VISION OF HITLER
— Translated from the Czech by Nathan Fields
Right at this moment Doctor Lukavsky didn’t have time for a patient; he filled out the form and took him to the ward, and that was all for the moment. The patient the police had brought in, the confectioner Marek Svoboda, who called everyone, not only the doctor, but also the others, the patients as well as the caregivers, “brother” or “sister”, seemed calm and behaved in a balanced way. It was not yet necessary to make a certain diagnosis; the doctor had time for that. The person introducing himself as Jesus Socrates Amenhotep Hitler, and given the name Marek Svoboda by his parents, was at the right address here, the doctor judged. In the afternoon he had Mr. Svoboda called and he asked him if he would explain his name. The confectioner Svoboda looked attentively at the doctor and said:
“I am not sure, brother doctor, if you would understand my explanation.”
“First of all,” the doctor interrupted, “I would like to ask that you address me completely normally and plainly as Doctor Lukavsky.”
“But brother doctor, does it not please you that we, here, under the sun, are all equal?” the confectioner asked.
“Please, Mr. Svoboda, I ask you,” the doctor said. Mr. Svoboda was silent and the doctor tried once again. “Could you please tell me why you changed your name, Mr. Svoboda?”
“Yes, brother doctor, I could,” the confectioner said, “but first I ask you to please open the window and give a brother a bit of air; it would be brotherly love from you.” The doctor made a note, unconnected to Svoboda, in his open file, set his pen on the table, stood, and cracked the window. The sound of wind in the spread branches of the deciduous trees which surrounded the main paths of the hospital areal began to enter the room. The confectioner stood, walked over to the partially-opened window and looked outside through the bars.
“How far is it from here to the capital, brother doctor?”
“Do you mean to Prague?” the doctor asked.
“Yes, brother, that’s exactly what I mean,” said the confectioner.”
“About two and a half hours by car,” answered Doctor Lukavsky.
“You see, brother, two and a half hours by car, that is a great distance, and we people are even more distant from each other.”
“How do you mean that, Mr. Svoboda?” The doctor asked.
“Dear brother, I knew that you were not going to understand me,” said the confectioner.
“By that do you mean the distance within human relationships?”
“I stuck it in and now I’m hauling it back out,” the confectioner answered.
“Mr. Svoboda, what is going on with your wife?” the doctor asked.
“Dear brother doctor, my sister wife left me, leaving only a goodbye letter behind.”
Why did she leave you, Mr. Svoboda?”
“She found a noble lover, brother doctor,” answered the confectioner.
“Do you have the letter, Mr. Svoboda?”
“Dear brother doctor, I ate it,” the confectioner answered.
“Oh, like that,” said the doctor.
“Oh, like that,” the confectioner repeated after him, “she’s already got herself free of the line and is sailing away?”
“I’m sorry,” the doctor asked, “I’m not sure that I understand you?” the doctor said.
“But brother doctor, brother doctor, I must chasten you, for I hear a fraction of impatience in your voice.”
“You are right, Mr. Svoboda, I am impatient, I have a long shift ahead of me and I would like to find out something from you.” The confectioner remained standing at the barred window and ran the palms of his hands over his face, as if he were washing it of dust, and he returned to the table, where he sat himself once again in the chair across from the doctor.
“Why are you called Jesus Socrates, Amenhotep Hitler, Mr. Svoboda?”
“I had visions, brother…, I had visions.”
“Yes, brother, visions.”
“Of which kind?’
“Of the pleading kind, brother, pleading…”
“I am not sure that I understand, Mr. Svoboda. Please, could you help me a little?”
“I am doing what I can, brother doctor, as much as my strength, as much as my strength…allows.”
“And what did this vision concern, brother…, that is, Mr. Svoboda?”
“Feel free to call me brother, dear brother doctor…,” the confectioner said with pleasure. “After all, you know that under the sun, the moon and all the various comets all of us are equal…”
“Of course we are all equal,” the doctor said and smiled, “it’s even in the constitution.” He added after a moment.
“And how inappropriate, brother doctor, how inappropriate,” the confectioner said.
“What is inappropriate, Mr. Svoboda?” the doctor asked.
“Inappropriate is inappropriate, that is inappropriate. Being ironic, sarcastic, and quoting a scrap of paper instead of looking into the human soul, brother.”
“Oh, like that,” the doctor said, “like that,” he repeated, “I am sorry if I offended you.”
“Brother Doctor, there is a long road awaiting you, a long road…we can only offend ourselves after all, not a second person, a third, nor a fifth, nor seventh, not eleventh, nor a thirteenth, or a seventeenth…”
“So, Mr. Svoboda, how were these visions of yours? The doctor asked, now rather more emphatic. The confectioner clasped his hands in front of his face, as if he were about to pray, and said:
“Every name that I have was revealed to me in one vision.”
“What if you told me something about your last name, about the name Hitler, Mr. Svoboda?”
“Brother Doctor, that was a harsh vision, harsh and long… and mainly, mainly harsh…”
“We have time, Mr. Svoboda, we have time, today I have even the nightshift…”
“You have the nightshift, brother, and meanwhile you are neither under the stars nor even under the sky, how sad, brother, how sad. How decrepit and sad your life is…, do you realize it at all, brother?”
“Sure,” the doctor said and coughed, “sure, but so what about telling me something of this vision of yours, Mr. Svoboda? Do you think that you could?” The confectioner was clearly thinking; he straightened out his fingers several times and said:
“Even wild animals are kinder to each other than people, remember that, and I unfortunately am no different, and so I at least try to be kind to myself.” He was silent for a moment and then he added: “I will tell you my vision, but only on one condition, brother doctor, only on one condition.”
“But I can’t promise you anything,” the doctor said carefully and unsurely. “What kind of condition is it, Mr. Svoboda?”
“The condition is absolutely, well, well…, actually absolute,” the confectioner said. “Either you fulfill it, or you find out nothing, brother doctor.”
“Do you know, Mr. Svoboda, I think that you are not able to set conditions; after all, I am not giving you any conditions.”
“Are bars conditions, dear brother?” the confectioner asked.
“But Mr. Svoboda…you must know…”
“It is a condition…absolute and not up for discussion,” the confectioner interrupted him. “If you want to hear the vision, that is, the picture of my truth, the universe be damned, which is the same as praise, you cannot interrupt me, otherwise you will simply not find out. Which will neither benefit, nor harm the universe. But do not try to bargain with me! I hope I deserve that much meager respect, even from your white coat, which needs washing. I wouldn’t even dare to roll dough in such, ew, ew, ew!”
“But I have no intention of interrupting you, Mr. Svoboda,” the doctor said a little surprised and realized that he was making an effort not to look at his coat. “You should have told me that right away,” he added, touched.
“This is only for listening, doctor, this is only for listening, brother,” the confectioner said severely.
