Oct 11, 2014

Cursed




Two years before selling the house Father made his last will and testament leaving his estate to Mark the grandson he helped raise from birth. Now that he stands to lose it all Father’s pain is impossible to bear, even for his young grandson and the fact that we must soon return to New York doesn’t make it any easier.
Father hired a lawyer to help him fight his real estate crusade. The lawyer found loopholes in the legality of selling and buying the house and he's collecting evidence to build his case. We leave the amount necessary to cover Father’s expenses and drive back to Serbia where in three days we must board the plane from Belgrade to New York.
***
Weeks later, Father whizzes his pain through the phone lines. He cries and cusses about being thrown out of his house and living on the street. 
One afternoon the police knocked on his door the gypsies stepping in their shadow. One officer tells Father to pack his belongings, while another officer carries and piles the stuff on the dirt path outside the fence. Later a kind neighbor allows him shelter in her house and stores his possessions in her shed. Three doors down in his house the gypsies gather singers, live brass bands and all. Loud music blows the night into shards of sheer madness while the neighbors brace themselves, for a bleak future.
Then it quiets, and it stays that way for days. No movement comes from and about the old house; except for Father prowling along the fence in the dull dusk light stretching his neck and glancing over it. Past the twilight, a death-clasping scream pierced the air and traveled the hoary yards. More voices thumped up and down the hardened path. Then over the tumult the ambulance and police sirens yelled up the hill, tugging neighbors from their beds and onto the narrow lane.
“What happened? What’s going on?” hung on everyone’s lips. A neighbor ran between Father’s old gate and a clump of curious heads clamored by the main road.
“They found a dead gypsy in Dumitru’s house.”
The news outflowed like broken dam waters, and neighbors whispered how Father now was nowhere in sight. From the shadows the crowd stretched a collective neck to spy the covered gurney wheeled into the ambulance. The vehicle proceeded quietly downhill followed by loud wailing gypsies on foot. Their swindle bashed in terror when the wife came home to find her husband on a chair at the living room table his head rested on his hands crossed near empty bottles and glasses. From afar she thought he was drunk asleep, but as she got closer, she saw the back of his head carved open and white spongy mass scattered over his arms and the dingy table. She screamed into her phone for help and kept vigil by the side of his chair. She held and kissed his cold face and stared into his open terror sealed eyes. She blew warm air into his blood-splotched hands and hugged him tightly to transfer life into his rigor mortis slouched body.
Wailing in pain, the young wife ran down the slanted yard yelling gypsy meddled words pulling her hair and tossing it in the wind. She tore at her clothes dancing circles she rhythmically bent to daub dirt on her head. Cried and sang and tapping her feet to raise dust on the same spot, a gypsy ritual to strew the bad spirits. Bawling out of breath her mother and sister ran up the knoll and joined in her twirl while neighbors crossed themselves trapped at a sinister parade.
More police cars screeched up Eternitate Street, blocking roads and slowing traffic to halt. Plainclothes investigators and uniformed cops strolled in and about the house, literally turning and collecting rocks of evidence.
The gypsies chorally howled that the old man killed the new owner. He threatened him more than once, and always in the same words:
“Asa batrin cum sunt iau o piatra si-ti crap capu ca pe-o nuca.” or “Nu voi muri pana nu-ti sparg capu sa-ti vad creieri.” “As old as I am, I’ll break your head open like a pumpkin!” or “I won’t die until I bash your head and spill your brains out!” Dumitru got what he wanted neighbors whisper, now the gypsies would never live in his evil cursed house.
Two uniformed cops stopped and asked a lingering group if they knew where Father was. The men shrugged but one frail old lady pointed toward the yard he’s been calling home lately. The officers turned to the gate. Voices lowered to whispers and all eyes followed the tip of their hats shrinking into the courtyard. They heard the knock on the main door and the landlady pointing them to Father’s door. Another knock and the officers let themselves in. There, in a tight and flashy decorated room, face up on a low single bed Father was sound asleep with the evening newspaper and his eyeglasses resting on his chest.
“Domnu Dumitru [Mister Dumitru]?”
Father opened his eyes, reached for his glasses, and struggled to sit up.
“We need to talk. Do you know what happened in your old house?”
“No,” Father stated red faced and tired from his flailing his arms to sit. “What happened?”
“Didn’t you hear the ambulance sirens blasting up the hill a while ago?”
“No, I’m hard of hearing. But if the ambulance came I hope they’re all dead, and the world is finally rid of their kind,” he bellowed while the officers glanced at each other.
“Well, strange you say that, Mr. Dumitru, because that is exactly what happened.”
“Are they all dead?” Father’s eyes blazed over the opaque cataract coat. “It really happened?”
“That’s what we want to find out. We know that the gypsies celebrated the buying of their new house with live music, and loud guests we also know that you were spying into your old yard about the time everything got quiet.”
Hunched in the doorway one officer asked Father to get ready and come to the station for an interview (interrogation). Both officers helped him walk and into the squad car parked on the main road. Neighbors watched them take him away some shouted encouraging words while the deceased’s family bellowed and swore on his guilt and their revenge. At the station, Father got ushered into a tight room and asked to sit across the table from a middle-aged officer. The “interview” began.
“Domnu Dumitru, de ce ati spionat prin curtea tiganilor Luni seara?” “Mr. Dumitru, why were you poking into the gypsy yard on Monday afternoon?”
“Eu n-am spionat! Lumea minte si fura. Dar sper sa crape toti tiganii asta sper!” “I was not spying! They’re lying to you. People lie and steal. But I hope that all these gypsies die!” Father shrieked. His hands fumbled on his cap pushing it high on his forehead. From his chair, the officer stared at red bloody scabs on Father’s temple, partially hidden by his cap.
“Remove your cap,” the investigator demanded.
“What?” Father’s puzzled face threw the man into a fit. He reached over and slapped the cap off uncovering a scalp red with old and fresh scratches.
“Explain these scratches on your head,” the investigator ordered.
“I’m a diseased old man who got swindled by the scum of the society,” Father cried. “Police came not to help me but to toss the things I worked for all my life onto the muddy path. Irreplaceable items were stolen from me and I reported it to you but got no attention. I’m an old man, who needs me? They stole my life, but no one investigated how they crept into my house, how they got me drunk a man my age, and how the deed changed names, in the hands of a corrupt notary public.
“I’m sorry to hear about that, but it’s not what we’re investigating right now. You are here because a man was found dead, and you were edging the fence on the day his head was wacked open. Why? What were you doing? Why were you peering inside the yard inside the house?”
“I had more stuff in there, and they would not let me take it. I wanted to see if anyone was home. I know other ways to get in that house; I designed them myself.
“What ways?” Red flags waved up and the investigator offered Father, a cigarette. They both lit up and Father went on.
“One entry is on a north wall of the house shared by the old stable, it’s a narrow opening that I covered with planks and a hinged set of tall shelves, it opens into the pantry’s fake wall at the back of my winter kitchen.”
“Is that the entry you used to kill the young gypsy?”
Father takes a last puff and mutters,
“I thought about it many times.. but I did not kill anyone, I’m too old, too weak.”
“What are the other secret entries, and which one did you use?”
“Oh, shame on me, and my life. Yes, I would have killed him and his entire kind, but I didn’t. I’m too sick and out of breath a dead man myself ah, if I was only a few years younger!”
“What other secret entries are there?”
“From Mrs. Popescu’s backyard, there’s a square hole blocked by wooden boxes on the outside and a book shelf on the inside. This opening is the size of a 6 or 7 year-old-child, the same size as my grandson.”
“Is this the entrance you used? The young man was killed close to this spot he was sitting at the table located next to the bed. Someone snuck up behind him and hit him on the back of the head with a blunt object, possibly a rock.”
Ignoring the interruption, Father continued with a sigh.
“No, I did not use any of these openings, and I did not kill this scum. I am too old for that.”
There was no case the police could build against Father in the death of the young gypsy, or the beatings that followed. Two more people were discovered stabbed and barely alive on the old property for reasons not spewing from beyond the grave.
The neighborhood never recovered from the tragedies and ghouls howling the old house behind its high fence. Father’s house turned haunted, and “cursed” with spirits grappling for eternal peace. No gypsy family ever moved in, instead it shelters shady transitional characters slipping in and out the gate taking doom to darker nadirs. The old neighbors left to face the everyday mayhem; the stealing and destroying of properties the never-ending fights between lawless hoards of gypsies thumping over the two faced mound. Things disappear from yards, sheds and houses. Brash, insolent parties break the silence each night. Illicit activities assault the area while neighbors complain and suffer unable to leave this blighted part of Iasi. But unlike Father, the old gray blood smeared house still stands even if ashamed and guilty.

Oct 8, 2014


The Old House


Grandmother Ecaterina’s house stands at the top of a discordant double-faced hillock. One face on the cleanly paved and quaint Eternitate Street where decent homes slant below the church, the other side a slippery slope where gypsies, filth and shacks spill onto a dirt road. From a well-to-do family Ecaterina, could have done better for herself  but at 17, she eloped and lost herself in the love for her man and their six progenies. Her father disowned her while her mother, a fearful weakly presence, lurked about struggling to help herself and her daughter and unable to do either.
At 86 Ecaterina lives surrounded by feathery and fury companions; cats in her shed, dogs in the front yard and chickens in coops behind the house. She is still the force that keeps the family together they all seek and abide her ruling and share in her love. Their daily mission is for a family member to come up the hill and check on her.
One afternoon, her favorite granddaughter pops up the hill. First she goes inside the house and minutes later she follows Ecaterina’s raspy voice out into the breeze where she’s sweeping the yard. They chat for a while and after her granddaughter leaves Ecaterina realizes that her pension check had vanished from its usual spot. Aggravated, she calls, but her granddaughter does not pick up. She keeps calling the entire the day and evening her anger and blood pressure rising.
The next morning she’s up with the first rooster crow, to prepare for a turbulent day.  In front of a full basin of water she stands, soap and comb ready when the phone rings and a bomb is dropped—her granddaughter cashed her check. “But she must not worry, the amount would be returned soon.” Tears stream down her chin and over the basin as she bends to wash her red sweaty face. Her body gives way. Face fist she dives into the mini-pool and thuds unconscious on the floor. Late that afternoon another granddaughter finds her floating in a far realm absent and unable to speak, her life hanging on a spider thread.
The next night Ecaterina crosses into the stillness of headstones, her memory a dark spot on her granddaughter’s soul. After she’s laid to rest Father renovates the old house. He builds a new room facing the old garden, erects a new fence and encloses the front porch to keep the house warm. The neighborhood has never been safe, and in his old age he wants to feel protected, so locks and keys weight heavy on his doors and in his pockets. 

Oct 5, 2014

Liliana


Liliana
At the age of 60, Father finds his soul mate and adventure partner in 30-year-old Liliana. He finds himself ostracized by siblings, and the world alike. “You’re a dirty old man and she’s a gold digger from the dark side of life,” they all chimed.
And he might be a “dirty old man” for the entire world but Liliana keeps coming, and Father would rather be repudiated by all, than be without her. From a very poor background, Liliana knows struggles; she’s been through many hot burning hells of her own. Her mother died /giving birth to her. To escape an abusive, alcoholic Father, she eloped at 14 and a year later gave birth to her first baby, a seemingly healthy baby boy. Her husband, a railroad man, worked hard, drank even harder, and brought home no bacon.
At 19, Liliana buries her son when he unexpectedly dies in her arms, then ends her marriage. The second time she marries an army officer and gives birth to her second child, again a boy. Her new husband provides for her and their child but his demanding job leaves Liliana lonely. When her second son dies at the age of 3, destitute and depressed, she finds solace with the wrong crowd. She begins to drink, and by the age of 26, she’s bitter and “cursed,” twice divorced and with two children dead in her hug. She has no education, and to survive, she cleans houses Father employs her to help around the newly renovated old house.
Sad story, Liliana.
Dark complexion and bright smile, she’s charismatic, curvy, and petite; she laughs easy and starts a fight even easier. She rejuvenates Father. Cleaning his house and yard, she glues to his soul. They become intimate and business partners. As peddlers, they travel to Turkey, Poland, Russia, and China, turning into a profitable team. She acquires her own apartment and saves to open a small newspaper stand. When Father’s in New York, Liliana cares for his property, and keeps everything in order. Father has traveled between New York and Iasi for years. He likes America but loves Romania and would not want to die or be laid to rest anywhere but the Eternitate “Eternity” graveyard in Iasi alongside his parents.
One fall, Father entrusts Liliana with the key to his house and the stable-turned-wine cellar. A dark square room with steady-temperature where tarmac sealed bottles and a 200-liter wood barrel of red Merlot are stored for aging. Father invests great amounts of money, organic ingredients, pride and patience in old recipes of his Merlot. Every fall, he travels to vinifera the vineyards on the suburbs of Iasi to buy Concord, Muscat and Hamburg; for making his wine. To leave Liliana in charge of his Bacchus wealth means total trust or blind love and Father does not trust anyone.
Two in the morning, the house phone rings. I pick up and an unknown voice asks for Dumitru. I must repeat it to Father for he’s hard of hearing. Startle-eyed, he flings his arms in the air, moans, and gets up in slow motion. I hand him the phone, and I’m about to go back to bed when I hear him grunt and gag in lament and tears. Alarmed, I sit next to him until he hangs up.
Liliana a murit. “Liliana died! She’s dead, she’s dead!” No. She was only 40 years old.”
“What happened?”
Father cannot speak. He whimpers and splutters, pain suffocating him. The next evening at JFK airport, my heart follows his frail silhouette until feeble and disoriented it vanishes through customs. Two days later, I call, his voice sorrow–satiated, sounds gruffer than ever, and I can just picture him lighting up a chain of cigarettes, gulping mugs of black coffee, and forgetting to eat.
Story has it that Liliana celebrated her 40th birthday in Father’s house she invited friends and neighbors. Red wine is poured from Father’s drums until the night hours turned small and Liliana was having a ball. Loud and bubbly, she cheered with every sip of aroma packed Merlot. She nipped and puffed often, through two packs of Marlboro. As she’s about to entertain the guests with a funny tale, she starts speaking then suddenly falls off her chair and thuds to the floor. The hollers shake the windowpanes and Liliana’s still on the floor, her guests continue to laugh as if her fall is part of an amusing act but minutes later they clamor over her unresponsive body.
Someone calls an ambulance. Paramedics arrive after the guests help themselves to Father’s belongings. They pronounce her dead on the scene, and her body is transported to the city morgue. The autopsy revealed that Liliana’s 40 years were a miracle, for she suffered from congenital heart disease—the same disease that killed her two sons before the age of 5.
Father buries her in the same casket with his heart, and three months later only his shadow arrives back at JFK. I’m shocked at how much weight he’s lost and at the sorrow carved deep into his hollow eyes. Father never recovered from this loss.