The Eye

Extract translated by Julia and Peter Sherwood 

Anyone who, unlike Menőczi, can’t even remember the beginning of a sentence when they're half-way through it will subconsciously tend towards ever shorter utterances. This is the essence of style. Concise, succinct expressions hold sway.  Just to keep up an ordinary conversation, Miz relies on a variety of ploys, memo pads and notebooks, in order to maintain the false impression that he hasn’t lost his common sense.  He jots down the beginnings of sentences on one sheet of paper and their endings on another and mixes up the two piles of papers, using the resulting mélange to keep conversations going. He looks at Menőczi and tries to remember what the other man knows about him. He knows that Menőczi is constantly on the move, that he keeps walking without ever making it home, because that’s not where he’s headed, going there only when he must, late at night. That is why he always turns sad as evening falls. Lying beside his sleeping wife at night, he replays in his head scraps of the previous day’s conversations with complete strangers, learning individual sentences and words by heart so that he can quote them the next day in new encounters. In this way, very slowly, nights pass at the flat, which is inhabited by his wife and daughters, but where he personally feels like a guest, hoping that nobody will notice him and that he will be able to slip out again in the morning without paying the bill.
Miz was worried about Menőczi, who seemed to be profoundly unhappy about another Menőczi, who was increasingly taking over the first irrespective of surgery. Five years ago the first Menőczi was cheated by his brother out of his inheritance from their father. The matter ended up in court. The new Menőczi, the one growing inside Menőczi, couldn’t care less. But the remnants of the first, original, authentic Menőczi, continue to resist. One day he assaulted a perfectly nice, civilized, young man during a game of chess; in fact, this wasn’t a real assault because what he was actually furious about was himself and the reason he smashed his mobile down on the table top had nothing to do with the game or the young man: what made him furious was his despair over himself.
Menőczi sat in a chair opposite Miz.
Both men sipped tea.
First tea, then coffee.
They might as well have been sipping sake, Godet cognac, sangria or cumin brandy; around here you can sip whatever you fancy.
Menőczi watched every detail of what went on in the compartment, the girls as they came and went, as well as older women whom he left without a comment, deliberately expunging their memory despite their continued existence, forcing Miz to bear them in mind because they had an eschatological effect on him.
            Menőczi cited the case of his brother, who kept a high energy convector above his bed because he suffered from a rare and mysterious skin disease, which abraded the surface of his hands and fingers. “That’s punishment for his greed!” Menőczi hissed. “You can see right into his flesh. It’s a highly intimate disease. And the disease is laying him bare!”
            Miz looked out of the window.
            The station they were approaching wasn’t Amsterdam. He had never left Central Europe. Someone else in his place will have suffocated here by now. What’s that place outside the window? Is it Vrútky? Or Kraľovany? You just have to replace the words: Rotterdam instead of Vrútky.  Utrecht instead of Kraľovany. But words are only words anyway. He stirred in his seat, thinking of the doctor.
            Doctor:  “I was on the night shift, writing prescriptions, a whole pile of them. My fingers above the keyboard reminded me of old tree branches. After my shift I went home, not quite sure who it was walking, who was this idiot. All of a sudden something hurled me against a wall. Then against a revolving door, through which I sank into a hypermarket. This is how people instantly acquire a new role. I kept silent. Shush, I said to myself. Be careful. Something took hold of me. A doomsday-like gloom. I shrank to less than three quarters of myself, if you know what I mean. Then I saw a Chevrolet outside the shop window. And today I saw the exact same thing. But today was worse. What was it exactly? Sometimes it really scares me. That’s why I drink. But I can still drive, slowly; easy does it, I’m not an arsehole. The car was a Chevrolet, of course. American cars are cheap. America lacks quality. It’s evident from their wars. They keep fighting one war after another without ever winning: their wars never end, just sort of fade away, left hanging in mid-fight. Until the next war starts. You’ve got to think of something else, take my word for it, you shouldn’t give a damn about something growing above your ear. If you knew the kind of cases I see! They would weep for joy if they had anything growing anywhere. Think of women and cars instead. Or take up smoking. I wish I could have a smoke now! The other day I went to visit someone and smoked a pipe. Then we changed the light bulbs. Do you have any friends? Do you write to them? You ought to. Or else they will write to someone else, telling them you don’t write. This is what you should worry about, not some outgrowth on your head. Believe you me, my views aren’t wrong. I’m a man of principle when it comes to this kind of thing. Principled people have principles. I wanted to have a nice chat about cars: that has a very therapeutic effect. Yes, a chat, nothing wrong with that. As a psychiatrist I shouldn’t be talking like this. But this is me. And that is you,” he said, poking Miz’s T-shirt with his finger. Then he ordered another vodka and a small beer.
            Doctor: “Nietzsche said that God was dead. But Nietzsche was still alive when he said that. I would have believed him if he had said it after he died. Then I’d be forced to admit that he had some experience of God.”
            “We should be going home now.”
            “Let’s go for a swim,” suggested the psychiatrist, asking some women to come along. They'd all had quite a lot to drink and were pleased to be invited. They probably didn’t have a bathroom at home.
            “A swim, what a great idea!”
            All the women were happy, including those whose bodies had been so deformed by motherhood, age or overeating that baring them was highly inadvisable.
            The talk of water gave Miz goosebumps.
            “Dive in – what are you waiting for?”
            He saw a tangle of aquatic plants.
            “Dive in – what are you waiting for?”
            His legs had by now got entangled in the plants.
            “Dive in – what are you waiting for?”
            By this time the plants had dragged him below the surface.
            Down below he found Menőczi waiting. This had happened over twenty years ago and Miz had never forgotten what it was like to be drowning in a lake near Komjatice. But he didn’t drown; that, however, is not the point of this story.  Menőczi, a cool chap in his prime, threw off his leather jacket, dropped it on the shore, dived in and swam towards Miz, who was already under water, but his rescuer somehow managed to grab him by the shoulder and drag him into shallow water. Miz drew the curtain aside and looked out of the restaurant carriage.
            Liptovský Mikuláš.
He closes his eyes, tries to inhale.
            He opens his eyes, pours himself a beer, his hand isn’t shaking. His fingers are, though, every one of them.
            It’s not he who emerges, it is some thing that emerges: a memory.
The conductor found a fare dodger and immediately threatened to give him a thrashing. After banging his fist on the sliding compartment door he gave the passenger a slap in the face.  Yet the fare dodger continued his journey because they wouldn’t stop the express train just on his account. That emboldened the passenger: Miz saw him walk into a café at the next station.  Outside the café a snack bar attendant physically assaulted a customer who had complained about the quality of the hamburger. “You faggot, who do you think you are, you thirty-kilo good-for-nothing?!” the man yelled. The customer made himself scarce.
            Miz was afraid. The reason wasn’t far to seek: there are people everywhere and you can never be sure what they’re up to. It’s quite baffling how a pretty woman ever finds the courage to leave her flat. Out there, monsters are always on the lookout, hoping for a bit of sex alongside the robbery. The odd murder has also been known to occur as some women squeeze their legs together too tight.
            Miz told Menőczi what he had seen from the window. The latter committed everything to memory: the date, the time coordinates, every detail. Miz’s fear wouldn’t subside. People who positively radiate fear attract predators. The best thing would be to join their ranks. But how? Get a tattoo?  Which pictogram would be the most suitable? Or perhaps Miz should stick a cigarette between his lips? No, not even ten cigarettes would help him.  A tourist joined a woman at a nearby table. What a coincidence: there was a cigarette between his lips.
The mysterious structure above his ear is the mouth of a tunnel.
            This is how Miz will escape from his soul, which has started materializing inside him, growing ever thicker and sinking to the bottom, only to rise up again, pushing him out of his own body like a skin eruption. It is getting rid of him in the form of phlegm.
            Miz is coughing himself up through his mouth.
            Miz is vanishing.
He sits curled up on a sofa, Laura watches him. What kind of a flat is this if Laura and Miz live there together? Miz doesn’t ask any questions. And when Laura begins to talk without being asked, Miz feels threatened and runs away. He throws up into a bucket, his materialized soul is expanding its territory, it has conquered Miz in a sophisticated war, in which, naturally enough, vast metaphysical systems have fought on the side of his soul. It will take some time for his victorious soul to eject him from himself via every orifice and to turn him inside out like a slimy glove.
“Oh, this isn’t serious at all. You just have to seek medical help,” the hairdresser advised Miz. “I’ve been to see a doctor, too. This is where I had it,” she said, pointing at her upper arm.
            “Are you sure it was the same thing I've got?”
            “Of course. It’s always the same thing.”
            “I see. But what is it?”
            “Are you scared of doctors?”
            Miz was almost shitting himself with fear.
            And what’s that out there?
            Is it Žilina again?
            Or is it Haarlem?
            Miz looks around. If it’s Žilina, Vrútky will be next, followed by Kraľovany, and so on. He doesn’t care if they have found themselves in a time loop or a space loop, or some combination of the two. He suspects Menőczi has something to do with this. Suddenly he falls asleep but maybe he was already asleep. He feels the hairdresser raking through the hair above his ear, twiddling her fingers restlessly; the sleeping Miz can see the woman’s distrustful expression in the mirror. Could it be that he winked at her from the place behind his ear?
“Well then?”
             A moment of silence, time for a cigarette.
            Doctor: “There’s someone peering out of you. In my opinion you’re not sick, you just have a third eye. What bothers me is another question: how come the gears of the universe have yet to grind to a halt? There’s always someone to make sure something is going on: causing a war or a coup d’état; a dictatorship breaks out here, democracy prevails there; then it turns out that tyranny nevertheless flourishes under the guise of democracy, the stock exchange crashes in one place, while at the other end of the world it turns out they don’t even have a stock exchange; in sum, there is something happening all the time! How come not even a single cogwheel breaks off? I wish the whole thing jammed! Cogwheels – how primitive! In this day and age of quadruple nuclear processors! And here you are, fretting about a fucking eye. Is it painful? No, it isn’t. When did you last feel real pain? When was it not just a simulacrum of pain? People who don’t feel pain don’t feel joy either. What’s the point of living without joy? That’s the question you should ask yourself. Look at the pain spurting out all around you, people suffering, languishing in hospitals, I see them every day, they’re being cut up, sliced, tortured, drilled, and look at yourself! You enjoy a relatively quiet life. I’m only reminding you of this because it’s my duty as a doctor.”
            Oh, if only Miz could take a big hammer and smash the ice he feels within! As in Sorokin’s novel. Apart from the ice there are corridors inside him, connecting his liver to the roots of his hair. Here and there they shoot to the surface, appearing next to his nipple, on his forearm, or above his ear. His entire body is ensnared in a web that's holding him together and without which he would have burst apart a long time ago, like fleshy fireworks or a fountain of blood. All of a sudden he recalled Pasolini’s films and his dancing boys with their demented expressions. They too were entangled and enmeshed in the inevitability of death sprinkled with some eroticism.
“Why can’t it grow above the root of your nose? It would be so much easier to cut your hair,” grumbles the hairdresser in Miz’s dream. “It’s weird to have a third eye above the ear.”
            “What’s even weirder is that I can’t see anything through it.”
            “That’s exactly what one should see through a third eye.  Nothing. Things that are visible are not worth seeing. Jean Gerson, inspired by the Gospel, speaks of the two eyes of the soul. With the soul being the third eye. The only way you can open this eye is by meditating. You've tried meditation, haven’t you?”
            “No. But on occasion I have fallen asleep in office management meetings. It was only a shallow sleep, more a kind of transitional state.”
            “There you go! Are you an office worker? That explains everything! You have, quite unwittingly, brought about clairvoyance. While in a transitional state. Like office workers everywhere!”
            “I would rather close that eye.”
            “Are you ashamed of being an office worker?” she said flicking her comb around the eye. “It’s popping out. If it pops out any more, it will push off your beret. Do you wear a beret?”
            “No, only artists wear berets.”
            “Have you had a concussion by any chance?  When office workers have concussion, their third eye opens automatically.”
            The hairdresser suddenly gave him a sharp poke in the ribs, leaning right into his face and shouting: “Wake up!”