Laird Hunt & Oliver Rohe
MIS/TRANSLATION
 
The Vacant Lot (an excerpt)

The pretty vaulting sea refused to drown me.

      —Shakespeare

I am aware that I have been reliving the same day for months.  I arrive at dawn at my ruined former place of work and don’t leave again until very late at night.  This regularity which I know is bleak and pointless is one of the rare connections I maintain with my former life.  I don’t see why/how I could be rid of it.  There is almost nothing left besides this itinerary and I am no longer very ambitious.  How long will I hold out—and what did that awful lady in black want from me?  The hammering.  The sun.  Right now the room is partially cross-hatched with sunbeams and a few cables away from the building, behind a gas station that has been abandoned for years, sledgehammers—how many of them? three? four? how many?—smash loudly into the asphalt. The din from below has begun to climb as high as my window.  Hostile ivy.  No doubt they think it’s time I left.  Time I empty the place out and bury myself somewhere.  Who was the young man whose photo she was holding?  Why does she hold it out to me every morning?  I no longer count the number of cigarettes I’ve smoked since I got here.  I just hear my lungs whistle.  I won’t last much longer at any rate.  My poor parents had no idea what was going on.  They were content to receive.  By the thousands.  At least that’s what I think.  When late at night I go home to their house, in that run down part of the western suburb, which during that period served as a provisional refuge for hundreds of families in flight, whose continuous wandering most often ended in the belly of some ditch, anonymously, in white sheets, one on top of the other, I tell myself that I’m the last one who persists in not dying.  Nevertheless I do my best.  No: nevertheless they do their best.  Around my window all these buildings under construction resemble horrible doll houses, something like an alignment of concrete grimaces, while in my neighborhood in the Western suburb, that gummed up, disgusting garbage chute where these days a population of old folks without offspring is piling up, old folks who spend their days contemplating the disaster from their balconies, the buildings are gray and unfinished and silent.  In my neighborhood the elderly have not spoken in a long time they’ve already said what needs to be said.  At nightfall and without having uttered a single word during the day they leave their balconies, slip on their striped pajamas and get in bed to wait for the next dusk.  They wait in silence and their resignation is pure, guileless.  Why am I incapable of such resignation?  Cloistered in their garbage chute my parents don’t even know who Mahler is I never listen to him in the house.  Outside these yellow walls—where in the shadow of the wild vegetation, I take note each day, dark and rampant forms pullulate—Mahler has absolutely no meaning.  In the entire city no one listens to Mahler the way I hear him.  They can’t know what he conceals.  Or deny it.  Nonetheless I know nothing about great music.  But I’m going soon I’m already bleeding from my chin.  Who does this doll belong to this horrible red doll on the floor?  Instead of insisting on asking myself this every day I should no doubt get rid of it.  No longer stupidly go on and on asking myself the question.  Stop wasting time.  It doesn’t help a bit.  Once and for all: take it by the hair and toss it out the window.  Take it then toss it.  The window.  Without hesitation.  Right up my alley.  More and more I fear the moment when the sun will invade the entire room, the moment when the swarming below, so intense and awful in the middle of the afternoon, swamps me with its unstoppable swelling.  But I have nowhere to go.  Now that I’m no more than a kind of cumbersome vestige, a scandalous remnant, they seek by all accounts to precipitate my death—but subtly
     secretly
     without seeming to be involved:
     while continuing to live.
Amazingly they have ignored me up to now, but my lair won’t last.  I know it won’t last much longer.  One of these days they’ll bury it under a horrible doll’s house and then I won’t have any choice but to join the police force.  Or the asylum.  No more Mahler no more refuge: the entire outside world will spill over me and I will be swallowed up under the earth with a mouth full of mud.  I’m not so naïve.  Moving my armchair towards the shadow, away from these dusty rays of light that are taking over part of my room with a blinding white, I said to myself, while my right leg trembled with the effort, I said to myself, without being able to explain it, like usual, I said to myself—what did I say to myself?  No more Mahler.  Mouth full of mud under the earth.  The armchair, the glaring white, the right leg: I said to myself that the woman dressed in black from this morning would denounce me to the mob and that I would succumb, entrails exposed to their sharpened blades.  No.  that’s not it.  Moving my armchair I said to myself exactly that watching the sea wouldn’t suffice and that one of these days, in the coming weeks, why not tomorrow, I would definitely have to consult a new doctor.  That’s more likely.  Ask him: my right leg my jaw my tics what should I do.  Doctors never answer this kind of question: they let you rot.  They tap the leather of their desks and observe the wound with lassitude.  Each time I’ve consulted a doctor I’ve been offered the same treatment.  The same exasperation.  I return to clinics, remark in passing the blank faces wandering the corridors—do I look like that?  like no one’s there? like I’m that shade of blue?—and hear myself come up with the same crap.  Question: my right leg my jaw my tics what should I do.  Supplication: what should I do doctor what should I do.  Answer one: sick individual that is mentally, completely sick.  Answer two: but an individual henceforth harmless.  Answer three (I’m getting ready to walk out the door): spend time in hospital or do whatever you want to goodbye.  I don’t want to be checked into an asylum in the hospital I know that song.  The song: body in tatters turned to jelly and eternal stupor in my head.  I’d rather die than sing.  That’s what I say to myself.

