The hero of Janusz Rudnicki’s new novel comes back from Germany to his hometown of Koźle, but isn’t quite sure what to do with himself. Out of boredom he smears his face in black shoe polish, but just then the post lady calls him out onto the stairwell, the door of his flat slams shut and a gas explosion destroys his block. Bad things are happening all over the country anyway, because time and again gas keeps exploding in different places; along with others who have lost the roof over their heads, the hero wanders about Poland and Germany having weird adventures… Rudnicki has thought up a tale consisting of a series of grotesque and absurd situations, sometimes funny, sometimes dreadful. But essentially the book is about extremely serious matters. Once again Rudnicki pits himself against the problem, to borrow a term from Zbigniew Kruszyński, of “relocated people” who have left their country in search of a place of their own but get stuck for ever, as Rudnicki puts it, “in twine”, with no roots and no certainty, struggling with an unstable identity. Come On, Let’s Go is also about Polish-German traumas, about a piece of history that is still stamping its mark on the present day, about executioners who become victims and victims who become executioners. Rudnicki’s prose is tragi-comic, disturbing, and stylistically superb. There is no denying few writers are as good at turning a phrase as this one.
- Robert Ostaszewski
Go and get the shopping, or not? What if someone recognises me? But who? Who would? I’ve only just got back and unpacked the windows so the riff-raff from the block next door can’t peep through the cases into my curtains. And quite apart from that alone, how white my teeth are in the mirror now that suddenly, for the first time ever, they’ve lost the context of the face, my one.
That’s why I’m surprised by the ring at the door – who the hell?
I open the door. The Post Lady. She’s bending over, looking for something in her bag, holding a flower in her mouth. And panting, through the flower she says that,
“That bloody lift’s bust again, g’day!”
I reply, and suddenly she’s riveted to the spot, her eyes too. And the flower flies downwards, because her upper and lower lips are further and further apart. What is it? I get a look at her teeth, full of fillings and wire, and think ahead to the door, then the barbed wire, then the goods wagons that will carry me off to the familiar loading ramp, in other words I yield to associations like a passive rag, and that’s how my time rushes by – I never get bored, that’s something at least. Until finally
“Is it you? ”
she asks, because we’ve already seen each other yesterday, in the stairwell, I introduced myself, because I’ve come back, and I live on my own, if you please, a single white sail, surface area thirty square metres. I say
“It’s me, don’t you know me? The white sail…”
“White my foot,”
she says, and at once I remember what I’d forgotten.
“Oh, you mean my face? It’s from the gas in the bathroom, just as I was trying to light a cigarette, my wife turned on the hot water in the kitchen.”
she replies, and how surprised she is!
say I, even more amazed by my own words. What wife?
I repeat, I repeat.
“It’s a joke, of course, I switched on the water in the kitchen myself, just as I was trying to light a cigarette in the bathroom…”
The sentences go one way, I go another. A blockage in the oesophagus, a stopper, a dam. Her eyes are goggling at me, and mine at her, because I’m just as surprised at myself as she is at me. So there we stand, on either side of the threshold, and the flower that fell.
Until finally she shifts from one foot to the other. They’re bothering her, they hurt. Moving her legs sets the rest of her body in motion, she comes to and says
“There’s a smell of gas here. I’ve got a parcel for your neighbour, but your neighbour isn’t in, so could you as your neighbour’s neighbour take the parcel for the neighbour?”
“Yes, yes, I could, I’ll take it.”
I have to sign for it, but
“Where? On what?”
“On the wall perhaps?”
I try once, and again on the wall, but the ballpoint won’t do it.
“The ink runs out. You have to do it vertically, write, you know? Not horizontally.”
I start thinking. The writing split is fantastically simple. I fall into such deep thought that the Post Lady has to wave a hand before my eyes to drag me to the surface.
“Hello! Good day, here I am.”
“Vertically, you say?”
“Maybe you’d better come inside, because there’s no way to do it here, no holding the pen vertically.”
“No, no, there must be something…”
She looks around, and I look around, until finally she says
“Just sign quickly, I’ll bend over,”
and starts to bend over, to which I say
“Maybe I can bend over, to save you the trouble.”
Her eyes go wide again.
“Am I accepting the parcel, or are you? Are you going to sign on your own back?”
she says to me slowly, hesitantly, and stares at me so hard it feels as if someone else were standing facing her, not me.
“OK, then you do the bending over,”
I said, so she bent over, with her back towards me, and just then the Neighbour to the left came out of his flat – when we first greeted each other he told me he still remembered me pissing into the sand pit – so that Neighbour came out, and just then I made such a stupid, leering sort of face, as if I were stuck up to the ears in the Post Lady, here and now, at which the Neighbour changed into a sort of question mark, at which the Post Lady turned her head towards me, then squealed wildly, seeing me leering, took offence and straightened up, pronto! And the Neighbour’s string bag went flying from his hands and the bottles he was returning for the deposit went flying out of the bag, straight onto the ground, and smashed! And the Neighbour couldn’t catch his breath, until he did catch it and asks,
“Who are you?”
Then I remember again what I’d forgotten, that I have smeared my face in boot polish, my neck too and my ears, and I say
“Oh, do you mean my face?”
“It’s from the gas in the bathroom, just as I was trying to light a cigarette my wife turned on the hot water in the kitchen.”
“Are you married?”
replies he, and how surprised he is!
“No, no, it’s a joke, of course, I turned on the water in the kitchen myself…”
To which the Post Lady says she’s had enough and she’s off, she’s leaving a notification for the neighbour about the parcel in the door, and she’s gone, and the Neighbour? Nothing, he just stands there with his mouth hanging open in amazement, and I’m hypnotised by his fillings, so once again I’m carried away by the train wagons… Ah, what a fine mess we’ve got! Glass lying on the floor, him standing there, me standing here, maybe I should fetch a brush? And a dustpan? But where from? I haven’t got any, I haven’t got anything yet, I’ve only just got back, so he’ll fetch them, he jolly well will, there’s no question about it, after all it was he that dropped them, but because of me, I say, there’s no question about it, he’ll fetch them and that’s the end of it. So off he went and came back with a big broom, because he didn’t have a small one, and a dustpan. And he wants to sweep up. There’s no question, I’ll do the sweeping, he went to fetch them, now I’ll sweep. And I start sweeping. He stands there, and I sweep. I see the flower, the one that fell from the Post Lady’s mouth. Sweep up the flower? I’ve got doubts. I ask,
“Sweep up the flower? It’s like shooting a duck and eating it cartridge and all. Will you hold on to it?”
“I will. There’s a bit of a smell of gas here. This flower is artificial, it’s from Słupnik.”
It’s the Post Lady’s birthday today, and like every year Słupnik puts a flower in his letterbox for her.
I go on sweeping. He stands there with the artificial flower and I sweep. Into a heap and into the dustpan, but I’ve always got a bit of the heap left, just like in life. I sweep from the left and there’s still some on the right. He’s happy to hold the dustpan for me, but what about the flower? I’m holding the broom and the dustpan, he’s holding the flower, keep holding onto the flower? Silly birthday girl.
“Why not, I’ll hold onto the flower, it’s you that needs two hands, not me.”
That’s a fact.
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones