Eyes See What I See
Lips Who Am I?
Ear Find My Work
What’s Your Mood? What’s Your Mood?
CONNECT Talk to Me
Post Woman

 

 

The landlord demanded a security deposit of two-thousand dollars when she first moved in, but all Sam had argued with him about was reprogramming the doorbell to her apartment. ‘Can you make it sound like a banshee?’ she asked, and shaking his head vigorously he chalked it up to her culturally ambiguous charm. He wasn’t a semiologist, he was what people in some parts of the world called a glorified zamindar, except all Sam promised to cultivate in her year abroad was the ability to break ground with strangers. He tried to guess where Sam had come from but her name didn’t match how she talked and when he’d asked her for the first page of her passport Sam had just said it was at the embassy. He didn’t know her at all to conclude what banshees represented for her, though that didn’t stop him and he still tried. He didn’t know that strangers in other parts of the world don’t necessarily speak to each other, that worlds are only as interactive as the people in them. ‘That girl Sam,’ he’d simply chuckle to other tenants, ‘is different.’

Sam often talked like the breeze, without explanation, since she wasn’t inclined towards people she met in obligation. The semiotics of relationships was not as strenuous for her as the nomenclature of them. People liked to name everything, pin things down, but she revered the sanctity of acknowledging someone in a moment so fleeting they had no option but to show up as themselves—no matter who they wanted to be, or the divinities they invoked, or the billionaire bullfrog they were trying to emulate. Regardless of how hard they tried, they didn’t have the time for invention, and Sam didn’t have to worry about giving any and all parts of them a name. 

The apartment and its things had gotten older; the sofa’s upholstery had developed its own itch, around a heart-shaped impression where Sam usually sat on it to read. Sam collected books like she collected people, and her prognosis of protagonists was that they were as vivacious as the people she interacted with outside her apartment, away from the sofa.

Among her things the jewellery box, perhaps, had aged the most. Sam had a locket she’d put away in the box thinking it was the ugliest thing she’d ever seen. Noorie had gifted it for her twentieth birthday and she’d kept it all these years, like she’d kept Noorie. Before, when there was no locket, Noorie was there. After, when it had appeared in a red velvet box that snapped close like a crocodile’s mouth, Noorie was still there, but she had grown sketchy, and heavier, perhaps on account of the locket, which are not transmutable qualities except in shadow monsters on walls and such. Shadows have the inexplicable quality of darkness and foresight. They are thirsty for a light that can never come to them because if it did, the shadows would disappear. 

It didn’t make much sense, then, for Sam to host and willingly invite into her home the people who she was ‘closest’ to. It was a term they used—it seemed to calm them—so Sam borrowed it, not quite understanding what it meant. 

Who else but Noorie could arrive first? Her clocks were set fifteen minutes ahead of world time, and she arrived preening about her edge over the twenty-four-hour system. Sam had set all her clocks to world time, like at a hotel or a bank, except she picked cities at random, like Pamukkale, Turkey, or Limerick, Ireland, which she expected to visit in another lifetime. Every time Noorie came over since they’d both moved to the city, Sam would run into her room moments before answering the front door to put the locket on. Noorie would exclaim, ‘You’re wearing it,’ in a high pitch that made Sam want to yank it off and burst her eardrums with it. Sam would only nod, her eyes riveted on the bottle of wine she’d then uncork with her shoe.

‘Why don’t you buy an opener?’ Noorie asked, hanging up her fleece on a rack. Sam slid the bottle into a sock before perfectly nestling it into her shoe, thinking of her round heel and how she’d never have to measure it, since in all likelihood it was 3 inches in diameter.

‘I like the action of it,’ Sam said. ‘Then I’ve somehow earned it.’ 

‘Did you ever break the bottle?’ Noorie asked. She was careful to ask questions she wanted the answers to. It rehearsed the conversation between them.

Sam nodded and said, ‘Of course, it happens. Sometimes the bottle slips or I forget my fingers are wet. Or when I’m really pissed off and forget what I’m doing. But I don’t get that angry anymore.’ 

Noorie ruffled a bag of chips and a smell of salt filled the air. Sam felt distinctly like she was underwater and her pink fingers had pruned. She put down the shoe with the bottle still in it and helped herself to water till her stomach bloated and jumped over her belt buckle. Bigger now she returned to the wall and thumped the shoe’s sole against it. The photograph of her parents wavered portentously above her head, and Sam wondered why it had never fallen down and why she always picked the same wall. It was allegorical, sure, except Sam didn’t know what she was wishing for to break.

The cork popped free, gave an ecstatic gurgle, and they sat down.

‘Cheers,’ Noorie said, happily. Sam took a large sip, the red grapes mixing with her pink tongue and assimilating into her red blood. Noorie held her glass with the repose of a society woman, but her manicured nails could not hide behind her thick hands. Her fingers were swollen yet she insisted on wearing circulation-cutting gold rings on most of them, like little nooses that threatened to kill her bit by bit. They were in sharp contrast to her bony structure. Sam considered if they were ever in a car crash Noorie would be the first to snap. Noorie’s face was the kind that changed according to the time of day, but she was her brightest self at night as if she was stuck in a reverse ageing. In the mornings she had a stoop that was freckled with her protruding backbone. Somehow she was always unattractive and yet, always around.

Sam wrote love letters for a living. She’d thought of the idea when a friend had remarked how Sam managed to write birthday cards with the most ‘soul’, when in fact Sam only tried to give every word its due. She let the words do all the work since words have always known what they’d like to say. It wasn’t the person she was thinking of but the words she might use to describe them. The effort was mere survival. ‘Every year it’s more perfect,’ the friend had said, and Sam smiled politely because it was how she’d been told a lady was to accept compliments. ‘Everyone thinks of life in years but you think of it in seasons,’ her friend had said.

But it wasn’t then that Sam realized what to do with such skill, which, it turns out, was nothing more than an extension of brooding, of many headaches she’d had and liked. Once, Sam was waiting in line for an iced coffee on a day rolling in and out of sleep like a newborn, fidgeting uncomfortably with the sticky café counter because the man behind her was standing too close. She shifted her weight, filling with articulations about time and distance and how she wished he’d scoot just a light year away. The barista handed her the coffee and she whipped around with such force her hefty, raven hair knocked the unsecured lid off the plastic cup and she spilled her coffee all over the man. He stared at her chest, barely blinking, then ran his gaze up and down his trousers. Then he started to cry. Sam gasped, not because she was surprised but because she ate up everything she was about to say. She ushered him to the window and sat him down on a chair, and before she could ask what was bothering him he erupted like a suddenly headless cloud and said he couldn’t tell her what he was feeling since he mostly didn’t know what it was that poked at his skin with such fervor (and it was always poking), and so whatever little he said only sounded like words but didn’t carry much meaning. She handed him a tissue, but he missed the hopeful note she’d scribbled on it in the meanwhile, and when he finished wiping down his wet face it was covered in ink. That’s when the idea came to her; she saw his clear face and thought, what if she could bandage words without meaning by turning them into expressions, or words that carried emotion? 

It was a quaint idea too. Words that caused feelings were an extra special lot, and they seemed to appear more successfully in librettos and magnum opuses. But hardly anyone read them. These people weren’t interested in History, just history—their own, where they were, why they were the way they were. Thinking like them Sam found herself staring at laundry lists but instead of counting off the items she’d be sucked in by a sweater or pair of silk pants, anything really that reminded her of where she’d been once wearing those clothes, when she would wear them again, where else she could be that wasn’t here, and now.

Outside a downpour had begun and in searching for an umbrella Deyus said he’d lost twenty minutes, standing at the front door looking fragile, as if on the other side he was punished, resigned to the quietude of a Kafkaesque waiting, when in fact he’d rung the doorbell without pause till Sam had slipped off the couch to answer it. 

‘I couldn’t decided if I wanted to come,’ Deyus said, returning a kiss to her cheek. His eyes pushed out of his sockets, telling her he hadn’t slept all night, like he’d been waiting for something ever since they first met.

Sam led him to the living room where Noorie had developed wine-red lips. They greeted each other inaudibly and if by chance they had stumbled onto conversation Sam couldn’t hear it because she’d sauntered into the kitchen. Reaching for a bottle of water she paused in front of the refrigerator. A note was pinned to its door, which she’d forgotten, crinkled from days of safe-keeping in her pocket. Her handwriting was illegible like dust had flown around and had unambiguously settled on the paper from the whooshing open and close of the fridge door. It read: Where do we end and others begin? 

But it was not really written, not yet. Sam wondered when she’d finish this letter for a young woman in her early thirties who’d never kissed anyone before. The woman had made the oddest request. She asked Sam to write something from her, back to her. ‘From me?’ Sam asked, to clarify, but the woman shook her head. ‘From me, to me,’ she said. ‘I want to know what my voice sounds like outside my head.’ It wasn’t Sam’s job to dwell on her own feelings so she thought nothing more of it. She only paused to consider how language could be so beautiful, particularly maudlin when caught out and about on its own, in bite-sized slices leaving the rest to the imagination—like a little child dropping familiar hands to chase something down the grocery aisles, and then suddenly wondering where their mommy is. 

