The City Within (excerpt)
Translated by Noémi Szelényi
Vali shrugged in bed. The dream – where she was following a tall, young boy with dark hair, in a vivid, collapsing city, where houses were unfolding like flowers – escaped, and only left a torturing restlessness, an itching sensation, that she had seen something very important, however she was unable to interpret it’s full meaning.
“How many times have I told you not to wake me up like this?” she grunted sleepily, and stuck out her foot from under the cover.
Her mother closed the door, but a question slipped through before closing. “Wrong side again?”
Vali turned around under the duvet. She did not answer. “Hop” was her word, an encouragement call before she launched, the absolute trust-triggering “I am here”. Her mother will never understand that it can not be used for anything else.
She pulled herself out of bed, and shuffled into the bathroom. The dream clung to her thoughts like a cobweb. There was something unsettling about the fact that she was floating above the boy’s shoulders like an outsider, whisking around in the deserted, dark streets in his footsteps. It seemed much more real than one’s consciousness would peacefully account for. As if she was living for real in her dreams, and now she would only just dream the soapy water on her face.
While she was brushing her teeth, she was listening to the emerging mouselike squeaking sounds of the radio in the kitchen. She could not understand the words, but that was not the point: this was part of the reassuring morning noises. The smell of coffee sneaked in through the bathroom door.
She could hear her mother’s retching in the echoing toilet, and then a swearing: “Damn it!”
Vali froze, and opened the tap with a determination, to suppress the sounds with the splashing. She was frenetically pulling her toothbrush.
“Are you alright honey?” she could hear Miklós, who knocked on the toilet door. Vali made a foamy face in the mirror.
“Yes, I am fine.”
I wonder when they will tell me? she thought. The previous night she had stood leaning on the coats in the hall, listening to the whispering adults in the living room-bedroom, the silent laughter, and she did not dare to cut through to her own room, for fear that they would realize that she had been eavesdropping. After a while she sneaked back in to the toilet, pulled the chain, and started off again. The conversation stopped abruptly, and her mother came in to wish her good night, as if she was still a child, with whom you don’t have to share the concerns and joys of adults. Vali’s cheeks glowed in the dark from the light touch of the good night kiss. It was long before she could mesmerize herself to fall asleep.
The morning was not peaceful either. Vali picked up her school equipments, the socks and the washed top for the morning training, and the textbooks for the afternoon classes – I have to do the homework in the café before training, she thought –, and took her leave. Her mother gave her a kiss as usual. There was not a single word about the fact that she is pregnant. Their skin touched silently and dryly. Miklós slipped into the bathroom.
After all, it does concern me as well, Vali thought, and ran down the stairs, biting her lips.
The pattering of her boots were resounding down the stairs.
Stepping out, she was hit by the sweet smell of the linden tree. Spring wanted to get under her red coat, and Vali slowed down her steps. Now that she had left their house behind, she did not feel the immediate urge to leave the Castle district. The sight of the cobbles and the whitewashed buildings eased her mind. She needed some rest, to start the day. The dream was still floating and humming in her veins.
The city that she saw in her dreams was different from all other visions that appeared every night and escaped each dawn. It seemed real, like a solid spot among the pictures of the night web. Maybe the problem was that it was not the first time that she had seen it: on the brink of her consciousness, from time to time, caught up in the duvet between tossings and turnings, the same houses materialized. She felt it was her own, special, and she knew that she would not be able to tell anyone. Nothing else happened, she was simply there among the tilted buildings with impossible symmetries, and the swirling autumn leaves, watching a boy – a boy who seemed so familiar, but however hard she tried to recall where she had seen his face, in the end it always slipped out of her memory. The bus rattled by in the nearby street. A small child stormed past her with his large backpack, he hit her in the side with his homemade gym-bag, and disappeared under the archway of the Viennese Gate in full gallop. Vali looked straight ahead. She did not feel like walking on foot down the hill. The cannons of the Military Museum were gaping their dark throats at her. She stopped short. The wind blew the scent of the linden tree in her face, and also her hair, but she did not move to smooth it away from her eyes. She was staring at the worn, chained cannons, and her heart sank.
Looking at the cannon, she saw herself with Kolos, as they are riding the pipes, thinking that they will live forever. She passed by this place every day on her way to Acrobat School, yet only seldom was she reminded of the picture. Far too many memories were resting on the street, lying in ambush.
The next bus rattled by loudly in the street. Vali tossed her head, and was suddenly reminded that she had not done her homework, and that she would actually need to read through the history lesson as well. She was caught up by the latecomer’s and malingerer’s itchy morning feeling. She was still rummaging her bag, as she got on the bus, and launched herself in the first seat. She looked around only when she pulled out the spiral notebook.
Sour plonk smell. A man was sitting opposite her, with indeterminate age. He looked old, but his hair and moustache were amber coloured. Possibly his face was wrinkled by alcohol. There were dark dirty spots on his clothes, but his nails were shining bright, as if he had brushed them clean.
Strange, Vali thought, and opened the notebook, so that she did not have to get involved with the drunk. She heard silent muttering.
“I wonder what time it is? Hmm, I am sure no one will tell me here, why would they…never mind, do not even mind me, sir… alright, alright, never mind,” the man murmured. “Ah, what time is it?” he recapped again, and Vali cut in at once:
“Half past seven.”
Their glances met. The man’s eyes were dim from drunkenness, and just the same colour as his hair. Breadcrumbs were resting on his moustache.
“Good girl, thank you… she is nice, she reads.”
Vali got back to her notebook, and pretended to read, but the constant murmuring engaged her attention.
“When I was young, I danced through a whole night…. do you dance? One whole night… I don’t want to boast about it, I just wanted to tell you.” The man was gesticulating in front of himself, even though it seemed like no one was listening. “Disco and video… but this one is reading. It is okay, good girl.”
Vali’s lips were tugged by a smile, however it was rather sad to listen to this muttering in a kind of vacuum. Why is he talking, if nobody is listening?
“… and then he slipped on the ice, and fell.” There was a plonk smell. “But you, you just read on. One has to study. Am I in it?”
Vali looked up and spontaneously returned the question.
The drunk was pointing at the notebook.
“In that, am I in it?”
In the history textbook? Vali, smiling, shook her head and looked around.
“Of course I am not in it,” the man laughed out, and stroke Vali´s arm. The girl pulled away a bit, and lowered her head again.
The driver stepped on the brakes, and the doors opened.
“Oops!” The man jumped up, and looked in Vali’s face. His eyes were begging, as if he had asked: please notice me, to have someone simply acknowledge his existence. “It was my pleasure.”
“Good bye!” she said, and felt that the least she could do was to smile back. And the drunk got off, but his smell was still lingering for a while in the air.
Vali got back to her homework. The moment of recognition faded away, and the man fell out of her mind, like of so many others. After a while, not even her nose signalled that only a moment ago he had sat there opposite her.
Leave your worries on the threshold! They had all learned this, however it was still difficult not to forget. Life has to be restricted to those short minutes when they were floating in between heaven and earth. For them, nothing else existed, than the caressing of the air on their skin, the hands grabbing each other’s underarms, and the fluid movements of their muscles.
As soon as she heard the cue to move,Vali let go of herself at once, and only when she came through the deadlock was she astounded by the fact that she was not watching the rhythm. She drew back her shoulders quickly, launched her feet forwards to feel the pace, and tightly held on to Roland. Again she concentrated on her body and Roland.
Leave your worries behind! Do not let them enter with you!
Vali bit her lips, and let Roland go. She opened her legs. As soon as she started plunging, the hands of the keeper reached out to her. Her magnesium powdered palms hit Roland’s underarms, and he lifted her up.
Floating again. The air whizzed passed her. Her confidence started to emerge again. She pointed her legs again, to increase the impulse, and flying back she did a somersault. She felt, even with her regained confidence, that the movement was not perfect, and this made her dispirited.
I am going to have a brother or a sister. Half-brother or sister.
“Monté!” she called Roland hoarsely, who did not reply, only hissed, to signal that he had understood.
Vali pulled back her legs, and when Roland gave her a push, she swung up on the seat. She held on to the trapeze, the cable of the metal frame, and looked down on Uncle Bandi.
The teacher was a tall, lank man, with a moustache yellow from nicotine. He loosened the securing cable, and throwing his head back, looked up on Vali and Roland.
“The legwork is a little bit explosive, my little fairy.”
Vali smiled awkwardly.
“I felt it. It was a little bit fishlike, I have to agree.”
“Never you mind, now we will have a look at Èvi and her partner, and then we shall try again.”
Vali stepped over to the other pole of the seat, so that Roland could sit up comfortably, and took out the magnesium-oxide block from the bag hanging from the metal frame. She turned towards Èvi and Gàbor, but she could not see their swinging. Everything was blurry. She was rubbing her hands with the powder, lost in her thoughts.
She knew she had to be attentive, but it was difficult. In her ears an ocean was roaring, and it’s waves broke on her forehead. The dream and the secret she had found out the day before, were billowing in her head, entwined in each other.
She quivered. Roland looked at her demandingly, with surprise in his blue eyes.
“Did you hear what I just said?”
“What did you ask?”
“I asked for the block.”
Vali dropped the magnesium block in Roland’s stretched out hand, and cuddled up to the cable.
“You seem somewhat spaced out today.”
“I had a strange dream.”
“What?” Roland asked, throwing back the block, but Vali could not answer, because Uncle Bandi shouted up at them.
“Can we get on with it? Straight somersault keeping your legs in, okay? Then monté, and you can come out of it.”
Roland leaned back with a smooth movement, and clutching his feet, he was hanging up side down, waiting for Vali . She stepped over to the other bar, and reached out her hands behind her. She felt Roland sitting up, and his palms cuddled up to her figure.
“Let’s go,” Vali said, her heart sinking.
The word meant plunging, it also meant Roland’s strong hands and flying. Vali plunged ahead, her thoughts dark. She could see the wavy roof of the training room of the Acrobat school, the red painted timber framework, the blueness of the floor, she could feel her belt on her waist, where the safety cable held her, and still, she was not fully present. The sea in between her thoughts swelled up and turned into mean black colour. The buildings seen in her dreams started growing in her mind.
Vali launched back, and prepared for the somersault. She dropped her bottom in time, but when she let go of Roland’s hand, and started spinning – the floor-roof, the figure of Uncle Bandi in his sweat suit, the watching juggler guys on the floor, Évi and her partner – something else flashed as well. She was spinning in the air, in between buildings, it was an autumn evening, lampposts were sparkling in the damp air. In the darkness occasionally a red stripe appeared, the metal rafters of the Acrobat School, but Roland was nowhere to be seen.
Windows with dark eyes, and on the street a dark haired boy, staring at her with hands in his pocket and his collar pulled up. And then, two white powdered hands appeared in front of her, but already too late. Most likely there was only five centimetres in between their streched fingers, but that was equal to infinity.
Uncle Bandi cried out and Vali felt an immense tug in her waist – but only on her right side! – the thought flashed through her mind; and then the city disappeared, and she could only see the approaching wall, as she was thrown at it by the cable that was only holding her halfways.
Before impact, she was thinking of the boy in the street, and that something was seriously very wrong. Then she felt a painful hit, a dull one, then a sharper one – a carbine –, and the wall threw her back in the air. She cried out, she could also hear that Èvi was shouting something, and then Uncle Bandi clung to the cable with his whole weight, and Vali reached the training mat softly, like a leaf falling from a tree. The pain expanded to all her body, and then soothed down.
Only her heart was beating madly, and not because of the plunging.
“Does it hurt?” Roland asked on the underground.
Vali thought about it. She did not feel that she had actually hurt herself. In fact, she only hit the wall just slightly, because the other part of the cable held her up.
“What was wrong with you?” he asked. On his clean shaven head, where there was only just a tiny bit of hair left in the back, a gleam of light suddenly appeared.
Vali hesitated for a while. The Acrobat School was such a small community, where every new story stays secret only for a day. Although Roland was different – if she asked him to keep his mouth shut, the guy actually really did it –, Évi and Gábor were also sitting nearby. In the end, she opted for the safe answer.
“My mother is expecting a baby.”
“Hmm.” Roland was tossing his ever present grapefruit size glass ball between his hands. “From your mum’s boyfriend?”
“Of course, you silly! From who else?”
“So, are you happy?”
“I don’t know,” Vali replied sincerely. “You know, Kolos always comes to my mind, what it was like, and how much I would like him back… so, yes I would have liked a brother or sister, but now it is somewhat too late really. I will be seventeen years older than the baby. Don’t you think it is a little bit too much? It was so nice with Kolos, we played games together, we had arguments, but we were equally strong, and that was the good part of it. At times he gave me a slap in my face, other times I gave him one in his.”
“At home, I was always the one who was hitting my older brother.”
“I think that goes with it… sometimes, when mum is not at home, and the silence is deeply present in the room – you know, just before dawn –, it just hits me that I even miss that. I even miss the fights. It was never for real anyway. We always made up.” Roland did not reply, only winked, and threw the globe in the air. The lights of the underground glittered on the glass. Just before it would have hit the floor, Roland’s hand flew under, and he caught it. The glass ball glided smoothly on his collarbone, over to his other shoulder. The train braked, but the globe did not hit the floor, only rolled up on his neck leaned to the side, and then back, down his arm and into his hand.
“It looks great,” Vali said.
Roland did not reply, he was caught by the momentum. The glass ball was sparkling and rolling on his body, as if it was gliding in air, and the boy had only accidentally ended up under it. Under the wrinkles of the sand coloured shirt, one could not see the play of the muscles, therefore the globe was like pure magic, sparkling impossibility, that strolled along his whole body. The sparkle from the rolling glass attracted one’s attention, and pulled it away from his shoulders to his arms, back and forth. One small hit, and the globe jumped up to the boy’s temple, then rolled down his neck. Roland’s arm moved smoothly and elegantly, as if he was accompanying the globe as a partner, not actually leading it’s way as master.
Yellow lights and Vali’s red coat were reflecting on the globe’s rounded surface. Red, shining spot on Roland’s red and sand coloured clothes. The red roof top of a church in an unknown city. Open space, that gets more and more spacious, southern bright sunshine, sparkling on the sandstone. Red and orange coloured lead-glass, jewelled with flames, growing piece by piece in the dark windows. Pigeons launching themselves from the ground. The sound of a boy’s laughter echoing in the square, fuelled by the joy of creation. A familiar laughter.
The underground gave a great jerk, and the glass ball’s dance was interrupted. Roland reached for it and caught it before it hit the ground.
“Oops!” He grinned, and looked up on Vali from below.
She shook, and looked down on Roland’s smiling infantile face.
“What is wrong with you again?” he asked suddenly, his face turning sordid.
Vali shook her head.
She knew who she had seen in her dreams. She did not recognize him at first, only his laughter, called on by the spinning glass ball. She had not heard it since ten years by now.
Kolos came to the world hanging onto her heels, and he never let go after either. Two children on a black and white picture: Vali and Kolos, one with long hair, and the other one cut short, looking seriously in the camera with a hidden laughter. In front of them on the ground, an Easter bunny, in between them, an invisible thread, that can only exist between twins, and so strong, that they seem to be one, even when they were just two together.
And now, she is going to be a sister again. She did not know what to think about it. She wanted Kolos, not some stranger, a baby, with whom she will not be able to talk for years. Someone, who is not even her real brother or sister, but a small Miklós.
She did not like Miklós. To be more precise: she was indifferent towards him.
If the man was nice to her, she replied politely; if he commented on something, she retorted, but always with a shrug. For her, Miklós, her mother’s boyfriend, was not really real, as long as she ignored him. So she ignored him. She looked past him, for as long as the man did not force his presence upon her, by opening his mouth. Then Vali replied, but only because after that she would be able to exile Miklós back in her thoughts, on the shelf for almost existing subjects.
Kolos was also only almost existing, but in a different way: he was extracted from nonexistence by the remembrance of Vali, so that at all her performances she made herself believe that her brother was also looking at her, and while watching television, she always left a couple of peanuts from the ones that she was munching, for the dead person.
And then, a couple of hours later, she ate the peanuts.
Vali did not like when shadows were hiding in the empty rooms of the flat. Since there was no one at home, she did not take her shoes or coat off, and walked through the flat herself, to switch on the lights. The light of the bulbs seemed to smudge on the walls.
She was not surprised by the fact that she did not find anyone at home. Her mother kept sending her belated text messages at the end of the day, more and more often about the fact that she would be arriving late, because she was with Miklós. Vali was annoyed by this, even though that when she was not alone in the flat, she would still be spending the whole evening locked up in her room, pretending to do her homework. She was disturbed by the fact that when she stepped in the living room, she would see her mother speak to Miklós – at points like this, she was again reminded that the man does exist.
Even though she could feel his presence, even when he was not around.
Next to the door a man’s slippers, and a toothbrush in the glass. The burned pan, because Miklós insisted on preparing the breakfast.
She entered her room, and threw her bag on the floor. She did not waste time on taking out the sweaty training clothes, she only took her jumper off, and slouched on the lower mattress of the two storey bed. She was outgrowing it, but she still slept in the same place as when she was a young girl. If she looked up on the batten above, she could almost believe that there was someone lying in bed there as well.
