SÁNDOR TAR Hungarian neo- naturalist writer was born in 1941 in Hajdusámson. The characters of his novels and short stories are mostly unlearned very poor people.
The old woman's mouth was open wide in a scream, her false teeth gleaming yellow in the light that filtered sluggishly through the glass door opening onto the long balcony of the courtyard, but out on the balcony Gizi Lutz, the old woman's granddaughter was actually screaming with her mouth almost closed; if you looked only at the old woman you could have thought it was she who was screaming, though by then she was dead. Exactly when she died no one knew for certain; driven by the irrepressible curiosity of fourteen-year-old girls Gizi Lutz had been wandering around the market since opening time, not that she wanted to buy anything, it was just that she was fascinated by the place, loved it, the masses of people, the commotion, the gorgeous cabbages, lettuces, bunches of radishes, chives laid out on planks, the huge piles of apples, bananas, and the smell! And the unloading, the big sacks of onions and potatoes slung over the shoulders of the men or pulled along on carts, the hustle and bustle, the cheerful shouting, the shots of brandy and pints of beer disappearing between the cracked lips of grimy, bristly, weather-beaten faces, the thick white gobs of spittle issuing from those same lips splattering to the ground, the sodden fag ends, the abusive laughter, the swearing. And the barbecue stall at the entrance, supposedly run without a licence, the thick, greasy smoke that accompanied the frying of those mounds of meat, sausages, hot dogs and other delicacies; Gizi Lutz, who had never felt hungry in her life because of some sickness, basked in the smells, ran her fingers through her hair, fluffed it so the smell would pervade it, so it would last till she got home. And then, when she goes home to pee, her grandmother's lying there dead.
Why did she have go home? She could have peed in the public toilets at the market, she often stuck her head round the door, even in the men's, no one ever chased her out, they just turned away, it was the smell that drew her, that and the tar-lined walls that the men levelled at, and the water running-trickling down it, and the rest, the cold, dank air, a condensation of moisture impossible to define, but for some reason she preferred to pee at home. Where there was barely room to sit on the seat because of the old cylindrical washing machine that had been out of use for years; since her grandmother had fallen ill they had practically stopped washing, just put the dirty clothes in to soak. In the bath. Everyone put their own clothes in to soak, no one put gran's in, she no longer wore clothes, just diapers and dressings, which could be thrown away, they got them free on the National Health. Now she wouldn't even be wearing those. Gizi wouldn't be missed even if she were to disappear for three days, her grandfather, Uncle Vince - the old man insisted on being addressed this way, would not answer to grandfather, said he was too young, leastways compared to gran, only seventy-three, and as he used to say, full of pep still, he spent his days drowning his sorrows in a pub next to the market, mooning over the twenty-year-old barmaid. Where he ate, where he relieved himself remained a mystery, at all events he always slept at home, taking up the entire double bed in the larger room and snoring loudly, Gizi Lutz slept in a smaller bed by the door, while gran slept in the smaller room alone, because she smells, explained Uncle Vince to the girl, from having that hole cut in her side to pass the waste. Because of the cancer. Uncle Vince did not always snore, for as long as his eyes would stay open, regardless of the number of wine spritzers he had consumed, he would regale the girl, never a good sleeper, with romantic stories of women and love, ranking the barely adolescent girl on a par with himself in space and time, I'll screw her yet, he explained to the girl, alluding to the barmaid, then threw in a couple of coarsely intimate details for good measure, hey, what d'you say, he asked the girl, as if Gizi were one of his cronies, I'd eat her pussy like it was cream, women are crazy for that, then I'd stick my John Thomas up her till it tickled her lungs.
Gizi Lutz wasn't quite sure but had a pretty good idea what a John Thomas was, she'd learned that they had a different name for everything around here, it was the market-people who'd begun calling her Gizi Lutz, her real name was Borbála Kerekes, but the market-women had decided this was too long and besides, the girl was the kind who poked her nose into everything, not that she ever tried to meddle, but she was sharp. Went about with her eyes open. Noticed things. Like the gang of kids who swept through the market like a storm, swiped what they wanted, then disappeared. The market-women's alarm system was useless against them, though the mean-looking, half-drunk but nonetheless alert vassals in their pay shouted, whispered, passed on the news of the gang's arrival the moment they set foot inside the market. And the moment they left it. No one knew where they went. Except for Gizi Lutz. She even knew their names: their leader was Wolf, the tall, lanky one, the other two were called Laja and Sucks. She'd known them by sight for some time, had even told old Vince about them, but the old man had just shrugged: assholes, he'd said, going stealing instead of chasing girls. That was why Gizi had to go home to pee, because Wolf and his gang had descended on the market again, and this gave her such a thrill she almost couldn't bear it.
Gizi Lutz could pick Wolf out of the crowd from any corner of the market, the boy was tall and thin, the other two were just average; there were always freight-cars being held up on the tracks running alongside the market, the boys would slip out from under these and be at the entrance in a trice. Despite his conspicuous build Wolf made no attempt to hide, never tried to take cover, he was always laughing, had a front tooth missing, and would just point, take that, and that; anyone or anything standing in their way they simply shoved aside, tipped over, knocked down, the lottery ticket vendor, the black marketeers selling cigarettes from shopping bags, the cardboard boxes used for the three-card trick, the phoney blind beggar's hat full of change, the vodka seller's bottles hidden in plastic shopping bags, the passers-by who wandered around aimlessly, gaping - everyone. Gizi would watch these goings-on from the top of an empty stall, she sometimes would have liked to point out to them what to take, there were people selling radios, tape recorders, jeans as well as food at this market, the Chinese sold trainers, sun-glasses, the Russians binoculars, tableware, the Romanians sheepskin coats, but it looked as though Wolf had no need for her guidance, he went straight for those very things, seemed especially taken with tool-kits from Vienna, and appeared to have lost interest in radio and cassette players from Asia. Gizi Lutz looked on in wonder as they went about their business, picking out and spiriting away the objects with astonishing swiftness, then vanished. The thrill of it always brought on a sudden urge to pee and she had to run home.
She didn't know why she got this sudden urge to pee whenever the boys appeared and set to work, still, better to be safe than sorry, she went home. At home she squeezed her way in to the toilet, sat on the seat, nothing came yet, then, with her eyes closed, tried to recall everything exactly as it had happened, which made her all excited again, and she pulled down her panties, now it would come. She wasn't quite sure but she thought she might have fallen in love with Wolf. Perhaps with the other two as well. The pee came slowly, in spurts, she had to help with her fingers, this was what she couldn't do in the toilets at the market. While she peed she saw nothing but the market and the boys, the pee trickled around her fingers, she smeared herself with it, she wanted to be bad, wicked, sinful, shameless. Like them. And like old Vince. Because in her eyes Uncle Vince was bad too, not evil, just shameless, he once told her that when a woman was lying beneath a man, and he had stuck it up her good and proper, the woman had to make figures of eight with her hips so both of them would come. Your grandmother never managed to do it, he explained one night around midnight to the girl who was about twelve years old at the time, she never could do it because her body is too short. She hasn't got hips. Well. Or perhaps she never wanted to do it. Gizi already knew how to do the figures of eight, she had practised them on the bed, by herself, you never knew, her body was supple, lithe as a cat's.
