Back to Ithaca


by Mircea Danieluc [Romania]

translated from Romanian by: Ruxandra Câmpeanu and Wendy Stein

pentru versiunea română click aici


Yes, Iulică, you are across from the Queensboro Bridge, at 208, Poinsettia.  This is Kirk’s place. You wear cologne. You have moved in with this pudgy gentleman.  He is over sixty years old, he owns a pacemaker and has a recipe for delicious poppy pie. I can’t see what’s ‘wrong’[1]. You’re ten years younger than he is. You’re still in good shape. You work out ‘daily’. You dye your hair brown. You are beefcake. I don’t get it. You’re in your fifties and still a beefcake. You’ve been around. You left Romania in 1968. You tried a career as a preacher, but it didn’t work. You found your salvation in women: Grette in Munich, Neusika in Cologne, Loredana in Bari, and in the States – Romanian women: Georgiana in Queens, Alina, Steluţa and Doina. Am I right? They each had a double bed and a job. Then, as soon as you began to speak English fairly well, you made a leap towards Anglo-Saxon ladies (gliding, of course, through Luisa, the Puerto Rican): Kimberley, Kylie and Nora. I omitted Kirk, your sand bank, on purpose. Nonsense, I ran into him at a ‘garage sale’, on 80th Street. That’s what I was doing for a living. I would buy the things they would put up for sale at the weekends and sell them second hand. What sand? The man had some extraordinary things, brand clothing, kitchen appliances, and he was giving them away just like that. I was told he was going through a rough patch. He had broken up with his boyfriend and was selling mementos of him. He was hurt. He was trying to get rid of them. We took to each other, somehow. I’m ‘straight’, All this stuff about sexual orientations is none of my business. I moved in with him because I could have my own bathroom. You know, Kirk is a very good fellow; nothing’s perfect. You turned your back, so to speak – God, what language! –,  you turned your back on a lot of love… You pretended to have fits of neurosis and you flung the key on the stairs. You shouted unfair insults at them. You cursed like Romanians do. You looked carelessly at Kylie’s bleeding hand and smashed glasses. You cancelled your phone.  You vanished, leaving unpaid invoices. I loved them. I loved each and every one of them, as much as I could. I’m not made of steel, either. Imperfection is a mystery. They weren’t young anymore, and neither were you. You left Nora collapsed in the living room; you know she had diabetes. You didn’t call the emergency services. You didn’t ask for an ambulance. She had recommended you to Macy’s so that you could work somewhere, she had pulled you out of Ben’s pub. She had already suffered an attack of high blood pressure before you even got to the tube station; her neighbours found her. You had brought Kylie into a depression before you even left her, you were terrorising her by threatening to leave her, you took pleasure in seeing how she was slowly losing her mind. Oh, ‘my gun’, I loved Kylie! You drove her insane, she had grown peevish, unbearable. How I loved Kylie Psotires! … Because she was the youngest. Not even thirty years old. Whatever did she see in you, Iulică, you smart ass?! Iulică, the macho man with the expander, the one who looked a decade younger, the one who used to do a hundred push-ups in the morning and go jogging along the Hudson river! You would organise erotic funerals which would kill you, but you had read somewhere, in a train, that they might rejuvenate you. I wanted to go back, I wanted to be healthy. Nobody knows how they are made; if you don’t bestir it, the cell won’t budge. You could never make up your mind. You could have done it sooner, but you didn’t feel like it. Don’t talk to me about fate; a rover’s life is a sweet life… On the contrary, I love the fucking’ country, I love Lola, I couldn’t get my mind off them, I wanted to come back. So you started living together with Kirk… You gave up on giving sermons and discovered your new calling in your fifties. I’m laughing myself to death! After having grievingly abandoned so many women… You can’t understand, you’re a woman, too. Life is a string of options which have to be sacrificed. I worship experience. You have avocado with honey, mulled wine with pepper and raw celery, you have ginseng, Viagra and Cialis, you go jogging, you work out at the gym. Think what you will. Kirk likes how my body is built and if I can keep myself in good shape, why shouldn’t I? Would you rather see me washed-out? You’ve got piercings all over and some disgusting tattoos on your body. I don’t know if they’re disgusting, I don’t think they are. At fifty years old? Know what? Give me a break, will you?! That’s my own damn business! There’s nothing between me and that man, don’t you get it? He’s just possessive, that’s all. He can’t cope with separations; that’s actually how I met him. He sensed I missed Lola and Telu and that I would like to go back, you can ask him if you want; I thought he was about to have a seizure or something. God forbid, he’s worse than A. Hiller, you’ve read what they wrote when they brought him Patrick, lying on a bar door. Kirk has premonitions, he can cut up pretty rough. He said he would drink aktivin. He was crying, his blood pressure went up. Hey, little boy, kid, baby! I got scared, I had to take him out and buy him something pretty. I see you’re looking awkward at me… It’s your business, I told you. Believe whatever you want. Didn’t I come back in the end? Yes, I did.



You could have become a serious preacher, should you have tried a little harder. The States are full of murderers; you would have needed a manager so that you could make it on the screen. But you didn’t want to, isn’t it more enjoyable to get up at around eleven? I preached the innate drive towards perfection; they seemed very interested, actually. Otherwise known as sex; sex and the nourishing rump. Are you referring to anything in particular? Yes, I am referring to something in particular. The world becomes intelligible through fornication. Copulation as an act of knowledge. Sometimes Revelation is reached. You have an eye for talent, Iulică, you hot shot, you’ve been a great cultivator of talent. Now you are waiting in this car with two clogged ignition plugs and with a loose hand brake. You are waiting in front of the Filantropia hospital. You’ve been waiting for Lola for an hour and a half. You want to know the truth, once and for all. Lola is lying on a couch covered in white. On her left side, facing the wall. She is covered with two small, washed-out green curtains, the colour of Vinăreanu’s dressing gown. The doctor and Margareta are glued to the monitor, while he is handling that tube with a light bulb and a mini video camera, made in China. The wrinkly relief of the colon shows up on the screen: Lola’s inner structure. Not even she knows it. It is always someone else who has to see how you are built on the inside. She suffers the metal digging into her, it’s unpleasant. They are looking for certain imperfections. The doctor keeps silent. Lola grins and bears it eyes shut. You are thinking about the lout back home, in the street, with the white foil covering the living room.



You’ve decided to come back, remember exactly, because you were captivated by the appeal of the retrocession. This is the only thing which managed to pull you out of Kirk’s bathroom. The country was revelling in sumptuous acts of re-entering into possession. Magically people were getting back from the state what the state had robbed them of. Somehow it is similar to the way the new guys in power are presently bringing us to beggary… You don’t have land, you don’t have shares, but you have that two-story building where you’ve been permitted to live in the upper flat. Your parents’ house. Leaving your child with her and disappearing for almost fifty years. By ship. You fled by Constanţa… When it was permitted, Lolita paid for it. The two rooms and the kitchen where she used to make me ravioli. Those where the days. They didn’t know there was an inheritor and that you’d show up someday. Well, I did show up, it was my right to do so! You couldn’t have known that your house was already full and that no one had any intention of moving. Tenants… This situation, too, is imperfect. Why are those people with their rags piled on the sidewalk annoying you so much? You were thrilled when you got off the plane. Happy to hear people speaking Romanian. The last anchor on Kirk’s territory had deprived you of this. For the same reasons, and fraudulently, of course, you would take Doina out for a talk in the Russian tea house on Fifty-second Street. Back inRomania, Lola had tried to reach you only four or five times at first, until she grew accustomed to the idea that you weren’t coming back. No phone calls, no letters – understandable, from that direction it would have implied financial strain. But had you called her, she would have answered. Ever colder, she had never sent a photograph, not even one of Telu; she was going grey, there was no point in insisting. Two years later, you obtained her silence as well, which pleased you. Now you are pushing the cart, with the bag and two trunks, everything you’ve gathered from all the places you’ve been. You wife and your son at the Exit. Only she recognises you coming and tries to smile somehow, because that’s how you greet a late comer. The old woman. Unfamiliar. You hug each other. The boy with a shade of moustache is taller than you are and you can’t feel ‘the voice of blood’ in him. He seems rather annoyed to be with her at the airport. He leans to pick up your luggage. You object. At least one trunk! You want to make a good first impression, you care about your image as a man in the green, tanned under the violet lamp light and forged in storms. You couldn’t know yet that the gipsy man was going to climb with his child on the roof. Kirk, through tarot or through his piercing ability to see into the future, might have been able to warn you somehow.



How considerate Kirk was! … You remember how much he insisted on ironing your silk shirts, such a difficult thing to do, although there was a laundry no further than a ‘block’ away. He would sneak a sandwich into your pocket when you went out. That poppy pie! Not once reheated food, not once that hateable note adorning the fridge: microwave whatever you can find to eat… What woman knows how to remain so affectionate in her days? His gaze, now you remember his gaze perfectly, how he waited quietly for you to finish your workout; you, sweaty and exhausted; a burden which drains you terribly as you grow older. I don’t know how I managed to stay with him for so long. He must have put a spell on me. He must have poisoned my food with quicksilver. Bullshit, he wasn’t into things like that. But he was good at tarot. That was Kirk’s great gift! … He was an intimate friend of the future. He knew what was in store for him. He knew you would show up at that garage sale, just as he foresaw that one day you would leave the USA, Poinsetia, everything, to melt into Lola’s arms. None of Stela’s tasteless fits. He announced he would drink aktivin and started crying silently, dismally. He acknowledged, nevertheless, the workings of fate, he believed in destiny. And how he pleaded with you! … Wait a second, wait a second, let’s get things straight right from the beginning. How was I supposed to know that these people were living on the edge of neurosis, actually a disequilibrium from which one could come out stronger? Anything which happens to them gets amplified. Remember the A. Hiller episode, when they brought him Patrick, who had been murdered uptown. He locked himself in the house with no food or water. OK, so he had water at the sink. You could live him as many messages as you wanted on his answering machine, he still wouldn’t pick up the phone. He wouldn’t answer his mobile phone, nothing. He lay in his bedroom for a month; do you know what that means?! Not even the fire fighters could get him out. When he came out – they sent the photo to the newspaper – he was a ghost! He showed up with his 12 mm Remington and opened fire from the van. In the first round, he got two people down, two pedestrians. Five days they tried to nail him, but he kept changing his location. He would target parking lots, sidewalks, things like that. He was upset, he was pissed off. Nine people in five days. Unbelievable. People with racked nerves… You didn’t see it, but Kirk harbours in him everything that this blasted century could make of a man: afraid of life, deviant and hypersensitive, superstitious, addicted to the internet, to beer and to television. You told him about the imperfect structures which push things forward; he – being one of these structures himself – didn’t understand you.


Lola is running late. You are waiting in the car, at the gate. It’s getting chilly. You start the engine again. The passing time makes you feel cold. Beyond the fence, the yard of the hospital is gloomy, hellish, seen from here. You glance at the car meter. Her madness, so adorable back then! … The excited way in which she made love when she realised that you wanted to, regardless of the place. You remember the boat in the pond or that train, that compartment in the basement and also at large, close to the buoy. The blow job when she had leaned, uninvited into you while in the Dacia you were driving on the way back from the Bran Castle. You could feel the love with which she would creep in. Through her mouth or otherwise, her body, stony, stubborn in her teenage years, would open towards you with everything she had to give and everything she could receive. She would swallow you with three mouths so as to hide you within her, lest you should run away. And yet, something remained undone, you still don’t know what; it was just a hint of sadness which would come over you… I want you to know something. I was the one to demand certain things of her. You are never sure whether she loves you or not. I demanded something and, for a moment, she encouraged me to think that she was doing it, as you say, out of love. Three days later, however, I needed some new evidence. I was tormented by the fact that she knew things from before having met me. How was she initiated, with whom had she practiced those things? I knew two or three of my forerunners. If we chanced to run into each other somewhere, I tried to avoid them. I couldn’t stand their presence but with great annoyance. It’s not necessarily jealousy, but it’s excruciating, you begin to picture about some other guy similar circumstances which you take note of. It’s not something that belongs to you, it’s not intimate, you can see him looking at you and you know what kind of thoughts ramble through his mind. It happens to me as well in other relationships, that’s why it’s difficult to fake indifference. But I don’t think she had ever done it against nature before. Against nature, meaning anal sex, I don’t want to seem bashful, there’s no need for that. She avoided it for a while, until it became an issue of proving her love. The matter was put up for discussion. I brought up the issue in the pool at the hotel of Brădet. Standing up…,I didn’t even ask her. The dusk was falling and we were the only people in the pool. There were some benches around. Anyone could come into the water at any moment, I don’t know if you understand. You’re a woman and you can imagine that state of sexual excitement and apprehension; anyone could have come in, nothing was certain. You feel awkward, you know? Yes, I think she did it out of love, so as to ease my worries. Although she was stressed, I could tell. That’s how we got married. Lolita – the stout woman from the airport. Grey, two-piece suit, the colour of oil, and square-heeled sandals. Swollen ankles and sagging cheeks under the jaws. That shy boy. And you, pushing the cart. You recognised each other, that wasn’t a huge problem, but how you stared at each other, there… They were probably expecting you to show up in a preacher’s robe. They didn’t know that preachers wore civilian clothes and that the Word was with them.


This is what I wanted to say to all: there is no need for repentance. You all are God. He is all forms seen, apprehended and unimaginable. He is the Ghost and he is shapeless, for He does not lie separate from the shapes. He is in all things, be they manifest or not, and he generates purposefully imperfect constructions. You can’t touch them with the will to self, that is an illusion produced by lack of faith and vanity… You are the world and He is you. A pray to him – I pray to you!


