01. 23. 2006. 06:42

Parallel Stories (Excerpt)

Péter Nádas

"Immersed in earnest silence they continued to skim and scan, to weigh and to explore one another, pushing well beyond the realm of reason."

They quietly blamed themselves, knowing that every word they now spoke was only making things worse, and that if it was so, it was better to be silent or to be blatantly conversational. Every word came to have a curious, sharp edge. Yet they were thinking about two different things and were genuinely not blaming the other. They could not mention what was preoccupying them, as they did not want to make things even worse. They were looking at each other. There was no trace of love or affection left in those faces. Motionless water. They both felt they had behaved scandalously in the last hours, their frivolity was scandalous and it made no sense to add to the scandal. Neither could account for the way they had behaved.

It is no wonder that each had scared off the other, pointlessly and unforgivably. They had talked too much, been too clever. Exposed themselves and betrayed the other they had loved.

What had made them so vulgar and shameless?

Yet, the people sitting and dancing around them had the impression that these two, sitting in the pool of light around the piano, had now irrevocably broken with each other. Inwardly they were examining the history of their relationship and savoured its scandalous nature.

Not only did they look at each other with indifference – accompanied by the sounds of the drums and the piano –, their entire emotional life underwent a change. Outside, in the wind, they had still felt the devastating power of their freedom, but indoors, under each other’s gaze they lost their independent personal existence.

They suffered no lapse of self-discipline, that was all right, they kept everything properly under control, but leaning over their neutralised gazes and indifferent expressions all the flavours and signals of their being were reserved for each other. No one could have said that Klára Vay, with her towering coiffure and enormous eyes, her rounded lips thickly coated in lipstick, her mink coat and, even more, her gesture as she tossed it carelessly off her shoulder, her revealing décolletage and glaring white skin, her skin-tight dress so short it scared off whoever looked at it, in her inordinately high-heeled and pointed shoes, was not an apparition to attract the eye. There were her shapely calves, her figure which on the whole made a girlish impression, her strong hips, powerful thighs: the contradictions or disharmony of her anatomy. As soon as they entered Kristóf sensed the discomfort of the challenge her appearance represented and was mindful of being seen by strangers with such an ostentatious apparition. His skin itched with the awareness that Klára’s beauty and impermissible elegance rendered him ridiculous.

He turned into a little shit.

And, pathetically, he was supposed to be proud, too.

For a little shit to have such a woman. As though he had been her page boy, her escort, her secret lover for years. Or indeed, had any chance of ever being her lover.

It was wrong to let Klára see that he was overawed the first time they went out together. He had to put on the most neutral face and looks possible, to prevent those others reading from his face just how desperate he was, the ultimate failure and disaster that he had so successfully evaded up till now. 

They both managed to hit the right note, too.

They were not scandalous enough to attract those eyes for very long, the gazes peeled off, one by one. For themselves they remained scandalous and intolerable. The visible age gap had also lost its weight as a possible factor in an apparent drama of broken love. The only thing that must have been intolerable was the awareness that these two will not manage without each other and they were clearly unable to account for this awareness to themselves. They held their champagne flutes in their free hand and as though these glasses were stopping them from touching each other, their coats hung limply off the high bar stools. Bodily silence, or the total lack of the wish to talk had cut them off from other people. There was little you could subtract from what had gone before, and nothing from their presence.

The ever-present moment proved more powerful and, under its weight, stories that had been told blissfully lost importance. As though they could simply be forgotten, so many backdrops of sound to be drawn to one side, small noises from the passage of history.

True, there was nowhere for them to put the champagne flutes. They stared into the piano, the hammers working away on the strings, the reflections on the black lacquer of the open top.

Anything but having to look at each other.

The first sign they noticed was that Kristóf’s knee touched Klára’s knee even though he would do anything but move and he really had not meant this to happen. He said sorry and seemed genuinely contrite about being ill-mannered. If this had only been the first time this happened between them it might have been alright but it was not. The vacuum that emerged between the two knees, once he had rapidly withdrawn his, was powerful enough to suck up the totality of bodily sensation and eat up their bodily being, clothes and all.
Their pitiable separateness was over. Or they could only have traced along the surface of each other’s body that which had already happened in their soul, which their conscious minds had not accepted – all of this they could not know.

It is quite probably the soul first, then the sensation and finally the decision.

After some period of time, the length of which they could not have accounted for, but it was not the first stretch of time that filled itself with them, now Klára’s knee touched Kristóf’s knee and it was her turn to apologise quickly. It was mainly her breeding that spoke. In all honesty they might have laughed, but they did not. Immersed in earnest silence they continued to skim and scan, to weigh and to explore one another, pushing well beyond the realm of reason.

They seemed to be trying to gauge what is invisible to the naked eye, what the naked hand cannot avert. There was no chance of coming to an end, a succession of small surprises, they marvelled with their pupils wide open.

In the meantime they were thinking about something that was very far removed from what they sensed about each other’s face, each other’s figure or their limbs locked into immobility.

For a long time, sensation and thinking moved along parallel tracks.

Twenty minutes must have elapsed before their arms, leaning on the sharp edge of the piano, eventually moved and their fingers found the way back and folded into each other. Which in no way made them happy. They exchanged the gift of leaden tiredness and sorrow. They had given up a sense of independence, an independence that Klára had never given up even with Simon, not with anybody.

Translated by Orsolya Frank

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Tags: Péter Nádas