Galia

It was not long before Petya’s mother brought the celebration to an end. It seemed to have been a while since she’d last needed a repair, because she and Zdravko were all buttocks, breasts, and crotches, grabbing flesh by the handful. Galia had never seen such a display. She worried that that’s what Vladi would want to do — she could not imagine being handled that way. She knew she shouldn’t watch, but she couldn’t take her eyes off them. She saw the whole thing happen, when they bumped into a speaker and sent the entire system crashing to the floor.

Do you think they have sex?

The man sitting across from her is telling her about his travels in Spain, the elongated hands of a man named El Greco, the cheerful mosaics of someone named Gaudi.

Gaudy. She remembered that word. It was the word for a dress like hers. So many yards of blue-white satin ruined from being dragged across pavement and dirt, and for what? To make her look beautiful? Virginal? Chaste?

“Your glass is empty. Let’s get you some more wine.”

Galia recognizes the irony in this wedding night, the little daisies on her bridal nightgown. A clash of the clean and the dirty, the lurid and the pure. She knows Maika and Tati are lying in bed next to each other, talking about the wedding and the fine husband they found for their daughter. Maika is thinking about the sex. All night, her mother had been giving her hints. Be sure you shower. Be sure to wash yourself down there. Be sure to use the scented soap that’s in your bag. Try to relax. Have a glass of wine. Trust your Vladi. He will know what to do. In the morning, Maika will ask her, So?

Dean did not see her that day at the bus station. He climbed the stairs of the bus and sat down next to Laura and looked straight ahead as they pulled out of the station. That was the last anyone heard of him. But in Galia’s dreams, it happens differently. Dean looks back from the top stair, spots her in the crowd, and in his authoritative, twenty-four-year-old voice, asks her the question she’d both feared and wanted:

“What do you have to say for yourself, Galia?”

The answer changes from dream to dream. Sometimes it’s as simple as, “I’m sorry,” or “Thank you.” One time she said, “Please come again.” Another time, she said, “You look nice in blue.” In one particularly galling dream, she said, “It would be fraudulent to pretend I won’t miss you.”

Looking at this man’s thick fingers intertwined with her own, she hears herself say, “Goodbye.”

“Goodbye,” she says, pushing her chair back. Tottering slightly as she stands, she leaves without paying for her Coke.

Over the course of her marriage, she will replay this ending time after time, until it warps and twists and bends. She will remember that yellow glow from the wine and the man who held her hand. She will never once doubt the decision she made that night — not even when Vladi’s black mood touches the horizon. On the contrary, she will find satisfaction in her memories of her wedding night, not for the transaction that would be finalized when she returned to the room, but for the deal that she saw coming, and so, got up and walked away.

REPRINTED FROM The Gettysburg Review (Volume 19, Number 3, Autumn 2006) WITH THE AUTHOR’S PERMISSION

The artwork featured with this story is part of the My Bulgaria art exhibit, a collection of paintings and drawings by Bulgarian students ages six to thirteen. It is the product of a 1996 art contest, in which school children created pictures depicting what their country meant to them. Contest coordinator and curator Anissa Paulsen was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bulgaria. The collection has been exhibited in the National Children’s Museum and other venues around the United States.
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