[using Google translate (Serbian, Vietnamese, Georgian, then back to English) on an old paragraph about a friend and I wandering Peru — then later expanding and editing]

After we finished eating, Maria and I searched the city for a hookah bar. Along the cobblestoned streets, we saw a woman pulling from a pipe on a ninth floor balcony. Maria shouted at her in Spanish and English until the woman turned inside out. On the high building we noted no inscription, so we didn’t know which abode to locate. Is it a home? We shouted above. Are we allowed? We eventually found an open door on the first floor, which led to a closed-off market. All the cloth and souvenirs were covered with tarp and rope.

As we climbed the stairs, we stared at the many paintings for sale impaled along the walls. Ancient rulers atop lost ruins. Local street sweepers, rainbow-based landscape paintings. We passed a miniature health care store and Maria adored a few products. I focused on an image on the wall – a tall man blurred so strongly that I wanted to take him home and paint him over. Really clean him up. Instead, we continued to climb.

We passed a glass shop where a robot sculpture advertised nasty tattoos. We reached the source of the hookah smoke, nine floors up, and quickly realized we were not exclusive enough. A man in a tan overcoat holding what looked like a leaf blower approached us. He turned on the blower and apologized with a whisper that somehow lifted over the wind. It was all the more poised than we expected.

The man in the tan overcoat told us that the space was a reserved event, a closed-off party for a group of forty warlords. He told us to come back the next night, where, he said, hookah would personally be willing to speak with everyone one-on-one. But we were leaving the next morning and we would never return.

13 Comments

  1. Lisa Alletson

    This piece makes me want to cry and I can’t figure out the moment that started, or why. Maybe, “the many paintings for sale impaled along the walls.” I wrote something about a Croatian ex-boyfriend today and you’ve inspired me to take it further with Jonathan’s prompt on translation. Just wonderful. Thank you.

  2. Francine Witte

    I love the woman turned inside out and then later, a reversed event. This is filled with such a dream-like feeling, moving from one scene to the next. Really enjoyed this.

  3. Jonathan Cardew

    Ben,

    I’m very happy to see you tried out Google Translate, and as I was reading your piece, I was listening out for those possible translations. Was “the woman turned inside out” and the “impaled” paintings bad translations? Because…please tell me they were! I love that uncanny moment of the woman turning inside out. That pivot really colors the rest of the narrative.

    And, gosh, this was the most narrative I’ve seen from you (I think). But still with your fabulist approach. This was a real pleasure to read–a simple story that meanders through a city in Peru and invites the reader to follow along. Nothing much happens, but then stuff does happen. It’s thoroughly captivating! The nasty tattoos, the leaf blower guy, the forty warlords. The warlords, especially, adds that necessary energy to the climax.

    I wouldn’t really want to touch this one. It has a special energy all its own. You may find your own tweaks and fiddles in revision, and you could certainly expand or contract this piece, still retaining that essential tone.

    Could you send it off to a travel-related journal? I know there are some out there, though the names are escaping me. Newfound likes place-based stuff and they’re wonderful.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    Cheers,
    Jonathan

  4. Georgiana Nelsen

    Ben,
    I hate to say that i found the piece gloriously fun! Impaled paintings and inside out women and I have to wonder if the tan overcoat covers nasty tattoos! I apologize if it was meant to be sad, but I enjoyed the climb. though I am sorry not to be able to hear the one on one talk with the hookah!
    Great read.
    G

  5. David O'Connor

    Ben, that slit shift in word choice does wonders to set the scene and build character and worlds, eg. hookah would personally be willing to speak with everyone one-on-one. I love this piece, felt very close to it, the images and details drifting by so quickly, searching for meaning, plot, something, always searching… I the the plural second person We helps this rush. Details like this: souvenirs were covered with tarp and rope–make me believe, and I do, well done.

  6. Len Kuntz

    Hi Ben,

    First off, as an aside, I loved your piece, and the reading of it, “Indigo Froth.” “Melting…” has similar qualities–the power of observation. subversion to an extent, a lone woman as the centerpiece to an extent, the feeling of journey and discovery. You’re quite talented and this piece reveals why.

  7. Jennifer Todhunter

    what a beautiful journey through a night, i loved ” focused on an image on the wall – a tall man blurred so strongly that I wanted to take him home and paint him over. Really clean him up. Instead, we continued to climb.” and appreciated the movement in the piece littered with gorgeous descriptions that don’t bog down at all. it’s full of so many terrific observations, like this, “He turned on the blower and apologized with a whisper that somehow lifted over the wind.” and i sort of felt there, like i was along for the ride, and i have been there before, travelling and unable to make it back somewhere because i was leaving, and i appreciated the ending you gave this, that some things won’t ever be known – it feels perfect for this piece that is filled with so much mystery already.

  8. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Ben, as the others say, so much to admire here. I’ll focus on your masterful use of ‘white space’ and leaving out what you do not select to tell us. This is as important here as what you’ve included. Always a delicate balance, and you have trusted us, the readers, inherently with your technique. To fill in the unknown, to travel through our own unimagined, un-lived experiences.

  9. Kristin Bonilla

    I love the movement here from ordinary to extraordinary beginning with the pivot at the woman turned inside out. So many great unexpected word choices (maybe or maybe not part of the translation?). The impaled paintings and the blurred man–fantastic. Great landing at the end with hookah willing to speak one-on-one another time. Love it!

  10. Wilson Koewing

    Ben,

    I love nothing more than a good travelogue and this one has the goods. I liked the style, several details stick out. The man on the painting that you wanted to clean up. The whisper of the man with the blower. i would have loved more!

    Wilson

  11. John Steines

    Hello Ben. This format I understand, the translator, and I think you got great results. The structure helps to anchor it. I love the descriptive long climb, stops along the way, up to the rejection – you don’t qualify, but come back tomorrow and speak with hookah. Yeah Right. Love it. Best.

  12. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Benjamin, I’m reading your work in reverse time, after the work you posted next. All I have to say, you have really been on a roll with your work in this workshop. A pleasure to read this. Thank you.

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