Short fiction, translated from Romanian by: Iuliana Costache
|Cornelia Păun Heinzel|
The telephone's ringing sounds seemed extremely harmonious, although it was the begining of a frightening and real occurrence.
- Carmen, is that you? the person from the telephone asks.
- Yes! I promptly responded.
- It's Isabela! I found a house worth buying! Actually, an apartment in a house! said the woman.
- Isn't it some kind of prank? I asked her, doubtfuly. It would be a real wonder for it to be alright! A notary told me he hasn't seen any good sale in the past few years! Some poor crooks only want to take the advance, but to remain in the house. I'm telling you without a shame, they have nowhere to go, means they won't sell you anything. But, mobs estate take the money for the house and don't give you anything in return. And you have no chance of getting it back!
- I hope it will be alright! Where are you? Isabela asks me.
- At the University! I told her. I just finished my classes.
- Get on a bus and I'll tell you where to get off! My husband has a lot of classes this semester and he can't come now. I want to see the house today. Please, come with me!
- Alright! I accepted without any further discussions.
And I didn't regret it at all. The tramway is surrounded misteriously by the history of the last two centuries, petrified chaotically in a strange picture.
Travelling with the 16 tramway is a journey on a boat in Archeon, the driver being a sad couchman.The road offers you the most fantastic experiences.
You barely walk o hundred metres and you enter another world, like a timeless Valey of Weep. A faded kingdom, like a grey painted cloth, the creation of a depressed artist. From the painted dark shades of the road to the blueish grey of the sky... Buildings built at the beggining of the century, almost colapsing on eachother, appear without any windows, with destroyed walls that let light on the brownish ancient bricks that once made up beautiful walls. Ruined....as if after a war or a natural disaster! They seem like images of the Beirut war! Through them, some new buildings appear: two intense blue iron glass giants support some banks and the office of a corporation! A new frightening skeleton of a building appears. But the feeling is similar to seeing a human skeleton. From area to area, fields of threadlike weeds spoil the ground... Among them, some weird looking plants blossom cheerfuly, each having an unique shape that only get simpler on the top of the plant, where they lean spirally, alligned in a circle. It's a returning of their begginging and at the same time a new start, the one of the magical flower. Because every flower has its miracle, if you watch it closely. Even if it's just a simple weed...
I notice that the tramway offers me an opportunity, which I wouldn't be having if I was just a simple pedestrian, through this course. Like an eternal seeker of beauty, I can admire through the piles of walls and dirt, the delicacy of the lacy details seen over the elliptical arches. I let myself enchanted by the mistery of the cold white marble statues, which eclipses with superiority on the small walls of the buildings, making the scenery look abstract. As a pedestrian, I believe I wouldn't be as calm watching the roman's soldier stone sword who looked ready to engage on a battle, protecting a building in front of me, surrounded by walls who sustain themselves through a wonder, because they could fly over me anytime. I would be disturbed by the wonderful head of the eternal Venus, suspended on the arch of a balcony, because it could throw me anytime, as a simple mortal, on other lands, out of the grey shadows kingdom... Are there any other strange places besides the one I walk through now?
It's like I'm in a tunel of time, in which I've been thrown instantly, in the first century Bucharest, however being fully conscious of the present. I think that, for the extreme sensations amateurs from the Occident it would be unique. But for us, who have this permanently, this kind of experience is usual, meaningless.
There's a little park in the middle of it, a fire with orange-redish flames, surrounded by strange figures: A Hercules of our times and these places and some other miserable, ragged characters, with faces showing only evil smiles and mean eyes, like ripped out of Dickens novels...whom you'd never like to meet face to face.
Very few estates are however renovated. Those who may have been owned by an asociation or a corporation...These buildings are the most shocking ones, because of the mix-up between modern art and antique architectures.
My eyes excited look is headed towards the fascinating architecture of the building that stands in front of me. I try to savour every little detail about it... My eyes go through this infinty of curvaceous figures, with their small pictures carved inside of them, the delicate columns that make perfect spheres all around. My iris becomes the centre of it all so I could easily analyze and calculate every inch on every surface. The moment has become a temporary universe and it flows just as the golden sand falls softly through the hourglass. However, you cannot lay in this eternal world forever... The cold name that stands vaguely above the wall awakens your eyes: „Social Store”. Although, on the left stands a little emerald castle which delightens your eyes. So now, you are entirely hypnotized by the details, the lining of each marble figures. But, the dreamy castle is soon turned into a nightmare because of the same bold ice sign above the castle: „Shop – WEAPONS and AMMUNITION” !
I then look and wonder about all the passengers in the tramway, perfectly syncronized with the dull look from outside. With their clothes, with their thoughts… They all look empty. They all float in the same eternal ocean of personal thoughts, of their usual daily problems as if everything around was usual, normal. The world from outside means nothing to them…
Through collapsed walls, at the beginning of a typical deformed street, miserable figures, broken, with shady faces…
Your mind flies to Dante, travelling through one of Hell’s rings. One he did not find yet. An earthly Hell…
A playful little girl is being chased by a mad dog, like a hellhound. His bark attracts other pack of dogs nearby. The dogs are surrounding her and jump at her throat, showing their white sharp teeth. They suffocate her with their huge paws. But then, suddenly a man throws a stick at them. He screams and they run away in fear…
In front of them lays a church. And the same strange crowded architecture is distinguished, the sidedoors are newly painted but the walls are ancient, chaoticaly shelled, pierced violently by the modern central heating pipe, recently installed on which on a headboard says “HISTORICAL MONUMENT”.
My thoughts runs nostalgically to the poor old people, who live in the old houses, still staying in one piece, which are probably filled with valuable books and art pieces, the same as the architectural elements which are carved on the outside, to the fear in which they live in daily, powerless in front of danger. Because Jean Valjean’s little group from the park seemed really courageous. They seemed to have a really big purpose…
We arrived nearby the house for sale a half an hour earlier. We then decided to go look for it, after the clues that our salesman gave to us: its age, the type of architecture, the aspect. Assuming the information corresponded with the reality.
Two huge houses looked liked in the description. We studied them from afar. Especially because in one of them, because someone was watching us from behind some lacy yellow curtains. We couldn’t tell who it was. We thought it’s an older person.
Isabela was thoughtful. Her thoughts traced back yesterday. How much she wanted for everything to be real! For her o buy the apartment. She daydreamed about everything that happened.
Paul was waiting for her at the hospital. He saw Isabela rushing out and nervously greeted her telling her the news:
- I found out something amazing! I found a house to buy!
Isabela didn’t reply and stared coldly at him, absent.
- Isabela, did you heard me? I found a house! Paul repeated.
As if she woke up, she finally replied:
- A huse? You found something to buy? But can we afford it? She asked.
- Yes! It has a fair price! He said gladly.
- And where is it? Isabela asked doubtful.
- Here, a few blocks away. I talked to the real estate man and he said we could go see it on Monday. I only know the name of the street.
- Let’s go check it out now! She impatiently said. We’ll figure it out!
- Alright! Paul agreed. We’ll go now if you want!
They strolled around a few streets, went across the boulevard and got on a little street.
- Look, an older house! Could this be it? But, isn’t it too big? The ground floor and the first floor are empty. Although, look, there’s an old woman in the attic watching us? Paul said.
They both looked to the window, studying carefully at the same time, the building. On the ground floor the windows were recently attached and they were strongly in contrast with the rest of the building. It was recently painted, but the floors were covered with peeling plaster, in a degrading state. If you looked at the attic, you didn’t need much imagination to see it being crushed by any move. It just freaked you out! You felt as if in the next moment it could fall on your head! The old woman ran away scared from the window.
- Let’s see other houses. Maybe we’ll guess which is ours! Isaela said. It couldn’t be this one!
After they left the street, the house resembled more and more the description they were given.
- We’ll find out on Monday which one is it, Paul said. We should be a little patient!
- Alright, she agreed.
The real estate agent called us instead and he suddenly appeared with his car at the meeting point. We drove away home together. In front of the house, we saw a corpulent woman around her fifties, with olive skin and a long dyed black-bluish hair waiting for us. She was with a young fat boy, with features that implied he was mentally retarded.
The woman aggressively introduced herself s a stomatologist from a village around Bucharest, where she said she lived with her son. We felt a little trustful because of her shady-looking face.
- We have a villa in construction! Said the woman. And this is my son. He studied medicine, in a private institution, she said. While he was a student, we bought this apartment from the house, which I now want to sell.
