by Karel Cispic (Slovakia)
Translation from Romanian by Adrian Ioniţă
Edited by Robert Fenhagen
It was a day like any other— a blistering orange sun beat down upon dry Earth, searing and drying everything—including his mind on most days. “Anchors aweigh” thought Karel, briefly enjoying the coolness of the room where he was staying.
He watched the news and soap operas on the cheap TV.
He decided on tea over Cinzano.
He felt as if the television microwaves were tickling and draining his mind.
Let’s see. PRO TV. – Most certainly the lowest one. “A Romanian woman from Italy performed an abortion at age 70. A student from Pakistan has placed a bomb at Harvard. Following a national program to prevent the economic crisis, the minimum wage in the country is diminishing… Foreseeable. The same old shit.“ He felt listless, but then a bit of news aroused him, and he felt a surge of energy. “The famous Romanian writer, Pavel Tiamaios, had died and was to be buried at the cemetery in Cluj.” That was something bewildering, since he was to be buried with a complete copy of Cioran, which had been a gift from the French. A complete copy! The news engaged Karel’s interest. He began breathing faster as plans began formulating in his mind with the speed of a Pentium6.
He would wait until the other interested friends and associates of the dead poet had paid their respects– that was important.
He needed privacy.
He would wait until the sun had begun to sink, and the shadows became softer.
He would wait until dusk, or later.
He switched from tea to Cinzano.
At 35, Karel knew that he should quit smoking, but like making love, it was a habit that was hard to break. So was the needing for Cioran, and not just the Cioran, but a complete copy! His last trip to the cemetery was orgiastic. He used to crucify hamsters, a Wiener Aktionismus of his own, but this time, this time, he had a snowball in hell’s chance. He will make Günter Brus eaten up with jealousy. The decision fell over him with the rigor of a tram passing on red through the stoplights. “I have to do it … It will be difficult, but its worth trying.“
The fleeting thoughts and fantasies of his day inside of a lonely room began to dissipate as he thought through what he would need for his task. He lit a cigarette and headed to Polus to buy a shovel and a good flashlight. At the entrance of the mall, on large plasma monitors, a local TV station displayed scenes from the funeral. Only 50 people. “What a small audience,” thought Karel with regret. ”And Tiamaios wanted a funeral with military honors. Who actually reads him?”
A hard hat with a light, a shovel, a desire — a drive, which, had he gone out before, would have been drained by the sun, and lessened by the fear of being discovered. Under the light of evening, he would have his complete copy. He would feel exalted and beautiful again. He would soar above the old cemetery and the Earth below. He, He, He, the new Romanian Fluxus, Karel the Desecrator. Suddenly he loved life and the opportunity that had been presented to him.
Later, as he made his way to the cemetery, the shovel fell out of the ancient knapsack that he had slung over his shoulder. He picked it up and continued. Some passer-by pensioners, blessed him sympathetically. With the shovel on his shoulder, he looked pretty lonesome but filled with proletarian manfulness As he walked, he thought of all of the useless news that had droned on before he had decided to liberate the book. Television and radio. They made him sick. Bombs, old women getting abortions, poverty, death, but not death, but life.
Now, there was a meaning, a goal, a purpose to his life—even if it was only fleeting. What would it be like holding the book? The book with such exquisite writing and information. Answers. The book would have answers. He remembered his teacher’s confabulations: “Swarming-swarming, here will gather the disciples. They will sing and they will cry reciting my aphorisms deluged by my eternal genius. High school girls will dance and tear their knife-pleated sailor skirts, to receive the gift of Prophecy…” Karel smiled : ” The man was crazy. And he somehow mixed Dionysus with pedophilia … “
He jumped the fence where the caretaker could not see him, and found the new grave. There were shriveled flowers around from a cheap wreathe. It looked as if a few different groups of mourners had been there. He wondered if any of them had fantasized about getting the book. Not likely. Dear Pavel, was a respected pauper. Wouldn’t that be amazing to have to line up and take a number before robbing the poet’s grave, or to release the hamster he kept in a jar for the occasion? A chuckle died in his throat as he realized fully what he was about to do. Shovel after shovel of dried dirt flew in back of him until the magic moment when he hit wood. He could tell by the solid thudding sound that metal made against wood. It was a satisfying sound. An organic sound. Thud, thump. Thump, thump. He used the blade of the shovel to pry open the casket. No smell came out, but the sight was not a pleasant one. Pavel’s emaciated and very dead face had a rictus grin that sent a fright up Karel’s spine. The dead poet seemed to be smiling at him.
Karel was quite sure that there would be no smiles if what was about to happen will become known. The dead poet held onto the thick book as if his life depended on it, which, of course, was absurd, so Karel used the sharp shovel to chop through the arm, and released the tendons sufficiently so that the book could be lifted and secreted under his coat. Then, his flashlight start flickering frantically. He could not believe his eyes. “What a family, such ordinary lies…” He slunk away in the dying light to get to his rendezvous with the book. A hamster start running to freedom, while he and the book would soon be grand conspirators!
As he flagged a taxi, holding in his raised hand a copy of “Homagium ” by Nicolae Ceausescu, the first words that he spoke to the sullen and grizzled driver were, ”I’m going to glory, if you don’t mind.” Soon, he sat back, feeling the book underneath his coat and gave the driver the correct address. A smile played and played on his lips. Karel’s smile was not of the rictus variety…