I II III
* * *
The strikingsound of a thousand years of ships into the cape is no longer audible. It had been lingering in the background for a year or two ever since Ottia left the cape for Here like her father’s figure in old family photos with Mama and Anna, and since then it’s slowly been fading, ever sounding but always going. Now it’s completely gone, and the silence is lacerating.
But there is her street. Jannis Blvd. is flanked by opposites: on one side is the city’s Santa Tioviva square and on the other is an unnamed grove right before which the electrical lines suddenly jolt left down another street and run on and on thataways. Where she lives is in Little Dilapidatia, an area right between the bustling mecca of whorehouses and the hermits’ grottoful forest so named because a downwardly Gaussian curve could run along the rooves of the buildings on the blvd. and it would seem to perfectly fit as the force caving in the structures in the middle of the road instead of the forces of time and truth.
Both ends have a superficies of appeal. Newly established couples often go on walks through the grove, passing along the trodden thouroughway through an everthicket of dense arbors only to come to the most interior circle and find the stillsitting bog around which the rest of the grove stood, with bugs and garbage and discarded clothing all rotting away. Subjects of newly broken couples often go to Santa Tioviva to fill their hearts with steak and sex and seth to sunder the sting into seven pieces, dyadic all, to scatter among the cityscape with no wife to reassemble them.
The scullery in which Ottia slaves away cutting up bloody red meat into little cubes or malaxating into misshapen sausages is situated almost directly in the middle of the city, farthest away from the ocean on all sides. The only thing closer to the center is Santa Tioviva. Eva & Co. was first founded near the shore where the eponymous Eva Focciolo had been raised by her grandmother around a century ago, but they were ordered to move away after it was revealed they were constantly dumping byproduct into the Atlantic via a highly conspicuous pipe which had only not been reported for ample bribery from the scullery to inquiring passersby until one bright boy saw the efflux and, disgusted by an intrusive thought in which he hooked his mouth up to the pipe and swallowed everything shooting out of it to fill his belly, ran straight to a phonebooth and dialed for 9–9–9. After the judicial dictum to get stuffed or stop stuffing customers, Eva & Co. left its old post and modus operandi to move to the epicenter of the city’s glory, Santa Tioviva. In lieu of their old area was left a sign reading THIS PLOT IS NOT FOR SALE., which was true if only because no one really wanted to live or operate in the miasma of old meat which, after a while, begins to leave the smell of garum. In lieu of their old habits, as well, were new ones of capitalized Efficaficiency, a style of production which could produce what would usually take days in just minutes by pushing hirees to their limits, or Best Self. Ottia, as a somewhat high level worker on the brink of demotion due to infrequent punctuality, viewed Efficaficiency the way fish view stagnant water.
But now the workday is over. The sun is setting into the horizon instead of behind it, like it’s an egg cracking open and spilling its glair across the edge of the sky. If Ottia was facing west, there was no way to avoid temporary blinding. Later, the sun finally coagulates with the horizon completely, its liquid remnants now completely soaking the bottom of the firmament on all sides, and as the final crepuscular rays shine overhead Ottia’s wait at the taxistation and down towards the east, a chequered cab drives up and pulls down its windows and reveals an old sort of sordid man in his fourty–someabouts who speaks to Ottia only once before she enters the car: “Come on in,” and she does so without protest.
As she lays all her bags down on the squalor of a car floor, she jumps from a murmur to a good stranger’s speaking voice somewhere along her first words, “Hi, thanks for coming this late, I thought I’d’ve, uhh, missed the window. For the taxis to come.”
“It’s fine. Everything’s fine.” Ottia looks at his dashboard through the gritty partition and sees two taxometers. One is completely broken. Its 8–segment–displays are completely filled with red light and dithered dead pixels. The functional taximeter is placed directly above it. Taximan is tapping it with one hand and holding a phone to his ear with the other. It looks like the passenger’s phone as the wire stretches from the base of the brick through the partition and into a little phonedais behind a switchhook attached to the back of the driver’s seat. Ottia tries to zip open her wallet as the driver starts speaking loudlier and loudlier on the phone. He sounds like he’s from out of town. Speaking vulgar English.
