He did everything he knew to do. He kept her nylons hanging over the bath. Sprayed her perfume on the sheets, the scent choking at his throat every time. Played her narodna, Bosnian country music tapes whenever the electricity worked. And he slow danced with what he remembered of the shape of her: wide hips from the children she bore him, space for her full bosom, his hand clutched over the arc of her hand.
He tells himself that she’s just gone to live with Boban, like she always threatened she’d do. Boban brought her roses and cried at their wedding from the back pew, while Salko was the one who stood before the altar with her and stroked her tummy, carrying what would soon be theirs. He ran the bakeries for his father and father’s father to give her something sweet to do, keep her from thinking about Boban two streets over and what her life could be. And Salko never knew if it was a bus or a bomb that took her but he leaves the nylons and sprays the perfume so her life in Mostar, in their apartment won’t have to be resurrected because, save all senses but touch, it has been kept very much alive.
What had started as sheltering in place when the siege began and continued when rumors of the bridges’ destruction swirled into the summer, fall, and now winter now had Slavinka beginning to think that Boban was getting the wrong idea. He always brought the tea, kept keys to the basement exit and entrance locks, swore no path in the city was safe. And for a while the shelling and the screams in the night backed him up. But Slavinka was finding Boban’s touch on her shoulder too friendly for the circumstances, his gaze below respectability. She begins to note in her mind things like the timing of the shelling and Boban’s bathroom breaks.
Salko has taken to the streets. To blend with the night in the illusion of safety, he borrows a black robe from the Mačeks’ youngest boy. Salko is slow enough he figures nighttime shooters might mistake him for a tree or only rubble. Only he forgets the shooters are also neighbors, friends, proprietors, and the army that is supposed to protect him. And they all know his shape and step well.
By spring, Slavinka starts to look for weapons to slit Boban’s throat. Not just because he forced himself on her while his mother pretended to sleep facing the wall in the opposite corner. But because Slavinka hasn’t seen the sun in months and the kind of madness caused by the consistent loss of light sheds layers of graces and habits, one by one, as if part of a perennial skinning of man. Politeness and gratitude for shelter reveal themselves as masks and Slavinka’s mind froths: she wants to get on to the dying or the killing. Boban doesn’t look at her now and his hands return to their pocket swift after handing her the tea. And she’s not sure if it is by accident that he drops those keys.
The accordion in old Arsen Dedić songs croon in Salko’s memory. He doesn’t catch himself singing ‘Bit Ces Ujivek Moja’—You’ll Always Be Mine—until a woman holding against the side of his apartment building hisses at him. He leans forward and curses her. What good are these days if you are denied wife, a living, a home, and a song? When the woman throws a thick ring of keys at Salko’s elbow he hisses back the equivalent of Get laid, woman, get fucked, words he was saving for the enemy if they ever approached and he could ever sort out exactly who it is in the new dark of Bosnian nights that isn’t on his side. She cries beneath the tree while Salko sings an old love song, shuffling his hip with each new line, building the orchestra in his head and reaching to dance with the shape of his wife.