The Mermaid’s Secret
On 2021-07-14 | 0 Comments

Fragment translated by the author


December 2014

He looked down on the square to see the place where the hole used to be. His gaze travelled deep into the ground where he knew the corpse lay. He could no longer remember the face of the victim, or any of the others. He had seen the man only once, at early dawn on the day of the murder, and his features had been wiped from his retina so fast it was frightening. He could only remember his jacket, his hands in his pockets and him yelling. The man’s voice reminded him of the war, of the briefing orders before sunrise. Of that dawn, he only really remembered the anger. The feeling that he had been deceived, and that everything that mattered had been taken from him. Only when he got home did he realize that it was he himself who had become a traitor, and that from that day on his whole life would be a lie.

The Christmas market on the square was living its last days, late shoppers browsing among colourful candles piled up on the stalls. His neighbour made an Advent crown for them every year, but he didn’t feel like telling her once again that they didn’t believe in such things. ‘You don’t have to believe in the crown,’ she had replied last year, ‘you just have to trust that better times will come, that it is worth waiting’. But now he knew that his days were numbered and there was nothing good to wait for.

He clutched the railing. The touch of the icy metal was both familiar and upsetting, and it reminded him of the war: the burning coldness in his palm knew no compassion or forgiveness. These things, just like repentance, were the privileges of churchgoers, he had thought then in the deafening sound of the machine-guns. Yet what brought him here today was repentance mixed with fear. This was his last chance to see, once again, the patchy asphalt pavement of the square while it was intact. He ran his cold fingers across his forehead.

Soon it will be a holiday, and in January the wrinkled asphalt skin of the square will be ripped open for renovation. There may be others who, like himself, have secrets hidden underneath. ‘It is inoperable,’ the oncologist had said this morning. No use cutting out the rotting parts. No cleansing for him, unlike for the square.

He closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see the square swarming with people who had left it late to take care of their beloveds’ presents, and who were now walking away, treading on the corpses hidden under the tarmac. He didn’t want to look at these people who think that grandma will surely be happy with the gypsum figurine of the Saviour and a box of chocolates to suck at while watching the news, or to take as a present to her friends, if they are still alive. With paper bag in hand they walk away, self-satisfied, over the tarmac covering the sediments of the past. And it wouldn’t occur to them to ask grandma if she had ever pointed a weapon at a fellow-being. How did it feel, pulling the trigger, and can she still recall the hatred she had felt then?

He walked back to the bus stop under the twinkling Christmas lights. The wind brought him the smell of cheap mulled wine. One more Christmas with the family, he thought, perhaps the last one. A bitter smile passed over his face. God punishes the sinners but only moderately so.