Extracts of Short Stories / Michelle Cahill

An extract from ‘Letter to Pessoa’

When I open my eyes Aleandro has left, his bed sheet folded. For a moment I’m in Santa Monica. The whirring fan, the garish pink walls seem vaguely familiar. Alcohol settles like a carpet of snow falling softly in my head. On the desk next to your Selected, there’s a note, saying “Thanks” with no address. Not even a number.

It’s so humid my wristwatch could be melting as in Dali’s famed masterpiece but the dream is my own and the mattress is hard against my back. I rub my eyes. I’ve missed the last bus. (Should mention that I met him at a tapas bar, El-Xampaynet. And fell for his champagne curls, his unmannered charm.)

Resisting waves of nausea I stand. Pull on jeans. Check face in a piece of mirror stuck above the sink. Try for a clean shave.

Estrella is in the courtyard. She is busy stacking boxes of Fontvella, the floor cluttered with piles of dirty clothes and cylinders of gas. Fuse wires spread like vines across the cracked plaster. I can hear the squeak of the pulley used to hoist laundry up to the terrace.

Church bells gag. Beyond the rooftops the sky crushes me with its vivid blue. The old man at reception nods sympathetically. He guesses I have my suicidal hours. Aren’t we ever-restless? Rebellious clerks for whom the streets are never desolate, littered with cigarette butts and last night’s pardon.

Two blocks away a bar is open.

Coffee rouses me. The owner looks weary. He starts carving the jamon in thick slices. Strings of garlic and the chintzy jingle of a radio tell me it’s time to find your whereabouts, to leave this stinking city behind. An old man thumbs through the classifieds. The smell of his Rex mingles with the odour of stale piss, the floor trashed with butts and greasy smudges.

Flâneur, you’ve made me dream of Lisboa as if I’d roamed its streets with nostalgia, becoming the dramatist or the character of a book in progress. Speechlessly, the city has its way with me in dreams of theosophy, of black and white mosaic tiles, of slaves and cool Atlantic breezes. Of Afro jazz, pastel facades and Alfonso Pereira. Or perhaps it was the poems of Álvaro de Campos. I’ve wondered if they were fabrications or if he lived in you? What ships left the rat-infested harbours transporting poets? What ships are docked within us?

© Michelle Cahill

Author Statement: Letter to Pessoa

Letter to Pessoa is a collection of short stories that experiments at the boundaries of the genre. It is hybrid writing with homages in the epistolary trope to writers whose work I admire. Heteronyms of a young female protagonist resonate through a range of fictional characters: Sarita the refugee advocate, Hemani the journalist travelling through Myanmar and Nepal, Nabina whose Hong Kong dalliance leaves her more resilient, Jo, the Australian tourist studying a Buddhist meditation practise in Thailand. In stories such as ‘Letter to Virginia Woolf’, ‘Letter to Tadeusz Rózewicz,’ the author’s voice surfaces as she turns her subject to writing; a mother experiencing divorce, creative challenges, industry demands and depression. By offering an alternative to stable, single identities, to heteronormativity and to chronological structures, and by honing language, image and voice these stories speak from the margins.

Letter to Pessoa will be launched on Saturday 27 August at 3.30 pm at Gleebooks. The book will be launched by Michelle de Kretser. http://www.gleebooks.com.au/BookingRetrieve.aspx?ID=263558

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