– I had a dream about you --
– Yeah? Was it dirty ;) --
– Let's say I am not writing it here --
–- Hm, getting curious --
– Wanna meet and tell me in person? --
Eva had to delete the message thread fast because truths about infidelity always came out in the way you least imagined them to. Her fear was mostly unreasonable because her husband had never invaded her privacy – as a true Dane, Bjorn was keeping his respectful distance, having full faith in his wife. Eva loved that but, at the same time, it drove her crazy. Having Balkan blood running in her veins made her crave for some, as she called it, healthy jealousy or at least something resembling warmth. Or interest.
She herself wasn't the warmest person either and she considered that a plus rather than a setback. When she was in her twenties Eva had been wreckless towards her own and other people's feelings. After all, young hearts heal fast. It was then that she met Peter – taller, younger, dreamier boy with his golden eyes matching his golden hair. He was her weekend lover – they used to meet at her place and then only leave bed for some snacks, coffee or wine. Apart from the sex which she would rate as “successful”, and she was the type of person to put a grade on everything from spoons to people, they used to argue about God and music, and share all kinds of things: him about his past and his family and Eva – about her dreams and seekings. Peter had mentioned he loved her but who could possibly know what love was, especially that young? At least that was what Eva thought – she was set on having a romantic relationship without all the feelings part, whatever that meant but it was working well with her and Peter so far.
Then, in her thirties she started craving stability: a man with a job, unlike Peter, who was still changing degrees in the university, wandering between History and Graphic Design; a man who didn't smoke and didn't spend his weeknights at techno parties – the music Eva used to call synthetic since no real instruments were involved. So she met Bjorn online and broke things off with Peter in the cowardliest way possible – via text.
Bjorn was funny and fascinating in his peculiar foreign way – he was equally annoyed and amazed by the way everything worked in Bulgaria and was constantly asking questions: "Why does nobody obey the signs?", "Why do all waiters feel entitled?", "What do you mean you don't have whom to complain about that here?". And Eva was taken in by his love of rules, his big hands, and his stable IT job. They married in months and then had two lovely daughters in the course of two years – both girls blond and tall like their father, but with their mother's dark weighing eyes.
Now Eva was living between the kitchen and the washing machine, contemplating the family meals and her life choices. The pride of being a stay-at-home mom in the first years of her life as a settle-downer was slowly replaced by a peculiar lump somewhere between her throat and her chest. And then there was this feeling of worthlessness that lurked in the corner of her mind's eye, haunting her like a bad omen.
She didn't discuss any of this with her husband; the only time she tried, he cut her off by saying that Denmark was full of women over thirty who described themselves as “depressed” but were actually just bored. And that the shrinks and modern life coaches were feeding off of these poor creatures like vultures.
“There are people with real problems, you know. You need a hobby. Find friends or watch TV – it's made for people exactly like you.”
So, a week or so ago while she was counting the nutrients in the spinach and cheese souffle, Eva caught herself thinking about the least painful way to die and making a mental list of pros and cons of leaving her daughters motherless. What was the point of being here anyway? No one was noticing her; the girls were always saying they hated her because she never let them play on their tablets before bed while their father thought that tablets were developing the new thinking everyone needed in order to survive the 21stcentury. Father and daughters were teaming up against Eva because she didn't let any sugar pass the threshold. Daddy's girls were loving Bjorn because they got everything. “Our family can afford it,” he was saying. Or at least he could. She brought nothing to this family but food, rules, and toilet paper.
And it wasn't like Bjorn didn't love her – he just didn't talk much. Or didn't touch much. At first, this was exactly what Eva loved about him – a husband who made her feel free. Now this freedom was turning into a sense of irrelevance. Like she was irrelevant. Yes, maybe they wouldn't miss her that much.
Maybe it was pills – you go to sleep and never wake. She started researching pills online: it was unbelievable what kind of information you could get from the web - so detailed, so matter-of-factual, so heartless. The 21stcentury was really a different era she hadn't quite got to know because she had been too busy fulfilling her dream of stability and perfection.
Then, on Tuesday, when she waved her daughters Goodbye and prepared to go to the pharmacy, she started shaking uncontrollably, her stomach burning and she couldn't even reach the bathroom – she was sick right there, in the hallway. It was on that exact spot that she realized – this was not what she wanted. She had fallen so deep in this married life, this married lie, where she was always putting others before herself, always neglecting her feelings as unreasonable, always keeping herself self-composed and “normal”.
Now she wanted to be pulled out of it.
She didn't have the strength to do it by herself; she was not Munchausen strong. She needed somebody else to grab her by the hair, shake her out of what was killing her. It was there, in the hallway, sitting on the floor in her own vomit, fingers shaking, that she texted Peter.
No, she hadn't dreamt about him. She hadn't dreamt about anything lately. She had trouble sleeping, her mind searching for something in the dark but all she could lay her hands on was more darkness.
But she knew Peter all too well. She knew exactly what to write to sparkle his interest without sounding needy. And she knew how to make it all work out:
he would mention he was working from home. She would mention some made-up appointment in the area in two days. He would ask if she'd be up for some coffee.
Then she would carefully choose what to wear – nothing fancy or too revealing: it was not her style and it was not what he was after. She would not overdo it by putting too much make-up. Nothing too glamorous for a workday or a non-existent appointment.
She couldn't believe how easy and mechanically it all happened – they say the muscles have memory. She felt like a giant muscle, driven by the neuro impulse, keeping it moving forward.
She was early, the cafe had just opened – the counter girl was still arranging the mugs in an Illuminati pyramid. "I hope that the all-seeing eye is not watching me from the top," Eva thought with disturbed amusement. Cappuccino, water, and a cake with lots of sugar – her brain needed the overstimulation. She needed to stay sharp and in good humor and that was what sugar did to her. Maybe she was too hard on the kids by forbidding them the joy of the sugar rush. No! Not the children now. She wanted to feel unmarried and childless for what was coming next.
When Peter came in, she saw she could still see through him: a grown-up boy, shy, avoiding eye contact while at the same time taking a walk on memory lane along her body that was now dressed in tight jeans and a designer oversized pullover in mauve she had never worn because she never went anywhere, just like her matching earrings which had never enjoyed life outside the box either.
He was still sweet. The sweetest thing she'd ever had. And like all things sweet, they had to be consumed with care or they could ruin you. Or did they? Wasn't it the sweetless healthy lifestyle that led her here, in this cafe, eating cake, betraying her family and luring an innocent man with a stable relationship now? This high-speed train of thoughts made her smile bitterly and that was the smile that welcomed Peter at the table.
Seeing him and the way he looked at her, Eva realized that Peter had never forgiven her how she'd ended things with him but he was acting poorly like it didn't bother him now. It turned out she had never forgotten him and she hoped she was a better actor.
Now, at that table, his long fingers were fiddling wantingly his cigarette case and she remembered vividly where these hands had been. She was listening to his low voice and was hardly making any sense of the stories he told her about his new job as a graphic designer and his new apartment. The conversation was just right, avoiding all topics sensitive – her marriage, his girlfriend, their split-up.
All she was thinking of was how it would continue:
He would invite her to see his new place and she would carelessly say ok.
They would climb the stairs playing the silent game, both dying to lose.
He would unlock the door and she would know that she was getting exactly where she wanted.
He would help her undress right there, in the hallway, then take off his own clothes in a hurry, the fabrics shuffling in the silence, answering questions no one dared to ask.
Then they would do it on the sofa, no foreplay - she had been ready for this for years. He would stare in her eyes and she wouldn't blink, both knowing this should never repeat. She would know he wanted her to leave her husband, her daughters, her comfortable life and just be with him for the rest of their lives, away, away from the world, with him only, just like they had been in the forever long weekends they used to have.
Just for a second, she would wish the same. The thought of their bodies never separating would make her climax and this would make him climax too.
“I'd better go, right?”
He didn't swallow his tears – unlike her, he was emotional and didn't think it was something unsensible. In their so-called relationship she used to be the rational one, and he – the passionate one. Nothing had changed.
Seeing him break in tears after all those years made her feel guilty for trying to save herself at his expense. He was still bearing the innocence only a boy in love could. With the tenderness of a mother, of a lover, and a wife, Eva pressed his head against her chest and said:
“Hey,” he whispered back.
This had been her code word for "I love you" back then. She could never I-love-you him back because she had never known what love was. But she knew that she felt something inexplicable for him and this something fit perfectly in this "Hey".
Still blushed, Eva said her Goodbye looking away, and then left in a hurry, hoping he would be strong enough to clean up the emotional mess that she was leaving after herself. Again.
Going downstairs she was trembling, thinking of him inside of her, surrendering to each other, knowing she would leave him, this time for good. She took out her phone and started blocking Peter from the social networks.
Wandering somewhere between the present and the past, she lost control of her body, stumbled and before she kne it, she was falling down the stairs. Eva felt her whole being twist, and the stairs, like some come-to-life punishers, hitting her for the many sins she had committed during the past hour and the past years. When she finally landed, her whole body ached excruciatingly and for a some time she doubted she would ever rise again. But after a while she managed to move her hand and she reached for her phone to call an ambulance. Unlike Bjorn's opinion about how nothing ever worked in this country, the emergency team arrived in minutes.
Mainly bruises and a fractured leg. She was lucky to survive. Bjorn was coming any minute and she had to explain what had happened, where it had happened.
Bjorn hurled into the ER room. He approached the bed with a cold concerned look, saying “Bad things happened, but you are OK”. No display of sympathy, just the usual foreign behavior she once thought she loved.
She spoke first:
“I want a divorce”.
Please, read this:
This was Miloslava Abadzhieva’s graduation short story, published here exactly as submitted.