It hits me sometimes. Like a wave. Like someone waved her hand above a pie and spread the aroma of puffed pastry and apples sprinkled with cinnamon all over my face. Everything gets sugared up in my mind, calms and quiets down somehow. Tranquility takes over me. I guess it is tranquility. Grandma used to go into the yard, prop her hips up with her hands and gaze into the sky. In the summer blackbirds would fly above the house and squall. Everything smelled of perspiring grass, fruit, and dust carried all over town by cars and people all day long. “It’s so peaceful,” she would say. The city buzzed just like the cables buzz when you’re waiting for the phone to ring on the other end of the line.
And I would like to say to mom that she shouldn’t cry, that I know everything now, that it came to me, came together. I know mom comes into my room at night like a sleep walker, stares at me, and when she’s not sure if I’m breathing she pretends to cover me or she caresses me. She is actually checking to see if I have gone. I hear her crying so I start crying too. Because of her. Not because of me.
I used to cry because of me. When they told me I was sick, when they started poking me with the needles, when after countless hospital rooms I started to forget what my room looked like. I cried under those sterile domes, because of those needles and fluids. “They are going to cool down my blood? I’m going to die because of them!” I wanted to shout once. I remember I wanted to. Mom stood in front of me like a ghost. I know dad stayed behind the door. He wouldn’t dare to come in.
I’ve never seen my dad cry. I don’t actually see him anymore. He is always rushing somewhere, hiding behind the door, has to do something with someone because of something. Only mom cries.
One time Goran was burning ants with a magnifying glass. We were playing in the street, driving our toy cars through the slopes and tunnels we’d dug up on the edge of the lawn. Then we came across an anthill. It was three or four years ago. It was summer. The last summer I remember us still playing. The very next summer we realized we were adults. Afterwards the summer storm rolled over the houses like a carpet. Goran ran into the house to get the magnifying glass. The sun was bright, flaming against the blackness that was rolling toward us over Hungary.
“Look!” Goran grinned, hissing through his teeth, “ptzzz! cccc!
Just like in the War of the Worlds. Those three-legged creatures spitting death crossed my mind. Not right away. At first I grinned, too. And Simba and Ivica. We gathered around the dying ants. Then I remembered those creatures from outer space. As a kid I couldn’t sleep because of them. They were parading through my head after the movie. Drumming.
“Stop it!” I yelled and pulled Goran by his hand. I remember, just then the clouds covered our heads like an eiderdown. Thunder roared somewhere above the train station.
I would like to tell my mom: “Someone is up there, mom, I know it!” take her hand so she wouldn’t run away when I start talking to her about the things that await me. “He comes to my room at night, I feel him. My room fills up with that heavenly something and I smile in the dark, you know, mom.”
I would like to tell her that in that moment, in that crowded darkness, in a tiny fraction of time everything stops hurting.
I remember everything I’m going to remember. I start smiling.
And I want to call them. All of them. Mom and Dad. Everything comes together, all the words. I think to myself I could explain everything to them without a single tear. I think to myself I could manage not to cry because of Mom, because of Dad, who would run out of the room to get a handkerchief or a painkiller because he always gets a headache when I start talking to him about myself. Because of Dad, who has to go to the bathroom right then, who seems to hear the phone ringing somewhere right in that moment, an alarm clock, that someone’s at the door, in the yard, on the roof. Anywhere, just not in my room.
“My God, I have a feeling it’s crouching over there beside his bed, by the window,” I once heard mom whispering a little too loud in front of my open door.
“Who’s crouching?” Dad asked her.
“Death!” Mom cried out. I think she cried it out to his face. I didn’t see her. I was pretending to be asleep. She burst out sobbing and ran away. To the bathroom. All the people in tears always run to the bathroom it seems.
When I want her to hold my hand I always pretend I’m asleep. I turn my head to the other side and I just listen to her. I listen to the tone of her voice. I listen to its wetness. I don’t hear words. Words don’t matter. What matters is that I don’t forget Mom’s voice.
I would like to tell her that too: “Everything we’re going to take with us can’t be held in our hands,” but I can’t find the right moment. It’s different in the books. There time is still as long as needed. The Fox and The Little Prince. They say the man who wrote that tumbled into the sea. I tried imagining what that would feel like, all that water, salty water in your ears, nose and mouth. Everything blue, and then dark. They say there is no light at the bottom of the sea. That it’s the same as being under the ground.
I got sick yesterday. I just sank into something and I couldn’t move anymore. I could hear everything. Mom was crying. Her voice was completely wet. I couldn’t do anything. But I wanted to whisper to her: “You know, mom, one time I went on a bike ride to trade comic books. To Donji grad. I didn’t tell you. You would have killed me if you knew how far I had gone. I was ten. It was summer. I went to get Zagor. There wasn’t anyone in sight. You know, when the sun starts burning, when everything shines brightly? Yeah? And then, by the tram warehouse, right there somewhere, at that spot where you suddenly, between the warehouses, catch sight of the poplars on the opposite bank of the Drava? Right there! Suddenly, it was like I wasn’t even there, everything was quiet. Only the bike, along with me, continued to glide along. In silence. And I thought to myself: ‘There it is, this is what it’s like when you die.’ I remembered it the other day. And I was relieved.”
Mom caressed my forehead. Her hand was as hot as ember.
“My boy,” she said at last. It sounded like she had exhaled all the air out of her lungs. Like she would never breathe again.