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Bee Family

Anja Mugerli



Apple Tooth
Grocery items are rolling down the staircase. An apple stops right in front of my doorstep. I go barefoot into the hall and on the stairs I see a very old woman who is breathing shallowly, her back against the dirty wall. She answers my question if she’s alright with a piercing dark look. I search my memory for neighbours’ faces, trying to place her in the right apartment but I can’t. Clumsily I hold her under the arm and help her to her feet. I guide her into my apartment and sit her on the chair that just a minute ago I was staring at, as if my gazing would make a particular human being materialize on it. Now an old lady is sitting there. A map of wrinkles softens her face and its darkened skin bespeaks a life spent in the sun and wind. I go back into the hall and pick up the scattered things from the stairs. I put the bruised apples right at the top of the bag.


“They will rot,” she says in a deep, slightly raspy voice.


“Would you like a glass of water?”


Her eyes follow me into the kitchen, where two plates with lids over them stand waiting. “I would like an apple.”


I rearrange the neatly set table like it’s a house of cards. Instead of polished cutlery and crystal glasses I place a plate, knife and a red apple on the tablecloth. The smell of burnt-out candles penetrates my nostrils. I consider turning on the ceiling light, since the old lady probably can’t see too well, but I change my mind and leave only the little light on the cupboard on. I sit down opposite her. The shadows falling against the wall remind me of the shadows in the tent of a gypsy woman, the one I went to as a girl to seek answers about my father, a woman with a colourful headscarf who laid her hands on the table between us and demanded that I slip money into her right hand and a palm into her left. The old lady is cutting apple slices and eating them one after another and I am half expecting that, with the aid of the apple, she’ll be able to answer all the questions that have arisen over these past two years. But all she does is takes another apple from the bag and starts to eat it, pausing only to ask if I’d like some too. We sit at the table and eat juicy, pale yellow slices with occasional brown bruises.


“I hope I haven’t taken someone else’s place.”


I remember a phrase from childhood: use it or lose it. The CD ended some time ago, the food has gone cold, and the sour-sweet scent of apples hangs in the air. “Today’s our anniversary. Matevž is probably delayed at rehearsal. He’s a conductor. He conducts a symphony orchestra. We’re getting married in three months – I hope …” I smile at what I’ve said. “He travels a lot,” I add, as if I’m explaining.


“My husband also used to travel a lot, to all sorts of dives. Once I locked him out of the apartment. That worked for a few months, but then he went back to his old ways.”


Her little tale disarms me completely and suddenly I’m aware of my bare feet and of how uncomfortable my tight dress is. The old lady’s gaze roams from my stilettos, which are lying forgotten on the floor, to the pile of books and dictionaries on my desk that doubles as my office.


“When he wasn’t drinking, we did this all the time,” she says, her eyes resting on me. “We’d sit like this at the table and eat apples. We were both apple tooths. Once we got started, we couldn’t stop. It was like a catharsis. He always saved the last slice for me. After that, for a while everything was fine, just that it wasn’t truthful.”


She labours to get to her feet. I insist on carrying her bag. We trudge slowly up the stairs, all the way to the top, to the fifth floor, to the door that’s vertically above mine, next to the rooftop terrace, and we quickly wish each other good night.


At night I’m woken up by Matevž unlocking the door. I turn on the light on my bedside table and sit up. I absently slip off my underwear and tuck them under the pillow. Matevž enters and immediately starts apologising, “Did I wake you honey, Honey? Sorry, rehearsal took longer than…” Apologies rain over the bedroom like the clothes he’s shedding. I walk behind him and pick up his pullover, shirt, trousers that smell of sweat, perfume and tobacco. “… he doesn’t understand that I want perfection… You simply cannot play Mozart half-heartedly… If I had any say in it, he’d be long gone!” Through the splashing in the shower, I catch snippets of his sentences and try to paste them into a whole. Is he angry with the cellist again or is he talking about the concertmaster he’s always locking horns with?


“I should have replaced him, that’s for sure.” He stands in front of me, completely naked and with wet hair. I want to tell him about my day, the hours spent with the text I’m translating, about how I was waiting for him, just as I have so many times before and about how even though his lateness has become the norm, I was worried. I want to tell him about my unusual encounter on the stairs, with the same enthusiasm and buoyancy he has when telling me about his goings-on. But the words stick in my throat, as if blocked by a slice of apple, and before the right moment has passed Matevž lays me down on the bed and lifts up my nightie. His tongue traverses my body, I almost yield to the desire, but suddenly the wet tip of his tongue flicks my belly button and all softness escapes my tummy. Apple tooth. It is only when he stops and looks at me surprised that I realize I’m saying the words out loud. I move upwards in the bed, to the very top.


“I was waiting for you.”


His light blue gaze is as cold as the North Sea. “I said I’m sorry – didn’t I?” The straight line of his lips bends into a facetious, insincere smile. “I will make it up to you.” His kiss on my neck is greedy and moist.


“If you want to make it up to me, take the weekend off. Let’s go somewhere.” In my mind these words sound like a demand. Out loud they sound like pleading.


“You know we still have to rehearse. The concert’s in fourteen days.”


“I’ve heard you play, you’re ready. The rest is just details.”


Just details?” He shifts away. “You say that like it’s not important.”


Something hard rolls from his tongue and hits me in the face. “Of course it is. I didn’t mean it like that.”


I hug him, kiss him, then push my tongue between his lips. In one move he lifts my nightie and lies down on me. In between thrusts it seems like I can hear him humming Mozart to himself.


In rites, which mark the transition from one cycle of life to another, it is most visible how – on the one hand, through purification, on the other through repetition – the luminance of impurity, which surrounds a being that is forming and changing, is reduced…[1]


The translated excerpt reminds me of a rite I had in my childhood. After my mother and I were left all alone, we’d been living for about a year in the apartment that was still filled with my father’s things and his scent until one day my mother had had enough and packed everything into boxes, taking them who knows where. She didn’t ask me whether I wanted to keep anything of his as a souvenir, but in any case I didn’t. I didn’t need his things to feel his presence since my father was far from a memory for me. He was with me when I woke up in the morning, in the afternoon when I was coming back from school, and in the evening when I went to bed. He was even more present when my mother and I were eating at the kitchen table. She’d dispensed with all his things but did not think of getting rid of the third chair in the kitchen. And so I would gaze into an empty chair during each meal, having conversations in my mind with my father as if he were actually there. I needed this as much as I needed the food on my plate, but more important still were his answers, for I could actually hear him. The apartment we finally moved into was smaller, with only one bedroom, which was mine. My mother pulled out the sofa bed in the living room every evening. There were only two chairs in the kitchen. My father never again answered. It was as if he was offended that there was no longer room for him in our new apartment, or maybe it was only that I’d outgrown that empty chair. But for a while now I’ve felt as if that damned chair has come back. Matvež’s promises pile up like apple peels in the compost, but there are so many peels I’m afraid they’ll never decompose and soon they’ll take over the whole garden. More and more I realize I want to tell him something but I can’t find the right words. Instead of talking to him I bury myself more and more in the text in front of me, thinking about it even when I’m away from my desk. In my thoughts I move to different pasts, I see ritual bonfires meant to help the sun preserve its strength, and masked people dancing in the middle of the forest. Sometimes I don’t realize where I am until I see I’ve taken a wrong turn, and now and again it happens that Matevž looks up in surprise when I enter a room, as if he’s forgotten I’m still here.



[1] Cazeneuve: Sociology of Rites.




– Translation: Jason Blake