Resting Under a Blue Yellow Moon
(Novel Excerpt)

by Liston Grant

- Chapter 1 -

April 30, 1996 - 6 p.m.

As shameless representatives of some kind of rootless jet-set generation, Kenji and I were about to meet again in yet another city I sighed with weary contentment before remembering that I had arrived in Slovakia with no local currency.

A shifting and edgy cold mingled with the smell of stale smoke and filled the central train station with bleak austerity, and despite my thick clothing I was unable to feel warm. An old bag-lady dressed in layered rags shivered on a bench a few feet away and emptied tobacco dregs from trampled cigarette butts into a tin can. She was the only other person present; all my co-passengers on the bus from Vienna had disappeared. A gust of wind blew through the desolate corridors scattering dead leaves and slamming a window shut. Nothing else was open: shutters were clamped down on storefronts, bars and change booths. The large clock at the end of the main hallway was broken.

I slung my duffel bag over my shoulder, traipsed down the hallway to the exit and emerged in the frosty Bratislavan air—it was late April, but winter had not yet subsided in Central Europe. I drew my collar tighter around my neck, and gazed down the wide deserted boulevards that stretched like gray tarp into a dim yellow haze of street lamps and fog. An occasional Skoda or diesel-fuming bus sputtered by. The driver of a solitary cab idling near the building yelled out something to me but I shook my head. I presumed he was asking me if I wanted a ride and I would’ve loved one, but that cost money and I had none. As I walked along the streets lined with hardened grimy snow, I wondered how Kenji would deal with the situation. Probably he would hop in a cab, direct it down a one-way street near his destination, wait for another car to drive up behind them as he pretended to fumble for cash, then dash out and run away.

I lacked his audacity.

A car edged up behind me—I glanced over my shoulder and slowed my pace. The car continued to follow. I stopped, turned around, and stared. The car sped up and passed me, only to stop a few seconds later. I watched the red brake lights hover in the mist a hundred feet away like enticing will ‘o’ wisps, and I wondered... But no-one got out. I looked away and didn’t turn back, as if a conscious act of will could dispel the unnerving presence of the car. I found myself at the edge of a parking lot lined by a small park sprinkled with evergreens that bowed to the ground like praying mantises under the weight of the snow-encrusted branches. The whole scene appeared before me in black and white and streaks of jaded blue like an Ansel Adams photograph.

I couldn’t help it: I glanced back at the car. It jerked into reverse and pulled up beside me: a grimy white Trabant with chipped paint spitting nauseous fumes. The driver’s window rolled down and a head of short-cropped brindled hair popped out. Asked me in broken in English if I was lost or if I needed a ride.

“I am sorry—I do not have any money—no money—no Koruna,” I said, as if speaking in halting English would make it easier for the woman to understand.

The woman laughed. “No, no! No need. You want to go to Old Town?”

“Ah, I don’t need a tour guide…” I said and forced a smile. Then thought of Kenji. “But maybe you could take me to a friend’s apartment?” The woman stared at me, a smile frozen on her angular face. Far from menacing, it was rather warming, yet I felt suddenly gripped with a heightened sense of disorientation: I had the distinct impression that I knew this woman, and that she knew me, yet I couldn’t imagine how. I leaned forward in an attempt to better discern her features in the subdued lighting, but she snapped back into the dark recess of the driver’s seat. Finally she opened the passenger door and invited me in, and I squeezed into the tight space with my bag. I could still barely distinguish her in the dark, but her eyes were bright and her perfume assailed me immediately, a delicate lilac scent of sensuality.

“My name is Gene,” I said.

“Really?” she said, amused.

I gave her Kenji’s address and asked her if she knew where it was. She laughed again and nodded confidently. I settled in the car and felt the warmth radiating from this woman’s laugh, if not from the car heater. She didn’t speak and I was tongue-tied. I coughed and stuttered as the car drove off.

“Oh, you must be cold,” she said. “Sorry, heater is not working. Stupid commie car! Here!” She unraveled her scarf and handed it to me. I protested feebly, but the chance to wrap my neck in her perfume was too tempting. I recognized the scent—it was the only perfume that I was actually able to recognize—and to my addled brain that started to mean something.

“Eternity?” I mumbled but she did not respond. I wondered whether she had been following me, why she was giving me a ride, but I was simply too tired to ask.

Then she looked at me smiling. “Yes, I was waiting on you. Six o’clock bus from Vienna, no?” Her words fluttered around me like strips of aluminum, light and raspy, with the sharp edges of a foreign accent that I assumed was Slovakian.

“Yes, yes… But why were you following me?”


