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LIDIA VIANU: GUESS WHAT, novel
The thirteenth of November was a rainy day. We met at eleven, he came to
pick me up in his crimson Fiat. I was shy and insecure. Did I want that? I most
likely wanted it because he did. Because it had to happen. “It’s not exactly
a palace, you know,” he told me about the place we were going to. We crossed
the centre of the town, the largest boulevard with the cinema halls and hotels.
He seemed embarrassed, eager to look at ease. The road went past the television
building and then he turned into a narrow lane, parked the car, and we walked
five minutes. It took me a year or two to figure out why he never parked exactly
in front of the building we were going to enter.
As it had been a long autumn, the dry leaves were still on the pavements,
all mushy in the winterish rain, that could turn into snow any time. It was cold
and oppressive. I was quite sure I would not be sorry afterwards. Years later, I
picked the same day to follow my father’s advice and have a child of my own. I
picked it because it meant something to me. He remembered it, too, but now, that
I know so much more, I wonder how many such anniversaries other than ours he has
forgotten. Cristina was born on the thirteenth of July, as if to remind me that
there are no unlucky days. Thirteen is her lucky number.
The room had a rusty lock and, when we had entered, the window was half
underground. He slid the key in his pocket. A bed and a table. The pane was
covered in dark blue paper, with a streak of light very high up, next to the
ceiling. It was almost pitch dark, which was good. I did not want to be seen.
The thought that some servant must have inhabited it in the capitalist past
flickered through my mind.
It did not matter that it was not a splendid hotel room, with lots of
light and a warm bed, a hot tub, room service. I hardly knew anything about all
that. What hurt was that we had to hide. But the room, however similar to a cell
it might have been, was not repellent to me. I would not have liked to inhabit
it, but as a refuge with him it felt cozy and unusual, not experienced before. I
realized I had never lived in real misery, not even when I slept with my
grandmother in the small room that faced the concrete tiny inner yard. That room
had a huge soft bed with a plush coverlet, a splendid dressing table with three
mirrors and a greenish glass box with lotus flowers on the lid. Inside there
were all sorts of treasures, small silver hair pins, safety pins. When she came
to our house and she was ill, she knew she would not go to her room again,
though I was unwilling to think in those terms yet, she summoned me: “You look
in the glass box and take the silver brooch, I saved it for you.” “Don’t
tell me that, you will give it to me when you go back there, soon.” “No, I
will not.” And she was right. Her neighbours stole her things, and the little
furniture she had left, my father sold for next to nothing. But the dressing
table is in my bedroom to this day, with the dreamy greenish glass box, and it
makes me swim in love whenever I touch its broken brass lid. Whoever took the
silver brooch before we even got there, must still be living somewhere in that
house I am going to court for. As if you could ever win a trial and recapture
The tension between us vanished as soon as he hugged me. It was so right.
For a brief moment it was uncomfortable and then he said, “Now I am all yours,
only.” That was the beginning. I never could doubt him afterwards, not even
when I knew for certain I had good reason to. He touched a deep corner in my
being that nobody had reached. He found the lock, used the key, and there I was,
desperately in love with him. We lay huddled together, quiet, all warm
under his fur-lined mahogany coat. I had no thoughts and no expectations. The
hopes, the painful happiness of each touch, the sorrow of mute proof, the
despair that nothing could make my fanatic attachment go away, it all came
later. But it came to stay.
© Lidia Vianu