Sophisticated Machinery

from Dark Bodies, chapter 1

Stelian Tănase | September 30, 2008
Translated by: Jean Harris

 

Sophisticated Machinery

The sound check is part of the show. Sandu lets the others adjust their instruments. Tov Teşu bugs them to behave themselves: none of that bump and grind--the boys don’t have haircuts--no obscenities! He gives Sandu a verbal agreement to sign. He has been made aware of everything in it so if things go wrong, there’s someone to pay. No rabblerousing; there are enough of them kinda drunk. He doesn’t have a ballpoint. The lights are being tested. We’re taking the greens to the left, only the greens. Gooooood and red, it’s done. A filter has disappeared. Somebody swears.  Mounted on a chair, a boy from the electric crew centers a reflector. Someone shouts, beat on the drums! I don’t have a ballpoint—Tov Teşu starts looking for one. And when the guy turns on his heels to the left Sandu adds: fetch! He takes Jiji and pushes her behind the curtain. You’re crazy, people will see us, have you been drinking? Mhm! Pepsi, a colossal drug, makes you forget, and it’s an aphrodisiac too. Uh, say what? He whispers into her ear; she giggles, you’re nuts. He tells her a whole bunch of other nonsense. He grips her by the shoulders, he caresses her. Tov Teşu still doesn’t have a ballpoint; he’s noticed that Relu wears a T-shirt with foreign inscriptions, some advertising jazz. He should take it off. If something happens, I’ll cut the electricity, I have orders, no agitation that!…and he makes himself scarce once more. But Jiji has bitten Sandu’s lower lip, and now he feels how it swells. What got into you? He puts her on an upright piano forgotten in that corner of the world. He grabs her knees, she’ll wait for him after, we’re splitting this night fifty-fifty. The girl’s eyes narrow, she laughs. Be nice, and put me down. I’ll go in the hall to see for my self if you’re worth the trouble.

 

            Relu has problems with the drums. The pedal doesn’t catch. Some brainless fool hit it like a real animal, and Relu is swearing by the holy host and the one that got you dressed in the morning. The accused isn’t showing up, of course, and Relu is promising to cut him into tiny pieces and sprinkle them over the audience like confetti. Give me a screwdriver. He pulls a microphone near the symbols, asks the sound man to catch a few beats, perfect. Things never go on greased rails, hey, something bad always happens, an interrupted cable, a stolen socket, a burned out lamp in an amplifier, a microphone cut like that at the last moment, just when you should be pouring your lungs out. Sandu is chattering to Jiji. She’s surprised that they’re making a rock gala on Easter eve. And the TV program gets broadcast after midnight, what‘s with them? On Easter they give us a western and tons of idiotic music. To stick around the house with your fat wife so you hump her, topple her on the bed since the fast is over, gobble down some crunchy flank of beef, watch the gunman on the screen—to feel full, you know, eternal. Nearby, Felix agrees. He’s anxious, as usual; he drives the girls out of their minds. Tov Teşu has forgotten about the verbal agreement, but he’s asking Sandu if he’s mortally committed to his--Teşu’s--saying a certain thing when he does the introduction. Sandu nods from left to right, nope, nada, tovarish. It’s easy to see the comrade is looking for nookie, just like that and sweaty from running, wearing a tie, smelling of drink. Sandu tells him the boys’ names and the tovarish notes it in a little book with a stub of led pencil he wets on his tongue. Earlier, he had whispered to Relu that he’d like a girl too, only he was afraid of catching a disease. Minors, minors, but nowadays they’re the ones who teach us. Sandu eggs him on, and Tov Teşu embraces him stickily. With those rheumy eyes. He’s cheerful. Teşu  goes on stage, mumbles a stale joke, like for high school and university students,  which is to say for idiots; he threatens to evacuate the hall if they get disorderly, introduces flatly: at the keyboard whomever, on the bass, whomever, vocal whomever, leader and solo guitar whomever, percussion whomever. One of them is nice. Another likes beautiful girls. The other one is talented. The last one is loved. The second to last, well-known to the public at large, from radio recordings and records, TV appearances and tours. Photos for autograph are being sold in the hall. He cuts it too long and someone in the hall jeers; a wad of something whizzes past his ear. He ducks. He hasn’t lost his reflexes; he’s learned a thing or two since he’s been licking the microphones. Lulu brightens up. Relu is nervous, he beats the drumsticks, Felix crosses himself quickly three times in a row, Sandu asks for a kiss from the girl, come on, let’s go. Backstage, Tov Teşu smiles happily:  he’d have dealt with that, if he hadn’t been there to introduce...

            The reflectors go out. The magic eye of the amplifier shines a faded green; the small control lights, red. Covering the rumble from the hall, the sound of the siren spreads out from the mixer, their signal to open. The dark- torn by a spot that wanders above their heads. Then silence. The screen lights up in back. Images. Their faces taken in rehearsal spread out slo-mo. By now they’ve come on stage unseen, switched the amplifier. On. The atmosphere fills with discrete buzzing; the siren doesn’t stop; the spot cuts the groups of teenaged heads—pallid, shiny, livid, ashy, receding in the distance. Merely imagining them, Sandu stands with his back to the audience, concentrates on the adjustments, feels uncertain, repeats the same gestures for the hundredth time, mechanically produces identical sounds. Hey, he’ll never get professional. The siren falls sharply; a strip of light encircles microphone number four. Looking fixedly at the center of the hall, Felix has planted himself over there—strained, ready to milk their admiration. One more reflector, the light explodes, reddish on the drum set; the coppery cymbals irradiate brown air. Relu begins to pump the peddle booom, booom. Sandu is still counting; the hall has filled with tension; in an instant Lulu will fall upon the synthesizer; let’s go! The banality of your life crumbles; you feel the rot stop as long as the concert goes on. You will resist:  loneliness, the eyes that measure you from store windows, the administrator of your apartment house who knows from somewhere, you’re dubious, a déclassé fit to be kept in the cellars of the militia; you feel it’s enough to grip the guitar, to hum something to be whole. You wind a potentiometer. Let’s go!

