"Tune up your guitar in the corner, walk out, watch, do not stumble, do not stumble."

Paris, Kosovo

1. Classical Music

__Preparing the program I would play it every full hour. It takes 20 minutes, then for 20 minutes I'd kick the soccer ball at the wall, for 20 minutes I'd doze. Then again - Sorr, Albeniz, Tarrega.
__Five minutes before the concert I would stare at my fingers, at my pale wrists and bluish veins, listening to the sounds of the audience behind the scene - somebody's cough, the screeching of chairs, a foot tapping on the floor, murmur. Rubber soles on that old hardwood floor. Smell of sweat and used air.

__I felt like coiled live wires, trembling in fear that my thin, fragile fingers will fail this time, to my horror and the disappointment of those three hundred people. Buttoned up, pale, choked in that stiff tuxedo, I would listen to echoes from the hall.
__For last four hundred years the Academy of Music has been echoing with steps, rumors, coughs. With music. Chamber orchestras and symphony orchestras played here, big masters used to sit in this very changing room, right here, and tonight, it is m - myself, I, entity, a human unit which exists, twelve years old, here, to play three classical pieces, and one composed by himself.

__I sit on a big leather armchair, shaking invisibly, hating all this, hating my stupid self and mom too. I tune up my Framus guitar silently, chat with it, my dearest, most sincere friend, playing a little sad theme from Grieg's Peer Gynt, the theme from Solveign's song that always calms me down, that turns my sadness into sheer focus.
__ I can hear my teacher announcing three classical pieces that I'll play. The fourth one he will explain later, the little monkey wrote it himself, to astonish that audience.
__I walk out on the stage. Guitar in my right arm, slowly, do not stumble, applause dies out, I sit on the chair, my left foot slightly up on a little stand. I browse the crowd briefly, then turn to my guitar and my pale fingers, calmed by the theme from Solveign's song, start in a slow rhythm.

2. Army

__Fifteen years later, conscripted into the Yugoslav army and thrown to Pristina, the capitol of Kosovo, at exactly 4:30 am, I stand in yet another freezing morning. It is completely dark; we have to stand in front of the barracks for another hour, like every morning, and then we line up, march to the central yard where we listen to the anthem, daily orders and observe the flag going up.
__My nerves are wrecked - I bite nails, pull out hair, and constantly press a little lump of my pulled out hair between my index finger and a thumb. I observe my dead hair - dead under my fingers, and second ago it was alive on my scalp. My fingers are thick from hard work, I usually notice while lightning up the tarry cigarette.
__I stare the same way I used to before concerts. Lost in too long an army coat, the same way I was lost in my monkey tuxedo, with the same feeling in my throat. Cover the painful tissue of my throat with the bitter tar of my first cigarette. Inhale deep, hold it in, like holding a breath under water, wishing to stay under, wishing never to surface again.

__ Breakfast was time to hide my head between my shoulders, doze, float into the distance, to the sea, to mother, to childhood, books, cozy under my warm, magic bed cover. Protected, covered with attention, with love, with my new encyclopaedia and electric toy cars and Swiss chocolate. Safe under my magic bed cover. I would hug my guitar, and often we shared musical dreams. That Framus guitar was beautifully crafted, dark amber wood, thin, wide neck, easy to play, black plastic strings would sound velvety, deep, crisp. That guitar had a narcotizing smell of fineness. Details were done in ivory and the neck was lined with ebony. That ebony made glissandos so pleasurable. Mother bought me records of early, playful Mozart, and that music would take me to sleep like a breeze.

__The icy wind in my bones, at this ugliest of all places, definitely was not Mozart. Breakfast was time to hide myself between my shoulders, to hum the theme from Solveign's song, to think, to remember, knowing I'm safe for the next 15 minutes, and nobody will come yelling, shouting, ordering some new nonsense.

3. Mama

__"Mom, I hate playing for those people!"
__She would laugh it off: how could I, with all these prizes and travel and concerts, not find it beautiful. So I tried once to cut my fingers, but I am a coward, afraid of pain, and instead, I skipped the allegro of the Spanish Song. The teacher never fully forgave me. He actually stepped on the stage after I left, and apologized to the audience: "the young artist is distressed and we apologize." Like anybody knew the difference. The trip to Budapest was cancelled. The Biennial in Zagreb, where I won two years ago was now under review by the Board. I skipped a few solfeggio lessons; they caught me reading cartoons during piano practice time in the School; and that was, to my delight, it.

