Doina
Ruști

Occult Beds

Occult Beds - Doina Ruști
Litera, 2020 (Romanian)

As intense as the stress had been during those last few months, the memory of the Baccalaureate perished even more seamlessly. As soon as the results were displayed, everything got lost in the unmistakable daze of a blue fog. Her father threw her a party in the kitchen, and told her that if she wanted to, she could drink a beer or smoke a cigarette with him, while he was scribbling calculations on a piece of paper.

“Look, Flori”, he told her, “I could give you two thousand. Is it enough for the seaside?”

Then the door opened. It was Magda, almost entirely hidden by mountains of luggage, and Ramón behind her. Her nipples were visible through her T-shirt, and she would never forget them now, nor the green T-shirt barely covering the two grapes struggling to defy gravity.

“We really want you to go to college, hija, my sweetheart who passed her exam! It can be any college you want, even a private one, don't you worry about it! We’ll pay for everything!”

Her father was watching this whole scene with a resigned gaze, while Ramón grabbed a beer, casually stating it wasn't his favourite.

“And after all this college business is done, we’ll take you to Spain. You’ll have the greatest vacation ever, chica!”

Ramón's goats crossed Flori's mind, and, remembering that Magda had left them to take care of those animals instead, she started shouting, first moderately, then, half getting up from her chair, feeling flushed and fuming, louder and louder, ignoring her father's imploring gaze and the banging noises coming from the neighbours’ knocks on the radiator pipe. She raised her voice over Magda's voice, mentioning the bed again, and the high school years that were now over, and the mornings her father had spent by the blue frying pan, and as she was shouting, spewing venomous words after venomous words, she realized that he had become like the eunuch: she was repeating, without meaning to, his irritation, his misfortunes. And a sort of veil, invisible until then, was removed from her face. Of course! He had been betrayed, he had been forgotten. He was protesting just like she was – or vice versa, because she had reached the point where she didn't want to step back. Maybe he was furious with his mother too! But what if that eunuch was a part of her, her soul in the form of an upset eunuch?

She had read somewhere about that inner little man, an avatar that represents your true nature, your essence. Sometimes he looks like a drunk, dirty, greasy man, and not because you look like that yourself, but because your soul is confused, and this character inside you is warning you, exaggerating things a little so that you get a bit scared. The eunuch was a shabby man, slightly elderly. What if her soul was exactly like that? Aged and hysterical? A shiver roused the garlands on the balconies: she always thought she was more mature and better educated than her father, for example, who had often behaved like such a child. He would read ridiculous books, spy novels, as intelligent as dime comics! No name writers, all of them! When you come across a writer by a post online or at school, the first thing you do is surf the internet. In just a few minutes you would know anything relevant: whether the author is dead or not, the books they wrote, what movies were inspired by their work. That is worthwhile information. And only afterwards, if necessary, do you read a bit, research the book, and see what it is about. There are thousands or millions of reviews and studies on important books. If a book is deemed noteworthy, it is impossible not to find something written about it. You only read the book if it awakes a sort of unshakeable curiosity in you, which never happened to Flori. As soon as the professor mentioned a title, Flori would look down at her phone and shortly she would become edified, she could even specify the characters’ names and their journeys, whether they were good or bad. One time, the professor mentioned Boccaccio, and by the time she finished the sentence, Flori had watched two trailers on the subject, so that on the tests she was the only one who made any reference to The Decameron. And who has not heard of Shakespeare, Balzac or Dostoevsky today?! Big deal! You do not have to read them in order to talk about them or quote them like an expert! And under these conditions, her dad chose to read obscure things, without any value. There were so many things she knew that he had not even heard of! She was a grownup in more ways than one. She felt she surpassed her age, her education even. That funny old man from underneath the carobs could have been a product of her subconscious. A message. Look, Flori, her world told her from its depths, from the marrow and the red cells, the large population hidden in the darkness beyond stupidity, liver, intestines and flesh, and even the brain, which was indulging insensibly in the finest pleasures, her inner world, whatever it was, spoke to her clearly: look, Flori, look closely at this man I have placed for you under the carobs! Whatever you do not know about yourself, you can find out here! Take a good look at him, study him wisely!

Now that she thought of him like that, he did not seem as embarrassing to her. He was a man perhaps her father's age, a hollow man who simply wanted to give her a message from that invisible population in her blood. But he had slapped her!

Flori left the kitchen tempestuously, pushing Magda out of her way, and locked herself in her room. She firstly typed „slap” on her laptop, then „slapped”, and pressed search. Pope Francis had lost his temper and slapped someone. Maradona slapped... Anyway, there were many slaps on the internet, delivered in schools, especially between girls, slaps given to mistresses, wives, then economy slaps, political slaps. Then she came across a longer text, where Google had marked the search and which sent shivers down Flori’s spine. She read the strangest thing: “And then his death slapped him.” She felt the need to read more. Death, small and wretched, locked in a chest, slapped the prince. It sounded funny, but she also wanted to know how the story got to that point. The fragment was from a fairy tale, she remembered hearing about it before, but she was not interested in the whole story, just the tiny detail about the slap. However, from one slapped person to another, she needed to find out what had happened before the slap. She clicked on Wikisource and read from the beginning: a prince sought immortality and blah-blah, went through all sorts of nasty things, then he reached the fairies’ world. Flori smiled: the carobs! But the prince was not satisfied with eternal youth, he missed his parents. For a moment, Magda's figure, with her green T-shirt, overtook Flori’s thoughts. What if she died? A tiny stab pierced her heart. That would have been really bad. Even with her Ramón and his goats and everything else, if she had died... what a stupid thought! She read on. The prince arrived home, centuries had passed. The parents were gone, the castle was in ruins. But in his cellars, in an ancient chest, death was patiently waiting for him. Obviously, she felt betrayed: the prince had abandoned her, kicking her to the curb, so death slapped him.

The story seemed sad to her, and the thought that the eunuch was her death felt like utter nonsense now. And even if it were true, why did he have to hit her? The death waiting in the chest was not in the right either: alright, he had abandoned her, so what? She could have very well minded her own business.

A thin veil covered the screen, and Flori left her laptop, retreating to the green balconies, where everything became clearer. The eunuch was insane. She never wanted to see him again. And yet, how could she reach the carobs without crossing his path? And without the bed, without the carob grove, life was just not worth it. Out of all the experiences she had lived until then, only her encounter with the beds seemed to matter.

Trans. Bianca ZBARCEA

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