“Go ahead, Mr. Svoboda; begin, surely I will not interrupt you, why would I interrupt you when it interests me.”
“Promise?” asked the confectioner.
“But of course,” the doctor answered.
“You won’t interrupt me even once?”
“I promise,” the doctor said.
“Well then, listen, brother doctor,” the confectioner said, folding his hands in front of his face, like he wanted to pray.
“I was sleeping. I was sleeping completely calmly and comfortably, my wife had just had her birthday. We celebrated it as she wanted, only with a few friends. Afterwards, in the evening, we made love and fell asleep in each other’s embrace. When I woke up, my head hurt, I thought that I would be sick. I rose from the bed, but just then another onslaught of the pain struck me again. It was most probably what they call a migraine. I completely collapsed as the pain passed through my head, and I slammed the shin of my right leg against the nightstand which stood next to the bed. I heard my wife’s sleepy voice say: “Sweetie, again?” I couldn’t even see for the pain in my head. Before my eyes I had constellations and galaxies full of painful and cutting reflections. Someone was gently grasping my hand and speaking to me. It was the same voice which had addressed me before, but now the voice was whispering. Then two arms embraced me around the waist and gently set me back on the bed which I had just left. Someone put a glass in my hand. I understood that I was supposed to drink, and so I drank it. It tasted like mango juice. I drank it up and felt a bit strange that it tasted like mango, which I like, but which I had never yet tasted before. The hands which had set me on the bed lifted my leg, the one I had bumped, laid it on the bed and began washing the wound. After a moment I felt those hands tightening a bandage around my shin. “Stretch out, my love,” the voice said to me again, “it will pass in a moment.”
I got up, however, and said that I couldn’t, that I had to go to the toilet, that I had to urinate. Those two arms raised me up a bit once again, and I already understood that I was supposed to stand, and blindly, because I still could not open my eyes, I followed them. I entered the room; I felt my way around it and sat myself on the toilet bowl from memory. I urinated and remained sitting on the toilet. I realized that the pain had begun to recede. I sat and eventually allowed myself to open my eyes a bit. I was sitting in the bathroom. The sun was shining through a large window and I did not at all know where I was. I didn’t know it there. I leaned against the wall and breathed slowly and deeply. I looked at my shin and saw that, in the place that I had hit myself, I had a bandage. The pain had lessened and so I stood up, wrapped a towel around my naked hips and stepped out of the bathroom. A woman was sitting in the hallway in front of the bathroom. When I opened the door, she raised her head and, according to her eyes, I guessed that she most likely loved me. She asked me if I was alright and I nodded. I did not know this woman; I only supposed that I rightfully loved her as well. I had a feeling, but I was not sure. She rose up to me and asked me again how I was, and accompanied me to the bed on which I had woken up. I sat on the bed, the pain was fading and I waited for what the woman would do. She didn’t do anything strange; she lay down next to me. She looked at me and said to me, “Again?” I didn’t know what she meant and so I only unsurely shrugged my shoulders. “Again?” she repeated again. “You’ve got a migraine, right?” she said. I nodded my head several times because in that moment it seemed to me most sensible thing I could do. “It’s that northeastern wind from the desert,” she said. “Thanks, Marta,” I said, and just as I uttered her name, I realized that I knew it. It was like sitting on a bike again after a very long time and you find out that you know how to ride it, without even ever having learned. “Just as long as you are feeling better, Albert,” she said, “you know you wanted to go into town tomorrow.”
“Into town?” I repeated.
“Yes, into town, for those new bulbs that you ordered,” she said, “because they called you yesterday saying they had come, and they asked if they should deliver them.”
“Yes, my lilies,” I said automatically. When she raised the corners of her mouth, her face finally began to seem a bit familiar to me, and when she said, “Of course, lilies, honey, you must have a migraine like a thunderstorm, you know, you look really bad.” I said that it would be alright and from memory I took my wallet, keys and driver’s license from the side table that I had smashed my shin into. I opened it and there was Albert Hegel. That was me, Albert Hegel; it was my driver’s license, that was me, gardener and amateur botanist. I went outside, walked through the garden and looked at all the various strange shapes of the lilies, which were planted in rows. Around the large house, half of which was residential and the other half of which served as a warehouse, heavy pipes stretched, watering the beds. So I had already finished it, I recalled, I had already finished it, and now for bringing the backup pump. I was a gardener and amateur botanist, a specialist in the cultivation of new species of lilies and orchids. That’s what the piping is for, it occurred to me. Developing something like this on the edge of the desert was no easy task, but I had inherited the land, which meant that it had been free. Marta was my wife and the next day we were supposed to drive out to town.
The trip took about three hours. And the desert was – as always – wonderful. In town we went by the gardening center, where they had several boxes of lily bulbs prepared for me. The boxes had been specially modified so that they maintained the appropriate moisture content of the substrate in which the bulbs were kept; nevertheless I knew that when we got them home I would have to set them in the anti-mould solution. The owner doubled as one of the salespeople and called me by my first name. His name was Stephan and I called him Steffy. I felt that here in the garden center I was enjoyed a certain admiration, but it wasn’t clear to me why. Marta was looking at them, just as they were looking at me, with a certain respect, and she very obviously was happy about that. When we were driving back, she said something about them looking at me as if I were a superhuman. “And why?” I asked confusedly. “Well, because no one has ever managed to grow new kinds of lilies and orchids in the desert yet. “As if you didn’t know.” She added, and her forehead covered over with waves of wrinkles. Of course, I knew it, but I was still not feeling myself yet somehow. While I was in the garden center, Marta was in the supermarket, at the hairdresser’s, at the post office and borrowed about twenty video cassettes. “Why so many?” I asked on the way back.
“Well, and when do you think we’ll get back to town again?” She said.
“It’s usually about every three weeks,” I cut in on her sentence.
“Yes, every three weeks,” she said. Just then I realized that the trip by car didn’t take three and a half hours, but much longer, I didn’t notice it at all because I usually slept through most of the trip while she drove. We got home later in the afternoon. Marta went right into the shower and I began to transport the crates of bulbs into their space, where I orderly washed each of them and then set them into long basins into which I had poured the anti-mould solution. That took me until evening. In the evening we met in the kitchen and it slowly occurred to me that this was probably our common practice. There were several letters on the refrigerator, bank account statements, offers from firms, several magazine subscriptions and an envelope with a university stamp. I opened this one first. Inside was a courteous letter, in which a clerk from the enrollment office regretted to inform me, reportedly with grief, that due to the great amount of interest from applicants, they couldn’t accept me. I started walking around the kitchen, then I went outside, I made a few routine notes about several plants and only then did I get upset. Marta was reordering the packages of food in the freezer, but when I came in, she stopped and sat down at the table and waited for what I would do or say. I didn’t know what to do or say, I was simply greatly angered. She only said:
“Careful that you don’t bang your shin again, dear.” No one before and no one afterwards has addressed me with that strange word “dear”. It looked as if she knew about my failure. “I would really really love it for you,” she said after a moment, “but maybe you should give it up already; it destroys you every time. It’s already the fifth time they’ve rejected you.”
“No, it’s the sixth,” I corrected her, “the first time was when we still didn’t know each other.”
“You know I would love it for you, but these failures destroy you and then they destroy me because you are destroying yourself.” I had nothing to say to that. Although we had a strictly prescribed number of films which Marta had rented, so that we’d have enough to last us until the next visit to town, we watched at least four of them and meanwhile drank almost two bottles of some kind of Jamaican rum. The next day I woke up in the afternoon and didn’t feel like talking about anything. Then a week went by.
On Monday, a buyer was to stop by from a firm for which I worked from time to time, a certain Mr. Winter. I don’t know how it occurred to him to stop by my place on the edge of the desert, but he came. In the course of his welcome it became evident that he had brought his nephew with him, who wanted to see the plant beds. I showed them everything they wanted. When they were leaving, his nephew asked me: “And what are they actually building around here in these parts, Mr. Hegel?” It seemed funny to me that he called me mister. I estimated that he could be only about ten years younger than me, so he could be about sixteen or seventeen. “Here in these parts no one’s probably building anything,” I said, “we’d know about it, right, Marta?” “Of course not,” Marta said, “we’d know about it,” she repeated after me. The young man kept to his own opinion, though. I didn’t think about what he had said for some time, but a few weeks later it came to my mind once again. A few weeks before, I had finally completed my artificial irrigation project. It had cost me all of my savings, all earnings and Marta had even lent me all of her savings, and it had been proven that it can really work. Now we would just have to live very modestly for four and a half more years, then the debts should be paid off and slowly but surely our investments should start coming back to us. I was grateful to Marta that she had gone into it with me and that she even liked it here.
No desert exists without wind. Desert and wind are born brothers. One settled, the other a vagabond who sometimes stops by and, because of his guilty conscience, comes back carrying a sack full of gifts from all the places he’s visited. The desert is abandoned and lonely and his knowledge of the surrounding world is facilitated by the wind. His gifts are small, microscopic particles of earth that he brings with him. These particles of earth which he brings with him grind soil and rocks. The particles of earth that the wind brings with him are so small that they are held in the air even by gently flowing wind, in the same way as clouds or airships. Gravity doesn’t apply to them. Particles of earth remain in the air for an endlessly long time. They are suspended like souls in purgatory before they reach paradise or before they are sent to hell. They are weightless and without obligation, travelling lightly, hitch-hiking on air currents, making their way through whirlwinds, fording them, rappelling from one to another, climbing up from a second to a third. Grains of sand are roughly one-fifth of a millimeter in diameter and they are scattered in the air like fog or dust. Wind usually raises a particle of sand and carries it only a centimeter or two above a dune, at a speed which is one-half or one-third the speed of the wind which is carrying it. In time, a grain of sand will bump into another one, which then flies up and everything is repeated again. About one-fourth of all grains of sand in the desert shift here and there in this way according to the speed and direction of the wind. All of this is called Aeolian transport, and one who begins to understand it might simultaneously begin to understand the infiniteness of time. Every desert is like a vast hourglass where sand sifts from dune to dune, here and there, up and down. Must I say that I love the desert? I was seven or eight years old, I lived with my parents on the edge of the desert, as I live now, and for my birthday I got a new encyclopedia. In it I found out that deserts are not only on Earth, but also on Mars and on other planets; that amazed and pleased me so much that I immediately ran to tell my father. I saw that he was happy that I was happy, but why I was happy, I think, he didn’t get. For me, it was important that here was something that connects Earth and Mars. I imagined these two planets as connected hourglasses. And then I would imagine that we actually lived on Mars in the middle of a red sandstorm; which boy would not want to experience that? Now we also lived in the desert. The nearest real prominent point close to our house was Mount Saint Alois, which rose up to a height of 1085 meters. I lived near there with Marta, I had a house there, I had irrigated flowerbeds there.
From the time that I had completed the last piece of my irrigating system, I was more or less without work. I invested money in a pump, the drilling of several new wells, and the only thing that I sometimes did was maintenance. I was very proud of my project of artificially irrigated flowerbeds because no one had ever tried it before. The flowers were flourishing like never before, and that meant higher yields and quicker payment of bills and debts. And then it once occurred to me, when I had nothing at the moment to do, to go and drive by and take a look at that place in the desert about which Winter’s nephew had spoken. I wanted Marta to go with me, but she didn’t have time. No time…? Us…? I reckoned that she was just making a bit of an excuse because when I then, after breakfast one day, decided to go out to the place that Winter’s nephew had described, Marta told me that she’d go with me after all.
We left early, when you live in the desert, you have to leave early in the morning because you must watch out that the midday sun doesn’t catch you. We drove for several hours, and when we came to the place that Winter’s nephew had described, I saw a long fence with barbed wire stretching all the way into the distance. Further on, there was a dirt road which headed towards several spread-out buildings. We drove up to the little house which stood at the entrance of the fenced property and looked like a gatehouse. We drove up in front of the gate, I honked the horn a few times and got out. Marta stayed sitting in the car. She seemed to be a little tired and had drops of sweat on her forehead even though we had had the air conditioning on the whole way. Two men came out after a moment. One remained standing at the gate and the other looked at me indecisively. Both of them had some kind of uniform on.
“Good morning,” I greeted the men who had stopped in front of me. “I’m your neighbor. My wife and I live about a three-hour’s drive from here,” I said and offered him a handshake. He looked through me, through my outstretched hand and told me:
“You have entered military space without permit, and therefore I ask that you immediately leave these premises!” His roughness took me by surprise. I turned to the car to look at Marta, but she was sitting inside and wearing large impenetrable sunglasses on her face.
“Surely you are mistaken,” I said, “I know the local land maps in fair detail and these lands belong to the state, not the military, as you say.”
“Please, leave this military space immediately or I will secure you,” the man in uniform said again.
This upset me.
“We are in a free country here and you will not tell me what I can and cannot do because I know my civil rights very well…” I said angrily. The man in the uniform interrupted me and said:
“This is a military space in the middle of the desert, Mr. Hegel, and here and now and in this military space everyone is subject to the military police. It is in my power to secure you immediately.”
“Secure?” I repeated in disbelief.
“Yes, sir, secure! Therefore leave this military space immediately!”
“But this isn’t a military space…,” I began again.
The man took from his breast pocket a small, official-looking notepad, opened it and began reading from it:
“Because you are not permitted to enter into military space and have remained in it even after repeated alerts, it is in the jurisdiction of the military police to secure you according to applicable law, and especially according to the law to protect the military space, military property and…” I didn’t wait for more, I turned around, I walked back to our car and got into it; I angrily slammed the door, started the engine, turned the car around and headed back. Marta looked at me and said:
“This week is beginning nicely for us.” Still full of anger, I looked at her and said:
“You can’t claim that this is a military space. When I was looking for backup water supplies for the beds, I went through all the maps in detail and nothing like a military space has ever been here!”
“But I know, sweetie, that you’ve lived here since your childhood and everything,” Marta said, “but you see the barbed-wire, soldiers, gates, so what are you arguing about?!” The way back home stretched on and on without end. At about halfway we changed places driving and one thing kept racing through my head. That guard at one point had definitely called me by name, he had definitely said: Mr. Hegel. I replayed the same situation over and over to myself, but I didn’t know what it meant. I told Marta about it before we reached home. I told her that one of those guards or soldiers, or whatever they were, called me by name. She said that is wasn’t possible, because I had never been there before. “Yes,” I said, “that’s what I thought, too, but he definitely called me that.”
“That’s not possible,” she repeated, “that’s just not possible, you must be mistaken.”
The next day I went to do something in the garage and I saw that the jeep in which we had driven had a scraped fender from when Marta had driven it into the garage. Nothing strange happened during the next few days, but when Steffy called me from the garden center, I told him what had happened.
“Write a complaint about those bastards, who the hell does the fucking army think they are, anyway?! That they can make a base in the middle of the desert and we have no rights? Make a complaint. God knows what they’re doing there!” When I mentioned it to Marta over dinner, I couldn’t help but notice that it made her nervous. I made no notice and pretended that I hadn’t noticed her nervousness, but after six years of life together, it’s difficult to perfectly hide things and feelings. I had the feeling that Marta was hiding something from me, as if she knew something. It was an amusing feeling not to trust her. I thought that something really funny would come out of it, most likely some kind of joke. In the evening, when I had almost fallen asleep, Marta went to the kitchen for something. I wanted to call to her to ask her to bring me something to drink, but because I heard that she had closed the kitchen door behind her, I forced myself to get up. I had almost opened the door when I realized that she was on the phone with someone. That wasn’t what surprised me though, it was the tone of her voice that surprised me. She was whispering and nervous. Even though I had the knob in my hand, I didn’t turn it but remained listening at the door. What she was saying made no sense to me:
“Of course, well, of course, you should not have done that. Hmm, but no. Please, he wants to rock the boat. Really! Yes, his friend advised him to make a complaint. Hmm. Of course it’s a mess! Oh yes! I don’t know. That would lead to revealing it. I don’t know anything more. Yes, of course. Of course.” I opened the door and walked into the room. What surprised me even more was the change in her voice. It had gone from a nervous whisper to one quiet and balanced and the topic of the discussion also changed. She abruptly said:
“It’s already late, right, I’ll call tomorrow, I’ll tell him,” she turned to me and said: “Sweetie, my brother says hello.”
I nodded, opened the fridge, took the first juice I could grab and went back to the bedroom. Marta hung up before I left. I didn’t know what this was about, but I knew that Marta had lied. I tried to fall asleep. Just as I recognized what she thought and felt, so she did she. I was confused. Instead of sleeping I thought of what she had actually talked about. She had talked about me and the complaint, that complaint could concern either my repeated unsuccessful attempts to be accepted at university, or it could concern that military space fenced with barbed wire and not appearing on any maps that I knew. The next morning I went to the garage and when I saw the scraped fender of the jeep, things started to click into place on their own. First of all, Marta dissuaded me from going on the drive out to the site about which Winter’s nephew had told us and which was a part of a military base. Secondly, the whole time that we were there, she didn’t even get out of the car and what I had considered to be tiredness could have been suspense and nervousness. I was amazed that it hadn’t occurred to me earlier. Furthermore, she scraped the car while parking it in the garage after I told her that the guard had called me by name without us ever having been there before. Again nervousness. And finally, the telephone call.
In the morning, still before sunrise, I got up. I got up silently so that I wouldn’t wake Marta. I looked at her several times. Her hair, the skin on her face being endlessly dried. I watched her, I was looking forward to the adventure and I almost, I almost stroked her and kissed her as I normally would. Love can lead to indiscretion. I restrained myself because I didn’t want to wake her. An adventure was awaiting me. From the moment that I had completed the irrigation I hadn’t had anything to do and was getting a bit bored. When I was getting dressed, I realized that everything was going according to plan. Most adventures, as far as I can remember, have started at dawn. I got dressed, took some food and a few boxes of juice from the fridge. Finally, I filled a plastic canister up to the top with drinking water. I loaded all of it onto the car and quietly pushed the car out of the garage. I didn’t start the engine because it could wake Marta. I left a note on the kitchen table. I said in it that I had gone to town to Steffy for something. That was true, that’s what I even did. But what I didn’t do was in the other part of the note; I wasn’t planning to stay in town at Steffy’s overnight, just the opposite. Towards evening I planned to get to the military area and find out what was actually going on over there. After about ten minutes of pushing the car, I started it up, got in and set out on my way. After several long hours of driving I had made it to town. There I stopped in at Steffy’s. I went by the movies and to the town library, where I copied the latest issues of state maps. It was exactly as I had thought, on the maps in the place where the military space was, there was nothing shown. I asked the librarian if it was possible that there was something on the map which was not shown, and after a moment of thinking he said that it was possible and he recommended that I go to the town hall because they would have the freshest changes on their maps. On the way to the town hall I realized that neither the fences around military space, nor the houses that I had seen in the distance on both sides of the path from the gatehouse, nor the gatehouse itself were newly built. They were preserved, but not new. Everything over there must have stood for a pretty good number of years. When I arrived at the town hall, the clerk at the information desk sent me to the second floor. I sat down in the corridor on a bench and waited. When my turn came up, I explained to the clerk which locality I was concerned about and she immediately told me that there was nothing new there, but that she would verify it. A moment later, she was back with the land registry map. In that place, as I had assumed, there was nothing shown. I paid the fee for a copy, and before I left I asked her how a military space would be drawn on the map. She answered me:
“In yellow. It would be marked here in yellow. But it would also be listed in the legend.” Once again I asked her if there was any kind of military land in our region. The answer was clear: No! It was probably clear what I was thinking about because the clerk herself said of her own accord that there were extremely strict laws and rules concerning those things. They do not have to let you in there, and what they are doing there is their business. But everything has to be registered; it’s the same in every region because there are laws governing it. I left satisfied and at the same time a bit disappointed; I had been looking forward to an adventure, but with what I had learned, that there wasn’t actually supposed to be anything there, and now that I had a document to prove it, the risk involved seemed to be lowered considerably. In my bag I had a document proving that those strange soldiers had no business being there. In the afternoon I went back by Steffy’s again and I told him what I had found out. He shook his head when he heard, saying that it seemed strange to him. He also promised me that if Marta called, he would make something up so that she wouldn’t be worried. I could see that such an excuse worried him a bit because he asked me if everything between us, between Marta and I, that is, was alright. I told him that it was, but I didn’t know how to explain to him the feeling that she was hiding something from me, so I didn’t go into a big explanation.
