When the Bell Rings

When the Bell Rings

The protagonist, a young woman has to face her main enemy - her mother's female lover.


Literary fiction

Author Image

Csilla BĂ©resi (Hungary)

When the Bell Rings

She had been out in the balcony for hours. Vacant July sky, bombarding swallows, and a stone balcony around her. It detached sideways from the wall; from the large, crashed down split, a hair-crack was running further towards that palm-sized area that held the balcony. By all means properly, because she would sit there rather often, since the first days when they came over with her son… in the corner all kinds of junk were stacked: sheets of veneer for unknown purposes; a drawing board, perhaps from her school age; rotting, dusty brooms; cracked flower-pots with dried soil within – she did not remember that they had ever had flowers.
She had been sitting there for hours – a closed book in front of her; head-aching afternoon; her temples gripped in the vise of the iron sky. Inside, in their flat, she should speak to her mother, and take care, when passing by her, not to touch her, to avoid even the breeze of her clothes. At the beginning her mother would have fits of anger, a rattling cough would break out of her throat, when she was not willing to take the cup from her hand… But even this ended this summer.
She could have gone out for a walk with her son, but his grandfather insisted that only he, and no one else, could take him out… he would glower at her sooner or later… She could have gone to swim alone, but the road was too far from the railway station, where they had been living since her teenage years, with the eternal rumblings of the trains. It took too long to get to the lake… She had to walk, walk with her eyes fixed to the ground, so as not to fall; not to tumble; the wrinkled asphalt was at such a staggering depth under her hesitant steps. Oily waters of sunsets – double mirror, that of the lake, and the sky. If she stretched out her hand for another move, she would sink down, like a piece of rock; no one would miss her…
Her mother appeared – bent witch-back, her hair in white knots, her face still beautiful, skinny… How many times did she attempt to draw her face, with its elusive secrets that she tried to capture in vain. At that time she did not realize how masculine that face was, the nose a rocky precipice, as that of Prince Montefeltro on the portrait of Piero della Francesca.
“Come! Imi is here with his son. He wants to see you.”
“Dear me!”
She stood up, there was no way out. During this week, the flat was flooded several times by hosts of relatives – uncles and nephews, happy families. She always managed to hide in the smaller room, and to lie for ages on the sofa, pretending she was sleeping. Just like she used to hide in her teens on the same sofa, when visitors came, playing dead. It’s Imi… only wrong could come out of it, some insult, since what could they tell one another? Imi was an adult man when she was in her teens, and she admired him with awe. She was fascinated by his sinewy arms, where the veins were swelling out like thick ropes. Muscles were tense even on his face, each sentence was accompanied by a kind of spasm, as if his thoughts were born into the world in painful labour, which gave them an added, uncanny emphasis. He never said anything clever, though. He was not a clever youth, did nothing extraordinary, but she was so deeply moved by his presence, that she did not find it wanting. Yes, and Imi began to drink, he drank way too much, then he committed suicide, even twice, but was saved. Later on he moved to another town, divorced, and remained alone with his son, who had been dropped as a baby, and got epilepsy probably because of that. “Imi’s wicked wife left behind this idiot, and took their wonderful, lively daughter”… It was said by Auntie Zita, Imi’s mother, the old hag… nothing was true what she or her mother ever said. Two witches made one pair.
The few steps to the bigger room took a long, long time – a man in his forties and a lanky lad were awaiting her there. The man had lots of grey hair, and there was something new in his face what she found strange. She remembered only later that in O., the town where he had moved, he had tumbled into the ditch with his motorbike drunk, and had smashed his face. His bones slid upon one another, explained Auntie Zita, who analyzed every physical detail with utmost precision; dissecting one’s every movement and all body parts with compulsive, delirious delight. But this had been only when she had still visited them, before the scandal broke out… The bell would ring early in the morning, then the wizened old woman would sit at the edge of her mother’s bed, and begin to read her letters. These letters always decided upon life and death, and Auntie Zita definitely had to talk them over with her mother. Since her pubescent years, when they had moved here, Auntie Zita spent endless hours beside her mother’s bed.
Fortunately things turned out to be as always, when, despite all her endeavours, she had to meet people. She slipped out of conversation, and whoever sat against her, had to accept that she was not suitable for any polite talk. Nowadays it became easier, because all the excitement ceased – twitching of mouth and trembling of hands –, which took over her among people; instead, everything became somehow far, just like she to herself. Now, as usual, the conversation began between her mother and the visitors. The grizzled man had a restaurant in O.; they were all right. No other topic popped up. However, Imi’s son started speaking. A daydreaming, confusingly open countenance; large, brown, clever-looking eyes. Nevertheless, she knew that he had failed his exams, unable to learn anything. He would be a bricklayer, said the boy enthusiastically.
The bell rang. She hurried to the hall to open the door, surely her son was back. It was Auntie Zita. She did not see this dried out mummy since last winter when she had been thrown out with her son from here. How agitated her mother was, just to get rid of her… her father was the bouncer. Then at the reconciliation she stipulated that they would come over only if this crazy witch never put her feet in. Her parents accepted it without a word. Until now she succeeded to avoid every meeting, although the old swine lived on the same floor. Only to think that she could come across her in the staircase, and she had to see her deadly eyes, was unbearable. She would not be able to contain herself, and would surely swear, just like during the scandal – you pansy, old whore, she had shouted at her, when they had met once in the narrow corridor. She had even spitted at the floor then.
Now that they were living here again, she had a strange dream. Danger was imminent, but there was no way out. She was waiting for it at the end of the street, where she had attended elementary school. A dark coach, similar to a hearse, was slowly floating in the air, without wheels, without any dimensions; it was flat, just like a theatrical set. At its window, three leering masks were dancing on some sticks, with hollow eyes. Someone might have moved them, but the hand was invisible. She was standing, waiting… then the monsters suddenly grew bodies, no, only one mutual body, which was nothing but a basket of crackling ribs. She heard the rattling noise, and saw the clotted blood-red of flesh, but no blood was oozing, when she stabbed a knife in it, the knife which suddenly appeared in her hands.
The parchment-faced dwarf was standing silently in front of her, like the extension of her dream. Auntie Zita pushed her aside, taking her off her leg. She did not see what happened later, because she jumped out to the balcony. The shrilling voice haunted her even there.
“You came to me, and no one else!”
Imi came out for a moment to say goodbye. She never saw him again. Next summer he drank blue vitriol, that time with success. He had been lying dead for days in his flat, before he was found.
She sat down on her pillow, beside her book. Her whole body was shaking. Her knees were touching one another, but she jerked them apart, in sheer, burning self-hatred.

Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Round 1



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