by Mircea Daneliuc [Romania]
translated from Romanian by Nigel Walker & Alina-Olimpia Miron [MTTLC student]
pentru versiunea română click aici
Ştefi got off the tram and opened his umbrella. It had been raining since morning. Actually, it had rained all night long; he hadn’t slept well and having awoken with a start several times, he had heard the gutter dripping. He crossed the street and entered the hospital.
Marcela was in an eight-bed ward. He found her turned on one side, half her head under the sheet and her transfuser on the left. She also had two tubes up her nose. Not even when she opened her eyes did she budge. He placed his umbrella on one corner of the bed table. Ştefi moved the sheet aside slightly and nervously seated himself on the iron bed side. He had brought her some fruit and yoghourt but had forgotten the bag on his lap. All the eyes in the room were on him and he knew it. A feeling of uneasiness came over him.
He couldn’t bring himself to look at her, though he knew it would be the right thing to do. A smitten mien, as was expected of him, might have added a bit more propriety to his overall demeanor Of course the situation had affected him; why should he pretend otherwise? It crushes you – that’s the truth of it –, you cannot bear it and it gnaws at you. Marcela was silently sobbing. All he could see was a cheek, savagely blackened under the eye, a bruise which had probably been caused by a blow to the crown of the head. That’s how you get dark circles, right after you’re hit on the head… He took her hand in his…a desiccated, hollow hand he caressed, even if a bit clumsily. He noticed her swollen jaw. She’s embarrassed, he thought.
– Does it hurt?
The girl tried to answer, but her hand gave a single short shake which indicated she could barely control herself. Her face into her pillow, the tears flooded her eyes. He looked at her and a sudden burst of tenderness seized him. He feared tears would also swamp him – that would have put the kibosh on everything! –, so he moved one knee. He heard the bag rustle which made him forget the sensation he instinctively dreaded – God knows why, perhaps because a strange repulsion had also laid hold of him.
– Of course it hurts, a voice from one of the beds answered him. They are giving her medicine. Doctor Nanu will be right in.
This guy must be some kind of psychologist, he told himself, and placed the bag on the bed table, next to his umbrella which was drying off. He wavered between stopping her crying or telling her something. Or simply leaving her alone.
– What’s in that tube, what do they put in it?
He pointed to the transfuser, but all Marcela could do was move her lips, though to no avail; she turned on her back. Now he had a clear view of the bruises on her other side and her neck; she looked awful indeed. However, he refrained from showing it so as not to pain her even more and rested his eyes on the bed. He saw a bare leg. Ştefi pulled the rumpled linen and realized she was naked. Her bed gown had curled up at her chest. He felt a soft, fleeting pain below his breastbone. He knew what there was, he could recreate her entire body, every little detail, every bit of it, eyes wide open. Especially that spot, her spot which formed three little pads. Two on her upper thighs, if he were to remember her gentle legs, and, of course, the other one…
He turned his head to the window. The image he had conjured was quite troublesome, especially between those iron, paint-chipped beds. And rather indecent as well; a tepid irritation was slowly emerging and his sole desire was to instantly flee that place. He even rose to his feet.
– Look, it has stopped…
It was the rain he was talking about.
– I have to go now. I have that thing at eleven. With those guys. I’ll come by later in the afternoon. Would you like some compote?
He realized – it wasn’t that difficult – the other women had cast a reproachful glance at him. I couldn’t give a fig.
These god damn pigeons do nothing but shit all day! They’re not worth a shit…his anger rose as he walked to the bus stop, treading through the armies of ring doves who didn’t give a sod for his passing. Two doves flew up into the air – nothing more than a mere formality – to a few inches then descended to go back to the ground in a rather bored manner. He had forgotten his umbrella at the hospital, but hadn’t realized it yet. When he had placed the bag on the bed table, he had hidden it. However, it wasn’t raining anymore, so he didn’t actually remember. In the end, the 15 bus came.
Ştefi managed to advance to the ‘old people’ section of the bus and gripped the recliner in front of him. Seated was a fifty-year-old guy, his hair dyed, with bangs; he didn’t seem that much of a pensioner though. He had hung his umbrella on the same bar on which Ştefi was holding his hand. There was a free seat a bit farther on, but he didn’t feel like sitting down. He looked through the rain-drenched window: puddles and cars, their windscreen and back all splashed. He loved her. Now, he thought, she’d like me to say: let’s go to the Registry. Truth be told, he had never brought it up, but now more than ever she would have wanted to go through with it. Although, deep down she knows it cannot happen anymore. Not after all that mess. That’s why she was crying. What stinking weather…
His stop came up. He didn’t hurry; the door in the rear was closer. He waited for the doors to open. Then, out of reflex, he grabbed the dangling umbrella and made for the exit door.
– Hey! Mister! a voice turned him around.
It was the guy with the dyed hair and bangs.
– Give me back my umbrella!
– Oh, I’m sorry, Ştefi faltered, taking a step back. They all look the same…
– What the hell are you mumbling there? Have you not any shame?
He decided not to prolong the discussion as people had already started to turn their eyes to him. He gave the man the umbrella and got off, his face red; as he descended, he could still hear the people bellowing at him.
– I left it on the bed table. Fucking rag!
And he threw a spit wad on the ground, furious the rain had set in again.
Although his destination wasn’t very far, he couldn’t take a bus or a tram because public transportation is available only on certain routes. He could take a taxi. On second thoughts, after having remembered the contents of his wallet, he changed his mind. He got a move on as it was pouring heavily. He couldn’t even take shelter in an alleyway; he had to be there by eleven. He raised his collar and stepped on it. He passed by a stall selling haberdashery and noticed it also sold umbrellas. Small, collapsible umbrellas. I bet they’ve doubled the price on this wretched weather. After a few steps, he turned back. He risked getting soaked to the skin. That’s that. Nothing I can do about it now. I’m such an idiot!!!! He bought an umbrella.
– Don’t they all look the fuckin’ same? he thought while pulling the cover off. Doesn’t matter. I’ll give it to her.
Marcela lived in a squalid little house at the back of the yard, rather obscured from any view. Two rooms. Waggon-like. The landlord lived in the house next door which gave onto the street; the one in the back had been part of his inheritance and he let it out to female students. Her co-tenant wasn’t present when the whole thing happened, she was in Dej, visiting her parents. She hadn’t returned yet. She probably hadn’t even heard what had happened.
He saw the Prosecutor’s car in front. Two guys were inside. A sign on the doors read: Criminalist Laboratory. The gate was open. He saw a few people shivering with cold, cigarette in their mouths, cup of coffee in their hands. Not all of them had umbrellas. Some neighbours and the landlord…They were all mucking about. The guy hadn’t been brought yet from the big house.
– Who are you? one of them asked, taking his cigarette out of his mouth.
– I’m family. There’s no one else to come, Ştefi said. I’m her boyfriend.
The prosecutor or the policeman – whatever the hell he was; he had civilian clothes on – threw a glance at him and said nothing. He just sipped his coffee.
– Would you like a cup of coffee? a woman in a dressing gown asked. She had an amiable, though rather harried, look. He nodded, but the woman started to chatter like a magpie with the others and forgot to bring his coffee.
Finally, Ştefi heard a car come to a halt. They got him out. He was handcuffed. Not at all what Ştefi had imagined him to be. He had expected a violator, a dark brute, you know the type. This fellow was lean and had a very cool haircut: his slick hair swept back and taken in around the ears. I wanted to get one of those, he found himself thinking.
The people in the yard started to awake from their slumber: they downed their coffee, stubbed out some of the cigarettes, but they couldn’t bring themselves to go out into the rain. Instead, they kept egging one another on.
– Come on, let’s get on with it…
– Yeah, yeah…First, let’s have those in the house come out here!
