the greyish blue drops drippled from the sky, wetter than the blue
that had been dabbed inaccurately from the zenith to the thin hemline of
the horizon, over which the approaching night could be guessed at. the
river's grey waves splashed over the dark bands of the spotty damp sand.
the black strip of damp earth separated a lighter lawn from the grey concrete
of shore fortifications. the dark shoesoles left dints inked in with black
that became lighter with time. when the tide came in some water filled
them, a human gulp, no more, exactly the same amount that was now overflowing
the shoes that had left them. small open mussels didn't have much chance
to dry in the river draught aglint with their slime, grey and blue. the
north-east wind curdled the twilight, blowing out the wick of the sun,
grey against the modena sky. the breathing and soft-spoken words of passers-by
shimmered in the darkening air like the residue of mist at the skeleton
of the last year's leaf. leaning on her little crutch, a charmless woman
with the moist face went by. a dog ran clutching a bone. a crow was drinking
kefir from a torn pack, smearing its beak, twisting its head sidewise,
its black pearl of the eye glinting. a female with a cigarette made her
way out of the shrubbery; a ghostly shoulder-yoke flew above her and disappeared
into the water between two smeared reflections of the stars in the bear's
dipper. the spits plapped in the water; some vodka was being drunk; in
the mood of the evening, the desire turned into a clear contemplation,
into a thought, a feeling, into leaves murmuring. the carpet of sounds
covered black bodies of beasts and white bodies of mushrooms and lovers.
a drizzle. the swan czarina raised her hand, a river flower sprouted from
it, swirled with seaweed; the pike-perch dropped out of the ovule, the
calix, the nenuphar, for a brief moment the entire landscape twisted like
a massive river around the fisheye, and along with the grey fish tear it
slipped down into the unresisting moisture of the night. the night's big
heart, it's cold moon pushed against the soft dome for the last time, against
the heaven's solar plexus, and the darkness that had already closed in
filled the bodies with the viscid blood of sleep.
softly, tenderly, keenly it smelled of death and yesterday's flowers,
ditch-water, the mixed, easy, grey odour of the mourners, of rosin, of
varnish, of death. they filed with their darkened faces over the sallow
features of the corpse. its large yellow ear seemed made of wax that had
melted down to the lobe. its supine position made visible the tufts of
artificial grass in the cadaver's nostrils. they didn't smell at all, just
like some plastic flowers, and didn't need tending anymore. the boy was
thinking that the quiet body didn't look like that fidgety old man at all,
who used to show him pictures of planets and photographs of naked people,
equally amorously caressing glossy pubes in pornographic magazines and
grainy rings of saturn in a star atlas with his thick brown nail. his grey
moist tongue flickered between his violaceous lips, and the old man's eyes
dimmed with a scary mist that couldn't be penetrated even by the boy's
luminous stare. now his eyelids were drooped. and the corpse dressed by
women's tender hands, the touches suddenly possible, looked like a frayed
dust-cover, with all those books leafed through by an old hand and upbourn
by a child's hand, bound together inside. the boy stood by the coffin,
indifferent and bored, with his mother supporting him by the elbow. the
schoolmistress put a bouquet in the pall and gave his mother and himself
a lingering look. her eyes were condemning. his mother leaned on his shoulder
with an air of detachment. he yawned; the coffin was lidded, at last.
through the thick of the damp morning the boy was watching his nakedness.
a green apple rolled down from his oblong yellowy abdomen, the pink and
white nails tore the skin open, the juice foamed. the joy of a new day.
the sky's blue. his mother's smell from the adjacent bedroom and the whiff
of her tea from the kitchen nearby. her moans yesterday, and how he watched
from the dark, her body, the tendons on her arm black in the darkness;
and her smiling at him through the mirror. on the desk: the notebooks;
in them there are notes about friendship, war, swear-words and other signs
of life. a spider dashed from the lustre down to the carpet. the sound
of a cup breaking — neither sharp nor sad. a woman's soft laughter and
then a wisp shuffling on the floor. some soft sobs — from the neighbors'?
a quiet quiet morning full of lilacs, soft skin, apple seeds, a pen-knife
with a name scratched in, some shy and interrupted self-abuse, a piece
of plywood under the bed, a happiness of the accomplished revenge, a cooked
breakfast. the blue spiderweb. the red spider. the checkered trousers.
the father's old photograph in the lopsided frame, behind the glass broken
intentionally, and the cheek under one eye is slightly scraped by a shard.
a sparrow's brown spoils on the window-sill. a yellow sunrise, grey dust,
the mother's red manicure, the crumpled snow-white of the bedsheets and
the accented whiteness of the parting in the black hair. a soft tender
hand, clean greenish linen, a red smile, a yellowish breast, a spicy brown
three stones hidden in each hand, altogether six, in the webs between
all fingers but thumbs, he was walking to her house; his fingers were tense
and waving his arms when walking seemed unnatural. she was eating a flaky
pastry waiting for him by the window, pressing her small pink nose to the
glass. at the window-sill there stood a book with its fad sides akimbo,
propped between a sugar-bowl and a tea-cup. the lukewarm tea was now filmed
over with the iridescent slick. she bit off a large creamy piece, but it
fell out of her mouth — she'd just noticed the diamond gleam in the dark
of the street. a cold shudder seized her back. leaning against an extinguished
streetlamp, opening wide his eyes and palms of his hands, he was showing
her the little stones that sparkled with the moonlight, watching the greedy
gleam in her eyes coming back to him — the light reflected triply — in
the rocky craters of the moon, in the diamond faces clear like tears and
in the organic crystalline lens of the woman's eye.
she threw the window open and screamed, in spades, about her readiness
to come across and love him — if only he gave her, right now, now! these
wonderful, incredible, adorable polished pieces of stone! neighbors woke
up, their sleepy heads in tousled hair and various intimate articles of
nightwear waggled in their windows.
a clear smile on his childish face, his head inclined to one shoulder,
he covered one palm with the other, hiding the lilaceous, red, green gleaming
of the stones. unhurriedly, he strolled down the night street, feeling
that cold touch with his skin, feeling the force and the power those varicoloured
carats tight in his fist gave him.
in the fit of hatred, smearing her short pink dress, she wrote with
the pastry custard a horrible obscenity on the wall, and wailed in a thin
voice. and he thought about triumphs to come as he entered the doorway,
she pressed her young flaming face to the cold window. the foul glass
made her elastic skin look unhealthy and citreous. a boy with a doggy in
his arms passed; she wanted to hail him but couldn't reach the window pane.
agitated, she twisted her ring around the finger — and still no sign of
martha. her packed valise didn't seem a warrant of escape any longer, it
was more of a poetic nonsense in her commonplace life… a scream from the
street shook her out of the reverie, and at the same time she saw martha
there. in one instant the regrets ready to turn into the forgotten past
whirled through her head: her father's love, dry as an old breadcrust,
and the oily passion of the others; chocolates for holidays and the laundry
— blue hands in the deep blue water — on weekends; kids and school lessons;
a plaid and a tea brough to her in bed by her mother when she had a cold.
but martha meant feelings not things, not a talk but a thought, not a body
but an idea. her tenderness and her firm dry hand. she stepped from the
window for a second and with her trembling hand picked up the things from
her valise that suddenly seemed unnecessary: a brandy, a saveloy and that
ring on her finger… and martha's even voice — it unexpectedly came from
the other side of the street, it caught her in the room still.
she went out, the valise, that ossified relic, the silly pledge of
the past, dangling in her hand. without an idle glance left or right she
started across the street, toward martha's shining face. hardly three steps
from the curb, all light went suddenly out. and the blue flame of martha's
eyes dimmed only later that the multi-watt glare of the sun.
when martha dashed to the car it was too late. then she raised her
leg to step over the corpse, nursing her wrist broken on the hood, cuddling
it on her stomach; a red triangle of silk, red as a clitoris, stuck from
the crack in the smashed valise. while the corpse evaporated like a ghost
in the morning air, in the lightsome air, martha was looking at the sun;
the blue contact lenses in her eyes melted and ran down, and those lenses
vaporized easily on her wizened cheeks.
although the macintosh was faster, the people of his circle gave intels
the preference. while the race was formally won by the brown macintosh,
the intels were the virtual victors: they had been placed solidly second,
third and fourth, and the mac processor was reported to be assembled by
the ibm. but most importantly, the macintosh was not loved by anyone. the
majority didn’t even know who he was.
the speed elates one; so does the money, so does the interest of the
crowd. lightly tapping the space-out key, disclosing a line of shining
white teeth as he smiled, he admired the streamlined case of his blue machine
marvelling at the power of its skillfully hidden innards.
a young and starry-eyed specialist of his team grabbed him by the sleeve
and showered him with words in a gentle accent. the party was increased
by several other people; merry excitement overwhelmed everyone, and everybody
was talking at once, copiously and hurriedly, and their words merged into
an indiscrete torrent, just as all their agitated thoughts merged into
a congenial happy stream of consciousness. blank screens of computers glanced
in front of their fresh faces like darkened mirrors or a night surface
of a lake.
they celebrated the victory with wine and toasts, and as the time went
he was forgetting his native language more and more, and his soft throaty
accent flew down with the wine involving his tongue in levity and freedom.
he slurred his endings and knew that he would regret this tomorrow, he
would search for the words lost in wine, and begrudge the money, and avoid
foreigners and their accents, and he liked that thought, he caressed it
while it trembled like an innocent schoolgirl, and it was fun to interrupt
and leap ahead, confusing and wandering in terms of sex and foreign policy,
and for the umpteenth time to drink the health of hearts and to the health
of diamonds; and, smiling, he waited for the advent of inevitable sleep,
smiling, for the inevitable drunk nightmares, the crapulence and the thirst
and the revulsion.
they intended to rob a bank. they were two women and a lonely man with
two chipped and projecting front teeth. one of the women wore her cap shoved
far back from her forehead, and the other had to move her body from the
hips if she wished to gaze after some one: an inherited habit. the woman
with the fixed neck sat in the lap of the man who was holding the bank's
ventilation plans drawn to a scale of one sixteenth. the woman in the cap
was leaning over his shoulder. in order not to be overheard — although
they were sitting in a cellar — they spoke the sign language. the blueprint
was spattered with keys and fine letters. important units were thickly
marked with different colors. the job had been thought over in much detail,
a lot of samples had been taken and analyzed. they were not sure in some
of the valves, and moreover, after their daytime visit to the bank, bewigged
and aliased, it became known to them that the ventilation pipes were made
of aluminium and lacked sockets here and there. this complicated the entire
operation noticeably, and even made it riskier, especially when taking
into consideration that the fuses were of a new model. that was why they
decided — before the actual plan implementation — to dress-rehearse it.
it was agreed that one of them would take it upon himself to penetrate
the bank, reach the green safe and return to them. both women, tired of
their rivalry, agreed to sacrifice the man. and he could not break safes
the small waning moon looked into the little window. the man was looking
at the double circlet of light around it and, with his gap-toothed mouth
open, he tried to reconstruct the entire route in his memory. a joint,
a seam, an alloy, smarting eyes, a rustle, a turn, a ferriferous knock;
and all of a sudden — unbidden — her breast drooping over him… it's time
to tell her of his new affair… he caught a glimpse from under the high
forehead and the cap shoved back; but, of course, not now…
it was only three minutes before he should put on the aqualung and
climb down the shaft, having passed the twine round both ankles. now the
woman on his lap saw the moon too: it was swathed in a thin mist. without
turning her neck, the third one pointed at the watch. he drew in the deep
breath and stood up, brushing his knees. for a long time they observed
his retiring back. they were guarded by the double halo.
they spent two exhausting hours cooking and eating mashed peas, drinking
beer and talking of how boring it would be to live together now when the
bone of their discord is destroyed, and they would have to look for another
one… and then they saw his advancing front, his smile smudged over his
face by the distance, and when he came closer — a dark paper sack in his
hand, with a green corner of a baknote seductively sticking from it. he
was smiling. a shining sovereign was hiding in his closed fist. a breathy
irish air was coming from his ears. their womanly faces lit up with a beer
sheen in the double halo of moonlight.
she felt the fetus in her womb like a small restless lizard — cool
brisk stirrings, amphibious splashes. when he lowered himself on a sagging
mattress beside her, and the springs groaned sorrowfully, she complained
to him of that restless lizard and tried to be rid of the kicks in her
abdomen by pressing the man’s warm hand to her supple feminine body. he
felt giddy and disgusted: the mixture well known to the pregnant and those
who faint at the sight of blood. she gripped the iron bedrail tenaciously
with four of her long-jointed and long-nailed fingers and the pupils of
her green eyes narrowed to slits. he frequently fell asleep at the edge
of the bed with his back to her, and she hugged her pillow and dreamt that
her mother would like the tart with rich rhubarb-and-berries fillings that
she had baked in the morning. especially because she had used the leftover
flour and sugar, otherwise they should have been thrown into the pail.
she smiled slowly and her pupils palpitated.
she was remembering that her mother once tapped at the bathroom door
when she was taking a bath; inside, she told her daughter that she had
something serious to talk about and went into a long explanation, pointing
with her two fingers at her nipples and pubes, that it was time now for
her daughter to think about marriage. her words mixed with the running
water, bubbled, whirled into the vortex and went down the drain. later,
when she was drying herself, nodding her head and twitching her eyelids,
her mother sat silently at the edge of the bath resting her temple on her
the man lying beside her was the father of her fetus. she intended
to marry him. he responded to her pregnancy with silence but kept coming
late at night frequently. at times, having fed him with the croquette soup
cooked from the leftover saturday chops, she noticed signs of sympathy
on his face and marks of human warmth. they gladdened her although did
not sear her with happiness; she reasoned that if only he takes her as
his wife she would always be able to cook her griddlecakes done to a golden-brown
hue and a queen Anne’s pudding of fine flour. for she knew that he loved
her, and loved him too. they both stood in the beginning of a long way
they would walk together, without arguments and discord.
…and as he slept, a thin trickle of saliva seeped out from the corner
of his mouth. she wiped it with a napkin or with her bare hand, looking
pensively aside. her lower lids quivered from time to time.
a little cloud let through the dim rays of the northern winter sun.
dirty raindrops made the window pane less transparent. the wife was crying,
clasping the sleeping child tightly to her bosom, now peering into the
skies, now into the baby’s tear-stained face. he paced the room, his hands
clasped behind his back, thinking, blinking, throwing glances, tacking
to avoid her silent reproaches, suppressing his erection when she raised
her cloudy milky-blue eyes at him. he looked at the the baby’s bare cranium.
he didn’t feel neither terror nor pain, neither pity nor shame, he didn’t
feel guilty, didn’t feel love, he was calm. the death of the child couldn’t
alarm him. the life of his wife disgusted him. he smiled at his wife and
winked at his son. he interrogated himself briefly and found the day when
she was going to do the laundry, she was diluting the bluish detergent
powder in water: the water was the colour of her eyes; her dirty skirt;
her goosy naked white legs speckled with little black hairs; the smell
of her bleach; the heat of her cleavage and armpits; it gnawed in the pit
of his stomach; he conceived a child.
he felt a sharp pang of desire; the sky was darkening. a spoonful of
milk, a bare cranium, the sky, the cloud that had turned grey, the muddy
blue look, the slime in the head, the bruise and the lump behind the baby’s
ear, the sore. he drank some water from the tap and went to bed. she still
seemed to be crying.
how many crusts of bread one can buy with the fistful of coins lost
in the depth of one’s pocket? he won’t get a copeck today, of course. the
cashier is tough and his boss is cross. and the citron in his office has
not been watered yet. he picked up a citron-coloured watering can from
the shelf. on his way to the loo he wondered that these three things should
begin with a c — citron, can, crust. he felt the gnawing hunger and added:
cream puff, coffee cake, cobloaf, cookie ringlet, chou eclaire. in the
lavatory he took his time to wash hands, watching the reflection of his
eyes with dirty whites in the mirror. inside the watering can bubbles popped
on the water surface without a sound. he sat on the washstand and, repeating
mutely the words starting with a c, bit his nails, hooked his agnails,
nibbled at his corns. the light coming from the matted window, thinned;
he had to bring fingers closer and closer to his face. it got dark; he
heaved a sigh and went back to his room. the watering can with the tranquil
water was left near the drain. there was a note at his desk: You haven’t
watered the Citron! this time he was unable to suppress the spasm of hunger
— he ran down the corridor, feeling the coins in his pocket, kicked the
exit door open and found himself in front of the entrance to the baker’s.
arousing exclamations of displeasure he pushed to the counter, purchased
a pale puff and gobbled it at the spot. a small warmth expanded his ribs
from inside. two last clods rubbed at one another in his pocket without
ringing. in the entrance he ran into his boss. the boss squealed and screamed.
he hit the boss with the watering can in the stomach and bit his neck —
never, but never before could he use such a liberty. falling down, the
boss waved him out.
he was coming home along the bank of a dark dike and found a ruble.
immediately he turned back, found his friends and bought a loaf of brown
bread for everyone first, and then two more and a milk-loaf. the friends
laughed and pinched his shoulders when they heard about the fight. he was
smiling; everybody was eating. after, he was merrily telling them that
he had found a ruble on the dike bank. one of his cronies fished out a
cramped three and said that he finds the one like this every day — in the
bra of his girlfriend. everyone was laughing; yet it didn’t seem funny
for him for he realized the difference between a girl and a ditch, in the
most upleasant sense for him. he got angry and the anger made him hungry
again — but the money has run out and everyone started to leave.
through the night he made his way to the park, found a sloppily illuminated
tree with a feeding tray for birds under a lone streetlamp, shooed away
a latish sparrow and salaciously started to devour the stale crusts of
rank bread. the sparrow clutched to a branch spasmodically, sorrowfully
watching the food to dwindle away and repeating under its breath — you’ll
get it from me in the stomach! you’ll get it in the neck!.. and he convulsively
brushed it off with his free hand, guffawing heavily.
the new year fir looked like an aging belle. it was shedding its once
natural beauty remaining in the artificial glittering garb that started
to look absurd on its yellowy-hoary hardo. the fir had even stopped drinking,
yet its beauty waned. it shouldn’t have been bought in such a frost, the
nanny used to say. it was all very well for the nanny to say that, for
she was young and flourishing, like a child’s cheek in winter cold. the
children — the whole lot of them — we gathering the needles — even more
numerous than the kids — into their pails and told her fortune in the year
to come. and all the time the death came out. and every time the nanny
blushed, covered her face with her hands and her forehead every time touched
her knees when she doubled up in uncontainable laughter. when she raised
her head her eyes glistened, her cheeks shone. from her own hands she gave
the children the wine that she had bought for them for the new year. she
had wanted to buy some vodka too, to make them a real present, but left
the bottle in the store — this happened because she was utterly confused.
the saleswoman, enwrapped crosswise in wool, snacked on a dried-out roach
washing it down with muddy flat beer. the mutilated fish in its yellow
skin was spread out on the yellow newspaper open at the black obituary
spread — the buffet froid section. all obituaries there were expensive,
in good quality frames, some of them even had photographs. that was why
the nanny became so wildly embarrassed, her cheeks reddened and the bottle,
already paid for, remained standing on the counter in front of the saleswoman,
pressing down the receipt. and the nanny went on to the children with her
huge rattling string bag and a shy smile on her face. and the saleswoman
was thinking that sometimes wishes come true on the new year’s eve, this
is the way it happens, and she smeared a tear on her cheek, sniffling and
leaving a salty, wet, mermaid-like, fish-smelling greyish-yellow trace
a sunny day was getting colder, becoming an evening. she was not very
attentive looking at her red book, she was twitching her leg, she had a
beautiful white chest. he was walking the dog, paying attention to details.
in the same moment two fruit like a little cone and three fruit like a
caterpillar fell from an androgynous tree. it smelled of jasmine and lilacs.
there were fuzz and larvae flying in the air. the dog was sniffing the
trees wonderingly — it was the first spring in her life, and everything
seemed so exciting to her. he saw her bosom raising and falling, her parted
carmine lips, her white teeth. he plucked the warmest, lushest Orchidaceae
Parviflora that grew wild on the turfgrass and carefully pinned it
to her shoulder. she lifted her chin straight into his face and breathed
out the pleasant harsh aroma of late breakfast all over him. she promptly
agreed to come to his place; she let him rupture her hymen and palpate
the flora of her vagina. he turned on music for her, let out transparent
squirts of pleasing colognes into the air, pointed at the starry sky and
cooked food, and his eyes brimmed with tears when he watched how tenderly
she was smelling alternately the flower and his body, rubbing her large
thighs together. he caressed her stomach and called her his doggy.
