Archive for the ‘BDSM’ Category

I'm not from there but it's where I was born

Friday, April 9th, 2021

The little apartment was set in the village of Giroc; a tiny, dusty, and thoroughly alien enclave possessing, at the end of a long poplar-lined road that connected it to the city, a single, pell-mell grocery store, and a rusted bus stop. The trees were uniformly coated with whitewash to two feet of their trunks. Their branches were uniformly pruned back with a severe hand, leaving little, it seemed, for the poor plants to work with. Heavy dust from the fields nearby joined with the constant autumnal chimney smoke to make the atmosphere thick and fragrant, and the sun in the afternoons was a ruddy blanket filtering redly over the rooftops.

On my first day I was taken to the house of the landlords, on the large property that sat behind the little cluster of efficiency apartments. The woman of the house ran it: kitchen, children, expenses, renters, conversation. Her husband receeded into the background like an overstuffed piece of furniture, while his parents, superlatively wrinkled, superlatively silver and white, tried with gummy smiles and incomprehensible interjections to goad me to speech. I could understand neither them nor the landlady, of course, nor my master, who spoke to them loudly, and apparently with great hilarity. They laughed often, and I tried to match my face to theirs --why, I do not know. Later I was scolded for not talking. I was told that people would think there was something wrong with me if I didn't "join in". I wondered how I was expected to join in a conversation in a language I didn't speak. It was not the first of what would grow to be many guilty confusions, but it was, perhaps, the first time I had felt it so personally, publically. I was quiet and ashamed.

Inside the apartment was a small folding bed, an antique wooden desk with great drawers capable of organizing much more than I had, a stand-alone closet, and two small chairs with a table. A window over the desk looked out onto a desolate strip of dirt and retaining wall, and the view reached over and into the street if one stood up while approaching it. Two identical doors at the far end of the room led to either a tiny bathroom or a tiny kitchen, each with tiny appliances. The shower consisted of a quarter-circle marked off in one corner with a faucet above it; the kitchen held a two-burner camping stove connected to a compressed gas can, and a miniature refrigerator.

After introducing me to the main house and walking with me to the small disorganized market --where he bought farmer's cheese, sour cream, bell peppers, and bread--, master spent a few moments with me in my new home, which primarily consisted of showing me how to make sandwiches out of the bought ingredients. I found them strange, randomly composed, but palatable. He left, taking a set of keys with him, and I wrapped myself into my oversized velvet trenchcoat, and willed myself to sleep.

I slept, over the next four days, in strange fits of time unbounded to the light outside, or lack thereof. Near-total silence entombed the place, such that the odd, distant echo of some other tenant's phone call, or the passing of a lonely car down the dead-end road in front of me was eventful. I popped up like a prairie-dog to see if such cars were maybe a taxi, bearing Him. I squinted against the foreign sounds of speech, as though by listening harder I would understand more. There was no internet connection; I had no outlet adapters for my laptop anyway. Disconnected from the world I had left, and with nothing to mindlessly entertain me in a familiar and thus comfortable way, I wandered airy halls of thought that eclipsed the small room I was in. I wondered what would happen, and how long it would take to occur; just-so, wonder without speculation, unspecific. I wondered why I was alone. I wondered what the people I'd left were doing, thinking.

Eventually, somewhere in the marginless soup of days I took out a paper bag-wrapped book my Dad had given me when I graduated high school. It was his journal from the first years of my life, written for and dedicated to me, and after a later childhood pockmarked by his near-total departures from my life, I coveted it. I pored over stories of his arguments with my mother, of his descent into drinking himself sick, of his many attempts to climb out of it. That I could read, in his own hand, his own thoughts, usually so inaccessible behind a wall of appearing well, and that so often, too, his thoughts had been about me --at least for the purposes of the book-- was the most indulgent, gratiating catharsis I could've imagined, then. I read through it several times.

It was almost a week before I saw my master again. He'd wanted to let me catch up on sleep, he said. It felt like a sort of abandonment-by-caring, a strange thing, but then I didn't have all that much time to dwell on it. As the visits came, my ventures out into the alien landscape really began, and intensified. I quickly discovered the scrawled, highly abbreviated schedule written, crossed out, and written over again endless times at the bus station was something I had to memorize. At seemingly random times of the day, my master would command me to meet him in the big town of which Giroc was a tiny satellite, and I'd have to tell him when I'd be taking the bus to get there. The first time he asked, and I didn't know, he had me walk the couple of miles to the station to look. In the time it took me to get there and back I missed the relevant bus trip. I was punished.

At first I took a picture of the schedule. But when he'd ask me when the bus going back was arriving in town as we were walking, my fumbling for the camera and sorting through pictures to find it proved unacceptable. So I wrote it all down on paper, though I transposed some numbers a time or two and finding the folded-up bit in my purse wasn't particularly better than spelunking for the camera. I committed the thing to memory. The departure and arrival times were wildly different from one day to the next for no apparent reason. I struggled, but after days of treating the schedule as the most important thing in my life, I got it down. A week or so later the man announced in town that he was going to come "back home with me", a rare and highly prized event. I told him when the bus would be there to pick us up; ten minutes late, the bus still hadn't come. Another five after that, he told me how disappointing it was that I couldn't handle such a simple thing. He took the pound of cookies we'd bought and turned on his heels, walking away without a goodbye, the typical foreboding cloud of deep trouble to come later on. I rebelled furiously but silently, hot tears immediately washing over my face. But like a miracle, the bus appeared rounding the corner, and I shouted for him, eventually daring to use his name as I waved my arms and pointed to the big yellow savior.

