Cecile Rossant

Tokyo Bay Traffic is now available!
Red Hen Press
ISBN 978-1-59709-690-4
Order from: Red Hen Press
or Amazon

January 31, 20:30, NYC.
I'll be presenting an excerpt from Tokyo Bay Traffic at the Cornelia Street Café [details]

January 28-February 2, NYC.
I’ll be attending the AWP 2008 conference and book fair and signing copies of Tokyo Bay Traffic at the Red Hen Press table.

Tokyo Bay Traffic, set in a geographically extended Tokyo, follows three characters though the illusory world of Tokyo’s hostess clubs and a newly built theme park, Fresh Style New York (F.S.N.Y).

Beneath the overhead ramps to the Brooklyn Bridge Barge, a hard working accountant crosses paths with one of F.S.N.Y.’ s few permanent residents, a dancer, who is the daughter of an American GI and a Japanese army base hostess, and who has only recently left her Okinawan hometown in search of a better life in Tokyo.

A one-eyed hostess, who approaches every situation like an improvisation, works in disguise as Ja-ki-O at the hostess club Fu-fu s and experiments with customers in the self-constructed erotic landscapes built into in her one-bedroom apartment.

At the heart of the novel is Tokyo Bay itself – its polluted waters harboring an elusive flotilla: boats rocking with a group of illicit pleasure seekers.

read an excerpt

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The Accident

She was in motion when it stopped her, driving her back. In the gap between two buildings, it was the sound, but also something more. She traced it to the whir of an exhaust fan fitted into a missing window. Ki-ku-ko felt the drone through her visceral organs. They hummed. They hummed in unison. It even made her hips sway. Organs in, hip out and back, out and back. There was nobody else there until a huge truck and trailer came along. The driver saw the girl and honked. Her startled eyes opened wide while she stayed standing.

The truck rolled over a piece of gravel, catapulting it into the air. The small sharp stone struck Ki-ku-ko in the eye, and she fell unconscious.

The ambulance arrived. Procedure unfolded: park, emerge with black case, run and squat beside victim. This one’s a female. Stunned truck driver repeatedly demonstrated his good reflexes. I hit the brakes! My truck stopped eight meters away. Really, I never touched the girl. Check pulse, air passage, heartbeat, pupil dilation. Roll and lift the patient onto the stretcher.

She was full of rubbery limbs bouncing to the rescue team’s conscientious jog. They slid her into the ambulance: from humming undulation to mute immobility. Door clipped closed. Her eye was sponged and wadded, sprinkled with coagulants. Fluids rose in the hollow and overflowed onto her cheeks.


Certain events transform the body to such a degree that all one’s corporeal consciousness eddies away. What is left is an impressionable mass silently awaiting the novel pressures of hereto-unknown phenomena. If someone else had reported what he had witnessed, he would have remembered it very differently than Ki-ku-ko has. This is partly due to the fact that after the rush of blood flowing to and out from her pierced eye, Ki-ku-ko fell into a coma. She remained in this state throughout the following weeks as she healed in a city hospital. Whether or not she heard the truck driver and his petite wife perform a formal apology or her mother’s detailed account endlessly repeated to a constant flow of bedside guests, Ki-ku-ko slept and woke in a separate world.


In the beginning Ki-ku-ko remained pinned to the bed the way the nurses and janitorial staff preferred. Gentle hands replaced her IV bag at least twice daily. Slipped between crisply starched sheets, Ki-ku-ko’s limp body was protected from worldly particulars and lay undisturbed hour to hour after hour. Her lovely head, a third of which was hidden behind bandages, was propped up on several large pillows.
Nurse arrived. Nurses were always arriving, sweeping the air in, sweeping it out, making an audible pattern out of the hours of the day. Her slip sheath figure bent down with a shish-shish and turned the crank at the side of the frame, thereby sharply tilting the bed’s upper half and the patient’s back with it. Ki-ku-ko’s arms lay limp at her side, while her face and shoulders were bathed in the warmth of the incoming morning light pouring through the large window opposite her bed. Some time later, Nurse activated other parts of her jointed mattress, effectively casting Ki-ku-ko’s submissive body in various poses. Her legs were bent and lifted at the knees and then brought level again. This exercise was repeated several times, the attending nurse catching the sheets and blanket before they slipped to the floor. The nurse then curved Ki-ku-ko’s fingers around the triangular trapeze bar suspended above her bed before working the crank. As her upper torso came forward her arms bent at the elbows and her head fell slightly forward. When this sequence was

