ORIGINS by Eva Tind, translated by Gaye Kynoch
It starts with Sui saying:
– I’m leaving home.
A sentence that hangs in the air like every other sentence, but for me it changes everything.
– I’m moving in with Anton.
Sui looks happy, but a thin line takes shape between her eyebrows.
– Can you afford it? You know you can stay here for free, I say.
– I work at the café and I’m practically living with Anton already, you won’t notice any difference, she says.
– Isn’t it far too soon?
– Dad, you were eighteen too when you moved.
– But now people mostly live at home until they’re twenty or so, age groups blend more effortlessly today. I mean, we do lots of the same things, read the same books, watch the same movies. We’re more like a little houseshare, right?
– I need to take responsibility for my life, she says.
Until now, my reality has been illuminated by one big globe lamp hanging in its usual spot on the right-hand side of the world, casting light on everything from a fixed angle. The furniture and the cactus, my only plant, have therefore exclusively thrown their shadows to the left, but the instant the sentence leaves Sui’s lips another lamp switches on in the left-hand side, click, two sources of light hanging like two suns. Fully illuminated, things lose their depth. Whatever has been hidden in shadow now emerges. I feel sweat trickling from my armpits, small droplets seeping onto my upper lip, out of the pores, the sudden upheaval of the ocean, and Sui slips through my fingers like a fish. I smile calmly, even though my mouth fills with salty water. I swallow, but my throat tightens, more water flows in. A human being consists of fifty to sixty percent water. If I open my mouth it will gush out in an uncontrollable cascade. If I don’t open my mouth, I’ll drown.
Now the ocean pulls back.
– Come, I say.
I embrace her. Her body is crisp and vibrant. The skin still soft as a child’s. Now she wants to move in with Anton. I picture him: tall, lanky, fair dreadlocks. He wears dangly earrings, even though he grew up in a perfectly ordinary house in the provinces and is studying economics at university – I’m attacking the capitalist system from within, he says. Sui wants to be a writer, she jots down everything in notebooks and knocks around from the one job to the other. In her hand-sewn tunics and odd-looking pantsuits, she resembles a nymph in bag-lady outfit, and the disguise would be credible were it not for her oval face, long dark-brown hair, and almond-shaped eyes taking people in with a mixture of surprise and compassion. Those eyes now turn away from me. I’m left with a fear of being abandoned, stripped, in an empty white room. I’d rather lose my way in my inner abyss of memories.
A first-time experience can never be repeated:
The first time a child leaves you, and a hazy sunset warns of bad weather tomorrow.
When Sui lost her first tooth, it was almost too tiny to see.
The first time I fell in love, was with Lone in the same grade as me at school, her soft mouth, hair so buoyant and fine, she smelt of pine needles, and her laughter made me tingle.
The first time I tasted mustard, raw fish, rabbit, dog, horse, cow tongue, passionfruit, I spotted the seeds, they looked like fish eyes in mucus, and I felt queasy. You’re a fool, I said to myself – and swallowed.
The first time I walked on water, thin crystal-clear floes of ice covered the lake. My father stood waving to me from the shore while I slid over the ice in my clog boots, into an area of big glossy pools. I stumbled, and water soaked in everywhere. My mother rushed forwards, howling like a wounded animal, but then I got to my feet, slid on and she yelled: You can walk on water! The wind ripped her words apart as it flew by.
My first flight, the clouds like wisps of cottonwool drifting along the belly of the plane, and I landed in a new world.
The first time I masturbated, by accident if anything. I rubbed against my willy, which rose up, and my breathing surged along with my pulse rate.
The first time I saw Sui, she was lying in a plastic crib looking like an alien who had crept out of the membrane in which she was created.
When Sui smiled at me the first time, a shiver of joy through my spine.
When she took her first step, more joy.
When I left her in the daycare center for the first time, and her scream thrust a spear into my chest. I lurched through the doorway, both hands clutching steel as the blood drew a red trail along the sidewalk behind me.
When Miriam left us, not an action to be forgiven, rewritten and understood, it must stand like a precisely-hewn sculpture in a landscape. I want to remember everything exactly as it was.
When Sui kept crying and calling for Miriam, and for the first time I wished I was a woman, so I could hug her like a mother.
The first time Sui found her balance on a bike, a wheel of thrills.
When Sui started school, and I blubbered with pride.
When she got her first menstruation, and for the second time I wished I had been born a woman.
And now: my daughter is leaving home, nothing will be as it was. If I could stop the clock and prevent her from leaving me, I would, but I would instantly regret doing so. I’d bite my fist or pummel a kitchen unit and sprain two fingers, and after a quick soul-search I’d have to start the clock again and let her go. Now I throw a pebble high into the sky, close my eyes and hope it doesn’t fall back down and hit her. The pebble speeds through the air, grazes a hand-painted sign announcing: ‘Let the show begin.’ A new life, perhaps more spacious than the one she is leaving, awaits.
– Come back to bed. Do you really have to leave? Anton says.
– I’m going to dinner at my father’s, I reply.
– But I need you. Just give me five minutes.
– Anton, no, I’m always late.
– We’re young, we’re meant to be late.
– And dump on other people’s feelings?
– Yes, that’s what we do. Not on purpose, of course.
– No, of course not.
– Seriously, so what if you’re half an hour late, does your father ever get cross?
– That’s not the point.
– He never does anything unpredictable.
– He does too.
– Give me one example.
– He can walk on water.
– And I have magic hands.
– Stop, it tickles! Cut it out.
– Your breath smells.
– I’ve just brushed my teeth.
– You smell anyway.
– Come with me, the food’s free.
– I’ve got an essay to finish. Are you going to wear that thing?
– It looks like a sack.
– It’s hard to revolutionize the world when you’re obsessing about what other people wear. Maybe that’s why you write essays instead of getting stuck in and actually doing something.
– I take it back, Sui, you look cute in a sack.
– Okay, pantsuit.
Ten minutes later, when I’m down on the street looking up at the apartment window, Anton raises the roller shade and hastily presses one palm against the pane, the heat from his hand leaves a steamy print, then he’s gone. As I unlock my bike, I notice it’s got a flat tire. I consider taking the bus, but decide to walk. I picture the street as a river, and I’m a fish glinting under the surface like a knife blade. As I cross the river, the current presses against my side and pushes me diagonally across the road. My father’s friend Jensen once told me about Cope’s rule: “When life of Earth began 3.6 billion years ago, all organisms were miniscule, it took 2.5 billion years to evolve an organism larger than one single cell.” The evolutionary trend towards developing larger body size is called ‘Cope’s rule’ after the American paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope. – Marine animals are slowly getting bigger and bigger, says Jensen. She’s just so knowledgeable, and always shares the most important bits with me.
I pick up my pace, and walk past the big windows of the café where I work. I can see the new waitress, who is called Paris and actually comes from Paris, standing behind the counter. She’s wearing a striped blouse with a wide neckline, it keeps slipping off her left shoulder.
I still have that naked shoulder in my mind’s eye as I walk towards my father’s house. The door is open. The kitchen is empty.
– I’m in the shower. Will you get started on the sauce?
When we’re both home, we usually take turns to cook. Or rather, we took it in turns to cook. I pick leaves from the basil plant, take cans out of the cupboard, meat and vegetables from the fridge, chop the onions, put them in the pan, then cut up the tomatoes using the Japanese knife and pour them in with the onions. The oil sizzles. My father walks into the living room, he stands at the center of our home looking like someone who belongs.
– Just got to leave it to simmer now, I say.
– Smells lovely, he says, and hangs the wet towel on the radiator.
My father has always wanted us to act as normal as possible. He hates to stand out. That’s why we’ve kept quiet about his ability to heal various minor ailments with his hands, even though it’s saved us many a trip to the hospital. – I can correct imbalances, remove tensions, but not illnesses that have taken up residence in the body, he explains. My father is an architect, so illnesses ‘take up residence’ in the body, as if the body is a dwelling. He designed our house and helped with the building work, but even though we’ve lived here for most of my childhood, it feels kind of uninhabited. A Poul Henningsen pendant lamp hangs above the table, all our furniture is architect-designed. There are no family pictures on display, no unnecessary colors and patterns unless part of a calculated design. It’s the exact opposite to Anton’s mother’s home, where dried flowers drop bits all over the windowsills, and the rooms are decorated with knick-knacks, sculptures and souvenirs from all her trips. Her home resembles a thrift store, but every little thingamajig has its emotional association and story.
