The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Room to Rent

By Russell Bittner

Roses are red, violets are blue;
I’ll love you to the power of two.

Jane liked this. After a number of false starts, this simple mathematical formulation of the question worked best for her. She was now in exponential mode, and felt an exponential need to celebrate and elaborate upon the sentiment of love – all just a few days before the feast of St. Valentine, thus hardly by coincidence.

My vacant room has space for you as a second verse to this couplet didn’t quite strike the right note. In fact, it sounded to her ear just a bit too desperate. It suggested need – and too much concern with filling undesirable spaces – in the way that a blue or white blinking Vacancy in front of an off-the-beaten-track highway motel might strike her as too obvious, too desperate, too solicitous of an unknown, uncertified and uncertifiable public.

Jane considered non-commercially: in the year 2004, the so-called public was quite thoroughly uncertifiable. Scary, this – given the state of security, the perverse need for security in the same year, 2004. But perhaps a market opportunity.

She owned the space – that fact was not in dispute. She owned the furniture – also indisputable. Filling a void, though not really a void at all, was not her point. ‘Complementing’ the existing space and ‘finding an affinity with the furnishings’ were much closer to the tone she wanted to set. And tone, after all, was what this was all about.

But it was also about flow – the ebb and flow of space for two. Creating the void, then filling it up again, was merely kid’s work.

Jane crouched down beside the bathtub, let the faucet run for a few seconds, then shut it off and watched as the tub swallowed and burped. The drain sucked down the last little stream of water until only a few hardened, glistening, surface-tensioned drops remained behind. Again. And again. And once again.

No, creating and then filling the void were decidedly not the challenge.

Once the mood of ebb and flow had finally begun to wane, Jane went back to her writing table. Prior to the bathtub exercise, she’d been creating Valentine’s Day ditties. These were mere warm-up exercises, really, to the more serious task at hand – the composition of an eye-catching ad to catch her complement.

Rosen sind rot; Violetten, blau.
Wir sind nun getrennt; aus ists mit Helau!

Jane liked to play with languages. They were the only real toy she owned. God knows, she’d worked hard enough to acquire them. And yes, she supposed she had a knack. But she also had a mirror with which she’d long since struck a bargain: she wouldn’t lie to it if it didn’t lie to her. And so she’d accepted her talents as a linguist.

Les roses sont rouges, les violettes, bleues.
Relève ta violette, mignonne, et je te donne la queue.

French was her favorite for off-color. She didn’t think of her compositions in French as pornographic or even as erotic. No, French was something for women boasting, coasting with the requisite accoutrements – and Jane, lacking same, lived all of her eroticism in her head. Sometimes, she even imagined herself in the role of the man – at least in French. She didn’t quite know why.

In any case, a certain facility with languages – if not exactly with the speakers of those languages – allowed her to fantasize, yet keep her thoughts suspended at a safe, foreign-sounding remove.

Las rosas son tintas; las violetas de color azul-cerulio.
Subete, mi amor,en mi rastrillo, que te tome por el culo.

Crossing the Pyrenees fired the Iberian within her flattened, tired breast. Her thoughts invariably turned darker, more punishing – and with a Janusian nod towards pain and pleasure. She wallowed in her image of Spain and Portugal, imagining herself in dungeons, surrounded by hooded, torch-bearing tormentors and walls of ice-blue tenterhooks. In Iberia, she too often felt at home.

Le rose sono rosse; le violette blu.
Parlami di amore, poi mostramene nei tuoi dessous.

Her Italians were romantic and silly. Sweet, romantic and silly. But above all, silly. They were absolutely incapable of love or sex without one too silly full-stop of a giggle.

And so she giggled, and then moved on – to passion. Serious, painful, brain-draining passion. She was abruptly in a soul-wrenching mood, and so moved on – to Russia.

Розы – красные, фиалки – синие;
если вы мою душу заморозить хотите
пламенем облейте меня.

So Russian of the Russians. No predicates – for economy. And yet, three verses required where the Western world can barely manage the sight of two. She didn’t begrudge the extra verse. The Russian soul was an expansive one. Time was not money. Time was for expanding upon matters of the soul.

Jane had all but exhausted her linguistic bag of tricks. She’d been west, south and east. There remained only north – as close to the North Pole as she could, linguistically speaking, climb. And so, to St. Valentine in Sweden:

Rosarna är röd.violettarna är blå;
Har du tid för mig? Annars, vill jag gå.

The Swedish left her cold, like the herring. However, it was quite short and to the point – particularly on the tail-end of a long-winded Russian that left her huffing and puffing.

Jane laid down her pen. It was now time to travel to the Coney Island of her mind. She’d warmed up, exercised, done her necessary calisthenics. Now was the time for truth in action. Her space, her need for a complement, called for action. Not too blatant – though not to needy, not to desperate.

