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Želimir Periš | from:Croatian

Greetings from Dalmatia

Translated by : Tomislav Kuzmanović

Introduction by Maya Feldman

How cool it is to be invited to a rich people’s party— a party of their kids, of course, since they didn’t make their money on their own— such promise lies in rubbing elbows with wealth, the protagonist thinks to himself , ‘that’s our chance'. But in Želimir Periš’s dark and funny story, promises are not kept—the tips you learned from survival movies, which promised to save your life, are useless on the hills of Dalmatia, the postcard landscapes and folklore promised by the brochures, turn out to be not only a tourist trap but a death trap, and the rich kids’ parties only expose the dark side of the bling. At first, we think we're reading an allegory about the existential desert, but it soon turns out this is a gripping crime story that ends as a particularly witty horror one. Children, beware of parties in castles in the forest—all that glitters is not gold.      

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 When you’re thirsty, the world bends out of shape. The ground becomes a convex sphere and each step you make feels like climbing. Trees lean over and their branches prick your eyes. Your eyes burn, your lips bleed, you feel you’re nothing but a sack of blood that has dripped somewhere along the way, and your headache is relentless.

He walked though someone’s olive orchard, watching the neat, brown circles of soil distributed evenly around each olive trunk. Someone had been here, not long ago, plucked the weeds, and arranged the rocks in circles around the trees. Everything was unnaturally tidy: the olives, white stones, blue skies, as if in a postcard. Greetings from Dalmatia – a sign above his head. Where is that overly tidy olive farmer now? Anyone could save him now, any human soul, because people always have water, that’s a sign of a civilization. To have water. And he wandered around that postcard, Dalmatian karst, macchia, olives everywhere, holm oaks and prickly cedars, everything picture perfect, each thing in its place, except that he was dying of thirst.

He watched hundreds of extreme survival documentaries. He’d manage in the desert, from where he was now the Sahara seemed like a salvation. He knew how to cut into a cactus and drain the juice out of it, he knew you had to skin the snake and pee in it and then drink it all to rehydrate at least a little, but the desert was nowhere in sight, nor were there any cactuses or snakes, and he didn’t have to pee. Why aren’t there any shows on how to survive in some god-awful place above Primošten? More sand in his kidneys than anywhere in this fucking petrified land through which he had been crawling for hours.

As every Dalmatian knows, you can make use of stone in many different ways. You can build a house, you can fence in a modest piece of your fertile land, always a scarcity in this parts, and build a wall to plainly separate your plot from your neighbor’s. And you can use the stone to smash your neighbor’s head when he trespasses onto your piece of land. The blood then drops on the stone, and the important difference between the blood and the stone is that you can drink blood, and the stone you cannot.

At a moment of despair he tried to chew on some leaves. Olives, holm oaks or prickly cedars, that’s what’s on today’s menu. The prickly cedar looks juicier, but how do you go past the needles? He stuffed a handful of olives into his mouth and crushed them with his teeth. If they let even a drop of fluid, he will be saved. The nectar of olive oil flows through the tree’s veins, right? He’d drink a liter of that horror in a gulp only if someone put it before him, but chewing the leaves made him even thirstier. Agave, he remembered, agave is some sort of a cactus. But there were no agaves in sight. Fuck Dalmatia, fuck such land, all neat and no agaves.

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He hated Dalmatia, he hated the olives and their oil, the lavender, the stone and the salt and the klapa singing about it all. For him, the sea was always just a giant transparent wall, a prison, a direction one could not take. He craved the possibility of escape to all four sides. He couldn’t breathe between the sea and the mountain. The smog was his Bura. He wanted spotlights above his head, not stars. There’s a party, they told him. Some guys from Zagreb, a view of Žirje, nice kids, all sons of doctors and architects. Man, that’s our chance. Let’s go, was his reply.

By the sun’s position it could have been around noon, it scorched his vertex and burned thought processes under his hair. Every step thudded in his head as if his brain bumped against the sides of his skull, a dry vessel chronically deprived of fluid. He’d been walking since two, maybe three in the morning. Until dawn, he’d crossed at least ten kilometers through the darkness, in what direction, first towards the sea, down south, he thought that he was heading towards the main road, that someone would pick him up there, but then he got scared, what if he ran into a young man in a gray suit? So he went in the opposite direction, as far away from the sea as possible, he didn’t stop until dawn, and then he did stop and didn’t know where he was. He tried to get his bearing, to find out if there was a village somewhere, a phone, but there were only hills after hills, all green and rocky and barren and there was no church nor a man nor a telephone on any of them.

