HITTING THE BULL’S EYE
The heavy bunch of keys sailed through the air. Ila, the bride-to-be, had thrown it with a peculiar flick of the wrist that brought about an extraordinary physical phenomenon: from the key-ring holding a large number of keys of various shapes and sizes, it was the sharp-ended key to the allotment that first thrust itself to the fore, into a leading position as it were, as the captain of the fleet of flying keys (posing a danger as acute and real as a shoemaker’s awl flying through the air would have done); then the small, harmless cellar-key took its place, a primitive little key that a junior school student with a good grounding in technical skills could easily have duplicated in his lunch break, with plenty of time to spare. It was a curious spectacle that could prove most interesting to review in slow motion. From Péter’s, that is the future bridegroom’s point of view whose back served as the target - which of these keys would first hit the mark was not without consequence. The bunch of keys was Péter’s. He was to be brought down with his own weapon, from behind, a course of action which, I think we can all agree, can under no circumstances be called fair play. In detective stories the rich husband is usually killed by the wife with the tiny revolver he keeps in the drawer of his bedside table; and after shooting him she places the weapon in the dead man’s hand to make the murder look like suicide. But Ila had no intention of killing Peter. Killing your fiancé two days before the wedding would be nonsensical. Killing your husband two days after the wedding would make a lot more sense.
At twelve years old Ila won the sixty-metre course at the regional pioneer olympics. But she wasn’t much good at throwing a ball or at the long jump, and after her failure in these two events, she lost her confidence even in her ability to run; during the four hundred-metre course, though she was in a leading position as she turned into the home stretch, she slowed down, then walked off the cinder-track, pouting and shrugging her shoulders, for the simple reason that her great rival from the Áldás Street school had closed up on her, jeopardising her win. She didn’t like to lose. She turned her back on the PT teacher fingering the whistle hanging on a string from his neck as he pleaded for an explanation, packed up her things, took a deep breath of the clean air of the Pasarét district and blew it out on the swarm of ants collected on the bus and train pass she had left lying in the grass, then set off homewards. (The PT teacher - and this fact did not come to light until much later - had been dismissed with immediate effect from his previous school after two independent witnesses peeping through the keyhole unanimously claimed to have seen him copulating with a stuffed chimpanzee in a corner of the biology laboratory.) To sum up, Ila was a swift runner, but she was hopeless at throwing things. Despite all the efforts of the chimpanzee’s defiler, Ila could not have cared less about the „five count step”, which is the basis of field athletics involving throwing. Later, during her college years, in the company of a couple of girlfriends, she had a crack at the strange pub game that is called darts in English and has never been successfully translated into Hungarian. To throw a small pointed object at a round board with numbers on it is not an especially appealing game for four completely sober college girls, at least not for four completely sober college girls who have absolutely no intention of becoming closely acquainted with four totally inebriated Irish exchange students propping up the bar. Ila and her friends did in fact wish to become acquainted with the Irish lads in order to wangle a couple of Dublin addresses out of them so they would not have to spend money on accomodation if they should ever get to Dublin. As a matter of fact they found one of the drunken Irish exchange students, a certain Damon McRocket (or some such name) quite good-looking, which meant that he was of normal height and colouring, his eyes did not glisten overmuch, and his neck and arms were not covered in freckles. McRocket quite liked the looks of the girls, in fact he would have settled for any one of them. A game of darts, thought McRocket, then we can put the moves on them. McRocket and his three freckled friends showed Ila and her friends how to throw the darts at the board. In exchange, a couple of hours later, without saying a word to her friends, Ila showed McRocket how to sneak into a girls’ dormitory in Budapest without being seen by the door-keeper.
The distance between Péter’s back and Ila was six or seven metres. But - and believe me, it’s the truth - anyone inexpert at handling a ball (and this includes the ability to throw a ball to a good distance, because in order to throw something a long way you do not only need physical strength, but technical knowledge as well, at least as much if not more) will easily miss the mark even if the target is close.
Péter met Ila five years ago. He was walking down the boulevard in a melancholic mood when, on the corner of Szondi Street, he was brought up short by a stern-eyed girl in military-style clothes distributing leaflets. Take one, dress military, the girl told Péter in a manner befitting her clothing, though her eyes and countenance were not in fact carrying out the command that must have come from on high, namely that following certain marketing strategies, a soldierly bearing was in order here. Péter took a leaflet, stopped to look it over, found it offered, at reduced prices, former Soviet service caps, sleeveless T-shirts in mottled green, Yugoslav rocket-guns that were in fact water pistols with three-litre tanks. „So these are, like, military stuff, right,” said Péter, and saw to his satisfaction that the smile he gave her was suitably disarming.. „That’s right,” said the girl. And then Péter, who had never before, nor ever after tried a line like this, said: „Look here, soldier girl!What would you say to going out with an exciting guy for a change? Let’s give it a try tomorrow, tonight’s no good for me, but tomorrow we’ll go for a drink somewhere, and talk. But - don’t forget, this is very important - we’ve both got to have at least two drinks before we meet at Nyugati Station, say, otherwise we’ll be all tongue-tied and awkward and mess everything up, and bore each other silly with stuff like have you any brothers or sisters, and where did you graduate from, and that would probably make me go off you, and make you go off me, because those are totally unexciting things. Oh, and please don’t wear a sexy dress on our first date, because that would distract me and get us off on the wrong foot.” The next day Péter and Ila met at Nyugati Station; both were slightly tipsy. They started going out together.
What happened in the hours preceding the throwing of the key-ring?
Péter left his workplace, the offices of a building and construction firm which always smelled faintly of sweat, at half past two. He shut the extremely sensitive door of his 23-year-old VW Beetle with great care and bored his way into the thick of the hopelessly congested city traffic. He travelled at a walking pace towards the hairdressing salon where he had made an appointment weeks before on the telephone. „For a wedding” he had whispered mysteriously into the receiver, after ascertaining that his architect colleagues, with whom he shared an open-plan office, were suitably engrossed in the perusal of the sixty-page guide to a flight simulator software. Péter did not on any account want to leave the cutting of his hair to the last minute as opposed to Ila, who had made an appointment for the morning of the wedding at a shockingly expensive hairdressing salon whose chief stylist spent the greater part of the year attending hairstyling competitions abroad; but who was at present in town, and who would use the banknotes received from Ila to drive happily to the petrol station to fill up the sixty-litre fuel-tank of his jeep. Péter noted it as a fact that every client without exception always left hairdressing salons with hair that was humped up in the back. One summer he had his hair cut very short, two centimetres long in fact, but after it had been blow-dried his hair still looked humpy if someone had thrown a scrunched-up bus ticket into his hair, it would have stuck there for sure. Hairdressers do this strange twisting movement with the comb while they’re blow-drying your hair, a rather rough, semicircular upward flick of the wrist, and it was this movement that Péter blamed for the humped-up look; at the same time he thought it would be tactless to request a forty-year-old hair stylist with professional training to skip it. In the shop-window of the gentlemen’s and ladies’ hairdresser’s the letters of the word ladies had been scratched off, the salon now catered for male clients only. Péter was forty-five minutes late for his appointment, an offence for which he was punished with a further forty-five-minute wait: he was only allowed to sit in Ibolya’s chair after two clients with humpy hair had left the salon. „For a wedding, was it?” said Ibolya, putting down her glass tumbler of coffee on the table, stubbing out her Toldi cigarette, and clicking the twenty-centimetre-long blades of her scissors. Péter took a deep breath, then drawled: „I’m getting married tomorrow.” Ibolya had no further questions. She leaned closer to the mirror. „God, how lined my face looks,” she said, and began to cut his hair. For a while Péter followed her every move attentively, then closed his eyes and tried to explain to himself why he had concealed the truth, more precisely, why he had lied that his wedding would take place the following day, on Friday, instead of the day after, on Saturday. „Do people hold weddings on Fridays, at all? Because if not, I’ve been caught in a lie.” Slipping in and out of a light doze he suddenly realized that Ibolya had quite simply forgotten to wash his hair. Or perhaps this omission was also a part of her retaliation tactics for his unabashed lateness. Dry snippets of hair floated down, landing on his neck and causing some irritation. But perhaps „a wedding cut” can only be created from dry hair. When she had finished Ibolya beat