NATALIA AND CHRISTINA
Natalia and Christina are two short novels describing both the psychology of the contemporary woman. The novels consist of two separate love stories in which the author traces the profound existential changes of woman and the lost meaning of her sacrifice.
The author notes: “My purpose was to bring Natalia and Christina to the point of self-analysis, where they would become conscious of their errors but also of their strength and thus achieve self-knowledge and their own liberation”.
In the novels, Woman is described in relation to her beloved, Man, as well as in terms of what she has lost and gained from her feminist struggles. Maria Lampadaridou Pothou believes that Woman’s strength and preeminence lies elsewhere: in internal sources of self-knowledge which must be found and realized. The author notes: “It is not coincidental that the great ancient Greek tragedians used more women as tragic heroes, because a woman’s nature is closer to the miraculous and the mysterious”.
From another perspective these two heroines of diametrically opposed character are but the one face of Woman, contradictory and solitary, struggling for its dignity. But each of the heroines achieves self-knowledge and liberation by a different path.
The novels are written in the poetic language of analytic thought, which is characteristic of all the author’s fiction.
It has been translated into English.
“The world is turning like it’s drunk... no, not on the sofa, better take me to my bed, this way... oh, bless you, I want to lie down, I’m turning with the world, and the ceiling comes up to my waist... take my clothes off, I have a nightgown here somewhere... no, not pink lace again, I’m not crazy! That cotton one, the lava is inside me, don’t look at the outside, ah, I’m a bit cooler, bring the liqueur bottle and let’s have one last drink from that bottle of strong liqueur that’s been sitting unopened on the shelf for years, remember? Bring it now, its time has come, no don’t be afraid of it, it relaxes the body, sweetens it, I become sweet, come on, to our health, to our new errors, I hope they are smarter than the old ones, more artistic... Come on, to our health I said, why are you looking at me like that? To our new loves... you drink to Sibyl and I to you... I prefer you, you see, ah, how grateful I am to the unforgettable Sibyl... no, no, don’t leave me, did I say something wrong? Hold me tighter, it’s cold suddenly, I’m cold, tighter, tighter, here let me help you undress, we’ll get warm together, I’m suddenly obsessed with the thought that you should warm me, here cover up, it’s getting cold, cover up I tell you, tomorrow is another day, ah, how good you smell, your body always smelled sweetly but I couldn’t tell of what, and suddenly, fields and mountain tops, no, don’t ask, better not, I always wanted to smell you, you see... tighter, tighter...”
She looked out the window, it was a dark, rainy night, Christmas Eve; her heart was full of childhood memories. And Evgenios was not there; he - her husband - was with the other woman. Perhaps, at this very moment, they are sitting at the table with porcelain tableware on a starched, embroidered tablecloth; they are laughing and drinking “to our first Christmas. . . ” or “how could I live so many years without you…” Does he remember me at all?
Her body shook from the cold, do you remember me Evgenios? For fourteen years we argued on this night or we remained silent, each immersed in a different world, strangers, or perhaps not quite, the first years we were happy, you have to admit, and then. . . . Anyway, tonight, when I am filled with remorse, filled with longing for what was lost, tonight, when I love you and want you, long for you, you are absent.
Her head hurt and she tried to silence strange, mocking voices within her, to cover them up, faint half-memories from the past, sarcastic, flowing out of her own words “you have to help me, Dimitri, you understand about divorce scenes, I don’t know how to tell him, he is so totally attached to me that he will drag me down with him. . . I tremble in anticipation of the moment when I say to him “I want us to divorce.” He can’t live without me. . . . He leaned on me, found his support, it will be as if I uprooted him. . . .” “Never underestimate another’s resilience. . . maybe he is expecting it. . . . ” “Expecting it, what do you mean?” “He may be hoping for a more human relationship. . . .”
Did you know, Dimitri? Were you trying to tell me something?
She put on some music, laid out all of Evgenios’s records and played them one by one, at full volume. Then she took all the books of poetry she had bought and laid them out. She wanted to enter his world, to find that unknown magic that made him happy.