Behold the desire, the scorn, the adjustment and the death: they lead to minute differences in potential, options which upset the stillness. This is how life goes on forever, even in the apparently inanimate things; entropy means finding rest. Rest means extinction. All that is unfinished yearns to be accomplished, is forced to move, suffers transformations, is reborn as hybrids and new intermediate forms, those too being defective, of course… Thus appear: the haemoglobin, the lungs, trunks and snakes with tongues that can sense smell. In time, they fade away; they resurge later on, better defined, but not well enough. This is the only eternal and perfect movement, generated by the very sadness of imperfection. This one, behold, the one which is visible and deters; which makes you say: what an ill-formed world! Which gave birth to doubt, imperfect as well, for God can be felt even in blasphemy. You had no way of getting in. After they climb on a rock, sanctified preachers always say that you need repentance. Illusion! It’s not necessary, any path is an imperfect path; any given path is the Path itself, according to those who understood Him. Most holy work – Insufficiency – so that the yearning for the Impeccable might be vital, eternalised and without flaw… Isn’t that taking God’s name in vain if you believe yourself to be what you’ve just said? In a certain way, I really am just that, without my wanting it. So are you. I roam luxuriously. Does Lola know this? We didn’t talk about it the first night. Telu brought us from the airport and I was looking at her bony body; she kept coming in and out of the kitchen. I was watching her lay the table and take out the old cutlery from the newspaper in which it was folded. I was looking at the furniture and the wall paint, she had made some changes. You were looking at the house where you had lived years on end, trying to remember the place where some bed or some chest used to be. An unfamiliar house, Lola had covered all the expenses with ICRAL[2]. An unfamiliar woman. The boy – unfamiliar. Friendly, though; trying to make your arrival pleasant. Occasionally, silence would fall. You would look at him, trying to discover similarities. There weren’t any. Children take after their parents by growing old in their company. Where had you been? You ate and rekindled in your memory the taste of some dishes which had built you. How easily these too had fled from you. How easily they flee from you, the things which are supposed to last forever… How insensitive they all are. You were looking at the room covered in macramés and embroideries; a hobby of hers you didn’t know. A hobby she didn’t think necessary to warn you about. The table cloth with strange combinations of parts that were made in relief and parts that weren’t, tiny baskets, knitted decorations… You didn’t see yourself living among them. I’ve never liked them, in anybody’s house. Tasteless. Knitted thread balls used as key droppers drive me up the wall. The boy was kind of pale, effeminate. Mamma’s boy – another exaggeration. Out of the two rooms they had, one was his, thank God. You had to sleep in the bedroom, close to her. She had prepared the turn-up bed. If you want, she said, I can take it. You objected, why, it’s perfect, but you both knew you were lying. You didn’t dare to budge. No noise was coming from the place where she had huddled. What was she doing? Was she spying on you? The difference in time zone; you couldn’t sleep. An unfinished situation, imperfect, of course, frozen in it’s unfolding.



