I dream that I am somewhere else. As if I am melting into the background, or the wildflowers below are swallowing me. I want him to dismantle my head and take it with him. When he touches me with his fingers, I feel myself color. Golden flowers bloom in my body. But in the end, he will leave and the barren circle that surrounds me will be completed.
At the moment of the kiss, we turn into saints. A golden halo shines around our heads, and we freeze. I feel him. I know him. His fingers press down on my neck as if he is telling me that this is the end. He will leave. I gently stroke his hand. Don’t go, my fingers tell him. Don’t go, say my closed eyes and limp surrender. And piece by piece, I melt. Piece by piece, we become a single colored mass. Piece by piece, I become a cold, smiling body. And after a while, my blushing cheeks will be extinguished. I will keep my eyes closed, and be his forever.
I am leaving. She knows it. That is why she is giving herself in complete surrender, and hanging on to my neck. My fingers press down, telling her what she does not want to hear, and she understands. My grip is the last thing I will leave on her. I will go, yes, but I want my marks to stay for eternity. As long as endlessness. Only then will I be at ease.
I feel her shudder slightly, but she does not resist. She does not even try to draw a breath. She presses my hand slightly with her fingers as if to say, continue, take me.
Take me somewhere else, I feel her say with her fingers so I press harder, and harder, until she is limp and falls flowing and quiet like a piece of cloth draped over a chair. Only then do I lower myself to print that kiss on her blushing cheek that will soon be cold and grave. That kiss that they are all peering at now. The idiots. They don’t know she has gone. They don’t know she is no longer with me, but she is mine forever.
I saw them behind the window opposite my room. I did not feel sad when he took her last breaths with him. She did not mind. If not for the few shudders that a trained eye can catch, the whole thing would not have even revealed itself. Despite that, I found him very cruel. A mass hewn from stone, and so I decided to punish him.
He does not know that the artist is a jailer. I imprisoned him in that moment. If the Belvedere Palace is not eaten by a huge fire, he will stay imprisoned there—with her—at that very moment, the moment of the crime, forever. His cruelty witnessed by countless people.
Gustav Klimt puts aside his paints and sleeps as soundly as a man who has just put the last brushstrokes on a masterpiece. But multicolored bars will emerge from the walls and close in on his body, so that he will be crushed—into circles, squares, and other shapes—and kneaded into the painting. The viewer contemplating it at the museum will not notice a third body appearing in every dot, and the thickened blood in the bottom right corner in the shape of a signature.
—Translated from the Arabic by Thoraya El-Rayyes. Originally published in the short story collection Muqaddimaton Labudda Minha Li Fana'in Mu'ajjal. (Inevitable Preludes to an Eventual Demise, Cairo: Dar al-Ain, 2014).
Thoraya El-Rayyes is a Palestinian-Canadian literary translator who specializes in bringing Arabic literature from the Levant into English. Her translations have received accolades from the Modern Language Association and the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Arkansas. She lives in Amman, Jordan.
Hisham Bustani is a Jordanian award-winning author of four collections of short fiction. His fiction has been translated into five languages, with English-language translations appearing in journals across the U.S., U.K., and Canada, including World Literature Today, Los Angeles Review of Books and The Literary Review. In 2009, he was chosen by the German review Inamo as one of the Arab world's emerging and influential new writers. In 2013, the UK-based cultural webzine The Culture Trip listed him as one of Jordan’s top six contemporary writers. His book The Perception of Meaning won the 2014 University of Arkansas Arabic Translation Award, and was published in 2015 by Syracuse University Press. One of Hisham’s stories was recently chosen to be featured in the inaugural edition of The Best Asian Short Stories anthology, forthcoming in 2017.