A short story by Natasha Sardzoska published in the anthology “Astonishment” (Begemot, Skopje, 2018).
It was Friday. The crisp silver cold light penetrated insidiously through the green velvet curtain of the old Parisian window in my room. The fresh oxygen of the morning ruthlessly penetrated my nostrils. A dumb wander roaming through the air. Confidential talk with the air. I opened my eyes, as always, not knowing where I am, not knowing who I am, not knowing what this time is, what these spaces are, whether I am everywhere and always, the same me, or some other me, behind which there are hidden excuses, wandering and silence. But now, this morning, besides the cold and the light, a strange odor was penetrating into my nostrils. Sperm, sweat, salt, breath. My body.
I woke up with a pretty clear, strong, overwhelming sense of loss. I realized that I have not taken a shower for five days. That I didn’t even brush my teeth for five days. And more than that, besides the bitter color of black coffee, my stomach did not face other tones the world and shades of food.
Rejection of myself.
I got up slowly slowly breathing as though I was going to have to go to the guillotine. This disorder was because of one man I was planning to forget by writing a new book. An animal? Partner in crime? Sparring partner?
In the kitchen, which I quite vaguely decided to color in the warm tones of autumn, I put a banana in my mouth. But immediately my throat twitched and I spit it out. I took it out like an insect. And then I really saw insects crawling in the trash. I was shaking. I hesitated. I went briefly through time. I decided to change time. With a thick knife, I decided to cut through that thick place where all that dirty and stinking memories were floating in me: the pain, that filthy contagious sting, the lie, the betrayal, the deception, the betrayal, that multilayered skin, the voices coming out of it.
The pain was an excuse. Always.
But the pain was also an evidence that I was absorbed in myself by myself. The pain was floating all over me, over my head, with invisible blades, like a snail, stubbornly and nervously touching my hair.
Amid the pale light, the green pine, the dirty glass of my room, I recognized a warmth, a fragile gentle heat, which turned silence into gold. There are moments in life when looking outside the window brings silence, escape, rest, banal, trivial, ordinary, summer, winter, weekend, more raw silence, that deep, pervasive, inward gaze of oneself through oneself, in the vacuum of the outside world, in the space that has always defined me so strongly; those moments are more important than any secular stimulation: they are our connective tissues. They are awful because of their loneliness, yet so calm as a breeze over the morning sea. There are moments like this one now, when I decide to stop at all this heinous, trolling and odd defiance of the being. Temporal bites of space, brutal, frozen, liquid fire, where locking the pedals is vital.
There is nobody outside, nothing at all. No one exists, nothing. Happiness neither. Only mute and pale playing with the body. Through the light. In this spatio-temporal transfusion I decided to revive myself, to return to the hypothetical point from which I could, however, change the course of things, and to return again to that day when the grief of my difference finally became the light of my oneness.
But is it? Could we, even if we could go back in time, change the decisions and the circumstances in which we made those decisions and still be able to change the present, now and here? I am not sure if we could.
The wooden floor creaked beneath my feet. The smell of sharp and full coffee awakened me and brought me back to a new consciousness, to a new knowledge.
I was cruelly squeezing the orange, as the voices and the noise of the old people in the nursing home spread across my kitchen (sounds I always thought were childish). I knew the Moroccan lady was keeping me a croissant at noon (usually the bakery was empty at the time of the day, everything was sold out) and so I went down in pajamas with shaggy hair to get my morning meal. Other than that, there were days when I didn’t say a word. She always smiled at me. The touch of my skin and her skin. Silky. Plush. Touch of my skin and warm water. Mint, lavender, lemon, orange scent. Fortune. Africa. I went out.
The day has started. The days was canceled. Lost.
My hair was blown by the bloodily ferocious wind blow of the underground subway. I was walking under the iron arches of Bir Hakeim. Heading to Passy, I wanted to get to the Victor Hugo station on the subway line 2 and get off at Villiers to avoid the crowds and the stench of people on the line 13 at Champs-Elysee-Clemenceau station. I was wearing a short skirt, clinging insidiously to the top of my legs, feeling as if I was going naked. I imagined people fucking like animals. The coldness of the gray Parisian asphalt cunningly flowed through the leather footwear in my skin, the heels echoed, the earrings fluttered, the hair was unmistakably worn. In my pockets I put my palms holding the purple metro cards. I avoided looking at my eyes in the window of the metro because I would encounter somebody’s else eyes. I tried to warm myself, to look calmly, with hope. I wanted to leave everything behind me, to leave a tip, as always, almost ritually, to swallow wisely, to take a deep breath, to glance aloft at Alboni Street, imagining Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider and that whole map of passion, the carnival of smells, tastes, silence, disregard of the senses. I then solemnly headed to my apartment. There were some texts that someone has sent me for my research. I quickly climbed the stairs, now walking above the underground subway, turning my back, feeling like there was a snake creeping within my spine.
