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polirom

Ana Maria Sandu


Excerpt from

Critics about

Novel, Ego. Prose series, Polirom, 2013, 156 pages

Copyright: Polirom

Translation rights sold to: All rights available

Excerpt from

Faux Running Diary

 

My body is my only pet.
I take care of it, I feed it, but I haven’t started talking to it yet.
A friend from Canada told me that she might soon.
I genuinely envied her, especially since I had decided to have done with all the excuses in the world and take up running.
That annoying habit that gets you out of the house in all weather.
Slowly but surely I’m going to transform myself into one of those svelte figures that pass you on the street and for whom you instinctively step aside (I say this because it has happened to me a few times lately).
I’m not doing it because I’m excessively overweight, although I’m still a little tubbier than in previous years.
C. laughed at me the loudest when I told him I had got it into my head to go running in the park by my building every morning:
“I thought you were always grumpy in the morning. I can’t quite see you stomping up and down, but... Hysterical, that’s the right word. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing if you talked to a psychotherapist. It’s the in thing. Some people find it hard to get over it. I’m also going to think of a coffee-cup holder for you to use while you’re running. Don’t you think you could do with one?”
He recommended a psychotherapist to me. He even gave me his phone number:
“He’s nice, you’ll see, you’ll like him. Tell him I recommended him... And good luck, darling!”
I can’t believe that not one of my friends didn’t simply ask me: “Hey, what’s up with you, did something happen, are you all right?”
They all had opinions about how I should seek help and they wanted to share them with me.
I liked them more when we met in the evening over a beer and talked about stuff and split our sides laughing at some funny story or other.
At times like that our words filled the world, we lived for each other and we never wanted to go home again.
That was because we knew full well what awaited us there: bags artistically traced under our eyes and the solitude of plastic tubs strewn all over our kitchens.
It would have been so simple to tell them that I didn’t want to do it any more.
That I couldn’t go through with it.
“Pleeease, put a leaf on my tree!”
C. writes to me by Messenger and I drop everything. I get into the Internet game with the garden that grows bushier every day if you take care of it.
It’s obvious that I’m going through a phase in which I detect hidden messages everywhere:
Sigh, my garden hasn’t come to much!
“Save yourself while you’re still able to ask for help!” Those words, also C.’s, still sound in my ears.
He is also the one who yanks me out of my reverie like a rotten tooth.
He sends me a link to an article from New York Magazine:
“Do you know the story about these people?”
“I’ve no idea,” I answer.
“Have a look! You won’t believe it...”

They are two artists, Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake, whose life was like something out of an advert for happiness. They committed suicide, one shortly after the other.
I look at a photograph of them and it hypnotises me.
They are so glam and depressed. I do a search and find out all kinds of things that have been written about them. In one of the articles their friends each ask:
Why them? They had a wonderful house and garden, where we partied till dawn: good music, fine liquor, fascinating conversations... And Theresa’s blog was a runaway success, showed her off in all her splendour: vibrant, poly-cultural, etc.
Their acquaintances also say that lately they had become obsessed with a scientology conspiracy. That seems to have been the only crack in their otherwise perfect life.
One evening, Theresa swallowed a handful of pills with some whiskey. A week later, Jeremy went down to the ocean, undressed, neatly arranged his clothes, laying them one on top of the other, and never came back. How simple their story is, ultimately.
But no matter how hard I try, I still can’t manage to tear myself away from the characters of the story.
For the time being, I have nothing better to do than to keep digging for information about Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake.
Which of my friends would be interested in their story? I send the link to a few of the people in my Messenger list, but I don’t get any feedback. People are working at this hour of day or they are going out to eat the same old thing at the pubs near their offices.
I have to content myself with the people who write on Theresa’s blog. They are all inconsolable and sad. I read all the posts, and when I close my eyes, it is as if I suddenly understand.
Theresa is me. I have absorbed enough details to be able to step inside her skin. I reconstruct her movements, I go to the bedroom, determined to have done with living for others.
The whiskey is harsh when you swallow the first gulp. The taste buds flinch, after which they become accustomed to the taste. And they grow numb.
Jeremy is in the living room, which is lined with books and art albums. He is sitting with an aluminium Mac laptop on his knees.
He has a few important things to finish up for the next day. I am empty inside. I no longer have entrails or desires.
I quite simply climb some stairs, which I don’t even notice because I know them so well. It is the last time I will do so and I’m not sorry. This evening too we had lots of people over.
We made conversation. We gossiped. We amused ourselves at what the critics have been writing about the latest trends in art. We talked about our projects. We made plans for next year.
Now it is late and everything will be over very quickly.
Not even the plates and glasses have to be washed any more.