__Mama liked the role of the young artist's mother. Travel, hype and talk: how much she sacrificed to get me there. So, she took it as a personal blow, something I did to her, instead of thanking her. She was forced back to her normal routines, coffee with neighbors, cooking, picking books for me, recommending Swift and Dickens and Twain. Most of all, over and over, I read Mozart's biography. The pattern in how mediocrity destroys the genius scared me. Primitives decide your fate. Helpless to escape, helpless before audiences, before savage sergeants, and later, helpless under Serbian air raids.

__I continued to compose cute little pieces for classical guitar, but nobody cared any longer. I started reading in German, and in English. I didn't understand much, going through my dictionaries, searching for words, keen as only a child could be to translate Goethe or Shelley.

4. Zakiri

__Zakiri, the Albanian sergeant overly loyal to his Serbian mentors, tried to shoot me two weeks ago. We were at the site exercise, 30 km from Pristina, on a mountain lake. The platoon was supposed to practice installing and operating the field water purification unit. Coagulants, disinfectants, chemicals: a great way to spoil the crystal clean water. We raised tents, did our stupid practice, smuggled brandy from a nearby village, and some salted sheep intestine, lay in deep shadow, drank, called it life. Bony cows stood still nearby and stared at us. Their eyes looked human, moist: they looked at us with a tranquility of a man who accepted his loss of hope.

__Zakiri was drinking alone in the Army rubber boat. He'd just float out there for hours, sipping from the bottle. It all looked pretty much like some male bonding camping here in Canada, until unexpectedly the visit came - Colonel Milovanovic in his Army Fiat, with the driver, a tall, blond guy from Novi Sad, and another colonel, whom I never saw before. The tall blond driver used to sleep in our dormitory. He'd come in late, leave early, never ate with the rest of us. As the driver he was regarded as being here for reward; not like us, common scum, for punishment.

__Haki, my good friend from Rijeka, saluted the high delegation in his underwear, giggling drunkenly. Haki was a smalltime thief in civilian life. He would steel from campsites, from tents. He played soccer so smartly, strongly. We always joked together, telling dirty stories. Once he told me how he fucked a girl in the little chapel, on Krk Island. He described every detail, including how he threw away the statue of Mother Magdalene of the Snow. Since I know the place, it was all frightfully possible. He knew that I was a published writer, and an engineer, and a former classical guitarist and a drunk, and he liked me.

__The visit found us camping. We jumped up, bottles were visible, weapons on the ground. . Zakiri emerged from his boat, excused himself and ran into his tent.

__They met in private while we all buttoned up and lined up without being ordered, like sheep at dusk getting ready for the barn. The officers' Fiat left in dust. The early September mist was falling on the cold water surface when Zakiri went mad. Guards were left by the camp while we were force marched, sweating alcohol, feeling guts in our ears, under full equipment. Back at camp, standing in line, we were ordered to stand motionless for another hour. He ordered that we keep our arms stretched in front of us. Haki murmured:
__"They're gone, what's the point Zakiri?"
__"Step out! STEP OUT, I tell you!"
__Haki stands there, his arms in front of him. Zakiri is pacing about him, broken capillaries in his eyes, in that brain, and you feel madness will crack his skull any second.

__Haki ended being on guard three times for two hours that night. He took it well. We were cleaning and preparing and digging and re-digging the next day. It was Sunday. We ate while Haki was on guard. Not a bite for him. We dismantled and moved and assembled the whole purification unit again. Haki was sent some 300 yards away to dig a trench in the bottom of a mountain stream. He did not mind kneeling in that ice cold water, doing the insane with a grin. I had some brandy left in my flask and I sipped secretly. In the afternoon I walked over to Haki, brought him a can of minced meat, offered him a drink. He took a long sip, didn't touch the food. "He'll never break me," he smiled.
__Light, short, curly hair, blue eyes, pale skin. Almost a kid, ten years younger than I was. And where did he get that stoic grin?

__"Didn't I say that nobody talks to him" Zakiri attacked me when I got back to camp.
__"You have."
__"WHAT?" he yelled in my face and I smelled brandy, the same brand I drank, brain splitter?
__"Yes sergeant!"

__He sent me to Haki, into that cold stream, to dig a trench in the bottom: "so we can talk if I am so keen." He wanted to see that trench where sly Yugoslav soldiers will hide and surprise the enemy. Like monsters from the Green Lagoon. In that stream the water is so fast, you can barely muddy it. I started to enjoy the whole situation - surreal, in a mountain stream, wet, feeling my brittle bones down to the marrow, feeling camaraderie with this guy, a smalltime thief in civilian life, and a great survivor in this mad circus. Feeling spite and strength we laughed digging the bottom of that icy mountain stream.

5. Don't Stumble, Don't Stumble

__You watch with envy other kids finishing their program, coming from the stage red in face, smiling, relieved. Do your program. Do your year. The guys who did their year, sleepless in their last night, leaving tomorrow, going home, talking about resuming lives, feeling like kings, yet they are shepherds or miners, or masons or just laborers.

__"Tune up your guitar in the corner, walk out, watch, do not stumble, do not stumble" I used to murmur to myself walking out on the stage. Here, in this surreal madness of Kosovo, seeing sad cow's eyes that stare at you like humans without hope, haunted by barefoot children and barren meadows and black mud, and digging the trench in the bottom of the bottom stream, I stumbled.

__Everything went so fast - we quarreled; I told Zakiri that his Serbian masters will not appreciate his subservience; he ordered me to shut up; I replied fuck off and sat on the ground; he went to his tent to get a rifle. Too drunk to insert the bullets, he went back to get an AK47, but that was loaded with dummies. He ordered another guy to reload it with live bullets, and thank God he declined. I'd never known him well, but he ended up at court martial and I never saw him again.

__They tied me up, transported me back to barracks. I waited for hours for the officer on duty on Sundays, to do the paper work and take me into custody. Two Serbs from Belgrade kicked me a few times, spat on Croatian swine, bored with their comfortable office duties. Not much talk afterwards. I was not to leave the dormitory for days. I was accused of disobedience, insult to authorities, obstructing orders; being pro-western element (reading Time Magazine and Les Beaux Arts) and being a Croatian liberal. Also, I had a good friend there, an illiterate Serbian peasant. If, as an intellectual, you make friends with Serbian peasants, it's with the purpose of ridiculing them, which is really the ridiculing members of other nations, and as such a punishable act. Serbs in Army Security are quick to see through such decadent plots, which meant I was I was in there for two years of prison, which really would be forced labor.

__Days and nights continued in silence. No books. Sit or lie on a bed. Remember the streets of Paris; fancy sandwiches at cocktails after a performance in Prague, remember the hot vagina of my girlfriend, remember sirtaki and ouzu, hum Beethoven's themes from the Moonlight and Pathetique sonatas; remember, recreate life in my memory; dream of unreachable happiness, of slow Saturday morning walks, buying the Herald Tribune, sitting over espresso on a sunny morning, on a patio, close to Zagreb central marketplace; listen to sounds, observe people, sip on Stock brandy, walk slowly and choose direction freely.

__My Serbian friend managed to sneak out of the camp and phone my father.

6. All Will Pass, You Please Stay

__My bed was in the corner, the lower one. There was a wood moulding on the wall, maybe three feet from the base. In my sleep I would keep my arm on that little edge, like hugging the wall. There were exactly ten double beds in the little dormitory. Twenty guys stink bad. They fart a lot, they belch and they masturbate. They worked in the food warehouse every day, but showers were scheduled for Tuesdays only. There were three windows in the room, one by my bed. Small tin cabinets are used to store personal items, and were very small. I tried to keep the window open as often as I could. Right outside was the street and a street lamp with faulty bulb, which kept blinking and buzzing. It went on like that for months.

__Then the night came. A tickle on my face woke me up. The rat had walked across the wooden moulding, my arm, and got to my face. There he bit my upper lip. I screamed, shook the rat off, and I sat up in the bed. It was exactly 3:10 a.m. I felt shaking coming up, and tears. Blitzy fragments of my interrupted dream kept coming - kisses, congrats after another concert, lots of kisses and flowers. The performance was a success, mother and teacher are relieved, I feel uncomfortable, but as always, I'll take it, happy that all is over now. It was a very realistic dream - one of those with colors and sounds and outside environment contributes to the realism of a dream. The rat kissed me, views of fancy cocktails and sandwiches and big suspended ceiling lights with a million pieces of crystal were accentuated by blinking of the street lamp, that very night in September, in Pristina. The ancient echoes of a concert hall lobby, the sounds bouncing off the dome, ricocheting from statues, hitting the chaos between my childish ears like bullets were complemented by the buzzing of that lamp. Bad breath of people kissing me, a little monkey, were complemented by the stink of farts and sweat and rotten teeth that saturated that dormitory.
__'The rat kissed me then too' I thought. I looked through the window, stared at the lamp. Then I walked out, found a piece of brick and tried to hit the lamp. I tried again and again. I cursed and kept trying. The noise woke up other guys, and they all gathered on the windows. Some walked out. Nobody talked to me. Surreal theatre at 4:00 a.m. - silent audience and an ape, finally hitting the bulb in a hundredth try.
__When it broke I went back into dormitory, sat on a bed and hugged my trembling knees.

7. Holidays in Serbian Prison

__Charges were extended. The rumor had it I was in there for 4 years. Destruction of state property. Jail did not differ much from the dormitory, only it was better. Privacy, fresh air, no belt or shoestrings though. Not a big deal, I always walked slowly. Easy to scratch the balls.

__Living days in the dark I found not so hard. I thought of Mozart a lot. Mozart was a humorous fellow, you know: playful, smart, witty. I hummed his melodies, tried to remember all the concertos. I thought of Mahler, and his sadness, loss of children, unparalleled pain. And his seemingly weird, but finely structured, sensitive, powerful symphonies. Life of Beethoven, sheer pain and sheer strength of a genius. I also thought a lot about why the hell didn't I take that job in Milan and spared myself of this slimy sump for stumbled humans. I smiled thinking about my cousins in France and their easy ways, their sweet and bitter humor. Bitterness coming from trends, not experience. I dissected details from my memory - warm patisserie in Neuilly, first, second sip of a Belgian beer, bite of prosciutto, memory goes slowly, takes a sip of wine, back to Primosten, on the Adriatic, recalling jokes of village elders, ancient, incredible stories of wars, travels, prisons.

__They did not touch me in prison. Not one interrogation, just isolation and silence. No letters. No phone. They'll never know how grateful I was for that treat. My mother visited me, cried a lot. She stared at my fingers, thick from hard work in the food warehouse, kept repeating 'what did they do to you, what is going to happen'. My mother also cried when I told her I'm going to Milan, escaping Serbian army and Yugoslav madness. She was hysterical, telling me 'they'll find you there and kill you, they do that.' On her way out my mother kissed me, and I felt that same rat again. I wrote some poems in prison, but they were bad. I visualized myself as pathetic figure whose last shelter is his art, and I seemed to myself like a miserable stereotype from low quality literature. So I didn't write too much: I remembered instead. I could not recall the name of the French girl who begged me to stay in Paris a few years back. She worked for American embassy. She suggested we go to Biarritz but I declined, wanted to go home, tired of France, tired of their overly intensive ways, of their nervousness and their artificial talk. Tired of their complexity, rich guys stealing expensive merchandise, fucking viciously poor beginners in the trade of prostitution, talking concernedly about supporting Peruvian resistance movement by buying their dope..., so, I went back to Zagreb, to my engineering job and to Carmen. My job paid $250 a month, and in two weeks I broke up with Carmen.

8 Holidays in Serbia

__It all happened quickly. I was told I had a visitor. No idea. It was my father's second wife. Her father was a retired Yugoslav Army general. She got me into the cab and to the building in the center of Pristina where the commander of this camp lived. First time I met him. Pleasant fellow, silent though. He hardly spoke at all. Poured me a brandy, listened. She was all over him - kidding, reminding him of days at her father's cottage, and how everything was smooth then. Soon afterwards I was transferred to central Serbia, Krusevac. There, I was left pretty much alone. I got to help out with the construction and maintenance department; I designed a few retaining walls for officers' cottages. The only bad thing was the dormitory - there were more than sixty guys sleeping there, and some were aggressive; setting the feet of sleeping guys on fire and laughing at their screams.

__I drank a lot, with a friend, veterinarian, a dear soul. My aunt found a friend of hers who lived there and we often went to her place, eat, relax, talk, drink. I tutored the commander's daughter in mathematics. Smart kid, she improved a lot. Mathematics is life I told her. Think of sets, of infinity, of derivations. Think of how theorems define life, not math. Her mother would treat me with loads of fine food and wine and plum brandy; good habits of rural Serbs. Three months passed relatively painlessly. As a frequent guest of local pubs and inns I attracted attention of locals, and their so-called artisans. They would bring me their writings or their paintings, to comment, to discuss, and they would pay for spritzers endlessly. My veterinarian friend studied in Belgrade, had a number of friends in Krusevac, and we often went together for dinner parties to their houses. Some of those fellows were witty, some humorous, some of them even had clippings of my writings cut out of Croatian papers, but all of them hated Croats and Albanians with passion. Amongst roasted peppers, goat cheese, salads, stuffed eggs, fried vegetables and cold white wine I kept nodding to the same song about superiority of Cyrillic script, about Serbian martyrdom and heavenly talent, about how the time to settle old accounts is coming. . I heard some true madness there, munching and nodding and sipping: that we Croatians killed millions of Serbs and they will avenge. I just hoped they didn't start with me, right there, and I would browse the last roasted pepper filled with goat cheese. I kept my profile low and my sobriety at minimum, slept a lot, "sleep it over, read, read, read, be away, it will pass, the time will pass", and on Sunday mornings, at my aunt's friend's apartment I would bathe, put on Strauss's waltzes, cuddle up on the couch and read her books (I found Baudelaire in original there), inhaling fine fragrances of another gourmet lunch, sipping on coffee, browsing toward brandy around 11 a.m.; pouring a thick one and she would take one herself.

9. Zagreb

__I dreamed about my Zagreb so many nights. I feared paranoically that my military records would go missing and I'd be held there forever. That dream would bathe me in sweat. The departure day came, as any other. In a bus to Belgrade, in a train from Belgrade, I observed barren, grayish Serbian landscapes, and kept thinking "never, never again". Yet, the kid I was tutoring gave me a nice little souvenir; the lady who sheltered and fed me cried and my veterinarian friend (who was to go home just a few days later) kept himself drunk and cried too and asked that I promise I will stay in touch, and kept repeating that his wife is a Croatian.

__Back in Zagreb I sat on the Preradovic square and drank a beer. Alienated, alone, lost, worn out, tired. I spent hours in bookstores, browsing books and magazines. The Time Magazine, along with the Herald or The Economist, so readily available, just recyclable papers, nothing more, and their frightening dimension that got me labeled as 'an obstructive foreign element' seemed to have never existed. I lived through the frozen numbness of my outer shell - drinking, fucking, declining sense, declining love, declining purpose. The art of self-destruction at its best, I used to murmur. Marijan, my best friend, left for States. I didn't talk to my family; I couldn't stand my mother, or my sister. My father was working abroad, on some remote construction project. I published some of the poems I wrote while in Army; but nothing happened - I remained anonymous and poor, and it seemed to me there was no point in writing.

10. Paris

__Everything felt new when I arrived to Gare du Lyon. Christian met me, and we drove down south, too fast as always, through the city center, through Champs Elysees, through Neuilly and La Defense, and further west to Maisons Laffitte. My aunt is smiling, looking good, thin, well humored, and we drink Veuve Cliquot (105 FF) and eat hare paste and roast lamb. Then we switch to fine wines (with fragrance of smoke and the forest of oak), and we laugh and I cried and we laugh again. We make jokes of my misery in the army; we laugh at the very idea of me wasting a year so foolishly, my life a grotesque 'film noir' to be laughed at, and it is burlesque too, all those incredible accusations. And I tell them about work in the food store, stepping on dead rats, drenched with sweat, drinking Albanian brandy in long gulps, chewing on salted sheep intestine, laughing at your misery, strong under bags of rice, strong under your flexed muscles, from day to day, and it all may have never happened, maybe I, the writer, invented it all, and "I must be pretty good, all kidding aside!" they tell me. So clean yourself up, forget nightmares and adjust: the real life is here, in Paris, and it is good. Third worlds where the grotesque happen are distant and unthinkable. You are here, this hare paste and Chateau Laffitte is reality, and paranoid dreams of black mud and stink and stench and cows that stare at you like sad people without hope, that is smoke: let it disperse. Why would you be reminscent, and the people there uncultured and primitive anyway, I was told.

__Distant lands created by the perverted imagination of a writer are entertaining, so we giggle (over the third FF 200 bottle), light years away from that sick cartoon! Inspired by this fine French distance I deliver more stories from Kosovo, and we all express disbelief, and we are stunned, we, Parisians, at a safe distance, surrounded with the best that civilized life has to offer. Being a writer I wanted to believe I invented it all.

__In the Yugoslav Army, savoring the solitude of the prison, I fed my mind with the memories of a better life. I looked for them inside myself like a gold digger, and they kept me alive: slow scenes of life frame by frame. Free and in Paris, in a reverse complex I was being chased by Kosovo memories, and I'd wake up in the night, shaking and sweaty, hearing the lamp buzzing, fearing the rat. I shower endlessly and still I smell rough burlap of rice bags on my neck, and shoulders, on a hot August afternoon, when you walk dressed in rough work tunic, and heavy army boots, oblivious to flies that bite your sweaty skin, at peace with the dirt that envelopes you, and you need more dirt. In the evening, sitting in the dust, we'd give some money to Albanian kids, and they'd bring us brandy and return the change. Those poor buggers never ever took a dime. I'd give them a handful of change for candies; and observing those tiny barefoot legs I needed a long gulp of brandy, the same way I needed to gulp this expensive single malt after being hit by another nightmare. Sitting in my room in Maisons Laffitte, in the middle of the night, I drank gulp after gulp of malt (High Park) in quick succession, and I would feverishly write, in Croatian. In France, who would possibly want it? The same feeling of pointlessness after publishing a couple of poems in Zagreb came back. I drank more to chase away the reflex to write. To chase away skinny cows that stare at you like humans.

__I met Porinne again, and we laughed how foolish I was to abandon Biarritz for the madness of southern Serbia, and all that unbelievable crap. My Parisian friends spoke quite nice English: most of them had studied at Cambridge or Yale. In their eyes I was a mixture of Raskolnikov, Rasputin and Chopin; funny, unusual, crazy, but artistically cultivated and well expressed. Yet, their interests would drift to important issues of their Parisian lives - how to steal a raincoat at Burberry's, how to spot a fresh hooker, how to bypass paying the cover fee in a fancy club, how to lure a girl by absolute ignorance. We would go to fancy pubs, order Indian tonic and secretly add gin from our flasks. Then, we'd go for a good midnight dinner, and to Ascots, an awfully expensive place right by theChamps Elysees, where a fat lady sang jazz. While my Parisians continued their endless babbling, I would suddenly grow tired. I would stare transfixed and, slowly bobbing my cognac (FF 200 a shot), inhaling its brisk aroma, remember scenes from Kosovo - the father of a boy to whom I gave a change for the candy spotted me in the village store and bought me beer. I sat down, on a plastic box, on the black earthen floor, and we talked slowly. His skin was brown and wrinkled from the sun and hard farmer's life; yet his sentences composed, slow and meaningful, unlike this French babble that surrounds me in Ascots. Dignity and pride of a simple man, in the sharp contrast with these rich brats stealing ties and looking for fresh hookers to get more than they paid for. Young French gentleman at their best, buying chewing gum before meeting their girlfriends, not for bad breath, but to break up large bills so they'd have exact change to cover their share of the bill.

