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from the February 2015 issue

Bermuda Triangle

Happy Endings, composed between 2002 and 2005 in Canada while Blažková was taking care of her husband, a renowned economist who suffered a stroke, is written in the form of letters addressed to a friend in Slovakia. This is the first out of thirteen letters.

Dear E.,

You asked how things were going, and I’ve decided to stop complaining—from now on I will only write cheerful things.

Here’s how you could picture us. The street where we live is a Bermuda Triangle. Across from us to the left lives a Dutch couple. He’s a former school janitor; she’s a real shrew, running the household with an iron fist. They’re both pushing eighty; the janitor has leukemia. I always get an earful of complaints about him from his wife. If he’s not sleeping, he’s in the basement polishing the shoes for his cremation. He just can’t wait, which drives the old hag mad. Whenever he goes downstairs, she plots her revenge upstairs. She makes travel plans. (She has some money from an inheritance.) Her passion is seafaring, so she peruses cruise catalogs—should they sail to Mexico this time or to the shores of the Virgin Islands? She loves ocean liners—they are elegant, and there’s no need to lug your bags anywhere, or to schlep yourself from one hotel to another. You get to sit around on the deck sipping your white wine, yet you’re constantly in motion. Last year she dragged him out to some inferno near Venezuela, and then she ended up complaining bitterly. The janitor had sulked the whole time—he stayed in their cabin and slept. Which is all he does now (when he’s not in the middle of brushing his cremation suit), and he refuses to run around to the various Christian fellowships with her or go door to door delivering religious tracts exhorting the need to love thy neighbor.

The house directly across from us is the right corner of our Bermuda Triangle. Another school janitor used to live there, from Britain, but he doesn’t anymore. He’s in a nursing home now (for two years already, and nursing homes are a ridiculously expensive proposition around here). His wife keeps track of every penny, talks about the various tubes that are draining water from his brain, and makes a trip to see him once a week. Some days she comes back full of hope that he’s on his last legs. They’ve disconnected his tubes. She takes home his bathrobe and his bedroom slippers; after all, those could still come in handy.

Nothing happens for three days. Then I inquire how Arthur’s doing. “Don’t even ask,” the janitor’s wife replies with a frustrated wave of her hand. “Would you believe it, he’s pulled through again!” And his robe and slippers go right back.

The bottom of the triangle is our Slavic abode, where, following a stroke, my brilliant husband has turned into a little birdie, a poor helpless thing. He counts the fingers on his right hand, and he’s excited to have four of them. Counting to five is beyond him.

So that’s how we live in our fateful triangle, and I recall the days when we used to guess who Godot was in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. We thought it must have been God, who would intervene at some point and propel the two absurd clowns from their senseless kicking to a more meaningful way of life; there had to be a way out for them.

Now I fear that Godot is someone else, the grim reaper, the final way out. And what’s beyond? God only knows, but we’re sure to find out too.

Meanwhile the janitor on the left is tirelessly polishing his cremation shoes, and the janitor’s wife on the right is taking his robe and slippers back and forth and gripes: “Can you believe it? Down at that end of the street a man died, just like that, out of the blue! And we just keep on waiting and waiting in vain!”

As for me, I keep making porridge for my little birdie, washing his helpless little hands, each of which has five fingers, though only four are accounted for.

I think about Godot. I can’t decide whether I should be on the lookout for him as if he were the coming spring or the mailman, or whether I should send him right back to Beckett and his absurd clowns. If only we knew what to wish for.

This then, Eva, is my cheerful letter about us and about our Bermuda Triangle.

Hugs, write back soon!

Your School Janitor

From Happyendy. © Jaroslava Blažková. Translation © 2015 by Magdalena Mullek. All rights reserved.

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