So, the novel of Laura Moriarty is called “The Chaperone”, and this implies the existence of two heroines – the “Chaperone” herself and the person she accompanies. In the interaction of the participants in this impromptu duet, two poles are embodied in the ideas regarding the possible female fate and stereotypes of female behavior in society.
Two dimensions can be discerned in the novel – firstly, the conversations of these two woman travelling together, – conversations separated in time by two decades, – and, secondly, the movement of the whole world around them. Conversations are being conducted in a point in time when humanity, in some way, is still so young and does not know what will happen very soon. And, of course, these two American women are also not aware of “what the coming day has in store for them.” And on the contrary, the reader feels himself as a kind of wise observer with a skeptical smile, who was allowed to look into the Future and learn “something more.”
And so we are sweeping through numerous successive eras, making a rather thorough stop in the colorful New York of 1922 – in such a licentious and in such an unsafe city compared to the sanctimonious American outback of the Midwest, where the women came from – in New York, which the main character, however, contemplates from a rather peculiar perspective of her pressing worries.
Meanwhile, people around talk about such social problems as “prohibition”, pregnancy out of wedlock, contraception … More precisely, we have before us not abstract reasoning, but examples of how at different times public opinion influenced specific human destinies, the examples which are mixed up on a cocktail of the life paths that are so unideal on closer examination. So the heroine, born in the nineteenth century, is amazed to discover that significant shifts in people’s views set the laws in motion, forcing them to go from hypocrisy towards greater flexibility and gentleness, to taking into account the whole variety of human inclinations and the unpredictability of life situations.
I just read the book Adèle by Leïla Slimani. In this book we see a very curious and valuable study of the nature of female sexuality.
In some ways, Adele resembles the heroine of my autobiographical cycle “The Unbearable Longing of the Flesh”.
So here’s what we read about Adèle in Leïla Slimani’s novel: “She was not hungry for the flesh of men, but for the situation itself.” The author of the book describes that Adèle, in the measured routine of everyday life, tried to feel herself in the center of men’s attention, to feel being desired, and then so that this situation would receive some kind of intimate continuation, and this her longing was especially aggravated at parties. In sex, she liked his intimacy, his hidden side. I am writing in Serious Relationship: “In sex I loved the very atmosphere of intimacy most of all, and it was unique with each partner”.
Communication, parties are boring if Adele does not feel being desired. She immediately notices all the signals from men in her direction. Watches how long men resist her advances. At the beginning of Serious Relationship, I detail how my heroine methodically and patiently seduces her boyfriend’s friend.
The second part of the cycle “The Unbearable Longing of the Flesh”. – Serious Relationship – starts like this:
“What is a man? Firstly, this is his eyes, when he staring at you more or less intensely, furtively or openly, with more or less pleasure. Then this is his penis inside you, functioning better or worse, and these more or less virtuoso movements of the penis cause in his biological master more or less self-reflection on everything that happens”.
In her novel, Leïla Slimani gives a more detailed formulation of my thought: “Men, making love, look at their penis. They lean on their hands, tilt their heads and watch as their rod penetrates the woman. They want to make sure it works. For a few seconds they evaluate the movements and they probably enjoy this mechanic, so simple and so effective”.
Just like the heroine of the novel Adèle, my heroine was afraid of loneliness. As for Adele , “she was afraid not of men, but of loneliness. She was afraid not to be under anyone’s gaze, to be an unknown, nameless, pawn in the crowd. “ This is what is told about my heroine in “I am Becoming a Woman “: “Since sitting at home was mostly boring and lonely, I did not refuse any interesting pastimes that fate offered to me. After drinking a little for courage, I used to go off on a date with some new gentleman, whom I intended to charm”.
Here’s what Leïla Slimani writes about forced women integrating into the social behavior model: “Adèle had a child for the same reason she got married. To belong to the world and protect herself from any difference from others. “ I write about the same in “Serious Relationship”: “Gradually, I really came to consider myself as an old maid … I started avoiding people who might ask me if I had already married or not … From now on, a girl of my age needed to get married in order just to increase self-esteem”.
However, Adèle is not too eager to lead just a boring family life. “She will have to find something that transcends the prosaicity that strangled her in childhood, forcing her to say that there is no punishment more terrible than family life”.
This is what I write in Serious Relationship: “Due to the pesky duty of cooking that was imposed on a woman in our society, I never wanted to get married, and besides, I was terrified by the perspective of washing diapers and hearing baby’s crying”.
So do not forget to download my book- my own exploration of female sexuality:
“By the time you read these words, I probably will be gone…” In the middle of the night I wake up. I’m shaking. With a tearful grimace, I am trying to sink back into the dream saving me from reality at least for a while.
Mom, mom, don’t call me. Don’t come into my room. I do not want to eat. I’m not going anywhere today. I will lie like this under the covers, with my face turned to the wall, and sobbing. Let the tears choke me. I want to cry out all my tears.
The helpline is 999-99-33. I’ll call, this is my last hope. Once I overheard this number and wrote it down by inertia. And now the moment has come to use it.
“Girl, and did you have such a situation… When, on the contrary, you had to tell someone you didn’t need him? Although you knew you were hurting him by saying this? ” a professional psychologist asks me. She is calm. She is completely calm. “I have … ” I’m starting to remember.
A woman on the other end waits patiently. This is her job. “Well, now you see, girl! So you also had such a situation! And now you’ve kind of changed roles. So that…” So that… Don’t worry! Be happy!
Someone, – it seems, it was Alex – said in such cases you needed to take several pils of demerol at once, and then it would all be over. I will be lying on the bed, crying and imagining I will call him from the telephone box, say I will kill myself, and then take out the pills brought in advance and swallow it.”
It was quote from “Serious Relations” (The Unbearable Longing of the Flesh Book 2)
And when one day he took possession of my body, I even burst into tears. Naturally, he did not know how to respond to this.
I was even scared a little by my crying during making love… After thinking about this a little bit, I decided that, perhaps, at the moment when the man was taking possession of me, I still felt like a raped little girl. But in general, it was exactly a kind of male violence against me what attracted me in sex. Or, perhaps, my tears were associated with the exchange of energy between bodies that occurred during copulation.
During our intimacy, I felt the full significance of what was happening and outdid myself in expressing passion … Although in fact, my passion was not at all caused by the personality of my sexual partner. My strong emotions were simply the result of the thoughts about my unhappy life. It was a kind of despair over the fact that, despite all the efforts, it seemed again I didn’t succeed. For me, sex was always a sacrament, a complete harmony and a fusion, but if this did not happen in the way I had expected, then I was inevitably upset. Therefore, in bed, I involuntarily started playing a performance of excess of feelings, and, as it sometimes does, I myself believed in this performance too.
It was quote from “Serious Relations” (The Unbearable Longing of the Flesh Book 2).
Gradually, I really came to consider myself as an old maid. Although previously the time factor did not pressure me, and I only wanted to have fun, now I really had to think about having a steady boyfriend. It occurred to me that if I was still alone, then something was wrong with me. Perhaps I was ugly, and over time I became additionally old and evil. In my behavior I started noticing such features of the classic old maid as irritability and suspicion. My body started to get old and my feelings, awaiting a man I could love, still remained unused. If I saw couples in love on the street, then I got into bad mood. I started avoiding people who might ask me if I had already married or not… From now on, a girl of my age needed to get married in order just to increase self-esteem.
It was quote from “Serious Relations” (The Unbearable Longing of the Flesh Book 2).
However, there was one friend Lenka whom I was hanging out with. I remember once she invited me to her place.
The September sun that did not warm… Precisely such kind of sun was shining as she brought me from her city apartment to the garden of her country house. The garden was rich with sun and covered in fallen apples – signs of the inevitable wilting of nature. We were picking apples. We satisfied our hunger with hastily cooked potatoes and canned fish. The country house was completely at our disposal, we felt there as sovereign owners. Her naive admiration for her “vast” possessions was transferred also me while she was galloping and frolicking, like a child, jumping on springy beds and climbing trees… Having agreed to share this simple leisure with her, I found myself to have a strange feeling that both boredom and a desire to get away quickly were inevitably taking hold of me. At that time, I had already tasted all the charm of merging and unity with a man, all the exciting and sweet abyss of this game, and therefore I could no longer seek sincerely to harmony in communication with my girl friends.
It was quote from “Serious Relations” (The Unbearable Longing of the Flesh Book 2).
In terms of style, this book is absolutely stunning. From the first lines, without any preparation, the reader is immersed in a skillfully and cleverly concocted text canvas, and it is felt that it was created not by a series of long efforts, but in a state of endless creative drive of the author, flavored with a share of unrestrained and slightly bitter irony bordering on sarcasm – irony, sometimes everyday, and sometimes – going into other spheres or into other times, which allows you to rise a little above the described moment in the movement towards a deeper and edifying generalization. This drive of the author is transmitted to the reader, who is amazed at the meaning concentrated in words, and from this contemplative hovering over the fictional world, the reader receives endless, uninterrupted pleasure. I can’t remember the last time I read something written in such a … I may say “exquisite” manner, but, perhaps, sophistication and detachment are, rather, characteristics of such a brilliant, but a bit cold stylist – esthete, like Vladimir Nabokov, smugly juggling expressive means of language and treating playing with words as a fascinating exercise in a combination of observation and the art of stringing words inside a phrase … No, here, in prose and in the Universe of Marina Stepnova, everything is arranged differently – the amazing correctness of style is combined with a crushing emotional intensity here. What else can I say about this style? For example, the fact that upon close examination it becomes noticeable that this prose is fused from precisely noticed smells, colors, structures, and that the described objects and concepts, barely falling into the writer’s field of vision, immediately and unquestioningly reveal their very essence to him – as external one , and, perhaps, even as internal one. And that with two or three cleverly captured epithets, each – sometimes even completely third-rate – object, noticed by the author completely on the periphery of the field of vision, is given an exhaustive volumetric characteristic. Each material exhibit in this Universe of Marina Stepnova is dated and stamped, having passed meticulous identification by material and manufacturing factory, and thanks to this, the flavor of those eras at which the author makes stops are recreated.
So, as far as style is concerned, objects are seen through, as if on an X-ray, vague sensations are caught from afar and are depicted as bright and almost grotesque, and all this explosive mixture literally threatens to knock the reader off his feet by its pressure.
As for the plot, then, of course, it is difficult to discern anything particularly amazing and inventive in the narration, and to give at least some dynamics to the boring development of the story, the author knocks down the order of time in different ways, first running ahead, then retrospectively delving into the details of the childhood of the character and so on.
There are no especially interesting characters here – only a kind of typical average characters – “archetypal” ones. There are some experiences in their lives – again, quite banal ones, but absolutely recognizable and understandable to the bulk of readers.
Of course, here you will not find any philosophical or existential observations in the book- something that will make you think – no, you just watch in amazement a tangle of intertwined stories under the slogan “The fairy tale is a lie, but there is a hint in it.”
… Forgive me, but does the reader really need an intricate plot when there such a high quality of the text style? On the contrary, in this case, a too twisted plot is contraindicated, because the style here, as they say, is self-sufficient.
Even the very beginning of this text reminded me that elusively attractive atmosphere of Paris and Parisian cafes, which is imbued with the texts of Julio Cortazar – for example, his story “El otro cielo.” or the beginning of the novel “Rayuela”.
And the idea of writing down the names of all visitors to all Parisian cafes in a notebook (the idea of ”intersection points”) or the idea that all missing people have “settled” in furnished rooms where they are not asked for documents, is very similar to the idea of counting the number of people entering and leaving the metro in “Records in a notebook “and games with” the Mondrian tree of the Paris Metro” from the story”A manuscript found in a pocket” by Cortazar.
This short novel is about finding oneself in space (and not just in space, but exactly in the space of Paris) and in time – in one’s memoirs, many of which relate, again, to movement along the streets of Paris.
It is very important for the heroes which zone of Paris they live in, and one guy even creates a theory of “neutral zones“. Wandering around the city, on some streets they are surprised to find themselves, as if not in the capital, but in the provinces, and, fantasizing, they outline for themselves houses where they would like to live and which they, it would seem, have just left in a kind of their parallel life …
The girl carries with her a book with the eloquent title “The Lost Horizon” and seeks to get out of the narrow framework in which her life is enclosed. When life has a perspective – for example, when you want to travel “in the heart of summer – where time has stopped and the hands of the clock always show noon“, then “the horizon line stretches far ahead, there, in infinity.” In an effort to escape from anxiety and a feeling of emptiness, she always looks for a new life, new acquaintances, “refuge”, and at times she briefly manages to find a “heady feeling of lightness“, and she is most happy in the very moment when she flees from somewhere. It all began with a movie theater stimulating the unattainable dreams with the expressive name “Mexico City”, after the sessions in which “Colored neon signs were just like in the movies: emerald green, dark blue, sandy yellow … The colors were too bright, and it seemed that you were on the other side of the screen, or in a dream …”
The guy who is her friend is obessed by the thought of a kind of the Eternal Return – “There are days when you don’t immediately remember what year you live in … Everything repeats itself. Identical days, nights, places, meetings ”, but after years he bitterly realizes: “Now here you will not meet the ghosts of the past – even they died … In this world … I more and more seemed to myself to be an accidental survivor.”
A miraculous story that took place in Venice – the Italian city wearable for legends.
Winter was in decline. Her more fortunate rival – Spring- was approaching, and this was felt both in the gentle gusts of wind, strengthening the smell of the Grand Canal waters; and in the first heat of sunlight; and in the excited cooing of pigeons; and in the slightly lighter clothes and in a slightly more relaxed pace of the walking of the street passers-by.
Merchants occupying Piazza Rialto, rejoiced at clear weather, promising good demand, and discussed the latest things of their households and neighbors. They were looking forward to the imminent arrival of the next boat with foreigners eager for Venetian beauties and trinkets.
The flow of people was moving between the market stalls, throwing out from time to time the next buyer – a connoisseur or a collector, or an idle onlooker, stopping at one or another stand that had goods.
A young girl, dressed safe but tasteful, who could be mistaken for a student in later times, slowed down hesitantly to stop near the stand with carnival masks. The girl started looking at the leather products in confusion, so embarrassed of her interest, as if choosing accessories to emphasize the shape of her female body. The blush of embarrassment made the young Venetian even more beautiful, and the owner of the goods could not help but admire her slender figure, glancing over it with pleasure.
The perky merchant started praising his goods in his usual manner, picking up one mask or another and turning it in different ways before the eyes of the girl. He tapped the mask with his fingers, demonstrating the wonderful properties of the leather treated with a special composition, and telling some special story. Repeating the masks were made in the best workshop of Venice according to the secrets of the old masters, the owner of this excellent product invited the seignorite to try on a particular model.
The girl whose name was Lucia listened to him, smiling absent-mindedly at her thoughts.
Every year, starting from the exciting time of growing up, she waited with special trembling for the beginning of the carnival week. The same thing was repeated this spring, although this particular year had some peculiarities.
It happened that dramatic changes occurred in the life of Lucia over the last year: Lucia found her love. That is why, from now on, everything her glance falls on reminds her of Marco and is connected to him through invisible threads. Everything that Lucia sees before herself should serve for her love for Marco. When meeting with Marco, Lucia tells him all the most interesting things she learned or saw, and his smile and approval serves as a reward for her. Lucia belongs to the kind of women who want to feel on a par with men in everything. Marco is pretty well-educated, and therefore she has to make a lot of efforts to keep him interested. Most in the world Lucia is afraid of boring him. Truth be told, she would like to share every minute of her life with him. She would like him to be always with her, but this is not yet possible. However, that is precisely the kind of changes occurred to Marco recently that make Lucia particularly sad…
At the carnival, Lucia will charm Marco, she only needs to choose the right mask for this. Lucia looked from the graceful feminine masks of Columbine to grotesque masks with hooked noses. And she averted her eyes in a fright from the huge beak on the Plague Doctor mask.
Perhaps she should choose something extravagant since only these kinds of things Marco might like. Wearing such as a mask and costume, Lucia will be emboldened and will forget happily about all the conventions. Lucia thought longingly about those ancient times when the Venetians put on masks whenever they did not want to be recognized.
Suddenly Lucia remembered her friend Bianca’s words. She told she saw masks with special holes in order to ensure possibility for kissing. So maybe Lucia should make love with Marco right in the mask… These thoughts made Lucia blush with shame. She immediately felt the secret longing in her lower abdomen, and this was not surprising since Lucia was extremely sensual, that was unmistakably felt by some men, making her even more embarrassed.
“Hey, Senorita! Are you going to buy anything? ” Although it was nice for a merchant to stare at a pretty girl, but trade is trade. In addition, he understood that such a girl was too tough for him.
“Thank you, senior. I will definitely buy a mask from you, but I will do it another time”.
“You should hurry up, because soon I will have nothing left! ”
Lucia started walking along the promenade.
Recently, Marco has become distant, cut himself off from Lucia. In earlier times, he had always met her with joyful excitement, but now it seemed to her that her visits only annoyed him. He had acquired the habit of locking himself for a long time in his cabinet, where she was not allowed to enter. Lucia feels strange smells coming from the cabinet, and uneducated people would call theese strange smells devilish. Sometimes Lucia finds incomprehensible allegorical drawings in his house, that look most like medieval miniatures. These drawings depict female and male figures in magnificent ancient clothes, standing in unnatural poses with obscure objects in their hands.
Whenever Lucia tells Marco he has changed, he replies he has always been like this, but she just did not want to notice it. Sometimes it occurred to Lucia she had caused only a temporary flash of feelings in Marco, one moment of madness, and now his life is returning to normal, and there is no place for her – Lucia – in his life anymore.
“Do you have another woman?” One day Lucia could not stand it and asked a straight question.
Marco was off his face in response. He throwed an absent-minded sight on her and went into his head. Some conflicting feelings seemed to catch up with him. Lucia already regretted asking this question since she was too afraid to hear the truth. Her temples throbbed anxiously, and the time seemed to stop. The girl wanted to run away, just not to hear the insulting truth.
After all, if the word is spoken, it means that there is no return back to ignorance.
Having hardly found the strength to look up at Marco, Lucia was amazed: he was twisting into convulsions of laughter now.
“Oh, yes … I really have a woman. This is such a special woman … “
Lucia was supposed to be upset, but Marco laughed so contagiously that she barely kept from smiling. Therefore, the girl only frowned dramatically, getting the severe look on her face – in her opinion, that was the proper way to listen to such a confession. – “Lucia, don”t be jealous … I assure you she is terribly old…”
The smile disappeared from Marco’s face, and watching him, Lucia even went cold with fear – strong passions appeared on his face too sharply. It turns out that she does not know him – her lover – at all! Marco stood up abruptly from his chair and began pacing around the room, with his hands in the pockets of his silk robe.
“Do you know what they usually say about her? She has deceived and deprived the strength and life of all those who were fascinated by her. And she has left nothing in return, although she was given everything.”
Lucia got angry. Yet he can tell her about some promiscuous woman. Which, moreover, is much older than him. Of course, she – young and inexperienced Lucia – cannot compete with such a rival. Not for nothing that Bianca told her that men are used to chase after frivolous women being not squeamish about middle-aged harlots.
And then Lucia had a sudden shock of recognition. “Tell me one thing: is she rich?”
Her thoughts were mixed up. She almost asked: is she the one who givies you expensive old manuscripts?
Marco, who was drinking wine from a glass at that time, started coughing, as if having choked on something.
“You guessed it: she really can make me incredibly rich. And even more…she really can do my life gold”, and Marco laughed a strange laugh, again turning into a cough.
Overwhelmed by strong feelings, Marco looked at Lucia, and his passion changed direction: he wanted to take possession of the girl. But Lucia, too excited about everything that happened, did not find anything better than to run out of the apartment…
At first, Lucia could not understand why her eyes rested on an unremarkable market stall. The table was littered with various books in covers with big names. A good half of the books were devoted to Casanova”s adventures, and the second – to the description of incredible stories that happened to Marco Polo. When looking at the word “Marco” repeated on the covers of books, Lucia experienced a mixture of sweet pain and delight – this was another thread invisibly connecting her with her lover.
Of course, it was no wonder to meet such a name in the city, which is patronized by St. Mark. However, Lucia did not look at the book cover about the Venetian traveler. Instead, she looked at the colored miniature that she had previously seen at Marco’s house: two horsemen were fighting each other hiding behind shields. A knight with a sun instead of a head sat on a white lion, and his rival was a naked woman with a head in the form of a moon disk.
“Сan I get you anything?” the unpleasant croaking voice of the old merchant came on. and Lucia looked up at him.
Later she tried to remember what she felt at that moment. An incredible force coming from the merchant was so palpable that there was no way to resist it. Lucia recalled that gypsies have a similar strength of attraction. Mindful of the stories about this kind of people, she got scared. She was afraid she would be forced to buy something irrelevant or might have lost the contents of her wallet.
Meanwhile, leaning towards her, the merchant whispered in her ear, “I know what you need: you were interested in this funny picture, and you could not pass by”.
In response, Lucia could not bring herself to say anything.
In the meantime, the old man continued, “You come with me, and I will show you a lot of the stuff like this”.
Having appeared like that out of the ground, an enigmatic tall man in a leather vest came up near them.
“Thanks for replacing me, Giacomo. Now I’m already back”, he said addressing the old man, casually glancing at the girl and coming to the stand with books. “I see you are not wasting your time here”, he grinned good-naturedly and then added something else in foreign tongue that was unfamiliar to Lucia. The two men laughed.
If Lucia were not affected by a kind of Giacomo magnetism, then she would immediately blush, and perhaps she even would have tried to run away. But a certain magnetic force held her near Giacomo. She had no reason to fear him; and at the same time, the old man could shed some light on Marco’s strange passions, she reasoned.
“Let’s go soon to my place, otherwise the my liquid gold will wear off and you will change your mind,” Giacomo muttered with anxiety.
Lucia was amazed and decided to remember the unusual phrase.
After taking a few steps, the old man stopped near a column crowned with a bronze statue of a winged lion.
“You should look here, and then your beautiful legs will not get tired of the long journey”, he pointed to the statue of a strong animal, resting on an open book with his paw … Looking at the sculpture, Lucia felt that her legs gave way. And the next second, she was already looking at a completely different lion – this time it was a wooden lion covered in cracked paint. This lion adorned one of the huge gondolas that was standing by the pier.
The girl looked around and gasped: they turned out to be near the Arsenal on the very edge of the city. Giacomo led her straight to an abandoned house.
Upon hearing the noise, a sleepy owner of the house in a nightcap walked out to them.
“You are hanging around again, as you always do”, he grumbled and wandered back to one of the unlit rooms. One could hear him flopping onto the bed and sniffling right away.
“One day I tried my liquid gold on him in a hurry. Most likely, I made a mistake in the proportions. As a result the poor man doesn’t know the difference between night and day, but he no longer requires me to pay for housing”, Giacomo explained smugly as they climbed up the stairs eaten of worms.
They ended up in the cabinet. Lucia seemed to find herself in a time a few centuries ago. The cabinet was filled with utensils for chemical reactions, scales, globes, hourglass, littered with ancient books.
On the wall, Lucia saw portraits of pundits against still the same globes, compasses and books. Lucia imagined their faces looked a lot like Giacomo’s face.
In one of the paintings, three figures were depicted. Dressed in clothes of the last century, these gentlemen heated chemical vessels on fire, carefully observing the result. Lucia knew the artist’s brush – it was her beloved Pietro Longa.
