Thursday, January 24, 2008

His Final Affairs

    The tram clanks and rattles its way uphill towards the Olšanský cemetery.
    "Look," a short little man says to a younger chap in a rabbit-fur coat, "Something's being built there; it will be a school or maybe a cinema. You know, I'm really glad I got to see him one last time. 'It's you,' he said. I don't think it really helped him much, but a man must show his friendship. 'I've come again,' I told him, 'but you'll be running off already,' I say, and meanwhile--"
    The young chap in the fur coat nodded his head mournfully.
    "I took the medal with me, so he would be happy," the little man continued, "and he said, 'My God, is it you?' You see, he recognized me. And I told him, 'Jozef, it will pass.' And he says: "Maňička, give me some of those giblets.' So she gave them to him, and he only took two bites, just pecked at them, but he didn't eat a thing. 'Maňička, give me some of those giblets," the man repeated, touched.
    The young man in the rabbit-fur coat dabbed at his nose a bit.
    "Well sure," the little man comforted him, "he was your brother, after all. She said he didn't even know himself any more, but he looked at me like so and said: "Toník, is that you? Wait and see," he came out with, eagerly rubbing his hands together, "what sort of wreaths the poor man will have. I went and asked how much a wreath with a bow cost, and they said it was eighty-five crowns. Then I said no bow, I'll just put my card on it, I wrote 'Sweet dreams, your Toník' on it. It's all the same, right? A man must show his friendship, but I don't need to spend twenty crowns on a bow to do that; besides, someone will just steal it from the cemetery."
    "They told me," the young man in the fur coat said in a weak voice, "that one with a ribbon costs ninety crowns, and I said it costs what it costs, even if it cost a hundred crowns, so long as it's proper."
    "For your brother, sure," the little man said, "and it's wonderful for all the cost. The ribbon has golden that say 'Last farewell, Jenda and Liduška'--well, that's wonderful, I tell you. 'Last farewell, Jenda and Liduška,'" he repeated, savoring every bit of its beauty. "We're not there yet, it's two more stops. It'll get us there just in time for the ceremony, right? He'll have a fine one."
    The young man weakly nodded his head.
    "Don't worry too much about her," the little man advised him.
"What would she have done with him, the poor man; besides, she won't be alone for long. Maybe she'll give you that table of his, and what's left of his clothes. And put your name in for the watch too. I wouldn't leave her a thing, if you ask me. Oh, she has to give you the wardrobe, too--say it's a family heirloom."
    "Aren't we there yet?" the young man asked sorrowfully.
    "One more stop," the man said, "and then a bit further on foot to the chapel. I think Franta will be there, and the other guys, it will be nice. Since he's dead, she doesn't have rights to anything. You'd be crazy if you left anything to her. And no need to pay the doctor; he'll probably forget about it. If you don't need the wardrobe, you can just sell it. But that wreath is fantastic. Take the ribbon home, it would be a shame to leave it there, you can hang it around the mirror like this, you see? And if Ladislav were to die on you, then you'd still have the ribbon to use. At least I got to see him one more time, poor man, it made him so happy--"
    The tram slowed before the gates of the cemetery.
    "Wait, just wait until it stops." He held the young man back, "You could fall out, and you've got such nice clothes on today. It would spoil the whole funeral."
    Therewith the bereaved man headed for the cemetery gates, thoughtfully supporting the young man in the fur coat by the arm.

LN, 12 February 1928

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