My father sitting in that apartment in Budapest, the one with the high ceilings, the double doors between rooms, the apartment he has known since he was four years old and his grandparents bought it, the apartment he returned to like a ship to harbor when everything in this country fell apart, a place all along he must have kept in mind as a place he could return to if all else failed. Which it did.
I think of him there though he is there no longer. I think of him sitting there for the last thirty years of his life, his life becoming smaller and smaller and smaller until it finally went out.
I remember visiting him early on when he was still active. He took me to another apartment in the complex one evening to visit a woman he had known since they were teenagers. She was an artist, her apartment filled with canvases. She gave me a piece of her jewelry, a bracelet of silver rectangles linked together. It was ugly, but I had very little jewelry at that time and I liked that this bracelet was old, held history, had come from someone.
My father dressed up for that dinner as he always did in the navy blue double-breasted blazer and a cravat. He said something to me about how wearing a cravat takes care of the need for a tie but is so much more comfortable. He said this to me with the air of triumph that he often used. Triumph. Everything had to be won and it made me always want to put down my pieces, not play at all.
He said something before or after the dinner, disparaging about the woman artist, something that implied he wanted to keep some distance between them. Yet he was proud that she was a painter, proud that she was a friend. I had the feeling that perhaps they’d been lovers, or that she wanted them to be – some history of some sort.
Like the dinner with Ilona, a woman in a different part of town, a woman my father assured me had once been very pretty when they were in high school. Ilona had definitely once been his girlfriend and now she was a widow in an apartment filled with old-lady things, cooking dinner for my father almost every night, a sad woman who still spoke of the war and how it had changed everything forever.
But by the end it was just my father alone with his younger sister caring for him. Maybe people came by or called. I don’t know. I wasn’t there and with so many barriers of distance, culture and language I don’t know at all how things really were.
But I think of him there, silent, perhaps brooding. The last time I called he could not speak and I didn’t know if he knew it was me. I didn’t know anything. I could hear him struggling, and he managed the phrase “keep in touch.”
Which I do. I keep in touch. I think of him. Without tears. I welcome the pieces of his writing that my aunt sends as soon as the translator finishes a chapter. Because my father remains a mystery. He never did succeed in explaining himself to me. He tried. But he edited out so much I was not left with much.