First she told me she had good news and bad news. Leaning across the bar. Which do I want first. The good news, I say. So she told me that in town it looks like there’s a Polish-Russki war under a white-and-red flag. I say, How do you know, she says she heard. So I say, Then I’ll take the bad. So she took out her lipstick and told me that Magda says it’s over between me and her. Then she winks at the Bartender like that if something happens, she wants him to come over. And that’s how I found out that she’d dumped me. Magda, that is. Even though we’d had it good, we’d had our share of nice times, a lot of nice words had been said, on my part as well as hers. For real. The Bartender says to me, Fuck it. Though it’s not so simple.
The way I’d found out how it was, or rather, how it wasn’t, it wasn’t like she’d told me straight to my face, only it was just the other way around, she’d told me through Arleta. I chalk it up to her being a total asshole, to her disrespect. And I’m not going to hide it, even though she was my girlfriend, about whom I can say that a lot of different things had passed between us, good as well as bad. Anyway, she shouldn’t have said it through a friend like that, so I’d be the last to hear. Everybody knows from the very start, since she told others as well. She was saying that I’m sort of the more explosive one, and that they had to prepare me for this fact. They’re afraid that something might set me off, because that sort of always happens. She said I should step out to get some air. Gave me her shitty cig. Meanwhile, I just feel sadder than ever. All the worse that it wasn’t told straight to my four eyes, by her. Not a single word.
Leaning over the bar like some salesgirl over the counter. Like she wanted to sell me some crap, some chocolatey product. Arleta. Rusty water in her beer glass. Easter-egg dye. The candy she’d sell would be empty in the middle. All foil. Which she wouldn’t touch with her own fingers, their nails bootleg and false. Since she herself is false, empty inside. Smokes her cigs. Bought from the Russkies. False, bogus. Instead of nicotine there’s some garbage in there, some unfamiliar drugs. Some paper, sawdust, stuff the teachers wouldn’t dream of. Stuff the police wouldn’t dream of. Though they should put Arleta away. The ones no one knows but she’s always chatting up, straight to their faces. To her phone, to the ring tone on her phone.
Now I’m sitting and staring at her hair. Arleta in leather, and next to her Magda’s hair, long bright hair, like a wall, like branches. I stare at her hair as if it were a wall, since it’s not for me. It’s for others, for the Bartender, for Kisiel, for the different boys who come and go. For everybody, but all the same not for me. Others will put their hands in her hair. Kacper arrives, sits, asks what’s up. His pants too short. And his shoes are like a black mirror in which I see my reflection, the bar neon, the gambling machines, other things lying around. Here, in a clasp, you can see Magda’s hair, an impenetrable wall. Fencing her off from me like brickwork, like concrete. Beyond which there are new loves, her moist kisses. Kacper is clearly hopped up on speed; he’s grinding his shoe. Which is why the image blurs. He drove here, is chewing mint gum. He asks whether I have a tissue. I lose Magda in the crowd.
I tell him I don’t have one. Though maybe I should have one. Kacper has speed, a whole car full of speed, the whole trunk of his Golf. He looks around everywhere, as though an army of Russkies were lying in wait on all sides. As if they wanted to come in here and stick all their Russki cigs between his clattering jaws. He takes out an LM Red. Asks why I’m sitting with my face to the wall. I say, Maybe I should sit facing forward, maybe that would change something, right? Maybe Magda would be here with me, only I’m facing forward, and she races up and squats down on my knees, her hair in my face, places my hand up between her thighs, her kisses, her love. I say no. Though I’d rather say yes. But I say no. No and no. I refuse. Even if she wanted to come here, I’d say: Don’t come closer, don’t touch me, you stink. You stink of those guys who touch you while you’re not looking, and you think you don’t know they’re touching you. You stink of those cigs you bum off them, that they treat you to. Of fucking LM Menthols. Bought cheap from the Russkies. Of those drinks, that swill they buy you in a glass swimming with bacteria from their mouths like fish, like sea sluts. And if she wanted me to take her like that now, she’d have another thing coming. I wouldn’t say a single word. She’d give me her drink, I’d say: No. First get rid of that gum you stuck under there, since it’s just come from the mouth of one of those dirty guys, from their mouths, that gum, though you think I don’t know about that. Then wash yourself off, and only then, maybe, you can sit with me, when you’re cleansed of those bootleg cigs, of that bootleg speed you drink in your drinks. Only after you take off those rags, that plumage, which isn’t for me.
Of course, I’m still a bit resentful then. I turn around, I don’t want to chat with her. I say that if she’s going to be that way, I’ll fuck up the whole bar, all the glasses will go to the floor, she’ll walk on glass, she’ll snap her heels, she’ll bash her elbows, she’ll tear her dress and all the laces that went into it. She asks me to come back to her. Says she’ll be good like never before, more good, more giving. I say no to that. I say: If I have to explain it to you once, I have to explain it to you twice, that I never want to be with you again, and either you go away or I’ll do it myself. She says that she loved me. I say that I loved her, too, that I always liked her, though first she was Lolo’s girl before she was mine, and his car was better, everything Lolo had was better, better shoes, better pants, better money. I say that I wanted to kill him because he wasn’t good for Magda, just harsher. But that later she was mine, I always stood up for her, I was always behind her. Though things weren’t always good, like I was saying, like indeed when she shoplifted some used clothes, tore off the tags in the dressing room. Earrings, handbags, eye shadow. Everything into her purse and into her tote. It wasn’t good, because then I had to express it with my eyes, though seriously, she got away with it, and it had a nice effect on her humor. Besides that, she had the disadvantage of being young, which my parents looked down on anyway. Besides that, everything was cool, she often said there was no other boy but me, so her affection was for me and not for them.
Lefty arrives, says that he knows and that Magda is a nastier bit of skank than the ones who hang out at the station. Grubby-faced, dirty. Like the Russkies’ girls. I get it, but I can’t allow that sort of thing. That somebody of Lefty’s ilk would say that, so I stand up. That somebody with a computerized tic might tell me what my life is like, where my affections lie, what I have to do, what not, whether Magda is good or she isn’t, because even in the grave no one can prove what the truth is about Magda. That he would judge her conscience though he was the one running Arleta down with his car, with a feeling of vengeance, which no one would do to Arleta, though she is how she is. So I stand up. I look him in his quivering eye, point-blank, so he knows what’s what. He looks silently deep into his beer. He says that in town in recent days there’s been this Polish-Russki war under a white-and-red flag. He thinks he’s changed the subject. The subject is always the same, Lefty. I know that, whether there’s this war or there’s no war, that you had her before Lolo, I know that you all had her before me and now you’re all going to have her again, because from this day forward she’s yours, because from this day forward she’s drunk and open twenty-four hours, eighty-watt bulbs shine in her eyes, her tongue shines in her mouth, her neon nightlight shines between her legs, go get her, take your turns. You, Lefty, have the first shot, because I know you, I know what you’re like, the freshest meat for you, because you must have the very best things in life, the head of the beer, the coffee with cream, the fastest computer, the best keyboard, a golden phone on a golden tray, so whatever you want, Magda’s yours, because she’s the best, she has a heart of gold. She has a heart of gold when she lays her hand on your head and says what she wants. She has a heart of gold, she manages to get everything, but in such a way that even if you’re paying for it, you feel like you’re borrowing it. You feel like you’ve pawned yourself at a pawnshop. She has a heart of gold, she’s delicate and romantic; for example, she likes animals and says over and over how she’d like to have different animals, she loves to watch hamsters in an aquarium. Maybe she’d even like to have a kid later on, but only a five-year-old, the kind that would be born five years old and would never grow up. With the right name. Claudia, Max, Alex. A little kid, five years old, and she would always be seventeen, would lead it by the arm around the square, in her skimpy dress, in her heels. She’d carry it in her handbags with her lipstick in a special compartment. She would dance with this kid at the disco, the newspapers would come and take pictures of her hair, so shiny and sparkling, but the kid’s ugly, because it’s yours, Lefty, born with a broken nose, born with a computerized tic, ugly from birth, a son of a bitch from birth, because your son would be a son of a bitch from the get-go. Because you wouldn’t know how to be good for Magda, how to make her happy. How to give to her from yourself, you wouldn’t show her the world, just your computer games, blood, despair, pain. That’s not what she’s for, she’s for making delicate things with.
