Fiction · 12/07/2016

Oh, My Life

Translated by Vuslat D. Katsanis

She remembered nothing, no; not a single thing. I could see it when she spoke. Her eyes were not cloudy, her hands were not trembling. She could find the right words easily.

She was wearing her long gown, and had drawn a knit sweater over her shoulders; the red of her sweater clashed with the needle pointed green leaves of the wild black pepper tree above our heads.

“I lost my slippers,” she said suddenly; reached out her hand, held mine, it was warm, her voice had a barely discernible lamentation. “It was under my bed, I had taken them off at night to sleep. I searched this morning and couldn’t find them.”

“I’ll bring you new ones next week,” I said.

She became happy.

“You’ll bring them, won’t you?”

I nodded my head.

“I will bring them. What color should they be?”

She thought a bit. Then, she slowly moved her index finger from one end of her upper lip to the other.

“You tell me, what color should they be?”

“Blue,” I said.

She put her finger down.

“Why blue?”

“I don’t know. I just thought of blue, so I said blue.”

Two male hospital attendants in brown cloaks passed in front of the bench where we were sitting. Without removing her gaze from them:

“I dreamt of the cat again last night,” she said. “It was morning and I was supposed to leave home and go to work. I got ready. I think it was raining, I seemed to have grabbed my umbrella, it was in my hand. I went out the door, and saw her. She even had three kittens, lying on the doorstep, nursing her babies. One of the kittens was black and white, one orange, and the other a grey tabby. I just stood there at the doorstep, I didn’t move, I didn’t move at all. The cat and I exchanged glances. She was staring at me through her glass-like eyes, as if my mother. The kittens had buried their heads deep into her stomach, suckling on her tits. I searched her face for that sweet relaxation, that satisfaction, but I couldn’t find it. It was as if she was suffering, but still resisting, resisting against something. I clutched my umbrella tightly in my hand, she felt it; her eyes suddenly darkened, its shine vanished, replaced by redness, she lifted her head ever so slightly. She stared at me, kept staring at me and stopped.

“It was just a dream,” I said, without removing my hand. “Did you wake up after that?”

“Ah, I didn’t know at the time that it was a dream,” she said.

“But, it was just a dream, wasn’t it?”

“If I had only known…” she paused. And continued, “But I didn’t know: even if it were just a dream, she was still frightening, I was afraid of her glances; of the redness in her eyes, of that glassy crimson shine, of her steep frown… It was the same cat, I’ve been seeing her in my dreams for quite a long time now. Several times a week… Sometimes with her kittens, sometimes alone. All alone. She appears standing right in front of me, stops, and stares. Like my mother. She stares at me just like my mother. Stares that are half-condemning, half-scolding, even half-apologetic. What can I do? I stop, I wait, I also stare back. I get tired from staring. I get tired but she doesn’t. She doesn’t go away, she waits, without even budging.”

“Do you take your medication?” I asked, to change the subject.

“Yes! That young nurse is a good girl. She comes before bedtime, hands me my medicine, covers me, wishes me a good night.”

“If you only read some books before you fell asleep…”

“I don’t find any consolation. It’s all stupid. All writers repeat the same things, without even changing or rearranging anything. Life is good! That’s what they defend. Life is good? Then, at the end of every novel, the girl dies. Why? Sometimes the girl survives but the guy dies. How can life be good for the one left behind?”

“Those are novels,” I said. “Writers love to have realistic descriptions of things that never happen. Besides … They must love death. Who knows, maybe they love their protagonists all the more once they die. Maybe the readers also love the protagonist more that way.”

“Am I going to die too?”

She asked that question with her eyes fixed on my eyes.

“One day, yes…” I said. “We will all, everyone will, of course, die.”

“Now?”

“Now what?”

She bowed her eyes down.

“I want to see Paris,” she said. “Again… Together…”

We were holding hands with our backs leaned against the enormous bleach-white, cold tile wall; it was crowded, the clamor of the people would first ricochet against the wall that had the image of the same young woman’s face plastered from corner to corner in rows of toothpaste bills—wheat hair, paper-thin brows, absolutely perfect teeth, and pupils dilated by the spotlight—then turn around and find us again.

We were waiting for the metro, we had the address memorized.

I sighed.

“Their wine was good,” I said. “We had exited the metro, the Mehmet’s weren’t home, so we left a note under their door stating we had come. Then you told me you were hungry. We went to the Italian restaurant around the corner, ate spaghetti from large oval plates, and drank wine.”

“Was it the two of us?” she asked. She was surprised.

“It was the two of us,” I said. “I had mixed mineral water into the wine and made a spritzer, you liked it…”

She tried to make sense of it.

“Why did you do that?” she asked.

I laughed.

“That’s how they drink it in Skopje. It would acquire a different flavor.”

“I never tried it,” she said. “Is it really interesting?”

“For me, yes!”

A nervous breeze shook the branches of the black pepper tree, the shadows beneath our feet exchanged places.

“You know I had a roommate, blonde; the one who used to bleach her hair… She’s been gone since Friday and they didn’t give me a new roommate.”

“She must have been discharged,” I said.

