Edward Stachura

Edward Stachura: Prose

With My Willpower
I'll Fall in Love with Her

She pointed to the armchair and said:

"Please, sit down."

I sat.

She moved a chair to the right armrest of the armchair and put an ashtray and matches on top of it. Then she placed another chair some twelve feet in front of the armchair and she too sat down. For a moment she looked at me in silence. There was in her looking something of when you stand on a landing pier and look at a ship moving slowly toward the quay, but it is still a bit too far away and without little binoculars you can't make out the faces of the passengers standing on the bridge. Something like that.

"Have a smoke"—she said.

I reached obediently to the pocket of my coat, took a cigarette out of the packet, and lit it. The girl was sitting straight, resting her back against the chair; her feet and knees were pressed together tightly; on her knees—at the place where the dress ended—her hands were clasped.

"I have something to tell you. Be so kind as to listen to me."

She became silent, looked at the window and again at me. I was smoking and looking at all that through the smoke of my cigarette floating phantasmagorically on the air.

"You are a man; I, as you can see, am a woman."

And she smiled. Softly, but not catlike. Womanly, but not coquettishly. Or maybe coquettishly, but somehow not deceitfully. And imperceptibly. Very gently. To me—who tried to see everything, even the tiniest detail, that could help me in my counterattack against the universal and each day and each step impudent vulgarity of the world—that smile appeared very nice, and I tried to return a similar smile.

"I'm a woman—the girl resumed—and . . . how shall I say . . . well, I'm a normal woman."

"If it's true, that's good"—I thought. "That's very good. For in that way there are already at least two of us normal in this abnormal, ailing world."

"Everything I'm going to say is true"—she said, as if she perceived with I don't know what sense that I had just thought about it a moment ago. "It's up to you what you think about all this, but you have to believe me. It's very important to me. You have to believe me."

I nodded.

"I'm a normal woman"—the girl resumed—"but for some time, for a long time, there hasn't been a man in my life. I could have one, if you forgive the expression, but I didn't want to. Not only because I hate that game, that fawning, that creeping, that slinking . . ."

"Those dripping little words, that dripping gaze, that dripping spittle"—I added in my mind.

". . . When I see"—she resumed—"when others do that, either men or women, when I'm an accidental witness or sometimes an object of that, then I don't know . . . I'd like to hide under the table or disappear suddenly, evaporate, not to see it. And sometimes . . . I have to go to the bathroom because I feel unwell. I feel sick."

"Strange"—I thought. "Must be the first time I hear somebody who talks of those things as I would talk about it. Strange."

"You don't slink . . . First I thought that maybe you are in love with somebody, but then I thought no, no way, if that was so, if you were in love, it would be written in your face, it would be lit in your eyes, sculpted in your movements, in all your behavior, and I would have to see it and I would never dare say what I'm saying and tell you what I'm going to tell you. What maybe I'll manage to tell you."

"How beautifully this girl talks"—I thought. "If you were in love"—she says, "it would be obvious"—she says. Once I had thought just about that, way back, ages ago, when I was in love once in my life, about how it happens that the other gender doesn't see it, doesn't read in my face, in my eyes, in my whole behavior, that I'm obviously in love, and as far as that is concerned, there's nothing to talk about, everything is clear. And yet it was as if the other gender didn't see it, and it often started, all that game, those tricks of old, notorious and hackneyed, that turning of the eyes, that flashing of the flesh, that swaying of the hips, and so on. Wait . . . and maybe the other gender knew well, read well from my face and from my words what was happening in my heart and that precisely excited it, that other gender, even more. Roused it more. Maybe also annoyed. Irritated. Insulted. Maybe. May very much be. May very much be for sure. For then it was not only a matter of winning a man, of winning a partner, of winning a male for one nightly hour or for one daily hour or for a few daily or nightly hours. The matter in those cases was more than that: it was to slight an unknown rival specimen of one's own kind, the other woman, with whom the given man dares to be in love and dares to flaunt his love openly. To flaunt in the face of another woman, in the face of one standing right in front of him and deeming herself undoubtedly the first woman and in a sense the only one.

"Can I go on?"—asked the girl.

I raised my lowered head and looked at her a little surprised, as if asking, "Is everything all right?"

"No. It's all right"—she said. "I just saw you were lost in thought and I didn't want to disturb you.

"This girl is more and more unusual"—I thought. "Who gifted her with such subtlety? It must be hard for her. In this life, in this world."

"And so, if you forgive the expression again, I could have men. A woman, if she's not somehow handicapped, and certainly if she's rather good-looking, can easily have every man . . ."

"Almost every man"—I corrected in my mind.

". . . almost every man"—she corrected herself out loud. "Me, thank god, I'm not handicapped . . . I have a sort of beauty of my own . . . which . . . I don't know if you like it . . ."

I took a deep puff of my ending cigarette and into the cloud of smoke which I let out of my widely open mouth, slowly and affirmatively I immersed my head, first bending it back, and then leaning it down and slightly forward. And after a while I raised it up. The girl smiled somehow movingly and now she in her turn slowly leaned her head down and kept it lowered like that for a while. (Her hair was red with the kind of shade you can only see in a dream.) I thought that my silent but affirmative answer was needed, if not indispensable, for her to go on. But I did not understand why she was telling all this to me. And I also thought that if I hadn't answered her, if that silent answer of mine hadn't come, her story would have a different ending. Different words would be uttered by her. Not the ones—unknown to me yet—that are going to be uttered in a moment.

"Yes, I could"—she resumed.

And again she stopped for a moment, and again she resumed in a moment:

"But I don't want to. For even more than the game, you know, I hate plurality. Multiplicity. I hate it. Physically and not only physically. I am not many women. I am one woman and I want to be one. And I don't want many men. I want one. I would like. I often talk with other girls, about different things but sometimes also about that, and they say: 'You have to have a healthy attitude toward these things.' The healthy attitude according to them is sleeping with every man they like, every man who is handsome or nice, charming, or who can impress the woman with something, fast motorcycle riding, reckless spending of money or playing the guitar, or something of that kind. If that is a healthy attitude, mine must be sick. But I don't think it is sick. I can't, and even if I could, I don't want to sleep with many men, with the second, third, fifth. With one I would like. Nor do I want to dance with many. I don't want to rub against many men's bodies. I don't know what you'll think about this, but I'll tell you that I don't see a big difference between having a dance with a man and going to bed with him. One could certainly look at it differently, not so drastically as my friend would say, but this is how I see it and I'm telling you this because I want to tell you. So that you know about me. Although, to tell you the truth, I don't even know anything about you. I see you for the second time in my life and everything I think about you I have imagined."

"I wonder when we met the first time"—I thought. "And where was it." I couldn't remember.

"The first time I saw you in the passing. I'm sure you don't even know where and when. It's a strange story, very nicely strange, about which maybe I'll tell you one day."

She stopped, looked at the window and at me again.

"Yes, everything I think about you I have imagined. Well, I had some help in imagining you from some people here and there. They helped me in the sense that they talked about you not very kindly or even badly. Or even with hostility. And that made me happy. If they had talked about you well, that would have worried me. Really. For I know them a little, or at any rate well enough to know that those people can not talk about you well. If you are the person I have imagined you to be, they can only talk badly about you. And so they were, just as I expected. About me they also tell some noninspiring stories only because I think of some things differently than them. But never mind. These are all trifles, and you know this better than me."

She stopped and again looked in the window. I pulled a cigarette out of the packet, lit up and thought: how come this girl knows all these things: small and big? And who is she? And where and when, in the passing, as she says, did we meet first time? In some dream?

"I like to watch you smoke"—she said. "The smoke envelopes you ever so lightly, but in spite of it you are then more real to me; or rather, less unreal."

I didn't know at all what to do after those words of hers and I tried to smile somehow.

"You know, to this one man I would like to give simply—as simply as one gives a birthday gift—all my life. Completely. I would like to be with him and travel with him, and wait for him when he couldn't take me with him. For him I would like to keep the house clean and can food for winter, compotes, preserves, to marinate mushrooms, pickle cucumbers, bottle sorrel, can tomatoes, make sauerkraut and other delicacies. For him I would like to knit or crochet a long warm scarf and a warm sweater, and warm gloves, and a warm hat, and very warm socks, and in general. For the way things are, for oneself, surely, you can do something, but for another being you can do something strangely beautiful, everything. Everything. And, who knows . . . maybe tomorrow the sun will go out, it always may; or it may be obscured by a horrible monstrous mushroom . . . It may happen."

"How strangely this girl talks"—I thought. "How did she manage to survive and how did her oldfashioned thinking survive in this world, among these people who—unable to love so strongly and simply—do everything to oppress, to degrade, to disgrace, to destroy such love (for otherness irritates likeness). And they have created for this destructive purpose a special philosophy, special art, special specialists-artists, all the special world. And, sure, it's true, tomorrow the Sun may go out or it may be obscured by a horrible monstrous mushroom. For ever, tomorrow, the next day, for ever, it may well happen."

"And you know"—she resumed—"maybe that's obvious to you, but I want to tell you as well, tell you simply that I am for faithfulness, for absolute faithfulness . . ."

"The free bird is the most faithful creature of this world"—I thought to myself. But I did not really know why that sentence appeared in my mind, nor did I know what that sentence -in all its stretch, in all its wingspan—really meant.

". . . and to this one man I would of course be absolutely faithful. In this way, only in this way, I think, I would be also faithful to myself. I would be the way I want to be and the way I really am. I know this. I feel this. That man would help me do this, help me be that way and not another, and I would also try to help him with everything. For I think that certainly I would not be an obstacle for him in any way. It's very hard to talk about these matters, and very awkward. And one should rather avoid giving assurances about things, because it is then that it looks suspicious."

She stopped, breathed in deeply and again looked into the window, as if to give me in that way a chance to recover after each wave of her outpouring, and as if she herself drew from there, from the window or from outside of the window, the necessary strength. She was looking into the window, and I was looking at her, at her profile, and I thought: "with my heart I could not, for I only had had one heart, once, and it shattered terribly and completely, and I did not manage to glue the cracks of that claypot, neither with tears—that glue of white, nor with blood—that glue of red, and so I have no heart, I don't, and I could not with my heart, but I could fall in love with that being WITH MY WILLPOWER. WITH MY WILLPOWER I could fall in love with that being. With the first virginal and enormous and free love of my free willpower. Where did she come from, this girl, here, in front of me, almost within the reach of my hand, she, who appears to have been created by some unspeakable longing, a longing not of the heart only but of something else, I don't know what . . . A longing of the soul. A longing of mine."

The girl turned her eyes away from the window and looked at me. But she was still silent. She kept looking. There was again something in her looking that was there when she started talking to me, something of when you stand on a landing pier and look at a ship moving slowly towards the quay, but it is still a bit too far away and with the longing naked eyes, without little binoculars, you can't make out the features of the faces of the passengers standing on the bridge. I was as silent as she. Suddenly I realized that all that time I didn't say a single word.

"I will ask you a question now"—she said at length. "And I will not say anything else."

And then along my neck I felt a shiver running, a current flowing, and right after that—just as often downpour strikes after the lightning—I felt a droplet of sweat, a single droplet of sweat, run from the neck down my back. For I knew what the question would be. For I suddenly understood everything and I was surprised, enormously surprised, that I had not understood it at once, nearly from the beginning. I could not conceive how it could have happened.

She leaned her head, low, almost touching her knees with her forehead, for a moment she held it there, and then she sat straight, looked at me, again she took a big breath, unclasped her palms, dangled her arms on both sides of the chair, shook her head and again turned it towards the window, as if asking from there for some more strength.

I wanted to help her, wanted to say, to speak out, to stammer out, to stutter out that sentence, that one sentence, but I could not produce a sound, the words stuck in my throat, so unspeakably was I moved by all that, by what was happening to me there and then, by what I finally lived to see after six years, after six interminably long years of waiting for a miracle, a miracle in whose coming I never fully stopped believing, although days went by, two thousand days, and nights went by, two thousand nights, and rivers went by, many many rivers, meandering-meandering, and I walked along those rivers, and up and down, like a soul, like a soul.

And so I wanted now to stutter out to her that sentence, that question: "Could I be that man?", but I could not reach my own voice, I could not reach that sentence and bring it out, dig it out from the underground to the surface of that new world she had just created, and so—dumb, speechless, enchanted—I only kept looking at her, and she finally turned her head away from the window and I held my breath, and she said slowly quietly clearly:

"Would you like to be that man?"

This time she did not turn her eyes away to the window but kept looking at me, as if helping the words with her looking, keeping the words from turning away, pushing them straight to that recess in me, to that cosmic shelter in me where I had hidden that ray, that radiant belief of mine, that a miracle will happen, it will surely happen, and they, her words, got there, and it was as if some pink snow started falling on me, and I felt inside me strange warmth pouring down from my throat to my stomach, and I felt some huge hard granite rocks crumbling inside me, whole huge mountains, and gently falling apart, scattering softly tenderly silently . . .

I rose from the armchair and started slowly to walk towards her with my eyes fixed on hers, and her eyes fixed on mine (as I was getting closer she slowly raised her head, and it was as if her looking pushed aside the air in front of me to make my walking easier, lighter); I got there and stopped in front of her, a step away from her, and very slowly I bent my knees, and I kneeled by her feet (her head, as I was bending down, leaned down likewise; ineffably we were looking into each other's eyes), and very slowly I raised my arms to enfold her legs, and I saw, without taking my eyes away from hers, with the corners of my eyes I saw her raise her dangling arms to embrace my head, yes, I was sure it was to embrace my head, and . . . around then, around then, or maybe one split second after that, and maybe one split second after that split second, but before that next split second, just when we were about to touch . . . there was a loud crack.

I opened my eyes and almost at the same time started up from the horizontal to the sitting position, and—almost at the same time too—I reached for the knife lying at the bed-head.

"You wouldn't say that you always sleep alone?!"—somebody once half-asked, half-declared.

"No. I always sleep with my knife at hand"—I declared.

Through the open window, whistling wildly, mournfully moaning, the wind blew into the room. Outside, in the darkness of the night, an early spring storm was raging. As always after waking up, I started wondering about topography: where am I? what quarters is this? what village? what city? what country? what continent? (once, long ago, after a strange dream, I thought: what planet?). A stronger gust of wind swung the window frames against the walls and the loud crack recalled that other crack and that other crack recalled everything.

I dragged myself off the bed, came up to the window, firmly grabbed the window frames with both hands to keep them from swinging under wind pressure, and from the height of that floor I looked into the night. My lips were tightly pressed. And teeth. Until it hurt. Suddenly:

"I will"—I said quietly into the night and into the very mouth of the wind. And after a moment I repeated a little louder:

"I will."

I stood for another moment and then I closed the window. l knew I wouldn't be able to fall asleep again, and I came up to the switch to turn on the light. But not. I sat on the edge of the bed, reached for my cigarettes on the stool near by, but not that either. I could clearly feel in my mouth the bitter taste of those two cigarettes I had just finished while I listened to all that, all that she said. For a moment I thought . . . and I nodded my head. And once more I nodded. And once more. And again. For I thought something strange. I thought that . . . if we had managed to touch each other in that dream, I would not wake up at that loud crack of the window suddenly opened in the middle of the night by the violent gust of the windstorm. Neither that crack nor any other sound of this world. Or . . . I would wake up, but . . . along with her, along with her, along with her. With my arms enfolding her knees and with her hands on my poor head.

A Note on the Translation

In the original, the events following the character's awakening are reported in a peculiar narrative technique which acquires its meaning only in the context of the volume from which this story is excerpted. Since I offer the text here without its original context, I have made no attempt to render that change in the narrative technique.