Moment of Truth

Look, it was a moment of truth, that’s the point. It was the kind of absolute and pure moment where everything would get streamlined and steered in a particular direction that, at least for the time being, would be final.

We’d been going for a while, already the day was lining up behind the night and a certain muted fierceness had taken over. Through the window light started to come in. We refilled whisky and gin – there was, there is, enough for everyone. No one was bothered by the light that was faint still but already made the whisky and the gin sparkle in some crazed way, like a ritual brew. No one was bothered by anything until Timothy grabbed Marianne violently by the shoulder and dragged her away from Lucas against whose own shoulder she’d been lying head down until then, or maybe more against his chest, which did what it’s used to doing whatever the event: laying firm and broad under a line of shirt buttons, rising and falling with the deep, sated breaths of a bear in hibernation. Whatever life decided to throw at Lucas, he’d handle it looking glorious with several minutes to spare.

Timothy was the one losing his shit.

Motherfucker! You motherfucking cunt-sucking faggot, is what he shouted incongruously at Lucas, who now understood that Marianne was not lying up against his chest anymore, which meant that at one point she had been.

Hey, Lucas said in an attempt to appease the situation. Hey, hey, and then something that was hard to catch.

No one had seen that Marianne had been lying up against Lucas’s chest or that Lucas had touched her ass, as Timothy now stood shouting while spit flew from his mouth in all directions, he also lisped and no one really understood how he ever got a girl like Marianne, Timothy the least.

But Marianne really was crazy about him, about the lisping Timothy who couldn’t pronounce his own name normally even though it didn’t have an ‘s’ in it.

So no one noticed anything until Timothy sent his spit flying across the room in a blind fury. (What were we doing at this time? Where were we with our hands? How many stories are lost in the night and the feeble morning because there’s no Timothy to spray the room and bring people to their senses?) But even after we noticed we just kind of stood there all of us. Timothy’s harmless so no one really intervened. In the corner Stefan threw up. This was something he’d been doing for a while now. That’s it, he said, phew, I think that was it, I think that was the last of it, Jesus. But he stuck around for a bit to make sure. What he had thrown up looked like clear water. A smooth puddle, curved around the edges, that reflected us all as though the night were simple and benign.

The air was sour.

It now looked like Stefan hadn’t been throwing up in the corner after all. Not exactly. Looked like it was more towards the middle of the room. More or less on Marianne’s shoes actually, and partly on her pant legs, the ends of them at least. We realized now because Lucas couldn’t let it happen. Like some dashing indoor-type knight he started to defend Marianne’s honor, which Timothy thought was all out of proportion because who was Lucas to defend Marianne’s honor, as in: seriously, who exactly did that guy think he was, as in: no, seriously, who exactly do you think you are, motherfucker?

So what happened was the following: Stefan got an aggressive push from Lucas, who at the same time got an aggressive push from Timothy (this was when Marianne had gone to wash off her pants, that’s what she’d said, but she’d gone the wrong way and, upon realizing this, had started slowly to strip down her pants as if that were the only real option left, and after that also, and just as slowly, her underpants, even if those could hardly have any puke on them, she nevertheless stood there on the parquet floor, her modest bush of pubes revealed, a little dazzled) and one push accidentally reinforced the other so that Stefan suddenly slammed hard against the window, or would have slammed hard against the window if someone hadn’t just opened it because the air was so sour so that for one scary moment it looked like Stefan was going to fling out of the building into the cold air. His feet actually came off the ground.

Fortunately Lucas was there to perform the kind of heroic deed he always does unmoved and with some impatience, as if it’s not the main thing on his agenda right now. One swift tug and Stefan’s weight was tilted back inside. All that happened was that a stone ashtray, which had been on the windowsill, crashed nine floors down because of the flapping movement of Stefan’s arms.

Nine floors is not nothing.

We heard it shatter to pieces on the garden path in the early November air.

