“Could you please recommend an anti-allergy drug to me?”
The pharmacist seems angry. She has said something I didn’t hear on coming into the pharmacy. Now she is not asking what’s wrong with me, nor asking for my prescription. She just puts a few small boxes in front of me.
“I prefer tablets,” I say, “Antihistamines… OK, I’ll take this.”
“Yes, thanks …” I rummage for a while in my wallet.
“Shall I ring it up or not?” – Her sharp voice startles me.
“Huh?” I get it too late. Bags are no longer free. “No, don’t bother. I just need the pills.”
I put them into my purse and am about to leave the pharmacy when realize that I need to be sure. I go back. There is something very nasty in the way the pharmacist is looking at me.
“Sodium citrate,” I say. Good thing I’ve remembered the name so I don’t have to explain.
“My shift was over fifteen minutes ago, miss, but then again, I told you that, didn’t I? I’ve already started taking down the cash register.”
“I’m not married. I’ve never been…”
“I am sorry… But…”
“… I don’t have children, either…”
“I’m sorry” – the pharmacist no longer looks angry. She looks tired.
The fog outside has become more dense and impenetrable. It lies heavily on my shoulders and presses on me while I search for my car in the parking lot. Something irritates my eyes and tears leak from them. I’m allergic to… to the dirt lurking out there in the foggy weather, I am allergic to this day and to women who own boutiques.
I drive around downtown for some time, then find an open pharmacy. I park carelessly, leaving the lights on. Just a few steps away from the car I can no longer see them anyway. Today is the last day of all when fog will be hanging over Sofia. Tonight, the forecast predicts that the west wind will deal with it. Tomorrow it will be gone.
“Are you open?” I stop hesitantly at the door. It’s Friday night and there are a bunch of other places that are open. Places where I am not.
“This pharmacy works nonstop, ma’am. Please come in.”
“Miss… I’m not…”
The woman looks at me kindly. Perhaps her shift has just started.
“… married,” I keep explaining something no one cares about. “Do you have sodium citrate or some other… such … thing for vomiting?”
They have it. The pharmacy is large and well-stocked. The cash register is working. I am buying wet wipes, toothpaste and razor blades – things I do not need, but I need to postpone leaving this brightly lit, clean, nice, warm room. The fog is patiently waiting for me outside.
I walk the little Durvenitsa streets several times, until I find the right one. If it were not for the fog, my way would be easier, since the school building could serve as my reference point. Now, however, it is part of the ghostly reality that exists somewhere beyond. The potholes in the road, however, are in place. Missing only is what I knew here once as a deep hole in the pavement. It has recently been filled up. There is no longer shattered gravel and crushed asphalt around it. The round patch on the road surface is darker and I am able to spot it with my head-lights. The fog does not care to own that spot. I am thinking that I should turn off the engine, but do not do it. The white mist, streaming out of my exhaust pipe, is not the one feeling lonely.
Just a few months ago a man had a flat tire here, at this place. While changing the tire with a spare, another driver hit him. And downed him. The driver had been going at a speed of 200 km/h. Can you really hit someone, driving at such speed? In any case, it was not just an accident. It was an absurdity. The ambulance came in less than ten minutes. “Dislocated arm and bruises” stated the conclusion of the doctors at the emergency room. They did not even have to keep him for observations overnight.
That night he never said he felt any headache. He did not even complain of cramps in the neck. Nothing but his arm. But even about that he thought he was lucky. Dislocation, and no fracture – he thought it was the lesser of two evils. That was exactly the way he said it. But in the morning it was only me who woke up. Cerebral hemorrhage.
A funny story. Funny and ridiculous, I thought after my first pack of antidepressants. Emmo was working in the army. A real soldier, not a clerk or the chauffeur of some colonel. Emmo returned alive and well from a mission in Afghanistan a few years ago. Six months based in Kabul and a brand-new apartment in the suburbs of Sofia. We had to take out a loan for the finishing and furnishing, however. A significant amount, which became a bit of a burden after the start of the crisis.
Andrey Nikolov. Yes, that was the name on the business card. Andrey Nikolov – Attorney. So it read, I’m sure of it. He was a tall man wearing a suit and tie.
“Can I ask you a few questions?” I think that’s what he asked. I was in the waiting room – immediately after my conversation with the pathologist.
I realized he was an investigator of some kind after he assured me that we had good chances of winning the case.
“Well… what? The case against the city hall for that pothole, which blew your husband’s tire…”
“We were not married.”
“Against that doctor from the emergency room, against that driver of the other car, against …”
I hit him so hard with my purse that my hand went numb. I do not remember another time in my life when I felt such rage. Pure and uncontrollable. Just rage, without anger, without cruelty, without regrets. The buckle of my purse split his eyebrow. I still remember his shirt, all splattered with blood. It was a nice shirt. Perfectly ironed. No wrinkles on it. At least not before I became all rage.
This morning, when I went to his office, I noticed that he does not look bad at all. Even in a way he reminds me of Emmo. But the other day he reminded me of a heinous vulture.
Well, this case now is not just against city hall or against a doctor, but against me. For causing moderate bodily injury. I am the accused.
Shortly before midnight I manage to get out of Durvenitsa and that hole filled with asphalt. I stop only for a bottle of strong whiskey and go straight home. Maybe I no longer have to think like that about this apartment. But on the other hand, I have nothing to change my thinking for…
Two months ago I got fired. The procedure went quietly, without charges, without requests and without hassles. I botched an important request and missed out on a big customer. They could have thrown me out for less. I, however, was released by “mutual consent”. I hastily signed all the necessary documents and went in person to register at the Labour Office. Simple job, well done. But I will no longer be able to work as a sales manager, anywhere. I tried a week as a waitress in a cafe. It didn’t work out. I’m still very sorry for all the broken plates.
A few days ago a friend arranged an interview for me as a saleswoman in an apparel store. “No saleswomen,” said the owner, “rather, sales consultants.” “But I don’t understand fashion,” I replied, and despite that she took me in. Besides my occupational license and the medical certificate, I must submit to her my legal record showing no previous convictions. And the latter had better be clean. And drawn up in the next couple of days. Because the very first day of next month my status starts to change.
I park. I botch the turn with the car and hit the bumper of the next car in the row. I think it’s just a scratch, because the scrape wasn’t too loud. But then I realize that the music in my car is cranked up and I turn it off. Perhaps it is not just a scratch. I take off and look around for the damage. I wish I had a large sum of money, which I could leave underneath the windshield-wipers. I have just only coins left though. I spent my last bit of cash on the whiskey. Maybe I should have collected my change. Not that it would help.
I look around. None of the windows on the first floor is lit, there are no dogs barking, nor have any of the alarms gone off. The hum of an engine surprises me. Just two cars away. Their headlights are off, but there is someone inside. I look at my whiskey, to make sure that the cap is in place. Even the excise label is not broken. Nevertheless , the male silhouette, getting out of the car, is familiar.
“Hey,” it seems so odd that I manage to sound so normal: “Nikolov, attorney-at-law, always at the right time, always in the right place!”
I may sound normal, but I feel like a complete idiot.
“Are you okay?”
“Ah,” I have no idea whether I am okay, and a lot less of an idea why he cares about it, “What are you doing here?”
“I was waiting for you.”
He looks at the bottle in my hands. If it was empty, I would hit him with it as well.
“And since when are you allowed to address me as a friend?”
“Since…,” he doesn’t finish his sentence, but I am convinced that a comment about my breasts is on the tip of his tongue. He abandons that and says: “You forgot something … this morning, at my office.”
“Look, my proposal is no longer valid,” I tell him, “For anything else you could have called me on the phone.”
And then I see it in his hands. Quite clearly. Despite the fog. My very own phone. I did not even noticed that it was gone. All the same, no one calls me anymore.
It was a humiliating business – what I did this morning. I offered myself to him. I took off my coat, and then my shirt. Most conveniently I was not wearing anything underneath. I did not gather the courage to get to my skirt. Anyway – he threw me out. I might have skinny hips, but my breasts are quite all right. I mean quite all right even without the bra and the padding. I just can’t do that seduction thing right. So, fuck it all – him, his stupid case and my clean police record.
“I could have a glass of that,” he keeps staring at the bottle in my hands.
“I hit that car over there,” I say, “So, if you’ll be calling the cops can it be tomorrow?”
“Yes, it can. Won’t you ask me in?”
