The Red House

The Red House

 

Finally it is time to meet my new friend. I see him calling out names in the corner, reading from some pages he has been assigned. I already know he is waitlisting the men, and finding the women a squalor to inhabit. He is wise for meeting me in the afternoon, not the morning, when I have worked already, am tired, drunk enough to join him in laughter, and won’t remember the shake of his hand if he tries to deceive me. I turn up at Rue du Cervelles, heading towards a ramshackle nesting house for waste collectors and Saracens, with bourgeois bohemians and drunks. He is standing across the road, waving to me. Before I meet him there is someone I should meet. I know this because she is standing to the side ushering people through the assembly hall and into the room, where they are given their deeds to housing. She is beautiful, for sure, but she is not so foreign, at least not in complexion, or tone. But the man across the street, the man who carries my deed, applied for as a partisan, is growing restless, so I watch this woman from her throne, digging the crowds to their knees. I walk over to the man, crossing the empty road void of traffic, but humans walking about in a state of confusion, having been released from their cells too early to tell the meaning of this encounter. As I reach him, he applies some paste to his lips, and his cheeks, and his forehead, designed to quell the heat. He applies some to his neck, and offers me his vial. It is grotesque, so I fumble it from his hands as it reaches mine, forcing him to collect it. He stares at me in disgust. He points to the tallest building on the block, some twelve stories or so.

“That is my new home,” he says. “Wait until you see it.” I follow his lead. We climb the stairs. On the ascent I am surprised at my capacity to climb, really climbing, at times lodging my foot between the rail and slowly slithering my way to the roof.  I suggest we take turns at the helm but he ignores me. A third joins us because he has the keys. Yes, it does not occur to him to hand the landlord the key, so he is forced into our mess with dignity. But there is no dignity. The only way to salvage dignity would be through a medieval slumber, maneuvering at least some space. We take some steps to the roof. The roof door opens, pushed in with a jolt of the legs, kicking out with some force. Though I should mention, the final three floors were void of light, and if anything lives, it moves under secrecy, and that is no way for me to live, so already I am frightened, knowing my only fear is secrecy, that quells our knowledge of each other. There is an L shaped corridor, without a ceiling. There are seven trailers lining the L, each the size of a tractor. “That trailer at the end,” the Landlord says, “is yours, but the place is a fucking mess, really terrible.” I ask to see it from the inside. He takes the keys, the other man leaves, upset, of course, and we walk towards the trailer at the end, bent right against the precipice, where a fall lands on the city pavement, squash!  The space is a trailer, fitting a hobbit bed and a light. The window gives the impression one is on a ship, cast away at sea, circular casing, slightly distorted lens. I will say nothing more on this fact. It is beneficial to me, the price of my being here, and the unorthodox character of our living arrangement. This is where I will live thinking of you, drawing plans on our reuniting. The man wants to leave so I ask him some questions. Namely, who are my neighbors, what do they do? He does not answer, trying desperately to bring attention to his hands, moving in a rotational axis while his feet, side stepping under the mattress, are trying to destroy a cockroach, my only living friend. But maybe it is not a cockroach, as I have not seen what he is really doing, so it only bothers me to imagine the little critter when it might be something else altogether, like a twitch, and then, from the contours of my intelligence, it dawns on me what I am, a clown, hired to entertain those struggling a laugh, or bored of it, fetishizing the image of a monkey at play, teasing an audience to joy. As our friend is in the practice of a romantic twitch, this image haunts me, and later I will remember descrivng it to you in a more formal way, where I will chalk the figure of a tangerine on a motorcycle highway ride to east Georgia. That is how I feel, describing to you this moment. You know this, and the sun glistens, suddenly, I am swept by a breeze of easterlies shooting away the left turn crashing bank of…oh forgive me, the image stole my rhythm and abandoned me. I know, it is happening all over again, the song begins and suddenly, where is Django, but in my head, and his blues in my forearm- I kiss it sweetly. This is how I spend these Godawful summers in the heat, drenched in nostalgia and rum magic, purifying my soul, to a stern degree. It is also here I picture Buenos Aires once again and recall the way you left me wondering whether you would show…I know, these images are appalling. Because they will not end, where I want them. If you say the same of me, life chooses its own wandering. I only choose to describe you as best I can. The man leaves, but first, he is kind enough to answer my final question, under the darkness of our shading, cowered in the room.

“That woman, downstairs?”

“Who?”

“Seemingly in control.”

“What is it?”

“Who is she?”

“Is that all?”

“What do you mean?”

He disappears. I am forced to descend the staircase in a hurry, expecting to find him some meters down, longing for a rest. Instead, I find some mice, who I invite to my rooftop for a drink, but they refuse me, enjoying the feast of roaches on display, to their liking! The landlord is nowhere to be seen. He plays the act of disappearance. Perhaps, a member of a circus, though isn’t that an idea? I need a shower, it has been too long, and I remember seeing a hose right near the cliff, overlooking our great fall, together. But first, that woman, a figment of my dreams, a likeliness of you, a spoiler of this ingrate. I find my way downstairs and she is there, on the street as before except she has removed her blouse, unamused at the heat and the sight of things out of control, or in hers, managing only what she can, the woman. A merchant of hats sells some interesting motivations in his store, and he would likely sell more if he could only stay awake during these hours, when it is the most poignant hour of the passing day, and the sun compels our imagination. I walk into his store, barefooted. I stay close to the wall, hiding underneath a bereft clothesline, using the steel instrument as camouflage, but can you imagine this working, when really it does not? I near the desk where he sits, flapping his lips wit his snores. I have nerve, unaccounted for in a previous life, so I nab a pair of boots off the counter. I tie them with laces hanging from a thread above the clerk counter, where his head is slap against the desk. On my way out, I grab a beret, feeling myself worthy, and lighting a cigarette as I exit, I find the woman of my dreams, enjoying a sip of water in the shade, inviting myself over. But the air sours, a storm hits. I write these pages in darkness, no longer needing to see words, knowing they are themselves befitting of a man standing the penultimate crossroads of East and West, having it. Do you remember the boys near Bowery, who never failed to lather themselves in flushing rains, soaking in the acrid droppings of an industrial island sky? These are faint memories of our coming here, why, each moment fulfilling the next, and so it must be true that I was at one time worthy, of love, yours. It is as though I am parading my fears in search of execution, parading vices, cupability. Send me judgment, so I will renew this osul to life. Usher before me a crowd willing to beart witness to my voice, if it is so imaginable, as it was back then. Whose doing but my own causes me to croak, fall some steps ashore to a concrete encampment of our nightmare, no one else’s fault but mine, losing her figment drawn away, leaving this brute alone. I surrender myself, to you, let rhythm become me, take hold of where I am. I type for you to answer, you excruciate me lonsome, where is your voice if not ringing blood in my ear? I hear every whisper I was not able to witness, weren’t we together in an age of wonder? I know, it is conceivable that I am only hiding belief, damaged by damaging you, or my memory. It isn’t true, what really is, only written on my face, he will not survive, he is incapable, ignore it. The others, aware of it, aren’t they, watching me with their beaded eyes, storming the stage of our encounter. Look, a man approaches, fastening his papers in one hand, deeds to belonging he’s waited winters to allure. I come closer to a cosmic imbalance, and this mate of an urban squalor comes closest to home. The irony, a thistle with no branches, leaving his history at the door. But the eternal you is not present, in the arms of someone else, feeding light into his soul. I am not aggrieved, only paranoid, and he holds Olympain power over creation, mine. I do not envy, never have, your lips I never tasted, so how could I know the allure of envy? But these silly wanderings I miss. I pass the Merchant, without his noticing, and the materials in our approachers hand come closer, finding me at a corner where I am not easily pointed out, but ignored. I am evolving into what I am, indistinguishable, a ghost. My presence will soon be negotiable, but will it be honorable? She bumped into Ramiz, going for a walk, actually, walking a friend’s dog, as a favor, though she wasn’t quite sure what someone was doing, thinking Ramiz responsible enough to pull off that sort of favor.

“What kind of dog is he?”

“I think he’s a Pomeranian. He’s cute.”

“Is he yours?”

“No, not mine.”

“Didn’t think so. Who’s is he?”

“He’s a friend’s. He’s out of town. He doesn’t trust his maid to feed or walk it.”

“Where are you going?”

“I was thinking of walking down to the Boulevard. You?”

“I was going to meet Sandra, for ice cream.”

“Cool. Where?”

“This new place, down the street from my house. It’s organic.”

“Of course.”

“Also my friend works there. Sabine. You’d love her.”

“Sounds good. Yeah, I think we can join you.”

“They have this amazing flavor, you have to try it, you can try some of mine. Jack’s Lemonade. Totally vegan. It’s amazing. The most refreshing ice cream you’ll ever have.”

They went upstairs. She had found him interesting, wanting to hang out. They walked up the seven floors, the sound of her bladed boots snapping on the hardwood floor. They would have taken the elevator, but the electricity was cut. The staircase was bland and empty, with seven fleets of empty rows, the neighbors collecting their garbage outside their doors, loitering past midnight in corn shaped bags. Seeing her in the apartment caught him off guard. He hadn’t thought her so poor, so humble, so unaffording. The place was a mess. The room was small, short and oblong, like a slice had been torn from an architect’s plan, sizing the walls like a room of bathroom stalls. In times past, it had been used as a maid’s room for the owning tenants, filling four beds and a toilet bowl, and a window overlooking the People’s Garden, and the aged shallow wells of Avenue Rose, steeped in from a high cliff, and the hats and wicker baskets on display, wooden forks and spoons for salad tossing, and the stacks of pens where the chickens lay, downstairs near the building’s garbage, watched over by Sit Shiham.

“I’m so hungover.”

“Me too. Are you hungry?”

“Yeah. Should we order something? What do you feel like ordering?”

“I don’t care. Anything. You? Something fried, disgusting?”

“Something gross? Or something healthy?”

“I feel like when you drink you have to go for something greasy.”

“There’s a new taco place, Taco Heaven. They’re supposed to have amazing fish and pumpkin tacos.”

“Together?”

“No, not together. Like each one. They’re different.”

“Have you tried it?”

“I have. But I’ve never ordered from there. Who did I go with? Wait. I’m trying to remember.”

“When was it? When did they open?”

“I’m not sure. I didn’t like their cheese though, I remember that.”

“Let me check,” she said, “grabbing her laptop from the living room table.

She logged onto Narcis, opening the Delivery application on her tablet. There were no fresh messages, some updates on her feed, that’s all. A creep who wouldn’t stop sending her dirty advertisements had finally been flagged. She saw the news on her inner box, and scrolling down the side, she found the Delivery application and opened it.

“I’m up for a burger, honestly.”

“I had a burger last night.”

“Yeah? Where?”

“Moon Burger.”

“When? We met up last night.”

“Just before going out. It was a bad idea actually. You know when you can taste the burger the entire night?”

“I hate that.”

“Meat and onions.”

“Check if Patty Esteem are delivering.”

“They are. I saw. But I hate their drivers. They’re always sweating and they show up unapologetically late. They come into the house and want to use the kitchen to cut the pizza. That kind of thing doesn’t work here.”

“No, it doesn’t. That’s strange. I appreciate the eccentricity though.”

“They’re trying. And they don’t accept card.”

“I have cash.”

“It’s just easier if I pay online. Plus I get extra points.”

“Do you? I didn’t know that.”

“You don’t order off Delivery?”

“I’m not on Narcis.”

“Oh that’s right, I forgot. You’re not on Narcis. You’re like, not one of us.”

“Moon Burger are the fastest.”

“I don’t really feel like them though. They send their drinks without ice.”

“It’s true. They’re lazy.”

“The fries are great though.”

“I love their stacked homefries.”

“It’s a lot. You can’t order it on your own.”

“We could get it now.”

“It’s a lot though. I don’t want to be too destroyed.”

“What about Burger Correct? Their fries are amazing.”

“They’re not delivering for some reason.”

“That sucks.”

“So?

The food travelled well. By the time it arrived she wasn’t in the mood anymore for tacos.

She opened her laptop again, pulling from the coffee table nearby, wanting to see if they were actually delivering, and if they had anything else. Quesadillas, for example.

He came back into the room.

“What are you doing? Did you order?”

“I’m seeing if they have anything else. Don’t know if I’m in the mood for tacos.”

“What are you in the mood for then?”

“Well, the Quesadillas at Little Jack’s are amazing.”

“Really?”

“There’s beef, chicken, or vegetarian. The vegetarian is my favorite, but the beef is great as well. They add cumin powder and cinnamon, and grilled eggplants, chickpeas and green, red and yellow peppers, with sour cream and guacamole, red or green salsa, and the choice of grilled cactus with red onions or oyster mushrooms with jack cheese. You can also have it all on a plate, and for an extra two ninety nine you can have both, on a plate as well.

The food arrived. She called over from the bathroom, nudging the door slightly, in order to call out.

“I have exact change here. Do you have anything for tip?”

“I paid already, but there’s money for tip on the till next to the door handle.”

“Okay. Great.”

It made her think about what she was eating. She had been eating so much lately. Two nights before, she had gone for a walk after work, after having cleaned Andrea’s library for four hours for the fourth consecutive day, and all she could think about was a joint and some food. She wanted to smoke the joint the moment she stepped out the door, so she could walk along the tracks and listen to the vendors convalescing, and the song of highway ships aboard, horns honking their highway blessing, the way they started doing it at four, almost like they were celebrating. Tanzim called her, having told her he was outside, walking in the street by Andrea’s shop and wanting to know if she was looking to do something, which she was, without thinking, feeling like smoking with him to go walking. They met, and the first idea he had was to eat something, and as she was already stoned she felt like it was something doing. And so together that was what they did. Eating and watching and looking. He ordered vegan ham on a spread of Roquefort, in white baguette toast. She ordered the morning blessing, a bowl of quinoa, mushrooms, carrots, and raisins. She added avocado for two thumbs up. He paid for her, as always. After eating they went to the Red House and had a drink, and listened to Ramiz’s play about nothing. The place felt empty, the small hall that opened further in the back, with a long open window that opened onto the street. The DJ played beside the bar, beside a row of high tables. To annoy her friend Sarah kept turning the knobs, playing with the metronome, dampening the sound. He was the sort to want to do things, to do things with others, to make things happen, to change things and alter them to their path, to bring them from the harsh temptations to the good and honest road, like what Beckenhauer did at Orleans, painting the Canvas of Caves, changing the memory of Sit Nohad for the betterment of her days. She was an obscure figure in the painter’s movement at the time, having moved to the Port of the Merry Sage some time after the war. She had seen it grow, transform, manufacture, the postwar desert incurring the disease of growth, construction yards filling the vacant holes, long deserted plots of valuable land. She told him they should meet and to discuss ideas, if he wanted to make amends for what he had said before, for not putting an effort where it mattered most. Like him, she had fled, but unlike him, she knew that in her heart she valued their detested home, finding it more difficult to move on from it, to move on from the quaint familial cage that posited her reluctance to conform. She was better than him. At least, she had tried to be, and at the very least, they would have become a kinder match, waiting for him at the corner of 4th and King’s, sitting on a bench outside the Administration Housing Block, c#3, the better part of the neighbourhood gentrified, only in the last few years, hosting open reading nights at the Café Bliss and vegan patty burgers at the Burger Ho. The story was beginning to come full circle, written as it was being wrote, his remembering, the importance of doing away with distraction, relieving himself of empty gropes, learning the ropes of writing, forcing himself against the ropes, cornered, frightened, ruined, at the hand of words, drawing his temptation, from drunken nights on the poet’s surge. He wasn’t sure if the speed was good for him, if they needed him to slow. They wrote from different places of the imagination, he, the idea of returning home, either to his ancestral womb, the stoned mad city of West Beirut, or the violet shores of his chosen roots, the urban chaos of Metropol. But he was in their class, and even, to go there, to go where they were searching, he had something, first to accomplish, before his knowing returning home. She had moved there with the same idea, enjoying the first few quarters of total calm, predisposed to ignore the city’s existential failings, the city’s fate removed from her subjective thoughts, she had the habit of thinking of herself, only herself, and those around her, positing her thoughts and not her real, physical space, being those that she had left behind. In April, she imagined them sitting on the clear white sand of the Beach of Palms, the rogue coffee sellers voice jarring with the morning Qams, the signing of songs of infinity, the slung of howards in the evening clam, the naked runners on the boulevard, all of them, somehow, coexisting, and the shoppers parking outside the super malls, designed by Batroun in the Year of sandals and surfer’s thongs. She heard her friends, Rasha and Sevine, smoking cigarettes and buying ice cream outside the Institute of Fashion, where they both were teaching the younger kids. She missed them, as she did all spring, and in summer, sleeping half naked in Quality Park, smoking joints and reading The Temptations– as dictated by June at Ras Shahid- poems of queer love and elaboration, trying on different bodies like a change of clothes, treating their bodies and organs like instruments or toys. She walked the four miles of Boulevard Duro, passing the street vendors selling fake CDs, revolvers and hunting knives. It was the same effect, having had the same effect on him as it did on her. She realized that for all the parks in the world, for all the gifts of freedom, she could not trade the feeling of being home, the feeling of having come to where her heart was born. They ate their two breads in silence. They after calm of the week collect. Roadworks closing for the day, the call of those from age to age. The doors of neighborhood bars were opening, dark cafes pulling out their evening signs, billboards selling evening specials and cocktails, all at half price from four to nine. Students finishing class stemmed out from the Rue Nancy, the men in collars and the girls in gowns, the hipsters donning their bomber jackets, the bums collecting underneath the palms. At four past seven they were approached by Sven. He had the two tickets in his hand, one for each of them. They had waited so long to see the play, it didn’t matter anymore that he was fifteen minutes late, from when they were supposed to meet, sixty minutes left until the curtains yawned. He wore a blue necktie, long black jeans, a brown leather jacket he had stolen from his dad, the last time he had visited. First, he had stolen a letter jacket, with the number 86 running down both arms, the emblem of the School of Mary Rose gleaming from the chest, positioned right above the heart. But that had gone out of style, two months or so after stealing it. He visited again, this time nipping a brown suede vest, that he wore above a white chemise. It did him well, and he liked the effect it had on him, most noticeably on his gait, walking with the air of a joker, someone who liked to tease. Sven was dying to see the latest play, by the ever enigmatic friend Ramiz. He didn’t have the same fears as them, coming from so far a home, wanting so badly to escape the drudgery of his first two lives, stuck in the north inhabiting the snowy plaints of the North Plateau, where cities wade through winter without an hour’s sunlit spark.

“How are things between you guys?”

“I don’t know. Not good,” she said.

“What’s going on?”

“We want different things. He wants to be touched differently. I’m not afraid.”

“Are you going to see him later?”

“I promised I would help him set up.”

“Does he know what he’s going to do?”

“Not a chance.”

“He’s going to blow it, for sure.”

“He’s risking his life.”

“His life’s not on the line.”

“Isn’t it?”

“I don’t know. I wouldn’t see him doing it if it was. He knows the right people.”

“Still. He’s going to be playing with his balls onstage, in front of them.”

Ramiz and Sarah sat together on the terrace outside Café Bad, overlooking the quarry. He was on his third espresso of the morning, she was on her fourth, though she had made it early in the morning to the park for a run.

“Have you decided yet? What you’re going to do?”

“Not really. Any ideas?”

“I don’t think it’s fair, to put that kind of pressure on yourself. You don’t have to do it.”

“I don’t think there’s any other way.”

“It’s funny, you know, you spend so much time trying to think of something original, trying to find something that sticks, and then it hits you in the face while you’re taking a shit. Honestly, I want it to be obscene. I just wanna connect to that kind of tradition, you know? How many times have we seen someone come onstage and spread their ass cheeks and literally take a shit onstage? It’s disgusting, it’ll work. I won’t stop there. I want it to be obscene. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the theater. I respect Marwan. I like what he’s tried to do. It’s no disrespect to him. I just want us to do the right thing. The right thing is to open these ideas and talk about them, like we used to, in school, when they sat us in a circle, and we crossed our legs, and we opened up about things, telling each other stories live. There was real interaction then, real, genuine interaction. And the only thing that seems to be getting people onboard with their emotions, sinking them or relegating them to that level, where they can feel something dangerous in the air, where they feel this inner terror, is I think through shame, right now, at this level, I think that’s it.”

“So you’re going to take a shit onstage.”

