My mother was convinced it was smoking cigarettes that had killed my father, although doctors had said that lung cancer is an illness that might be caused by other factors as well. “Only if I see you with a cigarette one day… You will regret!”, she would warn me, but what sounded to me both sad and funny was that she, unlike my father, couldn’t have me scared with a concrete punishment because she was too meek and soft-hearted to come up with something like that, let alone to utter or conduct. “You will regret!” was the scariest punishment she has ever directed toward me, even when I would do something I deserved to be reprimanded. I wasn’t being used to the freedom I had after my father’s departure and all those forbidden things I had been yearning for, wouldn’t bring me the expected joy and pleasure, and I would become easily bored. I would smear my cheeks and neck with the scent of the glassy green acorn, and I didn’t wash and rub my face with soap and water, driven by the fear she could feel the smell, so her slaps would make them painfully red. I would open brown carton folders he used to take to work, which I wasn’t allowed to touch, I would stay awake late in the night, watching TV from his armchair with the remote control in my left hand, the same way he used to, and I would curse like him when some of the buttons got stuck in the hole or didn’t work.
“God damn it… where did it get stuck… Oh, here it is!”, he would pull up the gray button with his pinky nail, which I think he had been letting grow for that purpose only. I would occasionally remove the thick brown layer of duct tape he used to fasten the lower part of the remote, and I would proudly stick a new one as if performing some artisanship. Before going to sleep, reoccurring scenes of movies I used to watch late in the night would go through my mind; it wasn’t like I understood them altogether, but because he would do the same. Scenes from “Papillon” in solitary confinement, where he, while being starved, was chasing the cockroach, or the village fool Michael shuffling his leg down the sand in “Ryan’s Daughter”, would circle my conscience, entwined with sequences from the funeral and flies on the wall. I would lay down on the bottom part of the bunk beds, falling asleep with the light on, but it didn’t feel good for long, therefore, after a few nights, I got back to the top part, turning off the light early. I would peel off the fern stalks, sliding down my hand only once at a time, knowing that my mother would be pretending she has not noticed the thin naked twigs sticking out from the greenery. I would use a crayon in order to scribble something on the firm leaves of the ficus plant, or write my name on my Adam’s apple between jugular veins, only because there wasn’t anyone to stop me from doing that. I would splash in the yard with his gum slippers on, there were small pebbles stuck beneath, using the hose to sprinkle high up on trees.
Out of habit, I read assigned readings and studied in the kitchen or the living room, the same way I would do it earlier to be seen, though there was no one to notice me. My mother was all day at work, she would return tired, asking if I had eaten and what if so. She would regularly check if I have eaten the sandwich she used to prepare for me every morning for school, wrapped in blue-and-white plastic bags, with the word “mleko” on; she used to store them twisted out of shape by elastic slings, so she could use them for packing meat in the freezer. She cooked lentil with lots of onions and spicy thin sausage with leek because it had been my father’s favorite meal. There would be a whole pot left because neither I nor my mother didn’t eat garlic, but she was persistent in cooking the same meal every Monday, the same way when my father was alive. His coat hung on the hanger behind the front door, now and then she would handwash it, before ironing it and hanging it back behind the door. I asked her why she steadily handwashes the coat that nobody is wearing anymore, and she, while wringing it over the washing bowl, said “Maybe something crawled on it… a spider, a centipede, all kind of creatures enter our house.” She would remove the cigarette box with a few cigarettes left, only when she wiped the dust, before putting it back in the vase on the small table. I waited for the right moment to mention to her what Emil had talked about his aunt and convince her to buy from somewhere human masks, so my father’s ghost wouldn’t possess us, or at least a “bad” one because my father was bad as well. One evening, while she was pushing her elbows against the orange toaster, I told her about that, after which she became evidently upset, telling me he wasn’t a bad person at all.
“Only if you knew about your father’s numerous good deeds… he helped so many people”, she said with subtle pride. “Well, he wasn’t that easy-going person… here and there, like anyone else. For example Žana, everybody thinks of her as very evil, she has been poisoning these neighborhood animals, it isn’t like she isn’t a viper sometimes, but she would give you the shirt off her back. She knits wool socks for the children next door; those poverty-stricken who had lost their mother. She would bring them lunch, give them some money, as much as she can afford herself… And your aunt, well, you know her as she is, a meek, good person until she had it enough one day, she said something she shouldn’t, she did something she shouldn’t, and now look at her, everybody thinks she is pure evil.”
