Translated by Paul Filev
I get up in the morning and stare at the coffee pot in which he boiled water. Next to the jar with brown sugar, his box of green tea. I open the box and see that there are only three tea bags left. I’ll finish them, I think to myself. After that, I don’t know. I don’t know whether I’ll throw the box out or leave it there, because it’s his box of green tea.
The tea has a bitter taste and I don’t like it. I know that you’re meant to drink it without sugar, the way he drank it. If things were okay, I’d add sugar. No, I’d drink coffee, the way I’ve done every morning so far. But now I have to finish his tea. It’s bitter and tasteless. For me right now, nothing is meant to taste good. Hot and bitter, the tea suits me.
Around midday, my friend Maria drops round. I get up to open the door for her, and when we come back into the living room, she always sits in my place. She never wonders to herself if maybe I had been sitting there. She never feels the warm seat, never asks herself, ‘Hang on a moment, was my friend sitting here, have I sat in her spot?’ That’s Maria. She never wonders about anything. She’s come wearing a black mini skirt, sheer black tights, heeled boots, jacket, red blouse, red nails, lipstick, mascara, eyeliner, glitter eyeshadow, and loud earrings that sparkle and dangle back and forth with every movement of her head. She’s been to the hairdresser’s. She’s had a manicure. She smells of some godawful perfume, intense and bitter, which makes me want to vomit. But then I should feel like throwing up, so I sit closer to her.
‘I brought you some soup,’ says Maria.
‘I’m not sick that you needed to bring me soup,’ I reply. I know that I’m being rude, but then it’s my husband who’s just died.
‘I made it for you today. You need to eat more often. You’ll get sick.’
I remain silent. She didn’t need to get all dressed up just to come over. I light a cigarette.
‘You should air out the place a bit,’ she says to me, as if it’s her own flat. ‘It smells strange in here.’
‘You smell strange.’
Maria lets out a sigh.
‘I’ve got things to do. I’ll drop by again tomorrow.’
I stand at the window and watch as she leaves. Her ass sways from side to side as she walks in heels. Her hair bounces up and down. She rummages through her bag. Her slender fingers with long painted nails have probably come across some make-up, a packet of scented wipes, chewing gum. Presumably the jangling of keys can be heard. She takes out the car key and points it towards her shiny, just-washed vehicle. The indicator lights come on and the car roars into life, as if it’s pleased that Maria is going to hop in and drive it. A warm spring breeze ruffles through her hair before she gets into the car. The young leaves and tender branches rustle, as if they’re all saying: ‘Bye Maria!’ She exits the carpark and heads off somewhere where she’ll laugh, showing perfect white teeth, and giggle, and make jokes, and go on with her life. The street is still drenched in crisp sunshine when she has disappeared. A short while later a girl and boy pass by. They’re holding hands. They’re laughing loudly. The girl kisses the boy on the neck. Behind them are walking two teenagers. They’re talking loudly and laughing about something. All of them have peeled off layers of clothes. The sun causes their pupils to narrow and brings out the freckles on their pale faces. How are they not embarrassed, I wonder to myself. The world hasn’t stopped, but Sveto – my world – is in the ground. Now he’s beginning to decompose. His body is cold, as if it had been refrigerated, the way it was when I touched him as he lay in the coffin. Soil presses down on the coffin. It’s said that the worms eat the dead. How do they enter the coffin? I ask myself. Or do they emerge from the body itself? How can they come into being on their own? I wonder. A car with lively music blaring stops in front of the building. The music is dreadful. I move away from the window.
I light a cigarette and stare at Maria’s soup. Chicken soup, as if I’m sick. That’s what I often made for Sveto. He really liked my chicken soup. I’d make him a huge pot, and he’d eat three bowls twice a day – for lunch and dinner. Sometimes he’d even get a stomach ache from eating too much soup. You make the best soup in the world, he’d say to me. And once D. Asked me to bring him something to eat. Sveto was at work. I put some of Sveto’s soup in a jar. I took it to D. We did what we did. When I got back home, I saw that he’d sent me a text. He said that the soup was delicious, and that next time I should bring him a larger amount because he’s a man with a hearty appetite. A week went by and I made soup for Sveto again. This time I made a bigger batch and I poured half of the soup into two jars for D. He texted that night: ‘You only brought me a little bit of soup again. Next time, please make me a whole pot.’ He started saying that to me every week. And so one time I made a huge pot of soup when Sveto was at work. I filled four jars, and there was only a small amount left in the pot. When I got home that night, Sveto was waiting for me in the living room. ‘Honey, I’m a little bit cross with you,’ he said to me. ‘Why did you make me such a small amount of soup?’
My mother’s ringing me on the phone. I know that she’s going to want to come over and bother me again. Every time she comes over she tries to raise my spirits somehow – that is, to take my mind off what I’m going through. So she talks about her friends, about my brother’s kids, and sometimes she even starts talking to me about politics. It all just gets on my nerves. Still, I pick up the phone and tell her she can come over. Perhaps finally she will realise that I don’t want to see her, or anyone else for that matter.
She comes over that evening. I recognise the sound of her footsteps at the entrance. She walks like a soldier. Her footsteps could wake a person from the deepest slumber. At the funeral she trudged around like a soldier; even at a solemn occasion she doesn’t know how to behave. She rings at the door a few times, reminding me that it’s her. She rings the bell in short sharp bursts. I decide not to get up from the couch immediately. I leave her standing outside the door. That way she might even get the message that perhaps I don’t want her coming round. She rings again, and to prevent her from annoying me any further, I get up to open the door for her.
‘It smells of smoke in here,’ she says as soon as she enters and begins to open the windows and the balcony door.
‘Leave them,’ I say to her, even though I know she won’t take any notice of what I say. Every time she comes over she starts acting as if it’s her place, moving my things around, tidying up, opening doors and windows.
‘You shouldn’t smoke so much,’ she turns to me once she’s opened up all the windows. The orange rays of the setting sun spread throughout the apartment. The scent of linden trees wafts in. Even nature carries on, I think to myself angrily, despite the fact that Sveto is lying in a grave.
‘I don’t have to do anything,’ I say to her and light up another cigarette.
She sits down beside me and lets out a sigh.
She starts telling me about her friend, Mira, and how her boss treats her. How when her son had his wedding she wasn’t given any time off work . . . Or something like that. As usual, I don’t listen to her. I scrutinize the wrinkles around her lips. She smoked for many years and lines have formed around them from her constantly sucking on cigarettes. They are especially noticeable on her upper lip whenever she rounds her mouth to make the ‘o’ or ‘u’ sound. Grains of orange lipstick, which looks awful on her and emphasizes her yellowish complexion, are stuck in the wrinkles. When she opens her mouth wider to make the sounds ‘e’ and ‘a’, I catch a glimpse of her shriveled up tongue, covered with a white crust. It looks as if she were sick, as if her mouth smells horribly, even though it doesn’t. Although really it should. I see she’s lost her upper third molar. Her other own teeth have yellowed, while her crowns have dark lines near the gums, which have begun to recede. Her gums also look old and sick.
‘You need to go to the dentist,’ I interrupt her.
My mother stares down at her hands spotted with age folded in her lap. She remains silent.
‘And get yourself some new lipstick, something of better quality. This one gets stuck in your wrinkles. Can you imagine how your mouth must look?’ I say to her. I feel that I’m being cruel, but I couldn’t care less that it was her who gave birth to me.
My mother continues staring down at her prematurely aged hands. I see that she’s wearing eyeliner and that it’s got stuck in her wrinkles too. I want to tell her that as well.
‘Where would I find the money to buy it, darling,’ she says to me and lifts her gaze. Her eyes look teary. What right does she have to cry, I think to myself and look at her hands again. I notice there’s a hole in her sleeve and that her blouse is worn out. I say nothing and light another cigarette.
‘Did you have anything to eat today, my child?’ she says to me in a gentle voice. A voice she never used before Sveto was put in his grave.
I make a gesture with my hand to indicate I haven’t.
‘Do you want me to cook you something? Should I go out and buy something? You have to eat something, darling,’ she says to me and places her hand on my knee. I bristle whenever she touches me. I’m sick of her and of the suffering I’ve had to endure, in part due to my own lack of empathy.
‘Maria brought me some soup.’
‘Did you have some?’
‘No. Have some if you want. I don’t want any.’
My mother gets up and goes into the kitchen. From the living room I can see her back. I see her lift up the pot of soup that Maria brought me. It’s secured with some kind of idiotic strap to ensure the lid doesn’t come off. She puts it onto the burner and lights the stove. Then she rests both hands on the counter and lifts her head, as if she’s stretching her neck. I hear the faint sound of her whimpering. Then she puts her head down. She walks off slowly. To the toilet I imagine, where she stays for a period of time, while I sit on the couch smoking.
My mother returns to the kitchen and I hear the clatter of dishes and cutlery. She puts something on the table. She opens a few cupboards and then bangs them shut. She’s never been gentle. When I was small and she used to dry my hair, she always tugged it at the roots and jabbed me with her fingernails.
‘Come and keep me company,’ I hear her sit down at the dining table in the kitchen. I don’t have a choice. If she eats, I think, perhaps she’ll go home, and then I don’t have to throw out the soup.
On the table are two bowls filled with soup – I should have guessed.
‘Look, didn’t I tell you that I don’t want anything to eat,’ I say angrily, and take a deep drag of my cigarette.
‘You might feel hungry when I start to eat. You don’t have to eat if you don’t want to. If you want, we can throw out the soup, don’t worry,’ she says. Steam escapes from the soup. As usual, she’s overheated it. She always overheats things. As a kid I burnt my tongue a hundred times from eating her hot food. She’ll heat up something for you just to do you a favour and she ends up causing you harm.
‘For once in your life, can’t you learn not to overheat things? Do you want me to burn myself?’ I say to her angrily, and sit down. ‘Not that I’m going to eat, but if I had planned on eating, I wouldn’t have wanted you to overheat the soup, and what’s more, turn the food into total mush,’ I say this to her getting all mixed up. My mother is silent. She caresses the spoon that she has laid carefully on a napkin, and once again I glance at her prematurely aged hands, at her crudely bitten nails and the long vertical lines that have formed on them.
My mother lets out a sigh.
‘Do you remember the time when you were looking after your brother and you tried to heat up the stew that was left over from lunch and you burnt yourself?’ she asks me.
‘Not really, but I know that I’ve had a scar ever since,’ I hope that even with this reminder from the past perhaps I can hurt her a bit.
‘Let me have a look at it,’ my mother says to me.
I stretch out my left hand. At the base of my thumb is a pinkish mark in the shape of a rabbit. My mother attempts to kiss it, which disgusts me. I pull back my hand and put it in my lap.
‘Your father was at a seminar. He was returning the next morning. I was left alone with you and your brother. Your aunt or your grandmother, one or the other, were meant to look after you, but at the last moment neither of them was able to. And I had arranged to go out to meet a friend.’ She stops and swallows. ‘My friend would have been very angry if I hadn’t gone. I was in love with him.’ She looks at me straight in the eyes. ‘I was spellbound by him. I’d leave work so we could see each other, or else I’d stay on an extra hour after work if there was someone to look after you both, just so I could be near him.’
As my mother speaks to me, I feel my mind going blank.
‘And that’s why I told you to look after your brother and that I’d come back in two hours. But it turned into three. And your brother was hungry. And you decided to heat up some stew for him, because I told you if he was hungry to give him something to eat – but I didn’t tell you what to give him. And when I came home I could smell something awful, something burnt, even from the ground floor. I ran up the stairs and broke the heel on my shoe. I could hear you and your brother bawling. I entered the flat and the entire kitchen was white with smoke. The overturned pot, with the burnt stew spilt over, was on the floor. I could hear you howling from the bathroom. I walked in,’ here my mother squeezed the spoon in her hand, ‘and I saw you standing there with your little hand under running cold water, crying loudly. Your brother, the size of a pea, was clutching your leg. His face was all red like never before. Your brother hit his head on the washing machine and began hollering even louder. You cried out when you saw me and began jumping up and down on the spot, saying over and over: “It hurts, it hurts, it hurts.” And then I saw your little hand, all swollen from being burnt, I wanted to die, my dear child,’ my mother says to me, and lets her head fall. She covers her eyes with her aged hand.
My vision blurs and I notice something dripping into the bowl of soup in front of me. Then I lift the spoon and begin to eat.