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eva svankmajerová ˇ
translated from the Czech by Gwendolyn Albert
illustrated by the author and Jan ·vankmajer
twisted spoon press
Copyright © Eva ·vankmajerová, 2000 English translation copyright © Gwendolyn Albert, 2000 Illustrations copyright © Jan ·vankmajer; Eva ·vankmajerová, 2000 Copyright © Twisted Spoon Press, 2000 All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be used or reproduced in any form, except in the context of reviews, without written permission from the publisher.
In Optimistic Cave there are nine such regions. The largest, measured by corridor length, is forty kilometers long, the smallest only two. Each region represents one phase of discovery of subterranean secrets, and in each the speleologists ran a camp, where they lived during their explorations. They fixed it up for themselves and those who followed so that one could sleep there, and they left behind everything necessary for cooking. Maybe it’s strange, but besides the kitchen there is no geographical room there; however, I have a big map. I came upon it one day because they didn’t want it in the office. They probably would have thrown it away, but I took precedence over the wastebasket, and the map is now mine. It attracts the attention of everyone who comes to visit me. “Hang on, let me look at it, where is . . . here I was reading . . .” say the visitors, bringing their eyes closer to the mixture of colors and forms, of lines and parallels, from which I am created. They are surprised at what I have here and there, some of them especially don’t understand why I dye my beautiful, wavy, dark blonde hair black, a totally dark color. But I’ll explain that later. Overall, they’re all willing to compare notes from their reading on the phenomenon of girls and to supplement their reading topographically. I should be prepared to provide my own instruction. But who wants to be instructed about something else? I am a world they may gaze at daily. Once I enjoyed a building situated next to a wall, a very icy wall, on which there might have been an actual layer of ice. One leg covered with a real down comforter, stuffed to bursting with the feathers of plucked birds, and the other on that ice. All the continents and parallels flowed through my circulatory system, all the seas and oceans flowed along the shipping lanes of my (at that time) passionate heart. All I had to do was fall asleep with closed eyes, and then to take a glance from each evening and engrave
on my memory the names and self-consciousness of those farthest away. Human settlements and the flow of rivers brought me to a gigantic desert and mountains. Much has been said about the supposed beauty of the green lowlands around the Elbe, straight as a ruler, and the real blueness somewhere in the hills. About the impenetrable paths. The glow of the wrapped-up Orient. But I didn’t stay like that too long; I needed to grow, and in order to do this I had to protect myself from my mother. I had to approach this strategically from the very beginning of my existence. Getting up out of a warm sleeping bag is one of the most unpleasant sensations there is. From warmth and dryness I change into my damp clothes. All around is the impenetrable darkness, which usually gets on the nerves of anyone who hasn’t had enough experience in caves. The darkness, however, was soon pierced with the rays of light from the lamps of those who raised me, or rather those who didn’t beat me to death as I was growing. They let me grow with precision. The lamps light up the clusters of plaster crystals decorating the walls and the small nooks. There is an infinite range of candidates for the most various professions, but who would want to be a mere map? Even if there is a shortage of maps in the world. Nature was the model for my forms, in the very best sense of the word. He walked ahead into the residential cave, which was decorated with spectacular stones and the glittering fragments of a mess. He was in a hurry. “Do you have the papers with you?” “They’re in my briefcase.” “Good, we have to take care of it today, no matter what. There’s no time to waste.” “What happened?” “I couldn’t say on the phone, The Map doesn’t know if she’s been bugged, and by whom. But I tried to suggest something to
her. I thought she would understand. The dance, by all the goats!” Frau Ludmila was almost screeching. He was upset, it was hard for him to control his voice. This new stepfather appeared a bit nervous. Ludmila tried to squeeze through the door face forward, but such an operation was better executed sideways. “Here’s your new Daddy, Milada,” she roared. Rather, he grabbed Milada by the collar of her nightgown and dragged her out into the great hall — Frau Mother simply couldn’t fit into the children’s room. They sat the girl down on the couch, for the time being not threatening her or even demanding anything. There was an air of exhaustion between them. This stepfather was very principled, he would never allow a Czech woman to get a hold of liquor or cigarettes. In his opinion, females should not work too much, nothing of the sort. Later he asked Milada to call him “Daddy.” Dear Daddy, she thought. You could have moved to the attic like any other poor old guy . . . the peace and quiet of old age . . . leaving your work . . . not bothering people . . . You will be our quiet companion. Mommy is not unreasonably nice and can go into some of the corridors. Converse a little, protect them from bad influences. The world from which she came. This is not possible, thought the stepfather. This Map, Milada, was now to be his daughter. This couldn’t be his task, to act as the patron of such an accidented, obstinate, grown-up child. To punish her. Pay for her driving lessons. Teach her about materialism. The history of the corridors, some of them so dark as to be black, but most of them white and translucent. They create bands, stars, sparkling mosaics. The wide corridor full of white crystals is therefore called The Milky Way. It rises up at the border of another local region, called Anaconda, at the maze of narrow, canal-like corridors, inside of which there is only enough space for an explorer to crawl. Only an exceptionally slim person can fit in many of the places there . . . Milada’s stepfather had been underweight his whole life. The