I reconsidered. Not sure that it really mattered. Perhaps Kenji had asked her to pick me up. I tried to remember if I had told him when I was arriving, and was unable to do so. I glanced back at my driver, and in the intermittent light of the street lamps I studied her dark boyish haircut, the sharp edge of her jaw tensed in concentration, and her lips. I couldn’t quite distinguish them—her profile was etched in gray against the tungsten light of the street lamps that flashed across the car, like a paper cut-out. Then I noticed the sparkle of a studded piercing in her right nostril, and my heart raced with a rush of adrenaline. There was something familiar about her, I began to sense the promise of a name… but I was left only with a jumble of letters that hung off my lips like gossamer, unformed. I spat them out like broken teeth and felt her expectant gaze upon me. I turned away.

“You do know where we’re going, don’t you?” I asked, looking out the window.

“Yes, you give me address.”

“Kenji’s place.”

She shrugged, refusing to take the bait. “That is a funny name for a Slovakian.”

“Oh, no, he’s American… You don’t know him?”

“Is it necessary?”

“In the grand scheme of things, probably not,” I answered with an angry sigh. “But it would certainly make more sense.” Actually the sigh was more of frustration, but it was borderline. “Kenji’s parents were working in Japan when he was born. They were very taken in by the culture,” I said, offering an explanation when I would have wanted one from her. But I didn’t want the ride to end: I wanted and I needed more time, and I would have said anything to obtain it.

The city and its wide boulevards were unnervingly deserted. A sallow light, harsh in its lack of color, reflected off the decrepit facades and gloomy socialist realism architecture, perpetuating the oppressive feel of the former Communist regime. Eventually we turned off the main boulevard onto cobblestone streets that became narrower as we entered an older part of the city. We drove over tram tracks and more cobblestones, then turned down a steep one-way street and stopped before a derelict building four stories high, with lights shining in only a few windows.

She turned to me. “This is where you needed to go, I think?”


She giggled. “I am always positive, yes!”

She did not turn to look at me, and I failed to see anything funny in what she had said. But I stared at her and wished I could say something, a sharp comment that would make her laugh again.

I asked for her name.

She said, “Oh, maybe I will see you later, then I tell you. If not, then it doesn’t matter!”

I was tired and I hadn’t even seen Kenji yet. I gave up. “No, probably not,” I mumbled. As I opened the car door, I felt a gentle push encouraging me to confront the outside cold. I turned around and extended a hand. She shook it slowly, then her fingers slipped through mine as the car rolled forward and she drove away.

“Then maybe later…”

Her voice trailed off and I watched her taillights disappear, and I shuddered at that brief moment of intimate contact of fingers on fingers.

I inhaled her perfume, realizing that I had forgotten to return her scarf.

The entrance door to Kenji’s apartment building was unhinged, the paint was chipped, the front steps were crooked. Inside was a different matter, however, as I passed through a second door, jarred open, and entered a hallway lined with brand new mailboxes on either side, at the end of which was a circular staircase, carpeted and inviting. Kenji lived at the top, on the fourth floor, and when I reached his apartment the front door was wide open as if he were expecting me at that very moment. I threw down my backpack, entered the living room, and found him on a cellular phone with his feet propped up on the desk next to a bottle of beer. He twirled a pen between his fingers, ran a hand across his slightly spotted juvenile face, and pulled once in a while on a rebellious strand of long blond hair. I stood there as he wrangled and haggled over the phone with his back turned, oblivious to my arrival. He spoke with an insistent yet laid-back voice, sometimes retrieving information on his laptop computer with an outstretched hand and nimble fingers. “Listen, I understand your concerns, but I believe I have the situation well under control… The bird’s a tight box, hermetically sealed, she won’t—” He turned and smiled, acknowledging my arrival, lit a cigarette, sipped his beer, and continued the conversation. “Oh, yes, I wouldn’t dare presume and I know I can’t guarantee… Of course, of course—look, I’ll see you in two weeks since you also believe that there’s no immediate concern, and you’re better placed to… Yes, yes, yes… Look, well I appreciate that, thank you… Okay, great, Dosvedanya!”

When Kenji had read in Shakespeare that ‘All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players’, he had taken him literally, living his life like a play, embracing—provoking—every new twist in plot and every new ensuing adventure. And here in Bratislava, sitting at his desk, he was on his own stage again, filling every nook and cranny with his presence and energy. Only the set decorations had changed from the last time we’d met.

He hung up, threw down his headset, spun around, and exclaimed without missing a beat: “Well, Gene my friend, by God you made it!”

I glanced around at the Spartan decor—a desk, a few chairs, a couch, prefab cupboards, and a chest of drawers, a stack of empty beer bottles—and said, “Sold all your stuff to make home-made Slovakian speed, Kenji?”

He glided around the living room, cradling the bottle of Czech Pilsner between his thumb and forefinger. “You should have seen the dump the company gave me across the river when I first moved here! This is five-star accommodation next to that netherworld of terror…” My eyebrows shot up. Kenji came up to me and we embraced, an effusive masculine hug of friendship with great slaps on the backs. “So how are you, Geno? How the hell are you?!”