“Why am I here?” Lucia thought in a flash from time to time. “I came here for Marco’s benefit”, she answered herself.
Giacomo sat the girl down in an easy chair and brought her a cup filled with some kind of liquid. Forged out of the precautions, hungry and extremely excited, Lucia immediately tasted the drink. She immediately felt calm.
Meanwhile, Giacomo took off his raincoat, put on a bathrobe and sat opposite the girl in such a way as to be able to sneak a look at her. He filled the tube with some kind of powder and took a puff. Lucia felt a pinching in her eyes due to acrid smoke.
“One more girl who was traded away for such a picture,” the old man breathed a sigh sadly, nodding at a miniature with a picture of a snake devouring its own tail.
“How is that possible? What do you mean?” Lucia almost got violent. Most of all she was offended by the words that she was not the only one girl who found herself in such a situation.
“Be patient, and I’ll explain everything to you,” said Giacomo, blowing smoke puffs. “By the way, here you are, if you want, they are almost as old as me, but over time they do not dry up, but only become tastier. And the local worm doesn”t eat them”, he picked up a plate of pine nuts from somewhere off the floor and put it on the table in front of Lucia.
“I have been living in the world for a long time – usually people don”t live for such a long time. Therefore, I am reasoning about high matters rational and cynically. In addition, liquid gold also helps me in this – it gives clarity to the mind and… hardness to my members, – with these last words Giacomo grinned and moved a little closer to Lucia.
“Tell me, finally, about all these pictures and about liquid gold”, Lucia asked almost plaintively. It was high time for her to think about whether it was too late already and how she would get home, but at first she certainly wanted to know about the mysterious life of her lover.
Soon her curiosity was rewarded. She learned, for example, that the figures she had seen in miniature in Marco”s apartment meant mercury and sulfur – masculine and feminine. These substances are entering into marriage, while creating a cherished alchemical elixir.
Giacomo brought Lucia towards the retort and explained that the healing of metals occurs there and as a result, the metals are cured of spoilage and turning into gold.
Lucia seemed to doze off, and when she woke up, she found herself lying in bed.
” I’ve covered you with a rug because you were trembling”, she heard Giacomo’s voice from the next room.
From that day on, Lucia’s life changed. Now, coming to Marco, she was knowledgeably interested in his successes in alchemy. Marco was surprised by the awareness of his passionate girlfriend in an enjoyable way. They had a pretty heated discussion about his last steps in mixing and evaporating substances. Usually after these alchemical conversations, Marco became so excited that the lovers ended up in bed. Lucia was overjoyed about this.
But at the same time, Lucia could not do without Giacomo: she needed to come up with some new topics for conversations with Marco. She has already realized her lover appreciates her precisely for her deep knowledge in alchemy.
Each time she wanted to visit old Giacomo, she stopped near one of the city”s many winged lions, narrowed her eyes and soon she found herself near the abandoned house.
Lucia was so full of love these days that she was ready to caress even the old Giacomo. And he invariably poured some sort of drink for her and told her his tales about red and green lions and the black dragon. After drinking, Lucia forgot herself, and then she found herself under a rug in a warm bed.
Having learned a little to disassemble the alchemical allegories in engravings and miniatures, Lucia experienced disappointment and emptiness. The alchemical structure of the world could not be understood with the help of conventional logic. These pictures with an abundance of characters, colored by the perverted imagination of artists, frightened the girl. For that matter, she was much more attracted to grimaces and elaborate mask poses in the carnival crowd.
On the first day of the carnival, Lucia went to a coffee shop to have a chat with Bianca.
“So did you managed to persuade Marco to go with you to the carnival?” Bianca asked her.
Lucia did not know what to answer. In truth, Marco flatly refused to leave the house, especially on such an insignificant occasion as the carnival.
“I hope he will come … He is so extravagant and loves to surprise me”, Lucia said with a slightly fake intonation. ” Perhaps he will come to make a surprise for me.”
In response, Bianca just shook her head thoughtfully.
At that very moment, the girls heard the sounds of a passing carnival procession and ran out into the street. Wearing masks of colombines, they merged with the crowd in the dance of spring and love. Soon Lucia was carried away by a gentleman dressed as a Harlequin.He was about the size of Marco, and Lucia perked up.
Having heard the cry of Bianca, Lucia turned around and immediately lost sight of her Harlequin. “Where is he now and with whom?” – she thought longingly. Her mood darkened so much that she barely got out of the crowd and wandered house.
The day came when Lucia realized a kind of new life was growing inside her.
This day began unusually since the carrier pigeon came in through the window of her room.
Lucia immediately remembered the paper dove Colombine,that has been launched from the bell tower every year at the beginning of the carnival. All the previous years, Lucia always was standing in the main square of the city. in a crowd of onlookers and was watching passionately the rain of confetti scattering. But this year she missed the show. After thinking about it, she got upset.
On the foot of the carrier pigeon, Lucia found a note from Giacomo. He asked her to come earlier today, as he would be very busy in the evening and would not be able to tell her about alchemy.
Having cleaned herself up and having breakfast, Lucia was magically transported to Giacomo in the usual manner.
She found him standing facing the window. Without even turning to her, he said, “Today you will know important news. Very important news … The divine spirit has generated the novel substance”.
He put on his hat and left the room without even glancing at Lucia.
In amazement, Lucia remained standing in the middle of the cabinet, frozen. When she came to her senses, she looked around and took mechanically several sheets of paper from Giacomo’s table, intending to show it to Marco.
However, it was still too early to go to Marco since he did not like her bothering him during the day time, therefore Lucia wandered the streets of the city, thinking about the matter common to every woman. She wondered if it was time for her period to come. The number of days while her underwear was spotless suddenly seemed incredibly large to her. She counted again, but there could be no mistake. The girl immediately recalled with concern all the cases of her recent feeling sick, and realized a new life was born inside her.
Lucia could not understand whether to laugh or cry. She was overwhelmed with сomplex feelings. Of course, it had to happen sooner or later since although Marco was an amazing lover in her inexperienced view, and he always took responsibility for preservation, but sometimes he could be misfiring.
