Sjøgata is still deserted. I adore this time of the day. Just walking, head hooded, taking my time while drawing in a thread of smoke, devoured by the evening mist.
In the coffeeshop there are two lasses spilling secrets to each other. I buy a ginger tea and apple cake. On the tv screen, the presenter’s eyes widen periodically. Olemic Thommessen has met with a fellow in the East. They display his name and country on the screen. The coffeeshop is getting blurry and the people there once again turn to jelly. I thought I had managed to break loose, but a single word was enough to bring me back to the slimy dip which represents the dark side of my life. As soon as I wake up, before even grabbing the remote for the blinds, my mind fills up with a grey, toxic paste. I used to smoke for a while in high school. Especially in the evenings, after classes – I would just get on my bike without saying goodbye to anyone and even ignored the puffed skirts of the girls. I wore white socks, distinguishable the perfect amount below the jeans and a red coat that I almost never took off. I would pedal quickly, desperately, until I reached the seawall, where I lit my cigarette, utterly alone, nobody pressing me. My goal was not to boast or win some sort of competition; I simply enjoyed it, smoking passionately and guiltily, my mother’s face constantly present in my mind. And I filled my lungs with thick smoke, as my nose perfused with that smell of stables and sheets which welcomed generations of disparate lovers. In that moment of intense freedom, I could see my mother, as they say, enduring her motherly pain, upset to the core. So that was when any trace of pleasure calcified just so that it could turn to dust, in the middle of my lungs and my smoker’s bliss. That exact aching mix of pleasure and guilt I am experiencing again today, when my soul is overcome by this gall mire named Alisa. As soon as I wake up, before even raising the blinds, she’s there, white and dark, like a wart you’re afraid to remove. I am gnawing on my toast and with each bite, Alisa enters me as well, impossible to remove from the fibres of my slice of bread. I wash the cup, always persistently, and when I place it back in the cupboard it’s once again covered by Alisa’s face.
Each time I get out of the house I am under the impression that I’ve rid myself of her. Each day I tell myself: today is going to be a day without Alisa! I plan ahead, selecting topics to think about while working out, since at the gym in particular I try to cast her away, think nice thoughts, broach grand subjects, imagine stories nobody has yet written. Each time, however, I end up stuck in the same poisoned marmalade where my brain is suffocating, the same mayonnaise prepared by millions of Alisas, whom a ludic alien kept in snake venom.
On the screen of the TV in the coffeeshop the news flows quickly, but my eyes, my real eyes, buried in the lens of the visible ones, my perverted, inner eyes, mince a single piece of information. Olemic met a fellow in a foreign country and from my perspective, on the European map there are only neighbouring countries to my country or neighbouring countries to hers. The smiling popinjay who paraded on the screen for a moment is closer to Alisa than I am. And a simple word like this reweaves the threads broken half an hour before, reminding me of my sojourn in Bucharest, before being fed a one-way ticket to this poisoned mist, this narcotic cloud named Alisa.
I go outside, determined not to think of her anymore. Everything looks white and empty. The lights of the city help me, like a sepia-tone photograph of my grandfather. In the distance, the water flowers rustle. Allegedly. I am the only one who hears them, which makes me have faith in the evening that is falling. Nights in Mosjøen are made of elf wings and the restless flowers of the fjords. Especially during winter.
A Mercedes stops next to me and I try to casually look beyond it, although the stirring of anticipation already stops me in my tracks. A second later I see Helmine. I had almost forgotten about her. The Weather girl. She’s not that pleased to see me either, but she asks me how I am doing either way.
“We haven’t seen each other in two years, isn’t it, David?”
“Tell me – how many women have you made cry during all this time?”
I smile, although the joke is bitter. Helmine has the dissimulated gaze of someone living on the screen. Even with her beanie covering it, she continues to pretend.
“Are you still working with us? Oh wait, I’ve recently heard some news about you! You’ve made a film which brought you a bunch of prizes! See, I am in the loop!”
Despite wanting to hold my ground, I am touched by her consideration.
“Let’s take a photo together, Helmine!”
I pull out my phone and without waiting for her to approve, I take off my glove and click twice.
“Oh, it’s not that bad”, I observe and Helmine agrees. I’ll post it on Facebook, for both to remember this encounter!
“You do that, David!” she encourages me and then we part naturally, as if from that moment on we would be seeing each other daily. I don’t ask for her phone number. She doesn’t ask where I’ve been hanging out lately.
It’s a nice selfie. I was careful to make her stand in front of me, so that only my satisfied tomcat’s eyes are visible. It’s not a photo, it’s sheer luck on an evening that promised to be barren. A thousand catch-phrases cross my mind on the way home. Nothing seems adequate. Nothing pleases me. I am not writing anything while walking anyway. I can’t just waste Helmine like that, blindly! She’s an offering which deserves to be fully used to good advantage. I need the whole comfort-related package.
I sit in my armchair, search for the MTV channel and bring myself a Hansa to drink.
There’s some intense activity on Facebook. I could search Alisa’s page, but I refrain from doing it. I need all my dignity tonight. I upload the picture and write: old loves. Then Helmina’s offended face pops into my mind and I renounce the idea. I could call Elaine and take a photo with her, so that I become indeed entitled to write: old loves. But that would mean having to stand her until tomorrow morning. And this isn’t even about her. Or anybody else. In my mire of melted caramel there isn’t place for anybody. No woman. I feel trapped like a sponge in a sink filled with dirty dishes. I am a caged wolf. Stuck in Alisa. Breathing for Alisa. I am a tiny nibble swallowed by Alisa.
I delete the text and write Evening on Sjøgata instead. As soon as I post it, I can feel in my blood that perfidious thorn which tells me without trace of a doubt that Alisa is on Facebook. I can see her hunched over the phone, a golden Samsung, holding it between her thumb and index finger. There’s still a trail of light on her side of the world, as the day is longer there. She’s probably outside, looking at Helmina’s mouth, examining my eyes. I feel satisfied for a moment, although my ventricles dilate enough to fit inside two small Alisas, while down my throat discontentment quickly takes over. Although she’s there and I can feel her and I could swear that her gaze is glued to my picture, she won’t say a word, she won’t type any message. I won’t even receive a damn like from her. She sees me and hates me, in her poisoned bubble of silence where I am forced to live. My life, which hurts, is called Alisa.
(trans Bianca Zbarcea)