10. 08. 2005. 22:19

The Inheritance Question

"...poultry know how to talk, and once they’ve set up roost in the run, they set about muttering quietly, disguised as clucking, you know, everyday things, sweetcorn, get along there, you see what I mean, son, everyday things like that, but if they have everyday things, matters to discuss, then surely they also have special, ceremonial, issues to agree on, too, it’s obvious, isn’t it?"

Krisztián Grecsó (1976) is a young writer who has an intimate knowledge of the microclimate of small Hungarian provincial towns, because he was grown up in one of them. He creates modern prose out of the figures, characters, myths, superstitions, material environment, and slow decomposition of the Hungarian province. The most impressive and convincing début of the turn of the millennium in Hungarian prose.

The first time I discussed the inheritance question was when, under the enormous walnut tree dwarfing the first courtyard, Uncle Schriwanek told me that there are certain weeds which – and it was better if I learned this from him – ooze not wolf’s milk when snapped in two, but, however unlikely it might sound, wolf’s blood. A ruddy, thick liquid, which if tasted by a foolish mortal, would have the very effect its name suggests.

 I happened to be sitting in the first courtyard at the moment Uncle Schriwanek came over with these tricky questions, how I would arrive at more important things, I would see, if I began to deal with the inheritance question, which, he said, is a most interesting issue, but also a very dangerous one, there was, for example – and he raised his index finger in the air – the case of Oláh Two Wheels, and what a clever kid he was too, who then fell into the hands of the Devil, for that little scallywag was only ever plotting his next misdeed. He only thought of the wolf’s blood while guzzling on wolf’s milk, mark my words, hissed Uncle Schriwanek, that’s when he said what the hell, I can do that, and so he invented wolf’s blood, and that’s how it is with inheritance, and other weighty issues, he added, and as he had said, there was Oláh Two Wheels, who until then had dreamed of the same filth, until finally he tied himself onto that impossibly big galloper of the taiga, all three hundredweight of it, no one for a minute thought it possible to go with it at all, but anyway, he tied himself onto it, and went straight for the soaking tank behind the factory, after which he stank so strongly of hemp, that at his funeral no one could stop themselves from grinning. Anyway – said Uncle Schriwanek, returning to what he was saying – Two Wheels dreamed that he went home and, in his sleep, asked his wife, Mrs. Two Wheels (who had come to enjoy the same sobriquet, even though she’d hardly ever biked in her life, but then she was Two Wheels’ wife, wasn’t she, so who could she be, other than Mrs. Two Wheels) where the kid was. She said that unfortunately she had to chop him into little pieces, Mrs. Two Wheels chop Two Wheels junior, that is, and now all four parts of Two Wheels junior are in the linen cupboard, not exactly the ideal place, but still better than if the Devil comes for him tonight and violently rapes the poor little boy. That’s why I keep telling you, said Uncle Schriwanek, here’s the Devil again, like everywhere else, you have to be on the lookout, and can I add, he said, looking me in the eye with the best of intentions, but this really is a secret: in the end the reason Two Wheels hit the lake with the galloper from the taiga was really because he was afraid that the Devil would come and defile the child, and then he couldn’t live himself – better to split the poor thing into pieces than to listen to its suffering from start to finish.

Yes indeed, yes indeed, Uncle Schriwanek insisted, as he began to chase the flies from the rich bunches of grapes.

Let’s have a rest, he said, before I tell you about the inheritance, finally, for I am big enough to know the score, but until then, he burped, that dirty fly will be here any moment, this is the lowest crappy animal of all the crappy animals, this was created by the Devil, too, you can look that up anywhere, this is all written down in those oh-so-clever books, like the encyclopaedia and that kind of thing, that the lame hoofed animal, for when it saw the bee animal dressed up all nice and elegant, its stomach began to throb, sourly, from the nerves, like dressing up for a ball, but all she said was that she can do the same herself, she was haughty and presumptuous, and that’s when she made the fly, but really, this is a fact, you can find out for yourself, he said, he had read it in some serious place.

For it’s not just a question of him, András Schriwanek, pulling things out of his little finger. At least, that’s how it works at other times, but not now.

