Teodora Dimova 



Please, mama, don’t go out, why? asked Christina and her eyes froze dead somewhere in space, in one of those torpors that were so scary and Andreya wasn’t able to answer her, she had the feeling that her mother was dying during the few seconds when she froze, she wasn’t sure that she would move again, why shouldn’t I go out this evening? Christina asked again, bewildered, as if nothing had happened, I’ll only take a walk, Christina shot an even stranger glance at her, I’ll just have a walk in the dark streets, you know, I know, mama, Andreya replied, and I’ll follow you and I’ll hide and I’ll be afraid of the streets you walk along, I’ll be afraid to go down the underpasses after you, to slip into the parks at your heels, to watch out for you, to follow you, to turn my back to you in the all-night stores while you pass near me not even suspecting that I’m around, to see how you look around, how you put a bottle of vodka in your pocket, how you look around again, so afraid, so petite, so slight, blue-eyed, with the huge bags under your eyes, I’ll shake with fear that they’ll catch you with the vodka, I’ll see how you sit down on a bench, how you take a swig, how you light your first cigarette, how all sorts of characters keep passing by and you offer them vodka to drink and some of them sit with you, stoned, drunk and you’ll all drink from the very same bottle of vodka, then I get tired of standing in the dark, in the bushes, behind some tree, I get tired of following you, I start to hate you, to hate you so much that my stomach starts to ache and I manage not to burst into tears and I manage not to shout with all my strength into the silence, into the night, a few metres away from you and your accidental company, why, why, why, Lord, did you give other children mothers, when you gave me this wreck, this trash infected with an incurable disease of the soul, why didn’t this trash manage to cope with this wound in her soul while others were managing, why was she drinking so much alcohol, what was she missing, what did she want, she had me, papa, her work, isn’t that enough in the end, what more can a person want from life and where did her disease come from, all of the anguish that emanates from her, the degradation, the decay, why do you suffer, what are you missing, Andreya once asked her, aren’t you satisfied, we have everything, papa works and earns enough, why are you always so sad, mama, why don’t you ever laugh, why are you pulling such a horribly long face, tell me, I’m begging you, tell me and Christina answered: I wake up in the morning, as if I’ve been pulled out of a tar vat full of sorrow, I can hardly even breathe, I feel a physical exhaustion, as if I’ve been working all day and everything is black, black, black and I don’t want to get up and I don’t want to breathe any longer and nothing can cheer me up, every new thought just weighs me down more and pushes me further and further down into the tar vat of despair, but don’t I make you happy, Andreya asked her, no, you don’t make me happy, Andreya, you don’t in the slightest make me happy, you know, the more you grow up, the more I regret that I had you, I regret that I married Pavel, I regret that I’m alive, I regret that I was even born and Pavel and you are both such a terrible burden on me, I have to admit to you, my darling, that sometimes I secretly imagine the two of you being run over by a tramway at the same time, how I’m crying at your funeral and I’m wearing dark glasses, but deep inside me I’m happy, because now I’ll be free to commit suicide, without worrying that my suicide will weigh on your soul, your life, your destiny, but, mama, how can you speak to me like that! asked Andreya as she ran her hand over her mother’s long blonde curls, how can you be so beautiful and so unhappy, mummy, do you really think I’m beautiful? asked Christina, everyone thinks you’re beautiful, papa, your friends, your colleagues, papa claims that all of them were once in love with you, once, once, Christina repeated, once, but not now, now they don’t give me their mobile phone numbers, they don’t open their doors to me, they hide when I go to their places, when I give them a phone call, they just keep quiet and when I do happen to talk to them they just look at me, where did this sorrow come from, Andreya, this lack of joy, it’s a disease, Andreya, this absence of the will to live, this rejection of heaven and earth, I don’t know, Andreya, I’m thinking of paying someone to shoot me, of renting myself a killer, you can’t talk to me like that, mummy, you don’t have the right to talk to me like that, if you agree to shoot me, Andreya, my child, it will be the best thing you can do for your mother, will you do it, Andreya, you’ll be proud that you’ve done a really good deed for your mother, no, please, crying irritates me, you know that crying doesn’t achieve anything, only killing achieves something, and everything they say about crying is nothing but fiction, there are medicines for crying, if you continue, and you’ve already been crying all night, I’ll give you one of my drugs that stop crying, that kill crying, just like I asked you to kill me! If you kill me, Andreya, if you kill your mother, you won’t be a matricide but a mother saver, I’ll work out a plan for you to kill me, of course, I’d prefer a professional to do it, but you see, your father doesn’t even leave me five leva to have in hand, do you think that I haven’t tried, that I haven’t contacted anyone, I have, Andreya, I’ve tried, five thousand euros is the going rate, half before the killing and the other half after the killing, but in my case the whole amount in advance and Andreya slides out of bed, choking on her tears, with reddened eyes, her face tear-stained, with that amnesia that stems from the throes of crying too much for too long, that obliteration of the causes, that torpor, as if Christina had succeeded in tearing out a part of her daughter’s soul, at long last, after a long battle, she had succeeded in tearing it out and now she was consuming it greedily, she was chewing it perfidiously, she was gnawing this piece of Andreya’s soul, perhaps she thought that it would give her some strength or at least that she would infect her daughter with her disease and both of them would suffer together and together they would go into and out of the tar vat of despair and doom and misery, as if Christina bore a cross that was invisible to others, as if she were expiating a sin that was incomprehensible even to herself. The voices of Pavel and his friends were echoing in the entrance-hall where Andreya was seeing her mother off on the incomprehensible nocturnal trajectories over which she had ranged for years while dreaming of her own death, her movements were slowed down by the medication, she was going down the stairs slowly, concentrating, she was holding on tightly to the railing, she stopped on the landing at the elevator, she opened the door, she didn’t have enough strength to squeeze into the elevator quickly and deftly before its enormous iron door slammed into her, bending her shoulders and making her stagger and Andreya was watching her from above and her heart was aching with pity for her mother, her medication, her nocturnal wanderings, because the metal elevator door crushed her and bent her shoulders and as she staggered, she turned toward her daughter apologetically and her eyes were saying: I’m sorry, forgive me for being like this, I can’t even get into an elevator normally and she pressed the button and went down. Outside it was the height of summer, it was the World Cup football final and her father and his guests were laughing in the living room and the refrigerator was packed with beer and nobody noticed or worried about Christina’s departure. Pavel and the others looked upon her as an inanimate object or a boring detail that they had got used to a long time ago and they could deal with her fixed stare, her silence, her presence as she crossed the room in slow motion. When she stayed with them, Christina—numbed, almost immobilised by the medication—meekly lowered her eyes and looked down like a shy schoolgirl, but in fact she was falling asleep, drifting off into those sterile and troubled dreams of hers from which it was even more terrifying to wake up. Pavel had had a mistress for a long time, his first girlfriend from high school, his only love, his great love, she had married and then divorced and for a few years now Pavel and Ina were together again, but Pavel, as he had explained to Andreya, didn’t want to divorce Christina, not because he loved her, but because he felt sorry for her, because there were elementary rules of ethics that did not allow him to leave her on her own in this state. He had said this to his daughter. He had taken her out to a restaurant with him one evening and had explained to her that he’d never loved her mother, that he didn’t know why he had married her. Actually yes I do, I do know, continued Pavel and now I’ll tell you why: it was because Ina, the great and the only love of my life got married after we broke up and I was terribly jealous, and she had a child, and I wanted to have a family too, a wife and child, to be like Ina, a serious person with a family and responsibilities, just like Ina had become, I wanted revenge, I wanted her to be jealous of me and just as unhappy as I was and I married your mother and you were born immediately and I became a serious person with a family and responsibilities and didn’t stop thinking about Ina, keeping track of her life, seeing her from time to time and loving her more and more, being jealous of her, wanting to inflict pain on her, to get even with her, to have her, to make love with her, to live with her, to have children, many children with her. I’m sorry, Andreya replied, I’m sorry that you have only one child and that it’s not with Ina but with Christina, I’m sorry papa that I happened along, I’m sorry that I was born, no, don’t cry, Pavel had said ashen-faced, you misunderstood me, Andreya, really and truly, everyone’s looking at us, please keep your voice down, please, go outside and Andreya shakily left the restaurant, under the dumbfounded and sympathetic gaze of the clients and Pavel left shortly after her and caught up with her and grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her and Andreya saw that he too was crying, that he couldn’t talk, that he was choking on the words that he had just pronounced, Andreya, my child, Andreya, my child, and he was stroking her hair, will you be able to forgive me, tell me, will you ever be able to forgive me?


—Translated from the Bulgarian by Francine Giguère


 back read “The Tragic Act” by Teodora Dimova