Liza St. JamesMAREE BASSE excerpted from “Rixdorf”


I move in with Antoine and we live together in a crumpled bed. Really it’s more of a giant mattress, no frame or anything, but we leave it infrequently enough that it’s comforting to be this near to the floor. With winter closing in around us we have begun a ritual of dares with the furnace in which, flanking it, we hug ever closer to the coals. When the kettle whistles we cut ginger and return to bed, circles of it bobbing in our mugs like uncertain islands.

Antoine has a stack of philosophy books to get through, enough to last till spring. He reads to me in French and I let his words merge as only someone who doesn’t de- pend on meaning can. When he pauses for a paragraph or a chapter, I feel the sounds echo and form something else. Sometimes I repeat them, and when the sounds I repeat make bad puns, Antoine jokes that he’s going to sleep in the roof garden. This is his name for the ledge high above the toilet where the water closet has a small window for breeze. He would make a generous real estate agent.

We sleep with chestnuts under our pillows. Something about dream enhancement that at this point I think Antoine must have made up. He acts in riddles sometimes, and it’s hard to tell if he means to. I’ll ask for water, say, and he’ll bring me four ice cubes in a cup, one with a giant bubble in it. He likes to go long stretches without speaking, so I’ll look at him and search his body for an answer. If language is beautiful, he says, it must be because a master bathes it. I am master of nothing.

Antoine says that vodka is compatible with his blood type. We could all say that, I tell him, it being the diminutive of water and all. But he shows me photographs of his grandmother holding him in a folded blanket outside the Pokrovsky Cathedral and begins to plan a trip there. He fills out visa application forms and practices Russian. I bring home copies of texts I’d like translated from the Archive, mostly the untranslated letters and theater bills of Asja Lacis, the longtime love interest of Walter Benjamin. The words come slowly, but I have never felt so excited about a romance. III

Note: I borrowed the following line, spoken by Antoine, from Dominique Laporte’s History of Shit: “If language is beautiful, it must be because a master bathes it.”