Solunka Dičoska would enter the cellar where the barrels were, poke a straw through the tap, and take a few sips of brandy. She would not siphon off a lot through the straw, just as much as she wanted, like a man who had been cutting hay, heaping up a dozen mounds. For Solunka Dičoska what is a measure of brandy, made from plums, distilled twice? All day she marches around the house like a slave. She weaves and spins, she strings up tobacco without batting an eye. And no woman is her match when it comes to cooking. When she prepares a meal, you’d bite off your fingers to get at it. That is why she was the main banquet matron at the church of St. Tanasija.
When there was a feast day Solunka Dičoska would dress up like a bride, in a silver-embroidered blouse, with a Kicevo vest and a fringed scarf, and she would be in front of the house with the women, or at the church with the food. So what if she is sixty-years-old, that she remarried but again became a widow, living in her husband’s house? The face of Solunka Dičoska is as red as a watermelon. Hardy as a thorn bush. Bring her in as a singer and she will brighten your table, let her dance and she will show you some steps. And why shouldn’t she drink plum brandy, boiled, when she is as hardy as a thorn bush? Why shouldn’t she dress every day in a silver-embroidered blouse with a Kicevo vest, when the trunk in the cellar next to the barrels is full of blouses and vests?
She could die tomorrow, but at least she dressed as she wanted to, she had grieved for years as fate designed, from Turkish and Serbian times till now. She married off her daughters and sons. Now she is a solitary soul, a lone pear, so she lets her mind wander, looks after her older son’s house, but hasn’t a care in the world.
Naumče Treneski looks at her blissfully when she takes off first her vest and her belt, then her skirt, down to her body never touched by the sun, and then she removes a new linen skirt from the case, lined with velvet, putting it on over her head, dons a hand-embroidered blouse with the skirt, puts the belt back over the skirt, and turns her head to examine her attire from behind. Naumce takes it all in before him, over the fences, behind the cellar walls, right to the trunk, and he talks to himself.
“Come to the marsh, Solunka, come over the fences, so I can pat your skirt just once on your behind. I’ll give you whatever your heart desires!”
Naumče Treneski is not stupid, he knows what he is doing. He didn’t let Jankula Temjanin’s teasing about Solunka get to him.
“If you just patted her behind with your palm, Naumce, like a man, your hand would burn for a week,” Jankula told him.
And the women who heard what Naumce had in mind would banter when they passed him so he could hear:
“Solunka is quite the girl, dressed in her own way!”
So Naumce lay under the walnut tree in the marsh, waiting for Solunka Dičoska to come down. What would Naumče Treneski do at home? A house is a house. His bed is situated in the corner, covered with a woolen blanket. His pillow is stuffed with rye straw, his mirror hangs above the oven next to the alcove. The chairs don’t need to eat. Nothing whimpers around him, not even a dog or a cat. He called Ugrina Angeleski to patch up the corner of his house knocked in by the wind. There is time before the rain and snow come. It’s best when he lies under the walnut tree in the marsh, delighting in himself. His pension will arrive again on the first, he will fold the thousands into his handkerchief and live on that for four weeks.
What would he do at home during the day, when he can lie under the walnut tree like a bey? There is time until the village sleeps, and then he can stretch his legs in the meadow. Maybe Solunka will come out then to hang strands of tobacco or gather kindling from the garden to cook supper. His desire was to wait for Solunka to get into the marsh and cough so she could hear him as he lounged around the walnut tree. From the road he often watched her in front of the houses, sitting in the sun with the women, or at night in the moonlight. Now he wanted to see her from the marsh. If only she would come out and hear him coughing. He wished for nothing more. He knew what to buy for her out of his pension. That’s his business. So it was best to stretch out under the walnut tree until the last light went out in the village. What would he do at home when nobody waits for him? The bed is covered with the best fringed blanket, red, the mirror hangs on the wall dotted with flies, the window is swung open, supported by a latch. There is enough bread in the box for another week. If it get hard, he’ll bake more. At least he knew how to bake bread. For twenty years he kneaded dough of barley and rye and corn. Now at least he can buy some with his pension. Why should he dig and plow when he can eat white bread? Those who dig and plow don’t eat better bread than he does. His son Koste left for Kleonec during the partisan times. Life is life and it has to be lived out. What else can a man do alone, without a wife? He can’t go into his grave alive. At least he could do something with his pension, he could get by.
And how would it be if Solunka Dičoska made up her mind and sent a message to Naumče Treneski, that one evening she was coming to his house to be his wife, that she no longer would work for her stepson anymore for a bite of bread. Naumče Treneski’s house would come alive.
It would be best for Naumce to skip home and fix himself up a bit, and he combs his hair in the mirror, talking to himself. What a housewife like Solunka Dičoska would mean for Naumce. If only to have smoke coming from the chimney and the door always open. Twenty years of that was enough. Twenty years, a whole youth, sitting alone between four walls, without children, and without a wife, like an owl.
Jankula Temjanin was right when he teased him about buying her something, to lure her. That is why Naumče Treneski stands for the hundredth time in front of the mirror soiled by flies, combing his hair and talking to himself.
“I’m handsome, Solunka, still healthy as a goat. Why don’t you like me? I’ll feed you sweets. Come on, brighten my house, stop working for crumbs!”
When Solunka would go to fill jugs with water in the evening, she would pass the house of Naumče Treneski and shyly glance through his open window. If she didn’t see Naumce all spruced up in the window, she would see him when she went to gather kindling in the garden, because Naumce would be back at his old bed under the walnut tree. On the way back, he would pass Solunka’s kindling in the dark and put a bottle of store-bought syrup there. Solunka would find it when she picked up reeds for her stove and would recall that it came from Naumče Treneski and his pension. When she was alone at home she would drop her bundle next to the trunk and tap a sip from it.
So this is what Naumče Treneski would do every day from now on, and Solunka Dičoska would have to give in, even if she was made of iron. So Naumce does, and he ruminates every day in the marsh and in the mirror as he combs his hair. Solunka knows that Naumče Treneski can’t get her out of his mind, and she taunts him even more. She’ll go out onto her veranda, or into the garden to gather reeds, and she’ll gather up a bottle or some sweets from Naumce in her skirt with the kindling and enter her cellar from the lower door.
Solunka learned to drink brandy herself, but Naumce Trenevski taught her to eat handfuls of candy. A dram of plum brandy goes much better with sweets. Solunka Dičoska craved such things. It was like that until she caught his eye, and now she can milk him like a cow. Let Naumče Treneski stand in front of his mirror or lie under the walnut tree all spruced up, and let him talk to his sisters: “Come on out, Solunka, into the gardens in the moonlight, come on out in your slip, you tease.”
Solunka Dičoska cannot go out into the gardens in the moonlight in her slip, so she can’t say to Naumče Treneski: “I wish they’d hang you on that walnut tree, you old crow; you had a child buried in Klenoec, a twenty-year-old hero, and I nursed him.”
Only a ghost as in fairytales could make it out of the graveyard in the marsh and crush the spirit of Naumče Treneski. When the church bell tolls the villagers will know that Naumče Treneski has died. And Solunka Dičoska, if God doesn’t happen to take her before Naumče Treneski, will be the banquet matron.
Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska