THE AUTHOR IS SITTING on the platform sweating, with heart thumping so loud as to drown the spiky-haired fashionista’s mellifluous introductory warble. Stretched above the author’s head, taut and intimidating, is the tightrope on which the author is to jump gracefully at the moderatrix’s artfully concealed signal and read, or much rather, recite, enact, perform amid demi-pliés and relevés executed faultlessly on pointe, a particular fragment chosen by the publisher from the latest novel, hot off the press, in which the heroine’s volcanic orgasm sends a rift down the reinforced concrete walls of the 11-storey block of flats, cracks windows into spider-web patterns, drives the groundwater mixed with sewage up the waterpipes like a geyser so the soil, hollowed in, starts sinking until the crumbling block of flats tilts at an angle more dangerous than the Costa Concordia, at this point the author will look up from the page at the audience with a candid, inquisitive, tongue-in-cheek, playful, risqué, amiable expression while, still on pointe, lifting one leg unbelievably slowly into balance position, reciting all the while the masterly last sentence. At this point the audience always starts clapping. The author has acquired this trick from an interview with an opera star who for two decades had ruled the world’s lyric stages with her show of delivering the Queen of the Night’s aria on trapeze, and whenever she sang at the Met she would do a double backflip in the middle of the aria where all the bonds of nature are destroyed, after the protective net had been spectacularly withdrawn at the strings’ opening turmoil. There soars in slow rewind the primadonna’s perfect pinup body in bikini in front of the author’s mind’s eyes, Swarowski crystals flash lightning from her voluptuous locks and navel up to the starry firmament, the film reached more than nineteen million views on YouTube in less than two months, every tone pitch-perfect and crystal-clear and oh, that maddening little ritartando in the descending phrase before she attacks the glass sounds. Easy for her of course, she had been a junior world champ rhythmic gymnast before her voice was discovered. The author feels a great heat-wave, great, one second and the suffocating feeling will start, I couldn’t lift a pencil now, the moderatrix is still chirping the intro in a low conspiratorial tone, I am to step in immediately at the violins’ attacca, my legs start shaking, and my ankle is swollen quite visibly, come on, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, we’ll do it, I’ll do it, last time at the Book Siesta I nearly fell off the rope but that pert little poetess assured me no-one had noticed. But I certainly rank among the most successful in the trade, the audience flocks to my readings. Of course as long as there had been only the kitchen theatre feats and cooking for the audience, the author’s books barely sold in 4,000 copies, the publisher had to put an end to it saying it was all yesterday’s fad and that every halfwit had been cooking primetime for the past five years, in vain would the author invoke the delights of the caramelized words melting on the palate, the molecular chemistery of sentences pureeing the Mediterranean spices with the slightly astringent aromas of the terroir. So there was nothing to do but agree to a change in profile and branch out, even if the author could still all too vividly remember calling the gym a jinx, not to mention those interminable basketball games in school, squeezed between strapping arms and buttocks, forever losing the ball to the enemy and those vicious jabs in the ribs — the horror, the horror! Who knows, perhaps if I had been able to jump for the basket with that relaxed arching of the back of P’s (met him last month, he is running some company that manufactures chairs, was just back from fab holidays in Greys, he said), well who knows if I would still have become a writer. In fact P. didn’t even score more than average, one out of three perhaps, but oh, that movement! Still, it was worth working out for a full god-awful year, eating cabbage soup day in day out, sales have been skyrocketing ever since. If only the bodywork would resist for another four or five years, then I swear I’ll buy myself a house on the seaside and retire for good. The author suddenly remembered poor S.P., the dissident lyrical I who ended up exhibiting his liver cirrhosis, reading his ever shrinking poems with hesitant, slow, blackened tongue, chewing the words like porridge, although at the onset of his career he had flooded all publishers and their haunts and lovenests with his cascading multi-page poems and his voice had been like sounding ass or a tinkling cymbal, as a malicious colleague used to say, yet the author had secretly envied him in those days for his flame-like hair and flaring revolutionary rhetoric, not to mention his ecumenical sex-appeal. When the author last saw him, reading evidently gave him pain. Meticulously lined up in front of his battered volumes were his tumors in jars, my cancers as he would call them, with a touch of affectionate pride in his voice like one talking about his children’s academic successes, for S.P. became a rare, indeed a rarissimal case in medical history, his body apparently harboring no less than three different kinds of tumors entirely unrelated to each other that kept growing and producing a maze of intricately interlocking metastases on his lungs, spleen, lymphatic glands, bone marrow, colon, stomach, brain and esophagus, whereas the odds of patients having two different types of tumors was 1:300,000 among those diagnosed with the disease. At S.P.’s readings his recently removed, bluish-black and wrinkled or rosily smooth bottled tumors would face the dwindling, staggeringly middle-aged audience. Poor S.P. always used to say, screw success, and that the day would come when he would go marching in the textbooks and academic curricula and nobody would remember that (and here a long and variable list of names would follow, depending on his mood and on the occasion, but always uttered with vertiginously falling intonation) had ever walked the face of the earth. Well, he has made it indeed. Except, as he really had no way of foretelling, he had made it into the medical textbooks. Legions of oncologists in training would learn his MR images by heart and brood over his case history. Yes, he had always been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Anyway, getting into the curricula nowadays was more difficult than the backwards-triple Rittberger for the virgin figure skater; it is at least five years since the author’s children last studied literature at school. The author remembered S.P.’s funeral with a shudder. The city could of course hardly have cared less for giving him an official funeral, and the university of medicine that had extracted whatever there was to extract from him for didactic purposes made no claims on the remains either. But for the generous donation of (and there followed the name of the one unfailing item from the list of names bound to utter oblivion, and who could unfortunately not honor the occasion with his presence, as he was touring the British Isles promoting his fifth novel translated into English), he would have been reduced to a social burial in the best case, although, having no relatives, he might just as well have ended up without any burial at all. Poor S.P. The moderatrix raised her eyes from under the violet eyeshade and set them on the author who in this moment recognized the intro’s closing formula, with forever striking us with its novelty upon the heels of unusual, at unusual a winsome smile crossed the author’s face and trotted as far as striking, as the toes flexed in the ballet shoes, the muscles of the calves were ready to lift a mountain if necessary, heaving the author from the chair at novelty and by the time the technical assistant found those taut tights with the spotlight, the author was balancing on pointe on the tightrope, ready for the first relevé and from between the heroine’s thighs issued, like the unremitting tide that can wash ashore, inch by inch, the heaviest oil tankers, like the first contractions of the womb at childbirth, like the immense pressure of solid, unstirring air before earthquake or electric discharge, like the.
