On a Friday Afternoon

Răzvan Petrescu | June 01, 2009
Translated by: Florin Bican

 

On a Friday Afternoon
            Dad went and died. He was a quiet guy, slightly on the mystic side, with two deep furrows on either side of his nose. He was given to occasional bouts of melancholy, and on Sundays he’d do funny stuff over lunch. He’d toss the soup spoon towards the light fixture hanging from the ceiling, then try to catch it. He always failed. Sometimes he’d break the fixture, sometimes – the soup plate. The fat yellow soup would soak progressively into the table cloth first, then into Dad’s neatly-pressed trousers, and finally make its way down to the Persian rug, where it became extremely visible and stable. I was in stitches. Not Mom, though. I’m still in stitches now as I look at the Order of Socialist Labor Class III awarded to Dad back in’68 or so. It’s a rather nice box, dark cherry in color, soft to the touch, containing a silver medal, a red ribbon and Dad. The medal represents our country’s insignia on a bed of sunbeams.
            If truth be told, Dad never persecuted anyone, and that includes the neighbors. Au contraire. He’d help them all as best he could. For instance, this guy wanted to go to Venezuela one spring, and Dad managed to get hold of an astrolabe for him at great expense. The guy was unfortunately ignorant as to how he was supposed to carry the thing, with the result that he made a very poor job of even reaching the airport. He cut through the woods at a hurried pace, so they shot him from a watchtower, bang between the eyes. They brought him over at dusk for us to identify. Apart from his face, which appeared to bear the signature of (Wassily) Kandinsky, he was the same old piano teacher known to everyone in our block, though a shade paler than usual, wearing a highly appropriate black suit buttoned all the way to the top. I can remember the char woman mumbling that he stank, or something to that effect, though no one ever asked her to the identification. Or to the wake, for that matter, as the guy was left two whole days in the lobby for all to see.
            Dad was a cheerful man. He used to wear suspenders. The only guy in the whole bloc having a good time. He’d bored three spy holes in the apartment door and fitted them with three little green-glass windows, which he’d peep through, mostly on Sundays, while entering the names of whoever chanced to walk down the corridor in a black notebook. When he didn’t know the name of the passerby, he’d carve a small x on the doorjamb, next to the security chain.
            Searching one day through the papers of an intriguingly old neighbor (as I was urged to do, skeleton key in hand, on a regular basis), I came across a rather unusual record, entitled Epistle, written in deliberately infantile letters and signed Gabriel, a brief fragment of which I quote: “A conjurer of great repute (acclaimed in Madrid and Stockholm, the poster claimed) appeared one afternoon in the arena of our village circus. We all gathered for the show, expecting things as yet unseen. It was no small surprise when we discovered, and that soon enough, that our man not only found himself suffering under the utter impossibility of juggling his white plastic balls, some of them red, which he constantly dropped to the floor and had to run to and fro in order to retrieve them, occasionally skidding on the sand, and not only did he exude a bluish smoke of sorts, reeking of diabetic’s urine, in addition to being perfectly unable to holler anything zany, a riddle, say, or anything the entire audience could understand, or at least the children, who, driven by boredom, embarked upon sawing with a discarded blade through the central pole of the circus tent, thus causing it to collapse with a cracking sound on top of some old hags who thereupon started shrieking their heads off, and rightly so, to the effect that the end of the world had come, but apart from all that, the fellow couldn’t even turn a decent somersault, and that not because of his daunting plywood wings, a magician’s wings – in actual fact he looked more like an airplane than anything else – but, because of his surprisingly-sized head covered in wisps of astral hair, as a peasant was heard to remark, exaggerating—as peasants are wont to do—what in truth were nothing but pathetic tufts, colored, twisted around curlers at night and stuck to his skull with brilliantine during the day, the said tufts, admittedly, having something that might have allowed them to be mistaken, after all, for scale models of far-away constellations. At that particular age or simply because you were living in that kind of village, without electricity or historic monuments you could recall, you could easily get the wrong idea concerning his pilose endowment, and, at the end of the day, most sensations did depend on your location: if you chanced to sit in the front rows, you could soon figure out that the enormous head did indeed unbalance the acrobat-cum-conjurer, yet the head was not earth-colored, as we might have expected, neither was it pear-shaped, nor did it exhibit signs of mutilation, nor did it bleed, nor did it goggle, you know, teeth exposed in an ample grin so’s to make us laugh. It was the head of an angel. It took us two hours to drag him to the local drinking hole, where we got him drunk as a skunk.”
