The Basilisk
by JM Parker

My boyfriend is horrified to learn I’m writing a story about my ex. Having taken up his fork in the restaurant, he begins intently grinding holes in the tabletop with its tines. As it seems too overtly placating to say now that I’ll probably end up writing about him, too, I leave him to sulk, and walk to the restroom. He follows, locks the door behind us and balls my collar into his fist.“Go ahead and hit me,” I say, trying to find an easy spot to lean against the sink, then finally finding my back against the hand dryer. “That’s what you want. Kill me.”

Not that death matters much to him.

Allah says that in paradise all we do is drink wine and have sex. We’re always happy and never fighting anymore, and we don’t even have to go to the restroom. My boyfriend is going to take me to paradise, because Allah says the faithful can take someone they love with them. I asked if we really get seven virgins each, but he says that’s probably only for heterosexual Muslims… or perhaps for guests invited first-hand. Pets? I asked. Can we take pets, too? Pets, no, he considers, probably not.

My boyfriend says his ex can go to hell. But he can’t understand why I’m still writing about mine. His ex, he says, died to him the day they broke up.

“Funny then,” I said, “That the other day, when you wanted to meet at the French consulate, we ran into him just as he was going up the steps to teach a class, isn’t it? I mean, the consul, as a general rule, doesn’t hire dead people as language instructors, does he?”

Back at the table, the fork lies still by his plate now, but as his hand grips the underside of the table, the water in our glasses still trembles slightly. “I want to kiss you so much right now,” he says. But there is nowhere for two men to kiss in Istanbul. Every day, every hour, every neighborhood is like Grand Central Station at rush hour. The people are not even people after a while, but a force, like weather, like standing in a river. Sometimes they flow around you, sometimes they almost carry you away.

I’m in mosque and I’m praying to make happy together more more and never will end! Its my wish… he writes that evening. I console myself with the idea that if he interrupts conversations with God to send text messages, I shouldn’t feel so bad that he answers calls from his friends in the middle of sex.

 “Your boyfriend is jealous,” say my friends that night. This is true. If my boyfriend were even aware I was here, he would threaten to break up with me. Bars like this one, he says, are all right for tourists, but he can’t be seen in one. After a few drinks I’m jealous of them for even talking about my boyfriend. His own jealousy is catching. I can see how it might eat a person alive. To relieve it, I send him a text message to tell him where I am. You have to go to home, he writes back. Half an hour later, he’s there. “Ok,” he says. “Let’s go.” I follow him out, and he walks ahead without speaking.

Twice, in the middle of the street, packed on a Saturday night, I get down on my knee in front of him. Stone is hard on knees, even after a few drinks. “I hate you right now,” he says. “I hate your smile. What a stupid, stupid smile you have. You should be crying. You have a fish brain. It wasn’t a long time ago we talked about this. It was this morning. You make me crazy. You make me sad. Go on, go back there. You’re dirty, you like it there. I hate you,” he says. “Look in my eyes. Look, look at me! You are a dog. You are worse than a dog! Worse than a cat,” he shouts.

He presses himself closer, looks over my face, and I wait, brace myself to hear that I’m old, ugly, tired. He tries, but something – and it isn’t a lack of desire to hurt me – suddenly becomes transmuted as he stares. He tries to pull away but doesn’t, or can’t. I don’t see love in his face, but fixation, a man falling into his own obsession. What was first a look of appraisal dissolves, steadies itself, shifts, then realigns somewhere lower. “Look at you. Your sweater is dirty, your shirt is dirty, and anyway it’s my shirt.”

“Take it,” I say.

“No. Keep it and be sad. You are the worst person on earth. No one will read what you write. You will be forgotten. Look at me. I can kill you.”

He threatens to break up with me. Every time anyone ever threatened that, they ended up doing it. Just dragged it out. I get into a taxi and ride home.

“You call me in fifteen minutes,” he says.

I call. “Where are you?” I ask.

“Walking. In the street. You never do that again,” he says. “Promise me.” Now that he’s gotten out of bed at two in the morning and snuck out of his parents’ apartment to drag me out of a club, he doesn’t have money for a cab home.

“I’ve never promised anything like that before,” I say.

It’s quiet on the line.

 “Are you fed up talking to me now?” he says.

 “Yes, I’m fed up. You want me not to go out, and I won’t say I won’t, but now I don’t even want to go out anymore. So I won’t.”

“Ok. I love you.” And it’s so quiet. Just a whisper.

After a while, I drink some wine and start crying. Bovary tears, perhaps, but tears. Celui qui ne sait pas cacher ne sait pas aimer 1, Louise Labbé wrote, but I will not tell him this.

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1  The man who doesn’t know how to hide his feelings, doesn’t know how to love.

 

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