THE STATE OF NORMALITY
By DOINA HORODNICEANU
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© 2002 Doina Horodniceanu
One of those days I met an old friend, George, a schoolmate. We used to date the same girls and look through his father’s binoculars into the neighbors’ bedrooms. We went for a beer on one of the terraces. I don’t remember exactly how it started but he told me a story about my wife having an affair with another man that he happened to know. He gave me a lot of details that sounded in fact like a great love story. It wasn’t difficult for me to picture Ioana in that scenario. He was a certain Andrei Tomescu, director at the Opera House. My friend described him so well, I was able not only to visualize him but also to reconstruct their whole romance. I wasn’t angry, but suddenly I had the strange sensation that this woman who was my wife, that I saw every day, that I had kids with, and that slept next to me every night, was actually a stranger to me. It frightened me. It was like all of a sudden everything around me - things that I trusted the most, that I was sure of, that used to be familiar to me - lost all their consistency, changed their colors, their dimensions, their reality. I never mentioned it to Ioana.
I gave up on everything only to avoid any conflicts. I accepted being cheated on just to be left alone. Was that a lack of virility, of strength? I don’t know, maybe it was. Or maybe it was anxiety? I was tired of all the miseries.
It was the end of October, and I decided I was ready to go. In the last four weeks, being busy with my preparations, I hadn't met my friends as often as usual.
That night I bought two bottles of Vodka and took them to Marta's place. By the time I got there, my friends were already exalted. Their debate was about Tarkovsky's last movie, "The Stalker." Speculations, after speculations, after speculations.
I listened impassioned the dissertations on movie’s expressionism, esthetics, even philosophy.
"What are you talking about?"
"The Stalker, Tarkovski's last movie, have you seen it? Where were you all this time, anyway, we thought you left already..."
"I've been around, busy; no, I didn't see it; what’s it about?"
"It’s a very weird film. It's this strange territory, the product of a nuclear accident or something that behaves like a human brain. This is why nobody is allowed to go there. But in the middle of this thing is a room that would grant one of your wishes, anything. The point is that a lot of people want to go there and there is this Stalker that can guide you for a certain amount of money, but he will never enter the room even though he has a disabled kid and a very tough life."
How many were the evenings like this one, spent among friends, with impoverished joy… Each of them bringing in their own problems, their own ferments, having their own opinions, from books or former discussions without conclusions.
I wanted to cry... It was maybe the last time I was to be with my friends and enjoy their discussions. It was almost morning when I got home. I woke Ioana up and told her I would be gone for three days in the mountains. I kept her in my arms for the rest of the night.
The next day I took the train and met the guide in that tiny village by the border. I gave him half of the money, the rest due before we split.
I was floating above the still prairie, flooded with silence interrupted only by the croak of the crows and the metallic gnash of the thistles shaken by the wind and bitter sadness, in a world that forgot its beginning. I was floating with the wind far, far away, so far that I couldn’t be reached, to the sunset and even farther. I took a deep breath and the fresh and sour air filled my mouth and strangled my blood. Everything around me was a big peal of the fall.
We entered the brown and red woods like penetrating through a wall that closed behind me, and then I experienced the Silence. Hostile like a spear pointed to my chest; as if, all of a sudden I was fifty years older, as if I have already lost my liberty.
The sun was calm and warm, the forest turning thousands of colors; from silver to indigo. Waving, yellow leaves fell from the trees in a nostalgic sign of adieu. There was no other noise except our footsteps; dry leaves crackled as they crushed. In the calm wilderness, that sound alone deepened the sense of loneliness. When night came, we stopped behind a large, old tree, waiting for the first ride of the patrols. Over our heads, through the small openings in the curtain of thick leaflets, rays of moonlight fell on the road below, making a mosaic of light and shade. After about two hours we heard the dogs bark, louder and louder. Then human voices. I could even hear what they were talking about.
"What do you think about those bastards, trying to get out of the country, last night?"
"They almost made it. We've been lucky with the currents on the river."
"Yeah that was funny, poor bastards in their swimming suits, freezing like hell and shouting: "Political asylum, Political asylum." They thought they had made it out, that they were in the Free World."
"Yeah, right, we'll give them political asylum, in the prison, ha, ha, ha; that was funny…"
The noises got farther and farther away, until they disappeared, making room for the deep silence. It was only then, when the guide first talked:
"From now on, you are by yourself. Here is the compass; you have to keep it west until you reach the river. You should be there in half an hour. After that God help you. Good luck!"
