Fragment #67 – 18 December 2014

Albert’s Cellar

By contrast, Albert’s Cellar, which has been in operation for over twenty years, has no music, no girls, no shady dealings, no gambling.  And yet for all of that it remains a dive bar, and is in fact considered a rather remarkable specimen.  Albert, who comes from a different Eastern European country every time he is asked, seems most often to have emigrated here from Romania, where, he says, he was fleeing oppression.  At any rate he is well connected with Romanians of all different stripes, but possesses particularly strong connections with thieves, smuggler, mathematicians, dissident writers, dreamers, and traffickers.

Here is a typical evening when Albert is working – his real work, and not the cellar itself, which operates smoothly, efficiently, and largely without any need for input.  Now:

Very late at night a van will pull up about a block from the cellar.  Usually a black van, though not always, and never, in my experience, bearing the same number plates twice.  The van stops, the engines dies, and then – nothing.  Time passes, and the streets become silent and still.  After an hour or so a tall dark man I have taken to call Bogdan steps out of the front passenger seat.  He walks around, slowly, inspecting the tires of the van but really, I know, analysing the surroundings.  Around and around he goes, prodding the tires and breathing mist into the cold night air.  Half an hour passes in this manner.  The night feels pregnant with possibility, and the van itself seems to swell in the darkness.

The van doors open.  Quickly, without hurry but happening very fast, eight or ten girls, young, recently augmented and with their dyed a lurid red or bottle blonde, step down from the van and out on to the street.  Bogdan is certain, sure, and in command, and soon the girls have vanished into a side door of one of the buildings, swallowed up into the evening.  To where?

Sydney, Madrid, Bogota, Tokyo, New York, Chicago, Washington, Boston, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur.  They will be sold on, and used, and many will be branded on their faces, buttocks, chest or arms, usually within the first few weeks.  The prettiest will not be branded on their faces, of course.  For tonight, however, they spend the remaining hours sequestered in Albert’s Cellar, sleeping, if they can, in narrow beds behind the barrels of beer and shelves of canned and packaged products.  And then tomorrow they will be moved on.

* * *

The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.

Fragment #82 – 10 January 2015

Since daybreak we have been staring listlessly at one another.  The metal floor and the walls of the train are hot to the touch, and the bucket of water we passed around an hour ago has been emptied.  That hasn’t prevented several of the children from tilting the bucket up to their mouths in case a drop was somehow missed.  We ate, oat cakes and something resembling dried meat.  I gave my cake to the child across from me, and my meat to the child’s sister.  I am not a saint, I thought that it might make the two children sleep if their bellies were full, or at least more full than they have been for the last few days.  I was wrong, they both still cry softly to themselves, and I wish I had eaten the cake and the meat.  But their mother looked at me with tender eyes, and we smiled.  In a place like this.

A place like this!  It is the refrain of the man next to me, he repeats the sentence incessantly, talking to none of us, or all of us.  It’s hard to tell, and I suspect it doesn’t matter.  A place like this, he says.  Could you believe it, and why us?

Why are we still alive, a man three people down and across from me asks.  They always kill the men.  Everyone knows that.  These days they do.  And it’s true, I nod as he speaks, but I don’t say anything.  I don’t want to think about how I can hold the strange feeling in my mind of being confused about why I have not yet been murdered, but I can.  It was surprising a day ago, but now it has become normal.  I wonder: Why am I still alive?  For what purpose and to what end?

The sun comes through slats at the top of the carriage.  It close to noon.  One of the crying children have fallen asleep.  She is sucking her thumb.  Her mother, whose name I do not know, presses her finger to the girl’s cheek, wets her finger from the child’s tears, and then puts her finger into her mouth.  I watch her – what use, shame? – and I do not judge.  I’m thirsty, too.

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The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.

Fragment #121 – 19 March 2015

Eight years ago, during a deliriously hot summer where I spent the majority of my time at shopping centres and in libraries, in order to take advantage of the air conditioning they had on offer, I decided for whatever reason to read the entirety of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time.  I wanted something, I told myself, to sink my teeth into, and at several thousand pages in length it seemed I would, at the very least, find myself suitably occupied for a sufficient amount of time.  I had just come off an extended session devoted to the works of Graham Greene, and consequently I had become taken ahold of by a vicious melancholy that I had been unable to shake.  I read the first two Dance books at a reasonable pace, finishing the first one Tuesday afternoon, and the second the following Wednesday morning.  But the third had me stumped.  The words swam and I couldn’t focus.  I found the characters and plot tiresome, and then, worse, I couldn’t remember what had happened to all of these people, or why they had such baffling motivations.  Who were these people?  What did they want?  A lady stopped me and asked if I was alright.  Of course, I told her, why?  But I don’t think she heard me because she stepped back, put her hand to her mouth, looked away from me, and then walked hurriedly away.  Who were these people?  I went to the McDonalds and asked the girl for a glass of water, and she screamed and pointed at me, and then a man came up to me and he shook his fist in my face.  I’m disintegrating, I said, help me, please.  I looked down and my shirt was dark with blood.

And, I don’t know.  Today I am much happier.  I read less, and I sing very often.  I consider myself a bit of a loner, yes, but nothing serious.  In the morning, when I wake up, I can hear birds outside my window, but try as I might I cannot see them.  I hope they are brown and blue.

* * *

The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.

Fragment #120 – 18 March 2015

She awoke from uneasy dreams with a dull ache in her shoulder blades.  I’ll be an angel soon, she said, stretching and kicking the man next to her.  He didn’t wake up, and he wasn’t ever going to be a permanent fixture in her life, so what did it matter?  Her shoulder blades hurt, and that mattered.  She had to admit, and she liked to admit, that she loved these transient men, the way they looked at her, the way they touched her, as though their smoky eyes could convince her they were worth keeping.  It’s not you, it’s me, she liked to say, and she meant it. Clara didn’t necessarily have an idea about who she was or who she wanted to be; rather, she defined herself by determining the parameters of what she was not, and from there she had begun to carve out her own distinct outline.  Sometimes she wanted to tell people her age – I’m twenty one! – so that they had the opportunity to become duly impressed with her wit and intelligence and vivacity. Her shoulders ached.  In the bathroom mirror she watched herself brush her teeth, and then she removed her top and pulled and pushed at the skin just at the top of her shoulder blades, immediately to the left and right of her neck.  She could feel something there, perhaps tense muscles, perhaps not.  She had had these pains for some time, and increasingly her dreams had been taken up with great grinding gear, of ceilings which gradually lowered to the ground, of interminable lectures given by faceless robots speaking to innumerable crowds, and laughing faces which never seemed capable of ceasing to laugh, even as tears coursed down their cheeks. It’s nothing.  I’m fine.  I want angel wings but what if it is cancer?  I can’t die yet.  People will miss me.  I’ll miss them.  But what if it is wings? She harbours, not very deep down, the hope that she is special in some unique way.  Wings would very much be one way, and cancer, she supposes, at twenty-one, would be another.

* * *

The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.

Fragment #118 – 18 March 2015

If anyone were to ask Michael White what he considered to be his strongest personality trait he would invariably answer that it was his capacity for patience.  People only rarely asked him this but he had the answer at the ready, and he liked to think on it at different and regular intervals.  What does it mean to be patient, he asked himself, and his answer was, always: to endure.  The patient man, he had come to realise, was the arrogant man, because he assumed that his stubbornness would win out against the world, and that it would only be a matter of time before his particular stamp on the world became evident and true.