Iulică! What shall we do, smart ass? The house you came to claim, your only fortune for that matter, is brimming with strangers. They bought from ICRAL, just like Lola… Owners and tenants, and the Owner is you. The dear old state rushed to steal, pulling out of its hat a more suitable law, not so as to mend some iniquity, but because the State is the Master Magician. Not because a house were a necessity, but because the Magician has ants in his pants. Not because you weren’t suffering, but because the Magician bends at the waist towards the place from where you popped up, at last. Don’t worry, all these things aren’t happening for your sake or for the sake of your run-down house; there are bigger fish to feed; a king, among others. But what shall we do? How do you get them out, how do you evacuate them? Get into you battle chariot, Iulică! Spin your sword around, knocking them dead, hit them with judges and officers of court and summons! … The problem is with Lola. She paid for the flat and thought it was hers. That was her mistake. If I were a bastard, I could kick her out in the street with her luggage. She’s afraid. She is depending on me. That’s true, Lola really is depending on you. She has had a nervous breakdown. She keeps knitting embroideries and macramés furiously, like a maniac. You can’t stop her anymore. At the same time, she’s trying to seem friendly. She cooks for you, she irons your clothes. She decided to lose weight. She reminds you of things long gone, but which might awaken your gentleness, maybe even your tenderness. She made the turn-up bed disappear, you are now sleeping together. There is only one thing she is avoiding. That thing! … She doesn’t allow sex, except for the one way she approves. That’s rich! That may be the case, but it’s out of my hands. At least help me understand: do you have a reason for it?! Can’t you see that she carries all sorts of diseases? And what does disease have to do with it? We’re somewhat acquainted. No; if this is what you want, fine; if not, then please understand me… The tattoos, the earring – they’re pointless. They are not inspiring. Do you want me to run some tests? I don’t know, I’m scared; I don’t like it, either; I’d rather it were normal. What does ‘normal’ mean? Who decided what’s normal? We are doing something which isn’t complete. Very well, that’s fine by me. Not by me. There was a time when you didn’t have any inhibitions, I recall terrible things. I was young and stupid. And now you are a grown-up… I’m ashamed, what did you expect? I’m an old woman. To remain in a country like this! … Ah, where are you now, Neusika? How shrewdly, how childishly she called you from the beach! Neusika from Cologne, a goddess! She paid a holiday for you in Bali. Who said that German women were cold, who has the authority to say that?! Oh, she knew how to listen and ask questions when you recounted your whereabouts to her, in very poor English… How inquisitive she was, how eager to know life in it’s entirety in just one bulk. What tears… Too young, anyway. Just like Kim. Your eagle-like face, tanned from all those hours under the lamp, suggested adventure. Were you a magnet for teenage girls when you were under thirty? Kim loved you for your hands, she also insisted that you should polish your nails regularly, until you grew into the habit. This impressed Kirk, as well; he would fall into raptures over a beautiful, well-groomed hand. She would place them on her chest, on her neck, anywhere – we’re talking about Kim now –, she had discovered a way to embellish herself. What a nut case! … She liked to hide around the house and reappear in various poses, pretending to be a statue. Or wearing unnatural costumes: her knickers on her head, lipstick on her knees, small gestures to greet you with. When you’re young, it’s normal to be a little wacky… you think while gazing out the window. Why did I come back to this old hag, you’re saying to yourself now, what was I missing, what for? So as to watch her knitting like there’s no tomorrow, Edith Piaf? Or taking Furantril and hissing at night? Because she snores in a hissing way, I can’t explain. She’s dissatisfied, she bugs me, she doesn’t like anything. I was ‘overcome’[3] – how do you say? – with naggings: stew, peach jam, as if I couldn’t tell that she was doing it all out of fear that I might change my mind someday and leave her homeless. Although I told her I didn’t have the nerve to do that, I’m a gentleman. But I don’t have ‘fun’ with these things, they downright annoy me. Still, it troubles her, she is doing her best. She took you out at the Boema Restaurant, she takes you for a stroll in the park, she takes you places where – you know, why aren’t you more considerate? It’s not that; I can be nice if I want to, but there is this thing in her, she won’t come out of her bitterness, you know her. You left her alone for a long time. She has two shoe boxes filled with photos. You are pulling her backwards, so as to turn her into her former self. That is who you really want. Against nature. You are teaching her all over again, you are trying to get her accustomed to it. She doesn’t want to, she won’t let me, she likes the way she is. Lola, you said to her, you have poor habits, there’s room for improvement. Nature tends towards perfection. That’s all right, I don’t need it. It’s perfect enough as it is. She doesn’t get it. Things aren’t ‘okay’ with Telu either, though you pretend not to see that. This boy has no sweetheart, no girlfriend, what does he do all day? It worries you quite a lot. Where have you been tonight? I’ve been out with the guys. What guys? Bring them here, I want to meet them. What do you do there, how do you spend your time? We play canasta and gamble on sticks. Canasta? Don’t you