A man with a carpet by Magdalena Parys translated from Polish by Piotr Krasnowolski
Europa ist ein Staat, der aus mehreren Provinzen besteht! (Baron de Montesquieu)
Travelling through the centuries I died so many years ago, I’ve pasted the phantom face into the mirrors of the windows, And pass by cardboard railway guards, and the deep Stock-still stations smothered in a silence that you cannot suppress. (Ballad of a Train/Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński)
A dead woman on the bed, one shoe on the foot, the other one on the floor below. A petite porcelain face with blueish veins around the temples, fair hair, red nails. There is some- thing on a finger of the twisted hand, perhaps a ring? No, a trace of a ring. Dressed in a black dress, with black tights. As if foreseeing her own funeral. I can see no blood or traces of violence, only the twisted hand and the white face. A body.
Yes, it’s me.
I’m dead. I believe I’m dead. It can’t be absolutely true be- cause I’ve always found myself alive so far, and this is the only state I know – the state of being alive. I’m lying on a sofa in a flat, in a city. My eyelids are motionless, the uncomfortable shoe doesn’t chafe, and I can feel no pain in the strangely twisted hand that should hurt, shouldn’t it? I can feel nothing but a sun ray on the cheek going cold. The feeling is strange as I don’t know whether I am already a part of that warmth or still a part of the cheek.
A man with a carpet
Other than the sofa, the square room is faded yellow, empty and stripped of furniture. Photos of the woman cover one of the walls: when she was little, young, and old. She frowns with her brows and nose in the same way in all of them. A calendar without dates below. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Between me and that woman – a softness, peace that nothing disturbs. The woman, her slippers, a wall, the hubbub outside, and a calendar without dates beat a rhythm for them. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.
It’s spring, the world is waking after a long winter. How do I know there’s been a winter recently? How do I know the woman is me? A great big tree behind the window has frozen into stillness, like in a picture. The woman from the sofa used to stick its “helicopter” seeds into her nose. She used to run in colorful dresses in the streets of the city. Also, it was spring.
The groan of a passing tram can be heard outside, steps on the pavement. One! Two! One! Two! – Red-and-white flags are unfurled, riding boots stamp a tattoo on the pavement. One! Two! One! Two! A crowd of people under the banners that read “Poland” cry “Poland!!!” A man carrying a rolled carpet on his back is following the crowd. He is being followed by a man with a pot on his head. One! Two! One! Two!
Suddenly a shot is fired. The crowd flutters like a flock of flushed ducks. The crowd are running away. The pot and the man stay behind in a pool of blood. The tram runs a circle in the depot, and momentarily stops to be stormed by the people with the banners. Somebody sits on the front of the roof and brandishes his flag high. The tram leaves rattling on the rails POLAND!!! POOOLAND!!! The man with the carpet stops and carefully lifts the pot, mindful that he doesn’t lose the carpet, reels under his burden and heavily lumbers forward, about to turn round the corner of Heroes’ Square.
There is a backyard where the woman used to ride a bike on the other side of the flat. Her route was simple and monotonous. She rode in the spring. Sometimes she would stop, drop the bike and clamber over the fence, which tore her skirts and made her afraid to return home. There’s a big football ground behind the fence, and an old brick school even further. It used to be attended by Germans. Later by Poles. Now there is a man with a carpet and a pot on his head walking across that football ground. He’s followed by a group of people with banners, chanting Deutschland!!! Deutschlaaaand!!! They look like boy scouts. I take a closer look. They are not boy scouts. Eins! Zwei! Drei! Eins! Zwei! Drei!!
Germans, Poles. Names are the inheritance left by the woman. Names. Names. Trees, torn skirts, a carpet, a banner, ma- ple “helicopters”.
The calendar has shed its pages. It’s ceased to be a calendar. All the photos have disappeared from the wall. One has appeared; it’s new. A woman with a porcelain face on a sofa. She is not wrinkling her brow or nose. She is lying on the sofa wearing one shoe, the other one lying on the floor below. Stray.
Eins! Zwei! Drei! Deutschland! One! Two! One! Two! Poland! Eins! Zwei! Drei! Deutschland! One! Two! One! Two! Poland! Eins! Zwei! Drei! Deutschland! One! Two! One! Two! Poland! Eins! Zwei! Drei! Deutschland! One! Two! One! Two! Poland!
Magdalena Parys, a novelist awarded in 2015 with the European Union Prize for Literature for her book „Magician”. This short story was published by the EUPL for the 10th anniversary of the award together with a dozen other stories by EUPL winners. The whole publication „European stories” is available online in pdf :http://anniversary.euprizeliterature.eu/book/EUPLbookWeb_acc.pdf