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A Lovely Tale of Photography
a film novella
translated from the Hungarian by
Twisted Spoon Press
prague • 1999
Copyright © 1995 by Jelenkor Publishers Translation copyright © 1999 by Imre Goldstein Illustration copyright © 1999 by Daniel Heinrich All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form, except in the context of reviews, without permission from the publisher.
80 902171 6 8
to András M. Monory
With the use of texts by Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Albert Camus, Helen Hessel, David Hume, György Petri, Bertrand Russell, and Adalbert Stifter.
time machine Ungainly bird, a helicopter is flying over the
roofs of the city now sinking into dusk. Flocks of sparrows and pigeons start up and scatter. Rising and sinking; the chopper is peering into narrow canyons of darkening streets. It glances into a belfry just as the swaying bell clangs against the rigid clapper, but the ringing is swallowed up by the noise of the rotating blades. Seeing itself reflected in closed skylights, the chopper peeks into rooms through open windows; it keeps passing and returning to the same places as if searching for something, but after each attempt it moves on, dissatisfied, unable to find what it’s looking for. Antennae, chimneys, scaly surface of roof tiles. In one room a woman is setting the table; a teen-aged boy enters cautiously, hugs the woman from behind, kisses her neck, and immediately gets a resounding slap in the face. The boy’s lips part in amazement, but are swiftly pounced upon by the woman’s parted lips. Then: an abandoned atelier in which thirty-two cats are sitting and lying about, motionless; a roof terrace where some people have gathered for an evening reception. The chopper is looking for a face, a shoulder, a talking mouth; excitedly searching for something, a smile, a clandestine handshake, the rising bubbles in a slim champagne glass; looking for something, anything, animate or inanimate, but it must move on. It keeps circling. Descending now, it sends wet dripping sheets aflutter; it sees an untidy garret, in which a young man is sprawled on his bed, then it looks into a bathroom where a very old man, all skin and bones, is standing in the bathtub, his stiff body motionless under the water gushing from the showerhead, while a young girl, washcloth in hand, is bending over, soaping, rubbing, bathing the
ancient body. The chopper is becoming more and more agitated. Back to the party on the roof; gyrating, whipping up the air; the whirling gusts muss up the women’s coiffures, knock a tray full of champagne glasses out of the hands of a desperately balancing waiter; total panic ensues; among the fleeing, thronging bodies the chopper finds no one it could seize. It flies on, leaving in its wake the peaceful rooftops, the silence of twilight over the city. A cat creeps up to a skylight, peers in.
Dead-still roofs, silent dusk, mute cat’s eyes.
Tiny click. The camera’s bladed iris is shutting down. The cat moves on.
voice and movement There is a voice.
“On a nice, moonlit June night, a tomcat was walking on the roof.” There is a young man who lets go of the cord of the self-timer, lifts the magazine out of the camera, slips in a new one, returns to the bed and, all dressed up, plops down on it. He has another, more brooding, voice. “I waited, who knows how long I’d waited, and for what, what kind of miracle. For hours I’d waited in the window of the untidy garret. I was waiting for my agitation to subside, I was waiting for the hand on the clock, for the moment that would finally stop. The moment when, with perfect emotional equilibrium, I could put an end to my short and unsuccessful life. I was waiting for the hour, for the moment in which at last all the fighting words would die in me, sentences would no longer boom or make music; when I no longer talk, for there is no talking, no one talks, not with
God, not God himself, not with my lover, not my lover; when no one remains, only the picture. The roofs, the moon, only the movement which I make. Which I make. The kind of movement a beaver-tailed roof tile makes as it falls from on high. Nothing else.” And he also has a rational voice. “That’s not the way things happen. He would like to stand by his open window but chooses, instead, to lie abed. He is agitated precisely because the jumbled sentences, questions and answers, are buzzing and booming, words chase and crush other words, all adding up to what cannot be achieved. Imagination playing with imaginary images. He could jack off, come in his own hand. Or maybe he should get up and plant himself permanently in the kind of picture he would like to see himself in. And like that, while holding that fixed position, should his final hour be drawn out until dawn; his final image should be his own darkness. This ought to be the last effort, as well as the last refuge, of his will. Nothing else should remain.” In the meantime he has struggled to his feet and is now scattering photographs and negatives in the wind; some get stuck momentarily on the eaves then continue their fall. He turns the camera toward the open window, focuses, takes up his position in front of the lens and, offering up his full figure, now wrapped in nearly total darkness, opens the shutter. “And now I mustn’t move anymore; or now I can move all I want. There should be nothing else but what there is.”