At the same time, she could not imagine what would happen to her next and how her life would change. Her heart was sinking anxiously at the thought of this uncertainty.
This important conversation with Marco Lucia decided to start obliquely. To begin with, she handed him coquettishly the sheets of paper from Giacomo’s desk. Marco grabbed them greedily, but soon, to her surprise, he became furious: “What are you giving me? What is it? ”
“But do you not see? These are formulas and notes”, Lucia answered in confusion. –
“Thank God, I know German and I can always tell it’s great Paracelsus by the manner he writes. And here, on this lousy little piece of paper, the words of Paracelsus are copied. By the way, I have already read them once before. He writes about growing homunculus. You should read this: he suggests placing sperm in horse dung… Rest assured, I can find a better application for my semen”, he said between gritted teeth.
Lucia tried to approach him, but he seemed not to notice this, continuing his speeches.
“Why do I need a homunculus? If you must know, I do not share these crazy ideas. I only need to learn how to get gold. I have a very mundane nature, as you might understand”.
“But listen to me, it’s not my fault… I don”t even know what this homunculus is”, Lucia babbled helplessly.
“This is a being born in a test tube … Think about it: why would I need him? What can I do with him? Unless I can sell him to the carnival jesters … ”
“But a new life is something so amazing anyway! ”
“Remember: I only need gold. And… you know what … Don”t come to me anymore”, Marco said , trying not to look at her.
The cabinet door was shut.
Lucia wanted to share her pain only with Giacomo. Bianca was not fit to be a listener, since having being talking to Bianca, Lucia was always eager to show Marco is loving her madly. Therefore, now she did not want to look like a loser in the eyes of her friend.
Finding herself in front of Giacomo”s house, she first took notice on the door sign. It said “Giacomo Girolamo Casanova”. “That’s amazing”, – she had an idea, as she was sure this door sign was not there before.
Lucia knocked for a long time for someone to open the door. Finally the sleepy owner of the house appeared.
“The gentleman from upstairs has left and will never return,” he mumbled and bolted the door.
Being stunned, Lucia thought about the vicissitudes of fate.
Now a child lives inside her. Lucia did not know for sure whose child this was.
Giacomo loved her as she was. And Marco loved only alchemy. Therefore, his child could only be a homunculus – an artificial being from a test tube.
On reflection, Lucia decided that the baby might be from Giacomo.
“Only carnival voluptuousness is able to cure melancholy”, Lucia thought.
Having thrown off fatigue, she ran toward the carnival crowd. Lucia was sure
Harlequin would appear near her very soon. Harlequin, indeed, was not slow to come. This time, Lucia saw her companion was not like Marco at all.
He took Lucia’s hand ceremoniously and began to drag her somewhere through the crowd. Everyone stepped aside to let them pass. They ended up in a space with seats – Lucia did not even think earlier that such seats were provided for someone at the carnival. Lucia was seated in the most central box, and Harlequin sat next to her. All the eyes were fixed on them. Everyone Lucia saw now looked not like the diverse crowd of carnival, but like people in the court suite clothes.
Wonderful music sounded, and Lucia realized it is here and now that the most important event in the entire history of the world is taking place. A whole procession, moving slowly in a trance, brought a huge picture depicting a golden baby to the stage. All those present except Harlequin servilely prostrated themselves, muttering phrases in an incomprehensible language.
Taking his bows, a man in a page robe approached Lucia and handed the precious crown to her servilely, lying on the velvet pillow. Lucia acted on a hunch. Under the encouraging smile of Harlequin, she put on this unusual headdress. The pair crown was handed to Harlequin.
Harlequin again took Lucia’s hand with respectful trepidation, and they went to the center of the platform. The solemn music started, and Lucia was amazed to see a certain glow around her and Harlequin.
Several perky artists, having made their way to the stage with the help of elbows, hastily painted everything they saw to sell such drawings for big money after that. The images depicted in these drawings looked exactly like the Alchemical wedding. Lucia realized she had become the Queen and Harlequin had become the King.
… However, Lucia could not say for sure whether it all really happened or all these pictures just flashed before her mind when she stumbled during a carnival dance and lost consciousness for a while.
I was walking along the streets and felt the breath of the city. I was grasping the hasty unconscious movements with which people maximized the transparent revolving doors, opened umbrellas anxiously and pressed the telephone handsets to their ears. The noise of rushing cars, snatches of laughter and telephone conversations, polyphony of tunes escaping from music stalls – all this was knit together into a single continuous background – the live voice of the street.
The wind was ruffling the umbrellas of street cafes. Visitors, intending to buy a few happy moments, clung to plastic chairs and clutched their plastic glasses tightly.
I was walking along a busy avenue. Here and there the cylinders of buildings dotted with advertising signs rose into the sky.
I had not to worry about money – I had plenty of it.
Lunchtime was near. In the first bistro I saw I ordered coffee and laid the newspaper out on the table. I had little interest in the news, but the cup of coffee next to the newspaper looked particularly good. I was imagining myself as an artist from Montmantre.
… Sometimes we have a kind of hunch that something is about to happen. I experienced something similar at that moment. I felt a sudden need to see who, ironically, ended up in a bistro next to me now… For example, I’ve always thought that destiny brings passengers together into the subway at an odd hour not coincidentally, and that if you dig a little then it will be possible to discover some kind of connection between all these people… In other words, I instinctively started examining the bistro visitors.
The girl and the guy in love, with lowered eyes, were sitting unhappily at a table against each other, not moving, as if they were about to be separated forever. Two guys, anticipating the pleasure of the meal, were putting all sorts of things from a salad bar to their plates, demonstrating their remarkable appetite …
Suddenly, some female face appeared to be vaguely familiar to me. I seemed to have already seen these facial features, and moreover, I even seemed to have been carefully examining them once, trying to capture them in my memory. I remembered this face expression – an imaginary disappointment and a dreamy grin.