repeated the next day, a strong wind made a window panel that had been left open and tilted into the room rattle and buzz.

The nurse offered a flexible straw to Ki-ku-ko’s mouth. A cool, slightly sticky fluid slipped between her lips. The air-drink-saliva mixture collected and curled upward against the rounded roof of the upper palette curling back and flat onto her tongue. It moistened the entire cavity, re-animating the syllables that had piled up at the back of her throat. Her mouth opened and several syllables jumped off the tongue.
Was it, ‘ha-ha’? Did she say, ‘gal-lop’?
Soon after, Ki-ku-ko discovered the percussive play of her lips and experimented with ever-longer strings based on the syllable ‘pa’.

Ki-ku-ko’s intact eye could still see although imperfectly. Because she had to strain to keep objects properly inflated, the Seeing Eye would soon tire and drift away to a more comfortable retirement. Initially, Ki-ku-ko noticed only unremarkable optic effects: a sudden orange flash, a spray of dirty pink dots, a lingering gray spot. As her strength returned, she spent hours attentive to the confrontation of forces localized in the region of her ruptured eye. An unidentifiable source would draw out the image of a balloon,


twisting and blending it to the right. The balloon seamlessly flattened and spread into a plane that oscillated at varying tempos in an ever shrinking blackness, eventually bending upwards at the edges as climbing walls. An incoming red tide ebbed green and returned, moments later, yellow-orange.

Ki-ku-ko’s three cousins arrived from Kobe. Their visit coincided with a tour by a group of medical students. There were at least ten people in the room. Behind the protective gauze Ki-ku-ko squinted as if to filter an irritating glare. The faces blurred into a mottled smear. As a transparent veil of blackness once again fell over her Seeing Eye, she was startled by the rapid multi-colored firing of the other. Behind the white bandages her healing wound frothed with color. The colorful din was just too much. Nurse’s large dry hands rolled Ki-ku-ko onto her side and with a sharp prick administered a shot.

The light dimmed. A nurse swept in and swung the heavy curtains across the window. She came over to the bed wearing a pleasant smile, checked Ki-ku-ko’s temperature, measured her pulse and felt around the bandages

for tenderness. After checking whether Kiku- ko’s water bottle was sufficiently full the nurse bent down and turned the crank. Ki-ku-ko showed no reaction. Without asking, the nurse turned on the TV that was fixed to the wall in the upper corner beside the window.
Can you see all right? Ki-ku-ko’s head slipped a bit on the pillow and the nurse, satisfied, left the room. Ears fully attentive, her Seeing Eye was drawn towards the screen.
. . . may enter any moment now.
Don’t leave me, I can’t live without you. It’s so difficult to see you entwined in the arms of another woman . . . I saw you last night. She was leaning her head on your shoulder, her cheek tilted up and glowing. Her eyes were closed and I could see how she was trying to feel you—your warmth—the way you breathed in the warm air.
—Don’t Lillian—
—I don’t want to, but I can’t help myself. I’m really just like her. When I’m with you I can’t imagine any place I would rather be . . . but then the smallest of your gestures—the slightest stiffening in your face reminds me that this perfection—all this loveliness will soon end. And I feel the sadness all over again. In that moment, I think of the others—I’m no different than them.



—But you shouldn’t. Why make such comparisons? Where does it get you?
—I remember I’m just a girl—A girl clothed in satin lingerie—a girl who selects brassieres that push up her breasts so they peek out of her dress—A girl who gets warm and full around a lot of men whether or not they are with me only once or again and again. What is that? 40 TOKYO BAY TRAFFIC
—A bit of seduction, a bit of honesty and a big helping of self-pity. If you keep going on with this, you’ll soon run out of things to say—right?
—I wake up with it. By the evening, I’m heavy with it. And it threatens me. That thought of you and how you might touch me—and how I will react—how my body will move: fall—dip—bend—open and tear . . . and it goes on: I imagine you inside my body—how deep I become and so full. How I want to scream to acknowledge that depth—How I am laughing . . .
—Come here. Kiss me. Look at this. This dark red card—the hole in the card. The hole from the other side. The hole itself. And now, open it up. Here is the other side, crossed by two parallel red tracks.

[His pants collect at his ankles. The rest are thrown into a pile. Her clothes fall to her side: unhooked and slipped off, unclasped and peeled. He stands; she kneels, hugging his waist—burying her face between his legs.]

The eyelid fell slowly over Ki-ku-ko’s Seeing Eye.
In that split second of fenestration the polarized afterimage of their two figures appeared. Their fused outline drained away at the edge of the woman’s head where her moist skin pressed into his. Her back was devoured; in fact, most of the woman was instantly erased except that bit along the throbbing edge of the ever-ebbing image.

Empty and bright, April 15 broke through Ki-ku-ko’s hospital room window harnessed to a raging wind.
Her release was scheduled for late morning after all the breakfast dishes were cleared and carted away to be washed. When 11:00 rolled around Ki-ku-ko’s mother appeared bearing two brand new suitcases to carry all the loot Ki-ku-ko had accumulated in the last three weeks. Standing at the room’s threshold, Mother, always the pivotal figure in deciding which objects and which behaviors were allowed a place in their small home, reminded Ki-ku-ko of a traffic cop: stop and go— uniformed from hat to shoe; and with her shrill twitter, she issued crisp commands:
Pick up the speed! Turn here! Straight ahead! Look where you’re going! She would startle the negligent wanderer back on track. Ki-ku-ko was lying



beneath clean white sheets watching: something or nothing: it still wasn’t exactly clear.
It’s my window, wrapped in swaddling except for a small area: a bright but distant glaring hole. The bandage sashay teases the window into view.

Mother set one of the suitcases on the bed, unzipped it all around and folded the top back. She paced back and forth from closet to bed packing Ki-ku-ko’s clothes. Ki-ku-ko sat at the edge of the bed watching. As she was quite busy, Mother was uncharacteristically quiet. The swish sounds of her rushed actions filled Ki-ku-ko’s ears. She held up the pink cotton jersey Ki-ku-ko had worn the day of the accident. At one side of the collar there was a large bloodstain and several more spots on the arm.
We‘re not taking this one home! Mother said, tossing the shirt into the garbage pail. Ki-ku-ko did not respond. She was busy squinting at Mother’s quick movements in an attempt to superimpose the impressions received by one eye with those from the other.
Mother shifted her attention to a table covered with flowers and gifts.
I’m going to throw out all these old flowers. What a stink! But we’ll leave the tea for your nurses as a small thank you.
She returned to the accident—to imagine how it might have been:

a small jagged piece of gravel, whistling, airborne in open space until it struck the glistening fish-white skin of the seeing domicile which it ripped open with a vulgar spurt of blood.
My eye!

Ki-ku-ko lifted her foot and lowered it down to meet each of the hospital’s wide front steps. She slipped her arm out from Mother’s grip to be free of that awful parrot. The flatter world faced her head on. She closed and opened her eyes blinking to the bright and blank sky and the fuzzy florets of trees nosing their way into the picture. Apart from sky and ground, steps and the distant blur of other buildings, Ki-ku-ko’s other eye was cut loose to wander in its own arena: brownness, pink-ness, light as undifferentiating brightness . . .
The April wind blew into her open mouth biting at her convalescent and sensitive gums. Besides the steps were the flowerbeds, sunken rectangular areas layered with earth and carefully spaced near stem-less flowers. Ki-ku-ko winced at the burning tip of sunlight that struck the tubular steel piping, fencing in one of several trees. The rounded metal railing seemed abnormally high. Pressing beyond, her Seeing Eye stumbled along a tree trunk’s rutted and complex surface.


They arrived at the car. Ki-ku-ko ran her finger along the shadowed gap between the opalescent plates of the back trunk. Mother, insisting on her presence with exaggerated sighs of exertion, pushed aside her daughter’s hand before releasing the latch. The hatch flew open tapping Ki-ku-ko on the cheek. Mother tossed the first suitcase into the empty trunk and then the second. The stale, conspiratorial odor rising from the trunk made Ki-ku-ko’s nose tickle and twitch. She carefully withdrew her attention from the truncated past before Mother snapped the hatch shut.
Reaching around her daughter’s figure, Mother opened the car door and gently prodded Ki-ku-ko into the padded brick-red seat. While driving home, she repeatedly glanced up at the rear-view mirror and was relieved to see Ki-ku-ko dozing with slightly parted lips.
After arriving, being greeted warmly by Father who carried both suitcases into the foyer, Father led Daughter to the living room and they both sat down. Mother quickly returned with a tray of tea and cake. She poured tea for the others and herself and placed a plate with a slice of cake and a shining fork beside each cup.
Plate of cake on plate glass table; cup and saucer: ring on edge of saucer round and round again.

Welcome back, darling, she said. Please, go ahead and eat.
Ki-ku-ko used the tip of her tongue to dip into the tepid tea and slipped out one foot from her slipper to finger the carpet pile with bare toes.
Mother took neat, even bites, catching fallen crumbs between the prongs.
The cake was pasty, and Ki-ku-ko soon tired of trying to find her mouth. She bit down on the fork, drew the cake away, swallowed and bit down again, her teeth clicking on the empty fork. Slipped off the ringed impression, cup ring kilter tilting, unsettled: wavy, rocking—tapping.
A little bit later Ki-ku-ko moved to the edge of the sofa, sat upon, hush—sit down, hush, leaning into a seated position without really ever settling herself down. Eventually she started to slip; Sofa gave way to her sliding body that squeezed between table edge and seat cushions flattened to their frame. Hips against plate, with an erupting thrust she rocked the top causing the teacups to rattle and the amber fluid to hop up in an anticipatory plop. Earth quakes, quacks and gurgles: a bit of air slips out in gasps and farts. She makes the bend low, bump up at the throttle movement repeatedly against the low, shake-cum-thud, well-grounded table. The resultant rattle is only the rhythm of her thrusts: an exchange of bullet fire: hard pelvis hitting under the table top: repetitive, insistent, driving all the objects resting on the table or



standing on the carpeted floor to respond, to tremble, to slide together, to huddle and to knock. Father and Mother, having gotten to their feet, stood by the window’s double curtains: lacy white and dull heavy maroon. Who would go over to settle the lamp? It leaned dangerously and could certainly come down with a crash.
Or give her some room, says Father, imagining the table pushed away from the couch.
Our daughter is falling to the floor! And that’s not what we want, says Mother. What if this continues? What will happen tomorrow, for example? Just the same thing! A repetition of this would be disastrous! And who will clean the mess? I can’t stand the sight of this, she says.
She gathers all of the dishes onto the tray and walks out of the room.
Father tentatively shoots his arm at her. He steps carefully towards his daughter and recognizes a good handle in the crook of her arm.
Let’s see, he says, as he gets a hold and tries to lift her to her feet.
No, that won’t work. They both settle down again. Squatting beside her artfully mangled figure, Father strokes his daughter’s hair. Both her eyelids close. With a slight grunt he raises himself up and pushes the table further away from the couch giving her an even larger expanse on which to lie.

Later, under low lighting, Mother and Father whisper in bed; Mother projects the ceiling’s centerpiece. To Mother the image was dear: coffee table-sofa: armchairs, two: one at each butt end.
How big is the table, darling, my darling? The sofa, our barricade, so similar to my breasts, haven’t you napped there in childish bliss? Don’t allow her the freedom to flow where she will; she’s dirty and likes to crawl: she’ll soon leave permanent tracks wall to wall.


The morning after Ki-ku-ko’s return, Mother had prepared the breakfast table with an extraordinary thoroughness. Two slices of bread were already in the toaster, the light trail of crumbs brushed away; the entire rest of the fresh loaf just in easy reach for replacement, if necessary. The heavy handled butter knife rocked slightly beside the dish of softened butter. Fancy marmalades and red jellies had been brought to room temperature to appreciate their full bouquet.



The coffee sputtered into the shining glass pot.
Mother was now fully awake, the slight trace of anxiety she felt upon waking chased away by the convincing evidence of conscientious work. She sat at the kitchen table, waiting. As always, the white lacquered table was pushed against the wall. The two other chairs were tucked neatly under the tabletop. Mother waited, ready for the breakfast that was waiting to happen: the butter spread, the jam spooned, the coffee poured into clean and empty cups. Breakfast kept on materializing and ebbing away. Ki-ku-ko was, of course, still asleep.

Recognizing the sound of running water, mother lifted herself from the chair, and headed for the bathroom. As she neared, she prepared a welcoming smile for her daughter.
It came from the bathroom sink. A naked Ki-ku-ko stood in front of the open door, splashing herself with handfuls of water. Drops of water flew over her shoulder, trickled down her back or fell splat on the floor. She had stoppered the sink, which was quickly filling to the brim. The water rose up, smooth and ever ready to be scooped up and tossed: handful after handful. Thrown again at shoulder, neck, face and chest. She dribbled water between her legs, patting it in and patting it in. As soon as Mother appeared in the mirror,

Ki-ku-ko sunk her head in the water, bubbling and shuttling side to side. Her black hair whipped around. It struck the faucet and the mirror, leaving water traces. Mother’s heart began beating faster. From the joints in her fingers to the straps wrapped across her neck, all the tendons seemed to hitch up a notch tighter. She had to touch her daughter’s body— Father wasn’t home.
. . . If I had embraced my daughter, she would never have left. I wouldn’t have let her go away, would I? I wouldn’t have prayed for her evaporation into thin air. If I had held her close to me, intentionally, she never would have left. I’d have her imprint stamped on my skin.
Mother grabbed Ki-ku-ko by the wrists. You stop this now, immediately! My floor is getting all wet. Mother held tight, her grip angry.
I would have remembered the wetness seeping through my clothes and the rubbery but warm feel of my daughter’s skin. I would have pressed my cheek in below the crook of Ki-ku-ko’s neck and felt the spray of rain falling from the blunt edge of her hair. Mother locked into daughter— Daughter locked into mother’s arms for a solid minute.



Instead she pulled the plug—and the water quickly drained away. She turned the faucet off, confident that her daughter would no longer disobey.

Her daughter had one eye less. This made her different from before: somehow unreachable; a single eye couldn’t receive Mother’s messages. Each time Mother tried, it was as if Ki-ku-ko shot right by her—over her shoulder. No face-to-face. She was always looking at the wall, wasn’t she? Or at the curtains or at Mother’s mouth and sometimes her throat. That wasn’t something she could get accustomed to and she was quite sure she didn’t want to try.
Mother led Ki-ku-ko down the hall to the kitchen and showed her a seat. Ki-ku-ko refused; No! No, no, no! Not yet, she said. It was a square room, counter, door, fridge and counter, wall, table, wall. Palm pressed ahead, Ki-ku-ko’s arm slid along one counter. That led her hip up. She rode beside the packaged foods. She rolled off and onto her back. From there she gently banged her feet against the lower cabinet doors. Her mother reached over, again aiming for Ki-ku-ko’s wrists: to pull her up from the floor—to bend and press her into the seat. But Mother felt the door at her back. Kiku- ko crouched at her feet fingering her way up the door. Mother,

still at the door, moved sideways, her arms raised to block Ki-kuko’s reach. Ki-ku-ko grabbed her by the waist and squeezed, burying her face in the sweatered, aproned belly. She straightened up and shook that body.

On the third morning, Mother unlocked the door and came in with a thickened white envelope.
I’ve opened a bank account in your name. There’s money there for you. I’ll put more each month. Mother wasn’t exactly sure who she was speaking to or if the woman sitting still, there, on the bed, would know what to do with that money. Mother talked about the significant costs: the rent and a telephone line, the water bill, electricity and gas. She described what she knew about the neighborhood, where to buy food and to do the wash. She also suggested a few simple ways Ki-ku-ko could keep regular contact with her neighbors.
That was it. It was Mother who drove her out on another morning a short while later.


Performances and Readings

2006 December 27 Performance at Kaffee Burger
Torstr. 60
10119 Berlin
2007 December 17 Bordercrossings reading
Art Pub Wallywoods
Christinenstr. 31
10119 Berlin

2008 January 31 at 20:30 Red Hen Press reading
Cornelia Street Café
29 Cornelia Street
NYC 10014
2008 March 6 at 19:00 Reading at the Amerika Haus
Karolinenplatz 3
D-80333 München
089 / 55 25 37- 0


  • “House for a Craftsman, The Architecture of Hiroshi Maruyama” in Newsline, a Columbia University Publication
  • “Miami Beach Hotel, The Architecture of Arata Isozaki” in Japan Architect JA 1993-volume 4, a Japanese Architecture Magazine
  • “Heavenly Bodies”, awarded 1st prize in the 1998 short fiction competition and published in Salt Hill Issue #7 Literary Journal
  • “Real Estate” in Exberliner June 2002
  • “Leila‘s Friends” in Exberliner June 2003


  • About Face, short fiction (Red hen Press 2004)
  • “Infatuation” and “Horizontal Drainage” in The Crucific is Down (Red Hen Press 2005)
  • “The Accident”, in Bordercrossings II, (Winter 2007)
  • Tokyo Bay Traffic (Red Hen Press 2008)


Cecile Rossant
Herbertstrasse 1
10827 Berlin


tel: +49 30 78 70 55 88
fax: +49 1803 5518 10827



www.test-traveler.de (Peter Rose)


www.infobrett.net (Christian Niemitz)




Born and raised in New York City, I’ve lived in Berlin since 1995 with my partner, computer scientist Christian Niemitz, and our two children, Celine, 10, and Caio, 8. I studied Biology at Swarthmore College graduating in 1984 and after several exciting years working as an assistant for the artist Shusaku Arakawa, I returned to university, this time round to study architecture and received a M. Arch. from Princeton University in 1990.

I worked as an architect for Arata Isozaki in Tokyo for four years participating in several projects and competitions including a the design of a new prefectural library, a Miami Beach hotel, and the competition for the Potsdamer Platz Master Plan. I also worked with four architectural firms as project coordinator for a public housing project in Kitagata.

In 1995, I moved to Berlin to work on Isozaki’s Potsdamer Platz project.

A year later, I focussed my attention exclusively to writing. Red Hen Press published my first book of collected fiction About Face in 2004. My novel, Tokyo Bay Traffic, is hot off the press (Red Hen Press 2008).

In 2005 I developed and curated Mondays at Babylon, a series of readings and performances in English with Nadja Vancauwenberghe, editor-in-chief of the Exberliner, and the poet, Sandra Sarala. We featured many artists including performance artist Peter Rose, writers Darius James, Ingo Schulze, Tim Corbalis, Sarah Quigley, and John Hartley Williams, photographer and video artist, Melanie Manchot, philosopher Richard Peterson and psychotherapist, political activist and writer Susie Orbach.

Since 2006 I have been a performer-training student of Peter Rose at the Center for Active Culture in Berlin. I have performed my texts at Kaffee Burger, Poetry Hearings Berlin, Art Pub and Der Club der Polnischen Versager.

About Face

I loved a man. We made love on the floor and fell asleep. When I woke, he was nearly dead. In a frenzy, unfamiliar with the faces of death, I tried to nurse him back, but it was too late. He met the day with a seizure; he rattled and then froze.
An ambulance arrived; I traveled with his body, still believing there was something that could bring him back alive.
Later on, when I was telling the whole story to the police, I noticed the smell.
The smell of our lovemaking had dripped out of me and had dried as a perfumed patch on his sweatpants. I had had no time to wash or to wear my own clothes.
An ethereal substance wafted up to my face each time my legs fanned open. Something rose, and caused me to falter. But most of all I so forcefully remembered the vessel, the descending path to the vessel: the vase with open mouth where his vitality still had its temporary lodging and dimensionality, and from which it was now flowing out and evaporating.

Many years later, impressionistically rendered again, I was astounded that I had been that bearer, that I was fitted with another's teeming life . . . momentarily, but also undeniably formed and borne.


A corridor. At a closed door the walking stops and turns. Behind the door is a linoleum lined room with several plastic chairs, a thin table and an opening to the adjoining room. The two uniformed men following me wheeled in his body.
Before the police arrived, they assembled the box made of a light, evenly grained wood, there, in the room, from a prefabricated kit. The white kimono was slipped out of its clear plastic wrapping and they dressed him with difficulty.
Ahead is a large window framed by an edge of the room, then the ceiling, and the floor.
The readied box was set atop the table and rolled up to his body. The


two men and his brother signaled their mutual preparedness and lifted and lowered his body into the box. I wailed. I protested. I refused to accept his being boxed. There was no choice and my protest had no effect on the sequence of events.
The adjoining room was fitted with a raised floor and a low centered table. After I had quieted down, we all entered the room and sat on the floor, leaving our shoes one step below. The police, his brother, uncle, aunt and I sat around the low table like family. They had questions, and their questions soon became my questions.
I told them that while at work in the office yesterday, relocating books, he fell from a ladder when a bookshelf collapsed. He told me that last night.
One of the policemen directed another to call the office. I gave them the telephone number. The phone was handed to me and I spoke to the secretary. She said she knew nothing of his fall. I told her to find out who had been there with him. I told her to ask everyone. I spoke emphatically. For a moment I was ready to accuse someone. I was even tapping through the phone.

The night before, we stood beside the sink while he told me the story. I ran my fingers through his hair and felt the small swelling. But I don't really remember doing this. I have no recollection of the bump. I led him away from the kitchen sink to the apartment's only room, through the doorless threshold, as if leading him away from his story, the only manifested alert, away from the inertia of my concern that would beg me to take an action to stop the onset of dread.
And I think so often about how little we know about the body on the inside: when damaged and when not, when dying and when not . . .
I spoke to them until I stopped. All of this while his body lay still and silent in the adjacent room.
To me, a coffin is only a box: to put away something, to keep the body out of sight, so the thing can't work on you anymore. The box is a practical way to conceal a transition, one that we have judged too hard to handle. So we simply stop “handling” the body, which only hours before had some control over how it wished to be touched. In this sense, a dead body is helpless; this is exactly why it needs to be handled with extreme

care and attentiveness. But our society has given up on this responsibility; consequently, a recently dead body is put in a box so it can be stored temporarily, positioned and repositioned with practical ease. When I saw the two uniformed men and his brother move towards him with intent to lift him into the box, I had to be restrained.


Hiss! Nested boxes of compressed dust coated with layers of paint are connected by openings through which the smaller, flatter boxes may be passed from one functional chamber to another. Toward the inner core is the one made of thin interlocking wood planks banged together; a firm fingernail can leave shallow traces on either type of surface.
I slide open the door of my room. His parents told me this would be my room as long as I was in their house. Its door slides open onto the living room where his coffin lies. The wood box is beside the large window and raised above the floor.

At night his mother and father, his two brothers, and his grandparents sleep in the house's other rooms. I said goodnight several times and closed the door behind me.
I peel back the covers. The door slides open. Shoeless, I flow into the living room. I'm stopped by the wall. I open the small window on the coffin's lid. Its entire cover can also be turned back on its hinge. I spoke with him for several hours and didn't return to my room except to retrieve my cover. This living room had a sofa positioned at right angles to the box. Eventually I closed my eyes. I left the living room light on the entire night. I leaned in, my face close to his—exactly how or if I touched him is difficult to remember.
Does the art of touching have its limits? I'm still drawn to inscribe my caress on his many faces. Now he is all ears.


While burning we/the party of people/we, the gathered/were upstairs.

There was food and discussion. It was a lively scene with talking, with references/with reference to him and ourselves. It was a modern building: mainstays of concrete and sheets of glass. He was wheeled in, still in a box. Chromed steel elevator doors opened. He was pushed in and the doors closed behind him.


Bones. I crushed his bones. We did it. But I remember what I did. His family had invited me to join in the ritual. I participated with an enthusiasm that to the others must have appeared uncanny—extreme. I was unreserved. Grandfather absent, we struck the bones with the wooden mallet until we had a small white pile of chips and flakes between us. A bit more and the chips became dust and fine gravel. The crushed bone was returned to the urn. I helped, using my hands to gather whatever I could. Across from the counter where we worked was a fountain with running water to rinse the hands. His mother led me there: she turned me and pushed me gently toward the tap. But I turned back again as if it

wasn't enough; I wasn't yet ready to wash. I rubbed my face with dusty hands, and as I have said, I would have licked my fingers. I would have consumed him by the spoonful: edible or inedible I would have swallowed him—so ravenous was I for that intimacy. And by the way, the room in which we stood, like six actors on a stage, was small and well lit. It opened directly onto the lobby of the crematorium where the rest of the party was watching and waiting. But I couldn't care less about any of them.

The box burst; it's busted. The skin burnt to an inescapably fragile crisp. It traveled up with the current and floated down, twirling and dusting the ground.
It should be sung to the sound of fire—
(The ritual that failed to happen: one that has been compromised and ignored by an entire society, collectively, until the ritual is effectively outlawed.)


The site: the top of a gently sloping swell in the ground—in a plain, preferably at a distance from tree groupings. Sufficient wood is stacked for the fire to burn seven hours or more. Above the stacked logs is a sisal mat.
The actual source of heat is unimportant, but the fire is not. His body was swaddled in a simple cloth: his legs bound together, while his arms, wrapped individually, were placed on top of his body, uncrossed, with his hands resting on his hips or slightly higher up, allowing bent elbows. A narrow strip of cloth spanning crosswise held his hands in place. The cloth covering his face and ears is of a lighter weave, resembling gauze. It burns away so rapidly without leaving a cast of itself.
He was anointed with oils. Guided by an experienced healer, she massaged the oils into his body and hair-covered head according to the most effective pattern. They carried him to the burning site, laid him on the mat and tied him down to the pyre.
The one who tended to him, from this point on, never left his body. Another one lit the fire. When she needed drink, her mouth

dry from speaking and her throat roughened by the smoke, water was poured from above in a stream, into her mouth, and kept clear from the flames. Whether the period of burning was scripted or unscripted was according to the choice of the attendant.

About Face

short fiction Cecile Rossant

Cecile Rossant's fiction follows the economical arc of dreams, of dreamlogic and imagery. Many of these stories are as brief as lyric poems. Others (notably "The Belly of a Bird," a lovingly painstaking account of cooking and sensuality) offer the pleasures of accreted description and twisting plot. Humor and grief thread their way through the work in unexpected ways. But in all of Rossant's stories the reader can't help but admire the intensity, the physicality, the directness, the quirkiness of vision. There is nothing easily conventional here, and because there isn't, we must look and think and feel.

--Mary Jo Salter

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