Autumn was unhealthy because of the warm air rushing in from everywhere, through the crowns of the trees. The atmosphere was calm, even dull, resembling those fallen hours that set in after a funeral. The buildings emerged from the night as dry as the streets, as the summer drought continued. No one was pushing my son and me to make our way out of our warm beds on which the strange torches of the night were barely extinguished. Let’s take a walk, even if we have to go through a rain of stars … The asphalt is so clean, it looks like a strip of milk, as you can see it is undisturbed by any impurity. The great achievement of modern roads. My son is so quiet, perhaps overwhelmed by his failures, that with a thought he sends you to those rooms where there is a sudden silence, because the ladies who were playing the piano, tired, had laid their heads on the keys. He drove, driving effortlessly but in accordance with the regulations, while I tasted the landscape, freshly released from the straps of night. I was passing through a village with houses almost entirely covered in leaves. The rich, strong autumn had gathered almost everything to her chest. The most reassuring was the dome of the church, but also the rotations of the storks’ nests, now deserted, but full of greatness. What can I say about the sobs of the mayor’s office, about the microscopic erosions on its walls, which, while driving, we could hear for miles? At one point, on the side of the road, a cross. My son, with his familiar sensibility, stopped in front of it, in the bright light of day … Oh, Lord, what deep oblivion had that symbolic wood fallen into, the mound of earth into which it was stuck … As we thought about eternity, the moment called life that fades so quickly, the heavy cars passed behind us, like dreams that disturb you after prolonged funeral services, driven by drivers who had too little care for landscapes. Many of them, looking at us, probably thought that we had stopped so that we could finish a discussion, or indecently meet our basic needs. Go about your business you drivers, with the rare flickers of thoughts that accompany you … In the end we went on, convinced that we would not make serious driving mistakes. An uninspired braking, an overtaking that ruffled many feathers, a crossing over the railway right under the nose of a high-speed train, a small nudge given to a cyclist, who could have flown, bicycle and all, into a ditch, onto a bank. I was moving forward and kept looking at the landscape. We were dealing with a plain full of mole and hedgehog burrows. Country roads intersected country roads, and if a carriage had once appeared on them two hundred years ago, everything would have been perfect. Like a fan, it would have then opened the not infrequently mute wonders of bygone times, which are no longer talked about in schools. Solemn Sundays, holidays spent in deep closeness to nature, other ways to reduce the fear of death. However, among the papers and mosses, along the small ditches the rain had dug, one could see, in a less than perfect state, it is true, bouquets of flowers. A wave of joy, of relaxation, immediately settled over the car. I now had clear evidence of a wedding. With god- parents, priests, groom, bride, modest guests lending a helping hand, some of whom may have already died of malignant cancers or heart attacks. Moving along like this on the road, in the autumn, towards the vaulted souls of so many settlements, you could for a moment, at least, not think about the summer left behind like a shot swan. This great bird, until recently so hot, floating over the tongues of so much turmoil, now lay forgotten, bloodless, swallowed millimetre by millimetre by the distant horizon that seemed so gloomy. My son was driving and the scenery was spectacular. Empty places with white starlight, ditches for resting in at night, alleys choked with creeping plants, walls where time had faded, the last shudder of life. Further on, hills that seemed to barely breathe under the autumn sun, clumps of trees, which as the car passed could be taken as the concrete expression of some agonist’s agonies. Far away, where the mountains began under blue lines, a moving speck, probably a hawk, undisputed master of those heights, which of course were barren. Later, they were just question marks, hanging from the sky like hooks. Here, finally, after miles and miles of natural beauty, a new village appeared under a regular mountain of thorns. For a few seconds the car, although moving slowly, jumped off the road and we saw, beyond the piles of weeds, a large sign that read: ‘Stopping for a while here is not a mistake’. Both my son and I took the announcement seriously, we found ourselves temporarily sheltered under the branches, which resembled the feathers of a raven, of a massive chestnut. From its leaves it blew a vague breath of air towards us, which seemed to have its origins in the blind eyes of deep cracks in the ground. ‘Let’s go slowly,’ I told my son, ‘I really don’t know anything about this village; nor did my grandmother, who passed the age of a hundred, ever tell me about it.’ We both felt the strangeness, the possibility of surprises, from the first steps we took. As far as the eye could see, the houses were either poorly repaired or badly affected by the passage of time. Most of the balconies and terraces had collapsed. In the slight movements of the air, rows of trees, nothing optimistic, encouraging. It was easy to imagine that you were walking through a prison where there were no dogs and guards, that you were being thrown by an adversary into a place that secret diseases had gradually silenced. A trumpet of dust rose for a few moments in the square, in conflict with the stillness, the stillness of the scenery. Not even a hen appeared on the white plateau, which looked strikingly like the bottom of a long-dried sea. Then my son and I gained courage, we felt a strengthening of the muscles, a sharpening of our initiative. Let’s see what happens in the houses … Being engaged in a longer walk and still fearing that we would be surprised by the darkness on the road, we would summarise what we saw in a few words … All those whom we had met seemed to have slipped into a smooth, hopeless sleep. Some were sleeping on their feet, either ready to leave or with their hands outstretched for something, cups, icons, coloured pencils, driving licences, others had been caught asleep, frozen, laughing out loud, making eyes at bacon, a few city officials had fallen to their knees, presumably before a kindergarten inspector, the stillness in her arms had embraced the choir, the dancers, the maid, the teacher. I also came across pigs frozen in cages and migratory birds that the frost had plucked from flight. Perhaps with less courage than an hour ago, my son and I headed for the chestnut tree under whose branches the car was