prose

Tea Tulić: The Hair is everywhere (Selection)

LIT LINK FESTIVAL 2017

Tea Tulić was born in Rijeka (Croatia) in 1978. Her work was published in various Croatian, Serbian, Macedonian and Slovenian literature and cultural magazines including McSweeney’s from San Francisco. In 2011, she won Prozak, a literary award for the best young author’s manuscript, which resulted in publication of her first book, a fragmentary novel Kosa posvuda (Hair Everywhere). The novel received numerous positive reviews and was included in the top five prose books of the 2011 by Vijesnik daily newspaper, The Croatian Ministry of Culture awarded it as one of the best prose books in 2011. Hair Everywhere is also translated and published in UK, Italy, Macedonia and Serbia. In 2014. in cooperation with the musical collective Japanski Premijeri, she published spoken word album Albumče on Bandcamp.
She is a jury member of international short prose competition Lapis Histrae and a member of RiLit, a non-formal group of writers from Rijeka. Her new novel “Maksimum jata” (Flock’s maksimum) is recently published.



Mum

On the day my grandma didn't die, my mum felt an unusual headache. Her eye started to wonder to the left. My brother drove her to the ER. He came home without her. Mum is a very strong person with tiny bones. Until now, she's been lying in hospital only two times. First, to pee out the stones, second time to pee out a strayed child.

On the day my grandma didn't die, I was shopping. Shopping for books, creams and baths. In my hair I carried a week old damp. I passed through the square where a beautiful boy died just the other day. They say he was an athlete. A good pupil. And that he wasn't conflicted. He was beat to death. I wondered how our word for death sounds in a stranger's ear.

Smrt.

 

Neighbourhood

In our neighbourhood of violent facades the prizewinning gardens hide cold benches. Under the benches warm, yellow, white and black dogs are growling. They bark at foreign sounds. They are spokes dogs for their owners. They can't stand other people parking on their spots. They don't like people whose grandfathers don't live at the local cemetery. They are agitated by messy trees and mulberry fruits sticking to their feet. They are nervous, they piss on their own flowers.

 

Grandma

Grandma tells me to pull out the green safe where she stored the banknotes. We have to check if they are still valid. We fear the biggest notes.

In the meantime, she has to be changed into dry clothes. My sister peels three layers of panty hoses from grandma while I hold her up. The banknotes are valid, grandma is dry, so we rifle through little boxes in which gold is rattling. There are three golden chains with pendants. One is for mum, one for my sister, third one for me. Grandma assigned one with clevises to me. It is yellow like her piss in a plastic bucket. My brother gets nothing. He is a male.

 

Group Photos

There's this one photograph. grandpa, grandma, mum and her sisters. Mum wears a thick grey-black cotton dress and blonde locks. Grandpa sits in the middle with palms on his knees.

There's this other photograph. Mum and her sisters. This time with husbands. Aunts have rosy cheeks and wear shirts with shoulder pads. Husbands wear jerseys in many colours.

There's this third photograph. Us. Grandchildren. Our faces straight, our hair almost combed.

All three of these we sent to our uncle who lives in Canada in a house with a pool. While we were getting ready for taking photos, someone said to mum:

- Don't use too much make-up. Uncle will think we're doing fine and he won't send us any money!

I believed if we look pretty enough, uncle is going to frame us and put us above the fireplace and think about us often.

 

Ghosts

At night, ghosts won't let grandma sleep. They stumble upon her bed, tip toe across the parquetry, tear down nonexistent objects. I come over and put away framed photographs of our deceased. I ask her where she got those plastic flowers in a vase.

- I bought them on the market, I swear! - She yells from her chair.

­- All right, but remember! You won't leave them alone; it's not the other way around.

I leave her while she prays the rosary. The plastic one. The pearly one I haven't seen in a long time.

 

Nurses (They don’t know)

Nobody knows why mum is in a hospital. That's why we run up and down the stairs. We find only nurses. They wear anatomical clogs and eyeliner. They don't have information. They don't even have plastic cups.

- There, doctor is now downstairs. - They say.

Nobody runs up and down these stairs but us. The coffee machine is down there. The smell of soup is down there. The doctor is not down there. He hasn't been there for days.

Grandma vomited tonight. It would be better if she didn't. Therefore, I had to do it too.

Short Conversation about Our God

Once, I came home and said to mum and dad that I am impure. That I cannot die unbaptised and that this matter should be resolved as soon as possible. Grandma said that she wanted to do that a long time ago, but no one asked her opinion. Then we all dressed up in our best clothes and went to church. Mum dressed me in a white blouse, dad kept silent through Our Father Who Art in Heaven and everything was over in fifteen minutes. Many times, immortal and safe, I played the church organ, preached my sermons to empty benches, cleaned the altar, read through the many coloured book, rang the bells at noon. In thinly plimsolls, engaged to God, I asked the priest:

- How can God send my father to hell if he really loves me?

