A Place Named Enchantment
Translated from Bulgarian by Alistair Turnbull
Raya gazed regretfully at the silk sheets. She felt like snuggling under them again but she had just made the bed. They had rented the house only for a month, but had already become attached to it, and to the little town too. He was waiting by the door, evidently wondering why they didn't leave yet. Not yet, please, not yet. She didn't know how to begin.
“Marty, wait a minute!” she said. ”Lately I've been so eager to tell you that… I want to thank you and tell you that you whisked me away from my little world, which was so boring until I met you. You brought me to this place and, and…”
“Darling, I didn't bring you. Have you forgotten we came here separately?”
“And even if it was like that, you must be a divine emissary,” she answered. “Don’t laugh!”
“Maybe I am,” the man smiled and pulled her by the hand and led her outside.
At first glance, everything seemed normal – the streets, the trees, the people and the dogs. And yet… the sky, for one thing. What an amazing sky – she was about to die as soon as her eyes touched it. Will she ever get used to it?
Martin was watching her. She wasn't beautiful in the traditional sense of the word, however he would have sworn that he had never seen anything more wonderful than her face at that moment. He wanted to stretch out and touch the dimple on her cheek, to stroke it. She simply glowed. Maybe that was love, he said to himself, simply to make a woman glow with happiness.
“What is it? Why are you looking at me like that?” Raya asked him.
“Because I love you!”
Her beautiful blonde hair was as soft as scattered snow between his fingers. Me too, me too. Did those words come from the wind or from her?
Was there any dividing line at all between her, the wind, Martin, her memories and the short dress, which she had been dreaming of having taken off. Weren't all these just one whole, only called by different names?
“Everything in the world, isn't it just one and the same thing?”
“It’s definitely like that right here.”
“But before I met you, I wasn't here.”
His hand kept fondling her bare back and, imperceptibly, she could no longer make sense of his words. He might as well have been speaking to her in Chinese or, worse still, it felt as if she had never understood any language at all. He seemed to realize that fact, and his nails sank lightly into her skin. Then he kissed her. They both became rapidly breathing leaves, pulsating roofs, quickly swallowing clouds, which were just about to quiver and pour down onto the ground. And so his lips met hers and thus entwined with the raindrops. And the stronger the rain became, the thirstier they got.
“There is no place which is beyond your reach,” he said to her after what seemed like an eternity.
“But if I hadn't met you?”
“Not possible, because I've always been waiting for you, just as you've been waiting for me, dear heart. I could not imagine us not having met. Even our dreams are like indigo, we’re just made for each other. And as our paths crossed, we also gave birth to a path between us. Sonnets have been written about such paths. “Oh, you, my golden-haired Juliet,” he smiled to himself. “We caused something like a short circuit, albeit not so dangerous,” first he started laughing at her bewildered look, but then became serious. “Something like fog lifting. Something like illumination.”
Her skin seemed sugary. It resembled sugar dissolved in coffee. They had run until they could run no more. They left town, but didn't stop running until they reached the grass and dived into it. And now the grass was reflected in her naked body. Martin sank lazily into her, looking hypnotized at her childishly distorted lips. Then suddenly her whole body was completely bathed in the sunset. The sunset turned into a perfume made of flowers, and washed over her forehead.
“You’re beautiful!” he whispered. “You are so gentle, and, you know what’s more, you’re pink-violet, darling.”
His words also pierced deep and heightened the pleasure
“Life has never been so wonderful!” she said with half-closed eyes.
It was not the first time she said that. She had said it to other men. But when her entire self had burst out at the end, like a suddenly-lit sparkler, her past died. I will grow old, she thought to herself and he’ll love me again. How do I know? I know simply judging by the flowers with their gleaming dew. Were they capable of lying to her? Sometime they were surely going to leave this place of their own free will and become ordinary fields again? So why should she and Marty do so?
And while they were having breakfast after a while in the bistro, Raya decided what she would do here for the rest of her life. She had always been in charge of accounts, so she would open a shop and sell flowers. Not that she knew a great deal about flowers, but she would learn. That way they would be right there in front of her and would remind her of him.
“Aren't you going to stop smiling?” he teased her.
“Am I smiling, darling?”
They had a lot to do during the next few months. They rented a house again and began furnishing it. They didn't even have an oven or a fridge.
Soon Raya bought a shop with all their savings. She had convinced herself with almost superstitious power, that it shouldn't be rented. She filled it with flowers and stocked herself with encyclopedias. She hired a sweet elderly lady to help her. That woman turned out to be far more helpful than her books.
Martin painted and sold his pictures. They didn't do particularly well, but that didn't bother him at the beginning. They spent their free time together. They walked around the suburbs looking for some kind of house for sale; they visited their new friends and had fun. They often listened to music. Both of them had fairly old-fashioned taste and they liked the fact that they could share their favourite composers for hours and hours.
