Suzana Tratnik, Hubadova 20,
1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Suzana Tratnik was born in Murska Sobota, Slovenia, on April 20, 1963. She graduated from sociology in Ljubljana at The Faculty of Social Sciences. Now she is working on her Ma's in Gender Studies at The Institutum Studiorum Humanitatis, Ljubljana Graduate School of Humanities.
Tratnik has been a lesbian activists for several years, a journalist and an essayist, and she is a co-editor of a book L, An Anthology of the Lesbian Movement in Slovenia, 1984-1995. She is one of the co-organizers of the Gay/Lesbian Film Festival in Ljubljana and she was a member of the Teddy-Jury at the 2000 Berlinale Film Festival.
She started to write poetry and prose in high school. Up to now she published several short stories in Slovenian literary and cultural magazines (Mentor, Dialogi, Razgledi, Primorska srečanja, Sodobnost, Literatura). She also took part in annual contest of women's stories in Slovenia and was chosen twice (1995 and 1996) for the publication/anthology of the thirteen best stories written by women. She was also rewarded (a third prize) at the contest of love-letters by literary magazine Primorska sreèanja.
One of her stories is published in German anthology of European lesbian short stories - Sappho küsst Europa (Querverlag, Berlin 1997) and in The Vintage Book of International Lesbian Fiction, edited by Joan Nestle and Naomi Holloch (Vintage Press, New York and Toronto 1999).
In 1998 Suzana Tratnik published a book of 13 short stories called Pod ničlo (Bellow Zero) and in 2001 she published a novel Ime mi je Damjan (My name is Damjan). The same year she won a second prize at the contest of short stories on women's themes by magazine Naša ena.
In 2002 a collection of Tratnik's short stories titled Unterm Strich was published by Austrian publishing house Milena Verlag. She adapted her novel My name is Damjan for a theatre piece - monodrama, of which the premiere took place in June 2002, in Ljubljana, in the production of The SKUC Theatre.
Besides writing fiction Tratnik also writes articles, essays, and translates.
It was one of those evening events dedicated to fighting intolerance and arguing in favor of the importance of this or that non-governmental initiative, or the crucial action of this or that movement. A panel discussion was held at the Metelkova center, I don't recall the title but the subject must have had something to do with tolerance of homosexuality. Again, I was a guest speaker-not one of my favorite roles in life, but as a formerly ardent activist I have become accustomed to everything; as the need arises, I tend bar or speak in public about the reasons why the lesbian movement must be organized.
I hadn't had a good night's sleep in a while, so the sight of a meager audience put me in a good mood; it meant the shindig would soon be over and I could sit down at my regular table with my friend Dara. I scanned the crowd, looking for familiar faces, trying to assess who and how many among them were journalists and activists-they were in the majority, which meant I could roughly foresee the questions that would be asked, or at least that I would not have to spell out the similarities and differences between the lesbian movement and feminism or even explain that homosexuality is not a disease. At most, someone might broach the subject of genetics, which had lately become more hip than hormonal theories.
Having the good fortune of being among the last to speak, I didn't have to talk long. Without qualms I skipped a few years in the history of the movement and probably omitted a good number of quite crucial events. Whenever I go on for too long I start wondering what I'm doing there and why I'm talking about that particular subject at all.
Then I stepped up to the bar, as far away from the journalists and their potential questions as possible, and ordered a beer. Anita, a new face on the lesbian scene, came up to me and smiled uncertainly. "I'm sorry to bother you," she said, "but I have a question, actually a few questions." – "If I can be of help," I was all tolerance. I wondered how old she was. Must have been under twenty-five. None of the new ones are older than twenty-two. "This is all so new to me," she apologized. "You've probably got more experience, you know so much more. Could you tell me... The thing is, I'm taking evening classes at university, to get a degree, and I'd like to do some work on this subject." Aha, I thought, another term paper ‘on that subject'. Oh well, I'll live. "So..." Anita continued, "as regards your experience... do you feel discriminated against?"
Do I feel discriminated against? I lit a cigarette and tried to give the question some serious thought. "Sure," I said after a short pause, "sure I feel discriminated against." – "I thought so," Anita was visibly encouraged, as though she'd found we had something in common. "And-in what way? How do you feel discriminated against?" Now I no longer needed to think long or particularly hard. In addition to having beautiful teeth she also had lovely hands and I liked what she was wearing. "Well, in several ways." Anita nodded eagerly. "I can't get a scholarship because I'm too old. I don't have the right kind of relatives. I never get to meet the right people, or if I do, I find them uninteresting. I can't smoke pot in bars and other public places because it's not legalized here. I'm not a homeowner."
Anita was silent, and I felt I'd said quite enough for my part. "Sorry, could I have a cigarette? Thanks." She took a few drags and said: "You probably think I'm funny, don't you? Maybe it was different for you guys, or, well, for you, when you were twenty-one. How old are you now, if that's not a secret?"
"No, I don't think you're funny at all. Everything I said is true. And I'm thirty-four. Aren't these ample reasons to feel discriminated against? I know it doesn't answer your question, but it's an answer." – "Yes, but I'd still like an answer to my question, you know, for my paper." – "Sure," I said, "I can give you a select bibliography. Come around later, I'll give you my phone number."
On my left, there's a fish tank, on my right, the bar and the women. It's late. Or rather, early. Dara and I always sit at the same table in the corner, maybe that's why our point of view at Metelkova is always the same. Some women embrace or even try to dance in a rhythm totally unrelated to the music. Or to music totally unrelated to dancing. When they embrace I always imagine they've had too much to drink. Anita carefully flirts with all of them and only talks to some of them, probably the ones she thinks would be a good catch. I'm pleased when I see her glancing at me surreptitiously. I'm beginning to feel more inclined to discuss discrimination with her, or rather, to steer the conversation into my waters.
"We're, like, from those books," says Dara.
"You know," she says. "the books you showed at the panel. Except that we don't have a book of our own yet. Because we don't have so many places and important dates, see?"
From those books with photographs which represent the history of lesbian culture and similar tripe. Books whose sole purpose is to provide every weirdo in the world with their own square meter of identity. You're supposed to just leaf through them and know where you belong and where you stand. Then you're supposed to feel better. And know that women have embraced in bars and gotten drunk since always. Take the photos from Berlin in the 1920's: In all of them there are masculine lesbians with monocles-tolerance has dubbed them ‘butch'-and their feminine lovers. Or the ones of lesbian artists from prewar Paris. That's this damn history. That's what they call ‘gay pride'. The dead get Berlin, the zombies Metelkova. And in both cases there's this same state of being captured in images. Whatever I do will be recorded on the pages and in the color photographs of some book soon to be published in paperback. There's no getting away from history, not on your life. Pages 44 through 46, photos nos. 16 through 38: ‘Berlin-Metelkova'.
"What you're saying is deep," says Dara. "I never thought about that. I only come here to get high and look at the women. It's fun. Sometimes I also talk to them. And if I'm down, I watch the fish in the tank. But history-I never looked at pictures like that, it never occurred to me. Do you often think about those photos when you come here, I mean, for a beer, not to attend a panel?"
No way. God forbid I should do something like that. I'd never come to this club if that were the case. I'm not so stupid as to see my life in terms of a sequence of photos. As a matter of fact, I find all these associations with old scenes, with things already seen, obnoxious. As soon as you do or discover and document anything, there's already someone asking you about discrimination.
"The two of us have our own movie, girl," says Dara triumphantly and raises her glass in a toast to me and the women dancing at the bar.
Yeah, I say, I have plenty of scenes which will never make it into any damn picture history book for novice lesbians. I have a fantasy about my ideal woman. Or rather, my two ideal women. But who cares? Dara starts laughing-now she is watching my reflection in the fish tank.
I don't know, girl, I continue, maybe I'm saying this because I'm slowly going nuts. Maybe I'm back to picturing fixed ideals because there's no moderation anywhere any more.
First, there's Her. Her image began to take shape early in the spring of 1997. Under the influence of rave culture. Under the influence of drugs, the final isolation, the craving for a living being, or rather, for a lethal symbiosis. Under the influence of the fact that there was no-one in my vicinity. No-one. In a hundred-kilometer radius. Or in a thousand-kilometer one.
I had to make somebody up. I just had to.
