It was on the corner where I noticed Fall for the first time. I was walking back, and she was standing at the corner, leaning on the wall of the optician’s place. The smoke and the embers have teamed up with the rain, and there really was no reason for me to look away from the danger posed by my umbrella. Yet, I saw her, but our eyes didn’t meet. But then I knew she was nearby.
What I also knew is that once she reveals herself, it will become harder for her to keep her concentration, and that the lead in our little game of hide and seek will try to cross over to my side. We hunted each other for days, I celebrated a premature victory running late for a Novels class, I thought I saw her sitting on Our Bench. However, we met face to face on her territory.
Even though few people know this, Fall lives in Pavla Simića Street, at the very edge of the city centre. When the calendar conspires against her, she runs to the only treetops left in my neighborhood, which can’t conceal her completely, however hard she tries. I used to ride down that street as a kid, not very often, mostly sitting on the back seat of a red Yugo, and I used to wonder why I only looked out the windows when it was Fall. It didn’t take me long to realize that in this street it was always a lazy Sunday afternoon in the Fall, sometime after half past three, when it’s neither light nor dark, and when only the old man from Vase Stajića Street is walking his poodle. I tried to figure out when our little game of cops and robbers started once, and however far I looked back, I always ended up on that back seat.
There was a time when my steps took me to the right, in the direction of the Boulevard and the Fair, and later, when I counted my daily steps on the marble by the Catholic church (interrupting again and again the meeting of pigeons on the Square), when I couldn’t win at that game. Oh, we used to meet, did we ever meet, there are seasons when Fall keeps running after you and pulling your sleeve (always in front of a bookshop), or when she throws chestnuts at you from a tree at the confluence of Laze Kostića Street and the Boulevard, but… What kind of game is it when I only win when she gives herself up, tired of hiding? Yet, then, I started to see an end to this chase on the day I walked from my apartment (feigning nervousness), by the gas station, over the cobblestone of Radnička Street, chasing buses down Stražilovska Street, until I reached Number Two of a street that is yet to win an award for the most mentioned street of My Town.
Fall hasn’t changed addresses since then. Until the tailors of This Town dare to venture in there, I’m afraid Pavla Simića has been lost forever. Fall has taken it under its wing, decorated it and tucked it in the way she likes it, and no north wind will ever blow the smell of burnt leaves, chestnuts and vanilla out of there.
Yes, that’s where I saw her, sitting on the fence in front of That House. She was whistling to the retriever who was sleeping peacefully (lying upside-down like an otter), she was reaching for a particularly red leaf, and she wasn’t ready for my treacherous backstabbing attack, which I surprised her with. So this is it.
I admit that I have only recently managed to learn the Key Secret of Pavla Simića.
Ever since I can remember (a fair number of years, then), I have always noticed two houses in Pavla Simića. The yellow house with the yellow dog, which you would never notice if you saw it anywhere else in this round world. A house where the piano is played, where cookies are baked on Sunday’s, where someone else comes to do the tidying up, and where, without a shadow of a doubt, the Spirit of Novi Sad goes to get ready for an evening walk down the promenade.
The second house is… The second house. Second on the left when you’re coming from the gas station and nearly the last if you are, for example, coming from the theatre, and going to visit someone who lives by the stadium, and you decide to take the darker road. The house with the tower. If you have ever read Zafon, you know what I mean. A house no one has lived in for years, even though by my standards, anyone would want to live there. A house which was windows I shoot a glance at every time I walk by (the same way I wave at the yellow dog when moving in the opposite direction). I am not a reliable witness, but I could bet (a handful of vanilla cookies) that no one has been in there for a long enough time for the house to be considered haunted.
One of the things I learned by living in This Town is that there are no haunted houses. There are abandoned, sad, run-down, demolished and new houses, but no haunted houses. I haven’t given much thought to this mystery, until, on the day we have labeled “recently”, I wasn’t slapped across the face by the answer. I walked by the garage under construction in the yard, arrived at the corner, and then stopped, like Charlie Chaplin, frozen with one leg still in the air. Not really? Yet, when I stabbed Fall in the back with my surprise attack, it seemed like she slipped away in that direction.
Trudging back home (after leaving those I usually walk back with to stare after me without any explanation), I snuck into Pavla Simića. Who was that man? I have always asked myself, but never bothered to ask. I hope he was someone worthy of naming the street where Fall lives. I stopped right across from the unlit windows with shutters, and glanced left-right. No one to be seen. Perfect.
I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for, but I knew I would recognize it when I found it. We used to want to break into that house when we were kids, why didn’t we? Judging that jumping over the fence would be a tad too much, I remained at a decent distance, close enough to see what I wanted to. Fall was getting ready to leave, I could guess where she was off too. Jazz players from distant cities were in our midst, she would never miss that.
A few years ago, some new people moved into our building, which were, in the beginning, distinguishable only by the fact that they had two daughters. New kids on the block. We watched them play where our handprints have long ago been mummified, and when I pushed my key into the lock (not all the way, but in that all-knowing fashion), I heard them talking confidentially on That Same Green Bench which has been transformed into That Same Black Bench in the meantime. They were talking about the House with the tower. I thought about telling them my story for a second, and giving them tips about hunting Fall, but I changed my mind in the next. They wouldn’t believe me anyway.
By the way, Pavle Simić was a painter, which explains things a bit.
By Andrea Gomboš
(First written in Serbian; translation provided by the author)