I am reading a book in the time each night I would have spent with you, lying in bed, before falling asleep.
The protagonist is an immigrant, a Slavic Eeyore type with square features and a bald spot. Much of the story deals with assimilative efforts: his exhaustive search for work (a sequence highlighted by an exchange with a superior concerning the relative merits of Scotch and masking tape when he is employed, albeit briefly, as a gift-wrapper during the holiday season), his relationship to the local currency (while purchasing a pack of gum at a convenience store, he offers a handful of coins, palm to the sky, like seeds for a bird, for the clerk to pick through), his developing sense of the local parlance (as exhibited by an uptick in his usage of “Wazzup” as a formal greeting).
This anecdotal evidence of his current existence is, via natural antipodean extension, juxtaposed with concrete images of his past, and to this end the narrative makes sweeping use of the flash back. Here, there are remembrances of now dead friends, and gun-riddled buildings that once held homes: a catalogue of things that couldn’t get away.
In the present tense, our protagonist is living with a woman. They met while she was studying abroad, understanding that he was for her maybe nothing but a foreign fling, a placeholder boyfriend for a semester’s worth of school. But they exchanged contact info, and he used it to track her down stateside.
He makes this situation seem to the reader like it is a pitying concession on her part; like she is letting him stay on only because otherwise he would have nothing, would be left alone to brave this new world. He is mostly sad, but he does love her and the things he says to her are spoken in a broken yet elegant English, and are in this way both pathetic and poetic and she can’t help but love him back because of this.
And this isn’t our story, but somehow reminds me of it. And it makes me wish I was saying Goodnight to you when I put the book down and turned out the light, instead of Good-bye.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
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