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Issue number one




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Artistic exercises by David Doubek

Iused to go to the Cafe Seaside, which was immediately opposite the theater. Often I would see actors sitting there after a performance or a rehearsal and would secretly admire them. They would all come in together, wearing black suits like they wear in films about paratroopers, and quietly sit down at their tables. There were so many of them that they would occupy half the room, but they never made a racket. In fact, they were very much on the quiet side, as though they were communicating by way of grimaces. They were perfectly professional and always looked frightened, their bristly beards outstretched like open arms -- not to mention the rather helpless and bashful motions of their hands and eyes as they drank their coffee. They would arrive from the theater all smokey and scorched, sometimes even still smoldering. The director of the company forced them to jump through burning hoops, as many as five in a row. In a play about an airport, they set fire to one of the actor's sleeves with which he then gave signals to the pilot. The actor's flaming hands symbolized the semaphore flags. In a different play four actors, pretending to be sailing on a pirate's ship, drank burning gin from an iron cup.

"Artists," the director would say to everybody before each performance, gesturing broadly, "must burn on the stage!"

And the actors, frightened, would nod their heads, and many would reflexively tug on the straps of their black dungarees and then let go.

"Like a torch!" the director would proclaim before nodding at the pyrotechnicians. The stage would be lit up and the actors would race forward. The director would grasp the balustrade, puff out his chest and from behind half-closed eyes observe the dance of fire on the hoops. "Fine bonfires, aren't they?" he would then say quietly to the empty backstage.

Then good fortune was unexpectedly worked in

Kulhanek was hiking through the mountains. A condor's cry echoed through the stone cliffs of a canyon that lay below. In one stretch the trail went along a narrow rock ledge above the canyon. But Kulhanek was fearless by nature, and so he continued along it without a second thought. But just as he was crossing the ledge something in the mass of rocks moved, the ledge gave way and with a terrible rumbling it brought Kulhanek down with it into the thousand-meter deep chasm. At first Kulhanek fell silently. "Ahhhh," he cried suddenly when he realized what had happened. "Ahhhhhh- hhhhhhhhhhhhAhhhhhhhhhhh," he continued as he fell with terrible speed into the hole and it appeared to him that his fate was sealed.

Then good fortune was unexpectedly worked in. From somewhere came a wind which carried Kulhanek along for a thousand kilometers until he finally landed on a haystack. And all this without any injury, besides one small scrape. Strange, that. By total chance he was borne along by a stout wind for some thousand kilometers, and then his fall to the ground was cushioned by something so nice and soft that he wasn't smashed to pieces.

Kulhanek walked away from the haystack, pulling pieces of hay from his hair and pants. He reflexively pulled his rucksack up to his shoulder and furtively looked all around, even up to the sky, but didn't see a living soul. He felt more confused than he had ever felt before.

(translated by G.S. Evans)

David Doubek is a poet and writer living near Prague in the Czech Republic. These two pieces originally appeared in Literarni Noviny, a leading Czech literary journal, in 1997.

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story copyright by author 1999 all rights reserved
translations copyright 1999 by G.S. Evans