Aris Kalaizis

Making Sky. A first story after a painting by Aris Kalaizis

In Switzer­land born and in New York liv­ing author Chris­toph Keller takes up the absurdity of the paint­ing with a first story to the Kala­izis-paint­ing "Mak­ing Sky" (2009) and trans­fers this in a lit­er­ary world

Aris Kalaizis | Making Sky | Oil on canvas | 75 x 83 in | 2008
Aris Kalaizis | Making Sky | Oil on canvas | 75 x 83 in | 2008

He hadn’t even star­ted to set the table and now this.
“Did you do that?”
She just stood there on the table, like a meal.
“You’re ask­ing me?”

The crack in the fact­ory ceil­ing hadn’t been there a moment ago. Nor the fact­ory. Nor the angel. Nor he. He looked around. It was highly unlikely that he’d find china, sil­ver­ware and nap­kin rings in an aban­doned fact­ory. The hole in the ceil­ing grew lar­ger. Or was it the sky? Don’t you want to live in some­thing expand­ing, he thought. 

“Actu­ally you don’t,” she said. “But what can you do?”. “Cook,” he said forelornly. “Din­ner. As a mat­ter of fact, I’m a bit in a rush.” Finally the angel looked up. Instantly the sky – or the hole in the ceil­ing? – stopped expand­ing. “It is pretty, isn’t it?” His daugh­ter would raise him from the dead for a dull ques­tion like that. Duh, dad, of course, it’s pretty. It’s the sky! “Why?” the angel asked. “Because,” he said, child­ishly. “Because?” “Because it’s the sky.” She nod­ded. Some­how that was a sat­is­fact­ory answer. The wings she was wear­ing were slightly dirty, worn.

Maybe she was a sloppy angel. It must be a pain in the butt to main­tain those feath­ery things. Birds do it. Bees don’t. The only time he had seen a girl wear­ing wings was back­stage. He couldn’t say it had rocked his world. A few months later he was part of the team that knocked down the theat­er. On and off he took time off to work with his old con­struc­tion company.

“Is that why you made the hole?” she asked. “To show me the sky?”

Some­what embar­rassed, it seemed to him, she flapped her wings. Do angels become self-con­scious when you think of their wings, he wondered. Cool air, with a tinge of con­crete dust, blew his way. The image of the angel wings trapped in the col­lapsing theat­er didn’t go away. “Bless you,” she said, just before he loudly released the tick­ling in his nose.

“Thanks.” He stared at his shoes col­lect­ing a lay­er of con­crete dust and turn­ing white. The fact­ory didn’t feel aban­doned any­more. Only recently had he shaved his head but the feel­ing of guilt didn’t go away. He was now cul­tiv­at­ing a beard. “I’m sorry. I’m so inept at small talk,” the angel said. “Small talk,” he repeated. Now he was really pissed. He touched his skull. The urge to set the table didn’t go away. “All right then. Look, I don’t give a fuck about the hole in the ceil­ing. It’s not my ceil­ing. Maybe I made the hole. Maybe it was there from the begin­ning of time. Frankly, I don’t even know where I am.”

She smiled. “That makes two of us.” “That’s good. Good con­ver­sa­tion. You are skilled at it.” “I adapt. They say you always do. Flap your wings and … you know.” “Thanks,” he said. The talk of sky and wings made him nervous now. He real­ized he wanted her to stay. “So any­way, what’s your name?” “Angelina.” She blushed. He couldn’t dis­guise his dis­ap­point­ment. But then you don’t choose your own name.

“A beau­ti­ful name,” he said. “But every­body calls me Lina.” “Of course,” he said. “Lina who falls through the skies.” Again he thought of the many build­ings he had knocked down. He was pals with the guy who owned the con­struc­tion com­pany. The own­er guy had ignored him when had worked for him full­time, as just anoth­er work­ing stiff, but once he had become suc­cess­ful the own­er guy had offered his friend­ship – and the oppor­tun­ity to knock down a build­ing whenev­er he felt the urge. “Tell me whenev­er you feel like tear­ing down walls, crack­ing floors, rip­ping open ceil­ings. Tell me whenev­er you feel like mak­ing sky.”

