Issue #53

Spring 2015

The Elevator and Chapters

by Michal Ajvaz
(translated by G.S. Evans)

The Elevator

The small space in which the impoverished Count Lozenský lived pleased me no end. Its only problem was that it was located at the bottom of a deep elevator shaft. The elevator was almost always in use, but it usually moved in the darkness of the higher floors; from the dark heights above us came the incessant banging sound of the elevator's doors and the sound of its motor, located in the engine room on the roof, switching on and off. Only rarely did the elevator cabin descend lower so that its bottom -- composed of intertwined cables and wires -- would emerge from the darkness into the space where we were sitting, which was lit by a small table lamp with a brown shade. The elevator would stop a meter or so above our heads, and a free, hanging cable, gently quivering, would scratch my forehead with its bare brush of copper wires. The count was a cultured and charming companion, and yet I was continuously distracted from our conversation; I couldn't stop myself from monitoring the sound of the elevator and had to fight the urge, when its bottom appeared out of the darkness, to leap out of my chair and run in terror to the doorway. The count contentedly lounged on the frayed sofa and drank his wine. Chuckling, he would calm me down: "There is nothing to fear: this is the basement of a research institute and the only thing located on this floor is an archive which, as it happens, almost nobody ever comes to visit. During the whole of last year the elevator only came down here twice, and neither of those times was I at home."

I asked the count how he was able to sleep, because I knew that people often worked late into the night at the institute and used the elevator all the while. He indicated that he slept most excellently, that the regular whirring of the elevator's motor had a calming effect on him and even lulled him to sleep. "And I say to you, that the probability that somebody will decide to go to the archive is negligible. It really doesn't make any sense to let it bother you."

"But what about the furniture?" I asked. "Not much of it could survive somebody's decision to visit the archive."

"There you have a point," the count said. He had spent his childhood and youth in his family's palace with its long rows of interconnected rooms, through which footmen, holding their silver platters high, walked with elegant, graceful steps while their coattails fluttered behind them in the constant cross-breeze. "Each time that happens, I have to buy furniture again. But, as you can see, a few old pieces from a second hand shop are enough for me, and they don't cost much. Besides, psychologists are always recommending that we change our furnishings from time to time -- it's supposed to have a positive effect on our psyches. So for me it is all for the good, and I am very happy living here."



Some years ago a train that I was on missed its connection and I had to spend the night in a hotel in the small city where I'd been stranded. In the hotel room I found a piece of paper that had been left by a previous guest. It was on the bottom of the cracked drawer of the night stand and was creased and dotted with greasy stains, suggesting that it had been used to wrap some food. When I looked at the paper more carefully, I ascertained that it was the table of contents for a book from which it had been torn. The book had evidently been some kind of a novel, but there was no indication of either the author's name or the book's title.

A strange advertisement ... 3
The red room on Kampa Island ... 11
A book in a Morocco binding ... 19
The story of Lucia's aunt: a Zurich bachanalia ... 33
Night surface ... 42
The story of Lucia's aunt continued: disappearance of Adalbert in Lugan; black dogs ... 46
A used bookstore on Charles Street ... 57
Night lights on Střelický Island ... 64
The Brotherhood ... 75
The gleam of the black mirrors ... 83
Adalbert's ring ... 87
A mysterious streetcar ... 94
The disappearance of Lucia ... 99
Quiet ... 108
An unexpected revelation in the "City Library" restaurant ... 114
The hat of Heinrich von Kleist ... 122
The mystery of the doily pattern ... 130
Phenomenologists at the Two Suns Restaurant ... 138
An automated hyena ... 149
Death in the 16th volume of Husserliana ... 158
Fight on the roof of St. Vitus' cathedral ... 170
Discussion with the Devil ... 181
A dream about Lucia ... 190
Li Qian: kind-hearted bibliophile or bloodthirsty beast? ... 203
A revelation shown on TV ... 216
What Wittgenstein didn't take into account ... 222
The anteater ... 231
Gardens, screams in the night ... 239
Behind the walls ... 244
Transcendental idealism at the Crown Buffet ... 249
"Kafka or no Kafka, an airplane is in the bedroom" ... 258
Purple poison on the rocks ... 271
The discovery of Adalbert's diary ... 283
The National Museum: the sixth rib of the whale ... 294
A subterranean corridor ... 303
Inside St. Wenceslaus' monument ... 308
The throne ... 321
Red flacons, ice emeralds ... 335
The back side of Lucia's portrait ... 344
A two-meter long road burn ... 357
Elegy about a night taxi ... 369
Aphorisms in a Barrandov villa ... 377
Metaphysics in a swimming pool ... 389
The story of comrade Dr. Krásný, specialist in political doctrine; Adalbert's weakness for Japanese women is clarified ... 401
The Brotherhood intervenes again ... 412
Who is Dr. Krásný? ... 426
Night-time apparitions on the train platform ... 435
Trepidation on the international express ... 448
The fake conductor ... 461
A discovery in an antique store on the Rue de Buci ... 472
"...Enfer ou Ciel, qu'importe…" ... 495
Murder in the passé simple ... 481
Adalbert disappears again; Dr. Krásný purchases a paranoid mixed-breed dog ... 509
The clues lead south ... 526
Bad dreams in the Hotel Négresco ... 539
A bar on the Promenade des Anglais ... 553
Li Qian's lobster ... 564
A marble staircase ... 575
Some touch dancing ... 587
The coldness of the pearls ... 602
A yacht with turquoise sails ... 618
Night shoot-out on the sea ... 630
Tombstone in the Palermo cathedral ... 639
Agrigento: the valley of temples ... 648
A terrace among the pines ... 661
Lucia's song ... 675
The sea ... 688

Author and Translator Bios

Machine 1

Michal Ajvaz was born in 1949 in Prague. He is a noted novelist, poet, essayist and translator. Two of his novels have been translated into English and published by Dalkey Archive Press, The Other City (2009) and The Golden Age (2010). His most recent novel, Lucemburská zahrada, won the 2012 Magnesia litera literary award, the most prestigious literary prize in the Czech Republic. He is also a researcher at Prague's Center for Theoretical Studies who has published a book-length meditation on Borges and a study of Derrida. His "Two Compositions" appeared in Issue 26 of The Cafe Irreal and "The City and Heaven" in Issue 31 (as well as in our print anthology, The Irreal Reader). A translation of his "An essay about that which isn't a pipe" appeared in our literary supplement irreal (re)views in 2013.

G.S. Evans is the coeditor of The Cafe Irreal. His short fantastical work, In search of the Cyberking, is the third of his works to be published in book form in the Czech Republic (Po stopách kyberkrále, Prague, David&Shoel, 2011); his fiction and essays have appeared in various Czech journals, including Host, Labyrint, Listy, A2, Tvar, H_Aluze and Britské listy; his translations of the work of the Czech writer Arnošt Lustig have appeared in The Kenyon Review, New England Review, and New Orleans Review.