Gulag Orkestar – Beirut
An album interpretation by an uninspired
Never heard of Beirut (the band)? You’re missing out. Here’s a couple of super short stories that I wrote whilst listening to their album #GulagOrkestar. I composed these bits of flash fiction on my typewriter, tapping away whatever came to mind whilst listening to this wonderful music.
I suggest reading these whilst listening to the music. Find yourself a quiet place, a glass of your favourite poison and read away, one song at a time, one short, but slow story at a time. Enjoy.
1. The hot sun burning down on the scorching Tumerian desert. Eugenio made his last walk to the arena. He knew there would be no tomorrow, for today was perfect enough. What joy and love life had not provide for him, he would find for himself in the bull ring.
His sweat had turned to blood the day they took her from him. His pain, a cry of torture at every death. Every valorous beast sent to its end.
People knew to bow their heads in respect when a fighter made his last walk. Words would not have done it justice. A few tents, the shacks, and the remains of something great. Something greater than the sum of them all. That was the greatness of the arena, La Catedral. And as he entered it, he looked up and smiled.
2. That beautiful sense of tranquility and the sweet taste of satisfaction she wandered the streets of a city she did not quite know yet, but that she suspected she would soon fall for. Allowing herself to wander for hours, aimlessly enjoying the narrow streets. The fresh washing and linen hanging from balconies. The sight of a lost cat, it too trying to find its way home or perhaps a little shade from the mid day heat.
Music played in a bar not too far. An old man sat. Tired, at a chair outside his doorway. A cigarette that looks like it has been in his fingers for decades, still smoked slightly. The look on his face was of deep regret. What might have been, he wondered. The dreams gone up in smoke, the war. His wife slept. Old and angered.
That second glass of wine was just about beginning to kick in, and she looked forward to falling in love.
3. It had been the hardest phone call he had ever had to take. It had rung with a particular oddity, and something about the way it rang had told him there was bad news on its way. They’d been waiting for the call ever since the war had started. The shop had gone up in flames and Carmine had lost his job, all in the same week. And now that phone call.
As he put the phone down he wondered how to break the news to his mother. The illness had crippled her, and now he feared she too would be taken from him. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and sat on the stairs, staring into the tainted glass window. The flowers would need watering soon. Pathetic things. Why did they bother.
4. The days leading up to the wedding had been a mix of stress and anger, and some love too, but that would have to wait. Every little detail had been seen to, and he had passed his time worrying about trivial entertainment whilst she had seen to every important detail. It had turned out to be the perfect day. The rain had come and gone, and now the sun was back. Time had stopped. He had arranged it specially with the great man in the sky, he would later joke on occasions when recalling that memorable day.
The waves had brushed up onto the small pier on which they had decided to get married on a spur of the moment thing. Like all things true and beautiful, it had worked. The woman in charge of marrying them had nearly been washed away by the growing swell, and the wind blew the girl’s hair in the blue skies. Friends reunited for that one day.
The sun had stopped in the sky and bowed its head at them. Congratulating them, but warning them of days when it might not be able to shine down on their warm love. They kissed and looked back on the crowd of folks. It would be a day to remember, the photos would confirm.
5. He had never known his parents. Every time he looked into the mirror though, he liked to think that a little part of them was in there with him. Now he played the streets. Battling the cold Parisian nights. He’d cut the fingers from his gloves. The guitar strings broke regularly, and he at times worried about the day when he might not have enough cash to buy himself new ones.
Loving couples walked by, cuddling each other and keeping each other warm in the freezing winds. He loved the riverside that time of night. A magical moment of the day, it was indeed. Their smiles encouraged him on, and warmed him. He wished his parents could see him perform. A girl with long dark hair stopped to thank him…
6. It would be over soon enough. The old man in the cell block had told him to think of the sea to escape the pain. Truth was, he had never been to the sea. And the first three lashes had hurt like nothing he could ever have imagined. There were another seventeen to go. The sun hung high in the sky. It looked like it might be doing it on purpose. Not only would he have to endure the lashes, but its burning rage as well.
Why had he done it, they’d asked him. For love, for what else. What else could possibly be worth twenty salty lashes. Love of course. And now she was dead. Not because of him directly, but indirectly enough. Now that he thought of it, a life without her was worse than any physical pain could ever be. The fourth lash hit and he felt only the sound of it ricochet off his sweaty back. A tear fell from his eye as he recalled her smile. The short but intense days they’d spent together before the awful event.
7. A life of strife and pain had finally turned out alright.The nights they’d gone to bed without food, and the cold evenings when he’d feared his toes might go numb and fall off. They’d laid in bed holding each other. He’d rubbed her back and pulled her fat. She liked that.
Now in the warmth of a Caribbean island, the last sips of a tropical drink floating about in a glass, it all seemed too good and beautiful.
8. He had fought big bulls before, but by god was that a big beast. Its eyes had pierced his, with their dark red and sombre look of hate. Its horns had been sharpened for the occasion. And he could smell the beast’s hormones, oozing from its anger.
He pulled off his coat and reached for his hat and cape. The crowds were still shuffling into the arena.
They have come from far, and paid good money to see you die, Iniaki said. The despicable man had a sense of humour after all. It cut to the heart of things.
No shit, he said adjusting his hat into place.
It weighs more than five hundred kilos, Iniaki told him.
You should put your wife on a diet old man, he said joking. He had somehow sparked a rare smile on the man’s face.
Good luck, young man.
9. The poems came rather naturally. After lunch, when the sun hid behind the large oak tree by the front of the house, he would make himself a mint tea and carry the orange typewriter to the front porch. He’d sit there until he’d filled a dozen or so pages. When he was satisfied that he had written enough good stuff, he’d get up and stretch his back. At times he would walk down the lawn to the apple tree and if one was within easy reach, or if he could spot a good one on the ground, he would pick it up and bite into the apple, crunching into its freshness. He loved to stand on the porch feeling the wind blow through his fading hairline. His wife slept off her lunch on the sofa. He turned to admire her beauty and smiled.
10. They had always dreamed of having a boat. And now that the wind had finally picked up, they looked to each other and smiled. Another journey waiting to define them. They knew what every little piece of equipment was called, yet they chose to name things their own way. It bonded them even further to do so. The wind pulled on the sails with force and they were off. They’d stacked the twenty footer with enough food and water for a few months.
11. What can you do? Where will you, he said to her as she walked off into the distance one last time. Their time on this world was coming to an end and they had both sensed it. Now that the time had come, she turned to face him and held out her hand to him.
Come on, she said smiling to him. We’ll be alright. We’ve got each other.
They were facing the curtain with their shoulders held high. What could the next life possibly throw at them that this one already hadn’t. There was no one else about, but he imagined a crowd of cheering folks clapping them on. They stopped to face the invisible audience and bowed.