[May 2 2016]
Purple presents an exclusive extract from the fantastic new novel The Natashas from Ukraine-born writer Yelena Moskovich. The surreal world as described in Moskovich’s debut novel recalls that of Cindy Sherman, David Lynch or Haruki Murakami. As the story goes…
Béatrice, a solitary young jazz singer from a genteel Parisian suburb, meets a mysterious woman named Polina. Polina visits her at night and whispers in her ear: ‘There are people who leave their bodies and their bodies go on living without them. These people are named Natasha.’
César, a lonely Mexican actor working in a call centre, receives the opportunity of a lifetime: a role as a serial killer on a French TV series. But as he prepares for the audition, he starts falling in love with the psychopath he is to play. Béatrice and César are drawn deeper into a city populated with visions and warnings, taunted by the chorusing of a group of young women, trapped in a windowless room, who all share the same name … Natasha.
The following extract was selected by Yelena Moskovich from The Natashas, available to buy here.
For a man in his sixties, Marcel was in very good shape. Not just physically either, although he did have a pull-up bar bolted in the doorway from the kitchen to the living room. His eyes had a sheen of perpetual delight. The look of a boy who’s hiding a beetle behind his back.
They walked through the hallway and went into the office room.
“Take a seat!” Marcel said to César, and hopped over to the other side of the desk.
On the bookcase behind Marcel sat two framed photos of two girls. The younger girl was on the top shelf, with a thin, smart aleck smile. Her eyes were forceful, certain. The older girl was on the shelf below, with her lips held together, not smiling. Her eyes now used their strength to push something away. César had always assumed these were Marcel’s daughters, as both strongly resembled each other.
Marcel had the frames turned outward, so that they faced whoever was sitting in the chair in front of him. This gave the impression that no matter what he said, the two girls agreed with him.
Marcel drum-rolled with two fingers on the side of his desk.
“Manuel Rodriguez!” he announced. “The role of a lifetime!”
“Manuel Rodriguez,” César repeated shyly.
“Big fish material, kid! Latino psycho type. You know better than I do, right?” Marcel gave a wink.
“. . . Latino psycho like . . .”
“Pepe Psicapato! Loco Nacho! Twisted in the head beneath his sombrero, you know . . .”
“. . .Twisted . . . like . . . how?”
“Come on, buddy. He’s tracking down young women, some of them girls, innocent girls, pretty girls . . . He’s tracking them down and . . .you know.”
“What’s he doing to them?” César was suddenly concerned.
“Oh, awful things. Disgusting things. Areeeeba areeeba, right . . .”
César looked at Marcel, trying his best to understand. He glanced up and caught the two faces of the girls, one smiling and the other frowning. He was starting to feel uneasy. Marcel sniffed loudly, interrupting.
“The audition is tomorrow morning, so you gotta sink into this quick.”
“You think you can handle a macho muchacho like that? You know, a man who would do that . . . to young, innocent, pretty girls . . .”
“. . . I mean, I’d have to look at—”
“WOA. Woa woa woa.” Marcel jumped. He grabbed the sides of his desk and pulled in towards César. “Buddy, please. Don’t let me down here. You can’t let me down on this one.”
“The thing is, I’ve already buttered up one of the producers about you. We’re dealing with big fish here, for you and for me. You’re my man here. You’re their man. You’re the man! Say it. Say it with me, buddy. Tell me. Tell me you’re my loco nacho . . .”
César’s mind began to race. Thirteen episodes. National TV. Wide distribution. DVD. Spanish subtitles. His family could see it in Mexico. His brothers. Tough guy. Scary guy. Psychos don’t take shit. No one messes with a psycho. César suddenly felt so excited, the pinheads in his eyes sparkled feverishly, as if trying to become meteors. Marcel stared at him anxiously.
“I’M YOUR LATIN PSYCHO!” César roared.
Marcel smiled with so much tenderness, César almost called him Papa.
The two young girls stared down at César, one smiling and one frowning at his fate.
Years away, a ten-year-old girl with puffed eyes walks into her big sister’s room.
I can’t sleep, Bee.
Years away, a young bride is lying lifeless at the bottom of the bathtub.
Years away, a reporter asks a glazed-eyed boxer:
So how does it feel to be the world champion?
Years away, Violeta shoots herself in the head.
Years away, a man extends a fresh, white rose.
Years away, children sing the national anthem around a gagging girl.
I’m just a fighter . . . You are my country, you are my family. My fists are yours.
A young girl’s tailbone hits the edge of the stairs.
A sleek red door closes and the Mercedes drives off.
“Excuse me . . .”
The Head Natasha stops her lesson and looks down at the crouching girl.
“Um . . . I was just wondering . . .”
“Yes . . .”
“. . . where does our pain go?”
She takes her arms off her knees, and sits up. Her kneecaps look like two putrid papayas.
“Well, that is a good question. You see, whatever hurts on your body is like a mass of cold water rising and breaking against a bunch of rocks, and you just have to remember that there’s someone up there with a paintbrush and easel, trying very hard to paint every droplet of that crash on to a canvas, so you can’t be moving around too much. If you stay still, he can finish the painting, and then it can be hung up in the Louvre.
“Loov-rah,” the Natashas repeat.
“And that’s where it goes, girls. It becomes a PAINting.”
I said, trees take my scream. I said, soil, take my scream. I said water,
take my scream, a chorus of women chant.
One Natasha yawns. “My soul hurts . . .”
Text Yelena Moskovich and portrait Inès Manai