The Health Proxy Conversation

[Alexandra Bildsoe]

‘The Health Proxy Conversation’ is an excerpt from ‘Appendix’ first published in The New Manifesto, Issue 13. You can find out more about this quarterly zine at alexandrabildsoe.com

Alexandra Bildsoe writes, draws, and makes zines in the Hudson Valley of New York. She studied studio art at Beloit College, authorial illustration at Falmouth University, and storytelling/story listening/potion making at The Miracles of Everyday Life. Alexandra will send you zines, if you subscribe! Alexandrabildsoe.com for details! 

Editorial

Welcome to Fruit!

We’re excited to share Issue 2 with you. Inside, you’ll find voices from the UK, the USA, Nigeria, Gibraltar and other countries, and writing that’s incredibly varied both in its form and focus. 

It’s taken a little longer than anticipated to put issue 2 together. The main reason for that delay is world events. Like many of you, we’ve been coping with the Covid-19 pandemic and figuring out how we can meaningfully support trans* rights and Black lives. What seems clear is the importance of radically inclusive spaces, where marginalised groups can express themselves creatively. That’s the space we’re striving to achieve here.

We hope you enjoy Issue 2. If you do, please please consider donating: our contributors deserve payment and at present, your donation is the only way we can make that happen.  

The editors

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In the ember Months

[Deji Payne]

We stay in different postures beneath the flame trees that line the front of the hostel. The rocky pathway beneath is strewn with orange petals that the trees have shaken off.

I stand beneath the tree closest to the gate, the one farthest from the junction where Counsel lays in wait, the red point from his cigarette winking on and off as he puffs on it to warm himself. It is barely three in the morning, when the bitter winds of Zaria bear with them the vengeance of a single harmattan, and all five of us lie in wait for a single sound, one we have grown accustomed to hearing every morning in the ember months of our six years at Demon.

The wind whistles through the air and I dig my bare fingers deeper into the creases of my jacket, wondering why we didn’t pick a warmer night, why we couldn’t wait until March to break the Sarkin’s rule. In March, Demon is much warmer; the sun breaks free of its enclosure of clouds and lets warmth eat into the stiffness of the trees. The flame trees glow red. Instead of the dull orange that lay abound in the ember months, and the ixora bushes bloom into delicious hues of pink, bursting with flavor whenever we taste their sap. But in March, when the harmattan winds have migrated back to the Sahel to whip up the sands there, we do not think of breaking the Sarkin Ruwa’s rule. We do not have to. The hostels do not expel the fecal smell that blankets them now; our rooms are not permeated by body odors that won’t go away even when you rinse with sachets of water; and when fights break out, when the boys shout and bang their spoons against the balustrades, it is not because a bucket of water has gone missing.

From the tree where I sit, the wind occasionally offers me the putridity of the hostels, doling out to me in ample doses the smell we all try to escape. I scrunch my nose up and scoot farther away from the gate. Spirit has climbed up into the flame tree next to me, lucky to have been assigned to the one with low hanging branches.. 

“Spirit,” I whisper.

A reply comes with two sharp knocks on the bark of the tree. This is how the boy communicates. When he had first shown up at Demon, we had thought he was quiet, shy even. . Counsel had said he was troubled, but Raees had said he, Spirit, was simply being a snob. Habib had smiled too when Raees taunted Spirit, when Raees repeatedly said, “Wetin dey do you sef? Dey no dey talk where dey bring you from?” Raees’s taunts, Habib’s smile had continued until the day at the courtyard, as Raees begun taunting the boy again, pushing and prodding until, in one quick swoop, Spirit took Raees by neck, kicked his legs out from beneath him and threatened to throw him down the well. 

Three things surprised us that day: first was the ease at which Raees went down, the emptiness of his apparent swagger. Second was the swiftness at which Habib’s smile fled from his face and was replaced with eyes that spoke of horror. We had all seen Habib angry, it was one of the reasons he led us five – and all the boys in the hostel knew what his six-foot frame could do when he got angry – but none of us had ever seen him afraid. That day, it was as if all the smiles Habib had for Raees, all the joy he felt whenever Raees did anything as simple as breathe in his direction were suddenly replaced by thick darkness. Third, was Spirit’s voice, an orotund sharpness that cut through the noise of the boys gathered in the courtyard like a wuka slicing through shreds of soft suya; a simple, “E be like say you wan die,” uttered by a frail bodied person we had never heard speak. We continued to call him Spirit, even after that day, even after we had seen his name card. 

“You get any stick for here?” I ask, and Spirit drops down onto the pavement and walks over to hand me a half-used cigarette. I bring its burnt off edge to my nose and breathe in the tobacco. I begin to salivate at the promise of nicotine; I press the filter between my lips and Spirit lights up the edge before scuttling back up his tree. 

Many people would see all five of us now and shuffle away quickly, holding their bags tight as if we would come after them wielding our cigarettes; people who would think that we have nothing better to do with our lives, that our visible restlessness is the foundation of lives as pickpockets and thieves. But tell me, would a group of pickpockets be up at three in the morning so that they can help serve justice? Would restless teenagers plan against the Sarkin Ruwa to make sure that their friends get enough water to wash themselves?

Many people do not understand why we do what we do. Like the man on the radio who said, “Those boys from the Demonstration Secondary School in Kongo are examples of why the public school system should be revamped.” Like the Principal, Zero, who finds it important to buy new cutlasses every term so that we can trim the bushes of the school. “If your parents will not teach you, we will,” he always says. “If you boys don’t know what to do with your hands, then we will give you work.” Like our parents, who only have enough to put us here but not nearly enough to make us survive.