I was returning home.
Where is my home? Is it my hometown, is it the house I live in now and here, is it the house I own, the house I rent, the houses where I wake up next to cold male bodies? What does it mean to have a household? What does it mean to be at home?
I had to get to the flat, owned by the famous Parisian organist Sander, as soon as possible and get that big hard package of letters for me. Letters about female life stories in exile and persecution. And each story was told separately and differently told by Alba, Alma and Anelia. I received their letters in a suitcase that reached my name at the address of the housekeeper Marija, a humble woman from Serbia, who was receiving my mail in Paris on a street named after the famous mathematician Legendre at the seventeenth arondissement. I traveled from train to train, from hotel to hotel, from airport to airport, working on my Sorbonne research, but she was dedicatedly keeping all my letters. I was interviewing all three women. The three women did not know each other. But what united them into one, was that tactile, sensual, invisible, undefined, illegal, improper, indecent, the desire to be faithful to herself in the thinnest strands, and in the cruelest robbery, in the most vicious bite of teeth, flesh, a flesh, a life, or another called the desire for freedom and light.
The exile. The desire to escape. The yearning.
The inner prison urges me to embrace the exile.
But there was one more thing that unites them: the streets on which they lived. And, most importantly, the network of these stories, the lymph of this union, in their similar lives was moving in an almost identical chronology and geography. Alba lived in Milan, near the Zara metro station, on Taramelli Street, named after the Italian geologist; Alma lived in Lisbon, near Princip Real Park, on Ruben Leitao street, named after the Portuguese writer, professor at Kings College London, Ruben Alfredo Andersen Leitao; and Anelia in Skopje, on the street Gancho Hadzipanzov, named after the Macedonian revolutionary, activist and poet (by the way, who, like Anelia, dreamed of living in Paris). All three were entangled in triangular love relationships.
I had a Turkish coffee with Marija. Marija also offered me a piece of greasy pie with cheese. Marija always complained about her fragile health, she was under sedatives and she was sad because she was labeled by the Serbian community in Paris why, despite being married, her husband left her, and it was a big and low blow for her family, she was for them the black sheep, the defeat of society. Obediently, I listened faithfully as I drank the Turkish coffee and ate a piece of that tender pie, that she successfully improvised with French products, and I listened her story intertwined with tears, feeling a huge emptiness in my stomach. So sorry, so sorry, I was saying, but responsibility took me over. I was tempted to tell her that in fact outside, despite the strong blowing wind, a beautiful ray of light penetrated her cheeks, that the sedatives were a dangerous vice, that she had shrugged herself and got into that vortex , but, but no, all of mine was in vain. So I kept silent.
Because silence is truth. Because silence is a person. Silence exists.
Silence was the only valuable human activity, the only reason for knowing the other before us and within us. Silence was the most dignified expression of respect for the other person.
I didn’t want to leave her so fast, but I was too timid to refuse that glass of those artificial fruit juice, that she offered me. In this city, a cruel dragon, a carnivore predator, I quietly stripped down human grief, defeated, crippled. Just as defeated and frustrated, Marija humbly gave me the pack assigned to Mrs. Cohen-Sarsowski. It was sad to leave her and leave her on her sad existence. Although we were seeing each other every day. Some human relationships, despite the frequency, the trust, and the security, are still sad and embittered.
I climbed the wooden stairs anxiously, smelling of beeswax, knowing that Mrs. Grimber must have passed them – for she had, besides blind racism and xenophobia, a maternal care of our household building – and that now, she was an authentic French woman, a trace of the old naive French spirit, that was waiting for me at the window, behind the curtain, thinking that I was not looking at her, peeping, waiting to see what was in that box – Madame Grimber knew everything about us all before us to find out for ourselves! – thrilled, heavily engraved in the curtain, drenched in the carnival, drunk by the theater of my life, which was staging a floor beneath her, opposite her: she knew how I lived, though I had no idea of how I lived.
