Translated by Ivangelina Vateva
“Hey stammerer!” – The kids would call her when they were feeling benevolent. Her name “Ellie the Stammerer” adorned all the walls and fences, along with the name of “Angel the Vlach” – that was the usual nickname for Romanian immigrants. When the children called out for Angel, “Vlach” sounded too tasteful to them, so they would shout, “Hey, vla!” or “Hey, wet vla!.” And he really did look just like some WET VLA, with his slicked back hair and his stupid smile, holding onto the hope that by grinning constantly and keeping his shoes polished, he would maybe appease someone. The only feeling he provoked in Ellie was the urge to shrug – he was moving so cautiously, twisting, his large head lowered above his bony, narrow shoulders. Even though, to be completely honest, she looked like some STAMMERER, too. Anyone who saw how she was glaring – as if she was about to invent a new language that uses stares and not words – would agree. Angel had difficulties when speaking as well.
“We’re played this game before, right?” he would say.
“We’ve played it, you wet vla,” they responded.
He didn’t even get offended. He didn’t go hiding in the corners to sulk before returning to the game, like some other kids used to do. He was okay with playing all the hide-and-seek and games and being called The Vlach. He was always the one who counted, the one who got “killed,” the one who was out of all the games first. Yet he was a master of trickery and whenever he got caught, he didn’t make excuses, he would just grin, as if to say: “Well, whatever, that’s just who I am.” So they didn’t drive him away or beat him up. Ellie, on the other hand, refused to join in the games. She would walk past the gang without paying attention to them. They shouted “Hey stammerer!” in vain, like they were tossing her the free end of a rope. She let the rope flop at her feet, shrugged and kept going on her way – no one knew where to. In the best-case scenario, she would start getting violent. One time she chased that girl Nina right up to the neighborhood’s public toilet. The round-faced, bubbly creature was pathetic – she was sniveling the whole time with closed eyes and squirming face – “Please, don’t hit me, don’t hit me” – as if she was unable to show even the slightest bit of resistance. When Ellie let her go, she ran off 10 meters away and started jumping up and down – “Stammerer, stammerer, stammerer!”
Finally, they found the place where Ellie went after she scornfully walked past them. It was a hole in the Telegrafkapia wall – the old Turkish gate, which was now a bar. Thick green bushes covered the entrance. They were hoping to find toys or shiny stones there, or that flower with horns, called “little devil,” or colored photos from a magazine. Unfortunately, there was nothing but dampness, a moldy smell and the black pores of the stones. They came back, perplexed.
Angel had a big round head, covered in slicked blondish hair, sloping under its own weight. From this slope he gazed at the world with his woeful, fawning stare, and stretched out his neck cautiously, like a snail about to peep from its shell. In his eyes, apart from the polished surface that shifted around and groveled, there was also a second layer – perhaps those were the small, extremely black pupils, and this layer was still, glaring, insolent and exposed. Whenever he saw Ellie, he seemed to fix his eyes on her on purpose, even though he did not start a conversation.
And then one day new writings appeared on the wall. They read, “Angel the Vlach + Ellie the Stammerer = L.” No one knew whose idea it was, or whose hand. The writings would show up irrepressibly, one could even say they were self-generating.
“He’s a great guy,” said Nina from far away. “Really nice.”
“He said he would take you to the conjugal bath,” Nikolay, the adventure novels enthusiast, whispered in her ear. And when he pulled his face away, his lips were curled in a sneer all the way to the corner of his eye.
One day Ellie ended up completely alone in the desolate street. There wasn’t a lot of noise in this quiet neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon. “Angel the Vlach + Ellie the Stammerer = L” was written on the fence next to her and there was a little piece of chalk slumped on the sidewalk. She picked the chalk up. She could feel the entire street pulsating like a heart filled with blood. She sensed the wind in the trees, the silence of the napping houses. The leaves, translucent from the sunlight, were rustling as if the poplar trees were about to uproot from the ground and fly into the sky any second now. However, they never did. They always stayed in place – a confusing mixture of rushing and inveteracy. Their peaks were weaving, the wind was like a ship, leaving a trace of green foam behind it. Standing in front of the fence with the chalk in her hand, she unknowingly heard the movement above her, the dismay, the clash of forces. The sky was cruising above her head, waving its clouds, sucking in the peaks of the poplar trees, twisting in the whirlwind and right in its crest, slowly and majestically moving the sun. This was because the earth itself was moving, rolling over like a ball in space, and in its entirety it belonged much more to its rolling, to Venus and Mercury, sunk into the sunny crown, to its contact with the huge magic worlds, than to the poplars here, the quiet street and the napping houses.
