TE21 Serbian Moments

Kristina Dimitrova

The Smile

“If you can’t help me, I’ll ask your father. I don’t know how to deal with you anymore.”

My mother followed them with her eyes to the door, shook her head and tried to think of something to say that would simultaneously serve to express her feelings and sound acceptable in front of children. To distract us, she took my brother and me out for pizza. She felt awkward. She didn’t feel sad, she felt awkward. I wondered for how long my father had kept his secret from her and for how long both of them had been hiding it from us. I went to ask her but got tongue- tied and gave up. This is a question you should either ask in a single breath or not ask at all. My mother felt my hesitation and, maybe because of it, understood what I was going to ask because I saw the scared look on her face and fell silent. She also fell silent. Then we both tried to speak at the same time. Then we both fell silent again. I felt pity. She smiled at me. She smiled at me because she was weak at that moment. She was not consoling me. She was looking for allies. That’s why I felt pity. When my mother was in good shape, threats were her weapon of choice and now she had somehow run out of options. A chess player in zugzwang. My father’s treachery did not turn out to be a big problem for me. He wanted to leave, he left. I also dreamt of leaving. I just had this feeling that my brother and I were second-rate. That, had we been high-quality children, he wouldn’t have left us to make other ones. It makes me laugh nowwhen I think about it. You always think you are the center of the Universe and forget that your parents want to have sex.

“Why don’t you ask my brother?”

“He’s studying.”

“Am I not studying?”

She laughed with unmasked sarcasm. I slammed the door. I was in my final years of school then and home was a sublime curse. I went out, I came back, I had somewhere to go home to, somewhere to eat and somewhere to feel like a total loser. My father was one of those people who love asking questions but rarely give any answers themselves. He was always busy with something important, swiftlymeted out justice and hated being bothered with insignificant family matters. During the divorce it became clear what that constant business of his had been. He’d had a lover. At the last hearing of the case, which he was going to lose anyway, she came with him to court. She was younger than my mother, more beautiful than my mother and better dressed than my mother, which wasn’t hard. In my head I was desperately searching to find a flaw in her and in the end reached the conclusion that shewas superficial. My father held her coat on the way out, leaned over, whispered a few words in her ear and she laughed. Then he opened his umbrella and the two of them went out into the rain, arm in arm.



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