Ana Schnabl

Ana Schnabl, born 1985, is a Slovene writer, journalist and literary critic. A doctoral student of Philosophy since 2016, she focuses her research on the female autobiography and confession, and the woman in psychoanalysis. She writes for literary journal Literatura and the online portal AirBeletrina, has collaborated with daily Dnevnik and is the editor-in-chief of the European Review of Poetry, Books and Culture. In 2014 her short story MDMA was the winner of AirBeletrina’sshort fiction competition. Disentangling (Razvezani, 2017), a short story collection, is her first book. Schnabl is currently working on a play and a novel, with the latter delving into the topics of infidelity, illegitimate children and the ‘golden 80s’ in Slovenia.





Ana and The Only Son



As a little girl, my sister was always stronger and faster than I was. While I spent my evenings reading in the armchair given to us by our grandfather who hoped one of us would use it to broaden her horizons, she was always on the prowl. At the neighbours’, in narrow valleys, under hayracks, among the ruins of the old factory. I envied her never truly getting tired, I envied her the rosy glow of her skin as she returned from these ramblings. When we were getting ready to go to sleep and she sat on her legs on the bed in front of me, brushing her long, heavy brown hair, I’d wish, if the night was particularly hard on me, for all her hair to fall out. I’d hope she’d wake up as I was, with a sensitive scalp, dandruff, with problem skin that took on an ugly reddish frown with greasy white lines whenever I worked up a sweat. I envied her that dad, whenever she ran in to hug him, would nimbly lift her up and spin around hugging her until they both hallucinated. As we came back home from the supermarket one afternoon, she jumped on his back, and he, despite being caught off guard, held her up, and they spun around for so long that he lost his balance. He fell back on the radiator, on top of the little girl, and the girl’s head just missed the sharp edge, so that the fall wasn’t lethal, merely extremely painful. The scar was later overgrown by hair, and the memory of danger by laughter.
Her laugh. So full of life and sparkle. A laugh that heals instead of repressing. Laughter that I was invited to share in but kept choosing to remain outside.
She was also the first one to start growing breasts. She carried them with pride, like she used to carry girly necklaces that dad brought back from his trips. While my chest was undergoing nothing but fatty, funny little buttons that I liked to stick my thumb into, checking whether they’ll pop out again, mom was already buying my sister her first bras. “75B,” she’d boast. Thanks to her breasts and the playful hair that rested on them, thanks to her narrow waist that hinted at womanly hips and thanks to her sense of humour, driven by a waking libido and flirtatious nature, she was popular with boys. Back then I thought the worst of her, however, my anger had nothing to lean on. Her actions, her answers, her jokes – everything was straight and average, silly as one would expect of a teenager. Only now and then did a glimmer of adulthood shine through in her behaviour. Like when she accompanied me to the doctor’s when I got salmonella and remained with me long after our parents had gone to sleep; when she confronted the Slovene language teacher because she called a child from an immigrant family a preemie for being so scared of school that he barely ever uttered a word. When my sister found that her pride can be hurtful, she consoled me with kisses and hugs.
The only thing my anger could lean on was her beauty. I tried my best to cover it up with other justifications, I told myself I was bigger than that, bigger than myself and my vapid impulses. But such efforts tend to be fruitless. Beauty has no force of its own, always using another’s to hurt, always returning what it receives. When it receives hate, it responds with injury. When it receives love, it responds with an illusion of its immortality.
In the last days of August before we entered high school, her body overtook me once more. As we were running around stores looking for clothes to mark the first week in high school, she got her first period. She reported that it arrived unannounced, with no burning or cramping, and that euphoria only came over her as she felt her first pad scrunch between her thighs. She requested ice cream. As she stared into the colourful pots, mom lectured her: “It’s all going to be different now. You’ll be adult and responsible. At least I hope so.” I resented her again. Her breakthrough to the next level again filled me with a dismal sense that life would never pick me up from the closet floor, that I would always remain pitiful and forgotten.
This was the last victory of her body.
