Drago Glamuzina, born 1967 in Vrgorac, graduated in Comparative Literature and Philosophy from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb. From 2003 to 2011 He worked as the editor-in-chief at the publishing house Profil between 2003 and 2011, and since 2011 holds the same post at VBZ Publishing. His poetry, prose and literary criticism have been published in various magazines, newspapers and have also been broadcast on the radio. With Roman Simić he compiled an anthology of Croatian erotic short stories Libido.hr. His publications include Mesari (Butchers, poetry, 2001), Tri (Three, novel, 2008), Je li to sve (Is That All, poetry, 2009) and a book of selected poems Sami u toj šumi (Alone in This Forest, 2011) featuring photographs by Stanko Abadžić.
Mesari won the Vladimir Nazor Book of the Year Award and the Kvirin Award for the Best Poetry Collection, and was translated into German (2008), Macedonian (2004), and Slovene (2011) with selections from it also published in English and Polish. His novel Tri won the T-portal Croatian Novel of the Year in 2008.
20. Epilogue or How the Last Chance to Keep Things Under Control Was Lost
Here I am, my boy.
And here is now a tiny piece of my promise. What follows was written because you talked me into it, under the strong impression of Durrell, in the Split Hospital, my leg broken, in April. Now it seems unbearably pathetic. But, so be it:
“This is a story about a woman who was not touched by everyday life. It would unfair to say—who did not understand the everyday life—after all, her writing was better and nicer that yours or mine; also incorrect—who despised the everyday life—men followed the trail of her perfume and her every step with animalistic tenacity. Still, even though she had the mastery of even the most sophisticated lessons of gracious architecture of urban and erotic relations, that woman treaded about some completely different world, dragging us into it like a dark whirlpool of thick, intoxicating fluid. Flogged from the inside by some dangerous forces, which she never even tried to understand and which she allowed to push her toward the otherworldly abyss of pure madness, she turned reality into an even more incomprehensible fabric of painful passion and squandered time. Sometimes she desperately clung onto us; the very next moment, she poked poignantly at the most sensitive of places, always teetering to some new bed, bringing the opposites together with complete spontaneity and never looking for the sense of the whole array of grotesque situations. And so, seemingly weary and vulnerable, one day she ran into me.”
Durrell: “A city becomes a world when one loves one of its inhabitants.” — A little private mythology, your own love geography, “City Maps” and places that belong only to you. The two of us did not live like that. Why? Because I could not understand her. I rejected her readiness to cling, I ironized her emphatic, weird sentences: “I hate every woman you have ever looked look at.” I could not believe she really thought this.
A leitmotif from Durrell: “Life, the raw material, is only lived in potential until the artist deploys it in his work.”
Okay, chief, nice start. Here’s the beginning of another chapter in the novel that already exists virtually.
While waiting for Bero, I once again read the sentences he’d emailed to me more than three years before, and I wondered if I would be able to use what he was about to bring. For a long time, I’d been talking him into giving me his diary from the time he’d been with her, and he kept refusing, claiming that it was too personal and completely worthless to anyone but him. “I kept a diary to somehow explain what was happening to me, but these are just notes, written down without even a single thought that anyone else besides me could ever read this.” And then he read a couple of chapters from my novel, which, as I told him, “this diary has to be a part of.”
Anything can be used, of course, but turning that text into the building material for the novel was not the only reason why I wanted it. I wanted to once again see her unburdened by anything else but the desire to seduce a man she liked, or to read about the pain that had swept over her when Bero had escaped to another city. I wanted to check the sentences she had told him back then with the experience I now had. I wanted to go back to beginning once more, to a time when that woman and what she had been doing to Bero had fascinated me, and I wanted to get to know her. “Why are you afraid of her, so what if you can’t understand her? You’ve already been with women who have jealous husbands,” I’d said back then, encouraging him, but he’d remained cautious to the very end. Bero thought that the most important thing in life was to avoid suffering, while I believed that life was a sum of experiences, emotions and knowledge that needed to be invested into, but always with the awareness that at the very end none of it, nothing remained anyhow. This nothing was hard yet liberating. He was convinced that “the darkness would swallow him” if he abandoned himself to her, while I wanted just that, I wanted to jump into the whirlpool she was creating and disappear, even though back then I didn’t think it would ever happen.
Besides, reading about her was almost like being with her. And that’s why Bero’s diary was important to me, just like her diary about that old doctor, her stories—which I keep pondering whether to include at the end of this book or not, like a kind of appendix—then sentences she underlined in books she loved, writing about her… All of it only expanded the space she occupied within me.
I was sitting at that dive somewhere in one of Zagreb’s suburbs, waiting for Bero and trying to bring back the memory of those days. Of one of many afternoons we spent sitting in my rented apartment at Jarun, talking about books on philosophy we were reading while preparing for our final exams. That’s when he mentioned her name for the first time. They attended some press conference—Bero had already been working as a journalist—and after the conference, Bero walked her home. When they reached her street, she stopped and told him: “That’s far enough, my husband could see us.” That sentence was the first clear sign that they weren’t just two colleagues walking home, and then, after she’d already moved away a few steps, she suddenly turned around, ran back to him and threw herself into his arms. A few weeks later, she came to his apartment. The moment she walked in, he tried to hug her, but she just slipped through his arms and dropped to her knees. She took him into her mouth, her purse still on her shoulder, and when he was about to finish, she picked her hair up with her hand and asked him to ejaculate all over her neck. Then she got up, kissed him, told him her husband was waiting, and left. Anyhow, it all ended by Bero calling me after every time they met and telling me what had happened.
And then he moved to another city, because of his work, and maybe, in part, because he wanted to move away from her before it became too late, and she kept calling him from time to time, “when the wasteland in which she lived became unbearable.”
A couple more years had passed before I saw her for the first time. It was summer, a hot early afternoon. I’d come to the Association of Croatian Writers to attend my good acquaintance’s book promotion, and I sat behind a woman whose back was completely bare, with two, thin straps crossed somewhere around the middle. Everyone was sweating, and it seemed that even the promoters thought the thing was boring, so I fixed my gaze at the beautiful back in front of me. I observed the lines, winding, long, supple, and suddenly thought it was she. To this day I don’t know how, because back then I knew nothing about her appearance. All I knew was that she was a journalist, and when I leaned forward, I saw she held a pad and a pen in her hands, but this didn’t tell me much. When she later confirmed she’d been to that book promotion and took out of her wardrobe the dress she’d worn back then—she always knew what she wore where—I told her I’d know that only she could have such back, and that only she knew how to make her back stand out, but that was all flirting and sweet-talking, accompanied by laughs and kisses. I recognized her by the way she held herself—Bero had talked so much about it. By the way her back showed themselves, and invited to be watched.
I even whispered to my wife, who was sitting by my side, “This is Bero’s girlfriend. I told you about her.” I didn’t dare talk to her later during the reception, but I kept looking at her, observing how she talked to people, and I wondered how it could be that I knew so much about that woman, yet she didn’t even know I existed.
It was one of our fortuities, which Kundera—the writer whose books she knew by heart—said were key to every unforgettable love. If a love is to be unforgettable, fortuities must immediately start fluttering down to it like birds to Francis of Assisi’s shoulders. It was one of a dozen or so sentences I underlined in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. And she gave me her copy with lots of notes and comments on the margins. We did this all the time while she still lived with her husband, before cellphones barged into our lives. I couldn’t call her, so we exchanged books in which we underlined sentences that were important to us. That’s how we communicated even when we weren’t together. I, of course, usually underlined sentences I thought talked about her. She simply and magnificently is; we have to put up with her, like original sin. But to call her a nymphomaniac or to try and Freudianise here, my dear, takes away all her mythical substance—the only thing she really is. Like all amoral people she verges on the Goddess. It seemed that this sentence—which I underlined feeling some unclear anger, who knows with whom, and expecting her to answer to it—Durrell had written about her too, not only about Justine. While the sentence—Yet with her one felt all around the companionship of shadows which invaded life and filled it with a new resonance—spoke about me who was just starting to fight the phantoms that kept charging more and more unstoppably from her former lives. I was in love and I saw her in Justine, and in Katharine Clifton, and in Tea in the Sahara, and in Banović Strahinja’s wife. I saw her even in Cavafy’s lovers, whose desires in dark and sticky bars of Alexandria glowed plainly in the eyes that gazed at you and quivered in the voice for you. All of this was about her.
