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Lina Simutytė is the younger generation's prose writer, scriptwriter, literary performer, film language and creative writing lecturer. She is currently preparing her first book of short stories and novels. In Lina's work, the semantic forms of magical realism meet the images of Hollywood, pop, and consumer culture. This combination of gravity and lightness, a distinctive pattern makes her texts interesting and engrossing. The diverse education also deepens the writer's work - she has graduated from the bachelor's degree in film drama studies and also studied master degree in intermedial literature. The writer is an active player in the cultural field - she presents her texts in various events and even organizes them. For example, "About Bodies" and "Quatro Uno Noche," which combine music and texts to create creative performances.

The author has won prizes in creative competitions, received a Cultural Council scholarship.

The writer is actively published in the cultural press, and shares her work on Facebook under the page "Simutytė."

Dalia MikonyteDalia Mikonytė is an artist, photographer and researcher, member of artists group Coolturistes, The Lithuanian Interdisciplinary Artists’ Association (LeTMeKoo) and Lithuanian Photographers Association. From 2014 - owner of an artist status of the Republic of Lithuania. She is mostly working with photography, scanography and photogrammetry. Artistic practice she is developing focuses on old and well known art forms mixed together with new aesthetics and technology. Her work addresses various questions and variations of perception and recognition. Themes centered around the relationship between materiality, technology and identity. Subjects range between intimate space and time, personal experiences, identity and its representation, signs, virtual and actual reality. Interests and inspirations balance between history, contemporary art and future scenarios, among theory, practice and sentiment. Currently she is working on her personal projects, artist-duo projects together with Adomas Žudys and as a lecturer in Vilnius College of Design.

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reflections on belonging

a palmers chronicle right bw

Graphic Novels

Photo by Dalia Mikonytė

 

Water is a Hypocrite

 

What am I to do with my life?
How am I supposed to know what’s right?
I can’t help the way I feel,
But my life has been so overprotected.

Britney Spears, “Overprotected”

It was 2001.

The year when Vancouver was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the removal of the potlach ban, even though it continued to be banned. It was the year when Dad covered the roof of our inn with new tiles of burnt caramel color, and began to invite those inhabitants of the island who called themselves Native Americans to hold secret celebrations in symbolic commemoration of the potlach. Ten years had passed since that time when we released Mom into the lake that flowed into the ocean – with her red wedding dress on. It was embroidered with cacti. Mescalin dust. Or pine needles.

It was the year I turned twenty. True, I had not been waiting for that time. At the ages of eighteen and nineteen, I got attention from older women. I would also get it later on when carrying the luggage and sacks of the women staying at our place – those from Chicago, New York or other cities – filled with food and household goods, from mineral bottles to sprinklers and buckets. It’s nothing scary to get to twenty. However, a nineteen-year-old has it all, or is at least a bit ahead of the rest.

The house with the inn was separated from the highway by a deciduous forest, making a kind of harbor from the highway dust and heat. The building was wooden, with a balcony stretching the entire span of the second floor. It had Christmas cacti, which did not need watering or pruning, thrusting out from their pots. Their scarlet bloom tumbled out and over the balcony edge which had “The Inn” on a signboard in peeling paint nailed to it. The balcony was hung round with clothes to dry – I could never understand why Dad referred to them as white goods, even when they were completely black. The balcony was decorated with wooden deer and owl carvings, its columns were varnished over, and there always was a red pack of Marlboro lying around on a small table. Back then, cigarettes cost a penny.

Our inn, that had several beds on the second floor too, would often welcome guests. They’d get a sniff of the northeast wing of Vancouver from afar, as well as that of a more distant harbor, of a fishermen’s village with a cheap motel and the one and only petrol station. And those street lamps that were always burning out. Loners and travelers would often stop by here, ladies whose hearts were broken by mechanics with oiled hands, or entrepreneurs who counting money, interest and shares. But mostly, lovers: they would themselves off from the whole world on the second floor of wooden rooms with aloe veras and dust-pumping cacti on the windowsills, and sleep until late in the afternoon among cushions embroidered with geometric patterns, and then they’d wait for breakfast, which was pre-ordered to be delivered to their room in the afternoon at the earliest.

