from Don Juan CHAPTER VI Sometimes he would run into Tonia by chance. This is one way of putting it, because he often walked the streets close to her house, he went to a beer joint two corners away, sometimes he was in the park nearby speaking kindly, helping small groups of kids, conversing seriously and politely with lonely people relaxing on the three benches, soldiers, pensioners, students who could not decide what course to take, running away from crowded lecture rooms, people from small towns eating chicken or fish sandwiches out of briefcases, or some handicapped guy. Tonia would often find him there alone, reading, his long legs stretched out indecently, smoking his strong, badly smelling cigarettes. She almost looked for him, much to her own surprise, of course, but her own surprise ceased to be a surprise to herself. She could almost see herself in the mirror, in some fine crystal mirror, a tall one that somebody carried along her, some kind of an invisible page, when she crossed the narrow street blushing because she felt the coarse stones under her expensive shoes, furtively looking into that mirror of her petty remorse, which had rapidly become part of her being coquette, entering the park, wishing she would not see him. And if she really did not see him, if Rogulski was not there that day at this time, and the benches were empty or filled with strangers, she would sigh with a relief which did not even deceive herself, let alone other people. Who can explain this tiny mystery of the human nature that makes us feel sorry that something we did not want to happen did not actually happen? Hypocrisy, there were two Tonias in her, and the emotions the reactions of both of them would take turns to rise up to the surface of this unique Tonia, the visible one. Poor thing, she was tortured. A nice housewife could say that, and perhaps she would have been right, she was fighting, struggling, under that heavy stone called Rogulski. But who would dare help her in her torture, who would dare lift up the stone? Some of the times the teacher was not even in the beer joint (with its pompous sign saying "Navigator," but he had christened it "Shy Brute," after a painting by Paul Klee) or in the park, and then she did not see him for a couple of days. He would go to a building that used to be elegant and through which several companies had passed, and he played chess, becoming a regular guest of some obscure cooperative. This was a petty inferno he would sink into and play chess, in a verbal duel with his partners whom he could barely see, but whom he usually knew by smell. Then he would disappear for a couple of days, and Tonia, who was looking for him hoping not to find him (and being disappointed in her surprise that her wish came true), ended up asking him again – and being surprised to do so – where he had been; first she asked him indifferently, then upset (angry with herself, anger rising up to the surface of visible Tonia), and sometimes even reproaching him. Rogulski did not answer, she had no place in that dirty club where he played chess with the psychology in a mind like that of people who cast dice off a bridge. But in fact why exactly was she looking for him? He would ask without looking at her, with a playful smile and looking sideways, like a tomcat. That new look of his irritated Tonia because it was new, not because it was ironic, but it did not make her angry enough to stop asking him next time. She felt he was there somewhere, and, with the satisfaction that he was not going away, her discontent grew (or was it impatience?) as he was becoming invisible, hiding from her, although he was actually looking for her. Discontent or her petty exasperation had grown so much, that she once did what she would never have expected, and she got scared, she almost backed off when she heard her own voice, when her brain "understood" what her mouth had just said: she invited him to her house, their house. Rogulski shrugged his shoulders in contempt (not contempt for her, but rather for his messed up life), his jaws frozen. He was watching her smiling, as if her invite had been pro forma, one of those invites when people are terrified that someone might respond, that it is almost impolite to respond to. A guy who looked like him – at least in her eyes – would not hide away to play chess with some dubious individuals. This would have been a fracture in his contempt, in her sarcasm, already stylized, weakened, that contempt she wrapped him in, covered him in, almost protected him with. As long as she had contempt for him, she could still look for him, get close to him. More than him, she needed that contempt like a shield, one of those leather shields, with the scale of some animal in clear, aggressive relief. That shield that existed was there between them, between their bodies (their future bodies), between the spirits of those bodies, between the contours of their half-confessed desires, like the desires of teenagers, those rare teenagers who have a vocation for teenage, a vocation for their age. Those successful teenagers, so gifted in their age that all their other ages will be failures. Even Tonia's look, her image was changing slowly: she was getting somewhat younger, but, as she got out of the mother, homemaker, middle-class role, she was getting trivial. There were brighter colors in her new dresses (quenched, of course, by her perfect, experienced taste), she gestured with shorter, sharper, more daring movements. Her head (that china object, troublingly beautiful, so harmonious that it was somehow in opposition to her body), her head with her enormous glittering eyes, troubling owing to their lack of expression, was not worn on the noble pedestal of her neck, that neck where the great master had placed his print, the only place where he betrayed himself. Some insolence, a defying angle in her face, in her lower jaw, of course trying to hide her fear. What fear was that? She noticed that slight change, her sliding out of her former body, out of her former countenance, but she did not really worry about it. Only her irony, her sarcasm toward the teacher grew, she raised higher that shield of mockery that was protecting her, had protected her, and now it was increasingly becoming an effigy, almost a symbol of her past fight, of her past defense. She was still defending herself, but the huge difficulty of her defense was the fact that Rogulski did not attack, no longer attacked: he seemed to have forgotten her, not going away from her for one moment, staying in her physical proximity. He had turned his shoulder, at that special time of Tonia's fear and chaste bourgeois fury, a time-fear-fury which had created a special defense organ for her. That organ perceived his shoulder movement, contorted like Buonarotti's slaves. Yes, his first aggression had filled her with disgust and fear, most of all fury and disgust. His slight turning now, the quenching of his aggressiveness, her fatigue triggered fear: the fury and the disgust were still there, but mimed to a large extent, something she pretended to feel. But even this fury that had stayed and gotten the upper hand was different from before, it was a different fury. It was fear coming from frightened surprise, increasingly surprised, mistrust (concerning her own sentimental future), as she was flabbergasted that she could slide out of her own mold of a young, virtuous matron, very bourgeois, chaste, and faithful to the principles of her clan. Of course she was not sliding (perhaps she never will), but her fear, like any fear, was a premonition. It is true that sometimes we anticipate things that will never happen, that cannot happen or have no time to become real, the reality of our history. But our instinct (the one spitting out this fear) is still right: that new thing that frightens us could happen, it was utopian but it becomes real. It is possible, and we know this, our old skepticism whispers it to us in complicity in some ear, the possible is sometimes more tyrannical, tougher, more real than the likely, sometimes much more real than reality itself, which, when it exists, is deprived of its exhilarating, exciting veil of threat and peril. The possible rather than the real or the probable is mysterious. And we are afraid not only of the mystery, the new, the thing that will destroy us, which will disorganize what we used to be, alive and harmonious, on behalf of some future existence, problematic, dark, capricious, dissimilar. Yes, but we are pushed on to live, to continue to live, to stay alive. Whoever wants to stay young must die early, whoever wants to continue to walk must destroy his statue balance, namely any beautiful lack of motion, any contemplation. Whoever wants to walk, to move forward, to be alive, whoever must be alive must get out of his balance (with a slight, unheard sigh), that beautiful landscape, which seemed to have been given to him forever. But our landscapes, won with enormous fights, our contemplation belong to the gods. And we must break away from that place where we used to be happy, almost delighted with our destiny, we must break away from the harmony with ourselves and with the surrounding landscape, from that brief, splendid short-circuit of our two natures: the one within us and that which softly surrounds us and accepts us the way we are, we must get away from that gracious petrified formula, take the first step, fall into the future, toward ungracious, uncertain efforts, fall, rapidly going toward a new labor. There (if ever) another rest is waiting for us, blissful, calm, motionless, a harmony of the two natures. Perhaps this will never be, but we must walk on frowning, hard-working, sweating, clashing our teeth, our imagination tightly fettered, as if we were sure of a new victory, a new stopover, a new landscape, a new contemplation. As if we were certain, as if someone had promised us explicitly, as if we had something on nothingness, that enormous, invisible air we call fatality. So he was sliding, he was beginning to slide on velvet rolls, her body, its shape, Tonia's body, but just before he slid her thought was ahead, that thought which is a vital instinct and urge, and all the body could do was follow it, as it had done so many times before. And this premonition of the future movement of her body filled her with fright, terrible fright, her body was sliding into the mystery that life is surrounded with, his future life. And precisely now, then, at that tremendous time, the teacher, who had targeted this, who seemed to have started everything so stubbornly, so greedily (or at least maybe he was the insolent go-between for someone else) well, precisely now he seemed to turn away, slightly absent-minded, hiding in that miserable club of his for days, passionately playing chess, walking with Cici, he was even seen at a concert once with his own wife, that striking, aging blonde. But who knows, Tonia thought, maybe it was all in her own mind, perhaps fear creates such delusions! Indeed, it would have been hard to believe that he, the dog, that two-penny guy, that loser, did not – no longer wanted – to get – no longer wanted her – namely that he just gave up – that he – no, no, it was impossible, unlikely! Unbelievable. And her happiness was born again, she attacked him again, as if he had been like before, his shoulders toward her beautiful body, her enchanting apparition, and he, the sentimental hooligan, gave her that priceless gift, he reinvented her past, her childhood, with weird reflexes and candor, and those games with small animals, then he discovered her second childhood, her late childhood (describing her in his own way, therefore possessing her), then the old age of her childhood, the heavy, long, unlikely, musical aging, and the lightning apparition of that red sun, enormous, singing in his august valleys, the sun of her long-gone puberty. That was caught somewhere, and he, the insolent, was unburying all this with that impertinent carelessness. Yes, he reinvented her entire history, vividly, with genius, obviously for selfish purposes, in order to describe her, therefore to possess her, because he suffered from a strange handicap: this was the only way he could possess, and he suffered from an unquenched desire to possess. And then he described, his invisible mouth was talking all the time, he was writing history, and, through her enormous, whale teeth, sharp fragments flew out, over mountains and blue-sky horizons, meek-bloody, those nuclei of the future, sumptuous ships of the past, with all those drowned sailors bending over symmetrically, nickel fish jumped out of his inspired mouth, possible ideas, whatever we call human, humanity; because man-animal alone is captivated by the possible, that possible we call utopia, what ought not to be but could be, I do not know how, by some chance, what a whim of chance, a brilliant caprice of some crazy god, it could be! How exciting! […] The next day he had no classes, he was working part time now, so he had more time, although nobody knew exactly what he was going to do with all that time, anyway he would spend more time at that miserable chess club, where he would get in touch with the Russian, than in school. She would run to the university for four hours and came back in time, to watch him wake up, the great animal. He stayed at her place all day and a night, disappeared the next day, actually it was the third day. He went home, changed, which only lasted for two hours, and he went to the park in Tonia's corner. And she found him, happy – for the first time she admitted to herself that she was happy to see him, and she showed that happiness to him – and she asked him, giving up her old pride entirely for the first time, that old pride she wore all day like a family necklace, she asked where he had disappeared for so many days. "I've been playing chess," he answered smiling, and she watched him amazed, not knowing whether he was lying or not. Then he told her about the chess club nearby, close to her house, so it was her – so he was not far away. "But you're not allowed to go there," Rogulski said, "that's no place for a lady like you." "But I thought you said it's some kind of a club?" "Of course it's a club," and he described it to her, that old aristocratic house, the smells, and the people hanging around there. Then the history of that house, its use, ever since it was nationalized: a home for children, enterprise manufacturing I-do-not-know-what, oh yes, a branch of the Construction Ministry, the Cement Trust or something, then abandoned for a couple of years, then military unit, yes military unit, actually some improvised dorms, then unfortunately remodeled by some fools who spent a lot of money and destroyed it for the most part, and that is when the last furniture disappeared, then again an institution, the offices of some cooperative and the workshops upstairs, and now it is the chess club. The ground floor is full of intellectuals, students, workers, and a lot of peasants, with low-lifers, former officers, former convicts, one of them is extremely intelligent, but unfortunately he is lazy and vicious. "Like you," she said. "I'm only lazy," he corrected her, "you need energy, imagination for vices – and then for some reason, vice has been dying down in me since I met you, I mean that hunger for vice, that joy of being vicious. You're terribly moralizing, Tonia." She laughed, happy to be with him, not caring that she was sitting on the bench with a "stranger" right in front of her neighbors. She had long since ceased to care, which was new. If his vice was quenched when she was around, then her moral rigidity had become less confident, as well. He had an unpleasant habit, at least she thought so, he tried to touch her while they were talking, to touch her neck, shoulders, grab her wrist, touch her hair, oh, yes, especially that, her black, heavy, wonderful hair, unbalancing her head made of one piece. This time she was not bothered by his touch, which she used to consider dubious, provocative. His hands were never restless when she was there, when her body was there, that body he had once compared with a lake. His hands did not obey him when she was close, and they hanged on her sleeves, wrists, and neck like birds, trying to hold on to her hair, he touched her hair, and she started violently. Part of her complicated hairdo fell down, long, dark brown locks fell along her left ear, over her shoulder. This time he went into shock, he stammered and bent down in a stupid gesture, almost trying to pick up something from the alley sand. Tonia got scared, as if an invisible beam had lit up her nakedness, a radiation suddenly falling form a source other than the sun, so he was the first to recover, he stretched out his tobacco-stained hand with long, restless fingers and badly cut nails, to pick up her hair. Only then did she blush violently and she covered her nakedness, feeling guilty. It was her fault that he had gone so far, it would have been her fault no matter what, and she was watching him candidly, the visible sign of her guilt. Then she left, her hair not really tidied up, but nobody would have suspected anything, the reputation of her chastity was that strong. She ran away but they saw each other again in the ensuing days in the same park where he was waiting for her. They did not hide, and, which is even more serious, they had accepted that "striking" place, where everybody could see them, that place that was almost in bad taste, they were less careful than high-school kids. As careful as a soldier and his girlfriend, as serene, as provoking, as "anonymous." Perhaps they were stressed out because of this, or they were instinctively trying to prove to themselves that they were in a neutral zone, a zone of all freedoms, since no sign hovered over any gesture yet?! […] But nothing had happened, or if it had, it had probably been long before, or, which is even more serious, was due to happen in the future. Never, almost never do events succeed each other simultaneously, sentimental events, the body and the mind are not in tune with each others, the arm rises, goes up to point to something, to support something, to exclaim, and the flesh floats in another century, naively hanging on the bone of another thought. […] Then they went so far, that Tonia asked him to take her with him. Not to leave that bench where they were fettered by that rigid feeling, that provoking feeling of their innocence. It had been a long time since they had walked side by side, the old times when she was running away from him, when he seemed, impertinent and careless as he was, to be giving it all up, following her a few steps behind, she was angry and disgusted, horrified that something obscure and shameful was shackling her to this dubious man on her left, sometimes behind her, an annoying guy she could not destroy or push away because he obeyed different laws, he came from a different world. So back then, from his fault or hers, they had seen each other a little, most of the times in a corner, a street corner, on a bench, once even at Tonia's house. Weirdly, he went to her house because she insisted, but did not even spent a whole hour there. She was ironic, of course, because he was running away, but she was actually happy. Her family was not supposed to be part of her life, that second life of hers that was emerging. But she had one condition for him: he was no longer allowed to be absent for too long from his bench in the park. […] The second day of absence already became a sin! And she raised her finger threateningly, and her beautiful face became so sullen, childish, comic-serious, that he felt tempted to do two things: burst out laughing and then kiss her very fast, control her little red mouth with fleshy petals, always open, and he bent his head away fast, because he could not do either, so he did not want her to see his thought, the temptation in his eyes. She was still a virgin, a belated virgin, a splendid teenager, frozen in that miraculous age when the Unique, the saint, the mysterious magnificent breaks to pieces, is divided, will no longer be himself, when the Unique is separated from himself, when a suave, tyrannical restlessness pushes him to move, to enter into the epic, when it collapses out of himself and his margins move in incertitude, like sand walls beginning to flow. She was still a virgin, a virgin-maiden, whose walls were beginning to move like sand pillars, like a palace leaning on giant bat wings, whose sleep is troubled by enigmatic, needed dreams. Out, out, his voice would order silently, and she, the teenager, had to get out, awake from her sleep, the sleep of the Unique, to embark upon her journey, to take the first step, in incertitude, melodiously, painfully, anyway to welcome him as if- To run to welcome him, as if this had been her purpose. […] "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, you're right, he is an irrationalist, he contests the supremacy of reason. But he's more than that. He, Rogulski, contests the supremacy of reason, but at the same time he is himself, that's why he is Rogulski and he is my lover. He lives according to an inner instinct of his, which he obeys almost every day, in this sense he's not free, he's like Socrates, he – in your view at least he's so (dishonoring) free, so opposed to the first rationalist. But you don't understand that I'm fascinated not because he contests the primacy of reason (I confess, in the beginning I couldn't care less), I'm fascinated by this mixture of intellectual contestation and his nature, his life. His body, in which he experience a special kind of freedom. His time, where he experiences a special kind of freedom. He's a hooligan, I agree, he's a 'Red,' he has weird moral reflexes, he's unpredictable." (…) "I don't love him for his ideas, but I love him enough to take up his ideas, I obey him enough (I'm enough woman) to think like him, his way. And not because I don't have any personality, that's stupid! No, of course, I have a strong personality, strong education, my own system, my vision, as they put it. Except all this is much more powerful in him, thousands, millions of watts stronger. And he annulled me. No. I don't mean he annulled me through his personality, his education." […] "My knowledge is now close to love, to mystic ecstasy. Reason is only part of this love, the ideas, the education are consequences and fuel at the same time. Humiliating for people who think like you, like you guys (they are the majority!), it's humiliating that we, me, we no longer choke, we no longer collapse in the absence of intellect, of reason, better put, we recognize the necessary role of the intellect, but it's a secondary role. This is humiliating for your measureless pride, for that science you people worship. You've lost your candor. And humility, the capacity for humility." […] "Oh, my beloved, if you could only hear me, you'd strike me with your fists, you'd kill me. I'm so alone when we are together, so impudent that I'm running away to lose myself, to hide in your thoughts, to smile to him, the other one, who is perhaps with another woman, with Tonia maybe. You don't understand how come me and Tonia could be friends! It's simple: when we became friends, he didn't exist; now we share him. Do you think that's cynical?! Of course it is! In your language." […] "We've been walking in this dusty park for an hour. The last silhouettes around us have disappeared, the alleys are empty, lit to their depths like tunnels, the trees are watching us, our tiniest movements, those movements we are even not aware of, they amplify us fantastically, they surround us like gods. There are still living creatures on benches, they're embracing in that hysteria you get from any instinctive optimism. They are alive, we'll die completely if we stay together. I would have never been sorry to die with you, near you, but now believe me, my darling, I've had enough. I'll let you die alone, please excuse me. But you're so well-bred. "Haven't you noticed that I've been silent for over an hour, for over a day, for months?! How come you don't notice my silence, they say we women talk all the time; then how come a guy like you doesn't notice when we are silent, when we finally start the colossal machine of silence? "I could have fun trying to define love as a simple regaining of instinct. And then everything I learned, everything I know slides off me, like a bride's dress." […] They parted shortly before midnight. He was satisfied, she was laughing. A long second, almost the entire next night, he fed on her laughter, he hoped. He hoped he had provoked that laughter, a laughter than belonged to him, bearing the effigy of his face. He seemed to have found again the route to her, to her total possession, and he was willing to accept any humiliation for that. As much humiliation as he could put up with – he had so little practice being humiliated. Humiliation degraded him, "dirtied" him, because he was "European," a civilized individual. And indeed he was civilized, incapable of excesses, predictable and clean, polite with his fellowman, whom he despised so subtly. He had a peaceful night, as they say, although he hardly slept. He was tired, he had been talking, he had been fighting, and then he was tired from all that walking, that tension. He began to hope, he even thought of asking her to marry him, giving her expensive gifts, he even thought of crazy things, like to avoid her, not to see her for six months so that she would come to him, to take a mistress in order to make her jealous. This strong, intelligent man began to think like a boy, such as to take up drinking. What if she likes the smell of alcohol?, he thought, getting out of bed, turning on the light, and lighting a cigarette, although he smoke so little. Perhaps my balanced life seems cowardly to her, I appear to her to be so middle class, compared with the other man who is lecherous, an "artist"? Although she is intelligent and sophisticated, perhaps she is still femininely naïve and simple, she likes, she is shocked by social courage, gesturing, daring language, contempt for social rules? Freedom, in its primitive, instinctual form? Perhaps I bore her with my regular thinking, with my career? I could use being some kind of a loser! Perhaps she is bored with my family, indeed, this is like a beehive, crowded for all anniversaries and micro-anniversaries, gifts and little notes. Then he remembered her warm, transparent laughter when they said goodbye and he was encouraged. She will come back, she will come back, she will get fed up with the other man, better put, with her own straying, disease, whim, and she will stretch her hand out to the usual place, where he is, will be. Like a staircase rail in the dark in a strange building, like a door knob polished by all your ages, which you find out of instinct, it is waiting for you, alive, like a dog, in the house where you were born. He should be as humble as a staircase rail, a door knob, to moan secretly in the darkness of the wood, of his mind, to wait for her, she knew, her instinct knows he is there somewhere. It would be foolish to go away, to change, to falsify things. It would be terribly uncomfortable, in the suicidal sense of the word. Could he live as an impostor, would that be fair to other people? And then, he had no vocation for being an impostor, the joy of that status, like those nice rough guys, the clowns that create shows in the market place on a used carpet. No, he was already middle class, in the historical sense, he was a creator of value, useful to other people, heroically controlling every day any cynical tendency toward anarchy, he had disciplined himself since puberty to master base instincts, to respect human work. He had no business in some market place having around him merry, fat housewives, apprentice tailors, suspicious monks, soldiers chasing house maids, don Juans chasing those maids' mistresses, peasants with vegetables and bloody animal hides, noisy, lively children, and handicapped old people – blind, deaf, or imbecile. Praised be the Lord, he had no talent for such things, he will prove his love by not changing or becoming somebody else and being and impostor, on the contrary, he will be faithful, tacitly heroically so, to her and to himself. Motionless in his predictable destiny one of the few supporting pillars in this protean, hallucinating, shamelessly lively life, he will be like pillars in the middle of rivers, with algae and herbs, ice, and thick, troubled waves. He will not float, he will stand, he will not dream, he will work, he will not bend, he will believe. And doubt will be his secret, a true secret, unique, not one of those secrets that are sold the next day, filmed, not a secret like gossip. These indecent people, incapable of private life, who profess passion and love, who write public letters, indulging in all that contempt for the addressee. No, he will never write such letters, he will not weep, he will not sigh, he will not use metaphors, he will not invent new religions. Dignified and alone in his destiny, his necessary work, happy with one woman only that destiny and his own virtue have given him. Whom he loves the way she is, whom is waits for the way she is. But what if she was gone, traveling very far away? That was the only metaphor during that white night.

by Nicolae Breban (b. 1934)