Blesok no. 44, September-October, 2005

Stella Maris

Zoran Zafirovski

    I met Stella at a concert in the park when I and my high school band played in Skopje for the first and last time.
    I sat next to a willow and ate a cold sandwich as if it was the last thing in my life. Adrenalin still hit me straight in the head. Some little punks from Skopje played on the stage. They were OK (except for the addresses of the singer to the audience such as Now we’ll fuck you so that there’re more of you). It was dark around me. I saw her some ten meters away. She approached me with self-confident steps of a model.
    “Hi, I’m Stella. Can I sit down?” she asked, running her hand through her hair.
    “Sure.” I said with my mouth full. “I’m Fidel.”
    “What a strange name. Is it a nickname or…”
    “Real name.” I interrupted her. I was used to this question. I don’t know why I lied to her about such a benign issue.
    She was a bit taller than me, with a very pale face and high forehead that was covered with straight black fringes. She wore a gray T-shirt with the smiling face of Robert Smith on, tight blue jeans that looked great on her, and red snickers just like mine, only a bit newer.
    “You were great.”
    “We could’ve been better.” I said and regretted. She’d think I’m showing off.
    “Here’s your band.”
    Tigar and Vasko passed by. The first one waved with his sticks and the other made a funny face. I knew what they thought and I felt embarrassed.
    “And you, where are your girlfriends?”
    “I’m alone. Actually, I came with a cousin, but I lost her.”
    She asked for a tape. I gave her one.
    “Wanna beer?”
    I took out two cans from by backpack. They were warm. We kept quiet for a while. I wandered what she thought. I liked her. A lot. I watched her sip, holding her cigarette, put her hair in her mouth. Then we started talking again. She told me that she lived at the Olympic Pool, went to high school, that she wanted to become a sculptor and that her father died four years ago. I felt I was supposed to say something, but I didn’t know what. I started kissing her slowly on her neck, white as a Prilep marble.
    “You have a good perfume, I love you, je t’aime.” I hummed in her hair, and she started to laugh loudly and contagiously.
    “Stella… it’s a star, isn’t it?”
    “A-huh, in Latin.” She was quiet for some ten seconds and then she pulled a serious face and said, “My father called me Stella Maris.”
    “Sea star.” I translated needlessly and inhaled the cigarette deeply. I started to cough and she patted my back.

    We were at a bench near the pond when it dawned. I walked with her to Rekord and tired, with my guitar that was never heavier, I dragged my feet to City Bus Station. Her words rang in my ears: I’ve had I boyfriend for eight months, he’s in the army now. She hugged me tight before getting on the bus… I didn’t ask for her phone number…

    I wanted to go to the university, but I didn’t know what I wanted to study. I would come up with one idea, then with another one. I dreamed of directing, philosophy, and eventually some ten days before the registration, I decided to try at the Faculty of Philology, Comparative Literature Department. Not that I read a lot, my essays were good; besides, I was told there were many women there. To my great surprise, I passed the entrance exam without any problems, and I was one of the first ones on the list. I decided to be a regular student. I didn’t want to be in the caves at the dormitories, and it was a bit expensive to rent. Eventually, I chose the stupidest possible option, daily bus travels.

    It was October 6, three days after the assassination attempt on Kiro. I sat at the stairs, read a newspaper and waited for the first lecture of Urosevik. All of a sudden, some soft palms covered my eyes. The hyacinth note in the perfume looked familiar. The words: You lied about you name, you son of a bitch were whispered, otherwise I’d recognized her immediately. I turned shivering. She was a brunette now; she wore glasses with brown rims. She had the same milky-white complexion: her face was a bit longer; she was somehow more mature, more serious.

