Writing you a coded, cipher letter
in a minuscule cursive style
that you will never see through a fly’s multifaceted eye;
I weigh upon every word of yours
transcribed into a new emotion order
of things that I couldn’t
ever picture or see:
For I am a lost island
faded in plays of a highland…..
A fifteen year’s wait finally over. Ivana sloshed through memory swamp-water as she came into her house with the parcel just picked at the post-office. She grabbed the closest big knife from the kitchen instinctively and she sliced open the box on the dining table.
Standing with the knife raised in hand, stolen by the current of old memories, the neighborhood normal noises vanished and Ivana couldn’t hear her dog’s cry to get out to pee, children’s screaming outside, not even a knocking at the front door. Nothing could seep into her mind.
Once all items spilled onto the dining table, she stood and looked for a long time at the old twenty-five miniature presents, jewelry, the handwritten two books of her poetry, the old scenario of Ivana’s never-finished novella, the silver medal from the aesthetic gymnastic competition she earned when she was thirteen, a handwritten journal with stapled original black n’ white pictures from late 1880s of an island man, a cook, who faced the military trial after he survived the torpedoing of the Austro-Hungarian class sloop “Aurora” by jumping to the sea before the warning sirens, the unsold tickets from the night event “Sound and Anarchy,” one of the performances from time when Ivana led the experimental dance group “Silence and Anarchy,” the two photo albums, a collection of funny buttons, the old identification University book “Index” with handwritten grades in it and much more. The bits and pieces of her former life from Croatia stared at her with a hollow distance, but mellowed her eyes while she tried to stop her heart beat in a tightening throat.
For some unknown reasons, the former husband finally decided to send to Ivana’s mother the box she asked for years, and the mother sent it promptly overseas. Needless to say, she heard so many versions of what happened to that “secret” box: firstly, it burned in a revenge rage; secondly, it was thrown in the dump; and, thirdly, it got lost among the thrown stuff in the storage flat room basement. In her heart Ivana knew that the secret box survived all of the contemplated temptations; who could ever burn, ravage, or discard her most intimate hidden things that crowned in the most bizarre way bits and peaces of her shaky and stumped identity.
Not knowing how many minutes passed while she touched and looked over her private, most intimate things, she finally opened the back door for the dog to get out and checked the entrance door, but no one was any longer at the doorsteps. She was ready to throw the box and begin putting precious memorabilia into an old colonial style cabinet inherited from her present husband who decided to leave her before an year ago for a property in a Northern state that they invested in for years with plans to retire together, but he got tired waiting for Ivana to age, settle, and stop dreaming through the cracks of life. While many friends and neighbors wondered, Ivana’s solemn style of life turned to be a blessing so she could finally organize and run her life in a peace, silence, and her dream-states, though she often traveled up North to enjoy the lavishness and heaps of a marriage gold.
When old life relics filled new sacred and secret spaces in the cabinet and the jewelry box, she was ready to throw the box, but Ivana heard a light paper noise at the bottom and saw an old business card with, to her, an unknown name and a business with the address in Zurich. She looked at this card and couldn’t remember at first where is this card coming from and why was it in the box at the first place, but later when eating the dinner she suddenly remembered the whole story and begin to laugh so hard that the laughter drove tears to her eyes.
The card belonged to a bone-vivant Swiss businessman, a womanizer, and the line of memories poured bringing the same feeling of the absurd when she worked, as the third year student of Philosophy and Literature, along with her cousin for ten days one year at the Zagreb business international Fair for a prestige American company, whose general director happened to be her step-father. Remembering like it happened yesterday she heard word by word her step-father citing rules and conditions of the work offer: “No one can know that we are related, address me as ‘Mister Niksha Maren,’ your mother will visit when the European manager and the American district director arrives, do not forget to address your mother as “Mrs. Maren,” be careful with “womanizers,” there are a few of them and keep them distant, I want my house in order! Remember that Lana is not your cousin, but you are students working together, in short, I am offering this job to you because of your family, your little son, and wish you to have some extra money, but the only condition is not to do any mistakes. If anybody asks anything are we related firmly say no and report this to me immediately. Do you accept this offer Ivana?” Ivana responded wrong, “Yes father.” And he corrected Ivana firmly, “Yes, Mr. Maren, and don’t do this mistake again. Now let’s shake hands on these rules!” She shook father’s hand with a smile remembering how she planned to buy new books and extra clothing for her husband and a four year son. In June and September her husband and son stayed at island Hvar helping around the big family estate and aging in-laws. Since Ivana passed all exams in June, she thought she would use September time to read intensively everything she had no time to read when going through the busy school year juggling harsh schedules between her thirteen years older husband, who approached to the peak of his business law career, working for the national oil company while traveling weekly and being away from home most of the time.
Looking back at the business card Ivana recalled how she couldn’t ignore given cues of an intensive flirting of the Swiss bon-vivant directed to both, Lana and Ivana, so they stayed distant, firm, and Ivana clearly showed her left hand with the wedding ring, but this didn’t really bother the Swiss, who perceived the Croatian women and girls as though they could be easily bought. Ivana knew if she would have smiled a few times this would be perceived by the Swiss as the invite for a dinner with the intention for having her as one night stand. The best of the Swiss was that no one could make more interesting character for a short story. Ivana observed everything the Swiss would do creating in her mind possible scenarios for that story. For example he would often ask either Lana or Ivana to help him with reading the long phone numbers from his small phone-book written in miniscule letters, and at least two times he called a girlfriend in a French speaking part of Switzerland, but used the German language instead of the French or vice-versa. It was funny to see him diligently keeping the track of all the girlfriends all over the Middle Europe, but slightly forgetting places associated with names. The Swiss businessman talked sweet and eloquently courting to all of them as each is his “future” wife and after every talk he would say to himself “Dieses Mal habe ich das richtige Spiel zu finden….” The Swiss was an epitome of the late 80s businessman, with the Don Huan style; a good looking man, relaxed, with a possibility to role business easily, full of enchantment, quick intelligence, and a good humor– a loving personality as far as it stays a player on the scene and not a part of any serious woman’s reality.
Lana and Ivana would often laughed in the kitchenette, staying away from the Swiss’s eagle eyes, and they would joke and guess how many girlfriend numbers are recorded in his little phone-book. In three days of the fair Lana and Ivana saw the Swiss messed so many phone messages; once he called Luise, Amber, and recognized much later a disastrous mistake. It seemed as he played a computer game of testing his memory; how many of the girls he could really remember with not making a fatal mistake.
As it was happening now, Ivana sighed in her mind when she saw her birth-father entering the fair business space while she froze as if staring at the ghost. The rush of blood to the brain seemed to drowned any move or act. A faint smile on dry lips slowly spread across her face. Her birth father stepped into the little entrance area of the American business. He lived in London, UK, for over ten years and Ivana hadn’t see him for over two full years. When Marko saw Lana and Ivana his face lighted with a warm smile and excitement. Ivana heard a thumping in her head and and shook in a cold sweat of fear.
Ringing in her memory Ivana heard again her husband’s command to avoid any contact with her birth-father. She touched the cheek where her husband’s knuckles had reinforced the order. Two years ago, Ivana’s husband, Stanko, accepted additional contractual work for the Ministry of Commerce and Business partnering with a legal team who followed the “dark” trades between the business in London, some smaller business firms in Yugoslavia, and the Middle East, where nuclear waste known as “heavy water” would be drained from the moving tanker trucks across the remote mountain sites to arrive at their destinations with empty tanks. Stanko warned Ivana that her father’s business was on the list for investigation and that any contact with her father would be damaging for his career and well-being of his job in the national oil company.
While Ivana stood dazed and shackled in the predicament that no one knew about, Lana stepped and hugged Ivana’s father, cautiously calling him by name, “Marko,” and not adding the title “uncle,” Ivana’s father laughed and began a vivid short conversation with Lana. Finally, Ivana’s father approached and hugged Ivana, she blushed and showed a big distress. Once when she overcame the confusion, Ivana quickly pulled the father on a side and explained to him the rules of the game at the fair and presented them as naively dangerous while she tried to cover-up the rush of “heavy-water” investigation reasons. The father laughed and once when he acknowledged Ivana’s nervousness he agreed to go and not to enter the business space and talk to “the general director.”
Marko insisted for Ivana to join him for a dinner in one of the best city hotels, where he stayed, “The Intercontinental,” and he explained he had to talk to her and tell to Ivana some important news; “Besides I tried to reach you from the moment I landed in Zagreb and called home phone, but no one responded, so I thought all family is at the island. I am glad I found you, I really need to talk to you tonight.” Ivana accepted the invitation just to get back to work as fast as possible. Under the various pressures, Ivana almost lost her equilibrium and wanted to shout at the father that he couldn’t just “appear” in her life like a switch button. After calming down Ivana realized that she acted the same way by allowing the “long silence,” along with a line of refusals of any to father’s proposal for any of summer arrangements that went beyond the time of her marriage or Stanko’s investigation arrangements. She remembered she refused to attend the Summer college for learning English is Scotland or learning German in the Swiss alps, close to Salzburg.
Ivana’s father confirmed the dinner arrangements “By the way my driver will pick you up in two hours. Be ready.” Ivana desperately tried to stop him from sending his black-talking-Mercedes, knowing the talking car well from the past and remembering how her four year old son would tell everybody that his grandfather has a talking car: “I can use the city-bus, they are fast, no problem for me to get around as I always do,” but the father firmly insisted, “The driver will pick you up here, all set.”
Of course, the Swiss recorded all of the strange happenings around and God knows what he thought, but he keenly smiled when the black Mercedes stopped by at the end of the working day and the driver picked Ivana while she heard the car talking “Left Back Door Closed. Ready to launch.”
The driver escorted Ivana to the dining table on the upper part of a lavish and highly sophisticated hotel restaurant, where her father waited squeezing with hands his forehead and looking desperate and dramatic. When Marko saw Ivana, he hugged and kissed her many times and held her hands for over a minute. Ivana felt honored and happy she is with him, but, on her horror she saw in the lower dining area the Swiss-man and the whole American international business crew from the company she worked for, and all of the chaps waived to her and smiled assuming all wrong connections.
Ivana regretted that she asked the driver to stop by her apartment to refresh and change into the best dress she had. Again, the rush of blood swamped her, and she looked persistently with her down-cast eyes, but the father asked, “You seem embarrassed of me, what’s so wrong with me? I am your father and I do care about you, you didn’t want to come to London ever with excuses that you like to go to the islands much more than to stay in the city! I wanted you to move to London and I would help you and your family, that was my goal, instead each time I heard you couldn’t even come because those damn islands! We have a family house on the Montenegro coast, you could spend as much time there as you want, you don’t need damn islands! Why are you embarrassed of me? What have I done wrong?” He paused and continued; “No one summer for me. When you were little I couldn’t take you out of the country, when your were sixteen I could do it, you refused any of my offers. I wanted you to attend the Summer school in Scotland, I wanted you to learn German and attend a school in Austrian Alps! You said that you want to go to the island, and that is not a place where even your family lives! I was hurt!” It couldn’t be worse; at the moment when Ivana’s father began to finally cry between the appetizer and the meal, the Swiss-man and his table sent the waiter with the bottle of an expensive Champagne and the father turned around to thank the Swiss-man along with a giggly table. Ivana almost died to the last of her living cell, while she blushed and sunk into the horror repeating “This people think I am his mistress?!”
Ivana never expected to see her father cry. Totally sucked in a present moment Ivana struggled with her emotions and suppressed uncontrollable tears to fall down her face while feeling them so strong coming. Meanwhile, Marko stopped crying knowing that this too sincere scene pictured him as a week person, so he sipped little bit of wine and commented at the huge food display at the table, “Try scampi, they are delicious!”
