07. 12. 2012. 13:38

Daybook (excerpt) II

"What he actually asked was, should I get rid of the corpse all by myself, or are you going to lend me a hand? And I said, I'm sorry, forget it, no way, do it yourself. Just because you fucked me into this world is no reason I should do your dirty work for you. Not now. Or ever."

Chapter 4: Grandad

I did not attend Grandad’s funeral back in ’59.
He did not attend. They asked him if he wouldn’t like to attend, his father must have asked him, and he must have felt the need to come up with some sort of serious-sounding excuse, like oh, my goodness, I should go, really, seeing how Grandad always loved me. But...
    But what? What did I say?
    Something like, “You know how a cemetery upsets me”? If that’s what I said, I was aping my father, who had a bad heart. “So just this once, don’t make me, think of how sensitive I am, think of my soul.” Yes, I was quite capable of saying even that. And still am. Or: “Look here, dad, don't make me go, just this once, please. Leave me out of it. A person mourns with his heart anyhow, not his actions, his whatchamacallit, his ...”  Yes, I said plenty of things like that when I was ten (and later, too, I am sorry to say). But maybe I just sighed and said, “I don’t know how to put it ...  The thing is ...  no fooling ...  I'm not so inclined.”
    I must have made a special point of saying that, I just know it.
    This whining in imitation of the grownups, this searching for the right words.
    But that’s not what he remembered, but what it felt like saying no when my father had brought it up, nervous and in passing, a day or two prior to the funeral, barely just touching upon it one winter’s morning; he was in the dumps and was in the devil of a hurry to be off someplace; he was in his topcoat and hat and he barely just stopped behind me for a second, and after I'd started hemming and hawing by way of an answer in a sing-song manner, having been startled from my reading, because I had jerked my head up from some book or other, which means I had to turn around, and—but he wouldn't even let me finish—“I don't want you to either, I just though I should ask, it's better if you don't,” he cut in brusquely, irritably, then averting my eyes he hastily fixed his scarf, and was off
    and then, but afterwards, too
    yes, even as I was making my excuses
    I felt a burning sense of shame! Burning, raging ...
    Inextinguishable!
    I felt my cheeks burning; then to my surprise I started whining inside, God forbid father should notice how “his cheeks are on fire, he’s blushing, lying, he’s lazy and selfish and thumbs his nose at us, he’s spoiled rotten,” that’s what he’s thinking, so while I was making my excuses I never took my eyes off his, “will he buy it,” but he didn’t look like he wouldn’t, still, with every word things went from bad to worse, it sounded worse, and maybe it was, and that's why the hero of our story found this so utterly shameful, among other things, because ...
    because...?
    because for days I’d been expecting the question; I even suspected that it would be popped in an off-handed manner, and so, pretending I didn't even know what I was doing, feigning preoccupation, I rehearsed over and over what I hoped would be an artless and unstudied sort of answer which, when I actually got to say it, turned into a monstrous lie, and this surprised me all the more because when I had rehearsed it inside I was pleased as punch, what's more, I even thought how suitable it was, what a sensitive child, he couldn’t even say why, still, he balked at seeing his grandfather’s coffin, poor darling, how he stammered, lost for words, grown old before his time, he knows too much, alas!, the Jewish cemetery, it gets him down
    and I couldn’t see why this good little alibi
    should sound so implausible, even in my own eyes
    not to mention dad’s
    but when he stormed out of the house and I began pacing in front of the window, shivers like lightning zigzagging up and down my back, and I found myself incapable of digesting what had just happened, chewed over the dialogue between my father and myself, replaying it as it were, over and over again, the shame, it ate into me something awful.
    Or whatever. Not just the shame. But the shame, too.
    I couldn’t have said what. It was too indistinct. Besides  — — —

Father hadn't even asked what he had asked. What he actually asked was, should I get rid of the corpse all by myself, or are you going to lend me a hand? And I said, I'm sorry, forget it, no way, do it yourself. Just because you fucked me into this world is no reason I should do your dirty work for you. Not now. Or ever.
    Grandad lies on your conscience. You made your bed. Now lie in it.