“She wasn’t discharged; she died…” she said. “I know. She told me; it was Monday, we had taken our pills before bedtime, after the female nurse left, she leaned toward me; ‘you know I am going to die on Friday…’ she said. And on Friday, she died.”

“A person cannot just die whenever they want…” I said.

“On Tuesday, in the evening, she again told me ‘tomorrow is Wednesday, I have two days left…’ she said. She lived on Wednesday, she lived on Thursday, and on Friday she died. Because that’s what she wanted. She wanted to, so she died.”

We exchanged greetings with the assistant doctor, who didn’t stop but kept walking past us.

“On the evening that ties Thursday to Friday, I woke up while everyone else was asleep,” she said while lowering her voice. “I went near her bedside barefoot, I waited by her side. She was asleep. I caressed her hair, it was spread all over the pillow, I fixed her hair under her neck, she didn’t wake up. I knew she wasn’t going to wake up. She wasn’t sleeping, it was as if she was sleeping, but she wasn’t breathing, she was dead.”

“Didn’t you notify the on-call nurse?” I asked.

“No. And why should I have? She said she was going to die, she wanted to die, and she died. If I had wanted to die and if I had done it…”

“She would have absolutely notified someone.”

“No, she wouldn’t have. Besides, she got my promise, ‘no way…’ she had said. I promised, and I kept my promise to her. Even if they rescued her, she would have forced her death, believe me.”

She put her hand over my hand, closed it tightly.

“But you don’t believe me, why?”

I didn’t respond.

“I don’t want to die,” she said. “Do you believe me?”

Without being able to lift the heaviness from my heart, “Yes,” I answered. “I believe you.”

“Last Saturday, they gave me permission; they sent me home. My sister had also arrived from Ankara. We were together for lunch. Dad was embarrassed by me apparently, he told me casually. If I had wanted to, I would have beaten my illness, supposedly I didn’t want to. Mom cried. Nevin scolded Father and left the table. I didn’t talk to my dad. Mom took me to my room, took off my clothes, and helped me wear the new nightgown she had bought for me, she laid me down. ‘Don’t be sad, don’t be sad…’ she kept saying. I lied down for about half an hour, then got up, dressed, prepared my small hand bag, went downstairs, called a taxi. My aunt had also come. We returned with Nevin. Then it was Sunday, I waited for you, you didn’t visit.”

“I did visit,” I said. “You wanted lavender cologne, I had brought it.”

“You didn’t visit, and you didn’t bring any cologne for me either, why are you lying?”

What use was it to insist?

“I heard you had permission to leave, so that’s why I didn’t visit,” I said.

“Are you also ashamed of me like my dad?”

“No,” I said.

“Do you love me?”

“I love you,” I said.

“When there are other women…”

“When there are other women… Yes!”

“Do you know?” she asked. “You’re crazy!”

This time I held her hand, I locked her fingers in my fingers.

“All men are stupid, they’re all crazy…” she said. “You’re all pitiful.

I bowed, she didn’t react, I kissed the tips of her fingers.

“That’s okay,” I said. “So what?”

She suddenly stood up. She was still so tall. She buttoned the second from the top button of the sweater around her shoulders.

“Go!” she said. Her voice was sharp, coming through her teeth.

I stood up from my seat. One male and three female hospital attendants were escorting visitors out.

“Don’t come here anymore, I don’t want it…” she said. “Don’t bring me lavender either. I don’t want anyone to visit on Sundays, I want to be alone. I get bored with you. People in other rooms start gossiping. After you leave and until you come again, I see that cat in my dreams; she stares at me wickedly, stands in my way, doesn’t let me pass. That’s why…”

She took the first step.

“That’s why… Don’t come to me again, okay?”

The male attendant drew near us on our right.

“It’s time,” he said. “You know, administration…”

“I know, of course…” I said. “I was leaving anyway…”

He held her gently by the arm, helped her take the second step.

“Good day, sir!”

I watched them walk in two rows, front and back, to the hospital wings. She didn’t once turn around, she didn’t once look at me, she didn’t once smile, wave her hand; she didn’t stop and wait for me to walk down the pebble-stone path to the gateway on the main road.

The sweat on my forehead ran cold, dripped onto my brows.

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Tarık Dursun K. was born on May 26, 1931, in Izmir, Turkey. He began his career with poetry in 1949, and went on to author over 19 novels, 30 short stories, and six anthologies. He is the recipient of a number of Turkey’s most prestigious prizes in literature, including the Golden Orange Lifetime Honorary Award, which he won just a year before passing away on August 11, 2015. “Ömrüm, Ömrüm” was originally published in Turkish in 1987.

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Vuslat D. Katsanis is a visiting professor of rhetoric and composition at Soka University of America and a member of the artists collective, Improvised Alchemy. Her work focuses on contemporary Turkish film, literature, and visual culture, and how they relate to notions of identity, estrangement, and dissent.

Translator’s Note: Special thanks to Yapı Kredi Publishing and Zafer Kakınç for granting me permission to translate Tarık Dursun K.’s writing (© Yapı Kredi Kültür Sanat Yayıncılık Ticaret ve Sanayi A.Ş.); and to Necessary Fiction for agreeing to publish “Oh, My Life,” which is now the first published translation of Tarık Dursun K.