Mnemic Symbols (excerpt) — Andrew Hodgson

Is that sticky rice? Laurence had asked. Prodded the parcel of leaves that wrapped whatever was inside up. And I wasn’t all so sure, as I’d ordered the green curry, but the menu had not clearly delineated the rice option. Maybe just steamed. Or is that the same? And before we ate, before I’d open up the leaves and probe the consistency of whatever was potentially globbed inside I went to bog, to piss, and rinse my hands and back, in a tick – 

And when I’d return to the table there by the window looking out onto the rue Amelot L was no longer examining the leaf-parcel, but the street outside where before was empty, now groups of people missing shoes, or shoe, and/or sock or socks and, it was cold enough, as November, I think, and coatless to boot struck as odd. Now groups of people ran, or limped past. Were carried past leg and a wing (though whatever king they may or may not be off to see was, as ever, not all that apparent) – climbed under the cars parked up tight along the kerb. And I’d gone bloody weirdos, as drunk hide-and-seek was not alien to the area and sat to sip watery curry. I’d gone,

Bloody weirdos

And L had gone, with not little consternation

I don’t know, they don’t look like they’re having all that great a time

And sort of sat to half-watch me slurping swampy water, not all that committal, as I’d seen it too but, well, what else.

I don’t know.

And I’d gone,

How’s the phad thai?

she was not eating, as the groups of people thinned and thickened as a stream at faster or slower progression, slid across our window. And in the silent restaurant where Americans from the hotel next door now too stared through the window blank-faced and the chef I’d not noticed leave re-entered through the front door, with a cheery jingle of chimes and at the counter, in hushed tones, in Thai told the waitress something or other punctuated with pointing fingers west, and north, of here. Fingers that would every then and now drop to hold a spectral automatic rifle, and chug back and forth with the recoil of a spoken KA – KA – KA. And the Americans had gone to us, what are they saying, and I’d gone that I don’t speak Thai, and the chef did not speak French, and the waitress did not speak English, and so we played that game kids do, and told anecdotal evidence through a travelling series of conduits (feels awkward, in context, to give the game its name in English, worse so French. Franco-Thai whispers? Anyway – )

And I went in another language, to waitress – 

What’s going on?

And,

Men with automatic rifles – hands raised, one placed on grip and extended index on trigger, other on fore-end and, KA – KA – KA. République, the canal, on the boulevard là.

And the Americans went – 

What’s going on?

And,

There are men shooting people – hands raised, one placed on grip other on fore-end – west and north of here.

And the Americans sort of sat there in continued silence, I don’t know, at the time I’d thought maybe they were just more used to it or whatever, but with that vast window looking into our curried fishbowl, and I’d thought well, I’d thought fuck this, and I and L had stood to leave and heading to the door, the waitress had shouted – monsieur ! L’addition ! And our escape paused a while, while we and the Americans queued to pay, yes we take card, and put the code in and wait, and the receipt, yes, thanks, au revoir and left the food all there paid and largely uneaten, and I never did discover how gluey the assumed rice inside that parcel of leaves would in/edibly be.

And at the door I’d not quite known what to do, as this was my neighbourhood and so probably should, but didn’t, and at that time was living on the avenue Claude Vellefaux which would entail walking north-west of here, into where everyone had run from and so, as logic might dictate, walked south-east, and decided it would be best to wait it all out by crossing the boulevard Richard Lenoir, and going to a bar I knew, le Fanfaron, off Charonne. Which, looking back now was perhaps up there in the list of worst possible choices to potentially be made in said specific scenario.

L asked if we should run, but for some reason I insisted on a moderate stroll and, other than the odd person sprinting past, things on that street of bars appeared uncomfortably normal. The sprinters did not speak, or scream, or shout, but ran in perfect silence. Bare-foot. De-clothed. Trailing liquids from holes in their bodies I could not see. And this bizarre intensity of quiet grew as more and more human beings snuffed shot dead and dying unseen, more or less for time being, all around us. And it’s from there the next minutes and hours, days and weeks sort of slip transitional linearity. Fall apart and break spectral, to snips of variegated banality

sort of, I was in that bar in Bastille all night never heard nothing – 4 am, pull the shutters! They’re coming down the alley! Please stop crying, please stop crying. Sort of, please stop crying. They pushed us down into the tunnels below the restaurant and we sat one atop another down there sweating for three hours. Sort of, IDs please, IDs please

 – get the fuck out of my bar, that’s it that’s it I’m done, get out!

              – But they’re outside

                            – But I don’t give seven shits, get out!

sort of.

Let us in, for god’s sake let us in. Well of course, they were, the men were, were – . The owner of the restaurant drove us all, customers and all, home in waves. Empty car except for him, three people in the boot, in waves. Don’t think I got to lock up. Where are the shots coming from? Huh? Pal, where are they, right or left at the top of the street? Huh? Leave him, he’s gone, he’s gone. Sort of, there’s a bomb at République. Sort of, they’re shooting from the back of scooters in Les Halles, down Rivoli. You’d better stay here. The gendarme, alone but for pump-action shotgun says the canal is a warzone. You can’t go home, monsieur, well where, well that’s not my problem. Yo, where you at? The party’s still going, late as ever motherfucker! Why would I turn on the news? Well, sort of. It’s the binmen, and street sweepers, early next morning. Put sawdust down in the pools of blood, where West Parisians come gawp. Kneel in the human fluids coagulating on the pavement and leave a rose for the TV crews. Sort of, I guess I’ll have to throw these jeans away. Sit for coffee, put a finger through the bullet hole in the window behind my head. Wooden hoarding goes up next week. Sort of, you remember Rose, and Karl, from the birthday in Stalingrad the other day? Rose went on Charonne, in the gutter there. I saw the body. Bodies. Yeah. Karl took all his clothes off, silted in other people’s – ran off blabbering this and that. Police found him running around in the metro tunnels. In that psych place up past St. Denis now, sort of. You got a cigarette? Menthols? I don’t know. Take them. Fine. Thanks, I guess. Get off the street! Sort of, get off the street! Why? We’re all gonna fucking die, dude:

              – A P O C A L Y P S E P A R T Y !

You’re fucking sick, menthols are barbaric. Fucking, sort of, isn’t this the Jewish quarter? Drink your fucking wine. We’re fucked, we’re abso – I had a ticket for the Bataclan, oh yeah, couldn’t get out of bed so didn’t go, oh yeah, crazy, huh? How close, that I was, that this whole thing is probably my narrative, really. Oh yeah. Sort of, laid one atop the other on a single bed.  Wait for the morning – is this the worst timing for that threesome we’d talked of. Maybe. Sort of. Stood on the roof, watched the city swallowed up in black and not go on. And go on. At the stadium. Weird how, nobody thought to turn the floodlights off.

KA – KA – KA. Contorted bodies, please don’t cry. Sort of, never really wonder why.

Sign the book. Condolences to the family. Are you wearing a suit?

That car’s sidled there far too long. It’s more a muted Pok – Pok, rather than KA – KA – KA. Sign the book. Condolences. Is the dry-cleaners open? Did you hear about – 

sort of.


Andrew Hodgson is author of the novelesque Mnemic Symbols (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2019), and the monograph The Post-War Experimental Novel: British and French Fiction, 1945 – 1975 (Bloomsbury, 2019). He is translator from the French of Roland Topor’s Head-to-Toe Portrait of Suzanne (Atlas Press, 2018), and from the Danish Carl Julius Salomonsen’s New Forms of Art and Contagious Mental Illness (New Documents, 2019). He is editor of the collection of experimental writing Paris (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2019).