20th December 2011
It comes on around four or five in the afternoon, sets in around seven and then takes over for the night. It’s been like that for years – I can’t remember it ever being any different. A day devoted to not going out is a musical score for a melody that nobody has ever played. And if I have to go out all the same, then the people that I pass by have a bloom, a glassy frosting that makes their outlines appear fuzzy; I can imagine they do not exist, and so love them. All that exists merely spoils and disturbs, as if somebody had sprayed over The Night Watch.
The day before yesterday Václav Havel died. In his sleep, in the morning hours. So it does not just take over at night.
21st December 2011
“Gosh, did I cry! I really liked him!” said the woman I bought Nový prostor magazine from at Anděl.
It was around freezing point and she had no gloves. All day long it had been around freezing point and all day she had no gloves. All day long she shuffled up and down by the bus stop.
“Why don’t you have any gloves?”
“They’re expensive,” she replied.
Her top and and bottom teeth were also missing.
They are even more expensive.
I went round the corner to the Christmas market and bought her some gloves. The little round emptiness of her face lit up, while my revulsion over my own gestures contorted me and she clenched the throat of Christmas with them.
22nd December 2011
That bloom is not only on people but also on things, while between me and them looms a mirror rampart, built into the frame at right angles. Smelling of incense, the whole shop tinkles.
I would stand behind the curtain and observe for hours and hours as Míra and Bobeš dribble the ball, a static image in motion, but I do not have a curtain.
I wipe off the dust and look at the dictionary: “Microscopic particles of matter of mineral or organic origin created by a rubbing-off process and settling as dirt.”
Something’s the matter. Something is up. Something isn’t right.
“Gimme a cig, Missus!”
Sometimes I’m afraid I’ll disappear into the crowd of people like a handful of snow. I give the old gipsy a cig.
“Gimme some money, at least some change, what with Christmas coming up.”
I give her fifty crowns.
“And wrinkles. Give me some wrinkles!”
One after another I take them off my face, a sheaf of used toothpicks. She puts them in her enormous pocket and at the last moment jumps off the tram.
Nothing whatsoever is left on my face – it’s like rolled-out dough, apply pastry cutter, press and cut out star.
I enter a restaurant called The Depths, alone for the first time. Some drunk comes over to sit next to me, his eyes come floating into my mind like a bloody tub full of carp.
“Are you afraid of old age?” he asks.
We get drunk together in an unusually rapid and businesslike manner, and then in front of the restaurant he urinates on a landrover tyre looming over the entire street like a giant tombstone.
A three-day period of national mourning is declared. On the borders of her domain, I switch on the computer at night and read what is written in a bubble in the bottom right-hand corner: Your system may be at risk. All of a sudden I hear sentences from inside my head. They do not belong to me and I cannot imagine where they came from: “I’d like to find some basic ethical terms that I could use to gauge my life, but I am fascinated by the dark line of thoughts and feelings. My own system protrudes in an unknown direction.”
Day of national mourning
I come back home, down the corridor between the cellars, I live in the basement. Above me the light bulbs come on automatically one after the other. Suddenly I spot a snake moving across the concrete towards me. It freezes. I freeze. It raises its head, flat and mottled.Guardedly we observe one another, the light bulbs hissing, barely audibly. Suddenly the hissing is torn apart by the wail of the noon siren and the town comes to a standstill in a minute of silence for the deceased. Quiet footsteps approach down the corridor. With lightning speed a man clamps the snake’s head to the concrete with a fork and then lifts it up high.
“Excuse me, I’m so sorry… I may have frightened you…it escaped from the terrarium… the doors to the corridor were open…”
Now I understand what those strange thuds are that come from upstairs. The neighbour is killing laboratory mice with a blow to the table for his snake.
anxiety is like a cave in which the guide describes the creation of stalagmites and stalactites in a monotonous voice,
it is close and tight-fitting like skin.
And on those days
Alice came over. She had completely different things in her face than when she was leaving six months ago. Those things were astonishingly rounded with no corners. I imagined her running with her dogs along the shore, where buildings both near and far look like eggs.
She settled down in the wicker armchair and began to roll a cigarette, but then immediately jumped up again and started running round the room, dancing and gesticulating, before sitting down again. Her body, suddenly so tangible and distinct, was continually in motion, in a whirl, circling around the abstract statue that her mother had turned into over the last few months.
“Every morning we have to go two kilometres and back for water, and we go to the toilet in the forest, we dig a hole and then cover it up again…”
She smiled! She smiled happily over the rag stolen from paradise, over the illusion where flushers did not hang from the stars and the glow of monitors was stubbed out by the heel of darkness.
I hear a voice, Alice’s voice comes close to me down the line like a tightrope-walker: “Ninety percent of the wealth of this planet is owned by one percent of its inhabitants.”
A dust bunny, whipped up by her walking, ran hither and thither around the floor, wrapping itself in more and more layers of time.
And that night
I opened up the discussion under an article on V.H.
“May he rot in their coffin, the old splutterer.”
Something moved from the bottom in the pulp mill of the world and giggingly brayed. That is, in the cloud of sludge the foulness moved, in the silent and holy night.
For a moment my hair stood on end
crouching and barking. Four Communist MPs refused to honour the memory of the first Czech President in Parliament, led by Prague Communist boss Marta Semelová, who quite the reverse, congratulated the nation on removing the parasite.
Marta Semelová was Alice’s class teacher in the first year of primary school. “Your daughter is enormously talented. One day she will be something,” she said, prophetically covering Alice’s head with her palm.
Does a Communist’s prophetic gesture perhaps mean something? Barking, raised hair, prickly frown? No, it means nothing at all.
enters the forest. She wants to take part in the funeral ceremony for the deceased president, but the forest is deserted and only from a distance, a distance in time, not space, can the neighing of a Kladruby horse be heard. At times Alice jumps around the bilberry bushes, two years old, and at times she can barely hobble, an old woman, which she is about to become – she just cannot act her age on this journey.
“She’s twenty-three!” I yell after her. She doesn’t hear me. Perhaps because the trees around her are growing upside down, with their crowns dug in the earth, while a plait of roots rears up into the sky. She does not hear me, or this forest is in my stomach and she has not yet been born.
Christmas Eve 2011
Whenever some celebrity dies, mum draws another little cross next to their name in the encyclopedia. “I’ve done another cross!” she announces right at the front door as a barely perceptible thin shadow of a smile spreads across lips that have opened and closed for eighty-eight years. I can’t bear it. I go out onto the balcony and light a cigarette. On the balcony opposite a woman of about my age is standing and lights a cigarette. Both of us are shivering from the cold and it is not clear who is the reflection in the mirror and who is standing in front of it. From the woman to me and from me back to her crossing splinters hurriedly fly across the gullet of the courtyard, thin Christmas candles and skewers, mum’s crosses.
From the balcony floor I lift up an enormous heavy pot of potato salad.
“Death is just a piece of difficult life,” mum quotes her favourite poet with a sigh and lovingly leafs from one little cross to the next.
Fingers rip open the Christmas paper. I notice that I have brown blotches on the back of my hand. They weren’t there last year. “Are you afraid of old age?” The wax shed tears and a very light hollow sphere sways on a hook in a nest of pine needles.
In this sphere we are sitting behind the table: sister Naďa, her husband, a niece with a newborn little Jesus in her arms, baby Jesus is bawling, the niff has overpowered the festive potpourri, mum and Alice.
I still cannot believe that she is sitting next to me and that I can touch her and embrace her. Another carol, another toast – and then with relish we all tuck in to the snake, neatly wound in a spiral on our plates.
(Translated by Melvyn Clarke)