it should have ended earlier SUJINDA KHANTAYALONGKOT
it should have ended earlier TRANSLATED FROM THE THAI BY MARCEL BARANG
© SUJINDA KHANTAYALONGKOT © MARCEL BARANG for the translation Internet edition 2008 | All rights reserved
[Intro: Lyric of ‘The rose’ by Beth Miller – 16 lines.] NB: Rather than translate the song back into English and make a mess of it, I’ll skip it. It’s been a long time since I last drew a picture. My hand’s all stiff. The hand that used to type nimbly, cook expertly and play the piano with feeling. This same hand now punches a computer keyboard and guides the mouse like it’s a pushover. For all that, it isn’t difficult if you don’t hurry. But I haven’t drawn a picture in a very long time and don’t feel confident at all. Her boyfriend is leaving for a distant land. I have no present for him, because all I had I gave him. Last words, goodbyes, send-off, promises – that’s all behind us. I’ve nothing fitting to give him. I’ve only myself. And a picture of myself. By myself. Darinda pulls out a blank sheet of white paper without hesitation, finds the right angle for the mirror, then picks up a black-ink pen. The young woman gets to drawing IT SHOULD HAVE ENDED EARLIER
4 herself with a will that’s almost a dare. The fear that the picture will not turn out to be all right is lurking there as ever before. When she was an art student, Darinda had a reputation for catching people’s likeness as no-one else could. That’s a dulcet memory of how good she was at deciphering people’s faces. Sometimes the young woman drew portraits so true it was uncanny. She liked to draw sketches with her models sitting for her. Darinda chose her models herself. She had a pretty good idea of who would be hard to draw and who easy, yet you never know, and the major obstacle in catching a likeness is your own eagerness, or sometimes lack of confidence or else excess of. Drawing a picture is taking chances. Outlining the face first usually leads to problems. When you put in the eyes, nose and mouth, you’re likely to find that the features are slanted, the chin too short, the forehead too narrow, the face too fat or too thin. Once it’s over, the feel of the face will tell you whether to keep the picture or dump it. Usually, drawing a portrait is a one-off. You catch the likeness or you don’t. Going for corrections is a waste of time. Only makes things worse. The picture isn’t coming along as well as it should. Darinda’s heart isn’t in it, but once she has sketched in the mouth, which usually is the clinch, she decides she can use the picture. The mood it conveys isn’t that great. SUJINDA KHANTAYALONGKOT
5 The woman in the picture looks sorrowful. Her features are too thin, her hair is a sorry sight. Darinda adds a crown of roses to the picture and supposes it’s her wedding day. Are there women who don’t want to be wed? Of course not. When the young woman has made a photocopy of her self-portrait, she puts her implements and her mood away, now that her work is over. After presenting him with her last present, she’s preparing herself to give herself to him as well. Tonight I’ll sleep at his place for the last time. Toothbrush. Toothpaste. Hairbrush. And a change of knickers. This won’t be the first time we sleep together. And he isn’t the first man in the world either. Our love isn’t spanning the universe. When we found each other, he was the best man for me and I the best woman for him. We fitted together nicely. But modern love, relations in this time and age – we live for today. Nobody knows the future: how can we bank on it? We can’t possibly plan a life together – or is it that we can? We both know our relationship includes his going abroad to study for at least two years. He doesn’t think two years is a problem. He’ll be gone and then he’ll be back. Let whatever must happen be. We’ll sleep together for the last time before he leaves. Maybe he’ll never come back. Never mind. IT SHOULD HAVE ENDED EARLIER
6 Darinda looks at her own face, then picks up another blank sheet of paper. The ink pen is starting to dry up, but she has several other black-ink pens of the same kind. I’ll draw another picture of myself. Something totally different. This time the young woman puts on glasses. She always looks good with glasses on. Gives her a classy look. Darinda laughs. Usually, she won’t draw bespectacled faces: they’re too difficult. Darinda starts with the glasses. She’s wont to tackle the tough spots before she does the easy parts, while her concentration is keen and her confidence whole. She draws the eyes Japanese cartoon-fashion: a thick line around the pupils, a big black dot in the middle, which she’ll enlarge if she’s happy with the result. There’s another two thin circles, reflections from the lamp, small circles next to the central dots. The rest is left blank. Eyes in this style are like those on sculpted images. They don’t cheat the eye. They come in handy in a sketch, even though the young woman doesn’t do them like this often. They’re eye-catching. Draws the nose, then the mouth. Eyes the whole. Doesn’t look like her at all. Darinda is rather perplexed and disappointed. But she isn’t giving up. Ordinarily when you’ve drawn pictures like these, resembling or not, you can almost never improve on SUJINDA KHANTAYALONGKOT
7 them. You have to start all over again. Usually the young woman draws the lines then fills in the shades. If the lines are true, filling in the shades is no problem, even though shading always takes a little of the likeness away. If the lines aren’t true and you hope shading will help, think again. But today all the rules are overturned through some special vital force, almost like a groundless certainty, or some kind of mania. Darinda goes on drawing herself calmly. She outlines the face, the chin, the cheekbones, the forehead. The drying-out ink gives out a definite feel of weakness. This time her hair flows finer than in the first picture and the shades on her face and neck are softer, not as harsh as before. The mood in the picture is like Darinda or like what she wants to be. Not too sorrowful. Sadness is a real enough mood, yet not a pleasant one. The crown of roses, ever so sweet. The wedding party her eyes gorge on. With whomever she perhaps hasn’t even met. This is it this time. One last gift from me – for that young lover of mine. He comes to her once work is over, together with a last gift as well before he goes abroad. He comes with the beautiful lamp he always carries with him. His eyes need special attention, and this is IT SHOULD HAVE ENDED EARLIER
8 why he must always have a lamp with him to read by. His lamp is his eyes, as are his eyeglasses, and the contact lens compact that never leaves him. There’s a lot more in this world in which he’ll live that he can’t do without. Especially now that he’s going away to pursue his studies. She used to think he was dependent on lots and lots of things. But in his heart it turns out he needs nothing. Not even her. He told her, You’re wrong. Darinda tries to live without having to rely on anything or anyone. Work is a nice thing, but she can still live without having to work. To be with your family, your siblings, is a nice thing, but she’s ready to go and live someplace else if necessary. He puts the lamp down on Darinda’s enormous working table. She plugs it in and presses the switch. Soft yellow light pours forth. ‘Let there be light forever,’ he declaims. His substitute is here already. Will stay with her every working day. ‘That’s not all.’ He smiles, then pulls out a shirt of fine white fabric ‘made in USA’. He knows she likes to wear white shirts and knows she likes imported articles. ‘You once told me you’d like to have one of my shirts. Put it on and think of me.’ ‘When did I say such a thing?’ She has truly forgotten, but he hasn’t. Darinda puts on the shirt at once over the sleeveless, SUJINDA KHANTAYALONGKOT
9 round-neck, tight-fitting stretch piece she wears. The white shirt and the body-hugging sheath of white stretch fabric are fairly well matched. She pulls out her own present. ‘A last present from me.’ She places the 75%-reduced photocopy next to the original. He looks briefly at her picture, puts on a bright face and says, ‘Doesn’t look like you at all.’ He even laughs when she shows herself unhappy. At first she thought that picture wasn’t like her, but actually it’s very much like her. She takes out the first picture and shows it to him. ‘Then how about this one?’ ‘That’s you all right.’ ‘But I don’t like it.’ He makes no comment. It’s obvious he doesn’t want either of the pictures. He’s already had enough trouble packing his bags. She understands, but it’s a picture she drew, a picture of herself too – one single sheet of paper. What kind of a twisted man is he that he doesn’t know how to humour others? But no, not twisted. He is both stupid and blind. She decides right then. Not very determined, still very much tentative, but it is a decision. She won’t tell him she had changed her mind and decided to sleep at his place today. She has changed her mind again and she won’t go. Maybe she’ll change her mind yet again at the last moment. Her toothbrush is in her warm pocket. Love this time holds no wondrous prospect. It’s utterly IT SHOULD HAVE ENDED EARLIER
10 impossible to expect anything wonderful out of a oneyear-old relationship. Love – making love is just like drawing pictures. She may be a crack at it, but what can she expect? The biggest obstacle lies in being too eager. In making love, the last time is definitely not the best time. Not by a long chalk it isn’t. She isn’t that type, the type that puts everything she has into the act to turn it into a shining memory to cherish or to make today outstanding in order to have something nice to talk about tomorrow. She isn’t that type at all. If we must separate, then be gone. ‘In that case, don’t take any of them.’ She puts the pictures away. He doesn’t protest. He’s already gone: that’s how she feels. Sad?
Darinda wakes up in the morning. The first thing she thinks is, He’s gone. Today is a day off. If she had gone with him last night, today would still be a day off, with the difference that, since she didn’t go, today is emptier. Finally she didn’t go. ‘Last night I couldn’t sleep,’ she told him in rambling fashion as they shared their last meal. ‘Why?’ ‘I was thinking of today.’ ‘You look very calm.’ SUJINDA KHANTAYALONGKOT
11 ‘I am calm.’ Immediately, she felt uncalm. ‘Last night I was reflecting what it’ll be like for me after you come to see me, we eat together and then we part, you going away by yourself, me staying alone in my room and regretting not to be with you at such a time.’ ‘I understand why you don’t want to go. It’s no fun waking up at three in the morning and then going to the airport with both of us feeling deprived of sleep.’ He told her about the send-off, the packing, the headaches. He needed his sleep tonight even more than she did hers. He was in no state to make love for the last time just to have something to remember. But actually, everybody knows that to be together on the last night, to make love can be important. Sure it’s important. Very important. But the most important is to be together. I know. I know. Parting, being together one last time – the last night, the last day, the last time – I know it all. I know. I understand. Don’t you know how many times in this life I’ve parted with someone? How many people I’ve said goodbye to? Many more than you know about. I’ve never told you. There’s no way you’d ever understand. Even if you knew, you still wouldn’t understand I don’t want to part with anyone any more. This being said, it’s in my nature to be the first to leave. I simply died on him. I know parting well. And why shouldn’t I? My father’s dead. My little brother’s dead too. Several of the people IT SHOULD HAVE ENDED EARLIER
12 closest and most precious to me are dead. Every time death comes visiting, it does so like a thief. There’s no prior notice. There’s no warning. It’s almost like that. Yes. Even though the pain is a warning. Even though living is the way of appointing the time of your death. But the truth is, I refuse to accept the truth of death. I’ve never thought it could happen so easily – how easy it is for us to die. But they died without realizing it. Death always comes faster than you reckon. Parting always comes faster than it should. That’s why, when I know we must part each from the other, I feel we’ve already parted. From the day I knew we had to part, you were already dead. ‘Last night I couldn’t sleep. I know well that when we’re apart, when I’ll find myself alone in the bedroom and think you’re alone in your room, I’ll be sorry, I’ll regret not to be with you.’ And she felt really sorry. Tears welled up. ‘Everybody says so. I’ve heard it millions of times. We tend to be sorry not for what we’ve done, but for what we should have done but didn’t do, like I ought to be with you but won’t be, even though no-one or nothing has told me what I should do or shouldn’t do. Everything’s entirely up to me.’ And up to you as well maybe. I’m sure you don’t really want me to go with you, because you haven’t even tried. Stop thinking. I’m well aware it won’t make any SUJINDA KHANTAYALONGKOT
13 difference whether you do something or don’t, except make me even more unwilling to go. No, I do know you want me to go. You’ve already tried – when you took my hand and I pulled it free. When you took me in your arms and I turned my face away. You’re very good at keeping yourself under control. Your eyes, your hands are cool but I know there was a request in them. Too bad I didn’t want to listen. What do I get from playing hard to get, then, from pretending to be smart this time? I know we’ll probably never meet again, or even if we do, it’ll be a long time from now and nobody knows what’ll have happened. I’ll play it cool, pretend I don’t care or I’m not fair. I’d like you to leave. Go away. Drop dead. If you don’t see me before you leave, maybe it’ll make you miss me more. Okay, drop dead. Why do I have to behave like this as well? The time to part always comes before time, everybody knows. We had reckoned on listening to some cool music. You had reckoned on sipping a beer or two. We’d talk about nice things, like we used to have nice sex, nice kisses, nice hugs. You used to make me laugh with your furious lovemaking of a kind no-one else’d ever dare, for instance on a train in front of fifty people. Yes, we used to have lots of nice things in common. It was always nice when we kissed mouth and tongue, IT SHOULD HAVE ENDED EARLIER
14 when our bodies ground and jousted, when we became one. We always felt good. I like lovemaking that is sustained and furious, but not violent. I like the feeling of getting there at leisure, the contractions, the rubbing and the thrills, the warmth, the love that can be grasped, the sex that can be felt, the mood sweeps and the screams. Our love was a good thing and we still felt that way one year after we had made love for the first time. We still wanted each other. We still sought each other. We helped each other. We were always good to each other. We still had plenty to talk about. We meant to talk before you left or, maybe, I followed you. But the store where we meant to spend some time together, by some unforeseen accident closed before its usual time, and I thought nothing, except that the time to part from each other was now. We didn’t stop by that store to do what might have been. The occasion was lost – forever. We didn’t hurry but there was a sense of urgency. We had run out of occasions to be together. Even though the night was still far from over. When he left, he made as though to say something but didn’t speak. He made as though to kiss goodbye but alas, we had kissed a lot already and there and then I told myself, I want no goodbye kiss, I want more than that and since I can’t have it, I want nothing at all. SUJINDA KHANTAYALONGKOT
15 He was gone. That night, Darinda tried not to think, to make herself vacant. Don’t think about him. You mustn’t think. He’s gone. Don’t hope he’ll phone. You mustn’t think. Lie down and go to sleep. She still slept and she still ate. Darinda was still alive, although she didn’t know what for, since this life has nothing worth living for. The numbness due to shock passed. Her heart quaked with queasiness as she looked out far away beyond stretches of deserted fields. Darinda had no-one. O sadness and solitude, how will I deal with you? What if I took good care of you? [Excerpt from the song—10 lines] Like me, Darinda thinks. The young woman who wrote this sad song is much to be pitied: she killed herself one day because she didn’t know what to go on living for. How about me, then? The young woman smiles. Darinda has never thought of killing herself. The thought has never entered her head. Sadness? Happiness? Once they’re gone, what’s left? A friend once asked me. I couldn’t answer. I’m not wise enough to answer such an important question. I only know that, sad or glad, lover gone or lover back, the life that is my lot will go on according to what can be, inasmuch as this life is mine. Brief as it may be, it’s mine – mine to live. IT SHOULD HAVE ENDED EARLIER
16 This world too is mine. And yours as well. Whatever my limits, though I may not do much, I’m satisfied with whatever it is I can do – right where I am. You’re gone. Never mind. Winter will come to pass and the rose will blossom once again.
Sujinda Khantayalongkot is the author of a series of mildly erotic short stories with a style of her own which have won her a steady readership. She now lives in England.