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  • Stanka Bajlozova-Barlamova


     I am standing on the roof of one of the largest high-rise buildings in the city. The streets bridge each other and turn into road bends, in the corners of which a few homeless dogs seek shelter and whining and sneaking their tongues, with the intention of quenching their thirst in the muddy puddles, which testify to last night's rain. Thousands of passers-by rush in all directions, passing each other, crossing intersections, running along sidewalks from one side to the other, hurrying to get somewhere as if to escape the suffocation of the ghoul, who is slowly inhaling the last atoms of air, which circulate in the space between the asphalt and the high-rise from where I look down. In my hands I hold a pen, several sheets of paper and the latest novel by my favorite author, which has been recurring in the topics for some time, and I have not removed it from the place on the pedestal, since the first moment when I gave him the epithet of favorite. The sun's rays squeeze a gap through the holes in the clouds and mercilessly cut their bellows, turning them into dust, which in a few short moments they bake in their sharp wing. I feel the natural heat of the day slowly seeping through the pores of my skin. There is a bench on the roof of the high-rise building where I often come to read in peace and quiet. It's almost always quiet here. I especially love to come during the spring periods. Sometimes it happens that I meet the same group of children who come to play some games with ping pong balls, and I also meet a high school couple in love. The boy and girl sit on the edge of the roof, letting their legs dangle down and teasing each other in a joke of childish teasing. Their sitting on the edge of the roof makes me uneasy, so I close the book and give them their place. There is no one today. I use the last three hours of the morning for solitary enjoyment of the place, from where countless views are presented to me, and no one sees me.

     Before the first darkness fell, I went down "to the bottom" of the high-rise building. In one of the basement rooms, we often gathered with some of the tenants, where we played cards until the early hours of the morning. At every gathering, we finished the games until the final score was an impersonal zero. All stakes ended up with one participant, without any divisions in the winnings, because in the end everyone expected and wanted everything for themselves. Here "in the bottom" we were all equal. During the gatherings, we forgot about the titles, and in the games we invested a lot of things, which common human sense opposed whenever the greed of playing claimed for more and more. Most of the players mostly played and bet on the scraps of life. Once one of them bet his wife's underwear. After she had betrayed him and left him, this was the only thing he had kept from her. Silky red panties and a gorgeous bra were the only things she forgot to bring with her, so like a recycled plastic trophy, he placed them on the table piled with decks of cards, trying at all costs to boost the ego of his injured manhood. One of the younger girls who often came "into the bottom" bet on every third necklace given by her twenty-year-old husband. I don't know if it was by accident or on purpose, but in the outcome of the games they were usually won by a young and attractive guy whose name I did not know, and with whom they often exchanged glances that melted into sparks of fiery embers. The youngest member was a seventeen-year-old boy who seemed to give the impression of human potential with strong personality and subjectivity. Most of the people who came here were thin and fragile, but their egos were louder than the bell tower of the city church, whose sounds always penetrated "to the bottom" through the doors and windows of the high-rise building. The very first night I decided to hit rock bottom, I decided to bet on all the future times yet to come. Each subsequent day is a relative sequence that brings new death or new life. All the relativities that like optical fibers, were collected in invisible bundles and whose interior was extremely unpredictable, I poured them out on the table of bets, from which even God had given up the moment I first decided to enter the room, whose structure and form was the greatest dice that had been lost between the panes of some huge betting machine.

     I joined the game tonight when most of the participants were already out. At the table remained the man who a few weeks ago bet his wife's underwear, the seventeen-year-old, and six other men whose faces I saw for the first time that night. I was the only woman in the room, but that fact did not lower my confidence. I've been better with men than with women all my life anyway. With a high dose of self-confidence I grabbed the only empty chair and with a smile between my cheeks I joined the group, which was hungry for sharp sarcasm and stake-raising of any content and form.

     - Tonight I am betting all the conflicts and all the wars that I will have to fight in my life. – from the very first second I pushed the abstraction, I expected a rush of irrational male resistance that longed to swallow me.

