Translated from the Greek by Avgi Daferera
Seven whole months without dreams. Seven whole months. It was the twenty-first of May when I had my last dream. I remember it well because it was the last time it rained at Perama and the surrounding area. I remember because Lena was celebrating her name-day and I said it was a good sign that it had rained on the same day and I had had a dream after so long. Since then nothing. No rain no dreams. Death.
Dreams and rain. Who knows. It appears that these two go together now.
Lena doesn’t care about the rain. She doesn’t care it’s Christmas and it’s sixty-eight degrees. She doesn’t care that we go around in short sleeves and that the birds outside are singing as if it were April. Nor does she care about the dreams.
I don’t have dreams either, she says. Better this way. What do I need them for? I always have the same dream that I’m about to fall off a cliff and there is no one there to hold me. Why are you worried about the damn dreams? You should be worried about other things. Yesterday they called again from Kotsovolos Electronics and they were asking about the installments. We owe three installments they said and what’ll happen, is that they’ll take us to court. Do you hear me? To court. She had some nerve, the slut. She had this high and mighty tone as if she was talking to even I don’t know who. I wanted the earth to swallow me. To be humiliated like that by the slut and be unable to say a word. And if we’re taken to court, she said, they’ll make us pay for the legal costs or whatever they’re called. Do you hear me? That’s what you should be worried and bothered about. That. Not about dreams and rain.
She is holding an orange peel and is chopping it with a knife. She’s sliced it into a thousand pieces but she won’t stop. She chops it into small pieces, then smaller and smaller. She’s turned it into a thousand pieces. And she goes on.
Careful, I tell her. Careful not to cut your finger, it’s all we need.
December twenty-first. Saturday evening. In four days it will be Christmas. From the kitchen window I can see the colourful lights blinking on the windows and the balconies and the gardens of the houses. Red green yellow blue. Stars and festoons and Santas and sleighs with little reindeer. Countless lights. As if you’re in an infinite casino and the houses are the slot machines. Cement, poverty and colourful lights—a little of Bangladesh, a little of Las Vegas. The children are cycling in the street and the women are watering pots with blooming flowers. I can see men in shorts barbequing and drinking beers on the rooftops. I can see a bird fluttering around a cage and the bird inside the cage, distraught, fluttering as well. The sky is clear as far as the horizon, the air is dry like the mouth of a scared person. Christmas is around the corner but nothing seems like Christmas. Except for the lights. It seems like Christmas came and went and now it is spring but for some crazy reason people have forgotten to take down the decorations in their houses.
Christmas is around the corner and something around me is burning like a slow-burning fuse. I wonder. I wonder when the fuse will burn completely and the explosion will happen and what will happen next.
The other day I found myself standing in front of a shop with hunting gear, looking at the knives and the pocketknives in the window. And then I went in and I bought a Buck knife, American, with a twenty-centimetre blade. A heavy one that can cause damage, you weigh it in your hand and your mind darkens. I carry it in my boot, just in case, as they say. I didn’t tell Lena a thing. And at night when I don’t sleep my mind goes only to such kind of things. Fuses and explosions and guns and knives. And I say, what the hell is happening, where is this going. And I am scared.
And Lena is chopping orange peels on the kitchen table. Silent, she is chopping them with the knife and nothing is heard in the house now. A silence has fallen like no other, the silence before the earthquake that they talk about. And I tell myself that if there is an earthquake maybe the weather will change, maybe it will rain, maybe everything will freeze, maybe it will snow. I say that if there is an earthquake and the world shakes maybe something will change. And I am frightened that I think that. Without any goodness, what kind of life can you live, I say to myself.
What kind of life can you live when you’re waiting for bad things to save you from bad things.
There’s half a bottle of wine left from yesterday. I fill a glass in a supposedly indifferent manner, as if it’s water and Lena looks at me and is about to say something but I speak first.
On Monday, I say. On Monday when I get the bonus, I’ll go pay Kotsovolos. Okay?
Oh, alright, she says. Okay. Now I’m not worried, she says.
She takes a new slice of orange peel and she starts chopping it with the knife. Her fingers have become yellow.
Do you, by any chance, have any idea how much we owe, she asks. Take a piece of paper and write. Two months maintenance, two hundred euro. The car insurance expired on the fifteenth. Another two hundred. Rent. Kotsovolos. A hundred and forty for electricity. The fuckingcards of the fuckingbank of fuckingCyprus. Two of my teeth need fixing. I’ll reach forty and my teeth will fall out. Imagine the money the dentist will need. Why aren’t you writing? Write. Write that in order to get by we need to get the Christmas bonus and the Easter bonus and next Christmas’s bonus and next Easter’s bonus. Write. Write.
I grab the knife from her hands and I throw it in the sink. She looks at me like I’m a stain on a white cloth and then she opens the drawer and takes another knife out and again starts chopping the peel she left in the middle. Her fingers have become yellow and are trembling.
Lena, I say.
Write, she says.
I look outside the window. The sky. The sky is a strange colour again tonight. That grey of the reverse side of cardboard. Infinite grey. With no sun with no moon with no stars. Neither day nor night.
Not the sky but its reverse side.
With my second glass Lena peels a second orange and slices the peel in small curls that she puts aside one next to the other. Her nails have become yellow. The knife has become yellow. The table has become yellow too. I am contemplating whether I should bring my knife and sit opposite her and start chopping orange peel as well. To forget. To not see the sky that has the colour of the clouds but doesn’t even have a trace of clouds.
I’ll ask Nicolas to lend us, she says.
Nicolas who? Saint?
A grand. For emergencies. And we’ll see.
Don’t get pissed off. He is your brother after all. If your brother doesn’t help you who will? Sonia has told me a hundred times. Whenever you want she said. We are fine now she said. They’ll go to Paris for New Year’s Eve, did you know that? They are going to Disneyland. They wanted to go to Asterix’s Village but it’s closed during winter. It opens in March or April I think. They’ll also go to Morrison’s grave.
She stops chopping and looks out of the window. A thread from the orange has stuck to her chin and is hanging like a small rope that was cut over chaos.
Morrison, she says. How many years. How I loved him when I was younger. A great love. A passion. People are strange. People are strange when you’re a stranger faces look ugly when you’re alone.
She sings with a sweet and hoarse voice and she chops the orange peel and as she sings her voice sounds like a lullaby in the silence of the house and I say to myself that I’d like us to sleep now for many hours, sleep for whole days and when we wake up I want it to be evening and I want it to rain outside and I want us to drink cocoa and eat cinnamon cookies with sesame and then to go out on the balcony and smell the rain and the wet earth and I want everything to be gone—no knives no fuses no rents no debts—all of this to be gone and for us to have woken up new, strange people with no nostalgia. Nostalgia. A mangy dog with gum in its eyes licking its wounds tricking you to reach out your hand to pet it so it can bite you with all its strength.
I lean forward and take the thread of orange from her chin and roll it into a little ball and throw it in the sink.
On Monday, I say. On Monday I’ll take care of everything, I say. On my own. Without Nicolas or Sonia. Okay?
She looks at me and then looks away.
I never expected this, she says.
And then she cuts herself. The knife slips and cuts her thumb. She doesn’t make a sound though, she doesn’t say anything. She lets the blood flow, she looks at it calmly and indifferently like the heroes do on television. I try to hold her hand but she pulls away, she won’t let me. She licks the blood, she sucks it, and then she gets a napkin and wraps her finger. She looks at me with her lips tight and she tightens the napkin around the wound and the napkin turns red redder black.
Let me see, I say. Lenaki, I say. It’s me. We’re not enemies. It’s me.
But she looks at me like I’m the knife.
On Christmas Eve I think I have a dream. I say I think because I’ve been seeing things in bed at night for a long time, and I know that they look like dreams but they aren’t because I know that when I see them I’m awake. But I don’t know anymore when I’m sleeping and when I’m awake. It seems that these two have become one—or none. The weather must be to blame. It must be because it hasn’t rained in seven months and it’s December but outside it’s spring and the sun is burning like two suns together and every night I remember the winters gone by and the frost and the rains and the snows gone by. And there are nights when I get up like a sleepwalker and I open the closet and I stick my head in and I smell the winter clothes and I am overcome by a bitterness like no other when I see the winter clothes hanging in the closet and I wonder whether we’ll ever wear them again or they’ll stay in there forever to be eaten by the dust and moths, ghosts of winters past, ghosts of life past, ghosts of us.
I dream that there has been a cataclysm and the whole world has been flooded and I am swimming with Lena in an unknown foreign place. We are swimming, anxious to be saved and there is no soul around us, no houses, no cars, only water—black thick water, dirty water that sticks to us like something alive and scared. And as I swim I hear Lena next to me say that the water is indeed alive and that it’s clinging to us because it wants to be saved from itself—that’s what she says, from itself. The water wants to be saved from water—that’s the sort of nice dream I’m having. And then a huge tree with bare branches appears in front of us. I don’t know what kind of tree it is but it’s very big and sitting on its branches are many birds—little red birds—that we see moving their wings manically, but they cannot fly. We reach them and then Lena says that we have to help the birds fly so they can leave the branches because the water is rising and will drown them. But, the moment she clutches a bird the bird disappears and all that’s left in her hands is a bunch of feathers that are not red but black. She clutches a second bird and a third but nothing changes—the birds disappear the moment she touches them and her hands fill with black feathers. Then I try to clutch a bird and my hands are filled with black feathers as well and the water around us becomes blacker and is rising higher and it weighs me down and it clings to me and it pulls me down deep deep deep.
Wake up, Lena says. Why are you moaning like that, she says and shakes me. You frightened me. Wake up.
She’s leaning over me and in the darkness her face is darker than darkness.
What did you see? Why did you scream? What did you see?
Nothing. Go to sleep.
What did you see? Tell me.
Nothing. That is was raining. Go to sleep now.
She falls back and sighs. Then nothing is heard, just the clock’s ticking. The sheet is twisted around my legs and is constricting me but I don’t have the strength to throw it off.
See, Lena says. It’s a good sign. See you shouldn’t despair? See?
And then she sits up and puts her hand on my neck and kisses me on the temple.
On Christmas day the weather changes. At noon clouds come out and by three the sky has got dark. Sonia calls to say Merry Christmas. They are in the mountainous area of Pelion with friends. It’s been raining all day there, she says. So much rain, a real rainstorm. I’ll fill a bottle with rain and I’ll bring it to you, she says and laughs. Everybody is drunk, the whole gang. They are staying at a hotel with a tavern that has organic meat, organic vegetables, organic cutlery. Their room has a fireplace and a four-poster bed and the walls are painted in crazy colours. Lucky you, Lena says and looks at me. Then she asks her when they are coming back, whether they have time to meet before they leave for Paris. I want to ask you something, Lena tells her—and she keeps looking at me. About the thing we talked about the other day. Remember? Yes. No. I’m alright. Sure. We’ll talk about it in person.
When she hangs up, we take our glasses and go out on the balcony. So, it’s going to rain. A cloud standing like a black wall is coming our way from the direction of the island of Salamina. It is going to rain. But the wind doesn’t smell of rain. A strange wind. It is blowing from the east, in the opposite direction of the cloud, but the cloud is forcefully coming our way. As if it weren’t a cloud but something else. The electricity lines are whistling, iron gates are banging, car alarms are screeching. The trees bend to the wind’s blowing, as do the TV aerials. The wind carries leaves, bags, papers. An ornament in the shape of a star is detached from a balcony and falls on the street and rolls like a weird wheel. It’s blowing wildly and steadily westwards as if the cloud is a huge magnet that is determined to pull to it all the things in the world, to suck in all the wind in the world.
Look there, Lena says and she clasps my arm. What’s that, she says and points to the cloud. Heaven help us. Look. Have you seen anything like it? What is it?
And then we see the rain. Long black strings that are hanging from the cloud and seem to unite the earth with the sky.
It’s the end of the world, I say and Lena laughs as if she is out of breath and she’s clinging to me and she licks a drop of wine that has spilled onto her hand.
Maybe the end of the world will arrive in a similar way, I say. Maybe not though. Maybe the world won’t end but just people. Maybe people will stop having dreams or sleeping or making love or drinking wine or kissing. Something like that. Maybe that is how the end will arrive. Not from meteorites or nuclear weapons or the melting of the ice. Not from explosions and earthquakes and hurricanes. Not from the without but from within. That is the right way for it to happen. Because we live in the world but not with it. We stopped living with the world centuries ago. It would be unfair then, for the world to end with us. Very unfair.
The cloud is getting bigger now and it is hiding the sea from us.
A fake Christmas tree falls from the balcony across the street and is silently twisting as it falls in the emptiness. I think it is the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
But no, I say. The scariest thing is working. Waiting every fifteenth and thirtieth of the month to get paid. Counting your life in fortnights. Knowing that if your bosses fancy not paying you for one and two and ten fortnights you can’t do anything about it. Your whole life is in their hands. Counting your life in fortnights. That’s the scariest.
I’m going inside, Lena says. I can’t stand you when you talk like that. I don’t want to look. Come on, let’s go inside.
But we don’t go anywhere. With the glasses in our hands we stand wordlessly and we look at the rain approaching from the west. We look at the black curtain closing slowly and soundlessly, slowly and soundlessly swallowing the shapes the colours the noise of the west.