Pierre Mejlak

The Madonna round Evelina's
© Dimitris Tsoumplekas
Translated from the Maltese by Antoine Cassar

He had met her in the Hungry Duck, in the heart of Moscow, where the ladies can drink as much as they like free of charge until half eleven at night. The two of them happened to be at the bar. She with a Hanky-Panky, he a Vodka Martini. Their eyes fell first on the glasses; then, they looked at each other and realised that they were, kind of, alone. And it´s astonishing how, even in the freeze of Moscow, one word leads to another. And the following morning, he was a little surprised for as he was leaving her tiny apartment, Evelina hinted that she would like to meet him again. And so they did.

And six months later there she was, with him in the house he inherited from his grandfather, in a small village in a dwarfish country somewhere between Sicily and Libya. Ro_a –the neighbour across the road, who administered the holy communion to the old ladies of the village– said that in order to find a woman he must have bought her. Others elaborated somewhat and said that he bought her over the internet. And there were some who would smile whenever they saw the couple, as if they were some kind of joke. Of course, some of the priests and those a little too intimate with them would look at the couple as if they were seeing Judas Iscariot carrying a crate of Hopleaf beer. Because –quite obviously– they were living in sin. Not only were they having sex before marriage, but they were regularising the irregular. They were living as if they were married. Even to the grocer’s, for Christ’s sake, they sometimes went together to buy the butter. And they would give them that look, the look which seems to say ‘forgive them, for they know not what they are doing’.

They were happy. She took care of the house, decorated it, watered the bougainvillea, killed the flies and rode around on her bicycle, whilst he would shuttle home from work and to work from home. They never spoke much about religion, except for the obvious stuff, such as ‘see that over there, look, that’s a church’, or almost in passing, like when she took down a poster of the Last Supper from the kitchen wall because it didn’t match the decoration, and he accepted with a hug. He was a Catholic. Baptised, first communion and confirmation. But as Evelina never mentioned mass or anything along those lines, he didn’t want to bring them up himself. Until one day, a Saturday morning, whilst Evelina was out on her bike, they brought them the Madonna.

“We brought you the Madonna,” said the neighbour, as he opened the front door.

The Madonna was passed around the entire village, from one end to the other, each house passing her to the next. Each home would keep her for two days, mostly in the kitchen with the oil from the chip pan slapping her face, or in the sitting room next to Super One TV.

What was he to do? Tell the neighbour he didn´t want it because it doesn´t match Evelina´s decoration? Refuse the Madonna? Wasn’t it to her that he prayed whenever he was in the doctor’s waiting room squirming with pain? And now he should refuse her? No chance. He took her inside, placed her on the kitchen table, and went back to cutting his toenails. Then, in came Evelina.

"What the hell is that?"
"What you want it to be, Evelina, _i? That's the Madonna."
"And what is the Madonna doing in our kitchen?"

It was useless trying to explain what it was all about. There was no point in showing her there were people who kept their lives occupied in these things. Evelina took the Madonna and put her under the stairs, such that you had to crouch down in order to see her, as if having to go under a truck.

"The Madonna can stay there for these two days."

And he did as usual. He remained silent. Unnecessary arguments annoyed him. But that evening, in the house named ‘In-Nann’ (after his grandfather), strange things began to occur. First the lights went out. Theirs only in the entire street. And as soon as he tried to flick the circuit-breaker, it spat out a flame which very nearly roasted his hand. It was too late to call _u_i the electrician, so they decided that just for that night they would go to bed early. And, with a slowly smouldering candle on either side of the queen-size bed, he lay down and began to stare at the ceiling, and at the strange shadows forming before his eyes. Amidst them, a large shadow began to take shape. It was the form of an arrow. No, actually, it was more like a Christmas tree. No. And then, clear as crystal, a woman appeared… with a veil. The Madonna under the stairs! Then began the nightmares. The fires of hell. The screaming. The chains. The sobbing. The devils and who knows what else.

The following day, when Evelina came in from her bike ride, she was greeted by the statuette of the Madonna on the commode at the front of the house.

"What the fuck is this?"

That day, for the first time, they quarrelled fiercely.

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