Showing posts with label short story. Show all posts
Showing posts with label short story. Show all posts

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Pere Lachaise

As we were walking around the dusty walks of Pere Lachaise cemetery we drunk from a small bottle of brandy that I kept in my pocket. One sip in memory of Jim Morrisson another one of Oscar Wilde and one more in memory of all those executed communards. It was still pretty early in the morning, but I had a nasty flu, my nose was running, and the pain in my chest was terrible, so I had an official excuse for getting half drunk for the rest of the day. It was beginning of June, high up in the sky sun was shining bright, promising another hot day to come, but here on the earth under the crowns of old trees it was shady and still cool. The most visited cemetery in the world, so the Parisians proudly say. Resting place of V.I.P.'s. Dead history of arts and culture of western civilization of past couple of centuries.

We proceeded through narrow, sleepy avenues of gray marble crosses and marble busts, marble angels and inscriptions mostly in French, which I didn't understand at all. Though I could understand the names and dates of course, they doesn't make any sense if you're not familiar with the stories they tell. Far from everyone buried here made their names big enough while being alive to be remembered by people who didn't know them before they moved to Pere Lachaise. They are the background, the ordinary folks, the masses, admirers of those who did. In fact the owners of cemetery long time ago moved a couple of celebrities like Moliere here to make it more attractive for people to choose this site as their last and final home, and that's what many did. Call it social mobility. No doubt some of the guys from the masses did in their lives financially and socially much better than some of these celebrities. Maybe they even despised them, when they all were alive. Wilde for example died as an absolute loser, but now his huge thombstone is red from lipstick, though he didn't even liked girls. That could be one of the most peculiar aspects about the afterlife.

I was literally coughing my way through the city of dead.

“You see. I'm mortal too,” I said to little miss B after a particularly violent outburst of cough.

“You still have plenty of time.” She smiled.

“Hopefully.”

“I would really prefer you to stay alive.” She told it half jokingly, half seriously and I looked at her for a moment but I didn't say anything. Little miss B. Her gray eyes were looking lovingly at me, her nose winced a couple of times as if she was about to start crying, as if she really thought about my death, but her smile was that of a very happy person.

We fell into long and funny conversation about all those dead people lying here. Why they were so cool and why some of them finished so badly? Does being cool necessarily leads to ugly death? Can death be anything else? Not ugly? What last longer memories or bones? Memories are gone together with folks who remember you. However in the peculiar case of Pere Lachaise, it may be that memories stay long enough. Otherwise it's definitely bones. Yeah, bones are quiet resistant to decay. And does love last longer than life? How could memories last longer than us? Am I drunk already?

“I bet you are.” She laughed and then fell silent for a moment and then told me the story about the woman who married T.S.Elliot. She was much younger than him. He died, but she is still alive, still lives in their flat in London, still keeps his room in order and speaks about her Tom as if he were alive.

“That's very romantic.”

“I like it too.” said miss B. She was wearing blue jeans and brown and green cardigan with hood. She had the hood on her head and it was a bit too big for her, so now when she was looking at me she had to tilt her head back. She had a very self satisfactory almost triumphant smile on her face. She looked funny in the hood, a little bit like a garden gnome. Though very feminine one.

“Do you think it is possible to learn to love somebody?” I asked her.

“Do you think that you need to?”

“I don't think so.”

“You don't need? Or you don't think that it's possible?”

“Neither. It's just another crappy theoretical question.”

I told her about Hugh Everett. He was a famous physicist who invented theory that reality splits all the time in many different versions or worlds or something. So in one of them you get sick and die early, but in another you live happily further. In one world you become a rock star in another you work at McDonald's all your life. In fact he believed in something called quantum immortality, which means that in some of the worlds you never die.

“Which means that there is a universe in which Jim Morrisson is still alive and writing new songs.”

“And another one where he is cleaning toilets in McDonald's.”

“Having family and children, peaceful life.”

“Or being desperate and lonely. Still getting high on every possible stuff he can get his hands on, though not being able to get his hands on nice girls without the fame, he spends his lonely nights wanking on internet porn. Poor old loony, who used to have dreams.”

“Many options, but is it so?”

“What?”

“This theory.”

“I don't know. It's just a theory, but it's sort of serious theory, it's not a sci-fi, it's a proper science. The interesting thing about Everett is that he wished his remains after the death to be thrown out with rubbish and his wife eventually did it.”

“She put the body in the rubbish bag?”

“She threw out ashes, as far as I know.”

We wandered into a place called columbarium. None of us ever was in a proper columbarium before and I always wanted to visit one. Not that I really dreamed about it, but the name itself is very sounding and there is something mysterious in it and if I was near one I couldn't let myself miss that chance. In our country we usually don't burn people after they die. I guess that's because we have much more space. The density of population in East Europe is not so high either for living or for dead. Now when we were there I didn't find it so exciting as imagined. If the graves are private houses, than columbarium is a block of flats. Huge walls with rows of marble plates bearing the names and dates of births and deaths of their inhabitants. We quickly ran through the list of celebrities buried here, looking for somebody that we knew and who would be worth visiting. We found the name of Isadora Duncan. Her flat number was six thousand something and we went to search for her.

To be honest I never knew much about Isadora Duncan. Well, I knew that she was famous dancer, that she is considered to be something like mother of contemporary dance. But my knowledge about this was very limited. I knew also that she was quiet eccentric person and there are some movies made about her rise and fall, but I haven't seen any of them. What I knew was that at some point in her life she married Russian poet Sergei Yesenin, who was a great guy, I know for sure, because he wrote beautiful poems and some of them I could even try to recite, though not sure that I would remember them well enough to do it smoothly. When they married Yesenin was 18 years her junior and they didn't speak each others language.

“Apparently sex between them was very hot. They had some sort of animalistic drive, something like that.” I said in a very thoughtful, reflective voice. Apparently because of the alcohol. “You know what I don't understand. How people can sleep with each other without speaking to each other.”

“There might be some sort of body language or maybe the language of scent or something. Or maybe he lost his mind just by seeing her legs.” miss B said enthusiastically.

“He wrote about her tired eyes.”

“Don't you ever wanted a woman just because of her looks?”

“Well, yeah. I understand that you can fuck somebody without talking that much. You can do it once or twice, or for a week or two, but after a while it's usually boring. It's often boring even if you can speak with each other.”

“You don't find me boring. Do you?”

“No, no, no,” I said feeling that there was something deadly serious and even fierce in her voice. “You are clever.”

“So what?”

“You know, one friend of mine told me once when I was messing around with a girl who wasn't particularly bright. How can you do it? I can't get it up with a person who is stupid. He is a gay, that's why he used the word “person”. I wouldn't say that I agree with him completely, but he had at least some point.”

“Do you want my body or mind?”

“Well, maybe it's better. I mean if you don't talk with your lover at all. Maybe that's the only way you actually can't get bored. You speak with her in Latvian and she answers you in Chinese. That way you can't get disappointed by what she is saying. You put your own meaning into the sound of her voice. There is no point to quarrel anymore, or if you do it you can do it just a little bit, just for fun, but nobody will try persuade other about something, about anything and none of such quarrels would have any lasting effect on the relationship.”

“You think so?”

“I know,” I was looking at her breast under the cardigan and suddenly thought about biting in them. There was summer in the air and I liked her a lot.

“So what happened with them?”

“They were both crazy and finished badly and pretty soon. They didn't last too long together and soon he was back in Russia, married a couple more times during next two years, drunk himself into complete madness, cut his wrists to write a farewell poem in his own blood and hanged himself next morning. Another few years and Isadora Duncan also died in a bizarre car accident, when her huge scarf got entangled in the wheels of a car in which she was driving.”

“That's weird.” She said.

“Yeah, quiet weird.”

“And beautiful.” She looked thoughtful as we approached the flat of Isadora Duncan. Next to the plate with her name laid some flowers and a small strange vessel with the business card next to it. On the business card was a name of a Russian woman printed in Cyrillic and her occupation – the teacher of choreography at university somewhere in Siberia. I can't remember her name or that of the city anymore. Just out of curiosity Miss B without any bad thoughts lifted the lid of the vessel and what we saw inside apparently were the remains of the Russian dancer. It took just few seconds and maybe it was just an illusion, but I think I saw the the ash soar from the vessel like a jinn or a ghost or whatever. She quickly put the lid back in place before the wind scatters the ash all all over the cemetery.

“Well...”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah...”

“Yeah.”

“That's something...”

“What do you think?”

“I think she loved her more than Yesenin did.”

“That's very feminine point of view.”

“I am a woman.” She said proudly.

