Blesok no. 112, March-April, 2017
The Gluttenburg Mannequin
The Gluttenburg Mannequin
from A Week in the Life and Death of Grozdan
Translated to English: Rumena Bužarovska
It’s strange, thinks Grozdan while standing in front of the department store window in … Göteborg, no, Grüttenburg, Gratenstrassen… ah, whatever. And he doesn’t find it strange that he doesn’t know which city he’s in, even which country. He has long ago learned not to pile up information in his memory that doesn’t interest him. He also doesn’t find it strange that Buba, as she was seeing him off, had said something similar: “It’s strange…” but he didn’t manage to hear the whole sentence. The nervousness before trips and the dullness of goodbyes. And he really can’t tell why he agreed to take part in this investigative journalism conference. Actually he can; ever since he hasn’t had a steady job, he has been accepting everything offered to him, even though he has never been a fan of this ultimate journalistic dogma – investigative journalism. Something always reeked of police set-ups and smear campaigns. He has always believed that the profession can and should serve the public interest in some other way. It should…
And so we see Grozdan on the square in – oh, never mind where… standing befuddled in front of the local department store window. Looking at his own reflection in the shop window, he notices that he is more hunchbacked than he thought he was and that his beard is whiter since the last time he saw himself in the mirror. His face is also pale. Almost white. But he puts this down to the tedious journey and the even more tedious translator and host, who for some reason thinks that Grozdan is really dying to know about the state of journalism in his country. Even the beer with an unpronounceable name he had in a nearby café was bland, so he swapped it with some kind of schnapps, which was inhumanely warm.
His pale face, soon to turn yellow, is now reflected on the flat surface of the naked body of the mannequin which is just being placed in the shop window by two employees in blue uniforms. They are carefully placing her feet apart and setting her arms as if she’s sowing in a field. Grozdan finds this strange because the mannequin is naked and basically doesn’t present anything.
The blue uniforms disappear inside the store. They are alone: he, Grozdan, outside on the sidewalk, and she, the naked anonymous mannequin in the shop window space. He gazes at her intently. From head to toe. She has long, blonde hair. In a ponytail. Grozdan feels that he knows her from somewhere. That he has seen her recently. In the airplane? At the airport? The waitress that brought him his beer? One of the women at the conference? No, he can’t remember. Her eyes are colored blue. Pretty precise, thinks Grozdan. They are large, bigger than usual, even for a mannequin doll. The lashes, of course, are long and artificial. One of them is droopier than the other, as if she is about to wink at him. Her lips form a half-smile, as if she were slightly mocking him. She has a fine, small chin. All she needs are dimples.
Her shoulders are narrow, the breasts fine (well, she’s a doll), her arms lanky and disproportionately long, but still somehow natural-looking. What is she doing? Is she sowing, begging, pleading, reaching out to someone? She has a gold bracelet around her left wrist. Her legs are long, slim and set apart, as if she were taking a step.
Grozdan does not know how long he has been standing in front of the shop window. It is as if he can hear the sky above him. That’s because suddenly everything stops. There is no one around him. There are no passers-by, no cars. The air is still. Only the two men in blue uniforms go inside the shop window and carry off the mannequin with the blonde hair in a ponytail and the gold bracelet around her left wrist. The taller of the two grabs her by the head, the other by the feet. A threatening void gapes from the shop window. There is a scent of tension in the air.
And here they are again, the men in the blue uniforms. They are faster this time. They are carrying a new mannequin into the shop window. Now it’s a man. Not just any man, but Gyosh the newsstand salesman. It’s him. He’s wearing the same shirt he always wears and the same jeans. His reading glasses stand on the tip of his nose. But this time Grozdan does not study the mannequin’s appearance. Instead he peers around, trying to make sure where he is. He strolls back several meters away from the shop window and then approaches it again. It seems to him that once, in another life, he was here. But not quite so alone and so unnerved as he is now.
It is as if the blue uniforms never left the shop window. They have already removed the unexpected mannequin of Gyosh the newsstand salesman, as if knowing this is not his place. In his place they put up two mannequins holding hands. A couple. Grozdan starts touching his arms and legs. This is completely impossible. They are Buba, his wife, and Boshko, his best friend. Buba is bubbly, with a smile on her face. She’s wearing an elegant black suit and matching skirt. Boshko is giving him a wily wink. Grozdan feels a numbing pain in his stomach. Before they started a relationship, Buba was Boshko’s girlfriend. So much time has gone by. Next year is our 30th wedding anniversary. It’s surely been 35 years, maybe more. Before they started a relationship, Buba was Boshko’s girlfriend. So much time has gone by. Next year is our 30th wedding anniversary. It’s surely been 35 years, maybe more.
Grozdan no longer has time for noticing particularities on the mannequins. That’s why he doesn’t see that Buba is barefoot, that she has no shoes, no socks. He won’t notice the white envelope peeking from Boshko’s pocket. The blue uniforms are now really expeditious. The mannequins change with incredible speed. Here’s Milica Josifovska now! Come on, you know Milica Josifovska. Our math teacher from elementary school. There is a big wooden compass next to her, an alleged educational tool, but in the case of Milica, an efficient disciplinary tool. (Grozdan is beginning to feel that Milica’s appearance in his strange experience is grotesque). The next mannequin is Sonya, his first love, the girl who made a man out of him. Or, at least that is what he thought at the time. She looks good for her age. And here is Greenie, the kid he bullied in elementary school; then Gigi, his friend from Italy whom he met somewhere on the Adriatic coast; there’s Alexey, the guide of the children’s two-week prize trip to Bulgaria; then Mirko, his colleague who passed away too young; his grandmother Budimka… Grozdan sees that an entire hidden world, concealed for centuries, is now trying to see the light of day. To present itself to him. Has he wronged them somehow? Should he apologize? Or just remember? Is there a lesson to all of this?
Suddenly a strange thought passes trough his mind. This is the department store of his hometown! The one that is now gone. What is his Na-Ma doing in Göteborg, Grüttenburg, Gratenstrassen, whatever. And what is he doing here, at just this time and place? Yes, he is the participant of a conference on investigative journalism and in the afternoon he has a presentation on the role of investigative journalism in his country. What time is it now? He can’t be late. The organizers have covered his accommodation, travel costs and fee. On top of all a chance to arrange other such presentations that can bring about another fee.
Grozdan lifts his right hand towards the top left pocket of his journalist vest (the vest, in fact, is a fishing vest, but he likes to call it a journalist vest) in order to take out his mobile phone and see what time it is. He puts his left hand in the pocket of his jeans to check if the hotel key room is there (he never leaves it at the reception desk). The Na-Ma shop window is completely bare. There are no mannequins, there is nothing else. Just the white floor tiles. White is the street sidewalk. White is the street. White is the sky. White is the air. White is the reflection of his face in the shop window.
Grozdan’s movements are slow. He feels like he’s been standing in front of the shop window for decades, for centuries. That he has been petrified there. His hand, the one supposed to retrieve the mobile phone, is heavy, as if lifting a 200 kilo weight. And just then, just before reaching the phone he is stunned to see a blue color ripping through the whiteness. The blue starts to spread through the snow-white void and it takes ages for Grozdan to realize that the blue uniforms are back in the shop window and that they are again setting up a mannequin. Slower than the slowest asteroids.
Grozdan stares transparently. The mannequin in the shop window – it’s him. He is more hunchbacked and his beard is whiter than the last time he looked at himself in the mirror. He seems confused. He’s got a fake and crazy smile on his face, like the one in the summer holiday photograph in Saranda (or it could have been another photograph, but it doesn’t matter). His entire posture is grotesque. His right hand stands raised next to the top left pocket of his journalist vest (in fact, it’s a fishing vest, but…), while his left is in the pocket of his jeans.
What’s this? What’s this? struggles Grozdan’s mind. And he begins to hover, while the world begins to spin. The two blue uniforms are at his side. One of them holds him by the head, the other by his feet. Grozdan wants to ask what’s happening. Grozdan wants to kick. Grozdan wants to scream. Grozdan wants to run. But he can’t. His lips are fixed in a crazy smile, like the one in the photograph in Saranda. He is frozen, just like in the photograph, like a statue, like a mannequin…
The two carriers and Grozdan are already inside the department store. It is large, white and eerie. One of the blue uniforms opens an equally white door in the left corner of the empty space of the Na-Ma. There is a white room beyond the door, padded in white pillows. The floor is also padded in white pillows. The people in blue uniforms throw Grozdan onto the heap of discarded mannequins. Grozdan’s fall is infinitely long. He hovers in the still air. He manages to see Buba and Boshko, lying next to the right wall, holding hands. Buba is barefoot, but Grozdan can’t see that anymore, just like he can’t see what has slipped out of Boshko’s suit, the white envelope now blended with the white room. And then he falls next to the blonde mannequin with her hair in a ponytail, a gold bracelet around her left wrist.
Who was this lady? Who was…
And Grozdan finally slips into unconsciousness.