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Christopher Brownsword

February 2, 2015

Throw Away the Lights

(excerpt)

 

A car pulled over for us on the edge of town along the rim of an empty field leading into a forest. Smiling our gratitude, we clambered into the back. The driver had an impressive grasp of English; but his companion in the passenger seat, he explained, needlessly apologetic, spoke only Romanian.

‘If you smell shit,’ the driver said, ‘don’t be alarmed. We’ve been shovelling manure all day. It’s on our clothes…our hands, beneath our fingernails, over the upholstery…this is our job, though…cow shit…we like it.’

With my sinuses blocked I could smell nothing at all. If anything I was delighted about the manure, since it’d help cover up the odour of sickness I knew my body must be giving off.

In the late afternoon we arrived at Sighisoara under a layer of violet haze drawn across the sky. The driver stopped outside a coffee house and insisted we all go in together, at the same time refusing the money Dillon and I offered for the ride. Already, as we sipped coffee and the driver ordered a packet of cigarettes from the waiter, my suspicions were aroused, so that when the bill came I assumed Dillon and I would be paying; but once more the driver waved away our cash with a smile. In the heat and the oppressive air, however, to mention nothing of the helplessness I felt as my energy was depleted by the fever beginning to manifest itself, these acts of generosity and kindness, far from placating me, served instead to further ignite my distrust and instil an atmosphere of paranoia in which even the most harmless gesture became a portent of doom.

As we got ready to leave, the driver announced that he and his pal would show us around town. I glanced at Dillon…could guess what he was thinking: they were about to take us on a guided tour lasting ten minutes, and then demand an exorbitant fee in return for services rendered.

‘You’ve done more than enough,’ Dillon expressed.

The driver insisted…settled the bill. There was no deterring him.

 

‘This is the Camera de Tortura,’ the driver said. We’d stopped at a rather bland, unassuming building under a clock tower. ‘The Torture Room, where prisoners in the Middle Ages were…well, they were tortured, as the name implies. There were many ways to torture a prisoner back then, as there are today. People would spend much time coming up with the slowest and most painful method of doing this…it was their job…yet when it came to making love, they knew only the Missionary position. So in contrast to their method of torture, they used the fastest and least pleasurable way to have sex…fastest and least pleasurable for the woman, I mean. What a tragedy for women that they have bodies of such tremendous sensual possibilities but men who only want to fuck hard and fast!

‘Maybe torture was the deepest expression of intimacy for them. Maybe that’s still how it is for us today. We find it less offensive to digest images of rape victims and murdered children and battle zones at six in the evening while we’re eating than we do pictures of breasts or vaginas or testicles. This is very perverse, don’t you think?

‘I shouldn’t say this…certainly not here…but the appeal of Christianity, I believe, lies not in God and his cherubim but in the many torments that hell offers. You don’t fill churches with speeches about love. Misery and damnation are by far the more enticing propositions. Dante’s Purgatory is more widely referenced than his Paradise. The human imagination is fed on the nectar of sin.

‘There are many beautiful forests and meadows you can enjoy for free around town, yet often a tourist will rather pay to look at instruments of death and destruction. These instruments are made by men, of course, though I’ve seen it’s mostly women who will visit this place.’

The driver turned to his companion and summarised what he’d just said to Dillon and I, before translating his buddy’s response. ‘He says his business is manure. He knows nothing about Dante or torture. He knows only manure. He says his uncle was shot trying to flee the country into Hungary during the Reign of Terror. He says his uncle’s body was dumped in a field and became manure. He says he wonders if humans were created not by God but instead by the plants and the grasses. He says they created us so that we could colonise the world and murder each other in fields and fertilise the soil. He says that’s all we are: shit!’

Not far from the Camera de Tortura was the house in which Vlad Tepes, or Dracula, was born. It’d been converted into a pizza joint. Today a dim flicker of recognition crosses my synapses at the name ‘Dracula.’ It applies a distorted frame to the dialogue I credit the driver and his friend with in order that their thoughts might conjoin in part with those I myself seek to express. The Camera de Tortura is involved in this modality, too; the snares we lay down to entrap each other, to maim and kill…the torments we devise…

‘Vlad the Impaler, as he’s more commonly known, sacrificed approximately 20,000 of his own people, men, women, and children alike, all of them impaled on stakes, to deter the Hungarians from staging an invasion,’ the driver explained as we passed Tepes’ old home. ‘He was successful; had he not been, lots more would surely have died in the invasion, and still more in the aftermath and subsequent occupation. But what consolation is that to the child who is held on the ground and a wooden stake driven into her anus or vagina?

‘This is something I think about whenever I walk by here. Was she glad to be sacrificed as the spike tore into her bowels? I doubt it. I think she would rather have lived under any conditions forced on her by the Hungarians, no matter how barbaric or degrading.

‘What we call ‘good’ may only be the appearance of a more subtle evil. This is a world in which an evil man performs an evil deed to save his people from an even greater evil fate. I wish some lesson or wisdom could be extracted…but there’s none…none at all.’

The tour concluded at the top of a hill in a church accessed by a long flight of covered stairs, and where the driver beckoned us to follow him into the crypt. ‘They’re going to make their move in this damp chamber flooded by shadows and death,’ I told myself. ‘They’ll put knives to our throats and steal our passports and money because they know we don’t speak Romanian, and they know the police speak hardly any English…all they do is use youall they want is to destroy you…by this time tomorrow they’ll be over the border…into Hungary…among the dead…they knew the moment they saw us!’

Fuck the world…you can’t trust anybody…all they do is use you…all they want is to destroy you…used up…destroyed…better for me to die in this crypt…die among the dead!

Fists and eyes clenched, I was ready to submit when all of a sudden the driver received a phone call. ‘We must go,’ he said, ‘we have work to do.’ They shook hands with us and left, but not before the driver wrote down his email address and told us to contact him if we needed anything while in town. Partially aroused by adrenaline, I was unsure whether this turn of events had relieved or disappointed me.

 

Christopher Brownsword was born in Sheffield, England, in the early 1980s. He is the author of two collections of poetry ‘Icarus was Right!’ (Shearsman Books 2010) and ‘Rise Like Leviathan and Rejoice!’ (Oneiros Books 2014), a novella ‘Blind-Worm Cycle’ (Oneiros Books 2013), and two novels ‘The Scorched Highway’ (Oneiros Books 2013) and ‘Throw Away the Lights’ (Oneiros Books 2014). His most recent book reviews have appeared in 3 A.M. Magazine, Word Riot, and Bone Orchard.


 

 

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