English translation of the “Love Story” short story by Romanian writer, Dan Plesa. The story is a part of the “Stories of love and helplessness” (Povesti de Dragoste si Neputinta) volume, published in 2019 by Vellant Publishing House in Bucharest (January 17, 2020)
Dan met Maria in college. As they were colleagues, and both quite diligent, they started exchanging notes. Because that’s how things are these days: no matter how much you try to achieve full attendance, you can’t make bosses see reality your way and sometimes you have to miss one or two classes. Her handwriting was quite legible, never missed an important idea. He didn’t miss the important ideas either, and had a tidy handwriting as well, underlining main concepts, his paragraphs reproducing, word by work, the lectures in the amphitheater, to a point where they looked like handbooks, but he had some abbreviations no one else used, which made Maria invite him over one night, to decipher them for her. . That was the night they became lovers.
Theirs was a strong love. Both of them good-looking and studious, dependable, they each had their part-time job to help them buy the books required in the syllabus and, at the same time, to get them used to the demands of a job – which, as we know, have nothing to do with the demands of student life – and, most importantly, to be able to enrich their bio with the crown jewel which, upon graduation, would set their résumés apart from those of their colleagues: work experience.
Dan felt as if he was living a dream came true. She was beautiful. She loved him, they got along wonderfully, they liked the same music, the same movies, and when they moved in together he was happy to notice they had the same sense of tidiness and cleanliness, of an airy space, of lined-up towels, of t-shirts folded neatly in the closet, , of clean and shiny coffee cups sitting on the shelf, of socks, nicely folded, two by two. But there is no perfect couple without a shadow, a threat hovering above it, like a hawk in a story about a little chick. No, this is not about the parents of either of the two, as you may be tempted to believe, expecting some dominant mother, some Oedipean father. It wasn’t about money either, as is often the case with couples when he (or she) is promoted overnight and mistakes level of income for self-worth, expecting obedience and gratitude from the partner. No, their parents lived far from the big city and they were tolerably nice when they met for the holidays. They had comparable earnings.
It was Alina. Maria’s almost-best friend. Did you ever go to a party only to enter a twenty-people room and see dancing, among them, a girl in a skirt just long enough not to invite incriminatory comments, exciting, hypersexual, natural and with no interest in drawing attention, which is precisely why no one, men or women, boys or girls, could take their eyes off of her? Did you ever pass by a shampoo advertisement and felt you could fall in love with the girl in the shower? Did you ever go to mass and see a girl who gave you kinky dreams, making you laugh when you looked, alternatively, first at her face, and then at the mural depicting the Last Judgment, with the tortures and vats of boiling tar? That’s more or less what Alina looked like.
No, she wasn’t a threat to Maria, Dan’s love was steady and dependable. The few obscure thoughts sneaking into Dan’s mind were quickly cast away, because Dan loved Maria. The problem was Maria’s transformation.. Every time Alina showed up in their life, a transfer of personality took place. The warm, peaceful creature started to become increasingly uninhibited and frivolous and, what was worse, at such times she paid less and less attention to him. At first, he thought he was imagining it. But he had the same suspicion the night when, at a restaurant, sitting at a table for ten, , which included Alina, he checked his watch: it had been two and a half hours during which Maria didn’t exchange one word with him, while constantly laughing with Alina and flirting with the other guys at the table. At a party where she danced more with Alina than with him, drawing everyone’s attention. On a holiday trip the three of them took together, where Alina somehow managed to make friends with two young men, who came to the same resort for a teambuilding, whom she lured to their table, where they chatted with her and Maria long after he withdrew to their room alone, hoping Maria would at least get the hint and follow him. And he understood that he hated Alina, one night when she stayed over at their place for a second bottle of wine the three of them shared, when confessions started pouring out and Maria, provoked by Alina, admitted to sometimes faking it with Dan.
That night, the three of them went out to a club together. Everyone seemed to know Alina and, to get on her good side, sort of indirectly, all the guys were flirting with Maria. The latter didn’t care about Dan, sitting on his chair, drinking beer after beer, his face bleak as the club’s private booths. Maria was dancing between the tables, never turning down an invitation. She was always laughing, allowing herself to be steered by the arms of the men spinning her and surrounding her, waiting for a song to finish so that one of them, Alina or Maria, would become available for yet another dance. Switching from beer to wine and then to rum did didn’t help Dan. He was sitting in his corner, trying to muster the courage to leave. To trade the world of certainty surrounding him for a new, uncertain one, without Maria in it, sadder, but certainly less painful. Yet he remembered Maria during those months when Alina didn’t come visit and the sweet peace reigning between them at such times.
Dan managed to keep it together that night because, at some point, the lump in his chest, which hadn’t been flushed out when he threw up ke in the toilet, made him understand that, in fact, Alina loved him. And her entire behavior was meant to get Maria out of his life and have him finally be single, so she could get her chance. He was watching the two of them dance just to draw his attention. Poor Alina, she didn’t know his heart had been promised to Maria. Maria may have had her flaws, but she was the love of his life. She definitely did have flaws, such as the fact that right now she was dancing alone, allowing herself to be squeezed and groped. She should probably be punished somehow. Since Alina wanted him so much, maybe he should sleep with her once. And, as punishment, Maria should stand beside them and watch. In fact, that could be turned into a habit. Since they’re such good friends, the two of them could share him. No, not share him, he should be the one to choose as he sees fit. Either Alina or Maria. Or both. The two of them, submissive, should beg for his attention with their eyes. Eager to please him. To humbly fulfill his every wish. His every fantasy. They should join forces every now and then, just to pleasure him. When he wouldn’t feel like being with them, they should wait quietly, on their knees, for his lust to rekindle. Dan stood his ground that night the club and returned home with Maria. They broke up two days later.
I know you’re wondering how I know this story. There’s no secret. Dan is, or used to be, one of my best friends. And Alina has been my girlfriend for a couple of years. She fulfills my every command and gladly accepts every punishment.