The priest was silent. They transferred him to another church soon after; me to another school, and God on the telephone line.

 

Scary Filmovies

When dad bought a VCR, my brother and I were watching scary movies every afternoon. At night, I would cover my neck with sheets. I kept the closet closed. I kept monsters under the bed. I howled at the moon. Drank garlic water. That last thing was because of stomach worms. But, there was this one movie. Skinless woman and a man with hundred needles stuck in his head. They came straight from Hell. To take humans away. To take one blonde girl away who, just like me, knew how to solve puzzle-cubes and riddles.

- Blimey, I'm not going to Hell!

NOWILAYMEDOWNTOSLEEPIPRAYTHELORDMYSOULTOKEEPTHYANGELSWATCHMETHROUGHTHENIGHTANDKEEPMESAFETILLMORNINGLIGHTAMEN!

- I prayed, sent a kiss to the ceiling and fell asleep.

VCR broke down soon enough.

 

Dreams

They say if you dream of snake, it's not a good sign. It means you have a friend who is not your friend. It means his true face is monstrous. When you wake up from such a dream, better take a good look around you! Look who is eating from your hand. Look for the human shaped demon you cuddle. Whether you find it or not, be careful. It is someone you know.

Besides snakes, grandma and mum don't like to dream about teeth. When one of them dreams of her teeth falling out, she inevitably says – Someone is going to die one of these days. Then, mostly, our or other people's acquaintances die.

 

Doctors (They Know)

- IT's inoperable.

- Why?

- IT's everywhere.

Says he and walks away because he is wanted all over the hospital. Too many sick people around here. Everywhere.

 

Nudity

Once, we could fit in the same tub, me and mum. We took baths together. I would put the foam on my nose and she would laugh. We sat facing each other. I remember our bony knees. Our reefs. Then mum put a brother in a tub beside me. Once, his toe got stuck in the drain. He screamed out all the blueness he had in him. Brother and I were bathing together until mum one day decided that the time has come for separate baths.

On the beach my mum wore no top. I told her:

-  Why can't you be like all the other mums and bathe with your tits covered?

-  And why you have to be like all the other little girls and wear pumps?

In the first grade she made me a hedgehog haircut and said:

-  You are my little punk.

Dad says that we'll collect all the hair that falls off mum's head and make her a wig out of it. Maybe we'll even shave our cat for that purpose. Cats know no nudity.

 

Spells

I board the train and travel south. There is a woman who is to blame for mum being in a hospital third time for real. So says the lady who during the day works in a bank and by night she breaks the spells. She says – In that woman's hands your mum's eyes are buttons. I travel and stick my head through the window. I keep out for transmission poles. I travel far. My hands are dirty from red plush and the folding table. I come out from the endless tunnel and the hills are rolling into mountains. Brick houses rush in the opposite direction. Dogs and sheep follow them. Then I go to the toilet. I squander pee all over the tracks. I watch my reflection in the mirror. I practice my keynote speech.

That woman cast a spell on our family out of jealousy for dad marrying mum. Her jealousy has gone but the spell remains. I tell her all about it and then I tell her to leave us alone. She is surprised. And angry. Bad henna in her hair. She tells me that it's a lie. No, lady, it's not a lie. It's a try.

 

Austrian Pharmacy

I'm calling this doctor in Austria. He's from here but he works up there. It says on the Internet that he cures everything. He has preparations made from herbs that grow on unfathomable heights. In the clean air. People are satisfied. They write to him how they walk, pee, sleep and eat. All that since they started to drink clean herbs. It's a very old family pharmacy. It has certificates. I call him. He sounds kind of Italian. I tell him that mum is in great pain. I tell him that doctors are not believers. I tell him we're in a hurry. I ask about the price of his herbs. He says – Three thousand. I ask him if it really works. He gets angry. Very, very angry. He calls me insolent and that he's going to hang up on me.

- Please don't do that! What have I done to you?

- You are being insulting, miss.

I beg him to let me order the medicine.

- It will be delivered to you in two days.

I hang up ashamed of my tears.

 

Hair in a Siphon

When mum opened a siphon in a bath tub and pulled a nugget of hair out of it, she said to me:

- Look, this is all your hair! I'll cut it short for you!

In her wet hand she held a once cuddled, but now dreaded long brown scalp.

- It's like we have a dog in the house!

Once, we had a dog in the house. I found him in front of the school and brought him home while mum and dad were at work. He ate all the minestrone and all the bread. He was big and hungry, just like dad later that evening. So the dog had to go.

 

Hair Washing

I want her to let me help her wash her hair. She gave me everything. Last tenner out of her wallet. A massage during those days. A little bra. Sweet young potatoes with tiny drumsticks. Cigarettes. A thirty-seven Celsius note for the teacher. Apricot juice with whipped cream. Black eyeliner. Netherlands. Chamomile. Hairdresser. Mickey Mouse dress. She gave me everything. Instead of that I tell her:

- Why are you so nervous?    

She called me to help her wash her hair, but I stand above her and stare at her posthumous back. She won't even let me shampoo her. She still does everything alone. All she needs is a witness.

Let me help you wash your hair. Let me wash your coffee mug. Don't smoke. You are my baby now.

 

Sister

Doughnut. That’s how tiny she was when mother pushed her out. That's why they laid her down in a tiny doughnut container. So she can rise like bread rises in warmth, so she can be ready for our tasting. For our kissing and touching. She was tiny then, but now she is ready to tell us:

- Boys are yuck!!!

I was fifteen with five school lunch coins in my pocket when they let me watch her from afar, through the hospital glass. I am too old to bath with her in the same tub, I thought to myself. At the same time, quietly and without crying, she stuck a finger in her ear.

 

Visible

- Visits are over; can't you see I'm mopping the floor?

- Ma’am, don't be angry just because you have a job.

In the building they call The New Building people are walking around in hospital gowns and soiling the floor with slippers, saliva and hair. They don't clean up after themselves. They are creasing the sheets, spilling the juice, wetting their beds. Sometimes they cry and spread bad energy. They were given brochures on how to deal with disease. And people who visit people in gowns come every day to soil the floor with their feet. And the rain fell today.

 

A Home for Hanging

When I was born, my dad broke the chandelier. He swung on it. Grandma said many times later that men, when rejoicing, are not normal. She would say:

- Men!

Once, a young man who drove an ambulance got a call. A lady in a five-storey building hanged herself on that thing for hanging coats. That's how tiny she was. That's how sick of everything she was. Like an old raincoat she hanged above an entrance to her ready-made apartment. Grandma said:

- Women never hang themselves for no reason.

In mum's hospital room there are no little hooks on the walls so we often sit on her bed in jackets and coats.

 

The Great Healer

The Great Healer from the Middle East arrived to our main city. He's quite a big man. His face is covered in little black dots. His smile is wide-angled. He's got bodyguards. Politicians, sportsmen and artists make pilgrimmages to see him. They say that he cures everything, even the soul. In his healing campaigns he cures hundreds of thousands people. Although, newspapers do exaggerate.

Everyone from secondary cities goes there. Everyone but beggars on crutches.

And us.

 

Rooms for Crabs

Summers on an island were fragrant, sonorous and salty. I would wake up in the morning, put my slippers on and rush down the long street. I would throw my towel on the seafront and jump into the sea, ass first. That was the deal when I was alone with my aunt. When mum came over, I would spend time with her on the beach. She would bask her petit breasts and I would be in the shoal, building sand and pebble houses for dozens of crabs caught up in snail shells. Unlike those crabs in a hospital, each would get his own room. But not one of those would leave their houses.

 

The Hair is Everywhere

The hair is everywhere. On the pillow. Floor. In her hand. In mine. We talk about colourful shawls from India. About thick soup. Bad weather. Discipline. We talk about dry skin. We talk about everything but we're still feeling sad about the hair that fell out. It's a symbol of the rapacious animal in her head. Skin drizzles off her. When she changes her undershirt, the air is filled with fine flakes.

 

Birds from Hell

We find grandma in the kitchen corner. With her plastic rosary around her neck. She says:

- Hell broke loose! Things are falling on the floor in the room. They tumble! These flowers are not from the cemetery, I swear!

My sister and I enter the room. Two pigeons with dry breaths stand on the top of the closet. We chase them. They hit the walls. We call for help to the tall neighbour that brings us cod for Christmas. He comes in and turns off the lights. Then the TV, too. He grabs the birds, one by one, and lets them out through the window. Later, grandma sleeps with the rosary around her neck. A three-dimensional picture of Jesus on her chest.

 

Pretty Things

It says there, loud and clear, in that one book – THINK ABOUT PRETTY THINGS – and I do think about them. I buy myself a pretty dress, I love myself in it and I take it off, go to bed and deprecate myself for buying it in such fucked up times. Then I think about nothing and then nothing, when I leave the house, becomes everything. And everything bends me. It says in that one book that when we say No, what we really get is Yes. Just like when a guy rapes a girl. The Universe made it so, it says.

 

Barefoot

They say when people jump off their and other people's windows and balconies; they first take off their socks, shoes, sneakers and slippers off. They jump barefoot. With cuticles, corns and hard skin on heels. They go to their barefoot ancestors. Some leave clogs with holes, some leave pumps. Naked feet are free. They draw letters in the sand. They get vanilla in a cone. They stride along the paths of urchins. They demolish rooms for crabs. But, from these rooms you leave with socks on. There's no fall. There's no bang.

 

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