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© Unic reprezentant drepturi de autor Ervin Deutsch:

Oana Paraschiv
Teatrolog

PALAVER

[ Like a Balloon, Blowing in The Wind ]

A play in three acts

By L. Ervin-Deutsch

Translated from Romanian by P. Mureşan


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THE CHARACTERS:

THE AUTHOR

PETER

THE BOY

PUPÁK

LUDWIG SCHWARTZ

STEFAN MARTINSZKI

ISABELLA

MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP

JOSEPH, THE WARD TRUSTEE

MARIA

THE CONCIERGE [just a hoarse voice offstage]

SZABÓ

THE ARROW CROSS SQUAD COMMANDER

THE POET

THE GIRL

FREDO [a voice offstage]

MASTER THEO

A GUARD

Members of the Arrow Cross squad, guards, SS soldiers, members of the forced labor
detachments with yellow armbands, members of the disciplinary labor detachments
with white armbands, concentration camp inmates in striped clothes, Hungarian
soldiers on bicycles.
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PROLOGUE

[In the space in front of the curtain, the set represents a contemporary writer’s den. To
one side, half turned to the public, there is a large desk; on it, a wrought iron shaded lamp,
writing implements, white paper and a tape recorder. Next to the desk, there is an armchair.]

THE AUTHOR [a lean, elegant man nearing forty, wearing glasses, sits in the armchair by the
desk, half turned to the public, holding a pen in his right hand, leaning his left
elbow on the desk, poised to write. After a moment of silence and immobility,
he suddenly lifts his head and, facing the public, starts speaking in a calm,
explanatory tone of voice]: The curtain is raised. More precisely, the first
curtain. The show will be delayed for a while. Please, don’t be impatient. I’ll
only be a few minutes… Explaining, of course. Although I very well know that
all explanations are useless, as a rule… I am, as it were, the prologue. More
exactly, I am the playwright, introducing his own play. But I’m not going to
hold a speech. I’ll be silent, busy thinking… writing… What you are about to
hear, are my thoughts.

[He switches on the tape recorder from the desk, prepares a few paper sheets, then,
after a short pause for collecting his thoughts, starts writing, and continues doing it till the end
of the scene, without looking to the public anymore. Meanwhile, his voice is heard, coming
from the tape recorder, speaking clearly, distinctly.]

THE TAPE RECORDER, BROADCASTING THE AUTHOR’S VOICE: With the passing of
the years, the memories fade. Even the events that have shaken one’s existence,
and have convulsed one’s nervous system, become less clear with the passage
of time, the colors lose their intensities, the outlines become blurred, and the
facts are slipping from the three-dimensional world of the tangible reality, into
the flat world of images, fairy tales and dreams. When one recalls past
happenings, one looks upon them as if read or seen somewhere. The distance in
time not only blurs and fades the events, but it also distorts them. Not only are
the outlines becoming hazy, but they are modified, too. Time and memory
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emphasize certain reminiscences, bringing them up to the surface, while other


are sunk down, have their nuances altered, or are simply forgotten.

And, as the distance in time increases, so does the degree of altering.

It’s twenty years now, since my memories are maturing, all the time becoming vaguer,
hazier. I must hasten and pin them down, while I can still make out their
outlines, and I can yet discern the essential, under their blurred colors. I must
hurry, to stop my memories from slipping in the realm of the fairy tales and
dreams, and bring back into the circle of the real world all that may still be
retrieved, to serve as parables, as testimony and atonement.

The images, the fairy tales, the nightmares that will be evoked before you, actually
took place. Whatever terrible and frightening things you will find in them, are
not the fruits of the play of my imagination. They really came to pass… [on the
last word, THE AUTHOR, without lifting his gaze, reaches a hand and shuts
off the tape recorder. A click is heard, the scene becomes dark, and the curtain
is lowered.]

[The space between the two curtains must be rapidly cleared after the prologue, to
make possible the lifting of both curtains, and the first act proper to begin, on the whole
stage.]
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THE FIRST ACT

[A hospital room, in a German sanatorium for pulmonary diseases. Fir tree branches
can be seen through an open window. In the room, four hospital iron beds, four night stands, a
wardrobe, a table, four chairs, a radio set. On the windowsill, a flowerpot.

The year is1945. An autumn afternoon. The war is over in the Extreme Orient, as well.
The four patients are laying in their beds. LUDWIG SCHWARTZ [25 years old], is laying on
his back, with eyes closed: maybe asleep, he is breathing strenuously. DR. HARTH [3o years
old], lies sideways, propped on his left elbow, reading Shakespeare in German. On the radio
set from his night stand, there are several other volumes of Shakespearian dramas, bound in
worn, gold lettered covers. PUPÁK [25 years old], a tall, prominently muscular man, thing
obvious even through his pajama jacket, with a likeable, childish face and ruffled hair, is
sitting on the edge of his bed, putting in order the contents of his night stand’s drawer.
PETER (THE AUTHOR, at the age of 20), is sitting up in his bed, reading.

On the table, the dishes left from lunch. Three empty plates. The fourth, half laden
with food, is on LUDWIG ’s night stand. The radio set can be heard muffled, in the
background. The door is opened, without any premonitory knock. In its frame,
MARTINSZKI’s dark, bespectacled head, with disheveled hair, appears shortly.]

MARTINSZKI: Tonight we shall hold a Palaver1. I’ll be here at nine o’clock.

DR. HARTH: But…!??

PUPÁK: How…!?

LUDWIG [startled, a moment later]: No…!!

[The head disappears. The sound of the slammed door cuts short the three sentences,
barely begun.]

LUDWIG [breathing frantically]: Doc, what did Stef want? I didn’t quite get it. I was just
dreaming they were giving me another pneumothorax, and they were

1
Palaver = European term, used especially in Africa, denoting a conference of the tribal chiefs, by extension a
conference held between the tribal chiefs and the colonial authorities.
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puncturing me in the wrong spot, again… I’m glad he woke me up, I’m afraid
of pain. And I hurt, even in my dreams … Tell me, what’s that, a Palaver?

DR. HARTH [since LUDWIG started speaking, he has turned toward him, on his right side]:
A meeting of black people, maybe of Indians, too. In Wallace’s Bozambo
stories, the black warring tribes used to hold a Palaver on almost every
occasion. A sort of bonfire, in the wilds of the jungle. As for the kind of
Palaver that Stef has in mind for us, I really can’t tell.

PUPÁK [dreamily, putting the finishing touches to the contents of his night stand drawer]:
Palaver… That takes me back seven years ago. It was then that I’ve read
Bozambo’s story for the last time… I had received the book in my first day of
high school. I’ve re-read it, over and over again. The last time, it was in 1938.
Palaver… the word itself is resonant with the echo of unknown, mysterious,
distant spaces… The pulsing tom-toms, the breathing of the savannas, the
bonfires glimmering in the night, the jungle, the black tribesmen on the
warpath… mother’s crystalline laughter in that day, long ago…

PETER [smiling ironically]: Uh-huh, Pupák has turned sentimental on us. Give him a
handkerchief, Doc, quick, a handkerchief!

[Knocking at the door]

DR. HARTH: Herein!

ISABELLA [auxiliary nurse, a beautiful Estonian girl, 17 years old, tall, fair haired, blue
eyed, with a fine, delicate face, wearing a white apron; enters smiling]: I came
to clear the dishes. I’m a little late, because the Polish officer, the one with
haemoptisy, in Room 25, wouldn’t eat, and I had to spoon-feed him… I see
you’ve all been good boys, in here, your plates are empty.

PUPÁK [balancing on his head a tin of Ovomaltine, looking at Isabella and smiling at her]:
The good boys have eaten everything. And now, they are waiting for a kiss, as
a reward. I am their representative, hand it over to me…

ISABELLA [toward Pupák, in a lower voice, in a love banter]: Not now, not in front of
everybody… [then, toward Peter]: Isn’t he a huge baby? He’s like an
enormous, sweet, dear baby.

PETER: Ludwig has barely touched his food. Try to persuade him to eat.
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ISABELLA [drawing near Ludwig’s bed]: Herr Ludwig, everybody has finished up eating,
have you fallen asleep by your plate?

LUDWIG [his eyes twinkling when he looks at the nurse]: Little sister, I’m very tired, and I
have no appetite.

ISABELLA: Just a few morsels… for my sake?

LUDWIG : Do I get a kiss for that, too?

ISABELLA: A sisterly kiss, yes.

LUDWIG : I’ll eat then, even if it’d make me sick!

[ISABELLA leans over and kisses the patient’s forehead; she then plumps the pillow
in his back, sits on the edge of the bed and begins spoon-feeding him.

LUDWIG smiles, forcing himself to swallow, now and then interrupted by coughing
fits.]

DR. HARTH [gets up heavily, sits on the edge of his bed, dons his slippers, then goes
hobbling over to PETER’s bed. He pulls a chair from the table and sits down.
Once out of bed, it becomes apparent that he is only skin and bone, a wraith]:
Are you in love with her?

PETER: Yes, I’m quite taken with her.

DR. HARTH: We all like her. Perhaps even I do. Though I’ve reached a point where I find
literature more interesting than life… When one can no longer find solace in
religion, and is afraid of death, one looks for consolation elsewhere. I found
mine in art. So that right now, a Shakespearian drama means more to me than
the most wonderful woman.

PETER: Aging signs, the waning of vitality, Doc, your thirty years are telling! To say nothing
of the fact that Isabella hardly notices you. All that paper, all those words, are
merely surrogates!

DR. HARTH: Anyway, your love for her is unrequited, it’s hopeless.

PETER: Don’t I know it…

DR. HARTH: She has a smile, a kind word, for everyone. For you too. In fact, even more for
you than for the others, for she’s aware that you’re in love with her. And
besides, you are ill… and she’s a nurse. A nurse to the tip of her fingers. But
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her eyes light up only when she looks at Pupák. It’s him that she loves, with all
the degrees of love: as a lover, as a parent and as a child.

PETER: How I envy Pupák! The lucky so-and-so!

DR. HARTH: The giant baby. Down-to-earth, strong. And always calm. Like a man without
problems.

PETER: Or like a man who solves all his problems.

ISABELLA [finishing feeding Ludwig, she caresses his forehead, gathers all the plates, then,
holding the tray, goes to Pupák’s bed, addressing him softly]: Herr Pu-pak,
[she giggles] I’ll wait for you, after six. I’d like to go for a walk.

PUPÁK: I’ll be there, at six sharp. But today, I have to be back by nine.

ISABELLA: Why?

PUPÁK: For the Palaver.

ISABELLA: I don’t understand.

PUPÁK: We shall hold a Palaver.

ISABELLA: What is that?

PUPÁK: I don’t know exactly. A kind of conference. Or bonfire. I’ll explain tomorrow.

ISABELLA [walking to the door]: Have a nice rest, everybody [she exits].

DR. HARTH [to PETER]: I’ve no idea what on earth Martinszki wants with his Palaver,
tonight. You’re supposed to be his best friend, didn’t he tell you anything
more?

PETER: Not much. Last evening, after dinner, I went to his room. He was alone and had been
drinking. And he was bewailing Ludwig’s fate. Then Mrs. Müller-Hagenkamp
came in.

DR. HARTH: The lovesick psycho-therapist?

PETER: Herself. She brought Stef a bottle of Rhine wine, and a little spiritual solace.

DR. HARTH: And the besotted heart of a faded beauty, on a fine silver platter, too.

PETER: You are horrible, Doc!

DR. HARTH: Just envious and bitter. Do go on…


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PETER: Stef was a bit plastered. He started his histrionics. He put off the lights, and lighted a
candle. He filled the glasses with wine…

[While PETER is speaking, the scene goes dark. In the darkness, a table and three
chairs are placed in the foreground. Three shadows sit themselves on the chairs:
MARTINSZKI, 20 years old, a tall, dark haired young man, pale, with disheveled hair, very
handsome; MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP, a still good looking woman in her forties, full-
figured, with an expressive face; and PETER. A spotlight highlights MARTINSZKI’s hand,
as he strikes a match, and then lights a candle. The whole table becomes illuminated.]

MARTINSZKI [filling the three glasses with wine; his hand is shaking]: Let’s drink for
Ludwig’s death! He was a good friend… May he rest in peace!

MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP [shocked]: But Stefan, Ludwig is still alive! He may be


saved, yet!

MARTINSZKI: Ludwig was killed by his own physician, when he punctured his lungs for the
pneumothorax. He was killed by the clinic chief, when he pronounced his case
hopeless. And we, his friends, killed him, when we heard about it, and we
accepted his death sentence. Ludwig is dead! Even though, for a few more
days, he may still breathe and think and speak, he’s dead! As dead as old
Marley, as dead as a coffin nail!

PETER: What do you mean, “dead as a coffin nail”?

MARTINSZKI: Read “A Christmas Carroll” in prose, by Dickens, first page, second


paragraph. Now, let’s drink!

[All rise and clink their glasses, MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP kisses


MARTINSZKI on the mouth, all empty their glasses.]

MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP: Don’t be so gloomy, Stefan. It breaks my heart, to see you


in this mood.

MARTINSZKI: Then don’t look at me, tonight. Leave us by ourselves. To you, Ludwig is
just another sick man, among the other two thousand here. But to us, he was a
good friend…

MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP: Good night, then. Don’t drink too much… Stefan, I’ll wait
for you. [Exits, with head bowed.]
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MARTINSZKI [filling only two glasses]: Everything is just waiting. You either get well, or
you die, and you wait either to be healed, or to be dead. And everybody leaves
you… One way or another… Like Ludwig.

PETER: In a way, it’s like we were on the Magic Mountain here, only after the war, not
before. One loses the notion of time…

MARTINSZKI [empties his glass, then erupts]: Enough! For months on end, the same white
walls, the same empty hospital corridors! Give me something! Anything! Just
to break this shapeless chain of gray days and white nights… anything… love,
fights, outrage… or at least some noise! I can’t stand the quiet! [He grabs his
forelock with his right hand, then props his elbow on the table and remains
staring into empty space.]

PETER [after a few moments of silence]: What are you thinking of?

MARTINSZKI: Oh, nothing. I’m just staring at the walls… Peter, let’s hold a Palaver…

PETER: A what?

MARTINSZKI: A Palaver!

PETER: How do you figure that?

MARTINSZKI: I don’t know… The same way you do. No way in particular… But let’s hold
a Palaver! At the least, there’ll be some noise. I intend to kill myself, anyway.
I’ve had enough. But let’s hold a Palaver, first! Tomorrow evening, from nine
to midnight. Then, I’ll drink what’s left of the wine, and I’ll hang myself in the
laundry room!

PETER: You’re drunk, Stef.

MARTINSZKI: I haven’t had that much wine… I’ll save what’s left for tomorrow night. And,
if you had any sense, you’d come with me after the Palaver, and hang yourself,
too!

PETER: I might. We’ll see tomorrow, if I’m in the mood.

MARTINSZKI: You don’t have too many reasons to live, either.

PETER: Maybe I do, at that. I’m in a worse state than you are, sicker. And for the sick, death
always seems more frightening.
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MARTINSZKI: Give it some thought, then! You have all the time you need, till tomorrow
night. Then, after the Palaver…

[The scene becomes gradually dark, the table and chairs are taken away,
MARTINSZKI disappears; PETER returns to his bed, and continues speaking, even while it’s
dark. The light returns, to the previous set.]

PETER: That’s all that’s been said about the Palaver. He made up his mind to have one. And
now, he told you. That’s all I know… And I suspect even he doesn’t know
much more, either.

DR. HARTH: We’ll find out tonight then, at nine. What’s the time, now?

PETER [pulling open the night stand’s drawer, and looking inside]: Ten past four.

DR. HARTH: I’m not sleepy.

PETER: It’s the anticipation of the Palaver. One gets restless, like before a journey.

DR. HARTH: I think I should like to recite something.

PETER: From Ady’s poems?

DR. HARTH: Yes.

PETER [handing him an Ady volume, from the night stand]: Keep your voice down, though.
Ludwig’s asleep.

LUDWIG [opening his eyes, whispers]: I’m not sleeping. I want to hear it, too.

PUPÁK [seating himself on the edge of the bed]: The same old program, again. The Kinsman
of Death2… Death here… death there…

PETER: Those who fear death, are those who mention it more often. This unworthy and soft-
hearted man, is ashamed to voice his fears in his own words. Like a faint-
hearted lover, he is resorting to quotes.

LUDWIG [very softly]: Too much yakking. Get started, Doc! But indeed, you might read
something different, for a change.

DR. HARTH [opening the book, browsing]: Here you are then, for starters. [without
declaiming, growling forcefully, as if conveying his own opinions, leafing
ahead in the book all the while]:

2
Title of poem by the Hungarian poet Endre Ady.
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“…May every smile we cherish / By Death’s grin be preceded;


May thus from the beginning / The strength of struggles perish.
Why should life be a relish / Eternally for others?
May all gold turn to fire, / And all kisses be poison…”3

[While DR. HARTH is reciting, the scene is again getting dark. The curtain is slowly
lowered. The last words are heard from behind it.]

[Pause.]

[In the space in front of the curtain, PETER is sitting on a white hospital chair. Over
his pajamas, he is wearing a dressing gown.]

PETER [speaking in a soft voice]: Room 27 spent the afternoon in expectation of the Palaver.
Dr. Harth recited verse, during which time Ludwig fell asleep. He kept tossing
in bed, breathing labouredly. At around half past five, Pupák started to get
dressed. Then, Dr. Harth went to his bed. Browsing through the first volume of
the Shakespeare series, he read out the dedication, in a subdued voice:

"You have been paid, my beggar man, / And now you will die."4

It was us three – his roommates – together with Martinszki, that gave him the
complete works of Shakespeare, as a present for his 30th birthday. We felt
sorry for him, for his old age, the poor man, and we wanted to bring him a little
cheer on that sad event. We couldn’t, however, refrain from stinging him a
little with a teasing dedication… I took out the botany courses, but I couldn’t
bring myself to read any of it. Peer Gynt seemed more up my alley. A little
before six, Pupák left. It got quiet. I fell asleep with the book in my hands.
When I woke up, it was dark. Ludwig and Dr. Harth were sleeping. I was
stricken by the thought that Ludwig was really dying. A few more days,
perhaps, and he’ll be resting in the Gauting cemetery. In all probability, Dr.
Harth will join him there, in six more months… Pupák shall get well. Perhaps
even I… Still, getting well is only a postponement of the inevitable. The
hospital corridors, the wards, the whole world, are still throbbing, swarming

3
From the poem “A Butterfly I Murder” by Endre Ady, translated from Hungarian by Rene Bonnerjea.
4
From the poem “The Great Treasurer” by Endre Ady, translated from Hungarian by Eugene J. Bard.
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with our generation… Isabella’s hair has golden gleams in it… And shortly, we
were to have a Palaver. The lights went on. I didn’t even notice when the door
was opened, and the nurse in the night shift brought the thermometers. She
took our temperature, then she brought dinner. Dr. Harth and I went to the
table, and Ludwig took his meal in bed, eating slowly, breathing with
difficulty. An older nurse fed him, recounting meanwhile, in a gentle voice, the
show put on by the village children. We listened, too… Then the dishes were
cleared. We saved Pupák’s food in his night stand. The doctor came to make
his rounds. He went to Ludwig, patted him on the shoulder, and said “Na gut!”,
then went out. With that, the program ended. Everything became again quiet.
Only now and then, a closing door could be heard, on the corridors…

Nothing else happened. Now, it’s a quarter to nine. Pupák must come back, presently.
Since at nine o’clock, we shall hold the Palaver.

[The curtain comes up. The set presents Room 27. The lights are on. LUDWIG is
sitting up in bed, propped by a pillow, with his eyes open. DR. HARTH is reading in a chair.
He turns the radio on. PUPÁK’s bed is empty. The covers and the pillows are neatly arranged.
On PETER’s bed, the covers are rumpled; it’s obvious he has just got up. PETER is ranging
the chair in its place, by the table; he takes off his dressing gown and hangs it in the wardrobe,
then returns to his bed. The door opens.]

PUPÁK [enters cheerfully, glowing, whistling softly]: I lost track of the time. I thought I was
late.

PETER: It’s seven minutes to nine.

PUPÁK: Then I’ve still got five minutes, to grab a bite to eat.

DR. HARTH: Your meal is waiting for you, in your night stand.

PUPÁK [eating]: Thanks.

PETER: How was it?

PUPÁK [between two mouthfuls, happily]: Beautiful… And sweet.

[Knocking at the door.]

DR. HARTH: Herein!


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JOSEPH [the ward trustee, a handsome young man in his mid-twenties, tall, broad
shouldered, sporting a neat goatee]: Pupák, come over to my place, we’ll play a
game of chess.

PUPÁK [with mouth full]: Can’t do it.

LUDWIG [in a low voice]: Pupák cannot go, Joseph. We have a Palaver tonight.

JOSEPH: A Palaver? Whatever that may be! I won’t keep you, then. Good night. Pupák,
tomorrow evening, perhaps? [Exits.]

ALL FOUR: Good night. [PUPÁK wolfs down the food, then tidies up his night stand.]

LUDWIG : Peter, isn’t it nine already?

PETER [glancing at his night stand]: It’s nine sharp.

[Knocking at the door.]

DR. HARTH [after a moment’s pause]: Come in!

[The door opens gradually. When it’s open all the way, MARTINSZKI appears in its
frame. He enters solemnly, ceremoniously. Slowly, he closes the door. He is wearing military
trousers, short hunting boots, a dark blue jacket with golden buttons, and a bow tie. On his
head, over his unruly hair, there is a gilded-paper crown. In his hand, he is holding a wine
flask, also wrapped in gilded paper, in guise of a scepter.]

MARTINSZKI [declaiming]: Behold, how dancing, I enter! Behold, how dancing, I seat
myself at your table! [While talking, he is miming dancing clumsily.] This, I
have learned from Peter, who hasn’t a single natural, spontaneous move to his
soul. [No sooner seated, he gets up again, climbs on the chair, opens the wine
flask he had used for a scepter, and drinks.] Behold, how dancing, I declare the
Palaver open! Instead of the Peace Pipe, pass the wine around! Pupák, the
grub!

PUPÁK [dressed in civilian clothing, not quite fitting him, but acceptable, is sitting on the
edge of the bed. He jumps up brusquely, at attention.] Sir, yes sir, your
enlightened highness!

[While MARTINSZKI speaks, PUPÁK slices the bread, cuts open a tin, and prepares
some sandwiches. DR. HARTH helps him, without getting up from bed.]
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MARTINSZKI: Doc, find yourself a nice funeral march on the radio. It’s time to get used to
it, seeing that your last journey is drawing near! [Toward PETER]: You, Peter,
get hold of a drum, somewhere! A Palaver needs two sets of rhythms. All the
more so, when it is held by those on the road to death, together with those on
the road toward life!

[While MARTINSZKI is haranguing them, the bottle of wine is passed around.


LUDWIG drinks too, with PETER’s assistance. After the first round, the bottle is half
emptied. MARTINSZKI toasts again.]

MARTINSZKI [declaiming]: We drank first in homage to the Palaver, now, let’s drink for us!
For the dying! [He toasts LUDWIG first, then turns toward DR. HARTH] I
wish all those getting well, an early death, and as pleasant as possible! [He
bows to PUPÁK] For Isabella’s beautiful eyes, for her blond hair, and for
whatever else Pupák may be thinking of!

PUPÁK: Watch it, Stef, or I might throw you out through the window!

[The bottle is again passed around, until it’s emptied. MARTINSZKI climbs down
from the chair and sits down at the table. DR. HARTH tries to tune in on a funeral march on
the radio set and, when he succeeds, raises up the volume. PUPÁK passes around the
sandwiches from a plate. PETER gets off the bed, dons a dressing gown, then props
LUDWIG up with another pillow, to be able to eat comfortably and to take a fuller part in the
Palaver, the first and, in all probability, the last, of his lifetime. Before the last chords of the
funeral march resound, PETER returns to his bed. He unfastens from the foot of the bed the
little black metal slate, on which are inscribed in chalk the name, diagnostic and temperature
chart, sits on the bed and, holding the slate by its fastenings, starts beating on it rhythmically
with a spoon. The sound is strident, beyond expectation. Everybody flinches. The radio can be
heard only in the short intervals between the deafening rolls of the iron drum. MARTINSZKI
presides proudly at the table. The golden paper crown on his head is glinting in the light of the
naked bulb of the lamp. He sweeps a glance slowly around the room at the participants to the
Palaver; coming to LUDWIG, he notices him moving his lips, though his voice cannot be
heard over the racket. He rushes to PETER, and seizes his hand, just as he was getting ready
to strike again the metal slate.]

MARTINSZKI [toward PETER]: Stop that, Ludwig is trying to say something! [He sits on
the edge of the bed, near LUDWIG. At the same time, DR. HARTH turns the
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radio set off. In the sudden, almost eerie silence, MARTINSZKI addresses
LUDWIG in a gentle tone of voice]: You can speak now, Ludwig. That lunatic
was making such a racket, I couldn’t hear a word you said.

LUDWIG [whispering, panting, almost inaudibly]: Up till now, only Stef was heard, speaking
for those who will get well. And he chattered up a storm, like one with plenty
of time ahead of him. Let the doctor speak now, on our behalf, those on our last
legs. Afterwards, let everyone speak for himself… After all, you said that a
Palaver is a sort of forum. And I have the feeling that tonight, sitting here in
this hospital room, from a German village whose name I’ve never heard before
in my life, some of us seated around the table, other laying on our deathbeds,
we are much like a tribe, gathered around a bonfire, after a battle. Most of them
wounded, some doomed to die, other fated to live, counting their losses and
spinning memories, holding a Palaver. Let’s not waste anymore time, and let
the talks begin…

[LUDWIG’s words end in a coughing fit. His back shudders spasmodically, his face
becomes crimson with exertion, and tears well in his eyes. All present, despite their cynicism,
sincere or simulated, are hushed, shaken. The silence makes the convulsions and the coughing
seem even more strident and frightening. Several moments pass this way. MARTINSZKI
takes the towel from the foot of the bed and wipes the sweat beads from the sick man’s face.
When the towel touches his mouth, it becomes stained with blood. MARTINSZKI folds the
towel carefully, to hide the bloodstains from the sick man… uselessly, it seems, for LUDWIG
has already seen them.]

