A vague notion that she would be set alight that afternoon by the ray of sunlight falling through the window straight onto his keyboard, stroking his fingers, and the heap of wild, crazy words he had never in fact fully expressed while he held her in his arms, they were there somewhere, those words, waiting, like a stopper in a champagne bottle, for someone to draw them out of him, with a pop and a gush, and then those confused memories, like a speeded-up film with a million little images that fly past touching the inside of his thighs, tingling, some such sensation and he was already wriggling at his desk, then he stood up and looked out at the street for a while, a truck was unloading furniture for someone in the next building, he could clearly feel her breasts quivering under his hands, yes, after that she took his two fingers, the two fingers that he had been pushing into her until that moment and she put them in her mouth, she licked them, then he kissed her, deeply, lengthily, and that kiss held the aroma from between her legs, what a kiss that was, for a moment he wondered whether she was kissing him for the last time, but that thought came to him often and it always turned out that he was wrong, thank god, it was just fear, ordinary human fear that anything can be broken, because everything has its end, doesn’t it, then he went back to the desk and went on writing her a letter, my dear, he typed, I have written so many letters in my life and I would like to write my last letter to you, however long it is, I don’t want to write to women any more, I’m sick of it, and he really, really was sick of writing letters, of misunderstandings, of disappointments, angry faces looking at him through tearful eyes, usually in the half-dark of cars, but then he suddenly sees her clearly lowering the seat of that same car and arching her back, unbuttoning her shirt, he sees himself turning to her, maneouvering in that confined space, kneeling over her, her head thrown back, no one, no one in the world emits such soft sounds as her throat when he kisses her, he asks her little, unimportant questions which she is not in a position to answer, just a hoarse mmmmm and yes and so on, she forgets that she has her own arms, forgets to wrap them round him, she is too concentrated on what he is doing, calm, as though hypnotized, I’ll pull her hair, he decides, I’ll pull it till it hurts, but he knows he won’t, that it’s just a fantasy, I’ll grab her by that hair and drag her naked over the floor, hasn’t she always said that she likes everything I do to her, so she should like that as well, it would be really silly for me to wank now, he thinks, if I’m going to be screwing her this afternoon, but all these thoughts that come uncontrollably have made him so hard it almost hurts, he tries to think of something else, he goes to the kitchen, puts the kettle on, and in just a moment hears the water boiling in the kettle, which reminds him again of the sound coming from her throat, it was morning and she had woken first, she always wakes first, in fact, what do I know about the way she wakes, he thinks, we’ve only spent a few nights together, but what nights, my god, and she always woke first, she says she can’t sleep beside him, she’s so in love, so, she woke up and then she pressed herself against him, with her back, she shoved her bum precisely there, where he was already throbbing and she took his hand and placed it on her breasts, his other one felt between her legs, how does she manage to be so wet, always, that’s an absolute mystery, and then they talk about all those things, he thinks that he has seen this kind of thing in films, read them in cheap novels, envied, in fact, those non-existent people, thought that such things never happened in real life, anywhere, and here, all of a sudden, it was happening here in the bed where he was waking up, she really was saying those words and he was as well, and it didn’t seem at all comical, or sentimental, or cheap, he realizes that he has had all of this in him for a long time, is it possible, he wonders, that we all have this in ourselves, this hackneyed take me, take me hard, give yourself to me, give me everything, don’t hold anything back, you have to let go, now, now, now, is it possible that we all of us have in us that kitsch animal that dies, sighs, comes with precisely those words, how strange it is, he thinks, I’ll never get tired of her orgasms, I’ll never get tired of her whimpering in the dark, in the half-dark, in the morning sun, wherever, that moment when she starts to quiver, that moment when I have absolute power over her, when I know clearly that I hold her life in my hands, sometimes I have to make sure, I still my hand, move my tongue away from her, calm my body, and that instant she begins to moan, asking for more, she’s just about to come, and that now depends entirely on me, is it possible that all this is simply a game of power, this giving, this taking, am I just pretending to give while really I am taking the sense of power, whatever, whatever, it is quite irresistible, I run my finger over her, how wonderfully she trembles at