Chance, by Razvan Petrescu
translated from Romanian by Claudia Moscovici
The hollow noise of the spades got lost in the sound of the rain. The three
men worked without verve, quietly, sloshing through the mud. The ditch deepened
and they disappeared, little by little, in its midst. From the street one could
only see the flaps of their hats, soaked by the rain. Shovelfuls of black earth
were constantly hoisted in the air, deepening the hole in the ground. The smaller
bits of earth would roll unto the asphalt. After awhile, the conductor appeared.
From adistance it resembled the stomach of an enormous fish, buried there since
God knows when. The crack could be seen clearly, stretching for approximately
half a meter. What a hole… Go see if we have what we need, in the car. Don’t
forget the bolts. Laur hoisted himself out of the hole and started walking
to the truck. The windshield was shinny, covered by round raindrops. He opened
the trunk and started looking through the tool box. After a few seconds, he
checked his watch. Boys, it’s time that we grab something to eat. It’s ten after
three. The other two raised their heads. What time did you say? Three? Well I’ll
be darned, we were so busy we lost track of time… Then leave all that and
let’s get the lunch bags. They’re under the bench. Laur leaned down, felt them,
smelled them, his mouth started watering. He returned with the lunch bags
underarm and sat down on the rim. Did you bring the bottle? Of course! Here it
is. He sniffed it. Sighed. What stupid drizzle. It’s okay, it will stop.
Begonie rubs his numb hands. After a few minutes, the rain stopped. Their wet
windbreakers were stuck to their backs. With impatient gestures they opened the
newspapers in which their food was wrapped. The noise of wet, torn paper.
Cracked and dirty fingers, avid, grabbing. Where’s the onion? Aha! It’s damn
spicy! Be quiet and take some cheese. It soothes your heart, doesn’t it? The food
disappeared fast, leaving greasy traces in their beards. Little long stains that
shone dimly. Come on man, hurry up. Trandafir removed the bottlecap with his
teeth, took a gulp and handed the bottle to the others. Their veiny necks moved
up and down, like pistons. Now it’s raining on the inside, even harder, Begonie
laughed. Cheers! From time to time a car would pass by fast by the three men
perched on the little mound of earth. They stared blankly ahead and chewed their
food. Wrinkled, jaundiced faces, stained around the mouth. The sky was purple.
It had darkened gradually, like the cheek of a giant dead man. Goddamned life!
Trandafir swore looking up. Who the heck wants to work in this kind of weather?
The team with similar names; men with the names of flowers. This lucky bouquet
that smells like… Listen, forget the poetry and tell me where you put
the hammer. Because I don’t see it. It’s there in the ditch. Don’t worry, nobody
will steal it. You’d better take a swig too. That’s right. Thin vapors emerge
from their clothes, their lips, the earth. Tell me, will we finish it in two
hours? Begonie glanced for a few moments at his muddy shoes, sighed, then let
wind loudly. Eh, we finish or not, today? I don’t know, Laur, my man, since
even my mother-in-law doesn’t have a crack like this. But we may get to the
bottom of it, before the evening. The wind started to blow. The greasy papers
slowly floated around the leftover bread, cheese, bacon and onion rimes. Is the
flask empty? There’s a bit more, here! Trandafir threw his head back and gulped,
noisily, the last drop of vodka. He smacked his lips, pleased. It’s good! Now
all that’s missing is a whore, to… On this wetness, that’s all you need! A wet
whore. To screw her holding an umbrella over your head… You could hear a growl
and a giggle. Wait a minute. I want to tell you something. You boys, with your
worries. Yes, boss, yes. Laur, hit him over the head with something. Good. And
what I wanted to tell you, is that she had an ass like you’ve never seen in your
sorry life. Why sorry? Because. You didn’t see it. A booty all the way to
here.Your pants fell down on their own when she moved it. She rumbled like a
heater. I don’t even remember how I took my clothes off… Listen, didn’t she
faint when she smelled your stick? What, you think that she didn’t? Laur grinned
showing his teeth covered in the cheap material. What can I say, Trandafir, you’re right.
