He said he was going to write a story about us. I took it seriously. Later, I found out it was. I was excited to hear that we could inspire someone to turn us into literature, even if nobody would ever read it. Maybe some stories aren’t meant to be read.
The man didn’t even have a name. I asked, because I wanted to find him on the way back. He laughed at my plan and said that we should come back to the village and ask anyone for the craftsman; that was what people called him. I turned to Kevin, but he wasn’t paying attention.
“What are you doing?” I asked, irritated.
“Going through the man’s stuff, what do you think I’m doing? Do you want anything?”
“Yes, I want you to hear this.”
“Hear what, Ava?”
“That he plans to write about us.”
Kevin finally took one good look at the craftsman, then laughed for a couple of seconds and went back to the little wood sculptures for sale. The craftsman’s eyes were laughing too. I was embarrassed, but he showed me not to be. I couldn’t imagine him laughing wholeheartedly, I thought. He was only smiling, looking all peaceful and wise.
I wanted to hear about his idea so badly, even if he was going to forget it the moment Kevin and I got back to the van and went further up the mountains. We were heading north for no reason. I said I wanted to get away from the city, he pointed north. Soon we were on the road, and Kevin’s face looked happy for the first time in months.
Kevin kept going through the abstract sculptures with a genuine interest, but I knew he wasn’t going to buy anything. I also thought I knew him inside out at that point. His patience bought me more time to talk to the craftsman. Short of breath and thrilled at the thought of being seen through someone’s eyes and put on paper, I asked him what it was going to be.
“Sharp prose,” he answered.
I had never heard of sharp prose before. Again, I turned to Kevin, but he was still not paying attention.
“Leave him,” the craftsman said.
“Not like that, silly girl. Let him look.”
The craftsman winked at me and I thought I knew why, but I wasn’t going to confirm it until later.
“What is sharp prose?”
“Ah, I was waiting for you to ask that. Everybody wants to know.”
Everybody? His remark instantly tempered my enthusiasm.
“It’s the kind of prose that hits you like a knife into the flesh.”
“Oh. Wonderful. When you read it or when you write it?”
“What’s the difference?” he smiled.
Kevin suddenly said we were leaving – of course.
“What is so inspiring about us?” I asked, somewhat confused, mostly to myself.
I looked around, trying to clear my head and come up with a better question. There was no better question, though. We were the only ones who could have known why stories should be written about us. Our wildest moments, followed by our desire of a safe place to be in, with a glass in one hand and the world in the other; balancing life and all the scraps of life that couldn’t inspire anybody, because they were like treasures buried on a remote island, when all this man has seen so far was the water.
We weren’t talking, we weren’t even looking at each other. Kevin was still playing with the little figurines, I was still angry with him for not being quite the mirror they tell you a lover is. How could this be inspiring? How could this say anything about the richness of our times together, the gaps in our lives, the length of the story?
I turned to the strange old man and looked him up and down. He was going to write, no doubt, but was it going to be good? Sharp prose suddenly didn’t sound interesting to me anymore. It couldn’t have been true, even if it was good. It couldn’t have been about us, really.
I went back to the van.
Days before, I woke up and opened my eyes to the sun shining through the blinds. The guys were talking next to me; she was laughing at his every joke. I closed them back.
I don’t like other people, I said to myself, they take too long. I’d already be up in the mountains if it wasn’t for them.
The other guy got up and turned the radio on, then gently shook my left shoulder. I couldn’t pretend to be asleep anymore, so I opened my eyes again.
“I knew you were awake,” he said. “I saw you.”
“Wonderful. Thanks for waking me up for good.”
“We have to go,” Kevin shouted from the front of the van.
I lifted my head and looked at him. He was sharing a drink with the girl. She liked him, no doubt. You don’t share a drink with a guy unless you like him and you want him to know that. As for him, well…
“What’s your girlfriend’s name?” I whispered to the other guy.
He smiled and looked at her. His face was in the sunlight and I, dizzy as I was, couldn’t stop staring at his skin, jawlines, lips.
“She’s not my girlfriend,” he whispered back.
He had his own music and insisted on playing it. It sounded nice and filled me up with good vibes. Soon, we were on our way again. I sat in the back, with her. She told me they were going nowhere when their car broke down, halfway there. He turned around and smiled at us. I understood exactly what that meant. I told them Kevin and I had been there, and this was our great escape from it. They both laughed and nodded their heads.
It was still early when we went to the café. Kevin asked me something and I agreed. It turned out I had agreed on the first stop of the day. We went in for breakfast and the other girl sat next to him. I didn’t mind.
