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Radu Paraschivescu | from:Romanian

39′

Translated by : Jim Christian Brown

Introduction by Lustina Croitoru

It's hard to find the song that you care most about - one out of a hundred. Making a choice, you commit ninety-nine injustices. And not only that. The habit to categorize and rank your favorite music and musicians is likely to stir a craze: ballet and rock, ballads and jazz, progressive music and Romanian hits from the ‘70s,  Leonard Cohen and Céline Dion, Roger Waters and Lady Gaga, Brian May and Paul McCartney, Tchaikovsky and Sphinx, Bijelo Dugme and Jens Lekman. This story is just an invitation to humor and tenderness, and a descent in time and nostalgia.

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For Freddie, Brian, John, Roger, and Cătălina

It’s complicated, complicated as hell. You fall head over heels for Elisabeta Ciupercă, your sexiest classmate in the eighth grade, a drum solo pounds in your chest cavity every time you see her, and when it comes to the point you discover that she does not requite your love. Why not? Well, here’s the catch. Because, for God’s sake, she was totally smitten with a greasy, acne-covered beanpole of a guy in the eleventh grade. And why was she totally smitten? Hmm. Because the sweaty so-and-so had just got a John Fogerty LP, the one with ‘Rocking All Over the World’ (take it easy now, don’t jump, Status Quo only did their cover version in 1977), which no one else in the school or in the neighbourhood had. His dad, a long-distance lorry driver, had brought him the LP from Yugoslavia. He took it with him to class, the bastard,  flashing it over his head as if it legitimized his own identity, and he showed it to her. As for the girl, beautiful and dumb as she was, she seized the bait and told me where to get off. It’s not equitable and it’s not fair to compete like that in matters of the heart. He in high school, you in middle school. He with John Fogerty and ‘Rocking all Over the World’, and you with ‘Famous Waltzes’ from Electrecord, which Mum, Dad, and the visitors danced to on Saturday nights, after ‘The Saint’, ‘The Avengers’, ‘The Champions’, ‘The Baron’, ‘The Fugitive’, ‘Man in a Suitcase’, ‘The Persuaders’, ‘Mannix’, ‘Kojak’, ‘The Untouchables’, or whatever lousy series was running at the time. He with his Akai record-player and speakers the size of your house, you with a trashy local product with minuscule speakers and fidelity to match.

It’s complicated, complicated as hell. Even after you finally get to high school (and not any old high school, but ‘Sava’s’). You fall head over heels for Cătălina Paraschiv, your neighbour in the register and in the back row, a drum solo pounds in your chest cavity every time she lifts up her pinafore – a little and then a little more, till you no longer fit inside your skin behind the zip and you thank the Good Lord that you didn’t stay in your tracksuit after PE. It’s complicated, complicated as hell, and also because Cătălina Paraschiv seems immune to the suffering of a fellow being. She even finds it funny when she sees him scorched by the flames of desire as he stretches his neck telescopically towards her cleavage, just for a glimpse of the treasures nestling within her bra. What can you do? Theoretically, anything. Practically, nothing. Nothing useful at any rate.

Not only is revenge a good dish if you eat it straight from the refrigerator, it is also the weapon of the fool. So said the wise men. What they didn’t know is that a high-school student in love has no way of not being a fool and consequently cannot keep thoughts of revenge out of his head. And how can you take revenge on someone to whom you don’t have a tenth part of the access that you long for? It’s simple. By transferring to that someone, without their knowledge, your wrong steps, your mark-sheet deficiencies, your days of schoolboy offside. It’s a hard decision, but one that has to be taken. And I take it, with the inner shiver that the committing of an injustice induces in the soul of someone who has hitherto been honest. When my Dad comes back from the parents’ meeting, stooping under the harvest of bad marks which he proceeds to report to me as received from my class teacher, I protest with sumptuous theatricality.

‘Four out of ten in maths? Me? But she never tested me.’

‘And another four in history,’ Dad continues, with all the rigorous pedantry of an accountant.

‘I got a ten in history!’ I explode, with a tremor in my voice and a certain dilation of the pupils.

‘A ten and a four,’ my parent insists, calm so far.

‘Are you sure you looked in the right place? The class teacher is a bit scatty. Are you sure she didn’t show you something else?’

‘Believe me, I know your name. It happens to be mine too. Now there’s a coincidence for you.’

Before his nerves give way (provoked not by the stupid prank itself, but by my habit of weaving a blanket of fabrications around it), Dad usually turns ironic and cold. Just like the revenge I was talking about.

‘A lie, my kingdom for a lie.’ I strain my brains, I wring my hands, I knead all that is to be kneaded, and at the end of this gymnastic show of despair, I come out with a rock solid explanation.

‘Wait, I’ve got it. She put the marks against the wrong person’s name. It was Cătă she tested at maths, not me. She put the mark against my name by mistake. We’re next to each other on the page. Paraschiv and Paraschivescu.’

Normally, Dad would have repeated to me, for the hundredth time, that God gave us the gift of speech so that we could pronounce words completely, not cut in half. So it’s not ‘Cătă’ and it’s not ‘maths’. Now, however, he feels the need to be not only mocking but also logical.

‘And the hist? Did the hist teach make the same mistake?’

If we are to have a battle of logical deductions, then so be it.

‘The same mistake the maths… mathematics teach… teacher made, the history teacher could have made too,’ I pronounce triumphantly.

‘But how is it that no one ever entered a ten for you instead of a four? The same way, by mistake. For you instead of ‘Cătă’.’

What can I say? His logic seems somewhat better than mine. That’s why parents are parents and children — if you follow me carefully — are children.

*

It’s complicated, complicated as hell. Because you can’t always shield yourself from the vengeance of someone on whom you have tried to avenge yourself. And Cătălina Paraschiv is not only beautiful, hot, and, strangely enough, good at schoolwork. She is also proud, mean, and resentful. Grievance gnaws at her soul like worms digging into the flesh of an apple. I don’t know how she does it (probably the class teacher told her), but in the end word gets to her that I had tried to trick my father by taking my school failures and throwing them onto her shoulders. And she decides to strike back at me right in the middle of a Latin class (‘Salvete, pueri.’ ‘Salve, magister.’), while our mild-mannered teacher Constantin Moldoveanu, a meatball of a man, a passive periphrasis in suit and tie, a smiling elderly ball of fluff, spouts forth imparisyllabically from somewhere in the region of his desk, casting ablative absolute glances over us from time to time. Mr Moldoveanu evaluates his pupils with a test of incurable Procrusteanism. If you can manage to blurt out a couple of words about some declension or other, then you’re all right and you get a nine. If on top of that you can reel off a proverb in Latin — Labor omnia vincit improbus — then you’re brilliant and you bag the big ten. If you shut up like Blaga’s swan, you make yourself a laughing stock, which means that you deserve nothing better than a frown and an eight. There’s no such thing as a seven, and not passing at all is out of the question. The formidable severity of the staff at ‘Sava’s’ is contradicted by this rotund and rosy-cheeked septuagenarian with white temples, damp eyes, sausage fingers, and metrosexual manicure.

‘Hoy! What are you doing? Is something the matter?’

From Constantin Moldoveanu’s sigh to my sigh the distance is shorter than the step from the sublime to the ridiculous.

‘Stop it, Cătă, Meatball can see us,’ I whisper to her imploringly.

Mr Moldoveanu abandons the second form of the present active infinitive and peers towards the back of the class. And there, with her pinafore in disarray and with an expression of boundless disgust, Cătălina Paraschiv gets to her feet, arranges her hair under her hairband, and utters in an outraged tone:

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‘Comrade teacher, Paraschivescu won’t leave me alone. He’s showing me stupid things.’

Moldoveanu catches us both — teller-on and told-on alike — within the net of a gaze in which there is a flicker of sorrow. Then his lips open into an enlightened smile that penetrates unexpectedly into the darkness of a mystery.

