In the room where I sleep, suspended over my bed, there’s a wine-red wall-hanging with two oriental palaces, which I wander in before sleep; I roam through hundreds of meandering corridors and halls, I pull bunches of frayed threads out of the tapestry and drop them on the floor. It’s a competition: which of the bunches will hold out the longest, hovering over my face. Above the tapestry I notice a fissure in the distemper. I’ve never seen it before, but maybe I just overlooked it. In a couple of days it’s already a crack. I won’t mention that to anyone. At night I huddle up in my quilt, huddle into myself. Something will come from that side through the crack in the wall, at any time it may come. I’m no longer protected. Crack in the wall, crack in me. I’ll ask Granny who’s behind that wall. Nobody. The house ends there. No neighbour. I ponder: what if Nobody comes for me? All day I cycle about in our district, I’m forbidden to go further. I rush through various little streets, between two- and three-storey brown and greyish apartment houses, sunk into the screen of shadow created for them by the flourishing trees that surge up alongside the pavement. House doors and parked cars flicker at my retinal periphery. Right there, at the periphery of my vision, some sort of movement slithers. Somewhere in a chink between houses. I stand on the pedals, accelerate, spurt; the bicycle under my bottom is whisking from side to side. It seems to me something in the district is coming to life. Suddenly there’s a cry that carries right through the district: “Lu-u-u-u-unch!” With a violent backward movement of my right foot I jam the pedals, the rear wheel locks, I tumble off. The street around me spins. A black smudge remains on the asphalt after me. I race up the flights of Sunday’s deserted stairs to the third floor, which is bathed in sunbeams, falling through the hailstone-coarse glass of the rectangular corridor vents. I know all the doors on the corridor, Grnáč, Šaray, Doupovec. My heart is trying to burst through my rib-cage; I am terrified that one of those doors will open – and wearing the benign chequered shawl of Mrs. Doupovcová, a murderer will stand there. I’m expecting a similar shock when like a lunatic I press the button on the black circular bell by the door with a red doorstep: it opens – and there instead of Granny, a murderer in a black cloak. He has even stolen her smoker’s voice, hoarse from Mars cigarettes: behind the door I can hear her: “Well, who is it, who is it?” To me that ball-shape on the door always looks as if it’s laughing at me. The white door really opens, I breathe out a sigh: opposite me is Granny’s cotton T-shirt, forged in narrow bands of red, yellow, white and brown. Right at that moment I imagine that Granny has already died. And this here is only my memory: that I am listening, emotionally touched (but only in my fantasy), to Granny grumbling and giving me orders to wash my hands and telling me the vegetable soup will be cold by now but she isn’t going to heat it, hoho, no indeed, my own fault, time I learned. Is it possible that one day I will remember this moment which was then real and even then I wanted to give it the status of a memory? Precisely now, when Granny is standing opposite me, with her face under those yellow curls tanned from the “Sparhelt”, so corporeal, so fully present – one day this will be a memory. Right now it is a memory already. “Lu-u-u-u-unch! Quick now, on the double!” From the bathroom I race to the kitchen with a senseless detour round the table in the hall – I pretend to be a runner doing his finishing sprint in a crazily slowed-down camera sequence, with the blinking sign R on the screen. Straightaway, with stomach filled, I get on my bicycle. I run down the stairs behind the cycle, in a fit of intoxicating happiness: only the first half of the day’s playing is over, the second is still before me. I immerse myself in the right-angled topography of the district’s streets, whose plan I will never get into my head without something left out. Always it manages to surprise me with an unexpected turning or a sudden backyard with a couple of garages. It’s in just such a yard that I suddenly hear strange footsteps. Before me are the doors of three garages with moulting paint: deep red, pea green and pale blue. The steps are behind me: I’m in a trap. I turn round. There is unimpeded passage out of the yard: the bushes by the pathway, catching the light through a gap between houses, are a vision of escape. The footsteps coming this way must be from one of the adjacent yards – no time to waste! I race towards the narrow gap between the pebble-dashed walls, banging my right elbow against one of them. I’m out, I’m out clear of all that. I still hear the steps behind me, but they’re somehow such strange, unnatural steps: as if someone was deliberately scuffing his shoes along the asphalt. As if some physically handicapped person was trudging along like that. I pick up speed. It won’t be difficult to escape from steps as lame as those. I take a glance at my right elbow: it’s torn from the facing on the wall, which has drawn a weeping bloody weal, reminiscent of a burst cherry sticking out of the yellowy dough of a fruit sponge. I’m just passing through the little square where there’s a shop that has fish salad and cod. From there I usually connect with our own Trenčianska Street. When I slow down, everything round me too goes quiet: once again I can hear those footsteps behind me. At an equal distance – but that’s not possible, that they could have managed to follow me as fast as I was going; especially when they’re shuffling. I cannot precisely localise the place that they’re coming from, any more than that uncertain movement at the periphery of my vision: they sound as if from nowhere, from somewhere or other below the threshold of my hearing. The district has not allowed me outside itself, I have not managed to overstep its boundary. As if invisible ropes were tied to the rear mudguard of my little green battered Spurt, so that whenever I strained too hard against them, all the more forcefully they flung me back among those timeworn houses from