It was Sunday and so we knew that everything would be open.
Thanks to the east-facing window and the absence of curtains, it was no longer possible for us to stay in bed. The sun occupied the whole space. Impudent, laser-like, surgical. No more shady corners to hide in. Eyes closed, we reached for our sunglasses and rushed out onto the streets, neglecting to close the door behind.
At this early hour the town was still cradled in respectful silence. The air was crisp, the sky covered with a thick coat of pure cyan applied evenly.* With brisk ease we walked up the narrow cobbled street. Our vision had adjusted to the piercing light and could discern every degree of its refraction onto glass shards scattered along the pavement, every resilient weed pushing their head between the stones. The few early risers tread softly with downcast eyes, and if they were inclined to whistle a tune, they did so in their head. From each of them emanated an aura of reverent discretion.
We ventured deeper into the residential part of the old town. The buildings here rose to variable heights, wore variable textures and shades. A concrete high-rise stood adjacent to a bungalow with tiled gable roof and salmon pink walls. Few entrances were adorned with a tiny brass hand as door knocker. Such an eclectic array of façades. Only their ultimate domestic purpose united them. Lost in remembrance over the different eras that had witnessed the erection of these habitations, we jumped as a cold drop landed on our foreheads. We looked up, incredulous : water was trickling from the rambling roses on the balcony high above our head. We exchanged a conniving glance—the tenant must already be up—and promptly made for the gate.
We climbed the stairs at a steady pace, unhurried. Heels acting as a metronome. The paint on the banister had cracked into delightful intricate patterns reminiscent of an aerial view of the Himalayas on a clear winter day. On the windowsill of the second floor, a majestic aloe vera sat begging for a new caretaker. Adopt me, the note by its feet said. Arriving at the fourth floor, we stopped and placed an ear against the door. Generic classical music plus a smell of burnt toast seeped through the keyhole. You turned the doorknob anticlockwise and held the door open for me to go through first.
After taking off our shoes we endeavoured to locate the source of the familiar scent of failed breakfast. At the end of the corridor, past the closed room from which the music seemed to originate, we took a right, and were once more dazzled by the light. The kitchen formed a perfect square. Opposite the door, a window as wide as the wall, as high as the ceiling, was letting the sun in at a right angle, leaving no blind spot. Sparsely arranged on the table to form a seemingly-neglected modern still life : an empty cup of coffee, an ashtray, nail clippers, and a few black crumbs on a small white plate. You sat down to read the news.
Inside the fridge : enough orange juice for two, a chunk of butter, one apple. I decided to leave the apple out of courtesy, and served the juice in a tall tumbler glass. The bread was cheap, white, and nearly mouldy. Nevertheless edible, since it is deemed an insult to decline free food—even if of poor quality—and as the saying goes, mould is only ever superficial.
I slotted two slices in the toaster and proceeded to make coffee. In a glass jar, whole beans awaited. This pleasant surprise guaranteed the presence of a grinder, somewhere. As I was inspecting every single cupboard and drawer, the toast jumped golden. I should have prepared the coffee first. Holding the hot slices in my bare hands, the grinder smiled at me. It had been sitting by the toaster all along.
Just as the percolator whistled its notorious theme, the classical music from the other room suddenly became louder, then ceased completely, followed by a door slam. Our host had gone out.
On the balcony we sat with our simple feast and rejoiced. Little by little children’s laughters and trivial chatterings arose from the street to break the austere tone of this matinal urban landscape. You sipped your coffee eyes half closed while I buttered my toast. Your mouth made my favourite sound. Moist. Silvery. Moments like these are burnt in our memory as perfect samples of distilled happiness. Nothing needs adding, nothing needs forgetting. The ramblers were quite replete.
M. An endless description of the sky. In an undefined location. Light excruciating. The absence of drama, of crime, of horror, of the least sentiment. Only this subtle sense of unfamiliarity. All seems as per usual, except for one crucial detail.
Y. The focus is on the stuff, on the tangible. But the substance is immaterial.
M. And the breeze, uplifting.
Y. It’s almost as if it could carry us away to a distant realm.
M. We spend most of the day out of doors. It seems like such a waste considering the fact that only once a week are we granted the privilege of circulation. A long lost tradition allowing everyone to enter anyone’s home freely was preserved in this faraway place. Sadly with a roof above our head we suffocate, we cannot rest.
Y. And yet we struggle to tolerate the sun…
M. Sometimes it feels like we’ve become allergic to most things : to pollen, to dust, to weeds; to gluten, to lactose, to greed; to peanuts, to porn, to ignorance; to synthetic fibers, natural ones; to flying insects, crawling ones; to cars, to cats, to hand lotion; to cars, to cats, to repetition; to shoes, to mould, to short-term solutions; to sad people, to happy people, to old people, to babies, to mums; to tap, sparkling, and rain water; to antihistamine, to airplane noise, to the mechanical voice in charge of foretelling our destination and warning us of all probable and improbable dangers; to strobes, to fluorescents, to natural light; to air conditioning, to draught, to stale air… even to our own shadow. We are hypersensitive organisms. Skin itches on the north side, on the side where moss grows.
Y. As soon as you start to notice a pattern, it has already changed.
M. We wander about aimlessly and no one knows whether we are locals or strangers...
Y. When you say we, should I feel included?
M. … and no one knows whether we sleep in the same bed, and if so, who’s lying on the side of the wall; whether we live in a hotel and how we ever pay the bills.
Y. The problem is that we grew accustomed to static and no longer hear the ticking of the clock.
M. Who are we for each other and do we want to know.
Y. Based on the premises that romance is a pathosis…
M. What clock?
Y. This story sh/could be told by someone more concerned with chronology and facts and cohesion, someone who finds them relevant.
M. Against a common backdrop of hunger and fear, all is told on the mode of the “we” and of the “one”.
Y. I nearly forget my own struggle.
M. How are we supposed to support ourselves?
Y. We have joists, we have bones, we have seasons in the sun.
M. And if we were to become hungry…
Y. This desire is no longer viable.
M. … we could go to the farm!
Y. The nudity of the fields.
M. Restore the pastoral.
Y. Yes, yes.
M. We are the parasites of this whole maze, harvesting the foods raised by another.
Y. Witchweed which arrests host growth magically devastates yields.
M. Since we conveniently surrendered to our fated means of survival (i.e. dependency), a new-found dignity has overwritten the stigma of the leech. Our contribution to this world : a readiness to receive.
Y. We coil and form, in gratitude, haustorial connections.
M. Laid on the leaf, ink transfusion.
Y. The ampersand is one of the rare ligatures.
M. Note a restraint, a vigilance. Our handwriting reveals a reluctance to progress to the right.
Y. Reluctance noted.
M. All of this is present in all traces the hand leaves behind, leaves before.
Y. Soft writing (or spineless). — softness, hesitation, submission, laziness, sloppiness, sensuality. Rare ideas. Obstinacy. Pig-headedness.
M. The thought of the oxen on Saturday pleases us more than all other things. We used to walk down to their paddock at six o’clock, when they were coming in after the day’s work and a few hours’ grazing.
Y. To-morrow, we thought, they would do nothing but graze all day.
M. Blessings to those who labour every day, all their lives through, and do not know of the Sabbath!
Y. Communications suddenly rise to ripples and cascades of mirth.
M. Are you aware of the deep spiritual intercourse our souls engage in while our voices remain on the surface, frivolous, barely rippling. Are you aware of the many simultaneous—often contradictory—layers to our exchange.
Y. Even if we shouted, I doubt we’d hear each other.
M. I reach for your hand and all I encounter is a cloud of subatomic particles, or ghost of matter.
Y. —Blocked libido—slow, extremely tight, twisted, inhibited.
M. Arthrosis stems from holding the pen too tight in an effort to jot down thoughts as fast as they come.
Y. The choice of this pen or that pencil is already significant.
M. For some, writing is a simple object. They may not even know how to read or when they do, close their eyes, sit in the dark…
Y. At least we share common interests. In the face of imminent disaster, we all cultivate a numbness.
M. The clock is ticking. I can hear it now.
Y. “Il-y-a, il-y-a, il-y-a-de-la-dou-leur.”
M. And what will be the cause of death?
M. It is the ideal outcome, if only for the sake of symmetry. To come full circle and die in the place where we were born.
Y. The nudity of the fields.
M.— And in the middle of the fields, there is a road.
The road which one must take either crying…
Y. …or making others cry.
Our next destination was a two-storey dwelling on the outskirts of town. We picked it because of the rare species of stemsuckers climbing around the letterbox. Its tiny reddish flowers promised a warm welcome. The front door hung low; we had to duck slightly to enter. It opened onto a narrow corridor carpeted with a dark and dusty rug. On the right, a wooden staircase lead to the upper floor. Through the opening on the left we accessed a large living area, which featured a piano. The ceiling was the roof itself. Oak joists were on show, giving a certain sense of structure. The landing of the first floor formed a mezzanine that ran along the right and rear sides of the house. You went straight to the piano. I had never heard you play and, judging by the sounds produced, neither had you. I picked up a book from one of the precarious piles on the ground and reclined on the bergère, which didn’t seem too out of place.
“TATRY ROZPRAVAJU—The Tatras Tell Their Tale”
A photobook of the Tatra Mountains with poetic commentary in five languages. I relished the lush black and white photographs but even more so the typographical errors and colourful translation choices.
