UNTRACINGS BY ETTA SHON

FICTION + ART BY E SHON

Category: High Grain

November Blue – Part 2

icicles bushwick

Continued from Part 1: http://untracings.com/2014/04/20/november-blue-part-1/

She was gone in forty two hours. The contents of her past eight years in Chicago were packed away and put into a storage unit on Addison street, minus all the items that they’d owned in common. She managed to fit everything into a five foot square unit, everything meticulously organized into a delicate, Jenga-like stack which would make it impossible for her to access anything inside without breaking into a twitchy sweat. She was happy with it this way. Even her own clothes carried fragments of his memories, his smell lingering in their seams, his downy hairs clinging to the fibers.  She would go shopping for a new wardrobe. She turned the key and tugged at the lock twice before walking away.

Her footsteps ricocheted off the corrugated aluminum walls, producing an intolerable cacophony as she stalked towards the lift. The dark labyrinthal corridors swallowed her slight figure, reappearing at equidistant spots where the halogen lights illuminated it from above in a silent, pulsing rhythm.

The lift creaked its way up and she stepped into its enormous chamber. She thought of the previous times where she’d found herself in this storage building…transitionary periods in her life, the last occasion being between moves from her apartment to theirs. This was just one more move.

Once outside, the daylight dazzled her eyes in a blinding wash of white, expansive and intense. It was the last day of sunlight before the blizzard hit.

 


 

The timing was an omen. Her best friend happened to be leaving for vacation for a month in Iran and offered her huge loft in Wicker Park during her absence.

She’d emailed her the morning after her fiancé’s confession, giving a brief chronicle of the past 24 hours’ events, still unable to carry on a coherent conversation due to the lingering shock. Her friend called her immediately and told her to come by the next day to pick up the keys.

That sanctuary on West Evergreen Avenue was the only saving grace of this period, where she spent the next month holed up with nearly no contact with the outside world. The city was transformed into an onerous snow globe within a matter of days. Nobody was coming in, and nobody was making it out. Sheets of perforated white eclipsed the muddled sky as the city was buried under unprecedented heights of snow.

She still couldn’t think of a way to break the news to her family so she didn’t. She spent Christmas under the sheets, trying to lull herself back into another twenty four hours of sleep, ignoring the persistent ring of her phone and the murmuring laughter seeping through the walls from her neighbor’s unit. On the eve of New Year’s Eve, an old college roommate finally managed to drag her out of her slumber for a few coked out hours where she spat out the whole story to her sympathetic friend and a couple of dealers in their apartment, exorcising her rancor between white lines until dawn. One of the dealers, a brawny Puerto Rican with a kind face whom she’d just met several hours ago sat stupefied upon hearing the end of the story. Damn, girl. That’s some crazy shit. He handed her the silver straw and nudged her on to do another line. She slept it off through New Year’s Eve itself.

Each of the thirty one days spent in that loft was intensely pain ridden in a way she’d never before experienced in her life, and that she hadn’t since recuperated the ability to feel. Her body underwent a gross transformation, the anguish eating away at her insides, layer by layer as her figure whittled away into a depressed, vacant shell. The floor around the bedside was covered in a fine web of hair which she’d been shedding steadily with each day of prolonged starvation, collecting into a dark tufted pile. One day she noticed a bump which had appeared above her groin, popping up from under her skin as she heaved a gutteral sob. She later learned that it was a hernia induced from the muscular strain during her periods of intense crying. She produced sounds she didn’t know she was capable of. Gut wrenching, entire body shaking sobs that caused the oak headboard to rattle against the wall, sending an eerie echo throughout the loft. She disappeared into herself, her pain, until she was no longer able to distinguish the two…one unable to exist without the insistent pull of the other. And so it went on for months.

By summertime she was able to return to work. She started out with small assignments, simple, unexigent tasks that didn’t demand too much concentration or creative investment. She’d subletted a small studio in Lincoln Park, outfitted with a twin bed, a wardrobe, and a simple desk facing the only window from where her mind would graze the landscape of calm domestication several stories below, just beyond the raindrop stained glass.

On the evening of the 4th of July, she sat on her fire escape, listlessly watching the families passing below her. The sky was a cotton candy pink, the last sliver of sunlight casting its benign rays onto her bare shoulders. She cracked open a floral motifed carton of Vogues, a kitschy souvenir she’d picked up from Monaco a year ago and removed one of the slim cigarettes, lighting it with a match. She took a long, languorous drag, the smoke curling up in delicate white tendrils through her fingers and into her damp bangs. Her heart was heavy and she marveled at how it was possible that the sadness could have remained as fresh as it was when the news broke. She took inventory of the past seven months and all that hadn’t happened during that stretch of unreality. All that she hadn’t accomplished. Meetings for writing gigs that she just wasn’t up for attending, let alone appearing functional for in front of clients. The friendships that had dwindled down to nothing after numerous unreturned calls and last minute bailed plans. Her novel that had remained untouched since she moved out of their shared apartment. A pang of regret, slow but unmistakably requisite hit her in the gut. She had to get out of Chicago and everything that smelled of those seven years, of him. She took a final drag on her cigarette before crawling back into the studio through the window and turning on her laptop, its long dormant little light flickering on. Outside, the first pops of fireworks crackled in the molten violet sky.

To be continued…

 

 

November Blue – Part 1

Paris rooftop rain

Frankie Dunn: You forgot the rule. Now, what is the rule?

Maggie Fitzgerald: Keep my left up?

Frankie Dunn: Is to protect yourself at all times. Now, what is the rule?

Maggie Fitzgerald: Protect myself at all times. 

Frankie Dunn: Good. Good.

-Million Dollar Baby

This is the view from the window in the maid’s quarters on the 6th floor of a Haussmannian building situated on Rue La Fayette, the ground floor of which is a cordonnerie, nestled between a Starbucks and a boulangerie, facing Hôtel de Montesson in the 9th arrondissement. She’d rented the apartment eighteen months ago from Madame Delacourt, a cantankerous widow of seventy something years to whom she’d assured prompt rent and no male visitors past midnight on weekdays.

In the cavernous vacuum of the twenty meter squared room, she’s been staring out at these chalky zinc rooftops in a bewildered daze for weeks. No light, no food, no water. Etherizing herself in slumber, she’d fade in and out of consciousness, only to wake up to the startling realization of the Act, her heart doubling its beat every time.

The haze of the November evening sun filters through the dirty window, casting a soft rectangular patch of blue onto the slanted wooden floor, the only source of light in the entire room. She reaches out to grab the near empty glass from the nightstand next to her bed, lifting it to her parched lips and tilting her head back, the lukewarm water traveling down her throat, sloshing into her empty belly. She scours her memory, trying to remember when her last meal was with no success.

Her eyes scan the ceiling, painted over in infinite coats of white paint. Layers upon layers throughout the decades, faintly obscuring the friezes running along the edges, delicate floral reliefs blossoming from each of the four corners. How she’d spent hours memorizing every curving leaf, every ripple of the delicately folded ribbons wrapping and floating around the flowers as she spoke on the phone with him. A sick sensation surges through her intestines at the moment of recall. These conversations would take place approximately every four to five months, increasing in frequency towards the end, always following a tense period during which he was no longer sure he loved her. Such cutting words. She’d learn to anticipate the cruel hooks, each time a sucker punch to her gut. The sensation of her heart rapidly sinking as her eyes traveled upwards to these four bouquets, the only thing anchoring the ceiling to the sky and preventing its collapse onto her contorted body, sprawled out on the damp sheets of the bed.

She imagines the sound it would make, a slow crackling over a steady rumble, then THWAP! Shards of plaster erupting into the air, a cloud of dense white fogging the atmosphere, eventually softly descending and blanketing her body in fine crystalline powder.

She thinks back to the winter of 2010. Chicago. She’d camped out at a friend’s loft for a month, demanding absolute solitude and respite. It was the holidays. Her seventh year in Chicago and the coldest in over a decade. The blizzard in early December lasted for weeks, burying the city in an oppressive white tundra, caging everyone in their individual domestic capsules.

Fortunately, she’d doubled up on her writing assignments in the previous months, taking up genres of jobs that she’d long overlooked since her graduate school days – copywriting for e-commerce sites, technical instructions for assembling home appliances, dating advice on singles sites for women over 40. She had just celebrated her 31st birthday. She’d even ghostwritten a young adult novel, a romance between a socially awkward nerd with a mild case of tourettes and the popular, blonde, glacially pretty cheerleader with a secret soft spot for outcasts. In the end, love conquers all.

