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Gabija Grušaitė (b. 1987 Vilnius) is an author and curator; Cold East is her second novel.
A graduate of Anthropology & Media from Goldsmiths College, UK, Gabija’s creative pursuit is defined by the relentless search of new horizons through travel. In 2009, she settled in Penang, Malaysia where she cofounded an independent, contemporary art centre – Hin Bus Depot – where she was curator-in-chief.
She currently lives in Vilnius, Lithuania with her two Malaysian dogs, Gorgeous and Hazelnut.

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A. Miliukaite, Almost (a) square. On my way to the ocean, oil on canvas, 155x135, 2017. From the MO Museum collection

 

An excerpt from the novel Cold East

 

•••

The alarm says it’s 6:45am. I open my eyes and can’t get out of bed for a long time. I roll over and try to get back to sleep in an attempt to convince myself that nothing bad will come out of a few more hours.

9am.

The neighbours’ kid starts crying. Even though my head’s under the pillow, I can still hear their troubles. I feel their sad little lives trying to penetrate my closed eyelids. Damn.

What’s on my to-do list today... I need to send emails to everyone announcing that project A is postponed to next month, when the new quarter begins. I have to select photos to edit. Go to the bank and cancel credit card B since another bank has offered better terms. Finish the review of an exhibition. Write a letter to a friend in Vilnius – he’s thirty-five today. Create a marketing plan for the rest of the year. Dinner with Joe.

Complete and utter shit.

Today’s not worth getting out of bed for, so I roll onto my side. The kid’s still crying. They’re probably shoving breakfast into his mouth. I hated breakfast when I was little. It’s magnificent to be able to eat whenever you want to.

Living alone and being able to chill on the sofa at any given time of day is the best. You don’t need to worry about waking anyone up when you’re entering the apartment. You can stay in the tub in the morning since no one’s rushing for a pre- work shower. As you continue to live alone, solitude eventually becomes a part of you – you don’t want to share it with anyone. No sharing of time, yourself, tub, rug, nights, mornings. All mine.

But there are neighbours. People on the other side of the window. Personalities on social networks.

Once and again, I hate humanity. Especially at 7am, when my flight gets cancelled. Or when the people surrounding me earn more. When the corner bodega doesn’t have spinach juice. When someone mispronounces my name. When they don’t tidy up after themselves at the gym. But it’s mostly that 7am moment.

I crawl to the bathroom, brush my teeth, wash my face, drink some water with lemon and take a coffee back to bed to read the news.
“Have you seen the news?” Janet messages me.

Last night an armed twenty-eight-year-old shot fifty-five people in a Miami club. One of the victims was a man we knew. Not a friend, just someone we’d say “hi” to at parties. We’d usually bump into him at Art Basel after-parties, where this middle-aged creep would hit on young guys. All of his boyfriends were models, each younger than the last. Still, it sucks that he’s gone.

Facebook and Twitter fill up with tributes from mutual friends. I’m not even done with my morning coffee when one of his exes starts weeping on CNN, stating that this was the most precious person in his life.

Yuck.

For some reason, when a person dies, everyone suddenly forgets that he was an old pervert we all tried to stay away from. Or a jackass that was always prattling on. If a second-generation radicalised Afghan immigrant shoots you dead at an LGBT club in Miami, the road to media heaven clears up for you.

At around 2am, Omar, armed with a 223-calibre Sig Sauer MCX rifle and a semi-automatic nine-millimetre Glock 17, got into the club after killing the bouncers. It was the club’s weekly Latino night. He emptied two clips into the crowd, heard the police sirens and barricaded himself in one of the two bathrooms, where eighteen people were hiding in the booths. Liam was one of those people. Omar fired three clips through the doors, killing another twelve people. The ones who survived were lying on the ground with the deceased and all the mess – they stayed in that bathroom with Omar for three more hours, separated from the shooter by thin walls strewn with bullet holes.

He was speaking the entire time. He said he wasn’t racist, he had nothing against “Black people, Latinos, the Chinese or whatever.” When phones rang, he told people to hand these over or he’d shoot everyone. A few phones were slid under the partitions as Liam’s friend lay silently. His hand was bleeding and a hunky fifty-year-old body was pressing him down. When the police finally stormed the building and shot Omar, it was already after 6am.

Sitting in an ambulance, he tweeted a photo of himself with the caption “Happy to be alive. My heart goes out to the families of those who unfortunately didn’t make it.”

As if we have hearts, I think to myself in bed.

I study the picture for a while and I can’t decide what surprises me more – the look on his face or the glitter and makeup contrasting with the dirt. Silver and gold dust mixed up with dried-up blood.

Whose, I wonder.

I call Janet. She’s crying. Not because Liam was important to us or because she cared about him. It was just an eerie feeling of being unsafe – maybe you’ll be shot at a Paris opera, Miami club, Brussels airport, London bus, New York skyscraper or Baptist church in South Carolina. Everyone’s a target. Everyone’s a suspected killer. Whites. Muslims. Jamaicans. Norwegians. The surprising violence people express towards strangers is mindboggling.

Media panic.

More drooling posts appear on Facebook. Now anyone who died during this shooting is a hero. Omar hated gays, this was a hate crime against homosexuals and Others.

A total media bullseye.

There are tens of shootings a day in America, and several big ones a week; however everyone’s tired of reading about another gun fight in Chicago, so only a handful of such events reach the international news – mass murders, terrorism, school shootings, etc. Not all deaths are as photogenic as Liam’s.

An hour goes by and we all discover that Omar was gay and his father used to shame him in front of his ex-wife. Angry and impulsive, Omar hit women and was hated by his colleagues. Every so often he drank himself into oblivion in the club since he couldn’t do it at home. Suddenly, Omar made the choice to become an exemplary Muslim and destroy the temple of sin he used to adore. Oh well.

The conversation about gun control is again upon us. We non-Americans find it weird, why does everyone in the States aspire to have a semi-automatic piece or rifle at home? When I was growing up in Vilnius, the only time I saw weapons was during the events of January the thirteenth. On the other hand, a gun is only an instrument in a person’s hands. It doesn’t fire by itself.

There’s always something to panic about: single mums won’t bring up decent kids, immigrants are rampaging, crime rates are up, teenagers are becoming more stupid, pensioners are starving... Whereas in silence, real wars go on. A cocaine war right on the Mexican border. Oil wars in the Middle East. Ethnic cleansing in Israel. God knows what else in Africa.

The Republican presidential candidate – a TV star, billionaire and horrible orange person, states that this shooting would not have taken place if the clubbers had been armed.

Hmm. Then the clubbers would have just shot each other.

The second cup of coffee in bed. I need to start the day’s work. Even though I never eat before 1pm, hunger takes over. On this special occasion I will allow myself breakfast (what special occasion? The untimely death of forty-five people?).

I pull on my shorts and a white tee and I go downstairs to my corner bodega. Juice and a bagel with eggs. Someone puts a hand on my shoulder. I’m annoyed at the thought of someone I know seeing me unshaven, unwashed and wearing an old T-shirt and shorts that I only use at the gym. Fuck.
I turn around

Blue eyes hit me. She looks at me as if to ask me something. As if She wants an answer.

I don’t think I’ve seen Her before, but She seems so familiar. I get scared. What does She want?

“Hello,” She smiles a tiny bit ironically.

“Hi,” I’m confused and silent for a moment, still trying to remember Her. “Do we know each other?”

She shakes Her head. “No, Stasys.”

I feel transparent. She knows something I don’t (is this my conscience inside a skinny body?). She stares provocatively at me (provoking me to do what? I can’t even react today – I left my dignity to dry in the apartment). I take a step back and manage to smile nervously. It’s time to take off (yep, that’s always the answer, Stasys). I take my food and rush home without saying bye.

Never turn back.

I curl up in bed and make space on the bedside table, sweeping off used plane tickets, business cards, magazines, books I started to read and coins. I look at the mess on the floor for a second. It’s been a week since the cleaner came in.

I eat the bagel and sauce drips on my bedding. My bed provides security, and not because stats prove that beds are the best hideouts (throughout history, many people have died in their bedrooms), but because no one sees my weaknesses here. I remember Her smile and I feel as if I have motion sickness.

I glance through the window.

Through blood and dirt and hate, let our silver glitter shine #miamistaystrong #rememberingliam

I attach a photo of Liam’s friend.

Tweet.