have a girl? I haven’t got any money. Lend me a hundred. So that you can gamble it away? This is not right, boy. You should have a girl. I tried to teach him to stand on his own two feet. I’ll open a bank account for you, if you want. Help me drive these people out of the house and you’ll have your own account. Difficult… Finally, he started to get involved. Yankee recipe: you say bank account and he falls for it. He finally moved into action. First, he picked on those in the street, who were standing on their ragbags with plastic foils on their heads. Occasionally, you would bring them some soup, you would make them packages with leftovers from lunch, because Lola cooked. They would take the food, and then they would curse you. But you can’t stand seeing them there, in their sorry plight, you feel pity for them. These were the first you drove away. You burst in upon them with the officer of the court, it was right at the beginning, they got scared and left. With their children, with their mattresses on the sidewalk, covered in their polyethylene foils. The others have never bothered to leave, you could have brought the police and it still wouldn’t have mattered. They would threat to kill themselves. Listen, mister, the boy brings them the can of soup, heated, with bread and everything and when he leaves he hears the redneck curse. Instead of ‘thank you’… He thought you couldn’t hear him. The boy turns around: what are you cursing for, you miserable lout?! And spills the little can on his trousers. Is that why I bring you food? He went to the basement to put the water under lock and key. They couldn’t wash themselves anymore. Neither did we, obviously, but we would open the lock in the morning and fill some buckets. Then we would close the lock again. Filth would pile up in the toilet. You would pour water from the bucket into the toilet, you bought a water basin. The stench they sent off! You sent Telu in the attic to cover the vent hole. You didn’t know what else to try so as to drive them away. You clogged the sewer with rags. What a crappy country!, the child was beginning to notice. Why do you say that? I’d tell him. It is absolutely true that man was made out of earth or clay. But what is clay if not mostly organic substances? We are going through a string of circumstances which can be improved, the country isn’t all the same. You can already sense some progress, it no longer looks the way it did when I left it. There is this fact which makes the world go round: nothing lasts forever. That’s why we keep it up. Very well, we keep it up. Someday, you’ll discover they’ve all gone away. We’ll sell the house immediately and we will even be able to move to the States. But I could tell he wasn’t buying it… You could see that he had actually grown weary of it. Just like Lola. And the feeling almost caught you, too. It was a war of attrition. You even broke some of their windows. They broke some of our windows, too. What louts! Telu, I would say, be ruthless, don’t let it get to you. Pluck their TV cable as if it were your business to do so. Look at that tree, its leaves are beginning to turn yellow. Do you think it would blossom like that next year as well, if it stayed green all the time? Do firs blossom? The tree knows it is going through something imperfect, but it gathers its strength within itself and gets well. That’s the impetus of the movement. The stench of rank potatoes is everywhere! … Though you like to believe it comes from potatoes or from stale cabbage. The nights are the most difficult. They wake you from your sleep. They play backgammon on the sidewalk. They won’t go away and that’s that, they hang on; you contemplate setting up a tiny fire for them, like in Brooklyn. But you don’t have a house insurance, that’s not good, you’d better stick to what you’ve started. It’s been raining for a week. The man from under the plastic tent comes out with his child, he’s at his wits’ end. He swears at you in the yard. Someone inside is laughing quite noisily, liking what he hears. The soup man takes his kid in his arms; he is carrying a bottle of Diesel oil in his pocket and the gas cylinder in the other hand. He climbs the back stairs; his smell turns your stomach. He passes through the attic, by the vent hole Telu clogged with bricks. He gets onto the roof. With the little girl in his arms, he advances towards the cornice of the building. He announces that, if the Mayor from the City Hall doesn’t show up, he will jump with the child. The kid, terrified, bursts into tears. He wants a place to live, no matter which one, he also gives a deadline, otherwise he will take the child and jump. He can even set himself on fire – plan B – if he is prevented from jumping. People are gathering in the street. You come out as well, it’s a wholly new situation. The City Hall and the good old State show up, too. They dispense promises from the loudspeaker. The gipsy man is unrelenting. He is besought, asked, begged to come down. To no avail; he draws nearer and nearer to the spout. The television crew show up. Exactly what we needed! They record for the News a series of claims and images under the headline ‘shocking’. Meanwhile, the firemen show up. The people turn around to get a good look at your face. You are the bastard, the devious capitalist who is making use of his ownership. You have already killed him. The gendarmes are climbing through the back. Just like in other situations of this type, the gipsy man lets himself be knocked down while shaking the gas cylinder through the air. He bursts into tears. He and the child are both crying. While sobbing, he curses you terribly, and also Telu and your family, something with ‘may it go to the dogs’, I can’t remember exactly what he said. You froze.


Lola comes out on the hospital gate and looks to the right, to the left. She is pale, her clothes dishevelled. She can’t spot you, though your car is parked nearby. Her view is probably obstructed by the van with the trunk on top. It is full of bags. You flash the headlights on and off and the next moment she notices you. She advances slowly in your direction. Somehow too sluggishly. You’ve never seen her walk like this before. You get frightened, you expect bad news. You can see her stop next to the pole. She waits, with a blank stare, she leans onto one leg. Is she feeling ill? She finally starts to move and gets into the car with difficulty. How is it? you ask her in a strange hoarse voice. She delays her reply for a while, pulling at the safety belt. Fine, she whispers. Fine, meaning okay?… She nods and sighs grievingly. Then why are you so crestfallen? They blew air into my bowels, it made me fell bloated and then, having them stick that wire rod there! … I thought it would never end. Let’s go, start the car. You drive away, peeking at her. She’s happy, poor woman, but she doesn’t dare to rejoice yet, she’s afraid something bad might happen, she’s afraid she might jinx it. She has put on this sulky air as a precaution. She didn’t expect to read in her file: clinically normal. Good thing she’s all right! You stop by the traffic lights and, when you least expect it, you hear close by the sound of a trumpet you didn’t think you would hear. ‘Excuse me?’ I’m full of air, Lola explains, that’s all, what am I supposed to do? Mammy, you must be joking, I thought it was the friction pad. Don’t be an idiot, and she bursts into laughter. You’re glad she is laughing. You insist. Is that why you stopped on the sidewalk, by the pole? I saw you leaning aslant. And you both laugh, relieved; you joke around. Come on, it’s no big deal, I’m bloated, it’s clean air. Bucharestair? Filth. How do they dare to pump it into you like that? You should have asked for distilled air. Come on, come on, don’t hold it back, fart some oxygen! Back home, in the street – riot. The scumbag from the tent was setting his furniture on fire. You park with great difficulty. A crowd like you see at parties. Your man is burning a ragged couch on the driveway. You open the car door, you get out. Before you can hear his curses, the mob turns towards you. You help Lola out. You can barely make out what that man is shouting, you can only see his horribly contorted face, the saliva on his chin and the dark caverns in his mouth. Lola is afraid. You look round for Telu and he isn’t anywhere to be seen. You’d like to do something, but you don’t know, Iulică, if it’s better to stand up to him or shut up. You’re surrounded with hostility and it is ill-advised to do things when you’re edgy. You look at them squinting, as if you could barely control yourself: one of your tricks. Finally, you open the door and you find yourselves inside. Where is he? you shout at her, although it’s not her fault. Where is he rambling?! He might have gone some place, she retorts. Where is he? With the guys, how should I know? What guys? This annoys the hell out of me! What is he doing there, where is he always going with the guys, have you asked him? What, you think he tells me? Doesn’t he have a girlfriend, don’t you care? Iulică, what do you want from me? Am I not wretched enough as it is? At his age, he needs a girl! Maybe he doesn’t. He doesn’t?! And you’re comfortable with that? How do you know what needs go through his head? Do you want him to lose his mind? Maybe he needs a shrink. I’ll beat the tar out of him. She remains silent. She locks herself in the bathroom. You’re sorry for yelling at her. The lightning rod is always the one nearby. You are restless. Annoyed by the fact that you let yourself be insulted in front of her. That you didn’t beat them up. That you didn’t trample on him and that you accepted what you’ve never had to accept before; remember it exactly how it was. Have you grown old? But it would have been insane, you were right to refrain yourself. This thought doesn’t soothe you either. A world of gits… You go to the window to watch them. The couch is still burning, the gipsy man is wriggling angrily. The gapers are enjoying a free show. They’re grinning, they’re provoking him. Now, if I had Telu, that bone head, I would have flung myself at them! … This boy is driving me insane. What are his whereabouts, who does he pay visits to? You hear a rock flung into the wall. They’ve spotted you, they are pointing at you. Boos. You can make out what they’re shouting by reading their lips. They toss a lighter through the window, but it doesn’t reach you. That lout takes off his pants and shows his disdain or whatever else he has to show, to the general amusement. You stand still and defy them. You pick up your mobile phone and pretend to call the police. No more soup for any of them, ever! Blasted country. It’s doomed ‘forever’, I thought this was just a passing phase – bullshit! That’s how you started, that’s how you’ve stayed. What am I doing here, why did I come back? Didn’t I have a good life with Kirk or in the places I’ve been? Me, the old elephant! And I know for sure that he has a brother in Pantelimon, he could live there, too, if it came to the crunch. But no, he thinks he’s struck gold, that the City Hall will give him a house downtown. The hell it will. I mean, why put on this show in the middle of the street? So that they would show him on TV? He gave you the strongest blow when he cursed you. You got scared. These things strike an atavistic terror into you, you fear for everybody. You waited impatiently to see who it would strike. Only three weeks went by. When she started complaining of pains in the colon, you looked at her frightened… Although you continued to make jokes, lest she should begin to worry. She would cry. She looked worse every day. Does she have it or not? You want to know… Now Kirk’s tarot would have come in handy. So that you could at least know! You took her to the doctors, you took her to have an endoscopy. Isn’t it a shame, you told her once, isn’t it a shame to have that guy probing with metal over there?