Don't Kill Anyone, I Love You
Excerpted from the novel of the same name translated from Slovene by Aaron Gillies and edited by Laird Hunt.
Before Lovre had gone to serve abroad, he had been the producer of an arts program on television. After his studies, he had married Manica, with whom he already had a son and together they lived a settled life. Manica finished studying medicine and began to dedicate herself to cancer research.
Lovre had had bad experiences with men. First, they had seduced him and then, ridiculed him. A woman represented safety to him. Still, what was it that caught his attention? What was it that turned him on? What was it that he was suffering from?
"Excuse me, but is this Studio A?"
Through the half-opened door, Lovre saw a young man with a handsome face, green eyes, short-cropped hair and an athletic frame. "No, this is this editorial office of the arts program. Studio A is at the other end of the hallway." Lovre rose from behind his desk to show the visitor the way.
"I came for the shoot," the guest continued. He was dressed in a thick sweater and a dancing uniform that clung tightly to his legs. The fact that there was a stout bulge between his legs, the outline of a large penis, did not escape Lovre's gaze.
"Down to the end and to the right." Lovre showed the way. The visitor quickly turned and bumped him with his elbow.
"Oh, sorry! Thanks!" He hurried off.
"Are you an actor?" Lovre tried to keep him from leaving.
"No, a dancer," he responded briefly, so he wouldn't have to stop. He pulled his tight leggings out of his ass. Lovre rearranged his cock, which had become caught in his pubic hair and returned to his desk, but he couldn't concentrate on his work. The dance broadcasts were reviewed in his program and it was time for him to take a look at some of the shoot. His new acquaintance danced barefoot, in black tights and a nude torso, with girls in short dresses and short tops, with bare navels and tanned, perfect bodies. With his strong arms, he lifted first one and then another upwards, his muscles bending and shining from sweat under the lights. Like a camera accompanying a soloist, Lovre watched his moving body, his bronzed stomach and his rock-hard back, his eyes sliding down to his legs, which were covered in short trousers. Not a single glance thrown to him by the lead performer escaped him. No one could dance so well. Such a talent deserved to be given an opportunity. After the filming, Lovre congratulated the dancer, considering him already for his next show.
Lovre always needed his private moments, such as his Saturday bath, when he shut himself in the bathroom. He filled the bathtub with hot water, hung his bathrobe over the keyhole and, when he had tied up his bare legs with shoelaces, became hard. Whenever he had tied his schoolmate's shoelaces in school, he had always become aroused. He plunged into the water and lubricated the shampoo bottle with lotion, so that he could slip it between his buttocks smoothly. With his hand, he grabbed hold of his cock and began to slide with his ass up and down. He closed his eyes and became absorbed in the thoughts of how he might tie Domen's ballet slippers around his hairy ankles and how his protruding cock would threaten to rip through the ballet uniform. Semen began to coagulate in the water in white clumps, sticking to his skin. He cleaned the shampoo bottle, leaving no trace of what he had done. Lovre usually masturbated about film stars. Domen had completely replaced them.
The following week, Domen invited him to a party at K4 . The dance steps that Domen performed with different partners were admired by all. Lovre was looking so much at the dance floor, that a woman he was talking with asked, "He dances well, doesn't he?"
Suddenly, Domen jumped in between them, his flushed body radiating cologne, and put his arms on their shoulders. "Some guy keeps touching me. I want to smack him. If there's something I can't handle, it's a faggot. Why aren't you two dancing?"
"Do you want to dance?" Lovre invited his friend, so that he could hide the redness that was creeping over his face.