“There’s more than one?” he asked. The ques­tion floated through the air before he real­ized that it was anoth­er duh-dad-ques­tion. “Yep,” Lina said and that was that. “And yours?” “My what?” “Name.” “Pen­tagrass,” he said and added, “for the time being.” He didn’t know where the name came from either. “You’re not sure?” “Frankly … can I con­fide in you?” “Isn’t that why I’m here?” All of a sud­den Lina soun­ded angry. “You know, I’m up to here with people’s secrets!” She poin­ted to her chin, her hand cast­ing a shad­ow over her left breast. “I feel like I’m full of shit, you know.” He laughed but instantly stopped. “But often we con­fide in the wrong per­son, and that brings misery upon us. So maybe we shouldn’t …” “I won’t bring misery upon you,” she inter­rup­ted him. “I prom­ise. The instant I close my eyes all con­fes­sions are gone. That is, they’re still there, in me …” – she poked her fin­ger into her belly but­ton – “and some­times it feels like I’m …” As she hes­it­ated, Pen­tagrass helped her out. “Con­stip­ated,” he said.

Lina stared at him for a second, then burst out laugh­ing. A laugh as clear and trans­lu­cent as a cot­ton cloud. There’s noth­ing like bond­ing over a doo­doo joke, even with an angel. Then he startled. “What is it, dear Pen­tagrass?” “It’s the first time I thought of you as an angel, Lina.” “You may touch them,” she said. “Every­body wants to. That’s why they look so worn. You did too when I vis­ited you last time. You always do.” “I do? I always do?” Instead of an answer Lina flapped her wings. For a second, maybe less, she hovered over the still unset table. It was enough time for Pen­tagrass to touch. They felt feath­ery, just like feath­ers should. And Lina smiled. And the ceil­ing col­lapsed. All the sor­rows in the world con­densed in one spot. O the weight of his mind! His mind col­lapsed, not the sky. O glory, o des­pair. It felt so night­mar­ish because it was so famil­i­ar. It happened each time.

“There’s water in your eyes,” Lina said. “It’s noth­ing … noth­ing.” But Pen­tagrass couldn’t stop the tears. He felt like he was show­ing the angel what tears were. Lots of tears, a tor­rent of des­pair, an ocean of anguish, that came and went in waves. Fuck the watery meta­phors, he thought. Being self-ana­lyt­ic­al helped him stop cry­ing. “My darling,” Lina said. A gentle flap of her wings – a gentle breeze – and she wavered beside him, at the edge of the table, and pressed his face into her belly. Strangely, he could still see her pale behind in the mir­ror. Drenched in his own tears, he clung to her: she felt two-dimen­sion­al in his arms. “You don’t know what it’s all about, Pen­tagrass,” she said, adapt­ing his tone of des­pair. “You don’t know why. You don’t know why you do what you do. Worse, you don’t even know how you do it.” “No,” he said, “I don’t.” She released her­self from his grasp. His mus­cu­lu­ar arms went limp. Her wings gained strength. Cool air came his way, this time pure, without the stale smell of a con­struc­tion going down or up. “This feels good,” he said.