romance In a garret above the houses across the narrow street,
the flame of a single candle is flickering in the draft. The head of
a pale little boy on the pillow, his matted hair clinging to his forehead. Perhaps he’ll never be able to raise his lids again. The young mother, sitting at the edge of the bed, is holding the boy’s tiny birdlike hand. His body is shaken by occasional dry coughs, and each time he coughs it appears as if he might look up, but he doesn’t. When the attack subsides, his lids also stop quivering. “Never again, never, never.” The tiny hand falls back, lifeless; the mother runs to the open window. “Help me, God, if you exist. If you exist, help me. Who exists, if you don’t? Or if you don’t exist, who will help? Help me, somebody, anybody, man, animal, spirits, ghosts, devil, or angel, help me now, be my strength for me!” The little boy is pale, motionless. In the dark window across the street, the young man moves out of the frame. “Let nothingness go on recording nothingness.” Takes his coat. Descends the dark spiral staircase. Standing in the dead moonlit street, he knocks. A disheveled serving girl, her lips parted, and cupping a candle flame, opens the gate. Two figures are hurrying on the dead, moonlit street; the young man in front, the doctor behind him, their hasty steps make no sound. Candle light rising on the wall of the dark spiral staircase. Knocking, banging; the heart is pounding, the mouth is panting loudly; then all sounds cease. The doctor gently peels the mother off the little boy’s body. He says nothing, but he does have a voice. “First of all, the fever must be brought down.” The mother folds back the cover. The young man dips a clean white sheet into a washbowl of water, squeezes it out. The doctor
lifts up the small naked body, the young man and the mother spread out the wet sheet. The doctor lowers the body. Four hands fold the sheet back, smoothing it over the body. The doctor’s fingers pry open the boy’s lids. White. No eyes. “Then we must bring down the blood pressure. Terrible pulse.” On the wet sheet over the wet body, leeches are filling up, growing fat. The mother shrieks, runs to the window, the young man hurls himself after her, holding her back. There is a voice. “A beautiful female body fell lifelessly into my arms, but only its pain became mine.” “He’s looked up, he is alive.” “No, this is death, my dear lady.” “All the same, I thank you, dear God.”
end of the romance A scream fills the night. But it’s over.
The mother lets go of the little boy’s dead hand, stands up, takes the candlestick, shadows flicker across the garret walls as she goes. She puts the candle in the window but the draft immediately extinguishes the flame. And the window across the narrow street is also dark. In the meantime the moon has risen high in the sky. And the young man is standing naked and motionless by the window, in front of the open lens of his camera. He has a voice. “I thank you, God, for not having to live through these coming years. Everyone who, according to your wishes, won’t have to live through them, owes you gratitude.” And he has another voice, too.
“As for me, I was waiting for daybreak, but could not suppress my imagination. Dawn is coming, the moon is high, sensitive silver grains are recording my mortal shadow. Je suis mort et je suis toujours vivant. Love is a beautiful angel, but for the devoted, betrayed heart it’s the angel of death. Rotten sentences. These unchanging sentences. And while I’m thinking these rotten sentences, the flame is sparked. My soul is with you, may it go up in flames.”
