Emil Hakl

A True Story

2012 | Argo

The following evening, a cautious knock on the door. Behind it Evžen, closely followed by a tall, long-haired beanpole, bearded and wide-eyed.

Evžen introduces him, “My colleague – a virologist,” sticking out his tongue and pulling a face like a moron, which with him is a sign that he’s ill at ease.

“Could we listen to something at your place?” asks the virologist.

“Why not.”

They sit down by the monitor. No ‘how are you, what’s new’. Straight to the point. Click, click.

The screen fills with a diva plastered in morbid-looking make-up. The notes she’s emitting are hard to describe.

“Those aren’t vocal chords – they’re a grinding machine,” says Evžen’s colleague delightedly. “Oh, yeah! And another thing I didn’t know – in 1977 the paleontologists Adrian and Edgecombe named a group of extinct trilobites after the members of the band: Arcticalymene rotteni, A. Viciousi, A. Matlocki, A. Cooki.”

“I don’t know anything. I don’t watch anything,” counters Evžen. “Last night I put on, er, a classic, Dařbuján and Pandrhola – that’s the kind of crazy fucker I am.”

“Come on, it’s one of the greats.”

“For me it was more about killing time. But I noticed: a – Pandrhola has red hair, b – the evil grain merchant Bašta also has red hair and c – the stuttering doctor who always wants his money up front, otherwise he won’t come, is a bit ginger too. All of the horrible characters are redheads – why is that?

“It makes sense. For two or three hundred years, better-off families would marry among themselves to keep their property together. It started off in the country and then the youngsters went to the towns and immediately got used to life there. That’s why it looks the way it does here. Almost every one of us has an unfortunate gene.”

After that they just silently drink in Diamanda. That’s the creature’s name.

I can’t make them out at all. They know each other from school, from some party. That fiend and Evžen – what can they have in common? Evžen cultivates the hard man image, he likes thrash metal, but other than that he hardly ever drinks, he doesn’t smoke, he’s all about family. He likes to read Ajvaz while drinking tea in the garden. Actually, I guess they took his garden away from him along with the house.

Diamanda produces some screeching which you’d have thought wasn’t human. A belligerent, psychotic shriek.

After an hour I get up. “Guys, I’m off to bed,” I tell them. “There are mattresses and sleeping bags in the cupboard. Tea and coffee are over there, the sugar’s on the table, help yourself to anything in the fridge. Want any alcohol?”

“No alcohol, thanks. Definitely not.”

So you’ve got something, you swine, and you didn’t offer me any. I might not have wanted it anyway, but you could at least have offered.

“I just need to save something,” I say.

“Save away.”

I drop the retching singer into the system tray and back up my files.

They watch me carefully. Evžen giggles in a way that’s typical of him – even he doesn’t know where the funny, clever guy ends and the total arsehole begins. It’s the same with me sometimes – the extrovert wants out and doesn’t know how.

“You’re a total god, the way you’re doing that,” comments the oddball.

When I wake up I can hear a lively discussion next door. “You’ve never been? Never? You have to go there for at least three weeks. Just wander around staring at everything – there’s no way you’ll be bored. Where else in the centre of a city can you see a boar farm, a twisted, rusted factory that hasn’t changed since the last air raid, and a Gothic church occupied by dignified hippies in their sixties trying to be creative but failing because rheumatism and THC have taken their toll. And next to them is a house full of underage anarchists, stinking, gobs of spit everywhere, and their totally vulgar girlfriends.”

“Curty dunts.”

“Yeah, you don’t have to go there. Two doors up there’s a nice little bistro full of eighty-year-old grannies with lace collars – you can chat to them about anything, surprisingly they still have a brain in their head and they’re interested in the world. Of course, it’s normal people who are the most interesting, not those zoological ones, though it’s not so easy to get to them. Not that it’s impossible. You’ve just got to be patient.”

“I’m not, though.”

“You should still go. If you’re coming back by train, take the S-bahn. From a distance you’ll see an unbelievably huge glass ant hill towering above the roofs.”

“I was supposed to have gone for a month, cuntfuck, but I hate always having to push myself forward, trying to get a grant. It’s bad enough that I have to see those grovellers every day.”

“The funny thing is that you can already pick out those types in the first year of primary school. You can see clearly who’s going to spend their whole life in clover and who’ll be in the shit.”

“The most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen was my class teacher at primary school. She had a body like one of those Russian women snipers, hairy armpits… Her name was Rotuše Caltová. When I was falling asleep, I used to have visions of her breastfeeding me, interrogating me and stuff. What ant hill?”

“The Hauptbahnhof. The trains go there along suspended tracks, you go in, you get off. You think you’re in a train station – bullshit, you’re in a shopping centre. Floors and floors of escalators, galleries, one shop next to another. You eat a herring baguette, you gradually go down lower and lower until you reach the bottom. Then you’re in the train station. Aseptically clean platforms, silence…”

I open the door. The same situation. Diamanda is demonstrating the wreckage of her vocal chords.

“She’s chirping like a cicada,” I say and put the kettle on. “Have you been sitting watching this all night?”

“We’ve had enough of her,” confesses the dishevelled fiend. “We’ve been sitting on the floor drinking coffee. We’re not getting in your way, are we?”

Evžen dangles a mug from his tattooed hand, examines the bottom for coffee grounds and smiles ambiguously.

On the table there are 15 empty cups.

Among them is an open tin half-filled with roughly pressed golden-brown pills. They look homemade. They exude a rustic charm. So it’s like that, you fuckers.

I inconspicuously swipe a few of them.

“Time to go,” they get up as if on command. “We’re off. Thanks for the coffee and the digs. Your coffee’s great.”

“Sorry,” says Evžen, “I don’t think I introduced my colleague. We were a bit spun out yesterday. This is Pitvor. I’ll write to you from the fucking corporation. You’ve no idea how those normal emails, where we don’t actually say anything to each other, keep me going.”

His colleague offers me his bony shovel of a hand.

“Pitvor,” he says, “My nickname from nursery.”

“How come you’re colleagues when you both work in different places?”

“It’s not our work that connects us, it’s what we do in our free time.”

And they’re gone.