The Writing Disorder


marija stajic

New Fiction


by Marija Stajic

      Doctor Petrovic, a gentle man with long fingers like a pianist’s said: “Take these vitamins, don’t drink, and come see me in a month,” put a box of pills next to Nada’s hand, and rushed out of the office, looking at his watch.
      She sat still on the white cotton sheet, her legs slightly swaying. There was a mirror on the wall across from her, and she looked for her own eyes in it. After some time, Nada slid down the bed, scratching her thigh on the metal bed rail and pulling the white sheet down on the floor. She didn’t bother to pick it up. She didn’t have the energy or the will.
      She went behind the white cloth partition and quickly got dressed—white shirt, long black skirt with small flowers, black shoes with small holes in them for decoration. Her blue eyes and dark hair must have looked even bluer and darker in contrast to the whiteness around her, she thought, when she caught a glimpse of herself in another mirror behind the door, above the sink with a pink soap bar on its side. She quickly looked away.
      Nada dragged herself out of the office. She could smell the alcohol and iodine in the hallways, and the smell made her nauseated. She pinched her nose, and rushed down three flights of stairs, passing people with casts on their arms, legs and heads, kids with bandages over their eyes, women so pregnant they resembled hippopotami. Finally she saw light through a dirty white door, and slid through it, like a snake, trying not to brush herself on anything or anybody. She was disgusted by illness and weakness.
      In the light of day and with busy, whole people roaming around, loudly talking to each other or rushing by her as if she were a ghost, she suddenly felt small, as if she were a bacteria herself. She slowly moved through gray hospital roads, feeling invisible, through its broken iron gate, to the bus station, just in front of its yellow, chipped walls. There were another three people waiting there: a woman in her 70s, with a thick, wool cardigan in May, and a black headscarf, long shapeless skirt, and some kind of thick, rubbery shoes. Her white hair peeked under the headscarf, frail and suffocating. She held a big straw basket, with a kitchen cloth on top, covering and protecting what’s inside from dust and germs, but Nada could see home-made bread, its corner peeking; a blond high school kid with red face and braces, jeans, sneakers and a black sweatshirt with chalk traces on it, who looked appalled by the old woman as if she were the devil incarnate; and a blonde, brittle-looking woman, in her mid-twenties, whose face had a distorted expression as if she were in severe pain. Their eyes met at one moment, heavy lids and the sparkle turned off, then they both looked away as quickly as they could, as if they could catch each other’s misfortune just by looking at each other.
      Nada could smell petrol in the air as the cars passed people in waiting, often honking, and yelling obscenities to other drivers through open windows: “You horse, who gave you the driver’s license? I knew it, I could have sworn, it’s a woman! Who let women drive?!”
      Nada thought she’d been used to nervous and impulsive Serbian people, especially the ones who have lived in the same city since they were born, like her husband. She thought Croats were more well-mannered and civilized. More patient. It had been hard for her to adjust to these short-fused people and the pace they took every day, the nerves they would burn since every little thing, every moment was a fight, a struggle. She still missed her mother back in Croatia, her courteous neighbors, the views of the pastures and mountains from her mother’s small estate near Varazdin, tamer spirits. At first, she didn’t care that her blue-eyed, blond-haired, gentle husband was a Serb, and that she had to live in a polluted, industrial city of 300,000 daily unhappy, complaining people. She didn’t even mind that they were mostly Orthodox, and she was Catholic. Close enough, she thought. What, their sign of the cross ends on the left, ours on the right, that’s about it. But as the time went by, she felt more and more foreign, different, and not even her husband and children could fill a hole she has had in her chest for a decade.
      Serbs were impatient people to begin with, she had been warned, but whatever patience they had left, they claimed to have lost during consecutive historical struggles. “There’s always a war, or a crisis,” Nada thought. “There’s always an excuse.”
      The bus finally came, and people rushed to its front and back entrance, trying to get in before passengers got out.
      “Wait, man, don’t you think I should get out first,” a woman in her forties said.
      “Come on, hurry up then, why are you dragging,” a man in his 50s responded, pushing his way in. The woman finally slid past him, like a cat, squishing her small body past his big, soft, sweaty one, pulling her red skirt above her knees and her black shirt out of it in the process.
       “My God,” she said, his sweat on her, her clothes wrinkled. She made the sign of the cross in the front of the door, tidied herself up, and as she stepped on the sidewalk, she yelled at the man who bullied her out of the bus.
      “You, redneck!”
      The door was still open and he replied as if burned by an iron, sticking his head and spitting saliva through the closing door.
      “If you’re such a lady why do you take the bus, huh, like cattle, why doesn’t someone drive you, madam?”
      Nada shook her head “no,” sighed and got in the back door. She managed to find a seat next to a window, all the way in the back, by passing sandwiches of people and feeling as if her organs have been shifting in her skinny frame. Next to her was an old woman with glassy eyes, taking half of Nada’s seat as well.
      Nada, like a child against the window, began observing details of the run-down streets of Nis and gray-colors of a Socialist country as the bus drove, the ugly buildings which were built to serve a purpose, never to be pretty. She glimpsed at the old pre-war houses which still had a little bit of that royal charm, but which were neglected and chipped away, decaying.
      People loudly talked on the bus, but Nada has managed to tune them out. She silently sang one of her favorite songs, an old Serbian folk song: “Don’t clack with your sandals,” by Nedzad Salkovic: “Don’t make that clacking sound, when you’re coming down the castle, I keep thinking, my darling, that my old mother is coming down…”
      The bus’s slow, steady pace and the fact that she was far from home somehow relaxed her and she imagined, for a moment, leaning on that dirty bus window, closing her eyes, that she was that beautiful woman from the music video she recently saw on TV. This woman came down a flight of stairs, in some beautiful castle somewhere, in a white, willowy dress and wooden sandals, the latest fashion craze that made this distinct “click-clack” sound every time a woman would step. And Nedzad looked at her from the bottom of the stairs, adoringly, mesmerized, waiting for her and only her to come down to him. Bliss!
      “She obviously wasn’t pregnant and there were no children around,” Nada suddenly said out loud. People turned toward her and looked at her wide-eyed, as if she were crazy. A couple of teenagers laughed, pointed. A few moments later, they all looked away and continued talking to their friends, reading the papers or just looking through the windows while clenching the bus handles. Nada looked through the window again, her skin sprinkled by goose bumps, her face burning.
      Maybe I am crazy, Nada thought.
      Five minutes later, she tidied herself up and got up from her seat. Her stop was the next one. She got off across from an old World War I cemetery, adjacent to the building she lived in. It didn’t bother her before, but now, she said loudly to herself: “What were they thinking, building next to a graveyard?! Fucking socialists, nothing is sacred to them!”
      She walked into a small building with white doors, only part-open. She opened a broken wooden mail box, and picked up the electricity bill. She didn’t look at it. She walked up four flights of stairs. She unlocked another white door, with a number nine on it, and walked into a narrow, dark hallway, with thickly-woven wool carpet. She smelled the staleness. The pantry was on the right, stacked with sugar, coffee, salt and similar golden metal containers, and the coat rack was on her left. She walked another two steps and was now in front of the bathroom. She was all alone in there and grateful for that, for the silence. She looked into the bright bedroom, across the bathroom, and her eyes landed on the made king-size bed with white, old fashion lacey linen. She frowned, looked away. Then, holding on to the door frame as she would fall otherwise, she glanced into the small living room with an old brown sofa, a chipped coffee table, two armchairs, and a TV, with dark oval screen and brown wooden frame, and a small sticker that read: Made in Nis, Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. Then she leaned into the kitchen, as if she were afraid to cross its doorstep. She could see the tombstones through the big kitchen window, all shapes and sizes, moldy and green. She could smell the mold, and the bones. And the old tears and dried blood. She could smell the worms.
      She stepped back, turned and opened the bathroom door. It was a small square bathroom—tiny bathtub adjacent to the washing machine, an old, broken mirror closing the medicine cabinet above the sink, cheap black and white tiles. She saw herself, her face cut by the line in the mirror. She was pale, dark under the eyes. Eyes blue, deep but with no shine, web of capillaries. She pulled her cheekbones down and dropped her mouth and chin, and held that position for about ten seconds. Then she ran her bony hands through her short, thick brown hair.
      “Where are they?” she said.
      She began tossing the bathroom ferociously. She knocked down a little basket from the top of the washing machine with mini-soaps and perfumes. She pulled all three plastic shelves under the sink, filled with her daughter’s hair brushes and clips, make-up, maxi pads and cotton balls. Pulled wet laundry onto the floor. And finally, as she were afraid of looking at the broken-faced self in the mirror, she opened the medicine cabinet. That’s where her husband’s things usually laid—comb, shaving cream, cologne, toothbrush, paste and razors. She shivered, felt warmth and moisture on her cheeks, nose, chin, neck. She was suddenly cold and she rubbed her arms. But then she stopped. She picked up a razor in slow motion, ran her fingers over its orange, plastic handle, closed the medicine cabinet and looked down and away. She looked at the tiles. She looked at her watch. It was 2:43pm. She wasn’t sure if it was Wednesday or Thursday.
      She sat down on cold, dirty looking tiles, like a rag doll, legs spread left and right, orange plastic handle peeking from her right fist.

Marija Stajic is a Serbian-American writer, journalist and a linguist who has been published by The New Yorker and many other online and print publications, and who has published three books of poetry. She has a B.A. in Linguistics and Literature from Faculty of Philosophy, University of Nis (Serbia) and an M.A. in International Journalism from American University.

Based on her writing, she has been accepted to George Washington University’s spring semester’s fiction workshop. She has taken many writing courses, classes and workshops, including playwriting in HB Studios in New York City, and short story in The Writer’s Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

She has written a collection of interwoven historical short stories placed in Yugoslavia from beginning of the 20th century until today. She also blogs: belgrade-dc.

Her fiction and poetry has been published by The Writing Disorder, Orion Headless, Gloom Cupboard, Imitation Fruit, Inertia, Thick Jam and the Burning Word literary magazines.

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