‘Aaah, loook now, Paraschiiiv and Paraschivescuuu. Just like the reeegister. What are yooou up to, back there?’

Cătălina Paraschiv waves a sheet of paper torn out of her notebook and goes up to the teacher’s desk with it, determined to expose the dastardly deed. I freeze and don’t have time to get a word out. Before I can open my mouth Cătălina Paraschiv, the best in the class at drawing and a premature aspirant to a place at Art School, is standing up there beside the teacher. She hands him the page and murmurs, with the air of a persecuted orphan:

‘He keeps messing around, Comrade Teacher. And I couldn’t even understand what you told us about the proactive infinitive.’

‘Present active,’ Moldoveanu corrects her compassionately, casting his eye in the direction of the page.

And sprawling over the ruled lines of the page in all its terrible sculpturality, there is a sex scene, from which the teacher’s gaze withdraws demurely, only to give way to indignation.

‘Well, Paraschivescu, is it possible? For you of all people, a clever boy (I knew five proverbs) to do such a thing? Who do you have as class teacher?’

‘Ja… Comrade Teacher Ecaterina Olteanu, economics,’ reports Cătălina Paraschiv, on the point of screwing up in her turn and uttering the word ‘Jackdaw’, the class teacher’s nickname.

‘I shall have a word with her,’ Moldoveanu concludes sadly. ‘Kindly return to your place and control yourselves, the two of you.’

Satisfied, my classmate comes back to the bench and takes advantage of the fact that she has her back to the teacher to stick her tongue out at me and to move it so lasciviously that I feel she is driving me into a sweat. The rest of the class laugh under their breath.

It is pointless to explain that the dirty drawing was the work of Cătălina Paraschiv, not my work.

It is pointless to say that for a quarter of an hour she had kept lifting up her pinafore, and that at a certain point she had taken my right hand and thrust it between her thighs.

It is pointless to divulge that she had whispered in my ear, touching it with the tip of her tongue, ‘You’d like it, scumbag, wouldn’t you?’

It is pointless to try to prevent a fresh summoning of my progenitor to the school, where he will be informed, by a class teacher as dry as dill for pickling, that his little treasure is going to have marks taken off for bad behaviour.

It’s complicated, complicated as hell.

*

‘Sixty-nine.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘Oh dear, how dim you are. Just look, his body and her body…’

We’re at Ruxandra Toma’s place, the head-girl of the class. We’re having tea, somewhere on Berzei Street, on a Friday evening, about a week after the episode in the Latin class. Ruxandra Toma has called round a few of us from the class, boys and girls, to show us a black and white photo from ‘Cinema’ magazine of Marcel Iureş, her platonic love, and to play us two Cat Stevens albums, ‘Tea for the Tillerman’ and ‘Teaser and the Firecat’. At a certain point, the lights go out. And I find myself dancing with Cătălina Paraschiv, who keeps herself pressed against me and explains to me in a whisper, to the chords of ‘Father and Son’, pretty much all an innocent abroad should know about the position she had drawn on the lined paper. I do my best somehow to conceal my erection, while Cat Stevens minds his own business, with that voice like a wise old sacristan:

It’s not time to make a change

Just relax, take it easy,

You’re still young, that’s your fault,

There’s so much you have to know.

Find a girl, settle down,

If you want, you can marry,

Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy.

That’s the way diabetes strikes, I say to myself, taking care not to hold Cătălina Paraschiv either too tightly or too loosely. Listen to a couple of syrupy ones like this and your blood sugar will go haywire. And anyway, it’s pointless dancing to Cat Stevens’s music. In fact, it’s pointless dancing. Music is for listening to, not for dancing. And good music doesn’t mean this sugary tra-la-la stuff, but a blast of rock, something to shake the candelabrum and set the downstairs neighbours’ soup trembling in its bowl. Motorhead, AC/DC—something in that direction. How much wool do you have to have in your knees to listen to ‘Lady d’Arbanville’, ‘Wild World’, or ‘Morning Has Broken’? And if you’re still keen on mournful stuff, at least put on Paul Simon, or Dylan, even Donovan, not this weariness created out of smoke and ashes. Phooey! But, when it comes down to it, what can you expect from a guy with a Swedish mother and a Greek father?

