Moldova always prided himself on being methodical and how precisely his mind filed away facts and presented logical solutions in a matter of seconds and how the most rational paths appeared to him easily.
It had never really occurred to him that his mind might’ve developed that way out of necessity.
The excuse that he always used, that he thought in such an impersonal and calculating manner as a way to protect himself from the machinations of the ever-larger and more powerful countries surrounding him…even for all of Ion’s brilliance, it never occurred to him that there could be another reason for all his planning, the obsessive note-taking, the fixation with schedules and orderliness.
Nowadays he relied solely on muscle memory to allow him to survive the days. He automatically dressed himself, no longer caring whether his clothing matched or not (everything was darkly coloured anyway), had a brief moment of clarity where he wondered how he’d made it from his bedroom to his kitchen without remembering the brief walk before he found himself out on his rusted balcony, staring down at a mug with the last dregs of tea forming a cloudy film at the bottom.
The third time it had happened, Ion threw the mug in a rage.
It crashed against the cement and shattered with a loud bang that pulled the hair-trigger in the mind he used to be so proud of, until the echo of splintering ceramics became deafening explosions ringing in his ears and he was sprawled out on the balcony floor, reflexively curled into foetal position, banging his head against the oxidised posts and screaming until his throat was raw and his neighbours broke down his front door because they thought he was being murdered.
They had called Ukraine (listed as his older cousin Katya in his landlord’s files) and she had appeared within the hour, all maternal cooing and murmuring soothingly in only slightly broken Russian as she pulled him to her chest and brushed the damp bangs and tears from his face until he fell asleep cradled in the circle of her arms.
That had been two months ago and the last vestiges of his pride made him determined to not have a repeat of that episode. He wouldn’t recall leaving his apartment or how he’d suddenly appeared at the street corner waiting for the bus to the city centre, but hewould belatedly recall the suspicious stares of his neighbours as he passed them silently in the hall. For a while, there had been a polite university student who had continued to greet him cheerfully when he passed, but even she had stopped after a while.
Ion was too lazy or too much of a coward to think about moving.
Or perhaps he wasn’t, and that’s why (in another increasingly rare moment of clarity) he was trudging through the sparse snowdrifts in Braşov. All around were the products of an early spring; the new grass was already coming up around the scorched patches of earth, saplings were twining around the burnt-out old trees, and Ion would occasionally hear the skittering of small wildlife in the dead underbrush.
He reached the top of a too-familiar hill and stared down into the shallow valley. To his right was the remnants of a laid stone foundation and a few blackened support beams, leaning awkwardly to the side as if the entire house had been blown away like a leaf in a strong wind. He knew (remembered) that to his left and slightly northeast was what he came up this fucking mountain looking for in the first place. His mobile began to buzz in his pocket as he started unsteadily down the hillside, picking his way through broken pavement and large chunks of cement littering the way. Ukraine’s number appeared on his caller ID, probably concerned that he’d gone missing from his apartment. Somewhere deep inside, in that place he didn’t really acknowledging as extant anymore since it had gone numb, Ion realised that this was a selfish and self-indulgent venture that would probably hurt more than help, but he needed to be sure—
The mobile continued ringing, now placed securely atop a cracked piece of upheaved asphalt and left behind.
Ion tripped more than a few times, sent sprawling over the broken path and scraping his hands with sharp bits of gravel. He stumbled over a dead tree root and caught himself on the splintered trunk, staring in some amount of surprise as the trail he had been seeking opened up before him, only slightly overgrown with new spring greenery.
“If you walk that slow, we’re never going to get there!”
With a pained growl, he brought his wrist to his mouth and bit down hard until tears sprung to his eyes and the pain cleared the unwelcome voice from his head.
Ion staggered down the winding path, trying to ignore the warps of coloured air his eyes insisted were there even though his brain knew better.
“I don’t know why you’re in such a rush. It’s not as if it’s going anywhere.”
“Pui, you’re no fun. You need to see it! It’s so different from last year!”
“Fuck,” Ion hissed, pressing the heel of his palms roughly against his eyes until neon white sparks zigzagged behind his eyelids and left behind spots of dark colour in his vision when he opened his eyes again. He stood unsteadily at a fork in the trail, not entirely sure how he’d arrived here and even less sure which way to go.
“Second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning!”
Ion took an uncertain step to the right fork, comforted only by the fact that this part of the path looked only slightly less overgrown than the alternative. As he continued, the bends in the path seemed a little more familiar, and he let out a breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding.
The trail took a sharp hairpin turn to the left, circling around the edge of a large bluff patterned with burn marks and cracked stone and angling steeply downwards with a suddenness that Ion had forgotten about.
And so he had quite literally tumbled down the incline with a shout that pierced the unnatural silence and echoed for miles.
Ion lay sprawled in the dust for a long moment, staring at nothing and clenching at the soil beneath his fingers, willing the burning in his eyes to leave and this had been a terrible idea, all of it—
“It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?”
He craned his head backward by the barest amount of degrees and for a moment, the world stopped.
Hidden beneath the bluff’s outcrop was a shaded gazebo that was probably carved from stone. It was impossible to tell beneath the heavy veil of wisteria twining over every spare inch of it. Dappled sunlight shone through the violet lace and spotted the floor in patches. A wrought iron birdcage with a few rusty spots hung from the centre of the gazebo’s domed ceiling and wisteria blooms spilled between the bars and were suspended like lavender chandelier crystals, illuminated by late afternoon sunlight.
“Actually, you know…I’m not sure when this was made, pui. There used to be a plaque, but it rusted away back in the 1800s…”
“It’s that old?”
“That gives it some more meaning, don’t you think?”
“If you actually cared about what I thought, you wouldn’t have bothered to bring me out here.”
“Wrong! You should share everything you love with the person you—”
Ion choked back a sob as he pulled himself up to his feet, legs unsteady like rotting columns as he staggered across the few metres of empty space between his miserable patch of dirt and the amethyst bloom-encrusted banister, clutching at it for support when his legs gave way beneath him and he fell onto a thick carpet of wisteria, the air heady with the scent of crushed blossoms.
Mircea wrinkled his nose and laughed, too loud for the serenity of their setting and too long to be appropriate for anything other than absolute happiness. Completely at ease, he perched on the gazebo railing and pulled Ion close by the hem of Ion’s cămaşă until Ion’s waist was between his knees and he could weave trailing vines of pale young wisteria through the Moldovan’s dark auburn curls.
“You do look, my son, in a moved sort, As if you were dismay’d: be cheerful, sir. Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve,” Mircea murmured, “And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.”
Ion snorted and fought the urge to smile, instead framing Mircea’s face between his hands and whispering all his faults against his parted lips.
When Ion opened his eyes again, the sun was gone and there was a fine layer of frost over the wisteria and over him as well. He sighed and watched as his breath clouded in the chilled air.
“Sir, I am vex’d; Bear with my weakness; my, brain is troubled: Be not disturb’d with my infirmity: If you be pleased, retire into my cell And there repose: a turn or two I’ll walk, To still my beating mind--”
“Mircea, I am vexed. Bear with my weakness; I didn’t think everything would go so wrong. Be not disturbed with my infirmity—”he whispered hoarsely. He wrestled himself upright, ignoring the spots of dampness seeping into his clothing and the aching in his muscles from his several falls and tumbles from the past day and stared into the darkness.
He threw a hand over his face and drew a shaky breath.
“I thought there would be more time.”
There was a laugh somewhere behind him, too loud and too long to be anything but the small creek that wound through the clearing.
“I thought there would be more time for us.”
Completely at ease, a wood dove perched on the gazebo railing and cooed at him softly, far too similar to the same coos of adoration Mircea would make when Ion was still young and capable and deserving of adoration to keep Ion from holding onto any further semblance of composure as he beat at the marble tiles beneath his fists, hidden by heavy vines. With an animalistic scream, he tore at them until they were stripped away from the tile grout, sending him falling back with recoil before he attacked them anew. His sudden fit sent the wood dove fluttering away with a high pitched screech of alarm.
Until his hands were bleeding from the earlier scrapes and blisters rose beneath his skin did he pull at the wisteria vines and toss them aside until he had cleared the cracked and mottled tile, glowing dimly in the scant moonlight.
“I think,” Mircea was saying on one particularly warm summer afternoon when the two of them were feeling lazy enough in the heat to simply twine together beneath the gently swinging iron birdcage and just breathe each other in, “that maybe this place needs something.”
Ion hummed in agreement, not listening too closely and drowsy with the summer warmth.
“…iubi, are you listening?”
Ion hummed again, though he wasn’t. He could feel Mircea smiling against his ear as he caught the lie.
“So if I told you the sky was turning green right now, Ion, what then?”
Another amiable hum.
“And what if I said I actually thought Hungary was a kind and decent human being?”
“And what if—”
Mircea paused and ran gentle fingers through Ion’s hair, the cinnamon hue more prominent in the sunlight.
“What if…what if I said I love you?”
Ion cracked one eye open and smiled up at Mircea wryly.
“I already knew that.”
“Only pretending to be asleep, that’s sneaky. Anyway, I think this place does need something to make it more…ours.”
“But it’s yours,” Ion yawned, “on your land and everything.”
“Ours,” Mircea corrected him, pressing a swift kiss to his ear, “our place. I’ll think of something. So you can’t come back until I do.”
“That’s so rude. You’re kicking me out?”
And Mircea laughed again.
After that, they’d had an argument over something ridiculous. It was routine because they bickered like clockwork, and afterwards Ion had gone home to Anenii Noi.
He hadn’t seen Mircea again after that.
That had been almost two years ago.
Beneath his hands, the tile was frigid, even colder than the air. Ion stared at it in wide-eyed wonder.
Embossed into every tile was an intricate latticework of Mărţişor knots, some chipped by the elements but most perfectly preserved despite the…weather.
Ion let out a shaky exhale as he traced each knot with a delicate fingertip.
“I love you too,” he whispered as he finished one knot and moved on to the next, “I love you too.”
The End of Romania?
A heated dispute broke out amongst Romania’s leading officials that led to one some call the most fatalistic coup of the century. Most remember the August of 2012 as one of tragedy as the fabric of Romanian society broke down with riots in the capital city’s streets and thousands of citizens fleeing into neighbouring Moldova and Bulgaria. As the divided factions became less satisfied with political manoeuvring and more interested in militaristic pursuits, Western weapons firms were only too happy to provide their services.
The result of a disagreement gone too far left Romania broken, and for all intents and purposes, gone.
Acting Head of the provisional government Vasile Caragiale made the statement that all remaining arable lands of the former Romania be given over to the Republic of Moldova to restore as seen fit.