    “Hey, Stella, what are you doing here?”
    “Well, we are colleagues now, Zoran!!!” she said with a childish voice and smiled.
    “How, weren’t you…?” I started to stutter.
    “They refused me at the art academy. I enrolled here in the second term. That’s why you didn’t see me at the entrance exam.”
    The professor came. We entered the room and sat together. I’ll take you for a beer after the class, she wrote on a piece of paper instead of whispering.
    She took me to a jazz club. We sat in a corner and ordered. There was a guy at the bar who was the spitting image of Black Adder. We laughed. As I explained to her how we argued with Tigar and practically destroyed the band, a guy in a black sweater, with glasses and ginger goat tie like a cobweb came. They kissed. She said theatrically, standing:
    “Zoran, this is Serge. Serge, this is Zoran who likes to be called Fidel.”
    “Sergey, nice to meet you.” He said, shaking hands. His voice was deep and clear. He sat down and ordered a juice for himself and another round of beer for us…

    Serge was her boyfriend. The same from last year. A student of electrical sciences, former rock band singer, now a flute player, speleologist, activist in an animal protection association and a basket player. He was a good man. I liked him immediately. We became friends. I started to play basket with him, going to caves, but also going to church often on holidays. He was a believer. A true one. He doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, doesn’t cuss and doesn’t mention the name of our Lord in vain. Once per month we would get on his Bug and visit a monastery. We had to put on long trousers to get in with Stella, cross ourselves before the entrance, go out walking backwards and cross again. We thought it was all funny, but Serge insisted. Still, on St. Nicolas, her birthday, she and I ate sausages and drank beer, and he ate plain beans and fish. Well, it’s her birthday, God will forgive us, we joked with him. He took no offense.

    Once, on Epiphany, while we stood in the crowd at the Stone Bridge, cheering Serge who was down there in a boat, undressed, ready to jump for the cross, shivering with the cold and warming her hands under my scarf (she never wore gloves), staring at the water, she said:
    “I love him…” and then once again, a bit louder.
    “I love him!”
    I was quiet…

    His folks had a summer house in Nerezi. He and Stella passed the summer there. I visited them only once. We sat at the balcony. Stella fried eggs with cheese and peppers. We drank spritzer after dinner. He drank too. He was happy that I was there. A bit tipsy, he started to sing some Byzantine songs. His voice cut through the summer silence, and the lights were on in the neighboring houses. When he sang his whole selection, he was already drunk. I took him to sleep. Stella and I continued to drink beer. She looked as if something bothered her.
    “I read your stories in Koreni,” she said, clearing up the dishes.
    “I’ll introduce you to Isakovski.”
    “Who’s he?” I started to pretend.
    “Your twin brother.”
    “We can’t be twins, he’s older.”
    “You want some coffee?”
    “Sure. A spoon and a half of sugar.”
    “I know.”
    She went in. I followed her after a minute. There were several icons on the kitchen wall. I came closer to take a look.
    “I’m leaving the faculty.” She said, stirring the coffee.
    I thought that she was kidding. I knew that she was preparing the Latin language exam, so she must have panicked.
    “How far are you with the texts?” I asked her, with my face to the wall.
    “You don’t listen… That’s not me… I can’t explain… I’ll try at the academy again.”
    She started crying. She looked like a little child. I wiped off her face. It was red and warm.
    The coffee boiled over…

    It was October. She was gone. The phone calls became very rare, and the meetings short and cold, without the magic from before, I wandered what had happened. I missed them. I passed the cloudy days at the reading room. I rarely went to the café where we used to spend hours together. Serge and I mainly played chess and she did the crossword puzzle. They were gone. Once I met him at the Haustor concert at MKC. He was with a friend. I asked him about Stella. He said she was OK, worked a lot. She took her studies very seriously now. He brought me a beer and disappeared in the darkness.

    I saw them two and a half years later. They came to my diploma defense. Her phone had changed; I barely managed to find her. She was surprised to hear from me. They brought whiskey and flowers. After the exceptionally successful defense on the scary topic of Subjective Relation to Time in Modern Psychological Novel, I took them for a lunch at Zlate’s. I had the feeling that it was the same as before. She bragged that she participated at two group exhibitions already.
    “What about you, how did you find this topic?”
    “Have you read Joyce?” asked Serge.

    Then we went to his place. I made him play the flute. Jano mori, for example. He played and I sang. She thought it was all very funny. Let’s make a band, ethno-punk, she was kidding, her fist on the table. I’ll be the drummer…

    Today is July 11. The sun raised at five seventeen and it will set… I changed the station. It’s hot in the Citroen 2CV. My primary school friend Evto is at the pay-toll. He doesn’t want any money. We shake hands. My mobile rang. Ema.
    “Where are you?”
    “At Bunardzik. The computer factory workers wave at me.” (Ema was a Democratic Alternative member).
    “No shit. Listen, don’t be gone until tonight. We’re going to the theatre.”
    “OK. Bye!”

    I told her that I was going to meet a publisher. First I went to Tabernakul. I bought two books (The Poetics of Myth by Meletinsky and Romantic Agony by Mario Praz); then I went to Jugoton to get discs. I took some twenty pirate ones. I decided to give some to Stella. She can choose herself.

    Her street was one of those Skopje alleys that look as if the time stopped there. Some of the houses were from before the earthquake. Almost all of them had small gardens with wells and roses around the gates and balconies. I parked in front of their garage. Her brother Gorazd was in the yard. He was tinkering with some scooter. He was happy to see me. We kissed.
    “You’ve grown. You’ve started growing mustache.”
    “And you’ve grown old. You have grays.”
    “Is Stella at home?”
    “She’s down, at her studio… Stella!!!” he yelled with a teenage voice. “Fideilo’s here for you!” (that’s how he called me).
    She came out. She wore orange overalls. She had clay on them. She had a short haircut. She only kissed me, not to get me dirty.
    “I dreamt of you the other night.”
    “How are you?”
    “Well… there’ve been better days. And you?”
    “Well, it’s OK.”
    “Let’s go up. I have a sour cherry ice-cream.”
    She sent Gorazd to get beer. I asked about her mother, aunt Lile. She had gone to the spa. She didn’t mention Serge. I had the feeling they were no longer together. She went to take a shower. Gorazd came with the beer. We opened it. He was funny. I asked him about school. Second year high school. Good student. No girlfriend. Stella came out. She ironed his shirt. He was going to a birthday party, and then to the disco. It was interesting to see how she was preparing him, fixing his hair. His friends came and picked him up. We went down to the studio. She had excellent sculptures. She gave me one, and I promised that I would write her a poem. I remembered the disks. I went to the cart and brought them. She took one. Lick by the Lemonheads. Then we talked about arts, elections… She asked me about Ema. Then my answers were short and lazy. I remembered the theater and I switched off the telephone.

    They had a beautiful garden behind their house, fenced from all sides. Not one of those groomed with lot of care, but a real wild one with many herbs and bushes that grew themselves. There was a swing in the middle and a small radio on it. We sat down, A dog was barking in the next yard. It was nice. Night butterflies danced around the light. The whole setting had some breath of magic. Then something moved in a bush, probably a cat, and I persuaded Stella that it must be Scarbo the dwarf, or maybe Oberon.
    “Well, our writer is drunk.” She laughed.
    I held her hand. Her skin had the same well-known whiteness that had always fascinated me with her. As if the sun had never seen it. It was cracked from the clay. I could not help myself.
    “What about Serge?”
    “Give me a cigarette.”
    I gave her one.
    She was quiet. Inhaled deeply. Her eyes turned into pearls. I knew it was not the smoke. She cried.
    “Serge doesn’t exist anymore.”
    I didn’t say anything.
    “Do you hear? He doesn’t exist. He’s gone. Now, there’s only Father Clement!”
    I was silent again. I didn’t have the strength to say anything. I thought of him. He must be asleep now. Monks go to bed early. They rise before dawn, to pray.
    It was very late. The dog had stopped barking long time ago. They played Bauhaus on 103.
    She took off her T-shirt in a single fast move.
    I threw my cigarette away.
    The cross on Vodno shone with soft light above us…

                July 2005

Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska

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