, made him feel dumb and sick to his stomach. Engrossed in observation, he wondered what great harm he might have done to the woman he she ever loved him in return. what great harm had been done to him. To detail their estrangement, he never quite knew how to draw himself in the dark, hidden somewhere in the foliage. He strays in his own way and disappears where he should not but continues going where it is possible for him to appear, though it is possible to be at any place because he is not hampered by space, he is not one to choose to appear and this makes it impossible for him to design his being at a particular space in time. But he comes upon an illusion he has forgotten, or only led himself to forge tin order to learn to pronounce other things with his thoughts, imagery that is not contained by virus memory of his past. He knows he is alone and at times this bothers him only because he is not alone in that he is surrounded by no other living soul, but alone in that way that animals are alone when they are herded through the slaughterhouse doors and beheaded. He often finds himself standing in rows that serve his immediate benefit but offer no other satisfaction but the illusion of presence and society. From these moments he ascertains he is not alone but in the truth of his departure he often wonders if he was really there. He stares deeply into the abysmal state of the public fountain, wondering where the energy that used to propel things to attempt beauty has gone. He wonders why he has come to where he is at this point, being consumed in his mind until he is arrived, so much so he has not noticed until this very moment that he wandered into a monument of his past. He stands against the reflection of the sun, at the particular point of being that requires his heels to rest lightly against the pavement for his back to stand upright on the hill. Do you recognize this hill? It is a hill like any other except it continues when it first appears to be done, concluding only at the very end of a long corridor walkway that leads directly into the city square. This added value to the hill is where passers often find that romance has struck them. He joys at the thought, but does not jump to the conclusion he intends to venture up the hill. Instead, he takes an immediate seat, sitting on the steps near her house, the immaculate Gothic sculptures eyeing him through the stone. He sits below the image of purgatorial children being bathed, beside the vanguards of what he intrudes to be a particular version of the Renaissance. But he does not know such things or care to remember the names, because these are happenings of a former time and he is really altogether in the present, except that he is only foraging moments for the future, and not being where he is in that he is nowhere else at once, but he is seen only where he is sitting, and this makes him amicable to being there. So he takes his seat where he usually waits for her to arrive if she has suggested to him her impending arrival. As he has no trouble waiting, he is often waiting for others to arrive, but he is so punctual with his arriving that only on the rarest occasions have others waited for him. But he does not anticipate his arrival and it is difficult for him to plan, so he usually arrives with the intent on informing others of his arrival, but there is usually nobody there to greet him and so he is really waiting alone. But as he sat there he came to the sad realization that he felt alone, and cared, which surprised him, he had not written a word of much sense in days and there were still no signs of any water rushing back to at least salvage a love or a hope for the day ahead. He looked outside wondering about the time. He didn’t not know what else to do, so he rolled a spliff and sat there, by reflection of the sun, thinking about her, the real her, and why he’d come back- providence-in the first place. He’d sat on the steps near her house where usually he’d wait for her if she’d suggested him to be there when she got home from work; he preferred it to waiting directly in front of her house, as the steps had some romance to them in the way the stone stood at the zenith of a long hill and grand white doors seemingly carved of some ancient mineral shadowed over him as he sat basked in the ending summer sun of Istanbul awaiting her company to revive the life which he resided in her absence in utter darkness. He makes out her figure from the bottom of the hill as she approaches taking long deliberate strides in agony to the weight of the sun on her body and the understanding of the slope that sits between them. She seldom arrives smiling, though he sees that in her heart she is really dancing in an open prairie. He watches her with precision, detailing with his eyes the sculpture of her body, the unusual posture of her form coming his way. He enjoys taking the time to appreciate her appearance, because when she is too close for him to recognize, being of a nature he cannot approach, he notices what is true of her demeanor and regrets that his eyes cannot settle on what he cherishes most, her hair. Her curls, whistling under the sun like little fragments of spring blossoms. He could make out her figure from the bottom of the hill as she approached taking long deliberate strides in agony to the weight of the sun on her body and slope that lay between them. She’d seldom arrive with a smile, only near the end when close enough to whisper in exhaustion a greeting to him and recognition of her fatigued face, perspiring form and reluctance to ever do it again. On days where the heat strikes with its infernal force, her sweat looks glued to her cheeks, beaming by the texture of her pale skin. A soft line of perspiration runs down her cheeks, and he can sense from his distance the impending afterthought of an itch. She raises her hand to her face, dabs against her forehead lightly with the back of her palm. He enjoys her fatigue, enjoying the silence of her weighted steps. He does not imagine himself lacking in imagination. Though, as a man who would lack imagination, he only lacks inspiration, where it is obvious, he does not disown its properties but tries hard to dismember its being by becoming something otherwise, like a fool, or an apron. But he can never be in total a fool, or an apron, so he settles for being a stranger who sits to the side and watches, what to others is only banal passing, to him, it is an unearthing giant of molecular construction. He prides himself in having the time and right of mind to witness the iridescent inflammation of societal norms. So it is hardest for him to judge, if it is even possible, because most likely it is not possible but only rare, or rarer still to be possible it is more likely than not impossible yet without the exclusion of exceptions to the norm. He refers to these exceptions as defeats, that do not permit his continuing parade of vision. but he is not extraterrestrial and so he is not absolved from the very wishes that deform most men of his age and humble lot. He does not possess that inspiration that fuels the general’s army but he knows for certain where his loyalty lies and it is only in coming together with her, his favored acropolis of sight. He knows that even if he wished her to be less indifferent to his presence she would still not notice him lurking in the shadows but notice at least the pity of a man for himself. And doesn’t pity beg where pity is most loyal? He knows for certain, though he never makes a point to claim to himself or to another, it is never his intention to find her, walking to her place with the intent of one who is walking in a specific direction possessing the means to know where he is going, but it is his intention to confuse his sensibilities to such a degree that it would be impossible and existentially unlikely for him to arrive anywhere else. It is not unusual for him to agree with himself when coming to this conclusion and so he watches her with the tint of an assumed eye knowing what he is seeing before it has begun. He sees in her strides an essence of belonging that he does not posses entirely and is even less sure it exists, but in her way of maturing under the spotlight of his eyes he has come to see her with the grace of a magician. It is not her way to appear in a burst of incendiary expression. She more or less carries the same melancholic tone to her steps that he carries to his walks. It is not this similarity that attracts his interest. It is her finally, nearing a white painted bench at the head of the incline, taking a slight pause for breath and noticing him, without the curiosity of fear, and offering a genuine smile. He watches her and she does not approach or jolt her head in the direction of emotion but gently bends her eyes to suggest she notices him. She takes a deep breath and continues on her way, passing the set of stairs that separate their collision, preventing him from ever leaping with the intent to capture her legs. Over the years he has watched her, has seen her flourish from the calamity of apathetic youth to the charm and poise of adulthood. As she takes her final steps away from his vision, he takes the time to reflect on the momentary lapse in concentration he experiences when grooming his eyes to her presence. She disappears from his sight, he lets his heart wallow in her tender absence. He has the urge to complain, about anything he finds worthy of dissent but alas there is nothing, nothing for his eyes to focus, nothing for his heart to mend. He lets the voices in his head remain where they are, brewing a mixture of mystery and annoyance, letting his eyes rest on the glaring backwash of her forgotten steps. He forgives her leaving, in seeing her he is so devoted he forgives his own derailment. Finally, in the sublime absence of his love, he reads to himself the verses. He recites in his head what he recites at the time, not sure he is repeating himself but positive in his announcement of these lines he is only appealing to the Muses. He whispers his lines, limping his letters on the tip of his tongue before lightly sliding his tongue against the backside of his teeth and stuttering to a conclusion. She is gone from him now, and his way of knowing is his way of returning again the next day, and the next, without thought of his coming, only happening upon her steps, at the immediacy of her hill, with discipline. He did not know where he stood on most things but to her he felt certainty he hadn’t felt in some time. He did not know what his certainty pertained to exactly but in seeing her he would know that there were things towards her which he felt for certain. Things of love and belonging; things of security and hope; admiration and comfort; excitement and mystery. He’d never said much about it to her, or maybe he had, but nothing unusual had ever come of their time together. He’d made a habit of expecting her to appear in full force of life but rarely did she do so. More often than not she seemed entirely annoyed with life. He hadn’t known her like that. She had been full of life and lightness and purity when he’d first laid eyes on her and found in her a way of being a renewal of wanting to survive the dust storm of becoming. Even in his devotion to her, he knew it was not eternal; knowing she did not understand him fully and his mystery to her had afforded her patience with him. Once, when he had complained that the voices in his head had been tormenting him and would not leave him alone to operate as a normal being, she told him that he was lucky to have the voices in his head for having someone listen to him, but he knew that he was the one listening to them and not the other way around. But in seeing her he forgave her everything and leapt to her presence in devotion. He noticed her arrive at the foot of the hill. He had in his hand Rimbaud’s Illuminations flipped to the final verse. He read it to himself aloud as he watched her approach from the northern gaze of his eyes dreaming heavenly pursuits of her form equated with none. When she neared she took a slight pause for breath and simply stared at him with a genuine smile, which he returned with a smile and long drawn out stare to insinuate his was one of melancholy and fragility. She took a deep breath and continued towards him. As she arrived she climbed the steps and delicately sat beside him. He felt alive. He felt imminent change to her presence. He did not know why.

Hi, she said.

Hey, he said, how are you?

Good, tired. She lit a cigarette.

So soon.

Whatever. What are you reading.

Rimbaud, he answered.

Is it good, she asked, what’s it about?

