We shouldn’t have let Adél see her present, said Szabados to his wife out in the kitchen, you know what she’s like, when the time comes, she won’t want it any more. Szabados always called the girl Adél, he never used a nickname, like his wife, who called her Adika or Adélka, while her older brother Robi called her Adu, his voice often resounding in the hall as he called for her: Adúúú! The two children had no affection for each other, but it’s like that everywhere; they bicker, argue, engage in sadistic games, then it’s forgotten. Szabados was sitting by the table, drinking beer and smoking a cigarette. He enjoyed these Sunday mornings, with the lunch cooking on the stove, mouth-watering smells filling the apartment, and his wife moving about near him, while he’s at liberty to drink his beer. Everything, indeed, is about this peace and expectation. Chicken soup, fried meat, potato purée, pickles, and today also a cake with candles, because it’s Adél’s birthday. The day before her mother bought her a skirt made of denim because according to Adél, everybody’s already got one in the class, though Szabados suspected that it’s just his daughter filling her mother’s head with nonsense, but he didn’t interfere; they can go buy whatever they want; nothing beats this peace and quiet.
It was cold outside, a thick cover of snow everywhere, it felt good looking out the window from inside the apartment, from time to time a flock of birds sat on the balcony railing, just now pigeons were shivering huddled together on a board and the bare branches of the trees, practically without moving. Robi, the elder brother, arrived practically frozen to the bone, his face purple with frost, holding a bunch of flowers. There was nothing but carnations, he said when he entered; it’ll do, Szabados said, what counts is the flowers, but his wife Kati looked into space with a worried expression, it should’ve been gerberas, she said, or freesia, didn’t they have that either? Robi pulled off his shoes, his jacket, shawl, hat, then he too disappeared in the back room without an answer to his mother. Szabados took a swig at the bottle and was a little bit ashamed of himself, because he was supposed to buy the flowers the day before, but it went clear out of his head. They’d agreed that her mother would hand over the present, and the boy the flowers. And what am I supposed to do, Szabados asked, but his wife just laughed at him, give her a kiss, she subsequently said, love her! At which Szabados also started to laugh, then they forgot the whole thing, even though the comment had an edge to it. Szabados didn’t love his daughter, and sometimes he couldn’t hide it. It showed.
The couple lived in their prefab apartment with their two children. For a long time now Szabados wanted a bigger apartment so the children could have separate rooms, but he could never manage it, and now it was too late, he’ll just have to accept it. His dreams had come to naught. And so have lots of other things. The trick is not to think about it, but concentrate on the lunch on the stove, and that it’s nice and warm and the beer cold. His wife Kati was getting ready to set the table, the meat was sizzling in the fat; besides, it was Sunday. He barely noticed when his older boy entered the kitchen, smelled the air, then asked, what’s the matter with that woman? When he was in the mood, Robi called his younger sister “that woman”. What do you mean what’s the matter, Szabados asked, why? Because she’s crying, the boy said, she’s getting on my nerves! Kati shot her husband a glance. What am I supposed to do about it, Szabados asked in self-defense. You could at least ask her why she’s crying, his wife said, and she put the plates on the table, the spoons, the knives, the forks, the glasses. Why is she crying? Because she feels like it, Szabados said after a while, because she’s nasty, and you know it! Gyula, his wife turned on him, that’s no way to talk. Lunch is ready, Szabados realized and shouted towards the backroom, Adél! Time for lunch! Come on! Then Robi also took his usual place next to the frigidaire, then the soup appeared on the table in the much used white porcelain toureen, and Adél also showed up, she’d stopped crying, but she didn’t speak, just sat in her place sulking. She knew that everybody hated her.
