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 Loranne VELLA 
 TWO stories 

 WINDOW SHOPPING
 & DISAPPEARING ACT 



   Translated from the Maltese
    by Kat STORACE








In Loranne VELLA’s WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR ME TO LEAVE, shortlisted for the 2021 National Book Prize of Malta, everyone is a player in a game. A multitude of figures and disembodied voices barter the terms of relationships, solve puzzles, set riddles, play hide-and-seek—they will do anything to come out on top, even cheat themselves of the truth . . .

Published by PRASPAR PRESSVELLA’s work is an enigmatic, dark, and at times humorous collection of short stories that makes us question our terms of engagement with the past, the present and the future, in a deft translation by Kat STORACE, with photographs by Zvezdan RELJIC.



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WINDOW SHOPPING



By tonight, she’d be back on top.

If she could manage to hold on to this morning’s good mood, that is. And if there was anything about herself she wouldn’t swear by, it was her moods; moods as tumultuous as Hokusai’s wave one minute, or as calm as Courbet’s sea five minutes later—but rarely as moderate as the choppy seas of Celmins’s hyperrealistic paintings. After all, she identified very little with the photorealism and hyperrealism of the seventies, which made her feel nauseous and dizzy, because she couldn’t stomach the idea that someone would paint an image that was closer to reality than a photograph.

Once more, she found herself lost in contemplation of the paintings she’d seen in the exhibition earlier that week and had no intention of fucking up her morning with a headache; not today, when she needed to empty her mind of all the thoughts of the past few days and re- virginise it—start over instead of building on the muck and mud left behind by the litany of narrow values force-fed to her from the moment of conception by her mother, father, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles.

A train. That’s what she needed. A journey by train, not metaphorical, not a train of thought, but a real journey, one that sets off from the city’s central station and travels as directly as possible, without too many stops along the way, to another city. The answer lies in the journey. Or, in the next city. If she logically followed the trajectory of thoughts that had taken root in her mind during the night, she should get on a train at the station in the north of the city, in the heart of the red light district, so that the trip would begin on the right theme.

Have you ever paid for sex?

She knew he was going to say yes before he’d even replied.

She tried to control the rising flush surging through her with a smile. That day, the day of the question, she was in that provocative mood of hers: playful, sexy, a bit more make-up than usual, a dress with a slightly lower neckline, perfume, a seductive walk and smile, and then she slipped him the question with a look that prompted a yes, even if the true answer was no. Yes, he said, with his eyes, his lips, his mouth, with his words and his arms crossed. Without a shred of doubt. She felt a shudder run over her entire back. Did she feel excitement? Jealousy? Anger? Embarrassment?

A pig is still a pig, even if you put lipstick on it . . .

And so she decided to leave. To distance herself and concentrate, so she could view the picture with crystal-clarity, more in focus and detailed than reality. Just like those hyperrealistic paintings.

Once the train had left and she’d rested her back against her seat, she turned her head to look out of the window. As soon as they’d begun to pull away from the city, the train had picked up speed and the landscape changed and zoomed past her eyes in the opposite direction: a haze of hues. She felt herself stretch out like a piece of elastic that could go on stretching forever. She knew the extremes well; she, who with a winning smile on her face, often described herself as made of rubber, capable of bending and stretching to one end and then back the other way—a method that prevented her snapping altogether; she, who throughout her life had always known how to step into every role demanded of her in every situation, taking out a bit here, adding in a bit there, changing, adjusting, checking, summarising, covering up, revealing, undressing, discarding, crying, smiling, laughing and always—always—apprehending, as though nothing could catch her off-guard. She was capable of being ready for every setback, every surprise lurking around every corner, ready to pounce. She knew how to retaliate, how to bark and bite back even more fiercely, to beat them at their own game. She bared her teeth at this thought, then caught the man seated opposite staring at her perturbed, so she sat up and returned his smile with a bashful one of her own.

She was going to stretch out as much as she possibly could to see how far she could go before she let go and sprung back with force, thrust from where she’d started to a reality where her feet touched the ground and her head sat firmly on her neck, where the two extremes she’d just tested met somewhere in the middle. The middle ground. There are those who get there with all the serenity in the world, and there are those, like herself, who had to climb all the way up to heaven and then shoot straight back down to the pits of hell before finally, calmly, reaching earth.

She was still a virgin.

