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Je me noie - Tôi đang chết đuối

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She’s dying again.

Drowning doesn’t turn to routine, even though she can time her deaths to the beat of her heart, to the rise in her lungs, now. The salt still burns on her skin, the shackles are digging into her arms and her legs and there’s a scream in her throat that won’t die no matter how often she runs out of air and comes back gasping, breathing water.

Andromache.

The world is dark and heavy around her, like the moment just after a death, when her body is still shattered and broken and rotting, and she can’t move, yet. There are no fish near her anymore, not with the way she breaks her hands trying to pry herself out of the iron, not with the way her voice sounds, nestled in her throat.

Bạn ở đâu? Tôi đang chết đuối, Andromache. [1]

Time runs through her fingers like molasses, like the salt in her lungs and the blood on these shackles. She can’t tell how long it’s been, how many time she has drowned to the beat of her own heart. It might have been a day, or an age. Entire kingdoms might have risen and fallen, her language might have withered and died. Andromache might still be in that cell, still shackled and bleeding and screaming. Andromache might be anywhere but on this sea, looking for her.

Andromache might have died and never woken up again. Maybe it was the stake that did it, or the quartering. Perhaps they will run out of life together, shackled and drowning.

 

 

She’s drowning again. There are one thousand five hundred heartbeats in between each of her deaths, her heart racing in her chest no matter how often she awakes submerged in iron, and encased in salt. Quynh dies and she bangs her hands against the metal until she can feel her bones shatter, until the water tastes heavy with blood. It doesn’t move.

And Quynh screams and screams and screams until there is no air left in her and until her heart beats its one thousand five hundredth beat; stuttering. She dies and wakes and then she dies again and the world is fixed to a point at the bottom of the sea where nothing ever reaches her, anymore. In between her deaths, a man looks at her with eyes so young that it makes her ache.

Qui-es tu? [2]

There is something familiar about the sound of this language, something about the cadence and the inflection, and Quynh gulps water into her lungs as her heart races in her throat. The man with eyes like a spring morning and a rope around his neck looks at her in a language she cannot understand and Quynh screams until she dies.

You will dream of me dying until I don’t wake again. I’m sorry.

 

 

He becomes a fixture in between the drowning, with his voice as rough as gravel, with a bottle in his hands and his child frothing at the mouth, and Quynh breathes water as he shows her her loves: Andromache, with her eyes like sea foam, not a scar on her, her laughter different now than Quynh knows; Nicoló and his smiles, a language she doesn’t recognise settled in his throat; Yusuf angled to the east, a soft cadence of familiarity about him.

“They are alive”, he says in Quynh’s language, halting and with his brows drawn together. Quynh drags her broken hands against the iron and counts her heartbeats and screams all the air out of her lungs. “They are here.”

Quynh dies again.

 

 

When she comes back to life with a gasp and her hands unbroken, her bones still whole, and her skin aching with salt, he is still there, looking at her. Quynh screams. She doesn’t know if she’s screaming at him or at Andromache still laughing or at the water and the iron around her. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

“Nicoló is teaching me your language”, he says, and he emphasizes the wrong parts, the sound of it too soft in his throat. “I’m Sebastién.”

I’m Quynh. Did they tell you of me? Did they tell you of Lykon and of the blistering sun on my skin, is Andromache still as she was, full of laughter and ages long passed? How long has it been? How long will it be?

He takes a drink from his bottle, and a deep breath. “We’re looking for you”, he says, and uses the wrong verb. “In between deaths, we are looking for you.”

Quynh dies.

 

 

Sebastién’s son dies screaming and full of hatred and Quynh screams with him, something like white hot rage and her breath; snuffed. Sebastién is a ramble of his own language against the feeling of Quynh’s ribs breaking under the weight of the water and her own voice, and together, they drown in salt and liquor and burning anguish.

Tu te souviens encore de ta famille? [3]

Tôi không thể hiểu bạn . [4]

What of your family, Quynh? Do you remember them still? How long will it be until I forget the colour of my wife’s eyes, until I can no longer recall my children’s voices? How many times did you die before you lost them to time?

Quynh dies before she can answer him.

 

 

When she dreams of him again, her heart takes its first beat of a cycle. The water tastes like blood in her mouth, and her throat feels raw and open in the way it only does after it has knit itself together again after a death. Sebastién raises his glass at her. She doesn’t scream.

Instead, she scrapes her fingers against the edges of the iron, clawing at it, keeps her voice in her throat and Sebastién’s dreams with her.

My mother would sing to me, when I was a child. I do not know if the song has endured, or if this language is still known by anyone but us, but I remember her voice and that song as well as I remember Andromache’s smile.

Sebastién empties his glass in one gulp. His eyes are rimmed red, and his hands are trembling, his chest a heaving thing in time with Quynh’s heartbeat. “Can you still sing it?”, he asks.

Quynh sings her mother’s song until her dying breath, her heart in her throat and her lungs full of water. When death creeps into her bones and into her brain and her song falters into this darkness, Sebastién picks up with a song of his own, in that strange language, with his eyes still on her.

 

 

Andromache isn’t looking for her. She can’t be. Not anymore, not after all this time, not after all she can see in Sebastién’s dreams, in languages she does not understand. Andromache is not looking for her and she is drowning and dying and bleeding and screaming and Yusuf draws, still. Nicoló buys baklava for Andromache and they bet on her and she’s laughing and Quynh is dying in the dark, alone.

Sebastién is with her again, drunk and unsteady and reaching for her and Quynh wants nothing more than to slash him open and watch his guts spill on that dry floor.

Bạn nói dối tôi. [5] Liar. Liar.

 

 

Her heart is beating in her throat, mingled with her voice and the blood around her. Her wrists are broken, again. Sebastién is curled into a corner of a house she’s never seen before, a book in his lap. His voice is tangled, halting, and his inflexion is still wrong in a way that makes Quynh want to rip his throat out. Her language lies heavy and in knots in his throat, and his finger is firm on the page, and Quynh wants to scream, wants to stop dying – Sebastién’s voice hitches in his throat on a sentence she knows deep in her bones. His voice is a stutter, all tangled, but in his accent, as heavy as the sea around her, she can hear her mother reading to her as she lay curled into her lap.

Sebastién reads to her through her deaths until he has finished the book and Quynh has lost count of her drownings again.

Je suis là. [6]

 

 

Quynh isn’t the only one drowning, in her dreams. Sebastién grows drunker and heavier and more somber with each of her deaths, carves himself a space next to her in this darkness, tucked inside her screams. She doesn’t know how long it has been since his son died, can’t tell from what she sees: liquor and dirty kitchens and betting and Nicoló and Yusuf, entangled with one another. Andromache, smiling. Andromache, quiet. Andromache, short haired and venom tongued and sharp teethed and dry; unbloodied.

Did you tell them?

He shrugs and empties his bottle.

What difference does it make? They know. Of you and of my dreams. Andy blames herself enough. I don’t have to remind her.

Isn’t it enough that one of us is drowning?

I’m not leaving you alone. It’s all I can do.

As her air runs out, Quynh doesn’t know if she’s relieved not to be left on her own with her broken bones, or if she’s frustrated with him for refusing to speak to their loves. Before she can make up her mind, she dies.

 

 

There is a rhythm to it, by now. Quynh screams and bleeds and drowns and comes back alive with heaving breaths. In between her deaths, Sebastien reads to her – in her language or in his or in what Nicoló’s and Yusuf's languages have become. His voice is soft and calm in a way that has etched itself into him with each of his three sons, long before he has ever died. And Quynh clings to him until she dies and comes back screaming.

When Sebastién isn’t reading to her, she tells him of Andromache; before. Of Nicoló and Yusuf, when they were new and drowning in their blood. Of Lykon. Of her world and all that she remembers, painted golden and flickering in her mind.

Sebastién shows her the new technologies as they evolve, explains the wiring and the mechanics in his language, and then in hers.

 

 

Until suddenly, Sebastién’s grief topples over. Quynh spends the inevitable tragedy screaming and fighting and drowning and then Andromache doesn’t heal anymore. Andromache is hurt and bleeding and screaming in a way Quynh has only ever heard once before, when these shackles were put on her. When this iron was forged around her. Her hands break, again, and so do her ribs and her lungs and her heart and her voice.

(There’s a new one with eyes like a dark night sky, and she looks at her; horrified. Quynh screams and drowns and dies and then she dies again. Save them. Save them, please. Spare them what has been done to me, can’t you see this horror? Can’t you feel yourself drowning alongside me? Can’t you see death looming in Sebastién’s eyes?)

 

 

The woman with eyes like a starless night pulls all of her love out of danger with her two good hands and conviction deep in her bones, and Quynh doesn’t see Sebastién for hundreds of deaths. Instead, it’s her, with a cross on her neck, and her hair in braids. Quynh tastes her own blood again. Sebastién taught her this language, the strange way it makes her tongue move, and Quynh takes a breath full of seawater.

Where is he?

The horror changes. She doesn’t move, yet. “You can speak like this?”

You are dreaming. I am thinking. Where is he?

The girl looks at her with those dark eyes, her brows furrowed.

 

 

The iron maiden breaks just as Quynh dies again. It bursts open like a breath in her lungs, and when she comes back alive, she reaches for the sharp edges of the iron around her. The shackles are still heavy on her wrists and her ankles. She cuts her feet off first, with a quick stab and a scream and water in her lungs. The water clings to her, heavy with blood, and Quynh dies.

Her hands are next, one after the other; blood drowned. Quynh dies.

 

 

Swimming to the surface and feeling the sun on her face again feels like she is stumbling into the desert, her skin peeling off of her in layers, salt heavy in her hair and on her lips. The first breath of air makes her head spin and her lungs ache and her arms burn.

She dies, again, of thirst or exhaustion, and when she wakes up heaving, she is tangled in a net, her skin tender and soft and vulnerable in a way it hasn’t been since before she died. The rope of the net cuts into her flesh, red and bloody, and her lungs gulp down the air around her.

“What the fuck”, says someone above her, and Quynh faints.

 

 

She finds Sebastién curled into a filthy corner in Paris after months of searching, drowning in alcohol and guilt. When she wedges the door open, he lies dead in the corner, surrounded by empty bottles and a gun. Quynh’s hands tremble. She walks over to the sink, her feet still uneasy, still soft on the dirty wooden floor, grabs a glass from a cupboard and fills it with water. Her lungs ache.

Sebastién comes back alive with a groan, and Quynh can hear the click of the gun before she even turns around. “Hello, Booker”, she says. Her voice doesn’t waver. “It’s nice to finally meet you. I was worried.”

“Tu es en vie[7]”, he says, and doesn’t take the glass from her. Instead, his hands are on her neck, on her cheeks, and in her hair. “Tu es là.[8]” His hands are rough, and gentle, and Quynh puts her hands over his.

“Tôi đây[9]”, she says.

 

 

Cảm ơn bạn, Sebastién. [10]

Merci, Quynh. [11]

 


 

Translations for Vietnamese (Quynh) and French (Booker):

[1] Where are you? I’m drowning, Andromache.

[2] Who are you?

[3] Can you still remember your family?

[4] I cannot understand you.

[5] You’re lying.

[6] I’m here.

[7] You’re alive.

[8] You’re here.

[9] I’m here.

[10] Thank you, Sebastién.

[11] Thank you, Quynh.