First my father left us. Or rather, first Monica moved in with us. Monica was my Mum’s childhood friend.
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.
How did I end up here? Where am I heading? How did I arrive to this point?
I want to find out, but I can’t. I always tried hard to be good. To live by the book. To not reach for anything that is someone else’s.
His hands on your body. Your lips. Him penetrating you. In our home, in front of my very eyes… Why? Passion had left, passion always leaves. It will leave you one day as well… What am I saying? One day? One day means many, many days. Many days in his hands, holding you. Hundreds of nights and waking up together. Thousands of kisses and moans. Countless hours in my empty home.
The sea. People are swarming up like bees. Crawling and filling out the sand. Huge, sweaty insects.
Martin is asking me something, but I can’t hear him. What? He looks so much like his father.
You seduced his soul as well. You took everything away from me, all my men – my boyfriend, my husband, my son. Were there no more men out there, so you had to come after mine?
If your husband reached for another woman, my dear Lena, she’s not the cause. Write it down somewhere in capital letters, in red, if possible. So it doesn’t happen to you again tomorrow. Because if things between you and your man were going as they should, there’s no woman that could stand between you, even if she’s waiting for him naked in his bed. Is that clear? Do you get it at all? I’m pissed off with you, pissed off, because in spite of everything, I still care and I want you to be happy. But that man of yours, he wasn’t yours anymore. He had long ago become his own, separate, locked up. And you, my dear friend, are to blame the most, with your boring work problems, the fatigue, and your brown suits. How long had it been since you last made love to that man? And I’m not talking about fulfilling your marital obligations, but about a real love making, the kind that shakes you up and makes you smile without a reason the next day?
If I judge by how thirsty he was for a loving touch, it must’ve been years. This is the biggest mistake that married women make, and their eternal drama. They go into a relationship being attractive, and in a few years, like a bad spell, they turn into slovens. Princesses that become frogs as soon as their prince kisses them at the altar.
After an hour or two I heard Dad come home. I went to the other room to say hi. This is how I witnessed the moment Mum introduced Monica to him. I was behind her back and couldn’t see her face, but I saw his. It had an expression on that I had never seen before. Stunned. As if Monica was from another world and he didn’t know what to say. And my Dad always knows what to say. It lasted for about an instant, but I felt a tingle in my stomach, like the first time I heard about her. Only this time I didn’t throw up. My father smiled and took Monica’s hand.
‘I’m Ivan, glad to meet you. Welcome to our house! Make yourself at home.’
I saw how happy Mum was to hear these words and how she lit up.
‘Hello, son. How was your day?’ Dad came closer to me and stroked my hair.
I was absolutely puzzled by this question since my Dad never asks me anything. Usually, he just asks Mum: ‘Did he do his reading? Did he do his homework? Is he better? (that’s when I am sick)’ – all like I’m not even there. I didn’t know what to say so I just went back to my room.
Lena, how could I explain that I wasn’t searching, I haven’t searched, I haven’t wished it, I didn’t want it to happen this way. It just happened. It came to our home unsought, unwished for and there was nothing I could do. There are things beyond our control, Lena… Why did you ignore me for so long? And the few times you responded to my desire in that past year it was as if you were making a great sacrifice… Even so, I still didn’t think of searching for another woman. I accepted that it’s just life, it happens to everyone sooner or later. But now I feel alive again. This is what I want you to understand, Lena! I didn’t decide against you and Martin, but for myself. You’ll always be dear to me, and I don’t want to break away from my son at all. I have to remain in his life, there is no other way… Then this is a chance for you too, Lena. You deserve more. In the last few years I wasn’t giving you enough. I know that. We lived like flatmates, who once used to be close, and now stay stick together only through the thread of memories, habits and a child. But I want more than this. You also want more. You just haven’t realised it yet. I didn’t realise it either. But Monica helped me see it. I’m sure that you’ll realise it too, Lena. Will you ever forgive me?
Depression is like a camera obscura.
Now I’m a grandmother, true, but before I became one, I was a mother. And before I became a mother, I was a woman. And a girl before that. And if that girl hadn’t learned to clench her teeth and fight for things, neither the woman, nor the mother, nor the grandmother would have existed. Because one day she would have just gone into the sea and never come back. Is this clear, daughter? Is it clear to you that your mother knows how you feel quite well? And that’s precisely why I clench my teeth again and take charge of my life, because of you and Martin. And I make health programmes and whatever nonsense, just to push you a little forward, and myself with you, so we don’t surrender to this merciless life that preys on the weak. And not just for that. But because when I was falling into the abyss, there was no one to lend me a hand. And I had to emerge on my own. Every time, again and again.
Didn’t you get tired, Mother, of always being our support? Through all these years.… To be strong. Didn’t you get sick of it? To nudge us and help us along as if we were toddlers. Understand that there are such moments, Mother, there just are! Moments when you don’t want to know the truth, you don’t want to accept it, you can’t, you don’t have the strength… What do I need your truth for, why do you shove it in my face? How are you helping me with that? So what if I admit that he is not coming back? I know he is not coming back. But I don’t want to know.
I don’t blame you for suffering. But I can’t accept the ease with which, after all the efforts, you return to your starting position – depressed and desperate. Because you don’t have that right. Because you can’t afford it. Because you have a child. Who would stand behind him? Who would support him? Who, if not you?
Your soldiers turned out to be weak, Mother… That’s something that you need to understand. And to let us manage in any way we can. To lick our wounds for as long as it takes, instead of rubbing alcohol on them to supposedly make them heal faster. Yoga, meditation, walking under the scorching sun, the brine pool, mud, I feel like I’m another one of your crusades to save the world. But I’m not a cause, Mother. I’m your daughter and I don’t need your energy and your efforts, but to be left alone instead. You can drag me wherever you want, but that won’t make me feel more alive. Why can’t you get it in your head that this one soldier of yours is dead and you need to leave her on the battlefield?
That’s it, my dear daughter. It’s not easy, but we’re not here to have it easy. We have an obligation, even when times are difficult, to find the ladder within ourselves and climb up to the horizon of our days. Especially when there’s another being depending entirely on us. Especially when we’re mothers.
All that filth makes me sick. I prefer the other one. The one I am slapping on my body right now. All of a sudden I want to get myself really, really dirty. And then let’s just hope I can wash away the dirt that’s pent-up within, along with the mud outside.
When we made it to the mud, Silvia and her mother were nearly covered in it. We went next to them. Mum and Grandma said hi and introduced themselves. They started talking to her mother, while they smeared mud on. Silvia turned her head in my direction and asked:
‘Could you put some on my back?’
I wasn’t sure about this. I looked at her mother, but she was still talking to mine. I scooped up some mud and started spreading it on her back. Her golden skin was really smooth. I could see there were tiny golden hairs and I really wanted to kiss them. That thought disturbed me greatly and I finished with the smearing quickly.
‘Thank you. Do you want me to do your back too?’
Now Silvia scooped some mud and started applying it on my back. It felt so good that pretty soon I said:
‘That’s enough, thank you.’
Then I turned to her. Completely covered in mud, even on her light hair tied in a high ponytail, with her grey unblinking eyes, Silvia seemed to me so beautiful and unlike any other girl that I had met. Well, maybe not more beautiful than Alex, but different. Alex is always so tidy and clean, I can’t picture her in this mud at all. As soon as I thought of that, I imagined her blackened face looking really cross and uncomfortable… Besides, Alex is always very sweet and smiling with her cute dimples. Silvia on the other hand does not smile much and speaks like an adult. I feel uncomfortable in a different way with both of them. With Alex I worry about saying or doing something that would offend her, since she’s so delicate (that’s what Mum says: ‘Alex is so delicate!’). With Silvia I worry about acting like a little boy, and her thinking that it’s ME who’s so delicate. Something tells me that delicate should just be for girls.
My dear girl, everything is ahead of you. For God sake, I don’t know what this everything is, but I know it will be so. You have a wonderful child. The rest will come on its own. The rest is the present day and the quiet now of the small things. Hold on to them, hold on to today! And be thankful for the people who love you. Do you know how big that is, how everything it is…
And then, while we were cutting through the reeds, I saw a huge grasshopper on the windscreen. It looked at me with its black eyes that were like balls. Straight at me. And as we looked at each other, something incredible happened! I know it can’t be true, but it happened. The grasshopper started talking to me! Yes!
‘So what are you going to do now Marty? With these two girls? You’re as troubled as your father…’
I looked around startled, to see if anybody else could hear. But all my companions were busy with their own stuff. Uncle Marin was driving, Uncle was taking pictures, and Silvia was holding my hand tightly. The grasshopper kept on staring at me.
‘Yes, now you’re getting it. Don’t try and look away.’
‘What should I do? What do I have to do?’
Strange. It was enough to think my answer. And without saying it, the grasshopper “heard” me.
‘What do you mean what? Don’t act like nothing happened. You and Silvia just kissed. I saw it. And Alex is waiting for you in Sofia.’
‘What can I do, when I like them both. I didn’t want it to happen this way…’
‘You didn’t want it, huh? And you’re mad at your father? Do you think he wanted it?’
‘Well, it’s different with my Dad. He’s a grown up and he’s my Dad and… he’s married to my Mum. And he has a child, me!’
‘So what? You think that when you get married and you have a child you‘ll feel any different?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Precisely, you don’t know.’
‘What do you know? You’re not even a human!’
‘I know, I know…I’ve been here many years. How many people I’ve seen with their stories…’
‘And what if you’ve seen them? What have you understood from them? What would you’ve done if you were me?’
‘I know that a lie hurts the most. The rest gets swallowed somehow. But I don’t know what I would have done if I were you. Not because I’m not a human, but because I’m not you. And you should look inside of yourself. Hear your inner voice. It knows best.’
But before I continued, the grasshopper had vanished from the windscreen. Whether he considered our “conversation” concluded and jumped off, or he was swept away by an angry reed – I didn’t find out.
 One Bulgarian lev is divided into 100 stotinki.