Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski

When I woke, my body felt cold and suffocated by water. I got out of the bath, my head spinning with hunger, and dried myself with a towel as thick as a kotlet. Then I saw that you were gone. I dressed quickly and went downstairs but found no one. I walked around, taking it all in – the dignified wooden furniture, the smell of past fires, the large veranda leading out into the infinite darkness of the garden, the forest a mere silhouette in the distance. And then there were voices, low and hushed. I couldn’t tell whose they were. I walked to where I thought they were coming from, and found you and Hania in the kitchen. You were standing close together, as if dancing, I thought, but with your arms loose, your faces concentrated and intimate. Hania spoke to you with a smile; you frowned, and then broke into laughter.

‘Tell me,’ I heard her say, teasingly, but you held your sphinx-like smile and shrugged.

As soon as I approached, your heads turned to me in one single movement. And you edged slightly away from her. Her face changed, from intimate to casual.

‘There you are!’ she cried. ‘Are you hungry, Ludzio?’ I looked at you for an explanation, but it was as if you were in character.

‘Starving,’ I said.

That night, after dinner – roast beef with beetroot mash and apples that Hania had brought from home and warmed up in the oven – we made a fire in the living room, played cards and drank Bulgarian wine. But the scene I had witnessed between the two of you had pierced my role, made it harder to play. I was distracted, nervous. At the end of the evening, egged on by the rest of us, Agata got up and sang. She sang with real sorrow, a song by Maryla Rodowicz, that quiet, sad song about the old fairgrounds and the tin toys and the balloons. We were all still. Her voice commanded our minds in an unexpectedly sorrowful way.

Not long after, Agata and Maksio went to bed, and then it was only the three of us. Two couches opposite one another, with armchairs on the sides, a low table in the middle. You sat on the couch opposite her, me on one of the armchairs in-between. We talked about what we would do the next day. I wanted to go to sleep, and yet I didn’t want to leave you two alone. Then you announced you were going to bed and looked at me meaningfully, as if to say this was my chance. I didn’t move. We bid you goodnight, Hania and I. She smiled, and looked out into the dark garden, or maybe at her reflection in the glass. Then she glanced at me. There was tension around her lips.

‘I’m so glad you’ve come,’ she said. She seemed nervous, and this surprised me.

‘Thank you for having me,’ I said. ‘It’s wonderful here.’

‘Of course.’ She nodded and looked towards the garden again, as if deciding something.

‘I hope I’m not being indiscreet, but –’ She stopped, looked at her lap, then at me again. ‘Allow me to ask you something personal.’

I said nothing, trying to stave off internal vertigo.

‘I don’t mean to pry.’ She shifted, visibly uncomfortable, vulnerable even, but not nearly as much as me. ‘Tell me honestly – does Janusz have another girl?’

A part of me wanted to laugh out loud, hysterically, until my throat, vocal cords and stomach muscles hurt. The other part didn’t, was just plain exhausted. I kept my face neutral, shook my head truthfully.

‘No. You don’t need to worry about that.’

‘Really?’ Her face changed, lightened. ‘It’s just … he’s so distant sometimes. And I don’t understand why he’s not really responding to me. You see what I mean …?’ Her eyes asked for reassurance.

I looked at my fingers, and nodded.

‘Does he ever mention me?’ she probed.

‘Yes,’ I said, ungenerously, wishing I could help her. ‘Yes, he does.’

She seemed hopeful, but unconvinced, her widened eyes revealing her need for more.

‘Does he like me? Has he said anything to you?’

I swallowed. Vertigo, this time lucid, took hold of me.

‘I don’t know,’ I said, aware that it was the truth. ‘He hasn’t told me. You’ll have to ask him.’

The next morning I awoke with a headache, bothered by the sunlight that came into the room. Your bed was made and you were gone. I took a shower and went downstairs, where all of you were sitting at the long table in the dining room. Hania and Agata both had wet hair, combed back, and the air smelled of coffee. You were eating a roll with two slices of ham. ‘There he is!’ said Maksio when I entered, and everyone looked up and greeted me sleepily. Hania was sitting beside you.