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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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’d give my life for those two eyes. I pray to God, I love you, my only joy...
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...
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
She hasn’t rung. She must be too tired. She must be planning a surprise for me.
I’ll try to fall asleep. I’ll be waiting tomorrow. I still have both legs. I still have a wife.
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.
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.