Davit Gabunia's cinematic debut novel, Falling Apart, from which this excerpt comes, recalls Rear Window in its dark exploration of voyeurism, and broke ground it its treatment of a male sexual liaison. Gabunia found fame aged twenty-two as the Georgian translator of Harry Potter, and later Shakespeare and Ibsen.
The people in the photo look like blue and black blotches. I can’t pick out Tina. Just last night she was lying in bed, the door to the bedroom wardrobe open, the wardrobe out of which she’d taken her clothes and packed them up. If last night she’d woken up and said, Zura, where are you going? Zura, stop, if the floor had creaked and woken her up and she’d looked at me with astonishment in her eyes and said, Why aren’t you asleep, Zura, what are you doing with that camera, I wouldn’t have said anything, I’d have stayed where I was, but no, Tina was sleeping so deeply, as she always did, just like it used to be when the children were little and would cry all night and she wouldn’t wake up once. So? Am I complaining? Blaming her for not waking up in the middle of the night? For forcing me to get up and put the children back to sleep? No, no. But if she’d woken up last night, I’d have told her, I’d have said to her, Something’s happened, Tina, you won’t believe it, and she’d have said to me, What on earth? Let’s call the police right now! But no, she didn’t wake up, and if she had maybe she wouldn’t even have said anything, just shaken her head and then laid it back on the pillow and gone back to sleep, and I would’ve carried on, picking my way carefully down the stairs so that none of the neighbors would hear as I walked out the front of our block. Everyone was asleep, everyone— there wasn’t a single light on in any of the windows. What would have happened if someone had looked out of their window and called out to me, Hey, Zura, what are you doing? Huh? What am I doing? Damn it! These fucking motion sensor lights—when you don’t need any light, when you want it to be dark, they work perfectly, when you want to make sure that no one sees you before you reach that other block, before you go up to that floor, to where you know exactly what awaits you but still don’t expect to find the door left open. He’s run off like a madman, he might already be driving away in his car, all he’ll want to do is get as far away from here as possible, but where can he turn? He can run from this business but he can’t hide.
So this is what the house is like, with a smell of something lingering. A sterile smell. The entrance. Four pairs of shoes and a light jacket. Bills strewn across the floor. If payment is not received by the 30th of this month we will . . . On the right, a bathroom, a little sink in front of the washing machine. Inside, dirty laundry, arranged and folded, one razor, shaving foam, lotion, toothpaste, one toothbrush, one of everything—one towel too, a big, blue one—and tiles on the wall, totally white except for a band of blue at waist height. I’ve never seen any of this before, you can’t see it from my building. I don’t know what I’d want to take photos of it for, but never mind. There isn’t much stuff here, as if he hadn’t lived here long and didn’t have the time to accumulate many things, the kind of things that you’re either reluctant or simply too lazy to throw away, which then pile up, gathering dust. What if he were to call out now from that room, Who’s there? What’re you doing? What if he thinks I’m him, that he’s come back to apologize? What if he gets up? But no, it’s so quiet, he must be dead. How does he air out this bathroom—just one little ventilator, not even a window, it must really steam up when he has a shower. There are towel marks on the mirror where he wiped the condensation away. A few strands of hair in the razor. Has he shaved today? Did he even have a beard? Maybe he used to shave, I’ll have to look at the photos and see if he’s got a beard in any of them—now he’s lying dead and clean-shaven in the other room. They say that people’s beards, hair, and nails keep on growing after death. But that takes time—he’s only just died. His body lying on the white rug. His corpse. His body. So much blood, but it’s all stayed on the carpet, which is thick and absorbs the blood, it’s soaked with it. I’ve got to make sure that he’s really dead. Oh, come on—he’s not breathing, and if he’s not breathing, that means he’s dead, that’s it, but still. Apparently, the name for the carotid artery comes from the Greek word for sleep. What’s sleep got to do with it? And here’s where you feel for a pulse, there’ll be one if he’s alive. I can’t feel one. Maybe he is breathing and I can’t see it; but his belly isn’t moving, neither’s his chest. No, no pulse, he’s dead. So why hasn’t the blood stopped? How much is there left to come? How many liters of blood does a person have? What if it gets on the floor, too? What if it seeps through the floor and stains the downstairs neighbors’ ceiling? He’s warm. He’s definitely not breathing, but he still looks alive. I wonder if there’s a mirror somewhere, a pocket mirror, I can put it over his mouth and if it steams up it means he’s alive . . . . Oh, forget the mirror, he’s got no pulse, no pulse equals dead. Bits of broken vase. Bookshelves. Practically empty. Just a few books, old ones. His won’t be one of them. No television, I knew that already. Bed a mess—not bed, armchair. A fold-out armchair, messy but not dirty. The blood didn’t go that far. Why isn’t it stopping, isn’t he dead? I press my fingers to his neck a bit harder, I press down and suddenly there it is—a pulse. I’m not imagining it, am I? No, it’s definitely beating, I can feel it. What if he asks me to help him, what do I do? Call an ambulance? Yeah, because if I call now it’ll definitely get here in time, right, hah, God bless our bloody ambulances. Yeah, they’ll come, they’ll do some tests, they’ll start filling in forms and asking me who I am and what I’m doing here and then they’ll call the police. They’ll say the body bears the marks of