SECOND FLOOR, HEAVEN
The phone rang at ten to eight. I was lying on the couch and nibbling my evening toast. I pulled the phone from under the pillows.
It was Marija, my sister. She sounded upset.
‘Are you watching TV?’ she said.
‘Turn on the news.’
‘Turn it on.’
‘What is it?’
One word was enough. I knew what happened.
I turned on the TV, Channel One, and saw the expected scene: an excavator and a compressor on a ravaged field, people arguing, policemen keeping order, onlookers watching from surrounding heights. It was obviously windy out at sea: the bura (northern wind) ruffled their hair, tugged at their clothes, forced a policeman to hold on to his hat. As the camera panned across the cove, a reporter talked about unlawful construction and powerless inspectors with a righteous voice. This time at least, he said, the state stood up against a rogue investor.
Then the camera showed the investor. A policeman was patiently holding him while he thrashed and shouted. He thrust his face into the camera, said something unintelligible, and shoved it away. He looked mad, raving mad.
I took a good look at him. He wore the same old fake leather jacket. His hair, usually pulled over the scalp, was wildly fluttering. He had grown older. The electronic image somehow made him look unreal, artificial. But it was him.
It was our father.
I was nine the first time I saw the place where I would grow up. It was March or February 1986. It was windy, just like tonight. We stood on a slope above the sea, the entire family: father, mother, Marija, I and Stipe, who was still a toddler. We stood and watched the dry-stone wall terraces that descended to the cove like steps. There was a smell of wild grass, sage and blackberry. Deep down, the sea was a ghostly blue. We were silent for a long time. Then father said: ‘Well, this is it,’ as if he had made the sea and the cliffs. Mother just nodded.
‘What’s this place called?’ she asked.
‘Krvavica,’ came the answer. It was uttered by a man standing one step behind us, his hands deep in his pockets waiting like a patient merchant.
‘Krvavica, like blood sausage?’
‘No, like blood. They say a battle was fought here long ago. With the Turks, I think.’
It was terribly cold. We three children stood in the wind and waited. The man one step behind us also waited. His name was Batinić, and he owned the dry-stone walls and blackberries. He was selling the building site to my father and mother.
Father and mother exchanged a look of agreement and made the decision. We went to the car and drove to the Batinić house. The adults drank herb brandy in the cold kitchen. We children watched the clock on the wall, waiting for the hour to strike and the bird to come out. Then the adults drank coffee and Batinić shook hands with my father. I don’t know when and where they later signed the contract, but it didn’t matter. That was the contract - they shook hands and the blackberry terraces became ours. A new life was beginning for us, the life in my father’s house.
I put aside the glass of milk and the toast, still watching TV and the lifeless electronic image of my father. He is struggling with the policeman, cursing his neighbors, casting helpless glances, calling for help. But there’s no help, either from me or from Marija. I see only father’s lawyer behind him, holding his briefcase and watching impassively, as if he gave up on him long ago. But there’s Stipe, and he isn’t impassive. He stands with his father like a true son, with the same kind of face, the same bushy eyebrows and forehead. He is also struggling with workers, standing in the way of the bulldozer. Father and son, shoulder to shoulder, sharing the fight, the race, the blood.
The volume is down. I can’t hear their yells or the reporter. If I heard them, it would be worse, and it’s bad enough as it is. I want to turn off the phone, draw all curtains, lock the front door. Because everybody is watching. The million citizens of Zagreb, the entire country, are watching the news and my father fighting the police and prostrating himself in front of the bulldozers. I am seized by shame. It’s the old, long forgotten shame. It’s woken up again, come back from my past life, as if there were no happy decade in between, a time of peace when I was free from his shitty presence.
The news report has ended. My father is not on TV any more. I’m watching women in white coats sorting fish cans. The shame is over. But then the phone rings. I look at it in horror, as if seeing a bug. Finally, I pick it up.
I’m relieved. I was afraid someone else was calling, someone from my present life.
‘Did you see it?’ she asks.
‘I did. Did you call them?’
‘Yes, I spoke with mum.’
‘It’s awful for them. For dad.’
‘Do you think I should call them?’
She is silent, thinking. Then she says the predictable thing. ‘No,’ she replies. ‘Maybe better not, after all that.’
The next morning I called anyway.
I was restless under the covers for a long time, not being able to sleep. Eventually, at dawn, I fell into a dull and dreamless sleep. I woke up at quarter to nine, more tired than in the evening. I checked my organizer. I scheduled the presentation of the master plan for ten. I showered, put on makeup, hid the traces of insomnia. I poured milk on my cornflakes and made the call.
Mother answered. Good, I was hoping for that.
‘I saw the news yesterday…’
‘I know. Everybody saw it.’
‘Can I help in any way?’
‘No. Not any more.’
Not any more. That’s what she said, and the sentence had a sting of reproach, like a claw in a soft paw. You can’t help now, but you could have, then. You could have been here with us, on the barricade, like Stipe. We could have hung together as a family. We could have. This wouldn’t have happened.
I put the receiver down. I stood at the window, gazing emptily at the ashen Zagreb sky. I snapped out of it, finished my breakfast and grabbed the receiver again. I called Renata.
I told her to cancel the presentation, reschedule all tomorrow’s meetings and book the first flight to the south. She called me five minutes later and told me she had booked a noon flight. I opened my laptop and tried to work, without success. Then I got dressed—soberly, as if for a meeting—and called a taxi.
In the winter of 1987 my father built a bungalow on the Batinić lot. He roofed it with a concrete slab spiked with steel reinforcing, onto which he piled a load of cement blocks, the raw material for future storeys. Using a dozen blocks, he made a turret at one corner and connected it to the electricity cable. He hung a TV antenna on it, so it looked like a fisherman’s long line. We received Italian television perfectly, Zagreb so-so.
I don't know how to describe my childhood - heaven or hell? It was different for Marija, she was a big girl, I remember how she used to descend the stony slope to the road in her shoes with too high heels, how she dressed too well in the evenings and went to the bar in the cove, the only surrogate for entertainment. I guess those years must have been a drab period for Marija: sleeping with only a curtain separating her from mother and father, watching electronic poker in the seedy inn, suffering the advances of trawlers and fishermen’s apprentices.
Stipe and I were children, we weren't so bad off. The construction site was our realm: we lived between mountains of concrete blocks, barrels of paint, piles of gravel and stones. Our world was delimited just like the building lot: by four wooden poles dipped in red paint and stuck in limestone piles. We ran over rocks, picked blackberries, played with knees pressed into white crushed stone. Other children had Legos and Barbies. I did have a Barbie doll, but mostly I played with steel wire, reinforcement, wedges and trowels. My father would be in the workshop until noon. He spent the afternoon building. Trucks came and went, bringing material in, taking rubble out. Father built and poured, moved concrete blocks like a cat its kittens, arranged a stone garden, turning each stone in his hand as if pondering its essence.
Father separated the ground floor into two parts. He used the back part to start a trade, the production of aluminum fittings. Before lunch, the workshop resounded with dull sounds of drills and planes. The front part was our two-room home. Mother dried clothes next to a barrel of fine sand, the small kitchen smelled of boiled cabbages and chicken with potatoes.
The image of my mother is vivid before my eyes. I see her as she was then. She is sitting under a trellis, with her long hair down. She is sitting next to a table covered with a vinyl tablecloth, shelling peas or peeling potatoes
Soon I'll be as old as she was then. I'm trying to imagine her dreams of that time and compare them with my dreams now.
I'm trying to understand what she wanted then and whether it was her, or only my father’s, dreams.
I tell the taxi driver to stop on the highway. I stand at the side of the road and took a look at the village.
It looks different than on TV. Colors are more intense, the sea is bluer, the horizon is deeper. The smell of Spanish broom and lavender, the soft wind at the sea, smells and air - it's the same as in February 1986 when I saw it for the first time. But the view has changed. The cove is red from tiles and bricks. The village has tripled in size, so many houses have been built, my father's house among them.
I go down the slope to the village. I see unknown houses left and right of the road, all new villas, too big and showy. The village is gaudy like a parrot, multicolored in green and lemon yellow paint. I'm seeing what my father wanted and didn't get. What I see makes me sick. What I will see makes me even sicker.
I pass by the Batinić house. The old man's wife saw me from the balcony. She turns her head away. No wonder, after all that happened.
I go down the sandbank and suddenly see father's house, my house, the house where I grew up.
After all those years, the feeling hasn't changed. I feel the same as then. I feel the house inspire a terrible, pure aversion in me.
This house seemed to be made to upset people. Its ground plan had no sense. Its corridors went nowhere. High, unattainable windows all around, sumptuous doors leading to a garage or stairs, staircases shooting into an empty sky. The house that I saw was exactly the same as the one from my nightmares. This house (I thought) is so eerie that its very existence and persistence is poisoning the past and the future. As long as it stands, nobody in our family and this village can be either brave or happy.