– What are you thinking about? my father asks.
– Nothing, I reply.
Madonna growls in her sleep, curled up on the coir mat by the door in her shaggy, speckled coat. She opens one eye and peers up at me.
In all my years as a single father, I’ve maintained my self-image as a traveler. Even though I am no longer a backpacker, I still picture myself as a nomad. After high school, I went around the Middle East, South America, and Africa by myself. I would have set out again after I graduated from the School of Architecture, but I became a father. I’ve lived a steady life since Sui came on the scene. I opened a studio with my friend Finn, which turned out to be a good move. Now we have a smallish architect firm designing and planning everything from extensions to large residential buildings. To assuage my urge to travel, I latched onto something Jensen once said: that the notion of a place is often far more interesting than the place itself. During the last eighteen years, I have created a home and nurtured my daughter’s growth. I am now a forty-four-year-old man with greying temples, living alone with my dog. I’m only at the halfway point, so what should I do with the rest of my life? Am I still nomadic by nature, or am I stuck in a stagnated notion of who I am? The thought that I am now free to explore the surrounding world gives me a sinking feeling. Would I even dare travel out into the world on my own? I put on my coat, and take it off again as I sit down at the table in the palm court of the sculpture museum. A tropical rafflesia is in flower. People are crowding around the plant, filming and taking photos. Giant petals encircle a velvety core. The powdered antennae in the center vibrate like sensitive transmitters. Its beauty contrasts with its smell, which is similar to the stench of rotting flesh. When the flower breathes in and blows out, the odor flushes through the air. People cover their mouths and noses, as if the putrefaction might creep in and settle in their airways.
I am sitting at a table next to a large window in the farthest corner of the palm court, entertaining myself by watching these nose-crinkling flower-people, when Jensen makes her entrance. She sails through the palm court in a flowing yellow frock, a big straw hat, and a little red-and-white checked scarf around her neck.
– Seeing you always makes me happy, she says and kisses me on the cheek.
Her lips are moist, it feels as if the red lipstick has stuck to my cheek. I wipe it off with the back of my hand.
– You have just substantially expanded an insignificant red smear, she says. – Any news from Asia?
– If it was anyone but you, I’d get up and leave, I reply.
– I never weary of discriminating against you, Jensen responds, and laughs.
– I’m not even a real Asian.
– No, but the slant-eyed-ness has made it through with incredible clarity.
Oh shut up, will you, is what I’d like to say, but I don’t want to hurt her feelings, because however foul-mouthed she might be, she’s equally sensitive when anyone casts aspersions on her intentions.
– I’ve been wondering if I should travel out into the world with my old rucksack, I say.
– So you’ll be off to Korea too? she asks.
– No, I reply.
– Strange you have no interest in seeing the country you come from.
– The country my biological father comes from. I’ve had more than enough of all things Korean. I have no desire whatsoever for any more of that. My looks have always got in the way of other people seeing me as a Dane.
– Who’d want to be a Dane, liberal-mindedness has been shelved anyway, says Jensen. – Why don’t you view your circumstances as a gift? Your father left you, but in return you received a wellspring of feelings that will never run dry. I wish I had pain so deep-rooted no one could remove it, not even the person causing the pain.
– I feel like I’m wandering around in an Asian fancy-dress outfit twenty-four seven, and all I want is to blend in with the surroundings.
– I envy you anyway, and Sui too for that matter.
– Empathy has never been your strong point, I say.
– Exactly, says Jensen, smiling.
I am irritated by her tactless comments, but never long enough to vent my anger. She stretches her shapely legs in my direction. Her turquoise-varnished fingernails drum the tabletop. We’ve been friends for the past ten years. Even though she’s thirty and behaves like a contrary teenager, there’s something seasoned about her. Her face is markedly irregular, but that’s offset by her large breasts and long legs. I could fall in love with Jensen. But every time I’m tempted to reach out to her, provocative comments and heavy perfume hold me back.
– Maybe you’re not half one thing and half another, maybe you’re a bridge, says Jensen.
– A bridge?
– Something that links one part of the world with another.
– Maybe. How’s your novel getting on?
– It really irks me that the wounds inflicted on us when we’re adults don’t run deep enough to take root in our childhoods. I have to track down trauma in order to have something to write about. It’s tough having to shoulder other people’s wounds, pick at them so they’ll ooze until the story has been written to its end.
Jensen ’s voice is loud and piercing, her breasts heaving.
– You’re one of the few people who can make a living from writing, most others need a sideline so they can buy milk for their coffee.
– And wine.
– Milk and wine.
– Can I help?
– You’re staring at me.
– Your silver dress … it has a magnetic effect. Do you always wear silver?
– Only when I’ve been at my own private view. I’m allergic to art collectors, luckily my gallerist isn’t, so she stayed and I left.
– Are you Miriam Bang?
– I read an interview with you in The Guardian last weekend. I’m Kai, by the way.
– You don’t look like an artist.
– No, I’ve just qualified as an architect.
– Congratulations, and a toast to you standing here looking so young and adorable.
– I’m twenty-five, and I don’t see myself as ‘adorable’.
– Let’s go.
– Shouldn’t we have a beer first?
– I don’t drink beer. Is there anything I should know about you?
– I have a third eye.
– It really does look like an eye. Strange, an Asian man with the Hand of Fatima. Is it of any use?
– I see people’s thoughts, they materialize in images.
– So what am I thinking about now?
– About me. I’m lying on a bed, naked.
– You’re a mind-reader!
– That’s what I’m saying.
– Your gaze is uncommonly intense, it goes straight into my bloodstream.
The night is cold, a full moon dripping. The bed is a vessel, filled by the moon. Miriam’s breasts are taut under the purple lace, the chasm between them leaves a painful desire. Dark hair effervesces across my face. Small beads of perspiration spring forth all over. Her green eyes, highlighted with thick black lines, bore straight into mine. She’s unreal and untamed, I’ve never met anyone like her. Intoxicated, I enter her, causing her body to ripen, a single gentle thrust takes the energy within her to shattering point. The room is so humid the windowpanes mist up. I open the window, snuggle up to her and entwine my fingers in her hair. I fall asleep with my cheek against her bare back.
When I wake up, she’s gone. She has left a dried-up salt lake on the white sheet, small flakes of silver from the dress twinkling on the surface. I feel torn apart, discarded and yet complete.
What if the person who can release me from loneliness exists?
– How did your father react?
– He was taken aback, actually.
– Now you’re my panda.
– I live here, but I’m not yours.
– You’re a very special creature, the only independent panda on Earth.
– Oh, Anton, really?
– Did you know there are only one thousand eight hundred and sixty four pandas in the world. The Chinese authorities own them, and ‘lend’ them to zoos, but always in connection with trade deals, political diplomacy, and a proviso that they can demand their return at any time.
– No, I didn’t know that.
– The only place the panda lives freely is in the cloud forests of China. It was originally a carnivore, but it evolved into a vegetarian, it has to eat nonstop to get enough energy. Just like you.
– You love the sound of your own voice.
– Yes, and it’s saying: you’re mine.
– Then you must be mine.
– For good?
– And Paris?
– From the café.
– Paris is different.
– You’re just friends?
– Anton, what are you up to?
– Well, you and I have an open relationship, right?
– Maybe we should drop the ‘open’ bit now we’re living together? It’ll get pretty awkward if Paris moves into our bed.
– No worries, I won’t let her into our bedroom.
– Anton, I’ve been thinking about it. I’ve changed my mind, I no longer believe in the open relationship.
– Do we really have to trap one another in a petit-bourgeois mindset?
– So maybe I’m just fucking boring.
– I’m listening.
– You’re expecting, says the doctor.
– I can’t get pregnant, I reply.
– You are nonetheless going to be parents.
– I haven’t got a partner.
– So the father is unknown?
