11. 05. 2013. 18:29

Soap Opera (short story)

Her greying friend told her she looked literally radiant. Oh my, she thought, like Moses clutching the stone-hard, impossible commandments.

“To begin always means you have to break something.” (Francis Ponge: The Soap)

“And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” (Matthew 5:40, KJV)

“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” (Matthew 10:14, KJV)

‘I don’t know why you are keeping that dreadful junk but I’ve had enough, I’m throwing it out,’ says mother to father.
‘Don’t.’
‘What? Not throw it out? Who do you think I am? Do you think I’m going to sniff up this grey yuck for the rest of my life? Not me, darling. Out it goes now.’
‘Don’t.’
‘I don’t even know what it is. Of course all you do is keep repeating, don’t throw it out, don’t throw it out, but you might in all kindness inform me what the hell is this disgusting whatsit. Sure, you keep your aloof silence and I, I should shut up and sniff it. But that’s the end of it,’ mother is getting very loud now, father rises slowly to his feet and goes to his study. Mother follows slamming the door behind her and comes down on father again, that grey whatsit in her hand.
‘All right,’ I can hear father’s voice, ‘I’ll tell you what it is. Soap,’ I can’t hear a thing which means mother must be silent now. Father continues, ‘soap, I brought it back all the way from Auschwitz.’

The girl was a typist and worked for the man occasionally, that is, whenever she was needed. She was needed now. Something was weighing heavy on the darling man’s mind, so he called for the girl, mainly to be with someone. While she was typing away he put a sour cherry – or a cherry – into her mouth, pushing it in with his palm as if to stifle an eventual scream. When the girl finished eating the sour cherry – or cherry – he stuck out his palm again so she could spit the stone.

Yesterday I saw a girl at the train station, she was sitting on the parapet blowing soap bubbles. I went over to her, she gave me an inquisitive look, I told her it was forty years ago I last blew a soap bubble, at this she, politely rather than in an act of genuine kindness, held it out to me to blow, which I did, rather clumsily, I got a bit smeared with soap.

This morning at the fruit vendor’s stall an old man took one apple. The vendor yowled at him: Put it back immediately! He put it back. If you only knew how much I miss you!

In a concentration camp within one night you can learn what lurks inside people, that’s what you remind me of.

No, she did not imagine finding her father in the man but rather, her father and mother at the same time. An ant crept across the back of her hand. She looked down on it and called it by his name.

Would the tiger run away if they tore his cage down?

A silver necklace in the dust. She glimpses it, wipes the dust off and puts it on her wrist. She wears it as though it were his gift to her. Months later she shows it to him: Look, I found it lying around, just as if you had given it to me. He takes her wrist between his thumb and ring-finger and says, barely audibly: No, I haven’t.

If I add your heavy breathing to my quiver, a heat wave floods over me.

Sparrow, tiny creature, hop off the road, quick, lord horse is coming.

They walk, he holding her by the neck, pulling a bit, it’s extremely uncomfortable but she says nothing. Passers-by give them a bald look, some put on a connoisseur’s grin. He is evenly kind to all, stopping every now and then and chatting away with them. Neither introducing her nor releasing her neck.

Deny me and keep thinking of me.

Everything is rundown, the furniture glistens with cheap taste, he would not even make a remark at this stage. She’d like to soothe him, come, I’ll show you a room where they still keep the old desk, the clock is stuck at half past two, to the left a child with a snake in hand, to the right another child gazing at a dog. But they are just swept along with the crowd from room to nondescript room until he stops in front of her: ‘When I said yes at my wedding ceremony I meant it,’ he tells her. ‘I know,’ she says and would retreat but cannot, he is squeezing her to himself with all his strength, pushing her against the wall and kissing her, kissing her interminably, she can feel the other confession on her hip-bone, his body.

Her greying friend told her she looked literally radiant. Oh my, she thought, like Moses clutching the stone-hard, impossible commandments.

We trod on the snow naked but our soles were not burnt.

Life is good, life is bearable for me only if I’m able to add something to it. If they don’t forbid me to add something. To speak up. If I allow myself to speak up.

‘I must be strict on this. This has to stop.’
‘I know. Your law prohibits it and for me it’s sacred.’
‘There are no forms for this.’
‘…’
‘Are you crying?’

