I wasn’t bothered by the strangers who were carving hieroglyphics into my carpet with their cigarettes. My two social circles were mixing swimmingly and that was all that mattered. My friends from writing camp embroidered the cheap carpeting of my dorm with semi-colons. Their cigarettes, functioning as calligraphy pens, made this punctuation constellation possible. None of my writer friends were smokers but my degenerate city friends were. When offered some smokes from the city kids, rather than inhaling the nicotine, the writers created a neon landscape with the smoke and ash.
Despite the many Ipods that were being used as coasters, the kids from the city also provided loud cassettes from the 1990’s. Replacing CDs which had already been denounced by MP3s seemed so hilariously ironic to everyone.
Someone had cheated on a boyfriend, and the neighbors had complained about the loud stomping. I had dreaming as a pillow for those worries. There would be no consequences tonight.
But it was getting increasingly more difficult to ignore the pounding coming from within my closet. “It’s continuous!” said a friend wearing a fedora. “Wait, no, it’s continual.” I set my mind to ignoring the sound before the party had even started, but, since my guests were noticing it, I had to go inspect my closet to seem less suspicious. I didn’t want to seem like I had something to hide. It felt like something on the inside was pulling the door in the opposite direction. I eventually managed to pry open my closet.
“STFU! I’m trying to read.” Anne Frank was wearing a Paul Frank sweatshirt with the brand’s iconic monkey adorning it. I could see that she had been tentatively scribbling in her neon Lisa Frank notebook. I was quite taken aback by the Holocaust diarist’s sputtering vulgar Internet slang. When I shut the closet, I didn’t lock the door even though it had a lot of bolts.
I promptly turned the Reality Bites soundtrack down and continued socializing. The party went on but I had the mind to be respectful.
I woke up.
We tore through the tall grasses tripping and giggling and pushing the tall weeds with our palms sticking with soil.
“Did you hear that he always carries a bottle of sanitizer in his pants’ pocket? He squirts his hands with it every hour!”
The stories got scarier. The story of the little boy and his dog was brought up. “You know, the parents went off to see a movie, and left him with his pal thinking all would be okay. The poor kid kept hearing a dripping noise but was comforted by old Sparky licking his hand under the bed. After a good couple of hours, he wanted to turn off the dripping tap only to discover his dog dangling in the shower, dripping in the shower. “‘Humans can lick hands too,’ the mirror read with blood.”
The breezes weren’t warm anymore. They became unfriendly.
“Shut up, everyone has heard that one anyway.”
“Well, it still scared you guys,” I said. I pretended to laugh at their frightened faces.
But we were safe here, a lot safer here than at our big, lumbering farms. Imagine if he got all our animals, it would sound like rain.
RUPTURE: IN PRAISE OF SPLIT ENDS
I looked at that dry, mutilated tendril. It had once been united with others at the back of my scalp forming a knot. A menacing knot, almost a dread lock. The hair had been part of a big shot coalition, but now it was separated, completely exposed for everyone to see its schizophrenia. The true self and the alter ego flagrantly standing next to each other. It’s as if they’re saying, “Go ahead, pull us apart and see what happens. We dare you.” I think their aggression is aimless, once you start tearing they either both perish or one barely survives. The disjointed threads are always too gummed up to ever be considered wholes again. I’m reckless and don’t bother to check up on them after the splitting operations. I assume they never grow back the right way and have learned their lesson. I think of the identical twins from a couple of years ago. They were fetuses sharing a heart and only one of them could live. They were collaborators in survival and in making their mother fatter from pregnancy, of course. One of them had to be sacrificed for the other. Splitting them will shatter more than I could possibly fathom: the parents, the blameworthy doctors, the good-for-nothing survivor. Like an atomic bomb that causes so much pain from just one severance. These fibers are relentless martyrs who suffer for the greater purpose of destroying my mind’s exterior. I guess I admire their willpower.
Oona Haas studies English Literature at the University of Edinburgh.
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Claudia Durastanti may be a new novelist as far as most Americans are concerned, but Strangers I Know is actually the Italian authors fourth novel, her first to be published in translation in America. Originally published in 2019 as La straniera in Italy, the book was a finalist for the Premio Strega.
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