Blatnik Andrej:
Billie Holiday

    What if, she says, we played that old Billie Holiday record? Would you kiss me then?

    You don’t have it any more, he says. You don’t have that record any more.

    How do you know? she asks. There are some things one never loses.

    But not that record, he says. Do you remember how we searched for it last year? That time we went to the cinema and were both very sad afterwards, and we got drunk and looked for that record and it wasn’t anywhere, and we just danced, without music. Don’t you remember?

    Yes, I remember, she says. But we got drunk that time and we didn’t look everywhere. The record could have still been some place, it’s just that we didn’t find it that time.

    And you found it afterwards? he asks. You?

    I do the cleaning in this apartment, in case you’ve already forgotten, she says quietly. I’m the one who goes rummaging through the closets.

    And now you have it? Do you have it? he asks, a trifle impatiently.

    It doesn’t matter, she says quietly. I don’t think it matters.

    No? he says. You don’t?

    You didn’t answer my question, she says. You didn’t tell me.

    What? he says.

    Well, she says, if you’d kiss me.

    If I had the record.

    What does that mean - if I had?

    It’s mine, isn’t it? You bought it for me, for my birthday.     Don’t you remember?

    He remains silent.

    Yes, I remember, he says slowly. Yes, that’s right.

    It’s also written on it, she says. It says: to you, the one and only. And your name is on it. And the date.

    Is it? he says.

    Yes. Don’t you remember?

    I remember, he says, quite slowly, not sounding very convinced.

    You’ve forgotten, she says, you’ve forgotten. To you, the one and only. You forgot everything. And you wouldn’t even kiss me any more. Not even if I played that record. Because you think it’s too late. Don’t you?

    What? he says.

    Don’t be evasive, she says. You know what I’m talking about. That’s what you think, isn’t it?

    He says nothing. When he finally breaks the silence, his voice is hoarse and it breaks against the walls of the room.

    Wouldn’t it be better, he says, if people solved things like this in some other way? Differently?

    In what way? she asks. How differently?

    With less…pain. More easily.

    And how do you imagine that? she says slowly.

    Let’s say: write about it to the papers. And then people would respond. Give advice. They would say: it happened to me too, and then…

    Dear Abby?

    Dear Abby.

    And how would this help? Advice? We’ve had more than enough advice, everybody told us their story, everyone has one. And it was no use.

    Even if it was no use, he says. It would be there. It’s easier if you know you’re not the only one who it’s happened to.

    You mean like you said the other day: that it’s necessary to distribute the pain equally? she asks. That everyone gets an equal share of it? And that this way it’s easier for everyone?

    Yes, he nods seriously. That’s it.

    Interesting, she says. Interesting.

    What, he asks. What’s interesting?

    She opens her mouth, and he, against his will, notices how this mouth is smaller than the one he remembers. Something is missing, he thinks. No, not missing - it has grown smaller.

    The telephone rings.

    The phone’s ringing, she says.

    I can hear it, he says, it’s ringing. And now what?

    Answer it. Pick it up. It’s for you, I’m sure.

    What if it isn’t? Maybe it’s for you.

    It’s never for me, she says. Nobody ever calls me. It is for you.

    He picks up the receiver. Hello? he says. Oh, it’s you, he says then. How are you?

    While the voice at the other end of the line is answering, he covers the receiver with his palm and whispers: You were right. It really is for me.

    It’s her, isn’t it? she says.

    It’s her, he nods seriously, and then immediately says into the receiver: oh, yeah? Is that so? Really?

    She turns and leaves the room. He keeps glancing at her, while speaking smoothly into the telephone: Mhm. Yes. You don’t say!

    Music is heard from the adjoining room. He frowns and says into the telephone: what?

    She returns, leans against the wall and looks at him. The corners of her mouth curve, and then drop again. And a few more times like that.

    He says into the telephone: this? Billie Holiday.

    She nods. Yes, Billie Holiday, she says quietly.

    He says: old, of course it’s old.

    She steps close to him and puts her arms around his waist.

    He says: I like it.

    She leans her head against his belly.

    He says: what? No, I’m not alone.

    She gives him a strong hug.

    He says: she’s here. Near me.

    She draws his shirt out of his trousers.

    He says: what do you mean, how near? Yes, she’s in this room. Yes, close enough to touch.

    She draws her palm across his skin.

    He says, somewhat reluctantly: I don’t know. He covers the receiver and mouths a question. She says, loudly, as if they were alone: what?

    He keeps covering the receiver, and whispers: she’s asking if you mind my talking to her.

    I do mind, she says calmly. And continues to caress his skin.

    He removes his hand from the receiver and wipes the sweat from his forehead. She doesn’t mind, he says unconvincingly into the telephone.

    Did she fall for it? she asks.

    He nervously covers the receiver with his hand.

    What? he says. No, that’s music. Billie Holiday.

    She rises, steps close to him and kisses him on the mouth.

    He takes hold of her chin and turns her face away, but not with much conviction.

    Of course I love you, he says into the receiver.

    Tell her you’re lying, she says quietly. Tell her.

    Really, he says. I do.

    You know you love me, she says with determination. Me. Although you don’t show it. Although you think you shouldn’t show it.

    He lets the hand holding the receiver dangle at his hip. How do you know? he says.

    Your skin tells me, she says calmly. At night, when we’re lying together, in the same bed, your skin tells me: I love you.

    How’s that? he says. My skin?

    Skin talks, she says with conviction. Didn’t you know?

    No, I didn’t, he admits.

    There’s a lot more you don’t know, it seems to me, she says, somehow compassionately.

    He looks at her for a while, then drops his eyes and notices the receiver in his hand. What did you say? he says. And waits.

    Then he hangs up.

    She’s no longer there, he says.

    That’s the way it should be, she says. She hung up. She knew you were lying. Like I know.

    No, he objects, I’m not lying.

    The skin, she says. Your skin gives you away.

    My skin? he says and draws his palm across his cheek. What’s all this about skin?

    Yeah, what about it? she asks. Why don’t you listen to it any more? Why don’t you follow it? Why do you want to get out of it?

    Listen? Follow? Out? he asks. Hey, listen, what’s your game? What are you trying to tell me?

    That you don’t know how to listen, she says calmly. And that’s why you think that all things come to an end. That they pass away and are gone. That they disappear without a trace. While in reality they’re still there, only different. If you listened, you’d know.

    I don’t understand, he says.

    You don’t understand because you don’t listen, she says. Everything lasts. It’s true that it sometimes isn’t the way it used to be, it’s true that it sometimes looks old and out of style. But it lasts. Just a sort of film covers it. And everything is the same as it used to be. The same beautiful things. Just a little…older. And that’s why they look strange to you.

    Like Billie Holiday? he says. Beautiful, but old. And that’s why it crackles.

    That’s right. Like Billie Holiday.

    But we lost it, he says to himself.

    And found it again, she says.

    You found it, he says. You. I… I’m just listening. From a distance.

    Once you said, she says, that everything looked beautiful that way. From a distance. Because you could imagine it your way.

    Once, he says, once I had all the answers. I knew everything. What. Why. How.

    And now it’s over, she says. You don’t have any answers any more. But you still have something. Something more.

    What? he asks.

    Me, she says. You’ve got me.

    I can’t, he says. You know it doesn’t work that way.

    What way? she asks.

    You’re not enough. I have to eat. I have to sleep, I have to ...

    What? she say. What else? Tell me.

    What else am I supposed to say? he says.

    Her, she says. You haven’t mentioned her.

    Why does it always end with her? he says, bad-tempered. Why does everything lead to her in the end?

    Yes, why? she says thoughtfully. Why, when in reality…

    The music stops.

    What is it? he starts. Is it the end of the record?

    Wait, she says. There’s more.

    And really, in the next room Billie Holiday starts singing again.

    The sky was blue

    And high above

    The moon was new

    And so was love…


    That’s what you sang to me when we were at the seaside, he grows tender.

    No, no, she says.

    Yes, he continues. Quite a while ago. When we walked along the beach in the evening, and you told me which star was which. I was absolutely enchanted; I don’t know anything about stars.

    No, no, she persists.

    Yes, nothing. And then we sat down somewhere by the sea. It looked like the middle of nowhere, remember? And we drank all the fruit-brandy we could get into that little flask you gave me when you were selling them at the Christmas fair. And you held my hand a little longer every time I handed you the drink.

    That wasn’t me, she says with determination.

    No? he says incredulously.


    That’s right, he grows pensive. Her skin was cooler than yours.

    Was it?

    Yes. Cool and smooth.

    And mine isn’t?

    I know every pore on your skin.

    Pore? she says.

    Crease and scratch, he says, somewhat impatiently. And that’s why you don’t want it any more, she says calmly. Are there many?

    I don’t know, he says. But I know them all.

    They do no harm, she says. It’s like Billie Holiday’s records.

    Scratches belong there. Without them it would be something different.

    That’s just it, he says.

    It - what?

    It - something different.

    So that’s what it’s all about, she says. You’re fed up. And you think it’ll take your mind off it, if it’s something different. And that you won’t notice that it’s sometimes the same as it was before. Because you’re the same. It’s the same, except for the scratches that come after a long time.

No, he says. What are you talking about? That’s nonsense.

Nonsense, she nods. As always. The same, I tell you.

    The telephone rings again.

    Let it ring, she says. It’ll stop.

    Aren’t you interested in who it is? he asks. It might be for you.

    I know who it is, she says. It’s not for me.

    If it isn’t for you, he says, then it’s for me. And if it’s for me, I really don’t see why I shouldn’t answer it.

    Because you don’t have time, she says.

    I don’t have time? What am I doing that is so important that I don’t have time?

    You’re listening to Billie Holiday.

    I think I can listen to Billie Holiday and talk on the phone. Both at the same time. I think I can manage that.

    No, you can’t. Not if you listen to Billie Holiday and kiss me at the same time. Then you can’t talk on the phone.

    Listen to Billie Holiday and kiss you? Like in the old times?

    That’s right. Only with more scratches. With the coating. With everything that came along. And so, differently.

    But look, the phone won’t stop ringing. It just keeps ringing. I can’t listen to Billie Holiday with the phone ringing all the time. I can’t kiss you if it’s ringing, and it’s for me, and I know who it is.

    Well, then answer and tell her, she says. Tell her what you’re doing. And it’ll stop ringing. And it’ll be easier.

    He looks at her. He looks at the telephone. He looks at his hand hovering over the receiver.

    I should tell her? Really? And if I do tell her - what’ll happen then? Will it be any different? Changed in any way?

    Tell her. There are things that don’t seem to exist unless you say them. Maybe this one isn’t that kind… But then, maybe it is. Tell her, and we’ll see what happens next.

    He picks up the receiver. He looks at her again, and she nods. He also lifts his head and bends it upon his chest in a slow arc. Singing is still heard from the background. The record is crackling slightly.

    I can’t, he says into the receiver held in his outstretched arm, far away from his mouth. I can’t. I’m listening to Billie Holiday. Still. In the same way. But differently. Do you hear? Do you understand?

Translated by Tamara Soban