On a Friday in December

December. Sunday. 19:35

The very devil made me go shopping to Carrefour at this hour. The place is packed, we’ll be stuck here until fucking ten o’clock. I told her all right – let’s go in the morning, we wake up, go over nice and slow like everybody else, buy what is to be bought then we stay and relax at home, it’s Sunday, what the fuck! But no, brother, she was fixing to do laundry and housekeeping and no one in hell could reason with her. So be it…

Look at them jostling like it’s the end of the world. Yo, old hag, watch it with this cart, don’t have eyes, what’s with you? Fucking desperate people! I can’t stand this shitty crowd, I feel like going over to her and tell her to leave, but then she’ll be mad because we don’t have any food at home, we must stay, that’s it. Anyway, I can’t see them, where could they be, bro? She had to take Luiza too, couldn’t she have left her home, she’s ten, she could manage alone for an hour or two, God, she had to drag her along?

Whatever, enough with all this anger, I’m breathing in, ok, I’m Zen now.

Why the fuck do you push me, are you blind, what the fuck’s wrong with you, grannie?

Come on, are you crazy, it’s all the same, what’s the fuss? Look at her walking. She fucking stumbles, like a drunk. She’s drunk, all right! Fricking shame, she’s seventy and the hag’s stiffed. Or maybe she is sick? Hell knows…Where on earth is Laura? Let me call her, I’ve had it, we can’t just go in and take what we need, no, brother, we have to buy the whole fucking market and stay here ‘til we’re going insane…

Hey boyo, calm down, what’s with you, asshole?

You came shopping with your family, hey, settle down, what’s wrong with you?

I take a deep breath.

I don’t know what’s with these supermarkets, they’re driving me crazy. Ten minutes in and I feel like rushing out. All this crowd, the squirming, the madness, everybody scurries and pushes, I feel like I cannot breathe. Then I’m all fuming and start to badmouth Laura, I’m nagging her we should leave, she gets mad, she says I do this all the time. Then I feel sorry, calm down, but I still make a scene. It feels like I’m possessed when I go into such a supermarket.

Somewhere near the cash registers I can hear shouts. They fight like morons again because the scanners didn’t get them the discount so they have to pay more now.

Here they are!

I’m calmer now, smiling, Luiza sees me and waves at me. I steer my cart toward them. My princesses, I feel so good all of a sudden!


Copyright © 2014, Cristina Schek

Copyright © 2014, Cristina Schek


Laura checks out some brassieres. This thing stirs me up somehow. She looks like Penelope Cruz from the side. I think I’ll ask her to come over and play movies tonight…Hell, I’m really turned on now!

What the hell is that hag doing? She’s about to fall on the floor!

Heeeey!

Yo, are you crazy, the hag’s fallen down!

Shall I go over to her? I don’t feel like it, I’m kind of ashamed…anyway, that kid went over there already. I hope she’s alright. Hold on, the kid raised her head. She seemed unconscious. He must have been sick from all this shitty crowd.

The kid holds her head on his knees.

I look toward Laura. They watch it too. Everybody watches it.

I’m ready to go forward.

What the hell was that?

Who’s screaming like that, bro?

What the fuck…

I turn and see the hag stuck into the boy’s neck. At first I can’t tell what she’s doing, then she pulls her head back.

Her mouth is full of blood.

She’s panting.

A woman screams.

What the hell?!

The hag’s claws scratches his cheek, leaving red marks behind.

The kid’s body falls to the ground. The hag is sitting on her ass and look around with eyes…all white?

White?!

A shelf collapses to my left. Bodies twist among the broken jugs.

Shouts and screams from behind.

I turn around.

A geezer was held up by some hulk while a crazy woman with her hair fallen over her eyes tore up his shirt.

She grazed his belly with her nails.

I can’t take my eyes off her long fingers that wriggle frantically on the white skin. As in a dream, the flesh opens and his entrails pour out. The woman gruntles like an animal and tore out jelly strands, pulls them out from the geezer’s belly and take them to her mouth.

I hear a splash and I feel sick.

Luiza!

Laura!

I must get to them! I can’t see them. Where are they? Where are they?!

I bolt like a madman. A red-haired man throws his fist into the flesh that used to be the face of a child. For one moment the image darkens.

What…? NO!

Don’t look! Keep your eyes forward! Just forward!

