Before Spring, XXXV., Advent, & Omega

[translated poetry]

Before Spring

A strange sound wakes you.
Your heart? Your stomach? Just the pipes.
Two-thirty in the morning. A pale lane
of light pollution looms between the high rises

on the horizon. Above it, a thin
strip of sky. Like clumps of minerals
in a newly discovered mining cavity,
dim stars shine. The night swallows the minutes’

mine carts, the years. And it all stays down
in the deep forever. The past tears away,
like a quarry’s steep cove.
Cold water. A few movements. Hands.

What you think about, longingly and full of surrender,
is what has already come to pass.
And suddenly, you recognize—a few elementary
words, a child’s outfit—this was your life.

 



XXXV.

The direction of the winds has changed.
In place of the rotting smell of salty
Seaweed, drifts the resin aroma
Of the almond trees. In summer’s

Dense company, wavy
Watered-down death shines.
It’s easy to spot the city’s spires.
Like faint female figures,

They stand there, and their dresses,
Sewn from leaden steam,
in this flammable moment,
drop to their ankles.

 



Advent

My friend and I were sitting at a bar
drinking dark beer and whiskey,
watching the sluggish bartender behind the taps.

The beer wasn’t bothered by anything, the beer would’ve run
over the rims of glasses,
over the rims of mouths;

but the guy was slow, patient, persistent—
he waited. He tamed the golden
brown animal before him.

We were sitting at the bar, my friend and I,
counting down the past,
change hitting the glass,

We meditated on the future,
brought up an old mutual friend,
how he’d lost his way, messed up, doesn’t stand a chance.

We finally stepped out onto the street, drunk.
And steaming there before us on the sidewalk
on that November night was a pile of shit.

Human or animal? It didn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter. “You going
home?” “I’m going.”

We shook hands, headed home
in two directions.
It was cold. Foggy.

Winter had already dressed up and was waiting
patiently backstage.
I walked. I was cold. I fished out a cigarette.

When the flame of the lighter came to life,
I thought about how that pile of shit on the sidewalk
in front of the bar was probably frozen by now.
And while I shivered and blew smoke
and my steps knocked along the sidewalk,
I thought about what it was

that kept you with me so long,
and if I haven’t turned yet, what will turn
me against you in the end.

 



Omega

Street lamps on the closing curve,
off-white silk skirts
swish. It’s midnight.
Growing claws, tomorrow hangs
onto yesterday.
The city laid out after rain
like a freshly washed corpse.

Love’s not enough for anything.
It does not turn deceit good.
It does not obstruct spite.
It does not ease death.
There has to be something else
beyond love.

 

 

Tavasz előtt

Valami különös neszre felriadsz.
A szív? A gyomor? Csak a vízvezeték.
Hajnali fél három. A fényszennyezés
sápadt sávja dereng a toronyházak közt

a látóhatáron. Fölötte keskeny
szelet égbolt. Mint frissen feltárt
bányaüregben az ércrögök, fakó csillagok
ragyognak. Az éjszaka elnyeli a percek

csillesorát; az éveket. És mind lent marad
a mélyben örökre. A múlt leszakad,
mint egy bányató meredek öble.
Hűvös víz. Pár mozdulat. Kezek.

Arra gondolsz, vágyakozva és lemondással
teli, ami előtted már alászállt.
És hirtelen felismered – néhány kezdetleges
szót, egy gyerekruhát –, hogy ez volt az életed.

 



XXXV.

Megváltozott a szélirány.
A hínárok sós rothadásszaga
Helyett a mandulafenyők
Gyantaillata száll. A nyár

Tömör közegében hullámzó,
Híg halál ragyog.
Jól látni a város tornyait.
Mint halovány nőalakok,

Állnak, és ólomgőzből
Szőtt ruhájuk,
E lobbanásszerű percben,
Bokáig lehull.

 



Advent

Ültünk egy barátommal egy bárban,
barna sört ittunk, whiskyt és
figyeltük a lomha pultosfiút a sörcsapok mögött.

A sört nem érdekelte semmi, a sör futott
volna, túl a poharak száján,
túl a szájakon;

de a fiú lassú volt, türelmes, állhatatos –
kivárt. Megszelídítette ezt az aranyló
barna állatot.

Ültünk a pultnál, a barátom és én,
számoltuk le a múltat,
aprópénzt a pultra,

latolgattunk jövőt, és egy közös
barátról is szó esett,
hogy ő mennyire félrement, elrontotta, esélye sincs.

Kiléptünk az utcára végül, részegen.
És ott gőzölgött, a novemberi éjszakában,
a járdán egy kupacnyi szar.

Emberé vagy állaté lehet? Nem számított.
Nem számít. „Mennél már
haza?” „Megyek.”

Kezet ráztunk, és – ketten kétfelé –
elindultunk haza.
Hideg volt. Köd.

Már felöltözött a tél, és türelmesen
ácsorgott a színfalak mögött.
Gyalog mentem. Fáztam. Előkotortam egy cigit.

Mikor az öngyújtó lángja föllobbant,
Eszembe jutott, hogy mostanra talán
a bár előtt, a járdán az a kupac szar már megfagyott.

És míg reszketve fújtam a füstöt,
és a léptem kopogott,
arra gondoltam, mi volt,

ami megtartott eddig neked,
és ha nem fordultam el, mi fordít
végül mégis ellened.

 



Ómega

Utcalámpák a záródó kanyaríven,
törtfehér selyemszoknyák
suhognak. Éjfél van.
Karmot növeszt, kapaszkodik
a tegnapba most a holnap.
Kiterítve eső után a város,
mint egy frissen mosdatott halott.

A szeretet nem elég semmire.
Nem teszi jóvá az árulást.
Nem akadályozza a haragot.
Nem könnyíti meg a halált.
Valaminek kell még lennie
a szereteten túl.

Translator’s Statement:

I first came across some of these poems at a reading Babiczky gave in Budapest in the winter of 2017 that I attended, several months before Unfinished Poems, the collection in which these poems appear, was published. I was instantly pulled in by the cold, seasonal imagery of the first poem Babiczky read, “Advent.” It was winter outside, the first winter I’d spent in Budapest since I left the country as a child. I was also discovering the city on my own for the first time after leaving a relationship that summer that was immensely important to me. I was still nursing old wounds in Budapest, and the last few weeks I’d spent in the chilly city helped me to easily identify with the speaker as he who walks through the frozen streets of Budapest meditating on what it will take for his feelings to change about his ex-lover.

By the time Babiczky made it to the end of “VII.,” a poem about his mother’s days on the Balaton shore as a young woman, I was visibly sobbing. My mother, who likewise spent many summers of her youth on the Balaton shore, often questions her decision to have left her home country behind for America, and later, in looking over my first draft of the translation, admitted that she also cried when she read “VII.” I know I must translate a Hungarian work into English when it speaks to me on an emotional level, and often that helps me to bring it more seamlessly into English, but that is not always the case. In translating these poems, however, I needed simply to find and latch on to the emotional tenor of each piece to bring them into English. The process was surprisingly quick, when, in fact, I wished I could have stayed in the poems longer, revel in the deep emotions each one strikes. Babiczky and I spoke a few times, once even in person, about the translations, and his feedback was immensely helpful, particularly in maintaining the sounds, rhythms, and occasional rhymes of certain of the poems.

Timea Balogh is a Hungarian-American writer and translator with an MFA in creative writing from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. A 2017 American Literary Translators Association Travel Fellow, her translations have appeared or are forthcoming in The Offing, Two Lines Journal, Waxwing, Split Lip Magazine, Arkansas International, and the Wretched Strangers anthology from Boiler House Press, among others. Her debut original short story was published in Juked magazine and was nominated for a PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. Another of her stories is soon to appear in Passages North. She divides her time between Budapest and Las Vegas. You can tweet her at @TimeaRozalia.

Tibor Babiczky was born in Székesfehérvár, Hungary, in 1980. He earned degrees in Hungarian and English from Pázmány Péter Catholic University in 2005. He has worked as a journalist, editor of a literary magazine, and a book editor, which he still does today for the Hungarian publishing company Libri. He has been twice nominated for a Horváth Péter Literary Grant, a Margó Grant, and is the winner of the Móricz Zsigmond Grant. His poems have been translated into English, Czech, French, Greek, Croatian, and Polish. Tibor has published six poetry collections and one crime novel. The poems submitted here are all drawn from his latest poetry collection, Félbehagyott Költemények (Unfinished Poems), which hit bookshelves in the spring of 2018.

Black Magic

[translated flash prose]

Take this seed. Plant it in an olla that has only been used to make coffee. Water it lightly Tuesdays and Fridays around midnight. It will grow into a plant with black flowers. Cut them with a man’s knife and grind them up in a new lava stone mortar. You will be left with a bit of paste resembling congealed blood. Drop this into a bottle of mezcal and let it brew for twenty-eight days. By then you will have a perfume. Sprinkle a few drops on the sheets each time you bring a woman to your bed. If she is the woman you are destined to love, the bed will fly through the window, sail to the shore and at the shore become a boat and disappear at sea. Nothing will be heard of the two of you again but why would you want to return to land if you’ve found true love. But if she’s not the one, the bed will become a wild mare, will leap through the window and run with you all night long. When you wake in the morning, nothing will matter to you. You’ll ask why you would want to meet your soulmate if a woman who isn’t yields such grand pleasure.

Magia Negra

Toma esta semilla. Plántala en una olla que se haya usado sólo para hacer café. Riégala un poco los martes y los viernes cuando esté por dar la medianoche. Crecerá una planta con flores negras. Córtalas con un cuchillo de hombre y muélelas en un molcajete nuevo. Te quedará una pastita como sangre coagulada. Ésta la vas a echar en un cuarto de mezcal y la vas a dejar ahí 28 días. Al cabo de éstos tendrás un perfume. Rocías unas gotitas en las sábanas de tu cama cada vez que lleves una mujer. Si es el amor que te toca, vas a ver que la cama sale volando por la ventana y se va a playa y en la playa se convierte en una barca y se pierde en el mar. Nunca se volverá a saber de ustedes, pero para qué quieren regresar a la tierra si ya encontraron el amor. Ahora que, si no es la mujer que te toca, la cama se convertirá en una yegua bronca, saltará por la ventana y se los llevará a correr toda la noche. Cuando despiertes en la mañana, ya no te importará nada. Dirás que para qué quieres encontrar a la mujer que te toca si con la que no te toca es tan grande el placer.

Translator Statement

Agustín Cadena intends to subtly connect “Black Magic” to indigenous magical beliefs of rural Mexico and does so with three words: olla, molcajete, and mezcal. I was able to keep olla, that unique receptacle, because, of course, it has only been used to make coffee: café de olla is as particular as café au lait. Generally speaking, alcohol needs no introduction, so mezcal should be fine. Molcajete was the problem. The sentence describes the grinding done in it, but a molcajete is not just a mortar. It’s a dark lava stone mortar used by country folk and when it’s new, the stone is as coarse as a concrete block. The rest of this wild flash story is all Agustín Cadena.

 

Patricia Dubrava teaches writing and literary translation at the University of Denver. She has two books of poems and one book of stories translated from Spanish. Her translations of Agustín Cadena’s stories have appeared most recently in Mexico City Lit, Exchanges, Asymptote, Numéro Cinq, and Cagibi. Her translation of a Cadena story was a finalist for Lunch Ticket’s Gabo Prize in 2017. Dubrava blogs at www.patriciadubrava.com

Photo Credit: Ella Dascalos

Agustín Cadena was born in Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo, México, and teaches at the University of Debrecen, Hungary. Essayist, fiction writer, poet and translator, Cadena has won national prizes for fiction and poetry. His books include collections of short fiction, essays, poetry, five novels, and eight young adult novels. His work has been translated into English, Italian, and Hungarian. Cadena blogs at www.elvinoylahiel.blogspot.com

Photo Credit: Roberto Garza

The Love Designer

[translated fiction]

Dime-a-dozen, fair-weather friends—the ones you met to do nothing but sit around, drink beer, and gab. The night we hung out was of the same kind. On one side of the booth sat men who wanted a one night stand. None of the ladies on the other side were seeking Mr. Right, either.

Nobody listened to anybody amidst the peal of women’s laughter, the men’s coarsening chatter, the overspill of shouts from the other booths, and then I heard it.

“The Love Designer,” went an announcement behind me.

“Is that a thing now?”

“When is anything not a thing?”

“How does it work?”

The woman’s coy question was answered by the unseen man’s low but self-assured voice.

“Say a guy’s been chasing after you. You ignore him. If this guy doesn’t know the love designer, he is done for. But if he finds me, he’ll end up becoming enamored by you.”

“You manipulate affections?” The woman laughed in delight. “No way.”

Something in her voice said she had put on a sly glance.

When I turned around, the woman was stealing looks left and right. Her teasing gaze then trained on me, and—here’s the damnedest thing—she smiled.

As drunk as I was, I beamed back. But, as if having expected it, she whipped up a stink-eye, and looked away. The self-proclaimed love designer looked like he had at least a decade over us, with a genial face and a highball glass of tomato juice in front of him.

I only remember drunkenly thinking, If I met a real enchanter like this fellow is on about, I’d make this broad fall for me. For cutting eyes like that, I’d make her fall for me, and then jilt her to lifetime despondency.

On one side of the booth sat men who wanted a one night stand. None of the ladies on the other side were seeking Mr. Right, either.

Two of the three stupidities in my life, I do drunk. I may have even bumped into the fellow in the men’s room and grabbed his business card…?

Through sheer luck I made a massive fortune that no other twenty-something could amass, and that was when I found myself in company of these friends.

Three years ago, they latched on to help me scatter my money, like sand through fingers. Three years ago, I was a loner—and now I had a small herd following me day and night. I guess they thought they were using me: taking advantage. I didn’t care what they thought, what mattered to me was that wild friends sat under the shade of my wallet whenever I wanted some fun company. The little boy inside me didn’t think he had been leeched, wheedled or swindled even though he had been. The boy was that strong, that naïve. We humans are like an animal that blends into its environment. That night, I noticed the absence of the smiling boy, who had trusted everyone.

I used to think life should be interesting. I even indulged in the smallest intrigue to make life interesting: I bought sundry fun-sized toothpastes to try as many flavors as possible. My friends were also fun. But I yearned for other kinds of fun. At the time, I had bought my first personal computer, and I was addicted to surfing the Web. Every time I was back from that opium-like, fabricate world, I would call my booze friends. Yet, echoing above our usual drunk conversation were those words:

“The Love Designer.”

Let me cut to the chase. It’s unwieldy to write, it must be unwieldy to read.

I met the strange fellow again and asked him to entangle me with that smirking woman.

“Perhaps I can introduce you two first,” said the stranger in an ingratiating tone, “See if she’s into you. Who knows? Perhaps you don’t need me after all.”

Two days later, we had a “chance” encounter at the bar. Just as the conversation was flowing, the love specialist excused himself and left me with her.

The woman wasn’t into me from the get-go.

Afterwards, I invited her to dinner at a ritzy restaurant—twice—with no luck.

“Sorry, it’s not that I am busy,” she said. “You’re just not my type of guy.”

Hearing these words stirred not so much my desire but my vindictiveness, so I called on the love designer. My interlocutor said:

“She looks coquettish but she’s wily as they come. Not an easy game. I’ll use a special method. How about she dream of you in the coming nights? Can’t do anything else for now. I’ll think of something if it fails.”

Well, shit, I thought. He’s just another scammer. In my most naïve voice, I said:

“What? She’ll dream of me?”

“It’s gonna be dreadful for a while.”

“Why dreadful?”

“Think about it! You said she didn’t give you the eye, right? Who in their right mind wouldn’t be discomfited when some indiscernible guy visited them every night, caressed them to goosebumps, touched their intimate parts, and left them in the morning with vivid memories and a palpitating heart?”

“Every night?”

“For several nights, before the break of dawn…”

“My goodness, if that were to really happen, I—”

Just as I bit my tongue for sounding so gullible, the love designer coolly said, “Pay me.”

It was expensive to spite a woman who spurned you. He justified his exorbitant fee by saying, “Life can be over anytime. No use counting on days ahead. If you’re getting a hooker, settle for the prettier and more expensive one.”

He’s totally in cahoots with that lady! I thought. Oh, well, whatever. All I’m after is something to add intrigue to that which can be over soon.

For what it’s worth, he stood insanely confident. I even thought I had picked such an easy woman.

While waiting for the money, he continued his scheme. “She’ll dream of you starting tomorrow.”

She could be dreaming of me. I could be fucking this haughty, cold-shouldered woman, in her dreams. Isn’t that the most tempting, if not the most ludicrous, idea? It was funny to see how naïve I was at the same time. I supposed that woman would be calling to say, “I can’t help but dream of you. It’s driving me nuts.” They’d be snickering after she hang up the phone. Nevertheless, I kept wondering how exactly it would go down. A subtle shudder took over me; I thought I must be going insane as I forked the money over.

“You won’t dream of her, though,” he said. “Only she of you. Bare as you were born. And if you have any marks, tattoos, she’ll see them. That okay?”

“No. I wanna see her dreams. Put her dreams in my dreams.”

“Impossible.”

“Aren’t we already beyond that?”

I thought it no small feat to be staring down a con-artist. In any case, I prevailed the stand-off with dignity. He kept quiet.

“All I want is to see her,” I said. “To caress and—some intimate moments with her.  Losing that makes me sad, even if it’s only in a dream, even if it won’t really happen in a million years.” I added that this could be the most important event of my life. I was already channeling my Romeo.

The love designer eyed me for a beat, and said:

“It’s gonna cost you.”

The next morning, I awoke—shell-shocked from my sensual dream—and lobbed myself off my soiled cover.

“It’s all my fault,” I thought nervously. “I’ve always been the wretch wired to fall for these traps.”

After dreaming of the coquettish-yet-haughty woman seven days straight, I realized it gave me no pleasure, but sheer dread. You dumb Romeo, you’ve met the devil!

Presuming that devils exist, I was all about running away. I had been tied down to a large business venture as an investor. A partner said:

“Gotta make a big move. We can only profit big by spending big.”

I asked back, “If the gaining and losing are about the same, why the hell is it worth it?” It stymied my partners and thankfully liberated me.

I holed up in a foreign country for three months, then in the northwestern-most soum[1] in Arkhangai aimag[2] for two years. I lost my unhelpful, unforthcoming, parasitical friends for good in the process. But it turned out you can’t elude your dreams.

No sooner had I returned to the capital and turned on my no-longer-trendy cellphone than came a new message. Thinking it was the love designer looking for me, I opened it. The number was the woman’s. Now was the time to renounce the hex. I had to see her and ask everything.

The woman had not changed at all. She said I looked tanned, like a country boy. I can’t recall how we steered the conversation into the topic. Both of us needed some drinks.

“Yes, I dreamed that.” The woman glowered. “So what?”

“It wasn’t a dream.”

“What do you mean?”

“We really were intimate. Part of me was left deep inside of you. Like permanently. What we dreamed happened for real.”

“Are you out of your mind?”

“I think I am, but it doesn’t matter. If you’re analyzed in whatever kind of screening however far in the future, I am sure that my cells will be found in you.”

“Could you be any more ridiculous?”

“It’s all real. Just like that guy who forgot his mother tongue.”

“You lost me.”

“One morning this guy in Arkhangai woke up to talk at his mother in a foreign tongue. He’d never studied any language. Nobody believed him right off. But by and by, they discovered that he hadn’t memorized a single foreign word before. He could only comprehend Spanish, nothing else.”

“Am I supposed to believe in that story?”

“When you stand up barefoot, you come up to my chin. I didn’t realize you were so short, so I was surprised. I’ll never forget how your tongue tastes like. You always smile when you let me put it in. We lock eyes when we do it. You smile and you pinch my back. Do you remember when I said ‘Sorry,’ the first time we did it? Why do you think I said it? Why do you always smile by the way? Why do you keep your eyes open?”

“Shut up!” she cried, which rang out with the same imperious but quivering tone as her “Harder!” and “Don’t stop!”

It pleased me to realize this commonplace voice of my dreams belonged to a real person. As if this had been my wish all along.

We sat in silence until she said abruptly:

“OK. Let me see that scar.”

“Here?”

“No. If these dreams are real, let’s go there.”

I tripped over my mouth. Where were we anyway? Was there a specific place? But then I sensed that the woman wasn’t really buying it.

“You don’t remember?” she asked ironically. “You said you’d never forget it.”

“You still don’t believe me? At least you believe in your dreams, don’t you? What, did we just dream the same sequence of events?  I think you were in that dream as much as I was. It wasn’t a dream, don’t you get it?”

“It’s just a dream,” the woman said through her teeth, “That’s it!” and sprang away from the table.

I don’t know why, but I felt relief. Yes. Isn’t love, this miraculous phenomenon that everyone praises, nothing but an asinine dream? When I walked after her, she flounced down the street. A gray cab screeched to her hailing; she climbed in and left.

After all we’ve been through, she still won’t be mine.

I took out my phone and deleted the pretty woman’s number, she of the inviting stare and cold soul. It was a pity. But what are you gonna do, right?

After my dreams returned to normalcy, I located the home of the man with the ability. We drank all kinds of vodkas and wines. The love designer had a wife and a grown-up son.

“I didn’t bear him any children because he never asked me to,” said the wife.

“Didn’t you say you two had a son?”

“It’s not my husband’s. But he doesn’t accept it. My son doesn’t have a clue he’s not his biological father. He said he’d divorce me if I brought this up to my son, so I haven’t let out a peep.”

Isn’t love, this miraculous phenomenon that everyone praises, nothing but an asinine dream?

The love designer smiled quietly at her wife. Later, when his wife had turned in, he said, “What do you make of what she said?”

“Which part?”

“About my son not being my biological son.”

“What can I say? It’s more common than you think.”

“No. Do you understand why I didn’t want us to have a child?”

“Either of you had issues?”

“No issues whatsoever. If I wanted it, we could have had as many children as we wanted.”

“You don’t like children.”

“Not at all. I love kids! Before I was married, I wanted to have nine kids and name them after the nine treasures.”

I dreaded he would reveal something remarkable, or worse, something disturbing.

“My son thinks I am his real father. That sits well with me. If he finds out someone else is his father, I’ll be hurt. It feels like my life will cave in when it happens. So I refused to have my own child. If I had, it would become evident to my son that I am not his father. The ability from my side would come out, wouldn’t it? My son would see his younger sibling, compare himself, and one day he’d realize I am not his father. I didn’t want that.”

“You forfeited your nine treasure names?”

“The desire to have many children is, in a way, a naïve cupidity,” he said.

Quietude descended on the room; even the cars passing outside made no sound. Not bearing to stand the silence any longer, I decided to say something.

“You must love your wife a lot.”

“Love is one of life’s fun things,” he replied.

As I left their place, the warm autumn wind blew into my eyes, which in turn welled up. It’s as if we’re born with an intuition about someone who would swoon our hearts. That intuition solidifies in our childhood, grows with us in our mind, and becomes potent enough to burst out of our adulthood. By then, we are overwhelmed by the gap of that someone in our lives, and lose our minds. Well, not losing, per se, because this is an act the mind is meant to do in the first place. So, we embark on a quest for that person. Whenever we meet someone, we perceive them through our bespoke lens. The closer our partner is to our imagined soulmate, the happier we fare. If they are different from our imagined soulmate, or, if we realize that to be the case, the epiphany leaves us bereft.

As for the enchantment, the bewitchment…It’s not worth mentioning. Other people don’t enchant us, we enthrall ourselves. In truth, we leave ourselves spellbound, and unscathed people mock our weakness.

It just so happened that the mocking, mysterious trickster was actually a writer.

On the table sat a thick manuscript, and as he left me momentarily, I stole a look at the top page to read the following:

“If they called this eccentric, feeble and gullible loser an angel for easily falling in love, we’d laugh our ass off.

– So?

– So nothing. The guy just spread his wings and took off…”

Even though I had gone there to find out about the dreams that tormented (not just) me, I left the place without making any efforts to figure out the most mysterious happening of my life.

———————————————
[1] Soum – administrative unit in Mongolia, the equivalent of county (Translator)
[2] Aimag – larger administrative unit, the equivalent of a province (Translator)

 

 

ДУРЛАЛ ЗОХИОН БҮТЭЭГЧ

Ямар ч зорилгогүй, хаа нэгтээ шар айраг ууцгаан элдвийн хоосон зүйлс ярьж баясахаас өөр хийх юмгүй, залуу насанд олонтаа таардаг тийм л найзууд. Тэр орой ч бас л нэг тийм цуглаан болсон юм. Уушны газрын ширээний нэг талд зүгээр л нэгэн шөнө энгэр зөрүүлчих хүүхэн хайсан залуус. Нөгөө талд суугсдынх нь дунд ч эр нөхөр хайсан бүсгүй байсангүй.

Хүүхнүүдийн инээд чангарч, залуусын яриа задгайрч, зэргэлдээх ширээнээс мөн л чанга чанга үгс бидний яриа руу ирж холилдоод, хэн ч хэнийг ч анхааралтай сонсохоо больчихсон үед гэнэтхэн:

-Дурлал зохион бүтээгч! гэх содон танилцуулга чих дэлсэв.

-Бас тийм ажил байдаг юм уу?

-Байхгүй ажил гэж бас байна уу?

-Тэгээд яаж зохион бүтээдэг хэрэг вэ дээ? хэмээн хүүхэн хүний аальгүйтэн инээх асуултад, царай нь надад харагдаагүй нэгэн эр даруухан мөртлөө итгэлтэй дуугаар:

-Чиний хойноос нэг залуу гүйлээ гэж бодъё. Чи түүнийг нэг нүдээрээ ч тоож хардаггүй байжээ. Хэрэв нөгөө залуу дурлал зохион бүтээгчийг танихгүй бол, тэгээд л дуусаа. Харин дурлал зохион бүтээгчтэй уулзах аз тэр залууд таарах юм бол, чи шууд л мөнөөх хөөрхийлөлтэй залуугийнхаа хойноос унаж тусан гүйх болно гэж хариуллаа.

-За арай ч дээ. Хүний сэтгэлийг шууд засварлачих юм биз дээ? гээд хүүхэн тас тас хөхрөв. Ийн хөхрөнгөө лав ийш тийш сэмхэн харж байгаа даа.

Намайг эргэн харахад үнэхээр л тэр бүсгүйн нүд тогтворгүйхнээр эрвэлзэж байсан бөгөөд над руу бүр тэгэхээс тэгэх гэсэн шиг манартал ширтсэнээ инээмсэглэв. Халамцаж хөхиүн болсон би өөрийн эрхгүй дагаад инээчихэв. Яг үүнийг анаж байсан юм шиг л бүсгүйн харц цочирхон ширвээд, намайг алгасч одлоо. Дурлал зохион бүтээгч гэж өөрийгөө өргөмжилсөн эрхэм нь харин биднээс лавтайяа арваад насаар ахмад, хаа очиж нүдэнд дулаахан нэгэн байх агаад өмнөө улаан лоолийн шүүстэй өндөр шилэн аяга тавьжээ.

“Хэрэв энэ нөхрийн яриад байгаа шиг, дурлал зохион бүтээх ид шидтэнтэй таарвал ч, хажууд нь суугаа энэ сээхэлзүүр амьтныг өөртөө дурлуулаад, над руу ийм дорд үзэнгүй шоолж ширтсэнийх нь төлөө бүх насаар нь аз жаргалгүй болгоод хөсөр хаячих юм сан” гэж согтуурхан бодож сууснаа л санаж байна. Амьдралынхаа гурван тэнэглэлийн хоёрыг нь бид согтуудаа хийдэг. Бие засах газар мөнөөх эртэй танилцаад, нэрийн хуудсыг нь аваад ч байл уу?

Надад цочирхон аз таарч, хорин хэдтэй залуусын хэзээ ч олохооргүй их мөнгө гарт минь тэмтрэгдсэн тэр үеэс л би ийм найзуудтай болчихсон юм. Гурван жилийн өмнө тэд гарынхаа салаагаар элс шиг асгаж буй мөнгөнөөс минь үрэлцэхээр цуглаж билээ. Гурван жилийн өмнө ганц ч найз нөхөргүй явсан залуу ийнхүү гэнэтхэн л өдөр шөнөгүй хамт явдаг сүрэгтэй болов. Амьхандаа тэд намайг мэхэлж, ашиглаж байна л гэж бодоцгоодог асан биз. Надад бол тэд юу бодох нь хамаагүй, хэн нэгэнтэй дарвиж баясах хүсэл төрөхөд миний түрийвчний сүүдэрт чамгүй хөгжилтэй залуус сууцгааж байх нь л чухал байсан юм. Миний доторхи тэр хүү өөрийгөө мэхлүүлж, залилуулж, ашиглуулсан ч мэхлүүлчихлээ, зальдуулчихлаа гэж ер бодоогүй. Тийм л хүчирхэг байжээ, тэр гэнэхэн хөвгүүн. Хүн гэж арьсныхаа өнгийг сольдог амьтан шиг л хувирамтгай байх юм даа. Ердөө гуравхан жилийн өмнө дотор минь инээмсэглэн сууж асан, хүн бүхэнд итгэдэг, цайлган цагаан сэтгэлтэй жаалхүү энэ залуустай найзалдаг болсноос хойш л харин намайг орхиод алга болчихсоныг би яг тэр үдэш мэдэрсэн байв.

Амьдрал сонирхолтой л байх ёстой гэж би боддог байсан юм. Сонирхолтой байлгахын тулд өчүүхэн зүйлс дээр ч болов чармайж, жишээ нь, шүдний оог л гэхэд, шинэ шинэ амт мэдэрч байя гэсэндээ ямагт жижиг савлагаатай, өөр өөр нэр төрлийнхийг хольж авдаг байлаа. Найз нөхөд ч бас зугаа. Гэхдээ надад арай өөр зугаа хэрэгтэй санагдаад болдоггүй. Тэр үед би анхны компьютерээ худалдаж аваад, интернетийн учрыг олох гэж хорхойсч эхлээд байв. Хэн нэгний бодож олсон, хар тамхи шиг энэ ертөнцөөсөө буцаж ирэх бүртээ нөгөө л архичин нөхдөө цуглуулна. Гэвч эдгээр хөлчүү наргиан ч сонирхол татахаа улам бүр больсоор буйг харж суугаад сонссон үг болохоор тийм содон, ер бусын дуулдсан ч байж мэднэ.

“Дурлал зохион бүтээгч”.

Яриагаа товчлоё доо. Бичихэд залхуутай зүйлийг уншихаасаа залхуурцгааж л таарна.

Хачин нэрийн хуудасны эзэнтэй холбоо барьж, намайг дорд үзэн ширвэ татсан нөгөө хүүхэнтэй орооцолдуулаад өгөөч гэж хүслээ.

-Эхлээд та хоёрыг танилцуулъя. Чамайг анхаарч харах нь уу, сонжицгооё. Анхнаасаа чамд талтай байвал миний туслалцаагүйгээр учраа ололцчих ч юм бил үү? гэж Дурлал бүтээгч хэмээн өөрийгөө өргөмжилсөн үл таних эр сүрхий найр тавьснаас хойш хоёр хоногийн дараа бид уушны газар “санаандгүй” тааралдав. Яриа овоо жигдрээд ирэхийн хэрд дурлалын мэргэжилтэнд чухал ажил гарч, намайг нөгөө бүсгүйтэй орхиод явахаас өөр аргагүй болсондоо өршөөл эрлээ.

Хүүхэн анхнаасаа л намайг сонирхсонгүй.

Дараа нь би түүнийг хоёр ч удаа тансаг зоогийн газарт уриад ердөө татгалзсан хариу л дуулсан юм.

-Үгүй л дээ. Би чөлөөтэй хүн. Харамсалтай нь, чи миний сонирхдог залуу биш!

Энэ үгийг сонссоныхоо дараа би хүсч тэмүүлсэндээ гэхээсээ илүү, шаралхаж хонзогносондоо Дурлал бүтээгч рүүгээ дахин очив. Зорьж очсон хүн минь:

-Харахад аальгүй хэрнээ муу санааны туйл болсон хүүхэн дээ. Хялбар ан биш. Тиймээс нэлээд өвөрмөц арга хэрэглэе. Цаадхи чинь ойрын хэдэн шөнө чамайг зүүдэлбэл ямар вэ? Одоохондоо би өөр юу ч хийж чадахгүй. Энэ бүтэлгүйтвэл аяндаа өөр нэг санаа төрөх биз гэсэн сэн.

“Ээ хөөрхий, байдаг л нэг луйварчинтайгаа таарчихжээ” гэж харуусан бодсон ч, би аль болохуйц балчир царайлж,

-Юу гэнэ ээ? Үнэхээр тэр намайг зүүдэлнэ гэж үү? хэмээн асуулаа.

-Нэлээд хэдэн өглөө сэрэхдээ хачирхаж эвгүйцэх байх даа…

-Яагаад эвгүйцнэ гэж?

-Үгүй, тэгэлгүй яадаг юм бэ? Чамайг огт тоохгүй, бүр нэг нүдээрээ ч харахгүй байна гээ биз? Гэтэл нүдэнд нь огт тордоггүй хархүү шөнө бүр зүүдэнд нь хүрч ирээд л, хамаг биеийг нь шархиртал энхрийлж, аль л нууц газруудад нь хүрээд, өглөө сэрэхэд нөгөө зүүд нь яг болсон явдал шиг, түүнээс болж зүрх нь долгисч чичрээд байвал балмагдаж эвгүйцэж л таарна шүү дээ.

-Шөнө бүр ээ?

-За, үүр шөнийн заагаар л гэх үү дээ. Нэлээд хэдэн шөнийн турш…

-Бурхан минь, үнэхээр тийм зүйл болдог сон бол ч…

Би ийм гэнэн зүйл хэлчихсэндээ ичээд хэлээ хазах үес,

-За, тэгвэл мөнгөө төл! гэж дурлал бүтээгч хүйтнээр сануулав.

Эмэгтэй хүнд тоогдоогүйдээ хорссон хонзонгийн минь төлбөр шаггүй юм гээч. Их мөнгө нэхэж байгаагаа:

-Амьдрал бол хэзээ ч дуусчихаж болох зүйл. Чамд үргэлж хангалттай цаг байгаа гэж найдах ямар ч шалтгаан үгүй. Тиймээс биеэ үнэлэгч авлаа ч, арай илүү үнэтэй, илүү царайлагийг нь сонгох хэрэгтэй! гэсэн сургамжийн үгээр зөвтгөхөд нь дотроо би “Чи тэр хүүхэнтэйгээ хуйвалдсан л байж таарна. Яахав ээ, тэр хэзээ ч дуусчихаж мэдэх зүйлийг чинь сонирхолтой болгочих зүйл л надад хэрэгтэй” хэмээн бодож суув. Тэгж бодохоос ч өөрцгүй, мань эр өөртөө маш итгэлтэй байсан юм. Би бүр арай ч хөнгөн хялбар хүүхэн онилчихов уу даа гэж харамсахад хүрснийг яана.

Дурлал зохион бүтээгч мөнгөө авахаар хүлээзнэх зуураа:

-Маргаашаас эхлээд тэр чамайг байнга зүүдэлнэ гэж намайг зальдах ажлаа үргэлжлүүлсээр байв.

“Тэр намайг байнга зүүдэлнэ. Намайг нэг нүдээрээ ч харахгүй байгаа тэр хямсгар амьтныг би зүүдэнд нь эзэмдэнэ!” Үнэмшилгүй хэдий ч сонирхолтой санаа биш гэж үү? Ийм гэнэхэн зүйлээр хуурчихаж болмоор өрөвдөлтэй амьтан харагддаг гэдгээ олж мэдэхэд надад бас сонин байлаа. “Цаад хүүхэн нь над руу утасдаад, -Би чамайг зүүдлээд болдоггүй ээ! Галзуурах нь! гэж хэлэх байх даа, бодвол. Харилцуураа тавиад тэд намайг шоолж хөхрөлдөнө. Гэвч иймэрхүү үгсээ хүүхэн яг яаж хэлэх бол?” гэхчлэн төсөөлж, сэм догдолсондоо үл мэдэг чичирхийлсэн гараар мөнгө тоолж өгөхдөө “Би лав галзуурсан байх аа” гэж бодлоо.

-Гэхдээ чамд тэр зүүдлэгдэхгүй. Чи л түүний зүүдэнд орно. Яг л байгаагаараа, чармай нүцгэнээрээ… Аа, тийм, хэрэв энд тэнд чинь мэнгэ шивээс байгаа бол тэр чинь ч түүнд харагдана шүү дээ. Зүгээр үү?

-Үгүй ээ, би ч бас түүний зүүдийг хармаар байна. Түүнд яаж зүүдлэгдэхээ хармаар байна!

-Боломжгүй.

-Та чинь боломжгүйг бүтээгч биз дээ?

Луйварчинтай халз ширтэлцэнэ гэдэг хэн бүхний чадах ажил биш. Юутай ч би энэ хэсгийг овоо нэр төртэйхөн даваад гарчихав. Тэр ам нээхгүй байсан тул:

-Түүнд зүүдлэгдэх нь биш, түүнийг зүүдлэх нь л надад чухал. Хэрвээ зүүдэнд минь тэр жинхэнээсээ харагдаж, бүр жинхэнээсээ миний энхрийлэлд автаж, тэр минийх байх юм бол, түүнийг нь би мэдрэхгүй өнгөрнө гэдэг хайран байна. Амьдрал дээр тийм явдал хэзээ ч огт болохгүй өнгөрсөн ч хамаагүй, түүнд зүүдлэгдэж байгаа тэр зүүдэн дотроо л би орж үзмээр байна. Магадгүй, миний амьдралын хамгийн чухал зүйл тэр ч байж мэднэ гэж хэлэхдээ би Ромеогийн дүрдээ аль хэдийнэ итгээд эхэлчихсэн байсан юм.

Дурлал зохион бүтээгч хүйтнээр сонжин ширтсэнээ:

-Үнэтэй шүү дээ! гэж билээ.

Маргааш өглөө нь амттай зүүдний гор – бохирдсон хөнжлөөсөө сэжиглэсэндээ би ухасхийн босов. “Би өөрөө л буруутай. Би угаасаа л луйврын хялбархан олз болчихоор сэтгэлзүйтэй амьтан юм байна” гэж бодохдоо ч барьц алдсан хэвээр л байлаа.

Тэр аальгүй мөртлөө биеэ тоосон, ихэмсэг хүүхнийг долоон шөнө дараалж зүүдэлснийхээ дараа би энэ бүхнээс баясал таашаал биш, айдас түгшүүр амсч байгаагаа мэдрэв. “Гэнэн тэнэг Ромео минь, чи чөтгөртэй уулзчихаж!!!”

Чөтгөр ганц биш ч байж магадгүйг ургуулан бодоход, зугтахаас өөр юм толгойд орж ирсэнгүй. Уг нь би нэлээд дориухан ажилд хувь хамтрагчаар оролцож хүлэгдчихээд байсан ч,

-Том хөдөлнө өө, хэдүүлээ. Маш их мөнгө хаяж байж л тэр хэрээрээ маш ихийг олно шүү дээ гэж хэлсэн нэг хамтрагчаа:

-Хаях, олох хоёр нь адилхан л маш их юм бол, ямар ч ашиггүй юм биш үү? гэсхийн мадлаад л түншүүдийнхээ урмыг хугалж чөлөөлөгдөв. Тэгээд хилийн чинад гурван сар, дараа нь Архангайн баруун хойд захын суманд хоёр жил гаруй бүглээ. Амьдралыг минь огт сонирхолтой болгоогүй, үгүй ядахнаа ямар нэгэн зүйл ухаарч ойлгоход минь ч нэмэр тус үзүүлээгүй, ердийн л шимэгч нөхдөөсөө ийнхүү бүрмөсөн салж амрав. Гэвч зүүднээс зугтаж болдоггүй юм билээ.

Хотдоо буцан харьж, энэ зуур хоцрогдож гүйцсэн гар утсаа асаамагц л зурвас ирлээ. Дурлал зохион бүтээгч л намайг хайгаа болов уу гэж бодоод нээтэл, нөгөө бүсгүйн дугаар байв. Одоо л энэ ад мөрийн ховсоос ангижрах цаг. Түүнтэй уулзаж, бүгдийг асуух ёстой!

Хүүхэн огтхон ч өөрчлөгдсөнгүй. Харин намайг “Хөдөөний царайтай болчихжээ” гэж тодорхойлов. Яриаг нөгөө сэдэв рүү яаж хандуулснаа би санахгүй байна. Бид хоёрт хэн хэнд маань жаахан архи хэрэгтэй болсон л доо.

-Тийм ээ, би тэгж зүүдэлсэн. Тэгээд юу гэж? гээд хүүхэн ууртай хялалзав.

-Тэр зүүд биш байсан.

-Юу гэх гээд байна?

-Бид үнэхээр ойртсон. Чиний биеийн гүнд миний мэдээлэл үлдсэн. Үүрд арилахгүй. Бидний зүүд бол жинхэнэ явдал байсан.

-Чи солиорчээ дээ?

-Хамаагүй ээ, солиорсон байх. Гэхдээ чиний дотроос миний мэдээлэл хэзээ ч арилахгүй. Хожим чиний тухай бүх мэдээллийг хаа нэгтээх дэлгэц дээр хэн нэгэн шүүж үзэх үе ирлээ гэхэд, миний эд эс чамаас илрэх болно.

-Арай үнэмшилтэй юм ярьж болсонгүй юу?

-Энэ бол үнэн. Яг л нөгөө хэлээ мартаад сэрсэн залуу шиг.

-Юу ч ойлгосонгүй.

-Архангайд нэг залуу нэг л өглөө сэрээд ээжтэйгээ шууд харь хэлээр яриад эхэлсэн. Гадаад хэл ер үзэж байгаагүй мөртлөө шүү. Анхандаа хэн ч түүнд итгээгүй. Гэвч нарийн нягт шалгаж үзэхэд, тэр өмнө нь нэг ч үгийг нь цээжилж байгаагүй испани хэлнээс өөр ямар ч хэлээр ойлголцох чадваргүй нь тогтоогдсон юм.

-Наад үлгэрт чинь би бас итгэх ёстой болж байна уу?

-Чи хөл нүцгэн зогсохдоо миний яг эрүүгээр татдаг. Би чамайг тийм жижигхэн гэж бодоогүй тул их гайхсан. Чиний хэл ямар амттайг би хэзээ ч мартахгүй. Чи намайг өөр рүүгээ оруулахдаа дандаа инээмсэглэдэг. Бид хоёулаа нүд нүд рүүгээ халз ширтэлцэж байгаад тэр зүйлийг хийдэг. Чи инээмсэглэж, бас миний нурууг чимхдэг. Хамгийн анхны удаад “Уучлаарай” гэж хэлснийг минь санаж байна уу? Яагаад тэгж хэлсэн гэж бодож байна? Ингэхэд чи яагаад дандаа тэгж инээмсэглэдэг юм бэ? Яагаад чи нүдээ аньдаггүй юм бэ?…

-Амаа тат! хэмээхдээ бүсгүй яг л нөгөө “Ахиад! Бүр хүчтэй!” гэж дуу алддаг шигээ зандрангуй, сандрангуй, чичирхийлсэн хоолойтой болжээ.

Зүүднээс байнга сонсогддог учиргүй танил тэр дуу хоолой амьд хүнийх гэдгийг мэдэх надад сайхан байлаа. Миний хүссэн зүйл ердөө л энэ ч юм шиг.

Бид удтал таг дуугүй сууцгаасны эцэст,

-Алив, тэр сорвийг чинь үзье! гэж бүсгүй гэнэт хэллээ.

-Энд үү?

-Үгүй ээ. Хэрэв тэр зүүд үнэн л юм бол, тэр зүүднийхээ газар руу очъё.

“Хаана болсон юм бол оо? Тийм тодорхой газар байл уу?” гэж эргэлзэн, түгшин бодонгоо мартахын аргагүй мөнөөх зовлонтой зүүд нь бүсгүйн хувьд бас тийм ч тодорхой биш болохыг анзаарав.

-Санахгүй байгаа юм уу? гэж бүсгүй хоржоонтой лавлалаа.

–Хэзээ ч мартахгүй гээгүй бил үү?

-Чи надад итгээгүй хэвээрээ л байна гэж үү? Ядаж өөрийнхөө зүүдэнд итгэж байгаа биз дээ? Чи бид яг ижилхэн зүүдийг зэрэг зүүдэлсэн болж таарах уу? Миний бодоход, чи ч бас яг л над шиг маш олон удаа тэр зүүдэн дотор байсан юм шиг байна… Энэ бол зүүд биш, ойлгож байна уу?

-Зүгээр л тэнэг зүүд. Тэгээд л гүйцээ! гэж бүсгүй шазруухан хэлээд үтэр зугтах мэт босов.

Би юуг нь мэдэхгүй нэгэн зүйлийг ойлгочих шиг, гэнэтхэн л тайтгарчихсан. Тийм дээ. Дурлал хэмээн хүмүүсийн нэрлэдэг мөнөөх гайхалтай ид шид гээч нь яг үнэндээ ердийн л тэнэг зүүд ч юм бил үү? Араас нь гарахад бүсгүй гудамж уруудаад хурдан хурдан алхаж байлаа. Тэгснээ таксинд гар өргөөд, шурхийн ирж зогссон саарал өнгийн машинд суугаад явчихсан сан.

“Энэ бүхний эцэст ч тэр минийх болохгүй нь”.

Ингээд утсан дээрээ сануулсан мөнөөх аальгүй харагддаг мөртлөө хүйтэн, ихэмсэг, гоо бүсгүйн дугаарыг устгаж орхисон доо. Хайран л байв. Гэвч өөр яалтай билээ?

Зүүд минь эргээд хэвэндээ орсны дараа би нөгөө чөтгөр шиг увдистай эрийг хайж гэрт нь очсон юм. Бид есөн шидийн архи дарс хольж уулаа. Дурлал зохион бүтээгч эхнэртэй, том болсон нэг хүүтэй аж.

-Тэр намайг хүүхэд төрүүлж өгөөч гэж хэзээ ч гуйж байгаагүй. Тиймээс л бид хүүхэдгүй юм гэж эхнэр нь хэлэв.

-Та хоёр хүүтэй гээгүй бил үү?

-Нөхрийн минь хүүхэд биш л дээ. Гэхдээ нөхөр минь үүнийг огт хүлээн зөвшөөрдөггүй юм. Тиймээс хүү маань аавынхаа төрсөн хүү биш гэдгээ огт мэдэхгүй. “Хүүд энэ тухай ам ангайх л юм бол, чамаас сална шүү” гэж энэ намайг айлгадаг болохоор би ерөөсөө хэлээгүй…

Дурлал зохион бүтээгч ам нь халсан эхнэр рүүгээ чимээгүй инээмсэглэв. Сүүлд нь эхнэрээ унтахаар явсан хойно:

-Чи түрүүний яриаг юу гэж бодож байна? гэлээ.

-Аль яриаг?

-Бидний хүү миний төрсөн хүү биш гэдгийг.

-Юу бодох вэ дээ? Ийм амьдрал зөндөөн шүү дээ.

-Үгүй ээ. Яагаад би хүүхэдтэй болохыг хүсээгүй вэ гэдгийг ойлгож байна уу?

-Та хоёрын хэн нэгэнд асуудал байсан юм уу?

-Ямар ч асуудал байхгүй. Би хүссэн л бол, бид хэдэн ч хүүхэд төрүүлж болох байсан.

-Та хүүхдэд дургүй байх нь.

-Тийм биш ээ. Би хүүхдэд маш их хайртай. Гэрлэхээсээ өмнө би есөн хүүхэдтэй болно, есөн эрдэнийн нэр өгнө гэж мөрөөддөг байлаа.

Тэр ямар нэгэн, сэтгэл зовиурлам, ер бусын зүйл хэлэх нь гэж би хүлээв.

-Хүү маань намайг төрсөн эцгээ л гэж боддог. Энэ нь ч надад сайхан байдаг юм. Өөр хүн эцэг нь гэдгийг тэр мэднэ гэхээр надад дэндүү том цохилт болно. Тэгвэл миний амьдрал амьдрал биш болчих юм шиг надад санагддаг. Тэгээд л би өөрийнхөө хүүхдээс татгалзсан юм. Миний хүүхэд төрвөл би түүний жинхэнэ эцэг биш гэдэг нь илэрхий батлагдана. Манайхны талын ямар нэгэн зүйл маш тод илэрч харагдана аа даа? Дүүгээ хараад л, өөртэйгөө харьцуулаад л, тэр нэг л өдөр намайг эцэг нь биш гэдгийг ойлгох болно. Би үүнийг хүсээгүй юм хэмээн тэр үгээ зөөн байж ярилаа.

-Тэгээд есөн эрдэнийн нэрээ золиослочихсон хэрэг үү?

-Олон хүүхэдтэй болох хүсэл бол ердөө л нэг төрлийн гэнэн шунал юм даа, хөөрхий гээд тэр дуугүй болов.

Өрөөнд нам гүм, гадаа ч машин тэрэг явахаа больчихож. Тэсвэрлэшгүй энэ анир чимээгүйн дарамтанд бас өөрийгөө нэмэрлэж удтал дуугүй суухгүйн тулд:

-Та эхнэртээ үнэхээр хайртай юм байна гэхэд минь, тэр:

-Хайр дурлал ч бас бүхий л зугаатай юмсын нэгэн адил тэнэг зүйл шүү дээ гэсэн сэн.

Тэднийхээс гарахад нүд рүү минь намрын салхи мансуурам сайхнаар үлээж, нулимс ивлэв. Сэтгэл зүрхийг маань ховсдох учиртай хэн нэгний тухай төсөөлөлтэйгөө бид анхнаасаа л хамт төрдөг мэт. Тэр төсөөлөл балчир наснаас эхлэн ухаан санаанд маань биежиж, бидэнтэй цуг өсч торнисоор, нас биед хүрэхийн цагт зүрхийг маань дотроос нь түрж дэлбэ татахаар заналхийлдэг. Тэгээд л бид хэн нэгэнгүйгээр амьд явж чадахгүй мэт зөн совинд автсандаа, ухаан санаагаа гээчихдэг. Гээж байгаа ч юм биш ээ. Гээгдэх учиртайгаар анхнаасаа заяагдсан үйл л тэр. Ингээд бид мөнөөх хэн нэгнийхээ эрэлд хатдаг. Төсөөлөлтэй маань огт төсгүй хүн тааралдавч, бид түүнийг зөвхөн өөрөө л харж чадах тийм нүдээрээ өөрчлөн хардаг. Амьдрал дээр олдсон тэр хүн маань төсөөлөлд анхнаасаа л төрсөн хэн нэгэнтэй хичнээн олон талаар адил төстэй байна, бид тэр чинээгээр аз жаргалыг мэдэрдэг. Харин төсөөллөөс маань зөрчихвөл, хэтэрхий хол зөрүү байгааг гэнэт олж харвал, бид ухаан сууж, тэр хэрээрээ жаргалгүй болдог.

Илбэ, увдис, ховсын тухайд гэвэл… Яриад ч хэрэггүй биз дээ. Биднийг бусад хүмүүс биш, бид өөрсдөө л илбэддэг. Яг үнэндээ бол хүссэн илбэ ховсоо бид өөрсдөө л бий болгож, биднээс илүү ухаантай хүмүүс тэр сул талыг маань ашиглан тохуурхдаг.

Тохуутай, ойлгомжгүй луйварчин маань яг үнэндээ зохиолч юм шиг байна билээ л дээ.

Хэвлээд тавьсан зузаан хуудас бичвэр ширээн дээр хэвтсэн бөгөөд нэг удаа босох зуур нь би тийш өнгийгөөд хамгийн дээд хуудаснаас:

“-Гажиг, бүтэлгүй, дурламтгай, бусдад дандаа дээрэлхүүлж, мэхлүүлж явдаг тэр залууг Сахиусан тэнгэр гэж хочилсон бол, бид элгээ хөштөл инээлдэх байсан даа.

Тэгээд?

Тэгээд л тэр. Мөнөөх залуу дөнгөж сая далавчаа дэлгээд нисчихлээ…
гэсэн хэсгийг хальт уншиж амжсан билээ.

Тэгээд л, намайг (ганц намайг ч биш) тэгтлээ зовоож үймрүүлсэн амтат зүүднүүдийнхээ тухай л асуух гэж би тэднийд очсон хэрнээ, амьдралдаа тохиолдсон хамгийн хачин зүйлийн учрыг олох ямар ч оролдлого хийлгүйгээр тэр айлаас гарсан юм даа.

 

Translator’s Statement:

“The Love Designer” was the first story I had ever read of Gun-Aajav, and the collection this short belonged to almost changed my decision to be an English writer.

I grew up as a self-professed anglophile, and I strove to read books in English, almost exclusively. But here was this short story collection in my mother tongue, with characters so relatable and prose so strong I felt its metaphors, cadence, and verisimilitude hit me like bullets to my brain and wash over me as warm visions. I was ashamed of not having read more fiction in my mother tongue.

Fast forward to last winter, and I finally had enough time on my hands to rectify this injustice of our prolific author not having (almost) any presence in the English-speaking world. I know no translation, especially none of mine, will ever be a perfect conduit of the original work, but I hope the story’s nuance comes through in enough amounts. Although the way the narrator holds grudges (at not just the woman) is alarming, his rationalization belies a self-indulgent naïveté, which makes his experience with the love designer truly transformative. The love designer subverts the trope of “deal with the devil” because, in my opinion, he gives the narrator a soul.

 

Narantsogt “Natso” Baatarkhuu is a writer and translator from Mongolia. He holds a BA in English philology from Tomas Bata University and an MFA in creative writing from Temple University that he completed on Fulbright scholarship. His work can be found in Cracked, The UB Post, and SoWhyMongolia. He lives with his wife and two kids in the capital Ulaanbaatar, which is an iamb and a trochee, not two iambs. You can follow him on Twitter at @natsopersonal for more translation/fiction on Mongolia.

 

Ayurzana Gun-Aajav is an author of ten novels, eight books of poetry, and numerous nonfiction and translations. Born in 1970 in Bayankhongor province of Mongolia, he holds a BA degree from Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow, and he has been a Writer-In-Residence at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. His novels Durlalgui Yertontsiin Blues (The Blues of a World Without Love) and Ilbe Zereglee (The Magic Mirage) have won Mongolia’s National Literary Award Altan Oed (Golden Feather). You can learn more about his work at www.ayurzana.mn or follow him on https://www.facebook.com/Gun.Ayurzana/

The Toad

[translated poetry]

What do we know? Who then understands the depths of things?
The sunset glowed in the rose-hued clouds.
It was the end of a day of storms, and the west
Set the showers aflame in a ferocious blaze.
Near a ditch, at the edge of a rain puddle,
A toad looked at the sky, dazzled creature.
In solemn contemplation, horror considered the splendor.
(Oh! Why is there suffering and why is there ugliness?
Alas! The Roman Empire is littered with petty Augustuses
Tyrannous Caesars, as the toad is with pustules,
As the meadow with flowers and the sky with sunshine.)
The leaves were purpling in the vermillion trees.
The water glinted, twined with the grass in the ditch.
The evening unfurled as a banner.
The bird lowered its voice in the weakening day.
All softened, in the air, on the horizon; and, full of forgotten dreams,
The toad, without fear, without shame, without anger,
Gentle, watched the enormous solar aureole.
Maybe the damned one felt blessed.
There’s no creature who cannot see a reflection of the infinite.
No eye so abject and vile that it does not touch
The light above, sometimes tender, sometimes shy;
No cringing monster, bleary, louche, impure,
Who does not have the heavens’ immensity in its eyes.
A man passing by saw the hideous creature,
And shuddering, stepped on the toad’s head.
It was a priest with a book he was reading.
Then a woman, with a flower on her lapel,
Came and poked out the toad’s eye with her umbrella.
And the priest was old, and the woman was beautiful.
Then came four schoolboys, serene as the heavens.
—I was a child, I was young, I was cruel—
All men on earth, where their subjugated souls wander,
Can start the story of their lives this way.
We have game, inebriated by the dawn in our eyes.
We have our mothers. We are joyous schoolboys.
Gay little men, breathing the air,
Filling our lungs, loved, free, and happy. What to do;
If not torture a pathetic being?
The toad crawled along in the bottom of a rut.
It was the hour when the far fields turn azure.
Wild creature, the toad longed for night. The children saw him.
They cried out, “Kill the disgusting animal. And he’s so ugly, let’s hurt him a lot.”
And each one of them, laughing—children laugh when they kill—
Began to stab at him with a pointed stick.
Enlarging the hole where his eye had been, wounding
His wounds, thrilled, applauded by the passersby;
Because the passersby laughed. And the sepulchral shadow
Covered the dark martyr who could not even moan.
And the blood, the atrocious blood, flowed from everywhere
On the poor creature, whose crime was to be ugly.
He fled. He had one leg torn off.
A child struck him with a broken trowel,
And every blow skimmed the beleaguered beast
Who, even on a day that smiled upon him,
Even beneath an immense sky, lurked at the bottom of a cave.
And the children said: “Is he mean! He drools!”
His forehead bled, his eye hung out; in the scrub
And brush, hideous to see, he made his way.
We might have said that he had escaped a terrible embrace.
Oh! The sorry act! To worsen misery!
To add horror to deformity!
Dislocated, he stumbled from stone to stone.
The toad still had breath, without shelter, without asylum.
He crawled. We might have said that death
Found him too ugly and refused to take him.
The children wanted to tie him in a shoelace,
But he escaped them, slipping beside a hedge.
The rut gaped. He dragged his wounds
And dived in, bloodied, broken, his skull open,
Feeling the bit of freshness in the green swamp,
Washing the human cruelty in the mud.
And the children, with spring on their cheeks,
Blonde, charming, had never had such fun.
They all talked at once, from the big to the little
Crying out: “Come see! C’mon Alfred, c’mon Peter
Let’s finish him off with a big stone!”
All together, they fixed their gaze upon the being
Beset by chance. And the despairing creature
Watched as their terrible faces hunched over him.
—Alas! Let’s have ideals; let’s not have targets.
When we set our sights on humanity’s horizon,
Let us hold life, and not death, in our hands—
All eyes followed the toad in the mud.
It was a furor and it was an ecstasy.
One of the children returned with a brick.
Heavy, but for its evil purpose easily carried.
He said: “We’ll see how this will be done.”
But, in the same moment, on this very spot of earth
Chance delivered a heavy cart
Pulled by an old, lame donkey, skin and bones and deaf.
This exhausted donkey, limping and appalling,
Was close to the stable after a day of walking.
He pulled the cart and carried a saddlebag.
Every step he took, as if his next to last.
The beast walked, beaten, extenuated.
The blows enveloped him like a clouded mist.
His eyes were veiled with a vapor
Of that stupidity, which is perhaps stupor.
And the rut was deep, and so full of mud,
And a slope so sharp that every turn of the wheel
Was like a dismal and hoarse tearing.
And the donkey went on, moaning, and the master cursed.
The road descended and pushed the pack animal
The donkey retreated into his thoughts, passive beneath the whip, beneath the flog;
Sunk to a depth where no human can go.

The children, hearing the wheel and the clop
Turned noisily and saw the cart.
“Don’t drop the brick on the toad. Stop!”
They cried. “Do you see, the cart will come down
And crush him as it passes. That will be so much more amusing.”

All watched.

Then, advancing in the rut,
Where the monster awaited his final torture,
The donkey saw the toad. And, sad—alas! Bent
Upon one sadder still—heavy, broken, mournful and scabrous,
He seemed to sniff with his head low.
This enslaved one, this damned one, this patient one, granted grace.
He gathered all his spent strength. And, stiffening
His chain and harness on his bloodied muscles,
Resisting his master who cried: “Go on!”
Taking the full measure of the terrible burden of his complicity,
In his weariness, accepting the fight;
He pulled the cart and lifted the saddle.
Haggard, he turned the inexorable wheel,
Leaving behind him the miserable toad to live.
Then, under the blow of the whip, he continued on his way.

So, letting the stone drop from his hand,
One of the children—the one who tells this story—
Under the infinite arched expanse that is at once blue and black,
Heard a voice that said to him: “Be good.”