that, sometimes she lays my hand on a particular place and says here, here, here, and then I give her what she wants there, and then I stop again just to make sure again, and it always works, she always wants more, how often could I do that, he wonders, would a person be able to kill someone like that and why would he do it, are there any cheaper parallels than this, passion and death, sex and death, it’s such a cliché, but it really does seem to him that he would be able to kill her like that, if he kept infinitely often interrupting just when she needed it most, he says I want you to beg me, to ask for it, and of course she moans please, please, give it to me, don’t stop, that feels so good, I am so stupidly important, she trembles under my hand, under my tongue, she really trembles and really begs me and she’s not lying, that’s what she’s really thinking at that moment, then he asks her will she always be his, yes, yes, she whispers, hardly able to speak, always, truly always, he wants to be sure, yes, yes, always, only go on, and now she settles on him again, clasping him firmly by the shoulders, not letting him lift her off him this time, she rides him, presses her body into him, lowers herself for a moment and allows him to take her nipple between his lips, and then pulls it away, he can clearly feel everything inside her clench, he shifts his hips trying to push himself even deeper into her, to reach that place no one has reached before him, and who were all those wankers who screwed her before him, I guarantee they didn’t have a clue, there’s no way that they would have known how to draw all this out of her, there’s no way she would have moaned like this, and writhed, it would be devastating if he realized that she was always like this, it would be terrible if she had asked them all in this same voice to go on doing that, these thoughts came to him and for a moment he felt himself flagging inside her, that helped him, in fact, to wriggle out again and push her onto her back, now she was looking at him a little surprised, a little breathless, her eyes were shining like some crazed junkie’s, her pupils were enormous, she had placed her two front teeth over her lower lip as though she was going to bite herself and was looking at him, looking, without saying anything, and he thought that she had looked at others in this same way, perhaps that very day, or the day before, perhaps her husband, who knows, maybe she looked at him like this, you can never know that, we always feel we are entirely unique in someone’s life and it always turns out that that was just self-delusion, he sips his tea slowly and now he is fairly certain that he is not going to jerk off, and maybe he won’t finish the letter he has begun either, he sees her in his mind sitting at the table opposite him, a long time ago now, when she had almost laughed at him and called him a fairground magician, my husband is a better man than you, she had once said quite seriously and he had seen in her eyes that she really meant it, and what does that mean, for god’s sake, what is a better man, how is that measured, does he too want to kill you by flicking his tongue between your legs, does he want to do that, because I certainly do and one day I will, because that’s what we do, we fairground magicians, that’s our fairground speciality, does he too want to fuck you to death, or does he just want you to take his arm and walk with him to yet another family lunch, in fact I used to be one of those, I listened to the belly of my wife in whom a child was growing, I laid my ear against her belly and watched the brown line which appeared more and more clearly from day to day, I thought that this was how things should be, I really did think that, he went back up the stairs and back to writing to her although she was in the same city, just a few kilometres away, he says, look at every tree you pass, look at every leaf on that tree, all of it is telling you that I love you, I’ve sent a message through the plants, through the air, through the insects, birds, look at the pavement, you will hear it every time your heel touches the ground, you will hear that same thing, he writes crazy things although he knows he will be seeing her probably before she manages to read this, it doesn’t matter, while what he would most like is to hold her tightly by the neck and push all he has deep into her, and ask why her husband is a better man, how come, and in that case why does she keep coming and letting him to all these things to her, why do her fingers tremble as she undoes his trousers, why does she allow him to press her to her knees and force her to take him in her mouth, why does she ask him to pull her by the hair, why does she swallow him so violently if that bloody man is better, he would most like to choke her like this, he would shove everything he had down her throat and would not let her go until they had both drowned under a triple depth, because he had already thought several times that it was impossible to reach further than this, and it turned out that there was something deeper and still deeper, he felt himself hardening again and began to rub himself slowly through his trousers, maybe I’ll just let it out a bit, he thought, I won’t really wank, just sit back in the armchair for a while as I wait till the time comes, and he runs his hand over his balls, feels all the little hairs on them rise, feels each of his bristling pores, she always says she likes his balls because they are heavy and they knock nicely against her bum while he screws her, he measures the weight of his own balls in his hands and tries to imagine what it’s like to be a woman, what it’s like when someone enters you, what it’s like when you spread your legs and let someone enter you and he almost succeeds, he almost feels a cleft between his legs, it almost seems to him that he is her, and that she is some kind of multi-sexual creature who mounts him and tears him apart, I’m not going to be able not to wank, he thinks, so what, it’s such a good feeling, this drawing up and down and up and down, it’s almost like being in her mouth, he licks the finger of his other hand and then touches his little head with that finger, imagining that it is her tongue touching him inside there, in her mouth, but her tongue never stops being smooth and moist, while his finger is already dry, he licks it again and puts it back there, while his other hand keeps that rhythm going, how good it would be if she was here, now, at this very moment, if she simply appeared as in some third-rate porn flick and if it turned out that she had no panties and if she would just sit down on me, without many words, without any words, in fact, how I would knock her properly with these balls which she likes, a fairground magician’s balls, she would sit here, self-important, full of all those senseless stories about self-control, about how falling in love is a matter of will and personal decision, and then he thought of simply getting up and going away, of giving it all up, but then something else, almost like some defiance, you’ll whimper, you’ll whimper, he thought, you’ll beg me for more, and she really did beg him, he stopped for a moment because he felt that, if he were to make any more movements, it would gush out of him, and he didn’t want that to happen, he was saving it for her, he had promised that he would save it all for her, and then he thought what, in fact, does it mean when we say I love you, what is contained in those words, what in the end is contained in his I love you, which part of it is this fury and this revenge, which part of it the power she gives him with every sigh, which part is his contest with the one she maintains is a better man than him, what in that I love you remains truly I love you, or does all that together make up love, who would be able to sort it out, who indeed ever dreamed up the myth that love is something perfectly pure, something that cannot be touched, permeated at least, by some blasphemous impulse, and he had told her that possessiveness is a terrible thing and that he would never be like that, that’s over, he had said, that finished with the love affairs of my youth, a man loves differently in his fifties, he told her that he used to be crazy and was always afraid that he would lose the one he loved, but with you I am always so serene, with you I’m not afraid, with you I somehow know that you are here and that you will always come back, wherever you go, even when you didn’t answer the phone all afternoon, even then I didn’t really panic, mind you, I was anxious that something might have happened to you, but I was not afraid for us, I hope that you understand the difference, and that was the greatest of all the lies he had told her, a person is, in fact, always afraid and each new fear is stronger than all his former fears, we never get used to fear or pain, there is just a temporary numbness, an apparent anaesthesia of the senses, a trick that sometimes succeeds, and he really believed that while he was talking to her, but now, here, when he was alone, and when he was holding his erection in his hand, he knew that he had been lying, of course that fear existed, just the same as he had felt when he was twenty, the same as he had felt when one summer that girl went to the other side of the ocean and all he could do was roam around town, more desperate than a lost Bedouin, plot his revenge, plan whether to kill himself or her first and how he was going to do it, truly every new fear is worse than all the previous ones, just as each new passion is stronger, that is presumably why we do things, someone could say that it’s because we haven’t learned anything, but he thinks it’s in fact the opposite, it’s because we do learn, it’s because we know now exactly how long pain lasts, we know that we will search for her through the streets and that all women will look like her, we know that we will seem to hear her voice under the window and that it will seem that it was her car disappearing at the traffic light, and that we will open letters, waiting and waiting, and each time the phone rings we will think that perhaps after all, and so it goes on for years, who would not be afraid of that damnation, but he had told her that was not afraid and