But what should she write now that the chalk is in her hand and there’s no one around? And first and foremost, should she erase the old writing and write something new in its place, or keep it, so that her words will sound like a response? And how can she fit that response in two or three characters written with chalk on the fence? She had to hurry up because one of them would show up any minute. Maybe Nina herself – grinning, jumping, blabbering with her mouth full of sounds, as usual.
Her hand brushed the chalk against the rail fence. She was going to write “Angel the Vlach + Nina = L.” That’s what she would write, since they think they’re so smart. She quickly scribbled “Angel.” She was tempted to write “Angled the Wet Vlach” instead of just “Angel the Vlach.” She couldn’t think of any suitable adjective for Nina anyway. And so Angel was about to become the most irresistible lover in the neighborhood, when, just as she was writing the plus, she felt a change around her. She looked over her shoulder. Five or six people from the gang, including Nina and Angel, were standing behind her and staring at her, cautious and still. Nikolay was there too – without the crooked Superman smile on his serious bony face.
“Go on, then,” he said calmly.
“We’ve always suspected something, but not that you would write it yourself…” Nina added.
“W-w-why, w-w-why w-w-would I w-w-write it m-m-myself….” Ellie stuttered.
“And w-w-why not?”
“Not be worry, Ellie,” said Angel, staring at her with his unmoving pupils. “I’m not mad at you.”
“Y-y-you w-w-wet v-v-vla, y-you…”
She heard snickering. Suddenly, she rushed towards Angel, her face red from helplessness and anger, and pushed him to the ground. He was surprisingly quick to get up. Apparently, he was tougher than what his skinny body indicated. In the next second, the two were on their feet, clutching at each other’s arms. His round slicked-back head was really close to hers and his pale sloping face was gazing at her stubbornly. There was no spite, no surprise, no pain in his face. As always, it was torn between the fawning look of the polished retinas and the insolent, still stare of the pupils. However, there was none of his previous movement, treachery, and hypnotizing vileness. His face was unmoving and lifeless as if his eyes were made out of quartz and mountain crystal like an Egyptian mummy’s. This was a mask, not a face. Ellie herself, clutching him numbly, was a mask too – a mask, called Stammerer, just like his that was called The Vlach. She could feel the others from the gang in a circle around them better than she could feel herself, as if she had stopped existing. At the same time she felt something else too – the touch of his hands, intertwined with hers, their weight, their warmth. Seconds were passing by, and Ellie and Angel were not doing anything. Amidst the stiff, unbreakable circle of their speechless audience, who were silently provoking them to fight, just as they had always provoked something with their shouts and writings, she could see the two of them, bickering with doll-like faces. She could feel his shapeless, surreptitious flesh penetrating her trustingly with its secret fawning, with its jelly-like warmth.
“Oh come on, these two are not going to do anything,” Nina shouted.
Ellie pushed him away from her helplessly and started running.
The cold air felt strange on the spots where their hands had been entwined.
“Chicken, chicken!” Nina called after her, while she ran and ran. She stopped when she reached her shelter in the Turkish gate. She pulled out a book called Andromeda: A Space-Age Tale from behind a stone. She tried to read, but couldn’t. Piano sounds were coming from the bar – the player was probably rehearsing among tables with no tablecloths and upside down chairs. The melody was distant, as if it were buried under the old moldy wall. Ellie herself felt buried in this millennial hole, crushed by the sticky green bushes with crawling insects. Today, she’d held a piece of chalk in her hand and the only thing she’d written was Angel the Wet Vla, Angel the Wet Vla, Angel the Wet Vla… She looked at her hand as if she were seeing something disgusting and foreign. She put her head on her knees and started crying. I don’t want it, I don’t want it, she was jabbering.
Then, staring at the wall, she stopped crying.