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1983-2015
tearing the rag off the bush again
The Blind: Chapter II of Dark Bodies PDF E-mail
Noted Romanian novelist Stelian Tanase wrote Dark Bodies with bugs in the phone and Securitate outside the door. Translation by Jean Harris.



Translator’s note:

Organized around rock and blues and jazz, the novel tells a love story, has Manichean elements, includes the devil as antagonist, settles in abandoned  villas, wanders the country on patched up musical tours. The time: the last days of the agonizing Communist regime. The place: Romania, Bucharest mainly.  Novelist, scenarist and director, Stelian Tanase hosts talk shows on Realitatea TV. He did stints at UCLA and the New School. Visitors to Romania may want to watch Stelian Tanase’s television series Bucharest: Strictly Secret (Bucurest,: strict secret). You don’t need Romanian to take a gander at Bucharest’s underground.


    She wears a mini and glasses. She’s myopic. She has the key to your small, rented room. She rolls her r’s naturally and doesn’t hang around bus stops. She has money for taxis. She shines. She persecutes you with a smile. She’s relaxed and says she loves you. She stretches out beside you on the sheet. She gets hold of tickets for the Athenaeum. She takes you out when you get bored, shows you off to everyone—an exhibit. She brings you a mug of tea when you work at the piano and empties the ashtray. She goes on tiptoe and turns the key in the lock, slowly. All of a sudden, she says she’s not coming to your place tonight. She used to be first in her class at school. She goes with you to hockey matches at the rink and screams louder: she’s cruel, violence excites her. She cries at movies and gets happy with tears: she throws her arms around your neck and gives you her hair to smell. She sits in the armchair and knits, looks at you in silence listens to chords from Schumann, brings rare records, doesn’t believe one iota of your nonsense about concerts in overfull halls—you are one meek, shabby bum; you keep quiet too much. She’s full of life, doesn’t go into pastry shops. She’s pretentious and cold; she seems to levitate among passersby. She admires herself in pharmacy windows. She loves beaches and hates snowfall and cold and the north and Bucharest slush in March. She’s an intellectual, calculated, catlike, she makes mistakes. She’s a Bovary. She picked you; she’s your stretcher bearer and your Algocalmin. She’s your porn movie, and she’s also your resonance box. She’s irreplaceable; she breathes for your lungs too. She fixes your tie when she takes you to visit a family, gets up late when she stays at your place. She’s confused you completely with her sudden nonsense and hates, with repeated desertions, with her care for your conjunctivitis and the faces you pull when one of your improvisations works out. She’s your only dance partner. She scorns portions of bologna, yogurt containers, candy drops. She gets jealous of the piano: one night she’ll chop it to pieces!—she’s devilishly nervous and has relatives in high places. She’s the poor relation of a family with branches. Only colonels and directors—a minister, even. She intimidates you with her airs: to her you look stupid and docile—and why do you keep quiet for so long?—she’s the woman of your life. She covers you with kisses. She’s shameless. She’s a hippie—that time she walked into a matinee with bare feet, oho, all the bourgeois in the lobby started digging their elbows into  each other like hell. She keeps food in a bag and feeds the neighborhood cats, hums the Beatles’ repertoire as a prayer, has pictures of Paul of Ringo of George of John. She studied violin back home, but she quit. You’re both extremely musical, somnolent, frustrated. She can’t stand cigarette smoke. She’s a half-orphan and has a typist mother in a document copying office. She gives private lessons and makes money; she’s busy; she keeps her eyes fixed on the clock; she has an agenda, makes interminable phone calls, has two pairs of blue jeans and one of beige stripes, wears tin bracelets and earrings and rings; she’s dying to buy a dress from the Artists’ Fund Store; she’s friendly and has an instinct for self-preservation; she makes an impression; she gets around town a lot, and at night she crams for exams. She shoves her hands in your pockets, and you let her, and you pull her near you to rub your cheek against her temple. She doesn’t wear very high heels, and she likes sweets. She spoils herself; she comes out with kidisms; she’s a funny person and sometimes keeps quiet. It scares you. She fusses around the room. She finds herself something to do: she mends the tassels of the curtain, darns a stocking, smears aquarelles on a piece of cardboard—this is you—and hangs the ugly things on the wall. She sulks. She skins off your clothes and drags you to bed.  