Summer 2009. I was enjoying the Rakia. I would begin with beer. And then have some of his Rakia as the Balkan heat died down and pests buzzed in the lights shining from the patio making notes with them.
And that stuff, man, I reckon that’s what they fed Gene Wilder in-between scenes instead of letting him eat at the canteen food.
Don’t just throw away the rocket ships.
Don’t worry about the old films because they always come back.
Fire-flys staring at you.
Look to the left of you after the evening bar b que, and look into the rough garden of thick black grass where you were weeding earlier, and laugh spluttering into your hand in a plastic seat.
Our neighbour saw me working on the house the next afternoon and asked me over. It was hot as hell so I lay the shoveldown and jumped over the wall.
He wanted to show me how he made the Rakia. Bud these bottles didn’t contain wine like the label said bud. And he knew that I was interested. It’s like that thing where you don’t need to speak the language so much. He was going to show me how his distillery worked.
It was something that he had been doing for years and he was proud of. You don’t need to understand what is being said when it’s so damn hot and a man is showing you how a cooking system works. We walked into and under the tin roofs that kept the barrels from the sun light and he flipped open one of the lids. It was connected by a spiralling copper tube to a smaller barrel that collected the distilled Rakia. Something told you that it worked. Because we wern’t drinking holy water last night man. But I reckon we all fuck off to the same place. Which is the most frightening thought. Not the death or the life or the questions. Just that maybe we all fuck off to same place.
How about that? How about the foxes chase the horses for a while?
Well, the Rakia got me thinking that way that time anyways.
But I probably over simplify. I know I do. But hey. I’d already had my first hit of Rakia that day whilst mixing up some cement and working on a drainage system. Thing is, you can make Rakia from just about anything, any fruit, as most people know when it comes to making moon-shine. This guy made it mostly from old pears.
And what stays with me, after I had been chugging this stuff instead of air all day, is that barrel of moist fruit we were looking at. The guy smiled, and said something. And I’m sure he was saying
Look, look, you can make this stuff from anything
He’d been working that day like always and had decided to take a break to show his dumb neighbour how he made the stuff. He wiped his brow. He dug his work arms into the barrel among the fermenting pears. All the way down. And stirred them a bit. Then taking out several hand fulls and squeezing them in front of me smiling – I smiled too. I liked his set up. I nodded and we went inside and ate some fresh onions and tomatoes.
So you know how good the Rakia is by its colour. The whiter it is the better. Our neighbour had explained earlier at dinner through the aid of a girl who translated for him, that
I think this is one of the best bottles I have ever made…
And that is what we were drinking. Mostly my neighbour and myself. It was very clear. It’s also to do with the age of the bottle as well as the distillery process, he explained. That made sense. There’s no point in looking for a Alc. Vol. label on this stuff though.
A lot. Grabbing my small hold all with my belongings and buggering off, flip-flops, plane ticket flying back sometime in the next forty-eight hours, walking into the blackness of the Balkan roads. You have to see them at some point man. When you come into these rural areas, and its light, you really get it.
I know green. I know the fields that I come from. But the beauty of the Balkan countries really puts you in your place, and is just, different. Say you come from a reasonably modern part of the world, where everyone’s been building, shitting and talking for a good while. Say you’re coming in on a coach. And it’s the size. And it’s not just the huge hills, but the mixed hills. The rock of them. Split all over with savage green mosaic trees, none of it caring for the small vehicle approaching.
Not many roads, just a few. The sight of yourself entering the area through a small line, no will against it.
Walked back that night. I had only done it by car during the day, and it was long. But there was something I trusted. Something more linked to organic force than anything else. The colour. The pure pitch of black. The way the road wound around the hills. And I did. No smokes. Last bottle of anything else gone a long while ago. A few grams of clothing, a bag, my ticket. We got to know Bulgaria better that way. Under talk.
I knew when arriving that I had taken a wrong turn. Because I was sat in the middle of a construction site in the middle of rural Bulgaria. A lot of the lights had been left on inside the half built coves. And it was time for a sit down anyways. And breath. And then back to the road. I bought a ticket from the coach station as the morning came, and I had found my way there.
From Veliko Turnovo to Sofia takes about three hours by coach. Taking the time to shut up is good for everyone’s health. I woke up. But the coach depot was still about ten miles away from Sofia airport. Lets sleep on the rock stairs of this old sports stadium tonight love.
Before that, in walking towards the stadium I had been looking for a young prostitute that had said hello to me a few days earlier. I wasn’t looking for sex. I was just curious for a chat, and had walked a long way. They all say.
The girl had come out from the local college in a large group from the side of the park opposite to the old stadium. They collected up ahead on the corner near where the bars began, and the main stretch of bars began, and I was told that that’s where they hang out.
Outside of Sofia airport. In some kind of circular rock meeting place over grown with thick grass coming up through broken cement I was sitting the next day waiting for the hours to go away until my flight arrived. It was damn damn hot again and I was looking pretty dark and unwashed. Poor passenger sitting next to me later.
