TIME-LOW: A ROMANCE

1.

Two blocks away from my room, in the housing project where my friend Pricilla resides, there is a time-low. 

One night I tried to explain to Priscilla what a time-low is. We were both drunk, but she was also high: Like a barometric low, babe. Imagine the atmosphere and a heavy cloud. Like air pressure, you dig? Like before the storm starts, there’s electricity in the air.

But that’s not precise. 

It was deep winter and I struggled through the wind and the snow to reach her house. I strained in the darkness. Upon reaching her tenement, after pushing at the hard, frozen wood door to her building I fell into the time-low in the courtyard, next to the dumpsters. A cat jumped out, black. A kerchief from some open window floated downward and through the falling snow I saw embroidered on it: All is not forgotten. 

That got me wondering. 

Glassy eyed…all is not forgotten? 

Perhaps… 

indeed… 

and when I found myself on the steps leading to Priscilla’s apartment on the first half-floor somewhat discombobulated, I checked my watch.

***

The building smelled of piss, and that was not so bad because the previous few months it was the smell of rot and decomposition that filled the hallways of the housing project.

Priscilla explained: Marguerite von Dort, the old woman next door, she had her son living with her since after the war. He’s a no goodnick. Killed about twenty prostitutes. They were, I don’t know, fourteen, thirteen-year-olds, all of them. Kept the bodies in the house, ate little parts off them. Marguerite cleaned up after him. Got rid of the bones, of some of those pink girly dresses and cheap rouge lipsticks. The police were here last week. Took everything out of the apartment. Some body parts were squeezed into the walk-in closets. That’s why the smell. The things I’ve seen, you wouldn’t believe. Except maybe this. The police left  the door of the apartment open.

Priscilla held the red nightgown she found at the Von Dort’s apartment up to her chest. Marguerite won’t need it anymore, and chucked to herself. Are you mad?

But something has been forgotten. Was it a stove I left open in my house? Was it the door I kept unlocked, luring the junkies to sleep in my bed with their muddy boots and falling hair? Was it a pill I should have taken that was missing from my contraption? 

Priscilla swung delicately from side to side like a pirate ship. 

She: A petal in the wind. 

She: brewed black coffee in a dented pot to snap out of her high. 

She: poured brew into white plastic cups. 

I looked at the melting plastic and thought: this is what happens to Time in the courtyard. 

***

I’ve felt that time-low a few times Priss, I told her sipping the coffee she laced with cardamon plus. It was spicy, hot and sweet. But I never told you about it because it was so subtle, almost unnoticeable. I came to visit you a few weeks ago after a date with Piotr… I went into the courtyard, walking towards the door of your building and suddenly I noticed that that walk, which should have taken me no more than, I don’t know, five seconds, actually took fifteen.

Priscilla coughed wet and throaty: Piotr went crazy. I see him in the streets some nights, walking around in his underwear. Poor kid. He doesn’t work for me anymore, which is a damn shame. Damn shame. Priscilla hocked phlegm. 

I knew Piotr went crazy. Once I saw a client coming over to him, a burn victim, skin molten lava, eyes lonely blue, head bald, eyebrows painted with magic marker. Piotr put his hand to the burnt cheek, smiled and invited him in. Next time, I thought, I’ll pay Piotr a bit more as appreciation for his kindness. But I never met up with him again because he went crazy. Two weeks ago he showed up at 2 in the AM in my room wearing nothing but a large coat, asking if he can sleep on my floor because he doesn’t know who he is or where he lives. I told him he can’t. I told him I…no…I can’t allow that. 

So I decided to put the time-low to the test.

Another night, before  entering the courtyard I used a stopwatch. I started through the courtyard, counting my steps. One, two, three, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and then reached the building’s entrance. I looked down at the watch. It took me 1 minute and 4 seconds. I was very discombobulated. 

Priscilla snorted a line of something dark gray. She fixed her nose and her wig and sat back, muttering, much better now. I got clients coming. Her lips were restless like her eyes.

And finally now Priss, I came here to you, and again I went through that thing.. that time-low…

Like a barometric low, just with time.

You got it. Through that time-low, and  it took me twelve  hours. 

You were here two hours ago, though… To pay me what you owe.

Yes. I mean for me it was twelve hours, for you, out of the time-low, I was there just the time it takes for a person to cross the courtyard. 8 steps. 

That escalated rather quickly don’t you think? A few extra minutes a week ago to twelve hours today.

Maybe the Low is getting heavier. Or maybe there is a pattern to it and next time it will return to just a few minutes.

Or maybe it will be two weeks next time. Or forever. Haven’t thought of that have you? Priscilla was proud. Priscilla winked. Priscilla yawned.  

Babe, she said. You gotta scoot. Got a client coming. 

She took off her clothes in front of me. Maybe I’ll wear Madame Von Dort’s fancy dress tonight. What do you think?

She held it before me again, showing me the front of the dress, the back. I could see her penis dangling from a vortex of whitening pubes. Without waiting for my reply, she slid it on and lit another cigarillo. 

