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A Slap

Fiction, Marija Rakić Mimica


At funerals, I always get caught in loops of hysterical laughter. Probably, because I know I am not supposed to laugh and it is expected of me to be sad, but it always ends with hysterics as my anxiety disperses laughter bubbles and me hiding my face so that nobody can see my smiling eyes. But this day nothing is funny. I am standing in the front row with Frane, a small group of people next to a coffin with their heads dipped, including the two of us, the funeral is small and insignificant, as if Anka had neither friends nor acquaintances that would like to bid her final farewell, as people poetically say. What a nonsense! Why would I care for final farewells when I am no longer here? Be next to me while I still breath.


“All you’re saying is in vain, I don’t even know who my mother is!” I yelled at my husband after he had slapped me for the umpteenth time and ran out of his parents’ two-storey house. I stopped counting one Sunday after he threw me on the kitchen floor and started kicking me in my stomach, while I was fighting for my breath on the kitchen tiles, as a fish that tore off the hook, but fell into the boat. I had never returned to that fucking house again.

My mother left me next to the garbage bin behind the Church of Saint Francis, in a narrow street leading to the Marjan hill. She might have said a prayer, crossed herself in front of an image of the Mother of God and begged her for forgiveness. I have no idea, Anka says that a nun found me in the evening, when she was throwing some books away; I was crying very loudly in a damp and smelly carton box, wrapped in a grey blanket, probably by my mother because, I guess, she did not want her daughter to freeze in the garbage bin.

Anka saved me twice; the first time when she and her husband Mate came to pick me up at church, after the nun figured out to offer the child to a married couple which had been trying to start a family for quite a while and thus save the new born baby from long-term stay in an orphanage. She knew a lady that worked at the Social Welfare Centre and was regular at Sunday service, so she decided to put in a good word for the couple. Mate was not thrilled, arguing that he did not want a bastard that somebody else threw in a container, as he often repeated to me later in life, he wanted his own child, his own flesh and blood, because you could never know what other people’s children might turn out like and whose genes they would bring into his home. “I don’t need anybody else’s garbage”, he used to say. Nevertheless, she persisted in becoming my new Mum. Not much later I became a part of their family and grew up in their house of stone in Varoš, most of my childhood memories relate to the courtyard that I played in and developed into a girl having her home and her mother.

“He’s just babbling, he loves you, but he doesn’t know how to show it to you!” Anka would say to me, closed in my room, frightened and shocked by Mate’s shouting. “Go wherever you came from!” he would say after my pranks, he always reacted very violently at disobedience or misunderstandings, treating me as if I was an adult, and not a preschooler. On those occasions, my mother would stiffen and shrank, bowed her shoulders and raised her eyebrows with a slight, pleading smile addressed at her husband. He didn’t mean it like that.” Once, already as an adolescent, I got scared that he would beat me because I cursed his crazy mother, almost to myself, after he had verbally abused me over a few bread crumbles that I had left on the kitchen table. He overheard my words, rushed towards me, I started running away from him and around the table, stumbled on a chair, fell on the floor, covered my head with my hands, but still did not manage to avoid a punch, finally getting up after his threats and blackmails. All of a sudden, I received a medium-impact blow, but my mother got it worse, because she instinctively took hold of his hand, trying to prevent him from slapping me again, so she ended being slapped. But with much more force. What can I say, that is what my father was like. Sorry, my stepfather, I do not even know who my father is.

In spite of all medical opinions against her motherhood, two years after my arrival, by a true miracle of obstetrics and nature combined, Anka made her man pleased and gave birth to his own child, even better than that, she gave birth to a son. Frane was a wonderful boy and a true joy in their home, with locks of his curly and dishevelled fair hair always in the middle of his forehead, irritating him as we played hide and seek in Anka’s garden. He would move his hair off by blowing up and continue running, walking all over the grass and annoying our mother. My little brother.

In summer, when we grew into little people, we went swimming to the Firule beach and early mornings were reserved for swimming and picigin, we never slept until late, and other kids from our quarter would come there after noon, when Sun was too hot and heat well swamped all over our bodies, smeared with sand. Sometimes, our mother wanted to go with us, which terribly annoyed us; she would embarrass us in front of other kids with her sun creams and chopped peaches in plastic box, telling us that we needed to eat fruit, it was healthy and it would give us energy for the entire day. At the beach, we would break away from her so that she could not call us with warnings about imaginary threats, projected only in her head; we would approach her from time to time, just to tell her that everything was all right and that she could go home without us if she wanted to. Our mother would nod, at the same time happy and sad. Looking at her children enjoying themselves she found peace and calmness, but some sadness too, because we were growing up so fast and becoming less and less dependent on her. Then she would enjoy in some peaches.

