by Dumitru Radu Popa (USA)
translated from Romanian by Olimpia Mihai
pentru versiunea română click aici
“We’re coming! We’re coming! Don’t worry!”, the Americans said on the radio at night. “We’re coming! We’re coming!”, grandpa heard up in the attic.
I haven’t been through all that, even if I was already born; I was too young to understand it. But I have been told this with in such details, that I can see it happening every time, without having to challenge my imagination at all.
The second day, the third day, grandpa was walking again thoughtful in his baggy pants – ending with golden buttons on his tartan socks – freshly shaved, though he wasn’t about to go anywhere, and angry, in the living room, in front of the glass or by the Budha sakyamuni carpet which he had bought in Constantinopole (it had been woven in Brusa and had the year written in one corner:1987), on which a wooden mosaicked Mephisto reigned – with nacreous eyes and the painting would follow you no matter which side you looked at it from. This was one of my childhood horrors. Especially at dusk, I was always worried about how to cross the living room to the kids’s room fast enough so that our looks shouldn’t meet. It was impossible, every time. And at night, I dreamt that I passed by it and suddenly, I could no longer move my feet, with that paralysing feeling when it’s impossible to run or shout. And then it started smiling at me and blinking regularly and inhumanly. (I would wake up, of course, after these dreams. I never stayed there. The painting is still there in dad’s house, but it died).
So, the second and the third day, my grandpa was walking anxiously in the living room ( I won’t tell you precisely where, as we will never come to an end). After that, he’d take out a brand new deck – and you’ll see why! – of cards and play the simplest and the most stupid Solitaire/Patience form that I have ever seen. After shuffling the deck, the cards are dealt in four piles. Each pile has a card above – that is, in the back – and another one under. The card above each pile is turned up. If the cards match, two by two (or even all four), then it’s a win. If not, each pile is turned up, when necessary, constantly trying to find a two by two match. It may seem quite difficult, as I’ve explained it; but, in fact, it’s stupidly easy.
Grandpa was an educated man. Now I am certain he deliberately had chosen this stupid patience just to punish their lack of imagination and legendary pragmatism. What can I tell you, the old man had hit them hard, but they stroke back. A win it was, but after a few jolly good days seasoned with Karl May long readings – grandpa had the complete series in German printed in Vienna, with fascinating bindings – there was no change in the objective reality at all, so the bloody cards were thrown in the fire. And they bought others. And so on.
For a long time, we, the kids, called this patience ”The American patience”, even if we used it out of less reactionist impulses and, eventually, with a more easily obvious ending: “I‘m being examined or not”, “they get me a sleigh or not”, “they learn about me breaking the grandfather’s clock glass or not”, “I go unvaccinated or not”…
In fact, grandpa did not love Americans. He loved Greek and Latin which had just been taken out of the school matters. Grandpa, who was a teacher, wished Greek and Latin were studied in school.
This story with the ongoing Patience winning and the guys still not getting there, made him turn away his thoughts from the card games. So, at night, he would go up again in the attic and turn on the radio and hear:
”We’re coming! We’re coming! Don’t worry!”
And Greek and Latin were still not studied in school.
All this until one night. I don’t want to tell you that Greek and Latin have been brought back in school since, but it’s worth telling what happened.
Mad about all and everything, the old man – a hardy man, as a matter of fact – grabbed the radio set and threw it out on the attic window, along with an absolutely memorable triple imprecation:
”You scoundrels! Scumbags! Sons of bitches!”
Following a Physics law, apparently not really less objective than the whole historical process which had stirred grandpa’s hysteria, the device set out to the ground by reason of gravitational acceleration proportionally applied to its mass. What I want to say is that the radio set fell with lightning speed – plus grandpa’s realeased fury – and it would definetely have touched the Earth if it hadn’t slowed on its way down, hitting the branches of the silver fir tree in front of the house. From the ground, the show could have been absolutely hallucinating: just imagine the radio cover opening from the shock and all the pieces inside scattering through the fir tree. With a bit of imagination – and a bit of remanent electric power – think of the flashing lamps here and there in the fir tree like a fantasy – and maybe with a bit of sound, too: “We’re coming! We’re coming!” – Christmas tree.
Well, of course, it wasn’t exactly like that. But that whole Philips 1930 device – they had lots of pieces back then – was scattered through the fir tree, indeed.
Next morning, before going to school, grandma stopped by Mr. Zeller, a German mechanic who, now and then, fixed the Rast & Gaser sewing machine. Very helpful, he came and, after carefully having investigated the situation, he took the big double ladder which served to whitewashing the outside walls of the house and, with Vera’s help, our housekeeper, he collected the pieces of the deceased from the fir tree, and then carefully set them up in the completely untouched box. Even the thick-glassed tuning dial could be placed back.
“Hmm, what a Philips!”, Mr. Zeller exclaimed in delight, a true aesthete in his job/field. Wirklich ausgezeichnet! And he went on working passionately, using the scoldering iron that spread a smell of hot pan. I think he also added some spare pieces from the Rast & Gasser or other different machines he had fixed. Fact is that in just a few days – Mr. Zeller would come round every morning now, turning this delicate repair into a great feast – the machine was working again. Perfect. Mr. Zeller, an old-fashioned family man, took no penny for this performance which, off the record, could have severely stained his biography. But things change at a terrible pace in this world. Much later, after grandpa had died, this Philips became mine – by law or by nature, I don’t know – and I didn’t use it for a while because I had a transistor radio. I got a cheap pick-up/magnetic cartridge after that, with no amplifier and I was advised to use the old Philips as a speaker. It worked just lovely. It seems the Philips speakers are exquisite and unique. So I wired the new pick-up to the radio and I delighted myself listening to my first disc: “Kalinka, Kalinka, Kalinka moia!”