What the hell?

There she is!

LUIZA!

LUIZA!

I run toward them. I’m near the cash registers. Around me, people get knocked down by other people, people are torn apart, beheaded and eviscerated by other people.

Screams and grunts. Despair. Death.

Still a few yards ‘til I get to them. We’ll get away!

I clenched my teeth.

A train rams me and I fall down. For a moment I don’t realize what’s happening. My head spins.

Am I down?

Have I slipped? Have I tripped?

I look into the white eyes, strands of hair streaming over them.

Nothing there.

For a second I let my gaze slide past the body that twists toward me.

Laura pulls Luiza to her chest, averting her gaze.

My beloved ones. 

Her eyes ask me something.

Run!

She squeezes Luiza’s hand, turn around and together melt into the distance.

*

December. Thursday. 23:49

I’m on my feet looking out the window. It snows. Frozen snowflakes clings to crooked bodies, melting on stubs that were once limbs, trickling down the guts that hang from splitted bellies, fondling disfigured faces. The boulevard is teeming with shadows that were once people.

I watch from behind the curtains and don’t get it. I feel lost. Luiza is asleep on the bed behind me. Finally, asleep.

When I think of you, something pushes down on my chest. Forgive me, my love…please, forgive me. I didn’t know what to do…I wanted to stay with you that moment, to run and help you, but…I don’t know, I grabbed Luiza by the hand and wanted to get her out of there. I had to choose in a second. I didn’t think, haven’t got time, something made me run and take our daughter and save her.

Eventually, that’s all I felt.

We ran home, tripping over dark corpses, we got up over and over, floating over the red snow, dodging claws that reached to grab us. I squeezed her hand and ran. She kept falling but I was pulling her up right away. Dragging her with me.

I will never let her go, Andrei.

Forgive me, my love.

I cry silently and feel desperation becoming part of me. We don’t have any food left, Andrei.

Four days passed since.

That night we took refuge into the studio. I held Luiza in my arms and cried together. She kept asking about you. Didn’t know what to tell her. Kept telling her it would be alright. I spoke with my folks on the phone. Yours, too. Called my friends. Some were ok, some didn’t answer. Nobody knew what happened. The internet, the TV didn’t show either. Just images with dead people. No wounded, just corpses. They said they didn’t know what was all about. Only that it spreads easily. And that we should stay in. They said the infected ones turns somehow violent. Others just die. They got infected and die. Most of them die.

I’m scared.

The cable was out since Monday. Just a black screen.

Tuesday night the Internet was down too.

The phones are dead too. I’m trying to call, but no ring gets through.

We’re alone, Andrei, without food.

I must get out for food. We must survive.

Luiza must survive.

*

I can’t thank heavens enough that we have bars on the windows.

*

That night, around four in the morning, I heard a soft scratch. Luiza dozed in my arms. She woke. I put my hand over her mouth. She was scared. So scared. We just sat, hugging each other, silent, our gaze locked to the curtains. At first, I didn’t know what it was, then…I hugged her tighter and whispered to her it was going to be alright. She kept asking me – What is it, mommy? What’s hearing? I fondled her hair and lied to her – It’s a branch, babyThe wind outside thwacks the branch on the window. What was I supposed to tell her? Nails scratching? Eventually, the noise stopped. I removed myself from her and got up. She wouldn’t let me go. Don’t go, mommy! Please, don’t go! I managed to settle her down and pushed aside the curtain very slowly. It was pitch dark outside. Then I glimpsed fingers clenched to the lower bar of the grating. For a second I thought of opening the window, stucking my head out and looking down to see who that was. What was down there… then I pulled back the curtain and got back to bed.

*

I was dozing too when the knockings began.

I woke up abruptly, my heart pounding into my chest. Luiza was crying. Thumpings were heard from the curtains.

Somebody was hitting the window.

I cuddled her and closed my eyes. I couldn’t breathe. Fear stifled me. I kept saying to myself – be strong, be strong, be strong for her. For her. All of a sudden I heard glass shattering. I hugged her tighter. For a moment it was silence. Then I heard the whinings. Like some grunting sobs. The curtain swelled and nails scraped the fabric. Luiza screamed. The sobs turned into grunts. I put my hands over her ears, held her little head to my chest. Our baby… If you only knew how she was crying… I held her like that until it was quiet again. I don’t know how long was it – a few minutes maybe, maybe an hour. I really don’t know. I imagined we were just the two of us there, in a bubble, that nobody and nothing could reach us there.

