THEY didn’t stop outside her apartment house—but, for safety’s sake, about two hundred yards farther up Istenhegyi Road, just behind a curve. The young man put on the handbrake but left the engine running in neutral, hoping that they would soon finish with the final goodbyes. In the afternoon when they went into the espresso for their last talk he told her that he had a sore throat, didn’t want to sit too close. Before the date, at home, he ate a fair-sized piece of homemade garlic sausage which gave him another excuse for keeping his distance—and up to now he had succeeded in avoiding any intimate contact. Now she held out her hand.
“Well, then, ’bye.”
“ ’Bye,” he said, keeping his voice low and hoarse as though his throat were choked with grief. For a moment he thought that this was really the end; after all, they’d discussed everything. But she didnt pull back her hand, she just stared dreamily into the spring dusk; then suddenly she leaned close to him and kissed him.
He drew back a little behind the wheel. “You know I’ve got a bad cold . . . You’ll catch it. . .”
“So?” she shook her hair and removed her tiny hat. “I’m not afraid; when I cough, I’ll be thinking of you . . .” And she bent over him again, thirstily, as though she would never want to break away.
The young man felt it was impossible to draw back now; in order to make the time pass, while the kiss lasted, he kept playing with the accelerator, racing the engine again and again; then he started to count silently: one, two, three, four, five . . . It won’t last longer then seventeen, he thought; but it was twenty-three when he stopped counting and finally gave in.
“Promise you won’t call me again,” she said.
“I’ll try . . .”
“I want you to swear a solemn oath . . .”
“I swear . . .”
“But you won’t be able to keep it, will you?”
“Don’t think so . . .”
There came another kiss, just as endless as the former. The young man recited to himself the names of the seven legendary Hungarian chieftains, Almos, Elöd, Ond, Kund, Tas, Huba, Töhötöm; then the seven tribes, equally mythical, which were supposed to have conquered the country: Nyék, Megyer, Kürtgyarmat, Tarján, Jenö, Kari, Kazi . . . He remembered that the last two had variants: Kér, Keszi; there must have been some argument about this . . .
In the meantime two buses came down the road with a terrible clatter; he couldn’t see them properly because her face masked them; but he felt the headlights on his neck and he was made uneasy by the possibility of a head-on crash at the unlit curve. With his free hand he reached for the switch and put on his parking lights . . . (“I know two things about the horse, and one of them is rather coarse . . .”) She still clung to him, holding him tight in her arms. (“The animals came in two by two, Vive la compagnie, the centipede with the kangaroo, Vive la compagnie, One more river, and that’s the river of Jordan, One more river, There’s one more river to cross . . .”)
“D’you love me?” she asked.
“You know . . .”
“But say it. Say, I love you.”
“I love you.”
“I love you.”
“Then kiss me.”
He began to recite the periodic system of elements: hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon, nitrogen . . . he was surprised himself how well he remembered them. Oxygen, flourine, neon, natrium . . . This reminded him that he was stuck again in the laboratory with the measurement of membrane potential and something wasn’t right about the potassium definition. For a while he thought hard about the problem, playing with various solutions, speculating—he was working . . . But the next minute he felt again that he couldn’t bear the mouth clinging to his, not a second more. He'd have given six months of his life if at last he could have rolled down Istenhegyi Road blessedly and finally alone.
He tried to jolt her from her sentimental mood; he switched on the inside light, fiddled with the dashboard, twisted dials and knobs—everything was loose and wobbly in this ancient crock of a car. Then he cautiously glanced at his wristwatch, with a small discreet sigh as if he had some urgent appointment, not to be delayed, however bitter parting would be. Then he just stared at her, his eyes veiled, sorrowful and said, “So you’re leaving me? So soon?”
She didn’t react to this, just gazed into the dusk, so he repeated it, “Is it possible that in a minute we won’t be together any more?”
“What’ll you be thinking about?” she glanced at him.
He just shrugged, signalling that it was better not to ask. They sat side by side, in silence. He feverishly rattled off the latin prefixes governing the accusative: ante, apud, ad, adversus . . . Next he took refuge in the headings of the Encyclopædia Britannica, eleventh edition: A-Androphagi, Andros-Austria, Austria, Lower-Bismarck, Bismillah-Calgary . . . But he got stuck at Harmotome-Hurstmonceux and however he strained his brain, couldn’t continue.
“Well then . . .” she said at this point.
But she just shifted slightly on the seat, she didn’t get out. She obviously knew how wide open she left herself, how every second humiliated her afresh—still, she must have needed his presence so much that she couldn’t bear to break away. And the young man knew, too, that she was suffering and that he could console her with a little kindness, a pleasant word or two or a gentle gesture. But he was incapable of this; her grief repelled him. His tact only reached so far that he stayed waiting for her to leave. I must endure this, he repeated in self-torturing tenacity, I must sweat it out. . . “Give me another cigarette . . .” she said.
He produced his cigarette case; he offered her the half which contained the shorter kind called Matra; but she picked a plump Tullipan from the other side. I’ll kill her, he thought dazed with rage. I’ll get the starting handle out and brain her. . . Then he tried to reassure himself; he’d only have to wait for the end of the smoke, then she’d certainly get out. So he stared rigidly at the glowing tip, how it slowly crawled backward, and started to repeat the names of his classmates at high school: Abelovszky, Barta, Békés, Bottlik, Braun, Csoma, Daraban . . .
“You really won’t phone?” she asked.
“If that’s how you want it . . .”
“Because you love me too much?”
“But I told you—that’s just the trouble . . .”
“Ours wasn’t just a casual affair, was it?”
“How can you ask? Quite different . . .”
“But you had that kind, too? Didn’t you? Many?”
“ Not many . . . but this is quite different. . .”
“And you don’t want to wreck my life?”
“You know very well . . .”
“Because of my family . . . my child . . .?”
“Only because of that . . .”
“So you’d rather step aside . . .”
“What else could I do? You tell me . . .”
The cigarette was finished and after emerging from the final kiss, she did put on her hat and step from the car. As she did so, her legs flashed past; she had very lovely legs. The young man stared at her for a moment—but then he forgot her. He felt the joy of relief, the joy of being alone in every cell of his body . . . the next moment he would step on the gas and fly down towards the lights of the city, with the cool wind blowing through the open window . . . He leaned across to slam the door.
She was still standing near the car, on the pavement. She was looking for something in her bag, reached into her pocket, then suddenly slipped back into the car—she had forgotten her gloves. She put them on, leaning back on the seat.
“And tell me, if we meet by accident, even ten years from now. . . We’ll be like this, won’t we, so close?”
“Yes, of course . . .” the young man answered. (“My goodness, my Guinness . . . Guinness is Good for you . . .”)
“Like brother and sister?”
“Like brother and sister . . .”
©Ferenc Karinthy 1963
SOURCE: Karinthy, Ferenc. Goodbye for Ever and Ever and Ever, Argosy (UK), vol. 26, no.10, October 1965, pp. 99-102.
Frigyes & Ferenc Karinthy in English
Frigyes (Frederiko) Karinthy (1887-1938) en Esperanto
Science Fiction, Utopia, and Alienation
in the Work of Imre Madách, György Lukács, and Other Hungarian Writers:
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