prose

Adios, Cowboy

Novel "Adios, Cowboy" by Olja Savičević Ivančević follows Dada who returns to her home town, in a suburb, in Mediterranean Dalmatia, where her brother Danijel committed suicide four years ago because of anti-gay bullying...

"… a wild ride through the dusty streets of a coastal city in Dalmatia; clouds of memories are stirred up and verbal hot lead fills the air. The dust settles to reveal a subtle and cleverly crafted family story, which revolves around a pervasive past waiting to be addressed."
Wortlandschaften

Look inside sample translation of the novel translated by Tatjana Jambrišak.



 "Dada represents the generation which the war in ex-Yugoslavia has catapulted into a new future. A future, in which redskins were suddenly no longer cooler than the cowboys who had embodied the imperialist West. (...) Time and again, Savičević's hovering poetics come close to crash landing from the weight of their metaphors, but her dry humour and the succinct descriptions of tangible tragedy keep the story airborne..."
Die Zeit online

 

Sample translation from

OLJA SAVIČEVIĆ

ADIOS, COWBOY

A novel

AGM Zagreb, 2010

 

Translated by Tatjana Jambrišak
 

 

Chapter Three


“This one was very thorough. Made sure he wouldn’t make it,” said the inspector.

The body was found quickly, some twenty meters down the vineyard, but the left arm was discovered only after two days, in the brook, under a juniper bush.

“You’re in luck, it was in water; protected from pests,” said the coroner after we had descended the long staircase to the morgue in the clinic’s cellar. For the purpose of identification the arm had somehow been reattached.

Blood everywhere, on the tree trunks, on the frozen vine leaves, said those who visited the site in the first weeks after the accident and left plastic roses and electric candles that flickered as long as the battery was alive behind the saltire.

“It was a show,” said my sister as we walked towards the railway tracks.

On the day of the funeral some relatives I barely knew gave me a ride home from Zagreb.

They crammed six adults in the car, it drizzled, and each of us got a baloney sandwich for the road. The air was acid, just like the baloney and the rain.

Later that evening, as my sister and I walked towards the railway tracks, the smell of that air in my nostrils was still making me sick. My sister was determined to do it fast, so she pulled me by my damp and limp hand like when we were kids, held it in her cold, dry hand for a while, driving her small, pointy fingernails into my palm.

In the morgue I watched my brother’s other hand, the right one; his fingernails were now long although he used to bite them until his fingers bled. These grown fingernails would have told me he was dead even in my sleep.

“It’s Danijel,” I said, although the puppet with the shrunken head, lying on the metal slab, now looked nothing like him.

He left no letters.

“They generally don’t leave any,” I was told.

“Calm down, everybody leaves without a message, what’s wrong with that?” said my sister.

What do I know about everybody, I thought. It’s not like Danijel, I thought, to leave without a word. Some almost familiar people kept sobbing so I had to get out. I remember a lady in black, who used to frequent every funeral; she was sitting in the corner under Ma’s old hood drier, I remember how she whimpered and blew her nose in her kerchief and how she looked like a grief-stricken woman at the hairdresser’s.

“Masochists,” said my sister. “They didn’t even know him. Perverse.” Once, when we were kids, we went to a funeral in the mountains, where they had brought a wailer who was paid to weep loudly and inspire other people to cry. I think she was quite successful, because even I began to cry, out of pure horror. And then my sister said: “They scared the little one, those masochists.”

That was the first time I heard that word. But, later I never heard it used in the same context as the word “sadists”, like my sister did.

Years flew by – from the day the police rang at the door and Ma opened it – and today I remember that unknown lady in black under the hood better than any of the three of us.

Between my brother’s death and my sister’s almost casual phone call, which brought me back home, nothing worth mentioning happened, at least not to me.

I returned to the Old Village to get the answer to my question, to get the words my brother had said to somebody, not to my mother, nor my sister nor to me. This quest made me walk, turn every stone. And, honestly, all that I found out wondering about and turning stones was that there were more rocks in the world than snakes and insects underneath them.

 

* * *

 

“Yawn and stretch as hard as you can,” Yellow Jill told me in an old dream. And I listen to her, because if a cat speaks, even in a dream, you should listen. I am waiting for my host, sitting on a bench in a deep shade of a carob tree, yawning and stretching in a sultry, endless, hypnotic afternoon in the Village. Dog days, fjaka, that’s how it is called when a place hypnotizes you. Miss Mitchell and Miss O’Connor must have known everything about idle Sundays, I ponder. And how a simple idle Sunday in the South may last for weeks.

On the other side of the silent garden, behind the wall, violet figs are falling to the ground. The fig tree, left undisturbed, has grown wild just like the beanstalk that fool wanted to climb up to the sky.

Herr Professor emerges through the multi-coloured plastic strips on the door, hurrying out and setting a tray with cups of ice tea and cookies down on the garden table.

Rigojanči,” he says.

He stretches out his fleshy legs and his white, strong calves, occasionally rubbing his corny heels, one against another. On the other side of the courtyard, besides the wrecked glasshouse with two meagre lemon trees with cropped limbs, two turtles are coupling. “A bit late this year,” says Professor. The female is still, the male has opened its tiny mouth wide. There are some dirty, crusted kitchen towels hanging on the clothes dryer, surrounded by flies and flying ants; water is persistently dripping from the garden pipe onto the yellowed stone sink.

I lean over towards the creamy pastry, but Professor stops me with his hand. Something is soundlessly rolling towards us.

“Listen!”

The cymbals sound and stop the air.

“The feast of St. Fjoko,” declared Ma eating the breakfast of black coffee, toast and tobacco, which she rolled in thin cigarettes, I remember.

 

“St. Fjoko,” I say out loud and reach for a rigojanči cake.

“Aha, the local saint’s day!” Professor slaps his thighs.

“Now they’ve been bought by Vrdov­đek. The brass orchestra.”

“Vrdovđek, yes, yes. The one with the stores?!”

“The stores and everything else in the Village. He is the top dog now,” I say.

I observe Herr Professor: his face, squinting eyes, his large hands, bluish-white. With time, his physical likeness to a drowning man has become more pronounced. And those mustaci – he looks like a catfish, with that moustache.

Whales and dolphins returned to the sea disappointed with life on land, but Professor’s species has forever remained in-between, wedged. He used to keep glass jars with newts in formalin in his living room, just like people in the Old Village keep pictures of their closest relatives. He had two salamanders (“two fire dragons,” he said), but I believe all those jars were smashed during the incident.

