Translated from Bulgarian by: Ivailo Dagnev
“And what happened in the end?”
Silence froze again over their heads like a crystal chandelier, threatening to fall down any second. He had noticed, on evenings like this one, that questions like shark fins surface unexpectedly.
There is something mystic in the hours before the New Year. It is as if we listen for the first time to the whispers of time. We even realize that it robs us, if we perceive it as sand in an hourglass, trickling away incessantly. But time does not move, it has been frozen for quite a while; we are the ones who keep changing. Yet, we don√É¬≠t want to admit it. We are crucified on its frozen face.
Evenings like this one are lustfully predisposed to foul silence. You just sit and watch how questions take you by surprise. In order to answer them you have to turn your pockets inside out, look into every corner of every moment. Actually, are answers possible at all? Spiridon sighed. Aren√É¬≠t they just the other side of questions?
Pine logs were crackling in the fireplace. Their lilac flares resembled last illusions in one√É¬≠s life, behind which the snapping deep meaning of nothingness is visible. Or, could it be that nothingness is the essence of absolute meaning?
Peter the tomcat stretched out in front of the fireplace and was staring at them ferociously, but also with a deep, inborn understanding. He purred monotonously, his head between his paws, as if he were counting something in a Sisyphean manner, hopelessly cheerful, yet with resigned persistence.
Well, he too is hiding in his eyes an abyss full of questions, but where are the answers? Spiridon sighed.
Bella the German shepherd was crisscrossing the spacious sitting room, raising her elegant muzzle and sniffing the air anxiously. She was torn between her two masters, extending her paw first to Gloria√É¬≠s lap, then to Spiridon’s hands. Was she trying to join together the severed threads?
Gloria and Spiridon were sitting opposite each other, as they were in the habit for years. She was in white, her head slightly turned to one side. Her profile was lit by the pale flicker of the lamp, giving her a worried look, in fact, one almost in tears. He was in his usual black coat, and his tie was ice blue.
“What happened in the end?”
This time the question sounded abrupt; it stirred the air and shuddered the light on Gloria’s face. A gripping moment. One that turns our lives upside down. We live in this way, aspire to go up, to touch God, and yet we keep going down in order to reach the truth about ourselves.
“When?” Spiridon answered the question with a question, as he liked to do. He knew she was disgusted at this habit of his and so he usually tried to avoid it. But this time, something spurred him to challenge her.
“Until now!” She snapped, but then smiled in a way that made him sigh and forgive her. He knew only too well that behind this smile of hers hid the face of the devil, because the devil bore her name in his life.
“I am eighty-five, you are five years behind, is that too little?” He gave a laugh.
“What haven’t we been through? Oh Lord! Monarchists, fascists, communists and now?” She lapsed into silence, squeamishly pursing her lips.
“Now what? What are we going through now? Retribution? Or might we be in the antechamber of the next circle of Hell?” Spiridon’s irony was transparent, but there was also fear in him.
“I’m interested in how they will define the experiences we are going through today, at this very moment!” She smiled ironically.
“The corpse, Gloria, is still not submitted for an autopsy. The nation’s current illness has not been diagnosed. After fascism and communism, something new was born, something we are living through and it is more dreadful than the previous two!”
“Some mixture of those two, isn’t it?” she asked.
“Might be, who knows?” The old man stared at the fire.
“We are still alive,” she sighed dreamily, and cupped her hand to her ear. “Can you hear the years, Spiridon?”
“Yes, they’re just like wolves,” he muttered through clenched teeth and drank from a glass, which he kept on the floor, next to his rocking chair. “They’re howling and howling.”
He pictured them racing toward him – growling, predatory, insidious. The years were full of hatred and lies, betrayals and concealments of the truth for him. Spiridon was a journalist at various times through various social orders. Now those times were identified in pseudo-scholarly ways; actually, that was his lifetime. There was no difference in any of these periods of time. The truth had always been plucked out, isolated, guarded, cunningly manipulated, concealed, erased, effaced. Even those truths that could not be concealed had been turned into banalities; and there were thousands of ways to do it.
Racing like a pack of wolves. Ready to bite again.
“Why?” she stretched and caressed the armchair with her fingers. “Why are the years like wolves, darling? They are like lovers. They make love even before a woman’s husband.
“Possibly, yes, but who knows what is true, or false, who knows the past, or what is simply the future?”
“No one knows. The soul might know, mightn’t it?” She looked at him with curiosity.
“It’s possible, but I don√É¬≠t believe it!” He smiled with contempt.
“Then it should be the body. It stores all our memories, doesn√É¬≠t it?”
“I doubt it.” He reached for the drink, took a sip, and started to swing back and forth as if was growing sleepy. With his eyes half-open, he looked like a corpse to her.
“Who knows?” she asked angrily.
“It may be me, or you, or no one.” Spiridon shook his head and took another sip. He always drank in small sips, just licked the glass. This habit of his had always infuriated her. Her fingers were still caressing the armchair passionately and she seemed to be writhing with pleasure, or perhaps writhing from confusion before the secret? Who knows, who?
“We have been all sorts of things, haven’t we?” she exclaimed and started laughing.
“Possibly, yes.” He kept swinging his head.
“Do it yourself. Answer the question yourself!” She laughed again. Her laughter sounded unnatural, sardonic and offensive. She shuddered with a surge of revulsion, but he didn√É¬≠t notice.
“Something nice can happen on the first day of the New Year, can’t it?” Now her voice poured like the sound of a seductive violin, as it had been once, when she used to fall into his arms and drag him down into the abyss.
“I want…” she eagerly started and then stopped, cunningly.
He kept silent; he knew her tricks too well. He fell into her traps only when he wanted to.
She looked at him disappointed. He showed no signs of waiting for something to happen; only his left cheek was having a slight twitch. A sign it was, though.
“I want to confess something to you,” she said and stopped. She was challenging him, playing with him like the old days.
“You want to confess, eh?” He patted Bella, who now stood guard next to him. Peter the tomcat gave a mew in his sleep.
“Would you like it?”
“Alright,” he agreed reluctantly. Bella gently pressed herself into his leg, and licked his hand. “I want to say everything about Vladimir, yes about Vladimir! Now that he’s dead, I think I can. I must.”
Silence fell, and the crackling of the logs was deafening. Peter turned the yellow streams of his eyes toward the fire, wagged his tail and tapped the floor with it without moving the rest of his body. He was expecting something to happen, but what?
Spiridon sighed and put his hand into the pocket of his jacket.
Gloria flinched, because she knew he kept his gun in that pocket. Would he shoot me? she asked herself, horrified. Well, if he does, it means he still loves me.
He took out his glass case from his pocket, and put on his glasses slowly, then turned toward her.
“You’re lying!” Her response was so violent that Bella snarled at her.
“I know and I can prove it.”
“Prove it!” Her body was as taut as a pulled string.
“Alright! Alright!” he nodded kindly, though his eyes dappled with jocular flames. “You used to meet in Lily’s apartment, didn’t you? Shall I go on?”
“I don’t think it’s necessary.”
“So, you don√É¬≠t think it is time for us to be honest with each other? Am I right?”
There was malice in her words. Or, perhaps it was a sign of helplessness? Or, horror for what might be in store? Or, the surprise was making her cantankerous, just as it had sometimes made her irresistible.
“Why?” He raised his eyebrows in surprise. That was the indisputable sign that he was piqued. His next phase was always anger, swallowed with great effort. He did not carry on. He chose to have another sip.
“So, you!” she pointed an accusatory finger at him. Then she rose from the chair and froze, resembling a marble statue. So beautiful, no matter how old she was. Magnificent in her anger, because it is the only emotion that makes people real, isn√É¬≠t it? He talked to her in this way only to tease her, so that she should get angry, because she was so beautiful when she was angry. A little secret, he was not going to share it with her ever, or, who knows, someday perhaps.
“Me?” he replied calmly.
Did he show indifference? Or forgiveness? Or? Still, he carried on talking quite unexpectedly. “You. Vladimir. The child. So what?”
She sank helplessly in the armchair. She was falling. She managed to utter, “Why have you kept silent?” Without waiting for his reply, she shot out more questions: “How did you find out? When? Who told you?”
“A man always finds out when another man enters his wife,” he said tiredly, with undisguised boredom.
“You spied on us, admit it!” She was shivering with anger.
“Yes and no. I’ve known it all along. It takes no more than a mere observation for a man to know everything about you. Spying is not necessary. Though, observation is a kind of spying, too. To observe a person, when he does not suspect it is a deeply immoral and blameworthy act. The face, darling, is the worst traitor. The smile too. The eyes. The lips. The kiss. The skin. The body. The secrets are open for those who have ears to hear them, eyes to see them.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that you knew?” Gloria asked. It was not until now that she began to understand. Spiridon shriveled up and laughed indifferently, “What should I have told you? Should I have asked you if you loved him? Should I have asked you that?” He saw that she nodded and smiled contemptuously. “Well, it would have been foolish of me! All in all, it was your own business!”
“What about the child? How did you accept it?”
“With love. I accepted it with love. And what does the child have to do with it all, anyway?” He shot a glance at her through his glasses and then looked down.
Bella was standing between them. She snarled at the one, then at the other. It was as if she noticed some swelling, an incoming evil and announced that she opposed it with her whole ferocious body.
“And you didn√É¬≠t give off a clue about it – neither to Vladimir, nor to me, nor to our son. What sort of man are you? Made of stone?”
She ran her trembling fingers along her hair.
“What should I have done, in your opinion?”
Through tears she whispered, “I don’t know. But you are a monster!”
“Perhaps you are right.”
“Oh!” she cried out: “Leave it to you to be so calculating, just as you have been all your life!” That was a hint about his job and the inevitable deals he had to make with his conscience. But he had always admitted it.
“The heaviest sentences are the ones that are not pronounced,” he said cruelly and continued with an even voice. “I’ve had my share of suffering.”
“So what? Look at him. The hero! The hero of the century! The hero who is suffering, look at him! I am the whore, who brazenly cheats on him, is that it? Tell me!” She was sobbing heavily. There was something more, but what was it? Perhaps, yes, it was some voice whispering to her, a voice all too familiar. His voice! How’s that?
“You said it. I have always preferred to remain silent.” He stood up. Bella followed him, her muzzle turned towards Gloria. The tomcat suddenly jumped at the dog and pawed her. She did not respond. The tomcat mewed.
“There are five minutes to go and the New Year will be in,” he said and poured champagne into both their glasses. All of a sudden, Gloria realized that it was Spiridon that she had loved over the years. Everything else had been a lie, a substitution.
In the dying minutes of the old year, she got to the bottom of the ever escaping meaning of life: We keep running after lies, we love them, we give birth to their children while the truth has always been very near.
She stretched both hands to him – hands, thinned out from old age √É¬± then sank into his embrace and started laughing. Or crying, perhaps?
While he was embracing her, Spiridon was thinking that he had every reason not to tell her the whole truth. He could have told her that Vladimir had all along reported against them to the authorities and then, after the political changes, Spiridon had read all this in the state archives. He grew irate with surprise most of all, because it showed how wrong she was about that man, who was the genetic father of Spiridon√É¬≠s son.
Should his son learn the truth?
But his son would no doubt feel disgusted and repulsed, because he would compare them – his true father with his false father – and pass the judgment. He could have told her all this, but he chose to remain silent, to keep the suffering within, to press it closely to himself.
Perhaps there will come a time when he will give his son’s hand to the man who bears his name and tell him the truth. But now, he was only going to smile and enjoy a drink of champagne.
Outside, the years were howling like raging wolves, like betraying lovers.