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The Arcadian
Shola von

Bim will get to the hotel bar first. And it will be an old hotel; painted wall panels and a tinted glass dome, apparently once the house of a society hostess who was conveyed around Edinburgh in a coach pulled by zebras towards the end of the 19th Century. Today, like whenever he comes, he will sit in the baroque alcove and fantasise about visiting the house in the 1890s, until he gets violently ejected from his own vision, recalling, with a shock, that he would probably not be invited to such a house in such a period.

Even his fantasies will not contain his Blackness, which will sometimes seem to keep him out of Arcadia however many loopholes he finds, like the presence of Black students living in Edinburgh since the 1850s, at least. Surely any one of them might have been invited by the hostess? The child of a Yoruba noble perhaps? This will get him a little further, but then he meets the hostess and her husband and they scream abuse at him, inform him the reason he was invited was as an exotic specimen, like the zebras, and his vision ends. His Arcadian impulse will have always been doing this to him. Leading him down half-lit glittering corridors before slamming him against concrete walls.

To be born an Arcadian is to crave a paradise knit out of visions of the past just as a Utopian does with the future. Arcadian Personality Types therefore tend to have a general fondness for old things and buildings, such as this hotel; things which shall forever push Bim down mental avenues of history not conducive to constituting the grand ahistorical mythical paradise which is the ultimate Arcadian project (a collaboration with the Utopian Personality Types). Bim will know again sitting there that to be an Arcadian, hung up on fantasised pasts, but born in a historically impermissible body, is a kind of punishment.

That is why he will have been trying, for the past few weeks, to be Utopian. To be forward-looking. A futurist. It will be difficult. He will have just failed again by choosing this hotel and then fantasising about it, but these will only be lapses, he will tell himself.

He is going to be meeting Henrik, a semi-muscular, handsome Utopian, who will come in soon with a shopping bag and say,

“What are you having, mate?”

The “mate” will make Bim feel sick. Conscious and deliberate. Bim will see that although Henrik’s first language is Swedish it is not just a word he’s innocently picked up. It will give Bim all the more encouragement to order the most elaborate cocktail on the menu which Henrik will register blankly. Beer was of course what he will want Bim to order (and not because of the money). Wine will be barely tolerated. But this. Pink and everything.

Maybe not, maybe Bim will just be in the midst of a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, he first met Henrik whilst wearing a rustling shell-pink gown, every plait hanging entombed above his shoulders in small opal bars and each under-eye daubed to resemble violet petals blanched to the point of translucency and his cheeks glazed orchid. Bim will look much the same today minus the gown. Bim will think, “If Henrik doesn’t like it, he would not have come.” His displeasure in the choice of drink was not a matter of gender. It was a matter of political presentation.

As if to confirm this Henrik will return from the bar and rant about the hotel. About “such places.” Henrik, typical Utopian, will always be drawn to newer things. Old things will always be redolent of aristocracy and the bourgeoisie to Utopians like Henrik and Bim will hate how this will, by default, make him feel like a fascist imperialist. The equation of utopianism with progressiveness, arcadianism with conservatism, will seem like a false one, a dangerous one. Still, he will wish he chose somewhere else more typically Utopian.

But Bim will be shocked and delighted when Henrik will say he has booked a room as a surprise. Bim will have tried many times to scam a room in this hotel, emailing the P.R companies amongst other things.

Oh but darling the lord giveth and the lord taketh, for when in the room, he will barely have any time to look around before Henrik will say,

“Put on this, yeah?” and hand him the plastic bag and Bim will find inside a sort of football kit. He will start to get changed and Henrik will say,

“You’re too skinny: a frond,” And Bim will immediately love the idea of being a frond but then Henrik will say, “Come to the gym later.”

Bim will say no, barely concealing his disgust. Though why it will have made him so repulsed he shall not be able say. Something in the atmosphere of that gym. He’ll remember having been to the juice café there to meet Henrik last week. Afterwards, Henrik made him look around, and yes, whilst those bodies moving about like liquid; like oil; with a grace and strength that terrified and dizzied him; each torso different as if repeatedly impressed with another type of shell; razor clams over there; that one pink- white scallops; the endless ridges, furrows and hollows, were attractive, the bodies startled him, all together like that. Like any femme-queer of his variety he should have rejoiced at the thick-cut ecstasy of that neck over there. But just like Henrik’s body, they’d made him terrified in a different way, on top of the lustful terror. Made him sick with shock. It was shocking: Men.

