The Last Mournful Summer of Mr Pip (excerpt)
23rd July 19..
It was a nice day, so I decided to go for a walk, dressed only in a light jacket, three-quarter-length trousers and sandals, with a straw hat on my head, pince-nez on my nose and a walking stick in my hand.
Naturally, I had my indispensable notebook and fountain pen tucked under my arm. Thus kitted out, I stepped onto the veranda, where I encountered a group of unfamiliar terrestrials. They asked me about the possibility of renting a summer apartment. I told them that I believed there were some free rooms but that they would have to speak to the landlord. With that they looked at each other in embarrassment and then asked me why I was making fun of them. Apparently they knew perfectly well that I was the landlord and if I wasn’t sympathetic to their request they would go elsewhere, but I didn’t have to take the mickey out of them. In vain I tried to explain to them that I was only a tenant and that there must be some misunderstanding. They moved off with much cursing and spitting, and it’s a wonder that they didn’t turn on me. Thoroughly disgusted by this episode, I went to search the house, calling for the landlord, but he was nowhere to be found. At last I decided to forget about it all and left the house for the bosom of the surrounding countryside. And there it seemed to me that I spied his maliciously grinning face through the half-open door of the henhouse. How repulsive!
27th July 19..
I thanked God for the unbroken sunny weather, which blessed the beautiful mountainous countryside where I was staying in my summer apartment. Such a climate is always a balm for my frail constitution, weakened as it is by consumption. Overwhelmed by positive thoughts, I ventured out for a bicycle ride along a nearby forest path. Pedalling carefully, I cycled as slowly as possible in order to savour the beauty of the surrounding countryside. And in those moments I was overcome with a sense of wellbeing. There were birds flitting around and singing, and squirrels playing in the treetops. It seemed that nothing could disturb my private idyll, and yet something did. Just behind me I suddenly heard the frantic ringing of a bicycle bell and a horrible, unidentifiable hollering. I turned around and froze with terror, for bearing down on me was a monstrous velocipede atop which sat the landlord, his moustaches bristling menacingly. It was evidently only the way I stiffened, bringing about a sudden fall into a ditch, which saved me from the dreadful collision that seemed to be inevitable. Lying on my back in the ditch beneath my bicycle, I could still hear the terrible laughter of the landlord, who for me had truly become a spectre.
31st July 19..
Last night I dreamt that there were catfish living in the local pond, and the following day one of the old fishermen informed me that it was indeed the case. However, there was only one left now and I would have to be incredibly lucky to come across it. He also warned me that I should be careful and that if anything large were to brush against me in the water, I should quickly swim to the bank. Apparently the catfish was very big and old, and a male to boot, and therefore prone to being bad tempered. In high spirits, I set off for the pond, my plan being to swim and take delight in the glorious sunny day and all of nature. I had been in the water for around half an hour without a break and was somewhere near the middle of the pond. And just then something thrashed in the water near me. It clearly wasn’t a carp as the wake it created almost washed right over me. And the very next moment I spotted it! A huge, broad, flat, whiskery head drifted close by me. I got a terrible fright and quickly swam towards the bank. At the same time, though, I swallowed water and started to go under. I cried for help and splashed about wildly like a drowning man. There were few people on the bank, so I began to bid farewell to life. And then I lost consciousness. I dreamt that I was lying on the bank asleep, and as I slept there hovered above me the terrible head of the catfish, which was speaking to me.
I cried out in terror, opened my eyes, and it was true! Above me hovered the moustachioed head of the landlord, who was giving me the kiss of life, having dragged my drowning body out of the water. I coughed out the water from my lungs and nose all over him, gasping for air. The landlord slapped me on the back and told me that if I didn’t know how to swim properly, I shouldn’t go into the water. Then he departed to the applause of the onlookers like a folk hero. But I know better. I’d bet anything that that catfish…
2nd August 19..
I was lying on my back on a blanket by the pond, trying to get some warmth into my sunken, sickly chest. I eagerly soaked up the rays of sunshine, reflecting happily on the merits of rural life. I had probably spent too long in the sun, for my eyes were beginning to hurt, but the sun’s rays were making me pleasantly drowsy. It was that strange, intoxicating state of half-dreaming when the world seems to be a wonderful place. However, this idyll was soon marred by an enormous black cloud which completely covered the sun and had no intention of leaving. I propped myself up on my elbows and stared at it for about five interminable minutes, trying to drive it away, but it refused to budge. Unfortunately, I began to discern in it an all too familiar face. The moustache, the furrowed brow, the malicious smile and the almost devilish glare. My patience was at an end. I lost my temper and shouted derogatory insults at the heavens. And then an idea came to me. The black cloud was directly above me and as I shook my clenched fist at it, it seemed to me that it was very close and that I could actually reach out and grab it. I stood up, stretched out my arm towards it as far as I could, touched it, took a firm hold of it and yanked it away. Then I blew on it as well to move it as far away as possible. Now my head was directly below the sun and I could feel its warming rays. I was both a giant and a favoured devotee of the sun. I had performed miracles and I felt like an all-powerful God! Suddenly my eyelids came unstuck. I blinked foolishly at the red disc high above me, lying as I was on the blanket just as before. The skin all over my body was burnt and my head hurt horribly. I staggered and threw up. When the landlord saw me in this sorry state, he just sniggered. The villain!
The fiction writer and poet Viki Shock (real name Viktor Pípal) was born in Prague in 1975. After graduating from a technical school he worked as a mechanic, medical orderly, librarian and production assistant for Czech Television. He also worked in a graveyard, the experience of which formed the basis for his recent "funerary" novel Zahradníkův rok na hřbitově (A Gardener´s Year in a Graveyard, Clinamen Press 2014), from which this excerpt was taken. His writing feeds off of the traditions of ‘pataphysics, dadism, surrealism and absurdist literature. Apart from writing he engages in graphic art, especially photography and collage. He lives in Prague.