08. 31. 2010. 08:33

Autobiographies of an Angel (excerpt from the novel)

Of course, Lipót Braun was right when he said that what is lost is lost forever. But (and it’s just that): what does it mean to lose something? Does it mean that it has disappeared and is no more, that it was swallowed by the earth; or does it only mean that we don’t see it any longer? And if we don’t see it, do we even miss it?

Chapter Three
“Things Near and Far Away”
Of course, Lipót Braun was right when he said that what is lost is lost forever. But (and it’s just that): what does it mean to lose something? Does it mean that it has disappeared and is no more, that it was swallowed by the earth; or does it only mean that we don’t see it any longer? And if we don’t see it, do we even miss it? On that day when Lipót Braun and Salamon Widder had their chat over nut pastry in the apothecary’s house, for the very first time the pharmacist had the audacity to intervene in the praxis of his friend. That is to say: when the rabbi reached for the pastry, and already could taste the sweetness of the nuts in his mouth, Salamon Widder pulled a strand out of the carpet’s fringe, placed it in his pocket, and then asked the rabbi if he thought anything seemed to be missing from the carpet. The rabbi examined the carpet, counting the patterns, inspecting each one separately: the stags as they prepared to leap, yet a leap that is never completed; the doves that seemed to be bending their heads towards the seeds but never reaching them, remaining forever hungry; and he inspected the octagonal plaiting around these scenes as well, in which every second pattern enclosed a stag or a dove, the others remaining empty. No, said the rabbi, nothing is missing, as it never once occurred to him to count the number of threads in the fringe.
At that point, Salamon Widder brought forth the thread, and showed it to Lipót Braun. This was in the carpet, but you didn’t notice that it was missing. If you don’t know what’s missing, you can hardly know what is present, or what could come forth from that which you believe to be lost. And so the rabbi wouldn’t forget, Salamon Widder gave him the thread, and tied a knot in it. It seems, however, that the thread was not intended to remind the rabbi of something, because what could there have been to remind him of? Was there not that duty of the four strands that he wore beneath his waistcoat – did they not, perhaps, remind him enough? Did his really need a fifth one as well? Was there so much misfortune in the world that the four could not contend with it? Lipót Braun shook with laughter at the thought of such impertinence, and as he laughed he rocked back and forth, just as if delivering his homily from the bimah. So that it should not come as a surprise, that when he wanted to put the thread into his pocket -- because who knows, maybe this Salamon was right after all, maybe the four threads were too few, those four that had been sufficient ever since the time of Moses – the thread dropped onto the floor, because what’s true is true, and the rabbi was very fat and could hardly fit into his trousers, so that it was very difficult for him to slip such a tiny object into his pocket, such as a carpet thread is, especially if he was laughing as he tried to do so. So that the thread dropped down to the ground, and after the visit was over, my great-grandmother took it away.
And from the house of Salamon Widder, nothing else remained, only this thread that was meant to be a reminder. And if now we were to raise it to our ear, we could hear what the pharmacist said about the story of Cain. Namely, that his thoughts about the murderous brother were completely different. Because it was true that when Cain murdered Abel and stood above his body, the Lord said to Cain ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ and Cain answered ‘My Lord, I know not’.  This, accordingly, was the truth. It was only that these were not the words of a murderer. Cain had not yet become one, because he still did not know what he had done. How could he have known, for this was the first murder in the history of the world. There stood Cain, and there beside him stood the Lord, and not one of them know what had happened. And the Lord certainly knew even much less than Cain who, precisely in this very moment, sensed something from a great distance, and perhaps it was nothing more than death, which not so long ago had even been impossible: the fact that either he or his brother from one moment to the next could no longer be here had henceforth become possible.
And since they didn’t know what death was, how could they have known, between them where was the question, and where the answer? Cain could have asked the Lord ‘where is my brother Abel?’ And what else could the Lord have replied except ‘I know not’. And if we now examine what knowledge is concealed in the question and the answer, it is in the end the consciousness of another question that we can locate: Abel is not here, and he shall never be again, or at least never again as he was. And the moment of ‘I know not’ lost its emptiness even in a shorter time than it would have taken Cain or the Lord to utter these words. As they uttered them, the air became filled with accusations, and everything became unequivocal. Cain said ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’. Fittingly, this was also true. And the time of life continued to flow, just as it has until now, to flow onwards of course, now no longer in complete unconsciousness; and all the while the time of death has also shifted, flowing upwards to that place of whose existence we earlier had not the faintest suspicion.