Ah, but the question of the inheritance is different, because when I realised the things I am about to say, he said, salty perspiration was dripping down me, I swallowed dark chocolate by the slab, because those things not only improve the capacity of your brain, something you have great need for during experiments, but also put an end to the awful diarrhoea, because I can tell you, Uncle Schriwanek said, that in summer, in the parching heat, then the animals can stuff themselves, not to mention humans, we still need mash, we cannot rob our constitutions of spirits, just because it’s got the tiniest little bit hotter, for alcohol, he enthused, is no game, it’s no game, he shouted, life is a game, but alcohol, that’s no game, no game at all… The pigs, too, lie on their sides if it is hot, then never even venture out of the central sty, while the chickens are sitting in the shade of the wooden logs, and there isn’t so much as a squeak, only silence, which is very good for your nervous system, he nodded, for the problem with this rushed, worm-eaten world – he shoved his index finger in the air – is that you don’t even have the time to bite your name into your own shit, and what’s wrong with this busy-as-a-bee world is that there isn’t any silence to be found anywhere, though I once had a dream, Uncle Schriwanek insisted, in which there was silence, but then your Aunt Schriwanek woke me up, as she always does, she’s such a liability, the old girl, but what can you do, it’s only in the world of the Orient that you can have any serious laughs, around here menfolk have their hands tied, but at least on warm afternoons like these there is a spot of quiet, the only person bounding around is your Aunt Schriwanek, ants in her pants, lest any of the livestock perish in the heat, she gives the sows water twice a day, and lets the chickens out into the barn courtyard, and this is when – said Uncle Schriwanek, his tempo slowing – this is when I notice the following, son, for I’m no fool, just because I only ever did primary school, and when the pigsty door opens, silence continues to reign, maybe it even swaggers about a bit in its oversize trousers, but then, as if enchanted by a spell, the birds start making their way out, cutting across the farmyard, you know, past my workshop there – Uncle Schriwanek pointed to his workshop – and there, on the diagonal side of the workshop, where the two metre by two metre recess is, where the garden begins – you know that by now, don’t you, he asked – anyway, that’s where they shove themselves into, trampling all over one another, and there is squawking from all sides, cackling of all kinds.

Down past the workshop and into the hole, Uncle Schriwanek indulged.

And I just cannot rest that things are as they are, because I like to give every hole a good sniff.

Although your Aunt Schriwanek is really the one to tell you this, he laughed, oh she’s the great professor, mark my words, in knowing how to mix up her husband’s words, in getting all tangled up in them, one sentence slapping the next in the face, and you can immediately tell that something is fishy, so I can’t keep calm, especially at times like this when it crosses my mind, that the same thing happens year in year out, shoo, get out of there, get over diagonally to the hole, and don’t get me wrong, son, but what conclusions can we draw from this, Uncle Schriwanek asked, do you think that something extra runs in chicken blood, a safety reserve, well no, son, for where would it be from, you don’t know, do you, well that’s no surprise, because it wouldn’t be from anywhere, why don’t they say someone has the brains of a chicken, for if they did say it, they would say it because that would mean so much brain, not so little. Anything else, maybe, you can say something, you can’t, can you, there we are then, well that’s how it goes, I couldn’t myself for a long while, I was even beginning to suspect that those numbskulls had got used to it, but it’s not even that, my son.

When can we finally get moving, like back in the old days on the farmyard, why aren’t you in a hurry?

Let me tell you, Uncle Schriwanek exclaimed, that it’s the Devil’s hand interfering in things again, I am convinced of it, for example, you can easily see that every group grows up isolated from all the other ones: they don’t even look in each other’s holes! How could they, when every year last year’s brood-hens are sitting around in a separate run in the back yard? Listen, they can’t even see that far, can’t even see that far, you understand, they can’t even nod with their beaks to say this way, kids, or that way, because this is how things have gone for thirty years now, we gather in front of the workshop, don’t bring us into disrepute, stupid chickens, but there’s just no possibility for it, you see, and yet, my friend, it’s as if there was some kind of secret decree hidden underneath those white eggshells as they break open, gargling, as if this knowledge were spate into their heads, because the sad fact is, said Uncle Schriwanek, lowering his head sadly, however shocking it might be, that chickens bought from different houses, who are not even related to one another, behave in just the same way once they are grown up.

You see, he gestured, I’ve even lost interest in the grapes.

I say all this to your Aunt Schriwanek, he said, but she just laughs, laughs in my face, as if there were nothing to be bothered about, but I’ll tell you, son, I wouldn’t be so calm about it, I don’t know. When there are these beings, who in their impoverished lives, as far as we know, don’t lower themselves to do anything other than settle in the house and fidget and strut about for days on end, then along comes the firm hand of your Aunt Schriwanek, and they take their leave to hen heaven, or to hen hell, whichever each one happens to deserve, so anyway, there are these shitty chickens, and there is something inside them, that from year to year never changes, that stays totally identical. There are blind chickens, granted, but that’s different, that’s from the gullet, no, I mean what they all do together, so fucking together.

It stinks, my son, I can tell you, it stinks.

It’s not like there’s generally that much intelligence spilling out of the poultry’s eyes, that would make me think that it is destined for greater things, no, it’s not that – Uncle Schriwanek shook his head – but even those who know better say that knowledge is power.

Listen here, my son, he said, leaning closer, I can see three possible solutions.

The first is that poultry know how to talk, and once they’ve set up roost in the run, they set about muttering quietly, disguised as clucking, you know, everyday things, sweetcorn, get along there, you see what I mean, son, everyday things like that, but if they have everyday things, matters to discuss, then surely they also have special, ceremonial, issues to agree on, too, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Anyway, the second is that decree I told you about, which is rustling there under the milky-white eggshell, and which is happy, you know, like someone who’s always being taken somewhere new.

Uncle Schriwanek heaved a heavy sigh. I’ve kept the surprise till last, he said. These first two ideas fall through pretty easily, anyone can see that, you only have to look at that stupid animal, but you can also simply try it out, if you have the chance, for example, just to refer to something specific, you go with the galloper from the taiga, and in a tight spot an animal like this gets in your way, it starts to cackle like mad, then makes the worst decision it possibly can, it squeezes itself together, and the wheels just come, the great behemoth gets closer and closer, and in the last minute it tries to rescue what can be rescued from the situation, dashes across in front of the vehicle with its beak in the air, risking its all, its shitty little chicken neck, and yours, like your nicely-shaven complexion, your overcoat, and other important things like that, thing that your Aunt Schriwanek gets all harpy about, and then try to convince her that it was all because of a chicken, when it so happens that you really do have the smell of schnapps all over you.

Now take the animal capable of such a thing, that animal cannot talk, that animal hasn’t learned invaluable pearls of wisdom in its mother’s womb! Isn’t that right?

There is another explanation. Quite different from the others. One has a prick, the other has a slit, because everything, and note this well in your diary, my son, either has a member, or has a hole, and so you can always tell, whether it is a male thing, or not, everything, except for fear, you can’t tell anything like that about fear, though – and Uncle Schriwanek leaned closer – I’ll let you in on a secret, I would much rather it were male, because men’s hands work differently: while you are wavering, everything is certain, but when it is time to strike, they are merciful, but women, my son, they’re not like that, they tremble like hell when it doesn’t make a difference, then when the moment of truth comes, they batter without a second thought, so we are talking about something quite different, let’s not try to say that a hole is not a hole. So there are these animals, which have been the same for decades, not just that they all do the same thing, that’s no big deal, they are all identical, you have to stare into their eyes, their only disguise is incomprehension, as if their eyes were made of glass, but you know what that really is, my son, it is an icy smile, yes, there’s an icy smile there, for sure, and it is asking you: don’t you recognize me? Then it laughs that you don’t. Listen, I am really sure about this now, chickens are immortal, anyone who has ever done the shopping has cast a yoke around their own neck, a recurring, evil group of ghosts, because the chicken knows where he will end, the fact that he will end up on the chop, and every morning he laughs right in the face of his master, oh yes, laughs right in it, oh what a self-righteous, simple so-and-so he is, believe me, insisted Uncle Schriwanek, and self-consciously he began to swat the flies off the juicy grapes again.

Grecsó on HunLit


Translated by: David Robert Evans

Tags: Krisztián Grecsó