I asked for nothing, nothing
Only to touch the chrysanthemums once more
At the hour when the first rain embraces them
To touch the glow that burns the horizon
At the end of a desolate day
And to bend softly like the wind
That bends the roses
With a knot of blood in my glance
A knot of common martyrdom. . .
She read the verses aloud, to listen to them. She read them many times, until she grew weary. Then she filled the glass with whiskey. One cannot enter suddenly into those tender worlds, she thought, but she tried, one day I, too, may reach that strange happiness of Evgenios. . . Now that the mortgage is almost paid off, I’ll be free to concentrate. Besides, the verse about the “knot of common martyrdom” touched Natalia very much, to the point where tears welled up in her eyes, because on this night she, too, was living a martyrdom which, in her own eyes, ennobled her.
She placed the Christmas tree in one corner and opened the boxes with the ornaments and the little lights. She felt a weight in her chest, a knot of old, forgotten tears. She picked up an ornament and studied it. A strange emotion caught her breath and she drifted into hallucinations. . . Between her hand and the shiny ornament were projected a child’s fingers, a little hand, chubby and beloved, a dark-haired little head that smiled at her,what had happened? Her hand was motionless on the branch and she tried to remember how old the child would have been now. . .
A shudder went through her body, shaking and crushing her. She tried to distill that moment, to see it plainly, to judge it; how many years had it been? Terrified, she put down the ornament and placed both hands on her stomach. She was almost three months pregnant when she went to the doctor, “I want to abort it. . . . I’m too young, it will be an obstacle to my life, to my career. . . .”
The doctor, a family friend, looked at her incredulously, “Does Evgenios know?” “Who needs to ask Evgenios? It’s my decision.”
He had begged her “Don’t kill our child. . . it will bring us happiness, a child brings luck, please don’t, I want a child, to give my life meaning. . . ”
She didn’t listen to him. Maybe she had even wanted the abortion for the purpose of denying him that happiness, an egotistical passion “Did you ask me whether I wanted to face the nuisance? A child needs total devotion; has needs. . . ” And later? What happened to the question of a child? It was at the time she was advancing in the company and she wanted nothing to impede that advancement: business trips, honorific participation in board meetings, perks. But the question of a child? How had she distorted that need inside her, that sacred command of her nature?
She felt panic: an uncontrollable panic. I killed my child. A boy. The doctor said it was a boy. I killed my son. “But could you tell the sex?” “Yes, we can do that now from the beginning. . . we can see it growing like a flower. . . ”
She filled her glass with whiskey and knelt there, beside the Christmas ornament trying to see the child’s fingers searching for her own like a strange tender flower. And as she slipped into the hallucination, she saw herself killing the child mercilessly, killing it every day, and the child, dead, growing beside her, but she erased it, so as not to see it, so as to forget it. And now, that slain child leapt forth from her womb, an excruciating pain leapt forth, and nothing could stop Natalia now, in her desire to live that pain to the fullest, to live the grief of her lost child.
She tried to lengthen the moment, to see herself at those moments when she was making the decision to execute the child in cold blood, not knowing then, yet, that she was killing her own soul. How late she learned that, how late, at the time when she touched the Christmas ornament and her hands were filled with invisible child’s fingers.
Early the next day, she remembered, she had an appointment with her doctor for the abortion. It was drizzling. She was holding a small bag with a nightgown and her slippers; the taxi brought her to the clinic. For a moment, she had touched her stomach, then, and shuddered. Am I certain this is what I want, she had asked herself quickly and climbed the stairs. Evgenios was not with her, he would have no part, he said, in such a decision; she was all alone. She did not even ask her friend Anna to come with her, out of fear that Anna would talk her out of it.
When the nurse was shaving her, she felt that shudder again, as if the unborn child understood her thoughts and was sending her a message. And then she started to rave and to shout, “I will forget you, I’ll have other children and I will forget you. I will forget you. I will forget you. I will forget you.”
The doctor sedated her and she was still shouting “I will forget you, because you didn’t exist. . . don’t exist. . . I will forgeee. . . ”
She shuddered and found that she was shaking. She knew now that she had never forgotten, had only covered it up with her board meetings. She knew he existed, always, that he was growing inside her own days, a tall, beautiful boy with the eyes of paradise and she stretched out her arms to embrace him.
She fell to the floor, sobbing. She pounded her fists on the floor and somewhere within her she wondered why she had been so late to grieve. And yet, just as all things have their time, so do tears, thought Natalia. They can shift within time, but they cannot be erased. And she knew that this was the time to grieve for her child, to bury him, to lament. And no one, but no one, can doubt: that is how it is. We have signed no contract with anyone about how much and when to grieve, or about when to recognize our errors. No matter how much others tell us, we wait for our own moment. And for the first time, Natalia felt that this pain of hers was sacred and could not tolerate any escape into fantasies. . . with invisible theatrical roles. It was the maternal rending of a woman which just tonight, somewhat belatedly, awakened rudely and tore at her insides.
She filled the glass again with whiskey. Put on more music at full volume. Tonight you will be mine, Evgenios. Tonight.
She stood up and put on a blue lamé dress, cut in the latest fashion, which she had bought that morning. Then she decorated the tree quickly, to avoid thinking, she lit the Christmas tree lights and began to prepare a Christmas meal. She took a brand-new linen tablecloth out of the trunk - part of her dowry - and set the table. She added red candles and flowers. I’ll be waiting for you Evgenios, tonight I’ll wait for you until daylight, because I want you so much, I want us to make love, no matter how worn out you are from her, tonight, Evgenios, I want a child and you cannot deny me that, I’m still your wife, I want to smell you, the fields, the mountaintops, I want to hold you in my embrace, to kiss you with passion, warm as you are from her embrace, the jealousy is driving me insane, I am going mad, and I know I am being punished, that I deserve it, but tonight we will declare a truce, I am thirty-five years old, I don’t have time, am running out of time, and you never talked to me about the child, you were silent, a silence like a tombstone, maybe you were suffering. . .
The bottle beside her was empty. When Evgenios returned, it was past midnight; he found her face-down on the floor, asleep with the glass in her hand. He felt embarrassed to be so happy.
He felt embarrassed to be so happy.
He was wearing his good suit, navy blue cashmere, a silk scarf around his neck, a handkerchief in his pocket, and his expensive coat, which had hung for years in the closet, among the bags of moth balls.
He was still experiencing the refined emotions he had lived there, in the half-light of the scented candles, with his sweet Sybil whispering how lovely she found his poem and what rhythms their love wakened within her “You inspire me. . . In your presence, I am living the mystery of inspiration, from the day I met you I am overflowing with melodies. . . I’ve already started setting your poem to music, do you want to hear the notes? It’s superb, superb, and I insist that you must sing it. . . We’ll call it ‘The Old Paradise.’ Oh, how happy you’ve made me, but what’s happening with the divorce? You had said your marriage was over, that it was a matter of days. . . I’m living a terrible impatience, I can’t wait for the hour to go away with you, to be free, I’ve arranged everything. . . But what is it? Why are you silent? You said you could leave whenever you wanted to. . . that your wife wanted it, too. . . I love you, don’t ever forget that.”
He was overcome with happiness listening to her, and between the drinks and the flickering flames of the candles that made their sweating bodies shine, he whispered to her: “Tomorrow, for sure, tomorrow I’ll make the decision. . . . Or maybe tonight I’ll come back to you. . . I can’t live without you even for a moment, can’t you see it? Only give me some time, a few days perhaps, a few hours. . . ”
He looked at Natalia, asleep, her slackened hand holding the glass and he felt a lump in his throat. He had not foreseen that.
He looked around, understood, and was at a loss. He saw the Christmas tree with its lights on, the table set with candles and embroidered linen, he saw the scattered records and the books of poetry on the floor, their pages marked, and he saw the curious dress she was wearing with the low neckline - she who had always taken care to dress simply and conservatively - and the lump in his throat became tighter. What had happened? Natalia had started reading poetry and listening to music? Or had she suddenly remembered that she was a woman?
She opened her eyes, wide, feeling his eyes on her, and rose quickly. The lamé dress was tight on her, and as she saw herself in her pitiful and abandoned state, she felt embarrassed. Quickly, she took her old robe and wrapped it around her, then she raised her eyes to him.
There was so much pity in his eyes that she shivered. Is that, then, the “pity that kills?” she asked herself, or must I live through even worse states?
She felt so much pity for herself that she was shaken. This sense of her pitiful self made her feel alone and abandoned, a humiliation that cut through her being.
He was astonished; the pity he felt disarmed him. He had come back tonight resolved. His plan was to get into an argument with her, then to pick up his suitcase and leave. To go at last to his sweet Sibyl, to be free without guilt. But something obstructed his plan. He was expecting cries and reprimands “So you were with her, aren’t you ashamed? On a holiday. . . Get out and never come back. . . Go to your beloved. . . ” Those were the words that Evgenios expected, and he was even ready to incite them, in order to bolster his resolve.
As he was coming back in the taxi, he was even thinking about what to pack in his suitcase. The two wool pullovers that he had bought himself, his everyday suit, a leather jacket, a gift from his sister in Mani, some underwear and one or two ties. As little as possible. The one thing that especially preoccupied him was a notebook buried in the attic. He had started to write the story of his life, long ago, when he was an adolescent, when he was still daydreaming among the hollows and springs of his village. But when he married, he realized that he no longer had anything to say. It was as if his life became empty and he himself became empty, at the edge of sadness. All those things he had experienced in the subsequent years seemed unworthy of note, the non-relationship with his wife and that feeling of failure. . . And not even the silence he was living, that loneliness of rejection, was worth writing about. Or if it was worth writing about, it was not he who would write it, he thought. And now, suddenly, everything had changed. He felt fulfilled and prepared for existential searchings. The only thing that bothered him was getting out the ladder, on Christmas Eve, to go up to the attic. His wife would shriek at him, and this time, justifiably. But he had resolved not to leave the house without that notebook. If need be he would wait until morning. Daylight dissolves one’s fears, he thought, and when he opened the door of his house he was certain that nothing would alter his resolve. But now, as he gazed at Natalia, her eyes swollen with tears, something was moved within him. He reflected how contradictory and multi-faceted is the personality of a woman, how mysterious and unexplored, and he wavered. Is this his wife who is looking at him with such an angelic expression?
He was stunned.
Underneath it all, she may not have wanted to show him her bitter side, the one crushed by betrayal, she was covering it up with smiles and her expression seemed angelic, yes, calm and beautified by the tears, purified.
And he was even more at a loss.
“But. . . I thought we had talked about that. . . . Why are you crying now?”
She tried to speak through her sobs:
“For our child. . . that’s what I’m crying about.”
He was lost. For a moment he wondered if she had lost her sanity.
“What. . . what child of ours?”
“ Then. . . why didn’t you stop me?”
“But. . . twelve whole years have gone by since then.”
“I know. . . . He would be twelve years old now,” she said, the tears flowing in relief.
“And. . . you’re crying about it tonight?”
She was ashamed. But that was the truth. The naked, painful, irrevocable truth. One of her truths. She did not reply.
He was still looking at her, in amazement. And for the first time he wondered if perhaps, at heart, she was not an evil woman, but only had an unformed soul. . . . Maybe she didn’t know how to be happy or to give happiness to others -- which is the same thing. Or perhaps she had discovered another part of herself, a more humane part. And he was almost jealous of her. He had not considered her capable of suffering, of being transformed into an angel. And his pity for a moment took on an edge of admiration.
“You have changed, he said, you have changed a lot. . .”
She sensed the change in his tone and her tears ceased immediately.
She turned her gaze on him. He was handsome, wearing his good suit and the silk scarf. And it was as if she was seeing him for the first time. His face had a certain gentility, and his voice had become warmer, she thought, erotic, with the scent of wheat fields, was it always that way?
“You, too. . . you, too, have changed, Evgenios.”
She choked. All those ravings about the child that she wanted, this very night, and about the erotic awakenings, all seemed comical. He must know nothing, absolutely nothing about the child, she thought, the moment will come when I will entice him to bed. . . Just so he doesn’t leave tonight. Let him stay. Somehow, indefinably, she was aware of his decision, she sensed it or caught it in the air from his thoughts, which was the same thing. And although Natalia was consumed with desire, she did not dare even to touch him, she only looked at him with soul bared, as if defenseless.
And, of course, behind all this sincere affliction, she was playing her game. She was the bowed and crushed one. The wronged one. And that was the truth. It was one of her many truths. And Natalia lived it with sacred passion. I won’t let the other woman win you, no; even with the weapon of compassion, I’ll keep you as mine. . . I changed myself to achieve that. . . And that transformation is real.
He took her by the hand.
“Come, I’ll put you to bed, you need to rest, ” he said to her.
She felt the touch of his hand and trembled. Her body reacted like an adolescent’s, don’t drive me mad, Evgenios, pity me.
She was stumbling and leaning on him and relishing it. Not even when they were engaged did she feel such romantic sentiments.
He helped her remove the lamé dress and she looked for her nightgown. She saw on the bed a diaphanous, pink lace nightgown and smiled when she remembered that it had been bought for her erotic fantasies. . . . It was the sad evidence of change that made her more pitiful.
She quickly hid the pink lace nightgown and put on a cotton one - for years she wore cotton because she liked, she said, to be touched by purity. Then she brought his hand to her breast.
“Stay with me for a while, please. . .”
Since the day they had talked about divorce, Evgenios was sleeping on the sofa in the living room. He came into the bedroom only to take his clothes, to dress.
He sat beside her, still wearing his good suit and the scarf. In the end, it is not easy to turn away from the people we have hurt, and tonight I hurt Natalia, he thought. Beneath it all, hurting someone is a two-edged game. We never hurt another without being hurt ourselves, and now it’s my turn, he thought again, and he found that thought to be somehow enticing, even pleasurable. . . . He would go to the limit. In any case he would test his feelings for Sybil. He was certain that he wanted to go away with her.
And the more Natalia squeezed his hand against her breast, the more he was aroused. He remembered other times, when she avoided even touching him, so rudely did she show her disdain for him. . . until, as the years passed, he himself came to believe that he was unworthy of being loved. And here, suddenly, he found himself desired by two women who were laying claim to him.
He liked that. He smiled.
He looked at the face of his wife, swollen with alcohol and crying, and he knew that he was punishing her. In his maniate blood there survived some of that old, proverbial vindictiveness, and he was reveling in it. And since he did not leave the house tonight, the game had changed faces, it was becoming more unexpected, more exciting. At heart he may even have been pleased with the turn of events. The only thing that troubled him was getting that old notebook out of the attic; he needed it as never before.
Chapter 10 X
Early the next morning he was in the attic, throwing down boxes, looking for the notebook. The church bells were ringing. He shuddered with a religious awe at the thought that his life held forth to him such an unhoped for happiness -to continue his old dream, or more precisely, perhaps, to dream anew.
She saw the piles of various useless things in the middle of the living room. She said nothing, but was smitten with jealousy, is he looking once again for some old and dangerous paradise. . . Her nerves were on edge, poised; what, finally, was that folded paper he had found last time. . . and why was she imagining it in the hands of the other woman. . . how did her feminine intuition work?
He climbed down from the attic and started to search with the same passion as when he was searching for the poem. And Natalia was shaking now, “What. . . what are you looking for?”
He raised his eyes to her; he was smiling. He had, finally, found the old notebook and was holding it close to his chest. He felt that his life had been severed somewhere, had stopped, and now he was putting it back together. He felt as if this notebook was his own lost soul, which he had found, and time started once again to flow, or as if he himself had begun to exist - and that was exciting to him.
He looked at her, but he was somewhere else. Just as sometimes the person beside us does not exist, effaced by the power of the mind’s eye. She understood and shuddered.
“What. . . what is that you found. . . ? What was it, the other time?”
He saw her. And out of an insane desire to confirm his need for independence, that immune need of his masculine power, he said:
“What I found last time was a poem of mine that Sibyl is setting to music. . . and this is a story that I started as a young man, and now want to take up again.”
He sensed that he was stepping on a tightrope and he was handling it like a skilled acrobat. The elements of our lives have a strange balance, held together by ...
All translated into English
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