Heaven Song

heaven song (2)

We’d had no contact with Nazer for over two weeks. Still under cover of UNHCR, we were heading back to an area near Travnik, so we decided to visit the Marićs once more to try to garner information from them. This would most likely be our last visit. We should have started the haggling process to get them out a long time ago, I kept thinking, but we had no chits on our side. I had arranged to have Dorenberg’s new album and a CD player sent to me from the States and was amazed that neither were lost or stolen in transit. Now I could give them to Enesa in person; she just had a bunch of cassettes and listened to the radio when possible. This would be pure gold to her (along with the AA batteries). Just before leaving, we were told the village had come under shelling, and we were stalled for a day and a half.

When supposedly safe, Louis, Richard, and I drove in a Land Rover with UN insignia through the frozen countryside and across the river to the edge of the village, Louis doing his strange driving dance that he had mastered (or so he liked to think), zigzagging around any imperfection in the road. But Nazer and Enesa’s village was no longer there. The village had disappeared, like Brigadoon. But instead of a dreamscape expanse of moors and mist, it was all smoke and rubble and an overwhelming sense of things gone horribly wrong. Lou slowed down the car as we passed a body on the side of the road. “Shouldn’t we stop?” I said, pulling distractedly on the ballistic vest under my jacket, well after we had gone by.

“And do what?” Lou asked. I had never seen a dead body before and inanities looped through my mind—how a dead person was very different from a living person; how the ignominy of being dumped along the road seemed the worst thing to me, as if there was a more seemly way of being butchered; many other thoughts beyond the pale. When we drove up to the Marić’s house, these thoughts ceased. Getting out of the sanctuary of the Land Rover, I could not speak to Louis or Richard, or explain to myself what had happened here. I could only hear and smell and be aware of things small and near: the buzzing of flies even in this frigid air, our breath swirling out into a red-brown fog of fear, the scuttling and scurrying of vermin more imagined than seen, and the cold and the stench and the smoke of fires left burning unattended.

Louis and Richard went into the house ahead of me. They headed to the back where there used to be a small shed attached to the kitchen. The back of the Marić’s house was charred and crumbled, still smoldering, while the front remained intact. Every room was ransacked. I found Enesa’s mother lying facedown on the living room floor. I felt it my duty to cover her with something, but I was too afraid to look around or focus on anything too closely. I stood in the middle of their house determinedly not seeing anything, wanting to be anywhere but here. Anywhere on earth but here. I made a move toward the kitchen when Richard appeared in front of me. He put his hands on my arms and stopped me from going further.

Don’t go in.” Richard said. “Find Enesa.”

Richard pushed me toward Enesa’s bedroom. Halfway down the hall I stopped and could go no further. The sunset light streaming from her window through her open door into the murky hallway frightened me as I had never been frightened before, even more than when I was grabbed by the man across the street from the Port Authority. Then everything was permeated with a sense of super-reality; here this light was otherworldly. Then I had known exactly what that man wanted; I didn’t know what I would find beyond this door.  I stood still, swallowing the saliva flooding into my mouth, throat tightening, struggling to move for several minutes. I could hear Louis and Richard roaming around the burning ruble, could hear Louis’s exclamations of disgust. I stood there in the hallway with the strange yellow light shining out through the doorway, knowing that once I entered that room, something would be taken from within me. I have no memory of walking in.

Enesa’s body was hunched over her desk, but her head was twisted, her eyes locked open looking sideways and up; by her strange position, I knew she was gone. I couldn’t believe it. My poor, poor Enesa. My darling Enesa. I started shaking and whimpering. I went over to her. Her hair was matted and bloody, her clothes torn and bloody as well; she had been beaten. Her diary with a piece of paper stuck in it was under her one hand. I pulled the paper out and unfolded it. ‘Dear Mr. Dorenberg . . .’ Enesa, Enesa, Enesa. This letter would have been sent to me to give to Evan, I was sure. She never did believe I didn’t have some sort of relationship with him, no matter what I said. I crumpled up the note and stuck it in my pocket. I stood staring out the shattered window. More revulsion flooded through me as I bent down and looked under her skirt. The nausea came without resistance this time.

I straightened up and rubbed my hand over my face. I fumbled around for my bag and took out Evan’s CD and the disc player. My hands were shaking so badly I struggled to get the disc out of its jewel case and almost broke it. I could barely snap the disc in the player. I plugged in the earphones, the little foam covers had already fallen off somewhere. I sat down on her bed and turned the player on; the disc spun round and round. I turned it off. I stood up and went over to Enesa, gently moved her hair away from her ears, ran my hand down over her eyes, and put the earphones on her head. I put the CD on her chest as well as I could, close to her heart, and slid the tiny latch, my fingertips now stained a dark crimson, to the highest volume and turned the player on. The disc spun round and round. I stood there and became aware of the leave-taking. Leaving the wretchedness, the barbarism and stupidity, leaving the work of men who knew nothing of what it meant to be a man, what it meant to be human. Even though I could just hear hissing coming from the earphones, I could feel her departure, suffusing into the sunset glow, leaving on those soft notes and sweet voice. I became mesmerized by the revolving disc catching the light, throwing prisms toward the setting sun, and I stared into that light, gripping onto her.

Richard came into the room. The horror of what he had seen here and the guilt he felt for our part in drawing the attention, the visitation of evil upon the house of Marić was making this cautious, taciturn man wild. He turned his fear and anger outward at me, afraid of his own emotion, snatching the earphones off Enesa’s head and flinging them aside, trying to pry my one hand off Enesa’s arm and my other one off the disc player, ordering me out, “Let’s go. Go! Go!” I struggled with him, refusing to let go, and he smacked me hard across the face. The physical shock made me release my hold, and he pulled/pushed me out of the room, down the hallway, out of the house and into the backseat of the waiting vehicle. He got in next to me in the back and slammed the door. Louis drove off.

As I realized we were leaving Enesa there, exposed, alone like that, I lost it in the car, sobbing, grabbing at my face. The disc player fell on the floor and Richard, in his fury, stomped on it, smashing it again and again with his foot as if he wanted to wipe out anything beautiful, to wipe out anything that had any meaning. I screamed, “You son of a bitch!” and wrenched myself around in the ill-fitting vest, trying to lunge at him.

Barely able to contain his own emotions, my outburst just made him more abusive, and he caught and grabbed me by my elbow, pulling me toward him, continuing in his bullying, yelling in my face. “You didn’t sign up for this? You didn’t sign up for this? This ain’t no fuckin’ . . .‘

“Richard! Richard! Knock it off. Knock it off.” Lou shouted at Richard without turning his head around or taking his eyes off the road. He took a hard left. “Knock if off!” Again he turned the wheels hard to the left, sliding the two of us to the side of the backseat in a heap of rage and despair, and the Rover rumbled off into the distance, skirting Travnik, away from Enesa and Nazer’s village, heading east away from the setting sun, never to return.

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If You Were That Farmer

the infinite stretch of fields

Even though I had sunk down on the chair, I continued to rock back and forth, back and forth on it, and could not find my balance. I drank the brandy Richard gave me without comment, felt it go down, adding more heat to my already burning lungs. He left the room and didn’t return. I grabbed hold of the cold fireplace screen with one hand to steady myself, bowed my head down, resting forehead on forearm, and in this position twisted my head to the side to stare at my jacket slung over the slat-back chair. I was stuck staring in this position for I don’t know how long. Finally I lurched over and with a small struggle pulled out Enesa’s note that I had stuffed in the pocket. I smoothed it out; there were streaks of her blood smearing part of the writing, but it was otherwise legible. It was a letter to Evan. Junk mail of the highest order, fan mail, a message in a bottle that would not be rescued, bobbing endlessly on an endless sea.

Dear Mr. Dorenberg, I sometimes think that you feel people love you because you are a famous singer and (illegible) player and that they are impressed merely with your skill and fame, and certainly that is true, but with me I want to tell you that it is more. But how would you know, how would you know who to trust, who is true and who is merely wanting what is fashionable, what is in, wanting what others want? Because they do.

I sometimes think I would like to prove my love for you that it is a finer thing than mere fandom. But how to do this? I think maybe if you were not famous, I could come to you. I think of my uncle’s house, his library and piano; Uncle Dekek always playing Chopin, pounding it, butchering it; he knows nothing of music really, nothing of you. Under his desk are stacks of old Life magazines with their images in black and white, and I like to think of some of the pictures in particular, those of old-fashioned America. I think of the farmers, and the women at their kitchen tables making pies, and the infinite stretch of fields of maize that spread out beyond their screen doors, and I often think of such a woman in her checker dress, her tired face void of lipstick, and the farmer working these fields, his back strong but bent from hard labor and care.

Sometimes I think that if you were that farmer, hands bound with dirt and shirt stained with sweat, and I was that woman rolling her dough flat, the flies buzzing round, rolling it as flat as the land itself, most times when you came in through that screen door, I would not even look up, but there would be times when I would (illegible) come over to you and look up at your worn face and run my hands under your open shirt, rub them over your sore back, not sore (several lines illegible) bus and the slung back Les Paul, but from toil that produces little. And I would love you even though you were that dirt farmer, and you would know that, not anyone else, just you, just the man no other man could come …


There was no more to read and my mind refused to follow the sequence of events that had happened next. I folded the paper into quarters and stuck it under my shirt inside my grimy bra, trying to get my mind around what had happened, around the saddest knowledge possible one could bear which was this: that whether she died, butchered as she wrote her story and left as signal warning in her room at her desk in the sunset glow, or whether she lived a long life outwardly happy with her pain invisible in her heart, either way this message would not hit its mark, impossible to be received or fully understood. That it existed and burned only onto itself and was extinguished with her. I didn’t feel like crying; I didn’t feel like anything. Maybe in the next life, Enesa, maybe in the next one.