By Attila Zønn
Sometimes Mama and Tata talked about Uncle Laszlo, and Tata spoke of Uncle Laszlo’s simple mind and his wishes.
“What would you expect from an artist?” Tata would say.
Uncle Laszlo had made a painting of Mama and brought it on her birthday. With a hammer and nail, he hung it on the wall behind the sofa, then stood some feet away from it with Tata.
Tata put his hand on his chin and squinted. “It does not look like Eva,” he said. Alex thought it looked a little like Mama.
“It isn’t a photograph,” Uncle Laszlo said. “It’s a rendering.”
“It does not look like Eva,” Tata said.
“I’ve captured the spirit of Eva.”
“According to you, but this is not Eva. Why does she wear these large loopy earrings? She does not possess these earrings. It is whoreish. And why did you make her dark?”
“I captured her in the spirit of our Romani ancestors.”
Tata laughed. “Ah, you made her a gypsy. I see,” he said, nodding.
“Our Romani ancestors.”
“Laszlo,” Tata said, shaking his head. “You are not a gypsy.”
Uncle Laszlo straightened up, puffed his chest out and said, “Our line goes back to Obrador.”
“Obrador? Are you kidding? I would not be proud to share my bloodline with him. He came from Bohemia, yes, but he was a thief and a rascal, not a gypsy.”
Mama liked the painting. She said it wasn’t her, but whoever the woman was, she was very mysterious.
“Why didn’t you say that to him?” Tata said. “Now we have to display this…this…”
“I did not want to hurt his feelings. He is very sensitive.”
“Feelings. Feelings. Poor Laszlo and his fucking feelings.”
One evening after dinner, Tata took Alex to the coffee shop on Danforth and bought him a chocolate dip doughnut. At the coffee shop they ran into Ray who wanted to buy Tata a coffee and Tata let him. They sat at a table and Alex listened to them talk their smart words while he ate his doughnut.
“But if the speed of light is so quick and you say it cannot be bridged where are these aliens coming from?” Tata said.
“They’re not aliens,” Ray said. “Sadly, that’s a bunch of baloney.” He looked around him then leaned forward and whispered, “They’re coming from the future. It’s us visiting ourselves.”
Alex stopped chewing his doughnut. He remembered a discussion Tata had with Uncle Laszlo one Christmas. Uncle Laszlo said it would be nice to travel into the future to see how everything turns out. Tata shook his head and said, “The future does not exist.”
“Of course there’s a future,” Uncle Laszlo said.
“Yes, the future as an imagined creation, as a metaphor, but in reality, it is blank until we travel into it. The only way you can visit the future, as you think it is, is if you are in the past and, with the aid of a device, can visit any time up to this present time. You cannot go beyond this time because nothing has happened beyond this time for you to visit.”
“But what if we, at this time, are living in a past time, then there is a future?”
“No. This is the true time.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because physics does not allow us to pretend and no one has come from the future to tell us that we are living in the past.”
“There is always someone who wants to show the world how brilliant he is. Trust me, we would know. And if such an occurrence has been suppressed, there would still be rumours. Besides, the concept of a time machine has been studied by the most brilliant of minds, and no one has come up with one yet.”
“Maybe they invented one in the future.”
“Laszlo, why do you insist?” Tata said. “Think. For a future to exist that means that everything we do, everything we say, everything we will do or will say has already been determined. That our lives have already been plotted out, and nothing can be changed, then, if you are a critical thinker, you must ask yourself, how can this be? And then we have to ask ourselves by what mechanism is this possible? Is it natural? Is it supernatural? In the end, we realise it is bullshit and another example of human arrogance—that the universe revolves around and is considerate to us.”
Uncle Laszlo shook his head and said, “There are many mysteries we’ve yet to explain.”
“Do you agree at least that for the future to exist it must be immutable?”
“If there is an immutable future, taking away that a supernatural force has caused creation to be thus, because I cannot accept anything that is not a natural physical occurrence, we must conclude how terribly unfair such a notion is. Why do some people excel in life but others struggle? How can someone live a long life, yet some die on the day they are born? Why misery? For what cruel purpose has such a thing been designed? My uncle survived the great war, all his comrades shot dead or blown to pieces, yet he lived, unscathed. Then one day many years later he tripped over his own feet, fell down the stairs and broke his neck. How do we reconcile such things with a purpose to life? The answer? There is nothing purposeful about life. It is all chance, and ninety-nine percent of the time, life is unremarkable, it is actually mundane and dull. We create wishes and distractions and myths to make life more interesting, without which our human life is no different than that of a monkey in the jungle—breeding, eating, shitting.”
“But I believe things happen for a reason.”
“Yes, things happen for a reason, but only as a result of cause and effect.”
“Cause and effect?”
“If I hit my finger with a hammer, the cause is that I am careless, the effect is the injury and the pain. But if you are suggesting that the reason I hit my finger at this moment is because there is a power in the universe that has determined long ago that on this day in my life I will hit my finger with a hammer, that by inflicting such an injury there is a cosmic purpose, and there is no way to change this occurrence, then you are a silly man who believes in silly things.”
