The central character in "The Miracle", twenty-something Mikołaj, dies on the very first page… And from then on the story just gets stranger and more interesting. Mikołaj’s body doesn’t decay but maintains a normal temperature of 36.7 degrees Centigrade. The warm corpse catalyses the action and affects the lives of the other main characters who happen to come into contact with it, such as the doctor, Anna, who falls in love with the dead man. But despite appearances, Karpowicz has not written a perverse horror story. To a minor extent he is also interested in describing people who have common sense and a lifestyle where matter definitely takes precedence over mind, and yet they rely on divine intervention and being in touch with mystery and everything that eludes reason. There is another kind of miracle at the heart of the story, a more mundane one, so to speak. As in his first book, "Uncool", Karpowicz writes primarily about burned-out people who have lost their way and cannot cope with life. They are stuck at a dead end because they have no goal to aim for and cannot see any sense in the hustle and bustle of life. They live from day to day, doing the same as everyone else, but something in them has died. What they need is for the world to give them a prod, an accident, a “miraculous” coincidence – such as the appearance of the warm corpse – to make them finally desire change and want to have better, fuller lives. Karpowicz writes about ordinary people and everyday problems, but distorts reality as we know it in a crooked mirror of satire; the image we see in it is terrifying and funny by turns, like in the hall of mirrors at a fun fair. There is seriousness in "The Miracle" too, as well as humour, plain reality and the author’s unusual imagination. And there is something else as well that implies Karpowicz’s future works will provide a lot of pleasure too – a distinctive, original and well-developed style.
- Robert Ostaszewski
Luckily the key fitted. She went inside the strange flat. She switched on the light, put down her handbag and breathed in the strange air.
The flat was very clean and worryingly familiar. That is, she might have furnished a flat exactly like this herself. In the kitchen she opened the fridge. She was dying of hunger. She made herself two ham and mayonnaise sandwiches with sliced tomato. The salt was in the right place too.
She felt quite at home, perhaps better even than she felt at her own place (because lately she hadn’t felt too good there), especially in the bathroom, maybe because of the lingering smell of perfume.
She planned to watch something on television. But before that she decided to take a bath. She ran hot water into the tub, added some almond oil bath essence and took a towel that was in just the right place out of the cupboard.
In the bath she tried to relax and think something through – the closing day, or her mother’s complaints about the pain in her left eye – but it all went wrong; the foam bubbles kept distracting her, and her thoughts dissolved before they’d had a chance to take shape.
She felt unfulfilled and clean. It wasn’t that she was a single woman just out of the bath (she had pulled the plug and the water was gurgling down the pipes). It wasn’t that at all.
Anna was a ripe, juicy fruit, just waiting to be plucked, ready for a new relationship and a new flat. Ready to buy knick-knacks and furniture, to make coffee, ready for petty quarrels and simple pleasures. Anna was waiting for a new relationship, a new dependency to enter her body, stay there for good and change her out of all recognition. Although I’d like to stick with the chestnut hair, she thought.
She put on his dressing gown. Blue towelling, very old and threadbare. She reckoned it was a special dressing gown that he was inordinately fond of, otherwise he would certainly have got rid of it.
It smelled of almond oil (bath essence) and – she wasn’t sure – flowering fields of buckwheat, lupins and coleseed. A pleasant smell, but at the same time rather unsettling.
Before she could sit down in an armchair and switch on the television the phone rang. She didn’t hesitate for a moment, but picked up the receiver instantly.
“Hello,” she said.
“Isn’t Mikołaj there?” asked an old lady’s voice.
Anna wondered for a moment.
“No, he’s not here right now.”
“And who are you?” said the old lady’s voice, not beaten yet.
“Me?” asked Anna. “I’m his girlfriend,” she lied.
The voice at the other end fell silent. The old woman was weighing something up in her mind.
“You know what,” she replied at last, “I’m sorry to be so rude. Mikołaj did tell me recently that he had a girlfriend, but I didn’t believe him. You can understand why. But as it’s true, I’m very pleased. I’m his granny. And what’s your name?”
“Anna,” said Anna.
“Goodnight then. I’m really pleased. Nice to meet you. Please give Mikołaj my love.”
“Yes, I will. Good night. I’m pleased too, nice to meet you. All the best.”
She hung up.
She went into the kitchen to make some tea.
She felt like bursting into heartfelt laughter. All right, she had lied, but at the same time she knew she was doing the right thing. After all, it was she who had taken his body to the morgue. The policemen had refused, and so had the ambulance guys. Would a stranger have done it?
Of course not. Only a loved one could have had the guts to do that.
As she waited for the water to boil she walked about the flat. In the bedroom there was a bed with rather eccentric silk sheets and a small cupboard with a bedside lamp, nothing else. Under the window in the work room (she didn’t like the word office – all credit to the senior registrar) stood a large, heavy desk covered in green canvas. The walls were lined with shelves filled with books. Apart from that there was a swivel chair and a computer. In the sitting room there was a red sofa with a white symbol on it, an armchair, a small table, a television (with a video, DVD player and tower) and a wardrobe.
Anna was extremely pleased to find her boyfriend wasn’t short of cash. A lack of cash often led to a lack in general, and could put strain on the strongest of relationships, if not destroy it. They weren’t in any danger of that. Of course, as she was aware, there was still a basic obstacle, maybe even two basic obstacles. Firstly, she didn’t know what Mikołaj would say about all this. But she reckoned he was sure to have nothing against it. After all, they loved each other. Secondly, Mikołaj wasn’t alive. On the one hand this solved a lot of potentially inflammatory problems (such as what he would say about all this, and whether they were in love with each other), but on the other it limited the sphere in which their happiness could flourish. Anna drank up her tea, watched the thousandth episode in the series of features about the Rywin corruption case, brushed her teeth, set the alarm clock for 8.30, put on a pair of pyjamas and went to bed.
For breakfast she made herself two ham sandwiches and some tea. She didn’t have time to go back to her own flat, or she’d be late for work. Besides, she was at her own flat, wasn’t she? She took a quick shower and dried her hair. He didn’t have any women’s make-up, not a drop of toner or sunscreen. Tough. She’d just have to trust the ozone layer that protected the Earth (like sunscreen) to save her from cosmic wind burn. Nor did he have any lipstick, eye shadow or foundation. She had no need to be jealous.
She put on the jeans she’d come in, and took a white shirt out of the wardrobe. She rolled up the sleeves. It suited her really well. She took a pendant on a gold chain out of the desk drawer. A large agate, reddish with blue and white veins, shaped like a heart. Not a valentine, but a real one, with the chambers and atria.
And perfume. She had to use his perfume. And then she ran out of the flat.
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones