FROM A DIARY

By Igor Pomerantsev
Translated by Frank Williams

p1070379I could kill people who wear mourning bands. Even setting aside the fact that they deprived me of a happy childhood, I shan't forgive them. The joy of my childhood and adolescence circum­scribed by a black band. Happiness came when there was room to indulge it. Everything inside you wants to sing, wants to dance, but it is only when you step outside, walk from the hallway into the lane, from the lane out onto the boulevard, from the boulevard onto the square, from the square into the station, that everything inside does just that - sings and dances. A glimpse in the lane or the square of a man with a black band meant "stop dead". The holiday was over. "Hot" turned to "cold" and the game acquired a real, anatomical temperature. A good thing that man never was a proper fellow-countryman. Something always gave him away: his veiny nose, the cut of his raincoat, the accent of his look. The simple fact of the crepe nonsense around his sleeve made him akin to the him or her who was deaf to the weeping and lamentation. Of his own volition, visibly, graphically, the man was, figuratively speaking, entering into another life. His entire mien, that of the refined parvenu, showed that he had been pre­maturely initiated into the secret. His podgy face soaked up the erotic sufferings of the deceased. It would need more than a school's entire stock of blotting paper to mop up the juices spurting out of his grief. Puffy cheeks, pot belly. The bread and meat of wakes profit noone. The wanton refinement, the elegance throw passers-by into a pallor. A black ring of parting, black circles under the eyes slipped downwards onto an arm. It is so easy to tell a master of metonymy's bibelot: instead of constricting his entire torso with a ring, he tossed the band onto his shoulder. There is not the slightest hint of muscle, of effort, nor under the circumstances should there be. What makes it stay up there, you cannot tell: a memory, or a tear? Eyes narrow to measure, trouser cuffs syncopate with the taper, the verticality of the body only serves to emphasize the horizontality of the band. The people approaching and retreating correlate with it as well. Everything is bound with a black cord, and the person who drew it out has crossed the border.

People who sympathize with the wearers of black mourning bands should be summarily exterminated. They have not merely had the audacity to notice, they have even barged in on other people's celebrations. They come sidling across to filch salty wine from a stolen barrel. There is a black pool of envy at the bottom of their sympathetic eyes. After all, they also have a grandmother, grandfather, mother and father. Who does not dream of the death of somebody close? You cannot but respect a person who has spent a night in the same room as a corpse. That one night permits him to be a pagan once more. It is an honour to give yourself to such a man or woman. One day even I had the good fortune to drape the mirrors. Not quite, I only helped. I draped my handkerchief with loving care over a small table shaving' mirror. The light dimmed and we rushed straight into each other's arms, gnawing at each other with teeth, nails, Adam's apples. And while passers-by kept a distance from the house so as not to intrude on the memorial silence, behind its darkened windows screeching pecked at a roar, the roar tore at the throat of the screeching.

But those who do not notice mourning bands, and consequently feel no sympathy, should be branded with a red hot iron. Since nothing has slashed their eyes, it means they must be blind. Since screams have not burst their ear drums, it means they must be deaf. They do not love their nearest, because they do not wish them dead. I have nothing in common with people like that; neither childhood memories, nor adolescent passion.

Most of all, people wear mourning bands in Greece and Western Ukraine. That is where to begin then.

"Daddy, is this funny?"

A shameful question. Nothing is ever "funny" just like that. There is always reciprocal movement, a clash, an exchange of blows. Only you can tell what is funny. Without you, it cannot be funny. The purest expression of humour is in music. You glance round involuntarily whenever you laugh at music. To be caught laughing like that is the same as being found insane. But it seems the time has come to reply. The hand is already in flight. Here comes a slap across the face, ringing out like laughter.

Dryness and moistness have been rendered best by the Italian and Dutch masters. The Italians - dryness, though not the kind that makes you lick your lips or break a comb in hair stuck together with sand. It is the dryness of the hand you love, which has nothing to fear. Wherever you touch it, it is always welcoming, hospitable. It is not shy of anything. It is in the warm shadow of love. So, Italian dryness is always in the shadow of the sea. Let us call it a moist dryness. The Dutch have moistness. Squeezed streets, slippery as fish. Crooked fish, slippery as cobbles. Cooks' fingers not wiped on cloths as yet. Girls' lips still glisten with the memory of kisses. In the dampened pleats of garments the sun does not tarry, neither by day nor by night. The blood baking on a pheasant's wing is soft and sticky. The secret is in the colouring. A patch with a dash of green (of sunlight even),a shadow with a leaden flush never dry out. Moistness does not depend on season or weather, but on colour. A dream about Holland is a dream about moistness. If you ask me again why I love you, I will reply: "For the palm of your hand and your lips."

As soon as Bruno left, I rushed to the bathroom. It can be expressed only through tears. For all that conspiracy revolts me, with Bruno I always feel like a conspirator. If I were the people round here, I would simply eliminate us. Our exchanges of gesture, pose, smile contain a heart-rending secret. I would wish him to be a good deal older or younger than I. Then my life would be a good deal longer. But there is less than a year between us. We know everybody, absolutely everybody. Grabbed a pen one day and simply totted up. Sixty seven, as it happens. One of them lives in Drohobych. If you consider that not so many people come from Drohobych, then Drohobzch is the capital of the world. My wife was banging on the door, but I did not open it. And she is right to be furious. She would be very stupid if she was not in tears.

Slowly now, so if the slightest thing - jump back, make a dash for it and vanish into the nearest doorway. Carefully, carefully, on tiptoe, so she doesn't get the chance: now, while she's rummaging in her bag, throwing back her veil - and you're gone in a trice. She could be waiting behind every corner. She does wait. A flask of sulphuric acid in her bag. What a good thing they tipped you off. Otherwise it's too dreadful to contemplate.

At this wan, etiolated time my ocular scurvy started. The longing for colour is so unbearable that for two months I have been living with my eyes tight shut. It is exactly as though I spent those two months on the Mediterranean. My world is filled with scraps of blue, orange and green. Candied peel crunches between my teeth. Knees and thighs a mass of scratches and grazes. I am always barging into the chair, the dresser, banging against edges. At this time my wife's friends, the girls from my son's class were imperturbable and magnanimous. Everything is permitted the sufferer, everyone forgives him, the sinner. But the best remedy for ocular scurvy is brandy. Its warm rays penetrate and light up the body. My son's exultant whoop - "Daddy, daddy, it's snowing!" - always catches me on the hop. Farewell, Adriatic! Soon, soon we will meet, never more to part.

Only a portion of the square can be seen from the window. It glistens after rain. From one side, from the invisible part, children's voices carry. The children are laughing, they gnaw at chestnuts, whistle, clatter about. Then out they come all together, at once, on skates, and scatter immediately. The gleam is below zero. Sonority disputes with fragility and emerges victor this once. Every grinder has his square. The children whirl in a circle, racing the sparks. While they were invisible I could distinguish the lightning flashes of Italian. As soon as they put on skates they immediately switched into Danish and Norwegian.

It hurts when your sense of self, your self image does not coincide with your life, when there is an interstice between them. It means the size is wrong. Like with shoes. Either life pinches, or it's too big for you. What to do? A silly question. There's no answer. You have to decide for yourself. You try and fathom why you insist on wearing the wrong size. Your image of the world does not match the reality. That man over there is tall, this one small. That is not a personal point of view. If you measure them, you can even determine by how much one is taller than the other. With you, it's like one of those early paintings: perspective does not exist. You do not see that so-and-so is further, so-and-so nearer. If you tell a total stranger or a casual acquaintance that the colour violet makes you sick, he will make his diagnosis and treat you with more politeness and greater formality. You cannot even see yourself as others do. You have probably been that way since you were a child. That is what you think of as being feminine charm. Ignorance and spontaneity. In real life a princess resembles a heroine from operetta. You cherish and cultivate your childishness. This does work, of course, but only thanks to life itself. When we fail to adapt to it, it adapts to us. The principle of mutual adjustment. People with defective co-ordination rarely bump into others. Purely because of the skills of those they encounter. I am not convinced you ought to change anything. Although try if it hurts. Make a start with your conduct. Just behave in an acceptable manner, as recommended in manuals of etiquette. It is comfortable, both for yourself and for those around you. Feelings will acquire some sort of form. And all is not yet lost with your face. Another five years, though, and it will be too late. No, it is not chaos that is written on your face, but weakness. You indulge yourself too much. Be harder on yourself. Real princesses have stamina. No, this is not the case history of an illness (or health). I could be mistaken. After all, we hardly ever see each other. I cannot imagine who would be interested in all this, except you.

A little country, dotted with oranges, like a child with measles. Windfall oranges lie scattered in the grass. Little kids throw mandarins about, bigger ones chuck oranges. Oranges have played a key role in this country's history, art and religion.

I have filled one room entirely with dippers, stoneware bottles and wooden jugs. It used to be dumb. Now it has begun to resound. Whenever I have a visitor, and I never do, I bring him into this room with the dippers and ask: "Do you hear it?" Only a madman would answer "No" or "Hear what?" Each vessel speaks with its own voice. Except one. Its fragile throat is imprinted forever in my palm. But this languid, Persian, languid song ...

Why? What have you decided: all together or individually? Do you realize how important this is? Spent an entire year, lived through all four seasons before coming to a decision? Or not come to any decision at all, putting your trust in your monstrous idols? See what they have gone and done? Or have you found grace in some way? Or thought that only somebody who has had it hard first can have it easy? Why this dismal, rocky shore? This indifferent carpet of pine needles? This orphaned sky? Have you really not sensed that a little further on the air is plump and downy, the colouring sweet, the shore unbuttoned? But perhaps you really did not? But if that is so, that makes it worse, then, even more intolerable, true?

The stewardess comes into the room. Her movements, her walk, are masterful. We fasten seat belts. She mimes the emergency procedures. Her dumb show makes me angry: tragedy is reduced to naught by the formality and clumsiness of her gesticulations. We unfasten our belts and resume our game of chess. My son loses again. The presence of the stewardess is not a distraction. She clatters around in the galley. At last she serves lunch. I mutter about there being no salt. By evening we feel worn out: the length of the journey is having an effect after all. Time we were asleep. I undress and climb into bed. The proximity of the stars excites me. The stewardess climbs in next to me. When did she manage to get undressed? In the morning I see she is back in uniform. Juice. Toast. Coffee or tea? We are being prodded into taking decisive action. My son comes home from school. Finding a moment, he tells me they know it all. We are all over the front pages of the morning papers. That night, in my arms, she whispers: "Don't fall for it. It's a set-up". My head is spinning. Who's on whose side, who on the other? I take the most courageous decision: wait.

How come he dared lay this burden on me? On me of all people? Mindful of an old note from my father, I dressed in a suit to wear the mourning band. My face is downcast at the thought that it is now my turn to carry. I am far from young. The pregnant lump of my wife moves at my side through the blazing August heat. The slap is still ringing on my cheek. Perhaps start with - but that is not the beginning, a transition ought not to be noticeable - with the slap episode? There would not simply be some logic in that, he would hardly have praised me for that, but also a reverberation, for that he would have praised me. What else could he leave me? This is truly the only chance. Tomorrow I am meeting Bruno. Why did father prefer me to him? Because of my age, of course. I wonder, does Bruno know? My look is blacker than the band. Passers-by make way for me in fright. It does not enter their heads that I am not grieving for my father, but for myself. At my age it is impermissible, it would be to act badly. My taste will not tolerate the distortion of my own hand. But then he was not my father for nothing?!

altYou can't say now it’ll soon be autumn here you are walking in the park like in the middle of a stained glass window over there where the railings break off a poverty of colour a lutheranism of light leaves here as small as children children as small as leaves touch a chestnut freeze from the dizzy rythm of its cavities and swellings and immediately recall Lika alternating hot and cold places on her body and immediately forget breathe the air steeped in wine and petals of childish voices hear the babble of enchinesed lines please don't fly away o my lady to be carried away on them into a world called o butterfly o Moslem woman forget them forget the farce it all began with tune the railings through and through long beautiful as a quote but all the same a barrier reach the graphic image of a railing never taking your eyes from the image of a butterfly fluttering far away and to one side smoothly swallow wine steeped in autumn suspect one is in love leaves and children voice splashes autumn and wine realize that only yesterday were not living blaspheming.

 

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