In the afternoon I drove out of town. On the map I had approximately drawn the military space and now I would try to go around the back. There I planned to climb over the barbed-wire and to reach one of the buildings. Everything went boringly according to plan. I turned off from the way home just as I had drawn it on the map, and about a half hour after sundown I reached the place. I was a few kilometers away from the fence with barbed wire. I had gone around the whole thing so that none of the soldiers would see me, and I actually got to the opposite end of the barbed wire which we had been on with Marta before. I pulled out my equipment and rechecked it once again. Gloves, a thick blanket for throwing over the barbed wire. A rope, two flashlights, a large and a small knife in sheaths. A pair of shoelaces. Just to be sure. Two large thermoses with coffee. A camera. Two spare rolls of film. Clean underwear. Three pairs of socks. A first aid kit. It seemed to me that I had everything that a relatively competent botanist could need for his expedition. I looked over everything through the telescope. The military space formed a large rectangle. Roughly in the middle there were five elongated buildings. All of them looked the same. At the corner of one of them there was a square yellow sign with the letter H. Alongside one building was something that looked like some kind of electronic equipment. But the only thing that I recognized was several antennas and two helicopters. Just at the moment I was observing through the telescope, several people in uniform walked from one block to another block.
An hour after sunset the sky had darkened. I put the things I might need into a backpack, carrying only the blanket and flashlight in my hand. I set off. When I was at the fence, I had to crouch down because some people had again crossed over from one block to another. The fence was three and a half meters high and was ringed with barbed wire above. On the second attempt, I managed to throw the blanket over the fence. I pulled on the gloves and began climbing. It was more difficult than I had expected. At the upper edge, I tore my pants on the barbed wire when I was trying to swing myself over the top of the fence, even despite the fact that I had thrown the blanket over it. It was going worse than that which I was familiar with from action films. I began to realize that I was most likely lacking practice or something like drilling. I jumped down and attempted to pull off the blanket so that it wasn’t visible at a distance and didn’t attract any undesired attention. As I was pulling it down, I sliced the skin on my forearm through my shirt on a wire that I hadn’t noticed at all. On the ground I pulled a bottle of disinfectant and a small rectangle of bandage out of the backpack. I unscrewed the cap of the bottle, poured disinfectant over the wound, screwed back the cap, placed the bottle back in the backpack, and stuck the bandage onto the wound. The adventure was in full swing, I reckoned. I already had my first injury, after all. At first I had wanted to leave the blanket there, then I decided to take it with me. Just as I was lying on the ground and trying to stuff the blanket into my backpack, I heard a metallic sound. I was startled and pressed myself to the ground. A moment later, lamps that I hadn’t noticed until then started to light up. I was sitting directly below one of them. If someone had come out just then, they would have seen me as I stuck out like a sore thumb. The lamps were fastened to the fence at a distance of about sixty meters from each other. Another light, which had slowly begun to shine in the dark, was attached to the imperceptible outlines of a building in the distance. I was about three hundred meters from this building. I started to run in its direction. At about halfway I heard voices and so I threw myself to the ground and tried not to even breathe. My head was beginning to hurt from the suspense. The voices which I had heard were now moving to the other side of the building. Then the sound of closing doors and silence could be heard. I stood up again and ran to the closest building. I walked around it slowly and I saw that the buildings were set up in the shape of a U. I walked around one of the buildings and took hold of a door handle; it was locked. I tried another door handle; the same. I walked to another building. A window on the outside of it had dim glass and was not transparent from the outside. Finally I was able to open one of the doors. I went inside. Now I was standing in a corridor from which led doors to individual offices. All of the doors had clear glass windows on the upper halves. At the distant end of the corridor, there were lights on in two of the offices. I took hold of the handle of the door to the nearest room; it was locked. I systematically tried one door after another. Finally one of them opened. I went inside and sat on the ground so that I wouldn’t be visible from the outside through the door windows. I looked around. There were two typewriters and several electronic devices in the office. At the other end of the office there were several monitors whose screens were turned away from me. From the humming and black and white glare which shone on the other side of the office it was clear that they were on. Still crouching, I crawled across the office to look at the screens. At first it wasn’t too clear to me what I was looking at. Two of the five monitors were without signal and there was only grey grainy fuzz emitted. On the other three there were shots of various rooms. It looked like several rooms observed by security cameras. There was something strange about them. I looked at them with yet more attention. Again. The first monitor, another…Again.
I had never before looked at the rooms in my house on a black and white monitor. I didn’t understand it, and when I finally realized, I became startled and almost stood up. I didn’t get it. This, what I was looking at, was my house, my bedroom, my living room, my office. This is not possible, I told myself. The pillows on the sofa in the living room looked unusual on the black and white monitor because they are green in reality, and it was only possible to recognize them from the pattern on their covers. The bookshelves, the corner of which I saw on the monitor, were also in my house. The monograph of the Italian city of Assisi, which I had looked through just the night before and had forgotten to put back on the shelf, was where I remember having seen it in the morning. Panic. There must be an explanation. Laughter. That’s not possible because it’s unconstitutional. This is paranoia. I’m a bungler, adventurer and a loser; my mind has no idea what to do with this and is throwing hallucinations at me! No, this is not possible, this is illegal spying. Why? Again panic. Again my heart skipped a beat and my throat went dry. Why?
I opened some drawers. Nothing; nothing interesting. Ordinary office supplies: Staples, rubber bands, pencils and pens.
Some pads of paper. I crawled over to a long cabinet and opened it. In it were card files and binders. I opened one of them. Information about me. Another. The same. Paranoid hallucinations were pounding on my brain. No, not this, this is too much. Everything in here was about me. In the first were photos of me. In the second, copies of my school report cards. From the first grade up. They fell out of my hands. I certainly did not have the strength to pick them up now. I strained to pull out another binder; in it was a copy of my specialist article on peonies and lilies. I didn’t get it. I opened another and in it were descriptions and drawings in the minutest detail of toys I had played with as a child. I couldn’t bear it any longer. The air conditioning in the room was off and I desperately needed to get outside into some fresh air. I stumbled to the long corridor and it didn’t matter to me at all if someone saw me or not. What is all of this actually? I had to get some air. I opened the door to the building block, stepped outside and realized that I was shaking. I sat on the ground in front of the door to the building and remained sitting there.