I started writing. Without this solitude of writing my writing cannot produce blood, cannot produce life, cannot become anything without this immense territory of loneliness. The solitude of writing is vital.
My stories were born from the innocence of my solitude.
I had a glass of chardonnay. I was trying to understand why a Moroccan poet at the Trieste Train Station told me that the real chardonnay smelled like cat urine. In that very moment, I was lazily spreading butter on the roasted bread with sharp silver knife. In the air there was a smell of secretion, of male urine, of sperm.
Happily, now even slightly victorious, I remembered my traumatic and violent childhood, when I had to play with the boys, because the girls avoided her: I was shy, I had scars of fractures on my body, she couldn’t let go of the jump, the elbow, the shell, and the boys embraced me as younger sister, like a girl they would never have liked, the weakness in my knees, now bruised by the brutal relationship with the floor, the dirty palms of the ground beneath the nails, now filled with pieces of men’s skin, convicted on the duty to remain silent, to watch, to bleed, to accept the superhuman choice, the right of blamelessness and ruthlessness.
I smiled, while in the background a silent light brought the trumpet of Miles Davis and Gato Barbieri, powerfully performing passion, wild wind impending in a hotel room, an unspoken, secretly attested game of giving and receiving, of that holiness of intermingling.
I waited for him to come. Those days were timeless. I could afford it, because the translations I was delivering to the Criminal Court of Paris could be completed the next day, working twice as much, but fulfilled. His name was unknown, there was no language between us, no understanding, only wild, silent friction. All the conventional and conformist ideas of male-female relationships were falling into pieces, there was no theory or psychology or language to interpret the relationship, there was nothing mundane, nothing tangible, everything was ether, flesh, raw emotion, wild motion. I was exactly what he wanted. Unknown and hidden. He was the only space I could experience. Known and wide. I wanted to dive into his depth, to decode his silence, to domesticate his cruelty. As I waited, only the sounds of the wall clock were spreading in the room along with the sounds of my heartbeat. I was waiting. I knew I would need butter.
They ate the butter.
We spread the butter.
Suddenly, I heard grumpy screams, painful shouting in Portuguese language coming from the third-floor neighbor called Amelia. No one has taken any action for months. I once wanted to call the Association for Protection of women victims of violence, but, being a foreigner, I didn’t want to deal with the police. No one ever talked about those screams. Whenever this violence took place, all windows and shutters were getting closed, secretly retreating into the quiet and treacherous rhythm of daily or nocturne lethargy.
Human humility. Human cowardice.
Her husband did not speak. Never. He wasn’t speaking to anyone. No one had seen him. He was angry. I believe he was from Brazil. He hit her hard against the wall as she screamed bloodily. Carnivore? Husband? Lover? Animal?
The neighbor to my apartment Carmen is from Mexico. She had married a French vacationer on sex tourism in Mexico. She told me that she worked as a masseur, did a blow-job to him, he came back and he called her to come to Paris. She stayed for good. And so. So, Carmen told me that once the Portuguese wanted to jump from the third floor. Only then did the neighbors get involved.
Amelia never went outside in normal time. She rarely went out on the street, much less on the stairs. But I was watching her right from my apartment. Regularly. Constantly. I was thrilled by her passivity. Her surrender and submission to violent sex. I always watched her. From my apartment on the fourth floor. I could see the reflection of his gray hair and the juicy fullness of her flesh, the soft shades of red and white, then the orange, then the pink… Almost never completely naked, he was above her, greedy and hungry smashing her bones, biting her everywhere, I watched her bruises, behind the green velvet, which I shamelessly and defiantly opened in front of me as I watched, as he took it and in the back, and in every possible way, her hands bound, her eyes veiled, sometimes seating on a chair, sometimes by the window, he sometimes poured on her pussy hot wax, he once ruthlessly tore her clothes with a knife, threating her that he would cut her to death, while he slapped her face with ruthless slurs. There was something painful about it all, and at the same time something perfectly vivid, like a Chinese sour-bitter dish, something that had my intestines and heart boiling, something that, at the same time, was freezing my breath, my throat, my teeth. I was watching. And even though I was hiding, I wanted to be seen. I felt my sex was getting wet. I took off my panties. I was watching them. Eyes wide open. The pulse accelerated. Hot Body. I began to touch my sex gently, then stronger, then cruelly. My scream was pouring into her scream. Then our screams became a pure uniformity. Everyone was silent about it.
We were in the womb of Paris.