Small or large, language was important because it helped spell things out. This world couldn’t have been built without language. Take the fridge. If it were made entirely out of gestures, which unwittingly translate into language, how would William Cullen, in 1748, have described the act of preservation to himself? How could he have spoken, even to himself, without language, to understand the nature of cooling was such that it brought things to a calm, a place of survival, while heat harbored the properties of change, even explosions? In 1805, if he was still alive, how would he have spoken to Oliver Evans a whole continent away, and described the way things had been for him, what had worked and what had not, and Evans, who’d had his own ideas, how would he have responded to Cullen’s questions? Without words, how would he have said, ‘Let’s use the air. It’s much more economical.’ Sam pictured manufacturers and laborers in corporate towers pointing at the sky underneath the clouds identifying the whoosis of air, and she wondered if someone told them before they got their jobs that objects are first made out of language, later materials. 

Sam preferred the use of air herself. That’s how she made things up, out of the air, using only language, with no follow through. It was the single-most important thing responsible for making time happen and no wonder then that time and the weather were so closely related. 

A scribe. Sam was a scribe. She wrote things for a living but not for herself. At another dinner party someone once introduced her as an author. ‘I publish things on napkins,’ she’d said, correcting the lady with a straight face. Authors write for themselves, and most often they’re only readers pretending to be authors. Scribes write for those who cannot write for themselves—it’s a non-profit authorship. 

‘I’ll have a coffee,’ Deyus called loudly, interrupting Sam’s memory. She revisited another to recall how he liked it—two shots, beaten, sugar on the side. 

Deyus took a sip, his fingernails crystallized with specks of brown sugar. He used his finger to mix the sugar in, claiming the tartness of steel ruined his taste. But fingers had their own taste. They tasted like the people that belonged to them. Noorie helped herself to a handful of chips. He offered them both a sip, complimenting the beans as if Sam had grown them in the short while she’d disappeared, but Sam wrinkled her nose. 

‘I like my coffee cold,’ she said.

‘I know, you told me once,’ he said, with a small smile. His free hand lay flat on the table and looked lighter in comparison to the wood. It looked light in weight too, but Sam felt that if she tried to lift if off the table she would lose the strength in her fingers, so much so she may never be able to lift a pen again. 

‘Once is never enough,’ she said, sadly. ‘People lie when they first say things.’

‘Not you. You never lie,’ Deyus said. Then he laughed hysterically, and Noorie looked up from her magazine and laughed, and spit flew from his open mouth into hers and then onto Sam’s cheeks. She patted down her face to make sure it was still there. 

Sam reproached them without a word, her eyes tart and out of focus, but Deyus continued smiling like she was not there, let alone repugnant and disturbed. He had a small face and small features, like his eyes were a second chance for him to breathe. But he could manage sweeping looks and whenever he looked at her he could take her in at a single glance. Sam could not help but feel herself shrink, and when his gaze was averted she quickly gulped some water and her muscles thawed.

‘I don’t pretend to know the truth,’ she said. ‘So yes, I lie,’ she said, getting up.

Deyus bowed his chest forward and said, ‘Down here the rest of us are content with what we know. So we never stop talking.’

‘What do you know?’ she asked. What do you know? What do you know? What do you know? What do you know? Though spoken in the moment, the words had quickly become past. But Deyus knew many things. A lot about himself, a little about Noorie and enough about Sam. It was disturbing to be in the presence of someone who could draw you like a line—straight, forward, then on and on. 

‘I think about you all the time,’ he said, leaning forward to whisper in her ear with an odd inflection. I think about you all the time. I think about you all the time. I think about you all the time. I think about you all the time. Again, moments after he said it, Sam had trouble recalling how to scan the lyric for the right stressor. Her lack of remembrance dulled his speech and made him translucent so when she stared at him, her eyes fell through his body and onto the painting behind him. She liked him better, she realized, when he was also not there.

She rocked back and forth in her chair. Deyus put his hand on her knee the way one stops a leg from shaking but she continued to see-saw on her seat. He had small hands, and small other things, but his fingers were prickly, electric to the touch. She moved because she could not stop. If she stopped moving she’d feel his touch on her knee and then it would become too real. She’d never finish the woman’s letter because she’d no longer know what to say, from her back to her. 

Sam wished they’d both leave but all she could do in the meanwhile was think back to the man in the café and she poured herself another glass of wine. 

Noorie was still there, helping herself to another glass of wine and unlikely to leave for at least a few hours. She had re-emerged from her hiatus, as if between Deyus and herself they’d decided their lot in how much they’d overwhelm her. It was, perhaps, a kind gesture because Sam couldn’t take them both at once.

