Jasna Dimitrijević, born 1979 in Negotin, graduated from the Department of Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Belgrade. She writes short stories, poetry and reviews. She is a regular contributor to the magazine Liceulice. She is the co-organizer of the first regional short story competition ‘Biber’ on the topic of reconciliation, and the co-editor of the resulting multilingual collection. She published her first collection of stories Prepoznavanja (Recognitions) in 2015. Her second collection of short stories Fibonačijev niz was published in 2019. She lives in Belgrade and works in a bookstore.
Photo by Tamara Zrnović.
Rain woke me up. It sneaked into my dreams, and at first, I did not know where it came from. I swam through the endless Pacific. I knew it was Pacific, I know it from television. I swam through turquoise and crystal. That’s how they put it in TV reports, turquoise and crystal. I had crystal beads on my hips, part of my swimsuit. I know it from the photos. My first swimsuit, as a kid. The day was done as I was fixing the knot. Heavy rain was falling on my head and my arms, each time becoming thicker and heavier, until water filled up the entire world. It covered me like an eternal embrace, like an impenetrable uterus. I tried to swim vertically and then I woke up. What a pity. I wish I learned how to swim. But at least I was sure the ocean was not the solution.
My dreams are more intensive since my childhood. More complex. More convincing. More exciting compared to my daily life. That life is just numbers. Accurate calculations. Accounting and fiscal accounts. Net and gross. Percentage for health and social insurance. One part through bank transfer, another in cash. It’s been decades since I also got paid by bank transfer. I try not to think about it. It’s not that I thought a lot about it thirty years ago either. I was just like everybody else. At the end of each day I longed to go to sleep. This morning I had to wake up at the first beep of the alarm. I had to do yet another laundry, packing, payment of remaining bills and the reconfirmation of appointment with the agency. Irena – the agent who sold me the travel arrangement – regularly reminded me of everything I should do before leaving. She showered me with helpful advice, recommended insurance companies I could trust and the health insurance packages I should purchase. She withdrew timidly when I told her I did not need any insurance and that she should stop pestering me, otherwise I might think of changing the agency. I reacted similarly when she said the offer included some fine cruises with the similar price. She looked at me worriedly, as if she was not sure if tropical zones are suitable for me. I interrupted her harshly. Since I don’t have regular encounters with people, my level of tolerance with this type of shit is quite low. Though it was not easy for her either. I could slap her in the face, and she would just nod her head gently, she would say I understand and excuse me for interfering,I just wanted to help, because that is the treatment one gets when one pays to travel to the destination which I’d just chosen. I remember our first encounter and Irena’s doubts when I asked her to calculate one of the most expensive offers at their agency. I am sure she expected me to write checks for Becici or Halkidiki. When I got Irena’s attention, her face turned red as blood.
Raindrops hit the windows. I got to the terrace and peeped through the blinds. On the other side Marina’s shadow is fixing the window curtain. Of course, she is already awake. My friend wakes up every morning at 6.45. While the room is aired, Marina burbles pumpkin oil for detox. She got herself an alternative therapy. She believes there are methods which can preserve the body. I even believed myself that this could be true, but that did not last long.
There is half an hour left until Marina is done with her daily rituals. She always listens to weather forecast,does exercises recommended by her chiropractor, mends her clothes. Retired early due to back injury, Marina does not give up. She believes in a happy end and she’ll welcome it happily. She always does grocery shopping with her make-up on, her fingernails painted. She matches her earrings with her clothes, her smile with the look of the interlocutor. When she returns from shopping, she puts the fruits in a rattan bowl, the flowers in a vase, the vegetables in a pan to cook slowly. If she were to waste her health, she says she would be spending time in pubs. She never misses gatherings with her former colleagues, once a month until dawn. And then again, balanced diet, early rising, daily walks, pumpkin oil. She is twenty years older than me, who would have thought. She sticks to this world like a cat and she does not intend to give up on it. Luckily or unluckily, Marina does not give up on me either, she always calls me, either to get free theatre tickets on Facebook or to visit Roman lagoons around Belgrade. She goes everywhere and always comes home stronger. She always calls to let me know how it was. Yesterday she called me to ask if I remembered that old chanson which was popular when we were kids, the one about a city and waves. She wanted to look it up on the Internet, but she did not remember the lines. It was on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn’t remember either. That saddened me e little, more because of her than because of me.
Marina is the reason for me to wake up, brush my teeth, answer the phone, because everything is easier thangiving her reasons for the mess and the carelessness.
Las month I found a dead dog behind the garage. When dogs sense death, they isolate themselves. They hide from people and spend their last hours far from the curious gaze. This one got himself between the garage and the container. His jaws, glued by the dry drool, looked as if stiffened by a last try to get some air. Around his pear-like head circled mosquitos, and green wings came out of his nostrils. If we disregard all these things, he looked like he was sleeping. I took the phone out of my purse and took a photo of the dead dog, taking care not to be spotted. Later on, Marina, appalled by this, did not want to see the photo but rather joined her lips making a squeamish gesture: „I don’t know what fascinates you here. Animals, unlike humans, cannot have any impact.” „Humans are animals too,” I replied. This was the usual act of my petty malice towards the reasonable, calm and accurate Marina. I install some insecurity in her orderly life, as if – without her knowledge – I prepare her for surprises which hide behind the corner. Out of everything which is to follow, Marina for now knows only that I sold my apartment and I am going on vacation.”
I set by the edge of the bed, and started to get dressed. These pills give me fatigue and heaviness. I’ve learned to live with an invisible octopus which sticks to my body and embraces my joints. She is my ten-year-old child whom I cannot pull off. That is why I walk, sleep, and think with that heaviness as if this was always the case. Bur now, there are new moments too. Lately my blood circulation worsened, and I put on two pairs of socks and fingerless gloves. I have a hard time putting on the sweater. Lower pajamas are the last ones to go. When I moved my butt from the bed, I had an unpleasant surprise. Wet red spot. If this infernal changing body have ever had any lucky moment, that was when my periods stopped. And now, many months later, I am bleeding again. My own body is reprogramming me, getting me used to incessant changes. Fooling me, in other words. Hashimoto syndrome has always been a demanding guest, but since last month it got worse.
I found some old pack of sanitary pads. I opened the green pad and stuck the thin layer on the lower part of the worn-out underpants which I took from the bag with the old clothes. I am not someone who keeps unnecessary stuff, I am not a hamster. There are people who never throw anything. Their shelves and drawers are full of articles which gather dust but throwing out is simply not an option. I am not like that. I don’t accumulate, I remember. Material memories suffocate me, they are demanding, they take up space and daily life, they demand care, they decay, their end is yet another small grief. Remembrance is my discipline, and every day I update my collection. Perhaps that is the reason why I feel at ease about this departure.
I have already packed a great deal of stuff and took it to the rented basement. My drawer and wardrobes are neatly empty. There are only books on the table, some crime stories to keep me busy, and some documents. Passport, health file, recipes for pills I have to get, report from Social service office:
Marital status: single
Education: professional economic high school
Employment status: unemployed
Length of work: 8,2
Length of work experience: 32
Decision of the committee: social assistance rejected
Marina is a pestering, dubious goat. She asks me what I am doing alone all day long. She talks silently, but clearly, word by word. We know each other for a long time, she must have sensed that something important is going on behind her back. I couldn’t tell her the truth, and I didn’t know how to lie. I don’t want to see her face when she finds out my intention because I am afraid she would not understand. I answered vaguely: I am getting things done before leaving. Marina thinks I paid for my trip to make up at least a part of that which I’ve missed in my life, and that I’d return in three weeks’ time as a new person, just like her, with motivation and newly discovered tranquility; that I’ll move in the new apartment which I bought with the rest of the money.
Pain does not scare me anymore. Nothing is harder than to remain awake and incapable in this bed, in front of a flat screen, under the cracked ceiling. Painful climbing up the hill, painful cold sea, backpack and stones under the soles. Painful bloated stomach and lungs and back and tongue, but that is nothing, everything is temporary. For me, nature is the undiscovered planet and now I want to enter it as many times as a can. I don’t have other wishes.
My lump, my tiny freedom. If it didn’t show up on the screen of the scanner and announce the billions of its voracious offspring, perhaps I would’ve never dared to leave this old apartment. In fact, I’m not even sure for how long they’ve been there, I don’t remember when I’ve done my last UV scan. When complications started to appear, I called the doctor because I thought he should change my therapy, and this wouldn’t be the first time. The doctor’s appointment was set several months in advance, so I spent half a year in obliviousness. I interpreted my throat pain as virus, Marina always brings some parasites from the outside world. Then I met with the new diagnosis – anaplastic thyroid cancer. The doctor said we’d lost a lot of time and that we should react quickly, so I reacted.
I don’t believe in god. I believe in Marina and the dark-skinned man in plastic slippers who waits for people from the West at one end of the village. His presence gives me safety from pickpockets and guerilla soldiers. Then he takes them to the local sorcerer, counts their money and takes them to the shallow, dark room of the earthen floor. I believe that this man, skinny and trapped in his own village, knows how to get a gun. He’ll try to bargain with me, he’ll not know I’m ready to give up everything. When I stop enjoying the water and the rain, when I have a hard time to even open my eyes or take a sip of tea, all that I have will belong to him.
I slept almost all day. Sometimes fatigue takes over for a couple of hours, sometimes longer. However, I still stick to the habit that the night rest is the best, when I take a shower, change my clothes and wash my teeth. I go to bed only when I see the light in Marina’s bedroom is off. The air smells like rain. The waves will overflow this city, I remembered the lines, and take me back to sleep. I will tell Marina first thing in the morning.