I often ask myself whether I’d even have noticed, towards the end of the first year of high school, that her face had contorted into unhappiness if she hadn’t previously been so beautiful. I watched her intently, like a rare, precious insect under a magnifying glass; the twitching of the wings, the flutter of the antennae, the squirming around, the quiet crackling voice – I responded to everything. I noticed details. I noted how the regal arch of her brow drooped ever so slightly. In a couple of months, the skin around her eyes took on a grey tinge, giving the appearance of her velvety green eyes resting in a spider web. The sheen of her hair was no longer elvish, merely greasy. Her hair was falling out like an animal’s winter fur, in clumps, which I discovered in the unlikeliest places. On the edge of a refrigerator shelf, between the pages of a fashion magazine, in the kitchen sink. Muscles were stripped off her arms by an unknown wind, taken off her bones, upper arms, shoulders. Her palms became comically elongated and her knuckles jutted out from her hands. One evening I saw her naked, just for a second, before she wrapped herself in a towel in panic: above her still round breasts, ribs stuck out crudely, making it look as if the breasts were hanging from a grating, sticking out from a prison. Her torso seemed thirsty. Dry. On the screen of my memory I can still see the sharp round edges of her pelvis into which her transparent skin was desperately sinking.
I took these changes for innocent erosion and enjoyed them. After all, they were just details, slight deteriorations, dust bunnies of ugliness. I hoped my time would come. The time for the sister who was born first and thus received less. For the first child, the one that’s taken for granted.
She started hiding. Even from me. She knew that the density of her body was an intimate concern of mine and often sneered at me that I was crazy. “And if you aren’t, you will be,” she screamed and slammed the bathroom door. I remember hearing her yelling at the top of her voice for the first time that spring, at dad, who was the first to voice his concerns. His dear daughter was no longer his ally. When he hugged her or placed a firm palm on her shoulder, she froze. Dread descended upon her face and her sternum tensed and jerked towards the ceiling as if the heart underneath it was trying to jump out. She never told him about school, never talked to him about her girlfriends. One night she ran into him in the hall, wrapped in a thick bathing robe. I heard him ask: “Been relaxing a bit, huh?” Afterwards she spent the night sobbing and twisting in her bed. I didn’t try to console her, as I couldn’t understand what perfection could possibly be grieving.
Her voice grew dark, bitter like coffee. She started wearing baggy clothes and leaving her lacy lingerie at home, having convinced mom to buy her a pack of cheap cotton briefs. They had argued in the store, because my sister wanted them to be a size bigger than necessary, to cover the crease where her thighs met her buttocks. Mom hadn’t relented, arguing that this was all a weird phase that would pass and leave her feeling sorry about being stuck with a dozen panties the size of a tent. To avoid further conflict, my sister started leaving home looking like mom wanted her to, only to change clothes in the school bathroom, break up her bun and fluff the hair around her face in such a way that it was almost totally covered. The weird phase didn’t pass, it unfolded into years. At that time, our mom couldn’t tell adolescent foolhardiness and vanity from frantic threats. From the paving of the end.
She started smoking. By sixteen, she smoked a pack of the strongest cigarettes a day. I bypassed her if I saw her in the schoolyard as I was disgusted by her nervous sucking of the cigarette end, which our schoolmates had, only half jokingly, already started associating with her. She had rejected her beauty and now spoke in a caustic tone. And her constant rejection, her dedication to an incomprehensible goal stirred within me a terrible, self-righteous rage, a dark state in which everything that she did, she did to mock me, to gloat at my lack. Those who have are able to reject, while those who lack can never patch the hole with a piece that would fit. The pieces that come by are always wrong, too small to cover the hole or spilling over its edges.
I can still see her, nervous from nicotine and thin as a beanstalk, as she leans on the metal frame of the bike shelter behind the school: she steps on her cigarette, searches in her bag for a bottle of water, drinks it all and then turns away from the audience, slumped in her gloom, again reaches in her pocket and brings her hand to her mouth. Perhaps she sticks it in. Perhaps she just swallows. A mysterious ceremony, the most brutal of my rages.
She quit running. Mom was told that she’d stopped going to practice by the varsity coach. At home, the air was buzzing with rebellion. “I want you to leave me alone! I’m never going back anymore!” In a display of foolhardiness, my sister lit up in front of mom and blew smoke in her face. Mom froze. Her eyes darted around, her lips opened like the beak of a panicked bird, her breathing was shallow. When her daughter blew smoke in her face for the second time, she slapped her. The girl’s cheek showed a bloody, bruising dent, the mark of mom’s wedding ring. The scar remained, making her a further bit uglier.
My sister pushed away while I and our parents grew closer. Mom kept saying she always knew that I’d grow up to be a level-headed person. She never interrogated me about my sister, likely sensing how complicated the ties that bound us were. She was probably feeling pangs of her conscience, realizing how hypocritical she’d been, thinking about the neglected relationship with her daughter, the weird and ugly one, realizing that she, a mother, had measured out her love for us, giving more to the beautiful one. My dad followed me around like a forsaken dog, expecting me to provide him with the sort of warmth that he’d received from my sister and the sort of ease that she wielded. I’d always yearned for closeness, but when a connection did form between us, it formed in perverse circumstances. I was still a mere substitute and she was still the one they wanted. I wrapped myself in hatred. I dreamt about my sister never having been born, that all the beauty that had accumulated with her was instead infused in me, the single child, that all the loveliness and grace of the accepted, the loved daughter settled on myself. My hatred burned persistently and dangerously. It was only interrupted by a coincidence.
I was in third year of high school and it was the last Tuesday before the summer holidays. After the afternoon classes were over, I started off towards the gym locker room where I’d forgotten my equipment. The hallways were empty, sparse jabbering could still be heard from classrooms here and there. The locker rooms were in the look-out basement at the end of a damp, cold staircase that echoed every breath I took. As I descended, the amplified vibrations of my steps drowned out any other sound, but as the noise of my steps died down, I heard a deep male voice that I recognised as the teacher’s. I walked towards his study to explain what I was here for. His commanding voice gradually coalesced into words and sentences, but I was so focused on my mission that I didn’t really understand anything. I was only stopped in place by a forceful “do you understand?”, synchronized with a scene in which the teacher’s spade-like hand was grabbing the thin shoulder of my pale sister, bent over in hunger and hysteria. She wheezed out a resigned, tired “yes” and turned towards me. Her eyes stared like eyes of dead livestock, with pre-death horror frozen in them. I don’t know whether she recognized me, it seemed as if all her life force was channelled into the word that she’d spoken and that all that was left of her was a flimsy, ugly, decrepit frame. The teacher spoke to me, but I was nervous and confused and kept looking at my sister. As she slipped past me, I managed a fractured “Ana, what’s going on?” I retreated backwards from the study without really registering what the huge man was saying to me. In a panic, which I was unable to make sense of but which held me whole in its clutches, I ran upstairs. I couldn’t find Ana anymore. 
I asked her about the incident once again before going to sleep. She muttered, facing the wall: “Leave me alone, it’s none of your concern.”
All I’d wished for came true. My sister’s beauty and joy had withered. People started turning towards me as if they’d just discovered me. A new continent, a rugged, unexplored area that had always had a lot to offer. As my sister wrapped herself in darkness, a land of new opportunities for happiness opened in front of me. With every layer that evaporated from my sister’s body, my will and power grew. But that night something burned in my chest. That night, the magma of my wrath settled down abruptly, even though I hadn’t yet vomited it all out and it hadn’t yet burned everything down. Maybe my sister was suffering, I thought. Maybe her body, porous at that point, was not trying to take its revenge on me. That night, I listened to her breathing and tried to percolate down its column into her mind, her memories, her experiences and sensations. But I discovered nothing; I didn’t know my sister and in my envious, insidious schadenfreude, I never saw her as human. Sympathy could not bridge the distance between us because I couldn’t provide it with substance. In my imagination, the afternoon incident grew to terrible proportions from which I gathered every possible reason for my sister’s bitterness. In hallucinatory oscillation, the incident’s contours grew hazier and I burned with intuitions. Worry appeared as a powerful earthquake. Worry of one wanting to redeem oneself, of one who’d seen violence in one’s hands. A selfish worry.
The summer that followed was marked by a game of ingratiation and avoidance. I was convinced Ana’s silence was just that – a game. That she would soon lower her shield, as her strength had all but been depleted. She only carried the heavy armour and defended herself to punish me for the torments I dealt her in my thoughts. And I was ready to serve my sentence. I never shared my intuitions regarding my sister’s unhappiness with my parents. I didn’t want to waste the opportunity to be the first to bond with her after her descent. And at the same time, I didn’t know the actual substance of my intuitions. Had I called what I spun out in my sleepless nights by its true name, it could come true and then I’d be overwhelmed by responsibility for a new injustice – and I could barely carry the one. I was afraid. I kept quiet in front of my parents mostly to protect myself. Because Ana, Ana would tell them everything by herself sooner or later.
I kept quiet when they took her, dehydrated and delirious, to the hospital and fed her concoctions of raw butter, sweetened cocoa and milk for a week. As the pale brown liquid flowed into her, tears of disgust streamed down her face. I kept quiet when mom took cotton pads from her purse that was hanging over the side of the bed and burst into tears. Dad held her to his chest silently and stared at his daughter who no longer lied on the bed, but was draped over it like a frayed piece of fabric. I looked upon the despair that they walked up and down the floors of our house with the patience of the disgraced. I kept quiet when she spat in the face of the nurse who brought her a high-calorie beverage and scratched her bloody. I didn’t lose my faith in her even when she couldn’t walk anymore and still refused any sort of food. There was no reason to be afraid, my sister was good, in her core she was good, and she’d make things right. She’d deliver us from suffering, she’d absolve me. I kept counting on her goodness long after she’d ceased to be human. I held her hand tightly and watched the lanugo on her face, the grotesque tangle of blue-violet veins on the palm and back of her hand, the rising and falling of her pointy clavicles. Her lively wet body had disintegrated into paper. I touched her absent face and placed my hand on her abdomen. I wanted her to feel the pulse of my flesh and know that we can start again. My young hand would not crush her, would not finish what had been started in hatred against life. I hoped boundlessly, disguising my guilt into hope that she’d explain what I saw on that morning in June, that she’d tell me just how innocent it was. I kept quiet until her eyes glazed over. I stood by her and kept quiet so resolutely that I heard, in the tranquillity of her room, the exact moment when her heart stopped beating. Mute, I stood by the body of my twin sister.


The Only Son 

Rivulets of sweat poured from the nape of my neck, over my temples and chin and between my breasts. Hair matted my forehead but I didn’t have the strength anymore to push it away. The air in the room was heavy and acidic. I didn’t feel the bed I was lying on, my legs had gone numb. I could barely keep my eyes open, the blurry scene at the other end of the room was framed by the contours of my eyelashes. Two fat women were using a wet cloth to wipe down the baby. Its short limbs protruded into space and writhed grotesquely, the surface of its skin was greasy and bloody and disgusting. It screamed and coughed and breathed. I had almost fallen asleep when the thin-haired fat woman put the baby in my arms.
“Watch the head.”
I awkwardly twisted my forearms under the blanket that framed the inhumanly wrinkled face. I tried, but my arms refused to nimbly come together in a hug. Its eyes were half-closed. It seemed to me that the supple skin covering its skull moved inward, I saw it pulsate like the tiny bodies of Mediterranean lizards. Its wobbly head scared me. I didn’t open the blanket at all, I wasn’t interested in what lay underneath it. On my thighs, I felt the same weight that had resided inside me just a day before. A swollen tongue protruded from its mouth, its lips twitching greedily and leaving droplets of spit on my arm with every twitch. Chills went down my spine and engulfed my limbs like lava.
“You’ll have to let him latch on now,” giggled the other fat woman.
“What do you mean?”
She pointed at my huge, aching breasts riddled with blue and violet veins.
“Let him nurse. He has to nurse now. I think it’s time we called your husband.”