It is why all five of us are here this morning. We are here to make sure that we, and all the boys in the hostel, get what we rightfully deserve. What is the most valuable thing you own? To me, it is the jerry can filled with water I have hidden away in the broken creel at the end of the hostel. The most valuable things to us aren’t cigarettes or ganja hidden in opaque tubes of mentholated powder, they aren’t MP3 players shaped like cans of Coca-Cola, they aren’t packets of gold circle deftly hidden in the fissures of boxes; the most valuable thing here in Demon, in the ember months, are buckets of water. It will not matter to us if the water is slightly browned, like the dregs we pull up from the wells that quickly run dry; it will not matter if the water makes our skins sing, if they burn our eyelids and tickle our sphincters as they trickle down our body. It will not matter even if after hours of boiling, it still smells of decay as we pour washed rice into it; in Demon, water is water.

When the wells begin to run dry at the end of September and the school can no longer afford to pump the taps full of water every day, they call the Sarkin Ruwa and he brings one of his tankers of water, drives it twenty kilometres to Demon and fills our tanks. Or at least, this is what he is supposed to do. In our six years at Demon, the male hostels have never had an abundance of water in the ember months. The Sarkin and his boys come with the tanker every morning before the sun kisses the tip of the trees and fill the water drums of the female hostel first, and then they drive past the flame trees, through the wrought iron gates and dump whatever is left inside one of the three black four-thousand litre tanks of the male hostel.

How much water do you think five hundred and twenty boys need a day? How far do you think two thousand litres will go? When we complain to the man who hands us cutlasses, when we share our woes to Zero and to the administration of the Demonstration High School, they say that the girls need more, that they have more things coming out of their bodies, that girls always need to be clean. Boys should watch out for rain and manage what the wells offer.

Today will be different. We will stop the Sarkin before he dumps his offerings into the tanks of the female hostel and even if it just for a day, we will scrub our walls clean. We have planned this well, nothing will go wrong, not with Raees’ knife in play. As we dressed, after waking up to the muffled blares of Habib’s Nokia, I watched Raees slip a knife into his kaftan.

“Why? Will that be necessary?” I had asked.

“Better to be prepared, we can never know what will happen. This will be our Plan B,” he answered.

“There’s five of us; there’s no need for violence. We’ll ambush them, tie them up and take the water, simple.”

Raees chuckled and Habib’s voice filled the room: “But you know they say the Sarkin has a gun. We have to be ready.’

There are a few things I have come to accept in Demon, and one is Habib’s unwavering support for Raees. When we stood under Dogo’s shed and Raees slipped his hands through the metal bars and swiped Dogo’s phone, I had frowned in disapproval. Counsel had looked away and Habib had smiled, a smile that made me want to knock his teeth off his gums. We might not always know happiness but when we forget it exists, we find it lurking in the many smiles Habib shares with Raees.

I do not think we will need knives. After all, we are not bad boys. There are just times when life hands you rice and asks you to make kunun. Tell me, where will you find the mill to ground the rice with? Who will even keep watch as your rice soaks? We are not bad boys; we are just finding ways to make our kunun.

The sound of a horn comes tearing through the silence of the morning. It whips me out of my thoughts. In the same moment the headlights cut through the darkness, we hear the clanking of the truck as it threatens to fall apart. Counsel’s whistle breathes life into the cold that has eaten through my skin and I shoot up as Spirit jumps down from his tree. Our plan is simple: we will stop the truck as it enters the school, before it turns off our lane to drive down the road to the female hostel; we will tie the Sarkin up and force his boy to drive to our hostel and fill our tanks. We will not be needing knives to argue for us. We will not use many words. We have the numbers.

I watch as Counsel, Raees and Habib hail the truck and the driver steps down. Spirit gives a deep chuckle when Habib moves forward to push the man to the floor and that laugh disappears the next second when a loud bang rings through the air and sends the sleeping birds soaring from the trees. The Sarkin alights from the passenger side with a gun in his hands. Spirit and I run towards the truck and many thoughts pass through my mind. I should be running back, hiding away from the gun, but my loyalty ties me to my group; a peculiar mixture of anger and fear, guides my legs towards danger.

I see it in my head, someone’s blood, maybe Habib’s spreading across the floor. But when we reach them, the only thing spreading across the floor is the glow of the truck’s headlights, the only voice we hear is Habib’s. No one has been harmed. Yet.

“All we want is water, Mallam. It is not fair. Our boys need water,” Habib argues. He stands with Raees and Counsel, in front of the pointed gun of the Sarkin, who stands beside the driver.

“You stupid boys aren’t even supposed to get water,” the Sarkin retorts angrily. We have watched him many times, the Sarkin, with his rounded figure and large beard; we have seen his eyes from our rooms, his protruding stomach making us believe someone like that – someone whose only threat lay in the bulk of his body – could never own a gun. “Your school only pays for one tanker for the girls; the small one bring for you sef, it’s supposed to go to the girls too. Zero said that you are boys, una fit cope.”

The Sarkin’s words bite deep and I see anger building in Raees as he holds Habib down; this is not something that will end well, nothing involving an angry Habib ends well. “We will burn it,” Habib begins. “All this nonsense, we will burn everything to the ground,” he threatens.

I move to him, place my hands on his shoulder. “Calm down, we go figure am out.” But before I can say anything more, Spirit’s voice cuts through the dawn, like twilight slicing through the dark sky to herald the sun’s arrival.

“How much for a truck?” he asks.  

“What?’ the Sarkin says, frowning.

“I said, how much does a truck of water cost?”

The Sarkin heaves a dry laugh and even though it burns that he is mocking my friend, my throat tickles in amusement. Where would we find the money to buy a truck of water?

“Your school pays me twenty-five thousand a month to bring water every day. Una wan pay for two trucks?”

Spirit looks to Habib and a second barely passes as the tension breaks from Habib’s face and a smile appears. He looks to me and I smile back. Let me tell you, twenty-five thousand is not a lot; there are over five hundred boys at Demon and for five hundred boys, twenty-five thousand is not a lot if everyone donates fifty naira. This is what we tell the Sarkin; we will not fight his men; we will not burn Demon down. We will gather the money and pay him every month till the rains return but he must take us to where he gets the water from, so we can be sure.

