Thursday, June 8, 2017

Speechless, by Marie Dupalová

Synopsis: Out of pure necessity, a poor student must find a roommate with whom to share a tiny flat in the very heart of Brno. Despite the differences between them, the couple manage to form a strange connection that might not be easy to deal with.

It only happened three times.
The first time, we were sitting on our neighbor's balcony. The middle-aged lady from the apartment across from ours had given us her key so that we could water her plants while she attended a conference about something or other. I don't remember the details, it’s always been you who paid attention to that kind of crap. And I gotta say, I admired how you could gain people’s trust without ever talking to them. Those humble smiles, cheerful greetings in the hallway, that ridiculous wreath that you insisted on hanging on the door of our dingy shithole of a flat because it "would make it feel like a home". You getting trusted with the key was no surprise to anybody who’d ever met you.
At that time, we’d been sharing our tiny apartment for only about a month, but I thought I already knew everything there was to know about you. Always playing by the rules, doing all your homework as soon as you got it. Subscribing to the delusion that continuous hard work and dedication would make you happy one day. And until then you’d just make your own happiness. You'd have made a great poster girl for all that Hygge bullshit, constantly trying to make our place (well, your half of it) cozier with your flowers and twinkle lights that kept getting in the way.
And I thought it was all a lie. Trying to pretend that you’re living comfortably. That your life is going well. Unwilling to face the reality that you’re just a student broke enough to share a one-bedroom flat with a stranger. To be perfectly honest, your reckless optimism and all that determined energy about you annoyed the fuck out of me, as I'd made known to you on more than one occasion. That made it all the more interesting when, on that chilly October night, you suggested we ditch our depressing cardboard box, sneak out across the hall and check out the view from our neighbor’s flat.
As shocked as I was by this turn of events, I was equally intrigued and followed you right away. You sat in the small garden chair in the corner of the balcony while I mounted the railing, smirking at the night sky above us.
"You do realize what a cliché this is, right?" I said, curious what you’d do next. "The good girl finally breakin' bad when she can't handle livin' within the rules anymore. You gonna light a cigarette now?"
"That's funny," you uttered. Obviously, you found it anything but.
"No, really. What's the point of coming here? It's not like the view is somethin' special."
"It's not? You can see the whole city from here."
"Are you kidding? Fuckin' Brno, man. The view from Petrov, ladies and gentlemen!", I exclaimed in my best tour guide voice, flailing my arms dramatically. "Directly beneath you, we have Denisovy sady, strewn with a selection of the finest 11 CZK beer bottles from the local Albert, illuminated by the magnificent TESCO sign. If you're lucky, you can even find a condom wrapper or a half-gram of some really, really shitty weed. It's a sight to die for, truly!"
"Oh, come on…" 
"And we’re not finished yet! There's still the tallest ugly-ass building in the Czech Republic, the, um, the what’s-it-called…”
“The AZ Tower?” you offered with a raised eyebrow.
“Yeah, that. The fuckin’ cherry on top of this shitpile. I could go on.”
“Well, don’t. You’ve got to stop being so negative.”
“Be more like you, huh?” I scoffed. “Fuck, I hate this city.”
“Look, you just need to, like, try and make the best of anything you have. Yeah, we’re poor, we’re under a lot a pressure, but we don’t have to be mad about it,” you said, thinking about your next words for a brief second. “I came up here to get some perspective. Even if we’re facing a lot of stress here, we need to focus on what this city does have, you know? What we have.”
“Oh, okay, Rhonda Byrne, I’ll play along. Let’s see. I’ve got no money, no job, don’t know any people at school yet. So yeah, nothing,” I said, maybe a little too angrily. “Your turn.”
It took a minute before you turned your eyes away from the light-polluted horizon, back to me.
“We’ve got each other.”
You said it as if you were telling me the sky was blue. I searched your face for signs of sarcasm and found nothing but honesty in your eyes. I’d pretty much hated you up to that point, but what I saw in those eyes, man. I could not possibly bring myself to say that no, we didn’t have anything in common. After all, you were right. We did have each other, in a way. In that moment, your bluntness made me realize how real you actually were. And I couldn’t say anything at all.
As you got up and headed back inside, I thought I caught the slightest hint of a sparkle in your eye. Like you were happy that you had managed to interrupt the ever-flowing stream of my witty banter, which, to be frank, must have been annoying the fuck out of you.  
And that was the first time you rendered me speechless.
It wasn’t until the next year that our neighbor’s conference gave us the opportunity to gaze at the city once more. That time we brought your purple beanbag chair and a few blankets to the balcony. You made chai tea to keep us warm.
“This is horrendous,” I said after taking my first sip. You had just helped me pass my very last exam attempt and I didn’t want you to think too much of yourself by complimenting your beverage-making skills as well.
“You love it,” you replied, but not without a second of hesitation.
You were right, of course. I did love it.
“I still don’t get why we work so well together,” I said, steering the conversation in a new direction. “I mean, you’re such a wiseass. Think about that for a minute and then say something really poignant.”
I could always count on you to take my every request seriously, and you took the bait.
“Well, I guess you could say that we have very different ways of channeling our energy. If you think about various kinds of wind…”
“Oh God, no, please. Don’t give me any of that ‘if people were rain’ crap, girl, this ain’t a John Green novel. That shit’s way too cheesy.”
You laughed.
“I didn’t think you’d know who John Green is.”
I adjusted the blanket that had slid down from your shoulders.
“Try again, honey,” I said.
“How about this. Your passion for life is wet and my passion is dry, more stable, you know? It works well together, because sometimes when things are too dry, you need…”
You realized what you were saying and trailed off.
“Some lubrication?” I offered.
“Ha-ha, right,” you said and your voice sank my heart into a pit of your anger and disappointment. You huddled up in a defensive sort of way.
“Hey, don’t be like that. You know I’m just kidding around with you.”
“Yeah, as always,” you mumbled. “Sometimes I just wish that things weren’t always just a joke to you.”
I clutched my teacup and said nothing. You were right, but I’m not like you, I can’t just say what I really feel as if it’s the most natural thing on Earth. There was no need to say it, though, was there? We balanced each other out perfectly. We both knew. I looked at you half-hidden in one of our fluffy blankets, staring down at the moonlit city, seemingly fascinated by the railway station and the angry shouts of the drunk people hanging around. You didn’t leave this time around. Your eyes had the same familiar seriousness about them again, but this time, there was no amused sparkle.
And I said nothing. You’d rendered me speechless for a second time.
And now, another year later, here you are. Putting the last of your fairy lights and fluffy blankets into a cardboard box, rambling on and on about the plants that you can’t possibly take with you. They’re the only things keeping the flat alive now.
“Don’t forget that the aloe only needs watering once every two weeks. You don’t want the roots to rot away. And don’t fertilize it too much, once a month is totally enough, yeah? And if it grows too big for the pot…”
“Yeah, yeah, move it to a bigger one. I know everything about your stupid plants.”
“You’ll keep taking care of them, though, right?” you ask anxiously.
I give an indifferent shrug, knowing full well that I’d never let them die.
“It’s insane, isn’t it? How we’ve outgrown this place. I mean, it feels like our lives were so tiny that we could fit them here and now we’re getting jobs, moving out…”
You’re moving. Moving on. And of course you would, for someone like you, the opportunities would always keep coming. I guess I always knew that, deep down.
You keep talking and I keep quiet, staring at the framed picture of us on the dresser. Suddenly you appear next to me, taking the picture in your hand.
“Oh my God,” you say quietly. Your nostalgia is not making this any easier. “Us in Denisovy sady, do you remember? Wasn’t that the best day?”
It was. But I don’t say anything. And you sigh ever so slightly, putting the picture back on the dresser and your hand on my arm.
“You know what? You should keep it,” you say with a smile that’s almost sympathetic.
“Nah, it’s yours. You paid for the frame and everything and, besides, I was never a picture kind of person anyway,” I say, putting the picture in the last open box on the bed and taping it shut.
“Oh,” you say.
I say nothing. The silence enveloping us is unfamiliar.
“Well, I guess this is it, then!” You take the box from me and carry it out into the hallway. I follow you, stopping on the other side of the door. You’re looking at me with so much emotion in your eyes, trying to find the right words like you always do, and I can’t take it.
“Look, I’ll stop you there. You’re moving out. It’s not the end of the world, we can still see each other. You don’t need to say anything.”
You look upset, hurt almost.
“But maybe some things need to be said,” you say. “At least once.”
“It’s okay, really.”
You look into my eyes for what feels like hours, begging me to give you something, anything at all. The weight of all that is being unsaid is crushing us, planting our feet firmly into the ground until it seems like we’ll have to stay in this moment forever. Then the silence is broken by a couple of simple goodbyes.
You pick up your box and head towards the stairs. I watch you leave.
And I want to call out your name and tell you to come back. I want to thank you for giving me life, for calming the storms into a quiet breeze, for being the ground where I could plant my roots. How will I grow without you?
You’ve made a home out of a tiny grey box. You brought life to where there had just been survival. You’ve planted the seed, but now I need more.
I want to call out your name and beg you not to take my home away from me.
But I’ve been rendered speechless one last time.

No comments:

Post a Comment