Novel, "Fiction Ltd." series, Polirom, 2009
In this highly personal novel, Nora Iuga frequently adopts the tone of a diary. In any case, the characters, especially those who make a fleeting appearance, have direct counterparts in real life, from Mayor Johannis of Sibiu to Mayor Liviu Negoiţă of Bucharest Sector III, from poet Adela Greceanu to writer Robert Şerban. The narrator character is Nora. A novel about loneliness, about a life that has reached the time for introspection and retrospection, with a tone that is sensitive but, in terms of style and narrative, highly controlled.
“Ow, it hurts,” said my mouth when I opened my eyes. I can’t explain why, but the more our dreams are voided of images and, above all, of events, they begin to reveal to us texts… whether we see them written, or whether we awake saying them out loud; sometimes old words come, sounds soldered by people of old, word-roots from which meanings have sprung – thence, too, utterances – you awake with a phrase from Zarathustra written in Gothic script, a phrase you long ago forgot and which has suddenly come to light just as lava carries to the surface pieces of old rock – I am writing composedly, ordinarily, but this time a sense cried: “Ow, it hurts!” I didn’t open my eyes, beneath my eyelids there was still the remainder of an image, it was unravelling ever more, it was forcing me to gather up the pieces and they stuck together crookedly, they were superimposed, I couldn’t manage to put them back together, they were like tectonic plates always sliding one on top of the other and not for a moment would they stop so that I could fasten them into a static scene. A thick finger with a long fingernail in my white linen panties pressing me hard at the spot from which I pee… when was it?
The bedroom of light yellow wood, the makeshift table in the middle at which three children used to sit: Lotte, Joczika and Nora. Joczika was Nora’s cousin, he was fifteen years old and a pupil at the Piarist School, Nora was eight and a half and was in her third year at primary school. On Sunday she used to go with Joczika to the cinema to watch Laurel and Hardy films and when he took her home they would buy “Gefrorenes-Ice Cream” from the handcart in front of the Orthodox Cathedral in Elisabetin. The finger pressed even harder. Lotte, the older cousin, tall, thin and flighty, kept insisting that Aschenbrödel as a German name for Cinderella was more beautiful than Aschenputtel… I looked her straight in the eye so that she would think I was listening and I could not remove Joczika’s finger from my panties. “Ow, it hurts!” – I fled to the bathroom, in the panties two little, red droplets… the pain lasted no longer than half an hour, and the blood no longer flowed. When the cake with the candles arrived I had forgotten everything… we had played like the time when I inserted the stopper from a bottle of gomenol in my rectum and I could not get it out except when I went outside. Sometimes I say things exactly as they happened, and this bores me terribly, doesn’t it bore you? I can almost see you asking in bewilderment, “You who?” “You, of course!” What possessed me to describe that exploit which didn’t even mark me so much as a mosquito bite, and when you think that they might consider it rape… They who? They! Even in adolescence my friendships formed not according to affinities but rather by a coup de foudre, the criterion, that chaotic criterion void of any motivation, proved, at crucial moments in my life, to be the only one valid. Perhaps it is precisely the oddities which guide us by remote control that gave birth to the old beliefs about good and bad fates, about the one who appears to us in the mirror on the night before Epiphany, or about the silver platter from which the one-year-old child is made to choose the object that foretokens him something, known to him but not to us. My Tiberiu told me when he was nine years old that the only thing in this world he liked was to dance. I blindly went along with him, happy that he had chosen without looking for advantages and disadvantages. I say that appetite knows what it has to do better than self-interest, just as you sometimes set off in pursuit of a streak of perfume down the street of some strange city… something like that. If it happens that somebody, antipathetic from the very first moment, wins my friendship thanks to some objective virtue or other, it is impossible that, in the end, he won’t do something to confirm my antipathy on first meeting him. But what is it that I am trying to prove with all this prattle? Whence we will have enriched ourselves with yet another tasteless shortcoming, as if we didn’t have enough already, from the Romans, from the Phanariots: because I never know whether Nora A. and Nora B. are not Romulus and Remus themselves, made to suck from two she-wolf teats, now Latin milk, now Greek. And thus prattle is the most important Balkanic occupation, because it consumes fifty per cent of our lives… and so here I am, still walking, and as if out of the blue I have reached the Camps Élysées, where I vaguely remember that I was going to meet a stranger, a middle-aged kangaroo, sympathetic or antipathetic, depending on