excerpt from the autofiction
published by Rescue Press
in November 2018
“Those cruises are crazy, I was on one actually. There was an alarm and we all had to get into boats. It was crazy, man.”
Kristen and I are having a hostel roof special in Seville. Paella and alcoholic punch up here for seven euros. What the fuck. Sanjay has been talking. He’s been telling us about going on a cruise and about street food, in India. He’s Indian. It’s boring. It’s not boring but there is the anxiety of enduring something potentially ultimately uninteresting. We both scrutinize, on the roof, the sun setting, “Is this?”
“The cruise was nice, man. One of the nice ones, but the alarm went off and it was a big deal. We had to, like, get into these little boats, man. Everyone had to get off!”
We’re feeling shrewd. We’re two traveling women and a man has been talking to us for some time, on a roof, and yes Sevillano hippies are playing guitar up here and paella is served with alcoholic punch, sure. We’re women, we’re writers. We’re worried, man. We think about precision, all the time, about the problem of going on for too long, about how a woman has to be interesting, or mean something soon, or explain herself or demean herself or have or be sex to be read, or heard. How crucial you have to be, if you aren’t one. A man. We think about storytelling, about being women, and about if our time, by this story, by time, is taken. Ok, the alarm went off, Sanjay, ok, you went on this cruise and there was an alarm, alarming. Italics wake up a word. It’s boring. We’re thinking, Sanjay, you haven’t lived so much, though you are Indian and we are American women. Here we are, in Spain. I am covered in flea bites. Kristen’s got a bite on her neck, right on the jugular—it’s like a plum slaughtered in the heart’s basin that bellied up, dead, right there on the skin of her. You could skim it off, but you can’t. Somebody bit her, Sanjay. Do you see this? This kid, this young Indian man, younger than we are we really have to realize, hasn’t been around, or bitten. We’re women. We’ve been bitten. He thinks everything he does or has happened, because he’s a man, because he’s a person, is so interesting. Goddamnit, Sanjay. Everything you ever experienced is worthy of time? Of telling? This roof? This paella, man? Goddamn this. Worthy of this beautiful sunset?
“Everyone was freaking out, man. The alarm went off. We all had to get in these boats, it was craaazy.”
The sun is setting like it is birthing from its burning bright one (its cunt) a determined knife set, which kills it, and Sanjay, you’re, what, saying you felt alarmed at an alarm of some kind in the ocean, on a nice cruise you took with your family or friends, or something? You keep going on? We have things to say, too, Sanjay, things we wish we could actually get published. We have had to become so crucial, so cutting. To cut our own work! I, personally, have had to become impregnated with a grown man in the publishing industry and birth him through the cunt of my burning writing so that he cuts it up and kills it, on the birthing butcher table, on my writing desk in the American hospital, so that I could at least publish some pure blue laminates—clearer than all this—of night with no sunset.
It’s not right. It’s not right we have to listen to you.
“They kept getting all the people into these small boats, man. It was crazy.”
We’re half asleep on the roof at this point. We’re like the people listening to Marlow in the book, Heart of Darkness, when he tells his whole story, the whole boring book, when he mansplains colonizing Africa to a handful of sleeping people, other men, on a small boat in an eddy twenty miles from London. He goes on and on, Sanjay does, about the cruise and its alarm system.
And then there’s just silence, sitting around. It’s like we’re beholden to something but nothing happened. He never even finished the stupid story but here we are, like dupes, like women, sitting around in the story’s unend. In this eddy. Why don’t you end this thing and leave us the fuck alone.
I look despairingly, bitterly, at the dark air, to have been so disinterested, to have feared disinterest, for so much time, with my dear friend, in Spain, the blue air that went white, and then dark, the larkbuttered bread (the sun is dead) and I have to ask, to just end this thing with Sanjay, to take the social reins as I often do when I am with my Kristen (she is shy, my friend), “So what happened, I mean how long were you in the boats?” Just kill it, Sanjay, come on.
“You don’t understand. The ship went down, man.”