If your place upon that pillow is as vacant as my own,
if the rhythm of a sweetheart’s snore could fall on you like snow,
Then put your hand upon my bell and …

The bell rang. Who, Jane thought, at this odd hour?
She went to the front door, peeked through the Judas window, put on the security chain, then cracked the door open.


“Scuse me, ma’am.”

“Yes? What is it?”

“I understand you have a room. That you may be looking for a tenant. I don’t presume to know the truth of it. I’m merely here to explore an opportunity.”

Jane quickly inspected her arrival up and down through the limited Judas crack of a window. Then, after a second stretched seemingly out into an hour: “Come in, then, if you must.”

He came in. He wasn’t pretty, but he was young – and had the eyes of youth, unjaded.

“Your interest?” she asked.

“My interest, ma’am, is in a room. My interest is in accommodation. Not in putting you out, but in complementing.”

Jane stood silent, arched an eyebrow, and considered ‘complementing.’ He’d found the word.

“I’m fresh from Mobile, ma’am. From Mobile, Alabama. These parts are foreign to me. I came by way of an instinct to your door. If in error, I apologize. If in insult, I shall retreat – my heritage and my habit.”

“Wait,” Jane said. “What do you seek?” She felt herself sucked into dialogue with this stranger in this stranger’s peculiar language. She felt the joy of a whole new linguistic expedition. “And you can pay?” She also felt the prick of pragmatism.

“Yes. And have here the coin to prove it,” he said as he reached into the pocket of a jacket that had seen much better days – though most likely better days on another’s body.

“It won’t be necessary,” Jane said, stopping his search with an outstretched hand that rested briefly upon his. “You will do.” Splendidly, she thought to herself. “Come in. Drop your bag and hang your hat. Then kindly sit and take some tea. Humbly, as it be mine.”

“Ma’am. Thine? Mine? Go soft. I mean to be your Valentine."

Russell lives in Brooklyn, New York. His poems have been published on paper by: The American Dissident; The Blind Man’s Rainbow; The Lyric; The Barbaric Yawp; The International Journal of Erotica; Wicked Hollow; The Taj Mahal Review; and Æsthetica. One additional piece will appear in early 2007 in N.O.L.A. Spleen.

On-line, his poetry can be found at: Quintessence; ken*again; SpillwayReview; Erotica Readers and Writers; EdificeWrecked; GirlsWithInsurance; ThievesJargon; SalomeMagazine; LauraHird; MadHattersReview; 3a.m.; Dogmatika; Mindfire; ALongStoryShort; OpiumMagazine; SouthernHum; JustusRoux; DifferentVoices; VoidMagazine; PWReview; Zygote in my Coffee; ALittlePoetry; PlumBiscuit (a journal of the New York Writers Guild) and TheCentrifugalEye. His calendar of poems titled "Musing Under the Influence” will be published, one poem per month, from January through December of 2007 at

On paper, he currently has stories with the Edgar Literary Magazine; The International Journal of Erotica; Beyond Centauri; and SwillMagazine. An additional story will be published by St. Martin’s Press in May of 2007 in an anthology titled 15 Stories That Ought To Be Movies. In the world, his prose can be found at: DeadMule; writeThis; GirlsWithInsurance; SkiveMagazine; Bluefood; ThievesJargon; Quintessence; MannequinEnvy; UndergroundVoices; Pindeldyboz; Hackwriters; 10,000 Monkeys; DeadDrunkDublin; ALongStoryShort; SouthernHum; SuffolkPunch; VoidMagazine; VerbSap; Per Contra; and the uncom.mon The story in Per Contra was nominated in November, 2006 for a Pushcart Prize.

Russell completed his first novel, Trompe-l’oeil, in September of 2004. The first chapter will appear in Snow Monkey in the first quarter of 2007. He completed a second, much shorter novel-memoir, Girl from Baku, in June of 2005, the first six chapters of which currently reside at The entire memoir is also being serialized at (September, 2006 through February, 2007). Both, in the meantime, are going through agents faster than a greyhound goes through giblets.

He can most easily be reached at


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

This is a funny, clever story, Russell. And so perfect for the occasion. I enjoyed the linguistic challenge and I love the multiple meanings in this line: "It suggested need -- and too much concern with filling undersirable spaces."

Thanks for guesting with us.

Sun Feb 11, 03:36:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Russell Bittner said...

Thank you, Tricia, very much for your time, your read and your kind comments!


Sun Feb 11, 04:03:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for adding this flavour to the mix, Russell. Great post!


Sun Feb 11, 05:17:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

My swedish is rusty, but there's always google-language-tools!
شكرا راسل ، يسرنا ان تكونوا كذلك ضيفنا!

Mon Feb 12, 10:43:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous marvin emerson said...

You made the languages fit the work so seamlessly, Russell. Well done.

Sat Feb 24, 12:21:00 am GMT-5  

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