The Quake in My Boots

 

For the dead,

 

 

Once the last wire was added to the storm,

would my name feel closer to my mind’s reach?

 

I was standing where the buildings turned to rubble when she came, I was, because to me the ground was still shaking – and I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t dead like all the others. No beard, no hijab, the story was unique and the arrival of the human covered in the dust of death made me see that.

A human. A woman. She had Medusa’s hair.

That night I tossed and turned, couldn’t find a comfortable position to sleep in because of an odd heartache. Sang a couple of songs and then some more as if I were the only one living there. I don’t want to be here. This room has too much of me in it and my thirteen years of age give me shelter as I let it out, I don’t want to be here, I can stand only for the sake of those novels over there. I had posters on the wall I woke up looking at every morning. The three other walls were all covered with closets, all filled with problems. I spent many nights trying to make peace with myself, inside my wooden fortress. I had a little brother; we had the same cheeks. Upon one glance, everybody felt the need to express that he resembled me. I’m the reason why he was born. I held my mother’s hand one day and, asked her to give it a try: giving birth. What I really wanted was to be born of her this time. My father agreed, and my mother delivered my brother. A boy who slept in the room next to mine ever since. The heartache, all corners of the bed. Only a full hour after midnight I managed to fall asleep, where I fell for one thousand and one nights, down to the bottom of the night, but I never died.

Rumbling. Trembling. The word is stuck to my palate, I have to get it out. I have to tell, because dying is different this time. It’s a different kind of rupture. I have to sit behind my palate, tell my story from its perspective, because maybe this will be the last time I survive.

Rumbling, an aching buzz inside my head. The first thing I thought of was the city, and its hectic buzz. I held my blanket tight, everything around was going to disappear soon and I was going to be saved. That’s what I hoped for at least, but the buzz grew louder and stronger, it was somewhat funny how my thirteen years of age flashed before my eyes, it was both funny and sad. As – maybe – the dullest part of my life flew by at high speed, I held that little girl who was still at the very beginning, who still had a whole gender to discover by her shoulders, and whispered she had to hang on tight.

Walls and ceiling, closets and my shelves full of novels. They all collapsed on me. The posters on my right side held some of the plaster on the one remaining wall. It was the first time I’d felt such trembling. As all of my body shook, I drew anger from the pride I felt from the hard covers of books that fell on me and the bed that slid back and forth in the room. I was going to vomit that anger out later. Then, much later, when talking about it to other people, I had to throw myself into the arms of truth, I didn’t choose to stay under the nice figure of speech.

I had to scream, something. To my savior. To the name I sought refuge in. My first bike ride, all my bruises, the salt in the sea, words matching with their meanings, the red ribbon, I was reading before you got the hang of it. I opened my mouth to shout out the name of the one who gave birth to me, but my heart shattered. I screamed, “DAD!”

It was my father who gave birth to me, but it was my mother who came to my rescue. All things after? Incognito.

Some thought it wasn’t right for a child to grow desiring death, but I didn’t rush to disprove them, no. I didn’t show them the nobility of the creeping, deviant pleasure that the child felt when she thought she was the closest to death she’d ever been. Not right away. I showed them myself. And to you too, at the moment you’re in. I’m showing to you, I am that child, and it’s accompanied by the adrenaline rush of quaking with the world at one moment, followed by ceasing to exist – or the warmth of the unknown. This is the novel of that little girl; I found her screaming for help, but she was also praying for it to snowball into her demise.

My mother pulled me out of the pit of walls. For a brief moment I felt her hand pressing my head on her chest, the soft breasts that never fed me. Then, I was mid-air. It was dark, but I knew the touch of my father, he must have caught me before I hit the ground – or what was once ground. My mother went into the room next to mine, got my brother. And so, we turned to the stairs, they were still there, but just, the fifth floor – and last, and ours – of the building was now the first. The last I remembered I was dreaming, but now, my eyes were opening and before me was either chaos or carnival.

We were out, my feet touched the ground. I was looking at our street – which was my whole world at the time – and the parallel street, and the ones behind that, because there wasn’t anything left standing. I turned to my right, where there was nothing. I turned to my left, where there was also nothing. I had nothing around me, and I had left my glasses on my nightstand.

I looked at the sky, it glimmered redder and redder, some parts were still casually orange and even solemnly yellow, a face I couldn’t figure out exactly, but someone up there was picking favorites among their stars and we sure weren’t one at the time. The face was leaning over a wide chest, spitting the filth between its fangs – meteors – over us, the survivors. I did see a face in the sky, but I forgot I did.

We should walk in the direction of the hospital’s yard, he said.

