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I’m hot. I’m
sweating. I can feel a drop of sweat making its way
from the temple to the left corner of my mouth. I
try not to breathe too much. Although it’s
difficult. My heart beats so fast and my lungs seem
to scream so greedily for air, that breath
regularization is now perhaps the most tormenting
exercise. But I have to do it. I have to breathe
more rarely. Not only because this way the
temperature would get lower, but also because this
would set me at ease. And ease is what I crave for.
And ease is what seems to be the most difficult
thing to achieve.
My heart stopped. And so did the breathing. I think
I heard something. Maybe it’s only my imagination.
I hope so. Look, slow but steady, the heart
beatings start again, more and more frequent.
Breathing I don’t let go for now. Because it I can
control. The heart, on the other hand, I can’t. For
a fraction of a second I think I heard a scratching
at the door. That kind of sound a woman makes when
caressing a smooth surface with her nails. A sound
neither acute, nor muffled, a sound at the border
of audibility – frightening.
I would wipe my forehead, but I can’t move. One of
my hands went numb under my head and the other I
don’t even feel. It might be somewhere lower,
keeping a grip on the blanket. No thread of air
enters here, under the blanket. It’s made of heavy,
beaten by usage wadding linen – I think I’ve been
using it since I was fifteen – and, if you’d want,
you could happily use it as a rain tarpaulin.
Neither rain nor air has any way of getting through
it. And this is what worries me. What’ll happen
when there won’t be enough oxygen? What am I going
to do? I would have to set the blanket aside. To
expose myself! No, never. Better die here of
asphyxia. No way am I setting the blanket aside.
A drop of sweat has entered in my eye. Maybe I’ll
go blind. Maybe…
… the one who recommended him the apartment knew
something. It was above all he was expecting for
that price. If what he had told him was true, and
if he had heard it well, it was extraordinary.
‘It’s mine!’ he had shouted not even a minute after
he had entered.
It had three rooms, all spacious. The living room
alone was as big as a whole apartment of the kind
he'd already visited. The bathroom had faience on
its walls and grit stones on its floor – the
bathtub was big; he would surely sit comfortably in
it, without his legs hanging outside. The kitchen
was already furnished, air-conditioned and the
cooker was connected to the city’s gas system. The
hall walls were draped in wood and there were
mirrors everywhere you turned your head; the floor
was covered with moquette or parquetry, the walls
were just painted. A dream!
‘It’s mine!’ he had shouted once again, and again,
and again, at precise intervals, after he threw
another glance around, after he touched the walls
with the tips of his fingers, like to convince
himself this wasn’t a dream, and then breathed
satisfied. ‘It’s mine!’
And his it was.
He had moved in immediately. Right after the
paperwork was over – as quickly as possible,
because of the euphoric haste that wrapped him up –
he brought with a faculty friend’s car the few
clothes he had, the blanket, the CD collection, the
music-station and other trifles he couldn’t
convince his heart to get rid of, and turned the
new apartment into the place he had no intention to
ever move out of.
When this luck turned to him, he had just graduated
faculty and his imagination was still swarming with
the host of plans natural for his age. He had his
whole life in front of him. He was negotiating a
cultural reporter position with a local newspaper;
he was working on a translation from a fairly well
known English author, and still had to write a
quarter of what he planned to be his first novel.
And this was only the beginning. He had other
But he wanted
to take it slow, well-balanced, step by step. There
was no rush. The final goal was about becoming a
university professor. If he eventually would do
better, he won’t be sorry. For the time being, he
had made the first step. – The apartment.
He was sick and tired of the provisional state the
tenant position provided him with. He felt the need
to be the owner of the house he lived in. He didn’t
want to find himself face to face with the landlord
whenever the wind changed. He wanted his privacy.
He wanted to be sure that when he locked the door,
there wasn’t any other person on the face of the
earth who had the key to unlock it. This was,
fairly speaking, a natural claim. Owing instinct
isn’t to be blamed, that is. For him, this
apartment’s acquisition was like…
…a dream I wake up from in the morning, breathing
jerkily and sweated to the bone, but happy it was
nothing but a dream. Oh, it would be a bliss! To
wake up and draw the blinds, to open the window and
breath deeply, starting to come back to the real
world, smiling. It wouldn’t matter if outside rain
was pouring, or it snowed, or what I saw would make
another leave that spot. I would fix myself a
couple of fried eggs, which I would eat along with
some toast, and I would drink natural coffee with
milk, while I would listen to the radio. After that
I would dress up and start for the University.