“I think so, yeah. And after I take a shit, because it has to go on for fifteen minutes, and I think, at most, I can last seven minutes with my shit, two minutes in the beginning where it’s really rough, really intense, maybe even less, when you think about it, like twenty five seconds in all, just to get that first pile of shit out there, but then I feel if I contract and expand my ass muscles and loosen my bowels, and if I sit in the right way, with the right equipment, I’m going to ask whoever’s in charge of props for one of those Bowel Chairs, made just for shitting, then I can probably shit a little more along the way, but at some point it’s going to stop. It’s going to be messy, if we get that far. If they don’t pull the plug. I’m going to show them my anus, contracting, receding into itself. I love that image. The image of the ass. Like the painting, by Buccolt, where the asshole is visible just in front of the mirror, and the hole is gaping wide, and the bark of the cherry tree is made visible behind the child, the arms of another man wrestling with his cock. The asshole steals the image, for sure. I was thinking of having myself fisted onstage, or asking an actor to do it, if I could fist them, but then I realized there’s no real point to do something so vile to someone else, when I could just have it applied to me. That’s when I remembered the workshop we went to, The Abstract Orgasm. Do you remember that?”

“I do.”

“Duro says everyone wants to be applauded and appreciated but nobody wants to take the high road and destroy themselves. Duro has a theory, on people, he calls the Theory of the Horse, that everyone wants to be the best horse in the race, nobody wants to finish last. Some people are willing to cheat, others, not to cheat, but to take an advantage, others are embarrassed of their advantages and want to level the score, and others don’t care, because they know, in the end, whether they win or lose, all the horses are killed, and that defines their character, they couldn’t give a shit because they die. He goes on to say that the reason people want to be the best horse and win the race is because people have designed the race so it’s profitable if you win. Sounds simple, it is. Of course it is. But it’s Duro. He’s simple. They teach him in school. And they teach that if you want to do the right thing, you try to win the race, to be like Duro, to listen to your character. They neglect that Duro was a fanatic. Of course he was, he was a fag. Faggots are by nature fanatics. He says that if you want to really win the race, you have to change the rules of the game to suit your strengths, for instance, making it profitable to lose. Some people think this means, making it profitable for you, as an individual, to lose, going on to bet against the grain and earn their winnings on their own losses. I don’t really know how gambling works, but you see my point. In the collective sense, we have to change. I want to be taken prisoner. I want to be gangraped by men. I want to be fucked in the ass with a glass bottle that apples and shards in my ass. I want them to ruin my family, my reputation. I want to be free of their faults. I want to live in obscurity, or in a cage. I want them to hear my whispers and to record them as wrongs, and to feed me to the wolves when I die. I want to nothing like them, and so to be like them, I know, is to conform, and if I don’t conform, what better way to say it than to stick a fist in my ass.”[1][2][3]

“How are things between you guys?”

“I don’t know. Not good,” she said.

“What’s going on?”

“We want different things. He wants to be touched differently. I’m not afraid.”

“Are you going to see him later?”

“I promised I would help him set up.”

“Does he know what he’s going to do?”

“Not a chance.”

“He’s going to blow it, for sure.”

“He’s risking his life.”

“His life’s not on the line.”

“Isn’t it?”

“I don’t know. I wouldn’t see him doing it if it was. He knows the right people.”

“Still. He’s going to be playing with his balls onstage, in front of them.”

Ramiz and Sarah sat together on the terrace outside Café Bad, overlooking the quarry. He was on his third espresso of the morning, she was on her fourth, though she had made it early in the morning to the park for a run. Ramiz wanted to be obscene, he wasn’t sure why. He had felt a certain calling in him, of late, standing alone on the boardwalk two, three and one night prior, going by himself on lonely walks, to deliver some strange obscenity to an unsuspecting crowd, though he had by no means ever shown such violence, thinking of the stage as a mantel from where to perform his rights, rather than the artistic merit that he so wanted to inherit from the greats and mentors that he had watched, in flight, performing the works of genius.

 

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

“I wouldn’t mind going for a walk, winging it. Figuring it out as we go. Is there a plan for later? For tonight?”

“Yeah. We’ll probably go to a party on Avenue Rose.”

“I heard it’s really grimy over there.”

“It’s grown.”

“I don’t mind babe, whatever you want. Ana I’m down for anything.”

“Tab yalla, call me when you’re up and about. Ana I’ll be at home.”

Sarah went downtown, to meet her roommate, who was preparing to go to work at the bar, the Bottoms, on Avenue Morose. She wore a capered vest with black letters, had done her hair up in bangs, just that morning, and her dreads were turned to corn rows.

“I saw Semih by the way.”

“Yeah? How is he?”

“He’s low.”

She frantically lit a cigarette, her ninth of the day.

“Honestly, I know bums, I know squatters. I’ve smoked a million joints in squats. I slept in a shelter for two weeks, during the protests. I’ve never gotten that dirty, and it was a choice. He looks like shit, man. I don’t know why he does it. I honestly don’t know how you handled it. Like, he smelled like fucking ass. His breath? He went to the bathroom at one point, and honestly Marah, I was disgusted to touch him after that. He told me he took a shit. He said it. We were watching the game and the other team scored, and he said, I was taking a shit and the first shit flopped onto the water when the team scored, he heard everyone roar, it was funny. It was an amazing time, we had a lot of fun. He wanted me to smoke crack but I didn’t want to. It wasn’t actually crack, it was just supper coke, they were cooking it over a small stove, like experts.”

“Where were you guys?”

“We went to Joe’s, and then to Samah’s, and then we ended up at the Bottoms. Didn’t you hear from Joe?”

“I haven’t seen him. He doesn’t work Mondays, he wasn’t there yesterday. He’s there today though. Really, was Semih gross?”

“His breath man, his breath. Since then, every time I feel my own breath, I want to throw up. Breath is suddenly my nightmare. Whenever someone talks, I sniff in the air, trying to smell their breath. It’s like, he turned me in to a fucking dog. He was disgusting man. Where does he live?”

“He’s over and about right now. I heard he was staying with Joe, but I think he got into an argument with Mario, or something.”

“Joe’s roommate? I hate him. He’s also gross. In a different way to him though.”

“He’s playing going to stay with Adam.”

“Morose? Or Sannine.”

“I don’t know. Both? He’s playing music with Sannine now. I heard he’s happy. I’m fine with that. Let him be. I don’t care anymore.”

“When was the last time you saw him?”

“2024.”

“That long ago?”

“I wish it were more. I don’t feel like knowing him anymore. The reason we broke up is my fault. I know. But it should have been his chance. To do something about himself. But I don’t know. I don’t even know why I still talk like that, like there’s an us and a me and a him. He dated Sarah Keys, anyways, right after me. They dated for a while.”

“But they broke up, you know?”

“Yeah, they did. Good for him. Honestly, I’m so much better now, and everytime I think of him, I just feel like I wasted a lot of time. It’s not even his fault, it’s mine. I wanted an anchor, I needed an anchor in my life at the time. Instead, I got Semih, who’s more like a sinking boat. Not even like a warship, or anything remotely strong. He’s a sad little boat, caught in a storm. I don’t know why or how he ended up in the ocean, but he’s there, and he’s fucked, and I don’t care anymore.”

“Have you heard his new song?”

“No, I haven’t. Have you? God. Why does he do it anymore?”

“He’s desperate.”

“He’s lost.”

She asked for the bill.

“How much is it?”

“Separate or together?”

“Separate.”

“You had the cappuccino raw?”

“Yeah. And you, the black filter?”

“Yes.”

“Here you go. It’s eighty five, ninety five for you and ninety nine, ninety five for you.”

They handed her their bills.

“Here you go.”

She shuffled for change in her waistbelt.

“Let me get some change. One second.”

“What’s your plan for the afternoon?”

“I’m meeting an old friend. He’s in town for a few days.”

“What’s he doing?”

“I think he works at a firm right now, he’s gone soft.”

“At some point, doesn’t everybody?”

“Mashallah.”

“Call me later. Are you going to the party?”

“Where?”

“Either at Hassad’s or Mahfouz.”

“Did they reopen the terrace upstairs?”

“Yeah, but it’s totally covered. It’s kind of strange.”

“Why do they keep doing that.”

“Salman’s theory is they’re afraid of this season’s climate. There’s going to be a lot of insects. Mosquitos, flies, cockroaches.”

“Shu enno they can’t get onto the terrace if they put plastic ya3ne? Of course they can. It’s stupid. They’re probably doing it for the noise. Are they still letting people smoke?”

“Yeah, it’s super smoky. Like, every five minutes you have to blow your nose. Last time I went I literally washed my face in the bathroom three times. I’ll bring powder, if I end up going home before.”

“Call me later. I might go to dinner with Maysam and her father. I’m still not sure.”

“And you’re seeing your friend now?”

“Yeah, at the Gorigo.”

“Stylish.”

“Honestly, I’m broke. He said he’s gonna pay. He better not bail.”

“Just don’t order the dover sole.”

She walked alongside the tracks at Mar Iman for some time, passing a parade of street vendors cleaning their tools, preparing for the nightly raid on the upper boulevard, selling plates of fried sparrows and rice, potato salads in the warm summer months, and coffee briskets during the winter sleep, charging through the cold like forest pigs, rummaging for food in pilgrimage. She walked through the alleyway, under a walkway full of pine needles and cones, passing the checkpoint at Army Cross. The guards at Army Cross, they’re notorious for acting like thugs when they found themselves in want of something. She knew, at that hour of the night, their thoughts would loom large, and one of them would have to say something. It would be simplistic to say there was a sense of foreboding coloring the walk, but to admit she preferred the silence of her suffering to the city’s often manic noise was to admit that it was nightfall but it was still early and the night is young and all that means really is quiet, subdued, patient suffering, bickering at the chords, the wait of want and the want for something. A voice called out from behind her.

“Marhaba?”

“Yes.”

The voice stepped closer, stepping out from the darkness.

“Can I help you?”

“I’m just walking.”

He spoke again.

“What’s your business here? Where from? Where are you going?”

“Is this necessary?”

“It’s for your own good.”

“Is it?”

It was one of the guards, a member of Military Command. His camouflage khakis gave him away, though he wore a tight black turtleneck and a black wool beanie, his rifle slung over his shoulder.

“Not really,” she said. “I’m just walking.”

The stranger crawled forward, speaking in a strange dialect, that told of his being raised in the woods.

“How long have you been here,” he asked. “In the garden, the way is long,” he said.” “Do you live around here?”

“I should be asking you,” she answered sharply.

“You’re here, all alone.”

“I’m going home.”

“Are you? I’ve been watching you. You came from over there, and he pointed with his rifle, “and if you’ll excuse me for saying, I don’t think you’re going home. Let me see some papers.”

“Is this necessary?”

“It’s necessary. It’s for your own good.”

“For my own good? Why are you playing this game with me?”

“I’m not. I’m doing my job. Can you please hand me your papers? Do I have to call this in?”

“Call this in? What, you can’t restrain me?”

“If you have nothing to hide then why do you care?”

He hinted the flashlight at her bag. The yellow spotlights from the lamppost clashed against the warming blue of his bulb, pointed in her direction. She reached into her Killa clutch, handing him her papers. She had them ready, prepared, most of the ones they usually asked for, her driver’s license, her working registration, her list of employment, her birth certificate and civil residency, which she used to get in to any government building or public space, just showing her civil residency identification and she was good. He examined her papers, reading from them.

“Your name is Sarah Maroun?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Your mother’s maiden name is Sulhat?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have a relative by the name of Regie Sulhat?”

“Yes. How did you know that?”

“They’re from Surour, no?”

“They are.”

“If you hear from them in the future, tell them Ali Murtadamin sends his best wishes. And respects to your father, the most.”

“I will. Thank you.”

He handed her back his papers, asking her to leave, wanting and hoping for kindness and excusing himself in the end for his earlier having been a prick, knowingly and decided. He noted, from her appearance, outward and her acting part, that she wasn’t a threat for him to deal with, and was free in fact to let her go. He hands him back his papers, asks him to leave, kindly, noting that he is young and apathetic and not really a threat to anything. If he were a threat to himself, he would be more threatening, yet less threatening to others, but more enticing to those who know him, but not those who come a long way, seeking asylum as refugees. If he could muster up the abstractions necessary to propagate ideas amongst the masses, he would be a threat, but his relation to the masses carries the weight of an eyesore, nothing more. He refuses weapons of material or ideology. He’s never held pamphlets decrying the modern malaise. He sees the invisible in his mind, but reflects the visible in his dreams, somehow coming to life orthodox when he is pained for being free, and can’t afford his tokes. How he moves from this place to that is still a mystery. He does not watch the sun rise or set with any interest, but always seems to be there, watching others meditate, noting their enchantment to the real. What is natural he obsesses, what is unnatural he defends. Somehow, this is his poetry, blurring the lines of a bigot and a louse. A sense of deserving liberty, a deep reserve of love, compounds the blinker’s mischief. At least, that is what he thinks, splurging on a run of fantasies.

“Stop!”

He turns around. Apparatus uniforms manning a checkpoint.

“You cannot go this way.”

“But this way leads nowhere.”

“Still…”

“There is nothing there.”

“I understand. But it is for your own good.”

She accepted her documents, stashing them in her bag as she walked. She met some friends at the Gros Popo, the small vegan noodle shop outside the Red House Bar and Theater, to eat something small. A plate of cutlet spreads and celery vines on a plate of wild rice, while listening to the commentators of a football match in the small store next door, dozens of jobless men in bombers and hats drinking over the ire of fans, chanting together the red and blue songs, the chapter of St. Andrews louder, robust, and the Rockets singing like they were drunk, and the children entertaining like they ere drunk as well. From the upraised balcony, above the small store, a town boy, about thirteen, wearing a tight sweater vest and basketball shorts, and a pair of high socks and sandals, called out in defeat, “What’s the score?! What’s the score?! Aunt Lamia won’t let me watch it!” There were those among those outside the store who had taken notice of him, and knew exactly to what he had portained, knowing both the auntie and the score, knowing which of the two he cared for more, knowing which of them they were indebted.  The boy, though needing of some disciplining, was hardly ever out of line, in any serious outlook. They favored him, among his aunt and uncle, who they found crude and abusive. The crowd outside was boisterous, matching the noise levels indoors.

“Is Taher playing music inside,” she asked Mounir, who was standing just beside her. He had a collection of napkins in his hand, some used, others free to be done with whatever he decided. He had eaten, as her, a selection of spreads, doused on noodles made from some obscure element of the universe he had done his whole life without, having heard of it just then, for the very first time, amused, intrigued, excited, asking not only for more, on a premium option, topping up with two vegan meats, he asked them to prepare him a small side salad, with the barbeque sauce and the sour potato clor. One of her friends was playing music that night at the bar, but the game next door was drowning out the songs, and the owners didn’t want to offend the neighbors so they let their patrons take their drinks outside. It helped with the noise and the distraction, distracting the neighbors upstairs from a complaining call, to the police or to headquarters, whichever they felt would answer their call with a response more vigilant and raw. It helped that Marwan, the owner, had paneled the outside terrace so that it fell from the floor, dropping on a ramp so that the front doors, where people smoked haggard and lingered, where stools and chairs had been set, to enjoy the outdoors, was a level below the street itself, simply by its ramping, having the effect of drowning out noise, keeping the neighbors happy. She walked alongside the tracks at Mar Iman for some time, passing a parade of street vendors cleaning their tools, preparing for the nightly raid on the upper boulevard, selling plates of fried sparrows and rice, potato salads in the warm summer months, and coffee briskets during the winter sleep, charging through the cold like forest pigs, rummaging for food in pilgrimage. She met some friends at the Gros Popo, to eat something small before heading to work. A plate of cutlet spreads and celery vines, on a plate of wild rice, while listening to the commentators of a football match in the small store next door, dozens of jobless men in bombers and hats drinking over the ire of the fans, chanting together the red and blue songs, the chapter of St. Andrews louder, robust, and the Rockets singing like they are drunk, and the children entertaining like they are drunk as well. One of her friends was playing music that night at the bar, but the game next door was drowning out the songs, and the owners didn’t want to offend the neighbors so they let their patrons take their drinks outside. The place felt empty, the small hall that opened further in the back, with a long open window that opened onto the street. The DJ played beside the bar, beside a row of high tables. To annoy her friend Sarah kept turning the knobs, playing with the metronome, dampening the sound. The Hall, as the bar was called, hosted acts from all over, picking from a growing pool of copycat bands playing foreign gems to a nostalgic local crowd, most of whom had traveled far and wide or had never seen the outside world, either way, the bands sold themselves authentic to both sides. Many of the bands played old school rock and roll, a very stiff sound, clashing with the more ambient electronic that the DJ’s liked to play. The Smoke, a quasi rock band of advertising geeks from the lower ward, living with their parents in lettered apartment blocks characterized by shanty screens and a long booster column that surrendered view of the sea for a hopeful classist transparency, often played gigs alongside local hits like The Greats, who had fallen by the wayside over the years, having lost almost all their prestige and hoping for it in a pair of homecoming shows well received. The plan for the bar was originally to open only on weekends, but after the success of several weekday nights they extended the plan for the week, extending the bias at first only to Thursday, before altering it to include the whole week, albeit with a regular seasonal pause, one or two days to take a break and reorder. After a while, and half a bottle of wine, she walked to work a few blocks down. She had worked at the bookstore on the corner of Tal Khar for some time, owing to her love of books and skills with people. The store sat at the crescent peak of a hill. From its curbside bench on the west wall of the store, where aster flowers emerge in autumn, on a sloping railike descent, a low speed train carrying carriage lines of a dozen cars hummled through the passage several times a day, usually without warning, appearing at the distant crest of Ras Amin, overlooking the valley of the two tribes. It was the sort of local bookstore that owed much of its survival to its favorability among neighbors. The bookstore often hosted events. There was a reading that evening, that had drawn a fairly large crowd. Hosted by Sarah, the bookworm working at the bookstore. The entrance to her apartment was effectively the back door of the shop, though the one bedroom studio overlooked a quieter street, without the old train tracks. Sarah was known to refurbish any old book, having attended some workshops at the university over the years, connecting to networks specializing in tracking down rare titles, for which she remained surprised at the degree of animosity between booksellers, the competitiveness to acquire a title silently, hunting it for years on end, sometimes decades, keeping the secret to oneself so as not to spread and dilute the project among the vulture like crowd. She Learned what could not be done by the original owner, Andreas, who quit his teaching post at the university to focus on a life of reading and leisure. More so leisure accompanied by afternoon drinks. He pitied his students, but had enough money to retire. Instead of flat out retiring, he opened the bookstore as a place to do both, to spend the last years of his life doing whatever came to mind, while benefiting the community in some way. The store sold mostly to tourists, drifters who got lost and wanted a place to hide. A lot of the locals came in but never bought, except for readings, when there was someone from the outside, visiting, or someone who had left, returning to where it had all begun. Sarah’s trademark was to make little notes in the margins as gifts. At first it annoyed Andreas, but people took it on as a sort of tradition. She had never left the town, having always dreamed of Leaving but never able to pull the muscles of her legs. Moving out from her parents home had soothed her, for a while. She had grown a nasty bitterness to their endless bickering. She wanted more than anything to work as a medic in the war, helping at the war front. But she couldn’t decide on a side. She wanted the romance of revolution, but she couldn’t imagine spending her life in prison. They were in the process of moving furniture around as she arrived. The evening before, they had hosted an open mic, and as was tradition, on chilly, autumn evenings, when the clouds of summer fog have been swept away by the fronts, Andreas pulled the Sauermanov grand piano from inside the store and out onto the sidewalk, a call to arms to neighborhood guests. The place was always on the cusp of change, languishing in a world of unknowns, sometimes a tedious looking bar, other times a café, and always a place for reading, the rowed seating, having by then completely scattered into a miserable mess of folding black Palmyra chairs, and the makeshift moveable bar, a wooden Hub bar with parallel stools with an accompanying Safety POS, adorned for flavor with a pink and white checkered blanket and an overhead set of performance lights running down a line. The door was closed. The lights were mostly off. The books were all removed from their shells, the empty shelves looking like cupboard holes. She knocked on the glass. Andreas’s head poked out from behind the wooden cupboards of the fiction section. He came to the door, turning the key in the lock, as it was, the jingle on the door’s bell ringing twice as he opened it.

“What’s up,” he said.

“Not much.”

She went into the back, putting her feet up on the couch, removing her shoes first, so as not to be yelled at. The windows were barred shut with tape, still left over from the storm.

“How much of it is ruined?”

“As you can tell,” he said, “everything three feet up, some more. Some of the shelves caved in as well.”

She drank from her short shot glass, searching the bar for words. They would not win, and if they were going to lose they were not heading for a fight. They had accepted their impermanence in a state of filth. With the face of filth written upon their heads. Who was she to judge them all, she thought. Hani Massoud, her old professor, of course he’d wanted more for himself, teaching a group of forty kids who showed up to his class dressed like they were going out clubbing, never saying a word all semester but to ask, glibly, right at the beginning, what chapters were going to be on the exam. He taught the moderns and the archaics but it all sounded the same to them. Them whose ears could not register the subtle sign of grace. The subtlety of empowerment, that came with their disputed agenda, to read and let live in a world formless norms. A chessboard was brought onto the stage. She knew it would be a prop and would not be used. It was there to symbolize itself. Wasn’t that their protocol? To become the fetish of their own worst fear, or to become quite like another, whose face they recognized could withstand their impending fate, and so would be better to become of them. He walked into the bar like he owned the place, swaying his hips side to side, strutting his baggy pants forward, like he was suggesting something to the others in the bar.

“Hey doll,” he said to her, working the bar. “Can I get a glass of scotch.”

“Preference?”

“McGregor’s, akid.”

“Ayya no3? 3ande tnein. Wa7ad abyad wo wa7ah seda.”

“Ayye arkhas?”

“Seda.”

“Yalla, mnikhod wa7ad min hol. Wu kees chips, iza bit reede.”

“Fo2 rasna abu karim.”

“Tal 3amrek, sidr el za3eem.”

“Ll’nsenak 3atshan.”

“Bit sad’2e sarlo jim3a mish ayem may3?”

“Akid b’sade2. Shu hal shi el gharib. Ll’nsenak ghar2an.”

“7ale 3an teeze.”

He walked to the back of the room. Tarek, the cleaner, was sitting beside Rajesh, the valet responsible outside. He was supposed to be working but it was getting hot. Having to wear his uniform outfit, he preferred to stay indoors. The shade of the grocer Farid’s umbrella used to shade his luck, but it had been moved by a foodtruck that morning, who were adamant to stay, so he had heard. He sat on a short wooden stool, alongside his friend, who had kidnapped a cat from the neighbor’s litter, to play with for the afternoon. The beads strung from doors jingled every time they were moved, by people crossing indoors or passing in the hallway, waiters carrying menus and trays of food, fried chicken livers in a green, mustard stew, bottles of rose, teas that have been warmed, and the odd glass of Tiny Martins.

“Can I get you something to drink,” she asked.

“I’ll have a water for now,” he said.

“Would you like to hear the specials?”

“I’m fine.”

“Nothing to eat or drink?”

“No, that’s alright,” he said, starting to get bitter, turning his shoulder around.

“Still or sparkling,” she asked.

“Still. Without ice or lemon. Just water. As it is in the glass.”

“Is there a bottle you would prefer? We have Sierra Joy or Pinkerton.”

“Whatever’s cheaper,” he said, speaking over his shoulder, his gaze caught in two stars, settling over the silence just visible outside.

“They’re the same price.”

“Sierra, then, if you don’t mind.”

“Would you like some chips or nuts, with that? They’re complimentary,” she said, “on the house.”

“Seriously, I’m fine.”

She crossed over the small terrace and into the main hall, distributing into three soft rooms and the doors to the kitchen, in the back, just opening, the doors to the stairs leading downstairs, and the door to the exit, where the staff stood lingering, smoking in between their calls. Returning, she served him in a requisite glass.

“It’s a Dundirillo tonic glass,” she said.

“It’s a nice glass.”

He sipped from the straw.

“So, who’s on tonight?”

“I think it’s Salman Jarrar, I’m not sure.”

“Lame. Do you like him?”

“Not really. You?”

“No. I don’t know. I think he didn’t put enough work in the idea, you know? Like, why go with a voice that isn’t that interesting, you know?”

“I know. I wish we had more Avant garde. But there isn’t really though.”

“No, yeah, I know.”

“Tanzim’s right,” Rania said. “It has to come from the inside, from the inside out.”

Tanzim had only once before had a conversation with her, yet he knew her, knew of her, all about her that was theirs to know, those who had only come across her. Rind, her sister, had arrived just minutes before her, causing such a scene. She was explaining to a friend outside, Miriam Ross, the injury she had suffered the summer before, spraining her ankle and her right knee, her preferred leg, as she put it, cycling through the Scalps with her friend Shahid, and his wife, Nohad.

“It was extremely painful,” she said. “I thought I would have to lose my leg.”

“Amputate it?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“That’s terrible.”

“I was really scared. You know we always go up there. They have a small cottage there, year round. I believe it’s Shahid’s family’s, but he inherited it, or something. It’s nice to cycle all year, even when it snows.”

“They clear the roads?”

“They clear most of the cliffs, but the roads in the woods are usually fine. Just a little damp, sometimes it can get bouncy.”

“It must be nice up there.”

“It really is. It’s beautiful. At night, we go down to the small lake, and we eat at one of the restaurants on the small village street.”

“The Gorigo opened up there, didn’t they,” Miriam asked.

“They did. The food was great.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Really good. Everything Scalpine is really top quality. But I think the restaurant is not owned by both brothers, by the way. Because you know they are twins.”

“Oh really? I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah. One of the two opened in the north, but the other brother didn’t open with him. My friend is a friend of theirs so I know.”

“That’s interesting.”

“Yeah so anyway, it was a great time. I slept in a coat in the maid’s cabin, so I had my own space. Yeah it was fun, lots of fun.”

“They didn’t have a maid with them?”

“Never, no. They don’t have a live-in maid.”

“Very modern.”

“They are, of course. I mean, he’s not at all like his family.”

“No, not at all. Her parents must’ve been upset they married.”

“They were at first but they’ve moved on.”

 

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

“I wouldn’t mind going for a walk, winging it. Figuring it out as we go. Is there a plan for later? For tonight?”

“Yeah. We’ll probably go to a party on Avenue Rose.”

“I heard it’s really grimy over there.”

“It’s grown.”

“I don’t mind babe, whatever you want. Ana I’m down for anything.”

“Tab yalla, call me when you’re up and about. Ana I’ll be at home.”

Sarah went downtown, to meet her roommate, who was preparing to go to work at the bar, the Bottoms, on Avenue Morose. She wore a capered vest with black letters, had done her hair up in bangs, just that morning, and her dreads were turned to corn rows.

“I saw Semih by the way.”

“Yeah? How is he?”

“He’s low.”

She frantically lit a cigarette, her ninth of the day.

“Honestly, I know bums, I know squatters. I’ve smoked a million joints in squats. I slept in a shelter for two weeks, during the protests. I’ve never gotten that dirty, and it was a choice. He looks like shit, man. I don’t know why he does it. I honestly don’t know how you handled it. Like, he smelled like fucking ass. His breath? He went to the bathroom at one point, and honestly Marah, I was disgusted to touch him after that. He told me he took a shit. He said it. We were watching the game and the other team scored, and he said, I was taking a shit and the first shit flopped onto the water when the team scored, he heard everyone roar, it was funny. It was an amazing time, we had a lot of fun. He wanted me to smoke crack but I didn’t want to. It wasn’t actually crack, it was just supper coke, they were cooking it over a small stove, like experts.”

“Where were you guys?”

“We went to Joe’s, and then to Samah’s, and then we ended up at the Bottoms. Didn’t you hear from Joe?”

“I haven’t seen him. He doesn’t work Mondays, he wasn’t there yesterday. He’s there today though. Really, was Semih gross?”

“His breath man, his breath. Since then, every time I feel my own breath, I want to throw up. Breath is suddenly my nightmare. Whenever someone talks, I sniff in the air, trying to smell their breath. It’s like, he turned me in to a fucking dog. He was disgusting man. Where does he live?”

“He’s over and about right now. I heard he was staying with Joe, but I think he got into an argument with Mario, or something.”

“Joe’s roommate? I hate him. He’s also gross. In a different way to him though.”

“He’s playing going to stay with Adam.”

“Morose? Or Sannine.”

“I don’t know. Both? He’s playing music with Sannine now. I heard he’s happy. I’m fine with that. Let him be. I don’t care anymore.”

“When was the last time you saw him?”

“2024.”

“That long ago?”

“I wish it were more. I don’t feel like knowing him anymore. The reason we broke up is my fault. I know. But it should have been his chance. To do something about himself. But I don’t know. I don’t even know why I still talk like that, like there’s an us and a me and a him. He dated Sarah Keys, anyways, right after me. They dated for a while.”

“But they broke up, you know?”

“Yeah, they did. Good for him. Honestly, I’m so much better now, and everytime I think of him, I just feel like I wasted a lot of time. It’s not even his fault, it’s mine. I wanted an anchor, I needed an anchor in my life at the time. Instead, I got Semih, who’s more like a sinking boat. Not even like a warship, or anything remotely strong. He’s a sad little boat, caught in a storm. I don’t know why or how he ended up in the ocean, but he’s there, and he’s fucked, and I don’t care anymore.”

“Have you heard his new song?”

“No, I haven’t. Have you? God. Why does he do it anymore?”

“He’s desperate.”

“He’s lost.”

She asked for the bill.

“How much is it?”

“Separate or together?”

“Separate.”

“You had the cappuccino raw?”

“Yeah. And you, the black filter?”

“Yes.”

“Here you go. It’s eighty five, ninety five for you and ninety nine, ninety five for you.”

They handed her their bills.

“Here you go.”

She shuffled for change in her waistbelt.

“Let me get some change. One second.”

“What’s your plan for the afternoon?”

“I’m going to meet Saad. He’s in town for a few days.”

“What’s he doing?”

“I think he works at a firm right now, he’s gone soft.”

“At some point, doesn’t everybody?”

“Mashallah.”

“Call me later. Are you going to the party?”

“Where?”

“Either at Hassad’s or Mahfouz.”

“Did they reopen the terrace upstairs?”

“Yeah, but it’s totally covered. It’s kind of strange.”

“Why do they keep doing that.”

“Salman’s theory is they’re afraid of this season’s climate. There’s going to be a lot of insects. Mosquitos, flies, cockroaches.”

“Shu enno they can’t get onto the terrace if they put plastic ya3ne? Of course they can. It’s stupid. They’re probably doing it for the noise. Are they still letting people smoke?”

“Yeah, it’s super smoky. Like, every five minutes you have to blow your nose. Last time I went I literally washed my face in the bathroom three times. I’ll bring powder, if I end up going home before.”

“Call me later. I might go to dinner with Maysam and her father. I’m still not sure.”

“And you’re seeing Saad now?”

“Yeah, at the Gorigo.”

“Stylish.”

“Honestly, I’m broke. He said he’s gonna pay. He better not bail.”

“Just don’t order the dover sole.”

She walked alongside the tracks at Mar Iman for some time, passing a parade of street vendors cleaning their tools, preparing for the nightly raid on the upper boulevard, selling plates of fried sparrows and rice, potato salads in the warm summer months, and coffee briskets during the winter sleep, charging through the cold like forest pigs, rummaging for food in pilgrimage. She met some friends at the Gros Popo, the small vegan noodle shop outside the Red House Bar and Theater, to eat something small. A plate of cutlet spreads and celery vines on a plate of wild rice, while listening to the commentators of a football match in the small store next door, dozens of jobless men in bombers and hats drinking over the ire of fans, chanting together the red and blue songs, the chapter of St. Andrews louder, robust, and the Rockets singing like they were drunk, and the children entertaining like they ere drunk as well. From the upraised balcony, above the small store, a town boy, about thirteen, wearing a tight sweater vest and basketball shorts, and a pair of high socks and sandals, called out in defeat, “What’s the score?! What’s the score?! Aunt Lamia won’t let me watch it!” There were those among those outside the store who had taken notice of him, and knew exactly to what he had portained, knowing both the auntie and the score, knowing which of the two he cared for more, knowing which of them theywere indebted.  The boy, though needing of some disciplining, was hardly ever out of line, in any serious outlook. They favored him, among his aunt and uncle, who they found crude and abusive. The crowd outside was boisterous, matching the noise levels indoors.

“Is Taher playing music inside,” she asked Mounir, who was standing just beside her. He had a collection of napkins in his hand, some used, others free to be done with whatever he decided. He had eaten, as her, a selection of spreads, doused on noodles made from some obscure element of the universe he had done his whole life without, having heard of it just then, for the very first time, amused, intrigued, excited, asking not only for more, on a premium option, topping up with two vegan meats, he asked them to prepare him a small side salad, with the barbeque sauce and the sour potato clor. One of her friends was playing music that night at the bar, but the game next door was drowning out the songs, and the owners didn’t want to offend the neighbors so they let their patrons take their drinks outside. It helped with the noise and the distraction, distracting the neighbors upstairs from a complaining call, to the police or to headquarters, whichever they felt would answer their call with a response more vigilant and raw. It helped that Marwan, the owner, had paneled the outside terrace so that it fell from the floor, dropping on a ramp so that the front doors, where people smoked haggard and lingered, where stools and chairs had been set, to enjoy the outdoors, was a level below the street itself, simply by its ramping, having the effect of drowning out noise, keeping the neighbors happy. She walked alongside the tracks at Mar Iman for some time, passing a parade of street vendors cleaning their tools, preparing for the nightly raid on the upper boulevard, selling plates of fried sparrows and rice, potato salads in the warm summer months, and coffee briskets during the winter sleep, charging through the cold like forest pigs, rummaging for food in pilgrimage. She met some friends at the Gros Popo, to eat something small before heading to work. A plate of cutlet spreads and celery vines, on a plate of wild rice, while listening to the commentators of a football match in the small store next door, dozens of jobless men in bombers and hats drinking over the ire of the fans, chanting together the red and blue songs, the chapter of St. Andrews louder, robust, and the Rockets singing like they are drunk, and the children entertaining like they are drunk as well. One of her friends was playing music that night at the bar, but the game next door was drowning out the songs, and the owners didn’t want to offend the neighbors so they let their patrons take their drinks outside. The place felt empty, the small hall that opened further in the back, with a long open window that opened onto the street. The DJ played beside the bar, beside a row of high tables. To annoy her friend Sarah kept turning the knobs, playing with the metronome, dampening the sound. The Hall, as the bar was called, hosted acts from all over, picking from a growing pool of copycat bands playing foreign gems to a nostalgic local crowd, most of whom had traveled far and wide or had never seen the outside world, either way, the bands sold themselves authentic to both sides. Many of the bands played old school rock and roll, a very stiff sound, clashing with the more ambient electronic that the DJ’s liked to play. The Smoke, a quasi rock band of advertising geeks from the lower ward, living with their parents in lettered apartment blocks characterized by shanty screens and a long booster column that surrendered view of the sea for a hopeful classist transparency, often played gigs alongside local hits like The Greats, who had fallen by the wayside over the years, having lost almost all their prestige and hoping for it in a pair of homecoming shows well received. The plan for the bar was originally to open only on weekends, but after the success of several weekday nights they extended the plan for the week, extending the bias at first only to Thursday, before altering it to include the whole week, albeit with a regular seasonal pause, one or two days to take a break and reorder. After a while, and half a bottle of wine, she walked to work a few blocks down. She had worked at the bookstore on the corner of Tal Khar for some time, owing to her love of books and skills with people. The store sat at the crescent peak of a hill. From its curbside bench on the west wall of the store, where aster flowers emerge in autumn, on a sloping railike descent, a low speed train carrying carriage lines of a dozen cars hummled through the passage several times a day, usually without warning, appearing at the distant crest of Ras Amin, overlooking the valley of the two tribes. It was the sort of local bookstore that owed much of its survival to its favorability among neighbors. The bookstore often hosted events. There was a reading that evening, that had drawn a fairly large crowd. Hosted by Sarah, the bookworm working at the bookstore. The entrance to her apartment was effectively the back door of the shop, though the one bedroom studio overlooked a quieter street, without the old train tracks. Sarah was known to refurbish any old book, having attended some workshops at the university over the years, connecting to networks specializing in tracking down rare titles, for which she remained surprised at the degree of animosity between booksellers, the competitiveness to acquire a title silently, hunting it for years on end, sometimes decades, keeping the secret to oneself so as not to spread and dilute the project among the vulture like crowd. She Learned what could not be done by the original owner, Andreas, who quit his teaching post at the university to focus on a life of reading and leisure. More so leisure accompanied by afternoon drinks. He pitied his students, but had enough money to retire. Instead of flat out retiring, he opened the bookstore as a place to do both, to spend the last years of his life doing whatever came to mind, while benefiting the community in some way. The store sold mostly to tourists, drifters who got lost and wanted a place to hide. A lot of the locals came in but never bought, except for readings, when there was someone from the outside, visiting, or someone who had left, returning to where it had all begun. Sarah’s trademark was to make little notes in the margins as gifts. At first it annoyed Andreas, but people took it on as a sort of tradition. She had never left the town, having always dreamed of Leaving but never able to pull the muscles of her legs. Moving out from her parents home had soothed her, for a while. She had grown a nasty bitterness to their endless bickering. She wanted more than anything to work as a medic in the war, helping at the war front. But she couldn’t decide on a side. She wanted the romance of revolution, but she couldn’t imagine spending her life in prison. They were in the process of moving furniture around as she arrived. The evening before, they had hosted an open mic, and as was tradition, on chilly, autumn evenings, when the clouds of summer fog have been swept away by the fronts, Andreas pulled the Sauermanov grand piano from inside the store and out onto the sidewalk, a call to arms to neighborhood guests. The place was always on the cusp of change, languishing in a world of unknowns, sometimes a tedious looking bar, other times a café, and always a place for reading, the rowed seating, having by then completely scattered into a miserable mess of folding black Palmyra chairs, and the makeshift moveable bar, a wooden Hub bar with parallel stools with an accompanying Safety POS, adorned for flavor with a pink and white checkered blanket and an overhead set of performance lights running down a line. The door was closed. The lights were mostly off. The books were all removed from their shells, the empty shelves looking like cupboard holes. She knocked on the glass. Andreas’s head poked out from behind the wooden cupboards of the fiction section. He came to the door, turning the key in the lock, as it was, the jingle on the door’s bell ringing twice as he opened it.

“What’s up,” he said.

“Not much.”

She went into the back, putting her feet up on the couch, removing her shoes first, so as not to be yelled at. The windows were barred shut with tape, still left over from the storm.

“How much of it is ruined?”

“As you can tell,” he said, “everything three feet up, some more. Some of the shelves caved in as well.”

She drank from her short shot glass, searching the bar for words. They would not win, and if they were going to lose they were not heading for a fight. They had accepted their impermanence in a state of filth. With the face of filth written upon their heads. Who was she to judge them all, she thought. Hani Massoud, her old professor, of course he’d wanted more for himself, teaching a group of forty kids who showed up to his class dressed like they were going out clubbing, never saying a word all semester but to ask, glibly, right at the beginning, what chapters were going to be on the exam. He taught the moderns and the archaics but it all sounded the same to them. Them whose ears could not register the subtle sign of grace. The subtlety of empowerment, that came with their disputed agenda, to read and let live in a world formless norms. A chessboard was brought onto the stage. She knew it would be a prop and would not be used. It was there to symbolize itself. Wasn’t that their protocol? To become the fetish of their own worst fear, or to become quite like another, whose face they recognized could withstand their impending fate, and so would be better to become of them. He walked into the bar like he owned the place, swaying his hips side to side, strutting his baggy pants forward, like he was suggesting something to the others in the bar.

“Hey doll,” he said to her, working the bar. “Can I get a glass of scotch.”

“Preference?”

“McGregor’s, akid.”

“Ayya no3? 3ande tnein. Wa7ad abyad wo wa7ah seda.”

“Ayye arkhas?”

“Seda.”

“Yalla, mnikhod wa7ad min hol. Wu kees chips, iza bit reede.”

“Fo2 rasna abu karim.”

“Tal 3amrek, sidr el za3eem.”

“Ll’nsenak 3atshan.”

“Bit sad’2e sarlo jim3a mish ayem may3?”

“Akid b’sade2. Shu hal shi el gharib. Ll’nsenak ghar2an.”

“7ale 3an teeze.”

He walked to the back of the room. Tarek, the cleaner, was sitting beside Rajesh, the valet responsible outside. He was supposed to be working but it was getting hot. Having to wear his uniform outfit, he preferred to stay indoors. The shade of the grocer Farid’s umbrella used to shade his luck, but it had been moved by a foodtruck that morning, who were adamant to stay, so he had heard. He sat on a short wooden stool, alongside his friend, who had kidnapped a cat from the neighbor’s litter, to play with for the afternoon. The beads strung from doors jingled every time they were moved, by people crossing indoors or passing in the hallway, waiters carrying menus and trays of food, fried chicken livers in a green, mustard stew, bottles of rose, teas that have been warmed, and the odd glass of Tiny Martins.

“Can I get you something to drink,” she asked.