the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the ’50s shadowed by trees, since few of those houses go beyond three storeys’ height. In the end I always found myself right where I wanted to get away from. I cannot say that I’d never before gone whizzing round that particular house, because they were all identical, but when I turned towards it a strange sight greeted me: I happened to be standing on the boundary strip in front of our own yard, off to the side. Three circles of tarmacadamed path: two smaller circles were connected with the larger circle, one of the former passing under Granny’s windows. I raised my head – and indeed, behind the glass doors on Granny’s balcony the curtain was undulating. The balcony door opened – I went off from the bounds into the yard and slowly trudged in the direction of the basement flats. A fat, almost bald-headed fellow in a T-shirt was just coming out on our balcony. I’d never seen him in my life. I changed direction, I wasn’t going to the door. I pretended I was a child who was just aimlessly cycling about like this. Then I noticed: the round brass knocker wasn’t on our door. It wasn’t our door at all. That’s not my yard. But it’s just like it. Till you get to that door, to the fact that it’s missing a rusty doorknob. (....) In the evening I’m lying in the bath. Nearly every evening I lie in the bath, in almost boiling water, covered in foamy snowy spires; I shut my eyes, the glaring yellow light of the bulb over the mirror is searing through them. It’s just that misted mirror, which the steam in the bathroom strikes, that I’m afraid to look in. (I’m always afraid to look.) With a gaze deformed by the lashes of my narrowed eyes, in the misty drizzly remoteness of the mirror I discern a dark contour. It’s frayed away into fragments; it only shines where the sliding drops have made a pathway. It isn’t me. When the foam subsides, alternately I rise and fall back with a splash into the green water, I’m crossing La Manche; when I surface and catch hold of the white tiles, I bathe in the light of news-camera flashes, I’m giving interviews on every side. In the darkened vestibule before the bathroom, where there are tall cabinets with clothes that have a special scent and a small cupboard for toiletries, from the two-winged fixed mirror of pale brown wood my two doubles bow to me – idiots, cripples. A double always bows. He holds his bent arm in front of him, turns away his misshapen fingers, twists his mouth to the right, pulls out the lip, thus showing the tips of a few teeth: his facial expression is such as to suggest some terribly mischievous purpose. The apartment is dark. Only from the streetlamps a muddy yellowish light falls through the windows into the rooms; the massive table in the middle of the hall fringed by six upholstered chairs (“the family council”) looks like a huge, sleeping, vicious animal. Shadows steal through the hall, and the headlights of a passing car flicker on the ceiling. With time the apartment has changed to the Nautilus. And I was its prisoner! The heart of the mechanism was in the bathroom; the apartment was controlled behind the console, with its knobs and rudder, on the white washing machine with its glass eye on top. In our dramatic situation, trapped under a ceiling of ice, we would get oxygen in a moment: I admired the way Granny – Captain Nemo, my jailor – coldbloodedly commanded this situation, always with apron round waist and a Mars between fingers thickened from soaking in the sink and rheumatism, with the ceramic ashtray, the chamber-pot as it was called, alongside on the kitchen table. I look through the glass of the window at the dark underwater landscape –flooded houses and cars, mostly various makes of MB and an old battered Octavia. Once there were people living here. Only the streetlamps still heroically perform their role: they illuminate a dead landscape. Right over there, below the most distant door of the long brown house opposite, is where the darkness is most concentrated. When I gaze at it for a long time, the condensing dark gradually gathers to a figure whose face cannot be seen. Despite that, I know by the posture of the head that the figure has eyes trained straight at our window. Here I’m protected, on the third floor, but what about tomorrow in the streets on the bicycle? I’ll have to be fast. (....) I wake up with the cooing of doves on my face (Dudooolku! Dudooolku!). Pressing in on me through the open window is the swift morning air, bearing, however, a concealed promise of the future, when towards noon it will begin to heat up in the glow of the radiant sun. Under my quilt, I am following Granny in her striped T-shirt through the window. She’s standing on the balcony and beating the green balcony rail with the handle of a yard-brush – she’s knocking off the dust. In the shadow of the trees, on the newly-discovered street, I notice a black stain on the asphalt. A mark after a fall. It follows that there is another child who also goes cycling here. I wander freely through the streets, to see if I can spot him. I squeeze between the houses into some small backyard, where there are only battered dustbins of buckled tin, three garages, and one wretched tree. I detect it leaning against a wall beside a cellar window: a pale blue bicycle, a Sobi 20. That cycle brings to mind the Eska folding bike, but without that odd appendage, some sort of a catch, on the crossbar. Judging by the bicycle and how the setting of the seat is fixed, that child must be bigger than I am. I’ll come in closer, I’ll stop, but I won’t get off, just with one foot propped against the wall, leaving the other on the pedal. The bike isn’t even secured with a chain. And then I hear them. Those steps once again. Those sickly ones. The little yard is passable, and I shoot off and whizz along the footpath trodden in the grass to the children’s playground. Abandoned rusty climbing frames, a broken slide sharp as a razor, bars erected for swings with no swings, the boarded-up supervisor’s hut, and a red graffito Kiss sprayed on the white wall. But I’m going in the the right direction. On the way I find another sign: a line made by