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 get to 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 we should come back to the village and ask anyone about the craftsman; that’s what people called him. I turned to Kevin, but he wasn’t paying attention.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked him, irritated.
‘Going through the man’s stuff, what do you think? Do you want anything?’
‘Yes, I want you to hear this.’
‘Hear what, Ava?’
‘That he plans to write about us.’
He lifted his eyes and looked at us both, then laughed for a couple of minutes before going back to the little wood sculptures. The craftsman’s eyes were laughing too; I couldn’t imagine him laughing wholeheartedly. He was only smiling, looking 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 car and go further down the drive, to our mountains. We were heading north for no reason. I said I wanted to get away from the city, he pointed north; soon, his intensity and my restlessness were on the road, and Kevin’s face looked happy for the first time in months. We thought we made a formidable team. Deep inside, I knew something was screaming ‘wrong’, but I didn’t know what it was. I only knew it had my voice.
Kevin kept going through all 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 quickly.
I had never heard of sharp prose before. Again, I turned to Kevin, but he was still not paying attention. ‘What is sharp prose?’
‘Ah, I thought you were going to ask. Everybody does.’
His remark instantly tempered my enthusiasm.
‘It’s the kind of prose that hits you, like a knife into the flesh. That’s how strong it comes.’
‘Oh,’ I said, frowning. ‘When you read it, or when you write it?’
‘What’s the difference?’ he laughed, then shook his head. ‘The answer to your question would be both.’ He stared at me for a couple of seconds. ‘Even when I watch you two.’
‘What is so inspiring about us?’ I asked, somewhat confused.
‘I am a craftsman, a musician and a writer,’ he reminded me. ‘It’s my job to find inspiration in everything. You might want to rephrase that.’
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 Ava and K. Our wildest moments, followed by our desire of a safe place to be in with a glass in one hand and the world in another, balancing life as we pleased 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 at him for not being 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 measured him. He was going to write, no doubt, but was it going to be beautiful? Sharp prose suddenly didn’t sound interesting to me anymore.
I went back to the car.
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 on the mountains if it wasn’t for them. I can’t see why they’re here, why we have to travel together, why God can’t give me one damn day to be happy, as a sample to show me what I’m missing out on.
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,’ I said, sarcastically. ‘I was indeed, you woke me up.’
‘No we didn’t,’ 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.
‘What’s your girlfriend’s name?’ I whispered to the guy’s ear.
He huffed 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 is not my girlfriend,’ he whispered and made me smile. I knew he lied, but I was happy he did.
I looked back at Kevin. He seemed happy; so did the girl. So did us, I was sure.
The new guy had his own music and insisted to play it. It sounded nice and filled me up with good vibes. Soon I got up for good and we were ready to be 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 the nothingness we found. They both laughed and nodded their heads, and I knew they understood me too. Kevin was, I assumed, concentrated on driving.
It was still early when we went to the café. Kevin asked me something and I agreed; it turned out I had agreed on another stop. We went in for breakfast and the other girl sat next to him. I didn’t mind.
At first I didn’t know the new guys’ 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 car’s window.
But the unwelcomed seemed to have found it the next morning. I felt more and more drawn to him as my Kevin and his almost lover were getting closer to each other. So were we.
I’ll call him R, as 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 charming and smelled of new, of rain on the roof and instant coffee and freshly cut grass, and my quest for perfection stopped right there for a while. I didn’t want right or wrong anymore, I only wanted fading colours on walls that weren’t home. He told us he didn’t want to be anywhere else but on the open road with us, in the back of a café, writing future plans on a white napkin. 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 friend 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 thought he was wonderful from a distance, but stubborn, untouchable and difficult to love, after all.
‘I just want to know who you are,’ I remember telling him.
‘Then get to know me,’ he said. ‘I don’t need to tell you complicated stories from the past. Look at me, absorb my words, my looks, my gestures. This is my only truth. All the rest are fractured realities with a taste of imagination. Osmosis.’
I tried to sleep that night, but nothing; and then everything, all at once. I was exhausted to the point of insomnia. So tired I couldn’t sleep, and so tired I couldn’t live. I turned around and R was sleeping peacefully next to his friend at my left. Kevin was in the 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, which, for the first time, I didn’t mind. 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. Detaching was hard. All I could do was wait for them to pass me by. This time, the cold air and R’s words changed the usual. They were the new dreamscapes, the new voices, the new smells of wilderness and of unfamiliar perfume in my world. R’s words came roaring through my mind, loud and eccentric, like the black spot on my light-coloured map of life. They seemed to be screaming from the top of his lungs, in his strong voice, almost covering my own. I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. 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 already 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 were 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 tell him that. Yet eventually I came to the conclusion that I only liked him because I wanted to be more like him. But it was going to take me time to learn, and time is nobody’s friend when they’re in a group. If I ever wanted to be like R, I had to detach from him and teach myself in silence from everything I was left with after being in his noisy presence.
The next morning, after we had breakfast, R and his girl told us they wanted to be on their own way again. We were in the craftsman’s village when they asked us to stop the car. 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 every other world eventually becomes your own when you enter it. There’s an infinite number of worlds around us, as there are people and places and absurd possibilities. Worlds are born and destroyed all the time, sometimes in the same day, sometimes as soon as they are created. 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 finally asked him. I got bored of sitting in the car by myself.
‘Estrangement,’ he said without even blinking. ‘I’m happy you came back, I already know the beginning.’
I rolled my eyes. I was right, he knew too little about us.
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.’
‘Yes,’ he laughed, ‘you and you alone.’
‘I don’t understand. You said you were going to write about us.’
‘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 my mind suddenly changed. He was anxious to write a story about me and now I desperately wanted it, so I turned back and asked him to write it on the spot. He said he only knew the beginning for now. I said that would be perfect, so he smiled and said he would be right back, then went inside. Kevin was getting impatient but I asked him to wait. We had a quick lunch in the car, with our eyes fixed on the little house. Eventually, about forty 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 as I put the piece of paper in my pocket.
‘You’ll read all I’ve figured out so far,’ he ended and waved goodbye again, while 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 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.
When we left the village, 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. Kevin laughed; said to be careful, that we’re not going back for another one. I wondered what another one would have been like, in that case. Would the craftsman even write a new one? Would he change his mind in the meantime, and make the new one entirely different?
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, and all there’s left is bruised noise in an empty warehouse, deafening her; they’re all inside her, she just can’t remember how to reach 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 when in fact, she has run out of love a long time ago. I tried to capture her soul and when I couldn’t, I thought I 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.
I like Ava. 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, or to the rhythms of music. She hasn’t caught fire yet, but she is already conscious of the blood pumping through her veins and her heavy, fearful heart. Men try to buy her another beer; 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 – playing her part like fire and water, burning on the inside, icy cold on the outside; a stranger to all but the lost and found self she is steadily moving into. As the water cools down, she begins to laugh with men and women at the bar, but her heart is still fast, still steaming. At her best, Ava is lovely, with no other boundaries than the ones she makes; at her worst, Ava has no roots and no substance. She is her lover’s lover without loving herself first, 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 thoughts, 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 is sharp prose?’ he asked, amused.
‘It’s the kind of prose that hits you, like a knife into the flesh. That’s how strong it comes.’
‘When you read it, when you write it, and when you live it.’ 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 looked at him and thought that, no matter who our new friends were or what the craftsman thought about me, the last thing I wanted Ava and Kevin to be was strangers. It didn’t matter that sometimes, we were; maybe that was the beauty of it. Maybe that was also the truth, but I swear it felt milder. I was going to write a story too, I thought, and this time it was going to be about the two of us. Words have the power to change minds and hearts. Words change the world.
My smile was genuine after that. It was all it took to feel my heart get warmer; knowing that I, too, had the power to write sharp prose and reshape the world I belonged to.
‘Never,’ I said.
‘I’ll keep driving north 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’ll make it even better.’
The truth is, maybe some stories really aren’t meant to be read. Some you just write. Others, you share. And ours, for now, we live.