… She didn’t get it, she looked at you, puzzled. And you found yourself in a tight corner, but a joke is a joke. Isn’t it better, you repeated, for us to remember a few things? She almost slapped you. You’re crazy, she shouted, you’re a pig, what’s wrong with you, can’t you see?! Come on, be serious, I’m only joking. Idiotic jokes! And she sank into silence for two days. Thank God, we got frightened for nothing. What am I doing here? Am I here to give away my house? I won’t manage to kick these people out of the house, not in a hundred years. Not by throwing the book at them, not with officers of the court. However hard I might struggle. If they won’t leave, they won’t leave; they don’t give a damn. No one can do anything to them. Guerrilla. This country is a waste land. Lola comes out of the bathroom. She sits down in the armchair, her waist aching. Good thing she’s well. She turns the television on and starts knitting pitifully. You would like to apologise, but you find yourself saying again: I don’t like this thing about Telu. He’s a kid, what do you want from him? He’ll come round. Deep down inside, you doubt it. You know what you know… Will you make me some tea? ‘Sure’. You pull yourself away from the window. You pour water into the kettle. You make the gas flame bigger. No, wait a second… We are having a good day. ‘Imperfect events’, let’s think positively. Don’t throw a fit of hysteria, or you’ll hurt yourself. All that is asked of you is to be patient. To wait in tension. Don’t think about the funeral. You go and take the expander out of the bookcase. Using your well-groomed hands, you work out your pecks. You started doing gymnastics with the nagging thought of your return preying on your mind – the thought of being presentable. Next, your buttocks. Another minute. You look at the skin with the sagging tattoo. You feel your earring. You contemplate yourself in the mirror. White hairs at the root. You are the way you are perceived. Feel ashamed of your hair and dye it! You pull at the spring. You pull at the spring. Your elbow skin has marks from the arms of your old armchair. Your poor muscles stretch obediently and fearfully, like some swollen veins. You pull at the strings. What’s this pain in the shoulder? What’s stinging you is that implant, you forgot what it’s called – it closes all the way up under the neck. It’s stinging, it’s limiting your movements. You’d like to let it go. No, if it hurts, it means it’s alive. Let it bear it. It’s painful, it means it’s not working properly. Let it grin and bear it, so do you, this is the only way a muscle becomes brawn. That’s how you sculpt your body. Oh, what pain in the arm! The hand is benumbed, you crouch. You straighten your back, grin your teeth and pull again, a few times, tears in your eyes. God, how it hurts! You can see the Voltaren pill in your mind’s eye. And – bang! That very second, the expander snaps. With a squeaking sound. You stop, terrified. The pain in your shoulder. You feel the broken string with slightly shaky fingers. Used-up iron, can it be fixed? You can tell for yourself that it can’t; some forms of growing old don’t admit patching up. And it was very good, it lasted years on end. You drop it on the parquet. You open the door. Don’t go back to her looking like this, don’t gasp for breath, refill your batteries, suck in your abs, don’t let them pour over the belt. Don’t let yourself slip, Iulică, don’t give in. Think positively! You suck in your belly, you pour the tea and put it in front of her, on the embroidered ornament. You sit down next to her, trying to calm your breath. You’re watching whatever she’s watching, without any conscious control. And you hear. A trumpet crushed under the wheel of the car… You pretend you didn’t hear it. The air in the room carelessly receives what her body decides it no longer needs. You can feel her turning towards you, raising her eyebrows, the corners of her mouth bent downwards, in an attempt to excuse fatality. There’s nothing I can do; what should I do? You smile and you nod indulgently. You can’t speak, you still have a heavy breath. Good thing she’s all right. Then, all of a sudden, that brass key goes off again, an octave above the note. You wave your hand and guard the silence. You look at her stinging the needle, you made her mint tea and feel a gentle concern coming over you. You’d like to take her hand and tell her how worried you’ve been behind the wheel, in front of the Filantropia hospital. But you’re still breathing heavily, you can’t. You smile at her and she doesn’t notice you. In this armchair, the waiting has already begun. Everything you suspected, the thought you chase away every day is here. It is waiting by your side. The body is waiting with you to slowly fall to pieces. No, all these merely signal the end; you can fix them, you can be once more what you once were. All it takes is will. Your legs fail you, other things start speeding on, your good will is leaving you. You feel like saying never mind, it’s still early, there is still time till that day comes. There it is, in front of you, it’s smiling, it’s coming. You are two dots on two trajectories scratched in the void. There’s so much sadness… It’s so precise. You are a crib, you can hear something ruminating and the bitter horse smell fades away. Only now, up close, can you also smell the spark in its eyes: it’s the Trojan filly. You know the trick, Iulică, you know it all too well, but however tenaciously you might dodge away, hers is the hour when the almost perfectly crafted mare opens up her bellows. You notice you’re waiting. You swallow the Voltaren pill. Waiting is an indecent and dishonourable thing. It slouches slowly. And it’s barren, that’s the dread. What will you do till then to pass away the days and maybe even the years? Travel? … You’re fed up with that. Some activity fit for old age? Which one? Loneliness? Fear of illness? You will be deceiving yourself, thanking the Lord for every single morning given to you as a bonus. What can you do with it? It’s careless, it’s taller than you are. You no longer have the strength to grow from your weariness. Downhearted, you will feed on boredom. You turn your face towards Lola with unexpected tenderness.



[1] The last word is in English in the original. The words which are given in English in the original version will henceforth be put between inverted commas (translator’s note).

[2] Acronym for The Constructions, Repairs and Residence Management Company (translator’s note).

[3] In the original: ovărcam, the English word overcome, rendered in Romanian spelling (translator’s note).

Back to Ithaca

3 thoughts on “Back to Ithaca

  1. citisem inapoi la Ipitaca! si am ramas de-a lungul textului cu alta cheie de lectura, ce farse si cu paradigmele astea. in orice caz, o traducere eleganta. felicitari pentru engleza fluenta, cu aparente de nativitate.

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