Uncle Laszlo jerked his body back in his chair and stared at Tata, then stood and called out, “Mags!” Aunt Magda appeared from the kitchen. “We’re leaving!” He turned to Tata. “I refuse to be insulted on this holy day!”
Aunt Magda asked, “What happened?”
Mama came from the kitchen and asked, “What happened?”
Uncle Laszlo pointed at Tata.
“Let’s go!” he said.
Aunt Magda said sorry to Mama then frowned at Tata. They grabbed their coats from the closet. Alex automatically went to stand by the front door because Uncle Laszlo always tousled his hair before they left, but not this time—they rushed past him, and when the door opened a cold wind brushed his face.
Mama stood in the archway to the kitchen and looked at Tata sitting on the sofa. Tata shrugged, put up his hands and said, “It was only my opinion.”
Now, talking to Ray, Tata closed one eye and said, “How is this possible?”
“They’ve obviously discovered a portal of some kind and can go back and forth,” Ray said. Tata still stared at Ray with one eye closed. Alex knew this face—it was the face Tata put on when he thought someone was deceiving him.
“Or,” Ray said, “They could be coming from a parallel universe.”
“A para-llel universe?” Tata said. “What are you talking about?”
“A parallel universe. Along with this universe, there are eleven others. They are superimposed. For example, in these universes, there may be eleven other Milans.”
“Or maybe none at all. It depends.”
“How do you know this?”
“It’s a new science. It’s called quantum physics.”
“And where are these universes?”
“All around us. There’s one a millimetre from your elbow.”
Tata looked at his elbow.
“It all happens at the same time, or they could be different from each other by a few, or many years. There might be a Milan who still lives in Romania.”
“A Milan who still has his finger?”
“That’s a possibility,” Ray said.
Tata sat back and looked astonished. He said, “With eleven other possibilities, why should one settle for the least likeable scenario.”
“We don’t know how to travel across universes,” Ray said. “So you’re pretty much stuck with where you are.”
Tata nodded and said, “Hmm.” He sipped his coffee and Alex finished the doughnut.
“So how do you like the custodian position?” Ray said.
“It is fine—except for that woman.”
“That Amazon teacher in room 104.”
Tata nodded. “She is an asshole.”
“No, Milan,” he said. “You’ve got that cock-eyed. A woman can never be an asshole. If you want to regard her pejoratively, you call her a bitch.”
“But she is not a bitch as I know bitch to mean. She is an asshole.”
“No, a woman is either a cunt or a bitch. Men are assholes—dicks or assholes. But I can understand you’re confusion.”
“Confusion? What are you talking about?”
“Well, English is your second language. You haven’t yet grasped the idioms and nuances that come with mastering a language. I guess it’s hard to flow the words when you have an accent.”
“What are you talking about? I do not have an accent.”
“You do. Can’t you hear it?”
“My English is impeccable.”
“I’ll give you that. You know lots of words. More than I’d care to know, but that’s probably because you’re trying to overcompensate—you want to sound educated in your new culture. I understand. I’m just making an observation.”
Tata was silent, staring at Ray, then he said, “Well, allow me to make an observation.” He stood and looked down on Ray. “You are a fucking peon. Do you know that? You are a sad slave to your need for reassurances. Fuck you, Ray! Who are you to analyse me? You are a confused soul looking for salvation from fairy-tales and space travellers.”
Ray raised his hands and said, “Whoa! You’re taking this way out of context buddy. I wasn’t insulting you.” But Tata walked away from him, and Alex followed.
Walking home, Tata said, “It is important to be happy, my son. Otherwise, life is not worth living.” Tata came down on one knee and hugged Alex—hugged him long and strong, which was strange because Tata had never hugged Alex so long before, and when Tata stood he wiped his eyes. “Remember that in your life.”
It was dark when Alex and Tata got home. Tata went to the drawer in the kitchen where he kept literature Ray had given him on Extraterrestrials—sheets of photocopies and some paperbacks with grey men on the covers. Tata gathered them and dumped them into a metal garbage can in the backyard. He squirted barbecue fluid and dropped a match in it. Alex stood with him, staring at the flames, then Tata looked up at the dark sky and the few stars Alex could see and said, “Bullshit.”
Mama came out to the porch. She held Cristina. Mama said, “What are you burning?”
Tata stared at the flames and didn’t answer.
Mama told Alex to come inside and get ready for bed. He followed her in, and up the stairs to the bathroom where he washed his face while Mama ran water for Cristina’s bath then went to his room and waited for his turn for the bath. He sat on the edge of the bed and listened to Mama hum while Cristina splashed. He went to the window to see if the fire in the garbage can still burned.
Tata lay on his back on the grass and kicked his feet, as if he were swimming backwards, and at the same time, he rocked his body from side to side. Alex slid the window open a slit.
Tata in a crying voice kept saying, “Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit…”
Copyright©Attila Zønn 2017