Her. She has long red hair. Very bright red, a bit tangled and slightly damaged by hair dye. Sometimes she wears color highlights, and sometimes she dyes her hair green. She hasn't turned twenty-five yet, probably not even twenty-three. It's hard to tell her age. She's painfully mature for her years. And lonely. In public she appears serious and aloof-except when she's high. She's into drugs big time; she does everything: ecstasy, skunk, shit, pot, coke, but scarcely touches alcohol. She loves good food, eats hardly any meat, and likes all kinds of fish and exotic dishes. She's a good cook, though she only cooks on rare occasions. She can make a divine pepper steak with melon, pineapple and sour cream. I'd never even heard of that before. She made that steak especially for me the first time she invited me over to her place. No-one's ever eaten anything like that before. (Me neither, obviously, since I'm only indulging in a fantasy.)
Mathematics is her life's obsession and her field of genius. All of it-formulas, calculus, geometry. She writes brilliant, zany books when she feels like it. Or so I'm told, because obviously I don't understand anything; you know mathematics is not my forte. And she doesn't even have to attend lectures, she's so brilliant. All she has to do is take exams (all straight A's, naturally). When she feels like it and is not too depressed, she can take as many as five exams in a day.
A lonesome genius. She has never stopped thinking about death.
She used to live with her parents in Ljubljana for many years, almost in complete darkness. She'll remain somewhat unsociable forever, though she has good communication skills and old-fashioned good manners.
Most of the time she wears black and silvery gray. When she's with me, she laughs a lot, and not because of drugs.
Now she lives in a big old house, no, a manor, not far from Ljubljana. The manor stands in the middle of an overgrown garden with a dirty stone pool I've been dreaming about all my life. That's where I live too, that's my home. There, with her. That's the only place I can call home. The manor is rundown, because she's alone and she can't take care of everything on her own. She's sick of this rotten life, that's why she doesn't feel like doing anything, she's been tired of life since always. That's why sometimes she doesn't want anything. She just sits at her enormous oak desk and writes. She does calculus. Formulas. She often places her hands on the large globe she keeps on her desk; it's a rich dark brown.
The manor's drafty. Some of the windowpanes are broken. There are currents of cold air coming from all directions. In the winter she often doesn't heat the place. She doesn't feel up to it. There's no point anyway, what with all the drafts.
She has a car. She goes shopping once a week, and tries to
stock up on everything: vegetables, fruit, cigarettes, rolling paper, coffee,
cocoa, milk, sour and fresh cream, muesli, rice, potatoes, diskettes, notebooks,
She's often nervous. She sits, smokes, and jiggles her legs. But that only means she's thinking.
She never went to high school. She had private tutors. Top-notch educators. Her parents saw to that. They saw to a lot of things. But she's alone. Lonely. That's why they let her live in a lonesome manor.
She's beautiful. Beautiful in a very special way. She has a beautiful smile. And a pale complexion. She says she's closer to death every time I kiss her.
I don't know her name.
The Foreign Legion
Because I know life is never like one's fantasy, I have a backup fantasy of my ideal woman.
My backup fantasy woman is butch. (Dara splits her sides laughing.) No, listen, this story's not entirely made up. She's been abroad, for quite a long time, probably in the Foreign Legion-something you don't want to know too much about or probe into too deeply. She left home years ago because something dreadful happened to her and her family didn't love her. You know, the unloved kids who grow into hard-nosed, tough personalities-they're my favorite. She went away to prove to herself and to the others that she could make it on her own. Now she's back. Out of the blue she reappeared in Slovenia. She and her two buddies-the gang from the Foreign Legion. She's still embittered and lonely. (That's about to change when she meets me.) But she's strong. Honest. A rock. A woman of her word. After all she's been through she knows damn well what fair play is. You know how I long for a woman who isn't full of bull. Who doesn't lie. Or believe in a better future. Sometimes she drinks-whiskey, tequila and beer. She regularly smokes pot and often takes acid. She drives some large car, probably a jeep. She can't make up her mind what to do with her life; she doesn't feel like thinking about work or university just yet. First she has to adjust to her new environment. And drink with her buddies. Perhaps they like sitting in the sidewalk cafe I pass by every day. I notice them. I know straight away they're lesbian. She glances at me, but I don't think she's really noticed me yet. She has blue eyes, a tanned face, short hair, a bandanna on her head, a sleeveless shirt and jeans. I remember her by the tattoos on her upper arms. Some Chinese or Vietnamese ideograms-I'm not sure which, I can't tell them apart. She looks stoned, or else high on something else. I can tell she likes sex.
Then they come to Metelkova. They sit drinking at a table, they're never loud, but still far from inconspicuous. When I come to Metelkova it's late, almost midnight, it's summertime. I'm interested in them, particularly the blue-eyed one. I'd like to flirt with her, but of course I can't know for certain whether she'd flirt with me, so I don't risk it. What if she's already flirting with someone-or God forbid, with everybody. I want her to want only me-or else the deal's off.
Kaja's already buzzing around them. I want to ask her who they are, but I decide against it. Blue eyes may be a handful. Kaja joins them at their table with a beer in her hand, and I get the impression that all their eyes, the blue ones in particular, turn to me.
Then Kaja comes up to me and recounts briefly everything I've guessed and says her new friends are asking about dope. She told them I might know something about it. So now they'd like to let me know they'd be very happy if I could score some stuff for them. You know, Kaja advocates their cause, they know their stuff, they're really cool, you know, and they said they'd treat us to it too if we got them something. I try to pull myself together. I try to look cool and on top of things. Kaja rushes back to their table and motions to me. I slowly make my way there, my glass in hand, chewing gum so furiously I bite the inside of my cheek and stop on the way for a few words with some of the other women, though what they say doesn't really register. Finally I reach the fateful table with the foreign legion. They say hello and I nod back. Kaja makes the introductions. Blue eyes-now Em for short-has a large, strong hand and is at least 180 centimeters tall. Naturally, I get the feeling that she shakes my hand more firmly than the others. She takes her foot off a chair and nicely but seriously tells me to sit down. First she asks me what I'll have to drink and offers me a cigarette, some American crap. Then she pulls her chair closer to the table so as not to be overheard: "What can you get?" – "Skunk for sure, E or acid," I say. "What's the acid like?" – "I'd recommend it, it's the black smileys," I expound and notice that my hand shakes when I flick the ash off my cigarette, "they're really good, a quarter's enough. They're three and a half thousand apiece, maybe I can get'em down to three." – "Okay, get one, no, get one and a half, so there's enough for everyone, including yourself and Kaja."
To cut a long story short, I go get the trips, then you, Dara, join us,and we all get high. The conversation becomes easier. I'm sitting next to Em. If I wasn't so spaced out, I'd be tense with nerves. I want her. Most of all I'd like to ask her to come with me. But somehow I sense she's going to do it. And she does-she starts asking you about me. You say only good things about me. I like that.
Early in the morning, when it's getting light already, we end up going to my place. We ride in her jeep, and that seems particularly magical to me. We're both wearing sunglasses. We laugh. Sometimes her hand slips onto my knee. The blue eyes glow.
At my place we have coffee. "Do you want me?" she asks me straight out (I have a hard time coming up with something original about that part of the story). I say yes. She puts down her cup and strokes my back. Of course she doesn't tell me she wants me before some preliminaries; first we talk about her past and mine, and about movies, books, drugs, Indochina and disappointed loves; sex is the topic accompanying our third cup of coffee, but I don't want to go into all that now.
"You're making me tingle all over," I say seductively.
"I'm shaking," she says.
"I'm... I'm nervous. I'm always nervous when I have sex with someone for the first time."
Em chuckles and breathes deeply.
"Don't worry," she says under her breath. "I'll take care of you. Slowly. All day and all night as well, if necessary-if you want. I know I'll do everything to make it good for you. It has to be good for you; that's all I know."
"And then? Come on, go on with the story!" says Dara. I know she's amused. So amused that she keeps putting her hands to her head, as if to say too much, I can't believe this; your imagination, old girl, is out of this world. All right, then, I'll humor her-Dara, of course.
Em is passion incarnate. I couldn't have imagined a woman like her in my wildest dreams. For the first time in my life, sex is good even though it's our first time. Or rather, it's mind-blowing. You know, (I tell Dara) first she caresses my thighs and tightly grips my waist, as if she knew that's what I like best, then she asks me how I want her to start. I don't know, I say, I don't know, start slowly, with a massage maybe. Okay, she says, take your clothes off, I'm good at massage. I take that to be just the old cliche, let's have some foreplay so the whole thing's not too abrupt, we're not amateurs after all. But it's far from that. She massages me for almost an hour and a half without her hands once straying toward the more private parts of my body, although we can both scarcely breathe we're so aroused. Oh, yes, it's so damn real. After that, sex can't possibly be bad. That's what I call skill. Oh, yes, virtuosity ...
When I close the register of my ideal women, Dara is doubled up with laughter. She slaps me on the back and goes to the bar to get us tequilas. When she returns, she has a new story ready. "I say, Anita was asking about you."
"Yeah, right," I say grumpily. Anita-I can picture where I'd end up with her: page 125, photo no. 33, Lesbian movement at the turn of the 1990's, another paperback edition. I don't want any more of that. "Okay," I say suddenly, "let her come over." I'll tell her where she stands. Anita comes over, with a drunken smile on her lips and mascara on her eyelashses. I've asked about her in the meantime, though information on the scene amounts to the same as gossip. I've heard she's still married. I've heard she's going through a sexual identity crisis. (As can be seen from photo no. 33.) That's all I need. Anita first asks me if I'd like something to drink, as though she can't see the tequila sitting on the table in front of me. Then she begins to talk. Hastily she tells me how much she likes me and that she's been watching me for half a year and that something like that's never happened to her before and that she'd still like to hear something about discrimination. I remain silent. I wonder if I'm covering my embarrassment successfully. I watch Dara from the corner of my eye: she's staring at the fish tank and smirking. Finally I open my mouth: "All right, girl, fine, but it's not gonna happen." Anita continues that I don't know her yet, that I should give her a little time, that she'll wait if necessary. "You know, there's someone else," I say to the fish tank. Dara snickers. Anita is taken aback, well, where is my sweetheart, she doesn't think she's ever seen me with her. My sweetheart has a very demanding job, with a lot of fieldwork, she's busy, she has no time for clubbing. Well, that sucks, Anita tries to make me change my mind, she says she really wouldn't mind that there's someone else. Then I tell her that cheating on my sweetheart is out of the question, because she loses her temper very quickly after all the years she's spent in the Foreign Legion and she'd kick my ass. It's true we hardly ever go out together, but at home we're together all the time. And I always cook for her; she'd lose it if she came home from work and dinner wasn't ready.
"Is she ... is she violent?" asks Anita, nervously lighting a cigarette, as if to give herself courage.
It's not that. Though sometimes she does go overboard. She calls me names and slaps me around. But you shouldn't be judgmental about it. (Dara nods her head vigorously.)
"What are you saying?" Anita grows really upset. "She never takes you anywhere, you have to cook for her, and on top of that she beats you up on occasion? Why do you stay with her?" – "You know what," I argue, "you don't know the first thing about such matters, you're hung up on details. I have plenty of reasons for staying with her. She's a great lay. She always scores good dope. And not only that. She also does housework and cooks whenever she has time. She never leaves dirty dishes in the sink, see, and she always leaves the bathroom clean. And I know she loves me and is faithful to me-and there are damn few women like that."
I down my tequila. Dara talks to the fish in the tank. Anita stares silently ahead and shakes her head. "You know," she says, "I lived with a guy for a couple of years, but this ... I didn't have to cook at all, and I had time for myself. It's not the nineteenth century. And to think that you of all people should consent to a relationship like that!"
She's on the point of lashing out at newspapers and politics. So I decide to elucidate the true state of affairs. I tell her I'm the one who chooses who screws me and who beats me. No-one will ever force me into anything again. And I'm not the least bit interested in relationships with eternal adolescents who forget my name after one drink. "I don't mean your age," I add quickly. "I'm talking about eternal adolescents, and here the actual years don't count."
The day is breaking. Dara yawns. The waitress starts asking
us to leave. Anita invites us for coffee and ice-cream. "I don't care where
we go," says Dara crossly.
"I'm going home," I say. "I have to fix breakfast for my honey."
"You've got to be kidding me," Anita is horrified. "You're going home to fix breakfast for her?!"
Yes, that's right. Because I know what it means to have someone waiting for you at home, and what it's like to have a bad day just because she didn't show up. I pick up my packet of cigarettes from the table. Anita seems offended, who knows why, and she hurries off to the bathroom without saying goodbye to anyone. Dara caresses the fish tank with her fingertips, stroking the fish. The morning is brilliantly sunny. "Let's get some air, girl, and some sun," says Dara and pats me on the shoulder. We go outside, sit on the steps and Dara rolls a joint.
"This panel sure came to a strange end," she starts babbling. "Those who left right after it, missed all the action and never learned anything. Now they'll go on forever asking and writing about discrimination. It's no wonder we need tolerance and panel discussions on respecting differences. And these panel discussions are also attended by eggheads who then continue to write about the exact dose of discrimination they've been able to digest... Well..."
She passes the joint to me. "Yeah," I say, "and in the meantime,
in between panels, they browse through encyclopedias, looking for proof of the
purpose of history and of the meaning of movements. You're right."
"What are you going to do about Anita? You know what I mean ... all this movement stuff ... seeing as they're asking us so much about it, well, obviously you more than me. The way I see it I joined the scene to meet someone, you know how it is."
"Yeah, I know how it is. Do you think at the next panel we could finally get around to admitting that the whole point of the movement is getting together and meeting women so we can have sex?"
"No, no," Dara flinches. "That's overdoing it. They better look at books with old photos of lesbians. So-what are you going to do about Anita? I think she's coming now."
"I don't know, but I kind of like her," I whisper in Dara's ear.
I smile at Anita. She sits down and takes a few puffs in reconciliation.
"You look beat," she says to me. "What direction is your home?"
"Yours," I say. I really am tired. I rise and put on my shades. "Let's stop by a store first. I always have muesli with yogurt before coffee in the morning."
"There's a store right next to my apartment building," says Anita. Fine, I think, so maybe I will tell you about discrimination after all, and perhaps also something about ideal women.
Translated by Tamara Soban
GAMES WITH GRETA
I first met Greta when I was six, when my parents took me to a big yearly get-together of all our relatives in Vuèja Vas. Greta had been adopted by ‘the English", that is to say, a couple of our relatives who had lived in England for over twenty years. I found the English aunt and uncle condescending and unkind, though their behavior was always pointedly polite. I only met them a few times in my life, but they invariably talked about the same things, the same people, the same events. They would describe life in London as if it were almost a fairytale, the land of milk and honey for capable people, which was obviously what they considered themselves to be too. My parents would listen to them with enthusiasm and awed wonder, and then brag about them for a long time in front of our neighbors.
It was precisely because of ‘the English' that I did not at all look forward to the great family reunion; I felt self-conscious in advance about all the gauche things I would say or do, uncomfortable about the contrite look on the face of the hostess because her soup was too greasy, and downright ashamed of the dilapidated and messy house in Vuèja Vas where our entire family would regularly assemble at least once a year and have an uninhibited good time-or so it seemed to me. This time a host of unpleasant feelings descended upon me already on the macadam road leading to Vuèja Vas, and all because of some people living on a distant island. And so I didn't much care what their adopted child Greta was like, whom the English had acquired since their last visit and whom none of us had yet met.
As a matter of fact, I had decided beforehand that I would not like her and that I would furtively be as mean to her as possible-I would find some way for her to start repaying me evil in kind. Once we were at war, things would be easier. I wondered nonetheless what her adoptive parents tortured her with. For me, it was English. Come to think of it, everybody hassled me about English. My grandpa was always boasting about his granddaughter who took English classes at the age of six already, and he told me to speak English when I was to thank my aunt and uncle for the candy they'd bring me, and to speak loud and clear as though I was speaking Slovenian. My previous encounter with ‘the English' had ended in disaster. As soon as I stood in front of them I couldn't even remember my name, let alone the way I was supposed to address them in English. Their speech sounded absolutely alien and unreal, and in my despair I ended up repeating ‘thank you' and ‘please' loud and clear, to show at least my willingness and good manners, since all my knowledge of English had evaporated, and to get out of their clutches as quickly as possible. I got the candy eventually, but because of the humiliation I had suffered at their hands in front of all my kin, that candy was a source of shame to me, and I feared that the village kids, among whom I'd enjoyed leadership status due to my city origins, would start treating me as an equal.
Greta undoubtedly knew English, and knew it so well she never needed to attend any foreign language classes. I clearly had no advantage there. I just hoped she could speak no Slovenian, which might put her in a predicament in front of the assembled company.-Even back then, Greta was a hard nut for me to crack.
That year the English were late to arrive, a circumstance that caused universal, though unvoiced, joy. The greasy soup was quickly all lapped up, the fried chicken picked to the bone and then the bones sucked clean, a thing not done in England; apparently bones there were not even given to dogs and cats, but thrown out of the window, to the birds. After lunch, the entire family gathered in the yard to dismember the pig slaughtered in the morning, without anyone finding fault with the village women's remarks about how beautiful the fresh meat was with the nerves still quivering in it. I was allowed to watch while my grandma strained the pig blood onto giant iron pans and then inserted them carefully, like some very precious material, into the oven of the red-hot wood stove. I touched the edges of the pans, despite my grandma's constant admonitions that she didn't need my help. She nonetheless wearily let me interfere with her work, and get my hands and arms covered with blood up to the elbows. It would've been great if the English had showed up at that moment to find us children naughtily hugging and caressing each other with bloody hands, just to be bad. Because: "Blood is associated with wiolence, and violence is bad for children." I think that's what the English aunt had once said. I can not recall why. As far as I was concerned, violence was a thing associated with alcohol, and had no connection to food whatsoever.
As we were in the middle of supper, our most distinguished family guests finally made their appearance. Like almost every year, they had again flown to Ljubljana, taken a train, first class, to Murska Sobota, and a taxi to Vuèja Vas. The aunt and uncle proudly stepped over the threshold. They had Greta between them, leading her by the hands as though she were disabled and would immediately have collapsed without their support, or disintegrated into dust and then everyone would know that they didn't have a real daughter. She created quite a stir: My relatives got up from the table, shook hands with the English and patted Greta. "This is our little Greta! She's one of us now!" they exclaimed, and the eyes of some seemed to water with emotion. The women clasped their hands to their breasts and did not really dare touch her much. And I was consumed by profound envy.
The English child was slender like me, only a bit taller. She had a gentle face, long blonde hair pulled back severely into a ponytail, and unusually piercing eyes. Greta's outfit was simple, a dark blue skirt and a shirt with a bright pattern, similar to mine, except that everything looked nicer on her, better quality, more expensive, yet discreet. Her demeanor differed completely from that of any child I had met until then; she behaved almost like an adult, perfectly composed and unperturbed, with only her darting gray-green eyes betraying the fact that she felt uncomfortable and disoriented in her role. She shook hands with determination, repeating her ‘how do you do' in a soft voice with the aplomb of an adult. It was so obvious she came from a different, capitalist country, a country I could never simply visit the way she could mine, by taking a plane, a train and a taxi. I suddenly realized how impatiently I was waiting to be introduced to her, so that I could touch her. But the English never introduced their adoptive daughter to us children. I could sense that our country relatives' children had their noses put out of joint by all the fuss made over Greta. I would've so much liked to join them in their expressions of resentment-which until then had been directed like a conspiracy against my own city background-since I felt that Greta and I were immeasurably far apart. I no longer clearly knew which side I was on.
After enough approval had been expressed in looks and words by the assembled company, the English aunt quickly reached inside her alligator leather bag. I knew: From that ugly handbag she always produced the sour English candy. This time I was not afraid I would be made to ask and thank for it in English-I had a pretty strong hunch my relatives would not dedicate any special attention to me this time. I expected the aunt to hand the candy over to Greta for her to distribute among the children, and then we could all go outdoors to play and leave the adults alone. That was the custom. But no; the aunt dealt out the candy herself, albeit somewhat distractedly, failing to notice that some kids got as many as five or six pieces, while others barely got one.
Greta continued to stand bolt upright next to her adoptive father, who stared ahead proudly with a restrained smile, and paid no attention to anyone now that she was through with meeting and greeting people. She didn't so much as look at my candy-distributing aunt, as though these foreign customs were devoid of meaning and none of her concern. No, Greta was not our equal. Someone told her to take a seat. She sat down, or rather, climbed onto, a tall chair and softly said thank you. Then out of the blue she turned and looked straight at me, searchingly, as though she were not altogether certain whether I differed enough from the other children so that I could be a distant cousin of hers. I felt wooden, trapped, as if obliged to say something, of course assertively, yet without being pushy. But I was at a total loss for words. Greta averted her eyes, and everyone seated at the table started posing her simple questions, about school, England, the weather. She answered in flawless Slovenian, in short, clear sentences. So she knew Slovenian already. I could detect no trace of anything foreign in her accent, except perhaps the unnaturally long pauses which were a give-away in the longer sentences.
Grandma propelled me toward the table. She gripped me firmly by the elbow and leaned to whisper in my ear that I shouldn't be standing by the wall like a wooden idol but should go talk to my cousin instead. I yanked my arm free and sat down at the table resentfully. Grandma hissed through clenched teeth-the others were naturally not supposed to hear any of this, particularly not the English-that, as usual, I was not behaving myself as befitted girls my age and that good manners showed in one's attitude to newcomers-and that was a thing even kids dumber than myself could get into their heads. And I'd never get that English language into my head either if all I was ever going to do was stand on the sidelines in such an incompetent fashion. "She's not my cousin!" I hissed back through equally clenched teeth. "It's not ‘she', but Gretica! What way is that to speak of people!" Grandma furiously shook my elbow. "It's not Gretica, but Greta! And she's not my cousin!" At that Grandma shook me even harder: "Even though she's adopted, it's like she was their real daughter now!" Of course, that was the issue that hung unspoken in the air the entire time. Many of the people had probably wanted to tell the English that they understood completely why they'd adopted a child, but on the other hand everyone was reluctant to be the one to broach such a sensitive subject. "That's not what I meant. The English are not really my aunt and uncle!"-"That's not for you to decide!" said Grandma almost at the top of her voice and pushed my elbow away, almost tossing it away, like some annoying object.
After dinner we children went out to play on the grass in the backyard, following the orders of the adults. The village children, who of course formed a tightly knit group, played blind man's bluff among them, excluding Greta and me. I sat on the wooden well, on the half covered with planks, and observed Greta from under my scowling eyebrows. The aunt had brought her to the threshold, indicated that she should sit on the steps, and after that Greta never budged. Her duty was to be civil and sit in the company of children, but it did not include having to play with them. I tried to think of a way to get her involved in some game where I could compete with her, naturally in a way which would give me an advantage. I was still unsure which side I was on, and I have to admit that puzzled me significantly. Despite my doubts, I screwed up my courage and approached her. "What games can you play?" I asked her in the local dialect. I think I was pleased with the audacity of my question, and overwhelmingly excited by the opportunity to observe her from up close. She could barely make out the meaning of my words since she had only learned literary Slovenian, and I couldn't help but think that she deserved it. "I take ballet lessons," she answered after a longish pause. "What about you?" That caught me slightly by surprise. I wanted to know about games, I didn't care about the ballet, piano or flute lessons, the girl scouts, chess club and similar extracurricular activities for bored children who had too much of everything sticking out of their asses, as my Grandma used to say. "What about me?"
Fortuitously, the father of one of my country cousins came from around the shed at that moment. He was carrying an ax, with the sharp end carelessly slung over his shoulder. He stopped by the chopping block, pressed a finger against his left nostril and blew his nose onto the ground, as though he were not quite certain whether he was beginning or ending the job. After some deliberation, he eased the ax off his shoulder and stuck it in the chopping block with one hand. Just as he was, presumably, about to start gathering wood from the woodpile, his wife showed on the doorstep, grim and fed-up as always, and indicated with two annoyed flaps of her arms that she needed his help right away. He cursed, nodded, and wobbled into the house.
"I can kill chickens, you know," I said out loud. I tried to make it sound as much like a threat as I could. Greta gave me a somehow cold look, almost reproachful. That was probably due to that children and violence thing, which her adoptive parents preached about quite unnecessarily. Just as they used candy to punish ignorance. My claim was of course far from true-I had never slaughtered a chicken in my life. I had only been present a few times when my grandmother had prepared chickens for slaughter, usually on the occasion of some religious holiday or anniversary. She would walk about the chicken coop very seriously, and search for the right chickens with an almost transfigured expression on her face, although she'd known for at least a month in advance which chickens were due at the next festivity. But Grandma maintained that the chickens prepared to die by themselves-one had to be able to look them in the eye and read there a certain kind of cloudiness which appeared as a result of too much suffering in this world. Slaughtering chickens without reading their eyes first was a great sin. She always picked three chickens. She tied their feet together with string near the claws and carried them, one by one, holding them by the string so that their heads hung down, to the butchering lawn by the woodshed. She placed them near the blue-enameled iron bowl into which she caught the blood from their severed necks. Before the actual deed she spit thrice into the white interior of the bowl, inhaled deeply and cautioned me one last time to take three steps back. Just before slaughter the chickens always fell silent; they lay quite still, apparently lifeless, their bound feet now caught in a spasm, while their eyes, upside down, were rhythmically devoured by the pink membrane of their lids. Their beaks, which had squawked loudly only moments ago, were now wide open and quivered mutely. I thought they were thirsty.