Growing up with Frane in a house of stone in the city centre was exciting and stressful; when I started going out with his friends, I tried alcohol for the first time, we had the first cigarette in the courtyard after a night out as Mate and our mother were sleeping in the house after a day of hard labour digging potatoes in the country. I remember that Mate, who was sitting on the couch pleased and tired that day, in the early hours of evening, asked me to come closer to him, stroke my hair and said:

“You’re not that bad, kid! You’re OK.”

In that period, when I was regularly going out with Frane and his friends, after a night out, we used to sit and talk in our courtyard, we were close and connected with stories about all the events of the last night, stillness surrounding our house — that space, in which we spent the most beautiful days of our childhood and I finally had a feeling of belonging to someone. It seemed that this scene with two of us in our courtyard would last forever.

Frane left us one Tuesday morning, after he suddenly decided that it was time for him to get away from Split and move on; when he got bored with drinking beer on a stone wall in the Matejuška port, listen to pseudointellectual stories on how the old times were more humane and better for us, adoration of journalist Miljenko Smoje and Split state of mind, always trying something, but actually forever being stuck in the same place. All three of us went to see him off from the railway station, Mate repeatedly told him that he had to remain a man, who thought with his own head, our mother cried and wiped her tears with a handkerchief, that he persistently put back in her pocket, hoping that tears would eventually stop. I was standing at the station waving, for a long time after the train left.

Shortly after, I met Nikola, a young man, who managed to fill the void that Frane left by his wild temperament and energy, we became inseparable and got married very soon, I moved into his parents’ house and started spending my days cooking and cleaning every inch of the house, while he was our breadwinner. Suddenly his positive energy transformed itself into a pathological fury, and his wild temperament turned into aggression. I was in love with him and stupid, again not so stupid as not to run away after the umpteenth slap in the face.

I came back home to my mother and Mate died of a heart attack shortly after, while sitting at the counter of a local bar. All of a sudden, he grabbed his chest, screamed in pain and dropped his head down on a wooden counter.

Although I barely could see the people around me, I feel Frane’s presence and touch his right arm with my left hand. It seems that his presence makes my mother’s now eternal absence bearable. This feeling will pass, maybe, just as the feeling when Nikola disappeared from my life or the one when Frane left, leaving me alone with them. It will pass, people always leave. The funeral has not lasted long, the priest has hurried up with his rhetorics and let us go in peace, although I have no idea what peace he is talking about, since I have been standing above my mother’s open grave, after I threw in her body, adding a rose on top. I could neither stay here for long, now after the funeral is over, nor could I chat with Frane about his wonderful new life and his new family, so I have moved away from them to go towards my car. It seems as if a woman in black is standing next to it and watching me. I do not speed up my step, but I look her persistently straight in the eye, waiting for her reaction as I am getting closer. A tall woman with long black hair tied in a messy bun comes closer and looks at me, saying with a slightly absent look:

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

“And you are?” I asked and accepted her hand.

“I’m Ana, your Mum.”

Lady, my mother is dead! I’ve just watched her being closed in her coffin and buried her. You are nothing, a character from a bad script for a cheap movie about a woman left by her mother in the garbage bin, abused by her father, hit by her husband and left by her brother. It is a movie that nobody wants to see. Slap that nobody deserves.

 

Marija Rakić Mimica was born in 1982 in Split, Croatia. She graduated in Croatian language and literature and comparative literature at the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb. She has won four literary awards for her short stories in Croatia and she has published prose in all major literary magazines in Croatia. Some of her stories are published in English; Hook literary magazine, The Unconventional Courier, Querencia Press Anthology, 100subtextmagazine, The Amazine community, Dipity Literary Magazine, and Luphyr Zine Her story We’ll Know was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2022. She published a collection of short stories in Croatia called Dancing in the Yard (2018). She is employed in Split as a Croatian language teacher in high school. Find her on Instagram @marijarakic_mimica


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