how the roulette ball decides. I’m wasting my time. A month ago, just before I went to Venice – there you have it, the thing that gave me this idea, like a boat on the waves, now in Greece, now in Italy – I found in the letterbox a picture postcard with a photograph of a blonde lady, whose facial features would have obliged Picasso, in his Cubist period, to make excessive use of the triangle. I shall call her Eliza because I don’t recall her real name: VOTE ELIZA X (PNL), for Sector III City Hall. We were in the midst of an electoral campaign. It was a great dilemma. I may have loved the liberals since tender infancy, when in the house of Mr Teodorovici, inspector of the National Houses and Knight of the Order of Michael the Brave – second class – at the weekly poker game three gentlemen would make their appearance, General Manolescu, Professor Titeica, and Mr Markoff, with his morganatic air of being and at the same time non-being, but my Teutonic properness, inherited from another unattested branch, but still preserved by word of mouth, made me feel antipathy towards Mrs Eliza X from the very first moment. However, I cannot lay the blame solely on her triangles, but her posture as virtual usurper of Negoiţă, mayor in office of Sector III – do-it-all builder of fences, playgrounds for children and dogs, and tarmacadamed parking places, foremost feller of poetic poplars – transformed her in my eyes into a malefic incarnation, a kind of Lilith in the flesh and bone. Thus, in the polling booth, in my consciousness there gaped a chasm between passion and duty – exactly like in El Cid – into which fell, of course, lady psychologist Eliza X. This ought to have been an interlude.
And here I am again in front of the television set. “Face to face over the baize table / Some demand death, others life” as in the poem by Maria Banuş. It’s an extremely serious matter and my tone leaps like a jack-in-a-box on the nightstand of an intensive-care cubicle. There’s nothing at all funny in it, especially given that I’ve just taken my blood pressure, it’s nineteen point eleven, and I’m dying of fright. Perhaps I ought to consult with Nora B., perhaps she knows the latest theories about the causes of spontaneously occurring oscillating arterial hypertension – how can you do such a thing all of a sudden, having only just woken up, nineteen, when yesterday you had all day, point ten, but you languished, hours on end, you wracked yourself trying to piece back together the torn-up sheet of writing paper that is your brain; you wanted merely to finish off a simple sentence, let’s say: “The horse is running.” But when your mind finished uttering the word horse, it reached the torn part of the paper and leapt straight onto another shred on which could be found the word “wall” and again it baulked and it was as if it was playing hop-scotch… “through whitewash and lavender..” God, could this be how it began for Cioran? The most tremendous minds, and just as I was feeling the genius kicking its little legs beneath my skull… what’s that Mrs Eliza X. is saying, “insipid and crumbly as an English biscuit” – who was it said that? Yes, I know, but it didn’t refer to the psychologist lady, it referred to Şahighian – because at six months he must be moving, he even defends himself like a… I’ll tot it up; if at the beginning of July he will have been in the girl’s belly for six months, it means he will be born exactly three months later, which is to say on 1 October. He’ll be a Libra, the Scales, or the Rocker, as Adriana says, nothing is for sure with this foetus that is rocking back and forth in that swarthy little belly; better if his umbilical cord got tangled around his damned throat and strangled him already, rather than… “I mean, how could it not feel, it’s a strapping great…” says the doctor; a curettage at that age is pure punishment for a physician; the child struggles, sometimes it grasps his finger, it kicks him and if he pulls it out alive, it screams, how can you kill it? He throws it into the bucket alongside the placenta like a crumpled handkerchief, full of blood and mucus, sticky and stinking and leaves it there to writhe, drowning in its own juices. The newborn kittens in the jar in which mother pickled bell peppers in autumn, they swam to the lip of the water and didn’t have the strength to get out, they slithered down the glass sides of the jar, they let out bubbles of air from their nostrils as big as a pinhead and the muzzles gaped no wider than a snapdragon flower… “But that rapist he’s a monster, they ought to bring back the death penalty for the likes of him,” I hear T. O.; it perfectly illustrates that in any moral instance an inquisition is germinating. “They should cut his penis off,” cried my wonderful friend Adriana – women can neither love nor hate except in images. Every penetration is a stabbing, in conclusion, all women are victims, all men are rapists by the very nature of things; men rejoice when they strike the innards, women groan for the pleasure of their aggressor and the benefit of society – emotion is always profitable – this is how the sexual brains of lady psychologists think and the television viewers are won over by the rigour with