‘Do you know how to make love?’

‘Huh?’

Cătălina Paraschiv passes her tongue over her lips and repeats the question:

‘Do you know how to make love?’

If I had an extra hand, I would scratch my head with it, like Stan Laurel does in moments of confusion.

‘Well… eh… kind of yes… you know… I think… that is… in a way… technically… if… this… what do you mean?’

‘Come on, do you know or don’t you?’

‘…Y-y-y-no…’

She pulls me towards her, I respond on command and very nearly stab her with the barrel of the pistol of joy.

‘Uhu, that’s where it all starts from,’ she says when she observes my awkwardness. ‘Now look. I’ve been trying for as long as I can remember to track down a song. I heard it once at a party and since then, zilch. And I really like it. Good. You get hold of the LP with that song, and we’ll start tutoring sessions. I’ll teach you how to make love. I mean, up to a certain point. Well, tell me, are you in?’

The question has something perverse about it, especially in view of what is going through my nut in that second. I nod my head up and down like a fluffy dog on a car dashboard and ask, with my mouth all gluey:

‘What’s the song called?’

‘“Thirty-nine.” I haven’t a clue who sings it. I don’t know his voice.’

‘All right, it’s a deal. I’ll get it for you if it’s the last thing on earth I do.’

This is the moment when I realize that the lights are on, the music has stopped, and the gang are looking at me revolving with Cătălina Paraschiv in my arms. With both hands on her bottom.

‘Thirty-nine’, right? The devil knows what kind of song that can be. Probably about some other position, some kind of entwining, something to get your flies pumped up.

It’s complicated. It’s complicated as hell.

*

No matter how many bad marks I get (and I do get them, no joking), and no matter how much I try to hide them (and I do try, no kidding), Dad has established some steps of complicity with me from which he does not descend. One of them concerns the LPs that come now and then to the Muzica store. He’s got a friendly contact there, Mariana, a brunette taller than the solstice is long, who gives him a phone call at home when deliveries come in. Otherwise, if you don’t have someone on the inside, it’s goodbye to music. Let’s be clear about it, what this contact puts aside will be something by Celentano, or Endrigo, or Los Paraguayos, or classical stuff produced in Russia, no way Pink Floyd or Black Sabbath, who don’t know the way onto the socialist market. Anyway, this is the time of vinyl LPs sold clandestinely or held back under the counter. It’s the time of connivance for art’s sake. It’s the time of concessions that melt intransigence and principles.

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‘You know, I’ve just had a call from Mariana,’ Dad informs me on an October afternoon as dismal as the dream of a virgin in Iran. ‘Seems they’ve got some things in.’

‘So?’

‘Your kind of stuff. Twang-twang. But she says to go now, because there’ll be a fight for it.’

‘But doesn’t she hold things back for you?’

‘No, she says there’s no way. There’s a crowd already and she can’t make any move.’

When I get to the Muzica store, about thirty policemen are struggling fruitlessly to turn a mass into a queue and a tribe into a people. Several hundred people are pushing each other, treading on toes and shoving with their elbows, while the sales assistants sort the booty that they are removing from square cardboard boxes. ‘ABBAAAA!!!’ yells a blonde behind me hysterically, at the sight of a piece of wrapping. I’m about to ask ‘Voulez-vous?’, but I realize it’s not the moment for that sort of game.

