Earth from Heaven

By Éva Berniczky

There are horrible adventures,
Which could have no place in the order of the world.
They are impossible to happen even if we would like them to do so.
Wyslawa Szymborska

The early mornings of the day never distressed Fundánics. He used to cut threads into screws for years, so to open up skulls and cut them into slices was not something of a job for him at all. The change did not try him too sorely. He made the same customary move with his hand through the little bayonets of the fence, touched the hook at the bell and, without looking, skilfully hung up the key onto it as if nothing had happened, whereas for some time, several months actually, he directed his steps not towards the ironworks as before but to the mortuary. He quickened his pace, but did not even manage to reach the end of the lane when a police car, as if following a strict timetable, turned into the same street, and its wheels rolled over the traces of his shoes left in the mud. The tyres of the wheel changed their original pattern, and simply wrote off the leaving person as if they had found something objectionable in his departure. The jeep with protective colouring most of the time arrived with infernal hooting and flashing. The neighbours, however, were no longer scared: they got used to all this, so they did not even poke their noses out of their houses. Actually they got tired of seeing and hearing the events, and that was why they never even condescended to stir a finger since they had learned from experience that all this fuss was due to a simple failure of the circuit: as long as the engine worked, the blue lamp and the siren could not be switched off. In a couple of minutes, however, together with the noise of the engine the hooting and flashing died away, too, and the suspicion of some of the neighbours that there must be some sort of relationship between the two occurrences, that is between the moments of departure and arrival, also became eclipsed, for Taran Tula, the local officer of the police responsible for law enforcement in the district, gave himself the same airs, stretched his arm and reached the hook with his hand. Despite the fact that his performance was in the opposite order, the rite itself was the same. After all he, too, unlocked the gate with the same key with which Fundánics locked it just a few minutes ago. Only Father Daniel, who lived to see things, ruminated for some time over the differences, but he did not make anything either to stop this substitution of personalities. He just crossed himself, and went back into his recess in the basement. Upstairs Lyubochka could scream and moan as voluptuously and lustfully as she wished, but all that was in vain for the old man because it no longer bothered him. And there was a reason for that: he simply no longer took notice of anything. He did not even try to stifle it with the noises he sooner made in order not to hear the screams and the moans. He no longer poured water on his face from the jug, no longer scratched it down with his sharp razor, nor washed it down and wiped it dry as he sooner did. He rather shaved no longer instead, but made grow his beard and let a grey brush of hair grow above the entrance to his ears. In the mornings, when his son left home for his workplace, he became temporarily deaf.

Fundánics walked automatically to the mortuary, and it never occurred to him that his departure had started to loose significance day by day. Since the time the ironworks was liquidated all of a sudden from one day to the other, all beginnings gradually were washed into the continuations, there was nothing that had a precisely noticeable or identifiable origin, and if still there remained something of this sort, then they were pruned back in the time, and strange stubs stood out prominently on places they used to be. Accomplishment was rooted in mortality and ended in death. If there was something that could come before the inevitable end from one of the directions, then it could be only the spirit distilled in the entrance-hall of the mortuary. The elementary substance of unknown origin and composition was circulating in tremendous test tubes. This sophisticated apparatus could produce brandy, known as samogon here, from the mash of anything. The drops were then accumulated in a dented iron tub similar to those in which one collects rainwater dribbling from the eaves. Fundánics could tap his protective drink into his mug straight from this battered vessel. The most unbearable were the moments directly before and after tossing this wash down his throat. He did not even taste, just raised to his lips this well-known sort of dishwater when its smell made his saliva flow towards the throat. He knew it was completely undrinkable, but despite the protestations of all his better inward senses he gulped it down with disgust because one had to drink something here. He always waited patiently until due to the metamorphosis launched by the spirit his nose started to drip, his eyes were covered with film similar to steam, and beneficial dizziness entered his head. Then he stepped into the room which was cold as ice, threw himself into the surrounding mortality, and started to rummage in it with the same determination as nature lovers when they delve in the mouldy and rotting fallen leaves and parched grass in the autumn, when they sip in with stupor the stink of the decomposing spongy mushrooms from the lifted layers. In his unusual position pink worms digested his doubts, milled his resignation into subtle flour, and this white powder dissolved into happiness-hormones of the needed quantity, which made all the stiff corpses on the crumbled concrete tables look as botched but noble sculptures. With some good-will and benevolence one could start his grand work of alteration in the process of which human remains were prepared for the principals who would then mould and lift higher the chosen ones according to the prescribed patterns. Since it seemed to be inevitable not to practice ceremoniously any respect to anything or anyone, for the sake of simplicity people toiling there mutually absolved each other. On the day when the last qualified physician left this place for good, virgin hands took up the sharp knife, which separated Earth from Heaven. The way Fundánics tried to open the skulls by force was similar to the efforts of ghosts who might be cracking nuts in a damned mansion. He always minded to work with precision as the elaborated procedure demanded. The devilishly whirling edge of the knife opened up the shells of the bone at the sutures, and one could hear just a crack the cutting instrument made with its edge, because it was not the disc saw that grew out from the hands of the toiling man, but vice versa, its user became part of the hand of the instrument. The process of becoming a kind of object himself did not bother Fundánics too much. He had not even noticed that on a sleepy morning the sharp edge of the knife dashed into his life, reached the roots and cut him down from his fate, and there remained only some uncertain loose dangling which since then tied him to it. He exclusively clung to his instinctive movements, and through them to the stiff material that was impossible to bend, and then to nothing else. He found everything unreliably smooth and springy except the steel and skull bone. He tried not to get entangled in his feelings, but what he dreaded more was the opinion of others, so he kept himself away from everybody and everything who or which as freezing or heat might have changed his inwardly extensions. He guarded his dull and empty permanence until one could mix him up with anybody in his quiet existence.

Most of all he took heed of his wife, who in his opinion was just lazy to loose her milk teeth during her childhood, and now even if she wanted it hard was unable to grow her real ones because there was no room for them in her mouth. Her milk teeth touched each other directly forming an un-removable final grating. Thus the teeth having no place to fall out made Lyubochka to sip words repulsively, and then sieve them as whales do the seawater. And what frightened Fundánics most was the deposit gathering around her tongue. This was totally unpredictable, sometimes disappearing in the waves of her mimicry and hardly visible, but it could be beaten up any moment into a foaming lust as some insignificant white of egg. This colourless and odourless flow of her female personality was especially noticeable with the arrival of the autumn, when this flow was getting still thicker together with the grated flesh of the horse chestnut puffing on the fire, until the dirty mixture became a jelly, which was a cheap version of the frightfully expensive rapid glues available in shops. The rude vapours of the chestnut glue doubtlessly reminded of the shapeless parcels in post-offices with the ugly stamp locks on them, which mixed with the chemically pure stupidity of the post-office mistresses made deliveries stringed thoughtfully with packing-cords untouchable. Lyubochka’s former working place dissolved itself in the mortar having a doubtful look and substance but by all means justifying the end, and then she sold her goods on the Tipsy Market, where vodka was retailed all day and all night, so no wonder that everybody swore there was no better glue than that made from chestnut, because one should know one would never find a better customer than a screwed customer. With the exception of Taran Tula, the bulky captain of police, who, when meeting her for the first time, made the milk-toothed woman collect her belongings without any contradiction, and also threatened her with the possibility of confiscating her lot to the last jar next time. Lyubochka got a whiff of the fatal and indelible smell of garlic coming from the man, who could not be stifled even by the stench of the chestnut glue, and she at once realised that this was the man she needed, with whom it is her duty to commit misconduct. Of course, such things had already happened before, but this time she was certain she found a worthy sweetheart at last. After all it was impossible for her to be unfaithful to her Fundánics just with anybody in the world.