            Occasionally, after dark, we’d play spies. More precisely, I was the spy and Dad would track me on all fours, all the way to the bathroom. That’s where he’d catch me, with admirable regularity, and squeeze my fingers in a vice of his own design, a contraption sporting really big wooden screws, exquisitely wrought. That hurt, to be sure, but I was supposed to scream with delight.
            Not much later, when I turned sixteen, I accidentally came upon my sire in his study – where he kept a large assortment of microphones, crackers, objects hard to identify yet prone to electrocute, cameras, hearing aids and headphones for listening in on the radiator pipes—suavely sketching a naked woman from the neighborhood. The woman, though beautiful in the extreme, was groaning. Most likely because she’d been tied to the standard lamp with a length of wire. I only saw her a couple of times after that. She did seem changed. Nevertheless, I still keep the drawing hanging above my bed; it’s a gouache, in actual fact, and renders an extremely accurate impression of both the breasts and the standard lamp.
            Still, I feel bound to reiterate, Dad was a good man. I stand fully behind my statement, knowing perfectly well what I’m talking about and in spite of the fact that of late people have started maintaining with increasing vehemence that Dad sentenced hundreds of people to theseaside. Where, it transpired, they had to go through excruciating labors. Not true. All they had to do there was build daily a small sand castle in keeping with their natural strength; no one ever asked them to build it on the big side. The only remotely painstaking bit was the search, as they did feel obliged, if not out of basic decency, then on purely aesthetic grounds – in order to cover after a fashion the costs of their free meals and accommodation – to gather tiny opalescent seashells of the kind known as siren’s fingernails, which they subsequently implanted on the top of their castles. Some of them, what with being older or more enigmatic, chose to pluck their own nails with pliers, fingernails as a rule, with the odd toenail thrown in for good measure, which they attached to the highest tower of colored sand, with the resulting token blood, thus essaying to deceive Dad by that method, whenever he would inspect their achievements. Not that they did deceive him, to be sure. And they were, consequently, punished. As fate would have it, they are no longer in a position to testify to the effect, as they expired when the tide rolled in.
 
            The upright piano was Mom’s. I must have been five or so when I was surprised by the fierceness with which Dad decreed, with his head directly under the ceiling lamp that I should learn how to play. Mom objected that I was too young, and, be that as it may, she saw no use in it—to say nothing of the fact that I hadn’t started talking yet. Nonsense, Dad said, it’s high time he did something intelligent. In our home, located at the very center of the city, no one had ever played the piano. Not even Mom. As for the neighbors, there’s no tale I could tell—none of them ever had the nerve to jump the barbed wire fence. It was only three years later, when we moved into the flat, that things took a different turn. A music teacher, accordingly, entered the scene. He was thin as a rake, he wore round glasses and was positively terrified of Dad. Still, during the two hours of our weekly piano lesson, we’d play, the teacher and I, with the miniature puppet theater or we’d make play dough figurines. I was tone deaf. When Dad turned up, however, it was not I who was supposed to demonstrate what I had studied on the day in question, but the teacher. He’d perch himself on the stool, back curved, hands twitching visibly and stained in red yellow green play dough, and shyly play a Chopin sonata, always the same one, in B-flat minor, Op. 35, and then, to the delight of the family sunk their in armchairs, he’d play the donkeys’ waltz, which ended up putting the whole lot to sleep, including the maid, who, once again, had just added sugar to the gravy. Instead of salt, that is. The teacher put up with the sugared gravy and Dad’s comments on music for almost six months, until, one fine morning, he entered our house with a woolen night cap on his head. He struck the keyboard with hatred, down there among the deep notes, locked himself in the broom closet, and confessed that he was an enemy of the people while I was mentally retarded. He declared he could take it no more – he said he could take it no more in a high-pitched voice—and he concluded by asking me whether I wanted the two of us to sculpt the head of Garibaldi on his deathbed from play dough, for which purpose he’d brought a whole box. Shape that play dough we did, and a great job it was too, complete with blue moustaches, only the teacher didn’t turn up the next day. I for one never saw him again, except on that night when they brought him over to us all dressed in black. Dad threw away Garibaldi’s head while I smashed the bronze sounding board of the piano, prior to prying off one of its pedals. I later fitted the pedal to the tricycle I rode in a district tricycle competition. I didn’t win. I came in last, actually, to my parents’ despair. I was dreaming of becoming an actor. My entire being yearned toward that goal. Some ten, twenty years later, I did manage to make some progress in that direction, as I was selected, subsequent to a telegeny test, to act in a religious film whose name I can’t recollect. I seem to have played