And we did, the last breaths of the people we knew echoed around us and we walked to the hospital’s yard. I had a nightgown on, with bold white, orange, green, and yellow stripes. My vision was blurred, but I still saw the detached limbs scattered on the road and hanging from window frames, I even saw the screams of people under rubble vibrating in the open air. Flat city. Flat country. Lights flickering. Shattered glass cutting my soles, a ring, a pencil case, a brush, a pan handle. Us, all members of a family walking on the flat street, my mother with my brother in her arms, my father, and I, through a nightmare.

I walked behind them and watched all the arms reaching out to find nothing to hold, I didn’t feel the need to censor what I saw because it was death, real death, and the blood was still shiny on the arms, death, not by burning, not by rupture, bleak, blatant death. I was a child and I sat in its comfort, without intervening, without thinking – go get in, help, dig the rubble – at all because all I ever dug was sand, and that was to build castles. There were no castles around. No beach, no garden either, nothing but rubble. Somebody built these in the first place, nobody warned the people – we knew and loved – that these would all fall apart, and they did, nobody went to jail for it, they even made more money and built more, as cheap as ever. I walked in the thin line of God’s will, behind my father.

No beard, no tabard. A human. A woman. With Medusa’s hair. She had small breasts, her nipples peeked out from her white sateen dress, the first part of her that I saw. Locks of her black hair were hanging up, to the red skies above, then they spiraled into snakes, snakes slithered around and they all faced me at once. Her skin was paler than the rubble of plastered walls around us. I was so focused on not losing the sight of my father that I wasn’t afraid of her appearance. She held my shoulders strong enough to make me halt.

“Where is my daughter?” she asked.

My glance fell to her high-arched, bare feet, they looked stained with gray. I looked back up at her face. She had dust on her eyelashes, and I had no answer. She shook me harder.

“Where is my daughter!”

Her eyes were quite big, if not huge. The subtlest of chains hung from her neck and disappeared between her breasts into her dress. I shook my head and she shook me, harder than the previous tremble, I almost vomited and my feet stopped carrying me for a second there. I lost all my memories and my voice. Only when she repeated the question I came back to my senses and to the moment, I felt as tired and experienced as if I hurled the entire city at one go, and grabbed her hands. I gave the most candid and purest of answers, in a naivety and nobility that I never managed to reach after that, not even in my best fiction.

“I don’t know.”

That was when my fortune changed. It took me thirty-seven years to understand that.

We arrived at the yard, where they took me and my brother by the fountain for us to drink some water. But anytime I leaned in, the faucet moved away from me, we were still shaking. We were covered in dust, and for a while it seemed. While I tried to find my balance, some other light struck my sight. A man with one arm was running around, mania, a woman in labor was screaming her heart out, blood, I was still trying to catch the faucet, I pressed my palms together and followed the trickling water. Wail. Blood. Placenta. Coo. Baby’s first sound in the world, where was the man’s other arm? He left it where his wife and son were, the rubble he dug with the one arm he had, for days.

They went to help; I was left there in the yard. Alone. I sat there; I didn’t get up to go dig.

Bodies piled up bodies inflated. If the rupture happened then, I would tear off my nose first. If I had discovered the word then, I’d at least write it on the grass where I was left on my own, and I’d run faster than anyone to get to her when I learned there was a woman whose own tongue was choking her under the fallen walls of the villas.

Almost everyone died. The walls and the columns let out no more than the number of my fingers. The day after hunger began. The man searching for his wife and son came and took the piece of bread in my hand, he took bite after bite while I couldn’t find words, I just felt his bites on my arm somehow. After that I couldn’t do much but to feed singular white grapes to my despair. Everyone died. Right next to me. It was scorching hot, as August was. Days passed. Bodies inflated. Bodies reeked. They dug. Some took my bread. I wasn’t hungry. I had white grapes. They kept digging, most couldn’t stomach touching the ones they managed to bring up, so they cried from a distance. A week or so later, rotten bodies had parts that crawled with life, some of the others vomited precious nutrition on their wives, daughters, and sons. The decay didn’t stop. The dust didn’t lift off for months. Dusty-haired Medusa, I never stopped thinking of her. Did you find your daughter?

You’re calling me by my name. Don’t, I shouldn’t be called that. That’s not the name of someone who was forced to grow up in the five days she spent amongst inflating bodies. She made her own name when she got up and dug, in the concrete under her nails, from the names of the dead. A name unknown, until you whisper it. I won’t show up unless you quietly call me seven times over your left shoulder.

Excerpt from the novel “The Confinement”

Translation: Eylül Deniz Doğanay

Editor: Nadia Gerassimenko

Illustration: Giulia Neri

 

 

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