At some point he kept live amphibians in the plastic barrel for fermenting cabbage, so people talked about a veterinarian raising a crocodile in a barrel, I remember.

With some folded newspapers he is trying to drive away flies, which are – just as myself, honestly – attracted by the cake. While he is flapping the newspapers and jumping around the table, he is no less solemn and pompous than a moment ago when he was carrying the tray, I notice.

“He’s a man of manners,” said Ma once; she has always overestimated politeness.

“His whole family, especially his late mother, were very polite. Crème de la crème,” said my mother’s cousin Marijana Mateljan. And added: “God knows who this dežbjego, this stray cat takes after.”

After killing a few gadflies and gnats, he settles down beside me. He laughs like a mountain of aspic, a little triumphant, and opens a special crystal cut bottle “for the occasion”. The liquid at the bottom of the glass looks like something in which once amphibians swam on the vet’s cabinet, I am unable to get rid of this image, though I recognize the smell of rose brandy, honeysweet and acrid.

“Rose liqueur,” the Great Gannet would say. “Oops! There you go! To loosen up our fine ladies. After two shots they start fanning their overskirts. Pull the frock above the knee and there you go! Ventilate! The whole štrada reeks of cunt...”

 

“The bigger the cymbal, the lower and longer the sound, it behaves like a spilt mercury, it vibrates,” says Herr Professor handing me a silver teaspoon.

The light here is very faint, perhaps that’s the reason, if not the brass orchestra or the liqueur, why I feel so numb. In a town house, the one at the crossroads, at the other end of this copper tone, porcelain cups on the lower shelves pinged, as well as the glasses of a lady fallen asleep over a book... I imagine this and close my eyes. When I finally reached him, I was postponing the meeting as if it had been a college exam or a medical check-up, but in this neglected garden, owned by this sad-faced knight, the gentleman made of jelly, whom I do not wish to touch even with an inch of my skin or clothes, and of whose breathing I am painfully aware – I feel I have arrived, after years of wandering, to the water, to my resting place. I have arrived somewhere. I feel, if nothing, that there is no need for me to get up and walk.

Kettledrums are declaring summertime, brass music happy holidays, even if there are only a few moments until the rolling credits.

“A bear can play the cymbals,” said my sister once.

And I like the cymbals. The marching band would be much less exciting without them.

“Cymbals and trumpets, that’s it, dear Dado, by Jove, already a theatre! In the street! Ours! Our long štrada!” Herr Professor says revived and cheerful.

He’s been polishing the brass plate on the scratched entrance door: Small Animal Clinic, Dr. K. Šain.

 

“Karlo Šain, a good name for an opera conductor or an uncle,” said my sister a long time ago.

“Your buddy’s an ass lover, stupid,” she said and slapped Danijel’s behind when he started visiting the vet so often as if he had had duck plague.

Guz, guz,” she said and made a rude gesture with her palm and fist. Danijel would respond with another gesture, carefree, twisting his finger on his temple, I remember. Although she was never strikingly beautiful, my sister could have had many men; one boy even head jumped to the sea for her, from the Great Jetty onto the rocks – he reached neither the sea, nor her attention. Gentleness hardened in her like sugar to chip off a tooth. My sister was always careful when it comes to love, I recall. This hardness was the total opposite to her lips, soft like a wound, with smooth, dark skin. “Armoured,” Danijel called her when she was not in the room with us.

Whoever met him, wanted to take my brother home, keep him close while he was laughing or speaking, wanted to be Danijel, touch him on the shoulder, pinch his cheek (which he hated). He possessed the kind of gentleness and intensity of a serious young man. Well, gentleness attracts in many ways, attracts to be crushed, I remember, people often wanted to beat him, some people just could not stand it. To be at least a little different, that is always a good reason to get smacked.

I see them: my older sister and my younger brother, sitting and bickering, with their heads close so that Ma would not hear them: sitting so close together they look like a cactus and its flower.

 

Socializing with the vet turned into a friendship that fall when my brother started secondary school, I remember. Danijel made a terrarium in Professor’s garden that year: over the grey sand, he had hauled it from the Mala Mora beach, crawled lizards, translucent house geckoes, and one large, jaded, green European lizard, a regular dandy; he also had fireflies and scarabs and two tortoises; he could tell which one was female by her cracked shell, I remember. They survived, there they are, in the garden, near the opaque glass of the greenhouse, the “proof this house saw better times,” said my sister once. Professor’s courtyard, fenced off by a stone wall with sparkling nacreous pieces, molluscs and this crawling, banging and grunting animal kingdom, attracted all of us kids, I remember. We went there almost secretly, because of the stories, I remember. Except Danijel who, obviously, had no such problems. Later on I noticed behaviour similar to ours in people who privately admire that which they would publicly gladly ridicule, with equal honesty and eagerness. It must have been be painful, I thought. Depends for whom, I think today.

It seemed Danijel had everything easy; he came there every day, stayed as long as he wanted. Perhaps this is the reason why this courtyard had more of my younger brother than our house.

It is still awkward, it occurs to me, that Danijel will not suddenly appear behind the colourful plastic stripes on Professor’s door. This is all that is left of his games, those two lewd tortoises, the posters from cowboy movies, brittle with time, which I moved to my room, and this Herr Professor.

Of other things my brother possessed I am sorry that we have never found the colt that our father gave him, and his school bag.

 

* * *

 

In my pocket I have a letter folded and opened a countless number of times. The dirty piece of paper contains a typewritten note:

 

Dear Danijel,

Forgive me for not writing earlier. The circumstances are such that I do not open my e-mail often and a computer is not available to me here. Actually, it was pure chance that I read your messages. As you can see (postal stamp), work took me to the other end of the world. You are smart and probably know that I will need more time than what has passed to accept some past events, but I blame myself more than I blame you. This stamp, naturally, is no accident; it is there for you, as well as the picture of the spotted newt I am sending. I hope this will cheer you up. Those are things I cannot send you by e-mail, so I am sending them by the good old stagecoach! Let these be my tokens of reconciliation and goodwill. You wrote about your troubles – I am hoping you will solve these problems and that it is not something caused by that unfortunate event. I would like to be able to help you, but, alas, at the moment I can hardly help myself, since I sleep at somewhat weird and miserable places, I eat where I can; such are the circumstances. It seems I also got pneumonia. At the moment I can neither send you my snail mail address so you could write, nor can I promise you that I would read your e-mails within reasonable time, but I am hoping that I would be able to do so soon.

I will notify you about it. Stay well.

Best,

Your Friend

 

In the right upper corner there is a date, several days after Danijel’s death.

 

 

* * *

 

I was not impatient; I had nowhere to go, I was in no haste.

I left him several messages on his answering machine – I knew he was there, a few meters away from me, the man with the answer, behind the walls separating his garden from the rest of the Village; and I believed he would come looking for me. Several times I turned into the short alley where his house stood, but I either lost my nerve at the last moment, or a funny and horrible embarrassment, a feeling of unease, overpowered me.

The phone rang in the morning when Ma was making coffee for herself and her cousin Marijana Mateljan. Tobacco smoke descended from the kitchen and into the hall, and upstairs water was boiling in the kettle. They were both staring at TV. Their favourite soap was on.

Šain Karlo speaking, I’d like to speak to Danijel... Well, at last, Dado, dear!

“Marijana is my oldest friend,” Ma sometimes said. “And my first cousin,” she’d always add.

For decades she drove over from the downtown in her orange Lada – on Sundays, sometimes on Wednesdays. Then, one of them would say something wrong and Marijana Mateljan would disappear for a week, a month, once even for whole two years. The exhaust pipe from Lada would fart a black smoke cloud and she would dash off furiously like a clockwork orange. The last time it happened, we thought she would never come back, but she appeared soon after Danijel’s death.

I did not want to disturb your dear mother... But, I would have called, had I known that you... If I’d known that you were here. Yes, yes, I got your messages, butI was away. Out of town. On business. Of course! Actually, it would be important to me, and I’d be very pleased if you came. Naturally... So we may reminiscence on the old days. Anyway, anyway...

“Tsk-tsk, damn, I thought we got rid of her as well as the others,” said my sister when Marijana appeared among us again, her eyes puffed up and red.

My sister polished her grumpiness on her to high gloss, I remembered.

Still, Marijana finally found an appropriate role in our house and, I thought, played it bravely and resolutely. She was devoted to the desolate Ma; Ma’s unhappiness liberated Marijana in this relationship. We knew – had it not been for Danijel’s death, the cousin would not have been permitted to enter this house ever again.

Pride is such a bizarre feature, so self-destructive, I’m not at all sure why we consider it a merit, I thought.

 

The first two weeks after Danijel’s funeral there were up to thirty people in our house every day, drinking brandy, smoking and talking, and then, suddenly they disappeared and nobody remembered when. Gradually, after a while, they stopped calling. They probably didn’t know what to talk about with us, the whole story made them “un-com-fort-able,” said my sister.

Ma was sitting and nodding with a wax mask on her face, like those people on neuroleptics when they return from the mad house, so they look like robots or dug-out totems. My sister kept washing the glasses, emptying the ashtrays and shooting arrows at her soft husband, now her ex. The tragedy rocked around the room, hanging from the chandelier between the guests and us.

“Other people’s misery requires effort, clearly,” said my sister.

Come soon, come whenever you like. We are not far, we are neighbours, how nice! Oh, yes. Of course. Knock harder, my door bell’s still not working... Bye. Bye, honey. Bye.

I put down the receiver.

Marijana was sitting in front of the TV in her ready-steady position, cracking nuts.

“It’s the feast of St. Fjoko,” she said.

“He saved us from leprosy,” she added scratching her stomach.

“And died of syphilis,” she rounded out her point.

I had a hunch that one of Marijana’s vehement tirades was about to begin, and I was not about to miss it. I would visit him in the afternoon, anyway, anyway.

I had no idea why our Fjoko died. They were carrying his relic in a silver case behind a cross up and down the only street in the village of normal length, Duga Štrada, leading from the harbour toward the exit on the highway.

On St. Fjoko’s day the orchestra of brass musicians, sweaty in their blue uniforms, plays all day, in the morning and the afternoon. In the evening men from the Brotherhood put on their hoods and start the procession with lit candles; behind them nuns and women from the Church Choir of St. Lisa, singing monotonously.

At the tail of this centipede, twice as long as this Long Street, the drowsy population creeps behind. They walk slowly, because Duga Štrada is not particularly long and sometimes the procession meets its own tail.

Dunkve,” well, Marijana goes on, licking the honey from the bread slice on which she arranged some nuts, “not even the uncomfortable disease of the soon-to-be saint did prevent him from courtin’ and doin’ his lady friends. Jušto, exactly, his body was crumpling, his bones putrefying, but his spirit was alive. That’s why the almighty and gracious God left our martyr, though he was šifilištiko, intact, especially that part of him that was and still is a holy relic to all of his mistresses as well as the whole village – this here, see!”

She stretched out and up her fat middle finger with two gold rings and a long, polished fingernail.

“You’re lying!?” I screamed. She was sometimes making up things. As any born storyteller scarifying the truth on the altar of the story, I thought.

Everybody knows that Fjoko had a blessed finger whose touch healed from leprosy. What is now the fantasy part – truth or lie?! I thought.

Marijana’s body, full of tinkling jewellery, in a wide, bright-coloured tunic, retreated towards the couch, but only to spread her feathers. She said: “Well, yes and no. You may lie to tell the truth. Inšoma dela šoma, in the end, it’s well known that the box of St. Fjoko keeps the bone from his middle finger, and you, my dear, just think about it.”

She clicked her tongue and patted the sleepy Jill lying among the cushions, fleetingly, with her gold and silver rings.

Marijana’s head was egg-shaped, elongated, fine for a horse, you could not say a horse was not beautiful, but her body was huge, she seethed when she was resting, raised tides around herself when she moved.

Ma was smiling, distracted, she put out the cigarette. The ashtray was full of flattened butts and walnut shells. Then she went on, rolled and lit another one and turned up the volume.

Aaron held Minerva in a passionate embrace.

Marijana wiped off the invisible tear with her thumb.

Beside her, Ma looked like a wax candle next to a radiant Chinese lamp, I noticed. My cousin was waving her arms, pushing the heat and stench out of the room. She had sunken deeply into the couch, occupying all possible comfort. It seemed to me as if Marijana had been aspirating comfort from around her through her pores. Along with comfort, she sucked in kitchen odours and dust and the smell of the tiger balm from my mother’s skin. She was swallowing the air made up of all those particles like a multi-coloured hole in space, her laughter was swelling and exiting through the windows, and bacon was billowing out under her wide clothes.

