Galia’s parents were the kind who bought the bar of chocolate before she asked for it. Approaching middle age when they had her, they’d had time to anticipate her needs. They bought shoes before she could walk, a dictionary before she could talk, and a battery of pens, pencils, and paintbrushes when her fingers were still doughy and fat. They purchased her grades in batches at the start of the Bulgarian school year: They could get a whole semester of sixes with a side of pork or wool enough to knit two sweaters. They bought her ticket to the University a year in advance. They bought her valedictory remarks from Petya Docheva, the smartest girl in class. For a ten-minute speech printed on note cards, Petya charged the amount she needed to cover the University entrance exam fee. Petya got a near-perfect score on the exam, and still the University couldn’t find a place for her. When the word got out that Petya would work in a café the next year and retake the entrance exam the following summer, Galia refused to leave the apartment even to buy bread. She didn’t want to see anyone, least of all Petya. Galia’s father said if Petya was really smart, she would have taken her tutoring money and lined the pocket of a University professor. “Petya hasn’t learned the most important lesson,” Tati said. “By now she should know, you get what you pay for.”
They purchased her grades in batches at the start of the Bulgarian school year: They could get a whole semester of sixes with a side of pork or wool enough to knit two sweaters.
Tati’s most recent purchase, Vladi, is asleep on the bed. It’s 2:15 in the morning, and the room is black, save a sallow sphere of light from the bedside lamp. His smell is a combination of stale and sour, saturated as he is from a full day of drinking, the first shot of rakiya taken at 9:00 a.m. He looks peaceful — hair scalloping the top of his forehead, mouth open just enough for guttural sleep sounds to escape — except for the scar on his arm. It runs from his shoulder to his elbow, a centimeter thick, and round, like a rope that’s been stitched to his bicep, red, lumpy, and enraged. The doctors say it will never go away, which is good, she knows, for Vladi’s sake. He needs that scar — that angry piece of evidence. Much more than he needs a wife or a father-in-law who buys him. Things.
They hardly spoke after Tati dropped them off at the hotel. The ride in Tati’s police car had finished them off, with Tati talking the whole way about the disaster with Petya Docheva’s mother and Zdravko Nachev on the dance floor. How they had groped each other — “Like animals!” Tati yelled — and wouldn’t stop, even when first, Petya, then, Tati, suggested they sit down. How he’d known something bad was going to happen, the way they were humping and bumping so close to the band. How they were lucky no one had been killed when the equipment came crashing down, cords ripped out of the wall, speakers knocked off tripods. Galia could only assume that the crash reverberated in Vladi’s head the way it did in hers — a throbbing echo of the day’s events that refused to subside.
After they checked in, Vladi spent $50 on Marlboros from the hotel bar. He didn’t even look at Galia when he took the wad of wedding money out of his jacket pocket and peeled off the bills. He could have bought the cigarettes for a quarter the price anywhere else. They both knew that. As he was counting out the money, he stopped and looked at Galia, his eyes yolk-yellow and his skin peppered with blackened pores. He just stood there, fists filled with money, willing her to say something.
But Galia’s mind was white — white dress with a row of buttons hard to undo, white sheets pulled taut across the bed, white skin never exposed to sun. She flushed, fish-mouthed, desperate for words that would not come.
Up in the room, Vladi lit a cigarette and turned on the TV. This was how he was: He could not be in a room for one minute without needing the TV. “You drain me,” he said blowing smoke from his nose and staring at the soccer match on the screen. “When I’m with you, I feel like I’m with nobody.”
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