the main part, however or, to be more precise, I understudied for the hero, and between ourselves we’d restore sight to the blind, heal the lame and make the lepers laugh. Yet I didn’t like the actor’s life. Even if I’m still greeted in the street by the blind man I once healed. In my childhood, I have to say, in spite of my obvious aspirations, I had to learn all sort of nonsense – skating, running the 1000 meter race, playing leapfrog (?), rope climbing – unsuccessfully, while my P.E. teacher, a bore, one year under retirement age, snitched on me once to Dad. That’s how both the rope and the teacher vanished. When it came to history, I was lost, while from chemistry I only liked acids, which I used to sprinkle all over the girls’ skirts, not that they found it the least bit amusing. Girls have no sense of humor. As for Romanian classes, I was hopeless. I was a gifted draftsman, nevertheless. Tongue lolling out of my mouth, I feverishly, incessantly drew minuscule personages, like some kind of child-version of Bosch. I used to play a lot in the graveyard. I’d pluck off the wings of flies, shove butterflies into the gas oven, slice earthworms in half, stick pins into the eyes of mice. I was a mature child. On the days when—as a rule, on weekends—I heard unbearable screams descending from the attic where Dad was hard at work, I’d do a watercolor and run to Mom, who’d be sitting with stereo headphones to her ears and a black mask on her face. There was no way I could show her my watercolor, just as there was no way I could take off her mask. All in all, I had a difficult childhood. There was nowhere I could turn for comfort. And Dad kept on working. He’d work and work. I wouldn’t dream of bothering him at such times as those. He’d have lost his temper. He’d gotten it into his head to purify the neighborhood. Purge it, that is. The skylight, on the other hand, was constantly covered in dust.
            At any rate, I have to confess he almost never encouraged me to paint. He used to say that was a woman’s trade. A man ought to be digging. He ought to be firing canons. Besides, he’d claim, I was unable to draw people in motion, or at any rate, people easy recognizable as such. Take a better look through the spy hole. Learn how to sketch, he’d advise me. I did my best. I did my fair share of sketching, yet never did I see him even remotely pleased. He wouldn’t approve my pursuits, and I couldn’t see why. After all, he’d hired a piano teacher for me, and that was close enough to if not exactly the area of my preference. On one occasion only, in the mountains, up at Babele, I managed to arouse his interest. To his great delight I shot two suction tipped darts from my dart gun into the sun. That was the end of the darts. I cried for the rest of the day, wouldn’t as much as touch my sketch pad. Then Dad promised me a real gun when I’d grow up. When I did grow up, he had me enrolled in a parallelepipedic school for children of the paramilitary. There were lots and lots of us in the building. A grey building it was. The teachers acted funny. They were rigid. They wore uniforms. Some of them were in the habit of throwing the class list from the doorway, causing it to land exactly on top of the teacher’s desk. They told me I was dreaming too often, in an overly colored way, and too unnaturally. Once while on an orienteering mission I took a wrong turn, tripped, and found a red mushroom. The trainer happened to find the very same mushroom, and he explained to me it was an inferior plant, devoid of chlorophyll, living as a parasite or a saprophyte and multiplying by spores. Next he listed the names of some poisonous mushrooms for my benefit: the common stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus), the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), Devil’s bolete (Boletus satanas),Russula emetica, Sulfur tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare). And this, he went on, plucking the plant out of my hand, is a Lactarius deliciosus, also known as the Saffron milk cap. And in order to demonstrate to me how delicious the Saffron milk cap was, he ate it all up. He went into coma one minute later.
            As for me, I was scheduled for target practice next. A sergeant who knew Dad salluted me, a corporal kissed me on both cheecks, taking advantage of my momentary inattention. The task was to load and shoot an automatic rifle. At first I asked why I was supposed to shoot, but as no one bothered to answer, I aimed for the nearest tree. It was an oak. I hit it twice in a row, in the folliage, to my colleagues’ applause. Some little birds took off, chirping as they flew away. I was ordered to fire one more round—at a rabbit. Although I didn’t see it, I blew it to smithereens. Meanwhile, some Gypsies, whose houses adjoined the east wall of the barracks, were over there singing and playing. They were having a wedding feast. I don’t know what came over me, but I fired at them as well. I shot the female singer in the leg. There was a great deal of screaming after that. To put an end to the whole thing, I fired three more rounds. The fiddler died on the spot. They burried him speedily next to the rabbit. Some distance away, however. And thus the whole bussiness came to an end, no questions asked. Dad was well-connected. I hallucinated—that’s what everyone claimed. I’d even hallucinate in my sleep, they said. The musician, on the other hand, had been a lowly man with no family. Since that time I no longer dream. Four years later, I graduated with my class. Then I landed in hospital.