a tyre. Now I know that it’s the Sobi 20’s. When I plunge into the tangle of streets, I have a feeling that I am cycling in the tracks of that lost child. If I notice the asphalt, scored with a brisk black line, I’m going to fall off and leave another there. In a short time the pattern on my rear tyre will be completely rubbed away. All of these outer things make a disturbing impression on me: I’m never entirely myself who is cycling, and the streets are never entirely the same ones I see. Houses quite frequently change to cliffs and the street to a canyon, and the bike to the horse Hatalila. At other times the sea’s waves rise beneath the boundary strip by our yard. I am my father and I’m driving us in my Zigulak car to our first holiday in Omis. In the evening I’m sitting crouched in the bunker – behind the old Köhler sewing machine, next to which I bang the open door shut. A subdued clamour presses in on me from the outside through the closed windows, and slowly – very slowly, it’s approaching. At a snail’s pace, but implacably, irrevocably. I crouch down even more and breathe more quickly. Of a sudden the noise gains in power – then I know that the sprinkler truck has just turned into our street. The racket keeps coming closer, till it becomes unbearable. A tremor grips me. Suddenly lights begin rotating on the ceiling; I see flashes of orange light refracted through the panes of the street loggia window. The streams of water will wash away all traces of our tyres from the asphalt, as if we never even existed. One day I’ll get a puncture – and the tube will blow out. The sprinkler truck will return as always: afterwards it’ll come with its horrible round brushes and brutally scrape them over the dusty asphalt. Suddenly I’m alone in a hospital room, after an operation. Granny appears unexpectedly from somewhere, smiles, she’ll turn out the light: in the dark some kind of monster flashing in several colours will begin to roar, like a blind thing it’ll crash into my iron bed with a clatter, my scream, riot of cries; “painful” – Granny will stow away the battery-run metal locomotive on the highest shelf of the wall-cabinet. I’m afraid to look at that cabinet – later on I’ll make Granny give that locomotive away to someone. The noise is already going further off, it’s becoming softer, even if I can still hear it – now it’s more that I sense it below the threshold of hearing, or I’m just thinking it into the silence of the night. I bang on the door and slowly approach the window. Yellow lights, reflections of the lamps, are floating on the shiny asphalt of the night-time street. I focus my gaze on the furthest-off door of the house opposite. This time no figure unpeels itself from the darkness. Just as I’m looking away from the neighbouring house and turning into the dark hall, suddenly I notice something on the periphery of my vision. It’s the second door: a figure without a face is standing below it. I know that it’s training its eyes on my window. It knows that I’m in here, even though the hall is in darkness. An idea occurs to me: what if some sort of breakdown happened now in the generating station and suddenly the light in the hall went out? I tear myself away from the window and crouch down by the wall. That second door, which it was below this time, is closer to me. Is it him, is it that someone, who will come for me? (....) That further dark stripe from a tyre was right in our own yard: as if that second child had gradually come in from the periphery of the district, where I’d found myself for the first time, and more or less by chance made it in our territory. For a long time I hadn’t found any marks after falls, and so I’d just been resignedly weaving about ever closer to our Trenčianska; I was turning the rudder from side to side and therefore during the trip I was swaying. Only afterwards did I discover the black trace in front of our mini-mart, which is located in one of the pink-painted houses (when I was smaller I used to call them the pastels). This last mark in the yard was the opposite of a river: it began as a powerful rough current, but then gradually thinned down, became intermittent, and finally dissolved in a swarm of red points. Those ended in front of the bushes. I raised my head to the green balcony: Granny was just hanging out starched linen, she didn’t notice me. In a moment I was in the heart of the thicket. There was shadow there and a flood of green. I pushed aside twigs, guarding my face against slashing tendrils. From the outside these bushes did not look at all big, but inside there were twisting pathways one could roam on. I pushed in deeper, where there was a quite dusky half-light. My gaze fell to the ground. At first I thought it was a bird’s nest, sticking out between the creepers. (....) The street is dark, misty, with blotches of muddy yellow from the light of the streetlamps. I breathe on the window. Immediately it has beads of condensation. In the oblong brown three-storey house opposite, which extends along over half the street, not a single window is lighted now. Today there are more figures. They are dark, blurred, one can’t see their faces. One is standing in front of the door of the apartment building opposite; I see another by the trees in an island of green on the road that cuts through the street. Beneath the lamp under our window, another figure detaches itself. Further dark shadows are slowly advancing from the side streets turning into ours. The figures are slowly debouching into Trenčianska, they’re all moving in one direction, anti-clockwise, they walk one behind the other, right in the road (and what if a car comes? but true enough, it’s the middle of the night), there’s a whole mob of them, they’re walking in a crowd. They turn around the elongated green islet, they return, they walk in a circle, then more and more figures pour into the crowd from other streets. Trenčianska Street is lit through with some strange kind of matt light, as if the moonlight was passing through milkbottle glass. And then something flashes through my head – it’s knowledge, with absolute certainty, seeing the truth: “Someone has died”.
Translated by John Minahane