The Fatal Boundary
All the way home loneliness gnawed at him. The air was soft, azure-like, girls with watering cans were singing in suburban gardens. As he reached the top of the stairs, he noticed a woman’s figure by the window in the hall, just like a week ago. The door to her room was open, and a bucket filled with laundry stood on a low stool under the light.
“What are you looking at?” he asked.
She turned very slowly.
“Nothing. Just watching…”
She motioned to the silhouette of three horses standing in the barracks yard.
The woman smelled of soap and sweat.
“Doing the laundry, are you?”
“I’ve got to, every now and then… You’re early tonight.”
“Do you take notice?”
“I always hear you come home. It’s nice. Young people get lonesome, too…
The image and the words grabbed Hudnik by the throat, as if when something long forgotten is recalled suddenly. The body before him was the imprint of the body beside which he used to spin his fantasies as a child. She had a fixed, detached look in her eyes with pale eyelids and traces of freshly dried tears underneath them, a slender back with a protruding spine, large, bulging breasts, and a flat stomach. As she lifted her arm ... this time, too ... like so many times before in his dreams, all those past years ... as she pressed her teeth against her lower lip, he saw his mother standing in the church door—with a candle that she carried as if holding a child; mother with large beads of sweat all over her because she dreaded father’s hand in the drawing room, where the painting of grandfather Hudnik, a land surveyor, was hung; mother on the floor after father had torn her dress apart with a single stroke of his hand, from the neck right down to the navel, and dawn began to break with his first wandering steps around the stables, and the odour of the horror they had to endure wafted from the children’s beds. His head spun. He felt he was crumbling at the core, falling apart. He felt his muscles, and his mouth seemed to be filling with saliva. He grabbed the woman by the waist and carried her into the room without a word. He overturned the bucket with the laundry and slammed the door closed.
“There…” he said.
As he leaned forward he heard her whispering. He wanted to undo her dress. Her underwear was very clean.
“Don’t!...” she breathed.
Darkness enveloped him. With one stroke of his hand he tore her dress, from the neck right down to the navel.
That was how this love began, and then progressed in an altogether different manner. In any case, he was the master that first night. He took pleasure in thinking that he now had a human being who gave in to him so completely that he could play with this as he would. Perhaps for the first time in his life. Yes, he knew playful moments before that, long ago… In those days, there was a moment every once in a while when he found himself pressing his knee down on the small body of a little girl, recognising the contours of a destiny which appeared familiar, but never understood; he saw mother’s bony back under his father’s knee. Once he saw his aunt kneeling in the holy sacristy before Bezjak, the chaplain, and with a prayer book beating against her chest. The chaplain was holding onto the lapels of his jacket with both hands, eyes gazing towards the corner at the other side; it was very quiet, only the squeaking of young kestrels was heard in the yard. He was standing behind the curtain and trembled.
They made love fiercely, without a word, awkwardly. In spite of that, he awoke rather early. As he reached out into the dark feeling for the space around him, he found his own body; besides, he couldn’t discern anything else apart from his own breathing, and somebody else’s. He knew that the night was gone, that it was almost morning. He was lying on his right side, and the cold that streamed across his back evoked images of water running slowly, and of churches — his daydreams fed on churches ceaselessly; the church with the Holy Tomb, above which a circle of dancing angels has just leapt forward through a sunbeam sifting through stained glass window. (A Roman with a spear, his legs astraddle, is standing at the side, next to a spiraling column, and is capable of — who knows why and how — uttering only a couple of verses. That’s two forgotten verses. “Whatever chaos there exists, it soon passes; truths found in ancient time haven’t, as yet, been taken from us.”)
When he awoke completely, he reached for a cigarette. He struck a match, and held it to shed light on the woman. The current of her breath ran in a steep stream, the way it does with humble or noble women; likewise, her hair was clasped up in two ash-blonde braids. He put the match out and watched her in the faint glimmer of his cigarette. Her face was full of freckles, and the lines around her eyes merged in pouches; really, she was no beauty at all. Around the nose she had bluish shadows, like people with heart trouble. He thought to himself: what an empty dwelling this is; only one single human being remains in it, aimlessly wandering from one window to another. He studied her and tightly held his knee, but he could not make out how it all came to happen between them. The pain in his head was still exhausting him; it was the pain that would keep him in that vicious circle forever. For an instant, he felt he would never be able to contain his violent anger; later, he would ask himself: Why have I done it…? Perhaps I do hate her still… The answer was unclear, like all his speculations about his own childhood and about the fine thin line of reasoning that didn’t allow him to break from violence or attraction; never, not yesterday, nor today.
He took her by the shoulders and shook her gently.
“Listen…” he said.
She opened her eyes. He knew that kind of look: the eyes wholly reflected the tiny glint of the cigarette, the eyelids didn’t shift even for a second. And there was something stoical about it: she awoke very quickly, like someone who had fallen asleep while standing guard. She took his hand and pressed it to her face: her lips were parched.
“Stop it!” he ordered her.
Letting go of his hand she moved to the edge of the bed. She lay there motionless; long and slender like a candle. They were both silent for a long while, then he lit the lamp and sneered:
It felt kind of wrong, but he nevertheless added:
“Don’t give me that dog’s look! You don’t want a cigarette, do you? You look like my mother, you know… What’s your name?”
“Yes. You’re Mia. Right.”
After a while he added:
“You could have married. All kinds of women do…”
He began to feel a brutishness arising in him and he clenched his teeth; he didn’t want to go into it. He straightened out the blanket, but as he turned over to the other side, he felt long, bony arms wrapping around him underneath his armpits, and the spindly woman’s body snuggling up to his back in a long shiver. Tears ran down the nape of his neck, and he felt pity mixing with disgust. He pulled Mia’s arms apart, and told her to dry her tears. He was thinking of his mother. He wriggled out of the blankets and walked to the table to pour a glass of wine that was placed there. Next to the bottle there were some of her hairpins: all laid out neatly, as if in some girls’ boarding school; perhaps it was this that stung him. He turned towards the bed.
“I see you like keeping things tidy. What do you do, anyway?”
“I’m an actress.”
He laughed. He didn’t go to the theatre; he loved opera, but had never wanted to see a play. He saw her shifting her body upwards, and he motioned to her with his hand to make her stay where she was. The wine had utterly spoiled the taste in his mouth. He went to the window and drew away the curtain; morning was ripening outside, and the first milkwomen were clattering down the street draped in yellowish fog. At the deep end of the street, towards the market, the space was broken by animal-like silhouette of a church with pigeons flying out sporadically in silvery arches. Hudnik noticed his nakedness in the window glass. He reckoned: what a ridiculous situation I’ve found myself in. More than any other time in his entire life he was overwhelmed by the feeling that he could, in fact, command his own destiny only to a very small degree; strangers, or some kind of instinct, have guided him. Three years ago he told one of his friends: “I don’t live a life at all, I happen, dear boy…” He lay down in bed again and ordered Mia:
“Fix me something to eat!”
She obeyed without delay, and made him breakfast. As she was dressing, different things went through his mind. In some peculiar way, her behaviour revealed modesty; she asked him not to look at her while she dressed. He smiled, turned away, and watched her in the mirror. He told himself that perhaps she wasn’t any worse looking than most of the women he had known until then. The moment she started pulling on her stockings, though, he felt a spasm in his chest, intense, very delicious, immediate. He watched through the opening of his excited imagination, gazed at some part of his childhood, his body surrendering to recollection; he lay in a cot, freshly awakened by the rustling of silk, and he opened his eyes warily and saw two nude bodies, entwined, two women putting on their nightgowns in the pinkish light of a slender candle that was placed on the wash basin. (The bodies seemed transparent, as if made of the mother of pearl. The aunt leaned forward and blew the candle out.) Where did this connection come from? … Everything changed abruptly; the night and the woman before him, their meeting, caressing, everything took on a different colour and some other meaning. She viewed him from the corner of her eye; the longish features of her face froze, as if holding the embrio of a roguish or even perilous smile. The woman’s conduct was balanced and poised, and yet she made him feel as if he had never seen such gestures before. How did I watch her? … They were both silent; and as the day grew, light permeated her body, and she suddenly stepped in front of the looking glass, and they talked within the reflecting surface.