This is what Salamon Widder said to Lipót Braun, on that night when they sat together for the last time in the pharmacist’s house; that at least could be heard, if one placed the thread to his ear, but so faintly that I myself don’t even know if this is what was said, or if I somehow just heard it myself inside its voice, smothered into incomprehensibility by the murmurings of the years. In any event, Salamon Widder did most likely say something very grand, something about the inexhaustible fount of hope in the story of the first murder. Because the rules and the questions could only be exchanged between brothers. So that when Cain accordingly said that he didn’t know where Abel was, and the Lord Himself didn’t even know – and we ourselves don’t even know – he suddenly came upon the answer, as he had to, because he came upon it, he had to remain silent before the Lord: the reason why no one saw Abel was because he was already inside of himself – of Cain.
With this beautiful utterance, somehow granting hope, Salamon Widder withdrew from the world, but not so much that that every single trace of him was expunged from it. Because there are places where memory sees far. The village to which my great-grandmother moved was embraced in a semicircle by the Bükk Forest. An overgrown path led from the ridge of the mountain to its peak, from which you could see all the way to Putnok. You could see the house of the Jewish apothecary, and the rabbi Lipót Braun as, his body swaying back and forth, he preached of Babel, you could see the golden-brown mounds of the nut pastry, sprinkled over with snow, and you could see that my grandfather really was the son of the Jewish apothecary of Putnok.
But since to look across Putnok is different than to look at that age-blackened thatched roof directly opposite, as the house pulls it down over its eyes as the old women do with their shawls, and the vaporous darkness often settles upon the Bükk Mountains and extends all the way to the ridge, the one who remembers can easily become lost in the darkness of the days, even more so if his eyes are straining to see. At such times, the village is closed into itself, the crows alight upon the trees, their echoing caws fill the widening silence, and whatever is far sinks into oblivion like a piece of wood soaked through with water; what is near slips into the place of the faraway; what was yesterday seems as if it had happened years and years ago. So that as far as the villagers were concerned, if at one time my grandfather had been the son of the Jewish apothecary, even my father was Jewish,  onto that, as onto everything else, a thick layer of white snow settled.
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There lived once in Prague a rabbi who declared that as the Jews wander in the fog of the millennia, it remains still undecided if they are to perish there in the dark mists, or on the other hand to reach Jerusalem, to the Jaffa gates where beneath the arcade, a wretched beggar sits upon a small footstool. His body sways back and forth, and a black upwelling of laughter keeps bursting out of him. What is the beggar laughing at? Speak to him, ask him! He will say that he is laughing at you, for he is the Angel of the Last Day. But don’t believe him! If you feel that no darkness can be thicker than this, do not be afraid and know that this darkness has sucked into itself the most radiant light. Then your heart will be filled with mercy for the beggar, and he will cease his rocking and laughing. And now ask him, upon his soul, what has he been waiting for so long. He will say he was waiting for you, and only for you is he waiting. And now you should believe him. Believe him, because this means that everyone’s mistakes will come from something, and the biggest mistake of the Jew is that he doesn’t know how to tarry like a beggar beside the Angel of the Last Day, he had to continue onwards, wander astray and get lost. The name of God must be lost within him.
Yet it was not possible to see all the way to Prague from the peak of the Bükk Mountains; their height is in vain. So might it then be possible to see to there from the concrete top of the roofed well, where I often clambered up in my grandmother’s courtyard? I sat upon the warm concrete roof, below me the swans pecked away at the sweet black fruit of the mulberry tree; they could never get enough of it, just as I never could get enough of the view – not only of the things close by, the things that I saw all around myself, for already I could see as much as from that colossal mulberry tree beside the first house, from which I had a good view of the village – but also of the faraway things that appeared behind my closed eyelids as I sat perched upon the well’s roof. Of course, I shouldn’t have been climbing there; it would have been so easy to slip and the well was deep; letting the chain down always took a long time. But I didn’t worry about that, just as the inhabitants of the village didn’t worry about how far away Jerusalem was, and that a beggar sat on his footstool next to the Jaffa Gate, laughing and rocking back and forth.
The Jew is a mistake. The Jew is the one you don’t give your daughter to. Yet still my father was able to get the women he liked; I will reveal how he did so only after I’ve told of what I saw from the burning concrete roof of the well.
I saw what was near, and I saw the delineations of things far away. I saw the half-circle of the Bükk Mountains with their tall oaks, which were close but still not close enough, so that when the Mongols, with their shrieking yelps attacked the village from the south, the people could run into the forest. And who were these people trying to flee? Czechs and Germans. Their memory is preserved in the names: the Pohorka meadow, the Nemecke valley, the Dobra oak-forest. This is where they drove their pigs forth to feed them upon the acorns. Even if someone had survived the Mongol rampage, daring to venture out of the forest, wouldn’t he have only seen the smouldering cinders of the beams? The village lay in ruins. But it did not remain unpopulated for long. Slovaks came to take the place of the Czechs and the Germans, and they married Hungarian brides, very quickly becoming Magyarised themselves.  They had to render military service to the prebendary in Eger; the men were present during the town’s siege. One of them, Fürjes Balázs Gárdonyi, even had his own commemoration. Yet whenever the dust swirled up from the road in the wake of the marauders of the Beg of Fülek, no one was insane enough to take a stand and try to fight them. Into the forests they ran, but once again the forests were too far away. Everyone beyond the ford was slaughtered; their bodies lying pell-mell in the tall grass. The sun scorched, the bluebottles dug their crooked legs into the skin of the dead, and by evening-time, when the air had cooled somewhat, the meadow was driven mad by the chirruping of crickets. For beyond the ford lie the hayfields, which are the crickets’ land.
And I saw the roads that lead from everywhere into the village, from Sata, Csernely, Várkany, Somsály, Gárdony, Lénárddarós - like veins into the middle of an opened palm. The centre of the palm was the square in front of the church, bordered on the opposite side by the inn and the bull-stables. I saw the men as they started off, armed with their scythes so that the residents of Várkony in the Corpus Christi procession crossing the fields could know just for whom the Szurdo vineyards had been created. I did not, however, see the Szurdo vineyards because the lands surrounding Várkony had, after the death of the last of the house of Barius, ended up in the possession of the house of Vay – who, having taken part in Rákóczi’s uprising, found their property confiscated and purchased it back at a very high price, receiving the Szurdo vineyards from the prebendary of Eger. Instead of the vineyards, however, I saw the old church, which had been consecrated to the name of Our Lady in the year when the French and the Austrians fighting each other in the Rhineland finally sat down to talks in Vienna, and divided Italy between Sicily and Sardinia as well as deciding upon the fate of Lotharginia, and in doing so, it appeared, averted all the obstacles in the way of Maria Theresia’s coronation. Yet this peace was short-lived; for it took no longer than five years for all of the armies of Europe to re-assemble, so that the old church consecrated to Our Lady did not remain standing for long. Fire burnt it. I don’t know what caused it to burst into flames. But it is not necessary to seek the fire’s cause. For time is nothing else but fire, reducing everything to ashes, so that it may cede its place to something else. Thus the new church was built on the site of the old with a thicker, stouter tower. And I saw other men, no longer with scythes in their hands but with carbide lamps, as they set off in the early dawn of four in the morning, across the Bükk Forest to Perecses and Bánfalva, later on to Farkaslyuk, to the mineshafts. In the lower chamber, the carbide jostled about; water filled the other one. When the valve was opened, the water dripped into the lower chamber where the carbide was, forming gas which was released through a tube to the burner. The carbide lamps burned with a beautiful white light.
And I saw the crosses alongside the road. They had tinplate sheeting to protect them from the rain, surrounded by a low fence, and the body of Jesus, cut from tinplate, was nailed onto the wood. Drawn and painted Jesuses, faceless because the faces and the eyes had been eaten by the rust. The bells toll into paradise, all the angels will be there, until midnight, and after midnight, for all eternity, the coming of the red dawn. Rusty, rain-streaked Jesus bodies, and no face. I walk out before my gate, gaze upwards into the heights of heaven, and there I see a golden side-chapel, therein lies a golden throne. The crosses were erected by well-to-do families, from gratitude because their sons had come home from the front, or in mournful remembrance because they had perished there. There was the Szalmas cross, the Fonagy cross, the Vargas cross, the Káloi cross and the Susó cross. Fortune and misfortune, miraculous healings and sudden deaths: all left a uniform sign. And below the crosses, as in the cemeteries, there gathered broken bits of ribbon, dried flowers. No one ever moved them away. Arise, Peter, onto the black roof and utter this little prayer! The crosses stood there, and that was enough. When someone departed upon a long journey, no one bid them farewell, when they returned no one greeted them. But if one day a storm broke the crosses, if a bolting horse thrust its cart over one of them, or if one evening they simply disappeared, then a fear such as the villagers had never known before would creep into their hearts. And they would have gone even further on; they would have gone to Sáta, to Cernely, to Várkony, Samsaly, Gárdony, Lénárddaróc, and even farther than that, they would have gone all the way up to Ózd, but they didn’t trust the road anymore, because who can trust in a road from which a cross might have fallen down. They never would have been able to trust in the world again, or even in themselves. They would have become like the Jews. They would have known that the roads lead nowhere. They go on, they go on, but then they don’t go anywhere, or that is to say, when they do go, is precisely into nowhere.
