There were several visual cues to rep/carbon-date Sevilla
the giant waffle
the labyrinth streets
the church opposite a Starbucks or a Starbucks opposite a church
whichever came first
but the only places Sila had been the last few days were the hostel hidden in the side of an old building, the modernist bus depot currently making up the backdrop and the train station when they’d first arrived.
And a bookshop too, to get a Danish to English dictionary, but just like in Barcelona and Valencia and Almeria and Granada there were none, only Danish to Spanish, so each time he wanted to talk to his sudden daughter he had to look up the Spanish then translate that into Danish which he wasn’t even sure she understood as every time she spoke back it was brief and mumbled.
In the end, depressingly, he had no choice but to fall back on the phone, the thing all his high school friends would’ve started with.
Which didn’t help much.
Recorded audio fuzz or his own voice, both failed around 72% of the time. And the ones that did land got a yes or no in drizzled response.
Two thoughts came to mind, as the queue to the ticket booth ahead shortened.
One, as a mythological demon, maybe it was old Danish she knew?
Two, as a mythological demon in modern times, shouldn’t she know a bit more of up-to-date Danish?
And a wildcard third: maybe he was the first foreigner to attempt Danish on her and she couldn’t get past the out of phase errors?
Sila looked down at the top of the girl’s blonde head and found something new to say, typing it out quickly and then, a minute later, eking it out in the simplest possible sentence:
‘Are you looking forward to Portugal?’
The girl looked up and instantized the usual stare.
Maybe there was a smile, he didn’t know. The medical mask covering her mouth made it hard to determine.
But it was mundane to repeat the same line, so he changed it to some Danish he remembered:
‘Are you happy?’
She dipped her head and mask, and went back to looking at the corner of the train station. It was understandable; there was a big hole in the wall that wasn’t being fixed. Apparently, it had been like that for two years.
In fact, Sila remembered reading about it online. Four locals had driven through, in protest at the lack of a new breed of socialism in the country. They’d picked the bus station as the most likely place to reach the right people, but they overestimated the size of hole they would make, so, when the two surviving guys got out of hospital, they came straight back with sledgehammers and made the hole bigger and after the police had caught up and put them away for four years, others came, with sledgehammers, chisels, regular hammers etc and finished what they’d started and, in the end, the hole in the bus station wall story spread across the world and inspired other holes in other walls, more important walls, and, well, there was still no new socialist theory, but there had to be a few people, somewhere, working on it, hopefully not professional middle class.
Sila stared at the hole and thought, once the little one’s settled, and the cabinets are sorted, maybe I’ll take a crack at that.
That’s what the guy with the 225 IQ had said, the only true way to prove intelligence was to design a new system for humans
one that was neither fascist nor communist
nor relied heavily on old ideas
which was fairly silly as Marxism wasn’t an idea, it was plain fucking fact, the only outdated part being the adventurist re-costuming of the terrain.
That’s what he’d thought before, when he was involved in that kind of stuff. Instead of being an impromptu parent. And husband. And professor searcher.
‘… … … … … …’ said the girl, pointing at the glass screen with a sign saying ‘BUS TICKETS’ next to a Spanish flag sticker.
‘Oh yeah,’ replied Sila, walking forward, keeping her hand in his, or his hand in hers.
He asked the counter guy, in basic Spanish, for three tickets leaving the next morning and the guy’s first question was
which was easy enough, assuming he meant time,
‘Need to see passports.’
‘All of us?’
Sila looked at the little girl and smiled. Maybe the Danish embassy would feel sorry for her and give a handout, a temporary pass, just enough to get them into Portugal.
And why did they need to show their passports anyway?
Weren’t Spain and Portugal both in the EU?
Sila turned to ask the guy behind the desk, but realised he a] didn’t know how to say it, and b] didn’t have the skills to understand the reply
so he settled for,
‘tomorrow, we come back,’ and guided the masked girl out of the bus depot, through the giant hole, all the while wondering what his wife was doing all alone back at the hostel.
