LORI SAMBOL BRODY
It was twenty years ago. This is what I remember: the old lady in Braşov who rented rooms to tourists put single men in my double room, because she thought I needed a man. Perhaps I did. I no longer knew what I needed. When my fiancé dropped me off at the airport a month before, he said: Just figure out there what you really want here. The second man the old lady placed in my room was British, close-clipped beard and dark eyes. We made plans to go to Castle Bran, Dracula’s castle, the next day. A bus ride in light rain and we climbed stairs, in hiking boots, to the great wooden doors of the castle. The other tourists were Japanese, in stilettos and wingtips. Whitewashed walls, bear skin rugs, furnaces covered with patterned porcelain tile. The castle of a queen, not a monster. We wound through spiral staircases and my arm brushed his. He hid behind a door and jumped out; I pretended to be scared. In the courtyard, a woman asked us if we wanted to see something tourists never saw. We shrugged, said, Why not? Perhaps I needed that. She unlocked a door, flung open a chest, and said, Do you want to buy embroidered slippers? He turned out his pockets to show he was broke. What did we expect? he asked when we were alone. And really, what did I expect? We took another bus, followed The Lonely Planet’s instructions to a plaza, an iron gate in a wall, and hiked a flight of broken stairs to Râşnov Castle. Into the harsh sky. The green of the hillside hurt my eyes, used to Californian yellow hills; my breath shuddered against my ribcage. The broken walls of the ruin loomed above. He helped me up cracked steps and the ruin surrounded us; stone walls and towers formed jagged shadows. A scythe lay on the grass, and hides dried on racks near the walls. Dracula could have stalked here, his three wild brides waiting for the night. I wanted them to open my veins, turn me inside out. We sat on a castle wall and shared a cigarette. The view: fingers of dark forest encroaching into a red-roofed town, wasp-waisted silos of a nuclear power plant. I pressed my lips on the cigarette where his lips had rested. Thigh against thigh and I wanted him to touch me, to make me feel a frisson of fear, brush his teeth against my skin. It was only later, after we returned to Braşov, after a beer at a bar filled with rough-palmed men, that he kissed me, pressed me against a whitewashed wall near the old woman’s house. His cold fingers under my sweater, on my hips. I don’t remember his name. I don’t remember the name of everyone I’ve kissed, everyone I’ve bared my neck to.