Giovanni’s Other Room
Words By Sam Burt, Art By Hailey Renee
After the lack of reply to my last two letters, I thought I’d stop writing. Perhaps the prison authorities are censoring my mail. Perhaps you have left Paris. Perhaps—it is a harsh winter—the mail trucks slid off icy roads and burst into flames.
Perhaps I think you are too numb to reply. I can see you leaving my letters on a kitchen table until nightfall, and then reading them while drunk. Afterwards, you slump towards the largest window in the house to stare at the moon and the frost and your own reflection. You think grand, melancholic thoughts about how tomorrow will be “the most terrible morning of your life.” Yet it’s not you the guillotine waits for.
But I have to write, whether my words reach you or not. You once asked me, in disbelief, what kind of a life two men can have together. This I must tell you.
There was a prisoner—Andrzej. He was Polish, and he spoke little French. It doesn’t matter. Where words fail, eyes do the talking—eventually, when you bring yourself to lift them from the bare stone floor. And when you do, you see from across the prison yard that he is handsome like you wouldn’t believe, strong and kind. He was a builder, with hands like two blocks of granite. With these hands, he very delicately brushed snow from his shoulder. With eyes and hands, you can build a language.
Eyes screwed shut: I didn’t sleep; did you?
Slow blink: I love you.
Repeated exchanges, like long-cohabiting lovers saying the same things to each other daily…
Here, there are no secrets. We have no glamour left, no masks with which to seduce. We see and know each other at our worst. The sordid mess of our lives screams and rebounds off the walls.
Did you read about the riot here? (I’m sure they will censor this—but I have nothing to lose.) I didn’t escape, alas. But something happened: Andrzej came to my room—my cell, I mean. We had an hour together amid the chaos and confusion. Amid my fetid sheets, dirty clothes, and lice. Nothing else: just another’s presence, a hand in mine, knowing that, if our lives had gone differently and fate had allowed it, he would’ve liked nothing more than to stay. To mix his sheets with mine, to carve his shape into my mattress, to watch our breaths interlace on the window and make beautiful frozen shapes.
That was Andrzej. He is no longer of this earth, as they say. I hope they will take me soon, that this will be my last letter, for I have nothing else to say to you, David, except that you are no longer in my thoughts. I only hope that, one day, you will put the bottle down, leave the window, stand before a mirror, and not look away until what you have seen is unshakable.