Cortazar is what I am looking for, the red edition of the Series “Word and Thought”, which I kept buying since I was a student, and loved
dearly, always had such a book; they knew me for that, I took them to my travels, left notes about the text on the blank pages, gave them
to my friends…I have hundreds of those beautiful red books, they are the most eye-catching in the  overall mess, but I cannot remember
where I left Cortazar, the edition from 1966, which I had bought in Knez Mihailova Street: Julio Cortazar – Bestiario. I have carried it with
me on a long journey by train. I remember, its signatures were all mixed…I read a little, wrote a little, all the time with the tip of the pencil
upon the margins of the Cortazar’s story… I put three periods when there was no room for more notes and I made efforts to remember
the rest, and when I read what I called “Johnny’s Solo”, I improvised the part that had not been written.

     On its each page is the alt-saxophonist Johnny Carter, the drugged, half insane Johnny who “goes through jazz like a hand turning a
page”, Johnny in whose statement “This I have already played tomorrow” his biographer sees the “entrance to music”.

     I remember Johnny because of the messed up pages. On page 72 the reader runs into the 84 (which he may not notice at all), and
has to look for the continuation on page 73. Then he turns pages to the right and reads the story backward, the story already scattered in
time and space so one cannot put together its logical order unless going back to page 72. One more jump over to page 96, where
Johnny places new traps wherever the reader may turn. It is always unimportant in which sequence one reads, because in Johnny’s
delirium everything is logical as much as it is absurd and crazy. The signatures must have been mixed up and I have one of those copies.
At the end of the trip, I carefully take out incorrectly glued pages and lay them down correctly but in that way my story changes thoroughly
so that I have to go back to the previous arrangement. My text of “Johnny’s Solo” has its time frame from night to morning and toward
your departure about which I did not know at the time, or even dreamed about.

On the margins of the story “The Pursuer” – have I already mentioned it? – I have left the note written during that long journey…I read
some of it when I arrived in Belgrade, after a glass of cooked wine, at dawn. One sentence only, I believe.  In the title it says “Johnny’s
Solo” Why just that? I don’t know. I don’t know anything about Johnny. I never listened to him. I know him from the book only, from the
margins of my journey and Cortazar’s story “The Pursuer”. But his insane replicas of music and fields planted with urns, about God, the
unattainable music whose door he had never cracked open, about the dead Bea - which is the name of his daughter whom he
abandoned – and about love affair with the saxophone, all that has inspired me to write here and there something that does not belong to
the story but to you and me. However, Cortazar I cannot find this morning.

   The dedications on the book lead me back to the past years and my acquaintances; words, faces, streets, cafes…who could
remember it all…I am sinking deeper into that labyrinth. I am the hero of the book I am searching for this morning while meeting the
heroes of other books. My memory swarms with words, words, words…down which I slide into the maize of the text…nobody can be sure
to return from that chasm. I am entering it, headlong, crawling through the narrow corridor of the introductory sentences, but after two or
three paragraphs I get lost and stop, not knowing where to go. “The Pursuer” is a story about music; on its margins I have left something
that I want to find and copy now.  The book is lying forgotten somewhere in the house, perhaps erroneously put into one of the boxes I
stack in the cellar.

   I remember only the beginning of the text “One hundred things need to be done and the day is short, in our short one-day life must fit
who knows how many thousands of days…” That is how “Johnny’s Solo” starts, that is all that is left in my memory from that night’s text in
a cold wagon of my trip from Novi Varosh to Belgrade. Only that, that title, the beginning and that musician Johnny. As soon as I find my
night solo on the margins of “The Pursuer”, I will copy it and leave the book close at hand to go through my and Johnny’s trip once again.
   
One hundred things must be done and the day is short, in our small one-day life must fit who knows how many thousands of days and
the morning quickly turns into the evening, there is so much work to do that I cannot lift my head, I have merely seen you and I
already have to forget you – “to forget!” – an overused word which should be deleted but there is no time to search for another, I have
hardly remembered your sweet face and you already have plenty of wrinkles and your silver hair is spread into an entire forest
through which I wander on my way toward evening, with the first rays of light we will see each other for the first time.

A long wait to the dawn tires me totally, when a night lasts that long, the day is always short, no matter how long it actually is, for God’s
sake, it is not some banal thing, today we will start our one-day life, all the years, long waiting, the walks and dreams we will condense
in one day, at the beginning of which is planned our meeting, at noon the celebration cake, in the evening we retire to bed, no time for
long talks, the wedding must be like a flash so we can have time to finish all other things as well, tonight is set for us to read Pablo
Neruda, his poem that starts with a line:” We could have not met in time…” there is no time for toasts and the formal lunch, just fish –
hastily with a glass of red wine, bottom up, ten seconds for swimming, clothes off and on, again, in a wink, from nine to ten we have to
live through at least ten years, leaving out all squabbles, partings and disappointments, time flies like a flicker, come on, baby, don’t
piddle around putting your clothes on, why don’t you go barefoot all the time, instead of wasting time putting on shoes.

What can I do with all that we have to miss in a hurry because everything has to be experienced in one single day, it has been  set
that we cannot leave out anything, that each throb, each second and each scene and touch must run through our consciousness, and
it has to happen in our eyes, all the stupid questions must be asked, all the dilemmas burst like the falling stars, nothing can be
justified due to the lack of time, it is one minute past ten, you are late all the time, although we have hands full of work, in fifteen
minutes we have to make love at least one thousand times, and another thousand in an even shorter period of time, get up, lie down,
get up, wash yourself… and where is child birth, giving a bath to the baby…

Our children in this short one-day life of ours have their own life, our choice must not be their shackle, only some lunatics like you and
I could choose this, our love is so great and of such kind, we started late but it was the only way,  we lived far and separated, yearning
for each other, that was not life at all, it could have easily passed by us, the stars, storms, trees and all the natural changes, the
danger really existed that we could have missed each other because of the incorrect calculation, therefore we had to start now,
immediately, this moment, from the far places, to see and touch each other; yes, decisions must be made fast, otherwise we pass
each other and until another meeting many waters will pass, the jump from  the land into the water may happen there where you are
not, in some wilderness, I could not wait for you in the Big Library’s yard, where our love has been recorded, our tiny one-day life in
installments, I could go where you are nonexistent; my God, if I make such a dumb move, what do I do with so much empty time, the
trip will last longer than eternity and I will not wait for you, so where are you headed, for Christ’s sake, maybe on that day dogs will look
like minotaurs if I am not there…but, we have no time for what would happen if it happened,  you are already here, already half of our
life has passed in our one-day existence…God, how many things!

I have not watched your face long enough, I am learning your gaze by heart and have not learned the first half yet, the flight with my
hands down your body has merely started and it is noon already, the day flows on with no return, nothing will ever come back, there is
no chance for repetition and correction, I am gliding through the night in a cold passenger car with music supplied by the black devil
named Johnny, your face is spread all over, I must say that and I must say it this way although it has no connection with love but your
departure, the time runs away and there is not enough for wasting, dilemmas, questions, doubts…you must return back home
wherever you go in order to finish all, and where are whispers, endearments…for foreplays there is not even three minutes of  time
and we cannot talk about faraway journeys, all the trips to monasteries have to be condensed, we need to buy miniature icons
because our time is an icon too, a miniature in which the whole life has to take place in one day, imagination has to make up for what
belongs to the body, but I have already said that, I am repeating myself just as the rhythm of the train’s wheels repeats itself taking me
into the night with no stops along the way, with no station fountain to quench my thirst.

Our tiny one-day long life is waiting for us to board and spend it all in the short hours without regret  or goodbyes, time flies my
dearest, and we need to separate from each minute two or three seconds to accomplish those things that we remember later, and
then sleep – Oh, my Gosh! – the best is not to attempt getting dressed at all, one should go naked through life, thus leaving aside the
saved time for laughing, greetings, who knows if we will have time in the afternoon to shop for fresh flowers, or flowers – tears and
everything else we need for parting and goodbyes, it is getting dark early today, such is the season now, no time to throw away and
waste, so many things to be omitted or put in small time frame, and lunches at the beach! – how could I forget that! – your wonderful
cooking, all of it must get ten minutes.

Watching the sea is forgotten, the sea that is running away like a river if it is not remembered, my darling, help me in this business,
between the sea, come out of the water, swim, what if the water is cold, aren’t we used to that, we are coming from the cold, I have
known from the start that there is no return, although I have been returning all night, no one can give us the time we have lost, not
even half-crazy Johnny in the Cortazar’s story “The Pursuer” in which my night solo in a cold passenger car is ending at a nameless
train station.

Johnny’s last words are “Oh, make me a mask!” and I do not see what one can add after that.          

Translated from Serbian into English 2009: Mira N. Mataric

About the author and listing of other works
Page created 9/21/09 modified 10/8/09

Ratomir-Rale Damjanovic

Johnny’s Solo
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