__There, in Ascots I stared transfixed, yes, at all those French girls, all those Nicollettes and Porinnes and Corrinnes, perfumed, well dressed, beautiful in their fashionable ways, talkative, interested in arts, in poetry, in that exotic life of us, creatures from underworld, and I felt sick to my stomach. Sounding rough and being scarred, being soaked in sadness - for them it was a choice of presentation style. Cursing, reciting, playing Rachmaninoff with anguish at somebody's decadent party (salmon paste and Heidsick only please); scribbling on the balcony, watching shiny boats ferrying tourists up and down the Seine, disgusted with myself, bored with these glitzy fauna, I hung around to simmer myself in acidic humor and excessive drinking.

11. Rat's Kisses

__Day after day, Left Bank, Montmartre, trying guitars on Rue Montparnasse, wine, more wine, partying in fancy apartments, rowing in Bois du Boulogne on Sunday mornings, relaxed in Parisian ways, and I felt almost better. Deep green of late August turned into early September mist: cool, damp, serious in a way. Cold mornings when you observe people rushing with purpose, and you would also like to do something for living. But not writing. "We'll do writing for dying", I'd murmur.

__Finally I couldn't stand the company any longer. I wandered along Quartier Latin, Rue St'Michelle and St'Denise; I sat on little squares in Marais, bored, writing letters to friends. I walked the sidewalks, went to Sorbonne, observed people rushing, doing useful things, getting somewhere.

__Porinne was trying to turn me on that night, kissing me, fondling gently, she bit my upper lip lightly. I woke up: reminded of a rat's bite in Pristina, I shouted and hit her. She called me a Slavic savage. Still confused from a dream, I got a beer from the fridge, sat on a windowsill, and observed the Montmartre Cathedral in early September mist. Porinne was lying on the bed, her not too big breasts pulsating briskly. One knee bent, left arm over her eyes, silently sobbing. Long legs, copper tan, nipples dark and firm. Half-empty bottle of Armagnac on the table; Brie; rings of almost black game salami. Traces of the evening before. I stared at her, at her beauty, all I dreamed about, right there. The lights scattered about dark, broken planes of Parisian roofs, when the sky started to turn blue, staring at me, sitting on that windowsill. I touched my upper lip, no blood. The sub-taste of my own breath reminded me of stale breath of people kissing me after performances, of mother's breath, of Porrine, of the rat again, the rat inside me.

12. Back

__Gare du Lyon again. I knew I would regret it later. Porinne cried, bought me some fancy magazines. The monotone clatter of the train was calming, like the repetitive rhythm of a lullaby: a transition back to dreams. Back into the darkness, into muddy waters, into old pattern of guilt, self punishment, escape, muteness. Confused, I tried to write down what was going on with me, explain it to the paper, why am I drawn back. Sipping beers, crossing borders, to Switzerland, to Italy, to Slovenia, to Croatia. Vertical landscapes, swollen rivers, colors of the fall, dark yellow and deep green. I remembered evenings in Kosovo, sitting in the dust, gulping Albanian brandy and chewing on chunks of minced meat, passing cans of food to locals through the barbed wire, prisoner of the labor camp to the prisoners of Kosovo. Remembering their resigned stares, children with large, smart eyes, skinny cows in black mud and their eyes, eyes of dignified people, eyes of tired people, eyes of skinny dogs, all those eyes lined up and stared at me, coming from right behind that train window, from the passing forests, from the Land.. The darkness slowly descended and those eyes gradually became my own, frozen in green, laced with wrinkles, moist, my own, looking back at me with disgust.

__I got off the train, looked around and gently put a bundle of French magazines into the garbage can. Zagreb railway station, stinking as usual. Walking home I tried in vain to remember who to call. In a neighborhood pub, an unfriendly waiter slammed a beer bottle in front of me. He didn't bother to offer a glass, and I didn't mind.

Viktor Car

Viktor Car: Born in 1960 in Croatia. Graduated Structural Engineering in 1986. Published essays and short stories in various magazines based in Zagreb, Croatia. Immigrated Canada in 1992. Lived in France, and briefly in Houston, Texas. Currently resides in Barrie, one hour north of Toronto. Would love to become famous and move to New York. Short stories published in numerous internet publications, and one in a Canadian literary magazine Blood and Aphorisms. Won a contest for a short story, which will be published in the anthology From the Asheslater this year. Currently working on a collection of short stories under the working title "Booze and Betrayal" (and looking for an agent too).

Back to the Means