by Christopher Linforth
Mateo, it is very late. Let me try once more.
A few years after the war, I left Hrvatska without a word and started my life again in Norway. Even as I stepped onto the plane, I knew you would be unaware for some time of the circumstances surrounding my abrupt departure. At that moment, in the summer of 1999, I was fully ready to disappear into the blur of the new millennium. Yet it did not turn out like that: I was only a month away from meeting my future wife. Hanne was an administrator at the University of Bergen. She had a solid if unremarkable job, and our beige courtship seemed to satisfy her. Of course, during our first year together, it became clear she was ill-prepared to have a relationship with someone like me.
At that time, I had quit my teaching job in Zagreb, quit drinking, and, for a while at least, quit you. I am sorry I did not bring you with me to Oslo. In my brief period of enforced sobriety, I often considered our affair and your vulnerable state. The fact that I had never been with another man before and that you were half my age.
My favorite of our conversations was our first one in the café, when you changed out of your uniform in the restroom and returned in blue jeans and a striped wool sweater. Cologne glossed your neck. We sat at an outside table, our knees almost touching, my shoe tip abutting your sneaker. You drank espresso while I nursed a bottle of pilsner. You asked me to enlighten you about the books we were forbidden to teach in school.
“Mateo,” I said. “You needn’t call me Mr. Vitezić. It’s Toma.”
You blushed. Still, you listened as I reeled off a list of writers. I enjoyed showing off for you. I taught you about the French poet Rimbaud, his short writing career, his affairs with older men, especially Verlaine.
Our weekly meetings intensified to after-school flirtations in the classroom, then in my quarters on the school grounds. I sneaked you in, I remember, under the cover of night. You would not stub out your cigarette; you were hopeful the head of the school would spot you, force our relationship out in the open.
You kissed me first. Your lips were rough, the hair around your lips and chin soft and dark. You felt good, experienced. I suspected you had been with another man, or one of the other boys. Perhaps Roko, Tomislav, or Petar. In my bedroom, I confessed all this was new to me.
“Never?” you said.
“In the HV there was someone.”
You pressed me on the soldier’s name. I told you nothing physical had happened and laughed and pulled away. I went to the galley kitchen and made us both a drink. I handed you a glass of rakija and we sat quietly for a moment. We drank for courage and to see where it would take us. We had clumsy sex in the dark, over too quickly, and you slipped away in the early hours. Our relationship continued via these fleeting encounters in my quarters. I often asked you to stay the night, but you never did. I wondered if you were seeing someone else; I questioned you once directly. You rolled out of bed, threw on your shirt and jeans, and finally said no. At the end of the spring semester, when you graduated, I feared you would forget me. You had a scholarship to the University of Zagreb. A covey of young and old men alike would be around. You always said my jealousy would end us.
Before the faculty left for the summer, I received a summons from the head of the school for a disciplinary meeting. I knew this was the end for me. Sitting in his office, I half-listened to his lecture on the gulf between Catholic values and homosexuality. I barely cared now that you were gone. Within a few days I cleared out my quarters. In a dirty hotel room, I wrote you a goodbye note in a copy of Verlaine’s Sagesse. But I did not know what address to mail it to, and I had little time to find it.
My brother had secured me a junior position at his advertising firm in Oslo, and I caught a flight, leaving you behind. It was clear, then and now, that the life of a literature teacher is ample preparation for the profitable misuse of our language. Croatian has little value in the rest of Europe. My near-fluent English and German were the reasons that I had any cultural or financial worth outside of the former Yugoslavia.
This was my first time out of the country, and I was unsure of how men treated other men there, especially ones who vacillated between men and women. Around the bars of Oslo, I drank and flirted with a handful of girls. But I could never take them back to my brother’s flat. His wife already put up with so many of my bad habits. She demanded that I quit drinking and treating work like a joke. I tried to. A couple of weeks into my job, I traveled to Bergen on assignment from my brother. His brief noted something about reviving the blåskjell market, developing a campaign to get younger people into eating blue mussels. The company director, Herr Johannessen, was a stout silver-haired man of German descent. He wore an unbuttoned suit jacket, a checkered waistcoat underneath, a mismatched pair of trousers. He gave me a tour of the processing plant, then took me to his office where a spread of blåskjell sat in a chafing dish packed with ice. With a cocktail stick, I speared one of the slimy lumps of sea-meat and chewed it vigorously, almost choking on the brine. I offered Herr Johannessen my thoughts on pairing the delicacy with some type of strong alcohol, and he grinned and whisked me off to a cocktail bar in Nygårdshøyden, near the university. We drank several glasses of akvavit and looked through his book of ideas for publicity and his set of design drawings. I complimented Herr Johannessen on his sketches. “Please, Toma,” he said. “Call me Lars.” He admitted he didn’t like the taste of shellfish, but what was he to do? His father had entrusted the plant to him, and it provided a good living. “I can meet many men this way,” he said. He grazed my knee and though I was tempted to relive my experiences with you, I told him he had made a mistake.
