From: Steam

From Chapter 1, “The Intervention of Light”

The people who had spent the night at the cinema got up, drawn by the blue light of dawn that had been entering through the glass dome roof–the Cyclops’ Eye, as Bloven called it–and started stumbling into the night’s conclusion, performing the last act in a play they did not wish to end, at least not like this, with the suspicious intervention of light from high above, higher than they could ever see.

Lis fumbled for her cigarettes in the half-darkness, soon reaching the sensible conclusion that someone had borrowed them never to return them again, which forced her in turn to snatch the packet nearest to her. At that unripe time of morning, and while movement amongst those who had stayed up all night was high, Lis thought it sensible to flick through an issue of the magazine The World of Technology, which someone had left nearby finding perhaps little interest in its special feature on memory chips. Lis browsed through its pages looking at rows of microchips, which could store thousands of data items and which at night did not dream of the beloved dead and longed-for lost Edens like she did, like perhaps most of the people inside the cinema did. As she read through lists of the microchips’ incomprehensible qualities, Ponti approached her noiselessly from behind and kicked the magazine into the air. “Get serious,” he said, “they’re already outside.” Lis looked him in the eye–his face wore an expression straight out of a horror film–and as his shadow fell disproportionately large over the dead cinema screen, she got startled enough to remain motionless. “Are they really outside?” A voice emitting distress signals was heard from the background, and soon enough an invisible hand offered to turn on the radio, drawing everyone around it.

Out of the speakers came two voices that seemed to be moving over a soft musical carpet to the pounding beat of a stressed heart, undoubtedly a hint to “Stay Alert–Get Ready for Work,” which nevertheless did not sound the least convincing to those who had bolted themselves inside the cinema. The broadcasters, two ex-inmates of Anglo-Saxon universities and present givers of justice on the sole criteria of income, were reading the morning papers commenting on current affairs, having been sufficiently cynical or religious or both to have named their show Morning with Cain and Abel. Even though Ponti did not like them, he chose not to express an opinion, fearing the disapproval of Bloven and the others, which up to a point he considered rightful, since all TV news programs drew their topics from the Cain and Abel show, turning them–with the help of images–into a histrionic spectacle enriched with phrases that resembled fireworks. As expected, Cain and Abel continued with their observations about the weather.

“It’s a beautiful day, not a single cloud in the sky, so everyone can go to work feeling happy, isn’t that so, Cain?”

“Indeed, Abel. It is a day full of positive energy, as all sunny days are.”

“So where do we start today?”

“I believe that the news of the day is none other than the events taking place at Steam cinema. Our sources mention that a group of people organized a sit-in following yesterday’s screening, which was the last one in the cinema’s history.”

“So, what’s the latest news on the story?”

“The latest news, Abel, ladies and gentlemen, concerns the possible structure of the group; it appears that this is not a group of anarchists as initially thought, but people who object to the closure of the cinema.”

“Cain, sources mention that amongst the group is the owner of Steam, a man by the name of Bloven. It has yet to be confirmed, however, if he’s been taken a hostage or if he’s there on his own accord.”

“What appears to be worrying in this case is some people’s insistence on medieval practices. Whether they are hooligans, anarchists, or reactionaries, this is an act that sullies the reputation of the city and is already making the rounds in Europe through the international news agencies.”

“What I find hard to understand, Cain, is some people’s closed-mindedness. How can they oppose the construction of a museum, an absolute gem for the city, in order to preserve a cinema? There are many cinemas in the city; one less is not going to make much of a difference, is it?”

“Let us not forget, of course, that museums serve an educational purpose, especially for the new generation, not to mention the important financial benefits from tourist visitors.”

Cain motioned in agreement with a movement of his head that remained hidden behind radio frequencies but which was supported by what he said next. “We have already received tens of messages through our communication channels. If by any chance the occupiers are listening, we ask them to consider our listeners’ anger…”

“What I find amusing, Cain–to make a little light of the situation–is that the building has already been bought, the plans have been drawn up, and the construction teams are right outside the cinema. As far as I know, prominent citizens of the city as well as ordinary people have gathered in the surrounding area.”

