Today’s post is the fourteenth installment of my serialized novel Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL).
You have all the previous installments HERE.
And here’s the whole novel, with the various Amazon links and a book description.
Please note that these posts go online on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and I will then take them down a month afterward. Enjoy!
#14: “Be creative with your life”
Bucharest, September 1993, almost nine years earlier. Marcel’s mother had baked two trays of small sandwiches to serve at her son’s seventeenth birthday. The aroma of melted cheese, ham, and tomato slices wafted through the large living room, reminding the alcohol-happy guests that they needed to eat as well.
Marcel set out to find his girl, whom he had last seen busying herself in the kitchen. She was now sitting down with her friend Maria on the back steps of his family’s floor-wide apartment. He looked at them seemingly at a loss and then made to get back to the dining room.
“You want me to help with something?” Anca called from behind.
He turned back and smiled. “No, it’s okay.”
The place was abuzz. More uninvited—and mostly unknown—people were showing up every moment. Marcel felt he was too cool to send them packing, and so his home quickly filled with an unwanted crowd. Most of the ones who crashed the party had already been drinking, so they didn’t need any warm-up time before feeling at home at Marcel’s. His mother was beside herself with concern. She kept looking for Anca and Maria, hoping to ask them a big favor. Eventually she thought of trying the steps to the back door.
“There you were!” she said when she spotted them. The girls turned their heads to look at her. Marcel’s mother brushed the palms of her hands on her linen pants. “I need your help.”
Anca and Maria sprang to their feet.
“A lot of people showed up. Far too many. Not all of them invited.”
“When?” Anca asked, surprised. When she had left the living room, only a few people were present, and Marcel was making the rounds talking to them.
“In the past half hour. I don’t think there’s enough food for everybody. But that’s not a problem—I can send one of the guys to the twenty-four-hour store to get some snacks.” She paused for a moment to catch her breath. “No, the problem is . . . I would like you to watch over things in Marcel’s bedroom. Make sure these guys don’t open drawers and so on,” she added with distinct apprehension. “It’s happened in the past.”
Anca’s disposition changed somewhat. She’d been rather buoyant that evening, happy to spend time with Marcel and his friends on such a joyous occasion. She hadn’t expected waves of unwelcome guests.
When she reached Marcel’s bedroom, some of the guests were throwing beer bottles out the window while a few others were cheering them on. Anca made her presence known by quickly turning on the lights and introducing herself with a pasted smile to the company present. The people in the room, largely indifferent to her gesture, continued to chatter among themselves. A girl and a guy sat splayed on Marcel’s bed in their tall lace-up black boots, propped up by his large sleeping pillow and two decorative ones.
Anca and Maria decided to place their bottoms on the desk, thus impeding the riffling through Marcel’s papers and notebooks. A few moments later Marcel’s mother appeared as well, carrying yet another tray of sandwiches, and smiling nervously from ear to ear as her gaze met the girls’. “Everybody feeling good here?” she voiced, looking hastily around to appraise the damage.
The girl and guy on the bed, whiskey and martini drinks in hand, didn’t even deign to turn to look at her. Maria and Anca nodded imperceptibly. Two guys on some chairs next to the desk got up and dived in on the sandwiches. “Great, thank you for the food!” one of them said. Marcel’s mother left, a little more at peace. The guy who had just spoken addressed his buddy, “She could have also brought us some more booze. I’m gonna go into the living room, see what’s left. You stick to beer?” He got his answer and left the room. After a moment’s hesitation, his friend followed.
Maria turned to Anca and grabbed her hand, tacitly asking her to come out of the room for a minute. As they explored the living room, a couple exited Marcel’s parents’ bedroom, tottering left and right. Maria turned to Anca, stunned. “The parents’ bedroom?” With a nod, Anca indicated something else. Maria looked in that direction. A guy and girl were at it in the middle of the living room, tongues sticking out, loins rubbing, and hands moving underneath their black shirts. Maria stared at them for a long five seconds. Her daze was interrupted by Marcel, stepping back into the house after having appeased some of his neighbors concerned with missiles flying down from his bedroom. He was having a hard time and was rattled.
“I think I might have to pretend the party’s over. But I can’t until Mother brings out the cake. So we’ll have to wait till midnight. It’s only half an hour away.” He turned to Anca and touched her on her left arm affectionately. “You okay?” Anca muttered something. She wasn’t fine at all. Then he looked at Maria. “Thank you, Maria. Thank you both.”
Maria went into the kitchen to see if she could help with sandwiches or anything else. She came back following Marcel’s mother, who was in a tizzy at not finding the key to lock her bedroom and somehow dragged Maria there too. The forty-something woman first looked in the nightstands’ drawers, apparently indifferent to the fact that her bed had been given a workout. Next, she gathered the silky gowns that had been pushed to the side on the bed and threw them on a chair on top of other clothes. They fell down. She picked them up and stuffed them in a closet. Then she remembered the key to the room was in the top drawer of the TV chest.
Maria watched her, amazed.
“Surprised at the mess?” Marcel’s mother asked with a smile and a glint in her eyes as Maria stood there frozen, taking it all in.
Maria smiled back and gave another glance at the wrinkled satin sheets. She couldn’t believe that couple had used Marcel’s parents’ bed.
Marcel’s mother woke her from her reverie. “I’ll change those sheets later.” She winked at her.
“Those are beautiful sheets,” Maria said.
“They feel good against the skin too,” Marcel’s mother said with another wink.
Maria gave her a rather cold stare.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that. You’ll get to be my age, and then you’ll understand. Hopefully, you will afford to buy satin sheets sooner than I did.”
Maria was puzzled. Marcel’s apartment, spacious and decorated with modern Romanian paintings and furniture from the first half of the twentieth century, spelled “rich.” She managed to smile, though.
Marcel’s mother stretched the bedcover over the unmade bed. “You seem to be such a nice girl. Be careful whom you marry. Have you heard that phrase, ‘Appearances can be deceiving?’”
“Good, then. Remember it,” advised Marcel’s mother as she straightened up. “Men nowadays seem more enterprising than ever. And then you live with their parents for a long, long time. Who may be nice people. My in-laws are.” She smiled at Maria. “Try not to become a professor or an artist, if you can. It robs you of your independence. In this country, at least.”
“What if you have a vocation?” Maria asked.
Marcel’s mother sat down on the bed. “We’re complex creatures, Maria. Don’t let anyone tell you that there’s only one thing in this world for you. Be creative with your life. Learn many skills. Don’t ever get complacent or lazy. You never know what life may throw at you, and you have to be prepared. We don’t live under communism anymore. You have to be ready to change paths if one vocation doesn’t pan out. Or a certain job. Don’t wait too long, either. Life is so very short.” She got up. “I think we’re done here,” she said, looking around the room. “Oh, let me just grab this.” She picked up her jewelry box from her closet, covered it with a scarf, and took it to the kitchen, where she dropped it into a drawer. She then retrieved from another drawer stick candles for Marcel’s birthday cake, seventeen of them plus one for good measure.
She arrived at twelve midnight sharp with the cake, closely followed by Marcel’s father. One of Marcel’s friends turned off the music, and everyone started singing “Happy Birthday” enthusiastically, the people who didn’t know Marcel even more so, as they were more inebriated. Parties were fun.
Some ended sooner than others, however, as some guests were to find out soon after they finished their slice of cake. They left the scene grumbling that the party was lame, and that it was all for the best, they might as well try two others taking place the same night. They would have left anyway, they said, taste a bit of everything. Marcel saw everyone out, including his friends.
Fifteen minutes later, about twenty people were back in Marcel’s home, the large apartment now free of unwelcome visitors. Marcel headed to the tape deck, put on Depeche Mode really loud, walked up to Anca, and, in a burst of feeling that surged through them both, wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her up.
A few moments later his hand slipped into hers, and he waved to his friends as he headed into his bedroom with his sixteen-year-old girlfriend.
“Shouldn’t you play the host?” Anca ventured as Marcel turned off the lights.
“No, they’re big kids, they can hold the fort for a while,” Marcel answered. He sat down on his bed and stretched his hands out for her, inviting her into his arms. Then he eased her down on her back and started kissing her.
“Let’s go back to the living room,” Anca said after a short while. “Who knows what they think we’re doing in here,” she added with a hesitant smile.
To be continued . . .