The ground floor had an inn with a bar and a kitchen that was accessible through a wooden bead curtain. At least five men were always seated at the inn – they’d spend all day smoking and commenting on the images and information provided by the suspended TV set. It broadcast the MTV Channel, and when the antenna got good waves, Britney Spears’ music videos would pop up. Then, the men would swallow down their beer sips more slowly, hushed in embarrassment, or start to giggle with silliness. Only after the video was over, in which Britney was wearing a denim shirt unveiling her belly and wriggling around a leather chaise-longue, would the men shout something meaninglessly lewd and immediately light up another cigarette.

That was also the year when I discovered that I was capable of satisfying myself in the henhouse, where I hung a poster of the selfsame Britney on the wall. That year, she released her “Britney” album and conquered the world. I would do it in the presence of hens, and they wouldn’t even turn away. Onto them, and onto the hay, too. Until it would almost begin to hurt. I could not believe that this Britney from Louisiana got hooked up with that scabby redhead. She’d repeatedly tell the press that she was innocent. Then I heard about her hymen repair operations on the radio. That Timberlake guy was a pain in my neck. I wanted to have her. Because she was the one who lacked freedom. She was the one who was singing “Overprotected”. And I wanted to set her free.

The inn in the northern edge of Vancouver would greet you from the heavy ferry, whose boards were slippery with dampness, and fishermen who reeked of salmon. Even on a hottest day, they looked like they’d been doused with rain. The inn was located in a strategically convenient spot, surrounded by pine trees and separated by a highway with low-speed trucks or heavy motorcycles howling along it in low frequencies as they drove by. The concrete dusty road was sprayed with pine needles, and smelled from the distance of dust, sticky resin and pollen with long, expressive noses which would immediately land on one’s shoes.

Our Michelle, who settled down at the inn, would occasionally thrust her way through the heavy branches of the pine trees, with her still childish palms covered with resin and stuck gnats. She’d brush them off carelessly into her white dress and eventually appear in the port with cobweb threads in her hair. She’d walk back and forth along the wooden boardwalk, and sometimes she’d simply stand and watch the women stepping out of the ferry, holding their hats, and the men holding the hems of their dresses. Men who traveled without women would also get off, so they’d hold on the handrails or some other support, which helped them get out safely with the water swirling with lilies or cigarette butts that floated like fragile bamboo sticks. Water is a masterful liar.

Michelle eventually realized that men who travel without women would more often wear long hair and leather jackets with massive cold metal buttons and zippers on the sides. They liked card games, cold beer from cans, and pipes stuffed with tobacco. Men without women were ready tippers each time she accompanied them to the inn. Michelle was looking forward to the sound that signified the opening of a beer can. She heard the men speak other languages than English. However, all of them, in the same language, belched from alcohol, which bubbled out of their stomachs. The men walked fast, so that even pebbles – like sparks from metal welding machines – flew toward the forest, which kept silent about what Michelle did not want to remember.

At the potlach of 2001, Michelle from the adjacent island was still just a child; her face was covered with a double-headed snake mask, but I saw her eyes – they resembled tar, shoe polish, and tire gum. I saw her eyes, and so they were enough for me to devise my wise plan, frantically maniacal, but only out of love and only for the sake of love, because potlach was, first and foremost, love. Well, if not love, then, at least, its morbid manifestation: it was morbid because only when you love in this way, can you give your neighbor your wife’s most expensive bracelet as a gift, saying that basically, it belongs to you, or make someone a present of the leg of an antique bed, or the whole headboard with a carved eagle’s head, a gilded set of tools, or an incense box containing your grandad’s golden teeth, as valuable as crude oil or diamond drills.

In Vancouver, the potlach tradition was still not forgotten, no matter how heavily punished its followers were. In the past, it was a great ritual feast that brought residents from nearby settlements to the port. Disguised and masked, they exchanged gifts, danced, and spoofed each other. And, of course, engaged in a lot of mescalin smoking, praying, and seeing the mythical creatures of the world, revived from stones in folk songs, ocean spatter and thickets of thorns, ferns and moss. They saw revelations and made presents of goblets and copper earrings, and precious blacksmith items cut into pieces, presenting them to others by rank, age and status.

It was precisely at that potlach when I attained my most precious gift – Michelle, and, just for myself, named her Britney. True, contemporary anthropologists would call this an expression of negative exchange, they would – and so be it. It is negative, negative as my blood group, negative and black as soot or water at night, but black has always meant Michelle’s eyes, which were the only thing that brought me that distorted, tiny, but still extant, happiness. And she had to become the one I would set free.

The men, who, on that night, disappeared inside animal masks and squeezed themselves into feathered suits, exchanged and re-exchanged gifts with each other, now prepared for the port with their caravans loaded with gifts. Michelle quietly rolled herself into a ball in the henhouse, and I took that double-headed snake mask carefully off her, and kept looking at it, repeating that all was fine, that all would be fine, that she would come back home, and all she did was nod humbly and, apparently, not scared at all, she pulled a golden-feathered hen closer to herself, quietly murmuring to it that by now, it’s really going to be fine, and I briefly believed that she would be easier than I had thought. I left Michelle tied up with ropes that I’d use to tie cows, oxen and sheep to the wooden poles. Michelle did not resist; her skin, in the darkness of the henhouse, looked like water in an oak barrel, and her lips shimmered. I wished I could bend down and drink, but I tied the lips up with the rope, too, so that she could not give away that she was there. I gave her a few strokes, the hens were clucking, they laid eggs, the nests were filled again and again, more and more lives, less and less air. I locked the door, bolted it with a log, and, holding the double-headed snake mask in my hands as if it were a trophy, headed for the huge lake that was called Offerings Lake.

You’re an idiot, I was repeating to myself in my mind. You’ve spent so much time planning this abduction, you were planning her resistance and her squeaking throat, which you’d jam up with newspapers printed with plump politicians and rock stars. You’ll stuff her innocent mouth full, with its fangs glimmering in the dark, with pieces of dirty wool – or maybe cords with fishing knots – and she would start gasping, shedding tears, choking, regarding you in reverence with those eyes of a scared little calf, and you will pull down your zipper – and before that, you’ll be sucking on the cigarette that you’d lighted up, and drawing on it without taking it out of your mouth – then, the Levi’s jeans would go down to your knees, and you, with your underwear bulging out, would block the last rays of the sun filtering through the cracks in the henhouse, and you’d get your gun out, it would be loaded, you’d get it out and – continuing to suck on that bitter and dry cig – you’d blow a load in front of her, splash it all out on the wall where the Britney poster is hanging, showing her smiling, and the blotted-out Timberlake would only wonder how many things can happen in Vancouver over the course of the potlach. Then you’d release the cigarette from your teeth, it would all flare up and be over, the paper Britney would burn down together with Timberlake, and you would pick Michelle up in your arms – your charcoal pill, your spider stuck in a lump of resin. You would have saved her from the flame you created by yourself, you’d carry her in your arms, probably without having pulled your jeans back on, and she would be crying, slobbering, and shouting loudly that she wants to die hanging round your neck – but really, she’d be secretly praying, above all things, for her own survival.

The water had already quietened down. Michelle’s mask reached the bottom instantly. I was thinking about how such a child as Michelle had to suffer with that chump of wood on. After a decent fifteen minutes, they eventually appeared. Whacked-out and still with their masks on, giving blessings to each other and saying again and again how good, by heaven, how good the mescalin was, how rich the smoke was and how limpid the coast was on that day, what a fragrant summer night, how strong the rum was from the barrel, is it oak or birch, or maybe cedar, which material is that barrel made of, my good God, the taste gets ever richer with the passing years – they were repeating one after the other, as if blinded by the light of the sun whose setting they had already attended, gathering as the evening came, in twilight, by the shadows that resembled the trees from the land of gods beyond the inn. I pretended to be woozy, and greeted them with a merry song about horses pulling chariots, about husbands, fathers and brothers coming back from hunting with their trophy horns, furs and all the other ethnic crap that they wholeheartedly believed in.