It was the concierge who called the ambulance, but they left as soon as they came, it's the undertakers you want, they said, and a next of kin who's of age. Who are you, one of the ambulance officers asked Gizi, and she faltered out that she was the granddaughter. Is there no one else, asked the man who had a jolly face, yes there is, answered the girl, my grandfather. Then find him, said the jolly man, because there's things to be done here. Can you write? Yes I can. Then sign here. She ought to be dressed, he said on his way out, has she got any clothes? Who, asked Gizi, the deceased, replied the man and laughed, they can take her away naked, but she has to be dressed for the funeral, do you understand? That's the way it's done, it's a mark of respect. But if she's going to be cremated they can take her away in a body bag, well, bye then! Gizi, the omnipresent concierge cried for the umpteenth time, did you hear what they said? Gizi gave a start, what? Go and find the old man, at the double! What for? Well, to get her dressed, for a start! Oh! The girl cast her eyes around the room, then said, would you go outside please, I'll get her dressed. What'll you dress her in, asked the concierge, she has clothes, the girl screamed, she has! She has! She has! Go away! Because she had to pee again, and for that she had to be alone. Gizi had never tried to root about in the wardrobes, couldn't think why people kept doors locked when the key was there at hand in the lock, now she carefully lifted out the ironed curtains, sets of bed linen, her grandfather's shirts, underwear, her grandmother's never worn lacy nightdresses, tablecloths, lace doilies, and a pile of other mementos, the paraphernalia of a family life that had perhaps been intimate once, she even found her old childhood panties with the smooth round pebble she had always kept in the crotch, cool in the summer, warm in winter, gran used to take it out before she washed them, kiss it, then put it back when they were dry, child, she'd say, why the heck must you carry this pebble around in your panties? Because, Gizi would reply, which was no answer, but she hadn't a better one to give, she didn't know herself why she needed that pebble in her panties, but it was enough of an answer for gran. Gran. Who is lying there dead on the bed, her teeth bared in a terrible grin, cold and unfeeling. Soulless Because gran had had a soul. She always used to say, child, if something's troubling you, then pray, even if you don't know how to pray properly, just say whatever wish or supplication comes to mind, God will understand and come to your aid. Well, gran's God hadn't come to her aid, and he hadn't come to Gizi's aid either, though she had prayed on the toilet for something to happen. To her. There were clothes in the wardrobe, coats and skirts, dresses, Gizi had no idea what to dress the old woman in, what was proper, all she knew was that it had to be something dark. Black. And she was frightened. She uncovered the corpse, and when she saw that racked, pathetic body she would soonest have run away, but she had to go to the toilet again. When she came out she knew which dress to put on her gran. She took out the white, gauzy bridal gown from the back of the wardrobe with the crumbling artificial wreath that went with it and laid it on the corpse. Then pulled it higher so that it covered the head, so she couldn't see the face. There was nothing else for her to do, so she ran out into the street. She found Uncle Vince in the pub, who did not seem particularly shaken by the news of his wife's death. Alright, alright, he said, I'll be along in a minute and have her taken away. She's really dead then, he kept asking, again and again because he was drunk, there is a God after all, he added, he finally took pity on her. And on me too. Well, go on, get along with you. Where to? asked the girl without thinking, for she really had no idea where he wanted her to go, the market had closed. Go and get humped, said the old man, whatever, think of something, you have to let your hair down when something like this happens.
A narrow little dirt path led to Wolf's hide-out, Gizi had known about it for a long time, there were houses only on one side of the path, the other side was all pasture, marshy ground, like a village. The empty plot was a twenty-minute walk away from the centre of town, and had a shed made of boards at the back; at one time it had served as a drying room and was filled with tobacco leaves strung up on iron spikes, later it had been used to store fodder, and nowadays no one used it for anything. It was here that Wolf and his gang disappeared to after their forays. Gizi ran the entire route of the 9 bus and got to the end ahead of the bus. She wasn't sure why she had come here, but the moment she turned into the street she knew. Wolf and his two companions were sitting on a log in front of one of the houses, practically naked, with nothing but a pair of shorts on, laughing, jostling each other, trying to push each other off the log. The girl stopped at the corner of the street, she could see them perfectly well from where she stood, and she saw that it was always Wolf who won, and that he was getting bored with the game, with winning, and she almost burst into tears when the boy suddenly toppled over, tumbled face down into the dust and lay there motionless like one dead. A small cloud of dust rose up from around his body, and when he stood up he was covered in grey dust from head to foot. He did not brush it off, just sat down again beside the others, said something, they tried to clean him up, he would not let them, the sun shone straight into his eyes, there was not a patch of shade anywhere.