Nowhere is not, however, the place of annihilation. Whoever goes to nowhere already has nothing to cremate, there is nothing to break apart in them, there is nothing to take away from them. Because, in the final analysis, the only thing that can be taken away from a person is their face. Nowhere is the land of desolation we wander across. There everything is born and dies the same way, flourishes and wilts, in a word everything lives there as the same, or with even more animation than in somewhere; everything has a body, a smell, a closeness and a distance, it’s just that time does not pass, and as for things happening, nothing happens; just that eyes do not see and ears do not here. Everything stands there in the same place, the most insensate grasshopper, even the last blade of grass, they stand at the gates of an imaginary wished-for land; and they have already renounced the possibility of ever going there. But still they can’t even move, and there in nowhere they disappear without ever having taken part in the tranquility of death. They float upwards like smoke, like the mists of dawn. Here, in this place, is where the Jews live. And it was from this place that my father escaped when Judge Susó prepared his identity papers for him: and where the grandfather’s name should have been filled in, it was not the name of Salamon Widder, the Jewish apothecary, that was written down – which would repulsed my father, forcing him to place one foot into nowhere – but instead of that, the word ‘unknown’. Which also was true, because no one knew who Salamon Widder was any more, no one remembered him, as strictly speaking there wasn’t even anything to remember. The explanation of these ill-conceived origins was attributed – but perhaps only through the wagging tongues of the village – to the fact, stirring the imagination but all the more disturbing for that, that my great-grandmother, who had a mysterious knowledge of herbs and illnesses, and who arrived to the village without a husband and with a boy-child in her stomach, found great favour from the very beginning among the Jewish families of the village; her son -- my grandfather-- frequented the butcher’s and the grocer’s homes as if he’d been born there. He knew without explanation what to do when the Sabbath came, for without him the lights of the holy day would have remained an unhappy glimmer; for both of the families, his task was on Friday morning to warm the cholent cooked the day before in the oven, and to take logs from the woodpile and place them on the fire. And even if Salamon Widder existed, if the ill-omened origins were not the work of the delusions of a village in search of secrets, the apothecary still would long ago have ranked among those who disappear into nowhere without a trace; even his name would drift upwards like the vapour of the crisp cholent of eggs steamed with barley. If I myself do not take hold of that vapour into which the name of my grandfather was written, if I do not hold a sheet of paper above the aromatic cholent in the ceramic dish, from a recipe perhaps handed down to Moses from God, as Heine believed, I would never be able even to tell the story of that life which it held within itself for the last time, and -- as I recollect upon it now -- perhaps carries still even today.
Salamon Widder’s name alone would not, of course, have been enough to propel my father into nowhere. The third Jewish laws of August 1941, if not exactly dispelling all doubts and -- due to the large number of exceptions -- lagging well behind the practices of the Germans for a time, at last precisely mandated who should be regarded as a Jew, as precisely as one could mandate such a delicate matter. And beyond this determination, a permissive, nearly culpable tolerance was not lacking. Anyone had to be regarded as Jewish if two of their grandparents had been born into the Israelite denomination. So, two grandparents. One half of the ancients. There are cases, however, and there are times in which one is not any less than two. And this is precisely the case of the Jews, and precisely in our time, when it is necessary for us to validate a new concept in view of the obsolete laws that do not sufficiently serve the national interests. Because what does the Jew do? He betrays you. It’s enough for you to close your eyes for a second; the Jew has already wrangled everything for his own family, his own business – your past and your future belong to him; when he grabs the corner of something he never lets go. Like the eagle, he devours the seed you have sown. And so the question regarding the Jew is not whether there is one or two of them, but whether there is any Jew in there at all. The law has not been enacted for you to consider the exceptions, but you must enforce it as well when it leaves a little room for the tolerance of error.
The memory of Salamon Widder, however, was expunged without a trace before the eyes of strangers by that wondrous word ‘unknown’. So my father didn’t have to bother with the Jewish fears that nailed them to history. ‘As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth . For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.‘ The village residents also sang the lines of the Psalms, but  for them the words meant something different. They were not filled with dread that the world always belonged to someone else, and always would.
