Mircea Pricajan

Excerpt from

Novel, Ego.Prose series, Polirom, 2016, 208 pages

Copyright: Polirom

Translation rights sold to: All rights available

Excerpt from


“You’ve got an adorable little boy,” said the woman, leaning toward the pushchair, in which Codin was playing with his own feet. “What’s his name ? How old is he ? Don’t you want to give him to us ?” Questions to which it was obvious that the middle aged woman didn’t expect an answer. “You know, we weren’t able to have children and we’ve suffered in secret because of it, even though my husband is sure that by now I’ve long since reconciled myself to the thought.” She placed her index finger on her lips and looked at Carmina from under lowered eyelids. “Don’t breathe a word, I implore you ; I wouldn’t want to spoil the harmony now, in our old age.” She smiled cloyingly and without asking permission sat down on the bench beside the new mother. She introduced herself, holding out a withered hand with long fingers adorned with precious rings. Marioara. Her friends called her Mary. She could call her that too, even if they had only just met. Carmina introduced herself, but something caused her not to reciprocate the other woman’s friendliness. Antim was the only person she liked to call her Carmi, and perhaps Codin would one day too, if he felt the need.

Mary was about sixty, her husband was Ion, and his friends called him John, of course. They had a successful business, they hadn’t put a whole lot of effort into it. Rather, they had been lucky, the woman told her. Her husband John had been able to take advantage of one, two, numerous opportunities when they crossed his path—and it was a very good job he had done so, because otherwise who knows what would have become of their relationship, maybe she would have left him a long time ago, and they wouldn’t have ended up suffering because of the child of which fate had deprived them. Since they had money, lots of money, they were able to fill the void with their passion for travelling, she explained, with the utmost nonchalance, as if that was exactly what Carmina wanted to hear right then, rather than that it would be better to take the little one back up to the room, it was getting late, and even if he was quiet at the moment and still busy with his feet, which he was examining with the absorption of an archaeologist on a newly discovered site, at any moment he might start to get agitated and start bawling, causing everybody to turn their heads and look at them. “We’ve travelled the whole world, we’ve rarely stayed at home for more than three months in a row, and I’m positive that that’s what has kept us together up to now : what we have in common is the pleasure of discovering new places, it’s something we genuinely share.

Carmina listened out of politeness and forced herself to keep an interested expression on her face, but from the corner of her eye she was looking at the baby in the pushchair. From time to time she looked at the other end of the dining room, with its wood panelling and panoramic windows, the same dining room where the evening before they had had dinner and drunk champagne. There, at their table in the corner, Antim had been monopolised by the group of men : John, obviously, as garrulous as his wife, seated at the head of the table and probably perorating about the travels that substituted for having a child, and then the other man, she didn’t know his name, in his forties, corpulent, with a serene face, who didn’t take his eyes off his son for one moment, a lad of about seventeen, who resembled his father, they were like two peas in a pod, and who was sitting beside him, on the same side of the table. At intervals they were joined by the chalet owner, who seemed a little intimidated, but was happy that the atmosphere in his chalet had livened up at last. The women sat at another table, separated by a space. Mary had come to her from that table, she had probably felt sorry for her, on seeing her sitting separately, and maybe wanted make her part of her group : the chalet owner’s wife, the teenager’s mother, who was obviously the wife of the corpulent man opposite, and Mary herself. The talkative, well intentioned Mary, but who was too pushy for Carmina’s taste. Carmina felt under attack and all of a sudden she wanted nothing more than to leave that dining room. Antim could stay, if that was what he wanted, but she would have preferred it if he took Codin with him and they both retired to their room.

To be honest, she would have liked Antim himself to take the initiative, to get up from his table and come to her aid, making an excuse that they were tired or whatever excuse he thought would be appropriate so that they could leave those people, they were decent people, no doubt about it, open to conversation, unpretentious, normal people. That’s why her eyes kept turning to the men’s table, after which she looked lovingly at the little face of her wee devil, who was now a wee angel, and then for a fraction of a second she would look at the woman who had sat down in front of her, she looked only in order to give the impression that she wasn’t ignoring her. But unfortunately Antim didn’t seem to sense her glances. “We came here only because Tomi invited us, we had been thinking of going abroad, maybe to Austria, we found a really nice chalet there two years ago, you haven’t seen anything like it, and besides it’s much more civilised there, it doesn’t compare with here... But Tomi kept inviting us to go with them for a weekend, we’re old friends, since childhood, and we’d turned him down too many times, and so now I persuaded John to leave Austria till next week and to come to here the Trout Chelt in Arieseni with Tomita and his family. They’re really nice people, you know, Carmina,” Mary assured her and told her that she had noticed how she kept looking at the men’s table worriedly, but she should rest assured that her husband was in good company : “The best, if you ask me, darling, and thank God, I’ve had the opportunity to meet all kinds of people.

