Caesarean Cut: Macedonian Short Stories
Krste Čačanski: Čuturanga
There are four of us, as many as the cardinal points of the world: myself, my wife, my daughter and my son: we play chess, not two, but four of us, and all at once. The players stand for the four cardinal points of the world, the seasons of the year, the magic square; and this game is primeval, an ancient Indian game, the same moves are made, the traps of semiotics and semantics are avoided, this is how the grammar of Čuturanga breathes, and, because every game has its rules, order, winners, and losers, it is painful to acknowledge that none other than we who are each other’s own flesh and blood are the winners and the losers.
The first move: it was made a long time ago, remembe¬ring is painful, and thus we don’t know who started first and what the first move means: my son says: the proposal to play the game is the first move, individual and mutual consent to play, my wife: rational as usual, proposes a practical story together with my da¬ughter, that the game began at the moment when we sat leaning over the chessboard, and from the moment when the clepsydra was turned. The hourglass counts the seconds thickly one after the other with a razor-like sound, as if a snake surrounded by fire turns over and over on itself and hisses because there is no redemption for it.
There are four of us: myself, my wife, my daughter and my son: I: maybe with a moustache, without authority, without a shadow, with David Avidan’s poem in my hands, translated from the Hebrew by Jenny Leble, shorter than my wife, who, although she doesn’t have to, leans forward and lowers her body when we go out or stand next to each other, so that somehow we can be equally tall, so we can escape being singled out. I ask her, how do you do it. She says, oh no, that’s how tall I am. That’s her first move: I look at her gentle smile, at the pleasure of the irony, at the game, at the game pieces that are real elephants and other animals, monkeys, soldiers, horses. A gleam appears in her eyes, she prepares the trap for the eagle that circles somewhere above us and hones in. My thoughts turn to the air currents that herald snow, to the shivers of the freezing body that crunches the snow, to the person we are burying, and she leaves the cemetery with the excuse that she is freezing, that she can’t stand the sad sight any longer, and takes the bus. People like me have a fundamental primitiveness: they repeat things that have been said before, for example one might mention sexual exultation: fuck off, go to hell, get lost, they say such things to people like me, and I do the same: fuck off, beat it. In my wife’s strident voice I recognize other foolish things, that life is short and a true copy of dreams, not immediately, years later through the sand of trickled-out time, and in order to calm me down, she says very gently in a pacifying but calculating way: I surely would not blemish your dignity, not even in thought. Speaking frankly: in Čuturanga, castling is not recognized, but my wife: eternally an architect, with name and respectability, director of the Institute of Urban Planning, before the years of the climax, krk-trt time according to Turkish calcu¬la¬tion, an accountant, laps up the false shadow that shimmers through the haze and opts for castling: How many whores have soiled my bed? A leer pulls at the lips, the moustache plays dum-dara-dum, and I say: not a single one! Oh, I’m not lying! And she: in love with the silk and the years at the student theater when I cast her in the role that she plays even now, repeats at the top of her voice the section from the monologue on slander in Mayakov¬sky’s verse—the wretched thing seeks redemption for what has been said. The motherly morning star shines forth from her eyes; my babes, she says to the children, and trembles devotedly, ha¬ving earned their respect always standing opposite me, standing steadfastly opposite me; mom, say the children; listen woman, say I.
There are four of us: I and they: I burst out crying for no obvious reason, I begin to slobber, and they do likewise; I am silent, they are silent; I move in a certain direction, they do the same—and spoil the game. Afterwards, they ask whose turn it is, but I have already forgotten about the game, I have shouldered the hunting rifle and exited to the yard where I pull the trigger in all directions: blam! blam! blam!
What’s dad shooting at, my little daughter asks.
What’s dad shooting at, my little son asks.
I return, defeated: the eyes of my children ask how my soul feels, how my heart feels, and their eyes ask how I feel in ge¬neral! I turn my back on those eyes, I mumble something in reply, and unbuckle my cartridge belt, I am pleased: I put my rifle in its case, so it can remain there and threaten the darkness and the ghosts that fly over the house as if they were owls or other birds of ill omen. My little son does not give up: repeats his question a thousand times, will not be lectured, dares ask for more details: Did you shoot in all four directions? All four, I reply. I can read his surprise, because it was not my turn, and he wants, oh, how badly he wants to tell me that, but I don’t allow it: I turn the clep¬sydra energetically, which signifies a move and a protest, and ul¬timately the clearing out of space in which the game can conti¬nue. The grammar of Čuturanga limits the number of players to four, but it seems that the number has more than tripled, and it is necessary to agree on the order and the rules ahead of time. Such freedom of play gives the initial impression that the game is stif¬led by the number of players; it is necessary to count how many of us are playing, but who wants to keep track! I peek into the bottom of their souls through their eyes: the shadow is the magic of the square, the wand strikes some new geometric sign, the players are displaced, as are the cardinal points of the world, the regular arrangement of rows, diagonals, horses, and soldiers, as well as the ideal of the magic square for four players, and, in ge¬neral, a material digression has been made, pure betrayal of mea¬ningful interverbal communication with image, word, and sound.
I withdraw to the corner of the room, the typewriter in my arms. Clasped tightly under my arm I carry the white pages of betrayal and the strict rules of the game; my fingers are numb, I hold tight to the carbon paper along with a plan to conquer the winter in my heart, the vertigo syndrome, and all world irony. The parable of the game whose story emerges on the pages is truly copied on the carbon pages as if they were dark mirrors on whose surface the seal of hesitation and betrayal has been stam¬ped, firmly and clearly, like God’s identical twin, as if the carbon pages determined fate, and not fate them. I retreat even deeper into the corner, I retract the move, can I turn everything back, I say to myself, I say it aloud, and I can hear the echo, the rever¬be¬ration of accelerating civilization which says as one: No! There’s no turning back!
My daughter: at the borderline of childhood weaves a wreath of dream-flowers and orchids. She still has uttered neither word nor sigh, neither oh me, nor alas, she chases the butterfly of maidenhood, the earliest variety, and drags me from the corner towards the middle of the room. She clutches the queen, lifts it to her forehead and her eyes say to me: How is it that I was born into this accursed time. Fear seizes me, overwhelms my strength and my knees, electric currents shoot through my veins, and the question that I can sense coming does not reach me: Why are we so alone!
Outside, the icicles break: they plummet like arrows, and with that heavensent sound winter is gone, it’s over! A bitch and a pack of dogs are crossing a field, the bitch first, the dogs after her. They sniff under her tail, they bite one another, they wait their turn. A mob with clubs pursues them, both children and soldiers, but neither children nor soldiers, they shout, they stare like beasts, they bait the dogs that have lost their places in the mating line.
There are four of us, as many as the cardinal points of the world: myself, my wife, my daughter and my son: we play chess, not two, but four of us, and all at once. The four sides stand for the players of Čuturanga, the cardinal points of the world, the magic square, semantics and semiotics, and because Čuturanga also has certain rules, through some crystal hole in the magic square, that which can be seen is seen: the hourglass and the time that has elapsed and the snake for whom there is no redemption from the confinement of the square. Squeezed tight against one another as on a crowded bus, admirers of the irreproachable order of things, we watch from afar, and see that we, each other’s own flesh and blood, are the losers.