“According to exclusive last-minute information we’ve received, Mr. Max Plinkie will be arriving there soon, and of course everyone is greatly anticipating his reaction.”

“Let us see if they will attack him, too, Abel.” Muffled laughter was heard.

“Cain, common troublemakers are capable of anything.”

“Nevertheless, in most cases they are hardly successful.”

“Thank goodness, thank goodness for that. I believe that our listeners are of the same opinion, since–”

Bloven, feeling annoyed, switched off the radio. So that was how everything was going to end: with silly rumours about his alleged capture and the supposed anger of the people, the majority of whom had sat in these very cinema seats. “Idiots,” he said vaguely. Those who were at the cinema–a few people whom public opinion would have been sufficiently fed to imagine as worryingly numerous– avoided looking at him. Bloven, like an actor who had forgotten his lines, kept walking up and down, in between seats, amidst buckets of popcorn that had toppled, chewing gum that had been diligently stuck on the carpet, and abandoned soft drinks that had been fizzling out, until he finally stumbled–like Ponti before him–on the familiar issue of The World of Technology, to which Cain was a contributor. Huge posters of actors hang on the walls, advantageously illuminated by vanilla-colored light fixtures. Bloven had bought them thirty years ago from a little shop near the cinema, which had subsequently changed many hands in order to end up as a fast-food joint. Then he looked at Nid–a thickset bookseller whose father had owned the light fixtures shop all those years, or rather eons, ago–in order to pluck up some courage. Nid, however, was in low spirits, playing with Di’s muzzle. Di had spent his whole life under the bookshop till, sniffing all sorts of books. Bloven turned his gaze towards the light fixtures again. Their milky light heated the photographs of famous couples whose kisses were reason enough to change the ideals of beauty in the western world; snapshots of cops and outlaws who measured their bodies and morals against each other and poses of beauties whose smiles could convince an entire generation to emulate their style. In one sense, Bloven’s nervous walk was a crash-course invasion into the history of twentieth-century entertainment and illusion; a world that was about to be shattered in a million frames in front of his very eyes, once and for all. In an effort to brighten up his spirits, he asked for a cigarette. An eager Lis threw the snatched packet his way. When it landed on his hands, Bloven said: “But this is mine.” Lis felt awkward. The first thing that went through her mind was that under the present circumstances things belonged to whomever found them first, a thought she finally formulated–as she would later admit–in a sufficiently grave and therefore unsuitable manner, nevertheless astutely, since the answer she gave Bloven was not in the least bit reassuring: “Nothing belongs to you in here.”

In more bucolic times, long before the city’s great urbanization, the building where Steam was situated had been used as a meeting point for cows, where work-roughened hands would milk an army of udders and, thanks to a basic distribution network that operated with carriages, a whole population–the children of which would constitute the first middle-classes of the city–had been fed with milk. When those children had drunk their fill of milk and grown up sufficiently, Pavoise had made his appearance in town. He was a faithful follower of Baron Haussmann and a distant relative of Bloven, who had been called to design the new face of the urban landscape beginning with mapping out a great ring called The Square of Independence–a notion that never quite reached the limits of its meaning–and around which seven wide boulevards pointed like arrows, the most impressive being the Boulevard of Collective Visions, which later had been renamed Boulevard Dylain. A new urban landscape had been created in parallel to the restructuring of the human geography; vast roads had been constructed in which generations of people had worked and mixed, erected buildings and built legends, brought down institutions and died; a population flow that had cemented the achievements of the middle-classes. This was the vision of the masses that had built the city, inside of which–as expected–there had been no room left for cows, which had been escorted to the surrounding valleys without anyone ever seeing their vast procession leaving the city. They’d been abandoned in free-range grasslands for imminent slaughter, waiting in vain for their return to the city, even as ghosts, or even as part of a sentimental special in some environmental magazine.

The barn–with the smell of cow breath still lingering–had been offered as a gift to Pavoise, who almost immediately had sold it to Bloven’s father for the equivalent of a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk, because of the rumours that had begun circulating the day following Pavoise’s arrival and according to which the cows mooed into the night as a man with fallen trousers kept wandering about. Whether guilty of bestiality or not, Pavoise had not wanted to be remembered as an extremely kinky city planner–there’d been enough “stories” going around about the true symbolism behind the ring of the Square of Independence–and so Bloven’s father had found himself the owner of a new house of pleasure, which he’d rented to a pharmaceutical company. Until 1968, when he’d transferred the property to his son, he’d continued to receive a respectable sum of money for it.

The red carpet on which Bloven was now walking was the first ever investment to have been made at the cinema. It had been so weathered from use that in parts it had become transparent like silk; the patches on it bore the traces and imprints of human steps that belonged to different epochs. Today, however, the feet that would be crossing the threshold of Steam could in no way be described as friendly, and Bloven felt partly responsible for what now seemed to be a predestined situation. He had been criminally snobbish towards the three guys that had initially approached him a year and a half ago, and who would probably be outside now, crisp and glossy like freshly-printed banknotes. They were representatives of the highly suspicious Plinkie & Flat Company, flagship of the Max Plinkie Corporation, behind which lurked a fleet of companies of various purposes and sizes fishing in the international waters of money. They had introduced themselves as Lony, Kony, and Rony; and Bloven, deeming snobbery as a secure offshoot of intellectual superiority, had thought it sensible to wonder out loud: And who sent you here? Pony? His joke exerted minimal impact on the group, and Lony, the only female amongst them who nevertheless lacked feminine characteristics, launched a counter-attack, shooting off numbers from secret studies, sources of funding running out of private and public taps, quantitative facts about potential employees, and to top it all off–the icing on the cake–supposed complaints from residents.

“Just a minute, my little bitch,” said Bloven. “What are you trying to say? For all this time you’ve been working behind my back and now you appear out of nowhere to present me with your silly little findings, asking for my approval over something that leaves me with little choice but to offer you varying forms of “yes” as an answer.”

Even though Lony would have never put it so clearly, that was exactly how things were. And as soon as she motioned with her hand, Kony and Rony opened their laptops and presented Bloven with a neutral palette of research facts and diagrams on an upward path into the future, in which Bloven was naturally not included; curves which flat-chested Lony took it upon herself to explain in a language as incomprehensible as the language of computers, nevertheless in a steady and ruthless voice, legacy from her long apprenticeships in equally ruthless institutions. There was something uncouth and base about Lony, Kony, and Rony’s behavior, which lingered on long after they had left Steam. Bloven looked at the proud backs of the uniformed group–after all, suits are uniforms– receding into the distance and entering a car with tinted windows, which would soon make its way–leaving no traces of dust behind it–towards the central offices of Plinkie & Flat, where the group would report to its seniors, who would report to their own seniors until, at some point, the filtered report would reach Max Plinkie himself, who would issue the next order, setting in motion the same domino effect again.

In the months that followed, the sour-faced triplets paid further select visits to Steam, not to present new facts but to implicitly demonstrate their formal association to others who had also made an appearance at the cinema. It was the Minister of Defense who led the dance; he was a gray-haired ex-serviceman by the name of Tyelekon who arrived at the cinema with his wife, a woman whose body type resembled that of a commando. They sat in the first row–as if they were about to review a military parade–in order to watch a special screening of Johnny Got His Gun. Thirty ministerial yawns later, the film ended but the show was only just beginning; TV cameras hung like bunches of grapes over the entrance and reporters with phallic mics stood waiting for a statement, which the Minister gladly made, saying rather profoundly: “This was a great film with a timely political message.” The story appeared on the news, right before the sports bulletin, followed by a special report on the decline of the building that housed the cinema. A few further articles appeared in various newspapers, and Cain and Abel presented the story on their radio show, providing all the necessary jokes to go with it. And, as innocently as that, Steam became the talk of the town.

Rony and Kony–like the well-trained soldiers that they were–reappeared a few days later to present a new virtual tour program, which showed Steam as an empty space devoid of seats and sprinkled with red question marks denoting future museum exhibits, with the occasional visitor image thrown in to provide a better sense of the space’s dimensions. Lony made her appearance when the pseudo-tour had finished and started to talk in her incomprehensible research lingo which Bloven took to be C++ or some other PC program. He would gladly treat her to a neat little slap that would sent her into orbit around herself–which was what she was doing anyway–but opted for sarcasm instead: “Just a minute, baby. How about starring in Lony Got Her Gun? What do you think?” Lony did not give a reply, as Bloven’s proposition did not comply with her professional determinism. However, Bloven was starting to get on her nerves and, in a sense, she did get her gun and chose to disappear for a while. In the meantime, various professional and amateur groups started arriving at Steam, claiming to be fans and sympathizers of Bloven. They wanted to photograph him; do interviews with him; write articles and magazine features on Steam. Bloven thought this might help support his case, so he agreed to most requests. All seemed to be going well until one day he came across a picture of himself in one of the tabloids, kissing a high-school girl who had nevertheless introduced herself to him as a university student. The image was captioned “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” Considering how many people knew him now, the photograph would surely create problems for him, and sure enough Lony–sans her aids, this time–made her appearance with a copy of the photograph.


“Sweetheart,” she told him, pinching his chin with her bright red nails. “How innocent you are! You haven’t changed at all, have you? You’ve always liked girls…I remember how you used to look at them…”

“What do you want from me?”

“You know what I want; the warehouse which for years has been your cinema.”

“Over my dead body. And now beat it.”

“What will everyone say?” she asked, pointing at the photograph. “It really depends on you…how far this will go.”

“You don’t care a bit about what people say. All you care about is Plinkie and how you’ll get to screw him. You know what, Lony? I would gladly shoot a bullet through your head.”

“Who is”–and at this point she pulled a recorder out of her bag–“Plinkie?”


“Relax, honey. You made the front pages with an underage girl; you have no right to threaten me. Make a sound decision for a change, Bloven. Now the ball is in your court. Look! I’ve got a prezzie for you.” She handed him a racket, one of those she used to play tennis on weekends with her colleagues, exhausted executives who were trying to acquire status and rise into ranks unknown even to themselves.

Bloven, however, seemed to be in serious trouble this time. Although he had attracted enough publicity, his wrong way of handling it had forced him to hide behind his dark sunglasses for a week so as to protect himself from the comments of passersby who talked into each others’ ears, hiding behind their newspapers and moral values. In the meantime, word got out in the popular media about Bloven and the girl. Parents forbade their children from going to the pedophile’s cinema, and husbands stopped their wives from going there alone, forcing them to go on the sly instead.

Over the next three months–around the beginning of 1999–ticket sales went into a downward spiral. Despite the efforts of Bloven and his supporters, the situation could not be rectified and there were nights when the reels would be unwound even though there’d be no eyes to view them. The films would play for him alone, and there were times when he would fall asleep in his little room, the reel projecting his dreams onto the screen; newsreel footage from previous decades, short projections from the dark sources of his R.E.M sleep, which disappeared into oblivion in the blink of an eye, much like Steam itself would vanish one day.

Until the day arrived when everything became more definite. The Minister of Internal Affairs–Mr. Mes, as he introduced himself to those he considered his inferiors–appeared at the cinema. Before even setting foot in the screening room he was given a tour of the cinema by an angry local. Like his colleague Tyelekon, Mes was part of Plinkie’s group of favored government officials. Later that night, he made some even more damning statements. “It is a right shame,” he said, “that this historic place of your forefathers–in this vital part of Boulevard Dylain–should be falling into such terrible decline. The government will take the necessary measures toward the building’s renovation.” It was a tongue-in-cheek comment–a far more nightmarish prospect than Bloven’s dreams–aimed at Max Plinkie, who would carry out the project. This time, however, the plan’s implementation seemed more legal, or at least law-abiding. The time had come for Plinkie to reap the harvest at last. For years he had been planting careerists in key positions, and as they moved up the hierarchy so would he gradually become an autonomous political unit, capable of altering and determining the course of events from behind the scenes.

Then Mes left, night came, and Bloven stood waiting for the unavoidable: an announcement that would bring a simple end to Steam‘s history. “That’s it, mate,” was Lony’s response a few days later, “only six months left.” Bloven got ready to pounce on her; he pulled up his sleeves, gathered all his hate and strength, and aimed his clenched fist at her face. Seconds later Bloven lay flat on the floor.

“Not tonight, gorgeous. Not tonight. Not even tomorrow. In fact, from what I can see, never.”

Among other things, Lony had also done a stint in martial arts, and with an expert kick had knocked him to the ground. From whichever point one looked at it, Bloven was in the boxing ring now. Lony marched into the half-lit room on her loud heels and flung the exit door open. Bloven, still on the floor, was about to say something, but Lony held her hand to silence him. Behind her, on the sidewalk of a brightly illuminated Boulevard Dylain, stood a suited army of executives waiting obediently for her signal to storm the building and make their inventories. Bloven looked at them from the corner of the future where they had dumped him. They resembled mass-produced stuffed animals to him. Lony motioned for them to walk into the room. Bloven found himself surrounded by people who asked no questions and paid no attention to him; they were just looking right and left, recording items on laptops as small as their palms. Lony stood by the entrance with her arms folded, watching her team going into a frenzy, recording even more than had been asked of them.

Bloven watched the invaders and felt incapable of any reaction. As the scene with the obedient executives unfolded before his eyes, he felt as if he was watching a film depicting the return of the cows from the fields in which they had been carefully raised and systematically fed for decades. He took his spiteful thought one step further to include Pavoise, who would have surely provided some sort of solution by rendering his special services to the animals. However, as the battalion spread silently into the coordinates of the cinema, Bloven realized that not only would Pavoise’s revenge be small and of dubious quality, but it would also be of little use now, with things having taken such a nasty turn.

“So,” said Helvetta, having glanced through the window of the ticket office to see how many people had gathered outside the cinema, “it’s more than a few out there, alright. Although you, Nid, being the chicken that you are, would say it’s an army.” Nid decided to let that pass and freed Di from his embrace, who ran towards Lis wagging his tail, licking her hair in a style that even hairdressing schools ignored.

“It’s not that we had not predicted it,” said Bloven sarcastically. “But we must see what we are going to do about it,” he continued, picking his nose.

Even as a boy, Bloven would sit by himself for hours picking his nose, in order to think. As the years went by, this habit developed into some sort of personal introspection technique. The more he would scavenge the remnants of ancient colds, the more he would go deeper into himself. Despite all the accusations made against him, according to which it was unacceptable for a grown man to play with his snot, Bloven remained faithful to his neurosis in an effort to maintain the distance he had built over the years between himself and the world.

“Bloven, stop picking your nose.” With the passing of time Helvetta had developed maternal obsessions.

“Leave me alone. Try and think of some solution instead.”

“Do you seriously think that we can save the cinema?” asked Lis.

“Why are you talking so condescendingly?” interjected Nid.

“Uncle Nid, they will kick us out in an hour, if not less.”

“We could put up a strong resistance, you know.”

“Helvetta, do me a favor…”

“Excuse me, Lis, how old are you?”

“I am twenty, Bloven, and I have seen it all before.”

“You’ve seen enough for a twenty-year-old, don’t you think?”

“How can you be optimistic, Bloven? Take a good look around you. Out of all these people,” she said, pretending to be shooting at the people in the room with her fingers, “do you seriously think there’s anyone capable of putting up a resistance?”

She was not entirely wrong. Ponti had gathered a group of ten people, all of them graffiti artists, who were now munching on the last remnants of a pizza, talking in their private lingo and calling each other “brother.” There was some sort of internal connection between them that manifested in the way they dressed, the music they listened to, the sprays they used, and the way they talked to those outside the group. They met at sit-ins, always at the ready to enjoy yet another “total mess,” drinking beers until the cops would appear, always called by some law-abiding citizen, who would often happen to be related to one of the guys in the group. It was Ponti who had introduced Lis into this group of alternative thinkers who lived for today and not for tomorrow, ignoring the past, making it easy for the contractors of the future to build their towers of conservatism upon the absence of common vision. Although Lis could see it coming, she was not yet able to argue her case. And this would spark violent disagreements with Ponti, news of which would always reach the brotherhood, prompting someone to say, “Some of our brothers disagree over…” For Lis these accusations were a regular occurrence, but, having grown up without parents, she had no wish to acquire a new set of them now, on account of a boyfriend of all things. The bottom line was, they all had homes and families to return to at night or in the early morning; and once they’d step across the threshold they would stop being revolutionaries and assume their roles as sons and daughters being fed homemade food and–

“They should at least have some experience in setting up a commotion,” said Bloven.