“Once she will come into the kitchen,” said my sister once, and our kitchen is small, “and she will not come out.”

When their soap finished on the TV, we had bitter Turkish coffee, listening in silence to the ticking of the clock in the hallway as if it had been in a parallel time panty, stuffed with several years of winter stores, where time had forgotten to get out of and pass.

They might have been thinking about the poor Aaron, the mulatto dying of jealousy on a daily basis. People who occasionally passed by our windows, carrying benches and large pots for a bouillabaisse to the Long Street, must have been thinking about the celebration, the holiday. I was thinking about the afternoon and the guy who had the answer to my question, about Herr Professor Karlo Šain, whose house next to ours suddenly seemed at the end of a forest.

 

* * *

 

Under the window there was a young man with a harmonica, only without the harmonica – the handsome man I had seen on that night when I came to the village, in the Last Chance Inn. I recognized him through the thin curtain, I recognized his silhouette. He was waiting, obviously, for someone at the corner of the former Community House, right opposite the baker’s house. Without his blue tuxedo he looked like a normal boy being bored.

Still, he was really attractive, I thought. Comely, as the books would say. One of those you might spend hours just watching, and still find him interesting. Tanned legs in white socks and dirty, white sports shoes. His shoulders, posture – was it indifference – his eyes squeezed between his eyelashes. He was pushing a squashed plastic bottle over the gravel, unaware of being watched.

“Anđelo,” that was how a tall, hurried passer-by called him, as well as the street cleaner in his Čistoća overalls who had just passed by, pushing his card with brooms and a plastic, black hamper; that was the name the skinny girl whispered to the other, the spindly one, laughing as they slid beside him on their roller skates.

Soon a woman in a large car picked him up, she was around thirty, dressed smart and business casual: a vanilla skirt, a lilac shirt, thin and light-coloured, and vanilla sandals with a small heel. She was holding a summer jacket over her arm; there were visible wet stains underneath her armpits, her limbs were thin but firm, the tanned skin smooth and shiny, the long hair raised and pinned down in a bun.

“Like on TV,” Ma would say.

As he walked towards her small sports car, the young man glanced up, to where I stood leaning over. But, I believe he did not see me, because of the light. The sun in the west shone from behind the house.

Beside Anđelo, on the sunny side, there crept his short shadow, suddenly narrowed forwards, touching the woman’s feet, then covering them, caressing.

 

* * *

 

Lukewarm, salty air, immovable images without a perspective, a world of backdrops and vertical planes, encircled by a cat or in a few steps by a kid with a bloody knee, pushing a scooter. That was part of day when birds go insane over factory chimneys, the ripe August afternoon when the Village was baking in a Dutch oven, and the sea was evaporating.

“Hot spell, hard and heavy,” the Great Gannet would say.

I never considered scorched landscape ugly, rather boring. Or desperate, if I myself felt desperate. Not in a few hundred years would there ever be a blossoming paradise garden here. No way, I thought. The sky was similar to an apocalyptic postcard all day.

“Divine Providence!” as the Great Gannet would call such dramatic­ scene designs. Because cumulus clouds had began gathering in the west and the heat, as the evening closed, would soon be so great that wallpapers in the rooms would sweat, and poisonous oleanders in the courtyard would hang their moisture-scalded branches down to the ground.

People would walk around with greasy, soaked faces, tapping on the barometers in disbelief, because they were foreseeing a storm and low blood pressure, sometimes even fainting. A dog day, in any case, and that was “not sloth, but an acute disease of the will,” as my sister put it well.

 

* * *

 

The guy with the harmonica and his escort (or, more probable, he was the escort) had left the scene, so the street was empty and forsaken for a moment.

Ruzinava’s back,” yelled the girl on the roller skates to her friend, entering the scene. I waved back at them. I took my hat and waved harder.

“Hey, Ruzinava!” The girls were waving back.

Exiting the house, I had to jump over the shoes which Ma had forgotten and which were still frying on the stairs, some fresh seagull dung on some of them.

Along the Duga Štrada the suburbia smelled of the air before rain and of frankincense before the procession, some people were carrying out the tables for the evening feast. Like an apparition, that old blacksmith was riding along the street on his horse, talking with somebody on his mobile phone, hands free.

* * *

 

As the sun would start setting, I said I would go look for work and then I wandered. Actually I was wandering from dawn till dusk. Monday and Friday mornings, Ma and me, we took the standard route over the graveyard and to the beach.

“When I’m there, I’m with them,” said Ma, serious as an Amen, her voice high-pitched.

“Go with her, she’ll fall under a truck being so drowsy from this sun,” called my sister. So I escorted her. We were turning into those mother-daughter pairs, inseparable even after the daughter had gotten old. Only, with them it usually turned out that the daughter, not the mother, had lost her marbles.

Such pairs might be seen more often in better neighbourhoods, in educated and well-off families, also in families without sons, I noticed. Therefore, we did not meet any requirements.

Those mothers and daughters were often physically very alike, they dressed alike, and sometimes mother was pretty and young, and daughter ugly or fat. In the morning they took their Renault Clio or Renault Twingo to a shopping mall or a cafe.

“Your younger sister?!” acquaintances would courteously tell mother in passing.

And mother and daughter smiled politely or the insane daughter walked on without stopping, so mother was embarrassed and she had to stop chatting.

The novelty was that last Monday Super Mario’s clones in red caps and red overalls had come to the village to demolish and rebuild Ilirija in several days.

We were passing Ilirija almost every day so that we were able to follow this miracle as in the fast forward mode. As if they had mixed some luxurious substance in the cement, like yeast, and the house was getting younger.

This reminded me of the nature show Ma watched regularly – the opening scene showed some garish flowers which burst, grew and blossomed from simple seeds in five seconds, and then, in the new scene, in an unfathomable transformation of an embryo turned into a man, with the face of an urban redneck, but surely of a romantic nature, because in the end he picked that flower.

This introductory scene made me doubt the natural persistence of vision. One gust of wind cooled the air for a short while, but also stranded all kinds of garbage to the Mala Mora – the attraction was the carcass of a young shark – so I mostly kept in the shade with my beach towel spread among the cigarette buts and bare peach pits, following the boats around the small island outside the bay, in the middle of the channel.

Ma would lie on the beach and count the rosary of small shells and sea slugs, smaller and more delicate than a child’s fingernail. A flake, a filigree, a name on a grain of rice, she was more fascinated by such things than by the Eiffel tower or the Sahara. Or, whatever, the Great Wall of China interested her less than Chinese calligraphy. She had bought the special paints and drew miniature drawings on empty eggshells. But that was before her narcophilic phase, while she had still had some ambition.

