Tuesday, February 5, 2008


    What should I buy today, Mr. Michl pondered carefully; maybe some more sausage...sausage leads to gout, though. What about cheese and bananas? The truth is I had cheese yesterday; such limited nutrition isn't good either. And cheese, you can feel that in your stomach until the morning. God, it's stupid that a man has to eat.
    "The gentleman is ready to order?" the shopkeeper suddenly said from behind the counter, as he wrapped red slices of ham into paper. Mr. Michl startled and gulped. I really have to order something. "Give me some...pâté," he managed, spittle flying from his lips. Pâté, yes, that was it. "Pâté," he repeated decisively.
    "Pâté, of course," the shopkeeper chirped. "Will that be Prague-style, with truffles, liver, fois gras, Strassburger..."
    "Strassburger," decided Mr. Michl.
    "Y-yes, pickles," Mr. Michl agreed. "And a roll." He looked about the shop furtively, as if he were looking to order something else.
    "And what else, please?" The shopkeeper waited. Mr. Michl shook his head, as though to say: No thank you, you have nothing else that I need, kindly do not exert yourself further. "Nothing," he said. "What does it cost?"
    He was startled at the price the shopkeeper quoted him over the little red tin. Lord, that's expensive, he thought on the way home; it may actually be from Strassburg. My word, I've never eaten it before; but what a load of money they wanted for it! Well, nothing to be done; sometimes a man feels like pâté. And besides, I don't have to eat it all at once, Mr. Michl consoled himself. I'll leave some for tomorrow; pâté is heavy on the stomach, after all.
    "Wait and see, Eman," Mr. Michl called out as he opened to door of his house, "what I have brought home for dinner." Eman the cat waved his tail and meowed. "Aha," Mr. Michl said. "You'd like some pâté too, you rascal, eh? No sir, it won't do. Pâté is expensive food, my friend, and I've never even had it myself. Strassburger pâté, my son, and that is only for gourmands; but so you won't reproach me I'll let you have a sniff." Mr. Michl got a plate out and opened the tin of pâté with some difficulty, whereupon he took out his evening newspaper and seated himself for dinner, feeling quite ceremonial. Eman the cat jumped up onto the table, as was his custom, tucked his tail carefully underneath himself and flexed his front claws into the tablecloth in delightful impatience.
    "I'll give you a sniff," Mr. Michl repeated, taking a bit of the pâté onto a fork, "so you know how it smells. There you go." Eman pricked up his whiskers and carefully, mistrustfully sniffed at the pâté. Mr. Michl stared. "What, you don't like it? Such expensive pâté, you fool?" The cat grimaced and sniffed again at the pâté, nose upturned.
    "Mr. Michl grew slightly nervous and smelled the pâté himself. "But it smells good, Eman! Just have a sniff! Fantastic odor, my man." Eman shuffled his paws on the tablecloth. "Do you want a bit?" Mr. Michl asked. The cat twitched its tail nervously and gave a hoarse meow.
    "What? What is it?" sputtered Mr. Michl. "Are you trying to tell me that the pâté is no good?" He sniffed at it carefully himself, but sensed nothing. The devil only knew, maybe the cat had a better nose. Sometimes tinned pâté had botulinum, as it was called. A horrible poison, sir. It didn't stink or have a foul taste, but it could still poison a man. God be praised that I haven't yet put any of the pâté in my mouth. Maybe the cat sensed it by smell or through some insitinct, that something was wrong with it. Better not to eat it, but since it was so expensive--
    "Look, Eman," said Mr. Michl. "I'll give you a taste. It's the finest and most expensive pâté there is, real Strassburger; just so you can eat something better for a change." He took the cat's dish out of the corner and put a bit of the pâté on it. "C'mon, Eman!"
    Eman jumped off the table with a thud and proceeded slowly to his dish, waving his tail. He sat on his haunches and warily sniffed at the pâté. He won't eat it, Mr. Michl thought in horror. It's gone bad.
    Eman the cat swished his tail and began to nibble at the pâté slowly and gravely, as though he despised it. "So you see," Mr. Michl sighed, "that there's nothing wrong with it!"
    The cat finished the pâté and began to clean his whiskers and head with one paw. Mr. Michl looked at him curiously. So you see, he has not poisoned himself, nothing is wrong with him. "Well, how about it," he said patronizingly, "it was good, right? There you go, you rascal!" Sufficicently calmed, he sat down at the table. Of course, such an expensive pâté, it couldn't be bad. He sniffed at it, narrowing his eyes like an epicure. Fantastic aroma. But maybe botulism doesn't appear right away, it suddenly occurred to him. Eman could be seized by convulsions at any moment--