“Yah, will mah, ic gotta foockin jobb tah do. Ic gotta drive these people all ovah town and ic can’t doo dat if yah always houdin me like this. Yah, god bless yah asswell but dat don’t excuse nottin if yah gonna keep callin me durin me shifts. Ic sorry but ic gotta go, ookay? Please, just lemme go. Ic love ya too, mah. Bye. Call me tonight, fine. Bye–ah, now. Bye.” The taximan throws the phone back through the partition and hits Ottia right in the nose, right above her septum. She nonchalantly puts it on the switchhook.
“Um, sorry, uh, I, two–forty–eight Jannis Boulevard. Please.” He nods silently, and Ottia the newfound conversationalist sparks up with, “Uh. Uh, who was that? On the, on your phone?”
“My mahm.” The phone falls off its little hook as he shifts to standard city English, “She’s rotting away.”
“I dunno what to do with her anymore, you know, she, she, she calls me like five times a day, I can't take that crap, like, I, I, I can’t take that guilt when I can’t pick up. I hate her guts but I still feel like a bad son.”
“I... yeah.” (Beat.)
“What abou’ you, you got a mother? Or two gays or something?”
“Oh, no, I had a mother. She was, she was very kind.”
“Ahh. Yeah, had. It sucks what age does.”
“Mhm. I miss her but–”
“But consider yourself at least a lil’ lucky, ‘cuz, you know, seeing her get old, and not able to walk and sh–, and stuff like that, that’s really tough. That stuff sucks, you don’t wanna see your mom like that. Your dad? Maybe. Not your mom.”
“Well, she was only fifty. Fifty–three.”
He kind of slows down a bit despite nothing suddenly appearing on the road. “Ahh…” The silence feels odd. Incessancy breeds normalization.
“Well, you know,” he starts up again, this time not turning back or clicking his tongue but instead wholly focusing on the black road ahead and its yellow stripes only illuminated by the taxicab’s headlights, “it’s tough. It’s tough to lose someone when they haven’t even started to go downhill yet. ‘Cuz everyone goes downhill, just some of us are good at hiding that. And it’s already tough when it’s someone you don’t even know. Someone you do know? Like, your mother? My mother, my mahm? That’s just, it’s just awful. Like, the real… god, the real bad stuff is when the barrier comes down. Like, my mahm now, she’s just, she’ll say anything. Everything that’s been hidden away for the past eighty–something years, finally out. I got a letter from her last month after I visited her that she thought I was a real heartbreaker. A real heartthrob. And I sent her back saying just sort of ‘Huh?’ or ‘What?’, asking if she meant to send it to my step–dad, and she said of course she didn’t, it was for me. Just weird stuff like that. I just wish I knew the people I loved were kind of crazy, sinisterly or otherwise. ‘Cuz everyone I’ve ever loved has been like that. Like, I remember when I was younger I was dating this tranny in, in college, she was maybe a couple year younger than me, and after, like, maybe one year of dating, one and a half, something like that, we moved in together, and the first week, first week we were together in that studio, I heard her laughin’ her ass off at like three A.M. And she was laughing, but kind of screaming or crying too, the way it sounded like that. And you know, she was a tranny but she sounded like a real woman when she talked, right? But when she laughed hard enough or screamed or something, like, that comes from your gut, and that’s when she kind of sounded like the man she was born as. So I came in to see what was so funny, and she’s sitting on the floor with these grease stains all up her arms and this cast–iron pan on max heat, and she was just pointing to the pan like ‘Look! Look at the fucking butter!’ so I looked at this stick of butter she had put in the pan, and it was burnt. It wasn’t melting, it was just burnt. Charred black on the bottom. Carbonized. So I dressed her burns and got her into bed and told her I loved her and stuff and went back in the kitchen after she dozed off to turn off the stove and the butter still hadn’t melted. It was really just completely burnt black. And I even took some and spread it on some bread and it tasted exactly like butter. I never, you know, I never brought it up to her. Or to anyone. Except you and some other passengers. The next day, I just threw it away. It was probably rotten or something if it just wouldn’t melt, after all. I mean, that’s what I thought at the time. Looking back on it, it doesn’t make any sense. Why would butter not melt? Was it not real butter? Did she just put some substitute there to fuck with me? And you know I never found out. She never brought it up, either. Maybe she would’ve if I just asked what the hell happened, but we parted ways before I bothered to ponder. I guess she wasn’t crazy. Just that one time was crazy, and it probably had nothing to do with her. Just bad butter. I stopped eating butter after that, though. I can’t remove the association. It’s ingrained in my head. And I can’t lie about it to people who have me over or whatever, but I have to. I’m not a liar, I don’t like to lie. Some people do, maybe you do, but I don’t like to lie. It makes me feel vile. But something I learned is that, well, I guess something I thought about hard enough, not learned. It’s just… just this. There are lies and then there are subtle lies. And one of them is a lot harder to pull off than the other. You know? It’s like, if you know you know type of thing. Like, I don’t know, tell me this, are you a liar?”
“No. Not usually.” Ottia was never diagnosed but she knows she’s a pathological liar. It’s an astonishing game, lying, and the winning condition was creating a beautiful iridescent film of believability. There was this one time in an elevator when this guy walked in and it was just him and her, and she looked at him to immediately get horrordread when her eyes fell directly on his stoma, buried in a little notch in his neck, and then she was filled with it again as his head turned down towards her own and he smiled. He took a little box of Marlboros and shook it back and forth in his palm without a sound. “Empty,” he grinned big yellow, and she grinned big ole rictus back.
“You’re, uhh, finally free?”
“Yep. After twenty–four years. I’m dun.”
Ottia nodded. “Yeah, I, uhh, I used to be addicted, too. To nicotine.”
“Really? How long?”
“Oh…” This was when the game really started. Choose a number between twenty–four and twelve. Maybe even less, like four. Ottia counts on her fingers, “Two, three, four years. Right after I got out of high school I started.”
“How’d you rebound so quick, gally?” He reached his hand into the Marlboro box and pulled it back out a couple times.
“Gallaway? What did you call me?”
“Eh?” he looked up from the carton. “‘Gally.’ I said ‘gally’. Is that a problem?”
“No. No, sorry. I, uhh, misheard you.”
“I rebounded because I was starting, I started to drink instead. And that sort of helped even though I didn’t get fully addicted to drinking like I did nicotine.”
“Well, I still drink.”
“Huh.” The elevatorspeaker dinged. “Welp, glad we’re both free.” He smiled at her and extended his hand to her chest for a handshake as the doors parted ways to reveal his floor which housed a single hallway and many doors and nice ornamental vermillion wallpaper defiled by industrial fluorescence.
“No, I don’t typically lie,” she reassures the taximan.
“Right,” he says. “But some people are liars. They love it. It’s like… my friend says it’s like some sort of adrenaline rush. He’s a doctor. Doctor of the mind. And I guess that makes sense from a medical perspective.” They’re passing through the hem of Santa Tioviva now. Some girl stumbles out of the gregal romp yelling It’s the fuckinggg hour! Fuck yeah! and smashes her skimpilyclad breasts against the car before some taciturnly pervese bearded guys with cans of drink pull out their cameras and take pictures in a flurry of paparazzi flashes. The taximan turns around and looks at Ottia with a giddy stare. In the citylight he looks like something of a woman. The light then slides along the interior of the car as he picks up speed again, and the flashess and her headlights are pulled along for a brief second before friction lets go and she falls on the asphalt road face first.
Ottia feigns humor. “If ever a girl was.”
