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PENGUIN BOOKS

The incident and other stories

MARCUS BASTEL was born in Frankfurt in 1967. He was

internationally educated in fine art practice, studying for his degree in the UK before pursuing post-graduate studies in Amsterdam. He has won several awards and his video work has been shown across Europe. Screenings in the late 1990s in Amsterdam, Glasgow, Manchester, Milan and Paris were accompanied by invitations to publish. Early writings include art catalogues and his first collection of short stories Part of the narrative first published in 2004. Having taken some time to focus on his career development within the Computer room of the BAGD course at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, Bastel is now creatively a force to be reckoned with. This long awaited second volume draws together still more of the different strands of his writing to date. He lives in London.


PENGUIN BOOKS

MARCUS BASTEL

The incident and other stories


PENGUIN BOOKS Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2 Penguin Books India (p) Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi- 110 017, India Penguin Books (NZ) Ltd, Cnr Rosedale and Airborne Roads, Albany, Auckland, New Zealand Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank 2196, South Africa Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England www.penguin.com First published 2005 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Copyright © Marcus Bastel 2011 All rights reserved The moral right of the editor has been asserted Set in xx/xx pt [name of typeface] Typeset by Rowlands Phototypesetting Ltd, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk Printed in England by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser


Contents AN INCIDENT

7

First Date

9

Roadside Conversations

10

A drink

13

Weeds

16

Underneath

22

The other Woman

xx

Bird

xx

Whats it’s like being a man when the sun pops out

xx

The German (excerpt)

xx

Ideal parties

xx

Small town diners

xx


An incident It had been a day in late October most of it unusually warm, the trees dropped more of their golden leaves and the streets got covered in them. A fine drizzle started when the light vanished and soon everything was wet and with the sun gone the temperature started to plummet. He was glad he was wearing his coat, it kept the cold out, it was the damp air that was the real problem. It sat heavy on the cloak and was quick to penetrate ones bones. The light from the streetlamps bounced off the wet leaves, and reflecting in the fine water that fell at a steady pace. The air had a thick earthy smell, a country smell he had thought at the time. He had had a good day and was in no rush to get anywhere regardless of the weather. There was hardly any traffic at the time, and he felt as if the whole world had mellowed in the wake of autumn. He heard voices behind him turned briefly and walked on, it was the moment before he was pushed in the back then held by his shoulder as he felt the cold nozzle of a gun push into the lower back of his skull. They shushed him to stay quiet as hands moved through his pockets, taking phone and wallet, pulling a wad of notes and a small camera he tended to carry. The gun jabbed at his head and he was pushed to the 7


AN INCIDENT AND OTHER STORIES

ground. He shat himself. They asked him to put his hands behind his head. He was lying on the floor soaking up water, shaking in anticipation of a shot being fired and a bullet splattering his brains, instead he heard them run and stayed on the ground and shook and finally rose and walked, his buttocks clenched tightly, as fast as he could. ‘I tell you later,’ he told the neighbour who handed him a spare key, and went up the stairs, shaky hands fumbling with the lock and then the door flew open and he closed it and went for the bathroom. It felt like the cops just raised and dropped their shoulders when they spoke on the phone. A couple of them came over to take his statements and he talked and his hands moved through the air as he explained to them. But they had seen it before and being alive meant that it hadn’t been as bad. He had no description to give them, and now they shrugged their shoulders in full view and then he shrugged his and when they left he locked the door and wondered how to leave the house again.

8


First date She was cute, he thought, the blonde curls drawing a small halo round her face, she cycled past, went right through his ďŹ eld of view. He would he thought and decided quickly. The truck came next, large and imposing, it forced a head on collision. The pretty face was forcefully squashed against the grille blood splattered from the back of the head, giving the blonde a deepening red glow for a second before the body collapsed to the ground, before being dragged on by forces below the truck and just before coming to a halt. She was cute he thought again. The feeling in his stomach had changed. The noise had disappeared from the street, life had frozen, just before people rushed in to rescue. It was too late. The cute girl was gone, and he realized he was sobbing. His shoulders were drawing up and down as the silent movement took place and while his eyes continued to shed tears. It had all happened so suddenly. The shock had come so sudden that a reaction could not be controlled.