“So it was you,” she whispered with her arms under her head. Then she was silent, she did not like the sound of her voice in the empty flat. Only the cat-shaped clock was ticking on the wall.
The voice of Kolos. His laughter. She did not recognise him at once, because in her dreams her brother had grown up. It was not the somewhat chubby, dark and tousled haired child anymore, who had stepped out of the flat for the last time, but a lank boy with a serious face. Vali’s dreams did not let him stay forever the little boy that he had been in her memories, but kept him alive, raised him.
Vali recalled her last picture of the living Kolos: worn jeans – because they were always chasing each other on four under the tables –, burgundy windcoat, and the flat keys hanging from a yellow phone cable, attached to his belt. A fluttering bag. I should have gone with him, Vali thought. Before he closed the door.
The news came fast. Vali was hiding and listening from behind the door-post, and then she went into the children’s room and covered herself with the duvet. The morning after seemed like any other morning. Her mother was pottering around in the flat without uttering a word, and sometimes her shoulders were shaking. Vali did not have to go to school. She was circulating around in the flat between the rooms, dizzy like an insect. The furniture were rising above her, instead of stepping out of her way. The walls were closing in on her. She got confused in the flat that only seemed just enough familiar to be a memory: the security of everyday life left her, another void had snatched her out of her life, a void that she was not ready to accept yet. She clumsily hit the kitchen table and fell, as if she was just learning how to walk. She held on to the table cloth, and was expecting it to hold her up.
Her mother ran in to the kitchen, to the sound of the clattering. She looked down on the crystal fruit bowl, on the glittering splinter, and the peach mash, on the blue-white chequered belt. “What have you done?” she screamed at the child angrily – very angrily, Vali remembered.
“It was Kolos!” The defense came out instinctively. And when she was slapped, her mind cleared, and finally she started crying. The absence that had been evading her all morning had finally found her.
Vali roused from the memories. Keys were rustling, and sounds were coming from the hall. The girl pouted her lips with vengeance. Miklós and her mother.
“Let me do it,” she heard her mother say, and a tiny knock was heard on the door.
“Hello my little girl.” Her mother entered, and closed the door behind her. A nervous hopeful smile was playing on her lips. “May I sit down?”
Vali sat up in bed, and moved away, to give her mother some space.
“Did you have a good day?”
“Yes” Vali replied briefly.
“There is something that I would like to tell you… you are a big girl now, you will soon leave us…”
I will soon fly, that is how I am going to make my living, by flying around, mum. I am not a child.
“And I will be left alone here. Of course you will always be my little girl, but you will not be here next to me forever. Specially since you are going to travel to performances, right?” Vali could hear that her mother was unconsciously cracking her fingers. “You know Miklós since a long time now, we have been together for a while. We would like to get married.”
Silence. Vali knew that her mother is expecting something encouraging, therefore she smiled, and shrugged.
“You are grown ups. I don’t think that you need to ask for permission from me.”
“Well, it would not be too urgent, but…” Her mother’s face blushed, and looked almost like she were Vali’s older sister. “We are going to have a baby.”
Vali had thought that her heart would sink at this announcement, but she only felt relieved.
“I know,” she said, and touched her mother’s hand. “You have been puking since a week now.”
Her mother looked surprised, and then she started giggling. Vali just smiled, and suddenly asked: “What will you call the baby?”
“I … I don’t know really. We have not spoken about it yet.”
“If it is a boy, please do not call him Kolos.”
They looked at each other. They had not uttered the name between themselves for years. Their fingers entwined in each other.
“No. There will not be another Kolos,” her mother said softly.
The transition between wakefulness and dream was like an initially slow but rapidly accelerating slide ride. Just like when she was a child, when they would glide with Kolos, holding each other, down the red plastic slide. When they would lean back during the ride to speed up, and in the curves leaning in to the walls, shrieking out of joy.
At the end, the soft thud waiting at them in the sand.
The city was familiar already. It was the third time that she saw it, and she had realized rather soon that the dream was not hers; she is just a balloon on a string, pulled here and there behind Kolos, a shadow that is reflected on the boy’s back, but of which the city does not take note of. She was forced to follow her brother, to see what he saw.
Kolos, she said to him.
No reply. Kolos was walking in the street with determined steps: the street that was lined with obscure red and yellow lit shop-windows. He placed his finger on the glass, and pulled it down the window. Where he smudged out the steam, the display humped out. Kolos stepped back, and examined his work of art. Out of the glass, small buds emerged, and see-through runners rounded up. The shop-window sprouted fragile, glittering thorns, the tops of glowing leaves were sparkling in the red and yellow light.
Slowly Kolos stepped back from the display, and with him also Vali.
I know him, she whispered to herself, and her heart sank.
The shop-window grew into a thorny, vast, trackless forest. Twigs, weaved out of glitter, were reaching out their claws to the street. And somewhere, deep in the thicket, a figure frozen in a rush was seen, who was irretrievably confined by the rosehip bush emerging from the glass. His torn mantle flashed in between the branches.
It was the prince from the Sleeping Beauty story-book, that Vali and Kolos loved so much. The fairy-tale was illustrated with silhouettes, and this one was the most telling. In all fairy-tales, it is always the smallest, the prettiest and the bravest prince that wins. Kolos always played them. But Vali mostly thought of the ones, who failed the trials, and wanted to know who that valiant prince is who never manages to get across the rosebushes, and whose flesh is torn by the thorns.
“Do you know who the prince was?” Kolos spoke suddenly.
Vali was startled. Did you hear me?
Kolos waved impatiently, and posed the question again:
“Do you know who this prince is?”
Vali kept silent, and then replied, although she could only hear her own voice echoing in her thoughts:
No… I never knew.
“It is me. I am the one who never made it through the rosebush. The one who died, and was forgotten.”
Silence arose, and then Kolos gave a bitter laugh.
“See… after all I was not the prince who conquers the dragon, and earns the princess.”
Vali was not able to utter a word. She did not know how to cry in her dreams, without a body.
“Do you know why he was still lucky? There was someone, who was still dreaming of him, even though he was a looser. Who was not interested in the victorious prince, but only the one who gets entangled in the bush. Do you know who that was?”
I know, Vali whispered.
“Then do not forget it.”
I missed you, Vali finally blurted out after a long silence.
“Yes. I can imagine.”
They set off down the street, and left the wild display behind.
“This is my world,” Kolos said, and loosely showed around him. “A city that only exists while you are asleep. It is possible that it does exist when you are awake as well, but of that I have no reminiscence. When you wake up, babe, I disappear. I die each and every dawn. Grand, huh?”
This was the moment, when Vali could feel the flaming temper in Kolos for the first time, and she contracted.
“As if you would turn off the light. At one point I am still alive – and then it is over. And you know… I am never sure that I will be here the following night. There were nights when you were not dreaming. Those nights, I was nonexistent.”
I am sorry…
“Thanks, but I don’t need your pity.”
Vali shivered from the hostility pouring from Kolos’ voice. I do not recognize you.
“You see babe, that is something that we agree on. I don’t know you either. But you know, I not that bothered about it. I don’t want to realize that maybe you are after all the same one that you were.”
“I want the wakefulness as well. And for that, I have no need of you, babe. It is better if I don’t recognize you.”
Vali’s thoughts were quivering. She wanted to wake up, but she realized with increasing fear, that it is impossible. She was compelled to follow Kolos, until morning came.
This is not what I wanted, she thought desperately.
“I can surely understand that,” Kolos replied. “But you have to take the consequences. Summoning the dead is a dangerous thing.” And he laughed out loud.
The little coffee shop at Mexico street was utterly deserted. The red chairs and the white walls without guests created an unfriendly atmosphere, and even the coffee had an unusual, metallic taste. Vali only took a few sips, and then she only just kept stirring the cream.
The waiter retired discreetly in the background, but Vali was disturbed by the feeling that she did not see him, therefore she turned her head to the side, so that at least in the corner of her eye, she would see the dark and reassuring figure of the man. These last couple of days she found more and more unsettling the previously sought loneliness. If she got home before her mother, she would turn on the television, and the radio, and would turn up the volume, so that the noise would create the illusion of a populated flat. She knew that in the end nothing of this would help; the apparitions would still come, regardless of where she was and with whom.
The dream would skip into the living room. Walking in the street, a doorway or a familiar form of a lamppost would remind her of the city of the night, and this flashing reminder would be enough for the door to open into the sleeping unconsciousness. Kolos woke up. Vali was at two places at the same time for a tiny moment: in the dream and awake. The reality of the two pictures that copied themselves on each other, was too much for her most of the time, and she would suddenly feel nauseous, which would only disappear, if any of the worlds would prove stronger than the other.
She could never know when the next vision would attack her.
It could easily happen right now.
She stared into the coffee, and tried to imagine houses with round cabin windows and streets with flowers in the brown, rainbow coloured frothy cream. She wanted to know, if she was able to direct her dreams.
“Hullo!” Roland’s voice startled her, and as she threw her head back, she could feel a misplaced kiss on her ears.
He threw himself on the opposite bench, and spread his bags next to him.
“You are early,” he said. “It is only quarter past ten yet.”
Vali shrugged her shoulders.
“That is how I felt.”
The waiter exited from the background, and took Roland’s order.
“And you, what are you doing here so early?” Vali asked.
Roland smiled, and scratched his head.
“I called you at home, but you were not there. So I thought that you probably left.”
“I don’t like to be at home,” Vali confessed.
“Have you had an argument with your mum again?” he asked, and kindly added: “Don’t worry, I constantly have arguments at home, but in the evening everything is sorted.”
“No. Something else. Why did you call me? I was in the bath.”
Roland’s face grew serious, and he bit his lips.
“Well… Vali… I want to talk about the trainings with you.”
Vali’s stomach went cold. She pushed the coffee to the side, and looked into Roland’s eyes.
“I did not say anything, I know that things at home are not working out as you would have wanted to. Your mother getting married, the baby arriving soon, leaving school next year, your homework waiting for you, but… we really have to talk about this. I am your keeper.”
“Yes,” she murmured, distressed. She knew what Roland wanted to talk about, and even though she was afraid of the uttered words, there was nothing she could do. She had to listen to him, because they were a pair, and up on the trapeze, they could only rely on each other.
It was obvious that the topic disturbed Roland as much as it disturbed her, because when his coffee arrived, he picked it up with his long fingers, and almost crashed the cup.
“The last couple of weeks I have felt that you do not pay attention enough. You are not there with me on the seat, I don’t feel from your grip that you are present with your total and full consciousness. It is very difficult to work together like that.”
“I know.” Vali’s lips started trembling.
“Uncle Bandi has also noticed, and so has Gábor and Èvi. We know that you have problems at home, but you really should not allow it to tear you down in this way. Why can you not pay more attention?” Roland went silent, and then continued: “Next year we are going to be up on the swinger, and we are going to train with a net. What will happen if you will constantly fall down, like now?”
Vali pressed her hands in between her knees under the table.
“I really like to work with you, Vali. I found the rhythm much faster with you, than with Èvi or Zsuzsa, before she left. But lately, it is all falling apart, and I can not catch you in time, because you won’t let me. Because you are not there. If not physically, but in your mind, you are somewhere far away.”
Vali’s hands were hurting already. She was concentrating on this pain.
“I have been thinking a lot about it, and I did not even want to talk about it, because I thought that it would be something that would pass. But we are bad. Bloody bad,” Roland said, and then went silent, and left the judgement floating in air.
Vali felt the heat in her eyes, and in the end she could not control her face.
The crying surprised and troubled Roland. In the beginning he just clumsily reached out to Vali, and then he decided to move over next to her.
“Don’t be so upset about it…” he gave her a hug, not knowing what to do. “We will solve it. Hey, can you hear me? We will solve it together you and I. Just like when the flique was not working.”
But Vali could hear in Roland’s voice, that not even he believes in it.
“You have no bloody idea, what is happening to me!” she sobbed. “However, I do appreciate that you spoke with me, and thanks, I also know that I am a mess.”
“Come on, relax for crying out loud, okay?” he said awkwardly. “I just wanted you to know. But you will see, it will work out. Stop it! I don’t want another rotator. Really I don’t.”
Vali pressed her face in Roland’s shoulders.
“Thanks. Really, thanks a lot.”
They did not speak to each other for a while, only Vali was whimpering. When the girl finally moved away, and blew her nose, Roland spoke carefully.
“We still have half an hour. So you can relax, and calm down, and we will arrive at training, and be brilliant, just like in a dream.”
Vali gave a tiny squeak.
“You can trust me,” Roland said, and gave her another hug. “I am your keeper, or whatever.”
I am paying attention.
Breathing. Still a little bit interrupted, but slowly calming down, just like waves on the surface of a lake, when the wind calms down. Under her feet, the metal rod of the seat, pressing her feet through her socks. Below her, Roland’s tight, muscular legs, with scratches on them.
His cat, it flittered through Vali’s thoughts, and then she quivered. I am paying attention!
