MARCH 25, 2021
In memory of Alen,
not written as a memory.
Certain things try to create his existence. There are only his tiny lights — hanging on the mirrors, on the window with wooden shutters, and on the white hollows of the shelf. Someone is drunkenly stretching on the sofa, absorbing the lights. A state of emergency was declared either today or yesterday, so it was still possible to get a drink. They had gone to a pub. Mariam picked up the cigarette butt off the table, put it in the ashtray. They quickly gulped down the drinks. Leaned against each other.
Who says there was someone else’s voice?
They had been waiting for March this whole time. The month had poured into the evening mojito. Unfamiliar men were drinking and being noisy. The three of them were staring at each other. One was twirling the car keys in her hand. Eventually they were going to go to the house with the tiny lights, where they were going to wait for something. The crumpled mint leaves had been left in the glasses, stuck to the ice cubes. The red light had poured into the glasses, gotten trapped there. The straws had bent.
Whenever driving through the fields, she always thought of love.
If they could get out of the labyrinth, they would be able to figure out what they wanted. But the music was playing. It was sifting either rain or snow. Someone’s head leaned against her shoulder.
The truth is, they loved each other at that moment, before that — perhaps not.
But the events were blurred in the consciousness; it was not clear. She remembers him now in serenity, without convulsion, with an ordinary, clear gaze, with eyes that look. The music lingered on, but something wasn’t happening; the three of them were simply sitting. They were probably happy. Mariam was uneasy about the state of emergency — she was feeling guilty. She spoke on the phone and said: yes, yes. Then turned off the phone and placed it on the table next to the ashtray.
She didn’t know why she was promising that March to him; there was nothing on her mind. But the promise was there and, hence, the waiting. He had brought a dark blue nightshirt that was waiting — ironed, folded — in his suitcase. Its fabric was stiff; he said that he wanted to meet in it a boy from the past who had no sadness.
Later, when they were home already, and the tiny lights were there, he put on the nightshirt. He came and sat on the sofa, staring for a while. Mariam took a picture with her phone.
Beyond the old white shutters stretched the city — right below the window, along the dusty street. It didn’t intrude and didn’t bother. Everything was in the white house. Then, when she looked at his night clothes, she realized that he was ready for multiple things — with her, too. She didn’t know, he wasn’t saying anything clearly. The fingers of someone past. Then she looked at his neck.
The mirror hanging on the wall, on which hung the tiny lights, was a hexagon. Or maybe it had more angles; perhaps it was shaped like a sun. She was wriggling on the sofa, her head on Mariam’s knees. It felt like she was caressing. There was no chandelier hanging from the ceiling, only white boards — parallel to each other. It was a clean house, almost an imaginary one. There were always many centipedes in the house — it was dry and warm. She wanted to tell them that she loved her lover’s brother, while she watched an insect crossing the wall. He was probably standing at a base, his telescoped eye fixed on the hostile mountain slope.
She began to imagine the amputation of human limbs. The severed breasts of women. Fingers, legs, arms peeled away from the body. Do they burn them or bury them? Who operates the furnace? He simply takes the hand, and then does he throw it or put it in the furnace? There is probably no regret for the mangling. Sona was saying that she was grateful to the coronavirus for not mutilating the human body. But a nurse was telling how a man is still talking to you, but he already has no lungs. An artificial device is making his chest go up and down. Then, at some point, they turn off the device. The lungs are somehow important, as it turns out.
She imagined that they first cut the skin, peel five centimeters from the flesh, lift the skin up in order to cut the arm, then fold the edges of the leftover skin and stitch it up. That’s how they probably do it, otherwise the tissues, the bone would show over the severed arm. Like it is depicted on the façade of the butcher’s shop — the carcass with layer upon layer of meat.
When the centipede loses a leg, it still can walk. Then she thought that she wouldn’t be able to live without him if something should eventually happen. She started to look at him from that future — back into this moment, where he is already dear, where there is his neck, where his nightshirt hurts her. She looks after him and cries. That it is still possible that he will come.
She always thought of him as a seagull, for his eyes and nose, and also his ability to fly over open spaces, salty sea or sweet waters. He squawks and maybe demands something. Which he doesn’t define. He crosses the paths of the ships. The water line cuts the horizon.
Mariam almost doesn’t imagine anything. She laughs, squirming, and talks.
The house swirls over the one stretched on the sofa; her head spins from the thoughts.
There is a quiet rustling. It’s probably an insect that has lost one of its legs. The leg is lying somewhere and convulsing in its thinness.
Nothing in time moves forward. He is still sitting in his night uniform as dark blue. His hands are large. While his nails are small and thin. She thought that she would like him to have different hands, no — different nails. Her thoughts were not collecting.
She wanted to tell him, let’s not do anything, as if something had been foreseen. Both of them — maybe even the three of them — were between two things. Somewhere in the pits of the trenches there was also the fourth one. He was shooting right and left. They were teaching him to do so. And he baked bread, pouring diesel into the stove in the field kitchen. Which sometimes he called “acid” and at other times “saltpeter.” He loved art, so he confused the words. He did not differ from the field bushes and stones; one had to be faceless there. The question is the doctor’s hands. They are beautiful if they have cut up and sewn.
He loved the feeling of multiplicity. The one wearing the nightshirt. And it was starting to feel as if they, too, were multiplying, becoming more, becoming all of whom one could dream up. An invisible bird had spread its wings and its wings were trembling.
Spring was emerging in the distant fields. Nenuphars had grown on the edge of a stream. She had been there with someone whose name she did not want to divulge. Later he entered the novel.
She got up, opened the door of the room, stared into the dark. The answers were not there, of course. Perhaps she was not even looking for them. Perhaps she did not think that there was a need. A swan song that will always be sung, always be sung.
If they sent Mariam home and stayed alone together, morning would come, and decisions would have to be made. They would have to forge their way through life, having acquired new thoughts and weaknesses. They would have to find new modes of protection. Shields and helmets. That effort of the knight of the sorrowful figure. She slid her hand down his nightshirt from his back. Ruptured the thought of the morning’s arrival.
To always, always repeat the same and not to refuse the wound. The inconsolable dimensions of the interior.
One had to pull the gaze away from there.
Her childhood memories retained the best house that will never recur. She would always travel there even if she didn’t want to. Don’t think about it, don’t. Because it is gone. Remembering is not a caprice. See, there is a whole city here. And he is sitting and waiting by your side.
You know that he has loved many, but first and foremost — his mother.
Is it necessary to look into his eyes?
He has gone to see a doctor for a dislocated jaw.
Mariam is telling stories behind one’s back. They aren’t ending. Each with their own story. It is night outside on the ground.
There is a bottle on the window sill with four fingers of red liquid in it. She put it back in its place.
Should she stay in his memories, or let him go, too, to become clay in the trenches? My magazine is loaded, the fourth one would say. It’s really beautiful.
To have fired bullets in one’s head.
Outside, the crows caw on swollen poplar trees. Rustle by rustle, the branches jut out straight, upward.
Translated from the Armenian by Shushan Avagyan
Photograph by the author, Anna Davtyan.
Anna Davtyan is a writer, translator, and photographer residing and working in Armenia. She is the author of a collection of poems, Book of Gratitude (2012). Her first novel, Khanna (2020), which received a fellowship grant from the Armenian Ministry of Education and Culture, is an offbeat detective story focusing on women’s issues in present–day Armenia. She has written numerous essays and short stories for the literary journal Inknagir, some of which have been translated into English. She is currently preparing a short story collection for publication, and working on a new book of poetry.
Shushan Avagyan is the translator of Energy of Delusion: A Book on Plot, Bowstring: On the Dissimilarity of the Similar, A Hunt for Optimism, and The Hamburg Score by Viktor Shklovsky (Dalkey Archive Press), Art and Production by Boris Arvatov (Pluto Press), and I Want to Live: Poems of Shushanik Kurghinian (AIWA).