Assorted texts > My Husband

My Husband

The Serbian version of “My Husband” was originally published in Drugi jezik (2003). It has been translated into several languages. The English translation is included in the anthology of Jewish exiled writers, If Salt Has Memories, edited by Jennifer Langer (Five Leaves Publications, 2008). The German translation can be found in David Albahari’s book of selected stories, Funf Worter (Eichborn, 2005), and the French translation is in Hitler à Chicago (Les Allusifs, 2008).

Today is Friday. Every day since Monday my husband, when he comes back from work, remains sitting in his car, parked in front of our house. He doesn’t move at all. He just sits there, and only sometimes does he bend his neck and touch the edge of steering wheel with his forehead.

He sits longer and longer. On Monday he got out of the car after fifteen minutes; on Wednesday he stayed in the car for almost an hour. The streetlights are on now, and he, the dark silhouette, is still sitting.

On the first day, when he came into the house, I touched his cheek with my palm. He didn’t look up. I did not touch him again after that, did not ask him anything. I was patient. When we went to bed, I lifted my nightgown all the way up to my chin, moved closer to him, and put my legs around him. He slipped his hand between my thighs, like he always did, but I knew that his fingers were at some other place.

Last week, in one of the houses on our street, a dead woman was discovered. Her neighbour called the police because the cats in the house of the dead woman, who at that time was not thought of as being dead, did not stop meowing. When the door was broken down, cats ran outside. The woman was discovered in her bedroom, on the floor, by the bed.

I remembered that yesterday. I thought that there was some connection between her death and my husband’s behaviour, but I quickly gave up trying to find out what it was. It is not easy to think of somebody’s death, even though neither my husband nor I knew what that woman looked like.

The cats stay in her yard. Sometimes they go behind our house, tear our garbage bags, pull out the scraps of food.

I don’t know what time it is anymore. My husband is still sitting in the car, partially lit by the street lamp. If he doesn’t get out soon, I’ll have to fetch him a blanket. When we moved here, the apple tree in front of our house was in full bloom, but now it’s autumn, branches are bare, nights are cold, clouds gather up in the sky.

I think of our neighbours. They have certainly noticed what was going on in front of our house. They always notice everything, anyway. In the evening they sit in darkness, by day they hide behind their curtains, and they never stop watching out their windows. I don’t know what they expect to see. In the morning, before nine, the postman walks down the street. At noon, on Tuesday and Friday, a young man, Chinese, puts fliers into mailboxes. At four in the afternoon, probably after school, an older man and a girl with a tiny knapsack on her back enter one of the houses. On Saturday morning, or perhaps on Sunday, Jehovah Witnesses come. Nothing else happens.

Now they’re watching my husband, hanging onto the steering wheel like a drowning person.

Once he did dream that he was drowning. In his dream he swam too far from the bank, he told me, and couldn’t go back. He dropped his arms and began to sink. While he was sinking, the surrounding landscape began slowly to disappear from his sight, as if a giant eraser was erasing the view. The bank of the river disappeared, the willows and poplars followed, then the tower on the hill, and only the blue sky remained. Soon, instead of it the blueness of water appeared. The bubbles of air danced in front of his eyes, rushing to get out. After that he saw nothing. He felt terrible fear and woke up.

I tried to comfort him. I held him and whispered sweet nothings into his ear. Let it all go to dogs and cats, I said rocking him gently. One, two, three, stronger than fear are we.

When that woman was discovered, a black cat was sitting on her chest. She sat there throughout the investigation, and jumped off her only when paramedics put the dead woman on their stretcher. After that it also, I suppose, went outside.

By the middle of September the tree was full of apples. We ate three or four every day, I made apple pie, cooked them, baked them. I picked two plastic bags full of apples, and left one in front of our first neighbour’s door. The other one I left in front of our door, for the postman.

On Wednesday, he told me that sometimes, while driving to work, he could hear birds singing. When he stopped at traffic lights, he would bend and look through his window, but he couldn’t see anything, only the wasteland of the empty sky.

I don’t know why I think of all these things now. My legs hurt from standing, but if I sit in the armchair, I won’t be able to see the street; if I sit on the sofa, I’ll turn my back to it; if I lie down, I’ll fall asleep.

Yesterday, on Thursday, he stayed in the car for two hours. I stood just like this, by the window, like who knows how many neighbours, and waited, The food on the table grew cold: chicken legs and peas, green salad, chocolate pudding. In the end I threw everything into garbage.

Today I didn’t cook.

This morning, while we drank coffee, I asked him if he wanted to tell me something, anything. Now is the right moment, I said, afterwards it’ll be too late. My husband put the newspapers down, took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes. Too late for what? he asked. I didn’t know. I said: For everything. My husband put his glasses back on and looked at me. He hadn’t looked at me for a long time, I thought, and even tried to smile. My husband kept looking at me. Then my eyes filled with tears and I lowered my head.

We should have taken a cat. It would run between my legs now, arch its back, hold its tail high.

Nothing is connected to anything, said my husband when I told him about physicists looking for the final, all-inclusive theory. I had read an article on them in the weekly magazine that the postman left in our mailbox every Wednesday. That theory, I said, should connect every phenomenon in the world in an inseparable whole. My husband closed his eyes. Each one of us, he said, walks through this world all by himself. And what about me, I said, where am I? My husband looked at me again. That’s something, he said, that I would like to know myself.

I didn’t say anything then. I stood up, took the box with cookies and searched for a round one. I put it into my mouth and tried to push my tongue through the hole in its middle. The cookie broke into pieces, became wet in my mouth, and dough stuck to my teeth.

I should have said something, despite that dough. I should have shaken him, grabbed his hair and said: Look! I’m pulling your hair out! You’re not alone! Actually, I did not have to move at all. I could’ve said that without getting up, sitting, there was nothing to prevent me from doing that. Had I said something then, I would not be standing by the window now.

Then he continued to speak. He said: When you reach out with your arm, do you really think you would touch somebody? At best, you’ll touch somebody’s reflection, and it won’t be you touching it, it will be your reflection. A reflection touches a reflection, that’s our whole life. This world is like a giant mirror with reflections of things happening somewhere else, somewhere beyond us. In the mirror, we are illusions, surrounded by other illusions. I am not there.

I go to get a blanket. I’ve waited long enough. I’ll lift him up, he’s so light, and I’ll carry him into the house, make a soup for him. I’ll tell him that loneliness is something that we choose ourselves, that there is no other way for us to believe, with or without that mirror, it doesn’t matter. And I’ll hold him tight until he melts into me, until he is not alone anymore.

When I step out, stars surprise me.