She then added that my father is in heaven now and I shouldn’t be afraid of some ghosts possessing me, and then it crossed my mind that I was approached by one of his first cousins at the funeral, she clutched my chin, her bloody eyes staring at me, and told me through tears: “You are the same as your father. The same!” It was the first time someone had told me I look like my father, and I got scared it may be too late, and he is already in me, and in such moments Emil was the one I missed the most, he would have understood me for sure, he would have told me what to do. Even in case, he didn’t know, he wouldn’t be ashamed to ask somebody and willingly tell me the answer, as he always used to. I was on my own now, but I was afraid to conjure spirits the same way I used to do with Emil, so I went to the shed, where old rusty shower faucet handles have been stored, hoses tangled, as well as broken phones or their receivers only. I decided to use them by trying to make a contact with my father, to see if he is in heaven for good, or he is in me, and though I knew it wasn’t the proper way of conjuring ghosts, it was like I wanted to pretend to be brave for myself, by doing something only fearless people would dare. While I was pulling out the box from the upper shelf, countless screws and one crushed and partially dry spent adhesive glue tube clattered on the floor. I knew it was me who, due to negligence, have pushed the little glass jar they fell off, but my hand quivered when I reached for the red cuboid reciever, which had become darker from dust and the time spent there.
“Vasil… Vasil…” I whispered on it, for the first time calling my father by name.
“Vase, do you hear me?”, I tried affectionately as my mother used to call him. I pulled out the old shower handle, which resembled a receiver, before repeating the same, but there was only silence on the other side. After a while, my mother stopped cooking lentils with garlic and sausage every Monday, the coat behind the door and the cigarette box that had been sitting on the small table were gone, and it was then when I felt my father was dead for good.
I wanted to take something from the apartment, some trifle nobody would notice if missing, the same way people usually take a pebble from a beach before leaving it. I was looking through shelves and drawers, but what I found there wasn’t attractive enough to take it with me. I was looking for something tarnished and neglected, that had soaked all the dust and odors of the apartment, small enough to be placed into a pocket and taken out of the apartment, I bent down just in case if there was something to be found on the floor under the commode. I took a look under the armchairs as well, before recollecting that once, while Vanja and I were laying on the carpet, something had glittered from under the couch. I had peeked there as well and I have noticed the same object, but this time it wasn’t glittering, it was rather shrouded by dust and cobweb. I have taken a magazine with shiny, smooth pages, that have been placed on the small table in the living room, and I used it in my try pushing the object out. On the parquet, in front of the carpet edge, a metal nail file with a light-brown handle slid out, there were a few hairs and specks of dirt on. I didn’t clean it, I only clenched it with my hand, before sliding it into the pocket of my coat, being pleased for having an object with a value of a mini USB containing the memory of all that life concealed in the apartment. I removed the thin thread of cobwebs hanging on the full lips of the girl from the front page of the magazine, I used my hand to wipe the grayish layers from both her hair and face, and I put it back on the small table. I entered the bathroom to wash my hand, before seeing my gray, shaved head in the mirror, it was gazing at me like a plastered mask with holes in the eyes, I ran my fingers along my forehead, my cheeks, my chin, and my mouth. I was licking my lips, enjoying the particles and bacteria melting on my tongue, and I felt overwhelmed with pleasure, due to the mere thought of tasting juices deposited in the apartment. I put my dirty hand under the shirt on my belly and slid it down.
When I arrived at home, I pulled the nail file out of my pocket, placed it in a nylon bag, before hiding it in the brown folder, where I had been keeping my work papers. I didn’t want to remove the dust and hairs, therefore I carefully wrapped it up, tying the nylon bag handles in a knot. On weekends, when I missed the apartment the most, I would stealthily unwrap the file from the nylon bag, holding it firmly in my hand, until it leaves its imprints on my palm. It was as if I had been hiding a sharp knife in my fist, waiting for the right moment to stab someone, or myself. I knew Irina would never open the folder, that’s why I have been hiding there the poison she had secretly purchased for herself a few years back. After long arguments and therapies, I have told her I had destroyed it, and we never mentioned it again. I have had read of its fast-acting characteristics, and on a few occasions I would find myself tempted to reach for it, but instead, I would burn myself, stab myself, pinch myself with the small pliers tucked in one of the drawers in the kitchen, that’s how I temporarily calmed myself. There was nothing more painful when my spirit and body weren’t leveled, and therefore I couldn’t stand it without inflicting some physical pain as well, equal or at least approximately as much unbearable as the spiritual one, so I could bring harmony between my inwardness and my body.
Translated by Simeon Jankov