I'm looking at it. My father's house is being eaten away by demolition. Its back side, where the workshop used to be, has already been gobbled by the bulldozer. Bent rods project into the sky, pieces of the upper slab hang surreally in the air, the front yard is buried in rubble. Anyway, the visible part is terrible enough. I can still make out plaster lions at the gate, the curving arch of the terrace, the baroque balustrade cast in cement. Above it all, like a warning tower, the steeple of some unfathomable temple, there is the staircase. Three floors, six flights of stairs, encased in concrete blocks and crowned with steel spikes. The staircase stood on its own, without floors, waiting for a time of happiness and plenty of square meters. Disgusting vinyl doors on each floor opened into the void, waiting for flats never to be built.
Three floors that made father appear in TV news.
Three floors for my father's three children. They won't be there for us, we will never live here.
In the summer of 1988 my father received a document from Germany. He had been given a disablement pension as a carpenter in Leverkusen. In the spring of the same year, it became obvious that wood was the past and aluminum windows were the future, and that there would be plenty of work for the basement workshop. Father went to a bank, took a loan that was subsequently eaten up by inflation, and built a staircase: six flights of stairs and a first floor. Marija’s floor, as he called it.
‘Tourism is the future,’ he said to mother. ‘We will rent the upper floor to the Czechs until Marija gets married. When she is married, we will build the second floor for Ivanka. I want us to live all together.’
The following summer, Marija’s floor stood above the ground floor. It was a pathetic unpainted cube with tiny windows and long shallow balconies bordered with fake baroque balusters looking like glued kidneys. That summer, I was 12 and discovering shame. ‘Look at those monsters,’ said the bathers going down to the beach and carrying inflatable mattresses. ‘Jesus, it looks like the Schwarzwald Clinic,’ somebody said. Pretty soon, the whole village called our house ‘Schwarzwald’ and us ‘clinic kids’. Czechs, Hungarians and Slovaks took turns on the first floor. There were Škodas and Trabants parked in our backyard all summer long. Father would descend from Marija’s floor each Friday with pockets full of black market currency. As the first floor paid off in just one summer, father was ready for more.
One morning, however, neighbor Batinić came down the slope. He had grown old in the past three years, his short beard sprinkled with gray, but he was still robust and muscular. He came into the house and wanted to talk to father. They had their discussion in the kitchen, while I eavesdropped in the front yard.
‘This wasn’t the deal,’ said Batinić. ‘You have the permit for one storey only.’ Father asked: ‘Is this my land now?’ ‘It is,’ Batinić replied, ‘but I lost my view of the sea. I’m losing tourists.’ ‘Is this my land?’ father was repeating stubbornly. Batinic said "see you in the court", and then left., and Batinić eventually stood up and said: ‘See you in court.’ He darted past me, huddled behind the door, and left.
I’m wearing high heels, so I’m barely able to walk on the uneven ground, layers of trodden gravel and pulverized bricks. I approach the house and look it over. The only untouched part of my father’s castle is the porch with the trellis, the same porch from 1987, the one where mother peeled potatoes and crushed almonds. Everything else is just rubble, rubble with a plan and an intention still shining through.
This house was a copy of my father. It was a child of his brain, complicated, incomprehensible and tyrannical, just like him.
‘I want us all to live together,’ he used to say. He said it to Batinić, he said it to mother, to us. It was his project, his life’s work - this house was just a concrete manifestation. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now.
I climb the steps to the veranda. They heard my steps. The door opens and mother stands on the veranda. She cut her hair to a perm, a modern look. It doesn’t suit her.
‘You came,’ she says.
‘In bed. Since yesterday.’
‘How are you?’
‘Where’s Marija?’ she asks, ignoring my question.
‘Marija is fine.’
‘She didn’t come with you?’
‘She couldn’t come.’
‘I know, because of Jerko…’
Jerko. It took someone like him to tear down my father’s plan. It all went well for him as long as he had only us women and Stipe, his faithful dog. But the summer of 1991 brought the war, Batinić sued us because of Marija’s floor, while Marija married Jerko in early September. Jerko was a kid from the cove, his father had a barka fahren rent-a-boat and grilled mackerels on the seafront. The war drove away the tourists, mackerels and a barka fahren became useless, and Jerko moved into my father’s house and started helping him with aluminum fittings.
The local kids went to war that autumn, and Jerko enrolled in mid-October. My father got mad when he heard about it. It was their first big quarrel. Father was an émigré, a respected category at that time. He called the municipality and Jerko’s army file suddenly disappeared. Jerko boiled inside but yielded. He saw off his friends, who rode in trucks to positions on the Neretva and Pelješac, and worked aluminum in father’s workshop.
Father resolved other matters with a phone call too. One afternoon Batinić came down to our veranda and called him. ‘How much did you pay to the municipality?’ he shouted. Father yelled: ‘The times of your communists are past!’ ‘Yours won’t last forever either,’ replied Batinić, ‘and your file will not remain in the drawer.’ Father didn’t say a word and simply entered the house.
I was fourteen then. I discovered school and men in the same quarter. Until then, I went through the motions, with perfect grades each year. Then I discovered that school was something else, a window and ticket to a world that was wide and interesting, waiting for me to pluck it.
That summer I freshly noticed some things: firm thighs, strong biceps, hard lumps in bathing suits. Autumn came and I went to secondary school in Makarska. In class, I easily outstripped my classmates from town in the first semester, and I had my first man in Osejava Park. I don’t remember his name and I don’t care.
That’s when I went through hell. My perfect grades were the object of lukewarm pride of my parents, but Makarska awoke father’s unlimited suspicion. As a child, I was allowed to play hide-and-seek in the cove until late hours. Now I had to be home at nine, sit through dinner and gobble warm swiss-chard. I didn’t have a moment of peace. When my afternoon classes ended, father waited for me at the bus station in Makarska, just to make sure I didn’t wander off. When I hung around the cove, he sent Stipe to watch over me, spy on me. He was obsessed with my virginity, unaware that I had easily and gladly given away that luxury. His virgin was making out with strangers, and his spying and tyrannizing only pushed me further. I ran away after morning classes, I ran away during the break, I took every opportunity and excuse to sneak out of my father’s house to meet a guy. Condoms, pills - I learned it all in two summers, luckily avoided pregnancy, but garnered a fine reputation. I still don’t know whether my father was aware that his fears were well-founded. I only remember that I took a stroll in St Peter Woods one afternoon after school and overheard two guys talking about me behind a rock. ‘Anyone can have her,’ said one of them. ‘Just buy her a beer and you can fuck her.’ When I heard that, I was horrified - but, and I’ll swear it even today, the horror was mixed with some rebel pride.
My father continued fighting with me: restricting my wanderings, waiting for me on the bus, spying on me in the town. Still, the real breakdown in our house did not come about from my wildness, but because of the good, submissive, devoted Marija.
Actually, I can’t understand to this day how Marija and Jerko endured as long as they did. I was a teenager, minding my business all day long, seeing their suffering out of the corner of my eye. Nonetheless, I began wondering how much they could take. In winter and early spring they lived above us, on Marija’s floor. But the war subsided and the Czechs returned. Father wanted to rent, so he forced the two in summer to move to the crowded ground floor. Jerko sawed aluminum in the morning and built the second floor with father in the afternoon. Ominously, they used my name for it – Ivanka’s floor.
Listening to father and Jerko working was awful. Jerko had a dreamy, slow character. He was a good man but not too bright. Everything that Jerko did was wrong in my father's eyes. ‘Don’t measure that, damn you,’ father would say if Jerko tried to measure a lath. ‘Let go of that fucking level,’ we would hear from the workshop, ‘the devil take you, are you finished yet?’ Jerko suffered insults in silence, because father had an unpredictable, wild nature, and he knew the job, while Jerko was only learning. All that time the Czechs took turns on Marija’s floor and soiled Jerko’s marriage linen. The boys from Krvavica came back from the war in body bags, the locals gave a hard time to Jerko, calling him “dodger” and asking “where’s your army file”, so he stopped going out. At the family dinner, he would keep his mouth shut. He would gulp his soup and look for an excuse to leave the table, barely holding down his discomfort. He meekly obeyed Marija, worked in silence, building my floor and coming into my father’s estate - until he cracked.
And he cracked in the summer of 1994, when Marija got pregnant.
Marija and he were often whispering in private that spring, which was noticed by everyone except my father. Then one morning they went down to the kitchen together, like a commission. They waited for father to come back from the town and made him and mother sit down and listen. They announced that they didn’t intend to move down that summer and leave their floor to the Czechs. ‘Marija is five months pregnant’, said Jerko, ‘so we can’t squeeze here any more.’
