THE STREETCAR OF SZABADKA

László Villányi

Translation by
Zsolt Bede-Fazekas
und Allan Briesmaster


THE UNIFORM


He was drinking purple wine. He put the glass down on the bench, on the kerb, or on the window-sill of the clinic. No wonder the window was bricked up. His eyes followed the painted-mouthed women angrily.
This was an everyday performance on the stages of the Avenue Junot and not so often on the Rue Caulaincourt, with dignified gestures, wearing the blue uniform. Long, weighty sentences were shaped, but nothing in them was intelligible, no two words fitted together. Only one name recurred: Louise.
(In days gone by, on the way home from the station, he was memorizing the script of his scene on the purple streetcar, ceaselessly preparing himself for the main role. In order to keep people away he always put his railway-worker cap on the seat beside him.)



THE GRAY PANTS

A spider climbs the streetcar window. Like on another window, on another continent. He sat in the autumn night and the telephone rang. As if she could have said something. He knew this was im-possible, and yet ...
He looks for paper. Undisturbed by the swaying of the streetcar, he begins to draft a letter: The only reality in one's life occurs when the impossible happens. That is the only time we exist, all the rest is waiting ...
(He crosses his legs. He has just noticed that he wears the same gray pants he wore that night. When he received as a gift the pale pink letter paper, soft to the touch.)


THE BLUE PULLOVER


One day the streetcar will rise in the air, he thinks. I will see from above the cycling woman with her blonde twisted eggbread hair. The Lake of Palics will be a sparkling dewdrop.
By the time we reach the ocean someone will recognize my words. And will step closer, ask me to sit beside her. She will have long bent forefingers, but first of all I will become fond of the curve of her chin, then her laughter. And she – the hesitant movement of my hand.
By then she will know everything about me. She will accept that I look on her with admiration, that the sky and the clouds under us are only a backdrop for her face. She will accept my touch.
(My blue pullover will be large enough to cover both of us in the night, above the ocean.)


THE LONG SCARF

He was trying to put the waterfall into words. Or rather the bend of the calm river as it turns over into another type of existance...
He crosses the snowcovered town. Meets giggling girls. They dance, they lift him in the air and pass him from hand to hand...
It is his scarf winding around the long neck of one of them. His coat is on another, his white shirt on a third. His cap was borrowed by the fourth...
He nods: nothing surprises me anymore. Then an umbilical cord coiled round my neck, but no sterile scissors can cut another power. An apple browning, then slowly rotting ...
(A snowball slams into the streetcar window. People, don't sit at home, come out into the snow! – a student yells.)



THE SHOULDER-BAG

He did not know himself anymore how long he had been carrying the pink envelope in his bag. The goring-off in the morning or the forced stopping of the streetcar, after the pulley jumped off the wire, enlarged in his mind different parts of the letter.
But at the train station he always read the same lines: I am standing beside you, and you stare at the lovely girls. Yes, I like the way you are watching them and the way I watch you.
A train sizzled and left. As if he always changed from the streetcar to the train so he could be an arriver somewhere. And snatch a sentence over the rigid shoulder.
(Meanwhile another day has come. So easily do we step into another life, where we exist and walk beside each other and write down the other story again and again.)



THE PURPLE HAT

In my dream the door of my room opened to an elevator. I was waiting naked for you. The door rolled open again and again, I saw faces appearing, familiar ones and ones not so familiar, just like here in the streetcar.
I wandered among the houses of the strange town. I saw the tiny lake freeze over slowly, and the birds cram into the shrinking water. Then it turned out these were not swans but Grandma's cats of old, my masters, huddling there.
I followed Grandma to the well-known house. She took off my purple hat and kissed my brow. I was aware all along that we had already buried her. She asked me to leave her alone and live.
(You know, if Grandma hadn't died I would never have fallen in love with you.)


THE CHECKERED SHIRT


Each time he put on or took off the checkered shirt, he relived again and again the waiting, their first time together, the approaching Christmas, the vibrating street.
Her breathing was there in the fluttering of the shirt, her finger on the button, the shy movement of buttoning, the near embrace in slipping into it, the nestling of the fabric like the touch of skin. Yes, somebody undressed him then, and whispered: I am so happy now.
(He was looking at the streetcar window, the movie poster. I like checkered shirts on men – came the words from the closing door.)



