from TOO LOUD A SOLITUDE, Bohumil Hrabal
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…On my way back to the Black Brewery I had a glass of rum and then a beer and then another rum. Not until we’re totally crushed do we show what we are made of.
Through the branches I watched the New Town Tower clock shining neon in the dark. As a boy I had dreamed of becoming a millionaire and buying phosphorescent hands and dials for all the city clocks. The mangled books made a final attempt to burst their bonds. Portrait of the artist as an old mushroom face. A breeze from the Vltava wafts through the square, I like that, I used to like walking along the Letná in the evening, the river scent meeting the park scent, but now the river scent fills the street and I go into Bubeníçek’s, sit down, and order a beer absentmindedly, two tons of books perched over my head, a daily sword of Damocles I’ve hung above myself. I’m a schoolboy taking home a bad report card. The bubbles rise like will-o’-the-wisps. Three youngsters in a corner are playing a guitar and singing quietly, everything that lives must have its enemy, the melancholy of a world eternally under self-rejuvenation, that beautiful Hellenic model and goal, classical gymnasia and humanist universities. But in the sewers of Prague two armies of rates are locked in a life-and-death struggle. The right leg was a little frayed at the knee. Turquoise-blue and velvet-violet skirts. Helpless hands like clipped wings. An enormous side of beef hanging from the hook of a provincial butcher’s. I hear toilets flushing.
Suddenly, the door opened and in stomped a giant reeking of the river, and before anyone knew what was happening, he had grabbed a chair, smashed it in two, and chased the terrified customers into a corner. The three youngsters pressed against he wall like periwinkles in the rain, but at the very last moment, when the man had picked up half a chair in each hand and seemed ready for the kill, he burst into song, and after conducting himself in ‘Grey Dove, Where Have You Been?’ he flung aside the halves of the chair, paid the waiter for the damage, and, turning to the still-shaking customers, said, ‘Gentlemen, I am the hangman’s assistant,’ whereupon he left, pensive and miserable. Perhaps he was the one who, last year at the Holesovice slaughterhouse, put a knife to my neck, shoved me into a corner, took out a slip of paper, and read me a poem celebrating the beauties of the countryside at Rícany, then apologized, saying he hadn’t found any other way of getting people to listen to his verse.
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