Issue #65

Winter 2018

Footprint III

by Jiří Kratochvil
(Translated by G.S. Evans)

Peacefully, endlessly, snow kept falling over the frozen countryside on the clear, moonlit night while I slogged over to Lukáš Common. Good heavens it's beautiful, I thought. Along the right side there was a long band of woods, along the left a stretch of open field and beyond them huddled a village that seemed so close I felt like I should be able to stroke it as though it were a sleeping mutt. In front of me was an untouched, white plain of snow thanks to which I had difficulty making out the footpath underneath it; enough difficulty that it could easily happen, and in fact soon did, that I would stray from the path into the field proper. After I'd been walking for a bit alongside a snowdrift there, I noticed something unusual in the snow. When I'd come closer, indeed quite close, I saw that what I'd been seeing were the footprints from a pair of boots that had trodden out a circle.

A circle, that is, that no trail of footprints led into or out of. Did this mean that the instigator of those tracks hadn't come here from somewhere else and hadn't yet stepped out of the circle, meaning that he or she was still here racing around me? Or did somebody fly here, land on the ground, walk round and round in a circle and then immediately fly away? I knew, however, that I wasn't the first person who had ever had to deal with such a footprint-related mystery.

For I had once heard an account about how somebody found a lone footprint in a field, and then a later account in which a different person had come across a long row of footprints that ended abruptly in the middle of a street. And hadn't it already occurred to me at that time that the two stories, in spite of their similarities, differed substantially from each other? The single footprint in the field was undoubtedly a metaphysical mystery, a solitary impression in the manner of some deity which was proceeding along its own route. However, the row of footprints that ended suddenly in the middle of the street, that was a human mystery, the mark of homo sapiens -- something had suddenly happened to somebody who had come this way, end of story. And my further deliberations led me to the following: the single, solitary footprint in the field, the long trail of footprints abruptly ending in the middle of the street and, now, that circle of footprints on the white plain, together, form a triad. The series of footprints making the circle is linked with the lone footprint because, in many ways, it resembles it. After all, from afar it looks like a single footprint, maybe the imprint of the foot of a huge pachyderm. And the infinity of the circle is linked to the one, single footprint by simultaneously being a symbol of the beginning and the end (the Alpha and the Omega). But the circle of footprints is also linked to the row of footprints, for a circle is a curled up row and a row an uncoiled circle. And so, all by itself, the circle of footprints links the transcendental with the immanent, the divine with the human.

And here I carefully skirted around the circle so that I didn't mess it up (though, all the same, it would be covered with fresh snow by morning) and continued on, pleased with how I had devised the triad and tied the mystery of the footprints in with a logical system.

In that fine, all-encompassing quiet the snow crunched underfoot in an old fashioned sort of way and I was soon back on the snow-covered footpath, continuing onwards to Lukáš Common. But I didn't get far. Like a bolt from the blue, I suddenly remembered! And exactly so! For both of the accounts that I had heard concerning footprints were, unfortunately, only stories, which is to say, works of fiction (Capek, Karel: "Footprint." In: Cross Roads, tr. Norma Comrada, Catbird Press 2002 [1917], pp. 11-17; Capek, Karel: "Footprints." In: Tales from Two Pockets, tr. Norma Comrada, Catbird Press 1994 [1929], pp. 131-139), and from this it could only follow that my story as well, that which had just happened to me, is also only a story (Kratochvíl, Jirí: "Footprint III." In: The Cafe Irreal, tr. G.S. Evans, Winter Issue 2018 [1994]). And I promptly fell into a state of panic.

And so here, now, I am running along the periphery of the story, shouting at you, jumping up and down, trying to give you a signal.

But it's clear that I don't amount to a hill of beans to you.

I tire myself out completely and, soon enough, I'm sitting peacefully on an old, stone marker located in the field. Okay, maybe this is just a story, but a winter's day with such beautifully clean snow as this you haven't seen in these parts for the longest time!

And then, once again, I am slogging along that untouched white sheet of snow, hurrying through the fabulous, snowy plenitude where I will turn around, stick out the tip of my tongue at you and bow down.

Author Bio


Jiří Kratochvil was born in 1940 in the city of Brno in the Czech Republic. He is the author of several novels, plays, and short story collections published by the Atlantis, Petrov, and Druhé město publishing houses, and his books have also been published in translation in fifteen languages. His stories, "A Sad Play" and "From the Pulps," appeared in Issue #12 of The Cafe Irreal and in our anthology The Irreal Reader, and "Three Stories" appeared in Issue #36. "Footprint III" originally appeared in his short story collection Má lásko, postmoderno! and has been translated with the permission of the Dana Blatná Literary Agency.

G.S. Evans is the coeditor of The Cafe Irreal and the translator of this intensely intertextual and metafictional short story. These qualities of the story have not gone unnoticed in the author's native country. The intertextual aspects of the story, for example, and the difficulties in translating such a work, are the theme of Zbynek Fišer's article, titled "Má lásko, postmoderní překlade! (Nad povídkou Jiřího Kratochvila Šlépěj 3)" which appeared in 2009 in the cultural and literary review Pandora. The article's annotation reads: "an interpretation of a postmodern Czech story and its German and Bulgarian translations; the main problem is the translation of the intertextual signals in the fictional, literary text."