Doja's Horse, Spek's Tractor And The Missing Hook

Spek Jr., from Satu Nou, had a tractor called Doja. Since nothing in the world is fortuitous, the name of that machine was not fortuitous either. Spek Sr., a "filthy Jew", as he was called by some people from Iosefin, was a fervent advocate of communism and had been hurdled from the city to the village to disseminate the idea of the great, social revolution among the kulaks. When he worked as a shoe-maker in the neighborhood of Iosefin, in Timisoara, he used to have a client who was a historian. An elderly, round-shouldered bloke. He could never remember his name, only some facial features. Actually, the guy had never introduced himself and had resorted to his services only once. It was then that he told him he studied History and discovered that Doja had been a virulent anti-Semite, who had given the name of Spek to his horse. Needless to say that the news was a thunderbolt dropped on Spek, a hit between the eyes. Hitherto, Spek Sr. had been absolutely convinced that his name was unique. How come that this "filthy Hungarian", called Doja, had this idea, of naming his horse Spek? As the time passed, the question grew more and more obsessive. Moreover, in his attempt to find a motivation, a cause, he came to imagine himself to be Doja, to be mounted on a horse that had no name, but needed one. To urge it with the name, not with the spurs. He almost approved of Doja's choice of name for his horse. "Go on, Spek!" It sounded good and encouraging. He even handed it to Doja for such great inspiration. Since Spek Jr. had learnt to be a tractor driver from a Germanized "filthy Frenchman", the Speks were sent to the village mounted on a "Bulldog" tractor, towing a cart acquired from a "filthy Gypsy" from the neighborhood of Fabric. As soon as they reached Satu Nou, the first peasant coming their way asked them: "What is the name of the horse?" "What horse ?" asked Spek Jr. in wonder. "Doja!" said Spek Sr. in a hurry. It was simply a matter of moral repair so dearly wished for for many years, and finally dealt with. In the evening, Spek Jr. and Sr. assessed the house given by the new authorities and left in a mess by a "filthy German" conscripted into the SS units for one day and shot the next day by a "filthy Serbian" who had sided with the "filthy Russians", then started a shouting match. How had the father dared to call the tractor "Doja" ? Had he forgotten that the mother of his grandson Attila was comrade Ibolya, who was the very wife of Spek Jr.? "My boy, have you forgotten that Ibolya…" "Comrade Ibolya!" his son corrected him. "That your comrade…" "She was yours, as well, otherwise she wouldn't have entered the Party…" the son retorted again. "So be it," snapped the father, "so comrade Ibolya ran away with that filthy Ilie, the stableman who worked for comrade Mitia?" "Don't fool around with Doja's name when we should be like brothers!" Spek Jr. defended himself, feeling some chills when he uttered the word "brothers". Until '48, Doja the Bulldog kept carrying sacks to the mill of Wolf, "that filthy German". "The filthy Ratzi", as the Germans called the Romanians and the Serbians, nudged each other and laughed when Doja came around. Especially after the "stalinetzs" were brought into operation, the massive, Russian tractors with tank-like caterpillar tracks, which started to steamroll an asphalt road on the High Lane. Even after '48, poor Doja ploughed the peasants' fields many times. Only after the collectivization was it demobilized and then disassembled and carried piece by piece to the railway station. Or at least this is how the story went. The freight train took it directly to the furnace, and Doja and its drone and its steering wheel remained only in the memory of the elderly of the village. The years went by. Spek Sr. retired earlier than he had expected. He simply fell into disuse. Now, Spek Jr. drove a smart, four-stroke "Universal 650". Grandson Attila grew up and fell in love with Miriana, a hot Serbian girl, Communist Youth Union secretary for the Vegetable Growing Brigade of the socialist agricultural farm. This affair resulted in a son called Milan Arpad Spek. The house received by Spek Sr. from the communists became too small. Attila took his family and caboodle and left for the city. The country was in need of good workers and he was a good worker. A fine fellow, at least this is how the colleagues from the organization had characterized him. Spek Jr. made up with comrade Ibolya, as he was assured by the authorities that comrade Ibolya had had a secret state affair to deal with. Comrade Ibolya was given again a secret mission and nobody, not even the comrades, heard about her ever since. The two Speks from Satu Nou became morose. Nobody and nothing could please them anymore. Not even the good comrade Partenie, the Moldavian who had become the district party secretary. Spek Sr. took to