“And what’s going to come out of it? We’ll all get busted. And then?”

“Well, the future is already here, Helvetta. They’ll take everything away from us. Whatever belongs to us will become theirs: first the cinema, then my bookshop, and finally your antique shop. They will take possession of them one by one.”

“The guys here,” Bloven chipped in, “have an idea.” He pointed at the group, which did not seem prepared for anything, let alone an idea.

“Are you suggesting we attack the cops?” asked Lis. “Have you forgotten what happened before?”

“I am not going to start beating people up at my age.”

“There’s always a place for you in my antique shop, Nid.”

“And while the eternal couple is fighting,” Bloven jumped in, “I think we ought to decide on which course of action to take before Plinkie arrives.”

“Just because Cain and Abel said so, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”

“They know what they’re talking about.”

“Yeah right, they know everything.”

“Of course they do. They are Plinkie’s advocates. If they don’t know, then who does?”

“They’re assholes, that’s what they are.”

“Plinkie’s court is full of guys like them. You call them assholes, Helvetta, but I call them dangerous. Do you know how many government officials expect Plinkie’s phone call? There are just as many in the opposition. He might be trying to promote the Ministers of Defense and Internal Affairs to be leaders of parties, but Plinkie can afford to plan the future.”

“And as if that weren’t enough, with this museum he’ll be seen as a benefactor,” said Nid.

“Not to mention the spineless men who work for him, forcing upon us their mini-fascism on a daily basis…”

“A major brain drain all because of Plinkie.”

“The saddest thing of all, Helvetta,” interrupted Nid while stirring instant coffee into his cup, “is that some time ago you used to flirt with him.”

“He was different then.”

“Bullshit, Helvetta. You can tell a scumbag from the age of five–it’s just that it takes some years to show.”

“Hmm, excuse me? Wasn’t it you who made a pass on that what’s-her-name, Lony?”

“It wasn’t me, Bloven. She just came by the shop one day–”

“Yes, and you told her to go up the ladder to find a book on the top shelf–a book that was not there–so you could look at her brand new Calvin Klein underwear–which, incidentally, were a gift from someone who uses the word “turnover” instead of money.”

Bloven was picking his nose. Lis–reading his mind–said: “What the hell are you two doing, Uncle Nid?”

Nid had been a famous womanizer in his youth. Back in those days there’d been a vast army of friends and ex-, present, and future girlfriends coming in and out of his house, drinking alcohol of all colors and consistencies, smoking anything that could be smoked and taking off their clothes indeterminably. When they were not having sex they would talk about the occasional turn of events, which would always seem inevitable. Lis experienced this heroic and idle life of debauchery at a time when it was falling into decline. She spent a lot of time trying to figure out how she had ended up there and how she would manage to escape, all the while getting used to a not-so-obvious way of life that made no room for reprimands, as everyone was too busy caring for the consumable things in their lives. She soon came to appreciate this way of life–it was not the worst of the very few options available to her, and it made you believe that you lived in interesting times, because the conversations were heated, the bottles were empty, and the houses and the people in them always open.


George Pavlopoulos

George Pavlopoulos was born in Athens, Greece in 1980. He is the author of two novels, 300 Kelvin in the Afternoon (Alexandria Publications, 2007), which was excerpted in the December 2008 edition of InTranslation, and Steam (Kedros Publications, 2011). He currently lives in Berlin.

Evangelia Avloniti

Evangelia Avloniti was born in Corfu, Greece. She is a freelance writer and translator currently based in Athens, Greece. Her translations from the Greek have been featured in InTranslation, The Brooklyn Rail's fiction section, and Apiliotis.

Steam. Copyright (c) George Pavlopoulos and Kedros Publishers, 2011. English translation copyright (c) Evangelia Avloniti, 2012.