Ştefi fixed his eyes on the new-comer as if something familiar – perhaps her mark – would be bound to emerge. From under the dripping umbrella, Ştefi’s eyes scrutinized the man: a rather stiff guy, didn’t dare look too merry, when you’re under arrest, you sit tight and don’t piss anyone off; it won’t do.
– And where’s the girl? a civilian asked.
– At the hospital, Ştefi answered, positive it was Marcela the guy meant.
– Not that girl, man! And you are…?
– Err…yes. I’m family.
– Not that girl.
Then the guy looked towards the guard.
– She changed her mind. We even went to her house to pick her up. Apparently the pay’s not that good.
– What the fuck? Am I the one paying her? Who is she?
– An actress from the Ensemble.
– An actress? Why not bring an agent, for Christ’s sake?
– I can’t force her. If she wants to, fine, if not, that’s that.
– What in God’s name are we going to do now? You better be here with one in five minutes! I don’t care how you do it! Just get it done!
– She won’t do it! What the bloody hell can I do about it?
– I’ll report you. What the fuck are we gonna do?
Their faces ailing, the people in the yard watched the scene.
– Fuckin’ artistes!
– Nothing we can do now! Might as well face it…, a voiced dared to intervene. The victim’s testimony has already been taken. Perhaps the lady here might want to do it so we can be done with everything.
– Er….yes, the woman in the dressing gown said, though in a rather quavering voice.
The prosecutor gave her a once-over and his face turned livid with disgust.
– OK, nevermind…Where’s the guy?
He was looking for Ştefi. He beckoned him to come closer.
– Are you in on everything?
– Has she told you the when, the what, the why? The whole deal?
– She’s in the hospital, but I know…uhmmm…the drill.
– Very well. Can you play her?
– I… er…I don’t know. Don’t know if I’m any good at it. I just came to see this through, you know…as part of the family.
– Close that umbrella.
The first thing they made the accused do was break the door: he had to peep through the windows and then wham! on the door. With his heel as he hadn’t been uncuffed. The guys from the lab were filming and taking pictures with a digital camera; a reenactment-picture. Reenactment and pictures. There he is, Ştefi thought, looking in through the window. Marcela was in the house. What do I do? Stay outside? he gestured to the prosecutor who gestured back: Just stay there.
– But Marcela was inside…
– I know, I know. It’s fine. Be patient. C’mon, what the hell you waitin’ for? Will you break that door already?
– Harder than before?
– Just hit the damn thing! the prosecutor yelled.
So the delinquent – his type can’t wait for such opportunities – hit the door so hard that he unhinged it. The landlord’s face turned pale with resignation.
– Ok. Back into the house. Turn on the light.
– Why have it on? the detective with the camera asked.
– Wasn’t it night time?
– Well, say so then. So we know what we’re doing here. I filmed in the dark.
– Can’t see anything on it.
– What do you mean you can’t see anything?
– In broad daylight?
– So what? The job is being done properly. Just so there won’t be any complaints later.
– Fine! Jesus! Do it right. Close that door, will you? Give it another kick.
As the door wouldn’t close, they propped a stool against it. And we’re back: the guy from the lab filming, the delinquent hitting the door again….only this time it flew right into the house.
– What the fuck are you doing???
– But didn’t you say to…?
– God, nevermind… C’mon, lad, hop on the bed.
Ştefi began to carefully wipe his shoes.
– Leave it, it’s fine! Let’s move it! You’re in bed, you’re her and you are frightened. You just saw him break the door…
He pictured Marcela lying in bed, her eyes on her papers and the bastard barging in. She must have been scared out of her wits…
– Show us, they asked him.
Ştefi focused for a brief moment and acted it out.
– It’s OK, go on.
They even filmed him. The criminologist paused, clearly engrossed in his thoughts.
– What went wrong? a policeman asked.
– Couldn’t we cover his face with something? It really doesn’t matter that much.
– Yeah? What with?
Ştefi looked from one to the other. What went wrong? They won’t even come out with it.
– A towel or something. Anything.
– Here’s a beanie hat.