On Saturday, he masturbated again about the film stars. He didn't want to fantasize about anyone who had humiliated him. Domen, however, kept inviting him for drinks, patting him on the shoulders and poking him in the stomach. Lovre didn't dare to touch him. Domen complained about women and how they were only interested in fancy clothing, saying that only male friendship was the real thing. He asked him to come along at the end of the week, when he was going with his friends into the mountains. Lovre apologized, saying that he was busy. He was afraid that he would turn red when they started telling jokes about the faggots. Yet on Saturday, he masturbated about Domen again. This time Domen had a whip in his hand, standing before the fireplace in the cabin, in black straps with rivets and a leather mask, his heavy cock, beating him on the face. Maybe Domen was hiding too. Maybe they could live together in the outskirts of town. He loved every hair on him. He avoided sleeping with his wife. Whenever he had a meeting with Domen, he shook all day with his funny jokes. When Domen, however, traveled somewhere, Lovre became anti-social. It began to be whispered that there was some other reason that Domen had been able to perform so many times on his show. He himself believed in his talent. They envied him. Lovre had gambled on his reputation, and yet Domen was worth it. For him, he would leave his family. In the cafeteria, they sat in a corner. Domen, his fingers moving nervously, lit a cigarette.
"Your choreography is going in the show. Don't worry." Lovre wanted to take him by the hand.
"Sorry, I can't come by."
"I won't be able to work on your show for a while."
"Are you travelling?"
"No. People are talking."
"What are they saying?"
"They're just talking." Domen lowered his gaze.
"They can say whatever they want."
"It matters to me."
"I have a wife and child. What can they say?" Lovre's voice was shaking.
"I've heard things from more than one person. I think that it's best for us not to see each other for a while." Domen looked at him in the eyes.
"Just because of gossip?" Lovre implored.
"I can't afford it."
"You're acting more than ever."
"When I'm finished here, I'll have to work somewhere else."
"You'll never be finished here." Lovre raised his voice and people turned around toward them.
"Don't call me! I'll find you myself." Domen left, cheerfully greeting some friends on the way out. Lovre, however, didn't notice anyone else.
Later, he caught himself many times staring out into space, playing movies in his mind about the log cabin and life with Domen. He had risked his career, had even made a star out of Domen, yet he wasn't even prepared to do the smallest amount in return. Together they could have resisted the world. Now, however, he couldn't even call him. Manica had female problems and was sleeping in the study. Jurij was already too grown up to accept his father's embraces. He didn't have anyone to touch him. The doorkeeper at work had made remarks behind his back. Lovre's world was falling apart. Everyone whom he had believed would never betray him ... People stared at him on the street. The saleswomen in the tobacco shop seemed to know everything. He shut himself up in his study and read articles about homosexuality. All their years together seemed like a vacuum. He became indifferent to his surroundings and tensions increased at home. When Manica advised him to take a trip to a psychologist, he blew up at her. The system was reaching completion.
While he was crossing the street, Lovre was hit by a car. He fell on his back and hit the curb with his head. He was crawling on all fours and bleeding. Even before the driver could get out of the car, a passer-by was at his side.
"Are you hurt?" The passer-by looked at his head. "You're bleeding. You had better go to the hospital!"
"I'm going home." Lovre began to lurch away.
"You've broken something. You're going to need stitches!"
"I don't need anything." Lovre straightened himself up and clutched at his back, where he had been hit.
"Get out the first aid! Don't just stand there like a Linden god! The passer-by turned toward the driver, who had come up beside them. He stopped Lovre's bleeding and bound his head.
"Get him into the car!" the passer-by said to the driver, who lead Lovre, despite his objections, by the arm. He sat next to Lovre and told the driver the way. When they came to the emergency room, he sent the driver away.
"Hello, doctor. Are you back again?" The doorman wanted to be friendly.
"The fates take me where they need me."
They took snapshots of Lovre's head and back, then sewed him up and sent him home. He was pleased that he was well cared for at home and again became interested in his family. After a week, they took out the stitches and sent him back to work. He repeated the short version of the accident story until the others grew weary of asking questions. The expected rituals of behavior began to tire him and he believed that living with the truth would be easier. He thought about it and made his decision. He had to tell his wife about his homosexuality.
Manica was scared about a new illness that had begun to spread among homosexuals. He had been careful. What about the child? What would people say? Jurij would understand. He would explain it to him when the time was right. What would happen to the two of them? He would leave. Where? He didn't know yet. He would visit them. He didn't want to lose his son. Manica had cried. To lose a husband just like that? His homosexuality didn't seem to be a sufficient reason to her. Look at how they had lived until now! Couldn't things just go on the way they had? He couldn't go on any more like this. He couldn't keep pretending. He had to start to live his life. What about her? What about her life? Whom would she live with? To leave a wife with a child! He was only thinking about himself. It was all the same to him, whatever happened to her. Why had he gotten married at all? Had he already found someone? He was alone. She would find someone else sooner than he would. She was good-looking, she was young and educated. The two of them would be connected through Jurij. He loved him. He didn't regret the past. He had needed her only for the child, he didn't care for her otherwise. She had her feelings, too, her needs, her truth. She loved him. He couldn't just go off like this, as if it hadn't meant anything at all. A relationship was about two people, he couldn't look only at himself. It wouldn't work. Wouldn't it have been better if he had gone sooner, rather than prolonging their pain? Didn't she remember the last few weeks? They had been terrible for her. If you love someone, you are patient. She hadn't slept for nights. She had been afraid that he would leave. It hadn't been difficult for her. She would rather have cared for him all night, than be left alone. Did he know at all what it meant to care for someone? Such a life was uncertainty itself. She should find a man with whom she would be happy. She didn't want another man. She would get used to the situation and get over him. Manica hid her head in her hands. Lovre put his hand on her shoulder and told her that he had to leave.
Not long afterwards, he moved out. He found a studio apartment and started living alone. The evenings were long, no one disturbed him, no one cheered him up. He didn't maintain contact with his old friends. In the park near the railway station he met a group of gay men, who gathered together every evening. At first he didn't respond when they addressed him in falsetto, imitating his walk and making fat jokes at him. When he smiled, they teased him so much that he started talking. Thereafter, they saw each other frequently. They made jokes about the passers-by and about themselves. His love affairs ended on the same night they began, yet he still hoped that he would meet someone there, someone with whom he could share his apartment. All those who had disappeared as if they hadn't been there at all weren't able to shake this hope. To his new friends, artists in drag, he opened the doors of television. They made a mockery out everything. He had to defend them, saying they didn't really think that famous Slovenes wore women's underwear. Domen never called him. He had made an international career. Lovre had only been one of his many projects.
"Lovre Uhelj, please!"
"This is he."
"This is the oncologist. Your wife asked us to call you."
Lovre ran. How would he live without Manica? He had never considered this. She had always been healthy. Manica was pale, with electrodes on her chest, lying in bed. He sat down by her side, taking her hand in his. They suspected that it was cancer. She would be in the hospital for two weeks, while they conducted tests. Lovre moved back home and took care of Jurij, cooking, cleaning and arranging things, so that Manica would be comfortable when she returned. At home, the color returned quickly to her cheeks. One day, she underwent an examination in good spirits and they embraced happily when they were told that the tumor was benign and that she wasn't in danger.
The positive atmosphere continued until Lovre began to arrange his things in boxes. She asked him to stay and Jurij was disappointed, yet Lovre believed that they didn't need him any more. Manica returned to work, she cared for Jurij and Lovre visited them.
She joined the OWMH. A female colleague had suggested the Organization of Women Married to Homosexuals. She thought about her life with Lovre and she didn't want anything to do with finding a new man. Even though she wasn't sleeping with him, she would care for him. She expected advice from the Organization about how to get her husband back. It functioned like a secret society—men were not permitted to know about it, so that their pride wouldn't be damaged. The weekly meeting was like a parliamentary quarrel. They fought to speak like she-lions. At home it was otherwise. There, they served the vanity of their husbands, using their feminine wiles, managing their husbands lives. History wouldn't acknowledge their role. Among themselves, they exchanged little strategies and praised each others efforts. They buried Manica with their experiences. She couldn't follow all of them at once. They told her that if she listened to them her husband would return to her before a month had passed. The first one advised her to fight for all or nothing, even if she had to go to the park to shake some smart-assed boy off of him and drag him out of the shrubs. If he still wouldn't come, she should lie in the street and not move until he had picked her up with his own hands. He had to see that she was fighting for him like no man ever would. The men didn't dare to do this, they were ashamed and therefore weren't capable of spending their lives with another man. Lucky for us. What would we come to then? The second one recommended a passive struggle. She should be obliging in everything, should take care of him like no man ever would. Men would be ashamed to take care of other men like this. She shouldn't intrude on him and should patiently wait at home for him to come back. They always came back, and, if she would count the nights that he stayed at home, she would see that she had won. Those few nights when he was gone would pass by more lightly than the men he would hide from her. For Christmas and Easter, they would be together. The third one proposed to her that she use her women's prerogative to make a point of her beauty. A cosmetician would get rid of the bags under her eyes. She recommended a hairstylist, a manicurist, a make-up artist and the best tailor in the city. They would understand her husband's tastes. She couldn't let him see how low she had sunk. She had to be happy, quick-witted and active. She had to show him that she could live without him. She had to be dazzling among his friends, to cast alluring glances, to charm those present with her intelligence. She had to be the flower of desire, the pride of her husband in his public life, in a way that men could never be. Men hid their boyfriends. Even if they were charming and intelligent, they still couldn't boast about them in society. At home, they watched television, but sooner or later, their vanity required them to be seen in public, so that someone would admire them. Then they needed a woman who knew how to carry herself. She should put herself together, arm herself with self-confidence and cheerfully make her appearance at a party he was attending and greet him kindly. Then, she should claim the center of the party's attention and wait for him to find her. It always worked. If not the first time, then the second. The fourth one was already giving her some instructions for their sex life. It wasn't good to speak about homosexuality too much. It was neither to be accepted, nor rejected. Silence would reinforce the tacit agreement between them and the husband would regularly perform his duty. A lot of men had problems with erections, she only had to read it in Jana . The members of the organization weren't stingy with their advice. Manica, however, became more and more confused. She didn't even know what kind of places Lovre was frequenting.
As if he were not of this world, Lovre was strolling down the street and railway tracks that bisected the park. They had cut down the bushes and there was nowhere to hide in the well-lit arena, where the public waited impatiently for death. He couldn't draw strength from the flowering elder trees, which irritated the nostrils. He couldn't bury himself in the mud in front of the beasts that wanted to tear him apart and he couldn't heal his wounds before he could step onto the wide asphalt road again. For him, there was no way out. The virtuous all conspired against him. He didn't care whether all of his wounds healed, or whether he bled to death in the desolation of the park and let bushes grow out of his blood, bushes that wouldn't draw their odors from excrement and semen, but from the purified ground, bushes from which glass flowers would sprout. He had wanted to take Jurij to the playground, but Jurij didn't want to go, because the neighbor children would laugh at him. Lovre came to the park before it was dark and sat on the trunk of a fallen tree. The aunties still hadn't left their homes. The pain was gone. The moon glowed above the castle, as if in warning of the Turks who had come to destroy the country. The sun lay in the sea behind the hills of Notranjska, which cooled and washed it before it rose again to illuminate the valley of Eden. He knelt down and leaned his neck on the track. It fit perfectly. The coolness of the iron crept into him.
"The train's coming. Get him up!"
The locomotive whistle drowned out everything.
"That one went by on the next track."
"Another train won't come by here for a long time."
"I can't take any more of this."
"Don't be so scared. This is only a stunt done for our benefit. If we want to be impartial, we can't interfere."
"But we can't just watch while he throws himself under a train."
"We're not even supposed to exist."
"When we make someone put his head on the tracks, we certainly do."
"They alone decide what to do under the circumstances. Our job is just to create the circumstances and to arrange them so that they seem like coincidences."
Lovre awoke with his head in soft arms. Along his forehead a warm hand caressed him and in his ears sounded a tender song:
What was the need of you, little one,
The singing was interrupted by the screeching of tires. A dark blue sport Cabriolet with the roof open quickly turned and parked at the end of the lot. An energetic, dark-haired man jumped out of it and went straight into the bushes, not giving even one look to the group of aunties, who were breathless with curiosity. No one knew him. He moved with self-confidence, as if he were at home on the scene, or as if he really didn't know where he was going. Perhaps he was another one from the disco on the other side of the park, who had come to piss before he went off after some girls. The well-shaped young man stopped in front of the bushes, just far enough from the others that they saw only his silhouette, his graceful stance and his hand. He was holding his little willy or maybe even a big one. A laser beam from the disco brushed past the stars. The handsome janissary stood in the shadows. No one could see whether he was shaking it, or jerking off as a sign of his intentions. Had they been able to touch him with their eyes, had they been able to waggle their tongues, or had their desire been great enough—still no one could work up enough courage to break from the group. The group allowed them to protect their backs with daring remarks and to restore the wounded pride of those who had been rejected. There was no heroine who would risk a pinch of self-sufficiency for this prince. He had been sent by the moon and he might, at any moment, disappear on his magic carpet. Fear became generosity. They relinquished the attractive stranger to Lovre in order to cheer him up. They sent him into battle, so that Lovre could find out what he was doing there. Was he a provocateur, or would he choose from among them an intended for his faraway kingdom? It seemed to Lovre that he had caught the stranger's glance for a moment, when he had wandered past them. Slowly, he directed him toward the bushes, a deathly silence rising behind him. Would he break the silence or not, would he touch him or not, would he have him or not? Lovre walked in a circle. He couldn't see the stranger's hands. He started to make a second circle and then the dark-haired man moved. Would he leave or stay? He went to the other side of the bushes. The group of observers put their heads together. They had lost him from sight, their curiosity remained unsatisfied, but pride and fear wouldn't allow them to rush into the bushes. Lovre went after him, aware of the group holding its breath, and then all became quiet. Their two stories drew apart. The aunties surrendered themselves to their fantasies. Lovre's story, however, was one from the Arabian Nights.
My baby dear, my darling son,
To me a girl, a foolish young thing,
A mother without a wedding ring?
The dark-haired man leaned jauntily against a tree. He was looking, with partly-opened eyes, half to one side, half toward him and half through him, inviting him with one hand, chasing him away with the other and with his third stroking himself between the legs.
"How are you?" Lovre was emboldened.
Lovre went on further. He still didn't know how to break the ice.
"It's cold," the new one called to him.
"It's a little cool. Especially if you arrive in an open-topped carpet."
The roof is stuck. It really is cold.
"Where are you from?
"Ljubljana. Do you work here?"
"In the University. I defended my doctoral thesis today."
"Really? What was the subject?"
"His work exposes the mechanisms of authority," Lovre noted.
"He exposed it using his own life."
"AIDS thwarted the freedom of sexuality that was destroying authority. Lovre tried to engage the stranger, whom he liked, in conversation. The stranger was evasive.
"I don't like philosophy. It's just coffee shop chatter. I'm really a negativist."
"And what do you like?" persisted Lovre.
"Do you write?"
"I'm going to."
"Why didn't you decide to write literature?
"Are you going to stay in the University?"
"Yeah. I'm going to lecture in Maribor."
"You won't miss Ljubljana?" Lovre was wondering if he might see him again.
"What can I do? There isn't a place for me here. What do you do?"
"I'm in television. We produced a show on Foucault."
"I have it taped."
"Do you want to go for a drink?"
"Actually, I have to go home to let them know that I made my doctorate.
"In Turjak. My aunt is the Auersperg baroness. I'm Andrej. Who are you?"
"Lovre! Pleased to meet you! Are you the one who defeated the Turks at Sisak and saved the Christian world from losing its identity?"
"Yes. But now I have to go. I'm late!"
"Wait a moment! Will we see each other again?"
"I have to defend the northern border. Your moment has already passed."
A cold wind started blowing through the trees. When the branches stopped moving, Lovre rubbed his eyes. Andrej was gone. So was the blue Cabriolet. So were the sisters. He stood alone in the park, with the dry falling leaves, the wind whirling them in the chaotic forms that only squirrels know how to read. He followed the dancing of a swirling leaf and began to dance the same steps—in this, the best of all possible worlds.
Gojmir Polajnar is a Slovene writer, living in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He has published many short stories and essays in Slovene magazines and a novel entitled Don't Kill Anyone, I Love You. from which this excerpt is taken. His book of essays about theatre and art in the '90s, entitled Castration Machines, will be published by Maska, Ljubljana in early 2001 in Slovene and partly in English. He also translates plays and fiction from English into Slovene.