Blesok no. 66, May-June, 2009
Prose


Remote Control

Slađan Lipovec


– Did I scratch you? Sorry. You wanna smoke? Can you get the cigarettes? What do you mean, do I get along? Of course I do. The most important thing is to be normal with them.
    Not to allow them to surprise you. The other day I’m entering the school – I’m hardly wide awake and, walking, I dream my first cup of coffee, while they are already fighting. They’re really slugging away. Where do they get the energy, I thought while I made my way through the fans around them. You can imagine tiny me separating two raging sixteen-year old kids who are thrashing each other while the others are cheering them. I make my way between them but get no reaction. They stopped only when I myself receive a blow. It was only then that they realized who and what I was. They stiffened. Froze. I’m standing, like between them, and they, heads bowed – are crying. The smaller and the taller fellow. You should have seen them. Both crying rivers of tears. Red-cheeked as they were, disheveled, their shirts opened. The nose of the taller one was trickling blood onto his light blue sneakers. I felt sorry for him, knowing his ma might have bought them for him that very morning.
    – Do you like the way I pass my nails across your back?
    So, nothing came of my morning coffee, I unpacked my things, took the roll book and went to class. I enter the classroom, all rise, greet me and… silence.
    But the first time I entered the classroom it was as though I wasn’t there. They kept on talking, made faces and shouted. And when I told them that I will be the replacement teacher for the whole year they went nuts. They came up to me and introduced themselves – these were really putting on an act. I thought it will be difficult to teach an all-boys class, boys learning to be chimney sweepers, but it isn’t. I have a method.
    Swell, I say, I see that you are outgoing so we won’t have any problems. We’ll start by repeating what you have learned up to now. Everybody will get a chance to do well. To get a good grade. Initially there was some grumbling but this gradually abated. I am tapping with my nails on the table. That was the only sound. And the turning of sheets. Nobody raises his head, all are absorbed in going over what they had previously been taught. That’s how things stand now. I, as though nothing had happened, will say: open your readers to such and such a page. Today we will interpret (they quiver on the very mention of the word interpret) the poem titled This night I could write the saddest of verses, by the Chilean poet, the winner of the 1971 Noble price for literature, whose real name is Neftali Ricardo Reyes Bosoalto, who wrote under the pseudonym, do we know what a pseudonym is, Pablo Neruda. The poem that you have in front of you comes from his collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. He wrote it when he was twenty so that, I believe, you’ll have no difficulty in understanding it. Therefore, each of you will read the poem to himself, but in order to improve your oral fluency, which is also one of the functional aims of this course, each of you will interpretatively, with feelings, read it aloud. Of course, afterwards we will discuss the poem, determine what is its thematic and its motifs, reveal the stylistic means of expression that were used by the poet. For homework, depending on what you choose to do, you will research and describe what is a pseudonym, find out who was Ian Neruda or write a poem or an essay whose theme should be love. Read the poem individually and then we will proceed to read it aloud. I’ll show you, mama’s sons, what it’s all about, I thought to myself.
    – Hey, my ash will fall. Please, get the ashtray. Slowly, don’t move too much so that it doesn’t fall out…
    And really, all of them are reading: this night I could write the saddest of verses write for example that the night is full of stars… and the two who were fighting, who are seated together: the same night clothes in whiteness the same trees we alone who once were are no longer the same
    Only the bell interrupted their rapture. I ask them what happened. As though this was what they had been waiting for, they immediately started to apologize, that they will never do it again, not to send them to the principal and, interrupting each other, they told me:
    – How Jurica (the smaller one) woke up pissed off…
    – He has been like that since Kristina broke off with him…
    – And his old man had also given him some bullshit…
    -While Igor as a good morning greeting had hit him with his palm on the shoulders…
    – And Jurica had said: What’s with you, you whore’s son and grandson, all the women in your family are whores, you think that if you’re two hundred pounds you can fuck with me!
    – And jumped to pound Igor on the nose with his head…
    – But Igor had bowed his head…
    – So that they clashed with their foreheads…
    – And Jurica fell down from the impact…
    – But immediately stood up and hit Igor with his fist…
    – Who in return punched his head a number of times…
    – And under the ribs…
    – And on the ears… Why on the ears, you motherfucker!!!!
    – And then I came along…
    – But they didn’t mean to…
    – Cross my heart, on my mother’s grave…
    – Really they didn’t mean to…
    I thought to myself, all that I needed was for them to mean to hit me.
    Go away, scram, I tell them, what’s your next class? Religious instruction? Eh, go to religion class and I don’t want to hear about you till the end of the school year, let alone catch you red-handed as I did this morning. You can imagine how that worked out. Today Jurica was waiting for me in front of my office. To let him go to the doctor. That his leg was hurting. But really hurting. And he rolled up his pants: his ankle was swollen like a stump, his calf all purple like it had been crushed. I let him into the office to sit. He pleads with me not to say anything to his mother who will come to the school that same day. I didn’t even need to ask how this had happened to him.
    Last night he had partied a bit. His mother had returned from Germany so that he had to put everything in order. He had two “zolja” anti-tank rockets under his bed. They belonged to an older buddy whose apartment had been searched by the cops. But they had earlier stowed away everything in Jurica’s place. The zoljas and the grass. His old man is always on the road, his mother is abroad so that nobody could find these things. But mother was coming back. And when she comes back she spends a week setting the house in order. He sent a message to Kristina, we’ve made up you know, and to Igor to come to his place to solve the problem. The Montenegrin came with him bringing a canister of wine. They did some drinking at his place, smoked a couple of joints and then, before his mother came to the house, they took the zoljas to hide them somewhere, got on his grandpa’s tractor and went to the levee. Great, it was a warm evening and they sat by the river. They drank some, rolled what remained and, you know, partied outside in nature. They thought of throwing the zoljas into the river, but no good – what if someone catches them angling? It would be better to fire them off. In that way nobody will find them. They took them out but the directions for use were in the Cyrillic script. What now?
    Fortunately, the Montenegrin was there, he had learned the Cyrillic script back home, to read and to translate. Good, now they could take a shot but not at the levee… What if it doesn’t explode? They have to hit something hard. They get onto the tractor again and ride to that concrete dam, yes, that’ll be their target. They descend the levee, Igor takes up the zolja, takes aim, following the directions step by step (get it, I’ve never even heard of the zolja while to them it’s like a remote control, they pick it up and fuck around with it, following directions or without them), fires but it flies over the dam and the levee and explodes somewhere in the woods. Nothing to it, Jurica picks up another and takes aim. This one soared away to a clearing onto some field. They walk over that drainage canal to see where it had exploded. Night had fallen and someone in the house, they didn’t even know there were houses there, some two hundred, three hundred meters to the left of them, turned on the lights. That’s when, he says, they became paranoid, so quick onto the tractor and scram. They drove over the levee for an hour or more thinking that someone might have called the cops. Just before turning onto the road Jurica attempted to bypass some holes and the tractor overturned. All of them fell while it was only his leg that got caught. Nothing terrible, it doesn’t even hurt much but it looks ugly so that he’d like a doctor to take a look.
    – What do you mean, why do they tell all these things to me? I’m like their mother. I understand them better than their own mothers. Go on, put out the cigarette and let’s take a shower. Yeah, yeah, you can even be jealous – sometimes they even come on to me.

Translated by Stipe Grgas




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