This Is Not An Exit

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“Come and take me,” her eyes tell me from far away, her eye lids almost closing in on each other. Her skinny body moves around in a wobbly manner, her dark brown skin sometimes camouflaging with the burnt-brown colour of the wall.

She tantalizes me all through the night, knowing quite well that I always keep her within sight. She leaps from one lap to the next, randomly and chaotically, without restriction, but still within my sight. I can see her minimal movement and I can sense it spurring cumbersome emotions which fall down upon me like a torrent of solid hail which drains me.

Soon, every pair of male eyeballs is following her with luscious desire to conquer. By trying to tantalize me and seduce me, she has managed to attract the eyes of the whole tavern. When no more cold laps are found, she stands beside the wall, acting out an uncaring character out of a feminist novel, feigning indifference to the hungry swollen eyes that stare at her, inventing an interest in the muted television show, wishing she had a penis, and putting a straight face while trying with Sisyphean effort to avoid blushing cheeks.

Her hands are tucked inside the small pocket shafts on either hip. Her arms try to stay as wide as possible from her chest so as not to cram her tangerine breasts together. But all to no avail. Her tight dress does the job perfectly; her tangerines looking tender as they try to fight the cold, but they stiffen, as if asking the swollen eyeballs for a bit of warmth to ripen, promising juicy pulp.

A pair of eyeballs moves towards her, and she does not relent; she cannot. I will not budge, not yet; I won’t let myself become just another participant in the orgy of eyeballs that engulf her. The prostitute is surrounded by pairs of eyeballs, red and quivering. Their tentacles touch her slightly. Her hands are forced to close upon her body, squeezing her stiff tangerines. No more indifference and no more acting. She looks straight at me and pleads with her fretful eyes. She distinguishes me and makes me her messiah. In kind, I draw the line and pull her towards me with an all-forgiving magnetism. We get out of the tavern and I lead the way.

“My name is Mélanie,” she says in a French accent, “I’m half French, half Algerian,” her lips barely parting as she talks.

We walk through a door on which a sign reads this is not an exit.

****

Five months later, we’re living together. I walk inside the apartment, the sign still hanging on its door. I put the groceries I’ve bought on the kitchen table and go to the living room. She is sitting on the couch, legs crossed, wearing loose pants and a tight beige shirt. She looks at me indifferently, still carrying her disappointment from the previous night, and then continues to read whatever it is she’s reading.

“Did you have a good day?” I ask, but her head does not move; her eyes stay fixated on the page of an odd looking pink coloured magazine. A horrible feeling of guilt drenches me with a heaviness akin to the certainty of eminent death.

“Oh, C’mon!” I desperately say, making her disappointment seem trivial. She does not relent. She never does.

I go back to the kitchen and open the new bottle of White Horse Whisky I just bought. I light a cigarette and go back to the living room holding my cup. She smells the smoke of the burning cigarette and tries to incinerate it as a whole with her fiery eyes.

“I thought we weren’t allowed to smoke indoors,” she stingily asks.

“I can break the rules,” I reply childishly knowing full well that the conversation can head in only one direction now: towards catastrophe.

She goes back to reading and I head out to the balcony, holding the tumbler glass with the smoky whisky in one hand and the burning cigarette with the other. Rain drizzles, but the air is fresh and cold, and it soothes me. I look at her from the outside and like a voyeur I gaze at her stillness, hoping desperately for a twitch, a sudden movement for my eye to capture. A couple of minutes later, I throw the incandescent cigarette butt out to the street, and take the last sip of what’s left in the tumbler glass. My eyes are still fixated on her dark brown skin, its colour unaffected by the fluorescence of the living room lights. A chilly breeze forces me to go inside.

This little piece of home spreads in front of me like an impoverished stage. A couch, a table, a TV and a weathered carpet in the middle of the living room. Rooms are demarcated by closed curtains; not even the toilet has a door. A barrier of cloth divides the house. Books are assembled over each other; no bookshelves to contain them. Between the stained white walls, our movement echoes like a broken vinyl record, stinking of a past decomposing in the silence of a womb undoing itself.

I remember the first time we sat on the couch together, almost five months ago. We had carried it together from her old apartment to mine, each of us carrying it from one end. After serious laborious lifting, we finally managed to get it inside the apartment, placing it in the then-vacant living room.

“Welcome home,” I had told her as I gave her a plastic cup with Vodka in it. We drank and slept side by side on the couch, squeezing our bodies together, like prophets (or magicians) creating room where there is none.

She sits on the couch now like a sovereign ruler sitting on her throne, as if I’m not allowed to come near it, her own private space. Like a stray cat, I wonder around the house, a lump forming in my throat like a rapidly growing cancer promising to suffocate me very soon.

Finally, she gets off the couch and goes to the kitchen. I’m in the bedroom inside and can hear her going through the plastic bags. I hear the garbage bin being open, and moments later, the lid being closed again, with force. I wait for her to leave the kitchen like a soldier waiting for the enemy to pass. I can see the couch from the room, and as I look at it to see if she has returned, she suddenly appears, looking at me, then going to the living room, sitting on the couch again, in the same position, reading the pink magazine.