Everything would be wonderful.
But that’s the problem: it would be! I’m sure,
though, it’s not a dream. It couldn’t be.
Everything I feel is so tangible, so real; no dream
could have this intensity. I had dreams, sure I
had, but not one resembled what I’m feeling right
now. In those dreams I mentioned, an impending
shadow was following me, I could feel it coming
closer, I could hear its deaf tramping behind me. I
wouldn’t turn my eyes, afraid of what I might see.
I would go on running, baffled, hampered, like when
you run on a beach and it seems you don’t even
advance. My heart would thump as it does now, but
there was no way I could master my breathing, and
when the beast was closer than ever, ready to seize
me, a black gulf would open underneath my feet. I
would fall into the void, surrounded by nothing
more than my own fear. It was a comforting feeling.
You don’t learn that fear can be a comforting
feeling until you have such a dream. It was a
relief to stop feeling you’re being hunted; to know
that what was chasing you can no longer touch you.
I wouldn’t even think that the menace was now
coming from a different direction. I wouldn’t
realize that the gulf had to have a bottom.
Then, when I could discern the earth coming towards
me with a bewildering speed, and when I could
finally understand that this threat I could no
longer escape from, I would scream. And I screamed
so loud that my own voice woke me up. Well, that I
was happy of. Instead of going on screaming, I
would burst into a frantic, reckless, foolish
laughter. I was saved; I could ease my mind and
body with the help of some fried eggs, toast and
coffee. Reality’s never so sweet for me than in
And reality never frightened me so bad than it does
…everything worked according to the plan. It didn’t
take long and he was giving an interview for a job
at the best-sold newspaper in town, a newspaper
that, happily for him, housed a cultural column as
well. It didn’t take a hard work of convincing; the
detailed curriculum vitae he brought with him was
enough. After not even a week’s time, he found
himself in a theatre seat, taking notes for his
first review. In the next day’s newspaper, his name
could be read at the bottom of a fairly long
column. The second step was taken.
It was a real beatitude for him to come home from
work within beautiful weather, the sky shining red
at sunset. And it was a real beatitude to have an
apartment of his own to wait for him. Once arrived
at home, he turned on the blue shaded lamp; played
one of the Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos CDs and
sank into daydreaming. The music played in sourdine
and the imponderable atmosphere helped him follow
his thoughts far, far away. He stayed like that
till late into the night.
At the beginning it all seemed like a happy dream,
after a while, though, everything turned into
routine. And like any other routine, it bored him;
the same way home from work, the same house, the
same music. He started feeling the need for another
Then, as if the gods had read his thoughts, he
stumbled into Pisu.
He was coming back from the newspaper’s office like
always: dull spirited and bored at the prospect of
another night spent in solitude, just him and his
big house. The tomcat was jumping and scratching
its fur against the door and mewing. It was a
feline of noble race, heavy white furred. It was
very energetic. Maybe that convinced him. Maybe he
absorbed a drop of the tomcat’s energy; it gave him
a lungful of air, just in time to save his life, as
he was feeling as if he was choking of boredom. He
took it in his home, he fed it, and as a reward the
tomcat gave him a reason to live for. Nothing made
him happier than watching Pisu play, hide from him,
leer at him from behind the furniture, urge him to
come after it. Other times, it fell asleep in his
arms, while he was listening to Bach or Beethoven
or Dvorak at the CD-player. It dutifully waited for
him in front of the door in the evenings. It
eye-talked to him. It somehow cheered up his
deserted apartment’s life.
Not even once he wondered whom might it have
belonged to. All that he did was to…
…try to sleep. Yeah. This seems the only solution
to the problem. If I fall asleep, I forget, and
I’ll wake up in the morning if not rested, at least
restful for the darkness had dispersed itself into
light. And tomorrow I could do something to fix
this situation. Definitely. If I escape this night,
there won’t be a similar one again. Surely. So, go
to sleep, sleep, sleep… One sheep, two sheep, three
What? What was that? Oh, my own voice. I’ll have to
be more careful in the future. Otherwise…
… the tomcat gave him for a while what was missing.