There were other actors in the bizarre stageplay my daily existence had become --at least, on those days when my master came, or called me out, and took me out of the tiny apartment in the hazy orange fields. He had hired a lawyer, for reasons I didn't at all understand, who likewise was responsible for so many tasks that our visits to his office were done multiple times each week. In later years we would become friendly, but during that hard initiation to life, he didn't look at me when we entered his office. He didn't speak to me --in fact, nobody in the office did. I sat off to the side and tried to pick Romanian words out edgewise from the ensuing storm of their conversations. Once in a while I managed to hear an "and", or the polite form of "you" (a blessing of five syllables, making it hard to miss). Or I tied myself in knots attempting to remember the lecture I'd just received on the walk over --these were always expected to be remembered verbatim, and just as often they seemed orders of magnitude beyond my ability to recall for both length and complexity. What I knew best was that I knew nearly nothing, but here were explanations of air insulation, microprocessor fabrication, comparative ethnography, the cellular level of kidney functioning, metaphysical notions of the self. I was spellbound but helpless. Climbing the crumbling, ricketty stairs to the lawyer's office, my eyes would frantically wander over the penciled graffiti and penknife-carved lettering covering the handrails and the walls of each floor's landing, as though somewhere in there I'd find a helpful note, a clue to unlock the mystery, or at least, to lock my memory to it.

Often the lawyer visits were accompanied by trips to the bank. The banks employed women only, from tellers to managers, and they were uniformly overdressed, overperfumed, and unsmiling. One male was allowed --a silver-haired security guard, who looked utterly incapable of confronting a conflict either with deed or word. Here too was a place where none of the staff either talked to or looked at me. Though I was glad of it, the bank being an interminable waiting room in which everything that was done required multiple stacks of paperwork and at least three different kinds of stamps --sometimes from my master himself, which was especially perplexing. At one point, after spending nearly an hour at the bank despite there having been no other customers, I remarked that he sure did seem to buy a lot of boats --for I couldn't imagine what other transaction could possibly require so much paperwork.

More inaccessible and mysterious still than any of these actors was the woman I knew my master was living with. After the tumultuous failed meeting six months before and half a world away, I still did not meet her, or hear much of anything about her. I was ravenously curious, but I kept myself from prying in the hopes that by being civil --a thing I equated mostly with being quiet--, I could encourage an eventual resolution, and maybe even friendship.

Slowly I began venturing outside on my own when the man wasn't taking me out, though I stayed squarely within the confines of Giroc.

I walked the dusty grid of homes that made up the village. A few seemed lived in lovingly; a couple or a few decades old, inaugural painted motif still visible above the garret window, grape vines covering little trellises outside with the early, fresh sort of maturity that only such vines can evoke. The rest of the houses were either so old their patched roofs sagged and caved faster than repairs could be made, piles of bricks, shingles, wooden shutters, and peeled paint gathering at the corners and doorframes, long-established garrisons of weeds daring the trespass of maintenance. Or they were new and awkward, betraying strange geometries that broke the eye and especially the spirit of the village. Their roofs were oddly slanted, their windows narrow and long or round and convex. Everything about them was purposefully mismatched, as though blindly chosen from some catalogue of parts --which is precisely how they were built.

Dotting this admixture of the ancient, the infantile, and the lonely in-betweens were the hobbiest erections, the houses-to-be. Great slabs of gray concrete festooned with rusting rebar jutting angrily in all directions, these buildings were always the most visibly occupied, for there were groups of men climbing them or huddling around the screaming concrete-mixers sitting in their yards. Now and then a bare bulb from such a property sliced through the gloom of my walk's dusk, sharpening the universally creased and consternated faces of the workers and casting inky shadows across the vague dreams of happiness being built there.

The penetrating scent of burning wood pervaded all. The garrish, new homes --like mine-- were fitted with gas heaters, but the rest were warmed by ceramic fireplaces. These churned through massive piles of freshly cut wood stacked on the sides of older houses, and the thick heady smoke threw all of Giroc into a more distant century, in a place further still from civilization.

It was on one such walk that I was first accosted by a local male. Frustrated, perhaps, or maybe merely acting out the social imperative dictated to him by the rest of the place. He was a short man, bald, but not apparently old enough to be so. His shiny, dark brown skin stretched tautly over his face in a permanent collection of smiles. He dressed up by Giroc's standards; his black shoes always glistened, his pants were pressed and bore a razor-sharp crease. I ran into him several times in the village's infinitessimal convenience store, a closet in a small corner house which opened up to the street, where you could buy a piece of candy or cigarettes, or use the much-loved instant coffee machine. Sometimes while on a walk and wishing to warm my hands, or growing bored at the bus stop waiting on a late trip to town, I would duck in for a completely objectionable, chemical cappucino --and often, the man was there, chatting up the unresponsive clerk, or standing just outside and smoking, waiting for someone to show up so he could launch interminable volleys of smalltalk at them.

For me, the smalltalk was useful. It taught me new words without being so advanced as to instantly kill communication. I was embarrassed of myself, of my poor grasp of the language. I blushed and laughed and was interested enough in his banal offerings that I hardly wonder at all whether I gave the wrong impression. One night, walking home from the bus stop, the man asked me over to his house. It was the largest, newest atrocity in the village, a shining, slanted modernist wreck that commanded the awe of the villagers. I declined. He insisted, for coffee, just like at the convenience closet; he had the same brand of cappucino at home, he told me, with a conspiratorial smile. I told him, as I had several times before, that I had a master, and that I couldn't go to other men's houses. He was quiet a moment, then shook his head emphatically and wrinkled his brow while he pantomimed sex with his hands --with one fist he made a hole, and with a clump of stubbly fingers pierced it with the other again and again. "No, no, no," he said as he gesticulated, and then his face brightened again. "Cafea." And his hands flattened and flew to the sides, dismissing their puppet play. When I declined again, he made a gruff little noise somewhere in his throat, and after a moment threw his arm out and grabbed my breast in his hand. He squeezed it frantically for just a second, then turned on his heel and wordlessly walked away towards his home. He never spoke to me again.

My first months in Giroc --almost entirely out of touch with the world I'd grown up in, with a new latitude, a new language, a new relationship, a new purpose-- found their focus not as much in acclimation as in backtracking. Twenty-two years of an American life had persuaded me into a certain slowness of thought and movement, a certain mindless adoption of mores and taboos that I wasn't especially well-equipped to investigate, much less defend. I was embarassed of myself, shy, and yet pretentious; the sort of life that depends on the implicit agreement of the surrounding society to not ask prying questions, and to never suggest unwholesome motivations.

Mortification was an essential ingredient, then, of my delayed coming-of-age. The first party I was taken to --the party's party, some thinly-veiled excuse to drink publically thrown on a docked boat by the local national liberals-- was an introduction to the kind of shedding that would be required to survive, over and over again. I dressed up; it was a thrift-store find I'd gotten somewhere in Ohio, black with red trim stitching, its halter strap and bias-draped skirt vainly hoping towards flamenco. My master came to pick me up. At the threshold of the apartment gate he cut a deep red rose from the vine and put it in my hair. I felt more beautiful and bashful than I could ever recall having felt. We walked, we caught a taxi, we arrived at a haphazard collection of stairs and terraces by the river that lead down to the softly lolling boat. Inside it looked much like any other bar there: a long rectangular room, some smattering of mismatched furniture pressed up against one length, with a tiny desk at one end where beer taps sat poised for duty and real alcohol presumably hid somewhere on an inner-shelf, well-obscured.

There were very few people yet there. My master sat himself on an overstuffed couch near the door, easily the best seat available. I sat next to him; he ordered variously; I asked for rum and cokes throughout the night, against the straight vodka and cognac that constantly replenished on the table. It was October, not quite cold enough for excuses, and yet everyone smoked inside. I happily joined the frenzy, keeping my hands occupied with glass or cigarette, or both.

People came and sat next to us, struck up what seemed like smalltalk. I practiced the few sentences I was learning. I apologized for not being able to understand much. After an hour or more I was sent on another trip to the bar to order drinks. When I returned the question was why I'd just gone to the bar --why wasn't I dancing? In truth, I'd done my best to avoid noticing the handful of people awkwardly foot-shuffling to the stultifying ecclectic mix of old pop duds wafting through the room. It was the least interesting thing going on, and I'd assumed my Master thought the same thing. Not so; he admonished me harshly for not having started dancing as soon as we'd arrived, and told me how disappointed he was that he'd finally had to say something at all. Humiliated, dripping with shame, I stood near our table and willed myself to dance.

It was the empty-hearted, self-aware sort of dancing that betrays deep disenjoyment, and I couldn't fake it better. After a few songs, the man grabbed me by the wrist, pulled me down to him, and pointed out a verbally obnoxious woman I'd thought he didn't like --he told me to watch her, and to dance like her. My humiliation deepened. But I watched, and wondered what it was that made her something to emulate. Nothing was particularly striking, except the sense that she was genuinely enjoying herself, something I knew I couldn't make myself do. I tried. I drank more, I tried to dance with the woman herself, who refused to look at me and eventually walked away. I asked for a break and was denied. I complained that this was the strangest, most awkward social situation I'd ever been in, and to please have mercy on me. I was sent back to dance. Eventually, thoroughly mentally exhausted and not too physically fresh either, I was called in, and made to sit in silence while my master fumed next to me, too disgusted, it seemed, to speak.

We left and he walked me to the taxi station a few miles away, towards Giroc. He wanted to know why I hadn't told him I was so terrible at dancing. He told me I was the worst he'd ever seen. I protested that I'd grown up in dance classes, and had never had a problem before --but that I didn't really listen to that sort of music, nor did I ever try to dance to it, nor did I much enjoy normal people --the sorts of people who went to political party parties in jeans and t-shirts, the sort that made smalltalk. What's more, I didn't understand them and they didn't understand me. Surely these gaps were the problem.

Not so. He insisted the problem was how completely incapable I was of dancing. I protested that I could bellydance; he ordered me to on the spot, in the street. I protested that I had no music --he didn't care, and I couldn't produce anything past my enduring shame and embarrassment. We arrived at the taxi stand and he sent me off with the sort of soul-crushing sendoff that had no embrace, no gentle look, no smile or sweetness or allusion to the future in it. I got home and realized he still had my keys, since I'd given them to him to pocket while I danced, and hadn't asked for them back. It was three o-clock on the morning. I had to wake up my landlady and her family to let me in.

The next morning, the horrors of the night were found far from faded. If anything, they'd put down roots and were now working on foliage and flowers. Over online conversation, my master demanded I make sense of the rift between my terrible performance and my notions of competence. I eventually arrived at the unpleasant realization that I must've been lying to myself, and thus to him, one way or another. The unavoidable truth was that when given the opportunities, I couldn't dance. It didn't matter that I thought I could do better, or ought to have been able to, or that I thought I did at some other time, before. What mattered was that when the time had come to show it, I had nothing to show, and the only possible explanation was something like deception.

