From Maestro: A Melodrama. Episode 7

Stelian Tănase | March 27, 2009
Translated by: Jean Harris


           Emiluţa has an unfortunate thought. She’ll throw herself off the top of the building. Why? What the fuck? Let’s say for the cause of PeaceonEarth, for the slumdogs, Europe, for the lonely. Which is to say she doesn’t have a ghost of a reason.  Viva Walachia! The way things stand, if she doesn’t do away with herself—pressed on to the fatal deed by the wicked world—well, then  Emiluţa would wind up writing the story of her life, and then everything would go to hell, the very thing she didn’t want—not that I’d advise you, gentle reader,  to take pen in hand. Nor did Emiluţa want to write Avram Duca’s. For her, Tina Marcu is the veritable heroine, a modern young “woman of our times.” P.S.: Emi- Emiluţa is glad to have arrived on the flat bloc’s rooftop terrace. There she is perched on the ninth floor. Already: the traffic jam at the intersection …the hour when the city freezes into a Polaroid shot. Helping herself with wheelchair and crutch, she’s heroically carted along the TV set. She’s made it in one piece. The whole operation cost a lot of effort. She’s wiped out. And frightened too. But it’s great that no one caught her in the act. She picked the right time. She slipped through the smells of stew and sautéed cabbage. She passed  a telephone ringing in a one-room apartment where no one ever answered the phone .The risk was that someone would come out on the landing or would show up in the lift,  right when she was perching herself on the roof. Hey, but she made it. She’s having a good day. And Guffy says the same, even if he looks at her silently, half asleep.
            Everything’s going on greased wheels. Behold! She’s found the miraculous moment. Voilà! Emiluţa from top to toe. In her beautiful pink organdy dress—washed and ironed with potato starch. She’s taken a shower, she’s scrubbed herself with the sponge and the bath brush—she had one with a long plastic handle to reach down her back. With soap at the armpits, pussy, thighs—scrubbing between the cheeks of her ass. She’s paid her debts, maintenance, telephone, what was left of her debt to Suzi with the money she’d made from an episode that appeared in a neighborhood gazette. It’s cold up on the roof. The wind keeps blowing like hell. She’s wrapped in a banner she wrote out yesterday calligraphically. With megaphone under one arm, crutch under the other, she takes care not to make a sound or drop a thing. It was hard getting to the rooftop terrace, but she’s made it. Dark roofs, ashen-black, green, broken. Smokestacks. Cockroach world. That’s how it looks from above. Little people like a pack of stirred up dogs. It’s a burlesque down there—cohorts of insects at the bottom of the pit. The whole thing can be seen perfectly from the terrace. You see how things are. It’s an historic spot, in brief. She has the city at her feet, which is to say at her skinny legs, which maim her. All that will swallow her up in an instant. Below, the abyss.  Shoulders, bald heads, oxygenated coiffures, dandruff and hair ornamented with pompoms—all crowded around the traffic light.  Auto bodies shining in the waning afternoon. What’s all this to her? She has certain things to get in shape. She’s relaxed. No sweat. And pushing it with the crutch, she hoists the television onto the balustrade.  She’d gone through the drill plenty of times at home. The set shouldn’t fall on someone’s head . She gives a look over the edge, and she let the bastard rip, BAF! Pulverized. Look how well it went—in the first place that she didn’t change her mind, the way she feared.
            Only now you back off since you’re shitting your pants. You’re having diarrhea. You leave looking for another time.
            Meanwhile, Emiluţa is firm in her resolve. She’s still hanging in there. In the end, after all kinds of hesitations, she had decided to throw herself into the void, but not just any old way, at least not without a protest—not to die like piece of meat in a meat grinder. Otherwise, it’s OK to throw yourself off the roof, BUF! And not to offer yourself the least chance, either. Zero! So what if she’s going to be crushed on the pavement? She’s put on clean clothes for the suicide. So that no one will find her with filthy blackened panties when the carrion’ll be picked up from the sidewalk. Why cramp her style in that dumbass way and screw up the single most important event in her life? Because—hey, you’re used to failures, Emiluţo. Nothing’s ever gone her way. But now, everything is going acc. to plan. Thus: the television thrown over the balustrade into the street at 6:30 P.M. sharp
            A bang and that’s it. A few suckers took a look. What th’ hell’s goin’ on? The noise brought other people out of the stores and taverns ’round there. They looked up stupidly at the place from where the fucking thing must’ve crashed. Their eyes landed on a young woman, perched on the balustrade, swinging her legs from the eve and armed with a megaphone. She invites them to imitate her, to throw their televisions out the window if hey don’t want to go crazy. They can keep them if they’re stubborn, but they should know that they’re being lied to and screwed out of their souls. Someone’s fucking them over, big time. They are the slaves of masters unseen. Trained like Pavlov’s dogs with the light bulb. They salivate over the news and the soap operas. Conditioned reflexes have turned you into rag dolls, with nothing in your stupid little brains and hearts. It’s a dangerous religion with an unknown god, anonymous, rapacious and wild, a blood-thirsty beast. It’s taken your skin off, robbed you, deprived you of memories, imagination, everything. You’re strangers to yourselves. You’re destroying yourselves.  You, because I’m not going to watch the end. I’m throwing myself down from here and finishing the comedy. Free yourselves! She unfurls the banner—it was a good thing that she had it ready on time. Anyhow, that’s point 3B in the plan.
            She’s written:  “Be free! Love Each other!” in good calligraphy, and now she declares by megaphon that she’ll throw herself into the void at midnight. No one should try to save her:  any savior’ll be in need of salvation himself. He’s lost in today’s world. In fact; he wouldn’t amount to  anything more than a drug from Breaking News! Reality Show! some program with sports and entertainment. Down! The crowd chants from the sidewalk, amusing itself and pointing aloft. The police have shown up meanwhile,  in the person of a gentleman with a shiny chin, just out of the butter dish.  With a cap pushed back on his neck. He doesn’t have binoculars. It’s not in his equipment or he forgot them at the station. He doesn’t know. He asks himself, what should he do? The rules don’t foresee a thing, and when they do indicate things, they’re vague. If this turns out badly, he’ll wind up the provinces. Better to tell the boss. Then, let him see. He goes into the entrance of the sprawling bloc. The lift is blocked on 9, naturally. Emiluţa’s not dumb and she has big ideas. The policeman has no choice but to read the graffiti on the walls. Cocksucker, Down  with the Government, you’re a gang of idiots. Bunch of old ladies, enough with you, drop dead! Fifi loves Dudu. Where-do-you-scratch-until-it-galls? What? did you think the cop was a schmuck? He know the answer: the balls! He writes in a short report and hides it in his little satchel. That’s how the section chief finds him, working hard to raze the business about Down with the Government.
            In the end, the cop’s superior listenes to a short report. He doesn’t see anything more to be done. He swears to the Godoftheproscribed and the shitty day. He’s convinced that somebody’s screwed him. Here, at the address on Carol Blvd at the intersection with Moşilor there’s this kind of ambush going on that’s going to make him lose his prospective promotion in the ministry.
            When the mayor shows up an hour later—during which interval he has remained heroically at his post—it is clear to the colonel that he has enemies. He reports to the brass in his turn. The mayor listens, not looking fixedly at the rooftop terrace on 9 but at his elegant toe caps instead. He recalls that they cost him four traffic tickets to “recalcitrant” drivers.  In his turn, thee mayor had had to park his jeep near the sidewalk, No Parking. Dirty Jeep, blackened by diesel fuel and dust. He’s in for a Mission Impossible: giving the car to his secretary to get it cleaned. Plus his shirt, which has scuz on the collar. What happens between him and the secretary after he undoes his buttons, that’s a different story.
            What shall we do? That’s the question of that luminous afternoon when a crackerjack female reporter shows up:  Lulu Popescu. sticks her nose in everywhere, except his ass. And that’s when PoliceChief&Mayor know: everything will turn catastrophic.
            Television, news, declarations, people, video cameras, chaos, sideshow, hubbub. That’s just what he needs right now. Because a madwoman is threatening  to throw herself off the roof.  Man, let her just do it already! We’re in a rush. I have dinner to attend. We’re bored. She should give us a break. An exhibitionist avid for publicity, perfect for the loony bin. Crazy cunt, if you wanna kill yourself, do it, but make it snappy. Fucking fool! She’s handicapped too. She feels like screwing up my day. That’s it, nothing political. The mayor is relieved. Let’s offer her a pension. The Police Chief approves. Let’s help her out with some money or something. Let’s send her for treatment at Karlovy Vary. Let’s get her a German wheelchair. Let’s get her an extra room. She’s suffocating in that studio. The rats, broken pipes, flooded toilet. The Police Chief nods respectfully. Let’s see things through the eyes of the authorities. They know the truth.  Let’s get her out of that kitchenette of hers 24 square meters on the 7th floor. What does she want? She hasn’t got herself perched on the roof for nothing.  You ever hear ’v someb’dy that  don’t want somethin’ outta this life? You know ’v any disinterested soul? Show him to me and I’ll eat him on black bread with jam. Maybe she’s some kindda saint. Bring a padre to negotiate with her. To bless her with the cross, with holy basil, to hear her confession. She must have a lot of sins. That’s how these kindda women behave. They go wild, get hold of a string of men, and after all that misspent youth they turn into nuns and moralize at us. She’s suiciding, man, to teach us a lesson, so we’ll regret her. Get the padre from over there. She’s a lost soul too. The church—see it, across the street. The guys from TV have already gathered. We’ll be seeing ourselves on the news. I don’t have an appetite for that.. The whole country’s us. They’re making fucking fools of us. I can see the headlines now:Bucharest— Drama Town!  I won’t allow it. Nobody commits public suicide on my watch. At home with a rope around ’r neck, alright! Alone in the bathtub, let ’r slit ’r writs in the kitchen with a piece of glass, to let herself just bleed out. You can throw yourself in front of a train. But not in the North Station where people are watching and they fall for it.  At  41 km from Bucharest, in a field, all you have to do is wind up without legs and a head. But like that, it’s not proper. It’s a provocation. Hey, it’s just not possible for people to say something about the administration. To spread suicidal psychosis among the people? To get the masses depressed? What’s her name, man? Never heard that name before, an anonymous type. And look what she’s doing to me! To me, the mayor! OK, I got it.  It’s blackmail. If you don’t give me three sous in old money, I’ll bust myself up on the sidewalk. Whopee shit! Blackmail like this doesn’t work anymore, man. We’re in Europe! She says she doesn’t want anything anymore—reports the colonel. A couple of thugs from some pub are holding him up by the armpits, all of them half in the bag from excitement.
            Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my Emiluţa goes on quarreling loudly with the honored public. She kept chanting Down With something into the megaphone. No one heard her. She was up too high. But they were amusing themselves. They were enjoying the spectacle, really. It’s no small thing to provoke smiles. Bucharest Man is superstitious, blabbermouth, rumormonger, mocking, wary, skeptical. I’ve run out labels, although I’d  really like to add some more, like: lousy, mean, incapable of applying himself, thief, the kind of guy who gets away with things. And for that reason, the honored public was watching the drama with a certain indifference. Only when she stood up on her legs in her thin little pink, organdy dress on the narrow balustrade did a thrill run down their spines. The peals of laughter quieted down. What the hell is that dame doing up there. We thought it was some kind of joke. And whaddya know? The comedy starts heading the other way. It’s a tragic farce, not a melodrama, vaudeville, soap opera. What if it ends with a cadaver on the asphalt?  A guy from the anti-terror squad says he know a remedy for this whole deal. He looks at the mayor and the vice mayor with hope. To get out of a crisis, you have to be in control. He should scale the walls with cables. He’s in a great state of training. He’ll get under the eve and take her prisoner, like a robin. Put a little glue, set the bait and, Bingo! tighten the noose. Her life is her own after all, she can do whatever she wants with it. If she’s in a mood to end her days, it’s a free world, observes a fat woman with a shaved head. Someone else (with a beret à la Che) says inspiredly the door to the bloc’s roof terrace should be busted down with a battering ram. Then they should negotiate with the suicide, going easy, not with force. Violence doesn’t work anymore. It’s done. We have a psychologist here and a priest. What do we offer her. Nothin’. Who’s the dame? No idea. The one from the 7th floor. Late with the maintenance. No. Handicapped, second degree. Look how she stands on crutches on the balustrade. Looks like she’s taking a walk! I’m  heartsick, terrible thing, Emi has threatened that if she see’s somebody on the roof she’ll jump. She has the power. She can do what she wants with us. She dictates to us. We’re looking down her throat like a bunch of dopes. Let’s grab her! Why so much fuss. Come on everybody, let’s go home—especially the television crews, the radio, the viewing public. You’ll see if she’s still interested in killing herself! Don’t you see how she’s clowning around? She’s laughing. She feels like playing.
            One of them wants to do away with this valley of tears. He’s solemn and tragic. He speaks strong words; you should memorize them. What’s with this neighborhood story? The youth of today carry on too much. We don’t communicate any more. That’s the drama. Fuck you, ol’ lady. What did you, crawl out from under your bouffant hair? The hairdresser left you in curlers to wander around the neighborhood, and you’re talking when you should shut up. You’re talking nonsense… I say it’s a question of karma. She doesn’t have a good one. Look, poor thing, she’s going to throw herself off the edge. A lost soul, one less on the face of the earth. She’ll look for her happiness in heaven…if she hasn’t managed to be here, somehow. I’d light a lamp for her, but the matches are crummy, damp, they don’t strike. I think the whole thing will end well. This isn’t a story with blood. It’s red paint, bought from the store on the corner.
            The Fire Brigade!! We’re ihere n response to the emergency order—bravely reports the commandant. Thick forked mustaches under the golden helmet. His hugeness intimidates you. He says to open a tent canvas on the sidewalk right in front of her—50 square meters, with his well-rained soldiers at the ready.  But only when they come from the other fire, in say, one hour, two. Keep her alive till I get back. If the woman doesn’t smash herself to bits, they’ll manage to catch her, he guarantees. Small lesions, a minor contusion, sprained ankle, that’s about the damage. I’m worried about her spinal column—50 tons of pressure per cubic cm. She has a 67 % chance of escaping with her life.—Vigorous the big guy, the man of figures.  If not 33 per cent, 1/3, that she goes to smithereens. Brains pattered all over the roadway. The whole deal washes up with a hose. Set up time, four minutes. Before the next tram pulls in. No one will know a thing. Eviscerated stomach, lean meat, blood, lymph, fat. That’s a human being, for you. In a case like this they’ll have to take her to the morgue with a tank of water. A team with a siren runs through the stop lights: 23 minutes, total. Good news, finally, if you have the stomach for it.
            And the whole landscape changes once the people from TV start to broadcast. They set up the television van in the intersection and block traffic. The police can’t handle it. People have gathered to see how a woman jumps off a building, LIVE. Some, very few, prefer to stay home. To wolf down chips in their singlets, sweaty and downing the perennial beer. Skinning the screen with bleary eyes. Their ladies, idem. You can see even better on TV. They give replays, details, you can see everything from all kinds of angles, and they have slo mo. You get the information. The whole zone is blocked up with several thousand neighbors. Urbanites, cats&dogs, townies, bourgeois&proletarians. Walk-ons, the whole ensemble. Reporters-on-the-street dispatch the latest news. This Bucharest slum-style buffoonery will haul in HUGE ratings. There’s a drought of subjects in summer. Does anyone care what the girl wants? She wants people to give up TV, pal, you know, to stop watching those dumb programs. To bust the damned thing with a hammer, dismember it, give to the rag and bone man, unscrew the dials. To be free and happy. Does anybody commit suicide for a little thing like that? Only if you’re out of your head, ready for the straight jacket. That’s exhibitionism, a really serious spiritual ailment. Worse than the sin of pride. The chick wants to attract attention, to see herself on TV, to raise a hullabaloo and a cloud of dust around herself. They should put the cameras on her organdy dress, on her wheelchair. To see herself in the TV lights. To have the journalists stick their mikes under her nose. She has the anonymity complex. She got a bug to shine. To find herself under the lights for an instant. She’s sacrificing herself for that. She’s giving her life for it. It’s worth it! She’s sick of watching the others’ shows, all the idiots being admired, sluts, big mucky mucks. She wants her own moment of glory, all to her self. The world at her feet. She washed them specially for the even. News  alert: they shouldn’t stink. Unfortunately, the video cameras have to stay below, far away, on the sidewalk. There’s no way you can get to her on the roof top terrace where Emi-Emiluţa plays her role on a distant stage.

About this issue

This July, The Observer Translation Project leaves its usual format to present a special CRISIS ISSUE. Things are tough all over. Hard Times suddenly feels like the book of the moment. The global economic crisis impacts life as we know it, and viewed from Bucharest the effects reverberate in domains that include geo-politics and publishing in Romania and abroad, with the crisis at The Observer Translation Project as an instance of a universal phenomenon. read more...

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