Excerpt: 'My You (Selection)' by Jasna Jasna Žmak

Translated from Croatian by Jana Perković

that day of the month

I will wake you with a kiss, I know it already. But not yet, definitely not yet. I’ll wait until I hear the street-cleaning truck getting close to our building… so that it’s me who wakes you up instead. On Tuesdays and Sundays it’s that truck, on Wednesdays and Fridays it’s the garbage one, on Saturdays it’s the potato lady, and in summer it’s the heat.

But it’s still winter.

And I woke up because you’re not here, you’re not in bed, you’re not here next to me.

You are sleeping on the couch in the living room because there, supposedly, is where couches belong. Beds in the bedroom, couches in the living room, that’s how it goes, you remind me every so often. You are sleeping on the couch because today is that day of the month, the one when we wake up apart. Because that’s also how we went to sleep, apart… me in the bedroom, you in the living room.

I miss you… that’s my first thought on every that day of the month. I miss you, though I know you are only seven steps away from me, though I know you are actually here.

That day of the month exists for this purpose, so that I miss you in bed, and you miss me on the couch, so that we miss each other together. It’s our little monthly ritual, a ritual of missfulness we have chosen to adopt.

Some time ago, long ago, before we started kissing, when we were still just friends, all the days of the month were days of waking up apart. Because we also went to sleep apart, each in her corner of the city, one in Derenčin Street, the other in Trešnjevka…

And if we are no longer just friends, if now we kiss often and a lot, it’s the fault of your couch, where we spent our first night together. It’s the couch’s fault, just like for others it’s the fault of stars or destiny or wine. That’s what I say. You say that it cannot be the couch’s fault for something as beautiful as you and me, because fault is for errors and harm, and we are neither of those things. It can only be the couch’s achievement, you tell me and add that it’s high time I learn the meaning of certain words. Such as for example couch, such as for example bed.

Because beds are for sleeping, and couches for sitting, you explain, while I wonder how then it’s possible that we slept on the couch our first night together. In my former apartment the bed- and the living-room were one and the same, so there it was possible for the couch to be the bed, you tell me, but otherwise it should be punishable by law, people having couches and calling them beds. And using them as such. Then I say you’re full of shit and I don’t want yet another Babić-Finka-Moguš fight, and you say it’s not a fight but a conversation and my problem is that I don’t use the right words for things. Things such as for example couch, things such as for example bed.

I think about all of this while you are still sleeping on the couch, the one in the living room.

Yes, you have agreed to that, although couches are for sitting, and beds are for sleeping, you have agreed to it because today is that day of the month, the one when we wake up apart.

And I, awake in this bed for sleeping, can hear the street-cleaning truck getting close to our building. I get out of bed, I walk seven steps to the living room, to the couch, to you.

It’s winter and I wake you up with a kiss.

double negative

You can’t not write about that, you told me and from then on I no longer understood anything. All around me, all I could see was negation, naysaying, negatives, I thought that perhaps the end of this last sentence should say: after that I no longer understood nothing, and I could no longer remember what it was that I couldn’t not write about, probably about something impossible, which isn’t possible anyway.

And as you were laughing at my suffering, because you know very well that to me double negation is the terra incognita of Croatian language, I was panicking, trying to calculate how the two negatives in your sentence could form something positive, something affirmative, something different and understandable to me. Just like two minuses make a plus, I thought, two nos might yield one yes, in which case your sentence might say, You can write about that.

But then I remembered I had the same thought when I was trying to translate the sentence, No one did nothing, nowhere, never, into something with fewer negatives, and the end result was me returning the play containing that sentence to the second-hand bookshop the same afternoon, because I had spent the afternoon trying to decipher what the author, literally—literarily—meant. I thought I understood the play on the first reading, but when I realised it was teeming with negatives, its unreadability suddenly became unbearable, suddenly it was incomprehensible and I could not not return it to where it had come from, together with the containing book.

This piece appears in full in The Lifted Brow #35. Get your copy here.

Jasna Jasna Žmak is a dramaturg and writer based between Zagreb and Belgrade, dealing with the issues of queer love and even queerer language. She is the author of two performance texts, two short films, one book of prose and several essays.