If they had been more tactful, if they had talked to mother first, everything would have been different, I’m sure of it. As it was, it looked like Jerko was opposing my father, and father would never allow that. He exploded. ‘Others made sacrifices to build your floor,’ he said, ‘and now you’ll squeeze until we build Ivanka’s.’ I wasn’t thrilled with my name being used. I backed away from the family quarrel, but I overheard how it ended. Father and Jerko had a short wrangle, Marija tried to butt in, but father despotically shut her mouth. Then Jerko finally said the thing that caused the situation in the first place. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘Marija and I will move to Split then. I’ll get a job in Alumont.’
It was a stab with a poisoned dagger, unexpected and mean. I don’t know whether father understood, but I did: the moving wasn’t an alternative, but the cause and purpose of the conversation. Marija and Jerko prepared everything – found jobs, gave a deposit for a small flat – and in his inhuman stubbornness my father had released them from the obligation to live with them. He was caught in his own trap, and he knew it. The sloppy apprentice whom he had taught something would leave and work for others, for the competition. His face darkened so much that I feared he would suffer a stroke. But I wasn’t looking at him, I was looking at mother. She was washing the dishes, her back turned to the family drama. When Jerko made his announcement, her face just barely twitched. She knew, I thought, she knew this would happen.
I waited for everything to calm down and then climbed to Marija’s floor. My name was used at the table, father came between me and Marija, and I wanted Marija to know whose side I was on. I knocked and entered the couple’s room. I saw Marija and Jerko holding hands. I can still see them in my mind’s eye. The boil had broken, it was plain to see: they needed so little to be happy, less than anyone I have known or will ever know.
They moved away in June. Father didn’t go out to see them off, mother cried all the time. I was a high-school senior and I knew for certain that I couldn’t live in that house without Marija.
‘Want some coffee?’ mother asks. I say yes. Not that I crave coffee, but she needs something to do.
She makes coffee and brings it quickly. She always made good Turkish coffee, dense, sweet, with plenty of brown froth that forms a pleasant coating. She puts the coffeepot on the table and brings three cups.
We sit in silence. We can’t talk because a conversation would be like a minefield. We can’t play the assigned roles because they lead to a precipice. Mother can’t ask me about my job and my company because my career is taboo in this house, a viper’s nest that took me away from family and marriage. She can’t ask me about men, that would be the worst. I don’t want to talk about the demolition because they see the demolished floor as my floor, and I don’t want it to be mine, I don’t want to have anything to do with that pile of rubble, now or ever. Since we can’t talk, mother and I are silent. I only break the silence when it starts being embarrassing.
‘I’d like to see father,’ I say.
‘Don’t wake him up. You’ll see him later.’
‘I’ll go call him,’ says mother. She gets up, seemingly relieved for having a reason to leave.
She goes to Stipe’s room and closes the door. I hear them talking behind the door, but I can’t make out the words. The discussion is long and obviously unpleasant. Mother comes back alone. She’s not saying anything, there’s no need, I know it all. Stipe doesn’t want to come. He doesn’t want any business with the whore. A whore, that’s what I am to my younger brother, and it’s just one of the things that haven’t changed here.
In May 1995, Marija and Jerko moved out, I was about to graduate from high school, and Stipe was in the first year of a vocational school in Makarska. Hungarians and Lithuanians came to Marija’s floor in June, but they disappeared in early July because there was talk of a renewed war.
Stipe and I went to the town in the same morning bus, but I had more work and stayed longer. I don’t know if father told Stipe to spy on me, or if Stipe did it out of his innate spite. Anyway, he saw me that July, two days before my high school graduation, and reported it to father.
What he saw was not something I’d take pride in. From today’s perspective, I’d say that my standards were pretty low at that time. I was with an older man. Stipe was strolling in Osejava park and saw us involved in something quite undignified. He did what little scumbags do: he caught the first bus, ran home and told father everything.
Father started beating me as soon as I crossed the doorstep. I don’t know how long he beat me, twenty minutes or two hours. He started beating me in the hallway, he beat me in the kitchen, he beat me in my room. Swollen and blue, I didn’t leave the house. Except once: two days later, still covered in bruises, I went before the graduation board, graduated and received my diploma. I spent another week in my father’s house, mostly in my room, steering clear of the others. On the sixth of July I took the county grant in Makarska, put my essentials in a sports bag, stole one hundred kuna from father’s wallet and ran away in a bus to Zagreb. The next morning, I went straight from the bus to the entrance exam for pharmacy and passed. I stayed with a girl from Makarska I knew from school. She was one year older and studied theater directing. I spent the Zagreb summer in her place, far from the sea and tourists. I called home. My father picked up the phone the first time, and I hung up immediately. Mother picked it up the next day. I told her that I was in Zagreb and that I would be studying. I refused to tell them where I lived. I don’t know if they were looking for me, but if they were, they never found me.
‘If you want to see father, come with me,’ mother says and takes me to the door of their room. She moves aside and I enter. I enter into the cave of Polyphemus, the lair where a mythical monster sleeps.
The room is very dark. Father has closed the shutters, preventing the light from entering, so that no eyes or sunrays can see his downfall and shame. He’s lying on the bed, uncovered, hands over his head.
‘Come here,’ says he, and I approach. We are silent. Then he speaks again.
‘They got us in the end. We’ve been had by the communists,’ he says.
‘The Batinić family?’
‘Yes! The communists. He told me: “your time won’t last forever”. He knew.’
‘Dad, forget it, it’s over now…’
‘We should’ve lived all together…’
‘And I was begging Marija! The last time I was begging her was two weeks ago. If Marija stayed up there, they would never tear it down.’
‘They wouldn’t, I’m telling you. The lawyer said: no demolition if she moves back in. They won’t tear down a house with a family with two children. If it’s empty up there, they’ll demolish. I couldn’t even rent it any more, the Ministry of Tourism has made new regulations. I could only beg her to come back.’
‘She wouldn’t. Wouldn’t hear of it. And you too.’
He is silent again. He shrinks, contorted in a mute knot of anger. Looking at him, I realize without surprise: he hasn’t understood anything. He hasn’t taken it up, not a single insight into the world or about people has entered that hard head of his, and he is grey and old and soon there’ll be no days left for learning.
I go out of the room and meet my mother’s gaze. I see it clearly now: she’s afraid of me. I see fear in her glance and avert my eyes.
‘Will you stay for lunch?’ she asks.
‘I won’t,’ I reply, thinking that I should tell Renata about the change of plans.
There is something else I want to do before leaving. I go through the hallway, find the stairs and climb. I climb into the blind tower.
The tower was the craziest and most pointless building exploit of my father. A staircase of marble and brass, strong and unbreakable, leading to nothing, ending nowhere. It’s been standing like this, untouched, since my childhood: six flights of stairs, two floors two plastic doors overlooking an abyss. This abyss was supposed to belong to Stipe and me, to be filled with his and my life.
When we were kids, the tower was off-limits for us. The lower flight of stairs on Marija’s floor was taped over like a crime scene. The tape was the end of the permitted world, the border to an alluring, forbidden realm. Mother wouldn’t let us climb it for fear that we would fall. We climbed it anyway and I’m climbing it now.
I climb to the first blind floor, then to the second. I approach the plastic door. It used to be locked a long time ago. But Stipe and I soon noticed the low quality of plastic locks. It is enough to tug the door and it yields. I see the void opening in front of me.
Stipe and I used to call the second floor “sky”. We would climb to the second floor sky, slightly open this door when nobody was looking, and watch the empty space below, untamed by fences. The second floor sky was our most guarded secret, our most exciting entertainment, the spice of our childhood.
I’m looking into the seemingly bottomless view under me. But that view has changed. This place used to command an untouched cove, and the flat grey roof of Marija’s floor could be seen right under the opening. Now I see dozens of roofs, a small town. Below me, the ruins of father’s empire: piles of rubble, the deformed slab, steel reinforcing ripped like a cobweb. They destroyed everything, I think to myself, so it’s strange they didn’t tear down the tower. Then I remember – they haven’t finished, they’ll demolish tomorrow too.
I want us all to live together, father used to say. The second floor sky should have been Stipe’s floor. Below it, down in the void, there should have been my floor, Ivanka’s floor. Now, when it’s all come to nothing, I’m standing on the second floor sky, looking through the plastic opening at the ruined father’s castle, and I’m thinking. I’m not thinking of his empire, but of mine. I’m thinking of my years in Pliva pharmaceutical company, the foreign trade section, my own company, then my second company. I’m looking around me at the darkening seafront, thinking of all the lighted windows, wondering how many of those people take their evening aspirins, analgesics, nose drops or cytostatics, and whether all those people know that thirteen percent of all they take with water or inject or sniff has been imported into Croatia by the woman who is now standing like an apparition at the top of a devastated staircase. I’m reminded of the master plan that I must present in the bank tomorrow, but I can’t remember what it is about, I can’t recall a single word of it.
My heels are upon firm ground, my toes are in the abyss. I’m standing on the edge, half a foot safe and half a foot doomed, and I can’t remember anything, I just feel my head spinning more and more.