Room at the Street
By Éva Berniczky
The life of Valentina definitely picked up the shape of the street during a period when the whole body of her husband, the well-known musicologist, simply - in the strictest sense of the word - waned away from her hands, or rather: under her hands. It went on gradually for about a year or so. His body, like a common washing soap, was just getting smaller and smaller. Poor soul, at the very beginning he was only unable to reach up to his piano, then, just a bit later, he fell out from the left leg of his trousers, and with time he found room enough to stay in one of his slippers. So Valentina got used to taking her rapidly waning number one for his regular cleaning sessions to the bathroom just in one of the slippers. But lo, it happened one morning that she did not manage to find him on the place where she had put him before. He disappeared into thin air from the brim of the sink together with her wedding ring, which she pulled down from her ring finger in order - that while abundantly washing the man with soap - not to hurt his constantly thinning baby’s skin. This double disappearing quite roused the woman. Perhaps that was why she did something that was totally senseless in her position but was deemed necessary by her as spiritual precautions. Funnily, it was not the sink she made to dismantle. Instead she ran out to the street with the now empty slipper in her hand. She tried to measure idiotically the fresh traces in the snow with the red and black checked loose fitting soft house shoe hoping to find her husband’s steps in the snow. She even started thinking she found them, and that they were only slightly different in size. The traces following each other under the window were just a very little larger than the sole of the musicologist’s slipper. Valentina, at first following the traces on her knees, dashed to the other side of the street, but being susceptible to cold she had to return home, although she did that not wholly after her heart. More precisely speaking on returning home she went straight into the room overlooking the street. Hence, quite understandably she was always able to keep an eye on the whole neighbourhood. And soon the room was acknowledged as a sort of continuation of the direct vicinity. The height of the windows made it possible for the passers-by to peep in the room. From the corner of their eyes they could watch Valentina flashing out occasionally from between the curtains, and she in her turn watched the by-passers and their behaviour. Moreover, when the strengthening sunshine lured her out from the curtains’ cover, and she protracted their wings and elbowed on the window sills, people could even ask her whether she did not accidentally know the exact time just now at, at this very point of time. Questions like that were always consolation for her because exact time is medicine for all ailments, especially loneliness. At first the openness of the room reached just the sides of the pavement. Then in a couple of weeks it oozed through the small cobble-stoned street and went up to the huge and constantly increasing building of the taxation police standing opposite the house. After a while this openness stopped precisely at the point where Valentina gave up looking for the musicologist. At this point of her surrender, as a rule, she always could see an elderly Ruthenian woman from the nearby hills, wrapped up in a large kerchief. She put her very large bag to her feet, and this bag became visibly larger and larger from one day to the other. The office people of the taxation police and all the others around it bought their daily cheese-curd, milk and sour cream out of her offerings because, first of all, her goods was always fresh, straight from the village, and then she sold them at a lower price, much less than the prices in the relevant shops; besides the goods came directly to their home or workplace. Valentina found this kind of trade extremely entertaining, and of course practical, too. She had just to sit in her husband’s armchair with a telescope in her hand at the window trying to make out the most beautiful pieces of creamy cheese-curd for buying. After having found them, she simply shouted to the woman standing opposite, who was always ready to cross the street at once, so that her customer hardly had to lean out to reach the selected goods. The possibility of buying things this way made Valentina satisfied and trusting. She had hoped that in case somebody found her ‘Number One’, he would pass him over to her in the same way, through the open window.
She tried to be available all winter, and hardly ever moved away from her watching post. And in summer, if she ever went somewhere, she always remembered to leave the window open for her husband to glide in. Besides everybody could notice her not being present in the room by the ugly red and black checked soft house shoe on the windowsill. It was visible from a large distance already. It was impossible to miss.
(Translated from Hungarian into English by Piroshka Papp)