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Sigmund in a Cafe

Translated from Russian by Serge Winitzki © 1996

Sometimes hidden behind the smooth stone faces of these idols are labyrinths of cracks and hollows, inhabited by various kinds of birds.

Joseph Lavender, «Easter Island»

Last modification 8/2/97 3:34PM

He didn"t remember such a cold winter in Vienna yet. Every time the door opened and a cloud of cold air flew into the cafe, he shivered a little. For a long time no new visitors came, and Sigmund fell into a light senile nap, but now the door banged again, and he raised his head to look. Two newcomers just entered the cafe — a whiskered gentleman and a lady with a high chignon. The lady held a long sharp umbrella in her hands. The gentleman carried a small purse decorated by dark shiny furs, a little moist from the melted snowflakes. They stopped at the hat rack and began undressing: the man took off his overcoat, hung it on a peg, and then tried to hang his hat on one of the long wooden knobs that jutted out of the wall above the hat rack, but missed, and the hat fell out of his hand and down on the floor. The man muttered something, lifted his hat and hung it finally on the knob; then he hurried to help her take off her furcoat. Relieved of the furcoat, the lady smiled benevolently and took her purse from him, but suddenly she grimaced in distress: the lock on the purse had been open, and some snow had fallen in. She hanged the purse on her shoulder, put the umbrella into the corner with its handle down for some reason, took her companion"s hand and went with him into the main room. — Aha, — said Sigmund softly and shook his head. Between the wall and the bar counter, near the table where the whiskered gentleman and his companion went, was a small empty space where the barkeeper"s children were playing: a boy of about eight in a bulky white sweater covered with black diamonds, and a girl still younger, in a dark dress and striped woolen pants. Their playthings, wooden bricks and a half-deflated ball, lay beside them on the floor. The kids were unusually quiet. The boy was occupied with a pile of wooden bricks with painted sides. He was building a house of a somewhat strange shape, with an opening in the front wall. The house would collapse time and again, because the opening was too wide and the upper brick would fall in between the sides. Every time the bricks ended up strewn around the floor, the boy would sadly pick his nose with a dirty finger and then start building anew. The girl sat in front of her brother right on the floor, watching him without much interest and playing with a handful of small change — she would lay the coins out on the floor, or gather them in a small pile and shove it under herself. Soon she was bored with it, she dropped the coins, leaned aside, grabbed the nearest chair by its legs, pulled it to her and started moving it around on the floor and pushing the ball with the chair"s legs. Once she pushed too hard, the ball rolled toward the boy, and his feeble construction collapsed at the very moment when he was going to mount on top of it the last brick, the sides of which showed a branch of an orange tree and a firepost. The boy lifted his head and shook his fist at her, to which she opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue — she held it out for so long that one could perhaps examine it in all detail. — Aha, — said Sigmund and looked at the whiskered man and the lady. They already had the appetizers served to them. The gentleman was swallowing the oysters, knowingly opening their shells with a small silver knife, and was telling something to his companion, who was smiling, nodding and eating mushrooms — she would take them with a two-toothed fork one by one from the plate and scrutinize them before dipping in a thick yellow sauce. The gentleman, clinking with the bottle on the brim of his glass, poured himself some white wine, drank it and moved the soup bowl closer to himself. The waiter brought a plate with a long fried fish. The lady looked at the fish and suddenly smacked herself on the forehead and started telling something to the gentleman. He looked at her, listened to her for a while and grimaced doubtfully, then drank another glass of wine and started carefully putting a cigarette into a conical red cigarette holder, which he held between his little finger and his ring finger. —Aha! — said Sigmund and stared at the far corner of the room, where the hostess, the barkeeper"s wife, stood with a stocky waiter. It was dark there, or rather it was darker than in other corners, because the lightbulb under the ceiling was burnt out. The hostess was staring up with her plump hands on her hips; because of her pose and her apron with colorful zigzags she resembled an ancient vase. The waiter has already fetched a long folding ladder, which stood now beside an empty table. The hostess checked that the ladder was sturdy enough, scratched her head ponderously and said something to the waiter. He turned and went around the bar counter, then stooped behind it and was not seen for a while. After a minute, he emerged from behind the counter and showed to the hostess an elongated, shining object. She nodded energetically, and the waiter came back to her with the found flashlight in his raised hand. He wanted to give it to her, but she shook her head and pointed her finger to the floor. There was a large square hatch in the floor beside the empty table. It was almost invisible because its lid was covered with the same parquet diamonds as the rest of the floor, and one could suspect its existence only from the double border line of thin copper...

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