            I still remember with pleasure the long, shady alleys I used to walk along on cool spring mornings dressed in my hospital gown, trying to guess the room where Dad was watching me from behind the window. I knew he was watching my every move. He’d been admitted to hospital on the same day as I. I felt good in hospital, perhaps for the first time in my life, although I’d been told I was on a mission. I’d been assigned to a pavilion for neuroses, no one knew exactly how serious. Some were swallowing forks, some were chasing birds. At any rate, most of them were mildly autistic, or relatively quiet manic depressives. The rest were colleagues of mine, themselves on a mission. We’d cobbled up a semblance of a team in our six-bed ward. We’d help one another with brushing our teeth. We’d share the parcels of food relatives would bring. The relatives would shed the odd tear, but meanwhile we’d share everything from soap to cockroach spray. Hospital cockroaches are legion, agile, red or black. They’re apparently partial to hospitals since you see them everywhere—on the bedside tables, in the beds themselves—although we were given lots of oleaginous shots (so as not to see them), which after a while rendered us unable to walk. The nurses were without exception blonde, former handball players, I assume, a sort of female descendants of William Tell—if I’m not pushing it too far—the unanimously shared opinion, muttered under our breaths while playing backgammon in the corridor, being that between a crossbow and a hypodermic there is practically no difference, not even with respect to the distance from which they’re shot. Time would go by. Occasionally I’d roll a double six.
            I would notice bizarre individuals among the regulars, who did nothing but walk up and down the courtyard in their pyjamas and slippers. As early as my very first days there I struck up a conversation with an artist, an interesting fellow, who’d tried to commit suicide by shooting up petroleum-based parquet floor scrubbing fluid. He’d botched it and lost an arm in the process. Bordea his name was, if I remember correctly, and he spent his days with his ear constantly applied to an old radio set. Once I asked him to let me have a go listening to it, and he told me nothing could be heard as he hadn’t switched the thing on. Nor could he switch it on, since most of its parts were missing anyway. Another fellow, a dentist, after ordering me to open wide, asked on two different occasions whether I’d ever seen ghosts. He, for one, had seen them outside the Cişmigiu Gardens, walking down Brezoianu Street. What he found weird was that they were wearing hats. Besides, he seemed to be a faggot. On both occasions, on concluding his ghost story, he melancholically invited me to pay him a visit after his discharge from the hospital, where he’d been for ten years. He had a gem of a studio somewhere near the Airmen Monument. He couldn’t quite remember where exactly. I politely declined although he did sound convincing. Incidentally, I happened to be watching a Mozart violin concerto on the TV set in the mess hall, with David Oistrach, who had been dead for four years, talking of ghosts. And more-or-less in relation to that I remember our parents would visit us every Sunday in all earnestness. They’d bring us fruit juice, colour tubes, socks. I’d moved on to painting compasses in the manner of Braque. Dad didn’t like Braque, but I noticed one winter he did like a female worker from the Bread Factory. She was in a different ward, with the women. And it was cold. Snow was tumbling down as if from a flute. The female worker walked barefoot through the snow. It was then that I also made the acquaintance of a new colleague, a morose fellow, in his sixties or so. His problem was he couldn’t sleep, and he’d pace the corridor for hours on end, the whole length of it, constantly smoking, proceeding with rhythmical, perfectly even steps, for which reason they’d nicknamed him the choochoo. One December afternoon he made an unplanned stopover in the staircase and, with an impeccable last-moment piroutte, he fell on his head and down the stairs, all the way to the next landing. So there was this one fellow at least I no longer had to survey. Nevertheless, I did make a fairly good portrait of the man, with one black eye and the back of his skull smashed in as they were carrying him to the morgue on a heavy stretcher.
