Do you speak French? No? You ought to, just a bit.
Image from Flickr via so-photo
By Nadja Tesich
I’m glad you asked. Most don’t. Oh no, the overt seduction never occurs to me, not really, not until they provoke, provoke, then resist, and you see the mad struggle in their eyes. Yes, you do. And then all I want to do is help. My goals are good. I am for deliverance, like in church, if you know what I mean. I’m glad you do. No, their souls don’t interest me, I leave that for their wives. It should be a simple process, no pain attached. But if their hearts are so dry and their bodies so parched and yet they continue to provoke me, smile, stare, slide by me and all the usual tricks, and yet refuse to yield the way they should—something very unfortunate happens, rare in my case, maybe once or twice—I get angry, very, and everything that was meant to be their deliverance and love turns into war, yes war, and sad as it is, I do want them destroyed, but only using their own means. No tricks of any sort. It would be beneath me.
The very reason I love revolutions, civil wars, all the extreme states, oh how I adore when everything goes out of control, don’t you?
And while a normal person delivered and freed by me returns to his household better off than before me, healthier, happy with a gift they can pass on, this other gray stringy breed with sin in their eyes writes its own downfall out of stinginess. Can’t be stingy, I think. It’s bad, it’s a crime. You’ll suffer, honey, I think. They do. Why? Because sooner or later, you see, they’ll fall, while others, the more generous ones, never do. They, the horrible gray ones, stew in their own juices, mad with desire that can’t go anywhere, can’t explode, unable to love their lovers or their wives because I have put my own seed in their hearts and they can’t dislodge me. They kick and scream, I grow roots, blossom in them with dark red petals that keep them awake at night and when they think they are asleep. I become the very air they breathe. Do I feel bad? Of course not. And why should I? I haven’t done a thing. They did it all alone, poor things, while I just smile and watch, knowing that sooner or later, one day or night, they’ll succumb. They always do, but even their downfalls are sad. At that stage, they are pathetic, they beg and crawl, dying for relief, water, water, they squeal, help me please. Nothing is left of their pride, no resistance, no humor, no wit, who would ever be interested in such a person. Not me. Would you? Would anyone? I only like the process, their prolonged downfalls and agony don’t intrigue me. I don’t savor it. It’s unpleasant. And I’m not naturally a vindictive person, my aim in this sad short life is toward joy. And they are not joyful at that stage. I walk away, that’s all. Erased. Finito. Next one.
If, on the other side, they don’t take such a long time to torture themselves, if let’s say they give up mid-way, let’s say after three weeks, a month, then I do enjoy that brief moment, oh how brief, when after days and night of fight, they finally give up. There is a look on a man’s face I adore, that mad tragic innocence, the moments before they fall, that slight tremor, the paleness, that feverish gleam in the eyes as they submit with a sign and I say, honey, just close your eyes, let your mind go, I assure you it won’t hurt. After all, I’m as human as you, it’s nothing more than my skin and yours, and see how soft mine is, relax. And then, these sweet warriors who resisted so hard and well, not those horrible gray stingy ones who take months, but these other ones who take an average time to put up a good fight, they are, I have to admit, more exciting than the ones who say yes right away. You could say that the contrast between their resistance and what happens next is so amusing. The moment you touch them they shiver and smoke, they sting and bite, completely unleashed. It can be quite delicious, I assure you, and it feels every time like it’s the first time, can you imagine. That’s why I suggest, prefer, a certain amount of resistance, some, but not for months.
He was like a tangerine, a drink of water, you know what I mean. I must have been the same for him. Isn’t life wonderful after all?
Oh, no, there are all sorts of seduction, I’ve just mentioned the two, one extreme, the other nice, although as I said, I’m fortunate that the gray ones usually don’t come my way. Once or twice, I think. No more.
What do I like about this? Strange how you ask that as if it were a job. Perhaps a certain discovery about human nature, what else could it be. My aims are always artistic, if by that we understand the difference between the ordinary life and the other one usually denied to us. The very reason I love revolutions, civil wars, all the extreme states, oh how I adore when everything goes out of control, don’t you? Oh God, what ecstasy, what a marvel, and you wonder with whom shall I wake up, who’ll die next, maybe him, maybe me, maybe we’ll live a bit more. The way you look at me now, I’m not sure you approve, you probably think this one is dangerous, should be locked up, but I did nothing at all, it’s your fault honey, your questions provoked me. Yes, that’s what I call living, rather than the sad nine to five that most mortals seem to prefer. Death is what I think, looking at them, death, they might as well get it over with if everything has been settled for. Die now. What’s the point, if nothing can shake you up. And all those couples who sing we we we, the same song, we this summer, we next time, our apartment, our kids, ours dogs, our sofa. I can tell you don’t like it. I can see it in your face. I’m sorry. But you do want to know what I think, don’t you? Well, you can see my problem, either I try to please you, or I tell you what I think, which one would you prefer? Good.
