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from the January 2005 issue

from Snow White and Russian Red

Magda comes in, but without Eric. She looks like something's happened, like she's been shattered into little pieces, her hair this way, her handbag that way, her dress to the left, her earrings to the right. Her panty hose all muddy on the left. Her face on the right, black tears flowing from her eyes. Like she'd been fighting in the Polish-Russki war, like the whole Polish-Russki army had trampled her, running through the park. All my feelings come back to life within me. The whole situation. Social and economic in the country. It's the whole her, it's all of her. She's drunk, she's ruined. She's hopped up on speed, she's stoned. She's never been so ugly. Black tears are running down her chin, because her heart is as black as coal. Her womb is black and tattered. A tear is running through her whole womb. From that womb she'll give birth to some Negro kid, black. Angela, with a rotten face, a tail. She won't get far with that kind of kid. They won't let her into a taxi, they won't sell her white milk. She'll lie down on the black earth of vacant lots. She'll live in greenhouses. Eaten by grubs, eaten by worms. She'll feed that kid black milk from her black breasts. She'll feed it garden soil. But it'll die sooner or later anyway.

Arleta comes up. I tell her to let Magda know that I hope she eats shit and dies. Arleta blows a bubble with her gum. After which she winds the gum around her finger and eats it. She makes it look like nothing else is going on in her life, she just blows bubbles and winds them around her finger. Like that's her job, for which she makes totally good cash and uses it to buy herself all those rags, all those Russki cigs. She could star in Funniest Home Videos with all that portable crap. Arleta says I have shit for brains, that I shouldn't say what I'm saying, because it could come true. She says that's already happened to her a couple times. For example, in school she told the vo-tech teacher to drop dead, and then she allegedly ended up in the maternity ward, confined to her bed. Likewise, she allegedly once said "break a leg" to a friend in her phys-ed class, and that girl broke her pinky finger. She also says that she never smokes LMs, because they're unhealthy and are the most carcinogenic cigarettes. She's also supposedly superstitious and makes sure she doesn't say anything jinx-worthy. If you say something, and it happens to be the witching hour, there's no way out and it'll happen, and you can't take it back, there's no "I'm sorry." It's something maybe connected with religion, with the life of the paranormal, it's a certain quality of paramental life.

But what Arleta has to say on this score, I don't give a shit, with all due respect. Where was Magda with Eric, I'm asking you, I say to Arleta. You fucking godmother. The two of you will have all those bastard kids together, they won't let you into a single goddamn place. Tell me what he did to her, that thief. He stole her clean heart, all her delicateness, all her hair, he ruined her panty hose, made her cry. He hurt her. And I'm going to crush him for it, but later. Now I want to know, Arleta.

But from her jeans pocket, however, the right tone rings out and Arleta receives a text message. It would be great to talk to me if I weren't such an asshole, she says, and goes somewhere fast. Then the Bartender comes up and says to me that there's shit going down. I say, Like, what kind of shit. So he says that Magda was always a bit given to hysterics, that she loses it pretty easily. I say, Like, so what's up. And I'm already pretty fucking pissed, because I don't like when things don't go according to plan.

So he says that there was once some story about Magda going around. Not a story, really, but the Bartender's not a bad fucker, so instead of Magda telling me about it herself, he says it in her place.

Then I go to the john, because Arleta's calling me, she's all smoked out, she's smoking two menthols at once, LMs at that, she's holding both in one corner of her mouth, and with her other hand she's holding Magda up. I'm a bit uneasy, because I know that Magda hurt me, that she fucked me up. So I ask what happened. She says it's a cramp. I say that maybe it's the speed, that it's too much speed. Arleta says that she'll leave us alone then and closes the door from the outside. So I'm waiting. Magda has a cramp in her calf and is sitting on the toilet. She's holding on to her calf with her left hand, at the same time crying, at the same time being hysterical. Now I don't even know whether she's beautiful or ugly, and actually it's hard for me to say. One thing's for sure: she's pretty in general, but currently in bad shape, if it's a question of her looks, since her black tears are everywhere, and her mascara is gushing like from a rainspout, her panty hose are torn down to the skin, as though they were way too large anyway, and her face is pretty tenderized-it reminds me, not to be unpleasant, of a red fire engine. Thus I'm mulling over whether I still love her when she moans pretty loudly, not even looking me in the eye or saying a single word to me. But then I almost can't stand it anymore.

Did I do something wrong, Magda-I say to her and latch the door. Did I do something wrong, that we wouldn't be able to start all over again? You always looked happy when I loved you, why don't you want me now all of a sudden, is it some whim, did I bore you? Remember that time those cop bitches were writing you up at the stop, and though you were there with Masztal then, and though they wrote you up with him, and though you know that he'd been caught dealing. Who was it who went to check your mailbox so that your parents wouldn't get the police summons while you were at work? Did Saint Joseph check? Did Masztal go check even once? Tell me yourself, wasn't I good? Lovey-dovey, romantic shitdrops.

Now you don't know what to say. You moan and I'll tell you it's a shame, because now you're nothing, you're like a kid, you're embarrassing yourself so bad. You're staring at these brown tiles that've seen us together more than once, how we were so very close to each other, the way only a girl or a woman can be with a man. We're still repeating on that tile, whatever happened before, I'll tell you that much.

Your name is pretty, Magda, just like your face. Your hands are pretty, your fingers, your nails, can't we stay together? If you want, I'll take you away from here to anyplace you want. Maybe even to the hospital, if that's absolutely necessary. You're asking yourself if I've been drinking, well, so I've been drinking, but it's nobody's fucking business if I've been drinking or not. If we're going, let's get in the car and go, I'll take you everywhere, even if ten thousand Russkies want to give us drug and alcohol tests. You tell me not to bullshit you, to get off it. You say that maybe it's the cramp in your calf, that you took the test and maybe it's possible that you're pregnant, though you're not absolutely sure about that. You say that that's why you chickened out, why you didn't want to be with me anymore, because you knew I'd be mad. Tell me when I've been mad at you for longer than a day? If you have a kid, and maybe it's even my kid, you can always go to the doctor and check it out one hundred percent. And in the meantime, we're going. I take Magda in my arms and she screams bloody murder, just lets out a roar, though just a moment ago she was hushed and meek like she was sleeping. Arleta runs up right away with that bubble sticking out of her mouth, she wants to know everything that's going on, what's with that cramp and whether Magda wants some help from her end, some water, some Tylenol. I tell Arleta to fuck off, and the same to the Bartender, who's staring like he doesn't know what's up. Others are looking on stupidly as well, Lefty, Kacper, Kisiel also with some girl I don't even know, she must be new, though not too bad, the music's blaring, what a fucking mess. Arleta's sent me a text message that it could probably be a lack of permanganate or potassium in the blood, considering her bad nutritional habits. I write back to her that she should fuck off, since I would write more but my phone's running out of batteries, and the only thing I can manage is exactly that: fuck off arl. I would write more, that she should take her bad prognostication, her bad instigations, since she's probably the one who provoked Magda to get such a very painful cramp with her paranormal fucking cursing, her incantations about that geography teacher.

So then we leave and I put Magda into the first taxi, then I get in myself, she says we're going to the hospital, and he, whether something has happened. I say, Is this an interview for the newspaper or is this a taxi, and is this a confession of sins and an absolution, are you driving us, because otherwise I'm getting out and Magda's coming with me, no fare and on top of that a rock through the windshield, and maybe he shouldn't show himself in town. He says nothing for a moment, and then puts in that lately we're supposedly fighting the Russkies under a white-and-red flag. I say, Surely, though we're not really so very radical on that issue. Magda says that she's really against the Russkies. Now I get pissed off, I say: And how do you know you're against them, exactly? The radio's on, the news is on, various songs. She says that's just what she thinks. I say that she's on speed and laying down a big judgment, laying down big opinions, how does she know she really thinks that way and not some other way? She's a little afraid. I tell her to leave me alone, not to piss me off. She moans, because her cramp hasn't gone away.

Then she goes off on her own, tells me not to touch her. She's crippled. She says that I'm brutal, if I so much as touch her I'm going to kill our kid and her. Because she'll burst at the seams and our kid'll die. I'm shaken up enough. In admissions, we're met by the chief or an orthopedist, I don't know anymore, since I'm afraid they'll draw her blood, because besides her lack of potassium, they'll also find her dealings with speed, because now she's sprung like a chicken, they'll find out about the speed and take away her kid. But the main thing is her leg, because the cramp is massive and is metastasizing. The orthopedist tells me to go out during the exam, which pisses the fuck out of me, she's my woman, right? I look him right in the very center of his eye, right into the whites, which are pretty overrun with blood, so he'll know how it is and won't try anything, no orthopedic tricks. Magda begs me with her eyes to be calm, so I calm down a bit. Like most probably it's a shortage of potassium in her muscle that's causing her pain. So then I'm waiting and I'm calm, though it makes me want to blow the shit out of the hospital. Because of that orthopederast and the other pervs who work here, because of those starched princes among them with rods in hand, with stethoscopes, since as far as expressing opinions is concerned, I'm pretty much on the left.

I don't really agree with taxes, and I propose a government without taxes, where my parents won't tear their guts out so that all these smock-sporting princes will have their own apartments and telephone numbers at a time when things aren't like that. At any rate, like I've already said, the economic situation in the country is categorically fucked, the government's ostentatiousness and, generally speaking, the chickenshit authorities. But I'm straying from the topic, which is that Magda leaves the doctor's office. Still crippled. But combed. Fuck whoever combed her. I'm not going into this anymore, since this evening is filled to the brim with stress. She tells me to take her to the sea. I say, How is it she wants to go to the sea with that gangrene on her leg. She says it's fucking fine, Polishly speaking. After which, because there's not a naked soul in the hospital corridors, she rips off some crutches. I say that it's not the hour for the sea. She says exactly, that it's the best hour, and that she wants to go there only with me, probably because this feeling in her that she feels is just for me. I say she's fucked in the brain, but generally I warm a lot to the idea that she loves me and admits as much without a shadow of falsehood.

She says she has this premonition, this impulse almost inside her that she'll die soon, that it's already her time. The kid in her is killing her, Magda says so, it has a prematurely developed set of teeth that makes it gnaw her from the inside, eat through her stomach and then her liver. She says it's already curtains for her, and the sign of this, like stigmata, is that cramped leg, which means the kid is already pulling her strings from the inside. It's destroying her internally, mentally as well, it's simply devastating her, destruction, decomposition. It hurts me, since I probably have a share in this kid as well, and it makes me really sorry for this girl that it's turned out this way, that it's developed inside her. I see how much she suffers, even without considering those crutches, which are supposed to help her but which cause her all the more anguish, since she has on pumps with heels that impede her normal movement. Which is to say that, generally speaking, we're going to the sea. Magda is very enterprising on that end, she should make money off it, in one of those companies that goes to the sea, clips tickets, takes care of everything that deters people from going to the proverbial sea. Regardless of the fact that she's crippled, even given that. All things considered, I say it's already late. She says: So what that it's late. Am I a goddamn idiot who thinks that they're going to close the sea on me if I get there late? Won't the sea be enough for me? I say I have nothing more to say to her on that score. Because if she wants to behave like an asshole, regardless of the fact that we were in the hospital together, that we'd lived through a lot of the worst or the best moments together, and if she has to behave in that way, well thank you very much, let her take my ticket and go herself across those kilometers that'd otherwise be mine as well. And it would be best for her to stay there, because it's the only place for her. Magda says that now I should get off her back, since she's dreaming about something else, and am I going with her or in front of her, she being disabled so she can't walk so fast.

I ask her where she got that speed from, since on her face and in her look in general she's really flushed, unhealthy, to tell the truth, she looks like she just gave birth to the kid, only she lost it somewhere and is currently looking for it around the station. She tells me I'd rather not know, because it's from Vargas. I tell her it's bad shit, impure, cut. She says it's fucking great. I tell her not to get on my nerves, not because it's bad, but that it's shit, and not speed. She says I'm fucking her shit up. I say that it's good how she wants to get fucked up off of Vargas, it's a free country, that bathroom cleaning powder is now hers forever, but if that kid is born a monster, one leg longer, the other shorter, and congenitally hairless, I wouldn't have any hand in that. To that she answers, Good, have it your way, we'll see. And as soon as the train pulls up, as soon as we get on, indeed she takes a circular from the Hit Market and cuts me a line.

And when I wake up by the sea, I remember just enough from the time when I still associated various facts that I'm doing a line through a pen on which it says Zdzislaw Sztorm, Sandworks, something Twelfth of March Street. How I imagine that sand, which is made by modern technology, modernly processed, modernly packed in bags, modernly passed on to manual and active distribution. I remember my thought of a truly economic character that could save the country from the very annihilation I mentioned earlier, an annihilation prepared for the country by the fucking aristocrats, dressed in overcoats, in aprons, who, if only the conditions were right, would sell us, the citizens, to whorehouses in the West, to the German army, for organs, for slave labor. Who finally want to sell our country out, like some old secondhand crap, a bunch of rags and ancient coats labeled Miñsk Mazowiecki, sweaty old belts, if you'll pardon my saying, because the way I look at it, the only way is to drive them out of their homes, to drive them out of the apartment blocks, and to turn our fatherland into a typically agricultural fatherland that produces, even if only for export, normal Polish sand that would have a chance on the global markets in all of Europe. Because these are my quite leftist views, which makes me figure that one would have to expand the garbage system in the apartment blocks in order for the farmers-because in my estimation it is on the farmers that the country should depend-to be able to toss out more crops, living in the apartment blocks, that's what it's all about, that in this way their lives would become more mechanized, simply put, more good.

And now when I wake up, I remember this well, because I could say every word I was thinking, but when I wake up, Magda's no longer here, though maybe she's not here yet or she's not here at all. I get up from the ground, which at this time of night is cold, and I shake off my jeans, I shake off my layers. Magda's not here and I notice it right away, right away I get pissed off, though upon further consideration it turns out that I have both my wallet, which is crucial, as well as my documents. I also don't really know what was going on when my vision of economic nature had already vanished for a time, when I was doing something, before I woke up here. It's worse, more than-forgive the phrase-blacking out. I see all the sand, which I take for economic squander, which, I must confirm with regret, totally pisses me off. Just gives me a raging case of fuckoff-itis. So when I'm walking and I find a plastic bag, without a moment's hesitation I fill it with sand. After which I twist it shut and keep it, since in case I'm out of cash, in case the bottom falls out of the market, it could turn out to be a valuable thing, or rather an asset. Then I find two bags from the Hit Market, which also makes my heart ache, this lack of any kind of economy in a country where perfectly good bags are tossed to the ground and left to waste. And first of all to the mercy of the lumpenproletariat. So that after a solemn promise that Magda will certainly come, since hypothetically she just went to take a leak, I go to get sand. I figure it's necessary to collect it all as quickly as possible. Because if it doesn't end up in our hands, that's it. It will all be snatched up by the traitors.

From Snow White and Russian Red (New York: Grove/Atlantic, forthcoming.) By arrangement with the publisher.

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