Veronica D. Niculescu (b. 1968) is a Romanian writer and translator. She published three short stories collection: Adeb (Adeb, Limes, 2004, the Romanian Writers’ Union Prize for Debut – Sibiu), Orchestra portocalie (The Orange Orchestra, Cartea Românească, 2008) and Roşu, roşu, catifea (Red, red, velvet, Casa de Pariuri Literare, 2012, nominated for two important national awards: Radio Romania Cultural Awards; „Ziarul de Iasi” National Prose Award).
Also published a pair of unusual books: Simfonia animalieră (The Animal Symphony, Casa de Pariuri Literare, 2014, Romanian Writers’ Union Prize – Sibiu; nominated at „Ziarul de Iasi” National Prose Award) and Hibernalia (Hibernalia, Casa de Pariuri Literare, 2016).
She published her first novel in 2016: Spre văi de jad și sălbăție (Towards jade and darnel valleys, Polirom, 2016).
She also wrote two books together with Emil Brumaru: Basmul Prinţesei Repede-Repede (The Fairy Tale of Princess Hurry-Hurry, Polirom, 2009) and Cad castane din castani (Chestnuts are falling from chestnuts, Polirom, 2014, nominated at „Observator cultural” Magazine Awards).
Her best short stories are collected in Floribunda anthology (TipoMoldova, 2012). Some of her stories were included in: “Best of – Short Romanian Prose since 2000”, Polirom Publishing House; Scräpliv, Romanian short stories, 2244/Bonnier Publishing House, Sweden.
She translated more than 25 books from english – Vladimir Nabokov, Samuel Beckett, Don DeLillo, Siri Hustvedt, Eowyn Ivey, Lydia Davis, Tracy Chevalier. She received the Romanian Writers’ Union – Sibiu prize for translating three Beckett novels. She also received several national nominations for translating Beckett’s short prose and Nabokov’s Pale Fire and The Gift.
She is living in Bucharest with her husband, lots of real flowers and a few imaginary animals.
Mr Teodorescu’s Neck Strap
What has Molly unearthed today? A leather strap! She brought it to his bedside, laid it out on Mr Teodorescu’s chest. And he lay there thinking for a long time.
I lay there thinking for a long time. Thinking of summer days when the three of us were happy, without even knowing we were happy. Simply being. Thinking of evenings with the light sifting down through the birch branches, in autumn, when their lament would turn golden, and in winter, when it would turn all white, and then again, in spring, when it would bud and turn ever so green. Then thinking back of summer days. A little girl in a pram, a mother pushing the pram at the Lido, along the same old alleys, yet never quite the same, me with the camera hanging from my neck by its sturdy, scuffed strap, taking it out of its tough, leathern harness, then twiddling with the knobs, eyes gauging the brightness, then assessing the exposure time, and raising it to my eye, and, having set the exposure, the range, pressing the button once, and then once again, in quick succession. My wife and my baby daughter approaching, from the outside approaching, inside standing still, strapped around my neck, in the leathern harness. Oh, and the swans! And the arched footbridges, and the boats. And the days when, alone, down the alleys, taking a detour on my way home, among the children screaming with excitement on receiving the news that theses chestnuts, and exclusively these, were edible, and then picking them nimbly, and greedily, in their diminutive pockets, how lucky were those wearing parkas, and filling up their small pockets so fast, and running while holding more conkers in their cupped little hands, and dwindling, constantly dwindling away as they ran to their parents, their parents so small, oh so small, and so bent, and so withered, mere shadows propped up against willows, and oak trees, and beeches, not a conker out there, just the odd acorn, sometimes, and squirrels, and other small gatherers, related to Molly, constantly starving, constantly scrabbling, constantly swarming, all apprehensive, eyes screwed, fur aflutter upon their arched backs, noses twitching, their forepaws all poised, wringing those paws when no food could be found, wringing them on the way back, they themselves mere shadows, in their trees’ nooks and crannies, emptied out of all birds in the meantime, of large birds, they themselves mere shadows, shadows of ravens, some crows, and some magpies, and high up, way up high, a few storks, and then, in their homes, the same children, their pockets emptied out, waiting for hotplates to heat up, waiting for the chestnuts slit crosswise to pop up in turn, sugar bowls waiting by on the tables, shoving their small hands into the bowls, and strewing at the windows, on the sills, a thin line of sugar, to summon the stork, and pointing it out to their mothers, as they stood on tiptoes, there, just to summon the stork, and the mothers would smile with a sigh, and that sigh would blow off the sweet grains, mothers, those bitterish teapots needing no sugar, who carefully buttoned their gowns all the way, on Mondays, and Tuesday as well, and Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and Fridays, of course, and all the more so on a Saturday, and having kept them buttoned tight till Sunday morning, they’d unbutton them then, but in secret, screened off by the door of the wardrobe, whence they picked their silk dresses on the Sundays the cars of their husbands went out for a ride, driving here, but we’re walking here every time, oh the sound of new chestnuts dropping onto the paths, they are falling unheard, one by one, from Monday till Saturday, and now they are heard, to be gathered in sunshine, and the wind might be blowing, because wind is good, though it never changes a thing, you know, and these Sundays all looking the same, one after the other, and then a little choo-choo train chugs into view, little green choo-choo train, well, not exactly little, big enough for ten kids, maybe fifteen, and the children rush forth, and they laugh, as they start getting further, and do get a bit further, and they’re waving their small flimsy hands, toodle-oo, and when they are getting still further away, some of them cry, and keep crying, little hands stretched behind, but the choo-choo train never comes back the same way, never ever, on it goes, turns a circle, a big one, well, not exactly big, but still a circle, and when the choo-choo train reaches the furthest point, on the edge of the circle, the sun hides out of sight for a moment, behind some tree trunk or some thicker old bough, and then, screwing your eyes, you can see all the children, framed by the windows, and some laugh, others cry, and as the train is getting closer while completing the circle, the laughter of those who’ve been laughing will be fading away ever so slowly, and the tears of the ones who’ve been crying will be drying away ever so slowly, and when the choo-choo train once again returns to its greenery-decked platform, crunching to a stop on the exact spot it has departed from, they will all be the same as before, dry and clean, and just as happy, and just as sad, succumbing now limply to the hugs of their mothers – or their fathers – who’ve been waiting for them, all alike, growing, each moment, slightly more bent and more withered, only slightly, pockets empty, bellies empty, looks empty, and in one of the pairs of outstretched arms, one of the children will alight, my arms, my Lenuţa, in a blue dress, steamer stitched on the bodice, white sandals, how else?, and matching white socks, of course, very white, very, very white. One of which, a sock, that is, Molly may find one fine day, not today, grip it gingerly in her wet muzzle, extricate it from the pile and, having pulled it all the way out, will sniff it more thoroughly, and then jump over everything, over all of these things, jump after jump after jump over everything here and, sock clutched in her muzzle, she’ll alight on my bed, as if she’d hunted down a sparrow, or a dove, or a small rat, and proudly, tenderly, she will drop it on my chest, the way she’s dropped today the neck strap of my camera, and I will thank her, and praise her, well done, Molly, that’s the way, there’s a good girl, well done, and she’ll start purring, and I’ll sigh from underneath the sock, two pounds of iron on top of one hundred and twenty pounds of flesh, thinking in spite of myself of the weights at the greengrocer’s, all rusty and caked in earth from the potatoes, or carrots, or celeriac, yesss, I will sigh, bending down with the weight on my chest, sinking into the mattress, withered and desiccated and not at all accustomed to the earth yet, and then, when I shake myself off a bit, well, not just a bit, I will make one more note, I will add to the parcel a little, as I wait for the next rummaging session, and then the next, and the next after it.
Because that’s what Molly does every day. Several times, every day. But he only makes notes once a day. Like this.
(Translated by Florin Bican)
From the book Roșu, roșu, catifea (Red, Red, Velvet Red), Casa de Pariuri Literare, 2012