What I have in mind is not love but some other more pleasant state, more airy, more spring-like.
So, as I was saying, in the absence of revolutions and other similar states, there is not much left except love, is there, but let’s not call it love, let’s look for another more suitable word…because love has a touch of sadness at all times, a heavy dense sound to it, like love forever, me and you, till death do us part, absence of air, you can get claustrophobic just thinking about it, so it’s not love that I have in mind, no, love only afflicts those who resist me for too long. Poor things. They really get it bad and I feel bad for them at times, but it’s not my fault, remember. They did it themselves. Married? So you are. You love each other, you say. Just the way you should. I should hope so. Of course I understand. I understand everything, honeybunch. But what I wanted to say, what I have in mind is not love but some other more pleasant state, more airy, more spring-like, let’s call it pleasure if you wish, although that too is inaccurate since it implies some ordinary physical almost textbook pleasures everyone is concerned with these days, some pathetic hygienic approach to life like bigger and better and more. Or maybe that word pleasure used to be fine at one time and it implied what I was after, like plaisir in French. Do you speak French? No? You ought to, just a bit. Some words are sunnier, more joyful in French. It’s never too late to start. I’m still searching for that word to communicate my intentions, not that I really need to define it myself. Oh no. Joy perhaps. Joy like summer, strawberries, blue water, sun, joy like new-born sweat glistening to someone’s skin, joy like sleeping and waking up and that bronze body next to with skin that is nice to the touch and the way hair falls over the left cheek you wonder is it a boy or a girl. The sleeping stranger moans in the dream, smiles, turns toward you, you touch the shoulder to prolong the dream, nothing more, and soon you drift away, the shore is gone. Somewhere in the middle of the ocean you hear sleepy words like love and such, your name repeated but you say hush, yes, it’s all wonderful, I like you too, let’s sleep some more now. When you really wake up, both of you are starved, have I described joy adequately? Yes, maybe that’s the right word. Yes, that’s what I wish.
You have the loveliest smile right now and suddenly I remember that sweet Marco, the boy I met one day at the beach when the sun was perfect around five and both of us looked golden. Now in his case there was no resistance at all—we perceived each other immediately because we looked so much alike. So sweet with beautiful arms but all I seem to remember now is the strong smell of the sea, a very luminous beach. He was like a tangerine, a drink of water, you know what I mean. I must have been the same for him. Isn’t life wonderful after all? The way you look at me now is very very interesting, your eyes change shades depending on your mood, did anyone tell you that? No? I’m surprised. If you don’t mind me telling you, your eyes reveal everything about you, every tiny bit, even this moment now. Do you want me to tell you? You’d rather not. Suit yourself. Is the interview over? Well, good-bye. You are not getting up. Of course I understand. Of course you are happily married and why shouldn’t you be. Of course you love her. She must be wonderful, pretty, smart, charming, and she loves you too. But, you said but. So you are. Well, worse things could have happened to you, and why shouldn’t you be attracted to me? It’s perfectly natural, just close your eyes, let your mind go, I assure you it won’t hurt. It’s just my skin against yours and see how soft mine is, relax.
Nadja Tesich was born in Yugoslavia and came to Chicago at age fifteen. She attended Indiana University and the University of Wisconsin and did graduate work at New York University Film School and the Sorbonne in Paris. She has taught Film at Brooklyn College and French Literature at Rutgers University. She is the author of the novel Shadow Partisan, which received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council for the Arts. Her other published works include To Die in Chicago, a literary memoir based on two years of immigration to the U.S., the novels Native Land and Far from Vietnam, and the play After the Revolution, as well as short stories and poetry. She has worked in films, and is the writer/director of Film for my Son. As an actress she starred in Nadja A Paris by Eric Rohmer.
Lucy McKeon is acting as agent and literary executor of Nadja Tesich’s work.