Peter Nadas

From "A Book of Memories": "Experiences related to my past, but the past is itself but a distant allusion to my insignificant desolation, hovering as rootlessly as any lived moment in what I might call the present: only memories of tastes and smells of a world to which I no longer belong, one I might call my abandoned homeland, which I left to no purpose because nothing bound me to the one I found myself in, either."

"I was lost, I did not exist, my bones and solid flesh turned to jelly; and yet, despite the feeling of being torn from everything and belonging nowhere, I could still perceive myself to be something: a toad pressing heavily against the earth; a slimy-bodied snail unblinkingly observing my own nothingness; what was happening to me was nothing, even if this nothing contained my future and, because of the successive autumns, some of my past as well."

"I should have not only sensed but fully understood the nature of this situation, but I kept grasping at straws, hoping for an extraordinary insight meant only for me, for a new situation to arise, something, a change of mood, a tragedy even, that would at last define me within this indefinable nothingness; I kept hoping to find something worth saving, something that would lend meaning to things and save me as well, deliver me from this animal existence, not be something from my past--I was sick and tired of my past, the past was a reminder as unseemly as the aftertaste of a belch--and not anything from my future, either, since I had given up on the future long ago, always reluctant to plan ahead even for a moment; no, I wanted something in the here and now, a revelation, a redemption I was waiting for, I can confess this now, but back then I hadn't yet realized that precise knowledge of nothingness should have sufficed. "

" First, it was always the waking with a start at dawn as Dr. Kuhnert rattled down the hallway past my door toward the bathroom: I'd pull the pillow over my head so as not to hear what was to follow--his going into the bathroom and first urinating; I had to hear the precise sounds of the short, sharp splashes preceding the long steady stream that stopped abruptly and ended in a gradually weakening trickle, the wall was thin and I could tell he was aiming at the back of the bowl, the hollow that fills up with water even after flushing; as a child I had also tried to do the same, and in a way I found it amazing that someone at the age of fifty, a university professor, should still amuse himself this way--but if the only sounds I heard were a short tap followed by a muffled squirt of urine against the side of the bowl, I knew he was going to defecate, too. Elimination was not necessarily indicated by breaking wind; farts sounded quite different when done while urinating, standing up, than when seated, in which position the bowl acted as an amplifier; there was no way to confuse the two noises, and the pillow didn't really help, for the groans, the gentle sighs of relief, the scraping and rustling of the toilet paper could be heard clearly through the wall; the pillow could not possibly help, because I was also listening, as if enjoying it all, as if tormenting myself with the knowledge that I couldn't and wouldn't want to close my ears--one can close one's eyes or mouth but ears can be stopped up only with fingers, ears can't close themselves--and Dr. Kuhnert was still far from finished, the noisy flushing was only a brief pause, and if I hadn't known what else was still in store, I might have had enough time simply to roll over and fall back asleep, because during these startled awakenings, at night or early in the morning, one is hardly aware of the transition between sleep and wakefulness, and the fading characters in a dream sometimes aren't intimidated even by a suddenly switched-on light; they have faces and hands, and they recede just far enough to be out of reach, jumping on shelves, among the books, and sometimes the very opposite happened: the features of my room dissolved smoothly into a dream, I'd see the window, but it was already a dream window, and the tree in front of it and the hollow left by the missing brick where sparrows nested were also part of the dream, and suddenly my whole body would stiffen, because this was the moment when Dr. Kuhnert would stand in front of the mirror, bend over the sink, right over my head, blow his nose into his hand, and, while the water was still running, begin to snort and hawk, spitting forced-up phlegm into the sink, directly at me. "

"Deceptive I say, because the wind howled here, and the embankment deflected enormous waves, crushed and cleaved them asunder, massive steel-blue waves booming thunderously into white foam; and silence I say, for between two booms one's sense of hearing fell into the trough of the waves, into a rapt anticipation, redeemed by the sounds of force turning into weight, though in the evening, when I set out for a walk, everything had calmed down, a full moon shone low over the open sea. "

" It was a new, exciting sensation, rather unsettling, to experience my own disintegration, yet I accepted it with the serenity of a mature person, as if I were fifty, seventy, or a hundred years older, an affable elderly gentleman recalling his youth, but there was really nothing extraordinary or mystical about this, and though I couldn't imagine a more poetic setting for my death neither could I muster the courage to take the sleeping pills I had been carrying with me for years in a little round box; still, just to do something, I again called on my imagination to separate my two selves, liberating myself from my hopelessly muddled emotions, and saw that the future of my strange self was nothing more than the past and present of my familiar self, everything that had already or would still come to pass. The situation was exceptional only in that I could not identify with either one of my selves, and in this overexcited state I felt like an actor moving about on a romantic stage set, my past being only a shallow impersonation of myself, just as my future would be, with all my sufferings, as if everything could be playfully projected into the past or the future, as if none of it had really happened or could still be altered and it was only my imagination that made sense of these entangled fragments from the various dimensions of my life, arranging them around a conventionally definable entity I could call my self, which I could show off as myself but which was really not me. "