     - Look at the dress, this game remains a men's fight. Don't mess up coordinate values or come play in the early part tomorrow when there are still beginners running around the deck.

     If I had to bet right now, I'd be betting that this guy was the biggest underdog of all at the table.

     The dimples around my lip lines gave away the ironic expression I tried in vain to hide. If only he knew what I was really dealing with, he would easily realize that his jeans are as short as the length of his cellular neurons, which pretend to fire like empty blood cells without any trace of any existence.

     - Take it, friend! – next to his weak hands, which resembled fragile and thin olive branches, I lowered a bundle of blue banknotes with which I opened my entrance to the game.

     I put whiskey in the glass and patiently awaited my turn for the initial start and move. I didn't drink often, nor was this kind of speech my daily way of expressing myself, but in tight living and suffocating situations, I practiced transformations in the direction of a different self-shaping, which my best friend often explained with the words:

„The other S.“

     The game started and went on in the most ordinary form like any other of the previous nights. My start was far from good and promised almost nothing. Not even a third of the cards formed the basis of any merger. In the face-up pile, my predecessor player had just gotten rid of a four, diamond. I did not believe that it could bring me a positive outcome, but I still took it in the hope of some novelty. The Instinct did not lie to me, but not in the way I expected. When I touched the red card, I felt heat in my right palm. Suddenly, instead of being in common contact with the red card, my right palm was breaking into some kind of noisy and chaotic whirlpool, which was striving to swallow me completely with its strong circular currents. I found myself on the corner of the street where I live. Women and children ran in all directions, running away from something and someone. In the scattered crowd I see my friend Buba, but she is somehow  ten years older than the Buba I know personally.

     - What are you doing? – I tell her. "Where are you running?" Where are all these people around us running off to?”

     - Are you out of your mind? - she tells me. "It's war time, go ahead of me. You know the tunnel that leads from the old house where we used to hide as kids. The door on the left leads 40m underground, go ahead of me!"

     Buba is pulling me by the hand, and I think of my whole family, who I don't know where they are.

     - I can't, my mom, my dad... Where are they? What happened to them?

     - Are you crazy? - she tells me back angrily. "They died in the war two months ago. There are 2033 of us, wake up. I don't want to think that the gasses from the bombs are involved in paralyzing your nervous system.”

     She held my hand and I ran after her. We ran towards the outskirts of the city. The exothermic reactions of the bombs they dropped not far from us made my heart skip a beat. Children are crying, adults are shouting, everyone is running somewhere, and no one knows where the road is. As we ran towards the bottom of town, there were fewer and fewer people. From afar I recognized the old house that had an underground tunnel. Before retiring, Buba's father was an architect who worked for global firms and companies. The tunnel led to a room that was his project from thirty years ago. When we were still small we were told that the room could not be penetrated from the outside with any tool. The soundproofing did not allow the exchange of sounds between the outside environment and the underground room, which I called the grave of the living dead. There was a special device that was used to unlock and lock the front door. Just one wrong step in locking and they would turn from the living dead in no time into the true dead who have chosen their own place for their eternal resting place. When we got inside, several families and several small children, two of whom were newborns, were already sheltered here. I turned, looked around and looked for an explanation for the whole situation, for which there was obviously none. Or... Or maybe there was... The card in my right palm created a rift in time. With the help of the red diamond I traveled ten years forward into my future.

     - What is this, God? Please help me. – I didn't want to talk to Buba or anyone else in the room. They wouldn't understand me.

     I looked at the floor, around, desperately searching for a way to go back to the time I came from. From the main room, to the right, there was a door that led to a smaller room. The floor was dirt. I took a pebble and drew a diamond on the dirt floor that was no bigger than my clenched fist. I placed my palm parallel over the diamond. I was starting to feel the heat, and the intensity of the heat was greatest when the center of the diamond and the center of my palm coincided. The moment I thought the diamond and my palm start a fire, my physical self was back on the betting table in the basement of the high-rise. Everyone in the room couldn't help but notice my rapid heartbeat.

     -What is? Did the victory excite you so much? The night is yours. We will rematch tomorrow night. Don't  you didn't come. Come on let's go.

