"'You’re like a god,' Lajos Herda patted him on the back, then began explaining that there are these rocks on the belt, the way there are people on the earth, and Géza sits above it, the way God sits in heaven, and that, as a matter of fact, he, Géza, is the god of the rocks."
“He’s gotta watch the rocks,” the foreman told the woman in front of the shop, and said Géza would be just right for that. He should go to the quarry the next day, and they’ll take care of everything there, they’ll show him around and tell him what he’s got to do. The woman could hardly believe her ears, she asked again whether he really means Géza, and he really means the next day. “Of course,” nodded the foreman. “The boy’ll finally have a job,” thought the woman on her way home from the shop, “he won’t be sitting in the kitchen all day next to the stove, it’ll be as if he’s not even flawed,” because that was how they called people like him: flawed. “Géza’s flawed,” is what they said in the village, bluntly, a bit as though accusing Géza himself. As though he were the cause of his own misery, of all those flaws that were sewn into the body and mind. “He’s flawed because of his flaws,” is what the peasants in the village thought, whereas Géza couldn’t help any of it; they should have cast that word “flawed!” in the Lord’s teeth instead. But the peasants weren’t brave enough to do that; they feared retribution. Only the woman, when she clasped her hands in church, questioned what this God can be thinking, to punish her with this handicapped child. She crossed herself suddenly, because she said scoundrel – to God; she called him a scoundrel. She was often wounded on the inside by the thought that it’s not enough to be saddled with this handicapped son, she also has to have pangs of conscience because of all the reproach. She did everything she could, she thought; she probably messed something up, thought the peasants. She carried him in her belly for nine months; when she was carrying him in her belly, that’s probably when she messed something up, thought the peasants; she nurtured him, thought the woman, but God didn’t pay enough attention to her so she too could have a flawless child, the kind others have.
Now he can go to the quarry. She ran to the neighbors with the news: Géza’s going to be working at the quarry, just like everybody else, like the normal people. Her eyes were glowing like bare light bulbs, because some burden was wrested from her heart, and she couldn’t hide that. The neighbors moreover were glad, or so they pretended. “Things really came together for Géza,” they said.
“This’ll be good for Géza-boy,” said the man as triumph smirched his face, his gloating complexion proclaiming that Géza wasn’t his kid. The neighbors’ fate had for years been unnoticeably delivered from fallibility by Géza’s inadequacy, for sixteen years to be precise, when Géza turned two years old and it became clear that he wouldn’t be normal, that Géza would be flawed. But the woman’s fate so thoroughly pummeled her that for all those years she saw none of this.
The morning was still dark when he set out with lumbering footsteps along the length of Dózsa Street and the dogs began howling madly, thrusting open the gates, coming out onto the cobblestones, for this was unfamiliar to them, they didn’t recognize this walk at this hour of the dawn, the stamp of the sole, and as the body shifted weight from here to there, there to here, so bounced the shoulder bag against the stomach, then flew into the air only to collide again; a carelessly parked truck, that’s what Géza was like, like the one fat Mari’s family moved with. Lajos Herda and Pista Banda were already standing at the bus stop, shuffling from foot to foot in the cold spring morning, waiting for departure, and for the booze to course through the veins, gnaw the stomach a bit, then tingle through to the hands and feet, and finally counteract the bitterness in their heads, which they were carrying over from yesterday’s drinking.
“So what’s up, Géza?” they patted Géza on the shoulder as he arrived, while Géza-boy laughed, saliva collecting in the corners of the thick mouth, and the fleshy tongue flashing between his teeth, as if it were folded back, that’s how thick it was.
“I’m goin’ to work, to work,” he said into Herda’s and Banda’s faces and laughed, “to work.”
The quarry was on the outskirts of the neighboring village. A conveyor belt carried the broken rock, from where it was quarried, about two hundred meters, and dumped it into carts that transported the material to the train station, where it was packed onto train cars, so that the rock of Szob could be taken to all corners of the country.
“They use this rock everywhere,” boasted the workers. “They built motorway seven outa this too,” said one of them.
“And the metro too,” said the other.
“The metro too?” asked the previous one, surprised.
“Sure, the metro too,” the other affirmed, “that too. Don’t you believe me?”
“Why wouldn’t I believe you, if that’s how it is,” came the response.
“’Cause if you don’t believe me, see,” said the previous one and grabbed his co-worker by the lapels. “Are you callin’ me a liar?”