He smiled. Go ahead, he handed it to her. Read this last one. She took the book in her hands. Her thin lips tightened, her eyes squinted in the light, her freckles shown; he felt aware of her beauty; he felt revived. She began to read. Because he has opened the house to foaming winter and to noisy summer, He is affection, he is now, he who purified what we drink, what we eat, he who is the charm of brief visits and unearthly delight of destinations. He is affection, he is the future, strength, and love that we, standing in furious boredom, watch, passing through tempestuous skies, flying flags of ecstasy. He is love, reinvented in perfect measure, reason both marvelous and unforeseen, and eternity and instrument adored for its fatality. We have all known the terror of his sacrifice and of our own. Let us delight in our health, in vigor of our faculties, in selfish affection and passion for him who loves us throughout his infinite days….In my mind, I held her in my hand; I wanted her to be mine; I knew she was not; she did not want me; I was not fancible; weary; severe; melancholic; destructive; she had never said those things but I knew that was how she saw me. Her refusal to offer herself to me drove me mad; to the edge of the universe and back, to her doorstep, awaiting her approval. We spent that summer in a haze. Life was offering itself to be propped high on a scale and revered, to be sung in an eternal tone. We grabbed what we could and sought life from it. I would find the morning by the swoon of a gypsy accordion playing for cents below my window. What I could I would give him and he’d be on his way, never to know he’d changed my life with each visit and his tune stuck to my head, latched to my heart until today, where I remain captive to the delight and mystery of those days. We’d all come our own length of far to find ourselves in miserable shape at the end of a night, stumbling down the indistinguishable old country in a crazy of wonder and mystic pride fulfilled. I’d give a look to her eyes, she would not respond, the others had a way of offering; offering love, foresight, submission, devastation. A sense of everything bright flickered in my eyes each night as I walked down the hill, towards the stairs and found my way to her door, where she would greet me, never a lover; how could she know, of course she did. It mattered because it meant I was not alone, though in thinking back now I could not imagine myself ever alone, with her in the world, it would be enough to know she were around, somewhere, offering life to another, to community, to her nation, hope in the promise of her eyes. I did not know the face of the divine so I drew upon image with my mind. She would do, I thought, and lunged after her, at daybreak the clouds gathered and hordes of futile longings rushed forth. Serenity, you’ve seduced me. I caught the face of a girl in the passing crowd and the rest is my story. The world seemed sensually lit, blasting expression, extinction, destruction. War looming; creeping; heat at the border; melodies unheard ringing luminous; the dawn of precipitation; the vanishing cauldron of life. Watch the consumer herd roam magnificent beside you. First there is the Sun, then there is the light. First, Creator, Following, Creation. The Creation can never love the Creator, they can only love that which the Creator loves, the Muse. The Muse is incomprehensible to the Dead, But to the living, the Muse is everything. When the living lose the Muse, they seek death. When the living find the muse, they accept death. When the dead recall the muse, they recall nothing, but recognize their freedom. In the beginning there existed his mind, following, Creation. He braced the nape of her neck in his hands like claws clenching meat off fresh prey, hadn’t eaten for day, he was hungry. Her neck flew back shoulders spiraled the tide of Time, she fell back in his arms and they were one again. He had never imagined. There was a giant piece missing from the story but he felt calm that he’d arrived there, to the Muse. He felt suddenly a feeling he could compare to nothing else. They performed the ritual of restraint each shooting back and darting forward towards the ritual of embrace and He fell favor to the moment, easing her in to seize a whiff of her hair. Let’s stand up, she said, and he heard her sweet voice for the first time, never heard a thing like it. If he could judge by the silence he had a divine feeling he’d met a thing called love. Now this, he thought, he’ll want to bring along. They call a poet a speaker, in prose, a narrator, the poet proclaims the storyteller guides, the conjunction of both is essential, but all defined in the same manner, and predispositions. Cannot the Jester get a whiff of her hair or a sight of her curls, Master, it is awfully lonely lingering the travels of a letter for eternity. He manifests in darkness what he cannot see, imagines- who is there but the Muse, for whom he is forsaken, and grief hath built a fertile home. The sanctity of His solitude is provisional. He will mystify disturbances by collaboration- The Technique a learned custom of a forbearing colonial Master. Will swathes of slaves perish in his eyes, if his mind is left to wander? Then comes the spring where He is dampened, and distressed; so as not to grow. And who is there but the Muse, By whom, in truth, one adores abuse. I want her to search for me in the midst of a blizzard; to occupy her mind with my perception of Self. I want subliminal intrusions to distinguish me above all others. The varied nuances of sociability offer conflicting caste systems; hierarchy performs a relentless chaos. Just as no song may arise a product of hate, but only fear, no love my blossom but that which is bounded in faith- A moment, Sometime, Of some fixed nature, Abstractions ceased, Paradise imagined. Love is a fleece yet to be worn. Hate, a cloak, the righteous adorn. I felt an energy pass between us. Energy I had in some elementary form imagined, seldom believed. Intimacy, I said, blinking in a pout, Can’t you see, I’m drowned in detachment; I feel inhuman. She offered her body- her eyes, her neck, her hands, shoulders, her tongue. She embraced me with the force of the eternal Mother, devouring in her arms all trends towards anxiety and complex. You know what they say about you, in the numbers, she asked, tracing her fingers in a light graze across my face; You are the Polite Giant. You live longer than most but do not speak of it nor care to relive it, you absorb it, and that is your truth, but, in your evolving span of life, you live longer, you sense stronger, you lack empathy, because your eyes have waned; you are battered, language is a frustration you confide in; your empathy is subversive to evolution, this you will not restrain. But you love. There is something in you that loves, and this love is fierce. There is something that you love, and to this love our world relies, as our planet’s love for the sun, the moon, and the great elements of life. You are the flowing stream of water that nourishes the barren desert. We do not survive without you. He lost his Self in her eyes, her words. He traced the history of humanity in the dark corners of her eyes. Conquests and the currency of blood; the institute of knowledge; the great monuments of antiquity to the modern day. He knew it was not him that she spoke of; not the child who he had known since he had reached the tender age of consciousness. She spoke of the sacrifice- the eternal sacrifice he would make. She read in his numbers that he had decided, quite recently and nonchalantly, that he would disappear, vanish behind the voice of another. He would erupt the masses in an unforeseeable trespassing. The disdain of monarchy would seize him; the mark of the traitor engraved upon his face. He would lead the hordes in a silent chorus, fleeing the Self towards an unmatched unison. He would sing the song of his soul, and vanish to the border where the echo had not been heard. The Age of the primordial impulse is upon us, he thought; she gripped his hand and bit his lip; what is it you love, she asked in a vibrating whisper. Nothing, he said. He thought of the girl he knew, who he had known in Beirut first and then New York, when they’d been younger and only asked the questions they could ask by having been across the world and seen the other side, and wondering, always wondering, what is the meaning of that feeling of obligation, and to what are we supposed to be loyal, and he’d asked her that, and asked her if she ever thought of Beirut, and she’d said quite honestly, I tend not to think of it much, and it’s weird because I talk to so many friends there, and when I do, when I do think of it, I think of it as a place halted in time, it does not move or change, it’s weird, I think about it like something that no longer exists, like something that used to be a long time ago, I don’t picture things happening there, or people living, or any forward movement in time, and he’d asked her if she felt a sense of duty towards the place, some unending notion that something ought to be done, and she’d said it made her feel dumb, because she did feel responsible, some duty, which she just didn’t feel the need to do anything about just yet, and it felt stupid, because Beirut had given her very little in such a long time, and New York had given her everything. And what is everything; and everything is simply the feeling that anything is possible; and that is America, and she had felt it, and it accepted her, and when he’d asked her if she felt a sense of betrayal, on her part, towards Beirut, she said yes, she felt she’d betrayed Beirut, but it had to be done; it had to be done because she wanted to exist, she wanted to learn a dozen new things everyday and be pushed by strangers to excel; to feel lost and home at the same time, to feel alone and part of a mass collective simultaneously; she wanted the liberty of belief and excitement, the promises of reward for hard work and patience and passion; these things America offered, these things she needed; these things Beirut had no time for and instead focused more on time, what to do with time, how to spend it, how to burn it, burn burn burn until the whole fucking shitstorm of ideas and thoughts on being and everything alive is gone, gone gone gone, the plenty ways to mystify time, deceive it, hide from it in a cave of pestilence, indulgence, manic habits or self destruction and pity. America had loved her, for a while, until it asked her to leave. He did not know where she’d gone but he knew she had left there. Maybe she had returned; he’d hoped in that moment for her sake she had, if she’d wanted to, but he felt he knew her well, though they’d been estranged for years, and she’d likely made a name for herself in some other place of wonder, as she could anywhere else, anywhere else she could be and learn and not be stuck in time, avoiding it’s presence, deviating from the will to live, the will to life. She’d been so good at being, always in the present, a beautiful smile composed on her beautiful face. He wished her well, as he had the last time he’d seen her, some years before, in an embrace of love and safety. They’d stood on his roof and burnt the promise of a spliff as was their custom when they’d first come together in love, and they spoke of Beirut and how far away it felt, of the drinking he’d done and how leaving had likely saved him, and how she’d come to realize she could live a life of passion and obsession in wonder and beauty if she could just stay away from any place which told her from the start, there is none of that here, none of that for you and your friends, and you should stay where you are. Later they’d gone to bed together and he could remember even then how he felt, kissing her body, holding her stiff against him, easing her body to let go, let go in his arms, confide in him her presence, her being, to where nothing mattered but then, her smell, her ears, her back, her neck. He’d woken up and she was gone. They’d never spoken again. She’d told him she loved him and he’d felt the same. She thanked him for being there, when they both needed to be, simply there, just being. He held onto her all through the night. When he’d woken and she had left, he only smiled, and looked upward at the ceiling, thought of the first time he’d had the courage to kiss her and how long it took. He’d sat in front of her for hours just making words, talking barely anything, and he was nervous as he’d ever been, and how beautiful it was how far they’d come and he laughed and laughed and laughed. He never saw her again and wondered what might have happened between them had he stuck around. But he never stuck around. Even now, with the American, he was sitting with a friend who’d also kept running, searching, and he felt he’d be running again. If she’d asked him to stay, if any of them had asked him to stay, for them, if especially her, always her, thinking of her, had asked him to stay, he’d surely have stayed. As certain as anything he’d have stayed. But he was never asked to stay and somehow felt that gave him reason to run, to keep going, keep hunting, and being and scavenging spaces and places and faces and names and the magic of strangers and the knowledge imparted by a guitar bum or bus driver. Somehow he felt they wanted him to run; for all of them, they wanted it. So he would do it. Again, he would run. But he wanted to do something. He did not want to sit around and mope all day, smoking joints like he did most days when he hated himself and nothing was working his way. Sex would be ideal right now, he thought, but having to speak to someone and pretend like he cared for their wants and needs to try at pleasuring them in the ultimate moment of unification, nothing seemed worse than this thought. He had gotten slightly used to hookers and preying on ignorant young women who had the advantage of being virgins and would keep their mouths shut for fear of reprisal, but he did not want them either right now. No, he wanted only himself. He could do nothing but sit alone and wonder what sex or happiness or food in the company of friends would be like. Once he was a dandy, he remembered, but how things had changed, turned him into a Grinch. The last thing he wanted to do was cry. Women are lucky because they cry easily and often, he thought. Women were lucky because if they want sex they raise their hand and men come running. Benders are lucky in that sense too. Nobody wants to fuck a Grinch who is unhappy. He did not blame them. He blamed nobody anymore. He used to blame but he learned how things became more difficult when there is blame and made satirical when there is self-loathing. He preferred satire to parody. He preferred either to politic or commentary. Commentators were spoiled by language and humanitarian conventions preaching justice that could never be served to a respectable extent. Did he care or did he not? Sometimes he confused himself even. Oh what a strange paradise he had landed upon in finding himself alone again; a paradise of wonder and thought and so many extremes enough to fill a gas tank. Ultimately, he knew he would either have to masturbate or leave the house stoned to have any chance of surviving the dread of Easter morning. He could do both, he figured. There was no rule saying one could only masturbate or get stoned. Most times the two fit quite well together. He was very fond of masturbation. Often while masturbating he would wish he were stoned, and while he were stoned he would wish he masturbating, sometimes. But he had become such a bore! He could not even draw up an image in his mind that would arouse an erection. He no longer had the faintest idea what turned him on. Lately he had preferred above all else the sight of a woman lying flat on her stomach, naked, her bum resting in the air, sitting there, looking lifeless, the head turned the other way, the legs stretched out long, the arms folded near her face; maybe one dangling off the side; a sign she was exhausted, or asleep. Such thoughts took little time to arouse him. He loved the thought of a lifeless body with which to desecrate as he pleases. He would not be so harmful, but playful. He often reasoned he would do only what she had terribly wished in her waking life someone had the nerve in doing. He would be that man! Yes, a real hero. He would tentatively approach his subject. Her cheeks would be tightly squeezed together making it ever the more difficult to penetrate her. He would refuse to lubricate himself, choosing instead to force his hard dick inside her and while in there rummage around to widen the territory available for maneuvering. When he would feel at full length, he would embark on the ceremonial abduction of the poor woman’s innocence. What depraved thoughts he had! How they soothed him. A call came from the other room. No, he did not want to go, and he had no reason to explain himself. He apologized and asked to be left alone. They understood. He noticed the Betrayal giving him a strange look as she departed. He recalled the afternoon he had shared passion with her. How plentiful! If he could convince them to join forces in bed…He came and washed himself clean, smoked a spliff and went out to meet the day. What a glorious and terrible day of sun and sacrifice and resurrection it truly was. It was strange for him, most of all, to get accustomed to the aesthetics. He had read about it so much, in the work of Zahreddine, and in an orientalist like himself, in the works of Martin Huron, in Duro. People who had come to Learn something of the other, to discover it in themselves, finding what was lost in the beginning on them, choosing to regulate the experience of life in a series of well deserved and highly efficient bursts, the remainder of which would go, as most were not in life, under strict control, living in a state of perpetual safety, cleanliness and adequate labor, which was, until that point in his life, his most abetting prize, a desire to which he could not oppose. He preferred certain areas over others, that told of how he lived his life through his eyes, through his senses, preferring the tight corridor streets and sprawled sidewalk cafes of Pastoral and Inferior, in the inner city Downtown ward, where people took to street like coves, sharing their learned behaviors, how to be social and grow. Sandra didn’t mind that they shop at Minky’s, the wholesale store in District 9, that they excuse charm for efficiency, finding in one unique place, of grotesque interior, everything they would need, in one place, having never to go anywhere else for anything but clothes, buying mostly mid-tier designers from the pop up stores on Avenue Rose. They met again at the bar in District 1, Happy’s, in front of the university. The music was the same each night, classic rock classics blaring on the overspeakers, hits from their childhood favorite bands. A lot of the professors were there that night, waiting for the announcement. He sat with Ramiz in one of the open booths, upraised on a terrace overlooking the squared dancefloor. He had brought his friend, Shamal, who was teaching sculpture to some of the older kids, still busy at their masters while the world swept on by, a world that would be forever lost to them. Hassan was leaning on the shoulders of the barman, whispering in his ear. They lowered the music after some time, turning up the volume on the television. The face of Zahreddine was brought up onscreen. School was postponed for the following week, pending further notice. The streets were overtaken by thugs, the half of Districts 4-7 all closed, within the perimeter of Districts 1-13. The closing lines meant they still had time to travel. Dadalle considered calling home, to see if Sandra wanted to go back to Repose, to spend the following weekend there. It felt so strange to think like them, he thought, to think of only myself in this situation, but it’s true, he thought, you’ve become like them, and you think only of yourself in every situation. He turned to his friend, Safieddine, who was trying hard to hide the despair in his face. He looked, more than anything, like someone who had something to regret, fearing to admit it, more than anything, to himself. He had given it all up, or so it seemed, to return, only to watch it fall from his grasp, though it was only his own naïve cliché that brought him there, and only his fickle mind that led him to believe he had anything in his grasp to lose at all. It was funny actually. Hassan had come all the way back from Manhattan, in Repository, so eager to show everyone his work, to show them what he had done. He organized four lectures and a reading series, and said they could all publish a small book at the end of the exercise. He was so excited about it he even made pens for them to use while participating, and to give out to their friends, with bookmarks and sharpeners and erasers and different colors and kinds of Albany tape. He read Salman’s The Machine and Al Jessem’s Test of the Albatross. He devised a theory on voices and the practice of incestuous rape in Works of Readership, the essay by Zahreddine. He reserved a lecture hall at the Dublin Academy, weekdays at seven pm, probably on a Thursday, though it was yet to be confirmed, and in truth he was organizing for Thursday and hoping for that, but they weren’t willing to budge from their offer of Tuesday, twice, and Monday and Wednesday once. He said they could meet for the reading sessions at the National Library. Those who couldn’t get a pass through Jupiter Cross were recommended to stream in from Above and focus, with them, on the lectures, seeing them as they come. Hakim and Salim were the first to sign up. Salwa, Mazen and Kholood were the next. Ramiz said he was interested, and he asked Tamdil if he wanted to join, who said he couldn’t because of the showing that summer, that he was planning on renting a house on the lake and staying there for two months, to get everything done by the end of summer. Ramiz suggested he register, incase he visited at some point and the lectures were still offering, he’d have a place for sure. Ramiz also sent it to Lea, who forward it to Sarah, who mentioned to Ramiz that he should have involved her in the beginning, desperate as she was to sign up, if only to see her friend, Hassan, who she hadn’t seen in two years. She heard he looked good, and everyone was happy he was coming back, even if only for a summer. He hadn’t told them he’d gotten a job offer for the remainder of the year, only his mother and father knew, not even his brother. He left it for the last minute with them, seeing if he would change his mind. It was good, good where he was, but something was calling, he couldn’t understand. Something that was beating inside his heart, telling him to be honest, to be kind, to be fragile when it felt like it was right, to be strong and cunning and embittered when it was right for right. Sarah asked Tanzim if he wanted to join. At first he said yes, but then he looked at the dates and realized the meetings coincided with a lot of football games he had planned on seeing, the lectures during St. Andrews games and the readings during those of his old school, where he liked to go watch some times if the weather was nice, sitting on the upper bleacher stands smoking a joint, reading from a book he borrowed from the school on his way in, preferring not to get caught with one of his own, in case they were searching, digging through clothes. He admitted it later, to Ramiz, who said he understood, that he just needed somewhere to go, to get lost, to get lost from thinking, but that sometimes the games could be watched by recording them and watching them later, which Tanzim thought ridiculous, as the entire point of a match was for it to be watched while it was happening, given that the entire world would be watching, compounding the point, giving it more sense, as it did for him growing up, watching the morning wrestling from the night before, recorded by his father, who never watched it. The point was to be part of something spectacular, something worldly, happening at that time. When, later, it had passed, it would not be stirring in the collective air of conscious souls. It would have disappeared, the spectacle dissipated, the enthusiasm clothed, removed from its mischief. It was a big deal that year. St. Andrews, the former champions, had been almost relegated the year before. They were playing the deciding match between St. Vincent and The Glory Rockets. The odds were on the Rockets to win, but St. Vincent had been the surprise inclusion in that season’s cup. The last time they played, St. Vincent were in division two, and they were visiting the home team for a first round of the Cup, and had all the odds stacked against them. The game, somehow, was nil nil by stoppage time in the second half. Ronald Gonzalez, their star import, though not a regular goalscorer, scored a screamer from outside the box, penetrating the ball through the legs of Habib Ansar. It curled into the far post, and they won. Tanzim was listening to the game on the radio, five years old at the time. It was to be a defining moment in his life, forever addicted to that feeling of genuine pride. He remembered listening to the same radio station, while eating breakfast in a bunker, at nine years old, listening to the moment Salim Gibran was reprimanded, taken into custody, after a football association review of the previous game had caught him signing with his hands the hand signal loyal to the Yacoubians. They had won that game, coming from two behind to win by three, killing them in the second half. They ended the opposing team’s run of forty nine games unbeaten, scoring a willful three goals in the second half, after coming to two level in the first. They weren’t expected to win that game. It had been a rough year. They’d already lost ten of twenty one, a worst record for the team in their history. They came into the came with perspective, knowing the changing tides. They soaked in all the pressure and played on the counter attack, hurting them on the flanks. Better control of the midfield helped. Number ten, Ahmed Nazim, scored fifteen goals that season, three of them in that match. Two headers and a shot from outside the box, the ball coming in onto his left foot, he turned it to his right and curled it to the keeper’s left. The game ended with nine players on the field for either team, four red cards coming in the last passage of the second half, the last twenty minutes of the game seeing all four cards and as many yellows, two fights breaking out and one broken leg. The Rockets had in many ways forgotten how to play their game. They were upset not to have a say in the championship. They came out hard. People were tired of seeing them switch on and off. It was exhausting. One minute they played with tempo, the next minute they died off. They were still good on the break because they had speed, but the pain was real, they couldn’t hold the intensity for longer than a few minutes at a time. People spoke of a curse. Ahmed Nazim retired after that year. It was terrible for him. He hadn’t been bale to shake it off. He would retire from the game on one of the game’s most infamous lows. What a way to retire, people said. The Daily broke with a headline that read, Legendary Lows, referring to his exit. In the end, he had fifteen participants, all of them promising to better his expectations of returning home. They sounded their enthusiasm in emails, registering for every lecture, every reading session, and joining in an online editing program to recover the files of their peers for the journal, each of them dedicated to peer reviewing at least two pieces. There was even a friend, who registered only for the reading sessions, Mohammed Bakkar, who was a shoe designer and had promised to pay dividends on the successful selling of his shoes, to sponsor their meetings, wanting to do something kind. But he had overthought his concept. People, where he was selling, didn’t like it, and the people back home didn’t like that he took them as seconds, considering to sell to foreigners first, without consulting their consumerism, which was by far more robust. But the plan didn’t work out as planned. The first session saw only seven of the fifteen signed up present, and only two lasted the full two hours, three who had left leaving during the first quarter, and the other two leaving during the break, both explaining that they had forgotten to tell him but they had something else planned. Misbah, an old friend, and Mounzira, his old lover, had both planned on staying until the end. Mounzira was happy to see him, happy to see someone with so much intellectual clout, willing to put so much of their emotions and time at stake. Sadly, she had expected nobody to show, even if she let herself get carried away with excitement. But the success of the experience didn’t dampen the mood. In fact, Hassan was thrilled to have even two of his friends listening to his talk, though he was adamant that they could manage more. They did, for the second showing, simply because he had recognized that week that something was wrong, and the only thing to be done was to take it more seriously, to sell alcohol and food, to get sponsors and hire a band, one of their friends, a local favorite, preferably The Ghosts. There were thirty four people, two of whom were hired acts. He had spoken to Pharaoh about playing a show, but he wasn’t interested. Though when he heard that Samantha was playing, singer songwriter, spilling her guts, he offered to spill his soul. Hassan wanted to pay him, he refused at first, knowing he would be offered twice and would accept the second time. Hassan, having forgotten his manners abroad, didn’t offer him again. This made it awkward for Pharaoh, who was in need of the money, having to pay his rent. The landlord passed a new law, that he had to pay at the beginning of each quarter up front for three months. He’d been paying every month for the last three years, but he set horrible precedent when he started out, paying the full year upfront the first two times. He did it to keep it to himself, the landlords were getting greedy. They were showing the apartment to strangers whenever he was out. He felt he had no choice but to put down every dollar just to keep the damn place. Nobody else would give it out to someone like him, he knew that much. When Sarah heard that Pharaoh[1] was playing, she knocked on his door that night with a bottle of wine. She hadn’t seen him performing for some time. It was good to see him getting back on the boat. He needed it, needed to work to move on. The work would do him good, she thought. The work will do you well, she said. He was listening to old records to see what he would play. She loved sitting in on his sessions, practicing in the dark. He’d set up a spotlight in the corner of the room, and the rest of the lights were out. He’d sit on a stool in the center of the room, or in a corner of the room if there was someone else there. When a note came to him, it came from the heart, it rose through his lungs, expanding his chest and repeating the oohs and ahs. He had a way to prepare that got him into the zone. Twenty minutes of breathing lunges, it was like legwork but for the mouth. Hyperventilating, getting him into that high. It was a way to enter the void of hearing without having to take any drugs. He’d spent two summers in Sasson, and he hated the thought of needing to go back. When the first few chords came to him, he jotted them down on a piece of blank paper, which he crumbled up into fifths, writing them on each one, so he could alter the order and play with the tracks, listening back to see which ones he liked. Then he’d take his seat at the piano. He’d plug the interface into the compressor, and from there plug in the piano to the amp, connecting them by hand with the power duchess, connecting to the mixer. He turned the piano into a synthesizer, collecting the tones into a wavelength graph, that could be viewed as midi or wavelength. He would repeat the same verse, over and over again, repeating it out loud in bursts of pleasure, notes longing for the same seven chords, chanting and cheering, stretching their image, the range, the thrust and modal decay, flattening, steering, hold, like, dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun—dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun–dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun–dan-dun—dan-dun-dun. She had borrowed Tanzim’s camera, and had taken four photographs of him that night that actually showed. It was too dark to get a good reading, but she had been lucky with the film Tanzim had chose. He had been filming a performance the night before, on behalf of a friend, doing him a favor, and he’d put in 3200iso for the backstage photographs, and the ones from above the plank, where he liked to watch the plays as they rolled. He’d climb the lighting banisters, taking shots from there, trying to include the stretching figurines of crew members pulling the wires. She took the photographs in extreme light conditions. Those that worked were at the Red House theater for the opening, standing on four stills, each of them sold for a hundred dollars, the money going to pay Pharaoh’s rent, or something of the sort, whatever Pharaoh willed with the presents. They served macaroni and cheese in a large well pot and thirteen different kinds of cake, the manager forgetting to organize with the people who would bring what and from where, each of them asking their parents to make something ,their mothers baking a similar cake, thirteen cheesecakes all around, half of them low fat and the others low carb, two of them vegan and one of them without any base, just the cream and the raspberry, constricting into a soup, when frozen, eaten like a porridge pulled out of the fridge. He took the microphone early on, after everyone had gotten settled and registered in the back, taking their seats and focusing. But he learned the hard way it was going to work. So for every sentence he spoke there was an alternate question, and smokers would sour the mood by restricting the air. He learned the way it wasn’t going to work, that sort of means of returning home with the elixir, wanting to share with others what was being experienced in the present, dictating to past participle friends the anonymity of lies. To discuss what he would do, he sat with Mounzira and Misbah in the Bey Hotel lounge, sipping on an espresso and sharing a piece of pistachio caramel sponge cake. Mounzira had wanted him to read an announcement online, sending it to all their peers. Misbah thought he should try the piece again, trying to make it work somehow with the believing crowd, who first offered them a glimpse of readership. Hassan was confused. He had spent so many nights back in Manhattan dreaming of sharing his more sophisticated views. It amounted to an obsession at times, one where he could do little to deflect from occurring. When he had panic attacks his first year, fearing for the worst, fearing for their lives at home, he dreamt that he was suffering among them, all of them loyal pupils to the intellectual cause. He was dreaming. They had more important things to worry about. Not more important in the familiar sense of the term. They had other things to worry about. It was as if it were impossible for them to share the excitement of his pursuit in any way, as though in their sharing it would defeat the entire purpose of his having accomplished so much away from home. He had become a stock standing of pride and joy for the ones back home, one of those who went out in the world and did something, accomplishing what couldn’t be done at home, namely, becoming part of something larger than the pursuit of one’s sentimental pleasures. Mounzira was taking notes. She had agreed to perform secretarial duties, on account of Hassan’s volunteering assistant, Joelle, to have quit. She was never right for the part anyway, he said. She was always late and notoriously under dressed. She showed up to the first meeting straight from the beach. She was wearing a silk scarf that wrapped around her legs, and underneath, a bikini, and for a top, a small white shirt that had been cut in threes, the arms and the waist cut perfectly. The waiter recognized Misbah and Hassan, who had come by the night before, and the night before that, to drink martinis and talk like grown men. He remembered what they were talking about, as he had asked. What happened was that he was curious. Misbah seemed genuinely interested, paying attention every one of Hassan’s words. Misbah was faintly interested. He was thinking of his own plans to get away with Mounzira, the entire time. He was worried about Hassan’s pursuit of her. Her ability to do better than them with words caused them, in some way, to resent her presence when they were discussing the letters. He told a story they would both one day quote, each of them at their own discretion, in some other place and time, of a girl he knew in Low Winceton. They recognized the girl in the story, she was one of them. Smart, privileged, well informed. Progressive. Pushing boundaries. Calling upon force. The waiter went out of his way to talk about change, to make like he was informed. In the end, all he could muster saying focused on the world’s unwillingness to conform to cultures of the heart, in some way or another. He had spoken about pain, about the loss water in the villages, about the loss of the farmer’s natural grain, of the recorders of history, of mismanaged banks, and the fear of credit, and the reverse, the overbearing shadow of debt, creeping over them, like mice caught in a cage. Hassan wanted to agree with him. There were times he was able to conform to that base feeling of prejudice towards animals of all kinds. The idea that people shared some inherent virtue by virtue of being alive. That they ought to be spared one another’s violence. But really it happened more often when he drank, causing him to become sentimental. He spoke of his agreement without appealing to explain. It comforted his ego that he could stand down to such feelings without questioning why, simply to become part of the social whole. He understood his place in the bracket, in the very fabric that coalesced the mold. When Misbah ordered the bill, they were both embarrassed to be seen as cheap, or unwilling to pay. They argued over who would pay, without knowing if they were arguing in order to raise the stakes to cause the other man to break, or whether they actually wanted to be the ones paying. Mounzira took control, asking questions to Hassan first.

