THE STATE OF NORMALITY
By DOINA HORODNICEANU
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© 2002 Doina Horodniceanu
A month ago I went to visit Marta without calling first. In fact, I did, two times. The first time she was sleeping, and the latter she went shopping. Things in the country were not going very well, at least as well as people were expecting after the Dictator's death. I started to have a bad feeling about the future. It was only a month before the world was going to turn up side down one more time. I decided to visit without a call. The jubilant spring came in with huge baskets of flowers. I like flowers so I bought a bunch of daffodils on my way. Only five. Not too many, not too few - the prices are high. She put them in a glass of water by the window. She transformed her apartment into a studio with one bedroom. A crazy and adorable bedroom; with a round bed in the middle (the way she saw in I don't remember what movie), a big ornamental plant by the window and a genuine Venetian mirror. The drapes were yellow-citron. And this is all. Otherwise lots of clothes; it would take you three days to make an inventory. Big brand names - all of them. The room gives you the impression of theater decor. As well as the studio. An immense round couch, a XVII-th century French desk, a TV set, a few crystal lamps... Here, the yellow-citron (her favorite colors because she is brunet) is mixed with violet. The painting atelier is on the upper level. It has a wonderful view. Something similar to the entrance in the New York zone. You are flying between buildings. She is not rich, but was never poor either. I have known her for a long time and I’ve never heard her complain of a shortage of money. I have no idea how she makes it either. Effectively she is the kind of person that will make money out of nothing - when she needs it. Lost in the desert, she would probably find some hidden in a camel hump. She opened the door at the first ring, right away and gave me a hug. Well, any way, she was cleaning the house. I watched her with the hungry eyes of a man who knew how to see the line of a leg farther than the thin ankle, as well as the curves of the bust hidden beneath the tee shirt. I was searching for a trace of luscious sensuality and frivolity on her face, ready to awaken buried desires. She didn’t show any of these. She displayed an enjoyable seriousness lacking any severity, with a serene smile emerging through her full lips.
She was very affectionate and emotional, with no trace of any false amiability or flirt. She was sincere without hypocrisy. What more could I ask from her? I should embrace, kiss her, and say: ‘Come with me Marta, now, I love you.’ I guess I was afraid she might accept it. So I asked instead if I could be of any help.
"If you want to do something for me, will you please carry this box of papers out to the trash can?"
On the stairs the box broke and everything scattered around. I rummaged among them and I found a poetry book written without any intention of publishing, confessions, old papers, drawings, notes and a diary. I chose some old sketches and the diary as a reward for carrying the box. I didn't mention anything to Marta, but I forgot to look in the diary, too. I find it now and I start reading it. The style strikes me. Each day starts with the same sentence: "Marta, I, Marta"; like a declaration, or as if she wanted to make sure everything that happens, happens to her.
Once in a while I can still hear, coming through my windows the miners’ drunken voices going in-groups to the train station. The city is quiet now. The streets haven’t recovered their normal aspect yet, especially on the fights’ spots. The store windows are covered with heavy curtains or rigid blue paper.
1 January, ’89
Marta, I, Marta, I’ve started to get used to this life. It’s always the same itinerary from one January 1ST to the next one. We live in a nightmare that has started to repeat itself. The seasons are all the same, bringing the same regulations and economical measures. We live with the hope that this year is going to be the last, but another one follows - which is worse than the old one (even though we thought something like this would not be possible.) I’m tempted to believe that this year is not going to be different than the last one – unless a miracle happens. Our misery grows deeper while the President’s power grows stronger. The country falls lower. Where are we, where am I in all this madness? I don’t know. For the moment we are alive and this is what matters. We made it this far and with a little bit of luck will go farther. Nothing depends on us or on me. All we can do is to wait. God knows it’s not easy.
Thursday, January '89
Marta, I, Marta need to concentrate and gain some courage to cut through the traffic. It’s a blizzard. Winter is back. Today, crossing the fields on my way back from school I was more tired and more frozen than ever. But, with a little bit of imagination you could picture yourself somewhere in the mountains. The woods covered by snow were beautiful.
Behind the crowded and noisy boulevard, Tudor's old house is on a quiet street, full of mysteries from a richer and more aristocratic past. I never realized his house is so far. Each building, hidden behind old, strong lime and chestnut trees, preserves its personality and beauty, under the peeling paint covered by dust. Surrounded by the new apartment buildings, the houses wait with dignity for their turn to be shut down. For the moment the building camp stopped next to them, like a permanent and invincible threat. While I approach the house, the out of tune sounds of an old piano become more and more clear. I didn't know there was a piano in his house. I knock on the door.
I close the door behind me but I don’t lock it. This door is never locked. Tudor thinks locks are only for honest people because the thieves, they can open any door.
"Hi, Marta. Long time no see."
"I was busy. Lots of tutoring. The first days of school exhausted me. After four classes, today, I was dead meat. I feel sick."
"Yes, please. New photos? May I see them?"
"Ah, go ahead. But I must warn you, they don’t look too hot!"
“You have no idea what’s hot and what’s not. More than anything else you don’t know what someone else might think about your work.”
The photographs, hanging on the drying strings, are arranged in strange compositions. They are mainly black and white shots representing scenes from poor neighborhoods, retirement houses and dirty hospitals. Ruins, half-destroyed buildings, tired gypsies and madmen faces mixed with deserted, depressing landscapes populated by hungry, skinny dogs. One of them attracted my attention particularly. It was a sepia photo showing a forest with empty trees, surrounded by fields covered with snow. You could almost hear the silence and feel the loneliness of the place. I looked again at the picture and I fastened my jacket.
Tudor returns from the kitchen with the coffee and some snacks on a tray.
"Here is the coffee."
We drink the coffee in silence. We enjoy being together with our thoughts. What’s there to say? Steps in the hallway.
"Oh, you, Desperation's kids, look what your Old Friend brings you! Come here, Marta, give me a kiss, I missed you - Two bottles of... Stolichnaya."
"Jesus, where did you find these?" I wonder.
"Forget about it, I'm not telling. First, because you are not going to love me anymore (if you can buy it yourself) and then because you will tell everybody; the whole city will go there, and by tomorrow none will be left."
Despite all our doubts and second thoughts about Petre, his apparition is always relaxing and comfortable. His sense of joy drags you into another world, whether you want it or not. Even if he is an informer; so what?! He is not the only one and he is nice at least. I always feel good with him. I'm sorry but I can't help it. I love his voice (that I can hear even when he is not here), I can recognize it anywhere. I want to be with him all the time even if I don't have any desire for him at that moment. I am looking for him, for the smell of smoke that got caught under his skin and the tobacco stains on his fingers. I don't want him to be any different. I don't want him to be my lover, or my father, or my husband. I want him to stay unchanged, the way he is, forever. Maybe this is love and it's already too much.
These are interesting considerations. Too bad I didn’t know anything about them before. However this was the crazy logic of our game. As long as she knew she possessed me, she was indifferent, neglecting. When she thought she was losing just a little part of me, when I would refuse to do something together, she would begin to suffer. She wanted me to love her (together with some other ten thousand men, but she wanted me to be one of them). I wasn’t any better either. A thought, a small doubt, or a supposition that she might be preoccupied by someone else was enough for me to suffer terrible pain almost physical for not seeing her; to think of her every minute day or night. But when I found her weak, insecure, ready to love me, all of a sudden I regained my lucidity and detachment. I even had the impression I didn’t love her anymore. Sometimes I found her ugly, even if I knew it wasn’t true, and even if it would be true it would not matter. I was leading the game that night which made her love me. It was a very childish psychological mechanism which of course didn’t stop her from flirting; an innocent liar in a whole system of lies. Sometimes it made me sick listening to her. I keep reading:
In a little bit, the room is full. Warmed up by the vodka, everybody is talking now, and nobody listens. We are talking about liberty, about the individual resistance against the state as the oppressing mechanism. About the stupid idea of uniformity in the dictatorial system. In the middle of music, recitations and laughter in the room, I constantly drift away. It‘s midnight when we walk in silence to the Taxi Station. The complete darkness intimidates us. We have to watch our step to avoid the gaps in the sidewalk. The eternal watching eyes on the corners penetrate us. In each apartment window I imagine a telescope, the refracting lens as placid as water, only trained horizontally, with no view of the moon. All of the sudden Petre throws the whole world on top of Victor.
"I've been contacted by that guy, again," he says. And since Victor doesn't understand what he means, he spells it out for him.
"The Gray Coat, in the bar, he wants you to paint the President's portrait. We need to be at the Party Headquarters next Tuesday at ten o'clock."
To be Continued...
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