Editor: Laguna

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In the novel Ice, Ivana Mihić employs a powerful style to throw light on the phenomenon of alienation, emphasized by the traumatic effect of the global financial crisis. We follow the experiences of Justin, an architect of Serbian origin who migrated to Chicago during the 1990s, where, after losing a rewarding job and rejecting the American conception of happiness, he finds himself alone, confronted with a series of failed relationships, in a sea of second-hand friendships and pointless quarrels. Eventually we arrive at the moment where this narcissistic and basically false conception of the world reaches bursting point; in the shadow of expensive skyscrapers, from the other side of dazzling shop windows, in dark clubs, with the piquant taste of erotic adventures and aromatic smoke from Gauloises cigarettes, the sound of jazz and E.K.V. verses, which seem as though they have been momentarily removed from a time capsule, we are treated to the final act of this drama dealing with Justin’s confrontation with his inner being. Through her description of the hero’s descent into a whirlpool of passions which alternate almost like film sequences, like some sort of dream within a dream, the author reveals that beneath the cloak of icy emotions there still beats a living human heart.

’’I felt like I had became one with the sofa. Every inch of my torso was stuck to the dark brown leather upholstery. I could still move my arms, my legs, and my head. I got up and sat down. Tidiness was all around me. The window was closed, the water from the window wiped off, the glasses put away, the newspapers tidily stacked on the table, the cord of the “banana” phone neatly wound around the handset, the graveyard of DVDs arranged and parceled out… Female clothes were lying on the leg rest: a dress, bra and panties, an on top was a body piercing from her belly button. I guess it was taken out of the belly button. Worn out shoes stood on the floor. That whole pile was in fact Wanda, only her body was absent. She snored brutally. I read somewhere that Mussolini was an artist at snoring, while Winston Churchill’s snoring produced a noise that reached up to five decibels. The Guinness Book of Records states that the loudest snorer was a Swede, Kare Valker, whose snoring was measured at Oerebro Regiona Hospital in 1993 at a mental ninety three decibels. If the Guinness committee was in my apartment right now, little Wanda would have certainly been crowned as the new champion. Maybe that would have earned her some dough, made her famous and pulled her out of these dire straits. But, fuck it. She’s obviously out of luck. I got up to take a leak. I staggered to the bathroom and instinctively pressed the light switch. The light above the sink lit up, meaning that the electric company took care of the malfunction in the meantime. I spotted a small shapeless mass on top of the toilet lid. Phyllis’s shriveled shoe was standing in the middle of the toilet lid like a showpiece at an exhibition of some eccentric artist. I raised the lid and knocked the shoe down to the floor tiles. I pissed for a long time, so long that my thighs began to hurt from standing, so with the stream still running I made a compulsory u-turn and continued to piss sitting down. During the performance of that stunt I sprinkled Phyllis’s shoe a little bit. I went back to the living room and sat on the sofa. The wailing sound of a fire engine siren was coming from the street. It’s incredible how scared of fire people are here, especially the Chicagoans who had heard the stories of the event that changed the course of the city’s history. The great fire in 1871 lasted for thirty six hours, swallowed three hundred people and left around hundred thousand without a roof over their heads. The fire reached such magnitude because the majority of Chicago’s buildings were constructed of wood. But if it wasn’t for that raging inferno an architectural revolution, of a sort, never would have happened. It was just after the fire that the architect William Le Baron Jenney seized an opportunity and designed the first steel-framed building: Home Insurance Building. As the sound of the siren was moving away Wanda’s snoring grew louder. I tucked my hand into my pocket and pulled out my cigs. I lit one and after filling up my lung pit with the first puff of smoke, I started my usual after-waking-up tar mining. I coughed savagely, severely tearing my throat. Maybe I didn’t need to be that loud, but I was irritated by Wanda’s deep snoring sleep, undeterred even by the fire engine siren. I stopped coughing and took a deep breath. She was still snoring at the same rhythm: one long inhaling snore – one hissing exhalation – two short inhaling snores followed by gurgling – one almost soundless exhalation – one long inhaling snore – one hissing exhalation – two short inhaling snores followed by gurgling – one almost soundless exhalation… This ritualistic snoring concert of hers reminded me of my late brother. It’s possible that they killed him in the war because he irritated someone with his snoring. He inherited the snoring from our late parents. Both mother and father snored. I am the only non-snorer in the family. Maybe that’s the reason why I’m still alive. I sleep quietly and now I am starting to live more and more quietly. Ha, ha, now Wanda would have something to say about that and would have the bruises on her neck to back it up. She appeared in the bedroom door as if she heard me mention her name. She was completely naked. Her body was covered in tattoos, old and newly acquired bruises and scratches. It was already completely dark outside so she was finely illuminated by the neon light from Granville’s greengrocery. She was fine, little Wanda, fine and somehow… large. She had a meaty stomach and high and narrow waist cutting into it; biggish tits of quite satisfactory juiciness considering their mileage; a round, firm ass; well-shaped thighs, calves and arm muscles; strong shoulders. – You’re hot, bitch. How come you’re not working at some better place, eh? – Global financial crisis is felt in my line of work too, darling. The high-ups don’t feel like fucking anymore with all the problems they have, and it’s always the same shit for my gutter crew, so there isn’t any oscillations in their sexual needs. It’s better to stick with them. They’re more stable clients. – Some fucking logic! You could stop by the United Nations and share that viewpoint with them. Ha, ha. Turn on the light so I can give you a better look. She pirouetted looking for the light switch. – Ah, okay. C’mon… just turn it off. Like a programmed robot, she flicked the switch and turned off the light. – Actually, can you turn it on, please? She turned on the light and took a step toward me. – No, it’s too bright, it’s better when you turn it off. She went back and turned off the light. She approached the sofa, sat next to my legs and lit a cigarette. – I tidied up your home a little bit, didn’t you notice? – I did. She turned her head toward me expecting to hear something from me, gratitude or at least some praise. I looked at her silently. She smiled scornfully and drew a smoke. – I don’t know what else to say. I didn’t ask you to tidy up my home. She was nervously drawing one smoke after the other. Her hand was shaking in the same rhythm she snored while she slept. Her lower lip was trembling and bending downward, following the rhythm of the hand. – I suppose you actually wanted to get married and that this tidying up is a sort of invitation, or recommendation: as in, you know how to be a housewife, how to wash, scrub, turn the light on and off on command, without objections and superfluous questions. Maybe you’d also like to give birth to a kid, and since the intellectuals are scarce in that “gutter” of yours, you picked me? She sat quietly, staring at the Gauloises light. – I’m not stupid, Wanda. – I’m not stupid either, Justin. – What are you trying achieve then, Wanda? – I just tidied up your home. I don’t expect anything from you and I’m not trying anything. You’re just frustrated and paranoid, Justin. – It’s very possible that you’re right. Go, get dressed. It’s not decent for a professional prostitute to be sitting naked like that in front of “just a frustrated and paranoid” acquaintance. – Is that so? You better zip up your fly because it’s not decent to sit in front of a “professional prostitute” all disheveled without wanting any service from her. – Well, I don’t want any service. – Well, you don’t have to. Fuck you. – Oh, fuck the world. Come here you nut let me give you a hug. Come lay beside me. She smiled bitterly and lay down, resting her head on my chest. I put my arm around her back and kept grazing her nose with my lips. My lips were swollen as if they were stung by hundreds of hornets. – Come on, please go to the fridge and bring me some ice to put on this swelling. It felt like I’d been stabbed by a bayonet as I was kissing your nose. – I will, but under one condition! – Okay, fuck you, I’ll marry you. She quickly jumped up and, smiling hoarsely, limped off to the kitchen. I heard the breaking of ice against the cutting board. – Here, I broke off a smaller piece. You don’t have a lot of chunks left. She placed herself in the previous position, let out a short and painful groan, and put a hand holding a little chunk of ice to my lips. – Wake me up at eleven, darling. I need to meet a demanding client at midnight. – Oh, fuck the world. I’ll wake you up. Now be quiet, sleep, and hold that ice. – Do you snore? – No. – Good. – But you’re a champ, Wanda. – What can you do? I was born that way. You’re really out of luck, Justin. I pulled her close to me and squeezed her naked, warm body. She was soft and smelled of shampoo from my bathroom. The ice slowly melted and dripped on my collar bone. I thought I heard the sound of dripping ice mixing with the sound of Wanda’s heartbeat. Her ticker was pounding hard and then it suddenly began to calm down. I dipped my fingers in the pond that had formed in the indentation of my collar bone and slowly dragged them over her back stopping at her round buttock. She was calm. I slid my hand from her buttock down her thigh and back, enjoying the smoothness of her skin. The closer I got to her knee the rougher and pricklier her skin became. I liked the roughness, so I held her under the knee and pulled her leg toward her stomach. That way I could fondle her calf, which was the prickliest of them all. She was pretty flexible. I ran my finger from her thigh to her calf and back again to the thigh and the round buttock, and there, in the alcove concealed between the two buttocks, I discovered the prickliest part of Wanda’s skin by far. When I touched her clitoris she started snoring: in the same melody she snored before in my bedroom, the same melody that I knew so well from my childhood. I grabbed her around the thigh and threw her down to the floor. – Go on, get lost now! Enough fucking around – I changed the tone of my voice. She sprang up and gave me a startled look. – What’s wrong with you, darling? – And fuck the “darling” thing! Come on, get the fuck out! Do you hear what I’m saying? I picked up her stuff, opened the window and tossed it out on the pavement. – Why are you doing this? What’s up all of a sudden, Justin? – she screamed desperately. – I left your shoes. Climb onto those heels and go! Get lost! Out!!! – I shouted in a cold, merciless voice. She was sitting curled up on the floor, gasping loudly. She crawled to her shoes on all fours and shoved her feet in. She stood up, walked to the door, unlocked it and turned toward me. – Hmm… can I at least get one cigarette for the road? I threw her the whole pack and yelled: – Oooout!’’



My only life