Cutlery: Mirana Likar Bajželj

 

 

The story "Cutlery" deals with a painful subject of political conflicts between WWII winners and losers from a perspective of women, who bear the deepest scars and the heaviest brunt of historical circumstances. Through the effects of the medium of time, the traumas and the insanity brought up by the war transform into assorted pieces of cutlery in an ordinary home.  

 

This story was originally published in the collection titled Sedem besed (Seven Words) in 2011, under the Lud Literatura imprint, while its audio version was broacast within the Ars programme of Slovenian National Radio in 2010.

 

Mirana Likar Bajželj publihed three collections of short stories which attracted significant critical acclaim in Slovenia. Her stories won awards in Slovenia and Croatia and were widely anthologized, most recently, in 2013 in The Best European Fiction 2013, published by  Dalkey Archive Press and edited by Aleksandar Hemon. 

 

Zgodba Bištek govori o boleči temi političnih obračunavanj med poraženci in zmagovalci druge svetovne vojne, na katera pogleda skozi  žensko perspektivo. Ženske so obložene s tovorom zgodovinskih okrutnosti in nosijo brazgotine, ki zaradi njih nastajajo. Navaden jedilni pribor v povsem običajnem domu postane pomembna priča pretrpljenih travm in norosti vseh vojn.

 

Mirana Likar Bajželj je začela pisati relativno pozno. Kratke zgodbe objavlja v literarnih revijah, na radiu in na literarnih spletnih portalih. Nekaj njenih zgodb je bilo prevedenih. Prva zbirka kratkih zgodb z naslovom Sobotne zgodbe (Cankarjeva založba 2009) je bila nominirana za prvenec leta in  nagrado fabula, druga zbirka kratkih zgodb, Sedem besed (Lud Literatura 2011) je kulturna redakcija časopisa Delo uvrstila  med pet domačih i tujih knjižnih naslovov, ki so zaznamovali leto 2012, tretja zbirka kratkih zgodb Glasovi (Modrijan 2015) je bila uvrštena med pet knjig na Kratkem festivalu zgodb založbe Goga (2016), s katerim so hoteli predstaviti najboljše kratkozgodbarske izdelke zadnjih dveh let na Slovenskem.  Njene zgodbe so dobile nekaj nagrad strokovnih žirij in publike, uvrščene su v dve antologiji, ena od njih je antologija The Best European Fiction 2013, ki jo izdaja  Dalkey Archive Press in ki jo je za 2013. leto uredil Aleksander Hemon. Maja 2016 bo pri založbi Modrijan izšel njen prvi roman. 
  

Cutlery

 

To Svetislav Basara for understanding the relativity of words.

 

I don't know why now, since I started studying law, I am more likely to notice those silver forks and spoons that so often appear among the other cutlery at home. We certainly used them before, but now I somehow see them better, although I never eat with them. They lurk in the salad bowl or on the meat platter, and we use them to transfer potatoes to our plates. My mother is the only one who sometimes eats with them. I wonder why she bothers, for the forks are really big, twenty-two centimetres in length, of which about eight go into the mouth. I also know that the spoons weigh eighty grams and are very deep, while the fork weighs fifty. If I add the weight of the knives, which I've never checked as we never use them, this means more than a kilogram of silver. The knives are kept on top of the dining room sideboard, in a wooden box decorated with green and red Carniolan carnations, which originally held a bottle of wine. We should really change the blades, which are so old that they have already begun to rust. The blades are not silver. We should change them but these days you can no longer find a real knife maker. 

 

On the wide part of the handle of the forks and spoons is a monogram which I sometimes read as JB, sometimes as LM, and if you look long enough you can find almost any letter, even ZV. Probably because it was never intended that this kilo of silver would actually be used for eating, probably it was intended for concluding deals, possessing, taking into account, inheriting, borrowing… so that it was never known who the owner would be, what the letters must be like... It’s a serious matter. Each piece is stamped twice on the back, once with a round silver mark and once with a square one.  

 

The cutlery was brought here by my great-grandmother Justina, when she stayed with us for the first and last time. We had only just moved into the house. She gave it to my mother and said this was hers now, that she didn’t need it any more, there’d be no more opportunities and… Justina’s silences were sometimes more eloquent than her words. Everything that came from great-grandma Justina is handled with reverence by my mother. The slightly blackened cutlery was wrapped in aluminium foil and laid in salt water. Electrolysis, to wash away the historical layers. After a few hours the cutlery sparkled. And it still does.

 

When I look at it I can’t help thinking of granny Justa. In my memory I first see her sitting in a deckchair in the shade of two rustling birches, reading the paper. She is wearing mules with thick soles. Or I see her bent over the crossword puzzle, beside her a lexicon with a red cover. Then I remember her memories. Her voice, narrating. It is 1945, late spring, perhaps early summer. Justina is not lying in her deckchair, nor in her bed, she hasn’t slept for several nights, and she is not reading the newspaper because there are no newspapers. She brings to life her husband, my great-granddad, who died before I was born. He is hidden somewhere. The mayor of a town that fell into a three-day time hole. The mayor of a town that because of this hole became stuck in the mythical geographical length and breadth of the end of the war, which cannot be placed on the map other than by saying before the war and during the war. The time after the war had not yet arrived. Now is a time when there is no time measured in days, hours, minutes. It is only a time of fear. Because we do not know which army will arrive first and what it will do. We know only that no army likes mayors. We also know that in the army people change into monsters. We have seen. Heard. Monsters prefer men that they hate. They also like the women and children of these men. So at night Justina puts the children to sleep in the cellar, locks the front door and puts the blinds down so that not even a sliver of light escapes into the dark garden, let alone onto the street. We pretend that we are not at home. We pretend that we do not exist. We have had certain experiences. The house has been crossed by all sorts of boots; they have burned Slovene books and black-and-white photographs containing our memories, read private letters and stuffed them in their pockets, have come into the kitchen demanding coffee. 

 

In the cellar, the only cellar around here, slept those from the villages in the hills who feared boots and mobilisation, from one side or the other… Once some German boots looked through the window into the cellar, lying behind a machine gun, aiming somewhere away from the house…  Dear Mary, whom I left on the cupboard, save me, was the prayer, the only link with reality, with the real time and space outside the cellar… don’t let the boots turn round… The Germans are no longer here and with them went the town collaborators. They first threw their belongings into the river, but they couldn’t throw everything, it was still possible to extract from their houses the odd lead pipe, unscrew a tap, remove a few bricks, take away some flooring… This was now war booty, if we haven’t yet joined the Partisans in the woods, we soon shall… The most effective justice is that which you take with your own hands, say the people who believe they have won. And if there are no orders, let he who wants more give the orders… Now we are waiting for the Partisans, others say, although some of them are already here, but no one knows where the orders are coming from, who is in command, for nothing is yet known about Yalta. They say that we have all been counted, those of us with big houses and big rooms – Stalin himself has counted us.

 

The days stand still, rumours arrive… And among them the one that everyone fears the most. A large army of Ustashas is moving towards the town, which is close to the Croatian border. They have weapons. They will break through to their allies, whoever their allies are, and nothing will stop them. They have women and children with them. Are they more or less dangerous because of that? Great-grandma Justina is afraid of the Partisans. One night up there on the hill they roasted someone alive over a fire, he howled all night, you could hear it in the valley, and they all knew which local lad had given the order and why. Supposedly it wasn’t political, it was over a girl. Great-grandma Justina is afraid of the White Guard and the Black Hand, who beat a man to death with sticks; at the end his skin was hanging off in shreds and his eyes fell out. Supposedly it wasn’t political, it was about the border. Great-grandma Justina is moderately afraid of the Italians, who were more concerned with dancing and chasing girls, and luckily the officer in charge of the town was a violinist. Great-grandma Justina is scared to death of the Germans. These Űbermenschen shot hostages for breakfast, drove people from their homes for their elevenses and tortured for lunch. In the evening they dined in concentration camps. But the greatest fear of all was reserved for the Ustashas. There were no words for them. There was only silence. Sometimes they came across the border to the villages in the hills… Did what they came to do… supposedly to people’s eyes and with nails and axes and different tools… What will the Ustashas do when they come to town? What shall we do when we find ourselves with them in this temporal zero? What can we give them that they will move on as soon as possible, so that we never have to speak of a time before the Ustashas and after them… 

 

The frightening news soon changed into slightly less frightening news. We can go out, for instance we can go into the garden. The Partisans have appeared, they have captured that whole army and are holding it somewhere, somewhere near the big forest. They have disarmed them. Now they are waiting for orders. The orders will return us to time, precisely measured time. We want history, but it is carelessly licking its bloody cat-like paws and letting time sort itself out. Because of old grudges. Because of new grudges. Ours. Theirs. Who are ours? Who are theirs? We have no idea. 

 

Some desperate and horrified women came to me and said you have clothes, could you give us some and a blanket for a baby? The Partisans have got a woman at the Kovač’s house, she’s almost naked and she has a baby, no one knows what they’re doing with her. I grabbed a dress and a cardigan and a blanket and ran to see what was happening, why the women had such horror in their eyes… There under Kovač’s linden tree – we all know Kovač’s linden because it’s still standing and because we went to great-grandma’s for our holidays – is a group of Partisans in a circle, a little drunk and leering, while inside the circle is an almost naked, battered and dishevelled woman, clasping her child and trying to ward off the looks and words that are falling on her… There is some luggage at her feet. My great-grandma’s eyes also fill with horror, because she immediately sees where this woman has been and where she is going, no, where she has already gone. She understands, from the insults, and because of what she can see, that the woman is Croatian, that she is a lady and that her husband, who is no longer around, an Ustasha officer. She throws the dress and the cardigan and the blanket for the baby over the heads of the Partisans, saying here, put this on. Then she lies, don’t worry, everything will be alright… The woman looks at her touchingly, hugs the child to her, also because of her nakedness, and whispers, thank you, but there’s no more hope for us… She doesn’t know what to do with the child, how to pick up the dress, people are watching, she bends over, but not for the dress. The woman is there, but in reality no longer exists. She picks up something quite heavy. A package. She throws it past the soldiers. At Justina’s feet falls a kilo or more of silver, well wrapped, each fork, each spoon, each knife separately, so it thuds quietly on the ground. Take it, I don’t need it any more, gasps the unhappy woman and looks away… Backs move, red stars on caps look at Justina, who does not know how to distance herself from this horror, how to get safely back to her garden… Time is flowing again, we know where we are, what time it is, how history will start to be written again and what it will be like. How it will make itself pretty and how some days in some places will be omitted. But days cannot be omitted, they have long been counted to the very last one and the omitted ones will find their place on the calendar…

  

The hole in time closes when the silver spoons fly out from it. The days go by, a little lopsidedly, some are missing; over time they pile one on top of another, as if none are missing. The spoons became a family memento, we eat with them, remember those three days which, as far as my mother and I are concerned, never were, for we weren’t even born, but they still existed if they have caught up with me and are now here on the table… Since I started studying law, I somehow look more carefully at this cutlery and ask myself if, in the galaxies of days travelling through time, which are nowhere at home, these days could collide with a real calendar, in real time, and whether they could collide in such a way to change the monogram of the woman who, in the moment when my great-grandma met her, no longer existed, into the initials of my name.

 

Translated by David Limon

 

 

Bištek

 

Svetislavu Basari za spoznanja o relativnosti vsega.

 

Ne vem, zakaj zdaj, odkar študiram pravo,  bolj opazim te srebrne vilice in žlice, ki se vse večkrat pojavijo med ostalim priborom pri nas doma. Tudi prej smo jih gotovo že uporabljali, ampak zdaj jih nekam bolje vidim, čeprav nikoli ne jem z njimi. Tičijo v skledi za solato ali na pladnju z mesom, z njimi si na krožnike nalagamo krompir. Samo moja mama včasih je z njimi. Sprašujem se, zakaj se muči, saj so žlice res velike, dolge so svojih dvaindvajset  centimetrov, od tega jih gre v usta kakšnih osem. Vem tudi, da je žlica težka osemdeset gramov, pa zelo globoka, vilice pa petdeset. Če dodam še težo nožev, ki pa je nisem preverila, saj jih nikoli ne uporabljamo, to znese več kot kilogram srebra. Noži so na vrhu jedilniške omare, spravljeni v leseni škatli, poslikani z zelenimi in rdečimi gorenjskimi nageljni, prej je bila v njej steklenica z  vinom. Morali bi zamenjati rezila, ki so tako stara, da jih je že pošteno načela rja. Rezila  niso srebrna.   Morali bi jih zamenjati, ampak pravih nožarjev dandanes ni več.  


Na pahljačastem delu vilic in žlic je monogram, včasih ga preberem kot JB, včasih kot LM, če ga dolgo gledaš, lahko najdeš katerikoli črki, lahko tudi  ZV. Najbrž zato, ker nikoli ni bilo mišljeno, da bi se ta kila srebra resnično uporabljala pri jedi, najbrž je bila namenjena sklepanju poslov, da se bo posedovala, jemala v račun, dedovala, da bo zadolževala... tako nikoli  ne veš, kdo bo lastnik, kakšne bodo morale biti črke... Ni to hec. Vsak kos  je na hrbtni strani z majčkenima žigoma, okroglim in oglatim,  poštempljan dvakrat.


Pribor nam je prinesla  prababica Justina, ko je bila prvič in zadnjič pri nas. Ravno smo se vselili v hišo. Dala ga je moji mami in ji rekla, na, naj bo ta bištek tvoj, saj veš, da ga jaz več ne potrebujem, ne bo več prilike, pa tudi... Justinini zamolki so bili včasih zgovornejši od besed.


Vse, kar je prišlo od prababice Justine,  mama pobožno obravnava. Malo črnikast pribor je zavit v aluminijsko folijo položila v slano vodo. Elektroliza. Odplakne zgodovinske nanose. Po nekaj urah je bištek zasijal. Še zdaj sije. 


Ko ga gledam,  si ne morem kaj, da se ne bi spomnila babi Justi. V spominu jo najprej zagledam,  kako v senci dveh  šumečih brez na ležalniku bere časopis. Ima natikače z debelim podplatom. Ali pa vidim,  kako se sklanja nad križanko, ob njej pa leži  leksikon  v rdečih platnicah. 


Potem se spomnim njenih spominov. Njenega glasu, ki pripoveduje. Leto 1945 je, pozna pomlad, mogoče zgodnje poletje, Justina  ne leži  na ležalniku, še na svoji postelji ne, že več noči ne spi, in ne bere časopisov, ker v teh dneh nobenih časopisov ni, spijo pa sploh nič. Oživi njen mož, moj pradedek, mrtev pred  mojim rojstvom. Nekje je skrit. Župan mesta, ki je padlo v tridnevno časovno luknjo je. Župan mesta, ki je s to luknjo obtičalo v mitski geografski širini in dolžini konca vojne, ki se je ne da postaviti na zemljevid drugače, kot da rečeš pred vojno in med vojno.  Čas po vojni še ni prišel. Zdaj je čas, ko časa, izmerjenega z dnevi, urami, minutami, ni. Je samo čas strahu. Ker ne vemo,  katera vojska bo prišla prva in kaj bo naredila. Vemo le, da županov  nobena vojska ne mara. Vemo tudi,  da se ljudje v vojski spremenijo v pošasti. Videli smo. Slišali. Pošasti imajo najraje moške, ki jih ne marajo. Rade imajo tudi otroke in žene teh moških. Justina zato  ponoči  pospravi otroke v klet in jih tam uspava, zaklene vhodna vrata in spusti rolete, da se niti en trak svetlobe ne bi prikradel na teman vrt, kaj šele na ulico.  


Delamo se, da nas ni doma. Delamo se, da nas sploh ni. Imamo določene izkušnje. Čez hišo so šli že vsi mogoči škornji, zažigali so  slovenske knjige in  črno-bele fotografije naših spominov, brali zasebna pisma in jih tlačili v svoje žepe, vstopali so v kuhinjo in zahtevali kavo. 


V kleti, ki je edina klet tod naokoli,  so v pomladanskih nočeh spali skrivači iz hribovskih vasi, ki so se bali  škornjev in mobilizacij, teh ali onih... Enkrat so tako skozi okno v klet pogledali nemški škornji, ki so ležali za strojnico, in merili nekam od hiše... Ljuba Marija, ki sem te pustil na omari, reši me, je bila molitev, edina zveza z realnostjo, z resničnim  časom in prostorom zunaj kleti... ne pusti, da se škornji obrnejo...  


Nemcev ni več, z njimi so odšli tudi mestni nemčurji, imetje so še prej zmetali v reko, pa niso mogli zmetati vsega, še se lahko iz njihove hiše izbije kakšna svinčena cev, odvije kakšna pipa, sname kakšna opeka, odnese kakšen pod... To je zdaj vojni plen,  če še nismo bili v hosti, pa še bomo... Najučinkovitejša  pravica je tista, ki si jo odtrgamo z lastno roko, pravi narod, ki verjame, da je zmagal. In če ni komande, komandira tisti, ki hoče več... 


Zdaj čakamo partizane, pravijo nekateri drugi, čeprav jih je nekaj že tukaj, ampak ne ve se, kje je komanda, kdo je komanda, saj  o Jalti ni znanega še nič. Pravijo, da nas imajo vse preštete, nas, z velikimi hišami in velikimi sobami, sam Stalin nas je preštel.
Dnevi stojijo, govorice prihajajo...


In med njimi tista, ki se je vsi najbolj bojijo. Velika vojska ustašev se premika proti mestu, ki leži  blizu meje s Hrvaško. Orožje imajo.  Prebili se bodo do zaveznikov, kdorkoli že so njihovi zavezniki,  in nič jih ne bo ustavilo. Z njimi so  ženske in otroci. So zaradi njih nevarni bolj ali manj? 


Prababica Justina se boji partizanov, neke noči so gor, v hribu, na ražnju pekli človeka, rjul je vso noč, dol do doline je šlo, pa vsi so vedeli, kateri domač fant je dal komando in zakaj jo je dal. Baje ni bila politika, šlo je za punco. Prababica Justina se boji tabelih, črnorokci so s palicami do smrti potolkli človeka, na koncu je koža v capah visela od njega, oči pa so mu izpadle. Baje ni bila politika, šlo je za mejo. Prababica Justina se srednje boji Italijanov, ti so bolj plesali in lovili punce,  komandant mesta je bil na srečo violinist.  Prababica Justina se smrtno boji Nemcev, nadljudje so talce  streljali za zajtrk, izseljevali za malico in mučili za kosilo.  Večerjali so v koncentracijskih taboriščih. 


Ampak strah vseh strahov  so ustaši. Zanje ni besed. Zanje je le molk. Včasih so ponoči prišli čez mejo do hribovskih vasi... Naredili svoje... baje z očmi ljudi in žeblji in sekirami in sploh, z raznim orodjem... Kaj bodo naredili ustaši, ko pridejo v mesto? Ko bomo, ko se znajdemo  z njimi v tem časovnem niču.  Kaj jim bi lahko dali, da bi šli čim prej naprej, da se ne bi nikoli govorilo o času pred ustaši in potem, ko so odšli ustaši... 


Strašna novica  se kmalu spremeni v malo manj strašno novico. Lahko gremo ven, lahko gremo, recimo, na vrt. Pojavili so se partizani,  zajeli so vso tisto vojsko in jo nekje zadržujejo, nekje blizu velikega gozda. Razorožili so jih.  Zdaj čakajo na komande.  


Komande nas bodo vrnile v čas, v tistega natančno  izmerjenega. Hočemo zgodovino, ta pa si brezbrižno po mačje  liže krvave šapice in pusti čas, da se naravna sam. Zaradi starih zamer. Zaradi novih zamer. Naših. Njihovih. Kdo so naši? Kdo so njihovi? Nimamo pojma.  


Prišle so obupane in zgrožene ženske in so mi rekle, gospa, vi, ki imate  obleke, a bi vzeli kakšno svojo, pa kakšno dekico za otroka, tamle pri Kovaču imajo partizani eno žensko, skoraj naga je, pa z dojenčkom... Ne veste, kaj delajo z njo... Pograbila sem eno obleko, pa jopo, na hitro še  dekico, in sem tekla gledat, kaj imajo, zakaj so imele ženske tako grozovite oči... Tam pod Kovačevo lipo, vsi poznamo to Kovačevo lipo, ker stoji še zdaj in ker smo hodili k prababici na počitnice, stojijo v krogu partizani, malo pijani so in se režijo, notri v krogu pa je skoraj gola razmršena in razphana ženska, otroka pritiska k sebi in se brani pred pogledi in besedami, ki padajo po njej... Ob nogah ima nekakšno prtljago, tudi prababičine oči se polnijo z grozo, ker takoj vidi, kje je ta ženska bila in kam gre, ne, da je že šla. Razume, iz zmerljivk, pa zaradi tega, kar vidi, da je ženska Hrvatica, da je gospa  in da mora biti njen mož, ki ga tudi ni več,  ustaški oficir. Vrže obleko in jopo in deko za otroka prek   partizanskih hrbtov,  evo, vam, gospođo, da se malo obučete.  Pa  zlaže se, ne brinite, gospođo, sve če biti u redu... Gospa jo milo gleda, stisne otroka k sebi, tudi zaradi svoje golote, in zašepeta, hvala vam, ali za  nas nikad više... ne ve, kam bi z otrokom, kako bi pobrala obleko, ljudje gledajo, skloni se, pa niti ne po obleko. Gospa je, pa je v resnici več ni. Pobere nekaj še kar težkega. Zavoj je. Vrže ga mimo vojakov. Pred Justinine bele noge  prileti kila in nekaj srebra, dobro je zavito, vsaka vilica, vsaka žlica, vsak nož posebej,  zato zrožlja na droben pesek  tiho. Uzmite vi, meni više neče trebati, zastoka nesrečnica in odvrne pogled... Hrbti se zganejo,  zvezde na čelih pogledajo Justino, ki ne ve, kako naj se oddalji od te groze, kako naj se reši na svoj vrt... Čas spet steče, vemo, kje smo, koliko je ura, kako se bo spet začela pisati  zgodovina in kakšna bo. Kako se bo nališpala in kako bo nekatere dneve v nekaterih krajih izpustila. Ampak dni ne moreš izpustiti, že dolgo so prešteti do zadnjega, izpuščeni bodo iskali svoje mesto na koledarju...  


Časovna luknja se zapre po tem, ko  iz nje priletijo srebrne žlice. Dnevi tečejo, malo po strani so, manjka jih nekaj, sčasoma pa se naložijo drug na drugega, kot da nobeden ne manjka. Žlice so  postale naš družinski zgodovinski artefakt, jemo z njimi,  spominjamo se tistih treh dni, ki jih, kar se mene in moje mame tiče,  sploh ni bilo, saj se še rodili nisva, ampak očitno so vseeno bili, če so me dohiteli in so zdaj tu, z mano, pa za mizo...  

 
Odkar študiram pravo, še nekam bolj gledam ta bištek,  in se sprašujem, ali bi ti v galaksijah časa potujoči dnevi, ki niso nikjer doma,  lahko treščili  v realen koledar,  v realen čas, in ali bi lahko treščili tako, da bi spremenili  monogram ženske, ki je v trenutku, ko jo je moja prababica spoznala, že ni bilo več,  v začetnici mojega imena.

 

 

 

 

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ZVONA i NARI - Library & Literary Retreat - Vrčevan 32, 52204 Ližnjan, Croatia - + 385 99 232 7926 - zvonainari@gmail.com - (c) 2011.-2018.