The sea in the bay was thick in colour and placid like the primordial soup. Later, around noon, boys would come and jump in the shallow water, but early in the morning it was quiet, not counting the noise from the construction of Ilirija.

I liked Mala Mora more than any other beach in the Village because of the five old umbrella pines whose crowns were so high that you had to turn your head and eyes to the sky to see them, which always made me nauseous; and the beach was not open to the south, so there was always less tar than on other beaches from where we had always returned with black spots on swimming trunks, I remembered. The beach was surrounded by laurel and cheesewood, planted by a Czech doctor who used to live above Mala Mora. His house was the most beautiful house in the Old Village, “much nicer than Karlo Šain’s,” said Ma. Cheesewood shrubs were decorated by ice cream and condom packaging, but “at least they haven’t yet gravelled Mala Mora flat,” said my sister.

This piece of coast was deteriorating anyway, with the dignity of an old drunk who remembered better times, just as Ma remembered the Split Music Festivals, with Vice Vukov and Claudio Villa.

No doubt some ruins might be beautiful even if they stank, and as for Ilirija, it had always been ugly, like any building from the fifties.

“Uglier still when it was new,” said Ma.

The fact that it was a hotel did not help much. I was inside many times and have never found anything justifying the idea of the hotel: a swimming pool with turquoise tiles or the afternoon silence at the reception, not even were the towels white and harsh and embroidered with the name of the hotel, but variegated, common, thinned out in washing. Still, the most important thing was there: the smell of chlorine on starched sheets, the smell of Indian tea and pâté, the stench of someone else’s vacation.

 

* * *

 

People from the Village and tourists gathered in front of Ilirija every day, watching Super Mario’s clones and heckling.

“What is it?”

“Wha’s that?”

“Ma ča ovo ononde?!”

“Vrdovđek bought Ilirija.”

“Wha’ is this?”

“Che cosa è questo?”

“Das is eine Baustelle.

“Nein, das ist ein Freudenhaus!”

“C’est l’ hôtel.

“Wrdovjack?! Was is Wrdovjack?”

“Vítejte na me zahrade!”

“Čtooo?!”

“Üdvözlöm! Üdvözlöm!” “Bolje vas našli!”

Harum-farum-larumhedervarum.

The next day, behind the Table of Lies, on the wall next to former Ilirija, somebody wrote: WHA’S THAT IN OUR BACKYARD?

 

* * *

 

Marijana Mateljan said, but also the newspapers di, as well as all of the web portals, screaming how Ned Montgomery was coming to Croatia. It was his, as they say, second time. The first time Ned was in Yugoslavia he was still young and unknown, and, they said, he died in one of the first scenes of Winnetou. The new generations knew him better as one of the first 3D heroes of computer games, they said.

It was a game with many dead cowboys in which the good guys, the player & Ned, if they drew fast and got lucky, won shiny sheriff stars. The goal was always the same: not to let the sons of bitches beat you.

“Ned Montgomery is not the type to lie about on his yacht in the harbour of Hvar, he does not drink cappuccino on Dubrovnik’s Stradun with bodyguards behind his ass, and he does not wave from his transparent capsule to us mortals, Balkanjeros, as those other, quasi, stars,” said my sister thereby blessing the famous actor. Ned Montgomery was not very talkative, he responded to interview questions with: Yes. No. Of course. Thank you.

Puts on no airs, as the people in Old Village would say.

Once a TV-journalist told him:

 “Well, fine, Ned, I thought you were a stud.”

“!?”

“But how can it be true if you’ve spent the last twenty years with the same woman?!”

“Well, I’m a cowboy,” explained Montgomery and lit himself a cigarette in the studio like it was nobody’s business.

“Everybody somehow knew that stud was small fry compared to a cowboy,” said Danijel.

That same woman was the wonderful Chiara Buffa, a TV host and a singer on RAI, who had a tragic accident and had been introduced to him by Sergio Leone once on a movie set, the newspaper said. Once the two of them got the whole centrefold for themselves.

And Danijel said he did not find it unbelievable that someone could be aroused by Chiara Buffa for twenty years.

 

Marijana Mateljan brought the newspapers and showed me the article.

“Here, look! By god, that cowboy from your room’s here!” she said and shoved the newspaper in my face.

The producer was the famous Ned Montgomery – it said in the Spectacles section. The popular actor and spaghetti western director, who had embodied many Wild West legends – that what it said. Some scenes from this new film, apparently also a kind of a western, would be filmed at our locations.

Ned Montgomery, whose mother’s father was Croatian, was a star already in the sixties and the seventies, and his best roles he played in movies like Gold Dust, More Gold Dust in the Eyes, The Return of Virgil C. and Virgil C.’s Last Bullet, blah, blah.

 

Danijel would be glad, I pondered cheerfully. It would be news for him, although years had passed.

“Good morning, cowboy!” my brother would tell himself when he was in especially good mood, I remember.

“Good night, cowboys and Indians! Ala, kifeli!” my father would say and send us to bed.

“I am not a cowboy,” my sister would say.

“Nor an Indian,” she’d add.

“This really drives me crazy, terribly,” she would say.

She move Montgomery Ned’s poster to her room on the day my sister and mother decided to rent Danijel’s room with a separate entrance to workers and tourists. That legendary Ned from the poster was everything: a gunman, a poker player, a lone rider, Yuma county sheriff, protector of women, a fan of bandanas and hats, a faithful and honest friend to men and dogs, quick at the draw and fast as a whip... He was backed by the front line fighters on one part of the wall: Eastwood, Wayne and Django.

I knew it would be OK for Danijel. And it looked quite cool, the TV people would say. “This cowboy with six golden colts, but not the stud, cannot be just crumpled and thrown away,” my sister said.

The only Montgomery’s role that I remembered well, actually very well, was the role in Virgil C. Last Bullet, when he got killed by Lee Van Cleef in the final showdown. It was not often that the leading hero died in a western. That film was rerun numerous times on Sundays at five and we watched it every time. That Virgil, Montgomery’s character, returned to his home town Quentin, which he had left when he was eighteen, just as I did, I remembered, but upon his return “he found there none of his tears.”

In the Old Village that was all I found.

 

* * *

 

One of my favourite pastimes while I wandered the streets was discovering old graffiti over and under the flaky building fronts.

