Written by Rumena Bužarovska.
Translated by Paul Filev.
A story from the book My Husband.
Although he’s a gynecologist, my husband tries to make out he’s an artist. That’s just one of the things that annoys me about him. Actually, I don’t remember exactly when most of the things he says and does first started getting on my nerves, but I can single out this one as one of the more irritating things. For instance, when we have guests over, he tells them that he “dabbles in art,” but that he’s not an “artist” per se, thereby falsely representing himself as modest. People come over to our place often. For my part, I find it wholly undesirable, because it means having to cook and clean both before and after they arrive.
My husband insists on there being an abundance of food, by which he aims to show that we’re a so-called functional family. These lavish banquets are normally held in our living room, on the low table surrounded by a two-seater sofa, a three-seater sofa, and an armchair, which can accommodate four others besides us. I’m the one who does all the serving, and I’m mainly stationed in the kitchen. When I go into the living room to have a chat with them, I have to sit on a stool. Lying through my teeth, I always say that it’s quite comfortable.
Meanwhile, he talks to the guests, mainly about himself. Because it’s indecent to talk about cunts, which are the sum total of his knowledge, he talks to them about his “art,” namely his oil paintings. He works on them in one of the rooms in our apartment, his “studio.” Consequently, our two boys, who are always fighting, have to share a room.
His paintings are extremely amateur. The colors are somewhat blurred, leaden, and depressing. Whenever he makes a mistake, he smears the canvas with a new coat of paint. In that way, his paintings resemble huge piles of vomit—like a hearty meal that’s been regurgitated. He believes that his paintings are “abstract” and that they “render emotional states of anxiety and exultation,” but in reality they depict what he knows best: cunts—from inside and out. I assume that others can see this too, at least those who are more intelligent. I’m almost certain they refer to him as “the gynecologist who paints cunts,” and that they laugh at him behind his back. What’s more, he totally deserves it. I wouldn’t be the least bit upset if that were the case. Though, to his face they flatter him. “But you’re a true artist,” they say to him, staring at the paintings as if before them stood a canvas painted by Leonardo.
And then he pulls out his well-known phrase: “No, I merely dabble in art,” adding, once again with false modesty, “I’m just a plain old doctor,” knowing full well the kind of status his profession enjoys.
The second topic of conversation during the course of the evening, as one would expect, is his patients and their health problems. My husband, it’s worth mentioning, has lost those friends who are outside of his profession. All of his friends are also doctors, whom he met at university, and whose wives have now become his patients. Together they form a “boys’ club.” From today’s perspective, boys’ clubs seem extremely funny to me. When I was young, when my husband and I first met, I thought it sweet that he had a set of faithful friends. But at the time, it wasn’t obvious to me what they discussed among themselves. Even less, what they said about us, their wives. And I think that my husband is the biggest culprit among them, mainly because of his status as a gynecologist and his knowledge of the intimate details of all the wives. Unfortunately, I have a terrible, sinking suspicion, which I’m afraid to put into words, and that is that his friends deliberately take their wives to see my husband, because in that way they have control over them. If one of his friends contracts a sexually transmitted disease, my husband can maintain his secret. If “the guilty party” is the wife, then he can inform his friend before she has the chance to do it herself, or not as the case may be.
This is just a suspicion on my part, because this tribe claims that their brotherhood is “above all else,” and that they would literally do anything for each other. Sometimes I think that they’re gay. That if we weren’t around, and if there were no social restraints, they’d line up behind one another and get off with each other.
That’s what I imagine about them at times, when they get on my nerves—squashed together like sardines in a tin, or behind one another like the carriages of a train, moving in the same rhythm. The only member of the tribe who’d feel shortchanged, who wouldn’t get to do anything with his dick, would be the one at the head of the line. In my fantasies, we women sit on the side and watch them. As we do in real life. They talk while we watch, or at times we whisper recipes to each other, when we get bored of their talk. Sometimes the wives also manage secretly to exchange a few words with my husband in our hall, as an additional consultation regarding their health. “Take a dose of Betadine” I would overhear, or “Perhaps it’s my diet, I don’t know why it keeps reappearing.” “Don’t go on any diets.” “But I eat properly. And I don’t even smoke anymore.”
He and I met on a gynecological examination table, when I went to see him for a checkup. He was exceptionally good, and gentle, and his technique impressed me. I was very, very young—and that should be taken into account—the other gynecologists to whom I’d previously gone, were bad, and rough, and unfriendly. Not that I had any sort of problem—quite the contrary. First, he sat me down in his office. His charm and friendliness made me feel at ease. Soft classical music played quietly in the background. He offered me some fragrant tea, which he’d already prepared. After I’d relaxed some more, he showed me where to get undressed—it was a lovely little dressing room, with beautiful, white fluffy slippers on the floor, a brand spanking new coat hanger, and a loose white gown I could wear before climbing up onto the examination table. When I climbed up, he said, “lower down, sweetie, a bit lower down dear,” and he gently squeezed my thighs to pull me down further. After that, he began talking to me as he prepared to insert the speculum, telling me that it would be uncomfortable, but that he would be gentle. He even attempted to warm it up so that it wouldn’t be so unpleasant for me when he inserted it. The way he spread my labia before inserting the speculum caused something warm to stir within my soul. Then he looked inside, and I at his face. I thought him handsome, most handsome, the handsomest. His blue eyes looked inside me as if they were gazing at a sunset over a peaceful lake. His face bore an expression of delight. “Ah, everything’s perfect. You have flawless anatomy,” he said, repeating it when he did an ultrasound of my ovaries. “You have a magnificent uterus,” he said to me several times. But before doing the ultrasound, he did something that I now know he does to other women—perhaps that’s why he’s so popular, because of the fluffy slippers, the brand new coat hanger, the tea, the friendliness. With his long, delicate fingers, he poked about inside me to see if I had any pain.