I did as the fat woman said, I opened the soaked-through gown and pressed the baby’s face to my nipple. I took a deep breath before its lips made contact with my flesh. It sucked forcefully, I felt as if it were stabbing me with a sharp awl that travelled through my breast, bored underneath my sternum and scratched my shoulder blade. It suckled and suckled, and I was unable to move, it was pushing me towards the top of the bed with all its strength. I shut my eyes and held back tears. I couldn’t let the two fat women see through me.
As the door opened, I felt the warm glow of hallway lights on my face.
Jan approached me as one would approach a wounded she-wolf that jumps at the mere sound of wind blowing and hurts at the sound of rustling leaves. Compared to my shallow, tense gasps, his breathing was even deeper and more serene than usual. He gently touched the baby’s head with his left hand, brushed aside the lock of hair that was getting in my eyes with his right hand, and kissed me. The contrast between the nervous suckling baby and the loving man stung in my chest.
“You’re so beautiful, Jasmin. You’re both beautiful,” he said. His eyes travelled across the baby’s face that radiated joy at him, while I stared at its thick, rough hair, hoping that the panic would pass before I had to look at the baby again.
“He is beautiful,” I lied. “He’s going to nurse for a couple of hours now. Will you stay with me?”
“Would you like me to?”
I asked myself what he was seeing. In front of him lay his helpless wife and his newborn who was throwing up a storm because the milk was lacking something. I wasn’t glowing and I’m sure Jan noticed it. The proverbial peace and tranquillity had not descended upon me, and my wishes in that tight little windowless delivery room were engaged in the same battle against time as they had been before.
“I’m exhausted. Maybe you could come back a bit later? We’re not going anywhere, I promise.” I did my best to sound caring, to give the impression that I would connect with the baby when I was alone and transfer to it the first pulses of love. I even believed this myself. He nodded understandingly and showered the baby’s brow with a thousand delicate kisses.
“Okay. I’ll be back soon.” Light shone on his eyes and brow as he gently closed the door. Not a wrinkle, not a smidgeon of doubt.
We were left alone. The room was filled by the sounds of the baby’s sucking and by a sullen purr that rose from its stomach. My nipples were numb. My vagina was numb. I wanted to touch it to check the damage that the baby left behind but I couldn’t reach across it. I was overcome by tears, the first one falling right on the baby’s fontanelle. A thought came over me: if I cried on the same spot long and hard, I could hurt the baby. Then it’d leave me alone.
You’re paranoid and insane, I berated myself. I’d never responded well to new things in my life. That’s what it was.

After a few hours, the two fat women took the baby away to better wash it, measure it, weigh it and take its blood. Maybe it’s ill, I thought, and would have to remain here. It’d be fed by tubes or by another woman.
As soon as we were left alone, Jan sat down on the side of the bed. He tried to hug me but I stopped him in time and held a hand in front of his face. He grabbed it and took it to his chest.
“I’m hurting all over.”
“I understand.” He touched my hair.
“Congratulations, honey. A new human being.” The green specks in his eyes glowed, he seemed curious, alert, in love.
“He is new, isn’t he.” My lips softened. I forced a smile. “So new that I’m afraid I’ll break him.”
I wished he’d sense my helplessness so that I could open up to him. I wanted him to listen to me and patiently sift through what I was feeling. To explain to me that sleep deprivation could easily distort reality and suppress beauty. That beginnings are far from being the only thing that determines the intensity and ends of stories. I swallowed nervously and felt my face flush.
“Is there something wrong?” The question rang like a shot in the room. It didn’t belong there, didn’t belong in a place where new life begins and vulnerability rests in its original form between the walls. It emboldened me.
“I’m all …” I tried to find words befitting a mother, “I’m confused. I don’t know how I’m supposed to act.”
“Of course you are, honey. How couldn’t you be, we’re first-time parents. Everything is different all of a sudden, there’s three of us now.” He kissed me on the lips. The mature textures of his skin and beard were soothing. He convinced me that we were feeling the same, that we were talking about the same thing.

I left the maternity ward after three days. During this time, the baby had changed noticeably, the milk had strengthened it and given it colour. When it opened its eyes, it opened them wide, and as it did so, its eyelids pushed deep under its brow. If it weren’t so tiny it would have seemed deranged. The two fat women at the maternity ward kept saying that he looked upon the world with intelligent eyes and that he’s sure to have it easy with the ladies. As we were saying goodbye they just couldn’t get enough of its cuteness. Just before we left, Jan inquired as to whether the baby’s weight was standard, whether it was big enough, whether the slightly ashen tone of its face would eventually disappear. They engaged in conversation that I was unable to follow.
I asked myself whether my body would ever be as firm as it used to be. Mothers lose their youthful volume. As their body is a prisoner of another, much smaller and weaker body, it takes on those qualities itself. In my mind I counted all the washed out, listless, desperate mothers, mothers with huge butts and thighs supporting a crumbling body, mothers with short-cut, withered hair, mothers with sunken eyes and with limbs flimsier than firewood. I shuddered thinking of their shapes. I stood silently at my husband’s side, absent-mindedly holding the baby whose body I wanted to divorce. I wouldn’t let it take me over.
The fat women watched me out of the corners of their eyes. I knew what they were looking for.
“Be well, Mila. Be good to him,” said the fat redheaded woman.
I replied with the tone of one who’s hiding something: “Too bad we’re leaving. It’s so nice and quiet here; I could stay for a while longer.”
“You know, space issues. We have to give others a chance as well, other women are mothers too,” said the other fat woman, pithily stressing the word mothers, and that was that. 
Jan thanked them for their care multiple times, further accentuating the difference between his excitement and my indifference. Tired of standing around, I tugged at his sleeve. We walked to the car. With the baby on my breast I sat in the back and avoided Jan’s seeking gaze in the rear-view mirror. I stared through the window, giving automatic answers to the stream of his questions about the delivery and comparing myself to the women I saw strolling on the sidewalks. The baby suddenly threw a powerful kick at my abdomen and my breast.
“Ow, damm…,” I stifled the swearword and felt it settle in a more treacherous place.
“What’s going on back there?”
“Oh, it’s nothing. Jasmin kicked me in the stomach. His eyesight probably isn’t very good yet.” My voice was clinical, and Jan noticed it as well. I felt a pair of doubting eyes settle on the top of my head.
“No, it really isn’t. The midwife said that he’d truly be able to see only in a week, maybe ten days,” he said, and then, as he realized I wouldn’t pick up the conversation, added with an acerbic tone, “So don’t be too mad at him.”
A wail rose in my throat but I swallowed it. Sitting here in the back seat of the car, where Jan and I had made love years ago, I was overwhelmed by rules and commandments. Mothers only become mothers once they’re spayed, I thought. Our fertility is that which first takes away our freedom. From now on, all my emotions would belong to a being that I wasn’t supposed to be mad at. I sunk into myself, and the wail that I had stifled dissolved in my milk and was swallowed by the baby. In its body, it became the devil’s cry.
“Wow, what a voice,” smiled Jan as he drove.
“Yeah. I don’t know what to do.”
“Maybe you could rock him a bit? Whisper something in his ear or sing something to him?” The suggestions turned into admonitions and Jan’s morning cheerfulness dissipated. What remained were big pieces of joy and smaller, jagged pieces of impatience.
I started singing to the baby and rocking it. Its screams intensified, reached its guttural culmination and broke off into silence just as I wanted to ask Jan to stop the car. The baby had lost its voice; however, that doesn’t mean it stopped screaming.
“You see, you’re doing well, it’s true that your voice can charm just about anybody.” Condescension didn’t suit him. He realized that and apologized, but my pelvis was already tingling with loneliness. Underneath me, attached at my nipple, rested the baby that seemed as alien to me as the man in the driver’s seat. Their expectations had pushed me away from my founts of spontaneity and relegated me to resigned silence. Again I held back tears.
The landscape that stretched between the city and the village where we lived was being evaporated by the heat, losing colours and contours. We were driving towards a house that was thoroughly prepared for the newcomer. From the rooms where the child would be free to go once it learned to walk, Jan removed all furniture with sharp edges and fixed all heavy objects to the walls. The scent of freshly baked bread or apple strudel may have still wafted upstairs. The baby was awaited by a lovely little room that Jan and I had furnished together, back when the germs of my fear were subclinical, back when I waved my hands arrogantly at the thought of infection and ascribed all symptoms to the pregnancy. Just above the door of the room that it would only occupy a year later, I hung a sign saying Welcome home, Jasmin.
As I crossed the threshold of the house with the sleeping baby, I lost my breath. The baby responded to my stillness with anger and crying, it kicked and stretched its hands towards my hair as if it wanted to grab it and pull. It wanted to control even my breathing. As I looked around the hallway in confusion, looking for a surface where I could set the baby down – I was afraid I’d lose consciousness – Jan approached me from behind speaking calm assurances: “There there, Jasmin, it’s all right, don’t be afraid, you’re home now. You’ll always be safe with mommy and daddy.” I turned around, pushed the baby in Jan’s arms and collapsed on the living room couch. In front of me, the brochure from the expectant mothers’ workshop awaited on the coffee table.
Holding the baby, Jan seemed relaxed, as if his skin simply flowed into the smooth skin of the baby. His hand gestures were fatherly and composed. Convinced that the baby would be soothed by vibration, he walked from one room to the next, while I asked myself whether he’d ever call me Mila again or would we forget our true names like all other parents.
The baby’s crying quieted down. Jan placed it on my numb thighs as if it were a gift and said, “I know you’re sick and tired, but I think Jasmin needs to nurse.” He sat down on my left and watched intently for my reaction, waited for the magic of nursing. I felt a burning pain in my left cheek that immediately moved behind my eyes. I felt as if I’d gone blind, my head was ringing and I could no longer tell the ringing from the baby’s cry. Jan’s voice joined the commotion, demanding, “Come on, take him! His head is going to fall back. This is not a joke.”
“Sorry. I can barely keep awake, I have to get some sleep,” I told him, never really hearing my muttered words. I picked up the baby and leaned forward to give it to my husband again, when he hesitantly grabbed my upper arm. “But Jasmin really has to nurse. The midwife said we shouldn’t withhold food from him while he’s so little.” He was trying to mask the shock that I immediately saw in his eyes, make it look like reluctance. He was talking in plural, which had nothing to do with my breasts, my thighs and my hands. I was overcome by rage, which the baby immediately translated into terrible wailing. I kept repeating, “The baby has to nurse.” I used one hand to pull the tunic over my head, unzip my bra and throw it on the floor. I felt as if my breasts expanded to fill the room, as if they were pushing at nooks and corners, as if their weight was pushing down furniture and crushing it. I was a factory under somebody else’s management. I pressed the baby at my nipple and wanted to squirt all the milk into its mouth, so that it would never go hungry and never cry again.”
“There you go, see, I’m feeding him. He’s drinking his milk and he’s quiet. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
These were not the family scenes we imagined mere months ago; Jan tried to nudge us in the right direction. He put one arm around my shoulder, kissed the top of my head and ran his fingers across my collarbone. 
“I’m sorry. I don’t want you to feel pressured, but …” his voice again accommodating that sterile, composed, pragmatic tone, “but it’s just that you’re his mother. You’re the only one who can feed him now. But I promise to take care of his food when he grows up a bit.” And he giggled as if this was all just a diet issue.
“You’re right. I’ll feed him and then I’ll lie down.” I had to work hard to manage the conciliatory tone. All fibres of my body remained aflame.

Nevertheless, I didn’t rest that afternoon. The baby’s demands intensified and it was constantly pushing towards my breasts. Tiny wounds were already appearing on my nipples, which leaked a couple of red droplets that mixed with milk while I was breastfeeding. They accumulated on the baby’s lips and then, when it made a face, ran down to its neck. The hallucinatory image was so enticing that I forgot to wipe them off. The baby’s bloody lips were the only truth that I could afford.
I walked around the house as if it were a museum of my former life. The baby always came between me and the objects. The porcelain cups, the pretty dresses, the stilettos, the cigarettes drying on the windowsill, none of this was meant for me anymore. I always hurried past the mirror in the hall, knowing that I couldn’t bear the moment of contact as it gazed into me. I didn’t respond to the phone calls of my mother, my sister and my friends, as I knew they’d expect me to be excited. I wrapped myself in silence, because my voice would break glass if I ever spoke. Whenever me and the baby slipped from Jan’s gaze, he’d call for me, checking what I was doing. He had lost control of his unease as well.
At night I sat with my back against the wall, staring at the naked, unmarked and attractive male body that had pushed the corrupt woman to the edge of the bed. In spite of my exhaustion, I couldn’t sleep. I gazed at Jan’s erections wishing to be their cause. I was overwhelmed by jealousy; I knew the place of every woman he dreamed of, but as soon as the baby cried, I realized that they were more powerful than I was. I belonged to a different order, an order that we mistakenly consider eternal. I had become substance, I had become love. Sitting on the bed, I silently dismembered myself; the legs, the arms, the neck, the back, the anus, the vagina, the hair, the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the abdomen, the birthmarks, the scars, the scratches, the indentations, the stretch marks, all for one baby, a baby that would never change the world. Whose choice was it, I asked myself and felt the first tear running down my cheek. It was followed by others, cutting, gouging. They were no match for my despair and my aggrieved rage. They could only pour oil onto its fire.
When I failed to respond to the baby’s cries and leave the bed, Jan woke and admonished me, just like I often admonished him for snoring.  I rose and walked to the crib.
It seemed as if I’d walked for hours. I found myself standing above the crib in pale light. The baby writhed, its mouth was open wide, but the sound never reached me. I was falling in its maw, it was swallowing me like a black hole. I couldn’t feel the floor beneath my feet. The surroundings were dissolved and distorted. For a moment, I regarded the abstract image as if it were a guarantor of possibilities. The baby floated under my hands, the only things I could clearly feel were its warmth, the beating of its heart, the crease between its neck and chin. Its body a variation on our bodies, its history one of parasitism. Its heart beating faster and faster, its skin becoming feverishly sticky. I took a deep breath and held it. My fingertips were tingling. My fingers sunk into the silky soft folds of its tiny body and, reaching the bones, pushed against them. The black maw narrowed and eventually closed. The tiny bones of the baby’s body gave way like piano keys. I placed both my hands upon them. Above the fugue of fingers, breasts and palms, the light of my eyes went out. Every mother has to make concessions.
The silence was pierced by a terrible screaming. I felt a cold sharp breath on my shoulder, followed by a powerful push towards reality.
“Mila, what are you doing?!” Jan took the baby out of the crib and held it against his chest. He backed away to the opposite corner of the room. He was pale, bathed in cold sweat, his teeth chattered and his hands gently brushed the baby’s head. The baby hid its face, sinking into Jan’s chest. Jan’s legs were flimsy, he was held upright by horror. Nobody runs away from a mother, but he wanted to run.
“Mila …” the words stuck in his mouth, “what …?”

“… are you doing? Sleepless again, are you?” He grabs me under my right arm, pulling the left arm that still clings to the railing towards himself.
“Calm down. You’ll wake all your neighbours. You don’t want to do that, do you?”
I rub my palms against the baggy nightgown to make the tingling stop, but it just moves elsewhere. To the crease between my neck and chin. To my nose, my brow, my temples. He grabs me again, pressing my nervous arms against my sides. He leans over to find my eyes. Once our eyes find each other, he continues: “Shall we go for a walk? That usually helps you.” My head is spinning, I lean on the young man in white with almost all my weight. He unlocks the door of the room and a long hallway with yellow walls unfolds in front of us.
“Will Jan be here tomorrow?”
“No, Mila, I’m sorry, Jan won’t be able to come in tomorrow,” says the stuttering young man. He barely manages to intercept me when I collapse. We sit down on a bench. There’s nothing, nobody to be seen in the long yellow hallway. Only children’s cries echo from the walls, inconsolable, mournful cries.
“He’s taking care of his only son.”
“Yes, he’s taking care of him.” He smiles and turns towards me. It seems as if his smile takes me in its arms, telling me I’ve nothing to be ashamed of.


Translated by Jernej Županič.