Goodness of the fool! Diamond in coal!
Blessed enigma! Glorious light of the shadows!
The heavenly ones are no better than the doomed,
If the doomed, though blind and punished,
Think, and having no joy, yet have pity.
O sacred spectacle! The shadow saves the shadow.
The lost soul rescues the dark soul.
The stupid, moved to compassion, bends toward the hideous.
The good damned one awakens the chosen wicked one’s dreams.
The beast advances where the man recoils
In the serenity of the pale twilight.
The brute by turns thinks and feels she is sister
Of the mysterious and profound sweetness.
It is enough for a flash of grace to shine in her,
For her to equal the eternal star.
The beast of burden who, returning in the evening, weighed down, weary,
Dying, feeling its flat hooves bleed,
Takes a few extra steps, moves away and disrupts its course
To avoid crushing a toad in the mire.
This abject donkey, dirty, bludgeoned beneath the stick,
Is more holy than Socrates and greater than Plato.
You search, philosopher? O great thinker, you meditate?
Do you want to find what is real beneath our cursed fogs?
Believe, cry, lose yourself inside an immense love!
Whoever is good sees clear at the obscured crossroads.
Whoever is good inhabits a corner of heaven. O wise one,
The kindness, which in the world lights up a face;
The kindness, that gaze of the sweet morning;
The kindness, pure ray that warms the stranger;
The instinct that in the night and in suffering loves;
Is the ineffable and supreme link
That joins, in the gloom, alas!
The great innocent, the donkey, to God, the great sage.

Le Crapaud

Que savons-nous ? qui donc connaît le fond des choses ?
Le couchant rayonnait dans les nuages roses ;
C’était la fin d’un jour d’orage, et l’occident
Changeait l’ondée en flamme en son brasier ardent ;
Près d’une ornière, au bord d’une flaque de pluie,
Un crapaud regardait le ciel, bête éblouie ;
Grave, il songeait ; l’horreur contemplait la splendeur.
(Oh ! pourquoi la souffrance et pourquoi la laideur ?
Hélas ! le bas-empire est couvert d’Augustules,
Les Césars de forfaits, les crapauds de pustules,
Comme le pré de fleurs et le ciel de soleils !)
Les feuilles s’empourpraient dans les arbres vermeils ;
L’eau miroitait, mêlée à l’herbe, dans l’ornière ;
Le soir se déployait ainsi qu’une bannière ;
L’oiseau baissait la voix dans le jour affaibli ;
Tout s’apaisait, dans l’air, sur l’onde ; et, plein d’oubli,
Le crapaud, sans effroi, sans honte, sans colère,
Doux, regardait la grande auréole solaire ;
Peut-être le maudit se sentait-il béni,
Pas de bête qui n’ait un reflet d’infini ;
Pas de prunelle abjecte et vile que ne touche
L’éclair d’en haut, parfois tendre et parfois farouche ;
Pas de monstre chétif, louche, impur, chassieux,
Qui n’ait l’immensité des astres dans les yeux.
Un homme qui passait vit la hideuse bête,
Et, frémissant, lui mit son talon sur la tête ;
C’était un prêtre ayant un livre qu’il lisait ;
Puis une femme, avec une fleur au corset,
Vint et lui creva l’œil du bout de son ombrelle ;
Et le prêtre était vieux, et la femme était belle.
Vinrent quatre écoliers, sereins comme le ciel.
– J’étais enfant, j’étais petit, j’étais cruel ; –
Tout homme sur la terre, où l’âme erre asservie,
Peut commencer ainsi le récit de sa vie.
On a le jeu, l’ivresse et l’aube dans les yeux,
On a sa mère, on est des écoliers joyeux,
De petits hommes gais, respirant l’atmosphère
À pleins poumons, aimés, libres, contents ; que faire
Sinon de torturer quelque être malheureux ?
Le crapaud se traînait au fond du chemin creux.
C’était l’heure où des champs les profondeurs s’azurent ;
Fauve, il cherchait la nuit ; les enfants l’aperçurent
Et crièrent : « Tuons ce vilain animal,
Et, puisqu’il est si laid, faisons-lui bien du mal ! »
Et chacun d’eux, riant, – l’enfant rit quand il tue, –
Se mit à le piquer d’une branche pointue,
Élargissant le trou de l’œil crevé, blessant
Les blessures, ravis, applaudis du passant ;
Car les passants riaient ; et l’ombre sépulcrale
Couvrait ce noir martyr qui n’a pas même un râle,
Et le sang, sang affreux, de toutes parts coulait
Sur ce pauvre être ayant pour crime d’être laid ;
Il fuyait ; il avait une patte arrachée ;
Un enfant le frappait d’une pelle ébréchée ;
Et chaque coup faisait écumer ce proscrit
Qui, même quand le jour sur sa tête sourit,
Même sous le grand ciel, rampe au fond d’une cave ;
Et les enfants disaient : « Est-il méchant ! il bave ! »
Son front saignait ; son œil pendait ; dans le genêt
Et la ronce, effroyable à voir, il cheminait ;
On eût dit qu’il sortait de quelque affreuse serre ;
Oh ! la sombre action, empirer la misère !
Ajouter de l’horreur à la difformité !
Disloqué, de cailloux en cailloux cahoté,
Il respirait toujours ; sans abri, sans asile,
Il rampait ; on eût dit que la mort, difficile,
Le trouvait si hideux qu’elle le refusait ;
Les enfants le voulaient saisir dans un lacet,
Mais il leur échappa, glissant le long des haies ;
L’ornière était béante, il y traîna ses plaies
Et s’y plongea, sanglant, brisé, le crâne ouvert,
Sentant quelque fraîcheur dans ce cloaque vert,
Lavant la cruauté de l’homme en cette boue ;
Et les enfants, avec le printemps sur la joue,
Blonds, charmants, ne s’étaient jamais tant divertis ;
Tous parlaient à la fois et les grands aux petits
Criaient : «Viens voir! dis donc, Adolphe, dis donc, Pierre,
Allons pour l’achever prendre une grosse pierre ! »
Tous ensemble, sur l’être au hasard exécré,
Ils fixaient leurs regards, et le désespéré
Regardait s’incliner sur lui ces fronts horribles.
– Hélas ! ayons des buts, mais n’ayons pas de cibles ;
Quand nous visons un point de l’horizon humain,
Ayons la vie, et non la mort, dans notre main. –
Tous les yeux poursuivaient le crapaud dans la vase ;
C’était de la fureur et c’était de l’extase ;
Un des enfants revint, apportant un pavé,
Pesant, mais pour le mal aisément soulevé,
Et dit : « Nous allons voir comment cela va faire. »
Or, en ce même instant, juste à ce point de terre,
Le hasard amenait un chariot très lourd
Traîné par un vieux âne éclopé, maigre et sourd ;
Cet âne harassé, boiteux et lamentable,
Après un jour de marche approchait de l’étable ;
Il roulait la charrette et portait un panier ;
Chaque pas qu’il faisait semblait l’avant-dernier ;
Cette bête marchait, battue, exténuée ;
Les coups l’enveloppaient ainsi qu’une nuée ;
Il avait dans ses yeux voilés d’une vapeur
Cette stupidité qui peut-être est stupeur ;
Et l’ornière était creuse, et si pleine de boue
Et d’un versant si dur que chaque tour de roue
Était comme un lugubre et rauque arrachement ;
Et l’âne allait geignant et l’ânier blasphémant ;
La route descendait et poussait la bourrique ;
L’âne songeait, passif, sous le fouet, sous la trique,
Dans une profondeur où l’homme ne va pas.

Les enfants entendant cette roue et ce pas,
Se tournèrent bruyants et virent la charrette :
« Ne mets pas le pavé sur le crapaud. Arrête ! »
Crièrent-ils. « Vois-tu, la voiture descend
Et va passer dessus, c’est bien plus amusant. »

Tous regardaient.

Soudain, avançant dans l’ornière
Où le monstre attendait sa torture dernière,
L’âne vit le crapaud, et, triste, – hélas ! penché
Sur un plus triste, – lourd, rompu, morne, écorché,
Il sembla le flairer avec sa tête basse ;
Ce forçat, ce damné, ce patient, fit grâce ;
Il rassembla sa force éteinte, et, roidissant
Sa chaîne et son licou sur ses muscles en sang,
Résistant à l’ânier qui lui criait : Avance !
Maîtrisant du fardeau l’affreuse connivence,
Avec sa lassitude acceptant le combat,
Tirant le chariot et soulevant le bât,
Hagard, il détourna la roue inexorable,
Laissant derrière lui vivre ce misérable ;
Puis, sous un coup de fouet, il reprit son chemin.

Alors, lâchant la pierre échappée à sa main,
Un des enfants – celui qui conte cette histoire, –
Sous la voûte infinie à la fois bleue et noire,
Entendit une voix qui lui disait : Sois bon !

Bonté de l’idiot ! diamant du charbon !
Sainte énigme ! lumière auguste des ténèbres !
Les célestes n’ont rien de plus que les funèbres
Si les funèbres, groupe aveugle et châtié,
Songent, et, n’ayant pas la joie, ont la pitié.
Ô spectacle sacré ! l’ombre secourant l’ombre,
L’âme obscure venant en aide à l’âme sombre,
Le stupide, attendri, sur l’affreux se penchant,
Le damné bon faisant rêver l’élu méchant !
L’animal avançant lorsque l’homme recule !
Dans la sérénité du pâle crépuscule,
La brute par moments pense et sent qu’elle est sœur
De la mystérieuse et profonde douceur ;
Il suffit qu’un éclair de grâce brille en elle
Pour qu’elle soit égale à l’étoile éternelle ;
Le baudet qui, rentrant le soir, surchargé, las,
Mourant, sentant saigner ses pauvres sabots plats,
Fait quelques pas de plus, s’écarte et se dérange
Pour ne pas écraser un crapaud dans la fange,
Cet âne abject, souillé, meurtri sous le bâton,
Est plus saint que Socrate et plus grand que Platon.
Tu cherches, philosophe ? Ô penseur, tu médites ?
Veux-tu trouver le vrai sous nos brumes maudites ?
Crois, pleure, abîme-toi dans l’insondable amour !
Quiconque est bon voit clair dans l’obscur carrefour ;
Quiconque est bon habite un coin du ciel. Ô sage,
La bonté, qui du monde éclaire le visage,
La bonté, ce regard du matin ingénu,
La bonté, pur rayon qui chauffe l’inconnu,
Instinct qui, dans la nuit et dans la souffrance, aime,
Est le trait d’union ineffable et suprême
Qui joint, dans l’ombre, hélas ! si lugubre souvent,
Le grand innocent, l’âne, à Dieu le grand savant.

Translator Note

My translation process is unique. I began my study of the text in French from a performance perspective. Working with a theatre professional in Paris (in person when I am there and via Skype when I am in the US), I honed the performance of the text in its original language. The result is an embodied approach to understanding the deep roots of the text and its emotional resonance in the body. Once I have fully explored the text from this angle, only then do I begin to translate. My aim is to preserve the old world flavor of the texts, while at the same time bringing the message forward for our times, so that it is immediate and relevant. So I am working with the words on the page and the felt experience of the text in the body.

The texts I am translating have long been in the public domain. In the case of Victor Hugo’s long poem, “The Toad,” it is a poem which has only ever been translated once before in the 19th century, in a translation which is no longer available. Yet the poem’s exploration of casual cruelty and innocence is as urgent today as it was when Hugo wrote the piece.

 

Mina Samuels is a writer, playwright, and performer. Her books include, Run Like A Girl 365 Days: A Practical, Personal, Inspirational Guide for Women Athletes, Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives, and a novel, The Queen of Cups. She’s created and performed two award-winning solo shows and her ensemble play, Because I Am Your Queen, was produced at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. She also posts weekly translations of Jean de La Fontaine’s 17th century French fables with contemporary commentary. www.minasamuels.com.

Victor Marie Hugo (26 February 1802 – 22 May 1885) was a French poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement. Hugo is considered to be one of the greatest and best-known French writers. Outside of France, his most famous works are the novels Les Misérables, 1862, and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, 1831.

Thicket

[translated fiction]

A movement in the corner of her eye. She turns her head, but it is only the woods. Succulent leaves reach toward her. Behind them, ferns, a tree trunk.

Mark steps in front of her, the woods vanish behind his torso. She stares at the coarse fabric of his shirt, the embroidery on his breast pocket. His hands touch her cheeks, and she looks up at him.

“My two sweeties.” He kisses her. Their mouths open to each other, warm and motionless, until the baby on her arm starts thrashing. Mark’s eyes, so close and green, look in her right eye, then her left eye.

“Well, go on,” she says. “Out you go!” His hands slide from her face, the baby coos, he kisses it on the forehead, and gets into the car. He honks the horn twice, customary in the country, and drives off. She holds the baby’s hand, waves with it until the car turns at the end of the street.

“He’s gone,” she says to her child, and the baby coos as if it understands.

As she closes the garden gate behind her, her glance wanders back to the thicket. It had rained in the night. Surely, it was only a raindrop that was making the leaves vibrate.

She feels it. It scares her. The baby is listening. It stares at her, listening. What does it hear? A rustle. Close by. On the other side of the bedroom wall.

Later, a book in her lap, she sits in the deck chair on the terrace. The baby sleeps in the stroller. She tries to read and does not get beyond the first sentence. She begins again and again, strings the letters together, but cannot get the meaning. She stares at the page and only when the church bells ring in the village below, does she realize that her head was filled with silence. She puts the book aside, steps towards the parapet of the terrace, and looks down on the bay, the houses tiny at the edge of the sea. Her gaze glides over the leaden surface to the horizon, attempting to discern the boundary between water and sky. There was meant to be sun today, but nothing seems to have come of it. The air feels thick in her throat. She takes in a deep breath, breathes out.

She met Mark’s partner once at a party. That was before her pregnancy. She only vaguely remembers how the woman looked. Pretty, of course, but not so pretty as to be boring. There had been some noticeable asymmetry in her face. Maybe she was also cross-eyed, a slight misalignment. Anyway, Mark had assured her on the way home, without her having said a word, that she didn’t have to worry about his new partner, that she posed no danger. She had wondered about the wording and about his assertion, had listened to her body and now is listening again, but she doesn’t feel anything, no jealousy. It’s only the ingratiating “you” that is still hanging in the air. Mark handed her the phone last night after he had been on the terrace for some time. He came in with a hangdog expression. His partner wanted to speak to her. “You. I have to steal your husband. Just for a few days, I promise. A week, tops. We’re in fire-drill mode here.”

She takes her phone off the table, taps a message.

Well, how’s it’s going with the firefighting? Of course, it was on him to get in touch. He must have landed by now. Mark is not good at these things, and, anyway, he should be concentrating on work, so he can come back to them soon. She puts the phone aside and opens her book again. Now she can get involved in the story. She keeps looking at her phone, but there is no answer. At some point, the baby wakes up, whining. She takes it out of the carriage and carries it around on the terrace, shows it the cacti, the beautiful little flowers, a fat bumblebee, and look, down there is the sea. She takes a picture of herself and the baby and sends it to Mark. Your two sweeties.

Mark is bad at these things. They don’t call each other, they were never that kind of couple, but when it gets dark and the terrace cools, she dials his number. The dial tone rings, she clamps the phone under her chin, takes the child in her arms, goes into the house, it rings and rings. She enters the living room and hears a parallel buzzing sound. It’s coming from the sofa. She pushes a pillow to the side, and there is Mark’s phone. Something sags inside her and then rises up. Rage. Rage mixed with another, smaller feeling. She takes a deep breath.

“Your father, oy,” she says to the baby, who looks up at her, and she takes it to the bathroom to change its diaper.