– I know who he is, of course, but I hardly know him, and I have absolutely no desire to be a mother.
– You’re approaching the three-month limit. After that, abortion is only an option in exceptional circumstances.
– I have no misgivings, I opt to get rid of it.
– I must give you time for reflection before we proceed. So think it over for a couple of days, and then get back to me.
– It won’t change anything.
– We did an ovarian reserve test at your last check-up, and your egg count was extremely low. So this embryo might well result from the fertilization of your very last egg.
I let myself into the studio, something unwanted is growing inside me, a living being with an independent drive. It makes me uneasy. My common sense tells me that I should have it terminated. But now that it has taken up residence in me, I feel an odd duty to bring it into the world. I go through all options and escape routes until a clear solution emerges. I call the gallery.
– There was a youngish man, an architect, he left his card a couple of months ago, have you still got it?
– Yes, I never throw anything away.
– Could you send me the address.
– Yes, of course. Anything else I can do for you?
– No, that was all.
– May I come in? says Miriam.
– Yes, of course. I popped into the gallery a couple of times. They wouldn’t give me your number, so I left mine, but I never heard from you.
– I’ve had a lot on.
– No thanks.
– Not for me. I’m pregnant.
– Congratulations, you’re going to be a mother?
– Yes, and you’re the father.
– Me? Are you sure?
– I haven’t been with anyone else since you. As I said: I’ve been busy.
– Well … we’ll work it out together. So, we’re going to be parents?
– No, I’m fifty-one, I don’t want to keep the child. On the other hand, I have great respect for what some people call fate. I had an abortion when I was very young, the doctor scraped out a little too much and I was told it was virtually one-hundred-percent certain that I couldn’t get pregnant again. I’ve not used contraception since, and it’s never been a problem. Until now.
– Sounds like a pretty devastating piece of news for a young person.
– It was many years ago.
– I’m sorry I didn’t take precautions that night, then we wouldn’t be in this situation.
– Do you want to be a father?
– Yes, but I hadn’t imagined it would happen like this.
– As I said, I don’t want to keep it. I’ve always put my career first, the pregnancy doesn’t alter that, and I’m not suited to parenthood.
– There are many different kinds of parent.
– A child at this point in my career would cost me everything, I can’t run that risk. On the other hand, I’m reluctant to fly straight in the face of fate, so I have a suggestion: if I renounce all parental rights, will you adopt it?
– That … I don’t know, I’ll have to think it over.
– Yes, naturally.
I didn’t think I’d see her again, but now she’s sitting here on my sofa, her hair a frizzy cloud around her face, her sharply-defined eyes intensifying her gaze, she is insanely attractive. Although we’re in a sensitive situation, I can’t stop mentally undressing her. Part of me craves the feeling of fulfilment in which she had left me. But now this bolt from the blue, I’ve made her pregnant. Do I really want a child?
I can picture my mother, both with eyes wide open and safely closed. I have observed her intensely for years, mimicked her movements, her words. I have turned away from her in anger, derided her values, and then slowly embraced them again. A year ago, she moved back to the village where she grew up. The forest grows in her back garden, and our relationship is now shaped by long telephone calls. Her voice has become underwater-like, slurred and gentle. She is seriously ill, the doctors have given her three months. I sank into cold despondency when she told me. I asked her to move in with me, but she said that she had now finally come home.
– The worst thing about living alone is that I’m occasionally bored, but then you call and entertain me with stories from your life. I’m so proud of you, my darling, and I love you, but I want to die here, where my life began.
– It’s upsetting to think of you all alone and ill, I say.
– When it’s time, you can come, she responds.
In a way, it’s a relief that I can just carry on with my life, that she doesn’t try to tie me to her like a child to a tree. But it’s also strangely sad that I’m not of more importance in her life, and I realize that I still depend on her advice, need sustenance from her voice. I’m nowhere near ready to let her go.
– Is it even responsible to have a child on your own? I ask.
– Being a single father is hard, and you’re only twenty-five, it’s bound to cause profound changes to your life, she says. – On the other hand, we don’t regret the children we had, but the ones we didn’t have.
Does she regret not having any more children after me?
– I just lie here for most of the day, my body won’t stay upright, but I have plenty of time to picture my future grandchild, the tiny little fingers around my finger. I hope so very much I manage to meet her, she says.
– Or him, I say.
– It’s going to be a girl, she says.
Her voice becomes thin and faint, she fades away, but then she’s back again.
– I’ll name her after you if you’re right, I say.
– Susanne might be a little old-fashioned, she replies.
– I like it.
– What about Sus, then? The feeling of a breeze. A name keeps you anchored, but you have to remember it’s only a name, you can always change it. When I met your father, he called himself Kai. He passed it on to you. It’s a name used in several cultures. In Japanese it means earth, spirit, dragon, and love. It’s ‘the one who sells chicken eggs’ in Thai. In Creole, Kai is a ‘house’, and in Hawaiian it’s the word you use of ‘the sea’.
– I could call her ‘Sui’.
– After you. And that popsong by Sneakers, about Sui who runs away from home, ‘no one knows just where she goes … and the city covers up her tracks’, I sing into the telephone.
– You’ve already made up your mind, she says.
– Yes, says my mouth.
As my answer flies out, I know she’s right. I’d made up my mind the very moment Miriam told me she was pregnant. But it hadn’t filtered into my consciousness until this very moment. I almost race out of the door, the Sui-song on a loop in my mind. The lyrics are rather mundane, and I know them by heart even though I haven’t heard the song for a long time. I drive to the gallery, freedom breezing through the song. Miriam walks out of the building just as I’m parking. I roll down the window and whistle, she sees me and comes over to the car.
When something sings within. Part of a greater epic poem. To produce music with the voice or to strike something with intense force, with all one’s might, so it sings in your skull, in your bones. Or just sing in other ways – birds, insects, and some mammals whistle, warble, coo, hoot, howl, quack, thwack, grate, cackle, chortle, crow, buzz, clatter or expel a long squeaky sound. A Finnish study asked 1,200 people how often they had a song on the brain; 90% answered: at least once a week.
An ensemble of singers, singing music in unison or in parts. Choral derives from the Latin word choralis, meaning belonging to a choir. An ensemble of corals becomes a coral reef, a plant-like submerged formation of skeletons, dead sea-trees, dead man’s fingers and spider hazards, hard as stone.
A stone is a small piece of hard mineral matter that constitutes rock. If the stone is 20 mm in diameter or smaller, it is classified as grit; the upward maximum is more flexible, so a stone can be big as a mountain. Or vice versa. A large stone might be placed as commemorative marker of a location or an event. A hard seed in some fruits. A lump of amassed salt in the body, a testicle is a stone in a scrotum. You can have a heart of stone, and get blood from a stone. You can find the philosopher’s stone with its magical powers, you can hit a stone wall and give stones instead of bread, you can cast the first and trigger an avalanche, sink like a stone and be etched in stone, kill two birds with one stone or just stone the crows. Once you have no stone left unturned, their stone-faces staring up into the skies, the world is exposed as it really is.
I virtually explode out of the car and rush towards Miriam. She is surrounded by thin strata of multicolored light, as if dressed in a rainbow. I step into the colors and put my arms around her. She is wearing a deep-orange frock, her gaze is framed by black lines, and her lips, which she moistens with her tongue, are shining: she is carrying our child. Miriam withdraws from my embrace, taking a step backwards.
– Kai, what are you doing here?
– I want to be a father.
– Wonderful news, says Miriam, smiling. – And a mother.
– We can be parents together, of course, even though we live apart.
– I have more than enough to do just organizing myself.
– Do you think you’ll be able to abandon a baby you’ve carried for nine months?
– Well of course it will have an effect on me, maybe even cause some kind of trauma, but we humans have an exceptional ability to adapt, and I find it relatively easy to put a lid on things.
– I can’t even think the thought without my heart aching.
– And that’s why you are suited to parenthood. I’m a more hard-hearted type. On the other hand, I’m a splendid artist.
– Maybe you’d be an unconventional mother, but you can easily be both these days, a splendid artist and a loving parent. I mean, I’m an excellent architect.