I am an arrogant man, Michael said to himself, sleepy under the stars in his hammock.  Very soon he fell asleep, that kind of sleep where your mind hasn’t quite caught up with the fact that it is dreaming, and confuses the dream with reality.  He dreamed – or lived through? – a month of traveling through thick vegetation, stepping over snakes and ducking under enormous vines and hanging branches.  Soon there was a door, embedded into a tall oak.  He opened the door and stepped out on to a small boat bobbing on a lake of oil.  The lake was on fire and the heat was immense, and on the coast were huge white cities filled with concrete beds upon which murdered children and teenagers writhed in agony while tears of molten metal coursed down their cheeks.  The torments of the residents was endless, but for visitors only temporary, and so Michael rowed the boat away from the coast line, using a bleached femur that he had found in a long, narrow box underneath his seat which was filled, aside from the bone, with milk teeth and gallstones, and as he rowed the contents of the box rattled while the river seethed and boiled.

Michael woke, he thought, with a kind of gaping snore, and all about him the lights from his neighbours apartments were off, and moths and bugs clustered about the naked bulb above his head.  He put himself to bed, and for a very long time he tongued at his teeth, just to make sure that they were firmly embedded into his jaw, and unlikely to come loose.

* * *

The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.

Fragment #86 – 14 January 2015

 

 

“Everything must be recorded and nothing ever spoken.  Memory occurs through created work and nothing else.  Associations must be created in order to avoid the fade of memory.  Eschew sloth.  Resist apathy.  Ten minutes is easy to give away, but a year wasted feels like a catastrophe – remember that each year is comprised of hundreds of ten minutes.  There can be nothing left to now but writing and books.  How disappointed I will be to look back at all of this and find nothing.  An empty bookshelf is sad.  An unread pile is worse if it will never be read.  What dreams do other people have?  If they can’t achieve them, then why do I think that mine have any special value?”

I must add an addendum to the above supplementary material in order to ensure that the clearest and least equivocal message is stated: the above paragraphs is the work not of a madman, not of a suicide, not of a fool.  It is the diary entry of one Joseph K—-, who was selected to participate in a harmless survey which intended to provide nothing more than a chronicle of ordinary thoughts.

Why, then, is Joseph K—- so concerned with death, memory, regrets, and books?  Is this ordinary, or is he a particularly melancholy soul?

Unfortunately we will never know, as the experiment restricts access to the subject beyond their daily paragraph, their name, and a unique identify.  And besides, nothing he ever writes is of particular interest, although the accumulation suggests, potentially, profound thinking.

I wish him well.

Dr. Andreas Calles, Barcelona, Spain

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The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.

Fragment #114 – 12 March 2015

I’ve brought just a light suitcase.  I don’t need much.  At home, whenever someone visits for the first time, they always comment on my lack of possessions.  I won’t list what I don’t have, but I will say what I do own: a pot, a bowl, a spoon, a copy of Montaigne’s Essays and Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, a pillow, a toothbrush, a towel.  Wherever I go I take these with me, I pack up my house and I wander.

Each May I visit my friend Irene, and her husband Javier, who is mostly absent and involved in some kind of finance.  I am there to visit Irene.  Jessica comes as well, and Pavel, and Smilla, and Karl. We have been doing this for well over a decade.

I arrive early – three days early.  Irene doesn’t mind.  Javier isn’t there.  Javier is short and solid, he wears excessive amounts of cologne and lots of gold.  I am perhaps trying to minimise him because I sleep with his wife for one month out of every year, and I admit that this makes me feel superior to him, even though I suspect he knows and am sure he doesn’t care.  Where does this need to be better than him come from?

Irene and I eat dinner that first night in near silence, companionable silence.  Salmon baked with red onion, olives, tomato, capers.  At home I eat beans and rice – at home I often forget to eat.

And then we talk.  The sun is finally setting over the rooftops in Madrid, and already the air feels both tense and light with the anticipation of tens of thousands of people descending upon cafes and restaurants.  I love Madrilleños, their enthusiasm, engagement, their loudness.  Irene says to me that things are changing and that the world we know is fading away.  But that can’t be right, or if it is, then her and I believe in different worlds.  I smile at her and pour another glass of wine, and ask her again to tell me about Vilnius.

* * *

The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.

