Doina Ruşti – Bill Clinton's Hand
Sometimes it seems that the world forgets, given the immense, stratospheric international popularity of Barack Obama, that previous Presidents of the United States have been well-loved around the globe. Roosevelt was certainly admired, and Kennedy, and even George W. Bush was loved – or sympathised with – following the September 11 attacks. And Bill Clinton, too, the first “black President” before there was an actual black President, he was loved.
If this comes as a surprise to you from wherever you hail, well, this is the perception of Vizitiu Octavian, flautist and twelve-year-old. He has been selected to represent Romania as one of the two “solid pillars of the Romanian nation”. It was to be the best day of his life.
By the end of sixth grade, he was already a local identity. In the bright rustle of the '90s, he could see his halo hovering above University Square. He'd received an international award; and invitations to all manner of selection reunions, anniversaries, celebrations and even fashion shows had come flooding in, making a top flautist of him. Yet the peak of his celebrity was to have met Bill Clinton.
Bill Clinton, by virtue of having been met by Octavian, becomes the single most important person in the world. Doina Ruşti accurately captures the intensity of feeling and laser-like focus of prepubescent love, an affection which rarely makes sense but can be all-encompassing. More so, I would argue, than the first romantic love of pubescence, because a child's love is not sexual, and thus doesn't require anything in return. They love, and that's enough.
Clinton was dashing something down with a thin-tipped pen. In the hustle and bustle along Bălcescu Avenue, among the dozens of black uniforms of the SPP (Protection and Guard Services) officers herded together about around the platform, on the small planked stage and in the lair of silky flags, Bill Clinton was writing a note: his hand, the tip of his bright nose, the discreet movement of the knee next to him, but also his own silhouette, his arm as long as a baguette, sprawled on the rail, his sneakers flapping above the golden wood, all these slices of life forego, in Octa's memories, that momentous July 11th noon.
Vizitiu Octavian (Octa) recollects this most important day with the flair and familiarity of someone who has worn smooth the memory. The story is constructed as though the adult Octa is looking back at this day, which allows Ruşti to show the opinions of friends and family members about Octa's Bill Clinton obsession. Much of the story is seen through the twelve-year-old's eyes, but enough is seen from the adult's to understand that this was the highest point of his life.
While recollecting, Octa uses terms such as “hero”, “relaxed”, “knew immediately what he had to do”, “everyone who worshipped Bill Clinton...learned of Octavian Vizitiu's existence”. These are the terms of a person who, for all his insistence that Clinton is the primary character of the day, has in fact inserted himself into the most important position. Again, as noted above, the day is important because Bill Clinton has interacted with him, and not because he has interacted with Bill Clinton.
And isn't that the way it is with all our heroes? Aren't we more important in our interactions (if they occur) than them? For us, it is the culmination of potentially years of affection. For them, if we are honest, it is an act forgotten even as it is occurring. Ruşti understands this and plays off it and, while she never makes fun of Octa, a certain sense of parody runs through.
The story itself is broken up into twenty-two discrete sections; quite a feat when we consider that the story is only four and half pages long. By breaking it up like this Ruşti allows the impression of fragmented recollection, a conceit that works largely because we know it's false, both from Ruşti's perspective and Octa. Ruşti because, as the author, she can choose any way she likes to tell this story, and the constant break up of the narrative flow allows for sharp, jagged impressions instead of a coherent flow. Octa because, as the character looking back, we know that time has worn the memories down to a fine point, the important parts polished into jewels, the superfluous sections vanished entirely. The net effect is, again, one of the character's importance at the expense of Bill Clinton's, and an overall satisfying story.
Bill Clinton's Hand by Doina Ruşti is a short story from Bucharest Tales from the New Europe Writers series
Other stories from Bucharest Tales from the New Europe Writers series include:
---Bican, Florin - Penguins
---Lungu, Dan - Mr. Escu's Adventure
---Ormsby, Mike - Democracy
---Tanase, Stelian - Zgaiba
Index of short stories under review from New Europe Writers - Bucharest Tales
Index of short stories under review from Absinthe 13: Spotlight on Romania
Index of short stories under review from The Review of Contemporary Fiction Vol. XXX, #1 - Writing From Postcommunist Romania
Index of short stories under review
The reviews for this book were made possible thanks to a kind gift from my friend Bogdan Suceavă.