“I’m overwhelmed,” he said. “I expected more.”

They were surprised he admitted that the dream was over. He didn’t want to admit it out loud, but he couldn’t hide his disappointment. Misbah had only seen him drunk the last three nights. He hadn’t seen him in the morning. It looked rough. He didn’t like it rough. Mounzira suggested they do something about it. People were being negligent. They spoke about change, and when the opportunity came to talk about it, they disappeared, continuing on with their material lives, like ghosts in a carbon chamber. It occurred to Hassan to ask if either of them had done the reading for that afternoon. They hadn’t. Mounzira’s excuse was simple. She had taken on the task of secretary, and couldn’t afford the energy or the time. Though it wasn’t an excuse that worked to dispel her guilt, it was an excuse no less. Misbah could not be so fortunate. Eventually, he admitted to being with Hassan every night, getting drunk, and during the day, recovering. He wasn’t able to drink and live the way he did when Hassan was around. That surprised Hassan, who had witnessed three nights of Misbah’s heavy drinking, thinking that he lived like that every day. For Hassan, it was Misbah who had acted in that way, causing Hassan to feel obliged to get drunk. He hadn’t drunk so much in America. It gave him a lousy stomach and ulcers in the mouth. They decided to collaborate on a book. Each of them providing a part, three acts or three epilogues, it wouldn’t matter, so long as they could provide the thirds, each of them in succession, reading like the chapters of a real book. One reviewer said the only reason it was successful was because of its Peep technology function on ereaders, whereby every character’s backstories and consecutive chapters could be accessed by double clicking on their names, and certain themes and locations as well, which was all evident on a bookmark that came with the copy text, the three dimensional casket of words collected for their heart’s content.

“What should we do tonight?”

“You guys feel like going to the movies?”

“What’s worth seeing?”

“There’s an exhibition at the Gallery 3, a showcase of the Owls.”

“Who are they?”

“Painter’s collective, out of Ras Shahid. They’re good.”

“I don’t know. You guys feel like doing that?”

“Yeah why not.”

“Let’s go.”

“Is there entrance?”

“I think its free before nine. There’s a party afterwards, maybe for that.”

They paid the bill. After, it was better for them. They took the car, paying for the valet and driving out of the parking lot, some of them drunk, others stoned, wandering their way into the mess of traffic, waiting patiently in line between cars.

“Are there any checkpoints on the way,” one of them asked.

“Just one.”

“Can we dodge it?”

“Of course. Will take a little longer though.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Let’s go.”

But after a few minutes it was clear they would have to take the original path, even if it meant crossing through Army Cross.

“I don’t know if we can make that far without having to go back,” he said. “There’s a lot of traffic on the bridge,” he said, pointing in the way of the receding sun, the four long arms of the port standing steady in the far horizon.

“Then let’s do it,” he said. “What’s the rush? We can take the bridge, sit in traffic for an hour.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind making it there before nine.”

“How much is entrance, I can get you.”

“IT’s not that. It’s just better. Then they turn the music on, and it’s a party, not an exhibition.”

“It’s a party anyways. Nobody gives two fucks.”

“Let’s just go under the bridge, come on. What do you have on you?”

“Some gums.”

“And you,” he said, asking Dadalle.

“My weed is with my wife, actually. I have nothing on me right now.”

They drove the four miles to the Gallery 3, stuck in traffic most of the time. The evening lights of passing cars glowed along the hills of Route 25. The turnpike gave way to a mountains flagging behind the city’s boneless arch. Electrics strung like a coat of fibers, each vine like the staggering of a sentence, glowing beyond repair. On the corner, at Michigalle, the lights at Naji Music displayed instruments sat silently on the walls, like primary students induced by fear, speaking to a time of less provincial tastes, a strong musical tradition. They entered the field of radar at Army Cross. Two mammoth tanks sat stationed either side of them, introducing the long line of stalling traffic hoping to go by. Ibrahim accepted a car into his path, looking into the window, exposing his gun so as to cause them alarm. The windows rolled down. There were three of them, in the car. He asked for their papers. They obliged, passing them one by one to the open curtain. He accepted them and walked a few steps to his cabin, where he put them down and picked up the phone. He had been told to call in any suspicious behavior, and the three faces on the pictures looked good enough. He had been told to call in any Maverlet convertibles with a white or pink canvas. He knew he was being watched by his partner, in the cabin ten meters down. He knew they were both being watched, somehow, on camera, all of it written down and stored somewhere for debriefing. Not that it concerned him. He was on the right side.

The call came in clear. He let them go. Not before asking where they going, mentioning that the road up ahead near Daraj Ali was closed. They told him they were going up to Dar Amin and from there would take off into the country.

“Dar Amin,” he said. “That’s a detour.”

“I know,” one of them said, the man sitting at the window. He had a thin moustache and small round face with big ears and a loose cuff jacket. His face was dark red and tanned and his teeth were shiny white. “We’re going to do work in the morning. We thought we would go through the park, to skip traffic.”

Ibrahim wasn’t sure. He asked them to wait again. As he walked away he kept a distance and kept his eyes on their clothes, watching their movements, in the mirror of the cabin wall. He picked up the phone.

“Captain. This is Ibrahim, from Camp Basement.”

“Speak Ibrahim.”

“Are you seeing what I have?”

“How does it look? It looks alright from here.”

“It’s white, as you said.”

“Did you see their papers?”

“Yes.”

“Are they legit?”

“I don’t know.”

“Call Walid, he’ll know.”

“Should I tell him to come?”

“See what he’s doing.”

“Is everything alright,” the driver called.

Ibrahim put down the phone. He walked over to the car again, Leaning into the window.

“I just have to call someone again. Just be patient.”

“Is something wrong, friend?”

The driver hadn’t spoken yet. Ibrahim wanted to get a better look at him but his face was skewed by the metal shelf of the window. He stepped away, back to the phone.

Ibrahim made the phone call to Walid, who picked up the phone.

“What’s going on over there?”

“Are you watching?”

“What is it?”

“Captain says to come over here, to take a look at their papers.”

“Who are they?”

“How should I know?”

“Alright,” he said. “Keep calm.”

Ibrahim put down the phone, walking back to the car.

“It’ll only be a moment,” he said. “Bear with me.”

Moments later, he handed them their cards.

“Stay out of trouble, he said, “God bless your drive. Go on.”

Arriving at the Gallery, they bumped into their friend —- outside.

“Have you been in?”

“Yeah, I have, it’s great, you’ll love it.”

“Awesome. What did you think of them,” she asked the other.

“I don’t know. I’m not sure yet.”

“Not sure?”

“It’s honest and I like it, but it’s a little reserved. I like something funkier. This is pure.”

“I understand.”

“It’s bashful. Like, a femme fatale in a Melville film, but that’s too old for them. These are young artists, they can do better than that. What do you think?”

“I think they’re on the right path. They’ve shown a lot of themselves. It’s great. They have a lot of exposure.”

“Exposure is good but they don’t grow. They’re still copying the Revivalists, and that’s bland. In Metropol…”

“In Metropol everything dies in an instant, the instant it is born. Don’t compare everything to your home. It’s not a sign of wealth and prosperity.”

“That’s what matters to you.”

“Why shouldn’t it? I love getting what I want when I want it.”

“What’s the last thing you really wanted? I mean really, from your heart?”

“It’s been too long. I get everything I want.”

“But really, the paintings donated by Marin were excellent, did you have something to do with that?”

She nodded.

“It’s very refined.”

“She’s a refined artist.”

“What is she worth these days?”

“Twelve ounces.”

They laughed.

“In pounds or in hash.”

“In both.”

The art in the drawing room was tender and so was the crowd. Dadalle skipped through introductions and opening lines, where the tableau of ideas was introduced, explaining the general concepts of the artists, with a printed manifesto in bold on a separate tableau. The people were mostly quiet, all of them drinking wine or holding their arms together around their crotch, placing their jackets over their arms. Passing through the gallery like they had already seen the work a thousand times, like it was enough to take a glance and later appreciate what they had seen, when suspecting by themselves in the dark. There were however a few students and aficionados among the crowd, dispersed like morning sap on feathers of a tree.

“”The first hall is dedicated to the Revivalists,” Rind said, “A lot of the work involving Tamdil, by his own hand or curation.”

“I don’t know how I feel about his work anymore. When he was younger, and in love, Tamdil had shown us the world. We are all indebted to his work. But I don’t know, anymore.”

“They say it is in the strokes,” someone said.

“In the gestures of the artist.”

“Like the philosopher Genus,” Hassan replied. “Who modeled the intellectual world of pilgrims. The paintings are important because they are models, a design. Something not yet experienced, prophetic in that they move like prophecy. They speak and tell and negate and blow asunder, like prophecy, but they are also deviant, full of trickster habits, meaning not what they say, doing exactly the opposite. I see al ot of sexuality in this, the hallmark of the Revivalists, everywhere, but in the end, it’s all hidden, hidden in cues. They believe in fantasy, they strive for it. It makes them unique, in that they combine the extravagance of creativity, creative will, with unmediated worship of instinct and heritage, and where they can comply. Without having to beg for it, they make space for themselves, acting as though they are owed what they are given. Like a necessary evil for the world to have a blessing and a sacrifice, heaped upon us in a time of need. Isn’t that so, Jean-Trus, or am I bluffing?”

“I don’t know what to think of it all,” he said, circling the paintings in their rows, focusing on each one as though it were the key, passing it on to the fickleness of memory as soon as it was disposed, disposed of for another. The painting with the yellow and pink house, blushed with sepia on a map of the imagined world, a rendition by the artist, it struck him as odd and dangerous. Odd, because it was obvious, and yet that was what made it dangerous, it was mad, that the very message itself was present in its own representation, a parody of another time. Forgetting the details, the hospital gowns climbing from windows, the mutation of the bricks over time, playing over a

loop, too slow for the common eye to notice. On the placard it said the artist did not intend many of the glamorized ideas of the piece, instead focusing on what it would be like to put the world in a vase, and watch it furrow, something the artist claimed to have done over a short period of time, in a summerhouse in Arles, at the close of the war.”

“The strikes are as cold as anything I’ve seen. They exude a sense of familiarity and warmth, making me want to visit them,” Hassan said, confined to the sparings of his own imagination, enjoying the bursts of language that spurred from his heart whenever he took the time to reflect on them. Paintings by his friends, who were now far more serious.

But people were slowly losing interest.

“I don’t blame the people of Pastoral,” Dadalle said. “The financial heart, it has to take things out of context. Ultimately they have as little power as you and I. In electing representatives. In holding them accountable. Wanting a better life. This is what the world is about. For those higher on the chart, the risks are bigger, the rewards larger, but the pain, the suffering, it’s the same. I know that now.”

After what happened at Army Cross. After the siege of Café Hermes. He didn’t want to invoke those thoughts, keeping the references to himself. But of course, things had changed. Strangers on the street refusing contact, finding it difficult to look into each other’s eyes, bowing their heads while passing. Like visitors, from another time, visiting the construct of their youth, watching it unfold, finding in its place a stark reminder of the past, images of an outnumbered war. The father is with his daughter, standing in front of the painting. She is very interested in the painting. Whose is it? Who is it? It’s the person wanting to buy the painting from Tanzim. He pointed his finger to the corner of the canvas, for her to see, briefly, with her eye, the marker’s signature, the cross on the dotted t and the dots over the eye, the cross the Yacoubians exposed to her.

“Here you can see, my darling, the feminine present in the texture, the strokes. I want you to see this. This is something you are capable of. Look at the strokes. How brilliant? Huh? What do you think? I entertained the idea myself, of becoming a painter. My parents encouraged me, like we have for you, son. And I even spent six months honing my craft. But every once in a while, you have to come to a point in your life where you decide the next step. There are only so many of these stages in one life, and the less of them we skip the better it turns out in the end. Trust me, I know you’re young, and you want, more than anything, to be an artist. But you have to come to the point where you realize you’re wrong. You have had privilege. You have tasted the finest fruits of life. You have traveled so much of the world. Don’t you realize, some things are not for us. We can do what we want, to hide from them, but it’s impossible to ignore. You are not going to be the artist you desire, so let it rest, for your sake, for mine, for your mother’s, so she can relax al ittle bit, things are becoming hard. It has become too taxing for us, to sit and watch you idle away on a dream that is not in the least bit ensured. What if something were to happen to us? What if something were to go wrong? How will you pay your debts? How will you even incur them!? You can’t even take a loan, and you want to be taken seriously in life. You think the world is a beautiful place. Let me tell you something, it’s not. This life can be a living nightmare. It is like that for some. You have been preserved from such madness, but it comes. It doesn’t care what you’ve had in your life. What you have eventually counts. Everything can change, any minute, for all of us.

“There’s a strong masculine center to each piece, the symbolic present, the form.”

He enjoyed her work, but was undecided on some of the others.

“What’d you think of Marin?”

“I enjoyed her work. I’m undecided on some of the others.”

“It’s an important show for her,” she said.

“I know.”

“She’s not desperate but her situation’s changed. If the result is poor it’ll hurt her. She doesn’t need the money, of course, but everyone can benefit from the exposure. But taking too long to be recognized between exhibitions could be harmful. I’m not sure. I’m worried about her. What do you think?”

“People have expectations and they want them met,” she said. “Frankly I’m surprised you put her in that position. I didn’t think she wanted to go there so fast. I thought she needed more time. But relax, the work is great. People are loving it.”

He entered a cul de sac room, void of light, one distance away from the doctor’s at Avenue Gort. The silence was broken every few moments by the sound of a car passing on the street nearby, a familiar wave that hollowed in the wind, suppressing entirely, until it was repeated again, alike. Through the parted window he smelled heaps of iron and waste burning in a frenzy outside. Children of the neighborhood stared at the fire in a sense of wishing, with a sense of wishing. Through the adjoining window, the sound of dishes being drilled into a pot. In the old days, hunters gathered at daybreak on the roofs of buildings to fire at the migrating herd downstream, but the birds had all but disappeared. He wanted more than anything to purchase the painting, to own its contents and also to empower the source. He knew Tamdil’s parents well. They were decent enough. Upper middle class, though they acted as though they were elite, they were not, they never owned the means of production. His father owned almost nothing beside their lavish home. He, on the other hand, owned four buildings in the financial district, a set of shopping malls on the outskirts of Port La Chaise, the rights to sell his shares in the National Museum, whenever he sought the blessing, not to mention his business conglomerate in telecommunications and technological parts. He didn’t know how to take the meeting. His daughter had set the arrangement up. He didn’t think he was doing anything wrong but he had his attorney, McKinney, look into it. The boy, Tanzim, had agreed to meet with him, on the condition he came himself. He knew the way he liked to do business, knowing he was ever the more likely to send one of his assistants or his right hand man, who was actually a woman, by the name of Lea Salloum. He agreed, if only to please his wife on their anniversary, and her sixtieth birthday, which tended to coincide. But his daughter had warned him about Tanzim. He remembered the boy, from when he was younger. The younger brother to Tatiana Bey, who he knew well and saw often. He had become such a mess though. He hadn’t studied or worked a day in his life, and yet he had suddenly become synonymous with the conversation they were all trying to have, the question of who would inherit the beautiful painting by the maturing Tamdil. Tatiana had done well, she played it smart. Inheriting what she knew she was worth, she built herself a small empire. She hadn’t gotten married, to his knowledge. It would have been quite a wedding, with dignitaries and old friends from all over. But she was elegant, refined, and she hadn’t put a foot wrong all her life. But Tanzim, on the other hand. Lea looked into it. He had been expelled from his school, the same school as his daughter, the same school as Tamdil. Were they friends, he wondered? His daughter added to it the story she had heard from one of her friends, at the Observatory, who worked in the archaeology section of the library. Tanzim had been known to hang around the building, looking to get his dick wet, as she put it, which he found crude and irresponsible, for her to talk about another man that way in his presence, but times had changed, his daughter was grown up, he had nothing more about it to say, remaining quiet, urging her with his silence to go on. He had been banned from the library on two occasions, both times when a new director was involved. But he was working at a small start up, trading glorious art at reduced prices, and he had a similar reputation at the office as well. Supposedly, he was almost fired when he slapped the ass of his employer, and he was known to stare at their bottoms as they passed by, to make it obvious, to stand upright and offer his glare. If his father had worked himself up from the hands, Tanzim fed himself with a handful. He felt entitled to everything in his sights. Largely because people abetted his nature, based on their reaction to him. At the age of three, he was known for spitting on the older children on the school bus, because the boys had made fun of his clothes. Confronted, he told them he would do it again. They cherished the boy’s viscitude at school, offering no more than a warning. At five, he stuck a pencil in a friend’s ear, for speaking out about his wallops. Thankfully, the boy’s hearing wasn’t damaged. When he was nine, he attacked another boy with a free weight, pinning him down and forcing the weight on his chest. The trainers were quickly involved, but the effort it required to restrain Tanzim far exceeded what was permissible. Eventually, Tanzim moved schools. The following year, he was suspended from school for urinating in the saxophone of a student in his class, and proceeded to masturbate in her face when she found the instrument. The administrators were in utter disbelief. It sparked a chain reaction amongst the boys in his class. He was finally expelled after reaching into the pants of Audrey Habib during a team building exercise. Tanzim quickly discovered his parent’s support was unconditional. The incident with the Habibs was difficult to deflect. They shared similar circles. On some level, the circles intertwined. He showed those signs psychologists phrased as dissident or divorced. Reacting to the smallest incident with disproportionate rage. His parents moved him to Crescent Boarding School, on the outskirts of Port La Chaise, in a small mountain alcove that, from its peak, could see the beautiful blue spread of the open sea. There he met Ruben Dark, heir to Hen Capital, and Patrick Iman, the son of pioneer fashion designer Emma Carole. He dated Elena Claude, the daughter of Richard Naseem of Seeb Enterprise, who pushed Tanzim’s ego to the edge. One day, when the bells rang for students to make their way to the rooms, he was accosted by several students, most of them he couldn’t recognize. After an exchange of words, one of them pushed him to the floor. According to witnesses at the scene, after Tanzim fell to the ground, the boys stood around confused, as though they were surprised it were that easy. Suddenly, with a spark, maybe it was the sight of Tanzim’s legs, folding under his knees to bring himself up, they all had a go at him. When they were done, they left him there, shirtless, in a pool of blood. They had expected Tanzim to react, but he didn’t. Instead, he finished out the school year from his room at home. A three story house, with a small patio and a garden that wound along a spiral of Samaria pine trees to his house. The gallerist Rind Nassar stepped through the violet curtains, alongside Lev Trussaut, grandson of the designer Rim Trussaut and executor of the Trussaut Estate Fund, and Akram Shalhoub, Deputy Chief Adviser at Palm SPC, whose father cofounded Bank of Beirut. The room was empty, except for Jean-Pus Dadalle seated on the only bench in the room. He was seated before an inscription of writing by Zahreddine, an excerpt from his book, History of the Murtaddins, and their study of pyramids, where Zahreddine makes a claim on Buccolt’s painting, “The Pyramid of Nob,” the replica of which hung in the Office of the Arts at the National Monument. They found him taking notes, mumbling in an underspeech that could not be understood. They asked him what he thought of it. Dadalle knew right away that it was owned by Trussaut, the painting had been bought in the days of Buccolt, when Rim Trussaut would invite him to present his pieces to the adoring public, in garden functions at his beachside home. Rind and Dadalle had studied together at Crescent Secondary School. They got along well, even though he repeatedly asked her out on dates when he needed her notes and rarely called afterward, she found him sweet and amicable, and would make funny gestures and was awkward in front of her parents, which she really liked. She didn’t trust people who did well in front of her father, or people who could handle her mother’s jokes and her stamina. The son of a diplomat, he was far too diplomatic, exuding a peculiar warmth.