“I’ll have a water for now,” he said.

“Would you like to hear the specials?”

“I’m fine.”

“Nothing to eat or drink?”

“No, that’s alright,” he said, starting to get bitter, turning his shoulder around.

“Still or sparkling,” she asked.

“Still. Without ice or lemon. Just water. As it is in the glass.”

“Is there a bottle you would prefer? We have Sierra Joy or Pinkerton.”

“Whatever’s cheaper,” he said, speaking over his shoulder, his gaze caught in two stars, settling over the silence just visible outside.

“They’re the same price.”

“Sierra, then, if you don’t mind.”

“Would you like some chips or nuts, with that? They’re complimentary,” she said, “on the house.”

“Seriously, I’m fine.”

She crossed over the small terrace and into the main hall, distributing into three soft rooms and the doors to the kitchen, in the back, just opening, the doors to the stairs leading downstairs, and the door to the exit, where the staff stood lingering, smoking in between their calls. Returning, she served him in a requisite glass.

“It’s a Dundirillo tonic glass,” she said.

“It’s a nice glass.”

He sipped from the straw.

“So, who’s on tonight?”

“I think it’s Salman Jarrar, I’m not sure.”

“Lame. Do you like him?”

“Not really. You?”

“No. I don’t know. I think he didn’t put enough work in the idea, you know? Like, why go with a voice that isn’t that interesting, you know?”

“I know. I wish we had more Avant garde. But there isn’t really though.”

“No, yeah, I know.”

He wanted her to see it more like an offering than a surprise. A gift, that he made for her. That he had waited so long to show her. To give. Les Trois Semaines played at the Red House Theater, passing censors with a limited score. She stepped outside to catch some fresh air. Realizing the inconsequence of making a pass that night. She had considered going home for a visit for a long time. The main character in the film reminded her of him. Or maybe it was another The main character reminds me of you, she said. Or maybe it’s another self I put on you. A mask, she said. Putting it there to oppose and ultimately re-enact, stealing not only the labor but also the passing of loving life. He combed his hair and drove around in a black Mignolet with cherry red lipstick and a bulletproof vest, a Rodney Stones haircut and Leather gloves. The movie ends before the story finishes, Leaving the audience in the bedroom of their first night together, after he had conspired to make it happen over several months, losing his patience on a cruise through McKinley Harbor in the upper banks of the Western shore, where the redhorned western albatross chose their sacred nest. She ended the film sitting in the center of a garden, in the center of a residential building, lying on a mound of white sand, amid a circular ruin of elder flowers, on the opposite side of a small, manmade lake, where petite farmer’s rafts float along the quiet banks of the thousand meter stream. Later in the film, she returns to this very place, renouncing herself, painting the area around her body in ash, smearing herself in a haunting childish rolling of her white garbs over the ashes. When he exits the frame, for the very last time, she pulls herself to her feet, in a pair of grey sweatpants and a rose hooded sweater and scarf, walking over to a small ottoman table, pouring herself from a kettle of tea into a glass, stirring the tea with a tiny spoon, a copper spoon, on a handcrafted set of Cayenne plates, inscribed with her initials, and maybe something of his. As he watches her, before Leaving, he thinks of how she looks, how vibrant and confident, senile to the wounds inflicted upon her by a cruel, despondent God, he feels somewhat intimidated by her calming aura, he wants to pretend, for a moment, that she isn’t the mother of a woman he had loved, who had chosen to take her own life. She raises the glass to her face, swallowing the fumes, like they do in old movies shot at Temple Yar, where the annual tea ceremony of the Sultanas was once held, and they perform the Dance of Wounded Scarves, to a crowd luminescent. Reviews from the Dial Stream evening papers claimed the film to be a song of debt, the debts they carried, the debts they could not allow themselves to hold and those they were forced to pay, so as not to lose each other but knowing it would end, untimely, knowing they would recover and hoped not to lose themselves. Debt, a great cloud looming over their lives. They no longer noticed the cloud, moving happily into her accepting arms. Her favorite scene was by far when they arrived at the Bastion for the first time. When they arrive, they find the famed hotel empty. Underneath the restaurant, a theatre lay in ruins, the doors shielded with steel chains. Separating the buildings, a courtyard, and over a small set of stairs, an amphitheater, the place where they lay the ashes. She knew it was the very same hall, the very same foot of sand she was standing on just before, like a bird migrating above ruins, unbeknownst, free at last.

“Did you like it?”

He stands at the doorway, clutching pages in his hands.

“I wrote it for you.”

She wasn’t supposed to come backstage. I think she tried his place first. I warned her, going back to that sort of thing, it never does the body good, the organism suffers. She insisted. It wasn’t my place to pry. If she changed her mind I wouldn’t have ever known, we never heard from her what happened, she kept it quiet after he left. But she sought him out and that king of thing bodes greatly with a writer. He wore his love for her on his chest man. She closes the door behind her.

“Is it still dark out?”

He heard footsteps under the rain. When she found him he wasn’t brooding. He had everything packed, ready to go. I don’t know where he was headed. Probably a lame attempt over the hills, or walking lightly into the darkness.

“I wanted you to have it.”

“If you’re going to leave, then leave.”

She wouldn’t believe he was really leaving. I remember times during the production people would come up to me and say, is this really where we’re going with this, and I would just nod my head. Some would just shrug and walk away and others would look a little upset. But I had to understand him and there were things I did and thing s I obviously didn’t. Things I won’t do again. Things I don’t repeat in public. And things that brought a certain shame to my name. But he was a very gifted writer, born naturally to fucking do it, and so it is obvious that it affected him in some ways. When something is natural it also has the capacity ot burden the soul because it comes easily and without much preparation, so he would often run his words rampant not knowing where they were heading, meaning we would all be running aimlessly into the dark. In many ways, he was only now beginning to see the layers of reality he had until then ignored. He was not keen on advances, no, he was not keen, and to the bearer of regularity he was also less of an accomplice, but ordinary I would say. And I still remember the way he tumbled is hat when sleeping beside a sagebrush. But he was not very usual and that made him boring to most others, except his mother and siblings when they were too young to realize his delusions. Doesn’t it seem unusual that he sits around, that he forces whims with an apostrophe, like so! I sat right there in his chair and he directed, but I never fell for his eyes or his glaze, I knew better than to bear that ploy, and bear wicked’s amusement. Still, the image is sharply coiled in our conscious library of images. The tea he served was not black but white, and his footstool rested a collection of used, wet napkins. For jokes, he would always say, but I only believed him to collect my cheque and leave. Into the black forest I sat around and wilted waiting on spring’s promised coming, and you know how she came, with a louse flair buttoned onto her jeans. When we set camp I am the first to be bitten and the first to be conceived. Some say the harmony of nature is in her becoming calmer and softer when the nature of our surroundings is unorthodox with peace. Isn’t it also true for the two of us, or am I dreaming, sequestered between two walls? And look, how the doors closed on her absence. I chose to leave her standing there in my presence. I won’t say she tried desperately to love because she wouldn’t go against her better judgment. So I am in truth alone, and I am exactly how you left me. He showed up and we were late to the show so we packed some sandwiches and rushed off towards my car. I put butter on toast, he added some bacon, we threw on slabs of avocado, grown cleanly off the earth. It was a good sandwich. I think he enjoyed it. Why? Did he say anything? He would never hurt anyone, especially someone who could cook for him. I never made him a meal worth anything but he always gave thanks. His mother, on the other hand, she cooked an emperor’s bowl. He fell onto the couch, slouched his arms against the seat until his friend walked into the room, carrying a glass of water for them to share. They were both wearing glasses, both in turtleneck and jeans, and they had their jackets still on from the cold, which they were reluctant to admit gave them anxiety. But the heaters were always on backstage so it wasn’t any problem. I was just tired that day, I had a lot on my mind. I remember now, we were lightly making our way across the courtyard in front of the theatre when a loud explosion was heard. I couldn’t make it out at first because it had been so long since we’d heard something that extraordinary. I thought it must have been from our production. The Director was beginning what to us was the most extravagant stage of the piece, his libretto was going to be plied from the writer’s hands and merged onstage with the choreography of the actors. A very disciplined initiative. I was assured we would do very well. I was promised some seats for friends and family. I even chose a tie! The thing is, the sound was not discussed, and the explosion went unnoticed. Just as I thought something was going to be revealed, some tune extrapolated, and everything finally understood, the players took their places, the onlookers rushed away from the scene, and the day went on as normal. It was as though we had already arrived at this juncture before, and between me and my closest companions, there was only the animation of our young pities, and our woes. I watched two of our assistants scramble their way across the theatre floor. One of them had been given some terrible news, it showed. I followed him. I have intent when I am curious, this much I know. So I followed him. The others were to their business as usual, I continued lightly towards him, gravitating with more and more interest. He disappeared behind a line of drawn curtains in parallel juxtaposition, tested by the interest of the designers. I found him naturally at calm. That is how things went in those days. When someone was expected to expel an outburst, they would subtle to the side, and kneel, to pray. It was very strange but then again I was quite used to it, so I watched him, seated against the chair, his arms and body slouched, but in a state of clam. A friend of his was milking their coffees, and he was dipping a tiny little spoon into his drink. When I approached them they were whispering but when my footsteps were heard they didn’t stop. They spoke louder, to my amusement, in a language I understood. They wanted me to hear! They wanted me to hear everything! So I ran. I left them at once, prudently, careful not to disturb the others and make myself noticed. I found myself across the theatre landscape when I heard another sound, a very discreet but forceful explosion. While the first was very loud and ferocious, filled with animalistic girth, this was more faintly, calm, less pressured, like an imploded burp from a seahorse’s mouth. Again I expected a lot of interest but nothing showed and nobody had any wondering what was really at bay. Again I found the two companions seated, in their spot, this time not where I left them but across the entirety of the space, arms locked in curiosity, questioning with their fingers running through their beards over a few draft of pages. Naturally I approached them again but this time they were less serious, more kind, harmful to my indignity only if it showed, and it didn’t, or maybe when I thought that it might, it really did, and so I found myself sort of wayward, walking away, taking sidesteps deliberately like a crab caught within some movement, when all I wanted was a taste of their rapture. At first glance I was not disturbed by the evidence shown to me. Liquidating a variable asset is not in my profession, but then again, I’m not usually hired to venture into the wilderness with nothing but a few wet socks in my hand. And you can imagine my dismay at the practicality of everything: the assassination was to be carried out at the chiming of two identical bells, a wolf’s howl through a minaret, and the culmination of a play, being performed at an abandoned complex downtown. I took leave from the initial meeting. It wasn’t very anonymous. I usually like to keep things under wraps so I am not mistaken for a criminal. I am an artist, who happens to settle the bargain and balance the rates. But there wasn’t any genius on hand, and for this we suffered. What you don’t understand, because I know you, you understand nothing, is that we were in it for kicks, nothing more. Most of us are students of performance arts. It’s gotten a bit conceptual in the last few years and so it’s gotten a little drab. I’m not a classical enthusiast at all. I don’t enjoy the classic performed in their sturdy, efficient way. That’s what got me involved in the whole mess. I walked into an audition of several key parts in BARA. I didn’t know what I was looking at. There were a few stray dogs in the air. There was a magician running circles around the stage. There were some bohemians devouring opiates. I left. But then I returned, without knowing it. I thought I was going into an audition, to cast some parts for a production of my own, of a marionette ensemble. What I saw was not noteworthy at all. I saw nothing onstage except for a sage, cutting his nails. He was using a steady twist of his left hand to cut into the skin. He was wearing a bandana. I didn’t recognize the insignia. I didn’t recognize him. And he was speaking a foreign language. I left the room, only to return again, this time knowingly, but without knowledge of where I was going, I ended up in the same room. I was meaning to end up there, but I was going the wrong way, and I knew I was going the wrong way and it made me feel better to know it, so I continued on my way until I could find a sign or something familiar to direct me to the room. When I got there without thinking I was heading there, but intending all the while to be heading there in the first place, I took a seat at the very back, just a few steps from the last entrance, and several hundred steps from the stage. There was nobody in the room. Nobody else but me. At that point I realized I was tired, and I must have been hungry, because I pulled a bacon sandwich from my jacket. I sat there for a while. Usually I take my time eating, and I did, but this time I took my time chewing as well, when usually I chew only to enhance the taste, but if my mind is elsewhere and I’m only eating to keep myself going, I forget to chew altogether, swallow my pieces whole. But I was chewing with energy, and I wasn’t thinking of anything at all. I had nothing on my mind. I could have been thinking about harmony, and where it’s been, shifting from my sights. I could have thought of you, and why you only care to listen when I’m hungry and you’re no longer starved. But I actually had noting on my mind. Naturally, I thought of inducing arousal of some sort, but it didn’t work, I quickly forgot that and moved on to shifting between senses, with no intention, just being. Have you ever been? It’s so quiet, in an empty room. And, I wouldn’t have thought so growing up, but it’s even quieter the larger the room. And you know, when you’re in a state like this, sitting around, not really thinking, but not so removed form thought that you might as well be asleep, images of youth tend to spring to your mind, and also certain strange pictures that you’ve carried. It’s like going a few months, or a year, without listening to music. You’d think you would hear the masters storming your ears but it’s not the case. The longer you go without music the stranger the remnants become. You start hearing little jingles and chimes from commercials, from a spring dance in elementary school, never from the choir you put your faith in. I put my faith in very few things. You probably know this about me, just by hearing it. And I assure you, I’m well behaved when you believe my words, I never turn my back on them. And so instead of imagining summer walks by my family’s beach house, or your first kiss, when I was watching and we had a bottle spread between us to settle the rules, I had the strangeness emptiness of imagery until a certain circular object flew forcefully in the air and struck me in the face. But actually, nothing like that happened. What happened was so against my expectations I only imagined that an object flew forcefully in the air and struck me in the face. What actually happened, I tell you, is that the room had gone so quiet, I jittered in my seat at the very moment an image sprung to my mind, and as the two, my physical movement and the arrival of an image, coincided to conclude on the following moment of my life, I was shaken to bits, shivering from an eerie chill, and flung my head backwards as though I had been struck. For a moment I thought I was bruised, but I wasn’t, and it’s good news, though it makes for less of a story, but I wouldn’t be here today probably if I had actually been hit. But then, that is when I saw it. A feat of momentous accomplishment. Something I had not seen in over three decades. Something I personally witnessed on a morning walk between two temples, accompanied by a guide who made his name by staying silent. I saw before me a mandala, rotating in mid air, approaching me like the introduction to a great nomadic and comic journey, or the prologued effort of an epic. In the center of the mandala I saw a serpent, coiled around a beam I took to be my features. I saw the snake unravel. I saw the remaining elements orient themselves around the snake, and as the snake uncoiled I saw the herds of elephants, the acrobats and the fetish queens, the emblem of fire and brimstone, the texture of worn wool and picked cotton, descend upon the snake, and lay the snakes first bites into virtue, rising up the beam, towards perceptible expulsion from the mandala. And then I coughed, and the image disappeared. At that very moment, the room still quiet, my mind recovering from the enormity of the image I had just remembered, I was prepared to return still to thinking of nothing and accomplishing what little I could for the afternoon. But fate would choose otherwise. Suddenly, as briskly as a ballerina enters the stage, an old man, not much older than my grandfather the last few days he was alive, crept onto the stage, stage right, back entirely hunched, his neck protruding from his shoulders like a curious iguana, and his clothes worn to the very bone. The old man carried nothing. He did not see me. Barely the faintest light breaking through a hatch in the roof illuminated his lonely figure onstage. And you would think at this point, after the silence, my sandwich, the mandala, this figure erupting out of nowhere, I would be awestruck, but I wasn’t. Not until the following moment, when my knees began to tremble, did I realize I was in the presence of the divine. Without my own anticipation, the creature onstage, at this point at my full attention, drifted towards the center, turning his ailing form towards me. He caught my eyes from his impassable distance. He raised his neck so his face beamed like that of a hungry vulture. His eyes were condensed in darkness, and from where I sat, as I noticed his hands tremble, so too did I notice mine. And like a serpent rising from the plexus of the immaculate, I heard his voice for the first time.

“Do you know what BARA is?”

Ramiz sat in the quiet chamber backstage, shielding himself from the raucous crowd. He had in his hand a small notebook he carried with him wherever he went, a small drawing board of ideas that he turned to for hope or to kill time, resting against an upraised knee, one leg folded over the other. A small room. Quaint. It’s main accessory a prewar furnace that could still be used during the wet season. It hadn’t been removed, though before renovation hadn’t been used in years. Most of the surrounding buildings were fitted with a furnace, but most of the furnaces were out of use. A revival in the design greatly increased the number of outfitters and servicers in the area. The planks of the upper floor, what constituted the stage area, fell upon the room like the ruffled gills of a whale’s underbelly. From the damp browning wood little spurts of life caught sickly rations. It was common to find a Rosewood spider’s web bridging columns and rows. But apart from the panelling of the walls, the room was laid out primarily with steel. Steel furnishing, like the aerobics chairs lining the wall, alongside steel caskets, hosting an assortment of cut outs and childish masks, and a row of steel desks jutting out of the walls like sea panels on the inner shore. Everything seemed perfectly placed, a feature that never made sense given the frenetic nature of the room. Framed photographs of performances by legendary troupes glittered the otherwise barren walls, painted in a winterly brown, from its early days in the basement theatres on Privilege and Dar Samor, to the radical period of squatter houses on Haggar and Pastoral. I find a bookstore recently opened. In the doorway there are photographs of older greats, legends of a Levantine period of experimentation and dialectics. The aesthetics of the space are bland, sparsely decorated in objects of an ulterior character, possibly alluding to another space of a similar character in another space and time. But I see several verse books through the window, where hands chalk at less incriminating titles than their counterparts. It isn’t my object to judge, but I see two elderly travelers inside, warring with a clerk, who has for some reason adopted the role of a tyrant. She is pointing her fingers in disgust, heavenly offended by the words of the travelers. I move inside. It is easy to find a space from where to witness the trial unfold, placing myself between a wall of bookshelves and a tidy little table at which sit two very beautiful young women, one of whom is clearly from another town. Her hair is thin, reminding me of the women I left behind in the highlands of an old Celtic tale. I know it is relatively soon for me to understand what is going on, but quick I am to realize there is no dispute, war of words, but a pleasant exchange, of histories and detailed pasts. Another few prepare for a reading that they are hoisting, and I am invited suddenly to sit down, because I am right beside a chair that is both outwardly projecting into my knees, and the awkward situation developing between my two foreign friends and myself, who have some cause to wonder what it is I intend to do with my time, standing beside a bookshelf, and their table. I choose to grab a book while sitting down, and to my dismay it is a book I have not read before or heard of, but have shared nightmares with on several nights, notably nights of traveling distant marshlands, when I was only a teenage and had not heard of the Inferno. My, how that moment changed me, because I am really altogether changed, and in a constant process of, what my old friend says, becoming. But this book troubles me, because it is written by a man I once came across, and I realize, at that very moment, that I have come across this very bookstore before, and I am suddenly aware that my surroundings are familiar, my contemporaries plainly comfortable. I borrow a pen from a stack of pencils on the table, and begin to edit the latest edition of BARA, a collection of verse poems by unknown writer of a rogue circus. They are simple to edit. I usually remove the first three or four lines, entirely. I try my hardest to remain true to the syllabic structure of the rest of the poem, but as is his way of using too many words to say nothing, I eventually end up with something nearer a haiku, or a couplet, where I am less troubled by his use of language, and choice of career. I put the book down and read some issues of the café publication, a spread of endless renunciations and entitlements with no reserve of dignity. I am pleased, to be reading something so obscene, that I begin to cry, softly, in my corner, and suddenly I am aware, as I am aware of my hand reaching for a tissue, that a stranger’s leg has just drifted onto mine, and it is this same leg tickling my heel as I cry. I am not moved, or unmoved, or really stable, I am still hinged to my arriving at interest. His foot drifts further away and I am forced to wonder why, when I am so suddenly soothed by contamination, does he disappear.

“What are your thoughts, Aline?”

“I’m curious, what will happen,” she said, swinging in her chair, the blue of her hemlock rocking form side to side, she looked comfortable, at last, in her pole position.

“Will it be a nay from the audience,” he asked, waving his hand in the air, opening himself to the crowd with confidence, offering his chest and more. “What are your thoughts, out there? Do we think Roger has the privilege to stay on? Remember, what is at stake here. A chance to meet the one and only, Hamid Hamza, in his famous garage, and to race with him on any Saturday of your choice, and the offer is open the rest of the year. Hamid Hamza himself is in the crowd, everybody give him a welcome round of applause.”

