Excerpt

In/Half

Jasmin B. Frelih, trans. Jason Blake

November 12, 2018 
The following is from Jasmin B. Frelih's novel, In/Half.Set 25 years into the future, the novel follows a group of Millennial friends who try to deal with the fragmented world they find themselves in, ripped apart by a glitch in the global communications network. Jasmin B. Frelih has written essays, short story collections, and a novel, and has won an award for the best literary debut at the Slovenian Book Fair as well as the EU Prize for Literature.

Pancake Palace

Desire is a rift. Dental floss was stuck between Evan’s teeth. Hot water ran from the tap. Instead of a mirror, a void on the wall. Jars of cream on the shelf. The toothbrush quivered. Steam rose. We are alone and we are all of us strangers. The rift widens, the hole deepens. A few hairs remained on the comb. Evan’s urine was thick and yellow. The water tasted of pipes. The marble was expensive and cold. Dust clung to his bare feet. His underwear was dappled with drops of sweat. Every one of his mornings was charged with moisture. His body complained, his joints crackled. Time is out of joint and his joints are out of time. He forgets his dreams immediately. Nothing but wrinkles and grey hairs. Eighteen thousand rotten mornings. There was no window. And no air. A barking cough. Mucus.

Violence in the shower cabin and then, after brief negotiations with existence, gradual peace. The towel was fresh. A poisonous cloud of deodorant. He turned off the tap. No shaving today. He walked naked around the flat. He did not feel. He pressed a button. While he waited for breakfast, he got dressed. What did it matter? His back hurt when he sat down. He got up, clasped his hands together and stretched. Crackling sounds. The little door in the wall opened. On the tray: fried eggs, strips of sun-dried tomatoes, creamy goat’s cheese. Crusty rolls with soft insides. A plastic bottle of water melted from an iceberg. He ate. The taste put him in a better mood. He walked over to the front door and picked the newspaper up from the floor. Lies and deception. He read while he ate. This isn’t supposed to be something you laugh at. Ideological fiction. He flung the paper at the wall. The letters quaked. He punctured the last yolk with a roll. He observed its runniness and felt a sense of regret. The crumbs got on his nerves. If it weren’t for his cleaning lady, he’d go nuts. He didn’t like cleaning women; it was repulsive to have someone know you that intimately. He never saw her, just her sterile imprint. Our fates aren’t interchangeable. If he was a cleaning lady, he’d hang himself. If he was anyone else, he’d hang himself. He felt a bit attached to his own self. A tiny bit.

He pressed a button, the tray disappeared. He picked up the newspaper. Leafed through it. Pressed a button. The console knew what he wanted. Plenty of sugar, plenty of milk, dark roast. Steam rose from the cup. He pressed his hand against his chest. Silence. He put the newspaper down. He forgot about it. A bag was lying under the table. He opened it and reached in. A packet of foil. He took it out and closed the bag. The mobile was charging. He unplugged it. A blue spark. He typed a message. I’ve run out. Lunch today? He deleted the question mark and added a full stop. He would never succeed unless he reached out into the world. What a fucking tragedy. He threw the phone on the bed. He opened the packet. Black dust. Love. He creased the foil down the middle and sprinkled the dust into his coffee, tapped gently, held his breath, and made sure that not a speck was wasted. No spoon. They never gave him one. He swivelled his cup in the air, making circles.

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He turned a dial. The windows became transparent. Half-transparent. The view was bearable. Another day of sun. The suffocating ball (seventy percent) became swollen at the edges, like water in an overfilled glass (ninety percent), and finally spilt over. He opened the balcony door and narrowed his eyes against the scalpels of rays. Cup in hand, he stepped out into the thin air. Squinting, he sat back in the armchair and draped his legs over the railing. He tested the coffee’s temperature against his lips. He gulped it down.

His pupils spun under his closed eyelids. Mercury poured into his veins. Bones of lithium, teeth of steel. Stars plummeted into his brain, his intestines rumbled like a locomotive. That opened his eyes.

. . . Clouds. . . puffy dandelion seed heads. . . an avalanche of snow poured from the sky. . . clouds, look! That one’s a moth, and that one’s a broom, and that one’s a monstrous white whale floating on its belly in the midst of an endless plain of ocean vaulted by the sky. . . Edo’s skyscrapers are sticks of concrete, a thorn-forest of glass and stone, rocky flashes, volcanic reeds ascending from boggy earth. . . cross-hatches of silkworm threads, spiderwebs of streets and pavements and metal lights…tiny parks sprouting like tufts of weeds in a quarry, green patches sewn over hole-ridden jeans. . . the line you trace over the roofs of the skyscrapers is like a zip; if you opened that zip, you’d tear the earth from space. . . the wind is dry as rice. . . an entire cityscape drawn on the eye. . .

The toothbrush quivered. Steam rose. We are alone and we are all of us strangers. The rift widens, the hole deepens. A few hairs remained on the comb.

He shook with comfort. He ran his hands over his face and giggled as his stubble tickled them. He caressed it in elongated strokes, like he was sculpting clay. The neck, the strings of veins, the ribbed arch, the touch of saggy fat over the belly. His hand reached into his pants and tugged at his limp member. Blood from the liver and the knees flowed into it. Lift-off.

*

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Down at the base of the skyscraper a few people looked up in surprise. The sky above them was cloudless and yet they had all felt thick drops upon their skin. They shrugged and went about their business.