But since you were born you polluted the air. As if you smelled like lilacs. You
smell like a corpse, if you want the truth. I’m wasting my breath anyway. You’re
an expert on women like I am on foreign languages. They continued to fight for a
few more minutes, then they hit each other, then, after awhile, they fell
silent. They glanced at the solitary tree that was sketched on the corner of the
street. It grew thin, cutting a complicated line against the violet afternoon
sky. A heavy truck passed by very close and splattered them with drops of mud.
Mother fucker! Hand me a cigarette! Laur removed a wrinkled package, half-wet.
He lit up a cigarette cupping his hand, then handed the pack to the others. They
smoked in silence, coughing from time to time and spitting phlegm. Man, it’s
damn cold. I’m frozen solid. That’s it, I’m splitting. Begonie got up, threw the
package and jumped out of the hole. He grabbed the shovel and stuck it deeply
under the pipe. There was a dry noise, followed by a rumble. Afterwards,
nothing. What are you doing there, Boss? Quiet. Wouldn’t you know it, this one
broke a bone. Hey! Answer me, man, for once! Begonie raised his head over the
rim of the trench. He smiled from ear to ear. Trandafir and Laur looked at him
quizzingly. Why are you smiling? I heard something crack in there. What was it?
Begonie winked. Come down in here, I have to show you something pretty amazing.
The two of them jumped in without needing other explanations. Eh? What do you
say? Isn’t it wonderful? He lifted it up, twirling it on his finger. Laur and
Trandafir stared at the blackened skull, then burst into laughter. How did this
get here? Maybe it’s your grandmother. She escaped from the cemetery. Watch out
that she doesn’t bite your finger. Let’s take it to the museum. Dead for the
canal. Maybe she’ll give us some vodka. Another burst of laughter and they got
out of the trench. They laughed with tears, grabbing their stomachs. The mud
blinked gently. After they were done, they wiped their cheeks with their sleeves
and quieted down abruptly, exhausted. Begonie pushed his hat back, scratched his
crotch and said between his teeth, “Boys, I’ve got to tell ya, I have to pee.
So, if nobody’s opposed… He grinned and set the cranium down. He urinated at
length until the liquid started reversing through the eye holes. The other two
watched without a sound, with an awkward smile. Begonie zipped up his pants.
That’s it, let’s get back to work, he said in a raspy voice. Or else we’ll be
here until night. They began to work again. The sounds rose, spreading
rhythmically on the street. It was quiet in the neighborhood. People gathered in
living rooms, among kitchen utensils. Slippers, little shoes, coats and
umbrellas drying on the racks, few words. Here’s the soup. The sun rose slowly
behind the apartment buildings, golden, humid. Laur, leave that hammer alone,
for God’s sake. Do you hear me? Begonie straightened up, irritated. Where are
you? Hammer! he screamed at the top of his lungs. Trandafir also stopped
working; blew his nose with his fingers and glanced around. Raindrops fell to
the ground, trembled on tree branches, sparkling from time to time. Laur gently
lifted the skull and wiped it carefully. It was so light… Alas! In the palm of
his hands unknown words grew, racing faster and faster towards his temples.
Alas! “Poor Yorik. I knew him… He hath borne me on his back a thousand
times….” What the hell are you talking about? Are you nuts? “Those lips that I
have kissed I know not how oft…” Trandafir and Begonie exchanged glances. Man,
speak like a human being. What’s come over you? Laure, throw that thing away and
stop joking around! All of the sudden the sounds disappeared and he quieted
down. “WHERE BE YOUR GIBES NOW? YOUR GAMBOLS? YOUR SONGS?”
All of the sudden the sounds disappeared and he quieted down.
With an awkward motion he put the skull on the ground and closed his eyes.
Maybe it’s the weather! He got up and wiped his face with his hand, with a tired gesture.
He felt the sweat drying on his temple. He spit to the side, then turned and looked at his comrades.
With the words stuck in their throats, Trandafir and Begonie remained motionless.
(short story from the volume "Rubato”, by Razvan Petrescu, Editura Curtea Veche, 2011) Republished on Literatura de Azi: http://literaturadeazi.ro/content/şansa#sthash.Skg9TqNA.dpuf