Written by Ana Stanojevic
Illustrated by Siamak Pourjabbar
Agoraphobia is in Racek Fucek. That is why he never, ever leaves his apartment, never looks out the window, isn’t familiar with plastic bags in tree tops, nor does he know that the view of Charles Bridge and Vltava is extraordinary, one of the best in Prague. Racek Fucek doesn’t give a flying fuck about the view. He’s in pain. Aside from that, he’s nurturing his right ear which, he believes, radiates heat. He found that out in ’87, when a nice lady-neighbor Marketa brought him bread, yogurt and the daily newspaper (for which Racek Fucek now diligently gives her a tip). Outside, there was a strayed, off-season wind and the neighbor said–“Brrr”–to emphasize how cold it was. Racek’s head instinctively moved towards Marketa without Racek’s intention, like a glass searching for letters on a ghost-summoning table. His right ear started, as Racek believes, emitting warmth towards poor, frozen woman. In Racek’s world bits of ice immediately fell off from her surprised eyelashes.
That was the first time a woman entered his apartment, if we don’t count his, now dead, mother. She sat on a rug and chirped for a long time about things in which she, and probably all women, are interested in, and in which he, and probably all other man, are not. Then he, because he didn’t know any better, or because that is all he dreams of when he is not in pain, or when he is not nurturing his ear, stepped on the first step that leads to the room in the attic, and said–“Would you like to see my torture room?” “Ha, ha, torture room,” she cracked. She thanked him for the hospitality, though short, and left to do things he could only wonder about.
In his world she did different things every day. Sometimes she is only a frozen figure on the bridge and people knock her on the head or bare feet, and her stiff, spread arms ask for money which, when she gets it, flies off because her hands are too cold to grasp the money. Most often she is a teacher who teaches Czech at a primary school for handicapped children. In the mornings she brings Racek his bread, yogurt and daily papers. Then she eats breakfast. Then goes to school and teaches Czech. Then comes home and lies on her air mattress, 1200 cm x 200 cm in size, sheeted in blue velvet. She drinks rum with some bubbly drink. He’d love to take her to his torture room, but he doesn’t know how. It seems like she doesn’t want that.
The second person whom he had tried to show his torture room to was a plumber who came to fix the toilet. The man had babbled the whole time about the drop of shares on the stock market. Racek jigged nervously around him, waiting for his moment. The floor cracked and the walls cracked, so did his fingers. Everything had the sound of breaking. The plumber got up, and blood rushed to his face. “Ugh, when I get up abruptly . . .”–he said. “Yes, you should avoid that . . . And would you be interested to look at my torture room?”–asked Racek, flustered, full of hope. “No, “ the plumber replied and left.
Torture room is in Racek Fucek. It came together with the apartment when he was ten and moved in with his parents. No one knew how it came to be there and what its purpose was, because people haven’t been tortured for awhile now (thought naïve parents). Racek-child showed great interest to this room and for years he played upstairs while his parents thoughtfully watched the rain falling down on the river and always worried about something. That turned out to be unnecessary because very soon they died in a car accident. It would have been better if they’d learned to drive better, instead of always worrying in one place.
Racek-teenager was left all alone, living on a humble inheritance. His aunt, uncle, the doctors visited him occasionally, then less frequently, once more, and then never again. The last time he saw his aunt, she sharply hissed at him: “Don’t you have shame!” He didn’t know what she was aiming at, but he washed himself in boiled water, just in case.
Something smells bad. Racek gets up to smell the kitchen and realizes the pan got stuck to the burner. That is a surprise for him, because he could claim with certainty only two things about himself: that he was extremely anal and that of all Brit pop bands, he liked Travis the most. How did he then, being so anal, manage to get the pan stuck to the burner? He stood on his head for fifteen minutes, then floated above the rug, meditating like a fakir he once saw on TV, and he calmed down.
“Hello, good day, I’m calling about the ad that you . . . yes, about the escort service . . . no, I’m not employed . . . no, I’m not going anywhere. I need the escort for the apartment. For one room . . .,” he doodled on the margins of a newspaper while waiting to hear when the girl would be sent to his address. He was impatient. He wanted her right away. Right away and immediately, not at all later or some other time. He felt sleepy. In the middle of the conversation he fell on the floor and the phone started squealing . . .
A branch fell on his window with a thud. It seemed the off-season wind managed to rip it from an old lime and carry it across the whole city (roofs, bridges, trams), all the way to his window. So the branch flew and decided to smash right against his window. He woke up abruptly because of it and looked at the daylight. His head hurt. The open window gaped at him, full of danger, germs, invisible moral downfalls, fighting for survival, the cosmos stretching . . . the space stretching him, crucifying his cheeks and thighs and stinging his eyes . . . He quickly pulled down the shades. “Here, I’ll finished that unfinished symphony,” he said tiredly, and hummed himself to sleep.
“I fall asleep either by singing or by rocking myself to sleep in my bed, if that’s an expression; once in a while I manage to fall asleep without these things, but that’s only if I’m really tired, and then I sleep on my back, which is a disaster because then I snore, and I don’t snore usually, because I sleep on the side, sometimes on my left and sometimes on my right side, I don’t turn around too much when I sleep, but it happens that I fall asleep on my left side and wake up on the right side, though I don’t have any preferences, so, when I sleep with guys, I let them choose the side of bed they want, I really don’t care about it, and not only that, I let them do whatever they want, and then, in the end, they really do exactly what they want, and then it’s the end, because, hey, that was not the deal, but it’s my mistake I always think people will be reasonable and wouldn’t do some things that are wrong, but who can say nowadays what is wrong and what isn’t . . .,” spoke Marketa, not taking any breaths between words. Racek watched her with a frozen half-smile on his face, more precisely called a grimace. “Yes, yes . . .,” he said tactfully.
“I know the problem’s in me, but the problem is also in them; why solve oneself if the other person won’t solve himself, I mean, that’s what I call it: “solving oneself,” because no one knows herself well enough, I’m glad I found that out early, some people never realize this and their whole life comes down to basic things, like shopping, here’s one example: a friend of mine spends all day buying something and she thinks she’s fulfilled, but I’m not like that at all, I buy one thing in a million years and it lasts, why would I waste my time . . .,” continued Marketa, not at all disturbed by the fact she was the only one participating in the conversation.
“Marketa, would you like to see my torture room?” said Racek encouraged by her babbling. He thought he had suffered enough and had a full right to ask. “Heavens, no!” laughed Marketa. “But thank you for the talk, I’m so glad we started hanging out!” She got up and went to the kitchen. “Can I make myself coffee?” she shouted. “Just be careful not to stick the pot to the burner!” he yelled, but couldn’t control himself, so he ran after her to supervise.
“Then, the two of us went shopping together and it was a mild disaster, she spent six hours choosing shoes for a funeral and in the end didn’t even buy them, can you believe someone’s choosing for so long and then not even buying? Of course you can’t, it’s not sane, if you only knew how much my back hurt that day, and also my thighs, but that’s a good thing because it turned out I got a perfect workout for that day, as if I spent it at the gym, hahaha, that’s what I say, always look for the positive in everything, not every half-full glass is half-empty, is what I say . . .” Marketa chattered while putting sugar in the pot, and Racek vigilantly followed her every move and mentally blocked her words. Don’t let her spill, don’t let her spill, he prayed silently.
“Shopping aside, I wanted to tell you that I’m never this forward in life, but I feel so free with you, so I thought to ask you, since we’re already here and it’s so nice, and I’m not seeing anyone, I don’t know about you, but who cares, what do you think we bang each other? I mean, we don’t have to, we could just talk, I’m good either way, but if . . . ” At that moment Racek’s face lit up and he shouted: “Let’s bang each other!” That is how Marketa finally shut up.