Those of us who weren’t at the window yet leapt over to it, those who were there already stayed and that’s how basically everyone was standing at the window at the same time. We all stood there looking at what had already happened and from this height, in this half-dark, you couldn’t actually see anything down there, but we all stayed anyway, looking out sort of crushed, like a disaster had happened. No one said a word.

Then Marianne said: a nice warm bath.

It came from the middle of the room. We all turned.

Apparently Marianne hadn’t gone over to the window. Instead she was kneeling in the middle of the parquet floor, using her pants to clean the clear white water off that Stefan had thrown up. This she did in great wide circles, stooping all the way down for the apex, delayed in movement by an honest lack of conviction, wipe, wipe, someone save me. Everyone saw she wasn’t wearing any pants, we were all staring at the comical pubes, but because everyone knew that everyone saw without saying anything, no one said anything.

A nice warm bath, Marianne said again, wiping ever so slowly.

Bread fresh from the oven, someone replied.

I thought it was Stefan but he was hanging out the window throwing up.

This was the moment. The one I mentioned earlier. I looked at Stefan hanging out the window and then past him, at the blue hour outside. There were a couple of very slim, long-drawn-out clouds in the sky that mirrored the flat landscape below. I looked at those pencil-thin clouds against the blue, which was both dark and fierce and seemed somehow to make the sky swell. I looked at that unlikely blue. Looked hard at it thinking: now it’s going to say something. But it didn’t.

 
Oh, Jenny!

My husband has a colleague by the name of Jenny. Jenny often does weird and awkward things, both at the office and away from it. My husband also knows about the weird things Jenny does away from the office because Jenny likes to report back on them standing in the coffee room with a mug in her hand. My husband then comes home with the stories of Jenny and the weird things she has done everywhere and we spend a lot of time laughing. Jenny is bad or at least awkward at many things, a large portion of which involve machines and technology. She is especially bad at marriage, which she likes to talk about. A lot. My husband then comes home with the stories of Jenny’s bad marriage and we drink them like milk in the morning we’re so thirsty for them. At the same time they feel very cold and close to terror going down into our chest where we continue to grope with one hand while we laugh and shake our heads and laugh some more and say with great affection and fright: oh, Jenny!

 
That Dark Edge Allan’s Sadness

I walk through the door and there’s Allan. I’m so happy to see him it’s ridiculous. We cry out and laugh and hug for a long time and what are you doing here? he says. A question I never have an answer to.

Allan, Allan, I say. Every time I see you, I wonder why I don’t see you all the time. I know, he says, I know, your skin is sooo soft. And he knows because he’s touching me everywhere again. He really loves soft skin. And I really do have soft skin so it’s perfect for him to touch and he does. In appropriate places, I mean. Even for a gay man Allan is very gay. He wouldn’t want to touch me in inappropriate places except for fun.

Allan comes and goes in the night. The place is so packed you’re dancing with people even when you’re not. The drag queens choose their songs carefully so that most people are not just dancing but singing too.

They raise their arms and sing to the drag queen who sings to them.

I raise my arms and sing to the drag queen.

The drag queens come and go in the night. They appear at the edge of the bar and strut across it, to the far end, to the middle, back again, moving confidently on their heels, which are so narrow they’re perfect for the narrowness of the bar. They sing but not really. Their mouths make the words but there’s no sound. They don’t even have a microphone. Allan is next to me, we have our arms around each other until we raise them and sing to the drag queens who sing to us on the narrow heels on the narrow bar in the night.

We dance and his nose is in my hair. We dance very closely, sort of drawing each other in until all the parts of our bodies touch, your hair smells sooo nice, he says, which I sincerely, sincerely doubt ‘cause I should have washed my hair, no really I should have, before going out, and had I known it was going to be such a big long night I would have but I didn’t so my hair cannot possibly smell nice.

We dance and his nose is in my hair and all the parts of our bodies touch and I want to say I love you so so much, I want to kiss him on the mouth, I want to kiss somebody on the mouth and tonight it’s him because I love him beyond explanation. I want to say I love you so much and I probably do. I probably do, but who’s to say, it’s very hard to hear anything in this place, with all the noise.