We went further. It was time to go somewhere else anyway. We had enough of the cemetery. We went into to the open space, the main road of this city of dead eccentrics. The sun over our heads was shining bright and it started to feel hot. Apparently they didn't lie in the yesterday's weather news. I removed my coat. We didn't talk for while. I was plunged into thoughts about the dead Russian lady and her strange last will. There was a strange feeling of unwanted intimacy with her and we not just witnessed something very private, we actually actually touched her. However I didn't feel embarrassed because of that, I was just thinking about her, tried to imagine the old, respectable lady, a teacher probably well known in her faraway place, making this last statement to somebody, who actually accepts it and does all the way from Siberia to Paris. A husband, a friend, a child or pupil? Who knows. Most likely she did't have a family, people with families tend to stay together in afterlife. Another form of post-humuous social mobility or something else and probably much more?

I coughed. I touched the bottle in my pocket.

“Hey, stop! We forgot to drink in memory of Isadora Duncan,” I said to little Miss B.

“I feel that I've had enough already for this time of the day.”

“It's nearly empty anyway. Let's finish it.”

“OK let's drink. You always have to be intoxicated. Either by wine, or love, or poetry, but you have to be intoxicated. That's what Baudelaire said.”

“OK, Lets drink. Do you know how he died? Is he also buried here?

“Who cares.”

As we were walking down the streets I felt warm hand of Miss B in mine. I persuaded her that purchase of another small bottle of brandy is absolutely essential for our well being here in Paris, or otherwise we need to call ambulance for me straight away. It was something past noon and we felt a little bit tired from walking that we started at 7 am. We found a park, fell on the grass and laid there for half an hour almost motionless. The sun was burning and I felt like a lizard accumulating the heat in my body after a long, long winter spent in deep sleep. I leaned to miss B and pressed my lips against hers. I secretly slipped my hand under her cardigan and held her breast. I watched her blush. I thought that maybe I really drink to much and maybe I'm not the most serious man on the planet but at least we were still alive.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Working Class Heroes

She is sitting on her throne. Proud, arrogant queen, overseeing people bringing her stuff into the new place.

"It's a good day, isn't it." there is a weak reflection of smile on her face when she talks to one of the removal guys, who is sweating and looks angry. The sun is rising rapidly over the old walls of city of York as the job goes on and it's really a very good day in terms of weather, despite that it's winter.

"Not too bad," answers the guy bringing the box inside, and there is something similar to smile on his face also. Honestly he never really understood or enjoyed all this English weather talk. All he wants is to go home sooner, but there is still a lot of work to do. If something, he would be more interested in her Portuguese maid, but in the given circumstances he is not. He is just playing his role of the working animal, a mule, and she is playing her role of a maid and the woman on the throne is playing her role of the queen. Nobody seems to be very comfortable in their roles today and somehow they all seem to be too aware of the temporary character of their relationship, and too concerned each with their own problems to really enjoy playing any of the games they are supposed to.

“Careful, careful!” Her voice is trembling in the air like a crystal chandelier touched by the wind. She leans forward, her tired gaze becomes somewhat hawkish.

“It's alright!”

“OK.” She sighs. “It's OK.” She settles back in her throne. It's tiresome to deal with the commons and sometimes with people at all.

It's not a castle she is moving in, just a tiny flat in the recently build block of apartments. Boxes and boxes with candles, with scents and porcelain dolls. Not too much of them and not the most expensive ones. But what do they know and what do they care those guys from somewhere, from nowhere. What does anybody cares about me those days, she thinks to herself.

Removal guy is watching the delicate curves of the back pockets of blue jeans covering Portuguese girls buttocks and he imagines the flesh under them, then he looks at his own dirty hands and then he goes out to pick up another box. A daily routine. What the fuck I'm doing on this planet, he thinks in such moments. He sees other his colleagues smoking and takes a cigarette out of his pocket, lits it up and exhales a thick cloud of smoke in the cool winter air.

Women remain inside. There is great sadness in queens eyes. All this stuff it doesn't matter if it's cheap or real, porcelain or plastic. It's history, of her great lost kingdom. Memories of great hopes and expectations, titanic struggle and sad downfall.

OK let's go and have a lunch she says to her maid and switches on the engine of her throne. Her throne can do 20 miles per hour on good asphalt. It's a substitute for her legs since she was born.

Before they are gone girl brings them cups of warm tea and biscuits. She asks if they can finish the job as soon as possible, because she's got a train back to London at six o'clock in the evening. They say, yes sure, or they can give her a lift. No thanks, she answers, she'll be alright.