Fragment #48 – 28 October 2014

I am a small business owner.  I don’t claim for much, just to achieve the satisfaction and expectations of my clients, the majority of whom I am honoured to call my friend.  If I am able to unlock my door at seven and work until six, and if I can have a little cutlet at lunch time and a quarter of a chicken for supper, and if I can go to sleep knowing that my debts are small and my obligations are not onerous, then truly I am a happy man.

I want for little, but I do think now that I need a companion of some kind.  I intensely dislike felines of any kind, but a puppy I could love.  I know that at my age both the dog and I would, at the same time, become old and infirm together.  I admit that I take pleasure in the idea of being old and unwell together, with me in a wheelchair perhaps, or suffering from gross obesity and diabetes, while the dog beside me has arthritic joints and a tendency to blindness, and requires that all of his food be of some expensive kind or another.  It is not unreasonable, I believe, to wish to be sick with another living being, and I think that there is a certain special kind of bond that can only exist between two creatures who share the slow decline together, knowing that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and that each day is likely to be the best remaining day in this life, as subsequent days, we can be sure, will be much worse.

But as I walk in the afternoon, alone except for the constant hellos from customers and friends, I think that I could live another day on my own, that the puppy I wish to die alongside has likely not yet been born, and that I have as yet no real desire to share my cutlet bone with anyone, as the meat from my local butcher, a certain Herr Grimmel, is too juicy to give up.

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The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.

Fragment #87 – 15 January 2015

You must remember all that happens.

You must be succinct.

You must write of abandoned cities and forgotten faiths.

You must be inclusive.

You must exclude all of those things that do not thematically align.

You must survive.

You must read.

You must continue on in the face of adversity.

You must approach the ordinary with spectacular enthusiasm.

You must be subdued in your walk and exhilarated in your mind.

You must attend to the Permanent fixtures of culture.

You must forget nations, languages, allegiances, alliances, truces, in the pursuit of truth.

You must acknowledge the binding forces and focus solely on them.  They are:

  • Violence
  • Sex
  • Apathy
  • Ambition
  • Regret
  • Money
  • Power
  • Family
  • Loss

You must be open to all things.

You must love life more than anything else.

You must be willing to subsume yourself.

You must recognise that the book is more important than you.

You must remember that nobody cares about anything other than the words you write.

You must remember that you will be judged on results.

You must continue on over all adversity, over all pomp, over all ceremony.

You must be honest, and determine what that honesty is.

You must never allow small weaknesses to become large failures.

You must eschew sloth.

You must always write by hand.

You must not forget your own past.

You must not succumb to nostalgia.

You must write.

* * *

The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.

Fragment #103 – 19 February 2015

The Unambiguous Diary of a Disconcerted Man

With apologies to Enrique Vila-Matas

A bird flew by and I did not follow it.  After returning from Berlin I had promised my wife and myself that my journeying would come to an end, and I would be, in her words, words that she had borrowed from some cheap television show, “more present”.  The first night I was home we opened a bottle of champagne and drank it underneath the spreading tree out the back of our home, and while she slapped mosquitos I told her without thinking that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that I felt anchored me to this life other than my books, and that I could feel myself floating away or, worse, ebbing, fading, into the background.  She burst into tears and I slept on the couch and thought about Calvino’s cities, how focused they were and how jumbled I was in comparison.  I know a man is not a city but I couldn’t sleep.  Anxiety everywhere.

Anxiety everywhere.  The next day I wrote an article for an online newspaper detailing the conditions under which writers had written their masterpieces.  After I submitted it the editor came back almost immediately requesting that I turn the article into a Top 5 or Top 10 style piece in order to make it punchier, and so I did, and then for a while I browsed the same website and read articles on PlayStations, lactating women, awkward engagement photos, an upcoming election, the politicisation of clothing, jilted husbands, romantic proposals, promising vacation locations, angry dogs and oceans of inspirational quotes.  No anxiety, but not much else either.

A letter from my wife has arrived.  I won’t quote it.  She wants to leave me but can’t quite muster the courage – the certainty? – to say so.  And thus she posts me these letters whenever I have committed a grievance, which is to say that I receive them, now, practically daily.

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The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.