In the jaws of the carnivorous city. In the seventeenth arrondissement. Deep in the inner courtyard of Legendre Street No. 17 by metro Guy Moquet. Or was it Blanche. All the sunshine was boiling around us. Tin roofs. Cats. Entertainment songs in the home for the old people retirement homes. Hot condensed air. Amelia was outside of herself for she didn’t know when that perverse game would end. He sprayed her face with ample sperm. She was shaking, bowing to the floor, dragging herself like a cat to a piece of clothing that wiped away that tiny blob of blood coming out of her anus. My eyes opened slowly from the strong orgasm, my mouth returned gently to the modest and closed line of my teeth, closed, the cramp that flowed through the sciatic nerve slowly subsided and pulled into some unknown meanders of my body, the pelvis closed, the wooden floor calmed. The cruel crunching was no longer ringing in my ears as I was listening to the harmonious upheaval of consonance and dissonance, silence and despair.
I was seeing the light, smelling the scent of salmon and crème fraîche, the glass of chardonnay poured on the floor beside the green velvet curtain. I just tore my summer silk purple dress. Suddenly it all became meaningless. And my writing. An illusion. Again alone, forgotten by the world which I wanted to forget. I wanted to forget. I didn’t care that I didn’t talk to anyone. This solitude was healthy, hard, humble. I didn’t care that I stopped going to Saint Germain des Pres desperately seeking for him. Now this illicit autoeroticism filled my pores, my sensuality, giving me a sufficient dose of perversion. I needed that sporadic freedom to write, to play with words. Alone before the whiteness of the paper. I was an accomplice in that crime. Photographer of that act of violence. My eyes were reaching for his strong muscles. At only 3 meters across my apartment I was experiencing that seldom orgasm.
In the kitchen, my pot with lamb stew was boiling. I ran. I turned off the fire. It smelled nice. It smelled like some distant remote times, in the countryside, in a tame meekness. And as the silence of the third floor grew, so did the neighborhood noise calm down. I could only hear the retirement home for elder people, the cats, the hustle behind the building, Madame Grimber of the fifth floor solemnly removing the curtains, the sixth floor Pakistanis cheerfully frying chicken with curry and the whole building was glowing. Only Amelia’s and her partner apartment glowed in the darkness, the curtain closed, even the air seemed to float, dense, as if it was stiff.
I put on the music from the movie In the Mood for Love. I had to write. To wipe. To lie. To create a mix of events, content, awareness. I took the boiled lamb to the side. I poured myself some wine. I removed the green curtain and noticed at the same time that the curtain from Amelia’s apartment was also slightly moved. There was no one. My body was relieved. The orgasm that drifted through my spine like a dragon released me. It washed all the dirty cells. It eased me. Freed me. Beside my bed: Georges Bataille, La petite mort. I hummed, ready to devote myself to my novel. We were in the womb of Paris. In the jaws of the carnivorous city. In the seventeenth arrondissement. Deep in the inner courtyard of Legendre Street No. 17 by metro Guy Moquet. Or was it Blanche.
I didn’t expect Christoph to call either. My first love. My first loss. My first infidelity to myself. Betraying yourself. Faithfulness and authenticity. That’s how I found myself. Here. Again. So I found myself alone. In silence. In full silence. In this carnivorous city. City of cabaret and whores.
I drank sip after sip to detect the ultrasound of the neighboring apartment. I was listening. The sounds were mixed. The words were mixed. The answers were mixed. The questions were mixed. The answers became questions. Questions became answers. The answered questions useless points. The unanswered questions useful truths. The sounds of words were the words of sounds.
In a moment, while I was overflowing with the space around me, someone rang at the door. I got frozen. I didn’t expect anyone. I knew it wasn’t him. I knew they weren’t neither. I knew there was nobody. I knew there couldn’t be anyone. I wanted it to be here and now. I opened. Fast, noisy, alert, hungry, boundless, without restraint, without thought. I didn’t even have time to wear my panties.
Blanc. Blanc de blanc. Coupe de blanc. Blanc coupe. Blanc-out.
My body. My body was floating. I was awakened by a rather clear fierce defeat consciousness. With my tummy tucked into my chest. My eyes slowly opened from the cramp. I felt a sticky fluid coming out of my anus. Sperm. Butter. Secretion. There were pieces of someone’s red summer dress beside my body. My purple dress was already rotting into a bordeaux-purple liquid. Glued to my skin. Wet. Red.
My arcade was bleeding shamefully.