“I didn’t say that, I was just askin’.”
“But the way you asked, see, there was somethin’ in it like I’m lyin’.”
“No, really, not me!”
“’Cause I really can’t stand it when somebody curses out my mother.”
“But I didn’t!”
“Lemme get this straight, you callin’ me a liar again?…”
So went their nightly approbation of the quarry as they poured beer into themselves with rock-hard palms in the tavern.
Géza had a seat above the belt, about a meter and a half up, like a tractor seat, black vinyl, the sand-colored foam rubber bulging from its split sides. That was where he had to sit and watch to make sure no wood or earth got mixed in with the rocks.
“See, Géza,” said the foreman, “if somethin’ happens, then this,” he pointed at the red button, “this here’s what you gotta press. The green lets you start up again.”
Hillocks formed on Géza’s face out of the pride he felt for his place up there above the belt, and for those buttons in his hands.
“It’s very important work,” he told the woman in the evening, and in turn she told the neighbors that he disposes over when the belt runs and when it stops.
Géza went every morning, returned home in the afternoon, from there back to the tavern to listen to Pista Banda and Lajos Herda, who didn’t go home after work, but directly to the tavern, because they didn’t have any mothers at home, only wives, who couldn’t rival either the beer or the wine, having lost the competition with both years ago. They had sex with the wives on occasion, perhaps once a month, but next day didn’t remember that either. They were oblivious to whether their marriages contained any of those things they talked about ceaselessly in the tavern. When they got themselves stewed to the gills, that’s when they’d say, “pussy.” Whereupon Vizi would sashay over and, in exchange for a small spritzer, allow the rock-hard palms to grope beneath her greasy slip.
“Hey, Géza,” they said to Géza, “what if we staked you to a date with Vizi?”
Géza laughed nervously, saying he doesn’t know what to do.
“The woman’ll show you!”
But Géza protested in alarm, saying he doesn’t know how, and there’s nothing in him that makes him need to, the doctor doesn’t even let him, and he’s taking medicine, too.
“Whatsa matter, Géza?” said Lajos Herda, “don’t tell me your dick didn’t get rockhard from all that rockwatchin’. What’re you made outa, wood,” he asked, changing material, “not wantin’ to do anythin’?” Géza’s face laughed as if it had no connection to his innards, the way he pitched from side to side. This was played out in the tavern every evening, though Géza wasn’t offended by it, he regarded the tavern with its company, Lajos Herda and Pista Banda, as a warm and loving home.
“Did you do it with Vizi last night?” asked Lajos in the morning at the bus stop, then Banda and he had a laugh while Géza grimaced, his face screwed up, his thick tongue pushing a wad of spit to the corner of his mouth. That’s how they went to work, laughing. At six-thirty Géza sat in his seat and watched, like a supervisor, even while eating he watched. He would take a bite of bread, then a piece of sausage, and his eyes surveyed the rocks shaking on the belt, their position always shifting, as in a kaleidoscope, except of course this wasn’t colorful, this was gray. Gray rocks on the black belt. Géza too, in his chair was by now like a rock, a big rock the workers accidentally left there, didn’t blow to pieces, as if a memento for posterity.
A year went by and Géza sat through the summer and the winter, but not once did he have to stop the belt, not once was there a single piece of wood amidst the rocks. Nothing happened. The woman no longer mentioned Géza’s work to the neighbors, they got used to the fact that he works. Only Géza was troubled by something: this assignment seemed to be no assignment at all. Watching the rocks. He thought that if nobody had been watching them that whole year, the rocks would still have gotten into the carts, then to the train station, into the train cars, and finally to the metro, say, or to motorway seven. “I watch,” he thought, distending the side of his mouth with his thick tongue, “but they didn’t get there ’cause I was watchin’; me watchin’ didn’t make anythin’ happen.” “I’m watchin’ for nothin’,” he now said to Pista Banda, “it’s not ’cause of me watchin’ that anythin’ happens.” To which Pista Banda said, “But if somethin’ happens some time, you could even be savin’ a life. Let’s say one of the workers gets hurt, for instance.”
“You’re like a god,” Lajos Herda patted him on the back, then began explaining that there are these rocks on the belt, the way there are people on the earth, and Géza sits above it, the way God sits in heaven, and that, as a matter of fact, he, Géza, is the god of the rocks.
Banda explained in vain, Herda too; nothing convinced Géza. The god of the rocks sat, bent over in his chair, a meter and a half above the black belt, on a metal platform.
