Three Improvisations on Murakami (3)

Third Improvisation: How Much You Really Mean to Me

On that January day in 2017, Hanalei Bay on Kauai was every bit as beautiful and indifferent to the people who came to admire it as it had been when the Bulgarian writer Velizar Vazov saw it for the first time in December 2007.

Back then, Velizar and his translator, Julia Stevens, had rented a room at the luxurious St. Regis Princeville, perched on the cliffs on the eastern edge of the bay, where they experienced the passionate thrill of falling in love – a romance which the writer expected would grow into the final and hence most significant love of his life. It was then that they had found the two-storey house at 3934 Namakeha Loop in Princeville, from which he could look out over Hanalei Bay constantly as long as he lived, and they bought it.

Now Velizar was sitting at his desk in that house, reading Julia’s diary; her ashes were next to him, in an exquisite wooden box on a low shelf to the right of the desk. Julia’s father had sent him the diary the previous day as a file attached to an email. After she had died, the two fathers had been writing to each other fairly often, sharing how they were spending their time, how they were planning their futures, discussing about politics and the uncertain world. They didn’t talk about death. Actually, in his capacity as Velizar Vazov’s literary agent, Julia’s father sometimes took the liberty of inquiring how Velizar’s novel about love was going. Velizar gave evasive answers. Months had gone by, and here it was already three years since his last book, which had already been reprinted several times, and he still hadn’t written anything, he was just jotting down notes and searching for the opening line.

Velizar remained true to his morning habit of drinking a large cup of black Chinese tea before work, standing in front of the French doors that opened up onto the view of the magnificent ridge of Pali Ke Kua, which jutted into the ocean. Only around Hanalei Bay did the mountain seem to have retreated inland to create a valley fed by dozens of waterfalls whose white streams sliced through its almost horizontal slopes. Hanalei Bay struck him as an emerald, gently cradled in the palm of the extinct volcano; an emerald whose green flesh flowed into the blue of the ocean like a river that never ran dry.


Velizar set his empty teacup on the desk and started reading. Julia had written her diary on her laptop in Bulgarian. He had printed out the electronic file and was going through the stack of paper in front of him, sheet by sheet.



            I’m in shock: this afternoon I found Valentin dead in his bed. He had long since gone cold. I sent an email to his father, I hope he comes in time. (I want to see him). I need to take care of the funeral… who else?… and to suffer through an interrogation with that stupid detective.


A death, especially when it’s unexpected, puts a stick in the spokes of the everyday. Everything stops. (Only the clock doesn’t.) We feel stunned, everything seems stripped of sense.The bad thing about unexpected death is that one of us – someone we had imagined we would be with our whole lives – is no longer here. The good thing is that it snaps us out of our inertia. Until our survival mechanisms kick in again and we get used to the new routine. In it, the disappeared person is just a memory: for some, his place will remain forever empty, but for most people it will be refilled immediately. Did you hear that so-and-so died? Oh, that’s too bad! And passersby will go on their way, without feeling an emptiness, confident that their place is assured. Does the death of a single person increase the entropy of life? The living simply don’t realize that they, too, will soon become an empty place for some or a distant memory for others.  


Valentin is my husband Velizar’s son. Velizar Vazov has lived on this earth twice as long as I have. When he came to meet me in New York, he was fifty-eight years old, not exactly in the prime of his life, but still far from the beginning of his decline. Even now, he is far from declining. He constantly tells me that I keep him young.


When we met, I already knew Valentin. Now, when he is no longer here, I’m wondering whether someone wanted to get rid of him. Or was he himself unable to live with his own failure? If he did it because of me, then why didn’t he do it back in 2005? Tomorrow I’ll try to analyze events as I remember them, and perhaps I’ll come up with some sort of explanation.



            Velizar is on his way to Sofia. I decided to bury Valentin in the Central Cemetery, in his grandfather’s plot. I didn’t put an obituary in the paper. I sent out invitations by email. I know that Velizar wouldn’t want anyone from Valentin’s mother’s side to be there. Or his former colleagues and especially not the friends he broke off contact with long ago. And no priests whatsoever. A completely secular ceremony. Velizar would prefer his visit to pass incognito.

            What am I actually doing in Bulgaria? I came here out of curiosity, but stayed because of love. Back then, in the final days of May 2003, I arrived at the Sofia Train Station in jeans with a backpack on my back – your typical American girl who loves to travel to exotic countries. The difference was that I had relatives in this country, but I didn’t much care about them. If someone had tried to tell me then that that railway platform and that capital would change my whole life beyond all recognition, I would have thought they were crazy. But just like Murakami told me, the world we live in is made up, we are the only real thing in it.

            I stepped down onto the platform and two days later I was head-over-heels in love. I lied to the detective. Valentin was the name of the man who met us at the station. The very same Valentin whom we buried on Saturday and who appeared to Svetla at the bar. Back then he seemed unbelievably handsome to me – no, unbelievably sexy; there’s a crucial difference. My legs turned to jelly. Two days later, I was in his bed, in the penthouse on Vladayska Street, crazy in love.

            I’m in love now, too. I fell in love with Velizar three years ago. And I still tremble with love whenever I see or hear him. An automatic response, but an amazing thrill, there’s nothing else that can compare. It has something in common with the first time I fell in love, with his son, but it’s not the same. It’s much more magnificent. Three-dimensional. I don’t want this thrill to disappear. Ever. If we lived together, I would risk losing it. It’s true that I could have stayed in New York. My father is lonely there. I have a great apartment – the French doors in the living room look out over Central park. My father’s apartment in Soho is 2,000 square feet, and I’ll inherit it some day. But… I’m wondering whether I should even write this, whether it’s true… so here’s something complicated and inexplicable: my mother uprooted herself, she moved west, found herself a husband, had me, then she divorced my father despite my protests, she divorced late, I was already twenty, she couldnt convince me to support her in this move, she couldnt find a new partner, and now shes living in squalor in a rented apartment in Brooklyn and undergoing treatment for depression, she doesnt want to see me, a bitter seventy-year-old woman, I dont want to see her either, my father doesnt want to see her, a banal story, but here’s where things stop being banal… I had this epiphany … I saw Valentin sleeping his final sleep, curled up as he had been in his mother’s belly, I thought I could see his umbilical cord… and at that moment I realized: my preordained path leads to the east, my umbilical cord is pulling me in that direction, my debt of love to my mother has made me return here – it’s not her job to return, but mine, to atone for her guilt for leaving – and I surely feel the same indebtedness towards Velizar, my love… how I long to kiss you, my darlingthe feeling that I have to atone for his guilt as well, or, if its not guilt, then its forced flight from ones native group, from the common umbilical cord, survival of the fittest, adaptation, but at the expense of irreparable spiritual losses; he loves me and I believe that since I live in Bulgaria, he lives here in some sense, too, there is a bay where he can weigh anchor. My mother knows nothing of this. She doesnt know that her daughter is atoning for her sin. Velizar might suspect something, but he hasn’t formulated it yet, or else he would have told me.

            I must admit: I surely would not have found the strength to return to the east if I hadn’t been wealthy. That’s why I don’t consider it a self-sacrifice. I’m not a Dostoyevsky heroine. I grew up in the cultural center of the world, I have a wonderful father. Dad and Velizar are very much alike, only dad is more practical. On the material level as well, I live as a foreigner in Bulgaria, I dont experience the peoples suffering, I have everything, I’m not risking my physical well-being. It ends up being something like the opposite of living under communism: back then, people made spiritual and moral compromises to survive physically – now I can afford to compromise my psychological well-being, because I am provided for physically. Velizar says that my reward for this is moral. But he has a romantic idea of morality – he considers it something that exalts the individual. For me, it’s part of my freedom. It is a cause of my choices, not an effect.

            I had never been to Bulgaria before 2003. At age twenty-three, I discovered how beautiful and backwards it was. Like a ragged Gypsy woman with gorgeous green eyes and exquisite veiled breasts. I fell in love with her and pitied her. I didn’t fall in love out of pity, however, the latter arose gradually. I realized that I didn’t belong to her, but I wanted to prove my loyalty. Loyalty to what? I didn’t have time to come up with an answer. But I started reading. I read everything I could, beginning with the founding fathers of Bulgarian literature, Ivan Vazov and Hristo Botev. I read a lot. I didn’t like much. The better books were by older authors, Dimitar Dimov, for example. I hoped that in this way I would understand my divided soul. Until then, I had been translating from Japanese, Haruki Murakami wanted to publish a collection of short stories and had even agreed to let me work on some of them. I liked his short story “Hanalei Bay” most of all, and  I had dreamed of going back there ever since. (When the novel came out and I was waiting for Velizar to admit his love for me, I booked a two-week vacation in Princeville.) We were on our way to signing a contract. But right at that moment, something –  destiny? isn’t that what superstitious people call it? – made me end up in Bulgaria. It was completely coincidental at first glance, the man I was sleeping with at that time wanted to travel around Eastern Europe and insisted that I come along with him.

            My American friend stayed a week – just as we had planned. I told him that I wouldn’t go on, I had no reason to visit any other countries. When I went back to New York a month later to see my father one last time and to get some of my things, I wrote Haruki an email telling him that I couldn’t translate his stories. I would be translating from Bulgarian. He understood. We stayed friends.

            Now what? Should I write the truth? Should I write what I’ve never admitted to Velizar? Now I don’t think I’ll ever have the strength to admit it to him… Only after I die, he might by chance read what I’ve written here. And then he’ll forgive me. Nothing can change once somebody is dead: not the facts, not the mistakes, not the memories in that person’s mind – I’ve learned that from literature. And I believe it. In the memory of others, the dead remain perfect, because they can no longer change.

            But none of us is perfect in life. The question is whether you could awaken such love in someone that once you die they forgive you spontaneously when they learn what you did while alive. I lived with Valentin for two years…


She lived with my son, Velizar stood up from his chair, horrified. But he sat down again almost immediately. Neither she nor Valyo were alive to suffer his belated fit of jealousy and to repent. She didn’t know I existed, he grasped at this redeeming straw. In the end, she preferred me. But why was she afraid to tell me? Even if Velizar had been able to understand why his son had hidden the relationship, he was at a loss to explain Julia’s silence, unless he admitted that she hadn’t been sure whether he, a Bulgarian man brought up with traditional morals, would turn a blind eye to those two years and would continue to see her as a symbol of purity and loyalty.

Velizar went to the kitchen to make himself another cup of tea and, despite the restlessness that had seized him, decided to keep reading. Concerned with himself first, as always, he hadn’t yet realized that this love affair, or more precisely its conclusion, which had been so unhappy for his son, had prevented the two men from growing close as he had expected and was the reason for the change in Valyo’s personality, which, albeit indirectly, was tied to his tragic demise.


I’ve decided. I’ll write down, once and for all, the facts as briefly as possible. Without interpreting them. They happened. Love cannot be blamed. I couldn’t have known that I would fall in love with a person who would die before his time and that his death would seem to be due to unrequited love.

            I had never fallen in love before, I had simply had sex, because that’s what people did and I didn’t want to seem strange. But that time I realized that it wasn’t about sex. There was something irresistible that drove me to desire the man in a different way. And drove me to make him take me to his place the day after we met. In the beginning, Valentin simply liked me, but it was as if he could sense my passion and gradually submitted to me. When I told him that I was going to stay in Bulgaria, he was happy, but he kept asking me whether I was sure I had made the right decision. Would I regret it later? I invited him to come with me on my short trip back to New York, but he refused. And afterwards he never once expressed any desire to go to America, nor would he agree to go, no matter how much I begged him.

            When I came back, I bought my apartment on Latinka, even though I could have lived at his place. He accepted this. After that, the subject of our getting married and moving to New York came up often, but all those conversations ended unclearly. He could never make a decision. Later, when I was officially nothing more than his step-mother, he admitted that he had been afraid to go to a different country. Especially where he might see his father. He lied to me about his father. He told me he was an engineer who had moved to America to make money.   He hadn’t wanted to see him since. I had no reason to doubt him, since there were no books in the penthouse.

            Our sex life was great, at least during the first year. Despite his general lack of self-confidence, Valentin was good in bed. He was quiet. He rarely told me he loved me. But I could see his intense longing when he looked at me, and every time I left, even if only to go home, his eyes filled with fear. I gradually became immersed in my translation activities. I looked for authors with a future. But I enjoyed the time I spent with Valentin, especially his love of the mountains. We hiked all the alpine ranges in Bulgaria, camping out. Actually, for two years I didn’t translate anything. I couldn’t find an author I was sure would get published in America.

            Valentin became a man before my eyes. He got a job. I only found out about it three months after he had started. Internally, I was prepared to live with this man and have his children. I told him this, but he replied that he wasn’t ready for that kind of responsibility. I thought about my mother. I told my father everything. He took it all in stride, and never once tried to warn me. He never once told me to come back home. I started getting used to Sofia, to the trash, the chaos and the traffic. At least the women were well-dressed and pretty, the cafes and bars were always packed. I lived in some sort of ambivalent state: as a foreigner, removed from Bulgaria’s internal problems, because I had money so they didn’t affect me, but at the same time as someone doomed to suffer with these people, because my soul, which was like theirs, sympathized with their soulful torments. I mentally observed what was happening in my soul, but I could not and did not want to run away from it. (I got the whole soul thing for the first time in Bulgaria.) Most probably this same sympathy made me stay with Valentin, because the initial thrill of love vanished, it had settled in my memories, but I was not able to call it out into the open. And then something completely accidental took place. If I had been born and raised in Bulgaria, I would surely believe in the supernatural. What happened was the most banal of coincidences.  But it turned my destiny around 180 degrees.

            I had gotten it in my head to do some spring cleaning. Valentin was at work. I opened up the drawers of a dresser and instead of clothes, they were full of books. All in Bulgarian. The bottom drawer was reserved for books by some Velizar Vazov. Was the surname merely a coincidence? I took out the book by this authorthere were nine of themand set them on the table, and sat down next to the stack, waiting for Valentin to get home. I had set the other end of the table for dinner. When he came in and saw me silent in front of the books, Valentin went white. There was no question of hiding from such physical proof. That was the end of my love for him. I locked up my place and caught the first plane to New York.

            I took the books with me and read them. Their effect was so unexpected that it took me a month to pull myself together and decide to suggest to my father that I translate the most recent novel, Out from under the Ruins

            Velizar’s books stunned me not so much with their content as with their language! The language was full of an energy I had not felt in any other contemporary Bulgarian writer. There was something epic and deep – something that was truly trying to explain the soul of this people. This language seemed to be the hidden form the man had used as a means of resisting the regime. He had outsmarted the communist censors with his language.

            But to finish with Valentinyou can picture it for yourselfas soon as I told him I wouldn’t see him anymore, throughout my whole two-year absence from Sofia, he fell ever more deeply in love with me. When I saw him again, then in the role of his step-mother, I never once allowed him to kiss me again. But I couldn’t stop him from telling me how much he loved me and how much he was suffering. I had to play the role of mother so as not to hurt Velizar, thus there was no way I could avoid his son. I gradually got used to seeing him as my son.

            So that’s it, my dear. Will you forgive me? I’ll never know.



            It’s Thursday today, I’m waiting for Velizar to land.


I remember waiting for him for the first time at La Guardia, exactly four years ago. I had Googled his name, Valentin didn’t give me his address. I paid a website that sells personal information and from there I got his address in California, on the outskirts of San Mateo, it was close to an exit off the 280. I wrote him an official letter and he replied. I started working on the novel and sent him the first two chapters. He sent them back with lots of corrections. I started over. He still wasnt happy with the first chapter. I told him that I would give up. He suggested that we meet and talk. So there I was waiting for him at New Yorks homeliest airport. If I said I wasn’t nervous, I’d be lying. The man was able to use words in a way that commanded respect. But he also demanded a healthy dose of caution – as if he were a fragile porcelain bowl that you had to hold very carefully so as not to drop it.

            He showed up – tall, wearing an olive-green corduroy blazer and carrying a Calvin Klein bag. A graying, short-haired, Mediterranean man, who had stooped in the past but who was now trying to regain the proud bearing befitting him. Having lived in Bulgaria, I realized that he was a very typical representative of the Bulgarian people. I had made reservations for him at a hotel on 17th Street, we had lunch in Soho, then I introduced him to my father. They hit it off. They have never become friends, but they respect each other greatly. The next day, we celebrated his birthday – his fifty-seventh – at my place, he insisted on buying the wine… even now I remember that he brought two bottles of Merlot that cost seventy-five dollars a piece… I made spaghetti carbonara. We talked about our previous lives – his, of course, took up more space; he didn’t hide anything about Valentin and about the fact that he had refused to come visit him in the US – and we talked about literature and translation. At that point I hadn’t seen Valentin for a whole year, so it wasn’t hard to hide my history with him. Memory can be obliging in the opposite sense as well – when you want to forget something.

            At one point near the end of the dinner, I sensed him giving me a strange look; he had fallen silent for quite some time, as if imagining something.

            We worked at the computer for two more days straight. He left satisfied. There was no hint of anything but purely collegial relations. I was decisively encouraged. The translation took off. It’s hard to say which brought me more happiness: work on the novel or my impressions of the man, who was at once virile and fragile. I began to expect that something would happen. On the one hand, I told myself that it was all in my head. He might not have any feelings for me at all. On the other hand, our emails and Skype sessions started seeming more and more like romantic encounters. He thought I should rewrite the novel in my native language. He was constantly praising me. He told me that I was sensitive enough to enter into the flesh of his words and recreate them. I started to submit to him, as if wanting him to penetrate me – he almost did it with his words, from a distance. Things got especially intense when we discussed how to translate (rewrite) the love scenes: and they were brutal, orgiastic, the people there in the underground world acted like gods during sex. Vain gods, who saw themselves as the masters of their female slaveswith no respect for their minds, only a perverse delight in their beauty. I felt this was a bit over the top, but he explained that these are people with a primitive, unpolished sensitivity. They don’t know what sensuality is… the crude, primitive orgasm is all they know. It would appeal to the American audience, which was voyeuristic. While at the same time, that’s exactly how such people in the Balkans were. And are you one of them? I asked him once. I’m an observer of life – was his evasive answer.

            The English manuscript was ready by the end of autumn, actually shortly before Christmas. The editor from the publishing house was ecstatic. But we had to wait. There were other books ahead of us. It finally saw the light of day in October 2007. My first major translation! Until then, I had translated primarily short stories and smaller books – but this was a big, classic family saga.

            While we were waiting, we weren’t in such close contact. There was a long pause in our communication. He told me that he had started working on a new novel. I decided not to bother him. But it was precisely that pause which showed me that Velizar had seeped into my consciousness. It was becoming harder and harder for me to live without seeing him. I was twenty-seven years old, completely independent of my parents. I didn’t share my feelings with them. I talked about literature and philosophy with my father. We saw each other at evening gatherings of the New York cultural elite. I didn’t see my mother. And even if I had seen her, she was the last person I would have shared my feelings with. Although she would have been intrigued to find out that I was translating from Bulgarian and interested in a Bulgarian man – to say nothing of a romantic interest. 

            Now there’s fate for you! The book started selling. The publishers were stunned. They had never before made money on a novel in translation. Velizar had received a fat check and had written me on Skype that we needed to celebrate. He had gotten his big break!  But if it hadnt been for meatypical for a Bulgarian who had lived under the communist dictatorship, he kept repeating that I was the reason, because I had found him. The success was mine! Because I had written the novel wonderfully in English. He was sure that there were universal things in his novel. But only my idiomatic language had conveyed them such that it echoed his thoughts. Finally, his small literature – local, provincial – would appear in the wider world. Where would we meet? Was I free that month? Yet another surprise: he left the place up to me.

            (I’ve gone off on a tangent. Valentin is in the morgue. The detective, the oh-so-important Mr. Vrazhev, called to tell me that he’ll send a subpoena for the interrogation, but that I should just worry about the funeral for now. He wants to meet with me next week, after he has all the test results back.)

            That’s when I thought of Hanalei Bay and recalled that I had been there with my dad at a luxury hotel from where you could see they whole bay as if in the palm of your hand. I told Velizar that I’d make a reservation. Isn’t it a little pricey? –  was his first and only show of resistance. I assured him that it was fine with me and that it was such a magical place that it was worth the money. Then I was faced with the dilemma of whether to reserve two rooms or a suite (the latter was slightly cheaper). Would the latter seem too forward to him? The arrogant American thinks she’s got the writer wrapped around her finger and shells out for an expensive hotel so she can sleep with him. I slept on this dilemma for several nights. I finally called the hotel and told them that I wanted a suite with a view of the bay. I hoped they didn’t have such a suite or that everything would be booked. They all look out over the bay, ma’am. There are two available, on the fifth and the seventh floors. The final moral impediment – as the Bulgarians would say – fell away at that moment. I reserved a suite, but didn’t tell Velizar. He bought the plane tickets. I only found out at the airport that our seats were in first class, the flight from New York was almost eleven hours long, with a layover in San Francisco. So he had a surprise of his own, too.

            Even when we were in the elevator on our way to the seventh floor, Velizar didn’t ask what our rooming situation was. (I had checked in. He had stayed behind to give the valet the car keys.)           

            I’ve got to leave for the airport…


His flight is a whole hour late. Good thing I brought my laptop with me to kill time.


Im excitedsexually. Like a schoolgirl. From the waiting itself – this is something that Velizar, or any other man in the same situation, would have no way of ever knowing. We don’t tell a man what’s going on inside us as we wait for him… tense… shivering in anticipation of the satisfaction he will bring us. He can tell only from my body, from the poses I take up. Above all, my skin gives me away, the size of my nipples when they are hard, the softness of my thighs. He catches my scent. He experiences my ecstasy by looking me in the eye (or at my back). But he doesn’t ask what goes on inside me – before I get undressed, before I see him fully aroused, and after that, when I can feel him inside me. Nor do I tell him. It’s not done. There’s no time for it. All of the tension has melted away when we start talking again. I don’t think to ask him how he was thinking about me before we went into the bedroom, before we kissed. There’s no reason to. But in the mind, anticipation is a memory that is reawakened every time a sexual encounter is imminent.

            It’s different for women. Nobody but my father knows that my first sexual experiences were with my English teacher. She seduced me. According the American law and psychoanalysis, it was rape of an underage girl, pure and simple. I had just turned sixteen. She seduced me by telling me how she was looking forward to stripping me, how this thought alone made her chest feel ticklish inside, choked her throat with sweetness, made her wet between her legs, and the world softened up and looked pink, bright, as if frozen in the moment before it would fall apart in order to be made anew. We did it lots of times after that and I myself began to feel anticipation, as if honey was running over my heart, flowing into my belly, my skin would prickle, sensitized by the memory of her touch, especially there, beneath my bush, it didnt feel the same as when as I touched myself, even though both led to the same joyous release. After these first experiences, girls seemed easy to me and I seduced them the same way. Sometimes they wanted it themselves and would tell me in detail what they were feeling inside. But as soon as I picked a guy and decided to sleep with him, my mouth shut tightly. It was as if there were some natural taboo. An instinct that preserved the mysteriousness. My first sexual experience with a man passed in silence. Not exactly in silence; what I mean is without words – there were only sounds. It was nice for both of us. But we didn’t have anything to say to each other. After several brief flings, I had it all figured out. Each of us experienced our pleasure alone. The man’s goal was to come and so he used me as a tool. Sometimes it hurt. If I managed to come before he softened up, it was only by chance. I didn’t have this problem with women: all the ones I had slept with were aroused more by the desire to see me come than to come themselves. I was, too. But despite that, every time I chose a man to sleep with, my insides felt an anticipation that resonated with the memory of previous experiences. But that man could have no way of knowing. He acted according to his own needs. And when Velizar came into my life, the whole range of erotic expectations changed.


Velizar lifted his teary eyes towards Pali Ke Kua, the mute first witness to his erotic experiences with Julia. He was staggered by Julia’s frank self-analysis – he wasn’t used to that kind of language – and he wondered whether he could remain the same person after reading everything in the diary: on the one hand, was it moral to read things that hadn’t been meant for him, that is – wasn’t he risking seeming immoral in his own eyes from now on? While on the other hand, would he be able to remain self-critical once Julia,  his “immortal beloved” who had died so needlessly – he had borrowed the phrase from Goethe and it didn’t seem exaggerated to him to imagine Julia as immortal – and who had thought of him and experienced him with such salacious delight? His curiosity won out.


What changed wasn’t the feeling that was searing me inside while I waited for him to get off the plane, just like now, or to enter the bedroom or to come around the corner. What changed was my reluctance to speak about my erotic experiences. From my first glimpse of him at La Guardia in June of 2006, until the moment we entered the suite at the St. Regis Princeville in December of 2007, I had been falling in love with him in a way I had not previously experienced. The words came first. His writing began to excite me. The conversations about the novel. And what seemed to excite me the most was his patience. Not once did he do or say anything that could be construed as an advance. My instincts were not wrong, however: Velizar was interested in me not only as a translator. For a year and a half, I waited, saving up my erotic expectations. I was astonished at my sexual memory, which patiently replayed my previous experiences. There turned out to be something much greater in store for me. Something unknown and unimaginable. Oh, how I wish I could relive that afternoon!

            Velizar took the key to the suite from my hand without asking questions. He opened the door. The yellowish-blue light of Hanalei Bay, ringed by long extinguished volcanoes, swam in our eyes. He tipped the bellhop who had carried in the suitcases. He went over to the window and drew the curtains to protect us from the blinding afternoon sun. Orange light filled the room. My breath caught. Not from the heat, the air conditioning was working perfectly. Velizar came over to me and took me in his arms, as if sensing that I was on the verge of collapse. I don’t remember how we undressed. My clearest memory is of grasping his head with both my hands and placing it between my legs. I expected his touch to evoke a stab of pleasure, as it had when I had slept with girls. He didn’t resist. He seemed to hesitate for a split second before kissing me. However, his tongue evoked something which I had never even imagined. It was as if I was opening up on the inside. Without pain. I felt an emptiness that had to be filled at all costs. Or else I would lose consciousness. He sensed with astonishing precision what I wanted at every moment.  The first time he filled me was like an explosion. My whole body was filled up to my throat. At that moment I needed to take flight. I felt his thrusts in a rhythm which, in full resonance with my body, gradually lifted me from the bed. We flew towards the sky over Hanalei Bay. And finally, in a blinding moment, I shattered and saw him gathering up my colorful shards in his palms, whispering that I smelled of magnolia blossoms. That he had never seen anything purer in the world. I was intoxicated by sweetness like a bee filled with honey. It was only at that moment that I found myself back in bed, snuggled up against his chest. It was then that I realized that we loved each other.

            They’ve announced his flight…



            Velizar went to the morgue to identify Valentin. He didn’t want to make love last night. He refused to celebrate his birthday. Even just the two of us? Should we drink a bottle of wine? No. He doesn’t want anything. I’ll be busy with the funeral plans all day. I don’t even have time to get him a present. Tomorrow things will take on some final form.



            I saw Velizar off to the taxi. He told me that he didn’t want to see my tears. But I burst into loud sobs on the stairs. I’m imagining him on his flight. Last night he finally loosened up. We had sex. It wasn’t like other times, wild and intoxicating, but somehow solemn. It was sad and slow, as if… not wanting to disrupt the rhythm of the funeral procession on Saturday. Not many people came, but it was clean and calm. Nobody got out of hand. The funeral home had done a terrific job with the body – they had laid him on his back in the coffin, just as he should be. The light seemed bright to me, like in Hawaii.

            The best part was at the bar last night. There, some jackass got in Velizar’s face, but the bartender turned out to be a mensch and tossed him out. Velizar said he understood the people’s anger here. We were just about to leave when Svetla suddenly showed up out of nowhere. Velizar later told me that they had been sitting together on the plane from Munich. Even in the dim light of the bar I thought I could see that she was attracted to Velizar. She said that she had seen Valentin the night after the funeral drinking a martini in that very same bar. This made Velizar really sad. I think he wanted to be able to see his son like she could. Something’s happened to him! He invited her to Hawaii. He fell for the little junkie’s tricks.

            Those two weeks in Hawaii were the best weeks of my life so far. They brought us together. They brought our bodies together. They ignited our love. Even though I’m only thirty, I know very well that Velizar and I have not had time since then to bring our personalities together. To adapt ourselves to one another. It was his choice for us to live apart. I agreed, only because I had already decided to return to Bulgaria. He wanted to stay in love with me. To worship my body, he said. Otherwise he would get used to it. His arguments made sense – I, too, felt that if we were together constantly, the flame between us would fade until one day nothing would be left of it but embers. In fact, we’re together only twice a year, for a month. Velizar doesn’t travel. I go to see him once I turn in my latest translation [to the publisher]. Four brilliant meetings and four sad partings so far! A true rollercoaster! Horrible. One minute youre on top of the world, the next minute, youve hit rock bottom. I’m afraid of our partings. He is afraid, too. Now he didn’t say anything about whether he wants me to come visit in July. How will things be from now on? Oh, that’s why that month there… that month there keeps me warm for a long time afterwards… I can hardly wait for the next visit, I work like crazy. That’s how a make my deadlines. I come back sunburned and wait to fade to pale again. And to be “burning up” again, as Bulgarians like to say of lovers.

            As I said, this is my cross to bear. To atone for the guilt of two people I love.



            I got through the interrogation. That detective won’t get anywhere. It will be best for everyone, including the justice system, for the death to go down as a suicide. But I don’t want to believe Valentin had the strength to do it. For that, you not only have to be in despair, but in despair over the fact that you can’t use the strength you can sense inside you. He was afraid. He was waiting for someone to tell him what to do. He was afraid to tell me that he was in love with me and seemed to be waiting for me to allow him to admit it to me. Ever since I returned, he had been looking at me sadly, longingly. Rather than rushing at me and using me. I wouldn’t have let him. Sexual infidelity would have made me feel guilty in Velizar’s eyes again, regardless of whether he would have found out about it or not. This time, he existed and I would have felt terribly guilty. But if Valentin had tried, I would have had more respect for him.

            (If you ever read this, my love, I want you to rest assured that after I fell in love with you, I never felt any attraction towards your son. I loved him like a mother. I felt sorry for him, having grown up without a mother. But he wouldn’t accept me as a replacement for his mother. He didn’t trust me and his general insecurity made him desire me sexually – and surely to love me with a passion he never managed to express, as well – without understanding why I had left him. In fact, let’s put it as plainly as possible: Valentin was lost to life, he was doomed to perish. He was a shadow of the individual he could have been, if Bulgaria had been a different kind of country. Valentin was the kind of person who constantly needed someone to fill up his gas tank. He couldn’t do anything on his own – not for himself, let alone for other people.)

            Today, however, something else happened to me, that is perhaps more important than the investigation into Valentin’s death. In the early evening I decided to stop by his building on Vladayska. I was walking along the sidewalk across the street and looked up towards the window of Valentin’s penthouse. I could have sworn it wasn’t an apparition. He was standing by the living room window and waving at me. I stopped and lifted my hand to wave back. He blew me a kiss, as if wanting to say “farewell.” And then he walked away from the window.  He melted away. I ran to the door and rang the bell. No sound. I went up the stairs and unlocked the front door. It smelled of unaired-out death, a combination of unwiped dust, an unfinished sandwich, unwashed sheets, and unmade bed. Everything was a mess, just as the team of investigators had left it. The only sign of ongoing existence was the blinking green light on the wireless modem, whose cord dangled unattached to anything. The last information sent through it had carried news of his death to his father. I called out: Valentin! The green light kept blinking in complete silence. I glanced at the ceiling. No one was watching me from there. I left, resolved to come back the next day to clean up and get the penthouse ready to be sold.


Julia told me about it the next day, Velizar recalled. It had become a punishment for him. The two women with whom his son had clearly had relationships in Sofia continued seeing him – or he kept appearing to them. Why not to him, too? Every time he went to Sofia after that, he would walk down the streets, sit in restaurants and bars, looking up at the windows of the penthouse on Vladayska, trembling in anticipation. He would leave for Kauai with the hope that next year it would happen… He could hardly wait for the year to pass, he would even start looking around out the airplane window before he landed at Sofia Airport. He was sure that Valyo wasn’t in Hawaii and could only appear to him in Bulgaria. It was like retribution.

Why should I go on living? he asked himself the terrible question again. Just look: Julia, the pure, wonderful, selfless Julia had passed away. Valentin, too, had long since… become an apparition… While he lived on. Right now, at that moment, he was waiting for Svetla to arrive, her plane would land in Lihue in three hours. But she was a mystery to him. He had only agreed to take her in because she had reminded him over email of his invitation from almost seven years ago in that Sofia bar, where he had impulsively and imprudently latched on to his desire to understand how she could see his dead son – so that she would reveal to him the secret of her visions.  So she could teach him how to see Valyo, too. She had disappeared over the last seven years and somehow had suddenly appeared – also like an apparition. Velizar didn’t expect her stay to be anything more than a tourist visit, but he was also not blind to the signals she was sending him that she wanted to move in with him. It was precisely because of these signals, unambiguous and somehow unceremonious, that he saw her as an intruder. Yes, Velizar was sure that nothing would happen with her – especially after the memory of Julia’s purity. Yet still, he could not deny the fact that the young woman’s visit to his home was a physical provocation. No, no, he summoned up the wisdom of his years, Svetla will continue … must continue! living her superficial life – unceremoniously tossing aside the cultural values that gave his life meaning. Without leaving a trace. He would not give in. He wasn’t the one who would legitimize that lost generation’s drive to take advantage – without lifting a finger – of the continuity of the eternal values, which kept alive the idea of human grandeur and which his generation had attained with sweat and blood.

Velizar would continue on completely alone, experiencing the world that occupied his memory and which consisted of terrible mistakes and undeserved happiness, repairable mistakes and the constant atonement for the irreparable ones, the agonizing labor of creating that world – but it was absolutely clear to him that this recreation was happening in his imagination and from there it appeared in his books, but no one who might be interested could ever have found out that he had understood, regretted and sought forgiveness from those from whom it was necessary—this world included the suffering of his fellow creatures, who came and went like the shadows of an existence, which he was no longer so sure had existed to any extent, but which seemed to have blocked his ability to reach any kind of final point, beyond which he, the writer Velizar Vazov, would no longer exist, hence he would never have the chance to change the world, neither in his memory, nor around him; how awful it is to be eternal, he thought horrified, realizing that he had clung to writing as the one satisfying undertaking, a redeeming mental activity which tolerated the relativity of every human idea and judgment, including the suggestion that supernatural things occur, a mental activity that sought the truth, even while knowing how elusive it is. In fact, the truth was that no two people could agree on what the truth was.

We even argue about facts from the past, Velizar smiled to himself, and randomly flipped through a whole stack of pages from Julia’s diary to read something closer to the present time. He was subconsciously seeking support in her logical thinking, so as to escape from eternity.



            Today we finished the translation of Innocent Victimizers. Velizar is finally satisfied. Tomorrow Ill send it to New York. It will be released by the most prestigious publisher, Farrar… With this novel, Velizar has put a heavy, indelible dot over his past. And how rightly he worked it all out! The father dies, while the son remains to atone for his fathers sins. The tragic figure is the father, his generation, because he did something immoral out of ignorance. A historic mistake. Tragedy without a sexual subtext: the father realizes what he has brought upon his son with his ambivalence, which is accompanied by a made-up happiness imposed with brutality and constructed by words. The monotony of happiness. The squareness of the ideal. The pangs of conscience. The fear of resistance.  The postponement of actions that could stop, root out and unmask the spiritual poverty of the lower class which had seized power so as to feed itself. And to live its fill. And in this way a generation of insatiable, greedy, depraved, egotistical children was created. That generation is not tragic. It is unhappy. And the writer decides to let it live, so as to find an escape from its unhappiness. But he refuses to validate it. He despises it – except for the moments when he feels fondness and pity for it.

            Valentin doesn’t appear to me anymore. I saw him for the last time in Borisov Park in Sofia last summer. Svetla and I were going for a walk. We both saw him at the same time, he was coming towards us from the swimming pool, and when he saw us, he took off down a side path and disappeared.


Velizar again jumped twenty or so pages ahead.



… we’ll be at his book launch in New York. Velizar will have two months of readings. In the most prestigious bookstores and cities. In June we’ll be in Sofia for the Bulgarian premiere. For the first time, his novel will turn a profit in Bulgarian – advance orders for the Bulgarian version on Amazon have surpassed our wildest dreams.


            3/30/2016, New York:

            For three years I haven’t felt like doing anything. Now, when Ill die before my thirty-sixth birthday, Velizar is sixty-seven. Dad brought me back to New York – I no longer had the strength to resist. Dad is four years older than Velizar. And both of them have a future. A future that I won’t be a part of. I imagine that it must be terrible to outlive your child.

            Three years ago, in June, when Velizar left Sofia in the wake of his novels amazing success, I was diagnosed with cancer. They said it was too late, but that I still had to get treatment. The terrible alternation between chemo and radiation began. And I swung between the depth of hell, in pain and losing weight, and the lofty heights of hope. Velizar came to see me for the first time at Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital and he kept coming to New York once a year. We sit on the couch in the living room and he takes my hands. Together, we stare into the dark green of Central Park, ringed by Manhattan’s skyscrapers. And we almost don’t speak. During the month when Velizar is with me, dad doesn’t come. Otherwise, he visits me twice a week. He doesn’t hold my hands. He sits with his back to Central Park. And stares into my eyes. I am not afraid. But there is fear in my father’s eyes. He is not fearful person. He has had a very successful life, at least business-wise. He has long since gotten over his separation from my mother. After I go, he will be left all alone. I am convinced that what I see in his eyes is not exactly fear, but knowledge. The knowledge that his whole memory, which contains the world, will not help him fill the empty space I will leave behind. And if up until my death he has searched for and found meaning, a refined meaning in his existence, perhaps after me, and overall in this life that changes beyond his control, there is no meaning.



            Dad and Velizar just left. They each hugged me. Then they hugged, as if taking leave not of me, but of each other. Two fathers who have lost their children. Will anyone see me after I die, as Svetla saw Valentin? As I managed to see him… To be able to tell dad that I’m still here.

            I doubt it. My dying has taken a long time. He knew the cause. He was prepared. But no one saw Valentin dying. Oh, just so I don’t forget. Today I got an email from Detective Vrazhev. An unofficial message. I’ll paste it into this file. It was sent only to me, as a personal gesture:


“Dear Ms. Stevens,

I sent an official letter to Mr. Vazov, but I wanted to inform you, as an interested party, that the cause of Valentin Vazov’s death has been established indirectly. Besides, the younger Mr. Vazov was in love with you and back then you did not succeed in convincing me that his feelings were unreciprocated. Death is not a tragedy in and of itself, but only when it leaves unacknowledged feelings in its wake.

Six months ago, a hit man for one of the organized crimes gangs that smuggles drugs through Bulgaria was caught. The investigation showed that his numerous victims included the resident of the penthouse at 71 Vladyaska Street, which was directly opposite Valentin Vazov’s. He was killed in 2011. Valentin’s neighbor was also born in 1980, he looked like Valentin and was a drug addict. Unlike Valentin, however, he was also a dealer. He was killed using a method unfamiliar in Bulgaria: by the intravenous injection of the herbicide Paraquat, which was put in a vial that had been falsely labeled as morphine. Paraquat is the trade name for pyridine dichloride.

The killer gave a full confession, and medical expertise confirmed the changes to the lung tissue and at the site of injection characteristic of this herbicide, which is widely used in suicides in Southeast Asia, where it is taken orally, however.

As head of the department – I was promoted in 2012 – I read all of my subordinates’ case reports. When I closed the case file describing the above-mentioned murder, I suddenly remembered the case of Valentin Vazov’s murder, which had been closed due to lack of evidence. At the time, suicide had seemed to me the logical, most likely reason, but I had written my conclusions with grave internal doubts. I arranged for the case to be reopened, read over the files and was truly astonished by the absolute similarity of the changes described by the coroner. Just as in the case with Valentin, two vials of morphine had been found in the other penthouse, but this time the coroner, who had read of isolated cases in the medical literature describing the intravenous injection of the herbicide by the suicidally depressed, had requested additional chemical tests, which found traces of Paraquat in the vials. The killer confirmed this.