corridors were not short; in some it was damp, wet, or there were the actual sources of rivers, which we anxiously locate on The Map as they ooze by somewhere overhead. But we’re very lucky, because the border stones hold all of this bounty in their embrace, beyond the scope of our responsibility. Time no time, to exist for life, for anything. By now we have heard all sorts of biased news, all of it certainly invented. About the dances they smashed from underground in order to flood and drown the subterranean camps. About evacuated villages. The broken-down nuthouses, dilapidated housing estates, people drowning in the middle of the night, and the countless times one could have gone around the Chuchle racetrack against the flow. On the right musical hammers are hidden, from the left the roofs of cars or construction sites stick up. Lone trees braving the current, which dammed up the roads, broke down fences and walls, buried fields and gardens in a welter of sludge. We could show on The Map how the cloud systems connected with the subterranean systems and contributed tons of water to the damage. And a dirty line was left on more than one house at window level. On the ground floor level the festivities would carry away mud from the forest to the down comforters, and the fences and columns on construction sites would buckle to the ground. The production cooperative Elko has a machine shop right on the grounds of the raj enterprise (the state-run restaurants and canteens), which would have swamped it with lathes up to a height of two meters. The grinders are covered with a layer of oily sediment, which from all indications fell on the precisely honed surfaces of the machines. I touch a lathe-bed, and instead of the smooth surface of a sheet I feel a considerably damaged material. Even the locker for the electrical equipment is now full of mud. For me, vacation usually meant carrying pails full of mud, and anxiously eyeing the Maps of rust on the machines. The disaster came from the chasms between the trees. On the other side the âapek Brothers Museum is sadly
quiet; clearly, someone was afraid that his fish would swim away. In Beroun the worst is over at the bus station. Vehicles are being used for transportation again, instead of the rowboats from the devastated gardens. The tennis courts were gathered together into one red mound on the riverbank. We’ve gone more than one hundred kilometers. The dance has not exactly defeated us. “I would’ve been frightened to death,” said Mother, and coquettishly hiked up her nightgown so as to show her shaking thighs and beyond. “You’ve been reading a lot today,” she added. “But you haven’t read enough, otherwise we wouldn’t be sitting in this hole right now,” yapped Milada, machine gun-style. “Everyone here has enough to eat,” growled Ludmila and, smoothing her skirt, tried to proudly walk through the doorway. She knocked into the opening head-on and then, with a little more composure, squeezed through sideways. The skinny stepfather meekly followed her. “Good night, Daddy,” squeaked Milada, just as unbearably as any other brat. Times change. Gone are the days when inside his own fortress a fearless squire could grow herbs to ward off evil, to protect against scenes or iron maidens, to burst open chains manacles and fetters . . . Several years ago one could observe a definite rejuvenation, even in the depths of Baradla, where winter lasts three-quarters of the year and the earth is frozen through to a depth of several meters and never thaws. This rejuvenation was due to the construction of a transportation system. The orderly, free-flowing supply of materials, which is especially important in the burrows (as if it weren’t important elsewhere!) was arranged for one hundred eighty drivers at the so-called Mound of Love, not far from a highway development with little houses set up, where apparently one could sometimes even live with families. When the construction was completed the
drivers preferred to move most of their relatives to Yakutsk. At first it seemed that a great and important city was soon likely to expand; then they slacked off on the work. But the tracks were laid shortly beforehand, with enormous effort, in a rush, and then torn up and carted away. Yet nothing was forgotten, because new inhabitants turned up, geologists and geometers, and they had to learn everything from someone and remember it. Thus the number of inhabitants sharply increased — suddenly there were ten times as many. It’s not surprising that the local populations all but call themselves the capital, after all, each is as big as Bohemia and Moravia combined, but officially no such title as “capital” will ever be given to anyone. As far as looks are concerned, they’ve got a long way to go before it’s a city. The inhabitants must be content with more modest conditions. The holes are overcrowded and stacked one on top of another. They are called the “little towers” under the Mound of Love. It couldn’t be helped; all the new people meant new work for Frau Ludmila and a new stepfather for Milada, who stuck to her like glue. The other female inhabitants, even though they had been protected from the outside world for almost the whole of their existence, looked like worn-out peasant women, and almost all of them were without teeth. They never went to the dentist, the city was too far away, and actually there wasn’t any real city, that is, not any properly completed city. And no dentist would set up practice in a cave, anyone can guess that. Besides, there’s that law about dentists now, where they’re not allowed to practice their profession independently. And there are many of them. All of this causes one’s appearance to suffer; it just makes for a breeding-ground of germs poorly masticated food and spoiled digestion. Frau Ludmila, of course, did not have such backward problems. She was still a fine, rather well-built female. She too lacked a tooth here and there, naturally, but everyone was always glad to admire her smile.
The big restaurant area was cheerfully decorated with flowers and ribbons, and when Frau Ludmila walked in it was actually overcrowded. Everyone jumped up to congratulate her or call out “This way, please,” leading her underneath a bell made out of flowers. The dogs are at your heels and they’ll hunt you to death and if you don’t get rid of them soon, you never will. She used to think, pouring herself. Everything about her is overwhelming and overdone, her daughter said to herself. Ludmila stood on her feet for hours and each shoe pinched too tight for her, even her heart. Sometimes she ate something and didn’t even realize it. The first thing that bothered Milada about her mother’s marriage was that the guy wasn’t worth much, he was lazy: he either had schizophrenia or permanent leukemia. He behaved like a former director. She was absolutely certain that she must do everything in her power not to come into contact with him; she realized that to protect her own mental health, her new patron must not become the central problem of her life. The rail line at the Nymburk train station is like a tree whose trunk has been uprooted, but which branches out and extends to God knows where. The first railway here was built when Egypt was part of the Ottoman Empire and someone, they say, was ruling in Nymburk. In later centuries some other people attained ever greater influence there, and their enemies tried to foil their plan, when they were precisely the ones who needed to shorten the lengthy journey home. It was still possible to send goods by water, because the city is intersected by the famous river Elbe; they were probably sent by sailboat and then in caravans across the sandy plains populated by Polabians, people of the Elbe. Transportation there is slow, tedious, complicated, and therefore also expensive. This is the reason Milada’s stepfather offered to repair the rail line to Nymburk. After long negotiations, and despite the resistance of his enemies, he won the agreement. He entrusted the management of the repairs to Robert Stephenson, son of George Stephenson, the inventor of the steam
locomotive, and the owner of a locomotive factory in Newcastle. They worked on the line for five years as compulsory labor under the supervision of foremen. The line was supposed to facilitate the cheap transport of vegetables from the fields and also guarantee connection with other holes. The flat valley of the Elbe is not unfavorable for a rail line, since the route follows the mighty river’s banks for kilometers, cutting across its twists and turns. But misery loves company, and the transport takes as long as if a transition to using horses has in fact occurred and just needs to be formally enacted. Probably no one will ever get rid of the confusion; the goods are transferred to a river boat or are misappropriated, or with the assistance of unskilled laborers are sent either to other destinations or directly to the square to be burned when spoiled. Every ten meters, if you are a stranger to those parts, you think you must be in a new station. Travelers often suffer from a lack of water even though, or rather because, the completed parts of the line were immediately liquidated. So it is temporarily possible to travel through this landscape at a speed of 2 meters every two days — of course, it was hastily repaired under exceptionally difficult conditions. At this point one could be highly critical in evaluating petty musings on the futility of our transient existence, yet here one truly Great Lady was destroyed. There is such a dearth of truly Great Ladies, especially in regions such as this, that we cannot ignore this tragedy without at least batting an eyelash. I will not describe this elderly girl as a corpulent person of immoderate size, even though it would not be far from the truths afflicting this balding, quiet, (actually mute) person. Each of our dear readers has been to a party by now. The reader knows that these usually take place in apartments that have been purged of those who are less bearable, and usually for some worthwhile occasion. The best ones are in states that have some sort of tradition and anniversaries to consecrate. Because a brandnew nation has practically no reason to stop working from time to
time and indulge in something, or allow the young people to let off a little steam. The train cars practically didn’t move at all on the track that misty evening. It wasn’t entirely clear if they were in fact individual units connected by iron buttons to the snaky tail of a train that was leaving. It seemed that these individual cubbyholes were abandoned and probably destined for the Great Lady, who would introduce the tradition of celebration. A celebration proper. For years this woman seemed to be sewn together out of several others, dyed, tastelessly painted goggling eyes colossal nostrils fleshy lips, a woman who constantly carried around a stuffed swan, with which she drove away the Polabian gadflies, an enemy, or the polluted air. Any young or mentally incapacitated person might imagine that life’s only charm is to chase two abandoned, albeit intelligent, well-fed, well-groomed, and on the whole healthy people, preferably of different sexes, into some lonely spot and lock them up in either an abandoned apiary or a storage shed for canoes, or a disused train car. The time I am going to describe has already passed us by. In those days the Great Lady was still one of those whose tight, shiny blouse set the place on fire or ennobled the minds of every officer whom she rubbed up against. She would return from her walks completely refreshed, the slut, or at least I hope so. The greasy sweat of each one of the visits she conducted during the ride through the city of Nymburk probably lingers on in the red-hot oven of the train car. Each of the one hundred twenty travelers who was alone with her during a single evening in the fog of the lowlands, traveled through paradise. At twilight, when she left her clean little room and headed in the direction of the tracks, she looked like any other daydreamer taking an evening walk to gather a few herbs for tea, or some weeds for the rabbits. She walked. In that worthy region of early mornings, leaves raked
into piles and roosters crowing, it’s not safe to let the rancor of one’s fellow-citizens go without a scare. To gush, like mineral water springing forth. To let fall a word, or two! In that flat region of blue skies one is not allowed to leave beautiful pieces of underwear on the bushes. Still, she walked. Impudent, she dared to sigh somehow. She was unbending. Not slavishly worn out, maybe she’ll just lie down on the stuffed crimson seat of car no.1 and bring a little bull along with her. The entire flatland desired her death, exactly as if she were sauntering around the cobblestoned hills of a ÎiÏkov hamlet with the same attitude of freedom. Oh, God. But the trains in these regions saunter along so lackadaisically that it is no problem at all to visit them in the evening. It’s true that some of the guys did their best to conduct the whole affair on correct terms, or at least to give it the correct form, as is required around the Elbe. They jabbered something about their savings, about joint property and living beings. They portrayed their plans as a kind of assistance in times of need. They intended, or rather pretended they intended, to form a cooperative. They ponderously pronounced all this gobbledygook before sticking their good, hard dicks where they belonged. The Great Lady had no thought of making money during these balmy evenings, not to mention letting herself be locked up for life in some Polabian pantry. Simply put, the upholstered, nearly empty train slowly drove past here and there, and only the last remaining vestiges of fear that people would talk prevented the fat housewives from throwing stones at it, stones collected from their fertile gardens. From beneath the gooseberries and the fuchsias. They continued to speak just as saccharinely as ever on their front porches, their arms crossed over their aproned bellies, below their bosoms. They spoke with ill will, watching the rattling, illuminated train car with bloodthirsty pointedness. The car could just up and leave, and inside of it, they suspected, others, and not the best ones, were getting joy out of life.
When it happened from time to time that someone would step out of the train, carrying luggage, either alone or in a crowd, he would march in the direction of one of the housewives. They were regularly informed in advance if such a person were arriving, and they could all see in what direction his dealings would take and what it would lead to. But the evening trips of the Great Lady were something completely different! Something aggressive, aimed directly at the peacefully dozing factories and those parceled-out pieces of land, sometimes full of labor, sometimes full of crops. It is difficult to convince an envious, unfulfilled heart not to care. It doesn’t work. Haven’t housewives been wasted at their stoves for all these centuries? Haven’t they been robbed through the ages of everything that even remotely resembles a truly lived life, didn’t they have every right to feel the pangs of the cheated in those moments when they saw the Great Lady start walking towards that passing snake, the train with all its gleaming, glittering, golden windows? And the men? They pretended to know very little about her. But something twinkled in the corner of their eyes, as if no river flowed through here at all. And anyone who ever saw the locomotive and understood the meaning of change — and the strange thing is, it was best understood only by certain people on this earth — felt his heart beat faster. As soon as the Great Lady, proceeding on her way, listened a while to those dusky moments; as soon as the young, captive girls heard her clear footsteps; as soon as the bell tolled for those who felt nothing; as soon as those who were indentured stopped weaving their horrible tapestries; while the lady schoolteachers corrected gross errors; while the male schoolteachers packed the coal into the cellars; while the rabbit got dandelions and it became time to dry the poppy seeds: in such a hot age the clattering of shoes, no matter how quiet, was a crime, a shameful audacity, and a direct attack on the floodgates. The dangerous days all flowed into this volcanic moment, as did the nights. Those who are capable
of saying just about anything in order to steal some moments of existence in this quiet horror we silently regard as they are just about to mutilate the Lady, while pretending to be just hunting down a trophy. At first she cried, she was already at the end. Then she got used to it. What else? She had to. Whether she wanted to or not. She had to. They still talk about it in the Nymburk area to this day. They also celebrate it, and in honor of the celebration the trains run slowly. Everyone looks forward to this holiday. At the very start of living together with his new family, composed of Frau Ludmila and her, or Jóstaf’s daughter, Milada, Stepfather made a big mistake. He went to great lengths to satisfy all of their frivolous, conflicting wishes and needs. His family grew used to his being an office of sorts where they were to apply for the fulfillment of all their needs and aspirations, an office that was required to dedicate itself entirely to their fulfillment, and to like it no matter what. Sometimes he hid under the bed or in some other crevice, maybe between boards, and listened, barely breathing, to what both ladies said about him. In general he was usually scared completely out of his wits. It was true that the whole affair of repairing the Nymburk rail line had become somewhat complicated and protracted, but otherwise what both of the women had to say about him was simply not true. And how they threatened him! At times it seemed that their talk had nothing to do with him; reason alone could not explain why they devised such horrifying schemes for him, he who always did his best to help them, or at least somehow please them. But one must either adapt or die, so Stepfather grew to like it under the bed. He liked all of the stories the ladies told about him, now in a whisper, now out loud, which somehow motivated them to perpetrate even greater, more horrible torments upon him. Stepfather lay there, quiet as a mouse, and realized that he
wasn’t all that afraid of them; he didn’t even believe them capable of really carrying out their threats, even though by now it was completely clear to him that starting up a life with these two furies signaled his approaching demise. Living on that stony ground, without enough air in the cave and no view, was already too much. He was protected from above by the mattresses, but the frightening molecules of both ladies were all over these as well. Stepfather began to waste away. It didn’t get him anywhere. The truth is, the ladies gave him very little food in his bowl and awful things to drink. Focal points of tension are found today throughout the world, and the bed under which Stepfather hid remained a corner of danger. From a quantitative perspective he felt overpowered whenever he looked out from under the bed. But we should realize that if Stepfather stayed in the same situation for several months, if not years, then what a difficult test it was for him. If it was a test at all, if it was not simply a horrible punishment. And what for? Because of a railway station that doesn’t work? Or the destruction of the Great Lady? Stepfather had not seen his friends for a long time, he hadn’t gone to visit them even though he always had a good time with some of them. He would rather sit in a comfortable chair or climb over the picket fence. When he was young he had conversed with the neighbors and also with one married architect. He even remembered how he had fumbled for their doorbell once. Looking in vain for a button to push. He had seen a shiny brass rounded thing, but that couldn’t have been the bell. Was he even in the right place? After all, instead of a concrete wall as a fence there were sheets of smoke, with old bars in between them for decoration. But then — his friends were there. They stood before him, a little heavier than before, but in brand-new jeans. The lawn was a carpet of perfect green. There were two cars in the garage, and marble in the foyer through which I walked, now in house slippers, to a room with armchairs stately as ships marshaled around a fireplace in which
birch logs were neatly stacked. There were enchanting bottles of alcohol along two walls and three lonely books in expensive bindings. They jabbered on about tv programs, dropping words here and there about what to acquire where, what was in fashion, who this or that singer was going out with, someone whose name I had never even heard before. They had subordinated their life to objects; a concrete wall divided them from their neighbors. They were completely closed up in their own world. At other times, he felt completely different, such as when climbing a gradual slope full of modern little villas in Moravian Slovakia. He noticed that each one had a vineyard and the people who worked on it then went to relax in the wine cellar, calling to their neighbors for help across the fence so they would come for at least one glass. He observed how modernity is connected with tradition and everyday life there, which makes it easier and more pleasant, and only every so often did a rodent wink at him. How big rats are today! Frail and delicate, Stepfather was always afraid, as if he thought something might suddenly happen to him there. Sometimes his childhood girlfriends invited him over too, hoping that he would so fall in love with at least one of them that he would pamper her. But he was interested in all girls. They all reminded him of some sort of plant, moist, full of holes, dependent on insects for its existence. Only the calm, swollen Frau Ludmila seemed like a safe harbor into which he could sail and be sweetly cradled. Only she seemed secure and warm to him, like a heavy duvet beneath which he rested, well-tended and safe from the world. This lady seemed not to have any warlike tendencies, nor any tendencies to catty craftiness like those snaky foreign girls did. And in a way he wasn’t incorrect. He was now cut off from the world by the powerful body sitting or lying above him, insulating him against inclement weather. A problem developed when the lady tried to get at him, or grabbed at him; of course she couldn’t fit under her own
bed, so the complication usually was reduced to a stick that she used to ferret him out, poking and prodding him. Luckily that little frog map Milada was afraid to go under the bed because of sewer-rats, so she couldn’t use her glibness against him. Now and then he smiled at them, as if he were immeasurably amused by his situation, even though an unpleasant feeling, bordering on anxiety, never left him. He basically lacked nothing, maybe just a little light, which was truly sporadic under the bed, or a more varied diet. Sometimes he regretted his inclination to trust his wife, who had driven him into this position; sometimes he was moved to remember all of the different possibilities of being which had passed him by, never to return, and which he could not master, because nothing came his way under the bed. He didn’t want to run away from Ludmila or otherwise betray her. He just mumbled something to himself about how he had imagined married life to be a little more lively than this. He was always touched to realize that the bed above his head was occupied, that the way it moved and squeaked meant that they were guarding him, protecting him somehow. But then again, he told himself that he wasn’t an ass and he didn’t have to put up with this, if he could just quickly creep out, slip away and run off like an athlete. The lady was especially occupied in certain situations, at least by the movements of her buttocks he judged her to be so busy with her visitors that she wouldn’t be able to jump after him. But the only problem was that beyond the doors of her room there was always a line of petitioners, solicitors, people who wanted something, and it was always a long one. It seemed improbable to him that he could explain to all those bored, waiting people that he had to get into a hole which would be too narrow for her. It didn’t seem logical that those people would grasp such a concept right away. They all looked slightly red-faced, stupid, and they usually held a shiny, transparent little balloon or some other sheath in their hands; if they were to toss those beneath his feet he would certainly slip and fall.
This is how Stepfather’s character was actually ruined. Against his own wishes he had become a hypocrite, smiling from under the bed. Sometimes he tried to imagine what would happen if he were to crawl out and call “Sweetheart?” Would they understand that they could talk about the ordinary things that had happened during the day, about the abundance of their better traits? He reflected on whether it could happen: a new, more worthwhile style of family life that would be enriched by what one knows, by what a family really is, intrinsically. But he could already hear the lady yelling at him about how he doesn’t even know how to repair the Nymburk train station and that she ruined her life when she tied herself to such an inimitably undesirable individual, that he is a husband who’s no longer a human being, that he’s merely a consumer and user of her things, that he’s surrounded himself with the hoe, the chair, the beer jug, the television, the drinking glass and shoe. They brought him tea and cookies. He drank and ate ravenously, at the same time sorry that one of them had not yet been run over by a tram. Maybe, he told himself, if he fled right at this moment, they would say that they had been living with a mere criminal who was only interested in their cookies. Women are illogical, they have to be overwhelmed from time to time with an act of generosity. When they took the dishes away, they told one another how odd his gluttony was when he hardly ever moved and did no work at all. One evening the unbelievable happened. Someone called him on the phone. They bent down under the bed to give him the news. He was so confused that he actually crawled out from his lair and took the receiver in order to carry on a conversation with another person. Stepfather was visibly frightened, because he was told that the ten hectare stony meadow, where just yesterday there had been a colorful palette of tents, was now turned into a deserted space. The buses were driving off. The inhabitants of Baradla walked through the spaces where the tents had stood, observing with joy
that not even a scrap of paper had been left behind. Stepfather was then requested by telephone to surrender those papers.
The most fantastic things in us lose and acquire meaning so easily it’s frightening. The Twins were born without changing much in Baradla’s life at all. What Baradla effected with her being was just as obvious, or as futile, as the pale dawn of morning, or the noontime slaughter of an old goat in the country. Baradla long ago spliced her moments by mixing something, like the slave who is a rich man seeking painful boredom. Or was she looking for something in the mud? Nobody knows. Into the circle of her life beings fell in order that they might more or less successfully start existing they were named The Twins. Just like Marie, nobody much looked after these two children of Jóstaf’s. The only thing missing from this affair was that heartrending ludicrousness which would have meant that, one day in the future, Baradla could reproach herself for not doing everything possible to find a way to make life more bearable. There was no such way. No way whatsoever. The Twins, however, were malicious slow inactive cantankerous covetous and insatiable. No one should ever call children innocent. They possess so much human misery that it can’t all fit inside them, and it stinks all around them, obstructing the way and poisoning the air. These tiny, horrible monsters are, on top of everything else, the clutches of a fate which torments the parents to such extent it’s shameful (if there is a modicum of decency in them), not just with the trifles that erupt the moment the babe sticks its bloody little head out of the hole, but with problems of a more fundamental nature. It’s not just that a grown child will simply announce some rather basic resolutions to its dear
ones, such as, perhaps, that it is going to cart them away so that, in their place, there will be room available for some different purpose. But let’s also notice that, basically, the child is constantly making an attempt on the mental health of the mother. Now and then the child even unbalances the father. But, in an odd way, fathers are psychologically better equipped in many cases. There is nothing better in a person than courage, but it’s not courageous to let other people into your belly, this is a different, protracted kind of guile, which rarely ends otherwise than in bitter disappointment. All that talk of sublime nobility is nothing but bullshit. It’s not really about the horrible expenditures connected with the whole affair, only with the vanity of the whole activity. It’s not really about the slavery of these stupid years, when one has to vomit forth goodness with the persistence of a machine gun; it’s just that I think it’s all for nothing, Baradla often told herself, sinking deeper and deeper into the mud so her fastidious young wouldn’t come after her. Of course it would be easier to get rid of them, which would in no way be original, unwarranted or strange. What was strange was that Baradla suffered them even though she knew that she wouldn’t be free of them until the decrepitude of old age, if she even made it that far. She didn’t have bad memories of Jóstaf, she was actually glad that he hadn’t changed anything in the children’s care, on which she had already expended so much effort. Although afterwards, in moments of desperation over her dim activity, she sincerely wished he would take the children with him. Of course she could have just abandoned them, like some women do. She wasn’t afraid of the opinions against her that this would have provoked. In any event, even the prevailing opinions weren’t worth much. Nor was she stopped by fears of solitude. It caused her neither inner emptiness nor tired sorrow. Their stupid defenselessness was probably the reason she kept them — strange, dangerous, half-friendly and completely in need. Maybe she wasn’t capable of abandoning someone
as long as they hadn’t completely pissed her off, or maybe there was some other, possibly biological, reason. Strangely, the presence of The Twins in Baradla’s life was acknowledged by others with a sort of malicious joy, as if it were one of her episodes of insanity or some other lapse. Perhaps it had been expected of a girl, formerly so beautiful, that she would screw her way around the globe. The general impression was that she had been deprived of such a brilliant possibility by these little idiots. As the moments passed, she kept herself from disclosing, especially to the young, her intention to discover whether anything made sense, and if so, what. Every so often she took a slow walk to prove to herself that there are moments of existence that, although we are living through them, to remember would not destroy us. She used to look at one particular swamp, so old and withered that everyone fled it in a panic. They fled as if the plague had broken out. Maybe they knew where they were rushing off to. Maybe. Some of them. The swamp exhaled a fog of shame and hopelessness all the way down to the exit road. A panic which Baradla could sense. As if almost everyone had become a boat waiting near the floodgate, ready to sail. At such moments she usually felt as if she had been painted green, yellow, blue and red. The truth was that Baradla eternally never had anything to wear, she had no shoes and no real profession — all she did was swear that everyone stole from her and similar nonsense. She grew fat, her voice coarsened, she was under the constant impression that she was going to die soon. Not that she was definitely ill with some specific disease, she wasn’t even tortured by pangs of conscience over something she hadn’t done well. It was just that her head was foggy from the swamp vapor. It filled her lungs and bedewed her lashes with mold. At times she seemed on the verge of asking The Twins for advice on how to be an enthusiastic admirer of something or someone. But The Two didn’t know enthusiasm. It wasn’t in their nature — or had they been tinged with her
blues, her distrust? Maybe the children should have been taken away from her, but because this would have suited her, considering that she was quite sly, they preferred to leave the little darlings with her — let her do what she liked with them. It occurred to her, on top of everything else which was adventurous for her nature, to get them a suitable little house where they could grow up in an uninhibited, natural way. From that time forward, Baradla wore on her spine a magical little house at the very center of the idyll. Such houses give free rein to fantasy, and in one it is possible to mend or show out a guest, and it would be a lie not to mention that one could also wake up. He tore up the boards over the course of ten years so he could put in a bathtub, and to this end he wanted to tear down the tree, but then his heart took pity on it. One day, if he’s crawling, the building cannot be dragged along anymore, but on other days he sleeps there in his shell. She discussed the matter with her boyfriend, and so she became a well-off relative with plenty of obligations. The truth is that throughout her whole life she made less money than she had to spend, and only thanks to the conscientious Polabian schoolteachers. Who wouldn’t have wanted? To be served courteously and discreetly by women in a hotel room. But the business with her aunts had been closed for almost thirty years, so that a bevy of neglected brats were running around in Baradla. Children need to have something to keep their hands busy all the time, because of the other children. Objects calm them down and make them feel important. But this approach is expensive, because the children abandon their objects, they lose them and throw them away. Sometimes she trembles all over and doesn’t feel well. Next door to her in the hole lives a small family just starting out. They swallowed the bait of their relatives’ promises, so they don’t work; their relatives promised to take them on the farm as seasonal workers. They will pull up the stones, because they miss a bit of greenery. Two handsome sons sit on the body of a car. We’re on our way to
school. But their mother’s eyes gleam, and because she is terribly embarrassed, she doesn’t invite her visitors in. A little further on there is a small house with a Slovak family, recognizable by the Bratislava Castle. A man in a plastic bag came in right after me. The search party works three meters apart from one another, but despite this they keep an eye on one another their entire lives, they always know exactly who finds what and when. They stop and the men crawl into the hole to pick and choose. What’s interesting is that they try to suppress their excitement. They don’t know if they have found just rocks or a couple of million. They sit down. By now they have gone very deep, having displaced thousands of tons of earth. Therefore, Baradla stands over them on the slag heap. A little further on, a group of Greeks is using a vacuum cleaner. The motor which powers the whole monstrosity is acting up a little. He couldn’t even get married! They say the price of water has gone up again; over the past few days the most rain fell at ChuráÀov (172 mm), in Prague and in Liberec. In Hostivaﬁ there are landslides. I’m not kidding; sometimes the Little House seemed like an Apparition to her. I don’t know what went on there, maybe it just weighed on her. Don’t read those fables! But other people don’t think it’s so foolish to read fairy tales. So. Baradla had The Twins and a house attached to her back. But she also had her hobby; it wasn’t exactly photography, which is why she couldn’t produce a camera. Apart from this she had a hobby, and that’s the main thing, right? You wouldn’t call someone’s home a grave, even if a dead person is lying in nearly every one of them. So it wouldn’t be fair to insist that Baradla had a grave on her spine. Even if you could see flowers. How can we tell when someone is approaching their goal? Was Baradla appropriate for The Twins with her attached house? Living beings will affirm to me how it was. Is inconstancy really a bad quality? Are we really obligated to share
the pain of others? Is every cottager really a gardener tending a grave? Is every person who leaves an irresponsible individual? Are empty places dismal? What about the fact that you wring out of yourself to force your Twins to play the piano? Baradla stopped and crossed the street so she could look at the shadow of her hump. The upper balconies. The facade. The dark, narrow door. Many doors and lattices. When someone rang the bell, she would rush to the door, with hope or without it. She welcomed a Twin. She remembered The Other, who stayed either very close or very far away. Coincidences are capable of causing confusion. She turned around so that fate could surprise her to her face; she hated it behind her back. Therefore she walked backwards for hours. Sometimes she felt that something supernatural was driving her. Turning over the clover. Marie ambition superego aggressiveness fear. Then she quietly jabbered away to herself. Fine then. Asshole. Both sandstone and silicic acid were combined in her at a given pressure. Geologic knowledge will help no one. She scrimped and saved. The opal is either in the earth or it isn’t. Is existence like roulette? Do they want it or not? Six pubs, two self-service supermarkets, two gas stations, a hospital and a prosperous café on the main avenue. It was called Slavia. Did she have her own mailbox for letters, or long hair? I think that even though she was no longer twenty she was so ravishing that he fell in love with her at first sight. He thought their relationship was awfully nice. They went out together for about a year and experienced some beautiful moments. Then winter started and we went skiing a lot. At the end of November I found out that she had cheated on me at the end of the summer vacation. I could have had as many girls as I wanted, but over Christmas vacation I went off to sulk and she went hunting in one hotel. On the fateful day I didn’t feel well, so I left early to go lie down. Young people are always running around, that’s ok, it’s not
always a matter of life and death. Thousands of them must be thinking the same thing, it’s better that way. What is left uncompleted, or is stopped, still remains an action. As if it were possible to increase the discontent of the population! Luckily, the old population is being discreetly replaced with a new one. If the voices of the heart or reason are heard, they are cruelly suppressed. The hardworking, the greedy, and the starving carried away windows, bricks, the roofing material — they took apart absolutely everything. The coal supplies, everything disappeared. The electric generators, transformers, and thirty brick-walled worker’s hostels also disappeared. The remains of the modern ruins kept turning up. The café was first thoroughly plundered and then dismantled, but before that it was closed for half a year. Farmers from the outskirts descended on the building like locusts and for half a year carried off hundreds of thousands of bricks and everything else in their carts. There were customers of the café among them, many unhappy at being shut out. They used their very own shirts to carry off their loot. Even the authorities wanted their share; they promptly sold the blast furnaces for scrap. Each had originally cost $735,000. For the both of them the thrifty authorities got — the amount has been converted, so we can judge the profitability of the sale — $5,385. The café was like a noisy bazaar. Some were selling, others were stealing, many were digging up the pipes laid in the ground to cut them into scrap. The café was not too lucrative, considering that the technicians had not adopted the proper technology, but its facilities had a value of several million. It’s not necessary to discuss the absurdity of anything. But the local institutions must be criticized for not even saving the inventory from the office!!! The looted café might seem to have set a ransacking record, but other cafés have disappeared in a similar fashion — this all started at the end of the last century. Where is the euphoria over the claim that if we were to sell each customer one toothbrush, we would achieve returns? Years
ago operations had been kept above water by the salvaging of customers. But every action has this characteristic: it will come to an end, and often for the better. One fine morning Frau Director canceled the contract for the delivery of the consumers. And that was that. The Japanese were the most affected. Twenty-six companies lost the total value of the customers on whom they had already been working. Frau Ludmila’s last marriage led to a wave of confusion and the disruption of the institute. It caused her mood to change so that projects fell to Lurgi at a value of 900 million marks and to Mannesmann at a value of 440 million marks. If only she hadn’t found this latest Stepfather, who had ruined the city of Nymburk, which he had deprived of the Great Lady! It was a shame that Jóstaf had waved his hand and carefully closed the door behind him — otherwise the position of the lady and her workplace would probably have turned out very differently! The documents by now are vague and crumpled, they say there is a danger of war and that the army must be further modernized. And she has such a widespread clientele . . . But Stepfather dangerously provokes her and through his treachery gradually moves even further away from his hiding place. The situation is heating up. For example, at the end of last year, in the context of the national trend of raiding cafés, the waiters were inundated with lathes, from coal mines to printing shops. The factory was dismantled according to Stepfather’s plan, as if he feared the bed over his head would starve, well, only that brat Milada could look after her there, since he was supporting her now! The café could be preserved for future service. One of the responsible employees — the accountant — wrote 73 letters to the highest authorities, but his efforts were only rewarded by the arrival of cranes which took everything apart, even the theater standing nearby. When would this crazy game end? The adventurous housewife’s witnessing of the crash is certainly a small bandaid! Her fierce desire for modernization has led to the creation
of a little plateau and a statue of the Vltava on the embankment! Would such a rusty building be something extraordinary? Could those affairless exhibitions of unfucked fatsos have any claim to a real solution whatsoever? Just a year ago, as a result of the muddled interpretations and the even more confused priorities of that madam, there had still been the hope that the café would be preserved for the usual dilapidation. But now we shouldn’t even be surprised! It’s true that during the so-called salvage young people quickly escaped into the city; some of them tried to relocate, to leave the building. The authorities, on the other hand, transferred goods from Chinese cities to the farmers. A mobile social group was created from these outcasts. Now that the café has been torn apart, not even the café-sitters have work, not to mention the staff. It’s all a shambles. Everyone knows there are not enough aunts in Baradla, and the mothers are all at work! Those who were mothers previously cannot resume their duties, since they have forgotten them, and since they are often bursting at the seams with the new generation waiting for a position — as one’s start in life is officially termed — in factories, educational institutions, nursery schools and, last but not least, cafés. Although Ludmila allegedly provided 19 million young people with redeployment in her boxes, in my view tens of millions of citizens are now on record as being outlaws. According to official statistics, and also according to my personal estimate, there will be an increase of about 20 million new guys, while there are only three girls here, the sisters — The Specter, Milada, and The Twins. The rest of them have to make a living the best they can. They can sell boiling water somewhere in the provinces. Elsewhere they can steal or work on the black market. It’s fashionable to start a gang of young people whom poverty has forced into desperation and vice. They buy goods in one city and sell them for a higher price someplace where they are in short supply. Distributors. They offer old coins, hats, and of course also girls. Last year alone there
were twenty-two thousand cases . . . At the same time, a number of people were tried for economic theft and an undetermined number for smuggling. Among the confiscated goods there were rare scarves, shawls, shoes, buttons, nails, shoe polish, and crockery. Since the multimillion-strong army of idlers has continued to grow, it will be necessary to relocate millions of young people from the cafés and eventually tear them down. I will not hide the fact that the destruction of the buildings became an unbearable weight on Ludmila’s shoulders and worsened the already poor situation with Stepfather. But 40- and 50-year olds usually have no taste for work, and the irony of fate is that they must, or they should, be lounging around in restaurants. It is also tragic that hundreds of thousands of them don’t want to maintain a dwelling and would like to spend the night there, maybe just covered up with some newspapers and that symbol of industrial progress, the plastic bag. They have become foreigners in their own country, and it was all Stepfather’s fault! And he said to himself: “So I sit down on the couch and start conversing with the grownups. After a moment I sense that little Rita has sat down next to me. She presses herself to me rather conspicuously. I pretend not to notice. Her little hand strokes my clothes. Then I feel that same little hand affectionately stroking the colored feather in my cap. Then it becomes more daring and fingers my dick. What do I have it for? asks the Owner of the little hands. She leans over and whispers I love you in my ear, and puts her little arms around my neck. Something silky as the wing of a butterfly touches my face. A longsuppressed desire tightens my throat and thrusts out my snaky head: Why shouldn’t I fuck this sweet little creature? On the outside I am laughing, since there are houses in front of us watching our tender scene like the very personification of reproach: Why are you two kissing? The tiny little fingers curl around the rabbit’s tail. Everyone knows that children with Slavic and Nordic blood mingling in their
veins only know a few words of Czech, like ‘Grampa,’ and stuff like that. As a childless person I didn’t know how to get close to children, I wasn’t used to the sounds of Czech speech. But I soon got used to cookies and that behavior of treating me like an adult and gaining my trust. It was easy with me. I’m like an old-fashioned girl who loves colored rags from which it is possible to manufacture loves. I put together all of the unoccupied chairs and then, unnoticed, I lost myself in a recess where I conducted an invisible orchestra with a scrap of wood. Since that time (besides visiting the gym) they have taken me only once a month for the obligatory two-hour walk through the hospital garden. It’s not really a walking exercise or running, I just hurry along when I see the natural fashion show. Short and long skirts, with or without slits. Pants so tight they burst at the seams, dyed T-shirts, musty woolen turtlenecks.” Many people really do manage to dress well. But the young amaze me. I hope youth will leave soon. I try to hate them less, to show some forbearance for what they get up to. After that I hung my head and Stepfather wanted to look at shoes. He would have done better to look at the clouds. Two-thirds of the passers-by had dusty, dirty, muddy shoes that hadn’t been repaired in a long time. People walk with dirty feet. I have always said, thinks Stepfather, that people who devote so much care to fine clothing should get themselves some clean shoes. Above all, one can tell if one is wearing today’s mud or yesterday’s. As everyone rushes for the bus. All it takes is to go back to the washroom and use the shower. Shortly the shift manager will fortunately find us and arrange immediate transport to the ward, where after administering to us they will clean our boots until we partially regain consciousness. The diagnosis will not be difficult. Disappointment in life can also be the result of overestimating your own abilities. Only after having been cured do we realize that it doesn’t matter. That I’ve been tormenting myself for nothing. I
always worry that something is wrong with me, that I suffer, waste away, and my élan for life, this went down the drain a long time ago. I also don’t have any desire to take charge of a future in which everything will fall apart, and that has led me to eccentricity, pessimism, and other negative qualities.
T H E H O S P I TA L
The Hospital is an old pilgrim who eats away approximately one piece of every member’s body. She pays a high price for her magnificent looks. She can’t survive more than 100 to 150 rounds. Extracting poison apparently releases a firm material, upon which my theory is based. We know it — it has disintegrated so many times already right before the patients’ eyes. The Twins accompanied her to the hospital. One waved her on her way. “I don’t have a present for you,” it suddenly said, upset. Then in a burst of inspiration it took off its tie and gave it to Baradla. “For hanging yourself,” said the youngest Twin, a younger boy by thirteen years. The whole way there the older Twin was enthusiastically telling her about the beauty of the Nuthouse. He explained that it was the cleanest river in Europe, and he proudly pointed out the streams of water rolling across the entryway. Later he suggested that they sing “Dance, Dance, Twist and Turn.” And he himself started up. Then Baradla signed a paper that she was undergoing treatment voluntarily. She gave up her nail files, cuticle scissors and pills. Then she went to the ward. In the common room a television was flickering and at that moment they were showing “The Doll,” which for some people is world-class stuff. Just like “The Accident” or “The Little Soldier.” In summer the patients watched whatever — sports, swimming, boxing, cycling — but for some of them the greatest experience was the final of the soccer tournament. They