He laughs a little laugh and he looks a little look and he speeds a little speed and he drives on. Now down Jannis Blvd. It’s half past twelve and October has now leaked into November, so as if to solemnly swear the soon arrival of brumal whirlings, little flurries have begun to fall from the sky. The taximan turns on the heater but it just blasts empty air without sufficient heat. “Probably from, she’s probably trashed from the Oktoberfest they’re holding there. At Santa Tioviva. Whatever they’re holding back there in the—”
“A bastardization of German culture.”
He shrugs. “I suppose.”
“I heard a waltz while we were going through there.”
“Why’s it bother you? Are you German?”
Ottia doesn’t look up from her lap. “Uh… uh–huh.”
He smiles at her through the partition. Flashes of light are illuminating his face in only brief sparks, just granting her scintillae of observance. “I know.”
The taximan turns back. “I knew you were German the second I saw you. I mean, for one, most of you whites are German. Part German. But you kind of look like…” He pauses and lets silence fall like a blanket for a moment. “Kind of like a cow. Kine of like a cow. Heh.”
“Not like you’re fat or anything. Like, don’t think I’m some creep who just thinks of women like that. I mean your spirit. Like. I don’t know. Forget I said anything.” He can’t stop thinking about her. She looks like a bovine goddess, leader of the cattle.
“Okay. I, sorry, I’m sorry.” She smiles grimly and settles back into her seat. Her stomach has become upset over that exchange. It’s sort of been perturbed into some sort of primal dislocative state. There is the oft–never–repeated story of Ottia at her childhood home, before her adolescent metempsychosis into womanhood through therapy and surgery and E and E itself, as a young boy named Giorgio playing about in the yard with his–her sister Anna Gallaway Greenwich (“Aggy”) along their mother’s and father’s own promontory prairie. The house was a former auberge operated by a ruddy victualler which he had abandoned in the eighteen–nineties when, according to his uxorial letters which were kept away in a filthy atticbound chest, “a Gypsyman came to me yesterweek and gave me an offer of magnificient [sic] proportions, Ida my evercoitbird and now my everdarling true. He presented to me a metal rod which he said could pull the sky’s lightning inwards, and I immediately seized this offer for I knew this would allow me to harness the power of the sky like no other man to date. I could be a King, and you my Queen.” This very lightning rod was dug up by Ottia’s memory of herself as a gorgio Giorgio during an unceremonious reënactment of bovine avocations, directly after Anna Gallaway’s historic line, or as such to Ottia, was spoken. “Giorgie, I bet you wish you were a cow as big as me. Moo–moo, runt!” and she zoomed around the cliffyard on all fours as Giorgio dug with his little hands in search of the spot where Aggy had buried his favorite toy car while Mama Greenwich could be heard softly playing the Dankgesang by van Beethoven on a vinyl record in her second–floor buodior, and then did little Giorgie hit the rod.
“We’re here, sir.”
“Oh. Yeah.” The taximan turns around and smiles kindly. He seems older than before.
Ottia looks down and shifts through her purse, “How much’ll that be? It was a while.” He reached out to her and grazes her shoulder lightly.
“Nothing. It’s nothing. You’re just home.”
She pays him thirty–five dollars and leaves the vehicle. Exeunt.
* * *
It was just to get away. The air inside the taxicab was growing stale and rancid like there was some sort of deep rot buried beneath each seat. Ottia was actually five or six blocks away from her house, far enough that when she turns around the grove in its expanse is in view. She thinks: Thing of great rancor horrible thing of great rancor which consumes the city and every facet of this horrific garbage and goes downtown to santa tioviva and goes into that little strip club of east asian strippers and he goes and to tell them tells them yeah im married but what the hell does she care she works in a fucking kitchen like a hausfrau and gets paid fucking minimum wage uhhh duhhh but you are youre so pretty and beautiful youre like a fertility goddess from ancient times come to bless me and she takes the money that i made from his hand all fanned out like such as and she takes it the whore and uses it like a little handheld sensu and does a little wink a lioo wink yea innit cheerio fucking british bitch he fucked in our own fucking bed and then she probably grabs him then and pulls him in real close and kisses him on the lips and asks for his name and he goes yeah the names vladio but uhhh you can call me vlad and he pauses and goes thats what i let good girls call me wink wink and then they fuck in one of the rooms a half an hour later and when they climax he moans her name something foreign he likes that he makes me dress up in a kimono just like he imagines she does and he calls me emiko yamaguchi or yamaguchi emiko whichevever sounds more foreign to the foullic dickhead and i know hes too dumb to be calling me big mouth in japanese but how am i supposed to accept him calling me mountainmouth when when we dated he always talked about how big my mouth was and it seemed like he was turned on by it like it was something he had aaaalways wanted like it was a beautiful thing he had been searching for to satisfy his libidic rampager deep within but as i later found out the fucker just thought i looked funny and wanted his dick as far away from my tongue and lips as possible unlike that bitch at the fucking club cabaret japonais what a party place im sure hes fucking ten times happier as a marital infidel than i am as a good hag what a fucking bitch i am but i love him so so so much id just die without him.