Ancient forces were constantly burning in Taran Tula. In his more domesticated minutes he was said to be a Georgian, whereas he was Kurdish in reality. It should be admitted however that blood feud was trickling more slowly and intermittently, in a much more civilized way, in his veins, but through the small and large intestines was flowing abundantly into his blood with the torrid lava of the adjeeka and other Georgian spices, and became totally bitter only during those short intervals when he had to get rid of the slag of the utilized elixir. At times like this pulmonary and systemic circulation broke through his skin, covered his face and body with reddish nets, and was frisking about in this remarkable network, in his own refined confinement, until he managed to multiply devilishly his extremities. Lyubochka was totally lost in his claws, the eight-legged tyrant stopped her metabolism, took away her breath, tied away her ovary, a dizziness made her barren in his arms, and she no more wanted a child other than this giant lover. But perhaps it was the magical mixture of the adjeeka that filled her up with voluptuous desires, and made her taste buds avid and insatiable with its fermented spices. Since the day she tasted it for the first time and did not spit it out in disgust, it remained with her for good, she was unable to stop eating it, she went on swallowing and swallowing until the joint forces of garlic, red and black pepper and tomato cut her burning throat into two. That was why Taran Tula started his patrol every blessed day with Lyubochka; because he could be sure that his seeds invested into her the previous day would multiply their output the next day. He assiduously gathered his harvest, and never wanted to loose anything at all, not even the tiniest single seed, he collected absolutely everything to the last cluster. For the last time it was her mum, her mother, on whom he felt this penetrating female smell mixed with the stench of horse chestnut. There, his mother’s face grew wrinkled very soon, and she became an old woman at the age of thirty already. Poor soul, she spent all her life high above in the mountains, and lack of time made her spin years during days only, and as if it was some pressure of the air that pressed fluids out of her used and dry body. She was running saliva from her mouth all the time, as a toothless baby, who could learn the surrounding world only by putting everything into the mouth and tasting and chewing it properly. She trusted only bits of food that she tasted personally, so she fed the family with stuff she chewed properly with her hard gum and turned over several times with the tongue and then sieved through her saliva. On pre-holiday days she never ate, fasted persistently, trying to save her fluids with the help of the long fast, so that in honour of the respected guests she could spit appropriately many times on the small strips of paste strewn with ewe-cheese boiling in the big kettle. Taran Tula was longing for this atrophied cannibalism ever since, he was constantly chasing it until on the Tipsy Market he managed to find the younger version of his mummy kept constantly in his mind and imagination. Since the time he let his fluids into Lyubochka by getting new lymph from her, he calmed down: he could develop new strength safely at last. So he went on a pilgrimage everyday to his sweetheart in order to get his daily dose, and just for fun and order he kept an eye on Father Daniel, and invalidated his son’s morning departure by trampling down the traces of his shoes, and deployed all possible means to make the tenants living nearby believe that their neighbour did not go anywhere at all, there is nowhere to go, the machines were stopped in the ironworks a long time ago, nobody was cutting threads there any longer, and about the mortuary they preferred not to utter a word, they would not even mention it, not for the treasures of the whole world. While the rest of his fate was gradually wearing off from Fundánics, he could recollect the events less and less. Doubt conquered his soul more often than before: perhaps all his life happened not to him, but to somebody else, and he was able to free himself from this torturing uncertainty only after he had tossed down the first mug of samogon, the undrinkable brandy. The passing guesses tortured him immensely, reopened painfully, lifting his stomach, his liver up to his throat, his whole body was trembling in disgust. But with the second dose he already managed to refill his empty guts void of all experience, and he definitely got much better. He put his organs back one by one. Their reception was carried out by his organism as a routine, but all way long the transplantation, however, he felt to the end that the person he is trying to be identified with is a total stranger. Though his father turned out to be an excellent donor, it was by no means accidental that the Greek-catholic priest was under police supervision up to his death. Poor soul, he was convinced he managed to outwit his supervisors, and for years trained secretly new candidates for the priesthood, who were well aware of the danger of being collared, and so arrived at their teacher for the lessons in the disguise of plumbers or gasmen, tinsmiths or electricians. Father Daniel was also aware of the fact that he was taking a risk. He was after being a prisoner in the camps of Vorkuta, where he toiled as a miner. He made a mistake when the birth of his son he took as an omen, as a proof of being set free. Soon it became obvious that the arrival of the little Fundánics at this mundane world was a vain and meaningless justification of his existence, but then it was too late: the redundancy of material had to result in the birth of the youngest child of the family. His prayers did not help him and others either. By no means could he protect his children against the temptations of the world. The supervising authorities were clever enough and took heed that the ironworks would be far enough from the house in which Father Daniel and his family lived, and the post-office as well, where his daughter-in-law worked, would be out of his reach. So it happened that neither of them got any benefits from his blessings. For some time despite everything Father Daniel was not ready to surrender trying to be encouraged with the idea that patience never sufficed, that the invented system sooner or later would have to become just as small as Man himself, the too large fur coat would have to fall down from him, his arms, hands, legs and feet would have to grow out from his body, and a single noble thought would spring into and would be whirling in his head, and similar to a boa constrictor it would swallow the whole world down as an entity in order to digest it. Then he might start doing penance for the sins, because the rapacious cruelty one has to atone for is still always better than life measured out to millimetres in advance, in which movements are carried out not for something sensible, and muscles jerk only in innervations.