The records are from Dum-Dum, an Indian production house whose records only very rarely turn up in Romania. The human sea forms waves like on the stand of a South-American stadium and hundreds of eyes scan the titles on the sleeves. It’s going to be about a quarter of an hour before they go on sale. Impatience rises with each second that passes. The average age of the besiegers is somewhere around that of majority. Each has come with a hope, each is waiting for the start so that they can fight for… no one knows for what, but one thing is certain: no one can conceive of leaving here empty handed. Advienne que pourra et coûte que coûte.

The moment one of the sales assistants utters the magic words ‘Come in’, the rush begins. You get the impression of a scene from a historical movie, with bloodthirsty besiegers and locals begging in vain for mercy. It doesn’t take long before one of the huge windows of the shop breaks, provoking a cascade of yells and terrifying the sales assistants, who sense the coming disaster. The LPs that they have removed from the boxes are behind a counter that looks unlikely to present an obstacle for any of those who have already managed to force their way into the shop. The crowd’s hunger for music possesses them like the fiery tongues of a deferred desire. It doesn’t matter what has come from Dum-Dum, it’s good that it has come. Something or other will be found for each of these crusaders of blues, pop-rock, or jazz. Something other than the crooning of Vasile Vasilache Jr., Edmond Deda, or Temistocle Popa. Something other than the voices of Dorin Anastasiu, Olimpia Panciu, and George Enache.

The propulsive force of the human centipede would be enough to send a rocket to Mars, I tell myself, as a soldierly shove sends me flying, together with three or four companions in suffering, through another window that has just shattered. Entering the shop, even if forced to, is like crossing a frontier. Suddenly I find myself over there. And with a trickle of blood running from under my curls, I observe that behind us the police are forming a cordon and sealing the doors and what is left of the windows of Muzica with their blue uniforms. I’m lucky, I’ve got inside faster than I could have expected, although slower than I would have liked. I’m there, two steps away from the counter that is about to be overwhelmed by the Brownian motion of the shoppers. Outside, the agitation continues, without any regard for the threats of the police or for the batons that they twirl above their heads. Each person out there would give anything to be in the place of someone in here.

‘Push harder, cousin!’

‘Whoa, you madman, you’re killing me!’

‘Come on, give it more, we can’t wait all day!’

‘Stop, you, you’re breaking my back!’

‘Mind I don’t break your head!’

‘If you don’t like it, get out of the way and let someone else through!’

Only one of my hands reaches the counter, which is stained by the perspiring palms of music seekers. The rest of my body seems somehow separated and waits for the result of the incursion into the booty area. My right hand is caught among the hands of others. We hit each others’ fingers, we swear, we sweat, and we feel we have no more air – all under the dilated eyes of the sales assistants, who know that the only thing they can do is get out of our way. The ballet of hands continues. From time to time one of them fishes something out and tries to bring it in front of its owner’s eyes. On my left a blond guy with a face embroidered with acne pulls a Ten Years After album out of the crowd and gives an orgasmic yell. He is entitled to one more record, because – as I remember in my fervour of exploration – no one is allowed to buy more than two items. That’s how it is. Leave something for everyone else, kid. Although it’s clear for all to see that there is no way there can be something for everyone else. Even those who are inside are not a hundred percent sure of success.

‘Bloody hell! Purple!’ cries out a skinny little guy a bit away from me jubilantly, having managed to get his bread-stick arm through a wall of fatties and to nab Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Gillan.

I drill further in and at a certain point I am just about to catch the corner of a record between my fingers. Someone better positioned whips it away and then identifies it to his disappointment: Pussycat. Whish!!! I push as hard as I can, waving my hand and concentrating on my prospection. If Meatball Moldoveanu could see me at this moment, he would bless my effort with a well-aimed Per aspera ad astra. But what about Cătălina Paraschiv? What would she do and what would she say? Am I capable of imagining?

It’s complicated. It’s complicated as hell.

Only that, about ten minutes later, I make my first capture. I lift it with difficulty to within the range of my organ of visual analysis and read it tremulously: Led Zeppelin. My God, Houses of the Holy! It really is! Robert Plant in yours-truly’s home. And not just any old how, but with Jimmy Page thrown in too – I could just eat his twin-neck!

