How Can One Finish Writing?

Mátyás Dunajcsik
Hogyan fejezheti be az ember az írást?

for Ágnes Jávorka

By then I had been frequenting Kesztyűs Heléna at her flat at Pécs for three years. She always received me in the kitchen, since she kept her lovers beyond the bedroom door, where I had no entry. Once in a while the door opened, and a sleepy man in shorts stepped out, asking for breakfast. At such times an absent-minded Heléna first watered the drooping herbs on the window sill, and only then gave the pleasure-ridden man food – like one feeding cattle, not entirely without feeling, but neither with much consideration. With me, she talked on about the renovation of the house, weather, and her youth when she lived off entertaining the local potentate.

„Look, Tamás, I’d fancy you writing essays rather than novels. The essay is, after all, but a game – a short-lived liaison with the reader; while the novel, in the worst case, marriage, or in the best passion and love. You don’t have the balls for that, I can tell these things about men. How much they bear. I look at you, and I say to myself: for one night it would be fine, were I a few decades younger – but if you asked me to move in with you, or for God’s sake meet one more time, I would refuse without a second thought – and believe me, Tamás, not only for my sake.”

More or less like this. I loved that she tolerated my smoking all the time we talked, even when a lover of her’s was having breakfast on the next chair. She seldom stepped out into the court from the tiny studio where she lived, surely not when I was there anyway. I could hardly grasp how can she have so many a men in her life then. Probably they handed her to each other, like a curious piece of jewellery, or the address of a fine restaurant with reasonable prices. For Heléna’s heart was so magnificent that all the world’s men could fit into it, and most probably similar stories were told in the pub around the corner about the neat garden between her thighs as well, heavy with the intoxicating fragrance of ripe fruit.

I still recall when I had to confess her that after an unfortunate love affair I came to write a drama for the metropolitan theatre. Kesztyűs Heléna then dropped the lofty spoon that she used to stir the rose hip jam and stared at me, a glance both forgiving and scornful, one that only mothers command.

„You know, Tamás, how I adore you, but for once I’ll never forgive you this one.”

Needless to say, I didn’t dare to go to the first reading after this, laying in cold sweat entombed in a heap of pillows for weeks like a man who have commited a murderous act. As the play went up in smoke and flames at the première, I was already recovering on foot, between editorial meetings and poetry readings. Even then, it was after many a month before I took the train for Kesztyűs Heléna and her kitchen covered in the steam of boiling rose hip jam.

As if she felt that I had already suffered every possible punishment for my wrong- doing, she didn’t say a word about literature that day. A year later, when I brought her my first volume of essays, I showed her the passages where – under the guise of the customary devices – I wrote about her: The operation of the male body and its connection to potting, observed by the solitary traveller was the title, or something along that line. Amiably, she put aside the chicken soup from the fire, sat at the kitchen table, and read through the whole treatise holding a red pen, correcting a number of grammar errors.

I beheld the sheets covered in bruises of red, and stood wavering and feeble, leaning against the kitchen sink – with the book long since on the store shelves, I had no way to amend my mistakes. However, I hoped that she would finally say something about the content too, so I clung mute and awestruck to the woman’s lips, like a rock climber hanging from a bolt in the smooth rock. After moments of unconfortable silence Heléna’s suprised voice ended my rave.

„This empty stare does not suit you at all, Tamás, stop it.”

„So-sorry,” I stuttered, bewildered. „I just want to know what you think about the text.”

„Nothing,” she answered blankly, and stood up to busy herself with the chicken soup. Suddenly I felt as if I were one of those men who used to have breakfast here, only that I missed myself from the scene, or rather I was wondering who will do the talking while I am being fed?! Nontheless, I attempted another siege, in vain.

„Look, Tamás, I am a simple woman, and I don’t know about literature. Once I told you to write an essay, and you did so. That’s enough for me. Now you’ve said all about yourself that I was missing. You’re a dead man. By the way, I didn’t really pay attention to what I read, only the mistakes. That’s what I have an eye for. The rest is your business.”

By then, the chicken soup got almost completely cold and I was staring at Kesztyűs Heléna’s thin white fingers as they paddled the nurturing liquid. No other man appeared in the bedroom door, so eventually it was I who sat in front of the second plate. The sun shone in at an angle into the small kitchen packed with green-painted furniture. I thought that if there really is true sadness on the face of the Earth, it must taste like chicken soup.

„I hope you already know what’s next,” said Heléna tenderly like the autumn breeze, after she finished the washing up.

And the door daubed deep red revealed the bedroom with an unforgiving slowness, creaking painfully like the gates of the underworld. The wind wandering in the city like a mad woman carried the chatter of birds, and the chimney-sweepers basking on the roof of the next house scrambled to their feet and started working. I wondered what will I do with my life after all this.

Translated by Dunajcsik Péter Maxigas. Photo via.

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