Blesok no. 34, September-October, 2003
Prose


Sandglass

Igor Isakovski


    He lied on the terrace, comfortably stretched on a soft rocking bed, and he stared at the ocean. He thought of Lautréamont, and what was so powerful inside him while he had written the inspiring pages that glorified the ocean. He could not name it. It was bad that he did not feel something gleamed inside him. Even worse was that he once had had that feeling. Strong gleaming, fire and eruptions afterwards. Now there was nothing. Now he had a house at the ocean coast and he did not have to worry about the rent and the bills. He was only supposed to think about filling in his day. In the beginning it was very easy. He started to meet the people in the village after he had stayed at home for couple of days. He liked some of them, but after a while he stopped visiting them. He felt that he had nothing to offer, that he was simply steeling from them while he listened to them talking. When he talked, he had the impression that they were expecting big thoughts out of him. Then he felt as someone who was not fully normal. When he spoke about those plain, everyday things, he felt that his words were empty and deprived of any sense. It was nice when he sat with them at some of the cafés at the coast and when they emptied their bottles. He smoked their tobacco and listened to the stories about their families, the children’s illnesses in those families, the new fishing nets that they would buy very soon, if only the fish would improve, and while they talked, he looked at their hands and their faces, at all the marks that time and ocean had left on them, and then he looked at his own hands and he was aware that they were not the hands of a fisherman. It made him feel different than them, and it pierced his insides as an old, but unhealed pain.

    Sunsets were very beautiful. The sun turned the ocean gold, as if it was paying him tribute for the work he had done during the day, and for the work he had done since he had existed. He did not know exactly what the work of the ocean was, and he thought that maybe its very existence can be called work. Still, he too existed but it felt that he wasn’t doing anything. He dozed in the sun, emptier and emptier, as if he became a big sandglass that had been left forgotten at some kitchen shelf. Nobody remembered to turn him upside-down, so that the sand can start measuring the time again: they had lunch and after the lunch they went somewhere, outside the kitchen, and he remained alone, waiting for somebody to turn him upside-down so that he could restart working.

    He walked through the house; there was no corner that he had not sat at. He tried to read on the floor, with his knees underneath him, or he would hug one of his knees and he read bent like that. It reminded him of the time when he was a very young boy and when he stayed for hours at the same position, swallowing the words on the white paper in front of him. Now, he only felt pain in his back. And he felt stupid with himself. He saw himself back in time, but it was no longer him: it was as if seeing someone similar to himself in the broken pieces of the kaleidoscope and the pang in his insides repeated in such rhythmic intervals that he felt like laughing.

    The letters from the other side of the ocean were rarer. It was to be expected: he rarely answered them. Even when he did, there was a big delay in the answers, and his letters felt empty and each one of them looked like having some big shortcoming in itself. He thought it was interesting, the way the letters traveled. Sometimes, he forced himself to answer some of them, only to be able to imagine the trip of the letter in the days that became longer and longer. As if he watched his letter being taken out of the box, and then put in the mail bag, the bag was put in the mail van, and then it was driven to the post office. There, they unloaded the bags, then they were open and envelopes in different colors fell out of them. Most often they were white. They would divide the envelopes by continents, states and the local ones were distributed per city. Then, they would put the intercontinental ones in bags, they would load them on a train to the first airport, there they would distribute them per flight, the plane would take off and at the airport there would be a mail car to pick them up, then to take them to the nearest post office, where they were distributed according to the cities of the country where they were, and some morning the postman would take the letters for his area, and he would go there to release himself of this load of paper and words. Days became longer and longer.

    He tried to see some ship at the horizon, but it felt that there were so few of them at that time of the year. It was the middle of the summer, it was very hot, and the ship sailed far from his vision field. The skies were empty all the time, as if the clouds went around that part of the world, and he felt that if he could see at least one cloud, he could immediately start working, creating a story out of the characters he would see in the cloud. Then he thought that it was just an excuse for the indifference in which he had fallen, and he closed his eyes. He would press his eyelashes so hard that there would be yellow spots diving out in his consciousness. As if he had sunrays in his head. But it did not encourage him to anything. To whatever.

    He stayed at the house and one thing confused him very often; he used to love to travel, discover new places and new food, and feel the flying of the asphalt under himself. Now he could not force himself to get on the road. Most of all he was confused by the fact that he started being afraid of the big cities. It felt that they were crowded and insanely noisy, and that there was some danger looming behind every corner. The concrete fly-overs and all thousands of tones metal that roared above them and around them and everywhere scared him.
    One night, when he sat by the hotel window and listened to the city roar under him. Then he felt it for the first time. The light in the room was off and he sat on the bed, staring at the window. The thin white curtains blew towards the inside of the room, waving the blackness of the dark, mixing it with the dark blue and pale blue color coming from the outside. As if some sad song played though the folds of the curtains, and he felt very lonely. The next day, when he stood in front of the audience, he knew that something had changed. He did not think about how he would introduce himself in front of them. He thought of how many of them had already felt it; the loneliness and fear of emptiness of the room. Now he knew that it would have been better if he had spoken about it. To share that hardship with the human world, to offer comfort and comfort himself with the relief that he would bring to them. But, he did not do it then, or any other time afterwards. It felt that he was reprimanding himself so much for that lost chance that he could not find the strength to forgive himself. On the other hand, maybe he did not want to forgive himself, maybe he wanted to enjoy the tactlessness of the self-accusation and self-pity…



    He remembered the rains on the other side of the ocean as if he had seen them on some old black and white photograph. He did not remember smells; he did not remember how the moon looked like above that part of the planet. Maybe that was why he did not feel nostalgic.
    Nobody believed that he would make it. For truth’s sake, he too had big doubts. But, the man who has nothing to lose tries all roads that open in front of him. Even those that are hidden in the forest of the everyday mist. Here, he managed somehow. They accepted his manuscripts, and when he had nothing more to offer them, they translated his old books. He moved in here, first to be closer to the audience and the readerships where he read. Then they advised him to stay for a while, because the books sold well. He appeared on TV shows, he gave statements for the newspapers and his agent was pleased, and as he said once, surprised beyond any expectation. He spoke the language well, but sometimes he was insecure, and his voice became deeper and louder than usual. The audience liked it. They thought that it was his natural voice. Things moved precisely and as planned, everything fitted like a detailed train schedule. Things ran on the tracks as big cargo trains. That was how he got the citizenship and now he had two of them. When he would look backwards, he felt as if he had watched it all from the side. He did not have the impression that those things happened to him. Sometimes, it made him feel like a cheater.

    One afternoon he hurried to a distant city, to arrive there at noon and read some of his poems. He watched the field that pressured the motorway on both sides, and he felt that he was sailing on an endless sea. The field was green with the grass and yellow with the sun, and the road in front of him was straight and completely empty. It was one of those months when the spring and summer fight for power, and he was sick with that indefiniteness. He turned on the radio and looked at the asphalt in front of him.
    He saw his name on several black and white posters in the city, and following the map they had sent him, he arrived at the university.
    A man in a gray suit wished him welcome several times, while he approached him. He had spoken with him on the phone, he recognized his voice. He took him by the forearm and led him to the entrance of the university. He entered a big amphitheatre; there were maybe three thousand people. They all got up and clapped as he was going to the stage. He stood there and he looked at their faces for a long time. As if checking the opponent before a fight. Whenever he looked at the multitude of faces in front of him, he would get the impression of a single face. This face changed, depending on the vibrations that the audience sent to the stage. This time, the face was a woman. A face of a lady in her mid 30-es, with soft blond hair and dark, brown eyes. She smiled at him in welcome. It felt good. He stayed at the stage for more than two hours. He read without stopping for an hour, then he drank some water and he continued for some time. He gave them the opportunity to ask questions. He responded the best he could; he tried to be clear and precise. There were different questions. Some were funny, some were clever. He liked the funny ones because they did not commit him to being smart, and the clever ones felt good because they told him he was smart.
    “How long does it take to write a poem, Isakovski?”
    “Depends. Sometimes you just need couple of minutes. Another time, it takes days. I think that at those moments, time shows its relativity in the best way.”
    “Which are better, according to you; those that occupy you for a long time, or those that are just part of the moment?”
    “Everything and all of us are part of the moment. I like the poems that I can read after many years.”
    “Are there many poems of this kind, Isakovski?”
    “Enough, luckily.”
    Laughing in the amphitheatre.
    “How do you see the fact that you are not as popular in your country as you are here?”
    “I didn’t know I was popular here…”
    The applause shook the amphitheatre. The audience liked the hypocritical modesty. He could not care less. He wanted to tell them that he was just doing his job, just like the butchers and bankers. If there was a butcher who had a lot of shops around the country, it did not mean that he was popular. Yet, he did not tell them that. Maybe because he had a single store, and he carried it with him wherever he went.
    They came to him to have his books signed. Their faces were smiling, open. He felt their trust.

    He traveled through that big land, they put him in hotel rooms and they came for him when it was time for him to read. He strolled through the cities those several hours that were left before the reading. He looked at the buildings, at the faces of the people, he stood in front of a shop window not to look inside but to listen to the pulsation of the city around him. Cars, trucks, buses, and some whistling of the traffic officer. He listened to the steps of the people; he listened to them wasting the sidewalk. Their dogs sometimes sniffed his pants.

    The smell of the ocean excited him during the first weeks. Then he got used to it so much, just like a man gets used to noise and stops noticing it. He did not miss that smell when he would leave the house. He did not miss anything, except maybe a bit of desire to live.

    In the cities they took him to fashionable cafes, they offered him different drinks, but he took soda or beer most of the time. His hosts raised their eyebrows or shrunk their shoulders with hidden confusion. He knew that his drinking was part of his past, just like many other things. He had no desire to explain it to them. He usually drank beer with the fishermen; he watched how the wet bottle left round prints on the plaited red and white sheets. The stamps were empty on the inside, and he smiled at the irony. Back in time, in his city, he went to dark bars in basements areas. The tables were made of dark heavy wood and there were no sheets. In the hours before dawn, the floor was crunchy with the broken glass and spilled booze. The glass stuck in the soles of the boots and crunched as he walked to his room and the wind blew his coat and his hair on the winter night. Those drunken returns home were the source of most of his inspiration and he mumbled to his chin swearing at the cold and the world and himself. Those drunken returns home and getting drunk to fall asleep easily were a reason for itself, and nothing was holy and nothing was important, because nothing existed.
    Many times, as he sat on the bed in some hotel room, he felt like getting smashed so he would not have to wait for the dawn awake again, but he knew that it was not a solution, and he did nothing about it. He sat and waited. His native city was a city of snobs and petty souls, according to his criterion, but maybe every city is like that, if you live in it long enough. It was a big city with dark boulevards, lots of fog and smog in the fall and winter months, with heavy traffic and edgy waiters.

    It was strange how he remembered some petty and insignificant things from his past. Some eyes that met his in some passing by in a short-lived glow, as a close contact of two planets that could never meet again. Even when it would happen, they would not be aware of the moment of the past meeting, and everything would be in vain. Then, he remembered that he went out from a wedding to phone, and ask his girlfriend to join him, and when he did not find her he got smashed and danced with the whole wedding party, as if he was the groom. The music was sad and the rakija was strong, and when he went out for some fresh air, he kissed the first girl that followed him. Their breaths mixed as the voices of the wedding party mixed with the music and they were fully aware that they were doing something indecent and it excited them so much that they had to merge in the closest shade. The funniest was that he thought of an acquaintance of the girl he had phoned from the wedding. Most of the time he thought of him when he stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom, and sometimes he felt guilty because he had left the girl that loved him so much. As if the face of his acquaintance had emerged from his own in the mirror and as if he scolded him with a long, sad look before disappearing and he would stay alone in front of some mirror in some hotel bathroom.

    “How long does it take to write a poem?” passed through his head. I should have told them that a whole life is not enough; I should have explained that it is a big thing that does not happen every day. I should not have been so prosaic, so… usual. I should have told them that it is the noblest curse that exists, that it is horrible and difficult when you can not write. That you imagine the world as a misery, only to be able to hide your own powerlessness from yourself. That everything loses its sense when it’s gone, as if when you don’t have the woman you love next to you. “How long does it take, Isakovski?”

    He felt that he remembered all of her stories. If nothing else, his logic told him that he could not remember something that he had forgotten. She… Girls and women waited for him when he would leave the reading hall, they handed him his books so that he would scribble his Slavic name on them, and then they would give him their cards. He kept all of those pieces of paper. He never called anywhere. He did not know what to tell them. It is one thing to read in front of several thousand people; it is something completely different to speak to one person, face to face.

    “I’m sitting alone. I’m sitting alone in front of the ocean, completely crushed with pain. I don’t know what I should do to leave this numbness. I can’t say that I miss you, because I couldn’t allow you to see me like this. When you’d be here, I’d try to be normal, gentle and good with you. I think that the word ‘try’ tells you everything…
    Mornings are beautiful, transparent and fresh. The sun hits the bedroom window and then I miss you the most. Then, before falling asleep, before sinking in my nightmare of a failed man.”
    Now it was already clear. He went to the bar, took a bottle and a glass and returned to the table.
    “You know, I think that nobody notices it. These people here, and probably those over there, they think that it’s enough to be secured and insured. I wonder if they’re right, if it would’ve been easier to have thought like that, to be pleased with what I have. But you know I’m not like that. Not yet. Would’ve I been here unless I wrote?”
    He refilled his glass. He emptied it in two gulps, he lit a cigarette. He poured a new glass.
    “I screwed up somewhere. I left them guide me; take me here and there, as if I’m a circus attraction. They helped me get lost, if I can say that, because they wouldn’t have made it, unless I allowed them… I don’t know how you are, and I’d like to. I believe that you read this at home, with your feet underneath you… Maybe with your feet over the end of the bed… I’d not like this to make you sad, of course I wouldn’t. But something makes me write to you. Maybe because I’m here and you’re there and we never spoke if you wanted, if you could come with me. Some people create their own misfortune because of their own stubbornness. Call it being shut down, guard, call it anything you want, but it all comes to that.”
    He drank his glass, lit a cigarette and with the remaining match he burnt the paper. His letters and words were lost in the fire. It looked like the paper was melting.

    He sat at the beach and took some sand in his hand. He watched it pour between his fingers. Time continued to run, with or without him. He got up, took off all of his clothes and entered the ocean.


Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska




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