“This will knock you off your feet… “ she said self-consciously, her whole being renewed. “You’re turning playfulness into wrongdoing, and games like that quickly change their course.”
He rose, and asked her what she meant. She calmly drew the liner across her eyebrows.
“You’re troubled by something from the past, and you want to get rid of it through me. Some weird chap you are… “
She leaned across the little table and laughed. He wanted to appear stronger.
“You think it’s amusing, don’t you? Not to me, it isn’t. I find such things boring. Your torment is different than mine. Boring, I say… “ She turned; she said:
“Very well, though there’s no telling what’s to come yet… Time is such a terribly weird thing.”
She gazed at him in the mirror again. He no longer saw the narrow back, the large breasts. The window was behind her back now, and her eyes gazed with metallic glimmer and appeared somewhat darker; those eyes sent shivers through his body. And then, then he saw… It looked like a silhouette of her other image, a grey, fatal contour enclosing that other woman and some other destiny, the boundary of one person which is, in itself, already a shell of that other one… It all remained written in the mirror; even the fact that the live umbilical cord stretching from this absolutely strange new being was connected to his past. Something hellish sneered through the interplay of shapes. He was engulfed by the cold. He knew there was no getting away from it, although love wasn’t on his mind (he wasn’t thinking about love?). He sensed: my burden will lighten, hers is about to increase.
“You’re the devil’s partner, madame actress.”
The next day he held himself in check; he locked himself into his room, only five steps away from hers. He looked up Spinoza’s saying: “Fear is the lust to avoid the greater evil by fighting a lesser one.” He couldn’t protect himself by not thinking about her, her image kept surfacing over and over again, the way the image of a snow-capped peak reappears under closed eyelids to a mountaineer lying on his bed, covered by night. Then he dreamed. She stood in a stream that looked a little like the Horjulscica brook. She was combing her hair. He was chained to a huge block of oakwood, close to the water’s edge, and could only see the mirror image of her nude figure, for the chain forced him to keep his head bent down. The mirror image was different from the familiar one, but he knew: it was her. The sun glittered on the water’s surface, the sound of pilgrims singing “To Thee, Our Lady” kept rushing in from afar, the air smelled of fresh hay steaming in the hot day. He wanted to be close to her so badly. Finally, he managed to wriggle his head out of the chain, and when he looked at her, all bathed in golden light, he realised that her mirror image was really false. Above her, up on the slope, stood a giant priest. He watched her through binoculars, their right side turned upside down. Then he leaned over across a stump. “Follow me!” he called out. As she started running up the slope, she was surrounded by a large swarm of dragonflies.
Three days later he called at her place at dusk. Two old women were there, knitting woolen socks by the lamplight. The first one was tiny, all crooked, bent over her knees, and silent as granite. The other one started to watch him with her right eye from the very first moment. Her left eye was covered with cataract.
“Well,” she grumbled, “this girl of ours is a strange snake, mind you.” And later on: “She’s shedding her skin. You won’t do well, young man. If the infants are borne in seven months, they bring a small devil with them. I should know.”
Mia paid no attention to the old women. She said: “So, you’re here… Three days ago I went to my window at night. I heard you crying.”
“I cried in my sleep.”
“Yes. I know.”
“Have you been expecting me?”
“Waiting, not expecting.”
The one-eyed aunt spoke again. She knitted with extraordinary haste, almost with indignation.
“The torment begins at the end, my boy. When the devil is full-grown.”
When the crones rose up to leave, the short black one looked at him for the first time. He realised her eyes were like Mia’s, as he had seen them that first evening. He felt confused. The crone made a grimace and uttered:
“You’re not a strong person, I can tell…”
Mia saw them out into the hall. She left the door open. On the other side moonlight was playing across the window panes. He watched them leave, and felt as if his own destiny was slipping out of the hands of benevolent nature and fate, as if a door was beginning to open in a wall of ice that he could barely see, but whose threshold he still couldn’t restrain from crossing, and then casting off his clothes.
Mia came in again. Moonlight was on her shoulders and on her hair. She stopped on the doorstep. He went over towards her.
“You’re not a strong person, I can tell… “ she said, in a barely mocking tone, almost seriously.
“Get out of my way!”
With a move of her hand she unbuttoned her blouse, and held out her breasts. As he buried his face in them he knew, in spite of the lust which blotted out everything, that he held his head tilted to the side, just as in the dream when he was chained to that log at the brook.
“Was your melancholy an act then?”
He watched her. The moment he glanced at her with half-closed eyes, he would see the contour of her other image, and in the moonlight this other image seemed more meaningful, it appeared to pulsate with a truer life than the solid image he could touch.
They lived together for two years. He went to the theatre to see her on stage; she was beginning to make a name for herself in acting then, and was on her way to fame. She moved elsewhere. It caused him a lot of pain. The house where they used to live together disgusted him. She rented a fairly large apartment on the Bank. In clear nights, when he sat on her bed leaning on the pillow, watching her sleep, she seemed the same as that first evening, and he refused to deny anything; she had a slender back with a protruding spine, large bulging breasts, and a flat stomach. He woke her up, wanting to overpower her, and hoping he would break the spell of the double image.
“How many lovers did you have? How many have you now?”
“You, and a few others… “ she replied. She used to always break out of sleep suddenly. He held her hair, and lifted her face up to the faint light that played around the room. He couldn’t tell one thing from another; she was graceful and slender, but impossible to see through. He gave up; it was troubling him.
“Your aunt told me about you… Everything, as straight as she could.”
“And what did you tell her about yourself?”
“Not a thing.”
“You, too, have a devil inside you. Sometimes he makes the mistake of coming with the child who’s carried nine months; I know that as well as my aunt.”
In the end, the day came when he understood he had been shut out on all sides. He walked down the street and stared at freakish shapes, it rained; he kept thinking about his weakness and what the future would bring. In the evening he went to the theatre. She played Cassandra for the first time. It weighed heavily on his soul; and now this! What was that night above the city like when Agamemnon returned!… He watched his woman and hardly recognised her. The weakness had shifted into his body, as well; he was leaning against the pillows and clearly felt each and every muscle, every pound of his flabby weight. A voice next to him whispered: “This creature radiates fire!”… He turned; and he saw a face that reminded him of a mineral water bottle.
She filled up the entire space around her and before her with her whole being, and most of all in his direction. He was aware of her presence more clearly than in any of the nights they made love. He was burning inside; flashes of emotion, a terrifying physical experience pounded at him. Wasn’t this, too, surging up from his childhood? The torment he carried with him? … Why didn’t he ever come to anybody’s rescue? His mother’s pale, beaten-up face rocked on the waves of Mia’s impassioned voice, as if that voice had been given reason without forethought, as if that voice had possessed the absolute knowledge of his own and some stranger’s darkness. He was beginning to come to his senses; that very afternoon he had been thinking about the future. She is so much stronger than me… I feel pain, she puts it in words…
After the performance he went to the side exit of the theatre to wait for her. She was very pale, and her hands were trembling. He kept kissing her palms for a long while, as if he were drinking water from a seashell. She told him she couldn’t join him because she had company waiting. She stared right past him; he recalled the evening when she watched the horses below the window and talked to him over her shoulder; the sky had been viridescent-golden. He turned and walked away, wanting to think of something simple, but couldn’t bring himself to it. By the bridge he met a friend who looked at him intently.
“Have you killed someone?”
Without even blinking he returned the question:
“And what are you up to?”
“Going to bed in these parts is about the only smart solution. Give my best to the bride.”