"I wouldn't say it was frightening, more like chastening; its power lay in reining in my overwrought imagination, which wanted to gallop freely and invent its own story; it scorned all such ambition and gave me to understand that it was responsible for confounding my sense of time; it created the gaps through which I could peer into my soul, and in return for the playful doubling of my self, all it asked me was that I not forget it, which meant that I should not believe my own self-serving stories; and if I had neither the courage nor the good sense to do away with myself, I should at least be aware of it, as of a pain, and know that it was here, outside me but able any time to reach inside and touch my so-called vital organs, of which--no matter how cleverly I try to manipulate things, to become independent of it--I had no more than one or two; my existence could not be replaced by my imagination; I should not be too sure of myself, should not delude myself that a setting such as this, a moonlit night by the sea, could make me free, let alone happy. "

"When this idea occurred to me--quite uselessly, since by now I could clearly see the surf exploding in the yellow moonlight, pounding away at the foot of the embankment, and one part of my splintered self found it amusing that the other was seeking shelter at the embankment, hoping to avoid what inevitably he would have to accept--when this idea occurred, it was accompanied by a figure, not a ghost, but a simple notion of a young man walking through the glass door of that pleasant restaurant; he looked around, our eyes met, and the room was flooded with sunshine. "

"For there I was--and at the same time I imagined myself not there--and walking with me was this elderly gentleman whom I would one day become, and he brought along his own youth; the elderly gentleman at the seaside, reminiscing about his youth, perfectly suited my own purposes, now transformed into strictly literary ones, and so did that room with its comfortable chairs, the white damask tablecloth, the coffee cup he had just raised to his lips; and the young man who joined us, with his hand on the back of a chair bidding a courteous good morning to the group breakfasting at the table; to get a better look at him, for he was the one I was most interested in, I could send him back to the door where he had first appeared, because I felt that he was completely mine, since he did not exist; and there was someone else besides us, the one who was watching and who let me have this blond youth in exchange for allowing myself to become a helpless instrument of his power. "

"Mother liked me to stand right next to her, quite close, I might say in the heat of her body's warmth, so close that the shoulder ruffles of her puffed-sleeve dress almost touched my face, but this certainly did not mean that in her frustration she sought solace in me or began to have impermissible and troubling feelings of tenderness for me-I don't think she harbored such feelings for anybody-no, there was a purely logical reason we ended up next to each other; this way she could hear and then follow the rhythm of my breathing, and by the same token, if she faltered or was out of breath or, letting her mind wander, got confused, I could wait for her and help her get back on track; I was able to hold my breath for a long time, wait for and enjoy the slight dizziness that would displace my feelings while things I could only see before but not feel grew sharper and pervaded my senses; I could lose myself at last and be anything I wanted-a distant sound, the crest of a wave, a seagull, a falling leaf landing atop a stone wall, or just vacant air-until in the redness of the blood rushing to my brain everything would slowly turn dark, yet the instinct to breathe would still force me to hear distinctly and sense how Mother, with a few interpolated exhalations and inhalations, was reverting to our previous rhythm and how, her own breath balancing at a precarious standstill, she'd wait for me to take the lead again; we did not look at, and could not see each other, our bodies did not touch, yet only incaution and inexperience could explain and excuse the blindness with which she allowed us to stray into such emotionally dangerous territory; she should have known that we were doing something we shouldn't have, and that in this instance she was the seducer, because mutual sensation, when deprived of tactile and visual contact, will resort to more receptive, more primitive, one might even say more animal-like means, and then the other body's heat, odor, mysterious emanations and rhythms can convey much more than a glance, a kiss, or an embrace ever could."

"I was born to lead two separate lives, or, I should say, the two halves of my divided life lacked harmonious congruity, or, to be still more precise, even if my public life had been the matching half of my secret existence, I would have felt an odd and jarring strain between them: it was the quagmire of a guilty conscience, something difficult to negotiate, because my self-imposed discipline in public resulted in a kind of dull and halting obtuseness for which I had to compensate myself by indulging in ever more fevered fantasies, and that, in turn, not only widened the gap between my two halves but made each of the two more isolated in its own sphere, rendering me less and less successful in rescuing anything from one and shifting it to the other, a process that in time became painful; the psyche would not tolerate my acts of self-denial, and the pain I experienced evoked a fervent desire to be like other people, who displayed no symptoms of a suppressed, tension-filled guardedness; I learned well how to read thoughts from facial expressions, how immediately to identify with these thoughts, but this mimetic ability to empathize, this desire for otherness, also led to bouts of mental anguish and brought no relief, for I realized I could not be another person, could only appear to be someone else, and total identification was as impossible as fusing mymown two halves and making my secret lifr public, or conversely, as impossible as freeing myself from my own illusions and compulsions and becoming like other people who are usually called hale and hearty."

