I was born at a time when the century was breaking in half. More transparent than the air itself, the arrow crossing above my slender arms: the god had not yet mapped out my journey—when tongues of fire flared agony over a wounded earth.
History submerged whole landscapes.
Children would blow delicate soap bubbles down from the roofs. Children scampered through the streets, propelling hoops with wire hooks.
A drumroll at the end of the street announced the Triumph of the Water Witch: the demon’s hair permed into wire, her snout smeared with chemical rouge, a pistol in her boot, a train station clock on her wrist.
A never-resting star drew the earth out of its orbit. In the arc of the Carpathians, broken, the sign waited on its knees.
The drum summoned the village to the crossroads—to inform people of new edicts, new taxes. Other laws, further numbers. In the end they dispersed back to their homes with eyes cast down to the ground. On faces beaten by wind, by sun, their thoughts could not be seen (their necks furrowed by work; younger, whiter flesh under the collar).
A neighbor, Hajdu the carpenter, looked as if he had eyes of wood. His lips warped in a long forgotten smile. He returned from those meetings with slow, solemn tread; each time his shoulders seemed bent a little lower.
Another neighbor, Herr Geetz, heard that they meant to make him “a deputy,” so he hid in his own house. They elected him anyway, because so many in the council there heaped praises on him. Even Colonel Broșteanu described him in glowing terms, although he didn’t have any idea whom he was talking about.
Life’s fragrances retreated into the earth. Words into poverty’s parched riverbed. People worked and worked, waiting (“to hope is almost to live”). Work had never betrayed them, not until now.