CZECHPOINT: New Czech Writing

About Flying Objects
Photo: Tom Salt
Emil Hakl

Translated from the Czech (O létajících objektech, 2004) by Petr Kopet

"I was sorting things out at the cottage the other day and I found a pack of ligeros tucked behind some books and I thought of you," said Vojta, passing a warped pack over his shoulder. "They are a bit dry by now, they must have sat there for fifteen years if not more, but they're still good old liggies!"

Feeling more than a little moved, I inspected the intimately familiar small golden sailboat on its dark bluish purple background.

"Dude, I really appreciate this," I said. "You mind if I light one up right now?"

"Go right ahead," said Vojta. "Monicka hates it but I bet for you she'll make an exception ..."

"That's crap, ever since you quit smoking you're the one who's been fucking nervous, it doesn't bother me," responded Monicka. "I don't miss it!"

"Well, I don't need to, really," I said.

"Go ahead and light up, Vojta will tough it out, right, he's got incredible willpower."

"Shit, just light up, OK," said Vojta. "And why not give Monicka one to keep her quiet."

I stretched out my arm.

"No, thanks," squeaked Monicka.

"It's all right, I can wait," I said.

"Come on, man, it's cool," said Vojta.

"It's cool," repeated Monicka.

Screw you then, I thought to myself, flicked the lighter and inhaled the smoke. It tasted like I was smoking a ten-year-old magazine. But it was ligeros, a liggie, the cigarette of my youth. I was parked on the back seat of Vojta's old Escort, the front seat being reserved for Monicka so that they could fight. They were always fighting. Quite often physically. When it came over them, they didn't care if there was a third person around, on the contrary, in a way they were glad. They actually rarely ever hurt each other since they each weighed only fifty five kilos. They were like two struggling moths. Like two plush toys pushing each other around. It's true that I once witnessed Vojta throwing Monicka through a glass door that separated a room and a hallway after he'd dragged her around the apartment by her hair for a few minutes, before she retaliated by smashing a Chinese porcelain vase against his head, but that was more of an exception. They both then spent the rest of the day gluing the vase back together, working in unison like Poo and Eeyore because it had been a gift and I was helping them out.

We were on our way to a village near Kladno to visit their friends who were making goulash from a fallow deer that somebody's stepfather had shot in the Sumava mountains. The sun was setting above the Ruzyne part of Prague. The sky resembled a continuous slow-moving Plexiglas that someone had puked on. Vojta and Monicka were barking at each other. I was looking past them, ahead. We were descending upon a valley full of sheet metal halls, bushes, piles of rotting wooden planks and empty cable reels.

"Stop swerving, you know I hate that," said Monicka.
"I'm not swerving, I'm zigzagging."
"Then stop your zigzagging for God's sake!" Monicka raised her voice.
"But you were praising me the other day in front of Pavlucha, saying how safe a driver I was."
"I must've been pretty stupid!"
"You must've been," added Vojta, steering the wheel back and forth.
"Stop swerving, you asshole!"
"If you go on like this much longer Monicka, I swear to God I'm gonna drop you off right here," said Vojta softly. "And you can hitchhike back home for all I care."
"Fine, stop the car, at least I won't be there when you two flip over some place! Stop the car!"
It's true thatVojta and I had drunkabout a liter of vodka between us.
I was looking around the landscape. Suddenly I noticed a peculiar thing. On the overcast sky to the right of the windshield five purple lines were glowing. Three were long, lined up side by side, and above those were two short ones. The strange thing about them was that they wouldn't stay in one place and kept quivering and flickering, so it was hard to focus on them to be able to say with certainty that they were there. If they were the navigation lights of a commercial plane or the reflectors of a helicopter, I thought, they would be moving in one direction and not jumping around like that. Strange. Strange.
"Stop the car, did you hear me, I'm out of here!" reached my ears.
"Look Monicka, stop making trouble and sit down or else I'm really gonna drop you off, I swear to God!"
"Well, get to it!"
"It wouldn't bother me, you're always on my case[D1] anyway!"
"You're on mine, OK?!"
The lines loomed up below the smoky ceiling of the landscape, shimmering lightly. I was inhaling smoke trying not to lose sight of them, which wasn't that simple since they periodically jumped behind a tree or a warehouse. I took another ligeros.
"I have to listen to this prattle all the time," said Vojta. "From dusk to dawn you burden my brain."
"I burden your brain?!"
"Yeah, you burden my brain with totally useless information!"
"I'm surprised you can actually take it in through all that booze!"
"The thing is that it's all I can do! But I can't think! My brain is mucked up with bullshit!"
"Hm ... I really wonder why you need to think," Monicka ruminated.
"You would be surprised, but there's quite a lot to think about in the world!" stated Vojta.
The lines were at that moment hovering between two silver chimneys. Suddenly they began to move and flew over to the right, so I could now see them through the side window. I rolled down the window and stared at them. The color of the lights could best be described as purple with an occasional hint of red. At least that's how it appeared to me. To be honest, I didn't experience any extraordinary feelings. It all somehow fit together. The mess around us, the sunset, the fight in front, the ancient ligeros, and those flickering lines above.

