by Pavel Řezníček
t was getting to be morning when I was awakened by the banging of metal casings and the clinking of watch crystals. What was happening was precisely what I'd thought was happening: in the room next to mine the pocket watch of the building's owner was in the process of defiling my roommate's wristwatch. My roommate's watch wasn't, however, at all stressed out by this event and it certainly wasn't possible to describe it as sexual assault. Whatever we might think about it, in the end it was simply a sexual act between two consenting chronometers. And even if it were to be judged in the strictest statutory sense, we would still find ourselves walking that fine line of distinction such as you find between aggravated assault on the one hand and assault and battery on the other. I happen to have some experience with the law, you see, starting on that summer day when I was walking along Chvalkovsky street. Two strong arms grabbed me and pulled me into the corridor of an apartment building and, before I could utter a word of protest, I found myself sitting before a table on which stood some burning candles and a cross; behind the table towered a judge in robes and his associate. My defense attorney was sitting on one side of the corridor and the prosecutor on the other. They charged me with a crime: that I'd gone outside in broad daylight wearing a shirt that was inside out. If some resident of the building hadn't happened out of their apartment just then to go shopping, or whatever it was they were going off to do, I don't know how things would have turned out. But instead the grumbling judge N. (you'll know him from the Chomutov case, and also from the successfully completed case of Mi řička in Česká Třebová, where he personally detained, and then handed over to a railroad guard, that much-sought-after professor, K.S.) hurriedly blew out the candles, took the crucifix and tablecloth from the table and, with the associate judge in tow, cleared out of the apartment building. Since that time I haven't, as a matter of principle, worn that shirt. Instead, I've covered my naked body with a tablecloth as I feel that a tablecloth with a matching necktie is pleasing to the eye. And then, also, the tablecloth that I'm wearing can't be turned inside out, in the same way that it isn't possible for the blind to play a violin because the blind are blind and, therefore, don't have any fingers.
I was still watching the goings-on of those passionate timepieces through the keyhole of my roommate’s door when I saw an eye start to oscillate back and forth in front of me. I assumed that I'd been overcome by an amorous giddiness or some kind of dupery, but then I noticed that the eye was attached to a steel rod and was swinging back and forth on it. I pressed myself against the keyhole to get a better look, but then the door popped open and I fell headfirst into the room. My roommate helped me up. "You see," he explained, nodding disdainfully in the direction of the bed, "I'm acting as the Big Daddy for these two...I’m assuming, of course, that you're wondering what I'm doing." As a part of this, it turned out, he'd hooked his glass eye onto a steel rod and been swinging it back and forth like a metronome.
"So you see where things have gotten to these days? To the point where you have to make yourself into a sex toy just to bribe a stupid watch. You see, right now I'm impersonating a half-naked metronome and they"--this time he gestured contemptuously toward the watches, which had nervously disentangled their minute and hour hands from each other and begun to tick, like Etna on the run--"and in return they're supposed to make arrangements with the owner so that he'll only burn half of my belongings."
"Why would he want to burn any of your belongings?" I asked.
"I haven't paid my share of the rent for a whole year," he answered, "and this building has a venerable tradition that dictates that whoever doesn't pay their rent shall have all their belongings burnt."
"But there's no reason for concern, dearest roommate," I cried. "I've got enough money so that we can go down to the owner and settle the bill immediately."
"Eureka!" cried my roommate. He immediately turned to the watches: "And you two monsters from hell can get yourselves dressed at once and remove yourselves from my room! Take your brothel to the housing of the astronomical clock; it doesn't belong in the apartment of an honest old man like myself." But they ignored him and instead arrogantly resumed their none-too-moral behavior.
We found the owner in his ground-floor apartment. When my roommate stammered that he'd brought the rent that he owed, the owner gloomily waved his hand: "Some other time--come take a look, I've got something to show you."
He led us to a keyhole through which it was possible to observe the same goings-on as were playing out above us. There was, however, one notable difference: the silver watch of the superintendent (he had two types—nickel-plated, such as the one that was with us, and silver, such as was here) was being heartily taken advantage of by none other than the legendary Count Otto von Bismark.
"How is it possible?" we asked, wonder-struck. "I don't know," the caretaker said, shrugging his shoulders, "The Count showed up at the door holding some roses and announced that he wanted to see the watch; then he locked himself in the room with it. You can see the result for yourselves."
"I should like to know how to decipher this little mystery," I said, and before my eyes floated the gloomy corridor of the apartment building, the table with the candles and the crucifix ... Whatever happened to those times!
(translated by G.S. Evans)
Pavel Řezníček was born in 1942 in the town of Blansk in the Czech Republic. His father was born in the village of Lažánky u Macochy, the same village where the father of the brilliant and famous Czech poet Vítězslav Nezval was born; in fact, his grandmother was courted by Vítězslav's uncle, Gustav, until the Nezval family advised Gustav against marrying into the Řezníček family (considered too poor). Pavel Řezníček himself completed middle school in Brno in 1959 and has lived in Prague since 1974, where he works for the postal service in the capacity of underling. First published in 1967, in the course of the 1970's and 1980's some of his surrealist texts appeared in samizdat publications in Czechoslovakia and were translated and published in anthologies in various countries across Europe. His novel Strop (Ceiling) was translated into French and published in 1983 by Gallimard (with an introduction by Milan Kundera). Since 1989 he has had a number of novels, collections of stories, and essays published in "official" venues in the Czech Republic.
G.S. Evans is a writer and translator, as well as the coeditor of The Cafe Irreal. An excerpt from his novella Bohemia recently appeared (in Czech) in the Czech literary journal Labyrint, and his translation of Arnošt Lustig's short story, "The Last Cabaret," appears in the current issue of New Orleans Review.
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story copyright by author 2005 all rights reserved
translation copyright 2006 by Greg Evans all rights reserved