The conversation abruptly ended and I knew the man was going to appear. I prostrated myself, naked, on the floor, pointed towards the door, waiting. I was terrified of my realization, confounded by what it might mean. How had I managed to lie when it was the last thing I wanted to do? Why did my intention to be pleasant company and to have fun end up buried in humiliation and failure? Was he going to forgive me? Was I forgivable?

I heard the keys thrust faultlessly into the lock in the plastic door, and then he was in. Tall and swift, like an electric wire in his winter coat, bringing the sweet blue crispness of the autumn cold into the room, he wordlessly whizzed past me and into the kitchen. He retrieved the old plastic soda bottle full of tuica, the local bootleg brandy, from on top of the mini refrigerator, and walked over to my desk and chair, unscrewing the cap. I smelled it. I thought, "He's going to cover me with that stuff and then light a match. He's going to set me on fire, he's going to kill me." Waiting, I don't know how long, kneeling with my wrists and forehead on the floor, my mantra had been "I can get through anything. Any form it takes is fine." And yet...would it be fine if I was drenched in brandy and set on fire? I thought about how I'd look with no hair or eyebrows if he did it and I survived.

"Ahh." He'd taken a drink. He re-capped the bottle. I wasn't going to die. "What the fuck am I going to do with you," he began, and a series of pointed questions and fumbling, unsatisfying replies followed. These exhausted, he stood and tied my ankles together, then my wrists, and knocked me onto my back. He retrieved the long white extension cord I'd been using to keep my computer facing away from the room's window, on the desk. He wound it a few times round, making a bundle of two or three loops. He beat me hard, and yet somehow summarily, on the legs, and on the back when I reeled over as though to escape the hits. He spent what seemed like a long time beating the soles of my feet, screaming at me to shut up when I screamed myself, in pain.

He untied me, and forced my fists into a pair of votive candle holders, binding them to my wrists with several layers of duct tape, rendering them closer to hooves than hands. He put down a dog dish on the floor and filled it with kibbles. He ordered me to eat. I half-chewed, half-gagged the acrid, metallic chunks of dog food, unable to use anything but my mouth to scoop them up. The bowl seemed endless. The more I ate the more I seemed incapable of producing the saliva needed to get it down. He sat at the desk, doing something on the computer, occasionally scolding me to eat faster, reminding me that he didn't have all the time in the world. Nearly done but with a few kibbles still left in the bowl, I began choking on a hair of mine that'd gotten into my mouth. I thrashed and spat and tried to expel it but couldn't, not without hands. I begged for help. My master stood before me, took out his cock, and told me he needed to pee, and ordered me to drink it. I took it into my mouth and tried to swallow the stream fast enough to keep my mouth from overflowing. The strong taste of the urine and the twinging of the still-present hair down my throat repeatedly made me gag, and I asked for a bowl so I could throw up. The man just looked at me. I begged for a bowl. Finally, unable to keep it down, I vomited on the floor, gagging and gasping.

"Eat it," he said, and I both believed him and couldn't believe him at the same time. I was disgusted, and yet somehow the sheer disgustingness of it all soothed over the edge, as though there were nothing capable of making me afraid, or doing me any harm, past this. It took me nearly an hour, but I lapped it up and ate it all, while he watched with a face full of what looked like crystalized disdain. I hadn't noticed, but he had put down a camera when he took his drink of tuica, and had recorded the ordeal in its entirety. When I was done eating my own vomit he replayed the video for me while he fucked me over the chair.

Cold Knocks

Monday, May 4th, 2020

I told him once that I'd always wanted to walk through a city like I owned it; no one on the street, no cars or noise or closed doors.
"I've done that," he said,
"It's easy when you're in a war zone."

The snow that day had no trace of warm tones in it. The sun was smuggling light and heat to and fro somewhere far above the clouds, which reflected the same uncaring blue and gray that were all the banks and blankets of snow had to offer. My legs were already hard and numbing under their thin nylon veil by the time I'd walked the three kilometers to the meeting place, an ugly intersection whose several bus and tram stops marked "The Hammer". I was fifteen minutes early, as was my habit. The time was usually spent preparing my mind for the meeting; sweep off complaints, tidy a few topics, put something interesting to rise in the oven. But there was no oven that day, and the rest of the work was thought through quickly, so I walked a while through the frozen paths that wound around The Hammer's blue-gray concrete apartment blocks.

The meeting time came and went without event. I paced the building's fronts now, eager for a sighting of him. "Any moment now," I told my legs, which insisted on taking more steps, no matter how small, so long as something in them kept moving. "We'll be off in just a moment," I told the rows of pigeons huddling together above the doorways. An hour passed, an absurdity made undeniable in ten minute increments by forlorn references to my phone (which neither rang). Though each minute taxed me, it delighted me all the same with the promise that it couldn't be much longer.

Another hour turned my hope to endurance. I ducked into the decrepit magazin on the corner and pushed myself slowly down each aisle, pretending to consider the junk on offer. It was all TO-CE-HD goods; to be torn open, contents enjoyed, husk discarded, like me. I didn't have what with to pay for any of it, not that I would've wanted it anyway --nor that I'd've been allowed to. I could feel the clerks staring down my suspicious perusal. I made elaborate scripts of finding some (nonexistent) text on my phone, rushing out to meet the sender, not finding them, and going back into the store. But this only worked, inasmuch as it did, a couple of times. Eventually the hostile atmosphere was worse than the biting cold outside.

