Thursday, 25 March 2010

Satantango: The girl in the pigeon loft

The book continues, as ever, harrowing and darkly comical - this part is chiefly harrowing, or, rather, becomes so. Here is how this episode begins.

It wasn’t easy. Back then it had taken her two days to work out where she should plant her foot, what to grab for support and how to squeeze herself through what looked to be the impossibly narrow hole left by a few slats that opened under the eaves at the back of the house; now, of course, it took only half a minute and was only mildly risky, entailing one well-chosen movement to leap onto the black tarpaulin covering the woodpile, grabbing the gutter, slipping her left foot into the gap and sliding it to one side, then forcefully entering, head first, while kicking away with her free foot, and there she was inside the old pigeon loft in the attic, in that single domain whose secrets were known to her alone, where she had no need to fear her elder brother’s sudden, inexplicable assaults, though she did have to be careful not to awaken the suspicions of her mother and elder sister on account of her long absence, because, should they discover her secret, they would immediately ban her from the loft, and then all further effort would be in vain. But what did all that matter now! She pulled off her soaked jumper, adjusted her favourite pink outfit with its white collar and sat herself at ‘the window’ where she closed his eyes and shivered, ready to jump, listening to the roar of rain on the tiles. Her mother was asleep in the house somewhere below, her sisters hadn’t yet returned though it was time for dinner, so she was practically certain that no one would look for her that afternoon, with the possible exception of Sanyi, and nobody ever knew where to find him which made all his appearances sudden and unexpected, as if he were seeking the answer to some long-ignored secret of the estate, a secret that could only be discovered by means of a sudden surprise attack. The fact was she had no real reason to be frightened, because no one ever did look for her; on the contrary, she had been firmly told to stay away, particularly – and this was often the case - when there was a visitor at the house. She had found herself in this no-man’s-land because she was incapable of obeying orders; she wasn’t allowed to be anywhere near the door nor to wander too far because she knew she could be summoned any time (‘Go fetch me a bottle of wine. On the double!’ or ‘Get me three packets of cigarettes, my girl, Kossuth brand, you won’t forget, will you?’), and should she fail but once in her mission she’d never be let into the house again. Because there was nothing else left to her: her mother, when she was sent home from the special-needs school ‘by mutual agreement’ put her to kitchen work, but her fear of disapproval - when plates broke on the floor, or enamel chipped off the pan, or when the cobweb remained in the corner, or when the soup turned out tasteless, or the paprika stew too salty - made her incapable of completing the simplest tasks at last, so there was nothing for it but to chase her from the kitchen too. From that time on, her days were filled with cramping anxiety and she hid herself behind the barn or, sometimes at the end of the house under the eaves because from there she could keep an eye on the kitchen door so that, though they couldn’t see her from there, if they called she could appear immediately.

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