Susan Tepper: You begin your story “Sounds of Silence” with the following line: “Mirko is humming as they sit in the waiting room.”
Andrew, based on what is to come, the humming is a most unusual physical choice you have made for this character.
Andrew Stancek: Mirko is a young man filled with contradictions. He also frequently surprises his creator. In that opening scene he’s ill at ease. He’s throbbing with unpredictability. He hums but it is also in him to be turning cartwheels to amuse his companion, to grab a mop standing in the corner of the waiting room and waltz with it, to jump on top of the desk and shred all the documents lying there.
Susan: Interesting. I took the hum to be either his nervousness or that he is kind of clueless. Because you have made this a doctor’s waiting room and she is to have an abortion. He doesn’t seem to be especially connected, in a strong emotional way, to Terka. Or am I wrong?
Andrew: A disconnect with the world is a key aspect of Mirko. He has either severed or had severed for him connections with his mother, his father, his home. He attempted a relationship with another young woman which blew up in his face. With Terka it is a physical relationship, but Mirko is prepared to deal with the consequences.
Susan: Mirko is a young man growing up in Bratislava during the Communist take-over, is this correct? What was the time period?
Andrew: Bratislava, yes. The communists ruled Czechoslovakia from 1948 until 1989. The Mirko stories take place in 1966 and 1967, preceding the Prague Spring of 1968, which ended with the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union in August of 1968.
Susan: Andrew, you were there, and you know from whence you speak. Your Mirko is a wonderfully alive character. In your side-bar, you often describe him as a “hoodlum” but I see him as a survivor in the truest sense.
Tell us a little about what it looks like in the town where Mirko is currently living in this particular Mirko story (noted in your sidebar, this is the 18th Mirko installment).
Andrew: I talk of Mirko being conflicted and your question brings out the conflicted part of me. On the one hand I see Bratislava as paradise on earth, the most beautiful city of all time. On the other I remember vividly how grey, grimy, polluted and run down it was. Public buildings were covered with graffiti, walls were tumbling down, streetlights had bulbs broken. For a child or adolescent it was dangerous to walk around since hordes of hoodlums were always ready to deliver a beating. Petty crime was rampant and the police never there when you needed them. But I took endless walks by the Danube, through the winding streets dating back hundreds of years, tripping over street musicians, vendors and sprawled drunks, breathing in an atmosphere which I continue to miss. It was home; I was rooted; those roots still thrive.
Susan: Thanks so much for sharing with us this conflicted vision of Bratislava. I can see how the conflict of what is wished for, and what is reality, has made its mark on Mirko’s character. It makes him tough and yet vulnerable. It draws me, and other readers, toward him, as we anxiously root for him in his various trials and tribulations.
In this story, what is especially disturbing is the place. The abortion clinic as you describe it. You write: “The nurse comes over with a tissue. Mirko notices a stain on the sleeve of the blue uniform. She’s chewing gum;”
This feels unsanitary to me: stains, gum, a tissue. A clean tissue? my brain is asking. I feel the story turns on this. It gets dangerous right here.
Andrew: Again, ambiguity. The nurse tries to be kind and yet she and Mirko physically move the somewhat resisting Terka into the bowels of the building. Mirko tries to be loving, to do the right thing by sticking by the girl. But always danger. Always complicity.
Susan: A somewhat resisting Terka is putting things mildly! You tell us: “Terka clutches the door frame before giving in, gives him a last pleading look.”
A woman clutching a door frame for any reason is a very significant physical act of terror. I felt terrified for Terka in that moment. But what is even more significant to this story is the way in which you end it. The ending of this story, to me, exemplifies the whole conundrum of Bratislava under Communism. And therein lies the story’s brilliance.
Read “Sounds of Silence” by Andrew Stancek
Monday Chat is a bi-weekly series in which Susan Tepper has a conversation with a Fictionaut writer about one of his or her stories. Susan is fiction editor of Wilderness House Literary Review, co-author of new novel What May Have Been, and hosts FIZZ, a reading series at KGB Bar.