She pulls the blankets on the rug, she bites, she turns out the light, she surrounds you with the heat of her body, she breathes near your ear, she sighs, she hurries you, she peels you like a banana, she orders you: textiles down! She goes down under your diffuse shadow in the dark: she sniffs you, she’s keen; you keep quiet. She offers you a shoulder, a breast and laughs barely heard: She loves you, is covetous, perverse. She hates you, she’s cruel, she pants and asks you not to even think about stopping, lazy. She loses you. You feel how she’s moved away, talks to herself, and right away you die too, minutes when you don’t exist for each other. She comes back to life first, disperses her fingers through her hair, runs to the bathroom—don’t you get dressed, lazy, wait for me—through the half-open door, you catch sight of her as she looks at herself in the mirror: she sings a Beatles hit in slow motion all we need is love love love love she moves through the room as her mother bore her, accompanied by lovelovelovelovelove. She praises you: so you’re good for something; otherwise you’re a loser—I wonder what I found in you? Hidden behind the curtain so the neighbors won’t see her, she stays by the window. You want to light a cigarette—she won’t let you, she stays on her knees near you, through the dark you hear her fastening a clip in her hair click you feel that she’ll desert you one day, she’s going to forget you. You tell her—she keeps quiet, she brings her hand to her mouth, she cries lying on top of you. You love her again, almost with fury, with malice you try to seize something, fix the moment, grip her shoulders, we’re going, Pia, we’re going. Shut up. Please.
    It seems that only her body stops you from dissolving in the room’s artificial night. Only her skin shining faintly keeps you from going beyond to cower in the piano. Her panting keeps you intact: she, more broken from reality than you, but more concrete, more living, deadhead. She stiffens, the telephone buzzes—leave it for God’s sake. You want the two of you to eternalize in this moment of terror. You don’t tell her. It would be stupid. All couples lie the same way. You have the image of billions of couplings in a landscape of clouds, paired beings filling the sky. She doesn’t want to tear herself away from the embrace: she beats your chest with her fists, she says: we don’t have the right to be so happy, we’ll pay, you’ll see!

    You’ll never die: she’s the squirrel and you are a quiet, lazy turtle. And you are a beast too, oh, brute chérie. Dispersing her magnificent hair, she tempts you onto the sheet. She gives herself to you. She’s yours only. She’s all little calves and freckles plus glasses and the philosophers borrowed one by one, Husserl and Sartre—we’re condemned to freedom, hell is the other, you are my purgatory, she admonishes you sweetly, not the purgative, you beast, I told you you’re a beast, and I even skipped a stitch in this pullover. She’s knitting your first pullover—as a couple that is—after your first year, the first night of love, in the din of the neighbors’ washing machine. It wasn’t even night time, an afternoon and an evening in a far-off neighborhood in a strange house, next to the image of the washing hung out to dry and the remembered smell of coffee and floor wax, the landscape of snowy November, your first snowfall together. There’s something less than a terrace. Holding each other, you go out on the threshold. The stove burns. Steam blooms on the windows. Silent snow, fragile snow falls slowly. A sad decomposed machinery somersaulting over the roofs. She keeps quiet, buried in your shoulder on that balcony used to store old crap—you villain, you should pull me on the sled. And it snows in the landscape of the outskirts, covers the telephone booths, bottles up the alleys, grows like a wonder on the sidewalks. The amblers of this ocean bottom swim silently, rarely move their brownpink fins, slowly upturn an exophthalmic eye. And snowfall comes down, buries auto bodies and chews them underneath. The streetlamps stay lit the whole