As a matter of fact, Pista Banda thought up the whole thing, but it turned out to be expedient. One day during an explosion, a huge stray dog ended up under the rock heaps. Banda said that now Géza has his assignment, and, as if they’d already talked the matter over thoroughly, they extracted the dog from under the rock pile, skinned it, and cast the bloody pieces onto the belt. Then Banda began shouting, “Oh, Lajos Herda, oh, pal of mine, what happened to you, what became of you?!”
The bloody rocks and pieces of flesh arrived in front of Géza just when the sound of the voice did, and horror plowed through the god of the rocks. He saw the pieces of Lajos Herda in front of him. The entire man was disassembled into tiny parts, so small that not even God will be able to put them together when the Resurrection comes. There won’t be time enough even for a tinkering angel to concoct a man out of them. As if in a spasm, Géza’s finger pressed down on the red button, for the first time, one year after he sat down next to those buttons. The machinery came to a halt, Pista Banda ran in moaning, “Oh, Lajos, why you, what became of you, oh, how do I tell Mariska about this?!” Everyone came running, Géza stood on the platform, petrified. The foreman grabbed him by the shoulder, “Go home, son, you don’t have to stay till the end of the shift, rest for a day.”
Géza stood motionless, engulfed in Pista Banda’s cries, in front of the pieces of Lajos Herda, some spit froth trembling on his mouth. “It wasn’t me,” he said, “I stopped it right away…”
“It wasn’t you,” said the foreman, “you did what you were supposed to, go on home now.”
“How’d he go to pieces like that?” stammered Géza, “like a pig bein’ slaughtered, that’s how bad…” and he set out with rock-heavy steps to go home as he was advised.
At home the woman wondered at how soon her son came home. “He’s so early today,” she thought. “You came home early,” she said to Géza-boy. In a terrified voice Géza began to tell her about the explosion. “I think that’s what did it,” he said, “tore ’im to smithereens, like they didn’t stick the explosive into the rock, but right into Lajos’s stomach, that’s how bad it tore ’im apart.” The woman didn’t say anything, she just kept lapsing into terror, like Géza himself, then Géza stretched out on the couch. The woman said to him he should sleep a couple of hours, sleep off the fright, and he did sleep a few hours, a quiescence the horror thrust him into.
Dreams traversed his rest, bloody shreds swam within range of the fatigued mind, then Lajos appeared whole as well, but only in a photograph, an old photograph, and the woman, Lajos’s wife, who just now is getting the news and is putting her hand to her heart in anguish, and she shrieks and sobs, she no longer remembers that scoundrel who was her husband, only the one she loved long ago, she remembers only those two or three years, when they were together in everything, as if the intervening fifteen never even existed. That’s the Lajos Herda she was mourning, the one who died fifteen years ago, and this one, who was just torn to pieces, she didn’t even think of.
He awoke in a greasy sweat, the hair stuck together on the nape of his neck and his back was completely chilled from the wetness. The woman was outside feeding the pigs when Géza started for the front door. She saw him going out. “What are you going away for?” she called. But Géza didn’t answer, his hulking body turned out onto the street.
“And he thought it was me,” said Lajos Herda laughing, just as the tavern door opened and in stepped the boy, Géza-boy, and stood there facing the man torn to pieces, who was speaking normally and being just the way he was at other times. Géza couldn’t say anything, he stared at the intact man, thinking that now he’s here, whole. Everything was convolving in the boy’s head, rocks and tatters of flesh and the whole man. He stood for perhaps half a minute, everyone in the tavern was staring at him the way he was now staring at Lajos, then suddenly he stepped back as if frightened by the prospect of stepping out of the world, out of all that was real to him, and finding himself in a world that does not exist. He backed out of the doorway, away from the whole Lajos, back to the one in pieces. He didn’t hear the laughter in the tavern, went home and sat down next to the stove, in the kitchen, sat there mutely and watched the floor laid out in squares of black and gray stone tiles; sometimes the gray ones floated on the black, sometimes the black ones on the gray. To him, all was well among the kitchen stones.
So it is that the kitchen tiles travel around Géza-boy every day. Sometimes the woman tosses a piece of wood on the fading fire, sits down facing the boy, and she too watches, watches as Géza watches the rocks, the square stone tiles, shaking on one another.
Translated by: Eugene Brogyányi
Tags: János Háy