The lights were slowly moving above the landscape, dancing among the clouds, keeping their original formation: three down, two up. One moment they disappeared behind a cloud and the next moment they showed up further away. It was as if their color paled and broke into a shade of pink from time to time, but then returned back to the original purple. By now I had to turn to see them through the back window. Then they vanished behind the crown of a walnut tree.

I was seized by the memory of a day long ago, when I was sitting just like this in the back seat of an old black Tatra driven by a certain Mr. Kabrna in a leather jacket with the collar turned up, an aging dandy with a protruding lower lip and slicked back grey hair, a former RAF pilot, with my grandpa Zdenek sitting beside him. They had met in jail while pouring concrete for a railway underpass. We were going back through the night, gramps and Kabrna debating something and me sitting and looking around, I must have been about four. Empty landscape slowly passed by, yellowy-lit clusters of settlements changed their configurations in the distance, a mysterious city light loomed just above the horizon and stars were being cooked in the oily sky. The Tatra was bobbing up and down in a black pit surrounded by phosphorescent ant-hills. I saw that I landed in a world which was not only incomprehensible, but which defied any description, since its very essence kept changing every minute. I was in a wondrous cave. "Make it no less than six cubic meters, Mr. Motejl," said my gramps, when it was still daylight, to a white-haired rustic in overalls in the courtyard of some warehouse, where bags and bricks and sacks were being piled up, and those cubic meters must have been the reason for our trip, since this was the time when my gramps was building a house. "Make it no less than six cubic metres, Mr. Motejl ..." And driving around our lot was Emil `míd, a forever smiling, and perhaps slightly retarded, working man; Emil `míd on a Lanz tractor, a rusty blue stegosaur with a bulbous funnel belching out sweet gas fumes; driving bricks and pulling beams around our lot was a scary Emil `míd with black teeth with holes in them, famed for never having anything for lunch but Emmental with butter, a thick slice of Emmental with a thick layer of butter and no bread.

Nothing much has changed in my life since then. The same electric lights are still floating in the distance. The same lives are lived there. It's no more understandable than back then. Only perhaps slightly less surprising.

"Fuck it, I can just turn the car around right now!" said Vojta, in a voice that was by now quite loud.

"Well, you can't 'cuz what would the guys think if this Vojta dude didn't turn up, what would they do there without you...," a venomous, low little voice was [D2]scratching at my eardrum. I actually liked Monicka, but only when Vojta was not around. And I liked Vojta even better, but without Monicka.

Alas! What happened to those lines, I thought to myself. I turned my head from side to side, but I couldn't find them. They were gone. The moon was floating among the clouds.

That reminded me of the one-eyed cat called Lojza I used to have at the Lhotka waterworks. When he was a kitten, his own mother scratched out one of his eyes, and I would then put some framykoin ointment on its hollow socket and, thanks to that, without really wanting to, I managed to bring myself up a hairy little son, who was constantly milling about my feet or sitting behind my neck and staring into a book with me, or slowly suffocating me anxiously wrapped around my head when I was trying to fall asleep at three in the morning. So this Lojza would, at full moon, manage to sit all night and watch the moon. Any other time he would spring up and get to me in no time, so that he would stay with me for the rest of my shift, not leaving me for a minute, not even when I was on the can and he would paw at the door and meow until I opened it. But at full moon he would turn his back on me, take a seat on the window sill and with his one eye watch the pale plate sliding among the stars for hours and hours, sighing, raising his eyebrows and sadly, mysteriously, shuddering. How we can be so arrogant as to think that we are different from other beings by having a soul, is what Jakub Deml might have asked half a century ago. But all I could do sitting in the back of Vojta's old Escort that night from the 14th to the 15th of September, 2000, was to take another mummified ligeros. And that's just what I did.

"We bid you sweetest farewell, we're leaving for afar, parting from our home, friends and land, across mountains and woods to where the ports are grey, where a white ship awaits us in a long bay ..." crowed Vojta out of the blue and hit the wheel and honked boisterously.

"The dark blue sea swallowed the shade of the white ship, everything but vanished in the mighty ocean's grip..." I joined in.

"Everything must one day end, but life goes on, in the spirals of birth we return..." we sang.

Vojta kept honking, turning the wheel, zigzagging with us from hard shoulder to hard shoulder.