He took his money and left.
It wasn’t the swarming forest, anymore, full of life and death as the secrets in my veins. It became the prison in which your whole life flew in front of your eyes guided by someone else’s intransigent rules. The woods cringed among the carbonized trees, and the left behind prairie, white, dead, was just a mirror of another world, where the night began.
I started to run over bushes and broken branches, scaring the owls and the rabbits, falling, scratching my hands and knees in the knots coming out of the earth, until I saw the river's ribbon shining in the moonlight.
Gunfire and running boots:
"Freeze! Freeze or I'll shoot! You are surrounded!"
So this was it. I stopped.
"On your knees, you, son of a bitch. What did you think, that we are some stupid sleeping sons of bitches, soldiers, here, ha. We'll show you, we'll teach you how to run, bastard." A strong blow to my back. Then it was dark.
I was running in a tunnel. At the end of it, there was a strong light, the sun? An explosion?! I ran towards the light. When I finally reached it there was a field flooded by sun and a running woman in a white dress. I caught her by the arm, she turned around and in that moment a strong pain in my chin. I knew who the woman was. Not immediately but later I knew.
I woke up... I was dizzy,
"Come on man, you don't want to leave us, now, do you?"
I was all wet, I tasted the blood in my mouth.
An officer at the table in front of me:
"Fill this paper out! Nome, pronome, profession; date and place of birth, parents, what you were up to, facts, everything, what you ate yesterday..."
"Just shoot me."
"Come on we don't do that, not so fast. Such a nice boy like you, in a place like this... These gentlemen here would like to have some fun with you, first... Are you going to write or not?
I’ve already wasted a lot of time with you!"
“I’m talking only in the presence of a lawyer!”
“Really? Is that so? Which lawyer? Just in case we can find one that’s not hunting elephants in Africa right now, do you really think he is going to be some kind of magician able to convince any Court in this country that you are God’s good sheep?”
He planted his hands on my shoulders and pressed me towards him, I couldn’t breathe.
Someone in the room said:
him go, you’ll kill him.” He released me a bit:
“Nazis, this is what you are, Nazis!” I said.
He hit me again.
“Just to refresh you!” he explained.
It was really refreshing. I took a deep breath, I opened my eyes.
“You’ll pay for this one day!” I said with dark hate.
“Of course we will, with pleasure, but meanwhile you have to answer a few questions.”
Serene, he lighted a cigarette. He watched it burning. He showed me a photo.
“Is this your wife? Nice piece… The pleasure will be all ours…”
grinned impertinent, showing rotten teeth greedy for satisfaction.
“Don’t you dare…”
He hit me again and again. I laid down naked in a freezing room, my body covered with fresh scars, still bleeding.
“Now, Mr. Rag, or Remnant, or Trash, or whatever you want to be called, just talk, I’m losing my patience. And so that you’ll see how nice I am, I’m not even asking where you got the money for the guide.”
“Hey, take it easy, will you? We are a serious institution here!”
Unexpectedly he grabbed my hair and pulled it against the chair’s back:
“Speak up, my son!”
I started to scream, my neck hurt terribly. The other one in the room interfered:
“Let him go; you’ll break his neck!”
“I don’t even think about it. Don’t worry. I told him he would
end up in the crematory and I’m going to keep my word. You are not sorry for this animal, are you?”
I didn’t scream anymore, I wheezed. He poured Vodka in a cup of coffee.
They dragged me to another room.
The memory still makes me sick. I go to the bathroom and keep vomiting. Not even the power I have now can diminish the fear I felt then and have felt ever since.
I woke up back in the interrogation room drenched by ice-cold water from a hose. Beatings, questions, day after day; I lost my sense of time. I didn't have any idea if I had been there for a day, or a month, or a year.
One day another officer interviewed me.
"You know, you have a baby boy. He was born yesterday. "
"What date was it?"
"How is he?"
"Healthy, strong, beautiful, as you are."
"So, since your boy was born the same day as our Beloved President, we decided to give you another chance. You will go home, see your baby, and live happily ever after. We'll even give you a job. We give you the chance to work for us, to serve our beloved country and our President. To become one of us. But one wrong step and you are dead. Capisci*?"
The light outside was milky. The muddy streets were filled with endless rows of thoughts from the past. And if you looked closely enough they were there, protruding from an alley or doorway, crossing the street away from the light. With their expressionless faces and uniforms of gray raincoats and hats, they were there, one and one and one and one like in a multiplicity game.
To be Continued...
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