Péter about the shoulders with hands that could in no way be called gentle. On its way home the Volkswagen Beetle passed by one of the largest cemeteries of the capital. Péter’s attention was caught by a very curious spectacle: through the railings öf the cemetery, the vertical iron bars that bound the huge concrete slabs of wall together, people were emerging, middle-aged and older. All of them were apparently alive and well, yet it still seemed as though he were actually witnessing the escape of dead people who had left their graves, whose escape route obviously could not lead through the main entrance, for the caretaker was standing there with two burly security guards behind him, and they would surely be sternly ordered back to their places at once. „Corpses, back to your coffins at the double!’ A couple of them would have no difficulty squeezing through the railings, the fatter corpses would solve the problem somehow, would press their heavy bodies through the iron bars even if they found it painful; it was their freedom that was at stake after all. In one of the departing women Péter recognized Ila’s mother, whom he knew with absolute certainty to be alive, so his thoughts, wandering in unearthly spheres, came back down to earth with a bump. The thin little woman slipped out between two railings with the greatest ease, with a playful twist of her body. It occured to Péter that it might not be a bad idea to stop and pick up Vilma, his soon-to-be mother-in-law, or at least ask her where she was going; the real motive behind this seemingly noble gesture would have been to find an explanation for the strange scene he had just witnessed, the mass escape from the cemetery. But „No, better not, it wouldn’t be worth the trouble,” he decided in the end, and slid lower down in his seat, praying that Vilma would not notice the extremely conspicuous lemon yellow Beetle.
Ila woke up at noon. She lay stiffly on her back, as if at attention, her nude body drawing a diagonal across the double bed covered with a baby-blue sheet, the blanket had slid to the floor. She sat up, then threw herself back again. She was enjoying every moment of waking, of getting up alone enjoying her freedom. Images of the night before, of the hen-party that had evolved into a rave-up flashed before her eyes. She sat up again. She yawned hugely, with a loud guttural sound, so what came out was more of a roar. The loud yawn was followed by a simple, pleasurable cry; had Peter been there to hear it, he would certainly have communicated his opinion of it with a disapproving look, a vehement shake of the head and finally by leaving the room. Ila, holding her arms straight out before her, hopped over to the wardrobe, imitating the dance called „locomotion” which they had danced the night before at Mari’s to Kylie Minogue’s number of the same title, and during which one of the six uninvited male guests had grabbed her buttocks instead of her shoulders, generating a thrill that coursed through Ila’s entire body, an extremely pleasurable feeling the like of which she had never before experienced. In the wardrobe mirror she now began to examine her naked body, especially her breasts and bottom. Last night she had received a great many compliments on the latter. In the course of the farewell party it had found its way into the hands of at least three of the six boys there if she remembered right - and one of them, Norbi, had grabbed hold of her breasts as well when they had withdrawn to the bathroom.
Ila had known Norbi from way back, they had met on a boating trip. The trip had been a mixed bag and Ila and Norbi had weathered two storms in each other’s arms in a Polish one-person tent that leaked. Last night, recalling those old adventures, Norbi who had since then developed a pot belly and a small double chin had said, slurring his words a little: „Ilu dear, three’s the right number, and if I remember correctly we never got beyond two.” Ila now cupped her breasts in her hands, she was perfectly satisfied with their shape, it was only their size that caused her concern, she would have liked to see larger breasts above her flat stomach. She began to rub her small breasts, trying to recapture the gentle yet firm touch that Norbi had employed with such finesse in the dark bathroom. In the end, though they both wanted it very much, it did not happen. Norbi had just began to unbuckle his belt when Ila laid a gentle hand on the drunk man’s fumbling fingers. „At least let me see whether your bum’s as nice and tanned as it was then,” said Norbi and switched on the bathroom light. Ila, sighing heavily in frustration, rolled up her miniskirt, rolled down her stockings and breath-takingly tiny panties and revealed her rounded, taut-skinned buttocks to Norbi. „They’re just as pretty as they used to be, even if they are white,” smiled Norbi, knelt down and kissed Ila’s bottom, then slowly, lovingly pulled up her panties, then her stockings, and sorrowfully said: ”Well then let’s go inside and dance until we drop!”
Ila quickly slipped back into bed and masturbated, picturing the Norbi of six years ago lying above her. Then she got up again and put on her dressing gown. She felt like making love to every male member of the human species.
She skipped out into the kitchen.