Taran Tula was fond of keeping an eye on Father Daniel. Despite of the fact that he was officially rendered his supervisor, he considered it to be his personal duty to keep an eye on the Father. This excessive zeal could be justified by nothing, but after a certain point it was impossible to stop. Perhaps he was turned up by those hypercritical moments when there was some possibility to dip his wildness repeatedly in the glamour of mildness, and discovered his goodness placed out of his body. Maybe Lyubochka also became his sweetheart in the marks of this noble contrast, and young Fundánics really did not count at all. It usually turned out at dismantling even the most sophisticated machines that a couple of screws are not necessary, after maintenance the machine works without them as perfectly as before. The captain of the police responsible for law enforcement in the district made his reports to the authorities exclusively about the old priest, although he was no longer particularly expected to do so, but he stuck to this position he was endowed with in times immemorial, because he was unable not to supervise, he went on to the bitter end until the Father died. He guessed from his speech he would not live for long, because like those who were close to death he started to form speech sounds in a strange way too, his vocal cords got often entangled, his tongue did no longer stick to his palate, it started to glide along it as a screaming belt gearing, and its extremely high pitched vibrations were impossible to hear with human ears and were totally incomprehensible but for the bats hanging from the window sills of the basement. Father Daniel, directly before his departure, had to understand he was a looser. He also had to acknowledge sadly that it did not bother him so much as it was expected from him by his environment. Moreover, he wisely prepared himself for the time when Taran Tula would finally take his son’s place, and he as his dear parent at seeing his son falling out from the bundles of his fate would have to take back Fundánics in time into himself. He needed a powerful force of spirit to take back his beloved son. He suffered the pain of all the pains of Cronus as he tried to throw him out completely from his memories he nurtured well before his mother had born him into the world, thus trying to sip him back into his reproductive cells with merciless egoism, as a spermicidal which would make his begetting an un-happened event once and for all, and then make the years pass away in vain because they did not suffice for proving the meaning of survival. The old man sipped up the murderous recognition of all this as a sponge, and finally became so heavy in body and soul that soon came the moment when he was unable to bear the weight of the circumstance that while fearing it he secretly prayed for the completion of the cursed change.

On the day when his father’s dead body was sent to the mortuary for dissection, Fundánics was doing his preparations silently, left home without saying good-bye, and with his impassion turned the key twice in the lock, felt the hook, hung the key up onto it, and left his used up fate as if he had never before left his house. At first the neighbours were marvelling at the impossibility, but a couple of weeks later they called Taran Tula Fundánics as a matter of course. At the beginning it seemed a little awkward to do this, as if they were ashamed of something, but later they were sorry for their petty suspicion. After all they had to believe their own eyes if anything, the two men were embarrassingly of the same height. So they put spectacles on their double sight, and the seemingly different things melted into one through the dark dioptres. For some time they watched excitedly as the bluely flashing and hooting police car turned into the street, but later they took it for common occurrence and got rid of their depressing fantasies and mortally envied Lyubochka for she had no longer to sell that horrible chestnut glue on the Tipsy Market since due to some wonder this insignificant anaemic Fundánics to everybody’s satisfaction turned into a real hyperaemic man. Since then the mornings became quite superfluous, melted into the afternoons, the evenings and the nights, because nobody saw to leave the man who always arrived with a sky shaking lot of hooting. They managed to conceal the dawns remarkably because in concealing things they were professionals. They started keeping silence always in time, at an ideal darkness, in the thickness of which it is always so difficult to imagine the day break, and when it started to dawn they efficiently disseminated that reality is nothing but simple delusion. And it will never turn out about these perfectly acting amateurs whether they settled down for the eternity or, on the contrary, they were waiting most patiently for the doomsday to come.

(Translated from Hungarian into English by Piroshka Papp)