It was her mum that had enrolled her at Acrobat school. In the first week she wanted to leave, she wanted to go back to her old school, where she knew people, where people knew Kolos. Loosing the things in common, she was left more and more to her own memories; she was afraid that those would not be enough, and that her brother would fade away.
Well, he didn’t fade away.
In the beginning everything was difficult, she was not able to accomplish anything, only if they explained it to her thoroughly, so that she could go through the steps in her head first. There was much less space for her instinct, but the more the movements got in to her blood, consciousness started to retreat to the back of her mind. Her body had learnt to do the right thing.
She got used to the life here, the long and tiring days, and the dreams that they had together. They wanted to sign contracts together with Èvi and her partner. In their future, there was no space for growing old, they only saw the performances, the flying in the air, the difficult preparations, the exhaustion behind the curtains, which would feel much better than bringing the exhaustion home from an office.
Previously she would probably have chosen the old school, but by now, she had learnt something that only a few people knew, and this filled her whole life: to show and to pass on the knowledge.
She lifted her head, and looked over to Èvi and her partner. The blond girl smiled back at her. Gábor did a few test swings.
“Let us start, children!” Uncle Bandi shouted.
“I trust you,” Roland told Vali’s hips, and threw himself backwards.
Vali adjusted the bandage around her wrists, and powdered her palms. The space widened, while her attention was concentrated on the seat, and Roland.
“Somersault split and a flick! Can you two do it synchronized?”
“Synchronized!” Èvi laughed from above.
Vali’s heart jumped. Calm down. I am paying attention! she thought. In the corner of her eye, she could feel the itching from the emerging tears. She stepped above Roland, and reached out her arm. The boy’s palms smoothed up to her body. It was warm and dry from the magnesium powder.
“Hop!” Gábor gave the cue.
She was flying. She pointed her legs at the same time as Èvi, to gain more impulse, she could feel the stretch in her arms, as she would have flown ahead, further in the air, towards the wall. She flew back. Her body was the prolongation of Roland’s arms. When she let go at the end of the pace, and stretched her legs to do the flick she caught his glance. Roland’s upside down half moon smile was approaching, and two white hands reached out towards her.
Their arms bumped into each other, and they swept on forwards. The air was rumbling in her ears, like in a shellfish.
She was smiling while flying. She closed her eyes for a moment, and when she swung out, she opened them again. The red timber framework flashed in front of her, but immediately faded away.
Somersault split, she reminded herself, and dropped her focal point. Her legs swung outwards. Roland pushed her arm, and then let go of her, and Vali was spinning in front of the blurred background, the blueness of the floor and the redness of the timber framework got mixed up in each other. Only the two white hands were solid.
At the next pace, she swung up on the seat. As her feet reached the metal rod, suddenly a cobbled road appeared in front of her. She felt nauseous, she saw the beetle-back shaped cobbles and the depths of the hall at the same time. She vacillated, and almost staggered forwards in the humid rainy street, when it came to her that she still was on the seat. She blindly reached out for the cable.
Her numb fingers entwined the wire.
“Vali?” She heard Roland’s voice, but she did not look down. She was watching the other boy, straight opposite the seat (or in the street, next to the flowerbox?), who slowly gave a smile.
“Thank me for being so nice. I don’t want you to fall down.”
“I have a cable,” Vali murmured.
“Vali?” A hand reached out for her knees.
Kolos looked down, and Vali had a creepy feeling that her brother can also see the Acrobat School’s training hall, and is staring straight at Roland now.
“You said that you will do it at the same time!” Uncle Bandi shouted from below, but his voice was dull, as if it had come from under the water.
“I can take this away from you, babe,” Kolos spoke silently, gravely. “And so I will. One day.” He looked up, and Vali could see sadness in his eyes. “Nothing personal. I would do it to anybody.”
Vali started shaking.
“Leave me alone!” she whispered.
The hand moved away from her knees.
“Enjoy it while you can. I am sure you would miss it,” Kolos said. The street started to fade away, and there was bitterness running through his face.
Vali found herself on the seat. She looked dazed down on Roland, in whose eyes she could see worry and offence.
“I am fine,” she whispered.
“Are you sure?” Roland touched her legs again.
“Do not look like that at me: I will not explain.”
Roland powdered his palms, and he murmured under his nose the reply before he bent forward again: “I am your keeper, for crying out loud.”
Vali’s lips twitched.
“Then do not ask, just hold me!”
Roland pulled back, and looked in her eyes. His childlike face grew stern.
“That is what I am doing Vali.” And he threw himself back.