We entered the yard. The exterior of the house looked pretty well for its passing through ages.
- It would’ve been better if it was near the street! Isabela pointed out.
In the yard, pieces of some sideway and garbage was thrown around.
We each climbed on some narrow spiral stairs, to the first floor of the house. A glass door, recently installed appeared in front of us. The real estate agent opened it.
The apartment was relatively small, compared to the rooms we were used to and in which we lived. But they were our parents houses. The old interior was packed with windows, new ceramic tiles, modern sanitary installations. The price was however acceptable.
- The lady upstairs wants this apartment. But we don’t want to sell it to her. Don’t talk to her! She’s sort of insane, the shady lady said.
- What about the notary? Isabela asked.
- You could choose it. We have our own. And lawyers, and connections… We could do the paperwork at them. If you want, of course!
- No, no! We’d better choose the notary! Isabela said, so she could know for sure that the transaction would be made correctly. Many of the people she knew said they got into trouble with the notary men. Even a friend who worked as a notar told her about other situations where other notaries made false paperwork.
When they wanted to leave, the curvaceous lady gave them a CD with some music on it.
- This is the CD with my recordings on it. I am very passionate about music. I sang at a TV show once, the woman said to us.
After three days, Isabela calls me again:
- Hello! Tomorrow I’ll buy the house! I already paid in advance! I signed the precontract, she told me in a rush.
- Is everything okay? I asked. Better be careful, you could easily get tricked!
- Yes, I saw some of these scamming cases on TV.
- Were you careful about the notary?
- We were the ones who chose her, she replied.
- A colleague from university told me how he and a friend made an estate company, immediately after the Revolution and stole each house from the people who called them. People trusted them and gave them the contracts to sell their proprieties. They didn’t even think about being scammed! They only saw this in movies! I told Isabela.
- And now I suppose your colleague is very wealthy, she replied.
- No way! His friend ran away with all the money and my friend got stuck with all the debts, I clarified to her.
Paul and Isabela got back from visiting the house. The next day they had to sign the contracts.
- Isabela, we need to talk to the neighbors, to analyze the situation. With the only neighbor we saw, we can’t talk. And even the owners told us not to talk to her. Let’s see about the others. Because, every time we wandered around here, we never saw anyone, except that weird neighbor. Isn’t it strange? Paul said.
They entered through the front door. They got up the ground floor stairs and they found an iron door newly installed. An identical door to the one they first saw, shown by the real estate agent. Some blue pieces of plastic that were used to wrap it were on its surface, the same as on the other one. They knocked and ringed at the door but no one answered. At the first floor, there was a door that looked exactly the same! They knocked on it, ringer, called at the door. Again, no results. Paul and Isabela were so shocked, they didn’t even say a word. They didn’t even confess their thoughts, as they usually did. Maybe because they really wanted a house for themselves… And far until now they only found scammers. Paul’s mother tried buying him an apartment in Bucharest from when he was a student. But she didn’t succeed. She either found teenagers who wanted to steal the house and the money and agents who were the same. “How can some people find some real house to buy, or even an apartment?” Paul always asked himself. “Maybe you have to buy it from people you really know or have serious connections with the real estate agents”, he thought. Some really could make some transactions. But how many are those who got scammed! An older colleague from university told him that an old student, married to someone who worked at a television program were tricked and couldn’t solve anything. Even their neighbor, headmistress at a high-school got scammed. She bought an apartment in a residential complex and pays a large amount of money. When she saw she didn’t have any chance of ever moving into the apartment, she wanted to solve the problem through justice. But the whole process was useless because the contract was so well made by the society’s lawyers who sold the apartment, so they weren’t forced to pay back anything, although they got the money for the building.
Paul and Isabela put the thought of owning an apartment away. And still, now they seem to have the chance of getting a right transaction. Paul searched again for real estate sales, forced by the circumstances from the secondary home in which they lived in, because some people were renovating it. “So, this chance”, Paul thought, seemed at the right moment.
Isabela and Paul went down and then went in the second part of the building in which their apartment was at…
- Let’s try in the neighborhood, Paul said.
They bought got out on the street and saw the school nearby the building.
- Could we try here? Paul asked. And they bought headed to the entrance. At the door, there were two middle-aged women.
- If you don’t mind, do you know the history about that building next door? Isabela asked politely.
We’ll buy an apartment there. We even paid in advance, she joyfully said, not capable of hiding her happiness.
- I’ve been working in this school for many year – one of the women said. The building was an issue but it was won by an old man who seemed to be the previous owner. The tenant filed a trial against him, but it’s known she lost. The old man had two girls. The first one got the front side, I don’t know what the other one did. The thing I know it’s not right is that, the old man lives and they declared him dead, to do the contracts on their name. The apartment from the back is actually empty.
In reality they had him hospitalized in an asylum near Bucharest.
Paul and Isabela immediately thought she talked about their apartment.
- The empty apartment is ours! They both said.
- Tell me, please, the owner is the one who legally owns the house? Isabela asked curiously.
- Oh, no! the older woman said. The owner was a big communist! When the communists gained the power, he only had the first four grades. He was only a carpenter. But the government needed people like him. The man helped them punish the higher class enemies. As a reward he was made a colonel. For his services he got this house, after it was nationalized. Not anyone owned a house this big! About its real owner, no one knows anything. He’s most surely dead…
- Didn’t he have any children? Maybe they’ll claim the house, Paul asked.
- Ah… They’re an old story. The owner had a son for whom he cared about a lot. When he was in university he fell in love with a colleague, the daughter of a priest and wanted to marry her. His parents didn’t agree at all! They said he should choose a countryside girl, if he wants a good future. Maybe this is how they could also save the house as well. The daughters of workers and countryside men were going to university even without finishing high-school. They went to university to learn how to work better. The daughter of the priest was very intelligent but it was for nothing. There were only a few places at university for people like her. Children were rushing to take a place, ten on a single spot. Even if she graduated it, he would’ve had a hard life. The young man didn’t listen though. She loved Alina too much. They married without waiting for their parents consent. And then, in the first night they announced their parents about the marriage, something terrible happened. At night, when the two lovers were asleep, they were killed in their sleep with a hammer… Since then people say the house is haunted by ghosts. You can always hear terrifying weeping sounds during the night.
- Such a tragedy! Paul and Isabela screamed. Thank you a lot for the informations! They both said.
“So strange” Paul thought. Why was the story such a shock to him? A shock which sort of woke him up from an amnesia. Why did he have the feeling that he knew the story from a long time ago? Maybe because it happened to him? His parents didn’t agree to his marriage to Isabela. They wanted a communist’s daughter, a neighbor. But she wasn’t as pretty nor as smart as Isabela. Plus, before 1989, the daughter of the communist didn’t study after the 8th grade and she couldn’t go to school after that. However, after the Revolution, the communist made her go to night classes and she got an university diploma, a private one, opened in a small apartment by another communist he worked with. After that, with money, his daughter was employed at the Prosecution.
Paul thought that his friend Michael, has a pretty good life because he has a different affiliation. And because his affiliation boss didn’t bring his family. He clarified to him that Michael wasn’t happier than him. The professor, the head of the department has other weaknesses. He brought his loved ones whom he promoted. He can’t even stand Michael because he was the head of the promotion. Paul once curiously asked, if his loved one were single. And he found out something surprising! They were all married, with children, as the professor, just for façade! No one should’ve suspected anything. However, many know the truth…
His thoughts were interrupted by Isabela’s melodious voice
- What is life interest? She asks.
- Let’s ask the notary lady, we found her after all, he said.
- Let’s ask her through the phone! She said.
- But first, let’s talk to the real estate agent. Then we’ll go to the Town Hall to see if the death of the old man is recorded in there. Paul took the phone and dialed the number.
- Hello, we are the couple with the selling house. We found out the old owner isn’t dead. We’ll go to the Town Hall to find out.
- Yes, he is alive! But don’t you dare follow the tracks! The real estate agent said threatening them. If you check something, we’ll get really pissed! We’ll talk tomorrow at the notary, when we’ll meet! And she hung up angrily. Paul stared at the phone surprised.
- Let’s talk to the notary lady too, Isabela encouraged him.
- Hello, we’re the apartment buyers, scheduled for tomorrow. We found out someone has life interest on the propriety. What does this mean? The first owner still lives, although he was declared dead, by the daughters.
- If there is a life interest, the contract has no value anymore. But I think the old man is dead. And even if he’s not, if they have the deceased contracts, why would it matter? We’ll meet tomorrow to complete the paperwork, the woman said forcefully. I will not accept any rejection! But who told you?
