by V. Leac
Translation from Romanian by A C Clarke and Alexandra Sârbu
pentru versiunea română click aici
How did I end up living on Teiului Street, on the outskirts of a luxurious neighbourhood, in a small one bedroom apartment which I call the Dalmatian cage, discreetly placed behind a garage – to be more specific, in its extension – the last one on the right, on the ground floor of a three storey building, where six wealthy and apparently happy families live? Let me tell you. It just happened. It’s an old story now: a friend of mine, dead drunk, fell asleep in the bath tub. His disappearance from the scene did not bring any money to anyone, no one cried for him, it was all very sudden, like the times you don’t suspect anything and you find yourself with your girlfriend on your doorstep coming to take you away from the party.
Back then I wasn’t doing anything in particular. It was July 2005. I was tossing stones in the pond, as Mrs Violeta, the landlady, liked to tell her friends. That summer I used to go out late at night, after 10. One Tuesday morning I saw a wild starling near my door. At first I thought that a cat might have hurt it. It looked tired, no strength left. There was no sign of a wound. I hadn’t seen starlings for heavens knew when. I picked it up and took it inside; it drank very little water and didn’t touch the few crumbs of bread in front of it. I tried to improvise a nest out of a favourite old T-shirt I hadn’t the heart to turn into a rag and put it there. I never spoke a single word to anyone all day long. Every time I thought of that poor creature sitting on my T-shirt I felt a tug at my heart, concern mixed with a kind of panic. When I came back home, it was still there, on the T-shirt, eyes closed. Dead.
It remained on the top of the cupboard, wrapped in a newspaper, forgotten until late that autumn, when someone went into the kitchen and saw it. I was not in the habit of looking on the top of the cupboard too often, nor was I aware of any particular smell: it probably just dried quickly. In any case I completely forgot about it.
I would turn up late at night, sometimes along with some chick or other – she’d be a bit dizzy, keen on self destruction, with money worries and who knew what pain in her heart. Perhaps the patience with which I’d listen to them was the big attraction, though it wasn’t calculated.
‘What’s it like outside, still raining?’ Tania asked, in a low voice, ready to burst into tears. It was not until later that I figured out all her charm lay in that odd voice, where a sort of plangent eroticism, full of nuances, was mingled with something hard and incomprehensible, like the way Eskimos talk in documentaries.
‘Not much. It’s more drizzle than rain.’
‘What did you say, fizzle?
‘Fizzle your head. I said it’s more of a drizzle you hardly notice. It’s not nice weather. Do you want me to make you some tea?’
‘Yes, but I want to go to the bathroom first.’
The bathroom and the kitchen are in the same room. It’s a one bedroom apartment divided in two parts: one part for bedroom, living room, etc; the bathroom and the kitchen in the other, separated by a blue, floral curtain. A quarter of the bathroom is occupied by an enormous cast iron bathtub, another quarter by the sink and the toilet on which stands a shiny ornamental plant, which lends it an imperial air, out of keeping with where it is. It’s one of the items I particularly care about; it makes me smile every time I pull back the curtain. A portable cooker, gas cylinder, a cupboard, a hotel fridge, a table and two chairs furnish the kitchen; part of the cupboard which is too long for the space projects into the bathroom. We both went in: she pulled back the curtain and sat down, I turned on the cooker.
‘Do you like black tea?’
‘I don’t know, I think I do. Hey, there are some feathers on your cupboard. Why do you keep them there?’
‘What? Ah, those feathers… They’re just the remains of one of my more distant relatives.’
‘No, come on! What is it?’
I was silent, trying to imagine what she was picturing on the cupboard. She stood up. The noise of the running water muffled her shriek.
‘What’s happened? Are you ok? Are you hurt?’
‘You’ve got a dead bird on the cupboard! Are you sick or something? How long have you been keeping it there?’
‘I’m not sick. Since the summer. It’s my grandmother’s cousin. I simply forgot it there. I am not much of a host. I couldn’t take it outside either… I don’t know if telling you about it will make any kind of sense. Sometimes you simply can’t separate things, whether it’s a distant relative or it simply gave up the ghost – what I mean is that you can’t get away from it, God knows why. Anyway I’m not sure you want to listen to the whole starling story. Actually, it’s not much of a story in the end. If you want to throw it away, throw it away.
‘Give it to me, I’m a biology teacher.’
‘That’s cool. Of course you can have it.’
‘You said you were a broker, right? Broker Max Keeps Dead Birds on Closet – that sounds like a sinister headline about a psycho.’
‘Ex broker. I told you I took a break.’
‘Don’t put sugar in it, I only have to think of sugar to come out in a rash. When I was ten years old my parents took me to a wedding, I think: I don’t remember what really happened, I can only tell you that I couldn’t stomach the least bit of sugar after that wedding. Only fruit, that’s all.’
‘Kiwi. Have you ever drunk kiwi tea?’
‘Where do you teach? And stop saying it sounds interesting, because it’s awful, I feel like a tourist guide.’
‘I’d no idea you were so touchy. Last night you told me you were as understanding as an urban monk. Doesn’t that sound awful to you? Thanks, it looks really nice with kiwi.’
‘Be careful, it’s hot. It’s stopped drizzling. We can drink our tea and then go out. Ok? I mean I have to pick someone up from the station.’
‘Some relatives? She is laughing proudly at her joke. ‘See… and you say I’m not spiritual enough.’
‘I never said that. I really have to go.’
She wraps up the starling in a newspaper and puts it in her purse. I put on the hooded jacket, take an apple from the kitchen table and start playing with it. Tania is wearing a khaki sweater, rather thin for the weather outside, a vintage model, predictable for a biology teacher, but her movements are very elegant, though a bit nervy because she is shaking. I want to ask her if she is ok, but I let it be – better not. We go out in the street. It’s foggy.
‘This froggy thing gets in my eyes’, says Tania smiling. ‘I’m not chilly,’ she adds without my asking her.’
‘Maybe we can go out sometimes…’
‘Don’t be so nice. Stop thinking about it, you look like someone with no thoughts. Everything is perfect. Look how lovely it is outside.’
A stray dog was following us, just a few steps behind. The street was empty, the blinds half way down. Somewhere, on a distant street, a motorbike could be heard noisily starting up.