THE STATE OF NORMALITY
By DOINA HORODNICEANU
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© 2002 Doina Horodniceanu
I put the Diary away and I light another cigarette even though two others are still burning in the ashtray. I am very tired. My hands are shaking. This afternoon I experienced my first doubts about my way of life.
If I wanted to be honest with myself, I should admit I was doing a lousy job even for the Security and I should quit. I wasn’t made for this kind of role. But I didn’t have enough courage to end anything, not even this. Why didn't I break with Ioana? I was afraid of losing what? My social position, my job, my what? I lived all my life in this terrible and complete lie. Do I love her? I never did. Does she love me? I doubt it. Is she intelligent or creative? Does she understand me? The answer to all these questions is No. Anyway, she is smarter than I am since she was able to trap me so badly. I didn't even realize it. This was her revenge. I’m so tired of pretending. I lied to everybody: wife, kids, friends, even to myself. I enjoyed wallowing around in all this warm garbage. The lesson we tried to teach our kids was a very bad one: about hate and conventionality, about compromising and dissimulating. It was no value there and they understood this better than anyone else. Sometimes hate is a stronger tie between two people than love. Maybe I was afraid of losing my dream so I just kept running. I know why the Stalker would never enter the wishing room.
One night coming home I found a message on the table: ‘Marta called and asked you to call her back as soon as you can.’
Of course I didn’t call, but I met her few nights later in the Hall of the Opera House. It was a Balshoi Ballet performance.
“Petre, I thought you are a polite man!”
“I am, but I’ve been very busy recently; I haven’t had a free minute.” She understood the indifference hidden in my polite excuse. In two words she told me what she wanted – she had an invitation for two at a very fashionable play (for which it was almost impossible to find a ticket) and needed a companion. I accepted under the condition to be allowed to cancel if I was busy. I was happy for having the chance to spend a night with her and to see the play too. On the other hand I was sure she had someone else in mind just in case I dumped her. I was glad to be the one imposing a condition.
That Saturday night we met at the theatre. I didn’t show any emotion at any of the scenes that might have a discrete connection with her; I didn’t look at her, I didn’t smile with hidden meaning. I didn’t allow her to be moved and I ignored any sentimental complicity. After the show we went to a bar where we fought over the actors and their interpretations. Finally we agreed upon a few points. I found everything – the scene, the actors, the public – to be craziness.
After that I started the most incredibly stupid discourse in my life. Even I wasn’t able to believe what I was saying. I was talking about virtue and duty, family values and my profound relationship with Ioana and how motivated both of us are (when it was obvious to everyone, even to our kids, how much we hate each other.) She stared like she was seeing me for the first time. I think she hadn’t heard so many platitudes and contradictions in her whole life. I hadn’t! She waited for me to finish and then she told me, smiling; a little bit surprised but without fuss smile:
“I’m happy you came to these conclusions. It’s very important to know who you are in order to live in peace with yourself. You might be an artist, or a secret agent or a farmer, whatever you chose to be as long as you know your limits.”
The night was off. I figured this might be a good occasion to break with her. But if the fact itself was easy, half-laughing, without violence, what followed was horrible. An hour later, while the wound was still anesthetized, it didn’t hurt. But starting the next day, long hours of absurd agitation, the insufferable necessity of seeing her and the obsession with that phone that didn’t ring. The irresistible temptation to pick it up myself and call; the hope that I might see her accidentally on the street; the anxiety while passing by her school or by her home. The need to look up and check to see if her windows were illuminated and if so, who was there with her, and if not where was she at that time of night. Not because it would make any difference but it was important for me that she would be alone then. I wanted to be reasonable and firm. But could I? I decided to consider her out of town. I wanted to resist and recover my peaceful, relaxing forgetfulness that I used to have and I lost due to my carelessness.
I was strong enough to fight my own temptations to keep this relationship going but I wasn’t firm enough and especially prepared enough to fight her back. She called so I saw her again. And then?!
I continue reading her Diary:
Marta, I, Marta, recall:
Snow, blizzard, heavy winter storm. Heaps of snow. I wonder if there are going to be any kids in school, today. Even so, I have to go.
It’s five o’clock in morning and I have no idea of how to manage the commute, thirty kilometers out of town, through all this snow, to the small village where I teach. I don’t remember seeing such whiteout before. Maybe when I was a kid. The street is a snow river. The traffic is difficult. The over crowded buses have long delays. Most of them don't even stop in the station, having people already hanging through the open doors. Any time a bus approaches, the crowds in the station start a fierce attack, as for winning the most wanted citadel. If the bus would stop, the luckiest of them would find their way in, swearing and pushing. I walk downtown, where long lines of trams try to dig their way through the snow. Buses, cars, vans, try unsuccessfully to move on the slippery roads.
After two hours of waiting I finally get into a bus. The happiness doesn't last for too long. In a while, the driver announces he is stuck, unable to go any farther. The mad passengers threaten and curse him. Some of them show their fists, while others decide to continue their long journey by foot. I'm one of them. I still have thirty miles to go, without mentioning the woods. If I'm lucky enough, I'll find a tractor after I exit the city. While walking on the road, as far as I can see there are only fields covered with snow. A white, thick blanket. A truck approaches slowly.
The snow is a natural force. All the technology and modern machines can do nothing against it. Everything can be covered with snow.
"Hi, thank you."
"You’re welcome, ma'am. Where are you going?"
"Well then, I'm not going exactly in that direction, but I can take you to the forest."
"That's fine. Thank you. Through the forest won’t be that long."
"Yeah. Do you work there?"
"What are you? A doctor, a teacher, what?"
"What do you teach?"
"Mathematics?! Ha, ha, ha. You don't look like a math teacher to me. Do you know that joke?"
"A mother has two daughters: one is beautiful and the other one studies mathematics. Ha, ha, it doesn't apply to you though."
"Ah, I've done very poorly in math. This is why now I work for the Farmer's Association. I didn't like books, so now I must like farming…
“But it's hard work ma'am. Wake up before the rooster's song and work the whole day to dusk. All for nothing. They don't give us much. We don't have enough food for the kids. They keep saying on TV how well we live, and how many good things, our beloved leader is doing for us. Who are these people living so well, because I don't know any?! Do you? We pay five bucks more for bread here than in the city. They say it’s for transportation, but this means five hundred more on my monthly budget. It’s hard with my income. In my village there are poorer people than I am. What are they supposed to do? Do you think we have any chance to live better, ever?"
"I don't know."
"Ah, you should know better than that. Maybe you don't want to talk about it, or something. You are smart, educated, and you live in the big city. If you don't know, then who does?"
"No, really, I don't know. I'm not sure. I hope, but I don't know."
"Well, whatever, ma'am. Here we are. You know your way from here. Take care through the forest. They said on TV that the Danube froze and a lot of wolves came here from Bulgaria, looking for food."
"I will, thank you very much for everything."
I was right; the school is closed for five days. I went through all the trouble for nothing. Students and teachers are expected to come and shovel the snow. We’ve gotten used to the most grotesque situations. When they are not tragic, people make fun of them. I left home at five thirty in the morning and I got back at eight o’clock. I am exhausted. The long waiting in the bus station - I didn’t have enough strength to hang by the open doors; the walking through the snow – I didn’t feel my feet anymore. In the apartment the heaters are cold. It’s no hot water either. It is so damn cold even with the coat on.
To be Continued...
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