Ji-Ji.Guerrera

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Monika stared at me with a taut grin stretched from ear to ear, her lips looking as if they were carved into her face. She was sprawled on a queen size bed, her body curled snake-like around the silky blood-colored sheets. She had on short jeans and a tube top, but they were hidden beneath the exorbitant cover. So she looked naked, practically, with only her pale skin revealed, her bare legs peaking out the side of the bed, the silk tucked underneath her white arms. White on red. Like a painting of a Grecian tragedy. Aphrodite on a bed of roses. The queen of thorns, the thorned queen.

“Come lay beside me,” she beamed.

I could hear the ripples gently tap the base of the yacht, the cool breeze and the silence that often accompanied dusk coming through. No one was manning the thing, it stood dead on the water, undulating with the current.

“Shouldn’t we get back now?” I queried.

I didn’t like that we were so far from shore. What if we got attacked by sharks or worse, a storm hit and we drowned. That was the thing I hated most about water. No matter how powerful of a swimmer you were, there was always a threat of drowning. I swallowed. My throat felt parched and leathery.

“Sit and relax,” she ordered. “Have a drink. Talk to me. You saw Mari at the harbor?”

I laughed and scooted onto the bed beside her, instantly forgetting my fears.

“She kept talking. I didn’t know how to shut her up.”

“What theorist was she on about—wait wait, let me guess—Bahktin.”

Monika said Bahktin with an exaggerated accent—emphasizing the “h” in this really guttural way, as if she were hoarking out the sound—all the while flipping her long red hair behind her shoulders with her chest perked out.

Maybe it was her accurate imitation of the pretentious arts student or that she seemed so comfortable and confident at that moment, all traces of any worry in her life eliminated from her features, her grin so effortless and smooth. Whatever it was, her blasé attitude, her calm, collected milieu made me feel at ease, careless, relaxed. I forgot my name then, forgot my shame at what I looked like and who I was. That was her effect: she made you feel important, singled out from the hoards of Torontonians. When she looked at me, I felt normal, human, de-shelled, unravelled, understood. I bent to her side and took her glass, downing her fruity wine, feeling a warmth spread through my nerves.

“Actually, uh, ‘The—Angel of—Progress’?”

She snapped her fingers. “Walter Benjamin. I should have known, she’s obsessed with that guy.”

“She wouldn’t stop talking ‘bout it.”

“Probably cause she had nothing to say really. Oh, she thinks she’s so smart, always going on about this theory that theory. Joke’s on her though, everyone thinks she’s hiding behind big words and textbook men. Dead white men. She knows nothing.”

“It’s her thing,” I said, feeling as if I had to defend Mari. “Can’t fault her for it. She’s worked hard on that scholar identity. And anyway, everyone’s got their niche. Their trademark of some sort. The thing they’d like people to see them as. Their very own identity”

“Everyone needs something, eh.”

She placed her empty glass on the table beside her and sunk further into the plush mattress. At that moment, something about her changed. Or maybe, that something was revealed to me. It felt as if the room got larger and she shrunk. How little she appeared, how much she change from just moments ago. Her head impressed itself onto the pillow. She bit her lower lip, her forehead wrinkling. She seemed forlorn, withdrawn into herself, her eyes deep in thought, gazing into the ether.

I wanted to hold her, searching her for any indication of what was wrong.

“What?” I finally demanded. “Talk to me.”

She looked at me, folded her arms across her chest and grinned a derisive grin. “I’m just thinking how nice it’d be to not feel so used for once. Wouldn’t it be nice? To be able to carve your own future. To say I wanna be a scholar and do just that.”

It took me a while to figure out that she was talking about herself.

“I don’t know. No one ever has that control though, to choose what they want in life. I think—well, I feel like for a lot of people it’s about convenience.”

“Mari isn’t a puppet,” she snapped, her brows scrunching to the center of her forehead,  her lips pouting. “She doesn’t have her brother controlling her. Sometimes I wish he died with, with my parents. He’s not my real brother y’know. I overheard my parents talking this one time. Mom cheated on dad with this Jewish guy. That’s why Miles has that Jew fro. He’s part Jew.”

She looked around the room, first at the flat sixty inch screen mounted on the wall before us, then at the gold lined picture frame above the glass window, perpendicular to where we sat, a translucent veil from the cool evening scenery. Once again, I was reminded of how far from shore and security we were, planted on pure water, rooted into Danger’s mouth.

“What really bugs me though is how fake I am. About everything. How stupid and fake I am. Why don’t I just—leave?” she spat, speaking more to herself.

