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First pages

1
____

 

“Why are you always leaving your things in the middle of the floor?” Haralambie asked his girlfriend, stepping out of the kitchen into their living room.

Henriette ran her hands through her long, wavy red hair, looked at him ruefully, and got up from her computer.

“Henriette, this is not just your studio. I live here too,” Haralambie continued, bending to gather her latest clay pieces, her sculpting utensils and plastic sheets, which he placed on a shelf on the balcony with some of her other works. Having thus voiced his feelings and tidied up the place, he headed back into the kitchen to light another cigarette and drink the rest of his coffee by the window.

In the adjacent room, Henriette swayed languidly to a sixties rock ballad, flailing her arms and bending this way and that until she noticed Haralambie's slim body leaning comfortably against the doorframe.

“Is that what it's like at those parties of yours?” he asked.

“No, but that’s how I like it sometimes,” she responded provocatively, a wicked smile on her lips.

Haralambie walked over to her, cupped her face in his hands, and planted a kiss on her lips. “You’re not sixteen anymore, Henriette, and you know it.”

***

“Hey! Glad you could make it!” exclaimed Henriette, enveloping her younger friend Ela in a hug and wafts of sea breeze fragrance before giving her the customary kiss on both cheeks.

Ela readjusted her glasses, amused at how exuberant Henriette still was at thirty-four.

“Should we go in?” Henriette prompted, opening the door with a flourish.

Ela stepped gingerly into the exhibition space. “Beautiful place,” she remarked, noting how the sunbeams streaming through the large glass wall glinted off the rough, irregular surfaces of bronze-cast works.

“Coffee, tea?” Henriette asked as Ela removed her scarf and trench coat.

“Tea. But I want to look at the sculptures first.”

“See if you can spot mine,” Henriette called after her.

A few moments later the bell on the door tinkled, and Pamfil, a tall, dark-eyed man with a mop of wavy black hair entered the gallery, his eyes on Henriette.

“Hello, Ettie,” he said with a smile, taking a cursory look around the gallery. Ela was by now at the other end of the room, engrossed in a sculpture depicting a hybrid between the torso of a woman and the trunk of a tree.

“Hello, Phil,” Henriette returned nonchalantly.

“How are you doing?” Pamfil asked.

“Came to see the show with a friend of mine,” Henriette responded. She grabbed a tea mug and headed with Pamfil in tow to where Ela was photographing a work displaying a heart squeezed under a tall stack of books.

“Reminds me of Har,” Ela said, taking the mug from Henriette. “He's spending more time with books than with people.”

“He does,” Pamfil interjected carelessly, throwing the remark in Henriette's direction.

Henriette gave him a sly smile.

“You know Haralambie?” Ela asked, turning to the new visitor with curiosity.

“Heard this and that about him,” Pamfil responded, his words slipping out slowly, carefully as he appraised Ela's soft chestnut eyes and thick eyebrows, her dark ringlets, and her petite body, inviting in a flattering dress and waist-length cardigan. His eyes lingered a moment too long on her breasts.

“Sorry, where are my manners?” Henriette blurted. “Ela, this my friend Pamfil. Pamfil, this is Ela, my very good friend.”

The two guests shook hands, their faces lit up by smiles.

Henriette looked around the room, pretending to ponder the exhibition. Her gaze returned to the heart sculpture. “So you recognized one of my pieces,” she said to Ela, while the latter sipped her hot, minty brew. “Here's another,” she went on, pointing her guests to a Janus-faced flattened head kissing a woman on each side.

Pamfil spent a moment taking in the work. “Cute. You must have really enjoyed shrinking this guy's brain,” he teased.

“Is that revenge on someone from your past?” Ela asked.

Henriette bypassed her friends' last remarks. “How's your tea, Ela?”

“Great.”

“Girls, I have to bow out,” Pamfil said. “It was nice seeing you, Ettie.”

Henriette couldn't restrain a smirk.

Pamfil put out a hand to Ela. “Nice meeting you, Ela.”

When she and Henriette had also departed, Ela turned to her friend. “That guy, Pamfil . . .” she started. “He’s rather handsome.”

“He is,” Henriette affirmed.

“How do you know him?” Ela asked.

“We met at a party.”

“Do you like him?”

“He’s okay,” Henriette responded, a little disconcerted.

“I’d like to meet him again,” Ela said.

And she did, a few weeks later, in May 2001, when Henriette invited both Ela and Pamfil to one of her performance pieces, Channeled, at another art gallery in Bucharest. The work involved twenty teenagers of various ages typing in a makeshift chat room, in a physical setup that mimicked that of an Internet café, with computers on desks arranged against the walls of the gallery.

When she arrived with her two friends, Henriette greeted the gallery assistant, grabbed some informational materials, and proceeded to walk around the room in order to catch some glimpses of some of the chat conversations.

“Remember when I went to Prague for New Year’s Eve in 1999?” Henriette asked.

Pamfil, who had been browsing a brochure, lifted his gaze to Henriette's.

“With that friend from high school?” Henriette continued.

“Yes, I remember,” Ela said. “When you broke up with Har.”

“Yes, after a year with Har,” Henriette echoed. She looked at Pamfil. “I went to Prague with a guy, and we fought and went our separate ways, and then we met online in a Bucharest channel—a chat room—on mIRC.”

“And then they had champagne on the Charles Bridge at midnight,” Ela said, smiling at Pamfil.

“Yes, we drank champagne when we met on the Charles Bridge,” Henriette told Pamfil. “We opened the champagne and took a picture of us kissing, in the middle of a crowd that pushed from all sides.”

“Nice story,” Pamfil said. He looked at the people typing on keyboards. “What do they write about?” he asked, his eyes now focused on a screen.

“Ask them,” Henriette replied.

“They look like they’re having fun,” Pamfil said.

“The idea is that online chatting is a form of communication that people engage in to alleviate anxiety,” Henriette explained.

“Interesting,” Ela remarked. “They don’t look anxious.”

“Sometimes boredom is just another word for latent anxiety,” Henriette said. “They may seem like they’re opposite notions, but boredom often gives way to anxiety.”

“Is that from your artist’s statement?” Pamfil asked with a smile.

“It is.” Henriette smiled back.

“Is that what you had in mind when you titled the piece Channeled? The fact that you’re channeling young people’s energies into an activity that helps them psychologically?” Ela asked.

“That, and the fact that chat rooms are called ‘channels’ on mIRC. Also, I wanted to refer obliquely to the fact that what’s channeled is the impulse and need for real communication, and what they get is a travesty of that. And yet it has its value. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded very well in conveying my conflicted stance on technology,” Henriette said pensively. “Let’s talk some more over tea,” she added, switching gears.

They headed to a tea house, revved up by their performances for each other.

“So how was Prague?” Ela asked once they sat down and ordered tea and petits fours. “You never told me much about it, except for the fact that you didn’t get to visit any museums.”

“Yes, I went with this bunch from high school,” Henriette said, settling into her seat.

“Were they fun?” Pamfil asked, his eyes boring into Henriette's.

“If you consider early mornings spent drunk in bars fun, they were fun, yes. I may have been too sober to appreciate it.”

“Did your boyfriend like his booze too much?” Pamfil asked, a mischievous tone in his voice.

“Hard to say ‘boyfriend,’” Henriette said, darting a look at Pamfil.

“Was this some sort of revenge on Har?” Ela ventured.

“Not really. I wanted to get away, that’s all. Try something else.”

“That’s a good reason,” Pamfil said. He wanted to appear lighthearted, but his comment came out brooding.

Ela sought out his gaze. “Is it?”

“Once you try it, you may discover it isn’t,” Pamfil said with a forced laugh as he met her eyes. “But unless you try it, you won’t know. So yes, by any means, getting away is fun.”

“But we can’t stay away,” Ela retorted. “Shouldn’t we try to work on our routine instead?”

“Routine. Interesting notion. I’ve thought of it too. Don’t give it much credit, but yes, I've given it a lot of thought,” Pamfil said, his eyes lively.

“And?” Ela asked dryly.

Pamfil gave her a keen look. “And it can be a killjoy.”

“Even the routine with a loved one?” Ela probed, peering through the large windows at passersby so as to avoid Pamfil's piercing eyes.

He kept watching her graceful profile. “There is no routine with a loved one. Lovers are supposed to change each other all the time.”

“Really? You can change men?” Henriette blurted, amused.

“Some women can change some men, yes,” Pamfil responded without missing a beat.

The waitress came with cups of tea and minicakes.

Ela smoothed back her hair. “I'm surprised you say that—about men.” She helped herself to a cup of tea and put some sugar in it. “I was reading a magazine the other day,” she went on softly, “and the author explained that men compartmentalize their lives, unlike women, who mentally and emotionally connect all aspects of their existence.”

“Yes, that’s true of most men,” Pamfil said, biting half of a chocolate-frosted mini-cake. “Compartmentalization also explains why men, more than women, can have highly unbalanced lives,” he continued as Ela sipped her tea and Henriette dove into the platter of food. “Women not only experience more of a unity between the areas of their lives, but they also tend to evaluate them against each other and suffer when they fall behind on the career or family track, for instance. Whereas we men—and some women—are different. We can get obsessed with something, and if we do well there, our positive energy carries over to other parts of our lives, and we fail to see that they may need some improvement.”

“Interesting,” Ela said, looking at the platter and picking up a tiny piece of cake with ganache and tart cherries in the middle. “But I thought you just said that men compartmentalize their lives,” she added, raising her gaze to meet Pamfil's.

“Yes, but mostly in the sense that we can tune out thoughts when we change activities,” Pamfil said. “But hormonal energy is different. For instance, when we play video games, we get a release of testosterone after each success that involves competition with random players online, much like when we fight for a woman—in this respect our brains don’t distinguish between a real-life accomplishment and a virtual one. So we get hooked on the virtual world. Of course neurotransmitters play a part too. But the idea is that after a win in a multiplayer video game, our testosterone spikes, and then it stays in our systems for a while, making us overconfident in other areas of our lives as well. And so we don’t develop enough skills we may need in relationships, for instance, because we overestimate our abilities!” He emptied his cup. “Ready to go?” he then asked his table companions, seeing they had finished both their minicakes and tea.

“So you don’t believe in technology, after all?” Henriette asked Pamfil after they left the tea house and said good-bye to Ela.

“You know I do, but what I’m trying to say is that we shouldn’t treat technology mindlessly. When you’re an adult and have responsibilities, you don’t have much time left, but these kids, they seem to have all the time in the world to stay online,” Pamfil said. “So your exhibition, what is it really about?”

Henriette gave a small laugh. “I wrote that bit about the alleviation of anxiety for the press, but you know what it is about,” she said.

“About us in Prague.”

“Yes.”

“That was cute, you fighting with me and walking into the darkness on New Year’s Eve,” Pamfil said.

“We were so in love,” Henriette said with a big smile, fixing him with her gaze.

Pamfil wondered for a moment whether to respond to her comment. “Do your kids enter real chat rooms, or just fake ones among themselves?” he asked. A whiff of Henriette's floral perfume, carried by a breeze, teased his senses.

“I set up a chat room for all of them, and there’s also private messaging, of course,” Henriette said. “And they can't talk to each other in person until the wrap-up party.” She pulled out her neck scarf and used it to tie her wavy, restless hair.

“Shouldn’t you teach them that the thrill is better if they do it the other way around?” Pamfil asked, seeking confirmation in Henriette's eyes. “If they start the communication in real life and then flirt online?”

“I think it can work either way. The stories we tell people when we get to know them online are often different from the ones we tell each other in person.”

“And that’s good?” Pamfil asked, mesmerized by the way the turquoise and green tones in her scarf complemented her fair complexion, her dappled sea-green irises, dark auburn hair, and full, deep-red lips.

“As with all things, it depends from one situation to another,” Henriette said, her fingertips seeking, tantalizingly, the back of his hand. “It certainly says a lot about the power of words to create worlds. And people.”

They fell silent after that, both of them thinking about Haralambie, who believed that words help create people more than people do. They had had this discussion before, and there was no use rehashing it. Not because they had explored every facet of it—they hadn't—but because it involved Haralambie, and while any other topic blossomed with every new discussion they had about it, when it came to Haralambie, Pamfil had the feeling that there was little to add, little to change in their impression of him. And anything that involved Haralambie unnerved Pamfil—Henriette knew that, and she tried to keep her two relationships separate.

She would have liked to keep Ela separate too, but Ela had become quite a barnacle after her two meetings with Pamfil, insisting that she sensed something about the man, that he was a breath of fresh air. However tired the metaphor, Henriette couldn't help but agree with her friend. Pamfil was, indeed, fresh. Not artless, though, but young and alive—quite to Henriette's liking, until Ela entered the scene, all eager to know better a man who, however gregarious, essentially kept to himself. A man who could offer heartrending tenderness without offering his heart. A man who was in no hurry to give that heart to someone because, as he once said to one of his buddies, unware that Henriette overheard him, he had only one heart and couldn't trust a woman, any woman, with it.

Ela's interest in Pamfil came about so swiftly and strongly that Henriette felt pushed into a corner, reluctant to share her thoughts on him. She wanted to believe doing so was unnecessary anyway—after all, Ela was her friend, and Pamfil, however much of a philanderer, wouldn't dare work his charms on her. Or would he? Henriette wasn't sure. She knew only that in the two years she'd known him, she felt herself to be the center of his affections. Did that mean that he never cheated on her? Henriette couldn't be sure, and, despite her pretense to the contrary, the uncertainty nagged at her. She knew she couldn't expect to have him all to herself when she herself was living with Haralambie, but still, as time went by, she wished to see that he was making a first step in that direction, to show her that he could be more than he was, that he could be the man Ela wanted him to be, a lover with a lust for life yet someone who reined in his plentiful desire. So perhaps, Henriette thought one day as she was preparing dinner, she had a duty to Ela to tell her who Pamfil was. But then again, she considered, maybe Pamfil wasn't who she thought he was. Maybe he was better. Maybe he wasn't tempted by Ela—or any other woman, for that matter. Not tempted enough to act on it, that is.

It was with these reflections in mind that two months after her performance show, Henriette invited Ela and Pamfil to a film at the French Cultural Institute’s Elvire Popesco Cinema. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, the three of them deciding their outing based on their schedules rather than on what was playing.

The Thinker and the Lover,” Henriette mused as her eyes glided over the movie poster. “Interesting. ‘Inspired by the novel Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse.’” She turned to Ela and Pamfil. “Have you read this book?”

“No,” they both said in unison.

“So does this mean the thinker doesn’t love, and the lover doesn’t think?” Henriette quipped, heartily amused at the notion.

“We’ll see,” Pamfil said. “I imagine it’s probably about personality dominants than a clear-cut dichotomy. I read somewhere that the ‘lover’ is an artist, so he clearly thinks a bit,” he added with a smile.

Some two hours later they were outside again, walking down Dacia Boulevard to Romana Square.

“So how did you like it?” Pamfil asked.

“I liked that the artist was also a wanderer. Many artists are wanderers at heart,” Henriette said.

“I felt sad for the scholar,” Pamfil said. “He helped Goldmund find his path in life but couldn’t help himself. He died unfulfilled, unloved.”

Henriette shook her head in disbelief at Pamfil's way of showing his soft side. “But Goldmund loved him,” she countered, even-tempered, looking ahead.

“But are they separate people or just separate ideas?” Ela put in.

“What do you mean?” Henriette asked, turning to her friend.

“Maybe Narcissus and Goldmund are facets of the same personality, complementary aspects of one's psyche rather than opposite characters,” Ela said. “Forces that struggle to express themselves, seeking fulfillment of the mind and the senses.”

“Mediated by the mysterious soul, perhaps,” Henriette interjected with a smile.

“Perhaps.” Ela took in the amber light around her, in the sky and on the beautiful late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century villas of French and Neo-Romanian eclecticism.

Henriette looked at Ela looking at the city at sunset.

“My place?” Pamfil asked. “You could humor me and play some piano,” he added, turning to Henriette. “You and Ela.”

The women agreed benevolently, and the three of them took the bus to Pamfil’s place, an old summer house built a stone throw's away from his landlady's residence.

“This is my home. Small but comfortable,” Pamfil said as he turned the key in the lock. He opened the front door to reveal a snug kitchen, modest-sized but fitted with all the essentials: a cast-iron stove, a sink, four cabinets, and a table with two chairs. He then stepped to a door tucked at the back of the kitchen and presented with an all-encompassing gesture his neat bathroom, beautifully decorated with colorful tiles but seemingly tighter than a closet and with the smallest of tubs.

“And now the living room,” Pamfil invited, walking his visitors into a stunning high-ceilinged salon/bedroom, clean and tidy, and spacious enough to allow for what to Ela seemed like an impressive array of furniture for only one room: a bed, a wardrobe, a settee, two empty accent tables, two armchairs, a computer desk, several tall and narrow bookcases and CD shelves, and Henriette's favorite piece, an upright piano. Next to it, resting on the floor in a corner, were Pamfil's predilect musical instruments, a violin and a guitar. The walls were whitewashed and bare, reducing the sensation of clutter and enhancing the brightness of the spread. Ela found it a particularly welcoming environment, not only because it was so nicely tended to, but also because everything in it was old, worn-out, and, as such, not strident but rather self-effacing—a notion Ela embraced in her work as a piano teacher even as she sometimes felt it had prevented her from doing more with her life, becoming, if not a concert pianist, then maybe an accompanying pianist for a violinist like Pamfil, or for one of the musical talent shows on TV.

She was good, or better said, she had been good once: now that she was in Pamfil's home to show her prowess, she felt inadequate. True, she often spent extra hours after teaching keeping her fingers nimble, but somewhere along the way she stopped teaching herself new pieces, and to her that meant she stagnated in the interpretation of the old pieces too, for so often when you're confronted with the challenge of interpreting a new work, you realize how you may improve an old one. But such thinking was not helping her much at this moment. She had to muster whatever confidence she could and get on with it. She decided to rest a little—and calm down—on the settee before playing. As she wiped her hands on her thighs, she looked over at Henriette, who was sitting down at the desk, herself too in the throes of anticipation, trying to decide how to approach their act.

In the meantime, as his guests fretted, Pamfil busied himself in the kitchen. When he walked back in, unattuned to the vibes given off by the two women, he approached them in his usual bouncy way. First he spoke to Ela, inquiring if she'd be happy with some green tea with peppermint.

Ela nodded with a smile. She couldn't care less for tea at that time, but she did her best to be gracious and match Pamfil's ease.

Henriette, in turn, found herself a little bothered, not so much in anticipation of her upcoming performance, but rather at the way Pamfil had treated Ela's visit, giving his attention to her, acting all charming and happy. “Ettie?” he asked, shaking her out of her reverie. “Okay,” Henriette said, her mind snapping back to Pamfil's question about minty green tea, one of his favorite brews and, by extension, now one of her first choices in tea as well.

Pamfil went back into the kitchen.

Willing to end the charade sooner, Henriette gestured to Ela to go to the piano.

Ela wiped her hands on her pants. “You play first.”

Henriette got up, walked over to the piano, and browsed through Pamfil’s music sheets, looking for a piece that might shake Ela's confidence. She settled for a fragment from Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand.

As she played, Ela sat nailed to the couch watching Henriette’s back and her wandering left hand, which moved with ease and feeling over the keyboard, covering expertly the bases of both hands.

After a few minutes Henriette put her left hand in her lap, next to her right hand, and turned to look at Pamfil, who appeared in the doorway.

“I thought it was Ela,” Pamfil said.

“Ela asked me to go first,” Henriette said, nodding to Ela, who stepped up to the piano to take her friend's place. She chose Chopin’s Minute Waltz, a short yet difficult work, which she played sensitively and richly, moving with deft fluidity and articulation on the keys.

When Ela finished playing, Henriette, who could appreciate the piece as more than just a cute little waltz inspired by a dog chasing its tail, applauded from the settee, pleasantly impressed.

Standing in the doorway, Pamfil applauded his guests heartily and presented them with two mugs of hot tea. “You deserve them. Play some more,” he entreated.

“What would you like?” Ela asked.

“More Chopin.”

Ela set down her tea, placed her foot on the pedal, her fingers on the keys, and started Chopin’s Prelude No. 8 in F sharp minor, a virtuosic piece, and one that for all its ebullient molto agitato tempo, conveyed a lot more despondency than buoyancy of spirit.

Pamfil sat on the bed, looking at the talented pianist unfurling her skills for him, taking in her small frame, childlike fingers, and coiled dark hair falling around her shoulders. He thought back to what Ela had told him earlier in the day as they walked away from the movie, how tired she was of Chopin preludes, and of most of her young students, who played them with little, if any, grace.

She finished her prelude in no time, picked up her bag, and headed for the door, nodding to Henriette to join her. Pamfil sat on the edge of his bed watching them leave.

 

2
____

Costineşti, August 1993, eight years earlier. As she sat in the circle, her feet crossed at the ankles and her hands on her knees, sixteen-year-old Anca had a moment when she forgot about the flying gnats landing on her nape and arms, and felt nothing could beat a group with a guitar, singing Beatles songs into the night.

People stopped and looked in, leaning against the posts supporting the roof of the terrace where the teenagers provided free entertainment. On a wall at the back of the deck, a naked lightbulb dissolved some of the dark. On the sand, off in the distance, beachgoers' silhouettes pressed on bed linens to the sound of crashing waves.

At ten o’clock, Anca gestured to her boyfriend of two months, Marcel, that she was ready to leave for the disco. Happy to leave the hippie scene to other people, Marcel indicated with a nod that he too was okay to get going. Anca stood up, swept back her long, silky hair, brushed off her pants, and hooked two fingers in one of Marcel's belt loops, asking him to circle an arm around her waist. They wobbled like this to the disco, their steps out of synch, Marcel's faster, as if he wanted to be relieved of the difficult tender gesture as soon as possible, and Anca's struggling to keep up, all the while thinking that they still had a lot of adjusting to do, in all sorts of ways.

Half an hour later, as they moved with conviction to a lighthearted, lively song, their sweaters tied around their waists, they had come into a new rhythm together, something so good and powerful that they extended their reach over a large swath of the disco arena and burst into song zestily. The more they danced, the more inviting the place seemed, the memory of their swaying through the air entangling them in promises of more good feelings to come, more waves of good vibes to ride.

Midnight was greeted with two slow songs, which Anca, not knowing better, used to call “blues songs.” She liked the first song, liked the whole romance of it, but felt the lyrics to be rather pointless in the end—a man reaching out to someone even as he accepts, in fact, that their moment has passed. She wondered briefly about it, her hands around Marcel's neck, and then, seeing he was too pensive for her liking, launched into some wide dance moves, making her rather startled but tickled boyfriend follow her lead. They became almost oblivious to the music, swaying slower and slower until Marcel, holding Anca by the waist, began to search for kisses. Anca then closed her eyes, opening them only briefly a short while later to check if her boyfriend, too, was obliterating the outside world. He was.

By the start of the next song, a rock ballad, Anca smiled broadly, her cheek next to Marcel’s, whose hands traveled the length of her back underneath her sheet of hair, gently caressing her nape, before they kissed again, this time with an urgency that surprised them both. They continued to dance, as a pair and in a group, for a couple more hours after that, and then at four a.m. they wandered off into a darkness pulsing with music, reaching their rented shack two hours later.

The following night they decided to forgo the dance floor, spending instead the late hours strolling on the esplanade, until they came across one of Anca’s second cousins, who lived in France with his father.The guy invited them to a fancier, indoor disco, a place where scantily dressed women tossed their tresses about on the dance floor, vying for the attention of men watching them from the bar, the air between them thick with lust and cigarette smoke.

Anca and Marcel decided to spend some time there as a gesture of courtesy to Anca's cousin, and soon found themselves observing tired skin, forced smiles, and lecherous grins glowing sinisterly under the black lights, hitting them with an intensity that seemed to silence all the music. When after half an hour the place started to seriously sap their mood, they said their good-byes and quickly took off, eager to caper in the open air, in an atmosphere of youthful enthusiasm. They wandered around the resort for a while, eventually sitting down over some soft drinks at an outdoor café that played feel-good reggae. When the playlist switched to dance, they pulled some of the chairs to the sides and frolicked about next to a guy who monopolized most of the floor, whirling his life out. No food and no sleep for three days, he said, showing Anca a bottle of pills. She took a white tablet from it and commented on its common look. When she gave it back to the guy, she asked herself how many more times he thought it would do the trick before something in his body gave out, or whether no sleep for three days is something to be desired. As if hearing her silent questions, he shared that he used the pills only at the beach, to maximize the experience. Then he resumed his dancing, oblivious to the crowd feeding on his fire.

That night his energy kept Anca and Marcel awake until sunrise, when the two of them and a few other people walked to the edge of the sea. Anca, happy she made it to sunrise, wanted a photo of herself. She crossed her slender legs at the ankles, put her hands in the pockets of the flared jeans she had bought the day before, and smiled at the camera, content with her new look. It was their last day at the beach.

Anca returned to Costineşti that summer alone; Marcel was away visiting his grandparents in Sighişoara. She occupied part of her time by roaming the alleys and promenade in the deafening sound of dance music streaming out of the many loudspeakers around. The third day there, she was approached by a guy selling cassettes with psychedelic and progressive rock, blues and blues rock, and folk music, all British and American.

“Care to change the music?” the vendor asked, spotting Anca's silken black hair and her slender silhouette in the crowd.

“Pretty much,” Anca responded, amused. “What do you have?”

“The crème de la crème of 1960s and 1970s rock and folk, and some blues,” he said, taken with Anca’s expressive eyes, green with flecks of hazel.

“Surprise me,” Anca said, basking in the stranger's searching gaze.

“Okay . . . how about The Doors?” the vendor asked with a lopsided smile. “The Doors of Perception . . .”

Anca looked at him questioningly.

Pamfil, the vendor, gave a small laugh. “It’s a book by Aldous Huxley—who himself lifted the phrase from a poem by William Blake. Aldous Huxley is the one who wrote Brave New World. He took mescaline and entered mind-expanding trances. It inspired Jim Morrison to call his band The Doors—given that he aimed to be such a shamanic figure himself.” He then played a few songs by the Los Angeles band for her. They had Anca hooked—and stumped as to where to listen to that kind of music some more.

“You can come to my place,” Pamfil said, appraising her waifish silhouette. “I’m here with friends from the Conservatory,” he went on. “One of them left early, so we have a free bed. That way you can listen to everything.”

“You a musician?” Anca asked, suddenly very interested in Pamfil.

“I play the violin,” he responded with a smile, happy to see in her warm gaze that she might appreciate classical music as well. “So, are you coming?” he asked after a moment of reverie.

“Where?”

“To my place. To stay with us.”

“Okay,” Anca said, bringing her hands together with a clap in a thank-you gesture.

Pamfil smiled, charmed by her enthusiasm. “It’s a deal, then. I’ll tell the guys you’re coming.”

Anca smiled back, delighted. “Okay.”

With Pamfil and his music, Anca discovered a different intensity of being alive. She twirled in the room like a girl turning into a woman by magic as she listened to The Doors to her heart's content, and several times she took that energy outside the dorm while playing their songs in her head. She didn’t know what to make of Jim Morrison’s poetry, but, like koans, his verse left her hovering in a space where she could receive new meanings and feelings.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Mira Tudor believes in constant learning and a constantly adapted pursuit of meaning. She holds an American BA in literature with a minor in studio art, and a Romanian BSc and MSc in sociology. She has also studied art history at MA level. After working in all these fields and more, and publishing poetry and flash fiction, she is now devoting her creative energies mainly to crafting compelling characters and stories.

Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
One of my contemporary favorites is David Nicholls. I appreciate his deft blend of comedy and drama, wit and heart, as well as the cinematic feel of his novels. In fact, it was One Day that inspired me to write about poignant feelings the way I did and to set up my scenes as if on a movie set.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
I write for many reasons, but one compelling motive is my wish to express ideas which need at least several individualities to unfold properly. That said, I allow my characters to grow stronger than their ideas—they become conflicted, as most of us are, about what they think and feel.

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