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from the March 2017 issue


In the following excerpt from her novel Adriana, Theodora Dimova weaves a tale of another poète maudit.


Adriana was venomous, irritable, depraved, evil, decadently damned, I’m like a line of Baudelaire, she was thinking, and it was over for me long ago, the decision was made long ago, and I have no way backward or forward, and I have no way, her beauty was blossoming over the mire of vices, her skin was becoming more milky white, her bones growing thicker, blacker and shinier, the more nights she passed in perversion, the more young and innocent she looked, the sin and excesses were only feeding her beauty, only in her eyes could you sense the stifled beast, but she hid them, hid her eyes from people, so as not to frighten them, to be able to be with them, to not be alone in her corruption, to be with people, with people after all and not with animals like in her paintings, the hidden beast crouched in her eyes alone, the eyes of a lynx, a wildcat, eyes that frightened people, she was among the fallen, the depraved, the whorish, the sinful, the egotistical, the Herodites who lustfully wrap themselves around their debauched idols, she was decay itself, she was rotted away and disgusted, she reviled herself and there was no salvation, there was no salvation. I purposely don't want to go into the particulars, I purposely don't want to spell out the details, she told Yura. They are ugly things and you shouldn't know the particulars, the details, because the bottom and the fall always drag you downward, always suck you in, they are a gaping maw that destroys a person, no matter what he is, even in his final hour the fall and the bottom are ready to suck him in, to them every human hour is precious, be it first or last, and in your final moment you can be depraved, profligate, sinful, you can be dying in defilement and that will be the spirit of the bottom and the fall, which are stalking you everywhere, they are always stalking, Yura, remember that, it's why I never show you any of those paintings, because their monstrousness can infect our souls and that's why I don't tell you the particulars and the details about the bottom and the fall, because they could latch onto you and make you sick some day, my child. Once and for all I had cast my lot with the evil and the damned. Once and for all I had decided that the bottom and the fall were irreversible and insurmountable. Actually, she had always wanted to kill herself, Theodore, that was her illness, she didn't want to live, suicide had enchanted her even as a child, it hypnotized her, she had a hazy sense that she had to be able to squander life itself, since she was so rich, since she was a squanderer, then she would squander to the extreme, she would squander her very life, she would never allow herself to be a half-squanderer, a half-waster, with her scope and power she couldn't allow herself to live with half-truths, with half-gestures, if something existed, then it had to exist in its extremity, in its totality, in its finality, and since she was so inconceivably rich she had to be rich with her life and her fate, too, she had to waste them, scatter them among mere mortals, not saving her years, her health, or her life for herself, she couldn't care for her life like the half-poor, like the half-rich, who trembled over it, she must be able to be ready at any moment to lose her life. Thus suicide stalked her everywhere. As if it were close to her and with each passing day drew nearer, luring her, tempting her, eating away a part of her, she was sure of her destiny, of her fatal predestination, that's why she so greedily scooped up pleasures, why she gorged herself on her debauchery and her lust, on her perversions, on her insatiable hunger for self-destruction, self-extinction, self-effacement. She was very depraved, Theodore, which showed in her pictures as well, because I forgot to tell you, maybe on purpose, maybe not, that the pictures had fornication, people fornicating with animals, but I can't even talk about it or say it anymore, it's impossible for me to say it and describe it, Theodore, the ecstasy of those people in her paintings as they fornicated, in fact it can't really be called ecstasy at all, but a paroxysm or who knows what, Theodore, you know the words better than I do, I was so depraved, Adriana was saying, that people didn't even dare talk about me from shame, because they would've had to say such things, they didn't dare share them, they even blushed when they heard certain details about them, those details repulsed even their furiously inflamed imaginations, they were ashamed to tell those stories and for precisely this reason they never reached my parents' ears, well maybe they reached my father's ears, but most likely he waved them off as phantasmagorical or absolutely implausible stories, as stupidity or jealousy, despite the fact those who most bitterly envied him at that time would never dare tell him those stories, out of pity for such a father, while even his most wolfish enemies couldn't fully describe his corrupted daughter's outrageous orgies—the strangest thing, Yura, is that it never gave me any satisfaction, fleeting at best, I was simply enchanted by my fall, enchanted by the bottom, there's a fair bit of charm in the fall and the bottom at first, as in anything new, but after that it becomes no less boring than everything else and quickly gets tiresome, I don't feel like describing the details, not because they're shameful or perverted, I assume you can sense that the shame over these excesses has long since left me, I don't feel like describing them, because they are essentially boring, the shamefully boring details of a fall, a self-destuction, because a fall, Yura, a self-destruction should also be brilliant and spectacular or a least artistic and infectious, it should at least fill up your whole soul with sinfulness, it should at least guarantee you hit the bottom so that afterward you can fall on your knees and cry, but that was a luxury that depravity and perversion cannot guarantee, Yura, and my imagination was already rotting, it kept rotting away and decomposing and I couldn't manage to think up