Zuzana Cigánová

Vanity Unfair

translated by Magdalena Mullek

Reprinted with permission of Seagull Books.

She got caught up in a conversation by the dumpsters. With an older, but better-looking woman than herself. They each took out the trash with similar frequency, so Pipina thought she also lived alone. She was hobbling. Pipina said hello, a little help would be nice, wouldn’t it … Men?? Trash?? Take out?? Resounded clearly, unequivocally, harshly. Don’t be naive! It sounded as uncompromising as a statement from a podium. The most important thing is not to ask them for anything! Especially not anything concrete. They get scared shitless. The dumpster echoed. They feel threatened. Their guard goes up immediately, her words carried through the neighborhood. They don’t even know why yet, but they’re already afraid! That you may need something. Something specific, specifically from them! The woman was obviously just getting started. Most importantly, not anytime soon! Tomorrow?? You can’t be serious! Today?? That would send them over the edge! They’re lazy as lice. A mosquito net?? He got very sad. And that was right after we had fallen in love. You have to take care of, figure out, and arrange everything yourself while maintaining the appearance that you’re lost without him, and then he’ll forgive you anything, even a flat chest … If his comfort becomes as sacred to you as it is to him, plus good cooking, he won’t ever leave you, not even for a 15-year-old. That’s what you should keep in mind instead of rifling through their pockets and their cell phones. You may not cook like mommy, but you also don’t nag him the way she does. I said that to him once, but now he thinks it’s his own opinion. The fact that a mosquito net had been acquired and put up, that slipped right past him. It’s just comfy here. Have you noticed that there are no mosquitoes in our house? And of course, once in a while you’ve got to give him some. And pretend it’s the one thing you’ve been waiting for. That it’s the only thing you expect out of life. Then the neighbor hobbled away. She fell. She tied something somewhere … And you have to tell the kids, daddy’s home. Nothing bad can happen to us now, he’s hooome … But shhh, don’t bother him, he’s watching the news … the wind carried her words … And Pipina laughed all the way to her kitchen. She knew that in those ten minutes she had gotten a PhD in marriage, but she didn’t heed the advice and asked him to take out the trash. It reeked, and it was late, and she couldn’t get the baby to sleep … It wasn’t clear whether he had heard her, but all of a sudden he had a strange feeling. It reeked in there, and Pipina had her hands full. And he thought about his mother, who used to take out the trash in the morning when she went to pick up the groceries, automatically. I need to go by my mother’s. He got up, I have a strange feeling she may need something. You know, she’s all alone, and he was gone … She didn’t even have a chance to tell him, if you’re headed out, could you please …

And Pipina dreamed about a road! Made of small cobblestones. A fine old lady of a road. One fan pattern after another, it descended towards an old house. A fine old gentleman of a house. And the road fanned him all the way to the empty swimming pool. A fine old gentleman of a swimming pool. Next to it stood fine, old, but slender lady vases. Everything was made of white marble, full of wrinkles. Even the couple of short, rounded steps leading to the terrace were wrinkly. The terrace as well … With a few metal lace tables and chairs. That looked like Dalmatians. Sitting up straight without any effort. Their black spots were rust … And the façade of the house gleamed behind them. Palm-sized pieces of glass were assembled into French doors. And Pipina couldn’t resist, she pressed her face up against them. A room the size of the whole house. A few columns of golden dust in the golden rays of the setting sun. A golden dusk, and sofas, couches, pillows, all the same color. And two enormous bouquets of yellow roses … Pipina walked past three sets of windows, tapping their lead veins with her fingertips, and then she snuggled up to them again. Through the thick panes she could see a piano, a harp, and a giant golden cage. No one was in the cage either. And Pipina said to herself, why are you surprised, how else should things look in a dream? Like this!

© Mullek and Sherwood