Gizi approached them with circumspection, walking along the other side of the street; even so she was met with a hail of clods the moment they caught sight of her. Here's Roadrunner, shouted Laja, and the girl put up her hands, her arms to shield her face, they'd got stop some time, but then she lost her temper and started flinging clods back. She threw like a boy, freely, bringing her arm round over her head, and generally hit the mark; she simply didn't notice that she happened to pick up a stone instead of a clod, and got Wolf plumb in the chest with it. The boy gave a sharp, startled cry at the sight of his own blood. Look! She hit me with a stone! She tried to kill me, let's get her! This was more than Gizi had bargained for, all she'd wanted was to talk to them, but when she saw the boys rushing towards her she started running too, though she knew they'd surely catch her before long. They did not catch her, or perhaps did not really want to; they'd almost reached the end of the street when she slowed down, then stopped. They closed in on her, crowded around her, but everyone just stood there panting. Then Laja and Sucks grasped her arms, hard, and started walking her towards the shed, Wolf walked ahead.
There was a large pile of straw in the shed mixed up with some hay, and a strong smell of mouse. And in one of the farther corners a huge heap of stolen goods, piled up any old how, it seemed it was only the act of stealing that mattered to the boys, they couldn't have cared less about the spoils, the main thing was taking what they wanted, after that they lost interest. Someone had once leant an old gap-toothed ladder against the wall of the shed, they now forced the girl to climb up this ladder onto the rafters, Wolf climbed after her, holding a bunch of stinging nettles, and every so often he would give the girl's bare legs a swipe with it as he climbed.
Gizi did not know what to make of it all, she just kept on climbing, the other two boys were already standing on one of the rafters, high up, about three or four metres above the ground, then she too reached the rafters, but when she looked down she was scared and did not dare let go of the cracked support strut she was holding onto. Wolf came up beside her, move over, he shouted at her, go stand in the middle! No, said the girl, and you could tell from the expression on her face that she wouldn't give in . Go on, Wolf roared, they were standing side by side, close together, Gizi could smell him, feel his breath on her face when he shouted, there were two pimples beside his nose, the down above his lips was beaded with sweat, you're going to die, she now heard-felt the threat shouted into her ear, you're going to die, because you wanted to kill me! Jump! No, Gizi cried at once. Then I'll push you! Suddenly Wolf tore the girl's hand off the support strut and pushed her forward. Nooo...the cry of fear broke from the girl as she fell, and the sun-bleached boards echoed back the cry, and then the thud as she landed on the pile of straw, and then the laughter from above her. The fall gave Gizi such a fright that she could not get her breath back for a while, but she was not hurt, a cloud of dust and chaff rose around her from the prickly, rustling stack. Above her the boys stood in the middle of the beam, laughing loudly, then with happy shouts jumped down beside her.
What shall we do with her, asked Sucks after they had crawled out of the hay and pulled Gizi out as well, she just lay there, the boys stood around her, nonplussed for once, whenever she started to get up Laja pushed her back down. First of all she's got to lick the blood off me, said Wolf, and knelt down and pressed the girl's head to his grubby chest. I want to join your gang, Gizi said unexpectedly, which tickled the boys to death, they laughed so hard that she was able to stand up at last, Laja did not even notice. I'm serious, she added later, I always know who's selling what and where. So do we, said Sucks, and sooner than you do. If you were a bit older, a real woman, not a chit of a girl, we'd get some use out of you, sniggered Laja, right, boys? I am a real woman, said Gizi, at which the boys promptly burst into laughter again, you're just a kid, said Wolf, flat as a board, come back when you've grown diddies, we'll be waiting for you . Shall we let her go, he asked the others, Sucks shrugged, Laja grinned slyly, maybe we ought to take a look at her, see what she's got, eh? It was evening before Uncle Vince found his way home from the pub, he was drunk and dejected; it was not grandma who made him miserable, but the barmaid who had taken the mickey out of him, he mumbled something about it to the girl who did not understand a word he said. She was already lying in bed. Well, said the old man as he undressed, you clean up your gran's room, get it properly aired, chuck everything out, and you can move in there, have your own room so you won't be underfoot when I bring a woman home. What about me, can't I do anything, asked Gizi, I never said you couldn't, said the old man, taken aback, I'm pregnant, sighed the girl, Uncle Vince just stared, then started laughing. Go on with you! And who's the father? Wolf? Laja...? All three, replied Gizi proudly and turned towards the wall. It was not true, but they had promised, and this filled her with hope and happiness, excitement, she could already feel that if she called back to mind everything that had happened, she'd soon have to go to the toilet again.
Translated by Eszter Molnár
Sonny, get off the windowsill, I've told you a thousand times I don't want you sitting there. Where d'you want me to sit then, asked Zoli, anywhere you like, his mother said, except on the windowsill. There were two chairs the boy could have sat on in the cluttered, messy kitchen, but discarded clothes were heaped on them as usual; and on the small settee brought out from the room his mother was resting with her eyes closed, but she could still tell that Zoli was sitting on the windowsill. He almost always settled himself there in the summer if he happened to be home, once the apple of the family's eye, the only child, today a scrawny teenager already out of school who the other kids down in the square called Eraser. The nickname was not to mock him, his old classmates still remembered that he always used to write in pencil in school and was always erasing, even tests, sometimes he would hand in a paper at the end of a period with everything erased, even the set title. Zoltán Kiss, Recsegi, the Hungarian teacher would rasp the following day, after he had corrected and marked the papers, pardon me, but I was unable to evaluate your work, there is nothing on these pages but erasures. Top marks for erasing, then, and nil for content.
Despite this Zoli finished elementary school with good results, got high marks in almost every subject, as everyone expected he would, teachers and classmates alike; the boy was exceptionally clever, had a phenomenal memory, did his sums, all his homework in his head, and recited it from memory the next day, pretending to read it off an empty piece of paper. One time he memorized two pages of the telephone directory for a bet, and made only one mistake in repeating the list the next day, one of the Kállais spelt his name with one l, and so had a different place in the directory. Zoltán Kiss, the astounded teacher, their form-master, rasped in his raucous voice, you have a mind like a computer. The boy won the bet and the prize was a T-square, which he could fence with during break; he had no other use for it, he didn't even own a drawing-board.
Zoli's thick, dark-brown hair and slightly sallow, dusky skin defined the character of his face, his lips were full and sulky like his mother's, he had inherited his eyes from his father, the sea-green, always slightly screwed-up eyes were shaded by thin eyelashes; the boy hated his face, thought it too girlish; girls were afraid of him, he already looked like a man, he was the kind of boy every girl falls in love with, he was not in love with anyone. But where he had got his brains, his gift from remained a mystery, his father was a miller's hand in the carriage and wagon works, his mother a cleaning woman, his grandparents working peasants somewhere in the country, semi-literate semi-alcoholics, like his father became after he lost his job. Then his mother after him. Up till then they had thought the boy would go on to secondary school, then they were both laid off and all hope was lost The boy did not seem particularly shaken by the news that he would not be continuing at school. There was only one thing that worried him: what am I going to do with myself, he asked his father. We'll think of something, said the man who spoke very little these days, the boy did not believe him, you don't do anything either, he said, then went down to the square to kill time.
When he heard the news from the boy, Recsegi, the form-master, made a home visit for the first time in his life in an attempt to persuade the parents to put their son through secondary school, give him an education, it would be worth the effort He pleaded in vain. Professor, said Zoli's father, we can't afford to buy him clothes, shoes, pretty soon we won't have enough money to eat, how could we afford to put him through secondary school? Don't you understand? Recsegi didn't. Look, he said, trying to bring his point home to the somewhat inebriated father and the likewise tipsy mother, I hope you're not going to take this amiss, but you know you're drinking this child's future away. We only drink wine, Zoli's father retorted in a listless voice, the kind that comes in big plastic boxes, it's the cheapest there is. You think we could educate the boy out of the cost of wine? No, no, said the teacher, losing all hope, but he did tell them that in his time he had got through his university years in light brown overalls and three pairs of sneakers, and had borrowed his godfather's suit when the occasion demanded. Hasn't the boy got a godfather? He died, said the father, well, I could take his place, Recsegi unexpectedly said, I'll clothe him out of my own. You think he'd wear your clothes, the father asked after a short silence, then, to the boy: Zoli! Would you wear his clothes? No, said the boy, sitting on the windowsill as usual, barefoot, in a pair of shorts, because it was summer.
The teacher's rough, rasping voice came from a damaged larynx, smashed while he was being beaten to a pulp for not talking, for not saying what was expected of him, more precisely for not saying anything. Now, thinking they had perhaps misunderstood him, he asked for a glass of wine, took a mouthful, gargled it, swallowed it. Then he started to hum a tune, and pointed at the boy with a finger stained yellow with nicotine as he usually did before questioning a pupil, and Zoli repeated it back from his window. He had a passable singing voice. That was Verdi, said Recsegi, Verdi's Aida, quite a simple tune. Let's try another. He sipped at the glass, then hummed a more complicated tune, Bartók as it turned out, Zoli had no trouble repeating it, in fact the experiment appeared to pique his interest, he put his feet down on the floor, which was his way of expressing readiness. Recsegi asked for another glass of wine, told them that he seldom drank, and that he would pay for the wine he had consumed. And promptly put down two hundred Forints on the table, at the sight of which the parents suddenly brightened, professor, said Zoli's father, you could come every day, we could have a good sing-song together, we have plenty of time to spare and we've both got good singing voices, may the Good lord bless you!
They were sitting in the kitchen like they usually did, they could have gone into the room, but it was dark in there, the bed unmade, out here in the kitchen it was cosy, after the third or fourth glass Recsegi was telling them that it wasn't the music that was the main point here, but that you had to have a good ear for music if you wanted to study languages for example. He promptly said a sentence in German, then glanced expectantly at the boy. As if to say, let's have it then. Zoli repeated it straight off. The French sentence too. Recsegi did not speak English well, his accent was atrocious; Zoli echoed his mistakes. Mister Kiss, the teacher said then, your son has an exceptional talent for languages. Or perhaps for music. Please, let him continue his studies, you'll find the money somehow... Professor, said Zoli's father, you don't know the first thing about poverty. We don't eat anymore, we just drink. The boy still eats. He eats while he can, you know, I sometimes steal food in the market, so he'll get something to chew on, so he won't be constipated, after all, he's young, still growing, but God only knows what will happen afterwards. After what? asked the teacher. After they catch on that I steal from them, said Zoli's father, and refilled Recsegi's glass. The teacher drained his glass and this time shuddered, not at the taste but because he knew he was getting into evil ways. Then he suddenly burst into tears; they tried to console him, told him it was alright, he could come and visit any time, what a good chat they'd had, hadn't they, wasn't the wine good, they drank it all the time, it was cheap, nutritious, didn't spoil one's sleep, and the boy pulled his feet back up on the windowsill, stared outside indifferently and said, don't come here again or I'll throw you out of the window, and you know we're on the fourth floor. Do I make myself clear? You do, said the teacher, and after a short tussle, for the parents did not want to let him go, he stumbled, reeling, out of the door.