The video cut to Hamid’s face. He was wearing a broad tuxedo suit with a Borne bowtie, and a white shirt on frills to go with it. It was clear, by the way the spotlight shone on his face, reflecting her insisting glare, that he had been heavily make upped and prepared.

“He’s had great dermatology,” the director said, indoors. “Cut to the sound of his jingle, hurry up. I want to show his shoulders right after once more.”

“Aline, as always, a crowd favorite. And tonight our special guest, Rami Rahime, who will discuss with us work they have been doing for underprivileged children in the outer camps. I’ve heard many stories of kindness and great gestures of support from everyone in the community, and I want to wish my thanks to all the people back home, and of course our most endearing and obvious thanks goes to our troops for protecting us from the snakes, keeping our heavens at best, and at all times have at best performed, so thank you for that. We have a special night ahead of us, ladies and gentlemen, and we’ve waited a long time, because tonight, as you all know, I am unveiling my own program for support for the candidacy of best dressed at this year’s Heliolopolis, hosted at the Bey on Rose. Hands up, everybody, for “The Rotaro”!

The crowd made their voices heard, screaming on cue to an indigenous howl of drums rising from the band. The song of “The Rotaro” took over the audience, feeding and finding from the moment’s air, forgetting their fears and confinement. The cameras slushed angles from side to side, sweeping and panning the audience. A rush of cuts cut like a flag the feed, cutting to commercials.

“Have you ever bought anything off television other than beer,” he asked.

“Nope, I haven’t.”

“The reason I ask is because I just ordered a pound of beer, and it’s on it’s way, and now that I see they’re offering Cold Mountain Brew at twenty five percent off, I’m thinking, what the fuck kind of business am I doing? I could get, like, at least twenty bags for the same sad dice, if I do the math correctly.”

“How many beers did you order last time?”

“I ordered like a dozen cases. They come in a truck. Even if I order five. Might as well. I don’t have to drink it. It doesn’t come cold, it can sit. I put it in the basement. Have a look.”

“I’m cool. So what are they saying?”

“It’s a talk show I always watch. It was one of the first. Check it out. They have four or five guests come on to the show .They don’t know each other, and they have to figure it out. Not the way they look or anything. But they have a long way to go, and they have to ask each other questions, and when the talk show host goes, okay, now you’re like it, you’re the one saying it, then you have to guess the next part of their identity, like, where are they from, what are their hopes, do they pray, are they religious.”

“Who’s on it now?”

“I don’t know, turn it up.”

He pulled out two beers from behind the bar.

That was when Paul Bacosirian got the call from Joyce Shabtour. He was surprised, if anything, just to hear from a Shabtour. He had never dealt directly with a Shabtour. The family were known all over the country, an old Bedouin tribe from the East, one hundred miles off the border of Ras Shahid. He hadn’t ever met a Shabtour, but had heard countless stories. The one where Anis Shabtour, after being injured on a horse, was able to recover in time for Paralympics and win gold. Or the late Hafez Shabtour, who had built, with his own hands, the Shabtour farming estate in the valley of Der Durun. There were relatively small Shabtours living among Bacosirian’s home. Malika Shabtour, whose family had left her a small three story building in her name, from which she made her living, renting out the fourteen apartments to tenants, living in a squalor underground, her office on the first floor of the building, overlooking the entrance and the elevator pod. She was saving for a future without rent, she said. She would have nowhere else to go, knowing that her losing the building was inevitable, though she lived in an era of fearful assumption. She didn’t take into account she would be bought off the land. She had memories of her great grandfather, Remhart Shabtour, whose entire estate and surrounding farms was seized by settlers in the catastrophe of his later years. Paul was the owner and founder of Catalogue Coffee. His latest brew, Emphatic, a surging hybrid of Arabica and Robusta, brewed by the collective Color Copy, whose warehouse on the port at Port la Chaise had become personally responsible for the emerging attention to quality in the taste of coffee citywide, was bringing in patrons by the dozens. Before Color Copy, most cafes were sourcing their coffee from one of two locally sourced farms, whose owners cared little for sustainability and the aromatic sense of differing plants, focusing on the profits, their eyes glued to the margins, ever wavering, ever still, flatlining during times of unrest, surging in times of great enthusiasm. 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. Paul offered Joyce a place to sit on a small coffee table for two, that he had reserved all morning knowing they would meet. He didn’t want the unpleasant occasion of having to kick a cuddling couple off the chair. He had to make plans and set them in motion. To be frank, he had expected her to be more beautiful than she appeared. Judging by her voice on the phone, the way she slurred her r’s, romantically. He was going to take the meeting seriously, but he thought, perhaps, had the meeting gone well, and their discussion on whatever topic she desired were no longer pressing, he might be able to take her out for a drink. Paul Bacosirian was not the typical ladies man. He had many virtues and many strengths. Unfortunately, women didn’t take kindly to his style. It was his own fault. He often went after women who were in a league above his own, ignoring the women who sat below him in the great flow chart of life. She was nervous, it was clear. She hadn’t needed to physically appear at the shop. Once Paul heard she was interested in helping Marwan secure a good coffee deal for his place, he was obviously overwhelmed with joy. e didn’t care either way where the coffee went, so long as they paid their service fees on time. He preferred the shop to be somewhat modern, progressive, allowing for certain things to occur that were unthinkable in other circles. He wanted people to feel safe wherever his coffee were supplied, regardless of their age, their sex, their gender. That was the dream, wasn’t it? What Joyce had refused to reveal to Paul was the fact that Marwan had not sent her, that she had come on her own accord. She had wanted a reason to meet Marwan again, after the last time, where Rewa’s plan had failed, to set them up and get them together. Going through his books later that night, Paul would discover, on the infinite list of names he had employed, that Marwan was already on the list. He had supplied to him for certain parties, events, and had even met him a few times at Café Hermes, where Paul was always given a complimentary espresso after his meal, a return of his own supply. He found it strange that Marwan had chosen to send a woman who had no place in the industry so far. She didn’t work in food and beverage. In fact, in her proposal, she simply laid out a list of dates and various numbers based purely on speculation, and asked for an offer in return. She had no idea the scope of the bar, what Marwan was interested in building. Did he need two machines, or just the one? Did he already own the machine he was going to use, or was he interested in supplying the machinery as well? Paul could have told her that, but she never asked. He could have told her he had just signed a deal with foreign suppliers to import ten vintage four group espresso machines, fully automatic, with interior temperature readers and various other important facets totally complied. The difference between what he already held and those ten vintage imports was astounding. Firstly, Baraka machines were no longer produced, so owning them was like owning a collector’s item, except far more useful and mechanically viable. Second, they had been redesigned in order to sustain themselves in case of an electricity blackout, possessing, after charge, an internal battery pack of up to twelve hours, during daylight, and seven hours at night. It was a relatively quiet day in the shop. He ate his lunch with Hazem Bekdashi, the owner of a vintage bicycle store down the street. They ordered from Hulu’s on Bliss, a sandwich shop with various cold cut sandwiches, old school, nothing healthy or fancy like a quinoa salad from the yoga café next door. Hazem was younger than Paul and less ambitious. He had his own store to his name already, simply by his designing several bikes, renting the place out and making enough off a steady stream of supply and demand to run the place for, easily, for the next two years. His most famous design was known as the Jaguar, and the bicycle had a small latch beside the brakes installed where the back wheels dropped so suddenly that the bike performed a little jump, perfect, he convinced his audience, for jumping over lagging logs in the forest or a metal tube or pipe strewn about the road. He couldn’t care less about expanding. His main focus was on changing the architecture of the city, altering the mindset of its citizens, most of whom had never ridden a bike in their life. it made it easy for business that he knew so many people, that he hadn’t gotten to know them just in order to sell his goods. He had grown up in Dar Imam and was known by most of the neighborhood where he was raised. A longhaired, scruffy skater in his early days, who spent all of his time outside, broke, without a wallet or phone, often getting beat up by the older boys, none of them skaters, who thought his little board with wheels to be quite stupid, until he won a competition for street skaters under the age of sixteen, pocketing some five thousand dollars in cash, more than he had ever known, and more than most of the children living among his parents had ever seen in their lives. Paul told him about the meeting he held earlier. He knew Joyce. He had met her at the opening at Gallery 3, a few weeks before. She had been wearing a long red trenchcoat and bottleneck heels, with studs running up by the blazer. The buttons were gold, and she tied the coat around her waist with the red and white belt that came with the jacket. He hadn’t seen what she had worn underneath. He found it strange that she had showed up to an opening so overly dressed, without removing her coat. But then again, she was with a group who seemed pretty much involved in similar behavior. Paul didn’t care about what she had worn, but he told him how strange it was to be spoken to by someone opening a bar without them knowing the specifications. Hazem wasn’t surprised. She’s probably trying to get involved, he said, without actually being involved. He went on to explain how difficult it must be for women like Joyce, who came from good families with a lot to offer their children, but whose parents inevitably divorce, out of sheer opportunism, pride and lust, who wants to do well in the world but cant find her place, searching outside herself for some movement, finding the essence of populism to be exciting as well as warranted, wanting to do good for her society, for her home, not having an idea of her own to conceive, she latched on to someone else’s. She wasn’t beautiful enough to take credit of an idea simply by her having been there. She wasn’t ugly enough to resort to some other tactics to make of herself useful. She wasn’t bad, Paul said. No, Hazem said, he couldn’t remember but from what he remembered she wasn’t that bad. Paul spent the remainder of the day seated behind the serving bar, quietly observing pockets of information stored on his phone. He sent a few messages, he received a few back. He updated his profile on BubuCum, garnering some comments from his family and friends. Someone had sent a photograph of a dying giraffe on a family group in BubuCum. He responded with a sad face emoticon followed by a heart, followed by the words what is this world coming to followed by another sad face and a broken heart. He thought long and hard about sending the initial heart, before sending the broken heart, but the size of his phone was a little small for his thumbs and he was worried he would eventually end up sending the message half finished simply because he was trying to go back in time and remove the unbroken heart, the total heart, from the message. He could as well have done the whole thing again but for some reason he had chosen not to. He closed up shop half an hour early. It was starting to rain and the streets were starting to empty. He walked without an umbrella the two miles to his home, up a series of hills and stairs that twirled and twined through flooding alleys, reaching the foot of a ten cell staircase that was the entrance to his home. He shared the gate with one another tenant, an immigrant family of seven, the parents and their four children and an orphaned niece. One of the girls was playing at the window with a doll. He waved to her as he passed, smiling politely. She was afraid of him, still the age of four. She ran away from the window as he trolloped up the stairs, pushing aside his small, knee high gate open. He lived with two roommates, one of whom was gone for the week. The place was rather messy of late. He liked the idea of living with others, so that coming home was something to look forward ot, especially since they had a huge common room in the center of the room that opened onto a balcony on end and a large common kitchen on another, the three bedrooms opening from the side of the living room walls. His bedroom had its own bathroom, which was nice. The kitchen was a mess. Dishes in the sink. The garbage overpiling. He had the money to move out but he was saving. He didn’t want to put it all down just yet. The prices were too high and the only place where the price met the amenities was in the financial district, where he had no interest in living. There, there was no life. There, the places were all built overnight, without history, without story. The only benefit was electricity and water, all day every day, year round, and cheaper heating in the winter as well. He called a friend, Sabine, who was at another friend’s place, a girl he didn’t know. She had spoken to Sarah and they were all going out, first meeting up at a bar and then going to a house party on Boulevard Haggar.

“Whose party,” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Looks like everyone’s going though.”

“Shall I bring anything?”

“I’m not sure. We can buy something there, if anything.”

“Alright.”

“Will you come?”

“I think so. Let me clean up here a bit and see.”

“Don’t clean up. It’s Friday night. The place is going to get dirty over the weekend.”

“It’s a mess.”

“It’s going to get worse.”

“Fine.”

“Great.”

“Listen.”

“Yeah.”

“I think I’m out of weed. Do you have any?”

“I have like a joint.”

He sighed into the phone.

“Alright. I’ll call Hanif.”

“Is he still selling?”

“I think so. Is he not?”

“I haven’t bought from him for a while.”

“Who did you buy from?”

“I got from a friend. Don’t know who they got from.”

“Well, that doesn’t help.”

“Sorry.”

“If I get, do you need anything?”

“Yeah. Get me like twenty, or something.”

“Alright. Sounds good.”

They hung up the phone. He rummaged a little more through his smoke box. One of his roommates must have smoked some of it. He remembered clearly having at least enough for two joints, maybe three if he mixed enough with tobacco. He scrolled through his phone. Hanif’s number wasn’t there. Fuck, he thought. Who has his number? Why don’t I have it? He called one of his roommates.

“Listen. Do you have Hanif’s number?”

“I don’t think so. Let me check. Why?”

“I’m out of weed.”

“Is he still selling?”

“Is he not?”

“Try Fadel man. His shit is much better.”

“Do you have his number?”

“I don’t think so. Maybe Karim has it.”

“Can you call Karim?”

“Yeah sure. I’ll call you back.”

He hung up the phone. He was annoyed but he was also too tired to care. He knew it would be annoying to find weed at that hour. He had forgotten it was Friday. Dealers were on the loose on Fridays but they generally avoided his neighborhood, mainly because of the traffic, but also with the traffic came the allure of checkpoints and plainclothes police, scavenging for their latest thrill. It somewhat surprised him he had never been caught before. But then again, he owned an entire coffee empire, somewhat, and he didn’t even drink coffee. The house was quiet. He was annoyed at whoever had smoked his shit, because he knew, for a fact, he hadn’t finished it himself. There was enough for half a joint, at best. He thought if he should save it for later, for an even greater emergency, or if he should just go ahead and smoke it. It would go nice with the rain. He could put on some music, light the tiny spliff, maybe take a nap, maybe eat something. He didn’t know if he felt up for going out. He knew the joint wouldn’t help. But he had some coke in the bedroom. He could smoke the joint, take a nap, shower, eat something, have a bump and go out. That was a good three hour plan. But he could reduce it to two. He could reduce the nap to twenty minutes, and the whole plan would be reduced even more. Hour and a half? What would he eat? If he ordered something now, it would arrive in maximum thirty minutes, maybe a little more because of the rain, they’d force the driver to drive safe, tailing him on GPS, tracking his speeds. He knew this because it was a friend’s idea, to track drivers in the first place. He didn’t know what he felt like eating though. There was a small sandwich place down the street from his house. There was also a nice homey place that served rice and couscous dishes for cheap, right around the corner. He could walk there himself, though that would defeat the purpose. Did they deliver? He thought he should check, but he didn’t feel like it. He considered ordering a burger, but the thought of smelling like onions for the rest of the night didn’t appeal to him, and tasting the meat in his mouth. It would go down well with the coke though, he figured. He thought about it for a second. Some of the places didn’t allow for him to remove something like onions, they thought it their specialty to grill the onions in a certain way. But if he removed the onions, asked for less cheese and ate only one slice of bread, he wouldn’t be too full. He was starting to sound like his girlfriends. It surprised him, actually, how often a girl would remove a slice of bread from a burger. It probably tasted better, but it certainly didn’t feel the same. It was like eating the burger with a fork and knife. What’s the point? It went against the entire culture of burgers. Had he convinced himself? Was that what he was doing? He received a text. It was his roommate. He got three texts in succession, followed by a blowing kiss on BubuCum. He had updated his phone so the two services could intertwine when the sender or receiver had done the same. He didn’t know the benefit of doing it but it seemed rational. The first text was Fadel’s information, the second Karim’s, the third Hanif. He decided to call Fadel first, since that was his recommendation. He hadn’t bought off Fadel in some time though. The last time he bought off him he met him in the car on Avenue Rose, and Fadel was so coked out of his mind, cracked out actually, he smoked a pipe of crack right there in front of him, he asked him to lend him five dollars so he could pay back some hospital bill for some guy he had beaten up. It was strange. He remembered that. But Fadel did have the best shit. And he never had to weigh it to know he was treated good. He didn’t care for weed so he never stole it, but he made most of his money off it. He could’ve made more on coke but he stole half a gram each time so people stopped buying. When he called the phone was off. He tried again, hoping it was only saying it was off but it was Fadel’s way of screening. He waited for him to call back. He decided to give it three minutes, before calling again, and if he didn’t answer a third time, he would wait another ten minutes, during which time he wouldn’t use his phone, even though he had a sophisticated model of call waiting, he knew Fadel was impatient and would never use it, would never leave the message or indication he had called. Fadel wasn’t answering. He didn’t feel like trying Hanif either. Hanif was always wanting to hang out. He wasn’t the sort of dealer who showed up in his car and dropped the goods off and left as fast he could. Hanif came by with a bag of his own shit and started rolling. He was only doing it to keep a consistent circle of friends. Otherwise nobody would hang out with him. That was Paul’s idea. He smoked the small spliff, took a quick shower and ordered a chicken sandwich from down the street. Chicken with rucola and goat cheese and a garlic pesto sauce, with a side of fries. He chugged his way through the food, brushed his teeth, put on his most decent clothes, a new chemise with charcoal canvas and pink polka dots, buttoned to the neck, and his torn skinny jeans with Reflex shoes, high top, no laces. He was quickly out the door. The whole process took less than an hour, which in the end made him feel good, even if he was going to come back home without any weed, he would eventually find some in the morning, or one of his roommates would bring back the goods.

“What kind of smoothie would you like? Can you read Arabic, by the way? They have an orange ginger, it’s actually curcuma but they couldn’t convince anybody what that was, so they’re just calling it ginger, and a root beet delight. Beetroot, sorry. I lived in Germany for a few years. It’s out of control. I started saying things the way they said them. Making the same mistakes.”

“Do you know them? You know them right?”

“Yeah, they’re friends. They just opened up this spot, and down the street they opened up a bar two years ago. It went really well, so they expanded here. But the bar is completely different. Like, they let people smoke inside and their special is the medallions, they’re known for their meat. It’s not conscious at all.”

“I’m surprised this much has changed. It was never this conscious at all.”

“How long were you gone?”

“Not long. But it’s been some time. I can feel it. I feel like I’m in different clothes.”

An honest silence passed over them, natural, one to which they could both relate. They watched the couple in front of them. It was noticeable, how much they matched. Attitude, clothes. They each carried a basket, and in the other hand, they held onto the other with such extremity it was impossible for them to neglect, and part of them, both of them, wondering, would it ever become like that? Isn’t that what this is about, Isabelle thought. Isn’t this why I decided to let him take me out that time, and now, we’ve been dating, and then, what? Is it to look like that, she thought, or does it start like that? Does it start like that and grow?

“So what kind of grammatical errors are Germans prone to?”

“They always speak in the present, so like, instead of saying…

“Strange. It’s funny how that happens. I lived in the Bamuul for two years, out in the desert. I started talking really slow, really taking my time, and really when I sit in groups of men now, altogether, I take off my shoes, I play with my toes, sitting cross legged. It changed me. I feel like it changed my body. More physical, than anything.

It was their turn in line. The clerk, Marissa, a foreigner from Tuwar, a stronghold of the PLS. She wore black diamond beads around her neck, and two gold chains that clung to her breasts, exposed because of the open flame of her halter top, brown, and the buttons show, and the vest opens onto her colored chest, the bronze of her sun tan sinking in, the color of her ancestors a gleaming brown, of a stately heritage.

“What can I get you guys today? We have a weekly menu, as you might know. Is it your first time with us?”

“No, I come here all the time. I know Majd, and Rawan. Are they here today?”

“They were, but they disappeared before lunch.”

She turned her body, gazing a panoramic view.

“I don’t know where they are.”

“That’s fine. I’ll take care of his order. It’s his first time.”

“Are you not from here?”

“I am,” he said, not knowing what else to say.

“So I guess I’ll order for us, then?”

“Yeah, why not.”

“We’ll have two purple halos and a banana bum to go in a glass, pLease, I promise I’ll recycle.”

“No problem. Do you want a fork and spoon with that? They’re edible.”

“Sure, why not.”

“We can also add a daily special topping on the banana bum, so it becomes kind of like a banana split, but like, the healthier version.”

“What’s the topping,” she asked?

“Raspberry, matcha, rhubarb, lime. It’s really intense. It gives it a really strong taste, like, do you know Caroloni bitters? Like the alcohol?”

“Yeah. They have it in the morning.”

“Yeah, it’s great.”

“Do you wanna take the topping?”

“I don’t know. I’m not really sure. It’s all so appealing. It’s hard to say no.”

“I’ll have them put it on the side, in a small cup. The cup is edible too. It’s kind of like a cone, but it’s not, but it is, but it’s vegan. Do you want everything to go? That’ll be two hundred ninety five, and forty two cent.”

