Laureen Vonnegut

Hands Do Lie

BY

LAUREEN VONNEGUT

CHAPTER 1

WE…

       She was smiling when they slammed into the tree, driving 200 kilometers an hour.  Or at least that’s the story she relayed to us. They were driving on the deteriorating road, which runs from the Black Sea to the city of Sofia.  This road is a pandemonium of dupki, erratic drivers and wandering goats.  For small stretches of pavement there is an unsteady white line down the middle, but more often than not…no line, no reflectors and no laws.  Anything can be negotiated for a few thousand leva. 

       But this has nothing to do with the misfortune, the betrayal and the death. 

       At the time of the accident, she thought she might have loved the man beside her.  She had only been sure once before and she couldn’t remember what it had been like, except that she had been terribly unhappy.  We know this because she told us. 

       Love has lost its meaning here in Bulgaria.  Life is temporary.  Sofia is a starting point, a resting place, not a building site.  We have intense relationships, knowing they will end.  We do things we would never do elsewhere.  If love attempts to invade our world, we avoid it at all costs, for love has no place in a transient society. 

       We are not apologetic regarding our lifestyle, just realistic.  We acknowledge that some day we will revert to the social norms of our upbringings, we will establish roots, radiate integrity; until then, we live day to day…night to night.

       There is only one speed in Bulgaria.  Fast.  Everything is done at the utmost velocity.  Bulgarians don’t move at such a rate. It is we, the ex-patriots who do.  Even now, in post-communist society, quickness and spontaneity are suspect.  Life in the fast lane is not an appropriate description; life in the middle of the road is more fitting. 

       Bulgaria is a country riddled with negativity, controlled by Mafia and ruled through corruption.  Our lives in Sofia are not moderate or uncomplicated, but for sure, they are lived. 

       Our ex-patriot group is referred to as a collective we.  If you ask one of us, on a given Monday, about our weekend, we will reply, ‘We went skiing at Borovitz’ or ‘sailing around the second finger of Halkidiki’ or ‘watched the Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul.’ Every night of the week there is an event to attend.  Post squash dinners or predancing dinners.  Welcome dinners, farewell dinners, introduction dinners, business dinners.  Inevitably our dinners turn into all-night riots.  It’s not eminently important who was present at any given event, the group is still: We.

       The collective we is a peculiar ex-pat concept.  She fell into we with the same ease as the rest of us, yet there was a major difference; even when she used we, she remained I.  

       She came to Bulgaria by chance and stayed on.  Some say she was escaping unmanageable debts and others say she was running away from an abusive relationship.  We really didn’t ask her.  People here live in the present.  The future never goes further than weekend plans and the past doesn’t matter except as a topic of conversation to be explored time and time again during late boozy nights, only to be forgotten by daylight.

        She is a sculptress.  Her art frightens us; the position, angle and texture divulges secrets.  We can’t stand to have others see her art and we discourage her from showing it.  Luckily people tend to be numb-headed and not many grasp the depth or the lucidity. 

       The ex-pat community here is a tight one, yet people are always looking for someone new and want to be the first to discover him or her.  Rigby DeCoolie claimed to have found her first.  Lily Black claims the same.  What does it matter?  The fact is, she embraced this country the moment her feet touched the ground, and no one discovered her, honestly, she discovered them.      Her name is Eva and she burst into our group, embraced with the fervor of a junkie receiving his first heroin injection of the day.

       CHAPTER II

TOPOLI BLOSOOMS

       My name is Eva. 

       And I’ve just realized I’ve forgotten to get out of the shower.  Here I was philosophizing and analyzing life when suddenly I became aware I’d been standing under this warm stream of water for a long, long time.  How long, I don’t know.  But I’ll wager the entire block will be peeved when they try to bathe.  Even in the heat of May I cannot take cold showers.  It’s as if the intense Bulgarian winter has permeated the inner marrow of my bones.

       The clock on the wall ticks loudly, reverberating through my skull.  I look around the bathroom and slowly recall where I am and who I am.  What frightens me is I have to think for a few moments.  How do I lose myself like that?  Where do I go?  The closest I can come to a comparison is waking up with a pulsing hangover in an unknown room next to an unfamiliar person.  Although with a hangover everything clears up, everything eventually returns to normal.  Here it doesn’t.

       I step out of the shower and walk dripping down the hall, into the living room.  Through a distorted glass window I see the entirety of Sofia covered in white blossoms.  Last night, after a tumultuous spring rain, the topoli buds burst open, cascading over the city in furry chaos. 

       Only weeks ago, it snowed.  Sofia and Siberia were inter-changeable for months; within three days, winter hardened ice and walls of snow faded into the ground.  Three days.  Merlin waved his magic wand.  Midas of the green finger touched the city.  Lush leaves camouflage shabby communist structures, parks spurt green growth.  Benches are filled, lovers stroll, families picnic.  Children jump and yell.  Bang, it’s spring.

       I stare at thousands of pale blooms blowing up, down and around at odd angles.  I feel exactly like a topoli flower.

       Part of my disorientation is due to pure exhaustion and part to being a fairly recent émigré to Sofia.  A four month old immigrant, to be exact.  More happens here, in one day, than a full month in the United States.

       The phone jangles, breaking the silence and my heart races.  I pick up the receiver.

       Alo, a faraway voice says.  The word is pronounced ah-low with an emphasis on the ah.      

       Hello? I say.

       Alo.

       Yes?

       Alo.

       Govorite li engliski? I ask.

       Alo.

       Can you hear me?

       The static increases and I get the impression the caller must be on the moon. 

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