A Creature of Habit

translated by Will Firth
Photo by Ariel Dovas
Photo by Ariel Dovas

Stasis and disruption go head to head in this story from Macedonia.

It’s not clear whether my husband is going to be ambassador for much longer, as he might be recalled from his position because of me, or he’ll have no choice but to resign. We don’t talk about this, of course. When he comes home from work, he goes into the yard, sits in a deck chair, drinks vodka with ice, and smokes a cigar. My Manoli also drinks vodka, but always neat, without ice. I lie: sometimes he puts in ice to make a surprise for himself—he has to “switch and change a bit,” he says. That switching and changing links in with his whole philosophy of life. He very much likes to change things. Every two or three weeks, say, he changes the arrangement of the pictures in his apartment, or he rearranges the furniture. Those aren’t big changes like my mother made, for example, when she completely renovated her apartment every two years, which the psychiatrist claimed comes from the need to escape from oneself and to start again in a different setting. The changes aren’t so fundamental with Manoli. His are small and sweet, and he keeps his habits for rather a long time. So I want to become a habit like that for him, something that will stay with him forever, like the girlfriend he had before me, that young tart by the name of Maya. I don’t know how old the little bitch was when she nabbed him, but in any case you won’t find a kookier creature than her. Luckily she found herself a richer and more famous boyfriend and took her dirty paws off Manoli.

Manoli told me that my eyes shone and had a moist glint in them. “Your beautiful eyes!” he exclaimed again and again when we first met. 

Otherwise I don’t know what he’d have done. He might have stayed with her. It’s a good thing I turned up when I did. I want to become a long-term habit for him so that he has me forever, although I’m not sure he won’t want to change things once in a while, the way he rearranges his furniture. And what if I now leave with my ambassador husband for another posting? Maybe I’ll talk with him one of these days and see if what others are calling a scandal can somehow be defused, because I really want to stay on here where Manoli is, where I got to know him. If I left, Manoli would definitely start to change a lot. I guess you could say he’s handsome and a bit of a magnet for women. And he is fond of them too, especially when he’s drunk, and let’s face it—that’s most of the time. They can hardly drag him out of that damn bar where he stopped going quite so often because of me. Perhaps he’d also change his favorite watering hole after deciding he wants to drink in a different bar. That would never happen with my husband, for example. It’s a real irony that my husband and I are always traveling due to his position, although he doesn’t like to change things. That means he’s constantly changing the most essential thing—his abode—when he actually doesn’t want to change anything. There he is, sitting in the yard every day when he comes home from work, drinking vodka from the same glass and smoking the same cigars he’s smoked all his life. Now he’s mourning for his dog that’s died. It was a fawn mastiff. It always annoyed me that the dog was so big, and I didn’t like it. It didn’t like me either, but sееing as it was a mastiff I kept out of its way. You just can’t imagine all the problems a dog like that causes when you have to travel. Of all the animals in the world, my spouse had to have a mastiff—probably in the hope that the animal would anchor him in one place, because my husband doesn’t want change. One benefit of his profession is that when he needs to speak in public, when he prepares himself for a talk, he always acts the same way and says the same things. Mainly they’re just empty phrases, things no one wants to hear, and still he attends all the receptions, galas, and soirees. But with Manoli, you know, every event is different. Not to mention that I’ve watched one of his plays nineteen times, and I’ve also been to performances where he wasn’t in a lead role. At first he was really pleased, but then after the tenth time it started to make him anxious. I know it’s a bit abnormal, but I couldn’t stop myself. Not only was I rapt when I watched him, and felt as if my soul was flying, and had a cold fire inside me that flamed up every time I thought back to us making love, but my pussy went all full and fleshy. I didn’t say it to him quite like that. I often told him that he really turned me on, and that when I saw him or thought of him I got all swollen and sticky, like a bud in spring. But I didn’t dare tell him that in connection with the play because I realized it’d disturb him even more. To reassure him, I said I was there with an analytical mission: to study the interactions of the actors and the viewers, and I added that every audience demanded something new of a good actor. Manoli smiled when I said that and asked if I was a theater expert. No, I replied, but he didn’t ask me what my profession was—he’s never asked me that sort of thing. Which is just as well, because I don’t have a profession; it’s my husband who does. Come to think of it, he’s also an actor of sorts: he’s constantly acting as if the countries we’re posted in don’t annoy him and he doesn’t think the people who live here are barbarous peasants who bash and kill each other at the drop of a hat. Whenever the embassy sponsors an organization, he pretends he’s interested, especially if it’s related to culture in some way. He goes to receptions, launch parties, and other solemnities and holds the same speeches everywhere, with the same smile, with his glass of white wine raised high, with the badge of the Macedonian flag and ours embracing in friendship pinned on his collar. At receptions like that I usually down two whiskeys before we start so that I feel more relaxed and am ready to chat with the locals. I know they think I look strange with my red cheeks, but Manoli told me that my eyes shone and had a moist glint in them.

My husband also used to say that to me—that he fell in love with me because of my eyes. But I don’t think he’s mentioned my eyes for years now.

“Your beautiful eyes!” he exclaimed again and again when we first met. My husband also used to say that to me—that he fell in love with me because of my eyes. But I don’t think he’s mentioned my eyes for years now, and he hasn’t kissed them. Manoli used to kiss them a lot before moving on to the rest of me. “You’re so beautiful, oh how great you look for your years,” he called out to me. “Oh, you’re so beautiful. How well that blazer suits you. You look fantastic in those snazzy high heels.” Sometimes he wanted us to make love with me wearing the hat from the reception I’d been to, meaning the one we’d both been to, because as a celebrity he also often went to receptions. Several times I dashed off with him to his place after the parties and launches, and he’d make me take off everything except for the high heels and the hat. Then he’d make love with me from behind. My husband doesn’t do that at all. When we make love he insists I be on top. He doesn’t arouse me anymore with his balding, pointy head, thin lips, and the blond stubbly growth on his chin when he doesn’t shave over the weekend. With his freckly body and his scrawny arms and legs. And then I have to get up on top of him and ride him; in other words I have to do the work. If I was lying down it’d be different. With Manoli I’m sometimes lying down, but mostly he likes to do it doggy style, except when he’s really plastered—then I have to go on top. Unlike Manoli, my husband only drinks one vodka when he comes home from work and smokes his cigar—even now that his beloved dog has died, which he used to play with after smoking his cigar, and he doesn’t drink more than one glass of vodka. I thought that at least with the dog’s death and with him probably having to resign from his post he’d start to drink more, or he’d want to talk to me, but he’s a creature of habit, like I say, someone who doesn’t want to change things, a man who pretends everything’s the same as it was in the past. Manoli, on the other hand, as I’ve said, likes change, and that changed things between us. First I saw him with a girl after one of his plays, a little strumpet like that Maya who was his girlfriend for quite some time. How she melted in his presence, how she just slimed up to him . . . And, tall as he is, he looked down at her head like a mushroom. I went up, took him by the hand, and dragged him out. Later I started frequenting the bar where he drinks in the evenings after performances, even when he’s not in the cast. Some of those actress sluts hang out there who he’s definitely bonked with in the past, and maybe he still does for variety, because he thrives on change. Several times I sat down at the same table and forced everyone to speak English because obviously I don’t speak Macedonian. I know that kills conversation—that was the whole point. Gradually everyone scattered and he was mine again. I did that often: I’d go there in the evenings to get him before he drank too much, then take him back to his place and make love with him in my high heels. We’d do it for a whole hour if need be. But those little sluts began to irk me more and more, especially the drama students. One evening I caught him with a little hussy like that. They were sitting at a table, with him nibbling on her ear and her smiling lecherously. I went up and gave her a slap and told him we were leaving straightaway. He stood up and hugged the girl, who was crying because I hit her very hard, like she deserved. He started yelling at me that I was mad and I should leave him alone. He didn’t really mean it, of course, he just had to behave like that because I hit the girl—he had to protect her. I also think it was a bad idea from today’s perspective. I told him I wasn’t going to leave unless he came with me. He kept yelling at me to go away. I don’t know why, but I started to shout. He vanished somewhere behind the bar. I tried to follow him but the owner stopped me. I think I smashed several bottles that were standing on the bar, and I threw a wineglass at the girl. By accident it hit a woman sitting at the table behind her with a few other people. I’m sorry the glass hit the woman. Two men grabbed me and took me outside, although I resisted. Then a car came from the embassy. They bundled me inside and drove me home, where my husband was waiting. He was pale but calm, and he just told me to go and take a bath to soothe my nerves. He said we probably wouldn’t be staying in Macedonia. Then he went out onto the terrace and, imagine, lit up a cigarette, and in that way he changed something. As far as I’m concerned, Manoli doesn’t want to replace me, he just wants to alter the dynamics of our relationship. And my husband—he isn’t going to change anything. Even that cigarette on the terrace was a one-off thing. And so I think it’s quite possible that we’ll be staying here. 

Translation from the Macedonian
By Will Firth

Rumena Bužarovska is the author of three short-story collections: Čkrtki (Scribbles, 2007), Osmica (Wisdom tooth, Blesok, 2010), and Mojot maž (My husband, 2014). She is a literary translator from English into Macedonian, and her translations include Lewis Carroll, J. M. Coetzee, Truman Capote, and Richard Gwyn. She is assistant professor of American literature at the State University of Skopje in the Republic of Macedonia, where she was born in 1981.

Will Firth (www.willfirth.dewas born in 1965 in Newcastle, Australia. He studied German and Slavic languages in Canberra, Zagreb, and Moscow. Since 1991 he has lived in Berlin, where he works as a translator of literature and the humanities (from Russian, Macedonian, and all variants of Serbo-Croat). His translations of Montenegrin writers Slađana Kavarić, Brano Mandić, and Milovan Radojević appear in WLT’s March 2017 issue.