Sam noticed a pile of unfinished letters peeking out from under a cushion on the sofa. She’d forgotten about them too. She extended her arms as a sideshow, then stealthily retrieved the file to hide it under the coffee table—but Noorie had noticed in the way that animals are alerted to the wind. Sam wished she hadn’t, because if Noorie asked for a love letter, what would Sam say? Surely not anything she’d written in those files because those expressions were ageless—they transcended the moments they were written in, the people they were written for—but Noorie and her loud chewing, predictable but unwelcome visits, and creative misconceptions about Sam’s best qualities were all dated. If Noorie and Deyus could fail time, what chance did the others have?

‘What are those?’ Noorie asked, crouching awkwardly towards the floor to retrieve what Sam noticed, with a loose breath, was the cork. 

‘Newspaper clippings,’ Sam said, looking down at the carpet.

‘Of what?’ Deyus asked. He’d finished his coffee; it had ripened his breath and made him sound duller, dim.

‘Of missing children,’ Sam said.

Sam caught their eyebrows rise in suspicion. Was she lying was what they wondered. With Sam it was hard to tell. She never lied, but everything she said was made-up. 

Sam topped off their glasses. Deyus crossed his arms and sank further into the couch.

‘Isn’t it weird to collect missing children?’ Noorie said.

‘Clippings,’ Sam corrected her, observing her thin frame expand through the chalice of the wine glass. 

‘Comme çi, comme ça,’ Noorie said, flipping her hair over her shoulder. Her French seemed to match her red lips.

The missing children in the newspapers were like the missing inner children of the people Sam wrote for. While ‘inner child’ or the ‘child within’ was a term Carl Jung or Charles Whitfield had coined—with all the makings of the best intentionality—the over-use of the term had come to annoy Sam, though she bought in completely to the premise. It was the over-exposure to it she didn’t like—the constant talking about it, the buoy-like phrases hiding an ocean underneath. She preferred inner children with the vocabulary of adults—herself, the books she read. 

So, no, Sam was not lying.

She tucked her calves under her thighs and settled deeper into the couch. A few minutes later Deyus fell asleep with his head on the armrest. Meanwhile Noorie finished the rest of the bottle, breaking the stem of her glass as she piled the dishes into the sink with her thick fingers.

Sam returned from the bathroom to find two unmoving bodies sprawled on her sofa, replacing her imprints with their terracotta-colored, clay-flexible bodies. They threatened to snap if she moved them but otherwise appeared peaceful. Watching their eyelids roll back with sleep prowess they looked motionless like sleeping fish tousled occasionally by the current. Here they were and weren’t. It was confusing to both see them and not see them at the same time.

Sam let out a long breath, sour from holding it in. Laying the letters on her lap she thumbed down the pages, catching sentences at random through the fifty odd letters like a fisherman, with some skill and some luck.

I’ve never known loneliness. You taught it and you took it away.’ / ‘How it hurts to have one sense over-rule the rest—to see, but not to smell or touch.’ / ‘Not one body, lovers find themselves in each other, between the shadow and the soul.’ / ‘If the rain resembles tears in an instant, in an instant a drop on the cheek looks like one.

These were secrets. They could only be shared by the keeper and the receiver. Sam, the medium, profited energetically from the exchange. Yet, she wondered, how did she have so little to give of her own secrets to those willing to receive her? Sam considered another letter that she’d tried to write many times. It had many voices and they all sounded like hers. But because she never knew when it was finished—it seemed to go on and on like a passion—Sam decided it was best left blank.

There seemed to be not enough reason to actually write it, since when she got down to scribing the words somehow the end of them made an appearance before the first sentence. Like a crowds’ breath, teeming with variations known to occur in saliva. Some have it sweet, others neutral or sour. How could she kiss everyone in the world? It was the only way to verify it as a fact, else it was just blind faith. It may have served her better to draw lines instead—they could go on forever—and you didn’t have to worry about where one began or ended because they all looked the same, and could weigh down the whitest paper because ink does not stain, it percolates. Like masks, and watermelon juice spilled accidentally on concrete, a cigarette butt on skin—anything left unattended for too long.

Suddenly Sam found herself falling into neglect, somewhere between the shadow and the soul. Deyus and Noorie had slipped into a curve that perfectly matched their shapes and had also begun to snore, while outside a sunrise beckoned.

