Rastko Petrovic

Sixth day

Fragment of the novel, translated by Albert Lord

Фрагменти романа Растка Петровића "Дан шести", у преводу на енглески Алберта Лорда, једног од најзначајнијих слависта, овде се објављују на основу оригинала машинописа интегралног превода који се налази у Музеју Надежде и Растка Петровића у Београду. Превод романа до сада није објављен, а сам Музеј је, због неадекватности просторних услова, затворен за јавност. Текст се објављује захваљујући љубазности Народног музеја.

The headlights were out and the car had stopped. There was something wrong with the motor - nothing serious, but enough to keep them from going on. For the first few minutes nobody said any­thing. It was so dark that they couldn't see the road.

"If we only had a lamp", Jack Gordon muttered, and this time he didn't swear. They were all talking at once; everyone had his own idea of what should be done, and while they were arguing the water kept dripping from them. The old lady was frightened: "We're lost, done for! We'll get our deaths of cold! I know it! We'll get pneumonia! There's no doubt of it! Oh, oh...."

Her voice shook; it seemed shrill, as if it too had been drenched in the rain. Although she had spoken almost in a whisper and had intended her remarks only for herself and probably her daughter, they had all heard her, but they were so wretchedly lost and so depressed that nobody cared to add anything to what she had said. They couldn't see each other, and nobody could tell how anyone else was bearing up under the rain which was pelting them from all sides in the darkness. Then a voice asked if they might find shelter in the mill which they had just passed. It was a fine, deep baritone voice, quavering with excitement. Yes, that was it! The mill: a house and a roof! They had gone by it just a few minutes ago while the lights were still burning, and just beyond it they had crossed over a little bridge of planks which the tor­rent had half carried away.

"It can't be far from here!" the deep voice continued mel­odiously.

The gaps between the remaining planks were so huge that one might fall into the swift stream.

"The mill must be near the river. It can't be too far away!"

Stevan Katich knew that he was the youngest one there. He felt around in the car, found the bag in which he had some candles and dry matches, and got out. But perhaps that wasn't the bag! He felt it over until he came upon the initials. "I.P.K.", "Ilija P. Katich". That was his grandfather - a whole generation was symbol­ized by those letters, "I.P.K.". But now they signified only that that was the bag with matches. "I am Ilija P. Katich", the old man had said to his wife one evening when he was undressing, "I've succeeded finally in collecting an old loan and making a good profit on it. Do you know what that means? That's success!" And the next day the papers remarked: "Ilija P. Katich has pulled an­other deal and made a good profit again. Where is it all leading to?"

Stevan walked on ahead of the others. For the first ten paces he felt brave, and then he became frightened that he might not be able to find the bridge and that he might fall over the cliff in the darkness. He tried to see what there was in front of him, but he couldn't make out a thing. The roaring of the water sounded as if it were directly beneath him. Stevan walked cautiously, one step at a time, waving his arms in the air and shouting to those behind him. There was a flash of lightning. Through the pouring rain he could see the purple mountains. He was on the edge of the road; a few steps farther on was the bridge, and a little beyond that, the mill. It was all much nearer than he had expected. He crawled forward now with greater determination. The mud under his hands was mixed with stones and acorns, and his clothes were soaked with mud and rain.

His father was just a young boy, broad shouldered, with the sun's red splendor in his hair, when in a blast of anger he left his family home and didn't come back any more. He did that when he learned that the old Katich called Maritsa by telephone and told her everything he thought about her mother, herself and their friend­ship with Vlada. From the point of view of the stubborn old man that was the best way to put an end to something he disliked. He would probably have done the same even if he had known that there was nothing much at that time between Maritsa and Vlada. Nothing more than usual companionship between two very young people. They were more intolerant and impatient than kind in their dealings, and if before Maritsa 's mother didn't care for her own reputation she was almost strict with her daughter. She was far from en­couraging her to start a flirtation with a boy only eighteen years old. Even if he belonged to a rich family. There was only the danger that Maritsa would find herself involved in a long sentimental love affair with a very problematic end, so the frivolous elderly lady would probably welcome a break if it occured between them, but the interference of the old man, his slapping her face, infuriated her beyond all limits. Only the news that the young man walked out on his father gave her some relief. She wished her daughter vindicated.

