Ivana Bodrožić trans. by Ellen Elias-Bursac
It was built back in the nineteenth century. So obviously there’s no parking, who could have foreseen the need then? People went by carriage, or walked, I guess. Who had carriages anyway? Were there horse-drawn trams? Maybe, but this was way out of town. Not anymore, but then, in the nineteenth century. It was just all lepers, the seriously ill, in any case, the outskirts.
“Hopeless, hop out here and I’ll circle till I find a spot and then I’ll come find you.”
There’s the side entrance, you go through the kitchen. At seven in the morning two cooks are standing on the steps out front, rain drizzling from the sagging green eaves, they laugh, bitterly. I catch:
“Fuck ’em,” says one.
“Look, did I find my ass out on the street?”
What could they be talking about? Husbands. I’d swear.
The sauerkraut stinks. Kraut with noodles or stuffed cabbage, in any case, it’s Thursday, cabbage day. And Thursday, that Thursday, there was cabbage, though the nurses from the ward said “no.” It bloats. But served it anyway. Good thing there were chocolate cookies, you need sweets at such moments. Good.
But no nausea today. Gone. A mystery. Maybe all of it is gone.
When they look, they’ll say, what’s wrong, there’s nothing here, who told you? There’s nothing to see. Yes, nothing.
The waiting room is crowded. There are all sorts of women here, old, young, and a few men too. Different problems. How long does it take, the first wait. OK. The woman by the wall is really good-looking, you know, fashionable, tight jeans, not in a dress like mine, though you probably have to take everything off anyway. They didn’t say. They never do.
“Wait. Your blood group.”
“I need it in writing.”
“I haven’t got it in writing.”
“Are you from Mars?”
“No,” that much is obvious but I’m supposed to give the staffer an answer.
“God help us, you’re not here to extract a tooth.”
But Marina said it exactly like this:
“Come on, cut the shit, it’s nothing, there’s nothing there, nothing I can see, a crumb.”
A tiny crumb.
“They didn’t tell me.”
“You got the document when you paid.”
She rolled her eyes.
“In the basement, the infirmary, straight then right, room 308, pick up your blood group, come back. I’ll see you in. You still have to pay.”
“Of course. I’ll pay. Obviously I don’t expect this to be free.”
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” sings Aretha from the cell phone, and then:
“Oof, I can’t find a single place to park, I’m going nuts here.”
“That’s OK, no point in coming to find me, they’ll call me in soon. I’ll let you know when I’m done.”
In the room there are already three. Beauty is over there, on a bed by another empty bed. She’s in a silk kimono and put her hair up in a ponytail. Her nearness is reassuring. So it happens to the beautiful, too. A chubby little woman by the wall, between them, a woman from Bosnia. You can hear it in her accent:
They’re in nightgowns.
“Did they tell you to bring a nightgown?” I ask.
“Sure thing, hon, didn’t they tell you?” asks the Bosnian woman.
“They’re, well, they’ll have something, just you ask.”
Little Chubs says:
“I thought I’d be stuck here all alone, is this how it goes? An assembly line?”
A flicker of conversation. A nurse comes in, young, tender.
“Sorry, I haven’t brought anything…”
“Are you the one with no blood group?”
“Come with me.”
There’s a little bathroom off the four-bed room. From a massive wad of unsightly green gowns she pulls a bulky item of clothing. A slit down the back, little bows.
“Here you go, nothing special but it’ll do.”
Next to Beauty I don’t look like much, beautiful people aren’t issued nightgowns like this. We lie there silent.
“Does it hurt?” asks Beauty at one point.
“Yeah, it hurts. Hurts and then it’s over, like everything,” says the Bosnian woman.
“I hear it hurts real bad,” says Little Chubs.
“Hey, none of us want to be here,” says someone from my bed.
I’d never say such a thing, peer pressure, must be.
“Just landed a job,” says Beauty. “The boss trusts me.”
“When I wanted to, I couldn’t, now I can’t, we’re building a house,” says Little Chubs.
“I can’t do a fourth, honest I can’t.”
It’s my turn, looks like. But I have nothing to say so the Bosnian woman keeps talking and saves me.
“You know how big my last one was, huge, never seen the like. Says the midwife, good thing he didn’t kill you when you pushed him out. Many go that way.”
“If a person knew where he’d fall, my grandma used to say, he’d sit.” Again someone chiming in from my bed.
“Maybe it won’t hurt so bad,” says Beauty.
One door goes to the infirmary from the room, the other to another room. A nurse brings someone else in now and then. Two old women go in. I mean, you know, not old old, but going on sixty. They do those things? Hey, cut it out.
This is an excerpt. The full text of Ivana Bodrožić’s No Room, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac, can be read in the print edition of The Arkansas International 5.
Ivana Bodrožić is a Croatian writer from the city of Vukovar and has published books of poetry, short stories, and two best-selling novels, one of which, The Hotel Tito, is also available in English.
Ellen Elias-Bursac translates fiction and nonfiction from Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian.