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Joe L. Murr

February 2, 2015

Gesprek Nonstop

 

The streetcar surprised Lucia by making an unexpected turn. Disoriented, she rose from her seat, cradling her briefcase. The routes must’ve changed while she’d been away. Much could happen in the space of a year.

The next stop was the Helsinki central railway station, not too far from where she’d intended to get off. Hydraulic doors wheezed open and disgorged her with dozens of passengers whose mouths erupted with terse sentences. It wasn’t long ago that she had last spoken Finnish, voiced all those hard consonants. Kuin karheita kiviä suussa – like rough rocks in her mouth. She’d learned the language with difficulty. Someone had taught her.

She could no longer remember his name. Qui était cet homme? A memory of bristle on her cheek triggered a cascade of urban sprawls, takeoffs and landings, international phone calls, hotel rooms like blank sets, meetings, foreign accents and names she’d had to practice pronouncing. There was a story that connected all these events but the thread was gone.

She lit a cigarette to help her piece together her thoughts. As she exhaled, she stared up at the buildings and realized they were no longer familiar to her. She’d zoned out again. Het is als een movieset, onwerkelijk, et je suis une caméra sans mémoire; I’m a camera without memory. It wasn’t the first time this had happened. All those takeoffs and landings – there’s only so much dislocation you can take, she’d thought more than once.

The man she was here to meet was the one who’d taught her Finnish. That much she could now recall. Hän oli se oikea tositarkoituksessa. The one for her. It had been five months since she’d seen him and a few days since they’d last spoken. They hadn’t fought over the phone that time, not like usual. They’d made progress.

Petteri. That was his name. Petteri Ahlberg, berg pronounced as barry.

She whispered his name and started walking. It was just a few blocks to the café where she was supposed to meet him. Why, she could no longer remember. I never want to see you again. She’d thought that, more than once.

A block away, on Aleksanterinkatu Street, she saw why the streetcar had deviated from its usual route. The entire length of the street was ripped open, the ground and pipes underneath exposed. Chain link fences lined the open pit. An excavator on fat tracks sank its scoop into the ground, gouging earth. Here were the layers under the city. The sight was fascinating and dreadful, like watching a surgeon split muscle to the bone.

Ma folie commence à nouveau – it’s starting again.

Her fingers hurt. She realized she was clutching the chain link fence, muscles rigid with some unnameable anxiety.

Let go, käännä pääsi ja unohda, just let go.

A red stripe crossed her fingers.

She was reminded of the time she’d cut her hand on a pane of broken glass in Brussels. Someone had thrown a rock into her apartment. Ikkuna rikki ja kaikki paskana. When she looked out, men with painted faces stared up at her, their eyes embedded in Union Jacks. Allouette, Chelsea allouette, allouette, Chelsea allouette! They howled at her and loped off bare-arsed. That man, Petteri, was there, and he bandaged her hand and cleaned up the broken glass. Later, they argued again. There was a story, she remembered, a story she had told herself and he was a character in it and so was she. But he wasn’t playing his part anymore and she herself had turned into someone else. The next day, he was gone.

He wasn’t here, either, in the blur of faces she was running through. Lights told her she was the walker in red. One night she’d worn a red dress that clung to her body and that Chris DeBurgh song had played and she’d cried because it was so awful – and had he been there, dansen cheek aan cheek met haar? No: she’d cried because he wasn’t there and all the songs were supposed to be the soundtrack to her story.

Plastic letters swung at her, spelling FORUM. The central bus station was close by, she knew, and that’s where she should be heading: away. Maybe she wouldn’t recognize that man even if she did see him. He might look the same but there was no knowing what he had turned into. Other countries turn us into the other. L’autre est une voyageur frequent.

The bus station wasn’t there. The square where it had once stood was torn open. Fences surrounded a sloping pit as large as a football stadium. Machines moved in the depths behind a haze of dust, bellowing incomprehensibly avec un rythme spasmodique en afschuwelijk luid. There was a mindless urgency to their work. The office buildings around the square seemed to her to be on the verge of collapse. Was this pit to be their mass grave? The image erupted in her mind – the pit filled to the brim with burning wreckage, steel girders aflame with fuel, glass shattering from the heat.

She had to go see. The story was here. This was ground zero. To rebuild, you have to destroy. She clambered over the fence and dropped down. Her right leg buckled and she tumbled onto her back. Dust billowed around her. Over the sound of machines she heard someone shouting. Perkele, minne sinä olet menossa, where the fuck are you going? The voice was familiar. Footsteps approached at speed. The familiar voice uttered something. Oletko kunnossa? No, no I’m not all right. She turned her head to the man. He watched her from the other side of the fence. Once she had thought him handsome.

She whispered his name. “Petteri.”

He seemed more annoyed than concerned, like an engineer pondering some vexing problem he couldn’t unlock.

Je ne suis pas folle.

No. Not mad.

She stood and a memory flickered. “We were married, weren’t we?”

“Yes. Have you brought the papers?”

She couldn’t understand what he was saying. What meaning could papers have now? Kaikki on merkityksetöntä. Meaningless. This was ground zero. Nothing mattered. Nu ben ik de andere, de vernietiger van werelden. She shook her head and headed downwards into the swirling dust, away from him, ignoring his words. There was no answer to be found, there was no possibility of communication, les mots sont inutiles. This was where she should wait for the cataclysm, näiden rujojen koneiden kanssa, ces machines hurlant. A nouvelle histoire would emerge from the ruins and maybe the language of machines, this gesprek, gesprek, gesprek would keep her safe from what was coming.

 

 

Joe L. Murr has lived on every continent except Antarctica. He currently resides in the Netherlands. A keen traveler, he keeps a suitcase packed at all times. His short fiction has been published in magazines such as Chizine, Noir Nation and Phantom Drift, and in anthologies such as Avant-Garde for the New Millennium (Raw Dog Screaming Press) and Helsinki Noir (Akashic Books).


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