The baby won’t nurse before falling asleep. Again and again it turns its head from her breast until she finally gives up and buttons her blouse. She lies on the bed with the baby in her arms. A cloth mutes the light of the bedside lamp. She takes in the facial features of her child: the nose, the mouth, the chin. Once again, she is amazed how seldom the infant blinks. Her child stares at her and it appears as if its pupils are melting into the irises. She feels the pull from those huge, black eyes. She is about to sink into the baby’s dark gaze. She feels it. It scares her. The baby is listening. It stares at her, listening. What does it hear? A rustle. Close by. On the other side of the bedroom wall. She raises her head, listening. The rustling stops. No movement in the baby’s eyes. No blinking. She recalls the floor plan of the house. The wall borders the part of the garden which leads to the street. Individual tiles serve as stepping stones through the plants. Again, it rustles on the other side of the wall. Leaves in motion. She thinks of the forest on the other side of the street. She looks into the thicket and at the same time, she is looking out of the thicket. She sees herself standing at the garden gate. Her image in a frame made of leaves: a young woman, pale, slender, kissed, waving, left behind. Alone in a strange land. The baby on her arm looks too big. She sees Mark driving away in his station wagon, down the mountain, through the village, she is watching him. Who else has seen him go? Who knows she is alone in the house? She feels her heart beating through her entire body, loud and strong. The baby’s eyes widen. Lullaby and good night, she begins to hum, the words in her head, you are mother’s delight. The melody goes wrong, dies in a squeak. She starts again with more air and is not sure if that was her breath, what was that, it was hers. Somebody was breathing very close. Not her, not the baby, a third person. On the other side of the wall? The baby’s eyes, her pulse. I’ll protect you from harm, and you’ll wake in my arms, the melody drones, she sees the hands only a few inches away, strange hands on the lava stone of the wall of the house. An ear. What if he’s already in the house? Treading softly. What if he’s waiting? Sitting on the sofa when she walks in? Or he’s standing in the middle of the room, slowly, very slowly turning towards her. A rope in his hands. A grin on his face. He’s coming to get her, he—

This is crazy. She has to calm down. The baby hasn’t noticed anything, its eyelids are drooping, they finally close over its eyes, quickly open, and close again. Her humming dies away. The baby is asleep. She listens. Silence. She wants to stand up and is frightened by a noise. But it was the rustling of the sheets, the creaking of the bed. Those are her steps on the tiled floor. Her gaze feels its way through the hallway, slips around the corner, into the living room. Nobody is there. No grin, no rope. Of course, nobody is there. Everything is brightly lit, just as she has left it. The sofa, the pillows, their shoes before the door. The door to the terrace. It’s cracked open. She walks to the door to close it. His arm is like lightning, he pushes the door open, it hits her on the forehead with a slam. She topples, and he’s on top of her, masked, gasping. Tearing the clothing off her body. The image fills her up, her hand trembles on the handle, she closes the door. Looks out into the night. The shadowy outlines of the plants on the terrace, the house lights, and ships down in the bay. The wind soft. She stands at the door and forces herself to look out into the darkness. Nobody is there.

“Do you have any pepper spray?”

The question annoys her. She’s annoyed that her mother noticed immediately that something was wrong. The only thing she did was say “fine” to the question of how she was doing, and right away her mother was alarmed, and all this time she was making an effort to sound normal.

“What’s the matter?”

She should have said “Nothing!” She could have dispelled her mother’s worries or at least brushed them off. It had always worked when she was an adolescent, using monosyllabic answers to nip a conversation in the bud. Except as an adolescent, she wouldn’t have called her mother during a vacation.

“What do you think?”

“You sound funny.”

“How can I sound funny? I’ve only said two words, hello and fine.”

And then she confessed to her mother that it was a little scary, being so alone in the house. And then, of course, she had to explain how she could be alone when the baby was there. Where was Mark? And while she was explaining, they’re in fire-drill mode, she knew what it sounded like to her mother. Reckless. Her mother doesn’t understand what kind of relationship she and Mark have, that she doesn’t see Mark as her provider and protector, that his work is just as important to him as her work is to her, that Mark’s agency is still new and they have to fight for every customer, that they have resolved not to give up their former lives, just because—and in the tiny break she takes to catch her breath, her mother poses a question,

“Do you have any pepper spray?”

“No, Mom,” she groans, “I don’t have any pepper spray. It was probably a cat that I heard. There are so many strays here.”

“Should I come?”

“It’s really not necessary.”

“I can get on the plane tomorrow morning and be with you by noon.”

“No. No!”

The phone at her ear, she walks through the house and puts out the lights. In the dark she is more comfortable. Now her cottage is no longer the only one lit up on the slope, visible to everyone from afar. Only the lamp in the bedroom throws a reddish glow into the hallway. Her mother gives her a lecture on parental responsibilities and priorities. She steps to the bed, looks at her sleeping baby, and smiles, shaking her head at her mother’s words on the phone. The phone call has done its job, although in a different way than she planned. She has calmed down.

“I just wanted to say hello,” she interrupts her mother. “I really need to go to bed.”

“Call me if you need me!”

“I will.”

“And kiss the baby for me.”

“I’ll do that too. Good night, Mom.”

She lies down on the bed with her baby, kisses it on the cheek and falls asleep immediately. In the night she wakes up because she is cold. She feels the baby’s face. She gets up, takes Mark’s wool sweater from the chair, pulls it on. She lifts the baby and crawls under the blanket with it. The child whimpers in its sleep. She nods off, the whimpering ceases, the baby’s hand is close, groping for her breast, for the chain around her neck. A hand is very close. Not small at all, it’s big and cold, it grabs her. She startles violently. There’s a knock, but it’s her heart. She fumbles her breast out of her bra, blouse, sweater, pulls the baby towards her. Its mouth a small animal on her skin, seeking, finding. The baby suckles, and she warms up, reddish light on the inside of her eyelids. She sinks into darkness.

She wakes up several times in the night. Each time, a cold hand is reaching for her, the baby is whimpering, her ear to the wall. On her chest. Her racing heart. I’ll protect you from harm. Again, she sees herself standing in a border of leaves. She turns around and runs into the dripping forest. It’s cracking, there are footsteps. Someone is behind her. She senses the pursuer and doesn’t dare turn around. She runs faster and faster. She hears herself gasping. And suddenly she’s not running in the woods anymore. She’s running from room to room, where is the baby? She rummages between the pillows and finds it. It lies there, humming to itself. Naked. With those surreal dark eyes, it looks at her. Kicking its legs in slow motion. She stares down at the inside of its thighs, at its privates. Wrinkly skin, fleshy leaves. Horror fills her, something isn’t right. Something is wrong, something hurts. What should she do? She remembers the household remedy, the advice of her mother. A tube of cream in the house covers all eventualities. The ointment is sticky. She has to rub vigorously to spread it on the baby’s skin. She rubs and rubs, applying more and more ointment until the tube is empty and the baby’s privates look like a white, furry piece of fruit.

“Is that better?” she asks, and the baby, who has been watching her the whole time, nods.

She wakes up feeling like she has done something right. She doesn’t know what it was, but there is a warm, heavy contentment in her body. Sunlight trickles through the windows onto the quilt. A bird chirps from afar. Reclining, she closes her eyes again, turns over onto her side. Blinks and looks at the sleeping baby. She panics. She has a child. Ever since her child was born, it has woken her up every morning. Suddenly, she realizes what is different, what the calm feeling means. She has had enough sleep. Why is the baby still sleeping? What happened? She reaches for her phone on the nightstand. It’s nine o’clock. She turns back to her baby, decides to wake it up, but it has already opened its eyes. It grins at her toothlessly. Like it has tricked her.

“Buzzy bee!” She tickles the baby, the baby gurgles, and with this gurgle the day begins.

Her child strapped to her chest, she walks down to the village. Along fences, wild hedges. Every now and then, a narrow glimpse of houses. Barricaded. Blinds pulled down; shutters locked. Plastic tarps over garden furniture. Puddles on the plastic tarps, water standing everywhere, in flower pots, toy buckets. She imagines the houses from the inside, the contours of the furniture in the dark. The damp air and spiders in the corners. There is a growl nearby, and in the cracks between the fence slats, an eye appears, a snout. The dog accompanies her to the end of its fence. It barks, then remains behind. The baby has fallen asleep in its carrier. She feels its heavy breath against her chest. Her knees are pounding as she walks down the mountain.

The village store is closed. So is the fishmonger. As she stands at the locked door of the produce market, it dawns on her that it is Sunday. She walks to the harbor, where the same two sailboats are moored as before. The shutters are also lowered in this neighborhood. The sidewalks are rolled up, her mother would say. She thinks for a minute and sees that a shop is open. There are tables in front of the café at the other end of the promenade.

The bell above the door rings as she enters. Four men with wool caps are at a plastic table in the corner, drinking beer and playing cards. Two more are sitting at the bar. One is standing behind it. Everyone looks at her. She tries to greet them, but the feel of the foreign word gets confused in her mouth. Her smile is not returned.

She stands in the door of the café and wonders if they have ever seen a woman in this joint before.

When she tells Mark about it, she will exaggerate the story, making the men sound more sinister, her stammered greeting more earnest. She will describe the situation to Mark as if it had been funny. How she sat there with a latte and the baby starting to scream. The gruff men look up from their card game in slow motion. The baby won’t be calmed, and she decides to breastfeed, in public, in a country where she is unfamiliar with the relevant cultural customs. She tries to be discreet, guiding the baby’s face to her breast under her sweater, but the baby doesn’t want to nurse with a sweater covering its face. The baby pushes the sweater higher and higher.

“And there I sit with a naked breast!” She and Mark will laugh, and nothing will be left of the shame that had shot through her body.

A country where I am unfamiliar with the relevant cultural customs, she says the words to herself as she walks back to the house, up the mountain. She is now walking on the other side of the road, where the ditch is strewn with a trail of garbage. Tires, shards of tile, yogurt containers, milk cartons. The baby has gone back to sleep. She is sweating while she smiles at the thought of how she will mimic herself, “and that’s how I was.” She’ll open her eyes, the whites comical in the black night, as she lies in bed. She’ll make fun of her dreams and Mark will grin. Her nightly fantasies are an inexhaustible source of conversation topics.

She looks into the thicket and at the same time, she is looking out of the thicket. She sees herself standing at the garden gate. Her image in a frame made of leaves: a young woman, pale, slender, kissed, waving, left behind. Alone in a strange land.

“You and your dreams of crime scenes,” he says. They’re always about mutilated women, and the perpetrator is never found. They laugh about them together in the morning, laugh until the little cold pit of horror in her stomach has dissolved. What series was that where they cut a woman’s baby out of her belly, or was it a news report? Had she already told Mark about that one? That she keeps thinking about it? The knife in front of her. How big was that knife? She imagines how they must have done the cut. Was it a quick curve or right through the middle? What about the guts, what about all the guts when you cut open the belly? And what did they do to the woman, did they just dump her afterwards? She has to tell Mark about this latest obsession. She thinks about it all the time, because they also cut the baby out of her belly. You could say that was what they did.

“And I also don’t know why I’m always thinking about this news story. It was about war crimes. I can’t remember much, just the pictures of women’s bodies. Corpses covered with plastic tarps.”

Mark will tilt his head like he always does when she talks and talks and doesn’t have a point. If she doesn’t get to the point. What are you trying to say? And she’ll shrug her shoulders.

“I don’t know, I just keep thinking about it.”

“Even on vacation?”

“Even on vacation.”

“But it’s so nice here.”

Mark will hold her in his arms. He will have had a beer after the long drive from the airport to the house. He will smell like alcohol. Prey. Those women were prey. The word an echo in her head, her body, her forest. This is not her forest. This is her husband. She stands there, her head on his chest. She hasn’t even started to say what she’s thinking about. What she’s not thinking about. Because she doesn’t know. Her grandmother’s forest. A scream amongst the trees. Echo. Prey. Mark will kiss the top of her head.

“But now you’re just dumping everything into the same pot,” he will say, and she will laugh to herself, because everything is fine. He is back.

“You’re right,” she’ll say, and she’ll free herself from the embrace, putting her hands on her hips. “Sweetie!” imitating her mother. “Sweetie, have you packed the pepper spray?”

A shoe among soggy kitchen scraps. Brown, suede, a wedge-shaped heel. While she imagines what she is going to tell Mark and how, her gaze drifts along the garbage trail in the ditch. It stops at the shoe. When she glances up, she looks into the man’s eyes. They are small and deep. He meets her in the middle of the street. He’s almost past her. Now she smells him, too. His sweat is pungent. His hair falls into his face, and he pushes it off his forehead. His hands are dirty. He nods, and then they have passed each other. His grin hangs in the air. That grin. the grin and the rope. Her hand rests on the baby’s head at her breast. She feels the soft spot, the throbbing under the skin. She turns around and sees that the man is tall. She goes on, hears his footsteps, thinks he’s turning around. Following her. As she walks, she looks back at him again and again. He descends, legs wide, teetering down the mountain, the figure in the stained parka getting smaller and smaller.

The next time she turns around, he has disappeared between the trees, and the baby wakes up. It pushes itself up in the carrier against her stomach, opens its mouth to scream.

The baby cries the whole afternoon. Screams go through its little body in waves. When she thinks they are finally subsiding, the baby tenses up again.

She massages her child’s belly. She places it on her breast, but it won’t nurse. It takes a swing at her. Its head is bright red and a vein is protruding from its temple. The baby is not hungry, the diaper is fresh and dry, it is not too warm, not too cold. Like the midwife taught her, she goes through possible causes. The baby isn’t hurt, the baby has everything it needs. Sometimes babies just scream. She sticks the pacifier in the child’s mouth, which makes it worse. The baby spits the pacifier out and screams even louder, struggling furiously. She finally wraps the baby in a blanket to restrain it, and she carries the twitching, crying bundle around the terrace. The baby is not interested in cacti or in little flowers. Its screaming becomes hoarser and shriller. It bores into her skull like claws. The midwife didn’t consider one possibility. What if the baby is afraid? What if it suspects something is wrong? If it senses danger? A humming on her skin, cold sweat. Her nerves are electric. The shoe in the ditch. Whose shoe is it? Why is it there and where is the other one? Where is the woman who was wearing it? She walks back and forth on the terrace. Eventually, the tension in the baby’s body diminishes, the cries dry up. The baby falls asleep in her arms.

She sits with her child in her arms on the terrace until the birds fall silent and the sun sinks behind the mountains. It’s quiet. Only her stomach is growling. She sits there and she sees herself sitting. She leaves the lights off, but it won’t help. They saw into each other’s eyes. He knows where to find her. There is no escape.

She carries the baby into the house and lies down next to it on the bed. She holds the hand of her sleeping baby and waits. Her eyes comically white in the darkness. Her heart beating in her ears. Outside, a crackle. There he is, she thinks. Then a cat meows. A gurgling by the wall, a gust of wind in the tree, her body sends a few more false alarms. Later, she nods off.

The squeaking of the garden gate rips her from sleep. That’s him, without a doubt. She can hear every footstep from the gate to the house and then towards her. He walks around the house with a wide gait, swaying. He opens the terrace door. She listens to his footsteps coming toward the bedroom, and with every step, her chest gets a little tighter, strangling her airway. He’ll be there in no time at all. He’s coming to get her. He’s coming. The door opens and his shadow enters the room. It’s big. He’s stepping towards the bed. Here comes his hand. His dirty hand is on her leg. It glides over her ankle and up her calf. And she, what is left of her, screams. She screams as loud as she can.

Mark’s voice doesn’t get through to her until he turns on the light.

“Sweetheart,” says Mark, and he puts his hands on her face. “Sweetheart, it’s ok. I’m back.”

Dickicht

Aus dem Augenwinkel eine Bewegung. Sie wendet den Kopf, aber da ist nur der Wald. Fleischige Blätter ragen ihr entgegen, dahinter Farne, ein Baumstamm.

