A Day of Rift and Kindness.
By ZJ Galos.
Joe Petrovich had a bad night. His wife of 37 years had most nights a sleepless night and envied Joe’s usually peaceful slumber. The moment he stirred from his sleep, she threatened him with “one day I will fall to the wayside, stone dead.”
Joe did not listen to her lamenting any longer, besides he wished to stay sane. Her early mornings in the years back had been pleasant, when she made him a cup of tea. Since they were back in Austria, her verbal attacks had rattled him at the outset. Joe urged her to seek a doctor’s help, but she refused with scolding him for such a silly advice. For years now she had been vehemently against seeing a doctor “they just had never treated her correctly”, she shouted and referred to her experiences in Greece.
Bara lost weight continuously and she blamed Joe for her condition. “It’s your lies and deceit that has caused me to get sick and have so many operations.” Joe would keep quiet. Did Mrs. Huff, their social worker, not tell him that it will be best if he said as little as possible? So Joe turned to his Journal and wrote his thoughts and feelings down. At times he had to laugh about the silly dialogues that had emerged from their misunderstandings and quarrels. “Joe Petro”, as he called him for short, “you are the cause of my disintegration.” Joe kept quiet and carried on writing. “Just write it all down”, she remarked sarcastically, “rather turn to words than be tender to your wife.” How could he be ever tender to her, if she scolded and belittled him constantly? She’s lost her mind, he thought.
Joe mused about his unusual relationship with Bara. It had lasted for 47 years and had a rich history of ups and downs. These mood swings of Bara were absurd. How could she behave like a harpy with such abusive language, whenever she went off on a tangent? The smallest happening, a wrong word, some loose discussion would set her off. Joe remembered her father, who remarked “I have to use a padlock for my lips”, whenever his wife – Bara’s mother – used to shut him down verbally. Mind against emotion? When Joe was young and in love with Bara, he pushed such quarrels of his in-laws aside. Yet, this evening of the Silent Night, he recalled his situation to be a copy of the quarrels of his in-laws.
The present situation of Joe’s marriage – if one could speak of one at all – offered not even a ghost of a chance for survival, neither for Joe, nor for Bara. As she referred back to her unusual record of medical and surgical procedures she had to endure, she blamed repeatedly Joe for her physical mishaps. Joe had loved her once and did everything for her, but the day they had lost all their possessions due to lack of funds for the rented apartment in Greece, their relationship suffered a rift that could not be repaired, however hard Joe had tried to adapt to rules, Bara had set-up, which she said were necessary for her sanity and survival. But then the bridge over the rift would never be completed and the couple drifted continuously apart. They could still see each other, but they could not communicate. The valuable goods from their possessions sold for rock-bottom prices satisfied the landlord’s sister and her friends and associates, but caused Bara’s breakdown. She lost weight continuously, turned nervous and irritated and blamed Joe for all the mishaps. But then again she turned all sweet and the loving wife, Joe had missed for many years, but it lasted not for long. Joe reckoned that some kind of bipolar state that she had inherited, came to the fore and caused the ups and downs of her behavior. Joe’s few friends seemed to agree, those from his close circle, who not only knew about it, but had met his spouse. Bara desired love and so did Joe, but neither of them could give it any longer. Even if Joe had tried to sleep with Bara, in the end she faltered and apologized not being able to have sexual intercourse.
Bara was highly irritated and the smallest thing would set her off entirely and her insults pushed Joe off completely. What she accused Joe of, she did actually to him, herself. “This X-mas I wish to be alone”, Bara said, but Joe hadn’t planned a common dinner, as Bara stuck to her special diet of Halva, mixed with a raw egg yolk and some cinnamon and glucose powder, which she stirred for her power drink. Joe had no idea any longer, how to approach Bara. Shooting him down for not cleaning the shower tray properly, seemed too pedantic to Joe, but Bara insisted and called him names. Bit by bit and year by year Joe died a bit, his body shriveled and his friends became concerned.
