She thought that the moment was probably supposed to be poignant—when she discovered the origins of her name—but since she was sitting on the toilet when she read the letter it lacked elevation. Henceforth, when she imagined her name, she saw it written out in her father’s slanty cursive beneath a harsh yellow light and behind it, her thighs.
When she finally brought herself to listen to the song—the beat-up 1967 record was among the possessions he’d left her, part of a hoard of cultural memorabilia she figured was meant for her “education”—it was, in fact, patterned with words that a daughter might like to hear (“my little darling,” “angel,” “pretty one,” etc), and carried a message appropriate to a father who’d abandoned his child under dubious pretenses, and she could have been singing along by the end of minute two. But only marginally deeper, it revealed itself to be another case of the Conniving Poet, a song about a desperate girl (the eponymous Marianne) and a powerfully disinterested boy, something she could imagine her father listening to while he was wantonly fucking women in 1970s Berlin, a name chosen during an afternoon he’d assigned himself the task of selecting it, casting his eyes around his studio on Potsdamer Strasse and scanning for relevant influences, falling on the record, his hand idly down the front of his pants. Visible through the window of the apartment, across the street, there were colonnades, a Jürgensburg horse, but there were no good songs about them.
He told Nikki when she was fifteen, in the first of what was to be their monthly phone calls—a smirk she could somehow feel through the phone—and she knew instantly that she hated her father. He hadn’t told her mother where the name came from those years ago, just left it with her with its appealing diminutive and atypical double-consonant and promptly fucked off forever, this stupid little mystery in his wake.
Nikki hadn’t known the song or the movie, but as she heard the controversial lyrics for the first time and realized how callous her father had been in telling her now, how plainly vindictive, she felt increasingly like her name had been the first move in a game set up for her by someone else, planted like a goalpost, and she was only working up to it. She didn’t like the idea that her $145 Hieronymus Bosch shoes and torn tights were somehow genetically predetermined. She wanted them—needed them—to be singular, and in the aftermath of the call, scuffing along the side of the most populated road in her neighborhood, which was mainly a place people came to transfer trains, she imagined the parallel moments, when her father looked down at his newborn daughter and decided that she should be named for the most famous sex fiend in all of popular music, and later, when he felt the stippled holes of the phone’s speaker on the corner of his mouth, pictured the body connected to a voice he was hearing for the first time and which, if he played his cards right, he might one day be fortunate enough to meet, and decided that he was ready to relieve this burden.
It happened that we were driving through Ramallah late at night searching for the grave of the poet Mahmoud Darwish. The location of the site was well-known to the locals, but not to us, and our driver kept pulling over to ask for directions from passersby on the sidewalk, at traffic lights, on bicycles. He began asking in Arabic, “Where is the grave of Mahmoud Darwish?” but over time, as the night grew later and it became clear that we weren’t making any real progress towards our destination, his entreaties became more and more abbreviated and clipped, until we’d reached a point where he would careen towards the sidewalk whenever he spotted a pedestrian, roll down the window and shout, “Wen Darwish?”—Where is Darwish?—until the poet became one with his resting place, existed in singular form somewhere between life and death, totemic, connoting all in one a time, a place, and a name.
Simon Jacobs is the author of SATURN, a collection of David Bowie stories available from Spork Press. He may be found at simonajacobs.blogspot.com.