9


Roadside conversations Most of the tables had been busy when he entered, now the place had emptied, the lunch time crowd thinned and only a few tables remained occupied. Ache was chewing on a gristly steak armed with only a blunt knife for a weapon. He had to push and wriggle the knife rather than slice and cut. A small group of men at the table next to his grew smaller yet until there was only three. ‘Take humanitarian aid,’ said the fat one in the middle. ‘Humanitarian aid what?’ Asked the one to his left, a man with a short red face and a big bushy moustache. The third man was glaring into his coffee cup and shaking his head, it was unclear whether it was in agreement or meant as a way to show that he was listening, his hair had been thinning for a while and he had grown accustomed to it, wearing it cropped short exposing, a high forehead. ‘Well what sort of life does it offer?’ ‘It keeps people alive.’ ‘But does it give them a life?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well, it’s all good to help and keep people alive, but are they better of starving for the next 20 years, barely alive, with no prospects. Just about managing to cling on, because humanitarian aid keeps them.’ 10


ROADSIDE CONVERSATIONS

‘Are you saying they would be better off dead?’ ‘You are a fat greedy pig Pat,’ the man with the cup said loudly. The fat man snorted. ‘Listen, how many times have you opened the paper and read about people neglecting the upkeep of their pets. Like some guy having ten dogs and they are close to starvation when found by animal welfare, they call it inhumane treatment. Humanitarian aid often keeps people on the brink of starvation, if they were dogs it would be called inhumane.’ ‘They are not though, so what is your point. You want to stop all aid? ‘No, that’s not possible, not now, but we have to face up to the fact that certain areas can only support a certain number of people to prosper and have a life. Just think of a room, there is a number of people you can fit into it, comfortably, but of course you could squash double or triple the amount in there, they would fit, but no one would have a good time.’ ‘Birth control,’ said the man with the cup. ‘You know what I think about that,‘ said the man with the moustache, ‘it’s against my religion.’ ‘Hank,’ said the man with the cup which after looking at once more he firmly placed on the table eyes still very much on the object before he looked up and at the man who had just been named Hank. ‘You know there is 25 living Sumatra tigers out there in the wild. Twenty-five! At the very same time there is a billion fat people sitting in front of their TV’s watching Big Brother reruns eating fries and growing ever fatter. And the planet is being ransacked 11


AN INCIDENT AND OTHER STORIES

for those people, those twenty-five tigers will have to go as well, and they will and you know it and I know it and you are worried about birth control being against your fucking religion.’ ‘Don’t say fucking religion, it’s serious, it’s my beliefs you are insulting.’ ‘For fucks sake when was the last time you saw an angel hover above your house?’ With that he pushed his chair back and rose and he was a tall man 6’2“ or 3” easy. ‘Think about it, it’s not that complicated.’ He straightened nodded to the fat man and walked out. Ache who had been following the conversation turned his eyes back to his plate, a final scoop of mash and some recently chewed on bits of gristle. He placed his fork and knife on the plate and pushed it away from himself, reaching for the glass of water, picking it up and drinking from it in one swift movement. A half hour later he was back in the car and about to get it started and leave, but remembering the conversation he got out a small red notebook to scribble down the essence of it. Cloud cover had become heavier, day and sky grown darker and he turned on the lights before the car started to move, Humanitarian Aid he thought as he turned into the grey band of road, cut through a forest.

12


A drink The next evening he walked into the bar again, it was better than to sit home alone he thought. He talked to a woman that night, the woman told him about the way global warming was linked to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and he recalled the program from the night before. The woman had seen it as well, but unlike him had not fallen asleep. ‘It’s the icecaps,’ she said, ‘they melt and release pressure on the tectonic plates, which in turn makes them move causing eruptions and quakes.’ It was so plain a fact that it made sense immediately. The size of eruptions would grow and there was no God to prevent the ash of those to penetrate lungs, and then set and kill. Like that. He saw it, but chose not to acknowledge, there was no point to it, it was an inevitability with which he would have to live from now on. He looked at the woman who was still talking although he was no longer listening to the words she said. She was heavy in all respect, enormous breasts pushed into the bar next to him while her behind rested on a stool that supported a quarter of it at the most. Her face had a radiant glow, round and forever smiling. The way she talked made her appear well educated. He imagined her to be at least 13


AN INCIDENT AND OTHER STORIES

twice his size, would possibly squash him if she were to sit on top whereas the other way around he could see himself bounce like a small boy on a trampoline. Now she looked at him and he nodded in agreement, but she could tell that he hadn’t been following. He apologized. ‘We will all be dead before long,’ he said. Now she stared intently. ‘The eruptions and the dust is why,’ he said, ‘would you like another drink?’ They had a few more and when they finally left she forced him into a corner pushing him along with her breasts, until there was nowhere else to go, then attempted to pucker him with her lips but couldn’t reach his face because of conflicting body masses wedged against each other. She gave up at last, slowly took her breasts from punishing him and started to apologise profoundly. He was amused his ego a little boosted and somewhat happy to be free to move about again. When he got home he thought of what could have been had he wanted, sat down and poured another brandy, downed that in one and went to bed. Alcohol tended to take the urgency of his mind, the night became somewhat more bearable and the next day more miserable and altogether the next day urgency tended to grow. Next days were places he wanted to get away from, wanted to get away from the crowded stink of the city, away from a job he found demeaning at best. Like many others he was under the delusion to be meant for better things. Like many others life had failed to 14


A DRINK

live up to his expectations so far and like many others he slowly concluded that he would have to try harder.