Adél resembled her mother, but the latter’s features were spread across her face in a bad sort of disarray, whereby they turned into the caricature of her mother, her nose too turned up, and instead of sensuality her lower lip expressed some sort of derision, disgust, while her eyes, round and big behind her glasses, were set more distantly apart, and on her figure mostly the fat and not the soft, feminine fullness were in evidence as opposed to her mother. Sometimes Szabados studied her at length and sighed, who will every want to marry this girl? But he wasn’t occupied with this now, what mattered was that they were all there and eating. They spooned the soup in silence; during the second course Szabados wanted to ask something of his wife or Robi, not that it mattered which, but when he looked up, his heart skipped a beat. Three slices of brown meat lay across a pile of potatoes on Adél’s plate, and she was just raising the fourth to her lips on a fork. Daughter, he said without thinking, won’t that be too much? Robi began to giggle, he didn’t dare laugh out-loud, while Kati, their mother, remained silent. Robi got a video for his birthday, the girl finally blurted out when she swallowed a bite, and everyone felt relieved, at least now they knew what was bugging her. Daughter, said Szabados for the second time today, we didn’t get it for him but for the family, so basically, he didn’t get anything. But he’s the one using it all the time, Adél said, her mouth stuffed with food. At last Robi laughed, you silly, he said, you watch it too, don’t you? Or did you want your own? Instead of answering the question, Adél continued eating.
The whole thing was so silly that everyone fell silent, but then came the cake with the candles. Adél couldn’t blow them out all at once because she was still chewing, but later she succeeded all the same, and she cut a huge slice for herself. Don’t eat the candle, her oldest brother said, but nobody laughed, everything had suddenly gone sour, whereas the lunch was good, the entire morning a haven of peace and tranquility, and Szabados was now convinced that it was his daughter who always managed to poison their mood, and when a moment later Adél began to cough after taking another bite of cake, for a moment it occurred to him that maybe now she’ll choke, and he was overcome by a sinful joy, but he quickly got it out of his head. The girl was wracked by a coughing fit, desperately trying to catch her breath until the food turned out of her mouth. Then she started vomiting, on the table, the plate, her dress; stand up, Robi shouted at her, you’re gonna make me throw up too! Szabados also felt disgusted, while his wife Kati was patting the girl’s back, then attempted to make her stand up, but by then they all saw the blood, a great deal of blood. At first it came dripping from Adél’s mouth and nose, then it began to flow in earnest, a dark scarlet. Oh, my God, Adél, come quick, her mother yelled. What’s the matter, Szabados asked dim-witted. Go and bring some cotton, his wife shouted, hurry!
Later Robi also vomited into the sink, but the fit quickly passed, he drank a little water, out in the bathroom his parents were busy looking after Adél, then he heard his father say they should call an ambulance, this thing’s not stopping, Robi! Robi! Robi! Darn, Robi thought, I should have known. Go over to Uncle Kiss, call for an ambulance, no, wait, I’ll do it! And Szabados ran across the kitchen out onto the gangway, while Robi just sat and thought that the ambulance would soon come and take Adél to the hospital, and it didn’t phase him at all. He looked into the bathroom and felt like vomiting again when he saw that everything was covered with blood and vomit, his mother was crying, and so was Adél, who seemed to have blood gushing out at her ears even; Jesus Christ, the boy thought for the first time, aghast, what the hell is this? His mother was sprinkling water on the back of her daughter’s neck, she kept wiping her face, while the linoleum flood was strews with big, bloody swabs of cotton, and so was the tub, and there were dirty towels everywhere. Oh, Mother of God! He was on the verge of trembling, he knew, then he stuck a finger up his nostril, but there was no blood on it; later he helped lay Adél on her back on the sofa in the big room, at which the bleeding seemed to relent a bit, but in a moment Adél jumped up, I’m going to choke, she gurgled, spit a big, bloody clot on the rug, then started vomiting again. Good Lord, her mother screamed, when are they coming? What’s keeping them? And where’s your father? Hurry, go and see what the hell he’s up to!
Robi ran out to the gangway but didn’t see anyone, but when he started downstairs he ran into the paramedics, and his father was rushing upstairs too, everybody running, practically knocking him over, then inside one of them said, I’ve never seen anything like this! Hurry back for the stretcher. But no, let’s take her outside, right now! They covered the girl’s mouth and nose with a towel, then picked her up in their arms, let’s go! Her mother hurried after them with a big wad of cotton. Once in the ambulance, they lay her down, one of the paramedics said something to someone over the radio, standing on the sidewalk Robi and his father saw the Toyota turn around, then they saw Adél through the ambulance window sit up, tear the towel from her face, shout something, then her head fell back on the stretcher. Which was the last time they saw her alive.
Translated by: Judith Sollosy
Tags: Sándor Tar