Greta got to her feet and, ready to go, straightened her skirt. I had not expected her to display interest in slaughtering chickens. Possibly she was just going along with the flow, or she might have simply been being polite. There was no time for pondering these questions, though. I quickly stepped up to the chopping block and grabbed hold of the heavy ax. I was fully aware that there was something terribly wrong with this venture, though I could remember all the details about spitting and such. "It's quicker if you use an ax," I said, more to myself than to her. We went to the back of the house, where my relatives had built the chicken coop, a shoddy affair of rotten planks hastily nailed together. On the way I picked up a perforated iron pan which was otherwise used for roasting chestnuts. I also knew which chicken I would pick: The unevenly mottled gray one, which reminded me of a runty puppy. I leaned over the planks, grabbed the mottled creature by its wing and pulled it out of the coop. "Look at the eyes." Greta looked at me in surprise. "Not mine, the chicken's!" She looked at the chicken, whose head jerked nervously as it squawked unevenly, and after a while, perhaps thinking she should make some observation, she said: "It doesn't have any teeth."-"No, of course not," I said impatiently. "Now spit into the pan once. But not through the holes." Greta stepped up to the pan and spat out a gob of saliva, then quickly retreated a few steps, as though she knew already one should not stand too close to the butcher. Now everything was set for the final act and I began to worry how I was going to calm down the chicken enough to chop off its head. I grabbed it across the wings and set it down on an old tree-stump near the coop. I pressed its body downwards and, surprisingly, the chicken remained perched there, blinking sleepily into the late afternoon sun. It looked more dead than alive in other respects too-my grandma would've chosen it for slaughter for sure. I derived courage from that thought. The mottled monster began to peck at the wood fungus growing at the edge of the tree-stump, thus unwittingly exposing its neck. I quickly put the pan down next to the tree-stump and grabbed the heavy ax. I would not get another opportunity as good as this one. I lifted the ax, raising it far back over my shoulders as I had seen men do when chopping wood, then I swung forward, toward the tree-stump. What happened next had little to do with my plans-for, having half-closed my eyes with the exertion, I had slightly missed the chicken's neck. Instead, I chopped its head in two, right across the eyes. I thought the chicken cried out, although its beak bounced off together with the rest of the top part of its head. It might have been Greta who made the sound. Before I could think of something to do with the headless corpse, it had leaped off the tree-stump and dashed, or rather fluttered, toward the wood. Even though the wildly flapping wings beat against the undergrowth, the headless freak quickly vanished into the tall grasses. Of blood there was actually fairly little. There was practically none in the pan, only the ax was bloody. I wiped it off on the grass as well as I could, and covered the severed half of the chicken's head with the perforated pan-I figured the maggots and the rain would do their job and my relatives need never find out anything. And besides, they would surely not miss such an ungainly chicken.
Greta was still standing in the same spot. I was afraid to meet her eyes, but her face looked calm, only a bit inquiring, as though she expected some kind of closure to enable her to make some sense of this game. There was no closure though. All I could think of was that I should have used a knife instead of the ax. I thought I saw Greta give a tiny smile. I still did not dare look her in the eye-now I was embarrassed. Her cheeks were spattered with a few drops of blood. I don't think she would've minded that, even if she had known. Again I felt the desire to touch her.
Then we washed in the rainwater which had gathered in a large barrel standing in the middle of the yard. Greta went back and sat on the steps submissively.
"There's no water left in the well, you know," I said. Greta looked at me attentively. Possibly she thought there was some play on words involved. "I believe the well is full," she said deliberately and distinctly. "How can you believe anything, seeing as you've never seen the bottom?"-"I have too," she insisted more softly, no longer certain she could take the game in a prearranged, but to her unfamiliar, direction. "Come! I'll show you!" I took hold of her hand without gentleness and pulled her off the steps. I wondered whether I could beat her at wrestling, and whether it would make me happy to twist her skinny arm behind her back and force her to make a fist and tremble in rebellion. Who knows if she would have put up a fight. I could not assess her strength, though, because she offered no resistance whatsoever, she just gave in without struggle or cooperation, only following me absently. "Now look very closely!" I ordered her and stepped onto the rotting wooden crate leaning against the side of the well. I leaned over the edge of the well and carefully inspected its interior. The evening sunrays illuminated it approximately halfway down the shaft, while on the bottom the contours of boulders could be made out, and the overturned bucket which had lain there ever since the rope broke. Then I straightened up and stepped off the crate: "So there: There's no water in the well. Now it's your turn." I expected her to recoil and hesitate, since children generally did not dare look over the edge of the well, which we were forbidden to do anyway. But Greta stepped onto the creaking crate without a moment's hesitation and boldly leaned over the edge. I don't know; perhaps she'd never before seen an outdoors well. "Look deep!" I ordered again. When she stood tiptoe on the crate and leaned really far over the edge, I again experienced that unfamiliar excitement, only more intense this time, with my heart beating close to my mouth, since now I was in complete control of the game; I knew Greta was powerless, now really completely dependent on me. I quickly stepped up behind her back and kicked at the crate, sending it flying from under Greta's feet. I heard her cry out in surprise. Not in fear, only surprise. It probably had not fully sunk in what had happened. I had the impression she was first slightly jerked over the edge and only then back toward the ground. She gripped the wooden edge firmly, as though falling backward to the ground would be as grave as falling down the well. She probably lost her bearings in the sudden terror and simply gripped the rim lest she fall anywhere. Before her feet landed on the ground I leaped behind her back, grabbed her around the middle and pressed her to me slightly. She still held onto the edge in a paroxysm of fear, as though that was the only way she was going to save herself, and she no longer seemed conscious of my presence. Perhaps she was already experiencing the downward pull. My grandma used to spook us children by telling us that looking into the depth of the well was dangerous because the well could exert such a downward pull that you couldn't and wouldn't want to go away until you forgot completely where and who you were. Greta certainly looked that way already. The thought of Greta having attained a special state unknown to most, and of me being her only remaining link with this world, filled me with unspeakable exhilaration-I closed my eyes to preserve the stolen moment of her enchantment and my absolute supremacy for as long as possible. Then I suddenly panicked for fear that I wouldn't be able to tear her away from the edge and bring her back from her trance. She was heavy in my arms, cumbersome, and her fingers gripping the edge of the well had turned blue like those of a dead person. I shut my eyes even tighter, lest I be drawn into the depths. My palms slid under her shirt and slithered up her sweaty skin. I felt her nipples under the tips of my fingers. I never thought I'd be touching Greta in this way, I thought, puzzled, during a game I could no longer control or understand. I was afraid her sweaty little body would slip through my fingers and plummet down the dark shaft of the well. I partly opened my hands to get a better grip, but they slipped on her sweaty, thin chest. Her nipples bent unwillingly under my fingers; they were small, but harder and tauter than mine, probably because of her fear. Greta seemed to start breathing only then: Her chest filled with air forcefully and her stomach caved in, so that her buttocks pressed hard against my crotch. I was incapable of doing anything anymore, I just grabbed her harder, while my hands nervously slid up her belly, chest, neck. We panted in unison, united by a common terror, in an uncontrollable, unsupportable trance-like state, and I could not tell whether my head was spinning or if we were really rocking forward and backward, toward the well and back to the ground ... It was completely independent of us where the wild rhythm might stop, above the well or on the ground, if it were to stop at all.-Then I felt a hand on my shoulder. I hugged Greta so hard that my eyes welled up. I hoped that whoever it was would understand what was going on, as it would have only taken a single false move for Greta to fall to a place where all games ended. And Greta smelled of milk-not whole milk, not just any milk, but that special UHT milk which does not lose its tantalizing smell so quickly. "No, Greta!" I shouted to the hand on my shoulder. "Please!" Immediately Greta's grip on the edge of the well loosened, she effortlessly straightened up, and my hands fell out from under her shirt, slithering off her body powerless and lifeless. The enchanted embrace had been unlocked. The next instant, a torrent of agitated English burst forth from my aunt's mouth, which, compared to the abyss above which Greta and I had been hanging, now meant nothing at all. From that moment on I no longer cared one way or another about my English relatives, as though I had suddenly realized their behavior was completely ungrounded and self-serving. Greta, who had of course understood the English outburst, equally did not seem to take her adoptive mother's words to heart. She looked at me with tired, red-rimmed eyes and smiled. This pushed her mother's anger over the edge. She slapped her, but in such a nervously dignified manner that her palm barely scraped the top of Greta's head, loosening her hair from the already disheveled ponytail. "Your room is on the second floor to the left," my aunt said in Slovenian, obviously so that I too should understand the kind of trouble I had gotten us both into. That was far from the passionate wrath of my grandma, who would've undoubtedly told me to get myself off to bed that very instant and not let her set her eyes on me again, although it meant exactly the same thing. "And you, young lady," my aunt turned to me, "have behaved most deviously. What's the meaning of that blood behind the house? And the ax? And this dangerous tomfoolery at the well? What's wrong with you?" I expected her to add in her supercilious fashion that she'd have to talk to my grandma about all those things, but she apparently presumed I'd seek out grandma myself, confess everything and ask for appropriate punishment. Fat chance of that; I wouldn't have gone and asked for punishment in any language. "Most deviously," my aunt ended dryly and followed Greta into the house. I touched my forehead and looked at my palm-it was sweaty.
I found my grandma next to the barrel of water in which Greta and I had washed; she was cleaning the blood-covered pans. "There was a lot of blood this year," she said, talking to herself. "It was a good pig. Oh, yes, very good."-"Grandma, when's the right time to kill chickens?" I asked, though I didn't want to think about that chopped off half of chicken head with the crest and the beak and half an eye. "They won't be this good at Christmas. Things change," grandma went on talking to herself, as though she hadn't heard me. I knew she first needed to finish her conversation with herself. "What do you mean-kill? You don't kill anything, it's a sin to kill. Of course it's a sin. You slaughter chickens." It crossed my mind that there were probably so many sins in the world one was bound to commit at least half of them unwittingly before one got to know them all. And who could say what English sins were. Our relatives never spoke of sins. Grandma straightened up and threw the last of the pans she had cleaned onto the pile next to the barrel. She wiped the perspiration off her brow with a dishcloth dirty with caked blood and looked at me. Her eye whites were full of yellowish specks-I probably noticed them because of the glowing red sunset toward which she was turned. "And never at the same time as you slaughter pigs."-"Is that a sin?" I asked, now calm. "No, that's a curse."-"Is a curse worse than a sin, grandma?" I was worried. "You don't understand about those things yet. A curse is neither good nor bad in itself. It just is. To marry a chicken and a pig in blood, that's a curse. A curse of the unholy."
I noticed dusk had fallen.
Translated by Tamara Soban
TRIP IS ON SALE TOO
She sent her a postcard, a last-minute note before the New Year. "Come, it's okay! I'm expecting you, as we've arranged! Yours, Jana." Sure, she wrote other things as well, so many, actually, she almost ran out of space; but they were not that important. She hurried to the post office and dropped the tacky picture of a Christmas tree in the mailbox-there was really no time to shop around for anything in better taste-all that mattered was that the note arrive in time, as soon as possible. As the green-gold Christmas tree slid under the red flap and disappeared soundlessly into the full mailbox, Jana felt her day had come to a fairly satisfactory end. After all, she'd been under considerable pressure, she'd had less than twenty minutes to buy the postcard, write it, and mail it. Only then could she make her way to her apartment along the now too familiar route, looking at the Christmas decorations through the low windows, eyeing the infrequent passersby. Perhaps now she was no longer so utterly alone, so forgotten in a foreign city. The day felt somehow different. She dropped her cigarette in the snow, it really was too cold to smoke, she put on her new gloves and shoved her hands deep into her shallow pockets. "Ugh," she shivered with the cold and even smiled at herself, not sourly as was her habit, but wisely and with resignation, as though she knew that the postcard in the mailbox was not the best of moves in her life. She could always tell them in advance, these not-the-best-of-moves in her life, and she always knew just when it would be too late. Then she waited until it really was too late.
When Vivi walked in through Jana's door three days later without having received the note on the reverse side of the tacky Christmas tree, that, naturally, could not have been the best of possible outcomes. But Jana refused to let it bother her; she had busied herself decorating the apartment, she had also washed the bed linen the day before their encounter so that it would smell fresh, she'd stacked the presents on the nightstand on Vivi's side of the bed ... It all goes together somehow, she thought moments before she heard the taxi stop outside her building, everything matched, including the color of the wrapping paper on the gifts and the bed clothes and the ceiling with the silver painted stars. Even the bottle of champagne was suitably blue with a silvery design. She had really made an effort, and because she was aware how stupid one felt when in time it all turned out to have been futile, Jana always tried very hard not to let it all become futile.
Vivi had no Christmas presents for Jana, not a single one. Vivi had only brought herself, because Jana had insisted. Jana, naturally, did not say anything at the time; for half an hour she pretended that they were just having coffee and chatting after having been separated for several months, and that everything else was not yet important. Then she popped to the store for some cigarettes, and when she returned in something like three and a half minutes, they briefly recounted the most outstanding events of their separate lives and went to the bedroom, where Vivi handled the gifts and said that she liked them the way they were and that she wouldn't open them just yet. Because Vivi had no energy left for joy. And then it was already time for a joint and Jana wanted to have peace while she was getting stoned, she did not want to think about the presents she never received, since such downbeat thoughts could spoil her mood. And that wouldn't do. It simply wasn't the right time to be crabby-not yet. Jana knew well enough that she would recall this unpleasantness with the presents later, perhaps several months or even a year later, oh yes, she would remember it often and she wouldn't forgive Vivi for what shouldn't be forgotten, and already now Jana relished the prospect. "You don't know what she was like," she would tell her friends in the future, "you have no idea, she didn't even bring me a Christmas present though we hadn't seen each other in such a long time. And I was so blindly caring I gave her several presents, of course ..." Now, however, was really not the right moment, Jana did not want to be petty now because that would've immediately prompted Vivi to ask whether she really liked feeling sorry for herself so much. As a matter of fact, she did; Jana genuinely liked feeling sorry for herself. Yuletide would often find her strolling along the streets of Utrecht alone, following with her eyes the cyclists apparently immune to colds. She would unabashedly stare through the uncurtained windows at the people sitting amidst tinsel and other kitsch and watching television, chatting, or dropping off in their armchairs in a film-like version of wintertime idyll. Walking, Jana would draw up a mental list of everything she lacked, such as a sense of security, a warm home, a shelter, close friends around her; she no longer had a home even back home in Slovenia because she always just lived here or there ... She called this list of things lacking in her life her ‘merry list', probably in relation to Christmas. She was incapable of just plopping herself down in an easy chair in the afternoon, carefree, and dozing off only to wake up at sweet dusk. "When dusk falls, we'll ..." her family used to say when she was little, so in addition to Christmas also winter dusk would tug at her heartstrings, reminding her of her warm childhood home, so much so that she would actually shiver and have to light a cigarette and contemplate her situation. Even the thought of an armchair would at times provide a sufficient and perfectly valid reason to make Jana feel sorry for herself. Because these were the exceptional moments when she still could be bothered with herself.
In the afternoon, Vivi was already in tears: About this not being the right moment for her to come, about how she shouldn't have come at all as she was trying to kick her habit. (But Jana had wanted her to come, anyway.) Just before Vivi burst into tears they had sex, not very protracted and somehow hasty, seeing as they hadn't seen one another in such a long time. That's why Jana claimed that she wanted it at least two more times before dinner, insisting how much this sex meant to her and that she had derived more pleasure from it than anything else in a long time, she insisted even when the third time around she practically masturbated while Vivi just held her with one arm and kept wiping her own sweaty forehead with the other. Because Vivi often simply wasn't there. She didn't have the energy for it.
After they'd had sex and Vivi had cried over herself and bitched about her adverse life circumstances and finally fallen asleep, Jana started dinner, still refusing to admit to herself the relief she felt about having a couple of hours to herself. She decided to make a pizza-you just throw some stuff on it and pop it in the oven-she was not stoned enough to overreach herself and set about making trout amandine, for instance, or some Melanesian dish. While cooking, she indulged in another form of self-pity: positive daydreaming. Over-optimistic thoughts. About how she and Vivi could be two happy, successful students abroad. How everybody would say, oh, that's those two successful lesbians from the East, one's a humanities student, the other one a physicist ... And when they showed up at some women's club they'd be a striking couple, like two ideal workers in a social realist picture. Not that they would actually look that way-only the impression they'd create would be that strong. Stronger than life itself-but this last sentence already pertained to the first rush of her high; because while indulging in her upbeat thoughts Jana had rolled an elegant slim joint for herself. As the pizza baked, she sat and smoked, free to fantasize about how things might yet turn out all right after all when Vivi had had the opportunity to sleep off the long hours of the train journey. And it would definitely be better in the evening when they went to the party thrown by Jana's fellow students, whom they almost resembled in age and appearance, almost ... One of them a humanities student, the other a mathematician, one dark-haired, the other a redhead, no, one of them a brunette with red highlights, the other one with her head shaved. Oh, what difference does it make what color! The main thing is they'd embrace and gaze at the dark blue sky. She and Vivi.