We needed you so much. To protect us, to be together, just the three of us, like before…

I know you’re gone, otherwise you would’ve come to us by now, still I can’t stop hoping.

Deep down I still have hope. I must. I must have faith.

Tonight I’ll go out for food. I’m watching Luiza sleep and can’t make up my mind. Should I take her with me? Into the hell outside? Leave her here? What if I don’t come back? What if they catch me too? And if they catch me, and she’s with me, doesn’t that mean they catch her too? Or maybe she gets away and ends up alone on the streets. If I go and don’t come back, she remains alone in the house. Oh, God, what shall I do? Tell me…please!

*

December. Friday. 02:23 am

I watched my mommy coming toward me.

She stopped on the sidewalk, in front of the window, and smiled to me. My mommy is so beautiful, so cheerful. But she’s not herself anymore. She smiles, cries too. She thinks I don’t know. She thinks her smile is the same. It’s not, mommy… I smiled back, but I was crying too.

I opened the window to take a better look at her. She looked around, then raised herself on tiptoe and fondle my cheek. I love you, sweetie.

I love you too, mommy. Love you much. Daddy too. But I won’t say it anymore…

You think I don’t know.

I love you, mommy.

Then she leaves, I close the window and watch her moving away through the snowflakes. It snows so lovely, all’s white. There’s no one on the street. I’m cold. Mommy glued some newspapers over the hole in the window, but it’s getting colder. I go into the kitchen and grab a magazine. Maybe it’ll get warmer if I glue some more. The room is dark. Mommy told me not to turn on any lights whatsoever. Whatever happens.

I’m fumbling toward the window, move the curtain aside and put the magazine on the window sill. I tear off a few pages, then unroll a piece of scotch tape. I lean over and press as hard as I can. I take one step forward and I hit something with my leg. I look down. Can’t see a thing. I squat and feel with my fingers. Something cold, a chain, I think. I grabbed it in my palm and stand up. Outside, it snows so lovely. I raised my hand and look at my silver bracelet. The snowflakes melt on my cheeks, leaving behind trails of tears. I kiss the cold metal, stick it to my wet cheeks, then I swing lightly. I close my eyes.

I’m missing you so bad, daddy…

*

December. Friday. 02:34 am

I sneak by the walls. Big snowflakes falling. The snow covered part of the carpet of bodies. I look at the silent windows. No light is hitting the panes. Is someone watching behind the curtains? Is somebody observing me? Is there anyone still alive?

It’s so quiet.

*

I’m all of a sudden near the cash registers again. I slowly raised my flashlight.

Are you here?

There…yes…there you fell. You seemed so helpless, standing there, looking into my eyes while that woman snatched your image.

I swipe at the corpses with the flashlight, but you’re not there. Just ripped bodies. You’re not among them. I feel relieved and beat at the same time.

Where are you, Andrei?

*

December. Friday. 02.55

I put my dad’s bracelet carefully on the sill.

I let it glow there, on the white ledge.

I fondle it with my fingertips.

I close my eyes, lean forward and kiss it.

I look outside.

*

Daddy laughs. He raises me high in his arms, so high – I close my eyes and the earth spins with me. I hear his laughter, feel his hands grabbing my armpits, then he hugs me and I rest my head on his shoulder.

I open my eyes.

*

Something’s moving over there. A shadow is looming from around the corner of the block.

I see it like in a haze.

Is it looking at me?

I fall back silently behind the curtains. I think I’m hidden now.  I watch it from behind the drapery. The shadow is oozing slowly toward the window.

Toward me.

Or maybe it will only pass by in front of me and move along.

Mommy?

Where are you?

I close my eyes.

Go away!

I open them. The mist raised.

It’s right in front of the window. Its face is dark, can’t see the eyes, but I know it’s watching me. It recognized me.

It’s daddy.

*

December. Friday. 03:47 am

After looking for you for a while, I stopped. I couldn’t stand the stench anymore.

I got lost among the aisles.

I took as much food as I could. Cans, jars, sliced bread.

I’m exhausted, I carry such a heavy bag on my back. My eyes close. I could let myself down here, among the corpses. I could fall asleep among them. It’s so quiet. Just to lie down ten minutes, with my arms over my closed eyes – to lie down and forget. To dream of you. I can’t even feel the smell, I just want to collapse.

I shake myself and force my eyes wide open. I swipe my flashlight over the grey cement. The aisle is empty. The silence thumps into my ears. I’m caught in the dark. The ringing is getting unbearable. Without thinking, I grab a jar and toss it in front of me. The silence is muted for a moment. Silence again. I must leave! I start toward the end of the aisle. The bag sways on my back, the flashlight casting amber patches.

A few yards from the end of the aisle, time stops. I freeze with my leg in midair, my body tensed in its immobility. A whirl raises slowly from the deep, envelops my thoughts, lures them into pitch dark.

Somewhere in the gloom, a whine is heard.

You’re just a statue. I’m shaking.

Don’t…you…move

I slowly let my foot down. I turn off the flashlight. My teeth are clenched, my temples throb. I’m surrounded by darkness. The wailing is getting clearer.

Mmmmmmmmm…

I swallow hard.

Soles shuffling on the floor.

To my right?

In front of me?

I try to control my breathing, not to make any noise.

The sweat trickles on my eyes, it stings, doesn’t matter.

Where are you?

Who are you?

What are you?

*

I see fingers with my mind’s eyes, getting closer to my face, I can feel them touching my skin, nails scratching my cheek, dead skin fondling my lips. Are you ready to die? a voice whispers. Are you ready for it to fondle your stomach with its long fingers, then to push down and enter you, its claws squirming through your entrails – you panting while it tears out your guts, you shouting while being dismembered, while everything you were becomes just a mound of red flesh? Are you ready to not being anymore?

*

Don’t breathe, don’t make a sound.

It feels you.

A shuffling?

Was that a shuffling?

Footsteps?

The whining is getting louder?

The grumble?

Are you in front of me?

Andrei’s eyes are watching me.

Run!   

*

December. Friday. 03:14 am

He raises his gaze toward me. Oh, daddy!

I close my eyes.

*

I’m fondling his cheek. Daddy’s skin is rough, he’s unshaved. Sometime he hugs me and stick his cheek to mine. He tickles me and I laugh. I love you, daddy! I squeeze him in my arms. Squeeze him tight, wanting to never let him go. Daddy laughs. He fondles my hair and laughs. He stand up, holding me tight while we swirl around the room. I can only see daddy’s eyes, no one around, nothing around. I see the glitter in his eyes. I bring you the twinkles in your eyes? I love you too, daddy!

*

He steps forward and reaches his hand up, toward me. I lean forward and reach my fingers toward him.

The touch is cold. So cold. I try to warm his skin, my fingers stroking his palm hard. He doesn’t say a word, he just watches me. Where are the twinkles, daddy? Rivers trickle down on his pale cheek. Do you cry, daddy? Or is it just the snowflakes that melt on your cheek? I’m missing you so bad!

For a moment, he closes his eyes and presses my hand on his cheek. We sit still. I’m so happy. And sad.

*

I open my eyes. Daddy’s hand is shaking as he reached toward me. I lean over and stick my arm out through the gratings. Our fingers meet. For a moment, I fondle his skin. Then a wailing crosses the air between us and daddy grips my wrist. It hurts, daddy! I’m pushed against the cold bars. I feel like I’m choking. He tries to pull me out through the metal bars.

Please, daddy!

Let go of me, daddy!

I’m scared. I just want him to stop. It hurts so bad!

He raises his other hand. He wants to grab my face. From deep down I feel the fright throbbing, then I manage to drag myself aside and the grip weakens. I turn my eyes to him and I see an elusive twinkle glittering in his eyes – then he release me and let his arm slowly down while I pull back in the middle of the room.

For a moment he was himself again.

The feet disobey me and I collapse.

*

December. Friday. 04:45 am

I ran with my eyes closed, stumbling over bodies, falling and getting up over and over, then with my eyes open wide I ran from the wailing that followed me from behind. All I knew was I had to come back to her. Nothing else matters. I ran toward the light, I forget about the bag on my back, I remembered only when I stopped panting in the middle of the snowdrifts. I looked around, saw no one. All was white. I looked toward the entrance, but nobody came out after me. Only then the weight of the bag overwhelmed me for a second and I fell on my knees. I stuck my hands in the snow and rubbed my cheeks. It was so good! For a moment I raised my eyes to the sky and laughed. For a moment I was with both of them again. Then I clenched my teeth and got up. I heaved the bag onto my back and disappeared among the blocks.

*

The road back is so long. I lost my patience, I just wanna be with her again, take her in my arms, laugh awhile, eat something good.

*

I feel like I’m flying along the too long hall. I unlock the door and search for her with my eyes. As in a haze, I see a shadow squatted in the middle of the room. Luiza? Are you ok? What are you doing? The bag falls on the sandstone and I hurl myself to her. Luiza! Luiza! What’s wrong? Wake up! Mommy begs you… I find myself slapping her wet cheeks. Have you been crying? She blinks slowly like woken from sleep, and the burden rolls over from my soul.

What are you doing, sweetie? What happened? Why are you down here? Have you fainted? What happened? Are you ok? How do you feel?

She looks at me. She doesn’t recognize me?

Hold on, baby, I’ll bring you some water, just hold on…

I leave her and get back in a moment with a plastic bottle.

I hold her head and help her drink.

She chokes and I put the bottle down. She coughs, sits on the floor, a little water trickles through her lips, then she breathes deeply and settles down.

She looks around, then her gaze raise toward the open window. Only now I see that the window is wide open. Only now I feel the cold in the room.

My feet order me to get up, my hands reach forward and the window is now closed. I look outside. Just snow fallen everywhere. And snowflakes coming down relentlessly.

Where is he?

I turn around.

Who, baby?

She doesn’t answer.

She gets up slowly. I rush and help her. She grabs my hand and limps to the window. She gazes outside. Then he put her hands to her eyes and cries. I hold her to my chest.

Forgive me, mommy! Please, forgive me!

What’s wrong, sweetie, what happened? What to forgive you for?

She just cries and whispers forgive me. Over and over.

Eventually, he raises his eyes.

He was here…

Who?

He was here! Forgive me, mommy!

Who? What are you talking about? Who was? Where, here?

He was here…daddy. He was outside…I saw him through the window and…it was still him before, I missed him so much, mommy, forgive me, I’m sorry, so sorry…She puts her hands over her eyes, tears sliding on the pale cheeks while my gaze meet her scratched wrist, petrified blood on her white skin, my world ends, I don’t know where I am anymore, all I once was it’s not here anymore, I must stop the thoughts somewhere outside myself, I don’t know how, don’t know…

How did you hurt your hand? hope asks.

I grazed it on the pane, mommy.

He was outside…I held his hand…then he squeezed, so hard, mommy, it hurt, I couldn’t stand it anymore, he hurt me, I don’t know…then he stopped, I looked at him, it was daddy, mommy…daddy! I fell, I don’t know, then you came…what did I do, mommy, what?

The hope dies.

I hold her in my arms.

My soul is dead.

She snuggled against me. Shaking.

Will we be ok, mommy? Will we be ok? Are you angry, mommy? Are you angry with me?

Every whisper clenches my heart like a glove of thorns.

I raise slowly toward the sky.

From somewhere up above I see a woman holding a little girl in her arms and telling her it was gonna be alright. Everything’s gonna be alright. The girl is shaking harder. The woman’s fingertips bleached. She fetters her desperately. I don’t know how long it was until the little girl stopped crying. Her head leans back, her hands fall heavily down. The woman whispers over and over it’s gonna be alright.

Everything’s gonna be alright.

*

Translated into English by Dan BUTUZA

Despre Radu GĂVAN

Radu GĂVAN a scris 11 articole în Revista de suspans.

Radu Găvan s-a născut pe 29 decembrie 1978, la Bucureşti. A publicat povestiri și articole în Revista de Suspans, Revista de Cultură Familia, Catchy și Arts United. Exorcizat, romanul său de debut, a fost publicat în 2014 la editura Herg Benet. În 2015 a primit Premiul Uniunii Scriitorilor din România pentru debut, „Mircea Ciobanu“. A fost nominalizat la Festival du premier roman de Chambéry 2016, Premiile Accente și RomCon 2015 pentru cel mai bun roman de debut. În 2016 a primit Premiul I la Festivalul Alexandru Macedonski pentru cel de-al doilea său roman, Neverland.

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