It had also beckoned to Eva, Sam’s neighbor, whom she found sitting out on the front porch overlooking the community park. When Sam offered to bring her a glass of wine from inside, Eva refused, blowing steam off the top of her Styrofoam cup. ‘This is all I drink,’ Eva said; it was just boiled cardamom in water. It reminded Sam of a frozen lake, bubbling underneath its snow-capped top. Eva had it every day because it was good for her skin. 

When Sam asked why Eva she was awake so early, or up so late, Eva said she had watched the sunrise from her window for a week and had the sudden urge to climb on top of the sun. Though she was higher up than Icarus, Eva said a front porch of earthly latitudes and longitudes—Sam corrected her that it didn’t work that way—offered a better launch pad. She didn’t want anything to break, only to touch a candle’s flame briefly enough to want to slap the hand away.

‘See how clean I am,’ Eva pointed out, rubbing her fingers over her taupe skin. She looked up at the sky and back at her body as if she had a timer in her ear announcing any minute that the sun was about to go off. She gave herself goose pimples but before she could tuck her arms away, Sam caught hold of her wrist. 

‘Let me see,’ Sam said, not caring much for the feel of her skin. She only wanted to compare how clean her own skin appeared against Eva’s. Eva, with her twenty-eight white teeth and pink gums, who had lost six teeth to extractions but pretended she’d been born that way. She had a lousy bite because of it, and when she used words with the letter ‘F’ they tended to whistle out of her mouth. 

Sam ran her tongue over her teeth. Despite the hotness of water she found the cardamom cooled her stomach, even unknotted it a little. Her own fingers were inter-laced loosely over her thigh, like schiffli fabric undecided on how far apart the threads should be. She stretched her fingers to enjoy the long-ness of them and when they parted the green-ness of trees popped into view. Sam placed her hand directly on a far, far away tree wondering why it was still pink and had not turned green. The sun sulked a little, slowed its arrival, and both the trees and her hands remained darker than usual. 

Sam and Eva sat quietly, in the sort of luxury that is foreign but quickly becomes old. People being with people—it should be easy, it was easy. Eva stretched her legs out in front of her, bending over her calves to touch her flexed feet, ready like she was about to jump. But the sun came up over barely a whisper, and the sky’s walls around them lightened and the grass itself looked like it had broken into a river of blue, like it had spilled water on itself.

Eva had missed her moment to jump but assured Sam she’d try again tomorrow. ‘I heard about that man,’ she said softly, thinking of others who’d missed something as well. Loss was as uniting as love, self-incurred or precipitated from the outside. Perhaps it was easier to receive others in lack than in excess, for the virtue of distance. Doesn’t a ‘relationship’ define the distance between two points in space? 

‘I meet so many people,’ Sam said, watching some spirited mynahs cackle like hyenas. Everywhere there was something wanting to be other than itself. 

Eva paused then said, ‘The one who asked you to write his, well, last letter.’

Sam closed her eyes. ‘I must be without remorse or regrets as I am without excuse; for from the instant of my upsurge into being, I carry the weight of the world by myself alone without help, engaged in a world for which I bear the whole responsibility without being able, whatever I do, to tear myself away from this responsibility for an instant.’

‘That’s how it began,’ Sam said, unclenching her eyes. She made fists with her hands and circled them in the air, then massaged her wrists. ‘That’s Sartre, you know.’ 

‘You didn’t write that?’ Eva said, still softer. A mynah screeched. You didn’t write that. You didn’t write that. You didn’t write that. You didn’t write that. 

‘What was that?’ 

‘You didn’t write that?’ Eva repeated, sitting up straighter. In memory it had the voice of a song. Never to be wholly forgotten, only sporadically remembered—not at will, not without a tune to carry it. 

‘I did write it,’ Sam said, feeling her hair reposition over her bare shoulders. There was a razor-sharp smoothness to them, like a knife. ‘I used my hands.’ 

Eva touched her shoulder, her hair shivered and Sam withdrew herself to the other side of the porch. Eva felt something cold and slippery around Sam’s neck. 

‘You’re wearing the locket she gave you,’ Eva said.

‘Am I?’ Sam said, feeling her neck blindly. ‘I must have forgotten to take it off.’

‘Your sister asks me about you,’ Eva said. ‘Noorie came by the other day, in the morning, but you were gone.’

‘She comes every day,’ Sam said. ‘But it’s always too late. I tend to fall asleep and she lets herself out.’ 

Eva stood up and shook her head like a wet dog. Dry leaves had blown into her hair and they evacuated her obediently. When the breeze had come and gone, Sam didn’t realize. She clutched the locket in her fist and yanked it off so the chain would break. Tomorrow she would have to have it repaired, before her sister showed up unannounced at ten o’clock. Sam would call Deyus too, just to try again.