The old guys despised highways, they despised Harley Davidson, and in particular, that shiny new gas station at the crossroads, including the rainbows that appeared in the puddles of petrol.
They despised all the things that broke with traditions, which, on their own, were once broken, or at least distorted – distorted so much that even I knew that the old guys, when they’d find on the seafloor, among other gifts, the two-headed snake mask, heavy and soaked in the seawater, would not be able to find Michelle’s body and would decide that the girl was simply taken by the gods. And I knew I would have her forever.

Michelle’s mask drowned, but her body was waiting for me in the henhouse. The water was of lake grass and algae, and as I bent over its surface, for a moment I felt the water breathing heavily, like an oak barrel in which rum was maturing. I still remember so well for how long we had been living in those harbors full of gods, shrubs and shores, how long I had heard Dad’s ritual texts that he wrote and then read out to Mom, and then carried to the port where the port was not at all, and there were not really ships coming to it; there was, in fact, a mere graveyard, in which we said good-bye to Mom, then to Mom’s Mom, to Mom’s sister, and finally, to Grandfather. Their ground-down bones and stomachs and lungs that turned to ashes rested quietly on the all-caressing waters that softened the lungs and stomach pains and breath.

 

When I brought Michelle into the inn in the morning, Dad dropped his eyes into his cup, filled from the bottom to the top with black coffee that had the blackness of Michelle’s eyes. On the table, there were cones – the pine wax candles in which flies were frozen, thus having become immortal – and a small bag with the rest of the hashish.

The women would stare at me, both when I was buttoned and unbuttoned. They would stare at me as I hauled their suitcases up and down, and Dad, in the bar, poured out rum, whiskey, brandy and cocktails with pine tree pollen. Dad would look at Michelle and say nothing, he’d look at her, pulling a face, and silently cram the ice which slowly melted and drowned in the water. He’d look and never say a thing, look and play the idiot perfectly, even though he did realize that this girl was the same one that had been sacrificed to the gods the day before and was resting in the bottom of the lake.

lina simutyte 03Photo by Dalia Mikonytė

lina simutyte 04Photo by Dalia Mikonytė 


Water, among all other elements, always seemed to me to be the greatest hypocrite. Even the earth, under which the buried bodies of the dead would turn into bones, always remained the same as they left it after having dug the grave. But water was a hypocrite who pretended to be clear, but in fact, was always muddled at the bottom. A knife thrown down into it, if seen from the bridge, would shine like a polished spoon. A kind of spoon that would cut the bellies of eels and pink salmons. Water is a hypocrite in which you do not know what is changing: the object you are watching, or your own perception of the world, in which the knife and the spoon become an undivided whole. It feeds and cuts one at the same time.

Michelle became our inn-girl. Dad immediately found her work among towels, curtains, and bed linens. Among Persil and Tide, and the semi-automatic washing machines. In the shade of washing ropes, in the shelter of drying linens, I imagined myself strangling her, but as I would approach, I’d be seduced by her tenderness, and she’d pull me closer with her softener-scented palms and begin kissing me. Cold laundry on both sides. I did not need romance. I wanted to be masculine. And men do not kiss.

The men whose women in their dresses the color of ripened plums would rustle down the dirty road to the inn, wore checkered shirts, and kept their money in their inside pockets, not those of jackets, but of jeans – closer to their second heart, and were always ready to pay for their lodging right away. They’d usually order breakfast in the rooms, would not return the trays for a long time, and Michelle would even get a little indignant – she knew that an hour later, a new couple would move into the room, and her water in the bucket to clean the room, with suds in it, would already have cooled down. “The nature of women is about traveling with men,” Michelle thought as she’d pick up the trays covered with banana skins and the unopened mini-bowls of untouched orange marmalade.

Michelle was one of those girls who can, at the same time, believe in the bearded trolls who live in the pine forest in front of the inn, and admire men’s leather belts with metal buckles glistening with the imprinted outlines of a bull’s head. She was capable of vacuum-cleaning the carpets tirelessly, and, at the same time, shelling sunflower seeds into her hand and spilling the shells onto the ornaments of those Persian carpets. She was curious about boys and the swirls in their hair, as one of them sat in front of her at a math lesson. She liked both numbers and rows of buttons, which in boys’ jackets were somehow on the other side than in girls’ ones. But she was even more interested in the men who’d get out of their red cars, having driven through the forest, where hares were dying in the heat, through the dirt, leaving clouds of dust behind their backs, and they would get out of them in an elegant manner.

An obtuse knock of the car door would make Michelle stop cutting potatoes or chopping cheese into cubes. Having come up to the window to slowly turn up the blinds, to observe the kind of steps made by those wearing suede boots, approaching the inn that, little by little, had made places for several more rooms with extra beds, while on the signboard saying “The Inn”, Dad had hung a large white plus with a bed, which was supposed to mean a hotel. Michelle started wearing a bra.

The house gradually filled up with noise, dust, the feeling of unloaded guns, and music. And the colored glass goblets that, when illuminated above the bar, looked like disemboweled transparent neon fishes. Every drink that Dad touched was consumed in such a manner as if some kind of divine minerals and cosmic particles were dissolved in the alcohol, having swallowed which, you’d merge with an aggregate of planets and worlds, even the names of which were unknown to you.

Dad enjoyed bustling about behind the bar counter. He would always pour in more, and I never saw him using any measuring dishes or recipes. But the inspectors that arrived that summer found even more reasons to close down our inn. One of them was the illegal, in their opinion, business that secretly nurtured the still illegitimate potlach rituals. First, they gave us a warning, and then threatened to carry out a search, but Dad did not resist.

From the pillows, the same speckled hen feathers were being dumped out on which I laid Michelle. Paintings were being torn out of their frames, and hounds were barking and wetting each corner. Dad was never a supplier of drugs, but still, was growing some peyote that went unnoticed and remained obscure. Finally, the inspectors got tired; in the rooms filled with sunshine, the cut-up pillows were lying, the carpets remained wrapped in rolls, and Michelle’s apron with a blue B lay on the kitchen table next to the juice jar. In a clear glass bottle, a pine tree branch was soaking, while Michelle was stacking up pancakes with maple syrup, baked eggs with pieces of sausage and French onion soup that she had learned to cook. Dad was smiling and calmly sipping his unsweetened black coffee, and the inspectors were nodding their heads, chewing large mouthfuls and staring at the bleached wall behind the bar where two rifles were hanging among horns and fur carpets, and were engraved with plant motifs and covered with a silver layer.

Finally, it came time to register all the residents of the house. Michelle had already disappeared from the kitchen. I was sitting in front of Dad, who was filling the list with a sharpened pencil, and watching an ice cube dissolve on the table. At first, it turned into a small lake, then into a puddle, and eventually, disappeared completely. The graphite wriggled on the paper, while the smell of Michelle was still in the air, and the inspector, when reading the list, found Britney’s name, for Michelle was lying down in the waters, and her body was being fed by water lilies that would burst into bloom a whole month earlier than usual.

Who in the world is Britney? Who are you kidding, guys?

I kept silent, heating water for the tea.

Dad worked it all out, saying that the girl had stayed with us one day and eventually started to work there. She is just the Lenor and Tide, the linens, the clotheslines behind the inn, the peas in the beds of grass, and the berries soaked into the tablecloths. She is just the heated iron, the vacuum cleaner, the polished up mirror, the apron with a front pocket and the blue B. She is the seething French onion soup with cheese melting on it. The pot lid lifting itself quietly. And the toasted bread. Nothing more, just the spoons polished with soda. The inspectors demanded her documents, but at that point Dad, simply hypocritically and impudently, looking straight in their eyes and retorted:
“Why, gentlemen, but it’s not that all women need papers to travel around the world?”

– The water was boiling and steaming, the teapot whistling, and the heated metal bursting out with boiling bubbles. Tea, sugar, black coffee, cream, and the ting of spoons in cups gradually filled up the tense silence. The inspectors withdrew, adding that a girl by the name of Michelle had been declared as missing.

“Come again?” Dad asked them.

They repeated.

“Mi”

“Chelle”

“So that‘s it. Well, we’ll tell you if we hear something. Ok, gentlemen, drop in for a coffee whenever you’re around.”

Dad would never get into conflicts. He was one of the quietest people I’ve ever gotten to know, the phrase “gotten to know” being far from good here; I should say that he was the only calm person I have ever lived with. His shirt sleeves were always tucked up neatly, and his beard was trimmed flawlessly with a shiny razor that Michelle once used to rip up the belly of a hare from the forest, and, having removed the guts, stuffed it with dried grass from the attic. I believed that, in her sight, the hare would begin to frisk, fawn, and wiggle its ears. However, neither the thyme nor the nettles raised it. With the straw hare, she was found by Dad who, without saying a thing, took the razor, washed it, and put it on top of the cabinet shelf with a broken mirror and the still remaining drops in Mom’s perfume bottles. Then, he did not know that one day I, too, would take that razor.

When the inspectors men showed up for the second time, Michelle had stopped bustling around in the kitchen. She was sickened by the color of the onion soup and the scent of chicken broth. She would often sit on the shore of the lake – it kept changing colors, and you could imagine that its depth was dark like raincoats, and the wet season would arrive with late autumn. Michelle’s eyes had gained that similar beauty and deceptive flicker. The water in her eyes turned the previously glimmering black tar into a melting glacier, and her Antarctica was melting, reminding me of Britney’s exultant eyes, seen on so many occasions on the posters that faded increasingly with each day. Michelle was growing more and more mature, while Britney, in my eyes, gradually turned into nothing but a sobbing teen who could not make up her mind as to whether she was a girl or a woman.

We slept in the second floor room where the cacti’s scarlet bloom tumbled out of the balcony. Michelle’s body and her white nightgown looked like a parachute that dropped, having failed to unfold properly. Her breathing soothed me. It did so because I knew that we were not alone, and those showers that began in late March reminded me that in a couple of months, the sun would begin to blaze down. Those heavy rains that were soaking the cacti in the balcony and the caramel-colored roof panels reminded us that in a couple more months, we would welcome not just the hot and dry June, but also that which blew up Michelle’s nightgown and more and more often made us enjoy the exciting, albeit frightening thought that I would become a dad.

However calm and tedious the flow of our days was, the daily routine of the inn had changed. All this time, the continual circulation of people, the talks about the upcoming political changes in front of the flashing TV set, even the pine forest on this side of the road – all of it was pierced by a strange anticipation that would wake me up early in the morning, before the sun came up. I’d wake up, watch Michelle, her white shirt, her hands clasped slightly into fists, and I would not hesitate to leave the bed. Silently and treacherously, I’d get my legs out of bed. The right one, the left one. I’d get into my jeans quickly and put on the first shirt I found around.

I’d climb down the wooden stairs, holding on to the wooden handrails that looked like a long snake which greeted me with a curve of its head at the top of the stairs and ended with a pointed tail at the bottom. That pointing always meant a tiny kind of disengagement. No one would hear me, no one would sense me, no one would suspect me. Everyone was sleeping in their fluffs and feathers, covered with soft cotton linen. While they were sleeping, I’d go down to the yard, and then head for the gas station, which was my most real refuge, and became my place of oblivion with a neon sign and a 24-hour shop.

The gas station and its columns glimmering in the dark. It had several chairs, not yet worn out, with comfortable backrests, a furbished, new, minimalist interior, which was despised by all the followers of traditions and potlach. But the most important thing was the night and myself, drinking beer from cans one by one. I was in a place where the ocean and lake could not reach me, where Mom’s red dress had perished by turning into scraps and bait for salmon. Only here, and only at dawn, seeing the cars dropping by for gas one after the other, I’d feel detached from the traditions that had planted those dark sprouts in me, plopping into my lungs still more of the soaked black slime with glass beads piercing fish scales, and made me resent the whole sleeping inn with its artificially inhabited spirits, the cacti and wooden carvings, with the secrets you have to keep, even though they would damnably like to surface and disburden themselves. To destroy the tall stories concocted for so many years.