What would he tell them if he managed to make the call? He’d tell them that there was a young man in a gray suit. In his twenties, maybe thirties, how would he know? A white shirt and a gray suit, was he supposed to know the brand, Armani, Gucci, who the fuck cares? What if they asked him to sit for a facial composite? Gray suit, that’s for sure, but what else? A face, what face? What shape? He can’t tell the shape of his own face and he and his face look at each other on a daily basis. Don’t all faces have the same shape? All people have the same eyes and ears, all people are fucking same. Except that some have money, some don’t. Some carry guns, some don’t. He didn’t look, he just ran, Mr. Inspector, sir, only fools stay and watch. Others run for their lives.

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Did you take something? Drugs, alcohol? the inspector would ask. That’s the problem with our police, you’re always fucking guilty of something. You’re never legal, always suspicious, always on the opposite of what’s allowed. Either you’re stealing a ride on a tram, or you’re a student who hasn’t registered a place of residence, or you took something at a party. It’s not important what others do, it’s not important that the gray suit took out a gun, it’s not important who he aimed it at, it’s not important that he heard, with his own ears, that girl’s screams. He saw their freaked out faces, he saw the gun go off. But none of that is important because he (!) took something. What were you, sir, doing in Primošten? that’s what our inspectors ask. You have two unpaid parking tickets, sir, you think we’re stupid, you think we don’t know you drove your father’s car, who else would get in that ‘91 heap?

How far from Primošten is he? How far has he walked? If he can walk five kilometers an hour, and he’s been walking for half a night, at least ten hours, that’s fifty kilometers. It can’t be fifty. He would’ve run into a village or a road, he would’ve seen them in the distance, unless he is walking in circles, unless he is hallucinating. Always in that fucking postcard. No matter how long he walked he is always among the olives. The headache wouldn’t let up, his throat grew tighter, has anyone ever died of thirst here? He’d say yes to a puddle infested with worms and mosquitoes, brown and stinky, that’s fine. Just bring it. Pour it.

Like last night. Just bring it. Pour it. First, second, seventh. Fifty-euros cocktails, fifty-thousand-euros pussies, five-hundred-thousand-euros cars. A firework of numbers. A gilded villa overlooking Žirje. A swimming pool with a diving board. A young man in a white shirt giving a speech above water. Others cheer him, taking turns in delivering phrases and importance. Then they dance. Then they snort. Women all over them. That’s another world. He felt the charge of power in the air. He was blinded by their haughtiness, their ironed suits and smooth hair. How arrogant were they when they spat from the terrace while the Moon rose above Zlarin. The golden youth, the seed of Croatian entrepreneurs and judges, and he, a gold digger, a little sucker. But the little sucker didn’t know that the golden got tired of all that bling, after enough money and cocaine, only blood can quench the thirst.

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He fell, tripped over a rock and fell. The trees kept spinning around him, the sky stretched into a spiral, and he melted with the rock, with the solid and white Dalmatian pride. He banged his knee, smashed his elbow, he felt a stab in his hip and a burn in his throat. He couldn’t get up. The flesh on his elbow opened, and a stream of blood gushed from the crevice and dripped on the stone. A small red puddle formed in the groove of the rock. He would’ve cry, but he was out of tears, out of spit; there was not a drop of fluid in him, his tongue was as fat as a potato, he had to swallow air like pills, and the blood flowed, like a waterfall smashing against that rock. Olives, holm oaks and prickly cedars span around him. The edge of the postcard was on fire. His ears whistled. Can you really die in some godforsaken shithole? Where are the fucking cactuses?

He rolled to his stomach in pain, drew himself to the red rock and buried his face in the puddle of his own blood. Thirstily he licked the sweet liquid. The synapses in his brain crackled with pleasure because after so much time finally they felt moisture. He laughed. When you’ve got nothing, you need very little to be happy. When you’re dying of thirst, all you need is just a few drops. When you think about it, you realize that in the end you are just enough for yourself.

He rolled to his back and directed his bloody grin to the sky. The sun blinded him and the shine prevented him from opening his eyes, still he managed to read the ornate letters above him: “Greetings from Dalmatia.”

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