 

I’m in my room in my penumbra and can’t help missing all those years when we were kings.  There were several of us who survived—who blossomed even—in a sick world.  We left at nightfall on rounds that often didn’t end until dawn, amid the ruins and under uninterrupted downpours, picking up random passersby in our beat up cars.  At that time, I was 19 20 years old I had a life.  Faces paraded before me offered themselves to me.  Exceptional postures and expressions.  Listening to Mahler on top of it.  What’s become of the memory once so precise so pregnant of those faces?  We roared through the labyrinth of a city without lights, around and around to quickly make ourselves dizzy, us and our random passengers.   Our work nights never ended until day break when we would peacefully cruise along the coast before giving in to sleep.  No one spoke everyone or almost everyone took pleasure in the silence.  Who remembers us today?  Our rounds, our passengers?  Then I was king and now I’m no more than a ghost.  I pass haggardly through trenches at the periphery of agitation and take refuge in a penumbra that is menaced from all sides.  The former world persists only in my head my memories my remains.  From my window I see workers running on scaffoldings.  They are erecting higher and higher barricades around me.  I’m no dupe: soon, in a few weeks, in a few days maybe, I will no longer be able to see the water.  From time to time I hear their heals ringing off the metal planking.  They are foreigners immigrants I can’t understand a word of their language.  They recruit them from the four corners of the world to engender my demise.  Do they think that I am so many that they now need to come at me in numbers.  If only I could get used to it like everyone else.  Take delight in all these changes.  Abandon my pitiable remains and stop holing up in this room.  Pretend or why not persuade myself that all is well.  That I’m not lost.  That I’m no longer afraid.  No more trembling leg tics.  Say to myself: all is new and superb let’s go I’ll start over.  Say to myself: I dare you.  But I can’t do it, something prevents me and I can’t do it.  I’m lying.  In reality I don’t even try; I simply don’t have the strength to get up again.

 

     At the beginning of the evening, when the signal to start the night’s festivities echoes throughout the city, I can see them flapping their fat mouths in the traffic jams.  There are no exceptions.  They race after whatever’s new and pile up massively
     bestially
     like colonies of flies in shit
     on the lighted terraces by the sea.
There they sip imported beers and exchange malicious glances.  In my prostration I sometimes hear their unbearable laughter.  Indication of their obscene happiness.  The little thing that renders their complacency their detestable health. To set an example they hung a man on the public square at noon.  Someone unimportant according to my radio, a petty thief, a nobody.  Around noon the crowd poured in to attend the event.  Time, for once, had stopped and the worksites were, extraordinarily, silent.  From my lair I could contemplate the entirety of the scene:
     the monumental scaffold
     the sack over the head
     the urine running down the legs
     the officials
     the arrival of the notables and the anonymous.
The entire city had turned out, ecstatic and drunken with desire to display themselves, there on the central square, in the middle of a belt of brand new buildings.  In their Sunday best for the occasion—the young, the old, women, children—everyone wore white linen.  While my jaw paralyzed the muscles of my face and my rosary slipped out of my hands, I watched them boasting and waiting for the start of the festivities.  They were laughing their heads off.  No sooner had the hanging been speedily accomplished then a woman in a white dress took the stage.  A popular diva from the old days before my birth.  Why had she gone silent during my youth during the years when I was king?  Full of an untamable excitement the crowd applauded the fine job made of the hanging and the song recital that followed.  This was yesterday or a week ago I believe.  But what does it matter?  What does it matter: I’m sitting in my tattered armchair and am again listening to Mahler—but for how much longer?  I barely sleep anymore.  Graceful shadows move like ink stains before my eyes.  Undulating they unfold themselves across the length of the wall and, little by little, infest the illuminated surface.  In the center of the canvas I can see embryonic forms a horrible swarm of unfinished figures.  More or less the same ones since I started climbing up into these ruins to take refuge.  After all I don’t know I know nothing.  It’s been months I mean months since I’ve slept. In my western suburb everywhere in this city my body leaps at the exact moment I’m going under and always enjoins me not to sleep.  I don’t have the right.  No matter how tired I am I don’t have the right to drop off.  Not for a minute.  Never.  As soon as I’ve approached the regions of sleep my entire organism effectively rises up against me and my jaw snaps shut and I bite my tongue and it bleeds in my mouth.  How can I muzzle it, this body of mine?  Get rid of it maybe?  Coming here this morning, before encountering the illuminated gaze of the old woman in black—what exactly did she want from me—I once again saw my life, the totality of my life, like a slow, laborious endurance race,
     literally unending,
     gratuitous,
     without finish line.
I saw myself dressed like a topflight athlete running for centuries on a mute and deserted highway.  I saw my stride grow heavy and my burning eyelids brought together by exhaustion.  I could hear nothing not even my own breath.  But I didn’t stop.  But I never stopped.  The finish line was in reach, thirty meters from me, I know it was there.  Nevertheless I never crossed.  Where is my cat?  My one-eyed, scaredy Siamese?  Yesterday it was still strolling around my room.  It would slide its flank along my refuge’s cracked walls, then flop for a long time on my lap.  A viscous, yellow film covered its right eye.  Probably puss or something along those lines I’m not a veterinarian.  He was very faithful.  I had taken him in a few days previously maybe more.  He couldn’t have gone far.  I took care of him.  I don’t know where he is anymore.

 

   

TOP