THE STATE OF NORMALITY
By DOINA HORODNICEANU
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© 2002 Doina Horodniceanu
I’m in a very bad mood. I light a new cigarette and I blow smoke rings. I love that. I have difficulty concentrating. For some reason I have the impression that this is going to be my last day in the office. Not because I am tired or sick about it but because my senses tell me I have had enough. I start arranging my papers. I push all the reports away and I unlock the safe with my friends’ personal files. I spread them around: reports, manuscripts, letters, photos. Looking at them I have a feeling of ash, of wasted life, of senseless agitation. The events of this last winter and spring with their permanent tension, shaded my old personal unhappiness and put it in penumbra. But when I approach, these memories still hurt through some kind of strange succession of events. I open the first folder. It’s Marta's - rather thin.
Fifteen years ago, I let myself get caught up in this story. I knew from the very beginning it wasn’t going to take me anywhere. I was in love with Marta all this time. I was jealous of all the men she loved. I was worried every moment about what she was doing or she might be doing. I was happy when she was smiling, mad when she was too happy, and nervous when I heard her voice on the phone. In the mornings when everything seemed simple and unimportant, to see her or not was the same. But in the evenings heavy with melancholia, an irresistible desire to be with her dictated to my heart and body. I was angry that meanwhile, she was doing a lot of insignificant things that excited her, that were part of her life of pleasures. I hoped that one day I would be able to make love to her and then listen with indifference, a little bit amazed (maybe) to her stories about ex-lovers. This might be a kind of happiness, too. I hoped that time would straighten everything out and that one day all this would look absurd and I’d make fun of them, that I would be able to look at her and hear her voice without any emotion. It did not happen. Sometimes she appeared tired of my hesitancies and my too many complications. She didn’t understand anything – having a few good reasons for that – and she waited for this game to end. But for me there was only one end. I have to recognize that considering my confusing and difficult-to-understand behavior, her attitude was more than tactful and confident. It’s enough to remember how Ioana would act in similar situations to appreciate Marta even more.
I pick up the file and read through.
Marta Avram, born in June '60, in Bucharest.
Parents: Pavel and Elena Avram - they would be relatively young.
Graduated from the Foreign Languages High School in 1978.
I don’t need to explain to you who went to this kind of school. Only the sons and the daughters of those with money or connections. Significant detail.
The father, Pavel Avram, ex judge at the City Court.
He died seven years ago. A cancer got him, right after the explosion of the nuclear plant in Chernobyl. He was a man who spent three quarters of his life working for the Government and the other quarter in meetings. He lived in a close intimacy with death for nine months. It wasn’t a long term, abstract, nebulous death; but his own, concrete, precisely defined, known in detail, expected end. What gave him the power to live through the end? He wasn’t even desperate. During those nights Marta could hear his moaning or crying from her room. She had the feeling someone else besides them lived in the house; Death or maybe Destiny. Who knows? He and his daughter never understood each other. Ever since she was very young - two hard stones. Neither would ever give up. He loved her very much but he was too tough, too rigid. Too strict. She was not allowed to wear nylons or lipstick until she turned eighteen. No parties, or movies. She had to be back in the house by seven in the summer and by six in the winter. He would check over the books she read, look in her dresser, read her diaries. Her phone, like everyone else’s, was tapped. Right after the Baccalaureate exams, as soon as she turned eighteen, Marta left home.
Won admission to the Mathematics Department at the University in Bucharest in 1979.
It wasn’t the outcome of any serious interest in mathematics. Not even a superficial one. She just happened to pass the admittance exam. She spent five years in college and gained her degree, rarely going to a class.
Refused to join the Communist Party in 1981.
This was considered very bad then but it’s OK now. Both then and now it was an act of courage or lack of ambition.
Graduated the University in 1984.
Another black mark! It was tough to survive those days with
such a stigma.
Grandfather was a military doctor (colonel) in His Majesty King Michael the First’s Army. He fought at Stalingrad.
A lot of caps here! This is someone you needn’t ask who she will vote for; she and another three dozen - the family. They would all go for the king.
Between papers there are photos, an old school composition, notes, drawings.
I read the composition. Actually I know it by heart. It's a sixth-grade paper:
The happiest day in my life
As usual, this fall, before the beginning of school, they took us to harvest the fields. It was a long, beautiful autumn, so we worked one month instead of two weeks. One day we had to pick up the cucumbers from the gardens by the lake. It was a cloudy, gray day. By the time we got there a cold icy rain had started. We kept working. In a short time everything was wet and muddy. We kept working. I felt all those shining icy drops penetrating my clothes, my skin, and my heart. And it was raining and raining and raining, never to stop. When I got home I was all wet and cold.
I could have gotten very ill and died.
The teacher wrote spelling and grammar corrections in red pencil. A note saying,
“Next time pay more attention to the subject!” was written at the bottom of the page.
A small, old sepia photo falls on the floor. I pick it up. It shows a tall old woman in a dark sober dress. She has clear eyes and short hair. In front of her is a schoolgirl in uniform with two ribbons in her braided hair and a German shepherd in front of her. Marta’s voice coming back from the past explains once more the picture:
“Guess,” Grandma laughs.
“Halvah? No?” Impatient. “Then what?” Her smile waits; her hand withdraws her pocket’s small packet.
“Sesame! Thank you, Grandma!”
“Did you eat your breakfast?”
“No, I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Then you must hurry; you’ll be late for school.”
The scent of chrysanthemums mixed with the sour quince.
Another picture shows Marta and I cleaning a huge fish. There was so much sun and we were so young.
I was very proud of myself. I looked so youthful and obviously healthy. Maybe too obviously.
I think I have to make a confession. Alike most of the teenagers in this world, I was a big timid but, considering myself a real man, I hided this behind a stiffness and a stubbornness to surmount everything with a quarrelsome attitude. I thought then – and the knowledge of the fact that this is how it was, it still is and is going to be, comforts me – that everything started with me, and everything that was to be discovered in the Arts’ Universe it would be discovered by me if I didn’t already discovered it.
Everything was freedom in front of me; everything was open and possible. I wanted to be a writer. My wife helped me a lot – to become a secret agent.