At Medeleni

excerpt Olgutza's gifts, just like springtime's, proved that, during the three years of Parisian life, not only hadn't she forgotten any of the folks back home, but on the contrary, she had lived in them, like spring at the root of trees. Everybody loved Olgutza, but thought of her as absent-minded and forgetful because of her eruptive life. Now she was proving the opposite. Only now did everyone understand that the gift trunk was Olgutza's very soul, where everyone existed – in disarray, but from A to Z. In a corner of the vestibule, Monica was grouping the parcels for Herr Direktor and Doctor Prahu, Olgutza's peculiar friend. Monica had been working hard for Doctor Prahu, for in her trunks various bottles of all shapes, containing precious alcohols selected piece by piece by Pasha's competence, threatened to spill their contents onto her clothes. Only Danutz and Mircea had not received anything yet. Suddenly, Olgutza's flushed face bordered by tousled hair sprang from the bottom of the trunk, smiling. She was holding a carefully rolled scroll. "Attention and spectacles, please!" Mrs. Deleanu, Catinca and Mr. Deleanu drew closer, putting on their reading specs. Olgutza unfolded the scroll. Her head was so young and vibrant with laughter and color that the unfolded portrait hurt the eye, like the gloominess of a cellar in the sun. Monica had started. She was anxiously following the faces staring at the portrait. The angry exclamations made her breathe again. "How horrible! Is this you? This hideous thing?" "Who's the skunk?" snarled Catinca. "Alexandru Palla." "The deuce take him! Did you ever! Is that a painter's job? Plague would know better!" "My dear little girl," Mr. Deleanu coddled her, "Pasha may be a great painter, but I'll stick with Grigorescu. An apple is an apple," he patted her rosy cheeks. "Neither Pasha, nor Paris, not even all the 'isms' in fashion today will convince me that an apple is mold, and the sun is ash." "One makes pickled cabbage, pickled gherkins," Catrina fumed, "but to make such a pickle out of this gorgeous lass, I can't put up with that!" As if goaded by the same unuttered urge of instinct, everyone was trying to appease Olgutza, watching her, surrounding her, slinging caustic remarks and slurs at the painting. It was like a magic spell facing up destiny. They had all recognized Olgutza's head in the portrait unfolded by her hands, but it was an Olgutza stripped of everything that made of her the joy of the Deleanus' home. The décor was the salon of the Paris apartment. In the foreground, an open piano, the keyboard of which was like a smoky strip of frozen water, and Olgutza seated on a stool, her head slightly bent forward, like that of a person lying in wait or exhausted, looking away from the piano, as if somebody had just called her name, interrupting her. In the background – the furniture of a large salon in a heavy shade, as if pressed by an incipient charcoal-induced asphyxia. Olgutza's cheeks received light through a gray window – the tragic mold, the salt-mine, underground grayness of Palla's paintbrush. The face was also gray, with green reflections like the moon's. What was happening in that shady room, where music had fallen silent? What cry had resounded? What bizarre call? There was a hardy stiffness about her cheekbones, but the forehead reclined in defeat, though still sturdy, while the dilated eyes seemed to be willing to close without being able to, or maybe defied the unseen scourge. Determination and despair were blended together. The right hand hovered above the keys, with fingers hanging apart, like a bird killed in its flight and crucified on its wings. The other hand clenched the knee – or did it lean on it? Heavy locks of hair hung on her temples. Next to the model, Olgutza's portrait looked sullen, deprived of youth, or at least of the young flesh and exuberance of the model; yet the moves of the head and body were definitely Olgutza's. An Olgutza as strange as a sun eclipse. But in the cheerless energy of her face and look, as in the fall of the reclining forehead, or in the pain of an eagle with a arrow in it, seeing its death and giving it wings, Mircea's eyes recognized Olgutza's youth, the way his soul had sometimes sensed it behind the blush of her cheeks and laughter of her teeth. This was the only portrait made by Alexandru Palla in three years. He had never painted Olgutza after that. He may have preferred to see her with the eyes of a man rather than discover her with the eyes of a painter. "Doesn't anybody want this portrait?" Olgutza smiled. "To the fire, to the fire with it!" "I have brought it for Mircea." "For me, Olgutza!" "You won't accept it either?" "All right, Olgutza, you're giving me a masterpiece." "The model thanks you in the name of the painter." "I wonder what you've got in your heads, kids," Catinca marveled, gesticulating with her glasses. "Sane and sound young people, beautiful young people not disgusted with such blasphemies!" Yet so powerful was the impression made by this despised painting, whose atmosphere rivaled pages by Dostoyevsky that left one's soul shivering in cold sweat, that everybody called for dinner. In the author's words, At Medeleni, by Ionel Teodoreanu (1897-1954), was supposed to entwine the idyllic and the narrative, real life and fairy tale, and give the reader the permanent impression of a "possible miracle." Although its heroes are meant to be "always at play" in an "endless break," the novel is an insightful incursion into the coming of age of characters such as dreamy Monica, exuberant Olguţa, or the author's alter ego, Dan.

by Ionel Teodoreanu (1897-1954)