I didn’t go for a reason, for Aaron’s wedding. I write for none. Because. Anytime I write for that, it’s cynical.
Good writing, my worst cynicism.
My father touched my nipple. Maybe this was an unconscious act but I had to claw his hand away from it, there’s that. On the Philadelphia street he approached me for a hug, the first we would have in years as I had decided to let him (a bit) back into my life, because why not, because the past doesn’t exist, with a brunch, but in the antecedent to the brunch restaurant, on the street, he reached out and touched my hard nipple.
My nipple is always hard. Either one. They are young and brown and hard and, even, long. They are infamous among friends. They were an embarrassment to me when I was a teen, and now they are hidden with light foams assembled in treacherous space (in Bangladesh)—but at the time when he touched one, they were not hidden. I hadn’t accepted being an adult like that yet, buying bralettes like that yet like that on the internet.
My father reached out for one, and touched it, the hardness, like a tumor extruded ornamental and succulent. Something so suckable to some. So hard that Freud would call it masculine, like they are envious of something round in men, their hard heads. They were like hoof-hearted-rounds on the centers of my small breasts, the way small ones won’t hang things—where had I gotten them from? My mother and sister with their large breasts hanging. From him.
He reached out and touched one. I took his hand down. I had brunch with him, and his girlfriend.
I started having anxiety attacks, a week before my flight. I was afraid I’d have one on the plane. You can’t leave a plane. You can hardly leave your seat. I had been having anxiety attacks everywhere, all of the sudden. I was full of anxiety. That hand coming toward me. I had dreams that I woke myself from. I reached in like God’s hand and carried my body out, holding it under the sheets where I slept. I held myself there, woken. I have never been raped in my sleep. I wake myself every time, I carry myself, I do the work, out sometimes seconds before the insert. I won’t let it happen, if I can help it, if it hasn’t happened like that. I had an anxiety attack getting community acupuncture, just a week before my flight. They put the needles in for fifteen dollars, in a room with everyone, hello. My heart beat so rapidly that the needles responded to my enormous pulse. They were swaying on my skin like thin thermometers of the very sea. My sister gave me one of her Xanax. “If you’re afraid,” she said, “just take half.”
A sheep is like sheep.
I stayed until dark. I watched the sheep, like living mutton.
They milled in circles under olive trees for shade, at the siesta, the grass graying down, a green undoing on the sloping plane in the dusk like a black perfume—the smell of a fetid swan—being spritzed, in Spain.
Darkness, then blackness like oil. I was up a hill. The black air is more than a darkness. A white sheep was dipped in black oil from a harness.
I AXED THE PIG HEAD
I had the hand axe in my hand, a disinterest, and I blew the head in half with a cut, so forceless, a blowhard slice of an already deceased piece of the food-property of this Spanish family, the family who had started this artist residency. I was not the first artist in residence. A prototype, at discount. It had not even started yet.
It wasn’t memorable to see into her head, too expected. She was too already dead. I don’t even remember at all. I imagine the bat-hard hollow, but I remember only that it was a social triumph to do murder to the dead pig, to relish in her flesh the future of eating her with others, to cut it all in two. I axed down some kind of door through her head like The Shining, like axing out of my body, my film, into them (their country), into a kind of bathroom, shrine to the relaxed sphincter, and later that evening I was eating her ear, deafening no one and nothing, and people grinned. Like I had gone native.
I could not wear my jeans buttoned most of the time. I was always unbuttoning them. There was so much acid fluid. From all the pig. And blood. I wanted to go home, to (only) walk in the midnightery of the many flowers, lit now only by their only colors, red roses, white roses, pink roses, yellow roses, but it was so much later than midnight when I had the courage to excuse myself from this late Spanish dinner—it was light when I went, everyone protesting that I don’t somehow sleep there, in the corner—“Don’t go.” In southern Spain there is the frequent imperative to not go be alone. It was light but still gray in spritzes all over the air, and darker gray like lithe tombs were sleeping like cats in dark corners.