But shortly after that he realized it was only a
The real cure for him came later on.
They met through the telephone. He woke up one
night to the prolonged shrill of the telephone and,
nervous and mumbling swears of all kinds, he threw
a tetchy ‘Hello!’ into the receiver. The voice at
the other end was even angrier. She had read his
review in yesterday’s newspaper and thought it was
an insolence. The play he so disrespectfully talked
about was, in her opinion, a masterpiece. She
couldn’t abstain herself from giving him a call and
letting him know. Who he did he think he was?
They talked for more than an hour, at the end of
which he came to give her justice, and, for being
excused, he invited her to a movie. The rest came
What gained her complete sympathy was the cat.
Linda liked it immediately. A person who owns a cat
can’t be a bad person.
His life – he knew it well – started on a new
stage. The emptiness was filled; nothing could stay
against his happiness. Linda was…
… gone. If only she hadn’t had to leave… Why did
she leave?? She abandoned me here, a prayer for my
own imagination. – I mean, I hope that’s it. I hope
my long practiced imagination is to be blamed for
all this. This imagination, out of which seven
novels were borne, haunted by at least the same
number of ghosts. Oh, Linda, come back, come back
now; I can feel it devouring me. It devours me from
within. It comes slowly, meticulously, down on me,
starting from my brain. It’s a disease. A tumor. It
went on growing inside me, inside this house,
inside this town, waiting for the right moment to
come back… to claim its rights: inside the house,
inside me. What have I turned into! To believe a
poor blanket can keep me safe from what’s out
there, from what’s inside here! I’ve lived all
these years here inside (—me, inside the house),
without even realizing what… why…
… he picked up the newspaper from the table. When
he entered his apartment, he didn’t even notice it.
His first concern was to eat something, as he had
eaten nothing but a shrunken doughnut all day long.
Linda being at her parents', there was no one to
see for his nutrition. He found some eggplant salad
at the bottom of a bowl in the fridge and ate it
without bread, only washed with a bottle of Bergen
bier. After that he poured a cup of milk into the
cat’s dish and took a shower. When he came back
into the living room, he saw Pisu caterwauling and
raising its fur at something on the table. He
stayed between the door folds, afraid of the cat’s
It was already
pitch dark and only the feline’s eyes were shining
cunningly. He turned the light switch and when the
light flooded the room he heard a lugubrious shriek
and Pisu rushed out between his spread legs. He
almost fell down. He went to the table and found
the newspaper. It seemed old. It was torn at the
margins and the yellowed paper would have turned to
dust at a stronger grip. He lifted it carefully; a
few yellowish paper flakes came off and dripped on
the floor. The newspaper was covered with a thin
layer of dust. He lifted it to his mouth and blew
strongly. A dense darkish cloud raised into the
air. The room stank of dust and age. He read the
date written in the up-right corner. September 2nd,
1989. He was astonished. Today was September 2nd.
Just that it was 2000, not 1989. The newspaper was
folded in two, at the fifth page.
At the head of
the page reigned a title written in huge capital
letters: “CORPSE DISCOVERED AFTER A WEEK’S TIME,”
and lower, in smaller fonts, it continued: “into an
advanced stage of decay”. The article stretched
across the entire page. There were photographs as
well. Three of them. The first showed a man’s face,
about thirty of age, artificially smiling on the
steps in front of the block of flats he was living
in. To his utter amazement, he recognized the block
of flats as being the one he also lived in. The
second photo was a jumble of lights and shadows. At
first it was hard for him to distinguish anything.
understood it showed a room, a darkened living
room. The place where the body was found. A white
spot in the middle stood for the bed sheet that
they used to cover the dead man’s body. The third
photo was only partially on the first half of the
page; the rest was on the other part of the bend,
on the second half. But what that bit showed were
the ears of a cat. He didn’t turn the newspaper for
fear he might disintegrate it and began reading the
“Vasile Meza’s inanimate body was found today, 2nd
of September, around 9 o’clock, by Călin Terţa. The
body was in an advanced stage of decay. After the
coroner’s exam, the police came to the conclusion
it stayed there, exposed to the light and the heat
of the sun, for more than a week. Vasile Meza,
according to the neighbor’s statements, was a
strange person. He lived alone and rarely left his
residence. Gabirela Pop, his floor neighbor,
declared nobody really knew him. “He was more an
absence than a presence in our block”, she said.
“That’s why no one even noticed anything. And if it
wasn’t for Mr. Terţa, the ground floor neighbor,
maybe it wouldn’t have been discovered at all.”
Mr. Terţa had to leave town for a while and asked
Mr. Meza to look after his cat, considering he was
always at home. When he came home after ten days
and wanted his cat back, he got scared as nobody
was answering the door. After he insisted a while,
he tried the knob. The door was unlocked and inside
he discovered the body – mutilated. Taking into
account the appearances, the starved cat feasted on
Mr. Meza and ran away. Mr. Terţa regrets his
neighbor’s horrible death, but he still…
… can’t believe it. He lived right here, he died
right in my living room! That’s why it had cost me
so little… I feel my heart jumping out of my chest.
And this sweating… What am I going to do now? If
only Linda was here… Where did that newspaper come
from? 1989? September 2nd? The cat!
I think I
heard it again. It’s no imagination. It scratches
at the door. Wants to come in. Wants to devour me.
The memory of human blood drives it crazy. It would
jump at me and it would tear my eyes out with its
claws and then it would eat them. Like it did with
poor Vasile Meza. It would slash me until it would
reach the heart. It would get all smeared on my
blood. That would make it happy. When I think that
I’m the only one to blame… I should have known
better when I saw it fawning upon the door. I
should have known it only came back where its
savage memory brought it. If it comes in, it’s only
Oh, God, why doesn’t it let me be? It scratches,
and scratches, and scratches – it drives me crazy.
Nothing can stop it. Not the punch I hit it with,
not the bathroom door I threw it behind… nothing.
Not even death. For it has seven lives. And it
probably wants to take away seven as well. Me, what
number would I be? Only the second? It scratches. I
can hear pieces of the door coming off. There’s
nothing much left. How am I going to defend myself?
I can’t do it. I can’t even move. I’m paralyzed.
Only this heart goes on beating. What’s the time?
Is there long left till morning? It seems like
everything turns back on me. I have scared a lot of
people with my writing and now it’s my turn to get
scared. I deserve it. It scratches. It tears apart.
First the door, then me.
It’s so hot in here! I feel tired. A lousy torpor
wraps me up. I’ve closed my eyes, so that the sweat
won’t get in, and this urges me to sleep, urges me
to the impossible. From time to time I feel cold
shivers down my spine and the torpor leaves me.
Only from time to time…
How long have I been hiding here, cramped? Die,
cat, once and for all, die, damn’ you! If you don’t
die… I’m shivering… I didn’t even notice it. My
teeth are chattering.
And I don’t even have air. I’m choking. Maybe it’s
better this way.
Breathe, stupid, more slowly! Or even at all. See,
you can do it! And it seems to also ease my mind. I
can’t hear the scratching anymore, just the
thundering of my heart. But this grows weaker, too.
Very well. Soon enough it will be quiet. That’s
what I desire.
Bump… bump… bump… bump!
Don’t breathe. Stay still.
Go on, it’s working! Slow, slow… like this. I don’t
need oxygen. I don’t need to come out from the
blanket. I don’t breathe – and it doesn’t scratch
any more. Simple.
Just a little more…
Good… It’s all over:
* * *
“With grievance I announce the unexpected death of
my beloved husband, Alex. The Kingdom of Shadows
steals you away from me much too soon. I will never
forget you. May that all you have meant – for me
and for the others – live forever. In God, may your
soul rest in peace.
I love you!
… In God, may your soul rest in peace, Pisu, also,
our most devoted friend.”
Special thanks to Craig Hale, a valuable friend and
a good writer (unfortunately still undiscovered),
who helped with this translation.
I’m counting on your help for the next projects as
This short story was published only in Romanian, as
First published in “Familia” Cultural Magazine,
Oradea, Romania, No. 11-12/2000.
A second publication was in “Luceafărul” Literary
Magazine, Bucharest, Romania. No. 25 (517)/ 2001,
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