The Woods of Brezje

I wrote this story last week, after translating the Prkos document.

The Woods of Brezje*

(*J’s are Y’s)

Nismo znali tko smo, ali smo znali
We didn’t know who we were, but we knew

She regarded me with an insolent air of superiority. “You’re really into that, aren’t you?”

She stood several inches shorter than me, as if to emphasize her superior femininity, half her height draped in exquisite blond curls, framing a face even more beautiful.

“I know what you’re looking for,” she went on, elaborating on the sneer.

Oh, she had my number. She’d chanced upon me, like a raptor, in the dorm’s laundry room, the women’s dorm, even though we both really lived in the men’s dorm where our boyfriends cohabited the same floor. Or at least I had been. Mine was straying. I didn’t know for sure with whom, since no one was ever seen in public with him but me, though some said it was with everyone, making his way down the floor above mine. But who was conquering who? Outnumbered a hundred to one, did he really think it was him?

She’d asked me what I was up to. I was trying to write a story about a dream I’d had the night before that I knew meant something very important, but I didn’t have the words I needed to explain it. It felt as if I was still in the dream. Several weeks earlier I had tripped on acid for the first and last time. It was commonly believed at the time that it opened up ways of knowing we usually have no access to. I dreamed, in incredibly vivid detail, that I was in the quonset hut where we had art classes. In the dream, the floor was dirt. It began to liquify into quicksand. I started sinking into it, but reached the wall in time, and had to grapple my way, hand over hand, along the wall towards the door. As the floor continued to liquify, my struggling roiled it and bodies churned up into view.

I realized the enormity of the place — that it was sacred ground and I had to tell somebody – I had to tell everybody.

“It was a mass grave of massacred black people,” I mistakenly told her.

That’s when her eyes lit up and she lit into me.

“You’re really into that, aren’t you?
I know what you’re looking for.
I know what it is you want. . .” 

Her eyes were glittering lusciviously.

“. . . a big black cock.”

She raped him too.

He’d written it all over a poster he put up on the wall in his room. He was hiding behind dark sunglasses, radiating scorn for us devils. She was there too, as I entered the room, looking rebuked, though her hippie boyfriend, Seth, looked magnanimously liberal and forgiving. Shamed by his grace, she fled the room in near tears, while J.J. continued with his feigned superiority, laughing at us derisively.

“The Hole Is Greater Than The Sum of its Parts,” proclaimed the poster.

He was lying.

His was the piece of meat described there. He was high for the next month, till he finally called me to come nurse him.

And who had raped her, her father?

Moja Rodakinja, Janja Roknic
My kinswoman,  Yanya Roknic

Four-year-old Evica lay asleep against Janja’s chest, oblivious, for the moment, to the dank, crowded basement floor they sat on deep into the sleepless night. The cold stone floor sucked the warmth from her body. Her hip joints ached. No one spoke, the babies were all mercifully asleep. Only Smilja’s hoarse, exhausted screams from the next room were heard. Now Janja understood what the old people meant when they said, ‘Beauty can be a curse.”

Janja remembered when it was all just a joke, in her early teens. Everyone was telling it, the joke that would only make Serbs laugh. “What do Croats do different than Serbs? Nothing, they just blame everything they do on Serbs.” It was true. She overheard it herself, more than once. The waiter had tallied up the merchant’s check incorrectly, and was apologizing profusely. “I don’t know how that happened,” he said. “That’s not how we do things here — not like those Serbs.”

And then just that morning, when the Ustasha came to herd them all together, a motorcycle with a sidecar slid on some ice into a ditch. The Ustasha got out of the sidecar, kicked at the earth and cried, ‘You Serbs will pay for this!”

But how could such a joke come to this? This had to be a dream.

She had been dead for three days when she awoke from the dream, the back of her head pulpy, her arm twisted behind her head. Nearly in the dark, she tried to move but was pressed on from all sides by others. They were cold. A ray of light penetrated from above and in that light she saw Smilja’s lifeless face, a few inches from hers, a beatific smile frozen on it.

Shock seized her and she started to convulse and lose consciousness again, but then she heard a voice. It was Evica, happy and excited, calling her from that shaft of light. Then Janja’s dying brain understood what Smilja was smiling about. She didn’t need to stay there in that pit at all – unlike the raptors who had put them there.

They will never leave it.

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