Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I sat there on the dead horse, with my head leaning against its erected leg, which jutted towards the sky, and I fingered the little manes that horses have round their hooves … and a goods train rolled past on the line, whistling merrily. The wagons veiled and unveiled me in a steady rhythm, and I began to shake, and the saliva gushed in my mouth, because the beginning of all this was at Uncle Noneman’s, in Karlín, in Prague. I was sleeping there at Masha’s uncle’s place; they put me up in the studio on a couch, and covered me with a blanket, and then on top of that with the cloth on which was a painting of Prague, with an aeroplane flying above it, in which customers used to have themselves photographed as pilots and observers; whole groups of people used to get into the photograph in this aeroplane, for a lark. Then, in the night, when it was all quiet at the Nonemans’, Masha came and crept in under this cloth with the aeroplane, and stroked me and pressed herself against me. And I caressed her, too, and I was man enough until it came to the point of being a man, but then all at once I wilted, and it was all up with everything. Masha tried pinching me, but I’d gone quite dead, as though I were paralysed in all my extremities … and after an hour Masha crept out again from under the cloth, and went away into the little room, to her aunt …

And in the morning I couldn’t even look at her, I sat completely crushed. Customers started coming, and they stood behind that cloth beneath which I’d gone through such an awful experience in the night. One of them would get up on a chair, and another on a step-ladder, and Uncle Noneman would give each of them a bottle or a funnel to hold, and then he’d creep under the cloth that shrouded his camera, and raise his hand and give them the signal, like someone conducting music, and then duck out again from under the cloth, and after five minutes he brought the photograph, because he had a large notice over the doorway: finished in five minutes.

They kept coming all the morning, until two German soldiers came, and just when one of them had climbed on the chair and the other on the step-ladder, and Mr Noneman had arranged the cloth with the aeroplane and the panorama of Prague in front of them, there was a thunderous crash, and a great wind surged through the studio and swept away the cloth with the aeroplane, and those two soldiers fell down, and Uncle Noneman, who was just burrowing under his cloth, fell down, too, but that was the least of it. A moment later came a tremendous gust of wind, and I saw the whole wall of the studio roll away, and the gust carried off Uncle and those two soldiers, and blew in Auntie and Masha from the other room, and even though they were flying through the air, at the same time they were trying to hold down their skirts, but they couldn’t manage it, and their hair was blown fluttering all ways, curtaining the whole of the sky for me, and down we all went, and sailing lilke tossed balls we dropped slowly on to the grass outside … and the last thing that wind blew after us was the board on which was the notice : finished in five minutes

Along the main street several people went running, then there was a long silence, and then the sirens began to wail, and a number of ambulances passed, and then came a lot of torn and draggled people, laughing and laughing like crazy men; they dropped on their backs on the grass, lay on their backs and shook with laughter … and only then did this fellow come along, and turn and point in the direction of Vysoĉany, and say : A terrible raid, folks! And when he looked down at the grass, at that big notice, he repeated with quite another meaning what was written on it : finished in five minutes
Bohumil Hrabal, Closely Watched Trains