 

Game over!

I don’t want to be Theresa even for a second. I have to leave as quickly as I can. But I keep stumbling over all kinds of objects that she accumulated over a lifetime. My leg aches and the darkness in the house is oppressive. Too much light enters from outside. I don’t know where those blasted light switches are. I run my hands over alien walls and leave greasy fingerprints. Unidentified traces. Their smells are completely alien to me.
I hadn’t taken that into account.
Groping, I find a lamp and switch it on. The darkness becomes milky and at last I am able to sit down on a corner of the sofa.
I catch my breath and look around the huge room. Nothing has happened yet. It looks like any other place where people have sat late into the night having a party. There are glasses and plates everywhere. And lots of colourful flowers, in tall glass vases. And leftovers. And half-drunk or barely opened bottles.
Some clothes have been tossed on a chair; I am not sure whether they are hers or his. It doesn’t matter.
The evening has ended and the hosts have gone to the bedroom upstairs. It is merely by chance that I have ended up in their living room.
I am sure that if they found me here, they would speak to me nicely and we would become friends. They would probably invite me to stay overnight, because the next evening they will be throwing another party and receiving different guests...
I massage the sole of my foot while Theresa dreams about what Jeremy will do in a very short while. She is thinking of him, of that perfect evening, one in a long row of just as perfect evenings.
My legs have turned to water and I can’t manage to stand up.
My head is pounding. It is time to go farther. And as quickly as possible, before anything serious happens.
I know: Theresa’s dream becomes more complicated. It ramifies and becomes more extravagant. A history of art in miniature. When it reaches surrealism, I fix my eyes on the door, do an acrobatic leap, cover the almost one-hundred-metre length of the room in a second and vanish. I close the door softly behind me. Not so much as a squeak. Nothing but cork-like silence. Nobody discovered me, and so I can visit my unknown and well-conserved friends in their immense bed, in which they can spread themselves as much as they like but never touch.
C. teases me again and it does me good:
“Is running something metaphysical with you? I’ll be damned if I can understand you. What the hell do you do all day?”
I don’t tell him that my bones, those of a woman still young, creak. If they get scattered around the house, who will come to count them and gather them up?
And I don’t feel guilty for each of the hours I squash into an amorphous pulp or for when I don’t do anything except potter about. I have started not to be able to tell when it gets dark or when it is morning already.
I know that I would be able to stay in a box indefinitely. Without caring about any trends, about any pairs of nice shoes, displayed in a brightly lit shop window. Even if I bought them, I would still go round and round in an ever-decreasing circle.
C. is right in his way. What do I do all this time, when people my age tend to “serious matters”?
I give a textbook answer:
I try to explain what stage in my life I have reached, what has changed and what has seized up, what has frozen.
“Are you satisfied?”
He sends me a grinning emoticon. I pretend not to understand and continue with even greater aplomb.
“I mind my own business, I put myself in the ‘30+’ box, I hurtle down the highway at the 170 brake horsepower I have long talked about and applied.”
We have never achieved any result. But we behave as if this journey through the night will never end.
Our description will seem simple and ordinary to you: a young couple, who look at each other and don’t know what they want.
Maybe a more powerful car would be an elegant and failsafe solution. And the other people in traffic nod their heads in unison...
Yes, yes, you’re perfectly right!
The round outline and tensed facial muscles of the boy next to me make me think that he had an aircraft factory in his head. Now what does he have left? He pushes the accelerator pedal and changes gear only when the tachometer reaches 6,500 revs.
“What are we doing in this metal box, how did we come to be together, why didn’t we part after the first embrace?”
It is pointless asking me. My memory has preserved only the courageous deeds of that suicidal period at the beginning of the relationship.
For example, cold showers in an icy resort.
An evening when we swam in the most sulphurous water on earth and couldn’t see anything more than half a metre away.
I don’t know whether you are still here or whether you have left and have lived all your life in a frozen and completely abandoned communist-era hotel.
I was frightened to death, but I didn’t want to give up, I flapped my arms and legs, as if something precious awaited me at the other end of the pool.
I think that the other people in the water were already putrefying, but I felt a huge desire to prove to you how courageous I was and that you would never meet another girl like me.
After a while, as if that sulphurous water had never existed, I wrote a text for Cosmo, in which I bitched about the boots you were wearing. About your coat I don’t think I got around to saying anything nasty.


Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth



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