It was a late May evening when Stelian last sat at the table with his wife, Ileana. The dinner tasted bitter, with harsh words spoken in distress.
“You can say what you wish. I’m leaving! I have to because I can’t stay for nothing, without a job, and without money, at the mercy of your salary.”
Helena’s voice trembled, but he, her husband, refused to listen to the sound of the tears hidden in the depth of her throat.
The food remained silent on the wooden table, covered with a snow-white tablecloth, listening to how the mouths that should have been happy with its flavor preferred to fill with the venom of an unresolved misunderstanding.
Stelian is now, after almost a year, more miserable than ever. He is angry with himself, on life, on the world, on everything! And with his Helen, who left him and went to Italy to work! That evening, he cursed her. He threw at her hard words and dirty presumptions, but she did not listen to him and left without looking back.
Now he sits alone, with his forehead bowed, his eyes fixed on the window in front of the same table, bored to death. Since he lost his job, no one has taken him any more seriously for employment at fifty-five. He covered his time, read, did the puzzle, or worked here and there for a day when the opportunity arose. His life is on the edge now. Unemployment ends and he does not know what he will do. What will he live on? He can't retire yet. He would re-train, but what could he do? What would give him a chance to get a job? Employment security does not exist even after such an approach.
“Go to hell you, bitter life! They say that life today is better than yesterday. Then people could find nothing in shops, but at least they had jobs.”
That’s how he woke up reflecting involuntarily, without ever thinking that such a moment would come; it's a moment with such a longing for that last supper. At least then he had an income...and a wife.
Now he has no constant source of income, and he has no wife anymore! That, after splashing her with insults, Helen showed no sign. She knew something about her life only from Steven, her son from her first marriage. Stelian got along well with the boy he raised as his own child, from the age of three or four. And now they get along well. Steve is a married man, with a job, and lately with a baby. This made Stelian happy; he feels a little like a grandpa. He would go to that baptism but he is afraid to meet Helen, who will surely come.
Especially since he understood she was doing well there, abroad something is bothering him; it’s not about her, but about him.
The old woman she takes care of and her sons really like Helen. It is not a surprise for Stelian because he knows so well how hardworking she is. Yeah, Helen always has been a spotless woman. Plus, she’s almost all the time a happy being, with a toned laugh and a huge zest for life. How sorry Stelian is now that he wasn’t able to understand her. He simply hadn’t been able to feel what she felt, a deep sense of inutility. The time to feel the same came for him, but it’s too late.
The phone rings strident in the silence of the deserted apartment, where the smell of dust became the only Stelian’s roommate.
“Hey Grandpa, what are you doing?”
Steven’s voice echoes merrily in the man’s ears and a hidden sadness insinuates into his soul.
How much he looks like his mother! This guy laughs even if he’s dead! That’s how he was as a child and maybe his joy won over Stelian and he learned to love him.
“Look, boy, I’m struggling with my silence. It’s like I forgot to talk. ”
“Well, Dad, why don’t you come to us to change a word or two? I always told you that the door is open for you! But you, man, no and no! Listen, at the baptism, if you don’t come, I’ll bring you, by force!”
“I can’t come, son, because I don't want to meet your mother!”
"Why? Are you still mad at her? You don't have to, believe me! She's doing well, I told you. Now she sent us some money for baptism. You know, how much she hated to stay at home in vain. That was deadly bad for her. I feel she came back to life. Now she can survive and to help us as well."
What else can Stelian say? Now he understands things differently because he also sees what it's like to stay as a fool at home without work, doing nothing. But back then… he couldn't understand!
"Hell, how stupid I was!"
“Dad, remember, Sunday is the baptism. We are waiting for you at the church and then we all go to Maria's parents, in the garden. They offered to host the meal for all the guests, there under the vine. The meteorologists say that it will be sunny. If not, we move under the roof in the barn, because there is enough room there too. ”
Stelian is in doubt.
How's possible to go there, bro? He has no money and no idea what to buy for the little one.
The phone rings again.
"Hello!" He shouts into the receiver.
"Yes, why are you so angry, Dad Stelian?" (That's what he used to call him since he was little).
"I'm not angry at all, but what happened?”
"I forgot to tell you something important, Dad. Maria reminded me. Well… ( a shy hesitation in Steven’s voice) we know you are unemployed, even if you have been silent; don't worry about preparing a gift, because that's not the case. Thank God we're fine. Just come and see your niece. Please! You are a living gift”. A joy chuckle marks the end of the sentence.
Stelian’s eyes fill with tears. Oh, my sweet and good child!
“Well, it’s not appropriate, Steven, to come to my niece with my ass in my hand!”
“Well, all you have to do is to put your hand where it should be, not where it shouldn’t!”
Steven laughs and continues cheerfully:
“All right, we’re waiting for you. See you, Daddy Stelian. ”
His old heart softens and the thought of not refusing already makes room inside him when he hangs up the phone. But he still won't be there empty-handed. He will ask Madame Aglaia, his neighbor, to help him buy something for the little girl. That old woman seems to live to be always useful to others, to all who ask for her help.
What'd be the name of that little one?
The small church, hidden among the fir trees within the wide courtyard, has a welcoming air, warm and somehow urging peace. Stelian makes his way with his head bowed among the people leaving the religious service and looks somewhat scared inside the church. He cannot see into the shadows, where the Saints in the icons look quietly from the iconostasis and from the walls to the people preparing the baptism. Immediately Helen appears in front of his eyes. She is there near the altar with his daughter-in-law Maria and holds in his arms a white ball from which some whispers come first and immediately they turn into cries come out. No, that young woman is not Maria, but she looks like her. She is her sister, for sure.
"How good Helen looks, my brother, how elegant she is!”
Emotions mixed with envy, jealousy, self-anger try him, and he turns to go.
“Why is he here? His wife seems to be ready to laugh in front of his nose. And she would be right because she is a winner while he remained a loser. ”
He turns slowly and heads to the door. In the church porch, however, an arm grips him firmly on the shoulder, and the voice that has accompanied him for over fifteen years of life says softly:
“Where are you going, Stelian? We are all waiting for you! ”
He turns in astonishment and looks with wide eyes at the woman who, now beside him, looks much younger than he knows her; her eyes are full of light and that smile, which she fell in love with a long time ago, looks more beautiful than ever. And above all, he is sincere, without a trace of defiance.
“You too, Helen? Are you too are waiting for me? ”
“Why not Stelian? Why couldn’t I wait for you? Didn’t we take care together about this boy, now a father? We’re old, man, look, we’re grandparents! Do you know how beautiful that little girl is? God, I can’t believe it! ”
A tear shines in the corner of Helen's eyes. Stelian turns and looks at her for a long time. She softly approaches and nests on his chest, and his arms return home around her body. Both of them are aware of how much they missed this. Since she left, Stelian has hugged only a woman. It was a fleeting, superficial embrace, meant only to cool off that piece of burning clay from inside his body. Nothing has touched his heart.
Steven looks at them smiling through the open door to the church porch.
"Wow, it's good!”- says the boy's mind, and he breathes a sigh of relief.
He always knew that his mother could not break up with his husband. That man was even for him, if not his father, certainly the most reliable friend. Steven has an absolutely special affection for Stelian. His mother leaving has upset Steve, but he tried to understand Stelian, not to condemn him; this even though he failed to understand everything that happened. After all, no one is perfect! Steven was not so much angry at Stelian’s resistance to his mother’s leaving, as for the harsh words thrown at her. Helen never, ever deserved these words, poor her. All she wanted was to make money for all of them and not sit idle. Doing nothing made her sick.
The young man knew that his mother had her sins, like everybody else. It was especially about her big mouth and the restlessness of an energetic woman; these were sins hard for many men to accept. But Steven didn't enjoy hearing someone insulting her.
Helen was all as a flame when she left and immediately afterward. She couldn’t bear to hear Stelian’s name. But it was not long, and each phone call contained a series of questions and a requirement.
“What do you know about Stelian? What is he doing? How’s he feeling? Take care of him! ”
At first, she said these in a low voice, then more and more imperative.
Steve smiles. He remembers that he once felt a kind of shyness in her voice when she asked him if her husband has somebody else with him.
No, Stelian was not with anyone, and Steven knew that. He assured her he was alone!
Helen also didn't cling to anyone either, because it wasn't her nature to venture. She couldn't forget that the grumpy man she had left at home was her pillar for so many years when she needed him most. She couldn't forget that, and she didn't let Steven do it either.
Stelian re-enters the church shoulder to shoulder with Helen, and together they head for the white little ball now nestled in his father’s arms. Steven looks with wet eyes at his child, then at his parents. He stretches out the little fluffy ball to Stelian and says: “Daddy Stelian, hold on Steliana for a while.”
The man’s already outstretched arms stiffen:
“Steliana?” Man’s voice breaks with emotion.
“Yes, Dad, this little one will have the name of her daddy’s father and her mom’s mother. It’s great to have both grandparents with the same name, isn’t it? “The young man releases that crystalline laugh that resounds beautifully in the church’s silence.
The festive table in the yard of Grandma Steliana laughs under the vine vault with a lot of small, crowded, and still green grapes. It's full of food that catches your eyes and makes your mouth water-spring. Around the table, a cheerful crowd is chatting drinking wine.
Sometimes a voice rises, almost shouting. Sharping looks sting the next-door faces. Helen looks at them and smiles.
They are discussing politics again. I didn’t believe those in Italy who said that those at home became a little ... strange! Yeah, they are weird, like many others from everywhere.
Helen doesn't care about politics! She understood in her simple way that politics is only a historically necessary evil.
She looks at the man next to her; he is the one she spent almost all her life with. His eyes are wet but warm, with stars inside. A deep peace seems to pass through these eyes and trickles down his arm that carefully surrounds her shoulders. Stelian can read her thoughts, as once happened always; they rarely needed too many words.
The atmosphere seems to heat at the table. It seems to boil.
Steven looks in amazement at that nosy discussion, a hullabaloo. He understands nothing anymore. What do these people have? Why do they put so much passion into debating, when the debate is on not even debatable issues?
Doesn't anyone really see the puppeteers? A slight annoyance tries him. He turns his gaze towards a sudden movement at the festive table. He sees his mom who grabs her husband's hand and they retire to a wooden table with one shorter leg. It's a little table forgotten under the cherry tree, with their red earrings in the leaf hair.
The little baby girl cries from the house. Maria and Steven rush to the entrance. Helena, Stelian, Steliana, and grandfather Ionel follow. The godmother smiles slightly:
“Cry, cry, you baby-girl, cry as hard as you can. Let them all hear you, only you. ”
The innocent cry of the little girl brought the mother for her, together with all the closest family members; they give her the comfort of warm and safe arms. And the noise at the table goes out in the clink of childish laughter.
It’s late in the night. Helena and Stelian are sitting again, at the lame table, wrapped in the night’s cool and protected by the cherry pairs. They grasped together their hands, like the cherries’ tails, and keep the peace of their new emotion. They've re-became a couple again and the happiness seems to fly in the fresh air of the night.