I head to the kitchen and open the lid of the green garbage bin. I see the White Horse Whisky bottle and the maxi pads thrown out. I lit another cigarette to ease my frustration and prepare myself for a confrontation. I inhale and blow smoke as I tread my way slowly towards the living room. I hear the television beep. Intermittent sounds signal changing channels. When I reach the living room, I notice a Woody Allen movie on TV and I see her on her couch, but it’s no longer a formidable domain. I sit down and blow smoke in every direction possible.

My love life is terrible. The last time I was inside a woman was when I visited the Statue of Liberty,” a character in the movie says, but neither of us laugh.

“Can you stop?” she says, obviously annoyed.

“Why did you throw the whisky and the maxi pads in the garbage?” I ask, my voice as steady as it can be.

“I don’t need sources of temptation in the house,” she says nonsensically.

“How is the maxi pad a source of temptation?” I ask rhetorically, already feeling victorious.

“Why did you bring maxi pads?” she asks, as if violated.

“Because,” I’m not sure what to say, “you’ll need them?”

“No.” Her voice trembles.

“No?” I’m wondering if she’s taking the piss.

“No. I won’t need them,” she says, her lower lip shaking, her chin wrinkling, and her eyebrows coming together, curving up at the inside.

This can only mean one thing. The cancer in my throat reaches full intensity and my ability to speak is robbed. We face each other like two cowboys meeting at high noon, who have forgotten that they should engage in a shootout. Lightning flashes and glows both our faces, forcing me to blink. She looks away, trying not to cry. I just sit there trying to swallow what she just didn’t tell me. It burns through my brain like caustic acid. I put off the cigarette and come closer to her. I rub her rough elbows because I know she likes it when I do.

“This doesn’t have to be a tragedy,” I say boldly, knowing that I might be saying something she doesn’t want to hear at all.

“If you want a happy ending, you should go see a Hollywood movie.” A character on TV responds to the silence and the thunder finally comes, and with it, more rain.

****

This is the first time we go out since Mélanie’s inside job. A married couple have invited us to their new home. Mélanie, wanting to feel alive and revived, wears an off-white tent dress with an above-the-knee hemline. She covers herself with a loose, wine-coloured, thin cardigan. Her high-heels tap an autistic symphony as we walk outside of the apartment.

We get to our friends’ house located in the better part of town; central, as they say. I smoke a cigarette in the lobby before going up, savouring every tinge of nicotine before going up to the smoke-free zone.

“Don’t smoke in the elevator,” Mélanie says.

“We’re not in the elevator,” I state, matter-of-factly.

I finish my cigarette, and then we get in the elevator, travelling fifteen stories upwards. The elevator has a mosaic of a flower pot decorating its floor. A computerized feminine voice monotonously says “going up,” half a minute later, it speaks again, “Fifteenth floor.” We find our friend Ramzi waiting for us at the door.

“Hello! My favourite people” a warm adulatory welcome is coupled with a clownish smile. “Come in, Come in. Christina will be here in a minute. Make yourself comfortable.”

Mélanie and I enter the house, amazed by the grandiose decor and high-art on the wall. Mélanie has a gaping mouth as we move under carved ceilings and crystal chandeliers, through mahogany doors and atop hardwood and marble floors. We finally manage to find our way to the living room where a squared glass table is bordered by couches on three of its four sides. Two of the couches are black leather, the third is red velvet. Mélanie and I sit on one of the black leather couches and Ramzi sits in front of us on the red velvet couch. White light glitters above us from yet another hung, but vastly ornamented chandelier. As soon as we sit, we hear a scream coming from somewhere in the house, obviously Christina’s voice. Ramzi looks alarmed and so are we. The three of us stand up, worried. We here sporadic tapping and then Christina shows up, hopping her way into the living room, a big smile on her face. She barely notices us as she jumps onto Ramzi, a pregnancy test in her hand.

“It’s positive,” she overwhelmingly professes to her husband and to us.

I look at Mélanie standing next to me, her hand on her stomach, trying hard to feign a smile, the glamour of the house suddenly looking unglamorous and unhomely. Mélanie looks at me, her eyes distressed. “Take me home,” her eyes tell me.

A mere hour later, we excuse ourselves and head back home. I light two cigarettes and give one to Mélanie who snatches it out of my hand. We’re silent on the way back, the only sound is that of the knocking rain on the car’s roof. We reach the building, enveloped in the misty darkness of the city. Inside the elevator, Mélanie sucks on a cigarette, blowing smoke. She looks warm and sweet; tight and deep, reminiscent of that night in the tavern.

“You look…”, I try to speak, but she interrupts me with a waving hand. She looks at me, and her eyes…This is not an exit, we read, as we enter the apartment…

Odilon Redon

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