Deniz E. Avci Vile

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How odd, to visit at once physically and imaginatively the city you used to call home – and were still meant to. What is more foreign: the place in person, in the novel . . . or you, now? Written as a tribute to Javier Marias, “Miriam” by Deniz Ezgi Avcı Vile is a metafictional exploration of time, place, and memory.

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Yolk began as an electric conversation around a picnic table in Saint Henri Square.

Our scruffy pioneer and present prose editor had previously approached each of us with an idea, a vision: We would establish our own literary magazine in Montreal. And so it was, or so it would be. After that original encounter, eight individuals devoted to the word resolved that they would gather bi-weekly, on Sundays, and bring something new into this busy, manic world—something that might slow its spin down somewhat and cause its patronage to say: “You know what, it ain’t so bad, is it, Susan?”

We are undergraduate, graduate, and graduated students of writing. Some of us learn our craft formally from accomplished authors in seminar courses, and some of us learn by looking out the window of the world and onto the streets that sing below. Some of us learn from screaming squirrels, old curtains, departed grandfathers, and bowel movements. We learn from old lovers, long winters, imperfect mothers, and from the deep internet where a musical genius remains entombed.

Yolk is cold floors on Sabbath mornings, home-brewed ginger beer in the endless afternoon, and downpours of French-pressed coffee in assorted artisanal mugs. Our first official gathering was scheduled for a duration of two hours; most of us remained for six, departing only to attend to the summons of our own beckoning realities. Together, with time suspended, we talked endlessly of contributing something to disrupt Montreal’s literary ecosystem. Something unparalleled, something true.

But what? There was nothing to discuss. There was everything to discuss.

We volunteer our time, hounding some elusive beast composed of combustible words and works. We are hopeful, truly hopeful, that we can give something new, a new way, a new light, and that if we cannot, we might at least uphold the traditions of our predecessors, cast star-wide nets to capture their echoes. We are a thousand decisions. We are a sanctuary for the orphaned word, the solitary writer, the cereal-eating artist who yearns for company, for the comfort of a like mind; we sit together with them at foggy dawn, it rains a baptism, with our arms and hands intertwined, we form an umbrella—underneath, they scribble madly, the perfect picture.

Yolk in no way presumes to be superior to its contemporaries, but its contemporaries should not presume yolk to be anything other than loud—quite, quite loud. We are yippidy jazzed to address the oh-so-technicolorful magnificence of the human experience, but we are prepared also to address the ugliness, to stare at its wet, hairy snout and into its square depth and to roar in return at the things that yearn to devour our skin, beset our ethos, and dig graves in our own backyards.

There’s so much to say, there’s so much we don’t know, but together, with you, we can placate that ignorance, render it peaceful, tolerable, and perhaps even, fucking beautiful.

And Susan says, “Amen.”