MARTINSZKI [throwing the soiled towel to PUPÁK]: Pupák, get a fresh towel for Ludwig!

PUPÁK [laying a clean towel on LUDWIG’s bed]: Here you are…

LUDWIG [trying to muster his forces, panting and speaking in an even more subdued voice
than before]: My time is up. I must hurry. Let’s talk tonight only about
essential things, for my sake. Afterwards, you may chit-chat to your heart’s
content. Stef shall have all the time in the world to dance… whether he decides
to live his life to its natural end, or to hang himself. It shall no longer concern
me… We should establish, first, which are those essential things we should talk
about. [Toward DR. HARTH]: Doc, this is your job. Because you’re the next
17

in line, as you very well know, no matter how much you fight it… Besides, you
are the eldest and wisest among us…

[He is silenced, spent, panting laboriously. DR. HARTH lifts his head, intending to
say something, but before he can open his mouth, MARTINSZKI rises solemnly. In dead
earnest this time, without buffoonery, he takes off the golden paper crown, bows in front of
LUDWIG and places it on his head]

MARTINSZKI [speaking toward LUDWIG, but addressing all present]: I didn’t know that
Ludwig can be so sensible and so sensitive. The crown belongs rightfully to
him, tonight. To symbolize the laurels offered to the princes of poetry. [Toward
the rest of them]: I move to elect Ludwig Honorary President of The Palaver!

ALL PRESENT [raising their glasses in their hands]: Vivat!

LUDWIG [subdued, somewhat bitter]: Although it’s not the most fitting occasion, it’s a
pleasure to hear such a wish made, even on one’s deathbed. Thank you, boys.

MARTINSZKI: We must drink for this! The wine Pupák was saving! We’ll whip up some
raspberry syrup for Isabella, instead.

PETER [grudgingly, goes to the wardrobe and produces an almost full bottle of wine, which
is handed around]: You’d better have that raspberry syrup here, by noon
tomorrow! [he takes a pull from the bottle, as well, when his turn comes]

MARTINSZKI: It’ll be here, Pupák, don’t worry for Isabella! [After a moment’s pause,
formally]: And now, the chair belongs to Dr. Harth, who is old as Nestor,
clever as a snake, but who, unfortunately, lacks the wisdom… the resignation
and the peace… and clings to life like a frantic old maid, while life is slipping
through his fingers. [Toward Dr. Harth]: Doc, we, those of us who are twenty,
or even 25 years old, are piously awaiting for you, to reveal the experience of
your thirty years of life, distilled into words.

[MARTINSZKI becomes silent. In the following hush, he sits down on the edge of
LUDWIG’s bed. DR. HARTH sits up, clears his throat, concentrating. All are silent, tense.]

DR. HARTH [with a slightly hoarse, but penetrating voice, he speaks fluently, like a
professional lecturer]: During the plague scourge of Florence, in the XIVth
century, a group of ten people have held a Palaver – though they didn’t call it
that – for ten days on end. And each day, one of them had to relate a story. The
18

subject was love, which for them represented the essence of life. Our Palaver is
reduced to a single night. This night. Halfway through the twentieth century, at
a time of illness, in the aftermath of war… There’s only five of us; all five, for
a long time treading the paths of combat. For a year, or two – Pupák and
Ludwig for almost four. The hatchet of war has been buried now. Still, for us,
the war is not over, yet. We still don’t know who shall survive, and who shall
succumb… And those who will survive, don’t know yet where or how they’ll
do it… Let’s each of us tell a story, but only about things that are really
important, about what we consider, now, really essential: about life, about
death, about love, about heroic feats…

MARTINSZKI [cutting in]: Let us think about it, Doc, let us ponder... Peter was right, you
know. Mulling over memories is the way of life of the crippled, the ill, and the
old. Those without a present, are reduced to rehashing the past. And it’s true,
we don’t have a present. All we have, is the past…

LUDWIG [intervening, with an extinguished voice]: But, perhaps, we may have a future, yet.
At least, you may…

MARTINSZKI [continuing]: Let's hear the story, Doc. The first story of The Palaver.

PETER [raising in one hand the metal slate, and the spoon in the other]: This is a gong now,
not a drum! [He strikes the slate with the spoon.]

PUPÁK [in the manner of a broadcaster]: As the gong resounds, the curtain is raised. Dr.
Harth, a living corpse, makes his entrance, and starts narrating his story.

PETER: The second gong-strike! [He strikes again the slate with the spoon.]

LUDWIG [almost in a wheeze]: Come on, Doc, start telling your story, don’t let them drown
The Palaver with their empty chatter. Start telling your tale!

PETER: The third gong-strike… [He strikes the slate with the spoon for the third time.]

[Silence descends over the room. DR. HARTH clambers from the bed, dons his
slippers, trudges to the wardrobe, takes out and puts on his dressing gown, runs his fingers
through his hair, then returns and sits on the edge of his bed with elbows on his knees and
face propped in his hands, seeming to plunge even physically in his reminiscences, then starts
speaking slowly, in a low voice, without inflections.]

DR. HARTH: It began in 1943, in the amusement park…


19

[As DR. HARTH starts telling his story, the scene gradually darkens. Only the
narrator’s face may still be seen, sagging more and more, then the scene becomes completely
dark, and the voice fades off. Meanwhile, the curtain comes slowly down.]
20

THE SECOND ACT

[In front of the curtain, in the right hand corner, an iron hospital bed, made up. DR.
HARTH, wearing a dressing gown and slippers, is sitting on the edge of the bed, face propped
in his hands, in the same position he was at the close of the first act. The spotlight illuminates
only the bed, the rest of the scene is dark.]

DR. HARTH [speaking mechanically, monotonously]: We met in forty three… in the


amusement park… She had long, jet black hair. Her eyes were blue, her nose
straight, like a Greek statue’s. I liked her on sight. I spoke to her straight away,
without an introduction, like she were a longstanding acquaintance. I asked her
if she would like to ride with me on the Phantom Train. She looked me over,
measuring me up from head to foot, and accepted.

So it all started… I don’t know, maybe she found me interesting, maybe she was
bored. God knows, I wasn’t too attractive, even then. I fell in love with her the
moment I saw her. She, at first, began by enjoying my company. Then, in time,
she felt attracted to me… From our affair, arose a fiery wartime love. Maria
was a Hungarian and I, a Jew. We couldn’t marry. Even our assignments were
dangerous, it was against the law. In March forty four, the Germans took over.
The wearing of the yellow star became mandatory. Each hour of happiness
could cost us our lives. Despite it all, she still came to me everyday. Until one
day, when the concierge turned us in. I lived in a loft, over the fourth floor…

[The space in front of the curtain becomes dark, the curtain is raised. The set presents
a loft room, modestly furnished. DR. HARTH is sitting on a sofa, smoking nervously. He is
young, healthy, well dressed. The sound of hurrying footsteps draws near, followed by a light
knock on the door. Then, before DR. HARTH could answer, the door opens.]

MARIA [a slender, 18-20 years old girl, dressed plainly in black, wearing a veiled hat, enters
panting from running]: I met the concierge on the stairs. He asked me whom I
was looking for. I feigned I didn’t notice that he was addressing me. He
stopped, and stared after me…
21

DR. HARTH [closing the door carefully, embracing Maria]: Don’t be afraid, darling.
Fortunately, there are a lot of tenants in this old dump. Come, let me take your
hat off. With this veil on, I can’t even kiss you!

MARIA [takes her hat off, kisses him, then continues speaking worriedly]: And at the fourth
floor, I was accosted by a mustached man, in military uniform…

DR. HARTH [interjecting]: Sergeant Balogh!

MARIA: He had a rude, rumbling voice. “Where are you hurrying to, young lady, to Harth?
You’d better watch it, you’ll only get into trouble this way. Why don’t you
come with me instead, I’ll take you to the movies!” – he said.

DR. HARTH: He’s just a jackass, a skirt chaser. He’s not dangerous, though. He won’t turn
us in. The concierge, on the other hand, wouldn’t think twice about doing it! If
he found out anything…

MARIA [embracing him, caressing his face tenderly with her forehead]: If only the war were
over, at last! Better we should lose it!

DR. HARTH [kissing her forehead, her eyes, her lips]: If I do survive, I’ll marry you the first
day of peace! We won’t have to hide from anybody, ever! You won’t have to
wear veiled hats anymore! And… [opening the radio set] I won’t have to open
the radio, just so the neighbors won’t hear us, but only in order to listen to
music [from the radio comes a melody in vogue in 1943-44].

MARIA [on hearing the melody, smiles]: Will it ever come, that day? It’s difficult even to
imagine it, not to mention having to wait for it… [she sits down on the sofa]
Come, sit by me! Try not to think of anything outside of this room. Maybe
there’s really nothing there. Nothing and nobody. Only the two of us, in the
whole world… All the rest is a dream, a nightmarish dream… Wake up, my
love! [As she utters the last words, the air raid siren resounds.]

DR. HARTH [seating himself next to MARIA, takes her in his arms and starts rocking her,
like he would a baby]: Don’t be afraid, my little girl. The door is locked. No
one can come in. And the bombs shall steer clear of us. Fate protects lovers, as
long as they love each other truly.

MARIA: I know, your old belief in the benevolence of fate. I don’t believe that. But I enjoy
picturing how the house is emptying, how everybody goes down to the shelter,
22

and there’s really only the two of us left on Earth… or, at least, in the four and
a half floors of this building.

[While MARIA is speaking, the noise made by the tenants running to the air raid
shelter can be heard over the wailing of the siren. Concomitantly with her last words, comes
the report of a bomb explosion, and the windows are rattled.]

MARIA [keeps talking, unheeding]: I fear the bombs less than I fear people.

DR. HARTH [shuts off the radio set, and takes the key out of the lock]: This way, if anyone
came, they’ll think there’s nobody home.

[The sound of nearing footsteps comes through the door. Both fall silent, holding their
breath. Someone starts battering the door with the fists.]

THE CONCIERGE: Everybody to the air raid shelter! [pounding again on the door] Do you
hear, Mr. Harth, I know you have a visitor! Bring her along, to see what she
looks like!

DR. HARTH [whispering in MARIA’s ear]: It’s the concierge.

[Silence. Both DR. HARTH and MARIA are tense. The door squeaks under THE
CONCIERGE’s weight, who is spying at the keyhole. A new bomb explosion, closer than the
first one, is heard. The windows are rattled again, harder than before.]

THE CONCIERGE [angry]: I don’t have to risk my life for you, after all! You may croak, for
all I care!

[The sound of departing footsteps.]

DR. HARTH [still whispering]: Thank God for that bomb! He’s gone!

MARIA [whispering as well]: Perhaps I should go, as well…

DR. HARTH: Not now. When the All Clear is sounded. I’ll take off the yellow star, and I’ll
walk you home.

MARIA: It’s the first time it happens to me: I’m afraid!

DR. HARTH: I’ve felt it many times. The trick is to get used to fear, to confront it and not to
give in to it. And, perhaps the most important thing of all, is that fear shouldn’t
make one behave differently than usual.

[Knocking at the door, quiet, repeated, insistent.]


23

SZABÓ [in a hushed tone]: It’s Szabó here, from the fourth floor. Open quickly, doctor, it’s
important!

DR. HARTH [whispering to MARIA]: It’s the printer I’ve told you about, the other day. A
nice man, and clever, too.

MARIA [slowly]: Let him in, then.

[DR. HARTH opens the door and SZABÓ comes in. He is a 50 years old man, gray-
haired, tall, lean, stooping, wearing an old, serviceable jacket. He quickly closes the door
behind him.]

SZABÓ [speaking rapidly, in a low voice]: Good day miss, good day, doctor. Lock the door,
please.

DR. HARTH [locking the door and taking out the key]: Good day, Mr. Szabó. You didn’t go
down to the shelter? Let me introduce you to my fiancée.

SZABÓ [bowing]: Szabó.

MARIA [extending her hand]: Maria.

SZABÓ [shaking her hand]: I’ve been down there, doctor, that’s where I come from. The
concierge wants to turn you in. He knows you’re at home, and he claimed out
loud that – begging your pardon, miss – you’re shacked up with a Hungarian
woman. He’s only waiting for the air raid to end. [Toward MARIA]: You
should leave before that, miss.

DR. HARTH: You have our thanks, Mr. Szabó.

SZABÓ: Don’t mention it. It’s sad enough that we’ve come to that. To be ashamed of our
own laws and authorities. Be careful! I, for one, wish you all the happiness…
You can rely on me. Always.

DR. HARTH and MARIA [together]: Thank you, Mr. Szabó.

[DR. HARTH opens the door and lets SZABÓ out, then locks the door again, but
leaves the key in the lock.]

DR. HARTH [disheartened]: Szabó is right. We should get away before the air raid ends.

MARIA: All right. But I’ll leave alone. I’m not afraid anymore. And I don’t want anything to
happen to you, because of me. There's nothing they can do to me…
24

DR. HARTH: We’ll leave together, Maria. I’ll accompany you.

[DR. HARTH puts on his jacket, removes the yellow star, brushes the place where it
has been stitched on, and smoothes his hair. Meanwhile, MARIA dons her hat and primps
herself in front of the mirror.]