Evan plopped back into the armchair, lifted his arse and hitched up his trousers. Now he was finally awake. Before completing his morning routine he was just a depressed shell, a barely-human with a burning desire for an end. Afterwards, everything became much more agreeable. More in accord with reality. What a fantastic view. From high above Edo, the tectonic conurbation that grew out of Tokyo and the surrounding metropolitan areas, he could, on a clear day, see the ocean. He had a spacious flat, paid for by Daimyō, where he could create in peace. Being a guest director, he had at his disposal all the delights of the city, and no one man would ever be able to exhaust all of Edo’s delights. Which didn’t mean Evan wasn’t giving it a shot. He’d been here almost a year, and when he wasn’t working on the show he was prowling about in search of pleasure. To help him, he had his sponsor—that’s what they called this blend of guardian, lawyer and agent here—Gordon Falstaff, a tall, grasping and overly obliging man with whom he at every opportunity romped and roistered through drinking dens, foreign flats and streets. He’d never imagined that he’d forge a new friendship so late in life, but he and Gordon had hit it off. In every human measure Evan was just a little bit better, and Gordon always took care to admit this minor advantage.

The beep of an incoming message rapidly brought him back inside. He threw himself onto the bed like a teenager in love, picked up the phone, rolled onto his back and read

—??? check out the papers, 3 o’clock at MUD, G. Papers? Evan sat down at the table and spread the newspaper out, draping it over the edges. An incredible tarp. Minuscule print. He didn’t know what to look for and felt lost. Decontamination Project Behind Schedule—UIGOPWTSOALSSV Demands More Money—Allegations of Corruption in Dry Russia—HADE Troops at the Equator—Increased Exchange Between AU and IA—Secessionist Tendencies on the Rise in South Pacific—Humanist Renaissance in the Caliphate, Section 89—Arctic Passage About to Open—boring, boring, boring.

He closed the newspaper and began to leaf through it anew, back to front. Races, crazes, catches, chronicles, culture. One Week Till Opening Night: An Interview with Evan Z—. He breezed through the article, just enough to convince himself that it was printed exactly the way he’d written it. He never gave live interviews; he had no stomach for that repugnant conflict between curiosity and denial. The journalist had sent him the questions and he had polished his answers to make himself look as good as possible. Honesty is for cretins. Everything is a performance. And if some naive twit really thinks that there are people who traipse about the world believing in the ‘cathartic mode of post-ideological praxis aimed at the sublimation of individual existence from the teleosymptomatic into the emotio-causal chronotope’, that’s his problem. When the journalist griped that she’d like at least a pinch of personality in his answers, he told her to come see his show.

He’d never imagined that he’d forge a new friendship so late in life, but he and Gordon had hit it off. In every human measure Evan was just a little bit better, and Gordon always took care to admit this minor advantage.

In the national news: Serial killers—Monogataro resigns—The new Daimyō: Instilling pride in the population—Five-year fixes—Too many foreigners in our insane asylums; Drugs only for citizens. Hm. Is that what Gordon had in mind? Did Gordon really think he cared about the asinine laws that were being concocted? Those applied to tourists and economic migrants, not artists. He tried to estimate how much the price would go up. At least fifty percent. Gordon’s wallet was a bottomless pit. Crazy, but true: they’d cloned a Neanderthal. Only now? You’d think they’d been around for thousands of years already.

The end of August had been mild. Hints of autumn. The wind, which until recently had been a hot, wet rag, now harboured cool undertones. One could breathe comfortably, even when the door was open. Evan fiddled with the buttons on his shirt. The newspaper had slid to the floor. He walked over to the console and ordered lemonade. Ice (crushed) and sugar, but not too much. He sipped it through a straw, relaxed. He was proud of himself. The show was ready; there were only a few run-throughs to go before the dress rehearsal. Just the toughest scenes. What a luxury. All that stress for nothing. For a long time he was sure he wouldn’t succeed. That he couldn’t succeed. That everything was conspiring against his vision, that time was deliberately racing too fast for him and that every nervous breakdown in the world had befallen his actors. His soundmen. Light bulbs bursting and stage boards splitting like the woodwork of a ship in a hurricane. But he’d done it. FILLING—A Parable of Things That Used to Be.

As a scaffold, Evan had used a text by a local author named Junichiro Marukama, a mournful carnivore who’d spent his youth behind a computer, loved his sister and, by twenty-five, survived three suicide attempts. Junichiro’s play was too pathetically grotesque to resist. Incestuous love triangles, talking dogs, episodes of hysteria and delectable one-liners (‘If you don’t clean up your room, I’ll give you an enema’, ‘I have to love you, Yukio, since there’s nothing else I feel for you’, ‘You have all decided to mistreat me, for you covet my relationship with God’)—the enormously desperate lamentations of a person who’d never got hold of anything worth losing. He’d offset that wailing of the eternal teenager with texts from the previous century. Hitler’s ecstatic diction, Burroughs’s junkie expectorations and Nina Simone’s sex appeal went hand-in-hand with the absurdly comic advice served up in magazines, 1960s American instructions for what to do in the event of nuclear war, concentration-camp inmates’ brutal reflections, all shot through with the banality of video games (‘How my heart beat, as he came running across the field to me! How convenient, you fight like a cow. He ran as if to bring me aid. To run, press shift. And I was penitent; for in my heart I had always despised him a little. Your beasts are becoming angry.’). The show’s sonic backdrop was an eclectic collage of pop music, football chants, the classical strains of Philip Glass and pornographic moans. The lighting was enough to trigger an epileptic fit in a blind man. Evan enthusiastically awaited the unctuous cornucopia of high-flown interpretations he’d be able to ridicule later. The show’s only point was this: anything conducted by humans was bound to dissolve into kitsch.

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From In/Half. Used with permission of Oneworld Publications. Copyright © 2018 by Jasmin B. Frelih.




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