Our eyes met. . She looked away immediately, as the girl was supposed to react in such cases … But we both knew: by the immutable law of fate, we would be together. I would have not be surprised if she admitted to me she had already seen my face somewhere.
We got acquainted. Soon I realized she was looking for intimacy with me.
She worked as a laboratory assistant in one of the companies nearby. Her firm was engaged in the development of plastic manufacturing technologies.
Later, I found out that employees of firms whose offices were located in the nearby high-rises used to come to dinner at the bistro. And therefore, if I were planning to meet with one of the local clerks, it would be simple to do it just here, at the bistro, during the lunch break.
And then … I entirely blended in with the city: for hours I was sitting on the windowsill, smoking and looking at the people flickering along the avenue. When evening came, I used to go to meet her.
All this time it never occurred to me to call or write to someone from my previous life.
Sometimes the name ‘Juan’ popped up in my brain, as if flashing rhythmically on the screen. Juan is my old friend and colleague. I remembered our regular sit-downs together with him in some bar, perhaps in a completely different part of the globe. It was there that I had a place, that looked like two drops of water similar to this hotel room, but called “home”.
I recalled our friendly outpourings over a beer, telling each other stories from our lives mixed with the stories read, watched or heard somewhere … Or rather, stories that were so incredible that they could only happen in life.
I enjoyed spending hours in front of the TV in a hotel room, wondering at the intricacies of the plots and going to retell it all to Juan one day. Before, I never had enough time for this.
When she asked my name, I couldn’t think of anything better than to mumble in reply: “Juan.” Later, I had a inexplicable pleasure hearing the melody of this name from her. A secret, unknown even to myself, was encrypted in it in some misterios way.
At first, she was asking anxiously what I was doing all the day, before the hour we saw each other in the evenings. I could not admit to her I was doing nothing. The explanation I had enough money to live for some time in the city might have seemed improbable to her. Therefore, I used to tell her I was looking for a job constantly and unsuccessfully.
She was devoted to her lab fanatically. As a result, she developed an almost painful tendency to look for plastic products all around herself.
She admired sincerely the obedient curves of plastic. And if suddenly upon closer inspection some product turned out to be not plastic, she became irritable immeditely. She was disappointed both with her own mistake and with the shortsightedness of manufacturers who chose not the most advantageous technological solution.
She was proud the plastics her lab produced were not “dangerous polymers” and were not carcinogenic.
From head to foot, she was eager to get into plastic clothes: plastic hairpins flaunted in her hair while sunglasses occupied firmly a spot on the back of her head. A strict office skirt was held by a plastic strap instead of the usual leather one. The buckles on her blunt-ended shoes were plastic, too.
The history of the invention of plastics was studied by her thoroughly. We always laughed at a clearly fictional episode: supposedly manufacturers of billiard balls called on chemists to develop a new material in order to replace ivory. No doubt, this impressive detail was invented much later just to interest apathetic students of chemical colleges.
We even came up with a special “plastic game” with her: we had to name various items made of plastic in turn. Later we changed the game rules a bit and decided also to use in the game the names of objects that would be worth making from polymers, but for some reason humanity has not thought of this before.
She agreed not to use condoms with pleasure. She was prejudiced by latex rubber, considering this material unreasonably more popular than, for example, the transparent polyethylene she loved so much.
She was in the habit of running her hand over the smooth surface of some plastic accessory as if by chance. While doing this she used to squint her eyes dreamily. She was doing all this involuntarily and became very shy, noticing her instinctive movement had not escaped some prying eyes.
Thinking later about this feature of her, I decided she subconsciously considered plastic to be a very erotic material. Really, no wonder, singing the woman of his dreams, the man often mentions lustfully the smooth skin of his chosen lady. Smooth-skin reached its apogee in inflatable dolls, as I thought at first with a grin, and then with irritation.
Once in a minute of frankness she told me about her amorous affairs. At that moment she was sitting on a double bed, covered with a blanket, in my hotel room, and playing with the stem of a wine glass. Her hair seemed red in the setting sun rays.
I can”t retell reliably the essence of her story… Probably she seemed to have some kind of guy and she had a hard time after breaking up with him… Or perhaps, on the contrary, she avoided carefully any attachments and always tried to break them off at the highest point in the relationship development… In general, in any case she told me some kind of a very frank story, touching for both of us and indicating how much she trusted me.
Even earlier, before this conversation about her fear of attachments, I often observed an expression of extreme boredom on her face, that caused her incredible embarrassment and that she tried to hide. In my presence, boredom devoured her, making it impossible for her to enjoy life. The only exceptions were the minutes of our intimacy, which she greatly appreciated. In general, it was much more comfortable for her to be alone than to spend time with me. Each time I was saying goodbye to her, I used to have noticed a kind of secret delight in her caused by my leaving.
However she was determined to defeat circumstances and declared war on boredom. Our dates were scheduled in the most unusual places: on rails waiting for a train, in museum rooms under cover of night and in other textbook places of risky sex from a handbook for lovers. Sometimes the experimentation of her imagination regarding the geography of our meetings even made me doubt that the next time I would be at my best as a lover; but fortunately then it turned out that I really love the variety of surroundings during making love, too.
Once I mentioned jokingly in her presence an article on a plastic topic that caught my eye in a newspaper column. “Soon, it will be possible to use not oil as a raw material for plastic production … but, for example, oranges”, I said, following her expression carefully. This extravagant idea made her laugh without causing much emotion.
And yet our relationship did not stand still.
I was seized by the feeling of some kind of anxiety more and more often. I never dared to admit to myself my everlasting serenity was passing into some new quality. As if I had to do something and then to leave the city.
And then at last the day came when I felt some kind of power was forcing me to get out of the city. Like an ocean wave, this power imperiously was pushing me beyond the megapolis boundaries.
I suppose I wanted to take her with me to my … Orange Republic . But that seemed impracticable.
The words ‘Orange Republic’ appeared in my memory by chance, even though there was something vaguely familiar in them. I repeated theese words to myself, as if tasting them. Therefore, when at the airport I saw this name in the list of possible destinations, I experienced real delight. As if I’ve got an answer to some important question and then realized I was going the right way.
The Apocalyptic tones sounded nearby from a video screen. The audience was once again convinced that the world was being falling apart and would never be the same, while my heart was sinking in anticipation of changes and the development of a new space. Here and there I caught the contour of the plane out of the corner of my eye – the logo of the famous airline, and my being was filled with contentment.
The city flashed by toy houses goodbye on a topographic map in the porthole.
I thought of my abandoned sweetheart.
Of course, she did not oppose our dates. And she would certainly be upset if I suddenly disappeared from her life. But at the same time, I could never take her thoughts. Sometimes it seemed to me that in the rhythmic moments of our intimacy, plastic production schemes were flashing in the form of slides before her eyes.
On the other hand, sometimes I still dared hope she intentionally downplayed the strength of her attraction to me, because this is an ordinary female trick in order to win a man’s affections.
She used to tell me she felt lonely. But I did not hear her words, or maybe I did not believe them or did not want to believe. She loved only plastic, I kept telling myself.
“Why am I here on an airplane?” I asked myself. “Am I really jealous of plastic? And that is why I thought it was better to retreat?”
Leaning back in my chair, I closed my eyelids. Having made incoherent and absurd movements in time and space, quite illogical from the point of view of an awake person, I found myself at a bar table opposite Juan. Of course, everything was happening in the Orange Republic.
“Would you like me to tell you how it all happened that very night?” Juan said with a crafty twinkle in his insolent eyes… Juan was always trying to look like the cinema heroes. All the time he was not busy on in secret missions, he devoted himself to watching films. He was especially interested in films about agents behind enemy lines.
I was confused. Juan turned out to know about me much more than I did. Although I should got used to it already. Sometimes it seemed to me that Juan was some part of myself. And perhaps this my hypostasis was too cynical and completely devoid of romantic illusions.
Juan intended to bring me back to some point from the past.
“Take a look at this”, he took out a container in the shape of a test tube from a baggy shirt pocket and put it on a table.
“What is it?” I was going to touch the subject, but my hand went through it.
It came back to me that the test tube contained a catalyst for plastic decay. For plastic, such a contraption is equivalent to a deadly virus.
I was sure that after using I had recycled the similar test tube according to the instructions. Therefore, now I was looking at just a hologram.
I was still sitting in the cabin. The image on the monitor mounted in the seat in front of me wavered, then smoothed out again.
“Look at the monitor! ” Juan commanded from somewhere in my brain.
The man at the speaker desk excitedly treated the audience with a portion of gloomy omens … God knows, I was always far from politics – I preferred the fictional reality of films.
The announcer’s story was replaced by a video sequence with the inscription ‘no comment’. Plastic items exploded on the streets, in offices, in shops, and this was accompanied by a female screech and panic.
…It came back to me as if she was sitting in front of me on the table. As always, they switch to the power saving mode at night. A faint light grabs the outline of her body from the darkness, and I am drawing the missing lines with the help of my touches. My heart is racing fast …
“Do you know where we are right now?” she whispers.
Like a forgotten dream, I recall how we were making our way here through the underground sewers a few minutes ago. As it always happened in our evening routes, she took on the role of a guide … All this remained somewhere far away since at this very moment only she exists for me …
“We are in the very place where I work”, I feel her smiling coquettishly in the dark. “In the daytime I wear a white coat and a white hat here, and look like a kitchen boy”.
At this words of her the previously unused portion of my brain is being activated … We have already visited many points on the city map together with her, but only now we have penetrated the laboratory of the ‘Empire of Plastics’ – this is the name of her company. It is the cradle of the plastics industry and the inner sanctum of the plastic world.
I know the floor plan of this building thoroughly. If you wake me in the middle of the night, I will draw it with my eyes closed, without violating the proportions between the objects.
Plastics injection machines are located nearby. I was given the task of injecting a decay catalyst from a container into one of them. According to the calculations of our scientists, in a plastic medium, the molecules of this substance will start replicating themselves, decomposing plastic simultaneously. Thus, the destructive effect for the world of petroleum plastic will be maximum.
In the Orange Republic, oil was never mined, but there were enough orange trees there.
The death of the “Empire of Plastics” meant a symbolic victory of oranges over oil, since “orange plastic” is invulnerable to a decay catalyst. Thus plastic made from oranges will replace petroleum plastic.
Now, in the cabin, these thoughts did not bring me a single drop of joy or satisfaction. After all, I have never been an ideological opponent of synthetic non-recyclable plastics … I felt rather upset and tried in vain to sort out the feelings that had rushed over me.
The old-fashioned screen was melting before my eyes, flowing in black mass onto the carpeting. I realized the deadly virus was already there. It must have gotten on board the plane somehow.
The passengers gasped in unison: plastic cups with hot drinks burst on folding tables at once. Brown drops sprinkled both on ironed clothes and on joyful expectations.
I went lurching towards the smoking room. The plane was shaking more than usual. I tried to grab ahold of the handrails, but they seemed to melt under my gaze because I was too fascinated with the idea of plastic disappearing. Instead of a lighter, I felt a viscous sticky clot in my pocket.
Most likely, my thoughts were controlling reality.
The power of my emotions made the space vibrate. The plane started losing altitude drastically.
This couldn’t have happened in reality. Otherwise, the words of the crew commander, typical for such occasions, would have long been heard: the plane is experiencing minor technical problems, but in general the situation is under control.
And then… I suddenly imagined all the plastic details in the flight deck.
How many more plastic was still in the body of the plane, I wondered.
… We are dancing in the plastic world. I am leading my dance partner surprisingly cleverly – we are scattering in different directions, our arms extended; then our hands are twisted, and she presses her back to me for a moment.
I always invited her to go dancing somewhere, although I never knew how to do it. She always refused, apparently wondering what was it for.
And now I saw quite clearly: we were dancing with her against the background of a living advertisement of plastic products, which suddenly became voluminous.