Then Kenji stepped back theatrically: “Say, there’s a mighty strong smell hanging around you, and it ain’t men’s cologne!”

“You wouldn’t believe what happened,” I sighed. “Ah, then again, you probably would…” I launched into the story of the woman offering me a ride, how she seemed to know where I was going, and how she gave me her scarf to fend off the cold. Kenji watched me with a strange smile.


“And? So what would you have done?” I asked.

“Ah, well, invited her up for a drink at least! Crazy things happen if you let them, Gene! Besides it would have been an easy thing to do—a way of thanking her for the ride.”

“You know, Kenji, what appears easy to you is not exactly easy for other people.”

All he said was, “oh Gene, oh Gene,” and I realized that I hadn’t seen him in a long while. I’d missed him.

I looked around the apartment and knew it was pointless to take a tour. I headed straight for the fridge and grabbed a beer.

“The service hasn’t improved around here.”

Kenji was giving me a blank stare, something that rarely happened—his face was always expressing something—and I couldn’t help but feel just a little afraid. “Look, I am sorry to disillusion you, Geno, and take away the mystery…


“I don’t know why she had to play games with you, but that’s why I love the woman to death…”


“That woman was Sevrina in the car—I asked her to pick you up tonight because I knew I’d have some business to handle and didn’t know how long it would drag out…”

The sound of his voice trailed off as the scene around me came into sharp focus in contrast to my muddled mind. I collapsed on the couch, but missed it by three feet and landed painfully on my ass amidst a scattering of empty beer cans.

“Sorry to disappoint you.”

“Disappointed? I don’t know… I feel—well, I feel pretty stupid I guess.”

I took a swig of beer… or at least tried to, raising the bottle almost vertically before realizing that it was empty.

A wave of doubt hit me and I tried to catch my breath but heaved and choked, and there was that disturbing feeling once again of vague familiarity, a name lurking in the dark recesses of my brain. “It doesn’t make sense—are you sure it was Sevrina? I mumbled. “I mean, I knew that woman, I’m sure I did!” Something told me that the name should stay buried but it struggled to emerge. I was caught in the crossfire: I wanted to know; I didn’t want to remember. Emotions… There were no emotions attached to the name; if I could grasp the emotion, I would find the name… Love? Hatred? Betrayal?... All of the above? Yes, they all sounded familiar but wouldn’t coalesce—but of course they would, of course they did, I’m lying, fearing, I know that name I just can’t speak it aloud in my mind. I don’t want to remember but the memory is all I have. At once the most beautiful and the most painful—the name shatters through my last defenses and it’s all I can do to keep back the tears. RENÉE—Renée? NO! NO! Too incongruous, impossible—too impossible? It made no sense, that could not be Renée in the car, that must not be … NO! I slammed the door on the memory, the voice was silenced, the emotions bottled up—the name remained unuttered as it should, vanishing as quickly as it had appeared, banished to the chthonic depths of my mind where I dared not—

“Ah, Gene?”

I glanced up with bloodshot eyes and crawled on to the couch. “Sevrina? Good, that sounds good. I’m looking forward to meeting her...” Forgetting that I had already tried, I took another swig of beer. The bottle was still empty.

“Kenji? Did you put empty beer bottles back in the fridge?”

He reached the fridge in three giant steps and tore the door open. Spun around to face me: “Shit… Was I that drunk last night?... Well, my friend, we’ll just have to head out. Time for dinner anyway, wouldn’t you say?”

I didn’t answer, I hadn’t really heard him. Hadn’t wanted to, probably. My mind had skipped ahead.

“So you’re still seeing Sevrina? Must be several months now?” I asked.

I was disconcerted and surprised. Borderline worried even. Since I had known him, Kenji had changed women the way others change wardrobes—by the season, by the day, by the night. I guessed that it wasn’t so much boredom as a desire to experience continuously something new. The fact that his current relationship with Sevrina was lasting so long left me unnerved. Definitely Worried. “Could this be love, Kenji?”

He said, He said, “Yes, well, that’s for me to know and you to guess... Maybe, just maybe, I'll tell you a short while. In the mean time—you must want a beer? Ah, but let’s not stick around here, my friend! I, for one, need some cool Slovakian evening air—so let’s get the hell out of here and find some food and drink to satiate our starveling souls!”

For the past year Kenji had been working as a traveling plastic pipes salesman for a US-based firm, plastic conduits used to the encase the fiber-optic cables that telecom companies were laying down—not just your basic tubes, as Kenji reminded me.

