prose

Ivana Kovačić: Parafairytale (two excerpts from the novel)

lvana Kovačić was born in 1979 in Split. She finished elementary and high school on the island of Hvar, and studied Croatian and Russian languages and literature at the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb. She does various occasional jobs, translation, writing and participation in art and activist projects. She lives in Zagreb. Her novel Parafairytale (2013) - which touches on motives of a father’s death and coming out - had a very good critical reception.



Sparklers

 

Grandpa held the best food was eels, prosciutto and lamb.

He hadn't gotten out of bed for the seventh day. At night, Mom, Dad and Uncle took turns watching him. They asked if he wanted any food, but he couldn't. He was spitting blood.

- Don't you worry, you'll still be a fox when you're eighty years old - he told Mom that night as she sat by his side.

At the end of the first year I was waiting for an exam with a group of students, many of which I didn't know. I saw one girl looking at me and smiling. Her name was Brita.

- What up, you? - she spoke to me with a smile.

- Steiger - I replied.

In the end, the exam was postponed and she invited me over to study together.

On our last Christmas together, three months before Grandpa was bedridden, there was maybe an hour left 'til lunch. Everyone was tense and moving around the house, Mom and Grandma were cooking. The Christmas tree was decorated and for the first time it had sparklers on it. The balls were Grandma's family heirlooms, she brought them as "dowry" along with the Nativity scene. My sister and I were squirming on the couch. She, of course, couldn't wait for the sparklers to be lit.

- This ought to end - said Grandpa when Uncle came to relieve Mom of her shift.

We lay in the near dark of Brita's living room. Here you could no longer see the sky-blue eyes that shone in the hallway of the university. In a room with dim light, I saw only pupils through which I wanted to pass, so I could see those eyes again.

- Just one. To see what it looks like. Nobody will even notice. - my sister was pushing.

I agreed and she lit the sparkler. We were watching it sparkle, when Grandpa passed from the kitchen through the living room. He couldn't see well and it looks like he hadn't noticed anything. He disappeared into the hallway. The sparks turned the dry pine needles into a real bonfire. The whole Christmas tree went up in flames immediately and the fire caught the big wall closet.

At one moment, before they put it all out, Grandpa grabbed our hands and locked us in his room. He didn't let anyone touch us. We huddled on his bed and waited for him to call us when he calmed everyone down.

On his last night, in the armchair on the right side of that large bed, around five o'clock in the morning, sat Dad instead of Uncle.

- My Ivan, life goes by like a dream. I see you know as a boy, riding your bike on the square. Not a soul around, just one woman, and you go straight for her and knock her down. - Grandpa spoke.

In the morning they called a priest.

Brita's nipple was big, much bigger than mine, and when I moved towards it with my tongue I felt like I was crossing the island square in winter, alone and eyes without pupils were looking at me from behind the windows.

 

(...)

 

As soon as Grandpa died, Grandma's chin which had shaken uncontrollably for the last twenty years or so was suddenly stilled. Calm seas. Everybody whispered about it behind her back. Grandma didn't comment on any of it. Soon the rest of the family moved to the New House, and she was left alone in the Old, enjoying complete silence and solitude. One morning she was peeling potatoes, missed the chair and broke her hip. As she was lying, deep wounds opened in her hips, wounds in which worms could appear. Dad bought shoes for her funeral and for the last few days, to break them in, he brought her lunch wearing them. He came back and tearfully said she told him he has lovely shoes. He liked to cry, and if he didn't have a good reason for it, he'd make something up. He'd always start reading the newspaper from the obituaries.

In the New House, around a month before it was discovered he was ill, he came to my room teary-eyed and gave me the membership card of the water polo club he played for as a young man. Throughout the illness, he pretended he would fight and accepted all of Mom's suggestions, more out of courtesy than out of a real desire for life. His favourite thing was sitting under the fig tree in the yard, rolling his eyes and opening his mouth like a fish on dry land. It was a special dying performance, which was funny while he could get out of the house nd sit under the fig tree.

I wanted him to fight, but it seemed, if he didn't make it, it was no less important that I find a good quote for his obituary, worthy of all his tears and stirred emotions. I started thinking about that much sooner than he started thinking about a suit and new shoes for Grandma's funeral.

 

I picked the end of Turgenev's "Fathers and Sons":

 

..."Is not love, sacred, true love omnipotent? Oh no! However passionate, sinful, rebellious the heart that hides in the grave, the flowers that grow on it calmly gaze upon us with their  innocent eyes; they tell us not only about the eternal peace, of that great peace of 'indifferent' nature; it tells us also of eternal reconciliation and eternal life..."

I was happy with that for a while, and then I too felt the strange urge to break in my shoes.

 

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