“Once a day only. Sorry.”
“It’s a new day already,” he hands me my phone, and it confirms his words. It was not hard for him to find my address. He probably changed his mind and came for what he had rejected in the morning. Yesterday morning, to be exact. it is another day already. A brand-new one. Unused. He continues to speak to me: “So, tomorrow it is… I could call the traffic police…”
I feel dizzy. I wish I could do something. Anything. But I have no rage left either.
“Great,” I say, “Come in.”
I take a few things from my car and then take him to Emmo’s apartment. Then I will provide him with Emmo’s bed sheets . For starters he is satisfied to just drink from his glass. Straight up, without ice.
“What’s the plan?” he asks me after the first glass. We drink slowly and bitterly. I pour again.
“No plan. Get what you came for… and go away.”
“Who will get the apartment?”
“You were never married. You don’t have children. His parents are long dead…”
“Don’t worry about that. There is who… Some cousin of his mother. For her the apartment, and for me… Paying off the loan.
“Wasn’t it a mortgage?”
“No mortgage. A consumer loan. We were going to get married… some fucking day. Later. And have a child… Children… When we were ready…”
“You stopped payments on the loan. They are looking for you from the bank.”
“So I’ve heard. At the labor office they were not particularly generous, though… And I ordered the most expensive marble slab… For the gravestone… Does it matter…”
“You’re right. It doesn’t. So you don’t have a penny?”
Well, I still have some pennies, but this changes nothing. I fill the glasses again. I have plans for this night. I want him to go. I want him to leave me alone.
“What ?” I could light a cigarette if I had one. I don’t think I’ve smoked for more than a decade. This is a serious length of time. And none of these years has made me any less of a smoker. “Are you my lawyer? I did not hire you, or am I wrong?”
The alcohol has started working on me. I laugh at my own stupid joke.
“Do you need one?”
“No, I no longer do…”
“Because I’m free… If you were to appeal.”
“I don’t need it… The law has screwed me anyway, but they’ll probably provide me with a public defender… for no money… Will they send me one?”
“You won’t need that. I already took care of it… Before I came.”
“I’m sorry about your shirt. Did it wash off?”
“What’s your plan, Annie?”
“Plan? I have no plan. I’m sorry if I said or did something… anything… this morning… yesterday… or whenever it was…”
“You haven’t done anything yet, right?”
“Have I? No, nothing yet, besides the whiskey. Couldn’t you just go now?”
“If you really wanted that you would have ditched me back there, by the car.”
“You think so? It was not a cry for help… and don’t think…”
“Sometimes… In the fog… One can easily be mistaken about having no choice.”
“Sometimes… In the fog… One starts to see things better… This is the end.”
My plan actually is a very good one. Secure, precisely thought out, carefully planned. My plan is wonderful. Like the plan for a student essay, only without the spelling errors. I’ll start with the anti-allergy pills. Just a few of them, with a little bit of whiskey. They are like ointment to the stomach – they soothe it and suppress the nausea. Then I’ll fill the bathtub with warm water. Let it be hot, but not too hot. I will put in scented bath salts – in fact, the whole package. This will make the bathtub slippery. I will sink into it in my underwear and the bottle of whiskey I will put on the shelf, right next to the jars with sleeping pills and antidepressants. I will unpack the razor blades from their packaging and will sort them out as well. With every sip of the whiskey, I will take two of the sleeping pills. I will do it slowly. I already know from experience that mixing barbiturates and alcohol irritates the stomach and causes vomiting. So, exactly at half-pack I will swallow the sodium citrate and more antihistamines. Then I will use the razor blades. I will make a longitudinal cut on my veins. Not cross-section on the wrists, like they do in the movies, but cutting their entire length from ankle to knee, and then from wrists to elbows. Then I will finish my whiskey with the rest of the tablets. By that time maybe I will have drifted off. I will slip down in the bathtub and the water will cover my face.
I think my plan is decent – secure, looked at from all sides, not a cry for help or asking for pity. And it will not be difficult to clean up afterwards. Yes, this is a good end to a no-good story.
I never reach the bathroom. I cuddle on the couch by his side, and half-awake I feel he is covering me with his jacket. Then I hear him mutter that only Salinger’s characters had no choice, and I fall asleep.