Now he had branched out into some business venture about which he remained somewhat murky. Or perhaps I just didn’t understand. On our way to dinner, Kenji began by telling me about the old buildings and a new K-Mart in town, about the changes occurring in Bratislava since the Soviet Union collapsed a few years earlier, as the country moved towards capitalism and democracy, like in most cities in the former Eastern bloc though not quite as rapidly as in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic or East Germany. Bratislava seemed shy and reluctant about the whole affair, Kenji told me, like a cantankerous adolescent who had just started to experiment with make-up and wasn’t yet convinced of the results.

“Of course it doesn’t help that President Meciar is an authoritarian asshole with dictator-like tendencies and little apparent love for democracy,” said Kenji. “But the business possibilities are huge. See Geno, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union are providing a host of opportunities for start-ups, new technology and quirky maneuvers.” He traced a map of Eastern Europe on the frosted window of a closed department store to illustrate. “Look here: Bratislava is the wire mesh of an East European sieve, through which fresh money pours in from the former Soviet Union—Russians with a strange sense of money, and this goes back well into the Czarist times, Gene, Dostoïevsky said so—Russians who love to gamble with the idea of capitalism. So I’ve found a few eager investors, and terrain in Austria, and I’m cutting some deals…”

Kenji was positively beaming.

“Sounds like mafia money to me, and I doubt that the Russian mafia originated in the kitchen of a pizzeria. More like in the offices of the former KGB. And I wouldn’t underestimate their sense of money, either.”

“For one, who said anything about dealing directly with the mafia? And for two, hate to disillusion you, my trusting and idealistic friend, but businesses in the East have little chance of succeeding these days without some collusion with the mafia.” He seemed lost in his own world for a few seconds, then his smile returned with vengeance. I thought he couldn’t beam any wider; he did. He said between stretched lips: “And by the way, I never said I underestimated their money sense—it’s they just do things with money that make Keynes look like Karl Marx.”

Kenji seemed to be constantly involved in some kind of adventure, and with him borderline fun was always much easier to slip into than to avoid. I never minded living vicariously through his stories—he breathed in life fully and oozed it from every pore. Listening to Kenji talk about a particular adventure he’d had was like hearing someone describe an orgasm and realizing that in fact you’ve never truly had one, that all those simulacrums were just hallucinatory blanks, pale imitations of the real thing.

We arrived at a restaurant that resembled a European version of the American diner, one of the many café-bars that had sprouted in Eastern Europe since the fall of the Wall with the intention of being hip and modern: guitars, pictured vinyl records, and other music memorabilia were ostentatiously displayed; t-shirts and posters of various hard rock, heavy metal, and New Wave bands of the eighties plastered the walls; and an oversized poster of the 1990 Rolling Stones’ Prague concert—the iconographic lips and tongue, with an inscription underneath: the tanks are rolling out, the Stones are rolling in—covered the entrance door.

The restaurant was crowded, loud and smoky. We found a table near the window next to two young couples deeply engrossed in conversation, and ordered two large beers and a standard fare of breaded schnitzel, roasted potatoes, and baby carrots soaked in grease. The couples smiled warmly at us as we sat down; we nodded back. They could not have been older than twenty, but for some reason they seemed so much younger to me, exuding a strong sense of freedom. Kenji turned to me and smiled.

As we dipped into the beers and waited for our meal, we plunged into the past, evoked fond memories of the last time we had spent a few rambunctious days together, the previous summer in Nice, where we got tumbled by neo-Nazis in a side-alley after we had tried surreptitiously, in a drunken stupor, and quite unsuccessfully, to make off with their girlfriends...

We finished our beers before the food arrived, and I slipped away to use the bathroom.

“Still have a weak bladder, eh?”

“Some things will never change, Kenji…”

I ordered two more beers on my way back, which involved much more time, arm waving, money flashing, and voice raising, than I had expected. Not to mention that it took courage to raise my voice in a language that I didn’t know. Kenji had told me how to ask for a beer in Slovak: an pivo prosim. Didn’t mean I could yell it out competently in the company of dashing Slovaks.

I returned to the table to find our dinner served, Kenji’s half-eaten, and two other large beers standing proudly next to our plates. “I told you I’d order more,” I said.

“I thought,” said Kenji between mouthfuls of schnitzel, “that I would.”

“I speak English, don’t I?”

“Maybe, but you have a funny accent… Either that, or a speech impediment. Haven’t quite decided after all these years. No offense.”

“None taken.”

“Besides, the waitress was too cute to resist. She smiled at me and I found myself ordering—oh, don’t look at me like that! We’ll drink them anyway!”

“So that’s why you chose this place? The waitresses?” I asked.

Kenji looked over at the four Slovaks next to us, smiling and winking at each other, babbling away, and glancing over from time to time.

He said: “Why do I get the impression that they’re making fun of us?” He raised his glass, and the guy next to him lifted his glass also. “You making fun of us?”

“Yes! Fun, yes?” the Slovak said. “You order too much beer? You drink all that?”

“Hell, no! Hell, yes, CHEERS!”

