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. At the
end of the night, rakija was drunk in pints. Occasionally, given the
proper stimulant, an idle, barren discussion would turn sedulous—like
that evening when they shrieked about Marko Perusić’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
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 envy.
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 fly 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 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
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.