Because that’s Magda. Arleta came up for me to give her a light, she says like I’m causing a circus, allegedly that’s what Magda’s saying. Thank you very much, and here are the elephants that walked through me and trampled my heart, here are the fleas. Here are the trained dogs, since I was like the trained dogs that don’t get anything in return but more whipcracks in the face and no “good boy” or fuck off. Here I am, a dog trained to drive a roofless car. I don’t have a light. Because I’m burned to a crisp. And now I want to die. At the last moment, when I’m about to die, I want to see Magda. As she leans over me and says: Don’t die. Don’t die, it’s all my fault, now I’ll be with only you, just don’t die, it’s not about that, after all, it’s about having some fun, and that was all fooling around, so that I wasn’t really with anyone before you, I wasn’t with any others or wasn’t even at all, I was just joking to piss you off, you jerk, now everything’s going to be fine, we’ll have a kid, Claudia, Erica, Nicole, you know that’s what you always wanted anyway, we’ll push it in a carriage, you’ll see how it is, just promise you won’t die, but now I have to go to the bathroom, since Arleta’s flirting with one of those guys now, he says he’s in management and knows everybody, supposedly he even knows you besides, says: Nails, I know that guy, and not a word from me, quiet, I didn’t tell him you were my boyfriend, because it was different, but now I’ll tell him the truth, so he knows how it is.
So I’ll do it later, as a last resort, because Arleta says that Magda’s just gone off somewhere. She says she doesn’t know where. She says she doesn’t know who with. I say to her, Are you my friend, or are you another one of those sluts like Magda? She says, Your friend. I say, So what the fuck’s going on? She says, With Eric. That Magda went with Eric to cruise around town, to check out the cars, to stay friends, that’s all. And so with Eric. And so the kid will be ugly anyway. More worse than with Lefty. Genetically abnormal. Genetically deviant from birth. Genetically scrambled. A genetic son of a bitch. From the start with a genetically congenital pocket in its gums for hiding things, with congenitally dirty fingernails. Someday I’ll be on a train and some kid will ask me for something to grub on, and when I look into its face, I’ll see Magda’s eyes, Eric’s stutter, and my own ears protruding slightly from this other person, since some of me must have remained in her as well, some genes. The scar on its forehead is also from me, from when I once hit some glass, the broken nose is from still someone else, the very face of despair, the world’s ugliest kid. Then I’ll ask him where his mother is. And he’ll say she’s gone, that she died, so okay, I’ll give him something. And if he says he’s with his daddy, it’s curtains for him, better not to come across me, since that would be better for him as well.
Magda comes in, but without Eric. She looks like something’s happened, like she’s been shattered into little pieces, her hair this way, her handbag that way, her dress to the left, her earrings to the right. Her panty hose all muddy on the left. Her face on the right, black tears flowing from her eyes. Like she’d been fighting in the Polish-Russki war, like the whole Polish-Russki army had trampled her, running through the park. All my feelings come back to life within me. The whole situation. Social and economic in the country. It’s the whole her, it’s all of her. She’s drunk, she’s ruined. She’s hopped up on speed, she’s stoned. She’s never been so ugly. Black tears are running down her chin, because her heart is as black as coal. Her womb is black and tattered. A tear is running through her whole womb. From that womb she’ll give birth to some Negro kid, black. Angela, with a rotten face, a tail. She won’t get far with that kind of kid. They won’t let her into a taxi, they won’t sell her white milk. She’ll lie down on the black earth of vacant lots. She’ll live in greenhouses. Eaten by grubs, eaten by worms. She’ll feed that kid black milk from her black breasts. She’ll feed it garden soil. But it’ll die sooner or later anyway.