It seemed dif­fi­cult to flap your wings and not fly away. Lina did her best, ascend­ing only a few inches. “I’m glad, Pen­tagrass.” He couldn’t res­ist grabbing her again, wrap­ping his arms around her. Her butt was there, she was firmly three-dimen­sion­al – what was he think­ing? – yet the butt in the mir­ror did not budge. Quickly he kissed her belly but­ton but it didn’t change the world. It felt kissed before. The time it takes for an angel to cross a room he fell in and out of love. Lina looked through the hole in the ceil­ing as though long­ing to fly away. A school of clouds swam across the sky and star­ted to close the ceil­ing. “Stay,” he said. Forever, he thought. “I can stay forever,” she said, enjoy­ing the sparkle of hope in his eyes. “But who could live with so much bliss?” He could tell that Lina was flap­ping her wings as slowly as pos­sible to give him extra time. Maybe he was one of her favor­ites. The sky dis­agreed, dis­ap­pear­ing fast. “What is it you came to tell me?” He had the feel­ing he had asked her that before. Out of nowhere, a stack of dishes appeared on the table. Lina laughed. “I didn’t come to tell you any­thing. I thought you had to tell me some­thing. Remem­ber, you called me.” “I did?” “You’re really clue­less, when it comes to it. So full of tal­ent, so full of shit …” “You always leave me in shambles … depressed … do you know how many times I’ve almost killed myself?” She turned around, and for a moment they both gazed at the half­moons of her behind in the mir­ror. At the same time, he saw the skin of her real butt thin­ning. Veins and muscles and nerves ate their way out, blood streamed gently down her legs. “Look at what hap­pens to me!” she countered, as a pool of crim­son col­lec­ted around her feet. “But you’re the one who’s whin­ing!” She paused. “At least you finally remem­ber me. Like always: at the end. What is it I have to do? I crashed through the ceil­ing, I bared my soul for you – so will you remem­ber me next time? That’s all I want, Pen­tagrass! Or is that asked too much?” Again, that mock­ing laugh. “Please come back,” he said, while she was hov­er­ing over the table, like any Madonna. Then she was gone.

Strangely, it seemed to Pen­tagrass that the ceil­ing was closed before she was gone. Finally things slowed down. He looked around. The reflec­tion of her behind was still in the mir­ror. He expec­ted it to dis­ap­pear as well but it didn’t. Instead the strings of her thong became vis­ible, organ­iz­ing the space. So simple, he thought. Three lines and a tri­angle with­in the circle of the mir­ror. Why hadn’t he seen that before? For a while he just stood there. It was done. He knew it. The struggle was over, he thought, all too aware that the real struggle would begin now. Why did he always want more? Why did he always want anoth­er? Why is it nev­er over? It hit him hard, like it always did. Drained him, exhausted him, pushed him to the edge. He knew if it weren’t for his daugh­ter and his wife he’d jump. Just cook, pal, he told him­self. Hike, relax. Col­lect mush­rooms. Buy a lawn chair.

In silence, he cleaned the table. He tried not to won­der why there was a pool of blood. While lay­ing out the sil­ver­ware the fact­ory dis­ap­peared. Next to his wife’s, and then next to his daughter’s, knife he placed a swan’s feath­er. Then he rushed to the kit­chen to check on the lamb. In the morn­ing, while col­lect­ing mush­rooms for their cel­eb­rat­ory meal, he had dis­covered the gigant­ic root of a tree, freed from the earth by light­ning, maybe, and a little help from the heavy rains last month. Tomor­row he would go back and put it in their liv­ing room, ants and bugs mov­ing in with them. The root would be the first ele­ment for his next piece. “I love your new paint­ing,” his wife said, sit­ting down to eat, and added jok­ingly. “Almost as much as your cook­ing. I like the lamb with a touch of blood, not too dry, not too Greek.“ “Her hein­ie looks like mine,” his daugh­ter said. As so often with her he couldn’t tell wheth­er that was a good or a bad thing.

Christoph Keller in his flat (NYC, 2007)
Christoph Keller in his flat (NYC, 2007)

(Source: From Mono­graph Aris Kala­izis 'Making Sky', Hirmer-Ed. Munich 2009, ISBN 978−3−7774−9065−6)

©2008 Chris­toph Keller | Aris Kalaizis

Chris­toph Keller, born in 1963, is the author of sev­er­al nov­els, essays and plays, the novella A Fam­il­ar Things (2003), the auto­bi­o­graph­ic­al nov­el The Best Dan­cer (2003), and the play The Found­a­tion (2004). Keller divides his time with his wife, the poet Jan Heller Levi, between St. Gal­len and New York City.

© Aris Kalaizis 2024