She’d been saving up for months to move to San Francisco with her fiancé. They were waiting for the shooting of his latest documentary to wrap which had been continually delayed due to technical issues. They’d sold the Range Rover, put the Victorian armoire up for auction, and paid the deposit on a loft on 24th street just next to the Mission.

She’d taken care of most of the preparations for the move alone. She didn’t mind, as she was the one with the flexible freelancer’s schedule. Her fiancé had been occupied with his shooting for the past several months, often coming home well past midnight or even the next morning. There’d been stretches of weeks when they wouldn’t see each other at all, except for the few occasions when he’d come home to shower or change his clothes between scenes. He’d promised her that this would all be over within a couple months, and that she just needed to understand that this unpredictability was part of the rhythm of filmmaking. That soon she’d be working on her next novel from her own office in their loft overlooking Noe Valley.

It took about 50 seconds for him to deliver the news to her. He sat her down in the living room, pushing over a stack of Limoges China, a gift from her soon to be mother-in-law, that she’d spent the afternoon individually wrapping in newspaper. His eyes rested about 4 inches below her chin, fixed onto the amethyst heart pendant he had given her for their 4th anniversary. Or was it for Christmas. I’ve met someone. I didn’t know this was going to happen. Something about how none of this had been planned. How the encounter made him realize that something wasn’t right. His voice was oddly robotic and lacked its usual lively cadence as his words came out, equally spaced on the assembly belt of his tongue. I’m really sorry. You can keep the apartment.

He put his hand on her knee and held it there for a second, before getting up and walking out of her line of sight. She can’t remember for how long she sat on that couch after he left the room. Maybe a few minutes, maybe a couple hours.

The pixelated face of a toothy Obama on a crinkled piece of newsprint on the floor stared back at her. The ticking of the alarm clock was the only sound in the room, producing a faint vibration on the surface of the mahogany fifties coffee table they’d inherited from his uncle. Speckles of dust floated in irregular patterns in the narrow triangle of light escaping from a crack between two heavy fringed curtains facing her. It was late afternoon. The Limoges china was already wrapped.

 _____________________________________________________________________

Click here for part 2: http://untracings.com/2014/04/23/november-blue-part-2/

Coron

Coron Crystal lodge neighbor dog palawan philippinesCoron Crystal Cottage Bridge Planks water palawan philippinesCoron Boy Working Craftsman vendor palawan philippinesCoron Kids playing palawancoron workers riding bus street palawan philippines

April 2014. Coron, Palawan

El Nido to Coron

CHILD BOAT EL NIDO CORON PHILIPPINESCAPTAIN EL NIDO CORON BOAT PHILIPPINESApril 2014

An eight hour boat trip starting at El Nido and heading to Coron. After a shoddy security check comprised of an officer half heartedly poking around my bag with a wooden stick, I stand in line for the boat, already sweating bullets. We’re seated shoulder to shoulder in the tiny cabin as a coast guard officer surveys the crowd and films everyone’s faces with a camcorder. I presume this is either to ensure that no one traverses the sea illegally or for identification purposes should the boat sink, resulting in some of our deaths. I opt for the second option. Unfortunately, I was one of the last members to enter the boat as I didn’t understand the loading announcement in Tagalog, so I’m way in the back next to the toilet with the crew and an equally slow nun. She’ll pray for us when this thing goes down.

There’s some serious chop today due to the winds. Several minutes into the trip I’m already feeling queasy and I make my way to the front of the boat, clumsily bracing my hand against the rail. All the Philippinos on board are either asleep or calmly staring out the window, and the few foreigners present aren’t doing so well. One backpacker  has his head between his knees like he’s about to spill his pork adobo onto his Afro print Toms. The captain turns around and makes several attempts to communicate to me but I don’t understand what he’s saying. He points insistently to the ceiling. Finally, I get that he’s asking me if I want to go sleep on the deck. I nod, and he barks out a command to another boatman who guides me out and hoists me up onto the deck where a big man is already sleeping under a tarp. I awkwardly sidle up to him and lay down. It’s true that the broader view from up here helps with the seasickness. I eventually fall asleep but not for long, each time being jolted awake from a new crew member jumping onto the deck for a nap.

