Don Juan

excerpt Nobody listened to him or did so intermittently, the Russian mumbled something, excited by the other's mumbling, Mr. A. V. Emilian was drinking, capitalizing on the exaggerated attention the strange guest was receiving from the little old lady. This one-nighter, this traveler with dusty shoework – Mr. A. V. Emilian, was drinking and smiling candidly, an accomplice to himself. At last, the Professor had found himself a den, the most perfect one: this family. He nestled, delved impudently into its warm-and-rough pockets, amidst its undulated walls that mildly echoed his laughter, his gruntling, his interrupted soliloquy. They protected him, lent him the feeling of safety, that of a virtual family, to an extent he could claim for his own. Tonja would not set foot in there any longer; in return, she made him a visit at his home one morning. Rogulski was slumbering when somebody rang the doorbell. As he did not budge, the ringing was repeated. Not even then did he move a finger, fancying it was someone looking for Liliana, his wife. Then, as the door rang again, he extracted himself unwillingly, slipping on a robe, ready to entertain the delivery boy or the gasman. It was her: radiant, mirthful on account of her farce. The Professor did not say a word (he was hung-over, unshaven, barefoot), just glanced her up, lowered his eyes, then beckoned her in. Tonja insinuated herself between the door and Rogulski, who was inert. His body opposed her invasion. She entered the hallway that was an impromptu living room; there, he left her alone, mumbling something unintelligible to himself. He had been away for some time and, for an instant, she feared that he had gone back to sleep – which he would have been completely capable of. However, he turned up, clad but unshaven, and – she sensed – after having sampled a vodka. Was he afraid of her? Was he infuriated?! Ha-ha, Tonja laughed to herself, finally she had caught him off-guard! She had stormed in, retaliating thus for his frequent raids. Let's see how he'd handle this!… Rogulski did not seem in the mood "to handle this". He puffed a cigar and gave her an errant, embarrassed look, as – she suspected – he regretted the absence of the vodka bottle. Out of an odd lack of temerity, he had omitted to bring it along, drink in front of her, in his own home. He, who would feel insolently at home anywhere, seemed reticent in his own environment. No, maybe it was just that he wasn't familiar with receiving visits… especially hers! She continuously chuckled to herself, "little" Tonja, as if she had played a prank on her "private" tutor. He was not entirely verbose – thus, out of courtesy, she spoke. He waited and waited, but she postponed explaining the reason of her visit or, who knows, maybe there was no reason. And they had seen each other only the other day – he had summoned her to a remote district past Grant Bridge, where they watched an old French flick he had mentioned to her once. After the pictures, he invited her to a restaurant, but she had vanished quickly, saying that she was expected. And now, early in the morning (it was barely 10), there she was. He – one could notice with the naked eye – had not returned home immediately after. It was quiet around, the living space was white, roomy, pristine: little, but costly furniture. Tonja looked incredulously around her: not like this had she pictured his den. His body, his clothes did not seem to inhabit such spaces. She asked for a coffee; Rogulski rose to his feet, somewhat reluctantly, making for the kitchen. Five minutes later she would follow him, to her host's plain but tacit discontent. But she kept talking and talking, true to her own fashion, diligently molding her utterances, leaving the calm, rotund, mezzo sounds of her voice melt away. What mattered was never the content, but always the form that lived, existed in such a tyrannical way that the essence, the content, vanquished, would crawl subduedly, under the parchment skin of form. In reality, Tonja was herself "a form" that through verbum, through the mere use of her voice, emanated "another form", that of sounds almost entirely devoid of content. And, who knows, maybe the astute madness of the Professor was to pour content into that clean, perfect shape, to "penetrate" that form. He – that was almost exclusively content to an indecent degree. They returned to the living room with coffee steaming, biscuits and marmalade. "If you like, you may even take your vodka!" Tonja conceded, as she inspected him with mirth and a kind of amiable mercy, but he did not flinch. At times, at rare intervals, she would look at him in circumspection: was he perhaps stooped in a drowse?! Then he would throw a syllable, two words at her, who indicated him as present, true, he was lacking the stamina, the petulance, the impudent spark that alcohol lent him. He was being nearly decent, and Tonja, enchanted, always a "girlie", rose and strolled about the spacious room, ogling the photographs on the walls, the big aquarium, an immense Christ – a Pantocrator – a tall, Byzantine silhouette in domination of an abstract globe of obvious Catholic denomination. Then she discovered the pick-up and asked for permission to play a record. Rogulski condescended with a wave and she lingered on her choice, as if she had something else on her mind, or as if she was making a flower arrangement. Finally, she picked Concerto no 3 in G major by Mozart, the David Oistrakh interpretation. That, after hesitating between the Piano Concerto no 2 by Rachmaninoff and, again, a piano sonata by Schubert. The Professor had watched her furtively and condoned her choice. Mozart was mostly appropriate for this rather out-of-place visit: its full, melodious, predictable sounds could protect little Tonja, could lend her a certain amount of safety and firm, classical taste. "Chichi would have gone for Brahms," the Professor thought in slight amusement, "Brahms or Scarlatti. Or Bartok, but by no means Mozart. Mozart is dull for an intellectual, but he is the protector of little girls who venture out in the woods…"As the concerto ended, the Professor – in a punctual gesture, as if he had risen from his stool in ovation – went to her and tucked her gently into his arms. He kissed her slowly, calmly, or …no, not that, but rather: with the utmost propriety. Everything she was and had ever been converged, an extraordinary concentration of blinding and confusing mosaics, slumbering, pulsating and tacitly crying out, "nail-bitingly", under his touch. He, in his turn, sensed that and became incapable of kissing her any longer; he could not approach her further even by an inch. Thus, they had both frozen inside the incandescent marble of their bodies which could not melt together, whose unsettled, 'shivering' matter was hanging from the edge of an unknown abyss – like an enormous, geological, tear-like formation hanging from the lid of an unknown Nordic deity.Then he moved gently and distanced himself from her, but she was unable to echo his move in symmetry. Finally, she got up to her feet, unwittingly passed her hand through her hair, pinned-up – as usual – in a heavy arrangement. She freeze-framed her movement, her feet dangling from the edge of that high bed. Then, after another interval, with yet another visible effort, she took another step and "re-entered" the room, approaching him in his designated space. Smoking, tired, terribly tired, like a man who carries around a twin body. A peculiar man unaccustomed to his burden, slothful by his birthrights, by his vocation. A lazy person who had to carry, to toil.Thus was a cycle concluded that had started a year before – a summer, an autumn, a winter, and a spring. This was nearing its end now, and posed her in the same position as on that nightmarish and nocturnal balcony scene, which found her "crouched, grinding her teeth". Then, she was sitting next to that unknown man, who suddenly had claimed an absolute right over her (as if she had been found in a besieged city: enemy soldiers invade it: setting fire, looting, killing, and, behold, all of a sudden, such a foe warrior near her, "one of them", who seems to have an exclusive, ancient, indisputable right over her, in disregard of her qualities, her education, or her pride). Thus her fall would be only a matter of time. Though one year had passed, she found herself in the self-same position: with that brutal warrior next to her, waiting to cash in on his rights. Her – waiting, as well. But… not only had he been an (exotic and) brutal stranger, he had also been shrewd: he had procrastinated the claim over his simple rights and now, you see, he had dragged her entire being along, not only the body. And, ha-ha, instead of her spirit (soul) to be left as the odd one out, now her body was, as if he had half forgotten it, almost scorned it. On the contrary, her soul was inside, dragged, put down, looted, possessed, jerked. Woe, how much ramming did her soul-body not take this year, how many convulsions did she not go through, that this Barbarian breathing down her neck should have his own capricious way, that he should make her do God-knows-what. Make her a woman, albeit she had been one for a long time. Excerpted from Don Juan, © Cartea românească , 1981 Considered by many critics prototypes of the lyrical novel, the works of Nicolae Breban (born in 1934), one of the most prominent literary personalities of the last four decades, are rather akin to the more comprehensive and "ductile" formula of a "total novel" (G. Dimisianu). About his heroes, another critic (Laura Pavel) wrote: "a Narcissus that may be recognized either as a Don Quixote turned Don Juan, or a Don Juan turned Don Quixote." 

by Nicolae Breban (b. 1934)