They clinked glasses, Kenji made new friends. Eventually he turned back to face me. “Look, Gene, aren’t the waitresses always a good reason to choose a restaurant? But this also tends to be a regular expat’ hang-out. Gives us the illusion that we’re mingling with the locals, when in fact we’re just hanging among ourselves.”

“Speaking of locals—are you going to tell me what your relationship is with her? I mean Sevrina… Is this long-term?”

“Bah! Nothing to worry about Geno… Yes, we’re still together in our own way. She lives an hour from here and that suits me fine. I like long-distance relationships.”

“Must be six months now that you’re with her,” I said.

“About eight, actually,” he corrected me.

I eyed my friend curiously.

“What?” he asked, and if I didn’t know any better, I would have said that he was actually blushing.

“You’re counting! You wouldn’t be in love, would you Kenji?”

There it was again and this time I was sure: his ears were tinged pink. I’d never seen Kenji blush, not over a woman. He let out a gush of laugher. “Oh Geno, give me a dictionary and then maybe I’ll tell you.”

“I mean, I can understand. I met Sevrina, and…” How could I hide from Kenji the attraction I’d felt? At least Kenji, unlike almost every other person I know, didn’t require some form of approval of their chosen partner. “Well she’s… She seems magical.”

“Don’t eat your heart out over it. She’s a real bitch too sometimes. Keeps me on my toes.” He stopped short and looked around the room expectantly. “We’ll be seeing her later on,” he said, confirming my worst fears.

A crack of laughter from the couples next to us made us turn. We saw one of the couples kissing. The other looked on, laughed, and kissed also. Then one of the guys stood up, leaned across the table, and kissed the other’s guy’s girlfriend squarely and deeply on the mouth. And then the other two did likewise.

“I feel old,” I muttered. I wasn’t sure what do with my hands so I removed my glasses and pretended to clean them. Kenji, on the other hand, was thrilled—he bounced in his seat and turned to our neighbors. “Having loads of FUN with those wonderful women of yours? Mucho FUN exchange? Good for you!”

“Kenji…” I murmured, while the Slovaks watched him with barely contained bewildered smiles. They didn’t seem like they were going to start a fistfight but then you never know what can set some people off.

“A little swapping later on? Loads of FUN! Why not a gay parade in Bratislava Slovensko? Wild place!—mind if we join in?”


The guy closest to Kenji finally moved, raising an arm and slapping on my friend’s shoulder. “Yes, fun! You like Bratislava?”

“Are you kidding? I LOVE it here!”

Kenji was pumping away with his fists, and came dangerously close to splattering beer all over the Slovak. He started to wiggle his shoulders. Finally we clinked glasses and toasted to each other’s health, or to whatever the Slovaks had said.

“But what about you? Whatever happened to that Nathalie you were seeing?”

I let out a long sigh. I didn’t want to him shift the discussion. I needed time to adjust. The possibility that a woman could change the whole fraternal equation between us made me uneasy. Our adventures together had always just been the two of us. I let out another heavy sigh before answering and almost belched from all the beer. Perhaps it was better after all not to talk about Sevrina.

“No, no, Natalie and I are no longer together.” I stopped and lifted my pants to show Kenji my different colored argyle socks. “I can never find a matching pair of socks to wear. Since most of the time people don’t see them anyway, I don’t care. Maybe I don’t try very hard, but in any case Natalie found that too messy and disorganized.” I shrugged. “So now the womanizer has a girlfriend, and the romantic keeps floating around...”

There was a moment of silence. A long moment. They don’t happen often with Kenji, but when they do, they last. As if each one has drifted off into his own space without regard for the other, without unease either, and when we returned to face one another it was as if we’d been gone a long time.

“Kenji? Have you heard from Renée?" I asked him.

The answer came much faster than I expected. “Funny you should ask. I wasn’t sure I should tell you, but since you seem to want to know...”

“Not sure I do.”

“Ah, well, you shouldn’t’ve asked me then, right?” he said with a Machiavellian grin.

“Life provides some amazing serendipitous encounters, and it’s true that fact can often be stranger than fiction so listen to this tale—”

“Tale, Kenji? That’s not very promising!” I said. This was heading in a frightening direction. Kenji’s tone, his choice of words, his delivery. Such ornateness hid something, but I was thankful for it—it enabled to take my mind off my own question. I wasn’t sure I wanted to bring my memories of Renée fully out of retirement. I’m sure I didn’t really want to make her part of my present again, make her real. But like a man attracted to the void I couldn’t help myself.

“No, Gene, it’s a crazy tale, but true nonetheless…” Why the emphasis on ‘true’? “You know that Renée’s parents moved to Berlin in the winter of ‘89-’90, right? Well, she’s studying cultural anthropology now at Humboldt University. She lives with this whacked-out elderly lady who’s a performance artist and puts on these shows in the streets of Kreuzberg, and wants to build a Celtic Sun Gate on the top of Teufelsberg with blocks of the Berlin Wall. Anyway, at night, she’s a stripper. Or at least a dancer in a club.

“Renée, or the woman she lives with?” I asked, and Kenji gave me a withering look of pity.

“It’s to pay for her studies, so she says—you know how dismissive she was of her father’s money!—but I think she quite enjoys the exhibitionist side to her job. Anyway… I was in Berlin recently on business and, well, decided on a little evening fun in the red light district—and wouldn’t you know it?! I hit upon the very club where Renée works!”

“Go figure, what a coincidence!”

But I believed him. It rang true. And besides, I’ve never known Kenji to lie. Not blatantly.

I didn’t know what to think, and Kenji didn’t give me time to do so. “I have an idea,” he said.


Kenji reached through his pockets and pulled out a small pack of chewing gum. He popped one in his mouth, turned to me, and smiled.

“Before I present you with our plan of action, let’s order a bottle of champagne!”

“A plan, Kenji?

He refused to answer immediately. He hailed down a waitress—somehow they always seem to appear when he needs them, while I can wait long enough to grow cobwebs between my fingers. She left, and Kenji still wouldn’t answer. He just smiled at me, toying with me, bopping his head to the music, drumming his fingers…

“Ah, listen to that funky electronic sound. That’s Berlin!” Kenji said eventually. “I went there with my mother on August eighth, eighty-eight, can’t forget that date… I remember looking out over the Berlin Wall from a small wooden observatory on the edge of Tiergarten. And I could see over the Wall right through the Roman pillars of the Brandenburg Gate, and there were people watching from the other side. Like aliens they seemed because I tried to imagine their half-lives in their half-city, but was unable to relate. And I realized how West Berlin was also dying in the Eastern shadow, in ecstatic death throes of decadence...” Kenji looked at me with a large smile and raised eyebrows. “But when I returned a few months ago, they were selling hotdogs and Soviet army uniforms right there among the columns. Big companies have set up cranes and buildings are rising in barren Potsdamer Platz… Ah! the grand old dame is getting a face lift, and she deserves one, mind you… The city’s alive again! Moving along with grace and power! Surging forwards oblivious to time and history, confident of her appeal… Berlin’s the cosmic sponge, the revitalized whore of Europe who’d like to forget and mend her divided past and put it behind her, and forget the men who tried to sell her soul…”

“Berlin, a dame?” I exclaimed. “What about Prussian patriarchy and the German Vaterland?”

“Ah, yes… But you see, Geno, I think the war changed that. Yes, the new generation had to deal with their past, their parents’ past, and show the world a tamer and kinder Germany,” Kenji laughed raucously. “You wander the campuses of Free University in the western divide or Humboldt University in the east, and the boys and girls seem so alike—the guys gangly and effete, the girls with boyish cuts and flat chests like Renée… Well, anyway, that’s how it struck me at least: none of that Aryan masculinity and arrogance, none of that heavy-chested Fräulein sexuality! Just intellectual intensity and artistic sophistry! You see, Berlin is shaped by her inhabitants: free-willed, open-minded, strong-willed, and eminently androgynous. But feminine nonetheless!”

I said nothing. I could see where this was going, and I felt that familiar tingle at my nape. Terribly seductive.

Finally the champagne arrived.

“A plan, Kenji?”

“Ah, a plan—never have a plan! I was about to say that you and I are heading to Berlin, tomorrow—and don’t argue, you know you want to!”

I laughed, but there was frustration there too. I said, “How can you be so sure? What could she mean to me now? Okay, I’ll admit that I’ve played with the idea of wandering off and finding her—if only to talk to her again, and enjoy the pleasure of another fun and crazy time with you—but that was several years ago! What’s the point now?” Yes, what’s the point? What’s your point, Kenji? “Why? Why are you so interested in seeing her again?”

“Me?” Kenji dipped a finger in his beer and held it up like a weather vane, as if to test the direction of the wind— and I knew he was getting serious. It made me anxious. “You were going to spend a week here, and I was going to take time off—let’s go on a road trip! What’s there to lose?”

“What’s there to gain?”

“Ah, l’esprit de contradiction? Always looking for issues, for problems, instead of grabbing the moment—carpe diem, Geno!”

“When it suits you… Look, what would we accomplish by going there? I’m sure Renée doesn’t give a shit.”

“Listen brother, trust me on this one—if anything else, she’ll be impressed and intrigued as hell that you came all the way from Bratislava just to speak to her.”

“But why on earth would I want to impress and intrigue her?”

“Ah, well that’s up to you to tell me…” He fell silent and I felt confused. He’d turned the tables on me. Then: “No, no, no! I know what your problem is—already you’re imagining things, creating a multitude of possible futures. Let go, you can’t control it. No-one can say where it will take you, but it’ll definitely will be further than sitting on your ass. Berlin can’t wait, no she can’t, my friend!”