waiting. Neither of us commented on anything and after a few deep breaths we set off again. All the officials along the road seemed to be aware that we too had seen the ‘miracle’, which they had known about for a long time. In fact, the checks were all reduced to significant exchanges of looks. Fortified by exercises, by reading in the most exotic languages, and modestly, using the strictest common sense, my son led the way forward, following his instincts as if to avoid potholes, harassment, unevenness. Both our beards had grown a little since we left, our cheeks developing a red patina, but I could still appear in a movie, in a play. With our heads bowed we passed through a village whose recent history is connected with an uncle of mine, who proved beyond any doubt that he did not care about death. For his deeds he deserved a monument, a small statue, a plaque, something commemorative, a tree planted in his memory. They will pay homage to him with something. The forests, the grey autumn clouds, the streams of water escaping from the strength of the mountains will pay homage to him. Further up, where eternity truly begins, there will be one to take care of this. And suddenly, round a curve, the Written Stone appears. Great emperors, whose deaths are in the chronicles, passed by, kings dressed in decorative chains, princes, deeply enlightened spirits, and famous women all got out of cars, out of carriages, to place their hands on the Stone. Now no one was here, only the railway bridge was swirling over it. With a boldness I didn’t really recognise, I approached the Stone. It was neither big nor particularly heavy, but people were a little reluctant to touch it. Not exactly unconsciously, but fuelled by a strange courage, I took a few steps in there. For a moment I thought about stopping, but the hesitation passed, and what was to happen to me, it happened … I had pushed the stone aside and was trying to look through that abyss that I had sensed was beneath. I did not lean on anything, I absorbed or I was deeply absorbed, as if I could leave the earth. There is a song that resonates in your ears when such situations arise. You accompany it, you look into the abyss below you, everything multiplies around you. The water below, the darkness, you don’t even know, it rises up to you and as soon as you wipe your eyes, you are one with what it once moved and now doesn’t seem to move. From the depths of your brain, inexplicably bright pieces of your life and of the lives that were close to you come to the surface and lie on the landscape of those depths. There are also images that once tormented you, all kinds of phantasms, demanding their right to freedom again. That’s right, that’s what I remember, I’ve seen them before, my parents on the walk, each on their own, like two strangers, look, they don’t make any sign to me, two capitals coming together as one, a plane above all, before igniting, a period of history with the face of a man, turning yellow from moment to moment, the frozen mouths of a river unexplored by anyone, loneliness, for a moment shattered, but coming back strongly again, walking through her gardens, and again my parents, like two strangers, on I don’t know which streets, if I don’t know where … and my son’s voice, like a sharp whistle that warns you to get out of the mud … ready, you’ve looked enough at what’s under the Stone, now let’s put it back as it was and continue our walk … What can I say, what else is there to say? I replaced the Stone, the Written Stone, we then looked at it, like a spade looks at the flow of blood that keeps you alive, after which I moved on. You have to take a walk to the end to accomplish it, no matter what you have to face. After several bends between the rocks, after I got rid of the hawks that hit the windshield, after I spared at least a dozen cats who had cut us up, we stopped in another village. Here we had to solve the issue with the bouquet … The flowers, beautifully gathered together, had followed us in the back seat all the way. They had been chosen by a Viennese lady, a lover of balconies and vast terraces who knew all the inter- mediate states between joy, pathos and melancholy. Needless to say, they were not intended for any award- winning student, for any ‘Olympians’ in mathematics, physics, history, biology. They were not intended for any bride or couple celebrating their golden or diamond wedding anniversary. God forbid they be given to a colonel who was to be made a general, or to a priest on whose face no one had ever read thirst for profit or hypocrisy. It was meant for my grandparents, my son’s great-grandparents. They had died more than seventy years ago. Grandfather was a doctor, plump face, of great renown, lover of local mountains, Grandmother, teacher, Serbian, a bit severe, reserved. For so long, their shadows fluttered through the cemetery. We were approaching it, with flowers in our hands … As we were coming up from behind, from the railway, something puzzled us. Why were there so many piles of earth in front of so many graves? A young man born well after the times of free competition between factories explained to us: ‘The cemetery, dear visitors, dear gentlemen, will be modernised, electricity, internet, Facebook pages, blogs, sewerage, entertainment, sports fields, mobile phones, and until then, its legal inhabitants have been transferred. I can’t tell you any more.’ My son and I walked as far as we could between the empty pits. They were all the same: deep, blind, deserted. Countless wreaths, bouquets, promises of eternal remembrance, tins, what may have been decorations, tufts of grass among lumps of earth, wet, dry. Eventually we threw our bouquet at random. To leave the cemetery I went out the front, because that was where the grave I was looking for was. And, what did I see … our grandparents, our great-grandparents had not left but had come out of their graves next to each other, standing, slightly supported by their crosses … I returned home late, red with fatigue. The monotony of the rooms was no greater than when we had left. Shutters advertising the Beer Festival were pulled down over the windows. Beyond that, one thing was for sure, we had not attached ourselves to anyone or anything on this walk…
By Mircea Pora
Translated by Alexandru Nemoianu
Read The Romanian Riveter in its entirety here.
Mircea Pora is a writer from Timiş county, Romania. He has been a member of the Romanian Writers’ Guild (USR) since 1998, and his books include The Jar (2015), I Lived in Communism (2016), The New Aristocracy (2018), and How Are You, Master? (2019).
Alexandru Nemoianu worked as a museographer before becoming a political refugee in the US in 1982. He has worked as an archivist and historian, and collaborates on and translates cultural essays, historical articles, and political analyses in magazines and publications in the US and Romania.