Contact Prince Papa Jan
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TO THE LITTLE TOOTH — WITH LOVE AND NOSTALGIA
I was twenty-four and no wedding was visible in my foreseeable future. After all in those days the newspapers were awash with reports about the progress of socialist emulation never publishing any horoscopes.
Although I was in the season of love or more precisely in the jungle of amorous adventures no wedding loomed on the horizon. It was the time of the local brand of hippies. We already knew that making love was much pleasanter than making war. Although amorous exploits were seen as manifestations of moral decadence. Of bourgeois morality, that is to say. At that time the two things were regarded as one and the same.
Decadent or not, love was sweet and its ripe fruit fell from the trees around, with me eating them greedily and voraciously, having forgotten the parable about the expulsion from Eden.
New Year’s Eve was drawing near. I was invited to a party by three fabulous girls and I started thinking up plans how to show my gratitude to them so that all four of us should have a truly unforgettable time.
My future wife, Maria, was also invited to the party. So I met her for the first time on New Year’s Eve.
I could have said on the eve of the New Life but big words are not in my line.
When I again saw her at seventeen I was ready to fall in love with her for the second time. Although I knew what was to follow.
As when I first met her, I again played shy and coy in the face of her tenderness and explanations. Such women are the most dangerous. The are determined to get what they want at any price and then they never forget at what price they have achieved it and pay you back with a vengeance. Generally, one who is willing to suffer any indignities is capable of much greater cruelty.
In the case of my wife, saying all that is an overstatement, but to a certain degree it was an element of her character. When I again saw this lovely creature with endearingly peculiar front teeth which had earned her the nickname “The Little Tooth”, when she let her fine long brown hair, so fashionable in those days, fall down, I fell in love with her again.
Even more than the first time!
The Little Tooth did not turn out to be so innocent as at first glance she seemed to be. Quickly and with great ingenuity she dealt with her friends and they left the field open for her. And she seduced me so exquisitely that I had no way but to yield. On the first day of the New Year we were lovers already but I still did not think that everything was really serious and for long. Almost for ever! Even now when I must know and remember it for sure I still cannot digest it.
Before me I had an endless time as a bachelor, so bright and devoid of obstacles that I saw myself as having fulfilled all, or at any rate the main, objectives of my life.
But the Little Tooth entered this life with thunder and lightning. Many times I drove her away, treated her rudely but she invariably repeated she loved me — something which cannot be resisted by a man with a kindly heart. What’s the point in winning even the whole world when you trample upon the feelings of the only person who may be loving you truly?
Little Tooth made me unable to think of anything else but the two of us. I did not believe her but I could not sever her from myself and my feelings. She always came back the winner. Although she pleaded as the most contrite sinner.
She wanted me as the most capricious child wants something.
She was ready to give up her very self.
She appropriated my free time as a conqueror and despotic ruler. She was tireless. She was determined. She was, in, a girl who knows what she wanted and how to achieve it.
Those like her were later called in songs and poems Manly Girls. But she was a real woman! The things she gave me I could not find in any other. She was exactly the Woman who gives birth to life, creates life and takes away life. Or at any rate peace of mind.
As I was saying, now when the party is over and day breaks, some of us still not completely sober, we shall lay the beginning of a long tempestuous relationship. In the end we were to come to repeated partings after having had two lovely daughters for whom I felt so deeply…
The one we called Gergana and as early as three years of age she was having piano lessons with the teacher Keti Stoyanova with whom we were very good friends. The other was called Lydia. She was conceived in what was the Soviet Union and this again lit the flame between us which was later to become cold ashes.
The reason for the inevitable numerous partings was the fact that Little Tooth who after that New Year’s night constantly swore by anything that existed or wasn’t yet born even, by anything in heaven and earth that she loved me that she was the only woman to understand me really did not understand me.
I did not blame her. She had undertaken an impossible task and was moreover staking on a losing card. On that New Year’s night I was a likable, blond, but quite ordinary, boy. She fell in love with the quite ordinary boy and refused to see in me anything else. Later on, when she understood, she displayed the courage of a woman who is prepared to do everything for her husband, even to love him through clenched teeth and even to try to understand that other thing which did not belong to her.
She did not mind the long journeys. She accepted them and got used to them although she had never liked them before. She also grew accustomed to remaining often alone, although she sometimes pointed to this as the main reason for the rows and stormy partings. She wondered aloud: “I don’t know why I wasn’t unfaithful to you at least once! You provided me with so many opportunities I even had the feeling that you yourself were pushing me into it…”
I suspect she grew accustomed also to my eccentricities, to the shouting of poems. And she whispered laughing, during lovemaking:
“You’re a maniacal nut! Is that why I love you so?”
