Bogdan Suceavă – Daddy Wants TV Saturday Night
Around eight each evening, the power goes out in the narrator's home in Gaiesti, Romania. The narrator is a young boy; at school, he discusses the power failure with friends. Mircea argues that it's just a technical problem; Laurentiu makes a point of noting that the technical problems arrive not around eight but exactly eight, and they last until exactly midnight. The narrator, who would perhaps like to participate in these discussions (thanks to a recent school outing, he knows all about the hydroelectric power plant in Vidraru), but he can't: his ear is suddenly itching, and he can feel the blood throbbing in his head. He's sick, or on his way to becoming sick, and he lives in Nicolae Ceauşescu's Communist Romania, where it's never a good idea to want, to need, to become sick and require medicine, or to want electricity of an evening.
Bogdan Suceavă's short story, Daddy Wants TV Saturday Night is a story of deprivation, of rationed electricity and rationed goods, and of little boys who take pleasure in very small things, because they know that their father can only provide them with the small pleasures of life, and not the large. Midway through the story, the narrator's mother says that the household needs a new lamp. Her husband replies:
”Yeah, I know,” answered Daddy. “We also need a big TV, and a washing machine, and a telephone. I know. I made the applications for everything. We're on all the waiting lists.”
He moved away from the bed. “I think I need a smoke.”
The narrator's father knows – of course he does. What else is living under the miserable rule of Ceauşescu anything but knowing what one is missing out on, knowing which opportunities are no longer available for you, and won't ever be for your child, knowing that the nice things you've heard about in America or France or England won't ever be yours, knowing which foods you can't eat and the places you will never travel to visit?
That evening all the lights went out again. By eight o'clock we were already in bed, wondering what we could do to fall asleep. I thought about playing with the lamp a little bit, but Mom was watching me like a hawk. I was sleeping on the folding bed in the living room, since the sofa was broken and Daddy couldn't find the parts to fix it.
The narrator is sick, perhaps seriously, but the sickness takes a backseat to the development of the family as a whole. Though his mother might become exasperated with his father, and though he expects a spanking for accidentally breaking a difficult to replace item – a flashlight – these are minor quibbles to a family that views itself as a coherent unit. This is not, in short, a family drama – Suceavă avoids the easy solution of mirroring the country's pain and anguish in the family. Instead, they are three people working within a system they do not like but which they are forced to deal with. Its troubles – the electricity failures, the lines, the slaps nurses must endure from doctors – these are simply the way, and once that's known, then life must be lived.
The narrator's father comes across as a man who has not yet given up on what could be in the face of what is. He well knows how things are done, but he dreams, too, and, perhaps, he can create something wonderful for his son. Each Saturday he likes to watch the same movie, but without electricity he is forced to do without. Or is he? While the narrator's sickness develops into an unpleasant rash, his father tinkers with discarded equipment, old tools, and broken bits of metal.
I watched quietly while he pulled three wires out of the box, each one a different color. With a little chisel, he punched about ten holes in the top. There was a hole in the glass, too, through which he passed a rubber tube. After that I don't know what he did, because he kicked me out for real.
Monday evening Daddy didn't say anything when he came home from work. He went directly to the closet, took out his box, and started to work on it. He put a sort of toothed wheel inside, perhaps from an old bike, but with lateral blades instead of teeth. He connected the wheel to a 4.5-volt batter on the outside of the box – the last one we had in the house.
The narrator's father represents the struggle of the ordinary man to retain meaning at a time when one's future was decided by the state and not the individual. His dreams do not fly high – he wants to watch his movie on Saturday, and he wants his son to have access to their television – but they are his, and he will do his best to achieve them. His methods, when Suceavă reveals them, are unorthodox, but they work, and in the end, the narrator's father has done something for which he can be proud, and his son can be proud of him, too.
Daddy Wants TV Saturday Night is not a tale to tug at one's heart strings; instead it simply highlights the quiet force of a determined man anxious to look out for his own interests and the interests of his family. It should not be lost on the reader that, while the narrator's father is busy improvising a television for his family, he all but neglects his son's rapidly developing illness. Though it turns out to be mostly harmless – a rash, easily managed with medicine and cream – it's telling that this real, tangible sickness is pushed into the background, while the search for a solution to the problem of nothing to watch on a Saturday night becomes the driving imperative of, if not the story itself, then certainly the father.
Bogdan Suceavă's Daddy Wants TV Saturday Night sheds some much needed light on the “how” of living during Ceauşescu's regime. Events and situations which would seem astounding here in Australia are treated as commonplace in the story, for the obvious and sad reason that they were an utterly ordinary occurrence – it was a commonplace to miss out, to be neglected, left behind, and undermined. The drive to better one's family can, however, be easily understood, and though the details may change, the overarching thrust does not. It is not unsurprising the narrator's father was unable to notice his son was sick while devoting his energies to increasing the material happiness of his family – like any father, he was tackling the forest, when it was the trees that needed tending.
Other stories from the The Review of Contemporary Fiction Vol. XXX, #1 Writing From Postcommunist Romania issue include:
---Adameşteanu, Gabriela - The Hour Commute
---Blandiana, Ana - The Open Window
---Petrescu, Răzvan - Wedding Photos
Other titles by Bogdan Suceavă under review include:
---Can You Hear the Shape of a Drum?
---Our Years of Beauty
Other titles under review from The Dalkey Archive Press
Index of short stories under review