part 9 by Jen“What is it, my Anna?”
Anna closed her eyes. I can’t say this. “You know I did a lot of interviews for my dissertation?”
Luka wrinkled his forehead. “Yes?”
“I’ve done several with…well, from Vukovar.”
Luka felt his heart stop. “Yes?”
“Long ones. Over several weeks.”
Luka sighed. “Anna, do we have to talk about this now? Let’s go home.”
If she stopped talking now she wouldn’t be able to start again. She’d keep putting it off and putting it off and it was just getting worse. “No. Let me just…listen to me, Luka. The thing is, I spent a lot of time on these interviews. I spent a lot of time with the interview subjects. Hours over days and days. I spent weeks in…doing interviews. Sometimes in restaurants, sometimes in private offices. Once in a while in a home. A lot of time, Luka. With my interview subjects. They told me…well, they were often very willing to tell me detailed things. I don’t know why. About what happened. About…during Vukovar.”
Now his heart was racing. “Do you know somebody who saw my family? Is that what you’re saying?”
Oh god. Oh, oh I didn’t think he’d think that. Ohgodohgodohgod. “No,” she said quickly. “Not that I can think of. I guess I could give you a few names, maybe you’d recognize them. I interviewed a few civ…No, that’s not it Luka. Look, you have to know this. The thing is, I spent weeks doing these very detailed one-on-one interviews with about a dozen people I think and the thing is most of the people I interviewed from Vukovar weren’t Croats, Luka.”
Here it comes, she thought, and braced herself for the storm.
Luka went white. He should have thought of that, why hadn’t he ever thought of that? Ethnic nationalism. Separatist movements. Of course she’d go to Belgrade. Of course she’d talk to the Chetniks. Sit down and talk to them. She’d talked to them with that mouth he kissed. He felt sick. She’d sat with them. Those butchers. They were butchers and she’d sat there with them as if they were the same as anybody else. The same as him. Sat with them, talked with them, broken bread with them. What else had she done? He knew those people, and she was pretty. They would try to barter for those interviews. Would she? Had she? Given herself to the very men who’d raped Marija? And then gotten in bed with him? And all this time, all this time since he’d told her he’d lived in Vukovar she’d said nothing. He felt sick. How could she not tell him, and then be telling him now, now after what he’d just told her? Oh, by the way, Luka, the men who raped and killed your pregnant wife and killed your children might be in my dissertation. I might have spent many hours in the same room with them. I bought them dinner. Nausea gave way to rage. Why is she telling me this now? His ears were ringing and behind that he heard Marija’s voice as they dragged him away from her. Only Anna’s preemptive cringe made him realize he’d raised his arm to strike her. He dropped his arm and took a step towards her, knowing he towered over her, knowing he was frightening her, wanting to. Why was she telling him this now? That she sat down with those animals who destroyed his home and his family and his life? That she carried their words around with her in that laptop that never left her side. That they had been there, watching him, the very day he met her. Anna cringed in expectation. He wanted to strike her but he couldn’t do it, even now when he wanted to send her flying to the grass it went against everything he was. He wished he were different, he wished he could slap her and drag her home and throw her against the wall until her brain rattled in her skull. Instead he hit her in other ways. He knew her well enough by now to know how to strike.
“Did you enjoy their company, Anna?” he snarled. She stared back wordlessly. “Was it pleasant? Did you let them buy you coffee? Tea?” She winced and lowered her eyes and took a tiny step away from him. He grabbed her wrist and jerked her forward. “Was it easy to get them to talk to you, or did you have to give them something in return, eh?” She went pale and bowed her head and let him lash at her. “Did you enjoy it? They wouldn’t have to rape *you* Anna, would they?” His voice was a cruel whisper in her ear. “You’re so eager. Did you whisper those pretty things to them, too, Anna?” He dropped her wrist sharply. “Were there many ‘interviews?’ Was it tiring, all those many long ‘interviews?’” The word was a curse in his mouth. And then in a long low growl, “Tell me, Anna, do you prefer Croats or Chetniks on top of you?” And with that he stalked away.
She wasn’t sure how long she stood rooted to that spot until an older woman walked over and asked quietly, “Miss? Miss? Are you lost?”
Anna shook herself out of her daze. “Yes,” she answered. “Completely.”
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