by Dumitru Radu Popa (USA)
Translated from Romanian by Olimpia Malai (MTTLC)
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”Hey, you over there! Watch that mug, will you? You think after you croaked, we won’t need it anymore?”
For sure, I wasn’t certain that after I’m croaking, it will be no use of it, and I wasn’t sure about the contrary either; but I was always told to act carefully, not to break anything, not to get anything dirty, to cut it short, not to break anything that could – possibly – be useful to someone else, somebody who would find himself in my position and would be told:
”Hey, you over there! Watch that mug, will you!… You think after you’ve croaked, we won’t need it anymore?”
That’s why I turn around and, as I grab the mug handle, I spin it around my forefinger a few times, and then, as if I were absent-minded, I let it go faking the wonder of what comes next.
The mug hits the ground in a bang and breaks. Then I prepare my soles for the eigthy blows, never less or more, even though each day I am told that the punishment for my next error will be harsher. As it’s not the first time I’m taking the eighty blows, you wouldn’t know if it hurts or not. I won’t tell you, so let’s go on. After the eighty blows, I put my shoes on and crawl as much as I can to the corner of the room where I fall down to the ground, my back against the wall. The hack and the other two get out slamming the door. Hardly has he locked the door when the jerk in charge, a guy twice as big as me, gets near, examines both sides of my kisser with his clog’s tip, then snaps his finger like a deayman and says to one of his scumbags:
”Bust him, he’s a stupid asshole!”
Just what he was waiting for. He grasped my hair, had me standing up – he knows I’m barely able to stand up since he has been doing this procedure – and puts me against the wall and starts raining blows on me till I can hardly feel anything. I supppose he blows me a few punches more. I fall down again and stay like that, unconsciously, for a few good hours. I still wake up sometimes at night mumbling something about not finding my back or my hands or my legs, and then I go back to sleep. Next day I don’t wake up till noon. The guard hands me the mug and I drink a little and put it on the edge of the wall. It’s not really ok. It’s half outside, but it doesn’t fall off.
”Hey, you over there!”, the guard shouts at me. ”Watch that mug, will you… you think after you’ve died, we won’t need it anymore?”
I do not think that, I usually don’t think anything. The handle is spinning round my forefinger a few times, then the mug is breaking, then there they come the eighty blows, then the warning for the next worse time, the door slammed, the boss saying:
”Give it to him, he’s a stupid asshole!”
My lawyer came yesterday and told me everything was settled. They’ve taken me out of my cell today, that state I was in, they took me to court. My lawyer probably spoke for an hour – I don’t know what he said because I’d fell asleep – they woke me up only after he had finished his speech. The judge stood up and told me I was discharged, they gave me back my clothes and I went home. I went to bed, but, about five in the morning, two guys came to remind me I was called immediately to court. Of course, I went there and sat in the same dock I had sat a few hours before when having been discharged. The guard, as the civil part, accused me of having brought prejudicies to the state amounting to 5, 200 broken mugs during my imprisonment. The prosecutor asked for four years in prison, my lawyer agreed and the judge approved the sentence. They took my clothes and took me back to the cell, then the guard came and handed me the mug, I took it: the shelf is too narrow. Just half the mug is on it.
“Hey, you over there!
One, two, three, around my forefinger. Smash!
The pieces are flying all over the place. The boss’s clog is walking on my cheek.
“Give it to him, he’s a stupid asshole!”
Bang! The butcher’s fist has a stifled sound in my stomach. I took a chip in my hand. I don’t even have to move: the butcher’s throat cuts itself with it. He was going to land me a blow in my stomach with his head. He’s dead. The chip cut his throat. The guard comes in. He takes me. They sentenced me to death. They put me in a car along with five others. We go out of town. It’s nice. Sunny. I can see a forest over there… I’m smiling.
“Hey, you over there! What are you giggling about?! You think you’re out for a walk?”
I don’t think anything. But I smile because, well… it’s different. On the right there’s a field with holes. It’s probably the shooting ground where they’re going to kill us. We get off. All six of us. They call our names and make us count by twos. It’s not working well; we start counting one more time. Then we move to the wall, but the sun gets straight in my eyes. I shake my head and I knit my brows: useless. I take a step to the right: that’s better.
“Hey, you over there! What’s all that fuss? You think we have so many bullets to throw away on you?”
I still don’t think anything. They’re loading the guns. They’re shooting. I feel nothing. I look around: the other five are dead. They’re very dead. They fell as they could: one, with his hand in the front, another in a crouch… I throw myself to the ground, too, but that won’t do:
“Hey, you over there! You think you’re some kind of actor or somethin’? Stand up and back to the car!”
I go. We get to the prison. I go in. There’s an awful smell in the cell. I’m trying to do something, anything: to go the cinema, to swim, to sing, to read, to dance; I do whatever I can waiting for a change. Nothing. It’s useless: the guard comes in with the mug. I take it. I do what I usually do.
“Hey, you over there!”
Smash! The slammed door.
“Give it to him, he’s a stupid asshole!”
Bang! No pain. At night, I look for an arm, a leg…
Eventually, it goes away. I wake up, the mug in my hand.
“Hey you, over there!”
Nothing. Next day.
4 thoughts on “Next day”
What an incredible and versatile writer! I’ve written a review of Dumitru Radu Popa’s novels and novellas on my blog, but this short story is very different in style from those: incredibly realist, painting the communist era in all its ugly harshness, which is not an easy task.