They paid, walking to the other side of the counter, pouring a cup of water from the complimentary bowl.

“Do you want cucumber water or lemon water?”

“Um, cucumber, I guess. It’s not that often you find it, is it?”

“The other day I hard orange chocolate. It was the best.”

“Sounds really good.”

The few types remaining in the café are asking questions of the literary merit of the old port town, causing me to reflect on our being in the port of ports, presently, and not in some distant past, that is pleasurable to imagine, but impossible to exist. I diffuse their words with thoughts of my own, and there the image of eternity caresses my shoulders, tending to my waning will. Poets are eternal! Do they know this, them whose shoes are laced tightly in one knot? Imagine, everything we write, you and I, is worthy of eternity, trusting to be kept alive by generations that will pass. But nobody hears above the sound of an interior motive counting blessings and untrammeled accomplishments. I prefer to accomplish swimming in a pool without pruning, and that is a legacy I choose to remember. And I did that once, but how could you believe me, unless it were written down, and in your reading it know I was there, physically, within that pool, where you may have excreted some urine, and I, joined by the conduct of some of our peers, basked in the emplacement of our physical union. Something in the air causes me to sleep, but I am only resting, harboring my dreams before I am forced to withdraw them from the material world. I begin to feel discomfort in my chair, a compartment of disappointment, so I rise, ebb my fingers into my eyes to provoke their curiosity, and set off further into the light. I leave the room, but I actually stand still, until I am moving again, and really we are not moving. A man outside taps on the window, staring at me, but when he notices I have noticed, he vanishes, until he appears again in the doorway, leading me, and I am suddenly following him back outside. He hands me a cigarette, I smoke it. He is shorter than me, but of decent height, and his weight is rather stable. What I notice is giving me great interest is his hair, curled on the fringes but thin and sleek where his skullcap may have rested.

“Are you here for the reading?” He asks with such excitement, I respond belatedly, wondering if there is more to say than has been said.

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, any case, you’re in the right place. Tonight…everything will change.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes, they are launching their publication, with all our funds.” And with the weight of his last words bearing on him, he suddenly begins to cry. “They are…educated abroad….they’ve come here to help…” His crying is vicious. He has a glow in his eyes that deteriorates with a striking pain in his abdomen.

“What is it?”

I kneel over to attend to his wounds, but he is not bare to his trouble, exclaiming only his insistence that we are all to be saved. He falls to the floor, holds me by the arm, pulls me to his face, looks into my eyes, wipes the froth from his lips with his tongue, and speaks at me with an iridescent glare, a haze of confusion, decapitation, and reverence. The mixture frightens me, as do his eyes, steaming with a fervor I remember from my youth, and ours.

“Please…” He faints, falling from my grasp, tender at the crusts of our engagement. I leave him there, wondering who has noticed, but nobody seems to care, so it is easy for me to continue, tracking my movements with my eyes sharply bolted to my neck. I hear bells, coming from a tower a few uphill turns away. I walk steadily, with my arms at my side, choosing a moment to whistle, another to yelp at dawn. Really, I am yawning, but my mind is alert and well. A counterpart to my marching whispers to himself, huddled in a crevice of two buildings. He soothes this ridicule, by invoking our common breath. We understand each other without speaking. I find that there is a garden behind him, from which sits an entirety of sand and deserted material. A garden of construction, unyet. I sit beside him and we overlook the water, from over the view of the garden, and I wonder if the image of death is blatantly bound to a garden, or the image of a garden, not only because of scriptures, but because of our tendency to reflect, when in the presences of trees. And reflect is what I am doing, because he isn’t aware of my company, so when he breathes, I imagine, when he snores, I breathe. Supposedly I am free, at last, because I dream it, and I say it with my lips, turned inwards like a duck. But why do that when there may be an epidemic, and I the host from my obscene companion. But there will not be an epidemic, the word sits in a figurehead’s drawer, with other words like justice, liberty, love. I remember the eyes of a woman who knew me, from surface to soul. I’ll never know love again. I take a long walk across town, over an outgrowth of abandoned buildings, city ruins, daylight air, to a hammered squall of drinkers known on Rue de Infinité. The smell is horrendous, forcing me inside, where I am curious to experiment with the already prevailing scent in the air, so I unleash a load of my feces in the bathroom hoping the smell will overwhelm the bartender’s beard. I want to see the particles rest on his hairs. There I will tease them with my index finger. If there is a poem in my heart I will sing it, if not, I will recite one of yours- a poem you told me years ago by a speakeasy on alphabet tides. I remember it, you see, you are that important. There was a bookstore, on Proskauer Strasse, in Berlin. I had just moved to the area. Spending my days hiding form the cold. My girlfriend and I moved in together. That was that. The owner of the antiquariat was friendly from the start. He was warm, giving the place a comfortable feeling. He seemed happy, comfortable in his place. The storekeepers in that area have a reputation for being cold, some even evil hearted. I went there from time to time, always in a certain mood. If I needed a romantic getaway, somewhere I felt safe discovering, losing my eyes into a wormhole of words, images, ideas. The place had a nice aesthetic to it. It opened into a large square room, with worn wooden bookshelves rising to the ceiling, covering the length of the walls from the floor up Several foundation pillars stemmed away from the wall, hosting their own towering bookshelves. In the distance, two open entrances into another set of rooms, introduced by a long corridor, all of it fixed with its own immediate bookshelves. One room, which had the only other window, hosted thousands of volumes, and led to a small cabin built into the house for students, drifters, musicians, was devoted entirely to Ancient Greek and Early Roman literature. The owner, a former professor of Greek classics and poetry, had taught Ancient Greek and Metaphysical Philosophy for most of his adult life, but he quit before ever amounting to tenure. The bookstore was a sort of salvation for him, where he didn’t have to deal with what he called the abusive indifference of his students. I found most of the junk I devoured din those years in his little cabin of devotion. That day, after a fight at home, I decided to go for a walk. I walked as much as I could, managing a distinctly Eastern European urbanized cold that caused my skin to itch. From my apartment for the first time in my life, I watch trees emerge from autumn, lending their skeleton heads to winter. It snowed once that year, but it was enough for me. I tried to shield myself from the winds on Frankfurter Allee, so I walked the backstreets to the little store. The weather that day was starting to change. Not yet, not completely, but you could sense it in the air. There was a glimmer of sun at some point in the morning, and it felt warm, not just under the light, but around the edges too, like the warmth that would harbor us in the summer was collecting itself and chewing away at the cold. The signs of imminent spring, but already it was nearly May. A season much spoken of by the locals, who hold the few months of blossoming life and sun in great reverence. When the city disappears into an overbearing shade of grey, its as if the architecture were designed to sit still, to weather the stillness of an overcast sky, as though the architects of the city didn’t bother themselves with design that invited the eyes, neglecting their neighborly capitals, Paris, Vienna, Budapest, all of them riverside and steeped in architectural prestige. In truth, Berlin is rarely afforded the light that necessitates anything greater than modest architecture. Coming in to the bookstore lifted my spirits. I had expected to find Andreas, the owner, standing behind the grand piano that doubles as his desk, in the center of the room, a little to the side, so that the door opens freely, without the obstruction of a piano. But I only found a young girl sitting in a comfortable chair behind the piano, her body disappearing beyond the frame of the instrument, her little round head peeking out from over the frame. Young in features, but more or less it was obvious after first glance she was nearing her thirties, if not entrenched into the mire already. She nodded to me and smiled and I said hello, in as faint a whisper as I usually muster at that hour. I turned to my right to face the section devoted entirely to English language books. Hidden be tween volumes of substantial classics are beautiful, obscure gems, the sort of books that change the nature of an entire season, that keep you in one place or lead you to another. After a moment Andreas appeared from under the long corridor entrance, stepping into the light. He had his usual grin on his face, carrying two wine glasses and a recently opened bottle of read. the girl was seated directly to the entrance and so he stopped in his tracks, bedside her, acknowledging me. It was my custom to appear whenever he seemed n the cusp of leaving, whether forced to entertain guests or closing early to catch a movie. He smiled invitingly at me and grinned, showing his eroding teeth and the red coloration of his lips. He had probably started drinking already. For a Berliner of his age he had considerable taste. Worldly taste. Not just in art or in literature but in music as well. I asked him some formal questions, yet to introduce myself formally to the girl. We’d had several conversations before but that was the day I discovered his history as a professor. I had heard it before from an Albanian bohemian sweetheart that covers for him when he isn’t around.

“Why quit,” I asked him.

“Well, our most prestigious university is a shithole,” he said, “and you have to teach more than thirty hours a week. The students are indifferent, stupid, and its only getting worse. It was an easy choice for me. I preferred to teach from the early evening and leave it open ended for discussion. But the hausmesier kicks you out of the class before midnight. I doubt the riddle can be solved being forced out before its time. The end has to come naturally. It did with me.” He smiled wide. “I quit.”

He turned to the girl beside him, who had been staring at me the entire time, and whose eyes I caught glaring in interest, forcing her to shudder away. “Juliana leaves to Italy tomorrow,” he said, “So we drink. Would you like a glass of wine?”

Of course, I said yes. We toasted, to Julian’s trip to reclaim her Italian citizenship from a dead grandfather. They asked about my life, my past.

“Why Berlin.?”

I gave them the usual spiel on the liberties enjoyed in Berlin, the thriving cultural scene, the security and relatively stable investment opportunities, before finally admitting noen of those really mattered, that I had fallen in love and chose to take a leap of faith.

“What better reason!” he yelled, Juliana enjoying his excitement, holding her stare to mine, cupping the rim of her glass with her upper lip, part of it disappearing inside her palm, as though she were chewing the glass with her teeth, slowly, daring me to return the stare.

Finally, we found ourselves on the discussion of my own lineage, my obscure identity.

“You’re from Beirut,” he asked.

I nodded.

“Beautiful place,” he said. “Sad what’s happened to it.”

Then came the usual overtures on the regional deterioration, the collapse, the general malaise among Europeans that kept them from claiming any sort of responsibility for their government’s failure to act, to intervene, followed by cries of helplessness and guilt, where he was almost brought to tears, on the sad loss for the world, as a scholar of Ancient Greek and Metaphysics he ought to know, he said, the grave loss to our global heritage with the loss of cities like Beirut, the occupation of Jerusalem, the loss of Aleppo, Damascus, Baghdad! Juliana was suffering the sorrow of his words, shaking her head in disbelief. I wanted to accept their grief but I found acceptance hard to come by. In the end he played a song from a young Lebanese singer who had emerged from the Beirut underground for a cameo role in Jim Jarmusch’s latest film. Andreas thought the scene in the film, which he hadn’t seen but had seen only the part with Yasmine’s song, was staged in Beirut, but actually it was Tangiers. All of this is futile, I know. But I’m telling you this because what happened next seemed important at the time. Juliana excused herself to go upstairs and pack her things. They spoke briefly and she left. Andreas, somewhat tipsy though I could never be sure with men of his vitality in age, went outside to pass the final hour of his working day under the briefest hint of daylight, cigarette in hand. I wandered to the back of the store, through the corridor from where he had first emerged, to grab the steel ladder and bring it back up to the front. Without the ladder I I couldn’t reach hal the books in the English section, and I was actually there that day, apart from escaping light violence at home, to rummage through the Ancient Roman texts. I would eventually settle on a worn version of St. Augustine’s City of God, that had that dried oak smell of old books, which is important, I guess, because before what happened next happened, I had never read St. Augustine’s work before, and it fit so well with the other book that I found. Entering the corridor I found in a shaded bushel of books a figure hunched over a disheveled stack of antiquated volumes, digging his hands into a tin can of food. He turned toward me and after an indifferent stare turned away, as if to say, What, are you so surprised? I stopped dead in my steps, at first shock and then surprised.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t know anyone else was here.”

He laughed, a condescending laugh, grunting over his breathing over the chewing of his food. He continued eating, ignoring my awkward presence. I walked over to the ladder to remove it to the other room. As I closed its legs and pulled it forward, turning it over to rest under my arm, I knocked over a stock of books that were already wobbling at the weight of my encroaching footsteps. He laughed, again, even more condescending in his tone, refusing still to look firmly at me, gorging away at the can. I was feeling the effects of the wine after only a glass. It was probably a decent bottle of wine. A philosopher should always have good wine, but a Berliner rarely swallows such an expense. In any case, I was suddenly irritated by the stranger’s behavior, feeling lightheaded and weary, my cheeks turning red.

“Are you dancing?”

“Not so much these days.”

“Who’s the choreographer around?”

“I think right now it’s mainly Clarimonde.”

“I don’t like her style. It’s so rigid.”

“I like it. It’s pure. She’s very light. She does well for her students.”

“Did you do it professionally?”

“Never. Only in some performances. Some theatres.”

“Have you considered film?”

“I considered it. It never worked out.”

It was the day of the performance. Lea and Sarah were doing well but they were hardly speaking. Lea wanted to go her own way, she wanted to do things differently, to touch and be touched differently, away form the fallout of colonial rule, ashamed of our bodies, of the inner will to consume, her child wanted to come alive, to come of its own force and know it, giving it the world in the name of Ro, mother in the house of Ra. Ramiz still hadn’t decided what they were going to pull of. Sarah had promised to help him. They sat together on the terrace outside Café Bad, overlooking the quarry. He was on his third espresso of the morning, she was on her fourth, though she had made it early in the morning to the park to go for a run. On the other side of the café, working on her laptop, was Gigi, upset, though she wouldn’t show it. It was below her class, she had been trained by her mother to believe, to show weakness in public. To show only strength was how she was raised, even so that others might call on her when threatened, to be seen among those who survive. Her husband wanted her to see other men, for the time being, he said, things were becoming difficult and he wasn’t able to pretend any longer how he felt, he couldn’t put up the façade, to please her, to keep her quiet, satisfied and sane, all at the same time or fluctuating happily between the various states. She wasn’t sure what was wrong, though she figured it was only him worrying he couldn’t please her, which might have been true had he actually, for so long now, tried. She’d taken it so far as to call on her hairdresser, Puchi, to take her out on a date, to introduce her to some guys, to which he had only two options, to bring someone to their house for which she could confide, or to go out in masks and in secret, finding whatever their spirits find. She told Audrey the night before, at a reception dinner on Pastoral.

“Can I tell you a secret,” she said?

“What is it,” Audrey answered, hiding her excitement as best she could.

But she didn’t end up telling her what she had meant, when she spoke of how much she admired the women working Avenue Rose, wanting to be one of them at Least for a night. Touching is the language of the heart, she had wanted to say, saying nothing. It was too much out of character, and her fear, really, like all her friends, was to say or do something out of character, only to regret it at a later time, preferring the confines of habit and tradition. Ramiz had arrived at the Red House. He was forty five minutes late, but that’s okay. He didn’t say to his friends, upon arrival, what had held him back. He was nervous, already nervous enough, when Tanzim took him by the hand, speaking into his ear as he crossed him in the open hall, by the concessions bar where he was waiting, not only for Ramiz but for Layal as well, and for Sarah and Sabine and Chloe, and Mounzira and Misbah, if they felt like coming, though he had seen them both arguing that afternoon, having his morning coffee, outside Café Bad in his basketball shorts. He told him that about the girl he had noticed, at the far end of the bar, in a purple winter jacket and charcoal smocks underneath- and underneath, her breasts. Ramiz arrived at the Red House forty five minutes late.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said.

Before,

“Tanzim’s right,” Rania said. “It has to come from the inside, from the inside out.”

Tanzim had only once before had a conversation with her, yet he knew her, knew of her, all about her that was theirs to know, those who had only come across her. Rind, her sister, had arrived just minutes before her, causing such a scene. She was explaining to a friend outside, Miriam Ross, the injury she had suffered the summer before, spraining her ankle and her right knee, her preferred leg, as she put it, cycling through the Scalps with her friend Shahid, and his wife, Nohad.

“It was extremely painful,” she said. “I thought I would have to lose my leg.”

“Amputate it?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“That’s terrible.”

“I was really scared. You know we always go up there. They have a small cottage there, year round. I believe it’s Shahid’s family’s, but he inherited it, or something. It’s nice to cycle all year, even when it snows.”

“They clear the roads?”

“They clear most of the cliffs, but the roads in the woods are usually fine. Just a little damp, sometimes it can get bouncy.”

“It must be nice up there.”

“It really is. It’s beautiful. At night, we go down to the small lake, and we eat at one of th eresturatns on the small village street.”

“The Gorigo opened up there, didn’t they,” Miriam asked.

“They did. The food was great.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Really good. Everything Scalpine is really top quality. But I think the restaurant is not owned by both brothers, by the way. Because you know they are twins.”

“Oh really? I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah. One of the two opened in the north, but the other brother didn’t open with him. My friend is a friend of theirs so I know.”

“That’s interesting.”

“Yeah so anyway, it was a great time. I slept in a coat in the maid’s cabin, so I had my own space. Yeah it was fun, lots of fun.”

“They didn’t have a maid with them?”

“Never, no. They don’t have a live-in maid.”

“Very modern.”

“They are, of course. I mean, he’s not at all like his family.”

“No, not at all. Her parents must’ve been upset they married.”

“They were at first but they’ve moved on.”

“I had a good week,” Sarah said. “Things have been going well.”

“How are things with Lea?”

“They’re good. Yeah. I’ve never been with a woman before. I think its different because for me, it’s not really about sex as much as it is for her. It’s new for both of us, I guess. I’m happy with the intimacy, for now. But things have been good.”

“What’d you get up to this week?”

Sarah had never been with a woman before. Before they met, she had slept with exactly eight boys, and twelve other men, who were more grotesque, less fashionable, than the men, who whore indifferent clothes, who sometimes never shaved their public hair, who never joined them to any shows, to parties, to performances, who preferably didn’t live next door, or who did but it was better for them, better with them to be fully clothed. Lea was working on her thesis, and she was having a hard time focusing. She was sometimes jumpy and could get on her nerves.

“I mean, I get it. She’s working on her thesis. It’s a difficult time. She has a hard time focusing as it is. But I work late, and when I come home, exhausted, all I want to do is play a record and smoke a joint, and if someone feels like coming around to get drunk then why not? I’m not pushing them away.”

She didn’t tell all but it didn’t have to be that way, considering it her right to explore. Sarah hadn’t thought about it.. To her, she was her only girl, and to the others they were both still friends, though it was beginning to become harder to explore, without doing it publically, physically advanced. They were still getting used to each other. Whenever Sarah left something on the stove, or in the oven, or put something in the fridge without keeping it closed, or opened the pot of coffee or the bag of seeds, any kind of seed they were having, quinoa, popcorn, hemp, or the red and white lentils given as a gift by Sabine, or when she left out a dirty plate on the kitchen counter, or worse still, on the floor beside the bed, Lea took a photograph on her phone and sent it to her, or saved it for later, once, when it was really bad, even for the worst offenders, she printed the photograph, sticking it on the fridge, to make a point of its extravagance, so as not to be done again, though her caliber was unforeseen, she could not be dismayed from her dizziness, plates, napkins, heels.

“I’m starting to paint more,” she said. “I’m beginning to take to the idea of the solitary painter, away in their room, shielding their soul from light.”

“That’s really nice. Where are you painting?”

“When I have the time, I try to make the most of it. I need my roommate to be out of the house. If I’m in one room and she’s in another it doesn’t always work. She can be loud and annoying. She’s great. I love living with her. But she talks a lot. And she isn’t always helpful. She doesn’t want to be upped and moved, she says. She says it’s not fair to her. I don’t know. I want to move out. I’m tired of having roommates. Aren’t you? You live alone, right?”

“I do. It’s alright. We’ve lived together for years.”

“Who do you live with again?”

“My boyfriend. He’s gay. We don’t really know how it works anymore but it does. He needs me in his life. He’s also an artist, so I know how you feel. He’s always confused. It can be difficult. It was fun to work with at first but now it’s eating me up. I try to get out as much as I can. He sees other people. I don’t. I don’t know how to meet people. I’m always alone, even when I try. It’s funny, I thought about coming here tonight. I didn’t know if I should. I don’t know.”

“It’s good you came. You have to get out of the house.”

“It’s just so hard some times, you know.”

“What does your boyfriend do?”

“He writes,” she said.

“Do I know him?”

“I don’t think so. I don’t think he’s really known. But I know what you mean. You should move out, when you get the chance. It can get really frustrating.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know if it’s appropriate for me to ask, but did you know your boyfriend was gay from the beginning.”

