Pera Museum Blog is launching a new series of creepy stories in collaboration with Turkey’s Fantasy and Science Fiction Arts Association (FABISAD). The Association’s member writers are presenting newly commissioned short horror stories inspired by the artworks of Mario Prassinos as part of the Museum’s In Pursuit of an Artist: Istanbul-Paris-Istanbul exhibition. The third story is by Murat Başekim! The stories will be published online throughout the exhibition. Stay tuned!
The silhouette waves to me from afar in the windy, dark woods.
She calls me in the dim night. Me. She wants me. I can hear her whisper. Her perfume. Her sweet saliva. The silhouette rocks to and fro. She calls out. I must go to her. She isn’t that far away. This is love. I’m sure of that.
But we’re not alone here. There are others. Other silhouettes. They will not leave us alone. They have no respect for our privacy. They want her to see them. The others. But she doesn’t want to. She chose me from among all those “Others.” She desires me. She wants me as her partner. But we’re not alone. They have swarmed us. They will not leave us alone. We are crowded. There are others between her and me. Silhouettes. Light shadows. Sometimes they prevent me from seeing her. They whisper so I won’t be able to hear her. They talk in subdued voices. They whisper about us. But they cannot come between us. There is only she and I in this world.
She too has noticed me. I can feel her it the wind. Her scent has changed. There’s a musky smell in the air now. She has put on her perfume. She’s ready for love. The perfume is for me.
She is so beautiful. Such a slender girl. We’re the same age. But she is much fresher. She shines in the sun. I can see her elegant arms beyond her undulating hair. She raises her arms, whispering to the music of the wind. She greets the wind to the south and to the west. This is a dance. A ballet in the woods.
Her slender branch-fingers move through her green hair. She constantly pats her hair because she knows I’m looking. That’s something only women who have feelings for a man do. She combs her hair. Buds of spring like big white diamonds on her slender tree fingers. Jewelry opening up brightly under the sun, bursting elegantly with sweet smells. Bracelets made of flowers on her arms. Around her neck a golden necklace made of yellow sunlight. Her tender roots in the ground; a slender young girl sunbathing with her thin legs buried in the sand. Her fresh body filled with the fluid of life, sap flowing through her sweet leaves. Her perfume is June. Her breath is chamomile.
I know she’s not indifferent to me. As she swayed to the southerly, in rhythm with the music of the horizons, greeting the equinoxes, she turned her face towards me. Like a young girl waving to her beloved from afar, she waved the green handkerchief of her leaves to me. She greeted me. Maybe she wasn’t waving at all but drowning. She was on her own. She wanted to be saved. We were in the middle of a shaded, deserted woods, and this slender, green, beautiful tree was asking for my help, saying, “I noticed you. I want to get closer to you. I want you to protect me. This is the woods, and I want your wood. I don’t want the seeds of another tree… I want to grow your buds…”
Yes, this was what she said. I’m sure of it…
Trees, 14 November 1984, Oil on Arches vellum pasted on prepared canvas, 75.4 x 105.7 cm., FNAC 350308, Centre National des Arts Plastiques
So I turned towards her. Our roots, however, were deep in this piece of rock that slowly revolved in the pitch black woods of space. We were trees imprisoned between the barbed wires of latitudes and longitudes, the cradle where we grew being one and the same with the grave where we died. In this void called the universe, we were able to move only as slowly as this round and muddy rock called the “Earth,” which kept revolving underneath us, spinning not only our roots but also our heads, making us look at each other. For that is the curse of us trees. We don’t have the speed of mammals – those flesh-leaved creatures that breathe the wind. They can move as fast as they can chew each other’s flesh. We, on the other hand, can move only at the speed with which we absorb the light of the sun. All of us move as fast as we eat. But the patience of us trees is as big as our trunks. As deep as our roots. We can wait for decades to unite. We can patiently begin to wait for our nuptial night that will take place a hundred years from now.
So I waited. I set aside decades of my life to move towards the girl I loved, to open up to her. Seasons. The monkeys that climbed up on the backs of my ancestors to eat bananas moved on the ground now in the age of us young trees. They were building their own caves now. Generations of them passed by around me. Sometimes they entered the woods. Those who were brave enough.
So seasons passed. We crossed equinoxes. The huge rocks that shone in the sky kept moving around. Their gravity pulled at our sap. The fluids inside us rose towards the sky, flowing and then retreating. Time sent out shoots.