Zoli watched the departing Recsegi from the window, and when he saw the man reach the fence of one of the houses on the opposite side of the square he gave a whistle, at which two dogs rushed out from somewhere inside and threw themselves against the fence, barking wildly. They must have looked like ferocious snarling beasts to the teacher, for he leapt back in alarm and almost ended up under a car; Zoli burst into laughter. Recsegi's keen teacher's ear picked up the sound and he realized at once that he'd been made a laughing stock of, he shook his finger at the window, then, with his heart still pounding, his movements uncertain, got onto an almost empty bus, where he finally threw up on the back seat he was sitting on, and suddenly fell asleep. I'm very fond of that boy, he told the stern-faced driver and another, seedy-looking official when they shook him awake at the terminus, because he's a genius. He's just like I used to be when I was young. Nothing new in that, said the driver, still morose, we'll stick to women though if you don't mind. What's it going to be then? Who's going to clean up? Recsegi found a five hundred Forint note in one of his pockets, will this be enough? It isn't much, said the official, but it'll have to do. Get off the bus and get lost.
Opposite, over on the other side of the square there were family houses and an eating-place or kitchens of some sort, Zoli could not decide which, but from his fourth floor window or from the playground bench he saw men unload a covered truck every morning, first carrying in the big plastic crates of meat, then the larger sides of beef or bacon thrown over their shoulders, hurrying along the pavement in white coveralls now stained with blood, exchanging cheerful shouts all the while. Later others brought vegetables, sacks of potatoes, onions, cabbages, right after that the bread came, and after that the postman, and around noon stout women appeared in the yard with steaming pots and threw the bones, boiled for stock and scraped clean, over the fence into the neighbouring garden, where the two large dogs that had scared Recsegi came running, circling impatiently as they waited for the bones to cool, whining and sniffing at the steaming pile, snapping at each other, falling on the scraps when the moment arrived. Zoli could see that there was plenty of meat left on those bones and his mouth watered. He never saw a soul around the house, the door was always closed, the yard and garden were neglected, the place looked deserted, as if no one had lived there for a long time. Yet it was a magnificent house, like a mansion. A huge linden-tree screened it from unwelcome, curious eyes, but the rusty wire fence protecting the garden had been torn in several places by errant kids or dogs, anyone could have crawled through those gaps, the dogs could have come out too, but they never did, just barked wildly whenever anyone came too close to the fence.
The square had been a playground once, the kind they used to build on the new housing estates at the time they went up, with slides, climbing frames, sand pits, see-saws; there was even a quaint little wooden hut among the trees, a shack open at both ends, to shelter in from the rain, and a carefully fenced-off pitch for five a side football, for dads who'd some day grow paunchy but would still be young enough to play; with frail saplings planted around promising shade in the years to come, and shrubs and flowers. And then the children come, at first in baby carriages, push-chairs, later on their own two feet though still accompanied by their mothers, and later still they come alone, left to fend for themselves all day with the flat key hanging from a string around their neck, and nothing's good enough for them any more. Not even the playground. Though in the meantime the trees have grown tall, the shrubs have formed an impenetrable thicket, over the years the place is slowly running wild, becoming despoiled, deteriorating like life itself.
