Stipe and I were children, we weren’t so bad off. The construction site was our realm: we lived between mountains of concrete blocks, barrels of paint, piles of gravel and stones. Our world was delimited just like the building lot: by four wooden poles dipped in red paint and stuck in limestone piles. We ran over rocks, picked blackberries, played with knees pressed into white crushed stone. Other children had Legos and Barbies. I did have a Barbie doll, but mostly I played with steel wire, reinforcement, wedges and trowels. My father would be in the workshop until noon. He spent the afternoon building. Trucks came and went, bringing material in, taking rubble out. Father built and poured, moved concrete blocks like a cat its kittens, arranged a stone garden, turning each stone in his hand as if pondering its essence.
Father separated the ground floor into two parts. He used the back part to start a trade, the production of aluminum fittings. Before lunch, the workshop resounded with dull sounds of drills and planes. The front part was our two-room home. Mother dried clothes next to a barrel of fine sand, the small kitchen smelled of boiled cabbages and chicken with potatoes.
The image of my mother is vivid before my eyes. I see her as she was then. She is sitting under a trellis, with her long hair down. She is sitting next to a table covered with a vinyl tablecloth, shelling green peas or peeling potatoes
Soon I’ll be as old as she was then. I’m trying to imagine her dreams of that time and compare them with my dreams now.
I’m trying to understand what she wanted then and whether it was her, or only my father’s, dreams.
I tell the taxi driver to stop on the highway. I stand at the side of the road and took a look at the village.
It looks different than on TV. Colors are more intense, the sea is bluer, the horizon is deeper. The smell of Spanish broom and lavender, the soft wind at the sea, smells and air—it’s the same as in February 1986 when I saw it for the first time. But the view has changed. The cove is red from tiles and bricks. The village has tripled in size, so many houses have been built, my father’s house among them.
I go down the slope to the village. I see unknown houses left and right of the road, all new villas, too big and showy. The village is gaudy like a parrot, multicolored in green and lemon yellow paint. I’m seeing what my father wanted and didn’t get. What I see makes me sick. What I will see makes me even sicker.
I pass by the Batinić house. The old man’s wife saw me from the balcony. She turns her head away. No wonder, after all that happened.
I go down the sandbank and suddenly see father’s house, my house, the house where I grew up.2
After all those years, the feeling hasn’t changed. I feel the same as then. I feel the house inspire a terrible, pure aversion in me.
This house seemed to be made to upset people. Its ground plan had no sense. Its corridors went nowhere. High, unattainable windows all around, sumptuous doors leading to a garage or stairs, staircases shooting into an empty sky. The house that I saw was exactly the same as the one from my nightmares. This house (I thought) is so eerie that its very existence and persistence is poisoning the past and the future. As long as it stands, nobody in our family and this village can be either brave or happy.
I’m looking at it. My father’s house is being eaten away by demolition. Its back side, where the workshop used to be, has already been gobbled by the bulldozer. Bent rods project into the sky, pieces of the upper slab hang surreally in the air, the front yard is buried in rubble. Anyway, the visible part is terrible enough. I can still make out plaster lions at the gate, the curving arch of the terrace, the baroque balustrade cast in cement. Above it all, like a warning tower, the steeple of some unfathomable temple, there is the staircase. Three floors, six flights of stairs, encased in concrete blocks and crowned with steel spikes. The staircase stood on its own, without floors, waiting for a time of happiness and plenty of square meters. Disgusting vinyl doors on each floor opened into the void, waiting for flats never to be built.
Three floors that made father appear in TV news.
Three floors for my father’s three children. They won’t be there for us, we will never live here.
In the summer of 1988 my father received a document from Germany. He had been given a disablement pension as a carpenter in Leverkusen. In the spring of the same year, it became obvious that wood was the past and aluminum windows were the future, and that there would be plenty of work for the basement workshop. Father went to a bank, took a loan that was subsequently eaten up by inflation, and built a staircase: six flights of stairs and a first floor. Marija’s floor
, as he called it.
2 This paragraph, and the paragraph after next, include direct quotation from Jorge Luis Borges Borges’ story “The Imortal” (Aleph 1949).