was the hottest itís ever been in Bulgaria since 1967, the meteorologists said on the radio. The air smelled of linden blossoms, of geraniums and winds from the Black Sea.
They went on doing it, my mother and Aunt Nadi, after whom I had been named. Both of them were dressed in long robes of golden chiffon that looked almost entirely new although they had been putting on these dresses for seventeen years. They did it every evening. My mother played the violin, Aunt Nadi the violoncello.
Those were our happy nights when nobody but Mozart and Schubert existed, I was only empty translucent space and the music was our common umbilical cord. Every evening the three of us were born again and again, beautiful, ethereal like cosmic darkness or the radiance of a supernova. Then the wrinkles on their faces and hands were invisible. They had not put on any weight and had not turned into formless bags of flesh. In spite of the years that had tried to ruin them they sparkled with their golden chiffons and the universe flew through their hearts slowly permeating my own, which was a very ordinary unmusical heart. I was the only daughter in our family of three. My mother and Aunt Nadi were sisters and if they didnít dye their hair it would be perfectly white; both of them were incredibly pretty, turning heads even when they had not put on their make-up.
Years ago, at the time when they were wearing their golden chiffon dresses they had so many adorers, ďcrowds of passionate young men, my dear,Ē as Aunt Nadi would put it. And, of course, they were flighty young girls. The gentlemen were so handsome and rushed in and out of their lives so rapidly that when, in the long run, the two of them landed carrying a baby each, almost at one and the same time, you could imagine the horror my late grandfather, a renowned concert violinist, lived through.
My late grandmother had panicked. Even on her deathbed, she was head over ears in love with her grey-haired husband who suffered from most of the diseases in the world. Grandmother had carried his picture close to her heart. Whenever she was in a lot of pain she pressed it to her skin, uttering his name, her lips livid, making efforts to overcome the fit, and he sat by her side holding her hand and trying hard not to cry before her. He had desperately wanted to convince her sheíd be all right and that they would live so many more days together in this wrong and bad world.
So when my mother and Aunt Nadi told their poor parents they were pregnant but didnít know who the fathers of their babies were, my grandmother started shuddering and the tremor of fear remained in her fingers. She had surely lived through a crisis and had certainly collapsed into an abyss of inward despair because the poor soul had neither known nor loved another man but her wretched violin player. My grandfather had been her moon and her native planet, her blood, her diseases and her failing health. All that was my grandfather to her, God bless his soul.
Awe struck, I touched his violin which my mother played only when she was in love. I, the most unmusical, a figuratively deaf and inefficient member of our family, caught the dazzling light of music and stood immobile, transfixed with shock, staring at my mother as if she had flown to our house from another galaxy, as if she was not the woman who gave me money to buy chocolates and books with, as if she was not the enraged she-wolf who constantly lectured me, ordering me to go out with my friends or have sex like the other girls in the neighborhood. Why should I rot with the books which filled my not-too-clever head with absurd stuff and lies about life? Why should I look at my feet while passing by clusters of young men? That was an absolute disgrace for the dead bones and blood of all the women of her family who had lived centuries before her.
I didnít see the narrow street I lived in, the blocks of flats, the Struma River that crossed our town and hurried to run away to Greece as quickly as possible, and I didnít feel the winds coming from the Black Sea whispering about sandy secrets, of hot dunes and loneliness.
When Mother played my grandfatherís violin her eyes were humbly glued to the ground, because she was in love with a worthy and wonderful man. Both Mother and Aunt Nadi had many men and few among them were wonderful. Judging by the shoes the men left on the threshold of my mother and Aunt Nadiís rooms, they were mostly pretentious big shots. My favorites were the shoes that had not been polished meticulously. In such cases I thought there was hope the boyfriends might be some normal ordinary guys.
Mother and Aunt Nadi were very pretty, their blue eyes as deep and hot as the earthís core, their tall exquisite bodies remaining slim in spite of the huge amounts of bread they constantly ate. They were convinced they killed their excessive weight through sex, but in my opinion it was their blind absurd adoration of music that abolished the unwholesome substances in their blood. Mozart and Schubert were stronger than poisons in the human body.
The black universe turned into white nebula in the strings of their instruments, chasing away the nasty men who sometimes left their perfectly polished shoes on the threshold of their rooms. Their music erased the dirty words that Aunt Nadi shouted at times in my presence, to teach me in advance how disgusting life was.
