by Răzvan Petrescu [Romania]
translation from Romanian by Pat Earnshaw & Alina-Olimpia Miron [MTTLC student]
pentru versiunea română click aici
Exactly two weeks before my wedding day, my upstairs neighbour forgot to turn off his kitchen tap. He left it running and everything underneath it was flooded. A large abstract design of greenish hue appeared on the ceiling and the plaster bulged outwards. When it had dried I had to repaint the room – all this while I was up to my ears in wedding preparations. The neighbour offered to lend me a helping hand, but as he was drunk 24/7 and I was much too tired to pay proper attention, he repainted another room, the bedroom, including the walnut wardrobe. With just three days left to the happiest day of my life, the apartment looked simply sensational. I fell asleep with a paper painter’s hat on my head, a white-washing brush in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. Sure enough, the cigarette fell onto the carpet, and it went up in flames. I suffered only minor disfigurements, but my neighbour was taken to hospital where the doctors shook their heads. They didn’t think he would make it to my wedding.
The day before the ceremony, my mother and father arrived. Their jaws hit the floor when they saw the general state of things. Mother made a scene. They helped me move some shelves as best they could, breaking only the bedroom window.
On the big day, shock-headed, with dark circles round my eyes and a strange hunger to do something wicked, I woke half an hour late. I looked at the alarm clock and saw it hadn’t been set, so I calmed down, and wound it up all the way till the mainspring snapped. Then I went into the living-room. Mother had carefully arranged my suit over a chair. Father, excited and nervous through and through, kept looking at his watch and nudging me to hurry up, then sat down heavily. He is very fat. The chair broke and my suit was torn. Mother tried to repair it as well as she could, but there was no way the stain on my left lapel where I spilt my coffee could be washed out. The two friends I sent to buy flowers couldn’t find any. Every flower shop was closed, and all the gypsy women had mysteriously vanished into thin air. In the end they snitched some from a small park. I’ve no idea what they were, but they were yellow. One of the guys also managed to steal two carnations from the cemetery. The cemetery gatekeeper raced after them very fast, so when they reached us they were drenched in blood; Mother was having a panic attack; Father was crying his eyes out over my ruined suit; and I was trying to convince the landlord the cries he heard were of pure joy. But when I had convinced him of that, he shrieked as well, though not exactly from joy. He went out, slamming the door so hard the viewer fell off. I tidied my apartment by shoving all my newspapers under the bed, including those I’d used to cover the furniture while I was painting. Accidentally, I picked up our wedding gift with them. It broke. I left the wardrobe just as it was. It was beginning to dry.
We were already two hours late. We went down to the street, but couldn’t find a taxi. One of my friends threw a pebble at an empty taxi whose driver didn’t want to stop. That stopped him. He got out and beat the hell out of my father. In the end, we found a wonderful car, a hearse-like ‘70s Mercedes with no windscreen. It got a flat tyre at the intersection of Baba Novac with Brejnev. Fortunately, the driver had a spare (though smaller than the others, it worked pretty well). My friends got in a truck which took them to the wrong place. On our way to the wedding we ran into a funeral procession which cut us off from our route and we were forced to stay behind it all the way home as that was the direction it was going. For some reason, the band was singing Let me Show You Bucharest at Night. We saw both Bucharest and the cemetery where I’d got my carnations. At the cemetery we were asked to wear black arm bands.
When we reached the City Hall on Parfumului Street (in the 3rd District) the rear doors of the car where my parents were seated couldn’t be opened. I was in the front, the smelly little bride’s bouquet in my hands, and I had no desire whatever to get out. However I had to, as the driver’s door wouldn’t open either. When finally he managed to force his way out he landed smack on the pavement with a stinging cut to his head. Both of us tried to open the back doors. Other couples waiting to get married jumped in to help, but still our joint efforts did no more than rip off a door handle. Mother and Father had to get out by climbing over the front seats and Father had to break the passenger seat before he could escape. Without a murmur, we gave the driver nearly a quarter of the initial price, and so finally entered the courtyard. My future mother-in-law snatched the bride’s bouquet and tried to hit me all over the head with it, but I managed to duck out of the way. However, the zipper on my pants came undone and I couldn’t zip it up, though I tried for about three minutes in the City Hall toilet assisted by my cousin (a very strong athlete). His strength didn’t help though because we had mistakenly entered the ‘Ladies’ room. We got kicked out in a storm of screams and unjust labelling – pigs, faggots etc, pommelled at the same time by hard purses with metal buckles. One incisor flew over our heads and landed with a soft click in an empty stall. It was mine. My cousin managed to reach it but got another smack, this time smashing his shock-resistant watch. Then someone thought it would be a good idea to scratch our faces. By the time we got out of there, we were shell-shocked. Mariana was obediently waiting for me in the courtyard. She was quiet because she hadn’t recognised me yet. We had missed our appointed time so we were the last to be married. The broken zip was bugging the hell out of me, also the fact that my future wife wasn’t wearing a bra, her dress being completely transparent. Those waiting in the yard were sweating from so much gazing and seemed to crave to be joined in holy matrimony with Mariana, for ever, or at least for a while. I whispered to her to put a handkerchief in her cleavage and, afterwards, under a flimsy pretext, I shamefacedly hid in the bushes, especially as my mother-in-law was probably looking for me to give me the coup de grâce.
It was five minutes to three when our turn came. Shivering all over, we entered the official chamber. People were talking in low voices. The civil officer was already tipsy and had a big smile on his face directed at no one in particular. When the clock on the wall struck, the man dilly-dallied about with his scarf bearing the Romanian flag which he eventually wore back to front. Everyone was waiting impatiently. He began his speech in a squeaky voice and at the sentence ‘for our country, family represents . . ’ he suddenly stopped. He had forgotten what family represented. He asked the secretary, but she couldn’t remember either. In order to stimulate her memory, she took a bite from a cracker left from the previous wedding. It didn’t help, but it made her choke. She was taken out of the room, her face red and her legs up in the air shaking. In the meantime I was standing stock-still, trying to cover my zipper with my hand. Our godfather was taking colour photos. When he went to put in a new film roll, he realised he hadn’t loaded the camera in the first place. Father turned on the cassette recorder, but no music came out. He punched it, gave it a good shaking, plugged and unplugged it several times, but no music came out. He had forgotten to press play. Only when we returned home did he remember to push it, wiping away a tear and also the entire tape as he had simultaneously hit the record button. However, I had been wise and brought a second cassette-recorder, though an old one, a first generation Philips, whose motor wasn’t always reliable, but it still worked. I beckoned one of Mariana’s uncles who instantly plugged the thing in:. The booming tones of the Wedding March roared out, considerably faster than usual. Everybody’s feverish gestures became attuned to the rhythm. We took two steps forward and nervously signed the Civil Status Record. Mariana accidentally signed her maiden name. When my turn cam, I dropped the pen, and my father-in-law stepped on it. It was a Pelikan. The candy and the champagne came next. The officer knocked back two glasses and burst out laughing. I did some arithmetic: two times fourteen marriages equals twenty-eight glasses. He was loaded. He collapsed on the desk managing at the last minute to grab our godmother’s dress. Despite her age, she got mad and ripped off his tricolour scarf in one scoop. Meanwhile a fight over the candy was in full swing. ‘Why should I only get one, and that without chocolate, while the lady dressed in green got three?’ a soprano’s voice sang out. ‘Be happy you got one. I didn’t get squat.’ a contralto shouted. Now that really set them off. They immediately started bickering and throwing candy at each other. One piece hit me in the eye. I can’t say how sweet it was, but it sure was rock hard. After that, everyone settled down because of lack of ammunition, and my father-in-law promised me a brand new plastic pen.
We stepped into the backyard and the official photos were taken .The City Hall photographer took them using a big black Hasselblad which surprised us by not going up in smoke. But it did make an awful snapping noise. The old people of both families got a kick out of this. We smiled, we stood still, we froze; it was horribly cold outside. The photographer asked for a ridiculous amount of money – roughly five months’ wages – promising he would throw in the frames. He showed us the frames. Nevertheless, although he was clearly a professional, one of the group pictures came out blurry because the moment he shouted ‘Cheeeeeese!’ somebody in the neighbouring lot started to beat carpets and – surprise, surprise! – we all turned our heads in that direction. A child waving two spools of paper tape over his head came stamping along till he fell into a ditch. We managed to get him out, but with great difficulty because he was caught on a wire. We all got stained with lime and even shit I think (thank God it was frozen). The child, as soon as he saw he was out of the hole, started to yell while the spools kept spinning dizzily. Then his mother showed up, a refined woman who started cursing our blessed union and many other things I can’t repeat here. We quickly said goodbye, kissed one another again – some even pinched each other spitefully, remembering the candy episode and other things, and finally there we were, on the street again in search of a taxi. This time we were lucky. We put the flowers and the gifts in the boot, but by the time we’d finished waving to one another, the taxi had left without us. So we took the bus. After only one stop, its cable became disconnected. Cursing all the time, the driver finally got it going, though it took him three quarters of an hour. Unfortunately we had gone only two more stops when a priggish housewife, studying Mariana and her dress in detail, let out a shriek and summoned us in the name of everything moral to get off that instant. However, not all of us got off : my mother-in-law stayed on to fight the housewife. We reached home in about two and a half hours on foot, through the snowbound streets. In front of the apartment building I slipped on the ice and sprained a finger.
Some three hours later, tired and famished, we were all gathered in the apartment, but the gas had been cut off , and we couldn’t use the cooker. We ate cold sausages with Portuguese pickles. An aunt had indigestion and threw up a ridiculous amount of sausage, forgetting to flush the toilet. This, in turn, led to more vomiting, this time involving the only upper-class family we had invited. There was drinking, there was singing. The radiator was hissing. Around midnight, my finger wrapped in bandages and green about the gills, I went to rest. But I didn’t manage to get any rest because Mariana woke up a few minutes later: our godfather had drunk himself into a stupor and was writing obscenities on the walls. My newly repainted walls! I let out a soft howl. When I entered the living-room determined to set things straight, there was nothing I could do. Apparently the game had delighted everyone as it reminded them of their childhood. There they all were, writing on the walls with crayons, forks, red, green, blue pens – and dancing. Only one guy was sleeping like a log, muffled up in the carpet.
I don’t even want to say how we had to sit through Mozart’s Requiem for hours on end, at full volume; a guy obsessed with classical music would play it over and over, guarding the pick-up with a fierce look on his face. There were some who tried to protest, and change the record but, after being physically restrained by the avid music lover, they gave in and eventually danced on to The Day of Judgement.
The wedding night was nothing out of the ordinary. We shivered with cold from start to finish. Outside it was minus ten degrees. And as I mentioned earlier my parents had broken the bedroom window. We tried putting cellophane over the frame, but the wind tore it off. Then after a thorough discussion we decided to try something memorable which would be burnt into our brains for ever. But it was impossible to do a babarishkrata by the book: that sexual position where both partners have to stand on their heads, eyes closed, arms at the back, spinal columns bent so your navel touches the tip of your nose, legs crossed upwards and fingers spread out. Perhaps one reason we failed was the fact that we had our coats on. After more than forty minutes during which we couldn’t become intimate as husband and wife, Mariana got a cramp in her leg and I stiffened up with cold. We thought they might have mistranslated the original instructions. Anyway we fell asleep, our toes still spread out. Early in the morning, we were woken by a neighbour knocking on the pipe. We knocked back. Then the other neighbour, the one with the burns who had returned from the hospital almost charred, came by to wish us a crappy marriage and a flaming divorce. We were completely frozen so we considered this a rather thoughtful wish. We even asked him to take a picture of us.
Even now it’s cold. I will never understand why, in wintertime, they don’t bury us in our coats. Teeth chattering, I looked at the wedding photos, one by one: the colours, the long gone faces their theatrical air enhanced by a dim, sort of inner, light touch my heart. I complete them with non-existent photocopies, immortalised before and after the moment the trigger was pushed, maybe a bit inconvenienced by my perfectly horizontal position and the fact I could barely move my hands. Now I come to think of it, it was a wonderful wedding, hard to forget, and the best proof of that is I’m thinking of it right now, in the dark, though so many years have passed. Here, where I am now, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon – worms do not come from the earth, that is, from the outside, to colonise you; it’s precisely the other way round: they are born in your own body and they burst out, drilling through the wood. The first couple of days you feel them as tiny explosions under your skin and the itchiness is unbearable. Afterwards, it all passes, along with the skin. As far as I’m concerned, the rigor mortis began a long time ago, and though I don’t believe in the afterlife, I think Mariana is somewhere near me, close beside me. So maybe, when she comes, we could touch hands if we made just the slightest effort.
(Excerpt from the volume Eclipsa, Cartea Românească Publishing House, 1993)