Ludvík Vaculík 

The Old Bed 

This undressing on the grave, this is what I would call looking into the future. When she stepped on the tombstone, her heavy white body looked stupid like in the surgery. Wait! I looked around. She was turning and stoop-ing on the stone, its polished surface reflec-ted her heaving breasts. I placed her clothes  behind me, out of the picture. Jeba was lying on the black table; I was surrendering to her! Is it going be accepted? And she – is she going to accept my sacrifice? I looked around. Though his presence was gone, his joyful whisperings encouraged us. She was lying prone, her flesh was sagging down. Her figure was becoming flattish: her breasts, hips, legs were loosing their bed-like shape. 

For several decades, Ludvík Vaculík has been providing a brilliant and thought-provoking commentary on Czech cultural and political life in his weekly feuilletons. His novels The Axe (1966), The Guinea Pigs (1970) and A Cup of Coffee with My Interrogator established his international reputation as a major novelist of his generation. At the beginning of the eighties, he published a diary novel The Czech Dreambook, which recorded the real and imaginary events of 1979. In his novel How to make a boy, also written in the form of the diary entries, he moves away from public and political con-cerns into the more difficult territory of modern relationships. His latest novel Immemoirs appeared this year.  

Ludvík Vaculík již několik desetiletí ve svých fejetonech přemýšlivě a pronikavě komentuje český kulturní a politický život. Jeho romány Sekyra (1966) a Morčata (1970) mu získaly mezinárodní uznání spisovatele své generace. V anglicky mluvícím světě jsou známy vybrané eseje pod názvem A Cup of Coffee with My Interrogator. Na začátku osmdesátých let vyšel jeho románový deník Český snář, zaznamenávající skutečné i imaginární události roku 1979, po něm následuje vzpomínkový soubor Moji milí spolužáci. V románu Jak se dělá chlapec, rovněž ve formě deníkových záznamů, opouští věci politické a veřejné, vydává se do složitého světa lidských vztahů. Jeho zatím posledním románem jsou Nepaměti (1998). 

How to Make a Boy 

You may remember, dear Dominik, the last time you were in hospital most women came to say goodbye, but one came to greet you. A strange young woman sat on the edge of your bed saying nothing, just looking at you. When you saw her, you closed your eyes, when you opened them again, she was still there, and then you believed in her. A woman with a pale face framed with dark hair, a face which dissolved into a loving purity despite its austere features, a purity prepared to sacrifice itself to your love. But it was already late, you could only look at her. She didn’t speak, just as she doesn’t speak to me, and you – what was there to say and why? When you could no longer weigh her down with your light body. And so you simply took a strand of her hair, she told me, and twice pulled it tenderly, a little clumsily, but still with all your strength. I have come to see you, she said with her silence.  
I’ll be with you. But that was something you knew, it was understood. And she would have been with you right there on the bed, had you only given her the slightest sign. But if I were to believe her, and I find it difficult, you did not place your hand on her knee, did not caress her thigh, did not stroke your way up into her box with two, three bony fingers. And so you, a Carpathian shepherd, failed for the first time in your main role, because you did not lie with a woman who had brought her pleasure box for that purpose, having listened to your name, your poetry and her own ambition to be one of your most beloved. Then, said Naja, you spoke my name. Why? I would have liked to ask the woman, but I didn’t since she had not and still continues not speak to me; are we on unspeaking terms? 
We went out into the countryside twice and each time she would not even answer my questions about where we were going and why, where she wanted to go and why. The meadow was damp, and when I finally asked her directly what it was she wanted from me, she never answered. Today is my sixty-fourth birthday. I knew fewer women than you, but then I often intentionally ignored them, having had strict morals for a long time. I still do, when I think about it. That’s why I am looking for a proper excuse, at least, and I reach for simple words of thanks with difficulty. I fear them, mostly. Women. And because I am inca-pable of letting things go, I make a nuisance of myself, I become ridiculous. I am looking for content and meaning. Why do you want to be with me if you don’t speak a word? But Naja is not willing or perhaps not able to talk about anything, discuss anything, vent her views, feelings and impressions. That is, Dominik, a difficult situation for a man who neither wants to nor will become an entertainer, an attraction or an all-knowing sage for a woman. And yet, there were numerous communications of physical intimacy, that woman, your lover, had perhaps realized that she could not consistently drive away my hands, my mouth from her breasts and from that bush as black as her head; but still no opinion, no wish – which I didn’t mind, Dominik, as long as I had a notion of what she wanted. But we Carpathian shepherds are proud of our standing with women, we expect to hear each one declare why we have been privileged to be included into her belly. Because we are not happy to admit that we are there in place of someone else, and that we are simply part of a lunar play. I know from all your reports that you have always received such declarations of unique purpose from women, and then wrote them down, wrote down their saying you were their most beloved. Those lies.  
She never speaks to me about her work or about mine, until today I don’t know what we have in common, except that we agree about our differences. And I am forty years older than when I first ventured with my shepherd’s staff into the chasms under the Mare, and some-times I wonder, watching myself from above with a smile. Then there are the nights: to prize her box open with my tool through the vortex of hair is nearly impossible, since she herself does not yet know how to touch the so-called male organ with her virginal hand. The last time I said to myself: This is the last time! Because the situation threatened with a child.  
I have never seen a child in her. Her beautiful sighs floated past my head, ignoring it. I tried to hold on to them, looking for something for myself, but I had to realize, gladly and with a delightful sadness that I was nothing more than a flint stone which lights up her pleasure, the pleasure of her own body, hers alone, which he seeks freely – and who does she love? She loves herself so much that for her own sake she is willing to sacrifice herself to a man. She had enough patience with me, but it was passive patience. Dominik, you’d have to talk a lot to her, but there would be no compulsion on your part, because you like to talk freely and voluntarily. I don’t! She is like some fragile apple variety: in the morning she is covered with bruises from ankles up to her hips and on all over her inner thighs. Until now I had considered myself to be quite tender, but she said she was used to men who were even more tender than me. I did, of course, think of you, and marveled at the game fate plays with us: how come I am now on top of her? Her body is very lovely: firm, elongated, a narrow stem above jug-shaped hips... or rather like a fine, drawn glass vase. And although her contours are light and gentle, she is a heavy sight. The magnificent heavy loaves of her behind told me more than her head, or rather her behind and her belly corrected the untruthful dispatches from elsewhere. She lights up at the first touch and has a rapid running: she runs, twists and turns, clings and clutches, her soul has firm, elastic walls, tactile. The head seems to know nothing about itself, falling away, thrashing with its hair, and once, moaning with love, love for herself, which she invited me to witness and the invitation pleased me in a way she will understand in twenty years, as I lived her, with awe and rever-ence and perhaps even with love, she spoke. Intoxicated, writhing, she suddenly said, sighed: “Dominik!” I passed it, smooth-sanded it and glossed it over, I understood it and accepted it with a sense of reconciliation, sadness and joy, but then she really didn’t know about it. I realized however that I couldn’t keep it away from you. Each and every one of us means something to another person, and often it is something else than what we know. 
 This sixth time was as if I had at last fulfilled my word and my purpose. She leaned over me in the twilight with her breasts, shoulders and face, caressing and kissing me. She be-came a lover. When I regained some strength, and I could sit up opposite her and look at her, she regained some sense and said: I don’t want to fall in love. 

translated by Alexandra Büchler
  19:00  Thursday 23 April  Franz Kafka Centre  Staroměstské nám. 22, Praha 1 
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