I traced the snow-capped tramlines two blocks, always circling the focal intersection. My parabolas were punctuated in the landing alcoves of half-crumbled hruschebas, where I turned down several offers from old women sweeping the steps and wiping down the trash cans to let me into the buildings --for the view'd be too narrow, and I'd miss him, and it would only really be two or three degrees warmer in the stairwells anyway.

Finally, like the sun through the mountains, like a first kiss, I saw him, his familiar shell, the outline of a hat and coat, the brisk and even movement that's always identified him past any particulars of shape or size. Had the delay been my fault? It wasn't my fault, but some broken piece of equipment, which was now all settled, and being done, the first point of the agenda was to go to the lawyers'. Except my frozen legs and feet would not cooperate with his speed over the ice, unaccustomed as they were to the slick frost. I grew up on the beach, and to this day don't really know how to walk on snow and ice --especially at anything approaching a normal human pace. So I slipped. I slipped and slipped again, I slid around like an idiot only occasionally catching up with him to hear an admonition or three and then fall behind, panting and barely not wiping out on the sidewalk.

He had enough, and told me to lead him to the nearest cab station. Hadn't I mapped out and memorized the locations of all the (informal, unmarked, a quintessential Romanian strategic delight) cab stations? I hadn't. I had no idea. I had panic, and the complete abandonment of feet from reality --nothing useful. I had nothing useful to give.

He told me to walk to the north train station, another four kilometers or so across town. The rush of my remorse, huge and all-enveloping, was still not fast enough, and he was gone, turned on his heels, before I could say anything more than "okay" (not that anything more would've mattered, as I knew, as I know). I let myself fall into a slow and mournful gait in the right direction. The blue and gray world congealed with brown as I neared the city's center and the traffic sent mud mixing into everything. "He'll meet me there," I said to myself between bitter oaths against the local cabbies. Bitter oaths against myself. Wild but silent protestations against my intentions being so terribly, utterly divorced from what I actually did.

On the right street but still considerably off my target, my phone rang. "Where are you?" A clumsy report, insubstantial on the second pass and finally clear about my insufficiency on the third. "It's been half a fucking hour, how slow are you?!" I should have actually calculated it, but such obvious things weren't obvious to me then. What was obvious to me then was that I was sorry, which is what I said. "Walk to the cathedral downtown". "Which one?" No answer came back. I had heard a gentle music in the background over the call, and drifted into wondering if he was at home, that home that I had never been to, some set of walls that existed somewhere unknown in this city, a nirvana entirely closed off to me, secret and of course tantalizing. What color were its walls and were there plants? Which way would the windows face and how would the light fall in his room, did he have pajamas? I searched after useless, unknowable details, ignoring the very real ones in front of me. I lost my way.

The phone rang again, the adrenaline cutting through my daydream and dividing the warmth of fabricated reverie from my frigid path. I knew where I was; it wasn't right, and it wasn't far, but it wasn't enough. "Jesus Christ, so go to Badea Cartan, and hope you get there before nightfall." Was it almost nightfall? Almost. The crows were beginning their chorus of vespers; the traffic was peaking. Badea Cartan, the market, was far, and I wasn't at all sure I knew how to get there --not from where I was, anyway. Through the stiffness of cold I forced myself to map out how I'd get there from somewhere else, and how I'd get to that somewhere else from here, and how I could trim off excess streets, because by then, at least, I'd understood that if I didn't get to that market before the next phone call I was going to be walking the streets forever.

I tried to shut out the impending sense of doom and focus on walking faster as I moved through less familiar routes. The sky was turning pathetic shades of winter's sunset, and sent along a steady sheet of frozen sleet, soaking my hair and running down into the collar of my coat. The air thickened to stew, the world outside a meter's bubble incomprehensible. I had long since stopped being able to feel much of my legs, or my face, and my fingers hardly knew how to hit the right button when the phone rang a third time. "Well, so are you there?" "No!" was all I could muster, over and over again. The line was dead before I had them all out, before I offered up my fear of being well and truly lost, this time.

But I was only a block away; as I pressed on the market revealed itself through the slurred atmosphere. Really I had been across the street and some short paces away from that open-air sailboat of a building, whose peaks were now obscured in the storm. I wanted to call back but knew I couldn't. I wanted to claim victory, and I hung onto the tiny almost-fact of it as everything else in me slumped towards defeat. I sat down at the bus stop on the corner and took off my fingerless gloves, laying them on my face, trying to feel the softness of their wool against my cheek, and to hide the tears that I'd been fighting back for five hours.

It grew earnestly dark. The sleet crystalized, hardening everything that was wet, clawing deep into my bones, rattling my teeth. The odd car stopped at the intersection next to the bus stop, and people stared at me from inside their warm sedans. I stared back. I didn't want to be in their position, but I didn't want to be in mine --I wanted my living room heater, and a bath, and I wanted to be fast, and intelligent enough to never have to do this again. I wanted not to die at the bus stop by Badea Cartan. A drunk man in winter rags --which is not at all to demean them, they were far more adequate than mine-- approached me and told me I could be his, I was for him. I asked him to leave me alone and after a few circlings-back he did, disappeared to someplace better than my frozen stoop. I waited. And waited.

The phone rang. He asked me if I was going to get better. I said yes. I wasn't worried; I had no doubts. It was too cold. He told me to go home. "You don't have to go fast," he said. I raced back, completing the circle around the city, to my apartment, touching my gloves against the rusted railings of the traintrack overpasses, blessing the cold objects of the place with their promise of impending relief. "I'm going home." It was the sweetest mantra I could imagine, and after I desperately closed the front door behind me, I ran to my living room heater, and spent an hour pressing against it gratefully.

