used 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
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.
ulhanek 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