He will feel dizzy as if some of his soul might easily spill over and out of him like iridescent milk, staining the hotel carpet forever, unless he contains his thoughts. He will go into the bathroom with the kit to finish getting changed and start to dry retch, so he will then lock the door and have a bath which will be delightful. There will even be gold swan taps.

He will shiver with joy in the foam.

In the bath he will know part of his being drawn to such obvious types, though morally anathema to him, not to mention basic, was vital. That it will have always been important to underscore his own

femininity by physical and behavioural contrast, something which could be particularly hard if the men were white: Somehow, they were capable of eliding such gorgeous signifiers as the shell-pink ball gowns. Or the brocade doublet he had met another man in,

“I reckon you’d look hot in a tracksuit, wear one next time.” “Do I look like I would…”


The mental gymnastics of these men was spectacular to witness. The image of Bim’s Blackness overrode that of his femininity, blocked it out. For them, one could not even cohabit the same body as the other, never mind being atomically, monadically, the same, as they were to Bim. The gowns were taken to be an exception. As if they imagined it was fancy dress just for the night, to be blocked out, passed over, for a presumed otherwise regular masculinity.

“Why don’t you shave your head?”

“But I’ve been growing it for ages,” he would tell them, fingering the crystal pendant at the end of a braid, wondering if he’d shaved under his lip properly.

Bim will think: And now this football kit, this really was de trop, it really was his worst nightmare and he will retch some more after the bath whilst putting it on—the feel of it! But perhaps this will be the Arcadian in him rebelling against getting fucked by a Utopian and all that went with it.

He would escape from his Arcadianism.

The glass dome has turned silver, blue, indigo-black, black. It is midnight and Bim sits in the upper gallery looking down into the main bar. He has never sat upstairs before because it is only for hotel guests. When his drink is brought up he turns his attention to the painted wall panels. They are similar

in style to the ones below. Eventually he finds himself standing up with his drink and wandering along from panel to panel until he stops and stands and stares at two of them for a very long time.

They both depict a courtyard garden. In the first it is early morning and the sky is copper green.

There are ghostly pear trees in white pots and stags supping from a large ornate central fountain.

The second panel depicts the same cloistered courtyard, there are many delicate Black and brown people gathered around the fountain. The sun has risen. They wear brocade robes with green velvet breeches and silk stockings in oyster and long trains of sheer fabric draped across the marble floor like swathes of coloured syrup on ice; crowns of metallic black stone and bronze project into the air like cathedrals. Outrageously embroidered slippers, high-heeled, in the manner of rococo court shoes.

The panels all date to before the residency of the hostess. He spends a great deal of time staring at these figures.

The two panels are beautiful.

It recalls when he was younger and the sky became powdered with green or flooded with rose and he would lie on the black-barred balcony of his tower, towels thrown over the railing to conceal him from anyone below who might look up. The sky looked not of that place but reflected from elsewhere. A charming lake where there were orchidaceous people. He would attribute the sky to some time and place long forgotten. An arcadia. He would writhe around the balcony with loneliness which, once introduced to the system, to the soul of the Arcadian, never leaves.

He has come to know that such a sky could be of such a place and its not feeling so then was both his own lack of imagination and a sly aesthetic fascism that belonged to society-at-large. (And besides, that sky does not belong in the parties he now attends either.)

As an Arcadian he feels sure standing there that his sky is the one in the painting.

It makes the water in the fountain gleam. Silver and dun birds peck at bowls of fruit, perched on the lips of red glass vessels.

“Very funny,” Henrik said.


Breakfast was also served in the upper gallery and Bim had woken up Henrik early just to show him the panels. Henrik looked at them again.