Arleta comes up. I tell her to let Magda know that I hope she eats shit and dies. Arleta blows a bubble with her gum. After which she winds the gum around her finger and eats it. She makes it look like nothing else is going on in her life, she just blows bubbles and winds them around her finger. Like that’s her job, for which she makes totally good cash and uses it to buy herself all those rags, all those Russki cigs. She could star in Funniest Home Videos with all that portable crap. Arleta says I have shit for brains, that I shouldn’t say what I’m saying, because it could come true. She says that’s already happened to her a couple times. For example, in school she told the vo-tech teacher to drop dead, and then she allegedly ended up in the maternity ward, confined to her bed. Likewise, she allegedly once said “break a leg” to a friend in her phys-ed class, and that girl broke her pinky finger. She also says that she never smokes LMs, because they’re unhealthy and are the most carcinogenic cigarettes. She’s also supposedly superstitious and makes sure she doesn’t say anything jinx-worthy. If you say something, and it happens to be the witching hour, there’s no way out and it’ll happen, and you can’t take it back, there’s no “I’m sorry.” It’s something maybe connected with religion, with the life of the paranormal, it’s a certain quality of paramental life.
* * *
But what Arleta has to say on this score, I don’t give a shit, with all due respect. Where was Magda with Eric, I’m asking you, I say to Arleta. You fucking godmother. The two of you will have all those bastard kids together, they won’t let you into a single goddamn place. Tell me what he did to her, that thief. He stole her clean heart, all her delicateness, all her hair, he ruined her panty hose, made her cry. He hurt her. And I’m going to crush him for it, but later. Now I want to know, Arleta.
But from her jeans pocket, however, the right tone rings out and Arleta receives a text message. It would be great to talk to me if I weren’t such an asshole, she says, and goes somewhere fast. Then the Bartender comes up and says to me that there’s shit going down. I say, Like, what kind of shit. So he says that Magda was always a bit given to hysterics, that she loses it pretty easily. I say, Like, so what’s up. And I’m already pretty fucking pissed, because I don’t like when things don’t go according to plan.
So he says that there was once some story about Magda going around. Not a story, really, but the Bartender’s not a bad fucker, so instead of Magda telling me about it herself, he says it in her place.
Then I go to the john, because Arleta’s calling me, she’s all smoked out, she’s smoking two menthols at once, LMs at that, she’s holding both in one corner of her mouth, and with her other hand she’s holding Magda up. I’m a bit uneasy, because I know that Magda hurt me, that she fucked me up. So I ask what happened. She says it’s a cramp. I say that maybe it’s the speed, that it’s too much speed. Arleta says that she’ll leave us alone then and closes the door from the outside. So I’m waiting. Magda has a cramp in her calf and is sitting on the toilet. She’s holding on to her calf with her left hand, at the same time crying, at the same time being hysterical. Now I don’t even know whether she’s beautiful or ugly, and actually it’s hard for me to say. One thing’s for sure: she’s pretty in general, but currently in bad shape, if it’s a question of her looks, since her black tears are everywhere, and her mascara is gushing like from a rainspout, her panty hose are torn down to the skin, as though they were way too large anyway, and her face is pretty tenderized–it reminds me, not to be unpleasant, of a red fire engine. Thus I’m mulling over whether I still love her when she moans pretty loudly, not even looking me in the eye or saying a single word to me. But then I almost can’t stand it anymore.
Did I do something wrong, Magda–I say to her and latch the door. Did I do something wrong, that we wouldn’t be able to start all over again? You always looked happy when I loved you, why don’t you want me now all of a sudden, is it some whim, did I bore you? Remember that time those cop bitches were writing you up at the stop, and though you were there with Masztal then, and though they wrote you up with him, and though you know that he’d been caught dealing. Who was it who went to check your mailbox so that your parents wouldn’t get the police summons while you were at work? Did Saint Joseph check? Did Masztal go check even once?
Tell me yourself, wasn’t I good? Lovey-dovey, romantic shitdrops.
Now you don’t know what to say. You moan and I’ll tell you it’s a shame, because now you’re nothing, you’re like a kid, you’re embarrassing yourself so bad. You’re staring at these brown tiles that’ve seen us together more than once, how we were so very close to each other, the way only a girl or a woman can be with a man. We’re still repeating on that tile, whatever happened before, I’ll tell you that much.
Your name is pretty, Magda, just like your face. Your hands are pretty, your fingers, your nails, can’t we stay together? If you want, I’ll take you away from here to anyplace you want. Maybe even to the hospital, if that’s absolutely necessary. You’re asking yourself if I’ve been drinking, well, so I’ve been drinking, but it’s nobody’s fucking business if I’ve been drinking or not. If we’re going, let’s get in the car and go, I’ll take you everywhere, even if ten thousand Russkies want to give us drug and alcohol tests. You tell me not to bullshit you, to get off it. You say that maybe it’s the cramp in your calf, that you took the test and maybe it’s possible that you’re pregnant, though you’re not absolutely sure about that. You say that that’s why you chickened out, why you didn’t want to be with me anymore, because you knew I’d be mad. Tell me when I’ve been mad at you for longer than a day? If you have a kid, and maybe it’s even my kid, you can always go to the doctor and check it out 100 percent. And in the meantime, we’re going. I take Magda in my arms and she screams bloody murder, just lets out a roar, though just a moment ago she was hushed and meek like she was sleeping. Arleta runs up right away with that bubble sticking out of her mouth, she wants to know everything that’s going on, what’s with that cramp and whether Magda wants some help from her end, some water, some Tylenol. I tell Arleta to fuck off, and the same to the Bartender, who’s staring like he doesn’t know what’s up. Others are looking on stupidly as well, Lefty, Kacper, Kisiel also with some girl I don’t even know, she must be new, though not too bad, the music’s blaring, what a fucking mess. Arleta’s sent me a text message that it could probably be a lack of permanganate or potassium in the blood, considering her bad nutritional habits. I write back to her that she should fuck off, since I would write more but my phone’s running out of batteries, and the only thing I can manage is exactly that: fuck off arl. I would write more, that she should take her bad prognostication, her bad instigations, since she’s probably the one who provoked Magda to get such a very painful cramp with her paranormal fucking cursing, her incantations about that geography teacher.
So then we leave and I put Magda into the first taxi, then I get in myself, she says we’re going to the hospital, and he, whether something has happened. I say, Is this an interview for the newspaper or is this a taxi, and is this a confession of sins and an absolution, are you driving us, because otherwise I’m getting out and Magda’s coming with me, no fare and on top of that a rock through the windshield, and maybe he shouldn’t show himself in town. He says nothing for a moment, and then puts in that lately we’re supposedly fighting the Russkies under a white-and-red flag. I say, Surely, though we’re not really so very radical on that issue. Magda says that she’s really against the Russkies. Now I get pissed off, I say: And how do you know you’re against them, exactly? The radio’s on, the news is on, various songs. She says that’s just what she thinks. I say that she’s on speed and laying down a big judgment, laying down big opinions, how does she know she really thinks that way and not some other way? She’s a little afraid. I tell her to leave me alone, not to piss me off. She moans, because her cramp hasn’t gone away.
Then she goes off on her own, tells me not to touch her. She’s crippled. She says that I’m brutal, if I so much as touch her I’m going to kill our kid and her. Because she’ll burst at the seams and our kid’ll die. I’m shaken up enough. In admissions, we’re met by the chief or an orthopedist, I don’t know anymore, since I’m afraid they’ll draw her blood, because besides her lack of potassium, they’ll also find her dealings with speed, because now she’s sprung like a chicken, they’ll find out about the speed and take away her kid. But the main thing is her leg, because the cramp is massive and is metastasizing. The orthopedist tells me to go out during the exam, which pisses the fuck out of me, she’s my woman, right? I look him right in the very center of his eye, right into the whites, which are pretty overrun with blood, so he’ll know how it is and won’t try anything, no orthopedic tricks. Magda begs me with her eyes to be calm, so I calm down a bit. Like most probably it’s a shortage of potassium in her muscle that’s causing her pain. So then I’m waiting and I’m calm, though it makes me want to blow the shit out of the hospital. Because of that orthopederast and the other pervs who work here, because of those starched princes among them with rods in hand, with stethoscopes, since as far as expressing opinions is concerned, I’m pretty much on the left.
I don’t really agree with taxes, and I propose a government without taxes, where my parents won’t tear their guts out so that all these smock-sporting princes will have their own apartments and telephone numbers at a time when things aren’t like that. At any rate, like I’ve already said, the economic situation in the country is categorically fucked, the government’s ostentatiousness and, generally speaking, the chickenshit authorities. But I’m straying from the topic, which is that Magda leaves the doctor’s office. Still crippled. But combed. Fuck whoever combed her. I’m not going into this anymore, since this evening is filled to the brim with stress. She tells me to take her to the sea. I say, How is it she wants to go to the sea with that gangrene on her leg. She says it’s fucking fine, Polishly speaking. After which, because there’s not a naked soul in the hospital corridors, she rips off some crutches. I say that it’s not the hour for the sea. She says exactly, that it’s the best hour, and that she wants to go there only with me, probably because this feeling in her that she feels is just for me. I say she’s fucked in the brain, but generally I warm a lot to the idea that she loves me and admits as much without a shadow of falsehood.
She says she has this premonition, this impulse almost inside her that she’ll die soon, that it’s already her time. The kid in her is killing her, Magda says so, it has a prematurely developed set of teeth that makes it gnaw her from the inside, eat through her stomach and then her liver. She says it’s already curtains for her, and the sign of this, like stigmata, is that cramped leg, which means the kid is already pulling her strings from the inside. It’s destroying her internally, mentally as well, it’s simply devastating her, destruction, decomposition. It hurts me, since I probably have a share in this kid as well, and it makes me really sorry for this girl that it’s turned out this way, that it’s developed inside her. I see how much she suffers, even without considering those crutches, which are supposed to help her but which cause her all the more anguish, since she has on pumps with heels that impede her normal movement. Which is to say that, generally speaking, we’re going to the sea. Magda is very enterprising on that end, she should make money off it, in one of those companies that goes to the sea, clips tickets, takes care of everything that deters people from going to the proverbial sea. Regardless of the fact that she’s crippled, even given that. All things considered, I say it’s already late. She says: So what that it’s late. Am I a goddamn idiot who thinks that they’re going to close the sea on me if I get there late? Won’t the sea be enough for me? I say I have nothing more to say to her on that score. Because if she wants to behave like an asshole, regardless of the fact that we were in the hospital together, that we’d lived through a lot of the worst or the best moments together, and if she has to behave in that way, well thank you very much, let her take my ticket and go herself across those kilometers that’d otherwise be mine as well. And it would be best for her to stay there, because it’s the only place for her. Magda says that now I should get off her back, since she’s dreaming about something else, and am I going with her or in front of her, she being disabled so she can’t walk so fast.
I ask her where she got that speed from, since on her face and in her look in general she’s really flushed, unhealthy, to tell the truth, she looks like she just gave birth to the kid, only she lost it somewhere and is currently looking for it around the station. She tells me I’d rather not know, because it’s from Vargas. I tell her it’s bad shit, impure, cut. She says it’s fucking great. I tell her not to get on my nerves, not because it’s bad, but that it’s shit, and not speed. She says I’m fucking her shit up. I say that it’s good how she wants to get fucked up off of Vargas, it’s a free country, that bathroom cleaning powder is now hers forever, but if that kid is born a monster, one leg longer, the other shorter, and congenitally hairless, I wouldn’t have any hand in that. To that she answers, Good, have it your way, we’ll see. And as soon as the train pulls up, as soon as we get on, indeed she takes a circular from the Hit Market and cuts me a line.
Copyright ” 2002 by Dorota Maslowska. Translation copyright ” 2005 by Benjamin Paloff. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.