 
            On being discharged from hospital I received detailed directions from a gentleman tightly wrapped in a plaid blanket, instructions on how citizens with deviant social behavior were to be kept under surveillance and turned in. I admired his blanket and followed his instructions to the best of my ability. Still I would blow my cover each time and, curiously enough, the people I was supposed to keep under surveillance would all offer me vanilla ice. Back home, Dad would apply the microscope to the cone, which I took pains to bring intact. At such times he would demonstrate what a paralax was, show me the odd Paramecium twitching under the lens or try to explain the functioning of a movie camera, a wall socket, or the satellite passing each evening above our house. I suspect the mere manipulation of the ocular lens filled him with nostalgia since he got into telling me his family history all over again, to the accompaniment of brief comments on the life of infusoria in sweet waters. His mother had been a handsome woman who suffered from tuberculosis. Hydrazide was not to be found in those days, and so she had had to take Paracetamol instead and wear close-cropped hair, and although she was constantly spiting blood all over the place, she still managed to look after her violent husband and two children. Her sister had made a career as an engineer on a construction site where she had met her future husband in a shack. He was a dynamite expert, later to become a consul, while the patron of that small world, my grandfather, had already been promoted to the rank of General around the time when he bought that city’s first automobile fitted with a pear-shaped klaxon horn—with which he was to run over the owner of the grocery store. This grandfather was a well-built man, apparently, distant, in command of two foreign languages, which he spoke fluently in front of the bathroom mirror. He later kept a personal diary, extremely lavish when it came to details, where he wrote the names of all the neighbors along with their nefarious practices, while he recorded his pension spending up to an hour before his death: one lei, gas for the lamp; three lei, bread; ten bani, matches; nine hundred – plum brandy. Dad would tell me with an ambiguous smile that, were he still alive, my grandfather would be the epitome of the way we live, and that in a most impressive manner. Negligently. Childishly. Or rather, irresponsibly, wasting our lives with trifles. He’d single me out as a living example. He knew full well I wanted to be an artist, though he’d entertained hopes I’d be a conjurer some day. Particularly after that episode at school… In life one doesn’t get to do only what one enjoys, he’d say, and he’d say it often enough—could be he liked the sound of the line—and then one is compelled to undertake something for the benefit of others—for the helpless, for society, which is eternal, and that as long as one still can—for we’re confronted all the time with the likeness of the limit, aren’t we though? Even you know it, though one might say your brain doesn’t help you much, considering what I’ve seen of the brainwaves on your electroencephalogram: straight out of a ruled notebook, it seems. The cemetery’s the horizon of expectation, the final representation: some tombstones bear the name Ionescu, others don’t—we shall never forget you—here lies Father, our beloved Daughter. For a long time, the grave’s been going to hell, plots subsiding because of the rains—terrible how much it rains in these parts. When I was a child I stole mulberries from the trees growing out of the bellies, buttocks and cheeks of those resting in peace underground (if they’d found peace, that is) vitamins and worms all together in the mulberry since worms are rich in proteins and mulberries in vitamins, and while I was munching on them and looking at the inscriptions engraved by genuine artists, the numbers, the dates of birth and death, often mistakenly carved, not that it mattered anymore, in marble or wood. And the odd photo. He in the army, she in high school or the asylum, each in an old snapshot tinged sepia under a patch of cracked glass. Most having done nothing throughout their miserable lives, apart from striving to get out of their misery, unable to understand, poor souls, such imbeciles, that poverty was helping them stay closer to that sun into which you shot your suction-tipped dart, helping them gather their wits, sweat and disappear without regrets into the void. People are dangerous, that’s a fact—there’s nothing, nor was there anything one could do about them. It takes a mere couple of minutes to understand their names on the graves.
 
            Dad had a hammer. Twenty years before, on a Wednesday it was, after I saw that implement coated in clotted blood and hairs, it started raining. I can’t understand why it took me so long, but it was only then that it dawned upon me that Dad was murdering people with the hammer in our garden. Lots of suspicious-looking hillocks had started to emerge among the vegetable beds. And he did whatever he was doing, I’m absolutely certain, with the approval, if not at the instigation of my unmarried aunts, endowed with distressing legs, triple-soled. I’d glimpse them through the keyhole of their starch-curtained bedroom, a couple of rather peculiar ladies, after all, who pretended they were going to church when in actual fact they only went as far as the outhouse at the back of our courtyard where I had placed a huge spider. It was huge all right, but dumb, as in two whole years it didn’t even manage to prevent them from relieving themselves. As for terrifying them, you could forget it. He was so gentle, poor soul. Couldn’t as much as eat a fly, let alone two aunts. I do believe they were to blame for everything that went wrong, as, among other things, they’d undress in front of the mirror and say the Lord’s prayer stark naked. Just the way they irritated me, they easily could have driven Dad out of his mind, particularly since his health was beginning to fade, and anyway, no matter how calm one was as a rule, eventually one would have been brought to the point of committing murder by simply listening to the aunts. Or simply by watching them brush their sparse hair over the wash basin and then forget to rinse the said basin out or, if they did rinse it, managing to clog the siphon, or else by watching them hum distressing folksongs with the window wide open, talk to themselves at night as they walked all over the house, reproach Mom for not adding nutritious elements to the soup—so they added them themselves, unpeeled potatoes, for instance, since potato peel contained tocopherol, or you could get to that homicidal point by watching them ogle the factory workers while panting like the chorus in Strike Your Hammer Three Times, Left, a tremendous hit of the period, or by their occupying the bathroom first thing in the morning, or doing pull-ups on the rail for beating carpets. Well, and on that rainy day I watched the birds. There were a few blackbirds, a crow and two tomtits. They’d had a lot to eat. Someone had left them a-whole-loaf-soaked-in-water on the threshold, or perhaps the leaver had soaked the loaf in something else, methylated spirit maybe, and, meanwhile the birds ate the whole lot in a couple of hours. At some point the crow collapsed without warning. One of the tomtits banged its head against the window pane several times while the rest of the fowls of the air were sick until late in the evening, around nine or so. They hiccuped incessantly; some of them fell from the telephone wires. It was lucky the yard wasn’t cemented.
