Milan a city U’ve never been to before. So U can admire the scape without getting caught up in referencing it. Glass elevator reflecting cityscape going down. The sounds of industry — tapered minor violence. The Italian capital of industry. We like the sounds of violence because they never stop.
Writer in hospital bed about to die. Doctor injects him with morphine. Ask what it is to be done.
The friends arrive in a vehicle. Birds twerp on a sunny day. Deranged slut in the hallway wants hubby’s cock. Nursie sends her back to room.
Next door is where the great man lies. It would be futile to operate. Operation successful, but the patient died, he jokes.
He’s sick of all the pretending. He knows that death is upon him. All this longing for release, now the regrets. Self-doubt of the master. The dying master compliments the younger. The younger loves the old master, who isn’t even old. Just dying. Mother appears. A mother, a wife, a younger writer, an older. Death permeates the air, the smell of sickly sweat. The buildings of Milan. All built by sweating men. Helicopter flies over. The concert you didn’t go to.
Wife can’t take anymore, goes outside to cry.
Madwoman corners husband, the younger writer, in the hallway on the way out; asks him for a light. She drags him into her room and attempts to devour him. He kisses her, lets himself be kissed by her, though he knows she’s insane. Before it can go any further, they are interrupted by nurses, who come in and slap the shit out of the girl, strap her to the bed.
The young writer and his wife drive through the streets of Milan, on their way to the party for his new book. Traffic’s bad. He tells his wife about the incident with the mad girl. She says it would make a good short story. Call it “The Living and the Dead.” The wife doesn’t care. When was the last time she was moved.
Giovanni Pontano. That’s the young writer’s name. They all swarm around him. A time when people still read books, before literature became obsolete. Husband signs books; wife is bored. She finishes her drink, leaves.
The busy streets of a city of industry. The people moving through it, rushed, immune to the disorder they form bits and pieces of. Wife stands before a fountain. The men before her laughing. A crumbling façade a sign of poverty. Try to comfort the crying toddler outside of it, then give up with a smile.
The writer returns home alone to bourgeois apartment building. The sound of an English-language instruction record on the phonograph. Maid informs wife hasn’t returned. Writer says she can go home.
In his office, books and newspapers everywhere. Look through the curtains at the street down below.
The built city. Wife in the scape. Noise in the sky, like rockets passing by.
She meets the gaze of nearly every male figure that crosses her. She is looking, looking. Moving and watching on this fine spring day. Rest Ur head against a column, Jeanne Moreau, U are lovely, don’t U know. Men and their beastliness. A group of young hoodlums, two of them beating each other. Basta! she screams. Basta! The winner puts his shirt on, smiles at her through a bloody nose. She turns to go and he follows after, as though she were his expected reward.
It is late afternoon, the siesta hour, the day starting to die. Someone shooting off fireworks in a field. People stand around watching. She joins, to feel herself one of the crowd. The crowd staring up at the sky. Soon that won’t be, can’t be enough. And so she suspends her stare and will walk elsewhere.
Husband wakes up in his office. Lidia still not home. Now the sun nearly gone. The neighbor on the balcony. Hasn’t seen her either.
Tall gridular structure called apartment building. I love Ur geometric rigidity. Love me like a telephone ringing.
Kids firing rockets in a field, she says through the telephone. Come to the café. Let us wander the way a husband and wife should.
Why here? It’s where she ended up, is all. His studied, serious glare. Hers quizzical. It hasn’t changed. The everything. The rust. The boys with rockets over there. A fine gay old song. We could dance to it were we not in a field of abandonment, standing on an old railroad track…
Wife’s in the bathtub. She doesn’t wanna stay in no more. He says we’ll go to the party. Millionaires collect intellectuals, she notes; he’s picked U. Her/their old-world charm. Fix self drink in the kitchen. Sexy new dress she’s wearing, all frilly back lace and exposed cleavage. This a time when gesture counted. Button me up. Wife doesn’t want to go to party. They’ll go somewhere else.
The California I have yearned to know. Smoking at stylish jazz club, the exotic negroes sauntering about half-nude on display. Saxophone swagger, playing the electric guitar with Ur crotch. Pour a glass of wine on Ur forehead, camera is horny enough to follow the elasticity of Ur movements — the common edge — the white glove. Cigarillo in Marcello’s left hand. A thought’s about to come.
Drink from the glass when U’re upside down; I am on the edge of devastation. I no longer have inspirations, only recollections. One must always do something.
They will go to the party after all. The villa a half-hour drive. Already a lot of cars when they get there, but silent in the lot. Gets louder as they near the entrance.
Where are all the people. Gathered out back. Let us stand and watch them for a bit. Hostess approaches.
Inside a party, the people are so wonderful. What’s important is to always realize where it is that U are going. In between me and the sea, a crowd of inane and nameless bystanders. Hostess does crowd control. The horse says goodnight.
La musica. Three thousand roses. Do roses sleep? Give one to the beautiful woman. That is Italian charm.
