by Maria A. Ioannou
As published in In Focus Vol. 11, No. 1, March 2014
Next to its hard, hoarse surface, Demosthenes felt strong again. Merely clasping it, made him wild. By holding it like he would hold a walking stick, he forgot how time elapsed, was unafraid. After all, there was no way he could disregard all the things the two of them had shared over the years, the walls they had torn down, the panes and shop windows they had shattered, the heads and noses they had broken.
He couldn’t stand being without it, not even in the toilet. Together they shat, together they peed, together they slept, together they faltered. If it was thinner, they would fuck together too, not that he got to fuck often at his age. They watched movies. They gaped. They watched. They gaped. If the bat had a mouth, they would probably share a meal of microwave-reheated rice. Late at night, Demosthenes would turn his body to the pillow next to him and embrace it. Then, he would reach out and stroke it. As if by groping for its hollows and abrasions, he was trying to envision their future, become ecstatic with hope, albeit fake. Nothing. Then there were two bats on the bed.
There were times when the moon cast its soft light over the bat and made it look like an oblong piece of gold. Those were the moments when Demosthenes felt like a king. He held it like a scepter. He speechified to the hardcore cockroach on the wall. The bed stopped squeaking. The broken tile on the floor regained its proper place. His reflection was much slimmer in the mirror. He could see his crown multiplying amidst the shadows. He could imagine the empty fruit-bowl brimming with chicken well-done. His gutted mattress became filled with water. His stinking sheets were turned into silken. Everything in there was metamorphosed by that alcowhore. “Thank god for you!” he could tell his bat. “Wanna do it?” he could add, if the alcohol level inside him exceeded the usual limit.
And if you had an eye for detail you would realize that the bat had holes, compassionately gawking at Demosthenes, and that he too, if he lifted his pierced pajama and let you take a look, if he let you knock on his chest two or three times, you would see he was as wooden as his bat.
One time he decorated it with eyes, a nose, eyebrows, a mouth, teeth – the works. The bat looked like an oddly oblong head. It was a perilous act because that was precisely when he began talking to it – one finds it easier to talk to something with a face. “Remember when we slashed the tires of that BMW? Remember when we crushed the kneecaps of that asshole? When you went mad and smashed my face in, remember?” The bat wouldn’t answer. If it did, it would avail itself of wooden language, which Demosthenes thought was disgusting. Even more disgusting than the dishonoured repetition of the word “remember”.
Then Demosthenes took naphtha and smudged it, first the mouth, then the eyes, the nose last. “You can still breathe, simmer down!” he said to it, sparing a nostril. A nostril that now looks more like a permanent bug. They haven’t talked since. Demosthenes might have said “I love you” once more, he might even have kissed its lips a minute before he erased them. But some things are better left unsaid. Once uttered, they’re ruined. That’s it. If one word could characterize Demosthenes, this would be it. Ruined. And the bat? Ruined too. Ruined two.
The truth is Demosthenes sweated profusely because of the dreams he had. He even sprinkled some of his sweat on the bat, letting it in his subconscious. Boy, did he break everything in there or what! Brain, walls, veins, vessels, doors, windows, shop windows, chairs, cars, vases, bankers, ministers. And in the morning he’d wake up relieved. As if he had been fucking all night. He would see the bat sleeping peacefully on the pillow and he’d feel like making an opulent breakfast for it – fresh orange juice and all, served in bed. But the only think he could see was a skinny piece of wood, more crook than bat. It made him sick. He would bang it but it made no sound. Then he would bang his chest. Hollow.
How could that be! When he looked at his head in the mirror, he saw a huge wooden bump. He slapped himself. The bump was still there. He lowered his pants. A tiny bat protruded from his briefs. He blinked. The mini bat imitation was still there in his genitals. Then his fists grew larger. He filled the house with shards of plaster from the walls. He could no longer bear seeing it in there. He threw it out in the garbage. It found its way back to the pillow. He kicked it outside the window. The landlady brought it back. He drowned it in the sink. Nothing broke it. He banged the bat once more. No sound. He banged his chest. Hollow.
Still… they used to have such a good time, the two of them! How much pleasure they took in terrifying everyone with their youth! They exerted total control over their life and the lives of others. But they weren’t mean. They didn’t do mean things. And if sometimes they misbehaved due to a beer more than their usual quota, they wouldn’t shy away from saying sorry. They weren’t scumbags. Scumbags are a thing of today. “Today is a scumbag!” Demosthenes thinks aloud now, gulping down something akin to food.
The crucifixion of the God Man is on TV. It’s not Easter.
On the window some brats with hoods are terrorizing a dog.
The bat is staring at him.
The permanent bug is stirring.
The ceiling is spinning.
The ceiling is still spinning.
Each time he drinks, Demosthenes remembers Stathis. Then his heart pretends to beat. Not even the hand of a wrist watch has ever sounded so faintly. Then he remembers their dog, Attila. Now that was a name for a dog! Especially at the time. Yes, they were asking for it.
Sometimes Demosthenes thinks that Stathis left on account of the bat; its overuse. After he left, he would send Demosthenes postcards from his journeys. Then he stopped. And so Demosthenes began sending postcards to himself, signing “Stathis”, or his mother, or his sister, Merope. Sometimes he would sign “Attila”. One night he signed a postcard with large rounded letters – “Your bat, with love”. He never mailed it. He kept it in the drawer of his bedside table, amidst the expired lubricant, a photo of Stathis holding Attila and a Lidl brochure.
Tonight Demosthenes is grabbing his bat by the throat. It doesn’t protest. It can still breathe through one nostril. Demosthenes can’t breathe very well. He feels as if his stomach has risen to his lungs. There’s no space. He yearns to go out in the street, even if this is the last thing he’ll ever get to do. Yell. Go back to his street-smart bullying days. Break the marble tiles of the woman next door. Throw a bottle in the street. Run, feel the adrenaline ejaculating on his face.
The front door won’t open. For years now it won’t open. Someone has glued it shut. Someone has nailed it. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t remember. Only the closet doors are still his. He opens them again tonight.
The window of a shop. Some golden Chinese kittens sway their heads to the rhythm, completely synchronized. Tourist T-shirts are hanging from clothespins. A counter in the background.
He raises the bat. He’s ready to smash everything up. He opens his mouth; growls, gathers speed. Behind him he can hear people screaming; police sirens buzzing, helicopters overhead, cameras all around him like spinning tops. The Chinese kittens keep swaying their heads. They seem valuable. Perhaps if he sells them he can eat meat for a change. Perhaps if he gives them away he might get to talk to someone again.
The bat in his hand is reminiscent of a Molotov bomb, though never in his life has he made a Molotov bomb. He blinks. The bat in his hand is reminiscent of a flower. He eats it. Now there’s nothing left but his bare knuckles.
Go for it love! a familiar voice whispers to him. He goes for it.
Only, for the life of him, he can’t smash the shop window.
He can’t for the life of him batter up that fat, worn out middle-aged man who’s looking at him scared stiff.
Not even the bat in his right hand that appears left in the shop window.
Translated by Despina Pirketti