“Well then,” I said angrily, “perhaps she doesn’t need me.”

“No, she’s what you need… And I can promise you this: if you don’t know what you’re looking for exactly or why you’re going there, she will provide the answer—since that’s what you seem to need. Answers.”

I threw my hands up in anger and despair: Kenji was all ready to tear off to Berlin and I couldn’t quite believe that it was only in my interest. But I didn’t have the strength to resist. Yet if he claimed to know me, I could say the same, and I knew that the idea would pass and diminish as the alcohol content in his blood grew greater. I loved him for his energy but sometimes he stretched me too thin. I was always tempted to go wherever he shined the light but sometimes—this time—well, I didn’t think that even he would seriously consider driving to Berlin by tomorrow morning. If we kept on drinking, he might even forget about the whole thing.

“Okay then. I have another idea.”

“Now what?”

He jumped up. “Follow me!... Come on—trust me?”

“That’s always an intriguing prospect. Not sane, perhaps, but always intriguing.”

“You think too much, Gene,” Kenji said, grabbing my hand and pulling me through the crowd for a fast egress from this bar that, apparently, no longer served its purpose.

- Chapter 2 -

The first words that Kenji ever said to me are still etched in my mind.

The summer before I left Paris at eighteen to start college and renew with my American heritage, I began working in a small bar between Châtelet-les-Halles and Centre Pompidou. Kenji swept up to the counter one night near closing time, while I was behind the bar wiping glasses and sipping iced tea. He was heady from his own private excitement.

“In every country, in every culture, people have made beer!” he exclaimed. “I think beer was invented before religion—so serve one up, Maestro, and may you be granted a meaningful existence!” He said it in French, and it would never fail to amaze me how, despite his American accent, Kenji’s entire personality shone through when he spoke in a foreign language.

I smiled and drafted a Guinness, placed it front of him. He dipped a finger in the froth, licked it with relish, and looked me squarely in one eye. Unnerving. “Good choice Maestro!” he said.

“No...” said a girl standing behind him. “No, you’re wrong,” she continued. Kenji and I looked at her expectantly. She took a cigarette from Kenji’s pack and rolled it between her fingers, then smelled it with her eyes half-shut. She slipped it between her curled upper lip and wrinkled nose. “See? No hands!” she said, and burst out laughing. She put the cigarette back in the pack. “No, you see, sex came before beer, right? And sex created the need for religion… So religion came before beer!”

Kenji put money down on the bar to pay for his Guinness and said to me, “Friendly bartender, meet Renée Simone, enlightened virgin!”

“And I present you Kenji Cannon, drunk Buddhist,” Renée retorted quickly, but she was blushing.

“You listen to your nihilistic your brother too much,” said Kenji.

“And you listen to your–”

Kenji threw his hand across her mouth before she could finish. “Cliché,” he said.

They remained at the bar and I spoke with them sporadically, between several servings of beer, and after the last customers had left, I began wiping the tables, stacking the chairs, wiping the tables… Delaying.

“Okay! Come on, one more round Gene! You haven’t even had a drink with us!”

“I’ve got to close up and balance the cash register,” I said with very little conviction. “And it isn’t going to be easy with all those beers I’ve offered you guys.”

“Ah! the register, the register! You’re too young for that...” Kenji swilled half the beer I set before him. “Okay, okay, let’s get it done, and have a drink together... Renée asked me to ask you.”

“Yes,” Renée said. “Look at me! My parents don’t even know where I am.”

Kenji said, “And you’re proud of that? You know you’ve got to go back home. Tomorrow. It’s been three days. I’m not staving off your dad anymore. Hotel’s closed!”

Renée flapped her hands and took a sip from Kenji’s glass, but remained silent. She was good-looking but not striking: at sixteen she’d already had time to shed her baby fat and develop a new layer—everything about her cried defeat, as if her prime were just around the corner and then it would be all downhill. She would, of course, prove me wrong on this account. It would seem to me later that I had met her at a painful time, when she was going through some awkward metamorphosis from caterpillar to magnificent butterfly. And I fell in love with her, not because I recognized the future butterfly, but for the worst possible reason: she inspired in me the desire to save her.

I toasted to the night with these new friends, while Renée told me about her parents whom I’d never speak to, about her chronically unemployed dad who watched television all day, and her functionally alcoholic mother who worked as a metro conductor to keep the family afloat. Renée finally said, “Well, if it is my last night, Kenji chéri, then I want to go to a club and dance.”

