A short story...
Today I'm going to cheat on my husband. I’m going to make love to a man, that I’m not allowed to love. I’ll meet the morning after blinded by my act, which I’ll carry with me for a long time; after showering I’ll recognize his smell, that will remind me of us, I’ll carry collected guilt and bitterness as I walk down the street and, finally, I’ll bring them into my apartment with me.
I was sitting opposite to Igor, looking at a curtain with red rhomboidal pattern, avoiding to look him straight at his eyes. It seemed that our breathing was matched, in spite of the fear creeping in between his focused gaze and my absence. I was looking for a sign for what was about to follow, something other than the cruel chemistry that reigned supreme over the room and was there right away, when we first had met, irrational and strong. I had planned this, weighing each of the options from several perspectives, arising ahead of us in the midst of eruption of time and closeness, as powerful as lava.
“Come here” he said as I was taking off my sandals with ankle strap. I remember the time when I bought them, I was walking in the city with Vedran, hand in hand, summer glued our palms together.
“I’m scared. Our emotions will be more than just the words.”
“Me too” he looked at a place on my neck. Maybe he thought of his wife, her hands, as she tightened sheets on their bed, folded pyjamas under memory foam pillows, cooked quickly before he went away on a business trip, he thought of his kids having trouble writing homework from required reading. They have been married for six years. She’s a housewife, cocooned in a two-storey house, with no zeal or resistance, all will died in her after she gave birth to their second child. They were two separate worlds, he once told me.
“There is no going back after this” I continued with my version of events, not paying any attention to the expression on Igor’s face. His gaze was drifting aimlessly, as an empty boat in the open sea, swaying from one end of the room to the other, looking for a stronghold. He was sensitive and I was particularly attracted to it, he was soaking up my emotions like a sponge, getting me right and understanding me without verbal communication. Emotions were just thoughts before they became words, he used to say.
Outside sultriness was turning off the day; fresh air was somewhere out there, in another city, abandoned as it didn’t exist, just like our marriages, although they were still with us. He was sitting in an armchair next to bed, jitters whiffing from his dark skin. I was looking at his regular, white teeth, the pleasure spread all over my body as an announcement. We were discussing this for a long time, almost a year. Here we are now, sitting in a hotel room…
I met Igor in my third year of marriage, when my husband’s hand on my thigh still stirred a desire inside me as we talked and argued, roared like animals, climaxing even when tired, devouring garlic sausages at midnight, slamming the doors, leaving and returning. I was fulfilled emotionally, giggled a lot, ate healthy and taking care that my baby-birth love handles would not be noticed in my little black dress on parties we always went to together. At that time, I had never even imagined that somebody else could rouse in me something bigger and stronger.
He turned up unexpectedly, on a sultry evening in August, on a stone terrace at a party hosted by joint friends. He approached me as I was standing by myself on the southern side of the terrace, unpleasant hovering feeling in my head caused by sweltering air took me away from the heated faces and crowd, close to the rail from where the view opened up towards misty sky above the silent sea. He leaned on the rail and asked me how long we would have to wait for sea air to climb up to the terrace.
“It can help you with your promotion, though I’m not so sure. Last year, you were writing a novel, now you’re being promoted as a teacher. You’re wondering all the time” Vedran told me as I put my clothes in a suitcase with my sweaty hands. I was folding T-shirts as if it was something of vital importance; neatly ironed and folded clothes gave me back a bit of stability, that I was far away from at that moment.
“I guess you’re right” I continued folding my stability. I’ve been spinning in circles for some time now and I’m not sure that my circles are expanding at that. On the other hand, spinning in an emotional circle is similar to a ride on a roller-coaster; adrenalin stimulates all my bodily receptors, causing addiction I cannot get away from, keeping me awake all the time, ready for close combat or escape. And that is why I persist in getting more.
“Do you remember how often we‘ve quarrelled this winter? It’s not like that anymore. It won’t be so difficult forever. It’ll pass” he pronounced his sentences quickly, caught up in the role of caring husband, quite different from the one who wouldn’t even notice me when I walked past him naked the very same winter. I could run, sing, scream as loud as I could, dance around pole – he would simply sit. Tired and chewed by the last year that exhausted us, from many litigations, business trips and days spent in courtrooms, wearisome arguments, sudden growth of the loan instalment due to which we struggle in the suburbs.
“Of course,” I’m busy by packing my business clothes for a seminar. The suits I fold the best, in the end, above neatly folded shirts. Vedran and I communicate on high frequencies, with a dose of alienation lurking behind every tone, that is later watered with reports on faults and deficiencies of the other person. In those rare moments we spend together, we dig holes in each other’s souls, like moles.
We sat without moving. Igor was looking at my body, I was studying black and white framed photograph of an island behind his back; the moment when wild waves splash over cliffs behind the pier, tightly moored boats sway along long and fat waves and locals, crowded on a shore look at sea raging in front of their eyes.
“Come” he interrupted silence as if everything was all right. His voice was pleasant, often calming me down by long conversations and stubborn presence. I was reading hope from his facial expressions, he had been planning our intimate relations for months, wrestling with every single act of my cowardice. It seemed to me that he had been here forever.
I would give him a call whenever I was left in my apartment by myself. He talked to me whenever he could, patiently and calmly, as I would sit on my couch after a stressful working day and Vedran was on a business trip because of some law suit in another city. Our thoughts were swarming around us persistently just like bees around flowers; first the innocent ones, that don’t draw out guilty conscience, were uttered, and then conversations in crazy hours and drinking coffees accompanied by harmless touches, quarrels and platonic make-ups followed. I was looking forward to it as I rushed heedlessly to school yard, hanging strongly to our intimate moments.
I tried running away more than once, pushed him away from myself, yet I’m here, in this place, with him, and not sitting at my own living-room table in a spacious suburb apartment, preparing a light dinner, reading a bedside story to my daughter, after which I usually slump over the couch next to my husband, the man I love.
“What are you going to buy me? What?” Mirta was wailing as I tried to untangle fishbone braid in the middle of her head. Her curls dropped out of her braid holder, this morning I’ve glued them to her head by hairpins, now they were everywhere. She looked for me with her sparky eyes, tugged at my skirt and bounced. “Buy me Elsa’s castle!” and kissed me in the centre of my forehead.
I left the room.
“Mom, the door!” she yelled.
“OK” I opened the door slightly and looked at her once again. She closed her eyes tight.
Mirta is afraid of the dark. Before going to bed, when Vedran is away, I leave the light on in the living-room. I lie in my bed and my voice gets through the door, left slightly ajar until she asks the last question, that I keep hearing in my head long after she falls asleep, like a rhyme. “How many times do I have to wake up before Dad comes home?” she always says.
Igor squeezed himself into the armchair, probably thinking about everything. Although he never admitted it, I feel that he’s scared of my unstableness, that always follows us. He won me over by his calmness, rational approach to possible future. Sometimes it seemed to me that I fit perfectly into his world of figures and computer operations, just as if I were an equation with several unknowns and only one exact solution. I get lost in analyses of our relationship, I turn around my axis, spin in a circle, and Igor is very realistic when he thinks about us, the after, the morning that will bluntly kick us out from the bed and into the street, the outer world. He stood up and opened the curtains. I though that I was so fucking in love with this man.
We can go for a drink, there is a bar at the lobby” I said. My every muscle pulsated, ready to face another challenge, carefully planned by myself in order to finally calm down, as I loved to explain to myself. Maybe now is the time, I thought. This has to go away at one point.
“Did you talk to him last night?” he asked me as we were sitting behind the counter, and only a quick shadow passing over his face showed how uncomfortable he was.
“No, I didn’t” I replied and ordered a double vodka. I squirmed in my chair, lighted a cigarette, I felt smoke scratching me inside my throat. I looked around and caught his hand. A strange tenderness lurched over our heads. We were alone at the hotel bar.
“It’s difficult to talk to you, I don’t understand you. First, you look for me, then you push me away, then again you look for me. What do you want?”
He moved a curl from my cheek, I sucked in my stomach and stopped breathing, as particles of his perfume diluted in my nostrils and travelled all the way to my brain. His touch was natural, his desire finally emerged to the surface, brought us together in the moment that we thought about for so long, and then it seemed that it just materialized right in front of us, quickly and suddenly. We have been in love with each other platonically for too long, now the time when there is nothing to talk about has come, words became just sets of sounds with no meaning, irrelevant, uttered so many times before.
“Kiss me” I realized right away that this was said by some other woman.
He came close. He kissed me, I felt his warm tongue in my mouth, his fingers on my skin, his rigid muscles next to my thighs. I stood back.
Now, when our intimate relationship was supposed to be fully realized, we were practically silent. He was spinning a glass of whisky on the wooden counter and I was looking outside, towards the hotel terrace.
“You love him” he said.
I felt a strong blow to my stomach and straightened my back. All the mosaic pieces were slowly finding their places, somewhat like our betrayals. I looked miserably into Igor’s eyes. No, definitely he wasn’t the one.
“Come on, nobody will ever know” he tried to pull me towards him.
I stood up. Igor was standing next to a bar stool in the hotel lobby, slightly glancing towards me over his shoulder. He sat at the counter and turned his back to me. I went out, low fluffy clouds were hanging in the sky, like curtains, covering tops of nearby hills and most of land. Scirocco was raising dust on the terrace, the waiters were picking up white tablecloths and dishes from tables, the air was warm and wet. Further away in the open sea, the wind raised waves.
Marija Rakić Mimica was born in 1982 in Split. She graduated in Croatian language and literature and comparative literature at the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb. She has won four literary awards for her short stories; Prose for the best prose manuscript by an author under 35 for 2015, Brod knjižara Brod kulture 2016., third prize in the competition Story in the City of Trogir City Library, first prize for prose in the Literary Competition "Ticket 2020." So far, she has published prose in all major literary magazines in Croatia. She published a collection of short stories Dancing in the Yard (2018.). Some of her stories are also published in English (Hook Literary Magazine, Querencia Press Fall anthology, 100subtextmagazine, The Unconventional Courier). She is employed in Split as a Croatian language teacher in high school. Follow on Instagram: @marijarakic_mimica