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Fiction

The Last Super | Indian Summer in Poland


 

 

Indian Summer in Poland

 
It was toward evening when the brothers stopped before an iron fence. The flat, concrete building looked like a garage or a bunker. The older brother shook the gate several times. The chain, padlocked, rasped but did not let go. 

The sun was no longer blinding, but the heat had not let up. A clanking truck passed on the stony road, raising clouds of dust, and disappeared. The brothers looked like everybody else around there. Of medium height, with colorless hair, long trunks, and shortish legs, goggle eyes, and noses that seemed molded of several pieces. Their faces showed no expression at all. Both were good-natured, liked a drink and did not mind a fight. Now, however, they were tired. In an identical gesture, they took the caps off their sweaty heads and looked up. Leaden clouds lay low over the branches of dry trees, threatening rain. 

"Father was always like this," the older one grumbled. "Never let you alone when he was alive, and tortures you now."

This morning they received a notice that their father had died and that the body was to be picked up immediately. It was the hottest time of the harvest. They worked 20 hours a day. The grain, uncollected, covered the fields. God forbid it should rain. It was a good 70 miles to the hospital. The old, rickety train took six hours to get them there. They arrived too late. By the time the paperwork was done, they found the mortuary closed. The janitor told them to wait until the morning. Anyway, the only ambulance that could carry the body disappeared God knows where.

A sudden gust of wind hit the pine trees and collapsed. A few heavy raindrops fell on the earth. A small, worm-like dog rolled by them on three legs. The younger one picked up a stone, threw it and hit the dot, which curled up even more and tried to move faster. For a while they followed him with their eyes.

"We’re taking Dad," decided the older one. 

They swung their legs over the rusty gate. The door to the dissecting room, loosened up with a knife, gave in with a groan. It was cool and pleasant inside. They waited, adjusting their eyes to the semidarkness, until they saw two wooden tables. The bodies were covered with sheets. 

"The biggest one must be Dad," motioned the older brother with his head.

From a briefcase he unpacked a Sunday-best black suit, a white starched shirt and patent leather shoes. Nestling against Father, under the same sheet, lay a newborn. Dark spots covered his skinny back. Father had no time to stiffen up yet, but dressing him took them so long they had no time for a smoke. They pulled their caps over their eyes and lifted him by the arms. Daddy fell with a thump onto the other side of the fence.

They ran to the train. The little town was already dissolving in the evening. A single star flickered and disappeared in the clouds. Father’s legs, dragging on the ground, raised clouds of dust. Next to the station, cheerfully, drunks lay asleep on the ground, flies dozing on their faces. The train was empty. They bought three tickets and barely sat Father comfortably by the window before the eight cars swayed on the track. The station building, covered with peeling paint, and a strip of the stony road, passed behind the window. They tipped their caps at the sight of the tower of a little church. Single lights flickered in a few buildings, but heavy night was already flooding the fields as if with ink.

"Maybe it won’t rain," the older one observed.

The younger one gave a sign with his head. Carefully, they rolled up cigarettes, smoked them and fell asleep. After an hour or two, the conductor’s flashlight woke them up. The train was not moving. Merry voices could be heard from the restaurant of a little station.

"Why aren’t we moving," asked the younger one. 

Without an answer, the conductor punched the three tickets and left. 

Twenty minutes passed, or perhaps a half an hour. A herd of cows appeared out of the darkness. The animals walked heavily. Saliva was foaming on their mouths, low-hung over the ground. In the restaurant, a raspy male voice sang a song about Africa, where women dance naked, dressed only in furs, where ocean waves roll, colorful birds fly and even the poorest waiter wears a tuxedo. 

They listened and were overwhelmed by a craving. 

"What time is it?" the older one asked. 

"I wouldn’t mind a drink either," the younger said gladly.

They pulled the cap down lower over father’s eyes and got off.

In the front of the station restaurant, two supply officials were fighting each other with knives, but because of the heat, or perhaps because they were too drunk, they kept missing. They politely let the brothers pass. 

The draft beer was warm. They chased the mugfulls with glasses of vodka, drank once, then again, took a deep breath and felt better. 

"I don’t believe that father died of cancer," said the younger one. "I’ve never yet heard of cancer doing a boozer in."

They ordered another bottle and saw, passing behind the window, the red light at the end of the train. Catching their last breaths, they jumped onto the platform of the last car. They sat on the steps, breathing heavily, and passed the bottle to each other. 

Only one passenger got on at that station. He was small, thin, and bent forward like the handle of an umbrella. With a tormented face he pushed ahead of him a trunk with a second-hand sewing machine, made in East Germany. He was a tailor and two years before his domestically produced machine broke down; he had to sew by hand, was losing customers and dreamt about a multi-function machine from East Germany that also embroidered and overcast buttonholes. He was tough and enduring, and made his dream come true. He bought it illegally, with a large bribe to the manager of a sewing-shop coop. Nearly all of his life savings were spent on it, but he had no regrets. Now, pushing the machine before him in the empty, dark corridor, he glanced into the compartments, looking for a living soul. He had lived for 64 years, had a difficult life and was proud of it, but he was afraid of empty suburban trains. 

The tailor was so thin and dried out that the heat gave up on him. He did not even perspire. Only the machine weighed more and more heavily on his hands and rubbed against his knee. In the first car behind the engine he noticed an old man sitting in the corner with a cap pulled down over his eyes. That was better than nothing. The old man was quite decently dressed in black. The tailor cleared his throat a few times, but the old man seemed to be sound asleep. With what was left of his strength, the tailor pulled the machine up on the shelf so that it would not tempt the evil eye, and he slumped into the seat. For a few minutes he tried to fight sleepiness off, but the heat and the rocking of the car got the better of him.

The train violently halted. Fountains of sparks shot from under the wheels. The sudden jolt threw the brothers against each other. The half empty bottle shot up from the elder’s hand, the glass smashing against the rail. They looked at the black sky without a trace of stars or moon. The train pulled and screeched and rolled on again, gaining speed. The brothers spat, got up and went inside the car. They passed the conductor. He was sleeping, lighting his face up with the flashlight. There was nobody else further on. 

The sudden breaking threw the tailor onto the next bench. As he was rubbing his sore elbow, something worse happened. The sewing machine tumbled down, landed with a crash on the old man in the corner, and fell on the floor. The tailor groaned, dropped to his knees, carefully opened the locks and lifted the lid. He sighed with relief. Everything seemed to be all right, though one could not be sure. He carefully closed the lid, snapping both latches. Then he looked at the old man. His cap was pushed to the back, a deep cut ran across his temple; his eyes, the balls rolled upwards, were fixed on the ceiling. The tailor dropped his head sadly; it looked as if the other man already had all his troubles behind him. 

He still had interrogations and investigations ahead of him. They’ll definitely confiscate the sewing machine. He carefully touched the other man’s arm. It dropped languidly. He cracked open the door and looked out into the darkness of the empty corridor. He crossed himself and opened the window. The fields were asleep, blanketed by silence. Groaning from exertion, he stuffed the uneager body. A freezing, twig-like hand petted his face. When it was all over, he dropped onto his seat and was twisted by an attack of breathlessness. Air was growling and whistling in his run down lungs. He bended over, picked up an almost unused cap, sewn from solid 80% wool and finished off with a satin lining. He examined it and then threw it into the darkness.

When the brothers got back to the compartment, only a small, thin man was sitting there, grasping a trunk between his legs. He looked at them with terrified eyes. 

"Where’s Dad?" the older one asked.

"That man across from me got off at the last station," the small man said and smiled pleadingly. 

The brothers opened their mouths. The younger one, forgetting that the bottle had broken, started patting his pockets.

"The Devil, not Father," he finally said.

The train whistled, slowed down, and stopped. A herd of cows appeared out of the darkness again. They were covered in sweat and dust and they shuffled on the road along the crossing. Hundreds of cows.

"Never seen so many cows in my life," remarked the younger one.

"The party secretary is secretly inspecting the province," the little man explained. "Television shows him in a different village every day, with the same cows in the background. They drive the cattle over at night and that’s why the roads are closed."

The wind threw tiny drops of rain against the window. A rainstorm was about to begin. 

Translated by Dorota Dyman

  

© 2002-2005 Janusz Głowacki All rights reserved. 

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