Excerpt of “Revol,” from Hah by Birgül Oğuz
One time Meathead followed me home. I pretended I didn’t notice, and he pretended he didn’t notice that I was pretending I didn’t notice. I turned right at the underwear store and then left at the local diner, he kept coming after me, jerk, even though I was taking my time, wondering how much longer he’d follow me. I went inside the herbalist, I looked at the dried plums and blueberries, I cracked open an almond, I stalled. Meathead was standing at the produce stall kitty-corner from the herbalist, hands in his pockets, one eye rolling towards me, the other gazing thoughtfully at the potatoes. I felt like laughing but didn’t. I told the herbalist two hundred grams of cinnamon sticks, quickly please.
- Birgül Oğuz, a fiction and nonfiction writer from Turkey, was among the winners of the 2014 European Union Prize for Literature for her latest short fiction collection Hah (2012), now being translated into thirteen languages. A PhD candidate in English Literature at Bosphorus University, she lectures on literature at independent academic institutions and theater houses in Istanbul.
I left the herbalist in a rush, pretending to be fed up and busy. I stopped behind a white van in front of the butcher and squinted at the leeks. I looked and Meathead is scooting towards me, “heey,” he says, “heey…”
“Heey, what’s it to you?”
“Uhh, uhhguhh…” His mouth a bit crooked, taking a gulp here and there.
The grocer weighed my leeks and went to hand them over, I was just about to take them when the creep reached out and took my leeks. “Give me those,” I spat, stepping towards him to grab the sack. “Ooh, “ he said, wagging his finger, “how thoughtful, caring about her boss.” And he didn’t give back my leeks.
There was a long struggle between this moron and me, its roots reaching back into god knows where. I wasn’t forced into a relationship with him, but circumstances were forcing me to deal with him. Meathead was the last person on earth I wanted to deal with. But this loom was plenty old, its knots had been tied long ago. Which of us was the deer and which was the hunter, who had herded me into these backwoods of ours where so many deer have drank, just show me the door, wherever it is.
I went yech! when I first saw him. I’d stopped at the door of the store, pointing at the sign in the window. Meathead was sitting inside. He started checking me out, my thighs, my breasts, my knees. My stomach cramped and all of a sudden my heart leapt into my throat. And right there I clenched up like a stubborn stain. I should have listened to my stomach, I should have cleared out of there as soon as I felt my heart in my throat. But I clenched up. I still don’t know. Why did I walk into that store with my heart in my throat? I ask. It wasn’t like I needed money or anything. I wanted the worker’s blue apron, that’s all. The blue apron. That’s all.
Later on, every time I looked at his stupid face and pursed my lips with disgust, I shuddered with the thought of the law that held us together in the same place. Whenever he looked at me, he got a look on his face like someone picking their nose when they think they’re alone. His teeth were disgusting. The fuss and flutter of his tomato-pasty hands during the lunch break, the stupefied look that came over his face as he scratched his belly, the hairy pinky finger he held in the air as he drank his tea, the spitty accent from who knows where, it was all disgusting. There was nothing strange about loathing him. Who wouldn’t loathe him? The problem was me loathing him. Me, as much as anyone. Because of this, every time I looked at him I saw the scissor marks in my own soul. This creaky soul that despised others with great pleasure, despised and groaned, growing larger as it groaned, no longer fitting in its membrane, its shell, this was my soul. I didn’t have a lick of patience for day-to-day language. But on the other hand, I was a day laborer to the hilt of my knife. And if I could manage to not loathe Meathead for even a second, we would wither the world.
“Wanna sit down and get a tea over there, huh?” Meathead was saying. They opened the back door of the white van and started to haul the cow and sheep heads out of it into the butcher’s. I’d never seen cow and sheep heads uncooked before, not decapitated like this.
“Let’s get a tea in that little corner, c’mon, nice n’ hot, huh?”
I’d seen them cooked plenty of times, inside ovens lit up with greasy bulbs to whet the appetites of those walking by, brown grease drips off their noses and they look just like smiling, eyeless goats.
“Dontcha think there’s something between us, c’mon, let’s talk you and me, drink a tea, mmm, nice n’ hot?”
Their eyes were moist and bright, just recently dead, clearly in a terrible way, their bodies still trembling and clenching up, dangling on iron hooks from the ceiling of a slaughterhouse far away but there are no eyes there, the eyes are here, they’re looking around, what is this place where’s my body what is this place where’s my body.
“At least let’s move to the side a little, baby, don’t wanna get in the way of these guys,” said Meathead. I felt like laughing again, but I think I was slowly but surely going rabid.
“Look,” I said, “I won’t move an inch and I won’t drink tea with you and I’m not your baby and give me back my leeks.”
“Why’s that?” he asked, laughing as he asked, stomach jiggling as he laughed, leaning back a bit as his stomach jiggled, the sack swinging as he leaned back.
“those leeks are mine,”
“are you my soulmate or something that I have to drink tea with you, give me back my leeks.”
“Look at youu,” said Meathead, and his mouth twitched. “A sharp little tongue, but I love me a sharp tongue, I wanna love that sharp tongue of yours.” And tshak! he was flapping his tongue in his mouth, his eyes shaking in their sockets tshak dada tshak dada tshak tshak.
It felt like the inner wall of my stomach had burst with rabid foam.
“Listen,” I said, “will you give back my leeks or not?”
“And if I don’t?” he said with a tshak of his tongue, the little shit.
“If you don’t?”
“Uh huhh…what’ll happen?”
“You’re asking what’ll happen if you don’t, is that right?”
“Uh huhh… what?”
“What’s gonna happen?”
“Take one guess,”
“Fine baby but what, what’s gonna happen?”
“Something, something’s gonna happen.”
Meathead was laughing and tshak! flapping his tongue, his eyes shaking in their sockets tshak dada tshak tshak dada tshak.
Now I was pissed off, alert. Meathead’s teeth were wet and growing larger. The door of the white van was shrinking, shrank as small as an anchovy’s mouth. The market’s lights blurred together. Fruit, vegetables, and the white van all dissolved pssst bit by bit in that tangled light. I could have put him on ice. In a flash, in the blink of an eye. I could have put him on ice, everyone knows. But me, I’d wanted the blue apron. That’s all. The blue apron. Hah!
“Eeh, what is it, let’s see?”
“Shake it baby…”
“Shake it baby. Shake it.”
“Uh, shake what?”
I raised my arms out to the sides, snapping my fingers tshak dada tshak dada, and gave a shake of my hips, left right tshak tshak.
“Now snap your fingers like this! Watch! Oh oh! Snap ‘em!”
“What the hell are you doing…”
“Throw on the apron and exist! Oh oh! Too bad so sad!”
“Would you shut up.”
“Pat-a-cake pat-a-cake baker’s man, shake me a cake as fast as you can, snap it and shake it and mark it with a B…”
“Cut it the hell out.”
“Throw on that apron! Do it! Do it, man! Enough! Gimme whatcha got!”
“Here, take the leeks.”
“Snap baby shake and snap!”
“Take your leeks, you psycho.”
“Swiing! Theem! Hiips!”
“Take your damn leeks!”
I took them and screamed shithead! in his face. Without flinching, I stabbed my finger into his heart. It was empty, it really was, but that’s not the point.