Still waiting for the day when, enraptured in the arms of her love, she’d recognise that he was The One, the man she wanted to take her virginity. It was the moment she’d been waiting for: no more sucking, fingering and kissing, then cutting these men off mid-action, leaving them to curse her and her entire family for leading them on when, in fact, she wasn’t a tease at all—it was merely how she thought she should behave. This was ‘sex before marriage,’ everything imaginable except intercourse—although, she could have sworn that over the years, from the first finger to slide inside her cunt when she was twelve, her hymen had ceased to remain intact.

She was twenty-five now.

She had waited long enough. But first, the journey by train. Then the walk along the canal.

Tall black windows, red curtains, red neon lights, scarlet velvet chairs and armchairs, small circular or square tables in every room behind the glass. She studied everything to the last detail: the textures of the fabrics, curtains, carpets, boots, hats, bras, panties. She scrutinised the colours, which could have been dazzling, loud, iridescent, yet which all appeared red under the insistent neon lights. She checked out the men gathered in front of the windows: the conservative ones, unsmiling, smartly dressed, ready for the kill; the drunk ones, laughing and pissing about, making obscene hand gestures. She could already picture them taking themselves off to the loos for a wank, their eyes wide with conviction that the girl in the window desired them and them only.

The girl in the window ... She glanced up again and this time saw only her. How hadn’t she notice her before? Thin, tall, blonde, large tits, belly piercing, tattoo on her thigh, dark make-up around her eyes, small bruise on her arse, pussy probably shaved bare, panties exposing more than they covered up. Despite the pack of men who’d just placed bets over who would get fucked first, the girl with the see-through white bikini two sizes too small was looking over at her and smiling. At her. Not at the guys. Not at the Japanese man standing in front of her, attempting to raise his eyes towards the window while simultaneously fixing them on the ground. No. She was speaking to her. With her eyes. Then, with a slight nod, she signalled to her to go round the corner to the door. She’d chosen her. Out of all of the people there, she’d chosen only her.

She went in. Obviously. She went in and paid.

And she came out of the same door half an hour later, with enough time to carry straight on to the station to catch the train back home.

That evening, with a smile on her face, she would say to him, picking up where they’d left off: Really? Me too.

Then, she’d let him fuck her, seeing as that’s what he wanted. Just as long as she came out on top, always on top.







DISAPPEARING ACT



What will it take for me to leave?

Some people simply get up and go. They wake up one morning, get dressed, open the door and walk out. Never to return. Just like that. Without a plan. Without any preparation.

Unless their entire lives up until that moment had all been preparation for when, on a day like any other, having reached the end of their tether, they decided to pack it all in, get up and leave. Just like that. Out of the blue.

Should I go? And leave it all behind? Everything as it is?

I’m not the get-up-and-leave type. I’m the sort of person who spends their nights worrying, tossing and turning, and wakes up swaddled in sweat-soaked, reeking sheets. And then spends days—no, entire weeks—weighing things up and making the necessary calculations before deciding on a move like this. If I do fix upon going in the end, I’ll need to allocate the time to pack, sort through everything and put it all away, open up the doors and drawers and empty them out, turn off the taps, close bank accounts, and take care not to leave behind anything half-finished.

So many thoughts and plans! It would take me months to prepare for a decision like that. I’m already overwhelmed just thinking about it. It’s really no wonder I’m still here. How could I ever get up and go? And turn my back on everything I’d leave behind? I’m just not the type.

Anyway, I’ve got unfinished business over here—I’m certain my time hasn’t come yet. And I know myself well enough to admit that my time will never come if the decision is left in my hands. I’m not the kind to uproot myself. Because who knows what’s in store for me tomorrow, the day after, next year, in this place? I’ve been here long enough to be able to say, with confidence, that no two years are the same, and that every year has brought with it its own ordeal or surprise. My heartbeat quickens when I think these thoughts.

I’ll stay here for the time being.

No. I’m just not the type to get up and leave. But if you fix your eyes on me, on a day like any other, there’s a chance you’ll watch me disappear.











Loranne VELLA is a Maltese writer, translator and performer based in Brussels. ROKIT (Merlin, 2017)—her first novel for adults—won the National Book Prize of Malta in 2018. VELLA’s collection of short stories WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR ME TO LEAVE (Ede Books, 2019) was shortlisted for the National Book Prize of Malta, 2020.

Kat STORACE is a writer, editor and literary translator from Maltese. She is publisher and co-founder of Praspar Press. WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR ME TO LEAVE is her first full-length translation.


All photographs by © Zvezdan RELJIC, 2021; the graphic (top left) owes to the book’s designer, Patrick FISHER (of FRONTWARDS DESIGN; see here). With thanks to the National Book Council of Malta for their support and for funding this translation.







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