“Aren’t you running now?”

“Yes. And look how far I’ve gone—in my brother’s yacht.”

There’s a strike through the texts I’ve read. Pretty terrible for a lit student, but worry not, I’ll kill this list. Would you like to join me?

PS – Lots of repeated titles in the list so it’s not as large as it appears

100+ BOOKS TO READ BY AGE 30

http://www.modernlibrary.com/top-100/100-best-novels/

  1. ULYSSES
    by James Joyce
  1. THE GREAT GATSBY
    by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  1. A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN
    by James Joyce
  1. LOLITA
    by Vladimir Nabokov
  1. BRAVE NEW WORLD
    by Aldous Huxley
  1. THE SOUND AND THE FURY
    by William Faulkner
  1. CATCH-22
    by Joseph Heller
  1. DARKNESS AT NOON
    by Arthur Koestler
  1. SONS AND LOVERS
    by D.H. Lawrence
  1. THE GRAPES OF WRATH
    by John Steinbeck
  1. UNDER THE VOLCANO
    by Malcolm Lowry
  1. THE WAY OF ALL FLESH
    by Samuel Butler
  1. 1984
    by George Orwell
  1. I, CLAUDIUS
    by Robert Graves
  1. TO THE LIGHTHOUSE
    by Virginia Woolf
  1. AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY
    by Theodore Dreiser
  1. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER
    by Carson McCullers
  1. SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE
    by Kurt Vonnegut
  1. INVISIBLE MAN
    by Ralph Ellison
  1. NATIVE SON
    by Richard Wright
  1. HENDERSON THE RAIN KING
    by Saul Bellow
  1. APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA
    by John O’Hara
  1. U.S.A.(trilogy)
    by John Dos Passos
  1. WINESBURG, OHIO
    by Sherwood Anderson
  1. A PASSAGE TO INDIA
    by E.M. Forster
  1. THE WINGS OF THE DOVE
    by Henry James
  1. THE AMBASSADORS
    by Henry James
  1. TENDER IS THE NIGHT
    by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  1. THE STUDS LONIGAN TRILOGY
    by James T. Farrell
  1. THE GOOD SOLDIER
    by Ford Madox Ford
  1. ANIMAL FARM
    by George Orwell
  1. THE GOLDEN BOWL
    by Henry James
  1. SISTER CARRIE
    by Theodore Dreiser
  1. A HANDFUL OF DUST
    by Evelyn Waugh
  1. AS I LAY DYING
    by William Faulkner
  1. ALL THE KING’S MEN
    by Robert Penn Warren
  1. THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY
    by Thornton Wilder
  1. HOWARDS END
    by E.M. Forster
  1. GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN
    by James Baldwin
  1. THE HEART OF THE MATTER
    by Graham Greene
  1. LORD OF THE FLIES
    by William Golding
  1. DELIVERANCE
    by James Dickey
  1. A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME (series)
    by Anthony Powell
  1. POINT COUNTER POINT
    by Aldous Huxley
  1. THE SUN ALSO RISES
    by Ernest Hemingway
  1. THE SECRET AGENT
    by Joseph Conrad
  1. NOSTROMO
    by Joseph Conrad
  1. THE RAINBOW
    by D.H. Lawrence
  1. WOMEN IN LOVE
    by D.H. Lawrence
  1. TROPIC OF CANCER
    by Henry Miller
  1. THE NAKED AND THE DEAD
    by Norman Mailer
  1. PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT
    by Philip Roth
  1. PALE FIRE
    by Vladimir Nabokov
  1. LIGHT IN AUGUST
    by William Faulkner
  1. ON THE ROAD
    by Jack Kerouac
  1. THE MALTESE FALCON
    by Dashiell Hammett
  1. PARADE’S END
    by Ford Madox Ford
  1. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE
    by Edith Wharton
  1. ZULEIKA DOBSON
    by Max Beerbohm
  1. THE MOVIEGOER
    by Walker Percy
  1. DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP
    by Willa Cather
  1. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY
    by James Jones
  1. THE WAPSHOT CHRONICLES
    by John Cheever
  1. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE
    by J.D. Salinger
  1. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
    by Anthony Burgess
  1. OF HUMAN BONDAGE
    by W. Somerset Maugham
  1. HEART OF DARKNESS
    by Joseph Conrad
  1. MAIN STREET
    by Sinclair Lewis
  1. THE HOUSE OF MIRTH
    by Edith Wharton
  1. THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET
    by Lawrence Durell
  1. A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA
    by Richard Hughes
  1. A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS
    by V.S. Naipaul
  1. THE DAY OF THE LOCUST
    by Nathanael West
  1. A FAREWELL TO ARMS
    by Ernest Hemingway
  1. SCOOP
    by Evelyn Waugh
  1. THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE
    by Muriel Spark
  1. FINNEGANS WAKE
    by James Joyce
  1. KIM
    by Rudyard Kipling
  1. A ROOM WITH A VIEW
    by E.M. Forster
  1. BRIDESHEAD REVISITED
    by Evelyn Waugh
  2. THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH
    by Saul Bellow
  3. ANGLE OF REPOSE
    by Wallace Stegner
  4. A BEND IN THE RIVER
    by V.S. Naipaul
  5. THE DEATH OF THE HEART
    by Elizabeth Bowen
  1. LORD JIM
    by Joseph Conrad
  2. RAGTIME
    by E.L. Doctorow
  1. THE OLD WIVES’ TALE
    by Arnold Bennett
  2. THE CALL OF THE WILD
    by Jack London
  1. LOVING
    by Henry Green
  1. MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN
    by Salman Rushdie
  1. TOBACCO ROAD
    by Erskine Caldwell
  2. IRONWEED
    by William Kennedy
  1. THE MAGUS
    by John Fowles
  1. WIDE SARGASSO SEA
    by Jean Rhys
  2. UNDER THE NET
    by Iris Murdoch
  1. SOPHIE’S CHOICE
    by William Styron
  1. THE SHELTERING SKY
    by Paul Bowles
  2. THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE
    by James M. Cain
  3. THE GINGER MAN
    by J.P. Donleavy
  1. THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS
    by Booth Tarkington
  1. ATLAS SHRUGGED
    by Ayn Rand
  2. THE FOUNTAINHEAD
    by Ayn Rand
  3. BATTLEFIELD EARTH
    by L. Ron Hubbard
  4. THE LORD OF THE RINGS
    by J.R.R. Tolkien
  5. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
    by Harper Lee
  1. ANTHEM
    by Ayn Rand
  1. WE THE LIVING
    by Ayn Rand
  2. MISSION EARTH
    by L. Ron Hubbard
  1. FEAR
    by L. Ron Hubbard
  2. DUNE
    by Frank Herbert
  1. THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS
    by Robert Heinlein
  2. STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
    by Robert Heinlein
  3. A TOWN LIKE ALICE
    by Nevil Shute
  4. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE
    by J.D. Salinger
  5. ANIMAL FARM
    by George Orwell
  6. GRAVITY’S RAINBOW
    by Thomas Pynchon
  7. THE GRAPES OF WRATH
    by John Steinbeck
  1. SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE
    by Kurt Vonnegut
  1. GONE WITH THE WIND
    by Margaret Mitchell
  2. LORD OF THE FLIES
    by William Golding
  1. SHANE
    by Jack Schaefer
  1. TRUSTEE FROM THE TOOLROOM
    by Nevil Shute
  1. A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY
    by John Irving
  1. THE STAND
    by Stephen King
  1. THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN
    by John Fowles
  1. BELOVED
    by Toni Morrison
  1. THE WORM OUROBOROS
    by E.R. Eddison
  1. THE SOUND AND THE FURY
    by William Faulkner
  1. LOLITA
    by Vladimir Nabokov
  2. MOONHEART
    by Charles de Lint
  1. ABSALOM, ABSALOM!
    by William Faulkner
  1. OF HUMAN BONDAGE
    by W. Somerset Maugham
  1. WISE BLOOD
    by Flannery O’Connor
  1. UNDER THE VOLCANO
    by Malcolm Lowry
  2. FIFTH BUSINESS
    by Robertson Davies
  3. SOMEPLACE TO BE FLYING
    by Charles de Lint
  4. ON THE ROAD
    by Jack Kerouac
  1. HEART OF DARKNESS
    by Joseph Conrad
  1. YARROW
    by Charles de Lint
  1. AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS
    by H.P. Lovecraft
  1. ONE LONELY NIGHT
    by Mickey Spillane
  2. MEMORY AND DREAM
    by Charles de Lint
  3. TO THE LIGHTHOUSE
    by Virginia Woolf
  4. THE MOVIEGOER
    by Walker Percy
  1. TRADER
    by Charles de Lint
  1. THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY
    by Douglas Adams
  2. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER
    by Carson McCullers
  1. THE HANDMAID’S TALE
    by Margaret Atwood
  1. BLOOD MERIDIAN
    by Cormac McCarthy
  1. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
    by Anthony Burgess
  2. ON THE BEACH
    by Nevil Shute
  1. A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN
    by James Joyce
  1. GREENMANTLE
    by Charles de Lint
  2. ENDER’S GAME
    by Orson Scott Card
  1. THE LITTLE COUNTRY
    by Charles de Lint
  2. THE RECOGNITIONS
    by William Gaddis
  3. STARSHIP TROOPERS
    by Robert Heinlein
  4. THE SUN ALSO RISES
    by Ernest Hemingway
  1. THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP
    by John Irving
  1. SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES
    by Ray Bradbury
  2. THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE
    by Shirley Jackson
  1. AS I LAY DYING
    by William Faulkner
  1. TROPIC OF CANCER
    by Henry Miller
  1. INVISIBLE MAN
    by Ralph Ellison
  1. THE WOOD WIFE
    by Terri Windling
  1. THE MAGUS
    by John Fowles
  2. THE DOOR INTO SUMMER
    by Robert Heinlein
  1. ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE
    by Robert Pirsig
  2. I, CLAUDIUS
    by Robert Graves
  1. THE CALL OF THE WILD
    by Jack London
  1. AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS
    by Flann O’Brien
  1. FARENHEIT 451
    by Ray Bradbury
  1. ARROWSMITH
    by Sinclair Lewis
  1. WATERSHIP DOWN
    by Richard Adams
  1. NAKED LUNCH
    by William S. Burroughs
  1. THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER
    by Tom Clancy
  1. GUILTY PLEASURES
    by Laurell K. Hamilton
  1. THE PUPPET MASTERS
    by Robert Heinlein
  1. IT
    by Stephen King
  2. V.
    by Thomas Pynchon
  1. DOUBLE STAR
    by Robert Heinlein
  1. CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY
    by Robert Heinlein
  2. BRIDESHEAD REVISITED
    by Evelyn Waugh
  1. LIGHT IN AUGUST
    by William Faulkner
  1. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST
    by Ken Kesey
  2. A FAREWELL TO ARMS
    by Ernest Hemingway
  3. THE SHELTERING SKY
    by Paul Bowles
  4. SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION
    by Ken Kesey
  1. MY ANTONIA
    by Willa Cather
  1. MULENGRO
    by Charles de Lint
  2. SUTTREE
    by Cormac McCarthy
  3. MYTHAGO WOOD
    by Robert Holdstock
  1. ILLUSIONS
    by Richard Bach
  1. THE CUNNING MAN
    by Robertson Davies
  1. THE SATANIC VERSES
    by Salman Rushdie

