Sunday, December 9, 2012

...and, as usual when I drift off, I was joined by a tiny Gypsy girl in the form of the Milky Way, the quiet, innocent Gypsy girl who was the love of my youth and used to wait for me with one foot slightly forward and off to the side, like a ballet dancer in one of the positions, the beautiful, long-forgotten beauty of my youth.
     Her body was covered with sweat and a gamey musk-and-pomade-scented grease that coated my fingers when I stroked her, and she always wore the same dress covered with soup and gravy stains in the front and whitewash and woodworm stains - from carrying rotten boards she found among the rubble - in the back. I met her near the end of the war when, on my way home from Horky's where I'd had a few beers, she latched onto me, tagged along, so that I had to turn and talk to her over my shoulder, and she never tried to pass me, she just toddled noiselessly behind, and when we came to the first intersection I said, "Well, good-bye, I've got to be going," but she said she was going in the same direction, and when we got to the end of Ludmila Street I said, "Well, good-bye, I've got to be going home," and she said she was going in the same direction, so on we went, and I purposely walked all the way to Sacrifice and held out my hand to her and said, "I've got to be going home now," but she said she was going in the same direction, and on we went until we came to the Dam of Eternity, and I said I was home now and we'd have to say good-bye, and when I stopped at the gas lamp in front of my door and said, "Well, good-bye now, this is where I live," she said she lived there, too, so I unlocked the door and motioned for her to go in ahead of me, but she refused and told me to go in first, and since the hall was dark, I did, and then I went down the stairs and into the yard and up to the door of my room, and when I'd unlocked it, I turned and said, "Well, good-bye, this is my room," and she said it was her room, too, and she came in and shared my bed with me, and when I woke up in a bed still warm with her, she was gone. But the next day, and every day thereafter, the moment I set foot in the yard I saw her sitting on the steps in front of my door and some white boards and sawed-off beams lying under the window, and when I unlocked the door, she would leap up like a cat and scamper into my room, neither of us saying a word. Then I went for a beer with my big, five-liter pitcher, and the Gypsy girl would light the old cast-iron stove, which boomed even with the door open, because the room had once been a blacksmith's shop and had a high ceiling and a huge fireplace, and she would make supper, which was always the same potato goulash with horse salami, then sit by the stove, feeding it with wood, and it was so hot that her lap glowed gold and gold sweat covered her hands, neck, and constantly changing profile, while I lay on the bed, getting up only to quench my thirst from the pitcher, after which I handed it to her, and she would hold the giant pitcher in both hands and drink in such a way that I heard her throat move, heard it moaning quietly like a pump in the distance. At first I thought she put so much wood on the fire just to win me over, but then I realized it was in her, the fire was in her, she couldn't live without fire.
     So we went on living together even though I never really knew her name and she never knew or wanted or needed to know mine; we went on meeting every night, even though I never gave her the keys and sometimes stayed out late, until midnight, but the moment I unlocked the main door I would see a shadow slip past, and there she was, striking a match, setting fire to some paper, and a flame would sputter and flare in the stove, which she kept going with the month's supply of wood she'd laid in under the window. And later in the evening, while we ate our silent supper, I would turn on the light bulb and watch her break her bread as if she were taking Communion and gather up all the crumbs from her dress and toss them reverently into the fire. Then we switched off the bulb and lay on our backs, looking up at the ceiling and the shimmer of shadow and light, and the trip to the pitcher on the table was like wading through an aquarium filled with algae and other marine flora or stalking throught a thick wood on a moonlit night, and as I drank I always turned and looked at my naked Gypsy girl lying there looking back at me, the whites of her eyes glowing in the dark - we looked at each other more in the dark than by the light of day. I always loved twilight: it was the only time I had the feeling that something important could happen. All things were more beautiful bathed in twilight, all streets, all squares, and all the people walking through them; I even had the feeling that I was a handsome young man, and I liked looking at myself in the mirror, watching myself in the shop windows as I strode along, and even when I touched my face, I felt no wrinkles at my mouth or forehead. Yes, with twilight comes beauty. By the flames in the stove's open door the Gypsy girl stood up, naked, and as she moved, I saw her body outlined in a yellow halo like the halo emanating from the Ignatius of Loyola cemented to the facade of the church in Charles Square, and when she added some wood to the fire and came back and lay down on top of me, she turned her head to have a look at my profile and ran her finger around my nose and mouth. She hardly ever kissed me, nor I her; we said everything with our hands and then lay there looking at the sparks and flickers in the battered old cast-iron stove, curls of light from the death of the wood. All we wanted was to go on living like that forever. It was as if we had said everything there was to say to each other, as if we had been born together and never parted.
     During the last autumn of the war I bought some blue wrapping paper, a ball of twine, and glue, and while the Gypsy girl kept my glass filled with beer, I spent a whole Sunday on the floor making a kite, balancing it carefully so it would rise, and I tacked on a long tail of tiny paper doves strung together by the Gypsy girl under my tutelage, and then we went up to Round Bluff, and after flinging the kite to the heavens and letting the cord run free for a while, I held it back and gave it a few tugs to make it straighten up and stand motionless in the sky so that only the tail rippled, S-like, and the Gypsy girl covered her face to her eyes, eyes wide with amazement. Then we sat down and I handed it to her, but she cried out that it would carry her up to heaven - she could feel herself ascending like the Virgin Mary - so I put my hands on her shoulders and said if that was the case we'd go together, but she gave me back the ball of twine and we just sat there, her head on my shoulder, and suddenly I got the idea to send a message, and handed the kite to the Gypsy girl again, but again she froze and said it would fly away with her and she'd never see me again, so I pushed the stick with the twine into the ground, tore a a page out of my memo pad, and attached it to the tail, and as soon as the twine was back in my hands, she started screaming and reaching after the message as it jerked its way up to the sky, each burst of wind traveling through my fingers to my whole body, I even felt the message making contact with the tip of the kite, and suddenly I shuddered all over, because suddenly the kite was God and I was the Son of God, and the cord was the Holy Spirit which puts man in contact, in dialogue with God. And once we'd flown the kite a few more times, the Gypsy girl screwed up her courage and took over the twine - trembling as I had trembled, trembling to see the kite tremble in the gusty wind - and, winding the twine around her finger, she cried out in rapture.
     One evening I came home to find her gone. I switched on my light and went back and forth to the street until morning, but she didn't come, not that day or the next or ever again, though I looked everywhere for her. My childlike little Gypsy, simple as unworked wood, as the breath of the Holy Spirit - all she ever wanted was to feed the stove with the big, heavy boards and beams she brought on her back, crosslike, from the rubble, all she ever wanted was to make potato goulash with horse salami, feed her fire with wood, and fly autumn kites. Later I learned that she had been picked up by the Gestapo and sent with a group of Gypsies to a concentration camp, and whether she was burned to death at Majdanek or asphyxiated in an Auschwitz gas chamber, she never returned. The heavens are not humane, but I still was at the time. When she failed to return at the end of the war, I burned the kite and twine and the long tail she had decorated, a tiny Gypsy girl whose name I'd never quite known.

- Bohumil Hrabal
Too Loud a Solitude

No comments:

Post a Comment