Thursday, June 8, 2017

Dark Horse, by Maja Vusilović


 Dark Horse

Short description: Woman of foreign descent lives in infamous Brno neighbourhood. In order to keep her sanity, she tries to reconcile her personal life with the disturbing past that keeps haunting her.


Light does a big favour to a lot of different things here in Cejl. This place is not about the aesthetics. This is not what comes after Dada. You might believe it deserves the privilege of being marked as post. This is how we call cringeworthy things difficult to elaborate now. Anyway, there is no longer space here to talk about ugly and sad. These words belong to some different time.
Hype books demonstrate how many different stories are stashed here, about factories and workers and how they vanished, leaving this place in pangs of sorrow after the war ended. These two tall funnels witness it in some way. Embraced by three red ribbons each, they let out smoke in such graceful way, guiltlessly, as if you were supposed to believe they’re not toxic. ‘If you watch them from my flat in the evening, when it’s not too dark to see them, it begins to feel dauntingly pleasant, like in a dystopian novel,’ Tatjana tries to explain to her Lover. Does he even know what dystopia is? He murmurs and turns his back on her twin bed. She stays immersed in this thought. Daydreaming is another word she borrows from her previous life.
Tatjana is exhausted every time she wakes up in her Lover's embrace, although she’s not sure if she should even call her Lover lover. He’s just a fellow lonely person she’s got almost nothing in common with. He’s not like her, because he’s another Pavel, Honza and Martin. The name itself says so much. They keep each other busy while his soft skin feels like mozzarella cheese or an egg white after ten or more minutes of cooking. He looks like a wet, newly hatched baby bird and he doesn’t judge her. In return, she doesn’t ask for more.
‘It’s much easier to catch their gaze here than it was before,’ she thinks. Men here take love in such pragmatic way it almost includes some sort of unflattering laziness. It feels liberating now to remember how in previous life, apathy and lack of validation caused her lots of suffering.
Now it’s different. Not that she’s exotic, but there is just something about her weird accent. So much depends on the cases. It’s the instrumental that especially gives her a hard time. Locative will mercilessly give her away as well. Any declination of cardinal number equals a suicidal act. In the moment she’s forced to apply that grammar rule, the game of dominance finishes and she immediately becomes submissive without consent. No one admires hard work dedicated to memorising all the cold and stiff suffixes, so familiar, and yet so distant. This is never going to be considered a cultivated knowledge of foreign language, but rather a necessity that came as a result of time that simply passed. As if we were in war forced to gain new skills in order to survive.
‘Is it Taťána or Tatiana?’ The correct spelling has already lost its meaning. She’s probably somewhere from East Europe, who cares. But, she can also be mistaken for a pale Roma lady everybody envies for her hair. Good thick Roma hair. Like horse’s tail, straight and flattering, so easy to keep nice.
Apart from these pensive passages, Tatjana has a proper life with a purpose. This life includes a young child, health insurance, paid taxes and a decent job in the other part of the city. She takes few different busses to get there. They all smell of homeless people, and no matter how clean she leaves the house, this smell always sticks to her. There’s a lot of nature you can observe from the window on the way, as well as too many pregnant ladies or fit ladies with their children. For her own amusement, Tatjana likes to pretend she’s not a mother among them. She plays peekaboo with a random child that stares at her out of boredom, while mommy dares to chat with another passenger that also took maternity leave. She even fakes naivety while helping them to deal with a giant stroller that could also be used as a rickshaw, for sure.
The work she does is dull, but her excellent working stamina enables her to wear a disguise of dignity and, on some rare occasions, ambition. Key symbol she leans on is a stern white button-down. Most of the time, it’s just a strategy how to stay lucid, or at least alive. ‘When did that start being so hard?’ There are a lot of men around her at work. They are all foreigners who most of the time act clubbish and talk in the manner they learned from the TV shows. Their laughter is uncomfortably loud and it makes Tatjana feel like a prey. It’s intimidating to sit among them during the lunch. It’s just like in high school, only sadder because they’re grownups and were already supposed to operate on some different paradigms by now. Tatjana sees herself somewhere else in the future anyway. ‘This is just for now, so why would I even bother with displaying any particular aspect of my personality to these losers?’ That’s just one of the mantras she will repeat while quietly eating her salad. Maybe she’ll decorate it with few civil smiles or politeness that exceeded comments about the weather. Back on the bus, she finally goes home. Saved.
Majestic trash in Cejl and other hidden streets is something that makes good job at keeping Tatjana mindful again. How did this place manage to cultivate its trash so bravely? Litter all over and dog’s excrement as well, because plastic bags attached to yellow trash bins stay notoriously ignored or used for other purposes. Latter, the offensive one, does not make Tatjana nauseated anymore, not even the fresh piece. You can tell which one is new by its firm, defined form that has some sophistication in itself. Before it gets crushed into hundred uneven pieces or gets daubed all over the pavement and makes a terrible mess no one feels obliged to take care of. Tatjana is sure she never stepped in any of them so far.
It’s most probable that someone is going to yell in front of the house, once she gets there. Today, there’s a particularly disturbing sight. ‘Who’s that jerk? Why won’t he move from the gate?’ When he finally does so, on demand, he calls her madam, smells of alcohol and tries to grab her butt. Of course, no shocker, what else would he do. When she turns round to give him a dirty look, his eyes meet hers with a surprise of a person who just acknowledged his actions might be interpreted in a wrong way. ‘He just wanted to pick up the lighter!’ This is what Tatjana wants to convince herself into. Scenario she makes up as a last attempt to keep herself calm.
Still in the hallway, it seems like it’s taking forever for this scene to end. Before she climbs up the stairs, Tatjana spots a woman standing in the elevator with two grown-up children. They are forced to witness, because it takes too long for doors to close. It’s too blurry to search for the empathy in their faces. She left her glasses in the bag. Anyway, Tatjana can feel their concerned faces - this affects them as much as it affects her. They are probably related to him.  
‘Why do they always have to be blessed with this innocent look?’ The pangs of some particularly disturbing mood define her in next three hours. Or was it more? It’s so hard to keep track of time while being trapped with the same thoughts and flashlights, lying on this stained mattress. There are some leftovers peeping from the past, pushing hands from fire, they will get her, just like when little annoying children are trying to giggle a grown-up. But these are some other ideas she’d already learned how to deal with. ‘Just face it, ok? It happens all the time.’
When she finally gets tired of overthinking and anticipating the worst case scenario (‘Is there one in this case?’), she’s embraced with a cloth of strange confidence. In a moment like this, she no longer cares. It’s the same kind of alleviation that you get after three glasses of wine. Sooner or later, it all leads to the same end. Another thought reminding her of how her daughter was conceived.
It was all over the news. He knocked her down, as he came racing like a rampant bird. Tatjana wasn’t even scared. She thought the man was just rushing to catch a bus that wasn’t even there. Instead, she found herself in the bushes, after her head hit something really hard, probably a stone or a brick that disabled her to use her strength on that weakling. Her father’s strength, apparently bull’s strength, one they practiced together on the meadows in her previous life. ‘Why is the memory so hard to be placed in this life as well?’ She was not able to move at all, lying in the small puddle of her own blood, Tatjana waited as she watched his silhouette getting lost between the communist panel buildings. Elegant as a slender deer in a wood full of naked trees with thorny branches.
When Tatjana finally gave birth to her daughter, she named her after a significant female that used to inspire her in her previous life. And she was judged for it. Baby cannot have that embarrassing name. She couldn’t have pushed herself into buying one of those giant pashminas green Brno mothers wrap their babies in, so they look suffocated in healthy, socially acceptable way. Soft braces, light pink nipples, neat sustainable products altogether covered with maternal magic. Tatjana and her daughter are not like that. She doesn’t envy them, though. Instead, she’s grateful for the good days on which she’s able to remain busy.
Busy means not being reminded. But sneaky leitmotifs still manage to stay, keep you awake and give you digestive problems. ‘How can a person imagine throwing their own baby from the top of the stairs, watching her skull being smashed on the floor and her tender meat being divided between some wild animals?’ It took Tatjana a lot of courage and work to stop blaming herself for having gruesome ideas like these.
At one of the trashy job interviews she had, Tatjana was asked what she considers her main life success to be. If it wasn’t for this cold corporate creativity, she would have even considered an honest, humble answer. But for that occasion, she decided to go with sugarcoating. Summer camps, language courses, master’s degrees and other reflections of civil obedience will sound more satisfying than winning a so-called war on anxiety.

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