Lately Zoli had taken to hanging round in the square, sitting on one of the benches left intact, or a see-saw or swing, he sometimes came down at night too, when the junkies searching for peace and quiet float out of the dark like ghosts. The boy was only interested in the dogs, the junkies got on quite well without him. But the dogs! He had learned that their bark turns deeper when they are getting ready to attack, that they turn their heads aside when they are about to give up their prey, keeping watch out of the corner of their eye, though no longer prepared to fight, or having lost interest altogether. As for the junkies, they always left someone behind, always the same person. They left the way they came, walking unsteadily in that peculiar floating way of theirs, and the person they left behind stretched out on the bench, or just sat there, head hanging, hardly moving, like someone half asleep, half awake. The person was wearing a jacket with the hood up, though it was summer, sweltering hot. Zoli knew that junkies always felt cold, but he did not care about it one way or the other; but one time he did go over to the person sitting on the bench because whoever it was whimpering. He pushed the hood off her head. It was a girl. Silvia. Of course he did not learn this until he had gathered her up in his arms and carried her into the wooden shack under the trees, where he laid her on the filthy bench littered with cigarette-butts, it'll be better for you here, he said, no one will see you, you can sleep it off. He was just about to go back to the dogs so he could study their night-time habits when the girl called after him, Ricsi, is that you? No, said the boy, well then who the hell is it, Bandi? It's me, said Zoli, and bent closer to the girl's face, he could smell the stench of alcohol coming from her. Are you drunk? Yes, admitted the girl, but I don't know you. Do you love me? No. You stink and you're drunk. That's true, admitted the girl, but you could still love me. Boys usually love me when I'm drunk. Especially when I'm drunk. Sometimes two of them at the same time. I can't even see you, said the boy, I can only smell you. You don't have to see, said the girl, you just have to feel, I'm Silvia, how old are you? Eighteen, lied the boy, you're lying, said the girl, but it doesn't matter. Bring me something to drink, it'll help me get my head together. I won't, said the boy, you don't need a drop more to drink. If you don't bring me something I might die, said the girl. Look, I've got the shakes. Zoli suddenly reached out and caressed the girl's face, it was damp, cold with sweat, I'll bring you something, he said, I won't be a minute.
Back in the flat he could not find the torch, so he put two boxes of matches in his pocket, and carrying the plastic box with a little wine left at the bottom he hurried back to the wooden hut; Silvia had fallen asleep. He did not know what to do, but he wanted to see her, he started lighting matches, one after the other, the girl's face was very like his own, she had full lips, dark hair now matted with sweat, but her face was pale, not sallow like his, he could not see her eyes, they were closed, then two arms twined themselves around his neck, Silvia's arms, she pulled him closer, did you bring any wine? Yes. Good. Give me some. You're just a kid, she said, after taking a swig, d'you want me to debauch you? Yes, said the boy, and he really did want her to. He got very excited, so excited he was almost quivering. Kiss me, said Silvia, don't look so disgusted, I'm not a junkie, I just drink. Have a swig, then our breaths will smell the same. Zoli took a big swallow of wine, it was loathsome, but his body was insistent now, because the girl had put a hand down his trousers. Even so he did not kiss Sylvia, cramped on the narrow bench he struggled with her clothes, trying to undo at least the top layer of the practically helpless girl's clothing, he would never have guessed there were so many things to undo on a girl, zips, buttons, hooks, though Silvia tried to help too, finally pulled up her skirt, not there, she sighed later in a throaty voice, a bit higher up. At that crazy moment they heard a low but menacing growl, Zoli glanced towards the opening, the two dogs from the neighbouring house were sitting there in front of the hut, growling with their teeth bared. The boy growled back at them resolutely, making the same sound, then once again, louder and more fiercely, and the two dogs, startled, took to their heels. I won, flashed through the boy's mind, then he bent over the girl again, and was shocked to see that she had fallen asleep again. Never mind, he thought, maybe it's all for the best.
He woke to a clear, sunny morning, the trees smelled fresh and sweet, the birds were singing, and he, having spent the better part of the night lying on the ground on his T-shirt and trousers, ached all over and felt cold. The girl was still asleep, it was only now that he saw that she was grubby and unkempt, but all the same very beautiful. I have become a man, he declared objectively, and sat up like a man, sitting up hurt too, he stretched, yawning, then realized he was naked. He quickly tugged on his trousers, slipped into his T-shirt, then reached out to touch Silvia's body, to caress her, to wake her up. The girl was still perspiring, sticky with sweat, and the two dogs were growling and snarling exactly in the same place they had been yesterday. Zoli growled back at them, but differently this time, cheerily, as if inviting them to play, he glanced for the last time at the sleeping Silvia, took a big swallow of wine, and getting down on all fours went to join the dogs. They greeted him with wagging tails, prancing joyfully. And they did the same at noon, when he went to share their bones.
Translated by Eszter Molnár