He walked on. Crossing the open market, he barely noticed that the old stands were gone; he stumbled into the street sweepers, who let him pass by as they saw his face. He strolled past his old school, up the narrow street with clogged sewer outlets; mechanically, without knowing when and how, and to what purpose, he observed the shop windows and the lights inside; for the first time, he noticed a fish tank in the window of a small tavern. He saw three unemployed and still young looking men standing against a wall of a house. He couldn’t help overhearing one of them asking his neighbour whether his wife had left him. Meanwhile, the rain had stopped, and lights from apartments and the streetlamp were reflecting off the pavement. Gusts of wind swept between the buildings. He surrendered himself wholly to the wind; the wind was awakening his sadness; he braced himself against the wall. The heartache and the pain at the top of the head were mingling into a vortex of disturbing images of that day and into an apparitionof the tall, strong figure of a man leaning between the door of the tobacconist’s shop some twenty paces away. Here was a man who possessed, beyond the doubt, the qualities he himself never had, but should have, had he wanted to survive. He watched this man in the double light of admiration and hatred. As the other one started off and walked in front of him, past the bright windows, he imagined placing Mia’s steps next to the man’s ambling gait. At the first corner the man vanished from his sight; he blended with the shadow of trees that smelled of moistness and green foliage. The road ahead appeared long and bleak. He went home.
The headache always unravelled into a nightmare, even when he was wide awake; there was nothing he feared more. He needed another human being at his side. He imagined himself talking to her. She lay close to the edge of the bed and gazed at him with those large bright eyes of hers. He imagined asking her if she’d frequently felt affection for other men. He heard his repulsively sugared tone of voice. “Yes,” she said, “too many times”…
“How did it turn out for you?” “It turned out I met you, and you’re going nowhere… “ He asked her how she had made love. She told him that, too, and demonstrated it. Suddenly, a light switched on at the far end of the room.
Mother called out for him, and he didn’t have the courage to go to her. This was the night when father dragged her down into the basement and beat her up with the round end of a horsewhip. The green light. How did it switch on? ... The neighbours stood in the street for a while and listened, until they became more interested in the car which my father’s business associate had parked there. As my father’s friend started to leave — it was already quite late ñ mother dragged herself upstairs from the the basement, leaving a tiny red trail behind. Her chin kept hitting the stone because she was unable to lift her head completely. At that moment father opened the door for his visitor. They both stood in the light of that little green lamp, and just as father slowly looked back over his shoulder, his eyes seemed even more transparent, an immovable pale smile rippling in them, and the eyes were fixed on he who was hiding behind the door to the dining room, listening to his mother’s cries, all drenched in sweat to the last hair on his head, with no strength to respond. Powerless.
And now that green light’s burning here, at the deep end of his room, next to the velvet curtains. Mother isn’t here, not here at all, but there’s that other Mia’s silhouette pasted on the wall, a silvery linewhich trembles andvanishes only very slowly.
Early the next morning he went out. He went over the railway passage. He didn’t meet asoul. In the distance he spotted a railway man with a bag, making haste along the tracks towards the nearby signal cottage. He was a large man, walking with his eyes fixed on the ground; his purposeful gait made him think: thisman knows what he wants…
The promenade ascended uphill. Orchards spread out to the left and the right. Clearings that only could have been some hundred or two hundred yards away seemed infinitely distant and vast, for the fog that crept at the ground — as thickas yarn in some places, and as thin as a veil elsewhere — altered natural proportions. The mists were white and green and suddenly turned azure again, as if embroidered with blue and gold threads; they reached up to the first branches, making the oak trees across the pond appear to his eyes like the contours of palaces in a desolate city. Dew trickled off the vegetation, a blackbird sang out with a rested voice from under a bush. As he turned back, he saw the cityfrom a great distance, the city, the contours of church spires and the fin-de-siécle villas. He felt the complex multitude of destinies the city contains at such hour. That was what frightened him most his entire life: a virgin forest of other people’s strange, unread, and after all also illegible destinies. He turned into a byway and beheld her. During the night everything was clear to him, and he scribbled on one of the checks from the grocery store: “Help comes from the man himself; the help is in his strength,” but he was nevertheless smitten now. They were approaching along the path by the pond; they appeared to be deeply absorbed in conversation. He halted. The silence that spread across the orchards sank even deeper, and the bird’s early song rose even higher above it. Bitter saliva entered his mouth. He tried to comfort himself with reason. He kept telling himself the wholething was quite natural. It was no good. Could this be jealousy, he wondered. The world before him swung up andthen down again, as if he were standing in one of those rocking boats on the ferris wheel at a funfair. A bloody blotch passed before his sight, the images blurred; still, he knew he had to save face. He wanted to withdraw; it was too late. She saw him, and fixed her eyes on him. It lasted quite some time; he was unable to move his feet, and then perhaps neither could she, the first butterfly flew past him. Mia leaned close to her companion and said something. They touched hands; then the man left down the same path. (However hard he tried, he could never recall his face again.) Mia was coming closer to me with long, gliding steps that she’d learned for the part of Cassandra. The first sunbeam dropped through the fog. She had her hair combed up on top of her head; those were no longer her simple ash-blonde braids. She reached him and buttoned up her coat, as if she were overtaken by a sudden chill. Her gaze was fixed and serene, and the expression never shifted. She said: “Is there any sense in… “ He cut her short. For a moment his mind wobbled; he was perfectly capable of acting violently in that moment, as much as he was of accepting the utmost humiliation. Never before had he been closer to that lust to end it all, the lust for blood; in spite of knowing how thin the crust between the evil and self-control was, he had always wagered on the latter; he was barely able to control himself. The outline of the cityscape was flooded by sunlight; distracted by the sunbeam reflecting off her ring he realised she didn’t hold out her hand to him. They were both extraordinarily focused — like sleepwalkers. She asked what it was he wanted. “Go home!” he told her. She shifted one foot forward. They started back towards the city.
“You haven’t slept a wink, have you…?”
“I dreamt of some old houseyard where they breed lizards.”
They went on silently all the way to the railway crossing; there he asked her:
“Did it happen?”
“No, it did not!”
The answer was smooth, filled with some desperate resoluteness enclosed in a calm that is only known to dreamers. He forced himself to laugh; he couldn’t have fooled no-one. He didn’t give up.
“Nothing at all? Such a handsome fellow…”
“You didn’t even see him; you were too upset. Well, then. Today, at noon, it hurt me to just look at you. Three steps forwards, two steps back… Once I had some little vision of you, sort of. You were a child, dressed in a nightie, squatting at the edge of an open grave, throwing soil in it with a little spoon, throwing it for a very long time, and after a while you threw yourself on the ground beside the hollow and started screaming. It didn’t work. You only managed to throw in an inch of soil or so together on the top. Using a spoon.”
“Right. I know…” he said.
They came to her house. She offered her hand.
“Fancy coming up?” ...
He walked through the arched hallway and a vicious anger began to rise in his heart. He could barely keep his balance on the uneven floor. The stained glass window panes on the yard’s gate were ablaze, casting net-like mosaic shapes on the ground. How long ago… Weren’t there evenings at home back then when he used to wait for mother standing at the church wall, someone was playing the pipe organ and the window was laid out in the street. The wooden image of a female saint whose eyes were dug out gave out creaking sounds from the cemetery’s linden tree. Horses neighed through the neighbourhood, mostly because they feared the night, and were frightened by drunken drivers. Mother came out through the church door, all bent, pressing the white scapular to her lips, benevolently hidden by the low wall and by Cejc, the beggar. She used to receive her holy communion with the scapular, as if she were trying to the prevent the illness which she knew so well to be ripening in her, from working its way to her lips. Cats screamed in the barns. Mother didn’t forget to lift her eyes up to the porch of Hojnik’s restaurant, where her husband stood at the open window like a big dumbstruck ox, greeting the crescent moon with a glass in his hand. Behind his back, a musician from Volnik played the clarinet. She went on home with short, hasty steps that now and then she’d even made shorter on account of the pain cutting into her body, or so I think. He walked behind her. He didn’t want to risk it. He didn’t take chances with anything. He cried alone.
At the steps he waited for Mia.
“When did you bewitch me, woman?” ...
“That first evening. When I was watching the horses…” she replied calmly and with perfect indifference, as if she’d mastered such questions long ago. She stepped past him. After that, they didn’t speak all the way to her apartment. He looked at her back, the joints of her legs; she wasn’t any skinnier… What holds him here? Whatever drove him now wasn’t pain, it was the feverish fear of solitude that took hold inside him.
“Cassandra! ... Cassandra!” ... he kept repeating to himself.
