The Slovenian Bride
Corporal Ulysses dug into plates of pancake, sausage and cabbage; he smoked a bunch of cigarettes lit with matches that barely ignited; he poured beer and grappa down his throat like it was all water.
Koraki Café was heaving, but he was not. He slapped a wad of dinar on the oily tablecloth. He stumbled down the higgledy-piggledy steps into the muggy air of the Glavni Trg.
When he got to the house near the cathedral, the sweat was slotting neatly into the corners of his eyes.
Gospa Lencka was blinking.
“You’re a strong man, Corporal,” she said, leaning against the doorframe.
Her fat neck oozed pearls.
Corporal Ulysses stuffed money into the glass urn, making sure to squeeze in an extra bill. It felt like he had to push past her to get inside.
In Anja’s room, he unbuttoned and unzipped his uniform, dumping the pieces on a chair. He paced back and forth and opened all the windows. A jumble of roofs and chimneys spread out before him. There wasn’t a lick of wind. It felt like Illinois in July, but without the sound of crickets and the soda fountains.
The heat was coming from Anja now.
“Get me a fox,” she said, burying her fingers in a hole in the bedspread. “I’ve always wanted one.”
He stood over her in his underpants. “How about you marry me?” he said.
She laughed. She was naked. The curve of her hip and thigh was straighter, more boy-like than he remembered. Corporal Ulysses couldn’t tell if she was smiling out of happiness or out of surprise–or even out of disgust.
That was the problem with Slovenian women.
He collapsed into bed with her. He thought he saw her eyes change into an animal’s, but he couldn’t be sure. The drink and warmth had made him punch drunk. They fucked. They stuck together because of the sweat.
On the hour, he buttoned his suit up to his neck and put some extra money on the table. Anja slipped her hand into the envelope and counted the dinar. She smiled and positioned a finger on his lips. It tasted of copper. He leaned in.
Outside, the air was closer than ever. He took his usual seat on the park bench opposite the house and watched her window, counting the number of times the lights went out. A steady flow of men entered and exited the building, always with their hats pulled down more than was necessary.
He’d get her the fox. He’d get her a bear if it meant he could hold her for the whole night. Maribor was full of those kinds of salesmen.
Gospa Lencka came out once to throw a bowl of water onto the pavement. She looked up and down the street. Her wiry, black hair was coiffed differently now, scraped back from her forehead and bunched at the top of her crown.
She emptied the last drips from the bowl. She re-entered the house, switching the lights on in every room.
Originally published in People Holding.
Jonathan Cardew’s writing appears or is forthcoming in Wigleaf, Cream City Review, Passages North, Superstition Review, JMWW, Smokelong Quarterly, People Holding, and others. He is the fiction editor for Connotation Press and contributing books reviewer for Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. He’s been a finalist in the Best Small Fictions, the Wigleaf Top 50, the Bath Flash Fiction Award, and he won a travel toothbrush once at a boules competition in northern Brittany. Originally from the UK, he lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.