"I was trying to protect myself, but the means were dictated by the given situation: what was the use of hiding among the rocks, groping helplessly, stumbling and sliding, the water found me there too, and it never occurred to me that what had started out as a pleasant evening stroll had ceased to be that quite some time ago."

"She was proffering, tendering, serving up her buttocks to Father, while he more or less squatted, knelt above her, one hand frantically clutching her loose dark hair, as he slammed against her, the convex hollow of his loins thrusting in, clinging to, then retracting from the concave double bulge of her behind; he was inside the perfectly enclosed body, able to ravage it freely, powerfully, yet most exquisitely; today I know how that is - not only can one's member slip to the deepest or, I should say, highest reaches, but the sensitized foreskin, the bulbous glans, the bulging blood vessels, while rubbing against the stiffened clitoris and caressing the vulva, can swab and scrub the tight yet slippery cave of the vagina, making the erection so tumescent, so throbbing, that the organ, having reached the mouth of the womb, the last obstacle, can fill the hollow so fully, so perfectly, that one can no longer tell what is ours and what is hers; in this odd position, therefore, violent entry and tender lovemaking can merge and become one; could anyone wish for pleasure more intense? but on that occasion all I could see was that Father's spine was bending sharply, his buttocks spread almost as if he were about to defecate, and he was supporting himself with his free hand: in the moments of rhythmic disengagement his enormous, slightly updrawn testicles became visible, and then he would lunge again, covering completely the spot that induced such bubbling pleasure in both of them."

"The garden was huge, like a park, shady, mildly fragrant in the warm summer air; pungent smell of pines, their resin dripping from green cones that snap quietly as they grow; firm rosebuds respendent in red, yellow, white, and pink hues; and yes, a single, ruffled, and slightly singed petal that could open no further, now almost ready to fall; and the tall, rearing lilies with their wasp-enticing nectar; violent, maroon, and blue cups of petunias fluttering in the slightest breeze; long-stemmed snapdragons swaying more indolently in the wind; and along the footpaths, great patches of foxgloves luxuriating in the flaming brilliance of their own colors; opalescent shimmer of dewy grass in the morning sun; clusters of thick shrubbery arranged in rows - elder- and spindleberry bushes, lilacs, intoxicatingly sweet hyacinths, and, in the deepening shadows, under the forsythias, hawthorn and hazel bushes, the damp rot in which green ivy runs riot, exuding a sour-sweet odor, tendrils and shoots creeping over fences and walls, wrapping around tree trunks, fine clinging roots covering everything in sight in the effort to protect and propagate the mildewy decay on which ivy feeds and which it ivy feed and it keeps producing."

"for we need only think of lovers who, reaching the peak of their mutual attraction with its promise of annihilating fulfillment, cannot achieve physical union until they fall back from that rarefied sphere of inspirited love to a more earthly closeness, until their bodies' pain shrinks the spirit of love to a humiliatingly manageable size; then, in the throes of excruciating pain, they can make their way not to ultimate bliss but to the liberating pleasure of momentary, flashlike gratification, arriving not where they had originally headed but where their bodies will allow them to go."

"Our two divergent bodies formed the sides of this wedge: two chests, one of which, his, was hairier; two bellies, appearing a little sunken in this position, one of them taut and flat, the other just slightly bulging; and down below, in the narrower part of the wedge, the nestlike softness of the testicles filled out the angle formed by the entwined legs, and the genitals, one, his, larger and longer, and the other, mine, rather comically limp in its shrunken state, were lying on each other as peacefully as did our intertwined arms above."

" I felt we were reaching a very deep and very dark point in our rambling exploration of each other's self; for weeks I had hovered over the most sensitive regions of his life, and now I had reached my goal; I had challenged him and he, against his better judgment, took up the challenge; but in this murky region he dug in his heels with such energy that it was as if he were plotting some terrible revenge,"

"My fingers, my palm could see into the living darkness of his body."

"Years were ripping out from under the membrane of time"

"...a truly living city is never the mere fossil of an unclarified past but a surging flow, continually abandoning the stony bed of tradition, solidifying and then flowing on, rolling over decades and centuries, solidifying and then flowing on, rolling over decades and centuries, from the past into the future, a continuum of hardened thrusts and ceaseless pulses unaware of its ultimate goal, yet it's this irrepressible, insatiable vitality, often wasteful and avaricious, destructive yet creative, that we call, approvingly or disapprovingly, the inner nature or spirituality of a city's existence"

"I was drowning in the story of my body"

"She didn't let the embarrassment deepen but quickly removed her hand from my arm, gave her shoulder a funny little shrug, at once a coy gesture of surrender and withdrawal, turned, and, now in a completely different time dimension than the city we'd left behind, but also turning away from the landscape, she continued walking along the trail toward the distant woods".

"She wanted to give a son to this body oozing with corruption, the body that hoped to find its freedom in blissfully dreaded death."


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