When I left I avoided the courtyard. I climbed over the concrete wall between Priscilla’s building and its twin brother, conjoined at the spine, and from that building’s courtyard made it to the street parallel to mine. 

2.

At two AM. A knock on my door. 

I opened my eyes but pretended I wasn’t there. I counted down, like one counts between the strike of  lightning to the roll of  thunder: December, November, October, September, August, July, Friday, Thursday, and the knocks came again. 

He called from behind the door: 

It wasn’t Piotr like I thought it might be. It was Jentz Witz. 

Hey. He said. 

It’s so late, I said. 

Can I sleep over? Can I sleep with you tonight? He asked. 

I… No. No.. I can’t allow that.

He held me. Please. He said. I can’t  be alone tonight. He said. They found Piotr’s body in the dump near the Market.

He’s dead?

Who?

Piotr.

Yes.

How?

How what? Embraced me harder, his nose oozing snot on my bare chest. I could smell his dirty skin, his sweat, his breath through decaying teeth and pink lips.

How did he die?

He was crazy, But… Held me even closer now. From those green eyes, that at certain times–especially in spring–hypnotized me with lust, a tear squeezed. But….

But what?

I held him too, now. A protective urge bloomed.

Somebody ate him. Ate little bits. They think it’s a copycat of the Von Dort Killer… and…

 The last part, he mumbled: He ate the best parts too.

***

I allowed Jentz to stay, But told him he could not, under any circumstances, lie in my bed. He would have to make do with the couch, though the couch was old and tattered and swarming with bugs, or the floor that was cracked and cold and marked here and there with rat droppings. He nodded in agreement, and then proceeded to take off all of his clothes and come into my bed.

The sickly heat of his flesh overpowered the stench. Dirty fingers caressed my skin then entangled themselves with mine. I saw you today. When you went to Priscilla. He breathed in my ear.

I didn’t see you? Why didn’t you say something?

I was hiding.

Why were you hiding?

Jentz fell silent for a few moments. When I thought perhaps he fell asleep–I heard his breathing become heavier–he began talking again.

I saw you when you went into her house.

Yes.

What was happening to you there, in the courtyard?

What do you mean?

You don’t remember?

Remember what?

Something happened.  I’m not sure what. You became fuzzy.

He was quiet again.

In the pensive silence I was slipping into hypnagogia: Alien landscapes forming in my mind, bizarre creatures floating in the distance, a silk kerchief floating in a cloud of purple smoke with red embroidery on it stating simply that all is not forgotten.

He swallowed saliva and talked more: Every seven years all the cells in the body change.

What?

Every seven years all the cells in your body have changed themselves. So you could say that every seven years you are not the same person. Like, physically.

I don’t know if that’s true, Jentz. I was mumbling in slow-mo.

It’s true. A client of mine is a doctor, he told me. He also said we piss dead brain cells…. Are you still awake?

Yeah, kind of.

If someone did something very bad and has horrible guilt because of it, after seven years, the person who did the bad thing no longer exists, I guess, right?

He was speaking more to himself than to me at that point. I was not listening. Those landscapes, those floating creatures… the things I’ve seen, you wouldn’t believe.

Jentz said: Have you ever been in love? If I fall in love with someone, and seven years pass, am I still in love with him, or just with my memory of him?

It occurred to me that I have again found myself in the time-low. It was not, apparently, a spatial phenomenon, relegated to Priscilla’s courtyard by the dumpster. It was not like a haunted house, contained in one place, but rather more like a virus, attaching itself and traveling with a host, from victim to victim. I knew this because I could feel time passing through me. I could see eggs of winged serpents crack; hatchlings turn adult and die. I could see mountains erode by wind; rocks by water. 

Or is it me that changes in those seven years, and the love I feel is just a memory of love?

The planet itself disappeared . 

I was weighted down by time. 

Anything I ever was, was carried away. Everything I ever knew I have forgotten I‘ve forgotten. I am as blank as that speck of dust floating in space. Once part, probably, of something. A planet, a sun, a comet.

If my guilt will pass in seven years, and my love will pass as well, would you ever think to love me? Because I think I love you. I know you don’t think I know what love is, but I do. Love is when you do things for me. I have to tell you something. Are you there?

And from the depth a sound:

ARE YOU THERE?

And from the void a response: 

MMM HMM.

And from the deep:

ARE YOU AWAKE?

And from the darkness:

YEAH.

From beyond the pillow it opens its eyes, remembering nothing. 

I DID SOMETHING BAD.

It understands nothing. It cannot speak.

PIOTR.

It inhales.

I DID IT.

It exhales.

I ATE HIM.

It begins to see shapes, forms.

ARE YOU MAD?

Amir Naaman was born in Israel in 1984 and since 2012 lives in Berlin. He has published short stories, poems and plays in Hebrew and English . His first novel The Hummingbirds was published by Tangier press in 2020 and will be released in Germany in autumn ’22. He  works as a personal trainer in a gym in Berlin-Neukölln. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram.