By Attila Zønn
Alex was helping Tata tidy up the shed when Tata grabbed a rusty hammer, smashed it against his workbench and shouted, “Because we are men! And when men are alone they can let themselves be men. There is no need to be soft, to hush hush like when there is a woman in the room, as if she has the sensitive ears, that if she hears a profanity she will melt into the carpet. We should let a few fucks fly. Why not? It is a profane world, why bother hiding it?”
Lately Tata talked to himself more than he normally did. Usually Tata talked about what he should do and how he should do it, but now he talked to invisible people, in an angry voice, then he would calm down and say, “I understand. I understand,” as if he was arguing with someone. He also said, “Fuck!” a lot. And he said, “I am tired,” a lot and he said—many more times than anything else— “I am not happy.”
They had stopped going to the Saturday nights at Unit 51 because when it was time to go, Mama said she didn’t feel well, and Tata didn’t want to go without her. Alex wanted Mama to always feel well but as the time approached to go to Unit 51 he hoped Mama would not feel well because he didn’t want to go either. Nothing ever happened in Unit 51—people talked and talked, and nothing ever happened, and he didn’t like it that Jonah always stared at him.
Mama was sick a lot these days. Sometimes smells made her run to the washroom where she threw up. And Mama didn’t go for her walks anymore which caused her to get fat. She was getting a big tummy.
One Sunday, Aunt Magda came by to see how Mama was feeling. She and Mama sat in the kitchen and they laughed a lot. When Alex walked in Aunt Magda asked him, “So what will it be, a brother or a sister?” Alex didn’t know what she was talking about. He looked at Mama who was smiling.
“Would you rather have a brother or a sister?” Aunt Magda asked.
Alex kept hearing this question a lot in the next few months—so much that he started to believe that it was his choice. It became a question that Alex was tired of being asked.
One day Tata asked him, “What do you prefer, my son? A brother or a sister?”
“I don’t know, Tata. Either is good.”
“A brother is better,” Tata said. “It is better to be a man than a woman. A man is always in control of his life. A man stands on the mountaintop and sees all the possibilities. A woman will always be subjugated to the man. But how can we argue with that? It is nature, and unfortunately for them, nature has made women inferior to men. Yes a brother is better, then if anything should happen to me, you can teach him everything I have taught you. You are very lucky, my son, that one day you will be a man.”
Alex had never considered if boys were stronger or luckier than girls. Now being aware of such a thing he thought that Tata was a little bit wrong because he once got into a fight with Nannerl, a big fat girl at school, over?—he doesn’t remember what. He didn’t want to fight her but Nannerl came at him, swinging her arms wild. He tried to get away but he was unlucky—she caught him, and held him, and punched him. And this caused Alex to always be nice to fat girls because fat girls punch hard.
The more Alex thought about having a brother or sister, the sadder he got. All his friends had brothers or sisters and the ones that had brothers were always fighting with their brothers. He thought that fighting was a part of having siblings because they competed for their parents’ attention all the time. Alex never had to compete for Tata’s attention. Sometimes he wished he didn’t have Tata’s attention so much, so it would be good to have a brother or sister to distract Tata, and he promised, whoever his brother or sister was, he would never fight with them.
Cristina was born on a very cold night in January. Uncle Laszlo and Aunt Magda had come to the house to watch Alex while Tata took Mama to the hospital. Alex was lying on the sofa when Tata drove up in a Taxi. Aunt Magda looked out the front window. She said, “He walks like he’s not happy. Something’s happened.”
They stood at the top of the landing and waited for Tata to come in. When Tata opened the door he had a long face. He looked up at them, shrugged and said, “It is a vagina.” Uncle Laszlo and Aunt Magda looked at each other.
“Is Eva okay?” asked Aunt Magda.
“It was difficult,” Tata said taking off his coat, “But she is fine. Everybody is fine.”
He hung his coat then walked into the living room and sat on the sofa, put his hands together and sighed.
“Come to me my son,” he said. He held Alex by the shoulders and said, “When you grow to be a man you must be the hope for our name my son, because there will be no more male Fierbinteanus coming from your Mama. If you do not have boys then our name will disappear into oblivion.”
Cristina was a wonderful pink baby with full cheeks that Alex wanted to pinch. When she lay in her crib sleeping her baby sleep, Alex watched her and waited for the day when he could hold her.
Alex wanted to help Mama with Cristina, so every time she cried he went to pick her up but Mama stopped him. She said, “Watch!”, moved him aside then took the baby and walked away. Sometimes Mama put a blanket on the floor and laid Cristina on her tummy, and Cristina was quiet for a while, but then she got fidgety and started to cry, and Alex rushed towards her to pick her up, but Mama was there before him, and moved him away and said, “Watch!” So it now happened that Alex let Cristina cry, though he didn’t want her to cry, because he knew that Mama would never let him hold her.
As time went on—as Cristina learned to roll over, then learned to crawl, then learned to pull herself up to where she could stand while holding onto things, Alex yearned for the day when he could hold her. Sometimes in the playpen, Cristina grunted her little baby grunts, and held out her arms to him because she wanted to be taken out of the playpen, but Alex never touched her, and it made her cry and it made Alex sad.
Tata let Cristina cry all the time.
Sometimes when Tata sat on the sofa and read his paper, Cristina crawled up to him and pulled herself up on his leg and she’d grunt her baby grunts but Tata ignored her, and that made Cristina cry and Tata would call out, “Eva!”, and Mama would hurry in and take Cristina.
Copyright © Attila Zønn 2017