– There is a fundamental disparity between being accomplished on the parochial level and having international impact. The latter demands unconditional dedication, and that’s where a child gets in the way.
– In the way?
– There’s no point simply repeating what I say. I won’t change my mind. I choose my career, whole-heartedly, which does not mean I’m a bad person, but it does make me unsuited to motherhood.
– You’d be a splendid role model for a child. Children are little mimics. You are more than exceptional, and you could pass that on to your child simply by being around now and then.
– Don’t use that look on me.
– What look?
– That one.
– Kiss me.
– We are in the middle of a serious conversation.
– About our child, which already has a face, and its eyes are being created behind closed eyelids at this very moment while we stand here talking.
– It is, of course, fascinating that a person is created inside another person. Kai, I’m genuinely pleased about your decision.
– Yes, me too.
I’m standing at his front door holding the child custody form and I can feel a strange prickling all over, as if I’m nervous. Kai opens up, he’s wearing his usual linen trousers and a loose white shirt. His skin is brown, and his half-long hair needs a cut, he blows his fringe out of the way. His eyes emerge, his body seems to radiate light. I lose my focus. He smiles, those soft lips, I can so feel them on my neck. My body is quivering. I clear my throat.
– Do you want to come in?
He pulls the door open wide and steps aside. I walk past him, I can smell him. My nipples harden, an ache between my legs, it only takes one hand to draw me in. My lips are no more than a few millimeters from his, and my blood, my senses, sweep me away as the air between us crackles.
– Miriam, I say.
– I can feel you everywhere inside, as if you had planted thousands of flowers in me, and now they’re all blooming at the same time.
– Let me paint them.
– Colossal flowers. What’s on your mind?
– I finally understand that art is not necessarily created from pain, it just requires unconditional dedication … Put your hand here, it gurgles at the same place every time.
– Is it the baby kicking?
– Now it’s gone quiet.
– It’s listening, it can hear me! Can you hear me?
– If it’s a boy, we can call him Nero.
– Like the brutal Roman emperor?
– He was dreadful, but he was useful too, and Nero is much more than that, it means ‘freshly-drawn water’, ‘steam’ and ‘young’.
– Not a name for my child.
– Our child. Put that reference book away.
– It says here that Nero, in Italian, means black: the color of printed words. Someone who belongs to a dark-skinned race, malice, ink, fascist, the color of soot, without light, without milk.
– In the Ludian language, Nero is the word for ‘talent’. He’s a genius.
– Our child will be remarkable, and you’ll simply love him or her at first sight. My mother was sure we’re expecting a girl, and I promised she would be named Sui in her memory.
– Sui is a splendid name, if it’s a girl.
– So you suddenly want a say in our child’s name? Times change.
– I got swept up in it. Fundamentally, I haven’t changed position.
– You love me?
– Yes, I love you.
– Then I don’t understand.
– I know.
– Is this a dream?
– No, it’s a painting.
– Are we in a painting?
– Not us, just me and the elfmaidens.
– Elfmaidens? Ha!
– Yes, they’re clad in nothing but transparent mist, the kind of mist you drape across the flowers in your paintings. They dance around me, and I’m a fir tree, that tree.
He points at a tall scrawny fir tree, one side veiled in hazy mist. – But, being a tree, all I can do is sway in the wind.
– How can you be here and there at the same time?
– All the dancing breasts, I’d so like to reach out to them, but I can’t. Just standing here moving my branches in the breeze is torment. I try desperately to close my eyes and erase the tree from the painting.
– You are a tree, your cock is a branch, and birds are flying in and out of you as if you were a building?
– Exactly. But only in the painting.
– When you look away, I’ll kill all the elfmaidens. I’ll paint another picture, and then I’ll be the erotic focus, the only one you desire, a dream.
The first person I see when I walk into XI Gallery in London is Hans Murner, the old composer who always comes to my openings. We never talk, but always nod politely to one another. I feel completely calm when he’s there. He doesn’t know that I consider him to be my living mascot. All the paintings are hanging exactly where they should, Alex is wearing a striped silk suit, talking with three grey-haired men and a younger woman in a tiger-striped jumpsuit. Alex is bathed in money and loneliness. She runs a gallery that is just as perfected as she looks. When she spots me, she heads straight across on her spiky blue-velvet high-heels.