“Not really. I don’t think he’s totally gay. He’s probably bi. But I think it’s gotten easier for him to express himself in that way. He likes being the subject of attention. He craves it. He never had that women, but men prey on his legs. He has fabulous legs. They love what he does when he dances. He’s an elegant dancer. I think he just feels comfortable there. It’s good though. It never gave him anxiety. It can be difficult, to go from one thing to the next. But he’s good. I’m impressed.”

Sarah was starting to paint more, and was beginning to take to the idea of the solitary painter, away in their room, shielding their frail soul from the world. When she had the time, she wanted to make the most of it, and for that needed Lea to disappear from the room, whichever room she felt like occupying. Lea found it distasteful of her to assume she could or should be upped and moved, only to retract her statement and explain that no, she had a real point in wanting her solace, but as the one who spent more hours at home, she had a natural right to choosing which room Sarah could occupy, the same way that Sarah, the one more often coming home, after a long day of work, or drinking, or hunting, could ask for silence. They were beginning to agree on certain points, even if it had taken a short while. Rind was feeling out of favour with the story. She had to get inside, as she hadn’t yet entered since she arrived, though she had made eye contact with seven people already, who were standing beside the revolving door, looking out, like school children, sitting in their lecture row, in the gathering assembly hall of classes, listening to the wise men speak, and the women paint their toes. She was thirsty, and beginning to feel the effects of parching. Worried that she would develop a cotton mouth, causing her breath to foul, she needed desperately to get inside. Sarah held her arm. She just had to finish her story. Lea, whose real name was Aliyah, by the way, took her photographing Sarah’s mistakes to such an extreme, she started saving them all until the end of the week, or even, once, the end of the month, when she would edit them into a stop motion film and send to her spouse, who had never thought her so fierce. Rind said, alright. As she turned to Leave, she was stunted in her steps by one Linda Harrar, who had stepped up to the door. Beside her was Joey Fattoush, and his younger brother, Karim. She was surprised to find them there, that night. To find them there at all. Joey’s father had done so little when asked to help refinance the theater as a federal landmark, an institution that it was. He had no interest. They had stopped by at his office six or seven times, always uninvited, as he refused their calls after hearing them out once. He had instructed his secretary three times on the first occasion to notify the police upon their arrival, but she had refused, agreeing with their cause. Eventually, she was fired, but she was already getting free, moving out of her parents on a two year Lease. Linda was present to cover the show, that much was obvious. She couldn’t place her presence with the Fattoush kids, who weren’t really kids at all, but full fledged adults in their own right. Joey owned the department store and his brother oversaw the procurement arm in Dar Imam. They worked well together, Learning from their father how to be shrewd, how to be nice, how to shed skin, how to absorb. When to do what and where, it was all in the system, the older Fattoush said. But he was getting older, and the younger Fattoush was spending more time at home, Learning the ropes, putting in shifts. If he had taken an interest, he could have kickstarted the project half a year early, if only that. Their names weren’t on the guest list, pleasing Rind, but they knew Rabah, the lonely bouncer, and they knew Sabah, one of the seven sad faces calling out to the outdoor faces, gesturing her to intervene and alleviate the process. Linda must have known Joey well, Rind thought, as she had read his reactions well, before he showed any signs of violence she stood between him and the bouncer, Rabah, asking politely with her hazel eyes accustoming his. She said that reporters were allowed to bring guests, and she was up for doing the trick for them, the two of her friends who she had come with. Rabah was not moved, explaining that he had just recently rejected four other kids who showed up without badges, claiming to be part of the journalist pack. Even the reporter for the Daily, he said, which he shouldn’t have said, only saying it to inform her of his knowledge of the paper, though she would later find out, and publically shame, that it wasn’t at all the case, that actually, when it came down to it, she had met the reporter inside, drinking, doing great. Ramiz still hadn’t figured out what he wanted to do. He wanted to impress Tamdil, he was thinking about what he would think. He sat by himself, drinking from his cognac, enjoying the taste of his rolled cigarette. Tanzim suggested he should take it more seriously, to read an excerpt from his latest work, or something, seeing as how all of his actors had quit, or so he would explain to the crowd, who were expecting him to have actors, expecting him to put on a show, a proper show with characters and feelings, fulfilling every detail of the equation, as it was prescribed in the Constitution of Theatrical Norms, in every institution he had for a semester attended, including the Dublin Academy and Pelican Film, and the residencies he gathered across the board. There was a story he had been thinking of lately, a story he was happy to perform himself or let the stage devise, or Leave it to the crowd imagining, that of a boy, almost his age, working at a sauna, or something, something that took place in a steamed and dusk room, flesh by twilight shown, mosaic blue, tangerine light systems. He felt that he needed scandal, to tell the story of that age in a sense of loss, for his protagonist to lose something, in drama something was always lost, he said to him, weren’t they all of them losing? What had the war cost them, he asked, inflamed? What had peace? It had been described to him in a recent lecture by Kohl Divorce, in his Query on the Athletics of Nature. He spoke of the anus as a thinking agent, as a life giving force, speaking of the Plutonic cave, the Plutonic sword, the womb of possibilities and the inevitable loss, the life that gathers in a room of swords. It was all very cryptic and took him months to understand, annotating the text before returning it to his friend, who had his own annotations in red, to Ramiz’s blues. The yellow highlighted sections, of the text in black, were those of his sister, Layal, who was the cause of the tape, saving the binding in the front and back, suturing the little tears occurring at both ends.

“What are you thinking?”

“I don’t know.”

“Really? No idea?”

“I have an urge to be obscene, man. That’s all I know.”

“Obscene how?”

“Like lining my asshole with tape and setting up a camera and projecting the image live onscreen while I get fucked in the ass.”

“I don’t get it. I don’t think that’s what you want.”

He considered reading the text while pursuing himself somehow in the asshole, lining it with tape and a camera to sport, projecting the image live onscreen, virtually untouched on the plain mosaic. That’s where she found him sitting, on the third table from the left, a standing mirror to his side, bleaching him from the overhead lights. He was sitting by himself, on a table that could fit an easy three, four was what they intended, hoping for five or six if they were shallow enough, and weren’t the type for complaining. Two stools and a copy of a Bouton Love Seat in red, embroidered in violet flannel and straws of silk conforming little lines on the fabric. The wooden spires of the table were finely polished, but the surface itself was mugged in dried beer. The hall smelled of stale piss and excrement, and the cloud mirage of stale smoke. It was a staple among them, accepting it as a necessary evil for their generation to thrive, in some pseudointellectual way, to perform small miracles. He was sitting on the third table from the left, a standing mirror to his side, bleaching him from the overhead lights, loud red bottled lamps. Seated alone, a glass of cognac ignored by his hands. Watching the performance onstage intensely, tough with a certain recalcitrant air, as though his mind were somewhere else. The only movement to interrupt his stoic pose was the intermittent lifting of his right hand from the table to his nose, where it appeared he focused momentarily on smelling his fingers, an act she found disgusting. Certainly disgusting to do in public, under lights as those. Worse, perhaps, than licking or biting it, the act of smelling was so suggestive, primarily for its suggestivity. She had come that evening to see Yeshiva’s one act rendition of “The Village Ro”, a myth set in the time of present, the characters survivors of a long and drawn out war, the speaker one of their most inspired. The last time had performed the piece, at the reception hall of the National Theater, as an amendment to a piece he had performed earlier that year, stipulating exactly the opposite ideological position, one in which he did not suppose to portray the living deity of either ideological side, he had gotten himself arrested by a couple of plainclothes policemen who it turned out had been prepared by the authorities to take action against him no matter what he had chosen to portray onstage, a regular feature of the actors. Of course, they hadn’t understood the ideological disposition posed by his work, which could be understood to defend either conservative or revolutionary values, and so could not have been of either side, at all. Nor did they have any interest in discovering what it was Yeshiva intended in staging the play, to a live audience at that time, and of them all, who were they, as they certainly suspect even those who do not commit the heresy, but attending to its choir are there without exemption from litigation, that comes to those who prey on the easy fascination of the sick human mind, to which most involved were complacent. So she assumed the same would occur that night, and so, like the others present, she had prepared herself for a handful of events to unfold, namely, the intrusion of the Civil Guard at any time throughout. Regardless of the size of the crowd, the end would prove eventful. It was custom for his shows to open with a duet by two members of The Ghosts, but none of them had arrived at the venue as of yet. Every so often, the young DJ would raise the volume on the music before one of the managers, Steve, most probably, the floor manager, or Curious, the bar manager, would instruct her to turn it down. She thought of herself as a floor DJ, listening to the will of her people. Not that sort of auteur who prepared the gig beforehand, playing off script, forcing the crowd into a journey they might or might not enjoy. She didn’t believe in the script, and it showed, playing first “Disco Jacks”, the original, with the disco beat and everything, the trumpets and the vocals singing “La-La-La- That’s the Spirit Disco-La-La-La—-The Spirit Disco,” and following it up with “La La La Repeat,” the recent remix by DJ Change, who elevated the vocals, stripping the track of its harrowing echo, giving it slightly more oomph. She had her eyes closed, attending to the vibrations of the music, listening to each and every chord like it vibrated through her body, circulating in her veins. A basic baseline groove holding together solo, the art of the remix unleashed. Sarah reached over the counter, turning the music down with a light jab at the knob. She opened her eyes, the vein of distaste in her mouth. Beside her, Issa was drinking from his coffee, slurping his sips, lost in stoned tranquilation, doing with thoughts and thinking bouts a certain amount of therapy, the most that can be self induced, still operating. “The Siege Continues” came on and he opened his eyes. He nudged his friend, who openly ignored him. A natural reaction, known as they were as waywardly attentive. His refined smoking habit prohibited him from concentrating on anything in particular for too long. But when he focused, he had something of a genius in him, a natural leader with clever sensibilities. Issa’s girlfriend, Maya, had broken up with him several times because of it, citing his inability to keep eye contact while listening to her speak. He admitted the fault, always. He had long ago come to terms with the fact that he was, in essence, nursing a regular, debilitating habit. It had gone beyond what is tolerable for an adult. But he did it anyways. He worked his way around his addictions. With weed it was no different.

“Do you want to go outside,” he said, “shall we smoke?”

“Yeah, let’s.”

“You guys can smoke in here,” she said.

“I know but it’s hot.”

“I don’t like doing it.”

“You enjoy it more outside.”

“That’s true.”

“Tab are you coming back,” she asked, “come back guys, we’ll have fun.”

“We’re coming back, of course.”

“Akid,” he said, grabbing his things from the roof of the bar, gathering them in his pockets. They shuffled through the crowd of strangers hoarding the pass by the bar. Most of the patrons were aware of the customs, of Yeshiva opening the show with a duet by The Ghosts. The room filled with anticipation. A crowd had buried their roots at the foot of the bar, ordering pints one after the other, some of them served in bottles others in mugs, and the odd gin and tonic pulled loose from the bar, a hand of whose a drink escaping, and another of whose was cash without, the opening and receding of a giant mouth, calling for consumption to persist. Two girls from his meditation class took a seat at the bar. He didn’t know anything about them but he saw them twice a week, at Sorry’s Studio on Avenue Jibril, the sprawling wellness centre opened by Sophie Haggar. His mother liked to joke that it was Sophie’s creative response to menopause that gave birth to the place. It was doing rather well, however, whatever her critics had to say, hating the women for her needing almost two bras to cope with her adjustments. They had even stolen regulars of Muscle Max Gym and the wellness centre at The Pearl Hotel, wherever that was, he had just kept hearing it, though he knew almost nothing of gyms. The only reason he had ever visited a meditation class was the advice of a friend, who thought it might help him overcome his fear of public speaking, it didn’t, though it gave him a sense of what theater was, the sort of in and out adjustments of the traveling chord, easing the vocals into it. He thought of asking them for a drink, if only to be nice. He tried remembering a name, the name of one of them. The one on the left, she was taller, flatter, sort of rounder face, skinny, dirty blond. Beautiful complexion, beautiful skin. The smile of an angel, he thought, look at her. I bet she wants to get fucked, he thought. No, be serious. Be more like, be gentlemanly, and brave. What do you think she really wants? She wants life lived experience. The living life. People arranging themselves in their seats, occupying all possible positions and guarding them with their lives. A member of each cluster emerged from their restive cocoon to  venture to the bar to buy drinks or smoke a cigarette under the sloping stairs. When the entire crowd eventually staggered to their seats for the opening of the mic, a calmness settled over the bar unlike the energy prior. People were left with the memory of what they had heard before, at a prior opening of The Ghosts, or the strange sensation of imagination. But not much would be left to the imagination, they were certain, once the actors took the stage, each one of them performing for the honorable prize of Tuesday’s top acting honor on the local circuit, at the Red House Theater Bar and Stage. A smaller sized, faintish room, its main accessory an attractive furnace used when it rained. The planks of the upper floor combined into the stage area through a downward sloping arch, falling upon the room like the ruffled gills of a Foo ball whale. From the damp and browning wood the aerobic Rosewood spider made her home among litters of mice. The room was laid out in plain steel shreds with a display of handcarved puppets and masks, a romantic theater harkening back to an Imperial downtown. Framed performance photography glittering the otherwise barren walls, painted in a winterly brown. That was the stage area, and the common seats that sat on the watching floor, what the staff called the observatory, what patrons called the floor. There were scattered among them regulars, drowners, downers and the cakes, the buffet men and the waste bins. The truth is, none of them came for the show, they were too fucked up on their own shit to ever notice. Tuesday nights, the show of roads, the path of so many crossing sleepers coming out to drift alone and among the wild crowd. Cosby, an elephant of the crowd, a mainstay for the people’s theater, was performing the opening singing of “The Rotaro”. He had worn a red suit and a brown patent tie, with the logo of the Clown on the exterior. Ughos Krauft, the director, appeared under the beaded drapes at the door. Beside him, the actor, Adam Morose, and behind him, his boyfriend, Talal Khashan. Talal, as always, looked eager and lively. Adam stood a more modest figure, soft spoken and morose. Sarah, for all her smarts, was blinded. She hadn’t ever expected them to show, just because she had invited them, writing them on the code. Should I approach them, she thought, is that what I’m doing? Ughos wore an oversized hobo jacket with huge open pockets on either side, and a homogenous rope to tie the trenchcoat in a bundle at the waist. A salt and pepper beard grew out of his sharp crystal face. A Teri Rose beanie hiding his freshly shaven head, the knitted flannel resting at just against the tip of two exposed ears. Visible from underneath the trenchoat, a Mabel Ferguson photograph laminated onto a blank white tee. The iconic image of a basket of hundreds of whole wheat croutons spread over the ashes of a burnt down country home. The croutons portrayed resembled crystalized fossils of pomegranate popcorn seeds belonging on a sheet of fire ash, on a bed of coals. Krauft’s dirty hands, moist in a mud of nervous sweat, tapped against the desktop oak as his friend, Morose, pulled a candle from its dormant weight to light the end of his cigarette, breathing through the filter attached to his lips. A surprise of musicians trickled like ants into the room, approaching instruments already in place, prompting an uncanny suspicion among portions of the crowd, sorily of the occultist kind. They entered the theatre, taking their seats. The show began after several minutes. There was a brief notice on the projector’s screen, the huge white panel bearing down on the audience, to pay close attention to symbols, to signs, the meanings of which will be deciphered near the end of the production. The young producer stood on stage, standing at the microphone. The short height of his features, the grey of his short necked shirt, earned him the empathy of the crowd. He looked calm and collected. At peace with himself.

“This has been a long journey for me,” he said. His voice croaked, the barrel of his throat itching.

“I just want to thank you all for joining us tonight, and for keeping with the philosophy that we can change for the better,” he said, to roars of the crowd, though they were mostly quiet, a few of his friends, having taken their seats, were quick and first to erupt, embellishing their cries with laughter, to soften the crowd, who had already, unkeen, took notice of them.

“I first took this job, as director of the festival, only three years ago. I was younger then, then I am now, and I think I can say, I speak for myself, I can say we’ve honestly nurtured something, and its something to be proud of, and it works, we’ve seen it work. We put together some shows, down at Boulevard High School, to bring together the kids. We wanted them to connect in a way we hadn’t seen them connect before. Understanding themselves in a better way.”

Then they prepared the stage for a performance. There were two actors onstage, two images of a single character whose two deities opposed, one of them, extremely well built, broad shouldered, large, powerful arms, standing at no less than one hundred ninety two centimeters, and with long flowing hair down to his waist, dark as mud. His hands were slim and delicate, touching the players on the chessboard like a mother fondles her fawn, pecking at her with her nose as they rise in the Easter morning, sick seasonal crows sleeping under the dancing Paramyth of the odds. There was another actor, slightly taller, slimmer, with a neck like a swan, reading to him passages from Droctuflt’s announcements, saying them with words that were not his own, speaking as well on behalf of the maiden. The show begins. There is a brief silence. The audience shuffles, murmurs, quiets. Lights.