    Mr. Michl pushed his plate away and went to look at B in the dictionary, botulism or allantiasis...it appears from twenty-four to thirty-six hours later (Christ!)...with the following symptoms: paralysis of the ocular muscles, difficulties in vision, dry throat, flushed mucus membranes, a striking lack of saliva (Mr. Michl swallowed involuntarily) hoarseness of throat, lack of urine production and constipation; in severe cases, paralysis, convulsions, and death (thank you very much!). Mr. Michl somehow lost his appetite; he put the pâté away in the cupboard and slowly nibbled at the roll and the pickles. Poor Eman, he told himself, a dumb little animal eats spolied pâté and dies like a dog. Heart full of sorrow, he lifted the cat and placed him on his lap. Eman began to purr heartily, narrowing his eyes in bliss; and and Mr. Michl sat motionless and petted him, worried and sad, staring at his unread newspaper.
    That night he brought Eman to bed with him. He may not be here tomorrow, so let him be comfortable now. And he did not sleep the whole night, sitting up at times to reach out for the cat. No, nothing's wrong with him. And his nose is cold. Eman the cat began to purr noisily every time.
    "So you see," Mr. Michl said in the morning, "the pâté was good, was it not? Just so you know, I'll be eating it myself tonight. Don't think that I'm going to feed you pâté your whole life." Eman the cat opened his mouth with a tender and throaty meow. "You," Mr. Michl said sharply, "are you hoarse? Show me your eyes!" The cat looked at him with motionless golden eyes. Hopefully that's no paralysis of the ocular muscles, Mr. Michl startled.. Hoarseness and dry throat--what fortune that I didn't put any of that pâté to my lips. And it smelled so nice!
    When Mr. Michl returned home in the evening, Eman the cat purred and curled about his legs for a long while. "You," said Mr. Michl, "do you feel badly? Show me your eyes!" Eman waved his tail and showed his gold and black eyes. "You're not through it yet," Mr. Michl pronounced, "Sometimes it doesn't start for thirty-six hours, did you know? So are you constipated?" Eman again twined about his legs and meowed sweetly and heartily. Mr. Michl put the pâté and his evening newspaper on the table. Eman jumped onto the table and stepped closer, digging his claws into the tablecloth.
    Mr. Michl sniffed at the pâté; it smelled good, but the devil only knew--it was slightly different than the day before. "Smell it, Eman," he said, "is the pâté good?" The cat placed his short nose near to the pâté and sniffed it suspiciously. Mr. Michl took fright. Maybe I should throw the pâté out, he said to himself. The cat knows there is something wrong with it. No, I will not eat it. Do I want to poison myself? I'll throw it out, and that is that.
    Mr. Michl leaned out the window to pick a spot to throw the tin. There, in the neighbor's yard, where the acacia stood. Shame about the pâté, Mr. Michl thought, it was so expensive...real Strassburger. I've never eaten it. Maybe it isn't spoiled, but...I will not eat it, but since I spent so much money on it...I wanted to eat it once. At least once in my life. Strassburger pâté, good sir, that's world-class cuisine. God, it's a shame, what a shame, Mr. Michl told himself remorsefully. To just throw it away for nothing...
    Mr. Michl turned. Eman the cat sat on the table and purred. My only friend, thought Mr. Michl, touched. By my soul, I'd hate to lose him. But it would be a shame to throw out the pâté, it cost a sinful amount of money. Real Strassburger, sir: it is written right on it, have a look.
    Eman the cat meowed tenderly.
    Mr. Michl scooped up the red tin and placed it silently on the ground. Do with it what you will, you little beast. Eat it or leave it, but it would be a shame to throw it away. I've never had it myself. But what about me, I can go without such delicacies; give me a piece of bread and I want nothing more. What would I need to eat such expensive pâté for? But to throw it away would be a sin. It cost a horrible amount of money, my friend. It's not to be thrown out.
    Eman the cat jumped down from the table and went to sniff at the pâté. He scrutinized it for a long time and then grudgingly consumed it.
    "So you see," Mr. Michl grumbled. "No cat in the world has it as good as you. Someone is fortunate. You know, I don't even have such good fortune."
    And he got up five times that night to reach for Eman. The cat purred until it drooled.

    From then on Mr. Michl would sometimes turn on his cat angrily. "Beast," he would say reproachfully, "you ate all my pâté!"

LN, 3 May 1936

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