He wanted to wrap himself in her strength and still be the master.
A maid opened the door. They went in the first room; the curtains were drawn together, the room was grim, just as they left it the day before. She told him to wait for her. He half-closed his eyes and listened to the footsteps. After a while he lit the lamp. He didn’t want to pull the curtains from the windows; they rarely saw each other during the day, he wasn’t used to it. He sat on the bed and searched for her perfume among the pillows. Thinking what a large part of life they shared made him wonder. Splinters from past experiences were here before them. (She always tried to find new spots on his face for her kisses. They were all dancing there. Somebody said: it’s almost daybreak, any moment now. They never noticed the morning. A shooting star passed by above the factory chimney. They also went to the park. Other women strolled around the park, too, and he never noticed them. A male swan schreechingly pursued a female swan; it gave him the idea that he should do the same.)
What was that about hate all the while, and what about it now? ...
She was back; in the other room she turned on the light and fixed her hair. -What are you up to? she asked suddenly, her face turned away.
He didn’t understand, but he felt a cold shiver going through him and thought he shouldn’t give up, that perhaps he still had it in him, that last fragment of strength which would break the anxiety.
“What are you up to?”
“I don’t understand…”
“My devil says: it’s enough! Last night he was with me all night, and then some. He sat right next to me. Are you going to have a drink?”
He started walking towards her, but stopped on the doorstep of the other room and propped himself against the doorjamb. She turned around on her heel, and looked at him with her eyes slightly squinting, like someone who fails to recognise another person right away.
“Which one of you is real?...”
She replied in that same quiet tone:
“Perhaps the one in your mind.”
She walked past him, to the other room, and placed a glass and a bottle on a little table next to the bed. She waited for him to move. He didn’t respond. She poured him a drink.
“What do you want then?”
He walked across the room, and stood behind her back.
As he touched her hips, he felt her trembling under her fingertips. She raised her shoulders, clasping her hands together below her neck. The current of her breath pulsated quickly, in short waves.
“Come on!” he ordered her.
She stood absolutely motionless, the playfulness gone out of her voice.
“It’s no use… I can’t…”
He felt as if a larger chunk of his life was being torn off; he was pulled into a vortex, spinning nowhere but down, down, down; houses made of glass were perched on the banks that remained above his head, with people made of glass gleaming in the green light, and no thing had a word to it, or a voice. He bent his head over her neck. He was crying and hardly knew he cried. Tears fell upon her. She slowly dropped her arms to her side. Then she started to unbutton her blouse with a weary gesture. One garment after another fell off; she left them right where they fell.
Finally, she was naked. She said:
She went to the bed and lay down on her back, looking like a corpse or a magician’s doll, very pale, her eyelids pressed together tightly. She held her arms out, away from her, her hands clenched in fists. Somewhere outside, from far off, a military band played on, a tiny little ray of sunlight stole through the velvet curtains and drew a golden line. Her “help yourself” hung in the air. His tears stopped. Like in the most crucial moments of a human life, a multitude of questions that had been hidden behind images flashed through his brain. Her naked body, shuddering slightly with reluctance, was the last image and the last sign. He was crying, and she said bleakly: Help yourself! We know no one, we possess nothing. Horses neighing because they fear the night possess more than we do. The moon’s flight across the sky is always the same. The devil works on his own account. That body over there isn’t her. A corpse, a shivering magician’s puppet. The devil lying on its back, masked by a woman’s body. My devil ascends to the arch of my skull; it hurts, it hurts unbearably.
He thrust himself forward, buried both hands in her ash-blonde hair, and lifted her in the air. Then he kept hitting her. He didn’t see anything between those red blotches except the striking of his hand. She didn’t even moan. He gasped for breath:
“Mia! Mia! Mia!”
At last he loosened his grip, she fell to the floor, and he covered his face. When he removed his hands, he noticed a sunbeam of light that had crept in between the curtains lay across her face.
The bruised and bloody face was exactly the face of his mama. The other silhouette, the fatal grey contour enclosing that other woman and some other destiny, the boundary of a person which is, in itself, already the shell of another, was gone.The face of his mother smiled at him faintly.