Maybe Kenny is right, the life I have now is far from happy. I watch the news without moving for an hour. Stories keep
coming in. Someone shot a gorilla. An explosion in Syria. Verbal battles at the European Parliament. The elections in America. Corruption in Brazil. Etc. Etc.

Whiskey greets me in the living room, I glug it down quickly and go back to the bedroom. Draw the curtains. Sleep.

•••

 

The funeral went smoothly. I look great dressed in black and try to carefully balance an appropriate melancholy with a Zen things- come-and-things-go look while tweeting photos of people, updates, stories I’ve overheard. At least I have something to say for a change. All of those who weren’t invited or couldn’t make it keep posting their condolences. As if they actually cared about Liam, his pathetic life of an old creep and not this moment that is crystallised by cameras, when you’re able to feel like the centre of the world.

“Were you close?” a lady in a black hat asks. Janet sobs to answer yes. She’s not great at sobbing, and even ten years after her unsuccessful role in a romantic comedy, she still believes she’s a brilliant actress. Actually, when I look around, it becomes evident that everyone here has inadequate self-esteem.

“Where did you meet?” her old wrinkly lips address us. The clear summer sun spotlights the cemetery, and death as well as old age seems distant and non-existent.

Janet and I glance at each other.

“At a gay club,” I answer with sudden joy. “And you?”

“I’m his aunt,” she lights a cigarette. “Couldn’t stand him.” We both smile and walk slowly through a crowd of smirking
mugs, leaving her be in her shell of a Fifth Avenue dame.

“His whole family’s mad,” Janet grabs a glass of champagne
from a tray.

“What did you expect? Liam was thrown out of the academy
for harassing students, so where do you think he picked up his etiquette manual from?”

“Yuck,” she mutters, sips and smiles at approaching mourners.

“What a loss to mankind,” anonymous guests note and we sombrely nod in agreement.

“You think someone will do this for us when we die?” Janet leans against the wall, and her flawless face is ruined by nostalgia for a second.

“We can put this on our to-do list. Instead of dying during a regular mass shooting, we should be victims of the grandest killing ever. We shall go with glitter on our faces.”

“You know, sometimes you’re an unbelievable cretin.”

The mood’s great. A video camera passes us – we stand straighter and repeat our melancholic/Zen faces. The ceremony ends; I didn’t listen since it would have probably made me throw up. A few photos in the summer sun and we’re off to the city, ordering two venison burgers with extra mature cheddar. “Extra mature,” the waiter repeats it painfully.

“How’s Ian?” I don’t know why I ask.

“He’s well. He signed a contract with Calvin Klein two days ago to be their eye candy; he’s also starting an initiative to provide information about healthy food for rednecks and their cattle.”

I see shadows moving on the pavement. Our table is under the trees. Everything smells like summer, warmth, life.

We are silent.

The second glass of wine takes all the energy out, the morning adrenaline fades and the mood drops. I start thinking about the article I haven’t finished; I’ll need to send it over. One client hasn’t paid yet. Rent’s due the day after tomorrow. Everything settles and the reality starts to sink in: someone else’s death is a show that allows you to temporarily burst out of your own routine into a sacred space of nothingness. Sadly, you have to keep on living after it’s over, knowing that it is unlikely
you will receive a spectacle like this after your own death.

I see a familiar face in the distance – a face I don’t want to see at all right now. My body shrivels from the horror. She passes us and smiles at me. Fearing that She’ll stop to talk to us, I keep my eyes down and focus on my food. Is She following
me? Should I be worried about my safety?

I look up again, She’s no longer there. I still feel my veins
pulsating. If I told Janet, she’d think I’m delirious. So I just say, “I’m tired of New York” instead.

Janet is not about to have this conversation again, so she’s
keeping silent, probably thinking about her lousy career as an actress, about her work with a famous fashion designer that she despises, about Ian. She’s drained too. Everyone is. “Why New York? I thought you were gonna say you’re tired of life.”

“I want to get away.”

“Where?” she’s surprised. “LA?”

As if LA was the only place one can go after leaving New
York. Just head west until you hit the sunset. Then up the sandy coast to the end of the world – Malibu.

“Home? To Vilnius?” she continues.

I shake my head. She’s right though, there’s no point.

 

 

Translated by Kipras Šumskas

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