Bin Laden had been assassinated by a group of Americans working on this mission, to kill him. Not to put him on trial. Not to videotape or photograph or document the body.
American college students, who were the children and tweens of 9/11, and because Osama had been their bogeyman, bearded like that on television from time to time, sitting down and being evil and calm, and because they had grown up never without the internet, and they’re predominately white, they celebrated the reports of his ceasing to exist like a bunch of fraternities on game days but at a rally, and they were hateful and drunk and misguided—their hearts had been taken so far afield of complication—Isn’t it in college you learn about systems, forms, frames?
Idolatry of the king. Idolatry of the villain.
It turns the people into the thinnest air, man. It turns us, really, into nothing.
These kids were so embarrassing.
My country is so embarrassing, and brutal.
Osama Bin Laden is nothing. A name. And it’s unclear that we killed him, or that he existed as such, as the mastermind.
While I was in Spain, in a tiny town, he was reported to have died, the body unvideotaped and thrown into water, like a sailor. Like Santa Claus’s shit brother.
American colleges everywhere (in America) vomited in their quads and dorms and around their roadways the excrement, the American college children, of what they were doing. Becoming corporations. Lacking in education. Their customers roared, like skinheads roaring and shouting and drinking.
I spoke to my mom, the internet miraculously was working again, because the mayor herself of Aramingo had tweaked the wires, after a week, in the square. In her stiff lavender suit and stockings.
I loved to talk to my mom on the computer, her voice is such a sailor, sailing out to me, the body numb and exhausted and nonfunctioning from MS—she slept, she sometimes fell down. Sometimes I saw her when I was very young, fallen. She had forsaken many things in her life, and had to become this punk, to be punkrock about all the rest—it’s punkrock for some to go alone like that to the bathroom. To live alone. To leave your husband when you’ve lost the ability to walk, to roll out the door (so weak).
I liked to discuss things over the phone, to feel the sail and flex of my mother’s voice, the fucking strength. Laughter heterogenous from her nervous system, bubbles the system doesn’t blow.
I told her, “I’m glad I’m not in America right now. It’s embarrassing.”
“Well, what can you do? They were children. They were children when it happened. He was their bogeyman. It’s a release for them. You know, to them, the man who did 9/11 is dead, and that is a celebration.”
“Oh, Mom. If they or we want to celebrate that, we’d need Dick Cheney’s dead body.”
“Stop it! You go too far! That’s too far!”
I loved to hear her shout and roar.
The roof was spectacular. The paella was good, a chef had come and was personable and talented. Sanjay talked with us about Indian street food, it is so hot and fresh and good. It is casual, just from people. You stop on the road and have some by your car, maybe with the people who made it. It is unfindable anywhere else—“That’s all I want, man, to open my own place.”
Street food like that in a restaurant.
It sounds like something from television or The New York Times but it was real, something he wanted to do and has done. Kristen follows him on social media, and he’s done it, and he’s married, he’s opening a second place now, too.
He was very nice. He was so nice to us, coming forward to say hello like that, cajoling the chef to serve us more than our allotted punch, which happened no problem. There was a sweetness between them—they knew each other. Sanjay knew him, knew chefs and cooking, and sometimes there’s a fluidity between men—you could just ask for something, and if you are laid back and not a hysteric or bird-eyed about it, it’s easy to give someone such a thing, it’s just something anyone would. We shuddered and smiled, and loosened up, to languor in the ease of this system between them—“Hey man, we can have some more punch, is that cool?”
I wouldn’t have asked—I would have offered money or sex. There’s a way to ask—I am tipsy, I don’t know what I ask, what I ask for, what I could be for—I overask, I ask too much, I wince. There’s flint in it. Wincing flint, I’m fallow. I’m so fucking fallow. But Sanjay, man, he just asked for extra drinks, and that’s what this was. A second round, on the chef. Thanks, man. We languored.
We loved him.
We speak of him often.
The ship went down, man.
We laugh so much. That was such a good ending.