Of course she was not the only infuriated person. She was not the only one eager to act. Old Katich couldn't believe that his child, that little boy, would disobey him in a way so humiliating to his parental pride. It poisoned him so much to have to accept, as he saw it, a fight with the old "Bitch" and her no better daughter, that he mercilessly slapped his own son. He denounced him publicly, claiming in a short newspaper notice that Vlada had failed to meet his obligations. He didn't tell in what way his son had been disobedient, he only disavowed him as if he had dis­honored himself, almost as if he were a criminal. Vlada didn't answer his father's accusations and he gave up his girlfriend Maritsa. She was first to write him that she didn't want to see him anymore and that by now everything was over between them. Except for his only friend Djamich with whom he stayed the first two days, Vlada found himself all alone in the world. He was al­most happy that things turned out that way.

Then one evening Maritsa awaited him in front of the house to which he had just moved. Without a word of hers, or his, she fol­lowed him through a dark corridor, into his small room. There she silently undressed before him as if she had been doing that many times before in the same place and with the same boy. Seating himself in the chair he mechanically took off his shoes and stayed still, mute, looking on her slim body and her very pale face.

She gave herself to him in a desperate clasping in which neither of them expected or found joy. Their love-making had no pleasure whatsoever. In that darkness which enveloped them more and more they were seeking to find, not each other, but each one himself. They separately appraised their own force in becoming finally man and woman. Had they enough strength to dispose of their lives as they liked? Because they were now woman and man clasping together in an embrace, further from each other in their spirit and sex and love, than two human beings ever could be.

They were too conscious of each other as they felt in the darkness their different human forms. Involuntarily their hands encountered mysterious parts of their bodies, hard and impetuous or hot and wet. They laced their long limbs. Their heads, their noses and bony foreheads were so close and dry that they almost choked and hurt in their embrace, but they avoided finding each other's lips. Their lips remained closed and hostile so much were they tense and aloof. They didn't caress each other or utter gentle words of love.

Nevertheless it was a strange relaxation for both of them. In that love-making which held no pleasure for either of them, even no victory, they had a mere satisfaction that they were man and woman only because they had decided to become so. For long hours they remained stretched, side by side, without a word. He heard nothing strange in her breathing but he was suddenly conscious of her crying. He touched her face with his hand and found it still and dry, even though he knew that she was crying somewhere inside and that by now she was aware why he touched her face and that she was ashamed of herself.

He gently lay over her and melted their two young bodies in one. She voluntarily disappeared in him, ceased to exist as an­other human being. Enclosing his head in her own arms under the violence of his mouth and lips and tongue she breathed her own breath for his.

Evening after evening they lay there for hours, her body be­side his, talking very little. He was gentler and gentler with her, asking her many things about her life. He didn't tell her any thing about his own plans, even not about his long walks through the near-by fields and hills overlooking the Danube. He continued to live alone. In his dreams he had already made up his mind to go overseas and lose himself in a new world.

The warm summer days started in Belgrade. When suddenly Maritsa got panicky. For months she was dreading the day when he would leave her alone there and after some time she was almost that she was pregnant. In the beginning she only wanted to prove to him that she was not in his way, that he was still free to decide his own future. She thought that she even gave herself to him only so that her abnegation later should be greater. She couldn't understand how afterward she lost control of herself and became so cowardly and why she did the very things she always thought that only some cheap females do for the purpose of leading a man into marriage. With her last remaining force she tried to be sincere to her lover. She told him that she knew very well that she was cheapening everything he trusted in her, that he had a right to believe that every act of hers was premeditated, consciously or unconsciously, There was one thing that she couldn't change, though she felt sick and disgusted inside her because of it, and that was that she was now so terribly scared. Not of losing him but of having his child alone. She was scared to death of how she could face the future. She begged him to marry her, nothing else. He could leave her afterward and she didn't tell him how much in love with him she was by that time.

Vlada was gentle to her. With kind masculine words he comforted her and told her that they could be married any day she wanted. As in a trance of shame because she had failed to back up her own de -cisions she informed her mother of her condition, telling her that if it were anybody's fault, it was entirely her own. So she refused to marry Vlada or anybody else. She repeated to Vlada what she had told her mother only a few minutes before . The mother herself came to ask Vlada what his intentions were. "To do exactly what Maritsa wants me to do for her" he told her almost rudely. Both women became hysterical, rude, so that neighbors came to see what was happening.

Finally, after all sorts of scenes and arguments which occured during the next two weeks, arguments between everybody concerned, except Maritsa and Vlada, everything seemed arranged. Between themselves they didn't talk about their problems which they didn`t control anymore. They seemed to pity one another that once having found the meaning of being a man and a woman they had lost it so quickly. Each deep inside was lost and tired. He was warm and human but still far away from her who felt only that she had no pride or shame or anything else left in her desperate love for him.

Apart from them, everything was well arranged. Emerging sud­denly from his sullen silence the old Katich asked his son and Maritsa to come to see him. When he learned that Maritsa was ex­pecting a child, he urged them to get married and to go off any­where they liked. Strangely enough, he was extremely pleased at the turn of events, though he didn't tell anybody just why. In a small city like Belgrade, it would be rather a proof that the girl was unworthy of a respectable family, yet the old man seemed to understand then for the first time, the courageous part of the girl's character. Katich liked her enormously now and wanted her for his daughter-in-law. He planned how, after the young people were married, he would go with the girl's mother to see them on the train and give them as an additional gift a lavish sum to spend on their trip. But one summer morning a few days later some workmen had found Vlada's body up on the side street where it makes a turn behind the greenhouses. It was lying on the edge of the sidewalk, the corpse of the strong young man whom his schoolmates had nick­named "Irish" and who was soon to become a father.

He had sat alone in the house all afternoon, not stirring even when Maritsa had come twice to knock on the door, amazed that he had gone out so early. At night he left the house and went up the street and sat on the edge of the sidewalk and killed himself.

Many years passed. At the time of Zorich's suicide Stevan Katich was a nervous and excitable boy. It was as if he were the son not so much of the whole Vlada but only of that state of mind with which he had gone to his death. When Zorich died Stevan wore a black band on his sleeve and his friends hated him for it because that was the mark of the upper class in which they thought he liked to belong. As people began to talk about his father's suicide, he gradually pieced together the facts which he gleaned from veiled conversations at home and from his friends' frank questionings. There were evenings during that period when he didn't join his friends at the gate but stayed in the house, thinking it all over.

When Stevan was born his grandfather did everything to straighten out things which in the future could harm the life of the child born both posthumously and out of wedlock and also helped in every way his unwed mother. He adopted the child, registering him as his grand­son and even before she was in labor he took Maritsa to his home. He asked that the wives of his friends should come and make his daughter-in-law feel that she had many friends in her new home. Katich even thought to ask Popovich's wife too, because she had been his wife's best friend. He was afraid however, that her husband, with whom he was on bad terms by now, would forbid her to go.

The death of her companion was such an overwhelming blow to Maritsa that for days she was not conscious of what happened around her. She couldn`t explain how it happened that with her white motionless face, all dressed in black she was standing in church beside old Katich, her eyes seeing all the time through the huge white flowers the metal parts of the coffin. Then she was follow­ing the same coffin (is it possible that her companion was enclosed in it?) through the sunny streets of Belgrade, ahead of a big pro­cession, her hand in the large fleshy hand of the old Katich. And again the arm of that old man was around her shoulder when she looked in the open earth smelling of the field freshly labored. Never a day was more glorious than there among so many monuments with whole baskets in blossom and birds diving in the infinite blue of the sky. Almost all summer remained like that springlike, and was followed by a gentle autumn.

Then Stevan was born. The first illegitimate child since time immemorial born in a respectable family of Serbs. Silent, his grandfather went often to the nursery. One evening when he left the house, their neighbor, Mrs. Popovich, came unexpectedly. It was the first time that Maritsa had ever seen her and she knew that the two families were not friendly anymore so, frightened, Maritsa remained aloof. But the lady visitor kissed her on both cheeks and spoke about her late best friend, the grandmother of that child. She observed little Stevan with the tenderness of a still young mother herself. Her own daughters were at that time ten and four years old. Expecting that she would ask her to keep the visit a secret from her father-in-law, Maritsa was uneasy again when the 0 lady was leaving. Again Mrs. Popovich cleared the atmosphere:

"I don't think", she told Maritsa, "that you will see very much of me here. When you tell your father-in-law that I paid you this visit, he will explain to you why. But if you ever need any­thing, please do not hesitate....."

Maritsa didn't disturb the old man with the story about the visit. A few days later two small girls came with gifts for the baby. They were extremely excited and walked through the house on their tiptoes. The youngest one, Tony, asked Maritsa:

"Is it true that it is a baby boy? Isn't he a baby boy?"

"Of course", said the elder "it is worth nothing at all to have a baby girl you know". And little Militsa turned her dark eyes to Maritsa: "It would be so wonderful if we could only have a baby boy for ourselves."

They kept on speaking about it over their milk and cake swinging their feet and licking their spoons.