Bim’s immediate worry was that Henrik would see it as a work of Orientalism. In his experience such people had learnt to immediately dismiss as orientalist anything which is old and features bodies of colour near the ornamental. An improvement of kinds, probably, but now anything which reminded them of their own bodies’ uncomfortable relation to power made them daily re-enact what they shunned by writing off work actually from ‘the East.’ And things like this: diasporic visions. A young Utopian like Henrik might not pick up that he was gazing on this Arcadia with the painter who was not separate from the bodies—something Bim detected but couldn’t put a finger on.

That many of the figures did not fall along the gender line was something Henrik would probably also interpret as orientalist fantasy: The sexualised, demonised, feminised Other. Though to Bim nothing could have been further from the truth.

This was not about something foreign. “It’s new. Modern,” said Henrik at last. “No, it’s not.”


“There were Black students living in the city at the time who might have modelled for the artist.”

“I didn’t say there weren’t,” says Henrik, quick off the mark, but Bim knew he didn’t quite believe it. He needed him to believe it and spent some time arguing about the painting’s age, but Henrik didn’t want to argue anymore and changed the subject. And, to Bim’s delight, smiled and asked if he wanted one of those pink cocktails with his breakfast.

He also told Bim he liked his earrings.

But before Henrik stood up to order the cocktail his eyes flickered to the second panel. As they looked away from it, Bim caught them and was able to turn and see it as Henrik saw it.

Bim had been was wrong. Henrik did not see orientalism at work. Not even. Instead, Bim saw how especially unconvincing Henrik thought the figures. Those predominantly androgynous Black and brown bodies. Unlikely in their setting: this building, a Victorian painting, a depiction of antiquity. They looked, to Henrik, like a kind of anachronistic, comical drag. Harder to believe than zebras in the streets of 19th Century Edinburgh.

Bim will visit the panel again. Will notice a figure leaning over the fountain. The figure Bim was most drawn to. A delicate youth (of twenty-five or so). Like many, though not all, of the figures, this one will once have been described as androgynous.

Bim will not be able to stop looking at the figure, at the light glancing off the mosaic in the fountain into Their face, hypnotising Them. Bim will not be ejected from this vision. They will be taken up, incorporated into the scheme of the hotel, the painted panels.

        The blue marble niche.

                                                The giant fountain

        The stags

                                                                The ghostly pear trees

                                      The figure in the corner, who will once have been referred to

as a man The figure on the fountain ledge who will once have been referred to as an


The figure by the pillar who will once have been referred to as a woman

The figure by the fruit who will once have been referred to by the word

hermaphrodite The red glass vessels

“he” but not He. To be said lightly without meaning. To be skimmed over surely rather than drawn attention to (They will once think).

        The dome.

Desperate Literature is an international bookshop in the heart of Madrid. Founded in 2014—and selling books in English, French and Spanish—the bookshop aims to build a literary community around and through these literatures. Every year, the shop runs a Short Fiction Prize, celebrating new voices and experimental treatment of the form; the 2019 edition was judged by Claire-Louise Bennett, Sam Riviere and Eley Williams. Shola von Reinhold’s work ‘The Arcadian,’ runner-up for the 2019 prize, was shortlisted alongside works by Tom Benn, Jake Spears, Teo Rivera-Dundas, Frances Gapper, Jay G Ying, Joshua Riedel, Shane Tivenan, Rose Chen and Conor White-Andrews. The prize was awarded to Francesca Reece for her story ‘SO LONG SARAJEVO / THEY MISS YOU SO BADLY’ and all shortlisted works were published in the volume ELEVEN STORIES: The Desparate Literature Short Fiction Prize Shortlist Selection, 2019 (Madrid: Desparate Literature, 2019), available for purchase direct from the publisher here

Shola von REINHOLD is a writer based in Glasgow. Their debut novel LOTE, which follows a modern day woman’s obsession with a queer modernist cult who believed the mythical lotus-eaters were a real proto-communist society, is out 26 March 2020 with Jacaranda Books.

The 2020 edition of the Desperate Literature Prize for Short Fiction is in motion, and accepting submissions now through March 15th 2020. This year’s installment hosts judges Rachel Cusk, Claire-Louise Bennett, Niven Govinden and Ottessa Moshfegh and full details on the prize and submission criteria can be found here.


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Partner to a press called Tenement, Hotel is a publications series for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. 

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