SmokeLong Quarterly

Share This f l Translate this page


Story by Brian Howell (Read author interview) June 15, 2004

Consider her now; she reads, she reads. On her side, a cove of love, an embrace of air, unknowing of her, slips out, a child unborn.

Antje’s ways are various, especially as she reads. She may be here with you or on a beach on the Baltic in her lover’s arms. I do not know. What she says there is unsaid here by her absence; her possible presence here gives the lie to her teasings there. The waves that lap the shore cool your thoughts of her with you in this shadowy city, populated by a synaesthesia of souls. She still lies there, adopting different positions. Her most appealing one is on her side, and this tortuous habit she can maintain for hours, unlike me; you shift and change as often as your restless eye makes its tour of her elusive form …

You are in Prague now and you walk into that pub where all the teachers gather, and you see her and you sit down and you are not surprised that she welcomes you with a smile. And why shouldn’t she, a woman who has every reason to be pleasant to someone such as yourself? You barely used to notice her on the staircase, in fact you had this idea that she was the head of the German department and she probably wouldn’t be so easy to approach. Then you start to hang around the building after lessons in the hope that you’ll get a chance to talk to her. In fact she does take her time going home and it’s quite easy to talk to her, but there is always just one other teacher in the building who loiters too, who threatens to attach himself to you, to become a fixture. But you aren’t ruthless: you don’t want to hurt his feelings. You don’t think you’re like the rest of them, especially other English men. You certainly don’t have the attractions that they possess to get their English women. Your successes, your affiliations, your affinities are always at one remove; they happen in the ambit of foreign liaisons. The pattern is there; it’s set for life.

That time in the pub you established a mutual interest in film and art. That was a good start. And literature, of course. Over sweet black beer made darker by the lighting, in a place where even beer mats take on their own air of romanticism, you start drawing a map on one, to establish where you are going to meet to see that film. You came into the pub because you were a little lonely, on the off-chance that you might see her, her golden plaits, her gold-rimmed spectacles, her roll-ups that smelt pleasant, and you find yourself already arranging a date. With the Germans teachers again. He’s always with the Germans teachers. You like them, Antje’s friends, Renate in her lank black coat, her black hair band, her dark-framed glasses, Gudrun, her gangliness, her giggly, near-hysterical laugh, but more than anyone, at the centre, Antje, in faded pink cords and dull green silk shirt.

Together you inspect the city outskirts, and she mocks your thin knowledge of nature, but she wants to educate you. She lets you nuzzle up against her, and when she lets herself go that far and presses her fingers into the knots in your muscles, it feels like her power is coming from somewhere outside the two of you it’s so strong.

When was it you found out she had a lover?

You went to Ĉeské Krumlov, Schiele’s town for a while. If you could have drawn and painted like him, Antje would have been your only subject. Yes, it was there that you found out. You were not really deceived. She did not lead you on, she wooed the nobler instincts out of you and made you weigh everything in the balance, just as she weighed you and him against each other, as if whatever move you made with her was counterbalanced against his every action in her native land.

In truth, would you have made your life with her? She played with you, with your idea of her. You loved the books she read, the way she read, how she lay, like some literary mermaid on the beach, a littoral languishing being unfurled before you, a mesmeric mermaid out of Magritte, a mirage.

Whatever did you talk about, anyway? Your ambition to become a writer? Your incessant roving across Europe? Your uneventful past, your broken marriage, her broken marriage, yes, something along those lines, sure.

You met her again that time in the leafy part of Hamburg, with her husband-to-be staring blankly, out of politeness, at the floor in the garden of his well-to-do parents’ home. Only one day before, she had let you embrace her on the banks of the river that flowed through her town. It didn’t make any difference.

Well, now, is not the time for indulgence over?

About the Author

Brian Howell lives and works in Japan, is married and has two beautiful young children. His first novel, The Dance of Geometry, was published in 2002 by The Toby Press. His first collection of stories is due from Elastic Press in the U.K. in May 2004. He has had various short stories published since 1990 in print and online in publications such as Critical Quarterly, Leviathan Quarterly, Neonlit: The Time Out Book of New Writing, Vol.1, and Alsiso. His novella, The Study of Sleep, in PDF eBook format, is now out from Wind River Press.

About the Artist

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison’s work here.

This story appeared in Issue Four of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Four

Support SmokeLong Quarterly

Your donation helps writers and artists get paid for their work. If you’re enjoying what you read here, please consider donating to SmokeLong Quarterly today.

SmokeLong Fitness--The Community Workshop

Book Now!

Included in the price of SmokeLong Fitness:

The Community Workshop in small groups
One live Zoom webinar each month with killer workshop leaders (recorded for participants unable to attend).
One open-mic party each month (or other live Zoom events)
Discounts on intensive workshops
Discounts on senior editor feedback
Surprises (good ones)