ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

A journal for poetry, criticism, reviews, stories and essays published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998.


"Good Night, Captain", a story by Srdjan Srdic, translated from the Serbian by Natasa Miljkovic.

Good morning, Captain.
There’s somebody out there
Right outside the door
You can hear them breathing
You can hear them fucking

I’m a happy man and God loves me. It’s fine in hospital, I’ve found the necessary time, the essential time. I do nothing in particular in this time, I only vaguely reminisce. Lelica comes then. We talk and pretend that there’s nothing wrong at all. She holds my hand. Her hand is soft and wet. And nothing really happens and nothing will ever happen and I’ve been told I’ll be an invalid after all, but this is not important, I know many that I have crippled and that we have crippled, I used to pity them, that was in the past, in the war (anything was possible then), now I know that justice is established, because, if there was no luck in their time, it’s all the same, and what use would all the time and health of this world be to them if they were not God’s elect as I am? I am happy and I’ll be an invalid, Lelica will stand by my side, with a smile on her face, which is nothing but a signal of divine providence. Indeed, I might be awarded a decoration for something, the community could do as much. It would be nice to don the decoration and sit proudly in the wheelchair outside the building for important state holidays. Someone could give it a thought, and make a decision, an act, in accordance with the official regulations, a detailed analysis, which would on no account impinge on the country’s combat readiness.

I stay in bed late since I’ve been alone. I stretch myself out naked, uncover and caress myself for a long time. The window is open, even though it’s December. There’s always too much smell in the room that isn’t mine. I love my stomach. I’ve never given birth. That’s because I love my stomach and the smoothness of the skin. I love to put my hand down. Then I don’t think. I love not to think. There’s nothing to think about.

I’ve met a man, we used to kill together. He asked me: What’s the matter, Captain? I replied: What shit are you talking? I passed him by and he stopped dead. I’ve learnt things in hospital and adopted many of them. I’ve learnt much about fools and unnecessary exposure to their influence. The army swarms with fools, you have to wait for the war to get rid of them. The war was good, but not efficient enough. No one will attend to my body and its deficiencies. I’ve got a good wife and that’s enough. She knows what to do with my body. God is my witness, she knows.

I have short legs and it isn’t fair. I have bow legs and I’ve suffered because of this. And I’m not tall. I’ve suffered because of this as well. Glasses, protruding teeth owing to which I hadn’t smiled until I was fourteen... All in all, I’ve suffered greatly. That’s because I’ve burdened myself with thinking. Utter bullshit.

The army is an armed force. A good wife is a force as well. What do I have after all? The uniform’s fine. Epaulettes are fine. But, what concrete benefit do I have from them? A young fool from Tometino Polje confirmed to me that the Bible says so. There’s nothing concrete for man. I must admit, uncomfortably, that I haven’t read the Bible. I’m not given to reading, being a man of practice and action. Thoughts are an exception, and my head is so packed with them that it’s a whole library. It’s them I read. The young one was dismembered by a mine. I was watching, saying to myself that it was rightly written in the Bible, if he didn’t lie. A little jerk, he wasn’t buried with state honours. He wasn’t buried at all. It’s a shame, even for such a coyote his mother howls somewhere.

... utter bullshit and terrible fart...

I feel slightly embarrassed when she comes. Probably because of the old men’s pyjamas, but it was all so sudden, I grabbed the nearest things I laid my hands on. She tends to forget. I understand her, a tender soul. A woman. The pyjama bottoms are short, I don’t know how, I keep trying to pull them down but to no avail. And everybody stinks terribly, there’s no self-respect, people think they can stink if they no longer feel like living. A strange smell, here, in hospital. The army smells totally different. It isn’t right to expose my wife to such things. It isn’t her fault. She doesn’t deserve this. Many people envy me. I’ve never lost sight of this.

The bed is large, I’ve always wanted one like that. I’m alone now, and I love to stretch all over it on all fours. Because I’m a cat. I put my head out and say loudly I’m a cat. I love to speak loudly and I love to listen to what I say loudly. I’m a cat. Ca-at. –at. I’ve got nice, expensive bedlinen, I can feel it under my knees. Glossy crimson bedlinen. Despite the nicotine and tar-stuffed thin menthol cigarettes, there’s still the youthful velvety qality in my voice. I can drawl well, I know when to stop. It’s sexy. I laugh out loud and let out a velvety miaow. Freedom. I’m a cat. Catcatcat.

I’m very cautious. It’s professional deformation. I know only too well what many people think. I know well. But, I’m a commander of a constant guard. It doesn’t take long before people start betraying your trust. No one is reliable. I’ve taken measures and I strictly stick to them. We have a wonderful, open relationship. We talk. We invest in the future of our marriage. Marriage is sacred. Mother is sacred. Fatherland is sacred. I promised her to do my best to make her a mother. She couldn’t wait, she said, as any woman would. I’m sure she’ll be a great mother. Like my mother. Great as the fatherland. I cling to this promise, this thought, one of those grand thoughts without which life would be a sheer load of crap. I swore to make her a mother, here, in the hospital room, kneeling down before her, kissing her hands, thinking she’d start crying, but I was wrong. She’s a great woman. A woman-hero. She deserves much more than I’m capable of giving her.

I’ve bought some fruit: apples, mandarins, bananas, kiwi, all I could find.  It’s all over the place, within your reach, in various baskets. I’ve done some decorating, I was patient, I care about the bedroom. I have breakfast: lying with my eyes closed and arms outstretched. I touch what I reach and pretend to be a surprised vain girl. I become immersed in it, sighing and eyeing the unexpected piece of fruit. I bite into it fiercely, its juice pouring down my chin and neck. I close my eyes.

There was talk in the news about a solar storm. I didn’t get what it was. Then they showed the polar light in Norway. It’s good in Norway. It looks so to me. I saw some houses in Norway, they seem to take care of construction quality there. You can conclude from this what kind of a country it is. I would go and see that. I can only imagine her surprise if I told her about Norway. She might think me a rigid man, not romantic enough. I saw it was snowing in Norway. That’s romantic. She would wear a nice blue hat there, I would remove snowflakes from it. I don’t know enough about this storm. What does the sun have to do with falling snow? They must be wrong. It must be a mistake. There’s no sun in Norway.

Stockings are my fetish. I leaf through catalogues, ordering and trying on stockings in front of the mirror, posing. I want to have legs like those in catalogues. I cross my legs. I practise. I cross my legs and inhale cigarette smoke. The smell of menthol and good tobacco and fruit and the outside world. I think I’m happy. I’ve tried hard to be happy and the effort’s been worthwhile. Each pair of stockings should only be worn once, which would be so exciting. To pull them on in a ritual fashion, slowly, like a royal, nylon cover, to stroll in them in town, to feel the nylon rub between the thighs. To come back, take them off, and burn them. One should have a fireplace. Fire should be swallowed. Plenty of fire.

It’s been reported that the storm can be dangerous. There’s something radioactive there. I used to deal with radioactive stuff and I can say it isn’t something to toy with. It’s been said that people feel sleepy because of the storm. I’ve noticed it, everybody’s dragging along like half-corpses, doctors, nurses, drivers. I’ll tell her not to come over today because it’s dangerous. And she might be tired. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for her to rest briefly. She might be sleepy. I know what I’m going to do, in any case. I know my own mind.

I first noticed it in the corner of the school yard, I was rising from the sandpit, we’d been practising the long jump. Fourteen years old, that was my age then. I was rising, on all fours. They used to laugh, but not then. I had small shorts on, smaller than I should’ve worn, I don’t know how it had gone unnoticed by my mum. Who knows, she might’ve noticed, but she didn’t want to… She’s a smart woman. I look a lot like her. No one laughed, all the boys were standing behind me. A crucial discovery. A pure discovery. I stood still in that position for a while. How much power and strength in discovering who you are.

I might remain bedridden or so, but I’d like to get married again. It would be better than the first time. I’m not satisfied with how it was the first time. I don’t know if she begrudges me, but I would welcome a new opportunity. I’d bring over Ivan the Frenchman to sing the song of my life. No one can harm me, God helps me. And foes may hate me and wish me evil. I pray to God, I love you, sooty eye. I know she’d be surprised. And she’d burst into tears, that for sure. The Frenchman is a gypsy, but it can’t be helped.

I still remember today the walls of the changing room in the school yard, the dark and the sound of the door being carefully opened. It smelt of magnesium, bad water and pubertal sweat. There was a parish house next to it, we had to take care, they could hear and see us. I still delight in this, in anxious anticipation, I have never changed. That’s the most valuable thing.

I’d give my life for those two eyes. I pray to God, I love you, my only joy...

Or the darkness in the basement, in front of the students’ canteen and the day care room. Upstairs the celebration of the New 1992 was in full swing, blasting with youthful music and firecrackers. The teacher of technical education, all of a sudden, a funny, balding man, what the hell are you two doing there, what’s this, what the hell is this??? How sweetly we were moaning. Heeheeheehee…

Your eye captivated me, as soon as I set eyes on you. (Fuck his gypsy mother, it was exactly so, as if I’d written it.) I don’t desire what isn’t mine, I won’t give my own, that’s the way it is. I feel like breaking a bottle or something...

Only arms and tongues. Millions of arms and tongues. Millions and millions.

Take off your clothes, I shouted. Take them off, you degenerate moron. It was around twenty degrees below zero and he was shivering and looking at me pleadingly, but I knew this wasn’t the worst thing that could befall someone, there were some Russians who could do this, and there were others as well, but I couldn’t remember then which ones they were. Take off your clothes, you moron. Those on duty stood silently, I lined them up at midnight sharp as usual, they didn’t like my vision of discipline, but I didn’t like them either. The moron started to undress. Faster, I bellowed, my command is final. Flabby and slouched as you are, what would you do, you sick wretch, I asked him, what did you think? Do you know who I am? Do you know who I am? Do you know who I am? He stayed in his underpants. I know, Mr. Captain. Who am I? You know nothing. I am the one who knows everything. Take off your pants. And I know who you are. You are sick, boy. Sick in the head. Lie down. The runway was frozen. Lie on the stomach, moron. Lie down. Press-ups now, you depraved boar. Three hundred. Sing, your mother mustn’t cry. You are insane. Your paunch is dragging on the ice, you idiot, you’re going to catch a cold, which I don’t want to happen, nor must your mother cry. Faster. The lieutenant stepped forward and timidly pleaded for the arsehole. He’s punished, wouldn’t this be too much, Mr. Captain. I kept silent. I didn’t turn towards him. This country can’t have too much of self-respect. Only self-respect matters. God wishes us to be upright and die as such. The boar must understand. Keep going, the number is falling. The lieutenant stepped back into line. Their wives aren’t coming over. My wife has suffered. No one dares to venture. Cara mia, he called out to her. Several times. Upset, she ran up to my office. She told me about this scoundrel calling out things to an unprotected woman. He oughtn’t to have done that. And then he fell. What’s the number? Forty-one, Mr. Captain. Louder. Forty-one. Louder. Louder. Then I kicked him. He covered his head. I kept kicking him in the stomach, in the arse, I broke several of his fingers. I kept thinking of the creature’s mother and it wasn’t easy for me. However, I was sure that the lady wouldn’t object to the execution of justice on earth.

About the three guys: some of our guys we met in Budva in 1995, one was 27, another 33, and the third 38. I was with Jelena, and she was crazy, and nothing would’ve happened if it hadn’t been for her. Hers was the youngest, his friends arrived two days later. They’d come to the seaside from Germany with plenty of money. Their hotel, on the first night (we only had one rented room), the car, the second night, the beach, the third. The car, the beach, I liked that, I’d never done it before. Three guys, never before. After that, I was a student back then, the three of them, we got out of the car outside my house, I was trying to calm them. In all possible ways. We’d been drinking a lot, before that. Spritzer. There’d been all kinds of things, before that. One of them was huge and fat, with a water polo cap on. They wanted to go inside. I was shrieking with laughter, trying to break free, the third one was different, younger, he wasn’t comfortable, he knew nothing. I told them to shut up because my granddad was sleeping in the street-side room. They laughed like mad. I suggested going to the park, there, near the house, and that’s what we did. We went to the park.

You are a young man, Captain, but this has gone too far. He was sad. Not for me, but for everything, it seemed. If only you’d taken care. If you’d come sooner. I haven’t had time, doctor. I fought in the war, and it ended ten years ago. And here I am, at last. The consulting room was sunlit and clean. You’ll have to stay. I don’t want to stay here, doctor. I have a wife at home. You’ll have to lose a leg, Captain. I looked out of the window.

He couldn’t do it. I noticed he was scared while we were climbing. He wanted to know where I’d got the key. You don’t live here, he was surprised, but you have the key? I have everything. I leant against the roof terrace railings and spread my legs widely. I always did this in order to watch the town at night. He couldn’t. He didn’t know how to do it with me, because I wasn’t just any girl. Do something. I knelt before the best guy in town, the owner of the best chick in town. I took off my glasses, on the roof terrace of the tallest building in town. The stars were above us.

Sometimes it happens that we can’t fall asleep. You aren’t asleep? I heard the biker from the bed next to the wall. At first I didn’t want to respond. He’s boring. Dying people think they won’t be able to talk when they leave this world. I’m not asleep. I’m thinking. About what? About my wife. You’ve never told me about her. Who’s she?

I once went and got a tattoo of a dolphin. It’s on my back now, 15-20 centimeters, a tiny dolphin. I asked some of them what they thought of it. They can see it well most often. I don’t know why I did this. I simply felt like doing it.

It was slava and there was a din. We’d come together for the first time, my parents had gone out of their way, God rest their soul. She was unforgettable. Charming. It was obvious that she cared. She’s always like that, wanting to make everyone happy. My mother beamed. It happened, she’d been waiting so long. You’re young, that’s what she said, she felt embarrassed and she stooped down. She gave us both a hug. The noise was getting louder and louder. I’m not good at dealing with it. I don’t like elbows being pressed into my ribs while I’m sitting at the table, forks, them I particularly don’t like. People with flushed cheeks who keep too close to your face. Those who you see once a year and who take the opportunity to tell you all that you never wanted to know. I know my own mind. I need no one. Bad breath is another thing I can’t stand. It makes me nervous. There was no toothpaste in the war. I can’t bear incense. I felt itchy all over, I kept putting my fingers under the shirt. She’d gone, I didn’t know where. Probably to the toilet. Or something like that. I felt itchy behind the ears, between the shoulder blades. I stood up. Commotion in front of me. It upset me. My stomach started to ache because of this all and I pressed it without anyone seeing. They were all looking at me, I knew that. I was their topic of conversation, with my young wife. Images kept slowing down and fluttering, then dreadfully accelerating, fast forwarding. I nudged my way to the toilet, being approached by everyone, congratulated, tapped on the shoulder, I kept dodging and grinning as much as I could, thanking them. I don’t know why, but I thought that the toilet door must be heavy, must be so heavy. Cabbage, corn bread, dried fish, all got stirred up in me. She was there, behind the heavy door. She was sitting on the toilet seat, with her stockings pulled down. You don’t remember now, huh? Don’t remember? Do you want me to remind you? You don’t remember? I remember well, like an elephant, I’ll remind you. I stopped breathing. Everything stopped. A bang, then. Teeth in the broken washbasin. He was crying out in pain, in a drunken voice, blood oozing out of his mouth. I held him tight by the neck and dragged him outside. Everything stopped. Fortunately, I always carry my service pistol in the coat. Nothing, not even rage. He was writhing on the living room floor. Cigarettes were burning out in the ashtrays. I pointed the gun at him. Only this, nothing more. To explain to them. I’m going to kill all of you. No one dared to venture. I can’t bear incense most of all things. I’m going to shoot you all, each and every one of you. I could see her standing in the toilet door and pulling up her stockings. She didn’t even shed a tear. A wicked woman. I tucked the gun back into the waistband. My mother came up to my brother, to lift him up.

The solar storm? I don’t know what that is. I know how to do a quiz in a magazine. I have a pile of magazines, they are packed with good texts about life and what it is like. I’ve read the letters several times, my dear, I’m Lelica and I’ve been on tablets since I was – years old, heeheeheehee. I’ve been married for a long time now, my husband and I have no children, heeheeheehee.

I’ve spent the day in anticipation and I’ve seen all sorts of things. I didn’t see the solar storm, and it is said to be over.

I answered honestly and got points. Do you practise anal sex, Are you bi-sexual?, Describe your most secret fantasy, Your best friend’s got a boyfriend and you like him-what will you do?, Shorts: yes or no?,  Are you in favour of having sex during pregnancy?, A twelve-year-old's dilemma -is it too early?, Your G-spot?, Adultery myth, A gay's dream, Attention! A special supplement to the new issue - Nymphomania!!!

            She hasn’t rung. She must be too tired. She must be planning a surprise for me.

I heard a girl from a flat on our floor talking to a friend about me. She said I was super. They are nineteen, they look so. She’s so... cunty, she said. I liked the word.

I’ll try to fall asleep. I’ll be waiting tomorrow. I still have both legs. I still have a wife.

I’m going to leave when the night falls. It’s more intensive then, more seductive, it seems to me I’m doing something forbidden so I have to hide, and I enjoy hiding games. Some day he’ll come back, I’m ready for it, he’s come back before. He’ll be different, but I’ve prepared myself for it, I have a little calculation about this, heeheeheehee. There are so many, oh god, names and voices, arms and tongues, arms and tongues, millions and millions, like rats and cockroaches. I’m going to leave when the night falls, no one will have any doubts, I’m a serious woman, a highly educated woman, after all, I’m a married woman. I have my tasks and my obligations, day and night, heeheeheehee, day and night. I’m going to choose clothes, for a long time, I’m free, the majority owner of my own freedom at last, surely I don’t like hospitals, they always remind me of something, something... What would I tell him, I don’t know, it’s going to be better?, it doesn’t sound right, but he’s so tranquil, so disciplined as long as he believes, he’s a soldier and I love him because he’s like that, it’s going to be better?, I know nothing about it, I know nothing about worlds without music, smells, arms and tongues, I know nothing about the worlds of people with service pistols and nightmares, and I know nothing about the worlds with legless people. That must be it, hm, that must be exactly... so, must be so, but whether it is good or not, I don’t even know the slightest bit about it. Why should I know? I am... a free woman, I can choose my clothes for hours on end, and step out naked into the street in the end, which I’m going to do sometime, but not yet, not yet yet yet. I hope he sleeps peacefully there, that man, what would he do if he didn’t sleep, what would he think about when there’s nothing to think about, perhaps about me, but that isn’t what I would advise him to do, that isn’t what I would heartily recommend. Perhaps I would advise him to do his best there, to find himself a woman, a nice little woman without a leg, or a breast, or something else, I think that place teems with such female creatures, and to show her things, because I’ve taken care of him and he knows that, I’ve done many things for him, I’ve shown him, I’ve given him a lot and he can’t ignore it, if he has any honesty in himself. And afterwards, when he returns, it’ll be easy, people can easily agree, heeheeheehee, they easily split their freedom so they have two, or several freedoms they use when needed, he certainly won’t be in the mood for abrupt and unnecessary movements, that’s for sure. And me? And me? I know what I’m going to do, because there are so many things, things you can do, you can take in... into yourself... strongly... so many things... And that’s why I have no qualms about this. I don’t like dilemmas. I prefer to put my hand down. And not to think. Because there’s nothing to think about. Nothing.

There’s an old man. Near here. He simply won’t die. He’s slow and suffers from insomnia. Then he walks. He passes by our room, every night. He stops at the door which we never shut. He knows I’m awake and says Good night, Captain. Good night.

Sooo yes. Locked. I’m off. Good night, Captain.



Srdjan Srdic studied literature and philology in Belgrade, where he is currently working on his doctorate. He is an editor of Severni bunker and The European Short Story Network. His first novel, The Dead Field came out in 2010, Espirando, a short story collection, in 2011 and his novel Satori in 2013. His work has been translated into English, Albanian, Slovenian, Polish, Romanian, Ukranian and Hungarian. The story "Goodnight, Captain" was originally published in Srdic's recent collection Combustions.

Natasa Miljkovic graduated from the Department of English Language and Literature of the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade, where she is currently working on her doctorate. She is an English language teacher and works as a freelance translator from Serbian into English and vice versa. Her translations of fiction by Serbian writers have been published in international literary magazines.

This is their first appearance in Offcourse.

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