I was sitting there looking off into the stretch of gypsy shack village that is located north of the airport.
You could see these waggling things walking through the grass towards you.
Through the part of the unkept land connecting to the airport. People who piss off in the night tend to be that type. Funny though. The things they still take seriously. Like waggling things coming towards them in battering delirium heat.
Take all that heat and delirium and slice it down to about nothing when you realise that they are about six large gypsy dogs that do not want you here. No man here. No gusto hero. You’re gone.
The airport was adjacent to my right and I had not moved since watching them approach from a long way off. They were not interested. They were approaching. Barking. I stood up. I began to walk sideways as one of them bolted towards me and the rest did.
Only about say, fifty yards of movement. Some black dogs are not pets.
Shaking, then settling down with a coffee, ‘As We Danced In the Dust’ came along, just before my plane, on a table with pen and paper. In the middle of three of the happiest years that I will ever have. It had everything that you could ask for.
Friends, love, and chances.
This is the first short story I wrote before my second year of university.
As We Danced In The Dust
about 2,000 words
We lay down together. Unable to move.
Our smell the same.
Skin stretched out.
Holding each other’s hand.
The days and weeks we hadn’t been eating properly.
Didn’t show on her figure, as it did mine. She still looked full.
Muscles and waist growing tighter, thinner, but hers.
Her face, her breasts, her lips, had not changed.
An animal in love with pure beauty. Old beauty, future beauty.
Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia.
We had been travelling Europe for some time. That’s where we were. One of those places. All of them.
And the heat kept beating, making me sweat. And it made her sweat too. But we always had enough energy to fuck. As our bodies become hungrier, our need for each other’s skin increased. Her sighs and moans and thighs becoming louder. Penetrating darkness. The cicadas. Black trees. Collapsing. Grinding. Feeding.
Our love, returning to the dusk, giving life back to the morning. Killing each other.
A stretch of green, wild and wild bad and good sand. Hard hills, that whilst you sleep, create you. Sand inside our arse and hair,
The ground. And your perfect smell.
We stand-up, and continue to walk through the breeze towards the train station.
I pray that the money has been wired. We stop. I pull her into myself.
Tell her all these damn things.
She smiles. Our bodies join. And hills the size of Gods,
‘We will be fine.’
She said gracefully.
There was nothing at the station hardly. But a shop was open in the blazing afternoon sand. The unknown shop-keeper didn’t smile at all but sold us enough with what we had to get us drunk.
There were no people or trains; we had five hours to burn until the next one came.
The day stretched out and up into the evening as we laughed and screamed like two boiling oysters drunk in a kitchen. Time passed into and through the hours. We wound around each other like two snakes fighting for something, her thighs tensed with absolute strength on my lap, she moaned from her stomach into the sky, as did I, we kissed again, slowly and completely, celebrating the release, making the day travel into night.
My back lay against the cold wood of the station seat as she began to wind down. I began to wind down. And the need for hope faded as we both began to sleep.
I said one last thing to her to make her laugh a little, before we rested in wait for the last train.
She began to curl into rest, her hair across my lap, but I notice that she sees one more thing before her eyes shut. She was looking down to the end of the station where the entrance was. Her eyes burst. Her laughter stopped like a match being put out. Her nails dig into my legs. I smile down telling her she can’t fool me with the same old tricks; then I look too.
He was coming.
He moved like slow clay.
‘There’s just one of him…
We have to get this train…’ I think.
His lips lay still like two grey worms on top of each other. Emotion-less. Moving towards us.
And there was no-where else for us to go. No more running.
And I wouldn’t have run even if I could.
And this is what I thought seconds before he was near us.
The train was nearing. The night was mixing with the hopeless age of the station.
Gently moving her body to one side I began to run at the man walking towards us.
He was Russian like her. Old school Russian. No sympathy for an English cock-sucker wanna be saviour like me.
I jumped into the air.
I could see he hadn’t expected that. The time I spent in the air moving towards him seemed to expand and die slower than normal. I had time to see his cold receding head, the lines across his wide brow, the shoulders of a man half-bull, eyes etched into wood; he looks up as I connect.
I land an elbow directly to his face before I land fully, catching him with my downwards momentum, all of my weight landing on his nose and mouth.
‘let this slow him down’ I ask fate, the adrenalin jack-knifing through my body almost bring it to a halt.
It rocks him, a little. Next: left, left, straight right, the biggest left I have. Blood.
His head hung slightly low in sudden contemplation and pain.
He still has a lot left. I think.
A gorilla dancing with a fly.
I follow up with more punches. His hand shoots for my throat faster than I can react.
I can punch. But he’s taken many a man like me. I think.
I hear Russian. And parts of the station again.