Going through an industrial wasteland; a town with archaic, grey factories and run-down bungalows. 
           “Matanza,” the tour guide says from the front of the bus, waiting for a brief moment to create a sort of impact, then he repeats the word one more time: “Matanza.” I repeat the word after him. “Does anyone speak Spanish?” he says. 
          A few people raise their hands. “Yes!” 
          “What does the word mean then, my good fellows? Tell me!” 
          “Massacre!” a man shouts from the front seats. 
          “Yes, yes!” the tour guide says. “Massacre! That’s the name of this town, and I will tell you why.” 
          My daughter is sitting in the window seat, holding her camera up—the one we bought, it feels like a thousand years ago, in a different era, a lifetime ago, when we were living in a different country, when I was younger. We got that camera on a whim after walking through a colossal electronics store, called Vera or Verosa or maybe it was Tekno or Teknosa, and it had just opened. We bought it before we sat in the sun and drank a few beers, perhaps four or five, from those big beer glasses; they were called Argentines in that country, and we took photos of each other, of our young faces. I was wearing a black and white striped shirt with balloon sleeves and a black dress vest. I was into vests then. What happened to all those vests? 
          My daughter snaps a photo of the world outside the bus window, then turns to me. “What is massacre, mama?” 
          “Not quite sure, honey,” I say, and drive her attention to the sad-looking man on a rugged bike carting papayas in a basket. “Hey, take that guy’s photo, on the bike there.” She zooms in. She just learnt how to zoom in yesterday, and now she is zooming in on everything, like she wants to get very close, like she wants to get under the skin of all the people, objects and towns she is capturing, like she wants to smell their insides—but she loses the focus as she does that. 
          I’m reminded of the narrator in A Heart So White, standing on the balcony and looking down at Miriam. He is also trying to focus but can’t see Miriam’s face until she gets very close. Miriam looks up then and shouts at the balcony, “I will kill you! You are mine!” as she thinks the narrator is Guillermo. Miriam’s Guillermo. Guillermo, the Spanish guy from Milano who is staying in the hotel room next door, whose wife—according to his story—is dying in Milano, and he is letting her die. 
          “They killed everyone,” the tour guide says, “women and children. They sailed to the ship welcoming them, offering their canoes to carry people to the land, loaded them with women and children and then just tipped the canoes over in the middle of the ocean and killed everyone. Over there,” he says, pointing to the ocean. “They were the ‘Yen Yen,’ and they weren’t very friendly, but of course, Spaniards got their revenge in a similar manner. When they invaded this land again, they didn’t leave a soul behind. We don’t have any natives here, like you folks in North America . . . and to whom you try to apologize with futile, symbolic gestures and niceties. Anyway,” he continues, “the residents tried to change the town’s name because it was too much, too brutal to relive a massacre everyday, but each time they tried, the new name didn’t stick, and the people called it as it was. People usually call it what it is, you see, so here we are; it is officially the town of massacre again.” 
          He leaves the microphone and sits down again. He is dark skinned and very skinny, he has an American accent. His leather belt is flopping—he must have gotten extra holes punctured. Every time the tour bus stops he lights a cigarette. We follow him and his smoke. 
          My daughter makes a sad face. “They killed children, mummy?” 
          I look at her lips as they move. She seems concerned because she is the only child on the bus, and she thinks she would go first. 
          “Not only children,” I say. “They killed everyone. You don’t have to worry about it.” 
          She nods, then leans back and pretends to sleep, the camera now placed between her thighs and the string wrapped around her little wrist so as not to drop it. 
          Miriam’s thighs were big and strong; it was as if she was shaking the ground as she crossed the street and neared the hotel, until one of her heels got stuck between the cobblestones and came off her foot. She started swearing and had to step on the filthy street. The streets do indeed look filthy in Havana, and they make desserts with bread dough and the milk tastes different. Miriam is worried that her Spanish lover is lying and that he will never save her—never take her away from this island. I’ve never felt this way, yet here I am, saved anyway. I was still supposed to be here in my thirties.
          The wife of the drunk Slavic guy across the aisle must have also felt, at some point, that she was saved, too, by that drunk and huge, beastly man who has already accused the tour guide of lying about some port the Americans have been or haven’t been to since some year. What did Daisy call Tom Buchanan? It wasn’t “beast” or “beastly,” but something better, like this man. I Google, What does Daisy call Tom Buchanan? and there it is: “A brute of a man.” 