Lars coughed a little, then removed two-hundred kroner from his wallet and paid the bill. After he left, I ordered an orange juice and took from my briefcase a copy of Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I read the opening page several times, unable to concentrate on the abstract philosophical language. I considered going after Lars. But I had caused him enough embarrassment. I closed the novel and rested my glass on top. I surveyed the room. A group of women were seated in the corner. I smiled at the tallest one; her hair was cut in a bob, her face moonlike, boyish. She wore a dark blazer and white pants, and a chunky tortoiseshell pendant hung around her neck. When she came to the bar for a round of drinks, the bartender acknowledged her, revealed her name was Hanne. She glanced my way and quizzed me about my book.
I answered in my pidgin Norwegian. She cupped her ear, so I switched to English. “It’s a slow read but I like it.”
“I wish I had more time for books.”
“I can read for you and offer pithy summaries.”
She laughed. I removed my glass and slid the book along the counter. She examined the author’s biography. “Are you Czech?” she asked.
“Close,” I said. “Croatian.”
My nationality silenced her for a moment. I could tell she had an urge to ask about the war, how it had affected me. What could I tell her about the rifle I’d never fired? Or the soldier I’d thought I loved? That part of my life was behind me. She straightened the beer mat in front of her and began to talk about her family, far north in Trondheim; she let slip that she had never left Norway, save one childhood trip to Sweden.
“This is a beautiful country,” I said. “Why leave?”
“The cold. I’d like to feel the warmth of the South of France, perhaps visit the Italian coast.”
“Italians vacation on the Croatian side of the Adriatic. We have the islands, the boats that sail down to Greece.”
“That sounds wonderful.”
“Perhaps I am overselling it,” I said. “My homeland is a place of contradiction.”
The bartender slid a trio of wineglasses across the counter. She glanced back at her friends. They waved for her to return to her seat. She scribbled her number on the beer mat. I took out my wallet; I pressed my brother’s business card on Hanne. “You can reach me here,” I said. “My name is Toma.”
It was Herr Johannessen who telephoned my brother first. Lars complained about my unprofessional conduct, my brusque Slavic manners. He said he would not use the company’s services again. I convinced my brother I would apologize to Lars and re-secure the contract. In truth, I wanted a second trip to Bergen to track down Hanne and discover why she had not called. I had an idea she sensed something different about me, beyond my foreignness, a dangerous, closed-off quality. I wasn’t sure I liked that.
At the train station, I dialed Hanne’s office and left a message with her colleague. “Tell her I’ll be at the same bar tonight.”
I caught a cab to the processing plant. Inside the lobby, the secretary said I should wait. An antique blueprint was tacked to the wall. The series of interlocking rectangles appeared to depict the plant.
Lars entered the lobby, smoking a cigarette. He beckoned me to follow him into his office. As I went in, he stayed near the door. He exhaled a long stream of smoke and watched me stand awkwardly by his desk. He came over and sat down, gesturing for me to do the same. He stubbed out his cigarette in a large glass ashtray. “I would like you to apologize,” he said.
“There was a misunderstanding,” I said. “For that I’m sorry.”
“That’s not enough.” He gathered the papers on his desk and began to flip through them, reading some words under his breath.
“My brother appreciates your business,” I said.
“Then you must have a drink.” He opened a drawer next to him and brought out a paper sack. He said it was a special drink, and he uncorked the bottle and took a long swig. Then he offered me the sacked bottle, and I took it and peeled down the brown paper. A black label bore the word Mjød in white script and a crude drawing of a Viking. I lifted the mead to my lips, a glob of his spittle hung on the lip. I closed my eyes and knocked back a large shot. The honeyed wine coated the back of my throat.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
Of course, I knew. I was curious about this older man, the shape of his cock, whether he was cut. I came around to his side of the desk. I got to my knees and unbuttoned his fly. He spoke a few words of Norwegian, a phrase I could not work out. To my surprise, he was circumcised, yet his length of grayish skin looked sickly. I leaned in but he asked me to wait. He dipped his finger in the bottle and dabbed a few drops of mead on his tip. He winced a little, then he ran his fingers through my hair for me to begin. I shut my eyes and worked Lars for a while, and he apologized several times for his periods of limpness. When he finished, he stood and pulled up his trousers. “Send my best to your brother,” he said.
