prose

The Hoppers

The short story by Nikola Petkovic, published in the Canadian Literary Quarterly Exile, Barry Callaghan, editor-in-Chief



 http://www.exilequarterly.com/123.html

 

The Hoppers

 

I took off my socks, underpants and undershirt, stepped over the rubber drainpipe and flew toward the tub. With both feet still in the air, I was thinking I'd crack up against the bottom of the tub. That's how my father died. For centuries it has been an established custom in our family to leap into the bathtub. Feet first. I remember, when I was a little boy, my mother and father used to hold me by the hands, swing me to and fro and toss me into the tub full of hot water. Mother was somewhat taller and so I always skidded to the left, which is probably why they refused to accept me in the army. I have a suspicion Mother took advantage of her height and inadvertently stretched my left arm. It now hangs down to my knees while the other is normal. I'm proud of it. Anyway, I was talking about my father. Once he came home late like that. Drunk. He threw off his clothes, ran to the bathroom, stepped over the rubber drainpipe and flew toward the bathtub. With both feet still in the air he never dreamed he would crash against the enamel bottom and remain there clenched forever in a corner of the tub.

Four years have gone by. He's already a skeleton. Twisted there, next to the drainpipe. We find this slightly disturbing. Mother sometimes sheds a tear as she bathes. You can understand how sad it is when a bone of your former husband's thumb or elbow floats into the gap between your tits. A bone of the same hand that had once driven you mad. God, that's awful. I'll never marry. Just imagine my wife getting boozed up, rushing home, stripping, stepping over the drainpipe and plopping into an empty tub. There would be even less space, and I would be sorry, too.

Sometimes we find Daddy's bones scattered around in the tub. This usually happens on All Saints' Day. Most probably some strange powers in disaccord with scientific interpretations of the world disperse my father's bones overnight. Occasionally we find somebody else's, more tender ones, and then my mother weepingly laments. She suspects they are the bones of other women my late father had dragged in with no earthly shame.

The drain hole is so narrow that only a tooth or two could run off into the sewer. By far the most spectacular sight was the time, three years ago, when his left eye oozed away. Since my father's head, then rimmed with thick black hair, was hanging in semi‑profile against the side of the tub, the eye slowly trickled across the nose, plopped down onto the knee like a dappled elephant's tear, gradually slid down the lower leg, picking up some speed on the instep joint, bouncing off the stiff big toe with its yellow nail and forever disappeared down the drain. I cried. I remember how kindly that eye had looked at me. Read stories to me. I cried for a while but then amazement took over. That is understandable, dear reader, the amazement I mean. Why father's toenail was yellow. YELLOW. Yellow from what for God's sake. I didn't get it. From what? I have seen a lot of yellowish fingers, mainly on smokers. My father wasn't a smoker. And besides, smokers use their fingers, not their toes. And they never use their thumb or so I thought until I learned the contrary. Usually it's the index finger and the middle finger. In the case of certain eccentrics it can be the ring finger. Be that as it may, I am fed up with my father's remains crouching in the bathtub. May the waters wash him out. Let him float away with the tides.

With both feet still in the air I thought I would crack up against the tub's bottom. This was a constant fear. That was how all my male ancestors had died. Grandfather's death was like fathers. From drinking. But grandmother dragged him off into the garden and hung him from the thickest branch of the walnut tree. The crows did not peck at him because he stank of alcohol. I remember he used to drink a kind of disgustingly strong moonshine brandy that he brought back with him from the South. That was were a guy called Leon lived, whose soul is burdened with at least a thousand of his costumers, and whose brandy existed for one purpose only: to plant the seeds of death.

Grandmother had no mercy and she strung him up naked. Not that the weather was cold. Still, you must admit, it was indecent. If this had happened after '68, after the sexual revolution and a sudden rush of promiscuity, it would have been quite another thing; but this took place in bygone 1960, eight years earlier.

The death of my great‑grandfather Angelo was much more absurd. Our Blessed Lady appeared to him when he was thirty years old. A real genuine Virgin with big boobies and a jungle of curly hair between her legs. Neighbors say after that he went nuts. Every day at the crack of dawn he would leave the house with a light lunch in his left hand and a ladder in his right. The light lunch was for Our Blessed Lady, who complained she was hungry, while the ladder served to get closer to her. It was high enough to reach the Lady's boobs, yet short enough to prevent the Lord's jealousy from striking him down from above. The Lord played various tricks on Angelo. He'd trip him in the dark, throw tons of black pepper into his goulash, crumple the pages of his most cherished books and induce thousands of pigeons to bang their heads against the windows of his room. But Angelo's faith accompanied by certain practical aspects of devotion, was so strong that he could stand firm against all temptation. This state of pandemonium lasted for fifteen years. Great‑grandmother pined to death from jealousy, but he didn't give a shit. Meeting Our Blessed Lady was all he looked forward to. Like any good husband in our family, Angelo was proud of his home. He spent ten years inviting the Blessed Lady to honor him with a visit and finally succeeded. It was a Sunday and God was taking a rest. It was then when she sneaked out of heaven. Great‑grandfather in a frenzy prepared for his date. He made the house spotless‑‑he beat the rugs, got down on his hands and knees, washed the floor, and fumbled with the furniture. He decided that it was perfect , then stormed into the bathroom.

He flung off his clothes, stepped over the drainpipe and leaped toward the tub. With both feet in the air, mindful of the ancient skills of us Hoppers, he did a triple somersault. He was glowing with Pure Joy that illuminated the bathroom as never before. He uttered an unrestrained giggle, immersed in the thoughts of his forthcoming full contact with Our Blessed Lady. As he approached the cloudy ceiling, his cheeks burned with exultation. Having reached the point at which every body tends to fall, in an arched headlong plunge he dove toward the tub. The last he felt was a sharp contact with cords stretched in three lines above the shower. That was where great‑grandmother used to dry all the family socks. Angelo's head got tangled in two strands of rope and, due to the great velocity of his body, he began to spin in full circles, like a windmill. A few moments later great‑grandmother entered the bathroom and felt a delightful breeze. The room was pleasantly cool. It took her some time to realize that our air‑conditioner was off, and that her beloved philanderer had hung himself and now, in death, was trying to render a farewell service to his widow. For fifteen years he had been a good‑for‑nothing, so he must have decided to make amends post‑mortem. That day there was no bathroom in the world with better temperature control.

"Holy Mary, a miracle!" squawked my great‑grandmother, and that very instant something plump and full‑breasted exploded in the rear of the hallway. A small cloud of perfumed gas filled the room for several more seconds and then darkness fell. A huge hump popped up on great‑grandmother's shoulders, which was the Lord's punishment for her having slain the Blessed Lady instantaneously by invoking her name in vain. Great‑grandmother lived out her days in solitude bearing the whole burden of life on her shoulders. Lower and lower she stooped until, by the time she reached seventy, she was plowing the ground with her nose. One day a manager of a circus saw her and began exhibiting her as a prodigy. According to the legend, a seven‑year‑old freak with full sensual lips saw her and passed away in ecstasy. Later, much later, already a grown‑up‑German with a rich mustache above his sensual lips, set down in writing: "I solemnly appeal to you, dear brothers, to be faithful to the earth." My great‑grandmother was not even aware of her role in the history of Western thought.

With both feet still in the air, I thought I'd crack up against the bottom of the tub. That is how my father died, my grandfather, my great‑grandfather and the whole male side of the family. I already told you that, and you know most of it. You also know that this is an ancient custom in our family. In general, I think you are fairly well informed. You know much less about the female side, but that is not important. Actually, if you were to ask me, I'd be glad to tell you, but I am afraid. It may piss of all the Hoppers, since we Hoppers are sexists. I mean, I am against sexism, but who am I to disagree with all the rest of the Hopper clan. I am so afraid. I fear their blindness and senseless aggression when it comes to women. Let me reveal something to you, but pleas promise that you will never say anything to anyone. Please read this book with your back leaning against the wall, without sunglasses and away from mirrors, because I am scared. I am small and harmless, vulnerable and sick. Please understand me. See, after all I am not being your enemy. I want you to know all I know, despite the danger. So, it was like this. Only once did one of our women strive to impress the public and she had to pay dearly for it. After suffering a series of rapes on her way home from work, she wrote a book about it. As far as I can remember, it was far from an embittered attack on thick‑pricked pigs, as Hoppers may have expected, given their history, but rather a collection of articulated theoretical postulates on Male‑Female relationships. I cannot recall the original title of her essays, but some other editorial pig with a loose pendulum peeping through his tight underwear entitled it "Help Yourself ‑ The Orgasm Is On Me". The Hoppers, unaware of orgasms and fearful of open eroticism had no ear for that kind of music, nor appreciation for such gestures, and the poor girl ended her career in an abyss. Not metaphorically, but literally. Ever since, my people became very cautious and so I am afraid.

