He never thought he could feel such emotions, that he would suffer and torment himself after what he had done. Does he even have a hint of a conscience? No, unlikely. It’s probably just a headache from the weather. But why does he feel so heavy-hearted? Why is he drinking and not getting drunk? He can’t forget her eyes, that gaze, the last gaze when he turned and walked away from the city dump, leaving her there weak and miserable, so painfully pale, emaciated, tormented by illness. And yet, she didn’t reproach him. She understood and accepted his decision. She didn’t ask or beg; she agreed.
But in that gaze, there was a spark of hope. She still hoped that he would change his mind and take her back home to the apartment so she could live a little longer in torment and die there on that couch. But he couldn’t bear to look at all of that anymore. Yes, she was a wonderful, loving, and faithful wife, a good housewife. But the last year of their life together had turned into hell for him. She became completely weak, frail, constantly exhausted, tired from the slightest household chores. And then she fell ill.
The doctors gave a grim diagnosis. They said the treatment cost so much that even in their wildest dreams, they couldn’t afford it. So all they could do was wait for the inevitable end. And it wasn’t that simple, not for his wife who knew her end was near, but for Istvan himself. Of course, he felt sorry for Nina, but constantly being there for her, serving her food and drinks, washing her and taking her to the bathroom, changing the sheets and dressing her, seeing this whole nightmare and waiting for her suffering to end, listening to her breath at night, lying sleepless in the darkness, afraid to get up and check if she’s still breathing or not, it became unbearable for him to be in the same room with her.
It was horrifying, from the smell of sickness to the sight of her body and agonizing agony. And the thought that soon that body would be lifeless and then he would have to live in that room, sleep on that couch where a cold, lifeless corpse would lie, and then deal with the funeral. There’s no money, not even for her medication, and there’s no point in dreaming of a new couch after her death. It’s better if she frees him from all of this. Well, why should he endure such torment? Let her die somewhere on her own, without him.
When he came to this thought, he felt relieved. He suggested that Nina come up with something, somewhere to send her. She looked at him with puppy eyes, stayed silent, bit her lip, and nodded. She agreed on her own. The only problem was sending her somewhere, but there was no money either. Yes, and why should he spend his savings on her death? What benefit would he gain from it? Such thoughts kept him awake for several nights until he finally made a decision, a cruel and abrupt decision that should have made him feel ashamed if he had such a feeling.
But he had known since childhood that the sense of shame and guilt rarely manifested in him, even when he committed blatantly bad deeds and childish pranks. He would be scolded and shamed, pretending to feel remorse and repentance, even though he didn’t truly experience any of it. And now he was completely calm, and even happy that he had come up with such a beneficial solution to get rid of his dying wife without any additional financial expenses.
He simply drove her to the city dump. So what, people live there too? Various homeless individuals, they dig through the trash, find sustenance for themselves, they make homes, shacks out of discarded furniture and junk.
They live there and die there. So let Nina be there, and he would live in his apartment, on his couch, without witnessing any of it. “Dash, let’s go. I’ve arranged it. They’re already waiting for you. I gathered a few things for you. You don’t need much there.” Dash, thank you, Istvan, for everything, for your care and love, for taking care of me despite everything. You’re such a kind person, Istvan. You’re very kind.
She trustingly went with him to the car, glanced back at the apartment window before leaving, realizing that she would never return there. She sat in the car and silently drove, unable to speak about anything.
Yes, he was silent too, unsure how she would react to where he was taking her. When she realized where her final destination would be, she took a deep breath and didn’t say a word. Her blue eyes filled with tears, but she continued to remain silent. She didn’t ask him to take her home, she didn’t beg. She didn’t even look at him as they walked hand in hand through the trash. He led her to an old broken chair and sat her down, placing a small travel bag with her belongings beside her.
“What difference does it make where one dies?” Only when he stood up, he briefly glanced at her face and saw those eyes still looking at him with hope and that childlike belief in goodness. That naivety pricked his heart like a needle. Spring was in full bloom, and her blue eyes were pure and beautiful, like the sky.
She couldn’t believe that he would act this way, hoping that he would change his mind. She hoped and believed until the very end. But he didn’t change his mind. He walked back to his car with firm steps, without looking back, got in, and drove away. He left behind years of married life, love, care, and happiness. He left behind the dreadful illness with no cure. He left behind his Nina forever, erased her from his life, and tried not to remember or think about her anymore. Not the cheerful, tender, affectionate wife she had been for him for so many years. Not the unhappy, sick, fading martyr she became this winter.
But why does everything still remind him of her? Why does he dream of her face at night, only the one he saw there at the city dump? He dreams of her bottomless blue eyes, the color of cornflowers in the wheat. He dreams of the expression she gave him the last time they looked at each other. And he wakes up sweaty with pain in his chest, as if someone placed a stone on his ribs. That’s when he wants to drink and forget, but it just won’t be forgotten. Could it be that conscience actually exists? So this is how it looks? A leaden weight in the head and a stone on the chest at night?
Well, it doesn’t matter anymore. What’s done is done, and nothing can be changed. Yes, he has no intention of changing anything. He’s fine being alone and even earlier when Nina had just started getting sick, he had to help her with household chores, and then everything fell on his shoulders entirely.
So he got used to cleaning and cooking everything himself. And now, when there is no need to take care of a bedridden patient, it’s even easier for him. Now he is his own master and does what he wants, not what is necessary for the family or for the sick wife.
He decided to drink, and he did, without paying attention to anyone or explaining that he needed to relax. He prepared whatever he wanted for himself, even sandwiches with sprats. And there is no need to make broth or porridge for her, only for himself. He did what he wanted to do.
However, the sense of freedom didn’t bring him much joy. For some reason, he increasingly felt the urge to drink, but vodka wouldn’t take hold. He wouldn’t get drunk. Thoughts still swirled in his heavy head, and the stone in his chest wouldn’t go away. But why was he so tormented? She must have died a long time ago, and yet he was still suffering. How much longer could this go on?
Summer had already passed, and autumn was here. Leaves were turning yellow, mushroom rains were gathering, and he still couldn’t get her out of his mind. And she appeared in his dreams almost every night. When will she let him go?
Istan took a bite of a lightly salted cucumber, pushed the plate away, grabbed the remote control, and pressed the button. Let the TV distract him, at least. What’s on? Football news? Some action movie? Oh no, another cheesy romantic series about country girls and city slickers falling in love with simpletons head over heels. Who believes in such sappy stories? Fairy tales about otherworldly love for women? Maybe there’s a boxing match or at least an action movie.
Images flashed on the screen, but he stared blankly, not realizing what he was watching, what movie was playing, what the plot was about. His eyes started to close, and his body relaxed. He slipped into oblivion. A dark, thick, dreamless sleep engulfed him for a while.
Istan was used to falling asleep like this, right in his clothes, wherever he sat and drank. As morning approached, his body became completely stiff in an uncomfortable position. He started to toss and turn, groaning, and woke up again with the same vision. She appeared in his dream once more, and again, she didn’t reproach him, didn’t hate him, didn’t get upset or curse him. She looked at him with trusting, pure hope. And he felt the same weight on his heart that he couldn’t shake off, free himself from, or forget.
In the semi-darkness of the room, the television still showed something. Commercials were playing. Istan’s hand instinctively reached for the glass with undrunk vodka. He took a sip, sat there slightly swaying, grabbed the remote control, and turned off the TV. He lay down on his side first and then turned to face the wall, but sleep wouldn’t come anymore. He lay there without sleep, drowning in jumbled thoughts until dawn.
In the morning, he hastily fried two eggs while the coffee was boiling. The eggs burned on the skillet as he scraped the eggs off the skillet, the coffee spilled and hissed on the gas stove. Everything slipped from his hands. His body ached, his head throbbed after a difficult night. He didn’t sleep or rest, but there was nothing he could do. It was Monday, time to go to work.
Istan had changed several jobs in the past three months. When his wife fell ill, his company initially helped him. They granted him a leave for care, and then a paid vacation. But then he started drinking more often, and the management caught the smell of alcohol. After two conversations, they fired him. The third time, he tried to get hired as a security guard in one office or another, but when they checked his background and noticed that he drank, they quickly got rid of him, saying he didn’t pass the probationary period.
Istan was angry. He wasn’t an alcoholic. It was just the circumstances, the stress, and all that. He only drank, not for the sake of getting drunk, but simply to calm down, like a sedative. But he didn’t want to explain that to those dim-witted bosses who only thought of themselves. And now he was still a security guard, just like before, but now in a supermarket instead of an office. This job was much harder and more responsible, and they paid much less. Yes, they also fired him frequently, but there’s nothing he could do. There were no other options.
After the drinking sessions, there was hardly any smell left. After all, he only had a couple of glasses. The coffee and eggs should have brought him back to his senses. He swallowed the coffee and burned his mouth with the boiling liquid. He spat it out, left to breakfast, and went to shave.
While he was washing up and shaving, the scrambled eggs turned into a rubbery sole, and the coffee cooled down completely, becoming unpleasant and tasteless. At work, Istan tried to be professional, focused, and attentive to suspicious customers. On Monday mornings, there weren’t many of them since most people were going to work. It was mainly elderly pensioners coming in for bread. They didn’t buy many groceries now since everything was cheaper at the market over the weekend. Or young mothers on maternity leave with babies and strollers might come by.
There were hardly any regular customers in the morning on Monday. Well, except for some wealthy individuals who might come in to buy red or even black caviar to go with champagne, just like that couple over there, elegantly dressed in super-expensive clothes, standing and choosing live trout from a large glass aquarium. The salesperson was hopping around with a big net, offering helpful advice on which fish to choose. Judging by the salesperson’s hustle and bustle, they were indeed wealthy clients. It seemed like they mostly came here for delicacies. He actually handed them a jar of black caviar, and the man casually checked the expiration date on the jar. He didn’t search for where it was written in small print. He knew exactly where to look. Apparently, he bought it frequently.
Oh, they went to the display with oysters on ice and picked out fresh ones. Well, well, thought Istan, observing the couple as they carefully inspected each oyster, their gloved hands delicately handling the shells. They seemed so carefree, so unaffected by the mundane troubles of life. They could afford to indulge in luxury and savor the finer things.
A sense of bitterness washed over Istan as he continued his monotonous duties, scanning items at the checkout counter, occasionally glancing at the clock on the wall. It was as if he were stuck in a never-ending cycle of repetitive tasks, devoid of any purpose or fulfillment.
As the morning progressed, more customers trickled into the supermarket. Among them were families with children, harried professionals grabbing quick snacks, and elderly individuals shuffling along with their grocery carts. Istan mechanically greeted them, processed their purchases, and bid them farewell, his mind drifting in and out of focus.
But then, amidst the sea of faces, he caught a glimpse of someone who made his heart skip a beat. It was a woman, her appearance strikingly reminiscent of Nina. The same gentle smile, the same sparkle in her eyes. Istan’s breath caught in his throat, and he couldn’t tear his gaze away from her.
Was it a mere coincidence, or was this some cruel trick of fate? He wondered if he was losing his mind, conjuring up phantoms of his past. Yet, the woman’s resemblance to Nina was uncanny, almost haunting. He couldn’t shake off the feeling that it was a sign, a reminder of the choices he had made.
Trying to regain his composure, Istan forced himself to focus on his work, to push aside the unsettling thoughts that threatened to consume him. But as the day wore on, the weight on his shoulders grew heavier, and his steps became slower, burdened by the weight of remorse.
During a brief lull in customer activity, Istan retreated to the small break room at the back of the supermarket. He sat down heavily on a worn-out chair, the exhaustion of both body and soul catching up to him. His mind replayed the events leading to Nina’s departure, the guilt resurfacing with renewed intensity.
The memory of that fateful day at the city dump pierced through his thoughts. The image of Nina, abandoned amidst the refuse, her hopeful eyes fixed on him, haunted him relentlessly. He had tried to convince himself that it was for the best, that it was the only way to escape the suffocating weight of their deteriorating relationship. But deep down, he knew he had betrayed her, forsaking the vows they had once sworn.
Lost in his anguish, Istan hardly noticed when his co-worker, Marko, entered the break room, his voice breaking through the haze of Istan’s thoughts. “Hey, man, you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Istan forced a weak smile, attempting to mask the turmoil within. “Just tired, Marko. Long day, you know.”
Marko nodded, concern etched on his face. “Well, take a breather, buddy. You’ve been working hard. We all have our demons to wrestle with, but we can’t let them consume us.”
Those words struck a chord within Istan, resonating with a truth he had been avoiding. He realized that he couldn’t continue living in this state of perpetual torment. The weight of his actions was suffocating him, stifling any semblance of peace or happiness.
As the day drew to a close, Istan made a decision. He would face his past, confront the ghosts that haunted him, and seek redemption for the pain he had caused. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, that it would require immense courage and a willingness to confront the consequences of his actions. But he couldn’t bear the burden any longer.
With a newfound determination, Istan bid farewell to his co-workers, his mind focused on the path ahead. He knew he had a long journey of healing and self-reflection ahead of him, but he was ready to face it head-on.
Leaving the confines of the supermarket, he stepped out into the fading light of the evening, uncertain of what lay ahead but determined to find solace, forgiveness, and perhaps, a chance at redemption.