Yuriy Tarnawsky has authored more than two dozen books of poetry, fiction, drama, essays, and translations, including the books of fiction Meningitis, Three Blondes and Death, Like Blood in Water (all FC2), Short Tails (JEF Books), and most recently The Placebo Effect Trilogy (JEF Books, 2013), consisting of Like Blood in Water (revised edition), The Future of Giraffes, and View of Delft. His other most recent book is a collection of Heuristic poems Modus Tollens: IPDs (improvised poetic devices; Jaded Ibis Press. 2013). He was born in Ukraine but raised and educated in the West. An engineer and linguist by training, he has worked as computer scientists at IBM Coloration and professor of Ukrainian literature and culture at Columbia University. He writes in Ukrainian and English and resides in the New York City area. “Second Date” is a chapter from “The Short Unhappy life of Pinky Schmuck,” from The Future of Giraffes.
Festival of Language events: 2011 Washington D.C. AWP, 2012 Chicago AWP, 2013 Boston AWP
Once again a square, nearly cubical room, with the vertical dimension slightly smaller than the horizontal ones. The walls and ceiling painted a shiny off white. A light gray vinyl tile floor. A metal door of a darker gray than the floor with a stainless steel knob leading into the corridor in the middle of one of the walls. An identical door leading to a closet in the corner on the left. Two tall curtainless windows in the wall opposite to the one with the first door with a gloomy early late fall morning outside them, the light streaming in through them blending in with the color of the walls. A stainless steel exceptionally tall hospital bed, its extendable legs lengthened about a foot, piled still higher with bedclothes and covered with a shiny silvery bedspread between the windows, its headboard against the wall. Just looking at it makes one feel uneasy as if standing on top of a tall mountain peak with precipices all around. A matching stainless steel bed stand on its left its legs extended about as much as those of the bed. A few small ill-defined objects like shadows of real objects on top of it. Two steel containers one looking like a bedpan and the other one like a mixing bowl underneath. A spoon is sticking out over the edge of the latter.
A young woman (girl?) is sitting on top of the bed in its middle with her legs crossed, her back turned to the wall with the closet door. She is very small and skinny with thin straight flaxen hair braided into two ratty pigtails tied together with rubber bands at the end, lively blue eyes, a light complexion, a freckled face, and a thin wide mouth. Something whitish is gathered around the corners of her mouth and on her chin similar to but too light for freckles. She is wearing a loose long short-sleeved white garment (a nightshirt/dress?) with tiny blue flowers on it. Where her breasts should be the nightshirt/dress sticks up barely noticeably crinkled like the little paper umbrellas used to decorate tropical cocktail drinks.
Pinky is standing by the side of the bed in front of the woman/girl partly turned left.
Pinky (after a long silence): What’s your name?
The woman/girl (cheerfully): Winky.
Pinky (surprised): Winnie?
The woman/girl (emphatic but unperturbed): No. Winky.
Pinky (excited): Winky?... That’s wonderful. (After a pause.) Is it a nickname?... I mean like is your real name Wink?
The woman/girl (laughing): No, it’s for Periwinkle. That’s my real name. (After a pause.) Like my eyes (Points to them.) and these flowers. (Points to the nightshirt/dress, giggles.) Periwinky-Winky. (Almost without a pause.) And yours?… I mean what’s your name?
The woman/girl (slapping her hands together, laughing): Oh, that’s wonderful! It goes so well with mine!... (Giggles.) Pinky-Winky, Winky-Pinky. (Continues giggling.)
Pinky (surprised): Yes… Pinky-Winky. (After a pause, smiling.) It’s nice…. I’m surprised I didn’t notice it myself.
Silence follows with the girl fidgeting on top of the bed breathing heavily through her nose and chewing on the end of one of her braids.
Pinky (after a long deliberation): What did you have for breakfast?
The woman/girl (cheerfully again, giggling): Oatmeal porridge with milk. (Without a pause.) And you?
Pinky (cheerful himself this time): Oatmeal porridge with milk too. It’s amazing. We’re so similar. (After a brief pause.) I love it. I have it every morning. And you?
The woman/girl (cheerfully, giggling): I do too…. I mean I love it and I have it every morning. (After a brief pause, pointing downward.) There’s this morning’s bowl under the bed. They still haven’t taken it away.
Pinky quickly glances under the bed without bending down, sees the bowl next to the bedpan, then looks at the woman’s/girl’s face, notices the light flecks around her mouth, and realizes what they are.
Pinky: You still have some of it on your face… around your mouth and on your chin. (Points to them.)
The woman/girl (licking and rubbing her face around her mouth clean, laughing): Oooo! I’m a bad girl. (Laughs some more.) I haven’t washed up yet.
Pinky doesn’t know what to say. He has satisfied all of his curiosity. Silence reigns again in the room with the girl fidgeting around on top of the bed and breathing heavily through her nose sounding surprisingly loud for someone her size. This time she has left her braid alone.
Pinky (glad to have managed to come up with something): Do you have a brother?
The woman/girl: No. I don’t.
Pinky (without a pause): Do you think your brother would have liked oatmeal porridge with milk if you had one?
The woman/girl (quickly): Yes, I’m sure he would have. Both of my parents like it and so do I so he would have liked it too. I’m sure of that. It must be genetic. (After a pause.) And you, do you have a brother?
Pinky: No. I don’t.
The woman/girl: Do you think though your brother would have liked oatmeal porridge with milk if you had one?
