I have decided to serialize my novel Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL), self-published in 2017 on Amazon. I will be publishing the installments on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and I will then take them down a month later. If you wish to read the whole novel before I’m finished posting the installments, here are the various Amazon links.
Please note that PAL is the first in a planned trilogy but can be read as a standalone novel as well. Enjoy!
So without further ado, let’s begin 🙂
“Why are you always leaving your things in the middle of the floor?” Haralambie asked. His girlfriend didn’t respond, so he stepped out of the kitchen to seek her.
He had left her in the living room, writing up an artist’s statement for a recent batch of sculptures. Now he found her there stretching in her chair, her long fingers woven through her flowing, wavy red hair. She gave him a rueful look and then settled back to get on with her work at the computer.
“Henriette, this is not just your studio. I live here too,” Haralambie said with a sigh. He crouched to gather her latest clay pieces, her sculpting utensils and plastic sheets, and took them to the balcony. Henriette helped, but halfheartedly. Her mind was on the blurb she was drafting that morning. She said as much to Haralambie, but her focus had already shifted, so when he returned to the kitchen to finish his coffee and smoke another cigarette, she put on a sixties rock ballad. Soon she was swaying gently to and fro, swinging her arms around gracefully and twirling her hands up in the air—until she noticed Haralambie leaning against the doorframe.
“Is that what it’s like at those parties of yours?” he asked.
“No, but that’s how I like it sometimes,” she responded provocatively, a wicked smile on her lips.
Haralambie walked over to her, cupped her face in his hands, and planted a kiss on her lips. “You’re not sixteen anymore, Henriette, and you know it.”
“Hey! Glad you could make it!” exclaimed Henriette, enveloping her younger friend Ela in a hug and wafts of sea breeze fragrance before giving her the customary kiss on both cheeks.
Ela readjusted her glasses, amused at how exuberant Henriette still was at thirty-four.
“Should we go in?” Henriette prompted, opening the door with a flourish.
Ela stepped gingerly into the exhibition space. “Beautiful place,” she remarked, noting how the sunbeams streaming through the large glass wall glinted off the rough, irregular surfaces of bronze-cast works.
“Coffee, tea?” Henriette asked as Ela removed her scarf and trench coat.
“Tea. But I want to look at the sculptures first.”
“See if you can spot mine,” Henriette called after her.
A few moments later the bell on the door tinkled, and Pamfil, a tall, dark-eyed man with a mop of wavy black hair entered the gallery, his eyes on Henriette.
“Hello, Ettie,” he said with a smile, taking a cursory look around the gallery. Ela was by now at the other end of the room, engrossed in a sculpture depicting a hybrid between the torso of a woman and the trunk of a tree.
“Hello, Phil,” Henriette returned nonchalantly.
“How are you doing?” Pamfil asked.
“Came to see the show with a friend of mine,” Henriette responded. She grabbed a tea mug and headed with Pamfil in tow to where Ela was photographing a work displaying a heart squeezed under a tall stack of books.
“Reminds me of Har,” Ela said, taking the mug from Henriette. “He’s spending more time with books than with people.”
“He does,” Pamfil interjected carelessly, throwing the remark in Henriette’s direction.
Henriette gave him a sly smile.
“You know Haralambie?” Ela asked, turning to the new visitor with curiosity.
“Heard this and that about him,” Pamfil responded, his words slipping out slowly, carefully as he appraised Ela’s soft chestnut eyes and thick eyebrows, her dark ringlets of hair, and her petite body, inviting in a flattering dress and waist-length cardigan. His eyes lingered a moment too long on her breasts.
“Sorry, where are my manners?” Henriette blurted. “Ela, this is my friend Pamfil. Pamfil, this is Ela, my very good friend.”
The two guests shook hands, their faces lit up by smiles.
Henriette looked around the room, pretending to ponder the exhibition. Her gaze returned to the heart sculpture. “So you recognized one of my pieces,” she said to Ela, while the latter sipped her hot, minty brew. “Here’s another,” she went on, pointing her guests to a Janus-faced flattened head kissing a woman on each side.
Pamfil spent a moment taking in the work. “Cute. You must have really enjoyed shrinking this guy’s brain,” he teased.
“Is that revenge on someone from your past?” Ela asked.
Henriette bypassed her friends’ remarks. “How’s your tea, Ela?”
“Girls, I have to bow out,” Pamfil said. “It was nice seeing you, Ettie.”
Henriette couldn’t restrain a smirk.
Pamfil put out a hand to Ela. “Nice meeting you, Ela.”
When it was time for them, too, to leave, Ela turned to her friend. “This guy, Pamfil . . .” she started, still organizing her thoughts. “He’s rather handsome.”
“He is,” Henriette affirmed.
“How do you know him?” Ela asked.
“We met at a conference.”
“Do you like him?”
“He’s okay,” Henriette responded, a little disconcerted.
“I’d like to meet him again,” Ela said.
And she did. A few weeks later, in May 2001, Henriette invited both Ela and Pamfil to see a performance piece of hers, called Channeled, which she was rather excited about, even though it was very simple in conception: twenty teenagers of various ages chatting among themselves over three weekends on a local network as they sat crammed next to each other at narrow computer desks—the physical setup, with the desks set flush against the walls of a small art gallery in a U-shape, mimicking that of an internet café.
When Henriette and her friends arrived at the show one Saturday afternoon, they were all immediately struck by how much the performers were drawn, almost magnetically, to the words building up their virtual bubbles, even as they were also restless—biting their lips anxiously, stroking their chins while pondering a response, or tilting their heads at the screen in disbelief or amusement before pushing back their chairs and typing feverishly again.
Henriette stood watching her volunteers for a few moments, lost in her own thoughts as she observed their gestures and considered asking each of these teenagers, eventually, for their take on her piece through open-ended interviews. Then she grabbed some informational materials for her guests, and the three of them proceeded to walk around the room in order to catch some glimpses of the chat conversations.
“Remember when I went to Prague for New Year’s Eve in 1999?” Henriette asked.
Pamfil, who’d been browsing a brochure, lifted his gaze to Henriette’s.
“With those friends from high school?” Henriette continued.
“Yes, I remember,” Ela said. “When you broke up with Har.”
“Yes, after a year with Har,” Henriette echoed. She looked at Pamfil. “I went to Prague with those old classmates and a guy, and we fought and went our separate ways, and then we met online in a Bucharest channel—a chat room—on mIRC.”
“And then they had champagne on the Charles Bridge at midnight,” Ela said, smiling at Pamfil.
“Yes, we drank champagne when we met on the Charles Bridge,” Henriette told Pamfil. “We opened the champagne and took a picture of us kissing, in the middle of a crowd that pushed from all sides.”
“Nice story,” Pamfil said. He looked at the people typing on keyboards. “What do they write about?” he asked, his eyes now focused on a screen.
“Ask them,” Henriette replied.
“They look like they’re having fun,” Pamfil said.
“One of the ideas is that online chatting is a form of communication that people engage in to alleviate anxiety,” Henriette explained.
“Interesting,” Ela remarked. “They don’t look anxious.” Her gaze then landed on a boy who kept dragging his teeth over his lips. “Well, maybe some of them.” She turned to Henriette. “Is that what you had in mind when you titled the piece Channeled? The fact that you’re channeling young people’s energies into an activity that helps them psychologically?”
“That, and the fact that chat rooms are called ‘channels’ on mIRC,” Henriette clarified. “Also, I wanted to refer obliquely to the fact that what’s channeled is the impulse and need for real communication, and what they get is a travesty of that. And yet it has its value. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded very well in conveying my conflicted stance on technology,” Henriette said pensively. She fiddled with her neck scarf. “Let’s talk some more over tea,” she invited, switching gears.
They headed to a tea house, revved up by their performances for each other.
To be continued . . .