She has been waiting for this morning. The second day of Christmas, when everyone goes out. Her ex-husband came to take the children, they are going to granny’s place, following the usual screenplay – huge family dinner -, but there is no place left for her at that table. She didn’t mind, but somehow there was that empty space inside her, that sense of feeling when something is missing, that there is something which will never be part of the holiday any more, which actually made Christmas a celebration, a real holiday once upon a time.
She cannot go home to her mother. She would go though, she would still go, despite the humiliation of so many bitter years and despite all the hurting and abuse. She used to stick to it, although they never ever understood each other, even the holidays were wrapped in an icy silence, if she did not find “that kind of” present under the tree.
The old woman was quite outspoken, loud-tongued, solitude hardened her.
She was sick in the stomach, when she dialled her number yesterday, she was still scared of her; despite the fact that she was a grown woman already, she wished her Merry Christmas in a low voice. After a little while, some seconds of silence, when she wanted to pass the phone to the children; her mother only told her not to do so.
“I don’t want to talk to you people” she said, and hung up on her.
That was where the holidays ended. She just sat still for a long time, staring in front of herself, so many old things were rushing through her brain, her father’s striped suit, the scent of Romance, the empty cans in which she used to warm water in the hairdresser’s saloon (needless to say that her mother systematically kept eliminating them), tiny, little things, from which she could still put the pieces together.
Next year will make it thirty years that he passed away.
Nothing was left after him, except for a mirror with silver-plated frame, a gracious chalice, a few pictures, the rest was kept by her mother at home, but she never gave them to her.
Her father’s family was a mystery itself. As a child, she was scared to death from the photograph of her own grandmother, it had some impossible deep-brown colour, from which her face shone out, which actually resembled her, and yet, she felt it to be strange and horrible; she asked her parents to remove the picture from the room. She was simply scared of it. Many times, she felt like the picture wanted to talk to her, even at night, in the darkness she saw the white-glowing face, which was just like a bodiless ghost.
Her grandmother died a year before her parents met. Her grandfather was a diplomat, first secretary of the embassy (she loved this title, the fact that there is first and second secretary always made her laugh). Just like the train tickets – she kept repeating it to herself and every time she felt like smiling.
Once, already as a grown up, when she was going through the photo-album, she took a look at their wedding photo. The modest, civilian luxury of the thirties, kid gloves in the hands, very straight posture, very straight paring in the hair, condescending smile, the shy smile of virgins on the bride, which seems to be a bit dumb if we look at it through the eyes of modern men, as probably they tried to keep the set pose for long minutes looking into the camera.
Than a picture about the little boy, who later disappeared with the father. Who knows what happened to them. According to the old letters, grandpa has dome complicated love affair in Poland, with the woman they tricked his wife to travel there, took the child from her, then they all disappeared in the war, just like the extras of a petit scene in a theatre play, who appear on the stage just for a moment and leave no lasting mark after themselves. But his mother returned from the meeting pregnant, and that was how his father was born in 1936 in Budapest, never got the chance to see either his father or brother. Grandmother passed away before anyone could have really questioned her about the secret, nothing was left from the complicated and baffling story; except for a few pictures, love letters written in German (her grandmother never learned to speak Polish and his grandfather did not understand Hungarian), and the left-over of the faded silver items of the family. Later on, that one was gone too, when her father fell sick, his mother sold them in secret gradually, and she accidentally let it slip in the hospital when they visited him.
When her father died, her mother was searching for the possible family members through the Red Cross, but her efforts remained in vain. Furthermore, that town is now part of another country, because Europe is an old stupid fool, they kept reconstructing the maps, and people are moving up and down like ants.
However, the story does not end there.
She never learned Polish, as the result of some strange revolt she kept as far from Polish classes as possible. Though the name has always been there, with that strange way of writing, which instantly revealed her origin for those who had the proper eyes for it. She didn’t even know how to pronounce it properly, until one day she asked real Poles about it, they teased her for it.
After a while her mother stopped searching. They put the photos into a big plastic bag, besides a number of Italian renaissance reproductions (later on, when she visited the Uffizi, she kept thinking about who might have had them rumpled).
Suddenly the doll room came to her mind. Perhaps she was in grade one, when she kept begging her parents that she wanted one of them so much. And that was the only Christmas, when the found the gifts with her brother. Her brother helped her climb on the chair, and from there the package on the top of the wardrobe was visible. It was wrapped in blue paper, standard school-wrapping paper, perhaps the parents thought that the big box wouldn’t be so noisy. There was brown doll furniture and even TV in the doll room, later on she stuck the picture of Takács Mari on it, to have a real announcer in it, she cut it out from the Nők Lapja magazine.
She never searched for the Christmas presents again. She could hardly hide her bitterness when they stood under the tree, how low and filthy she felt she was, standing and smiling there, pretending to be surprised, though she spoilt it for herself.
During the candle lighting yesterday, there was a knot in her throat. She was longing so much to get something at last… Something, she had no idea what, just something mysterious, something she has been longing for, something shiny. That someone finally took the time to find out what could make her really happy.
When she opened the package, she wanted to carefully remove the light blue paper, but she was clumsy, the paper got torn a bit, but then she looked for the big scissors. The push owl revealed itself slowly, it was a cute little animal, quite life-life, with its spotted back and tiny feet, it even had real clutches, little, black triangles.
Then she kept hugging it. It was somehow so lovable. She was looking at the man’s face and kept thinking.
“You will find something else under the tree” he said.
It was a flat box, “it will surely be a CD” she thought. Then she felt the touch of velvet and got scared. That old Christmas came to her mind, when she got a golden necklace as a gift from her ex-husband, and it got torn by the hook the very moment she wanted to wear it. How disappointed she was on that evening, and the other one was feeling hurt too; she saw it on him.
Then the eve of the engagement, the beautiful woven silver set, which the other one took away later on.
She carefully pulled out the four-corner shaped, maroon colour velvet jewel box. “I cannot get gold from him” she thought, ‘we are not in that kind of relationship. What might be in it?”
She flipped the box open slowly, she intentionally prolonged the time, in the meantime the telephone conversation in the hospital; when he said “we do not belong together…. just a little bit” flashed in front of her eyes like lightning.
But what can be in this box? What can she get from this man, how doesn’t love her, doesn’t want to belong to her, and yet he is giving her jewellery?
She swallowed, her throat almost got completely dry form the anxiety. She opened her eyes.
And she could hardly believe them. In the box, there was a marvellous silversmith artwork: an oval, carved four-corner medallion on a wide silver band, and a pair of matching earrings, with the same pattern on them. Similar to the ring of the man.
“So, we belong together? Is it?” she though, but did not dare to say it out aloud, like the child who is afraid of braking the charm. She felt as the knot in her throat kept sliding higher and higher; she knew this scaping sensation, but it was already too late, she let the tears to start flowing from her eyes.
In the evening, she put the band on the top of the box and took delight in it there. There was something royal in it, something majestic, something beaming, which made her feel unworthy of wearing it, and yet, at the same time she was proud of it, that it was still hers.
“He put a mark on me’” she said to herself, but was scared to take her own thoughts further.
Translated by Miriam Ekiudoko