I exited his office and took a taxi to the bar near the university. I ordered a glass of akvavit and carried it to the bathroom. I stood in front of the mirror and threw the drink back, swilling the spirit around my mouth, finally spitting it into the basin. I went back to the counter and asked for a second. The bartender inquired whether I was sick. “Yes,” I replied, “but get me another.”
I thought of you as I waited for Hanne. I had introduced you to rakija, to the pleasures of the fifth and sixth drink, that slow warmth that overtakes your body, makes you feel desired and attuned to the desires of your fellow man.
I had reached a perfect balance between these two states when Hanne came into the bar.
“I almost didn’t come,” she said.
“Because of your friends?”
“No. I don’t know anything about you.”
“You know I like books.”
“True,” she said.
I ordered two glasses of Bordeaux blanc. I tried to impress her with what I knew of the Sémillon grape, the type of soil it must grow in. She confessed she would just ask for white wine. I offered up some jargon—viticulture, terroir—and held my wineglass up to the light. She smiled and asked me to tell her something about my life. I told her I worked for my brother in Oslo, that I came to Bergen regularly for business. Hanne remained quiet, polite in the Norwegian way of doing things. She fooled with the top button of her blouse. I noticed she avoided eye contact; she directed her gaze at the liquor bottles on the backbar. “Sorry,” she said. “I had a long day. I’m not good company.” She brought out her credit card from her bag.
“I have this,” I said.
“You don’t have to. But thank you.”
I sipped my wine and considered how to lighten Hanne’s mood. The cobblestones on the dark street outside shimmered in the glare of the white streetlight. “We should go for a walk.”
“I don’t do one-night stands,” she said.
“That’s not what I’m after.”
“Good,” she said. “Then we can go.”
Hanne and I strolled around the city center, making our way toward the harbor. We paused in front of a line of moored fishing smacks. A chill wind blew in from the North Sea. We backtracked and huddled in the doorway of a Kaffebrenneriet, sipping mugs of steaming cocoa; we watched a fine mist settle over the town. I stayed at Hanne’s place that night. We kissed a little on the sofa, then she said we should wait, and she retired to her bedroom. I waved her goodnight but her door was already closed. I lay back on the sofa. I tried to forget about what had happened with Lars and instead picture Hanne naked, her narrow hips, her tangle of pubic hair, but my mental image of her would not materialize. I saw only you.
Though I was still living with my brother and his Norwegian wife in Oslo, I asked Hanne to visit me. I told her over the telephone she would have my room. She countered that she would stay in a hotel. “Fine,” I said. “I just prefer to see you here.”
Late Friday afternoon, after browsing several book stalls, I picked up Hanne from the train station and escorted her to a grand hotel one street over. She wore a sleeveless dress and had a cardigan folded over her arm. She said she was glad it was warm. She had me stay outside her room while she dropped off her bag. When she came out, she had on her cardigan, which flattered her more than I’d expected. A fresh, light pink gloss shone on her lips.
We walked to a local bistro and ate bowls of fårikål. I managed to shield much of my old life in Croatia, telling her little beyond a few details of my upbringing in a Communist-era tower block. Instead I steered the conversation to the work I did with my brother: the long hours of paperwork interspersed with spurts of developing creative slogans for food companies. Hanne smiled, seemingly impressed by my rise in social class. She drank a little more wine and probed how I spent my Sundays, then after my obfuscation, asked directly about my spiritual life. I sidelined her with a story about my first attempt at yoga, a sprained ankle after falling from the Trikonasana pose.
While we waited for dessert, I gave her a first edition of Kundera’s novel. She clutched the book and examined the front of the dust jacket. The silver-gray cover bore a three-dimensional typeface. “Is he famous back home?”
“Yes,” I said. “Sadly, the rest of Europe has barely heard of our famous writers, Danilo Kiš or Borislav Pekić.”
Hanne laughed. “Sorry, I’m one of those people.”