Pinky (serious): I’m not sure but he probably would have. I know that my father loves oatmeal porridge with milk. He lives in Germany in a castle on the Rhine and they eat a lot of oatmeal porridge there… because it’s healthy. Germans are very health conscious and they are careful with their diet. And I love it too. (After a pause.) My mother doesn’t eat it all the time but sometimes she does. She probably likes it but she travels a lot and doesn’t have a chance to eat it more often. (After a longer pause.) I’ll ask her if she likes it when she comes back. She’s away on a long trip. (After a pause.) But I’m pretty sure my brother would have liked oatmeal porridge with milk if I had one. If I got the taste for it from either my father or both of my parents then it’s almost certain he would have too.
A realization about what the woman’s/girl’s name implies suddenly pushes its way into his mind. He drops what he has been talking about and eagerly pursues the new subject.
Pinky (with great curiosity): But do you like to wink a lot because of your name?…. I mean did they also call you Winky because you like to wink?
The woman/girl (laughing heartily): Yes I do like to wink a lot. I do it all the time. See…. (She winks very pronouncedly at Pinky. Suddenly apparently as an afterthought she winks once again and stretches her arms out to him.) Come on climb up on the bed.
Pinky is taken aback by the proposition, momentarily not understanding what it means. Then he realizes what it entails and feels chills run up his spine. The prospect terrifies him.
Pinky (nervous, shuddering): It’s too high. I can’t. I’m afraid of heights.
The woman/girl (winking again and laughing): Oh come on! It’s not that high.
She leans over, grabs Pinky by his arm and pulls him toward herself. A struggle ensues. The woman/girl is persistent but Pinky is no less so. Besides he is stronger and the bedspread is slippery. Eventually the woman/girl winds up sliding off the bed, falling on top of him, and both of them sprawled intermixed on the floor, she laughing loudly and he trying not very successfully to match her.
Eventually they sit next to each other with their legs straight out breathing heavily.
The woman/girl (turning her face to Pinky and winking at him once again with an impish look on her face): Let’s climb under the bed.
She sits closer to the bed and starts pulling Pinky in that direction.
Pinky immediately resists her as before. The prospect makes him shudder almost as much as the last proposal.
Pinky (leaning the other way): I ccccan’t. I hhhhave cccclaustrophobia.
The woman/girl (easing off, with surprise): Really?
Pinky: Yeah. Rrrreal bbbbad.
The woman/girl (serious): I have claustrophobia too. But it’s not too closed in under the bed for me. That’s why I made them raise it. I love staying under beds. But I’m fine under this one. It’s high enough. (Changes the subject. Looking puzzled at Pinky.) How come you’re stuttering all of a sudden?
Pinky: It’s bbbbecause I’m ssssitting ddddown. I ddddon’t sttttuttttter when I sssstand up. That’s why I sssstand up mmmmost of the tttttime.
The woman/girl (clapping her hands joyfully and laughing): Oh it’s cute. I love it. I wouldn’t mind stuttering like that myself. Then I’d have to stand up all the time. It’d be fun. (Goes back to the original subject.) So you wouldn’t feel comfortable under the bed?
Pinky: Nnnno I wwwwouldn’t be for ssssure. I knnnnow ththththat. I ffffeel rrrreal uncomfortable in hhhigh and cccclosed-in pppplaces. It’s a rrrreal pppproblem. (Almost without a pause.) Do you have a nnnneedle?
The woman/girl (cheerfully): I do.
She lets go of Pinky, pulls a needle out of the edge of her nightshirt/dress under her chin, and hands it to him.
The woman/girl (cheerfully): Here.
Pinky quickly grabs the needle and pricks the woman/girl with it high up on her arm where the sleeve ends.
She gives out a high-pitched shriek, looks at the place she has been pricked in, and covers it with her hand.
The woman/girl (rubbing the spot and laughing): Whew! It’s fun. (Reaches for the needle in Pinky’s hand.) Give it to me.
Pinky offers her the needle, she takes it, and quickly pricks Pinky on his upper arm through his shirt. Laughs.
Pinky yells, Ouch, laughs too, rubs the spot he has been pricked in, and reaches for the needle in the woman’s/girl’s hand.
She gives it to him willingly and he pricks her on her other arm in a similar spot.
She behaves as before, grabs the needle out of Pinky’s hand, pricks him on his other arm in a similar spot, and the process is repeated a few times.
In the end they sit on the floor next to each other panting. It looks like they have had their fill of pricking each other. Their breathing gets gradually slower.
Pinky decides it is time for him to leave. He has accomplished everything he might have wanted and there is no point in his staying around.
Pinky (still a little out of breath): I gggguess I will lllleave nnnnow.
The woman/girl (her breathing now almost normal): You’re sure you don’t want to rest a little… to catch your breath?
Pinky (his breathing now almost normal too): Nnnno, I’m ffffine…. I will lllleave.
The woman/girl: Alright. (After a pause.) You know your way out.
Pinky (gets up): Yes. (After a pause.) Right at the door, down the corridor, down the stairs, turn right, and out the front door.
The woman/girl: That’s right. (Changes the subject, amazed.) You’re right. You’ve stopped stuttering…. That’s amazing.
Pinky (relieved, smiling): Yeah…. I’m fine now. (Goes back to the issue on his mind.) And I turn left when I’m outside.
The woman/girl: Turn left. That’s right. That’s where you came from. I watched you coming in.
Excerpt from The Future of Giraffes
Second volume of The Placebo Effect Trilogy
JEF Books, 2013