She was not Gregoriash’s girl and could not say that one feel free if one has oneself chosen one’s slavery and has come to love it. She could not realize that my slavery, too, and my feeling of freedom as well, are all connected with the still not established gallery of mine. Now that I was for the second time face to face with my wife I realized that spouses love each other more that they do their children. Although it often seems the other way about. There is something inexplicably beautiful which remains between us.
“What’s the matter with you, Jan?” Little Tooth asked. When we met for the first time she did not ask that.
“Sometimes I see into the future. In a certain way I am a prophet…” said I pursing my lips mockingly.
“You are more like to conqueror,” she smiled almost encouragingly.
“But I see no contradiction!” I said. “Wasn’t David both a prophet and a conqueror?”
“Only he!” she sharply interrupted. “But he is an exception. Because he was God’s favourite even when he perpetrated his infernal crime. Prophets are never appreciated while the conqueror wins recognition. For the conquerors there are flowers and memorials. Till people cover their glories with reproaches.”
“And what’s it like not to be appreciated by your own wife! Evidently, that was a problem only for Socrates…” I thought to myself.
“So I’m a prophet!” I summed up my thoughts. “I see that tomorrow I shall be misunderstood by my own wife, too!” I said this out loud.
“Haw-haw, what a pessimist you turn out to be! But you can make yourself understood by every woman. I have known you such a short time but already know you to be marvelous. This is a good beginning, isn’t it?”
This conversation had not taken place at our first meeting and I was uneasy to find something new and foreign intervening in my memories. I did not wish to change my past no matter how imperfect it was.
It is a mistake to alter the past even if that were possible. The parallel existences of past, present and future should never be mixed. They should interact, entering into conflicts.
“As a prophet, why don’t you tell me something about the future? Perhaps you don’t want to alter it? Non-interference, what?” she challenged me.
At that time I was a bit the worse for liquor so I fell into this trap, but why did I believe her resumed invitation?
“I can tell you some things,” I said. “You will have two fine daughters and a husband with whom you will not see eye to eye much but will love each other. Is it good?”
“But why are you speaking on and on about conjugal affairs?”
“Sometimes I take up unusual conversation topics. After all, the New Year is coming.”
“Do you feel older?”
“No, but alcohol is getting the better to me. I shall have to stop in order to be sure I won’t wake up tomorrow with remorse and headache… And in a place set apart for other things, mostly of a physiological nature and remote from the egotism of the hermit…”
Little Tooth broke out laughing at my twisted manner of speaking.
I invited her to a dance and we set things back into their proper perspective. That was the way it was. The same song! “The House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals. We danced on the razor’s edge. Everything between us could have broken even then. And I was protecting the love rising like the sun, protecting surely the conceiving of my daughters and whispered to Little Tooth. I whispered verses.
Verses which she never came to like anyway.
Verses which I never completed anyway.
You are naked, naked you will come
For the crucification of our love
We danced… Our feet moved to the rhythm of that melody. In my mind a poem was taking shape. Splendid and warm like love! And I kissed her…
Without a path, without a way, I’ll find you…
And she kissed me…
Did I say without a way? You’re the way!…
I must have been very drunk
Even now I am not quite sober, remembering all that.
Who can know what can’t be known, what remains within us?…
No one. At least I didn’t… Well, I again failed to tell the Little Tooth the verses. But poetry flowed between us. Or love. Unless they amount to the same thing…
It was as well we made love like way back then. And our heart beat to the rhythm of an unfinished dance and an incomplete poem…
But even I had decided to alter my past, to become another such as Little Tooth wished me to be and to try and forget about the gallery, I would not have achieved much. I would not have made the “good husband” she looked for. Wasn’t I again shouting verses and writing them in the air? And she could only write upon the flesh…
Silence fell between us.
“You’re thinking again?” she enunciated it as a question. Such question she liked to ask at daybreak. When I was returning.
“Aren’t you thoughtful as well?” I answered with a question.
So the silence was fraught with questions.
“A little… But I’m not unduly worried… What happened between us was not a mistake.”
This conversation had not taken place the first time.
“No, it wasn’t a mistake,” I asserted. “There are things which simply have to happen.”
“You’re again acting the prophet. It may frighten me in the end. Have I really slept with a man who will never be understood properly?”
“I am no prophet,” I was speaking slowly, “but simply Jan. The man who was with you that night and who wishes things to remain as they are though he very much likes his travels into the unknown…”
My words amused her. She was being incomprehending again. She thought I was simply trying to be different from the others but my words were grave indeed. I was fearful but Little Tooth was again misunderstanding me. Would my daughter to whom I gave the rose understanding me. Would my daughter to whom I gave the rose understand me some time?…
And I wished to be elsewhere, away from that bed immediately and into some other period of my life.
And so it happened. It happened the moment I wished it. As if I possessed a magic wand. The rumbling in my ears came on. The suspension above nothingness. The tunnel. The superlighted tunnel or the one people see before death.
I found myself in the Papa Jan Gallery.
The cretin with his tiny black swinish eyes had touched “The Kiss” by Jules Pascin with his knife.
He was some lad, that boy. He was in a black sleeveless vest and seemed to be trying to scare me with his bicepses and the profuse tattooing on them. He was too swarthy to be a pure Bulgarian — with short hair, ranger style, prematurely thinning probably because of the steroids he had taken to grow so big. The smile on his flattened lips was well-moulded like a poster. The gang had asked an exorbitant rent for the protection of my gallery. I simply didn’t have all that money. I had much more in shares, real estate and works of art. But I hadn’t touched them ever and never would — they were something more than money. Nor did I have any intention to pay the racketeers after my unfortunate experience in Russia. They never know when enough is enough. Sometimes even they may imagine that once they are paid they’ll let a fellow be, but this never lasts long. They always charge as much as the market would bear and even more: as much as they can or until they themselves come to grief and get their comeuppance from some awkward customer.
Now they had sent the worst degenerate from their gang. He did not resemble a normal human being with his pig’s eyes but nor did he look like a swine with his wolfish aggressiveness. With swaggering nonchalance he took out the knife and touched with it the canvas by Jules Pascin. The canvas which had had saved me amidst the ice at Verkhny Mezen.
He was nearly two metres tall and weighed at least a hundred and thirty kilos. His bosses selected their hirelings just like pimps selected theirs. I made no move at first. I thought he was bluffing. But no, he was not; he was about to rip “The Kiss”.
He seemed quite unperturbed but in fact he was not. His eyes sought contact with mine.
We were both on the brink when he said:
“If you don’t pay us what you owe us, this picture will be destroyed! You can count on me completely…”
Would I have time to pull out my gun? Way back then I succeeded but I was not sure about the time. When repeated, current experience resembles the previous one but the two were not identical so now even the slightest difference could have fatal consequences.
For a split second he let his mind wander and taking advantage of that I pulled out my gun and pointing it at his bare neck, I said:
“Come now, you jerk, let go of that knife!” and saying this I loaded the gun.
He did as he was bidden.
“Put your hands on the back of your neck! Lower down… Let me see them trying to touch your waist! Still lower!”
As before, I now realized I was about to pull the trigger, having almost activated the hair-trigger. I had again pointed the muzzle at the racketeers neck.
“Lower, lower!” I continued shouting. “And spread your elbows more!”
Then I moved nearer and kicked away the knife. I had no wish to kill a man, albeit a racketeer… I wanted no conflicts either with the law or his friends or — least of all — with my conscience. I would have not hesitated though had he damaged “The Kiss” in any way or had he offered any resistance. I perfectly well realized the trigger could produce a shot at any moment — a horrifying thought! — but some dark force did not allow me to relax my hold on it. At that moment I was more fearful of myself than of the racketeer. I had the same feeling as when I was holding the axe above the head of Vitya, my personal bodyguard and erstwhile friend who had so villainously betrayed me. There was a struggle within me and I stood on the edge of a prencipice. Truly a hero out of some action thriller.
“Let me see you on your heels! On your heels!” I went on shouting. “Raise your toes!”
He nearly fell. He had leant backwards and the precarious posture I had made him take was so uncomfortable… As if that were not enough, I wanted him to stand on his heels.
“The slightest sway of your body will cost you your life!” That dark force within me continued to torture us: him and me.
I even pulled him by the back of his hair. It was not necessary for me to pull him so violently. He collapsed on the floor — all of his hundred and thirty kilograms. In his collapse there was nothing of the technique of falling. He groaned. I touched his temple with the gun and only then did I relax my hold on the trigger but without removing my finger from it.
“And now, when I tell you to be off, be off if you don’t want something really unpleasant to happen to you… It was very ill-advised of you to attempt to threaten me… It was below aesthetical standards and only aesthetes enter the gallery. At least until this place here is still a gallery. Tell your people all about it and if they tear your balls don’t blame me. And you need not scare me with your likeness to Konan the Barbarian. That might win you the sympathy of Atanas Djananov but not mine. And now off with you!”
The gorilla straightened up and made for the door. Only after he crossed the threshold did he say:
“Count yourself a goner!” and hurried to take cover.
I smiled but it was no laughing matter. The danger had passed only temporarily and I felt cold and hot waves through my body. I had preserved “The Kiss” alive! I had saved it! This is the dream of every adolescent boy since the beginning of the world. I was happy. Nevertheless, my heart was beating faster. “The Kiss” was in danger. I could not put its life at risk. I could not take this responsibility either before Art or before my child… Hadn’t I handed over the rose… And what was I to hand over to her without “The Kiss”?…
I felt like crying from frustration…
Noise. Rumbling. Transition. A tunnel. A leap from medium to medium of from memory into memory.
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