I sent her my roots underneath the damp soil, sunrise after sunrise, day after day. I wasn’t as good-looking as I used to be, however. Time had bitten me. My bark had been carved with rains and winds, my face worn out, my visage cut. There were cuts on my face. Various flesh-hominoids had come and carved strange marks on my back. I couldn’t make head or tail of these mysterious, archaic signs, despite all my tree wisdom. These mystical motifs must have been spells from the strange rituals of these monkeys:
“KING OF THE WORLD”
“ROCK ’N’ ROLL”
The cultures of the flesh have always fascinated me. I have been listening to them for decades. Trying to learn what I can. Their music, their lives. But that day, I stopped trying to understand them. They weren’t important that day. I was happy. I had finally reached out to my beloved after all those seasons. She would undoubtedly love me. I was a young, strong tree. Who else would this girl love? I finally approached the girl I loved, who knows after how many flesh lives. I was ready to open up to her.
So one day I approached her.
So one day I opened up to her.
I sent forth my branches. My flowers budded towards her. I gave her delightful bouquets with my own hands. Like lovers caressing each other with their feet under the table, I touched her roots with my roots under the ground. I opened up to her. I whispered to her from among my leaves. I whispered to her my love messages with the wind. I sent her sparrows as my envoys. They carried my whispers of love to her.
“I want to pollinate you,” I said to her.
“You are so beautiful. You are fresh and filled with the water of life. In the September rains, you look like a green, splendid ballerina dancing in the wind with her arms spread out. I love you. I want you to have my flowers. I want to be the father of your buds. I want to pollinate you. I want to send my pollens to your flowers. I want to photosynthesize with you on hot summer noons. I want us to sip the orange cocktail of the sun while we are sunbathing. I want us to rock to and fro to the music of the Westerly that echoes in the bowl of the sky, as we watch the constellations, and when we are through with life, I want us to drop to the ground together and roll. I want us to rock together and roll together to the rock ‘n’ roll song that is life.”
I wait for her answer, trembling ever so lightly with excitement and the wind. Smiling.
Suddenly, she turns away from me. She pulls her roots away.
I’ve lost her. Why did it happen this way? Where did I go wrong? I did nothing, except for opening up my fibers to her. I shared with her my deepest, most sensitive filaments. Was that wrong? Isn’t that how you approach girls?
Maybe she didn’t get the rock ‘n’ roll? But wasn’t she dancing to the music of the wind when I first saw her? Is she snubbing me now because I have been too exposed to the culture and music of the flesh. Why doesn’t she understand me?
Or is there someone else she likes? Did she wave to me just to spite him? One of those monkeys who had carved strange motifs on my back once said to another:
“Girls are like monkeys – as soon as they see another branch to grab, they drop the one they hold.”
Is that it? I had reached out to her with all my branches. I had given her flowers. She took none of them.
News of my epic fail is spreading around rapidly.
The tree that bears fruit will be stoned. I’m making a fool of myself to the other trees of the woods. To the whole woods. None of them help me. So I choose a new direction for myself. I turn my face away from the girl. I become a cool tree. I treat her coldly, distantly. And anyway, the weather is cool, too.
Indeed, the world has cooled, turning cold. At first I thought this was because of me. Turns out it’s fall. The wind is bitter now. It blows away the last of my flowers. Winter is approaching. I have missed the cycle of the seasons because I had already shed my leaves with sorrow.
It’s a silent, dark winter in the woods. None of the trees talk to each other. We watch the squirrels that move around among us in the dim winter afternoons. Silently. Sometimes I sneak a look at her. There are dove nests on her shoulders. Sparrows make their nests on her neck, because they know she is the liveliest, softest tree in the whole woods. They chirp away in the silent woods throughout the winter. They make it impossible for me to forget her. The birds and butterflies love her. Adorn her. Even winter becomes this girl. That beautiful tree wears the winter like a wedding gown. She hides her face behind the bridal veil made of snow crystals at a polar wedding. I’m still in love with her.
Maybe I shouldn’t give up? Maybe she’s just testing me. To see how deep my roots go. How firmly I stand on the ground. Whether I’m strong enough to deserve being the pollinator of her buds. A duster with powerful flowers, mature, responsible. A youthful and strong tree that deserves to photosynthesize with her.
I feel hopeful again.
I will wait for the spring. I will prove to her that I’ve changed, that I’m a strong and mature tree. That I will make a great husband with my firm roots, ready to build a family. Then, holding roots, I will ask her permission to pollinate her, whispering April winds in her ears.
When spring comes, however, I feel as cold as the coldest of winters.
It’s only May, and I’m so sad I’m already shedding my leaves. Now I’m alone in the woods. An unrequited tree. A platonic tree.
She has found herself a boyfriend. One of those young, boorish, burly trees nearby. A pompous piece of firewood that screeches and shrieks, gives off a sour reek, its arms opened vulgarly wide. A real yahoo.
I try not to notice them. But it’s impossible. They live their romance out in the open in the green shades of April in the woods. I try not to hear it but the young yahoo is pollinating her with all stops pulled. Pollens have filled the air. And she… the one I loved, waits for them with her flowers open. To be pollinated. They are happy lovers now. The scent of pleasure permeates the air. And I’m forced to smell it. Breathe it in. Which I do. I breathe it…
And breathe it.
My leaves wither away. My arms become dry and crooked. April rains no longer rejuvenate me like they used to do every year. Because I see them in the rain. They are right next to me. Two lovers taking a shower together after pollination. Singing in the rain. That’s what they are doing.
And I shrivel up. Wither.
Black insects appear in my trunk. As new life sprouts up in hers with the new season, mold grows inside of me. She has white diamonds, and I foul-smelling fungi. Insects spread through my body. Insects of envy and hatred. Centipedes of jealousy.
The other trees in the woods watch me in bewilderment as I shrivel up even more. I turn into a devil-tree whose sap has long dried up and turned bitter, acidic, caterpillars gnawing at its insides, spiders building webs around its heart, moldy, mossy, hole-ridden. Death is my perfume.
One night, I stab a squirrel running around me with one of my branches. An honest accident, of course. Just a coincidence. The red sap of the squirrel oozes away. It trembles in my arms for a while. Then it becomes still. Crucified on my branch. Like the pieces of meat put on skewers and roasted in the fire built in my shadow by monkeys, who then gobble them up.
I decide to become a carnivore, too. For a few weeks I bend down my arm slowly. Patiently. I let the blackened, rotting carcass of the squirrel drop off from my sharp fingers. The grizzled and hardened body of the dead animal drops to the ground. Right beneath my feet. The days pass, covering it with dust and soil like a blanket. I slowly bring the dead squirrel under my feet. I cover it with the cold blanket of soil. Now it is under my feet.
I cover the cold and dark corpse with my roots. I suck at its black, rich, rotten, dead sap, turning it into my own. The squirrel had rocked and rolled to the lousy rock ‘n’ roll song that is life. It rocked and then rolled to my feet. Now I’m feeding on it. I’m a ghost tree now, feeding on dead flesh instead of sipping the sun cocktail I would have made with the tree I love as we photosynthesized during sunny summers. This is necrosynthesis, not photosynthesis.
This gives me an idea. There a swarms of vengeful termites in my blackened trunk. I decide to turn this whole matter into a blood feud. A Blood Feud. No, a Sap Feud. I will be avenged.
So once more, I spear forth my roots. Toward the young lovers. They fear me. The woods are dark. I tell them to protect themselves, this is the woods. I’m rotten on the inside, dead on the outside.
I put my roots around the young lovers. Slowly Patiently. One foot every season. One millimeter every full moon. Like a wooden octopus rising from the ground. I tie my black and moldy roots around them in knots, the roots I have fed with the carcasses of squirrels and mice. I suffocate them. I envelop them. They will later call me the Suffocating Tree. I reach out to my loved one with my arms. With my branches, I destroy a dove’s nest, perched like a brooch on her slender shoulders. There are rings of flesh on my fingers now, made with dead doves. I destroy homes. Of animals and trees. There are spiders and centipedes on my arms with black moss saliva dripping from them – I am a venomous cadaver tree.
I suffocate them. I tie up the whole woods with mold and decay. If I rot, so will they. I turn them black. Only shadows and dried up trees are left behind. Dead animals. Dead trees. And myself.
Seasons go by. The woods are still dead. There will be punishment for all this, naturally. And one day, it arrives. Like in cheap tales, the hatred in my heart turns me into stone. But that’s always the lot of rotten trees.
Tonight I have reached the end of this dark botanic ballet. I sway gently. I crack and I fall down. I rock and I roll.
By Murat Başekim
Translation by: g yayın grubu
Three people sleeping side by side. On the uncomfortable seats of the stuffy airplane in the air. Three friends. I’m the friend in the window seat. The other two are a couple, Emre and Melisa. I’m alone, they are together. And another difference. I’ve only closed my eyes. They are asleep.
Among the most interesting themes in the oeuvre of Prassinos are cypresses, trees, and Turkish landscapes. The cypress woods in Üsküdar he saw every time he stepped out on the terrace of their house in İstanbul or the trees in Petits Champs must have been strong images of childhood for Prassinos.
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