Fflur Dafydd

Y Llyfrgell (The Library)
Robbit_medium
Robbit by Lina Theodorou
Published by Y Lolfa (2009)

This translation, by the author, originally appeared on the Wales Literature Exchange website


They see themselves in the seagulls. Every evening when the twins have their bath, those doppelganger gulls sit on the ledge and stare in at them, pink eyes dull in their slanting heads. There is a flash of recognition for both parties. Something vermin-like, something poisonous, passes between them. Rats with wings, their mother would say, with a shudder, before shooing them away. But the birds came back; they have always come back, while the twins’ mother is long gone, never to return. The twins fill up the bath with water, and watch the mist climbing the windows, placing a protective fug between them and the birds. Still those beaks penetrate; piercing the grey haze. The twins know they will never escape them. They know that that they know, that they enjoy circling the ignorant town with the knowledge hidden in their greying feathers. They stare on. The twins finally pull down the pale green blinds, but the gulls stay on the ledge, their terrible shadows quivering against the dwindling light.

The twins, Non and Nan, know that it is only the gulls who have seen them, these last few months, building, night after night, the shape of a building in the froth between them. Whipping up the soapy water into stiff white peaks until it’s right up to their necks, a squeaking, fizzing mass, their heads poking out on either side. The birds will have witnessed them breaking down the suds, patting the fragile mass, until the white shadow afloat on the water resembles that library on the hill where they work; its resolute, block-like face, the funny, oblong shaped pillars which hold up the concrete canapé above its entrance, the granite stairs, the long, unsmiling front door. Tonight, they are even punching in windows and balconies, sharpening the edges, making a thoroughfare on the top floor, delicately burrowing away until their fingers touch one another. Then, once it is done, they sit back, and stare at the shape dissolving in front of them. The gulls scream because they know what the twins are thinking. They know that the eventual dissolution of this foam is more than bath-play.

They have observed Non and Nan become architects of foam; planning and sculpting, every evening. Usually their bath is later, much later than this; for they will already have spent several extra hours at the library, rehearsing, preparing. But tonight, there is no need for a final rehearsal; everything is firmly in its place. The mock-up building before them will soon disintegrate, whereas the real building – the one that lies in wait for them tomorrow morning – stands firm on the top of that hill, trapped under a starless sky, entirely oblivious to its fate. They have reached the very eve of the event; and tomorrow they will enter the library for the last time. Nan trails her white palm across the bubbling corridor beneath her, the concrete version of which she will enter in a few hours, while Non takes her fingers for a leisurely stroll around the back of the bubbling mass, anticipating the moment when she will unlock that door; the moment when everything will be set in motion.

“Let me try to read your mind,” Non says, blowing white triangles towards her sister. “I want to know how you feel about tomorrow.”

Nan sinks further under the soapy building. Her mind is hers, she thinks, and she resents her sister’s need to charge through it, opening and shutting the drawers of her memory, staining her thoughts with her fingers. I am a locked building, she thinks, you cannot access me.

“Oh but I can,” says her sister, laughing. “I can! And I know how you feel. But leave it to me. Follow my lead. We’ll be fine. We’ve done all the work we need to do now. It’s just about staying calm. Nothing will go wrong.”

Everything is destined to go wrong, Nan thinks. She has already decided that it will go wrong, that it must go wrong. And this is how she knows her sister can’t really read her mind. Because she still believes in the plan, still believes that the library owes them something. Nan couldn’t care less about the library now, she only thinks about that gun in her hand, the delicious feel of a trigger on the tip of her finger. 

 Her sister flips up the blinds. The doppelganger seagulls have flown off, leaving in their place a strange, black headed seagull. They’ve seen him before, parading the prom near the flat, squawking at day-trippers. He wants to be noticed. He wants others to recognise that he is not just like any other seagull. But the blackness looks unnatural, as though half his head has been dipped in tar, setting off his eerie, egg white eyes. The twins look at one another. They have never dared to be different – there is no birth mark, no scar, no blemish that sets them apart. They are a reflection of one another – clear and simple and luminous. Non stands up, putting her foot through the roof of the building they’ve created. Nan sighs; she had wanted to look at it once again, just to be sure. “Shoo!” Non shouts at the black-headed seagull, her breasts pressed up against the window. “Shoo!” Still the black-headed seagull refuses to budge. He cocks his head; he, too, knows what they are up to and he will be there tomorrow when they embark upon it. Non opens the window, hoping to knock him off his perch. He backs off into air, and hovers there, suspended, his beak opening with contempt, before gathering strength from his feathers and plummeting with all his might through the open window and into the bathroom. He has invaded their space. Both twins are now on their feet, the bird flapping and squawking in the air above them. They grapple for him, entangled in one another’s nakedness, their fingers slick with feather and soap, both shrieking, the gull now almost braying as he flees to all four corners of the ceiling. The door is locked; there is nowhere else for him to go. He faces a stern, white-concrete sky with limits and angles, dead ends and shadows, so unlike the boundless softness he is used to gliding upon. He bangs and flaps, bangs and flaps. Then, suddenly, he comes to a halt.

The twins’ gaze is drawn to the corner of the room. For the first time, the black headed seagull has seen himself. He perches there on the side of the sink, looking at his reflection. It stills him for a moment, until he can no longer bear it. He begins to peck away at it. Peck, peck, peck, tapping against the hard silver; raging against another sky that will not break open for him. On his fourth peck – Nan reaches over and grabs him. It is at this point that Non sees that she will never understand everything about her sister; amazed at her sister’s calm hold as she drags the bird under the water. He sloshes and squeaks. She can feel the close proximity of his rubbery legs, it makes her shudder. Can you drown a seagull, she wonders? Her sister drags him down again, but he will not go gently. Non watches as Nan thrusts her other hand into the water and wrings his neck instead.

“I didn’t know you knew how to do that,” Non says. There is a moment of separation, of distance. Her sister is, for this one second, no longer a twin; suddenly herself.

“Neither did I,” Nan says. Only the slightest tremor in her hands betrays her. She brings the limp, damp body back up to the surface. They agree that lifelessness suits this bird. Those acrid, unblinking eyes.

“We should throw him out,” they both say in unison. The perfumed green bath water is now marred by dirty feathers, blackened with the stench of pavement. One feather pokes out of the ruins of their frothy building, a dismal flag fluttering in the breeze. Nan gives the bird to her sister; Non hurls it back out through the window. She thinks of its ungraceful descent through the air, the fast plummet towards the concrete, the final, dirty slap.

This is what awaits them tomorrow, she thinks. This blackness; this fast approaching disaster.







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