That was the way I’ve always known them: aunt Naca, aunt Menka, aunt Ditka.
All three – virgins blessed. Tiny as forks, white as wheat flour: their retouched Greek profiles from framed photos got back to the negative.
The oldest, aunt Naca, at her ninety, roused Schopen’s polonaises with her worm-like fingers on the bad-tuned metal piano. The middle one, aunt Menka, bid me, with an old rusty tray, fresh cherry juice and hot vanilla cookies, spattered with cinnamon: “Don’t be afraid, my son”, and after every bit I swallow, she would nervously ask, “Is it good?” … On warm days, the youngest one, aunt Ditka, was bringing the TV set out on the westside balcony, and sitting towards the sunset with warm blanket thrown over her shoulders, she would dive into the magic screen… She would say: “The Television is just another dexterity of the cunning collector West. On East, everything begins – the Sun, the God, the Letter, the City. But, the heat is too strong. It turns into a fire, slaughter and decay. On the West, things are accepted only after they are worn out with their rage. Then, they get concrete and exact, and only then, they’re being used”. In front of the aunt Ditka’s TV set, I witnessed how Yugoslavia got to the semifinals in Chile, how J.F. Kennedy was killed, how Ivo Andrić got the Nobel Prize. The almighty and all-knowing TV had in my aunt Ditka the most persuasive preacher. “There is a radio, my son, and there are newspapers” – my aunt Menka would stammer, and almost immediately she would bend under my open-eyed look: “Would you have, my child, some watermelon jelly?”.
I was playing with mottled wooden cubes on the soft Persian carpet in the large living room. On tall windows – lacteous Moon was attached. My three aunts are on three bidermeyer armchairs – drinking tea. And how much different physically, they were variants of one and the same body. That impudent Donor distributed his organs and personality, imprinting himself predominantly in each one of them: his heart and mobility to aunt Naca, his guts and reconcilableness to aunt Menka, and his nerve and his wit to aunt Ditka.
Their biological father, my grandpa Manas, the bandy-legged Kuman, the greedy usurer, was too much rough and short to be the one that I’ve imagined is bound to be in the role of the Donor. In spite of my aunts’ telling – that in front of him words were anxiously running in the mouths of the wimps, the knees of the bullies were shivering, and the terrified orphans-apprentices with jammed throats of theirs were walking backwards – I still couldn’t imagine that in this greedy christian soul ever existed that subtle category “in between”. His nature seemed cheap to me, incapable to give itself so elegant and efficient in the being of his heiresses. But the one whose photos – all three of them cherished so protectively: aunt Naca on her piano, aunt Menka in the kitchen, above the stove, and aunt Ditka on the TV, above the weekly program guide – that one had exactly that kind of face.
Gallant, mild, but inscrutable – the face of the Donor. Their uncle Georgi, whom even the darkest night couldn’t stop to go to the inn and, in the strike of a dawn to come home followed by a gang of musicians and joyful bark of the neighborhood dogs. He was replacing his white silk shirts every day, and after he became a host to the implacable suffocating tuberculoses, he was doing it three times a day. In opposite of the stingy Kuman, whose cavalier’s genes were only reduced to his rapacity, grounded in the chest full of gold coins, secured with three padlocks and with three steel chains bonded to his iron bed, Georgi always had open windows, full table of food and smiling hand.
He was ordering German books from Budapest and Vienna, and French one’s from Paris, wherefrom varnished wooden chest with label “L’Orgie expressif Mustel” on it and with the soft-buttoned instrument within, arrived. Georgi, who as a child, by the sounds of the raindrops knew how much the rain would last, grabbed and hugged the harmonium like a lustfully desired kin.
The elegiac melody overflowed him like a familiar alphabet learned a long time ago. “Self-educated he was, but he played skillfully, very skillfully…” – aunt Naca would say, while her hands were hopping over the piano keys in tempo rubato, with her stiffed body up and above them. “From the very soul” – my aunt Menka would sigh, biding me with another piece of chocolate cake. “He had a system in his improvisation” – aunt Ditka would comment from the balcony, while watching Journalists’ debate club on TV – “Actually, he knew how to use his exaltation”.
Aunt Ditka was right. Even the last, diabolic temptation, uncle Georgi did alleviate it – with music. He was coughing out bloody lumps already. They were turning into a red snake, and when he chopped her head off, a poison-cancer dropped from her mouth and pinched onto his lungs. He clearly knew: when dry rust charges, even the strongest lungs languish. “I’m going to suffer badly” – blindly searching among key-minors, his eyes and thoughts wandered along the webby corners of melancholy. He saw himself in the mirror: a child with tiresome eyes under the heavily eyelashes. The amber-like grains of dust flickered on the touch of daylight. On the black carpet, white hours were rolling too fast.
Like pearls: ten, eleven, noon… Late snowflakes melting as they fall, never reaching the ground. The heavenly guardians, dressed by the latest Parisian fashion, light as feathers, were getting off the hard-soil ground: “Goodbye! Goodbye!”. A human sin is evil, but a God’s one – it’s nature. Oh, you angel with broken wing, sound of love besmeared in blossom! “I’ll write thy hair black on me book / Write, my love, ask me not”. Hot ashes of a dead star. The freshness of wild strawberries breaches through the languished tissue: to dream, while decaying! Crippled horses in gallop along the silver-note valley. Aromatized herbist by his ear, singing: “I’ll write thy braid-brows on me book / Write, my love, ask me not”. Georgi roused, the sound is taking him through the sights of sleepy silk: “I’ll write thy gold forehead on me book / Write, my love, ask me not”. The melodious soul of his spreads its fragile wings, parts from its overburdened body and there, inhabits in three noble lives, exotically named: Anastasia, Philomena, Aphrodita.
The resilient Anastasia, aunt Naca, lived to be 96. The obedient Philomena, aunt Menka, lived 94. The sagacious Aphrodita, aunt Ditka, got to 90. And, 96+94+90… That’s 280 years.
The each one of his years reincarnated in ten of theirs.
Georgi, the tame bohemian, had a generous hand, a glittering heart, and a foreseeing mind. Even when losing on himself, he gained for his own.
From “A Story About the Snake”, Makedonska kniga, 1992
Translation: Petar Volnarovski