"Everything must one day end, but life goes on (beep!), in the spirals of birth we return (beep!) where in times long past we used to live as someone else (beep!) in a different time and different story (beep!) we no longer need to worry ..."

The Escort was rocking along the roadway like a barge on the sea.

"Focus on the road, please," begged Monicka.

"That's exactly what we're doing, this is a part of focusing," said Vojta.

"So don't kill us while you're at it!"

"I need a way to relax so I won't kill you."

"You're a real retard!"

"Yeah, that must be about right, otherwise I wouldn't have ..."

"What wouldn't you have? Well, what wouldn't you have?!"

"Can't you shut up for just one minute, Monicka! Do you have to keep on yakking!"

"Me! That's good!"

"Yeah, you! You sow seeds of discord in the soul! You're impossible! It's in your genes!"

"Well, fuck you ...!" said Monicka in astonishment.

"See, that's it, that's what I mean, you can't keep your mouth shut for a moment!"

"I'mimpossible! Well fuck you ten times over!"

"You are impossible. And on top of that you're ..."

"What am I? What am I on top of that?! What am I, you little shit?!"

"You're incredibly boring, if you wanna hear it!"


"Yeah, you heard right! Same thing every day! All the time! 'You never do this ... you never do that ...!' "

"So why are you with me? Why the fuck are you with me?"

"Don't know!" said Vojta and shifted to third gear.

We drove in silence for about ten minutes. The body of the car swallowed lit-up dust from the road. On the left appeared a bushy, low black forest. All of a sudden, a roe deer leapt out of the forest onto the road. The animal's eyes shone like light bulbs in the headlights. It froze in fright. The car missed it by a few inches.

"Aach!" Monicka screamed out.

"Dude," grumbled Vojta. "That was close ..."

Then there was silence. Little drops of rain started to land on the windshield. The headlights were licking a line of poplars.

"Well, everybody gets by in their own way," said Vojta abruptly.

Then there was silence again. Only the squeaking of the wipers could be heard.

"I saw a UFO a while ago," I said, to break the silence.

"That's what I see every day," responded Monicka. "I'm actually married to one!"

"Where are we, anyway?" pondered Vojta.

Monicka peered at a map, "I think we need to hang a right now, then there should be a railway-crossing gate and a connection to a major road, and then straight."

We turned right. Soon, fenced off lots, concrete panels, houses with fallen off facades turned up everywhere. A few jolly dudes in overalls almost jumped right in front of our car in a curve. I spotted kicked in teeth, tattooed necks, gin-soaked mouths, drunk eyes. In the next curve gypsy children sat on a railing, fiercely chewing and shouting something. Further on a horribly fat woman in an apron was pushing herself through the darkness while threatening someone out of sight.

"We're clearly in Kladno," remarked Vojta.

"We're clearly in deep shit," responded Monicka.

"But whose fault is that, I ask?"

"Mine, of course!"

"Well, that's highly likely ... If you had looked at the map earlier on, we wouldn't be in deep shit now," recited Vojta with a peculiar half-smile, as if trying to suppress some secret, uneasy pleasure. "You'd better give it to Honza!"

Monicka thrust the map into my hands. Vojta passed me a flashlight. Ah, relationships. I was glad that this time it wasn't my own. I straightened out the map and darted about the paper with my light.

In the meantime we had driven into an odd, wide street lined on both sides by large, windowless buildings. There were street lights, a road, even if it was a bumpy one, and all around huge brick windowless houses. It was like going down a street with nothing but mausoleums on either side. Then the buildings ended and all we could do was drive through a wrecked iron gate into a deserted area where the road ended. Further on was just black gravel and some tracks. Outlines of metal constructions upon which lay dark pipes that led far away rose out of the darkness. It was as if we found ourselves in the stomach of an extremely large fossilized being. Rusty guts twirled high above us. Further on gigantic concrete vertebrae lay about. Smoke was rolling above greasy puddles.

"Gee man, this looks like a different planet," breathed Vojta and turned off the engine.

That same moment a shot rang out somewhere close. And another one. I could clearly hear the whizz of the bullet. A moment later a guy emerged from the darkness holding a gun in both hands.

"Freeze!" he roared and pointed at Vojta's head. "Freeze!" he bellowed again.

"I am," said Vojta quietly.

"What are you doing here! Quick!"

We searched for a suitable answer.

"What are you doing here! Pronto!" repeated the guy.

"Well, what are we doing here ...?" said Vojta.

The man walked around the car while aiming at us.

"Please," piped up Monicka in a shaky voice.

"No please! I'm asking what you're doing here!"

"Please ... can I light up?"

The man stooped and looked at Monicka.

"You're a woman?" he said.

"Yeah, and please can I light up?"

"Light up what!?"

"What do you mean, light u

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