Selma Dabbagh: “Trash”

15 June, 2022


Selma Dabbagh


So I guess the pat­tern is that you arrive with heavy bot­tomed bot­tles and leave me sprin­kled with the oiled cor­ners of con­dom pack­ets. You take the bot­tle (now emp­ty) and the oth­er trash con­nect­ed to your vis­it and this is kind  — I guess — although I know it is also because it is evi­dence of what hap­pens. What hap­pens being the fill­ing of me, caus­ing a still­ness so com­plete that some­times it’s like was a crazed pup­pet who had become fraz­zled in my wires and you made them into lace, or silk, as I am laid calm in my lace & silk & messy with you. And we get to the place where you ask me to tell you of all the times when I felt you before you were there and the many times when I wished for you and you weren’t.

Like ear­li­er when I was held for hours try­ing to get out of the air­port and I felt you qui­eten­ing me. There were four of them hold­ing me and going through my equip­ment + I thought it’s ok, it’s ok, because I was on my way to you. And then there’s the sil­ly stuff you are so anx­ious to know about, like when I was 24 + in a room in Alexan­dria + there was the sea + I was study­ing lying on the bed (why did you ask about the bed­cov­er?) + the win­dow was open a bit + I lay there with dreams of a knuck­led hand on my hip bone — a grasp of desire — which I can only describe as being you and all the deci­sions and choic­es I’ve tak­en to lead me to where I am, that I can only say were because I one day want­ed to explain them to you. You were there when I dreamt of kiss­es and Hol­ly­wood end­ings. You were also there in the US Army bar in Bagh­dad when the man, the sol­dier with the bicepts (I can’t spell, I’m still a bit whirring and buzzed, spelling nev­er was my thing I was always a do-er not a spell-er) and small, reck­less eyes leant for me — not at all scared of the face that I have, that I have had to pro­fes­sion­al­ly train to be angu­lar (so angu­lar now I feel I am noth­ing but a skull grow­ing on a stick) and prim, to por­tray com­pe­tence, reli­a­bil­i­ty + trust to be UTTERLY UNAPPROACHABLE because there shouldn’t be a sin­gle ass­hole out there who watch­es the news who hasn’t seen my per­fect­ed mug beamed into their space on their screen, but that ass­hole had the AUDACITY to lean in at me going on about my skin­ny ass & they laughed, the group. Why he got to me I don’t know, but I’d just come back from the South and had the stink of bod­ies + gas in my nose and the grab, grind­ing rush of fly­ing over dust roads in a jeep with a tag car + a lead + even then you know I felt you were there.

And today you were real­ly there — here — but I didn’t want to tell you about my cam­era­man who they’ve been going for, whose gone total­ly awol with his gf call­ing on an on, how they’re say­ing he’s Intel­li­gence and I’m now the most senior (I’m not cir­cus mas­ter, but hey I’m close) + it’s now my show y’know that I’m resp’b to get him out of there — but here we were, with my phone blip­ping away on the desk with like a gazil­lion calls, texts + emails from Lon­don, Wash­ing­ton, NY, Head Office blip­ping through + I just had to say what the fuck? You know, I need­ed you, because hey you might come with a dark bot­tle of bub­bly + I can glam the whole thing up and you can turn me into lace-stringed limp love­li­ness and trans­form me back into a girl in this hotel room, so I don’t have to cope with all the shit going on out there which was insane today btw if you haven’t seen the news, but I need­ed you and I knew it would just be a cou­ple of hours, because then you are back home with your wife, which is you know, the deal which I took on board from the out­set + that’s cool except it’s hard when I see you like the line of con­stant run­ning through my life + when you are so intent on know­ing every part of it + I feel some­times that it was eas­i­er when you exist­ed in my life before I ever knew you.


Selma Dabbagh is a British Palestinian writer of fiction. Her first novel, Out of It, (Bloomsbury) was listed as a Guardian Book of the Year and won the Premio Opera in Spoleto in 2019. She has also written radio plays for the BBC in London and WDR in Germany and most recently edited the anthology We Wrote In Symbols; Love and Lust by Arab Women Writers (Saqi, 2021). She tweets at @SelmaDabbagh.

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