THE NORWEGIAN PATTERNED BAND


There will be a Norwegian patterned band on my forehead... and I like chocolate with coconut – answered the stranger, when he asked her how he could find her.
He kept calculating how many years ago that call came. Twentyseven or twentyeight? Since then, whenever the phone rings three times and stops before he reaches it, he imagines the same person at the other end of the line.
Because on that occasion he did not make thatrendezvous; rather he went to the soccer game to see Robi, the funny left-winger who individualized the „bycicle-trick” and brought it to perfection.
(He was waiting for the streetcar as if that Norwegian patterned band could appear again. Seated in a wheel-chair, Robi appro-ached, turning the wheels slowly in the snow.)


THE WINTER COAT


He pulled it out from Blood Lake, a boy whispers, that’s why there’s the herringbone pattern. And the little boy starts searching for imprints of spiked skeletons, expecting a lake made of red drops.
The women watch the man's forehead, when the sweat runs down on it, just as on their own curves. Some of them shudder, as if snowflakes fell on their tingling skin, others reveal with sighs which season heats the streetcar and stare longingly towards the open car.
(He keeps holding on to the porcelain handstrap, like one who does not hear the whinnying lads, and does not see the pointing fingers. He wraps the coat tighter, to hold his body together so that its molecules won't scatter.)


THE GRASS-STAINED PANTIES

I fondled the grass imprints on her palm. Then we lay down on our backs and listened to the sounds of the lake. I saw how a bug crawled on her body from among the grassblades.
In the evening my bitterness increased with each streetcar stop. Because I did not dare to touch her back although there was an exquisite print impressed into her delicate skin. Because I did not dare to enjoy at close range the green fragrance of her body.
At that time I couldn't yet think of my mouth. That after my hand it would rove the pathway of the bug. That the lower part of the swimming- suit hides a clump of soft grass where my face can rest.
(Once when we were juniors at school she left her gymsuit at home. She had to exercise in white panties. At the end of the class she stood in front of me in the line and I kept looking furtively at her grass-stained buttocks.)


THE BROWN SANDAL

Water continues to drip from his fingers onto the brown sandal and the streetcar's floor. He guards the snail in his palm.
He raises it towards the setting sun, to examine it, the strange tangle and pulsing of its organs. As if he could think with good reason that man was a creature more fit for existence – he muses – then reclines his head on the seat.
(He tries to get inside by twisting his body, stretching his hands ahead. His body is protected by a hard shell. Only one leg hangs out from the spiral, and the brown sandal.)


THE GLASSES

Below, the roundness of a baroque balcony. Above, the slope of Kál-vária hill*, but instead of a sled, a hand sliding. That's how they imagined the teacher's breasts, their palms barely touching her tiny nipples.
When she wrote on the blackboard the only sound in the air was the friction of the chalk. They counted every millimeter of the rising of the skirt, they memorized the day, hour and minute when they could see the most of her thighs.
The way she put her glases on the table once in a while made her look as if she was standing naked at her desk. All the boys awaited this moment, and each one thought it was happening only for him.
(The leather strap jerks. The bell rang the same way at that other stop, the end of our class. Was there ever a man who asked the teacher to leave the glasses on when she had nothing else covering her body?)

Calvary


THE RED UMBRELLA

One of them is looking at the red shoes, the other at the red umbrella. The third one looks at her hair, which is short like his own. (And yet she is so much a girl, he marvels.)
When someone glances at them they seem to stare at the curves of the streetcar’s ribs. They keep their hands under their thighs to hide the smell of dissected frogs.
They would like to sit in long white pants, their legs crossed, instead of wet drawers. Slowly the seat's stripes mark their hands.
Arriving at the theatre they jump off in the rain before the train stops. So they don't see how the red shoe lands in the puddle. They only look at the umbrella as it is snatched away from above her boyish hair. The graceful wrist is painfully enlarged in their minds.
(Since then, the red umbrella has appeared in Beregszász and Krakow, in Prague and Paris, and on a recent morning it was lying here, on the corner of Szent György* Square.)

* St. George