– Darling Miriam, you look splendid. An extraordinary turnout this evening. The French ambassador is over there with a curator from MOMA and the legendary Hiroki Oshiro, she says, lowering her voice to add: – You’ll be meeting him at dinner.
– You know I don’t do sales dinners.
– This one’s in the contract, darling, and it’s vital you’re there because you’ll be seated next to the art collector. Let me give you a little heads-up: forty, bachelor, born into a family of art aficionados, exceedingly well-connected, not just with the top of the Japanese art world, but with the inner circle of wealthiest art collectors on the planet. And now you’ll have to excuse me, I must take care of the business and you, darling, must shine.
Alex glides through the room. I walk towards the bar, but suddenly the Japanese man is standing right in front of me.
– Impressively fragile yet ominous flower paintings, madam, he says. – We viewers feel the flower head to be opening up and drawing us in with its beauty. We stretch our necks, and at that very moment the petals close around our heads, like jaws, and we are blinded.
– I couldn’t have described it more precisely myself, but I would probably have chosen different words. As far as I know, we haven’t met before?
– You are the star of the evening, and I am a secondary character in your narrative, my name is Hiroki Oshiro.
– I know, my gallerist is delighted that you are here. You’re better-looking close-up than at a distance. Your smile is attractive and your teeth remarkably white. You have fine hands, but your chin is perhaps just a touch too receding.
– Are you assessing an animal or a human being?
– Rumor has it, you are married to a much younger man?
– He’s your age, and we’re not married.
– Let me guess, he’s no more than twenty-five.
– None of your business, is it.
– How old do you think I am?
– I have no interest in your age.
– I’ve just turned forty, it pains my family that I’m not married, but perhaps I should take home a disgrace of such magnitude that it will outweigh my age: I could marry you.
– I’m not available, and you appear to be both self-centered and conceited.
– Was that a compliment?
– No, it was meant as an insult.
– May I be permitted to address you by your forename?
– Miriam, I have been following your work for the past seven years. Even though you belong in the top echelon of artists, you have never broken through to the really major arena. I should like to offer you my assistance.
– You occupy an advantageous position, without doubt. Nonetheless, even you probably can’t dictate exhibition profiles at the Tate or MOMA.
– You really have no idea of what I am capable. Rather charming actually.
– If you weren’t so pleased with yourself, I’d find you attractive. I like the way you look, and I’d have nothing whatsoever against going to bed with you.
– Spend the night with me, and if you have the same resistance against me tomorrow, you won’t hear from me again.
– Who do you think you are?
– You misunderstand. I’m inviting you to the Tate.
– The Tate is closed.
– The director is one of my closest friends. I have access twenty-four seven. I enjoy wandering amongst the works in the darkness of night, calling them forth with a flashlight. Like night-diving over a coral reef. The artworks are sleeping fish, the cone of light bringing them back to life.
– I take that to be a yes?
– Not necessarily.
We talk about the war in Yugoslavia, and if Denmark can win the European Football Championship, he thinks Prince Charles will file for divorce. We discuss whether or not a talent has its limits, if it’s inborn, or if certain individuals are conduits for something greater.
– Inspiration comes when a divine entity breathes life-spirit into a human who simply inhales that life-spirit, he says. I reply that I agree with Nietzsche in Ecco Homo: ‘You hear – you do not seek; you take – and do not ask who gives.’ I don’t usually care for quotes, but this is one of the few I remember. And it’s how I’ve always felt, I haven’t had any choice. We speak about my works, about the ones I shall make in the near future, and about the art we illuminate with our flashlights in the blacked-out rooms. He’s not as handsome as Kai, but he is exceptionally perceptive. I’m captivated by his aura of self-confidence and polite distance. His manner stirs me, and his skin is intriguingly cool, smooth as porcelain. A feminine appearance in contrast to his absolute authority, an enigma, one day lunching with the Japanese Foreign Minister, next day recommending names for The New Yorker’s list of the ten most significant artists in the world. Before the morning light has risen over the rim of the globe, I have made my decision.