Camera Shift

A full moon and the right kind of literature

make the perfect recipe for gloom. Shift the camera just so and the calm night fills up with despair, the golden round moon acquires the menacing halo famous for bringing out the madhouse, and your worse memories start flooding you. But I never expected literary fiction to bring me here.

It’s a lie to say I’m struggling to read these Russian stories. In fact, I’m caught, mesmerized by the rhythm of the monotonous yet sharply colored laments bringing out familiar images so alike my own Romanian childhood. Why before now had I not seen how grim the concrete matchbox buildings were, how small our apartments, how dysfunctional our families? I always felt I had a relatively happy childhood. How did I not recognize the hopeless droll lives spent between dull work and daily survival struggle? Maybe as kids, in our resilience, we didn’t need much. Some chalk to draw castles on the gray pavement. A pair of roller skates that grow with your shoes and last 15 years. The feeling of defiance when you tweak your school uniform with a colorful T-shirt or by refusing to wear the required white headband.

I try hard to recall those little things that kept us going, but right now, as I fall for Petrushevskaya’s dry yet heart wrenching prose, old hurts and fresh losses start raising their heads and hissing at me. It goes on like this until it can’t anymore. I jump out of my chair just before I start boohooing, combing the house instead for a fast remedy. Fortunately, my children and my husband are not awake to witness these theatrics, but that also means I cannot call a friend at this hour. There are drinks, of course, but that will not fix this crisis. I need something more, something spiritual. I would light a candle if I could extract one without creating too much noise. In the end, I settle for a bottle of “blessed water,” one that a friend brought from the Romanian church in Atlanta. It’s just a regular plastic water bottle, almost full, but I remember well when she brought it. “Sorry,” she said, “I just filled the bottles I had in the car, I kept one for myself.” I start sprinkling the water around, tiptoeing through rooms and bedrooms, making the kids stir and grumble and wipe their faces and stopping my husband’s snores as I drizzle holy water across our bedside.

The full moon finally disappears somewhere over the roof, where I can no longer see it. I feel calmer and sleepier so I leave the now half full bottle by the sink. I’ll put it somewhere tomorrow. As I climb into bed, the house slowly settles.

The morning looks pretty and new and sunny for a change. In the usual rush of everybody trying to get out of the house on time, I barely notice the plastic bottle is missing from the kitchen where I left the night before. No time to look for it now or ask my husband, but just before leaving the house I think I catch a glimpse of it in the recycling bin. The image replays in my mind as I drop the little one at school. I call my husband from the car—a big no-no usually—but this is an emergency.

“Did you throw a plastic water bottle this morning, darling?”
“Errr, maybe, I think so?”
“It was near the sink, still half full.”
“Yes, I think I did. Why?”
“Where did you pour the water?”
There’s a pause. He’s probably debating if I’ve gone nuts.
“In the sink?”
I sigh. “You could have at least used it for the flowers.”
He doesn’t seem to buy into my possible environmental reasons. Another silence, then: “So, what’s this all about?”
“It was holy water,” I say. “You know, the one M. brought.”
I know he’s not very impressed. Not the superstitious type. But he answers in a soothing voice:
“It’s ok, dear, we’ll go to Atlanta soon, and you can get some.”
And when I remain quiet, he feels compelled to add something else.
“Look on the bright side, honey. It’s not like we’re going to change the sink anytime soon. We’ll probably have a very blessed sink for as long as we live in this house.”
I breathe in and out, trying to embrace his point of view, knowing full well he’s making fun of me. Nothing can be changed now. This is as good as it gets, I decide. All in the way you shift the camera.

Dorothy Gabel

Dorothy Gabel was born in Bucharest, Romania, and came to US almost 20 years ago following her husband’s work. She went to undergraduate and graduate school in Bucharest. She works full time in Spartanburg, but tries to keep connected with her country of birth, too.