Forcing a few bites down her throat, Ivana suddenly saw a big idea coming across her father’s face; “I have an idea! You are done with work in two days with this circus, right?” She feared what’s next, and father continued, “You are alone the whole September, right?” Ivana nodded while avoiding to look at him while hiding the blush over her face. She so desperately wanted to tell the father to take her away, away from fists, knuckles, and fear once when she objected to Stanko that he should resign from the case because he had to bring the charges against his father in law. Stanko never accepted Marko as his father in law, the grandfather of his son, but perceived him as the Montenegrin man, who happened to mess around and by mistake became Ivana’s birth-father. Ivana howled in pain when she heard a cheerful voice of her father proposing; “Here is your time! Join me for fifteen days travel and we could make it up for all lost years!” Lightheaded, tired, worried, insecure, in fear, Ivana looked at him not believing what she was hearing, but he continued acted as a man full of surprises and temptations. She couldn’t cut-off the snapshots of scenes over the years invading her memories. The father always just appeared, without any notice. He would take Ivana to big shopping buying so many things that she couldn’t even conceive. Before two years ago he appeared in their rented small house at the Barutansky Rd. with so many presents for her little son, and there was no any space for a big toy railway track! Ivana still vividly remembered the first week when she moved to live with her husband, while not yet married. She even didn’t call or tell father the big news and it didn’t pass a week, and the first Saturday afterwords, that morning, her father was nervously knocking at the door ready to talk, arrange, and settle all details of Ivana’s new life. She also remembered how Stanko drained so much money from her father and stored the cash to his savings account.
Marko continued, “Look dear, I am going to Turkey and I can extend the stay. Let’s go and visit gorgeous places, you’ll see the world you’ve never seen! I have a scheduled meeting in Egypt, and I can extend the stay there too, and finally we’ll go to Tunis—we can shop on little bazaars and see such places that are more interesting than your remote islands…”
If Ivana would not be so worried, focused on the ongoing situation with the “business” table, and feared, she would be ready to leave her worries just to have fun for a few days. She regretted deeply inside her that she didn’t have the courage to accept the offer. Ivana knew this was a fair proposal, but under the pressures of a fear of the unknown, she said, “Sorry daddy, can’t do this. I can’t just leave the country, if anything happens and my family needs me I can’t do this. I am determined to read Plotinus and already have reserved three books in the National Library to read interpretation of ‘The Enneads,’ if I don’t do this now, I will never do it.” The father looked at her with the astonishment.
He replied firmly, “I can take you to Egypt! You can lick Plotinus’s doorsteps! You can see the Pyramids! You can take your damn book with you” Ivana shrugged and said, “I am not that type, cannot go spin and bounce around the world like I am a whirligig! I am not a toy dad, I am a married woman with the family and I want to succeed in my studies….”
Father looked at her, “How did you turn to that Philosophy? Your grandmother is a professor of physics! We are all more math focused! How did that happen, turning to some obscure Philosophy?! You are lost my child!” Marko shook his head…
“I can’t understand that you would refuse to have fun; the best hotels, a few days for us away from all pressures, this is not right! I am done, but you; are you OK with playing the clown at the fair?” Ivana knew were his argument would go and she stopped him, “No need to go and taste the bitter grass dad, it’s ok, we don’t need to be the same.” Marko reached for one more glass of Champagne and accepted Ivana’s wisdom, still shaking his head in disapproval.
Ivana sipped some red wine, and then a glass of a Champagne, which relaxed her not to be so focused on the table with the Swiss-man and the crew, so she finally opened up and ensured that she was not embarrassed of her birth father. Ivana’s father finally perked-up and he put on the dining table the two bags of presents. On each present was a little note and the year he bought for Ivana; “This is from Anatolia, Turkey, a rare crystal!” He continued, “This is the Afghan silver jewelry set, the best silk shall from Egypt, a rare coin from Bulgaria.” The whole exotic world displayed on the dining table. The father offered twenty five presents, which marked Ivana’s age. She felt as spinning with all little presents around her, the table at the lower floor couldn’t keep their eyes away and whenever Ivana would dare to look back someone would rise the glass in a cheer. When Ivana looked at the overwhelming presents, the father offered to her a hand for a dance. Not thinking any longer, leaving all pressures, Ivana accepted the dance and cutlet her hand with the father’s hand, while the father kissed her hand, finally Ivana couldn’t escape investigatory looks from the critical table and thought, “Now we look like reunited lovers, great!” Ivana and the father danced slow and tight with the picture of a strangely achieved union for the first time in their lives.
Ivana deeply regretted her final decision not to join father once when she’d learned that night about his sickness, a rare Hodgkin’s disease. She listened his business stories for a long time and grabbed his hand when he asked the question rooted in a profound fear of death. He asked who would leave the legacy of what he had done for this business behind? Ivana didn’t believe that business could help too much anyone, but she respected her father’s competitiveness and hoped deeply in her heart he would not suffer too much with this strange disease, and she hoped that cures he was receiving were at the top of the game. She would not believe if someone would tell her that only six years of life left in her father, who also cared deeply for a new family with a new daughter who was only one and half year older than Ivana’s little son. If Ivana would just know the prophecy, she would traveled to the end of the world with her father, but sometimes no person could see the ignorance in which wrong decisions revel. Simply said, Ivana didn’t really know what she was doing expect keeping up with the studies to prove herself she was worth something in this world, and her, little, complex private life that turned to be measured by the power relationship that she still didn’t fully understand and eventually would back-clashed one day onto her as a dark storm.
The next day all pawns from the American business table smiled while imagined that Ivana was a mistress of a “shark guy” who appeared with so many gifts at the dinner last night. Ivana cut their smiles in half by exhibiting her distance while working with a focus flawless work.
On Friday, the last official day of the Zagreb business fair, Lana and Ivana greeted each participant with warm words for a safe trip, expressing a learned “mantra,” a wish to come again and visit the next year giving each the appreciation bag provided by the city of Zagreb. Ivana felt so strange; it seemed that all tension built up about the mid-week, and at the end it looked as members of the team or a family living for a long ferry trip from a rare island, to return back the next year crossing the same sea. She knew it would be deadly wrong to return again, the next year, and trivialize this unique experience into a worn suite of habits. Not having any prior experiences of the Zagreb fair ritual, every single day seemed to Ivana so significant, but she knew that Lana, who was an outstanding student in Architecture, the designer, and even a model, mastered the whole ten days cycle well focusing solely on “fill the student pocket” job. Ivana liked the taste of a new and not yet discovered, but despised life path as a predictable and set routine.
Just when she was ready to put away the first box filled with leftover pamphlets, and other ‘pheripfenalia’ of the event, the Swiss approached. Ivana backed and said; “The first box is done, now is to keep filling until all is done. Hope to have enough duct tape to seal all the boxes. I am glad you came to the fair! I have a ‘Thank you’ pack for you, do not forget Zagreb!!” The Swiss smiled and stepped way too close to Ivana’s space, and she had nowhere to back off. “Boo!” he said as he was a teenage boy. Ivana trembled, and took the last road, looking with down-cast eyes beyond any reality. The Swiss got the message, pulled his valet and handed to Ivana a business card, “Call, I come to Zagreb much more often than you know!” Ivana blushed, no words came out, and the Swiss left. She looked at the business card for a long time, until she began laughing gaping from the past to a presence of overwhelming memories while still vividly sensing the dry lips of fear.
There is no a connection to real people or places. The imagination machine….
“A thing there is whose voice is one;
Whose feet are four and two and three.
So mutable a thing is none
That moves in earth or sky or sea.
When on most feet this thing doth go,
Its strength is weakest and its pace most slow.”