          This brute has so much tension in his body, unnecessary but inevitable tension, and he is on a mission to kill himself. His wife looks very little next to him, with her fake blonde hair and polished nails, following him with a one-litre plastic water bottle, pleading him in their Slavic language to stop, though I don’t know to stop doing what . . . perhaps to stop embarrassing himself, drinking, or to now stop fighting with the waitress at the restaurant because he was going to get a bottle of wine anyway but the waitress tried to scam him by adding a few extra pesos to the price—it’s a scam and the whole thing was a scam and he wasn’t taking it and he left and his little wife followed behind, leaving the plastic bottle on the table with the white cotton tablecloth. 
          People cringe with embarrassment, and I wonder how they will make it back to the hotel if they miss the tour bus. But an hour later, they walk up the stairs onto the bus, on time, the brute more drunk, she smaller, both smoking.
          I’m worried about the little wife. She looks so powerless without a one-litre plastic water bottle, like a person standing on the beach looking at the eye of the typhoon which will hit in thirty seconds. She’s standing amidst a natural disaster. She is no Miriam. I can’t imagine her shouting, “I will kill you!”, “You are mine!” or “Stop that.” at anyone, but somehow, I think she will be fine. She might be like one of those reptilians which hides during the day and hunts at night to survive. She will be fine, but I want to know more about those people who don’t want to be part of this charade, those who join a tour and then accuse the tour guide of lying—people who refuse to play the game. 
          Dean tells me all about it, who is now sitting next to me because my daughter chose to sit with daddy this time. Dean is staying in the same hotel as the Slavic couple. He hasn’t seen the guy without a glass in his hand for the last four days. “Poor woman,” he says. “She’s always trying to stop him from doing a more ridiculous thing. She must be so embarrassed.” 
          I don’t know if I agree, Dean. Embarrassment is like one of those buoys in the sea, it disappears and comes back up to the surface again as the waves hit the plastic. I don’t know about that. 
          Dean doesn’t have the tips of three fingers of his right hand. They end at the knuckles. I look out the window to distract myself. It is Dean’s first holiday ever. After his third wife walked out on him, he decided to retire and treat himself. Next week, he is flying to Mexico for seven days with his stepson, who is dating a Cuban doctor and who has dark skin. He leans in to me and whispers, “He has arranged a hotel for me in this little town he has stayed in before and he is kind of dark, you know, looks like them, so he fits in. I don’t think we will have any problems.” 
          Dean has an egg-shaped head, no hair, ugly blue eyes, and a belly. He was shocked to realize he had jowls when he was looking at the drawing of himself a street artist drew and sold to him for 100 pesos. 
          My husband wanted my daughter to have a drawing too, caught up with the artist and pointed at my daughter. As we walked up the cobbled street, the artist walked with us, drawing my daughter’s face on a piece of paper. He gave it to us. My daughter in the drawing doesn’t look anything like my daughter in real life. In the drawing, she is in her thirties. What did the artist see looking at her? Did he intentionally draw her future face, rather than her face today? I wonder when she will stop being my daughter and be a thirty-year-old woman with high eyebrow arches; if we will ever stop talking or if she will only call me once a week out of guilt or duty. She has great eyebrows, though. The artist did a good job capturing them—thick eyebrows, ready to be plucked already. I wonder if my daughter will be like Miriam, or the little wife of the brute, or like me. 
          Last night, I told my husband that this was my first gringo holiday, and that everything is almost perfect. I told him that in the novel I was reading, they were also in Havana for their honeymoon, and I was surprised as the author was Spanish, I thought the story would be in Spain. But the story is in many places, just like we are in many places. We were sipping Piña Coladas on the hotel balcony. Our daughter was asleep. The ocean was a black line. He looked at me and smiled. 
          There were only three survivors of the second massacre in “Matanza.” They started walking and they walked the whole island bare foot to reach Havana, which was in a different location then. “They moved the location of the city because the first Havana was built in a swamp,” the tour guide had said. “They carried the whole city and called it Havana again.”
          I didn’t know then, sitting on that balcony looking at the black line of the ocean, that the same author had written another novel, Your Face Tomorrow. I didn’t know he would also mention the names Miriam and Guillermo in another novel set in Oxford and in many other towns. I didn’t know then how many Miriams and Guillermos would keep showing their names, if not their exact faces. Their faces would keep changing, but the names would stay the same. 

Deniz Ezgi Avcı Vile is a writer/poet based in Toronto. Her work has been published, or is forthcoming, in Sozcukler Literary Magazine, Altzine Dergi, Lacivert Şiir ve Öykü Literary Magazine, Histhist Literary Magazine, and the short story app Trendeki Yabanci. 

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