He clung to her arm and – instantly forgetting about his previous plan – promised her a Lancia all of a sudden, which he would send to her lodgings the next day. Then he wrote the short story which he ended ‘with sincerest heartplay’.

Did you confess me, sweet heart of mine?

He said when he could not talk but would like to hear her voice he would call and only say hello into the receiver. And then she could say anything, there would be no answer, no question. I love you if you only knew how much I love you you can’t even imagine, I keep thinking of you day and night longing to touch you, longing for you to touch me, your eyes and my eyes, my hands and your face, your hands and my breasts, my mouth and your mouth, our trembling knees, and that it shall never end, he would listen to her crystal-clear falsetto until her last breath.

If there were no Lord’s Prayer we would never ask, deliver us from evil.

Some kind of bar, he with his wife, she alone. Trying to make smalltalk with them. He interrupts. ‘We talked it over. Now we have more time, so from now on we’ll go everywhere together.’

‘I see,’ she says. ‘Great. I’ve always wanted you two to be happy.’ But once she uttered this they are no longer in the night-club but in a bedroom, man and wife lying side by side in a vast double bed, both in their respective districts covered to their eyes. She is standing with her back to the wall, the room has no door. The wife keeps up their conversation condescendingly, lest she might appear rude. She talks about how a woman should behave with men. Not the way the girl has behaved with Vladimir. She has trouble keeping to her feet: Please don’t mention Vladimir now. I can’t understand how he could die so.
He suddenly throws two paper spit balls at her, one bigger, one smaller. She wonders if they are hidden messages, heart madly racing. Then laughs. But his face is stern and the wife is staring at her as though her inappropriate laughter were a brazen lack of consideration for her husband’s plight. The girl doesn’t smooth the spit balls out, just lets them drop. Man and wife start talking again about their closer relationship to come and slowly wriggle under the bed together. She can no longer see them now, only hear their voices. Their voices speaking to her and expecting an answer. ‘It is good that you love each other,’ she says standing by the wall in the empty room.

She climbs some stairs up and down, blowing soap bubbles. An unknown couple passes by, the woman gently pulls at the man’s arm and gestures at the girl: Look, such lovely soap bubbles.

His shabby lodgings; lots of children; extensible couch covered with blanket. His gift prepared for her: a box. ‘What is this?’ she asks, all embarrassment. ‘A gazer into infinity.’ Oh so, she thinks, a box that gazes into infinity. What am I to do with it? But says nothing, only tucks it away into her bag, then takes leave of them and thanks a lot for the box, she says, and softly pulls the door shut after her.

Maybe Einstein’s theory produced extraordinary new results in physics: right, great. Maybe it forced philosophers to novel insights: great. But I’ve just read in a book by a scientist that as a final result of this theory, the whole universe with the solar system may be regarded as one immense soap bubble, or likened to one in any case, on whose surface time is but a precarious corrugation. At which I thought: eat up that soap. Thus spake Habi Sadi.

The Danube is flooding. Volunteers are piling up sacks of sand. The man and the girl are standing on the riverbank. ‘I know you don’t want to touch me anymore, but would you not even like to?’ she speaks at long last.
‘No.’
‘Is that true?’
‘Yes.’
‘I see. Still, I’m afraid if I don’t want you anymore it is not because it’s over but because I’m a coward, because I don’t want to take the risk, because it’s easier not to love you, and I don’t want it to be easier if what is easier is not truer.’
‘Now this is true.’

At the gift shop of Westend shopping mall a middle-aged woman holds up a pair of blue glass dolphins. ‘I’d like such a thing, but made of stone, not glass.’
‘There’s one I’ve seen,’ the shop-assistant tells her, ‘but it costs a fortune. You’d have to steal it.’
‘This is exactly what I want: two dolphins, one of top of the other,’ the woman repeats, slowly putting down the knick-knack.

The girl and the man walk past a row of houses, very grey, very flat, flat flowerbeds in front, a bit further ahead a football field and a wire fence. He stoops and picks up a pinch of dust off the pavement with thumb and ring-finger. Lets it pour into his palm, gazes at it intently for long and says: That’s all. She holds out her palm beneath his, he slowly pours the dust over into her hand. She repeats: That’s all.

Drawing by Orsolya Láng

Translated by: Erika Mihálycsa

Tags: Zsuzsa Selyem