Monday, November 23, 2015

BOOK BLAST + EXCERPT: The Offering by Salah el Moncef

Title: The Offering 
Author: Salah el Moncef
Release Date: May 19, 2015
Publisher: Penelope Books 


I was still disoriented and had no sense of space or time when the two uniformed policemen helped me up from the spot where I had wedged myself by the stairs.

I still had no sense of the limits of my mind either. I was suffering from loss of vitality and my body felt hollow and weak, as if from electric shock.

I remember the moment when Collin stood before me in the semi-dark landing: he looked as if he was wearing two round pieces of mirror glass on his eyes—probably the reflections from somebody’s flashlight on his oval rimless glasses.

He must have tried to address me in some way, but I was standing unsteadily between the two policemen and I did not say a word. He did not have time to wait for my words either—his men were already sealing the scene. (For some reason, with the light coming across the doorway now, I was beginning to see them all through a sort of reddish-black aura: they were all jarring and menacing and ominous-seeming, their sounds shrill and penetrating—these shadowy-red men caught in the insanity of their bustle like frenzied backstage actors.)

There was another man with Collin—possibly the police Prefect: the lead investigator, who was a commissaire de police, stepped aside and let him in first with a deferential gesture.

They were followed by Collin’s aides then the experts of the Police Technique et Scientifique—somber men with sinister white gloves and stacks of brown bag envelopes; and their ponderous, incomprehensible equipment—it came in black cases of various sizes that made them look like musicians. There were two white-clad-and-gloved men each holding a stack of dull-white plastic receptacles with thick numbers stenciled in phosphorescent orange.

I stood there and looked on as the two policemen held me. (Was it a routine gesture or did they both decide that I might try to run away?)

And then, during those unreal minutes, something happened that I had always retained in my memory—in my dream-thoughts and in my waking thoughts, well before the work of recall under hypnosis—the only words from that evening that I remember hearing in full clarity: a man with a black-inscribed red armband was talking on a cellular phone—I recall the rectangle glowing a phosphorescent aqua blue in his hand as he tried to put all the din behind him, leaning far out over the rail of the banister, like a careless boy, his hand cupped over his ear.

Apparently, somebody somewhere in the outside world was worrying about the size of the building, and the red-sleeved man was working on allaying their concerns, even as he peered into the dark downward gape of the stairwell, as if he was testing how far out he could lean before he went over.

The officer was almost shouting into his cell phone, hopelessly trying to be authoritative and convincing in the middle of the madness: “We’re working on the lights. The stairs are very roomy, believe me—it is an old building with a very wide roomy staircase. No, no. The landing—no. The landing is huge. We’ll let you know when we’re through.”

He was so close that I could have reached out and touched him—this man whose inscrutable words are the only utterances I have kept safely locked in my memory all along.

All at once, I began to shake and whimper: “It’s all gone,” I remember saying.

The reaction of the two officers was to turn me around and help me sit down on the stairs.

One of them leaned over me and tried to tell me something, but all I could register were the distortions of his face through the translucent rim of the reddish-black aura—that face looked like an empty rubber mask wobbling without support.

His colleague was shouting something on his transceiver as the men of the Brigade ran in and out of the apartment.

As I sat on the stairs, I suddenly began to feel that I literally did not know where to turn, that I was literally about to lose my head: was the building going to be invaded by another onslaught of piercing cacophony? Or maybe it was just my head—my nerves imploding in the cavernous recesses of my mind.

I put my hands over my ears and sat with my face cradled between my knees.

Time kept pounding and grinding inside me—its horrid, inhuman relentlessness.

Author Bio:

Salah el Moncef was born in Kuwait City, Kuwait. He is the author of Sleepwalking and The Offering. His short fiction, largely focused on the Arab diaspora experience, has been published in numerous British and American magazines and anthologies. He teaches at the University of Nantes, France.

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