Mark tritt vor sie, der Wald verschwindet hinter seiner Brust. Sie starrt den groben Stoff seines Hemdes an, die Stickerei auf der Brusttasche. Seine Hände landen auf ihren Wangen, und sie sieht zu ihm auf.

»Meine zwei Süßen«, er küsst sie. Ihre Münder liegen aufeinander, warm und regungslos, bis das Baby auf ihrem Arm strampelt. Marks Augen so nah und grün, blicken erst in ihr rechtes, dann in ihr linkes Auge.

»Nun fahr schon«, sagt sie, »na los!« Seine Hände gleiten von ihren Wangen, das Baby kräht, er küsst es auf die Stirn und steigt in den Wagen. Er stupst zwei Mal die Hupe an, landesüblich, dann fährt er los. Sie umfasst die Hand des Babys, winkt damit, bis das Auto am Ende der Straße abbiegt.

»Weg ist er«, sagt sie zu ihrem Kind, und wieder kräht es, als habe es verstanden.

Als sie das Gartentor hinter sich schließt, wandert ihr Blick noch einmal ins Dickicht. In der Nacht hat es geregnet. Sicher war es nur ein Tropfen, der das Laub in Schwingungen versetzt hat.

Ein Buch im Schoß, sitzt sie später im Liegestuhl auf der Terrasse. Das Baby schläft im Kinderwagen, sie versucht zu lesen und kommt nicht über den ersten Satz hinaus. Fängt immer wieder von vorne an, reiht die Buchstaben aneinander, doch der Sinn will sich ihr nicht erschließen. Sie starrt die Seite an, und erst als im Dorf unten die Kirchenglocken läuten, merkt sie, dass in ihrem Kopf Stille geherrscht hat. Sie legt das Buch beiseite, tritt an die Brüstung der Terrasse, blickt hinab in die Bucht, die Häuser winzig am Saum des Meeres. Sie lässt ihren Blick über die bleierne Fläche gleiten, bis zum Horizont, versucht die Grenze zwischen Wasser und Himmel auszumachen. Für heute war Sonne angekündigt, aber daraus scheint nichts zu werden. Die Luft fühlt sich dick an in ihren Atemwegen. Sie atmet tief ein, atmet aus.

Sie hat Marks Partnerin mal auf einer Party kennengelernt, das war vor der Schwangerschaft. Sie erinnert sich nur noch vage, wie die Partnerin ausgesehen hat. Hübsch selbstverständlich, aber nicht so hübsch, dass es langweilig gewesen wäre, da war irgendeine auffällige Asymmetrie in ihrem Gesicht gewesen. Vielleicht hatte sie auch geschielt, ein leichter Silberblick. Jedenfalls hatte Mark ihr, ohne dass sie ein Wort über seine neue Partnerin verloren hätte, auf dem Nachhauseweg versichert, dass sie sich keine Sorgen machen müsse, von der drohe keine Gefahr. Sie hatte sich über die Formulierung gewundert und über seine Beteuerung, hatte in sich hineingehorcht, tut es auch jetzt wieder, aber sie spürt nichts, keine Eifersucht, nur dieses anbiedernde »Du« hängt ihr noch nach. Mark hat ihr gestern Abend das Telefon gereicht, nachdem er eine Weile auf der Terrasse telefoniert hatte, ist er reingekommen, Dackelblick, seine Partnerin wolle sie sprechen. »Du. Ich muss dir deinen Mann klauen. Ist auch nur für ein paar Tage, versprochen. Höchstens eine Woche. Hier brennt die Hütte.«

Sie nimmt ihr Telefon vom Tisch, schreibt eine Nachricht:

Na, was machen die Löscharbeiten? Dabei wäre es natürlich an ihm, sich zu melden, inzwischen müsste er längst gelandet sein. Mark ist nicht gut in diesen Dingen, und er soll sich ja auch auf die Arbeit konzentrieren, damit er bald wieder zu ihnen zurückkommen kann. Sie legt das Telefon beiseite, schlägt erneut ihr Buch auf, jetzt kann sie sich besser auf die Geschichte einlassen. Zwischendurch blickt sie immer wieder auf ihr Telefon, doch es kommt keine Antwort. Irgendwann wacht das Baby auf, quengelt, sie nimmt es aus dem Wagen und trägt es auf der Terrasse umher, zeigt ihm die Kakteen, die schönen Blümchen, eine dicke Hummel, und guck mal, da unten, das Meer. Sie macht ein Foto von sich und dem Baby und schickt es Mark. Deine zwei Süßen.

Mark ist schlecht in diesen Dingen, und sie sind kein Paar, das telefoniert, waren sie noch nie, aber als es dunkel wird und kühl auf der Terrasse, wählt sie doch seine Nummer. Das Freizeichen ertönt, sie klemmt sich das Telefon unters Kinn, nimmt das Kind auf den Arm, geht ins Haus, es tutet und tutet, sie betritt das Wohnzimmer und vernimmt parallel zum Tuten ein Brummen, es kommt vom Sofa. Sie schiebt ein Kissen beiseite, und dort liegt Marks Telefon. In ihr sackt etwas weg, etwas steigt in ihr auf: Wut. Wut, gemischt mit einem anderen, kleineren Gefühl. Sie atmet tief durch.

»Dein Vater, ey«, sagt sie zum Baby, das sie von unten anguckt, und trägt es ins Bad, um es zu wickeln.

Vor dem Einschlafen will das Baby nicht trinken. Immer wieder dreht es den Kopf von ihrer Brust weg, bis sie schließlich aufgibt und die Bluse zuknöpft. Sie liegt mit dem Baby im Arm auf dem Bett, ein Tuch dämpft das Licht der Nachttischlampe. Sie fährt die Gesichtszüge ihres Kindes nach, die Nase, den Mund, das Kinn. Wieder einmal ist sie erstaunt, wie selten der Säugling blinzeln muss. Ihr Kind starrt sie an, und es scheint, als verschmelze seine Pupille mit der Iris, sie spürt einen Sog, hinab in diese riesigen schwarzen Augen. Sie ist dabei, im dunklen Blick des Babys zu versinken, da versteht sie. Und erschrickt. Das Baby lauscht, es starrt sie lauschend an. Was hört es? Ein Rascheln. Ganz nah. Auf der anderen Seite der Schlafzimmerwand. Sie hebt den Kopf, horcht, das Rascheln verstummt. Keine Regung in den Augen des Babys, kein Blinzeln. Sie ruft sich den Grundriss des Hauses ins Gedächtnis, die Wand grenzt an das Stück Garten, das zur Straße führt, einzelne Fliesen dienen als Trittsteine durch die Bepflanzung. Wieder raschelt es auf der anderen Seite der Wand. Laub in Bewegung, ihr fällt der Wald jenseits der Straße ein, sie blickt ins Dickicht und im selben Moment aus dem Dickicht heraus, sieht sich am Gartentor stehen. Ihr Bild in einem Rahmen aus Blättern: eine junge Frau, schmal, blass, geküsst, winkend, zurückgelassen. Allein in der Fremde. Das Baby auf ihrem Arm wirkt zu groß. Sie sieht Mark in seinem Kombi davonfahren, den Berg hinunter, durchs Dorf, sie sieht ihn, wer hat ihn noch gesehen? Wer weiß, dass sie alleine im Haus ist? Sie spürt ihr Herz schlagen, am ganzen Körper, hart und laut. Die Augen des Babys weiten sich, Guten Abend, gute Nacht beginnt sie zu summen, in ihrem Kopf die Worte, mit Rosen bedacht, mit Näglein besteckt. Die Melodie gerät schief, verendet mit einem Piepsen, sie setzt erneut an, mit mehr Luft, und ist sich nicht sicher, war das ihre Luft, was war das, das war doch. Da hat doch jemand geatmet, ganz nah, nicht sie, nicht das Baby, ein Dritter. Auf der anderen Seite der Wand? Die Augen des Babys, ihr Puls. Morgen früh, wenn Gott will, wirst du wieder, die Melodie leiert, sie sieht die Hände, nur wenige Zentimeter entfernt, fremde Hände am Lavagestein der Hauswand, ein Ohr. Und was, wenn er längst im Haus ist? Auf leisen Sohlen. Was, wenn er wartet? Auf dem Sofa sitzt, wenn sie hinübergeht? Oder er steht mitten im Raum, dreht sich langsam, ganz langsam zu ihr um. In den Händen ein Strick. Im Gesicht ein Grinsen, jetzt kommt er sie holen, er –

Quatsch. Sie muss sich beruhigen. Das Baby hat nichts bemerkt, seine Lider klappen auch schon, senken sich zum ersten Mal über die Augen, schnellen wieder in die Höhe, senken sich wieder. Sie lässt das Summen ausklingen. Das Baby ist eingeschlafen. Sie lauscht, Stille. Sie will aufstehen und erschrickt vor dem Geräusch, doch das war das Rascheln der Laken, das Knarren des Betts, das sind ihre Schritte auf den Fliesen. Ihr Blick tastet sich durch den Flur, tastet sich um die Ecke, in den Wohnraum. Da ist niemand. Kein Grinsen, kein Strick. Natürlich ist da niemand. Hell erleuchtet, alles, wie sie es zurückgelassen hat. Das Sofa, die Kissen, ihre Schuhe vor der Tür. Die Tür zur Terrasse. Steht einen Spaltbreit offen. Sie tritt an die Tür, will sie schließen. Wie ein Blitz sein Arm, er stößt die Tür auf, ihr mit voller Wucht gegen die Stirn. Sie stürzt, schon ist er über ihr, vermummt, keuchend. Reißt ihr die Kleider vom Leib. Das Bild fährt in sie, ihre Hand auf der Klinke zittert, sie schließt die Tür. Blickt hinaus in die Nacht. Die dunklen Umrisse der Pflanzen auf der Terrasse, die Lichter der Häuser und Schiffe unten in der Bucht. Leise der Wind. Sie steht an der Tür und zwingt sich, hinauszusehen in die Dunkelheit. Da ist niemand. »Hast du Pfefferspray dabei?«

Die Frage ärgert sie. Es ärgert sie, dass ihre Mutter gleich gemerkt hat, dass etwas nicht stimmt. Sie musste nur »Gut« auf die Frage antworten, wie es ihr geht, schon war die Mutter alarmiert, dabei hat sie sich Mühe gegeben, völlig normal zu klingen.

»Was ist los?«

Sie hätte »Nichts!« sagen sollen, sicher hätte sie die Sorgen der Mutter zerstreuen oder sie wenigstens abwimmeln können, das hat in der Pubertät doch auch immer geklappt, ein Gespräch mit einsilbigen Antworten im Keim ersticken. Nur dass sie in der Pubertät ihre Mutter auch nicht aus dem Urlaub angerufen hätte.

»Was soll sein?«

»Du klingst komisch.«

»Wie kann ich komisch klingen, ich habe genau zwei Worte gesagt, Hallo und Gut.«

Und dann hat sie der Mutter eben doch gestanden, dass ihr etwas unheimlich ist, so alleine im Haus. Woraufhin sie ihr natürlich erklären musste, warum sie mit dem Baby alleine ist. Wo Mark steckt. Und während sie es erklärt hat, die Hütte brennt, wusste sie, wie das in den Ohren ihrer Mutter klingt, unverantwortlich nämlich. Ihre Mutter versteht nicht, was für eine Beziehung sie und Mark führen, dass sie Mark nicht als ihren Versorger und Beschützer ansieht, dass seine Arbeit ihm genauso wichtig ist wie ihr ihre, dass Marks Agentur eben noch jung ist und um jeden Kunden kämpfen muss, dass sie sich vorgenommen haben, nicht ihr bisheriges Leben aufzugeben, nur weil – und in die winzige Pause, die sie macht, um Luft zu holen, platziert die Mutter ihre Frage:

»Hast du Pfefferspray dabei?«

»Nein, Mama«, sie stöhnt, »ich habe kein Pfefferspray dabei. Wahrscheinlich war das eine Katze, die ich da gehört habe. Hier gibt es so viele streunende -«

»Soll ich kommen?«

»Das ist wirklich nicht nötig.«

»Ich kann mich morgen früh in den Flieger setzen, dann bin ich mittags bei euch.«

»Nein. Nein!«

Das Telefon am Ohr, geht sie durchs Haus und löscht die Lichter. Im Dunkeln ist ihr wohler, jetzt hängt ihr Häuschen nicht mehr als einziges leuchtend am Hang, weithin sichtbar für alle. Nur die Lampe im Schlafzimmer wirft noch einen rötlichen Schein in den Flur. Ihre Mutter hält ihr einen Vortrag über elterliche Pflichten, über Prioritäten. Sie tritt ans Bett, betrachtet ihr schlafendes Baby, lächelt, schüttelt lächelnd den Kopf zu den Worten der Mutter in der Leitung. Das Telefonat hat seine Wirkung getan, wenn auch auf andere Art als geplant. Sie hat sich beruhigt.

»Ich wollte auch nur kurz hallo sagen«, unterbricht sie ihre Mutter. »Ich muss dringend ins Bett.«

»Ruf an, wenn was ist!«

»Mach ich.«

»Und küss mir das Baby.«

»Das auch. Gute Nacht, Mama.«

Sie legt sich zu ihrem Baby aufs Bett, küsst es auf die Wange und schläft sofort ein. In der Nacht wird sie wach, weil ihr kalt ist. Sie befühlt das Gesicht des Babys. Steht auf, nimmt Marks Wollpullover vom Stuhl, zieht ihn an. Sie hebt das Baby hoch, kriecht mit ihm unter die Decke. Das Kind wimmert im Schlaf. Sie nickt ein, das Wimmern entfernt sich, ganz nah die Hand des Babys, tastet nach ihrer Brust, nach der Kette um ihren Hals. Ganz nah eine Hand, gar nicht klein, groß und kalt, packt sie. Sie schreckt hoch. Es klopft, doch das ist ihr Herz. Sie fummelt ihre Brust aus BH, Bluse, Pullover, zieht das Baby zu sich heran. Sein Mund ein kleines Tier auf ihrer Haut, sucht, findet. Das Baby saugt, und ihr wird wärmer, das rötliche Licht auf der Innenseite ihrer Lider, dann sinkt sie ins Dunkel hinab.

Einige Male schreckt sie in dieser Nacht noch auf, immer ist da eine kalte Hand, die nach ihr greift, da ist das Wimmern des Babys, ein Ohr an der Wand. An ihrem Brustkorb. Ihrem rasenden Herzen. Wenn Gott will. Sie sieht sich wieder in einem Rahmen aus Blättern stehen, sie dreht sich um und läuft in den Wald hinein, um sie herum tropft es und knackt, das sind Schritte, jemand ist hinter ihr her, sie spürt den Verfolger und wagt nicht, sich umzudrehen, sie läuft immer schneller und schneller. Sie hört sich keuchen. Und mit einem Mal rennt sie nicht mehr im Wald, sie rennt von Zimmer zu Zimmer, wo ist das Baby? Sie wühlt zwischen Kissen und findet es. Dort liegt es und brummt. Nackt. Mit diesen unwirklich dunklen Augen blickt es sie an. Klappt wie in Zeitlupe die Beine auseinander. Sie starrt auf die Innenseiten seiner Schenkel hinab, auf sein Geschlecht. Hautfalten, fleischige Blätter. Entsetzen macht sich in ihr breit, etwas stimmt nicht. Etwas ist falsch, etwas schmerzt. Was soll sie tun? Ihr fällt das Hausmittel ein, der Rat ihrer Mutter, eine Tube Creme immer für alle Fälle im Haus. Die Salbe ist zäh, sie muss kräftig reiben, um sie auf der Haut des Babys zu verteilen, sie reibt und reibt, immer mehr Salbe trägt sie auf, bis die Tube leer ist und das Geschlecht des Babys aussieht wie eine weiße, pelzige Frucht.

