- THE PURGE
- THE HOUSE OF LUNATICS
- VERSES INSCRIBED ON ICE
- A STORY WITH A RIVER
- THE BOMBING
Only the innocent were victims then: it was a kind of sacred rule.
For weeks, the train carried the young man and the girl across the monotonous snowy plain. Outside, the stone cracked from the cold, a perpetual whirlwind played with the snow without letting it touch the ground. And the train crawled through the fields, pouring out so much smoke that it blackened even the sky.
It was a train in which to escape somewhere, anywhere, to reach the end of the world, and go beyond it, along new paths. Human life was unbearable in those days. Because of a whole range of unpleasant incidents, which happened every day, the world was filled with universal suspicion. Those who don’t know its lethal claws will never understand the fear and terror it awakens in the meekest heart. Every single thing and creature was suspicious of something. Everybody was guilty of something. The hand of the invisible foe could fall on anyone’s shoulder. Distrust and hatred raged through the world lake a plague.
The meaning of life to those who still looked after themselves can be expressed in a single word: escape! Trudge like a pilgrim along endless snow-covered roads, wander round the world, naked and barefoot, hungry and blind: run away; run until your feet are living wounds, until the breath in your chest freezes.
The love between the young man and the girl began at the wrong time. For the mania of general suspicion seized him, the young man, too. Although he loved the girl, more and more often he found fault in that relationship. Maybe that was why his companion was sad, and her behavior strained.
At first, on the train, it was like being in a hive. They had men, woman with bundles, children. Then the arrests began. Who was doing it, nobody knew. And yet, from day to day, from hour to hour, there were fewer and fewer people on the train. It was getting colder.
The fury and despair that were mounting within the young man suddenly erupted. He was sitting with the girl in an empty compartment, staring at the icy window, when the terrible thing happened.
“There are spies here“, he said. “Someone here is playing with us, informing on innocent people. There are only a few of us left, very few, maybe a dozen.“
He burst out:
“Who’s betraying us?“
His words seemed to be coming from a great distance, as if the bare and snowy plain across which they were traveling had suddenly come between him and the girl. He looked at the girl without blinking and asked her quite clearly, even calmly.
“It’s you, maybe?! You are confused all the time“, he went on, “you look like someone who doesn’t have a clear conscience, who’s hiding something. And you pity me; you don’t wave the heart to harm me. Admit it!“
It’s difficult to describe what happened next. The girl looked at him, at first in confusion, then reproachfully, and then fearfully. She wanted to say something in her own defense, but she couldn’t. She stretched her neck like a wounded doe – maybe because she could feel it becoming stiff – raised her head and swayed from side to side. Her head fell on her breast, and then she raised it a little towards the young man. The girl’s face was unrecognizable now.
For some time he studied that stiff face, contorted with fear. Then he realized that the door of the compartment was open. Two policemen and a man in civilian clothes were standing there. They were watching what was happening in the compartment. The policemen were clearly interested in the man – small, fat, sweaty, indescribably miserable – who kept repeating that he wasn’t guilty.
“And who is guilty?“ asked the policemen, still punching the fat man. “Who is guilty? Who is guilty?“
The man twisted in pain and moaned loudly. Finally, stupefied, in despair, he fell at the policemen’s feet, gasping for breath, knowing there was no hope for him.
“Who is guilty?“
The fat man raised his head with difficulty, and then – at that precise moment – his eyes fell on the paralyzed, terror-stricken face of the girl.
“She is guilty“, cried the fat man, springing like a lunatic, growling like an animal, and roaring so loudly and with such passion that it was obvious his hysteria was fast turning into madness:
“She is guilty!“
These words were so convincing, the accusation so electrifying, that the young man realized at once that the girl was lost. They would charge her, tear her from his weak hands, and take her away.
The love which until that moment had been filled with humiliation and embittered by suspicion seemed to bloom in the young man’s breast. But that feeling was pale compared with his repentance at hurting the girl, which would be fatal for her. So, aflame, the young man had no alternative but to risk everything – his life, the future of which he expected so much – everything. He took out the gun and, as in a dream, began shooting. One policemen fell, then the other; the fat man fell, too. The young man seized the girl and ran along the narrow corridor of the train.
Two shots rang out after them. The young man couldn’t tell who had fired them. It seemed that after all one the policemen was only wounded, just slightly. The first bullet hit the young man’s arm; the second other went into the back of the girl’s neck. She fell down dead.
The young man was caught later, amid the noise of the big city. It happened in front of a bank. He was arrested by the same policemen from the train and the fat man they had been maltreating. The young man was surprised to see that not one of them was dead, but, used to all kinds of things, he didn’t wonder at the presence of the fat man. When he came close, the young man could hardly recognize him at first. Small, fat and good-natured, he said quietly, and with no vengeful madness.
“I arrest you in the name of the law!“
The young man couldn’t hear him properly.
“I arrest you in the name of the law“, repeated the fat man.
Then they snapped handcuffs round the young man’s wrists.
“You’ll get yourself a lawyer“, said one of the policemen, rubbing his hands in some confusion. A little later he asked: “And the girl?“
The young man pretended not to understand.
“She’ll get herself a lawyer, too“, said the policeman, as if trying to comfort the young man.
“Sorry? And who?“
“Well, good Lord“, muttered the policeman.
A big surprise met the young man at the police station. He was taken to a large office full of mould paper, where the people from the train were sitting or standing around the tables; only the girl was missing.
In a moment, it all became clear to him. All the arrests were staged, a put-up job. That was to frighten him. Innocent people were imprisoned to push him into making a quick, reckless move, which would be reason enough to arrest him. Because they were looking for him, they wanted to catch him and him alone. They started weaving a net around him which consisted of an enormous number of people with very different tasks, apparently irrational and unnecessary. The only free, truly free and independent creature in the hunt was the girl. She was a big obstacle to his being caught. The words he said to her could dig his grave only if he said them to somebody else. As the only way of achieving that, they decided to act out the scene with the fat man. They thought the policemen’s violence would make him attack them. Only, as it happened, just before the incident the young man started working against himself. In his despair he frightened the girl so much that the fear on her face could easily be interpreted to suit his enemies. The rest happened as it had to.
A little calmer now that he had solved the riddle whose existence he wasn’t actually aware of until then – unhappy, but calmer, because the painful feeling had long gone – in prison, the young man had just enough time to ask himself: “And why was I the one they wanted? Am I the only innocent in the world?“
(Translation: Milena Mitrovska and Michael Black)
Even in my dreams I planned how I would dig out the ground around the tent, slice the canvas, or in some other way enter the circus and see the big show. I was ready to seduce the guard’s daughter, even his wife, turn into a clown, steal, lay, commit crimes. In vain: the seemingly flimsy, soft canvas fortress was unconquerable.
The tent was at the edge of the city, where the old wooden houses disappeared and the field overgrown with poppies started. Stretched and as erect as an elephant’s tusk, it shone in the sun. I flashed colors like the fire of a dragon. It breathed with its enormous chest like a child’s toy, swaying this way and that in the wind – a giant ship on the wide see.
Strange thing: around the tent there was an empty meadow. No sleeping cars, no people, no children, no animals. God know where the circus people slept. Next to the entrance to the tent was a cabin were the guard, his wife, and daughter lived.
Late in the night, when the audience arrived, the circus and the area around it was bathed in a waterfall of light fell from all sides. In this full, magical illumination you could not recognize your own brother, not to mention seeing where the clowns came from, the playthings, the tamer of the wild beasts.
The audience was chosen. The key to the selection was free: it had to do with masks and clothes. The masks were obliged. The visitors, who came masked as bandits, pigs, or sharks, also had to wear authentic costumes of nobles and rulers of the past. Those who dressed as children of the modern age needed authentic masks. Of course, the formal clothes could easily be bought. But that was not the case with the masks. There were not for sale, and nobody alive – I mean those with whom I speak – knew how the gests found them. The transformation into the persons from past centuries also entailed great difficulties. Indeed, one could buy a mask of a prophet, a harlequin, of a fox; but where could you find the expensive clothes of a ruler, embroidered with gold and sterling silver, and lined with jewels?
From the common mortal, a simple solution was to get away from the glittering stage, erase from one’s mind the magic, gleaming cupola and the thought of the show that took place under it. But than didn’t suit my egoistical, inflammatory nature. So, even when I lost every hope that I would get into the tent, I persisted in my futile attempts, trusting more in providence than in common sense.
I cannot tell how much time I wasted in these efforts. But one day I got lucky. The guard’s dog helped me. I’d noticed that animal a long time ago, but I couldn’t imagine what use it could be. That day, watching the dog wandering through the field, far from the tent, I happened to notice that the animal went into a hole from which it didn’t come out. I waited all day. In the evening – filled with a strange feeling – I placed a stone on the hole and ran to the tent. The dog was sleeping near its owner. How did it get to the tent? It didn’t take much sense to conclude that the dog used an underground tunnel that connected the outside world and the circus. It was only a matter of whether the secret route ended outside the tent, in the guardhouse, or…?
The area around the tent looked clean, untouched. I had surreptitiously entered the guard’s house several times and looked it over carefully. I never noticed the slightest sign that a tunnel came out there. So?
I returned to the place in the field where I had seen the dog and the hole. The rock still covered it. I removed it. The hole was narrow; a dog could fit, but not a man. Still, wasting no time, without stopping to think or arrive at a decision, I took of my coat, and after I enlarged the opening with a knife, I dug underground clenching a flashing in my teeth. I crawled, advancing a centimeter at the time. My head was spinning because the show was about to start, and that awareness gave me new strength: the very thought of my reaching the tent too late, when the circus would be over, was awful.
Pressed by rocks and mud on all sides, without air, in the kingdom of worms and roots, powerless, I believed I was finished. I was losing consciousness. I was loosing strength. For a moment I wanted to go back; but there was nowhere for me to go, much less turn around, and it was impossible to crawl backwards. I continued digging earth with my mouth, swallowing it like a worm.
I was half dead when I realized that the tunnel was expanding. At first it was almost unnoticeable. It was awake my own will for life. I continued with the gloomy work of a field mouse. After a while I could move left and right; then the hole became a chamber in which I could crawl more freely; finally it turned into a hall. I stood up and steeped into the darkness of the earth within.
I immediately noticed a detail: from the corridor along which I walked, at right angles, other halls branched, narrower ones: from there something like a reflection of a fire burning within earth came to me, from a great distance was a kind of gurgling; and I could hear a very clear, intelligible human whisper. Curious, I wanted to see where this mysterious light in the bowels of the earth was and what these creatures were who lived so far from the sun, green meadows, and wavy seas. But it was clear that both the light and the hiding places of the mysterious creatures were far from me, and I had no time to lose: in the final analysis, I had gone underground because of the show, not because the mad curiosity. I decided to check the mysterious light and the origin of the voices on my way back. Now I had to move in, along the main corridor lighted with the fiery flames – because I had no doubt I was going along the main road, mainly because the corridor along which I walked was wider than the others.
When I reached the end, I started carefully checking the walls. I had desperation because, at first glance, the corridor looked like a dead end. I encountered a hard, smooth rock without a single fissure. But to my surprise, after a while my hand touched something soft. I started examining the rock, shining my flashlight on it. The place looked like everything around it, but this rock – about one meter in diameter – was soft as a feather. I realized I was standing in front of a spongy curtain through which one could pass and I stretched out my hand. It sank into the stone. Slowly, carefully, I poked in my head and my shoulders – I felt as I was passing through a thick, muddy stew. When the strange liquid – if I can call it that – got thinner, above me instead of a starry sky, I saw (for the first time from inside) the shiny dome of the big tent. I swam out the jellylike membrane and, unnoticed, hid behind the first curtain.
I noticed immediately that it served as a decoration. There was no great danger to be revealed. And when the show was over, I would get out myself – that was my intention – and I would say to the guard to his face: “See how I fooled you?“
I took a position between two heavy curtains, so I could see both the stage and the audience clearly, and I peered out carefully, to see what supported the big dome, which – oddly – was without posts, supports, pillars, ropes, and from the inside looked like a perfect, hermetically sealed, half-ball of glass.