that he believed in her so much that it was, in fact, unreal, all other women had brought disquiet, he said, but you bring peace, and he really wanted to believe what he was saying, because he was sick of that disquiet and fear, all right, he thought, now I can put it back in my pants, I managed not to come, but it was a close shave, my tea is already quite cold, what’s the time, quarter past three, another half-hour or so and I can set off, if I go slowly enough, I’ll be there at exactly half-past four, and he knew that it would not take him more than fifteen minutes to get there, but he still liked to set off bit earlier, because from the moment he set off he was in some sense with her, the worst was this anticipation of setting off, there was always the possibility that something might happen, there could be a change of plan, something could come up, but once he had set off, it would seem as though that possibility no longer existed, his departure was already part of the meeting, and then he would go there, to her, and he would wonder whether some people were born to be eternal adulterers or whether it was possible for someone to simply wander into it by mistake, but how could it be a mistake when there were warning signs as big as the gates of Disneyland, that’s the kind of thing his wife would have said, how can you possibly end up there by mistake, and still believe that you are nurturing intact your dream of monogamy, of enduring love, of someone whom you will always want beside you, in your bed, in the same way as on the first day, well, then, then, just then, when you stray off course, however far you’ve strayed, things start to happen that hinder you and you don’t know how to go on, for instance, it happens that you both look at your shared photographs from happier times, your thirtieth birthday, everyone smiles and endorses that photo, but they don’t know that something has already grown heavy, like a chain round your leg, you look at a photograph of your wife as a child, it’s a child in some worn-out little trousers and a jumper with over-large buttons, and that child would later, at a certain moment, entrust her life to you, or you would entrust yours to her, whatever, here are photographs in which the two of you are inflating a mattress on the beach, your stomach is flatter, it’s only now you see that, and you had hidden this photo for years, thinking that you looked bad in it, but things become relative over time, then there’s a photo of you pushing a pram, and there’s snow all around, the baby can’t in fact be seen under all those blankets and woolly hats and covers, you can only see that you are gripping the handle tightly, like a man who has grasped his tiller and believes that he knows where he ought to be going with this little being in front of him, he thinks of all that, as he walks slowly, endeavouring not to get there too early, because he knows that she won’t be early, she won’t be late either, but she won’t come even a minute early, how many minutes have I wasted in my lifetime waiting for women on street corners, in parks, on benches, in front of cinemas, at bus stops, with tickets in my hand, in my pocket, with bloody flowers that wilted as I waited, in the sun, in the rain, in the snow, in the wind, how many months of my life, he wonders, would that all add up to, but if we are going to start thinking along those lines, then I ought also to be able to calculate how many minutes I’ve spent waiting for lifts, and women certainly weren’t responsible for that, besides, I like waiting for women who are going to come, and this thought cheers him, I really like waiting for them, especially those I know are going to come, as this one will, and when she appears she will have that expression of hers that doesn’t want to hide anything, she hasn’t hidden anything for a long time now, she gave herself entirely a long time ago, the fairground magician, of course, I’ll let her wait for a touch, he plans, I’ll let her toss her hair back, push her chest forward, smile, make all those unconscious movements that call me to her and ask, because the longer she waits, the longer she wants, the more fully she will give herself to me later, and she gives herself so well, and all this is because of that, isn’t it, all of this is just because of that moment, a whole life reduced to that one thing, the moment of someone’s surrender, everything else is an overture to that, everything else is just setting the scene, framing, making the frame for that one picture, here I am, fifteen minutes early, he is a little cross with himself, but not much, his glance keeps flying to the corner round which her car will appear, but not yet, not for at least another quarter of an hour, but he still keeps looking and doesn’t manage to look for long at the other things around him, the trees that have in the meantime blossomed while they were kissing in hidden places, another ten minutes, he puts on his slightly surly expression that he’ll be able to maintain until their first kiss, until he smells the perfume that always reminds him of the scent of apples, until he hears her first sigh and then he will be flooded once again with his own power over her, and his power paradoxically makes him generous, he calls her his slave while he kisses her and tells her that she is the only slave who can lord it over him and choose whatever she likes, but that doesn’t make her less of a slave, because her power does not exist in itself, it exists only because he bequeaths it to her, those are the sort of crazy things he tells her and she looks at him quite seriously and says that’s what I’ve always wanted, I’ve always dreamed about being someone’s slave, but nobody was able to do that, nobody knew how to draw that out of me, he raises her arms high and presses them against the wall and holds her like that for a few moments, as though nailing her to it, she doesn’t even try to move, calm, meek, as though she really does belong only to him, as though she does not move every day among other people, as though she spends her whole life just sitting behind closed windows, waiting for him to come, you are a wonderful archetype, he thinks as he bends her arms behind her back, not wanting to say that out loud because a word like that has no place in sex, but in some strange way it arouses him, you are the archetype of everything that a woman ought to be and you are that precisely because I know how to stimulate you, you were never that before, you were never that for the others, admit that you weren’t, she shrieks in his thoughts and he bends her arm more firmly against her back, but she doesn’t hear his thoughts, just feels that he is drawing her further and further down, and then she falls on her knees in front of him, once again, like every time, and wraps her arms round his legs, pulls his trousers down, turns him, licks the inside of his knees, does everything to please him, to calm the anger whose cause he does not even attempt to hide from her, there is always some reason for his archetype to be furious with her archetype, she feels that instinctively, and runs her warm tongue over his thighs, soothing all of that, anger, fear, pain, all that lost time, really what time is it, another three minutes, she’ll be here any minute, he stares in that direction, one car, another, a third, no, no, no, it’s not this one either, or the next, where is she, for god’s sake, he feels that stirring in his trousers again, I’ll shag her, I’ll soon be shagging her, it’s not this one either, she’ll just appear suddenly, he’ll recognize the little red roof turning swiftly and he’ll know that she can already see him, because he always waits for her here, in the same place, is she thinking about that as she comes towards him, he wonders, is she already trembling inside, and he knows that he will soon be asking her, and that she will tell him at exactly which corner she began to drip, no, she will not be lying, just as she was not lying when she begged him not to stop, she will park beside him, glance at him through the glass, to someone passing by that glance would mean nothing, but he knows exactly, she will open the door, first one leg will emerge, then the other, his eyes always slip along those calves where he has so often run his tongue and lips, then back to her face, to her eyes which are still waiting for him to look at her, and he will watch as she gets out and locks the door and then when she will be standing next to him, not saying anything, simply waiting, for him, the fairground magician, to sweep her off, no matter where, that is why he gazes in that direction almost without blinking, waiting for her like his prey, with which he will feed himself, compressing this waiting into himself, drop by drop, barb by barb, counting, pulsating, feeling the afternoon sun on the back of his neck, transforming himself into an arrow with a poisonous, deadly tip that is just about to fly, talking to himself slowly, stretching that bow taught silently in himself, he holds his breath, looking in that same direction, to that same corner where at any moment something that has to come will appear.
JELENA LENGOLD is a storyteller, novelist and poet. She has published five books of poetry, one novel (Baltimore) and four books of stories, including Rain-soaked Lions, Lift and The Fairground Magician (to be titled Fairground Magician in English translation), which won her the European Prize for Literature. Lengold worked as a journalist and an editor for ten years at Radio Belgrade.
About the Translator:
CELIA HAWKESWORTH worked for many years as Senior Lecturer in Serbian and Croatian at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College, London. She has published numerous articles and several books on Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian literature. She has translated work by Dubravka Ugrešić and Ivo Andrić among many other writers, and is presently translating two titles for Istros Books: a children’s fantasy book by Croatian author, Matko Srsen, and Fairground Magician by Jelena Lengold.
Read more about Jelena Lengold:
On her 2011 European Prize for Literature, including an interview with the author
The story collection Fairground Magician is being published by Istros Books in September 2013