I was wearing an orange dress, I had no clue why or how. I didn’t own a single item of clothing that was orange—nor did I ever plan to. I was in a ballroom. A stadium? No, a ballroom, a hotel ballroom. The same one I’d been to years ago when I had to go to some relative’s wedding. That was a strange day; I’d seen so many family members that I hadn’t seen in ages at that wedding. The music was so loud. I could feel judgmental eyes on me for staying at the table where the aunties sat instead of getting up and dancing with people my age. But the food was great that night, and it made up for the headache, the awkwardness, and the fact that I felt like a hostage to traditions the whole night. Meanwhile, this time there was no wedding. Instead, there were hundreds of people I knew and had met throughout my life. Most of the faces were blurry. I couldn’t tell if I was a blur to them too or not.
When my father was younger, he said he would learn English. It is the language of the world, it is the future here.
He took us out of our school and enrolled us in another. Arabic, English, a little French, and this would let us be citizens of the world.
How was he to learn English as an adult man? There were no courses in the village, he could not read at a level to enter university. His one choice was to read over our shoulders and for us to teach him the words. He put a satellite dish on the roof and we only ever watched English shows night and day. He had the TV turned to children’s shows because they spoke slowly and he could understand.
The angel came down to earth bearing a message of peace. He swept over the pyramids of Giza and landed in the heart of Cairo. People gathered around to witness the heavenly being, capturing the moment through the camera lenses on their phones. The world watched this miracle unfold — taking in the angel’s magnificent wings, which arched off his back in a graceful curve. His skin glistened in the sun like fine copper while his hair fell below his shoulders in flowing locks like unkempt wool. And when he spoke, the people listened, for his voice was like the song of a nightingale bearing the promise of a brighter future. The angel spoke of love and peace, of fear and hatred, of humanity and the eternal light. His words reached the ear of the president, who feared his own stardom would be diminished. He ordered his intelligence agencies to act, and so they did. The angel made the evening news — they called him a criminal, an anarchist, a troublemaker, an outcast. They said he fled from Heaven under a cloud of shame, with the goal of chaos and war. They censored his speeches and erased his online presence. And still the angel stood in the heart of Cairo and called for freedom while the people listened with open hearts. In his growing fear, the president deployed the army, which surrounded the angel and took aim at his chest. The angel smiled for he knew the battle had been won. He removed a single daffodil from his pocket and planted it in the cement beneath his feet. He then spread his resplendent wings and took off, ascending the heavens, his purpose achieved.
A daughter and a father, known as Emily and Bruce, arrived to meet with an accountant to discuss their situation. Bruce had been the owner of a store for many years of its successful operation, but in recent times had struggled to keep up with the evolving ways of commerce, in a world he could no longer understand, and had in consequence accumulated debts with his suppliers that exceeded his potential to return on current income. Having guaranteed the voice of his sole daughter, he allowed her to explain this situation, and the motive she had found to bring him in there. “We have come to find a way in which to finance our concern, with views not only to dissolve our obligations, but to rapidly increase our operations. I have numerous ideas that I believe may be of use to your financial institution. But before I get to these I will elucidate our current situation”.⟶
Clubbed black nails clawed back a charred slab sinewed with the ratty remains of a plastic bag. What remained of the sunlight danced a shine off a small filthy brick that toppled into the vacant space. Quick. Snatch. Spit. Polish, second layer good. The few remaining hairs she had stood up.
A little melted around the edges, but still whole, the phone was long dead, yet its last conversation held eerily, burnt forever into the crystal.
She stared at it, then threw it over her shoulder as she beat a hurried retreat down the mound. Caught. In the crystal. Burnt. Flash. She’d wandered too close to the Zerozero and had to move.
Old Bergamo lay on the summit of a low mountain, hedged in by walls and gates, and New Bergamo lay at the foot of the mountain, exposed to all winds.
One day the plague broke out in the new town and spread at a terrific speed; a multitude of people died and the others fled across the plains to all four corners of the world. And the citizens in Old Bergamo set fire to the deserted town in order to purify the air, but it did no good. People began dying up there too, at first one a day, then five, then ten, then twenty, and when the plague had reached its height, a great many more.
And they could not flee as those had done, who lived in the new town.
There were some, who tried it, but they led the life of a hunted animal, hid in ditches and sewers, under hedges, and in the green fields; for the peasants, into whose homes in many places the first fugitives had brought the plague, stoned every stranger they came across, drove him from their lands, or struck him down like a mad dog without mercy or pity, in justifiable self-defense, as they believed.
30 Second Quickie!
Wet horny college girls waiting for your call now!
Garish, bawdy and downright pornographic ads screamed from the back pages of the magazine. Pausing occasionally to push a wet strand of hair out of her open mouth – fingers shaking slightly – she thumbed through the pages, taking care to choose the right number for tonight. Fingertips slid gently across the buttons, their tinny responding beeps echoing into her dry mouth.
The electronic rotate of the connection signal ran a shiver from the heat of her ear to her mouth.
“Hi! My name’s Tina! And I’m a slim luscious blonde with firm thirty six double D breasts and I’m a gym instructor. Ever since I was sixteen I…”
capitalism is an extremely contagious virus
communicable by primitive accumulation.
Its chief symptom is the belief that every problem –
including infection with the virus itself – is
curable by the profit motive.
—The Book of Derivatives®
the future is
the exploitation of the
net present value
of the past
—The Book of Derivatives®
This legal notice filled the latest issue of The Loiterdale Loss-Leader, a free, limited-circulation South Florida newspaper, in its entirety:
Know ye all men by these presents, that the following brief has been filed in United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida —
Motion to dismiss
Order to Show Cause
Request for summary judgment
*Four (4) Special Notes of Historical Interest*
Guillermo Telles, aka Guillermo Tell, aka Bill Tell, aka Wild Billy Tell (hereinafter TELL), a naturalized citizen of the United States born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and currently living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, representing himself pro se, does aver and assert:
Contrary to popular belief no magical shops or mythical creatures will be appearing in this story.
She slept in a workshop under a giant unfinished surfboard her mother called “the tourist attraction”.
When she was born they named her Esther, but immediately gave out cards saying she was to be called Esty. The other name was for later life, for the times when a young woman had to sound extra officious to implement her will.
It had been a bad morning from the onset. It started with a flood from the bathroom which cracked the lower wall and damaged her one and only painting of any expense. She didn’t have insurance. It was a real shame.
The painting was The Paradox of Color. It was an original. It was the first original piece of art she’d bought. The gallery shipped it to her and it arrived with a crate of champagne. They knew they’d gone to town with the sale’s close. The adrenalin rush isn’t something she’d forget.
Identification: 13 inches (33.02 cm) from top of head to bottom of tailfeathers. Can be distinguished from the Domestic Pigeon and the Rock Dove (Columba livia) by the white turtleneck tuft on the back of its neck. Plumage: off-white, opaline milky green or purple. Eyes low in head, level with beak. Flies higher than most other pigeons.
Song: can do the familiar coo-roo-coo of other doves, but, in certain urban zones, its call features exuberant, operatic glissandi and trills.
Habitat: urban and peri-urban areas; commonly roosts in cornices of industrial buildings and on masonry outcroppings on commercial structures.
Caesar called me to come over.
We sat on his roof in the late November sun. He tucked the bird inside his worn wool vest, donating it a bit of his own heat.
It was the last of its kind. Columba regio civitatis. The Zoning Pigeon.
