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Authors: Péter Nádas,Imre Goldstein

Parallel Stories: A Novel

BOOK: Parallel Stories: A Novel
4.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub



It is all one to me

Where I am to begin, for there I shall return.




Title Page


Author’s Note

The Mute Realm


The Creator Wanted It This Way

A Genteel Building

Isolde’s Lovelorn Swan Song

Everyone in Their Own Darkness

The Real Leistikow

Döhring’s Continuous Dream

Le nu féminin en mouvement

Himself in the Magic Mirror

Through the Entrance to His Secret Life

The Quiet Reasons of the Mind

In the Very Depth of the Night

Margit Island

The Other Shore

Informed of Her Own Existence

Those Two

Ilona’s Rice Chicken

A Brand-New Civilization

Otherwise It Couldn’t Have Raged

American Dream

Tearing Up Everything

They Could Not Forget It

By the Summer of ’57

Every Hungarian Was Lost

Saturated Sleepers

The Last Judgment

The Breath of Freedom

Anus mundi

Like Fine Clockwork

No More Time

The Lovely Angel of Revenge

A Startling Gratification

Hans von Wolkenstein

I’ve Been in This Building Before

The Noose Tightens

This Sunny Summer Afternoon

Only Inches from Each Other

The Spice of Happiness

In Full Swing

A Fecund Apricot Tree

The Lover of Her Beauty


Also by Péter Nádas


Author’s Note


I hasten to state that the book in the reader’s hand is not a historical work but a novel; all the names, characters, events, and situations, however real they may seem, are nothing but the product of the author’s imagination.

My gratitude to the Wissenschaftskolleg of Berlin, with special thanks to the excellent librarians of that institution, Gudrun Rein and Gesine Bottomley, for their helpful suggestions and selfless support of my work.



The Mute Realm



In that memorable year when the famous Berlin wall came down, a corpse was discovered in the Tiergarten not far from the graying marble statue of Queen Louise. This happened a few days before Christmas.

The corpse was that of a well-groomed man of about fifty, and everything he wore or had on him appeared to be of better quality. At first glance a gentleman of some consequence, a banker or a senior manager. Snow was falling slowly, but it was not very cold, so the flakes melted on the paths of the park; only the blades of grass retained a white edge. The investigators did everything by the book and, because of the weather conditions, worked quickly. They closed off the area and proceeding clockwise in a narrowing spiral course searched it thoroughly so they could record and secure all existing clues. Behind an improvised screen of black plastic sheets, they carefully undressed the corpse but found no signs indicating suicide.

A young man who ran in the park every dawn had discovered the body. He was the only one the investigators could question. It had been completely dark when he set out, and he ran almost every day on the same path at the same time.

Had it not been so, had not everything been routine and habit, had not every stone and shadow been engraved in his mind’s eye, he most probably would not have discovered the body. The light of distant streetlamps barely reached this far. The reason he noticed the body, lying on and half dangling off a bench, was, he explained excitedly to the policemen, because on the dark coat the snow had not melted at all. And as he was running at a steady pace, he related a bit too loudly, the whiteness flashed into his eyes from the side.

While he was talking, several men busied themselves inside the roped-off area. They were working, one might say, in ideal conditions; there was not a soul in the park besides them, no nosy curiosity seekers. Using a flashbulb, one of the men photographed something on the bare, wet ground that two forensic technicians had already labeled with a number.

As he began his story for the third time, the young man noticed nervously that every clue had been numbered and the sight made him very anxious. He felt as if he had been not the one who discovered the corpse or reported it but, rather, the culprit instantly confronted with physical evidence of his crime.

He was like a blade, though he could not tell of what, perhaps of a razor or an icy thought, but of that he said nothing.

In fact, his first thought was that he had murdered his own father. He could not understand why he had such a thought, why he would wish the death of this man, but of that too he said nothing to the police officers.

Hardly anything remained of which he could speak aloud.

But they paid little attention to him; both uniformed and plainclothesmen were going about their business, and from time to time they mumbled to one another phrases the young man could not understand.

They would not delay him further. Twice he had given them his personal data, they had registered his willingness to give evidence later in court, and still he could not leave.

Some of the policemen were being relieved by others around him.

When he runs, he repeated excitedly in his report, he does not look at anything or in any specific direction, and he does not think. From a psychological viewpoint, that is the essence of running at an even pace. But when twenty minutes later he again ran past the body on the bench, it occurred to him that the snow could remain intact like that only on a cooled-off corpse.

He had read something like that somewhere. And that’s when he stopped to take a closer look.

In Berlin’s Tiergarten, or game preserve, many things have happened already, or, more correctly, hardly anything can happen here that hasn’t occurred before. The police officers listened to the report impassively. One of them simply moved on with his plastic bags to continue his work. In a little while, another one stopped to listen, and the rest of them promptly left him there alone. However, the young man could not calm down. He told his story to this new man as if every detail had another hundred details and every sentence needed a further explanation, as if with every explanation he were revealing earthshaking secrets while keeping silent about his own.

He was not cold, yet his whole body was shivering. The plainclothes officer offered him a blanket, go on, wrap it around yourself, but he rejected it with an irritated gesture, as if the condition of his body, an impending cold or the awkward and embarrassing shivering, did not interest him in the least. He probably had some kind of nervous fever, a phenomenon not unfamiliar to law-enforcement people. Neither could he be certain of the impression he was making. He felt he was not making a good one, which in turn compelled him to present everything in ever greater detail. This last policeman, however, regarded him with delight, with an enthusiasm bordering on love, as he observed the agitation in the young man’s facial features, body, and individual limbs, and his ceaseless gesticulation, wondering whether to think of him as choleric or ascetic, as someone with above-average intelligence and sensitivity or simply as a city idiot interested only in himself.

As a person so starved for speech that he could not stop before tomorrow. As one to whom nothing ever happened but who now was becoming tangled in a suddenly arrived great adventure; as one entrusted with nothing less than the secrets of the universe.

He elicited pity and some worry. In the end he could talk only to this one police officer, but he completely enthralled him with his feverish words, his vehement but disciplined and therefore fractured gestures, and his mental makeup that defied classification.

After methodically scanning the various surfaces and points of the young man’s body and attire, and because the observed exterior seemed so average that even its social situation would prove hard to determine, this detective asked the young man which university he was attending and what he was studying, slyly adding that he asked not officially but only as a private person. Theoretically he had no right to pose such a question, but he knew from experience that sometimes a few innocent words will stanch sickly and senseless gushing. The death of strangers can cause real hysteria even in the most endomorphic persons. At the same time he did not mean the question to be a formal one; he was interested to see how the young man might be steered by such an innocent query, how far he might be led from his self-admiration, or perhaps how he could be trapped; how tractable he was. Although he was one of those well-trained detectives who usually avoided being misled by an unexpectedly deep impression or a labyrinthine imagination, the plainclothesman could not resist the experiment, at least to the extent of asking the provocative question.

However, whether with this or some other approach, whether in the first hours of an investigation—in police parlance the “loop” questions, or “first foray”—or at its peak, when the results somehow hang together however precariously, it was impossible not to lose some equilibrium. Here and there, he set little traps. Because detectives like him consider their own ideas preferable to the general criminal procedures used by their less daring colleagues. They were more creative, though their methods were sometimes high-handed. In one professional idiom, they preferred heuristic means to syllogistic ones, and, being guided by the former, they sometimes violated the law.

Under the influence of the compassionless investigation, the young man interrupted his report to answer; he is studying philosophy and psychology, he replied, taken aback. And while he answered, he wondered what the police official was observing in him or what conclusions he had reached.

I should have thought, said the detective impassively.

What was he looking at on his neck, or what did he notice on his T-shirt, and now on his sweat suit.

All these thoughts stemmed the flood of words. As if realizing that nobody was interested in what he was reporting. Not only the others, but this detective too was considering the details on a different level, in another dimension. He was not busy with the reporter; he was not listening to the report.

For quite some time, he had gone running in tight pants, yellow or red, and the detective continued his investigation by looking at his thighs and loins.

Which was uncouth, and cut him to the quick, so that he caught himself and finally noticed the person standing before him in this bare park at dawn, snowflakes falling peacefully around them. He noticed the detective’s lips, eyes, the exceptionally thick, highly arched eyebrows, and everything he had been seeing until now: the forehead, the insanely curly hair, the calm disposition. A man who looked at him penetratingly, almost woefully, as if he knew everything about him. As if to take account, individually, retroactively and in advance, of all his most hidden secrets and even to offer empathy. In fact, the amused detective was merely recalling what he had read in some silly magazine, sitting in the dentist’s waiting room a few days earlier, namely that in Germany every year about seventeen thousand students enroll for studies in philosophy and twenty-two thousand in psychology. This would mean that during a whole generation more than a million people would be busy with the mechanics of the spirit and the soul, a big number indeed, though the number of people dealing in commerce, finance, and military matters is several times larger.

Sensing the detective’s disesteem, his underestimation of scientific interest, the young man fell silent, though his wretched body kept shivering in his damp sweat suit.

With which he made himself vulnerable.

And in the sudden silence the policeman, who may have been about ten years older than the young man and had a law degree, quickly asked whether they might drive the young man home and added even more quickly that they’d be happy to do so. Seeing that the young man had refused the blanket, they would not like their only eyewitness to catch cold. He used the plural as a sort of shield; he was not alone in making the offer, it was the entire law-enforcement community. Yet it was he who gazed out so penetratingly at the young man from the shelter of that community. As if scanning areas considered suspicious from a criminal point of view. Or as if glancing out from the protection of his profession, taking a long hard look at this other specimen of the masses.

BOOK: Parallel Stories: A Novel
4.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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