Tuesday, March 4, 2008


“So just imagine,” said Mr. Diviš, “what happened to me. I’ve been receiving these…anonymous letters for years now. They are from—judging from the handwriting, paper, and so on—about three or four people; two type them and two handwrite them; of these one has horribly poor handwriting, rather base in effect, whereas the other writes in calligraphy, with such drawn, painstaking letters — it must be a terrible amount of work. Why these four have chosen me I cannot even tell you; I don’t get involved with politics, except that I occasionally write articles in the newspaper concerning the needs and goals of our dairy and cheese plant. When a man becomes an expert in the smallest thing, it no longer suits him and he is compelled to rouse the nation with his scrap of knowledge, informing the conscientious public and so on. I never thought that my proposals to improve our cheese plants could injure someone’s feelings, but one never knows. One of my faithful anonyms seems to be a butcher or a curer, fighting for the interests of his profession; after each of my articles he sends a typed letter in which he accuses me of befouling our conscientious society with this cheese of mine, and undermining our nation’s strength. The second, writing on an old Remington, notifies me outright that I am, as is commonly known, paid millions in royalties for my idiotic articles by certain interests, and that with my thirty pieces of silver I have already bought three estates. Moreover, I only want to bamboozle our people into swilling down my adulterated and typhoid-riddled milk for their bloody money. Of the handwritten ones the base one writes such shameful things about my wife, well, I cannot even say what, but… it is terrible what people are capable of in rancor and venom. Perhaps it is some well-to-do woman who knows us and who dictates these letters to her maid or washerwoman. Finally, the calligraphic one always threateningly addresses me as “Dear Sir!” and categorically demands that I leave everyone be with my milk; the nation supposedly has other concerns and will faithfully deal with those who deliberately divert its attention to material baseness and destroy its idealism. You shall be the first to hang from the lamp-posts, my calligraphic anonym informs me, when our people see through this web of lies and despicable distractions which your associates and your confederates have woven, and so on. The specifics don’t matter much: you see, these anonymous letters went on in the same vein, as though they had been written by some sort of advice columnist or regular correspondent. I just wondered who was writing them; I thought it was some friend of mine who was looking to vent his private feelings like this or to revenge himself against me in some way—I couldn’t imagine what for; but likely as not it had to be someone I knew or someone I had some sort of contact with. I despise writing letters: for this reason I think I normal man has to have a very strong reason to put pen to paper and write something.

It went on for years: the strange thing is that in these recent troubled times the letters have markedly increased in number and vehemence. The martial butcher or whoever has gotten increasingly personal, writing ‘you bloated pig, the knife for you is already sharpened,’ and such things. The one on the Remington has begun to sign as the Purge League, and advises me to say good-bye to my estates—you know, as far as land goes, I only have a windowbox with geraniums—for the working classes have already passed judgment over parasites like me. The ungrammatical letters about my wife have become recognizably harsher, and my calligraphic anonym now holds me responsible for everything that has happened, and signs off with the words: ‘Flee for the borders, you nothing, it is not too late! Signed: FUROR.’ Of course, there was more, but still in the same energetic style. I think that the excited times increase both people’s tendencies towards writing and their need to display them; I just wondered all the more how a boring businessman like myself could interest someone so passionately. There had to be something horribly personal behind it…maybe I had injured someone or gotten in someone’s way—shows how much one knows about one’s acquaintances! Still, you know, it is a little troubling when one has to look at everyone extending a hand with a bit of insecurity: my friend, is it finally you?

Once the other day I went to roam the streets a bit in the evening; I had cleared my mind and was only looking to see how people lived their lives, as though I were from some other time. I don’t even know what street I was on—a quiet little one, somewhere near Gröbovka. A short man with a cape was limping in front of me. He seemed to have a terrible cold because he kept coughing, spitting, and hunting in his pockets for a handkerchief. During on of his trips into his pocket an envelope fell out, but he didn’t notice it and went on. I picked it up and looked at it to see if it was worth chasing after this little man. My address was on it. And it was written in the same beautiful writing of my fourth anonym.

So I pick up my step and shout: “Hey, sir, isn’t this your letter?”

The man in the cape stopped and looked through his pockets. “Show me?” he said. “Yeah, it’s my letter. A thousand thanks, sir. Reverent thanks.”

I tell you, I stood as still as if I had been struck by lightning. You see, I have a memory for faces, but I had never seen this man before in my life. Here was a nobody for you; horribly stained collar, tattered pants, a crooked knot instead of a collar; well, it was piteous; his Adam’s apple bobbed in his neck, he had streaked eyes, a fatty lump on his face, and on top of it all he had a bad leg—-

“My reverent thanks, good sir,” he said, gravely polite, and doffed his hat in an old-fashioned way. “Greatly obliged.” He waved his hat once more and limped solemnly on.

I tell you, I just stood there and stared after him open-mouthed. So that was my Anonymous! Someone whom I had never met and to whom I had never done anything. And this man writes me and even sends his letters by pneumatic post! For the love of God, how did I come to this—and how did he? I thought about God-knows-what kind of secret enemy and meanwhile—think of the money it was costing the poor man! I wanted to run after him and find out who he was, but somehow I couldn’t; I turned my back on his and ambled on home. I felt such terrible pity. I had thought it was making him feel better. But at least the fool could have left off the postage! I should have said ‘Sir, you can send it to me postage due; it cost you so much writing, and to drop it like that as well—’

In the morning I got the letter by pneumatic post, still smeared from where it had fallen on the wet pavement. There were terrible things in it: throw me up against the wall, string me up in a tree, and I don’t know what else. I just feel so bad about it. You see, he is such a wretch, that man; it must eat away at the poor thing, just imagine what sort of sad and strange life it must be…”

LN, 6 November 1938

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