     After everyone left, I was left alone "in the bottom".

     - What are they talking about? - I thought. "I don't even remember my participation in the game, so I wasn't even here, I was there..." - I stuttered, biting my tongue.

     I opened my right palm. I had a cut on the inside of my fist that looked like a line segment that was placed obliquely.

     For the next few days I decided not to cross the threshold of the apartment where I lived. I was attacked by some unusual fever which kept me in bed day and night. On the fourth day I decided to go out and go down "to the bottom" again. I took some trinkets with me which I placed on the betting table and joined the game at the very start while most were jostling for more comfortable chairs. As the cards circulated from one hand to another, the excitement within me grew to an explosive degree. I was desperate to pull out the card again to use again for a ticket in the near future. The irregular square with sharp corners finally came to the surface, and my right palm in a rush and with a dose of objective certainty, grabbed the plasticized slip, and then not thinking at all about the game and the whole outcome of it. Again the same heat slowly turning into an unbearable heat, and just when I think I'm going to lose my palm, I'm back in the underground room with Buba and some of the people I saw last time. I can tell from their conversation that it has been several months since we first entered the room. A man who looks to be about my age approaches me and kisses my hands. The whole meeting with him flows as if we had become closer than necessary during the past period, during my stay in the future times of my own life. In his eyes I find a form of warmth that I need, as if it were tailored to my size. I don't even know him, and I already like him. I see Buba helping several mothers feed their children, and there are a lot more people in the room than last time. From above you can hear sounds that cause rumblings and several small landslides, which are noticeable especially in the corners. I enter the room on the right and draw a fist-sized diamond on the dirt floor again. I apply the same ritual from before and I'm back at the "bottom" table. In the inner part of the palm, I notice another cut that was connected to the previous one with one point. Together, the two formed a sign that resembles a house roof, which opposes the universe and intends to pierce any atmospheric phenomenon that comes into contact with it.

     I wanted to close my palm, but I felt a pain that cut especially the two most prominent lines on the inside of my hand. Without saying a word, I got up and left the game.

     I always, always had a lack of warmth. After the age of fifteen, I don't remember my body ever reaching the required body temperature. Attacked by a severe body fever, I lay in bed again for several days, unable to recover either my mind or my body. After a week I managed to pull myself together and muster up a few scraps of courage, so I went down again to the basement room where people gathered who rarely met in other places. That night I acted similar or the same as the previous two times. Using the usual map procedure, I created an apparent oniric ritual that unlocked countless doors, the doorknobs of which God was opposed to me touching and opening. This time instead of chasing through the city streets, I saw the sea and a lot of sand, which tickled my soles like a soft and fine sugar crystal. In the distance on the horizon I see the man I met in Buba's tunnel and for the first time in many years I find a warmth that carefully embraces me. I open my right palm and see how the sharp triangle has transformed into a full diamond shape, burning and slicing the entire inside of my hand.

      The sea breeze, on the sand around me, drew the shapes of countless different diamonds. Now instead of me, he controls the parallel fusion between his sandy and my leather diamond, which I hide in a fist in the bottom of my palm. The current of the sea wind is so strong that it affects my physical balance. My legs cross chaotically, but instead of the front part in the sand, I consciously direct the fall of my whole body into my right palm, which I hear cracking and cracking like a dry cherry stick, surrendering to the evil forces of the universe. Pain to the point of madness rumbles in my ear canals, and with a smile between my cheeks I open my right palm and calmly show it to the infinite universe. Parallel placement between two identical geometric shapes is no longer possible. The tiny broken shards have apparently moved the center of the palm. I feel such an intensity of heat that my forehead swells. It's probably from pain. I take a deep breath.

🙟 About Stanka Bajlozova-Barlamova 🙜

Stanka Bajlozova-Barlamova writes short stories. Her prose is published in many

literature magazines and anthologies. In 2021, she published the book, “Siluetes”. In

2023, she won first prize in the literature contest in the museum Mother Teresa (Skopje, Republic of North Macedonia). Today, she works in the field of culture.

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