To cut a long story short, when Mother and Aunt Nadi told the violinist and his wife they were both expecting babies in July, the violinist said, ďO.K., girls. I hope Iíll be strong enough to make money to feed two additional throats. Go ahead.Ē As my late grandmother heard his calm tone of voice, in spite of the fact that the tremor of fear never left her arthritic fingers, she agreed there could be enough old dresses to cut into pieces and make swaddling clothes for two tots.
Aunt Nadi aborted her pregnancy because at that time she fell in love with a naval officer, a great charmer. My mother gave birth to me, a half smothered suckling looking very blue in the face. The evening concerts of my mother and Aunt Nadi started with my first birthday, which they celebrated when I was five. And that was perfectly normal for two heavenly women who didnít care about anybody but Mozart and Schubert and about their concerts in the warm darkness. Unfortunately, my grandmother and grandfather died one after the other, the violinist outliving his beloved wife by eight days. We found him dead holding his instrument, which my mother played only when she was truly in love, as I have already said.
So no one taught me to play the violin or violoncello. I could only whistle different tunes. Mother and Aunt Nadi were with their handsome adorers whose perfectly polished shoes made me sick, I whistled the tunes I had heard at their dark concerts and fell asleep dreaming about Mozart. He composed another of his beautiful symphonies and I prayed I could hear it on the following day.
I could not love the town and the Struma River if I did not love my motherís and Nadiís music. It was in linden blossoms, in the rumble of the summer storms, in the windows of the blocks of flats that glowed at night. The concerts of Mother and Nadi were the happiest time in my life until I met one of my motherís men. He played the violin as well. Thin, fair-haired, so in the beginning I thought he was ill. His face looked transparent. I even told mother not to have him in her room for he probably suffered from some serious disease. But he proved to be a very nice guy. His name was Kalin.
While Mother and Nadi entertained their boyfriends I listened to Kalin play his violin. I didnít know who the composers of his music were. It was neither a black universe nor a spring meadow. It was music of a tortured and ill man who probably saw death waiting for him among the semibreves and quarter notes. Perhaps he saw the world beyond he was to fly to after he left my room, or caught something in the air as he pushed aside the plate, on which I had put a piece of stale cake for him, given as a present to Aunt Nadi by some of her numerous admirers. She had a sweet tooth and they brought her bars of chocolate and sweets.
I thought one never lied when he faced death. Kalinís music was quiet, like the last drops of rain against the window, like hope that a guy would have enough time to eat the last crumb of the stale cake on his plate. It told death, ďWait. Let the girl listen to the last part of the piece. She likes it so much. It is not a black universe. Itís not a spring meadow. It is not even a kiss. Itís not pain. Let the girl listen on. Iíll come with you when itís finished. Have my piece of cake if you want.Ē
When I told Mother and Aunt Nadi I was expecting a baby they froze in their tracks, then screamed they were going to shoot dead all their boyfriends. They suspected one of them was to blame for my misfortune. It was Aunt Nadi who declared that weíd have enough money to feed a small thing like a suckling. Why should we be afraid of a baby, she asked? Itís just some disposable nappies and milk bottles. Go ahead.
But when they learnt I wanted to marry Kalin they went through the roof.
How was it possible? They both were very intelligent and gentle butÖ Nobody got married these days, for Christís sake! ďAll men are mean dogs, my dearest. Heíll break your heart. Heíll cheat on you and you will suffer. You know us very well, dearest. And we know men very well. They are nasty.Ē Mother said Kalin might die soon and that was all right; Iíd be free again and the three of us would bring up the child. Letís hope it would be a girl. They didnít let Kalin enter our apartment, saying there was no place for such a wretch in our family.
Once, they heard him play the violin in the street at the entrance of our block of flats. He was playing not for death but to his daughter who was not born yet. Some time after that Aunt Nadi said, ďListen to me. There may be place for him in our sitting room. What do you say?Ē And that was so much from a woman who had been playing the violoncello for twenty-one years now, had been dreaming of dark men, of the child she had not given birth to, and of the naval officer who had broken her heart. Now she was going to have a granddaughter, and if God didnít call her in to heaven to play her violoncello for him then my baby would be a great violist. Her blue eyes had said this and they never lied.
Kalin told me that a river of stars had started flowing in the strings of his violin after he met me. He said heíd stay alive only because I lived in that narrow street in our town. I thought he was my native planet, my disease and my health, and I swore that Iíd ask Aunt Nadi to play something for him when she was in love with someone. At such moments her eyes sparkled. They were the most beautiful eyes anyone could ever have.
Copyright © Zdravka Evtimova 2003.