Monday, 1 March 2010

A big blind drunk

‘You could turn it on!’ said Kerekes, the farmer. Autumnal horse-flies were buzzing round the cracked lampshade, describing drowsy figures of eight in its weak light, time and again colliding with the filthy porcelain, so that after each dull little thud their bodies fell back into the magnetic webs they themselves had woven to continue this endless cycle, albeit on a closed tight circuit until the light went out; but the compassionate hand that had the power to undertake such action was still supporting the unshaven face. The innkeeper’s ears were full of the sounds of the rain that never seemed to want to stop, and he was watching the horse-flies through sleepy eyes, blinking and muttering: ‘Devil take the lot of you.’ Halics was sitting in the corner by the door on an iron-framed if rather unsteady chair, his waterproof coat buttoned up to the chin, a coat that, if he wished to sit down at all, he had to raise to groin level because the fact was the rain and wind had not spared either him or his coat, disfiguring and softening them, so Halics’s whole body felt as though it had lost definition, and as for his coat, it had lost whatever resistance to water it once had nor could it protect him from the roaring cataract of fate, or, as he tended to say, ‘that inner, potentially-fatal rain’, a rain that beat, day and night, against his withered heart and defenceless organs. The pool of water round his boots was growing every wider, the empty glass in his hand was growing heavier, and however he tried not to hear, there, behind him, his elbows propped on the ‘billiards table’ and his sightless eyes turned to the innkeeper, was Kerekes, slurping his beer slowly through his teeth, then greedily swallowing it with great glugs. ‘I said, you could light it...’ he repeated, then turned his head slightly to the right so he should not miss a single sound. The smell of mould rising from the floor at the corners of the room surrounded the vanguard of the cockroach horde working its way down the back walls, the main body of which followed it, oozing across the oily floor. The innkeeper responded with an obscene gesture, meeting Halics’s watery eyes with a sly, conspiratorial smile, but quickly responding to the farmer’s words of warning (‘Don’t point, shitface!’) by crumpling up in the chair with fright. Behind the tin-topped bar a poster spotted with lime bloomed at a crooked angle on the wall while on the far side, beyond the circle of light emanating from the lamp, next to a faded Coca-Cola advert stood an iron clothes-hook with a dusty forgotten hat and work-coat dangling from it, the coat stiff as an airborne statue; anyone glancing at it might have mistaken it for a hanged man. Kerekes started off in the direction of the innkeeper with an empty bottle in his hand. The floor creaked under him and he pitched slightly forward, his enormous body all but filling the room: it was as when a bull springs from behind a gate momentarily to occupy every available inch of space. Halics saw the innkeeper disappear behind the stock-room door and heard him quickly shoot the bolt and, frightened as he was, because something had actually happened, he took some consolation in realising that, for once, he did not have to take shelter behind the towering sacks of artificial fertiliser that years ago had been piled one on top of another and had never since been moved, or between rows of garden implements and containers of foul smelling pigswill with his back up against the ice-cold steel door, and he even felt a certain flutter of joy, or maybe just a smidgeon of satisfaction at the thought that the master of all that store of glittering wine was now cowering behind locked doors, desperately waiting for some reassuring sound, his life-threatened by the powerfully built farmer. ‘Another bottle!’ Kerekes angrily demanded. He pulled a fistful of paper money from his pocket, but having moved too fast - after a moment of dignified drifting in the air - the money landed right next to his enormous boots. Because he was aware - if only for a few moments - of the rules governing the actions of other persons, the degree to which they were predictable or unpredictable, and knowing what he himself should most certainly do, Halics rose, waited a few seconds to see whether the farmer would bend down to retrieve the cash, cleared his throat, then went over, took out his own last few dimes and opened his palm. The coins clinked as they ran all over the place, then - as the very last one finally settled - he knelt down on the floor to gather them up. ‘Pick up my hundred bill too,’ Kerekes boomed at him and Halics, knowing the ways of the world (‘...I can see through you!’) silently, obediently, slavishly, picked up the money and handed it over, all the time brimming with hatred. ‘It was just the denomination he got wrong!...’ he said to himself, still frightened. ‘Just the denomination.’ Then, at a gruff question from the farmer (‘So, where are you?!’) he sprang to his feet, brushed his knees down and hopefully, since he couldn’t be certain whether the farmer was addressing the innkeeper or him, leaned against the bar at a safe distance from Kerekes, who - was it possible? - appeared to be hesitating, so when he spoke, Halics’s frail, hardly audible voice (‘Well, how long do we have to wait?’) reverberated in the silence and could not be retracted.

-from László Krasznahorkai' s Satantango, the novel I am currently translating. Other excerpts now and then. All just drafts at this stage, of course. It is not quick work.


jackdavis13 said...

I realize that you are an astonishingly busy man, so I don't mean to rush you in any way by telling you that I'm anxiously awaiting this translation. Thank you in advance for the advance excerpts!

Anonymous said...

I have recently read 'Satantango' in French translation and am extremely enthusiastic to see that it will also come out in your translation. 'War and War' in your translation was definitely the novel I got most out of last year. What I adore in the works of Krasznahorkai is that he totally eschews the Anglo-Saxon and tedious 'easy read', going in the opposite direction to a kind of total orchestration of his effects, a type of writing that puts no limits on the extent to which the author can awaken the reader's imagination and concentration. Laszlo's works are superb and this translation promises to be a superb addition for those who don't have Hungarian. I do so wish also that Laszlo's novel with the huge title could be translated into English and French! Best wishes, Andrew & Eleni