One of Marcela’s beanie hats. He pulled it down to his mouth. He heard laughter outside, through the window. The people outside.
– That’s enough! somebody yelled. Quieeet! This is serious business! Can you see anything through it?
– A bit… Ştefi said.
– Good. So: you’re in bed (he points to Ştefi) and you (pointing to the culprit) barge in on her after having broken the front door. First, you rummage through the wardrobe and the drawer; he, I mean she, puts up a fight and you hurl yourself at her. You know how you did it.
– Wait, wait…I hadn’t come to steal….said the culprit
– Is that right?
– That’s what I said…in the testimony. Please, don’t pin this on me. Are you gonna charge me with robbery too?
– You mean to say you came in resolved on fucking her, right?
Ştefi listened, as stiff as a poker, the beanie hat over his eyes. He wasn’t exactly a stranger to the past the two were discussing.
– I came…to have a good time, the guy said.
That means he knew her, Ştefi infered, his mind a whirlwind of thoughts. Motherfuckers! He had stalked her. He had followed her.
– Yeah, you were just itching to do it… So, now what do we do?
– I told you. I ain’t done no robbery… I’ll cooperate, but don’t pin this on me. I’ve told you.
– Then why did you break it?
– I didn’t! I broke it now! Here! Didn’t it work when we started all this?
– Idiot, this door!!! This door!! Isn’t this door broken???
– Well, who made me break it? C’mon, man, we had a deal, what the hell!
– OK, OK, let’s just calm down… Then how did you get in?
– I knocked, she looked through the eyehole and that’s when I got my foot in it.
– And you didn’t break it…
– It wasn’t broken before, was it now?
– Let’s start all over. Once again. Lights on! And open your fucking eyes! Door closed. Everybody, take your places. You’re in bed and then you go see who’s knocking. You’re not frightened.
What the hell does that mean?? Ştefi thought, after having heard the knock. Was she waiting for him??
This doubt hanging over his masked head, Ştefi came to the door. The minute he touched it, the door fell to the ground. Laughs from the rain-drenched yard streamed in.
– Enough! This is no show, one of the officials yelled. We’re working here! Everybody take ten steps back! To the fence!
The audience didn’t object. The rat from the pack feigned getting his foot in the door after which he rushed inside, his hands on his lap.
– Take his handcuffs off, said the one who had failed to bring the actress from the Ensemble. Take them off immediately!!! Can’t you see he has no way out??
– How? the prisoner said, holding out the handcuffs to the key.
– Let’s go! Get him to do it! Remain at the windows, bring back the door!
His wrists free, everything went on much easier. The bastard got on top of him. In the middle of the bed, Ştefi felt a surge of shame come over him as if he had puked on the guy; thank God he had that beanie hat over his eyes. He hadn’t liked the idea at first…it was pretty embarrassing to let yourself get masked like that, but now it sure helps. How could two grown men look? One atop the other? Horrible. Don’t even want to think about it! He tried to view himself from the outside: that bastard on top of him and himself under him, squeezed under that hat. Downright nauseating. He tried to make out something through the soft fabric which was already making him sweat like a pig. He made out some silhouettes. He pulled up the beanie a bit and saw that they were laughing their asses off, their hands covering the mouths. And the bastard on top of him was making it worse and worse.
– What’s the deal here? I’ll be up and on my way out if this is for amusement.
– No, no, please, wait! We’ll be done soon.
– But I don’t get it… Is this a circus or what?
– Do it right, the prosecutor snapped at the offender, or I’ll knock some sense into that head of yours!
But Ştefi could clearly see the prosecutor was this close to burst out laughing.
– What did I do?
They could barely restrain themselves. Ştefi didn’t object. If he walked out on them now, God knows when he’d get hold of them again. He had a direct interest in this. But, wait, hadn’t the bastard come to rob the house? Meaning what? Had he come to have it off? Such a thought appalled him.. How did you meet Marcela? he would have wanted to ask him. But how? Oh, the poor thing, how she must have screamed and fought back….And no one to hear her! He could have wrung her neck.
He felt the guy’s hand between his legs. That’s what he must have done with her too. He froze. That fucking bastard was really into her. No play or pretending whatsoever. He grabbed his arm, threw the guy off him, but, somehow, the whole thing came out rather feminine and weak. Add to that the beanie hat over his visage. And subdued sniggering…He didn’t protest. He just wanted to get out of there. His face was burning up under the beanie, he could imagine those cretins staring at him, but the most unpleasant thing was that the guy’s touch didn’t feel as loathsome as before. It was rather bearable…That’s what he found unpalatable. Had Marcela felt the same?….Perhaps while you struggle, the body is alert to every touch, so your perception of every physical feeling is increased.
– Oh, c’mon, what the hell is this? he heard the criminalist say.
– He won’t sit still!
– You know what, enough of this. Just show what and how it happened. That’s what we settled on.
– Yes, boss…
Ştefi grinned and bore it. That bastard, a fucking redneck, resumed his explorations, which triggered his former vision of Marcela’s three-padded spot. A spot dedicated only to him. The thought that that moron entered that space – his shoes on – which he already felt as part of his soul was crushing and so cruel! Unbearable! When the brute pressed his gut against him, he started to desperately fight back and struggle. He hated him. He threw a strong punch right at him. That’s how she must have endured, he thought.
– No, no…the prosecutor cooled him down. That’s enough.
What? What’s enough? Did she struggle or not? Do they know something I don’t? Are they saying Marcela didn’t put up a fight? Fuckin’ jerks. Then how did she get those bruises? Anyway…maybe I’ve overinterpreted it.
And his struggles lessened. That idiot was trying to kiss his ears. Ştefi tried to keep away out of reflex, but he had the beanie hat on his face, so the bastard could do whatever. Thing is…all this time he had thought rape was a stressful and hellish business. What about the pleasure? Because pleasure and volition don’t always find common ground. You can struggle, you can reject the guy, you can say no, but does your body listen? Because the body has a mind of its own, it doesn’t give a crap about what you think. There have been cases of rapes where there was pleasure.
A chill went down his spine as he felt the other guy’s body heat invade him. He realized the thought had been gnawing at him since the day before. Even this morning, at the hospital. Who knows…maybe she had an orgasm, she probably did, it doesn’t really depend on you; that’s why they said to take it slow. They must know something – this prick must have declared something, she must have put up a fight, but not for long. Only she knows. However, I don’t think there was much to that orgasm; I know her; she’s a serious girl. Maybe just a small shock. I’d ask the fucker, but I can’t. She might have had one; who knows? That’s why she’s crying and hating herself. Hating us all. Yes, she must have felt it. I’m almost positive.
The doubt crushed his self-esteem and left him feeling numb, left him prey to this simulated abuse against which he didn’t struggle anymore. At ease, he waited for the violence and the rest.
– Ok, the criminalist stopped the camera – you see, telepathy! –, now start punching the shit outta him!
– But this isn’t where I…said the accused.
– Well, where?
– Over there, by the phone.
What?! said Ştefi – So he didn’t beat her here, on the bed, while she was struggling to break free?…By the phone?!
– By the phone? he heard himself asking out loud.
– What if she said she’d call the police? I told her nicely…whether you call or not, it’s the same…but don’t call, cuz I’ll rip you in two!
– So she called?
– Yeah, she called… Where was I?
So, the beating was afterwards…Just peachy. Did you see?!
He got off the bed and arranged his hat. Then he went sadly to the phone and waited for something to happen.
– How did you do it? he heard a voice ask.
He felt the swish in the air, but the hit didn’t come.
Another swish. He bulged his eyes as much as possible through the fabric. That bugger was giving himself the luxury of sparing him. He was doing a sort of ballet, throwing his fist from the side and carefully refraining from hitting him the instant he should have. Ditto for the belly. So he had hit her in the belly!…And again, an imaginary wallop in the jaw. What an idiotic thing to do! And again, what is commonly known as a whack. Ştefi stuck it out for a while. Nobody was giggling anymore. They had begun to yawn. In the end, he became as bored as the lot of them.