On the southern wall of the post office, where semi-dead tails of small alleys separate, because our streets began but did not end, somebody wrote: CAPITULATION CORNER.

That wall was warm in winter and cool in summer, so widows rested their backs, their narrow and shrunken shoulders and their still luscious behinds under black clothes against the graffiti.

In my early childhood our great-grandmother used to watch that corner. The Great Gannet, Oblapornica, the oldest woman in the world. She was ancient all our lives and old almost the half of hers. On the day she capitulated, granny ate a full plate of small bitter fish and sweet white cabbage, I remember; fish was bitter because of the intestines and cabbage was sweet because of the salt in the earth or the sun. Then – trying to control the shaking of her chin with several curly, white hairs – she dragged her tripod to the end of the street, where widows sat under the yellow neon of the new post office, chewing their tongues with dry mouths. Some of them spent the last forty years there, some only forty days, but, in the end, sooner or later, everyone came there, those with black scarves and those with red beads. They sat on the benches the whole afternoon, mostly being quiet in their wonderful dialect.

“Cul-de-sac,” Herr Professor would say. A dead end.

Old men did not stop at that corner – they just waved quickly and went on – they gathered at the other end of the Village, behind Ilirija and the slipway. The public social life of pensioners was strictly divided into male and female, like in a boarding school. Men played chess or trešeta card game on a long fir table or just sat there and talked aloud. On the concrete slabs of the table somebody wrote a long time ago: TABLE OF LIES.

Scorned, ridiculed, then praised and applauded the next day, those knights of the Table of Lies, senile amateur politicians with heart attacks waiting in their chests, their arthritic chests, they moved the pieces, knights and bishops, they lost rooks, pawns and changed the oral history of wars, fishery and tourist sex.

Showing, proving that history lingered on, everything that had once already happened, happened simultaneously in some finite past tense and that there was really only the imperfect – that perfect tense and age. And that thin membrane of shiny conditionals: whatever would have been, had it been, the membrane stretched to infinity between the past perfect and future-in-the-past. Or so I thought.

The boys from the Old Village, when they were leaving for the army, wrote their names, the year of their birth, and LEVA, military service, on the walls. And some famous lyrics. On the bus station someone wrote: WAIT FOR ME, SELENA, after a song.

All those writings became toponyms.

People were saying: “Meet me at five at Leva 65” or “I saw him this morning at the Table of Lies” or “Wait for me at Selena.” Although, the letters were mostly washed out by rain and dried by the sun – people forgot why the house with galena shutters, at the bus stop, was ever named Selena.

The most famous of all graffiti in the Old Village was written along the whole parapet on the Great Pier. It was a vista of our childhood – greasy black letters on the long white embankment: STRANGER, NO LAWS PROTECT YOU HERE. And up on the mast, on the prow of the embankment, there was Martin the seagull standing on one foot, not a vulture, not a scavenger. Martin is our name for all domesticated seagulls.

The story said this graffiti was made by Brothers Iroquois, which was impossible – I believed those letters on the pier to be much older than the oldest of the brothers.

In any case, when they were renovating the pier some ten years ago, they demolished the embankment, stone by stone. Then they put back all those great, old stone blocks and rearranged a new embankment so that only a few traces of those letters were visible and the graffiti STRANGER, NO LAWS PROTECT YOU HERE was no longer legible. But, it was still there, preserved in a way. Of course, not salvaged, I thought.

The immortal legacy was also left by that unknown hero who wrote all over the Village and down in the centre, even at hardly accessible places, with a garish blue paint: NEDA, I LOVE YOU. AND SO MUCH MORE.

Several more visible places he marked with: NEDA, ARE YOU READING THE BLUE GRAFFITI?

And there was no Neda in the Village, only three Nadas. I wondered if he meant one of them, and which one.

And then, nothing new on the wall for a while. Not counting when somebody spilled some black paint on the plate with partisans’ names on the Community House and drew a swastika underneath, and the next night all partisan monuments in front of kindergartens and the school lost their heads. Everybody was talking about the Brothers Iroquois again, but I believed the job with brass bronze heads was done by some new guys, from the unfinished three-storey houses above the railway tracks. “Neotrackers,” my sister called them. But, perhaps it was not them, maybe I was wrong. Except in this: Brothers Iroquois were pests, even when they grew up, but they were too smart to demolish monuments.

There was no war, no shooting in the Village; Yugoslav Navy’s ships were shelling the western part of the town for two weeks and then stopped. Occasionally, an air raid alarm would go off. We were “cut off like on an air mattress surrounded by sharks,” said Herr Professor.

My sister said that she had “felt the stench”. Fear reeks. Especially inside shelters. Some young men from the Old Village, several years older than us, died in the war. We all cried.

Some other people were taken away and disappeared in the dark. We all kept quiet. Some of our friends and their parents left the Village overnight and never returned.

We kids shouted at each other: You Serb, you homo! Even the Serbs shouted this, those who did not leave.

Everybody talked of snipers and so did Marijana Mateljan, who had her own private demon in her head, aiming straight at her. Once she drove from the centre sweating with effort of pushing the gas pedal in her orange Lada and shouted from the door: “sugar and water over here! What kind of a shitty life is this?! So many puddles in these paths!” I remember. But I also forgot a lot.

At that time, speaking about graffiti, a stylized letter U, for Ustashe, appeared in the centre along all other popular wallpaper patterns. Some thought it was funny, some believed in it; for some it was a rite of passage, and everybody was bored.

Regarding the monuments, industrious villagers erected new totems and idols instead of the old ones; it was a generational shift of heroes.

For several days the case of the new name for the pier in the Old Village was all over newspapers: should the Jere Botušić Promenade (WWII fighter, born in 1921, died by a cassette bomb in 1943) be renamed to Jere Botušić Promenade (Croatian defender, born in 1969, died by a grenade in 1993). In the end they posted a new plate on the pier: Jere Botušić Promenade. And the days went by peacefully, the walls did not speak, just like the heads of old monuments, sunken in the grainy sea bottom, just like the new monuments, suspecting that the doom of their heads was just a matter of time.

Of other interesting graffiti there was one uphill, beside the railway tracks, on the small building that once had been a bus station’s waiting room, but then was a latrine – an illegal public toilet. It was a drawing of a young and smiling, speckled cowboy, riding an old Ziko, an automatic motorcycle of fifty cubic centimetres, into the sunset. Under the drawing there were words: DANIJEL R.I.P. WHERE COWBOYS GO.

 

* * *

 

I’ve learned something about simultaneity: memory is the present of all remembered events. The tape moves forward and back. Fw-stop-rew-stop-rec-play-stop, stops at important places, some images flicker, opaquely frozen in a permanent pause, unclear. But, memory is also a saboteur editor in the backroom, the one who cuts and pastes and edits until the very end or at least until the Alzheimer’s.

 

“The past is never a finite, finished thing,” says Herr Professor, taking a VHS tape from his ancient video player. The Old Village is the last place on earth where people still use videotapes, I ponder. “The past is not what it used to be,” I say.

Is this all that is left of my brother, his games, this wretched Herr Karlo?, I ponder. He has placed his large, lumpish arms on the garden table among the porcelain dishes. Like on my brother’s lean shoulders.

“Gingerbread,” that is how he calls him on the tape.

We were taped on the Krka waterfalls, during the excursion I have completely erased from my memory. There goes my gingerbread. Says the vet in the film we have just seen together.

Ginger-boy and a large hand on the back of his head, fingers wrapped in reddish flames.

Shit, perhaps he really did do it with Danijel, I wonder.

I imagine him falling to the ground (as in that song, I think) in front of Da­nijel, onto the cold floor tiled with Chinese mosaic, sprayed with cat and dog blood, taking Danijel’s proud and indifferent dong out of his jeans.

Lizards fretting in the terrarium, newts floating in formalin, the crocodile beating with his tail in the cabbage barrel.

Herr Karlo is shaking as if stricken by a cymbal.

Behind the next strike (it is sunny and a holiday, but a nimbus, grey as a dog, has floated from the west), together with the sluggish horns and the shrill trumpet, there are now also other sounds: a mobile phone ring tone, the church, harsh mewing from the street, the crying and calling of a grasshopper which Ma is beating with a tamarisk twig and cussing it loudly. I always return to reality with effort, as if from afar, I contemplate. Even when people call me at eleven in the morning or six in the afternoon, they ask me: Did I wake you? Am I awake? Do I sound awake? Of course, I am awake. I was not even asleep, I believe.

 

The reality is this almost surreal letter in my pocket, of that I am sure.

“Mister Karlo,” I say in a voice unknown to me.

Here, in the courtyard surrounded by tall stonewalls, where the light is mild, transparent, where for a moment I felt (wrongly) that I finally sat down beside the water after many years. He does not hear me. The bell tower is louder – for St. Fjoko – over the carob treetops, pregnant with black fruit, I can see how the turquoise struggles through the thick evening indigo.

“I have to ask you something!”

“Dado, dear?”

“Did Danijel ever contact you, after you had left, send you a message, letter, an e-mail, did he ever write?”

The catfish twitches, almost unnoticeable.

And says, as if to himself, “Why do you torture yourself with this?! He is gone, you should be thinking of the living, of yourself, of your mother.”

“Some things are better left unknown,” Ma used to say, but look what has become of her and her wish for ignorance. I am thinking, I do not speak.

He takes out a dirty handkerchief with a blue borderline, blowing his nose loudly.

“How could he have found me, I changed several addresses, from Brela to Rotterdam and over... Well, I went everywhere. Until I lost all of my money. I even got mugged, yes.”

“And e-mail? There’s e-mail.”

“I don’t know,” he shrugs and turns away. “I rarely use it, only if I have to. I’m a bit behind the times,” he says and smiles somewhat sourly.

Turtles have separated and now they are on opposite sides of the garden. They can hardly move. What are the chances they will never find each other again?! I wonder.

“I would never harm him. Perhaps it may seem odd to you now, because Dani was almost a child, and I was then, obviously, already an old man, but he was my best friend.”

While he speaks, this large man is trembling, closing and opening his small eyes, swallowing air: “That he got involved with some boys, a band, perhaps you know that...”

“...I warned him, bad company...”

“...He never returned here, they mostly...”

“...Don’t like condescending...”

“...Perhaps I could have done more...”

“...I’ve always wondered...”

“...Done more...”

“...More than that, I don’t know, I don’t know...”

“...Anyway, you know what had happened to me before I left, they beat me up, real bad.”

As he talks, he is squeezing his large hands like a sick person suffering from some serious physical discomfort. The colic, I think.

Several sudden raindrops ping on the dishes and drive the magic scarab beetle out from this hideaway under the saucer. It stops and is now lying on the white table like a lost amulet.

“Dung beetle,” the vet mumbles dryly.

“Yeah,” I respond shortly.

My throat is tight as if in it he has pushed those dirty, crusted rags from the clothes dryer, which are already dripping in front of us.

“It must be hard for the rain to stop once it starts. It would be hard for me, at least. As if you were a kid and peed in your sleep, neither guilt, nor stopping,” says Karlo Šain.

We are protected by the tree and the marquee, and it is pouring down from the sky.

For a moment I think how Ma has probably not moved the shoes from the stairs, so now they are soaking.

I fiddle with that piece of paper in my pocket, the envelope with a stamp; an image of Laika and the stamp of Perm – where is this and how did it get there? – typewritten, the letter that was late and that arrived after Danijel’s death. If I took it out now, would Karlo Šain say it was not his? He would, I think and shove the envelope under the tray on the table. Let him find it.

If there is an answer, there surely must be a letter preceding it. I have waited four years for Herr Professor and this Daniel’s letter, e-mail, anything, a word from him. And Karlo Šain says there is none, that there is no letter from Danijel. He is looking me in the eyes and lying. And babbling about the rain.

 

 

Professor sain says there is no letter :-(, I’m texting my sister.

Reply: I told you so! Let him be. Who knows who wrote that letter.

For a while I am watching the screen blindly, pissed in the rain.

The hell he didn’t. He is the one. What other lunatic would typewrite the letter.

 

* * *

 

One of the hottest and longest summers of our lives – the one before the war. The sea bloomed and during the day the heat from the land produced a nasty stench of carcass and sulphur, so we swam only at night, in the sparkling phosphorus, during that unbearable period.

Father died at the beginning of August. Generally, it was the summer when our time stopped and forever unglued into before and after. This shattered, dispersed time was not to be put together ever again, not even its parts could be connected, something I kept trying to do. It might be compared perhaps only to life in two completely different areas, of which one disappeared and the other you might reach only by accident, as if in a never-ending dream.

In those days the song of a billion locusts and crickets turned into one, flat, hypnotizing tone, during the noons that were loudly boiling and the foaming nights. Father used to say that, if you woke up early enough and went to the sea, you could hear the agaves’ bark cracking and see the sticky juice, like honey, dripping from the wounds.

“They use it to sweeten the tea and spicy food in Mexico,” he said.

Everything he knew of the world outside the Village, he had learned from the movies.

They had sent him home from the hospital three weeks before to die in his large double bed, in the well-lighted and well-aired room upstairs. If I woke up in the night, I could hear his alveoli wheeze, his lungs burst and the poisonous, sticky juice, like honey, drip from the caverns.

 

My father’s window, so full of sky, was the only window opening to the Long Street. It was the feast of St. Fjoko, there were pieces of dirty cotton and a bowl of figs with dew drops on the night cupboard.

This was the holiday when trombones, faggots and cymbals played, tables and chairs were taken out to the square and in front of the houses.

In the evening, the brothers, Fjokoans, dressed up in specially decorated uniforms of their Brotherhood with hoods and embroidered golden and scarlet symbol on their chest, and they walked one after the other behind the cross bearer and the cross, behind two candlesticks, behind the silver box on the brocade cushion.

After them, nuns and the women from the Choir of St. Lisa, singing about the Christ on a beach and similar, pious songs. Freshly shaven men carried large, swinging candles, so they looked like lighted masts of foreign sailboats down at Mala Mora. The smells of frankincense and Pitralon aftershave.

The largest candle, torac, was to be carried by our father, but it was impossible because of his illness and imminent death. Death sat at his bedside like a monkey, hypocritically, I saw it. Danijel was going to the Brothers regularly, almost every day, asking them to carry the candle, but the Fjokoans said he was weak and that he should come back “definitely in a few years,” I remember. In the end they let him do it.

The procession took seven circles, up and down, down and up along the Duga Štrada. When I could carry it no more, one large man would take over the candle, that was what the men from the brotherhood agreed, said Danijel.

“I’ll manage six circles,” said Danijel seriously. Ma was angry, she was definitely against it.

“Perhaps even all seven!” he then said to our sister and me.

These were the hot days of blooming algae, when the world we had known rifted from our future like the Red Sea on the poster for the “Ten Commandments” on the wall of Braco & Co., and for a short while we stayed in-between, on dry land, confused, but careless and merry and stupid.

On that day, St. Fjoko’s feast, I cut my hair.

Flame by flame, the bread basket was full of them when Jill fell asleep in it, and I saw how our hair was the same, our fur similar in colour and softness.

It was not a ritual, but “acting the moment,” Danijel would say – and I think it did not have a direct connection to what would happen later. But, it gave me the idea, I remember.

At that time I was still a boy, my breasts grew only in the next year. (The rest of the summer girls from the Red Cross holiday resort whistled behind me in the street and sometimes I liked it, and sometimes not, I remember.)

For a long time I was standing in front of the mirror in Danijel’s room in the festive uniform of the Fjokoans, with a hood over my eyes: I was taller than my brother, but not much, just enough – and we were very much alike if I relaxed my shoulders and arms. And my hips, I noticed.

 

“You can’t be the captain,” said Dani the day before as we were sitting on a sea rock. He held a palm tree oar and I had a plastic oar from the dinghy.

“Captainess!” I screamed.

“You don’t get it, it doesn’t exist. Captain, cowboy or a woman monk, they don’t exist,” he shrugged. “What can I do,” he said and smiled and I remembered that one of his teeth was missing.

“What about Calamity Jane?!” I screamed furiously.

He pondered for a while. “She later becomes a normal lady.”

I loved that scene when Calamity Jane appeared on top of the stairs in a dress and Wild Bill Hickok fell in love, I could rewind and watch it for hours. He knew that, he was mocking me. I pushed him with my oar so he fell in the water and swam back to the shore.

I sneaked into his room on the same afternoon: Indian patchouli incense sticks were burning to cover the cigarette smoke. I smoked in front of the mirror, under James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson from the “stupid and boring male story,” that was what I said to Danijel. I rummaged through his things and then took out the neatly folded Fjokoan uniform and put it on, paraded around a little.

And then, in front of the mirror, it suddenly dawned on me. Why not? Something nice and warm rolled up to my feet and spilt all over the room. Why not?!

 

Ku-urboooo!” Danijel called me a whore a bit later, shouting from downstairs in my room, locked in.

“I’ll kill you! I swear on my mother’s...!”

All in vain, the room was in the basement, deep in the rock, in the house’s subconscious. I was sorry for my brother and I felt the ban, but no fear. The fearless rusty-hair, Ruzinava.

The joy that carried me was the strongest. It was excitement, a warm and golden sphere in my belly and deeper, outside me. Like eternal awakening. I would carry the candle all seven circles. It would be remembered. O, yes.

“Bravo, respect,” I thought the eyes in the procession were saying.

“Bravo, Danijel, big boy, well done,” those Fjokoan twits would be saying later.

My body hurt, everything hurt, every muscle and every nerve, but the joy carrying me was much stronger. Behind the cross-bearer with the cross, behind two candlesticks, behind the silver box on a brocade cushion...

When we were passing by my father’s window for the fourth time, I found the strength to lift my head and look up: I wanted him to see me and recognize me. He would be surprised, I imagined, but then he would laugh. That was the plan. But, the window was empty – the draft had lifted the curtain and then let it fall.

Bells sounded again, and the greasy, wax torac slid through my wet hands, hit the ground with a dull sound.

On top of the stairs, at the front door, my sister was waiting for me with her eyes red, she hit me suddenly with her open hand, on the cheek: “You cut your hair like a goat!”

A thin peep from my mother’s throat escaped from the room to the hall and that monkey hopped through the door, unseen, except for me and Yellow Jill.

I ripped myself free and started running after it, downhill to the Lower Street, towards the kaštelet, the stone tower, through the streets and dark alleys – to the slipway.

In the dusk, the procession was still agitated like ants when you step into their anthill. They glued the torac with duct tape, I noticed hidden behind the corner. The monkey crawled to safety, amidst people and disappeared in the crown under the wide dress of one of the nuns, I saw.

I managed to pass unseen through the long, empty rows of benches and white plastic chairs set on the square.

Down on the embankment I would find Danijel who had forgiven me.

“Sorry,” I would say, I thought. And that would be all.

There he was, my brother: he was gathering seagull feathers for an Indian crown and we could hardly hear the sound of the ambulance leaving.

 

 

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