I was heartless because I am heartless.
And unfair. (Really? It’s not my problem.) Still, that my own father—that I should be ashamed of a Zeus, when I should have been ashamed of myself. Those old wives’ tales about children and innocence! Must’ve been thought up by sentimental evil doers to easy their consciences, the old shitheads. To lie about something, as if in a trance, when it is too late ...
    Whoever loves the light and favours enlightenment knows: a child is a wolf. A child is the most heartless of all creatures.
    I have not changed.

Possibly, what made this impertinent and cheeky laziness of mine so surprisingly laden with shame was the fact that my father did not bawl me out right away, that he didn't smack me, backhanded, on the spot...? Because the one thing he never would tolerate, then or ever, was for me to say something I did not mean!
    What a father. A foolish father. I lied, and he didn't smack me on the kisser. Out of a sense of fair play. Because he was lying too. Why did he have to ask if I felt like going with him?
    By then, Grandad hadn’t been living with us for years. He was wasting away in a Jewish old age home in Óbuda, a victim of cerebral sclerosis. Dad had him taken there in the winter of '57, when he accidentally set fire to the sheets.
    Our visits to him were wide and far between.
    I didn’t miss him either.  — — —

“... and then, stumbling, I wedged my body behind the grave, no easy feat when you consider the effusive growth of the wild lilac bush—not that it was all that difficult either, though it was unpleasant—you try wrestling with the unyielding bushes behind a grave is all I say, go try it!—then with a groan I bent into it, grabbed the marble slab, but no, sorry, that's not how it was, because I pushed through the waist-high weeds, panicky-blind, to see if it's still there, if it's him, my grandfather, am I with my grandfather, lest I end up trampling over the grave of some so-called strange Jew, and so, first bending down, the blood rushing to my head, I pushed by livid countenance forward and down and studied the slab, brushing the sand off with my hand so I could see in the greenish half-light—it felt rotten, by the way, not knowing whether I'm desecrating a grave or bending over Grandad!—but there he was, I’d found him, in person!, I let escape a self-satisfied groan, my nether lip covered with sand, a wisp of hair in my eye, I’m old, I'm worn out, I’ve arrived, in a manner of speaking

Miksa Tábor
(1879-1959)