Muss es sein
THE AUTHOR STARTED behaving ever more weirdly, he would take out the potato soup instead of the trash; at lunchtime he would come out of his study at the umpteenth call, all flushed. Writing didn’t used to affect you so much, his wife told him, you are sweating like in the sauna all day and these shreds of paper are everywhere, even on your pajamas. The writer produced a constrained little laugh. For two weeks now he had been living with the girl for whom the detective would fall head over heels exactly when she becomes the most likely suspect after the second murder. Lingering on her nape gave him infinite pleasure; he had even acquired a skill of groping the outlines of her butterfly tattoo with his tongue, all the while breathing in that incomparable scent at the base of her very short cropped auburn hair. He would write petunia odor, although he had not the faintest inkling what petunias smelt like, his nose was tone-deaf so to speak: in the kitchen he would mistake black pepper for cinnamon, but his wife was quite another tune, she would smell out from the staircase, what in god’s name have you put in the vegetable stew again? But it was getting increasingly difficult to conceal the girl from her, on top of all she had tried to run away twice over the past week, he had to drag her back from the window. Three meters from the window was Mrs. Kálmán’s balcony, the retired math teacher who made his children’s homework. For the third time he started awake in the middle of the night, literally floating in sweat, his heart racing like a steam engine. And yet — and yet! How ardently he wished to save her! He had planned their elopement a thousand times at least. Every day on his way to the editorial office he furtively studied the special offers in the tourist agencies’ shop windows, he had even pulled up the tent in the garage once or twice to make sure he still knew how to do it, and had the pressure in the tires adjusted. But it was at least two more weeks until his wife would take the kids off to the grandparents. If only the girl would not come so loud! It was not really the pitch, she never screamed, she whimpered rather, softly, grittily, so for two weeks the Bartók string quartets had been playing non-stop on the hi-fi, especially the third, but its second movement was too long, whereas the third almost always ended too soon. And the children were forever pulling faces, dad is having his sawing period, it must be some murderer with a knack for cold cuts, let’s hope to god it’s not the chainsaw again. So at the end of the day, the girl had to disappear with no further delay. What if she really is the killer and during their next afternoon siesta when he is lying blissfully by her side, all asweat, she executes him with the paperweight and escapes through the window in that catwoman’s black leather outfit? He remembered a scene from a film where the murderer was a myopic woman, almost blind, she had to feel out the victim’s temple with her hands; it was dreadful, three liters of Kryolan at the most modest estimation. Today, exceptionally, he didn’t feel like listening to Bartók either, let it be Beethoven rather, always the same intrusive question, but how are you going to look her in the eye, she trusts you, you have taken responsibility for her, you could still save her, all it takes is an extra bed, you could tell the kids that she is some distant cousin who is preparing for her acting exam, and in two or three months’ time she would find herself an age-appropriate guy and then perhaps your marriage could be fixed, she could for instance find a job as a bar singer, it is true he had never heard her sing but if one can whimper like that. The girl was sitting cross-legged in front of him, barefoot in jeans; her t-shirt had slid down one slender shoulder. She certainly knew how to look with those enormous grey eyes of hers. And he could already hear the sentence at the end of which she would lie naked on her belly in the middle of the running track in the woods, with 34 stabs from the same knife. He went out into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of blackcurrant syrup, with three ice cubes. He held the glass at the base like a whisky glass and was moving it in small circles to stir the ice. The detective would sit at the counter, halfway in his twelfth bourbon with ice, staring in front of him into the thick cigarette smoke, at the crack of dawn the gold-hearted barman would make a bed for him on the piano. Once he sent in the manuscript to the publisher he would have to debug his PC; it seems to be virused again.
Erika Mihálycsa is a lecturer in 20th century British literature at Babes-Bolyai University Cluj, Romania, a Joyce and Beckett scholar. She has translated works by Beckett, Flann O’Brien, Patrick McCabe, william carlos williams, Anne Carson, Julian Barnes and others into Hungarian. Her translations of contemporary Hungarian prose and poetry have appeared to date, or are forthcoming in World Literature Today, The Missing Slate, Trafika Europe, B O D Y Magazine. A regular collaborator of various Hungarian reviews, she is editor, together with Rainer J. Hanshe, of HYPERION, issued by Contra Mundum Press.