She has a tabloid in her deepgreen jacket. Truth in Life. It’s usually filled with nothing of literary value and she just buys them for the crosswords. The current resident cruciverbalist is a woman who calls herself Heloise: a “woman of letters.” When she started out, Truth in Life was patting itself on the back for hiring their first–ever female crossword constructor. Now they neglect to print her name half the time. Twenty–two across reads
Lonely Christian girl heard in chorus (9)
“In chorus? In chorus,” she murmurs. She’s trancedly placing foot after foot in archetypal ambulation. The breeze is soft but intricate, weaving between gaps as big as the breadth between to boughs and as small as the light fornicate vellus hairs on Ottia’s knuckles. Jutte still haunts her like a wraith in vagabondage through the air.
Approaching the house now, which was a primitive marital venture Ottia had dreamed of accomplishing with a man even before she had even understood the repercussions of living with a man your “equal” and the silent slipping from an icy basin into a cold, frore oubliette or before she knew the pleasure of Vitruvia’s model civilians or before she knew she wanted them to twist or bend her frame in very specific ways and screamed when confronted with a tad of any other give, there grows the sound of banging and wooden creaking and ladylike EEP!s with the OOF!s of machismo, and Ottia’s face, sandwiched softly between twain guiches swishswashswirling and gurugurugrowing along her whiskerplate as keratin flanks, stretches down into an emotional abyss and so her eyes reach down there as well and pull out a bucket of the deepest waters.
* * *
The citywide artistic trend of painting women with features common among livestock is difficult to trace the origins of, but the most popular of the various folk etiologies accepted by armchair sexologists states its genesis was in the neighborhood of Rotlichgrad. Qualeo was, during his lifetime and almost never thereafter, touted as the richest man to have ever lived. His estate, at the time of his death, claimed some fifteen–hundred paintings by the likes of Monet and Vermeer and Bosch, and he owned at least two Strativarii. In the lustral years before a passing caused by overindulging on a surfeit of milk and cream and Baileys and cheese and butter and fondue and yogurt and kefir and carbonated lactose products, he held a party out on the lawn in order to celebrate his newest purchase arriving to him from France: Félicien Rops’s Pornokratès.
Qualeo first laid his eyes on Pornokratès and its buxomzaftig female subject during a Polish exhibition in Częstochowa, whereto it was being lent by an academy. The painting, now returned to that gaulish hexagon where it was created, depicted a full–bodied woman in heels and hat and zip–zada else, holding in her hand a thin string as the leashing of a malnourished hog as three cherubim danced in the air in ecstasy and the goddess Pornocrates stepped over the frieze of Sculpture, Poetry, Painting, and Music, their personifications frowning dejectedly in the face of their achievement. His entrancement with the image led to a jocoserious catchphrase from Qualeo which he repeated so often that day that it became intertwined with his very character: “What a goddess!” and so it was announced some months afterwards once the exhibition in Częstochowa was said and done and all the paintings had been shipped back to their rightful colony managers out from under the black Madonna that the painting had been sold to a gay aristocrat originating from somewhere along the hem of the Atlantic.