by Adrian Ioniţă (USA)
Translation from Romanian by Manuela Cazan
pentru versiunea română click aici
It’s funny to watch the world from above, looking through the reflections of a water that’s been engineered to be regularly changed. The ceiling is covered in candy-pink insulation and a semi-transparent plastic foil. Under it, a couple of mice are strolling, as if on a skating rink. I hold my breath, for I don’t want to miss this show. The mineral wool insulation changes into a Red Square with golden, turquoise and yellow-green-glazed towers. The people from the square look up to me. I feel like baron Munchausen. No one smiles. The smile is considered a syndrome. In order for us to smile, we need a good reason, if possible, a bottle of vodka on the table. Time flies. It becomes elastic. But what do you care? You are not capable of being punctual. The meeting in the Red Square is for 4.00 PM. I can see you on the other side of the square, under the foot of the absent mouse. You are standing and waiting for the time to pass. It is a power game you inherited from Peter the Great. Yes, you want to show me that you can break any rule, including the ones you made yourself. To be direct and honest, requires a level of red-neck-ness.
An hour later you show up and slap me. It’s nerves. Because that’s what you’ve been used to. After that, you caress me, you excite me, you confuse me. At home, waiting for us, there is a table laid with all the good stuff, caviar, feta cheese, sweet bread, smoked salmon, and a bottle of vodka perspiring temptingly. You have a stuffed grandpa sitting on a wicker chair, a loud, happy, tumultuous family that urges me to eat as if we were on the front line. Then, you become pensive and keep staring at the tree in the yard. You didn’t talk for a long while. Because I’m a stranger. I asked you if there was a Miciurin street in Moscow, and you looked through me. Your eyes, sunk on the lower brim of your eyelids. A sign that your soul, too busy with itself, had pulled down the shutters. The transition to conversation was direct, no connection to anything.
“The tie” you said, as if we had known each other for a life-time.
“Oh, ye, I bought it in New York for five dollars.”
“See, and then you’re surprised that people badmouth you. “
Suddenly, everything had become “you” an “us”. However, why am I surprised? We grew up in different universes. We do not laugh at the same jokes, when you see people waiting in line, you go to wait in line, without asking what’s for sale. I walk on. Because I was used to abundance. I am attracted by Dollar Stores or Garage Sales, and that is why you will always think I’m cheap. When I wrote to you that I had found a ten dollar cheaper flight, you did not answer me for ten days.
“Is this all I’m worth, ten dollars?”
A hair fell into the water and the image in its mirror got hazy. Cultural differences. I had better not talked about money. The first time I touched this topic, you asked me how much I earned per hour. Just like that, as if you were asking how much gas was acctually using a car per hundred miles. Then, talking about taxes, you made a face:
“Another mystical reason for you not to invite me to the Bolshoi?”
Ever since you learned that the dog food costs me 120 dollars per month, any discussion on prices has been compared against it. Then, the Crisis came. Titanic was showing on TV. I, a passenger on the upper deck, throwing children overboard. You, locked up with no escape, somewhere on the lower deck. Doomed by fate to die, swallowed by the waters. You cried for two long days in the arms of the stuffed grandpa…
You always compare us, but you can’t take any observation coming from me.
“Does everyone need to see your nipples through your blouse?”
You started on me, as if I was attacking Mother Russia. One thing, though, made me look better. After the borscht, at the fourth glass of vodka, I took the bottle from the table. I felt your gaze sliding slowly on my sleeve, and I unexpectedly looked into your eyes. You shuddered slightly, as if you wanted to banish a stubborn thought from your mind. Then, you looked down. You needed a strong man, the man who would master the situation.
“Nas Darovia!!!” I stood up suddenly, and I looked around in silence. A moment appreciated as strength of character. I took the bottle to my mouth, and I drank it off. I smashed it on the floor and the shards flew in all directions. Kallinka, Kalinka, Kalinka Maya… Kallinka, Kalinka, Kalinka Maya. We danced until late at night. The neighbors below started the broom banging to the ceiling, and we didn’t stop until they threw a flower pot through our windows.
“Larry, tell me you love Russia, Larry” you told me with hot breath and burning eyes. The room was swirling with us. I took you in my arms and kissed you passionately on the mouth. We made love on the dining-room table, among plates with olives and strawberries tarts. You hit the flower vase with your elbow, and the water was dripping on your breasts tightened up by passion. I hit my head on the chandelier, but I did not feel anything anymore. I was tracing a diamond between your legs. We were at war…
The greatest accomplishment of my childhood was to whistle. To make love and to whistle sounds odd. I think the broken window and the curtain blown by the wind are to blame. You tightened up like a string-bow, and covered my lips with a kiss.
“No, It’s not right to whistle, Larry, you whistle away my money.”
It was the first time I realized how superstitious you were. Involuntarily, I looked at the stuffed grandpa in the corner of the room. Somebody put a blanket on his knees. The mirror was covered with the Russian flag. My back was scratched. The mice in the Red Square started a slalom. Maybe they too, have a “rush hour”. The easiest would have been to remove the plastic foil , and their skating rink had been gone. Even so, I can’t do this. I would be destroying a reality that has been wrapped especially for us. Still, I’m not quite sure. You, on the other hand, you were always sure. Our arguments end like in Jurassic Park. You the park, me the dinosaur. That’s who you are. The only thing that doesn’t change, it’s the bottle of vodka and the stuffed grandpa.
“I wish you would have me for who I am”. Over,and over again, the same story: you slap me, and then you tell me to ask for your forgiveness. After that, you throw the vase, the plates with mustard and the glasses. The glasses. I respect that! The shards bring good luck and renewal. We always need renewal.
“Larry, you will forgive me, won’t you?”
I can’t say no. How can I fight a Katyusha? I have always admired this in you. The weather, Siberia, the fall of Stalingrad? When we get into a cab, you sit next to the driver and all I can do is to patch the conversation at stop lights. But, as I have said once, I am a man who can hold his water.
“Still, really, what did you see in me?” I asked one day.
“If you think I was interested in money, you are wrong” you told me, while painting your nails with pink nail polish.
“Do you need a man or a country?”
“Nie ponimaio pa ruski” you answered, breathing over the nails.
“And flush the toilet at once!”