"What are you looking at, honey?" Vivi asked.
"Nothing, what's there to look at?" grumbled Jana. She still had a slight advantage, being the one who had wrapped gifts, cooked dinner and generally taken care of things while Vivi just nagged and napped, so for the time being Jana could still afford to be grumpy and even allow herself a snide remark-but soon Vivi would be so bitter and aggressive that Jana would fear for her (and months later, when she was alone, also for herself), which would make her act in a conciliatory fashion and not raise her voice at all. No, no, she's a far too responsible person for that. "Can I call home?" Vivi asked and lit a cigarette. As she put down the lighter she immediately noticed the lone butt of Jana's joint in the ashtray-she never missed things like that. "Yes, you may," said Jana. Then it occurred to her that before leaving they still had to eat and have a beer, and Vivi still had to shower and get dressed. And she wondered whether they'd last until the New Year, which was due to arrive at midnight that night.
At 8:20 p.m. they hurried along to catch the last train to Amsterdam. The last train to the New Year's Eve party. As a matter of fact, they dragged their feet because Vivi's legs hurt and she had to keep picking off the fine threads which had stuck to her face and body after she'd rubbed herself with one of Jana's old towels. Jana knew that Dutch trains did not run after 8 p.m. on New Year's Eve, which made it abundantly clear just how pressed for time they were. So she told herself that what they were doing was hurrying along. Because if truth be told, Jana had failed to tell Vivi that there was probably no train left; she hadn't dared, because Vivi would have retorted: "Well, I guess I've screwed up again, haven't I?!" It would've been really dreadful if they'd missed the train and the New Year's Eve party in Amsterdam and Vivi blamed herself for that because she'd taken such a long time to shower and dress. When they hurried into the railroad station at 8:29, there was a single train standing at the platform-the 8:31 for Amsterdam. Thus they ended up sitting in a train, without even having bought a ticket, and Jana was in a considerably better frame of mind, despite Vivi's pathetic condition, because she knew how lucky they'd been to catch an unscheduled train. As the train rattled along, she stared through the window into the dark. Despite everything, it never occurred to her to get some new towels.
At 9:05 they were already in Amsterdam. When they stepped out into the main street leading to the Dam, Jana was suddenly overwhelmed by an inexplicable sense of anxiety, she wanted to go home, she wanted to go straight to Ljubljana, immediately, away from the wild looks, foreign languages, and whistling firecrackers. But she couldn't, so she asked her sweetheart: "Where shall we go? We've still got plenty of time." Vivi grimaced, halfway between tears and fury. Halfway. Jana was far too tired to listen, so she chose not to repeat the question. "Life sucks!" Vivi said to herself, though of course it was meant for the whole world to hear.
In what seemed like no time at all they'd reached the red light district. In no time at all. I could've avoided this, thought Jana, I could've taken her someplace else. But what would she actually have avoided? And where could they have gone, she and Vivi? It's all right the way it is, it was meant to be, said Jana to herself with a shadow of a smile. This was the third form of self-pity, this dogged resignation, this relentless and depressing surrender.
They marched in the cold, along a less crowded street in the
vicinity of the red light district. ""What do you mean, where shall we go. How
should I know?!" griped Vivi. Jana pretended not to be interested in the belated
answer. They entered a crowded, smoke-filled, dimly-lit bar and, surprisingly,
found a free table in the small back room. Jana had a beer, her sweetheart didn't
care what she had so Jana ordered a beer for her too. The silence which had
now lasted for several hours was finally getting her down, but there was nothing
she could talk about anyway. She could only find out something bad; she didn't
want to hear anything about the things Vivi did during her absence, she didn't
want to hear any lies along the lines of, "Just in case you happen to hear that
I used to often go out with Teja, I'd better tell you myself that nothing happened
between us." So she kept quiet, smoked and drank; she went to get herself another
beer while Vivi had barely touched hers. Jana again lit up, drank and stared
emptily straight ahead. It was almost as quiet and gloomy as on the unscheduled
Then she saw him, an overweight fiftyish man sitting across from her. He had sat down at their table so as to be very close to Vivi, who was practically squashed into the corner by his obesity. He smiled. Jana made a face, looked into her glass and downed the contents. But he had smiled only at Vivi, stretching his upper lip so his unkempt black mustache bristled, revealing a plastic toothpick stuck between yellowing teeth. Vivi just looked at him. He proffered a hairy hand bedecked with thick gold rings, propelled the toothpick into a corner of his mouth, and addressed Vivi: "My name is Hans." He did not introduce himself to Jana, who went for another beer at the same moment anyway. Jana disliked such assholes who invaded one's personal space and reminded her of the empty dimensions of the personal. But Vivi instantly transformed into a little girl, introduced herself, and looked at him like a little match girl starving on Christmas Eve. That's just it, thought Jana as she lit another cigarette which already tasted disgustingly metallic, that's just it, Vivi was merely a little girl, lost and unprotected. Bah, Jana waved it off imperceptibly and thought: Speak for yourself! And this sudden insight into the little girl spiel was the second thing on that New Year's Eve to bring on a self-satisfied chuckle.
"Where are you from?" asked Hans. "Slovenia," said Vivi. Vivi enjoyed striking up acquaintances with strangers. "What about her?" he motioned toward Jana. "The same," said Vivi and smiled. Man, I could punch you in the face, thought Jana. "Where are you from?" asked Vivi. "Germany." Then a waitress came around and Hans asked Vivi what she would like. She ordered a beer. Then she said to Jana: "Did you hear that, he says he's from Germany." Jana kept silent, it didn't seem worth it to start talking again just because of Hans, some Turk from Germany who happened to be sitting at their table.
Then Vivi said something Jana had never heard from her lips before, she said: "I'm sorry, I know you find him annoying." Hans did not let that bother him at all. His mustache again spread above his smile, he reached out with his enormous paw and practically hugged Jana over the table. "Don't worry," he said. Then his face straightened and he looked at Vivi: "I know what you need."-"I don't know what you mean," she responded immediately. "Sure you do," said Hans, "and so does she." He wagged his head in Jana's direction. Vivi gave Jana a quick hug and said: "Leave her out of this." Jana drew back a little.
Hans put his tight fist on the tabletop in front of Vivi, then opened his shovel-like hand to reveal a neat little white packet. He wanted Vivi to give him her hand, he wanted her to place her palm into his. When Vivi reached out and surrendered her palm to his handshake, to quickly pocket the packet a few seconds later, Jana felt redundant. It made her think of elementary school, of the time in second grade when she snitched the memory-book of the boy who sat next to her in class. She didn't take it to keep it; she only wanted to draw something in it for him to remember her by-at that time she loved copying the graceful gazelle printed on the bag of a shoe-store chain. The following day she returned the memory-book to her schoolmate. He gave her a surprised look and leafed through the book. Just as all the class rose to greet the teacher at the beginning of the lesson, her schoolmate showed her the picture she'd drawn and wagged a finger at her. Jana looked at him again-he was angry because he hadn't meant to give her his memory-book for her to write in at all. It made her ears burn in shame, and she felt so superfluous. And it was all her own fault.
When her ears burned, Jana knew it was a sign she had gone too far.
They left the strange bar and Jana felt relieved, infinitely relieved. She fairly trembled with relief. Vivi was afraid Jana would demand to know what was in the small packet, and Jana was afraid Vivi would want to show her what was in the small packet. "You see the kind of things that happen to me? And there's nothing I can do about it, is there?" Vivi said. Fear is absolutely superfluous, thought Jana and made a deprecating gesture, fear is no more than a habit. "You don't believe me, do you? Why don't you ever believe me? How am I supposed to change something if no-one ever believes anything I say?" But Jana had been warding off change for a long time, because it was always for the worse. All that mumbo-jumbo about change being good got on her nerves-it must be good only for people who give advice and talk losers, who were incapable of lifting a finger to help themselves anyway, into changing.
Now they were walking along a relatively calm outlying part of the Red District, silently roving increasingly narrow streets that Jana was not very familiar with, but she was thinking about change anyway. And how good change was, once it was no longer necessary. If everything in life is all right, change is imperceptible, even unimportant, was her conclusion. And if ...
