Colours of Sage
Original by Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu
Translated, from the Turkish, by the author
Everything, but every single thing is cat hair, hanging in the air. Voices grouped up at the narrowest curve of the spiraling street. We are standing behind the crowd, all the way back. You have marks on your hands, stitches on your neck, your head. Drawn… You’re wearing the trenchcoat that makes your shoulders look wider, the one that you picked with your ex wife ten or so years ago. Your stance, your looks, old. Maybe that’s good, for me to get used to you once more. Quick… Summoning the memories back, just like that.
We were both crushed under the weight of tree. Carrying ourselves, carrying a husband and a wife. Hearts and hands full. The days when our freedoms of silence coincided, despite the window sills that wuthered with wind of the cheap apartment we rented in a neighborhood with walls around, the tirades that we both memorized with different decorations of two other houses at the background. Floors are always cold, don’t walk barefoot. It’s, too much.
I wasn’t expecting to see you like this either. Or that there were encounters freezing everyone and everything around. I actually took a step or two back, you saw it for sure. Each memory that I buried deep blasted as tornados, a catastrophic storm, I held on. Oh the stories that poured down from your gray face, I read it all in your moustache. I measured your distance. Without return, ice cold, no reparation. I leaned in to your neck, smelled the inside of your collar. Odors of I’m not coming home tonight, kids’ tuition, your father’s orange garden, underside your wife’s nails. Luckily, down under all my nose picked your ginger lemon essence. I used to recognize your face in magazines, you weren’t out in the middle much, but I catched you in places where I could hear your voice. You had ugly women with you, and veterans whose beards turned yellow from tobacco. After you finished reading your poem and gathered your papers, you would chat with those around. I waited in corners, for your eyes to find mine, or hid just when you turned your head towards me. One night I followed you until the tavern you went, mixed in the crowd and sat at your table. After a while I felt bad about what I did, and decided to leave. I was about to get up, and you noticed me. I let go of my bad that I was holding tightly, and told my name.
We shared beds. We even stopped changing sheets in time. Fell asleep with yesterday’s moans. Her in your arms, I’m in his. You wanted a room, a world, a place to put our bodies in. You hired that apartment. It had your name in the contract. You hanged the curtains and bought a couch. I chose the bed. Glasses, plates, ashtrays. Crooked, each one is different. Your books piled in there, a desk. Razor, lotions. I went ahead and fill the cracked tub with water. I spent time there even if I was alone, at noons. You bought me slippers.
When I look at you, hands black as ink squeeze my heart. I suffocate myself with wires. I see colours disappearing, harmony breaking, and a heart rotting. My insides stink. Flies fill my mouth. My head leaves your neck and I vomit on your shoes.
I didn’t know what to do when we were first alone together. To pass that doorstep, enter the house from its balcony. Which desire was I going to admit, which urges was I going to allow, how was I going to present me to you? My eyes, were they going to stay open as I leaned to kiss you? To moan or to scream, or to stay silent? To rewind back to the original or to create another, a newer version of all the women I had transformed into until then? I just laid there, as I couldn’t decide whether I should let you lead and act like a novice, unaware of all anatomy, or be an exaggerated whore. You gave a la. You pulled my hair from the back of my neck, with all your force and straightened me up. My eyes stayed wide open after that.
Two children happened to me that you held straight. Onions turning pink, beautiful sofas, manicures. To me, who you slapped and had sit on the sidewalk, insomnia, dehydration, and hunger happened. Numerous shortened sentence, lack of poetry, lots of walks by the beach, organs locked. Pictures of the Siberia trip that we would have taken stayed. Even your face was erased from memory. I forgot about your crude affection, tying my hands, hanging me to ceiling. I deleted your descriptions telling what you would do to me in the couchette compartment. You were before, you had dust on.
You grab my face and try to take what’s in my mouth. You’re scared that I’ll choke. You carry me to a cab. We’re in a second class hotel. Why didn’t we go to a hospital?