“He wrote a great piece on the guy,” Rind said, introducing her friend, who was eager to introduce himself. Dadalle recognized Akram Shalhoub. He had been to his house once before, for a large social dinner, tagging along with his friend, Mustafa Amir, who had grown up with Shalhoub, taken under his wing. He lived in the iconic Bull’s Eye in the financial district, on the thirty fourth floor. He didn’t know Lev Trussaut, but he had met his father, once, when he visited a graduation at the university, a colleague he had grown up with having given a speech.

“Have you seen it before,” Dadalle wanted to know.

“Of course,” Lev said, “it was visible from almost anywhere in the house. It rose forty meters high and was at least sixty meters wide. It had taken the painters seventeen years to cover the canvas in white. Buccolt had wanted it perfect, perfectly white, before starting to imprint the brushes. At one time, there were at least six hundred assistants, on a bed of ladders, painting through the working day. He said it came to him while reading Zahreddine’s History of the Murtaddins, and their study of pyramids, and Zahreddine’s assertion that the Pyramid of Nob, as depicted in the oil painting by Buccolt, that hung in the Office of the Arts at the National Monument, and was respected on Labor Day, was built with a rootless column on the foot of the eye, so that the pyramid could be turned. He respected their observation on the method of Buccolt, the method of purpose. His attention to the eye, his deliberate defacement of the pyramid. They observed the eyes of statues and their shoulder abscesses, squalling hawks breaking into flight, children paralyzed in fear. But he takes it instinct. Agreeing with Zahreddine, agreeing with the original intention of Buccolt. The painter was himself the object, the canvas the motif of his experience, symbolizing the gesture itself. It couldn’t be more simple than that, and yet they refused his analogy, his assertion. He was not surprised. It wouldn’t benefit their longstanding relationship with the Academy, to share official values and histories as a means of consolidating over a certain percentage of the electorate and general youth, anyone eligible to vote for board candidacies and other arrangements. My grandfather often visited Buccolt in his studio on Boulevard Semaine, when it was still west of Highway 3, in a little side street known for decades as the slaughterhouse ranch, lending itself to cheap renters, artists and immigrants forced out of other districts due to rising prices for a lesser standard of living. The studio was long and oval shaped. At one of end of the interpretive sphere, an open wall curvature that expanded into a garden. On the ground floor of a three meter warehouse, the upper floors smaller and neatly designed, packaging rooms in thin diametric cloves. On the other end, a curved mirror the length of the spherical wall. The walls near the center were painted yellow, and because of an assemblage of pipes suctioned out of the walls, the center felt more like a corridor of two opposing ends. The ceiling, open and freeing at the furthermost reaches, drew down nearer the floor, where at the centermost point, the concrete structure hung just above the head, draped like the paralyzed tooth of a giant. When it rained, and water soaked from the upraised ceiling clunked into the concrete drape, a sound was made that was known to them, the sound of enamel being pulled from the jaw with force of an engine, like at the dentist when a tooth is ill. One of the painters who was friends with Buccolt, Hazar Dikashi, the son of refugees, convinced Buccolt to install an aquarium to help alleviate the feeling of loneliness all of them had, watching Buccolt at work in the windowless hall. He spent winters holed up inside, like a bear refusing to fall asleep in the season’s cave, working tireless nocturnal nights. At his home, he lived like a prince, but in his office he lived like a dog.”

Rind wasn’t a favorite of Lev’s. He thought highly of her mother, but she spent too much of her time socializing to be taken seriously. She was always the first to rsvp for a wedding, and always the last to appear at a wake, rarely ever a funeral. People had to accept her, to be her friend, but they mainly did it to appease her mother, whose friendship they required to get anything done. She was President of Ministry of Arts and Letters, a subsidiary to the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, inaugurated under the ministries of the first Habibs. She occupied the post for thirty two years, relegating and ascending those artists she liked, choosing who to promote or demote based on her idea of them.

“What do you think of Yazan’s work?”

“I think it’s very brave.”

“Not like this, though.”

“No, not like Tamdil. But I don’t know how I feel about it.”

Sandra disagreed. For her, the painting was the painting of a whale, the impressions of a journey, of landing in a port, the sort of port he had probably known, having lived most of his life in Durahan, vacationing form time to time in Tyre. The sort of port a prophet discovers, where ascetics live in nearby mountains, and pilgrims mow and plough the fields. She knew the painter’s entire oeuvre, and had seen nothing to suggest he was concerned with metaphysics, but on a more material level, he liked to portray their history, a history of theft, of cleansing, evacuation, disease. A once fertile valley, overrun, overcome by the rising sea. Tanzim was obsessed with their failure to make amends, to rise above the occasion of their suffering and pay dividends to future generations. That was the issue that occupied his mind. Dadalle was courteous. He disagreed but he decided not to say anything. He didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. He had seen the paintings. Salloum, the old rat, had one hanging in his office. He paid over the top for it, and for what? He couldn’t understand why he had become such a sensation. His father’s efforts to convince him otherwise should have stunted his growth, but they only added fuel to his fire. The young Tanzim had transformed in their eyes, from the apathetic little brat he was when he was still around. The work wasn’t nearly as good as an old fashioned Buccolt, or Rem Steel’s concrete constructivist lithographs. What did the gallerists in District 21’s minimal artistic scene care how qualified was the work so long as it sold. They were all afraid of their infidelities, their insufficiencies, as artists, as critics, intellectuals. As parents, teachers, friends. They couldn’t stand the thought of standing up to someone else, he reasoned, without having to stand up to themselves. Without having to their own worst fears, their own ideas of failure. He stole his entire lexicon from the squatter movements of past. The leftist poets of Paragon, like Ali Bey, who wrote that, awareness could not be lost, in the frame, and Yunus Kum, who added, I am a lunatic, and yours. These were poets who surrendered their entire life to the movement of poetry thorough the people. Who imagined their words to spread like an infection vine coiling like a serpent through the deep recesses of the city’s ghouls. Zahreddine had arrived into the world carrying a manuscript of his book, so the story goes. Whenever he was seen, when he was just starting out, at the reading houses beside the Anglican Church, or listening to lectures in Deputy Hall, he had a copy of Der Immerkause in his hand, which he referred to from time to time in a sort of healthy penitence. Few writers would have withstood, had they shared an epoch, the defeat of Yunus Kum at the Court of Censors. But such was the stature of his humility. He shared Kum’s faith in the end, disappearing as he came in the white lights of a firestorm. Wasn’t it Badr Hussein, Deputy to the Interior, who hoped to turn the disappearance into an abduction with the intent to kill, hoping to frame the PLS in the matter? The defense, entirely at odds, was forced to rest its case, Leaving the legacy of Zahreddine to the pages. And here was a young pansy, who thought he owned claims to the world. And spoke of their responsibility like he had fulfilled his own. For Sandra, poetry was always a search for refuge by the poet. A search for faith. Maya agreed. While she felt there were instances that told of boredom and indifference, and instances that told of flight, she agreed that there was a very strong feeling of shelter resonating through Zahreddine’s oeuvre. She didn’t like the way Sandra put it, she couldn’t appreciate her accepting a strong, masculine reading of Zahreddine, who she felt was far more aligned to the feminine undercurrents of the unconscious than his creditors supposed.

“Who was it that wrote of madness,” Dadalle asked.

“It was one of the filmmakers.”

Probably Ramiz, one of them said, who was always speaking up in lectures and panel discussions, often to make fun of the proceedings, to poke fun at the jurors, the panelists dressed in their most formal attire, speaking with professional verve. He thought it was all contrived, and it was. But some of them enjoyed the convention. The tradition, of wearing their finest suits, preparing their lecture notes and assuming the podium to deliver their examination on special conduits of the human condition. What for Ramiz looked like a contrived set of games was for many the very foundation of their culture, their system. Something the performance arts could never understand. Their work occupied a different set of values, of impressions. For Ramiz, the audience mattered, so did the room from where it was held, or breached, or delivered and accepted. For the poets and their critic friends, they needn’t nothing more than eyes to excel the words from paper, and when lacking could do well with their ears. Ramiz was in support of Michel Ahbeh and Riwa Fakhri, who were barred from entering the panel room. They had written the Manifesto of Stink and published it two weeks before, in the back section of The Seahorse Review, the very same magazine that published Zahreddine’s first piece, and that of Joseph Hassad and Yunus Kum. A publication that survived generations of economic collapse, currency wars, and two bankruptcies, finding a way to survive. Fakhri was known for her deliberate use of fetishisms to engage the audience in her work, usually video art installations and sometimes short films. She was standing outside the hall handing out fliers for a screening she would be hosting that night, showing her latest film, Sodomy Hill; the outrageous abduction and detention of two sisters, where the main actress, suffering from an infected abscess in her anus, performs the operation on screen. They were having an after party after the screening, where old pornographic films from the golden age of porn would be played from projectors with dangling wiring cords cutting through the industrial ceiling. Films that made the city look like a labyrinth, full of wormhole passages where deviants exchanged their latest rash, and the baths on Boulevard Haggar just opened. One of the more famous clubs at the time, Cocoon, was a pioneer in the fetish scene. It was an entire building on a plot of abandoned industrial land, where most of the surrounding field was soaked in mud, sort of like a marsh or a moat of soil. Inside the club, there were five distinct floors and a super dungeon, with three floors underground. In one of the main halls, there was an entire wall where subscribers from the night before could check in their bodies to be fixed onto a small, industrial cocoon, whereby their bodies were fixed onto a plank that emerged from the ceiling, and they were regularly fisted by members of the staff or friends if they were not alone.

Dadalle wanted to catch Lev, before escaping.

“What do you have to say on the article of madness in the work of Zahreddine,” he asked.

“There’s certainly a sense of pessimism in the work, a sense of psychosis. Characters are more often than not displaced. I love the portion of his books where people get lost, and not knowing why, have to find their way home. There’s a lot of planning that goes into a work like that, a work of that nature. It’s really very brave. Displacement is very relevant today, of course, but it always has a place in our culture. There’s a sense of racial, spatial and individual disintegration in living bodies, living forms of the work, but also, if you consider what we’re seeing on a more global standard, a disintegration of collective bodies, a disintegration of unions of all sorts. But to say there’s an article of madness resonating through the work, just like that, I don’t know. It doesn’t qualify, in every sense. It isn’t totally there, even if its present. It’s a response, maybe, but not an intention. Having known Buccolt, even though I was young, having seen his work in person, I know from Buccolt that Zahreddine was a magician, and a magician is always full of life, regardless of the circumstances. It required great energy to do what he did. So, he must have clung on to some hope. There’s a sense of optimism in all of his work, isn’t there, wouldn’t you say?”

They stopped at a video installation on a small cabinet box, holding the old Panoramic television, recognizable by its Leather hatch and Leather remote, a design that was immediately phased out at the time.

“Which film is that?”

Sans Soleil.”

“Have we seen it together?”

“We have. But right now there’s a scene from Vertigo in there, but the film itself is Sans Soleil. We’ve seen Vertigo. You feel asleep.”

“The one with the cowboy?”

“No, that’s Midnight Cowboy.”

Semih sat in the corner by himself, sipping from his beer. The walk, was singing a song, on kindness and endless compassion, one of those old folk songs that were lost to the graves before revivalists from one of the music studios dug them out and played them over modern beats. Songs of souls and sacred ghosts, and homes built with stone with a few battered hands, and chores like cleaning windows and doors. The sea as symbol, the symbol as a form of refugee, seeking her place in a wilderness of forms. Ramiz stood for some time, staring at the paintings, done by his friend. It was different for him, looking into the portraits by Tamdil. It’s different when you know where he comes from, he thought. He had tried so hard to evade the shame of his parents, for his wanting to become a painter, going so far as to refuse working with his father, even though, when the opportunities before him were suffering, he could have done well to do so, yet he tried, as hard as one painter in a city of ghouls is able to deflect the expectations heaped upon them, by society, by themselves. He wanted to prove himself. Actually, in an interview he gave with Canada Press, he mentioned an event that marked him for those turbulent early years, before he had made his mark and Learned how to hustle. It was his high school graduation. He was in the normal graduating class, no honors, no baccalaureate, no advanced placement courses, having spent most of his time concerned with poetry and politics and social ethics. He watched as his classmates heaped praise upon their peers and teachers and administrators heaped praise upon their favored pupils, to whom it was their final chance to show some sort of favoritism, and love, or what he mistook for love, and what was really a virtue of living vicariously through their mirror selves.  Incidentally, two other revivalists, Shahad Surah and Hala Marin, were also at the graduation that evening, sitting in the crowd. And another future member of the alliance, a founder of the Owls, was sitting among the graduating class. He hadn’t discovered yet his capacity to transform language and meaning in a fundamentally creative and interesting way. He hadn’t read Duro, Syzceski, or History of the Murtaddins. Ramiz was still the son, then, of the finance minister in the government of Mohammed Chakeeb. He could not deflect that virtue, heaped upon him by the success of his parents. Actually, he was the varsity champion in both tennis and the one hundred meter sprint. He even beat the record for the two hundred meter sprint, but didn’t want to take the glory away from his good friend, who trained with him and was chairman of the student athletics committee. At the close of the ceremony, two members of the faculty presented a slideshow with a photograph of every student and a prediction for their future, what they would become and accomplish in a decade, and further, in thirty, forty years. Jamie Blond, valedictorian, was to become General in the lord’s army. Heba Ghantout, salutatorian, a neurosurgeon. And so the list went on, all of them attributed to their deepest wishes. Khaled Akkar, a fashion designer. Maria Maroun, an events producer. When it came to Tamdil’s turn, he was surprised to find that they hadn’t even included a photograph of him, including instead a photo of him with a group of friends, where he was barely noticeable. He had been the editor in chief of the school publication for three years, since his sophomore year. He changed the name and the entire tradition of the paper, allowing it to expand its literary and artistic merit to the degree that people were asking to write from abroad, former students, alumni, recent graduates, parents, former staff. He had published his own short story collection in the paper, and had hosted an Avant garde poetry reading every week in the school library, after dark, with the support of the administrators to whom he had become a friend. Two of his paintings were being showcased in a gallery on Boulevard Haggar. And yet, all they could say, after reading his name, was businessman. The word stuck with him, like a double he couldn’t shed. Whenever he made a decision, he weighed it against that image they had of him, the image he had of himself. He wanted so badly to destroy the image that in some way it had become his raison d’etre, to force it away before it grabbed hold of him, convincingly, causing him to become the object of his dissatisfaction. It changed his work entirely. He grew inward. He didn’t publish a piece in university at all, and stopped painting altogether. Actually, he was painting quite a lot, and writing even more, but it was impossible to get him to show his work to anyone. Whatever he managed to create he wanted to destroy. Those who had been fascinated by him were now furious at the man he was becoming. Bitter, repulsive, self involved. That was until, on a quiet spring afternoon while walking through the park, he discovered an old classmate of his, Ramiz. He was sitting under a tree with three cameras strapped around his neck. He looked completely different than the person he was when they were in school. Gone were the Cavani slacks, the Benedict slippers, the Foye watch. He had on a dark brown corduroy jacket with beige elbow patches stitched on, black Phantom skinny jeans and a fedora. Something had obviously changed.

“What are you doing here?”

“Taking photos.”

“Of what?”

“Taking photos of the birds, sleeping in their nests. I find it beautiful. I want to document it.”

“For what?”

“I don’t know yet. Not for anything. Just for.”