There can be no doubt that Valentin Vazov was killed by an intravenous injection of Paraquat. But why?

By mistake. That is my logical conclusion. The doors to the two penthouses are on the last floor of the building and, like I said, the apartments are mirror images of each other. Even the first time, the killer’s target had been Valentin’s neighbor, but he simply went in the wrong door. That was my hypothesis before questioning the killer. He neither confirmed nor denied it. In his confession in the other case, he had described how the victim had known him and trusted him, thus it was no problem to give him the doctored vials as if it were a regular delivery of morphine.

Human memory is not only fleeting, Ms. Stevens. We can also manipulate it as a means of self-defense. For this reason, when incontrovertible proof is lacking, we must accept the conclusions we have arrived at through iron-clad logic as the truth. Even if things didn’t happen in precisely that way, it is important for our peace of mind to reach a conclusion which we believe corresponds to the truth. In English, there is a word for that: closure. I don’t know how to express this in Bulgarian, but we need closure.


First Lieutenant Vrazhev”


I can barely keep the laptop on my lap. I have only a few days left until my own closure. Theres no reason why Bulgarian couldnt borrow the English wordclosure.” The far more important question is whether such a thing exists? I am haunted by the thought that I won’t find out what will happen to Velizar after I die. That upsets my sense of closure – and that’s how it always is when the child dies before its father. The natural order of things is disturbed. Svetla is the only one not interested in closure. She roams the worlda ray of light to some, a dark cloud to others. She came into my life accidentally – but there is nothing unnatural about that, everyone turns up accidentally, actually.  The first time we met, I had invited Valentin out to a restaurant and a girl had waved at him from a distant table. He said… I’ll continue tomorrow…



            I felt terrible for three weeks. Today they gave me a big dose of morphine. I’m rushing to write while my head is still clear. Whom am I writing for? I don’t know. Why am I writing? Perhaps to set down the facts from the past such that no one will dare change them. I have the terrible feeling that Svetla will want to get together with Velizar. If I were a better person, I would be happy. But I can’t fool myself. I paid for his emigrant’s sin (I paid for my mother’s as well, even if she doesn’t know that I’m dying – I don’t even know if she’s still alive), or at least I was paying for it – it sounds like going to a store or something: no, I should have paid for, I did paid for… or paid off, as in a ransom? – as long as I was healthy and he knew why I was in Bulgaria. Now my years spent there are a fact, an inarguable fact, the unredeemable truth and does it matter how many years it was?

            I was living apart from the man I loved. I had killed my love for his son because I couldn’t tolerate his lie. The son couldn’t admit it to his father. These two men became the meaning of my life during the years I spent in Bulgaria. I acted as a mother to one. I couldn’t act as a wife to the other. I was his mistress… even though he loved to say that I was his immortal beloved. But even as a mistress – and there is nothing immoral in that – I experienced the happiest moments of my life beside Hanalei Bay.  

            In case Velizar ever reads these lines, I’ll ask two abrupt questions here. Did you know, my dearest, that Svetla was sleeping with your son, even while he swore that he would die of love for me? Did you know, my love, that I never went to bed with him?


Velizar shuddered. Had Julia sensed his jealousy? He could put himself up to anything, he could put up with anything, yet his macho nature refused to allow him to share things that would reveal his weaknesses. These two questions were likes slaps in the face and Velizar was stunned by the pain. Julia and Svetla fused in his consciousness: the one as a memory, the other as a premonition of the future. At that moment, he experienced his doom as an ambiguity that paralyzed his desire to act, to succeed, to dominate. He felt conquerable – conquered by the women who fell in love with him. He finally understood that his whole life, he had been wrong to take credit for their amorous submission. And since he wouldn’t be getting a second life, his breath caught before the abyss of irreparability that opened up before his inner gaze. His arrogance was crushed. The women had done what they considered necessary. He had been their tool. His consolation prize was the knowledge that he had suddenly acquired. Velizar, too, felt an explicable gratefulness towards destiny for having given him first the gift of  longevity, and second, a talent for writing. That which he could do and which made him superior to the women connected to him was his ability to synthesize his experience. All that was left to him was to sit down and write his last novel.


Now it’s clear that I won’t be immortal. Someone else will be. In the metaphorical sense. And that sense is more important, at least for me. After the success of Innocent Victimizers, Velizar has started thinking up a love story. He told me about it. Working title: “Love by Hanalei Bay.” I have yet to read a single chapter. But jealousy makes me think that Svetla her generation? – will be immortalized in that novel. Not me. And since after that Velizar definitely won’t write another book, that will be his closure. Svetla will outlive him and will continue roaming the world like an closure-less seductress. Svetla will see all of us and will continue twinkling like a star on earth. But she will be transformed into the immortal beloved, since she will be described, inscribednot just as a story in someones memory, but as a fixed text. A text with all rights reserved.


Velizar finished reading Julia’s diary right on time, an hour and a half before the plane carrying Svetla touched down on Kauai. It was the seventh of January, 2017.

Before getting up from his chair, the aging writer felt disgusted with himself. Deep, insurmountable disgust which made him sick to his stomach. Julia had wanted to warn him with her final words. And at the same time, she had shown that she had known how susceptible he was to the temptations of life, without this affecting her belief that the meaning of his existence was to fulfill his calling as a writer. And now, if he were to accept Svetla into his life, she would turn him once and for all into the monster whose skin he thought he had slipped out of. Velizar got up, but felt weak and propped his hands on the desk. Looking out towards Hanalei Bay, he swore on Julia’s memory that he would not leave the house in Princeville or the rights to his work to Svetla.

At the same time, some hazy, distant, embryonic thought on the cusp of his subconscious told him that thanks to this oath, he would manage to finish his final novel.

Julia had died on July 15, 2016. Her father and Velizar Vazov split the cost of her cremation. Members of the New York artistic elite, who had come to pay her their final respects, would always remember how the two gray-haired men dressed in black had politely accepted their condolences next to the urn holding the deceased’s ashes. The ritual did not include speeches and memories to diffuse the grief, as was the practice in America. The shock from the inexplicability of death was expressed in an Eastern European manner – if the fathers had been religious, one might even say in an Eastern Orthodox manner: with solemnly silent sorrow. When everyone had gone, Julia’s father took the urn and placed it in Velizar’s hands. The two of them nodded, as if in full agreement with themselves and with the world, and each of them went to his car.

One more experience was left to Velizar before he retreated to write in his house by Hanalei Bay.


Coda: Memory of December

The nearly seven years that had passed were full of so many momentous events for Velizar that he had forgotten about Svetla. Or perhaps in the name of the truth it would be more precise to say that Svetla had hidden herself from his view. She had never once appeared during his annual, ritual visits to Bulgaria. Julia had also not mentioned her. A little more than six months ago – Velizar strained his memory to recall the exact date – yes, exactly three days before Julia’s death, that means it must have been July 12, 2016, he had received an email from the detective, informing him that the official cause of Valyo’s death had been changed.

The letter spurred a series of memories about the days he had spent in Bulgaria around his birthday in 2010, including memories of the girl on the airplane, who, the evening before he left, had appeared in the bar with the surrealistic claim that she had seen Valentin drinking a martini the very same evening after they had buried him. Her supernatural abilities, which were completely acceptable in the world Velizar had distanced – but not redeemed – himself from, had not ceased to puzzle him. In some sense, they gave him the courage to keep returning to Bulgaria once a year to wait for the apparition to come to him, too.

On September 17, 2016, Velizar received an email from an unfamiliar address. In it, Svetla told him that she had happened to hear about Julia’s death and wanted to express her deepest condolences. She gave him her phone number, in case he wanted to call. In a fit of weakness – after all, he suddenly realized that Svetla had been connected in some way that had until now seemed inexplicable with both of his closest deceased ones – Velizar wrote her a long email, describing his grief and loneliness, the writer’s block that had seized him when Julia had been given her fatal diagnosis and… and he invited her to visit him. To his surprise, she accepted his invitation. He bought her a ticket for the flight halfway around the world to Kauai.

Julia’s posthumous warning came exactly an hour and a half before Velizar was to meet Svetla at the airport in Lihue. Oh my God, he suddenly slapped himself on the forehead, Julia wasn’t the one who had foreseen this, it was her father! Velizar had written to the elderly Mr. Stevens that a young woman of twenty-nine was coming to visit him from Bulgaria. Her father had known what was written in the diary and had wanted to prepare Velizar. He had wanted to force him to choose between his daughter’s memory and the young Bulgarian woman, whose physical presence would certainly drown out everything else.

During the three weeks he spent with Svetla at the foot of Pali Ke Kua and in the waters of Hanalei Bay, Velizar did not succumb to the young woman’s charm. And with that he did not betray the reverence he felt towards the tragicness of life. He acted like her father and, as was completely natural, gave her detailed advice as to how to get her life in order. He didn’t ask her anything about her relationship with Valyo, nor about her visions, which, as he had found out from Julia, had lasted beyond that night in the Sofia bar. Svetla also remained discreet.

During those three weeks, they seemed like two foreign tourists entranced by the beauty of the Garden Island. But the day before she left, Velizar had a nightmarish experience. It was Saturday, during the hour when the orange sunset in Hanalei Bay ran over into blood red. Svetla had gone to the beach for one last dip in the waves of Hanalei Bay. He was sure! But as he was lying in his swim trunks on the sparklingly clean white sheets of his king-sized bed in front of the open northwest-facing windows, he saw her come out of the shower on the second floor. She wiped the last few drops of water from her blindingly smooth, dark skin with a white towel and closed her eyes. Long-legged, with not a single hair on her body, with full African lips and green almond-shaped eyes, her arousing nipples, which jutted forth, attracted him like a magnet. Her flat stomach promised every possible sexual pleasure he could imagine. Svetla sat down behind his head and began rubbing his forehead with her thumbs and index fingers. With the top of his head he could feel the heat radiating from her womb, from her sublime anticipation of his filling her. The heat dazed him, he turned and pressed his lips to her labia, covered her clitoris and sucked it up, pressing his tongue along the whole length of the opening and feeling how a new wave of heat rushed over him from within, as if from a furnace: human heat, which, regardless of the temperature, is the hottest thing in the world, a heat which no one runs from, on the contrary, every one strives to penetrate it, to extinguish it with their own, to remember it in the hottest corner of their mind and to wait for it and call it forth every day, every time, ever more strongly and  passionately, because that is the heat of human love and human continuance. The heat of non-closure… Velizar rose up to do that which they both expected, but with the horror and shame possible only in a dream, he realized that he had nothing to penetrate and fill the heated furnace with.

The evening breeze wafted into the room through the open window. There was no trace of Svetla. Drenched in sweat and ashamed, Velizar wanted to drive away any explanation of the experience. Or of the vision? The memory of his disgust with himself was now compounded by disgust with Svetla as well.

The front gate slammed. Svetla, in the highest of spirits, cheerfully yelled up from below that she was starving after her swim and would fry up some eggs for dinner; he should come down and make a salad. He heard the click of the stereo and Miles Davis’ trumpet filled the room.. How ironic, Velizar thought, that is Murakami’s favorite jazz musician.

The next day, Sunday, as they were driving to the airport, Velizar, led by some uncontrollable impulse, told Svetla that Valentin had been killed by poison that had been substituted for morphine. This clearly came as a shock to her, because she was silent for a long time before telling him in a trembling voice that she had been the one who had brought drugs to his son. And that they had been lovers for a long time. And finally that, if memory served her, she had brought him the doctored vials of morphine that had caused his death.

“The dates coincide,” Svetla announced. “Julia found Valyo on Tuesday, while I had brought him the morphine Saturday morning. I had gotten the vials from a reliable person. I had no reason to doubt they contained what the labels said they did. I also delivered morphine to Valyo’s neighbor. That morning, I first rang the neighbor’s doorbell, then went over to Valyo’s.” Here Svetla hesitated for a long while before continuing. Velizar was struck speechless. “We had amazing sex, we hadn’t done it for more than a year, but suddenly I wanted it really badly. Later I decided that it was like a farewell, given from above. I believe that we are guided by hidden forces.”

“Was Valyo in love with Julia?” Velizar asked suddenly.

“Yes, fatally. That’s why he stopped sleeping with me. He wanted to be pure for her. But she never once showed that she loved him, while casual sex was absolutely out of the question.”

“They are no longer here and the truth doesn’t matter,” Velizar replied in the voice of a radio announcer – without a hint of sentiment – and turned into the airport parking lot.

What did Velizar have left in that life? To finish his novel with the beautiful title Love by Hanalei Bay. To find a translator at least as good as Julia. To not fall in love with his translator. And then the novel would cement his status as one of the most serious American immigrant writers and guarantee his financial security once and for all.

This novel would be the embodiment of closure. Love that happens constantly and endlessly. His imagination could envision how Svetla would arrive on Kauai with a fully completed application for a marriage license. How they would get married in a civil ceremony on June 17, 2017. How the next day would be Velizar’s sixty-eighth birthday and the two of them would celebrate.

But what we imagine is one thing, Velizar thought to himself somehow sadly, as his bare feet followed the inconstant line in the sand between the waves and the beach on Hanalei Bay. While what happens to us is quite another. Julia was his last love. She had left him alone, completely and irrevocably open. Unclosed. There was nothing left to Velizar but to experience her in his memory and to transform her into words, to make her eternal, just like Hanalei Bay.


Translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel



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