stories from the short story collection CAULDRON (Nefeli Publishing, Athens 2015)
NEXT TO its hard, hoarse surface, Demosthenes felt strong again. Merely clasping it, made him wild. By holding it like he would hold a walking stick, he forgot how time elapsed, was unafraid. After all, there was no way he could disregard all the things the two of them had shared over the years, the walls they had torn down, the panes and shop windows they had shattered, the heads and noses they had broken.
He couldn’t stand being without it, not even in the toilet. Together they shat, together they peed, together they slept, together they faltered. If it was thinner, they would fuck together too, not that he got to fuck often at his age. They watched movies. They gaped. They watched. They gaped. If the bat had a mouth, they would probably share a meal of microwave-reheated rice. Late at night, Demosthenes would turn his body to the pillow next to him and embrace it. Then, he would reach out and stroke it. As if by groping for its hollows and abrasions, he was trying to envision their future, become ecstatic with hope, albeit fake. Nothing. Then there were two bats on the bed.
There were times when the moon cast its soft light over the bat and made it look like an oblong piece of gold. Those were the moments when Demosthenes felt like a king. He held it like a scepter. He speechified to the hardcore cockroach on the wall. The bed stopped squeaking. The broken tile on the floor regained its proper place. His reflection was much slimmer in the mirror. He could see his crown multiplying amidst the shadows. He could imagine the empty fruit-bowl brimming with chicken well-done. His gutted mattress became filled with water. His stinking sheets were turned into silken. Everything in there was metamorphosed by that alcowhore. “Thank god for you!” he could tell his bat. “Wanna do it?” he could add, if the alcohol level inside him exceeded the usual limit.
And if you had an eye for detail you would realize that the bat had holes, compassionately gawking at Demosthenes, and that he too, if he lifted his pierced pajama and let you take a look, if he let you knock on his chest two or three times, you would see he was as wooden as his bat.
One time he decorated it with eyes, a nose, eyebrows, a mouth, teeth – the works. The bat looked like an oddly oblong head. It was a perilous act because that was precisely when he began talking to it – one finds it easier to talk to something with a face. “Remember when we slashed the tires of that BMW? Remember when we crushed the kneecaps of that asshole? When you went mad and smashed my face in, remember?” The bat wouldn’t answer. If it did, it would avail itself of wooden language, which Demosthenes thought was disgusting. Even more disgusting than the dishonoured repetition of the word “remember”.
Then Demosthenes took naphtha and smudged it, first the mouth, then the eyes, the nose last. “You can still breathe, simmer down!” he said to it, sparing a nostril. A nostril that now looks more like a permanent bug. They haven’t talked since. Demosthenes might have said “I love you” once more, he might even have kissed its lips a minute before he erased them. But some things are better left unsaid. Once uttered, they’re ruined. That’s it. If one word could characterize Demosthenes, this would be it. Ruined. And the bat? Ruined too. Ruined two.
The truth is Demosthenes sweated profusely because of the dreams he had. He even sprinkled some of his sweat on the bat, letting it in his subconscious. Boy, did he break everything in there or what! Brain walls, veins, vessels, doors, windows, shop windows, chairs, cars, vases, bankers, ministers. And in the morning he would wake up relieved. As if he had been fucking all night. He would see the bat sleeping peacefully on the pillow and he’d feel like making an opulent breakfast for it – fresh orange juice and all, served in bed. But the only think he could see was a skinny piece of wood, more crook than bat. It made him sick. He would bang it but it made no sound. Then he would bang his chest. Hollow.
How could that be! When he looked at his head in the mirror, he saw a huge wooden bump. He slapped himself. The bump was still there. He lowered his pants. A tiny bat protruded from his briefs. He blinked. The mini bat imitation was still there in his genitals. Then his fists grew larger. He filled the house with shards of plaster from the walls. He could no longer bear seeing it in there. He threw it out in the garbage. It found its way back to the pillow. He kicked it outside the window. The landlady brought it back. He drowned it in the sink. Nothing broke it. He banged the bat once more. No sound. He banged his chest. Hollow.
Still… they used to have such a good time, the two of them! How much pleasure they took in terrifying everyone with their youth! They exerted total control over their life and the lives of others. But they weren’t mean. They didn’t do mean things. And if sometimes they misbehaved due to a beer more than their usual quota, they wouldn’t shy away from saying sorry. They weren’t scumbags. Scumbags are a thing of today. “Today is a scumbag!” Demosthenes thinks aloud now, gulping down something akin to food.
The crucifixion of the God Man is on TV. It’s not Easter.
On the window some brats with hoods are terrorizing a dog.
The bat is staring at him.
The permanent bug is stirring.
The ceiling is spinning.
The ceiling is still spinning.
Each time he drinks, Demosthenes remembers Stathis. Then his heart pretends to beat. Not even the hand of a wrist watch has ever sounded so faintly. Then he remembers their dog, Attila. Now that was a name for a dog! Especially at the time. Yes, they were asking for it.
Sometimes Demosthenes thinks that Stathis left on account of the bat; its overuse. After he left, he would send Demosthenes postcards from his journeys. Then he stopped. And so Demosthenes began sending postcards to himself, signing “Stathis”, or his mother, or his sister, Merope. Sometimes he would sign “Attila”. One night he signed a postcard with large rounded letters – “Your bat, with love”. He never mailed it. He kept it in the drawer of his bedside table, amidst the expired lubricant, a photo of Stathis holding Attila and a Lidl brochure.
Tonight Demosthenes is grabbing his bat by the throat. It doesn’t protest. It can still breathe through one nostril. Demosthenes can’t breathe very well. He feels as if his stomach has risen to his lungs. There’s no space. He yearns to go out in the street, even if this is the last thing he’ll ever get to do. Yell. Go back to his street-smart bullying days. Break the marble tiles of the woman next door. Throw a bottle in the street. Run, feel the adrenaline ejaculating on his face.
The front door won’t open. For years now it won’t open. Someone has glued it shut. Someone has nailed it. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t remember. Only the closet doors are still his. He opens them again tonight.
The window of a shop. Some golden Chinese kittens sway their heads to the rhythm, completely synchronized. Tourist T-shirts are hanging from clothespins. A counter in the background.
He raises the bat. He’s ready to smash everything up. He opens his mouth; growls, gathers speed. Behind him he can hear people screaming; police sirens buzzing, helicopters overhead, cameras all around him like spinning tops. The Chinese kittens keep swaying their heads. They seem valuable. Perhaps if he sells them he can eat meat for a change. Perhaps if he gives them away he might get to talk to someone again.
The bat in his hand is reminiscent of a Molotov bomb, though never in his life has he made a Molotov bomb. He blinks. The bat in his hand is reminiscent of a flower. He eats it. Now there’s nothing left but his bare knuckles.
Go for it love! a familiar voice whispers to him. He goes for it.
Only, for the life of him, he can’t smash the shop window.
He can’t for the life of him batter up that fat, worn out middle-aged man who’s looking at him scared stiff.
Not even the bat in his right hand that appears left in the shop window.
Translated by Despina Pirketti, 2013
(first published in Greek in the anthology VIA DOLOROSA by Vakxikon.gr Publishing, Athens, December 2013)
Ever seen crumbling buildings? The rendering loose and dropping in pieces? Their insides clumsily revealing themselves, as if they’ve been devoured? You’re peeling too, haven’t you noticed? Take a look. Pull your skin, let it tear itself and drop onto your expensive tiles, your granite counter tops and your crystal miniatures. Check out your insides; broken. You’ve curdled, like expired milk. Yet, here’s your little girl! In a shiny toutou, with face-painting! Wearing a pointy hat and ribbons. Hooray! Here’s your little girl. Hooray! Here’s your little girl. Gathering the peeled pieces of your skin, mixing them in her tiny palms, turning them into childish flags, colouring them, squeezing them, tasting them as if pieces of chocolate. Besides, today’s her birthday, and in a short while she’ll receive all sorts of gifts from Jumbo store and wish cards from the kiosk.
And you will cover yourself with that cheap dress from H&M, you’ll wear a smile – it hurts pulling your lips, to the right and to the left, I know – you’ll welcome your guests, you’ll serve them, you’ll feed them, you’ll sing really loud till your veins burst, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, till your veins burst, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, and then, you’ll turn your corrosive head behind, to your bedroom, where it’s still dark. You’ll see me. You’ll ask me to leave. To take my notebook and just leave. I won’t. You’ll threaten me. You’ll try everything. You’ll even spray me with Aroxol. My coughing will disturb your guests. They’ll start looking for you, poised between the lava cake and the well done kebab, while the children with balloon heads will keep exploding onto each other. Your skin will continue to peel, this time on your bed sheets. I’ll be gathering your pieces. I’ll be sticking them on the wall thus creating a white-beige screen, turning my eye into a beam, showing you: flooded cities, burnt cars, people disappearing, him looking for you, him calling your name, you drifting away, him asking you WHAT WENT WRONG? using megaphones and portable speakers, WHAT DID WE DO WRONG?, you still peeling, seeing your skin divided in piles, piles reminding you of dead water lillies, of tear-flooded napkins, you really wanting to give him an answer, a woman this old must have an answer, it’s not possible not to have an answer, you drowning, you burning, you unable to say a single word!
You hear the door bell. Ring. Ring. You drag yourself to the door. Your guests feel ecstatic to see you again. They talk to you with their mouths full, you can’t understand a word. The children scream. Your windows look like cream. You want to send this rhyme to hell. Ring. Ring. Why on Earth does it take so long for you to move from your room to the door? Is it the fault of your peeling skin? Does it make you lighter in weight? Is the wind carrying you away? Somebody close the window! Somebody, close the window! Nobody can hear you. With their mouths pulled to the right and to the left they continue to dance. Close the fucking window! A boy hears you. The boy closes the window. What’s that boy called? What is he called? You seem to forget everyone’s names. Who are all these people in your house? Crushing your handmade carpet, wiping their fingers on your walls, oozing chocolate and fat. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. You continue to peel, now in slow motion, you fear that by the moment you actually reach the door handle you’ll vanish.
The handle resembles a neck. You turn it. You think you hear it scream. Now, right behind the door you see him, you see his big eyes. You just want to pluck them out! You don’t know why. You want to tear at the flowers he’s holding! To rip that teddy bear’s insides. But you look at your little girl’s face shine and you shine too. The whole world is now shining, the whole wide world.
Happy birthday to our little girl!, he whispers in your ear. He kisses you on the cheek. If only you could cover the distance that divides cheek from mouth.
Yet, by the time you reach his lips again, yours will have peeled.
(published in English in Cadences literary journal, Autumn 2014)
(collage by the artist Marina Yerali)