He really doesn't see me? Maybe he doesn't even know I'm here. Or, if he does, I’m completely beside the point. He's content to just charge ahead with his clumsy persistence (never backwards!) and neither space, time, nor my feet are of any interest to him. He must be old, very old. Maybe older than the world itself. I want to call out, I want to proclaim: "A blue crab! A blue crab from the Tertiary is here!" but somehow this doesn't seem appropriate. So I stand here watching him and say to myself: "Where is he going and when will he get there? And what about me? With my hands behind my back and my head tilted to the side--am I truly here?" I can't answer these questions, but it seems to me that even to swallow here would be impolite.
My dog has run off somewhere, and now I can hear him whimpering. This leaves me with little choice but to try and find him, as I'm worried that he crawled or fell into someplace that he can't get out of. And so I race through the building and look into all the little nooks and crannies, even opening the squeaky wardrobe doors and fumbling through musty coats. Finally I go down to the cellar where, in the darkness, in amongst the old pieces of lumber, I suddenly spot an animal. But it isn't my dog. It's a strange little creature, larger than a rat but smaller than a weasel. We stare at each other, both of us turning rigid with fright. I can sense fear taking control of me, my heart pounding and my breathing growing quicker while my face stretches into a menacing grimace. My lips curl up so I can bare my teeth while a malevolent growl emerges from the deeper depths of my being. The hair on the back of my neck is standing on end. My body is tensed, ready to leap. But at that moment the animal twitches and disappears so fast that it's as though he were never there. I hurry upstairs, glad to get out of the basement, and feel like I've just woken up. And then I hear my dog whimpering again, as if he were somewhere quite close. But where, by god, where...?
The Sea Worm
Right away it looked strange to me. Right away I thought it was only pretending to be dead, like a spanworm that immobilizes itself before somebody spots it. And this thing resembled a spanworm--also looking like a branch, or a wooden stick. I no longer remember who it was that fished it out of the sea and brought it to shore, but he'd scarcely raised it above his head when the branch suddenly began to move around in his hand, wiggling and squirming. Startled, we jumped away from it; repulsed; we also averted our eyes. It was only after a few moments that we dared to venture back and take a look. There was no doubt about it. It was some kind of an ancient evolutionary link on the road to the animal kingdom (it still didn't have eyes, nor any other openings, and didn't have any limbs, though one end of it was a little wider than the other and thickened a bit at the tip, which was a distant forerunner of the head); such a venerable lineage, combined with absolute powerlessness, made us feel nauseous. So, as though I'm drunk, I lean over the water, hand on my stomach (while the guy that pulled it out of the water strokes the creature along its belly, which is as white as the abdomen of a centipede and segmented like a ladder, to convince us that the animal doesn't sting, burn, or bite, and that we don't need to feel repulsed by it) and wish I were somewhere else, somewhere away from here. Where I could have solid earth under my feet. But before me and under me is only the sea. Nothing but the sea.
We're not running, but flying! I look in front and I look down, but I still don't know where we're coming from, where we're going, or why--but I hold on tight and I sense the pleasure, the wildness, the frenzy, the craziness. That horse knows, really knows, the way by heart! And we keep going like this for some time, but--what's this?--the pleasure trivializes it for me and I start having doubts: "Are we going in the right direction? Have we lost the way?" These doubts change to certainty and we lose speed, starting on a downward trajectory until we fall directly into the middle of a pond. So I stand, water up to my knees, and the horse begins to fade away right before my eyes until only a reflection of him remains. Finally, even that is gone. ("That wasn't a true horse. They gave you a bad horse," somebody will say to me, and I will say, in defense: "How do you know that? You can't have any idea what that horse meant to me!" "It was a false horse," he will say to me, and I will wake up.)
(translated by G.S. Evans)
Vít Erban (1974), a graduate of the FAMU film school in Prague (Screenwriting and
Script Editing), is currently a student of Cultural Studies at Charles University in Prague.
He's been published in Literarni noviny and Uni. In 1999 his first book of
prose, Velky vitr, was published by Vetrne Mlyny (Brno). "The Belly of the Centipede,"
("Bricho stonozky") originally appeared in the November 27, 1997 issue of
Literarni noviny. Re-titled "Vnitrni navstevy," it also appeared in Velky vitr.
His "A Small, Cold Heart" appeared in Issue #3 of The Cafe Irreal.
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story copyright by author 2001 all rights reserved
translation copyright by Greg Evans 2001 and 2013 all rights reserved