Buď pozdravené, Slnce nad končiarmi, na celý dobrý deň buď pozdravené!
Привет Тебе, Солнце, стоящее над вeршинами горнъIх массивов, привет Тебе в
течение всего светлого дня!
Be welcome, Sun over the peaks, be welcome for the whole day!
Nous te saluons, Soleil qui innonde d’or les sommets de nos montagnes, nous te saluons pour toute cette bonne journée!
Sie gegrüßt, du Sonne hoch über Berggipfeln, für diesen ganzen guten Tag sei uns gegrüßt!
Upstairs, the host was busy typing in his study. He needed peace to concentrate, so you politely pressed the mute pedal.
Soon we moved to the kitchen, and through the almost opaque rectangular window obscured by dirt and tiny green spots, admired the back garden. The grass hadn’t been mown for years. Ivy and strangleweed wrapped themselves around the handles of ancient gardening tools as if trying to make use of them, as if wanting to tidy the mess they were in fact the main agent of—along with rocks and heaps of decomposed leaves. Wife died long ago? A wave of sadness made us tremble gently, just before the alarm went off.
Such piercing noise that we flung ourselves down on the ground, head buried between the knees. We felt every distinct soundwave run through our spines, along with a crushing shame that did not belong to us. The alarm rang on for some time, long enough for us to relive the entire history of our own hardly offensive deeds. A noise that compelled everyone, guilty or innocent, to fall to their knees and repent.
Our host walked into the kitchen, his steps muffled by soft slippers, as we were getting back on our feet. He chuckled when he saw our fearful expression. With a warm grin that seemed to say I can see you’re not from here he came closer and embraced us on the side of the heart. He refilled his mug with lukewarm filter coffee and poured the rest in one large bowl for us, before silently retreating to his study.
It must have been almost midday when we reached the top of the hill. We no longer had to raise our gaze to look at the sun : it was all around us, even beneath our feet. We were aware of the damage that could incur. We knew that the longer the stare, the longer the ghost of light would follow us. The lone pinetree in the middle of the hill offered no protection. Besides, it suffered from a mild infection. We envied the mistletoe for its photosynthetic abilities.
We came up here to understand. To get over the rejection.
Our last attempt had been a failure : The door was locked, so we knocked. Through the peephole the wrinkly eye of an old Sunday Child squinted. His hoarse voice spoke the verdict : No. You can’t come in. Your paleness and the shape of your smile betray the nature of your soul. I will not let you demon into my home. Keep away. The old man then rang a gong and recited the Triple Gem. We fled through a breach in the thorny bushes that fenced the property.
We came up on this hill out of confusion, almost out of shame. Perhaps a tan would redeem us, mutilate our skin to the submolecular level and thereby foster complete rejuvenation. Make us ready to face distrust again.
* The sky that day might have seemed opaque and prosaic to the heedless observer, yet anyone gifted with a fair amount of patience and finesse would have noticed its everchanging subtleties, how the three cumulus humilis materialised out of the blue to rapidly fray and spread outwards like smoke, two of them seemingly interweaving and fusing together although in fact active on distinct strata, and as soon as they vanished—as suddenly as they formed—the sky was a blank canvas again, not for very long though, for a pair of swallows crossed its surface diagonally from south west to north east, followed most strangely by the fall of a single white feather—remnant of a pillow fight between an angel and a dove?—which never quite touched the ground, or how the large mediocris in the shape of a poppy with a hole in its centre for black markings (in the hope to increase attractiveness to pollinators by means of sexual deception) spread equally outwards like a drop of milk in a cup of blueberry tea and as it travelled westwards metamorphosed into a skull, narrow bony oval perforated with two misshapen orifices for eyes, and how another swallow, flying higher, faster, from east to west, just before exiting the frame, dove down abruptly to disappear below the horizon—brief cerulean interlude, followed by a series of fractus crawling from the east, lead by a fierce, fearless duck with a raised pointy beak that very soon frayed to nothing (another swallow flew across from west to east, bounced off the invisible border of the field of vision, and made an about turn) when cloud III of the series progressed from circular to rectangular immensity, expanding to merge with cloud II while cloud IV was composed of several small dots and cloud V dawdled far behind, insignificant, until a plane flew across it and pierced it sharply, leaving a trail of sparkly white powder—and how there the wind paused, the sky went a tone paler, and many swallows followed, on different heights, disrupted trajectories.
Marie-Pascale Hardy is an artist whose practice extends across poetry, performance, vocal and visual art. Born in Quebec, Canada, she completed a BA in fine arts and design before moving to London, UK, where she lived for nearly a decade. Now based in Berlin. Her words have appeared in Poetry London, SAND, FU Review, Burning House Press and stadtsprachen. She is the vocalist and lyricist of the duo Paco Sala. See mphardy.com for more information.