Don’t you have shame? Racek heard his aunt’s words in his sleep. He pulled the blanket over his head and tried to push her away with his feet, but he only kicked an empty space. He opened his eyes and joyfully saw Marketa’s absence. It was time for a real vacation. He went to the bathroom. He decided to make the Ios island. He’s heard so much about Ios. Student parties, the sun, the sea, orgies. He ran to the torture room and came back with a box full of silver paper, cotton balls, different colored paint, rubber, glue, glitter, springs, self-adhesive fish and octopus, floats, paper dolls(?), scissors, scotch tape, thread, fife(?), someone’s hair. He got down to business. He painted the tiles blue and stuck the fish and octopus on the walls. He covered the mirror with silver paper and wrote SUN on it. He put bathing suits on paper dolls. Filled the tub with water. Then he put strings on his shoes and tried to bounce to the kitchen to make himself a summer cocktail before shutting himself down on Ios island, but the strings broke. Ahh. When he finally lay down in the tub, it was already fall and he had to return home.
That night Marketa came to him frozen again and his ear warmed her for a long time. He explained to her that the ear loses strength during heating and that he cannot heat her and listen to her at the same time, so she kept quiet. How can something so perfect become so imperfect in one second, simply by opening the mouth? Warmed, she fell asleep on his shoulder. For a while he listened to her breathe. He breathing was croaking, too. As if the breath was speaking of her friend who liked to shop. It was clear to him how the two of them remained friends. The friend shopped and never bought anything, and Marketa talked and never said anything. This implies great understanding which breeds friendship. Who can judge that? Friendships are based on most diverse bases. He personally didn’t have any friends but he understood the concept. He understood the why’s, and how-could-it-be’s. He didn’t worry about that. He only wished to take her body to the torture room.
And he took it. He stuck the body to the wall. He tightly tied her wrists and ankles with leather straps and hung them on hooks. She looked like a fairytale. He took a picture of her. Then he unhooked her from the wall–she was still asleep–and positioned her on the nibbling stand. Mice squeals could be heard from a cage whose door was looking right at Marketa’s face. He took a picture of that, too. Then he took her from the stand and tied her to a stretching apparatus. He stretched her a little, only to bring out the muscle line on her thigh. He didn’t take a picture of that. His camera was out of film roll.
“Marketa, wake up!” he whispered. She opened her petals and budded at him.
“You maniac!” she screamed when she saw her position.
“What do you mean, maniac? Does that mean you won’t go to Ios island with me next summer? I perfected the sound of waves at sunset,” he spoke while untying her. Marketa shivered and tried to spit at him, but her spits bypassed Racek and made a puddle by his feet. As soon as she had free legs, they took her across the room, down the stairs, then they slipped near the exit, but managed to skip the threshold without tumbling their owner. And so Marketa’s swift legs took her away from the madman’s lair into the safe home of a not completely balanced girl. It’s not uncommon to have neighborly relations end this way.
Racek stayed in the room. He locked himself. He turned on the timer on the stretching apparatus and switched to automatic. He had exactly three minutes to attach himself. More than enough for a trained torturer. Still, this time was different from all the others. This time he would go all the way. When the stretching began, he started drooling, because, against all odds, he was still fond of life in some airy, confusing way. But where was the limit? Was he to visit all places in the world in his bathroom? He wanted more. When stretching reached its climax, the roof of the apartment opened to receive the purple sky. It violently pecked at him from all sides. He broke into many little pieces and finally felt space as the most delicious pain.
Ana Stanojevic earned her MFA degree in creative writing at Syracuse University in 2004. Since then she’s been writing, translating and working to pay her bills in her home country. She wrote a collection of stories in Serbian, which was published in Belgrade in 2009. “Racek Fucek” is a translation of one of the stories in the collection. She also started writing book reviews recently on her blog Waiting for Nobel. (Updated Oct. 2012)
Born in 1976, Siamak Pourjabbar is Creative Manager at Eshareh Advertising Agency and a member of the Iranian Graphic Designers Society. He has participated in several international exhibitions including the Hong Kong International Poster Triennial (2010) and the Chicago International Poster Biennial (2010). He has won a number of national and international prizes including second prize at “4th Block,” the 7th International Triennial of Eco-Posters, Kharkov, Ukraine (2009), and prize for Poster for Tomorrow, Freedom of Expression (2009). (Updated May 2012)