winter. Safe, behind windows, you listen to your scratched records: she robots around the kitchen, you thrum the piano. She floats among pickle jars, she pricks a finger while sewing, she loses herself in the heap of utensils the solemn meat grinder, brick red, the pharmaceutically shiny stove, the pantry shelves, pans hung on the walls, jars of red pepper relish, ropes heavy with smoked meats. She has relatives in the provinces. The relatives have solid households. She’s the only student, an orphan, and loved. The two of you don’t go out of the house your whole student vacation, the first one. Only watching what goes outside, you dribble it away: you don’t get to pull her on the sled, you hardly go down for bread, Ness, cigarettes, vodka, and around the beginning of February three sacks of potatoes. For you it’s enough that she exists, that time no longer works by halves. She loves you: she’s affectionate, even cat-like. She watches television all evening: she likes it, she forgets you, you mustn’t interrupt the movie when she laughs—an alien laugh—or cries and you’re jealous of the star that wrings tears out of her—or she speaks uninterruptedly commenting on whatever the devil is going on with some character or other—she forgets you, swallowed by the livid cupping glass of the screen.  You leave her in peace: you watch over her. You watch her out of the corner of your eye; someone could take her from you so easily, a stranger—voila! outside your dual story. After she jiggles the dial, she remembers you, oof. Sulky, she fries slices of bread dipped in egg yolk, she digs scraps of potted pork out of their lard, fixes teas. She wants to get back the hour when she forgot you…absorbed…you were reading “war and peace.” She doesn’t like the classics, Dostoyevsky and the rest, a little Chekhov, Gogol’s an ass—you’re a mastodon, sweetie, ready for the scrap heap; if we survive, if we survive in these landscapes with their odors, if we survive Sandu, if eh, what will happen if our love perishes, let’s kill ourselves while we’re happy. Bang, her serial imagination goes into overdrive: she sees herself described by an Elizabethan dramatist, immortalized in the pages of the newspapers and looked at for sure. She’s vain. She would have wanted to be a dancer, adored, surrounded by admirers—for the time being I’m happy with you, a wretch of a failed pianist who can hardly hold out from day to day playing choirmaster for the trade union chorus. She laughs, embraces you quickly so that you won’t manage to say anything, and personally, you don’t like it. You divine a threat, a secret thought. She would like you to immortalize her naked: she’s splendid when she throws her lingerie in the corners of the studio and refuses to put anything on for a whole day: when I’m a little old lady, I’ll wear the whole closet, even in the house—out of shame. You don’t confess to her, you would photograph her if you had a place to develop. Her body remains your secret without foreign glances. Sometimes she keeps quiet, absorbed by her courses, crams for exams: she would like to describe Hegel’s thought to you, the idea that tipitytapity strains itself into nature; it includes the social-making-history, and it returns refinding itself in its own reality—but you’re a dope, go back to your sick, lonely Schumann. In the evening, she tells you about grace, how it shows up in Pascal; on a sunny Sunday about Bacon’s idols: of the forum, the theater, the cave…passes without interruption to the thing-in-itself. Finicky, those cold, coherent Kantians make you sick. You listen to her, and she inspires you with a kind of pious awe. How many words one can say about nothing! Painfully, she remembers the absence of her father. Sometimes she tells you the story of the small provincial towns where she grew up. Her old lady’s men came first: innumerable scenes played out in front of her face. That made her sensitive. Sensitized, she has a need for love, protection. No one should mess with her feelings: she can’t live without love most of all. The absence of her real father torments her: she imagines his voice, his masculine gestures (she looks for all that from you, are you really like him?), she dreams of a little plaque on the apartment door that says an unamputated family lives here, that there’s somebody to defend you, that you don’t have to keep quiet when someone asks who’s little girl are you? Dad is dead. That’s his job since he got squashed by a truck on the highway.
    There are long evenings. With quick movements she gathers her things from around the room. A frenzy of cleaning comes over her: she sends you away, sweeps, dusts, gets irritated. She can’t stand you anymore, throws the laundry in the tub, starts to wash, sings romantic ballads she heard at her ma’s. You’re one too many: you lower the cover of the upright piano, you withdraw into a corner—or better, disappear for cigarettes. Frenetic, she turns the house upside down: she changes the arrangement of things, orders you to beat the rug, buy kerosene for cleaning the floors, shave more often, talk politely with the neighbors, say hello—you put your head down and don’t see anyone. Take care of yourself, you pig. She changes the bedclothes, puts water on to boil, opens the windows wide until it gets cold, so cold that your teeth chatter in the middle of a dialog, and you burst out laughing, Pia first. Later, looking at the new arrangement, she says:  I’ll cut out some new slip covers and drapes to match; we’ll have guests—we’re too poor for that now; I’d like us to have some clothes for at home that’ll rustle from being starched.. She interrupts herself to straighten a knickknack left askew on the night stand. .I’d like it to be noisy. People. Sometimes loneliness tires me. I tell myself, this is how I preserve you. Sandu, you don’t like people, you’re afraid of them. You hide in your music and screw the rest.  I can’t. She gets all enthusiastic telling you about a sociological study she helped with: she’d run into some situations, extraordinary people—Professor Dionisie, a great guy. I was occupied for a whole semester. I never got bored. Then you showed up. What do you want out of my life? She hums him an out-of-date popular song.
    We’ll travel, no?! with passports, it’ll be easier after a while, we’ll have money, we’ll rummage through consignment shops for rare objects. We’ll read the Classifieds together, the dead and wounded column: squashed dogs declared lost, identity cards ditto; the butterflies and snails column; the column for mushroom growers and people who collect watches and labels, the column for breakups and engagements: I meditate on hopscotch and temptation, I minutely describe the clouds and encyclopedias, I say nice stupid things to old ladies and gentlemen, I pay court to fat ladies, the maimed, I’m looking for a brilliant match. They’ll turn over the pages of almanacs carelessly—we’ll multiply!—they’re going to make babies—we won’t break up: it’s a crime to leave your children without parents. We both come from broken families, she explains, fussing about the room with the end of a pencil stuck in her teeth. We know what the absence of hearth-and-home means. Blablablabla—you don’t really listen. When she gets all didactic you fall asleep, lower your lids and take a nap. Rustling in the pale light of the lamp covered in newspapers, she imagines you’re following her while a difficult passage from Liszt travels through your bean—We’ll buy fresh flowers every morning, we’ll hire a German lady to take care of the house. I’ll give you sons, you wretch. We’ll buy an apartment in a quiet neighborhood. We won’t  lack for oranges. Then the friends, the trips abroad. We’d live like real people, Sandu, always forgiving those who trespass against us. We’ll be good. We won’t quarrel for anything. She’d be launching a proclamation that way. You’d quietly nod your head, yeahyeah—do you hear me, you dummy?—You were saying yeah, uhum, let’s go to bed. It’s snowing hard outside: silky theater curtains  fall over the landscape loaded with frozen wash on the line, several people wait for bottled gas, a bluish evening coming on, live skaters crossing the window to the left, the siphon shop—empty. What do you say, does God exist, you ask her? She giggles charmingly, presses C-flat with her finger, well, she pressed sol, then quickly re, I say no. Okay, but there’s something that sustains this world, don’t you feel? I have the feeling of a powerful, foreign presence in my immediate vicinity when I go out at night to get milk and I run into a dark coldness. If there weren’t…You’re talking nonsense: although he doesn’t exist, we’re still mortal, she says and lets the piano cover fall with a bang. Sandu gives a start. It’s more like a flinch. If we all have to croak full stop, let everything go to the hell, he tells her in a low voice. Let’s break the piano to smithereens. Look, we’ll throw it off the balcony. What a c’mon that would be! It snows; the windows rattle, frozen.—And what if this world is made by someone who’s laughing at us?  He’ll drop us:  he mixed up our lives, he helped us lift ourselves up, uplifted us—she went on talking rapidly with her eyes on the glass—and then he’ll feel sorry he did it, and he’ll destroy us. He’ll unleash me against you and you against me. We’re immune now, but the stupidity of the people around will overtake us. I’m scared, Sandu! There is something outside our selves, an eye that watches when we make love. No universal being. More like a clock that smashes the bones of anyone who tries to wind it. Love defies, and a thing like that’ll cost you.
 
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