09. 21. 2007. 09:03

Goat Rouge (excerpt)

Agáta Gordon

"we sniffed our new friends out hungrily and tried to figure out exactly what everyone else was trying to figure out why they lived together was it like our neighbor innocently imagined that they were no more than colleagues or cousins for whom it was easier and cheaper together or was it because like us they were secret lovers"

XXVI.
    it’s hard to recount what happened Izolda and I were so swept up in it all we never would've imagined that precisely in the site of our self-imposed exile we’d find companions while fulfilling our own dreams together we were caught off guard by the emerging face of an unfathomable love cloaking itself as newborn friendship 
    two women like us were living together in the village an hour’s walk from our woods a drunk neighbor who lived four doors down from them and had a vineyard near us spread the news he was beyond baffled by the high concentration of unmarried women shacked up with one another in the area
    "well those women too" he said shaking his head "all day long they whittle away at grapevine roots meanwhile they’ve got no man to work their land haul the wagon or retile the roof" and his eyes studied us
    that was our cue to assure him we didn't think it was right either but how could we since we likewise had no man to show for ourselves as soon as our venerable neighbor polished off the wine he’d brought along in a plastic lemonade bottle and headed home sunk in his own thoughts Izolda and I decided we had to see these women
    they lived in a small house in the center of the village all we heard beyond their thick fence was barking and we shuffled about nervously until we heard an older woman’s voice from a neighboring window "the girls are at home just ring their bell!"
    we finally noticed the dangling tassel of a little bell above the gate and as Izolda tugged we heard the ring in the house then the front door opened a crack
    "what can I do for you?" a tall woman with dark hair and deep blue eyes asked approaching us wiping her large hands on a blue dusty apron and as we muttered unconvincingly that we’d like to have a look at her root carvings her expression as she eyed us was indifferent but polite
    Gerle's welcome came off as unfriendly at the time but within a few weeks we realized just how common it was to have nosy strangers dropping by expecting that their curiosity be rewarded with gracious hospitality and for the most part these women’s guests would get what they expected since after all they make a living off selling their carvings
    we rushed meekly through the gate trailing Gerle and on entering the house found ourselves in a workshop in the foyer which may have at one time been a kitchen in the corner there was a tea kettle on an iron stove beneath the windows were school benches on one of them Paloma sat facing the light she greeted us but without making eye contact she continued carving away at the big vine stump in her lap and her blue apron was covered in dark red shavings shelves lined the walls filled with finished pieces first they had brushed off the dirt from the butter yellow mauve rose and burgundy roots and here and there they worked at them but not much because the land and the seasons had done most of the job
    all the knobby and twisted roots were pleasing to the touch and the eye we rotated them in our hands marvelling while a thumb-sized piece transformed eight times in a matter of moments it was a dolphin a clown doing a handstand a forehead resting on bony elbows the profile of a man with a toothache a long thigh with one accompanying buttcheek a plump huddling pigeon a pebbly riverbed and an arthritic finger
     Izolda and I looked around eagerly and accepted the tea Gerle offered but we didn’t ask questions about their work instead sheepishly revealed ourselves as newcomers tend to do every so often I felt silent Paloma’s gaze on my neck as Gerle paced her questions to Izolda asking how and why we ended up here of course we started off talking about ideologies our grand dreams to live vegetarian environmentally conscious and chemical-free lives all of us were intimate with the subject and in an excited flurry we rattled off all the relevant books we knew
     Izolda hesitated to answer just one question because it was brash and premature "but what are you going to live off of up there in the hills?" Gerle asked with a Cassandrian glance knowing full well that her skepticism would fall on deaf ears regardless
     the next few days came and went with a succession of spur-of-the-moment visits we didn’t plan our encounters but wanted to see one another and each time we met with a manic joy that thrived on the fact that they couldn’t resist the draw of our similarities any more than we could theirs
    we sniffed our new friends out hungrily and tried to figure out exactly what everyone else was trying to figure out why they lived together was it like our neighbor innocently imagined that they were no more than colleagues or cousins for whom it was easier and cheaper together or was it because like us they were secret lovers
     all charged up we hoped hard we’d finally met two women besides ourselves we could suspect of being together but there were no clues
    Gerle was stout and formidable but her voice wasn’t particularly deep nor did she go around in a black suit with a necktie and a walking stick from time to time a puckish twinkle hovered in her dark blue eyes but she checked it with cool humor
    Paloma wore her soft reddish brown hair tied at the nape of her neck and on her temples a few pale glittering curls corkscrewed down though her smile was rather provocative she was generally reserved and only when overcome with emotion did she speak and then her words carried weight like in the forest one afternoon when out of the blue she and Gerle appeared on the winding path beside the linden tree I saw Izolda glow as she lowered the bowl into which we had been shelling our homegrown beans we leapt up in the direction of the arrivals and the expectant happiness of both couples fused beside the well
     "this must be love" I murmured with slightly contrived humor and Paloma met my eyes and said in an unexpectedly deep and melodic voice "yes"
     we puttered away entire days most often in their kitchen where they were always baking bread or a batch of biscuits in part we felt so contented because in contrast to our chilly dark forest home their place was all warmth and good scents
     there was the straw floor the red frilly curtains with lace trim the shelves and racks along the wall packed with glazed pots mugs little kettles spice jars milk pans slender brandy and wine bottles and the oval table in the middle of the kitchen where Izolda always sat closer to Gerle than I did to Paloma and every night it would get too late for us to head home to the woods and at about this time Gerle would watch Paloma carefully then decide we should stay and all sleep on their wide pull-out bed 
     in the beginning the crowded intimacy made falling asleep difficult together our eyes ran over their books discovering old acquaintances in the back row like inside and outside the law Izolda and I commented on it among ourselves but Gerle and Paloma didn’t seem interested in chatting about such things and after Izolda rudely poked around their shelves she remarked on a few pleasant surprises like a lovely bald nun and the gloomy androgyny of a Da Vinci painting on a book jacket Gerle and Paloma feigned ignorance they made like the whole secret community before us was invisible though I doublechecked while they took a bath I positioned their volume of Baudelaire upright in my palm loosely so it would open to the most frequently read pages and it opened over and over again to Delphine and Hippolyte
     Gerle offered Izolda a different form of evidence a few nights later when we again stayed over Gerle and Izolda were whispering but Paloma like me lying motionless had to have been shocked to clearly hear Gerle say that she and Paloma have been in love for four years and would love each other forever
     days later the slight thaw shifted into something palpable and all of us talked openly about the subject which we hadn't risked bringing up since our earlier failed attempt we talked about notorious homosexuals and dubious beginnings and then one by one carved nudes with red torsoes returned to their places from the depths of the cabinets
  
XXVIII.
     Gerle and Paloma had stopped coming by as frequently though Izolda I and our unfinished sentences were anxiously awaiting them when two strangers came by and sat down casually in front of the house under the walnut trees without being invited to gift us with their curiosity but they didn’t take our unease and hurried answers as rejections frankly we would have much rather continued to wallow in our disappointment while retiling the roof or cooking and cleaning up a little bit it had been so long since we’d done laundry we couldn’t fit any more dirty clothes into the tin washtub
     in our naiveté we still felt we had to be polite with all strangers and we expected the same behavior from both the gypsy boy lumberjacks and officials on horseback we thought they’d return the favor and wouldn’t hold us up too long after we mentioned all the things we had to tend to our democratic approach was time-consuming but effective except that these two men who had just come from a long hunting trip wouldn't take the hint or maybe we were more impatient than usual
    when Izolda went to the well with two pails the bearded younger man went to help her and while Izolda spun the creaky pulley he groped her shoulder she promptly shook off his hand and wouldn’t let him carry either pail up the stairs to the house the strangers still didn’t take this as a rejection and with country-style manners they kept it up in a mawkish “what’s-wrong-that-you-ain’t-playin’-with-me” fashion but gradually growing huffy and threatening it steadily became clear they'd been put up to this by a relative of theirs from the village who was allegedly a friend of ours though we couldn't remember him from among the swarms of nosy visitors
     "this just won’t do girls" grumbled the hefty older man I tried hard to find something agreeably feminine in his husky face but I couldn't
     he talked about all the spiteful gossipy idiot villagers who can’t fathom how two women can go about their lives so peaceably in the absence of both television and men
     the strangers said they didn’t believe the latter for one second and it was clear that a nasty rumor was in the works "you wouldn’t believe the kind of things they’re saying to my driver in the bar" the older man glanced at his partner who had been smirking into his beard but at this he frowned and in a show of pity hinted at the most widespread suspicion which he himself didn’t want to accept as truth and it'd be best if at this very moment we'd dispel the rumor that we had come here far away from normal places because of what we like to do with one another…
     Izolda rose speechless from the stump she had been sitting on and the bearded man thought he was finally going to get what he wanted
     "let's prove it wrong" he said genuinely thinking it was our duty to clear up this nasty little rumor for him and of course there was only one surefire way to do so he took a few steps in the direction of Izolda who had disappeared into the house
     I had a bad feeling about where this was heading so no matter how enraged I was by these fatuous morons I was still prepared to send them off politely and given our differences in sheer body mass peacefully deflect any violent disappointment but Izolda emerged from behind our iron door wielding an ax
     I saw in the surprised face of the bearded guy that he finally felt he had good reason to take action and I had to beat him to the door Izolda and I tumbled into the house with great force seized the doorknob and twisted the key in the door as it slammed behind us

Translated by Rachel Miller

Tags: Agáta Gordon