prose

Edo Popović: Naked City

Edo Popović, born 1957 in Livno (Bosnia), is a Croatian author and journalist, co-Founder of literary magazine Quorum and of the Festival of Alternative Literature (FAK). His debut short-story collection Ponoćni Boogie/Midnight Boogie (1987) became a generation´s cult book. The author then took a long 13-year break from writing. He returned to it around the end of the 1990s. From 1991 till 1995 he worked as a war reporter. In Germany, Edo Popovic´s novels have been published by Voland & Quist. “War is not the key for understanding my prose. There is no universal key. Each book is unique, as any human being, any squirrel, any sip of tea. Literature stirs from life – from places you have lived, jobs you have done, books you have read.”



 Edo Popović: Naked City

 

 

 

RATTLE BIG BONES IN THE

DANGER ZONE

THERE’S A RUMBLIN’ GROAN

DOWN BELOW

THERE’S A BIG DARK TOWN

IT’S A PLACE I’VE FOUND

THERE’S A WORLD GOING ON

UNDERGROUND

 

Marimba mornings... A morning in Novi Zagreb is a bad morning... A pile of empty glasses smeared with lipstick, smiling glasses... A morning is also an ashtray filled with cigarette butts that blink and fade like stars and die out fizzling quietly... A morning are also puddles of wine on the table and the remnants of conversations and laughter and overturned coffee cups with black, cracked deserts at their bottoms... Each cup is a desert.

 

* * *

Karlo left. Yesterday. The whole afternoon we’d been trying to kill ourselves with beer, but it somehow turned out that the bottles that wanted to finish us off ended up lying in a dark corner of someone’s pantry, harmless, quiet, forgotten. Sharp rain drizzled the whole afternoon; it was relentless like a rhythm machine, while the alt-saxophone, screams and whispers split the grayness in half.

As we said goodbye, he stared with his dry, dead eyes at two soldiers who, stiffened, saluted an ironed up cop. A thousand torches burned in my stomach... Actually, I was so pissed off with everything... with Karlo, those three idiots waving their arms at something, a train conductor jumping around and forcing people into trains... All those departures, arms cut open, broken bottles and noses at first and second platforms, covered in vomit and high on something, at all those other platforms decorated with embraces and salvos of sobs that mean nothing. Once I too, coked up on indifference, jumped on a Hamburg/Altona – Athens Express, via Zagreb and Belgrade... I jumped off it, on my way back, a year later, bloated from injections and obedience, and all that had happened to me in the meantime sometimes comes back to me in nightmares.

“Alica said my trip is gonna take a hundred years of solitude,” Karlo said climbing up the two iron steps.

He seemed terribly distant.

 

There were no prison guards. There were no iron bars, nor tall, grey walls with shards of glass and barbed wire on the top, nor guard towers with spotlights and snipers. Sometimes all it takes are two iron steps.

“Alica is a bitch,” I said.

And she was. She stayed at home, her face swollen from crying. And women cry only so they could hold it against you later. Besides, she sold the same trick to me too, which only shows how unimaginative that bitch is, that Alica.

“A road to me takes a hundred years of solitude,” that’s what she told me once. I wasn’t crazy of taking that road. I was only interested in, as Karlo was too, fucking her every once in while, and that was it.

 

* * *

The morning is indifferent... It smells of confection clothes... From my window I see ghostly trams... I see workers and their wrinkled, bloodless faces marching down the sidewalks with their hands in their pockets, little clouds of steam escaping their mouths.

 

* * *

I woke up to darkness. Across the way, in the army barracks, the bugle played Taps, the gentlest of all lullabies. One couldn’t wish for more. An orange dome of light shone above the city. I started salivating.

At night the city is the safest place to hide from people. When you are locked up in your apartment, every phone call, every sound of the bell at your door is – trepidation. You’re trapped. They pin you down like a rat. But tonight I didn’t want to get caught.

I walked sharp in the wind, red-hot machetes of my ribs cleared the way in front of me. The streets are imagined and just like me – they don’t go anywhere. Only idiots believe the streets lead Somewhere. I often wonder what did those who built them think. Those who would walk through them were certainly not on their minds. Every street is part of a huge labyrinth that beckons and kills, in it one dies slowly, enjoying every minute of it. At the corner, next to the pharmacy, I ran into some buddies of mine, nameless, skinny scroungers who wander around day in and day out knocking at the heaven’s door. And when they realize there’s no one on the other side, they’ll kick the door in with the black steel boots they bought at the scrap yard and settle in far from dirty dives, dumps, midnight slugfests, raids, bad pot dealers, far away, beyond reach.

We greeted each other with stiff gazes. In our eyes Layla Khaled is tattooed. Our brains are kicked in, our brains were kicked in by soft fellows in steel vests with symbols of power engraved in them, hordes of soft fellows.

We stood there shivering in the wild wind (the wind is the only thing about the cities a man did not manage to tame) and smoked pot while Fassbinder machine-gunned us with kilometers of tape. Two policemen appeared out of somewhere. We showed them our teeth and they backed off. They realized they did not belong here, they were really sweet, those poli cemen. Young boys and girls crammed themselves around a phone booth waiting for someone. Love was all around, that needs to be said.

 

* * *

I found Alica practice vodka diving from the seven-meter tower. She was excellent, Alica was, screaming with pleasure. I forgot to say that today she’s a grown woman, that she kicked her heroin habit and that she barely remembers her childhood. Still, some times, only in dreams, wild cats, queens and hangmen pay her a visit. Her lips swollen like the sound of tam-tam drums, that’s what Alica was like. Lying by her side and exploring her with my fingertips, I often imagined Karlo’s hands gliding down those same places and I wondered if the drops of sweat on her stomach, smooth and warm, were actually the remnants of his sweat mixed with ours in this secret and bitter brotherhood. And I’d feel gentle pain in the groins, a premonition of a wild, unrestrained fuck.

The cold descended upon us, malarial fever in the womb. Alica is pretty in her black leotard... Alica is a Bummed Cigarette... She says: “I slept the whole afternoon... I had a bad dream... I felt sick when I woke up... I made the alarm go off... The walls of silence cracked...” And goes on: “I let Waits get in my bed... When he left, I imagined some guy from the tram fucking me hard... I thought that you and Karlo screwed around with me and I fell asleep again... I woke up at half past ten... That green ashtray I’d brought with me from the hospital got bigger tonight...”

I took off my clothes and got in the bed.

“Now what?” she whispered halfasleep. “Come.”

Obediently she nested herself next to me and stared at the ceiling.

“I think you should take off your clothes.”

“I’m okay like this,” she muttered and undressed.

And the walls of anxiety grew bigger, tall walls filled with dreadful graffiti. Down below, deep under the windows, in the dark streets, silence roared. We lay there without touching, two beautiful corpses. Hoping for a miracle, I tinkered about with my willy. It was in a truly horrible state, that is, it looked like a worm that had just been shocked and that vowed that, if need be, it would stay shriveled for centuries, the bastard.

“What are you doing?” Alica was waking up from half-sleep.

“Nothing.”

“You’re jerking off!” she screamed.

“What the fuck?” I said.

She stormed out of the bed, grabbed a glass, missed me, started running about the room wailing: “You’re jerking off! You’re jerking off!”

“Listen, honey, really... you know...”

“Get out! Get out, you rotten bastard!” she really lost it. “You hear me! Get out!”

Behind me, down the stairs, a flood of screams and tears rolled, a violent flood that destroys everything and takes it away. I felt the syphilitic eyes behind the peepholes, syphilitic eyes of syphilitic people. At the exit I caught some guy peeing.

“You can’t find a place to take a piss in this town after midnight,” he said.

 

* * *

 

AN IMAGE IN THE MIRROR: circles under the eyes take up one third of the face andkeep on growing bythe day, expanding, blue circles, limp, wrinkled bubbles. One day I will turn into a craggy ocean of blue circles under my eyes.

But I’m happy to be alive, I mean: to be still-alive, the way I am, hungover, pissed off, knives in my stomach, and it’s morning and someone screams in the hallway: “Help! It minus three outside! Help!”

I call Alica... Do something, whatever, just make it warmer, I’m getting cold... I’m cold... That thing last night, that was okay... The vodka exploded in me, do you love me... I picked up some broads at the Main Station... Some broads... Bah, it was nothing, we just drank... They’re still here... They left... You’re nuts... I’m so fucking tired, I just want to sleep... Paint your room and change the linens... Your hallway is covered in piss...

Fisher Ph-M77 is home to crazy dwarfs, they’re bald, with powerful sound. I ride in silvered hard-core carriages and dream of the Mediterranean where, behind lowered blinds, I would write down the tunes of the Bora and the screams of winter days.

“What are your plans for tonight?”

“I’ve no idea. Most likely I’ll kill myself or read Michaux or I’ll, simply, go to CHINA.

 

Translated by

Tomislav Kuzmanović

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