Just when they are gone, colleagues are keen to tell the guy the background of this job. The woman on the wheelchair, she was evicted from her nice house in London by the police and bailiffs, because council refused to pay for it anymore. She is completely broke, disabled and apparently mad because she wants to live far over her possibilities. She is crazy.

“Crazy bitch,” says one of the colleagues childishly with a smile in his wrinkled face of middle aged man. The guy frowns, but chooses not to answer anything. Apparently poverty and hard labor doesn't make people better he thinks. How does it comes that people who doesn't have much, very often are so arrogant and rude to others who have even less. Of course it's more of a joke, and “bitch” is just the expression, but it clearly bears the attitude. They rarely say “bitch” about the customer when they are working for rich people. Or if they say, they say it in a different tone.

The flat the woman is moving in is so small that all the stuff she is taking with her barely fits inside. The piles of cardboard boxes in the rooms are growing so rapidly that at the end of the day there is just a small corridor connecting her bed with a kitchen sink and a cooker left for the woman to move in her wheelchair. Portuguese girl is looking at the clock from time to time. Another couple of hours and she'll be free. She has spent last two years taking care of this woman. What next?

“I'll have a couple of weeks off, and then they'll find another job for me.” She explains to removal men. “There is plenty of people around who need care.”

“Do you like your job?”

“Well. They pay not bad. But sometimes you have to have the nerves to do it.”

“Who's gonna help her with all this stuff?”

“They'll send somebody else. The local council, I mean. It's not our jurisdiction anymore.”

“Don't you feel attached to her after such a long time?”

“Well,” she says. “It really doesn't matter. Can you guys please finish, so everybody can be at home before the midnight. It's ridiculously far from here to London.”

The guy brings in big open box with pictures and photos and one printed old page from a magazine which is framed and under the glass. He quickly runs through the text on the page. It features the life story of the woman. She was about to become a successful actress, or that's what they wrote in the magazine some 15 years ago. The first person with such a severe inborn disability who will do it to fame as an actress. There is a couple of photo of her together with supposedly important people. She looks happy, enthusiastic and proud. There is a lot of talk about her hard work and that sort of thing.

He doesn't have much time to read the article and he is checking with one eye if the woman sees him reading it. It's not clear. She probably does. But she is not giving away any signals about it. There is just sadness and resignation on her face and her gaze is wandering around the room randomly stopping at the objects and people. She is lost and it's like she is not there really.

The guy is going outside to pick up the next piece of her stuff. His mobile phone is ringing and he says: “Yeah.. yeah.. yeah.. can we do it tomorrow? I'll be at home rather late tonight. Yeah.. the weather is fine.. yeah.. everything else is fine also.. no.. nothing is wrong... Just a bit nervous. I don't know why. It happens, you know... No I'm definitely not going out tonight.. OK, I have to finish my job.. it's depressing. The job I mean... Yeah like always. Well it's a bit more depressing today... Yeah I need money I know. Yeah that's why I'm working... Listen, I really need to finish my job, I can't talk anymore. I'll call you tomorrow. OK? See you.” He takes another cigarette from his pocket and sits down by the van. It's a 20th cigarette today he counts throwing out the empty packet.

“We need to stop by the shop on our way back. OK?” He says to his colleagues.

He buys a can of beer and another pack of cigarettes. He sits in the cabin of the van next to the driver and watches the empty English landscape passing by as they advance towards home. He drinks the beer and smokes and thinks about the disabled woman they left in her new flat surrounded just by a huge pile of cardboard boxes full of mostly useless stuff.

Some dreams come true and some not, he thinks.

Then he tries not to think about her anymore. He finishes his beer and tries to sleep instead.

Cuddled by the warmth of the cabin, soft vibrations and monotonous buzz of the engine he nearly falls asleep, but is waken up by a sudden rush of blood to his penis. It grow bigger and bigger and it's a little bit painful and completely meaningless and mechanical as there is nothing in his thoughts. Absolutely nothing.

Just that awkward empty unwanted feeling in his trousers.

Leading nowhere.

As the life itself.

And the buzz of the engine.

And the vast empty fields on both sides of the motorway.

And his empty gaze wandering around in this landscape, trying to find something to stick to.

There is still miles and miles of the road ahead.

He takes another cigarette to kill some more time.



(PS. All characters and places in this story are purely fictional. Any similarities between them and real individuals are purely coincidental.)