The Last Three Stories

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: True Confessions  |  House: Booksie Classic
This one I wrote a few years back. It deals with the present which is predetermined by the past, most of which seems unknown or unknowable, at least to the young boy. His father tries to shed some light on it, but with little avail. Bosnia, a country where I come from, is a place rooted in tradition and a historical colony in which the present is determined by the past and as such can be compared to Ireland of Joyce's era, namely, it can be viewed as a place of political and spiritual paralysis in which the younger generation struggles to come to terms with both the past and present narratives violently pushed upon them. Community and family, the former building blocks of the Yugoslav society are being replaced by individualistic and westernized narratives which for the most part tend to deconstruct rather than rebuild. This piece, written a few years back seems to do both, and its purpose is to illustrate and present to a western reader the struggle with which youth is faced.

Submitted: December 12, 2019

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Submitted: December 12, 2019

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THE LAST THREE STORIES 

 

 

Saul took a big drag of his Marlboro. The smoke was slowly dispersing in dry summer air. His son Jonah was putting sauce on some thick T-bone stakes. 

 

Did you know that before the war our city had a license to produce these? We sold it to the Hungarians.

 

 Jonah looked at the stakes with a that's bullshit kinda look.

 

Not the stakes, the cigs.

 

Why do you still smoke? Didn't grandpa die from lung cancer? You're digging your own fucking grave. – Jonah cried, not looking at his father, but directing his gaze at the bazooka stricken building across from their balcony. He had smoked. Just not in front of his father. Noone in their family smoked in front of their fathers. They were having a barbecue now. They would have these every so often, especially when death was still unknown to them.

 Death was a subject not frequently discussed but pervaded the Nešehidi? family quite often.

 Three times in the last six months to be precise. First the grandma, then the grandpa and finally the mother who couldn't seem to find a way out after her parents had died.

 

Make sure to put some fat on the heaters, your uncle always said we had wanted the neighbors to smell the meat. The meat was always a luxury for his dad, but Jonah saw meat as a luxury of some days long past, in a world that had little resemblance to his own. 

 

Why would you care if the neighbors think you have meat? Does that earn you some respect? 

 They might as well think you are a butcher. 

 

 A moment of silence was the only reaction Saul had made. He was looking at the outskirts of the city, houses and trenches dug deep into the mountain that soared high above the city. He didn't fight during the war. He ran at the first sign of trouble and considered it a smart thing to do. Only the fools gave their lives away for some greater good. Only the ones gullible enough, and ones desperate enough. The ones that had survived have killed themselves. Figuratively or literally, what's the difference. The ones that still exist distinguish between two parts of their lives, before and after. Most of the conversations would start with before, though. That had made him feel uneasy. He had run when his friends stayed behind. First to speak, last to lead – he though that could summarize his existence. 

 

 Uninvited, he continued talking, his hands trembling while he smoked his cigarette.

 

See, your uncle studied psychiatry and I studied philosophy, but come to think of it the only thing we had in common is that they both start with a p. He brimmed with life, he was in there, in every moment, trying to decipher the what and the how, while I pondered with life and death, thinking, but never experiencing it. The previous regime enabled it though, you couldn't do that nowadays. Everything seems too fast nowadays. Too turbo, too hyper. Fast food, fast cars, fast living. Living with ambition, thinking that things are gonna get better the next day. That is a solace, true, but it still isn't living in the present. A mind clouded with ambition instead of despair, hate instead of fear... You're still chained one way or the other. But he wasn't. Not in any way that I know of. 

 

 We had a game me and him when we're little. When grandma would go out to buy groceries, we had about an hour or so to wreak havoc on the house. We would start by searching all the shelves for stuff we weren't aware of. He called this part Trust, because everything that we found, after close inspection and some meddling, had to be returned to its place, otherwise someone would found out about it. One day, while he was in the bathroom I found a shiny golden coin. I remember the face on it. A bald man with a mustache, turned sideways, with some numbers engraved below. I don't know why but I decided that it belonged to me. The next thing I remember is grandma yelling we were robbed, and your uncle looking right at me, nodding his head in disapproval. He said he had stolen it to buy cigarettes. Money was scant back in the day, and although he received a beating of a lifetime, the Trust wasn't broken. Nobody found out what we were doing after all. 

 

 Jonah took a glance at his father. He always talked about uncle but something was different now. Eyes which to him always seemed like an eternal mistery, shined wet and bright. If he didn't know him well enough Jonah would have thought he would cry, so he had dismissed the idea even before it came into his mind.

 

- Make sure to flip the stakes once every minute at first, so the pores close and the juice stays in. After that, you can flip them once every couple of minutes.

 In Jonah's mind, Saul always knew what to do. He really did it, but always knew the right way. 

 

You know, before the war your uncle and I had these binoculars and they were so powerful that you could see what the person upon that mountain was smoking. Of course, if they smoked Morava[1], that would mean that they were poor. On the other hand, if you saw a girl on a balcony smoking Marlboro, that would mean one of two things. Either she had a hard-working husband or a hard-working lover. Your uncle and I saw one of those rights on that balcony over there. 

 A tall blonde, with those John Lennon glasses, in her early twenties, smoking Marlboro Light and standing on the balcony in her underwear. There wasn't much of that back in the day. She would see us looking and smile. I, of course, thought of it as a good way to waste an afternoon but your uncle...he... well... he had plans. He decided to ask her out. I put him up to it, thinking she was gonna creatively reject him and I'd have a laugh. She was like three leagues above him. So he saw her, as usual, smoking her cigarette and went over and knocked on her door. He had the right amount of confidence. I guess boxing does that for a man. It turned out that our initial assumption was wrong. She was the daughter of that famous doctor, whose name I can't remember for the life of me, named Lilith. They started dating and believe me, it was the most passionate romance ever. They were together twenty-four seven. She played the piano in an orchestra and got offered a scholarship to study in Paris. So she left, but they promised to see each other every couple of months. As you can imagine, living with your uncle included a detailed description of her daily life. There wasn't Skype back in those days so they used letters.

 Eventually, he got a letter from her saying she was pregnant and invited him to come over as soon as possible. So he packed his bags and left straight for Paris. Six months later she had an adorable black baby boy. I told him that it might be some case of reverse albinism, but I guess Occam's Razor was true for this one.

 

I never found my place – Jonah interrupted as he had heard this story before. I never tried to though. I figured it would come on its own.

 That question, what do you want to be, never made much sense to me. Becoming someone feels much like building a tunnel, looking for the quickest way through the mountain with little regard to what's on the sides. Looking at the world through the narrow scope of the light at the end, and drawing parallels with everything else based on that little gap. 

 

When you start drawing parallels and stop taking things for granted you are going to start defining yourself. And defining would mean belonging. Isn't that what you want? Turn over the meat.

 

Belong to what? Belong to the mongrels, looking to eat each other out, who are at the same time wallowing in their misery and infecting everyone with it. – he said turning the T bones over. 

 They had a dark brown color now and smell of delight. 

 

 The sunlight made Saul look pale. Beans of sweat were dripping from his forehead, but he listened to Jonah unabashed still and wondered how he had gotten there, in that position. He had a dire need to look at his life in retrospect now and draw some conclusions. Not just for himself though. For Jonah too.

 

And sure, we could draw all kinds of...Draw all the lines you want... still what for? - a tone of sadness suddenly pervaded his mind. This rage he felt against everything and everyone turned into a couple of deep sighs and an aura of despair. The same one his mother had felt, just before she hanged herself. Circling and looming behind every thought, over and over and over again. The devils' waltz, Jonah called it.

 

Look, son. We all need to believe in something bigger than ourselves. Now, let me finish the story of your uncle. Have I ever told you you remind me of him?

 He didn't wait for an answer. 

 

We were different from him and me. I guess that's why I ran and he stayed. Something about one's view on life makes these decisions. Cowardice or courage, fear or bravery, belief or cynicism, love or despair. Something like that. Not politics or anything.

 

We had already left our home town and started towards the border. They said, on the radio, that all is gonna be well. They said if we don't return we will lose our jobs. So we did. We were greeted by a patrol that took me away for sentencing. I was guilty of being of a different creed and sent away to a camp to be dealt with. They shot six of them right in front of me. They thought I had some influence that they could use, as I held a post in the municipality. I was to be set free if I called every one of my kind to return to their homes and surrender their arms.

 I took the chance but made no choice. Running is not a choice. It always catches up to you sooner or later. 

 Your uncle never judged me though. He was the one who got us out, through some friend from back in the army. Save yourselves he said. I'll meet you soon. I got a call a few months later saying he was killed by a sniper. He was having a cigarette in the middle of the night. I never cried for him though.

 

 Saul took a big drag of his Marlboro and put it out. It felt like a sharp needle going through his chest. 

 

 The sunlight hitting his eyes was white now. There was no tunnel. Only a table where his brother was waiting and putting coal on the fire. He smiled and said to Saul: The stakes are almost done.

 

 T-bone stakes were sizzling on the barbecue now. Greasy mottled stains were floating on the surface of the plating underneath. Jonah sat down and lit a cigarette.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] A cheap third grade tobacco


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