They walked towards Ramiz’s house while they spoke, walking the way through the tracks at Mar Iman, passing the old hospice on Port Shahad. They bought coffee on the way from Café Boulos, standing outside the steel warehouse where the deckhands and workers smoked their cigarettes and ate their lunch, overlooking the old lighthouse and the colorful pier, once the attraction of so many. On the walk home they discovered a new pizza place that had opened and decided to eat there that night, realizing simultaneously that they were going to become friends, that they were going to hang out for some time. Ramiz spoke passionately about the things he was reading, The Analysis by Charles Duro, Query on Nature by Kohl Divorce, going to impromptu readings in the red light district bars where colorful fairy hosts dressed in drag introduced such giants as Joseph Hassad, the son of factory workers who was going to become huge. Tamdil had forgotten the incentive, had forgotten that there was that life. But his interiority fascinated Ramiz. He had been reading The Alliances by Yunus Kum, The Cartographies by Al Hakim. Ramiz asked him to recite his favorite lines. In a burst of energy he jumped onto a stoop and sung from the bottom of his heart, quietly, predictably smooth, The painters have all fled/We drowned the poets in their sleep. The wave of passion would not subside. Ramiz was amazed by the mystics who had taken control of Tamdil’s heart, sweeping him to enormous heights of satisfaction and depths of agony. Tamdil, in turn, was buoyed by the extravagance of Ramiz’s world, an undercurrent like that of Rimbaud so long ago, like that of Rahun and the Fifteen Nights, where men dressed like fairies and women sung like crows, charging through a pattern of orgiastic rites and sodimistic enslavement that would generate the deepest recesses of their souls. Where Tamdil turned inwards to study the heart, the inner cosmos available to those able to hear the subtle frequencies between tranquility and bliss, Ramiz turned inwards to a plutonic core, fascinated by inversion of psychic states, by the perversion of the ego conscious self. He watched the provisions hauled in from the water. Long metallic poles, attaching fireworms from the mountain as bait Expired goods, they all knew it. It was probably that they were not there. Still, he would have eaten them. The important wear it on their faces Armbands worn past the current of yawns. Who is most wasteful and who isn’t? The coastline was not notable for anything, except for the morning sun. At that our, nothing could be sold, and game was free of charge. Life currents in symbols varnished with expired signs. The lights we tore down near the independence rock. The roof we smoked above your house. Homes atop one another with no apparent harmony to their rule. Each home built to outsmart the last. Where could it all have been going? Was he not there? The facades that form off the balconies, shields onto the homes, appear to be made of plastic but for their relentless glare. The starred image of a servant washing the glass with linens in her hands. He even dared to fuck the servant but he thought it too crude, she had belonged to him, so what? Ducking his responsibilities in bed, shirking his renaissance aims, he thought of horses stabbed at the sack, whose knees we chopped to maintain our own height. We ruined it. A shadow mass overlooks the city square, nestled between two lines. He wanted to be there, and to own the cause with his fists, so he might enforce them. Lowlying architecture but for the purpose of hills, who extend the shadow of each building, urging pockets of light and pockets of immense darkness. Where nothing can be seen but figured, swallowed by the immensity of the hole. Isn’t she breathtaking? Have you seen this hole? I will describe it. The property on which it lies is imaginary. To illustrate, in a material sense, something that does not exist, the borders are used to delineate size. Two giant walls, that can never be breached. Their names are unknown, the appearance vague. The palette is painted with remnants, craters of a collective imagination. Ruins where monuments have stood, canals empty of life, and water. A vale seeps through the city, streaming out into the sea, but it is empty. The only dam built is too narrow and so its been neglected. Villages, in need of water. Valleys, in need of rain. The imagery he resorted to, of marble mortared onto concrete, tunnels flowing under the sand, was authentic enough to earn him a clap. Who claps in an empty room? Someone who arrives uninvited never leaves without being noticed. But what he could not explain, except by sheer force of dialectical stammering, was the music that arose from a singular terrace by the masonic dancing of laundry hung out to dry. And the rumors discounting the occurring of festival, until it has begun. A circle of my own perception leads me to revel in the beginning. But to keep one’s eyes glued to the architectural narrative of a mythological hole is to lose one’s own denominational size. I have passed through life injured. I look around me to see what the others spend their time doing, and it hurts. I study the walls that compel us to escape. There is no escaping. The procession of an empty chorus. The calamity of my suffering. He had belief. Belief in the unwavering process of being, and not. Playing an empty funeral. A sea of purged souls. For the mere sake of ambience an ensemble of empty words. Did he claim it? He had bitten into the walls, knowing, no strength is held completely over an entity unless he were able to extract bone marrow with a dip of his finger into its skin. Noise, to mute an absent audience. I must have been dreaming of you. At certain times, gasping for air, dreaming little insects were burying their young. All the furniture in the room, destroyed. He was convinced he had to listen to the space that isn’t played, to infer the noise that is not made for his hearing. What had he intended to hear if not his own stark will? Where genius begins, playing for the notes that cannot be played. Something light, for the epilogue. Without the briefest shyness, he determined not to shrug his shoulders and walk away, instead, remain transfixed on his mission. He was shamed, but he had to be careful. He had to divert the monstrosity of his imagination. A mutiny would develop if he did not take care of the seeds, where is this all going? Instinct navigates the wayward vessel. People are under the influence of psychoactive drugs. Receptors in the body counteract the reliance of inhibitors. Veterans modify the result through meditation. A technique spreading amongst the classes, specifies a form of breathing known as holotropic, to connect to the subconscious and extract an archive of repressed information. Concrete imagery fused with sensory objects of abstraction. A channel into the third matrix, the traumas of the birth canal, a plutonic sword. Having endured a portion of trauma, he was quiet, complaining about a pain in his upper right thigh, rising to the groin. Within several hours, the infection was obvious. He was under the impression he had been molested in another room, a variation of his conscious dimension. Worms were being piled into an aquarium to concoct a remedy for his condition. Worms were known to target the infiltration of a parasite, and he was obviously worried. It could get worse. He had no way to know. He was lucky to know as much. The peeling gave way to scabs. He looked damaged, under the spell of some curse. But it was not unusual for him to feel sick. Particularly the young, who like it in the rooms, remain too long. The air frees the body, at first. Outside, the hassle of citizenship, and borders. What for? The port is empty. The rooms are clean. They travel far in the rooms, and they are fed well. Honey and gold, warm bread, date pudding, fresh olives. The simplicity of a dream. He finally found the gate. He realized, he was not confined to the room like he imagined. He had imagined that the guards might disappear, and they did, he noticed. The moment he felt his freedom, he wanted to flee. IT is too dangerous. To be released into the vacuum. He found himself over the gate, and on. The pupils were reading, the peasants drank their songs. Where do you think we’re headed? To the occasion. He laughed. The deck lay muted. The ark, built of fine wood, the steering made of ivory. He slouched his arms. A sense drifted into the room , carrying a cask of water. The thing he heard before mounting august’s deathbed, the sun leaked into our chambers. He lost his courage. Are you bored of me? She looked him square in the eyes. The port of ports is a dream. You are not there. But we are. Bruises haggling under vanquished daylight, the alleys disguised in rotten despair. The merchants sell photographs of a different time. IS this the way to the water? The water is on the other side. He had been seen, plotting his entrance from outside the garden. He lifts is torso, plants his feet. The rooms change to his designation. I breathe for the port of the ports. DO you over the bridge? He watched over the precipice. The street named after a goldmine. A lion out of his cage. He stands at the doorway, holding the pages. Did you like it? I wrote it for you. I touch a human skull. The only things stored for later use were dynamite and poison. A town uprooted from the soil. We have fallen into naked sleep. He yields fields that are not real. A shore that is not there. The passing of a ghost. What were you looking for? The servants wear armor so as to harbor their names. His bed, resting on a plank, lifted by a single stone. The stone gives way to a spread of roots, veins circling the floor in a stream of water. He lay on his stomach in obvious pain. A servant washing his body with a wet towel, dipped in rosewater. The orifice of an empty sky. A window at the ceiling carved open, a great ray of light descending. He did not move a single breath. Before he could speak, before he could make his feelings heard, to announce his retreat, defeated, a door swung open away from the dome. He heard the footsteps of a stranger. It may be hard to believe, but at the time, he did not think it possible to add to his discomfort, but it did. In such a room, anything was possible. The scent of a garlic stew rising from her imprisoned feet. A blood curdling scream from next door. An impassioned prince relaying his sorrow. He had to lift his neck very quietly to make himself heard, and it was not without significant expulsion of force that he was able. Before he knew it, he was surrounded by a herd of disfigured bodies, crawling on three legs, stitched together into pairs, disrespected. He maintained his distance, forming the outline of a ceiling dome. He laughed. He laughed because he had no idea what he was perceiving. The figure crept into light and he saw his painful face, a reflection of something he had seen. Maimed and scared, cut open like the botched piercing of two halves. Gripping a bag of seeds against his chest, do you have a spoon? He whispered. The extending figures of a gaping mouth. An iron foot and silver whip in his hand. He hung so dryly over the room that the very weight of his falling would have shattered the flooring entirely. But he did not speak, he only mouthed some words, opening his mouth like a hawk to make a squeamish sound. He hissed, because he had to. He was spitting, his senses losing the plane of sight, he laughed in all directions. Claiming the attention of the room, finding his moment to disappear. He ran. He turned and ran like a child runs from a woken forest bear, like a gazelle flees the lion’s hunt, I ran. The stranger whose voice troubled his core stood directly behind him. He was lifted off the ground, feeling a pair of scaly hands run across his body. He could not steer but he wanted to survive, only to see it through because it was not over, he was not done. But he could not scream and he did not yell, suffering the consequence of his entrapment with pride. I know a disease that spreads. He stood pregnant with hesitation. At the height of disgust, and afterwards, nothing. He felt discouraged, everything he had seen. Fleeing the servitude of disease he heard the clipping of an abscess beam. He moved forward, dancing at the behest of an absent limb. The strangest sensation! He felt the apology of his heart. He was laughing. How it came I’ll never know. But in that moment, suffocating under his noose, he laughed. He broke the hold of his surroundings, elbowing his way to the edges of the floor, piling his feet into the running stream, he toweled his body in its warmth. I crawled. I laughed. I felt alive. Using the accrued powers of his being, all he could do was laugh. He recounted the last image he had seen before his eyes clotted with guilt, crawling towards the emblem of an ending room. He heard the festival’s child cry a chorus of laughter thrown over the reigns. A betrodden fiefdom, he sought the fleeing temper of a hearse. He wilted. He pushed his head into the plexus of a muse’s statue and a door flung open. He flew into the marked abyss. His clothes had been changed, his vision depleted. Why do I run? His neck was striving from his shoulders, his back hunched like a hawk. By some force foreign to his nature, he pushed through the curtains. I could not make sense of the distance. A forceful light drew his form. He was alone, in that he did not recognize he could be seen clearly with both of his eyes. He must have been struck by esoteric sensation, overcome, because his face blurred like the portrait of a man whose paint is melting. He spoke his first and final words. If you are the type to believe take them for what they are. He turned his attention to the empty audience, and he spoke, knowing the words could not have been his own. The keepers say the year has been one of our best. Could he blame them for reeling in their pride/ People do not realize they are in the midst of revolution until swords are drawn and its too late to pick sides. He was already saying he would be leaving, but he had nowhere else to go, and for the things he hadn’t seen he hadn’t heard about them. The hills do not flood a drifter over the borders, into the welcoming arms of a neighborly giant. Tyrants, all of them. He waited, to hear his name called out, taken into custody, found out. He would laugh at them, planning copiously for a future that is not theirs. Had he noted their behavior? He did not want to be discovered as a recruit. The charms of espionage are over. He seemed prepared to make his statement. He found it interesting, alluding to the way it calmed the walls. He spent the night beside the harbor, wishing the fumes were a trail of your departure. Am I so pathetic? He wished of love in a pool of snakes. An ancient burial ground to lay our seeds. An island that blessed the brave, mother liberty at her side. He cowered. Who puts poetry in my heart? DO you realize how little I have? The madman yells. He must have heard my thoughts, crumbling in an invisible rage. I feel the texture of my face. The coarseness of my skin. The itch, remembering the victim whose leprosy chewed his soul, while the world stood unaware. Unflinched from the depths. Deception tucks her hands under her chin. Busy with his thoughts, rooted in the germs. At least our wall stands. To destroy a wall you need one. He wanted the freedom to measure the box. He had acquired a new set of dials. By turning his gaze onto another mirror, he could imagine a different set of principles and realign the constitutional void as he immediately likes. This was how he intended to make life worthwhile in the room. He had been given something extraordinary. He wanted to do it right. It would matter what would be said of him, how he preferred. He knew he would err. It could not pale him. He was adamant to fulfill the past. Isn’t there still a word sympathetic to our cause? A sack of moths in his bag, holding onto them until he had her in his sight, and he could light them to preserve the electricity. Roaches, pulled out from the dreads. He used to hide under the doorframe to scare the old men. He thinks of these things before sleeping, carrying their weight. He realized, he had not sat under an olive tree in years, and immigrants picked them from his garden. I have not smelled jasmine uprooted on your lips. He stared into another motive. The plan to discard memory was not done. Could he think outside the box? He had his own tribe to consider. What use was worry, what effect violence? He could not decide. A man, juggling sensibilities. The situation so murky ever step sounded a tragic chord, minor melodies he had heard before. He could not sleep without prayer, he could not kneel to pray. He felt restless. Collectors were at his door, for his resources, his gifts. To keep a table of confidence is to open the mines of consciousness. It would obliterate him. How long had he spent hidden? He would be found. The poisoned well, damp with moonlight’s wandering. The victim’s cell. Profiteering. The clans, debating deals that could never be made. He was ashamed. I miss you, is that so harsh? Do you want me to continue knowing what we know? If time has not availed our tides, everything steeped in spurned love, how will I ever find you? He knew he would not be able. The ecosystem diluted in qualms. He tried to drink where it is healthy but everywhere is poisoned. The borders teased the offer, he felt safest sleeping in the sheets of his dreaming than the reality of the port. Clouds on the periphery pass between us. We will trample Plymouth’s progeny. The dread of unfinished writing. The pleasures of arrogance. The treasure of love. It was not easy for him to say it, and he felt in his speaking honestly a sense of haste control him. He waited for the noise of romance celebrating in his heart. He had his only cherished memory in his hands, a tribute of the summer. Remember, when we abducted some friends and made a pass to the mountains? The shape of our footprint in the swamp. Reading the existential papers. He could not remember their names, the distinct locations. To quarrel his past he had to resign. Sung to the fall of an empire I cling to your ears. It is my dream to sway you through these words, to love. Song of the woodwind, the hermit rings. Everything begins and ends with refutation of your beauty. The lark flies above our waists. You grieve for belief and without you I am nothing. Somewhere in the darkness under the cover of woods. Do you know how long it takes to be close to you? The word do not flow because there are none. Trust me, I have sat where you sit, slept in the qualms, swam the sea to the port of ports. I touched her wings flapped open. In submitting this vessel to the cosmological condition of my ignorance I see it all, I see nothing. He wanted to live without having to brave the winter. Or he could only have been summoning her, nobody would know, and it was not their concern, though with their standing so close to his encampment, he thought to himself, it makes sense for them to care. A pretense to emotion, he could have been much worse. He could have been better. Slumming at the core. Ruminating at the bottom. Tuning to the impressions of a pianist’s nave, he found the heartbeat he was looking for, and it was empty. I have been made a fool. To forgive for my insults, light wind to these pages, go where you can. A gesture, made at reason’s hour. Forcing the issue was not his style. The room was overloaded, crowded, impossible to maneuver. A partisan clash. Everyone has a name, except him. He had the idea for the rooms to intersect. The best songs were circumsciscioned. Attaching to orifices of a pipeline, twisting the ankles to form a brace. He designed it. Credible? A day’s work. The sun set over the other side, along the outlines of the canopy, a long thick evergreen of leaves. the trees die when it snows out here. A horn sounded outside, passing familiar roars of approval. He sat on the floor under the window. He had been given a sturdy rock to smoke at his discretion, to ease into the twilight. Noticing another wind, he waited some time to light the smoke, worrying it would be turned off in the gust, leaving him with only the memory of what he had held in his bare hands. They were beginning to lose their leaves. I wanted something beautiful. When the door was opened out of his own free will, he wept at his feet for forgiveness. A little seahorse, training to lift the aura of the crowd. Something similar to nothing else. A spaceship uses two hand drawn sails to exit the atmosphere and orbit the world, his world. A plastic plate, feeding the elder man. He didn’t care for what he said, he only wanted to ensure the man was actually there, that he had not dreamt him in his mind, to occupy his eyes with something beautiful. He wanted to invite a chorus, but to keep them from singing for some technical matter he could blame on the occult. Foreign wiring, botched appliance. The canvas is complex, and the minutes seldom turn. The beginnings rest in the palm of her hand. Depicted on a moving canvas, watched through the eyes of his accomplice. Was he really there? All that is simple of our exchange. Finding your wardrobe, walking the dog. Can we afford these liberties? He ran with the intent of a lunatic. He had in his eyes, for some time then and greater time later, the glaze of a traveler drifting away from the shore. Who could foretell the end, he thought, the envious ache for his love ran through him. Had he learned to swim he still would have remained to suffer. An acrobat, a paint of sighs. He lives now where you once lived. For enmity, he wears a purple sleeve over his chest to remind you he is homeless. Between two seas and two despotic rivers. A madman bound to reclusion. Taking his tea on his rooftop in the immediate precision of a storm. Counting fallen flakes, leaflets of persuasion. Should I resign? The first sight of dawn, detained in the ambiguity of space. He never wrote for the constitution. He wrote for heart’s ache. He did not know in that moment where he had arrived. He slowed down, his head fixed to the ground. He turned a suspicious corner, where he felt he had been freed, led by his own decision. Then, he saw her. No length of time can imply how long it had been since he’d seen her last. It would seem he had passed through paradigms unscathed, supplied to hold her in his sight. But could it be so romantic! I was expecting myself to be kinder near the end. He shoveled me off, like I was paying for his penalty. But I forgave him. He had the virtue of a fox. He urged with the fire of his youth to approach her. He did not move from his place. He remained transfixed, a fiend for marching stripped of his legs. But he knew he should have gone up to her, in whatever way. The sorry street. The cabin rope we lunged over the rail. The image of you dancing at the fountain. Somebody must have saved you. I was a fool for you. A mule. He watched her, beside the steel enclosure of a home. Scattered images of a life together. The shading of the light, the shadow of the street lamp forming on their shoulders. Had she been warned, she might have noticed the strange figure lurking in the shadows. But she would never notice. The insignificant loom large. Sometime later she disappeared, they all disappear. He had crouched in the darkness, mesmerized, overtaken by calm. Let it last! Having seen it all again. He walked over to her home. The ornament of fall. The path had led him there and he relented to reflect. Inside, he heard the playing of her mother’s cello. He peered in through the glass, stained with the embellishment of life. Her mother wilted in her chair, as she had always done each night, playing a song of hope. Never lament for the dead. She did not believe in death. Older now, still beautiful. Over the past few years I have taken a journey. What did he become? Gone from his sight, he attempted to compose his anthem. He fitted one globe over the other. He knows a room with no locks. For his namesake, the brushing of incense, he drank the chalice of fermented malaise. Why did you come to his footstool? He cleanses his ears, hums for the mariner embroidered in the wind. Tired of his fleece, he sang softly, a cynical taste in his mouth. I am a louse puppet. A torn kite. In truth, I have wanted to portray many things, but never you. Maybe, because you are mournful, and I am not bold. It wasn’t only a physical depression that disturbed him. It was like something welled within his heart, and he wept for it. Or at least, he had tried to. An ember of sacred oak. A savage gnaws at my spirit, contesting the limits of your image of me, and my inherent brutality. A rebel sister chorus. Touaregs of the open sea. Where in words is purification found? Addressing you, he recalled the occupying force of time and place. Lantern breakfast, desert prayer, window serenade. He devoted his thoughts to the romantic images of his past, but he had none. Euphoric ambivalence! His temple swelled with the dirt. How much of this is token? Paintings of his are given for free. The catch? The image is free, and the characters within the paintings did not exist except on canvas. He wanted to redeem the artform. Galvanizing the public for an outburst. The story changes. Does it evolve? I am too smooth. What use is happiness, comfort? Pray for passion. Will it! There, we had the power of manifestation. Two edged canon bowed towards Mecca. I forgave him. He said he was nearing death, and every day he was dreaming what he once was. But he had been barely anything. A stain on the heritage of an entire culture. His time. How can I explain how wasteful I have been? The guy goes flying off his seat, torn from it like a cockroach, sprayed with killer’s tide. He was not witness to most crimes he envisioned. Corruption in a position of power, who isn’t? Meeting the right people. Isn’t that what they say? Kids to put through school. I could have been anybody. But he was not privy to such crimes, because they do not happen in the way it is generally thought of to happen, in that dissidents are raided in the night. Colluding! Diplomatic channels! The force of change. An epoch expands before it bursts. It was the same with his mind, his totality. How far deeper can vortex grow? Fleas blemished with pesticides, swept under the rug, toasted in the hands of a cloaked remnant of the regime. The means of rule. Day’s duty. He lived below the citadel. It was easier there, easier not to be noticed. TO consult his practice. To speak outside the room. He had privileges. He acted well, and he always said hello. Sharp with sounds. Feeds the hungry. Under his lamp, he set out to study the astrological charts of his heroes, but who they were he was still unsure. The patron saint of the colony. Herr. A painter. How many lives he shared! Sleeping with a rectangular mattress and his suitcase, on the streets of the port, washed out in the intersections that divide the city lines. Window cleaners. Bellboys. A hotel district, and some theaters. A hammock in the middle of the road. He has all his things wrapped up. He saw his school. When he slept well, it would treat him differently, like they were glad to see him. Tired, he imagined a volcano lay the school to ash. Families, spread for duel. An apocalyptic condition he reserved for those elements most significant. We are all dead souls. I visit where I will visit soon. The storms come two or three times a year. No real danger. Think of literature as infrastructure. Material to use at a later time. Rubbing two feet together, racists, all of them. The brotherly races, the smell of their feet before a bath. Stale milk. Wet mop. I asked her to leave the room. One hand to his foreskin, he pulled a bottle of rum from a cabinet. A chair from another room. He could feel the leaves migrate in the air, but he never saw them. He had been holed up in a box. How surprising. Stomping dead leaves, he missed it. He felt abused. A new part of town, dog barking, fox meows. He kept flipping through the pages, the notebooks, diagrams, charts. A mystic, they could be sure. Climb the tower, sever a limb without the architecture of an army. Impressive. He would be remembered. A railroad turning back and forth. Everything pink turning grey. Three photographs form that time say it all. Swimming a channel moat, eluding the archers. Company tour in the first outrage. Everything you’ve heard is a lie. The museum inhabits our fears. How you engaged the subconscious! It was said, he was able to rotate around the complex without seeing any faces, without making himself heard, dodging the clocks. Running the way he came. Walking into nothingness. Injustice, his rights infringed, feeling like he was trapped, unable to move from the room. He could not see behind him, and he could not hear nay noise. Space passed disappeared, compelled to an impassable silence. He missed the god nature of sound. The singing of some roosters. A bass drone. White noise. He heard nothing, and looking ahead, he felt himself shaking, the ground losing way to an electric current, the magnitude of a terrible wave, the weight of a ribbon. Imagine it, if you can. He was standing there, arms raised, grappling with a floor he felt was urging to fly, and danced upon the kite like a cripple. He moved on. Everywhere he looked was dark, and everywhere he had been, vanished. Somehow, he felt bright. But alas, it cannot be said that man wishes to live and die alone. He yearned for company. A creature, solemn at his heart’s speed. Nobody enters the room for friendship. He felt like he was punished, impressed into an archetypal cage. How big it is! Some minutes. Some hours. The time it takes for his feet to manage sinking, and recover. Fixed to the safety of a maternal womb, torn from the cunt forever. The first image he told me about was a boy, who had lost his legs to disease. Sacrificed by his own parents! A doctor, invited to inject the creature with a lethal tool. But he would return in another life, perfected, to the very same mother. Complicated, but interesting. Mystics subscribed to the belief, after a halo formed around the house, a cloud that doesn’t sway with day’s passing. The mother was frightened, and she blamed herself. She was frustrated. Violated! Bolted to the wall, vigilantly raped by the ordained. How much does one mother pay? She could not deviate from the truth. The curse flees the empty home. The only real danger was in the conduct of a woman, who had by then lost innumerable days to fragmented prayers, under the stewardship of an imagined halo. A gaseous catastrophe. He needed parameters set. Unlike his better half, raised in a home partial to the spiritual congress of the time, he had not sworn his faith to the outlines of his palms or the illustration of a coffee cup. He had not seen, week in and week out, village women cruise into his nest to dip their hands into a pot of iron shreds and boiling water, said to reveal the perpetrator of a curse. He could not think very clearly, and he did not know why he had been chosen, if indeed he had, to repudiate such a repugnant creature from his memory. Some men are born to tell a story. He wasn’t. He was hired to feed the vultures. He would cower, lie flaccid in the air, like the tail of a scorpion cut from its root, he would be victimized. He sought to enrich the feeling, seeking to pursue the path of judgment. The only door, slammed in his face. He could only remember, the funerals held, the birthdays missed. A fruit, grown outside the port. A man, whose name cannot be spelled. Where does the water sink? He was insulted, told to saunter up and down an aisle that would not bend to his preference. Wait like a bear! You spill your heart and they sell it. Spoils for the coffers. He had been warned by history. Take lessons from your father. Two cuts of bread and a bowl of soup. Two cigarettes by the window. The nagging of a widow. Too young to reel his pension. Too old to drive. He never flinched, never said a fucking word. File an application. The good graces of the ministry! The medicine is always there. Whose is it? He tried the corrupt, he tried the honest. He asked around on the streets. He begged for it at night. A burial, on the wasteland. He didn’t flinch. He accepted his life. He had nothing to show for it. Warden, knocking down the stairs. I hear these boots and I turn around. He would make his amends, in this life or the next. A man of the highest esteem. Owns half the towns never steps foot in it. Held the port in his hands. Standing at the eyes of a wolf. He spits in his mouth and clears his throat. Do you know what BARA is? He looks about the room. He had a bus ticket in his hand. Of no use, he would not ride the bus, it had been discarded For safety. Too many wheels on a bus. He was spiritually blocked. Not void, he had spirit. He believed in the accumulation of certain fact to pronounce the soul. It was important to him. As important as living, leaving his home at the eleventh hour. Just before midnight, as the saying goes. He could have been such a good drunk. And his friends! He would have built them a back room, to stay in, to make a mess. A storefront to hold sessions, between curtains, something ordinary and clean. He cared about cleaning. Rooted in the soil. The soil does not sway her principles. Over the years, he had learned how to harness the energy required to venture into the past. But he was greatly envied, and he would pay. It must have been that child, horrored into their lives. Thankfully, it was aborted. The heir to his empire. He was upset. Naturally, he could have composed an empire for the sake of it. Three generations removed from him. All of it, some time ago. Several attempts would be made to engage him, he would ignore. He could not trust freely, without care. It would destroy him. I am already destroyed. DO you know what pain I sow? He sought help. An advisor. He came to a halt. He stopped while the others kept going. What others? He mentioned them in his first visit. He was happy to be inside. A triangle, a pyramid of protection. Something not malleable. Did he believe? He was human. Humans want to taste something before they chew it. To chew before falling in love, out of faith. He went home. When he said his goodbyes, he wanted to believe he was at the accomplishment of cleansing. The aura does not lose her elements. He could be revived. But he had not had revelation yet, it was too early. He had felt nearby, but always, when the universe chose to express herself through his channel, he hesitated. The quietest day of the calendar year. The morning before the morning of festival. Cretins. Monsters for the vessel state. Addicts! Rind found Ramiz standing beside one of the paintings, lost in thought.

