by János Hay
'It's not a disease,' said my friend, 'that round brown mark that girls have on their breasts, with that bit that sticks out,' and pointed with his finger, 'it's normal,' he said, trying to buck me up, because the wine and the girl's breast had had such a devastating effect on me that I was now huddled beside the leg of the piano with my forehead pressed against the cool lacquered surface. It was the first time I had seen a breast, my mother had never shown me hers, people in my family did not go round naked, and I had never seen a photograph of a bare breast either. You didn't get to see things like that in the country. Not even in black and white, let alone in colour.
János HÁY - Born in 1960, poet, novelist and playwright Published his first poems in 1982. He became well known in Hungary when his play Géza gyerek (Child Géza) was declared in 2002 The best play of the year at the annual Theatre Festival of Pécs (POST)
I was huddled under the piano with my forehead against the leg because I thought it was cancer of the breast that I'd seen. That here was this girl whom I didn't even like very much, but there was this chance to see her naked, to feast my eyes at least, and then to think she'd got it so young, or inherited it from her mother. Got it through a bad gene from her parents, or perhaps because of the conditions they lived in, because their living conditions were really dreadful. They lived in a single room in Vác, with posters of singers like Demjén and Abba on the walls. A washbasin in the kitchen, a well out in the yard. A smaller bed beside the girl's bed. 'My brother's,' she said, and that that was why there were all these pictures of cars stuck up on the walls. Her father worked at the cement plant, her mother too, the one we learned about in school. 'They leave for work early in the morning,' she said, wake them up before they go, her mother shakes her until she wakes, her brother too, and it's six in the evening by the time they get home, that's when her mother starts cooking, and her father starts drinking. I could see into their kitchen. There were four kitchen stools around the table, with iron legs and red vinyl seats. She said they'd been made in the factory and cost next to nothing, her father got drunk with the welder and paid for the drinks, that was all they cost.
I looked at the girl and that one-room flat was in her eyes, the strips of sellotape, the smudges around the electric switch, the raster pictures, and the cancer was there on her breast, the breast she showed me like little girls show each other the trinkets they've filched or the folded-over, secret corner of a page in their diaries. I unbuttoned her blouse, she looked at my hand, then up at my face: I can do this because she is sick. Then I drank some more of the wine, and looked again at the open secret. My gaze wandered uneasily around the region of her stomach, then I slowly raised my eyes to her breast. I tried to accustom myself to the sight of the cancer, but when I got to the round brown mark my stomach started twisting again. I want this girl to go away - that was what I thought, and fearfully, so as not to see the mark on her chest again, I closed up the shirt on that diseased body. And she relaxed, knowing that things would go no further, nothing more would happen, because she couldn't talk well enough to say: I don't want to, and she had thought that everything would run its course, unstoppably, like it did with the boys in her street, because she did not know how to say, don't hurt me, I'm still a child. There were a lot of words she didn't know, and when she needed those words and couldn't find them she just fell silent and watched my mouth like mutes do.
That was how I fell in love with Anna, when I'd already seen a woman's breast.
Being in love with Anna was actually a communal affair. Anyone who was not in love with Anna did not really exist, and so everyone was in love with Anna. Of course when you closed your eyes at night and thought about this love, you didn't see the whole class standing in line, and the school team, and the boys from drama group; when the girl appeared to you at night there was no one else there, just one boy. The others could not be seen in the dazzling bright light radiating from this girl. Even through black glass you could hardly bear to look at her she was so dazzling. Like the Sun. And the Sun was alive, like a real live girl, and with her shining arms she mapped out the orbit of the planets, very precisely so that no two planets would ever collide on the paths of the Galaxy. Such would have been the cosmic order of things, if everyone had measured their own range properly, but there was incessant wrangling as to which orbit belonged to whom, and more distant planets quarreled with the nearer ones, demanding privileges for themselves. Now, now, the resplendent, celestial body would say at such times, and set each of her planets a task to save her little empire from ruin, chaos, revolutions.
One spring morning in the classroom I felt the Sun shine its beams upon me, on me of all people. I looked to the right, then to the left, and there was no one else there. I lowered my eyes - I did not have my dark glasses on me, the ones I always wore in my dreams. Then she said something, like hi, say, or how are you - something like that, but her voice was so sweet and melodic, so full of promise, that everything was contained in those words, that I could be her slave for example, that I could carry her school-bag for her, accompany her to the dentist, and walk her home. And from that day onwards I was always there, panting by Anna's side, attached to her like a limpet from morning to night. When she charged me with something harder to do, like carrying her shopping-bag home for her, crammed full of bottles of crappy soft drinks to last out the week, I veritably flew. Defying the rules of aviatics, I could fly only when I was weighed down with things. Unburdened, I stood rooted to the ground like a lamppost, an ordinary, everyday lamppost that you would never credit with walking, let alone flying. And the Sun caressed me with its shining arms and always said something like bye when we parted, and hi when we met. And those simple words implied so much. It was as if she were saying, do something, then you can hold my hand, you can even kiss me - it sounded exactly like she was saying, ask me to go somewhere with you and kiss me.
I chose the piano room in the basement. The next day - according to plan - I went up to the Sun and asked her to come down to the piano room after school. 'I can play the piano like Bartók, 'I told her, 'really awesome, modern music.' 'Really,' she said, or perhaps she said hi, I don't remember now, but I took her down to the piano room and slammed open the lid of the piano, confidently, just like I'd practised doing the afternoon before, and struck the keys: thrump-bang--boing, making the instrument really boom. I pounded away, mostly on the black keys because black notes are semitones and I somehow imagined that only semitones were modern, that white notes were conservative, academic, and that really modern musicians never use them. The walls were practically coming down around us when my friend came in. 'What the fuck d'you think you're doing with that piano,' he shouted. 'You're playing it so loud the windows'll break.' 'Who cares,' I said, and brought my hands down hard on the keys for one last time. My friend said, 'D'you know whose piano it is you're ruining? Do you know whose it is?' 'Sure,' I said, 'it's the school's.' So my friend goes, 'That's not what I meant, d'you know who practices on it?' 'Oh,' I said, 'You mean that dopey kid?' 'You know who that is?' I just stared at him, I didn't understand what difference it could possibly make who it was. 'Well spit it out then.' 'That kid,' and he paused, 'is András Schiff.'. 'So who's András Schiff when he's at home,' I asked, 'and why d'you have to say his name like he was, I don't know, Stravinsky or something?' 'Do you know who András Schiff is?' he asked, still playing questions and answers. 'No, who?' I asked, nonchalantly. 'András Schiff,' said my friend, glancing at Anna out of the corner of his eye, 'is Zoltán Kocsis's brother.' 'Really?' I asked, surprised, not at their having different names in spite of being brothers, I had no trouble believing that, everything was possible in Budapest, not like in the country. What troubled me was that with these brothers I'd been excluded from the whole world of music. And it got even worse when my friend sat down and breezed through a piano sonata by, like, Mozart. With every note he played Anna's jaw dropped a further inch, as though it was fixed to her head with a rubber band that was just about ready to snap. My friend played the last note, then shot up off the stool like there was a spring under his arse and lit out of the piano room, saying he had to go. I didn't dare look at Anna, I didn't want to see that goofy expression of awe on her face, inspired by Mozart and through him, by my friend. 'I've got to go,' she said unexpectedly, 'I have to do the bloody washing-up before my parents get home'. She grabbed her shoulder bag and began to walk away, and I ran after her, to walk her home as usual. Up the stairs, through the courtyard, down the Sion and all the way to the bus stop I kept explaining, in a loud voice, almost shouting, how awful it was when someone spent ten years learning to play the piano, and only got as far as playing a lousy Mozart sonata, like my friend. And that it was like the total failure of piano-teaching, the way they divest people of all their original creative force, making them play some crappy boring shit, like Mozart. I kept talking to whittle down a little of my friend's triumph. Then the bus came and Anna said not to go with her as she was in such a hurry anyway. So there I was, stranded at the bus-stop of the number eight bus, with all the things I'd said about Mozart and pianists, all for Anna's sake.
The next day I was back in the piano-room again, having another go, with Anna sitting on the bench, her school-bag at her feet on the floor, when my friend came in. He very firmly took my place at the piano and began to play Chopin preludes, swaying in that silly poncy way that only pianists have. 'Well I've had it up to here with this shit,' I said after a couple of minutes, 'It's a load of syrupy crap anyway, let's go.' I turned to Anna and looking straight into her eyes, said 'Come with me.' 'I don't have to hurry so much today,' she said. Washing-up never came up, just that it was so beautiful, not my friend, Chopin. And I said this mushy shit is so gross it makes my stomach turn, how can you stand listening to it, after Bartók? I tried everything, but she kept on hushing me.
That was how I walked out of the piano-room, with her silly shushing echoing in my ears, running away from my friend's Chopin. I slammed the door shut behind me, good and hard.
I stood there in the corridor beneath the neon lamps, waited a couple of minutes hoping she'd maybe come after me, or call out at least for me not to go. Then I walked a bit further up the corridor, as far as the stairs, and waited a couple more minutes so if she came out she'd see I was on my way, not waiting for her, I even put my hand on the railing and leant forward a little. And I did the same thing at the street-door entrance, and again at the bus stop, pretending to be waiting for the bus, though of course three buses had come and gone, but that was what it would look like. I kept looking at my watch: why won't the dratted bus come, I'm going to be totally late. But Anna didn't come out even after the fifth bus had gone.
How stupid I am, the other planets said, a right wally, screwing things up like that. And they all laughed at me. And I stood there in the bus stop. I'd lost the Sun, the Sun which the world centred around, and I no longer knew which way to go so as not to break into pieces, crumble into dust somewhere far in the depths of the galaxy.
Translated by Eszter Molnár