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Nelly Schulman is our Sunday Showcase this week. Start your Sunday off right and check out her vividly experimental prose piece.
The Lower City
– Nelly Shulman
At night, Chernov woke up from the noise of the nearby sea. Knowing that it was only a mirage, he nevertheless lay still for a couple of minutes, absorbing with his sweaty body the smells of a cramped apartment sandwiched between a crumbling minaret and a leaky dome of an eternally closed church. Chernov tried to enter it several times but always bumped into a locked door painted an ugly green.
His shift in the store began at six in the morning, and Chernov needed to dive into a deep slumber again, pressing his face against his wife’s damp shoulder. Instead, he kept looking at the southern sky in the open window, trying to discern Stella Maris among the glow of street lanterns.
Their son sniffed on the other side, tossing himself across the tattered sheets. His wife brought them from a charity warehouse. Chernov visited it only once, escaping a few minutes later, almost suffocated by the chemical smell of used clothes in cardboard boxes.
The linen here dried quickly, and his wife washed the sheets every second day, diluting the laundry soap in a plastic basin. The collapsing balcony with rusted bars looked out onto a steep street. The sheets, beating in the wind, reminded Chernov of the sails, but the sea here turned out to be a working one, dotted with tankers and port crane cranes. Chernov still surreptitiously walked to the fifth pier, where azure water splashed among abandoned brick warehouses and shell-covered pillars.
They had no time to get to the sea. The trains, which rumbled daily along the tracks next to the back wall of their house, stopped their run on Shabbat. Once, they tried to go to the bus stop but only stood there in vain for an hour, loaded with beach bags. The silver bus sped past, and the son began to fidget.
Chernov’s wife said irritably, “Let’s go to McDonald’s.”
The boy calmed down, sucking on a waffle cone dripping with sweet liquid. Chernov, mechanically chewing greasy fries, examined the corpse of a cockroach next to a peeling bench. A janitor, walking past, waved his broom, and a cockroach glided under Chernov’s feet. He barely coped with nausea.
At home, his wife killed cockroaches flying into the apartment in the evenings.
Throwing the half-eaten potatoes onto the tray, Chernov muttered, “I’ll smoke outside.”
The smell of gasoline and rancid smoke from a nearby diner hit him in the face. Puffing on his lousy cigarette, Chernov ducked around the corner, where the wall was festooned with some cheaply printed advertisements for excursions to the place of Jesus’ baptism. A nearby ad promised cherries at the kibbutz and Grandfather Hassan’s olive oil. It occurred to Chernov that his son would be delighted to pick berries.
Reaching out to rip off the piece of paper with the phone, he only slammed his fist into the sizzling-hot wall.
“Why the fuck have we come here,” Chernov howled. “Why the fuck?”