Wednesday
Jun162010

Case Closed

By Patrik Ouředník
Translated by Alex Zucker



Dalkey Archive Press
June 2010, Paperback, 152 pages
9781564785770

 
Case Closed




It was summer, the sun smiling, the trees piously, if in vain, exuding oxygen, sparrows flapping among the boughs, dry pigeon dung dropping from baroque moldings, a stink wafting from the sewers. Viktor Dyk sat on a bench in front of the park entrance, warming his old, life-weary bones as he readied his cane to crush a beetle walking past. Carabus granulatus, the granulated carabid, or ground beetle. Dyk was aware that he had to go about it gently, lest he bust his back with some reckless movement. Propping the cane with his left hand roughly halfway along its length, he was about to crush the bug with his right when a young person of the female persuasion appeared in front of him in a short skirt and deep-cut blouse. She was braless, and her face was red from walking fast.

“Excuse me, how do I get to the Academy of Fine Arts?” Under her arm she held a large green portfolio, bound with gray ribbon in six strategic spots.

Dyk raised his eyes and looked her up and down. Seeing that she was attractive, he took on the expression of a kindly, wise old man, cocked his head, and said, “Pardon me?” despite having heard each and every word.

“How do I get to the Academy of Fine Arts?” the female repeated.

“What on earth would you want there, little lady?” asked Dyk jauntily. “You’re pretty enough as it is.”

The little lady grinned uncertainly.

Dyk regarded her thoughtfully as he sought to recall the hair in the crotch of his late wife, Anna.

The little lady paused a moment, then pointed her hand and asked: “This way?”

“Oh no,” said Dyk. “You need to go back to Roosevelt, take a left, and then . . . hold on . . . the third right.”

“I thought it was around here somewhere,” said the young lady hesitantly.

Dyk gave a kind grin. “Miss, I’ve been living here fifty-five years, and I may not be able to walk much anymore, but my memory, praise God, still serves me well.” He tapped his finger on the handle of his cane. “Left on Roosevelt, then the third right.”

“Well, thank you very much,” said the young lady, and she set off in the direction indicated.

Dyk watched her a while, then turned his eyes away and poked the ground with his cane. The beetle had left to tend to its own affairs.

She could have lifted her skirt, mused Dyk. Just for a second, what harm would it have done her? There was no one else around. She could have shown me her pussy and I would have told her how to get to the Academy. Maybe she wasn’t wearing panties either. What harm would it have done her? Third right. Serves her right.

Not that Dyk had anything against beetles. At one point, in the depths of the last century, he had even had a collection of them and gone to the park every Sunday with a pair of tweezers, a pincushion with various sizes of safety pins, and a bottle of ink with a screw-on top. Most of his collection consisted of ground beetles and pine sawyers.

Nor did Dyk harbor any particular antipathy toward female students of fine arts. It was people in general that bothered him. Although it was true, the younger they were the more irritating he found them, in accordance with the simple rule that the more recent their date of birth, the longer they would pollute the earth with their presence. Old people were no more appetitlich than the young, but they did have one mitigating quality: they wouldn’t be kicking around for long. Not that Dyk had any illusions: for every—

“Why, hello! What have we here? Mr. Dyk! Gorgeous weather, isn’t it? And how are you doing?”

A fat, pink-cheeked retiree with a scarf on her head—a rare thing these days—and a half-empty, or rather half-full, plastic bag sat down heavily on the bench next to Dyk.
“Oh, you know, Mrs. Prochazka.” Dyk discreetly slid over.

“Have you heard? Mrs. Horak was hit by a car.”

“No! Is it serious?”

“Serious or not, she’s dead from it, dead as a doornail. Supposedly she staggered home, opened the door, and bang! she was gone. She couldn’t breathe, poor thing, and her eyes were wide open.”

Not that Dyk had any illusions: for every dearly departed, 2.2 specimens of the new brood came rushing into the world.

“The eyes of the dead lend their sparkle to the stars.”

He said.

“Proverbs 8:125.”

He said.

Dyk had a habit of pulling pronouncements out of his noggin and dressing them up with fraudulent, usually biblical, sources. Long ago he had come to realize that repeating what someone else had once said was considered the utmost expression of intelligence in his country. At one time, in the days when he still collected beetles, he used to declare ownership of his pronouncements (“as I always say”), but he never got any response except an awkward smile. Until one day it occurred to him to add “Book of Ruth 6:4”—and lo and behold, eyes lighted up all around, women’s in appreciation, men’s in envy. Since then, he had done so every time. “Night is the harbinger of the morn. Leviticus 10:2,” he said, rising from his chair as he left the office party. “Dig in the sand and ye shall find yourself. Ecclesiastes 5:17,” he urged a female colleague whom he had set his sights on. “The father calls out in a mighty voice, Beware, but the son hears not. Gilgamesh, Canto Three,” he consoled a neighbor complaining about the behavior of his adolescent offspring.

Nor did it fail to have an impact this time. Mrs. Prochazka snorted in glee and gazed at Dyk admiringly.

“You always know how to put things,” she said.

“Sum them up,” she corrected herself.

“Concisely,” she specified.

“I was talking about you with Pavel just the other day,” she added. “You know, my husband. Mr. Dyk always knows how to put things, we were saying. And he knows so much!”

“Oh?” replied Dyk absently but by no means impolitely. Why be unpleasant? It was bad enough just looking at her.

“Pavel was saying you would get along with Teddy. You know, our son. He’s got a business now, renting boats at Revolution Bridge. And he knows so many interesting things! Mostly from the past, all sorts of battles and wars and where things were signed and so on. If he wasn’t already in business he could easily teach history. Maybe at a prep school or at university.”

Another old-timer came puttering up to the bench. He had a beret on his head—a rare thing these days—and a half-full plastic bag in his hand.

“What gorgeous weather!” chimed the old-timer in the beret. “How’s everyone doing?”

Dyk scowled. If it kept on like this, his favorite bench would turn into an annex of the retirement home.

The old-timer in the beret dropped down beside Mrs. Prochazka, who slid closer to Dyk, who discreetly slid away.

This is a regular Paleolithic site, he thought resentfully.

“By the way, have you heard? Mrs. Horak was hit by a car.”

“Mr. Dyk and I were just talking about it. Poor woman. Supposedly she staggered home and her eyes were wide open. Mr. Dyk says that the eyes of the dead lend their sparkle to the stars.”

“Hm,” said the old-timer in the beret.

Without the source being cited, the statement was utterly worthless.