the (almost) daily appreciator

Friday, November 17, 2006

textual healing: Styx´ Delta

One of the many advantages of having talented people as best friends is that one often has to read things one would normally decline to read - only to realize what one would be missing - it´s liberating and opens up a whole new world of artistic appreciation.
Beate´s "Styx` Delta" should be in Creative Writing or just plain Literary Studies textbooks, as prime example of the use of body parts: as symbol, as observational details, as triggers of memories/flashbacks, as possibilities for sensuous and sensual descriptions laden with meaning. Also it could just be there as prime example of a fully realized concept - I dare not say "short story" as it manages to condense an entire relationship into a few scenes full of well-observed details, and the hand is always present, without it being a case of "Ohmygod, we got it already: hands are great". Just watch the hands of people you meet, or try to be aware of your hands in action - not just Italians talk with their hands. Everyone tries to keep their hands occupied, usually unconciously; everyone uses them to stress what they´re saying.
This is more a prose-poem about death, memories and relationships than a short story - and I´m not saying these things out of encouraging friendship - I´ve had my editorial gripes, reading it just now, I found minor mistakes, but they can be so easily corrected as to make this part of the critique completely useless after a short readthrough.
So here goes:
when i get that feeling
i want textual healing...

Styx' Delta by Beate Schulz

She thought she would always recognize his hands. Would she, really? Even if they were cut off like gorilla paws they made ashtrays of, if they were lying in a pile of other dirty, pale hands? Like an Arabian souvenir bazaar: the latest hands cut off some barbarian thieves. Would she recognize his hands even then? Once they had examined the ornaments their veins formed at their wrists and imagined of which river they could be a delta. Did Styx have a delta?
They had read a children's book together- he adored children's books - and in this one book the heroes had to cross Styx to continue their journey through the underworld and the shore was full of bones. And they used the bones to build a raft and maybe they used the hands to join the larger bones. She remembered falling asleep while he read on, casting her last half -awake look at his fingers, moving away from her, even more slender and white than usual . . .
Sometimes when she woke up at night she put her hand on his. He always slept on his back, his hands on his breast or stomach and she lay her palm on the back of his hand. Her fingers were so much shorter, they barely reached the last joints of his and she couldn't even trick a few millimetres with her nails, because he liked her to keep them short, he said that everything else about her reminded him of a cat, she didn't need to have the claws of a cat either. He always smiled in his sleep when she crossed her fingers with his, a pattern of okker and alabaster bound together under a dim night light.
Maybe she would be able to stop her lids from fluttering if she concentrated hard enough and focused her eyes on - nothing. Anyway she had never understood the fuss everybody made about the eyes, windows to the soul, when you want to know the truth about somebody look him in the eyes, fiddlededee. Anatomically speaking, which he did a lot while watching splatter movies, they can be easily replaced by empty balls of glass and most of the time watching Columbo they spent on guessing which one was the real eye. Maybe she should try to concentrate on something else than murder series.
When he was concentrated she could easily trace the movements of his thoughts by the position of his left hand. First when he tried to get hold of the principle structure behind a problem his hand was clawed on the table, the palm pressed flat against the mahogany, the fingers bending in arches like croquet hoops so that the skin tightened above the joints and dimples showed at the knuckles. And when his "academic's block" broke, the fingers knocked rhythmically on the wood in an exact wave. The finale of a thesis was marked by a hard hit with the flat hand catching a historical fly. If it proved to be the wrong fly his notes didn't end up as targets for one of those basketball-paper-baskets. Instead he mocked himself by folding them into little origami geese or blind pecking chickens, sometimes showing his teeth in a morbid grin while handing them over to her.
During the time of his ‚courtship' he sometimes delighted in embarrassing her in restaurants by ordering in the manner of favourite movie characters, doing a nonchalant Cary Grant, scary Boris Karloff or cynical Clark Gable. But that wasn't the worst of it; by the time he knew he had won her over, he occasionally criticised the food by dying over it - completely in character. When she blushed he tried to cheer her up ‚Honey I promise never to die in a restaurant'.
Although they loved the cinema - the big-screen multiplexes and the cosy velvet-curtain theatres - they preferred to watch their favourite movies at home. Multi-video binges with at least four videos, sometimes fighting fierce wars with popcorn and other candy missiles over the remote control. But they always finished with a movie they both liked; he leaned back on the broad sofa while she used his belly as a cushion, her head sensing the slight up and down in the rhythm of his breath. Occasionally she got tired over the last few scenes, but he never allowed her to miss 'the end'. He kept her awake, tickling the well of her palm, nibbling and kissing the base of her thumb. Mount Venus as a palm-reader had called it.
Her mother had introduced her to that palm-reader, pompous git and so of the track with every prophecy. She relied on his physiognomy and believed she could figure a person's character by feeling the lines of his or her skull and cheekbones, but he never held still to let her trace them, therefore she foresaw that he would definitely make her unhappy. And again down in the drenches, new round of fighting when her mother would tell her she was right after all. Screaming, hurting, blaming, the whole range of outrage-repertoire, hurting and comfortingly distracting.
Whenever she had one of her stormy tempers he used to sit in an armchair, a pillar of calmness and tender irony, grinning, hands folded in his lap, twiddling the thumbs, waiting for her to let it all out and then stop her ‚rumperstilzchen-look-alikes', as he called her outrages. It was different if they had real quarrels, then he jammed his fists in his pockets stemming his own fury and pain. Afterwards he usually retreated to his work-bench, carving, mending or building furniture. She could feel the calluses on the cushions of his palm when he caressed her after their reconciliations. Absolution came at night, when he laid his hand on her cheek, a wrinkle showing at the fork of his thumb as it gently stroked a wrinkle at her eye. A smile in his voice as he mocked himself,quoting ‚Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn'. Not anymore.
She didn't know what she expected when she finally dared to touch his hand. Maybe the reassuring warmth and the vivid pulse of his delta, although she knew better. At least it wasn't dreadful, only peculiar - cold and wobbly like a cooled down hot-water-bottle - with a familiar surface of fine hairs and meandering veins. She lay her palm on the back of his hand, crossing her fingers with his, a pattern of dried clay and washed-out atlas loosely held under a neon-light. She did not look at his face when she drew the linen over the strange hand and left.


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