I hear her voice, straight in its pitch and unchanging melody. But-without-the-laughter. I can tell she’s scared from the way she puts too many words in her sentences, too fast. I see his grey outline pushing a much smaller one against the wall.
I think about Natashka back inside one of those rooms.
I thought about her sorrow and strong will. Defiant, but captive. I was certain at every turn that she was misleading me. She was. She had bent my logic so far back it stayed there and made sense again, I had travelled miles to find her, after three months of dreams I finally did.
“ah Jerome”. She Said.
We drank and made love for hours. Reality adjusted to our forms behind the dark curtains of her apartment. A bed of velvet sweat. Wrapped around you, inside you. Opium. No air. New life.
“Jerome” She said after three days.
“You-must-go. I have lied. They come here when I call them. They make you give money…”
“I know hon.” I said.
We made final, violent, love. And then left.
I will now owe ‘at least 25,000 Euro’s’ she tells me.
I figure it’s just about worth-it.
“That’s alright” I replied.
My rib-cage roars into the ground with disgust and rage. My remaining spirit pours into my hands and knees as I rise, a dead sprinter, a dead man, still rising;
A spitting snarl. A scream.
The rats are woken. Old angels woken. And I ask all the beer drunk spirits that are close to help me.
I tackle him hard into the wall, we crash into Natashka but she moves just in time, even his legs are heavy, they slow my rage, I only manage to get one, its under my right arm, held with both hands, my left leg steps inside his remaining right, behind it, I pull, the trip works, he falls. I hear the train. I follow in, again, all I have in the world is surprise, and his squat body is the strength of three of mine, emptied into one.
And at the maddest of times it’s the strangest of things you remember. I see the lights of the train flashing across her whole body, for a moment she transforms, and is complete light.
I’ve climbed on top of him. I strike down with the madness of ten days drunk on whiskey. Blood. Bone. His powerful fingers grasping at my limbs trying to stop me, but it’s no use.
Spears made of bone thrust down into his face.
And the old angels watch, as I connect, drooling and enjoying the show.
His arms begin to flop down like tired wild animals returning to sleep. And perhaps my fury and revulsion can break even him.
My hands on her body. I force her on the train with the last of our money. The conductors only see two drunks fighting beside a beautiful bystander.
I force her on.
“Jerome.” She says screaming.
A clay hand takes my breath again as it locks around my mouth from behind me. I manage to hold the door long enough while being suffocated so that the train is moving with her inside, when the train is finally leaving, I feel joy.
“Jerome.” She says still.
And finally I car not. Not about the man choking me or the time of day. In the seconds that my lungs drown, I feel only the bliss of having known you, a last toast before I rest with the sea, salt-water changing my lungs, but I know my last action was with all my soul, my mind, my body.
Natashka, I drink to you, fully. Finally.
This thought fills my gut.
His hands across my mouth, my eyes begin to shut.
That was the last thing I thought about.
I’m looking down at my body, the Russian’s beside me breathing hard.
And then to my shock I see Natashka again. Walking from the far end of the station back to the main area. One of her knees bleeding and ripped, she limps, as if something is completely broken, one foot, unable to move with the rest of her body. She drags her handicapped form all the way towards the clay man who’s standing beside me.
I can only watch.
When her tattered body gets close, I get to see all the cuts, one side of herself is badly damaged where she jumped from the train.
And when she is only a reach away from him. She touches his chest.
Hands that can change anything.
And I look at them both. And death saves you from nothing at all. You just observe the same things, at a slower pace, from a different position, you try to tell the suicides this, but; few want to listen, there’s nothing wrong with oblivion, just remember that once you’re there, you still need something to do.
I break down. Knees hitting the ground.
I see her body slide into him, closer, her hand disappears behind his back.
Now, she stands pointing his own gun at him. A shot goes into his head. No hesitation. Now she looks down at me, beside my choked corpse, a gun still in her hand.
My hand wants to reach up for her. I stop myself. Another bullet fired, it discharges through her mouth, destroying her head.
Now she lays down too, she was on her knees beside me when she fired the gun so there wasn’t far for her to fall.
The station endures our blood as we bleed out, forming one river that trickles down onto the tracks and gutter, you can’t tell whose blood is whose, or who is bleeding the most.
I look up at a light-bulb in the roof; it tenses one more time, making the mosquitoes dance in quiet frenzy, before it lets out a final scream, cracking out of life. Going-out-softly.
My head comes back down and I see another person standing only a few steps away from me.
With a turn of her head she suddenly flicks me a half-smile, the kind she knows I like, the kind that rips the spirit right out from your chest and makes it feel good.
Before we begin to walk away together something makes me turn, and we both look behind us.
The Russian looks down at his body, the lines in his face are still, and yet we know how he feels.
He looks up at us, we can only see the deep set hoods of his brow, shadows for eyes; he moves his feet slightly so he now faces us flat, he raises one of his hands, in the first movement I have see him make casually all-day.
I hear him say the words:
And although his language isn’t mine, I know this means: