UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
“Bijou! Bijou!” the woman shouted at the top of her voice as the scraggy dog stood in the middle of the small square trembling, his thin legs glistening in the semidarkness.
“Hey!” a man called out sharply from the shadow.
“Are you there?” the woman whispered and rushed towards the voice. The dog trotted behind her, its tail trembling. The man didn’t say anything, and she couldn’t see him, but she stumbled on, the twilight enveloping her and her meager dog.
“Here,” the rough voice called out. The woman still couldn’t see anybody and ran towards his voice.
“I missed you,” she said to the darkness. The block of flats went on spewing TV newscasts at the woman’s shadow. “I missed you, Erve,” she repeated after she finally found him. Erve let her kiss him on the chin then allowed her to kiss the wet collar of his sweatshirt.
“Have you brought money?” he asked staying still, his hands in his pockets.
“Yes. Yes,” she muttered, pressing against him. The scraggy dog whimpered at his mistress’s feet but the woman paid no attention to it. It tried to rub its back against her boots but she ignored its presence.
“Let me see,” said the man. The woman fumbled in her pocket and produced a couple of bills that quickly got wet in her small hand. The man grabbed the money and took a few steps towards the narrow square with the rows of cars parked in the puddle of light under the streetlamps. He was a big man in a denim coat and blue jeans, almost twice as big as the woman. He counted the money and threw the banknotes on the wet asphalt.
“That’s not enough,” he said and started to go.
“Wait, Erve,” she pleaded, her voice another puddle of rain in the cold square. “Wait please,” she dug in her pockets, her hands impatient, hurrying, panicking. She produced a handful of coins and reached out to him. “Here Erve. Take that, too.”
The man took his time counting the coins. His lips moved silently as his fingers rubbed the rain off the cents.
“Okay,” he said at last. The woman heaved a happy sigh, took hold of his hand, then tentatively, furtively kissed his wet leather jacket, waiting for his reaction. The man didn’t object and she plucked up courage. Her lips climbed up his neck slowly, cold thin lips that had shouted so desperately for the dog a minute ago. The man didn’t move. His hands were still in his pockets. She was too short and her lips couldn’t reach his mouth. The dog was too near her boots. Perhaps she had stepped on his tiny paw for it gave out a short shrill wail.
The man was annoyed. He tried to kick it but his foot missed it's soft fur.
“No, no. Don’t do that Erve,” the woman said. “He’s a good thing.” The man didn’t listen. He kicked again and missed.
“Give me the dog,” he said.
“No, Erve, no,” she pleaded. “Let’s go to my place. Please.”
The dog padded to the shadow of the cars and stayed in the dark, a little piece of wet night which could breathe and bark.
“I don’t want to go to your place,” he said. “There’s a bench. Come here.”
“But it’s wet. It’s cold,” she said shivering.
“Then take back your money and beat it,” he said. “Don’t waste my time.”
“No. No Erve. Please, no. Let me stay.”
The man made a rapid motion with his leg. This time his boot caught the scraggy back of the mutt. A sharp whimper hit the cars parked nearby.
“Bijou!” the woman whimpered too.
In the light of the streetlamps the couple of wrinkles on her face appeared deeper in spite of the rouge she had used. The man’s face was unshaven; his rugged features had young cruel beauty about them that made him conspicuous even in that narrow square. In the distance the electric train to Uccle cut the evening into two parts – the half with the Grand Place of Brussels where tourists thronged day and night, and the part of Schaerbeek to which Bijou, the ramshackle cars, the narrow squares and wet benches belonged.
Erve turned to go but the woman ran after him and grabbed his hand. A little ball of wet fur and panting scrawny muzzle trotted in her wake. Bijou.
“Okay, Okay Erve,” she blurted out. “Let’s go to the bench.”
He slowly turned round and plodded back to the naked wall of the block of flats and its thick damp shadow. The woman caught up with him and reached for his hand. He didn’t pull it. She caught his palm between her hands and pressed it hard. Erve turned away from her but sat on the bench all the same. It was raining and it was very cold. He sat immobile, his back rigidly upright, his hands on his knees.
“I love you, Erve,” she said and kissed the sleeves of his jacket, then she kissed the copper buttons and his jeans, and she kissed his immobile neck and she kissed his stubbly chin. Then she slowly, hesitantly kissed his hair. It rained but not very hard, a fine obstinate drizzle that squeezed its way through the dead leaves of the autumn and stuck to the cars parked under the light of the streetlamps. She tried to kiss his mouth but he didn’t let her. His body was firm, unyielding, and hard. She admired it. She loved it. If only he would let her love him a minute more, a couple of seconds more, a heartbeat more. The dog was a thick piece of the night mingled with shaggy fur. His heart in his little muzzle, he stood by that wet cold bench watching the woman kiss the boot that had kicked him in the ribs. The puny beast stared rigid beyond itself with fear. That boot could kick his mistress. And his mistress gave him food, and she gave him her soft good hands to rub his nose against.
“I love you, Erve,” the woman whispered. Erve didn’t say anything. His strong muscular body pushed and beat into hers, rhythmically, like a powerful turbine. Suddenly the turbine stopped churning and he pushed her aside.
“Erve,” she whispered. “Erve, it was magnificent.”
He stood up, abrupt and big, a hulking mass which thickened the darkness. It was still drizzling and a wind blew, a thin and cutting gust of freezing air the dog could never get accustomed to. In Brussels wind and rain went together like a pair of twins. The narrow square tingled and the national Belgian flags fluttered, tied to their poles in front of the buildings. The last train rolled along its rails to the better half of Brussels where on the glamorous Mannequin Piss, it waited for the admiration of the tourists. Here, nearby the small square, Henry Conscience Avenue waited, dissolving in the wind. That was the only avenue Bijou knew in Brussels, and that was the only bench in the neighborhood which the dog hated. Maybe he didn’t even hate it, for a bijou like him could hardly hate. That bench was simply a big lump under his ribs and it was always there when his nose smelled the wet stench of that man’s jeans and his mistress’s kisses on them. It was simply that thin treacherous wind again. It broke umbrellas and it broke his animal heart. In the autumn, it stole from the dogs the soft caring hands of the women who gave their pets everything they had.
“Don’t go, Erve,” the woman said and Bijou felt a big lump in his mouth. When the voice of his mistress was that flat and gray, the lump that stuck in Bijou’s heart almost suffocated him. The man didn’t say anything. His steps thudded heavily, big sharp steps like knives cutting through bones.
“Will you come next Tuesday, Erve?”
Suddenly the man stopped.
“It depends,” he said.
“It depends?” she repeated hopefully the night suddenly cozy and quiet in her voice. “It depends on what?”
“Bring me the dog,” he said.
“Bijou! Bijou!” the woman called out. “Come here, Bijou” She caught the wet ball of fur in which drizzle and stars were mixed and caressed the small prickling ears. “Bijou,” she whispered reassuringly. Then she looked at the man. “The dog…” she started. “The dog…. What will you … you won’t ….”
The man took the furry bundle of bones and squeezed it. A short wail erupted between the fists of the man. Then it abruptly died. Erve lifted the dog above his head and let it drop onto black wet asphalt. There was another wail, longer than the one before.
“Bijou!” the woman sobbed. “Bijou!”
“I’ll let you do it again,” Erve said and sat back on the bench. The woman slumped by his side, sobbing.
“Shut up,” Erve said. “If you don’t shut up I won’t come on Tuesday.”
She tried hard to stop sobbing and she kissed his neck.
Suddenly the narrow square was quiet. The night train to Ucclke was gone. Then Bijou wailed once again but dogs did that often, didn’t they? Wailing was a natural part of a dog’s life.Zdravka Evtimova was born in Bulgaria, but now lives and works as a literary translator in Brussels, Belgium.
Her short story collection "Bitter Sky" was published in 2003 in the UK by Skrev Press. Her 2nd short story collection "Somebody Else" was published by MAG Press, USA, in 2004 and "Miss Daniella", her 3rd short story collection, was published by SKREV Press, UK in April 2007.
© 2008 Underground Voices