When he agrees, Raees, Habib and I squeeze ourselves into the truck with the Sarkin at the driver’s seat and wave to Counsel and Spirit who will wait in Demon with the Driver. The truck moves past the gate and passes under the school sign where the ‘-STRATION’ has faded to spell ‘Demon Secondary High School’. We drive twenty minutes on the twisty murderous roads of Zaria; the town is still asleep and the silence of dawn is punctuated by the cries of several muezzins. When we reach Kufeina, where the government has built a large water tank held by long concrete pillars that reaches so high it seems anyone that stands on top of it might touch the sun, we stop. The Sarkin alights from the truck and we three get down and follow him across the floor to the bottom of the pillars where a valve is pointed directly at our face.

“Ready?” he asks and we nod.

The Sarkin slightly turns the lever on the valve and we are hit with a pulsating blast of warm water. I guffaw in pleasure and Raees holds Habib’s hands and says to him, “Smile for me.” My own lips stretch wide and as the liquid flushes away the dirt from my body. I think that this feeling of newness, this bright spark that threatens, like sunrise at dawn, to brighten up our lives is what Raees must have whenever Habib looks at him. As the sun rises, as our spirits flow with the waters that drive our darkness down into the soil, I think of warm sunlight dancing off clean walls, I think of the savory redolence of detergent on scrubbing brushes, I think of happiness, colored by the opacity of a hundred buckets of water.

Deji Payne hides his wings under court robes. An epicurean, his nonfiction has been published in We are Flowers, an anthology of queer writing from Nigeria.

Five Images

[Frank Duffy]

Aching in the heat I remember: it has been a long time since I tasted pomegranate 
I descend cool stone steps 
A moment of dark transition 
A sensious glow draws me further down
I ease into the juicy memory of rubies bursting on my tongue

Frank Duffy is a non-binary trans illustrator, graphic designer, printmaker and witch based in rural west Wales. Their personal practice is centred around the belief that queerness and magic both exist in a liminal space, a place regarded by heteronormativity as a location of uncertainty, disruption, fear and power. Their image-making and writing emanates from that space. They sell paintings and hand-printed limited-edition prints here; more work can be found on their Instagram. They also have a Patreon where they share images and writing on the subjects of queerness and witchcraft.

The Oval Canteen

[Avrina Prabala-Joslin]

At the edge of town where no one lives is the oval canteen. Where the road ends it begins. Neon arrows, that can sometimes just lead you on, sometimes take you there. Above the heavy doors is a neon sign announcing the oval canteen. Remember, if you’re here, you’re not elsewhere.

Once Flavian amphitheatre, now canteen, you do not know the purpose of your visit. Except that you had to leave. You know when it’s too much. No one sees you go in. If you don’t want to come out, it will tell no one. You can get lost in the oval canteen and perhaps that is why you and many others like you go there. Though there are countless within its sanctum, your oval canteen is not my oval canteen. Which really means that we are not going to be lost together or find each other. The oval canteen is by manifest a one-woman journey. Where mine glows lo-fi pink and plays Laurie Anderson, yours is beige with Leonard Cohen. Personalisation at its best.

Once you’re in, you’ll realise that nothing is dogma in the oval canteen. Nothing is the dogma you’ll follow as you walk one colonnade to the other. Because you’ve abandoned your judgement, you’ll laugh when you notice that the oval canteen is not really an oval but rather an ellipse. You also realise that there’s no actual food in the oval canteen. There’s no semblance of nutrition but you’re sick of health and growth and diet and meal prep. You don’t care. What you don’t know is that the oval canteen refers to the inner oval arena – oval like egg – and not what you’ve just seen. You’ll know why we are called the oval canteen when you get there.

Neon green vertical gardens abound in the inner arena, grade A nutrition. It will take you multiple visits before you reach this paradise. Sometimes it so happens that you reach it and forget it all when you visit again. Your memory brings to head a chant: All ellipses are ovals, but all ovals are not ellipses. You don’t understand what it means but it’s just the past bringing you to where you really belong. What we do here is not playing with memory but rather fortifying it for the greater good. You see, we’ve engineered organic and if you’re a Huxleyan, you’ll know that’s what utopias are made of.

There are no conditions in the oval canteen. Perhaps there’s a test. Perhaps by the end – and really, who can tell what the end is in this flora – you will be striving for the things you never really knew you wanted. The things you’ve always needed. Take a very satisfied customer for example. Laurie says, “When my father died, it was like a whole library burned down”[1] but with the help of the oval canteen, she found her utopia. She spends hours trimming, teeming and harvesting the vertical gardens so much so that she does all three meals on crispy bio-engineered greens, made just for her. Your arrival at the oval canteen is a return to what you’ve lost. Once you’re here, you’ll know why we believe in nothing to be our dogma. We make plants out of nothing. Our gardens grow on air. Silly you thought nothing meant nothing.

What you perceive as a boring chore is what we see as perpetuation of life. So let’s call it a test. If there’s anything evolution has taught you, it’s taught you to be the best. And in the inner arena, the oval of life, the leftovers of that circle of life, you’ve got to be your best. You’ve got to farm like a maniac. Look at Laurie, being the best version of herself.

It is here where many of you glitch and exit the oval canteen. You came here to get lost, escape loss, pain, resilience. Not save the future of our planet. Though evolution yelled in your ears all along to be the best, you didn’t listen did you? This person who loves to win, who powers up for a fight is also quick to the easiest way out. This is our design. Our trap. Our lure. You come for the perks of the outer arena, the ellipse if you will, but stay to cultivate and feed yourself. How long you ask? Till you reduce the marks you’ve left on where you come from.

Our critics may say that this is the point where utopia borders on dystopia, but we’ve done our research. Our empire of self-cultivated foods has been proven to prolong life on this planet by twenty times with an estimate of a million women like Laurie working day in and out for the next twenty years. Do you perhaps have another radical magical idea that can keep you alive?

Laurie herself has testified to not having lost her agency. Besides what is agency without life? At the edge of town where no one lives is the oval canteen. Where the road ends it begins.


[1] Laurie Anderson, ‘World Without End’.

Avrina Prabala-Joslin is a queer south Indian writer living in Berlin. She writes fiction and poetry on the fluidity of things, place, space and time. She has lived in different cities in India, England, Romania, Italy and Germany. Traces of these lives can be seen in her fiction and snippets of poetry. Apart from stringing together a collection of feminist short fiction, she studies feminist media for her PhD. Her short story “The Plumage” was shortlisted for the Berlin Writing Prize 2019. Find her here.

Of Course

[Brett Darling]

There was an aloneness to it, his breathing. And in that breath which the stranger drew, since he was larger, and more powerful than I was, I watched him from that quiet, backward facing repose, as he fought the impulse to speak that which would betray our heartbreak, the very failure of our words to override that death chamber in which we call ourselves, ourselves, being revealed as it was in that precise moment in the very non-word of a gasp, that was, no, not a gasp, but only a breath to mark the coming of the next, which was all that I could hear there in the rose garden, pressed up as I was to the wire fence that borders the east side of Finsbury park. The sound that all of us hear even when we whisper our profanities, threats, demands or other, sweeter phrases, even when words are used during sex, being born as they are from a world in which non of us are spoken, if in fact we are ever said, where all of us are either dead or dying, or wish to be in that garden without words, if such things as beginnings and ends can be spoken as wished for, so help us.  The stranger breathed heavily, like one inflating or deflating an air balloon with their nose, in a sound that was indefinably their own, for themselves, that is, communicated nothing but the structure of a nasal passage, the lung inflationary capacity, the aorta and other blood pumping machinery and finally the mute veracity of the anal and other organic and inorganic fissures, eruptions, dilations, which undoubtedly there were, going on, under the cotton of his jeans and so forth, flows, drawing the main beating source down, all of it, toward the cock and balls, tensing, if they needed to, must have, and the sphincter, too, winking at the stars from that sad aloneness which acknowledges the heavens only via the regessionary tendency of words, lying flat only when they’re forced to, or hidden otherwise, or spent, like cocks, finally falling limp and gracious, absent, plutonian de-recognition being in vogue as it were in that universe without planets in which we lay, nightly, and a certain amount of shrinkage, also, an inflating of vacuousness, an inflating and deflating of empty lungs, and finally a black, black hole, the erasure of whatever we might have said, puckering into infinity to reveal the true inaccessibility of a human heart. We held on, anyhow, breathing like that, until he said thank you, coyly, and left.

My voice reckons differently, however, at the border to Finsbury Park. I am startled, not by the brightness of the street lamps that halo the very wrought iron of that world, nor the darkness that collapses beyond it and into which I all too often descend, but by the difference between the two. It is the transgression between two or more worlds in which I become in-articulated, which is to say found, wordless, hunkering there between the snarling arms of bushes and other growths, with a stranger who knows neither my name nor my political persuasion, whether I adore or cannot stand Walt Whitman, Walt Disney, all the same, whether I am loved, depressed, despondent, revolutionary by nature or alone, with only my desire to call, when it greets me, like whale overfilling the very ocean it inhabits, sending water rushing into ears, providing yet more white noise to flush away the words. Breathe, instead. I waited for him to go, since we never leave together. Neither do we talk. 

Of course, I should say that a few belly ups never did any harm. A cock-or-two, ham fisting, teeth exposed, all relish, abounded, throbbing. Did it matter that there was no one there? That no one, being everyone, showed up, and that when they did, they were so not-there as to render those erections you did find void, cum-less, a broken wrap, a cork-screw turning against no friction, with no wine, no bottle, no grip upon the world. Finsbury was the screws gone loose, the backyard of reason, the activation of a dull void that those with wives and children at home might at least ignore as a negation. Rest assured, it is simply untrue to deny the veracity of this negation. And the negation of the negation? The rest of us carried out our activities or else bore them in the cheap glances of GUM unit waiting rooms, where men and other trollops checked their expensive watches and opened the hungry mouths of magazines and bent themselves double, inserting the sample taking technology up to the red line for the anus, the transparent line for the throat, blood came later, after your wait. In the meantime, look. 

The truth is that those rooms were the activation of the shadow land experiences we had out-doors. It requires halogen to shine a light on such a world, the form filling of experts, doctors and nurses, who, having seen it all, laugh at your experiences with the gentle kindness of ghosts. And how we thank them for that kindness, believe me. I thank and thank them again, god bless them, for they are the poets of our misfortune, or fortune, depending on your results, and the results are in fact not the most important factor, since positive or negative the test records, it records who we are in black and white and screen flashing sincerity and this is the true place of our poem, our activating of negation occurring all at once and in reverse, which is why sometimes it hurts. While the grindr world has eaten the flesh of tender park corners, where bath-houses have grown into the economic, solar dead zones of post-anthropocene sexless fisting palaces, all a-grimace and alone, the nurses continue to record. Viral loads peak, recline, become undetectable and therefore enter the poetic realm. The swallow or not swallow rule, becomes tangibly forgotten in the face of a nurse drawing warm, red blood from your arm, syphilitic nightmares are pen-eaten, erased, disappearing ink fallen into the spiral realm of boredom that the doctors feel prescribing and re-prescribing the pills that actually work, and they do work. They perform the poetic work of our nightmares and our eros, these blue pills, heavy on the tongue like a cock-end, we lap them up. And how I lapped, and loved.

Brett Darling is a queer writer living in London, originally from the North East of England. His fiction has featured in Eunoia Review and is forthcoming in Specimen: The Babel Review of Translations. His criticism currently lingers on the blog archive at the ICA, where he also works selling tickets. At the ICA he has hosted Q&As with writers such as Adania Shibli and French filmmaker, Clément Cogitore. His work tries to open, re-map, re-occupy (non) spaces, queer zones in memory, identity locality, space and time.

Chorizo

[Jonathan Pizarro]

He asked you to dance for him, so you did. In that long narrow bar with the DJ booth shaped like a disco ball. On Dean Street or Greek Street or Frith Street. You can’t tell them apart, these labyrinths and basements. You’ve never had so many streets before. Back in Gibraltar there was Calle Real, and a street so small that ran behind it called Irish Town. People talked about going to La Farola or El Rolli, like you couldn’t walk the place end to end in an hour. Like taking the car por un spin wasn’t just riding around in circles. It felt like the town itself was trying to burst free and give itself regions despite its size.

But here was possibility. You met him online and took the train from Wealdstone to Soho. He laughed at you and told you there’s a fast train to Euston, and you defended yourself by telling him you liked it on the brown line, it gave you time to think. Bakerloo, he said, and laughed again. It’s called the Bakerloo. He looks older than his pictures, in his charcoal suit and oxblood shoes. His wallet is McQueen. He told you this and pulled out a black Amex card wedged in with more cards when you got to the first bar. He told you to find somewhere, so you sat in the courtyard as more people drifted in after work. It’s a Monday and everything’s open. It’s the first time since you moved here that the sun is out. But it doesn’t have the same heat that you’re used to. There’s no haze rising out of terracotta at the end of a Mediterranean summer day.

Now you’re here dancing and his card is in your pocket. The bar was empty, he said he liked it here because of that. In Ku Bar all the old men take their little Asian boys to parade them around. You told him it’s just as well you’re not Asian. He laughed. No, you’re not, he said, you’re a nice Spanish chorizo. You told him you weren’t Spanish, and he shrugged. It’s all the same, caliente. He held the last e and shook his shoulders and you saw the beginning of his jowls quiver. He took out his wallet again, handed you his card and asked for a beer. And whatever that shit you drink is. He leaned back into the leather armchair.

You stood at the bar and the man behind it looked up from his phone and smiled at you. You looked over at your date, who looked back at you and adjusted his trousers. You let your sandal fall and rubbed the back of your other leg with your foot. You turned to the barman who asked what you wanted, and you replied una cervecita y un ron con coca cola, and he said ala, eres de España? You replied no, de Gibraltar and he said ah Gibraltar Español. You laughed along with him at the phrase you’ve heard so often before, that casual erasure of your cultural heritage. The idea that somehow the entire lived existence of your ancestors for hundreds of years is not valid, because a red and yellow flag should be flying above the Rock of Gibraltar. Like its entire worth is nationalist glory, and a longing for a past that never existed. It’s not worth the effort, to try and make this pumped-up triangle who has to take his shirt off after 9pm for minimum wage understand you’re all in this together. That you all came over to this country to try and get by, and the worst notions of home shouldn’t come with you over the water. He hands you the card machine. You press no on the tip option, even though it’s not your money.

You take the drinks back to the table and your date puts a hand on your knee. I saw you chatting up the bit of rough behind the bar, is that your type? You say no, I was just talking Spanish to him and he squeezes your knee tighter. Yoh habloh oon pocoh deh asspanol, he says, and you smile and say well done, that’s very impressive. You clink glasses together and his hand gets a little further up your thigh.

He talks at you about his job and his travels, how he learned Spanish in Madrid, he’s been all over the place. Have you been to Gibraltar? Oh yes, he replies, it’s a bit grim isn’t it? No wonder you moved here, not much to do. Yes, you say, I mean it has its charms but you’re right. You have Spanish in you though surely, he insists, and puts his hand into your curls, twisting his fingers around them as he gives a small tug. Such lovely olive skin, such thick, dark hair. He looks at your crotch and laughs, so pleased with himself. I do like hair on a boy, I hope you don’t shave. You’re six drinks in and you say, wait and see. He pulls your hair. You think of all those times some man bought you a drink when you said no, or grabbed your arm and wouldn’t let you leave. You’ve allowed yourself to think it’s all flattering, all valid, all exciting. So despite the sharpness in your scalp, your face comes close to his. He kisses with his tongue so straight and deep in your mouth you almost choke. You put a hand between his legs and feel him harden. Someone passes and tells you to get a room. You look up and in the blur of rum you notice the lights have dimmed, the music is louder, and the bar is now packed.

Dua Lipa on repeat through the speakers transforms to something more familiar to you. You realise it’s Monica Naranjo now, and you turn to look at the bar. The men behind it are new. Then your barman appears from a side door with three drinks on a tray. He sits in the chair beside you and says hola, I thought I’d join you. He smiles. Did you notice the music, la conoces? You reply pues claro, I love her, and he asks you to dance. He walks to the dancefloor, looking back to see if you’re watching him walk. He calls you to him with an outstretched hand. Your date says go ahead, I honestly can’t dance, but go and dance for me.

So, you dance for him, and the barman holds your hand and pulls you in. You think of all those times laying in bed at night sixteen seventeen eighteen years old with a hand down your boxers furiously imagining it as a mouth or two mouths maybe. Everything you saw through an Internet browser, of a world that wasn’t in the streets you felt trapped in, but in the world beyond the border gates, beyond the barbed wire, beyond the shore. You took off on a plane the first chance you got and here you are. Whatever this is. These things that don’t happen to people like you with a minimum wage job and an average body. Dancing with a hot Spanish man with a rich English man watching, his credit card in your pocket. This is what you hoped for, isn’t it? To feel this desirable. Like everyone is looking at you and wanting you. You’d go home with everyone in the bar right now. Just a giant, slick, mass of writhing bodies with you in the middle. Lenguas y manos y pollas all over you. The barman licks your neck and you look over at your date, because maybe you got this all wrong but he’s smiling back at you.

Quieres? The barman asks you and he holds you tighter. You put your hands on his back as his muscles expand and you move them down the impossible firmness all the way down. Sí, you reply, sí, and he grabs you by the hand and walks towards your date with you behind him.

You’re on the street somewhere, moving through squares and building sites and alleyways, holding onto the barman who is holding onto a bottle of champagne and on the other side, your date looking at the both of you with his hands in his pockets like he just made the greatest deal this financial quarter. But then the barman breaks his grip on you and moves towards your date, putting the bottle up to his lips and saying bebe Papito, bebe. Grabbing his hand. You walk on ahead alone and turn to look at them, wrapped up further and further into each other and you notice they’ve stopped, that the barman is whispering into your date’s ear. You go towards them. They turn to look at you and there’s silence. You might as well have been asking them for a smoke or some change.

You say, which way now? Your date tells you just here on the left and you’re in Oxford Street. You stand there and your date says your bus is coming. My bus? Yes, your bus, there’s a night bus back to your home. I think we’re all a bit tired, a bit too much for a Monday, don’t you think? The barman puts the bottle down on the pavement by the bus stop and says yes, I’ve had a long shift. It would have been fun but maybe some other time. I have to go, really. Ya nos veremos otra vez, entonces you reply, and he looks at you like he suddenly lost the capacity for Spanish. You try and hold your date’s hand, but he shoves them in his pockets, and you say thank you, I had a really nice time and he says of course, if you say so, my card please. You ask, your card? He says, yes, my card I gave it to you at the bar. You laugh and say yes of course and pull it out of your pocket and he doesn’t laugh back, he takes it and wipes it down on his trouser leg, before putting it away carefully into his McQueen wallet. He holds out his arm to the street. Here’s your bus, he says. It pulls up at the stop and you turn to say goodbye, but they’ve already left.

You’re on the bus, the doors close. You tap your card and it declines and the bus driver tells you to just get in, you can sort it out when you reach your destination. You climb up the stairs and make your way down the aisle. The bright striplights on everything. A girl asleep across two seats. A man eating McDonalds. Someone on the phone. Rap music through cheap speakers. You think of the place that you thought held you back for so long. You could walk home after a night out along the beach. You could see the lights of Algeciras across the bay, and Morocco further out. You walk to the back of the bus and sit on the left side as it starts to move away. You see them through the window streaked with the grime of someone’s hand. They walk across the street hand in hand and get into a taxi. You open up the app and think of what to say to him, but you’ve already been blocked. The bus heads one way and the taxi the other. It takes two hours to get home.

Jonathan Pizarro is a queer Gibraltarian writer exiled in London. He studied Creative Writing at Brunel University, where he started writing his first novel, entitled ‘Sons of Lot’. He is interested in language and borders, the ruins of colonialism, the memory of home, and monsters. He tweets here

Oeux

[Jiaqi Kang (亢嘉琪)]

Jiaqi Kang (亢嘉琪) is a Sino-Swiss editor, writer, and art historian. She is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Sine Theta Magazine, an international, print-based creative arts publication made by and for the Sino diaspora. She read History of Art at Oxford University. Find her here.

The Health Proxy Conversation DRAFT

[Alex Bildsoe]

INT. – DAY – KINGSTON HOSPITAL – ROOM 205

The hospital room is divided in two by a curtain. The side closer to the door has the bed of ALEX, a 32-year-old woman with long, dishevelled blond pigtails who is lying half upright and holding her phone. The side closer to the window has the bed of VERA, a 99-year-old woman who is propped up fully upright in bed, her jaw opening and closing continuously from a neurological condition. Two nurses, MO and ROSE, stand next to VERA trying to get her to eat from the tray of food in front of her.

The sound of medical machines beeping and nurses talking in the hallway fill the fluorescent lit room. Extra chairs stand in a row opposite the beds, causing the room’s walkway to be crowded. 

ALEX is staring blankly ahead from her bed, then looks at the phone in her hands and dials her sister. CAROLINE answers right away.

ALEX: Haaaay Liney.

CAROLINE: Hey Nanners, how’s it going?

The sound of VERA’s voice fills the room. 

VERA: I’m so. I’m so. I’m so. I’m so. I’m so. I’m so. I’m so. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.

ROSE, a female nurse with a mischievous smile, leans forward over VERA and holds a piece of bread near VERA’s mouth. ROSE speaks loudly.

ROSE: VERA!!! You don’t need to apologize! Eat your food! Eat, Vera!

ALEX turns her head away from the curtain.

ALEX: It’s, you know, it’s fine and weird. They just gave me some more morphine so that’s good.

CAROLINE: Oh yeah, that sounds nice. When are you going into surgery?

ROSE puts down the bread and picks up a little plastic cup.

ROSE: Here’s some apple juice, Vera! Drink some juice!

VERA: I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m sooo sorry.

ROSE: YOU DON’T NEED TO APOLOGIZE!

ALEX: Um, they said before noon…so it’s 11:30 right now, probably really soon. Yeah.

VERA: I’m so sorry.

CAROLINE: What did you say?

ALEX cups her hand around the phone and her mouth and leans further away from the curtain, trying to escape the noise.

ALEX: I said, like really soon. Before noon.

VERA: I’m sooo sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so. I’m so.

CAROLINE: What’s going on there? Is there someone like, yelling or something?

ALEX: Ummm…yeah. My roommate…the old lady in the bed next to me. She’s freaking out. She’s like 99.

ROSE: DRINK YOUR JUICE VERA!! YOU NEED TO EAT!

CAROLINE: Ok, wow.

ALEX: Yeah, it’s….

VERA: AhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHH. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

ALEX: …fun.

ROSE: Oh Jesus. She can’t hear me! She’s deaf!

The other nurse, MO, a smallish woman with a jolly smoker’s face, waves ROSE aside and steps towards VERA.

MO: She can hear me. She could hear me before. Vera? Vera! You need to eat something!

VERA: I’m…

ALEX: Actually, I needed to ask you about something. Talk it through a bit.

CAROLINE: Sure! What is it?

MO: I think she can hear me.

VERA: I’m…

ALEX: I need to pick a person to, like…if something were to happen to me in surgery, not that this surgery is very intense or anything, I mean it’s just basic, well not basic but you know what I’m saying.