The door, which I had stumbled out of and which I now had my back to, opened and the talking, which had been approaching it just a minute ago, stopped. Three men in uniform surrounded me. I had the feeling that I should do something and so I raised my head with an effort and looked at them. When my eyes met theirs, one of them whistled in surprise. Another said:
“Oh, Mr. Hegel has come to pay us a visit.” He then turned to the one who had whistled and said to him: “Go report it, directive fourteen, article eight.” While the soldier ran away on his orders, his superior turned to me and said:
“So, what about you, Mr. Hegel, what about you? We expected that you would visit us, we expected it, but not so soon.” I looked at the soldier and before I could consider how to answer, the doors of the building block, into which the soldier with the order had just run, flew open, and two soldiers ran out. Both of them ran to one of the helicopters. They opened the cabin, climbed into it and a moment later I was swallowed by the roar of the spinning rotor wings. My eyes were full of dust and sand. A moment later, the propeller raised the cabin with its pilots up high and took them, together with the roar, away.
“You will have a lot to explain,” I said after the roar had faded in the distance. “A whole, whole lot.” The officer nodded, helped me to stand, and another soldier, standing behind me, handed me my backpack, which had fallen from my hand.
“Just don’t start with the constitution,” the officer said, “we are an exception from that.”
“An exception?” I asked, “Who do you think you are?”
“How much of this did you actually see, Mr. Hegel?” the officer asked while holding for me the door to the block which I had exited a moment before. “How much do you actually know?” he repeated his question. Oh no, I thought, I’m not going to let myself be caught so dumbly. “We are now forced to tell you everything. According to directive eighteen, your actions today have ended the experiment.”
“What kind of experiment?” I asked, “What are you talking about? Do you know how many laws you’ve broken?” The officer didn’t answer and showed me where I was to go with his hand. We walked to the end of the corridor, he opened a door and said:
“Please sit down, what would you have to drink: Coffee, tea, alcoholic beverage, mineral water? Tell me, everything’s here.”
“I want, I want you to explain this to me.” I said.
“I understand,” the officer said and nodded, “I understand and I have just initiated directive fourteen.”
“What are you blabbering, man, what does it have to do with me, what you are saying to me here.”
“Mr. Hegel,” the officer said, “I ask please that you at least hold on for a little while,” he looked at his watch, “Twenty three minutes. Directive fourteen means that in a half an hour, the crisis committee of this project will meet and explain everything to you. I myself am not a member, and since I have not completed training concerning such an incident, I cannot share anything with you. I ask once again that you please wait, because in less than thirty minutes, a team of specialists who have been working on the project will explain everything. Until then I can offer you some refreshment and I would recommend calling a doctor who would examine some of your flesh wounds, which, I am guessing, you incurred while climbing over the fence.” I shrugged my shoulders, the officer looked at the other soldier, who nodded and left. The officer and I were now sitting in the office. The air conditioning was running at full speed. The second soldier returned with a tray on which were drinks, behind him entered a man with a suitcase in his hand. He set it on the table and opened it. He looked at the bandage on my arm. He took it off, disinfected the scratch again and bound it. From his movements, I got the impression that he was trying to avoid touching me. I reckoned I was nervous.
“I need to make a call,” I said. The officer nodded and said:
“And who would you like to call, Mr. Hegel, who?”
“My wife,” I said. He nodded again.”
“She’ll be here within,” he looked at his watch, “seventeen minutes.” I slanted my head to indicate that I didn’t understand.
“The helicopter, which you watched fly away, was for her,” the officer said. She is also a member of the crisis committee.”
What kind of nonsense was this again, I thought, and decided to drink and let things freely take their course. I heard the helicopter. Then a person, around sixty and bald, appeared behind the glass door. With one hand he tightened the knot on his tie and with the other he knocked on the door. He came in and said:
“Good evening, Mr. Hegel, I am the director of the project.”
“What project?” I asked. “What do you actually do here?”
“Please come with me to the meeting room,” he said, and after a brief silence he repeated again, now a bit sadder, “Please, come with me to the meeting room.”
I rose from the chair and followed behind him. We left the office and walked to the exit of the building. The director went first, held the door for me and, nervously, as if he wanted to comfort me, he smiled.
I walked out into the yard. Everything looked different now than when I had climbed over the fence. Everything was lit up with floodlights which I had not noticed before. In the alley between the two buildings I saw my own parked car sitting there. I had a good feeling from it; I had last felt like that when my mom had caught me smoking. I was fourteen, I felt grown-up and she didn’t know what she should say to me. She had wanted to be strict, but I recognized in her eyes that she wouldn’t dare, but that she felt like laughing. According to her I was grown-up and so she respected me according to her own conviction and said nothing.
The director held the door for me again and we stepped into another building. There was carpet on the floor here. Two soldiers were standing behind the doors. We continued on until we were standing in front of some large padded doors. There were other soldiers standing in front of them, and one of them opened the doors. When I walked past him, I had the feeling that he was avoiding me with his eyes. With a glance I checked my trousers and shirt, but every button was in its place. Maybe I’m sweating too much, I thought to myself. My underarms were completely soaked. The director held the door for me as before and we walked into the room.
On the left side were conference tables set up in a half-circle, behind which six or seven people were sitting. I saw Marta among them. I ran over to her. She was sitting hunched-up behind one of the tables. She was wearing pants, a t-shirt and a bathrobe. They must have woken her, I thought to myself. Before I was able to reach her, however, there were two hands on me from each side and they raised me up and slammed me down onto the ground before I was able to say a thing. The director, who had walked over to me and was now standing over me, awkwardly shrugged his shoulders and said:
“I forgot to tell you, Mr. Hegel, but now you are not allowed to speak with Marta.”
“Why is that?” I said angrily as the two soldiers who had just slammed me to the ground were now setting me back on my feet. He only shook his head. On the other side there were two tables. Behind the further one sat a doctor, the only person I already knew. The soldiers shoved me to the table beside the doctor.
“How the fuck dare you?” I said. Now I had started to lose control. “How the fuck dare you behave in such a way to my wife and I? You fucking band of assholes. How the fuck dare you behave in such a way to my wife and I?” I shouted.
“You know, Mr. Hegel, Marta is not your wife,” the director said. “Marta is also a member of the experiment.” I sat behind the table. The doctor sitting at the table next to me stood and came over to me, while the director spoke with the commission in a low voice on the other side of the room, and said to me:
“Mr. Hegel, what you will now hear here may be greatly unsettling for you, and could cause you shock. Respectively,” He said and smiled unpleasantly, “It would actually be strange if everything that you are to find out today did not put you into shock. In short, I can offer you a calming injection or at least a mild sedative which would in no way limit your cognitive capacities.”
