A Blonde in Love

Fiction
Ewa Mazierska


Photo Credit: seisdeagosto/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

They met in November, at a congress of film archivists in Munich. It was the last place where Renata hoped to see an attractive man; by definition archivists are old and unsexy or, if not completely unsexy, then married. He didn’t fit this pattern as he was good-looking. They immediately noticed each other during lunch, in a large hall, where a hundred or so people wandered awkwardly with plates overflowing with food, looking for a place where they could munch it in peace. He didn’t even keep his plate, but was talking with another plate-less guy, but Renata felt his eyes touching her face and neck, going down as low as her leather boots. Yet, his gaze wasn’t creepy, but rather imbued with amusement, as if he was wondering what she was doing among this crowd of dust-covered midwits. She was wandering semi-aimlessly, until Liina, a colleague from Estonia, caught her and started to argue for a closer cooperation between their small Baltic countries, so that they would have more clout against the larger players in the world of film archives. Renata agreed and normally would be happy to discuss this matter in detail but, on this occasion, she was distracted, anxious not to lose the handsome stranger from her perimeter. This resulted in her constantly changing position, as Liina kept obscuring the view with her plump body. Despite that, Renata realised that the guy was important as the chairman of the federation of the archives approached him, and he imprisoned the handsome stranger for the remainder of the lunch.

During the afternoon session, the mystery of the stranger’s identity was solved. He wasn’t an archivist, but the owner of an IT company, brought along to digitally connect some resources of the archives belonging to the federation, and his name was Andy. He gave a presentation with wit and lightness, which contrasted with the talks given by the archivists. His English was also different to that of other Germans. It wasn’t just that his accent was less pronounced, but it felt as if his voice didn’t belong to a German, but to a different nationality altogether. This was also reflected in his clothes. Superficially, he was dressed for the occasion: jacket, shirt, tie, but there was a personal touch. They were in different shades of green, as if he was looking for a perfect match to his green eyes. The sea of green gave him a slightly melancholic and absent-minded appearance, which was augmented by his tendency to touch his hair. He could be a bit taller, but only because Renata herself was over-average height.

Liina also noticed Andy’s attractiveness, as in the middle of his talk she turned to Renata, saying: ‘Isn’t he cute, Renata? Like from a different planet: the Archive-Free Planet.’ They both giggled and it improved Renata’s mood to realise how intelligent Liina could be. If she was also single and shed her extra kilos, Renata would consider going on holiday with her.

It was only during the evening reception that Renata and Andy had an opportunity to talk, but it wasn’t easy, as he was again surrounded by other people. Still, Renata managed to force her way through this human barricade and approached him, saying that she was impressed by his presentation. He smiled and said:

‘Thank you. And I’m impressed by the colour of your hair. Is it natural blond?’

‘No, I’m dyeing my hair. Does it matter?’

‘No, it doesn’t. It’s still beautiful, like a wheat-covered field on a sunny day.’

Renata wasn’t sure if Andy was joking, but there was no point in asking, especially as there were already more people gathered around him. She let them talk and walked towards the table with food. She put some cold meat and salads on her plate, although she wasn’t hungry. Liina approached her with her plate: ‘I must say that food at the last year’s congress tasted better. These Germans are efficient, but lack imagination. Still, better to make the most of it, as you don’t know if there will be any congress next year.’

‘True’, replied Renata, but she wasn’t in a hurry to eat what was on offer.

When Renata left Liina to join a queue for food, which tripled in size since they started to talk, she noticed that Andy was approaching her:

‘Sorry we didn’t finish talking. I really wanted to ask you if you are not too tired to go to a pub. It’s a sin to be in Bavaria and not to taste a local beer, and I know some good places nearby.’

‘I will be delighted to go, but looks as if you didn’t have a chance to eat anything.’

‘Doesn’t matter. I can order a pizza, if I’m really hungry. Let’s go.’

Renata felt a bit guilty not to take Liina with her, but was sure that her friend would understand and, anyway, Liina preferred food over alcohol.

‘Do you live in Munich?’ asked Renata, when they found themselves in a noisy place, smelling of beer and roasted sausage. She didn’t like such establishments, preferring Riga’s cafés, but didn’t say anything, happy that they were finally alone, as much alone as people can be in a public place.

‘No, I live in Stuttgart, but I work with firms all over Germany and abroad, mostly in Austria and Switzerland.’

‘You must be very good at what you do to get such big contracts.’

‘To be honest, this one is the largest. But you are right that we managed to achieve a high position in a relatively short period, me and my friend. That said, you must be the youngest delegate at this congress, and the prettiest. I couldn’t take my eyes from you, when doing my presentation and, at the same time, I was thinking that you were thinking “what a creep”.’

‘I didn’t think this at all. I haven’t even noticed that you paid attention to me,’ replied Renata, shyly.

‘Oh, I did and wondered what such a pretty girl was doing among these withered, disfigured archivists.’

Renata laughed and said: ‘That’s what I think about archivists too, when I travel abroad. In Latvia it’s different, though, because our film archive is relatively new and we are all young; my deputy is not even thirty.’

‘What about you?’

‘I’m thirty-five. How old are you?’

‘I’m forty-five.’

Renata was surprised, learning Andy’s age, thinking that he was forty at most, but didn’t say anything. In the past, when she was with a dating agency, she stipulated no men more than seven years older than her but, ultimately, better to date a George Clooney than a creep her age.

‘You have achieved a lot, given your age,’ said Andy.

‘Yes, but there were sacrifices,’ replied Renata.

‘There has to be, if you want to achieve success. Success is easy only for the people whom we don’t know.’

‘True. You are also successful. What were your sacrifices?’

‘Mainly to do with sport. I was once a professional badminton player and hoped to make a lasting career in the sport, but there is not enough money in badminton, at least not in Germany, and ultimately I wasn’t good enough. I’m still keen on the game and play with my son, when opportunity allows, and do projects for the German badminton association, helping it with my IT skills, but now it’s just a pastime. What about you?’

‘The same, actually. I loved cinema and wanted to be in the movies. I tried to be an actress, but without much success. It was the same for other jobs in the sector, in part because the Latvian film industry is so small. Eventually, I did a PhD in film studies and got this job, which I enjoy, even though it wasn’t what I planned initially.’

‘If the job pays you enough, don’t look back. Just think how to make it to pay better.’

Renata was assessing her schedule. She had only two more nights in Munich before returning to Riga. Would it be enough to go to bed with him? She wasn’t, in fact, desperate, but was worried that, if it didn’t happen, Andy would forget her immediately.

When he brought a second round of beer to the table, Renata felt dizzy. She wasn’t sure whether she should allow herself to get drunk or keep a cool head so that she wouldn’t do anything stupid or disgusting, like throwing up in the hotel lobby. She decided the latter and sipped her beer slowly, whilst Andy was drinking one pint after another. And yet, their conversation wasn’t getting more intimate. The more Andy drunk, the more he delved into things which were of little interest to Renata, such as badminton, tennis and surfing, but she went along. In the end, he apologised to her for being so drunk—this being a result of going through a stressful period. He also thanked her for helping him to relax.

‘Would you like us to meet again?’ he asked Renata, when they were leaving the pub.

‘Sure, we can meet tomorrow. We have a banquet in some palace, but I can leave it earlier or even skip it,’ she replied.

‘That’ll be great. Shall I collect you from your hotel? Let’s say seven p.m.?’

‘Yes. That suits me perfectly.’

Andy gave Renata a friendly hug, which she reciprocated.

Waiting for their date dragged on, even though Liina entertained her with her stories from her marriage to Andreas, a fellow jolly foodie: ‘He said that I need to get pregnant naturally. Otherwise I will have to be stuffed with hormones. Can you imagine how I would look like after such treatment? You are slim, so can have children in vitro.’

The highlight of the day was a message from Andy, enquiring about her favourite cuisine, so that he could book a table in the right restaurant. Renata was less concerned about food and more about the ambience. Would the best atmosphere be in an Indian, Chinese, Italian, Greek or Bavarian restaurant? She hesitated between Italian and Greek and in the end chose Greek, assuming that the possibility of being surrounded there by families with noisy children was the smallest.

Andy turned up at the reception of her hotel, as agreed. He smelled of a mixture of dates and pomegranates and, under his winter jacket, he had a yellow sweatshirt—all signs that he avoided chain shops and managed to find his own style. The sweatshirt provided a nice contrast to his black jeans and dark hair, in which this time she noticed some silver threads. They took a taxi to reach the Greek restaurant where Andy had booked a table.

‘Sorry for getting drunk yesterday,’ he said when they sat. ‘I was exhausted after a very busy period.’

‘Busy at work or busy at home?’

‘Both. This year I’m working practically without a break and dealing with various family problems.’

‘What are your family problems?’

‘My family is scattered. My father lives in Hamburg, my mother in South Africa, and my ex-wife recently moved from Stuttgart to Berlin. It’s exhausting to try to be in contact with all of them, especially my son. I moved to Stuttgart to be with them and I didn’t expect that they would leave so soon, and for no particular reason.’

‘I’m sorry to hear it. How old is your son?’

‘Ten. Do you have children?’

‘No,’ replied Renata.

‘Husband, ex-husband?’

‘No,’ replied Renata, blushing slightly.

‘So you are pure like a primrose. I hope you will find a man able to appreciate it.’

‘Not in Latvia. Latvian men are either creeps or losers,’ replied Renata.

‘The entire million of them?’ asked Andrew.

‘We don’t even have a million of men left in Latvia. Maybe we had once one million and hundred thousand, but the smartest hundred thousand from the top emigrated and the hundred thousand from the bottom drunk themselves to death.’

‘You know that grass is always greener…’

‘Yes, I know. Grass is always greener outside Latvia.’

‘Do you have siblings?’

‘No.’

‘My parents also have only me and they make sure I don’t forget it, especially my mother.’

‘Why does she live in South Africa?’

‘Because we once lived there. I was born in Cape Town and we moved to Germany when I was nine. But, after that, my parents split and some years later my mother returned to South Africa.’

‘Why did your parents find themselves in South Africa?’

‘I think both were children of the “Nazi on the run”, although only my father admitted it. From my mother’s side, I’m half-German, half-Afrikaner.’

‘How was South Africa?’

‘Nice, warm, but increasingly dangerous. One year before we left, my parents’ friend was kidnapped and killed in a gruesome way. They couldn’t come to terms with this tragedy and decided to move to Germany. Unfortunately, the change proved difficult for them. My father opened a business, but went bankrupt, and they divorced when I was a teenager. What about you? Have you spent all your life in Latvia?’

‘Yes, really in Riga. I spent one semester at Columbia University and I travel a lot for work. My parents divorced, too, and I hardly remember my father, as he died in a car accident when I was seven. I always lived with my mum. I cannot imagine being far away from her.’

As soon as Renata said that, she regretted it. Could be anything more off-putting to a future lover than admitting that one lives like a child despite being over thirty? If a man said that to her, she would dismiss him on the spot. She noticed hesitation in Andy’s eyes and there was a short silence, which made her think that she blew it. If so, better to have it over with: return to the hotel, pack and have a good night’s sleep before catching a flight to Riga tomorrow afternoon.

The waiter brought a pudding: a wet, creamy cake mixed with a large amount of cinnamon and cloves. Renata’s head was spinning from its narcotic aroma, as her sense of smell was overdeveloped. She plunged her spoon in the soft substance and felt as if the warm Mediterranean sea invited her for a swim. She was thinking about Amelie breaking crème brûlée in the famous film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. ‘Think about all these small pleasures and love will come your way, as it came to Amelie,’ said her friend, with whom she watched this scene. Love, however, didn’t come her way by this point; she was only a magnet for misfits and cheats.

Maybe the cinnamon and cloves also affected Andy, as he suddenly asked: ‘Should we grab a bottle of something and go to your, or my, hotel after the supper?’

‘Let’s go to your place,’ replied Renata, thinking about the colleagues who might see Andy leaving her room and think the obvious thing.

‘I will pay half of the bill,’ said Renata.

‘No. I invited you, so I shall pay. Let me pretend to be a gentleman.’

They took a taxi to Andy’s hotel. Renata was thinking that her stay in Munich was like that in Frantic by Polanski: she was in a famous city, but hasn’t seen any of it. But she didn’t regret it: cities could be visited any time, if one had money, whilst meeting somebody like Andy was one chance in a million. Moreover, in late autumn, she didn’t have any desire to spend time outdoors.

Andy stayed in a small hotel, probably cheaper than hers, but more stylish, with old wooden furniture filling the foyer and an old wardrobe in Andy’s room. It didn’t have air conditioning, only old-style windows with curtains. Andy informed Renata that neither windows nor a curtain on one window in his rooms worked properly, which meant that the room was cold and people could see them from outside. But neither of them cared.

He took the bottle of wine he bought in the Greek restaurant and opened it, without asking Renata if she wanted to drink. She had enough of alcohol, but had no courage to refuse him. They drank one glass each and then Andy said: ‘It’s so cold here. Shall we go to bed? That is the best place to be this time of the year.’

Renata laughed, as he sounded so natural and almost childish. He scored ten out of ten for the best invitation to lovemaking.

‘Can I go to the bathroom first?’ she asked.

‘Of course,’ replied Andy.

When she returned, Andy put a condom on his penis. Renata knew that it was a sign of his responsibility, a way to protect them from any unpleasant disease or pregnancy. Yet, she couldn’t help but feel sadness seeing this deflated, pathetic balloon, being given such a prominent role in their intimate encounter—a mediator and arbiter in deciding what was acceptable. She covered her and Andy’s bodies with the quilt, in part to shield them from the cold and in part because she wanted to detach herself from the spectacle in which they engaged their lower parts. They made love almost without making sound, as if trying to keep their fast romance secret not only from other people, but also from each other. Yet, Renata felt that Andy enjoyed it, as proved by the fact that they made love twice, the second time in the morning. Shortly after that Andy said: ‘Everything is so impeccable about you. Your hair is so perfectly blond, your teeth are so white and straight, your eyes have this wonderful, date-like shape, and your body has no blemishes.’

Renata smiled internally, thinking about all the money she spent on braces and teeth veneers, hairdressers and tattooing her eyes, not to mention a gym subscription. Her mother told her that such investment would never buy her true love, only the passing interest of shallow men, yet she replied true love almost always begins with physical attraction. This was even the case with her parents, although admittedly, it was a passing attraction on her father’s part.

‘What do you call this shade of blond?’ asked Andy.

‘Stone blond,’ replied Renata.

‘It is my favourite. I must remember this name when looking for dates online. Just joking,’ he added, kissing her neck.

They had breakfast in Andy’s hotel.

‘You don’t mind if I don’t take you back to your hotel? I have to catch my train in an hour,’ he said.

‘Yes, that’s absolutely fine,’ replied Renata. ‘I’m in a bit of a hurry myself, as I must pack and go to the airport.’

‘I hope you will have a good journey.’

‘I’m sure it will be fine.’

They went together to the foyer, waiting for a taxi. Renata was hoping that Andy would propose they meet again, but he was just looking anxiously at his mobile. Clearly, he was in a hurry now.

‘Would you like to meet again?’ she asked, feeling that, if she didn’t, the moment would pass. ‘I might be in Germany early next year, as there’s another conference for archivists in Dusseldorf.’

‘It will be nice if our schedules coincide again,’ he said. ‘Write or phone me when you are back in Germany.’

Back in the hotel, Renata met with Liina, with whom she was flying back to Riga. Liina didn’t ask Renata where she had been the previous night, as she knew. Instead, she asked: ‘Was he as good-looking without clothes as in them?’

Renata laughed.

‘Yes, he looked good and we had a great time.’

She didn’t want to say more, as she didn’t want to jinx anything. Therefore, at the airport, they talked about the conference and a need to organise a similar one for the Baltic countries. Maybe it would be an opportunity to invite Andy?

‘I will be happy to be in charge of it,’ said Liina.

‘That will be great,’ replied Renata absent-mindedly, when looking nervously at her phone, waiting for any message from Andy. There was nothing. Instead, only her mother asked what to prepare for supper. This made her angry, frustrated by the thought that all the people around her were concerned solely with trivial matters, although she knew that she should be grateful that her mother always looked after her so well.

‘What do you think about the dress I wore yesterday?’ asked Liina.

‘Do you want an honest answer?’

‘Yes, please.’

‘I don’t think it suited you. You need clothes which don’t accentuate your round figure, but hide it; it’s better not to show one’s waist, if it’s wider than one’s thighs.’

Renata regretted what she said as soon as she said it, knowing it was callous and not a true reflection of her attitude to Liina, but the state of her nerves.

Luckily, Liina wasn’t offended. Instead, she replied: ‘That’s what I thought too, but Andreas bought it for my birthday and insisted that I took it to the congress. It cost 300 Euros; my most expensive dress.’

‘It would have been better if he’d just given you the money.’

Luckily, there was a short message from Andy when she landed in Riga and boarded a bus from the airport to her apartment, asking her whether she had a good journey. It improved Renata’s mood immensely and she replied as soon as she reached home. Her mother kissed her and, after they finished their supper, told her that one of their three cats was unwell. Renata should have noticed it herself, but she lost interest in their cats a long time ago. They were also a source of conflict between Renata and her mother. Her mother didn’t want them to buy cats as there were plenty of cats in shelters, looking for a home, and they’d be resilient to illnesses and more intelligent, because mongrels are smarter than pedigree cats. Renata, however, couldn’t resist getting them, seeing them so perfectly white and cute, more like animals from Disney films than real animals. Yet, her mother was right: they were beautiful, but sickly, stupid and they failed to fill the hole in her life: they weren’t surrogate children for her; more like mechanical toys constantly malfunctioning. Her mother didn’t like them either; they were an everyday reminder that her daughter ignored her advice, falling for the wrong things: beautiful on the outside, but ugly or empty inside. Renata, however, disagreed, as she didn’t believe in inner beauty, if they were ugly outside. Outside was what mattered; it was the real mystery, as Oscar Wilde noted. Focusing on the surface didn’t guarantee to find a beautiful interior, but prevented one from ending up with an ugly toad, wrongly assuming that, under his skin, one finds a prince.

Renata needed to take the sick one to the vet. The problem was a kidney failure. He needed special food and to be kept away from the other two cats. Renata’s mother didn’t say anything, but her expression said it all: ‘Too beautiful to be healthy, as I told you.’

There were no further messages from Andy for a week. When she wrote to him, he replied briefly that he was busy with his company and the family situation. His son was sick and his ex had to work so he had to travel to Berlin to look after his son. She replied that her cat was also sick and, some time later, enquired about the boy. He’d recovered by this point, Andy replied, but without asking about the state of health of her cat. Admittedly, a child is more important than a cat, so Renata didn’t bear a grudge.

Their next contact was two weeks before Christmas. This was enough time to have made arrangements to meet for the New Year, but it turned out that Andy was busy, spending Christmas with his son and ex-wife, and New Year with his mother in South Africa. It was mid-January when he returned and he had many things to catch up. ‘My life is complicated’ was a sentence which he wrote to Renata at least three times.

Eventually time came to book a trip to a conference in Dusseldorf. Renata wrote to Andy, telling him she could come earlier or stay longer in Germany and visit him in Stuttgart. He informed her that he had many trips in February, but in fact it was possible to meet just for one day, after Renata’s conference. So, things worked out fine, thought Renata.

He met her at the platform, taking her suitcase and handing her a bunch of roses.

‘I tried to find flowers matching the colour of your hair—stone roses, but I’m not sure if I succeeded. It seems to me that your hair is lighter.’

‘It doesn’t matter, it is nice that you remembered. These days men rarely give women flowers.’

‘Maybe because they give them something more enduring. Unfortunately, I specialise in ephemeral things. At least this is what my ex always accused me of.’

‘I don’t think people one has split from are the best judges of one’s character,’ replied Renata.

Half an hour later they were in his apartment. There was something American Psycho about it. It was bright, spacious and clean, no doubt a result of employing a cleaner, but also betraying a natural preponderance to order. Renata didn’t mind it; in fact, she appreciated it, being orderly herself. In the past, if a guy lived in a filthy house, she wouldn’t have a second date, irrespective of his other qualities. What worried her, however, was a sense that with this perfection streak it would be difficult to satisfy him. She needed to keep her hair stone blond and be patient.

Andy cooked for them a meal: a stew made of meat and vegetables. There was also a chocolate pudding, but this came from a bakery.

‘Thank you for your effort. I didn’t expect it,’ she said.

‘If you come from so far away, at least I owe you some food,’ he replied.

‘I also brought you something.’ Renata took from her bag a yellow scarf and a set of DVDs. ‘These are masterpieces of Latvian cinema, as masterly as a country like Latvia can produce.’

‘I’m sure every nation produced some masterpieces. Just some are better marketed to the world. Countries which trampled on others, as Germany did for centuries, managed to impose their cultural standards on other countries and nations, so that everybody thinks they are universal, like Bach or Beethoven music.’

Renata looked at Andy in awe. From their first meeting she thought he was smart, but such statement was much more than she ever expected from an IT specialist.

‘How did your romantic life look before?’ asked Renata in the morning, when they had breakfast.

‘Before what?’ he asked.

‘Before I came?’ she said.

‘I didn’t have much sex life lately. I was too busy travelling and growing my business. When I had time, I used Tinder.’

‘Did it work for you?’

‘Yes, men don’t need much to be satisfied. Most men, anyway. Occasionally, I also had sex with my ex-wife.’

‘How come?’

‘Simply. She is single and available. It’s also a way to appease her, as she still resents me for leaving her. Sex is sex; if it’s good, it’s good, but there is no need to make of it more that it is. She understands and accepts it. What about you?’

‘I would like sex to be more than sex, but I accept when it’s just that.’

‘Good.’

‘Now, it’s your turn to visit me in Latvia,’ said Renata, when Andy acknowledged her farewell at the railway station.

‘I will try, maybe this summer.’

‘You must come. We will go to the coast. We have some wonderful resorts near Riga. They are probably more German than anything you can find in Germany these days.’

They were exchanging e-mails and text messages for the next three months, in which Andy talked mostly about his business and Renata about her work in the archive. It was mid-May when Andy sent the e-mail: ‘I decided not to come to Riga this summer. I enjoyed time spent with you, but unfortunately I’m not in a position to have a serious relationship, especially one which is long distance. I hope you will find a man who will appreciate your stone blond hair as much as I did, but give you all love and security you deserve.’

Renata cried reading this e-mail and kept re-reading it and crying, but eventually she stopped and said: ‘He was just a jerk. A jerk and a Nazi.’

Near the end of summer, Renata received an e-mail from Liina, asking about Andy’s visit. She replied that the visit was great and that they’d spent several days in Riga. Andy was enchanted by the Art Nouveau quarter and Riga’s restaurants and cafés. They went to Jurmala on the coast for the rest of his stay, booking into Renata’s favourite hotel.

‘Did he buy you anything?’ asked Liina.

‘Yes, he bought me a silver bracelet and a ring with an amber. He said that the yellow stone suits my hair.’

‘Send me a photo of the ring,’ replied Liina.

Renata attached to her reply a picture of an old ring, which she bought in Sopot in Poland but didn’t wear, as she’d grown out of rings.

‘Andy has great taste, unlike my husband,’ replied Liina. ‘The last time he bought me a ring it looked like something from a 1970s Russian film: gold, crude and with a purple stone the size of half of my finger. But looking the way I look, what should I expect?’

pencil

Ewa Mazierska is historian of film and popular music, who writes short stories in her spare time. She published over thirty of them in The Longshot Island, The Adelaide Magazine, The Fiction Pool, Literally Stories, Ragazine, BlazeVox, Red Fez, Away, The Bangalore Review, Shark Reef and Mystery Tribune, among others. In 2019 she published her first collection of short stories, Neighbours and Tourists (New York, Adelaide Books). Ewa is a Pushcart nominee and her stories were shortlisted in several competitions. She was born in Poland, but lives in Lancashire, UK. Email: EHMazierska[at]uclan.ac.uk

Neighbours & Tourists by Ewa Mazierska

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


Neighbours & Tourists by Ewa Mazierska

Ewa Mazierska’s collection of short stories, Neighbours & Tourists (Adelaide Books, 2019) is an intriguing and soulful assortment of travel stories set across Europe and India, as well as a deep dive into the human condition. They vary from village stories told by a returning narrator to well-seasoned travelers who manage more than a glance at the secret world of the local populations they visit. The collection has a duality about it. It is also about home—of coming home. What it feels like to return after many years to discover the changes and sameness in childhood spaces. The beauty and disappointment of it all. Or the idea of creating home in transient spaces which is more than unpacking a suitcase and tucking it under a hotel bed. To create a home, one must venture out into society and bring it back piece by piece, brick by brick, building home in local experience and exposure to the people and customs of the new place until the new place begins to feel familiar. Mazierska defines this idea in the details of her stories.

The stories are arranged in two parts: Neighbours and Tourists. The beginning ones (Neighbours) read like a social commentary revealing much of the hierarchy of friendships and strangers in the narrator’s childhood village. The first story, “The Death of a Neighbor,” sets this idea into motion:

The deaths of the neighbours inevitably affected the hierarchy of those who remained; the further ones by virtue of being still around moved to the position of the close ones.

Indeed, Mazierska’s first story told by a female narrator relates the intimate details of a nearly 1980s Polish village under martial law that only someone from that village could reveal and Mazierska does this in an interesting way. The story reads like gossip. Lots of telling. I could almost see the narrator sitting across the table from me, a cup of coffee and a cigarette smoldering as she revealed the “backwardness” of her village whispering the word “cancer” as the village villain as she goes on to describe local population and their death culture.

[D]ead people only live as long as they live in other people’s memory.

This first story really is the jumping-off point. Once immersed, it was difficult to stop reading as the stories are loosely linked like little houses on a lighted string. The reader travels house to house, following the first narrator as she pedals the reader on a private tour of her childhood village. The backdrop of the stories hints of the decrepitness and economic collateral damage from World War II, the Cold War, and the Berlin Wall. One story, “Too Smart,” was a tragedy about the downfall of a Polish family by a gangster marriage. Other stories related even more tragedies about more rural families, some from their own doings, which according to the narrator’s mother from the story “Disinheritance” was “worse than the Holocaust.”

After this story, I started to wonder if it was time to put the book down.These characters seemed real to me and their misfortunes depressing and painfully poignant. They reminded me of Anton Chekov’s stories. Mazierska created them so vividly that I did wonder where the intersection of fiction and truth met. Her writing was spot on and elegant. Then something happened. I turned the page. I read a few more lines and she had me. The next little house on Mazierska’s strand was “The Widow and Her Daughter.” It was pretty terrific. I am partial to women’s stories and this one in particular was surprising and striking. Mazierska set it up beautifully:  teacher who grew beautiful flowers and traveled beyond the village borders of her stereotype.

…the daughter was in her forties and she was still unmarried and lived with her mother. This was an uncommon position for women in our village, except that it befell female teachers more often than members of any other occupational groups, simply because teachers in Poland are mostly women, so they have few opportunities for office romance and live under pressure to behave modestly.

And she was anything but modest.

The second part of the collection shifts to the early 2000s and often to third person, beginning with the lopsided love story of Sarah and Thomas (“Homo Sacer and Her Lover”) who meet on several business trips in Budapest. One of them is a true romantic and the other a “‘homo sacer’: somebody who has only his physical life, zoe, rather than bio, which was a higher form of existence.”

Another story I liked very much was “Heaven for Prostitutes.” The narrator stops for directions and meets a cohort of colorful characters in a chance encounter. Here, Mazierska humanizes these characters, giving them dignity and a certain grace despite their professions.

‘Maybe childbirth is more painful than walking the night in
uncomfortable shoes, but at least no woman gives birth every night for 35 years[.]’

Other stories relate the prejudice often directed at the local populations by travelers, not contrived but still apparent. In “Carlos and Us,” another chance encounter opens a new world for a family who befriend a local man. The travelers romanticize him and come to realize that their new friend has a distaste for foreigners.

[W]e remain tourist attractions for each other: fake or at least decontextualised.

This theme appears again in other stories as the characters immerse themselves in the local cultures sometimes superficially, other times losing themselves completely in it. Mazierska’s writing is personal and profound, tracing and trespassing boundaries of time, space, and the human heart. She draws you in and keeps you to the end.

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Ewa Mazierska is a historian of film and popular music who writes short stories in her spare time. Her work has been published in The Longshot Island, The Fiction Pool, Literally Stories, Away, The Bangalore Review, Shark Reef, Toasted Cheese, Opiate, Red Fez, Thimble, and Mystery Tribune among others.  She is also a Pushcart nominee and her work was shortlisted in several competitions including most recently the 2019 Eyelands Book Awards. Born in Poland, Mazierska currently resides in Lancashire, UK. Neighbours and Tourists is her first collection of short stories. Twitter: @EwaMazierska
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Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com

Love Cycle

Fiction
Ewa Mazierska


Photo Credit: TonalLuminosity/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

When Daniel and Ida met for the first time, Daniel was only twenty. He was the leader of a band which started to gain some traction on the Budapest rock scene and was about to release its first LP. He looked like a cross between a rocker and a Gypsy. His raven-black hair was long and untidy, he wore a crumpled hat, tattered discoloured sweatshirts, and cowboy boots. He was a bit inarticulate and did not look straight into the camera when interviewed by journalists. Everybody agreed that he was cute, but amateurish. At the same time, when dealing with the other band members, he had the adult demeanour of somebody who from an early age had to support himself and look after others. This was true; his musician parents abandoned him before he started school and subsequently they had new families and six more children between them.

Ida was twenty-three and was studying architecture and fine arts. She wore her auburn hair loose and liked soft baggy jumpers worn with trousers of contrasting colours, hats and sunglasses. Her unaffected, slightly hippie appearance betrayed her living among things which were of high quality and achieved without effort. She was the only child of a couple of affluent architects whose ancestors lived in Budapest for many generations. They included some of the most famous people living in this city: craftsmen, writers, politicians. Some people called them the Hungarian Buddenbrooks, except that they didn’t squander the family fortune; most of it was taken by the communist government and nationalised. Ida was a popular girl, despite being rather quiet, although not because of shyness, but a sense of her value and a conviction that she didn’t need to impress anybody. Maybe for this reason, she was still single, while all her female friends by this point had serious boyfriends.

Daniel and Ida were introduced by somebody who knew both of them, during a festival, where Daniel’s band was performing. It took only seconds for them to realise that they wanted to be together. Daniel suggested that after the gig they go for a drink and afterwards Ida went to his tent. They talked for a couple of hours and then made love. There was no questioning of their motives, no worry that he would find her ‘easy’ or desperate to get laid and that he was a ‘Casanova’ preying on naïve female fans. They knew they weren’t any of that. The next day Daniel and Ida were inseparable and before the festival was over, they were talking about moving in together. By this point Ida was still living with her parents and Daniel was staying in an apartment which belonged to his friend. In fact, he’d been staying with friends since he was sixteen. Before that he lived with his grandparents, whose house was over a hundred kilometres from Budapest.

Ida suggested that they move to an apartment which her parents bought for her a long time before (one of several properties which they owned), but were renting out, as at that point she had no reason to live there. Daniel, however, had a better idea—he knew about a family who were moving abroad and needed somebody reliable to look after their house when they were away. It had a garden and a grand piano, which was ideal for Daniel. The rent was low, and would be even lower if each of them paid only half of it. This solution would also prevent Daniel from feeling like a guest in somebody else’s place, as this was how he’d felt for the last four years. Ida agreed, even though she was worried that her parents might disapprove. It turned out they were fine with this plan because they warmed to Daniel immediately. They were impressed by somebody who was so industrious and successful at such a young age. There was also poise and inner equilibrium about him.

‘He might be a rocker,’ said Ida’s mother, ‘but there is something about an accountant about him too.’ Moreover, she told Ida that she wasn’t aware one could find such an attractive man in Hungary. ‘Of course, character is more important than beauty, but beauty can reveal something about character,’ she said.

Ida had to explain to her that he was so handsome because he was only half-Hungarian. His second half was Spanish or even more complicated than that, as there were traces of Colombian and Mexican blood in his veins.

Ida was slightly disappointed about her mother’s enthusiasm for Daniel, as she felt that it undermined her own value. She even thought, Buddenbrooks-style, that her parents should consider the fact that there was a huge gap in their economic status and make sure she didn’t end up like Tony from Mann’s book. But they didn’t think in such terms. Times had changed, obviously.

It took Daniel and Ida a couple of months to move their things to the new place, not least because during the summer Daniel was working non-stop, mostly playing at festivals outside Budapest. It was September when they started their new life. Before they moved in together, Daniel cut his hair very short and bought a painting by Ida’s favourite Budapest painter, on which he spent half of his savings. It was meant to be a gift for both of them. Only when Ida saw it, it occurred to her that she should also contribute something, but then it was too late.

Ida’s mother once said to her daughter that ‘the best way to find out if the man suits you is through checking what he does when you move to a new place. The less he wants to change, the better’. Daniel practically did not want to change anything and he brought little to their abode. Most of his belongings were musical instruments: two guitars, a drum set, and some rattles he made himself. He put them next to the grand piano which was the main piece of furniture in a large salon.

‘You can put your easel here and stuff for painting,’ he said as he turned to Ida, showing her the opposite part of the room. I can play when you paint.’

‘But I’m not sure if I can paint when you play,’ she replied. She didn’t like anybody observing her work, not even her parents, because she didn’t like to be judged on the basis of something which wasn’t finished.

As there were many rooms in the house, over the following days Ida arranged her study in one of them, so they could both work undisturbed. Yet, Daniel liked visiting her, to be close to her and to find out what she was doing. When she reluctantly showed him her painting in progress, he asked: ‘Why have you chosen these colours? How have you mixed these paints?’ If it was an architectural project, he inquired: ‘Why is this building these dimensions? Why are you using these materials?’

He didn’t want her merely to explain, but to show him how she did things and he immediately tried to repeat the motions and was remarkedly good at it.

‘You are a living proof of the uselessness of higher education, as what I have learnt studying fine arts and architecture for four years, you have mastered in one month,’ she kept saying half-jokingly.

‘I’m sure there are many things one can learn at university which I will never learn, like theory. I don’t know any theories. But you are right that university education must be slow, while I had to be a fast learner to survive.’

It was the last year of Ida’s study, so she was spending most of her time at home, working on her final project, which was meant to be a design of a concert hall. Daniel, on the other hand, was away a lot, as he didn’t want to miss any chance of performing and earning money and he was finishing working on his next LPs. One day he was playing with the band, another day solo, then with some electronic musician, then he went to the studio. He was also learning DJing and using synthesisers, and bought himself an accordion.

When Daniel was playing in Budapest, he returned home as soon as the gig was finished and he and Ida had supper together, which she cooked, following recipes from cookery books which her mother collected but never used. Daniel did not have high expectations in regards to food. He liked almost everything, as long as the meal was enriched by large quantities of olives, pickled peppers and dried tomatoes. Although he lived all his life in Hungary, he had a distinctly Mediterranean taste, as if his genes were stronger than his culture. Whatever Ida prepared following this simple rule, Daniel praised. Ida was first thinking how easy it was to please him, unlike all the other men she knew, including her own father, but later it occurred to her that it had less to do with his actual pleasure and more with him not being used to complaining.

After a meal they smoked cigarettes, drank coffee or wine, and Daniel told Ida about his gig. Usually it went well. When it didn’t, it was because the audience was too small, but he wasn’t put off by it and with each month he had more fans. Daniel also asked Ida what happened when he was away, but usually she had little to report. On occasion, she met her girlfriends and went to the cinema or an exhibition, or visited her parents. Mostly, however, she stayed at home, worked on her project and waited for Daniel. Although she was tired by the time he came back, she couldn’t fall asleep without him.

Daniel did not cook, not because he regarded it as a woman’s preserve, but because he never before had his own space—he lived with other people, who prepared meals for him or expected him to eat out. He ate whatever was available or nothing at all; he could go for days without a proper meal, when he had no money or was immersed in music.

To make up for his lack of contribution to their shared meals, Daniel took responsibility for cleaning the house. His habit to keep everything clean and tidy was, again, a legacy of being a tenant, used to cleaning rotas and to living in a limited space, which shrank even further if one was chaotic. In cleaning Daniel was very methodical. He never left anything dirty because dirt, he learnt, was infectious—one dirty thing made the whole room dirty. Conversely, when something was very clean, it could stay this way for a long time. Unlike Daniel, Ida was disorganised. When she was drawing or painting, pieces of paper flew in all directions and could be found in the furthest corners of the house. When she was cooking, she needed to put pots and food on chairs and the floor, as there was not enough space on the countertops and the table. When Daniel caught her in such disorder he smiled, not with admonition, but admiration and nostalgia. For him, Ida’s disorder was a sign that she belonged to a world of plenty, of surplus, of slack, which he was denied and could only taste now, indirectly.

After they settled in the house, Daniel suggested that they travel abroad together. He had always wanted to visit places, but first he had no money and then no company. He’d only been to Spain once, when he was seven or eight. He travelled with his grandmother to visit his mother in Barcelona. The purpose of the trip was to persuade his mother to return to Hungary to take care of him and his two sisters. But the mission was in vain; Daniel’s mother never returned. He always wanted to go back to Spain, although he wasn’t sure whether to recreate or erase the taste of the first visit. They thus decided to go there first.

They flew in late October for two weeks in Andalusia. It was still warm and they managed to spend a couple of days on the beach near Málaga. Ida noticed that people looked at them, especially Daniel, and some discreetly took photographs when he emerged from the waves.

‘I’m the whitest boy on the beach,’ he said to her in English, when he noticed two middle-aged men taking a photo of him.

‘Of course you are, but don’t make too much of it,’ said Ida. She expected him to reciprocate, but he didn’t.

The rest of the trip they spent in the cities: Málaga, Granada, Cordoba and Seville. Ida had visited most of these places before, but it was a new experience for her, as before she usually travelled with her parents and she never had sex in hotels. Moreover, Daniel had a special gift for spotting unusual posters, graffiti, road signs and, of course, music and street noises. He memorised them and juxtaposed with things which he saw or heard before. She called him a ‘mental magpie,’ but he corrected her, saying that he was a ‘mental remixer’.

In the galleries Daniel could spend long hours. He didn’t just admire art, but wanted to learn how the painters painted, how the sculptors sculpted, designers designed. Everywhere he took photos and sometimes made sketches. He had particular affinity for the modernists: Picasso, Magritte, Miró, Gris. He was proud to be Spanish like Picasso and that they shared a name—as Daniel’s middle name was Pablo.

‘This is great,’ he kept telling Ida, when they saw this or that work by Picasso or Miró.

‘Don’t say such things,’ said Ida. ‘It is like saying that the sky is blue or the sun is yellow. The sky is blue, but everybody knows it.’

‘For the person who looks at the sky for the first time, it must be a surprise that the sky is blue,’ he replied.

When they returned home, Daniel started playing with motifs which he noticed in the galleries, drawing, colouring, making cutouts, to come up with a design for his band’s first LP, posters and to make his own art. When he showed his work to Ida, she told him that they were too similar to the originals; they were imitations, not reworkings; they lacked a personal stamp.

‘Hm,’ he said. ‘You are probably right. But it is how great art begins—with imitation. You want to repeat what you admire and you keep repeating till you are able to add something to it. This is how we started the band, by covering songs of Beirut and other bands. Then we started writing our own songs and they were different from those we covered and today nobody remembers that we started trying to be the Hungarian Beirut.’

Ida was thinking that with her it was different. She never wanted to imitate. Even if she loved a painting or a building, she immediately thought about how would she paint and design it differently. Maybe for this reason she wasn’t prolific and she was unwilling to share her work with others. Living with Daniel only reinforced her secretiveness, because his taste for mimicry made her extra-sensitive towards her failures to be original. This slowed her down considerably. Sometimes the whole day passed with her unable to achieve anything tangible. This made her resentful towards Daniel, even more so, as his methods worked for him. When he played her his new songs, they didn’t sound like anything which she heard before and were good in their own right. Daniel also shed the remnants of his Gypsy look and created his own style, with a penchant for patterned shirts, bright-coloured trousers and matching jackets made of soft materials.

During the first year of Ida and Daniel’s life together they visited four countries, Spain, France, Italy and Portugal. Ida liked travelling with Daniel, because they were happiest when seeing new places and staying in hotels—every trip felt like a honeymoon. But they had a different effect on them upon returning. Daniel went straight back to work, to make up for the time spent on pleasure and to take advantage of what he learnt during travelling. He was in a hurry and had little time for Ida. When she was telling him something, he was often yawning, although this was due to tiredness rather than boredom. He also often fell asleep as soon as he went to bed and slept like stone up until the very minute when he needed to get up.

Ida, by contrast, needed a lot of time to return to the rhythm of work after each trip and it took her longer, the longer they were away for. She didn’t sleep well and the smallest thing distracted her. At night she was replaying in her head the moments when Daniel was abrupt or mentally absent with her. She also thought about all his trips to visit his grandparents and sisters, which took place always when she wanted them just to be together, doing nothing. One day she also realised that the amount of her photos on Daniel’s Instagram had decreased. Unlike at the beginning of their life together, when every second one posted was of her, by the end of their first anniversary she was reduced to pictures taken during holidays, as if she was only his part-time girlfriend. When she raised it with him, he told her that he hadn’t noticed and apologised. A couple of weeks later he arranged a professional photo shoot for them, ‘in case we wouldn’t have wedding photos any time soon,’ he said.

The photos turned out very well and thousands of people ‘liked’ them on their Instagrams, but Ida was not satisfied. She thought that Daniel’s responses to her complaints were always mechanical—he limited himself to dealing with the manifestation of their problems, not their root causes. There was also a certain hastiness about his reaction—he wanted to deal with them as soon as possible, rather than using them as a springboard to a better understanding of each other. She said this to her mother, but rather than showing Ida sympathy, her mother said: ‘Rather than pondering on what he is doing or not doing, pull yourself together. Otherwise you will lose him.’

Such words made Ida angry: ‘I don’t care about losing him. Maybe he should be worried that he might lose me,’ she said.

‘You might never again meet somebody like him, who is hardworking, loyal, and willing to pay half of the rent.’

‘Mum, I’m only twenty-four. There are billions of men on the planet. There are even millions in Hungary.’

‘Yes, millions of losers. Winners are few and far between.’

Ida had to agree that Daniel was a winner. During the time they stayed together, he recorded two LPs: one with the band and one solo. For the second he got an award for the best Hungarian record. Daniel thought it was the best year of his life. He told Ida more than once that she was his lucky star. She couldn’t reciprocate, because not everything was so lucky in her life. She was losing her girlfriends, because she had little time for them, always being with Daniel, or waiting for him at home, as a faithful Penelope. Most importantly, she couldn’t finish her final project. Her supervisor was unhappy with her work and Ida had to apply for an extension. He asked her to give up on designing a concert hall and try something simpler, like a holiday cabin, taking an existing design and changing a couple of elements, enough to make a plausible claim that it was her own work.

‘We have to be pragmatic, you know. Better to get a degree than not. It would hurt your parents badly if you failed. They put a lot of faith in you and I’m sure that in the fullness of time you will flourish.’

Ida felt ashamed, and her supervisor humiliated her even more by being friendly and considerate: ‘I also know about your boyfriend, as my daughter is his fan. Love does not help creativity as it takes a lot of time and energy, but try not to be distracted.’

Ida was not sure if she should tell all of this to Daniel, but she said the first part, omitting the suggestion that he was a distraction, and he replied: ‘You have a great supervisor. I wished somebody took the trouble to guide me in my work. I also think he is right. Designing a holiday cabin is the right to do. It is a small and useful thing—I can pay for the prototype and we might get an allotment on the outskirts of Budapest to put it there, or keep it in my grandparents’ garden. The earlier you finish, the more time we will have for travel.’

‘I will not design a cabin. I would rather give up my studies.’

‘You shouldn’t. You cannot be an architect without a degree.’

‘Maybe I won’t be an architect.’

‘So what will you be?’

‘Maybe I will be nothing, or better squander the family fortune.’

‘You wouldn’t like it. Your parents wouldn’t like it.’

Listening to Ida, Daniel was thinking that her sulking reminded him of something buried deeply in his memory. Eventually he realised it was his mother, when she was talking to grandma. As his grandma told him, his mother always wanted what she couldn’t get and was not interested in what she had, most importantly her kids.

‘Just deal with it,’ said Daniel in the end. ‘When it will be over, you will be free and can start something else. And we will go to Israel to escape the cold.’

In the end Ida finished her project. It was late January when she handed it in and couple of weeks later she defended it. Like everybody predicted, the world felt brighter when her study was over, even though the days were still short and Budapest was covered in snow.

Daniel, with his Mediterranean genes, didn’t like such weather. For over a week he was shivering and spending most of his days in bed, burying himself in quilts and covering his ears with headphones.

One morning, when he was still in bed, Ida went out and built a snowman in their garden. It wasn’t an ordinary snowman, but really a sculpture of Daniel made of snow. He had a slightly bent nose made of a carrot, button eyes, eyebrows made of black beads, and a mouth from pieces of a tangerine. She also gave him a small guitar fashioned out of a large squash and pieces of rope and put on him Daniel’s old clothes, including a hat which Daniel wore when they met for the first time. She was very proud of her creation. She even thought that it was the best artefact she had created since she moved with Daniel, superior over her architectural works, paintings, and drawings.

She went twice upstairs, asking Daniel to go outside and see his alter ego, but he didn’t want to leave his bed. When he went out to check the next day, there was practically nothing left of the snowman—it had melted and its decorations made a miserable pile—like human remnants found in a coffin opened after centuries. Ida put them in the bin and told Daniel that his doppelganger had died. Daniel apologised, but halfheartedly, saying: ‘There will be many more snowy winters in our lives. And more instruments. Next year you can make a snowman with an accordion. You will need a giant turnip for that.’

Two more days passed and then Daniel got up and disappeared for three days, only telling Ida that he had something important to arrange and that he didn’t know when he would be back. When he returned, he said that he had had a screen test. He was approached to play in a television series, a kind of Hungarian version of Riverdale.

‘They needed somebody young, who can play a teenager, and be able to sing and play guitar. They couldn’t find anybody suitable through the normal casting process and then somebody showed my picture to the director and he decided that I fit the bill, as far as appearance goes. So I went to see what’s on offer and it looks like they want to cast me. I didn’t want to tell you about it when you were still finishing your project, in case it would upset you.’

‘Why do you think it might have upset me?’

‘Because if I decided to go for it, it would be like signing my life away for a year or more. I will have even less time for us. But I will earn enough to buy us this house and an apartment for my sisters so that they can move to Budapest. So, what do you think? Should I go for it?’ he asked Ida.

‘Sure, go for it. But it doesn’t matter for me anymore,’ said Ida. ‘I’m moving out. I have already packed my things, but didn’t want to take them, when you were away.’

‘Why are you leaving?’

‘I just don’t like to be here anymore. I need my own space.’

‘I thought there is enough space here for both of us. I thought we were happy together.’

‘You were, perhaps, but not me.’

And she left. For the next couple of months, Daniel continued posting photos from their travels on his Instagram, in part trying to capture what went wrong with them and partly to woo Ida back. He also phoned her several times, asking if she wouldn’t change her mind. Eventually he gave up, because there were fewer and fewer good photos of Ida in his collection and the festival season began. This was meant to be his last festival before starting working on the series, so he didn’t want to miss any opportunity.

One day Daniel went to a café with some guys from the band, to have coffee and ice cream as the day was very warm and he didn’t like drinking alcohol during the day. He noticed that they were served by a pretty waitress. She had very dark hair and large dark eyes. There was grace in her movements and melancholia on her face. She looked ethereal and slightly exotic, although in an indefinite way, probably the same way he looked exotic. Maybe she was Jewish. He thought that she was in the wrong place, as she belonged to a ballet or a troupe of travelling mimes, not a café full of noisy kids and tourists. But if she felt it, she didn’t want to show it, being very polite, although not in a pushy way. On a couple of occasions their eyes met and he knew that she liked him. By this point he was told many times that every girl in Budapest fancied him, but this felt different; it felt like her eyes reached his soul, the sadness he carried with him.

He couldn’t concentrate on the conversation with his friends, because he couldn’t take his eyes off the girl. He wanted his pals to leave, but there was no way to tell them this, so he stayed for as long as it took to finish their sweets. He left with them, but when they all were outside, he told them that he needed to go back, because he left his cigarettes and lighter on the table. They did not contradict him, as they never did. Back inside he caught the ‘ballerina’ (as he called her in his mind) carrying a tray of milkshakes.

‘What’s your name?’ he asked.

‘Eszter,’ she replied.

‘Are you free after work? Would you like to go for a drink?’

‘I don’t drink alcohol,’ she replied, ‘as I’m allergic to it, but we can go for a smoothie.’

‘Sure,’ he said. ‘Let’s go for a smoothie. I’m not much into alcohol myself. When do you finish?’

‘At seven,’ she replied.

‘So I’ll come pick you up here at seven.’

‘Fine.’

At home, Daniel spent some hours at the piano. Then he had a shower and put a new shirt on and his favourite yellow jacket. On the way to the café, he bought a small bunch of yellow roses.

When he arrived, Eszter was already waiting for him and she gladly accepted the flowers.

Walking to the smoothie bar, which was nearby, Daniel was thinking that he had just started a new cycle of love. It should last longer this time. After all, he was a fast learner.

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Ewa Mazierska is historian of film and popular music, who writes short stories in her spare time. She published over thirty of them in ‘he Longshot Island, The Adelaide Magazine, The Fiction Pool, Literally Stories, Ragazine, BlazeVox, Red Fez, Away, The Bangalore Review, Shark Reef and Mystery Tribune, among others. Ewa is a Pushcart nominee and her stories were shortlisted in several competitions. She was born in Poland, but lives in Lancashire, UK. Email: EHMazierska[at]uclan.ac.uk