At first, I didn’t know their names and wanted to ask for them, but as the time passed I felt more and more embarrassed. When Kevin agreed to take them with us I didn’t pay attention to what they said. They were strangers joining our road trip and I could only hope they would leave us alone again soon. Kevin laughed at my worried face, said we left to have fun and this was what we were doing. Strangers, however, weren’t my idea of fun. He told me to loosen up. I locked myself inside my head and threw the key out of the window.
But the new guys seemed to have found it the next morning. I felt more and more drawn to him as my Kevin and his almost lover were also chatting away. To this day I have no clue what they ever talked about.
I’ll call him R. I found out later what his name was, but it isn’t relevant to the story. In my head, he will forever be a black spot with a white R in the middle, like a milestone on the road.
R was friendly, charming and smelled of new, of rain on the roof and instant coffee and freshly cut grass. My quest for perfection stopped at him for a while. He told us he didn’t want to be anywhere else but on the open road. He longed for the clean feeling that only being away from what hurts can bring. I wanted to know what hurt, but he said it’s different for everyone, so I could just think about my story for a while; in the end, it feels just the same.
He had a story that he didn’t want to share, and while his girl and Kevin were fine with that, it left me curious and impatient. R laughed at me and said that mind-wandering is not the same as travelling. That mind wandering would eventually tie my arms and legs together and force me to live inside, which was the thing that frightened him the most. I frowned at his fear and thought to myself that he was wonderful from a distance, but stubborn, untouchable, and difficult to love up close, after all.
“I think I’d like to know who you are,” I remember telling him.
“Then get to know me,” he said. “I don’t need to tell you any stories. Look at me and you’ll see all you need. The rest are just that: stories. Fractured realities with a taste of imagination.”
I tried to sleep that night, but nothing; and then everything, all at once. I turned around and R was sleeping peacefully next to the girl at my left. Kevin was further back, fidgeting in his sleep. I was wide awake no matter what, so I took my sweater and went outside.
The air was stronger up there. I lay on the grass, counting stars and rethinking the trip. I spent what must have been hours in the back of my head, with an imaginary bottle of red wine and dark sunglasses on, as the stampede of what-ifs had its fun in front of me.
R was different from me in a way that I couldn’t understand. He didn’t want to accept the burden of the definitions life had given him, while I couldn’t think of myself in any other terms. I suppose we were like matching ends. He began where I ended, and the fine line between us was the limitations we couldn’t live with, or without.
I felt my head spinning for hours that night. I liked R and wanted to think of how to show him that. But eventually, I came to the conclusion that I only liked him because I wanted to be more like him. Kevin was too much like me, and had been around me too long. The intruder was fresh and exciting, but didn’t remind me of myself in any way, which meant that hating him would have been harder, but loving him would have been extra harder too.
The next morning, after we had breakfast, R and the girl told us they wanted to be on their own again. We were in the craftsman’s village when they asked us to stop. They were going to stay there for the night and leave the following day. I asked them what their next stop would be; they both said they were still going nowhere, and laughed together.
Kevin and I looked at each other and knew that it wasn’t real. She didn’t have a crush on him, as he didn’t have a crush on me. They were just a glimpse of another world, and it was fascinating to watch and fantasise a little. But craving for new is very often pointless, for the new is rarely new and it almost never stays that way for long. Kevin and I saw an illusion walking away from us, and silently decided not to mention it again.
“What would the main theme be?” I asked him.
I got bored of sitting in the van all by myself. Kevin, as predicted, wasn’t ready to leave. He would say that, then change his mind and keep looking. And then, of course, he still wasn’t going to buy a thing.
“Estrangement,” he said without even blinking. “I’m happy you came back. I already thought about how the first paragraph should look.”
I rolled my eyes.
Another few minutes passed until I grabbed Kevin, telling him that it was getting late and dark outside. I couldn’t wait to finally enjoy our trip like we should have from the start. The man waved goodbye and reminded me to return to see him. I, on the other hand, was determined not to, and thanked him but said that I wasn’t interested.
“You should be,” he told me. “It is, after all, a story about you.”
“You mean, about us,” I said, pointing at Kevin standing next to me, still busy looking at the figurines.
“No, I said I was going to write about you. Look for me when you come back, will you?”
Kevin laughed at the strange man and so did I, but then – wait. He not only wanted to write a story about me and me alone, he had also just started it somehow. I asked him if he could write it on the spot. Unsurprisingly, I guess, he smiled and said that he would be right back, then went inside.
Kevin and I had a quick lunch in the van, with our eyes fixed on the little house. Eventually, about twenty minutes later, the craftsman came outside with a piece of paper folded in his hand and gave it to me. He told me to read it and come say hello on my way back. He would try to write some more. I was a different kind of muse, he said.
“Different how?” I asked, putting the piece of paper in my pocket.
“You’ll read all I’ve figured out so far. The rest is still coming to me, dear girl,” he ended and waved goodbye, still close to me.
For a while, I didn’t feel like taking the paper out. I was terrified of what a man whose smile never seemed to fade could have written about a girl like me. Then there was the thrill of knowing that someone’s thoughts on me were resting, unseen yet, in my pocket. It gave me an energy that I had been lacking for a while. Kevin didn’t say anything. He was waiting for me to read my story and carry on with the day.
After we left the village for good, I took the paper out with both hands. We were driving with the windows down and the wind was strong. I had to tie my hair and hold the paper between my teeth for a bit. Kevin laughed and said to be careful, that we were not going back for another one. I wondered what another one would have been like. The same? Entirely different? Could I have asked for a new one, had I lost this one to the wind?
‘There are two strangers outside my house. They are strangers to each other. One is Ava, the one who doesn’t belong. She doesn’t want to be here, in the north, in her body. She doesn’t want to be in the presence of somebody else. She is next to her lover, a man she isn’t herself around. Ava is quiet and evasive. She has many secrets that she’s left in places she’s forgotten now. They are all inside her, she just can’t remember how to get to them. Ava is irrational and seductive, like a blurred vision of a promised land. She is not the promised land; she is the blur.
Ava doesn’t know she is a stranger; she thinks she is her lover’s lover. But she is running after herself, and away from him. Her lover doesn’t know how much of a stranger Ava is to him, after all. I tried to capture her soul and when I couldn’t, I thought I had lost my ability to see beyond the surface and write about the essence. Ava is dust, floating around the air in sunlight. She is so soft, so easy, so lost. She can’t be grabbed by the heart and drawn onto paper. She has run out of essence. She is a stranger to herself, too.
But I like Ava, and I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t. She is light and beautiful. I can see her at a jazz concert, her brown skinny fingers around a bottle of beer, her presence opening doors to another world. She is slowly moving through the aquarium of feelings she’s trapped in, to the rhythms of music. Men try to buy her another drink as she keeps dancing on her own. Soon, she is one with the night, unaware of the others. This is how I see Ava reunited with herself – burning on the inside, icy cold on the outside. A stranger to all but the lost and found self she is steadily moving into, before they can know her again.
As the water cools down, she begins to laugh with others at the bar, but her heart is still fast, still steaming. This is Ava at her best: lovely, with no other boundaries than the ones she makes. At her worst, she has no roots and no substance. She is her lover’s lover without loving herself first and him second. A light presence that has a hard time being present in her world, her time, her self. A mix of unrefined particles carried from here to there by her own storms, like snow carried up into the air in wintertime.’
I suddenly felt Kevin’s touch on my shoulder.
“Well, what is it?”
“I… it’s sharp prose.”
“What now?” he asked, amused.
“It’s the kind of prose that hits you like a knife into the flesh.”
“When you read it, when you write it, and when you live it,” I mumbled to myself.
I lifted my head up and he was looking at me like maybe I had lost my mind reading it.
“Give me that,” he said, but I tore the paper in halves and threw it out. “What have you done that for?”
I put my head out the car’s window to take a deep breath and cool off. The wind was even stronger. Kevin’s hand was on my back, pulling me inside.
“Do you want to go back?” he asked in a serious voice.
I thought that, no matter what the craftsman thought he saw in me one hour ago, the last thing I wanted Ava and Kevin to be was strangers. He got a few things right, no doubt. But stories aren’t static and I wasn’t just that. And, if I learnt anything at all from our new friends, it was that stories are fractured realities with a taste of imagination only. Never to be taken too seriously and mistaken for the whole truth. Look at me and you’ll see all you need, I told myself and watched my smile grow in the rearview mirror; and Kevin, focused on the road, sitting next to me.
“Never,” I said.
“I’ll keep driving then, close the window if it gets too cold. And tell me what that old man wrote about, will you?”
“Never,” I said again, and laughed.
“I’ll have to get back and get my own story then,” he smiled.
“I’ll deal with yours,” I said. “I’ll make it even better. And maybe a little less sharp.”