it had been nice for them until that one time when she opened her mouth
a little wider and frequent words suddenly poured from it. her voice turned
out deep and husky, so unbecoming to her who was as fair as a meringue
and as voluptuous as a beer froth; yet it was even worse that he had not
expected that her beautifully curved mouth could let out no moans, no sobs,
no weeping, no howls and no shrieks — but the real, sensible human words!
he was so taken aback and offended that immediately turned her out of doors.
four years passed. the trees blossomed again and shed their yesteryear
fruit. it was hot. the dog shuffled along with her face mussed and tired.
he saw a little red book flat on a rumpled turfgrass; near one bench the
big and fat white dog stuck to him wagging her tail, and followed him trustingly
all the way home. he was ill at ease, and at night he couldn’t sleep for
a long time, growling and squealing, recollecting in his stuffy room the
dog’s kind and good eyes, it’s open maw and the ugly red and moist stump
of her dark tongue inside, the old violet wound that had already skinned.
retrospectively arranging events of the finished june day in his head,
with his hat in his lap, with a bar of soup in his pocket, he was listening
to the most trenchant performance of that musical phrase. when she sang
notes too low for her squawky soprano, fat slimy larvae were born in her
throat and swarmed there guggling and tumbling. smiling she sang for the
public and for the money, giving her inmost away with great abandon. her
happy mother, responsible for that night materially and managerially, was
wiping the small tears yellow from bilious disease from her small eyes:
the public, the money and the music were those three sanctasanctorums that
could harmoniously fit her daughter; and, as a mother, she was proud of
her, secretly swallowing her almond-bitter hot feminine envy. it was only
the thought about the fee that extinguished the fire of jealousy in her
ample bosom. it was only a man of slightly foreign oriental appearance
who perturbed her. he had brown eyes, sat on the outside and seemed to
maintain some aloofness, casting occasional glances, and only now and then
when her daughter sang too andante he opened his mouth, ever so
slightly, and sang along in a nasal tone. she was worried because she presumed
he had sneaked in without purchasing the ticket. when her daughter finished
singing the man blushed desperately, with a quick smile dropped his lemon-scented
handkerchief on her round knees — she raised her big tear-stained face
wonderingly — and climbed the stage. attendants were removing her ossified
daughter and the public was applauding excitedly, discussing her sophisticated
manner of performance: she allowed satirical sour notes in her ups and
merrily broke the rhythm in her downs. the man was nibbling at his lips
and gnawing at his fingernails. for some time he stood on the stage shuffling
his feet; when the accompaniment failed to pick up, he started to sing
without it, winning the audience's sympathy. after all the artistes
one by one were carried out for encores, the light went out, the music
and laser beams turned on and the dancing started. all dressed in white
and transparent, she literally swooned into his arms, her perfume smelled
and her profile was irresistible. he wafted the painted smoke away yet
almost didn't step on her feet. dancing, they had to overstep the daughter's
lacy panties sometimes, that coiled on the floor like a yellow-grey vermin.
she smiled and did not grudge the money spent on the underwear. so close
to her body his head spinned and out of irreality of the occurrence, too.
he fell to her feet and she put her heavy heel on his back. he indulged
in a quiet reverie and painfully breathed in the fust of her skirts. and
red, green, yellow lights flickered over him, followed by naked arms, legs,
bodies. it dawned when attendants carried his body out to the street. she
slept until noon on the sofa.
the family and guests were slow to assemble, coming one by one from
meetings of their organizations that had been boisterously discussing each
their own, albeit very similar, programs for the coming year. the son came
to the table about eleven — with a bandage covering aslant one eye and
half of his face. the daughter joined the supper a quarter of an hour later.
her eyelids were puffed and she applied the cold glass of wine by turns
to one eye and another. the parents didn't ask questions and were neither
surprised nor particularly agitated. the father was sitting in an old armchair,
watching the news interspersed with some music on television, his cheek
propped in his hand, displacing the overrunning skin, making an impenetrable
slit from one eye. on the screen the pictures changed: a ballet, an announcer's
stern face, a weather report, a dead mafia don in jail with a fat cigar,
an affectationate face of a newswoman, a war, a museum opening, a foreign
brass hat, a foreign war. the mother fluttered about in the kitchen, keeping
one eye on those around the table. the guests helped themselves, champagne
foamed in their glasses, twelve o'clock approached. within several minutes
the new year will come. yet an unpleasant silence hung dense over the table,
in the beginning broken by guests, but the mood of their hosts who constantly
had been in cold animosity toward each other and those around them as well,
spread quickly filling the entire volume of the room and condensed cramping
the table-sitters. they cleared their throats, clanked their knives, scringed
but at last switched off the light and lit the candle. in its uneven light
the faces turned to the clock seemed frightened. fearfully, everybody raised
to their feet and sipped on their champagne. merry music sounded from the
tv set. no one let fall a single word, and all took their places again.
the son's friend was all set to leave and see the daughter's friend home
but as he was standing up he suddenly noticed from the corner of his eye
the opening shots of a very famous and much-loved thriller. he immediately
moved closer to the tv screen with a joyful interjection and momentarily
everybody was talking excitedly, the laughter was flaking, the fingers
were pointed at the screen and the movie was expounded on simultaneously
from all angles. on the screen a young woman was dying of numerous knife
stabs. she had an amusing painted face close-up and a ridiculous posture.
everyone spluttered and sobbed with laughter anticipating the funniest
remark that the heroine was going to say any moment now, to breathe it
out with her last breath. the daughter was now sitting in the son's lap,
her eyes burning bright, smiling, her arm around his neck, and the father
was softly holding the mother's warm moist hand. the heroine wheezed out
her last words and died.
he took off his cloth cap, tossed his gloves into it and pushed the
elevator pressbutton. the button blinked like a bloodshot eye. he entered
through the clanging layers of the sliding doors and heavily put the box
on the bottom. the doors slowly closed with a heart-rendering sound, the
elevator started to climb gaining speed. from under the cap's silk lining
he took out the corkscrew, opened three bottles one after another and unhurriedly
took large swigs from each one. a blush suffused his drooping face. while
he was drinking, everything darkened, his ears rang and the floor fell
out from under his feet, deeper and deeper. tired of standing, he wanted
to sit on the box but missed it, lost his balance and started falling,
lower and lower, into the darkness, cold and fear, squeezing his eyes tight
and expecting to tumble from the dream headlong on a disgustingly crumpled
yet soft pillow, wet with his nighmare sweat. overhead, the elevator yowled,
soaring up. it's not a dream.
the first thing perow sensed entering the elevator was the reek of
alcohol. glass scrunched under his sole; through the stifling darkness
he peered to see broken bottles, an empty cloth cap and a mortified shape
lying, face downwards. he turned his smashed face up and it seemed familiar
to him. he could've even remembered his name, well almost, if the injured
man didn't come to himself and said forestalling perow's thoughts: nanker.
nanker's the name. perow who had anticipated the worst, mentally blessed
nanker; when the lying man looked at his savior, the light from the lobby
surrounded his head with a double halo.
nanker regained consciousness at home, woken by his wife's voice that
thanked the christ's heart aloud. he pushed his eye open and saw the ring
of people sitting and standing with glasses in their hands about him. his
heart missed the beat and resoundingly blood went bounding along his veins.
when his hearing returned, perow was saying something about human blood,
unintelligible yet perturbing the heart. nanker got out of bed, somehow
unconsciously, dressed in front of his wife who was uselessly crossing
herself and went out. everyone put their glasses down without spilling
and caught up with him only in the doors of the emergency ward. with his
flaps flowing, nanker entered the consulting room and the white-coated
doctor took his blood, a deep human swallow. the rest, baring their elbows,
crowded in the doors. perow nodded to the doctor, rolling up his sleeve.
the doctor nodded back and injected the needle into the other nanker's
hand. nanker nodded; and his eye rolled up just a little bit.
