The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
- Robert Louis Stevenson

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Countdown: 4 - Flesh of Lost Summers

I can't get enough of you, no never put you down
I don't wanna be wrong don't wanna be right
Just wanna be playing along
- Children's Masterpiece Theatre: Flesh of Lost Summers(2007)

Let’s talk about fear for a moment. Let’s talk about cowardice.
When I was seven years old, we went on our very last trip with the entire family, mum, dad, and us four kids. Mosquitoes, campfires, canned ravioli, fishing, and swimming in the lakes and waterways of Polish Masuria.
One afternoon our rents had gone for groceries. The sun was low and our campground almost entirely consumed by the shadows of the tress. Golden sparkles were still dancing on the gently lapping waves of the lonesome lake. ‘Nette was lying on her stomach on a large towel and reading a teen magazine. ‘Nette had waded out pretty far into the shallow waters and stood, arms outstretched like some Christ figure in the fading blaze of the evening sun. Lukas had disappeared in the woods. And I was playing by myself with these little plastic soldiers that come in a bucket.
Suddenly a big, far forest spider dropped first on my head and then down, knocking over one of my soldiers. I shrieked and jumped. And next to me, Lukas – who knew that I was afraid of spiders – began to laugh. He had returned from the woods brought the critter as a special present to me.
“For chrissake, Lukas, leave him alone, will you?” ‘Nessa groaned from her towel, but she didn’t even bother to stop leafing through her magazine.
Lukas ignored her. Instead he picked up the spider and let it dangle on its thread from his finger, swinging it back and forth like a pendulum.
“Look here, little pussy, she wants to play with you.”
I tried to get away, but stumbled over a root and landed with a heavy, painful thump on my back. Lukas followed me to stand over me and slowly lowered the spider towards my face. Terrified I lay still and stared up at the wriggling, eight-legged beasty.
And then a small hand closed around the spider. ‘Nette, nine years old and dripping wet, crouched down next to me. I knew that she hated spiders just as much as I did, and when we were alone with each other in the privacy of our room, she would shriek and hide behind me, and egg me on to put a glass or something over it, if one came to visit us there. Now she was trembling all over. I don’t know if it was with fear and revulsion, or with rage, or if it was because she was wet and there was a cool breeze blowing between the trees. Perhaps it was a mix of all of the above.
She stared directly in to the eyes of her 14 year old brother and held her lightly balled fist towards him, as if about to offer a gift in supplication. She even relaxed he fingers enough so that the scrabbling legs of the spider began to appear between them. And then I could see her steel herself. She gritted her teeth. Her breath hitched once. There were tears in he eyes but also a deep resolve.
Slowly she got up, put herself between me and him, and then she crushed the spider in her fist. All though she stared directly into his eyes, hers just as stormy grey as his. And I knew that I loved her, loved her with a blind, fiery passion I had never felt before and thought I never could again.
Lucas snorted and turned to leave.
“Pussies,” was what he muttered when I – now that the spider was gone – launched myself at him. I jumped on his back, and clung to him like a monkey, and tore at his hair and bit into his ear.
That night, when ‘Nette and I were down at the lake washing the dishes after supper, and I was still aching all over from the beating Lukas had ended up giving me, she took my by the arm, and she looked at me very seriously, and this is what I remember her saying to me:
“Everyone is afraid, Tavi.” Tavi was her special, secret name for me, from the Kipling tale. “But only a coward lets that stop him.”
That night I lay awake for a long time, and I swore to myself that I would never be a coward again. But things aren’t ever that simple, are they, and often enough life doesn’t permit us the luxury of keeping our word. Least of all to ourselves.
I’ve always liked boys, and men, and never really looked at girls, or women, in a sexual way. And as far back as I remember I knew that this was something I ought to be ashamed of. Like most of my kind, when my mates began talking about girls and pussy and boobs in that way, I first tried to avoid it, and then, for a while, I joined in and was probably especially obnoxious. But I hated it. Not because I was lying – I lie all the time, it doesn’t bother me at all – but because I really didn’t like that particular role.
‘Nette was the first person I talked to about this. I was 10 at the time, and it was my assistant football coach I had been thinking about. She listened very seriously and said matter-of-factly: “So, you’re a faggot.” And she hugged me and kissed me and added: “Then that’s just the way it is.” And for the short time afterwards that we had we could talk about boys, and compare what we liked about them, or didn’t, and what we wanted them to do to us.
And later, when she was dying, she egged me on to go through with it, to finally get fucked. But I didn’t have the first idea how to go about it. I mean, I had my fantasies, but they were never too clear about how to initiate it all.
As I’ve mentioned before, when I was eleven, during ‘Nette’s last summer, there was Tariq. He had thick, black hair, and dark eyes, like a horse, and skin the colour of coffee with lots of milk. His nose was aquiline, and his face heart-shaped, and he had a birthmark low on the left side of his jaw line, close to the ear.
The only way I found to express my desire for him was to annoy him thorouly with constant needling, jibes and taunts, until he lost his patience, and we fought in the school corridor. We both got quite a lot of heat for that from our teachs and rents, and he never forgave me, but I remember how much I loved wrestling with him, how much I loved feeling his fingers dig into my arm as he tried to hold me down, how hard my prick was against his hip as he lay on me, pounding my face to get me to finally cry uncle so he would be able to walk away with his head held high. How he began to sob with frustration when I wouldn’t, and how he spit into my face as they dragged us apart.
That afternoon I spent at ‘Nette’s side. She’d one of her migraines and had returned from school early. She was already scheduled to go to the hospital, but we still assumed it would only be temporary. I cried about the way Tariq had looked at me when he’d come from the principal’s office and I had been on my way in, and I had known that even if I ever had had a chance before, it was gone forever now. ‘Nette had rested one hand on my head, and without opening her eyes she had said: “Coward.”


  1. This will likely be of no help to you but...
    I want to say I relate to this piece. The problem is I cannot understand what it would be like to be 'Tavi' even though I merged easily with your excellent skills as a writer. I can only imagine your audience is very specific. Like the poster on Mulder's wall "I Want to Believe," the poster on my wall says "I Want To Understand." It almost breaks my heart.
    You should keep writing though, regardless of the fact that I'm an ill-matched audience for your work. I can tell you are very good.
    Sincerely, darkly, deeply... you are one of the oddest and most unique characters I've ever come across.
    My best regards to you,

  2. Hey, thanks. Odd and unique, huh, those I can live with. ^_^ And judging by my page hits I'm certain that my audience must be specific indeed. More like practically non-existant. Malish.
    Actually, i'm sort of unhappy with that post. I'm afraid that it comes across like some sort of explanation, you know, and of cours eit isn't. I mean, I really don't want to put the blame on poor 'Nette. This conviction that cowardice is worse than fear, I'm sure I had that before, and probably from the same place as 'Nette herself. But that time was sort of the first time anyone put it in such clear words for me. (Although I'm even afraid that *I* have put them in *her* mouth, in my memory. What she really said was probably much less clear and concise.)
    However, I really wanted to share that one moment of my sister, wet, naked, and trembling with fear and rage, and crushing that spider in defiance. Because it more than any other I can remember or even invent sums up the spirit that has haunted me all my life.

  3. Knowing that this is your own experience changes things. It's not well rounded in that 'Tavi' does not evolve or 'grow' which is usually the redemptive heroin that drug addicted readers are expecting/hoping for (<--- metaphor). It portrays your sister as ruthless and insatiable in her desire for your heroics, yet it does that too subtly. I could work as a story theme if Tavi's own need for heroism was emphasized. ie... Sid and Nancy were pathetic in their cowardice, but the story was fascinating.
    I think I understand now why I felt my heart was breaking... it was for the injustice done to Tavi, perhaps not intended by Netti, but perceived by Tavi. Cowardice is a natural condition of life and readers want to feel empathy, not the shame and humiliation.
    Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is, it is a good piece and now I understand it better. I don't feel you were a coward at all. I felt your dear sister was cruel in her expectations and lacked compassion.

  4. Oh yeah, cruelty and lack of compassion certainly run in my family. If you'd translate them into Latin, they'd probably go right on our shield. See next post, or this one to see how well I'd learned them.
    But please remember that she was 13 at that time, and dying. We might not have known it for certain at that day, but the fear was already there, like the shadow in her scans, and if I think she did want to experience a few things in life at least second-hand if fate had barred her from ever getting there herself. I also think that she hated herself for every tie she had allowed fear to keep her from doing something safe in that treacherous believ we all share that therw ould be second chances later.
    Part of the whole, well, novel, or whatever it is, is my attempt to trace them within me, trying to find their roots, so that perhaps I can get rid of them, or weaken their hold on me.
    So I dearly hope that there is character development, for my own sake. I certainly hope that I have developed a long way away not only from those early beginnings, but also from the me that travelled Europe on his own. Developed without betraying myself.
    When I have finished with this tale, I may find out if I have, and to what extend, and whether for the better or the worse...

  5. Hey, you do have an audience; almost reaching a hundred if I'm right with my math. Just keep writing and sooner or later people will be brought here. :)

  6. @Lance: Well, if you are right, I'm happy. Though I can't say that I can figure out your math, given the 9 followers, maybe 4 semi-regular, and perhaps another 4 or 6 infrequent to one-time commentators. But I would keep writing even if nobody ever came and read. Anasını satayım, I started this only because I don't have a computer of my own, but am using various, mostly public terminals, and needed some place to write and keep this. But I found that whatever input and reactions I get are not only invaluably helpful, but also immensely motivating.

    @All: So, be you 10 or a 100, thanks! ^_^

  7. Better to keep it online than in a 'My Documents' folder. You'll see how much better it is to share your life with other people, random strangers in fact, rather than keep it to yourself. :)

  8. @Hyperion: Yep. And since Blogger/Google seems to be on a deletion spree for naughty or queer blogs at the moment...

    ... please join me in a minute of silence for Kiernan's Kingdom and Micky's other blogs...

    ... I mirrored this on wordpress. Should either get deleted, I hope I'll have time to save it somewhere else again.

    But anyway, all you "random strangers", please, join in. If you got any personal memories of home, or Scotland, or school, or coming out, or God, or fights, or falling in love, or books, or music, or any of that stuff you want to share, please, feel free. At least *I* will read every comment, and answer if I got anything to say about it.

    I checked out your blog, Hyperion. Not that I could afford any of that stuff, but there sure are some cool gizmos around. Anyone wanting to purchase something fancy for his digital needs, go check out this IT blog.

  9. I liked this a lot. I also liked what you said in your first reply to Ms. CC above. Just thinking out loud here, I wonder how it would work if some of those reflections were included in the text itself. Great stuff.

  10. My first reaction was surprise at 'Nette, the clarity and power of her understanding. Pretty deep for a 13 year old. Was she really this good at assessing things? For the story, it works really well, I think. (That being said -- 13 and 14 seems a bit old for the action in the post. Have you considered making the characters a touch more child-like in ages?)
    I think a lot of your audience could fall in love with her. Have you thought of having this passage earlier? I don't know where it would fit, but this might draw more readers in, aching to take part in her path as much as yours.

    The description of Tariq is fascinating -- a dark, beautiful stallion, eh.

    "something I ought to be ashamed of" -- wow on the word choice. Shame is the right social weapon but the 'ought' surprised me a bit. I like the blatant use, almost ironic in some ways, and I think 'your' audience might get it.

  11. @Andrew: Hm, not certain I understand your comments about age. As it says in the text (just double-checked, since sometimes I forget to actually spell out stuff that too me is just obviously part of the memory, but it's in there) that during the camping episode I was 7, 'Nette was 9, and Lukas was 14.
    My miserable flirt with Tariq was in 2004, I was 11, and 'Nette 13. (Tariq would probably have been 12 - I think I was about a year older than me, but I'm not sure anymore. But I hope that from the context it's clear that he was about my age.)
    So, um, what is non-age-appropriate behaviour, aber where do you think it would serve the tale if the characters were younger?

    The "ought to" comes from something my mum used to say, although not in context of sexuality, of course. Whenever we did something wrong, she said "you ought to be ashamed of yourself". Somehow this "ought" is still stuck in my craw, it felt like a double indemnity - not only was I bad for what I did, but also for not feeling properly ashamed. As if I'd failed at being my own judge and jailer as well. I dunno, it just sums up all I know about feeling a failure and disappointment to my family.

  12. @Alan: Wow, I'm honoured to see you here. I'm currently busy reading your post over on DC's. Great stuff, so far, but I'll comment once I'm through and had time to mull it over.
    Could you tell me what reflections exactly you mean (from the comment to Camille) that you think would fit into the actual text?

  13. @FF
    sorry about the ages. The '13' in my comment is a mistake, and I guess I wasn't paying close enough attention in the reading.

    Still, if 'Nette was 9, that seems like some incredible, clear insight and good force of will. Maybe 9-year old kids do have this strength of character. I'm not a genius when it comes to kids, I admit.

    What I'm trying to say is, if she is this young then she appears strong and wise-beyond-her-years. It's good, but some readers might question this behaviour from a 9-year old kid. That's all I was trying to get at.

  14. Like I told Camille in the comments, I hope I am not doing 'Nette an injustice. The event this is based on happened bloody eleven years ago. I was bloody seven years old. I am not even certain that it was actually one evening, maybe in my memory several little events have run into each other. And of course in this whole chapter I am simplifying things, shortening them. In most cases (like with the bloody football sitch) trying to explain them just makes them sound longwinded and complicated and what to me is important about them gets lost. Real life is so bloody in-elegant.

    All I remember really, really clearly is my sister standing in front of me, wet and shivering with her whole body, and holding out that fist with the spider inside towards my borther, and then slowly crushing it.

    And I am certain that she was the first to make that distinction between fear and cowardice explicit to me, though probably not in one such concise phrase.

    Ah, I'll have to rewrite all of this eventually, but first I have to kahretsin find out what I kahretsin mean to say.