The gash in the mountain, all crusted and dry,
separating the two neighboring villages, had already been there for
decades when I was born. The rains fell, the snows piled up and melted,
the sun drained the soil of moisture a few meters deep; then the rains
came again crumbling the weakened edges of the gash into its wide-open
mouth. A few years back, the first house fell victim to its hunger. One
morning, it just collapsed into the dry void below. Villagers on both
ends tried to stop the conquest of this spreading monster, but to no
avail: the crusted lips of its jaws had been slowly breaking up,
widening the gap.
After the war, my three-street village was reduced to one pitiful
main street, with a church on each end. The new church, funded by the
government and erected in mere months, was glorious with crystal
chandeliers and a polished white marble cross in front of the main
entrance. The old church was much smaller, with a wonky set of stairs
that led into its nave and a small pine bush growing out of a crack
above the second story window, but it was still impressive for the
community of this size. Once a week, in front of this church, men from
the village would gather to discuss myriad serious issues. The process
was tedious: The leader would speak, and the others would nod, followed
by a shot of rakija. By the end of the night, they were all pickled in
it. Occasionally, given the proper stimulant, an idle, barren
discussion would turn sedulous - like that evening when they shrieked for
hours about Marko Perusic's wife who dared to stray; or when they
debated the oddity of me being twenty-two and never seen with a man. The
villagers drove the former woman mad with whispers. They only backed off
after her husband took the poor woman back and she became pregnant with
the third child. The pressure on me as an unwedded woman was enormous.
But I shut them up by being in the first row at every single holy mass.
I fucking hated it.
The entire "council," the entire village without a doubt, believed
that strict moral discipline and faith were essential if order was to be
maintained. And the order had to be preserved at any cost. It was a
harsh social system, but it worked for the villagers here in these arid
mountains, gray with rocks and mist.
That torrid summer day, in the bottom of the valley, the air was
boiling with sounds - screams, laughter, thumping, then screams again.
Bumper cars came to the valley for the first time. Rumor had it that
they were a pity-gift from someone in Germany, probably an old refugee
who wanted to show off his success in his adopted country. I don't even
remember the nineties and the violence, but the moment my mother's tit
was shoved in my mouth, my ears were filled with stories of the good ol'
times and the traumas of the present. The stories of the
bumper-car-donor's likes were particularly poisonous and spoken of with
The fair grew around the attraction, like a colony of mold around a
leaky faucet. Hundreds of people, kids, parents, vendors, and
pickpocketing scum were flushed out of nearby villages to see the
spectacle and make some easy money. I don't know when the last time was
that I saw my villagers so aroused, so I joined a few of them on the
descent to the basin.
Down there, the air was dripping with sound, moisture, smoke, and
heat. In the middle of a little clearing, on the very edge of the fair,
a battery of spits was erected above piles of scorching coals. The din
of the crowd carrying a limp animal grew stronger as they approached the
dell. The animal's mouth was wide open, the face petrified in the
grimace of its last breath. Its swollen tongue hung from its head,
bouncing off the shoulder of one of the men carrying it. The lifeless
fur battled above the heads, glistening with sweat, as the procession
meandered past me. I swished a horsefly sucking on my wet skin; its legs
were heavy with moisture as it flew away and landed on the dead animal's
To the right of the dell, the crowd was piling up. I pushed myself
into the fenced-in swarm that set my course towards the ride. The
high-pitched screams reverberated off of the vendors' tents as if inside
a drum. The horde engulfed me. As it carried me towards the ride, it
narrowed into a V and then into a chute. One by one, people rammed their
way through the tight opening and jumped on emptied bumper-car seats. I
leaped and landed on one. My shirt got stuck on the sweat from the woman
sitting there before me. I could smell my own odor and the stench of the
burned skin of the goat roasting on a spit.
The sudden jolt of the ride dropped a strap from my shoulder.
Immediately, I got hit from behind, then from the left. Thump. My body
jerked. The force of the jolt first pinned me to the seat then pushed me
forward. It emptied my lungs like a limp bagpipe. I couldn't move. I was
stunned, shocked by the force of it as it penetrated me. I gnashed my
teeth and clawed the wheel as I was hit from behind and then again from
the front. My mouth was filled with saliva; I couldn't breathe. Thump.
Hair whipped me over the face and snot flew out of my nose. I shut my
eyes. The screams, the laughter, the thumping sounds. A blow from
behind. Thump. The cacophony of sounds swallowed one another and were
silenced by the buzzing in my head. I think my jaw was punched, but I
couldn't tell. Thump. On the side of the ride, piled on a cheap
plastic table, the mountain of meat was formidable, like a carcass of a
sperm whale, the air smelled of death. A frenzied competition between
scavengers of all kinds circled it to grab their share. A drop of sweat
slid down my nose, ran slowly over my lips bridging the gap between my
slightly opened mouth, down the chin, then disappeared on my neck.
Thump. The air was squeezed out of my body and through the petrified
windpipe it shot out of my mouth. Thump. Hit from behind. A drunken
fly flew past me, its back sparkled like that beautiful, glittery,
neon-colored dress I wore at the carnival when I was five, and it landed
on the remains of a sprawling bonanza. What was recently a live animal
has turned into a cold, mineral monument.
The ride came to a sudden stop. In front of me, a guy picked at a
string of meat caught between his teeth. The buzzing in my head gave
into the screams and laughter of the crowd. I got up, away from the
seat, which was drenched in my sweat, fixed the strap and walked back
into the herd of people.
It was a long, agonizing walk home up the mountain. The road was
steep, covered in sharp rocks; the spreading gash, raw and impassable;
the new church so bright under the mid-day sun I had to look away. My
body and mind were both sore, but what choice did I have? I had to keep
walking. It was a long, slow, torturous track home up that mountain.