Niggathrond And The Path Of Youth And Foolishness
When we were younger there was nothing else for niggas in this Wild Wild Worst town to do but fight. Me, Rinzlo, Cicero, Lindo, and Franco―the Five Os. We were from the same side of town: torn Millé and Hi-Tech sneakers unworthy of hot-stepping in, out-of-fashion t-shirts from the Pep store with girl-pulling gravity set to zero, and not even a coin between us to spend at the video game arcade. We’d pool our poverty at the mall on weekends waiting for rich kids from Olympia and Ludwigsdorf to give us shifty looks so we could corner them in the parking lot and pound on them.
Anything could set us off.
Some Jordan-wearing dude looking at our cheap kicks funny? Fight.
Rinzlo’s younger brother getting bullied? Fight.
Some random-ass nigga coughing into the west wind while we were coming up from the east?
“Hallo?” I say, voice still sleep-drunk. I sit up in bed.
I don’t know why he’s calling me from an unknown number. My anger rouses itself and beats me to the mouthpiece. “I know. It’s three in the morning. What the fuck, dude?”
Olga was a screamer. It’s nothing you would have guessed about her, at least not at first. Or perhaps some would. Maybe almost anybody could have told me to watch out for a beauty school graduate with a military father. But I was shy, and clueless, and young, excited to be in a new place, excited to date a girl.
We met at the beauty parlor on Calle Numancia, near the main train station in Barcelona. It wasn’t just a beauty parlor, it was a huge complex, three floors, opened from ten am to midnight Monday through Saturday and until three pm on Sundays. You could get anything done there: nails, hair, waxing, electrolysis, Thai massage, California or Swedish massage, Botox injections, fish pedicures. Olga did waxing and I was both the massage guy and the handyman. I fixed broken lamps and collapsing massage tables, dealt with circuit breakers, repaired all sorts of broken nail-clipping tools. The owner, Adele, a French woman who weighed about 45 kilos, hired me the August I arrived from Buenos Aires. She liked that I had long hair, a thick black ponytail. You seem New Age, she said, and asked if I’d be interested in maybe teaching her tai chi.
The customers of Café Taba were tapping their feet on the floor, up and down, following the beats of the hakawati’s song.
The hakawati gulped his third glass of tea, and then continued to sing in his alluring voice, which gave his audience goose pimples, making even the stoniest hearted of them almost want to cry.
No one knew why.
None of the audience could take their eyes off him, nor could they stop listening to every word and every syllable he uttered even though they were sure that he knew nothing about love. He was clearly too young and too vain and had never suffered. Even Dunya was sure of it. None of them could fully or even partially understand the theories he was trying to peddle through the vehicle of his songs. How could Fear be the opposite of Love? Wasn’t Hate its eternal enemy and opposite? The hakawati was talking nonsense, trying to be clever, they were sure of that. Even Dunya who thought of herself (relatively speaking) as an expert on the theories of love and its manifold manifestations did not understand. But none of them really cared whether he was right or wrong because what they loved about him most of all were not his stories, or his theories, nor his rhymes—but the voice in which he sang them. Perhaps in Europe or America people could follow their hearts, some of the men reasoned. But here, in the conservative Republic of Syria, Fear was the master. Fear held everything and everyone under its sway, and everyone respectfully bowed their heads to it.
They got to know each other in Paris between two smoking faces which it was said were fired blanks. The machine guns launched black and yellow texts onto the café terraces. Ancestral huts and migraines crucified the gossiping sun of a late autumn in which convalescents were stretching out electrified limbs. One spoke adroitly about these rhymes bees of inconsistent blondeness. They weren’t listening or pretended not to hear. In their navel rooted the reign of a sphecoid wasp-star which itched throughout the discussion. They were anxious to go home however their legs had become the sole emblem of a museum of the nearby desert. They broke their ribs several times in the middle of the terrace. At a neighboring table the devil applied his makeup. At that very moment a tom-tom unleashed a drumbeat inside their stomachs and inexhaustible molecules. In their left lung Zodiac howled; and Time, whom one never meant to interrupt, plummeted incontinent and sat on their sentences, chewing them like birdshit. Time fled past the trashcans. Zodiac partied hard with long and bloody fireflies.
The empty lot gapes, yawns and quivers. It exhales dust and sucks the blue out of the sky. It draws her to it, an emptiness that calls out, that whispers and jeers. A wide mouth, that says, come, that dares her. She has no business with the empty plot. It is a nothing place, a no place, not a place but a gaping, an emptiness that is yet to be filled, something still to come.
It has no address at present, nothing that sets it apart in the neighbourhood. There are so many. Empty stretches of land cleared for some future construction never to come, suspended in the eternal yawning present of oblivion. Plots that have stood so long that they have become part of the landscape, vast parks where rubbish accumulates, some partially developed, deep holes sunk in the earth, now filled with murky water that collects debris, the pokes of steel foundations casting dancing shadows on the surface like the spines of poisonous fish; ruinous scaffold of catastrophic geometries that shade rows of empty buildings, concrete structures looming like theme park wreckage, dark and sullen, windows dust coated, shattered in places, doors padlocked against squatters that never come. The streets that hem them, nearly deserted, monuments to some moment of false hope, a future that dims with each day, grows wary, listless, the air dirty with stalled development.
The house I grew up in was a project, much like my family. My father would pick up bits and pieces from scrap yards and skips and the deadwood and bolt them into the rest of the house, a little like my mother did with my siblings. The heart of the home was the kitchen, at least I think it is the earliest room that I remember. I have a recollection of sitting on the split linoleum as a toddler, splashing a plastic toy in and out of a washing-up tub as my mother was kneading bread and flour sifted down onto the surface of the water. Mother says I must have made this up, that I was too young to remember, but accusing me of an over-active imagination was really one of her only criticisms of me. I knew my parents had always wanted me, because they told me so. They had chosen me when I was only a tiny baby, and then when I turned six they had taken in two more children, my new brother and sister. My parents loved me and looked after me, gave me a strict but fair upbringing, and considered the most important things in life were to be both good and kind.
They called me Sienna, and I never knew whether this was the name my birth mother had given me, or whether it had been changed before I knew that I had been chosen. The year before my brother and sister came to the house Papa made a sandpit in the small yard that counted as our garden. He spent a week of evenings after work cutting and measuring planks of wood, cutting small crescents of plywood to act as seats. He worked with his shirt off, glasses fogging slightly with the exertion, and I squatted next to him in bright pink shorts and red wellies, sucking my thumb. There’s a photo somewhere, just after he had filled it with sand and declared it finished. He is smiling, his hair slightly curled with sweat, and I am sitting happily with a bucket and spade, staring up at somewhere beyond the camera. Each corner of the sandpit has a seat, and there I am in the middle without a care in the world. It was before I learnt that, for people like my parents, nothing can ever be considered complete.
He wandered into my path. My shoulder knocked into his shoulder and we smiled or apologised. The traffic, he said. I walked on. He turned and followed me. He said again, The traffic. I moved to the kerb and waited. He said shyly, I’m looking for the university placement office? He held out a piece of paper. I didn’t look at the piece of paper. He said, My eldest boy. He said, I’m from Tanta. He said, It’s cold. The traffic. I said, The office isn’t far. Take the first bus you see. I said, Get out at the university. Take any bus, I said. He put the letter back in his pocket and he smiled. Started moving his feet again. Started to walk away. I paused for a second and let him pass. I looked behind me. I called out. Don’t take the bus, I shouted. Listen to me. He came back. My voice was raised. Don’t take the bus, I said: It’s not far. The traffic, I said. I gestured at the pavement. I said, Just keep going on this side. I said, The office you want’s at the end of this street. He smiled. This way’s better, I said. He smiled. I said, The end of the street. Better than the traffic, I said. The letter was in his hand. He started to cross the street. I said, This side of the street, all the way down. He paused. Took a step forward. Immediately after the university, I said, and he was thrown up in the air. The whole world screaming. Rolling to a stop over his body the car.