And all the time I’m overwhelmed by his sadness. It’s like a wave except it washes over me and after that just sits there. After that it’s just this shadow, this beautiful dark edge around all the objects and the people that glow in the bar lights, the beautiful dark edge of Allan’s sadness.

I’m leaving, Allan says. He comes and goes in the night and is leaving most of the time. I’m leaving, he says, and kisses me goodbye on the mouth, I love him for that, for kissing me on the mouth when I’m afraid to, I’m leaving, says Allan, and he kisses me goodbye on the mouth four times or five and then at one point I look around and he really is gone and only that dark edge is left around the people and the objects that glow in the bar lights. That dark edge Allan’s sadness.
 
The Cabbage in Germany

I worked in media monitoring for a long time. I’m talking over a decade. Ten years and two months to be exact. Boy did I know my way around media monitoring. It’s an international environment so we were gang-raping the English language every conference room we went into. No one did as well as my Spanish colleague Monica though. She’s still the one I think of most fondly when I reminisce about that place, which I do quite often since this was my happy time – after that there was some bad luck and after that only a strange gap where luck, good or bad, used to be. I find myself reminiscing to get away from the gap if such a thing is possible. I then think of my Spanish colleague Monica, whom I almost had a thing with but she was married and we decided against it, twice when we were very drunk even, something which happened not infrequently in our unit – this was, I have mentioned it, my happy time. I think of all the hilarious things Monica said in meetings and during conference calls with the colleagues abroad. Like for instance she couldn’t pronounce the word coverage, as in media coverage, which led to statements like: ‘the cabbage in Germany was large and mostly neutral’. Do I sometimes wonder what would’ve happened if Monica and I hadn’t decided against anything? Sure.

 
It Still Bends on the Elbow

It may seem like nothing to you but you have to understand there was this life I was heading for like for a heavy-ass truck on the highway – fast, loose – and it was like all of a sudden I was getting a preview of it.

All of a sudden I was in the wreck, after the blow, and it was not that my elbow was just bleeding or anything, my head resting softly on the airbag, a little stunned, it was not that kind of a crash, no. It was more that my elbow had flown away from my body somewhere and I had actually had the presence of mind to watch it fly off you understand? More like that. More like I thought oh fuck, that’s my arm. Oh all fucks in the universe, that’s my arm there. That thing flying through the air. It still bends on the elbow. Watch it bend, motherfucking fuck.

In reality it wasn’t that bad of course. In reality it was just a bleeding elbow. I had scraped it on the rough wall in the hallway changing a lightbulb and my wife was now dabbing at the blood and then putting one of these white gauze things around it that always give me the creeps because in all honesty what is that, is it a solid piece of cloth or is it a net?

She was wrapping it around my elbow violently, with fast whirs. Whir, whir, she went, with her cheeks flushed and red fury stains all over her throat and chest because she was still so pissed off with me, not because of the light bulb or the elbow, no, because of something that had happened, or really that she thought had happened, really nothing at all, at least nothing I want to talk to her about ‘cause she has it all backwards, my wife, let me tell you.

I stood there in the hallway and she was winding the thing so tightly around my elbow my fingers were starting to tingle and pretty soon I was going to lose all feeling in them, actually I was going to lose all feeling in the entire lower part of my arm when I looked at my wife who was fuming like a dunghill in a winter landscape and then looked at the bulb that was not changed yet because I had to go and scrape my elbow so it was just hanging there dark, dangling like some useless dick, underperforming you might say, and in that moment, I swear, it was like I was getting a preview of what was coming, it was like I was in the wreck already, after the blow, it was like that in every single way except for the sweet release of death. That bit was missing.

 
 

Sofie Verraest

SOFIE VERRAEST is a Belgian fiction writer and researcher in literary and urban studies at Ghent University. She lives in Brussels, where she is a member of the artist collective Mont Saint Eugene. She obtained her PhD with an inquiry into idealized places in novels and urbanism, has since developed a fascination with the genre of the (very) short story, and has published on these and related topics.

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