Quisquilia: Lib. nov.

Quid autem tanto fortunae strepitu desideratis?

Category: short story

Sickbay for lamps

Quisquilia: Lib. nov. is to be found here.

Gramercy, Manhattan, NYC. Mar 2016.

Gramercy, Manhattan, NYC. Mar 2017.

The city is a busy place and at the centre of permanent change, the world of unremitting consequence and moving at a fast pace, and this is its engine, the energizer bunny of modern capitalism, the trailblazing wizards of finance and fashions reshaping business, at its core, the bellwethers of progress at its top, pushing social reform ahead hard and fast, or vice-versa, the innovators and custodians of wealth switching ever so often, urban architecture metastasizing and trade trailing the vanguard, feeling a crowd in motion breathing down their neck with a dream (the dream) in sight (and ever so little out of reach), there is no time for popping your toes while making headway, and only little patience for the idle and even less for the less fortunate and the ailing –

Or so it may seem, with even the rodents in Alphabet City in fierce competition for limited resources (endless supplies of food and borrowed opulence and scheduled obsolescence) and proving significant vectors of disease in a rat race of the n-th order, and we haven’t touched on the subject of people yet, and still, even among the busiest of the busy, in the midst of quarterly fluctuation of tenants, retail, business, and fads alike, there is a home for the sick and elderly at this stalwart of hardware and housing supplies, a dependable hub of community relations and neighbourly care among domestic and small appliances and plumbing fixtures, all of which set the background to everyday human interaction and drama.

For nigh on a century this store at the Eastern thoroughfare of Manhattan has offered a shelter and meticulous care for its patients, those with rusty contacts and broken charging cables, and others whose bulbs keep burning out easily with passion and a bang, the flashy ones and the period pieces, the chance findings from a garage sale, a clearance, or Brooklyn Flea, some wooden characters with a crack and a spine and table antiques with expressive lighting and mushroom-shaped shades, then the hapless ones with severed limbs and those who shed their switches or sequined dress a fortnight ago or forty more. Each one is restored with skill and craft, reassembled with polished care and exactitude, reanimated with enough heart to light a family’s home for the days to come and the solemn hours by the bedside, refurbished and repaired so that the gritty streets and their haste must not spill over into the rest at night.

– Here’s to Warshaw’s Hardware. Thanks for your visit!



She was born shortly before times changed for all time as the Old World perished along with societies and customs, manners and mores, at a time when three empires at once faded away in history’s memory and the maps were redrawn as result of a tragic game of dice, and she grew up safe and well in the middle of golden meadows and fields and farm life and close-knit communities and when the car came to replace the horse carriage which marked the rattling advent of modern times. Her husband fell on the Eastern Front during the Second World War, she fled and left her native country behind, die Heimat, along with the two boys, my father and uncle, bid farewell to their home. She was not even 32 years old, and her life had utterly changed again, for the second time. Just as the world had fallen apart.

At the age of 19 she decided to move to a different country and a foreign language and summoned up all her courage and hope and faith, and so my mother found herself comme au pair at a host family who gave her room and board, and for the most work, as she took care of their children and the household. By that time it was already an international city, this curious capital in the middle of Europe, in the late 1960’s, while at the same time an island completely isolated both in language and customs from the surrounding area, a conflict as present now as then, with hatred and resentment blazing in the eyes even today, and her mother tongue was not to be taken for granted as it is these days, especially on the markets of Ixelles where you find yourself in the trade of various commodities and amidst strange odours and smells and bitter herbs and with colonial people. At home there was her family’s corner shop.

We arrived at the house late at night, were welcomed, and the next day we sat down around the table and laughed and drank and ate food while we talked about our trip along the West Coast, the islands at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean where we had got a first idea about their history and got sunburnt in addition and gazed from above at the mountains in the distance and the enclosures composed of stone and centuries filled with poverty and strenuous effort, the Orange Order‘s parade right through the town centre of the capital in the North. Such a large family, uncle, aunt, their six children, plus grandchildren. Her first child was ill at birth, she was 34, she had acted like a big sister to me when I was young, and here she handed me the baby to keep and bear, such a tiny life in my hands, a lightweight amounting to almost nothing, delicate and slender with the biggest smile you can imagine. How can someone so small turn out so compelling?

All the three are sitting now at the dining table, she peaceful and free from the strict regiment of her mother, my great-grandmother, a daughter of the old times, formed in the Höhere Töchterschule in a land far, far gone, she worn by grief and illness, looking over her glasses, not looking through the lenses for an uncertain future to watch, she remembers, dreams a dream, forays into a life filled with happiness, and she who is the last of the three, the one raising three children does so with no worried heart but with firm hope: Each of them tells about ancestry and heritage, a story, narrative, of which we never shall get tired, our mothers’ lives.