It was the longest eight hours of my life and my time at sea didn’t end there. I spent the better part of my trip in the Philippines on a boat of some sort and I still feel like puking at the sight of moving water.

El Nido Afternoon

EL NIDO PALAWAN FAMILY MOTORBIKE PHILIPPINESBig sister little street el nido palawan philippinesKIDS BOLOT STREET EL NIDO PALAWAN PHILIPPINESLITTLE GIRL DOORWAY EL NIDO PALAWAN PHILIPPINESLITTLE GIRL EL NIDO STREET HOUSE PALAWANDOG STREET EL NIDO PALAWAN PHILIPPINESApril 2014. El Nido, Palawan

A sweet little beach town in Palawan, Philippines. Despite the steady tourist presence, the locals go about their lives uninterrupted and as anywhere else in the Philippines, they’re all smiles.

Manila Sunday

MANILA'S FINEST OLD MAN CART CHINATOWN MANILA PHILIPPINES sQUIAPO MARKET MANILA PHILIPPINES STREET VENDOR sUNDERWEAR VENDOR QUIAPO MARKET MANILA PHIPPINES sDISHWASHERS CHINATOWN MANILA PHILIPPINES STREET sCHILD JEEPNEY MANILA PHILIPPINES STREET s

March 2014. In and around Chinatown. Manila, Philippines.

Freak

GIRL JESUS TATOO MALL FREAK OLD MAN MANILA CHINATOWN PHILIPPINES STREET

March 2014. Manila, Philippines

When We Were Young

OLD LADY PARK BENCH PARIS VIEILLE FEMME JOURNAL PARCOLD MAN JOURNAL NEWSPAPER PARIS VIEUX HOMMEOLD MAN BAGUETTE PARIS STREET VIEUX RUEVIEILLE FEMME FOYER RUE PARIS OLD WOMAN MAID STREETVIEUX HOMME MENILMONTANT OLD MEN PARIS STREETVIEUX HOMME OLD MAN MENILMONTANT RUE STREET PARIS

Paris, March 2014

I’ve always been drawn to elderly people, as subjects and as human beings. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s a certain respect for all that they’ve lived through or maybe it’s the way I was raised. Aside from Milan, Paris has the classiest population of elderly people I’ve ever encountered. It has nothing to do with money, but rather an attitude- a certain grace and dignity that doesn’t diminish with age. It’s a drastically different mentality from that of the States, particularly in fast paced cities such as New York where past a certain age it’s virtually impossible to keep up with a generally dismissive and self serving population. How easily we forget what we have facing us just several steps down the road.

Paris Night Crawling

AUX FOLLIES RUE DE BELLEVILLE PARIS NUIT STREET BARAUX FOLLIES RUE DE BELLEVILLE BAR PARIS STREET NIGHT NUITPARIS CREPE STREET RUE NUIT NIGHTmk2 quai de seine loire reflexion reflection neon signs jauresLE SULLY PARIS BAR NUIT NIGHTPARIS BELLEVILLE RUE NUIT NIGHT STREET STREETLAMP

Night Films

Movie screen theatre cine mk2 quai de seine loire paris

Cinema is a huge part of the social culture in France. Membership cards to various theaters are common, allowing unlimited access to films monthly. I had such a card myself, and I spent many nights alone in a darkened theatre taking in every type of movie from the hilarious to the obscene in order to improve my French. Needless to say I developed a new appreciation for American films (yep I said it).

I profited from this membership especially in the first several months, while I was a new expat with a less than bumping social agenda. Admittedly, I’d start off more than a few nights feeling bummed and wandering the city until ultimately settling into a movie theatre, haphazardly choosing whichever French film I hadn’t already hit up. The two hour ritual of sitting alone in a dark room and slumping into the velvet cushions as I’d let my overstimulated mind go numb was equally as important as the film itself. I miss these nights sometimes. The overpowering anonymity of being truly alone in a foreign country, facing a foreign culture, taking in spoken words in a language not quite my own, as lovely foreign images pass before me.

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