“You could borrow my copies, but they’re in Zagreb.”
“How long has it been since you’ve gone back?”
“Why?” she said.
“My brother is here, my job.”
“Advertising doesn’t seem like your passion.”
“Well, there’s no money in reading.”
That evening, I dropped Hanne back at her hotel and walked to my brother’s in the gray of dusk. The next day I asked if she would like to drink at a hip cocktail lounge I had heard of, but she said she preferred to tour the cathedral. I knew little about the Lutheran denomination. Hanne told me about High Mass and the order of the liturgy, about the vital Confession of Sin. As we stood outside, we heard the striking up of organ music; I pulled her away from the entrance. She resisted at first, then relished her hand in mine. We enjoyed a glass of red wine back at her hotel; I teased her over her skittishness and quizzed her about the last man she had dated.
Hanne fell silent. She had wanted to tell me, she said, about Espen, her failed engagement, the life she had almost led. He was gentle, unlike a soldier, had a mindset quite different from those of the Eastern Europeans. In anyone else’s voice, I would have taken offense to those words. Hanne was earnest, painfully so, even when she said that she and Espen had broken up on poor terms. “It was my fault it didn’t work out,” she said. “I expected too much.” She lifted her wineglass, holding it in midair. “Who did you leave behind in Croatia?”
“My students. I used to be a teacher.”
“I thought you had that way about you. But there must have been someone.”
“People come and go.”
“That’s a callous thing to say,” she said.
“Perhaps I felt that way back then.”
“And now I feel we should go to your room.”
She replaced her wineglass on the coaster. “I don’t want to do that.”
“Hanne, did I say something wrong?”
“I understand you’ve been through a lot, but we still don’t know each other. And you haven’t told me much about yourself.”
“I’d like to change that.”
“Perhaps next time we can talk more,” she said. “I have to catch my train.”
“I’ll walk you back to the station.”
“No. I know the way.” Hanne picked up her bag, studied my face for a moment, then disappeared through the archway.
I stayed and finished the rest of the bottle. I thought over my suggestion to go to Hanne’s room; I knew she would not have said yes, that she might take offense, but something in me had to ask. Perhaps, in that moment, I was close to confessing my encounters with Lars, and the soldier, and you.
The bar eventually whittled down to a pair of businessmen in the corner. I watched them consume a great deal of Scotch and speak of the problems of the Vålerenga football team. I considered joining them, as I knew a little about the Eliteserien, but when I stood, they eyed me, as certain men do, then looked away, uninterested. On my night-walk home, I remembered how easy my love affair with you had been, the execution and escalation of our physical attraction. Things should have been simple in this open, embracing country, but for me they were not.
My brother’s wife caught me entering the flat very late. I brushed past her, went to the kitchen, and extricated a bottle of pilsner from the refrigerator. She stood in the doorway in her thick robe.
“You’ve already had enough.”
“Just a nightcap,” I said. “Do you or Goran want one?”
“He’s asleep. I’m glad he doesn’t see this.”
“He knows me.”
“We don’t want you here anymore.”
I uncapped the bottle and took a long swig. She turned around, skulked back to her bedroom.
I avoided my brother’s wife as best I could for the next week. My brother never uttered a desire to see me find new lodgings, and I did not bring up the subject either. At work, he deluged me with administrative tasks, mostly checking on the accounts of former clients, some of which went back ten years. I tackled my new clerical duties with superficial gusto, glad for the break from visiting Lars and Hanne.
In the evenings, I sat around in bars and drank heavily, then trolled a series of disreputable alleys for someone unknown to me, a man or woman ignorant of my past. These encounters always ended with the demand for kroner and my backing off, realizing what I was doing, the low I had come to. The final time I ventured out, two men jumped me, kicked me in the ribs and head, threatened to stab me if I didn’t hand over my wallet. I saw no blade, but I gave them what money I had.
My time at work felt lengthened by my nighttime follies. My brother had noted my late returns to his flat, my decreased productivity on the accounts. At the end of the week, he marched into my office, a file in his hands.
“Linnea heard you last night,” he said.
“She said you were making a lot of noise.”
“I was looking for a book.”
My brother studied me, acutely aware of the way I was rubbing my forehead. “You look in pain.”
“Just a headache.”
My brother cupped his hand under my chin and lifted my head. He studied the bruise on my cheek. “I can see why.”
“Just apologize to Linnea tonight.” He placed the file in front of me. “Herr Johannessen wants to talk about the ad campaign.”
“Again?” I said.
He tapped the telephone on my desk. “Just call him.”
“I’ll find some time later.”
“I mean it.” He handed me the receiver and left my office. I knew my brother was holding in most of his anger. Of the two of us, he had always been the quiet one, the diligent worker, a man later devoted to the selling of ideas. I could not hold it against him. I owed a debt to him and his wife.
I busied myself for the rest of the day. I flipped through the file a few minutes before five; I could taste the muscular coarseness of the blåskjell, and I pushed each number slowly, hoping the call would not connect. Lars answered almost instantaneously. “I’d like to run a new idea past you,” he said.
“All right,” I said. “Go ahead.”
“No, in person. You need to look at my sketches.”
His desperation felt transparent, and I imagined him in his office, a mass of nerves and back sweat, a thunderous erection under his desk.
My visit to Bergen surprised Hanne. She flitted around her living room, gathering up her clothes and a stack of magazines. When she had tidied the place to her satisfaction, she joined me on the sofa. Her face had reddened, her eyes wet. I asked if she was all right, and she leaned forward and kissed me, her aggression taking me by surprise. Then she lay back and drew up her skirt. She remained quiet during sex, her body limp, as though she had changed her mind. I whispered into her ear, asking if she wanted to stop. She said nothing. After it was over, she started to cry. She explained that she should not have slept with me. I held her. I told her she ought to move to Oslo, and that we could move in together. As she broke away and left me on the sofa, she said I should ask her again in the morning.
In the late rush of us leaving her flat the next day, I pretended I had forgotten to ask. Hanne kissed me on the cheek as we parted ways at the intersection. I watched her catch the tram. I felt unsure whether she had really wanted me to bring up Oslo again. She was shy, rarely said what she desired, what she sought from me. She had not even mentioned the faded bruises on my body.
Before I left Bergen, I paid a visit to the processing plant. Lars was in the wash-up room scrubbing his nails. He wore a white lab coat and a hairnet. He stepped over to the roll of paper towels and dried his hands. Beneath the harsh light he seemed old, his face gray and wrinkled.
“It’s been some time,” he said.
“Goran has me working with some new clients.”
“You moved on.”
“That’s one way to put it.”
Lars approached, and I could smell on his clothes and in his hair the remains of iced salty fish. “Are you clean?” he said.
“I spent the day traveling.”
“That isn’t what I meant,” he said. “I know you’ve been with women.”
“I want you to appreciate me.”
“My brother and I do.”
“There are no sketches.”
“Then why did you come?”
I felt unable to answer Lars; we both knew why I was there: my attraction to men was something I could not repress in the right company. He kneeled before me and unzipped my trousers. I did not try to stop him; he unwrapped a condom and slid it on me. Then he took me in his mouth. I watched his bobbing hairnet. I could see his slick silver hair below the white net, the sweat gathering at the top of his scalp. When I had finished, he skinned off the condom, inspected the contents, then swaddled it in a paper towel and threw it away.
On my subsequent visits to see Hanne, I sought Lars out before I left Bergen. We would meet in his office; he would perform his mead ritual, say Jeg ønsker å ha sex med deg, which meant he wanted to have sex, though we never did. We would take turns satisfying each other; twenty minutes at most and that would be it. My departures rarely provoked anything more than a few words, but Lars promised he would write me. I always turned away. Our encounters elicited little emotion from me, and I did not want to hear about his love for me or the sadness of his marriage; I was sure he was hiding a wife. After our last dalliance, he tried to kiss me, and I tasted the sourness of his breath. He asked if I would like to stay the night at his house. The flash of anguish in his voice struck me as dangerous. My future lay with Hanne. I decided I would not see him again.
A few months later, Hanne and I moved into a turn-of-the-century building in Grünerløkka, a gentrified district of Oslo. The main window of our flat faced the Akerselva River and an art gallery, once an old textile factory. Hanne sat in the little nook by the window and watched the visitors, the faux art trinkets they carted out. When she got tired of this, she took a job teaching ESL at a folkuniversitet. She rarely complained about the low pay or the difficult adult students. After work, I would meet her outside of the cathedral and we would walk the streets, look at the façades of the museums and galleries, continue on to the reptile park, stopping some days to listen to the roar from the feeding show. The cheers and claps of the crowd drowned out the alligators breaking bone and ripping flesh. We usually didn’t stay for long but went for a coffee. She labeled our flâneuring her daily exercise, but I knew she was re-creating our first walk in Bergen. I asked her once and she looked at me strangely. “You seemed like a different person back then,” she said.