CAROLINE: Yep.

VERA: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Ahhhhhhh. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. Ahhhhhhhh.

ROSE: VERA!!!!

ALEX: They want me to have a representative to make decisions for me, just in case I’m like in a coma or the surgery gets fucked up or something. I was trying to think of who I should pick for that.

CAROLINE: Oh! Oh. Yep. I can do that, yep. I’m the right one to pick for that.

VERA: I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. 

ALEX: Ok, cool…right. I was trying to pick between you and mom and dad.

MO: You’ve got to eat something. You’ve just got to try.

CAROLINE: What Nan?

VERA: Ahhhhhh so sorry.

ALEX: I said I was just trying to decide who to pick…I thought maybe dad because well, he’s good at making decisions under pressure.

CAROLINE: Yep. Yep. Definitely. He’s the best.

VERA: So so so so so so so so. Aaahh so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.

ROSE shifts to a shouting stance and directs herself towards VERA.

ROSE: STOP APOLOGIZING VERA YOU HAVE NOTHING TO APOLOGIZE FOR YOU ARE IN A HOSPITAL AND WE ARE SUPPOSED TO TAKE CARE OF YOU SO STOP THERE’S NO NEED TO APOLOGIZE! She can’t hear me. My voice isn’t getting through to her.

ALEX shifts her body a bit to the right, away from the curtain, and winces. She holds the bottom of the phone so close to her mouth that it is touching her lips.

ALEX: For sure, yeah. Well, will you do it then? I’ve just got to fill out some paperwork.

CAROLINE: Yep, put me down. Sign me up.

VERA: I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.

MO: The pitch of your voice or something, it’s not getting through to her.

ALEX: Ok great. Well, yeah, not great. But you know. So… if I’m like, in a coma or I’m gonna spend the rest of my life unconscious as a vegetable, please don’t give me the feeding tube.

MO picks up a spoonful of mashed potatoes and holds it by VERA’s mouth. VERA moves her head away and continues her talking.

MO: Here Vera! Try this! Eat this!

CAROLINE: Right.

VERA: I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.

ALEX: You never know like, when people are unconscious and lying in bed and they can’t talk or move…what are they thinking? Are they thinking? They could be alive in there and paralyzed and in a ton of pain and no one would ever know and we are keeping them alive. It sounds so fucked up. Just pull the plug on me, ok?

A woman with bangs and a jacket enters the room, passing through ALEX’s side without a glance and continuing to VERA’s bed. She goes to the far side of the bed and touches VERA’s arm.

GRANDDAUGHTER: Grandma? Grandma! It’s me, your granddaughter. It’s me.

MO: I think she can hear you.

VERA: Mmm

CAROLINE: I got it, yeah. That’s messed up.

ALEX: What?

CAROLINE: That’s messed up. I won’t do that. Just sign me up.

GRANDDAUGHTER: Hi. I love you! I love you?

VERA: I’m so sorry.

The SURGICAL NURSE, a tattooed man with a ponytail, enters the room and stands at the end of ALEX’s bed, leaning towards her.

SURGICAL NURSE: Hi Alexandra. I’m just finishing up some final paperwork and then I’ll be back in a bit to bring you upstairs.

ALEX: Oh, ok.

CAROLINE: What?

VERA: I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.

ALEX: They are taking me to surgery soon.

ROSE: NO NEED VERA NO NEED!

CAROLINE: Ok. Well Nan, you will be fine. Text us when you can, when you’re out.

VERA: I’m soooooo sorry.

GRANDDAUGHTER: What are you sorry for?

ALEX: Cat’s going to text you.

CAROLINE: Ok good. I love you. This will be easy.

ALEX: Thank you, I love you too. Bye Liney.

CAROLINE: Bye Nan.

ALEX ends the call and puts the phone on her lap, then reaches over for a purple folder and pen on the bedside table. She pulls out a packet of paper and begins flipping through it. VERA continues shouting.





‘The Health Proxy Conversation’ is an excerpt from ‘Appendix’ first published in The New Manifesto, Issue 13. You can find out more about this quarterly zine here.

Alexandra Bildsoe writes, draws, and makes zines in the Hudson Valley of New York. She studied studio art at Beloit College, authorial illustration at Falmouth University, and storytelling/story listening/potion making at The Miracles of Everyday Life. Alexandra will send you zines, if you subscribe! Alexandrabildsoe.com for details! 

Shower Scene 2

The Shower is a Symbol of Living

[Ashley Barr]

CHARACTERS (in order of appearance):
Subject-less-ness: a tenant and a sense of being nowhere
Kira: author of The Bathroom, Professor Emeritus of Architecture at Cornell University
Scabies: a reappearance and a camera
Narrator: anonymous, bodiless, in the 2004 channel 4 historical reality tv show Regency House Party it’s Richard E. Grant’s voiceover
The Estate’s Hermit: the Estate is the one on which the Regency House Party takes place
Lifehack: a push notification
Love: a deer
Psychologist John Bargh, PhD: a researcher at Yale University
 
 

SETTING: Offstage, SUBJECT-LESS-NESS sits with back to the shower between two doorways in an office chair that once had functioning wheels, watching the video assist on a monitor. KIRA, offstage right, faces the shower.

SUBJECT-LESS-NESS: Last night, I fell asleep while Kira was talking to me about what love is.

KIRA: “Scabies (sarcoptes scabies) has reappeared worldwide in all strata of society and is no longer the sole problem of the poor.”

SETTING: The actual issue, presented here, is not that scabies is on the scene, (enter SCABIES) but that, according to KIRA, it’s infiltrating the wrong strata.

SCABIES: This discussion of “vermin” — previously “eradicated from the developed nations of the world” — is weird.

KIRA: If, one day, I’ll hate all I love, I know it’s you.

SCABIES: I want to thwart the equation between work and love through which I (you) am (are) only lovable if I (you) have work and am (are) moving towards success. (Equally, that in order to get good work, I (you) must be lovable.)

KIRA: (writing from the 1960s) “The world’s young people” are “in rebellion.”

SCABIES: I also know I will miss this range and should love it while I have it.

KIRA: (writing from the 1960s) “The issue of responsibility, expectation, and implied authority also raises the very basic question of the degree to which we each practice personal hygiene because we enjoy it or believe in it, or both, and the degree to which we cheat but carefully maintain the expected facade of cleanliness.”

NARRATOR: (narrating) “In short, what we find in such periods is not ritual cleansing, but, rather, ritual filth.”

SCABIES: (zooms out and pans to find THE ESTATE’S HERMIT) “Away from the romantic merry-go-round,” having “more basic concerns.”

THE ESTATE’S HERMIT: “Everything’s wet, and there’s a conspiracy afoot to completely starve me. I must have lost about two stone.”

KIRA: “Emotional needs” might be fulfilled by not bathing. (Refers to the intimacy of living in one’s own dirt.)

THE ESTATE’S HERMIT: “Really hungry, all the time. And they’re like, ‘he’s a hermit.’”

NARRATOR: Of course, others argue the same needs are fulfilled by bathing.

THE ESTATE’S HERMIT: “Like, ‘he doesn’t need food, he can just eat grass or something.’”

LIFEHACK: The longer you’re in the shower, the lonelier you might be. If you’re taking longer showers, this might be a key sign that you’re lonely.

SUBJECT-LESS-NESS: (offstage, glancing at the monitor) Lifehack also asks me if I’d like to take a survey to see if I’m achieving my full potential. I am not, probably.

THE ESTATE’S HERMIT: “‘I’m not a deer. I do need food.’”

NARRATOR: “But the hermit has found love.”

LOVE, a deer, enters.

KIRA connects “apparent cleanliness” primarily to “sexual attraction.”

KIRA: (holding LOVE’S face in his hands and moving its mouth, ventriloquizes) “Oh, it looks lovely but it will show every footprint or fingerprint.”

THE ESTATE’S HERMIT: I try to love it more than I aim to be entirely antiseptic, until I become worthy of Love.

LOVE: When someone loves me and says it, that says more about them than me. But I’m not sure what it says. You could love me like playback. And I mouth the voice, metronomic.

THE ESTATE’S HERMIT: So, I can eat in light of it, watching Khloe or Kim or some other loved Kardashian having an arranged salad in a plastic bowl on the screen?

NARRATOR: What about your loves, lusts, and allegiances?

THE ESTATE’S HERMIT: (licking NARRATOR’s hand, then licking the salt) You knew to call it “Love.”

NARRATOR: I have never been loved like this. Like I am now.

SCABIES: (zooming in) I think, also, of The Estate’s Hermit cutting his fingers every time he cooks, and how I wonder if there’s extra danger in being exposed to more of him than I already am through Love.

KIRA: I’m the man that you presumably love.

SCABIES zooms out, then tilts.

SUBJECT-LESS-NESS: (the office chair offstage will grow mold in its seams if not monitored) He was also talking about love because he’d just arrived at my place after a 14-hour workday.

KIRA: Most love is platonic. The best it can be is symbiotic, not parasitic.

SCABIES pans away from KIRA.

SUBJECT-LESS-NESS: (hunched over the monitor, offstage) He said, “what is love?” And I laughed because, obviously, “baby, don’t hurt me.”

THE ESTATE’S HERMIT: (to LOVE) Love, I want to write a poem and give it to you not to read.

LOVE: (to SCABIES) They’re in love with me. I don’t say “I love you,” but I do and let them use my shower.

THE ESTATE’S HERMIT and SCABIES: (in LOVE’s shower) Today I’m not feeling it. I would skip it if I could, but I convince myself it’s good preparation for the future. For tomorrow, when I’ll have to wake up and I’ll want to work so that I can feel accomplished. But also, because I do genuinely love my work, I put on a honey face mask and set the timer for 10 minutes.

THE ESTATE’S HERMIT: (to SCABIES) When you care for me, I nearly cry. Not for joy, but for terror. I look for your cracks. I love you.

KIRA: Your interpersonal skills will be difficult to monetize. Think about this all day and weigh up the risk of getting involved.

THE ESTATE’S HERMIT: (to LOVE) I am lonely when I am making promises. I want you around to keep my mouth in the present.

LOVE: To say “I’m lonely” is sometimes to say “I’m not in control and perhaps should be.”

SCABIES: Nobody watches the body be lonely. It is not a social failing.

LOVE: (to THE ESTATE’S HERMIT) Your shower times are quick.

NARRATOR: Today’s was longer for some reason.

THE ESTATE’S HERMIT and SCABIES: I think because I had to mess with the empty curtain clip I hang a loofa on. Somehow, it got tangled in the clips that hold the shower curtain. Also, the shower is spraying at the wrong angle, but I avoid adjusting it because the clip is already cracked and breaking. It’s only held together with electrical tape.

KIRA: (writing from the 1960s) “Colored fixtures” “show dirt more readily than white fixtures.”

LIFEHACK: (in the voice of PSYCHOLOGIST JOHN BARGH, PhD, a researcher at Yale University) “The lonelier a person is, the more showers and baths they take, the hotter the water, and the longer they stay under the water.”

NARRATOR: “The Right to Be Lonely” is a response you might give to questions of…

THE ESTATE’S HERMIT: (interrupting) So I don’t love you, I don’t. I love you when you bite your lip.

SETTING: There is some concern that THE ESTATE’S HERMIT might try to live off LOVE.

SCABIES: That your partner love reacts…

LOVE: “The eyes fell in love with vision.”

NARRATOR: Wayward Hermit, [it’s a happy ending].

27 February 2020

Ashley Barr is researching a creative-critical PhD at the University of Sussex on conceptual and process-based poetries. Before moving to Brighton, they lived in Boise, Idaho for a long time. They have a chapbook, Call the Bees To Come, out with dancing girl press. Sometimes they’re on Twitter.