different, ever newer perversions because of the laziness that immobilized me, because of the disgust I felt for myself, after all, the whiskey bottle and the cigarettes were a far more acceptable state and in that alcoholic stupor I wanted to kill myself more than ever, it was as if I was taunting suicide to come even closer, so that it would be over with, I told myself this is it, after this squalor I can't go on living, I have no place in this world, I have no right to pollute it with my presence, I have no right to the dawn and so I kept staying in my room and drawing the curtains and lying there and drinking Luminal and falling into a narcotic sleep, and waking up and drinking Luminal again, because otherwise I would've had to drink whiskey, I didn't want to be conscious, I wanted my consciousness to disappear in a fog, so I wouldn't feel the annoyance, disgust, boredom, the feeling that you don't have anything to do, that every single moment you don't know what to do with yourself and with the world and that there's nowhere to go and there's nowhere to hide except for in the whiskey and sleep and that sleep was like death, Yura, such an intolerance toward living that the only escape was death. As if my days were measured out on some kind of scale full of red liquid that kept on decreasing. I was seeing it—how my blood was flowing away and when it was gone I would have to swallow a handful of Lunimal and it would be that. It would be over. It would be a complicated ending. It was exactly that feeling. That feeling that suicide is stalking you everywhere. That you've fallen into its clutches and there's no getting away. That it's the only possible thing, the only good thing, that it's a question of a very short time, a question of a few weeks, until the end of summer. Because summer with its magnificence was absolutely impossible for that suicide, as strange as it may sound, Yura, the summer and its azures would never accept a suicide, as absurd as that logic must seem to you. It wouldn't give it the proper respect, the proper disgust. My suicide and all its blackness would sink into the blues and azures of the summer, the greens would also swallow it up, not a trace would remain of the suicide and its blackness. So I just had to wait until the end of summer, to wait until the end of that magnificence and that blue, the end of the immensity and warmth of the sea unfurling  during the summer, the end of those bottomless blue skies and stars by night. It was decided. The decision was made. The end of the summer. That sense of predestination, the certainty that you would do it. Even now, a century later, Adriana burst out laughing with her abrupt laugh, which shot out like a bat, her bat-laughter, she always laughed like that when the question of her age came up, of my ancient age, as she put it, don't think it's pleasant, Yura, to be ninety-three years old, but it's not up to you, just like it's not up to you to be so beautiful, to have that auburn hair and brown eyes, you have nothing whatsoever to do with it, Yura, it's up to God, not you, if you get what I'm saying, but you have to reach my age to understand that fate doesn't tolerate categorical human decisions, not only does it foil them but it laughs out loud in the most unpardonable way, it snickers, it mocks them. One morning I not only got up relatively early, not only did I manage to get up and eat breakfast in a relatively good mood, but I also managed to end up on the city beach with Chervenko trailing two steps behind me, of course, I ended up on the beach among the hordes, the multitude, the rabble—I was starting to draw a picture for which I needed nude bodies and corporality, the faces were of no importance, they didn't even need to be visible, the bodies interested me, the physical flaccidness, the physical ugliness and deformity, I think—and here again the abrupt bat-laughter—I think, that I was hungering to meet a model just like I am at the moment, I wanted to meet myself at ninety-three, despite the fact that back then I didn't know yet—such ancient creatures never go to the beach, so as not to insult the sea with their presence, or they only go to empty, completely deserted, and wild beaches. If I had seen myself then, I would have immediately liked myself, drawn myself, back then I was searching for a physical form exactly like I am now, Yura, almost deformed, on radiant August Day, in the magnificence of August and sun, in the cutting, cruel lustre of August, in the brilliance-soaked morning, I ended up not somewhere else, but on the beach, the city beach, among the hordes, the multitude, the rabble, to search for myself at ninety-three without any way of finding myself, I would've been intoxicated with happiness if I had found a model like myself as I am now, I wouldn't have believed my eyes, if I had imagined myself at ninety-three, the crookedness of these bones of mine would've seemed inconceivable, the twistedness of every one of my fingers would have enchanted me, this skin hanging like a wet sheet over bent bones would have seemed devastating to me, the countless wrinkles on my so-called face would have been the biggest provocation, if I had met myself then, I would've paid that model well, too well, I would've rented her and bought her up until the end of her life, I would've painted her and studied her enraptured, because I would've been sure that she was God's joke on man—to allow a creature to exist in that form, at that age, but no, I didn't meet myself then on the beach on that August morning soaked in brilliance, sun and blue, I didn't meet myself, although I was feverishly searching the city beach, among the hordes, the multitude, I was walking along the beach and shamelessly looking at the bodies, searching for my ninety-three-year-old body, to astonish me with its shrunkenness and implausibility, with its perfect monstrousness, I was searching for myself like an ancient hunter who must snare his prey so as not to die of starvation, I was searching for myself to have material proof of God's irony toward the world.


© Theodora Dimova. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2017 by Angela Rodel. All rights reserved.

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