Fucking whore, the fucking nerve! Tell me to my face! Tell me to my face he forced you! You think I’m some dumb fool you can lead on?! It doesn’t even matter if he forced you. We’re done! And you still have the gall to trick me with the warmth of a nice home? You felt every bit of it! Shut the hell up! I’m gonna strip you of all those needles in your veins…let’s see you then….let’s see if you’ll have the guts to look into my eyes and tell the truth!
The next instant he felt something warm on his hand. A flyswat. Bird poo!…SHITTY ring doves!! I’ll destroy you! A little bit of ratsbane will be the death of you all! There are moments when you feel like breaking something. What the hell am I gonna use to wipe this crap off?!
He was just passing behind a stall with a huge plastic cover (apparently against the rain); he grabbed a chunk of it. My Lord! he heard the florist mumbling in a terrified tone along with the swish. He didn’t answer any of her reprimands. He took a few steps and rubbed his hand on a pole. Not much of a success. He left in a fury and vanished into the crowd.
It stopped raining. He entered the hospital waving his pliable umbrella. His thoughts kept cramming just like old people in a queue, so he kept waving and waving and waving. As he was going up the stairs, he began to question the whole thing. How are you going to ask her all those questions with these women here? If you’re gonna break it, you better do it fast. Afterwards it’s definitely going to be harder. Just to think of touching what that hound had been feeding on gives me the creeps…. She did feel everything, she did have an orgasm, I’m positive she did! ”To have a good time”! Twelve years at least! I can’t fucking believe it! Jesus, I forgot the compote!
He slowly opened the door and looked inside. A few women stared at him. He nodded and waited for them to cover themselves. A sign of civility which didn’t pass unnoticed. Marcela didn’t move. He took a step closer and saw that she was asleep. This was rather unexpected. What to do?
– Do you want to wake her up? Touch her, one of the women encouraged him.
No, he didn’t want to. He hadn’t had a chance to wash his hands and he couldn’t do it at this sink here. He looked at her. Deep asleep, her transfusion in the vein. They must have changed the phial. This one had a different color. She was sleeping so soundly that he realized he’d never be able to ask those questions. What answer do you think she’ll give you? And to top it all, you’re going to make a fool of…Just like she does in a booth at the swimming pool while you’re lying on the sheet, waiting for her to come out. Better leave those questions unanswered. No, because that time he used force and when you use force, it’s completely different. It usually doesn’t count. But, my God, how are you going to touch her now? You’ll feel him there…that ghoul, that gonococcus. And you think you’re going to be tainted. Even if by force…She must be thinking she really did have no choice, that he had forced her into it, and you’re sitting here worrying your wretched self. She’s peaceful. Just look at her sleep.
He realized the women in the ward were curiously waiting for him to do something, not just stand there sheepishly. Wake her up. Sit on the bed. Curious cats: how often do you see a fool come to visit his raped girlfriend in the hospital? What they’re waiting for: your show of feelings. That’s what they’re after. Once they see it, they’ll back off and forget. He didn’t feel like waking her; sleep, we’ll talk later. He noticed his umbrella on the corner of the bed table and took it.
– I just came to get this. Let her sleep, he whispered, I’ll return tomorrow.
Utterly relieved, he left the hospital.
The thought that he hadn’t made a decision kept pestering him. Tomorrow I’ll think things through; a more gutless and humiliating idea might pop up. Another night of insomnia. I’m beat.
The rain had stopped. In the twilight, it was getting thinner anyway. He hung the two umbrellas on his arm and quickly jumped over the puddles as the tram was also coming. Having reached the door, he got in line, waiting for those gathered at the stairs to flood the tram. He had quite a few people in front of him.
– I see you’ve had a fine day… he heard a voice next to him.
The voice sounded familiar.
It was the man with the dyed hair and bangs. The one he had met this morning in the bus. He looked at his umbrellas.