the people who had gathered around the table were finishing the supper,
merrily wiping their soiled mouths. he has just finished his speech, with
only its empty bitterness filling his mouth and some shreds of motley emptiness
sparkling in the guests' ears. tensely he spilled his flute glass with
his trembling hand and kept rubbing the bridge of his nose and polishing
his glasses. and that one, in honor of whom the speech had been given,
she was leaning to him across the table, mangling the words and melody
of some song in her foul whisper. her geriatric bosom trembled over decanters
of wine, her grey hair slowly fluttered in a breezing draught , the teeth
clattered hollowly. terrible, he shuddered. he peered into her pupils and
saw the alien frightened look in them. someone is ensnared in her, in this
hag, as if in a spider web, he thought. (she has eaten a baby! a strange
child cried in the street, pointing at a pregnant passer-by.) who has been
eaten by this old hag, on whom he had been fawning so wearily and for so
long? or is she gnawed from within by someone? and how does she manage
to live with this? he knew that he wouldn't be able to find answers to
these questions to his very death. he looked away. a soft sadness touched
his heart. not a single one of them is certain to understand what he had
spoken about, using the quotations and carefully selected words. there
were only the empty trivialities that looked into his soul from their returned
gazes. loneliness clawed hold of his hair, and the pain from his nape warmly
flooded his blood with desire.
painfully, he raised his eyes. gretta was sitting across from him,
anxiously eating plums, nuts, cherries, cheese, cookies, jelly, pudding,
jam, tart. aflush, she was particularly appealing at that moment. one happy
sigh smoothed out his cheerless ribcage when he noticed the greasy sheen
of her hair, her lips spotted with the scales of fig peel, her tightly
coiled auricles. happiness, oh happiness of mine.
everybody took their time saying their goodbyes in the doors. no faces
were to be seen in the dark and because their features swam in the moisture
of the wine drunk at supper. then they took a long walk to their hotel,
sinking into the snow. she walked on before him and he couldn't see what
she was thinking about. he wanted to reach out and embrace her, but his
glasses hindered him all the time. there on their moist lenses the splotches
of sparse street lamps and glossy bronze of gretta's hair smudged into
hazy blurs with offshoots of vertical raylets. obedient to their simple
hypnosis he shook his head and the raylets swayed docilely. happiness,
oh my happiness.
they went up a slippery staircase; she never turned back. in the room
she brushed the hem of her dress for quite a time and washed her sticky
hands and face. he was waiting. she dried her hands, but some water remained
and her wet fingers and moist lips touched his inflamed skin. he peered
into her face lingeringly and tenderly and all of a sudden, on the very
bottom of her gaze, soft as a january snow, he found him — him who looked
out at him at the table from the old hag's eyes. dropping his eye-glasses,
pointing his long trembling fingers at the very core of gretta's eyes he
asked, who is it, who is it, gretta? he caught his breath for jealousy
and fear of loss, he pressed the back of his hand with two brown birthmarks
on it, to his mouth.
first she put out her eyes then switched off the light. he was sitting
on the bed, shaking ostensibly. he kept repeating his question in a stumbling
whisper. she didn't answer at once but when she did, she told him the story
of her adolescent love in a monotone. her lover had died for her, she said
and clammed up. in the window, as if suspended, the red moon with a bitten-off
edge swung. what did he die of, he asked pulling at her finger. one night,
she answered, he came to me and, weeping and pointing at his heart, he
said that something was gnawing at him, something had possessed him and
was eating him up from within. but, he said, now i know what should be
done: eat the other before you are eaten yourself. and saying this, he
tore his disgustingly stirring heart out from his chest and started to
bite large chunks off it, and swallowed, his face awash in dead tears.
and i, gretta went on, all that time, until he finished and lay down to
die, i had been watching his heart dwindling away; and now, she added with
a happy smile, spreading her shoulders wide, that death sometimes reveales
a bloody corner in me for awhile… without undressing, she lied on the pillow
and, as an innocent child would, was fast asleep, and he took her finger
in his mouth and her heart in his hand. happiness, oh happiness of mine.
gretta had long been asleep and he kept listening to the snow falling
and it seemed to him that it was a giant heart beating, and the heart of
death flooding with the bloody snow all the living and the dead, smothering
all the sleeping in cold snow that poured down the red face of the waning
moon. for the last time the gretta's heart pulsed in his palm and he fell
asleep, quite and content, alongside her stiffening body.