»Besser so?«, fragt sie, und das Baby, das sie die ganze Zeit über beobachtet hat, nickt.

Sie wacht mit dem Gefühl auf, etwas richtig gemacht zu haben. Sie weiß nicht, was, aber da ist eine schwere, warme Zufriedenheit in ihrem Körper. Sonnenlicht rieselt durch die Fensterläden auf die Bettdecke. Entfernt zwitschert ein Vogel. Sie schließt die Augen wieder, rekelt sich, dreht sich auf die Seite. Blinzelt und erblickt das schlafende Baby. Erschrickt. Sie hat ein Kind. Seit das Kind auf der Welt ist, hat es sie jeden Morgen geweckt. Schlagartig wird ihr klar, was anders ist, was das ruhige Gefühl zu bedeuten hat: Sie ist ausgeschlafen. Warum schläft das Baby noch, was ist geschehen? Sie greift nach ihrem Telefon auf dem Nachttisch, es ist neun Uhr. Sie dreht sich wieder zu ihrem Baby um, will es wecken, doch es hat die Augen schon aufgeschlagen und grinst sie zahnlos an. Als habe es sie ausgetrickst.

»Mistbiene!«, sie kitzelt das Baby, das Baby gluckst, und mit diesem Glucksen beginnt der Tag.

Ihr Kind vor den Bauch geschnallt, läuft sie ins Dorf hinunter. An Zäunen entlang, wilden Hecken. Hin und wieder, spaltbreit, ein Blick auf die Häuser dahinter. Verrammelt. Rollläden heruntergelassen, Fensterläden verriegelt. Plastikplanen über Gartenmobiliar. Auf den Plastikplanen Pfützen, überall steht das Wasser, in Blumenkübeln, Spielzeugeimern. Sie stellt sich die Häuser von innen vor, die Umrisse der Möbel in der Dunkelheit, kaltfeuchte Luft, die Spinnen in den Zimmerecken. Da knurrt es neben ihr, und in den Ritzen zwischen den Zaunlatten taucht ein Auge auf, eine Schnauze. Der Hund begleitet sie bis zum Ende seines Zauns, bellt, bleibt zurück. Das Baby ist in seiner Trage eingeschlafen, sie spürt seinen schweren Atem gegen ihren Bauch. Die Schritte den Berg hinab stoßen ihr in die Knie.

Der Dorfladen hat geschlossen. Ebenso der Fischhändler. Als sie auch bei dem Gemüsehändler vor verschlossener Tür steht, dämmert ihr, dass Sonntag ist. Sie läuft zum Hafen, dort liegen dieselben zwei Segelboote wie neulich vertäut, und auch hier sind die Rollläden heruntergelassen. Die Bürgersteige hochgeklappt, würde ihre Mutter sagen. Denkt sie und sieht, dass ein Laden offen hat, vor dem Café am anderen Ende der Promenade stehen Tische.

Das Glöckchen über der Tür klingelt, als sie eintritt. An einem Plastiktisch in der Ecke vier Männer mit Wollmützen, sie trinken Bier und spielen Karten. Zwei weitere sitzen am Tresen, einer steht dahinter. Alle sehen sie an. Sie versucht einen Gruß, doch die Laute des fremden Wortes geraten durcheinander in ihrem Mund. Ihr Lächeln wird nicht erwidert.

Sie steht in der Tür des Cafés und fragt sich, ob sie überhaupt schon Frauen gesehen hat in diesem Kaff.

Sie wird die Männer finsterer wirken lassen, wenn sie Mark davon erzählt, sich selbst und ihren gestammelten Gruß beflissener. Die Situation, wie sie beim Milchkaffee saß und das Baby zu brüllen anfing, wird sie Mark so schildern, dass sie komisch ist: In Zeitlupe blicken die bärbeißigen Männer von ihrem Kartenspiel auf. Das Baby lässt sich nicht beruhigen, und sie beschließt zu stillen, in aller Öffentlichkeit, in einem Land, mit dessen kulturellen Gepflogenheiten diesbezüglich sie nicht vertraut ist. Sie versucht, diskret zu sein, führt das Gesicht des Babys unter ihren Pullover an die Brust, nur dass das Baby nicht mit Pullover über dem Gesicht trinken will, das Baby schiebt den Pullover immer weiter hoch.

»Und ich sitze da mit nackter Brust!« Sie und Mark werden lachen, und nichts wird mehr zu spüren sein von der Scham, die durch ihren Körper geschossen ist.

»Ein Land, mit dessen kulturellen Gepflogenheiten diesbezüglich ich nicht vertraut bin«, sie sagt sich die Worte vor, als sie zum Haus zurückläuft, den Berg hinauf. Sie geht nun auf der anderen Seite der Straße, an dem Graben entlang, durch den eine Spur Müll führt. Autoreifen, Scherben von Fliesen, Joghurtbecher, Milchtüten. Das Baby ist wieder eingeschlafen. Sie schwitzt, lächelt beim Gedanken daran, wie sie sich selbst nachäffen wird, »und ich so«. Die Augen wird sie aufreißen, weiße Comicaugen im Schwarz der Nacht, so lag sie im Bett. Sie wird sich über ihren Traum lustig machen und Mark wird grinsen, ihre nächtlichen Phantasien sind ein unerschöpflicher Quell an Gesprächsstoff. »Du und deine Tatort-Träume«, sagt er. Immer geht es um verstümmelte Frauen, und nie wird der Täter gefunden. Darüber lachen sie gemeinsam am Morgen, lachen, bis der kleine kalte Horror in ihrem Magen sich aufgelöst hat. In welcher Serie war das noch, da haben sie einer Frau das Baby aus dem Bauch geschnitten, oder war das eine Reportage? Hat sie das Mark schon erzählt? Dass sie ständig daran denken muss? Das Messer vor sich sieht. Wie groß muss dieses Messer gewesen sein? Sie stellt sich vor, wie sie geschnitten haben, einmal außenrum oder mittendurch? Was ist mit den Eingeweiden, mit den ganzen Eingeweiden, wenn man den Bauch aufschneidet? Und was haben die mit der Frau gemacht, haben sie die einfach entsorgt, danach? Sie muss Mark erzählen, dass das ihre neueste Obsession ist, ständig muss sie daran denken, denn ihr selbst haben sie ja auch, wenn man so will, das Baby aus dem Bauch geschnitten.

»Und ich weiß auch nicht, warum ich immer an diese Reportage denken muss, es ging um Kriegsverbrechen, an viel kann ich mich nicht mehr erinnern, nur an die Bilder von den Frauenkörpern, die Leichen, mit Plastikplanen bedeckt.«

Mark wird den Kopf schief legen, wie er es immer tut, wenn sie redet und redet und keinen Punkt findet. Wenn sie keinen Punkt macht. Was willst du sagen? Und sie wird mit den Schultern zucken.

»Ich weiß nicht, ich denk eben ständig dran.«

»Auch im Urlaub?«

»Auch im Urlaub.«

»Dabei ist’s hier so schön.«

Mark wird sie in seine Arme schließen, er wird ein Bier getrunken haben nach der langen Autofahrt vom Flughafen zum Haus, er wird nach Alkohol riechen. Beute. Diese Frauen waren die Beute. Das Wort ein Echo in ihrem Kopf, Körper, in ihrem Wald. Das ist nicht ihr Wald. Das ist ihr Mann. Sie steht da, das Gesicht an seiner Brust, sie hat noch gar nicht angefangen zu erzählen, woran sie denkt. Woran sie nicht denkt. Weil sie es nicht weiß. Der Wald ihrer Großmutter. Ein Schrei zwischen den Bäumen. Echo. Beute. Mark wird ihren Scheitel küssen.

»Da schmeißt du jetzt aber ganz schön viel in einen Topf«, wird er sagen, und sie wird in sich hineinlachen, denn es ist ja alles in Ordnung, er ist wieder da.

»Stimmt«, wird sie sagen und sich aus der Umarmung befreien, sie wird die Fäuste in die Hüfte stemmen, »Maus!«, ihre Mutter nachahmen: »Maus, hast du das Pfefferspray eingepackt?«

Zwischen ausgewaschenen Küchenabfällen ein Schuh. Braun, Wildleder, mit keilförmigem Absatz. Während sie sich ausgemalt hat, was sie Mark wie erzählen wird, ist ihr Blick an der Müllspur im Graben entlanggeglitten, an dem Schuh bleibt er hängen. Als sie aufsieht, blickt sie in die Augen des Mannes. Klein sind sie, und tief. Er kommt ihr in der Mitte der Straße entgegen. Ist schon fast bei ihr, nun riecht sie ihn auch, stechend sein Schweiß. Die Haare fallen ihm ins Gesicht, er streicht sie aus der Stirn. Seine Hände sind schmutzig, er nickt, dann sind sie auch schon aneinander vorbeigegangen. Sein Grinsen hängt in der Luft, dieses Grinsen. Das Grinsen zum Strick. Ihre Hand landet auf dem Kopf des Babys vor ihrer Brust, sie spürt die Fontanelle, das Pochen unter der Haut. Sie dreht sich um, sieht, dass der Mann groß ist. Sie geht weiter, hört seine Schritte, denkt, er macht kehrt. Kommt ihr nach. Im Gehen dreht sie sich immer wieder nach ihm um, er steigt breitbeinig, wippend den Berg hinab, die Gestalt im fleckigen Parka wird immer kleiner.

Als sie sich das nächste Mal umdreht, ist er zwischen den Bäumen verschwunden, und das Baby erwacht, es stemmt sich in der Trage gegen ihren Bauch, reißt den Mund auf zum Schrei.

Den ganzen Nachmittag lang weint das Baby. Die Schreie gehen in Wellen durch seinen kleinen Körper, immer wenn sie denkt, nun verebben sie, verkrampft sich das Baby aufs Neue.

Sie massiert ihrem Kind den Bauch. Sie legt es an die Brust, doch es will nicht trinken, schlägt nach ihr. Sein Kopf ist knallrot, an seiner Schläfe tritt eine Ader hervor. Das Baby hat keinen Hunger, die Windel ist trocken und frisch, ihm ist nicht zu warm, nicht zu kalt. Wie es ihr die Hebamme beigebracht hat, geht sie verschiedene Ursachen durch. Das Baby hat sich nicht verletzt, das Baby hat alles, was es braucht, manchmal schreien Babys einfach. Sie steckt dem Kind den Schnuller in den Mund, das macht es schlimmer, das Baby spuckt den Schnuller aus und schreit noch lauter, strampelt wie wild. Um es zu bändigen, wickelt sie es schließlich in eine Decke, trägt das zuckende, weinende Bündel auf der Terrasse umher. Das Baby interessiert sich nicht für Kakteen, nicht für die Blümchen. Sein Schreien wird immer heiserer, schrill und kratzend bohrt es sich in ihren Schädel. Eine Möglichkeit hat die Hebamme nicht in Betracht gezogen: Was, wenn das Baby Angst hat? Wenn es ahnt, dass etwas nicht stimmt, Gefahr spürt? Ein Sirren auf ihrer Haut, kalter Schweiß. Ihre Nerven sind wie elektrisiert. Der Schuh im Graben. Wem gehört der Schuh? Warum liegt er da und wo ist der zweite? Wo die Frau, die ihn getragen hat? Sie geht auf der Terrasse auf und ab, irgendwann lässt die Spannung im Körper des Babys nach, die Schreie versiegen. Das Baby schläft auf ihrem Arm ein.

Sie sitzt mit ihrem Kind im Arm auf der Terrasse, bis die Vögel verstummen und die Sonne hinter den Bergen versinkt. Es ist still, nur ihr Magen knurrt. Sie sitzt dort und sieht sich dort sitzen. Sie macht kein Licht an, doch auch das wird nicht helfen, sie haben sich in die Augen gesehen. Er weiß, wo er sie findet. Es gibt kein Entkommen.

Sie trägt das Kind ins Haus, legt sich neben das Baby aufs Bett. Sie hält die Hand ihres schlafenden Babys und wartet. Ihre Augen comicweiß in der Dunkelheit. Ihr Herzschlag in ihren Ohren. Draußen ein Knacken. Da ist er, denkt sie, dann maunzt eine Katze. Ein Gluckern in der Wand, ein Windstoß im Baum, ihr Körper schlägt noch ein paarmal falschen Alarm. Irgendwann nickt sie ein.

Das Quietschen des Gartentors reißt sie aus dem Schlaf. Das ist er, eindeutig. Jeden Schritt kann sie hören, den Weg vom Tor zum Haus, zu ihr. Breitbeinig, wippend geht er ums Haus, er öffnet die Terrassentür. Sie hört seine Schritte aufs Schlafzimmer zu, und mit jedem Schritt zieht sich in ihrer Brust etwas enger zusammen, schnürt ihr die Luft ab. Gleich ist er da, er kommt sie holen, er kommt. Die Tür öffnet sich, sein Schatten im Raum, groß tritt er ans Bett, da ist auch seine Hand, seine schmutzige Hand auf ihrem Bein, fährt über ihren Knöchel, die Wade hinauf. Und sie, was bleibt ihr, sie schreit. Schreit, so laut sie nur kann.

Marks Stimme dringt erst zu ihr durch, als er das Licht anschaltet.

»Süße«, sagt Mark und legt die Hände um ihr Gesicht. »Süße, ist gut. Ich bin wieder da.«

© 2018 Hanser Berlin in der Carl Hanser Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, München

Translator’s Statement

This story is from an anthology of German stories entitled She Said: 17 Stories about Sex and Power, edited by Lina Muzur. Inspired by the “Me Too” movement, it includes seventeen stories by seventeen female authors, which depict various situations and perspectives from the lives of women.

“Thicket” is a response to the prevalence of stories and images of violated female bodies. The protagonist is alone with her new baby in a mostly deserted tourist village, leaving her emotionally fragile. Her child, whose gender is never disclosed, is a grounding presence, but is not sufficient to overcome the feeling of overwhelming isolation and she starts going berserk, seeing danger lurking everywhere. In order to heighten suspense, the story is chiefly in the present tense, with glimpses from the past breaking in and moments of terror flaring up.

 

Melody Winkle is a translator of German into English. In the past, she has been a piano teacher, a nanny, a librarian, and a web manager. She spent stints in Alaska and Berlin, but has been living in Seattle, Washington, for a long time. Mostly, she likes to read.

Julia Wolf was born in Germany in 1980. She studied American Studies, Latin American Studies, and German Philology at the Free University of Berlin. She now lives in Leipzig. Her debut novel “Alles ist jetzt” (Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt 2015) won the Kunstpreis der Lotto Brandenburg GmbH Award.The novel “Walter Nowak bleibt liegen” (Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt 2017) received a Nicolas-Born-Debütpreis recognition and made it onto the longlist of nominations for the German Book Prize 2017. She has also received the Robert-Gernhard-Preis from the state of Hessen for the manuscript “Alte Mädchen”, her novel in progress.