            Christ is risen! Sandu whispers for his own ears. A nearby mike catches and fills the hall. Shut up. To them it only seemed… Sandu attacks the first piece, his fingers slip firmly over the frets. Obedient, the thin neck of the guitar complies. The muted rumble of the hall. The reflectors finally skim the stage.  Everything flows the way it used to do. Only the cold in the spine is new. Sandu executes a difficult passage with nerve. He kneels, shows them the guitar, there it is, he keeps singing in an aroused way—emotion is included in the cost of the ticket. He performs robotically, working hard. Felix consumes himself with the microphone, he embraces it, he drives it away it, he shows his tongue to the people glued to the stage, he begs them and reproves them, he dances, he spouts at the end of the piece, he falls flat on the boards and waits there to begin again. The guy with the lights turns everything off, starts the strobe light; their movements discompose feebly; a blue strip cuts him, tears him to pieces. The left shoulder, the head, heart separate from the rest, the right part stays stuck to the floor. They’ll meet after a few measures and your anatomy will fuse for a second; yet again a beam cleaves you, and they’re mixing themselves with broken bodies that wander over the stage. Unfinished gestures, sketches, scribbles, foggy images. An increasingly accelerated balance captures you, you’re caught in the thicket of cold sensations; you swing happily from outside yourself. We get to another piece; we puke the last stanzas in the dark that roars behind the amplifiers. Security people have set out with flashlights to calm the turbulent or kick them out. Felix isn’t tired; he’s perfect in his role, rock star of the Bucharest periphery. Tomorrow he’ll go back to his job at the Chitila warehouse reassuming the face of a loader-distributor in storage B. And Relu at U.M. 016 where he’s an apprentice paper pusher. They’re having a good evening; everything is working out to the T.

            The dark has something ferocious; it unleashed itself; it’s scanning their names. They sing in chorus. Their texts circulate folklorically through high school notebooks. They’re popular. They like it. They shed their obscure-sidewalk-nobody skins. They metamorphose into those dangerous guys from the poster; they’re somebody else. Nothing is written about these guys, nothing, nowhere, but every neighborhood hall fills with people when they’re announced for Saturday night. Sandu smiles and begins the finale. Felix, all wet, goes back a step to give himself room for his shocking splits, but first he throws the music stand over his head and catches it

all night long, all night long

we wander, who follows

me, who shows up at

night in my dream?

 

The dark is sophisticated machinery; a being with senses, has its own body, stays under the high roof of the hall and devours. Felix exerts patience; hits the floor, yelps; he dreams; he implores. Sandu lines up the final passage. Lulu screws around improvising on the synthesizer. The light falls suddenly, as at the beginning. The siren covers the hum of the hall. They disappear backstage. Sandu grapples with a lemon. Lulu smiles happily, a cool chick was going crazy for him, and now she’s bringing him flowers. Relu swears at a gear that broke on him when he was about to break. People love them; that’s what matters. Frightened, Tov Teşu waves a threatening finger; you agitated the public again, but anyway it’s good that it’s over. They’ll appear again when the commotion has died down and the exhaustion of waiting will have slipped the self-same way into all the halls.

            In finale, they play a piece again. Grosman starts the smoke machine. Legs disappear first in the lilac fog, then trunks, for a while their heads float on a cloud with angels—those same simple movements. Then they go down into the depths. Strident, the guitar penetrates the other side. Occasionally, a lost reflector discovers a confused face and goes on—the image left to float bodiless through the fog. Little by little the exhausted dark unravels—the empty lighted stage. The neons lit now, the crowd spreads out to the trams. Jittery, Sandu crashes a chair. In the backstage area it’s a matter of useless swarming. The guys take down the installation. Somebody from the club gives them the rush. The empty hall disquiets you. Where did the dark full of respirations spill out to with his own life?  All that remain are chairs in disorder, piles of papers three women sweep up, a handful of late-goers. Leftovers. Tired, Sandu seeps along the walls to the half-basement, locks himself in the dressing room. He doesn’t want to hear the electronics specialist’s lamentations, the female administrators asking for autographs.  Emptied, in the little room, between the walls papered with old posters, he listens to the buzzing from upstairs. They take down, wind the cables, put the amplifiers in boxes. Sleepwalking, he goes to the window. He likes the sensation of cold that the outside walls transmit. He spreads his arms in the form of a cross. He stays stuck like that, and with his temple on the wall, he groans. His knees turn to water. He would like to scream, pull down the wardrobes, tear. He stays that way. Jiji finds him crucified on the wall like a punished child. She pauses mutely at the door, closes, slips out unheard, stands guard in the corridor so that no one will enter.
 

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