Edward Pasewicz’s Death in the Darkroom combines two opposing conventions. It is a detective novel deeply rooted in Polish reality, and simultaneously an anti-detective novel, in which the murder and the hunt for the culprit are mainly a pretext. The author is interested in showing how relationships between heterosexuals and homosexuals are formed. Because the author’s sympathies lie with the latter, this book obviously falls in line with the “gay lit” movement. Pasewicz raises the stakes here, however, by introducing a new and essential issue: the issue of homophobia.
The private detective work carried out by the elder brother of the deceased, a young gay man killed in mysterious circumstances, does not aim at solving the mystery of his death, but at finding out who Igor really was. This is a belated attempt to understand and accept the life he chose. The gay world is therefore seen through the eyes of a man on the outside – a heterosexual man who would never have entered this confrontation if his marriage had not recently fallen apart. Having lost all faith in this “sacred” bond, Marcin Zielony has a different way of looking at homosexual romantic adventures. He also realises the extraordinary feelings that his brother and Mikołaj had for each other. He doesn’t know Igor from the perspective the reader has after reading extracts from his diary, but he still manages to become aware of the person he has lost forever.
Edward Pasewicz’s novel is original in that its protagonist is struggling to put together an accurate profile of the victim and uncover the socio-psychological motives for the crime. The writer also makes the culprit a rounded character: he kills less for personal reasons than because of social prejudices he cannot get rid of. As a result, he too is in some sense a victim. The fictional murder thus symbolises a real crime – a mental homicide.
Death in the Darkroom is Pasewicz’s first work of fiction, having achieved acclaim mainly as a poet. Although we are dealing with a significant literary metaphor here, Pasewicz has certainly held on to the diction he has worked hard to develop. The effect is the creation of a brand new genre: the lyrical gay crime novel.
- Marta Mizuro
Edward Pasewicz (born 1971) writes poetry and fiction. Death in the Darkroom is his first novel.
Because fags can be divided into factions, groups, mutual admiration clubs, or couch parties; and every fag is also internally divided.
At the office he’s a model man with top-class standards, but as soon as he drops by the Grzech Warte club for lesbian karaoke night – watch out, here comes his true nature. Mikołaj stared wistfully at Kropotkin the snake. Kropotkin was in a bad mood – the afternoon was the wrong time to pull him out and lay him on the table. That explained why Kropotkin was coiled up with irritation. Laszlo had gone to town.
“That always made me laugh,” he told Kropotkin. “That was why they called us lefty fags. And it’s just as well, it’s just as well, Kropotkin.”
The reptile gave no response.
Mikołaj looked at his glistening scales. He was healthy. It was important he was healthy, he was a good friend after all – cold-blooded, true, but a good friend nevertheless. Not easy being protein, is it? He looked through the window. Some punk kids were kicking a ball around the field.
“Kropotkin, you’re not interested, are you? Not in football, nor protein, nor those kids. You have your own way of responding, damn it, it’s like some kind of religion. The rules are plain and simple: eat, digest, and get away from danger. And what am I supposed to do, Kropotkin? You don’t have a father, you don’t have to have a bank account, and I’ll tell you what else, Kropotkin, you don’t drink in order to forget. You’ve got it good, Kropotkin. I’d join you in a flash. It’s just that I’m not able to.”
A patch of sun, and the snake coiled up tight in the centre.
“Snakes are no substitute for Igor. The way his ‘r’s came out soft. Or the way he made tomatoes with caraway. I loved it. That long, solitary hair on his neck. His hooded sweatshirt, black. His grey trousers we bought at the Old Brewery. It’s a sad little rhyme, Kropotkin. I remember his hand on the brown floor we’d painted, and he said so beautifully: phthalic paint, phthalic paint. And if they taught you to speak, Kropotkin, would you say that death is black, like the gorilla on the Discovery Channel did?”
He gently stroked Kropotkin, but it didn’t help, the snake was still annoyed.
“Lefty fag, well, of all things. It’s just some kind of drama, and a cheap one at that. I was always afraid, you know, that if I stayed much longer with Igor we would turn into insects, too: a nice home, good jobs, garbage bags. We’d convince our mummies and daddies to accept us, and we’d live in a healthy gay family. Well, but now I can forget it. Those are just pipe-dreams.”
He propped his elbows on the table, covered his face with his hands and watched Kropotkin through the gaps between his fingers. A sparkling snake in a patch of sun. And what now? He’d have to do something with this life. Buy a sofa from Ikea. Some bookshelves, nice little armchairs, mugs and cutlery. He didn’t have any close friends, gays don’t have close friends, they have something in-between. “Today’s Sunday, so we’ll just hug, Mikołaj, no gayness involved. And on Monday, why not a bit of sex, seeing as how you could use some.”
But when they arranged to meet for the first time after Igor’s death, when he saw the pubic hair above him, neatly trimmed into a triangle, he felt cold and awful. A stranger’s body. But the body he loved was no longer around.
It was one of those fags who goes to the Klatka Club. They take care of themselves there, exchange the latest gossip, always with light irony, as if they saw right through all the conventions. But I know that’s not true. They’re all scared to death at the thought of what they’ll be after they turn thirty. Will they be past their expiry dates? Will anyone want to touch their sagging bellies, their wrinkled faces? Is that why, when they go to the darkroom, they jam their dicks into each other’s mouths and arses, as if wanting to stuff themselves full for later? And the fact is I’m the same way. I belong to that club. The gay community, sad as it may sound. Because what am I supposed to have in common with some bureaucrat from city hall who likes to slither into the darkroom and shut himself in a booth, waiting for guys to slip their pricks through a hole in the wall, so he can suck and moan. And then he goes home to his wifey and slobbers all over her, a glass of wine in one hand and kneading her arse with the other, because it’s high time someone jerked him off now.
Is it all just about sucking? No, that has to be too trivial.
And what about the straight boys. Get those fags to the gas chamber, one-two, one-two. They’ve got the law behind them, and us? Every time you’ve got to invent everything from scratch. A new guy means new rules.
He looked out of the window. The game was still going strong. The boys had torn off their shirts, their backs and torsos were glistening in the sun. He was hungry. A real physical kind of hunger. An unpleasant gnawing in his stomach.
“Well, Kropotkin, time for the terrarium.”
He gently picked up the snake and put it into the glass box, right under its favourite branch. “Kropotkin, you’re nice to touch, but you’re not too goddamn talkative.”
A gay theatre on sand? If somebody asked me to come in his mouth, I’d tell him it was unethical. Those unconsummated sperm in somebody’s mouth. And all of Igor’s poems and notes, gone to waste.
He was thinking about this because Igor’s books were on his shelf. He once started reading one while he took a bath. He loved reading in the bathtub.
A scrap of paper scribbled in his clumsy handwriting. The beginning of a sentence about buying almonds in an underground station in Prague. And the names of the bars they visited when they were in Prague.
And nothing more. Nothing longer, although he did write. He wrote during the nights, he wrote in the daytime. Sometimes he forgot I was sitting next to him and that I needed some attention, too.
And then he thought that the best thing would be to have a room with no furniture, with a dark-brown floor, white walls and big windows, through which the light would fall on that piece of paper. Nothing more.
He took a large, juicy tomato from the basket and bit into it. He ate it unsalted, and the juice dribbled from his mouth and stained his shirt.
Translated by Soren Gauger