rising in his soul Stupendous hissing; a deafening blast of
ignition accompanied first by sounds of implosions then by an even, howling whistle. Beneath the balloon’s mouth the fire is crackling, the balloon is filling up fast, growing taut, tightening its moorings, as if to tear itself away from the earth. The balloonist manages to outshout these infernal noises. “To the hilt! What’s the pressure? More, more, give it more! Got to be tight to the limit!” From the gondola the voice of the very old man replies. “It’s not there yet. I’ll tell you when.” And there is another voice which those present, so busy in this hazy morning twilight, naturally cannot hear. “Though my nerves were stretched to the limit, I could no longer control myself. And curse my will, too, yes, let it be cursed forever. Only the prick is left — screw that, too. The only thing I can still hold on to is my own prick. If my soul torments me like this, why should pleasure be the solution, why can’t I, by simply deciding to, take the life of my body? Why the will, of all things? why should everything fail because of one’s will? And then only fate would remain, blind fate? But who can put up
with so much humiliation, call it fate! from one’s own body?” Leather sacks and wooden crates are lifted into the gondola. Among the busy figures in the vast field, two young women are standing still. The younger one, next to her lightweight plate camera, is wearing a fur coat and an enormous hat fastened with ribbons under her chin; her companion, at least ten years older, is dressed in decidedly masculine garb. Some distance from them stands a footman holding a tray with three champagne glasses. While he hastens toward the women, the balloonist is being helped into his pelisse. “This is the last moment, dear Kornélia, you can still change your mind.” “Baron, please, see to my camera.” The camera is lifted into the gondola. The balloonist offers his hand to Kornélia, they start off on the soppy grass, the footman follows with the glasses; Kornélia and the baron get in. The graybeard, now leaning over the instruments to check the air pressure, may be the very old man we saw earlier while he was being washed in the bathroom. He nods; everything is all right. The side of the gondola is secured. The balloonist reaches over, takes one of the champagne glasses, hands it to Kornélia, then another to the studious-looking aged man, and finally he raises his own glass above theirs. “Well, then, adieu, old planet earth. Cast off the lines!” In a terrible racket, the airship is shaking; the passengers empty their glasses and toss them out of the gondola. “Hold on, Kornélia, the earth won’t let go of us easily. But first, do let down your veil!” Shaking, jolting, the airship slowly rises, leaving the ground.
this, too, is a picture Above roofs and chimneys, in the
grainy vastness, a blurry, wind-driven, tiny airship. Its balloon is swimming past the frame of the picture.
the vacant air There is a stray voice in this dazzling morn-
ing brilliance; now it is an ecstatic, doleful, distant cry. “Those who want the future, jerk off into the wild blue yonder.” Kornélia wipes off her tears. “You are crying, Kornélia.” “It is as if I couldn’t speak. Perhaps I am happy. I do not know. But also sad, at the same time. How I would have loved to have brought everything with us, everything that we are now leaving behind. Not to have had to make choices.” “If I were to seal your words onto your lips, your happiness could be my happiness, your sorrow my own. I’d simply drink your tears. And what is not happening now, the way we are, would last forever.” “Be not discontented, dear baron. My gratitude is already everlasting. But if you were to carry out what you have just proposed, I’d have to rebuke you.” There being no way out of their little game, they both break into laughter; and then the game is resumed. “Having entrusted your life to an aeronaut, you must learn the rules of the air. You cannot possibly know them yet. There is still so much I must teach you.” “Only those who are knowledgeable are capable of learning. And women are so ignorant. I’d rather you secured my camera and equipment. That is something tangible.”
“Are you advising me to be cautious?” “I’d like to get started.” “Gradually I’ll come to know your intentions.” “Ever higher, ever farther. There should be no word, feeling, or gesture that we wouldn’t observe from a bird’s-eye view.” “And that is what you’d call tangible.” “That, and nothing else.” “It seems that, instead of raising us aloft, the wind is pressing our ship down. And the rest is yet to come.”
the picture of the earth
Everything we see is still
familiar to us. Wagon train on the dusty morning road; Gypsies. Escorted by a few men on horseback; women on foot. Under rags, their arms around one another, the children are still asleep in the wagons. The shadow of the balloon slowly swims across them, but down there they don’t notice it. There is some commotion, maybe everybody is yelling, but that cannot be heard up here. What’s visible is not necessarily audible. Above and below, heaven and earth, are very different things. An expectant mother from one of the wagons is taken to a roadside shrub by the rest of the women. From up here, the shrub hides nothing. The woman lies down, her skirt is lifted, she pulls her outstretched legs up to her neck, the others bend over her. A knife flashes in the sunlight, perhaps ready to cut the umbilical cord. Then: a forest, a meadow, plough-land, river, a small creek. Everything stationary is moving. “The air current is changing. I guess it’s time to take out Section Two of the map, my dear baron.” “I’m studying it already.”
