CELESTE  OLALQUIAGA

SHORT STORIES

SHORT STORIES

From the unpublished “Short Stories for Long Years”

First series (1998-2001)

Seaport

 

Every night, as I throw out the garbage, I look down the street to the river and remember I live on an island.  For some reason, I have trouble registering this city as a harbor, even though its frantic exchange is what always excited me most. Now, with the end of winter lingering and my mind somewhere else, I see the dark, damp streets and the pink midnight glow and imagine myself in a cinematic wharf, something like “Querelle” maybe, lingering between bars -- the smell of fish heavily on the air -- happy, sexual, light.  A life I never had.  Manhattan is so dense with fog tonight that this entire block could be at sea and we would not know it. Lately, seagulls have taken to flying around the nearby buildings, their long, black-tipped wings flapping slowly upwards and then floating leisurely over the streets.  I want to soar with them in the sky. I have begun saying goodbye to my city.

My cousin from Hollywood

 

We, the Spencers from Bedfordshire, are proud people.  No matter how hard life has hit us, how forgotten we may be, we still know who we are.  My mother never learned to cook; in fact, she hates walking into a kitchen. My great-grandmother wore make-up and silk stockings until the day she died.  My great-uncle dresses like a dandy and goes out with his silver-capped cane even though he lives in the projects. We even have three Diana Spencers in our genealogical tree. And then there’s my cousin from Hollywood. She is very tall and calls people darling. The day of the wedding she had a wide beige dress like the ones Hassidic women wear when they go shopping. After everything was said and done, the family lingered over scotch and idle gossip; nobody noticed she had left. Then she reappeared wearing the shortest red leopard dress with matching red hat, floppy red sandals and bright-red cat sunglasses. Midnight in L.A.

 

Silver Thread

 

It was the hottest day of the year and the garden ceremony was about to begin.  I had just taken a second shower, its freshness dissolving the moment I walked out into the glaring white heat. Even under the trees it was hard to breathe, and I waved my large Spanish fan to stir some air, moving my wrist to and fro, watching the rows of strangers line the zigzagging paths below. A man caught my eye. He had dark glasses and was looking at me as if it was he who held the earth, and not the other way around. I felt tied to him from the gut. When he approached me, my skin was ablaze and my body palpitating in a rapid beat. He asked me pointblank to leave with him, his body almost touching mine. Stifled, I fled from his sudden charge and that pull which kept drawing me closer. To my surprise, he fizzled out. I had taken a gamble and lost. For the rest of the evening I remained a stoic portrait, an ice statue hanging from a broken thread.

 

Second series (begun in 2008)

The Blue Hour

 

Perhaps only in Paris, where one discovers all the shades of gray, can that hour the French call “between dog and wolf” (“entre chien et loup”) reach its perfection. Here, everything is about color, or rather its absence, the gradual passing from one pastel tonality to another giving the city an equivocal feeling of softness. Often, at day’s end, buildings and trees seem to blend with the sky in a thick cobalt hue, much like people in the subway conform an indistinct, neutral mass. It is a quiet moment, if one looks up, away from the hustle and bustle. The City of Light can be slow and heavy, its mood thick and turbulent as the Seine’s winter currents. Announcing the weather better than any forecast, the river changes from sunny green to powder chocolate, alive and temperamental despite the mud and trash that render its waters into zero visibility. Between dog and wolf lie centuries of taming, or nothing more than a light blue haze.

 

To a Passerby

His hands are soft as silk and hold mine with such gentleness that I cannot help but seek their warmth after withdrawing for a minute. We sit in the dark and his eyes shine as the conversation continues to take us into the night and that place where our desire already met, many years ago. A downcast version of his once fierce self, he is a dark prince who went to hell and scarcely made it back. Badly bruised, he carries his heart on his sleeve, happy to be alive. His intensity troubles me, I struggle to conceal the excitement and suspicion that linger for days after we kiss goodbye. Baudelaire. Beau de l’air... In his eyes I find a tenderness that somehow eluded me that first time, when I was supposedly reckless. I thought then I was escaping a bottomless pit. Who is the survivor now?

 

Chilean Scam

It used to be a bunch of bills where the first and last were legit and the rest make-believe. Well-dressed and soft-spoken, the swindlers targeted their prey near banks, summoning aid for some urgent personal matter. It would take a few minutes before the naive samaritans realized they had exchanged their money for a worthless package. Nowadays, there is no need to scam strangers. Acquaintances of many years leave you holding the bag, prancing away with a glint in their eyes. Nothing like pulling a fast one on an unsuspecting friend. Others make it a business to mind everybody else's, smooth-talking them into their own chaotic orbits. An illusion of closeness softens the edges that don't fit or follow, time takes care of the rest. National craft or unhappy coincidence, so many people from that slim, shaky country seem stuck with a twisted star.