Meanwhile, the pimple-face on my left all but has a heart attack when he pulls Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon out of the heap. Talk about lucky! On the other hand, the one on my right, who got landed with Pussycat, muffs again and ends up with the duet Baccara.

After three ends of time and four eternities, it’s my turn for a second draw. I look at it a tad circumspectly, even fearfully, but in the end I smile. Not bad. Not bad at all. Queen, A Night at the Opera.

*

‘Playback’, please. I sit perched on the arm of the easy chair by the window, playing an imaginary guitar and dreaming I’m on stage, bathed in the adoration of the audience. I’ve had this obsession since I was little. When I was about nine, I found a record in the house with ‘Roberto Benzi conducts Liszt’ written on it, and I decided I wanted to be like Roberto Benzi: handsome, precocious, frowning, valued, and famous. Consequently I studied my reflexion in the window pane conducting the only music to which my mind back then had access and which did not bore me: a compendium of opera choruses. The piece that I conducted at the apogee of gesticulating pathos was the ‘Huntsmen’s Chorus’ from Weber’s ‘Freischütz’. Liszt was still a bit beyond me.

Now things are changing, with Queen’s night at the opera, the first four pieces of which have already played. I am Brian May, with long, curly hair, and I simulate the chords of ‘’39’. This time, Cătălina Paraschiv has tricked me. The song has no connection with copulatory fantasies and does not denote any position in bedtime acrobatics. In fact, Cătălina Paraschiv hadn’t given me a single hint. I had led myself into error, setting ‘’39’ of my own accord alongside the 69 drawn with naturalist aplomb in the Latin class.

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While I pluck the chords of the fictive guitar, I listen to the music. I listen, even more attentively, to the lyrics. And then I listen to them again. And again. And again. And I could just go on and on listening, put the song in a loop and be left just with it. I turn the volume up. And up. And up, until it’s so loud it can no longer be heard properly. Could it be about the year 1939 and the start of the war? It doesn’t seem so. Some things match, but not that many. The words seem to speak more about a country that doesn’t appear on any map, about an endless shore, about a way into a place and into a world about which no one knows anything, about a sculpture in air, water, and fire.

In the year of thirty-nine

Assembled here the volunteers

In the days when the lands were few.

Here the ship sailed out

Into the blue and sunny morn,

Sweetest sight ever seen.

I adjust the volume, bring it down to a reasonable level, and let Brian’s genial troubadour voice spread through the room like the warm steam of bread fresh from the oven. I set off with the volunteers, without knowing very clearly what flag I am enrolled under. The bright morning in the text makes any exploration possible, and Brian promises, with every meander of his voice, that the explorers will find a land hidden by God in some fold of the globe – somewhere far away, beyond the seas cloven by the ship of the bold adventurers who leave everything behind and can steel themselves so much that they do not even cast a backward glance. Only on the fifth listening do I realize that I find it perfectly normal that the voice on ‘’39’ should be Brian’s and not Freddie’s. Freddie is there too, but he only comes in on the backing vocals, as indeed he does on all their albums. Otherwise his operatic tremolos are replaced by Brian’s lyricism. ‘’39’ sounds almost like a ballad or a country song, something you couldn’t have imagined at the beginning of the album, with Freddie letting his voice leap around in Death on Two Legs. John scratches the bass with that staccato touch that made him famous from the very start, while Roger contributes a few theatrical falsettos and imprints a rather oddly merry cadence on the ballad by the way he beats the drums.

I remain on the arm of the easy chair and accept the ovation of an audience prepared to pour out their idolatrous love upon me. I sing on, in Brian’s place and with his craft. The images recompose themselves as in a childhood kaleidoscope. Letters sculpted in the sand of the beach and licked by the water. Lovers who hold hands and laugh in the indigo fire of the sunset. Grandparents indulging their grandchildren with stories and chocolates. A ship that returns after a time that no one has stopped to measure. Explorers ready to give news of the new world from the end of the old world. Joy and sadness on the faces of those disembarking, depending on who is waiting for them and what they tell them when they arrive. Scorched earth, waves of hot air, perspiring brows. But then three lines come up that upset all my interpretations and throw a quite different light on the meaning.

Oh so many years have gone,

Though I’m older but a year,

Your mother’s eyes from your eyes cry to me.

What’s that all about? Have I got it right? Lots of years have gone by – ten? thirty? a hundred? – since the expedition set out, and for all that, no more than a year has passed for those returning? How can that be? What charade is Brian playing in front of me? How can time puff out and shrink like this? How can a year (for the explorers) be equivalent to a century (for those left at home)? How can someone have more than one age simultaneously? And suddenly I remember that not only is Brian a mathematics and physics graduate, he also has a passion for astrophysics. And a PhD, no less. Not to mention that, according to what he stated in an interview for ‘New Musical Express’, he is fascinated by Einstein, by the theory of relativity, and by the dilation of time. At last I’ve got it. ‘’39’ is definitely not a war ballad, and nor can it just be a little SF joke about the exploration of the unknown. It’s a song about time, about its deceptive windings, about the way it curves and stretches. A song of grave beauty, with an inner rhythm that is the rhythm of time itself, as it flows through our lives.

Don’t you hear my call

Though you’re many years away,

Don’t you hear me calling you?

All the letters in the sand cannot heal me like your hand

For my life, still ahead, pity me.

I close my sixth encore to general ecstasy, very nearly losing my balance and falling off the arm of the easy chair. It’s much better being Brian May than Roberto Benzi. The electric current that passes through the fans flings them from their seats towards me. And in their midst I see a slender, almost transparent, figure supporting a haystack of black curly hair. It’s Brian in person, delighted at the way I have stood in for him and ready to applaud till his palms turn red. His Red Special, the guitar his father made for him in 1963, leans against his left leg, as well-behaved as a retriever dog. I look at it with greedy eyes and with pins and needles in my fingertips. Twang-twang is how Dad labels this divine music, this unmatched joy, this flight over everyone and everything. Twang-twang. Listen to him.

*

‘Cristi tells me he saw you in Muzica,’ says Cătălina Paraschiv to me on the phone, a few hours later, in a voice dripping allusion.

Cristian Cobzaru, the eternal prisoner of his own smell of sweat, is a classmate who is bogged down in a maniacal fixation with my back row neighbour.

‘Yeah, I went along. A lady there dropped a hint to my Dad.’

‘And?’

‘It was murder, but I got out alive. I hooked a Led Zeppelin album. The one with “The Rain Song”.’

I half expect her to play the clever one and say something about ‘music for drips’, but instead she asks straight out, ‘Is that all?’

Her voice, tender when she is not telling tales on people, has an undertone of disappointment. But never mind, a drop of torment does no harm.

‘And Queen. The one with “’39”.’

‘That’s the stuff,’ murmurs Cătălina Paraschiv invigorated, as if she had bet I was going to get her the album. ‘So? Will you bring it for me tomorrow?’

I have no idea if her words are a signal for the opening of sexual negotiations. But I really wish I could see her face when she hears my reply.

‘I’ll bring it for you, but not tomorrow. You know when? When you can demonstrate to me how a grandson can be older than his grandfather.’

She puts the phone down on me before I have time to warn her:

‘It’s complicated, you see. It’s complicated as hell.’

Translator’s notes:

‘Sava’s’: The Saint Sava High School, an old and prestigious high school in central Bucharest.

Blaga’s swan: Lucian Blaga (1895-1961) was one of the foremost Romanian poets of the twentieth century. In an autobiographical poem he describes himself in his early childhood as being ‘mute as a swan’.

 

 *From the collective volume De la Waters la Similea. Oameni cool scriu despre muzica lor (From Waters to Similea: Cool people write about their music), Bucharest: Editura Humanitas, 2013
*Featured image, Helena Hauss via vectroave
 

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