Balsam of a Long Farewell

Marek S. Huberath
Balsam of a Long Farewell
  • Wydawnictwo Literackie
    Krakow 2006
    123 x 197
    440 pp
    ISBN: 83-08-03911-1

The works of Marek S. Huberath are often grouped under religious fantasy, though in fact it is hard to find any single label that would suit this varied and thematically rich prose. This is only confirmed by the author's latest book Miasto pod Skałą (City Under the Cliff) – a collection of stories comprising texts already published (including the longer Kara większa (Greater Punishment) winner of the prestigious Zajdel Prize in 1992), along with others that appear for the first time. The whole volume consists of 10 works – all the way from a miniature a few sentences long to complex stories which are virtually mini-novels - and documents fifteen years of Huberath's literary output. Two subjects predominate in the book. Firstly, the author engages in futurology, presenting images of the world after an atomic or ecological catastrophe. Secondly, he creates his own genre of fantasy, which may be qualified as eschatological, portraying his vision of other worlds (as in the daring Greater Punishment, in which hell is organized along the lines of a Nazi concentration camp) or relationships between living and dead worlds (for example the story Balsam of a Long Farewell, published here for the first time). Regardless of whether he is considering the future or other worlds, Huberath always concentrates on the fundamental problems of man: he writes about loyalty, love and friendship put to the test in critical situations, about the difficulties of accepting others who are treated as a threat or about coming to terms with transience and death. The author is adept at "dressing” these eternal literary themes in an interesting form, creating clear, colourful, fabulous tales that have the power to grip the reader's imagination. Huberath is not just an ordinary spinner of fantasy – he is no less than an excellent prose writer.

- Robert Ostaszewski

Snorg's eyes were struck by a powerful glare. For a moment he was unable to focus. He realised that he had left the Chamber. He now lay on something hard in a room that seemed enormous. He felt lonely, because none of his roommates were with him. An unknown man sat at the other end of the room. He seemed to Snorg unusually old, though in fact he was simply older than those with whom Snorg had mixed till now. The man noticed Snorg's waking and approached, offering his hand.
- My name is Bablyoyannis Knoboblou – he said.
Slowly and with some effort of will, Snorg got up from where he had been lying.
– Congratulatuions, Snorg. Today you became a man. You were the best... - Snorg this time managed to catch and squeeze the man's right hand. He very much wanted to know how this hand felt to the touch.
- I have the information centre's certificate here – he picked up several sheets from a desk top - as well as a positive decision from the committee made up of men. You will receive an identity card and can pick a name.
- W-what... ? – Snorg finally managed to stammer.
The man gave the impression of being a friendly official carrying out a pleasant but routine task.
– I've looked at your results. - Bablyoyannis was still checking through the papers he held. - 132 points... Pretty good... I once had 154 in my test...  – he boasted. - This Piecky got dangerously close to you, with his 126 points, but the lack of limbs or reproductive organs... It's very hard to make up for that exclusively by means of intelligence. In any case, it's better that someone with your build has been chosen, and not some truncated fellow...
"I would like to smash that conceited gob of yours, you shithead”, thought Snorg.
- Piecky is my friend – he said, feeling a familiar numbness of the jaw.
- Better not to have friends until one becomes a man  - Bablyoyannis remarked. – Do you want to know the results of the others? Moosy - 84, Tib - 72, Dulf - 30... The rest got almost zero: Dagsy – just 18, and that bag of bones Tavegner - 12... - Bablyoyannis responded to his own question.
Snorg heard contempt in the man's voice and felt a growing hatred towards him. He thought he might even be capable of killing this man.
- What will become of me now? – he asked. The cramp in his jaw was not wearing off.
- As a man, you have the right to choose. You'll enter into normal life in society. A short period of training... and then you can opt for further education or else get a job. From today you will have financial credit of 400 monies, the same sum for everyone who becomes a man. But personally I would advise you against any cosmetic operations until you obtain a regular source of income. In the final analysis, the shape of one's ear lobes isn't so very important... – he gave Snorg an understanding glance. – You'll find something really nice later. There's always a wide selection.
Snorg felt cold sweat trickling down his neck: His thoughts went to Tib.
- What will happen to the others now...? – He finally managed to ask.
- Ah, yes... you have a right to know that, too - Bablyoyannis said impatiently. – There are always considerably more individuals born than become men. They go to make up transplant material. You can choose among them for some quite good ears... eyes... liver... Though some of them won’t even provide that much. Such a one as Tavegner is probably only useful as tissue culture material.
- That's inhuman – spluttered Snorg from between compressed lips.
- What's inhuman?! - Bablyoyannis reddened. – It was inhuman to start the war. Now a hundred percent of the population is born physically handicapped and three-quarters mentally handicapped. And most of them are born thanks to artificial insemination. Any complaints you may have should be directed to our great-grandfathers.
Apparently Snorg did not look too convinced, so Bablyoyannis explained further.
- The number of births is pushed to the maximum in order to increase the probability of individuals being created who approximate normal people – he looked searchingly at Snorg. - And the others... It's the cheapest way of producing material. After all, even those selected aren't completely normal, right Snorg...? I've been in this line of work seven years now – Bablyoyannis continued - and I'm convinced this is the only way.
- You yourself are not entirely perfect, Bablyoyannis. Your left leg is a bit lame and your face is I think, partially paralysed.
– Yes, I know it's visible – he was clearly prepared for this remark – but I'm a conscientious worker and have now saved up for almost a whole new hand .. for a transplant.

Translated by Richard Biały