At the gas station, I had read almost all of the ads that were more or less interesting, even those targeted at women, about housework. About clothes. About sewing stitches, childbirth and child care. I felt superior to the rest of the world at the moment I read about postpartum depression, caesarean section, nausea and back pains. I knew everything, and now, at any moment, I was ready to become a dad. Only the anticipation that was twinkling in every shadow, a weird fear, intermingling with cold, frightened me and repeated itself in my increasingly frequent sighs which released into the air the invisible, but terrible awareness that nothing would be as it used to be on the days when Michelle was our inn-girl. Only Tide and Lenor. The merino wool sweater smelling of laundry softener.

After returning, I’d take on the usual jobs, and start to dig in the ground from which light frost had not yet come out. I’d dig it until it filled with wet, heavy breathing. It reminded me of the darkness of the henhouse and of Michelle’s eyes that, like the humming sound of passenger-carrying coaches and lorries in behind the pine forest, would arrive from nowhere and then disappear into nowhere. The earth, filled with water and dirt, soaked by my feelings and anxiety, one day, about nightfall, turned into one, then another six, eventually a dozen and a hundred announcements about the missing Michelle, and she, at any moment, was to flood the whole inn and its guests with their leather cases for documents, all the women with their neatly starched collars and the pearl earrings tinging in their ears, with water that testified to a new life. That water would bring innocence and childish guiltlessness which сould rescue entire vancouvers and inns with tiled roofs. It could rescue entire continents that suffered from drought and famine, and would rescue Britney – the scandal over her innocence, and the failing economy at that time were equally important topics being communicated on the radio.

I saw them putting up the posters. Mi-chelle. Gone missing. I shot off towards the lake, which flew into the Pacific ocean. I knew that, and still ran up to it, barely catching my breath, my lungs landed somewhere in my kidneys or liver. And I could not distinguish – whether I was looking at the lake or it was looking at me, because the water watched me with reproach and contempt, melting down and dying, just like a human who is saying goodbye to his or her loved ones. Four cars, flashing with intense orange beacon lights, and a whole brigade of men who pumped water and, in their rubber boots, slopped around over the bottom of the lake. The lake now, more than ever, was reminiscent of large lungs or a rubber tire from which air had just been released. One after the other, a potluck of catches began to surface – golden herons and porcelain items from the 1940s, rotting mandalas of carpets, soaked abstract paintings, rifle butts, bullets and pendants, and gems glimmering like black caviar. Daggers with polished blades, muddy dresses and jackets, and eventually, the bodies began to surface.

The lake was perishing. It was watching. Indeed, no other lake was so much akin to a human being.

The stench began to make me writhe, and my body was uncontrollably pulling itself back, as if having hypnotized my thoughts that were flying at an unnamable speed, and all that repeated before me was fragments of Michelle’s shirt, six buttons, the waters of her womb, her fingers clenched into a fist. I saw her eyes and their darkness. Her name, those two syllables of Mi-chelle, Mi-chelle, Mi-chelle, were twirling around like dancers in darkened dancefloors.

I flew back home, I dashed into the bathroom. The mirror dust and the white cabinet with Mom’s decrepit perfume bottles. Mi-chelle, Mi-chelle, my fingers reached for Dad’s razor and grabbed it. I knew where to run, I knew where to find her. I was craving, after all, to hold her against me so tight that everything around would disappear, like things and objects disappear in the oceans, disappear and dissipate, having decided never to surface again. I was eager to vanish with her like the numbers and letters on the classroom blackboards do, to vanish, or at least to end up on the other side of the blackboard.

Michelle was bleeding. The pine forest had given word to refrain from blurting out about her sweating forehead, about her labor pains and about the fact that here was the girl whose body they kept looking for in the bottom of the lake. We had to deceive them this time, too. I bent down; Michelle was exhausted. I kept repeating her gibberish, because only gibberish at that time made sense. I was babbling about music, wrapping her in sweet and sticky nonsense, hissing soothing lies.

I knew how I had to behave to help that life come into this world, into the pine forest and into the Vancouver that we would leave behind at that gas station, having filled the tank. I heard them approaching, I heard them with my whole body, and Michelle was breathing heavily, she was young and weak, she was not prepared, she was just the Mi-chelle – just the Tide and Lenor, just the key stuck in the car lock.

At any moment, the hounds could have sniffed us out. Michelle drew me closer. She was delirious. She was telling me to help her, not to have pity on her, saying that all would be fine. I knew it would not be fine; the anticipation that had been persecuting me was not only related to Vancouver’s darkness and drained waters – that feeling was related to the blood and sticky sugar that, in droplets, and then, in an irrepressible stream, would flow onto Dad’s razor blade, onto the pine forest ticks and ants, and these would swarm around Michelle’s body, and by then, I would be holding a little girl in my arms. She would look like me, totally like me, with a fair swirl on the fluffy top of her head. I also knew that all the previous month’s anxiety was just about announcing that Michelle was missing, it was not about the staircase squeaking at night, when I was plodding to the gas station. All of this was also about the big pine tree, and the barking of the hounds that hung over me, and hung over Michelle with the darkest bottom weeds and the cry of the newly born Britney.

More than anything I did not want to decide what I’d do with her body. With a few stitches, I sewed Michelle’s belly up, and covered her with branches and mosses, just as she once stuffed the belly of the dead hare with healing wormwood and grass from the attic. It was getting dark. I could not wait any longer. Then, in fact, I did not know whether it was a new beginning, or nothing had ended yet. Michelle nodded at me, and attempted to raise her head again and again in encouragement. And I dashed off, with Britney in my arms.

I ran to the inn. I was running and pressing Britney to my chest, to my lungs big enough for all the possible oceans. From the distance I saw the gates of the inn, the roof, and I saw white linens drying on the balcony, fluttering in the dusk like hundreds of Vancouver ghosts. Once at the inn, I rushed to the second floor, into the room where the young couple lived. I left Britney with the woman, she gave me a smile, I went down by the squeaking stairs and carpets, and those two well-known snakes – the double-headed, hissing eternity – saw me off outside. The pine woods, darkness, Mi-chelle, her open eyes and the blood that lost its color in the dark. I sat next to her, I was holding her hands, holding her shoulders, and her trembling lungs did not dare to breathe. By the fuzzy contours of the trees, the stars were coming down, like shots and rockets that could launch both a war and a truce.

To this moment, I cannot remember how we went to the gas station, and how I filled Dad’s car up with gas. To this moment, I cannot remember how I managed to start the engine that switched off several times. It was spitting and raging, just like little Britney – I imagined her being first fed by the woman on the second floor of the inn. Having moved out of the city, we hid in the darkness of the forest, I dressed Michelle’s wound, disinfected it, and sewed it up again. The last stitch done, and with her head thrown back, the radio playing the most banal melodies, we eventually fell asleep.

lina simutyte 05Photo by Dalia Mikonytė

lina simutyte 06Photo by Dalia Mikonytė


Eventually, they filled the lake next to the inn with soil, and shared the riches of the potluck equally. They found Michelle’s mask, but she herself still remained missing. We have settled in the United States. There are many palm trees and small groves here, and heat is a much more frequent guest than in Vancouver. And yet, I often wake up, seeing the lake with flowing salmon and lilies that burst into bloom a month earlier. I see the water, I smell it, the lake is emptying and filling up again. Water is the most hypocritical of all, it can even rise again after it has subsided. Water is an actor and illusionist who always hides a trump card in his jacket sleeve.

I dream of Vancouver, I dream of Britney and the lake. A drained bottom or a black orchestra pit in theatre halls. In these awakenings, the water sounds like an un-tuned violin of the orchestra, which deliberately comes out of the pit, each time having turned into a trout or a perch tail.

And sometimes I think that a new, refurbished shopping center has emerged on the lake that has been filled. There, Britney buys sunflower seeds and shells them while sitting under the oak tree, or any other tree that has grown from an unfound potlach box with golden screws and springs. Britney probably does not like my dad driving her out to the kitchen and holding out to her the white apron with the letter B.

And then, I think that one day she will actually come to know how much can happen once you turn twenty.

 

 

Translated from Lithuanian by Aleksandra Fominaitė

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