On Christmas Eve his parents went to his grandmother’s in the next village to sing carols.
“I don’t feel like coming,” he told them. “I’d rather stay here and read a book.”
It was after ten o’clock, he had turned out the light and got into bed and was watching music videos on television. He had almost fallen asleep when he heard somebody tapping on the window. He gave a start – who could it be at that hour? He held his breath. “Maybe I imagined it,” he said to himself, but the tapping started again, louder this time. The first thing he did was to turn off the television set, and then, in the dark and somewhat afraid, he crept to the window. There was somebody there; he could see the outline against the night.
“Who is it?”
As nobody answered, he opened the window.
“What are you doing here at this hour?”
It was indeed a huge surprise.
Rebecca did not say a word, but grasped the window ledge and in one bound slipped inside. She sat down on the edge of the bed, without taking her coat off. He pulled on his tracksuit bottoms and turned on the light.
“What can I get you?” he asked her, feeling agitated. “A Coke?” He was extremely surprised and did not know what else to do.
“Something stronger, if you’ve got it.”
All he had was beer and boiled plum brandy.
“Plum brandy,” she said.
She did not look at him; she did not look around the room. She sat with her head bowed and in single gulps drank glass after glass.
“Nice carol you sang,” he said, tasting some of the sweet brandy.
For the first time, she smiled.
“I arrived here before your parents left,” she said in a low voice. “I waited by the window. A few times I almost went back home, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.”
She drained her glass, took the bottle, poured herself another glass.
She had unfastened her coat. Her white bra was visible under her knitted blouse.
He moved closer to her and kissed her. She did not lift her head, did not part her lips.
“Why did you come?” he asked her, annoyed at her rejection.
She gave a start.
He kissed her again, thrusting his tongue between her clenched teeth. She capitulated, running her warm tongue over his a few times.
“We can’t stay here,” he whispered to her. “My parents could turn up any time and I can’t be bothered with explanations. Let’s go out for a little,” he went on and she knocked back another glass of boiled plum brandy. He stood up, intending to get her out of there, but in the next moment she threw her arms around him, pressing her face to his abdomen. Before he could react, she pulled down his trousers, clasping his erect penis between both palms. He pressed himself to her. She had cold hands, he started when she touched his testicles, but her mouth was warm, and without saying a word, she began to kiss it.
“Rebecca,” he said, clenching his thighs, running his hands through her straight blond hair. “Sister Rebecca,” he said in his mind, his eyes open and his head bent slightly to one side, so that he could see her movements.
He ejaculated in her mouth, standing on tiptoes, trembling. Then he hastily got dressed and they went out together, into the cold. He lit a cigarette and she took a few puffs. They walked in silence, next to each other, without meeting anybody around the village at that hour. When they reached the bridge, they stopped.
“I’m freezing,” he said, “I’m going home. We’ll talk later.”
She made no reaction. She stood there in the dark, motionless, her head bowed.
He did not see her again until New Year’s Eve.
On the last day of the year, at lunchtime, they all gathered in the schoolyard, waiting for the school bus to come and take them up to the cabana. His colleagues were in a good mood, it had started snowing again, and they had packed for at least three days. Those who had come with their partners gathered in a separate group, chatting, while the others played snowballs or laughed as they remembered the wild parties of years past. He was just putting his luggage on the minibus when he saw her at the gate, as lanky as a pole, wearing a black woolly hat, without any luggage. She was not looking at them, but rather gazing down the road, motionless.
“What’s up?” he asked her, coming to a stop behind her and then Rebecca turned and smiled, with her head bowed, looking at her boots.
“Are you coming with us?”
She took a seat at the back, next to him. The others looked at her in puzzlement; he did not introduce her, except very briefly. “A friend,” he said and she looked out of the window for the whole of the journey to the cabana.
In the rooms upstairs they left their luggage and decided on the rooms. Those who had brought their partners got the double rooms; the others were to sleep in bunk beds, four or five to a room. “Are you with her or not?” the woman from the teaching union asked him; she was the main organiser of the trip. She made another count. “Yes, there is one more double room. You can stay in it with that girl, if you like.”
She sat down on the edge of the bed, drew the curtain and pressed her forehead to the windowpane. “I’m glad you came,” he said, touching her shoulders, stooping to look out of the window. “It really is a wonderful view. How beautiful it looks from up here!” She placed her hand on his. She was wearing a blue dress with lace and glitter: the kind middle-aged matrons wear at country weddings. It was slightly embarrassing. There at the cabana, nobody else had come dressed like that, but he didn’t say anything to her. He kissed her and straight away she thrust her hot wet tongue in his mouth. They were the first to go down to the dining room.
She sat next to him without looking around her. She drank glass after glass, sometimes laying her hand on his knees.
“Who’s that two-metre-tall ghost?” the geography teacher asked him when he went to the bathroom. “Where did you pick her up?”
“She’s just a friend, what’s your problem?” he snapped at him, in annoyance.
“Calm down, I was just asking. I wanted to know whether she was with you or whether I could try to pull her, because other than her, there’s nothing worth bothering with around here.”
“Yes, she’s with me.”
“That’s all I wanted to know, mate,” said his colleague, washing his hands of the matter. “I don’t come on to another bloke’s bird, that’s the law!”
They laughed, went back and carried on drinking.
From time to time, he got up and danced. She didn’t budge from her seat.
The woman from the union took her by the hand and literally dragged her over to the others. She remained there, standing stock-still, looking at the floor. “Leave her be, if she doesn’t want to,” he said, raising his arms in the air and jumping up and down to music by the lads from Voltaj.
At midnight they went out and opened the bottles of champagne, they set off firecrackers and launched rockets, whooping and hugging each other. Rebecca he kissed last, espying her at the bottom of the stairs, by herself, leaning against the door. “Happy New Year!” he said, offering her a plastic cup of champagne. “Happy New Year!” He wanted to kiss her on the mouth, but she pulled her head away. “What’s with you?” he snapped. Chastened, she looked down at the ground, without saying a word.
They went back inside the cabana and started dancing. Then, one by one, they all gathered at the table, stuffing themselves with the goodies they had brought from home, resuming their conversations about school. This time they laughed at the geography teacher’s stories until the tears streamed down their faces. “I was with 5B,” he said, “and I was telling them about the planets, getting more and more into it, when a wee lad, a really wee lad, sitting at the front desk, yes, that’s right, the one from table tennis, raised his hand and so I paused to let him ask his question. I was thinking, at last, I’ve aroused their curiosity. And the wee lad says: Sir, excuse me for asking, but do you have false teeth?”
When he got back to the room, Rebecca was asleep naked under the duvet. He got undressed and slipped under the duvet next to her. It was after four o’clock in the morning. From the next room could be heard the maths teacher yelling at his wife. Rebecca turned her back to him; she had cold feet. “Come closer and let me warm them up for you,” he whispered, pressing himself against her back.
Barely had he folded her in his arms than somebody banged on the door with his fist. He pulled on his jeans and opened the door. It was the geography teacher; he was plastered. “What the fuck’s all this?” he shouted, tottering towards the bed. “Who are you?” he said, pulling the duvet off Rebecca. She huddled up slightly, naked, without turning around.
“Come on, man, stop fooling around,” he shouted at the teacher, pushing him away from the bed and covering Rebecca.
“All right, all right, have your fun and leave me all on my tod!” The geography teacher flung himself down on a chair, clutching his face between his hands.
“Give me a cigarette, for fuck’s sake.”
“Come on, man, get back to your own room, stop causing trouble.”
“For fuck’s sake, I’m not causing any trouble. Have a cigarette with me and that’ll be all, what’s the big deal?” He lighted a cigarette and handed it to him.
“Hey,” said his colleague, “let’s ask this woman who she wants to spend the night with, me or you?” He abruptly stood up and pulled the duvet off her again:
“Which one do you prefer, girl? Me or him?”
He shook her by the shoulder; Rebecca remained motionless.
“Come on, enough of this stupidity already,” he said, pushing him away again. “What the fuck do you want? You said we’d have a cigarette together, we’ve smoked it, and now sling your hook!” He pushed him towards the door, but he twisted around and sat back down on the chair.
“Afraid, are you? Afraid she’ll choose me, that’s it, isn’t it?”
If I belt him one, he’ll be left here, he said to himself, gritting his teeth, approaching him, determined to eject him by force.
“Tell us, girl, which of us do you want to sleep with?”
Rebecca sat up suddenly, pulling the duvet up to her chin.
She didn’t say a word.
She just sat there, looking at the duvet, waiting.
“Where did you find a girl like that?” said the geography teacher, moving closer and stooping over her.
He suddenly felt very tired and all he wanted to do was to lie down somewhere and sleep. He was no longer in any mood to make love to her. He picked up his slippers and sweater and went out of the room, down to the dining room. The headmaster was asleep there with his head on the table, and the woman from the union was dancing with her husband, the only two people on the dance floor. He tried to drink something, but he immediately felt sick. He went to the bathroom and splashed his face. When he returned, the only person in the dance hall was the headmaster, who was snoring. The music had stopped. He had forgotten his cigarettes upstairs, in his jacket, and so he went to fetch them. To his surprise, the door was locked. He pressed his ear against it, but he couldn’t hear anything.
What a bitch! After she turns up uninvited and doesn’t bring anything, not even a bottle of beer, she goes and locks me out!
He went downstairs, paced up and down the dance floor furiously, and then went back and pressed his ear to the door. Not a sound. He went back down and made himself some coffee in the kitchen. In a drawer he found an unopened packet of Virginia Slims. He straightaway lit himself a cigarette. He was shivering with cold, annoyance and exhaustion. He put on a gown he found in the kitchen, which reeked of fried meat and sweat.
When it became light outside, the maths teacher and his wife came downstairs with their bags already packed. They had arrived in their Dacia and now they had to get back home, to make preparations: their children were coming from abroad the next day. It was obvious that the lady had been crying.
He got in the back of the car and slept all the way home. The maths teacher knew where he lived; he dropped him off at his gate, without asking any questions.
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth
“Not since the novels of Zeruyei Shalev have I encountered such a lucid, cynical and unadorned analysis of married life as in Dan Coman’s novel.”
“To the extent that literature is a form of imposture, Dan Coman has given us a remarkable book about something similar. An extraordinary, complex, often moving group portrait, which portrays the decline of the contemporary family, the psychological roil specific to marriage today.”
“How many marriages are not like the one in this book? Consumed in silence, like smoking a cigarette alone in the dark. With frustrations and misunderstandings and silences and smoke screens, with all the worst things that can be invented to turn marriage into torture. Dan Coman says that it is possible to escape the torture. How? Read the novel.”