When the general first met the lady, he thought nothing of getting to know who she truly was. Everything about the way that she looked, the way that she presented herself, defined her to him. She wore a tight red dress with a low neckline that left little to people’s imaginations, had rouge on her cheeks, blood coloured lips, bedroom eyes, and breasts that begged to be noticed. The point where her collarbones met was deep, as if it were an imprint left on her during infancy. There was something definitive about her walk–how her right leg shifted too far out and her left leg dug into the ground making rustic syncopation. She marked her entrance with a nod, all eyes in the room turning to take her in. The general was no exception, of course. He followed her movements like a ravaged beast on its weakened prey.

It didn’t take long for the lady to feel his stare crawling into her.

***

He held the bottle of champagne; she held the glass.

“Let me ask, is fighting the only way to resolve conflict?” She brought the glass to her lips and took a long sip. They were so close now, her eyes crawling into him like his were into her.

“Well I could ask you a similar question…is a tight dress the only way to resolve conflict,” he said, breathing inside her right ear, their skin only separated by decorum and decency.

“Wars kill people–”

“People kill people. What will you do to contain that basest of all human instinct?” He was sizing her curves as he spoke, his eyes resting on her sternum.

Pulling apart from each other, the lady reached into her purse and produced a thin cigarette immediately as the general flicked open a stainless steel lighter. She sucked on the stick, her throat expanding  to let in the smoke.

“And when the world dies, General,” she exhaled, “who will wage your war…when there’s no one left to fight it?”

Maybe it was the way he stood straighter upon hearing the question, the way he perched his brows as if to indicate that such an alternative grieved him, that caused the lady to shift into him. He smelt of sweat and smoke, standing beneath the dim lighting in the room. Unconsciously, he brushed his fingers through his tight curls and smiled. She couldn’t help but wonder what confounding thoughts rested beneath his façade of confidence and nonchalance.

