Translated by Jonathan Gresty


Ruben’s Birthday
She is an interesting woman in every way. She has graceful manners, puts a napkin in her lap when she eats, applies hand cream whenever necessary and cleans her silver earrings every month in a special solution. She doesn’t make any special demands but is happy just to sit in her room reading books and drawing circles. Occasionally she feels a sharp pain in her calves, a memory, perhaps, of the times when she still worshipped her husband and hoped that he would rub menthol cream into her feet and into the rest of her body. She looks very pretty even though she has just come out of hospital. It is thanks to her lifestyle; nourishing creams have kept her skin firm and a simple diet kept her slim. A few days in hospital will not change that. The only thing which really shows her age is her hair. It’s grey – almost white – and she has it tied up in a bun.
Vanda’s grandmother draws circles and writes down events inside them because she is interested in the theory of chance. If the events are connected, she joins them together with arrows that are not always visible at first glance. Vanda has been watching her do this since she was very small; she is, thank God, a born pupil and absorbs the flow of her grandmother’s words with all her senses. “You’ll receive an invitation to Paris,” says Grandma. “You won’t even consider going. It’s expensive and you are afraid of flying. That same day you’ll take a taxi to the dentist and the first song you hear once you get in will be in French. Then in the waiting-room, the only free seat will be next to a woman with a Paris logo on her t-shirt. And then when you get into the dentist’s chair, he will say to you: ‘How are you, Madame?’  None of that would seem strange to you were it not for the fact that the invitation to Paris had arrived that very same day. Do you understand, Vanda? Imagine you’ve just finished reading a novel in which the main character is called Albert; as soon as you go out into the street you meet a classmate with the same name. Or if yesterday you were paying at a cash till and were five cents short, the next morning the first thing you see is a five-cent coin on the pavement. These aren’t coincidences – how could they be?  It’s synchronicity. It’s God.”
Vanda admires her grandmother’s projects and even if she doesn’t fully understand them, she likes looking at the arcs and the intersections along which words and sentences are written; in Grandma’s maps, there is life with explanations. Vanda’s mother makes a point of constantly challenging the older woman’s theories and rejects the idea of synchronicity. “The little girl will just get confused – don’t bother her with it,” she tells Grandma. But Vanda silently encourages her grandmother; she likes her interpretations of events as well as her circles, her knitted waistcoats and beautiful teeth, which look like her own.
Vanda’s grandmother has no qualities likely to upset anybody but Vanda’s mother is somehow irritated by her presence alone and her habit of saying “I don’t hold with it”.  Vanda’s mother always pays undue attention to how people express themselves and invariably finds fault in everyone’s choice of words, even in characters in books. Every book Vanda picks up must be checked first by her mother because she wants to know if they say things in it like feverishly and gasping for breath and if they do, she takes the book away from her. Vanda was in the hospital first, the first to hear Grandma speaking feverishly and gasping for breath and when Vanda’s mother later turned up, she discovered for herself that  they were not just clichés but actual physiological states. Grandma had instilled into the little girl the need to always be prepared for anything and after what had happened to
 Grandma in the town park on July 5th, Vanda saw for herself that events are not simply random and chaotic but do actually coincide in accordance with some mysterious scheme.