01. 28. 2008. 07:21

More One Minute Stories

István Örkény

"A one minute story by Örkény is... a combination of many things: anecdote...; aphorism, short note, found object, tale, joke, parable, a little of everything." (Péter Esterházy) – A new selection of István Örkény's one minute stories was recently published in English.


A bus crashed into a tree on Calvin Square, and soon after, every tram in the city came to a stop. Everything stopped, even the toy train in the window of the toy shop. Silence everywhere. A little later there was a rasping sound, but it was just a page from a newspaper being swept along by a gust of wind. Then it was flung against a wall, and the silence grew profounder still.
Eight minutes after the atomic bomb exploded the electricity failed and immediately afterwards, the last gramophone recording wound down over the radio. An hour later the water taps gave off a slurping sound, and then there was no more water. The boughs, too, became as dry as a hot tin roof. The semaphore gave the go-ahead, but the last express from Vienna never made it to the station. By morning, the water in the boiler of its locomotive was cold.
Within a month, the parks were overgrown with weed, and the sand boxes on the children’s playgrounds sprouted oats. The delicious drinks, too, evaporated on the innkeepers’ shelves. All the foodstuffs, all the leather goods and library books were eaten by the mice. Mice are extremely prolific; they litter up to five times a year. In a short while they overran the streets, covering the pavement like some velvety, mud colored, billowing stonework.
They took possession of the flats, the beds in the plats, the rows of seats in the theatres. They even flooded the Opera House, where La Traviata had been the last performance. When they gnawed through the last string of the last violin, that twang sounded the swan song of Budapest.
But by the following day, across the street from the Opera, a sign appeared attached to the stone ruins of a building:
“Dr. Mrs. Varsányi, mouse exterminator. You bring the bacon, I catch the mice.”
in memoriam dr. h.g.k.

"Hölderlin ist ihnen unbekannt?"'1 Dr. H.G.K. asked as he dug the pit for the horse’s carcass.
 "Who is that?" the German guard growled.
 "The author of Hyperion," said Dr. H.G.K., who had a positive passion for explanations. "The greatest figure of German Romanticism. How about Heine?" he tried again.
 "Who're them guys?" the guard growled, louder than before.
 "Poets," Dr. H.G.K. said. "But Schiller. Surely you have heard of Schiller?"
 "That goes without saying," the German guard nodded.
 "And Rilke?" Dr. H.G.K. insisted.
 "Him, too," the German guard said and, turning the color of paprika, shot Dr. H.G.K. in the back of the head.


1. banter
A black limousine approaches from the direction of county headquarters. It comes to a halt. A man in black gets out and walks over to the pea fields.
“Well, well, how are we doing?” he asks the peasants by way of a joke.
“We’re very well, thank you,” the peasants say by way of a joke.
(Folklore from Sárvár, Vas County, 1957)

2. unimpeded production standards
“Hello? Machine shop?”
“Skultéti here.”
“How much, Skultéti?”
“Thirty-three, Comrade.”
“What’s thirty-three, Skultéti?”
“What’s thirty-three, Comrade?”
“Yes, what’s thirty-three, Skultéti.”
“Why? Wasn’t thirty-three the right answer, Comrade?”
“The right answer to what, Skultéti.”
“To your question, Comrade.”
“Never mind, Skultéti, just resume where you left off.”
(Heavy industry folklore, 1978)

our sons

Many years ago there lived a poor old widow, and this poor old widow had two handsome sons. One of them, the first-born, entered service on a ship that headed straight for the Pacific, but nobody knows what became of him, because there’s no one left to tell us, they all disappeared without a trace.
The younger of the two sons stayed home. But once when his poor old mother sent him for some tapeworm lozenges (to the pharmacy, the seventh house from their miserable hut), he never returned. He, too, disappeared without a trace.
This is a true story, because in folk tales the poor old widow always has three sons, and the third invariably comes to a good end.
gli ungheresi

Ice cream was originally invented by Ugo Riccardo Salvatore Giulio Girolamo B., a baker from Catania. The precise date is still an object of debate, so let’s not worry about it; it was more or less at the same time as the invention of the printing press.
Besides inventing ice cream, Ugo also invented a thin waffle cone to go with it, plus a push cart. (Which is just as it should be. It’s inconceivable that Irinyi, for instance, should have invented the match, leaving the match box to someone else, or that Ehrlich should have discovered Salvarsan, and someone else syphilis. That would be absurd.) Anyway, after he had perfected his invention in this manner, Ugo decided to go public with it.
He traveled through Lodomeria and Bessarabia, Tirol, Burgundy, Brandenburg, and even the Wendish captaincy. One can imagine the reception he got, but one cannot describe it adequately. Wherever he appeared with his small cart, young and old gathered round him clutching their money in their hands and smacking their lips as, with hearts beating wildly, they waited for their raspberry, strawberry, chocolate, lemon, or pistachio ice cream. Ugo gave everyone what they asked for, and in order to save them unnecessary experimentation, he even told them that all they have to do was lick the ice cream. Wherever he went he was greeted with glee, and when it was time for him to move on, the people were much saddened, and hoped for his swift return.
One time, Ugo even visited Hungary. (Italian: Ungheria.) But in Hungary the king had just instituted a new tax on salt, and so young and old could talk about nothing else except the new salt tax. His vanity hurt and himself desperate, Ugo attached a bell to his push cart and, with more eagerness than usual, showed his ice cream to the few that gathered around him. However, the Hungarians (Italian: gli ungheresi) couldn’t have cared less. They didn’t feel the heat of the summer, and so had no need of anything to cool them down; their heads were too full with the new tax on salt. Though Ugo tried to explain to them that they could go on thinking whatever they wanted because all they had to do was to lick his ice cream, they said thank you but no thank you, we’ve got more than enough to lick as it is.
But, Ugo protested, having been mortally wounded by such cruel indifference, each one of his ice creams has a different taste! So what, the mule-headed Hungarians shot back, all they have to do is suck on their five fingers, each one has a different taste too. And when Ugo would still not relent, they bombarded him with horse manure, thinking that in his hodge-podge of a language, gelatti (Hungarian: fagylalt) must mean, “Long live the tax levied on salt!” Needless to say, they couldn’t very well put up with that.
Broken in mind and body, poor Ugo managed to push his cart as far as the duchy of Zára, but from there he had to be taken home by boat. On his deathbed, surrounded by the ice cream vendors of Italy, he was heard to say just two words, over and over, “Gli ungheresi… gli ungheresi,” then he gave up the ghost.
Translated by Judith Sollosy
István Örkény: More One-Minute Stories. Corvina, Budapest, 2007. Selected and translated by Judith Sollosy.
To buy this book, please contact the publisher at corvina@lira.hu .

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