Yet, gradually and imperceptibly, things had changed in the same way as the face of a person, whom you live with. Martin began to get annoyed that his pictures weren't selling. The place itself was unusual enough and maybe people didn't need anything else. Either that or his paintings weren't as inspired as before – however strange it may sound, happiness somehow ran out. They did not gain much profit from their sales. That’s why he was worried that their money would run out and they wouldn't have anything to live on. He started occasionally going out and drinking a beer or two on his own. Next he began to feel stuck in a rut and to drink more and more, so as soon as he got home, he would fall asleep…
Every time Raya looked at the flowers, she had the feeling that they were trying to tell her something. These flowers… they’re so ordinary! And yet they were following her around like an echo in a dream. One morning, she woke up and opened the window, asking herself why they had opted for this town. She had grown up in a large city with theatres and concert halls, with nice clothes shops and decent hairdressers. But here she got disappointed every time she visited either of the two existing hair salons. Not so much that she missed her previous life. On the contrary, all of this even kept her amused to some extent. But with the time passing by, it began to annoy her. How had they got it into their heads that they would be happy in this grey nothingness. What had they seen in it?
She spent hours in front of the computer. She was obsessed by her need to communicate. And she didn't even notice how Martin had been watching her for some time. She didn't know that he painted her every night, that he painted Enchantment. He had stopped drinking, but she didn't notice that either. Her life had already been switched to a different set of rails, yet Raya didn't take any of it in.
He often watched her reddened eyes. Why have we become like all the others, he asked, stifled by pain, why have we forgotten? Answers began to form in his mind and the puzzle began to take shape, and then something new appeared in his pictures.
…Love is so fragile, it’s inane, she thought to himself one evening while she was feeling so hopelessly dragged down.
“But it wasn't always like this, was it, Raya?”
“What?” she jumped. When had he come in?
“I said that it wasn't always like this.”
“At the beginning. It’s easy then. It’s usually thereafter that things change.”
“Because it’s so important that the person by your side, your dreams and secret desires, your faith, belong to the same world, and never get separated. Otherwise things will perish. These words seem annoying and serious, but that's how it is. Come here, I want to show you something.”
Instantly she recognized herself in all the paintings and she could not believe her eyes. Her parched lips, her eyes – had he really noticed how sad she had been? And when had he managed to get so many paintings done? How had she not noticed?
Suddenly it dawned on her. The face just brought it all back to her so vividly, and she was sure of it. How could she have forgotten?
“It was the dew glistening on the flowers, wasn't it? I remember. Their dew...”
“Yes, that's the riddle of this place. Its magic. Without it, it just didn't exist. Nor did... our love.”
She felt like crying. Countless times these flowers had tried to get her to understand. Understand how the clouds were heavy with longing, then how they poured over her. She felt strong and happy – the same way as when she was flying in her dreams.
“Why did it all disappear, Marty?”
“It didn't, we just stopped paying any attention to it. We decided that it wasn't important. We just got so bogged down in day-to-day things and got lost again.”
“Because that's what happens to people. They prefer a plate of tomatoes. Whatever it may be, it's enough that it's real, which means you can kick it and hear how it bangs off the wall.”
The crickets chirped, it was a warm night. She gazed through the window net. Dogs barking somewhere far off; a loud crash and the she held her breath, until she realized it was cats chasing each other. Just the intense feeling that the world didn't start or end with her.
“But why did it happen to us too?” she asked, the tears coming into her eyes.
“Because I've forgotten to smile at you, to give you sweets, to take you out, you keep forgetting to smile at me, to cuddle up to me and fall asleep, to ask me what's wrong.”
Somewhere out there, almost in infinity, was the pine forest. Small and alone, perhaps asleep. Raya imagined the falling pinecones, the blanket on which they used to make love during one of those nights... something inside her snapped… And when we forgot to smile at each other, he said, love hid itself deep away in your heart and in mine, he said.
Just like, she told herself, blossom from a rose bud retracting into itself. She looked him straight in the eyes. Her irises – he had forgotten how beautiful they were! Her skin, like the surface of a lake…Her breasts, glimpsing out for a moment...
“Hmm, you know that yellow dress with all those buttons really suits you?”
“Ooh, and do you know that you have to undo them, one by one, if you want to get to my heart.”
She couldn't believe she had said it and even put her hand to her lips. Wonderful memories, which seemed to be from another life.
“And you made me think I could get to your breasts. Still, it must be worth giving it a try.”
It was the most sudden change from sad to happy eyes he had ever witnessed. She lay back on the chair, her legs spread wide. From time to time the leaves from the plum-tree twitched in the wind, the way she did, under his touches.
Everything became blurred. Raya looked for his face and smiled. And somehow along the path, outlined by the more and more fiddlesome buttons, they found their way back. For her part, she saw again the stars, as if created by someone madly in love, having lost consciousness.