Tomi was a car mechanic, he had his own workshop, he was making enough money for Eve, his wife, to give up her job, she helps him with the paperwork, with making appointments, she’s his right hand. And Stefan, their son, he’s in seventh heaven, as you can imagine : if he could, he’d never leave his dad’s side, whenever I ask about him, they say he’s in the workshop, arranging the tools or working on an old engine that Tomi got for him to practice on. They’re two exceptional people, they really are.” Why not come to the girls’ table so that she could introduce her to Eva, so that she could see for herself ? Reluctantly, Carmina agreed, on the condition that in ten minutes she would go up to her room : “Codin doesn’t get to sleep very easily, but since we came here he’s like a different child, and so I don’t want to interrupt his new rhythm ; who knows, maybe he’ll keep the same rhythm even after we get back home.”

Carmina’s evening continued for more than ten minutes. Eva really was an engaging person, she could sense her goodness from the way she talked, from the way she looked at you, and Carmina quickly discovered that it did her good to sit on the same bench with her, to interact normally with normal people, after so long. Mary finally got permission to hold Codin in her arms, and that was all it took : after that, she had eyes only for him, she walked him around the room, she sang to him, she rocked him, she tickled him, and the little boy joined in the game as never before, squealing in delight. When it was time to change him, the three women made a circle around the child, whom they laid on the wooden table, they were like the Three Fates, and the entire operation became an extraordinary adventure, with titters and laughter, a theatrical scene, which the men watched in amusement, and at the end of which they clinked their glasses, which John made sure were constantly topped up—he had brought bottles of Johnny Walker Black Label and Chivas Royal, which meant that Martin’s carafe of cherry brandy was left on one end of the table, ignored. The atmosphere relaxed and the separate groups began to mingle, tongues loosened and stories flowed. Nobody cared what time it was any more, Antim and Carmina exchanged glances at intervals and smiled at each other affectionately, both aware that the fun was doing them good, you just had to look at how much Codin was enjoying being at the centre of attention, Mary and Eva and even the dour teenaged Stefan had become entertainers and Elena, the chalet owner’s wife, hastened to satisfy their every demand : “I want two spoons and a fork,” demanded Mary and she received them, then she began to twist around on her heel in the space between the tables, clanking the cutlery, holding the two spoons back to back in one hand and banging the fork between them with her other hand. The sound of that original musical instrument amused the child.

“I want a funnel,” demanded Stefan, and when he got one, he put it on his head like a hat and started imitating a robot or perhaps the Tin Man. Eva asked for a handful of flour and daubed her cheeks with it, then she blew a cloud of flour at her son, who pretended to be angry and blew flour back at her, covering his mother’s face with the powder and making her look like a snowman... “I wouldn’t worry,” Eva reassured Carmina, when she regretfully announced that she really did have to put Codin to bed. Eva couldn’t guarantee that all the fun wouldn’t turn into chaos : “In the year after he was born my little Stefan wasn’t the best behaved little boy, and he wasn’t after that either, before he went to school, he was the little boy who always said no, he loved to contradict us, he was always twisting his face, yes, don’t laugh, Stefan, maybe you find it hard to believe now, but that’s what you were like, you gave us both white hair. But it passed, he cured himself of it, overnight. I wouldn’t worry about it, my advice is that you should be patient and you’ll find out for yourself that nothing is incurable, nothing is final, things have a way of working out for themselves, as long as we’re not dead set on spoiling them.” She put her arm around Carmina protectively and Mary placed Codin in her arms. “I’ll put the pushchair under the stairs,” Antim told her. “I’ll be up in a minute,” he added. “I’ll just finish this,” and here he pointed at his glass, in which there was still a finger of whisky. “There’s no rush,” she replied.

When she got back to their room it was after eleven. Codin had almost fallen asleep at her chest. She carefully laid him in his cot, undressed him, and instead of the nightie she had bought for a long awaited special night with Antim, she put on some old, slightly frayed knickers and a t shirt. Maybe the next night, their last in the mountains, they would manage to enjoy each other the way they hadn’t really enjoyed each other, as she now realised, since that Friday when it had been revealed to her as an obligatory maternal duty. “Who knows, maybe we’ll be able to provide Codin with a committee of nannies for an hour or two, how good that would be, too good to be true...” she said to herself, and gradually her thoughts became jumbled, more and more jumbled, until she fell fast asleep. Half an hour later, a pleasant sensation roused her from her slumber, an electrifying warmth in her belly, a tension that foretold fireworks. And then she felt Antim deep inside her and it was as if she had found herself after far too long a search.


Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth


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