Friday, February 1, 2008

Legal Case

    --so I'm taking the eighteen towards this curve and I think I've got a clear road ahead, of course that's bull, but I just let off the gas a bit and merrily bang into the turn. And suddenly I look at there's this procession going across the way. A funeral. It's just started over the roadway towards the gates of the cemetery. So I slam on the brakes, and man, what a skid! I only remember that the four men carrying the coffin dropped it and dove for the shoulder, and bam! My car hits the rear end of this coffin and it flies through the gravel on the side and into the field.
  I get out of the car and say to myself, Jesus Christ, if I hit the pastor and the other bereaved, that'll be it! But nothing had happened; the ministrant stood with a cross on one side of the highway and the pastor and the bereaved on the other side; they looked like wax figures, I tell you. Then the pastor started to tremble in fear and angrily sputters: "Sir, sir, have you no respect even for the dead?" And I was just glad that I hadn't killed any of the living! Then the rest of them all recovered themselves; some of them started to curse me out and others ran to help the dead man in the broken coffin; I suppose it was some sort of instinctual response. And suddenly they tore back and starting roaring at me angrily. And then, I swear, a living man climbs out of that pile of boards on his knees, fumbling about on his hands and looking for a place to sit down. "What the..." he says, still trying to sit down.
I was at his feet, as the cobbler said. "Grandfather," I say, "they were about to bury you!" And I help him out of the boards. He's just staring and stammering: "What? What? What?" But he couldn't stand up, I think he had a broken ankle or something because of the collision. To make a long story short, I lay the old man and the pastor down into my car and headed to the house of sorrow, and behind us went the bereaved and the ministrant with his cross. And the band, of course, but they weren't playing, because they didn't know if they were getting paid. "I'll pay for the coffin," I said, "and the doctor too, but other than that you should be thanking me that you didn't bury him alive." And I went off and I was glad, to tell you the truth, that it was all behind me and that nothing worse had happened.
    I thought so, but it was only just beginning. First off the mayor of this old man's town wrote me a nice letter, saying that the family of the man supposed to be dead, one Antonín Bartoš, retired railwayman, were poor; that they had wanted to bury their grandfather respectably with the very last of their savings, and now that he had been awakened from the dead, thanks to my reckless driving, they would have to bury him a second time, which their impecunious circumstances did not permit. If I would be so kind, therefore, to pay for the spoiled funeral and even the pastor, the band, the grave-digger and the wake.
    Then came a letter from a lawyer in the name of this old man: that Bartoš, Antonín, retired railwayman, sought recompense for his ruined shroud; a few hundred more to cure a broken ankle, and five thousand for the pain and suffering that my actions had caused him. It already seemed like idiocy to me.
    Then a new letter: that the old man had drawn a pension as a railwayman; when he breathed his last, of course they stopped his pension, and now the bureau didn't want to start paying him again, because they had a certificate from the regional coroner that he was dead. And it said that the old man was suing me to pay his rent for the rest of his life as compensation for the lost pension.
    Another demand: that the old man had been ailing since I resurrected him and had to be given more nourishing food. I had supposedly been the one who crippled him; that he had risen from the dead didn't matter any more and didn't make a lick of difference. All he was saying was: "I was already done for, and now I have to die again! That doesn't come free, he must repay me for it or I'll take the case all the way to the courts on high. To wound a poor man like this! There should be corporal punishment for that, maybe even the death sentence." And so on.
    The worst thing of all is that my car hadn't been insured and insurance is obligatory. So I don't know. Do you think I'll have to pay?

LN, 5 April 1936

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