She, on the other hand, underlined sentences laden with sorrow, melancholy, fear that all the energy driving her seductive instincts was not enough to overcome her despair. “My supposed arrogance is just a pellicle on the outside keeping me from falling apart, and in my center lies the utter lack of self-esteem. In the first grade, I was convinced the teacher would send me to sit in the back of the class with the grubby student who had fluked the first grade and whom everyone was afraid of,” she wrote as an answer to my comment on the margins of The English Patient. A bit further, between two paragraphs, so I didn’t misunderstand her, she added: “We, the melancholics, care only about ourselves.” But I could never make peace with the grief that was springing out of her even when were most inconsiderate towards the world that surrounded us.
When I got a job at the newspaper where she worked, the fortuities began to multiply. I didn’t even remember she worked there when I applied for the job, but I soon started running into her in the hall and I followed her doggedly with my eyes that knew it all. But, it took me a long time to dare approach her, even though every time he called, Bero asked if I had finally met her. More questions followed: “What’s she like? Do you like her? Is she seeing anyone?”
“I haven’t met her yet. I think she’s the only woman in the newsroom I still haven’t talked to. I didn’t have a chance. Maybe I don’t want to meet her because I know I’m going to like her. Just as I know that it’s going to happen, eventually. I see her as she walks around the halls and I take pleasure in expectation.”
Such were my answers, somewhat playful and laconic, because that constant questioning was slowly getting on my nerves. Back then nothing showed that soon I would be the one asking all those questions and steering the conversation towards her. I sensed disappointment in Bero’s voice, and, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to avoid the same question the next time he called, I tried to come up with an answer that would offer at least some sense of progression and satisfy him. “I haven’t talked with her, but I’ve talked to some colleagues about her,” I would say. Or: “At the archives, when I was looking for some old issues, I found some of her stories. She wrote the storeis when the two of you were together. Maybe they’re about you.”
Later, of course, both Hana and I regretted the lost time, the year in which every day we passed by each other. True, I was persistent in saying hello to her, and she returned the greeting with slight hesitation and wonder, because she didn’t know who that kid was and why he said hello to her. As all lovers, we kept going back to the beginning, to first chance encounters and accidental physical contacts when the thing was still brewing. Who thought what at which moment—this is what we dealt with while lying in bed and wondering how it could be that we weren’t always together. I believe this. When we meet those we fall in love with, there is an aspect of our spirit that is historian, a bit of a pedant, who imagines or remembers a meeting when the other had passed by innocently… But all parts of the body must be ready for the other, all atoms must jump in one direction for desire to occur. These sentences were also underlined in my copy of The English Patient. My atoms were already ready to jump, but she knew nothing about it. I remember once when I stood behind at the newspaper’s cafeteria, waiting for coffee. She wore her short olive-green dress and I was swept over by the smell of perfume in her hair. Back then, I didn’t yet know the scent, but later—even when she stopped using it and I smelled it on other women—I always associated it with her. Escape laid the foundations of our first physical contact, I felt it in my nostrils when I first sniffed her naked body, her clothes smelled of it when I gathered them at the hotel room and helped her get dressed so she could go back to her husband. And I too spread the scent around me when I went home after meeting her.
As she talked to the waiter and the graphic designers who stood by the bar, in that stinky cafeteria, I inhaled Escape from her hair and drew closer and closer to her. “I could press against her,” I thought, “there’s only a couple of inches between us,” but I didn’t. And she, when a couple of years later I told her about it, said, sincere regret in her voice, “Well, why didn’t you? You should have.”
When I started writing for the newspaper’s culture section, she asked around about me and concluded that I was hired because “someone above ordered so.”
“I thought you belonged to the Croatian Democratic Party, some young member or something, because back then they didn’t hire anyone but them. I even told this to a friend of mine. When he asked me who was the Goran at my newspaper who wrote about books on philosophy, I told him they must have brought you in so we could become more ideologically correct and waved my hand in derision,” she told me during one of our returns to the beginning.
Of course I couldn’t allow myself to let such opportunity slip by. My answer was fast and fierce. “You told everyone I was with the party, while at the same time you screwed their minister. You didn’t find that a bit inconsistent?”
She didn’t say anything, but today I know that in her world this wasn’t contradictory at all.
A whole year had passed before we went out to grab a cup of coffee. It was on account of some text both of us were involved with. It took only a couple of sentences to recognize the woman who had fascinated me so much in Bero’s stories and I started acting as if I’d known her for years. I wasn’t only interested, I was obscenely direct and open. Only a day or two after the coffee, she called me in a panic and asked to come to her desk and help her search her hard drive and find the text that had suddenly vanished from her screen. The newsroom was crawling with journalists and reporters, and I stood above her and watched as she helplessly messed about her keyboard. And then, all of a sudden, instead of by her side, I leaned forward over her, putting my left hand on the keyboard on the one side of her body, and my right hand on the other side. I pressed the keys, drew the mouse across the desk, and felt her shoulders going up and down under my muscles. When I stopped typing, I did not move my hands, I kept them there, on the desk. Embraced but almost not touched, she threw her head back a little and pressed it against my chest. She kept it there for a short while, and then, without looking away from her screen, she said, “Why is your heart pounding so hard?”
Somewhere around that time, Bero came back to the city too and renewed his relationship with Hana. When he met her, he called me on the phone and said, laughing, “Buddy, you had enough time, but since you haven’t done anything, you should step back.”
But he came back too late. The dark engine of desire was already hissing within us, ready to get in motion.
When her husband went away on a business trip, I phoned Bero and told him she’d asked me to meet her, for the first time outside of the newsroom. He replied that they’d just agreed she would meet him at his place the next day.
“So, what are we going to do? Are we going to tell her we know each other?” I asked him worriedly.
There had already been a couple of moments when I could’ve told her I knew Bero, but I said nothing. I didn’t know how to pull it off because if I mentioned him first, it would be obvious I knew about their relationship and she could get angry with Bero because he hadn’t been discrete, and she’d never mentioned him because she didn’t know we knew each other. And maybe there was something in the fact that the imbalance in what we knew about each other I found interesting, it allowed me to compare situations, to play. When I asked her to get a drink together for the first time, at the bar right next to our office, she refused, and when I asked her why, she didn’t tell me she didn’t want to, or that she was busy, but that her husband could come pick her up at work and that he could see us, and I immediately remembered the first time Bero had walked her home and what she’d told him then. But, as time passed, this was becoming more and more unpleasant. And it seemed more and more unfair. But that’s not what Bero thought.
“I wouldn’t tell her anything,” he answered my question. And then laughed into the receiver.
“It seems we’ve taken this too far. She’s alone this weekend and it may happen she sleeps with both you and me. If we don’t tell her we know each other, it really might look like we are screwing around with her and yanking her chain,” I said.
However, Bero insisted we said nothing to her.
“I think she’s the one who wants to yank our chains. I don’t want her to slip through my hands again. We’ll just meet her and then tell each other what’s going on. Who knows what kind of stories she’s going to tell us? And how contradictory? How is she going to act with one, and how with the other? This way both of us will be able to be with her without getting lost in her. We’re going to be able to control what’s happening to us, and that’s precisely what I always thought wasn’t possible.”
But that’s not the way it turned out to be.
On that same Friday, when she came back from Bero’s place and sat down at my desk in the newsroom, I asked her where she was.
“I was at an interview,” she said.
To what I said, “Bero is my friend.”
She went quiet and just gazed at me as if she didn’t understand what I was saying, so I added: “He told me about the two of you some three years ago.”
I though her reaction would be more intense, but she pulled herself together quickly, and even if this did shake her, it didn’t show.
“You played me, huh,” she said and then got up and left. But the next day she called me as if nothing had happened and asked when we would see each other. Actually, I think this made it all the more interesting to her.
This was a mythical anecdote of our love, a story we often went back to, and, as we leafed through his diary, Bero and I remembered it again.
“You were right. I missed my last chance to keep things under control,” I told him, putting the tattered notebook back into my bag. Just as I often told her about my great lost chance. Unlocked cellphones, spying on her around town, none of it could be compared to the possibility to learn from her other lover everything she had told him or had done.
“Imagine if we’d kept it a secret for the whole year. You would’ve been sleeping with both him and me, and all the while you would’ve been telling me I had pushed everything else out of your life.”
“No, my love, I wouldn’t. At that moment, you were just getting into the picture, and not even twenty days later everything was different. By then I’d stopped seeing him.”
“Yes, but you did it only because you knew that we knew about each other and that this deprived you of a possibility to push any other women out of our lives. You didn’t want such relationship, so you had to choose. Bero was old, and I was new. There, that’s how it happened. But, if we hadn’t told you, you would’ve carried on with both of us and would’ve been jealous of both of us.”
“Don’t say that. You mustn’t. Back then we were happy and completely preoccupied with each other. It’s not that I’d chosen you, there was no choice.”
For some twenty days or so she really did see us both, and it seemed to be all right with everyone. With Bero, because he could not entangle himself into something he would not be able to untangle, with me, because I found it interesting and unusual, and it agreed with my insistence on relationships free of jealousy and constraint, and with her because she had us both.
One evening, around midnight, Bero called and asked me to take his place and meet her tomorrow morning, before work. He had been sent somewhere and he could not call her and cancel the meeting because it was late and her husband was at home. Not to let her sit alone in the restaurant in the morning and get angry, he asked me to go and be with her. When before work I really did show up at Vinodol, she wasn’t surprised, she acted as if the substitution was something completely normal. If one couldn’t make it, there was always another. Nice. But, soon it all changed. In a couple of days, I went to the seaside with my wife and child, and she stayed in Zagreb. And she never called Bero again.
“The moment you left, I knew you were the one,” she explained when I came back.
The bar had emptied a long time ago and, at the end of this long conversation, we dedicated a couple of minutes to those pains-in-the-ass from work, to our children, to literature… and then, getting up from our table and putting his cigarettes and lighter into his pocket, Bero said, “You don’t have to give the notebook back to me, I’m actually glad I don’t have to bother with all those papers anymore. Use what you can and then throw it away.”
“All right,” I said, and then, getting up to my feet, I asked him once again, “Please, don’t take this the wrong way, I don’t know how many times I asked you this during all these years, but now there’s no reason to lie: She really didn’t call you that summer? Not once?”
“No, she really didn’t. But does it even matter now?” he answered and laughed.
“I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure out how she operated.”
“Let her leave,” he said and gently punched my shoulder.
“Well, I did. Have you forgotten, we’ve been talking about it the whole evening.”
“Okay, okay, I’ve gotta go. My wife has called me twice already,” he muttered, checking the missed calls on his cellphone, and then he put on his coat and said, “Just let her go, for real. Finish the novel and forget about her.”
It snowed outside. And everything looked different than earlier that afternoon when I’d entered the bar. I hurried down the street towards my car threading on the virgin snow and remembered the conversations Hana and I had led about that first summer, about her waiting for me to come back and me ironizing her wait.
“I always doubted she was telling the truth, and I told her this, but only to make her tell the story again. I liked listening to her trying to convince me she was only mine.” I said this under my breath as if defending myself from being so suspicious with her, and then, removing the snow from the windshield, I once again remembered the sentences she’d pronounced when I had come back.
The train took forever to enter the station, I couldn’t wait to take my wife and son home and run to her. I didn’t even help Sandra unpack the bags, and she resented it so much that even today I’m afraid to write about it, after all this time. I heard our baby cry as I ran down the stairs, but she was waiting for me. And when I got to her place, she stood in front of me and before we touched, said those couple of sentences she later had to repeat so often. In the end, she wrote them down and sent them to me on a postcard from Prague, where she was doing an interview.
On the postcard there is a picture of a naked woman standing in front of a doctor, a hat on her head, stilettos on her feet, an umbrella in her right hand, and a small pig on a leash in her left hand. On the back it said, “The whole summer Bero and I were alone in Zagreb, and nothing happened. Had I wanted it, I could’ve gone over to him, at any time, what was there to stop me, but all I thought about was the day when you would come back. I was in love and I anxiously waited for that desire to crumble everything within me.”
Translated by Tomislav Kuzmanović