|Blogs > rm_goldlabel32 > The Isle -stories from my book|
Day was breaking. The first brilliant rays of light pierced the cold air, pretending they brought warmth with them. They illuminated the awakening shreds of nature; later perhaps they began warming individual square meters of earth as well. Here in the mountains, dawn began a few seconds earlier than down in the foothills and in the evening, nature lengthened the day with a slightly later sunset. Although this can be explained quite easily in mechanical terms, the meaning of it escapes us. (The conclusion being that provided one stands on a high enough mountain, the sun will never set.) These same rays fell on Mr. Reilly‘s property too, a plot of land measuring only a few dozen square meters.
The boundaries were not marked off by any fence, nor by any enclosure or low or high wall, as people normally do with their property; somehow, though, the plot set itself apart from its surroundings on its own. Quite rarely does anything differentiate itself from its surroundings on its own, without any marks to emphasize the differentiation. In this case, however, a line of rocks half a meter wide formed a natural border, rising from the surface of the earth that surrounded the small territory. Mr. Reilly‘s plot of land looked much like a desert. A twisted tree slowly withered at its center; in the branches lived various creatures. It was a shame Mr. Reilly never noticed what actually lived on his land. He probably would have been surprised at all the different animals inhabiting his old, dying tree. By this I don‘t mean any creatures so banal as squirrels, for instance, but various species of insects. Like when you pour a wastepaper basket out onto the office floor and out falls a heterogeneous mixture-a piece of broken green ruler, an eraser, crumpled copy paper, a broken pencil lead, a dead battery, wadded-up note paper, an empty ink cartridge from a ballpoint pen-or like when you roll away a stone and various sorts of creatures begin fleeing from you. The inhabitants of the tree formed an equally colorful and apparently repulsive mixture. The tree was their universe and they never left it. Many of them in fact knew just one of its branches or knots and judged everything around them from that single position-authoritatively and without doubt. Among themselves, they behaved both as friends and as enemies, for according to valid laws everyone competes with everyone else, either directly or indirectly-which meant they were actually enemies. Friendly behavior may be mere dissimulation, closing your eyes to the fact that it is your closest ally who is most likely to abandon you and become your opponent.
Just like the inhabitants of the tree, Mr. Reilly judged his surroundings authoritatively, from his position. Rarely did he notice things of a greater or lesser order of magnitude, and he (just like everyone else) paid no attention to the tree, full of wondrous creatures, nor to the tree in whose branches he himself presumably lived.
At six o‘clock in the morning came the sound of an automobile grumbling in the distance. An old Ford jolted its way up the gravel road to the plot of land and came to a stop; a middle-aged man in a vermilion sweater twisted out of the front door. Just as he had done every day for the past twelve years, Mr. Reilly arrived at six in the morning to admire his land.
It would be difficult for anyone to understand what Mr. Reilly felt. It wasn‘t merely the glamour of ownership, nor did he own the land out of snobbery (although, to be truthful, he did boast to a few friends that he “owned a piece of land in the mountains outside town“. Nor was it the lover of a miser-he never sought to expand his property. It was an altogether unique relationship. Erosive wilds had carved out a depression filled with fertile soil between the rocky ridges. Though the land was practically worthless, every year on January 1st a certain firm from Chicago offered a relatively large sum for it. Mr. Reilly had no idea why; perhaps it had become a tradition, just like the polite refusal he sent to the film on January 2nd every year along with a New Year‘s greeting. This quiet relationship with the land had lasted twelve years now. And for just as many years he had driven up early every morning to inspect the land, collect a few pieces of litter blown in by the wild from the prosperous city, and stand next to the tree, never suspecting that these half-hours were among the most usefully spent of his life. He expected nothing new from his land. Its value was in its endurance, its uninterrupted existence. And that was why the surprise, when it came, was so sudden and unpleasant.
In the middle of the plot of land, right on top of the broken tree trunk, lay an enormous white stone. The tree, which had earlier appeared to be dry, lay there with its spine broken, oozing sap. Mr. Reilly couldn‘t believe it. The stone was sunk halfway into the ground, with no trace of having been dragged there. It glittered in the morning sun, covered with dew just like the grass all around. Mr. Reilly took a step closer. The stone had a regular, rounded shape and a smooth, grayish surface. The soil around it was undisturbed, no tire tracks from any giant truck. Truly, the stone must have fallen from the sky.
