A Hypothalamus Knight
Photo: DM Vyleta
A short story by Nenad Velickovic

Translated by Miroslav Prvulovic

My girlfriend thinks that there's no sex without love and, on the contrary, I think that there's no love without sex. We started to discover this deep distinction between us during the first days of war when I had my engagement ring melted into armour and when she did the same, turning her ring into the maiden belt of purity. Since then, we haven't made love for twenty lunar months. We continued to share our apartment, income, and bed in which we had a long conversation about our wedding and my reasons for postponing it, instead of having sex. (It's mostly because I belong to the kind of people who unwillingly marry prospective widows.)

It took me several months to understand what was the matter with us, what was the reason for our total sexual failure, and then I started to make pocket calendars. I have fifteen of them now. There are dates on one side, four columns, and seven rows which make twenty eight days of a lunar month. On the other side there is a picture. Some are photos from sex-magazines, and some are illustrations from similar books. The photos are in colour. There are girls like Blondy on the tennis court, pictured from the back. She has white sneakers on bare feet. Thin ankles, tanned spindly calves, two little furrows on every knee-curve, two spread thighs. She is bent over expecting her opponent's serve. Her short dress has risen up, revealing that she isn't wearing undies. At the bottom of her snowy, tight buttocks, where the thighs are close to each other but not joined completely, a tiny forest of bright and curly little hairs hides itself, transforming the sunset into a spot of golden mist.

The illustrations are mostly reproductions of engravings from Renaissance authors' books. There is a young man on one, a gardener on a swing in the garden, his body reclining on the back of the swing, and his legs stretched out in front of him. He has pulled up his shirt and taken off his pants, revealing the "unsheathed sword ready for action", or "the key of heaven's door", as the Renaissance writers like to call it. There's a nun standing above him. She has straddled him, with one hand holding his cock and with the other holding up her robe, blessing her "martyr" with the second and forefinger.

There are calendars on the back of these pictures, useful only for me. I write down the results of my observations, experiences, and opinions in twenty-eight boxes in which the days of the lunar months are inscribed in black by a laser printer. The seven days with the little red crosses are those on which my girlfriend menstruates. Days that I spend on the front line are marked with golden lilies. Since I'm not a skilful painter, they look like half-peeled bananas. Sundays are marked with the letters "OM" in blue. That's the period in which she practices yoga and has muscle ache for the next two days. She fasts on Sundays too, to deepen her consciousness and save on humanitarian aid. Once every twenty eight days she depilates the hairs from her bikini area. This day is marked with three orange curls. We get electricity every seventh night. We spend this night pouring the water from the bath into the washing machine. I marked these days azure blue. Four days are coloured with traffic signs for danger. Ovulation period. Three days of the full moon that draw out sorrow in women like the tide out of the ocean are marked with yellow circles. Twice a month she interrupts our conversations to smash a moth or to attack the cobwebs in the corners. Then she has to clean up the mess on the doors and windows, and despairs because of the lack of water to clean the carpet and wallpaper. Days like these are marked with a spider's web.

Every fifth day I wake up with butterflies of fear in my chest. Death is an omnipotent censor in every thought of mine. The fear of death is my psychic tumour which I try to cure through abstention. This day is represented in my calendar by a skull. I stop making plans, give up hope that the war will end and dismiss wishes, expectations and the idea of happiness. I stare at nothing for hours. My girlfriend does her best: bakes cookies, finds magazines and as a sign of love, bakes a pie. I wonder to myself, "What's the purpose of this? Tomorrow maybe the worms will settle under our skin and crawl into our head".

My calendars are based on statistics, calculus of probabilities, medicine, psychology and parapsychology. What I don't know I ask my friends to calculate for me. Our biorhythm is charted by the dates, and blue pluses and minuses in the corners of the boxes. The periods of separation between partners are also marked in the corners with our horoscope signs. Three, or even four can be found in one single box. Only one is enough for me not just to give up sex that day but even the thought of it, and then to turn over the calendar and enjoy the side with the picture.

Then, after twenty lunar months and sixteen completely filled calendars, after careful corrections and checking, after a few days of doubt and disbelief, a white box showed up. The Long Expected Day.

I was in my bunker. I couldn't sleep all night because of my excitement and my coughing from the fumes of the oil lamp which, since it had been filled with machine oil, stank and left soot more than it shone. At two o'clock I went out to take over my guard duty. I sat in the trench for three hours. For an hour after that, I drank coffee and waited for dawn to break in order to do the thing, because of which, everything happened as it happened.

I decided to give my girlfriend a rucksack full of red apples instead of a bouquet of roses. I knew where the apples were, and that no one had picked them. They hung high on the tree, on branches that couldn't be reached or broken from the ground, but so high that the enemy sniper could see them over all of the roofs and trees. I climbed the first thick branches and shook the tree. Of course, no apple fell off. Only the top trembled a bit as if a sparrow had alighted upon it. I climbed another stair of branches. I was still sheltered by the remnants of the roof and the burned chimney. The tufts of the morning fog slowly passed between me and the sniper's fire point. My heart beat in my throat, something whispered to me to give up and not take a risk on this special day. But today, one real and undeniable proof of love was needed, something like a rucksack full of red and fragrant apples. Another person in my position would buy them, but anybody who had the money to buy a rucksack full of apples would also have the money not to be here where I am now. Bravery is the prerogative of the poor. The brave rich are fools.

I strained my muscles and lifted myself up. Behind the chimney a little forest appeared on top of a rock holding the enemy's bunker. The branches became thin and the tree started to shake harder. I imagined the view had by the man in the bunker. His view is calm, as in a photo, only one tree-crown shakes as if it were his personal wind. He bends down, looks through the sight and as soon as he sees me, a cloud of fog starts to pass by.

The higher I climb the less fear I feel about the sniper but the more I'm afraid to fall onto the rusty nails sticking out of the burnt wood in the ditch under the apple tree. The birds wake up. If the enemy fires, I won't hear it because of the birds' twittering. It would be easy to break all the branches full of apples but everything tells me not to. To shake the branches would also be a stupid move; half the apples would be smashed and half would be damaged by the thorns and rocks. I hold the tree with one hand and stretch out with the other, bending the branches towards me. But as soon as I pick one, the branch flees back and I have to start again. The more I bend the more the tree bends, and the cracking gets louder. But then I imagine myself opening the rucksack and showing the war-prey to my amazed girlfriend. She likes apples as I like pie.

"What are you doing up there?" It was the house-owner and the owner of the apple tree. I hadn't thought of him. The epilogue of the adventure took place in the command outpost. The owner got the apples and I got extra digging duty. In fact, I continued the work where I had abandoned it yesterday. We finished digging a channel near the brook whose water had to be put into a hole three metres wide and two metres long for the mini hydroelectric power station made from a washing machine. With such electricity we would have light at night. We wouldn't cough from the oil lamp soot, and wouldn't confuse each others' boots in the dark. The security commander's assistant checked the work last night and found that the place chosen by the logistic commander's assistant was not hidden enough from the enemy. So he ordered everything to be buried and covered up with grass.

So I was filling in the ground I had dug out yesterday, from nine till one o'clock with little breaks but I wasn't angry. On the contrary. I was whistling and joyful. The time I spent digging went along faster. But the officers don't like you to be joyful while working. They think that you are making fools of them. That's why I was punished with the work after lunch, until my guard duty.

In daytime, only one man guards a trench. That's annoying because you can't sleep. You must sit and watch through the loop-hole. Since you can't see anything through it on account of the ant-hill in front of your eye, I spend this hour and half out of the trench, taking care that some control does not surprise me and put me on the front line for three more days. This merits an award. But if you sit in the trench and stare through the loop-hole you can neither see anything nor hear anything. And when the officer comes up behind you, you get "extra" digging duty.

At six o'clock I was able to take a look at the places where the building material and wood were kept, and to choose a trunk, a bit shorter and thinner than a lamppost. I decided to take it with me, despite the possibility that it would be taken from me at the entrance to town, after having hauled it for an hour. I knew that this would spare my girlfriend at least three visits to the city garbage dump and hours of collecting plastic bottles, worn-out shoes and similar high-caloric fuel for our tin furnace.

At seven o'clock we changed guards and went home. We walked for two hours instead of one because of the fog. It was so thick that the man in the middle of the column couldn't see the man in front. Somebody suggested that everybody take hold of my trunk so we wouldn't fall on the ice. Bound to the descendant of Odysseus' mast, we passed in this way through Scylla and Charybdis, past the sirens and the police who take away the wood and made it to our part of the city. Finally I was standing in front of the locked door of the building and heard my girlfriend running down the stairs and opening the door. She saw me standing there with the trunk like a knight with a spear. I pronounced the words of some comedy, "Dulcinea, here is your Rocinante!" She embraced me and the trunk together. Judging by the fire of her kiss and the strength of her embrace I knew that the calendar had not made a mistake and that the Long Expected Day was here.

We placed the trunk in the kitchen, which smelt of baked pie and the steam from my bathing pot. I knew she had to fetch water from the nearby watering-spot two times at least and spend the whole day waiting in queues and going back and forth. I took the big red apple out of my pocket, polished it on my chest and gave it to her. She wore the thing I liked best, a navy shirt with dark-blue stripes and short, wide, white trousers. As if it were summer time, as if we were at the coast and not in the middle of winter, in the middle of Bosnia and in the middle of war. To wash such white laundry she would have needed twice as much water as I spent on bathing. I promised myself I would fetch that water tomorrow. I took off my clothes and got into the bath. A sweat broke out on my body and I shuddered with coldness. It was cold in the bathroom and the steam was coming out of my mouth like it did from the laundry tub. At first, she poured out the water on my body and then soaped me. With great delight and pleasure, she lingered where I eagerly wanted her to: one more piece of evidence that today was the Long Expected Day. Then she rinsed me and wiped me with a clean, perfumed and warm towel. The steam was still coming out of my mouth but I wasn't cold any more.

The table was set in the kitchen. A pie, yoghurt and cookies with cinnamon. I ate while she looked and laughed at me. Then she bit the apple, as if she were kissing it, showing her white teeth and pushing her tongue against the red apple skin.

The bed in the room was arranged. She took the hot tiles out of it and I jumped out of the bathrobe and crept into the heated bed clothes. They were clean and smelt of lavender. It was the Long Expected Day. She put the candle on the cupboard near the bed. The windows were darkened with the blinds. Or the curtains, anyway. She was undressing while looking at me. She took off her vest. Her white trousers fell on the floor. She wore black silk underwear. Was it lace maybe? She blew the candle and drew in next to me. We hugged each other firmly and remained like that for a few minutes. Or seconds, anyway. Quite enough for me to fall irretrievably asleep.

Published in Transcript 21 by kind permission of the author

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