The current thrusts the ship into an air-pocket. Kornélia, chopping time into seconds, records everything she is breaking away from.
in the storm As if a matte glass had slipped in front of the
camera’s matte glass. Clouds are rushing by. And there is a voice. “It must have been some great ambition that has driven me here. Still, I whisper all my words to you. I’ve become deaf, like the clouds. You’ve remained deaf to my words, like the earth. You cannot hear a single word of mine. Never so close, my dear, my darling, yet ever farther away. I’m flying, perhaps I’m dying. Brave Hungarian maiden, the first to take aerial photos of the earth; you will be able to tell her story.” The lens can no longer separate dimness from dimness. The airship is quaking, shaking, lurching in sudden thrusts; dull, hollow, silence; dripping. They can’t make out each other, hardly a word passes between them. Kornélia turns her back to this bottomless dimness and, holding on to the rim of the gondola, keeps walking around, desperately, helplessly. As if her nose, ears, and mouth had been stuffed with wet cotton. When she gets back to her camera a thought seems to stop her, but then, compensating for the jolts and tugs, she gropes further. “Be a man, Kornélia.” “What should I be afraid of?” “Voilà, l’enfer et le ciel en une. This is my realm. Look at it, look around, there is no way you can escape from here.” “That is how I wanted it. I willed it.”
“The worst we have to fear is lightning. But don’t be so conceited, no one is asking you about your will.” Distant lightning illuminates the impenetrable dimness, the thunderclap rattles the gondola as it is hurled on, accompanied by the rumbling noise. “There, you see, that’s how it happens. And if it had been a little stronger, you wouldn’t be hearing anything anymore.” “You won’t frighten me. I could not wish for a more beautiful death than this.” And the voice of the other replies. “If at least one plate would remain, of all the plates of your camera. After a crash like this no word and no plate remains. But if one, a single one, did. And I know you won’t kill yourself because of me, because you’re a coward.” Silently they’re flying into nothingness. “Where are we, baron?” “If there were no clouds we should see the bay of Trieste. Look down, you can’t see anything. Knowledge is greater.” “What are you doing, Mister Engineer?” “Taking cloud samples, Miss.” “And to what use will you put them?” “I make a note that I have taken this sample at such and such a place, I analyze it, and draw conclusions, but as to what use, I don’t ask such questions. I’ll just say that above the bay of Trieste, in a southwesterly wind of thirty-two knots, at such and such a time, at such an altitude, this was the water content of the sample, and that it also contained such and such other matters, like grains of sand, or pollen.” “Pollen.”
“I ascertain that this pollen is of a flower found only on the rocky plateaux of the Apennines, while the sand has got here, most likely, from the southeastern region of Tunis. As to what happened on the plateaux, and when, that’s something the meteorological records will tell. I have to collect these dates and data, compare them, note our altitude and velocity.” “It is like trying to scoop out the ocean with a spoon. But what conclusions can you draw if there are no two identical clouds? Or are there?” “Listen to me, Miss. First of all, since I do not determine what exists and what does not, I neither claim that there are two identical clouds, nor that there are not. I merely gather data. And should I feel like comparing some of this data, I would come up with identical characteristics, or with differences and similarities. That’s all there is to the world, Miss, that and nothing more.” “No law, no God?” “For anybody with such questions I have only one question of my own: are you ready for breakfast? “In such a terrible storm?” The engineer laughs heartily. “This storm, Miss, at our speed, will last only two more minutes, exactly.” “Now how could you possibly know that?” “I just do.”
above all the clouds “White on white.”
“What? What are you doing?” “I am photographing white on white, do you understand?” “I would like to see your face. You seem so pale, so white.
Please raise your veil. This request is made not by a man in love, but by a concerned balloonist.” “I’d have a much more prosaic request, baron.” “I’d be honored if at last you called me by my name. And insulted, if you refused.” “Si je voulais vous demander ce que l’on fera quand je devrai faire pipi, il serait peut-être vraiment mieux placé de vous appeler mon cher Richard.” Kornélia now does lift her veil, the better to see the flashing white teeth of the baron who is laughing hard. Their lips meet for a second. “Dans ce trou, ici, ma petite. And we shall properly turn around.” “And also plug up your ears.” “My silly little dear. In space, your tiny trickle will not tinkle.”
still higher, still farther “Come, Kornélia, look.”