That same day, we caught the tram home. There was only one seat and Hanne took it, while I stood, clutching the handrail. Outside, buildings flitted by. Cars whipped past. The window of sky empty, just a pale patch of blue. As we approached the Tinghuset stop, I pointed across the road to an octagonal-shaped church. I told Hanne the central dome looked odd.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Not much. Just that it looks odd.”
Hanne offered her seat to another man. She stood behind me. “How would you know? You’re not from here.”
I considered letting the matter lie. But something in her tone irritated me. “Maybe I should go back to Croatia.”
I felt her hand at my back, pulling me around. “No,” she said.
“But I’m a different person.” I did not say anything more. The tram rumbled over the bridge across the Akerselva River and pulled into Heimdalsgata. By this time, Hanne and I had turned away from each other; what I had said was hurtful and had upset our relationship’s delicate equilibrium, but it was not in me to apologize. Once the tram juddered into motion, we began to argue again, this time over where to get married. She wanted it in the Lutheran cathedral, but I did not; I told her I was a lapsed Catholic, for a host of reasons, and I could not abide any type of religious ceremony. She slipped her hand into my jacket pocket—a gesture, I thought, of acceptance—and I interlaced my fingers with hers. As we alighted from the tram, she reluctantly agreed to a civil ceremony. A few months later we married at City Hall. Her parents were in attendance, and a handful of her Bergen friends, and my brother and his wife. Leaving the room, walking past the colorful murals, Hanne told me she was happy.
Sometime later, Lars rang me at work. I said nothing about Hanne. “It’s over,” I said. He begged me to take one more trip to Bergen. I told Lars he was too old and hung up. For a long time afterward, it felt as though I had taken out my frustration with you on Lars. I tried very hard to forget about my past life. Hanne and I talked about children. We had a close call once, but lost her. I joked a Slavic-Nordic child would be an odd combination, and Hanne refused to talk to me for a week. We recovered mostly after that; we talked about other things: our careers, our holiday plans, a trip to Bergen to see her friends. I pretended to be sick the day of the trip and she went without me, and I drank all evening with my brother.
Hanne ended our relationship the other day. She discovered a cache of letters from Lars. The silly old man had sent one every few weeks to my brother’s flat, and his wife hadn’t had the wherewithal to burn them. Perhaps in an act of longstanding resentment, she had sent them on in a brown paper package. That morning, Hanne had been sorting through some of my clothes in my suitcase for a trip we were planning together, a sort of delayed honeymoon. When I returned home, she fanned the letters on the kitchen table, asked me to explain. I resisted at first, said the letters were a prank. Then an old man’s fantasy. Finally, I admitted what the letters said was true.
Hanne screamed that I had betrayed her and demanded that I leave. I slipped away without saying anything else. I walked into town; I felt half there, a spectral presence in the midst of so many people. I stepped around the crowds and headed into an ornamental park; I studied the empty base of the ice rink and sat on the edge, feet dangling above a bed of red and brown leaves. A group of teenagers on the other side laughed at me, and I retraced my steps and bought a half-liter of brandy and drank it in the toilet of the Vinmonopolet. In the last hour of daylight, I stumbled back to my brother’s flat. I slept in my old bedroom for several hours. In the morning, my body felt wretchedly cold. I told my brother that Hanne and I had had a fight and I was letting her cool off. My brother barely flinched. He must have sensed my lies and the depth of my hangover. He said, “Don’t be late for work.”
But I am late, many hours now. I am on a train to the airport. I do not know where you live, all these years later. I hope I will still find you, Mateo. I have thought about what to say and if you would even listen. Before I left my brother’s flat, I looked again for the book I meant to give you years ago. Though that copy of Verlaine’s Sagesse is lost, left behind in a hotel room in Zagreb, I remember reading one of his poems to you, explaining that it was a confession. You pressed a finger to my lips and said no, it was an admission he had to return home.
Christopher Linforth is the author of three story collections, The Distortions (Orison Books, 2022), winner of the 2020 Orison Books Fiction Prize; Directory (Otis Books/Seismicity Editions, 2020); and When You Find Us We Will Be Gone (Lamar University Press, 2014).