which said ladies know how to bring everything into the equation. “How can anyone imagine” – I don’t know who spoke, Mrs Eliza X. or some other lady psychologist ending in “-escu” – “that a ten-year-old girl could willingly accept to have relations with a man…” Listen to that, eh, Nora, to what those ladies are saying, that we are abnormal from birth, do you recall how your fingers used to fumble in that huge bed of Big-Mimi’s, I’m talking about our grandmother, because if I haven’t forgotten there is no way you could forget either; in our house, only the manicurist used to call her Madam Teodorovici, Madam Teodorovici all day long… you know, where the legs end and when you open those soft flaps, so soft that we used to call them apricot halves, you remember, they had already sprouted sparse, blond strands and your fingers had gone mad and thwack they pressed the pink button – how could you have forgotten the doorbell, it was buzzing in your blood after all, that buzz ran all the way from the crown of the head to the heels and it was as good as only heaven knows, listen, Nora, I mean, how else, if it was Puiu, the landlady’s lad, in bed next to me, him with his underpants down to his knees, me with my cambric nightshirt hitched up to my throat, our bellies pressing – like that time at no. 28 Giuleşti Avenue, when I was eight years old – do you think that I didn’t let him do to me whatever he liked, if it was so good? That is what women are like, you also say, I think that even a keyhole excites a man more than some mincing lady psychologist who would be more suited to working for Mengele recycling hormones in their asexual image and likeness. The lad, the uncle, the rapist, the one whose severed head and penis they demand, the monster, in other words, is as handsome and embarrassed as one summoned to the blackboard without having done his homework… and as surprised. Our eyes meet for a moment; his on the glass, mine in the room… “Our Father who… make it not be him, I implore you, let it not be him, make him fall off his horse and make all the amazons break his neck, the stupid amazons that are just like nasty, uncouth Spartan women, stiff planks full of splinters, without tits, without soft flesh at the edge of the iliac, so that all the Spartans in unanimous euphoria enrolled in Leonidas’ campaign preferring to leave their delectable holes at home to the lust of their enemies, who were grunting with pleasure… not like those virtuous ladies for whom life is a mathematics exercise book in which you keep a strict record of the dates of your cycle and ascertain that you’re left with only three days when it’s allowed, but even those are risky, and so the best thing is to kick that naked eagle out of the nest just when it’s cosiest for him, to let him void himself where he will, in his belly button, on the sheets, on the carpet, anywhere but inside you… “Well, if an eleven-year-old girl gives birth to a child; a child with a child, in a few years she’ll definitely become the permanent inmate of a hospice” – and the voices of the lady psychologists that unfailingly fall like a shutter in its grooves. Only the powerful and haughty Hannibal has nothing to say, no one is asking him, he is ever ante portas, because she, the lady psychologist won’t let herself be victimised and the child must die before the woman can give it birth so that not a single streak of its flesh can stand in her way, because at eleven years old it is better to kill your child than the future. After the lethal injection and the irreversible vacuuming of the six-week foetus straight into the meat-grinder, the little gypsy girl opens her eyes, asks for something to eat under the friendly sun that laughs through the flowery curtains, she drinks her milk and eats her muffin, nibbles a little caviar, sips a little fresh pineapple juice and afterward the rich Romanian lady from London dresses her up nicely and takes her to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and she is so happy…
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth
“Nora Iuga is an astonishing person. Because she has never stubbornly remained blocked in any one project, in any one style, because she eludes categorisation, because she rejects schematism.”
(Elena VLĂDĂREANU, Averea)
“In Nora Iuga’s novel, one discovers the body of a poem (like the core of an apricot stone), in which, this time, that laconism, that cutting into the flesh, no longer functions.”
(Iulia ARGINT, Adevărul literar şi artistic)
“Nora Iuga writes a literature in which poetry and prose fit very well together on the pages of one and the same book.”
(Adela GRECEANU, Harper’s Bazaar)
“The likeness of Nora Iuga’s prose to that of English-speaking writers goes beyond any potential comparison with Virginia Woolf. Nora Iuga also practises the Faulknerian ‘stream of consciousness’ sentence, as a counter-response to lucid, self-searching discourse, an uninhibited incursion into the hidden and confused ‘face’ of reality. Going further, we might even find a Bekettian tone…”
(Serenela GHIŢEANU, Timpul)
“Nora Iuga is a rare and fortunate example of an author who writes better and better, who has earned her literary reputation hard but solidly.”