“Excuse me, Richard, I think I’d be scared to look back at the earth now.” “But you could observe so many things by looking through the cracks in the clouds.” Fighting her dizziness, Kornélia prefers to stare ahead, into the dense blueness. The engineer, his legs tucked under him, is crouching among the instruments, jotting down data in his notebook. “Just as expected in this position. Exactly as we had figured, milord.” “Then we’ve reached the trade-winds?” “Yes, precisely. I suppose we could lighten our load by another sack.”
“First I’d like to know what the altimeter says.” “We’re at fourteen hundred feet.” “But don’t forget, now it’s not just the two of us. Would you mind telling me what our speed is?” “I’d rather not.” In the deadly silence only the muted snapping and rustling of the cords can be heard. “But if the Miss would care to look into the baron’s telescope, she could see the peak of the Jungfrau slipping under us. And our velocity is increasing. Not a cloud anywhere. Personally, I see no danger in this fast current.” Kornélia does not move, she even turns her head away from the other two as if not hearing, or rather, not wanting to hear them. Doctors exchange words in this way, over the patient’s bed. “And do take into consideration the dangers of tolerance.” “I was counting on only the two of us, milord.” “Is this a rebuke?” “A mere wish, sir, not even approaching a demand.” The baron leaves his telescope, and, as if acting against his own better judgment, empties the contents of a small sandbag into the air. “The effect is immediately registered.” “Meaning?” “Higher by six hundred.” “Velocity?” “High. Very high. Maybe you can help her through it with a hot cup of coffee.” Kornélia slowly lets herself slide down the side of the gondola; shivering, she gathers her fur coat about herself and tries not to
let the two men see how her fever is shaking her body, or hear the chattering of her teeth. She would like to lean her head forward, rest it on her knees, but doing so makes her dizzy and nauseous. In the meantime, the balloonist pours some strong coffee into a closed pot which he places inside a larger pot that has quicklime in it. He fills up the larger pot with water. The powdered lime begins to sizzle, growing hot and heating the smaller pot. “Listen, Kornélia. Don’t be afraid. Vous avez toujours du courage.” He pours some rum into the cup while also warming his numb hands. “J’ai boucoup de courage.” “Will you take it from me, or should I help you drink it?” “I think I’m very dizzy. But I’m even more ashamed of my weakness.” “You’ll get your strength back in no time.” Kornélia does not budge, she seems to be staring straight ahead; then slowly she tips to the side and remains that way. The balloonist does not know what to do. He can’t put the coffee down, yet he has to prop up Kornélia. The cup turns over, its contents spill, trickling through the weaves of the gondola. The face is deathly pale, telltale drops of bloody dew are appearing on the whitened lips. “Engineer, open the valves immediately.” “Rub her, smack her, look at her fingernails, pour water on her.” “Even if I did all that, it wouldn’t do.” “If we can’t gain ten minutes, there will be death on the peaks.” “If you won’t, I’ll do it myself.” The balloonist grabs the silk valve line.
“If it won’t close up again then we’re really in for it. Open it for just a second.” The valves open for a single second, close back up, and the balloon is driven further above the craggy peaks. It plunges again. “For God’s sake, that’s enough!”
pictures of a peaceful parlor
cliffs. Waterfall cascading off the rocky walls. Flood-tide, water whipped into various colors by a whirlpool. Bud-covered branches reaching up; lazily spreading water lilies on the mirror-smooth surface. The legs of a water bug sinking into the skin of the water. Willows on the shore. Dusty road in the crimson twilight. Night lanterns in the depth of the forest. Ghostly figures, apparitions. The lady companion touches the young man’s arm. “Das gnädige Fräulein läßt sich entschuldigen, und bittet den Herrn um Geduld. Since she regained consciousness, and her health, she never leaves the darkroom.” “I can assure you that my patience knows no limit.” “I must confess that mine is rather limited. Perhaps it would be best if you simply left your calling card.” “Sie werden mich entschuldigen, if I will not comply. If only I could see her, only for just one moment. Then I’d leave, immediately. I beg you, grant me this one moment.” “I hope you understand that I must protect her from any new emotional upheaval.” “I shall be most careful.” “You don’t mind if I’ll be the same.” “I do understand.”
picture exchange Winter garden crammed with tropical
plants. Finches and parrots in fancy cages. Outside, a dry latesummer stormy wind is blowing under the clear sunny sky, its gusts burst into the garden, flapping the leaves, tendrils, and branches of the plants. A solitary, smooth, raw-wood table stands inside the winter garden; there are only two chairs around it, now occupied by Kornélia and Károly. They sit so far apart that they have to keep standing up and bending over the table as they slide photographs to each other; they take turns, in strict order, handling one picture at a time. No matter how great our curiosity, only from their words are we allowed to guess what might be on the pictures. In the course of their conversation the respective piles in front of them slowly change places. “I have never managed to capture the dawn so beautifully before. With words it is downright hopeless. From now on, I believe, I shall be your pupil, Miss.” “Henriette hoped that I’d change my mind, while the baron was urging me on. In a word, I think it was all the work of chance; therefore, your praise should rather go to him.” “As for me, I was hoping for both eventualities: that you stay with me, and that I’d see you f ly away. One lives through unspeakable torments when one knows what one should want, but it is shrouded in mystery whether one should wish what one wants so much.” “So this is your room, your bed. I’m admiring your pictures, as a loyal pupil, at the same time I’m bored with your philosophy. How crude this is, how lonely, how touching.” “At the very hour when I thought that my sun had set forever.
Never thought I’d be able to reveal it to you.” “The most we can talk about is what our cameras have seen, certainly not what you or I have seen at the same moment.” “Yet the moment, when two shutters open, still binds us.” “I’d say it increases the gap even more. Just as on this one here, for example, where you see not so much a road but rather my own self-consciousness.” “The sky, it seems, has no details, only the grains are enlarged over the vastness. I can give you the night in exchange.” “Please, no picking and choosing. Do not hide that one, either.” “I wouldn’t want to offend your sense of decency.” “You will, by being secretive.” “This is a naked male body. If it weren’t only a picture I’d throw myself at your mercy, but that’s all it is, a picture.” “I would never have thought that so little light could create something like this.” “Still, you are blushing. I am the one who should be ashamed. But I must confess I am enjoying my shamelessness.” “Perhaps it is admiration that colors my face. You stand facing God, while I record only His clouds. How timid and untalented I am. Please, excuse me for a moment.” Slowly and stealthily she gets up, rounds the table, and stepping softly she hurries to the door and quickly opens it. Károly also kicks the chair out from under him. Henriette is standing behind the door, and she has probably overheard everything. “Don’t stammer.” “I haven’t said a word.” “Don’t answer back, speak when spoken to.”
“I’m not even moving.” “We shall try to speak louder. So you won’t miss anything.” Kornélia shuts the door, letting her hand rest on the doorknob for a second. “I’m suffocating in this jail.” She rounds the table again, as if to sit down, but she walks past her chair. “If I can’t fly, at least I should have crashed. Why did I not perish, dear God? Why didn’t I explode of this inner pressure? My body is a prison, my rooms are prisons.” Károly would like to rush to her aid, but he does not know what to do. “I lock up my birds, keep them in prison. On this miserable planet everyone is a jailer. I have my own jailer, you see? but I keep guard over my jailer. My jailer is also being guarded, and I’m left guarding my birds. And where would you lock me up, if you could free me?” “Should I take my leave now?” “Open the cage.” “No, I cannot do that.” “Forgive me. I’m suffocating. I must be a sight, but please, don’t go.” She touches the hesitating man’s arm. “It’s too beautiful a sight — when you are so angry. I do understand you.” “Once you gave me some friendly advice regarding my life being an imitation of men’s lives. It was harsh and insulting, that I remember. I was offended. Please repeat it.” “Let’s drop it. It was mere foolishness on my part. I am still
ashamed of having been so haughty. Back then I was aware neither of your courage nor of my own cowardice.” Their hands and arms begin to intertwine. “You would have been a coward if you had thrown your life away for me. And I’d be courageous now if I threw myself on your body. My weak, enervated body. Even the sky thrust me away from itself. What else would I wish for, how should I go about wishing? Down here I am a prisoner, I am locked up, I cannot get free, and I’m unable to die.” “Do not talk like that, Kornélia.” “Say my name again, Karol.” Károly locks her in his arms, but the girl’s head, as if frightened by the approaching lips, draws back. Her eyes close, her lips turn white. The light body grows heavy in the masculine arms and, driven by some inner force, begins to convulse. Losing their balance, they fall, taking the chair with them, their bodies thump, their heads bang on the floor. Henriette rushes in. Kornélia is emitting terrifying little sounds, her body is writhing in chaotic rhythms. Without any further ado, Henriette sits on top of the prostrate body and with a practiced gesture reaches into the half-open mouth; her fingers grasp the root of the tongue, preventing it from slipping back into the throat. The body is writhing rhythmically underneath her.
train ride into the night
Clatter, and more clatter.
Reflected in the window, the blue beams of night lamps are dancing. Henriette, with her mouth open, is sound asleep. The picture is shaken as the train jounces over switches. Like a thief,
Kornélia rises. Henriette starts for a brief second, Kornélia quickly sits down. And again the clatter, only the clatter. And there is her own voice. “I know he is waiting for me. Or accompanying me.” And there is another voice, which replies. “I’ve accompanied her. I’m on her trail, I won’t budge.” Again her own voice. “Here he is, being rattled along with me, in this terrible night.” And again the other voice replies. “I can see her through the darkness. I can sense the fragrance of her lips. I faint into my tumescence just by thinking of her.” When Kornélia makes another effort to get up, trying not even to cast a shadow on the sleeping Henriette, the latter stirs again. With her hat in her hand, Kornélia freezes. Henriette’s narrow, dry face sinks back into the clatter. Her hands nestle into her lap, her fingers are twitching from the steady rattling. Blissful little whimpers escape her lips. Clatter, clatter.
clandestine tryst Free at last, Kornélia is staggering,
stumbling forward in the empty corridor. From the walls of the compartments her body is hurled against the window of the car. The dim light of the gas lamps sways along with her every move. Before leaving the luxurious first class carriage, she puts on her hat and lowers her veil. One can see into the second class compartments, there are no curtains. Sleeping merchants. Fleshy necks, strands of hair stuck to foreheads, rings embedded in thick fingers, parted lips, and bad teeth. From the far end of the corridor a young sleepy waiter, holding a cup of tea, is staggering toward her.
“Le thé, c’est pour vous, Madame?” “Non, merci. Pas pour moi.” “Au diable. Je ne sais plus qui en a commandé.” The third class coaches are empty. On the very last bench a small boy is sleeping, and past him there is only the end of the train. Kornélia hesitantly stops by the boy, looks at him for a long time, and is about to turn back when in the doorway leading to the rear platform she catches sight of the young man’s familiar profile. Károly is looking out into the night. His face is a motionless picture; only the train is rattling. Kornélia steps outside. Károly slowly turns his head toward her. “You didn’t think I would leave you.” “I saw you getting on after us.” “I expected you to wave back.” “I’m following my father’s orders.” “I know.” “I’m engaged to the baron.” “A stricter command is written in your soul.” “I cannot want what I would want.” “That alone is reason enough why I cannot part with you. To keep reminding you of it.” “You must part with me. Do not remind me of anything anymore.” “That’s how paternal sternness turns into your own command.” “That is correct.” “And then it’s all over.” “What is over, Karol, is what has not even begun. Our dreams should be over. I cannot want it in any other way.”
“No, Kornélia. You’ll see: when you deny me, that’s when you are dreaming.” “Let’s not waste any more words on this.” “That’s what I think, too.” Károly opens the door of the coach. Outside, the night is rushing by. “May God be with you, Kornélia. The dream will continue, Kornélia.” And he jumps out of the train. The wind rushes in; Kornélia is shaking, staggering, trying to hold on with both hands. And there is a voice. “Like this, then.” And there is another voice. “No, don’t say that I’m dreaming. I want to wake up, though I’m dreaming. Not like this!” And there is a voice. “What ‘not like this’?” And there is another voice. “If that’s how the devil wanted it.” Not only is her body shaking, along with the train’s rattle, but also something within her body. She slumps to the floor of the platform, rolls over, her head hangs off the steps, frothy saliva drips down her lips; the wind catches her hat and the night whisks it away.
Sun penetrates the room only through a
tiny hole, around which the slats seem to glow white; the upsidedown image gently undulates on the opposite wall: a giant oak, the poplars, the park. Sounds of a church bell nearby, the last