Afterward they walked toward her house, and he left, and it had already been four and a half hours, and she was stoned and drunk, so she decided to call Maysam and go walking. Maysam was with her dad, and they were having sushi, and as she knew them she was welcome to go with, which she decided upon doing only after calling Ramiz to see what he was doing, and he told her he was just getting home, and he was looking to do something later if she felt like doing, and if not he could come around her place and get stoned, and that’s what they did end up doing, but only after she her Maysam’s father and rode with them pooling, at the Orchid Home. Her father loved sushi and he ordered seventy bites, right at the beginning, so they could get on with their way and their plan and keep what they were doing. He wanted them to focus on crab, because as traveled as a man he was he asserted loving nothing more than simplicity, and so the California was, for him, the gold. He ordered twenty four California rolls and twelve Spicy California, which were served on a long plate as long as the scaffold row. He asked the California to be delivered in three bursts, and the three bursts to go as followed, and he explained, the California would be delivered in threes, twelve in the first round, eight in the second, and four in the third. The first round, would consist of forty pieces of sushi, the second round with twenty, the third round with twelve. In the first round, they ordered, apart from the twenty four California rolls, to be split evenly among them he asserted, and whatever they wouldn’t want he was happy to take, but only if they were willing, as to their own demands he would later see, he explained, what was their wishing, which there was nothing wishing was. They wanted eight pieces of fresh yellow tail sashimi, four purple crab maki and four clowns and roe. They wanted to expand that same order to the next round, but to exchange the purple crab maki with, and he stopped, looked at his daughter, questioning her with his eyes, to which she could only respond with definite sobriety that yes, she wanted to add more California maki to the list, added to the original eight they ordered, from the original plan of twenty four, at which point Sarah realized they had been in that particular place before, in that particular state of conversation, explaining to the kind immigrant the noisiest way of taking an order, developing an algothrythm that pertained to its best, and so they were such consisting. It was as though the noise suddenly disappeared in the room. In her heart she could hear her heart’s contenting. It was all of a sudden obvious to her that she had intruded upon a family ritual, a ritual of being together in a single place, father and daughter, coming of age, putting down the roots of adulthood in stability and tradition. They made sure nothing was missing from the order when it arrived. There was of course the added benefit of edamame, two orders, one for the father and one for the girls. He had also asked for them to bring a curated selection of sake, which they sipped on from time to time between bites. One of the bottles was warm, and there were three carafes, for tasting, two of which were cold and one of which was warm, though the manager had recommended they have it cold, as it was uncommon for them to have two warm sakes in one meal, and actually it was then he realized it was uncommon to have more than one type of sake to one meal, and if it were to be done, it was ot be done in quite a different way, to remain loyal to the sake, to respect her gifts and her flavors, as this was not just some bar where people went to get drunk, and if it were so they would be better off ordering shots of sex on the beach and screwdrivers, if it really were to be done, it would be done smoothly, quietly, for each set of plates a specific carafe of sake, simply to accentuate the flavors of the food and the drink simultaneously. But then again, who came into a restaurant and asked for seventy four California rolls before they even glanced at the menu, a menu which, by the manager’s definition, boasted one of the most complete sets of dishes in town. But he needn’t take offense at that last comment, the manager insisted. The entire staff was at their service, and as he had seen them once before, maybe some months back, in the winter, he knew they were going to order a lot more food, though by the looks of it the pretty young ladies were already full, but he was assured, he said, that that would not dissuade the father, who was by then looking quite stern, his feeling being that the manager, whoever he might be, who hadn’t even introduced himself as the manager, had no right to speak to him in that way, and that it was obviously an affront for another problem, a different problem that they had with his being there and enjoying so much food, in a way, perhaps, that insulted them. He knew them to be traditional and self assertive, but they needn’t go so far as to make life difficult for him as well. He simply wanted to enjoy the food on offer, which was being delayed, it seemed, by their unnecessary conversation, the third and final round of California missing from the table. They delivered, as ordered, a plate of grilled fresh water eel in a special lime sauce, and spicy tuna in a special ginger mustard dressing. They ordered four orders of teriyaki chicken, delivered on a shish, and three orders of signature beef, stewed in a spicy lime sauce, the chilies being the most significant part, the lime soaking into the chilies and the mixture soaking into the beef, each bite like the venison was oozing the juices from its tendons. They ordered a large pot, fit for four, of plain white rice, with a side of sage, which they offered, customizing the menu for their kind, finishing off the side orders with a side of Singapore noodles, vegetarian of course, cooked in a special pork knuckle broth. The three carafes were not finished, though the bottle of sake was almost done. Sarah preferred the cold water sake from the mountains of —. she had a novel recently that took place primarily there, where the two main characters, the protagonist, who was the anchor of the novel, and the protagonist’s affection, who was the story’s herald and subjective change, went from dinner to dinner and bar to bar, at one time even taking a hike in the mountains and eating mushrooms and getting somewhat high. It was a very descriptive novel. The character reminded her of herself, in some ways, though she wasn’t as lonely and had more to her life. But the feeling of enjoying every meal, every bite. She felt like it was a part of her as well. The girls spoke among themselves, her friend’s father taking it upon himself to scroll down the feed of his phone, reading the news while taking enormous bites of his maki. He didn’t look up at them once, but laughed every now and again, making faces at his phone. She was slowly getting drunk and she had already forgotten the afternoon she had with Tanzim when they had gone out for a walk, and was starting to look back on the day as though it hadn’t been had, and was thirsty but didn’t want anymore but sake but was ready to go to another bar and start drinking again, even though she continued eating and didn’t stop until she realized she was bloated and she could feel the curvature of her protruding stomach emerging from under her breasts, pulling at the seam of her dress.  Her friend was single and she had just broken up with her boyfriend but they were probably going to get married so it was only a matter of time. She complained that he wasn’t marrying her because of his parents and because of his job, which seemed perfectly normal to Sarah knowing the guy, knowing that he fit the profile of most of the men they knew and had grown up with and would have never in a million years imagined marrying, though Maysam had found her man a few years younger and was waiting around to get hitched, Saras was beginning to doubt if it would ever happen, if the guy was wiaitng around for something better to come his way, someone the parents might feel kinder towards, more kindred, though Maysam came from a good family with a positive name and had all the attributes of a future mother, who could build a nice home and decorate it nicely and move things around when it started to look old, choosing what to do with the living room and the bedrooms and the kitchen before getting an upgrade. She had studied nutrition at university and had worked at the university for the past five years, helping out in the laboratory and keeping tab on results, basically doing what secretaries do but with a lab coat. She was always taken care of and always looked the part, her hair was always done, at least once every ten days, and she did her nails at least once a week, often during the weekday when the place wasn’t so packed. She’d started working out with him and they were both members at the same gym, though he was often too busy to spend too much time there, she liked to go and lounge in the sauna and get messages in the parallel spa. When they did manage to make it to the gym together, she mentioned that he was always seeming a little annoyed by her presence, probably having regretted inviting her to the gym in the first place, a place he was likely to meet other girls and flirt with them from time to time, though now, having invited her, he was pegged to her for life, as none of the girls wanted to get involved, even for a civilized chat, with a man who was willing to do that to his girl, to come alone at a reasonable hour and act the sleaze, talking between reps about his job and his money, which were often the first two things on his mind when having to make conversation. But Maysam was beautiful and would find her own way, one way or another. Her body was always tanned, she looked great in a bikini. She had a soft voice, and knew how to listen and when to be quiet, knowing when to raise her voice to be heard. All in all, Sarah couldn’t understand what he was waiting for, using the same old excuse of wanting to get a better job, wanting to move up in the world before making his decision. She wished for a moment they could go to the bar, away from her dad, and make gestures at the bartender, as though they were young and naïve and didn’t know what they were doing. After paying the meal they parted ways. She hangs up the phone. She stares at the device in her hands, like it is a foreign object suddenly dropped into her palms, something that can stir up a storm and suddenly disappear. She puts the phone in her jacket pocket just as the revolving kitchen door swings open and a washer passes by. They exchange smiles, and she walks on. She goes to the bathroom. She wants to use one of the stalls but the doors are all locked. There is an old, sad looking man masturbating in the corner by the long urinal. The image of the man depresses her. He meets her eyes, but he doesn’t budge. He keeps at his handiwork. He goes at himself in a fit of fury. He tugs harder and harder at his own cock. He stares into her eyes. She doesn’t move. He has the look of waste in his eyes. The look of someone at work on something for so long he doesn’t have the frame of time in his mind. He drools from the side of his mouth. She hears him groan in agony. As one of the stalls open, she turns inside, leaving the man in his condition. She hadn’t seen her in some time. After the reading, she invited her over for dinner the following night. She accepted her invitation. Partly out of loneliness, partly out of a want to be with her, specifically. She hadn’t been with a woman in a while, mainly because of the energy. She had gotten lazier over time, and with men, with real, proper men who enjoyed taking up the role, she didn’t have much to do. She could sit and experience pleasure while they committed to all the work, even if that left them a little bored, they seemed to want more. It renewed her want for pleasure, the great benefit to being on that side. The receptive source. Not having to work so hard to get it. How did the lie manage to persist so long, the fallacy that men could enjoy similar heights of pleasure? But she didn’t mind leaving it up for grabs that night. Sometimes it was nice to lie beside one another and do for the other what is nicer when performed by someone else. She could be tender and soft and slow. Maysam liked that in a woman. A strong woman, confident on both sides of the aisle. She wasn’t sure to believe her when she said she’d never come, never had an orgasm before her. She didn’t always come but she knew how to get there. Maysam didn’t have to do much, only to look in her eyes while she rubbed her clitoris gently. There was a certain way to do it and any other way wouldn’t work. Her lower back would arch and her knees buckle. Her toes would constrict and her eyes would fall back, leaving her stunned. She wanted more than anything to be held. Maysam liked to be wanted in that way. To be seen in that way. The truth was unforgiving. Going there, she walked through the ruins. The city felt like a second home, like it had when they were younger, when it seemed so happening and bright. She ran her hands along streams of shattered glass, that sat like birch trees in the devoured wild, bracing the emblems of marble and concrete chipped to shreds. An immigrant sat braiding the hair of a younger boy, speaking to him without looking, their feet dug inches into the ground. Her eyes were caught on the horizon, and the boy’s focus was not on her, her voice, her hands running through his hair, but on a beautiful amulet that he wore around his neck, fiddling it with his fingers. She seemed happy in her apartment. It was small but not tight. Charming and eccentric, yet simple and refined. She fit the atmosphere perfectly, like she had been put there for Maysam to see it, her small, tanned feet grazing the apartment tile floor. She lay in the centre of the room on a pile of white cloths, amid a circle of small elder flowers that had been caught fresh from their branches, and on the opposite side of her, a small shrine. She was lying on the floor in white garbs. It reminded Maysam of a painting, by the great Tamdil. A portrait of his mother, before she had given birth. She lay in the center of a garden, atop a mound of white sand. On the opposite side of her, a valley, and on the other side, the open sea. She was lying on the floor in white garbs. She had painted the area around her in ash, smearing the garbs over the ashes. Like in the painting, the smoke of incense burned in the corner. They didn’t have to speak to enjoy each other’s company, breaking into conversation when it felt ripe. She served her tea. They drank from small mosaic cups, a blend of autumn flowers that was good for the heart. She refused drinks with caffeine, preferring pure herbs to the sacred uppers. Maysam stretched out on a bottomless couch, pulling her feet between cushions, resting with her arm while she listened to her talk. She was crumbling some small pieces of hash in a tiny ceramic bowl, mixing it with dried tobacco, rolling it into a joint. She aligned the hash so it encircled the tobacco, so it would smoke more fruitly, easily. She like watching her, tenderly sifting through the contents of the bowl, mixing it to a perfect mush before rolling the entirety. After rolling the joint, she poured herself tea from the kettle. She stirred the tea with a tiny spoon, raising the glass with her face, swallowing the fumes. She remained like that for a moment, her eyes closed, breathing in the fires. She had been alone lately, she said. That would explain the tidiness of the place. She hated smoking cigarettes but she let her friends do it. There were no cigarettes in the ashtray, and they could smell the string of lavender hanging from the nearest window. Are you going to travel, she asked. For a few days, Maysam answered. She explained that she didn’t feel like going to the festival that year. Neither did Sarah. Full of the same shit, she said. Parodies. Why is she going, she asked. Maysam couldn’t give an honest answer. The festival was marred from the beginning, Sarah said. The director is always fired, the day after opening. It was true. It had happened several times. The original director, the man who started it all, was fired the day after opening, during the second live premiere, because of something he had said about one of the sponsors. Not a corporate sponsor but a family involved in steamrolling the event. His reputation never fully recovered. Still, he showed up year after year. People were not impressed. Sarah made a spread on the floor, a carpet and some plates. She lifted the lid on a silver tray of pastries, topped with agave syrup, for something sweet, and chestnuts she picked from the farmer’s market. There was a savory pastry of bred with dried thyme, with pine nuts and crushed sesame seeds. She walked over to the kitchen toward a tall standing cabinet, perched perfectly on its hind legs, leaning against the wall. She threw some things together, pulling certain ingredients from little towels, rinsing them in the air and putting them into a bowl for a salad. White onions cut in long tributary slices, tomatoes and cucumber, rucola and purple vines. She returned with the bowl, a large glass bowl she cradled in her arms. They dipped the bread into the thyme, eating quietly, finishing their tea. She added the dressing, pulling two forks from her side. She squeezed half a lemon into the bowl, picking at the seeds with her fingers. Do you want something else, she asked, a drink maybe. I’m fine, Maysam said. Really. Sarah offered some lemonade from the day before. She walked over to the cabinet, bringing back a tiny bowl of sumac and another with cinnamon. The flavors sat tirelessly on her palette. Without saying a word they finished the meal. After the food they washed the plates in unison. Maysam dried the items while she washed them over with a small purple sponge, with water and soap. She watched her mechanically lift the item under the water before turning it on its side, dipping the remainder of the piece under water to remove the last bits of soap from its place. Nothing could be heard in the room save for the sound of flushing water barreling down the drain. When they were finished cleaning they sat back in the living room. Sarah shuffled through a stack of vinyl’s leaning onto the wall. The record player sprung from a well of cables. She played a record by The Ghosts, a favorite. The rhythm was slow, melodramatic. In the beginning, only the oboe, trailing softly like a sleeping owl. Then the vocals emerge with spectacle, a rush of passion and emotion. Maysam likened the singer’s voice to Sarah’s own, raspy and unforgiving, full of mystery. She sipped from her tea as she watched her walk about the room, joint in hand. Have you had your cards read lately, she asked. She stood naked in her room. The window was open, the lace white curtains breathing through and through. Maysam’s body felt cold against the evening chill. She could smell the product from Sarah’s hair, coconut vanilla. She lay down beside her. Is something wrong, she asked. She grabbed her chin, forcing a kiss, her hand running down her chest in a stream of light. Maysam slid her leg over hers. She held her against her body, letting their breathing synchronize. But once her clothes had come off, the vitality of her voice suffered. Her movement quieted. She was even more subtle but her touches felt withdrawn. She hadn’t looked old underneath her linens. She curled underneath the burgundy sheets. Without realizinig, they both fell asleep. At some point in the evening, Sarah woke up to find she was alone. She didn’t check the time, not having wanted to know. Instead, she decided to go for a walk, alone. Sarah walked through the city in its glorious nightly gown. She found herself at the People’s Fountain, coming and having gone full circle. She remembered an photograph Tanzim had shown her, from his collection of stills. She found herself surrounded by men, hundreds of men on the eternal move, each of them singing their own song, moving through their own series and events, each of them the lead in their own film. Some of them were elegantly dressed, in navy blue and black suits, tailor fitted and made, the shoes sparkling they had just been bought or had just been wiped by one of the streetboys at the Mall of the Levant or the streetboys on Boulevard Haggar. One of them, who had unbuttoned four buttons on his chemise, ask her to join them. He had a clean shaven face which made him look like too young, and it exposed the stubbiness of his face and the emergence of some acne. But she didn’t mind his flirt, though usually she did, fearing that the excitement of one of the boys would stir them all to life. But there wasn’t that look of waste in his eyes that had become so familiar. She walked home. The lights were out in the building and on the entire street. She climbed the stairs, lighting up the walk with her phone. If she hadn’t been drunk the sight of a cockroach at her feet would have disemboweled her, causing her to yell and disrupt the quiet of the delectrified warmth. She didn’t care. She stepped over one bleeding carcass that had already been killed, and over another that was squirming for its life, its long yellow legs racing to get lift, the hairs on the sticks, even in the dark, were oddly noticeable, reflecting off the blue light of her phone. There was another at the top of her stairs, right beside her door, squirming around to find a place to nest. She realized then she couldn’t stand it. She had goosebumps all over her body. She felt her whole body itch. She couldn’t watch it but she couldn’t stop, and to stop was to put herself at its mercy, fearing it would scurry to the stairs and launch into her face, reenacting one of her recurring dreams, where she opens a closet door and a roach, long lodged in there, launches into her open mouth. She had the idea to get out, to go back outside where at least she had space and the weather was cool and the alcohol breaking fast on her bones, easing her into a guiltless sleep. But she recounted the walk down and the inevitable walk back, and the sound of cars outside honking their horns, grown men lost to their open wounds, causing what chaos they couldn’t control. She didn’t feel like being around more human beings. She felt like being alone. The cockroach had stopped running. It had sat at the door opposite hers, on top of the welcome mat that had been there for years and was probably a place for them to go fucking. She walked slowly so as not to stir the creature to life. She couldn’t help having to remove the light off its form for long enough to push open the door, and in her moment fearing she had attracted the insect to her home, kicked open the door as fast as she could and slapped it in her wake, jumping like a cat landing on all fours with her phone pointed in all possible directions to see if anything black and fast was running about. She kicked at the door, the big black door, in case it had gotten comfortable on the frame and she wasn’t able to see it, hoping it would fall and then, well, she hadn’t thought about that, if she would kill it, if she had the guts, even though she had killed one before, it had been much smaller and lighter in color and didn’t have the same long legs and antennas and didn’t seem on a vendetta to do her harm. But she focused her attention and counted to ten in her head, taking deep deliberate breaths so as to quiet the storm. By the fourth deep breath with her eyes comfortably closed and the light no longer pointing in all possible directions, she remembered she was drunk and realized it was time for her to have another drink. Remembering she was drunk she pulled a bottle of cognac from the small makeshift bar on the upraised table by the living room door, and walked over to a set of candles hunched together in a bundle. She grabbed a few of them, big and small, tall and lanky and short and fat, scented and unscented, colored and transparent, holding them in her arms like a pile of kittens recently born. She placed them in their usual places where she often found it was the nicest place for them to be, invoking shadows in a beautiful way but without interfering negatively with the prevailing mood. She had the idea to read and walked toward her room to find one of her books, ignoring the books on the coffee table. But then she realized she was too drunk to read and would only be able to read something short, or poems, poems was what she chose. She idled back to the living room and flopped onto the sofa and realized she hadn’t brought a book back with her from her bedroom but, upon realizing, noticed a pile of books in the room she was in, on the coffee table, some on a makeshift shelf, some of them on the floor by the balcony door, some of them beside the makeshift bar. Some of the books were from work but the books she had to take care of were always kept in her room, as she often had guests and they often went through her books with a cigarette and drink, coffee or joint, and often left stains and burn holes in the pages, especially those who came over and ordered food, and didn’t wash their hands after eating a meal, even if it was something greasy like a turkey sandwich from SammySo, or a chicken shawarma from Sinbad with extra garlic and zoum. She put the book down and lit a joint from the ashtray and afterward put it down to look at her phone. Her phone, which had become the anchor of so many things. She did everything by phone. She even transcribed her notes by phone so she could have them on her at all times. She checked to see the last time Tamdil was online. He hadn’t written her in three days, since their fight. He had since then updated his profile picture on BubuCum chat and was last seen online twenty minutes before. She thought about sending him a message but why bother. With him, it was bound to end up the same. As always, they would meet up. They would fuck, and it would be good. And after, they would smoke a joint, and if she felt like it, or if he felt like it, they would either drink some more and fuck or smoke some more and fuck, or they would put on a movie in the background while trying to go to sleep, as he claimed to be an early riser but he was often up at noon. Then, she would think they oculd spend the day together, not then, she would want to go home first, to shower and change and brush her teeth, since he had never let her leave a toothbrush at his place, even though once she actually did, not even on purpose but by accident, and he must’ve thrown it away because the next time she was there it disappeared, and she didn’t know whether to mention it or not, or if it was something his roommate did to keep things tidy, even though the place was a total mess, and things never disappeared they were just moved to the side, out of sight, out of mind.  That was if he wanted to go to his house, though it was a bit further out and he was probably getting drunk nearby. He would likely come over and they would fall asleep both of them drunk before getting so much as a peck. He’d leave in the morning before they did anything, unless the sun was out and it felt right to go for a walk, even to walk as far as downtown and to have breakfast in one of the cute cafes, overlooking the harbor and on weekends where the farmer’s market set up shop. She half fell asleep with the joint in her hand before her phone started vibrating. It was Ramiz, who wanted to know if she were up for hanging out. She crossed the open hallway and ran up the stairs, but not before meeting her neighbor from the second floor. He was obviously drunk, as he always was, and he had in his hands a collection of books he had just procured from the one dollar market. He was wearing a dark suit with a vest and tie, and matching bowler’s shoes to go with it. He wasn’t wearing a hat but she knew he had many. He turned to her as she passed by him, slowing down so as not to frighten the old man, or really not to bother him. He stopped what he was doing. He turned around. He sighed.

“You’ve been very loud lately,” he said.

“What do you mean,” she answered, annoyed, to have to take his bullshit again.

“I hear you all the time. The roofs aren’t so thin you know. You make too much noise.

“That’s impossible,” she said. “I’m out most of the time.”

“Aren’t you going home right now,” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“So you’ll be home then. And I’ll be home. And we’ll see if you are loud or not.”

“Maybe it’s my neighbor,” she said.

“I live beneath you,” he said.

“The ceilings aren’t thin. You’re delusional,” she said, regretting the words the moment they were spoken.

He didn’t say another word but his face showed his disappointment, in her, in society, to have been spoken in that way by someone of her age, a single woman who had just moved in, who wasn’t from around there at all. She had no place in their building, he thought. He had lived there fifty two years, since the age of twenty, when he moved in with his first wife and their dog. Then, they had all made a lot of noise, but then they had all been young and the times were so pleasant. Now they were all getting on and the times were so rough.

1 Duro in fact says, The way to the heart is in the sore, the seed of the apple is in the mouth. All beings are estranged from love, and so, are happy to guide it, to guide the senses where wronged. The anus as a the Plutonic virtue was an archetype unused before.

[2] “In the words of Deleuze and Guattari, ‘The first organ to suffer privatization, removal from the social field, was the anus. It was the anus that offered itself as a model for privatization, at the same time that money came to express the flows’ new state of abstraction.’ The anus as a center of production of pLeasure (and, in this sense, closely related to the mouth or hand, which are also organs strongly controlled by the sexopolitical campaign against masturbation and homosexuality in the nineteenth century) has no gender. Neither male nor female, it creates a short circuit in the division of the sexes. As a center of primordial passivity and a perfect locale for the abject, positioned close to waste and shit, it serves as the universal black hole into which rush genders, sexes, identities, and capital.” 71 Preciado

[3] Nelson laments, quoting Sedgwick, the ongoing absence of a discourse of female anal eroticism. 84

 

“Sedgwick did an enormous amount to put women’s anal eroticism on the map (even though she was mostly into spanking, which is not precisely an anal pursuit). But while Sedgwick (and Fraiman) want to make space for women’s anal eroticism to mean, that s not the same as inquiring into how it feels. Even ex-ballerina Tony Bentley, who knocked herself out to become the culture’s go-to girl for anal sex in her memoir The Surrender, can’t seem to write a sentence about ass-fucking without obscuring it via metaphor, bad puns, or spiritual striving. And Fraiman exalts the female anus mostly for what it is not: the vagina (presumably a lost cause, for the sodomite).” 84-85

“I am not interested in a hermeneutics, or an erotics, or a metaphorics, of my anus. I am interested in ass-fucking. I am interested in the fact that the clitoris, disguised as a discrete button, sweeps over the entire area like a manta ray, impossible to tell where its eight thousand nerves begin and end. I am interested in the fact that the human anus is one of the most innervated parts of the body…” 85