The Pit

excerpt They wandered about the villages around Bucharest, the old man leading the way, Paraschiv right behind him. They went to Bolintin, to Catzelu, eager for prey. They always went there on market days when the peasants were there, as these were the most likely victims of the cheats. Our thieves would wear sheepskin coats and big fur hats that they pulled over their eyes, down to their nose. They had big, heavy boots, their entire outfit having been stolen from the merchants in Grivitza street. It was very cold and they had to trudge in the deep mud. They usually made a tour of the marketplace, full of wagons. The inebriated shepherds were there to buy pots, overcoats, clothing. They splashed through the mud in their pigskin peasant shoes, they bargained, they entered the pubs, they all carried plenty of cash. Gheorghe would take out a bag from under his overcoat, full of finely ground bricks, which he had prepared for this kind of transaction. He threw it onto the ground and started shouting: "Come closer, folks! Guess what I've got here? Flea-killing powder. It kills the bloody beasts instantly, spares you the scratching. What are you looking at, pal? It's good for woodworms, too. Buy it, my friends, and sleep well. Take the flea powder." The wenches listened, looked at the ruffians. These guys looked like strangers, they didn't seem to be their own folk. The younger one, Paraschiv, was pale and dressed colorfully, you could hardly see his green, leek-like eyes under his hat. The older one was stodgy and astute, he let the powder stream through his fingers. He would then rub some against his palm and cry: "Take it, my friends! Take the LUX powder, two-pence a cornet. Be the first of your lousy tribe to get rid of the bloodsucking vermin. Come closer, folks, and buy my powder. It cures scabies and sheep pox, too. It kills ticks in their eggs. Don't look at me like that, man!" He cried until his voice became hoarse. The peasants were still cautious. They needed the stranger's powder as the parasites sucked their blood, but how could they know it was good? Finally, the cutpurse grabbed one of them and put in his hand a paper cornet overflowing with powder, quickly made by the swift fingers of Paraschiv. "Take it, nuncle. If you don't like it I won't ask you a penny for it." The man pulled out a two-pence and placed it in the hand of the younger guy. The others would follow suit. They asked for two cornets each. "Come and take. Don't rush!" Paraschiv was happy to see how stupid they were. Had they had one more bag they would have easily sold it, since peasants are like sheep after all: once they saw one buying, the others crowded to do the same. When they emptied their bag they stole away, hiding in the crowd, not before Gheorghe briefly checked the peasants' wallets for a last minute pinch. At night, they went to some widow's house. They knocked at the window: "Who's there?" "That's us!" "Us who?" "The merchants from Bucharest." "What do you want, then?" "Open up!" The widow opened the door. "We'd like to spend the night here." "Dear Lord! In a single woman's house? What will people say about that?" The rogue looked at the woman and laughed, took off his hat, shook the snow off it, wiped his shoes. "A widow you may well be, but those eyes of yours tell a different story. I can't believe you have the heart to leave some travelers out, in the cold, at night, to put their lives in danger…" The woman caught fire as she saw the ruffians lewdly staring at her. She then invited them to dinner. She brought them something to eat. They ate. They warmed up by the fire. The older guy made again a pass at the woman: "How about some wine? Don't you have any?" "Maybe… I'm looking at you and I can't help thinking of how tired you must be after such a long way." "To be sure we are. I knew you had a kind heart, honey." The woman went out. Gheorghe urged his pupil: "Why are you looking at me like that, you turd? Wake up, boy." When the hostess came with the drinks, they asked her: "How long have you been a widow?" "Almost five years." "You've been alone all this time?" "All alone." "Alone and yet so young. What a shame!" The wine went down to their knees. They invited her: "Have some, woman." And the broad drank. She also gave them walnuts, too. Sweet, tasty cores. Gheorghe heaved a sigh of pleasure: "I'll be damned, Paraschiv, I feel so good." The widow went to lay the bed for them. "Now you are going to pretend you have fallen asleep," the old man whispered to Paraschiv. And he sneaked into the room where the woman was. She laid the sheets on the bed in the guestroom. She took the heavy woolen quilt out of the dowry chest, then the embroidered pillows and two of her late husband's nightgowns, that were white and stiff. And in came Gheorghe. The room was cool and you could hear the crickets in the garden outside. The man looked at the pictures on the walls: "Who's that?" he asked. What could the woman say? "My father-in-law." "And this one?" "This is the best man of our wedding. This one here is my late husband, Dumitru, when he was in the army, they gave him a job in the army, you know… alas, when I think what a good life I used to have and how unhappy I am now…" The old rogue put his hand on her nape. "What do you think you're doing?" "Tut-tut." "God forbid it…" "God forbid it, but I'll have it." "I mean it…" The scoundrel had a rare moustache and deep eyes with circles round them. The woman was hot, longing for a man's embrace. "Leave me alone, man…" "Nope." And he unbuttoned her fine-knit blouse. "I'll cry for help!" "Cry then!" And he kissed her under the ear, where a woman's flesh is so sweet. "Put out the light, at least, or we'll be seen from across the road." The thief blew the gaslight out. He then worked her up into a sweating orgasm. The woman squealed and growled with pleasure. "It's really tough a single woman's life, isn't it?" "Tell me about it!" "Have you enjoyed it, woman?" "I sure have." Exhausted, Gheorghe went out. He nudged Paraschiv, who was lying in a corner: "Make haste, kid, while she's still hot." The pickpocket sneaked between the sheets, his body thin and slender as a reed, and grabbed the woman. The broad knew he was not the old guy. "Get lost, kid." But the apprentice rolled her over as he was strong and potent and he bit her tits. The widow instantly softened. He rode her savagely as the bed quaked and screeched under them. "Holy Mary!" the woman whimpered, making the sign of the cross. "In my late husband's bed…" As she said that, she squeezed her tits up, pressing the nipples against him to turn him on. As dawn was approaching he left her snoring and uncovered in the empty bed. He woke up Gheorghe. They started collecting the shirts, the bed linen, the quilt and the clothes in the dowry chest. They tied them up in two big bunches while the widow was sleeping like a log and couldn't hear them. The light of the dawn already came in the big windows. You could hear the cry of the roosters. They went out quietly, opened the gate and got into street in no time. At the end of the village they found some peasant to give them a ride in his cart. As they climbed in the peasant asked them about the big bundles they were carrying. "This lad's mother's dead!" said Gheorghe, pointing to Paraschiv, who suddenly made a long face. "An old woman she was, God rest her soul! We buried her and took her togs lest someone should steal them." The peasant made the sign of the cross and said: "God rest her soul!" At the gates of Bucharest they gave the man a hundred lei and boldly set out for the junk dealer, careful to avoid the police patrols. Mr. Goldenberg wrung his hands: "I hope you haven't killed anybody." The old man feigned to be offended: "Come on, sir, how can you say that? You know I always do a clean job. No one gets hurt…" They agreed on the price and the thieves left the shop feeling relieved and carrying a lot of money. And a whole week had thus passed. Paraschiv would often ask: "Where might that Oaca be? And Skinny Nicu? How about Florea? And how about Sandu Gentle-Hand?" "The firm, spectacular style, the bitter lyricism and the merciless outlook on humanity seem to parallel neorealist cinema and the literature of Moravia and Pasolini. The Pit (ESPLA, 1957) displays a human kaleidoscope in a variety of destinies and rituals captured cinematographically, as in a long feature film: not much psychology, a lot of narrative movement, coarse language, a sensory insight into life's typical manifestations – these are the notes to be sensed in Eugen Barbu's (1924-1993) novel from the beginning." (Eugen Simion)

by Eugen Barbu (1924-1993)