violence and they need to report it. I mean, some marks; all those head wounds and the fragments of vase strewn over the floor, you don’t need to be a genius to work out that someone smashed it over his head, I’ll get confused and make a run for it and they’ll run after me, Hey, stop, where are you going, and the whole neighborhood will wake up, including Tina, there will be such a commotion and so many people gather round that even Tina will wake up and come out onto the balcony and see me, see the police shouting after me, and rush down into the courtyard. No, if I don’t call, if I just wait a bit, he’ll lose all his blood and I won’t get caught up in this. If I’d been somewhere else tonight, if I’d been asleep in bed next to Tina and not seen anything, he’d still have died and it would have nothing to do with me, why should I call, why should I do anything at all? How many more liters of blood can there be left, how much more does he have to lose before he dies? Does he have to bleed it all out to the last drop? Or let’s say he’s only got a little bit left, would that be enough to kill him? What if he starts convulsing? What if he dies and I don’t realize? How long before he goes cold? I haven’t been in the kitchen yet, I haven’t seen what it’s like inside. Too many dirty cups to even fit in the sink, I wonder how long they’ve been piling up. Strange light, yellow, warm. Warm . . . Maybe there’s still time to call an ambulance. No, I know what I’m doing, I know what I’m doing, though I hope no one asks me now because I won’t be able to answer, but I do know what I’m doing, it’s a different sort of knowing, no need to say it out loud. Right, dish detergent and sponge in the corner of the sink. It’s so hot. How do you cool it down? Aha, that’s it, that’s it, and the liquid’s frothing up, and now I’ll wash up all the cups in case there are any traces on them, fingerprints or whatever. The water’s splashing onto my T-shirt, soapy water, but time’s ticking and meanwhile he’s losing blood and it’s nothing to do with me whatsoever. I put the cups upside down to dry and hang on, have I got my fingerprints on them? I should’ve thought about that before. Gloves. Why didn’t I think of that. I’ve still got time to kill, I’ll do them again. Such small gloves, my hands are too big for them. I wash each of the cups again, rinse them, that’ll do, and put them back on the drying rack. Tiled floor, easy to clean. No, not the floor yet, table first; maybe they sat there drinking coffee together and he touched the table and left behind his fingerprints? Table first, then floor. I don’t know what kind of traces there might be on the floor, but anyway, I’ve got time, I’m not in a hurry, I’ll get it all done by dawn.
I can only hear my own voice in this silence, I say, Am I speaking out loud? No, I’m hearing my voice in my head. The floor above is silent. The apartments on either side are silent. Everyone’s sleeping, everyone’s asleep and no one can hear a thing. Good thing I found these gloves, chlorine can burn your hands. The bathroom. Who knows, maybe they took a bath together in the tub. He will have gone to the bathroom, at least, he must have left his fingerprints behind, so everything needs to be scrubbed, with the brush, with chlorine. Do fingerprints stay on curtains? Will they search that hard? If Tina could see me now. I’ve never cleaned my own house like this. But Tina can’t see me, I hope, she’s still asleep while I’m here scouring the white tiles and this blue line. What’s left? That room, the main bedroom? Good thing this place isn’t any bigger. I’ve been here two hours. What if he comes back? Bursts in out of nowhere like a madman? He might’ve called an ambulance, maybe even the police, but if he hasn’t come back by now he won’t come back later. I’ll have to throw away the sheets, he’ll definitely have left traces on them. Ah, I’ll shove them into this bin liner and throw them in the trash, the garbage truck will come in the morning and take it away and they’re not going to look in the dump, are they?
There’s not long till dawn, and the garbage truck comes at seven o’clock, no one will ever be able to find them. Look how he’s lying there, he nearly takes up the whole room. There’s no more blood. It’s stopped. I put down the bag holding the sheets and look at him. I’ll take a picture and go, I can’t let anyone see it, I can’t let anyone find out about it, but still, those photos can stay, I’ll put them on my computer and that’ll be fine. What a beautiful shot. He’s never been so beautiful. I wonder if he’s still as warm. When do corpses start to go cold? If I had called an ambulance they probably wouldn’t have come in time anyway, I’ll just pretend I wasn’t here, I didn’t see any of what happened, I was asleep next to Tina. Besides, it’s so beautiful. I’ll get some great photos out of this, really good. A couple of close-ups and that’s it, I’m out of here. What’s that smell? Doesn’t smell like chlorine. Rust, or iron, or something like that. I’ll get the best shots if I kneel down and zoom into his face, that’s the best way. Oh, damn it, I’ve knelt in the blood. I’m not bothered, he’s dead after all, why should I care, I mean why should I be disgusted, he’s lying there not moving and he’ll never move again, and it’s just blood, just a normal fluid, I’ll wipe it off with some water and it’ll come out fine. So beautiful. I’ve never been scared of the dead, and I’m not scared now. Why should I be scared? It wasn’t me who killed him. He’d still be dead even if I hadn’t been here. Good lighting here, should make for some great pictures.
© Davit Gabunia. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2020 Adham Smart. All rights reserved.
Davit Gabunia will be in conversation with writer and journalist Mark Gevisser as part of the online festival Georgia’s Fantastic Tavern: Where Europe Meets Asia. The free event, in association with Maya Jaggi and Writers’ House of Georgia, will be livestreamed on Sunday, February 28, 2021, and available to watch afterward.