Looking for Cantonese/Mandarin students?
And if they’d be able to keep the room for another week. Or several weeks. Until he could locate a trap door into Portugal. Or overcome enough anxiety to drive again.
Fuck, forget about that for now.
Focus on the lessons, make a bit of cash.
And actually come up with a name for their new addition, so they didn’t have to keep calling her girl and her
or in anti-Madonna’s case, when she wanted to rile him,
thing and it.
Joanna sat on the bed, trying to ignore to death the mosquito
and the noise from not Chinese twenty-one-year-olds in the common room outside, but that was too loud to block out, so she added it to the background and adapted.
She was good at adapting
Yute Long had told her many moons ago
very good at it.
Even better now the slow fade had stopped…or been blended into the background. Time or her, whichever was the driver. Probably the abstract one.
More commotion from the common room, a dut chut burst of fuck off.
She looked down, configuring as she went.
Sevilla. Hostel. Bed. Alone. Errant mosquito.
In her hand was The Book And The Sword, another Jin Yong classic. It had never been her favourite when she was young, but it read better now, probably cos it was set in China, with Chinese characters and Chinese thought and Chinese cuisine, and it had been a long time since she’d had any of that.
Even her own brain seemed to have flipped somewhere else
Slovene maybe or
an amalgamation of all the fevered shit she’d waded through to end up in a hostel, in a sea-less place like Sevilla, without any form of-
The mosquito buzzed right up to her ear, provoking a wild swing with the book.
No hit, just a free joy ride on air particles she’d created.
Annoyed, she dropped the book on the pillow and took it out on the only decoration in the room, a colourful painting of a sleepy child being pulled out of its bed by a stream of stars. Its purpose seemed to be Peter-Pan related, to convince children that magical stars would lead to adventure, but, Joanna noted, it didn’t show whatever it was outside the window, the thing controlling the stars.
Looking at the painting a little longer, chiding it, respecting it, she eventually got bored and looked at her phone. Mandarin/Cantonese teacher, kind + patient, 30 Euros an hour. One reply, a topless Spanish uncle asking her to come to his place and fun.
Great, thanks Sila.
Become a teacher with a gun to your head so we can support a pseudo child who eats people. Listen to locals murder sounds from my motherland.
Or let him do all that, while I escape.
Muttering not a teacher as if it were legal defence, she reached over to the other side of the bed and, with koala hands, picked up the notes that were already halfway off the edge.
‘Ways to get rid of child demon’
It was written in traditional Chinese to prevent Sila and the little blonde thing from reading it. Not that there was much to read. So far, she had two methods:
1] Wake Sila up early, pack stuff, run.
2] Leave Sila, get plane home, never think of them again.
She picked up the pen and added a line under the first method, studied it, mumbled something in Cantonese, crossed it out and tried again.
‘The thing does not seem to sleep. Doesn’t sleep, doesn’t need to sleep? Use chloroform?’
The door opened and Sila came in, the demon tagging behind, its hand in his hand.
‘You didn’t lock the door,’ he said, in the tone of an order.
‘It just opened. No key.’
‘Thought I locked it.’
‘Mentally, maybe.’ He looked at the notes that she was too enervated to hide. ‘What are you writing?’
‘Huh? You don’t usually write.’
Joanna looked at the paper in her hand and then back at him. Then at the Danish creature poking out from behind his King Matjaž hoodie. ‘I’m writing different ways to get away from that.’
‘Wah, not again.’
‘So far I only have two.’
‘I’ve told you five hundred times already, she’s staying. And it’s our job to provide for her. Maybe you should actually try adapting to a situation for once in your life.’
Joanna laughed, she couldn’t help it.
‘What? It’s true. And don’t pretend any of this is adapting, it isn’t. You’re just sitting there, plotting. Probably haven’t even posted your teaching ad yet.’
‘How should I adapt then, Sila?’
‘Ah, the sound of my name…’
‘Sign of respect.’
‘Well, Joanna, you could take this dictionary here, or your phone, whatever you like, and look up some phrases to help you communicate with our daughter.’
‘… … … … … …’
‘Ja, what I thought you said. And I’m pragmatic, not deluded. Determined.’
‘Okay, Pragmatron.’ She held up her Gum Yong book, tapping one of the abstract swirls on the cover. ‘It’s reading time.’
‘You don’t want to know what happened at the bus station?’
‘We can’t get the bus, she needs a passport.’
Joanna lowered the book slightly, just below her chin.
‘Ja, weird, right? I thought we could go to the Danish embassy, but I’m not sure how to register her. She has no ID at all. Actually I don’t even know if Denmark has an embassy here. I guess you don’t either. But then, if we can’t get a passport then the only other thing we can do is either walk to Lisbon or rent a car. Car would be expensive, and I’m not a huge fan of driving, so…’
‘We should take the bus.’
‘Ha, funny.’ Sila sat down on the bed, looked at her notes again, saw the overwhelming mass of Chinese [three lines] and gave up. ‘Bus is off the table. Or almost off it. But we can’t walk either. And if we do rent a car, we’re gonna have to get more cash to cover us.’
The little girl climbed up onto the bed and placed herself between Sila and Joanna, tilting her head against the mother surrogate’s upper arm.
‘I’ve got two students lined up for tomorrow, and another one on Friday. Hopefully, I can get them to do extra lessons over the next week or so, promote some kind of cram theory of learning…’
‘We can’t stay here for that long.’
‘…a bit dishonest, but…huh, why not? Sevilla’s not bad, and we need the cash.’
‘I prefer Lisboa.’
‘Okay, fine, but we still need to get there. How about a week here and then we go? Maybe target our ads to Lisboa then use that as a base to build up our cash fund.’
Joanna shifted her arm, dislodging the little girl temporarily, then picturing splattered mosquitoes as she came right back, locking a persistent hand around her wrist.
‘What do you think?’ prompted Sila, picking up a long strand of the demon’s hair and needlessly untangling it.
‘Can she not go on your side?’
‘I don’t know, ask her.’
‘Can you just pick her up and move her?’
‘… … … … … … … …’
‘I bet that was positive.’
‘… … … … … …’
‘… … … … …’
‘You know, if you think about it, she’s almost the perfect child. Doesn’t say much and clings tight even when you’re being a cunt. Just like a dog.’
‘Would you like to say that in Danish?’
‘Sure, let me check on my phone.’
‘Probably won’t get it right, but…it’s the effort that counts. Right, Søren?’
The blonde girl looked right, towards the window.
‘That’s clearly not her name.’
‘It is until she tells us something different. You should use it too, get her more attached. Søren. Sø-ren. And learn some Danish. I’m doing all the legwork here…’
‘… … … …’ added the girl, temporarily Søren, either agreeing or commenting on the mosquito, which was buzzing in Joanna’s ear again.
Sila spent the next hour searching for both students in Lisboa and cabinets, a slow struggle as the little girl wouldn’t let go of his left hand.
After securing one target work-wise and nothing on the other, he switched to the download folder and loaded up Series 1 episode 3 of his comfort blanket, Blake’s 7.
‘You ready, Søren?’ he asked the girl in Danish, who stared at a bit of stubble on his neck.
Or possibly just his neck.
An artery he didn’t know the name of.
Future snack, if weakened.
The theme of Blake’s 7 started up along with the 70’s graphics, rogue unorthodox. Sila leaned towards his adoptee and pulled the mask down past her chin, asking the ready question again.
This time, there was a nod [and continued staring].
‘She doesn’t want to watch your space show,’ said Joanna, turning a page of the Gum Yong book.
‘No one does.’
‘I will train her to watch it. She already liked the first two episodes.’
‘No, she didn’t.’
‘More than liked. Her face prodded forward at the end of the last one.’
‘She doesn’t understand what’s happening. Even as a concept. Do you think she’s ever seen space before? Or TV?’