“Have you seen Marin,” she asked.

“I haven’t.”

“I think she left without saying goodbye.”

“Doesn’t she always?”

Rind took off her jacket, that she had worn to smoke a cigarette outside.

“I don’t know. Things are difficult with her these days. She’s going to a clinic, in Ormolu. Have you been there?”

“No. Is she fine?”

“She’ll be alright.”

“Has she sold anything?”

“Not one.”

“She’s not in any need, though, is she?”

“Not at all. It’s a precaution. The doctor says she’s had a wave.”

“The same as everyone else.”

“I guess.”

“Does her family know?”

“They’re waiting to hear back from her. I think it will be good for her, to have a new lease on life. The exhibition here is important, but at the end of the day, in the wider scheme of things, it’s not. Nobody who buys actually cares for the artwork. It’s an investment. They see something they like, they come to me, they ask how much it sells for, and what the prospects are. If I tell them, she’s twenty four, they laugh, they pull out their wallets, it’s fun. If I tell them, she’s fifty five, they don’t have any clue what to do. A lot of the artists lie about their age. I tell them to. I tell them, don’t come to the galleries. People don’t care. You’ll scare them off. But anyways. The clinic is nice. It’s calm. You should go visit her. She’s doing a lot of work up there. There’s a lot of artists there now, a lot of recently unemployed as well. People with money who want to fuck off.”

“Who’s running it?”

“Sabrina Nohad, I think, and Alexander Zaman.”

“What are your plans for tomorrow?”

“I was thinking of going up there, to Ormolu, to visit the clinic. There’s a museum of clocks up there. The House of Ormolu. I like the museum. I go there sometimes, after visiting her. I like watching the lights light up at night. The colors are nice. They like colors over there. It’s a group of foreigners, running the place. They have their own way of doing cool. They want to do good up there, especially for the community. There’s a farmer’s market now, and two new kindergartens, on the house. It’s so nice up there, you should come. I use to take pills to sleep, but now I stay awake all night.. It doesn’t matter. During the day I go for walks. I change the habit all the time. It doesn’t matter. At some point, whatever I put on these walls, people will buy. Because of that, I’m alright. I have headaches all the time. There’s worse than a migraine, though. The pills are nice, and from time to time I call one of my friends. Like you. It makes it all go down. The voices, the fear, locked up inside. I drift, you know? It’s a state of being. Where have you been these days,” she asked, genuinely curious?

“I spent the summer in Drague.”

“Did you? I’m impressed. Did you read the book I gave you, by the way?”

“I did.”

“And?”

“It made me miss you. I thought of you a lot.”

“I’m glad. That makes me happy in a way. How’s my sister? Is she still running around?”

“She was here, earlier.”

“I know.”

“She’s with someone now. He’s nice.”

“Do you get along?”

“I don’t really know him. We went to dinner once.”

“I thought you would be back sooner. How are you? Tell me the truth.”

“I’m fine.”

“Are you? Really? What are you working on?”

“I have an idea. I don’t know. The seasons just come and go, all year long. One thing happens, another thing comes. I don’t know where I’m going anymore. I’m staying put, for now. I like walking, I go for walks. Sometimes I drink myself stupid, sometimes I stay sober. When I’m sober, I go for long, long walks. I like things quiet. If there’s noise, Id rink. I’m alone in the house now, it’s just me. Sometimes I go to the studio, sit there by myself.”

“Everyone’s gone, huh?”

“Everyone’s gone.”

Hassan found them seated on the bench.

“Everyone’s going over to the party at Aline’s.”

“Are you coming,” Ramiz asked?

“I don’t know. I have to close up.”

“Come later. I can help you clean tomorrow.”

“Don’t worry about me,” she said. “Go on.”