The next morning at six I was sent out to list, map, and memorize every cab station in the city....

Untimed

Sunday, October 27th, 2019

Splinter and spark, order and reason, source of all, end of everything:
All days are yours for your song.
For being numbered no day could compel me to remember, or forget.

Wednesday in Wien

Saturday, October 5th, 2019

Wednesday; our third day in Vienna, our second evening at the Sacher Cafe, the first time I've been given a bra as a sort of tribute, rather than a convenience. Whose it was before doesn't especially matter, and despite a nascent exhibitionary glee I'm sure she'd rather keep the reality of wednesday catalogued in detail only by those who dragged and nudged her through it. It's not an especially toothsome brassiere in the first place, especially against the backdrop of the cafe where said bra and I first met, so let's get back to the Sacher.

Home of the eponymous cake, the cafe is a tight little series of brocade-upholstered rooms resembling triple-tall train cars tacked onto the Sacher Hotel, immediately opposite Vienna's opera house. Dark wood, cut mirrors, and gilded accents trick the space into being more comfortable, and the brightness of the red-and-white walls lends something of an imperial christmas feeling, if such can be said to be a feeling, not to mention even a thing. The coffee's superb, spiked or not, and the chocolate and apricot sacher is unassailable. They're open 'til midnight and make a grand respite from wandering for nightowls, but earlier in the evening they're packed. Two, three dozen tourists stacked in queues outside the doors, waiting in the 10C rain packed. Gratefully we had a reservation, and were shuttled right along to euphoria-with-no-waitin'.

The bra-bearer came along and the usual tug-of-war commenced. They venture a smattering of personal details they're not particularly interested in yet nevertheless feel obligated to present, as they're the primary constructs of what they think comprises their "personality". You pick an item here or there to sound the depths; you may get in one node, or if you've found someone compelling, possibly two or three. Mostly it's more like one-half. Not quite a node deep. The tug is snagged on mystery, is stuck circling around what some bit of patent leather is, or how far away some previous destination mentioned is from here, or the sound of a command, or even, post palpably, the sudden sense that this constructed personality isn't holding up so well. It's a tangled mess that typically ends in a dilemma: come further down the hole or run, regretting.

Wednesday produced a pair of protestations about the hour before almost immediate disavowal and latching on to whatever was lurking down the dark hallways we call home. Vienna has nice little bondage clubs inasmuch as their focus is on keeping things clean and being pleasant company, rather than trying to over-organize everyone and spending more time talking about nothing than doing anything at all. It was the bra-owner's first time doing anything at all, and it was fun to watch someone used to the talking and afraid of the doing approach the jagged horror of the transition. All this, though, was background noise for better things: public nudity and jail escapes; spreader steel and cowbells; shots paid for in kisses and bespoke chaps on chaps. The pleasure of an evening spent among people who can self-regulate their behavior without being insufferably boring was the real prize. No list of rules, but no slurry of obnoxious interlopers and vapid drunks, either. It's simple, but so very rare.

The bra is simple, but not rare at all, and I don't really know what to do with it. After struggling with the mere idea of taking it off for most of the night, the girl eventually didn't want it back for the world, and it's not like we could've just paid the taxi fare with it --or could we have? But no, it's not even sheer, or especially large, or pretty, it's the most unremarkable thing in my luggage, bearing only this story, which in a moment will, with the click of a button that doesn't even really exist, quit its exclusivity to the garment and stretch out into its own.

Vienna is pleasant precisely because such things don't belong here. The space left by the absence of the arguably-functional banal is possibly even enough to live in.

Duplex

Friday, June 14th, 2019

The girl started tallying the footsteps on the stairs. They were too careful, she thought, as if the signal she desperately wanted to take them for was being denied her in the very course of the trodding. But then she realized she'd lost count. To something vague, she added one foot on the landing's small carpet, paying special attention then to the scratchy shuffle of bare feet on cold, clean tile. The soft swish of feet approached like proffered tissues from a box. She wanted to take them all, as she sat crumpled behind the door of the little room, straightening her back and looking pitifully at the handle. She wanted them almost as much as she wanted the sound of the door being flung open, and the sight of different feet, feet that never softly shuffled, and were almost never bare, on the tiles in front of her.

But the sound passed her by to set up some grand festival in the kitchen next door. It was afternoon. How late, she couldn't tell; she'd lost her sense of how the sun's shade told the time. The connection kept changing, and she wouldn't trust what wouldn't stay put once in a while. Not even herself. It was a later hour than when she'd been sent to sit there, in the little room, at least. Enough time had passed for the urge to pee to become unpleasant, and the stale air laying unpersuaded in the close corners and around the tiny window stifled her mouth and nose with the temptation of opening the door.

She heard five eggs crack and longed for something to do with her hands and eyes. She remembered bitterly the times she'd complained of separating white from yolk. If only she could do it now, and slowly, and well, a hundred eggs to be responsible for, organizing yesterday's difficulties one by one. Then the smell of lemons stabbed its way into the door's bottom gap, and the girl felt a pang of hunger. Whether she really was hungry or already missed the dinner she knew she wouldn't have, she didn't know. She heard a cabinet open followed by the tell-tale rustling of the bag of coffee beans. Whole ages of uncounted time before she'd told herself she would, she took the luxury of shifting her weight onto her other buttock, relishing the sudden relief and the pins that instantly sprang to life in her legs. Her body sighed against itself, despite itself. Surely, if there was to be coffee in the kitchen soon, surely she would be remembered....