She stared languorously at the percolator while she sipped the coffee which had somehow come out much stronger than she normally made it and a childhood memory surfaced, the day when she and her sister, who had solemnly sworn that coffee was addictive and a drug, had got „high” on coffee, had drunk so many cups that they had both felt dizzy and nauseous. Ila now realized with a shock that her joyfulness upon waking and her delight at the absence of any of the symptoms usually accompanying a hangover had, in those few moments in the kitchen spent in drinking her coffee, suddenly turned into a suffocating feeling of remorse. This feeling was not awakened by a recollection of the events of the night before. She was full of remorse for having no conscience. She had almost had sex with Norbi. Three total strangers had felt her up, she had snogged with one of them all the way through Joe Cocker’s Summer in the City. In two days’ time she will be swearing eternal fidelity to Péter. She ought to be feeling at least a tiny pang of conscience, she thought.
She switched on her mobile, officially beginning the day. She had two written messages. Péter had sent one of them: „Call me when you wake up!” The second was from a private number, Ila read this one several times: „ Are you sure you’re doing the right thing, getting married? Norbi.”
Ila’s morning is a perfect example of how a person’s mood can swing from great joy to complete despair in the space of an hour. She had a lump in her throat as she erased the message from Norbi - „Who gave him my number?”
Péter got home at twenty past six. Standing at the front door trying to pick out the right keys from the bunch one-handed (the other was holding the empty but requisite briefcase), nine times out of ten he inevitably dropped the huge, heavy bunch and the hollow echo of the ensuing crash in the stairway was a signal to Ila that her fiancé had arrived. At the signal, Ila rushed into the bathroom, grabbed the comb lying on the shelf and began to comb out her long brown hair curl by curl. „I’m straightening it,” she said, accepting Péter’s kiss: an open-eyed smack on the lips. Ila shivered. Péter ran a hand through his hair, and began clowning around, caterwauling: „A-a-h’ve just co-ome from the hairdre-e-ssers, mi-i-i-ne’s been strai-aigthened alre-eady,” but as he drew out the last syllables he swung out his right arm with a theatrical gesture to make his role-play more authentic, and his right hand on its upward swing accidentally caught Ila in the eye. Ila burst into tears, squatted down and violently pushed Péter away, who was begging for forgiveness and hushing her as you would a child. She huddled there on the bathroom floor for long minutes. She could hear Péter mumbling to himself uncomprehendingly in the hallway or the kitchen, „It was an accident, damn it, no need to blow a fuse!”
Ila, like a run-over pigeon who’s had a narrow escape and has come to after a while, now
struggled to her feet, heaved a deep sigh and with firm steps went to find her own bunch of keys. She’d get out of the flat for a bit, a walk was all she needed, what she did not need was Péter’s assistance, she can lock the door herself, from the outside, with her own keys. She paced up and down, her Scholl clogs clattering loudly on the parquet floor which if all went according to plan would by the next week be covered by an IKEA carpet. She swept Péter’s papers and magazines off the coffee table standing solitary in the middle of the living-room, giving a loud groan with every sweeping gesture. She crumpled up a piece of tracing paper on which he had drawn a draft into a ball and threw it against the wall. Péter waited for his fiancée’s tantrum to subside, eyes rounded with astonishment and without saying a word; he did not know whether to laugh or lose his temper, just as he did not know whether Ila was play-acting or whether he really had hurt her badly during his aria. Finally he decided he’d much rather laugh. „Darling, if you’ve finished blowing your top, come into the kitchen for a kiss,” he said smiling, and turned on his heels. That was the moment when Ila’s eyes lighted on Péter’s aggravatingly large and heavy bunch of keys. She caught it up, took two steps towards Péter, swung back her throwing arm, closed her left eye: she seemed to recall McRocket telling her this was the way to do it, one eye closed for taking aim. The bunch of keys, flung with the aforementioned flick of the wrist, flew, soared through the air, and in the meanwhile the following train of thoughts ran its course in Péter’s head, reaching this conclusion: „One of us must give in, it had better be me. I’ll go back and give her a kiss. We’re getting married in two days. It’s just the tension getting to both of us.” And so he turned. A huge bunch of keys swam into his field of vision, growing bigger and bigger, until finally he could only see it with his left eye.
Translated by Eszter Molnár