As I said I am small and helpless, but the fact that the previous information went through without any restrictions or censorship makes me feel a little more confident. Also my love of truth forces me to tell you something similar.

Our women never bathed with us. They washed themselves in washbasins. They were small, and we bought them. We were poor and so we didn't have enough money for women of adequate size. We both the shorter, less costly girls.

My father was the first to have a wife taller than he was by half a head. He won the money in a state lottery and after seven days of hesitating whether to spend it on a newly enameled bathtub and freshly lacquered tiles, or to buy a good chunk of woman, he picked the latter.

‑ I'll buy one two sizes bigger than me, so everybody'll become envious. ‑ said my father. He was wise.

It was a sight even the generations of Hoppers to come in some better world than this would surely talk about: my father returning from the shop with a porter pulling my Mom in a cart. It was a revolution. All the Hoppers before my father carried their wives under their arms and hid them because they were ashamed to let the town people see. Proud of himself, my Daddy ordered a brass band and photographers. So everything was documented. He was awfully taken by that event, up to the day he died. Of alcohol, as you know. He'd say to me:

Son, buy yourself a big one and let her throw you into the bathtub from high above. 

It makes me tingle, just to think of it. But, the times had changed, and I never purchased a wife. First of all I was always broke. Second, I liked boys more than girls. Later I developed and I preferred men over women, but it still left me single. Also, it was impossible to buy any young man because they were not for sale. At least not in my world. I remember my mother telling me a story about her tribe in which, centuries ago, women were buying men, and to her belief, this new sexual market was some kind of revenge. As you know, history repeats itself in some strange reversal. Some, smarter than my daddy, say that history first happens as tragedy and later it keeps reappearing in a form of farce. Although I don't understand this thoughtful stuff I am certain that I am a product of it. I wish I lived in my Mama's world, but it was too late. When I was born that world had perished. Instantly. All the neighbors remember my mother's tears and her cry that night of my birth. According to her silent sorrow, she celebrated my birth in mourning. The moment I came to this world everything else had vanished. Was it some kind of a plot, or pure accident, I am not able to tell. But, it may explain my solitude and sickness in which I am awaiting the last moments of our tribal presence. The fact that everything will disappear together with me does not make me proud of my earthly mission. It rather makes me sad, helpless and weak.

And so, as I soared toward the tub at an altitude equal to the pile of basins in which my mother used to wash herself, I slowly began to fall. For today's jump I had chosen the so‑called cannon ball hop. I grabbed my feet and splashed into the brimming tub of water. I stretched out, immersing my head in the chlorinated, tasteless, odorless, transparent liquid and remained that way for several moments. Surfacing, I inhaled deeply, farted loudly and reached for some soap suds. I spread them over my arms up to my shoulders, rubbing them here and there over my chest, just below the neck. Slowly rising to my feet, I continued spreading the lather over my stomach and below. I left my legs and butt for later. It isn't nice to soak two halves at the same time. I flopped back down into the tub and the smell of vanilla struck me. From the soap. It was then that I remembered Proust and that damned cookie. Actually, that is what I wanted to tell you from the start of this bathroom epic, but the burden of my ancestors torments me. At school, that little cookie cost me weeks of suffering. I couldn't believe anybody in his right mind would write so many pages just because he smelled a fuckin' tea biscuit. I was terrified just thinking about what might have happened if old Marcel had ever taken a sniff of a three ‑ layered birthday cake. It would have taken generations to read about it. The library of Babylon would look like a haiku poem compared to such an opus. And what gives him the right to bother Europe with his recollections and his boring aunts and nieces and all those women he never managed to touch?