* * *

Each descent of the stairs, she knew, would make the girl in the little room jolt with fresh anticipation, hanging on her steps all the way down, positioning herself just right for the hoped-for opening of the door. It felt cruel going down; almost as cruel as going back up, but there was no helping it. Each time she laughed somewhere in the house she wondered if she thereby sent daggers. Whenever silence fell long enough to remind her she was relaxed, she felt an urge to remind the floor below that it was not alone, even if it was sequestered. The girl stepped lightly on the boards where she knew they'd creak a little, but the least, and picked her way into the kitchen to start a cake.

She weighed out everything meticulously, keeping notes in case this one turned out right. Three hundred twenty five grams of eggs, she wrote down. She separated them, lingering a moment to fish out a tiny splinter of shell that'd fallen in the whites. Her spoon joined the growing pile of dirty dishes. A long time now, since she'd been responsible for dirty work, but she felt a strange thrill in the return of the monotony. She wondered if the girl envied her the washing of these dishes. She let the water --serene against the kitchen's heat-- lap over her palms, feeling deeply indulgent even as she regretted the noise it made. Certainly, by now, the girl would need to pee badly.

With one sixty six gram egg left on the scale, the girl made herself find how many grams off this one was from the average. For a split-second she shrugged off the task, but the silent, invisible presence of the girl's contrition next door instantly called her back. One; good. She zested a lemon and brought the grater and fruit closer to the door, knowing the lazy hot day in the little room would cool and contract with a whiff of citrus. She looked at the door and the door did not look back.

She put the coffee to simmer and wished that she could set a bigger table, but she knew it'd be a while yet before the girl's liberation.

Blistering Choice

Friday, May 10th, 2019

The very thought of the development of the specific psychopathies over time is enough to make me sick. Imagine the movement through a lifetime of a worm, acquiring in slow succession now antennae, now carbuncles, now splotches and hairs, complicated feet and feet for the feet themselves, ever multiplying in sickening mathematical complexity until there's nothing in particular that can be focused upon. All you can do as an observer is zoom in or zoom out, and every movement is edged in razors.

At first it was a sweet dream. There was something so simple, so round, about the correctness of things, about the possibility even of correctness. Only being able to imagine that there was some difference between paths, that there was meaning in action just as there was meaning in inaction, was revolutionary. It was the answer to all problems, and the light in all tunnels.

But there is no choice as to scope or context. For loving what is right you are not able to prefer it sometimes, or in some places. There is only where it leads you, of its own accord, by some laws you'll never know, by some laws that cannot be known. There is no guarantee that the entirety of life will be spent any other way than being compelled to love the correctness of the clutching of a sponge. And in truth, why should it really be any different? Whether something is large or small, simple or complex, whether it takes a great deal to comprehend or even see it or it appears as though a speck, a blip on the map of an existence, what does it matter to someone devoted to the thing itself?

And yet it can. And yet it can, terribly. It can matter to the extent that nothing else does, and the correct sponge holding becomes as a hateful fact, a thing utterly loathed and dreadful to think about, idol and paragon of everything wrong and unhappy. The silence and space around small things is too much to stomach, too much to mouth, even. It encroaches and grows and mocks, leaving the observer stultified and saddened, without material for anything at all. With no material, themselves, in or out. A shell, if you could call it that, for there's not all that much defining the borders after a while. Just a sort of gas that moves around, maybe, for unclear reasons, and to unclear ends.

You do not get to choose. The shape of what a dream looks like is a trap inasmuch as it contains any detail. The slightest detail at all is a lie, is a shackle waiting to ensnare the dreamer somewhere along the way, killing both their movement through the dream and their ability to wake up. Why should precision be quite so deadly? Supposedly specificity is a great boon, is a prime tool towards the development or manifestation of anything, anything at all. And yet, what can really be manifested in the presence of specificity? Only the hollow, aching death of the thing that was actually planned for.

Not knowing isn't better. Not caring is the only thing. But why would one dream if one didn't care? What's to dream about if you care about nothing? To dream of nothing itself, maybe, like a monk. Like a monk who sits, a dipole in the atmosphere, producing nothing.

It is in the network of rot of all of this that the insects appear, all fat, horribly articulated bellies and iridescent wings. What better place for such creatures to infest than a tangled nest of grief and contradiction. What experience, exactly, is one supposed to have from within an itching mess that can't be seen out of? The experience of prurience with blindness, the constant removal of one's own skin, the constant irritation to grow more calluses where the old ones were painfully scratched away.

Content Will Find a Way

Monday, August 15th, 2011

The other day, I was presented with a poem selected for its style (after Lewis Carroll), but evidently not its mechanical aptitude. So after being asked if I'd like to try "fixing" the poem's rhythm, I took a stab at it, sparking the following conversation between my master and myself:

him: Now publish it an' link to [the blog where said poem was posted].
me: Well...
me: May I talk to you about that first?
him: Sure
me: I do not wish to publish this on my blog. My blog is not a venue for rhythm correction.
him: Why not?
me: Because I want it to be for thoughts and themes and ideas, not for editing. I want my posts to be complete pieces, and I am not interested in writing a complete piece about this poem. I just wanted to point out that the rhythm had been ruined, and when you asked if I wanted to fix it I thought it might be fun.
him: Aite. Not like you have to, but I don't think your narrowness is really good for you.
me: Noted.
him: I mean, I thought you believed in open minds and all that.
me: Open minds. That doesn't mean I want my blog to be the kitchen sink.
him: There is no difference I can discern between you not wanting to publish an idea of yours that is in fact complete because it doesn't conform to some arbitrary and ill-conceived standards of puffery
him: And the attitude of some person that insists you must bow to allah this way.
me: The person who insists on bowing is applying his narrowness to someone else.
him: So are you.
me: To whom am I applying this narrowness other than myself?
him: Yourself.
me: I am other than myself?
him: Why not?
him: You should be as fair to yourself as you'd be to some other.
me: I am not trying to build something with some other.
him: If a company owned by the government owes taxes, it pays those taxes.
him: Just so, you.
me: Well this is a very interesting argument, but functionally I am different from other people because I can do/make things with myself differently than I can with other people.
him: Yes. But you shouldn't allow that to jip you.
me: So I should assume that any brick I see or possible brick-shaped thing I might happen to come across should go into my building, just because I came across it?
me: I should have no plan and no standards, in other words?
him: Open mind. You should consider it, yes.
me: So as not to be jipped?
me: Okay. I was pretty sure I had already considered it, but in the interest of exercise, let's see.
him: Consideration, for the record
him: Is fairly arguing the point of both sides.
me: I believe the side of "publish it" has been fairly argued.
me: Do you think otherwise?
him: I dunno.
him: Depends on the objections that are risen. But basically, it stands on the theory it should be published because it is something that you did.
me: Okay, let's see. It's there, it's writing, it could be entertaining, it could be good. It could serve even as a backstop for reflecting on my own skills or interest in the future, if nothing else. It could also attract some traffic, and help me be more involved with some other blogger people.
me: Fair?
him: I think mine controls the issue.
me: Should I post audio files of my farts?
him: If you had good ones.
him: Why not?
me: Yeah. We fundamentally differ in what we think a blog is for. I'll concede the definition to you of course, but that doesn't change how I want to use/present mine. I'll call the blog something else though if you think it's necessary, so as not to confuse things.
him: I'm just saying calling the blog anything else is an exercise in allahthiswayness.
me: In the same way you not wearing bluejeans is allahthiswayness.
him: Indeed.
me: Well, I have no problem with certain abstainments.
him: Hehe ok.
him: Now it has been fairly argued.
me: Cool.

While I still have no particular inclination to post the altered poem, it struck me that the conversation was something that easily falls into my idea of what I'd like to have published here. And the irony of finding something to show in the midst of arguing against showing a thing satisfies my conviction that life's cream often rises to the surface in unexpected places, in unexpected concentrations.

It's Just What's Done

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

Outside of most apartment buildings in Romania, somewhere by a little garden fenced in by bits of scrap metal and sticks that might one day know the glory of being bushes if only the tenders would stop paring them down to the last branch, exists a metal frame. Three lines, like a giant staple coming out of the ground, crude and unadorned save for the occasional peeling strips of paint. For a while, I wasn't sure what these frames were for; maybe it was a bring-your-own-swing facility or a slightly confused reincarnation of monkey bars. I eventually saw one of these objects in use as a woman beat a rhythmic din into a rug thrown over the top.

An odd amenity, but an understandable one for a country so obsessed with the spirit of household chores it advertises pastel-colored irons for Easter in its newspapers. Aside from feeling somehow transported to a 1950's style domestic wholesomeness, I've come to recognize that like the proper level of over-zealous cleaning, there are many local practices that seem to be carried out not because anybody particularly enjoys it, or because there's some rational argument to be had, but because that's just what's done.

Being barefoot, to be sure, is not what's done in Romania. I've seen multiple charity sites and philanthropic calls to action insisting that the people of Romania need shoes, but I haven't yet seen a barefoot person, nor any city street that isn't littered with shoe stores. Being barefoot inside, no matter the environs, is also not what's done. People have slippers set aside in their houses for visitors. Doctors direct you to a shoe selection should you need to undress. A visitor to my own home, horrified upon seeing me barefoot, inquired as to whether the floor was heated. It doesn't matter if you're taking a stroll around the living room or moving five feet from the bath to the towel rack. I've heard the general idea is that if you expose your precious footsies to the ground, the ability to bear children is somehow snatched away, but seeing as this same rule is apparently applied to sitting on the floor or exposing one's back to the air, I'm satisfied that it's more of a superstition than a genuine belief.

I recently had a one inch nickel pipe clamp installed around my neck as a collar. Heading out to shop one spring afternoon, I wore a tank top and knee-length skirt and made my first stop at a pharmacy. The clerk looked at me in shock, but not because of the clamp. "Is it really," she wanted to know, "so warm outside you can wear that?!" Thankfully I'd had the heart to blow-dry my hair that morning, otherwise I suspect the woman would have fainted over her concern for my lack of concern about the Romanian concern over allowing one's body temperature to fall below a moderate fever. Wandering around the town, I've been asked on a few occasions by perfect strangers, mid-step, whether I'm not too cold.

Granted, some Romanian habits are rather nice and actually sensible, such as the inclination to begin meals with soup. Granted also that in the US, habits performed simply because they're what's done are by now less easily generalized and largely confined to the more abstract worlds of thought and language. Still, when I see the metal staple-frames standing proudly by their buildings as if to proclaim the decency and correctness of the dwellings they so inadequately decorate, I frown a little at the power that "it's just what's done" can exert on a landscape, beating it rhythmically into a familiar, but not especially functional, shape.