drinking. After he gulped down the tzuica he himself brewed in his 40-litre alembic, hidden in the chicken coop, he would start wandering around every pub. Spek Jr. had been given a tip and he wanted to emigrate. "My son," said the old man, "stay put. This is what I was told by my mother, a Slovak from Kikinda. And I did, although I could have reached America. Our country is the land where we were born!" stressed Spek Sr. His son looked at him as if he was off his head. "If she had lived, your mother wouldn't have wanted you to leave." "My mother, where was she from?" "Poor Elfride…". The tears filled the old man's eyes. "Well…?" "She was a very cute German girl. She had a little garden full of flowers near the safe factory. I couldn't resist her. We married out of love. Her parents banished her. Mine did the same. Well, stories…" "Stories," concluded his son. If I don't leave, do you know what I want to do?" "No," the old man answered. "A new Bulldog." "You are not in your right mind. You'd better go, then!" " I won't! I want to die here. The Bulldog will tie me up to this land. I still feel its trepidation. Have you seen the steering wheel under the straw barn?" The old man froze, staring to his son. Comrade Spek Jr. had gone berserk. How had he dare to disobey the Party's order to have a tractor melted, an old, worn-out, morally exhausted tractor? When he realized he had stood up and thus looked ridiculous, he headed for the barn. His son followed him with a victorious smile. He lifted an old rag, full of chicken droppings. Under it, the steering wheel. Full of rust. "I will rub it and make it as good as new!" the son enthused. "We will build the tractor again, we will go to the Catholic church and pull out that hook Doja used to tether his horse to." His son looked at him in amazement. "They will send us to jail, they are not kidding. Have you forgotten how they sent the kulaks to the Baragan?" "But then they released them." "After how many years?" the old man started to ponder. In the evening, while having some eggs, the son asked: "What about that hook?" The old man didn't answer at once. He rubbed the frying pan forcefully with sand, until the soot disappeared. "Is this how the steering-wheel will look like?" he asked. He simply pictured himself on the seat of the tractor, in front of the church. "You haven't told me about that damned hook?" "It is the hook Doja tethered his horses to when he entered the church." "The Bulldog?" the son wondered. "Heck, you are as knowledgeable about history as our neighbour's turkey. Do you know who Doja was?" An embarrassing silence followed. The son stared on a wall carpet written in Cyrillic, with a basin embroidered under the letters. "I must admit I don't". Another prolonged silence. "Neither do I, but this doesn't matter. What matters is that this fellow was anti-Semite and called his horse after us." "When did this Doja live?" "I don't know. This doesn't matter. What matters is that he offended our name. Hear, hear, a horse called like me…" "So this is the reason for which you named the Bulldog after Doja… To make it up?" "Yes, precisely. I will help you to build the Bulldog again." "No, I have changed my mind. I don't have all the parts." They went to bed in silence. The old man fretted in his bed for a long time. In the morning, he felt as if he hadn't slept at all. As soon as he woke up, he went out in the yard. He didn't go immediately to the toilet, as he usually did. He went to an old mulberry tree, almost tumbled over the house of his neighbour Zorka. Near the tree there had been lying a chicken coop for a long time. It had been used for only one year, when the geese had been sought-after and Spek had stuffed hundreds of geese. At great pains he managed to push the coop aside. Some rotten planks appeared into view. He pulled them out with the help of a blunt hoe. Then he put away some tow full of Vaseline. He managed painstakingly to take out an iron front wheel. When trying to lift the second one, he felt his heart pounding. He gave up. He sat on a stool, breathing heavily. He couldn't do that all by himself. This is how Spek Jr. found him. "This is not a good time!" he said. "Why?" "The revolution is not over yet. The Russians still may be coming. Then they will take it away from us for good. And the funnel is missing anyway. But I have a much better idea." "What?" "We go and pull out the hook." Indeed it was a great idea, and Spek Sr. resented the fact he hadn't come up with it in the first place. He lit a Carpatzi without filter and started smoking avidly. After the first inspirations, he chocked with the smoke. "Let's go!" he said, and then threw the cigarette and stood up. They took the Long Lane, there was a shortcut. They were disturbed only by the plum trees, stooping under the burden of their fruit. They made them stoop as well under their branches. Near the center they met Prala the gypsy. He was strolling near his harnessed horse. The animal was dragging a cart full of iron scrap. "Where to, Prala?" asked Spek Jr. "To the railway station." "How many children have you got?" asked Spek Sr. "They are seven now," answered Prala. "How old is the horse?" asked Spek Jr. "This is how I bought it," answered Prala and hurried his animal. "It's a mare," he added and turned to the railway station. "You see," said Spek Sr., "he doesn't know how old his horse is." "So what!" exclaimed Spek Jr. "But he could have called him Spek, couldn't he?" "Gooo!" they heard round the corner. Spek Sr. slid on a plum and he almost fell. They arrived in front of the general store. Nobody was to be seen. When they reached the entrance, a crooked old man came out. For a moment their gazes met. They went on their way. The clock of the Catholic church struck twelve. The lanes of the villages were scorched in the merciless sun. It was a long, hot summer. There was nobody in front of the church. The leaves of the chestnut trees were still. "I thought that…" Spek Sr. mumbled. "What?" asked his son. "That it was that fellow who was a client of mine about fifteen years ago… who told me that Doja had called his horse Spek." "Maybe you are wrong." "No, I am not," said Spek Sr., and once he got in front of the church, he crossed himself. "What are you doing, father? Are you crossing yourself? Aren't you a…?" "No." "Does comrade Partenie know?" "Damn him. He crosses himself too. "So, aren't we…?" "No." "What about the name?" "Not even the name. It is the name of the person who adopted me. He died when I was fifteen. He left me his shop and his job." "Why haven't you said anything until now?" "Just because," snapped Spek Sr. "What is the name of your real father?" "Why is it important? He was just a filthy rogue. He got my mother pregnant and left for America. My mother never told me his name." "It was mean of her." "She died when I was born. Let's go back. Let's assemble the Bulldog and take it to the museum." "What about the hook?" "What about it? Can't you see it's no longer here?" Indeed, the hook was missing. "Partenie pulled it out with his own hand. The Country needed the iron scrap. It was of no use there, in the wall. Doja died a long time ago. So did his horse." Spek Jr. headed for the big pub in silence. Spek Sr. sat down on the steps of the church. He put his head between his hands. He sat there for a long time. One hour or two, he was not able to tell. When he opened his eyes, he saw a horse nearby. It was trying to graze some grass coming out of the fence surrounding the church. Prala's cart could be seen farther. It was the exact copy of the cart that the Bulldog had towed when he had moved into the village. Prala was nowhere to be seen. Some crows flew above them. The tower clock struck five. A neigh could be heard from somewhere behind the church. Then a trot. Spek Sr. stood up. Maybe it had been only his imagination. Or maybe it had been Prala's horse that had neighed. The trot was nearer. He sheltered under the church portal. His heart was bumping. Nobody around. Then he saw the crooked old man whom they had seen coming out of the general store. He was strolling towards him. His shoes had steel tips. It seemed to Spek Sr. that he heard the trot again. He looked at the old man, trying to warn him. The latter smiled. Spek Sr. froze. It was the same smile the historian had given him in his shoemaker shop. "You look so damn alike…you!" Spek Jr. hove into sight, reeling and holding a lemonade bottle. "Yes, so damn alike!" he pointed at the stranger with the bottle neck. "Look out!" Spek Sr. yelled at the old man. Then he felt a terrible blow in his chest. Nothing more. Prala's horse pranced once again, neighed and trotted to the cart. Spek Jr. bent over his father "My father…!" the latter whispered, striving to point at the old man. After which he closed his eyes in peace. Spek looked at him, failing to understand. "Who the hell am I, then?" he asked himself. He heard a horse neighing very close to him. He stood up. Nearby, tethered to a big hook stuck into the church wall, there was a white horse. Square Birds in the Western Sky, Marineasa, Timisoara, 2006 Duşan BAISKI was born at Sannicolau Mare, Timis county. Editor in chief for "Agenda" magazine. Member of the Writers' Union, member of the Association of Romanian Professional Writers; member of the Association of Romanian Journalists. SF writer, translator, editor. Authorial volumes: Isolated showers (Facla, 1984), The Radiography of an Ordinary Case (Facla, 1988) Ljubav meju senkama (Kriterion, 1990), The Moon and Tram no. 5 (Marineasa, 1994), The Clown Market (Marineasa, 1994). He has contributed to many national and international magazines. He is the director of the regional center "The Rastko Cultural Project – The Electronic Library of the Serbians living in Romania".

by Duşan Baiski (b. 1955)