“Go to hell, or go sit down and leave me alone,” I told him. The doctor went to his table, turned to the director, Marta and the people from the commission and said loudly: “You can begin,” and then sat down. He turned his chair towards me so that he would be able to observe me constantly. It was unpleasant. The director stood on the other side of the room and said:
“Respected ladies and gentlemen, I apologize that I had to gather you together so quickly today, but it so happened that Mr. Albert Hegel has visited us here today. He came in his own car, which he has parked not far from our institution. He climbed over the fence and entered block F, where he found and probably read various materials. According to directive fourteen, in this case the experiment ends and we are required to explain the whole experiment to Mr. Hegel in the method set out by the directive concerning his civil rights. As you remember, we had here a whole summary of the situation last week from Doctor Wagner and from Marta here.” When he said her name I jerked. “We expected, after all, some activity from the side of Mr. Hegel, but it came more quickly than we could predict. Even in science it is not possible to think of everything,” the director said, paused and smiled apologetically. So this little pet here is confident and used to making speeches at that, I thought to myself. “I would ask Doctor Wagner to begin,” the director said, bowed and to his left, just next to my Marta, an approximately forty-five-year-old woman stood up and began to speak:
“Mr. Hegel, what you will now hear might surprise you, nevertheless, understand that this experiment and its mission is legally, completely in order because the research which is its concern is so important that for it we were allowed exceptions to your civil rights and liberties. This research concerns the indications and identification of evil. As you know, and we set unprecedentedly high demands on your education in the area of recent history, the Second World War ended in Europe some time ago. I will not now delay in describing it, suffice it to say that since its end, many scientists, historians, politicians, and the lay public has been interested in a problem: How much was the rise, development and end of this terrible event influenced by the most renown personality of the German Third Reich, that is the character of the Reichskanzler Adolph Hitler. Concentration camps, eugenics, immeasurable suffering and so on. This, in short, created the core of the problem which no one managed to answer because Hitler committed suicide at the end of the Second World War. No one was ever able to confront him with the horrors he caused as were other members of that atrocious regime during the Nuremburg Trials. Today we have the luxury of a greater temporal remove and we see that even those trials were not flawless and did not answer all of the questions; nevertheless, the absence of Adolph Hitler struck a heavy blow to the examination of evil. More than fifty years ago, his remains were found again and secretly stored at our institution, which is devoted to the examination in all of its forms.
The godfather of this project was Professor Robert Fischer, who did not, however, live to see its inception. His main idea was that the individual who had caused the evil should be recreated and placed in historical and familial conditions different from those in which he had originally grown up. Carefully evaluate their development, behavior and interactions, and only then decide if evil is inherited, or if all of society shares in its existence. A scientific debate unfolded between those experts who claimed that the entire Second World War was caused by a madman, and those who said that it had been caused by a long development which some believe stretches back to the period of ancient Sparta. The social debate had two sides. Some argued that the most important was upbringing, while the others claimed that inheritance was most important; for both camps, the testability of Fischer’s principle was absolutely essential. The only problem was that during the lifetime of Robert Fischer, his so-called “Fischer’s Experiment” was not possible to carry out. More than thirty years ago it finally became possible to develop satisfactorily reliable technology which was capable of creating, from the remains of tissue from a deceased person, their complete, let’s say, double. Here the words “original” and “copy” cease to have meaning. In short, as you probably guess, you are identical to the individual who was named Adolf Hitler. In honor of the idea of Professor Fischer, you were even given a name with the same initials as your predecessor. The surname Hegel, moreover, was supported by a group of researchers who held the opinion that it is completely possible to trace the roots of Nazism to the classical German philosopher Hegel. Their approach was slightly incorrect, nonetheless they succeeded in their time. Your name therefore is not after your ancestors, your European forefathers, as you have thought until now. The philosophical side of things is under the command of Doctor Reti and Doctor Duchamp.
A seizure of panic, throbbing at the temples and in my throat. I looked at Marta, who they didn’t want me to speak to, but her stare was peering about three meters in front of the table she was sitting behind. Her look was firmly fastened to the carpet. Suddenly, I had next to me a standing Doctor with an injection needle in his hand. I shook my head. He remained standing for a moment and then sat down again. I wanted to wake up from all of this, but it wasn’t working. From what had been said, it seemed that my whole life had been directed by someone else. I asked them. One of them answered yes.
“Fine,” I said, “How is it that I have light hair; I am 6 feet 1 inch tall. After all, Hitler himself didn’t look like this, if I remember my history lessons and the black-and-white photos in the textbooks correctly.”
The director laughed uncomfortably:
“Mr. Hegel…Albert…this is a certain genetic variation which they didn’t want to influence those almost thirty years ago, so we let it be. The fact that you look physically, and I emphasize, only physically a bit different than Adolf Hitler, still does not mean that you are not him. That is a common layman’s question.”
“So, I am him, even though I do not resemble him?” I asked.
“Yes, precisely,” said Doctor Wagner.
“May I speak with Marta?” I asked.
“Of course you can,” someone else who I didn’t know said.
“And who are you?” I asked.
“Uh…sorry, I forgot to introduce myself, I am Doctor Reti.”
“Fine,” I said, “I would like to speak with her then.”
“By all means, you may speak,” Reti answered me.
“Not here, I would like to speak with her privately.”
“Oh, aha, that was a misunderstanding,” Reti said, “you may not speak with her privately.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because the experiment has already finished.”
“But I want to speak with her, I want to speak with her right now,” I said.
“I am afraid that that is not possible,” Reti said.
It was quiet for a moment. A moment later a man in a crumpled suit without a tie stood, “My name is Sommer, Doctor Sommer. This international project was based on our controlling of all possibly controllable factors after your cloning. We kept records of everything and all or most of the things and people that you came into contact with were in some form integrated into our project. As you might assume, members of our committee, just as with the whole experiment, have relatively close ties with the Office of Constitutional Protection, Freedom and Democracy. This means that we have also often made use of their expertise.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“That means that, within the experiment, we had to keep you in some mode of partial isolation, that’s why you simply somehow inherited the land here on the edge of the desert. If you had gone to a big city, the influences of the metropolis, just as uncontrolled meetings with various people, would have proven not advantageous for this project. For us it was absolutely essential that you were in at least partial isolation.
“And what about Marta?” I asked.
“Uhhh,” the man said and coughed. He shuffled his feet several times and coughed again, unscrewed the cap of his water bottle in front of him, and screwed it back on without pouring any water into his glass, and said: “All of us here understandably have certain sympathy with you, we are not insensitive people or any kind of monsters, although we use, let’s say…let’s say the nonstandard procedures of the Office of Constitutional Protection, Freedom and Democracy.”
“Alright, and what about Marta?” I asked again.
“Marta is our highly valued co-worker who went through not only a demanding selection procedure, but a just as demanding schooling and training.” As he was speaking, my throat went completely dry.
“What does it mean that she was your co-worker?” I asked.
“Well, that means that she maintained the hidden cameras, wrote detailed reports every week, informed us about several unforeseeable events…and so on.”
“About which events?” I asked.
“Hm…for example about your efforts to study botany. It gave us quite a lot of work to influence the results of your entrance examinations so that you would not be accepted. Several times. Once you almost succeeded even in spite of our influence. So, in the case of your desire for education we had to employ all the strength we had. Many people started to ask questions. So, Marta, although in this case unsuccessfully, tried to influence you in that direction, hmmm… uh… so… so that it would not harm the experiment.” Marta was still looking about three meters in front of the table behind which she was sitting.
