A Dash of Kindness

‘The knockings you hear are only the most modest act in her repertoire. Calista has the bad habit that all ghosts have to move swiftly around your back or to sneak at the edge of your vision. I’m fed up with her gimmicks and would do anything to convince her she isn’t the one who made up these corny tricks. But the little girl is determined to frighten me and doesn’t give up easily. Don’t be intimidated! I should’ve gathered all her remains, it’s my fault, but I was sick, and I couldn’t stand to see her like that, do you understand? I was very fond of this girl. But don’t you ever believe that if a man is ungrateful during his life, he would metamorphose after he dies. Don’t think that all of a sudden, when someone gives up the ghost, he will grow an aura around his head and white winglets on his shoulders. Not at all! Little devil was she alive, I’m afraid she is so now. Calista was amongst the first people I helped after I retired. The game was at the get–go, but here in my underprivileged neighborhood, if I may say so, the mischievous pranks were not and never will be something new. A bag full of water – at best, or else full of something else – thrown from the upper floors in somebody’s head on the sidewalk is the most trite and innocent thing that can happen to you. That dear little one – Calista, that is, you got it – came to visit some colleague schoolgirl. This I heard out of her own mouth, in the first days after I saved her. She chit–chatted the whole afternoon with the girls, they did some makeup, they put on the old dresses of her mother, who knows, maybe they browsed through the magazines under her brother’s bed. Monica’s brother, the girlfriend, you got it. Then Calie saw it was getting dark outside – because as promising as days could seem, they too turn into nights sometimes – so the girl took her schoolbag and ran hoping her parents hadn’t noticed her absence. At the time I was spending my warm afternoons knitting in front of the open windows. Ernest my tomcat was keeping me company and was agreeing to all my remarks about the horrors I heard on the news channel. Don’t you agree that the world is going haywire, don’t you? That the young people lack any common sense, that the elders want to live forever but not anyhow (only with their asses stuck into the executive chairs), that the government put taxes even on the air we breathe?  I’m right, I know, I appreciate your approval, it’s good to take attitude, this way there are real chances we can change the world. Of, I’m quite rambling! This is the quirk of a lonely person who suddenly has someone he can speak to. So, I was saying about Calista – Calie, as I coddle her when she’s a good girl. I saw her running out from the building across the street.  She was heading toward the main thoroughfare where the bus station was. As there is not much traffic on our little street and I’m knitting blindly (I don’t have to look at my hands), I watched the fourteen–year old young lady. Though they won’t admit it, some people get exactly what they deserve and I hope you won’t consider this comment as a malicious one on my part. Well, I don’t know what to blame for what happened to her: maybe her much too short skirt or her much too long boots, or was it just pure coincidence stemming from the fact the poor girl was the only pedestrian at the moment? Anyhow, I saw it then with my own eyes – though I heard some of it at the market – I saw it for the first time with my own eyes: three people playing the game called Knockout. They were three young men, I’m positive they weren’t college guys, they were some day laborers at the stores in the neighborhood, maybe they helped loading and unloading the merchandise, maybe they swept wherever their boss told them – the kind that buy hotdogs for lunch break and eat them talking loud sitting on the curb, you know the type. Well, three men with unknown faces and drab clothes, who undress the overalls and put on a jacket and some shabby pants when they walk home, three nitwits that walked on the same side of the street as poor Calie did, but in the opposite direction. The girl hesitated, I felt it more than saw it. Just for a split second. Then she resumed her walk, because she had all the reasons to hurry up if she wanted to get back home on bus 473 downtown–bound. Only she never got to board on bus 473 or any other bus. Never. Because right that moment when she dashed through those three men – men, not college students (maybe she noticed this detail too and it made her confident) – so when she passed through them, the one closest drove his fist right into her face, full force. I stood and the cat fell from my lap like a sack of potatoes, so sleepy was he, but it didn’t cross my mind to spare him, that’s how troubled I was! Caution urged me not to stick my head out the window because in this part of the town anyone knows better and minds his own business instead of nosing around, but I couldn’t resist watching it either. And I watched. It was full dark, and Calista was in bad luck. The street was empty, and where she was brought down no light was on. The shadows got thicker, at times some coughing jalopy passed by, but the headlights didn’t fall on the girl’s body. Not that anyone that saw her would have certainly helped her, but an anonymous call to 991 could’ve been placed. It’s eleven pm and I hear myself saying – what do you think? “Ernest, darling, I think it isn’t nice to just sit here with hands in our pockets, do you hear me? What if I take that cart from the ground floor, you know it, the one madam Elvira from third floor uses to carry the garbage, and I’ll sneak slowly to the end of the street and load that girl into it and bring her home, hm?” Ernest never opposed me, so I took my big parka and off I went. Simple as that! The girl was still unconscious, no wonder here, that scumbag must have had some brass knuckles on his fingers. I didn’t linger to examine her, I put her into the cart and I vanished from sight, though I didn’t like the bloodstain on the sidewalk. At home I took care of her all I could. I lay her down on the couch trying to make her as comfy as I could, I administered an IV analgesic then I focused on her cheek, what was left of it, that is. The nose was broken, upper lip torn, the eyebrows swollen, and the left eye she wasn’t even able to open. A truly deplorable condition. Lucky her mother couldn’t see her like that, even luckier she ended up with me. I disinfected her wound, stitched it, brought an ice pack for her hot forehead and I was very pleased that the fainting prolonged so that she didn’t suffer unnecessarily. I watched her carefully and only by three in the morning she sighed, giving signs of coming to. If she was to stay out until then, she’d have suffered a cold shock in the drizzle that began to sprinkle a few hours ago, or a dog would’ve bite her, or she’d have been discovered by some drug addicts, worse than dogs. Lucky girl! Yessir! Lucky! But she didn’t know how to properly appreciate my efforts. In the morning, I greeted her gently when she woke up, she remembered what happened and, at first, she understood what I did for her and thanked me. Then she declared she wanted to go home, though it was obvious she couldn’t go in that condition. I asked her if she had a cellphone to call her parents. She didn’t. As I didn’t have a phone in my apartment either, I asked her the number so I could go and call her mother from a booth across the street. She gave me the number and I went out. I locked the door behind me. I got to the booth and I swear I dialed the number but the line was busy. I looked up to my windows and what do you think I saw? She was spying on me, the little brat! After all I’ve done for her, she was still suspicious. I pretended talking to cast away her ill–founded fears – stress wasn’t good for her, she was with fever anyway, poor little one. I came back upstairs and let her know her mommy would be there in an hour, tops. I urged her to tell me how she got here, so far away from home. She played grumpy, but I gave her a miraculous pill that cheered her right away. We spend a hell of an afternoon together, she forgot about her mommy that failed to show up as hours passed by. Only around seven pm she realized her parents “forgot her”.  And asked me for a mirror. I didn’t want to let her watch herself – I know girls care a great deal about their look and, sadly, the young girls today are kind of frivolous – but in no time she took out a powder compact and contemplated the mush that was now her face. Screams! Wailings! Accusations! That hurt me the most. Sir, I’m a medical nurse. I was head surgical nurse for twenty years, but no one can pretend I have a knack for plastic surgery. Plus I’m not young anymore, and in five years since I retired I didn’t have the chance to practice much…You know, lucky that the apartment below is empty, and Madam Elvira from above is deaf like a bear in hibernation. Otherwise, who knows what’d come out of it. My missy was quite nervy. She said she would, neither more nor less, claim moral damages because I maimed her. Because I sowed her lip “askew and asymmetrically”, fancy that! The little girl was hysterical, no doubt. I slapped her and it seemed it did her ok. Being a victim is the greatest joy for some human specimens. She started to weep, and I didn’t miss the chance to inject her with a sufficient dose for a quiet twelve–hour sleep. I had the time to ponder on what was to be done. A good deed is hard to accomplish and demand sacrifices. I’d taken upon myself the task of saving her off the street so I had to take care of her until she was well – cause I treated her, right? Why do you fidget, dear sir? Aren’t you comfortable? What was I saying? Yes, I had to solve somehow the problem of noise. Her tantrums frightened even my dear Ernest. So much scandal for a few stitches and scars that were to remind her of how lucky she was! Not to mention she could’ve looked much worse. Thinking about it, I watched her sleep, contemplated her face that looked like a rotten potato and I suddenly remembered the cellar of the grocery store. Oh, I see you have no idea that a colonial store ran its business here in former times…yes, it was fascinating to go shopping to Mistah Kelner, you could find there everything from soup to nuts! He sells wine too and he kept the barrels in a deep cellar under the building. Don’t be surprised, the building is very old indeed. The cellar is still there, sure, just nobody entered it in tens of years. Or I least I thought so a year ago – that I was the first to enter it. You know, Ernest got lost. Big scoundrel he was, eternally in–love playboy, roof walker…now he settled down, the little one…he became really well–conducted, ha, ha! So, I thought I heard tomcatty whinings from down in the basement. So I go there with a flashlight and a bolt cutter – I gathered the door was locked. But someone beat me to the punch. I made to get inside and guess what? The smell could’ve knocked me down! But I’m tough with this stuff, you see, the hospital…I got in – I was worried sick for the cat. What a sordid room there was, dear sir! Can you believe me when I say a homeless person made his dwelling in the pit of the cellar? And he died there who knows how long ago? The bones wrapped in tatters were lying on a foul mattress, and the sneakers were still on, though quite gnawed by rats. What a terrible place Ernest chose for his philandering!  I’m not afraid of the dead – I’ll let you in on a secret: death doesn’t exist, it’s just a threshold – so I let the Man of the Street to keep decaying in peace while the twenty–watt energy that used to turn on his brain has already switched to another universe. I grabbed my tomcat by the nape and left. I saw that there was another room deeper still and that very night I’m telling you about – remembering this secret room – I decided to take Calista just there, until she was going to get better, the pretty little one. A place for her to stay safe, because there are moments in life when people need to be protected from themselves, don’t you think? That’s why I brought you here, darling, if I may call you that. What is it? You fidget like one with a shirt too tight. A! You want me to go on with my story. Well, as I was telling you, I put the child to sleep – she was in great need of a good sleep – and I set up all through the night a comfortable bed in the cell. I mean – what am I saying – I tended the place alright: I swept, I put a carpet on the floor, laid blankets on the walls and changed entirely that sordid room. The one that was deeper in the ground, yes, not the first one, let’s not upset Mister Dead. Then I slowly took Calista and laid her there, far from mirrors that could make her depressed or windows to shout her ingratitude from. All was well. Believe me, in a short while we became good friends, me and her. It’s true, sometimes she still cried, but I told her that if she wanted to be beautiful again, creasing her skin was not good. She was heading for a full recovery and I was already thinking how to discharge her, when I noticed that a certain person still nosed around. I think she was a journalist. Of course the missing had some consequences. Policemen came, detectives, they talked to Monica and her folks, knocked on my door too, but when they saw I was moving around with the help of a walking frame and I sometimes jumbled up the days and the events, they left me alone. I hope you’re not one of those who live with the illusion that the real crime investigators act like those in the movies. No, it’s not like that in the real world. Minute research and costly tests are performed only if some honcho kicks the bucket, ha, ha…You got it, right? As for mere mortals…no matter. Death doesn’t exist, it’s just a passage, a threshold. Sadly, this journalist I’m telling you about didn’t know about this. She just hung around that piece of the sidewalk where they discovered the bloodstain. She was looking in every direction and wanted to talk to everybody. Worse than a toothache this woman, really! But if she felt she had to find out by all means, I decided to help her. We met when I was coming moil and toil from the market, like a sad little old woman that I am, and whispered to her mysteriously that I’d remembered seeing something that day. He agreed to come to my place where I told her about that Knockout prank. Boy, she got upset! I served her tea and sandwiches from that Japanese place, at the end of the street, do you know it? We chitchatted a lot. It amused me to see that some sort of hunch widened her face, then a revelation. She left. I watched her from the window, he managed to disappear around the corner, hi–hi. For good. She never returned – some people doesn’t agree with fugu, even when it’s thoroughly cooked. It seems that shirt pulls you tight real good, my darling. Course it wasn’t really fugu! It’s too expensive for my pocket, but the cooks throws the guts and roes in the trash can, so…sure, tetrodotoxine is definitely a way to step over the threshold. Over the big threshold. No, don’t worry! My, oh my, boys mustn’t cry. I’ll be your best friend, like a mother, you’ll see. Just be good so I can finish the story, then we’ll have a cup of tea. Look, you know what? I hope you’re not crying for the journalist. Or for Calista. You must be a Sagittarius! The men under this sign are always chasing women. If so, I can help you in this matter. I know how Sagittarius men are, my husband is one of them too. He just couldn’t keep his arrow in his pants! What do you mean? A, no, he’s not here anymore, don’t worry. He’s still in the closet at our former house. The new householders might have felt that space was quite small, but they had to accept the stowaway tenant walled inside. You need to understand, I can’t stand being lied to. And he did just that. I didn’t want to help him cross the big threshold – no way, my magnanimity doesn’t go so far – I only wanted to tame him, but I failed in the process. But what am I saying? I did nothing wrong, he kept stirring and I severed his femoral artery by mistake. Don’t you worry, I’ll be very careful with you instead. No, don’t rush to thank me, not yet. You’ll have reasons to think of me with affection, I promise you that. My, my, stop worrying! Of course I know how to do this operation, look at Ernest – he’s feeling so well! No more running over the roofs, or other doings that lack any dignity. And if it’s unbefitting for a tomcat, think of how it is for a man to act like this, a human being…you won’t need to worry, anyway. I’ll wipe in one move all of your troubles, baby, and all evil shall disappear. You did have troubles, didn’t you, that’s why you wanted to jump off the bridge. I told you, people sometimes need to be protected from themselves, and when I saw you up there on the ledge, I knew you pertained to this category. No, you don’t need to thank me now, all in due time. Anyway, you won’t have reason to be ungrateful like this rampant little girl. You hear her knocking the pipes? Such stuborness! She can’t be alive anymore, no way…don’t insist, I know what I’m talking about. She should’ve left behind this world, but she recklessly clings to it. She’s dead, we can’t help her. We can go down there to her, soon as we’ve finished our tea, to see for yourself. I didn’t want things go that way, but you see, I got sick and stayed in bed. No one takes care of me. I came down so hard with the flu that I couldn’t go to her anymore. Three weeks have I laid – one of which living only off bread and tea. And she, down there, had nothing, I really am sorry, you realize. Even if she’d caught some rodent to eat, she still didn’t have any water. Just the condensation on the walls. Do you see that I’m right? She’s dead. And here is another argument: one night there she was in my bedroom. She grew her hair long – when it grew so long, I don’t know! – wearing it fallen over the eyes, she must have tried to hide her smashed cheek. It’s not my fault she got bashed on the streeet, I just saved her. Surely, I should’ve gathered her remains. To take her out of here with all that bullshit full of funereal bad taste and leave me alone. Does she think she’s interesting? Or maybe you could gather what’s left of Calista. Won’t you? You will, of course! I’m not at the hospital anymore, and I have to see a good deed out all by myself, but starting tomorrow you’ll help me. Who did help me at the hospital? The orderlies, the nurses. When somebody died, they carried the corpses to the morgue. But I had this difficult and dutiful task of deciding who can’t stand the pain any longer or who can’t get back to normal living. I would release souls trapped in the flesh, helped them fly, cross the big threshold. How? Easier than you think: an air bubble inside an IV shot does all the tricks. When it reaches the heart, the valves get clogged and that’s the end of it. But the hypocrisy in people is so big that I saw heirs who instead of behaving with decency started to wail and call “Oh, why do you leave us so soon?” when they’d found out their grandfather died. Come on! Be serious. You’re a chosen one. What’s your name? Where is your ID? Ah, in the other pocket of your pants, I found it. Sergiu! Good, Sergiu, I announce you that you’re a lucky one, dear Sergiu. Starting tomorrow you’ll get rid of every trouble you had in the past. Either if it were your bank installments, or you got canned, or your wife left you, or just felt useless in this world, whatever was, I will mend it without fail. You must trust me. It’s just a simple operation, I’ll break it down to you just to see I’m mastering the procedure: Take the leucotome (it’s a very ingenious instrument, I read the question in your eyes), raise the upper eyelid, stick in the instrument pushing it evenly beyond the thin bony layer about two inches deep into the frontal lobe. After reaching this point, twist the little scalpel a forty–degree angle into the orbit so its tip can slit the tissue opposite the cranian bone. Then bring the instrument in the first position and pushed an extra inch into the cerebral tissue twisting it both ways at twenty–degree angle to sever the links to the margin section…to cut it short, that’s all there is to it, roughly speaking. When we finish the right side, we pierce the orbit of the left–side eye. Dear Sergiu, this is a lobotomy, an absolutely remarkable treatment, I assure you. It recovers instantly hapiness and state of innocence. I offer you thereby a dash of kindness. Are you heaving with eagerness? Just a bit more, just a bit more – look, I’ll give you a sedative, then we’ll drink the tea I promised you. First thing tomorrow morning you’ll be a new man! I know, I know – your shirt is too tight and your hands went a little numb, but you’ll just have to wear it just a bit longer, my little angel!’

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Translated into English by Dan BUTUZA

Despre Diana ALZNER

Diana ALZNER a scris 8 articole în Revista de suspans.

Diana Alzner (n. 1969) este licenţiată în Litere. Vreme de 14 ani a fost profesoară de limba şi literatura română şi limba şi literatura engleză. În prezent administrează o firmă privată. Citeşte mult şi din toate genurile. A publicat cu precădere pe site-ul SRSFF.

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