TE21 Serbian Moments

Kristina Dimitrova

The Smile

split up.” “He was no good, was he?” “He wasn’t.” “And the new one? Is he nice?” “Oh, yes. He’s a gardener. Polish, from the neighbourhood.” “Wonderful!” And what exactly is so wonderful about it? The criticism stopped. If I had stayedwithher, shewould havedrivenmemad with advice about whom to go out with, whom to stop seeing and truth-seeking questions of the “have I no shame” kind. After the divorce, her ideas of right and wrong had suffered a hurricane and landed on a new planet with temperature variations unbearable for the human organism. What had happened then? Maybe what happened was that you’re not to speak ill of the dead. I was dead to her in a sense. I had left the zone of her gravitational pull and now she saw me as a remote and unapproachable person. A foreigner. An icon. An image on which her eyes to take a respite from my brother. He was her favourite - and she won him. He was fully hers and no longer interesting. And now she was smiling at me. I knew this wasn’t a good sign of her condition. I also knew her condition because I sent medication. But I needed these smiles. I had grown up without them and didn’t know I had missed them. Thefirstlookatmybrotherinpersonstartledme.Maybebecause of the old paint in the hallway, or because of the nameplate of the family which no longer existed, I was expecting my older brother to come out from behind this door wearing shorts and sandals. I, unlike him, had lost weight. His face went blank at first and then filled with joy. We hugged. Our arms wrapped tight around each other’s backs and for a while we couldn’t let

go. I saw that it had been easier for him to blame me when I was far away. “Come in,” he said, took a step backwards towards the living roomand looked around. “Not a lot has changed here it seems.” Actually, it had changed. The furniture was almost the same but every trace of my presence had been erased long ago. In place of my medical reference materials were my brother’s books about the First Bulgarian Kingdom. His books were on every surface. Folders, Xeroxes, spreadsheets, an open laptop, a printer, a scanner, a second, bigger screen. On the table there was a box with my mother’s medicines, some of which I knew well because I had sent them, though not all. I looked at a couple of the containers. “Not really. Shedidn’twant it. She toldme, ‘Thosedrops you are making me take, I don’t want them. My head spins.’ She never pronounced the word ‘morphine’. For her it was something that only junkies take.” The flat was pretty unkempt and together with the smell of wine cellar, which had been hanging below the high ceilings for quite some time, there was a slight whiff of urine. Barely perceptiblebut this issomething I recognisewithprecision. The rest was my mother’s figurines and crystal glass decorations. She had convinced us that they were really valuable and now, “Did you start with the morphine a long time ago?”



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