They made no distinction among the old things, for them everything happened yesterday. The Mongols arrived yesterday, Balázs Ományi fell at Mohács yesterday, the Turks from Fülek overran them yesterday and the Hajdus, the foot-soldiers of Rákóczi, also passed through here yesterday; it was yesterday that new languages were heard in the depopulated village, if a question was asked in Czech the answer was given in German, a courtship in Slovak was rebuffed in Hungarian. And it was yesterday too that a dead man came back from the war. They did not need these fears to know that the short life of one individual can be wiped out from eternity without a trace; or rather whether something that does not pass can be accepted for a short period of time – for it is written: “one nation shall vanish and another come in its place, yet the earth shall remain for all eternity”. Here the fears dictated where the borders of the village should be drawn. Those of the men were far away, by the entrance to the mines; those of the women closer, to where the crosses stood; and the children’s even closer still, along the fence.
And strange, chilling things transpired at these borders. I knew the closest ones – the childhood fears – the best. I saw from the roof of the well as Ilonka Bóna came home from the vineyards. She was a handsome young woman, with strong legs and a strong chest. As it was a hot summer day, Ilonka stopped beside a path and pulled her skirt up to her thigh, to fan herself a little. The rainwater draining down from the mountain washed the lanes, there deep paths overgrown with shrubbery and inseparable, into the loamy earth. All well and good, but out from the shrubbery, as if waiting just for this moment, a wild boar came bursting forth. The hem of the skirt fell, and Ilonka in her terror scarcely dared to move. The board was there between her legs. What should she do now? If she moved, the boar would bite into her loin. Go back into the thickets, she whispered to him. But the boar had no intention whatsoever of going anywhere. Instead, he began to caress Ilonka’s thigh with his body, so pleasurably that her skin rose in goosebumps. Now, Ilonka stamped her foot on the ground, and ordered the boar to go back into the shrubbery, and never come out again. The boar, however, as if understanding the meaning of her words, began to nudge in between Ilonka’s legs, but with such delicacy as not even a young countess could hope to dream of. Ilonka then started off with the boar under her skirt. When she reached home, she put the boar into the pigsty. Her husband was glad; he didn’t even ask where it had come from. Later, when Ilonka gave birth to a boy, its entire body was covered in wild bristles. Ghastly, horrifying. Ilonka took him, her son a little crying piglet wrapped in swaddling clothes, and threw it into the thicket. In exactly the same place where the boar had run out. It was evening, and no one saw anything. But whoever has an ear can discern, even today, the piglet-crying of Ilonka Bóna’s infant son from the thicket.
And what does that person hear? What stories? For stories, in the final analysis, are not for eyes. Precisely the opposite. Whoever steps into the world begs for stories, and would gladly sit upon every stone where a story is being told, would take a seat in every tavern, wander around the market place not for someone to give him food or drink, but to gather time. For the longest-lived person is he who has heard the most stories. And whoever lives for a long time realizes in due course that it is better to lose one’s sight. The world of yesterday will become desolate and uninhabited as a day passes by. Even the eye can only see what is there, and what is there cannot exist longer than a single moment. And the impoverished memories try vainly to lengthen this moment. How many dance in attendance upon the matters of meaning, and all so futile! The stories are smashed apart, the canvases grow tattered, paper burns. But just stand somewhere on a street corner, listen with ears open to the people who always, even today, incessantly tell stories; they relate their own tales and within them there is everything. Or if there is no one nearby, if you have awakened senseless in a god-forsaken place, it is enough to sit up on the roof of the well, to climb up a tree, or simply to open your window so that, with eyes closed, you can listen into the distance. Stories will float towards you from every direction.
I too sat like that on the roof of the well, I closed my eyes, the mountain ridge, the dark roofs, the fences all disappeared, and above my head the air became filled with the din of birds. From below from the swampy meadow where blue will-o’-the-wisps fluttered, came the shrieking of the sandpipers and the voices of the buntings. There the road forks into two, and the frog-settlement tittered and chattered. To slip into one of the deep hemp-netted wells was a more terrifying death than any child could have ever imagined, and yet they happily played there, jumping from the shore onto the hemp raft weighted down by stones and attached to battered stakes. Maybe they were so brave because, even so, so many other ways had been found for them to die. High fever, light-demons, poisonous mushrooms, snakebites, the enticements of the gypsies. The birds from below, the sandpipers, the green plovers, the black-chested reed buntings knew their names, they knew who had died, when, and how. The swampy meadow swallowed up their small bodies and often only gave them back weeks later, swollen and putrid. At such times, the gypsies were commanded to pull out the unfortunate children’s bodies with sticks, and to leave them on the edge of the meadow where the gases could be released.
The birds from above, the swallows who alighted on the mulberry tree, knew of other deaths. Of long, tedious illnesses, endless complaints. They settled only in those courtyards where, instead of seeing into the darkened rooms, they peered deep into the hearts of young people and that was why – although I doubt that they could have understood too much of the hope-filled accounts of the hearts – they argued about what boy should be harnessed to what girl, and since the marriages nearly always occurred with someone whom they had not chosen, what would there have been to discuss anyway, how someone had ruined their own life and become someone’s spouse when what they should have done is to have run away. Every time I climbed up to the well-roof, an entire flock of sparrows flew from the valley, covering the mulberry tree, and it hummed as they chirped the stories, continually interrupting the other’s words.
--Your mother was a pretty girl, didn’t you know that?
--They raised her like a little lady from the town.
--She went to school in shoes.
--And later on, even got a sewing machine.
--The girls came to her to have their dresses sewn.
--So that she could trim their trousseaus.
--And she did Richelieu embroidery for them too.
--They didn’t love each other at all.
--Because they never sat out on the little bench chatting.
--Of course they did. She was just different from the rest of them.
--That’s why she had suitors, and not only one.
--Rich peasant boys.
--If you own at least ten holds of land, then I’ll take you, she always said that.
--She wouldn’t have taken anyone, because she was ill.
--Every true story begins with an illness.
--With an illness or with a crime.
--Your mother’s began like this: she had no bowel movements.
--Not even for a week, she simply didn’t need it.
--She’d eat plum preserves, though. She spooned it into her mouth from the pot.
--But her intestines didn’t even churn.
--She knew she would be in terrible pain again.
--That her intestine would bleed.
--It’s a miracle she didn’t get blood poisoning.
--She withdrew, and she purged herself with Camille and potassium permanganate.
--They said she’ll never find a husband.
--Then your father came along.
--He was very good-looking. He even performed in the folklore troupe.
--It’s just that he was Jewish. Jakub, Jakub.
--Of course he wasn’t, not even his father was, he was properly baptized.
--That wasn’t even the problem with him. The problem was he liked to talk, not to work.
--You’re spreading that one around too?
-- I’m not spreading it. I could keep quiet, but still it was true.
--His older brothers lived a gypsy life. One of them divorced three times, and in the meantime travelled all across America. What could your grandmother have liked about that?
--Then when your father became a soldier, not a hair on his head was touched in Serbia or the Carpathians, but he nearly perished next to the Dniepr.
--Even you felt the grenade fragments, in his shoulder and his back.
--His eyes were operated on. He nearly went blind.
--And your father’s little sister, Margit Józsa, went to the great-grandmother and her family, because who was going to love her little Nandi now.
--Your mother said the one who has loved him until now will continue to do so, but only so that you didn’t have to listen to Margit’s complaining anymore.
--And now at least, both of them were already sick.
--And we put them together.
--We harnessed them together.
--We chirped upon the tree.
--And your father, all the same, didn’t understand anything, but he said to your mother that he would cure her.
--And from that point on, your mother complained for the next fifty years that she was stuck with a wistful, useless man, but still in her own way she loved him.
--And your father was silent.
--Only once he said something to the effect that even a horse needs to be stroked.
--And Erzsi was immediately cured of her troubles.
--As if she’d never even been ill.
--Nothing of the kind! She had to work so hard around the house, and then in the vineyards, she had no time for illness.
And so the sparrows chirped away in the mulberry tree. Only that sparrows are foolish creatures. They chatter and chatter, back and forth, whether they have to or not. Their beaks never stop. For them, the surrounding silence is frightening. If every other being were to become quiet, it would be them who would start, filling all creation from one corner to the next with their voices. And in that, they are similar to the angels. In the meantime, since time began, the angels, heads turned forwards and knees drawn up, have been plunging below, carrying unharmed within themselves the sense that they and only they are at home in Time, as they fill it with talk of wars, marriages, enticements and deceptions. Yet a human being, whether it is good for him or not, hears the rustling of the angels and slowly, like children who remain attached to the images of waking life, falls asleep.


Translated by: Ottilie Mulzet

Tags: Gábor Schein