"Hash, ecstasy!" two dealers behind a corner offered. Vivi pricked her ears and said: "No, thanks." Jana had been strolling along the streets of Amsterdam for weeks, she had heard dealers' offers countless times, but she had never heard anyone say to a dealer: No, thanks. When they reached the next corner, Jana stopped and said: "Wait, I don't know where we are." They stopped and Vivi immediately started feeling guilty because she ostensibly felt too unwell to open the street map and look up street names. She felt too unwell to help herself, let alone anyone else. People always expected far too much from her anyway. Also Jana kept waiting for something all the time. It was true: Jana had been waiting for a long time indeed. Even abroad all she did was wait. She was sick and tired of waiting, so she arranged the oppressive days to structure her waiting; these were the only changes she introduced in her everyday life. To avoid major, more conspicuous changes. For that reason she'd go shopping every day or every second day, but without fail every Wednesday and Saturday.
"Speed and coke," they heard coming from behind their backs. Then a swarthy man in his thirties appeared before them. He wanted to know where they were from, he wanted to know what they were looking for; he said he had first-rate speed and coke at a reduced Christmas price. New Year's Eve stuff at a special New Year's Eve price. Vivi said they were from Slovenia and no, thank you, they were not looking for anything, they had just lost their way.
"What about you? Are you looking for something?" Speed-and-Coke
asked Jana. "No, thanks," she said. Then she asked him where he was from, because
she somehow felt she had to make conversation. Speed-and-Coke said he was Italian,
or not exactly Italian, but close, and that he'd been to beautiful Slovenia
once. "What did you do in Slovenia?" Vivi asked him. "I've got other stuff as
well," he said and lowered his voice conspiratorially. Jana gestured to Vivi
and they set off toward the Dam, or at least they thought that was the direction
they took. "Hey, girls," he called after them, "it's New Year's Eve, relax!
I've got other stuff as well. Trip is on sale too, if you know what I mean."
And if ... things are not that all right, then change is just so much more shit, decided Jana and abandoned her self-pitying contemplation. She sat down on the curb and immersed herself in the city map. When she happily announced she'd found the way to the party at her friends' place, Vivi said her legs were really killing her. So really killing her she simply had to rest a bit. Or maybe grab a beer in a bar. When Jana resigned herself to the fact that they would have to take a taxi to her friends' place, Vivi sat down next to her on the curb and puckered her face; she was about to start crying. Had Jana looked at her, Vivi would've burst into tears. That's why Jana kept her eyes riveted on the map. "You know ..." Vivi said uncertainly. "What?" said Jana and lit a cigarette. Also Vivi lit one and said: "Honey, there's something I've got to tell you." Not now, thought Jana, not now of all times, I don't want any more changes at least until the New Year. Vivi's face contorted again, this time because she couldn't bring herself to utter the words. Who the hell was it? Jana wondered. Teja? Urša? Leja? A moment later her ears began to burn. "You know ..." Vivi started again and crushed her cigarette under her foot. "You know ... well, I'm trying to kick my habit."
Jana folded the city map and got to her feet. She readjusted her woolen hat, wrapped the scarf tighter around her neck, and shoved her hands deep into the shallow pockets. Then she repeated the whole procedure two more times. Every time she wrapped the scarf tighter around her neck. "What are you doing? You want me to bring you a beer from a bar too?" Vivi asked. "Nothing, I'm just showing the symptoms," Jana laughed. "Yeah, bring me a Foster's. In a can-please."
An hour or two later they stood in a phone booth and laughed. Jana called her friends to tell them she and Vivi would not be coming over, that they would wait for the New Year on the Dam and that they could all get together later in a club. "Have we solved all the problems now?" Vivi asked playfully. "Every single one of them. We no longer have to look at this stupid map," answered Jana and smiled. "Really, truly?" asked Vivi. "And we haven't spoiled our New Year's Eve?" Jana embraced her and crushed the can in her hand. Vivi hugged her tight and whispered quietly: "Shall we go to the Dam now? Aren't we going to miss the New Year?" Jana re-wrapped her scarf around her neck: You know that can't happen ... it's impossible for anyone to be late for the New Year."
And they were not, either. They were never late for a train again, or anything else, ever.
Translated by Tamara Soban
Suzana Tratniks Geschichten spielen auf dem Land, in der Kindheit, in der Stadt, in den Bergen, in der Nacht, in der Phantasie. Realität, Erinnerungen und Träume verschmelzen zu erlebter Wirklichkeit, aber auch der veristische, meist retrospektive Blick auf die Welt beruht eigentlich auf verschiedenen Assoziationsketten. Die Stärke der Texte liegt in der kompromißlosen Schilderung der zerbissenen Psyche der Ich-Erzählerin und in den einfühlsamen Milieustudien der Laibacher Subkultur. Das sind auch die beiden Pole, zwischen denen sich die Prosa Tratniks bewegt. Hier dominiert der gesellschaftskritische Aspekt, dort die Gefühlswelt der engagierten Lesbe, die ohne Rücksicht auf sich selbst nach Wahrheit und Liebe sucht. (in: LAMBDA-Nachrichten 4/1998)
Weißt du noch, daß es damals erst kurz nach Mitternacht war? Eigentlich war schon Samstag, und wir konnten bereits sagen: "Morgen ist Sonntag."
Du hattest eine sehr unruhige Hand, als du mir Strichmännchen auf den Arm maltest, und ich konnte mich nicht konzentrieren, was aber nicht so alltäglich, nicht ganz so wie bei den meisten Menschen war, wenn sie im Zug sitzen und ihnen jemand Männchen auf den Arm malt. Ich konnte mich auf nichts konzentrieren. Weder hörte ich das Rattern des Zuges, noch nahm ich das Dampfen des heißen Kaffees aus der Thermoskanne wahr, noch weniger war mir der Geschmack der Salami im Sandwich bewußt. Ich versuchte es mit den Männchen. Doch sie flohen unter deiner Hand, gekrümmt, durchbohrt fielen sie hinab. Ich nahm die rote Holzkiste aus dem Rucksack (wir hatten nur einen Rucksack und einen Schlafsack eingepackt, weißt du noch? Und dann ließen wir die Männchen auf die Kiste. Sie waren sehr unruhig. Vielleicht übertreibe ich jetzt etwas, aber ich erinnere mich noch genau, daß sowohl die Männchen als auch die Kiste verzaubert waren.
Der Schaffner kontrollierte die Karten. Sein Blick über den Brillenrand vermittelte uns, daß er erriet, wohin wir reisten. (Du weißt ja, wie sehr manche ihre Fähigkeit genießen, für alles Verständnis zu haben.) In dem Augenblick zählten für uns nur die Gedanken an die rote Kiste und die Männchen und der Kaffeegeschmack im Mund. (Du weißt ja, wie Kaffee nach einem Sandwich mit warmer Salami schmeckt.)
Kaffee und Sandwich verzehrten wir schnell. Dann nahmen wir noch Travis aus dem Rucksack. Er reckte sich träge, sprang ganz in Katzenmanier auf die Kiste und streckte sich über sie hinweg aus. Dabei tapste er auf ein paar Männchen. Anders wäre es nicht gegangen, wir konnten Travis nicht allein zu Hause lassen. Sofort begannst du, mir neue Männchen auf den Arm zu malen, während Travis schnurrte. "Warum machst du so einen Lärm, Travis?" hast du gefragt. Wenn er zu schnurren begann, sagtest du immer, Travis mache Lärm.
Dann dachten wir uns ein Spiel mit Geräuschen aus. Wir ahmten Schafe nach, Pferde, Männchen, Kühe und Travis. "Laß uns Leute nachahmen", hast du gesagt. Du ahmtest Leute nach, redetest und redetest, rudertest mit den Armen, die Worte verhedderten sich, und du wurdest blaß. Dann hast du gesagt: "Das tut weh. Laß uns Fische nachahmen!" Wir ahmten Fische nach. Leute im Zug tun das normalerweise nicht. Deshalb reisten wir auch kurz nach Mitternacht, denn da sind die Leute normalerweise nicht unterwegs, dann kann man nach Lust und Laune Fische nachahmen.
An der nächsten Station sprang Travis hinunter von der Kiste. Es war seine Zeit.
Du sagtest, du wünschtest dir, alle Leute stiegen hier aus, und du maltest mir Männchen auf den Arm, während ich Fische nachahmte, und die Zeit bliebe stehen.
Dann ahmten wir die Zeit nach, die stehengeblieben war.