The door opens; the father takes two steps in, sees the blonde and his son naked on his bed. The blonde cackles, waves; her breast jiggles. Mirko clenches his fist, pounds the mattress, ready to smash her face, his father’s, to run and keep running.
“Don’t let me interrupt,” the father says. “My home is your home and all that. A chip off the old block, Mirko. I’ll just close the door, pour myself a shot, stay in the kitchen.”
The blonde laughs so hard she gets the hiccups. “Nothing fazes your Dad.” She reaches out for Mirko’s disappearing hardness; he has lost all interest. Another door closes, he thinks, another place I won’t be welcome. His father whistles The Torreador’s Song in the kitchen; Mirko smells bacon. The blonde scratches her thigh, turns over, hums along. “You sure you don’t want…?”
Mirko scrambles for underwear, T-shirt. “Another time, maybe?” he says. He stops, looks at her pose, her amused look, considers the thin wall. Too much. Tail between his legs again, damn it. Tip-toeing out, he hears the blonde calling. “Palo, it’s the two of us after all.”
Category Archives: Andrew Stancek
Mirko has not been sleeping and sees danger behind every post. As he is opening the front door of the apartment building he senses someone behind him. He turns around as she says, “Hi there,” in an exaggerated sultry voice. Mirko can feel the handcuffs tightening around his wrists, the slap of the policeman arresting him, hear his mother’s wail in the courtroom as he is sentenced.
“Long time no see,” he forces his voice not to shake. “Dad isn’t home yet, said he’d be late tonight.”
“It’s you I want to talk to,” she says. “Invite me in?” She follows him. He puts the loaf of bread on the counter, the salami in the fridge. When he turns around she has her top off and is climbing out of her skirt. “I don’t like old men that much,” she says. “We don’t have to talk. No one will know.”
She is thin and her breasts sway as she walks to his father’s bed. Mirko’s mouth is dry but he follows, unbuckling his belt. He is on the bed next to her, finally naked when they hear the key in the lock. Mirko freezes but she laughs, puts her arms behind her head.
“Why in the name of all that is holy….” Mirko wakes to his stepfather’s yelling voice, cut off by his mother’s soothing one. The scream is related to him, Mirko knows, even if he is unaware of the transgression.
“Two days in your old room, a chance to tell us about living at your father’s, we’ll catch up,” Mother said. At Saturday dinner the Beethoven is so loud the chandelier shakes and Mother keeps grinning. Drying dishes afterwards, Mirko drops the crystal whisky tumbler, giving himself a deep gash on the foot.
“Bloody hell…,” his stepfather starts before Mother’s look and Mirko can almost hear the counting to a hundred before he continues, “Plenty more where that came from. Let’s look after that cut.” Mirko allows Mother to bathe the wound with iodine and bandage it.
He looks around the bedroom stacked now with boxes of sheet music, a bass in the corner, two violins, a cello, batons on the dresser. His eyes finally find the clock. Not quite six. Sunday morning beginning with a bang. Accused, found wanting, sentenced.
At Father’s the bed is lumpy and his stomach usually empty.
He turns over, hoping he might sleep again. Minutes later he splashes cold water on his face, puts a note on the kitchen table. “Thanks for having me.” He makes sure the door does not bang behind him.
“A parrot? Are you crazy, Mirko? What are we going to do with a parrot? Who’s around to spend time with it?”
Mirko shivered, pulled the heavy blanket around himself. He took a peanut out of the bag, holding it between two fingers offered it to the bird. The parrot squawked, grabbed it. “I’m here, Dad. I’ll look after it,” Mirko said.
The father poured his beer, made sure the head was just right, sipped, burped, stared into the glass. The parrot screeched, scratched his tail feathers. The father glanced at Mirko, scratched the top of his head sticking out his tongue and grimacing. They both broke into laughter.
“Does he at least swear?” the father said, wiping his cheeks.
“Your mother does sailors,” the parrot screeched.
“We’ll get along just fine then,” the father roared. “I’m used to the place being cold, Mirko, but it looks like an early winter this year.” He burped again, looked at the dirty plates, empty bottles, spilled mustard on the counter. “Tomorrow we’ll get wood for the stove.”
“Punk kids,” Mirko’s father says. “The country’s disintegrating before our eyes. Never happened when I was young. If it did, they caught the animal right away, put him in jail, threw away the keys.”
Mirko’s father is hacking slices of bacon off a slab with the dull blade of a pocket-knife, throwing them onto a sizzling pan. He slurps black tea improved by a healthy dose of rum. Last night the men in the neighborhood started up a Protection Association in response to the kiosk robbery. Mr. Zajko, the vendor, is in hospital concussed, incoherent. Mirko’s father had been a major during his military service and is now one of the group’s officers.
“Jail? Too good. In America they have the right idea. You steal a horse, they hang you. That’s what I’d do with these punks.”
Mirko’s head throbs. Duro and he didn’t even bother counting the money, just shared a bottle of slivovica. The bacon smell is making the room rock. A few weeks ago he was living at mother’s and his biggest worry was a math test. He can feel the noose rubbing his neck raw, the swaying in the wind.
“Dig in,” his father says, putting in front of him a heaping plate of bacon, potatoes, fried onions. Mirko runs to the bathroom.
“Something I ate last night,” he calls out.
“Nobody will ever give us a chance. Even a demolition job, damn it,
Whom is he trying to convince? Mirko thought. “You’re sure he doesn’t
“He’s a cripple, Mirko. The bank is a long walk for him. Every three days.”
Mirko took a deep puff. Stealing an apple or a kohlrabi walking past
“Where do you want me to stand?”
“Street corner. Whistle if anyone’s coming.” Duro marched to the
“Little early today, aren’t—.” The wrench smashed down on his head,
A blonde pranced out from behind a tree across the road. Mirko last
Mirko waits for his father to catch up. The climb is steep; the afternoon sun is baking.
“Time for us to get out of this hellish city,” Father said in the morning, surveying the wreckage of the apartment. “Mountains, real air, shepherds, zincica. I’ll take you to Rosutec; show you where I proposed to your mother.” Mirko snorted. Many promises under the bridge, many lofty plans. By nightfall Father was sure to be drinking with Janka or Dasenka or Lesia somewhere.
“Can you give me some grocery money?” he asked. Father opened the fridge, saw the yawning emptiness.
“You wishing you were back with your mother? Roast pork, dumpling, sauerkraut?”
“Hell, no,” Mirko laughed. “More excitement. But can I have money anyway?”
Father roared, “Chip off the old block,” handing him a hundred-crown note.
But before noon they are on the train to Zilina and now are climbing. Mirko looks back. In the city Father stops at every street corner to catch his breath; here his face is flushed but his step has spring.
When Father steps over the last boulder, they admire the vista. The meadow is flecked with grazing sheep. Wood smoke rises out of a shepherd hut, rock crags, tree-covered hillsides, rising mist. A village no more than a speck lies below them.
“All these things I will give you, if you fall down and worship me,” Father turns to him.
Mirko kicks a stone, laughing. “I’ll take it; I’ll take it.”
Mirko walked past the broken streetlight; wet sand and cement dust crunched underfoot. He should have worn gloves, he thought. October, must be below zero.
Father woke him up, stumbling in around five, supported by the blonde from across the road. He fell. She groaned pulling at his arm, tumbled on top of him, swore, laughed her parrot squawk. Father was snoring already, sprawled on the floor littered with empty rum bottles, shards of a broken plate, peanut shells. The blonde kicked off a high heel, limped to the bathroom, ran water. She came out wearing only her skirt; her pale breasts swayed as she stopped at Mirko’s bed.
“Hey, Tiger, you want some?” she slurred. “He’s not waking anytime soon.”
Mirko did, but next to his snoring father? He shook his head.
“Your loss,” she cackled, stumbled to the bed in the corner, hummed a tuneless song, and began snoring, too.
More excitement than reform school, Mirko laughed to himself, pulling his pants on. At seven he was meeting Duro at the construction site, hoping they’d pass for sixteen, get hired on for demolition work for the day. Three days ago Father promised to buy groceries. The two hundred crowns Mirko stole from Mother was running out. They might have to rob the kiosk, do it right this time. He began the trot towards the all-night café. Damn, it was cold.
When Mother plonks down at the rickety restaurant table to wait for Father, I am warmed by the two hundred-crown notes I liberated from her wallet. Two years after divorcing him, she is handing me over. She tells me she loves me but. My teacher reported on my absenteeism, the police on the kiosk robbery; in my room she found her lost ruby ring, the rubbers, my teacher’s glasses.
In the family meeting she cried. “You are fourteen, Mirko. What has become of you? Reform school or your father’s?”
She orders a beer, switches to mineral water. I order a beer, watch her look, laugh. She glances over, shudders. I start whistling, “All You Need Is Love”.
“You could…try a little,” she exhales.
In the bathroom I throw the toilet paper roll in the garbage, take the lid off the tank. When I return, Father is with her, face stinking with cheer. “So, how are my two favorite people?” he asks.
Her eyelid twitches. “You have to do it, Lado.”
“Aaah, don’t you worry. He’s a chip off the old block. I’ll show him what he needs.”
Rising, she knocks her chair over. “Maybe he’d be better off in reform school after all.”
She pats my arm. “Call me if…”
I nod. “You will bail us out, won’t you, sweet Mami?”
Robert was already dressed and tip-toeing out when the phone on the dresser rang. Who the hell calls at two in the morning? He rushed across the room to prevent another ring. Olinka had not stirred; her breathing regular.
“Yeah,” he grunted.
“Robert? I knew you’d be there. They invaded.”
“You’re not kidding, are you? To scare me into coming home?”
“Don’t flatter yourself. Turn the damn radio on. Tanks are crossing borders. Five armies. This is not about your pecker. We are an occupied country.”
Robert noticed his shirt was not tucked in on the right side. Pale blue panties were scrunched on the floor; the bottle still had two fingers in it, going flat. Bloody waste, he thought.
“Are they heading to Bratislava? Barricades up? Am I safe on the street?”
“Haven’t reached us yet but they’re on the way. The radio said five Warsaw pact armies are claiming to liberate us. Later we’ll talk about us, Robert, but now, get yourself here. Your children will need you at home, even if you don’t give a damn about your wife.”
“Half an hour,” he said. “If they don’t shoot me down like a dog, half an hour.” He put the phone down. The sheet had slipped off the sleeper. He stared for a moment at the lovely breast moving up and down. He always knew there’d be hell to pay.
I woke to a crash and the sound of coins rolling along the linoleum.
She did not look up. Her shaking hand was gathering up the single crown coins, the fifty heller pieces. Triumphantly she rescued a ten crown note from the piggy bank shards.
“Time for you to get up for school,” she said, ignoring the cut on her hand, the turned over drawers, the nighties and underwear on the dirty floor.
“You…have an appointment?” I tried.
“Hairdresser, first thing. I could not pay her last time but today I must. Ten o’clock audition. Your father…did not send anything this month.”
I went to help her up, passing the poster from her appearance as Norma in Vienna, her photograph with Karajan, the plaque for thirty years of distinguished service to Slovak Opera. Her eyes were wild. “I don’t have enough, Kamil, and Maestro likes the women to look stunning.”
I caressed her gray hair, the face with the drooping eyelid.
“Try not to excite yourself, Mom. I will look after the hairdresser.” The doctors warned me about agitated states, the stroke coming after the dementia. My father divorced her forty years ago; she had been retired for twenty-five. “No money” was a frequent fit; that was about the only thing not gone.
She looked around her, startled, “Did you have an accident?”
“Yes, Mom, I dropped some things but I will clean it up. Let me help you back to bed.”