15


Weeds The man was sitting with a couple of young boys who were no older than perhaps five and seven. They sat at a picnic table by the side of the road, a place where you would stop your car and rest for a while before continuing your journey, people walked their dogs and had food, kids ran around screaming and everybody was urged to use the toilet. The boys had picked up some sticks from the ground and with much palaver, screaming and laughing had waded into the grass, which in parts stood almost as high as they did. They had swung their sticks with force so that they made a swishing noise as they cut through the air and cut down the grass that way until their father stopped them when he returned from the restroom. ‘It’s only weeds dad,’ the taller of the two said. His dark brown hair curled up in most directions and he kept pushing it out of his face. ‘Yes weeds, dad,’ the smaller one proclaimed supporting his elder brother. In contrast his hair was lighter and shorter and as a result looked tidier altogether. He wore a short-sleeved chequered western style shirt, which he never wanted in the first place and now could barely be peeled out of, the left pocket had been torn and only a corner of it together with the snap button kept it from coming off 16


WEEDS

completely. They both wore shorts and sandals, sat on a wooden bench and had their legs dangle about impatiently. ‘They is only weeds,’ the younger one repeated, but didn’t seem as sure any longer. ‘What is weeds,’ he asked them. ‘The grass is,’ said the older one and the little one was nodding in agreement. ‘I mean what is a weed or what makes the grass be a weed?’ ‘Mrs Pale, says they is,’ one of them said and they both nodded vigorously. ‘She says anything that can’t be eaten like a tomato or a melon or a carrot or beans is a weed.’ ‘And what about a tree?’ ‘Well not if its got apples or pears on it. ‘Or avocados.’ The other one nodded and you could tell that both were eager to end the conversation and get on with thrashing the grass as they had done before and which had seemed like loads of fun only a few minutes ago. ‘Plus you can make a fire with the wood and make things like toys and tables from it.’ ‘With a knife and a hammer and saw.’ They both nodded. ‘So you are for cutting them all down?’ ‘Well, not the ones with fruit on, but all the others aren’t good for nothing.’ ‘What about for climbing on and building tree-houses in?’ ‘Yes, ok dad so what’s your point.’ They both started to look a little downtrodden. ‘It’s just that I am not so sure there is something like a 17


AN INCIDENT AND OTHER STORIES

weed!’ ‘How do you mean?’ ‘Well you said a weed was something with no use to anyone, but may be when it grows its first priority is not to be of use to anyone but just to grow.’ ‘What’s priority?’ ‘It’s what is most important. Like when you are hungry the most important thing for you is to eat something so that’s your priority.’ ‘What if you are thirsty?’ ‘Then to drink something is your priority.’ The boys nodded. You know how your friend Paul comes and borrows some of your toys from time to time, well you are not just here to lend him toys because that would mean if you had no toys you wouldn’t be useful to him and that would make you a weed.’ The boys chuckled at that thought. ‘People can’t be weeds.’ ‘No, but what I am saying is that your priority isn’t lending toys to your friend.’ ‘What’s my priority dad?’ At that the man paused. ‘Remember a short time ago I asked you both what you wanted to be and you said you wanted to be a man, so I guess your priority is to grow big and your brother wanted to be a painter because he likes painting pictures.’ ‘I don’t want to be a painter no longer though I want to be something else now.’ ‘Like what?’ ‘I don’t know yet, I am still thinking on it!’ 18


WEEDS

‘OK, it’s a good thing you have time to think it over. But what I am meaning to tell you is that the grass you cut down is there just for itself not for anyone else, because it has a right to be there as much as we do, and it’s alive as well and so the most important thing for it…………’ ‘Its priority,’ the older boy fell in. …yes, its priority, is to grow and be alive.’ ‘But dad, grass can’t be alive, it’s not going anywhere.’ ‘Actually it does go to places, it goes slowly and you don’t much see it move, but you see it when its there. You noticed how all the grass and the flowers and the trees they all make seeds and they make those so they can move a little.’ ‘So they can grow again somewhere else?’ ‘Yes! So to call a bushel of grass, weed, is wrong because it didn’t just grow so we could eat it, but mostly it’s there for it’s own good, because it wants to be.’ The boys, started to look a little confused as if they had a hard time understanding what he was explaining to them, but he thought they got the basic idea of it for the moment and perhaps when he had finished they would understand what he meant. ‘So what’s your point dad,’ they asked after a moment or two had passed. ‘Well there is a number of points, the first one is that everything that grows is alive and so you should treat it with respect. And the second thing is that you should enjoy having all those plants and animals and appreciate them. They don’t just grow anywhere. You know when you look up at the sky at night and you see all those millions of stars, they are so far away that you would never be able 19


