… You see, I come from a dusty city in the plains of Wallachia, where winters were unbearably cold and summers could become dangerously hot. Between such extremes, it was not always easy for the inhabitants to keep their heads cool… Especially in summer, during those nights whose aroma of warm darkness, and melted asphalt, and acacia, and ancient dust suddenly stirred by some unsuspected breeze, was so addictive, that I know of someone who has made a very lucrative cottage industry out of bottling that scent and selling it to wealthy expatriates, by correspondence…
A Remarkable Skull
I became mesmerised by the way she was gliding her blunt, crooked forefinger across the aristocratic grandeur of the frontal bone, lingering for a long moment around the remarkable bulges of the frontal eminences, sliding gently along the majestic superciliary ridges, then making its way across the mighty parietal eminences, softly palpating the Lambdoid Suture, tickling the occipital crests, protuberances and tubercles, resting inside the mysterious sanctum of the Foramen Magnum, then proceeding, past the temporal ridges, depressions, fissures and fossae, and across the slender zygomatic arch, straight into the adventurous surfaces of the norma frontalis, penetrating the smooth, seven-boned cavities of the orbits, descending boldly along the concealed, turbinated mysteries of the nasal fossae, into the supremely synchronised symphony of the maxillaries, then inserting itself between incisors, canines, and bicuspids, and inviting me to co-palpate the palate… I remember how she then swiftly turned the skull upside down, to reveal the sphenoid bone which bound that magnificent construction, locking it in for eternity in its tight embrace. The enigmatic sphenoid itself, like an enormous, ossified bat, with regal, angelic wings.
‘The lesson had been nothing but one all-embracing, expertly applied caress.
My adolescent blood was beginning to stir.
I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘What if Reghina’s whistle penetrates through the thick walls of the Forensic Institute down the road?… What if the old hearts, floating gently in their formol-drenched slumber, start beating again, infecting the sound waves, threatening the darkness with their pulsating iridescence, insinuating their vitality into their sister-organs, causing chopped fingers to tap-dance, fat livers to shiver, lonely eyes to gaze deeply into each other, black lips to murmur some forgotten, dangerously poetic song?’
I knew I was on the verge of some forbidden revelation, my feet were cold with enchanted terror, I wanted to move, I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry… but, like a pre-programmed puppet, all I could do – all I did do – was to open my mouth and to allow the csardas torrent that had insidiously built up inside my lungs to burst out, through the fluid orchestration of my incredibly astute trachea, through the lyrical softness of my pharynx, clashing mightily against the firmness of my palate, and finally flowing free between my melodic molars, between the dry caresses of my astounded lips, into the glow of the resonating darkness.
Not in the least surprised by my sudden musicality, Reghina grabbed me by the waist, mirroring my song, and by then the combined power of our csardas had no trouble in guiding my clumsy feet, getting them to perform every step of the dance with aerial perfection.
I sometimes experience very accurate recollections from the time we were both floating in the womb of that remote person, the twenty year old Hungarian black-eyed beauty who buried herself in the hills of Moldavia to be loved by our father, the visionary. And who never inspired any Liszt, just some second rate, provincial composer who composed that dubious, ill-fated Moldavian Ballad Penny kept playing on her harmonica.
I can see myself in that remote womb, floating painlessly – the only painless time I could ever recollect. I can see my eyes, enormous and lidless, trained at staring in the dark… I can see them staring at my sister Penny, that other me, those other eyes, equally giant, equally lidless, but restless and fiery… And that liquid silence between us, and inside us… that liquid abyss! I was staring and glaring, questioning the waters, questioning her eyes. She, on the other hand, was busy growing, moving, breaking free from that watery prison. She closed her eyes, as soon as she grew eyelids, she pounded against the uterine walls as soon as she grew strength. She emerged into the world prematurely, leaving me behind, I who never wanted to leave. They had to extract me with forceps to the horror of the Hungarian beauty who was roaring and cursing, in unintelligible idioms. To Penny, our birth was the beginning. To me, it was the end.
I travelled along the Esplanade, past the Empire State Building and towards the Luna Park. I crossed the Kathmandu Valley, into the narrow streets of the Barri Gotic. Then I paused for a few seconds above the Botanical Gardens, listening to a drunken kookaburra laughing in the night. Through an open window, in Mala Strana, I saw a little boy laughing at the kookaburra’s laughter. I followed the placid bats in their flight above the Government House, and through a bedroom window, I saw the Governor of Victoria and his wife snoring serenely in their double bed. I then travelled further, crossing a few fields of black tulips, where Swiss cows were grazing in the discreet light of the blimp. I flew over an Atlantic or two, and I found myself in Werribee Zoo. My blimp nearly got caught between the ivory dreams of the slumbering rhinoceroses, so I crossed the Andromedan constellation, and headed back to the South bank of the Yarra River. I then followed a Burmese prince as he was chasing white elephants along the pedestrian stretch of Bourke Street. I flew over Parliament House, and saw mighty, juicy visions of restructuring and effectiveness spilling out into Treasury Place. I crossed Spring Street and the heights of Machhapuchhare, and watched the possums rummaging the bins for white collar suppers and blue collar dreams.
We flew like this, my blimp and I, closely yet remotely, fast yet slowly . So as to see, and to remember, yet to never get involved.
Letters to Monalisa – a novel
You keep asking me about it. No, you don’t keep asking me – but you keep expecting an answer.
I thought I could sink away, and hide, deep down, where the river stops. Deep down, in the blackest of the sea, where the sun never disturbs the salty waters. Where the sun remains powerless and therefore cannot inflict its fermentation, its exasperation, its recycled defecation, the slush and the slime called life.
I slipped, and slipped, between the silent, benevolent tongues of the jelly fish. Into the twilight zone of the octopuses, and the orchestrated whispers of the sea sponges. I slipped further down, into the black dream webs of the sea spiders. Further down, searching hungrily for the dark abyss, for my last chance to exhale on a bed of deep-sea anemones. I yearned for sleep – the sleep of calcium, and magnesium, and sodium, and carbon, and potassium, and cadmium, and zinc – sinking deeply into the wet darkness, safe at last from the kiss of light.
But it didn’t work, Monalisa.
It didn’t, it wouldn’t, it never will.
It is the most treacherous of seas, this black sea of ours. It defies the logic of death. It forbids you to rest.
I feel your questions, which are not questions, just expectations, Monalisa. And beyond them, I feel her questions, which are not real questions, just would-be words on would-be letters dropped in a would-be mail-box, on a Sunday evening. A plankton of almost-questions, out of control, proliferating on the vast surface of the sea. And no abyss underneath, just that horror, that unspeakable horror I saw, that defiance of logic and death, that anomaly of creation, that curse.
I’m floating, Monalisa. Hopelessly, just beneath the plankton. I’m slime and I’m slush and I cannot begin to forget.