We wander through the party separately, detached, grateful that we know so few here, almost no one interested so no one to talk to. Just the looking and the movement. What else is there.
The writer finds he has many admirers. One woman introduces herself as his biggest fan in Italy, suggests a story for him to write. A woman loves a man who does not love her back. He does admire her intelligence. The man and the woman live together. How will the story end? In many ways.
Husband finds wife wandering alone by the pool. Why aren’t U mingling with the others? I will eventually.
People leave me alone — a place I like to be. The follies of sanctity. More of husband’s admirers approach. Wife walks to the edge of the pool.
Don’t let money obsess U. Business is a work of art. Tell me what it is to be an artist, businessman. There is no mechanization to it, but we can fantasize. It is the entrepreneur who designs the rhythm of life. Perhaps the future will never come.
The party in its waning hours. Nothing to do but flirt to ward off boredom.
This is the night: its own landscape. Sort of. That is, a scape determined by a particular dearth of light. Write so hard make self vomit. Writing must never be mistaken for the domain of easy answers. A game to be played. A flirtation in which to partake. See a reflection of Urself in the monitor. The husband has found a new potential mistress.
Do U enjoy acting the cynic? No. Nobody does. The absent wife. She finds a phone, calls the hospital to find the older writer has died. She lowers her head, distraught. Now to be the bearer of news. Will she tell him.
Wifely burden. The swelling of the saxophone. Wife watches husband kiss object of flirtation. Becoming object himself. He does not know where his wife is. Her apparitionish movements through the house whose layout he still doesn’t fully comprehend. Saying goodnight, he is taken away by big boss, who offers him a job. Don’t you want to be independent? he asks him. In what sense?
Husband’s wandering wife is rich. She contributes to many publications. A legacy of sophistication. She is spotted on the balcony.
Overlooking the party. They can barely exchange words. How can she bear it, so out of place among these people. She only wanted a life of the mind, surrounded by intellectuals. This is where the life of the mind leads: alone.
Pouring down rain, some run for cover, others jump in the pool fully clothed. Drunken orgy of not-caring. A man grabs wife, they run to a car. Drive on out of there. The night.
Husband remains behind, in the house. Lightning strikes, the electricity goes out. Wandering amongst standing bodies in the darkness.
In the car, the wife suddenly becomes alive again. All the men that are dead for her, now forgotten. They park the car, get out. About to kiss. She hesitates, gets back in. I’m sorry, I can’t.
Outside, in the moonlight, husband finds would-be mistress resting against a column. At least I’m clever enough not to break up a marriage. Now spend the rest of the evening with Ur wife. It’s so dark… How do I find her?
Hope is the dog I can never be. The woman runs in to find a cigarette.
Still things left unsaid. Love creates misunderstandings. Some things best left thought not spoken. He’s experiencing a crisis, he says. Common among writers these days. Only this one is affecting his whole life — not just his writing.
Her hobbies are golf, tennis, cars and parties. She likes everything.
What I don’t know is how to be in this world. Some are happy to observe things without having to write. Love a fleeting thing. Take comfort in the knowledge that nothing lasts. She suggests a fresh start. He says U.
Blue ball perfection. Wife reappears with man. Two couples stare at each other. Wife and would-be mistress, whose name is Valentina, retreat to dryness. They laugh; nothing’s serious.
Democracy means take things as they come. There’s no desperation. I am in love with a world. Every time U watch a movie, void opens up. Go into it. The vice that suits U is warm and placid.
The two women drink and talk. The saxophone. Husband listens unseen; despondency. Sees husband. Let’s go.
Wife is not able to feel jealousy. That’s the problem. Husband hopes he can at least save himself by seeing the other woman again. The wife loves her for this also. The sun comes up behind her. She is exhausted by them, exhausted by life.
Light outside, darkness within. No more night. Jazz combo continues to play outside, greeting the new day. Few remaining couples, stragglers, contemplate. The lack of vision. Fangirl crying.
He doesn’t want his own life. The older writer is dead. The wife says he convinced me I was smarter than I am. The wife loved him; his persistence drove her mad. Eventually she lost her mind. Admiration fed into hate. And yet he never spoke of himself. This was new for her. She mistook that novelty for love. Nothing in the world more beautiful. A gulf opened up. She’s now swimming in it. She wishes she were old. She can no longer love. She realizes it enough to say it. The way the world burns. A peculiar poetry of longing. She used to spend her afternoons reading in bed. The older writer, he would only watch her. Two hundred pages a day. What we give to others comes back to us. Let us try to hang on. So that there may be less confusion.
(Excerpted from Travis Jeppesen’s forthcoming object-oriented novel U.)
Travis Jeppesen (b. 1979, US) is a writer and artist. His novels include Victims (Akashic Books, 2003), Wolf at the Door (Twisted Spoon Press, 2007) and The Suiciders (Semiotext(e), 2013).