“And why can I not speak with her now in private?” I said.
“That would go against rule six, Mr. Hegel,” the director inserted himself at this point. “Rule six prohibits it.”
“I do not give a fuck about your rules,” I said.
“We really do understand you, Mr. Hegel, but unfortunately we cannot fulfill your request. Although it frustrates you, please come to terms with it,” the director said.
“If I could add something to that,” said Reti, “all of your surroundings were monitored from your birth. You were placed in a standard and precisely-adjusted average environment. Your mother and father were also members of the project. Nevertheless, your mother had to prematurely leave the project because she had formed overly powerful emotional bonds to you.”
“So my mother didn’t die, then?” I asked.
“No, of course not. She was a member of the experiment.”
“And I cannot see her, right?”
Under no conditions, I’m afraid, this is again the strict rule six, so unfortunately not. And as well… all of your books, videos, electronic audio media, all of it was monitored. Who you met with, your journals, your feelings, intimate relations with Marta, all of it was monitored. For example even things that you became attached to as a baby. Toys, storybooks, postcards, souvenirs and other details, there were notes kept about all of it and a team of experts regularly evaluated everything.”
“You are a bunch of insane paranoids,” I shouted.
“Mr. Hegel, no one expects that you would understand a project illustrating the nature of evil. With all due respect, you are not a specialist.”
The director suddenly spoke up and said:
“I’m announcing a half-hour break.”
Everyone including Marta collected their things and left. I stayed in the room alone with only the doctor and military guards. I had had enough of it.
“I want to go home,” I told the doctor. The doctor said something which I didn’t perceive anymore. I stood up and I was tired, terribly tired, completely tired on the inside of myself, inside my own body. I was tired and I wanted to go home. The doctor returned a few minutes later. He was carrying some sort of documents with him which he stuck into my hand. I took them without even looking at them. He offered me a lift in the helicopter. I refused and then he told me that if I wanted, they would take me by car. I nodded. The way home had never seemed so long to me before. A military driver drove and another military vehicle drove behind us. In the car, the doctor told me that the cameras at my home had already been disconnected and removed. I asked why exactly I should believe this. He said that all of it is in the documents which he had given me and which I should sign. I refused and he did not insist. When they had taken me home and parked my jeep in front of the garage, I again looked at the fender which Marta had scraped while parking when we had returned from our outing together to the military base. Then I asked the doctor if the owner of the garden center, Stephan, was also one of them.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Definitely not,” he said again. “But anyway, everything is in those documents which you refused to sign.”
The doctor and driver got into the car which had driven behind us, and they left. I went into the house. The hallway. The kitchen. The living room. The bedroom. Nowhere was there a sign of Marta’s things. They had cleaned everything. Totally. I took a beer out of the fridge and set it on the table. Then, I took out two mineral waters and gradually drank them. I put the beer back into the fridge. I didn’t want to be drunk. I walked around the house and the flowerbeds. The watering system was working. I only made a small adjustment and went to the bedroom. I looked under the pillow. Even there her things were gone. Not even her nightshirt. Not even a handkerchief. They had been thorough. Absolute. I fell asleep. I woke up at about six in the morning. I thought that I had dreamed all of it and that I would describe this nightmare to Marta. I was even looking forward to it, until I realized that she wasn’t lying next to me, that she wasn’t outside, nor in the living-room, that she was gone. Horror; pure, the purest, snow white. On the table in the living-room I found the copies of the documents about which I had dreamt. They were there. I went over to the closet, took out the things left from my parents, who were actually not my parents. I looked through several boxes until I found what I was looking for. I had finally found my old textbooks. I took out the one about history. I leafed through the part of it which concerned the Second World War. I felt ants in my left index finger. I don’t know why. I went to take a shower. Then I went into the room where I kept seeds, fertilizer and chemicals. I took some of the chemicals with me. In the kitchen I made a cocktail from them to which I added a bit of bourbon and vodka. It tasted horrible. I made about a half-liter of it and drank it. I lay on the bed and ceased to be aware of myself. It still occurred to me that this is how Socrates had died; at least that’s what they wrote in one of those textbooks.
And so I died, brother doctor, that’s how I died. I ceased to be aware of myself. And suddenly I see a helicopter appearing which lands directly on one of my flowerbeds, as if it was nothing to them that I had my peonies right there. And it is nothing for them. It upsets me a bit, but what can I do when I’m dead, right, doc, but you be quiet, don’t say anything. And I see them carrying my body out, I’m completely dead, and they are putting my body into the helicopter. And then I see it in the morgue, completely open like a revolving door, wide open, and I see my heart and lungs and stomach and they are taking samples. It’s a shame that I’m not made all out of glass, it occurs to me, then they wouldn’t have to poke around with those scalpels of theirs. Then they are sticking everything into different devices which I have no idea as to what they are for. And then I’m reading a display message: The genetic material from the stem cells taken for examination from the body of Albert Hegel are not identical to the genetic material of Adolf Hitler, on the contrary, there are quite clearly proven characteristics which place him within Slavic Russian origin. And so on and so on, Doc… and in the end they write: Our expert conclusion is the following: Mr. Albert Hegel is in reality a clone of the Russian soldier Alexander Ivanovich Babel, who was charged with collecting Hitler’s remains and was in the unit which conquered Berlin after the fall of Hitler’s regime. There has undoubtedly been a genetic contamination of the material, most probably caused by, for example, a hair or skin shaving of Alexander Ivanovich. We must therefore announce that the material is completely useless, just as is the entire experiment. Mr. Hegel was the genetic double of Mr. Alexander Ivanovich Babel. And so on, brother doctor, and so on. And the world cruelly spins on without blushing. And at the end of the report there’s a postscript: It is necessary to repeat the experiment, evil must be controlled.
Without blushing, brother, without blushing!”
TOMÁŠ ZMEŠKAL studied English language and literature, and he lived and studied in London for a number of years. In the 1980s, he played for a while in the band Psí vojáci, led by writer and musician Filip Topol. He works as a writer, translator and a secondary-school teacher of English literature. Although he had earlier published short stories, he came to wider attention mainly through his first novel, Milostný dopis klínovým písmem (Love Letter in Cunieform Script, 2008), which describes the post-war world of 1950s Czechoslovakia from a postmodern, fragmented perspective. For this novel, he was shortlisted for the Magnesia Litera Prize and was awarded the Josef Škvorecký Award.
NATHAN FIELDS has translated contemporary Czech literature into English in the form of novels, short stories, screenplays and scripts, and poetry. He has received praise for his translations of Jan Balaban (Septej se táty) as well as works by Jáchym Topol, Edgar Dutka, Petra Hůlová and Miloš Urban. With a degree in Literature and Writing, he has been teaching English and translating in Prague for over a decade.