            It was then that I began to understand.
            I couldn’t very well say what exactly. But I found myself thinking with boundless emotion of the crow. Of our life slipping away.
 
            After a while, caught up in his reading, the priest got mixed up, and instead of throwing dirt over of the coffin, he threw it all over me. I wiped the dirt off my nose with a corner of the ribbon inscribed with the words eternal regrets. The ink was still wet, so off went the regrets and only the eternal bit was left. From the building next to the cemetery, Mussorgsky’s Pictures from an exhibition made itself heard.
I’d rather not go into the problems we had with the coffin. I went to numberless shops or whatever you call them, and everywhere I was informed in a sticky, chestnut-brown and ailing tone (which was remotely religious, too) that issued like whispering rivulets from polite, chestnut-brown individuals with extremely small, close-set eyes that there were considerable price differences between the objects in question, as some were lighter, made of poplar, while others were made of oak or pine. There were, of course, others, aerodynamic in shape, made of aluminum, for special occasions. At any rate it was much more expensive to purchase a coffin with inlay work than one without. I was shown several exhibits which were fortunately empty. And I was to find on the occasion that the inlay represented, without exception, a species of typically Japanese blossoms. That was true: I noticed they were wrought with the kind of patience in keeping with Japanese fanaticism, so that, I dare say, even new-born worms despised them, unless they amused themselves, at least for a while.
            Then we had to address the issue of handles. A brass handle costs an arm and a leg and brings one in the situation of hating it suddenly, passionately, desiring to rip it off, trample it under one’s feet, smelt it, and I would have neededfour of those. So in the end I settled on a small, simple coffin of rough planks, with no headrest and no handles either. I reckoned we might as well carry it on our shoulders.
            As there were only three people attending the funeral, however—two of them women—I had to drag the coffin.
            Dad was scowling.
            Come to think of it, that particular scowl was, among other things, one of the things that aggravated me so on that Friday afternoon when, after casting a perfunctory glance at my latest painting—it showed a toy train—and telling me I didn’t have an ounce of talent, Dad tried to make me understand what talent really was. Labor. Calling. Dedication. You know what having a calling is supposed to mean? There! And he showed me the medal, his silver badge with our country’s insignia, awarded him “for notable achievements in the defense of the social and national order.” Then he played me something on a tape recorder. It was an Agfa tape, made in East Germany. I heard the voice of a woman asking for water. I asked Dad to let the tape roll. After a few moments of silence I discerned the same voice once again, only more poetic this time. Presumably, no one had answered her plea for water. What the people there actually did to the woman was not recorded on the tape. I watched Dad from one side. For the defense of the national government order, he reiterated as he tidied up the curtain which was fluttering—I don’t know why. Then he confessed he had been in that profession for eighteen years, an almost musical profession, if not pure music, since only in that line of business could you listen every week to someone asking for water with feverish eyes or screaming in B-flat, like in Chopin’s sonata which he liked so much when he was quietly eating gravy with sugar, and he ended his tirade with his eye stuck to the spy hole, declaring he felt proud. I asked him why. He was in no position to answer me, all the more so since a lady wearing a hat chanced to walk by. After pausing long enough for the lady to pass, I asked Dad to give me a B-flat. Neither was he in the position to oblige this time. Consequently I struck him with the hammer one single time. His head was very soft.
 

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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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