Hello, I've been missing you! I am dead without your dreams, without this sky.
“And are you hungry, darling? he asked her hours later.
“Mmm, I would die for some wine and some fish.”
Raya gazed at the little multi-coloured fountain which seemed to be made of the same substance as the butterflies.
“You know, with the men before you, I haven’t ever felt that way? And you know my body hasn't ever reacted in that way?”
It was growing colder, her shoulders shuddered, but it wasn't unpleasant.
“Uh-huh? Is that all you can say? You are a man and you’re different from me! However wonderful your theories may sound…”
“I’m not suggesting anything else, I am a man. Your body is still a part of you, though. An important part!”
“What I mean is that if you had a real beauty in front of you, you’d choose her over me without a moment’s hesitation. You’d desire her more than me. They've done research and, whatever you might say,…
Looking at her, he realized he would always have to tone them down. Her nightmares. But being an artist, he knew that every painting had its shades.
“Oh, you silly girl! Silly girl! Still more fears? I've been with a lot of women, and I've been married once, too. You think I’m not familiar with my reactions? Does everything you know come out of a magazine? We've made enough mistakes already, don’t you think it’s time just to be happy? Oh, come here, and we’ll test your theory!”
He made her feel the way she felt at the beginning. Her womanliness came gushing out, somehow covering her with gleaming dew. I’m your rose, you’re not going to hurt me and I’m not going to search foolishly for security the way I did when I bought the shop, instead of renting it, only to make sure we stay there. It was you who once told me that love couldn't be touched by fear and pettiness, that to love somebody, you do not have to keep them, they just have to be there for you, which simply means you have to believe in them. Without you I’m like a piano out of which no one can extract any sound, and… my love, I love your fingers, don’t stop, please, don’t stop…
It seemed as if the Bee Gees’ song “How Deep is Your Love” came on especially for them. After a while some invisible stream, which softened her from within, carried her away into nothingness.
It happened about a year and a half ago. The two of them were sitting by the window. She had come up later, saying something to herself, but most of the time Martin was reading his book, and Raya was looking at the flitting rows of ripe grapes, corn and apple orchards. She liked travelling by train and looking out the window, especially if there was nobody opposite to stare at her. She was almost able to stop thinking. A fantastic way to meditate, she told herself… He looked at her, then returned to his book.
They scarcely paid any attention to the little station they stopped at and didn't bother reading the sign. The station was one of those things, which one’s brain prefers not to take in, like the dilapidated neighbourhood blocks.
Then an announcement came that they would have to stay there three hours, due to some problem they didn't clarify. Raya tried making a call straight away, but there was no coverage. It was a poky little place surrounded by hills. Martin suggested going for a walk and looking for a telephone.
The main street led away from the station. They liked it actually – there were hardly any tall buildings and the little houses looked very welcoming. People smiled at them but nobody knew where a telephone could be found. Except at the post office, maybe.
They felt as if they were part of some game, like they were playing hide-and-seek with the telephones. As soon as they saw the pizzeria they realized how hungry they were, they went in and ordered pizzas and ayrian* .
Later they ordered coffee and carried on talking away. He lit a cigarette. It turned out they liked the same films and books, they had the same take on life. A pleasant closeness enveloped them. She was enchanted by his ability to talk so clearly and cleverly about the things which intrigued her. Her wit pleased him more and more, as did her soft voice and her curly blonde hair.
Raya suddenly cried out – she was looking at her watch. Martin looked at his too. For God's sake, more than four hours had gone by!
The train had surely parted, and their luggage was also gone.
“Was there anything precious in it?” he asked her.
“No , no, just a few clothes,” she replied in a surprisingly calm way. “You?”
“No, the same with mine.”
“Isn't there anyone who’ll be waiting for you, who’s going to worry?”
“Nobody in particular. And you?”
“I was on my way to a girlfriend’s wedding. One less thing to get depressed about, I suppose.”
Actually, he was happier that they had got stuck and that they wouldn't be going their separate ways in an hour or two. He wasn't sure whether to cry out with joy or not, although he tried, but failed to hide his smile. They paid and left.
It seemed everything was the same, however, .... Brown and green, mixed with a slight cognac hue, the hills looked as if dappled with a brush. And the redness in the sky, almost alive, was just about to spread its wings and fly to the pizzeria.
You know, there’s an angel watching over me. Your love.
You know, I have a sudden urge for pizza.
*Bulgarian yoghurt drink
About the author:
Maria Pavlova was born in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. She has published two novels. She writes short stories and poetry too. Maria has won a number of national literary awards in writing competitions. Translations of her short stories and essays have been published in literary journals and anthologies in the USA, Australia, and Austria. She was nominated for the Million Writers Award, 2010. Maria lives and writes in her hometown.