When Joe met Nica, who had a similar situation with her partner. Joe would sit with Nica, share his poppy-seed cake with her and she would make some coffee. Over a cup of cappuccino he would listen to her. They seemed to heal together, talking, joking and enjoying their life together over their lunchtime break. Throughout the year, Nica would support Joe with some small work he could assist her with in the gallery. Joe would treat Nica with love and offer his friendship to her. Nica turned around, she became well again and slowly added on some weight, even if gram by gram, a drawn out and difficult process.
As the last days before X-mas were approaching, Joe took his pen and brush and created a drawing, which he completed with layers of pure colour. It seemed to Joe an allegorical watercolour, with an elfin woman and a bosomy counterpart. It turned out to be an erotic painting, if one would put one’s mind to reading its details. Nica had some time before commissioned Joe for an erotic gender painting for a friend, now it seemed to have triggered in Joe this gender painting of two women. A harmonious scene in spiritual and physical relationship. But now this present of art created a bond of sharing presents and fine foods initiated from Nica and Mona.
This X-mas, staying beyond the rift separating him from Bara, he wrote a love poem for Nica – something he wished to present her for the New Year. For now he tested his feelings. Perhaps he would never be more than a good friend for Nica or Mona, but was friendship not more valuable than casual sex? Joe desired Nica, especially at first, when he met her and his spouse had been sexually alienated, but he sensed that Nica had to evolve mentally and physically from a broken relationship, besides she had asked Joe to be patient. Indeed! Joe adored her, he tested his ego to have her, in spite the great age difference. Yet, his spouse had been jealous of Nica, right from the start.
There are talks about peace and goodwill in the world. What peace will it be? Joe asks himself about his own. He had tried to be tender to Bara, but their reunion in bed had failed. She had told him on top that she suffered from a valvular heart disease. Now then, Joe mused, why did Bara not consult a cardiologist, he had been given by their family doctor? Was she afraid?
When tensions became too great to bear and the space of a bed-sitter too small for two temperamental people, Bara took off to an extended walk and Joe traveled to Vienna. Nica always welcomed him. They would sit down for coffee and some bakery and converse. Nica told him about her life: A father with an alcohol problem, where his children were afraid of his violent behavior. Nica had been married off at sixteen expecting a child. Once she had the good fortune of moving around her own and experience the equality of gender in Germany, she quickly took command of her own life. Yet, she had two further failures of incompatible men and had two more children.
Joe listened, the end year time seemed to bring out the best in people. Strangers extended good wishes and friends gave presents to each other. Joe had completed the small watercolour for Nica and called it “Last Silent Night”, like his poem he wrote for it. He packed it into a decorative carton with some sweets and a card in a snowy landscape that showed an owl hovering above a landscape with three trees. Nica was surprised and loved the painting, she called “an allegory.” Indeed it was, as Joe had painted it without any structured thought, just as he wrote poetry thinking of her. Nica, the owl, the bright elfin of the art shop.
The next day, as Nica asked Joe to come, a shopping bag filled with the weekly newspaper and some biscuits waited for him from Mona. On top Nica presented her perfect decorative shopping bag with everything inside packed neatly and fitting to her immaculate wardrobe. It was his turn to be surprised and she wished him a pleasant X-mas. They kissed as friends. This to him made his X-mas real and he’ll enjoy Silent Night with tender thoughts of her. Joe and Nica warmed in their company. Joe felt love and he saw it again for the first time after many years in the glow of Nica’s eyes.
Last Silent Night
Then von Markuzzi came and he lit up the shop with his stage presence of a comedian. “Hello Esmeralda of the Arts, hello Petro”, he hollered and told jokes. Joe joined in and Nica laughed and jollied with the two old men, as if she would express her happiness: A merry X-mas that came from all their hearts. Nica closed shop and they all parted in good spirits. As Joe turned, Nica turned at the same time. She had a smile on her face.