An unpublished proof, set for publication that year, publishing by the Color press, their logo in gray, the stars on their crest in faded blue. He didn’t read the book. He spent the summer in Drague in a pair of winter boots he had bought that year a t the Waverly Grand. The shoes were thirty percent off, costing him two hundred and ten bucks. He wore them all summer, walking along the eastern border, spending his afternoons in the small public park outside his house, or the neighborhood chapel, on Armory Lane. The same servants of the Public Grace partied in both parks, parking their kids on the side, on the entrance at Pillow Parks, at the eastern entrance, where the kids showered daily on Penguin Cross, the four fountains in the concrete casement, the water collecting in a pool, like a spark, in the open pavement, and the kids brought their howards in bags, feeding, and chasing, the four of them, from the family of Herr Branzwirsts, spent their afternoons naked, the youngest of them playing with the stroller they brought, climbing, encamping. It had been a long winter. It felt as if it would never change. It was his first real harsh winter in years, since he had moved to the People’s Public, the kleinestadt in the Liberal People’s Republic. He was far from the warm October olive groves of his uncle’s farm, where he had spent the last sixteen winters, lending his hand, enjoying the corked bottles of wine in drafts, two or three evenings without warning, drinking for hours on end. He had moved there, before summer. It made him enjoy the place. It was fresh and enjoyable. He started teaching at the Summer School for Second Language Writing, helping masters students Polish their prose, teaching one or two courses. He made friends right away. His neighbor, Amanda Peron, from the Armada enclave of Constitution, came over on Sundays with sours and bread, and a bottle of Jimmy’s Porte. She liked him most for his kindness, and his mind. A she liked that she he showed compassion to strangers, watching him from her door greeting strangers, on house calls or in dining robes, coming to greet them in his finest clothes. Her nephew, Jihad, stayed with her on weekends. He owned the apartment, and when they first agreed for her to live there, he made her promise to house him if he was ever in need of a weekend place to stay, getting away from work in the nearby district of Nile’s Stone, where he worked as the Chief Contractor in a building court. The weather was great. He moved in his first day into a studio just facing the park, where he spent afternoons or his mornings off, reading from one of the morning papers, or a book he snatched from the Head, the library at the university court. He never restrained himself in conversations. That was his rule. He had spent two summers in training at the Institute, learning the best habits of men. To annunciate when he spoke. To renounce violence. To speak without stereotypical tropes. To believe in himself. To greet others. To spend as much time in the sun. To do the best for his children. He rented the room to write poems, on grief, and to reflect. Instead he spent all of his time outdoors. In the final season…He was accepted into the Academy that year. The classes first met in July. He took his readings on the canal, and when the weather was rough he sat under the bridge, in the small café on Magician. He looked up the syllabus, to see what would be offred back home, but he ignored most of their calls. He read a lot of poetry, some prose, some manuscript bound in small booklets, printed and type written bound in Oliver ink, the pages bound together in staples. He could never help himself from feeling guilty. He took long walks on the canal, walking in all directions of the crowd. Their voices, in most numerous languages, formed a certain mist over his life. There wasn’t a speed to things, anymore, as it had been. Having lived it once, he realized he would have to come full circle to become a part of it, again. He got to know some friends. On the warmest stretch of summer, they met up on lakes. He was beginning to feel that feeling, again. That he had first mistook for excitement, understanding it now as fear. The anxiety of being well received to a cohort to which he did not belong. Their rituals, their traditions, we’re suffocating. The only remedy to which he had learned was to drink another glass of pure anise, or a few quick shots of the McGregor’s cask. But that was a way of surviving, not of living. He wanted to live again. My, how badly he wanted to live. To live without their fears, their pressures. To live outside and beyond their whims, where their habits could not confine him, where he could not be found. He had found them so eccentric, and in their eccentricity had thought them well. Thinking well of them, he took them in their turns, inviting each and everyone of them into his home, at first, quiet and reserved, and after one or two nights, two prolonged summers, o drinking, playing cards, gambling on the games, riding their cars, their horses, their camel’s, inviting them into his heart. But he wanted to become heartless, if that was what it would take. He would renounce five years off his life, if only to escape their claws. But lo- he was to wed one of them, never to escape their hold. He wished for some great catastrophe to befall them all. A watershed moment in human history. Something tragic, heinous, obscure. A disaster that would force them to leave, on foot even, to walk five thousand miles. A reason to go back, to crawl into his home. He had wanted to speak on their future, but staring out into the crowd, all he was urged to examine was their collective past. The tension sat in his shoulders. Descending from the nape of his neck to his abdomen. Rising from the shields of his neck to his jaw. On moments of relief, from public scrutiny, he chewed gum to prevent congesting his jaw with a persistent cringe. The campus was stunned. A malaise settled over the public, what many attributed to the deteriorating political situation in the country, descending on the capital from all sides. Causing an incendiary season of violence. The commencement speaker wants to speak on their future, but staring out into the crowd, all he is urged to examine is their collective past. The tension is in his shoulders. Descending from the nape of his neck to his abdomen. If he were not being watched, he would congest his jaw and cringe. How many are there in the crowd? That year, the campus had been stunned. A malaise settled over the public, what many attributed to the deteriorating political situation in the country, descending on the capital from all sides. Causing an incendiary season of hate, ignorance, violence in the streets, between classmates, riots that shut the city down. He moved to Beirut in 2006, twelve days before the war began, ten days before Italy won their most deserved World Cup. Eighteen years old and crazy. Passionate for two things in life. The beautiful game, and revolution. Boys who swell to revolutionary ideals to answer the impending unanswerable questions, to quell the unconscionable negligence of society to ask these very questions itself. Unconscionable. Eighteen, a boy with a conscience. He was forced to take five classes his first semester. Having accidentally read the regulations stipulating plain clear terms that one of his courses from high school had exempted him from having to take five courses his first semester, a regulation later denied by the office of the registrar of the university, he admitted himself to only four classes that first semester. One class he failed, a mathematics for idiots course he would also fail two other times. Anther course, chemistry, also for idiots, he withdrew, and so he was left with two courses that very first semester. A political science course, that reiterated what he already knew, what he’d already learned and discovered. He managed to do alright in the course. In the end, he had one of the higher grades, but not without some trouble in the final few weeks of the semester. and the final course of that first fall, an American Studies course, on sexuality and sexual identity in the Middle East and North America. It was a course that changed his life. He was introduced to certain topics that hadn’t been discussed in school. He discovered Adderall, spending three full days, working through the nights, somehow managing to feed himself a six inch subway sandwich at some point in between, writing the masterpiece, so he believed, that would become his final paper. He devoured the readings, meeting the works of Walt Whitman and Abu Nuwas for the first time. That first semester passed unnoticed, though in the end he had only accumulated for himself six out of the expected fifteen credits, and had begun to show early signs of an addictive behavior, primarily to the use of marijuana, usually hashish, but in those days the two were readily available. He formed a circle of friends. Lived reasonably well with his roommate, his older brother, and their maid, an overage muppet of a human being, who had an extremely large head on a tight fitted body, her legs the legs of a sixteen year old girl, somewhere in the Americas, her eyes the eyes of a Mongol monk, and her skin the skin of a wolf, a hyena, thick, and course, full with veins and acne scars. Later she would fall in love with him, declare her love in letters she would leave him around the house, and only when removed form her position by the family, vanquished to return home, would the torment against him stop, torment in the form of love. One night, two months into his schooling, he joined the rugby team. He had originally planned to continue playing football that was where he felt most comfortable, having captained his varsity team and delivered them to glory, having delivered glory many times, but after a conversation with the coach of the university football team, coach Moataz, an Egyptian with a foul mouth and a beautiful jaw, who crowned himself the leader of both the men’s and women’s teams, and made no effort to shelter his reputation from an ever increasing rumor of sexual assault against his players. He assaulted a few of the girls, without much complaint. Those crimes would go unnoticed. But upon turning his eyes to the boys, eyebrows were raised, and when he assaulted the son of a Catholic priest, a leader in his village hometown, a twenty minute drive from Beirut, veering off into the hills, he was forced from his position. People were expecting his career to be over, not to hear from him again, but he soon reemerged into the spotlight, finding himself assigned Minister of Sports and Tourism. In a rare show of charitable reach for a politician, he forced his way back into the university grounds, and elected himself varsity coach. But that was not and had nothing to do with why the young student chose to quit the varsity football team. That had to do with a conversation the two, Coach Moataz and himself, carried out on the eve of a match. He assigned the newcomer the vice captainship, and assigned him the responsibility of penalties. To the boy’s surprise. That night, he told him, urged him, that for the benefit of the team, he ought to forget his way of playing football, Playing football the English way, of passing the ball and making attempts to make a quick, reasonable pass. Instead, the coach said, he ought to run with the ball, in order to make a star play. The following day, the young boy ran with the ball, and after being fouled, was awarded a penalty. He missed the penalty kick, shooting it with too much height, the ball lifting off the ground in impressive speed, with impressive power for a boy his size, and a stance that calm, but the ball, moving with such impressive speed, was right in the height of the goalkeeper’s glove, and so he saved it, the glove conceding the impact of the ball. The goalkeeper’s arm was broken, but the penalty was missed. The following day he quit the team. And so he had joined the rugby team, a collection of scoundrels pulled form the ranks of all the other sports. The future captain of the rugby team, Wael, was still then a timid, approachable boy, showing no signs of his later psychosis. Karim, the team vice captain, was fiercely driven, fiercely demanding on his peers. All with a smile though, and so it was ignored by most, but his demanding ways would often get them in trouble, causing them to lose a player to injury in training, or to a red card in a game. The actual captain was a small, educated boy, whose shorter body seemed dwarfed in certain joints, but nonetheless he could tackle unlike any player on the team. He could also tell funny stories, and he had once taught the young student a riddle that he later used to accrue the attention of some girls, who listened intently to his riddle, trying to find the meaning in his hints, his gestures. The rest of the boys were either fat or really thin and fast. The fat boys would be the forwards, and take all the hits. The fast boys would catch the ball on kicks and run for their lives, or try to make a play, at the speed of snails, when their team had the ball. He attended two trainings. He liked the trainings. They were allowed to tackle one another. He had never enjoyed the promiscuity of fouls in football, the way boys took to the pitch with tears in their eyes if they got a tug on the shirt or a snap on the heel. He enjoyed tackling and being hit, sideblinded and burned into the turf or thrown without caution into the Styrofoam sidelines. But he didn’t enjoy the running, the sprints, shuttle run, laps across the field, laps around the stadium, laps along the lines. All night, up and down. There was even talk from Karim of morning practices, morning showers, morning runs across the university. He didn’t like that idea, but continued with the training on his second night, on behalf of his having quit the football team, and his brother and some of their friends were also playing rugby, and seemed excited. The coach, a dimwit who’d been raised improperly in Australia, who later it was revealed had stolen two of the players’ phones, returning them in humiliation, was more of an annoyance on the pitch. In training, he would yell to the boys as they ran their laps, listening to one of the boys tell stories from his week, Nemer talking about his last shit, the buttplug he was going to buy his girlfriend, or Mario talking about the hookers he slept with on his latest trip to Bulgaria. Training went like this. After only a couple trainings, he was picked for the first game of the season, a game against a club team from North of the country, Jounieh, a team of even greater scoundrels, lesser human beings of more improper upbringing. Their captain, Dandash, which translates into Raging Giraffe in the Arabic dialect of his ancestors, nomadic barbarians who traveled across the Islamic and Oriental empires, breeding with the strongest and most physically able Bedouin tribes, was a monstrous figure of a man. His shoulders were perched on a chest that protruded from his muscular body, his stomach aligned with row upon row of muscle lining. His legs, it was said, could lift the sole of a truck if allowed to move at their desired pace. The man was a trained mixed martial artist, and he wore long, thick black hair that reached down to his knees, curled like it had not been washed in weeks. Lacking the creativity of dreadlocks, and fearing that they could not be tied during a game, he only ornamented himself with black paint he drew across his face, three lines to insinuate a trinity of darkness.During the course of the game, at some random interval, having done nothing but follow the movement of the endlessly dropped ball with his eyes, attending to its wishes, the ball took a strange turn after a deflection, after being hurled in the air in desperation as one of his teammates attempted a pass, and landed right in his arms, where, taking one step forward and dropping to his knees, he scored a try. The easiest try to ever be scored by someone who had previously never touched the ball in a competitive game, and he scored two of them. And then they lost. Later that night, after drinking with some of his friends, he decided to quit the team, and he did. Speaking on the phone with a girl he had liked from class, he boasted to her about his two tries, caught in the act by his friend, who laughed about it later while they were smoking the evening’s fifth or sixth joint. Happiness, he must have felt, comes to us all. Having quit both teams, he needed a new hobby to distract him from studying and going on his way to liberate Palestine, so he decided to smoke a lot of hash. He discovered hash like most kids discover weed. He had broken up with his girlfriend his senior year of high school, after she had left him for a drug dealer in Florida, where she attended university, a year earlier than him. He was depressed, on his mother’s urges of only expressly denying himself happiness for two weeks and nothing more, he decided to spend those two weeks drinking with his friends. He made margaritas, would go to his friend’s house and play the drums and get drunk off tequila and frozen margaritas. During school hours, friends from the soccer team, usually a Portuguese kid, Gus, and an American kid, Zach, would sneak off campus and walk the two minutes to his place, hide in his basement and drink his father’s whiskey, listening to the early outlaw country tunes they discovered that week. An obsession with country music began that day, but it had really begun in his family car when he was a young, six or seven year old boy, singing along to his father’s collection of Kenny Rodgers tunes. Later in the two week period, one of his friends, a girl he had known most of his life, threw her birthday party. They got wasted, he punched his best friend in the face, one of his friends called a kid from another school, Toby, the daughter of a whore who fucked a black African and that’s why he’s so dark, and the place erupted into madness, and everything on the lawn and at the pool was broken, and the place left a real mess, so that the party ended on the father’s command. The following morning, he returned to the house with a friend, to collect some of the unwanted booze. A bottle of dark rum of questionable quality, and questionable producer, and a few loafs of beers. They ordered a cab with some money their parents gave them, and they drove the two hours in the cab to Dubai, where they secretly took sips of their bottle of rum. In the taxi, his friend told him he had some hash on hand, and that they would smoke it later, and get high. If he wanted, of course. Remembering that he had probably lost his girlfriend for the fact that he didn’t smoke weed and she did daily, evidenced by the fact that she left him for a weed dealer, who also would later get her addicted to Xanax pills and other prescriptive narcotics, he decided once and for all to try it. That night, after meeting up with a South African friend of theirs, whose accent he loved, at whose house they would sleep, and meeting up with two other girls from their rival school, who they would later ditch after realizing the girls wouldn’t put out, they smoked the joint and sat in the South African’s room. He wasn’t high but pretended to laugh, wanting to enjoy himself. For the next several weeks, he smoked a few joints every now and then, not getting high, until one night at a school lock in, where all the students were locked in, willingly, overnight at school, he was given a piece of hash to swallow, not smoke, and after finding the feeling elusive, he jumped the fence of the campus and walked home. Four hours and seventeen minutes later, he was stoned for the very first time. During the closing chapters of the semester, he had formed a dear habit of smoking, reading his course material in a rush in order to finish his errands and smoke free of responsibility for the remainder of the day. And following, he discovered Adderall, after a friend who had abandoned the country during the war, for good reason of course, who many suspected was a secret agent for the United States, or Israel, or come to think of it, South Africa, the Netherlands, Sweden, any predominantly Caucasian country that has institutionalized racism in the past, returned. He moved in across the street, and soon developed a violent relationship between the two brothers and the secret agent, who would expressly deny, with a sheepish grin, his involvement in extrajudicial assassinations in the country. He had formed some friends, a thriving political inspiration that would see him read Pity the Nation twice, weeping every time he would arrive at Mount Sannine, rejoicing in the beauty of his beloved surroundings, even when his friend’s car tires were locked in the snow, and they had to carefully push the four by four through a kilometer of ice, down the steep slope of a mountain. He had even fallen in love, quietly, with several girls he would never approach, developing in these months a certain resistance toward women, feeling himself so culturally excluded from their thinking ways. It was a healthy time, and he survived it. It had also been a turbulent time. A few separate situations that, coupled with the aftermath of the war they had just experienced, introduced him to a series of disappointments he would later call home. First, a week before student elections occurred, he was surprised to learn from his brother and their friends that the elections were an enormously celebrated occasion, and occasion that draws the interest of the entire nation, some years, the region. Political parties were drafting their voters, coercing them with notes and previous exam promises, some of the parties funded with more leverage, others resorting to more physical, aggressive coercive power. He thought they should get involved, and drunk one night, ten days before Halloween, they formed a club among each other, and all those present, and some who would later join, would fall under the umbrella of this club. It was really a matter of boys falling in love under the influence of alcohol in a garden that bore the sign, in big block, childish letters, friendship garden. The following morning, they were summoned to campus by the party heads, for conversations on their attempts to sabotage their respective victories. The meetings went well. They were sad to admit defeat and promised not to involve themselves in the childish bickering of the public. That proved to be a mistake. A first mistake in a series of disappointments he would later call home. A few weeks later, while in his sexuality and sexual identity class, news broke that a young politician, the son and nephew of two previous presidents, and the grandson of one of the most powerful men to ever lay his rough hand over the country, a man inspired by the Berlin Olympics of ’36 and Hitler’s maniacal grip over the public, had been assassinated in his car while driving, a few bullets to his name. Fears that a civil war could break out were quietly diminished. He was happy that night to learn there would not be school for a couple days. He enjoyed those days with his friends, dismayed as they were to the rotting situation. A few weeks after that, a sector of the population, for reasons which were unclear at the time, staged a boycott of the government in the center of the city, repeating a custom that the other crowd on the opposite spectrum of the political divide had initiated two years earlier, ousting in the process a Syrian occupation. They paralyzed the economy and forced the city into arms. Suddenly, checkpoints emerged on every corner, and traveling with a piece of hash, or an ounce of weed, proved dangerous, and he began to feel his habits restricted. And finally, on the first day of finals, a campus brawl between two polar camps set off a riot, and thousands of students clashed on the streets. The semester came to a close after a turbulent few weeks, and by the turn of the season, looking on into spring, the feeling in his plexus had changed. He realized in those first days of renewal the immense decision he had made in moving to Beirut. His first spring semester passed without much wind. He did alright in all of his classes, one A, two B’s, one C and a D, deservedly. He missed most classes and developed a reputation for tardiness, absences, and missed assignments, but he always made good in the end and for this reason all of his professors came to know him. His philosophy class was taught by an American, who had the good nature to excuse him for his absences and missed assignments on account of having done all the readings. When in class, he exhibited great understanding of the assignments and could manifest his own arguments. This is why his absence left such a void that it could not pass unnoticed. He refused to take math that semester, a decision that would haunt him in the summertime. He would spend the spring entertaining the idea he was developing a certain mode of mind, a raison d’etre for his smoking. He hadn’t yet discovered the drugs that would induce a paradigm shift to his core, but he was slowly idling by, the activism of his heart, his youth, waning away with every breath of cigarette smoke he inhaled into his substantially weakened lungs. Crumbs of hash lay rusted under his nails. He became known as one of those who deals with drugs, and, someone who is finished. His conversations on campus, when before he held court with some of the more outstanding brains, those hearts to whom political involvement went without question, to whom the fate of their country, of their people, gave breath to their own life, he now spent most of his time with burnouts under the trees, who would explain to him the different effects of different drugs, the different meanings to all the highs and how they corresponded to differing needs of the body. He learned how to make his first roach out of paper, identification cards, subway tickets from other cities. He learned about Amsterdam and the unconditional freedom. But mostly, he stared off into oblivion, letting his eyes drip onto the stationary grounds, the impermeable canvas of hordes, students mending their days with social bounds, arresting themselves to the decadence of the social square. That long walk on campus, from one end of the medical gate to the other, at Penrose dormitories, where all the student factions had their own nest, and the women passed through as cypresses or hiding behind a desperate cloud of visually impenetrable cloth. What days! But they were not formative days. Days of youth, days of great and irreversible plunder. He had opened the doors of his home to the masses, opened the gates to let visitors in whenever they pleased, so long as they obeyed the rules, obliging his expectations. And what expectations? Simply, the conversation, the alcohol, the joint. These very three things, very delicate matters in a country, it is now obvious, was eating itself from within. Chewing at her own loins. He made friends, joining group after group, witnessing the demise of social cohesion, realizing that all his friends shared one thing in common. They were all grossly tied to their high school relationships, and all of them, without question, closer to their religious sect than any other. Even those form Beirut and that posed its own problem. He turned to his brother. They were outcasts, now he knew. They would never be accepted by the mystical tribe of their ancestors, nor did they have reason to want to. But every man needs his place of court. So it was his doors, when grown, began to submerge, and all the while, all his mischief in the city turned against his reputable name, he withdrew into a corner of the earth, onto his balcony, in a curve of shadows, where he was impenetrable, imperceptible, unknown. There he remained, for the remainder of the year. While his friends honored the dead, honoring the whores. But to a young man, not an elderly man, and not a man of any reputable responsibility, those hours alone, switched off to the bastards, quiet in his own little cave, safe, enjoying the scenery of a lamp and two pens, the sound of every glitch in his speakers, and his wayfaring songs. This had become his sanctuary. Those months, where one was not able to travel from one curvature of the city to three curvatures down without the hassle of an army checkpoint and a police checkpoint a hundred meters away. Those months, in a city where on three separate occasions, each at the beginning of every month, a police squad would raid a festival, a rave, a nightclub, and two hundred students, some of them friends, dealers, random fucks whose names he’d forget, would all be arrested, their households shamed, their pardon forbidden. He had the first taste of the Mediterranean in March, and he enjoyed abandoning his responsibilities, taking in the sun at home, pouring himself a drink before he ever needed one. But those months, in the background, a wilderness had emerged. Slowly, he was becoming a sad, apathetic part of it. No recollection of those months, beyond the ordinary passing of time enjoyed and time wasted. Hours like running on sand, perched on a straw chair with a joint in hand, ruminating on the collection of disturbances emerging outside. A feeling of passivity overcomes him, and he becomes, as they say, a cloud. A figment that emerges from the shadows of their cave to wrestle a bullet of survival. Coming out for the needs. For the wants. For the craves. He had even burned bridges with one of his friends. The man they suspected of spying for the great Satan, he had given him a box of two hundred or so Adderall pills to enjoy. One afternoon, while a group of thirty, maybe forty young men, students mostly, some of them elderly spying on the younger girls, hanging around between classes, smoking from their medwakhs, discussing and plotting, the friend emerged from a long absence and confronted our character. He confronted him in broad daylight as though there had already been an issue. Well, he didn’t take kindly to it, and so he resisted the temptation to fight but accepted that he would not listen to the other man’s words. He made himself clear, and the man fucked off. Like a bug, he fucked off, and he didn’t hear form him again, for several months, the cunt who suggested he had sold all the pills for his own profit. The boy had many things he did not need. He did not need the money. I keep having these dreams. I find myself on the top of a large structure and I can’t make my way down. I don’t have the patience to take slow steps downwards. I call for help. People look at me but nobody listens. Do you have this dream? And then I am on a journey. At some sort of station. With a lot of foreigners. And I see a young boy almost get crushed by the train. I meet a few of the people. They all know where they’re headed. I seem to have lost a book, but I don’t know where I’m going. I like some of them, and one of them has a dog, so I follow him.

“What book were you carrying?”

“What?”

“In the dream. The one you lost.”

“I don’t remember.”

“Do you enjoy forgetting the important details?”

“No. I remember everything.”

“We surprise ourselves.”

It was a dream. He hadn’t been killed or captured. He hadn’t been a rogue revolutionary agent turned prisoner of war. He sat in the library at the university, running his eyes along the bookshelves, clearing his throat. The stale air of a confined space. He wondered about the architecture of the library, shaped like a brain, shaped like it served the air a little better, but it didn’t, he could hardly breathe. What would become of him? The novel grows. It expands and he loses his sense of control. At first, it was about a writer, who owns a restaurant in a city like Beirut, but not Beirut, somewhere that shares the same possible landscape as Beirut but is more refined, possibly a Nice, or Montpellier, and when he wants his characters to disappear into a nest of paradise, he fashions the landscape around his own image of a Greek island, one of those you see from a distance resting on the hills, like the little cubes that form homes weigh just enough to rest there without being dug into the ground, like they sprouted from the ground, or fell ever so gracefully, like a balloon, and landed where they have come to be. But a s a writer, he could never find the time to read through his own work, and so the oeuvre of pages grew, growing drastically in size but not in style, most of it poor imitation of narrative poets of the past. Having to travel, to disembark his own comfortable nest, and possessing an ever increasing fear of flying, fear of leaving home, a severe condition of Agoraphobia self diagnosed most of his life, only cemented and confirmed by an aging, indifferent physician of the university, part of a series of networking examinations done to absolve the university of insurance payouts if something were to happen to their students, he had come to realize he had to finish his work before any adventure could take hold of his life and deliver him away from his nest. But at his age, in the cusp between twenty five and the shadows of thirty, most of his friends from home, friends he grew up with, friends he loved, were getting married, and most of their parents were dying, and in some sad cases the children were dying as well, of various causes, which of course added to his own affliction, worrying at times if he also had leukemia, multiple sclerosis, AIDs. He didn’t, and when the world suffered a case of the serious flu, such a SARS epidemic, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, he took great care to eat special proteins, superfood salads, kick starter smoothies, and load up on his vitamins every morning, afternoon, night. He even quit smoking, after having smoked for six or seven years, except for the occasional joint, which he felt was his own form of dieta, a spiritual medication, but joints themselves happened to harness a great sense of paranoia, and so he had to be careful as well from what he smoked, what he inhaled. Having had to travel for these occasions, to pay his respects, to celebrate and mark a beautiful moment, he wanted to write his stories about these events, about funerals, about how different cultures gather in different ways, how elitist, upper class Arab funerals were different than in Europe or America, although he had never been to an upper class funeral in Europe or America, but he felt that the ideology of the wake in bourgeois Arab circles reflected the people’s superficial existence, their need to surround themselves with members of an elite circle, to surround themselves with people of status, to be seen as having aroused the interest, or mourning, of people of higher status, to prove to those below them on the social order how far they are from ever attaining such status as theirs, to rub it in their faces and tie it to their tits. Funerals where a sheikh would read from the Qur’an and everyone would huff and puff in annoyance, and above the sound of the pious song one can hear the marble floor absorbing the weight of overpriced, undersized heels. Where men of real status, of significant political weight, arrive in great convoys and make their entrance sharp and abrupt, drawing in the envy of the crowd, making their way to the mourning family’s line, who have quickly regathered to their pedestal to accept the extraordinary arrival, whose quick and fashionable entrance and exit is like a comet in the wind, shooting through the axis in a moment and in a moment gone. What is really him, people ask, and think of their own future losses, of whether their own fathers, or sisters, or mothers-in-law would ever arouse such distinguished guests. He could write about weddings. The two, funerals and weddings, sharing a few very necessary qualities. For instance, he has sometimes worn the same suit to the funeral and wedding of the same family. This the hosts probably did not know, but he knew. On top of that, both funerals and weddings happen to occur in the same seasonal stretch of time. It’s surprised for funerals, as people do not generally plan to die, unlike weddings, when usually they are planned around summertime, to give people ample opportunity to look their best and tan, not to arrive in their finest clothes under the threat of rain. But something strange always occurs in the seasonal system when it comes to death. One day, out of nowhere, someone you know dies. Maybe they are hit by a truck, or they fall asleep at the wheel. Two weeks later someone who has been battling cancer for two years suddenly falls into a state of total and absolute despair, and in the next night or two, dies. Then a father of a friend, who other than the occasional line or two of cocaine, spent most of his time healthy, playing tennis, going for jogs along the coast, skiing in Lech, loses his luck to his health and has an immediate and irreversible heart attack. A few weeks, maybe a month later, a dear, dear friend commits suicide. And in the final run of things, another cancer patient, a few miscarriages, possibly even a stillborn, some elderlies whose loss is more a gain to the family coffers, disappear into the endless night. It helps to have a hero among the mostly sad, pathetic lives stolen from waste to nothingness, someone who may have fought off an incendiary rebellion, who fought for the cleansing of a corrupt judiciary, who wrote articles on a lasting peace, a beautiful peace, who may have written a novel or two of even European distinction. But most of the time the people who come into the world with such significance to their families leave it with a certain aura of indifference. Or is it acceptance? He couldn’t know. He had thought taking two creative writing courses this semester would be easy but they created such confusion in his head he was struggling in both. Not for lack of writing. He could put to paper thousands and thousands of words, but he could not connect the words, he did not have the connection. One of his two professors, a fat, stump of a woman whose feet barged through her aging sandals, exposing two rumps of disgusting feet, nails eclipsing skin, hanging and protruding in all directions, the feet pasty and chaffing, so as to appear at all times as if carved by the sharp edge of a rock. But she had the good wishes of the department, an American who had taught at distinguished Northeastern schools, such as Sarah Lawrence, for instance, where she even chaired a conference on Feminist rhetoric in a digitally expansive era. They overlooked her triple chins, her bulging eyes that seemed to absorb the callouses of her face and excrete a yellow puss every few minutes, forcing her to wipe the area below her eyes with a tissue, softly dabbing away every now and then, pretending not to notice, as though it had become an involuntary act, though obviously she was well aware. She was well aware, he was certain, of her lips, that started off the hour with such an opaque color of lipstick only to seep through her skin by the hour’s end. The lipstick would run onto her teeth, and sometimes, while watching her, he felt she would take joy in chewing the leaking lipstick, as though it were a sweet. But no doubt, this professor, whose voice was shrill, whose accent annoying and too expressive, accentuating her words like she was on stage, he marveled, no doubt, she was sharp, probably the sharpest woman in the department. And with tits as big as hers, she might have even helped herself along the way. It’s no surprise, a department with a higher ratio of lesbian women than straight men or straight women to take such a liking to her, even if she came across at times as disgusting, overwhelming, obscene. She was sharp, for sure. And she had given him good advice. On his first submission, twenty poems he called They Myth of Sleep, he wrote fantastically about his place in the world, the conflict between his own romantic interest and his romantic infatuation with discovery, the illnesses taking hold in the Sahara, the inflammation of tensions in the Middle East, several civil wars and revolutionary illusions around the world, the importance of contemporary elements to our survival, like gold, bismuth, and concrete, the beauty of flowers and plants such as ranunculus, San Pedro cacti, avocados, and tiny microorganism worms that live in the deepest stretch of the sea, at temperatures of around one hundred twenty degrees Celsius. He wrote prophetically of the future of sports, of the cyclical replication of the universal orbit in American auto racing, of the patient, Zen mastery involved in baseball, and the application of iconic Americana images such as the baseball hat, the spitting pitcher, the baseball mit and bat. He wrote of the disintegration of genders in the twenty first century, the loss of sexual identity, the crisis of misogynistic masculinity, the arrival of a transgendered age. He wrote of these things all in the comfort of his home, in the apartment he shares with his long time girlfriend, a beautiful, passionate soul, a dancer, a healer, a mystic, who he was surprised had ever coveted his attention, but accepted never to question the implications of the gods, whose will was greater than his capacity to know. He wrote from the comfort of his home of worldly matters, and edited on the train that shuttled him back and forth from the university grounds to his neighborhood, a daily one hour ride there and another hour back, which he used wisely as a concrete time set aside for reading, even if accompanied by his girlfriend, also studying at the university, and teaching as well, certain routines he had to employ. She had told him she liked the subjects, she enjoyed some of the verses, some of the more illuminating lines that pervaded what she called his objective interior and performed the poem with expressive taste. She did, however, say the writing lacked a proficient scholarship in certain areas, and was more or less speculation on the nature of all these elements, and he would be better off to write about his own inadequacies as a scholar on certain subjects than the subjects themselves. It was a strange recommendation. He thought she might have asked him to try harder in his research. But she thought he showed some signs of real talent, albeit greater signs of laziness and mediocrity. It hurt his feelings and after spending three nights in his room rereading certain chapters of some of his favorite books, notably a Chilean by the name of Alejandro Zambra, who seemed to fluctuate between memoir and fiction with such grace and ease, even with a soft hint of banality, and who managed to write the stories he himself wished to write in only seventy or so pages. Brevity had always been a target he could never reach. It seemed every word gave birth to a thousand, and he would lose himself in the jungle of restless, unconnected writing. Between Zambra and some other Americans, Canto General of Pablo Neruda, Hopscotch of Cortazar, he also turned to an early favorite of his that had transformed his idea of simplicity, of writing on such topics as love, as food. Strange Weather in Tokyo, a novel he read more than three or four times in the last year, always gave him the feeling he was there, among the characters, one of the barroom staff looking through the receding doors, watching Tsukiko as she gobbled away at her food, a wonderful expanse of dishes so beautifully constructed in prose and style he could taste the remains of her plate in his mouth. And Sensei, of course, he adored. So it was he decided for his next assignment, a twenty to thirty page short story on a character he had not written about before, to dismiss the expectations of the assignment altogether, and provide only a detailed portfolio of ideas, an outline of sorts, a sort of provisional script for the reading of the story and not the story itself. He refused to abandon his earlier subjects, choosing instead to employ a self-deprecating tactic of exposing his own shortcomings as a scholar by illuminating it through the work and not divulging it. Here, it can be said, his work suffered. He nearly failed the class. The assignment he handed in was so poor it was handed over to a disciplinary committee for reasons of offending the legitimacy of the institution, making a mockery of the institutional goals, making a mockery of his peers. Was it so bad? He had entitled the piece The Seven Stages of Man and His Neo-Dramatist Face. Somewhere in the introduction he mentions that the piece could also be titled The X number Stages. Or, more fittingly he said for universities of a high academic standing, The Confinement of Zero. None of this made sense to his professor. Following the introduction, where he also illuminates on matters of the period, aviation disasters, gun control legislation, mass immigration into a modern Europe whose tolerance remains fragile, he wrote a short poem, for the purpose of expressing the intent of his work.

 

Half of my accomplishments are gifts

The rest of it is yours

To let loose from your grip

 

I dreamt of the Acrobat

And then I sung her to you

 

The hunchback listened

But the caged bird stings

Moving about the room like a tightrope artist

 

I urge the nation of disbelievers

The story is in the soil

The shadows we buried are countrymen

 

Remain steadfast, treat with urgency

What is most dangerous to have and comfortable to lose

 

I dreamt of the wailing Saracens

Flogging me in abuse!

 

The poem went over okay. Nothing spectacular but it avoided the wrath of other sections. Finally, the prelude passed, the story began. Ten pages of notes, nothing more. Printed thus in such style,

 

Contentment, nature, origin, Neptune, security, the womb

inciting incident, Plutonic (of [the cosmic force] of Pluto)

force, revolution, great!

change, upheaval, trauma, uprooted from the womb!- me ☹

recovery, stabilization, adaptation, survival-

build a new fortress

forge a new self

to a common society!

 

Maybe the three stages of being

Stages of Drama

Contentment, nature, being

Insecurity, strangeness

Absurdity, surrealness, chaos

Anger, rebellion, rage

Normality, realism

Love, comfort, security, home

Stages of descent, ascension

Stages into descent

Absurdity characterized by: brass instruments

 

Manhattan chapters

Scenes with Derrick dealing,

wanting to bang the fat English girl

addicted to sushi

with small big toes

and yellow feet

also his girlfriend who is nice

he does MDMA with his feet on the wall

etc.

 

Beirut chapters

I feel like dying

rolling with the boys

loss of hope

surrender to death

 

I realize now I am a racist

I don’t like being surrounded by white people.

 

Revisit scenes with Layla on the phone

discussing wanting to visit Teta’s house

to take photos

did we?

rewrite as short story stand alone?

Go to the house

Experience the house under the threat of caring

through their eyes

through a third party

the madness!

the maids!

Can you pull a Faulkner and use dialect?

Love you!

kisses

goodnight

glad we’re back

amigo.

-self

 

In truth, while he sold the idea of his narrative as an explicit attempt to illustrate the contemporary confusion over narrative and form, to prepare a distinct style of his own voice, what he really should have related to his upset department was that he spent most of the nights he should have spent reading, writing and editing, with the occasional break for a sandwich or brief interlude of sex, actually drinking himself dangerous, stopping in at the farthest reaches of the city to some of his friends who he had not seen in a long, long time. Afflicted with his fear of leaving his place of safe rest, he has always turned to alcohol to alleviate the obvious distress visiting a friend, or moving from his nest for any reason, has on his psychic health. When he arrived at one of their houses, three roommates, all of whom are in love, in a triangular relationship, one catastrophically handsome man, the youngest of them all, and the prettiest, a shabby, pale and adventurous girl, the eldest, and a transvestite male who, of all three, dressed with more flair and panache, wrote with more passion, lived with more esteem. He enjoyed their company, and sometimes, when his girlfriend had been out of town, on a spiritual retreat, taking mushrooms with a Qigong master in a surrounding forest, or practicing holotropic breathwork with trained, seasoned professionals, he would spend a few nights in their home, embraced by all three, creating a divergent safehouse for his afflicted self. That night, one of them, the girl, with fingers that were too long for her hands, and palms too large for her arms, and arms too thin and stubby for her body, played the piano for them. From where he sat, he could see only the top of her head. At that point, the playing was exuberant, bordering on genius. she lifted her head from time to time, to signal a shift in the style, the penetration, returning her head with an emphatic leap of the arms. but when he took further interest in her spectacular playing, rising from his slouched position, walking over to her side of the piano and using a windowsill to lean and observe, he noticed something markedly grotesque, something eh could not have noticed had he not ventured to his very spot. The movement of her hands, her strange, disproportional hands, upon the piano, terrified him. The limbs looked more like tentacles, variously inspired to turn in differing directions, like the tentacles of a cockroach that are stripped from their unidirectional faculties and made to run in restrained havoc. The way she played the keys turned his insides to gelatin, suffocating his tongue. He quickly lost patience, watching as she lifted her fingers, as though they were detached from the structure of her palm, rogue fingers, the fingers of a tired witch, eyes exhausted, looking spent like she was withering on death’s verge, jolting across the board, fingers, already too large for a body that young. He left soon afterwards, upset. He spent the night roaming around some of the dirtier bars in their district, bars he never frequented for fear of being aroused, for fear of spending his money, spending his heart, outspending what he already owed, urging volition onto his debts. Several of the bystanders took their interest in him, and while he found it amusing, to be courted by older, grimy men who thought he was selling himself to their thoughts, he was also afraid, afraid they might recognize in his fragility a keenness to cooperate, luring him in with a hypnotic stare. It was difficult, to say the least. Difficult to find his way home, circulating among fetishes of the most extraordinary kind. He accepted a drink in the lobby of a small, boutique hotel, that catered only to masters and their slaves. In the lobby, they had thought he was a slave let off on leave, recognizing his face, they said, recognizing his ass. All around him, older men in slick, diesel leather suits held their little slaves by the chain, dragging them around like dogs. The slaves were ornamented in various garb, to differentiate between the different levels of initiation the slaves had undergone. So he learned from an employee of the hotel, who was upset to hear he hadn’t found a master for himself, a difficult economy in these days. In another space of variable moral qualities, he found himself sitting on the lap of a giant man, whose torso was the size of his whole body, whispering in his ear the difficulties he always faced in finding love, real love, that isn’t confined to momentary sex and the inevitable reality of desertion. Before long, he was in the hands of several young girls, out on the town without their boyfriends, presumably dressing in their most radical outfits and still not selling the idea they fit in to the place. But the girls took an interest in his wayward eyes, his ability to listen without saying a word, without batting an eye, without even reaching over for his drink. They enjoyed what they took for inherent confusion and invited him to ramble onwards through their night, and he did, finding himself in a strictly vegan late night eatery, crawling with more drinks toward another club, where they simultaneously took turns standing in the line for the bathroom to do more drugs. Later, having become a vegetarian largely to impress his girlfriend, he managed to guzzle down two kebabs on his otherwise uneventful walk home. Cold winds seeped into his spine. He hated the walk and all the while hated himself for committing to it. He needed to reinvent his entire being, he thought. He needed a revolution, a sense of purpose, something to pull him from his unattractive spell, his perpetual state of blasé, indifference. What he found upon arriving home was that he had forgotten his sudden call to arms, his adrenaline having all but ceased into the collected fat of his two kebabs. He lay on the ground beside the door making sad attempts to remove his boots. He made callow prairie sounds, like calls of a wild fox, before drifting off to sleep. The paintings are known to inhibit empathy. Did she string two stones for my saving? The answer lies between two beginnings. A wound that scabs immediately. On a very special day, the tomb is lit and the children raised to the mantel. As a sacrifice to the diaspora, they are dropped, hurled in all directions from the capacities of a fiery rod. The shadow of a monolith. The nature of the walk has always been contested. He reported, many report the strange hand of a trickster overcoming them. Tremors of the joints. The sensation of sudden pricks in the vertebrae. Yellow filament clouding of the retina. Tension in the hands and feet. Restricted breathing. Hot flashes. Motor functions recover after the initial seven minutes. His eyes are closed. I walk across the water, barefoot. The imprints plastered on the wall. An erotic gesture by the painter, the piling of needles masking the illusion of form. I bite the shell of a snail, pulse into her skin, for you. The clans, cyphers in abnormal robes. Have you met the mystics? I’ve been watching you. As he rose to leave, he wounded a stationary guard, elbowing him in the gut. Leaving the gallery, I noticed her across the street, watching me. Have you made your amends? You should be afraid. Hesitant to continue, detained in a state of ambiguity, he felt himself moving in growing circles. The creature chosen to depict the painting is muted and lifeless. He reaches the entrance when a voice steps in his way. Will you stay in the city? He knew he was being watched. A shipment arrives off the port. Officers patrol the borders. Did I ever tell you of the time I watched a child dancing barefoot from an adjacent window? The moment passes in silence. He says nothing, continues walking. Passing the ghosts. I push through the crowd. The theater in chains. What were your intentions? Tell me about my peers. He sighs, digressing through latitudes of space. He turned away, back to his mortar on the horizon. His eyes centered on a messy canvas. A hint of soot painted onto his face. The port is empty. Have you passed under the bridge? He watches over the silence near the dome. He napped for a while, lying naked against the pavement. A prelude, seasonal passing of pilgrimage. Betrayals of revolt. Seers caught in rapture. He had believed change was imminent, hoping to salvage a republic never existed but in the poetry of his nostalgic mind. He turns generously, completing an orbit in my eyes. The stranger drifting from hindsight. Brittle instruments buried at the bend, where they had been left for him to notice. The lute, escorting his burden. It’s the ones you know will leave you take a beating from. Natives lose the dance. I nap on a bench. A light drizzle falls. Has anything changed? The room has been like this for years. An eroding writer’s desk. My stomach is empty. You left, because of what happened. He remembered, when he had returned, I had already left. He had forgotten what had been said, trying as best he could not to mention the dream. The accomplice calls. Night buses carry over the mountains, the patients drifting into a hollow sleep. He tried for a forward step, something to intimate his progress. Backwards along the streets. Past the abandoned temples. The empty parks. An alley line of mudhouses near the water. The window opens. I remember my first steps in an estranged past. Bodies carved open, nailed onto the walls. A place to disappear. The hall is empty. A careful figure approaches. Clothed in a layer of blankets. He said he would be off, that he had somewhere else to go. Are you a man of virtue? The figure rests against the doorframe. A key from the nightstand locks the door. He enters the establishment from the rear, climbing a wire gate. Stiff hands withdraw the blinds. I have gifts. Burning incense. He removed himself into her mouth. The innocent, under his feet. the voices, over the threshold. Have you seen them want? They are always wanting. The fringes of existence. You are a teacher. I suffer. He stops, lunging to hold a drifter by the arm, but the image escapes him, the faint outline of a passer easing away. The faces disappearing into the empty halls. The patchwork etched on wood. He wants to show you the room. He predicted, footsteps gracing the water. I walk onto the bridge. The end blinded in surgical mist. He wondered, is it true about the pamphlets? He reached into his pocket, letting his hand sit there some time. The seagulls cry. The crows taunt. How many waters have we passed? Caves dug beneath the façade of an overlying boardwalk. Watered stone. Lighthouse, in the distance. You pass under the tiled roof. The smell of freshly baked bread. He hung his legs over the tarnished rails, his feet drenched in the open air. The voice of our companion, spoken over the rust of passing smoke into his lungs. The stare of the shaman’s warning. The eradication of the natives. I act alone. He had remained curious, holding his eyes on his lower left arm, resting in the pocket of his shirt. He pulled his hands from the jacket, stacks of papers bound together finally revealed. He hands me the book. He accepted the book into his hands, one arm busy with the exchange. Heaviness, having born it down all these years. I open the notebook. It is empty. Time virtually halted, it was not until he rose again to address the mirage that he spoke again. He had experience enough of the medicine to know he had moved on. The journey is relentless. The ranks of revolt. The crumbs of a dream. Do you want that? People gather in the square. The imaginary, in motion. The blessed, where they were left. Whirling orbits. He decided it would be best to trade places. The shape of the keys. The reflection of the light. I want to paint the corners of your lips, but it has been too long. He had trouble identifying with images he did not witness first hand. How could he dialect into verse things outside the program of his eyes? He wanted to leave the room, but he knew he would be followed some moments later. He reached into his pouch, searching for an apothecary’s jewel to distil into his drink. A stack of broken shelves. Canned foodstuffs. Cats bathed in a litter. He nudges past a curtain, shying away into the dark. I enter a supply room, filled with ideas unopened. A trail of light leads his eyes to a window, draped over the opening of a wooden door. He studies the room. Candles laid flat on the windowsill. Lying on the floor, waiting for you. Playing the fool. Molesting the pupil. He nods his head, ignoring the qualification emerging that he had let slip his mind. Does he suffer his own designs? Revelation is a dying sport. He had witnessed the unnatural sacrifice the young, grown cold where other hearts would bend. He had become an inconsequential sovereign to his mind. The windows, present to strange mysteries. On the fringes of poverty he felt disowned.Walking further to the constructs of his memory. Nostalgic to the generation of his father. His eyes grave, he turned towards the mirror left enchanting the room. In my life, certain cities reached such heights the mere mention of their name could lift a populace. He told me, certain cities I watch fall. I sit in wonder at the faces, passing along the screens without the aid of remorse. He turned to the stance he had taken before, preparing his rites for the mystics. The corridor is known to be long. He never turned around. He disappeared into the distance. The vein of distaste in his mouth. He notices commotion at the entrance. Remember when you wrote me, you were on the cusp of revelation? He tilted his words, to spare his being mediocre, nut more, honored to pass the walls discreetly, under the microscope of war. Distractions, from the room that is a mirror, the walk that does not move. By becoming BARA, BARA is nothing. Centered where everything is nothing, he felt nothing combine to resemble an absolutist whole. When I speak, whole murders of crows bow to my voice. He saw the turn where the ferries would harbor. Later, when we love, take as long as you need to kiss me, I will make it last. Contemporaries flee to tend disorder. Horns sound the morning sun. I remove you from my thoughts, play a song in dedication. Free passage. The overcoat of terror. Is there an innocent part of me still? His aged hand leading the way, he leads me through the rooms. A guide sits still at the foot of the mountain. He waves me away. The face arrives, resemblance of you. She walks into the ornament room. Wiping her feet at the fountain. He could outrun the beast, but he must have known the terrain, realizing a serious fall might leave him blinded. An elderly arrived at his side, carrying a paddle. He takes the paddle into his hands, setting it against the woodwork of the boat, taking his seat on the rear. He unfastens his shoes, removes his coat. He twitches his toes, easing them into the sand. The elderly speaks coarsely in his native tongue. Directing words at an emptiness. There will be a storm tonight. I shouldn’t want you to be out there alone. Winter fire. The pupil’s cabin. Wounded in the woods. He lay there, immersed in the earth. Beside his body, a fire refused to light. It had been lit sometime before. Someone had been there. Something. He departed his body, viewing it as an extraordinary vessel distant from his arms. The surrounding wilderness, and the fire. As he departed his solitary form, rising in alternate conception, he enjoyed hovering over the vessel, seeing from above the matter he had consumed. He remembered, I drifted further and further away from the subject. He continued to rise, seeing with great precision, an expansion manifest around his departed form. His figment on the expanding zenith. A call echoes for the stranger. He turned t me on his way, and then he was gone. The clouds are gathering. Unmoved, gathering his footprints. The feeling had passed. He did not turn towards the pier. Well and away at sea. Lines that map the thought of each visitor. He piled us into a book. The memory of a few chords. Sitting in the presence of s age. A partition segregates the whole. Where do I exist in a darkened space? He wondered, do I see beyond these eyes? The glare of youth insists apathy. He spoke with the patience of a nightingale, always in love. The port of eviction. The dues of parents haunting. The face of a girl in a passing crowd. He told me, I have reason to believe he is not still alive. The hunch of his back. A moon at the turn of October. He wrote me, the time I dedicated to ambush him, I would imagine myself in a frenzy chasing a figure between tightly knit alleys under the cover of moonlight, only to wake suddenly and find myself in the thick of forest chasing only a shadow. He concluded, in my first viewing of BARA I realized something I had not realized before. Something mentioned about the palette. Did you know, he was a victim of great anxiety? A sign on his door, the total angst perimeter. The second movement, the stars align. Letters, under the floor. The strange footprint. On the occasion of his dying, he was expected to return again to read passages out loud and laugh at them. I sing Joseph’s verse, hoping to taste your gender. Give me everything, I will return it, having proven I am capable of attaining but unwilling to posses. Freedom is for the dispossessed, but they are not wise to it. The machine of discord wears impetus. A cartoonist draws BARA with oil. I march barefoot in spring. I’m at the end of my game man. I watch them walk the plank. She joins the others on the bus. Sleeping in the native’s park. He stands before her headstone. Not all dreams, but some, are messages. He was an acrobat, a painter of sighs. He walked. He walked. He heard a voice he recognized call his name. It was not true. Nobody knew his name. He had come a long way to return where he had begun. The endings surged and seized hold of him. He was alive. The boy was at last alive. The passing of another year. The next morning sang the wail of a new beginning, ringing ashes in the rain. The jester must have been watching, lurking as he does.

“Let anchor down!”

“We’re shored!”

[1] “Even as he lamented the forthcoming betrayal, Christ was, between the lines, giving the injunction to Judas to betray him, demanding of him the highest sacrifice- the sacrifice not only of his life, but also of his “second life,” of his posthumous reputation.”(16)