“Well then,” he finally said, “there’ll just be the two of us left with this bottle of champagne.”

For the lady resting on the hammock, the sun was just as she liked it. The golden glow from the slightly receding star illuminated the warm autumn colours all around her. Soft leaves hung low from crooked branches, grazing the top of her head ever so slowly. It was all a little too perfect to bask in; yet, she took in every second of it longingly, the fear of its desertion looming at the forefront of her thoughts.

This lady was all too acquainted with loneliness, with happiness fleeting away as if it never were, with the budding desire to be loved pressing against her heart every second of her life.

On this day, however, the lady found what she was looking for in the park. As her heartbeat declined rapidly and her chest rose and fell like the sound of music, she rested her head in the hallow of her neck. She struggled against unconsciousness as froth formed across her lips. Even though she knew that this was the end, she still preferred this day over every other day. There was all the things that she loved: the luminous sun, the soft leaves grazing her skin, the silence of the world that was waiting for her to die.

The girl crosses the yard’s line to amalgamate herself with the rest of society. The blacks and the whites and the Indians and the Hispanics engaging in practical tasks–pushing carts, feeding babies, ringing their buys through personalized cash-registers on their individual cellphones with their crispy, shiny, new credit cards. It is a regular day in the city; it is a regular day for her.

A black man, sitting with his chin resting between his thumb and index finger, raises an empty cup that says “end hobophobia” to the sky, as if raising a toast to his predicament. For the girl, this is a vain attempt at getting her attention. Unconcerned for his well-being, she sashays by in her new plastic-diamond studded stilettos. Having noticed the sign, however, it is now at the forefront of her thoughts. Hobophobia. She wonders if that’s the new homophobia and snuffs. Soon it will be ethnophobia, or rather negrophobia, or maybe that’s already a thing.

The sonorous sound of metal clanging through plastic alerts her attention. She turns to the homeless man, having guessed where the noise is coming from, and notices a diminutive white woman generously dropping change into the inanely labelled cup.

Seeing this reminds her of Christmas: when the good people of the world share their blessings through charitable acts and good Christians let the world know that they still exist. Missing from this picture are lights, snow, and Christmas, and Christmas carols, of course. She releases a deep sigh, ameliorated by this random act of kindness, and unconsciously fingers the yellow cross resting between her breasts.

-Here sir, some money for your work.
The girl drops a few quarters into the cup as she knocks the pavement with her two inch heels.

While the man nods his gratitude, he does not look at her; instead he fixes his eyes to his cup, enamoured by the slight glint on the silver and gold coins, his amassing wealth reflecting in his large round eyes.

This response is fine with the girl. She pats herself because she has done a good deed. A darn good deed.

Love making for the couple is a night on a crinkled rug, legs straddled about each other, desire on their sharpened nails digging into soft skin. The sliver of light coming through the curtain and a burning candle makes their silhouettes visible on the wall.

The boy is all emotions as he licks the curve of his partner’s neck.

– Would they let us be together, I would give you the world on my back.

Fourteen and spewing promises; his words ring against his partner’s ears like an unchecked alarm clock.But the older man reciprocates only with an elated moan, an immediate response to the palm on his groin. What is he to say: that he loves the boy? That their relationship is more than physical? That they should be together fearless of repercussions from the frenzied town’s people, who’ve worked ages to keep him behind bars?

– It’s better for us to stay here, the man says as he runs his fingers through the boy’s soft hair.

– I just wanted you to know that I’d give you the world.
The boy’s voice cracks a little.

– Yes, I know.

I have always admired my friend’s writing, and this story is certainly an exemplar of how amazing her work is. Check it out

The Little White Bat

Bowie turned to Iman.

“I wonder what it’s like to be a goddess like you.”

He traced the lines about her immaculate cheeks, ran his fingers through her soft fine hair.

She laughed as he did this, looking back into his discolored eyes, focusing on his worn English crowsfeet, and the laughlines that cupped his lips.

She kissed him tenderly.

“Goddess?” she asked, in her warm, dark voice.

“Yes, dear?” Bowie replied.

“I’m going to put some coffee on.”

Her legs cascaded from the sheets.

Bowie watched her silk nightgown nip against her ankles as she walked.

When she left, he starred up at the ceiling, running his right hand through his hair. He was contemplating painting a fresco of the night sky.

The white ceiling glowed back at him.

He wanted to paint in a few more stars than could be seen from earth, and name them after his…

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