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Portrait of the Absent Father

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I am four years old. I am lying with my face to the wall in aunt Domnica’s bed. My father is bent over me. I can feel that he is watching me, and I keep my eyes closed because I don’t know what to do. He went away when I was 8 month old. I saw him two or three times in my whole conscious life. I know him from stories. And the way things were in the fifties; the stories about him are not nice. Father left mom waiting, one New Year’s Eve, all dressed up in her black dress and pearls. He had told her, like in an anecdote, that he was fetching some cigarettes, and came back on the third of January, drunk. Father was taking women for a ride in his truck, women who had to pay for his infidelities with a hair strand or a black eye, whenever they were found there. I hear that he once forgot me in a tram stop - when they took him to the hospital, after getting into a fight with the driver. Now he is bent over me, waiting. I feel that I should answer in some way to this dull fondness, but I don’t know how. One winter, he pulled me on a sledge to one of his lovers, a woman with big hair and a wide smile. I sat on a red couch with chocolates in my lap, while they were doing I-don’t-know-what in the next room. His look is amused and searching. Most on the time he has a toothpick in the corner of his mouth, which he keeps moving around nervously. My dad has sleek hair, and a Clark Gable moustache. He is swarthy, tall and slender, has crafty hands, and when he is not talking, his jaw muscles move on a rhythm known only to him. When he talks to me, he tries to hide his embarrassment behind jokes I don’t get. He has a warm voice. He is manly, but somewhere I sense a weakness. Perhaps I am that weakness. Father was witty and playful, but he was short tempered, too. He liked dancing. In clubs, he would play the rhythm on his knees. Once he dressed as a woman, another time he marched through the long inner yard carrying my mom on his back. Some other time he just smashed a chair because the soup was cold. They married out of love. His sister used to say that they could warm up a room with their glow. She said they looked alike. They stayed together three years. Three years of bliss and despair. When she couldn’t take it anymore, my mother left him. She ran with me to aunt Domnica’s. There she spent a whole week in bed crying and holding a notebook full of poems he has written for her – while he was crying in the street. They asked her three times whether they should let him in, and three times she answered, No! Later, as I was trying to recompose him from her memories, mom said that she had always waited for him. Even after she got married again. She told me, as far as shyness would allow, about nights of crazy lovemaking and bitter fights.  About romantic trips, and about dance parties with jealous fights and confetti. She told me he was so charming that she had lived under the permanent terror of losing him. Once, I saw him waiting in the supermarket at the corner of the street, where I used to go shopping. I was nine. I still wonder how long he must have been waiting there. We were as uneasy as ever. He asked me how I was doing, and gave me the same cream chocolates. I don’t remember an embrace. Later, when I started visiting his sister, Mama Stela, in Severin, he would come to see me. I don’t remember anything from that time. I have only a picture of us together, in front of the house. Me, in a new silk dress, with the leg stretched out (probably out of pride), him sitting on the porch looking into the camera with his head bent to the side. The only thing I remember from that summer is the visit to the grandparents, in a village with lots of loving people. Only he made me feel uneasy. There, in the community hall, at a show, he told me to listen to a song. It was called Giamparale. Now he had another woman; a blond stout lady, who wouldn’t smile. They caller her “the German”. After a while I heard that he was working on a huge building site as a driver. Later I learned that he got fired. I saw my father for the last time when I was 18. In the winter when I was visiting Mama Stela, together with my friend, Paul. He came and we all sat together at the table. Again, those strange jokes. He hugged me when he left, and said would come back the next day with hundred lei for me. I don’t remember if we were late on purpose, but when we got off the bus that evening, I saw him across the street, waiting for his return bus. I pretended I didn’t see him and moved on. In my student years, a friend of mine, who had relatives in Severin, told me that he had died. I had contradictory feelings then: his death had brought him nearer. For some reason, Mama Stela has hidden it from me. I held it against her, but I still wonder sometimes what I would have done if I knew it right then. Much later I heard that my father had died in a park, on a bench. He was 50.
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