Authors: M. Schneiders
Just a Monumental Summer
Copyright ©2016 Elena M. Schneiders-Rubalcava. All rights reserved.
All characters in this books are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
For my son, Johannes Julian Schneiders
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”
The click-clack of my high-heeled shoes on the tiled floor made my presence noticed. Envious and hungry eyes stalked me. I didn’t like that. Not that day.
Bucuresti North Railway Station was not strange to me, yet the smell of poverty bruised my sensitivity that day. Noise, impatience, and rudeness owned the miserable place. People traveled from every corner of the country to and from the capital. Rush and haste. Bunches of colors and different smells. In the midst of the insensitive crowd, a feeling of insignificance took me over. The coldness of the station felt tailor-made for my state of mind.
Traveling by train in Romania was like taking a leap of faith. You never knew what to expect. Luck might be with you, and you’d get a seat by the window. Or you might be unfortunate and have to share the space with gloomy and miserable companions. But if you bought a first-class ticket, you might meet enjoyable or important people. Some big shot from the Communist Party who could open doors for you. Or you might even meet the love of your life. Taking the train was like a life roulette.
On a hot, clammy July day in the summer of 1989. I bought a first-class ticket, although I knew I would blow my savings; I wasn’t ready for a leap of faith. One failure is enough for today.
When the train arrived, I climbed on board, walking down the crowded aisle, hoping I would get to travel alone - without annoying or chatty passengers. After I made my way past some heavy bags blocking the aisle, I finally found a first-class compartment. As I passed by, a beautiful young guy caught my attention; he was sitting by the window and watching the grey, depressing city of Bucuresti fade in the distance.
Shoulder length hair plus a few-days growth of beard. He turned and looked up at me with deep-set hazel grey eyes surrounded by long eyelashes. Straight eyebrows set his eyes off even more. A square jaw and a cleft chin added to his good looks.
Heeelooo, sexy stranger!
His effortless, shoulder-length hair stirred in me a nostalgic mood.
Is this all it takes? A simple first-class ticket to get a taste of lust and heaven delivered to you?
He glanced up at me while I was struggling to get inside. Then, he stood quickly, pushing his solitary companion—a delicate guitar—aside, and came to open the door for me. I lost myself in the depths of his hazel eyes for a moment and thought he was the most amazing man I’d ever seen.
He was about a head taller than me, which made him about average in height, and just about perfect.
You don’t need privacy. Who needs privacy? That’s your seat, girl.
“The door opens easier from the inside. Let me help you.” His smile was unexpectedly warm, and his voice had a throaty accent.
He took my suitcase and placed it onto the rack above the seat. I stood, watching the way his shoulders stretched the fabric of his black T-shirt; how his well-muscled arms moved as he fit my suitcase beside his. How his ripped jeans rode on his hips.
I jerked my eyes up as he turned around. His smile deepened and a dimple appeared in his cheek.
The train lurched into motion, and I swayed, holding the door for support. He turned, moving the guitar aside, making space for me to sit next to him. I sat opposite him instead.
“Hi, I’m Mona,” I said while I crossed my legs— ladylike, but making sure to offer him just a hint of my thighs underneath my too-short, tight skirt.
“Nice to meet you, Mona. I’m Alin.”
He held his hand out and we shook hands. His hand was smooth, his fingers long. His grip was firm, and he gazed into my eyes as he waited a beat or two longer than was normal before letting my hand go.
A feeling of belonging to him engulfed me when he pronounced my name. I swung my long legs, the toe of my shoe, slightly brushing against his ankle.
“Going to the seaside?” I was curious to find out.
“Yes. Costinesti,” he answered, trying to look away from my inviting low-cut neckline.
“It will be another five hours,” I answered, happy we had the same destination.
The train was moving faster now, picking up speed. A moment of silence overwhelmed me. I didn’t know what to say. I felt embarrassed for no reason. I wanted to say something—something smart that would impress him.
Breaking the stillness of our compartment, he stood up and reached for his large bag. When he turned, I saw he was holding a toothbrush and toothpaste. He gave me an apologetic smile. “I’ve been traveling the whole night.”
He stepped out, leaving the door open. I stood up in a hurry and looked for my makeup. I found my small mirror, refreshed my lipstick, and intensified the black shadow around my eyes. It was only a few minutes before he came back. After he closed the door, he sat down facing me. He looked at me and smiled, causing me to feel embarrassed. Again. I avoided his look, trying to gaze out the window, but I felt his eyes following me. He kept smiling at me. He didn’t hide enjoying my nervousness.
I decided to break the silence. “So, how was your tooth brushing?”
Really? This is all you could come up with?
I couldn’t believe what I just said.
He smiled, amused.
I tried to explain myself. “Sorry. Normally, I am not an idiot.”
“You’re not?” It was clear he was trying hard not to laugh.
What is wrong with you?
I was screaming in my head. “I may be. I sometimes manage to embarrass myself even in front of myself. Let me start again.”
“Ok.” He sat up straight and, holding his hands like a music conductor, showed me I could start.
I had no idea what was wrong with me. I was nervous. My mouth was dry, and I was sweating.
“I think I lost my mojo.” The words were out before I had a chance to think. Laughter. His laugh was addictive, and I felt the need to make him laugh more. “Get up, maybe you are sitting on it. I had it with me, I swear.” I laughed and leaned forward, moving so I could steal a touch, my fingers brushing against his arm.
It felt good to laugh with him. That morning, I’d felt the world crumble at my feet. And now, I was back to life again.
After a while, he stopped laughing. “Relax. I like you.”
He likes me!
Then I realized I did say aloud, “Thank God you like me.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“I talk a lot. And if I get excited, I start to talk loud and fast. I blurt things out, and it drives people crazy. I can be annoying,” I explained.
He nodded, his smile making nice things happen inside me. “Try me. It was a long night, alone…pretty depressing. I could use some company, even if it’s annoying.”
His reassuring words made me feel comfortable. I took a book from my small bag and placed it onto the bench. He looked interested, took it without asking, and started to read the first page.
“Nope! Wrong!” I took the book from his hands.
“Excuse me?” He looked at me, one eyebrow raised.
“You’re doing it wrong. You’re reading the first page. According to Ford Madox Ford, you should read page ninety-nine. You know, when readers are trying to judge a book? To decide if they will buy it or not, most of them start reading the first page. It’s wrong. He thinks page ninety-nine is better to gauge the book’s quality.”
He grinned. Making him smile made me happy.
“Who is Ford Madox Ford? Excuse my ignorance. Is he the president of the Reader’s Conduct Rules Club?” he asked, still glancing at the book.
“He’s a writer. A famous one. His book,
The Good Soldier,
is one of the top one hundred best books of all time.”
…never heard of it.”
“I haven’t read it. I’m not ready for it. I don’t think I will ever be. It’s the saddest story I’ve ever heard.”
“How do you know the storyline if you didn’t read it?”
“The original title was
It’s inspired from his first line, ‘It’s the saddest story I have ever heard.’”
“So, shall we read page ninety-nine?” He started patting his pockets; looking for his cigarettes, I thought.
“We don’t need to,” I replied confidently. “The book is brilliant. By the way, you know our ‘Beloved President’ loved this book.”
“Really? I doubt he can read…” Sarcasm coated his words.
I knew what he meant. We all thought Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were almost illiterate. They were rumors they only finished Elementary School. The sarcasm against our President was a coping mechanism to withstand the lines, the lack of consumer goods, the harsh life. Words like these were easily expressed, in any situation. It was a Romanian cultural quirk. Something everyone did, even among strangers. At the same time, we all had this sixth sense; when it was the right time and place to joke, and when it wouldn’t be a good idea. I felt good about Alin, that he was able to trust me enough already to joke in this way – to not think I might be a secret informant.
“They barely finished Elementary school, I heard.” I whispered.
“He censored every good book. How is possible he liked a good book?” Alin asked.
“He read one single chapter, something about communism, and he liked it,” I clarified.
“Makes sense. Now you made me curious.” He tried to light up a cigarette, but he saw my look and gave up. I gave him a grateful smile and handed the book back to him.
“You should be. I read his last book, and I fell in love with the author. I had to read all his work. So this is one of his earlier books.”
“Oh, I think know the author. His last book is famous. In a way I can’t explain, that’s the reason I avoided reading the book.”
“I get it. If you only read the books everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
He nodded. “Who said that?”
“I don’t remember,” I said, frustrated I couldn’t recall the author.
“So, you first read his last book, and now are you reading his previous ones?”
“Yep. This is me. First eat the dessert and then the entrée.”
He quickly bit his lip and said, “You must be a rule breaker, Mona.”
“You can even say I am an outcast and a free spirit,” I admitted with pride.
Can I touch your hair?
Not that his daring, just-out-of-bed hairstyle needed adjustment; I simply had a hungry desire to play with his hair.
“Do you read a lot?” he asked while running his fingers through his hair.
“Are birds flying? I eat books! I breathe books!” He knew what questions to ask to keep me interested.
He handed back the book. I took it, and our fingers touched. I had to hold my breath. I couldn’t let him see how much I was enjoying the sparks running through my body. Then, I bit my lower lip and looked down; just in case I was blushing. His fingers were still touching mine. I finally exhaled and then I let his fingers go.
I straighten up, and looked him into his eyes. Then, I continued:
“Books are good, but overrated. You know, the more you research, the crazier you sound to ignorant people. You read a lot, and you still don’t have the answer for the simple things in life.”
“What are the answers you’re looking for?” he asked leaning closer to me.
“Ah, let me think.” I closed my eyes and put a finger to my temple, playing at searching my mind. “Why love feels like a mental disease.”
He was chuckling. “Really? This is how love feels to you?”
“Yes. Love is based on deception. According to the dictionary, deception is a misleading falsehood. An illusory feat considered magical by naive observers,” I stated.
“I could debate that.” he said.
“Have you never looked at someone and asked yourself what did she or he find in that person?” I didn’t wait for his answer. I was afraid I could come up judgmental. I continued: “Love causes loss of touch with reality, delusion, mental pain, depression, even suicide.”
He took his chance in the space of silence. “You know, you are –“
I cut off his words. “Amazing. I know. I hear it all the time.” I stopped and snapped my fingers in the air. “You know something? I think I found my mojo.” I sprang from the bench and spun. He laughed while he touched my hands, stopping me from falling.
“Mona…you have beautiful eyes. It’s like the night found shelter in them.”
Tell me more, tell me more.
An unexpected warmth washed over my body.
What is it with this warmth? One nice word from him and I am in Heaven.
I sat down. “Thank you, but you should see me without makeup.”
“I think I did, before I went to brush my teeth.”
“I knew it. You came in with an arrogant smile. I knew you were laughing at me.” I crossed my arms, pouting just a little. But I wasn't really angry.
“I was amused. And you don’t need makeup. Some people shine from the inside.”