Naturally, he apologized several times before he did it, and he explained exactly what he was going to do. While he was poking around inside left and right with his forefinger, with his other fingers he gently caressed my clitoris. I enjoyed it. I went back again after six months, making up some lie about internal pains. “Everything’s in order, it’s perfect,” he said. “I’ve never seen such clean and flawless anatomy,” he repeated, looking rapturously inside me. And so I went to him again, every six months, for three years.
Until one day we bumped into one another in one of the city cafés, and in a drunken state he told me that I was the most beautiful patient with the most exquisite “how can I put it . . . it begins with C” that he’d ever seen before. Then he told me that after saying what he’d just said, I could no longer be his patient, but that I could be his girlfriend. And after a few months he told me that I could be his wife. I accepted. I was twenty-one years old. He was thirty-eight. I’m still his patient.
His paintings are the main source of our quarrels, but not the reason for them. The reasons are varied, but here’s one more example: on one occasion, my husband and I were discussing art. Of course, he sees himself as some sort of Chekhov, someone who was once a doctor, but who later on became well known for what he really was—a great artist. We were discussing our favorite writers, painters, musicians, and I began to talk about how much I liked the poetry of Sylvia Plath. He paused as if something suddenly occurred to him.
“Have you noticed that all great artists are men?” he said.
That thought had struck me previously, and I experienced it as a sore point. With disappointment I told him I had.
“What do you think—why is that so?”
I started to mull it over. At the time, I wasn’t able to fire off the quick retort that I would give him today: that women were never afforded the conditions to be creative. That it simply wasn’t permitted, when they spent the whole day at home, wiping up the shit from babies’ bottoms, as I myself had done while he traveled to conferences in China, Africa, Europe, getting inspired.
“Well . . .,” I stammered, which I now deeply regret.
“It’s because men are the soul, women the body. Men are creative, women are practical. Men soar, women scavenge. Women can’t be artists—it’s not in their nature.”
I was quite offended, but I didn’t know how to respond to him. I was twenty-four years old, if that can serve as my defense today.
“Go on, name just one great female writer. In the ranks of Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Hemingway, for example,” he said.
“Well, Marguerite Yourcenar,” I said, because only she came to mind at that moment.
“She doesn’t count. She was a lesbian,” he replied, and he went off to take a crap in the toilet, where he remained for fifteen minutes, while I had to go and pick up our son from kindergarten. We never finished the conversation, in which I would have enumerated hundreds of gay male artists, such as his much-loved composer, Tchaikovsky, for example.
His ideas about the greatness of being an artist, coupled with his own desire to become one, surfaced long ago, but he only started painting much later, after he “found himself,” as he put it. Actually, he started painting intensively after our second son was born—that is, eight years ago. By then I was barely tolerating him and I’d stopped being so afraid of him. When he first started painting, accustomed merely to singing his praises, I would tell him that his paintings were really good, and that he had true talent. His face flushed with joy whenever I said those kinds of things and he would get all emotional, swallowing hard repeatedly or looking as if he might burst into tears as he gazed at his finished canvas. “I’ve always wanted to be a painter!” he would say. “I was torn between medicine and art. But my father didn’t force me to follow in his footsteps. And behold—destiny,” he repeated reverently. I was surprised that he even spoke to me about these things, his wife before whom he didn’t have to pretend.
After that I began to ignore his paintings, and finally, a few years ago, I began to tell him that I didn’t like them at all. The last time we fought, in a moment of rage, I told him that they looked like ugly, smeared cunts, and when they didn’t look like that, that they looked like an omelet or vomit. He was offended like never before.
“At least I create,” he said to me.
“A crap artist who creates crap art,” I said to him.
He was furious. The blood ran to his face. But, having the ability to remain composed, he swallowed his rage and his face returned to its normal composure after a few seconds.
“You’re quite the wit today,” he said without knowing what else to say to me. “It’s a shame you’re not a writer,” he said, knowing full well that I’ve always wanted to write. He could see that I was getting upset and he continued to torment me.
“Oh! I forgot that you write poetry. Why don’t you read me one of your little rhymes so that I too can have the chance to critique it?” he reproached me pointedly, laughing with triumph, because he’d never read any of my poems. I’d never given any of them to him to read for one simple reason, which I no longer wanted to hide from him. I went into the bedroom, and from under the bed, I took out the sheets of paper on which I’d secretly written my poems when he was at work. I gave him my most recent poem. I told him to read it aloud.
He lies beside me
while I dream of you
your night flower
opens up for me
you moan like the wind
my beloved rose
from your sweet nectar
tonight I would drink
My husband’s jaw clenched and moved a bit to the right when he stopped reading. His eyes were wide open and staring at me intently. His face was pale.
“It doesn’t exactly rhyme,” I said to him cynically, “I’m sorry to have disappointed you.”
“No,” he said to me, “I’m not disappointed. I expected it to be crap.”