- The real estate agent himself! Isabela answered.
I think the notary woman will call the real estate agent and tell him we know that the old man lives and teaches him how to lie. Not to admit he is alive, Paul said.
Paul and Isabela got back to the apartment. They already brought a lot of things, because the owners told them that they could move in. They already paid in advance. Paul had a crazy idea that night.
- Let’s stay here tonight! We have the armchairs and other things we brought in. It’s a good thing that the son of that lady let us bring these in here! I’m pretty tired from today! I had a rough day at university! What do you say? Paul suggested.
- Alright, if you want, Isabela agreed. At least we could check what we bought. But is it alright? Wait a minute, let’s look over the pre-contract. What was the name of the on the old man sold the apartment to the first time? Look, his wife Madelene. Didn’t the lady at the school told us that one of the daughters was called Mady? He sold the apartment to the son-in-law! Isabela said.
- Let’s see who made the selling contract. For sure he is dead, Paul said while opening his laptop to find out.
- Yes, the notary man is deceased! The next contract? The second notary man couldn’t be dead, the one who completed the selling contract from the son-in-law to the woman with the olive skin, he screamed in excitement.
- The second one is surely dead, Isabela said. It’s very clear. The contracts aren’t alright.
- Isabela, the second one is dead too! It’s a notary woman actually! Paul exclamated.
- We got scammed again, Isabela said disappointed. Tomorrow morning we’ll get our things out of here. And we’ll call off the sale! I’ll call the driver who helped us get these things here, right now to get them out.
They fell asleep, sad about the stressful day they had. At 1am they wore awoken by some terrifying screams. Isabela began trembling.
- Don’t worry, you’re with me, paul said. But he felt the cold shivers through his body as well.
His eyes rapidly headed to the hammer he saw thrown on the floor the first time they came here, as a solution…
- What is it? Isabela whispered, scared.
- Maybe it’s a mad woman nearby, Paul tried to calm her down.
But the screams started to sound louder, creepier. They didn’t believe the ghost story, but now…
- Maybe there’s someone in the attic! There where the iron door was at, the same as ours and the ones around the house.
- But it’s a horrible story…Isabela whispered, trembling out of fear.
- Ah, do you still believe in stories? Paul tried smiling. But his grin was forced, limited by fear.
In the morning, at 10 am the phone rings.
- It’s me, Maria! I’m sorry, do you know anything about Isabela? I can’t find her since last night, neither her nor Paul. I went to their house in the morning and none answered! They don’t even their phone! Not one or the other! The woman said worrying.
Maria was Isabela’s mom, a doctor, like her daughter.
- I understood that they remained in the apartment they wanted to buy! Isabela called me last night, I answered.
- Yes, but why don’t they do now? The woman asked.
- I don’t know, try again! I’ll try too! I told her.
- Do you have a little time, though? Maria asks me desperately.
- I have classes with my students from 11, I told her.
- Please, come with me to the apartment! She begged me.
- Alright, I agreed.
After an hour we were on the little street. The strange house seemed impossible to defin geometrically in x, z, y coordinates, accessible only through introducing a certain code that only some people know. And the strange iron doors, identical… However, I soon saw the front side of the house. Maria was waiting for me at the entrance. I got in the small yard and I opened the door to the inside of the building. We climbed the spiral stairs to the first floor and in front of us was the iron door. We knocked on it, we rang…plain silence. Then, Maria touched the handle and the door slowly opened. A hammer covered in a liquid as red as blood was thrown in the way. On the couch, Paul and Isabela were engulfed by a sweet endless sleeped. The white sheets seemed covered in red rose petals that lit up like fire. They seemed painted in a dreamy red purplish colour, as blood…
Maria fainted in front of me. I then took my phone and rang.
A long heartbreaking whistle, like a desperate wailing penetrates the souls of those who wait on the wings of the boulevard in the center of Bucharest. Every bit of the body shivers. Cold thrills gradually go through you on every inch of the spine. If you were happy, quiet, dreamy, everything would collapse in a split second...
The story "shock" by Dr. Cornelia Paun Heinzel was first published in France, in Asymetria, the magazine of culture, criticism and imagination. This story has been translated into English, Greek, Italian and Russian, French and Spanish.