Translated by Heather Trebatická
SEEING PEOPLE OFF
Elza: Together we ate grapes and washed them down with pink wine. The next
day I discovered a damp grape stalk in my pocket. It looked like an upside-down
Kalisto Tanzi disappeared from the town, which was gripped by a heat wave. The
heat radiating from the houses and streets burned people's faces and the scorching
town seared its mark on their foreheads.
I stopped in front of the theatre's display case so I could read Kalisto's name on
the posters and reassure myself that he actually did exist. I derive pleasure from
uttering the name that had tormented him throughout childhood and puberty and
only really stopped annoying him after my arrival. I slowly walk to the other end of
the town, the muscles in my legs tingling slightly in the hot air. It is noon. Drops of
perspiration are the only thing really moving on this planet. They run down to the
bridge of my nose and spurt out again from under my hair.
I'm going to buy poison.
Yesterday Ian saw a rat in the lavatory.
The rat-catcher has a wine cellar under his shop. We go underground to escape
the unbearable heat and sip wine. He tells me how intelligent rats are.
"They have a taster, who is first to try the food. If he dies, the others won't even
touch the bait. That's why we use second generation baits. The rat begins to die
only four days after consuming the poison. It dies as a result of internal bleeding.
Even Seneca claimed that such a death is painless. The rest of the rats get the
impression that their comrade has died a natural death. But even so - if several of
them die in a short time, they decide the locality is unfavourable on account of the
high mortality rate and they move elsewhere. Some people and even whole nations
completely lack this ability to assess a situation."
A perfect, repulsive world. I smile over red Tramin. The rat-catcher speaks very
fast. His face is in constant motion. As if he had too many muscles in it. As if
a pack of rodents were running around under his skin. From one ear to the other.
From his chin to his forehead and back. I can feel his restless legs jigging under
the table and his whole trunk sways in a dance.
The sight of this makes me feel dizzy. My head spins like when watching a film
that flashes too quickly from one scene to the next. The rat-catcher bends forward
and gets tangled in my hair.
"You're such a pretty little mouse," he smiles. I smile back. I sense I stink of
He sees me out and on the way he gives me a plastic bag full of rat poison.
Instead of flowers. I clutch it proudly. Perhaps it will always be like this, I think
to myself. If men want to court me, instead of flowers, they will give me a bag of
second generation rat bait.
After emerging from the cool cellar, hot air and a world without Kalisto Tanzi
hits me in the face.
I first saw Kalisto at a private preview. A lot was drunk there and a few new
couples were formed in the course of the evening. As Ian says - where there are
men, women and alcohol… - and he thus gives the basic coordinates for the
localisation of sex.
I looked into his blue eyes and for the first time I longed for a being with coloured
eyes. Ian's are almost black. Colours have always been a decisive factor for me.
Their combination in Kalisto's face attracted me. We sat together and talked until
morning. As always in the beginning: you can once more give an account of your
life and everything is interesting. You talk, slowly revolving around yourself - the
whole room dances with you - fine sparkling powder settles in your hair.
In Kalisto Tanzi's presence my account seemed more exciting. My own life swam
before our eyes like a glass mountain. With every word I created it anew. Recreated.
I recreated in Kalisto Tanzi's presence. No doubt I could write a book about it. It
would be a musical: Ah, little fairy, if you only knew all the things I've been through…
But it's lunchtime now. I am sitting in a coffee bar. Dressed in brown: an old
woman. I am sitting opposite Ian. An old couple. The silence between us is broken
only by the newspaper headlines. From time to time Ian reads one out to me over
the table. Then he reads on. The newspaper is a drawbridge. He occasionally lets it
down and looks at my face. Our eyes do not meet. The wine tastes like prunes and
chocolate. The coca cola inscription on the tablecloth begins to rise imperceptibly
to meet my face. I hold it down with a plate. I like things to stay in their place.
Back home I sit at the table and write a letter to Kalisto. Ian stands behind me
- Ah, do you have to write such a long letter, you poor thing? Wouldn't an SMS do?
For example: Where are you?
Kalisto Tanzi doesn't have a mobile or an e-mail address. He considers this
form of communication threatening. (The old English term blackmail referred to
extorting unjustified taxes. Non-existent debts, promises not given.)
There did not exist a simple way of interfering in his life, climbing through the
window of a monitor or display, appearing in person before his very eyes.
Elza could not rely on electronic seduction. Although she had a talent for it -
for chatting and sweet nothings. She had the gift of the gab.
But the new possibilities also brought her stronger competition. It was so easy
to get involved with someone, to contact them. Everything played in favour of
seduction. In particular the time saved by rapid communication.
Nowadays no one had to patrol a dark street at night, travel in a coach, a car,
a storm. Repair a wheel, change the water boiling in a radiator, walk around homes
and coffee bars or helplessly roam streets where there was a hope of meeting the
loved one. Map the possibility of their being there. Follow, track, hide, stay in the
same place for year after year or travel endlessly.
Emails and quick SMS messages were windows and mirrors rapidly multiplying
in the world. Through them it was possible to climb into a room, onto a roof, into
a lavatory, plunge under water and fly into the air. Hang up your own alluring
picture - install yourself - anywhere.
Elza: In the air, in someone's path. Expose you to my picture.
Elza's morning begins with writing. She puts on some music and for half an
hour eagerly gets on with her book. While working she often gets up from her
chair damp with perspiration, because when writing she drinks litres of tea and
has the music on too loud and she writes and writes. She writes as if she were
running downhill. She sweats and that chills her. All her life her body temperature
has ranged between 37.1 and 37.6 degrees, which tends to produce slight shivering
fits and weak nerves. Apart from the fact that a fever is good for creative work and
erotic passion, it enables one to stay at home undisturbed. Doctors are usually
afraid to send a patient with a temperature into the whirlwind of working days.
When she has finished writing, she is hungry, thirsty and her concentration
is completely exhausted. Elza lacks the ability to keep at creative work for a long
time - sitzfleisch. Her working day lasts three hours. When Elza gets up from
her desk, her husband gets out of bed. They sit side by side on the couch in the
kitchen and think about what they will eat and what Elza will go to buy. They
usually have open sandwiches for lunch and they drink gin with grapefruit juice.
Elza has read that your stomach - what is in it - contributes eighty per cent to
how you feel. Open sandwiches and gin are food associated with celebrations.
That is why whole years in her life have seemed to her like a really good, endless
celebration. Day after day. And, as during every celebration genuinely enjoyed
and properly done - in the early evening or early morning, when the light has
long been vague and the scenery looks like a lit-up stage setting, somewhere
at the back of the tongue and on the roof of the mouth a discreet bitter taste
would appear - the taste of the end of a celebration. It had a fruity bouquet,
room temperature, full body and long tail. It woke her up in the night more and
more often: that taste of a sad end. Like when at New Year, just a few seconds
after midnight, Ian goes outside for a while with another woman and a hairy troll
crouches on Elza's chest, head and shoulders: a nightmare, and it tinkles a wave
of heat right onto her flat breasts.
On the way home in the early hours of the morning, Elza bursts into tears in the
middle of the street:
"I don't want to march. I don't want to keep marching on any more. All my life
I have done nothing but march on!"
"Then we needn't walk. I'll call a taxi," Ian tries to calm her.
"You don't understand. It's all the same. On foot or by taxi. One way or another,
all we do is just keep marching on."