‘And even if she does, it’s a depressing show. You said, the heroes are ambiguous, they all die at the end. What do you think that’s going to tell her about the world?’
‘It’s a cruel place, so stick with us.’
‘Or she’ll start biting people again.’
‘That’s why she’s wearing the mask.’
‘A mask made of cheap cotton.’
‘Is it cotton?’
‘Seriously, the next person who looks at you funny, or pushes into you, even accidentally, or doesn’t understand your Spanish, like in Almeria….’
‘That was days ago.’
‘A misplaced what and your annoyed frowny face…and she bit him. That was all it took.’
‘Nibble, not a bite…’
‘If we hadn’t been in the middle of nowhere…we would’ve been in prison now.’
‘And she’s six-years old. Still learning.’
Joanna pulled back the Gum Yong book from the child of the corn, hissing something in Cantonese. ‘Stop saying her age. She’s not a child, she’s not learning, she’s a demon, ready-made. There’s no personal growth. She’s not going to hit puberty or mature. She’s not even a she. It is dangerous and it is always going to be dangerous.’
Sila shifted the laptop screen towards the girl and twisted her head back towards it. ‘Søren and I are trying to watch the show here…’
‘Which is gonna make her even more dangerous, I just told you that.’
‘You said she couldn’t understand it.’
‘Their words, not their actions.’
The girl again poked her head round the side of the Gum Yong book, moving her face overtly from left to right, trying to read the Chinese characters.
It didn’t last long, Joanna closing the book and Sila reaching across again to drag her back to the screen and Blake’s revolutionary perm.
‘Their actions are fine, unreadable,’ said Sila, flinching as Avon shot an unarmed guard, cold. ‘It’s the words that reveal their base shitness. Anyway, we’re gonna watch Star Trek later, give her a bit of balance.’
‘There is no balance with a demon.’
‘Ha, you’ve only met one.’
‘One, plus her, that’s two, plus…’ Joanna turned towards Sila to list all the demons in the world, but stopped when she saw the little girl glaring at her Gum Yong book, the eyes nebulous purple. ‘… … … … …’
‘Is that a Chinese demon?’
‘She’s doing it again.’
‘The purple eyes.’
‘A natural reflex…’
‘It’s creepy. Like hypnotism.’
‘Creepy is a mental construct, there’s no actual reality to it. Besides, purple doesn’t symbolise anything. Red, maybe, but definitely not purple.’
Joanna looked at the painting on the wall, the child floating star-latched out of its bedroom window. ‘Creepy is objective, not mental construction.’
‘Watching Blake’s 7 now.’
‘Quiet, it’s a good bit coming up.’
Joanna looked at the screen for the good bit and saw some cheap planet wasteland, and a bunch of atavistic man shapes meandering through it.
One of them stopped and pointed at a weird looking building, saying, ‘architectural design, early maniac,’ which made her smirk, but she blocked it from phasing into anything more.
‘Creepy girl watching a creepy TV show,’ she mumbled instead, putting Gum Yong on the bedside table, away from purple eyes.
‘Ha, I detected a girl there.’
‘I’m going to sleep.’
‘That means she’s growing on you.’
Joanna lay down and turned away from Sila, facing the wall and what she suspected was the mosquito. It was either that or a speck of black dust, dragged up from hell to herald the coming of Danish blonde-
‘Point her the other way.’
‘I can feel her eyes on the back of my head.’
‘What are you talking about? She’s looking at the screen.’ Sila looked diagonally down at the girl and realised Joanna was right, she was pinned to the back of his travel partner’s head.
‘Are you sure?’
He cupped the girl’s chin and redirected her towards Blake’s perm and the psychotic cult leader he’d just run into. ‘I told you, Søren is looking at the screen.’
‘… … … … … …’
Later, when the mosquito had been killed and Sila was in Odin sleep, Joanna got up, went out into the common room, saw a Tak lookalike drinking a carton of soy milk, stared at him until he looked up and asked, ‘hi?’ in a standard US accent, then flinched and took the long route back to the room.
The notes she’d written were on the mattress next to the wide-awake Not Søren, too close to peruse there, so she picked them up, told the girl to sleep in Cantonese and relocated to the desk by the window.
Narrow Sevilla street below, one uncle blow-drying a plant in the window opposite.
No undue noises.
She looked at the paper on the desk, tried adding a number 4 to the list, but there was nothing she could think of besides something incredibly brutal.
Even she wasn’t capable of that
not on something that looked like a six-year-old.
She put the pen down and felt something replace it. Without a sound, human or demon, the little Danish thing had got off the bed and was gripping her hand.
‘What are you doing?’
The little girl looked up at her, with non-purple eyes, and slowly pressed her head against mother’s side.
Joanna waited for the pain, picturing what she had done to the guy on the beach, and, to a lesser extent, the guy in the Almerian desert, but it didn’t come.
She was the mother,
Sila was the loopy dad
and from what she’d read in five of the seven different versions of the tale
both parents end up slaughtered at the back of the story
maybe Sila was right and this was the demon from the other two, the nicer versions.
She looked down at the top of the girl’s head, the smoothness of her hair, and muttered, ‘gods Danish mistake,’
in church-volume Cantonese.
Even at 4am, the creature still wouldn’t power down.
Constant scanning, non-stop, barely perceptible blinking, even though the room was dark and nothing was happening.
‘Don’t you need to sleep?’ she asked, actually looking up the Danish for it.
‘… … …’ it replied, soft as a real child.
Then returned to staring.
Minus the purple tint.
Joanna tried turning on her side but it was pointless, she could feel the thing fixed on.
Never turn your back on a child demon, the website had told her. Especially Danish and Mongolian ones.
Okay it was a WordPress site, with WordPress still in the domain name, which meant whoever wrote it was too amateur to pay $17 to make it look like they were an authority on the subject
not that such a tactic would fool Joanna cos she’d also had a WordPress site once upon a time
a secret site for her and Yute Long
so that when they were apart, for whatever reason, they could log on and post notes and-
The bulb above the bed stuttered fairy-lite
before correcting itself.
She turned back and faced the ceiling, holding The Book And The Sword as a Ming-Chiu shield above her face.
‘The Emperor stared at the Fragrant Princess and laughed, a maniacal laugh. ‘Your precious love has left you. Left you to me.”
She could see the Søren thing looking at her from fringe peripheral vision. What was going on inside that head? What did demons think about?
Were they really chained to their own myth narrative as much as those myths claimed or did humans just read the myths so many times that they couldn’t help but become one dimensional?
It was a valid thought, but one she did not know the Danish translation for.
http://www.danishmonagatari.wordpress.com might’ve had the answer, but her phone was on the far table and she was too lazy to get up and grab it.
Her notes were closer, maybe she should look at those again.
Or maybe she should wake Sila up and
and do what?
The idiot was stuck in his Silas Marner fantasy, he wouldn’t listen to anything
or be on her side, even in a token way.
No, this was it.
Sevilla was a dungeon, with invisible bars.
Lisboa a future morgue.
A drunken Sevilla motherfuckers! out in the common room, followed by quiet Dari.
Then a door closing.
She forced in a few more pages of Gum Yong, the fragrant princess weeping and accepting her fate then, with curtain contrivance, overhearing the emperor’s plot against her lover, who she hadn’t even kissed yet let alone fucked, and trying between tears to figure out a way to warn him.
It was a tedious chapter, the princess was too weak, too naïve, and everyone knew the emperor couldn’t be killed
as he’d survived in real history
like all midget tyrants
dead in a bed, no regrets, harem for him and death mask for tricky wives, for his enemies, for types like Yute Long and
others she’d known once upon a time
back in Hong Kong
intermittently good people.
Joanna yawned out into a full-on battle cry, looked at the thing in the tiny girl costume, tidally locked, told it to go to sleep in Cantonese, picked up her notes, skipped point one and point three and thought
after all this time
all this distance
can I really, physically go back there