I might as well as have been building tiny ships in tiny bottles. I might as well as have been filliping the tiny clippings of tiny fingernails clipped from tiny fingers the whole while. I might just as well have been pooling tiny frogs from a tiny pond into a tiny bucket all the time. And while I might as well as have been not doing or doing all these things, everyone else grew up. The boy had. The girl had. The father of the girl he got older. And the mother of the boy she got older. Both parents got older as did both of their children. And me, I might as just as well have been a shoebox of cedar shavings kept full of cedar shavings all the while, all the time. Oh, I had gotten older, too, but nobody it had seemed had seemed to notice. And, indeed, were I to have died while the boy and girl had grown up, I would have been interred off to a plot of the cemetery to the side of everything, to the side of everyone, somewhere over there, a spot in the green where neither unnamed paupers nor regal ancestors had ever belonged. And in that death, my wife would have glanced across her former husband, and their two children at both of them, from either side of my plot, and as the funeral party had walked away, the ground would have closed up forever upon me.
Yesterday, I was on the road and a woman left me kisses. The next day I was whipped by a man for nothing that I had done. Two days hence some children laughed at the hump of flesh that was my back. And years later, I was hanged by a crowd who laughed until I was nearly dead. Stepped on by an ox. Chewed through by a panther. Crowned. Disrobed. Disgraced. And so on. When near the end of my life I was asked: How is that of all these experiences you have had it is as though you had never been affected, the response I gave was: “Oh, him, I remember him long, long ago. He was playing next to a small pond where there were a bunch of tadpoles swimming that he was watching, and I believe he may be still there.”
He had had one hundred thoughts in one hundred and one days. That meant that there were one hundred thoughts less, or properly speaking ‘fewer’ to have. Those days and those thoughts were gone. With regard to such counting, whether forwards or backwards, brave and young Stephen Dedalus claimed that he was lucky to stumble upon a good thought once in a fortnight, or every two weeks. Likewise, in Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, there’s no six piece thin affair but a gigantic orchestral hullabaloo about every fortnight, too. Again, then, with regard to the former, that doesn’t seem to be a whole lot, in truth, especially in the age of adolescence, that newfangled notion that is time’s comfortable muskeg people get stuck in between childhood and being grown up today—ever since the average human lifespan became rather ridiculously long, attenuated to the slow decline of sloping downward into a near horizontal buzz along the manmade asymptote of near nothingness for decades of palliative discomfort and some peculiar kind of peering out somewhere. As to the latter, having a festive lawn party under a tent with a couple hundred uninvited guest who come in from nowhere, that seems to be obscene in its frequency, as was the intent of Fitzgerald to display and Mr. Gatsby to purposefully have, to drag in the diamond dregs so as to perchance collect his lost pearl Daisy, if not purloin her. As for the ticket-taker whose story begins this lacklustre note, he had taken to mind once as a child that numbers themselves worked like this: you start with 1; you double that and get 2; and after that (3) you’ve got many. And, while he also, with his little handheld penlight ushered others into the movie theater velvet quietly to their seats when they arrived a bit late for the show, and was very helpful to them, he kept, like a bushy-haired, gray-tailed autumnal squirrel losing more than half its acorns due to luck, fortuity, and nature’s misfortune, his remaining day’s comments mostly to himself.
Forgive me that I am sweet and lonely by myself. And all your treasures forsaken. The boots I got were perfect. And their silver buckles shine brightly. I am filled with many thanks. For now I am living in the meadow. My distractions here are few. And alone I am become a burbling brook almost. Once an uncle showed me an ice cold spring into which a bandit was shot and died. “Right there,” said Uncle John pointing with the handle of his pipe smoking, at the head of it where the clear spring water came up out of the ground. And as a small boy I thought with some disgust and wonder, since this water was the source of all our drinking, had I drunk this bandit’s blood? When tempted by my uncle (and my own boyish desires), I had stuck my hand into the clear spring water, which looked so pure I saw the sandy bottom seven or eight feet down as though it were only inches, and just as fast pulled my burning fingers and palm out in terrible pain. It was that icy, that cold. I know now better that I drank the blood of that bandit, and of the Christ, and of the Buddha, and of another never-to-be-named one, too, along with the drinking water. We eat their dust. We breathe and drink and eat them all. That is just the way it is here on Earth, where everything in time is so commingled, not completely unlike a misty cloud of playfully dancing gnats which seem to be such a bother to us but really are not so terrible. If one day you are passing by this sunny valley on your journey, and can see from afar my smoke curling away from the rooftop of my little cabin, please remember that you are welcome to sleep and rest yourself warmly here overnight.
The sun was gray. I was getting dressed. My socks were dirty. I left home. I forgot to eat breakfast. At Batthyány tér, I took streetcar number 19. How many stops did I go, could you tell me? I think five. I didn’t recognize the street. Soon I found a tavern, but that was disappointing. Why? The conversation I heard, I didn’t understand.
Pardon me, do you have a light?
Of course–I said.
Okay, okay, I spoke. This was a big triumph. I don’t want praise, just a little small talk. Am I conscious of my purpose? I was almost numb. I’ll go. The rain is soft. The pigeons are chanting. I know that melody well. It’s always the same.
(translated from Hungarian by Egbert Starr)
My house had been one of the finest. And my neighbors’ houses, they had been fine ones too. And all about us the Eastern White Pines grew tall. Except for once, or perhaps twice a year, we never saw each other. Each of us, we all lived alone in our houses completely occupied with our work at hand. There were a number of trades, and a number of professions, and a number of arts with which we all were occupied for the better part of the year. Then, once a year, or as I have said, sometimes twice, we would up-gather ourselves, and meet in an open field where no trees ever grew. Salads, and spicy dishes, and crumbling crusted deserts were laid out on folding tables. And while none of us could ever remember speaking, all of us would always remember listening to our neighbors this one day (or twice) a year. The field had been freshly mown, and all of us could realize on this day how lucky we all were to live nearby in the same forested neighborhood. We would make plans with each other to meet during the intervening months. For to visit each other’s workshops, to walk about each other’s studios, to thumb our fingers through another’s library, or to just walk through another’s hay-strewn stable, was what we all had wanted in earnest to do. It was almost over a decade since any of us realized that the field which had been once mown was now overgrown. In it were tiny saplings, the same pine as which made up the rest of the forest that had by then completely enclosed us.
He had been working for years. Never saw a breath of fresh air. Working day and night on the same problem, same dilemma. At the beginning, before there were fleas under his collar, he imagined he had known someone. She had come to him once and said, “Don’t treat other women the same way.” It was so long ago already, it felt like a dream to him, not a memory, at least not a real one, at any rate. Well, he hadn’t. Hadn’t known any other besides her, hadn’t bothered, and hadn’t been bothered. That was like some ancient dust now. He had brushed that memory like dust itself off his desk, off his books, and, where he began to feel an itch, he brushed it out of collar. Memories of that kind themselves can only be bothersome. So, he turned his mind back to his scholarly thoughts, and his knowledge began to exceed that of even the greatest of great lords of Persia. He knew that in that realm he began to rival even them. Once the fleas starting biting him, he ignored them. Fleas, he considered, are like unwanted memories. They are distractions to my greater purpose, he thought to himself. After many years the same woman who had initially warned him came by again. She was old now. She had never had children. Her hair was brittle and gray. Not just around his collar, but around his entire head swarmed a thick swarm of fleas. “Treat all men you encounter,” she said to the fleas, “the same way as you treat this man.” The fleas of course did not listen to her. For fleas do not speak, and they certainly do not hear, not in that way, if they do at all, even a crone. The swarm of fleas continued to devour him, a scholar who had long been dead, long been ignored.
For over an hour he sat in the shade, a stone circle enclave tucked within the Fair’s heat, hub-bub, and craft vendors. Seated beside and around him were others on benches, just as relaxed and immobile as he was. During that time, as he watched the passersby pass by, he noticed no one of any particular beauty, and he noticed no one of any particular ugliness. His mind drifted to a memory in his childhood of returning to Play-Doh he had played with some time earlier in the day, yellow and blue and red clumps he had not put back in their cardboard cans to keep the dough fresh and moist. The clods left out on his playroom table were still workable, moldable, if a bit crusty. And the people he had seen walking by the whole while were, to him, much like that. He tried, while he was sitting, to imagine that some of them were remarkable people. He put his mind to it. But it was impossible. Though he must not have looked so different at all himself from them, he bore silent witness in the summer shadows that he felt no sense of belonging to the collective people among whom he lived, at least half the time; and while he had no strong repulsion, he certainly had no selective affinity for any of them either.