Friday, August 13, 2010
He sits himself down on a rock protruding from out of the dry ground. The light is sharp between the fig trees on the mountain slopes around him. He screws up his eyes as his gaze passes over the trees and beyond to the mountains on the other side of the Popovo valley. In his hand at his knee hangs a letter. A white sheet of paper, lines of hastily scribbled letters slanting sharply to the right. Each word utters itself without him reading. They say that his wife is dead and that she will be buried in Dubrovnik beyond the mountains the day after tomorrow at 4 pm. That she was found on the bathroom floor. That it happened while his son, who has written the letter, and his daughter-in-law were in with the neighbours for no more than half an hour, and that she could not have been lying there very long. At the bottom of the page, a busy little symbol is scrawled, and although it is almost quite illegible, he recognises the name of his son.
Now Frane’s coughing returns to him. It consumes him with guilt about the sour, sulphurous feeling in his stomach that its maddening sound on occasion brought up in him. Although he by no means wished to be like that, he was: He was unable to abide the sound of her asthmatic hacking that both of them were aware sooner or later would be the death of her. He found it simply too intimate an experience to hear the mucus rattle in her throat before being loosened, to hear the sputum being worked against the roof of her mouth before being swallowed or spat out into the lavatory. It offended his modesty in the same way as when people champed on their food or quite unashamedly enjoyed the sound of their own singing. He could not endure this demonstration of the force of her asthma, its insufferable momentum and predictability. The illness was a problem medicine was unable to solve, merely adjourn, and which could only annihilate itself by unfurling to the full and killing her.
He picks up the letter from his knee and reads it again: Frane is dead. They found her on the bathroom floor. She had been lying there for half an hour at the most, while Tomislav and Svetlana were in with the neighbours having coffee, and she will be buried from the Danče church the day after tomorrow at 4 pm. Not a word does it say about needing him home.
extract from sample translation
© Birgithe Kosović & Gyldendal, 2010
Translation © Martin Aitken, 2010