Kenji turned to me with raised, questioning eyebrows. What could I say? Already I could not refuse him—I couldn’t help but be drawn to someone who seemed so confident at eighteen and who ran around so nonchalantly with a girl like Renée. We headed to Pigalle and wandered amidst the soft stroking sex-shop neon lights before entering a swanky nightclub where Kenji knew the bouncer. I was quickly caught up in the lights, the beat, the wavy dancers... I drifted to the middle of the floor, dazzled by the laser pointers and pulsating black light beams that made our teeth glow when the club was plunged into darkness. I quickly lost Kenji and Renée, and merged with the shirtless crowd, felt the sweat percolate my skin, and my lingering fatigue vanished on the dance floor. I lifted my head at one point, emerged from my trance, and my eyes crossed paths with those of a girl dancing with some guy a few feet away. She smiled. I leered accidentally. She dismissed her dancing partner, walked over to me, and wrapped her arms around my waist like a child with too many toys opening yet another Christmas present. She tilted her head back, closed her eyes. Placed an insistent hand behind my neck and drew me in. I nibbled her vein, tickled her skin, felt gooseflesh along my forearm. Then she left me for someone else.

Time passed in rhapsody. Some girl dancing in front of me turned around with a glare. I was staring at her gyrating hips, a world of their own: it was Renée. She laughed, leaned into me. “You could be cute with different glasses and a change of hair style!” she yelled over the music, and it sounded like a whisper. She pecked me on the lips, then turned around and arched her back. I put my arms around her waist and we danced for awhile.

Some thousand beats later Kenji found us. We left the club and I was surprised to see that it was already dawn. We walked along the Seine until mid-morning, talking about so many hopes and desires. We slept at Kenji’s duplex on Ile St. Louis, and Renée and I shared the pull-out sofa bed.

Overcome by a moment of intense sincerity, just after we’d kissed, I told her that I had never slept with anyone either.

“Oh, that… Kenji was just kidding,” she said with all the maturity of her sixteen years. “I’m not a virgin. Not that he would know that,” she insisted.

And so, even though she was two years younger than I, she became my teacher—and that first time already, I learned the pleasures of delayed satisfaction, of moans and hips that reached up to meet my own, of penetration that became unity. That first time already, I was willing to confuse lust and love—though I know for certain that I loved her.

“Why did you run away from home? Did your father hit you?” I asked her that night, and she looked at me as if I’d been reading the wrong books. Then she laughed and told me that she had made up the whole story of her family.

“Why?” I insisted.

“Why did I run away, or why did I invent that story?”


She said soberly after a pause, “My father plays too much golf.” I wasn’t sure what to believe anymore. Kenji later confirmed that Renée’s father was a member of the French government, and that she resented his public persona, his status, his money.

Kenji was working at the post office that summer, and joined me every evening in the bar when I was working. We tasted most of the beer in the place, settling on Guinness because I could tap it for free. At some point Kenji told me about his own volatile background: growing up in New Jersey, then moving to Paris at the age of sixteen, where his parents had bought an apartment so that he could finish high school at a local French school and learn the language. They traveled constantly and Kenji spent his nights and weekends hitting the night clubs, getting into fights, scamming off tourists on the Pont Neuf, housing drug addicts and youthful runaways... Through it all, he seemed to have retained a certain innocence, and I’ve always been surprised at how relatively sane he’s turned out. As to the origins of his name, about which he remained abstrusely mysterious, Renée finally told me that it was because he was born in Japan while his mother was working for the Emperor. At least, that was the story that he had told her, she said.

Whenever I wasn’t with Kenji, I was with Renée. I thought that her passion matched my own—in fact I have tried to match every relationship with the effect Renée had on me, in vain—but when Renée ran away from home again, she went straight to Kenji’s, and for the first time I experienced despair and deep-seated confusion. Then Kenji and I left for college in the States. We kept in touch, but Renée never answered my letters, and Kenji claimed to see her only very infrequently—he didn’t want to get between us. Then he learned that she had relocated with her family to Berlin in the winter of 1989, just after the fall of the Wall, and he didn’t hear from her again for several years. By the following summer, when I returned to Paris, Kenji and I stopped talking about her. I think the last time she was mentioned, I asked Kenji whether he had ever slept with her. “No,” he answered hesitantly. “And I’m surprised that I never really wanted to. She was like a sister to me. I’m still hurt that she never gave me her address in Berlin.”

He had said it with an expression that I found too honest to doubt.

Resting Under a Blue Yellow Moonn
© 2006 by Liston Grant


About the Author

Liston Grant was born in New York in 1971 and raised in Geneva, Switzerland. After studying in North Carolina, he worked at various jobs in Berlin, the French West Indies and Los Angeles, where he discovered an interest in film-making. He returned to Geneva in 2000, where he now works part-time as managing editor for an English-language quarterly magazine. He has published several short stories, written and directed two short films, and is currently working on a novel that takes place in Slovakia and Berlin in the mid-1990s, against the backdrop of the highly publicized kidnapping of the Slovakian President's son by political rival Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar.


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