There are unpleasant dreams that you want to wake up from, and it‘s always when you start to wish it that you actually wake up. This is achieved by mere power of thought; pinching your shoulder, leg or face is nothing but a pretense.
Despite that Mr. Reilly took no part in this ridiculous game, he had the intense feeling that he wasn‘t dreaming, that what he saw was reality and that it could no more be successfully denied than one could deny a fall one second after jumping out the window. It had happened and the fact was irrefutable-this, evidently, is the basis of our way of life. Something had to be done with the stone; if nothing else, he had to show it to someone, as its presence here was mysterious and contradicted every phenomenon which Mr. Reilly had up to this point had the opportunity to observe. Despite his fatigue, he didn‘t sit down on the stone, although its smooth, clean surface was absolutely inviting-to do that would have been tantamount to some sort of recognition de jure. Then again, the car was too far from the scene, and the last time Mr. Reilly had sat on the ground had been at a cheerful, fun-filled picnic as a sixteen-year-old boy. The fact that he was unable to resolve such a trivial problem stripped him of the last of his composure; he had no choice but to remain standing, and only with difficulty did he force himself to consider whom he might turn to for help. He didn’t have many friends, and certainly not the kind he could call and ask for help in a situation like this. Sure, he could tell the story at a card game as an amusing anecdote, but that was all. The only person possible was his son, but he lived too far away. “When you get right down to it, I pay taxes every month for the police, so I ought to have the right to ask for advice at least once in my life…“ he said to himself.
Mr. Reilly turned back toward the car. He looked back at the uninvited guest one last time. Something moved on the stone; he quickly stepped closer. It was a beetle with blue wing cases.
The policeman on duty wasn‘t even that surprised when the middle-aged man in the reddish-brown sweater entered the station and shyly began talking about some huge ten-ton meteorite. The station received all kids of obviously contradictory and lying reports. Besides that, they had to keep a constant watch in their precinct on juvenile delinquency, drug abuse and anti-state elements. There was always some campaign concentrating on this, that or the other thing. What‘s more, there were people calling the police about lost dogs and cats, and once in a while about falling flowerpots or cracked sidewalks. And last but no least were the lonely people looking for a bit of distraction in the arrival of an emergency squad, the same way that others find distraction in reading, music or alcohol. Either this guy was a nut or he was telling the truth. The policeman sent a black officer who was also on duty to go with Mr. Reilly.
The took Mr. Reilly‘s car; he drove. He must have been disappointed if he expected the policeman to question him. The whole trip passed in silence, the black man in uniform either staring out the window or gazing unblinkingly at the dashboard. When they reached their destination, Mr. Reilly just pointed at the calamity without a word. At that point, the policeman started asking questions and carefully inspecting the stone, though he was very careful not to get any sap on the soles of his immaculate boots. At last the flow of questions stopped; but then came the moment when the policeman asked; “So who do you want to press charges against? There‘s not the slightest clue here at all.“ Mr. Reilly didn‘t respond. Meanwhile, the policeman walked back to the car. It was an awkward moment: Mr. Reilly thought the policeman had gone for his appointment book and so remained where he was. Standing by the stone. After about five minutes, the policeman began honking the horn impatiently. Mr. Reilly climbed back into his car in confusion, unable to bring himself to say a single word. He caught himself trying to remember if he had any enemies. It was absurd-as if some enemy could arrange to have a ten-ton stone fall on his land. Then he caught himself trying to remember if he had any friends. The trip back passed in still greater silence. The policeman asked Mr. Reilly to stop in front of the station. He then got out without saying goodbye and disappeared through the doors of the police station.
The next morning, Mr. Reilly drove to look at his land at the same time as he had the day before and for the past twelve years. The stone was still there. It hadn‘t moved or gotten smaller, nor had any other unusual phenomenon appeared on the plot of land. All that had happened was the wind had brought some chocolate wrappers and some advertising flyers for Marietta bouillon. Just as always, Mr. Reilly picked them up and put them in a plastic bag, though now he had the disagreeable feeling that it was pointless work since he couldn‘t move the stone.
Once he had convinced himself that the stone had neither vanished overnight nor even moved, Mr. Reilly got in his car and drove back to town. He called the police from his apartment, but got no answer. Then he squandered away about half an hour trying to reach his son. Then he called the police again. This time the officer on duty answered. Luckily it was the same one as the day before, so he knew what the problem was, and he answered Mr. Reilly‘s question: “What happened to you is pretty strange, but there seems to be no crime involved; at least, it doesn‘t look like it from the report. Let us know if you find anything, but we can‘t start an investigation with just that. What? I don‘t know, but you‘ll have to deal with it yourself!“
The policeman hung up and turned to the officer sitting next to him#x201C; That was that guy with the rock, he wants us to haul it away for him.“ And together they laughed at Mr. Reilly‘s naivete.
Mr. Reilly dialed his son‘s number again a few times. He needed advice. But the phone in the villa many kilometers away just kept on ringing. Even though he was a non-smoker and kept cigarettes in the house only for guests, he now had the urge to light one up. (He had lived a quiet life; that was why he didn‘t smoke. Even in his youth he hadn‘t started. He had never had that feeling of uncertainty from a girl‘s searching gaze, nor had he ever felt any uncertainty about himself.( He lit up a cigarette with a metal lighter (a fine device!), feeling good about himself, a men of action taking charge of the situation. But after a while, the cigarette lost its taste and the good feeling disappeared. After hesitating for a short time, he looked up the Academy of Sciences in the phone book and dialed the switchboard number. No answer-it was too late.
That night he had depressing dreams; the next morning he forgot what the dreams had been about and all day long he tried in vain to remember. But the only clue he had was his exhausted body and aching head. By the time he forced himself to get up and eat breakfast it was eight o‘clock. He didn‘t get up to his “piece of land in the mountains“ until half past eight. That hadn’t happened for twelve years. The stone looked as though it had been lying there for a thousand years with another thousand still to go. Some green moss had even begun to grow on it; Mr. Reilly scraped it off with the point of his umbrella.
The minute he got home he called the Academy of Sciences and asked the switchboard operator to connect him with an expert on meteorites. It took him five minutes to convince the operator it wasn‘t a joke. Finally he got a professor on the line, who calmly assured him that a ten-ton meteorite would have left a crater as big as all get-out. The WE MOVE ANYHING company, where he called after lunch, promised to come the next morning at seven and take the stone away. That evening, Mr. Reilly remembered his dream of the night before. He hoped intensely he would never have it again: he was sitting in a dank, filthy place, with all sorts of spiders and beetles crawling around him. It was dismal and cold, water dripping from the stone walls. The stench in the air reminded him of a tomb or a crypt. Never before in his life had he had the chance to observe spiders and beetles from up close. Walking about on long, thin limbs or crawling on short, bristly legs. Repulsive and slimy. In his dream, Mr. Reilly tried to persuade himself that it was nothing but prejudice, but still he went on loathing and fearing them. For there was something even more dreadful, about those spiders and beetles: every one of them had its own personality, and when they came to within about two meters of him, he found that he could, he had to, read their minds. He read their spider thoughts and memories: a simple plan-a circular movement somewhere at an enormous height-long, motionless waiting-the body trembles-something fluttering in the web-a quick run down the taut line-terror in the eyes of a fly-a death shriek. He couldn‘t move, more and more insects were crawling around him, and it made him remember along with them the victims of yesterday and the day before, the flies in the web, the little beetles the cockchafer devoured, the huge, slimy worm the little black beetle barely escaped from. He crawled underground with a mealworm, creeping through narrow holes, killing small insects and sucking them dry. He felt a cold hatred toward everything alive, everything that moved; everything that lived he feared. Eventually, he himself turned into a small beetle with blue wing cases. He was constantly looking around, searching out prey in the mob in front of him, looking out for larger beetles behind him, afraid and panicked. He was alone in that enormous mob. It must be a terrible thing to be a beetle, thought Mr. Reilly, wishing to forget the dream as quickly as possible. That night he slept quietly.
The WE MOVE ANYTHING worker failed to show up as promised in the morning. At a quarter to eight Mr. Reilly called again. The secretary threatened to call the police. He realized then that they thought he was some kind of prankster. There was no other company like them in the area. Again he called his son. No one answered. He lit up another cigarette and started thinking about whether or not he still felt like a man of action taking charge of a difficult situation. Instead what came to mild was a vision of his lung cells dying in clouds of lethal tar. He set the cigarette down on the edge of the ashtray, took the phone book out of his desk drawer and looked up his son‘s number. He knew it by heart of course, but now he dialed with his eyes jumping back and forth from the page to the dial. The phone rang. Mr. Reilly drew sharply on the cigarette, but it had gone out. He almost gagged. He began running through the names of all the people he knew. The people he sat with in wine bars, sipping drinks; he had spent many a fun moment at parties in their homes. He thought about which ones to call. These were people from the same social group as him, or rather people with the same lack of interests. He tried to imagine one of them calling him out of the blue to say that an enormous stone had appeared on his land and he wanted help. They‘re going to think I‘m crazy, he thought. He had to relight the cigarette to regain his courage. The magic of cigarettes, it occurred to him, is in lighting them. It‘s a wonder no one makes cigarettes that you can just light up and take one puff of. And while these strange notions were spinning around in his head, the telephone rang. It was an enormous shock. The cigarette fell from Mr. Reilly‘s fingers to the carpet. Like an imbecile, he thought as he answered. He lifted the receiver. It was an acquaintance calling, apparently just to chat, without any reason. For about a quarter of an hour they made small talk, and then Mr. Reilly brought up his problem. His friend apologized that he had to go. Bye then. Mr. Reilly just gaped at the silent receiver. No, he wouldn‘t call anyone else today. He went to sleep. A fat, black spider was crawling across the kitchen table, and no one knew.
The next day he returned home from the mountains at eight o‘clock. There was a foul stench of stagnant cigarette smoke in the foyer. He called several numbers from his apointment book. Every one of the conversations was friendly to start with, but unfortunately no one was able to help. One person was expecting a visitor; Mr. Reilly was cordially invited to a party. Another, as luck would have it, couldn‘t leave home because his wife had a headache. He also received several pieces of advice, one of them being to call the WE MOVE ANYTHING company. Mr. Reilly couldn‘t make up his mind whether to cry or get angry. No help beckoning from anywhere, and he couldn‘t cope with in alone. If only he had a wife, he thought, he could complain to her. Or beat her up, another voice whispered to him. As a young man Mr. Reilly had enjoyed playing the cynic, and from time to time it still rose in him again now. Actually, though, he was more inclined to the first voice. There were only two things he could do: either welcome the stone onto his piece of land, or struggle against it with all his might. There was no third way; Mr. Reilly had no intentions of surrendering his patch of soil in the mountains. Everything around him, in fact, pointed to the third way, the well-traveled path. Overlook it, keep quiet. Ignore it. Don‘t take it so seriously. Calm down.
“Been nice being with you,“ he announced into the space somewhere under the staircase. (He was quite alone.)
He went out onto the street. It was autumn, the streets dirty with mud and full of leaves no one had cleared away. He walked a few blocks and entered a pub with a frosted-glass door. Inside it was smoky, there were maybe two people sitting there; they didn‘t even notice him. He ordered a vodka.
An hour later he was drunk. The other guests had gone off somewhere, and he was sitting alone at his table. After a while, the pub owner sat down with him. He didn‘t have anything to do either. He knew the type who came in only on special occasions. Maybe his wife had left him, maybe he got thrown out of his job. There are a million reasons in the world to be sad. When Mr. Reilly had finished the last of his drink, the owner stood up and brought over a full bottle. Mr. Reilly broke into tears and started speaking incoherently.
“I don‘t get it, how come nobody cares? Doesn‘t anyone care that there‘s a huge stone lying on my land?“ The owner thought about how he should answer. The guy was probably a wacko. But he didn‘t look the violent type. That‘s all I need, for him to smash up my bar, the owner thought. He answered cautiously: “We‘re all alone, every one of us. Even with all the people around.“ Mr. Reilly said nothing, so the owner gave it to him straight: „It‘s none of anyone‘s business, nobody cares about getting that stone off your land.“
Mr. Reilly paid up and reeled out in front of the pub. In the valley below him shone the lights of the city. The yellow lights of street lamps, the red lights of plush lamps, the blue-white light of color TVs. Thousands of people lived in the city. Surely some of them were home alone, waiting for someone to call or come by and ask for help. But Mr. Reilly didn‘t know them. And besides, most of the others gave him advice: overlook it, keep quiet. Ignore it. Don‘t take it so seriously. Calm down. The blue-white lights of street lamps, the yellow lights of plush lamps, the red lights of color TVs. Up there above him on the hill was his piece of land, and on it lay his stone. For a long time Mr. Reilly hesitated. Then he began clambering his way up the steep hill.
No Interest. From the book The Isle (Ostrov), Prague, RADOST
Translated by Michael Grant, published by YAZZYK Magazine, http://AdultFriendFinder.com
2/13/2006 1:22 pm
Written in China, on the boat near Three Gorges|