5 Short Stories
A low flight over the childhood
When the apple-trees in our garden were still young, I was as big as the smallest of them. I was like a pea, like a piece of pie, like a candy wrapped in a colorful paper. Even smaller. I had a nose like a fin of a river trout and little hands like needles of a pine tree. Yes, I looked like that. But don’t think that I was haughty, that I leaned my head upon my back. No, I have never been like that. My parents can tell you that - mom and dad.
At school they used to ask me what my mom and dad are doing. They wanted me to answer fast, to hurry up, as it was something unimportant, or to say - minor. The teacher would look at me through the windows of her glasses - waiting. She was waiting for the answer. Fast answer. As if the answer was an attic pigeon to rush from there as a thunder. It’s hard to say what mom and dad are doing, because mom and dad are my parents. They are mom and dad.
- Look, kid how come you don’t get it? I will repeat. What’s the job of your parents? What? Say!
- Well… Mom loves dad, dad loves mom, mom loves me, dad loves me, I love dad, dad loves sis, sis…. - And like this forever. It was important matter and I had to be correct and precise when I was answering. Dad says that. Me, mom, dad and sis - we love each other a lot.
Sis is a big sis. She puts color on her lips. That’s not nice. Sis wants to have her hair colored too. Mom doesn’t let her to do that. That’s bad for the hair and bad for the looks. Mom says that. Sis gets angry; she smears the lipstick over her face and runs away in her room. Nothing is clear to me. Sis tells me annoyed that I’m stupid, that I don’t understand anything.
When I turned 15, my father bought a mower and cut the grass in our yard for the first time. It was then when I learned what is a blade, how you open it, how it cuts and how it cuts off. From the window of our bathroom I was watching my father mowing the grass. The bathroom smelled of antidandruff shampoo because I had just washed my hair. I felt warm and nice and I didn’t want to get out from there. Only the blade was bothering me. And my sister, knocking the door intently.
The first day of high school brought a trayful of new kids that I was going to meet, in the new desks, in the new classrooms. And new teachers. Tough and those who pretend to be tough. And still, everything was same. Even the questions:
- What’s the job of your parents?
And again: rolling your eyes, breaking the fingers, moving the chair, painful prolonging - the look wandering somewhere.
- Well, daddy is mowing the grass in the yard and mom….
Laughter. Everyone’s making joke. I’m not in the mood of joking. I like jokes but the fact that daddy works in the garden - together with the nightingale that every summer used to visit - was interesting to me, but not funny. Not funny at all.
The next spring my grandma died. The people were drawing near the bier carrying dark candles, with their pale faces trying to bring a fresh breath in the numbness of that day. I loved my grandma and that’s why I was sad too, but no one seemed to notice. Everyone was crying, I wanted to cry too, but I was scared. Even when the priest was singing, even when my mom was talking. Someone came, touched my shoulder and said:
- Stop it, little boy, you don’t understand.
When I finished high school, they were widening the street in front of our house and they cut two apple-trees. I felt sorry for them. At that time my father had retired, and my mother had started to work at home. So now they could sit all day in the yard watering the lawn. They even planted some flowers.
I entered university and I’m studying a lot. I read a lot. I don’t want to hear any more that I’m stupid and I don’t understand anything. I want to understand everything.
I should say too that I have a girlfriend. She always has rosy cheeks and a bunch of hairpins in her hair. I like to spend afternoons with her - kissing. She asks me what my parents are doing. I’m telling her the truth: they are planting flowers. And that’s true. I have never lied. She is laughing to me, and I laugh too. I’m happy, happiest.
One day - by the fence of the yard where the big neighborhood dog lives - she didn’t show up. She was not at her home; she was not in her grandma’s place. When I saw her she didn’t laugh like before and she didn’t talk like before. She didn’t take my hand. She told me that she doesn’t love me. I got scared, I protested, I needed her appearance, her warmth, her kisses. She was determined.
- It’s not that simple. The colors of the traffic light change, but red is longer than green. All the things change and move. We can’t be together forever. Do you understand? Even the sky and the clouds are not always close. Brother and sister get apart, mother and child. Earth from sky, white from black, pain from joy, sweet from bitter. Nothing is forever. Everything changes. Our relationship is like a first snow, like first fallen tooth. Do you understand?
No! I don’t want to understand, I gave up from understanding. I had firmly decided not to understand. But, it was too late, too late.
Translated Donka Batakoya Motamedhoseini
I told him I was fine. He grabbed me at my shoulder, nearly reaping the neckband of my sweater made out of welsh wool and tossed me aside at the edge of the bed.
- Tell me, is it John’s fault?
- It’s nobody’s fault! – I answered him without thinking of anything else, except his tassel sleeves and his breath, deep and aggressive.
He slammed the door behind him. I stood in the room for a few moments, alone and confused. You can see how the fog hauls up from the window, there at Brighton and entirely unreachable for the eyes of others, somewhere at a great distance, I noticed the outlines of that stone shack by the sea, where ten years ago Brad broke his front teeth playing football.
There wasn’t any noise from the hall and I knew that I was alone in the house. I haven’t been alone for a long time. Ah, damned wish to be alone. At this moment I did not even want my phone to ring. If I had heard that sound, that disturbing tone of the black box, I swear to God I would have gone mad; I would’ve smashed it against the wall.
There were fingerprints from Brad’s palms on the wallpapers. We made them seven years ago, with our hands smeared with chocolate. My fingerprints were bigger and unnoticeable. They faded away. I wiped them myself with a swab made of rough cloth used for patching. My mother made me do it.
- You are grown. You are grown enough to take care of your own actions. Soon you should look after him too. You are a bad girl.
-…I’m a bad girl, - this was the last sentence in my essay. The teacher, Mr. Carmichael, looked at me. He settled his look upon me, not giving any comment. I wasn’t offended at all. Sarah’s look didn’t affect me either. Sarah envies my essays. I envy her dresses. The teacher Carmichael quoted Coleridge and three times repeated the word artificial.
What does “artificial” mean? It doesn’t mean anything. For a class, that is a step close to finishing elementary school, it’s meaningless. Particularly for this infuriated group of pupils that all form masters gave up on. What on earth does “artificial” mean?
- Explain why don’t you come home after classes? – He was yelling at me while I was running towards my room. A high tone conversation stretched behind me.
- She’ll come straight home. You won’t let her go anywhere.
He is hardly ever like that in front of her. She didn’t say a word.
- Three more months. Mum said three more months. Brad rejoiced over the enlargement of the family. We’ll be more mouths and more bums. We’ll be more bums.
I hate my own. God, how I hate my own bum!
- Why don’t you turn around? Look at him in the eyes! He is looking this way. Turn around! - Mary has fifteen. Two years older than I am. She thought me how to make a pass on boys, how to flirt with my lips and eyes.
- You are too stiff, she was constantly repeating. – Protrude your lips more gently.
I hated that word, gently. When I would’ve heard how Mary utters it, I closed my eyes and gnashed my teeth, gently…
- Stop it! – I was saying- Enough. Let him come on his own and then I’ll speak to him.
And he did. He introduced himself, Rod, Rod McCrea. He wanted to ask me out. He wasn’t the first. Previously - James, Marlowe, Banks and Michael, Michael Hutchinson, spotty and disgusting. On the first date he told me he liked my breasts. He tried to unbutton my bra. His hands were white as a goat from the elbows up. I hated him.
- Stand still. Turn around. You move your hands. Don’t cry.
I never cry when I sit locked in my room. I don’t cry behind closed doors. How I hate to cry. You can see the shack from the window. I see it, only me. Here my grandpa from my mother’s side was murdered by the Germans. A bomb fell down while he was coming back from Brighton.
I have heard the soothing tone of his voice so many times:
- Eat fish. It’s delicious and healthy. Dress the fish carefully. Dressing fish strengthens your character.
I come here to listen to the waves. Those dashes from the boulders are terrifying. I feel the roar in my ears. Without anyone’s help I push the heavy door of the shack, it is dark inside. You can’t see anything, until your eyes get used to it. The light from the pane helps afterwards. High above is unreachable. The hay crackles underneath my feet. The wind is strong. I’m silent. The spittle merges down my throat. The hay crackles under me.
I hear myself for the first time saying to him: Leave me alone! Why should I do that?
He is sure of himself. God, how self-assured he is! I can never be like that, so cruel, so confident. Rod, on the other hand, says I’m cold.
- It’s from the water. From the sea, – I tell him without thinking.
- You can’t stand it; - clumsily he wants to start a conversation.
- I can’t stand the salt.
Cormorant flies over our heads. We look at it. Rod can’t pronounce its name. He wants to kiss me. I turn my head away.
-Have you been kissed before?
-It’s not of your business!
- It is, if you’re dating me.
- Who says I’m dating you?
- I do, so be gentler!
I don’t cry. I never cry when I’m alone. Mother doesn’t believe me. She thinks I hide everything from her, that I cry all the time. She is afraid to ask me herself. She asks Brad to do it, and Brad chivies me.
I told him I was fine. He has big palms. Same as his, with flat nails, cut almost to the flesh.
- Don’t cut your nails like that.
- I’ll cut them as I like. If you’re older it doesn’t mean that you know everything.
He has my spite. Why does he have this temper? I don’t want him to have my temper. It never did me any good. Even now, I don’t say anything out of perversity and I don’t cry because of it. Maybe it would be easier for me.
James, Marlowe, Banks, than Michael, Rod at the end. They don’t mean anything to me, names. Jerks. All they do is kiss. Banks and I were walking along the shore. Muttonhead. I made him scoop up shells when the pebbles were freezing cold.
- You soiled your dress; - Mary nipped the hem of my dress. I didn’t manage to pull away.
- Rod is a rascal.
- Rod is worthless, a tyke. He is afraid to stick his tongue out.
- He is afraid and yet he soiled your dress.
The pane is small. The stones are cold. The racket is louder here, stronger. I sit alone in the shack. You can’t see our house from here, and you can see the shack from the house even through a fog. I see it.
- You are filthy. Look at your clothes. Tuck up your hair.
When I was little, Brad and I were scuttling through the mud. He was secretly spying us from the window. He was calm. Mother was angry.
I didn’t say anything.
The wind was getting stronger; the waves were dashing more furiously. I wasn’t alone in the shack, I was never alone. He grabbed my hands. I recognized his palms, his nails. He was cold and strong.
- Three more months- Brad was happy.
I wasn’t enough, three more months. He doesn’t want a brother. He wants another sister. I’m not enough. To him, I’m bad: I’m mum; I don’t smear with my hands greased with chocolate on the wall, I don’t trample over the mud. He is bored with me. He wants another one.
- Get out of the room! – I push Brad out.
- You’ll cry.
- Don’t listen to mum. I never cry. I don’t cry when I’m alone. I’ll look at the sky.
You can’t see the sky from the shack. Only the hay crackles. The floor is dirty.
-You are filthy. Gather your clothes…
The dress is already down, in the hay. My skin is red. My lints are feeling his fingers; in a moment my flesh crawls. I shiver down my spine.
James, Marlowe, Banks, and then Michael, Rod at the end. Damn gluttonous dogs. One day I’ll laugh at them all. From the room, from the window, from my room, from the room facing the shack, I see it.
I’m mum. I become hoarse. I’m breathless. The wind blows. The hay crackles. I shiver half-dead. There is only one breath, his, deep and aggressive. I feel him in me. I’m mute…Does he deserve me to say: father!
Translated Sanja Petrusheva
“Isaac David! Isaac David!” the name echoed down the hospital corridor. “Isaac David is born!” shouted a middle-aged man in a black coat and glasses with silver frames. His hair was caught in that situation which appears in men of his years: in some places his curly hair was completely white, in others his hair still superstitiously clung to its color. Without releasing his black hat of fine felt from his left hand, he rushed from person to person, squeezing the hands of the ladies, and pulling the doctors by their collars. Some people laughed, others simply nodded their heads, others craftily pretended that they weren’t following this happy event, and that nothing had happened.
But still – something of importance had happened – Isaac David was born. That was on Yom Kippur, on the very threshold of the fall of 1938. The roast chicken which was served for supper was probably the biggest chicken cooked in the David family kitchen up until then. Everyone agreed that there were enough reasons to celebrate lavishly.
This man, who was shouting at the top of his voice, was the happy father, Joseph David, one of the owners of the business cooperative, David and Babel Co., with their headquarters in Warsaw. He dealt in sewing machines, textiles, and various sundries, which carried enough profit for a decent life. Joseph was not the descendent of traders; his father Samuel was a writer with a significant reputation in literary circles, and his grandfather Adam was, among other things, involved in playing music and in ‘scribbling
trifles’ as he himself put it. It was a family which tradition maintained, and a family which maintained the traditions.
The fall of 1938 was warm. The weather did not worry Joseph. Nor did his work.
These days his close friend and his assistants were wrapping up agreements begun earlier, and he could allow himself to yield to some domestic duties. Now, when a son would continue his family tree, Joseph began to look at things differently.He spent more time at home, but he also had the intention of developing his trading business to a greater degree.
The winter passed quickly. Isaac grew and developed, but no one had told him to do that.
“Children are strange creatures,” said Tomasz Anilewicz, the Davids’ neighbor. “A person can be endlessly enchanted by them. I always asked myself it is possible that all of us were children once. So innocent, so harmless, so sincere. The world would be different if it were able to be built on children.”
Tomasz was a wise man, already in his fifties. He was a Pole, tall, with his hair still blond, with a pale face, and hands which he knocked against his thighs when he walked downstairs. He bowed his head when he had to pass through a doorway, and with the passage of time he remained a little hunched over, like a branch of autumn quince heavy with fruit. He walked slowly, and rarely went out among people, but that did not mean that he didn’t like his neighbors. He was a favorite of the David family.He would often sit on their couch, and tell them all sorts of things, in which he showed his deep thoughtfulness and gift for storytelling.
“Books are pots in which everyone who reads them puts in spices in just the right amount. It’s the same thing with life: we sip what we cut up and put into it. Food is good if we treat it with herbs; life has meaning if we don’t live it for ourselves. Every life is a book,” continued Tomasz.
Sitting a little apart from the rest of the company, their neighbor Agnieszka was talking in French with Kseniya, their guest from the Balkans:
“His wife left him recently. Together with their one-year old daughter. They don’t see each other anymore. He lives by himself. Sometimes a woman comes to help out, Suzanna. A fine woman.”
The ladies’ words, which had no evil thought attached to them, but only wanted to be coquettish among themselves in more intimate conversation, didn’t reach him. And were he to listen, Tomasz spoke German, but didn’t know French. The two women were sitting right by the piano, and the wooden chest of drawers carved with a bird with its wings outstretched and with many flowers. They commented about the people in the room and the happenings connected with them. Agniezka was invited the most often to describe for them all the events connected with the eastern part of Warsaw.
At the same time, Mihal, the joint friend of Joseph and Tomasz, was putting wine in the glasses which sparkled along their rims.
“Your every utterance is wonderful. You say them so beautifully. You always use the best words. I delight in your speeches.”
Before he lifted his glass, Tomasz answered him:
“Those are not my utterances. I don’t think up anything. I only rediscover words that have already been said. I can say that this is my wine, because I made it together with my father twenty years ago, in our vineyard in Otovsk, in Northern Podlasia,” and drank some of the wine. “But I can’t say: ‘these are my words or my utterances. That is contradictio in adiecto.”
“Isaac David! Isaac David!” with a shake of his head and with anger in his speech, repeated a man in a black coat, bending down to his tight leather boots with heavy soles. He had called out his name several times in the living room of the David family, and struck his right hip with his officer’s cap. The man was not a guest, nor was he their relative. He was not a friend, nor was he a relation to the thousands of families who, on this spring day were undergoing a raid on their homes. Old people, children, men and women, who were written down on some lists on some pieces of paper, like schoolchildren’s herbariums in the old schools, were thrown into huge, slow trucks of fear.
The man unwilling made several rounds of the room, in which nothing was in its place. On the floor lay objects, overturned and broken, which usually the maid usually cleaned with a dry rag every Saturday afternoon when their relatives visited the David family. The man deliberately stepped on a photograph in a frame. The glass became like grains of salt. Then he placed his gloves and cap in his left hand, knelt down, and turned over the photograph. In it was a man (looking at the lens of the camera), who was hugging a woman, a woman who was holding a very tiny baby, and looking at him, and a baby in swaddling clothes, whose face he recognized at once. The man was looking only for him. Isaac David.
He went downstairs and out of the door like an electric current, and found himself on the street. Several times he turned this way and that, knowing that he had no more time to linger; he thudded with his heels on the cobblestones, measuring the seconds that remained. Then he shouted something in German, and several uniformed men raced into the nearest house.
When he heard banging on his own door, Tomasz turned his head towards the window; for a second, as had never happened before, his hands which held a Chinese porcelain cup full of tea shook. He stood up and set off towards the entrance hall with his well-known step. After him trailed the belt of his bathrobe; he stopped for a moment, tightened his belt, and went on. He didn’t even reach the door. Several men with guns had already rushed inside; they smashed the ornamental figures from a small table, and pointed their guns at him.
“Isaac David!” shouted the man in the black coat, who entered right after the armed men. “Isaac David!”
Tomasz shook his head, explained that he lived alone, and that he didn’t know a person by that name.
“He’s a child!” answered the angry man. Then he turned towards the helmeted men and gave some kind of signal with his eyes. There wasn’t even time for him to turn his head towards Tomasz, when the men scattered through the rooms of the house, as fast as lightning. They smashed things, struck things senselessly. One with a stick hurt his left elbow, but he continued to smash everything in front of him.
“I don’t approve of your behavior. You have nothing to look for in these people’s houses. You think that your goals justify everything. I think that you cannot reach them in that manner. …” Tomasz didn’t finish his statement, because the man pulled out a pistol from his holster and hit him behind his left ear. His blood flowed, and Tomasz found himself unconscious on the floor by the remnants of the ornamental ceramics.
He gave a start. He was in the room, and no one else. If it weren’t for the overturned furniture, he would have thought that what had happened earlier was a bad dream. He rushed outside. He came to a stop in front of the Davids’ door. It was open, and inside there was a deathly silence. He took several steps backwards, and slowly returned to his house. He was alone again. His street was empty, there weren’t even any cats or mice.
He listened once more, to make sure that no one was nearby. He checked to make sure that he’d double-locked the door. Then he moved the table, pushed aside the carpet in the dining-room, and opened a trapdoor in the floor. The tall Tomasz vanished into his wine cellar, into the damp underground of Warsaw, where for the last fifty years he’d kept his wine in the coolness. Before he lit a candle, he felt a strange warmth across his hand, and almost inaudibly said:
“In vino veritas est.”
That same day, Mr. Babel, the good friend of Joseph David was shot, before he even? reached where it was ordered that he be. He rushed towards his wife in the instant that a uniformed woman began to beat her with her fists.
Joseph David perished in the Warsaw Ghetto during the April uprising of 1943.
His wife, Rashella, died from poisonous gas on the twentieth of November, 1944 in the Oswieczim concentration camp, known as Auschwitz.
Another twelve million people suffered the same fate, of which six million were Jews…
Isaac David was listed in the local documents as having mysteriously disappeared.
“Isaac Josifovich! Isaac Josifovich!” shouted a graying, middle-aged man in a coat with buttons which were larger than his ears. He was holding a metal megaphone and had climbed on top of a car whose motor roared very loudly along the whole avenue, and which moved more slowly than all the other vehicles.
“Tonight at eight o’clock in Carnegie Hall Isaac Josifovich is appearing at the piano!
Highlighting the young virtuoso at the piano! Issac Josifovich at Carnegie Hall!”
A young man in a white shirt watched this happening from the hotel in which he had a room. He was from Europe, he didn’t speak English very well, but he somehow succeeded in talking to a telephone operator.
“Dial the number again, it’s a number in Poland. Try the number again.”
It was futile. He didn’t reach the number he wanted.
In the evening Isaac Josifovich truly appeared on the stage of Carnegie Hall, at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Fifty-Seventh Street. In the concert hall silence held sway. People didn’t talk much. He dedicated the concert to those who could not hear it at this moment. Then he gave himself over completely to the language which he had mastered the best. His conversation with the public ended with the thunderous applause of those present. The concert hall echoed:
“Isaac Josifovich! Isaac Josifovich!”
Only a single woman’s voice, from the main floor of the concert hall, in the left parterre, called out:
“Isaac David! Isaac David!”
An hour later, an old man with white sideburns, sitting in his favorite armchair, just then heard the phone ring. An expression of satisfaction appeared on his face. As though he were abashed at what he listened to in the telephone receiver.
“Father,” said the man.
It seemed as if he was surprised, as though it was the first time he heard that word.
He threw himself into his office, and on a piece of paper on which there was some text already written in ink, he immediately began to arrange his letters with their exaggerated loops at the ends. Ten years had passed since this old man had decided all that he said, sitting on the couch next to the David family, all that he said in meetings with his friends and acquaintances.
Man is not an island. For himself, man has no meaning. He is pure material, without sense. Man becomes a person only in relationship to another person. Other people – that is what I am.
Before he wrote down the last words, the old man looked at the single photograph that was on his desk. It was the portrait of a man and a child. Father and son.
“Father,” Tomasz repeated softly so that he alone could hear it. And he added:
To kill a person is to kill the person within oneself. To help someone in need yields the essence of one’s own existence. Or, as the Talmud says, whoever says a person, saves the entire world.
Tomasz Anilewicz was one step from the end of his book.
Translated Masha Belyavski-Frank
When the glasses are lost
It was a stifling summer outside when suddenly everything stopped. The faces of the little girl and her father went pale; maybe the father was even more terrified than the little girl. She was not able to recognize what real fear is, nor was she aware of the dangers emerging in situations similar to this one, but she only felt that her father’s grip suddenly became harder and that caused her face to become white as a sheet. The tall guy, who was destined to experience things from above and haughtily, swung so noticeably that he had to lean on the inside wall with his elbow. Actually, it was not a leaning but bumping the wooden surface of the wall, taking advantage of the moment not to crumble down on the floor. The elderly couple soundlessly united their bodies and lonely occupied a corner just for them and concealed. The other four people: the soldier, the man with the beard, the girl in red and the man in suit, dispersed in all directions – one fell down, the other hit his/her forehead on the edge of the apparatus with buttons, the third tumbled on the platform, and the fourth pulled the tall guy’s sleeve and tottered upfront with the head.
Out of all of them, the girl with red trousers and pierced navel, experienced this event most loudly uttering an inarticulate word followed by burst of curses, but nobody objected as they would usually do in different circumstances. The man with the beard, immediately realizing the situation, continued to lie down soberly on the rubber linoleum with bumps, caressing the hairs of his beard with his fingers. The gentleman with striped coat and trousers with undefined color quickly stood up and immediately looked at his expensive watch showing all the people that he was in the biggest hurry to go somewhere. The soldier was the only one with his fleshy hands on his forehead in noticeable pain, although he was not showing any sign of defeat. After the first wave of shock had passed, the father irrevocably concluded that the elevator was stuck. The rest of them neither confirmed nor rejected this conclusion. It seemed too hasty to them to replace their formal nodding of the heads when entering the elevator or stingy salutations when exiting the elevator with some alarming sympathy and uniting in compassion. But it seemed like, after a while, everybody, except the two silent old people, accepted the reality that they would have to work together and to communicate.
The artist suggested pressing the report button, but, as it was the case in other elevators in the town, nobody believed that it would be functional as required by the rules. Maybe one of them even tried to put his thumb on the big round button without any hope that there would be any noticeable outcome of that action. Wanting to determine the altitude they were at, as if that would solve part of the trouble they were in, they tried to guess the floor they were on. At first, the digital dial showed only two eights indicating that the power supply was interrupted and completely disrupted the calculation. The soldier tried to press the display with digits and knocked it with the top of his fist and one could have noticed some kind of thirst for vengeance because of the previous knock. However, not only did the dial not display the correct vertical location, but it completely lost those few signs of live in it. They initiated verbal investigation and the last person that entered the elevator, and that was the tall guy, who, considering the fact that he was going to the top floor of the skyscraper, accommodated in the back part of the elevator, confirmed that he entered the elevator on the tenth floor of the building. They were asking each other where have each of them joined the group and where each should exit the elevator and concluded that actually they are somewhere between the tenth and fourteenth floor which was the next destination of the father and the little daughter.
He, the father-doctor, holding tightly the little fingers of his daughter came close to the soldier after a while and looked at his bumpy forehead in the twilit room. He examined the head of the uniformed guy with his papilla and told him that the injury could not be treated in these conditions and all they could do was to try to decrease the effect. They looked for a hard object to press the place with a hilly bump as a small horn on a newborn calf. Not having too many options, the doctor’s daughter pointed to the soldier’s belt where a gun hanged in a white holster that she could not have missed from her own angle. The soldier reached for his gun slowly and bashfully, released the safety and locked the gun and put the handle on his forehead. The sudden coldness stunned him and he removed the weapon from his forehead and it hit the door and fell on the floor. Some of the people looked at each other not revealing the reason for such secrecy. The girl was the first to reach for the gun. But she did not give it to the frightened and clumsy little soldier but she came to him and pressed the handle to his reddened skin. Yet, it did not bring relieve to him, on the contrary, it made him feel even more embarrassed in front of the others.
The old lady whispered something to her husband and he kneeled on the floor and started hanging around the man with the beard (meanwhile, the man with the beard informed the others that he is a painter) and smartly squeezed through the other people’s legs. The old lady revealed that the sudden brake probably caused her glasses to fell down from her face and she had just noticed that she did not have the glasses. Some of the people kneeled wishing to help to the old man who was still on his knees and impressing the younger ones with his endurance and persistence. The congestion of the elevator shadowed the low neon light. Their silhouettes casted numerous mirages, deep darkness on the floor that made the joint quest significantly harder. The well-dressed dandy of a gentleman did not join the unit that was performing detailed search of the elevator, but he started to call for help. He started calling various names, as if he knew some important persons from the personal of the building in charge of monitoring the uninterrupted daily flow. Although silent calls gradually turned into yelling, all that was in vain. Pair of elevators in the skyscraper was installed recently and they were, as it was said, the far cry of technology. They had thick walls and solid isolation, so the driving in the elevators was true soundless joy. Being used to those old and out of use elevators in the old little buildings that bring fear in the heart, listening to the mechanical work of the decrepit engine or rolling of the vibrating cord that looks as if it swung the moving can up and down in the square tunnel, this elevator was a true contrast. It went up fast, went down silently, and stopped gently. It simply gave the passengers feeling of trust and security.
Literary all passengers present there accepted the fact that the information system was showing signs of absence as understandable flaw in the installation, something on which the reality made them to get used to it. When he noticed that his calls were useless, while the others were surprised, the gentleman started to slam violently with his open palms to the closed metal doors of the elevator. As soon as he noticed that it was not loud enough, he lifted his briefcase and he started to bounce its plastic legs against the silver mirrored surface. The echo from the noise he created was dispersing around, breaking again and again on all the angles and planes and was even more inciting the unrest among the passengers.
At one moment, the tall guy reached to the palms of the dressed up gentleman and abruptly took them away. Then he pointed towards the little girl covering her ears with her hands and looked at them with confused look. The father started to convince the panicked gentleman to apologize to him and his daughter for the scene he made, but he refused that explaining that he did that on behalf of the collective welfare and common interests. The doctor did not give up on his intent and continued his dignified persistence until their naïve quarrel turned into heated argument. That was the first quarrel among the group that additionally heated the atmosphere in the elevator.
Moments later, when he realized that the meeting he was going to was already canceled for him, the gentleman undressed his coat and put it on one hand while he was holding the briefcase with his other hand as if there was something strictly confidential in it. The others made moves indicating that the heat, that should have been regulated with the ventilation system, was coming in tides each even more unbearable from the previous one, and they had to do something about that. Most of men undressed part of their upper clothes, released their ties if they had one, and if they did not have a tie, such the painter, they pulled their drawers up. The old lady pulled up a hand fan and started to whirr with it in front of her face, turning it to her husband’s face from time to time, and when she got tired of doing that, he started to whirr with the hand fan instead of her. They were whipping out their dewy foreheads with everything at their hands – with their sleeves or with paper tissues that they were kipping in their pockets thinking that they will never going to use them – everybody did so except the soldier and the girl that were chatting endlessly on various subjects, and in that particular moment he was explaining her how the weapon functions, how to put safety on and off, how to aim and shoot, things that he would not be doing such nonchalantly if they were at some other place and some other time.
The father interrupted them saying that it would be appropriately to try, for change, to keep quiet and to listen if something is going on around them – whether the elevator next to them is moving, are they going to hear the mechanical works of the workers that are surely dedicated to mending the defect. They were longing for the calls and instructions that rescue teams are sharing between them hanging over their destiny and creating plans about the best possible way to take them out of there.
Except for the rumblings of their bodies and the clicking of the old couples’ dentures, there was still not a sound to be heard nearby. The old man had already pointed out the tall guy as the main suspect. Despite everyone’s reasonable advice, the old man blamed the tall guy and his unnecessary joining to the collective in the elevator, although spacious enough – it had a limited weight capacity, and that must have caused the overload. Reprimanding him for being the cause, the old man then demanded the tall historian start sharing stories with them, which were to be used as a symbol of commiseration for the bittersweet picture they were all part of. He presented the event as historically inevitable and spoke about the old legends, when galleys of the Githiesh forces looted in throughout the Salzburg Sea and could not fight in the battle of Getersburg and provide support by sea to their infantry.
Still, later when the soldiers united and the captains coordinated their actions, they all surprised the perpetrators from behind, so the perpetrators, not expecting this attack, in panic were thrown into an unsurpassable defeat. The tall guy would have certainly continued to dig through the archives and artifacts of the past, if the well-dressed gentleman, who was extensively grinding his teeth, did not give up on the fact that finally – after ferociously pressing on his phone’s keyboard – could not get a signal. Although for a while he was holding his phone close to his ear, he did not say a word. The small sign of hope raised by the well-dressed gentleman was again pitilessly discouraged and swept away.
The tenants in the building may have shown lack of concern for the trapped group, which was one thing the group was not so concerned about, but the inability to get in touch with those tenants, or to at least hear some noises of life behind the walls, opened the box of assumptions and believes about the destiny of the world they once knew. The time was passing by and finally only the girl, who was sitting on the floor with her back leaning on one of the elevator’s walls, and her hands wrapped around her bent knees, in front of everybody raised her voice claiming that she was about to faint from starvation. The soldier had leaned on her and was already dozing off. Swallowing his arrogance, the well-dressed gentleman for the first time addressed the group and concluded that the day had gone by and it was already dark outside. Long before that moment, the members of the group were licking their dry lips hoping to reduce their thirst that was taking over, and it was then that the artist pulled a litter water bottle out of his bag, and after taking the first sip, passed it on to the others. When he was first offered a sip from the bottle, the well-dressed gentleman politely but with a grimace declined, but a little later he was quick to grab the bottle and fiercely drink what was left. The water seemed to have calmed down the passengers and they – wherever they could – all lay down on the floor, which seemed wide enough and now looked much smaller. Except for the soldier, who would occasionally awaken to keep an eye on the others, while at the same time turning his head away from the girl’s shoulder, and the little girl, who obviously complained to her father, even before he started telling her stories patiently and quietly, the rest of the group fell asleep.
The snoring and the deep sighs that came from the crowd lying on the floor were mixing with other bodily sounds, so that finally the entire group looked like a small joyful band. Some of them would hit each other’s heads or push aside their neighbor’s belongings, but overall there were no fights or angry bumps. However, the restful dreams did not last long and was interrupted by a jarring bang. Almost all jumped to their feet, except for the artist and the well-dressed gentleman, who as if stuck to each other, did not even move. With their messy hair and their bleary eyes, their bodies arched towards the light of the elevator’s ceiling and this time they looked at each other not doubtfully but terrified. A few of them now agreed that they had to answer the call of nature. For a while they were wondering just what to do about it, until the historian came up with an idea to use the empty water bottle, while the rest covered their eyes or turned their back. They all fell asleep for the second time. There were no outbursts of desperation that morning, only the gurgling noise of their empty stomachs permeating the space like abandoned kittens left on someone’s porch. Their shared vulnerability turned into a mutual compassion and softened their lonely hearts. The girl went on and on about some events in her neighborhood. Remorsefully reminiscing about her lack of sympathy for a homeless dog who for a while had been playing in front of her building, she firmly promised to amend her actions once they got their lives back. Suddenly they all started to evoke similar poignant and random flashbacks from their lives, as if presiding in front of some invisible adjudicator who would make a final decision on their destinies, in which only a few would be allowed to go back to address. Through these recollections, in some way they were sealing their future, securing their pretentious superiority or worth. While the soldier was explaining where he was originally heading to, they concluded that he should not have been here in the first place – being this was the wrong building. But squeezed between the bodies of the father and the girl, who every so often was taking out a book and pretending to read attentively, the soldier not even once regretted his mistake. The businessman, on the other hand, suddenly turned his head towards the old man and woman admitting that he never liked old people and for that reason he almost never let them cross the pedestrian crossing if he ran into them driving in his car. He adamantly demanded that they apologize because of that, in the name of their entire generation. After they all purged their souls, they went silent again. The painter dozed off, snoring loudly. When they began to move, they noticed that the heat coming from the ventilation system was replaced with cool air. The stream of cold air was swiftly blowing from above and everyone started to put their clothes on and lie closer to each other. Some of them even switched their seats, depending on their ability to tolerate the chill. Sometime later, you could hear some sort of clattering coming from one of the elevator’s corners, shortly enough followed by prattling. Those who were standing closer to the old man and woman could see them, and those who were further could sense that they were chewing candies without sharing. The girl crawled closer to them and begged for some candies. At first, the old woman without being seen firmly held on to her bag and was somewhat reserved. However, she relented and opened her bag to give the girl one nicely wrapped candy. That moment only served to reaffirm everyone’s dislike of the old couple, especially when seeing the daughter staring with her watery eyes at the girl who was eagerly eating the candy. A ray of hope emerged when the elevator moved, one step below its bed. They were all aware that if, for some reason, the elevator started to move, it should go up not down. Still, this brought them hope that things would soon start moving from the position they were stuck in for more than twenty-four hours. The well-dressed gentleman and the historian jumped to their feet and again loudly started to call out to some invisible people and unnecessary banging with the soles of their shoes. This time no one complained. The false glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, that for a moment brought them hope in the so called dungeon, made them increasingly impatient. For a while now, the painter had taken a pencil out of his pocket and was scribbling some sort of lines on the soft walls. In reality, these contours were turning into mere imperfections on the spotlessly clean elevator, which until then was shining like a crown jewel, but that cleanness was lost on its current inhabitants who were staring at the painter, without complaining or criticizing him about his sketch. He was drawing from bottom to the top slowly turning it into some sort of visible whirlwind that they felt they were part of it as the time went by. To them it seemed that was the only thing truly expressing their own state – cold, hungry, thirsty, tired – thrown into the fallacies of ambiguity. It was exactly because of that, the painter – who otherwise would not utter a word – became an object of their suspicions in an attempt to discover the culprit behind this unpleasant event, and all of a sudden they curiously and spitefully began to question him. The old woman accused him of stealing her misplaced glasses when unable to find them on the elevator’s floor, and the historian, who previously blamed everything on the inevitability of history, questioned the painter’s move to hide his water bottle, while the old man concluded that it was the painter that looked as if fully prepared for this elevator’s incident. The soldier and the girl, and the father and the daughter, did not take part in the debate – that resembled some sort of trial, but mumbled something quietly and occasionally, as if they were trying to pour water on the fire. It was the father who eventually calmed everyone down by saying that it was useless to figure out who was the guilty one now, and it would be best to do that afterwards – once they get out. However, he was wrong – he used “when” instead of “if”. Exhausted and tired, waiting for that final blow, they all gave up on the idea to be rescued – the soldier and the girl were already hugging each other out of despair – he was playing with her belly button ring while she was patting the tattoo on his left forearm. The daughter finally calmed down and sat in her father’s lap, while the painter gave up on his drawings and dropped his blunt pencil on somebody’s shoe without even caring about who they belong to.
The old man was blowing air into his wife’s palms to warm them up as if that was the last of his strengths. Although it was already cold, the well-dressed gentleman had already made himself too comfortable; he took off his suit, loosened up his tie, belt, he even put away his expensive watch at which he was constantly staring at in the dusk. Almost half-naked, he then stretched all along the elevator’s door /acting as a guardian protecting the cave/ resembling a guardian at the opening of the cave, protecting the rest. They were all petrified and just waiting for the fall of the curtain at the end.
On the following morning the elevator finally moved up. As if some mysterious crown wheel loosened up, the elevator was silently cutting through a thick layer of air. At first, those who were awake, or who were only half-asleep, thought that they were imagining things, that they were hallucinating and that’s just how the end was going to be, but soon enough they realized that they were actually moving – they just could not figure out if it was moving up to the next floor, where they were initially to stop, or maybe to the top of the skyscraper, or perhaps falling back down into an eternal abyss. Regardless of what was happening, while the elevator was rapidly accelerating, they had no intention to detach from one another – as if their bodies were glued together, they had no intention to prepare themselves for the long-awaited dignified entry to the civilized world. All they did was sit still, with no expectations at all, just quiet and breathing heavily.
When the doors opened in front of them, the passengers finally moved, but only to close or cover their eyes with whatever they could find. An emergency team jumped right in. Running around to make sure everyone was okay. They had a hard time coxing each passenger on the stretchers, who were tightly holding onto the elevator’s walls, as if holding a fish hook, and grabbing each other’s arms. Even when they were exiting on the stretchers, one-by-one, one could not help but notice that the members of the disbanded group were all trying to reach out to each other’s hands, waving imperceptibly, as if they were scheduling their next meeting in the long hallway they were passing through. Suddenly, some kind of fear, uncertainty, and suspicion could be seen in their eyes from the presence of all these newcomers, as if they were sent to separate them from an invisible and mysterious feeling that now, unquestionably, could be taken away. When no one was left in the elevator, and the emergency’s sirens could no longer be heard, a lady with a bucket full of water, various soaps and detergents, walked into the elevator. With a wet towel, she quickly started to wipe the drawings off the elevator’s wall, made of the thin and full lines that were occupying the wall like some kind of silent armor. Once she realized that was the hardest part to clean, she tried to scrub it with thick brush and some whitish looking detergent. While bending over to clean the brush in the bucket, in one of the elevator’s corner, she saw an old pair of glasses who someone may have thrown away, but she didn’t make an effort to pick them up.
Translated Nikolche Mickoski & Elena Mitreska
Every day I would secretly stick a piece of paper on your door. The first time I was brief and I wrote: “Find me.” And afterwards: “Sweet dreams” and “What’s your first thought when you open this door.” Perhaps there was no obvious change in your behavior outside your home, but I decided to be even braver, using a few scribbled lines stolen from a bottom-shelf book (“Each unfulfilled touch hovers as if soaked in milk and summer.”) as well as a message made of old newspaper clippings (“I like you when it rains”).
At night I would somehow sneak into the common hallway and stealthily, with notes prepared at home and a sticky tape in my hands, I would rustle near the shimmering spy. It was dangerous to stand by the elevator or beside the staircase; hence, there was no way to see your first reaction after finding those notes. Only once you nearly caught me red-handed. I clumsily introduced myself, saying that I was a new resident in the 88. You wisely walked by in silence. The dearest message that I had ever left on your freshly painted door said: “Your eyelashes bid my thoughts to frequently travel towards you.”
I thought that through these anonymous daily letters we slowly but steadily merge into an unbreakable unity and we gain a secret known to us only. It was a stuffy and sultry August when the letter balloon burst. I had been following you in your ticklish routine for exactly one year when accidently, while I was rummaging through the dumpster where you usually threw the garbage, I came across a paper crumpled in the shape of a tennis ball. It did not take me long to figure that it is a collection of my notes from the previous week. Long afterwards I hesitated about the content of the final message and I wrote you the following: “In the mist I tried to catch the encounter which was supposed to belong to us only”.
It was not that easy to avoid your street. And those drowsy eaves. But finally I managed to change the tune. During that whole process I saw myself as a man who is quitting drinking, up until the moment when I reached a state of conscious indifference, accompanied by pride for the achieved results. I was clean.
Many months had gone by and I was totally clueless of your whereabouts, except that once I thought I saw your reflection in a puddle. By the time I raised my head you had already turned into a distant shadow.
But this morning something rather unexpected occurred. I discovered a note on my door, written in a strange handwriting, which said: “I found you.”
Translated Elena Volkanovska
Датум последње измене: 2012-09-01 17:18:39