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Selections from On a Terrace in Tangier

Still Life With Flying Sombreros

Three sombreros hung on pegs in a cantina, where their owners
stood at a bar, soaking in the tequila. The sombreros got to
talking and soon discovered they all despised their owners.
“My man,” a sombrero said, “came home drunk every night and
beat his wife and children with a hard stick he kept just for that

Another sombrero confessed that his owner sat on a porch and
shot cats that had strayed into his garden. He skinned the cats
and displayed their pelts over the fireplace.

The third sombrero said his owner cheated his employees by
giving them less than their paychecks, claiming that he was short
that week and would make up the difference, which he never
did. He took the bus from his house to his factory every day, not
to economize—he had two luxury cars at home—but so that he
could molest young women on the bus.

The three sombreros, there and then, decided to flee and live on
their own in the windy skies.


The Triangle of Desire

“My love, we make a triangle,” I said, as the morning light came
to visit us through the window. “You, me, and the clouds.”

We roused from bed, finally, set out spoons, cups, and a small
loaf of bread on the table, heated the milk, and made espresso.
She opened the French windows that led to the veranda that
overlooked the folding Mediterranean far below.

“Let’s leave the clouds out of this,” she said. “Why share?”


Brave Boats Against the Tide

For years, I sailed oceans and was a seaman, a man who lived out
in the watery vast, my ship my home, the crew my family, the
sky my cathedral. I needed nothing else and no one else. I was
sure that I had cut every line that moored me to the land, and
I never yearned to see a tree a hill a desert a dog.

Yet, sometimes, on a moody morning watch, I’d see your face up
there between Orion and the Little Dipper and the old longing
for you anchored again in my heart.


The Sea, the Sea

Out at sea again, where I felt the freest, the sea a mirror of
self-reflection and the first mother of lies. Death conceals
itself in the sea: its dangers, its turbulence and storms that
threaten to sink your boat are just temporal distractions,
one of Death’s masks.

The sea’s calm that lulls you to believe that the world is safe,
that the world is one of gentle swells and sunrises, is another
one of Death’s disguises. Death also fools you with the sea’s
expanse, there is always the next horizon, endless horizons,
endless days, endless life. You only learn all this at sea, the
solid earth is a negligent teacher, I would one day tell her.


I Sailed Across Many Seas

“Seven days out,” I said, “we came upon an enchanted island,
with overarching jade and ruby trees that shaded us from the
sun while we followed a path that led to a temple, Ionic, atop
a plaster mountain riddled with caves. A hooded woman stood
there singing so sweetly that we fell to our knees and wept.
She sang of Plato’s ineluctable forms, of immortal triangles
sitting at the portal of heaven, of galaxies of souls speeding
through the universe in search of God. She finished singing
and entered the temple. We called out for her to return, to
tell her that she had taken our hearts.

“But she was gone, so too, the temple, both vanished before
our astonished eyes. We returned to our ship single file, in a
trance, and boarded her in the same state, each man wrapped
in his own dream. We are sometimes allowed a glance to the
infinite before the door swings shut.”

“All our lives winnow down to that glance, the rest is mere
decoration,” she said.


Tiepolo’s Dream

“Tiepolo painted clouds more beautiful than any cloud ranging
the sky,” she said. “He showed their complex simplicity and
ever-morphing beauty.”

“Yes,” I said, “but I suppose he could not have imagined that
one day the clouds—above a table, a hungry blue dog, and
green cars rushing to the mountains—would turn themselves
gray with sorrow for the world.”

Images courtesy of the artist and KMEC Books.

Frederic Tuten is the award-winning author of five novels, including The Adventures of Mao on the Long March, The Green Hour, and Tintin in the New World, selected by The New York Times as a Notable Book of the Year, as well as a memoir, My Young Life, and a book of interwoven short stories, Self Portraits: Fictions. His stories have received three Pushcart Prizes and an O'Henry Prize for fiction. 

His latest collection of stories, 
The Bar at Twilight (Bellevue Literary Press), was released in May. On a Terrace in Tangier - Works on Cardboard will be published by KMEC Books and Konig Buchhandlung in July.