MARIA [when they are both ready to go]: Come here, next to me. [DR. HARTH draws closer
to her] Take my arm. [DR. HARTH takes her arm] Now, lean toward me. [DR.
HARTH conforms] Lean more. [He does] Like this! Now, nobody can tell if
you are wearing the yellow star, or not. And, should you feel like kissing me,
I’m much closer this way.

[Still standing in front of the mirror, she turns her head toward him, presenting her
mouth. DR. HARTH kisses her lengthily on the lips. During this scene, the players are with
their back to the public, but their faces are visible in the large mirror they are facing.]

MARIA: …like that. Now, we can go, my love!

[They start toward the door, DR. HARTH opens it, and they go out, arm in arm,
tightly pressed together. The door is closed, the key is heard turning in the lock, then their
receding footsteps… Meanwhile, the scene becomes gradually dark, and the curtain is slowly
lowered.

After a short delay, the spotlight comes on, highlighting the hospital bed from the right
hand corner of the scene, in front of the first curtain, exactly as it was at the opening of the
second act. DR. HARTH is sitting in the same position, wearing dressing gown and slippers,
with face buried in his hands. The rest of the scene remains in darkness.]

DR. HARTH [continues speaking in the same mechanical, monotonous tone as before]: From
that day, Maria could never return to my place. We wandered the streets, day
after day. Sometimes, when the weather was clement, we went on trips. Her
shoulder always covering the place where the yellow star should have been.
And, this way – as she had pointed out then, in front of the mirror – her face
was much closer to mine. Our love was one year old, by then. We were hoping
the war would end soon… but it ended too late for us… One evening, an air
raid surprised us in the residential quarter, in the hills. We started running
downhill, hand in hand, on a dark, unfamiliar little street. At first, we started
running to find an air raid shelter. But, while running, we forgot all about the
25

planes overhead, about the bombs and the war… And we kept running hand in
hand, laughing uncontrollably, happy, like two children.

[The set represents the bottom extremity of a narrow, dark, downhill street, at the
intersection with a similar, perpendicular street. The houses fronting this street, old and
gloomy, seem to be meant expressly to waylay the two lovers, as they run downhill, holding
hands. DR. HARTH and MARIA approach the intersection, looking at each other, smiling.
From overhead comes the rumbling sound of plane engines, and from the other street, the
cadenced report of military boots, marching. From around the corner emerges an Arrow Cross
squad. The two lovers come brusquely to a standstill, smiles frozen on their lips. The squad
intercepts them. A moment of stillness. The only sound heard is the rumbling of airplane
engines overhead. Except for a few words, the scene is almost a pantomime.]

THE SQUAD COMMANDER [in a shrill voice]: Halt! Your papers!

[MARIA and DR. HARTH rummage around anxiously for their identity cards, while
THE SQUAD COMMANDER taps his foot impatiently. In turn, MARIA and DR. HARTH
hand over their ID cards. THE SQUAD COMMANDER examines MARIA’s card first, and
returns it. Then, he examines DR. HARTH’s card, and raises his eyes, scrutinizing his face…]

THE SQUAD COMMANDER [shouting]: A kike! [catching DR. HARTH by the coat lapels]
Without the yellow star!

[The squad surrounds DR. HARTH, threateningly. One member places his hand on
the doctor’s shoulder, in sign of arrest.]

THE SQUAD COMMANDER [toward his men]: Take him! [signaling toward MARIA with
his head] The girl may go!…

A SQUAD MEMBER [in a harsh tone, shoving DR. HARTH]: Move!

[The squad, taking DR. HARTH in its midst, starts marching; DR. HARTH, turning
toward MARIA with a half resigned, half encouraging gesture, makes a small farewell sign.
MARIA, up till now stunned, immobile, starts following behind the patrol.]

MARIA [in a half voice, addressing DR. HARTH, without real conviction of being heard]:
I’m coming with you… In wartime, lovers shouldn’t part… Every separation
may be definitive…
26

[While talking, she is closing fast with the squad. It is obvious that she will catch up
with them. The curtain is lowered; her last words are heard from behind the curtain, drowned
by the sound of the marching footsteps. The scene becomes dark.

The spotlight comes on, highlighting again the hospital bed in front of the curtain. DR.
HARTH, wearing dressing gown and slippers, is still sitting on the edge of the bed, face
buried in his hands.]

DR. HARTH [monotonously, mechanically]: She came with me… We were taken to a
courtyard surrounded by high walls. Several hundred people were crowded
there, Jews, communists, all kinds. There was even a catholic priest there, a
young one… No one knew what was to become of us, if we were to be
deported or shot…

We were deported. After two days. Just before we left, Maria’s brother found us. He
was a lieutenant in the Armored Corps. He was allowed to come in to see us.
He wanted to get his sister out, but Maria wouldn’t hear of it… She followed
me to the concentration camp… There she was killed. She had gotten sick, and
she had lost weight. Mengele gassed her… I survived the war, but I’ll never
make it back home. There's no one waiting for me there, anyway… I shall
remain here, in the Gauting cemetery. [The scene becomes dark, but DR.
HARTH’s voice can still be heard.] My beloved is dead, because she wanted to
stay with me. To outlive her was, in a way, a betrayal…

[The lights come on, the curtain is raised. The set presents Room 27, as it was at the
end of the first act. After the last words spoken by DR. HARTH, a silent pause ensues.
Nobody moves. Then, slowly, DR. HARTH lifts his head from his hands, puts an elbow on
the night stand, and starts fiddling the radio knobs with his other hand, searching for music.]

MARTINSZKI [trying to sound cynical]: You’re right Doc, you should have kicked the
bucket a long time ago. And yet, here you are, clinging to life like a ludicrous
monkey hanging from a rotting branch… A worthless, pathetic excuse for a
man…

DR. HARTH [calmly]: I’m not clinging to life. But I’m afraid of dying… I’m ashamed of it,
even, most of the time… but this is a personal matter, not a subject for the
Palaver.
27

LUDWIG [whispering, but striving to enunciate as clearly and audibly as possible]: The
doctor is right. Everybody is afraid of death. I, perhaps, more than any of you,
because I’m closer to it than you are…We need witnesses, in order to meet
death with dignity, not with teeth chattering from fright… But this is not a
subject for the Palaver, either… [After a few moments’ pause, breathing more
and more labouredly]: The curtain has fallen, the doctor exits. [while LUDWIG
is speaking, DR. HARTH takes off his dressing gown, shuffles to his bed and
lies down heavily] The curtain is raised again, and Pupák has the chair. Tell
them about Bór… Speak in their name…

[A coughing fit overcomes him. The gilded paper crown falls from his head.
MARTINSZKI bends down, picks it up and puts it on the night stand. PUPÁK gets up, lights
a cigarette and goes to the table. Hands propped on the table, with his broad shoulders
towering over it, he brings to mind a Rodin statue.]

PUPÁK [haltingly at first, then more and more fluently]: I shall not speak about myself. Not
directly, at least. I’d like to tell you about something that happened at Bór. You
all know that, before being deported, Ludwig and I were sent there, at forced
labor. We were over three thousand when we left, but only about fifty of us
made it back, almost all of which were deported afterwards. I have no idea how
many of them are still alive… I, for one, shall return home. Although I’m not
in the best of health, I am strong. And I will do all that is in my power, so that
what took place there, would never happen again.

MARTINSZKI [interrupting him]: Spare us the speeches, Pupák, this is not a platform! It is a
Palaver, so tell your story.

PETER and DR. HARTH [in a choir, tauntingly, wheedling]: Tell your story, tell your story!

PUPÁK [elbows on the table, starts recounting gravely, objectively, in a dull, even tone of
voice, without paying attention to their taunt]: We were coming from Bór, in
the autumn of forty four… At first, they killed us at random… [While PUPÁK
narrates his story, the scene becomes dark, without a change of the set. Then, a
spotlight illuminates just the table and the storyteller.] For our clothes, for our
shoes, or for no reason at all. The guards, or the local fascists, shot or beat to
death one or another from our midst… It was only later that the organized
extermination began. During the march, the column would be brought to a
28

halt… Ten rows would be culled from it… The fifty men would be started
forward… away from the road, across the fields… 15-20 guards, mostly SS
soldiers, would accompany them… After several minutes, from the distance,
would come the popping sound of machine-guns…

[During PUPÁK’s narration, a second spotlight comes on, highlighting a screen


lowered from above the scene, on which the execution scene is projected. A silent movie. Just
the sound of machine-guns is heard, accompanying PUPÁK’s last words. Afterwards, the
screen disappears in the dark, but PUPÁK continues his narration.]

PUPÁK: Before we reached the camp, the guards from the execution detail would catch up
with the rest of us…

On one occasion, such a group of fifty included a poet. His name was well known in
all the country. We knew he was done for. But late that evening, after lights
out, we heard the door creak, and slowly, with uncertain, staggering steps, The
Poet came in. Covered with mud and blood, but alive…

[The screen becomes visible again, presenting the scene of THE POET’s entrance.
Wordlessly, he finds a place among the others, and lies down on the ground, as well. He then
pulls out from his breast pocket a torn, rumpled piece of paper. He turns to one side and, in
the dimness of the barracks – which is lighted only by a smoking gas lamp hanging from an
overhead beam – he starts to write feverishly. After a short pause, before the end of the scene
projected on the screen, PUPÁK resumes his narration.]

PUPÁK: Those of us still awake, were watching him in fascination. No one uttered a word.
No one asked anything. The Poet, returned from the grave, kept writing. For
him, that was the purpose of life. He didn’t waste any of it with words, before
finishing to put down on paper what he had to write… Then, he read out, in a
low, halting voice, a few verses about the execution… Unfortunately, I don’t
remember them…

LUDWIG [starts reciting mechanically, in a drowned out, barely audible voice, coming from
the dark]:

I tumbled next to him, his body turned


and tightened like a string about to go,
shot in the head. - This is how you will end,
I breathed, I just lie rigid from top to toe.
29

Now death blossoms where patience perseveres.


- "Der springt noch auf!" - sounded above me.
A sludge of gory mud clotted my ears.5
PUPÁK [continues in a dull, unchanged tone]: Yes. I remember… and, in fact, that was the
fate awaiting him. This once, he had fallen down before being pierced by the
bullets, and the bodies fallen over him had shielded him from death. When the
dark came, he had crawled out from under the mound of corpses, and had
returned to camp to write his poem.

By the time daylight came, we had managed to remove the bloodstains from his
clothes, and he was again able to march with us. Some time later, he again
happened to be among those taken to be executed…

[PUPÁK is silent. In the ensuing quiet, a sudden machine-gun fire burst is heard.
Another pause, then a piercing shout: “Der springt noch auf!”, followed by another machine-
gun burst, then silence.]

PUPÁK [resuming his narration]: All that night, we stayed up, waiting for him to materialize
from the darkness and to come staggering in, to write another poem. But The
Poet did not return. His last verses have remained in his breast pocket. Perhaps
even today, they are still there, in a common grave, among decaying corpses.

DR. HARTH [from the darkness]: Pupák, you should write this story down. You’ve narrated
it like a genuine writer.

PUPÁK: I don’t deserve any credit, the story practically told itself.

DR. HARTH [from the darkness]: Write it down, nevertheless!

[The scene becomes illuminated gradually; while PUPÁK speaks, it returns back to
normal.]

PUPÁK: If I were to write it up, I’d name it “The Poet In War”. But perhaps I’d write it up as
a story: “The Story of A True Poet and A Horrible War”, or a shorter title:
“The Poet and The Death”.

LUDWIG [in a faint, panting voice]: I should choose the latter title.

MARTINSZKI [standing up, he stretches and runs his fingers through his hair. Casually and
half mockingly, toward PUPÁK]: If you were to write it up, I’m sure you’d do
5
Razglednica 4, poem by Miklos Radnoti, translated from Hungarian by Peter Zollman.
30

it as a story. This way, you’d find it easier to slip in a little moralizing note, or
to draw a few political inferences.

DR. HARTH [annoyed]: You’re beginning to bore me to tears, Stef, with your snide remarks.

PETER [after a moment’s pause]: How strange, when you realize that all these happened just
a year ago… Only last autumn, The Poet was alive, marching with us, and
today he’s become a story, from long ago.

LUDWIG [panting, quietly, toward PETER]: Peter, now, in the intermission, give me a glass
of water, please.

PETER [getting up, goes to the wardrobe and dons a dressing gown]: I’ll bring you some
fresh water from the tap, Ludwig. Wait just a moment.

[PETER takes the jug from LUDWIG’s night stand, and goes out. PUPÁK gets up
from the table, and goes in a casual gait to PETER’s bed, where he picks up the spoon and
metal slate, which served earlier as a drum. He starts rapping with them the first measures of
Chopin’s “Marche Funebre”, singing along at the top of his voice: “tam, tam, ta-tam, tam, ta-
tam, ta-tam, ta-tam…”. Just as he is preparing to start over again, DR. HARTH starts shouting
at him.]

DR. HARTH [trying to overcome the racket PUPÁK is raising]: Stop that foolishness, Pupák!

[PUPÁK won’t desist, but starts rapping even more energetically. The door opens and
PETER returns with the water. He goes over to LUDWIG’s bed, fills his glass, puts the jug on
the night stand, then helps the invalid to drink. When the later chokes and starts coughing,
PETER goes to PUPÁK and snatches the slate and the spoon from him, placing them on the
night stand.]

PETER [facing PUPÁK, trying to assume a serious, commanding air]: Silence! I am the next
in order, in the Palaver’s playbill.

[While talking, PETER heads ceremoniously toward the table, seating himself on the
same chair from which PUPÁK had held forth. PUPÁK stops making noise. Complete silence
descends in the room.]

PETER [after a short pause]: Sound the gong! [PUPÁK jumps up contentedly, grabs swiftly
the slate and strikes it once with the spoon]… Love story, in two scenes. A
melodramatic tragedy. Mitigating circumstances: it’s a true story. So true, that
the only recourse left to one is, either to laugh, or to hang himself…
31

MARTINSZKI [interrupts him, grinning]: Let’s apply the division of labor, here. I’ll laugh,
and you go ahead and hang yourself!

LUDWIG [slowly, panting]: Kick him once over the head, Pupák, or he’ll never stop with his
wisecracks!

DR. HARTH [toward PETER]: Your introduction is too drawn-out, Peter. Our stories are
much alike. We don’t need clarifications in order to understand. Just tell your
story.

PETER [awaits for silence, then starts narrating]: The first scene.

[The scene becomes dark. A ray of light lingers for a few moments more over PETER
and the table, then the darkness becomes complete.]

PETER [continues speaking in a blank tone]: Cluj town, the 31st of October, 1943. Evening,
somewhere behind St. Peter’s Church. I never went there in daytime. Perhaps I
couldn’t even find the place again…

[While PETER is narrating his story, a spotlight picks up the descending screen, in the
same way as in PUPÁK’s story. All along, the screen presents the images PETER is evoking,
sometimes only in a stylized, shadowy form. The scenery presents a suburb in the dusk,
viewed obliquely from above. In the distance, the silhouette of St. Peter’s Church, from Cluj.
A stream running among the low houses, a wooden bridge. In the moonlight, the outlines are
sharply delineated. A boy and a girl appear strolling on the bridge. Midway, they stop and
lean against the railing. Beyond them, there is a gap in the row of houses, through which the
fields can be seen. Three tall aspen trees, washed in the moonlight. The boy’s and the girl’s
actions conform to PETER’s story.]

PETER [unseen in the dark, just his voice droning on]: Over the river, there's a narrow bridge.
At its railings, there's a boy and a girl. The boy was I, the girl is no more. They
lean against the railings, gazing at the misty scenery, woven by the moon rays.
Beyond them, three aspen trees. Above them, the waning moon, or, perhaps,
the rising moon. The boy finally overcomes his shyness; his hand glides along
the dewy railing, and comes to a rest on the girl’s hand. She doesn’t pull away,
but bends down and rubs her forehead on the boy’s hand, caressing it, like a
cat… [PETER’s voice catches up in his throat for a moment, then continues in
the same blank tone]: It was then they kissed, for the first time…
32

THE BOY’S VOICE [deep, manly]: I love you!

THE GIRL’S VOICE [softly]: I love you, too…

PETER [moved]: The girl’s eyes were shining in the moonlight… Perhaps with tears…

THE GIRL’S VOICE: I shall never forget this evening, ever!

THE BOY’S VOICE: It’s very sweet of you to say this, even if you will forget it…

PETER [again in a blank, drained tone]: It was then they kissed, for the second time… Then,
they left. They decided that, whatever happened – it was war, after all – they
would meet again, in a year’s time, on the same bridge, on the evening of the
31st of October.

[While PETER is speaking, the two shadowy silhouettes on the screen start moving
slowly from the bridge, disappearing between the houses, around a corner. On the screen, the
image of the deserted bridge, with the church outline to one side and the three aspen trees to
the other, remains immobile until the end of PETER’s story.]

PETER: …And should they not be able to meet in a year’s time – which seemed to them
inconceivable just then – they would meet the year after. And then, in every
year, for as long as they lived. Even should they not be together anymore, even
should they each have their own family. Even should they happen to fall apart,
or move away from Cluj…

[The spotlight is turned off. The screen vanishes and the scene becomes illuminated:
the hospital room, as it was at the beginning of PETER’s story.]

PETER [sweeping his gaze around the room, over his immobile friends, pauses a few
seconds, then continues apathetically]: The second scene. A KZ camp in
Bavaria, somewhere between München and Augsburg. The 31st of October
1944, evening. Again, a moonlit night. On the deserted alleys between the
camp’s barracks, a shadow in striped clothing advances staggering…

[As PETER is speaking, the scene darkens and the screen is lowered, highlighted by
the spotlight. The image on the screen presents barracks’ roofs, barbed wire fences,
watchtowers. Over the fences, framed by the barbed wire, a sign reading: “Arbeit macht
frei!”, then another: “Sprechen ist Silber, Schweigen ist Gold!”, make their appearance. Over
the signs, the shadow of a gallows. Then, the signs disappear, replaced by the image evoked
by PETER: straight, deserted alleys, between squat barracks. Beyond the barracks, tall,
33

parallel rows of barbed wire fences, watchtowers. A full moon. The silhouette of a camp
inmate, in striped clothes, advances on an alley.]

PETER [continuing his narration]: The boy had missed his reunion on the bridge… [For a
moment, the image of the camp is replaced by the river, the bridge, the church
outline and the aspen trees. But only for a moment. Then, again the camp’s
image, with a shadow staggering on the deserted alleys.]…His eyes swimming
in tears, his teeth gnashing. In his ears, a verse by Villon keeps resounding,
obsessively…

THE BOY’S VOICE [slowly, barely audibly]: …icy n’ya ne ris, ne jeu…

PETER [from the darkness, his voice coming level, unchanged]: He leaves the barracks
behind, and steps on the mustering grounds, going toward the barbed wire
fence. He stares at the moon, like a sleepwalker, and sees the three aspen trees
beyond the bridge. [On the screen, the shadow is seen nearing the barbed wire
fence. At a great distance, beyond the fences and the watchtowers, the blurred
outlines of the stream, together with the bridge, the church steeple and the three
aspen trees, appear shimmering.] He is almost at the fence. Suddenly, from one
of the watchtowers comes a gunshot.

[From the wings comes the sound of a firearm. The screen becomes dark, and
vanishes. Then, during PETER’s next sentence, the scene is gradually illuminated, presenting
the hospital room.]

PETER: Instinctively, I jumped backwards, and I disappeared between the barracks… [raising
his gaze, continues more spiritedly] Finally, the epilogue: the 31st of October,
1945. I shall be here, in the Gauting hospital. In the evening, I’ll take a walk
among the fir trees, alone, staring at the moon, or at the cloudy sky, knowing
very well that the girl has been killed. Back in forty four. I know. A letter
came… Nevertheless, come the autumn of ’46, I’ll be there, on the bridge,
waiting for her…

MARTINSZKI [slightly ironically, almost sorrowfully]: Title: “The Un-kept Rendezvous”.

DR. HARTH [looking at LUDWIG, draws their attention]: Psst! He’s fallen asleep.
[LUDWIG is sleeping on his back, breathing shallowly. From his mouth
dribbles a thin string of rosy saliva.]
34

MARTINSZKI [getting carefully up from LUDWIG’s bed, whispers]: I’d better go sit with
Pupák, so I won’t wake him up.

[He goes over to PETER’s bed, seating himself next to PUPÁK, one arm over his
shoulders. PETER remains at the table, propped on his elbows. DR. HARTH bolsters the
pillow at his back, to sit higher up.]

MARTINSZKI [speaking with lowered voice, serious]: Ludwig is asleep. The gong is silent.
The pantomime is suspended. A pity, I was going to begin my story dancing…
[After a moment of silence, he takes a deep breath, then starts his narration]:
My father was a communist. A Jew and a communist. A professor. When they
arrested him, they took me, as well. We were imprisoned for a while, then we
were deported. That’s how I got to Buchenwald. There, I met Fredo, the only
man I never made fun of. It’s about him that I’d like to tell you… He was a
printer’s apprentice, a truck driver, a painter… Last year, he must have been
twenty – twenty five years old. Although almost without any schooling, he was
nonetheless intelligent and well read. He used to have a friend, an unemployed
high school teacher, become truck driver as well, of whom he always spoke
with great respect. It was to him that he owed the selection of the books he had
read… As a matter of fact, Fredo spoke little of his past… I can almost hear
him now…

FREDO’S VOICE [coming from behind the scene]: “Don’t ask, Stefan. Here, one’s got to be
strong, and bringing back memories tends to soften one…”

MARTINSZKI [continues his narration, as if uninterrupted]: He let it slip once, though, that
he had been arrested for some manifestos. More than this, not even those who
have tortured him weren’t able to find out. He wasn’t the man they could wring
confessions from… We worked in the same labor detachment. That is, he
didn’t really work all that much. Or, if he did work something, The Third
Reich didn’t get too much use out of it…A lot of us have learned from him the
meaning of the word “sabotage”…

FREDO’S VOICE [from behind the scene]: “Because with each shovel of gravel, with each
pickaxe stroke, you’re helping their war effort. Perhaps it doesn’t matter too
much. A drop of water in the ocean… a grain of sand in the desert… but it’s
more than I wish to help them with…”
35

MARTINSZKI [continues, in the same tone of voice]: I’ve seen him really work, just once. It
was for me… I was exhausted, I couldn’t fill my quota… to save me from the
kapo’s beatings… [his voice breaks, gradually lowered]: Fredo was right,
remembering softens one… Don’t be angry with me, boys, but I can’t go on…
Perhaps I’ve drunk too much, I don’t know… I don’t want to act like a
sentimental fool, but I can’t… I can’t…

DR. HARTH [moved a little, ironically though]: Behold yourself, how dancing you cry. I
haven’t had the occasion to admire you playing this part, yet. May I be of
assistance with a handkerchief? [Rummaging through the night stand’s drawer,
extracts a large, beautifully colored handkerchief, and waves it toward
MARTINSZKI]: Elegant, clean… and proportionate to your grief.

MARTINSZKI: He was my best friend, perhaps the only one… He stole for me from the SS
kitchen, when I fell ill, to save me… I’ll tell you about it some other time…
Sometime when I won’t be drunk. Now, I can’t… [his back shudders from
repressed crying]… They’ve tortured him… They’ve hanged him…

DR. HARTH [still ironically]: And all this, only for the pleasure of having you, now, among
us…

MARTINSZKI [interrupting, staring into empty space, his voice a little louder, but still
halting]: I got well… I lived to see the liberation… I’m here, now… with the
price of Fredo’s life. Though his life was worth ten times more than mine…

PUPÁK [moved, but a little ironical]: Yes, Stef, I really think it must have been worth more.

[PUPÁK’s remark is followed by profound silence. Even LUDWIG’s labored


breathing, now awake, is audible. The five sit there, staring into empty space, their thoughts
returning to the concentration camps, where fate has led them. DR. HARTH cracks his
knuckles, wagging obliviously his narrow, birdlike head.]

PETER [getting up from the table, goes to his bed, takes the slate and the spoon, returns to the
table and sounds the gong. He is also moved]: I think we ought to drink to the
memory of our dead friends!

ALL: We ought to…

LUDWIG [pointing to the wardrobe, in an almost indiscernible voice]: The second shelf, in
the back.
36

DR. HARTH [galvanized]: Ludwig’s still got some wine… Pupák, go find it!

[PUPÁK goes to the wardrobe, brings out a bottle, then fills everybody’s glass. After
filling his own, he stops in the center of the room, with glass raised.]

PUPÁK [solemnly]: To the memory of our dead… To our dead friends… PROSIT! [All
empty their glasses, except LUDWIG, who takes only small, sporadic sips.]

PETER [striking again the metal slate, addresses LUDWIG]: Ludwig, old boy, it’s your turn
now. Will you tell us a story?

LUDWIG [wheezing, speaking haltingly, in an extinguished voice]: It’s hard for me to talk.
You know that. But I do have a little story I’m rather fond of… We’ve often
reminisced about it, me and Pupák. It’s a funny story… Here, at the
sanatorium, I haven’t told it yet. Let Pupák tell it, in my place. [turning toward
PUPÁK] Will you tell them, Pupák?… How Master Theo made his getaway…

PUPÁK [with a smile on his face]: I’ll do it, if you want me to. I like the story myself. [He
drains his glass, then seats himself comfortably, elbows propped on the table,
and starts narrating]: …It happened while we were at forced labor, even before
Bór. Nearby, there was a disciplinary labor detachment… Among them, one
character unlike anything you’ve ever seen in your life. He came for
disciplinary labor dressed as if for a dinner gala… like a baronet, straight from
a cheap novel…

LUDWIG [panting, guffawing weakly]: You should have seen him among the other convicts,
all dressed in rags, worn out, dowdy, rumpled… just try to imagine him…

[The scene becomes dark, the curtain descends. From behind the curtain, PUPÁK’s
voice continues the narration.]

PUPÁK: Tall, lanky, with a pale face and aquiline nose, freshly shaven at all times, and so
on…just as depicted in the books…

[While PUPÁK speaks, the spotlights come on, illuminating the space in front of the
curtain. The set presents a field bordering a road. Trees, bushes and, in the distance, a manor
house. Along the road, prisoners at work. From the right, the elegant apparition described
earlier, advances down the road: a man wearing lacquered evening shoes, dinner jacket, bow
tie, derby hat and monocle. In his hand he holds a short handled sapper’s shovel, which he
37

holds in the manner of a dandy sporting his walking stick. On his arm, a white armband, the
distinctive mark of the disciplinary detachments.]

PUPÁK [his voice, coming from behind the curtain]: He even had silvery sideburns, as
stipulated in books. For all his luggage, he had a black lacquer case, filled with
cigars. He always had a cigar in his mouth.

[As PUPÁK narrates the story, the dapper gentleman, MASTER THEO, plants the
shovel in an earth mound, then takes out an elegant lighter and leisurely lights his cigar.]

PUPÁK [from behind the curtain]: Both detachments were astonished by this apparition, and
used to make fun of him… the prisoners, as well as the guards. Ludwig was
intrigued by the man hiding behind these affectations… Hence, his interest and
the friendship, thanks to which Master Theo managed his getaway…

[While PUPÁK speaks, a guard approaches MASTER THEO, addressing him with a
smirk.]

THE GUARD [hardly suppressing his laughter]: And just what do you think you’re doing
here, old timer? Puffing away, all day long? What do you think this is, a
picnic? Or maybe you think it’s Sunday at the manor?

MASTER THEO [ceremoniously raising his hat and answering, politely but with dignity]: I
was just going to work, if you please, your excellency… And on my way, I
thought I’d smoke a cigar… A harmful habit, I’ll admit, but which I can’t
shake off.

THE GUARD [laughing]: Then shake your tail, you “phenomenon”…demean yourself and
start shoveling! [He slaps him on the back and goes away, laughing heartily.]

MASTER THEO [raising his hat, salutes the guard, answering good-naturedly]: Yes, yes, I’m
already gone…

[He takes his handkerchief from his breast pocket, wipes his shoulder where the guard
has touched him, carefully folds it and puts it back in his pocket, picks up the shovel, then
starts away unhurriedly, puffing from his cigar. Meanwhile, PUPÁK and LUDWIG made
their appearance, coming from the field. They are wearing a sort of uniform, with the yellow
armband of the forced labor detachments. PUPÁK is carrying a pick on his shoulder, and
LUDWIG a shovel in his hand. They come into the road just as MASTER THEO is brushing
38

his shoulder with his handkerchief. They stop and stare at MASTER THEO and the departing
GUARD.]

LUDWIG [slowly, to PUPÁK]: Look at him… The little codger with the cigar… even the
guards leave him alone.

PUPÁK: Maybe they are impressed by him… the gentleman who remains a gentleman, even
in the deepest hell…

LUDWIG: Nah… we must figure this one out. I’d like to find out what’s he made of… I’ll be
back before you finish your smoke. [He starts toward MASTER THEO.]

PUPÁK [shouting after LUDWIG]: I’ll poke around here with the pick, meanwhile [pointing
to the earth mounds on the side of the road], to keep the guards off my back!

[By now, LUDWIG has approached MASTER THEO and, raising his right hand to
his cap, sketching a salute, has taken out a cigarette.]

LUDWIG: My respects, sir. May I have a light, please?

MASTER THEO [amiably]: With pleasure, young man. [Taking out his lighter, offers him a
light]: Here you are!

LUDWIG [on his best manners]: Please excuse my forwardness, but where do you obtain the
gasoline from? It’s been weeks since I can’t use my lighter…

MASTER THEO [affably]: Come with me, young man… I’ll show you where you can have
all the gasoline you want. [Putting out his hand]: Allow me: Mocsy… Theo,
postal office chief.

LUDWIG [shaking his hand, smiling contentedly]: Ludwig Schwartz, taxicab driver.

MASTER THEO: Delighted, young man. Let’s go.

LUDWIG [walking alongside MASTER THEO]: As a matter of fact, I’ve known you from
hearsay, for quite a while… you’re the most elegant member of the disciplinary
detachment… [coming level with PUPÁK, makes him a sign]: I’ll be back
shortly. I’m just going to get some lighter fuel. [Heading toward the wings with
MASTER THEO, explains]: An old friend. Student. We’re from the same
town… [They disappear in the wings; PUPÁK keeps poking the ground with
the pickaxe.]
39

[A few seconds of silence, just the sounds made by the pickaxe are heard, then the
curtain is lowered; darkness.

After a moment, a spotlight illuminates the left hand corner of the scene, in front of
the curtain. PUPÁK is seated on an earth mound, dressed like in the previous scene, with
yellow armband, without the pickaxe. He is now the storyteller.]

PUPÁK [lighting a cigarette, continues LUDWIG’s story]: As Ludwig said, you should have
seen him. I don’t know if I succeeded in describing him, in all his farcical
eccentricity. Ludwig became fast his friend. He filled his ears with all sorts of
stories, about dancing matinees, stylish dames, first class brawls… And Master
Theo – we started calling him that the next day – expounded on his
humanitarian persuasions… He had been arrested for contributing to the Red
Relief, and for exhorting others to do the same.

MASTER THEO [a voice from behind the curtain]: I didn’t care for politics, you understand,
but my humanity compelled me to act.

PUPÁK [continuing]: But the police deemed otherwise. And so, he found himself in the
disciplinary detachments… When they took him, he dressed up as for a soiree.
Thus he choose to defy the fascist police, the forced labor, the war…

MASTER THEO [his voice, in an advocatory tone]: You know, young man, one should
always be faithful to one’s convictions, to one’s outlook on life, to one’s
individuality… Not even constraint should prevent one from this… In this way,
it’s easier to remain true to oneself. And this isn’t a mere trifle… Shakespeare
himself has said so, some four centuries ago…

PUPÁK [continues, oblivious of the interruption]: Maybe this is exactly what has saved him,
after all… The idea came from Ludwig.

[A pan of the curtain is pulled to the side, and LUDWIG appears, out of breath,
animated. Dressed like in the previous scene, with the shovel in his hand, he approaches
PUPÁK.]

LUDWIG [stopping in front of PUPÁK, chattering excitedly]: Listen to this! Master Theo
must get away… If he took his armband off, he could go anywhere he liked, no
one would bother him for his papers… They’d take him for a nutty count, or
something.
40

PUPÁK: If truth be told… yes, he does have that look.

LUDWIG: Just press his clothes a little… and no one would think of stopping him. Once in
town, I know where to send him. I have plenty of friends… They’ll hide him
or, if need be, they’ll help him go farther on…

PUPÁK [getting up]: You know, it’s not such a bad idea, after all. Let’s go and tell Master
Theo.

LUDWIG [animated]: Let’s talk to him. He could leave tomorrow, even…

[Both disappear behind the curtain. After a moment, the curtain is raised. The same
set: the road, the field, the trees and the bushes, the detachment’s members; in the distance,
the manor’s outline. Beyond the trees, in the back, a few guards around a fire, cooking
something. In the foreground, hidden from them by the bushes, LUDWIG, PUPÁK and
MASTER THEO are discussing excitedly.]

MASTER THEO [addresses LUDWIG in a muted tone, admiring the press of his trousers]:
Ludwig dear, not even my beloved wife could have done a better job pressing
these.

LUDWIG [toward PUPÁK, removing MASTER THEO’s armband]: Look lively, now, we
don’t want somebody to come upon us!

PUPÁK [watching the road]: Don’t worry, all’s clear!

LUDWIG [rubbing with a handkerchief the mark left by the armband]: There, not even the
mark is left… If it’d be noticed, all hell might break loose… [He adjusts
MASTER THEO’s jacket some more, adds some finishing touches with the
handkerchief, then stands back and admires his work]: A perfectly attired
gentleman… Light up your cigar, Master Theo, and be on your way!

MASTER THEO [producing a cigar, voice trembling with emotion]: I’ve never played theatre
in my whole life… This is my first role, ever… “The nutty baron, taking a
stroll in the countryside”…

PUPÁK [addresses MASTER THEO, continuing to watch the road]: Not a simple part, for a
beginner… but the stakes are commensurate.

LUDWIG [rushing him]: The applauses later, after the war… [with affectation]: Maestro, on
scene!… And don’t forget the address.
41

MASTER THEO: I won’t. [moved] And thank you, thank you from all my heart! [He shakes
their hands, takes a few steps doubled up among the bushes, then, reaching a
spot out of view of the guards, steps into the road, lights up his cigar and starts
on, in a strolling walk.]

PUPÁK and LUDWIG [together, in a low voice]: Good luck, Master Theo!

LUDWIG [toward PUPÁK, still in a low voice]: I’ll escort him for a while, from the hedges.
Will you wait for me?

PUPÁK: I’ll wait, just give me a smoke.

[LUDWIG gives him hurriedly a cigarette, then starts through the bushes in pursuit of
MASTER THEO. PUPÁK lights up leisurely. Darkness. Just the burning end of the cigarette
is visible.]

[Master Theo on the road.]

[After the shortest possible pause, the scene is again illuminated. The set presents the
road, as it winds among trees and bushes; the guards and the work detachment are no longer
to be seen. MASTER THEO strolls unhurriedly towards town. He lights up another cigar. His
movements are no longer precipitated. He’s entered into the role. LUDWIG is still following
him, from the bushes. A bicycle patrol approaches. When they draw level with him,
MASTER THEO waves friendly, calm and dignified.]

THE PATROLMEN [shouting in chorus, pedaling on]: …‘afternoon, your excellency!

[The bicyclists go off, in the wings. MASTER THEO takes a few more steps, then
stops, relieved, throws off the cigar and, turning toward the bushes, where he suspects
LUDWIG is, addresses him in a low voice.]

MASTER THEO: The dress rehearsal was a success, Ludwig. Don’t come any further…
Farewell…

LUDWIG [sitting down, applauds softly, chuckling]: Farewell, your excellency! Give my
regards to Budapest! [MASTER THEO starts off, the curtain is lowered.]

PUPÁK [from the darkness, his voice concludes]: Shortly after that, we were transferred to
Bór. About Master Theo, nothing more was heard. I hope he did manage to
reach safety…
42

[As PUPÁK utters the last words, the curtain is raised, and the scene becomes
gradually illuminated: once more, the hospital room, where the Palaver is going on.]

LUDWIG [painfully raising his head, smiling, his voice reflecting a sort of author’s pride]: A
funny little story… isn’t it?

DR. HARTH [leaning toward LUDWIG]: The only serene story this evening, so far… I wish
we’d had more like it.

MARTINSZKI [emphatically]: On the paths of combat, life is not generous in serene events.
[Coming to LUDWIG’s bed, he plumps up his pillows, gives him to drink and
covers his shoulders. Addressing him gently, tenderly]: Go to sleep, Ludwig,
it’s midnight, you must be tired. [He seats himself on the edge of LUDWIG’s
bed.]

LUDWIG [in a very low voice]: I’m not sleepy, Stef… And then, it seems eternity is very
long, so I’ll have all the time I’ll want to sleep. Put on some music, will you?

[DR. HARTH opens the radio set and starts searching among stations. Fragments of
music and speaking are heard. The first bars from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony come from one
station: ta-ta-ta-tam! DR. HARTH settles on this station. The symphony can be heard in the
background, till the close of the act.]

LUDWIG [depressed]: You hear that? It’s knocking for me…

MARTINSZKI [standing up, takes the golden paper crown, places it on his head, then
proclaims]: I, the initiator and the chairman of the Palaver, command you:
cease and desist this wallowing in melancholy! [Going to the table, bends
down to PETER’s ear and whispers]: I’m going to the laundry room to hang
myself. Coming along?

PETER [only half whispering, so the others can hear]: I’m not coming, Stef, it’s cold in
there… Just think about it. The rope is stiff and cuts your neck, your tongue
protrudes, you’re turning blue in the face… Really, it’s unbecoming, trust me!

MARTINSZKI [incensed]: Then croak in your bed, for all I care… You won’t see me
again… at least, not alive!…

[MARTINSZKI advances dancing to the center of the room, sweeps his gaze over the
beds, mimes a farewell taking off the crown in a large salutation, and takes a bow.]
43

MARTINSZKI [ceremoniously]: Farewell, boys, behold myself, dancing good bye! I’m going
away to die. It will be a dance without an audience. Thank you for your
hospitality. It was a good Palaver!… I wish you a happy life… I mean death…
To each, according to his wishes.

[As MARTINSZKI reaches the door, PETER jumps out of his bed, snatches a second
spoon from PUPÁK’s night stand, hastily suspends the metal slate from a corner of the table
and, with two spoons, starts banging wildly on it a crazy funeral march rhythm. The racket
covers almost entirely the 5th Symphony’s strains. Dancing, MARTINSZKI exits. The gilded
paper crown can still be seen twinkling in the lamp light through the open door, then the door
is slammed shut. PETER continues banging on the slate with all his might.]

DR. HARTH: You must be losing your marbles… [shutting off the radio set]: No one can
hear the music, anyway… Ease off that racket, will you?…

[PETER keeps up the drumming, but not as loudly as before. PUPÁK gets up,
stretches, then starts tidying up the room. PETER throws the two spoons on the table and gets
up too, to help him.]

PETER [slowly]: You’re right… let’s tidy up…

PUPÁK [sighing contentedly]: Silence, at last…

PETER [without stopping work]: You’re rejoicing too early. It’s just a short reprieve… until
we finish putting things in order, and I go to bed. Once there, I’ll start anew.

[PUPÁK and PETER carry on tidying up. DR. HARTH turns on again the radio set,
from which come softly the strains of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. LUDWIG smiles, then
starts coughing. Meanwhile, the curtain is lowered.]
44

THE THIRD ACT

[Room 27, half an hour later. PUPÁK and PETER have finished tidying up, and have
gone to bed. PUPÁK is ready to sleep. DR. HARTH is leafing through a book. PETER is
sitting in his bed, knees up, drumming on the metal slate. LUDWIG raises himself on the
pillow, watching PETER with amusement, smiling.]

DR. HARTH [raising his eyes from his book, studies in turn PETER and PUPÁK. Seeing the
later ready to sleep, he eggs PETER on, maliciously]: Louder!… Hit it!… Hit
the drum!… That’s the March of the Palaver!… Never mind Pupak!…
[PETER redoubles his efforts. LUDWIG chuckles softly.]

PUPÁK [sitting up angrily]: Enough, damn you all! I want to sleep… Cut it off, Peter…
[PETER pays no attention to him. Laughing, he keeps drumming on the slate.]

DR. HARTH: Don’t get mad, Pupák.

PUPÁK [threatening PETER]: If you don’t stop, I’ll break something on your head…

[PETER keeps up the drumming. DR. HARTH laughs uproariously. PUPÁK pulls
open the night stand’s drawer and takes out a knife. Holding it by the blade, he waves it
menacingly.]

PUPÁK [counting slowly]: Ooone… Twoo…

DR. HARTH [trying to calm him down]: What are you doing? Pupák… are you crazy?

PUPÁK [he won’t be stopped]: …oo… Thrr… [PETER barricades himself behind the pillow,
and keeps banging on the metal plate.] …eee!… [He throws the knife, but
PETER wards it off with the pillow. PUPÁK throws in turn, one after another,
all the objects he can lay his hands on: spoon, fork, the medicine vials from the
drawer.]: Here, take this!… and this, damn you!…

[This “bombardment” abates his fury. At the end, he throws the last vials at PETER,
laughing. PETER keeps on drumming, laughing his head off, protected by the pillow. He
pauses only to adjust the pillow, which keeps slipping. LUDWIG is also laughing, chocking
and coughing. DR. HARTH is laughing, as well.]
45

DR. HARTH [chortling, in a hoarse voice]: Come on, give a little life to this Palaver!… Peter,
hit the drum!… Drum as if your life depended on it!… Pupák, don’t give up!…
Don’t aim at his head… aim at the wall, behind him… it will bounce in his
head from there!…

[During this time, two-three bottles break noisily. At the sound of breaking glass,
PUPÁK stops the bombardment and PETER ceases the drumming. In the fallen silence can be
heard thumping in the wall, coming from the room next-door.]

LUDWIG [whispers, panting]: This is no longer a trip down memory lane. This is “the
present” calling. In a short while, you’ll resume your old lives. Too bad I can’t
come with you… home…

DR. HARTH [quietly, in his usual tone of voice]: You’ve let your devils loose until you’ve
frightened the neighbors… [He tends his ears. Quick, shuffling footsteps are
heard drawing near on the corridor.]: I do believe the ward trustee is coming
this way.

[Someone knocks at the door and enters, without waiting for an answer. It’s JOSEPH,
the ward trustee, sleepy, with disheveled hair, adjusting his hastily donned dressing gown.
Sweeping the room with his eyes, comes upon the broken glass and sundry things fallen by
PETER’s bed, the pillow-barricade, the metal slate-drum.]

JOSEPH [turning reproachfully toward PUPÁK]: Have you gone insane?! At one o’clock in
the morning, you’ve found nothing better to do than wake up the whole
hospital?! [Authoritatively]: This is not a circus, nor a whorehouse, it’s a
sanatorium! The patients want to sleep!

LUDWIG [intervenes, whispering]: But Joseph… my dear…

JOSEPH [crossly]: I don’t want to hear of no Josef, and no dear!…

LUDWIG [chocking, teasingly]: And with such a beautiful beard…

JOSEPH: Enough! One more sound out of you, and I’ll discharge you all from the hospital,
first thing tomorrow morning. I don’t care how sick you are! [Then, in a milder
tone]: Good night. [He shuts off the light and leaves the room.]

DR. HARTH and PETER [together, slightly piqued]: Good night.

LUDWIG [at the same time with the others, but in a friendlier tone]: Sleep well, Joseph.
46

[The door closes behind the ward trustee. Silence. DR. HARTH switches on the night
lamp.]

DR. HARTH [quietly]: He’s right. We’ve been naughty… Well, the Palaver is over! Good
night…

[He adjusts his pillow, turns to his side, and starts reading. PETER and PUPÁK get
wordlessly out of their beds, gather the broken glass, tidy everything up, and make their beds.
PUPÁK is ready first, and lies down in his bed. PETER approaches him, before going to bed
in his turn.]

PETER [quietly, holding out his hand]: I hope you’re not mad at me…

PUPÁK [shaking his hand]: Don’t be a child… we’re old friends, after all, aren’t we?

[PETER goes to his bed, gets in, and prepares to sleep. PUPÁK has already closed his
eyes.]

PETER [slowly, toward DR. HARTH]: Would you put off the light now, Doc? It’s very
late…

DR. HARTH [slowly, as well]: Amen! [He reaches his hand to the light switch.]

LUDWIG [laying down with eyes closed, mumbling as for himself, recites in a low voice]:

“Lord, it is time. The summer was too long.


Lay your shadow on the sundials now,
and through the meadow let the winds throng.”6

[While LUDWIG is reciting, DR. HARTH puts off the light. In the darkness, the
curtain is slowly lowered.

When the curtain is raised again, it is morning. The same set, in daylight. Sunlight is
coming through the window. The room looks much more welcoming now. From the corridor
come sounds of footsteps, voices and slammed doors. The four patients are sleeping. There is
a knock at the door. Nobody answers. The door is slowly opened and ISABELLA comes in.
At first, she pokes her head in and looks around, then enters, bringing a broom and a dustpan.
She closes the door gently, behind her.]

ISABELLA [smiling, in a half-voice]: Aufstehen! It’s past eight o’clock!

6
From the poem “Autumn Day” by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from German by Stephen Mitchell.
47

[PETER, PUPÁK and DR. HARTH wake up groggily. They stretch, rub their eyes,
then answer drowsily.]

PETER, PUPÁK and DR. HARTH [in a sort of canon]: Good morning.

ISABELLA [amiably]: Good morning, everybody… [Approaching LUDWIG’s bed, she


shakes it. In a full voice now]: Herr Ludwig! [imitating a car horn]: Honk,
honk!… wake up, the coffee is coming! [Suddenly, she stops, frightened, goes
around the bed, leans over LUDWIG and touches his forehead. With a chocked
voice, stammering]: I think… he… he’s dead… I must fetch the doctor. [She
exits hurriedly.]

DR. HARTH [getting out of bed, he leans toward LUDWIG’s bed, looks at the dead man and
says, as to himself]: Ludwig is gone… I’m next…

[Meanwhile, PETER and PUPÁK have left their beds, and neared LUDWIG’s bed.
PETER stops at the foot of the bed, with hung head and eyes brimming with tears, while
PUPÁK sits on the edge of the bed, grabbing the dead man by the shoulders and crying
silently.]

PUPÁK [between tears]: Farewell, Ludwig… rest in peace…

[As PUPÁK speaks, the curtain comes down. PETER appears in the right hand corner
in front of the curtain, carrying a white hospital chair. He sits on it, standing to the side. Over
his pajamas, he is wearing a dressing gown. His hair is freshly combed, still glistening from
water.]

PETER [in a narrating tone]: Isabella had brought the doctor. To no avail. Ludwig had really
died in his sleep; of pulmonary hemorrhage. Then Joseph, the ward trustee
came over, he whom Ludwig sometimes chidingly called “Rabbi Joseph”, on
account of his imposing beard. He made a vow that he would fire that very day
the doctor who had damaged Ludwig’s lung with the pneumothorax needle.
Later, the orderlies came, and they took Ludwig to the hospital morgue…
Isabella made up the bed with fresh linen – she was fairer, paler, more beautiful
than ever – and we were waiting there, curious to find out who our new room
mate should turn out to be… We would have wanted Martinszki to be the one,
but he was nowhere to be found. We’ve had looked for him everywhere, the
laundry room, the morgue, but there was no trace of him. It was assumed that
he hadn’t hanged himself, after all. But he hadn’t returned to his room, either.
48

In the afternoon, after Isabella had cleared the dishes and Pupák had just dozed
off, Mrs. Müller-Hagenkamp came over, with a distressed look. It was only at
noon that she had found out about Martinszki’s disappearance.

[The scene goes dark for a few moments. PETER takes the chair and goes behind the
curtain. Then, the curtain is raised. Again Room 27, in the afternoon light. Everything is spick
and span. LUDWIG’s bed is made up, with fresh linen. PUPÁK is asleep. DR. HARTH is
reading, sitting up in bed. PETER is laying on his side, leafing through a book. Silence. A
light knock at the door.]

PETER [in a low voice]: Herein!

[The door is slowly opened, and MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP comes tiptoeing


into the room. She closes the door carefully, then approaches PETER, and sits down on the
edge of his bed. PETER closes his book, and puts it aside.]

MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP [distressed, in a voice quivering with emotion]: Stefan has


disappeared!

PETER: I know, we have looked for him everywhere… There’s a vacant bed here, and we
would have liked to have him move in, with us.

MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP: It’s not… Ludwig’s?

PETER: Yes… He died… Last night…

MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP: I’m so sorry… Stefan liked him a lot… And I’m afraid
something bad might have happened to Stefan, as well… For some time now,
he has been quite depressed. He kept saying that he didn’t want to go on
living… I’m worried for him. No further than last night, he said that he was
going to hang himself in the laundry room. But he’s not there, either.

PETER: As long as he’s whining out loud, it’s nothing to worry about. The grief, when
exposed in full daylight, brings its own consolation.

MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP: Maybe so… But I’m still afraid. He is so unsteady. Like a
child, left alone in the world… like a balloon, blowing in the wind… His room
mate doesn’t know anything, either. Last night he was here, with you, and he
never went back.
49

PETER [stricken by a thought, with a gleam in his eyes, hesitantly]: Just a second… I think I
know… He once told me that back home, in Reghin – it’s a small town in
Ardeal – he had discovered in the attic an old, worn out armchair, in red chintz,
discarded there… There he had made his safe haven. It was there that he used
to hide from people, from life. He kept it a secret from everybody, even from
his little sister, who was his closest friend. When his father slapped him
around, when he was miserable over having to go to kindergarten, or later, at
school, when he was bested by someone… Whenever somebody upset him or
he felt wronged, even without reason, he took refuge in the red armchair from
the attic… It was there that he went to cry, to vent his grievances. There he had
felt the thrill of the first surreptitious cigarette. It was there as well, that he later
had weaved his first dreams of love…

MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP: But what does Stefan’s disappearance have to do with the
red armchair from his childhood?

PETER: None whatsoever. But with the red armchair from here, from Gauting, it does!

MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP [agitated]: Come on, tell me… quickly…

PETER: A little while back, less than two weeks ago, he had stumbled upon an old lounge
chair, in some remote corner of the hospital’s basement. It was then that he told
me the story of the red armchair… I think we might find him there.

MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP: Do you know the place?

PETER: Yes, I do. Are you coming with me?

MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP: Of course. But hurry!

PETER: Turn a moment to the window, please.

[MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP goes to the window. PETER jumps out of bed, puts
on his socks and slippers, then takes out an dons his dressing gown, from the wardrobe.]

PETER [touching MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP on the shoulder]: We can go, now.

MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP [turning from the window]: That was quick… Let’s go…
[They start toward the door.]

PETER [opening the door, turns toward PUPÁK and DR. HARTH]: We’re going to look for
Martinszki. I hope we’ll be back soon, with him…
50

DR. HARTH [raising his eyes from the book]: Do you know where to find him?

PETER: I think so.

[PUPÁK awakes and stretches. DR. HARTH reads on. PETER and MRS. MÜLLER-
HAGENKAMP get out hurriedly. After the door closes behind them, silence falls for a few
moments; then DR. HARTH reaches a hand to the radio set, fixing a placeholder in the book
with the other.]

DR. HARTH [in a low voice]: Would you mind? If I put on some music?

PUPÁK: Not at all.

[He stretches again, rubs his eyes and runs his fingers through his tousled hair. DR.
HARTH turns on the radio, searches for, and finds a station: fragments from Lehar’s
operettas.]

DR. HARTH: We could do with a little livelier music…

PUPÁK [laconically]: It can’t hurt.

[DR. HARTH starts reading again. The door opens suddenly, and MRS. MÜLLER-
HAGENKAMP and PETER come in.]

PETER [from the door]: He has been there earlier, in the red armchair…

MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP [interrupting]: The lounge chair, to be more specific.

DR. HARTH: Red armchair… red lounge chair… What the hell is the difference? The main
thing is that you’ve found him.

PUPÁK: Is he safe and sound?

PETER: Almost… [He sits on the bed, pulling a chair for MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP.
She sits down too, then PETER continues, calmer, slower.]: It wasn’t us that
had found him… it was an orderly… about an hour ago… there, in the
basement, in a remote corner, in a rickety lounge chair. Holding a half-emptied
brandy bottle, and an empty vial of sleeping tablets.

DR. HARTH: The picture is clear. He took first the sleeping pills, then he drank his fill, for a
last, exquisite dream.

MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP: Don’t laugh at him… The poor boy…

DR. HARTH: I pity him, at the same time… Him, and myself…
51

PUPÁK [smirking, sings in a falsetto]: “His merriment is just a mask” …

PETER [explaining]: Either the vial had not been full, to begin with, or he had not taken the
sleeping pills till almost dawn, the fact remains that he got off unscathed. A
strychnine injection, a little stomach pumping, and he was as good as new.

MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP: Right now, he was in the treatment room. He had already
recovered. I asked the doctor to send him here… in poor Ludwig’s place.

PUPÁK: You did the right thing.

MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP: They’ll bring him down, presently. Take care of him… I’ll
go, now. I don’t want to meet him like that… I’ll visit him later. Good bye,
boys. [She goes to the door. Hand on doorknob, smiling, tenderly]: And…
please, don’t tease him.

DR. HARTH: We’ll take good care of him. Kistihand.

PUPÁK and PETER [in chorus]: Kistihand.

[MRS. MÜLLER-HAGENKAMP goes out. Her hurried footsteps resound, receding


on the corridor.]

DR. HARTH [after a few moments]: Imagine, Martinszki – the last passion of [gesture toward
the door] a faded beauty.

PUPÁK: Don’t be sordid, Doc.

DR. HARTH [mostly to himself]: Suicide… my foot… the snotty brat… he did it like that,
just to do something… like the Palaver… if nothing else, at least some noise,
some excitement, a little anxiety…

PETER [more amenable]: …all he was looking for was a little warmth, a little love… just like
a balloon, blowing in the wind… he needs some ballast, to bring him back to
earth…

PUPÁK: Some ballast… Yeah… Something of a paradox, though… The weight that bounds
one to the ground is, in fact, a fleeting illusion… The ideal, the purpose, the
future… The past, that doesn’t help, no matter how heavy it may weigh.
Mulling over memories brings no solace whatsoever. Making plans,
establishing objectives, acting… that’s the way that brings one back to life, to
the quotidian… I’m making no sense, but I know I’m right.
52

DR. HARTH [slightly ironical]: Wisdom hides at the bottom of the most commonplace
phrases. The question is, is it worth bringing it up, to the surface? And
concerning Martinszki’s comparison with a balloon… Peter is right… A little
love…

[From the corridor comes the sound of shuffling footsteps, approaching unhurriedly.]

PUPÁK: Shush! I think it’s him.

[Someone knocks gently at the door.]

ALL [almost simultaneously]: Herein!

[The door is slowly opened, as far as it can go. MARTINSZKI makes his appearance,
wearing neatly pressed pyjamas, hair freshly combed, pale, ceremonious. He enters the room
in dancing steps and closes the door behind him. His movements are uncertain, as if not fully
recovered from the effect of the sleeping pills.]

MARTINSZKI: Behold, how dancing I salute you! Here I am…

DR. HARTH: Behold, how dancing you’ve returned from the dead… You’d better go to your
bed… [Surprised at the easiness with which he had considered the vacated bed
as MARTINSZKI’s]: …I mean, Ludwig’s bed.

MARTINSZKI [sitting down, alarmed]: Ludwig?…

PUPÁK [sulky, in a low voice]: He’s gone… A dance without an audience… without fanfare,
unassumingly, quietly… While everybody was asleep.

PETER: A car came, to take him away. The driver’s place was empty… He just got in, and
drove away… He didn’t even honk the horn… He went away, unnoticed by
anyone…

MARTINSZKI: Those fated to die, die.

DR. HARTH: Apparently, you weren’t fated to die.

PETER: The rope is uncomfortable, cutting, eh, Stef dear? It seems that a cocktail of sleeping
pills and brandy is much better, isn’t it?

MARTINSZKI: And the waking up isn’t so bad, either. [He lies down]: Though it seems I’m
still drowsy.

PETER: Even with the price of the stomach pumping?


53

MARTINSZKI [pondering the question]: If that’s the price to be paid… With death in the
background, life seems more colorful, more attractive, more brightly
outlined… The upshot of the contrast, no doubt… Open the window, please,
I’m all woozy.

PETER [opens the window, sticks his head out and takes a deep breath]: It’s beautiful
outside!

DR. HARTH: It’s beautiful, yes… Even on the brink of death, one is aware that it’s good to
live, no matter what. Isn’t that so, Stef?

MARTINSZKI: Don’t worry, Doc, you may pull through yet. You care too much for life, and
that’s a big help.

PUPÁK: Let’s find him a love affair!

PETER: Or a lover!

DR. HARTH: I had one. And she died.

MARTINSZKI: Another Isabella.

PUPÁK: There’s only one Isabella in the whole world.

DR. HARTH [ironically]: Also, there’s only one true love… And only Pupák knows it.

PUPÁK [annoyed]: Lay off me!

PETER: Love may be essential, but it doesn’t solve everything. We have to get out of this
contemplative state we’re in.

MARTINSZKI: It’s difficult…

PETER: It may be difficult, indeed, but we must!

PUPÁK: Peter is right. Gradually, we’re getting better…

DR. HARTH [interrupting]: You’re getting better…

PETER [toward DR. HARTH]: Don’t envy us for that. Who knows, you may get well, too…

DR. HARTH [doubtingly, yet hopefully]: Who knows…

PETER: For months on end, we’ve been doing nothing but dredge up the past…

DR. HARTH [intervening]: That’s because we have no present to speak of.


54

PUPÁK [getting up]: I do. [Going to the wardrobe, he lays out his clothes on a chair]: And
it’s waiting for me, at six o’clock.

PETER: How about we attended to the future, for a change?

MARTINSZKI: Not a bad idea, that’s something worth talking about…

DR. HARTH [ironically]: What! And hold another Palaver, I presume?

MARTINSZKI [raising his head, keyed up]: And why not, since we’ve just got used to it…
Let’s hold one… [listening for a moment to the operetta music, coming from
the radio]: …but not on operetta music… and without drums… Doc, find us
some classical music, or some jazz. [DR. HARTH fiddles with the knobs,
searching for a different music.]

PUPÁK: But not right now, you know I have to go…

[He starts dressing up for his rendezvous. From the radio set comes jazz music, which
continues for the rest of the act.]

PETER: Will you be back at nine?

PUPÁK: Yes, and we can talk then… Last night’s Palaver had the theme: “Where Are We
Coming From”. Tonight, we have to discuss “Where Are We Heading To”.
[While talking, he takes out a fresh shirt and a tie, then stops, leaning on the
chair’s back.]

DR. HARTH: We already knew that. It was even stated here… perhaps even more aptly.

PETER: Doc, it was easy for the ancient Greek to say wise things. In their time, almost all the
well articulated ideas were personal, original, unprecedented. It’s much harder
for Pupák… Almost all the wise things have already been thought out, and
even expressed by others, before him. So, let him repeat them… Or even create
them anew, though this doesn’t absolve him of plagiarism.

DR. HARTH: You’re right. That’s why I’d rather we refrained from philosophizing. For those
overly self-aware, thinking itself becomes mere posturing.

PUPÁK [interrupting the doctor, in a rational tone]: You’re wandering too far off the subject.
The point is, do we hold a Palaver tonight, or don’t we?

MARTINSZKI [raising his voice]: We do… we do… [declaiming]: And give us this evening
our nightly Palaver…
55

PUPÁK [energetically]: Silence! The topic shall be: “Where Are We Heading To”.

DR. HARTH: To choose a way, to decide… It horrifies me.

PETER: There are chances you won’t have to make any choice… Perhaps your way is already
chosen for you…

DR. HARTH: Don’t you see? By choosing, one is getting older… Every choice one makes
excludes thousands of other possibilities, every choice made reduces a
thousand times one’s options.

PUPÁK: Maybe so. But if one is to go on, one’s got to make a choice among the venues
offered. One has to choose, not to accept whatever is handed to him.

PETER: Pupák is right. Those thousand possibilities must be sacrificed, for the sake of one
single fulfillment… Life is not contemplation, or literature, but action.

DR. HARTH: Maybe so, for those 20 years old. For me, life has become mainly literature. I
cast my vote for the thousand possibilities… To stand back, to wait, to
observe… to know that all the options are still open.

MARTINSZKI: Or have became all closed, willy-nilly. Anyway, I’m for holding the Palaver.

PETER: Likewise.

PUPÁK: Me too. [Meanwhile, he has concluded his preparations to go. He checks one more
time his hair in a pocket mirror, propped up on the table.]

DR. HARTH: Then, Palaver we shall have!

MARTINSZKI [getting up, steady on his legs now, with festive gestures and in a solemn
voice]: Therefore, behold myself, how dancing I announce… I mean, I
proclaim: Tonight, we shall hold a Palaver. I’ll come by at nine… [He goes to
the door in festive dancing steps, then suddenly, returns to his bed, still
dancing]: …I mean… [stammering] I forgot… that I lived here… from now,
on… [He sits down on the edge of the bed.]

PUPÁK [ready to leave]: I’ll be back at nine, then.

MARTINSZKI [getting up brusquely]: Hold on, Pupák, wait for me!

PUPÁK [with a hand on the doorknob]: What do you want? You know I’m in a hurry.

MARTINSZKI [more and more agitated]: I’ll hurry, too. I’m coming with you.
56

DR. HARTH: At rendezvous with Isabella? In pyjamas?

MARTINSZKI: That’s right, you moribund, at rendezvous, but not with Isabella, and not in
pyjamas. I’ll go up to my former quarters, for some clothes. [He starts for the
door.]

PUPÁK: It will take too long… Good bye.

MARTINSZKI: Then… [he thinks for a moment] …I’ll just put on Ludwig’s gray suit… we
are the same build…

DR. HARTH [interjecting]: Ludwig no longer has a “build”.

PUPÁK [still with a hand on the doorknob, impatient]: Then do it quickly! [He goes to the
wardrobe and opens the door]: Here, let me help you. [He takes out
LUDWIG’s gray suit, and throws it to MARTINSZKI.]: Catch!
[MARTINSZKI catches the suit in midair, and lays it out on the bed.] Here,
take a shirt and tie from Doc, his are better looking. [He throws over a yellow
shirt and a dark tie, which MARTINSZKI catches, and prepares to put them
on.]

MARTINSZKI [briskly]: Thanks, Pupák. I’ll be ready in a jiffy. [He dresses up feverishly,
shielded from view by the open wardrobe doors.]

DR. HARTH [displeased]: You can thank Pupák for Ludwig’s suit, but the shirt and tie are
mine. Have you buried me too, already?

PETER: You’re upsetting yourself over nothing, Doc, can’t you see that he’s got off his
rocker? A few hours ago he wanted to die… and now… he’s racing for life.

MARTINSZKI: Just so, Doc, Peter is right. I’m off my rocker… forgive me… Thank you,
too… It’s just that I long for air, for green things. Healthy people… girls’
laughter…

DR. HARTH: What’s the matter? Doesn’t Mrs. Müller-Hagenkamp laugh, too? There’s no
need to go off half-cocked for such a trifle…

MARTINSZKI: I want to hear laughter, ringing like thousands of bells…

PETER: Mrs. Müller-Hagenkamp represents the past, Doc.

MARTINSZKI: Yes, the past… however dear she was to me… Isabella and her friends are
our generation… the present, and…
57

DR. HARTH [slightly ironical]: …and the future… and most of all, with more attractive
thighs…

MARTINSZKI [finishing his interrupted sentence]: …and now, I want to love, not to be
loved… [with a gesture toward PUPÁK]: I want to be the one who chooses…

DR. HARTH: Proust says…

PUPÁK [interrupting him]: Proust doesn’t say anything, anymore! And neither are you…
[taking MARTINSZKI by the arm and pulling him toward the door]: Come on!
Or stay to debate literary matters, if you will, but don’t make me wait for you!

MARTINSZKI [on his way to the door]: Good bye, Doc. We’ll be back at nine!

DR. HARTH [taking from the night stand a Shakespeare volume, and preparing to read]: May
the devil take care of you!

[PUPÁK and MARTINSZKI go out, the door is noisily shut, and the curtain is
lowered.]

THE END
58

Bibliography

- The poem “Kinsman of Death” by Endre Ady, translated from Hungarian by Anton N.
Nyerges, from “Poems by Endre Ady”, the Hungarian Cultural Foundation, Buffalo,
N.Y., 1969.

- The poem “A Butterfly I Murder!” by Endre Ady, translated from Hungarian by Rene
Bonnerjea, from “Ady: Poems”, Ed. Vajna-Bokor, Budapest, 1941.

- The poem “The Great Treasurer” by Endre Ady, translated from Hungarian by Eugene
C. Bard, from “Endre Ady: Selected Poems”, Hieronymus Verlag Neurid, München,
1987, in the series Veröffentlichen des Finnisch-Ungarischen Seminars an der
Universitat München. Serie C: Miscellanea. ISBN 3-88893-035-9.

- The poem “Razglednica 4” by Miklos Radnoty, translated from Hungarian by Peter


Zollman, from “In quest of the miracle stag. Seven centuries of Hungarian poetry”,
Ed. Adam Makkai.

- The poem “Autumn Day” by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from German by Stephen
Mitchell, from “The Selected Poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke”, Random House.