[The Norwegian language original version of this text can be found here: http://www.quisquilia.net/nova_blog/wordpress/mødre-2313.html ]

Down there

Six pieces of sugar lie scattered next to the bed, thrown like some dice; a shade of foliage-pumpkin, sweet is in the way towards rest and slumber, I tiptoe around with delicate steps to not get stuck, fleet-footed I slip through a field of missteps and do not succumb to the caramel-tinged temptation, I withstand again and again and do not falter, I dive unto the bed and lie down full length, with all my heart, on the faithful mattress, immersing myself in the bedding’s smooth comfort; it pleases me sub rosa, the honey encloses me, lasts me, rocks me. The amber, honey’s blissful gift, feeds me all asleep and all encompassing.

Down there I find myself punched to the ground, crushed by those who go without names, on a beaten path and tarred, it takes only feathers to complete the ordeal, I am half-way done. Very close to me there are anaglyphic glasses, red-cyan, stuck to the asphalt, almost fused to and consumed by it despite the weather bringing little else but wet snow and other forms of precipitation, all miserable, all heavy on nightfall. This is a fellowship borne by shared humiliation, against a relentless rage that puts us to pieces and bestows upon us henceforth memories of joyless times, of kickings to the body and a blood stain, of skin-abrasions and a superficial tear. Deprived of my pride, I should recover and suck on the fingers instead, against all odds, the nuisance and unpleasantries.

The battered back, beat down, they dance on top of it. It is convenient to maintain a relationship with a fellow sufferer and to let loose altogether. In a repository made out of amber one can be spared, maintain belief in the promises of childhood, retract from fire, iron, bitumen; the colours spilled at the Gründerzeit school’s gate, behind the medieval church, among contemporary factions. Placed end to end, where is the difference between the slate grey of the educational facility and the sandy hue of the religious institution, both respectively houses of an angry and rigid God, and the yellow dark-brown secretion of the conifers they are talking about so much?

A crimson leaf attests to fall, that is when the sky cried tears of joy, a peck on the cheek, it turns the coating of the sidewalk bright and sunny, almost soft enough to sleep upon. One needs to look out for beauty, elicit her from life, for it does not hand her out for free. Over time, the fossil resin hardens the same way as the youth lying down side by side with the sugar.

[The French language original version of this text can be found here:
http://www.quisquilia.net/nova_blog/wordpress/la-bas-2289.html ]


Outside the city, night. The backyard boundaries are defined by dim light, glaring shades that cut through the layers of snow that settled here during the day on the grass beyond the stone wall enclosing our premises, on the path to the square with the garbage containers on its left, on the sandbox to the right, on the roofs of the houses opposite and next to it which have been whitened by a faint drift of snow. The backyard is tightly enclosed on both sides, only half-open towards the rear wall, above it, there are a number of apartment blocks visible; it is nothing but a black breathing, heavy and very fast paced.

Something lingers motionless beneath, schemenhaft and threatening, below the balcony on the third floor where I am. Light shines in through the window, its glass pane filtering the night, yet a cool draft of air is creeping in, roaming around in the room, caresses the curtains’ fabric, the quilt, my feet, kisses me with thin lips. I lie here in bed and try to sleep, I lay down early, long before midnight, in vain. I’ve seen your face too often. Winter whitens the night.

Tonight, when I came back, I met my neighbor at the door of the house. Apparently he is moving, was about to transport his belongings to his car; the door was held open by his moving boxes, on top of which there were children’s toys. We’ve never talked before. A kid on my floor, wouldn’t I have noticed? Is that possible? He is about 40 years old, slim, thinning hair, rather the type employee than someone who works physically, with your hands and body; seemingly comfortable, yet with a fleeting glance through his glasses, which lenses shelter him against the outside, not a risk. A type of wuss. Need some help? I ask. No, no, everything’s fine, he responds to my offer. And that’s it with our first conversation ever, and also with my dealings with others for today.

Every situation has its own language. Has this mousy man had part in my life? In my transgressions? Two doors and a maximum of three meters or less, a little more than a landing, that is not really enough distance to distinguish different lives. And yet this has been the first time that I peered through the opposite door into the nearby home realm there when I was walking upstairs towards my apartment; I took no more than a glance at the furniture in the hall, a white bench, a dresser, the dark pattern of wood flooring, the open door to the bathroom at the end of the corridor which seemed like a twin of mine, a white-tiled bright room without windows.

All the other doors, to the right, left, closed. I used to love winter nights, waiting impatiently for their clarion advent, fond of their alluring glory, a promise in all its brilliance of making things equal, equitable, the snowflakes’ dance. Not anymore. The night is outside without boundaries.

[The Norwegian language original version of this text can be found here: http://www.quisquilia.net/nova_blog/wordpress/utenfor-2277.html ]