The Fangs of My Convictions
By Sigitas Parulskis
I’d like to recount a tragicomic incident. It happened a few years ago when my children, having just entered their pre-teen years, asked me to take them to the Vichy Water Park. Of course, an excursion to a place like that over the waters instilled in me a sense of despair, but when your t-shirt says “Divorced Daddy,” it’s accompanied by a feeling of guilt that requires fitting, and sometimes even extra-ordinary, degrees of sacrifice.
I won’t tell you about all the various forms of torture found at the water park. They resemble one of your nightmares where all your chances of waking have been used up. Just the idea that everyone is loafing about half-naked (keeping in mind women’s clothing fashions, which sometimes have them traipsing around almost completely naked is horrible and a form of torture). Ever since I was a child I had a fear of getting stuck in a pipe, and here, if you please – at the water park one is perpetually stuffed into coloured tubes that look like pipes, as if you were nothing more than sausage filling—without ever being certain that the devil doesn’t await you at the other end, a butcher’s knife and a bag of spices at the ready.
I don’t remember the name of that one terrible water slide, just the long, drawn-out queue of parents and children beside it. There you wait for the next person to come down on this dish that resembles a raft, and then you take this dish-raft and climb the stairs to who knows where.
If hell exists, then it must be more or less like this—a state of perpetual humiliation and embarrassment; besides you’re surrounded by the damp and everyone’s naked. When our turn came, the woman who’d just descended, seemingly overcome by ecstasy, didn’t even plan to surrender her cursed piece of rubber. A typical Jurate, a mermaid from Lithuanian mythology: all scaly, green-haired and shiny. I’ll wager my shitty pants that those weren’t legs below the piss and phlegm-filled water, but a fish’s tail. And this mythological Jurate digs her shining Swarovski crystals into the rubber and won’t let me have it because, you see, she wants to slide down one more time with her dreadful, mermaid descendants. The man standing behind me says sorry, bro’, but the next raft is mine. Meaning that now I’ll have to go to the end of the long line and wait once more for that damned piece of rubber. Because the faces of the other parents standing in line are fierce and stony, “the next one’s mine!” engraved on their faces like gravestones, too. Give the masses the smallest opportunity, and they will immediately trounce you, take you down, tear you into bits, and pull your guts out with their teeth. Meanwhile, my children with their sad eyes contemplate their father (damnit! if I could just disappear!), and in their eyes the question shines forth, “What now, Dad? Are you going to screw us over once more?” Hell. So there it was, I had to stand up and fight.
“Miss,” I piped up, as politely as I could, “This raft legitimately belongs to me. I’ve conscientiously stood in line for it for five hours. There’s no other way,” and I tore the rubber object from her claws.
She gave me a look as if I had just violated her innocence in the most vulgar way imaginable. Her eyes paled and then filled with bloody fury.
“Edvardas!” she shrieked suddenly, “Eddie! Come here quickly! Hurry, you rotten asshole!”
Shame. Humiliation. The naked masses behind me are enjoying themselves. And there I am, a hundred kilo male, with a yellowed university diploma in some drawer back home, behaving like a common criminal, robbing the weaker sex in front of the whole world. And then there’s still Eddie! What if he’s double my weight? What if his fists are like pieces of lumber, and his head is filled with concrete instead of brains?
There must be a reason why this creature in front of me is calling him an asshole. It could be that that’s exactly what he is, and he’s not embarrassed by it one bit nor cares what anyone thinks of him. With his enormous ass he’ll sit on me, submerge me under the water right here, until my lungs fill with piss and phlegm. And the masses will roar and shriek in satisfaction.
On the other hand, how can I let myself look like such a loser in front of the kids? Already the fact that I live with someone other than their mother is a monstrous blow to my reputation as a father, and now there’s this wretched raft and the mythological creature tearing it from my hands, and somewhere between the coloured pipes the wandering brute, named Eddie. That’s how you can lose what shred is left of any dignity and honour. Say what you like, but even a hundred hamburgers and Coca Colas won’t win me back any respect. I tore the raft from the woman’s clutches and took off running up the slippery and steep steps towards the garishly painted purple artificial sky.
Driving home, I unsuccessfully rationalized with my children:
“Hey kids, in truth, I don’t know the best way to behave in such a situation. We usually want both the wolf to be fed and the sheep to be healthy, but often life presents us with situations where there is only one choice; when you have to choose whether to turn the other cheek and wait for the blow, or whether – turning the other cheek – to strike your opponent with your head so that blood gushes from his nose. Does the term, “conscientious citizen” suggest only a naked egoism? That if things go well for me, things are going well for others too. Because when I am doing well, I try to do good for others and so on? Because if I’m doing poorly myself, how can I do something good? If I fare badly, then I fall into a rage, I spread poison and pollute my surroundings and myself as well. Perhaps real awareness only comes to us at a time, when being in a bad way ourselves, we still want to do good for others?”
From such a pseudo philosophical tautology I begin to feel badly. I swat myself across the face with my ears and fall silent.
The kids are silent too and stare out the car windows. Both of them. No support. In any event, those water parks are Satan’s invention on this earth.
For a few days I didn’t feel like myself. Finally, unable to take it any longer, I spoke about this with a representative of Christian philosophy, a theology teacher, a person on whom even flies avoid landing. I asked him – no, I didn’t ask him anything, as I recall; I just complained and reproached him:
“It’s all very well for those saints of yours who lurk in those monasteries. It’s all very well for them to do good, it’s all very well for them to commit no sins! There are neither rafts for them to snatch away from women, nor the chance to drink too much, nor over-eat, nor to pass gas when visiting. There, in a smoky cell, I too could be a saint.”
“Everyone has their own path;” he answered, “some are called to live in monasteries, others – in the world”
Just you try to learn something from these people. In my cellphone next to his name I wrote… yes, a not very polite word, but certainly a funny one, and now, every time he calls, it never fails to improve my disposition. At least those holy men are good for something.
I told the story about the raft and my kids to a Buddhist. He remained silent, then he smiled.
“And what is it you want anyway?” he asked.
“I want to be virtuous, but I don’t want to be a louse.”
“So what do you do?”
He quietly took a chunk of brick, found a rock lying nearby, and began to rub the piece of brick against the rock.
“What are you doing?” I asked. I’m posing the question, but I already know that he’s preparing to play some dirty trick on me.
“I’m trying to make a mirror out of the brick”
“Ridiculous,” I said, “You can rub and rub as much as you want, and you won’t make a mirror.” I’m talking, but again I’m aware that this is some sort of fucking allegory.
“Is this some sort of fucking allegory?” I ask.
“Yes,” he confirms.
“So that’s your answer?”
He threw away the piece of brick and left.
How all those meek and wise people of the world on whom even flies won’t land piss me off! Meanwhile, you should stand there with a rubber raft in your teeth, destroying your grey matter with the vague poison of repentance and shame.
I’m going to go and deliberately make a mirror from a brick.
Covered in flies, from head to toe.
Translated by Dainius Šileika