AN INCIDENT AND OTHER STORIES

to reach them even if you lived a hundred years or longer.’ ‘Like a thousand?’ ‘Or a million thousand?’ ‘A long time.’ ‘The closest planets like Mars and Venus and Jupiter and Saturn they have nothing growing on them, so we are lucky to sit on a planet with trees on and birds flying through the air.’ ‘Or the moon, no one is on the moon or is there?’ ‘No, no one is on the moon. So you see we are very lucky to have all the things that, fly and crawl and grow and smell.’ ‘What’s on the moon?’ ‘Just stones and sand, but no trees or animals.’ ‘What about people?’ ‘No people!’ ‘Are there other people anywhere else?’ ‘No one knows, it’s a very big place with all the planets and stars in so there may be some somewhere, but we may never find out because they are so far away. ‘Ok,’ the elder one nodded. ‘Yeah,’ said the smaller one nodding rapidly. ‘Can we go now?’ ‘Sure.’ The boys grabbed their sticks and waded back into the deep grass where they hesitated for a moment, then turned back to have a knightly sword fight instead until fingers were clipped and some tears shed. Soon after that they got back into the car and drove on.

20


Underneah I lost track of time then but it seemed like it had been dark forever. The reality was that little more than an hour had passed. I did not know. I had made the best I could of the position I was in and it now bordered on something remotely emulating comfort. In a very abstract way that is. My cheek was pressed against the soft damp ground, the kind you get in a dense pine forest. It had a nutty smell to it and after some time I could taste that smell, it became so thick that I could almost chew it like you would a good wine. My mind started to drift again, always wondering about the what if, as I remembered moments gone by. The sole reason why I was out here now was that I could. I didn’t have to stay in the dirty city which I had inhabited for the past 10 years. I was lucky in that way, many others still scrambled about in the big cities of the east trying to scrape a living together. Many of my friends were still doing just that. I was lucky, to get the opportunity to leave when I had wanted to. I had sold or put into storage the things you couldn’t carry, then hopped on a plane to come out here. I had bought a used car in a lot at the edge of town where I had touched down, then driven almost 3000 miles stopping here and there taking the time I wanted cause time I had in abundance. I had driven through blizzards 21


AN INCIDENT AND OTHER STORIES

were the rain had been beating down so hard that I had to pull off the road to let it pass, seeing blurred lightning in the distance then hearing the violent rumble of thunder so close that it would hurt my ears. More than once I felt small, in a country which stretched so far around me and not one soul anywhere. Now that I was here I heard the breeze blowing through the tall of trees around me, I thought I could feel the slight movement of their roots underneath. I had gotten hyper sensitive to my surroundings, picking up on movements and sounds as much as being able to savour the soil. I remembered back home, how the neighbourhood had been terrorised by a bunch of kids that lived somewhere near, they would kick the doors and spit in your face, there was no sense in talking, like they spoke no language, could not comprehend notions beyond their aggression. They had never known of the silence out here. I had left them behind, abandoned them, together with the rest of my life. I had to cough just then, could feel my chest painfully contract as it was gasping for air. Once I calmed I tried to shift position, move my legs, but I could barely feel them, let alone move. My left arm was twisted backwards trapped under my body, the right hand I could move a little, but there was nothing to hold on to, nothing that would keep me from slipping. I woke with the ďŹ rst light that shone through the crowns of trees, reaching the ground here and there, the light a haze, moisture rising. The green of tender shoots so bright and fresh almost close enough to touch. The smells very different now that the earth warmed and right at the edge 22


UNDERNEATH

of my vision I could see some grazing deer slowly moving their heads up and down, listening into the distance and suddenly they run and are gone and I cough again, this time tasting blood. Then I can hear what made them run, the faint bark of dogs, and knowing, that where there are dogs there are people. I listen into the distance, the volume of bark growing, getting ever closer, then make out a voice or maybe two for it would be senseless to talk to oneself, but not perhaps to talk to the dogs. Now I can hear the crackling of wood broken by treading feet, the rustle of leaves and I stretch out as best I can ready to shout for help but only a crackle leaves my throat. Again I try in desperation, but only the pain in my chest grows louder. I hear a snifing sound not far and as I open my eyes I stare into the face of a young golden retriever, tongue hanging from its mouth, saliva running. It has oppy ears and big brown eyes, and as I look at him I can feel tears well up inside and as if the dog was to console me he starts licking my face. I never felt such intense elation. I hear the mans voice then, not from close by however, but from afar calling for the dog who hesitates then waves its tail, turns and runs in that playful manner young dogs do when they play, still taking scent gradually fading into the undergrowth.

23


Š CONTACT _Con-497BEC111 Marcus Bastel marcus@marcusbastel.com


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