I noticed something else: on the great hemisphere, the audience sat across from me, while the stage was almost in front of my nose. So, the audience did not sit in an amphitheater, nor was the stage round and in the center, but it was rectangular and at one end of the tent. For me that was better: I could see what was happening under the roof without much trouble.
The visitors, all in masks, were at their seats.
The masks and formal clothes were familiar from before. So I had no trouble recognizing each character.
The audience was mixed together. Old people did not sit with old people, young with young; they were not separated into small groups, but were all lumped together: believers and nonbelievers scepter and mantled, bearded and shaven, fat and thin, the language of the Galapagos and the language of Molièr’s précieuses.
For no particular reason a thin man with straight hair and nervous gestures attracted my attention: above his many lips, on his corporal’s mask he had a moustache that looked like two flies stuck on with a pin. It looked like the moustache would outlive its owner. The man wore a uniform with decorations that made you think of a spider, a spider web, and a spider’s victim of the same time. He was with a smaller and fatter man with a conquistador’s mask; he wore a uniform with epaulets and a tree-cornered hat. The thin one and the fat one were talking, and they waved their arms vigorously, as if they arguing who was the greater hero. Their conversation was overheard by a boy with a wonderful body, in a canvas shirt, with a Virgo mask on his face.
There were bare-chinned Huns here, Tatars, in their clothes and with their idols; there were wine-producers, Slavs, Normans, Saxons, Goths, there were Mayas with full-moon (not half-moon, v.) faces; there were Roman emperors and church heads; patriarchs, popes, Pharisees and Scribes; chiefs of extinct tribes; Chinese leaders, Japanese, Indian, Egyptian, Macedonian; there were Greek dictators; Spanish, Hawaiian; there were Nickolas’ and Alexanders, Philips and Louisess, Marias and Elisabeteths, with names that ended in ov, va, vo, ski, chki, ich, ish, ah or, ti, vi, with decorative feathers; there were the wild and the wise smart of this and that place; there hostages and hostages’ lovers; jesters and ladies, statesmen and law makers, bankers and traders, factory owners and entertainers, philosophers and artists, scientists and alchemists, usurers and dreamers, young and old, beautiful and ugly, big and small, dirty and clean.
This crowed was like a cluster of grapes, like a bunch of carnations in whose middle were the man with the moustache and spider cross, and the fat man; it seemed that they still argued over why had accomplished the greater deeds. The handsome boy stood just to the side and watched everything quietly, but not with disinterest.
The stage was brightly lighted. There was nobody, nothing on it: just the unbearable whiteness.
In time, the shiny light grew weaker, paler, taking on violet shades. The audience became quieter and quieter.
When the noise stopped, I know the show was about to start. And I would surely see it once the workers (did they?) made the final, preparation, unless something averted my attention.
The audience members started taking off their masks. I watched that unforgettable sight I couldn’t believe my eyes: under the pig, wild dog, or puma mask with expensive clothes, were the faces of those to whom the clothes belonged in a former life. Under the masks of those persons from more recent times, other masks appeared, like those removed but more perfect, made of delicate skins, spotted, of white as ivory, hairy or angelically pure. The matching of the clothes and face, the mask and the mask, the face and the face, did not leave room for suspicion: the circus audience was made up of the real and only owners of the clothes and masks.
When I turned toward the stage, everything was ready for the start of the show.
In fact, there was now nothing on the stage. Only some iron rings hanging freely in the air. Strangely shaped, they looked like every-day, trough large scissors: the handles of the scissors were rings, the two sharp blades crossed ropes.
The scissors were half-open, and the blades formed an angle of twenty-two or twenty-five degrees. In this space, between the sharp steel blades, a naked female body dangled quivering in the emptiness. The girl was familiar from somewhere, but I couldn’t clearly see her face: it was in half darkness. The body, young and fresh, voluptuously trembled in the air, like a fish in an aquarium.
A woman with a water bucket appeared on the stage, bathed in green light. She was dressed almost like a peasant. She didn’t turn toward the audience. She put the bucket down at the side of the dark podium, close to me, and she stood by it, mute, immobile. In the pseudo-peasant I recognized the wife of the guard.
The guard also came soon (why did I expect him?). Dressed like a gymnast, illuminated by red light, he stood in the middle of the stage and bowed to the audience. He went beneath the device and jumped. His strong hands grabbed the rings; the blades shone in the half darkness.
When the guard leapt from the ground, I though the girl would be immediately cut in half: under the pressure of the man’s body, the blades would fly to each other and slice the girl in two. But he was obviously a master of his trade. With incomprehensible speed, making numerous half-movement, wiggling like a caught fish, the shivering body, bowing and stretching its toes, managed to keep the blades from joining each other. In fact, the sharp edged gradually grew further apart, leaving the girl more and more space.
The gymnast was dripping with sweat. Whit a convulsive expression, he even managed to open the blades of the scissors as much as he could spread his arms. And he stood like that for a moment, triumphantly. Than, all at once, the body started sinking: the blades flew to each other. The movement of the gymnast and the way he suddenly loosened his body were so sudden that I spread the curtain in confusion. Everything happened fast. The blades clinked together and cut off the girl’s head. The gymnast caught the beheaded body as he fell, and when he touched the ground, he stood frozen, holding the warm, lifeless flesh in his arms. The head with flying hair, a shiny meteor in the dark night, flew through the air and – splash! – It feels into the water bucket.
Something splashed my face. I wiped it off with my hand. Blood!
In the beginning I thought that they had seen me, because I stood in front of the curtain. But apparently everybody was busy with his or her work, and my insignificance brought no attention. I quickly returned to my former place.
The show, evidently, had finished, because the viewers got out of their seats. They put on the masks they had come with and, not turning toward the stage, left.
I sat motionless, until the last visitor left. I think I dosed a little. When I again peeked through the curtain, I saw the guard, his wife, and their daughter. The woman was cleaned up; the guard was removing the chairs. The girl was sitting, pensive, a bit to the side, smoking.
Although I intended to address the guard after the end of the show and let him know I had tricked him, now I thought it smarter not to brag too much. Because for him, maybe, it wouldn’t be too hard to fix the demonic scissors and in a second put me between the sharp blades. For a man who had such dangerous skill, it seemed that nothing was impossible.
The guard, his wife, and their daughter remained under the tent for a long time: they spent a lot of time preparing for the next day’s show. When they left I was relived.
So I was alone now. I could smoke a cigarette at peace and think about everything I had seen, how I would get out of there, whether I would return through the underground tunnel about witch nobody (except for the dog?) knew, or whether I would something else.
I thought about the show for a long time, and everything upset me. But most of all I was bothered by one question: “Who was a girl?“ Now it felt – and while I watched her smoking, I was sure of it – that the girl whose head flew so awfully was nobody but the guard’s daughter. The similarity between her and the killed girl was striking: same hair, same smile, same hands, and same gestures.
But she had been beheaded! How did she resurrect all of a sudden? I didn’t see where they took the head and the dead body, but I know that is was not that simple to glue them together and breathe life into then again.
Were the victims of the show dragged from the underworld, every day a piece (the head and the body of the killed ones were hidden by the guard, so the newly arrived didn’t know what awaited her)? Well, without a doubt there were people living under the ground I passed though: didn’t I hear their whispering? But why was this girl so similar to the guard’s daughter? Did the earth’s bosom contain thousands of his living daughters, one of whom was killed today to be replaced by another tomorrow?
My head had pain about thinking. I decided to get out as soon as possible, along the same road I used to get there. Thus I would also have a chance to examine the underground and discover the secret of dead girl, then return home. I came to the place where the spongy opening was. But I tried to thrust in my hand I asmost broke all the bones of my fingers. The hole was closed, cemented.
Apparently, it became mushy and penetrable only when somebody wanted to enter it, a man led by a dog, maybe, or a creature of the underground, a provocative beauty with skin that (not who) looked so much like the guard’s daughter that I could never say it was not her. This all lasted for a short time. Then the opening would close (or better, freeze) itself.
For the first time since I came I remembered that often the guard, earlier, when I tried unsuccessfully to enter the circus, told me: “You are trying in vain. Nobody but my wife and I (not myself) can enter the tent. Others who do do not come out.“
Then I thought those words were a joke, but now after I had seen the strange things the guard was doing and understood that the circus was only a big, shiny trap (for daughters, or naïve, curious people?) I shuddered.
Was it possible that, searching for luxury, I had found my own grave?
It was in vain. I yelled in vain, I pushed the chairs in vain. I was in a glass bell at the bottom of the ocean. The canvas didn’t have even the slightest crack. And it was canvas only in name and color (in my dimmed consciousness). As a matter of fact, the trap was made of hard, smooth, unfamiliar, and, of course, impregnable matter! When I touched the wall of the trap I felt that behind, nothing, and least of all a field of wild poppies.
So, I was buried alive.
Doesn’t matter! Tomorrow night, when the masked people come, when the guard erects the unusual device, when the woman stands by the water bucket and the magical girl’s body – no doubt, the same, eternally same girl – shines in the half darkness, swinging like a ship on the sea, like a speak of dust freely trembling, when the shiny eyes of the rulers, nymphomaniacs, and vultures, turn toward the red light of the spot lights, in this short, awful and endlessly precious moment – when the steel becomes dough, and the secret gates of freedom open, for those who love it – providence will grant me a small, almost meaningless – but why unfulfilling? – chance.
(Translation: Elizabeta Bakovska)
The house was in the middle of an open field near the marsh, a mouth like a sinister hollow in the fog and the warm vapors. Inside, however, it was dazzlingly lit, day and night. Each patient had his room, whit thick carpets and an amazing number of ornaments. All the rooms looked two ways: when the big double doors were opened, the whole area formed a luxurious Biedermeier draping room; opening the smaller door created a different view: in the distance it revealed the yard, with an outside toilet where women squatted one by one. They come with their new shoes and dresses, went into the privy in bloomers, and without closing the door – maybe the toilet didn’t have a door – they sat on the wooden seats.
The residents of the house were tortured by obsessions. One lunatic had to walk along the wall before sunrise. A madwoman couldn’t sleep until everybody had passed through her room. If anyone forgot that custom, she suffered torments: not only would she stay awake all night, but in the morning she was sure she would never sleep again.
The arrival of the old man changed many habits in the house, because he didn’t himself keep to any rules. He went from room to room, listening carefully to the daily domestic dramas which shook that world turned to stone. (“Your skin is so soft“, he told the girl who had made him com or who was here because of him.)
He went out into the field with them. Things needed to be done, and of the lunatics always went back to the house because he had forgotten the tools he needed for life in fields: the hammer and the small axe. As if he didn’t know that their use was forbidden and that the punishments for chopping off the smallest branch was death. Not having anything to eat in the field or to warm them with, in the end they would lie under the press (a brilliant invention of the old man’s), which flattened them and turned them into a living two-dimensional photography; everyday, whenever they went out into the field, their life was again turned into a photography from that other world.
One morning the old man left. The old habits of the house survived him, but the roles of the residents changed: the one who walked along the wall wanted everybody to pass through his room, and the woman who was scared she wouldn’t sleep began to walk along the wall on frosty mornings. It became so confused that nobody knew who was who or what their torment was.
Finally, as soon as the fog cleared over the field near the mouth-hollow, transparent emptiness appeared where the house had been; nor could the strange residents be found. As if they were being created by the marsh vapors which they disappeared.
(Translation: Milena Mitrovska and Michael Black)
Mala came from the Underworld
I met her on the road that descends from the mountain (Olympus?) to the sea (or the train station). She was even weaker than when she had been sick. Quiet, without her usual cheerfulness (without the mask of that cheerfulness, that makeup of life that does not permit disease to spread across the skin of the face, and to crush the husk of life’s form). Before death (up until the last two or three days) she showed amazing enthusiasm: “Who gives a damm!“ she would say about the cancer spreading through her entire body, tightening her skin as does the putrid air inside a rotting carcass. How could it be that the small smear under her armpit could create such a picture of hell?!
She accompanied me on the dusty road lined with pomegranates and white from the invisible sun. I know what had happened to her in the meantime, and where she was coming from. Without evasions, out of respect for the obviousness of the road of destiny, I asked her how things were up there (with an air of “How’s it going? What’s up?“). She wanted reflexively to answer “fine“, but her appearance betrayed her: thin, in an old, worn-out little dress (of polka-dotted material), with nothing of her own on or around her, with a dying flam in her almond eyes. It’s not bad but
Without real progress.
And even in death, it’s hardly possible
to make both ends meet.
She was worried, she said, that her husband hadn’t yet paid up all of the funeral expenses: because of that her soul was hovering over the funeral mound, over the desolate cornfields. At night she watches secretly through the window, how her children are growing before her eyes. Strangely, in dreams her daughter resembles her. Can she reality be getting married soon?
I ask her about the customs that rule up there (on the snowy mountain). She said that afterlife rituals, like punishment, are comical. Most souls belong to the middle group, which call itself “a daily glass of milk“, because that’s how much fate gave them in life, during and after the war.
She also mentioned the eastern cults: they easily replace the confusion of the Christian faith; most emphatically it’s best to melt away, to forget.
Then, without any connection to what she had been saying, she said something about words: “a word is a number“, she said, “just one part of the total…“
That was understandable to me, and even the perspective offered by “a glass of milk“ didn’t frighten me.
Latter, after Mala returned to the Mountain, dans un petit wagon rose, I revealed to Ana the ritual secret of words – that they have numerical value – as if conveyed to her some rare, till then unheard, of knowledge, by means of which she could feign erudition before those who do not have knowledge of the ancient tongues. However, she was not surprised, but it amazed me when – drawing, with her almost fleshless fingers, some kind of map over my skin – she said, Well, yes, a word, like the elements, has a specific weight, and the relationships that exist within it define its essence, whereas total meaning depends on the network of interactions among all words-numbers-bodies, of which each is the last, but also the first, the endlessly-fulfilled-infinite
The train puffed north. The Olympic gods slept, defending themselves in their dreams from stray shadows, as though from gnats.
(Translation: Zoran Ančevski and Lucy Bednar)
She began by telling me about the playwright. With her usual sense for humor and gravity, she told me, sometimes in detail, about the telephone conversations with the writer whose name she never got right. She first knew him as a voice, when he dialed my number for the first time to ask me something of little importance. He speak heavily – because he suffered from apoplexy – and because the conversation, despite my kindness, did not go smoothly, so the after a while the space between us was filled with something akin to silence. Soon he stopped asking for me, instead choosing times to call when Ana was alone; and so began their delicate wordplay.
I must admit that Ana has great patience with unknown people; sympathy is her basic characteristic, remaining unchanged throughout her life, especially toward foreign and insignificant people, who could never in any way repay her for her kindness. First, of course, she got scared – it never went otherwise with her. The writer began from afar, circling about, speaking with greet effort, then suddenly started rasping, suffocating, which caused her great trauma: she thought that he was dying. However, the playwright recovered and continued the conversation. Later she got used to his fits, which repeated two or three times during every conversation.
Maria Ana told me not so much about their conversations as about the whole atmosphere that hovered about them; she tired to make visible the life of the unknown man to whom her voice became a daily need. Perhaps because of this new habit, the writer stopped inviting us to visit him, at least not with the former persistence, though, when he first called, it was his min wish. At that time he said he had a large apartment, granted by the federal authorities, a good pension – maybe higher than our salaries – and therefore he invited us to visit him without delay and to sit on his terrace – as he also had a nice and spacious terrace. Those details – the size of the apartment, the pleasantness of the terrace, the adequacy of the pension – he repeated even later, in every conversation with Ana, but no longer insisted so much that we visit him. “It would be great if you another car, now that the other one has fallen apart...“ So he went on from a distance. Actually, he did not want to spoil their invisible intimacy with the visible disease he suffered from – which he could in no way hide – and with his helplessness, of which he talked openly.
Ana know that even the smallest damage on the head could have irreparable effects, but also that, as if by definition, these sick ones, in an almost unbelievable way, perhaps as a reward, receive some strange gentleness. Actually, the sickness takes them back and they become children again, but still they retain some characteristics of adults. The combination – something difficult for those at home – gives a person a new aura: at the same time they are naive and wise, giddy and serious; these people have no other interest except to confirm their own life, and that is why, forgetting the shrewd calculations of daily routine, they carelessly and freely open their souls – without fear that they will be robbed – and reveal what is usually held in silence or should not be told.
Ana, with her intriguing Balzak-like gift, tried to peer into the space in which the playwright whose name she could in no way remember lived. A large, nicely furnished apartment, perhaps a hundred square meters, a spacious sunny terrace. Sometimes she heard a young female voice warning the playwright not to speak so long; he energetically but kindly would silence the intruder, addressing her in formal manner. She must be the house maid whom his wife, before going to work, instructed to monitor his telephone conversations, because the bills were constantly increasing. Sometimes she hears a child’s voice. Is it a grandson (bearing in mind the advanced years of the playwright)? But from time to time the child addresses him as daddy. So, he has a small son who, in keeping with his age, considers his father’s role a joke. Perhaps he married late. The child is spoiled, and the relationships in the family are democratic: powerless discipline, permissiveness; perhaps a bit of anarchy, resulting from the despotism of the disease. His wife must be young to have such a small child. Or did he remarry? In any case, it is not easy for her; but it is not strange that the playwright is completely oblivious to the hardships of others, as he is continually concentrated of himself and his own pains.
Ana could learn about the condition of this life in a roundabout way, but it never occurs to her; not because it does not interest her, but because she is too involved in the strange game. She surely could get nothing out of B. Levi, as he is removed from such things, but his sweetly smiling wife knows family histories well. Still, to Ana it seems a light matter to dig into something of such little importance, being nothing more than a game with shadows.
By means of her female Balzak-like curiosity she gradually imagines the life drama of tha unfortunate playwright. But, regrettably, it is not an original one. In it two chairs play the min role: one is his, a wheelchair, the other is empty. The setting is the apartment: the playwright sits in his wheelchair, and the other chair – which might simply be a three-legged stool – he carries with himself. The plot involves the route to the sunny terrace and the struggle over the telephone. As soon as he reaches his bright spot, he grabs the phone and does not let it go. The other chair, or the smaal three-legged stool, is beside his legs, awaiting the companion. And the companion is – Ana.
Just at the time B. Levi staged Ionesco’s Chairs down in Macedonia. It surfaced that it was he who gave my phone number to the playwright. Before he came to know Ana – and even afterwards – he constantly phoned him. Levi agreed with the supposition concerning the large phone bills. I also scold him, often, about talking so much in these hrd times, he said in his own delicate way, not to spend all his money on the phone, but what an appetite for talking! Actually, through him he learned about all Belgrade intrigues, because, unlike me, the playwright, though wheelchair-bound, attended the theater, persuaded to do by the director. So everyone in Skopje wondered how Levi followed the performances in Belgrade; he, so to speak, saw them by phone.
“What shall I tell you, ma’am: curses, coitus upon coitus!“ He confidentially told Maria Ana about the latest dramatic success from the former republic. He had barely made it to the end; if he had not been given a free pass by the famous director of the performance himself, he would have left in the same way as he had fled from the hospital, where he had been rehabilitated for free: there he had been surrounded by refugees from Kraina and they had nothing in common to talk about.
As usual, as in all other situations, he told her about his work, translated into many languages, awarded, praised by various important persons, but unfortunately unknown. His last hope had been B. Levi, who promised to stage it at The Albanian Drama. In strict confidence he had asked Ana to advise him regarding the honorarium: should be seek an advance, ask for a percentage of the box-office, or do something else – he had expected a good sum from that project.
Eventually, he fell in love whit Ana – that is, whit her voice. “According to your velvety voice, you must be young, pretty, tall, slender and dark“, he told her. “Sir“ – here she murmured his name wrongly – “ser“, Maria Ana said, “I must disappoint you, I am neither young, nor tall, nor dark.“ Then she described herself for him, but he could not be dissuaded. At that moment, for the first time, he mentioned the empty chair which waited especially for her to sit beside him and converse sweetly, without the nuisance of the static and the cracklings of the phone connections.
It seemed to be natural that whoever heard Ana on the phone would fall in love with her voice. It was that way with me when I first heard her on tape when she read the letters of a woman whose sensitivity and passion were related to the sickness of her soul. About that same time she read me a social-realist story by Borchard, a writer whom I did not know then, and even now means nothing to me. But this extends beyond the story about the playwright and his chairs.
The performance based on Ionesco’s ply – in the provincial gloom of Macedonia – had been good, B. Levi told me on the phone when I asked him about it. But one needs to have heard that good in order to know that nothing in the world is good enough. Actually, it is precisely what Ionesco’s play talk about. No one ever sits on the companion-interlocutor’s chair. Such a vulnerable, anxious soul like Ionesco must have always known that: he did not unhappiness in order to be unhappy. Although he died peacefully in sleep he had been afraid of death even when he squeezed lemon on oysters or when he ate chocolate cake with a thick layer of icing, as Ian Kott informs us. B. Levi also knows about that. And even Maria Ana was acquainted with the story about the Russian noble who, in the hour of greatest passion, hid the rope so as to hang himself.
The case of the nameless playwright is utterly different. Ana’s imagined empty chair had really existed in his life, and he never gave up asking people to sit beside him so that, day by day, he might tell them his life story, first about the apartment, the terrace and the pension, then about his theatrical successes in the past and the glories of future days. Just strong enough to conquer his dramatic territory on the terraces with his one and only prerequisite, the phone, hi finally attended the most sacred and highest right – to fall in love with the queen of his dreams.
“It is simply strange how interwoven stories are“, Ana told me this morning, recounting the following event. At the bus station she had seen an old woman, older than one in Ionesco’s play. Beside her, instead of an old man, was an empty chair. And so she sat at the station, watching the people. If someone appeared tired to her – leaning against the wall – she would offer up the chair. But the people were in a hurry and no one sat down. Eventually another old woman came by, but much younger than the first. Though bent and thin like a stuffed heron, she held herself well; and that woman, though standing and a hurry, told all kinds of things to the older woman, such as how winnows beans, how the spades her garden, how she feeds pigs, and much more, since she was a peasant woman. The old woman finished listening to her and told her in a high trembling voice, resembling a quivering seahorse: “Sit the chair for a while.“ But the woman was taken aback: “Fuck the chair, grandma! When have I ever sat down?“ And with these words she left.
Ana told me the story while laughing and then added: “Do you know what Gorchinovski told me“ – and she again made a mistake with the playwright’s surname – “when he called me the last time? Sometimes“, he said, “my wife leaves me at the station not far from our building were the city buses pass – I just sit, place the empty chair beside me and watch the passengers!“
(Translation: Zoran Ančevski and Richard Gaughran)
Especially original was the first line of the quatrain, a real revelation. Simply unbelievable that on random line could mean so much to you, shaking to the core, even changing your life. But what did the line say? What did it min? And how did it go?
Of course, no one will ever learn anything about it. Even perhaps the poet who wrote it agreed. But he just laughed mysteriously, below the bridge, when I mentioned to him the possibility.
The line – actually the whole quatrain – was inscribed on the ice on the slope of the embankment. It reminded me tremendously of cheap graffiti than would soon melt. But it seemed that its importance lay exactly in this fact: the transience of its material made it eternal. Now ice on the embankment, soon water in the river, then river in the sea, sea in the ocean, ocean in the sky, and in the sky – again sky: just a line.
The cultural dignitaries did not understand this – they never shaped verses, but hammered out the future – they gathered below the bridge to open an exhibition (to unveil a bust). That night, the bluish glow above the river – the first living spark of the line – remained unnoticed by them. There was also the sculptor with a lit pipe, the creator of the dead bust tucked into the shadow of the invisible frozen line. He puffed like a Simmens-Martin furnace that cannot be allowed to go out because of cost considerations and fastidiously advised the barman on how to arrange the drinks and the food on the table.
The poet, the crafter of the unnoticed and unheeded revelation, said that there was no need to stay around the bridge any longer. He suggested that we take a walk, and on the way he told me that it was good that I had finally returned. Somewhat unpleasantly surprised, though not puzzled by the fact, which the author of the miraculous line could not understand, I gloomily shook my head and told him that I had not really returned. But this did not surprise him. “They do not need you“, he said, probing the depths of psychological ambiguity. “As they can live without you, you do not need them, because you have been living without them.“
I made a conscious effort to let the words of the poet slide over me, just as the river in that place slipped softly over the moss on the submerged rocks. In the calm of the dusk, the last thing I needed was self-loathing or the sympathy of another. Now the river was trickling over the rocks like a shallow brook: native but provincial; it struck me as odd that it did not flow through mountain gorges, but it poisoned, being itself polluted, the peripheral soil. Everything around was incomplete and unfinished; there was no hope that it would ever be completed and established. The building site along the right bank of the river was hidden under weeds and a labyrinth of sand mounds. From the other site I could discern the outlines of the gray carcass of what was most probably an unsuccessful factory, which, at night, surrendered its life to the weak light around the guard house. In sudden despair, I thought of the daily swarming around the “carcass“ when in the morning the ants would gather, the flies, and the worms, nibbling at crumbs and taking them by noon to their poor homes. The wharf was neither paved nor maintained; it will remain like that forever: roughly sketched by the great international architectural minds.
The poet mentioned the energy of the earth which, through the soles of our shoes, reaches to our bodies from its immeasurable depths. Before him he saw green expanses, fjords, islands hemmed with low but lush vegetation. Some unspeakable strength attracted him to the submarine world of the crystalline coral reefs, about which he know everything from books and films. I live among the algae, he said, and it sounded like a line a verse; this one, however, could not at all be compared to the one on the ice of the embankment.
On the way back we passed again under the bridge. The exhibition was over. The bust looked sternly into the river (pondering the fertility of fish). The barman told us that the guests enjoyed the coolness of the quatrain, crushing it into their drinks, fiery stuff produced in some wealthy northern country. So the line, out of its own blue sky, trough the ocean, to the sea, the river and the ice – along a path that reversed the flow of time and eternal oblivion – arrived in the bellies of its consumers to shake them to the core and change their lives.
(Translation: Zoran Ančevski and Richard Gaughran)
The story was a simple picture, but through the story (or through the picture) a river flowed. Big deal, a mediocre poet might say. But not one who grew up in the lost Library of Solomon and knows the difference between stasis and movement. That is, the river did not flow through its imagined bed as the one under the bridge behind Mona Lisa, but like living water through an artistic landscape. Of course, one need not suppose that its waters overflowed the frames of the canvas – turning it into something cheap – but only that the landscape was at the same time artistic and real. The banks were to be looked at and the water to be bathed in.
This story-picture was read to me by an acquaintance, from a large-format, such New Macedonia or old Borba. After he finished the reading, witch proceeded in the manner the film – but within the frames of the given picture – he said that it a masterpiece. I agreed whit his opinion. But something else surprised me, that it was written by William Luce. This author was know to me for his single-actor play about Emily Dickinson, so I started to search for the meaning of the story in the mystery of “the belle od Amferst“ herself. The house of Emily and the world resembled the picture and the living river. So, what was alive in the first and that in the second? Was the fenced house in Amherst with its innumerable windows, hidden behind the greenery of the trees, a mysterious living oasis turned toward the desert of the world, or the opposite, just a dead embankment against which the living waters crashed? I wondered whether the river which really flowed was alive, or the imaginary life on its banks, which seemed to be static.
The picture, however, was in no way exceptional. From its top to its bottom, diagonally, it was divided by the aforementioned murmuring river witch flowed tirelessly and happily through the landscape. At the top the canvas, in its left side, a small wooden fence could be seen. Underneath it was a table, painted at an angle, upon with only a pair of glasses was visible. Near the table stood the Master, and a little farther away, between the table and the river, the old Servant. Also in the left side a distance, behind the wooden fence and the greenery, was the house with its innumerable trembling windows.
Along the other bank of the river a winding steep road meandered toward the blue mountain ridges. On the first bend a boy sat, and I know he was forcing himself to write poems; he used to be one the weakest students in several generation.
As it can be supposed, the “genius“ of the story stemmed from the very powerful first impression, which was mostly based upon the aforementioned contrast between the still life that was dead and the dead river that was alive. But as soon one grows accustomed to these facts, he cannot explain what is so special about them.
The development and the dénouement of the story had to do with the blindness of the old Servant. As was immediately revealed, he had lied to his Master his whole life about being able to see, without any personal gain, merely for the well-being of the house. It would have been extremely unfortunate if his disability had been discovered because his task was a record in paint the occasional picnics his young Master held outside the house. This was not at all difficult for him; once him was standing by the noisy river, he was provided with that necessary touch point with reality that enabled him to transfer and project the landscape, together with the faces enclosed within its infinity. Only the water, the basic orientation for his darkened sense, remained unchanged and, in time, became the signature mark of his paintings.
The young Master discovered the truth by chance, after finding the eyeglasses left (painted) on the table. They were pitch black. Even a person with the sight of an eagle would see nothing through them. Once he had them in his hands, the Master understood everything. Aware of the magnitude of the sacrifice – to be in the center of life, but also outside of it, unacknowledged – the Master, deeply moved, squeezed the lasses and crushed them. He told his Servant that there was no need to keep the secret any longer. Than the Servant objected; he said that his eyes were clear and healthy.
The Master did not know what to think. He tore the picture into pieces, along with themselves, and told the Servant to put it bach together. His hands began to work by themselves. First they reshaped the Master, then reassembled the other object within the picture, and finally the glasses, intact on the table.
Only the river was missing. As if the cruel act of the young Master had dried the waters. A river no longer babbled through the middle of the painting; instead a deep fissure stretched from north to south, a dark and dry canyon that, further separating the painting, obliterated all the differences between the worlds.
The Master was extremely satisfied with the flow of the story, and even more so with the loyalty of his Servant. He left him in front of the shadowy house with innumerable windows and started toward the mountains, following the tracks of his guests, who had gone hunting orclimbing on the highest point of the landscape.
Once it was without water, the painting came to life completely, and now young guests ran freely through it. It was high time I quit my idleness, and, so as not to be late, I descended the steep road. On the bend I almost bumped into the bad poet who was basking in the warmth on the dirt road. I asked him whether he had read the story. He asked me to give him the newspaper, seeking further explanation. It’s a master-piece, man, I said. He promised to read it by the end of the day. When I saw him flipping idly through the newspaper, I suspected than he would be able to see the river under the dried bed, so I began to tell him about William Lice and The Bell of Amherst. He looked at me blankly, obviously unhappy that I stood in front of him for no reason.
Something pierced me, and I turned toward the dark canyon, still not understanding who is the Master, and who the Servant, in this living but simultaneously imaginary landscape, and what is the connection between the landscape and the house. Then, in the distance, I sow her, the poet, to whom someone, sometime, presented a bunch of dusty roses, and from me these lines came like tears:
I Years had been from Home
And now before the Door
I dared not enter, lest a Face
I never saw before
Stare stolid into mine
And ask my Business there –
„My Business but a Life I left
Was such remaining there?“
(Translation: Zoran Ančevski and Richard Gaughran)
The punishment (beheading) will be carried out in the main square, before the eyes of the gathered crowd.
It is necessary to punish the criminals among us ourselves and in so doing demonstrate that our country is governed the law. Yet, the executioners have substituted captives from the ranks of their enemies for the criminals from among their own. While the heads of the substitutes fall into the basket under the executioner’s axe, the blameworthy criminals have already been sheltered. A perfect illusionist’s trick is performed before the mob.
Bur the other side senses the deception.
In order to conceal every trace, a pyre is immediately built. The headless bodies are chopped with cleavers and together with the heads are thrown into the fire; the bones and the charred flesh are put in trash bags and then buried in some hole.
“It was an unforgettable day“, said the soldier whit a sigh.
If the substitution is really accomplished, the international committee for inspection concludes, the whole public demonstration of justice will have been in fact – ridicule of the public, a massacre whit a blessing.
The committee requests an exhumation of the remains of the burned corpses for the purposes of a detailed inspection.
The game called self-deception begins at the moment when the proposed expertise is accepted. “It is only a formality.“ It is imagined that in the beginning the members of the committee will cast only a cursory glance at the wormy bags and then scribble their signatures and stamp the documents.
However, in the house were the day of exhumation is awaited, silence governs. The soldier and his civilian commander – the arm and the head of the whole operation – are extremely agitated, even though they say nothing, neither to (before) the people, or between themselves.
Time, meanwhile, is marshes on. First only day to the exhumation, it’s now only hours.
The morning before the fateful afternoon appointed for the implementation of the “formality“, the civilian paces the room in front of the fireplace and finally decides to disclose his suspicions aloud to the soldier.
He finds him in the large hallway of their common shelter. The other sits with a spindle in his hand, spinning, like Heracles at Omphale’s. But the yarn continually becomes tangled. Obviously, he is nervous and absent-minded.
His friend pleads for a talk.
They leave the house and walk along the path that wind among the foliage. The yard is large; resembling a park (it has a fish pond). In the open they can breathe much easier. And their thoughts are freer.
‘Караси в прудах“, says the civilian in Russian.
The soldier looks at him inquisitively, his brow lowered, a metallic gleam in his eyes.
“Doctor Chekhonte“, explain the civilian, than says, again in the original, “Крижовник.“
In continuation the civilian, without any indication that he is commencing on his main theme, says that he I sure that the committee will not perform only a “formal“ inspection of the corpses. To put in more precisely, it will be a real, vulture like autopsy. Once the exhumation is over, the experts will thrust themselves upon the carcasses like dogs, will take every last bit to their fucking labs and there will check everything under their damned strong microscopes. Nothing will remain concealed.
The soldier nods his head in agreement. Yes, yes, he thinks exactly the same, that will happen, and he himself is sure that the whole thing will take place in the way. And what can we do?
There is only one solution, says the civilian. For the soldier immediately to dig up bags and destroy all the remains completely, along with the ashes, which he is to throw in the river to let them mix with the mud. Than only suspicion will remain nothing else. And even on the basis of nothing the soldier can be held responsible, of course, but still, it is something different. Completely different!
“Yes, yes“, approves the soldier, aware that the civilian is right, but also that all guilt has been placed upon him.
Although he says nothing, in himself he decides not to listen to his wise friend, and to accept fate with all possible.
(Translation: Zoran Ančevski and Richard Gaughran)
Across the square, the dog runs to greet me. After twenty years I have been recognized half a step from home. It’s funny. Well, why am I, Odysseus? Where then is Ithaca?
The square is ruined from the recent bombing. The museum is missing its roof. The theater boxes, resembling props, look upon a scene of devastation.
On the flagpole, instead of a flag a screen hangs, upon which the film of the new bombing will soon be shown. The show has not yet begun. The cameramen are looking at the sky. The director lights his Havana. The gathered crowd is already electric, it is losing patience.
The show, from every angle, from heaven and from earth, encompasses the entire city, especially the potential main targets (maybe they will not miss any of them?). One camera is reproducing live picture from the square. The mob walks across the screen and across the streets that lead away from the square. There are political activists here; the party leaders from opposition are speaking against the regime with megaphones in their hands, cursing television, which, according to them, is to blame for everything.
The first bomb falls on the museum. The people on the screen lie on the ground, imitating their own shadows from the square. The second and third explode among the people, creating craters. In comparison to their obviously destructive power, they are somehow quiet, discreet (so as not to damage the expensive microphones?) The fourth lands near my trusty dog, but it misfires.
“If had exploded, it would have killed us!“ I tell the dog. “That was close. We were lucky, me and you.“
The bomb – it is small, a kind of hand grenade, but obviously with hellish strength – a swallow takes it up, and it carries it in its beak. Where will it leave it, in its nest?
“I contend that it’s very risky to entrust such a burden to a bird“, says one the party activists, and he bird-like.
“We should trust in living creatures, sirs“, objects a second. “The ravens are celebrated in our folk songs!“
“Their language, divided into short syllables, in universally intelligible“, offers a third.
The show becomes tedious. The crowd from the screen slowly leaves the square, and that of the square thins out on the screen. One Arab had gone mad: he thinks that the square is a ship.
“Will we sink?“ he asks tearfully.
“You’ve already sunk“, he receives in the hasty and brazen reply from the burly radicals. And we are just beginning.
The dog runs across the square. He no longer knows me. I am not Odysseus, and this is not Ithaca.
(Translation: Richard Gaughran)
 in the rose-colored car of the train (Arthur Rimbaud)
 Perch in a pond (Chekhov: Gooseberries)
Датум последње измене: 2008-01-15 14:21:42