“I’m here, sweetheart, don’t worry, it’s all right,” I whispered idiotically at the ground, exasperated and embarrassed, there, I did it again, I had to go search for him again in this accursed place, this ant-ridden mound, under weedy-infested wild lilac bushes, and I had noone to blame but myself, seeing how I like to forget, forget the tough break we gave him even in the matter of his resting place; in short, as nerves on edge, I bent down among the weeds looking for the pitiful marble slab made long after my father's death, because as long as he was alive he wouldn’t have it, he sabotaged it
    but it's no use ransacking my brain, was it mother who had it made or me
    sometimes it seems to be mother was still alive, in fact, we had decided together
    I was the one who was scandalized, but she supplied the funds, on the other hand, it was I who took care of it
    or was it in ’79, on my thirtieth birthday
    memorable because I was engaged in writing Miserere, and I decided on my own about it
    later paying for it myself from my less than modest salary
    behind my family’s back, or was it mom who got tired of it after dad’s death
    and out of revenge for dad, now there's something that would be just like her
    if only it were true
    I don’t know
    but one of us took care of it
    making sure he'd have a marble slab over his grave at least, the old fart, as my father used to call his father when the old man lost his mind; in short, as I bent over and with a groan grabbed the marble slab to see what’s on it, though I could see plainly enough it was his, and possibly I just wanted to lift it up because I was happy, or maybe heave it partway out of the black cemetery soil so it shouldn’t be sunk in so deep, anyway, that’s when the fortuitous craving got me in its spell, and I dug into the sand with my nails and greedily fell to gobbling up the earth, and on a sudden impulse I stuffed a handful into my mouth as voracious as a midnight glutton sneaking out to the fridge for a bit of half-frozen ham
    or a rodent on the trail of a scent, helpless, all control gone
    I dug myself into the mound of earth and swallowed without bothering to chew, gorging myself, like always, indiscriminately, the tiny crampons and decayed pieces of bark notwithstanding, the way I eat the celery in my chicken soup, the mellow tubers, the soft snail’s shells
    but not Grandad, don't get me wrong
    that never entered my mind, besides, I didn’t find a single piece of him, no bones, shoes or shreds of clothing; it would have been horrible, but in any case also impossible, because I was standing between two graves, there was nothing there but this good, greasy black earth which Rákoskeresztúr offers up to you as far as the eye could see; I’m going to have my fill for once, I thought, you never know, and I was right, it was delicious!, me shovelling it in, the wet mud trickling down the corners of my mouth; gorging myself at length and with satisfaction, though with plenty of bad conscience, too, I couldn’t stop, it's a problem I've got but I've learned to live with it, I can put up with it reasonably well, provided the ogling rabble does not surround me while I’m eating and refrains from making sly remarks such as culture-glutton, token Jew, and the like, and so
    I dug myself ankle-deep into the cemetery soil
    then knee-deep, then waist-deep
    and I clawed
    and I craved the soil
    looking for the choicest, moistest bits
    then flung the earth above my head, shouting whoopee!
    I burped, I sobbed, I had a grand old time, but then I barfed it right back,
    the soil I had clawed out of the ground in my great enthusiasm, my colossal infidelity
    and loving care, an unhappily Hungarian Jew, and agonised
    about what my shadow was doing up there in the sky WHY AM I SO BIG?
    these days
    I can be seen far as Milan (Mailand)
    with this unsavory cannibal-punim of mine

Which is was I got.

Because as I was wrestling with Grandad’s sunken marble slab behind the graves, well, I’ll be, miracle of miracles, my shadow started growing, it got bigger and bigger, gigantic, the size of an entire country, flag unfurled, what a fix.
    Not me, mind you. My shadow! “A shadow-ape. Goliath Klein, the Golem—so he’s under foot, after all. In which case, though, how come he’s alive? He’d expired long ago, it said so in the telegram. So what’s he stirring like that for? What is he up to? What is he after?”
    Like the hero of a Fellini film at the end.
    A genie let out of the bottle. A danger signal. A shadow over the city. Some minor mishap the continent should have no trouble recovering from—provided it survives the Felix Krull-like convalescence!—but this hump-backed tsuris, this Jewish vegetating, this is virulent. But me, I am still alive.
    The tsuris, that's me. Grandad was merely its cause.”

“... anyhow, propelled by a sudden thought, I heaved the marble slab up from the ground and staggering, rescued it from the thick weeds so the next time I could spot it with ease, not to mention the fact that I wanted for one and sundry to see: this is the home of that famous writer’s grandfather, where the brave come to pay homage. Then as he bent down over the grave with it, his spine cracked. No kidding.
    For a second he thought he wouldn’t be able to straighten up. He decided he'd ignore it. I carried the stone forward. So far so good. I put it down in front of the grave graced with insect nests. So far so good. I brushed the sand off my hands and cleared my throat ...
    Time for prayers.
    »Grandad would be pleased, seeing I was a believer.«  His back hurt.  He said the Lord’s Prayer.  He must have said it three times, at least.  And as he ground it out, wailing oh ever so exquisitely, the way only a Jew knows how, he suddenly remembered how back to ’79, before he started on Miserere, when he came to pray at the foot of the graves of his mouldering forebears, he even cried.
    He was crying now, too.”

Translated by: Judith Sollosy

Tags: Mihály Kornis