You formed something else out of me, out of the skin that I’d known to be mine, of what was under it, of my hair, my veins, sweat glands. I don’t remember much of it now. I remember anxiously trying to understand where you are in the room, with my eyes covered. Cold, goosebumps. But I do have slippers. You’re behind me, curled up on the couch. Then slippers are taken off of my feet, one by one. Everything that you’ve scraped off me, clogging the drain . Water, won’t just go. Gray, filthy, soapy. I see your legs between my legs. Your sweat like the water running.
I’m cold, pale. You try to warm me up, take my clothes off and rub. Lemon, ginger. The more you sweat the more lemon, and ginger. I want you to rub harder, my skin. I want it to have your mark. I’m shaking but I pretend to be shaking even more. So that you worry. Rub me more, I say, I’m getting warmer. You do. Where you rub turns green, I bruise. Days pass and I turn purple.
They differed so much. There wasn’t even a slight chance that they would meet. They wouldn’t like each other even if they did. They were that apart, that distant. They didn’t stand side by side in the street, not even by coincidence. They just turned yellow around the same time. One sensed in his wife’s face, the other in her husband’s; the secrecy. They played along. After a while, the husband forgot about the night he changed colour, even. The woman, however, pressed on her cramping stomach.
They talk about what they would do at each Trans-Siberian Express stop, after they’re done with sex. About tundra, ice, horses, meat… Slant-eyed children, girls and their pink cheeks, swords, myths, shamans… They feed the censer, and sleep. Their toes entangle while they sleep, and woman’s thigh pushes onto man’s concaving crotch. She falls on her but in her sleep again, she kicks and slaps the one next to her when she’s dreaming, might pull his hair, scratch his face, choke. The man who thinks she’s sleeping with one eye open, wakes up in the middle of the night to pee, and no matter how much he pees he cannot de-erect. He wakes her up. Same as what happened in the evening, but wilder now.
If more than one day are to be spent, the sun rises in the house in walls at three a.m. After eight there’s always the moon.
Door is locked twice, and the key rests in the hole.
Woman makes the bed with newly washed sheets that she brought rolled in her bag every time, man pulls from corners and straightens creases. Pillow case, duvet. Washed illicitly. The blanket on the couch. Stains, cigarette burns, crumbs. A whole day goes by in yoga poses.
From downward dog to her side, wide open to salute the sun, then to warrior, that’s when he can’t resist -the most- and throws himself on her. He likes to get a hold of her at the beginning of the sequence though. At the downward dog.
They cook sage. She walks every room with the enamel cup in her hand. They cough in the strong smell. After the licking, biting, scratching that last for hours, the pose is the same: Savasana. They place their palms on the fuzzy carpet, and wait to find a force that would fix their spines. Incense burns out, leaving ashes behind. It’s this mess that frees them the most. Far from highboys wiped clean.
The woman, she’s done asking why. She’s dizzy in the steam of her sex. She moves in harmony with the textured, deep voice of the poem that spirals around the phallus. The poet looses names, verses, measures while she does. She stops all of a sudden, a realization of some sort. That’s when he starts to tie hands. Behind her, in front of her. To the ceiling, to the floor. A short chain, a long chain. Pain. He buys an electric foot warmer to keep her feet warm in all the nakedness. Nice and warm air flow under her feet, as her crotch covers her head.
Asthangasana. An eccentric music in the background. Its mantra the poet. Toes on lips, groins on back, teeth in an armpit, thighs around the head. The stillness of entanglement. The only time they forget to leave the key in the hole. Chipboard door. Dirty door. Weak. Cheap. Trashy, its lock useless versus a credit card jiggle.
No matter how densed the passion, how strict the taboo, shame finds its way through the surface.
Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu is a Turkish author, now full-time resident in Georgia, who recently escaped from the political, cultural, and gender oppression in Turkey. She helped create the #MeToo movement within the Turkish publishing industry, from which she was then excommunicated. With an M.A. in Turkish Language and Literature from Bogazici University, Karabiyikoglu has five published books in Turkish and has recently completed translations of two new books for international publication. Having won six literary awards in her country, she has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in Fiction in 2019.