Publishing house: Janet 45
Translated by Bistra Andreeva
Hope is the thing with feathers
First my father left us. Or rather, first Monica moved in with us. Monica is my Mom’s childhood friend. One evening Mom told Dad that she had called from Burgas. She wanted a new life. She wanted to come to Sofia and look for a job. So she asked him if Monica could stay with us for a while, for a month or two tops, until she settled down. My father knitted his brows in complete silence, like he always did when a decision had to be taken. It made whatever he said afterwards sound heavier, so as he opened his mouth it seemed to me that his words dropped down like the pebbles I used to throw in the Bistritsa river. They would follow their trajectory and then they would fall where they meant to.
The first thing Granny said when she saw me was:
Granny called often too. Much more often than before. They talked a lot one evening. At first they were arguing and Mom kept saying she was doing fine. Then she started crying. Finally she said: ‘Okay, we’ll come’. When the conversation was over, she came to me and said:
Mom and Monica go back a long way. Before Monica moved in, Mom told their whole story to Auntie Ana who listened carefully and finally just said: ‘Hmm…’. They knew each other since they were kids. First they were in the same nursery group, then they went to school together, then they both applied and got into the English Language High School, but then they went different ways. Mom came to study in Sofia and later she met my father here. And Monica married my Mom’s high-school sweetheart, just like that, out of the blue. He had become her sweetheart. By then Mom went back to Burgas less and less often, plus it was kind of awkward with that shared love interest of theirs (I didn’t really get that, I thought Mom was with Dad already), so they gradually lost touch. However, a few months ago Monica tracked down my Mom on Facebook and sent her a message. She said she was divorced from the high-school sweetheart, she had no kids, she was working as a secretary in some office and she wasn’t happy with her life. This is the story that Mom told Dad while we were having dinner one evening, her voice full of excitement. However, she didn’t mention anything about the high school sweetheart. Dad listened distractedly, checking out from time to time what was happening on TV, behind Mom’s back.
The day Monica was expected to arrive Mom went to the hair salon. They had not seen each other in fifteen years and she wanted to show her friend that she ‘hadn’t changed much’. I heard them come in some time in the early evening. They were talking in the vestibule. Then they entered the room. Mom turned to me and said:
After we had lunch – a second one for me and a very symbolic one for Mom – Grandma gave us one of her determined looks that always scare me a little. When she looks at me that way it means that she is up to something and it is not necessarily what I want. I saw my Mom’s face getting tense with anticipation too.
Those were the happiest days of my life. In the morning, Mom and Dad would go to work and I would stay home with Monica to do my homework. Monica would get up late and come to my room to say good morning, and then she would ask me with that caressing voice of hers whether I wanted to keep her company while she was having her coffee. I didn’t wait for her to ask twice. I would just dump my homework and join her. She would make coffee and the smell of it would fill up the whole kitchen, and the living room too. Then we would sit on the sofa, she would take long sips and ask me stuff. About my school, my friends, if I liked any of the girls. Mom and Dad never had the time to talk to me like that. I wasn’t cross with them because I knew they were tired and had too much work. But now, even if they tried to talk to me that way, I wouldn’t want that anymore. I wouldn’t feel comfortable. But I was comfortable with Monica. I could tell her everything. Not straight away. Little by little. She would listen, nod, take a sip and smile. I told her about Alex, how we sit next to each other on the same desk, how she smells of violets and has the cutest dimples in the world.
The best thing about vacations is that I can sleep late. I don’t have to get up early, like when I go to school. Mom and Dad would just let me sleep away. Both when we were in Sofia or on vacation. Especially if we were on vacation. We would get up around 10, have breakfast at the hotel and only then head to the beach. Like everyone else on vacation. This is what I was thinking that morning, when Grandma woke me up at the break of dawn and I got confused, thinking I had to go to school. But then I saw her face and I remembered we were on vacation, in Burgas, that… But why is Grandma waking me up so early then?! What’s gotten into her?
I was supposed to write an essay on the question ‘Why is Ivan Vazov’s poem I Am Bulgarian timeless?’. Mom and Dad were at work and I was sweating over my notebook in my room when Monica showed up, still sleepy, her first morning coffee in hand. When she heard the topic, she sat on my bed and asked me to read out loud to her what I had written so far. I wasn’t too eager to do it but her eyes really insisted, so I started reading:
This time Monica was happy.
I don’t know how long we meditated. It felt like a very long time to me. When we opened our eyes Granny looked content. My legs had fallen asleep. I was really sleepy too and I couldn’t wait to go back home and lie down in bed.
I didn’t expect our literature teacher to be delighted with my essay, but I was not prepared for what happened. She came in with a grim face and she said she had our essays and that some of us put in a lot of effort and did really good. She said that like it was something truly unpleasant. Then she pulled out a notebook, held it with two fingers like Mom held dirty rags and said:
It was interesting that my classmates didn’t laugh like they normally would. They could probably sense how grave the situation was.
We both tried to resist.
‘Marty, I don’t get it. How did you come up with these things? Your father and I don’t talk like that. Nor do we see things that way.’ Mom looked stumped, which was not her usual state. At least not back then.
That day I tell Monica that I really want to see Alice in Wonderland. She says she has never been to a 3D film and that we can go together. She starts Dad’s laptop and checks the listings. They are showing it at 4pm, but I only finish school at 5.
We swerved by the people drying their mud in the sun and found ourselves on a dusty road. We crossed it and took a wooden path. There was black water on both sides of it and people waded in it up to their knees, sticking their hands in it, taking out mud and smearing it on their bodies and faces. I thought it was an unpleasant sight to see. I don’t know why Granny brought us here and what was it that she wanted to show us so bad. There were reeds and you could spot the apartment buildings of Burgas in the distance, but I didn’t think they were very interesting. We kept walking along the wooden path over the black water. The planks were muddy and slippery.
I will always remember the time I went to the cinema with Monica. The slight guilt from the lie, and the huge excitement from the conspiracy and the fact that me and Monica were a team. We went to the mall and Monica bought us tickets. She also got us popcorn and Coke. She looked as happy and excited as I was and I simply could not imagine how she and my Mom had ever been classmates. Monica was full of something bubbly and alive, with her it was all fun and games. And Mom was tired, worried, concerned. I felt sad for her.
No way! This is just too much! No one can ever make me put this filthy mud on my body. Mom also said: ‘No’ and ‘Enough,’ but Granny was unwavering.
The sun is too strong. My brain is melting like ice-cream. The one that we used to buy from the Labour Day Str. for 25 stotinki , vanilla. Do you remember that? They don’t make it like this anymore. It tasted different. I can’t think. I don’t want to think. I want to switch off my thoughts. Shut down, at least for a little while… Leave myself alone.