What is it, anyway, that keeps people clinging to the past? In our family we don't remember anything, even though we have been hopping into bathtubs in the same way for centuries. But it is quite another thing when you are up there in the air. Of course, none of that matters to you, which is perfectly understandable, but this thing with the cookie, that's just too much. One's head is full enough during that split second of the jump, and I wouldn't dare think of the flight. God forbid!

One should be humble and not reveal one's own past. Anyway, it no longer exists. Former people, former places, a former time. I don't care for all that. I prefer to splash about in the water. We Hoppers are like that.

 

o nama

Nagradu Sedmica i Kritična masa za mlade pisce dobila je Marina Gudelj

Pobjednica ovogodišnje Nagrade Sedmica i Kritična masa za mlade autore je Marina Gudelj (1988.) iz Splita.
Marina Gudelj nagrađena je za priču "Lee".
U užem izboru Nagrade za 2017. bili su: Alen Brlek, Katja Grcić, Marko Gregur, Marina Gudelj, Mira Petrović, Iva Sopka i Ana Rajković.
Ovo je treća godina Nagrade koju sponzorira cafe-bar Sedmica (Kačićeva 7, Zagreb).

intervju

Marina Gudelj: Mi smo generacija koja je dobila ostatke neke ranije i uljuljala se u pasivnost

Predstavljamo uži izbor Nagrade Sedmica&Kritična masa

proza

Marina Gudelj: Lee

NAGRADA "SEDMICA & KRITIČNA MASA" 2017 - UŽI IZBOR

Marina Gudelj (1988., Split) diplomirala je hrvatski jezik i književnost na Sveučilištu u Zadru. Objavljivala je u Zarezu i na portalu KSET-a.

proza

Elena Ferrante: Genijalna prijateljica

Romani Elene Ferrante s razlogom su postali svjetske uspješnice i jedan od književnih fenomena ovog desetljeća, kako po odazivu publike u različitim zemljama, tako i po sudu kritike.
"Genijalna prijateljica" – prvi je dio romaneskne tetralogije o Eleni i Lili, pronicljivim i inteligentnim djevojkama iz Napulja koje žele stvoriti život u okrilju zagušujuće, nasilne kulture.
Ovdje donosimo uvodna poglavlja romana, a knjigu u cjelini - što preporučujemo - možete pročitati u izdanju "Profila".
Roman je s talijanskog prevela Ana Badurina.

proza

David Szalay: Duge rute

Pročitajte priču izvrsnog Davida Szalaya koji je bio sudionik Lit link festivala 2017 u Puli, Rijeci i Zagrebu.

David Szalay rođen je u Montrealu (1974.) u Kanadi odakle njegovi uskoro sele u Veliku Britaniju. Objavio je četiri prozne knjige, dobitnik je više književnih nagrada, a 2016. njegov je roman All That Man Is bio u užem izboru za Bookerovu nagradu. Szalay je uvršten u prestižni dekadni izbor najboljih mlađih britanskih romanopisaca časopisa Granta, kao i sličan izbor novina Telegraph. David Szalay pisac je minucioznog stila, naoko distanciranog, sa suptilnim i vrlo individualnim pomakom u tretiranju prozne događajnosti. Roman All That Man Is ono je što preporučamo za dulje upoznavanje, a za ovu priliku smo odabrali kratku priču Long Distance koju je napisao lani za radio BBC.

proza

Iva Sopka: Tri priče

NAGRADA "SEDMICA & KRITIČNA MASA" 2017 - UŽI IZBOR

Iva Sopka (1987., Vrbas) objavila je više kratkih priča, od kojih su najznačajnije objavljene u izboru za književnu nagradu Večernjeg lista „Ranko Marinković“ 2011. godine, Zarezovog i Algoritmovog književnog natječaja Prozak 2015. godine, nagrade „Sedmica & Kritična Masa“ 2016. godine, natječaja za kratku priču Gradske knjižnice Samobor 2016. godine te natječaja za kratku priču 2016. godine Broda knjižare – broda kulture. Osvojila je i drugo mjesto na KSET-ovom natječaju za kratku priču 2015. godine.

Stranice autora

Književna Republika Relations Quorum Hrvatska književna enciklopedija PRAVOnaPROFESIJU LitLink mk zg