TEXTBRIDGE | Literary Agency

A Dialogue about Love

András Visky

Translated by David Robert Evans
Edited by Ailisha O'Sullivan

Author's notes
The description of this work as a “dialogue” is meant to be taken literally. Juliet hears what others are saying to her, whether from above or below, from outside or from within. It could equally have been termed a soliloquy, with St. Augustine’s Confessions in mind.

The occasional directorial instructions “from above” or “upwards” – included only when considered absolutely necessary – refer to the echoing theatrical space and the actress’ synchronized relationship to it, and not to movements of her head.

The recommended set is an “empty” one, circumscribed by light and sound.


(An open space without stage walls:
the theatrical box in its untouched “realism.”
On the right hand side are “sleeping quarters,”
straw, covered with a blanket,
together with a worn chair, a table, a book, etc.
As if we were in the stable in Bethlehem.
The set should highlight at once both
the tightness and the breadth of the space.)

(Light and music fade in gradually)


Shall I hear more?
Or shall I speak at this?

Oh speak again, bright angel
For thou art as glorious to this night, being o'er my head
As is a winged messenger of heaven

What man art thou that, thus bescreened in night,
So stumblest on my counsel?

Ay me!
What man are you?
Who are you?

(With determination)

Very well, I will go and tell them
it was you who sent me.


And I will also tell them
that it is your wish
that every part of me become yours.
That I follow you wherever you go. I will tell them.
I will not add to these things
or take away from them,
according to your word.

I know them.
They will ask,
they will ask me,
what is your name?

By a name
I know not how to tell thee
who I am.

Say anything but that!
What’s your name?

Tell them this if they ask about me.
Say, I Am sent me to you.
Tell them this.

I Am?
Who is I Am?
Who is I Am?


(Dogs barking wildly,
beating on the windows, kicking
on the door. Sound effects.)

(Gives a start)

Are you there?

(She stops, listens.)

Give me a sign!


Take me to yourself!
I have had my fill of this!
I desire that soft coldness.
I leave everything to you, do you hear?
my children, my husband,
the photographs, the letters.

My husband.
What news of my husband?
Does he still live?
Why do you give me no answer, why?
Would it be better not to love?
To break away for good?
To take this greatest of leaps...
Toward you, alright, toward you,
but away, finally, from here.

Does death remain freedom’s only form?
Is there no answer?

Angina pectoris,
the doctor said.
He’s a doctor all right,
and a prisoner, like me.

Not a bad name.
A nice girl’s name.
An actress’ name, perhaps.
Tragédienne or comedienne?
Let’s say she’s a tragédienne.
Angina Pectoris!

Let’s see, what else can the brain do?
I have it!
Angere,to squeeze, to strangle,
ango, I squeeze, I strangle.
I trouble, in fact,
I torment -
even better.

The doctor listened to my heart,
just as you used to do,
slowly, attentively,
a little strictly.
I won’t survive an attack, he said,
I am too weak.

I was comforted by that.

But then he said,
something is wrong,
there is no fear of death.

Me, I haven't any fear.
Something is not right here.
I have no fear of death.

Angina pectoris should mean fear of death.
But not for me.


Forgive me for not having a fear of death.

Take me to yourself, do you hear?
Don't let me go.


I was visited by the Maiden of Death,
the Maiden of Death and her attendants.
They stripped me naked,
and ladled water from the Danube
into a long wicker basket.
I laughed.
But the basket held the water.
They bathed me in it
like a child.
The Maiden of Death took off her black dress
and clothed me in it.
Then she put on my dress.

All at once the water vanished from the basket.

You are ready, she said, you are ready.
I lay back in the empty basket,
and in an instant I was covered by a shower of petals
from on high.


More like snow than rain.
They were soft and cold as ice.

I'm ready, I'm leaving, take me.


In my dream I remembered that winter,
that first winter of our imprisonment
when the snow completely shrouded our hut,
and we couldn't get out.
Only our bodies could tell that it was morning,
only our bodies.
It was dark, we didn’t know why.
Had the sun not risen?
Was it the end?

I wanted to get out of the hut
but there was no way of opening the door.
I tried the window, but it wouldn’t budge either.
I woke up the children.

Wake up, my little sparrows, wake up,
the wandering in the desert is over,
soon we’ll be free!

All at once, I felt a wave of freedom
and real happiness inside me.
I did not give a thought
to what I would do with them
while starvation ran its course.
I was putting my faith in a different death,
a passage, of sorts.
The river Jordan of time stops
and we all cross over to the other side,
our feet still dry.

So much was I blinded by the hope of dying together.

I was nice and warm.
At least that won’t be a problem,
I thought.
I lit a candle,
I waited for them to get dressed.
I will sing,
I will sing to them as long as I possibly can.
That always works.
I sing to them if they are hungry,
I tell them stories.
I sing to them if they are ill.

I could see the fear in their eyes.
It was a different fear from before.
Don’t be scared, my little sparrows, don’t be scared...

Our house is as big as a coffin.

My eldest tried to open the door,
then the window, just as I had,
but like me, he couldn’t.
Then he took a piece of wood from next to the fire
and broke the tiny windowpane.

he shouted

The little ones joined him
and began to shout happily,
but sounds were drifting in from outside, too.
It was the Franciscan monks
from the hut next door.

They were our liberators.


(To the Maiden of Death)

I'm ready, I'm leaving, take me.

I was so ashamed of myself.
I had reveled in the possibility of collective death.
Let the little sparrows die,
die like flies!
Let it be over, really over!

This was to be our best winter.
So much did the snow
harden against the wall and the ceiling,
that you could climb up the house and slide down.
The children are running about on the roof,
riding on the crest of the roof...

My little sparrows!
My little sparrows!

Of whom does the Maiden of Death’s face remind me?
Of whom?
I don’t know.


Do you?

I saw a dog, too,
lying on the bank of the river, watching.
He had pretty, pointed ears.
He looked at me inquiringly.
Inquiringly and quizzically.
As if he was not one of the Maiden of Death’s attendants.

He half-lifted his head from his extended paws
and whimpered.
Wait a minute.
That's it!
when I was clothed in the Maiden of Death’s clothes.


The arrest took place at dawn.
The truck set off with us in it.
Our dog began to run after us,
wanting to jump on and join us.
The children cried out in encouragement, Lupu!1
Come on, Lupu!

That was his name.
A Romanian dog.
Lupu – that means wolf.
We got him from a Romanian2 family in Nagyszalonta.3
Give him a home, they said,
he will be useful one day.
Then they vanished from our sight.

Times like this, people just vanish.
The ground and the dark
swallow them up.

A Romanian dog turned Hungarian.
A German shepherd turned Romanian,
then finally turned Hungarian.

Lupu, Lupule,4 the children encouraged him in unison,
Lupu dear, come with us, come on!

We were on the open road
but Lupu had still not given up.
The guard sitting at the back
pulled the canvas to one side,
reloaded his machine gun,
and shot him.
Poured a short round of bullets into him.
A short round.
He wanted to be sure.
Lupu’s body rose into the air
with perfect poise,
as if it had instantly been made light,
as if he had been waiting for this moment all his life.
He flew, flew, flew.

Then fell without a sound.

But we didn’t see him fall.

Dearest Lupu,
darling Lupu,
the children cried in unison,

For a long time we thought we saw his eyes in the dark
fixed upon us,
as if to follow us
and be with us as long as possible.

Dearest Lupu,
darling Lupu.

The arrest order made no mention of him.
May his ashes rest in peace.

Did you take him in?
Do you take animals in?
Sometimes I think you must have thought of something
for the animals, too.
A heaven for them, as well
A celestial zoo.

Just don’t follow the human example!

Or will they turn into angels, just like that?
There’s that Palm Sunday donkey, for example,
who carries the Messiah, your only Son.
What happened to him?
He was slaughtered, end of story?
They just ate him
as if nothing had happened?

Or take Balaam’s donkey,
my favorite donkey.
He carries the prophet on his back
to bring a curse on your people
and spots the angel by the side of the road...
The Balaamite prophet can’t see the angel,
only the donkey can.

When it comes to donkeys, you’re unbeatable.
I say this because my sons are donkeys.
No one comes close to you on donkeys.
Or lambs.

But if it's possible,
don’t forget little Lupu.
Can I tell the children?
Can I tell them that you keep an eye on Lupu, too?


Why was I jealous of the dog?
I asked you something.
Why would I have wanted to remain
in that dark tunnel, my children watching me disappear?
Am I so taken with flights of fancy?

Where are you taking us? - I asked them.
No answer.
No news of my husband*5for a year now.
Tell us something.

Dawn has broken.
The children sleep together in a huddled, jolting mass.

Are you there?


Humans are designed
so as not to hear the beating of their own heart.
They need someone else for that.
The doctor leans over me,
listens at length,
then says,
something is suffocating, devouring my heart

I knew it wasn’t something,
but somebody.


The only factors I can consider
are physiological ones, madam...


What do you want from me?

(No answer)

Are you there?


What am I doing here?
I’m not doing anything.
You brought me here, it wasn't my idea.

(Makes the bed)

It’s certainly not the money.
There’s no money in the straw mattress.


And no straw mattress, either.

When we got here, there wasn’t even straw,
only bare earth.
Now we have straw.
And a blanket,
we came by some blankets.
We cover the straw with blankets,
this is our sleeping quarters.
This is the den they gave us
when they brought us here.
No roof, no bed, no table, no chair, no window, no door.
Just walls.
There were remains of a roof.
A place for the birds of the sky to rest,
I suppose.

Foxes have holes,
and birds of the air have nests;
but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
Nowhere, that’s the gospel truth.
But he’s got a head.
He’s still got that.

We climbed down from the truck
and the guards told us
that we would live in this house.
You may not leave the camp grounds.
We will shoot without warning,
children and adults alike.

And so it went on...

I didn’t understand a word,
not a single word.6
It was like a hurried sermon at a funeral,
when the clouds are rolling in.
My eldest son was the interpreter.7

This house.
House, they said.
Is where you will live.
They’ve got a sense of humor all right.


We assembled inside the walls,
the newest prisoners to the place,
I in front,
the children behind me.

I looked up through the roof’s empty frame to the sky
and thought,
no need for a skylight here.
Only goes to show
how far we are from Budapest.
But at least the Black sea is close.
I thought of Budapest.
Our flat,8 next to the hospital.
The taps with porcelain knobs,
and the balcony looking onto
the deep courtyard with Sumac trees.

As if you’d been waiting for this signal,
this gaze fixed on the heavens,
it started to rain.
Now what?
At first we all huddled together
under one blanket.
This was the only solution I saw.
To hide somehow,
to conceal ourselves from you.

Why did you bless me with so many children?
Come here, my lambs,
come and join me.

But the rain didn't let up.

Only then did I realize
that during the five days they had transported us,
none of us had washed.
From truck to cattle train,
cattle train to third-class carriage,
third-class carriage to truck.
Then when we reached the Romanian plain,9
time, for us, just stopped.

Five days,
or seven,
or forty,
who knows?
surely forty.

They passed us from hand to hand,
the family was under armed guard.

Get out, my little lambs,
get out and strip off!
On the double!
The whole family!
Back to Paradise!

We showered.

It was the first time since our arrest
that I had seen them laugh.
I laughed, too, loudly.
Come here,
come here, my little sparrows!
They danced a little dance,
running around after each other in circles.
They chased me, too,
with rainwater cupped in their hands,
to cheer me up.

I gave them a good scrubbing down.
By the time I had finished with them,
the sun had come out again.

Thank you,
you even think of a hair-drier,
thank you!

The camp’s other prisoners stood around the house
and watched us
as if they couldn’t believe their eyes.

They waited for me to dress them
in their soaking clothes
and go out to the front of the hut
to greet them.

Who are you?
My eldest speaks for all of us, in Romanian.

Where is your mother?

Our mother?
That’s her, Juliet, she's our mother.

They shook their heads in disbelief,
I could, at most, be their eldest sister,
if that.

And where’s your father?

I don’t know.
They took him away.
Sentenced him.

To how many years?



The prisoners exchanged glances.
What was the charge?

Father’s a minister my eldest replied.
A pastor.
End of story.

Is he still alive?
The eldest looks me in the eye.
It’s not a question he’s ever heard before.
So dry and matter-of-fact,
as if they had asked,
what time is it?
But we didn’t
what time it was.

A father has to be alive,
what are they talking about?
Of course he’s alive, he replied, greedily,
more to convince himself and the others.

I don’t know, I don’t know, I answered,
why shouldn’t he be alive?

They brought us straw,
the prisoners brought us dry straw...


So many children...
Why did you give me so many children?
Or are they not from you?
Who do you think I got them from, then? Who?
Is it worth discussing?
You know how I know
that they are from you?
You don’t know?


I knew it!

From the fact that I had seven children.
Aha! Shows you had your hand in it!
You waited for the seventh, then,
then it all began.
At dawn.
Since then, I’ve always woken up at dawn,
I hear a dog barking wildly,
they beat on the windows,
they kick at the door,
speaking a language
I don’t understand.

My Romanian has become quite good since then.
But to no end, since once more in my dreams I don't understand.
Deschideţi imediat!

We gave a jump.
My husband, still half-asleep, said,
I remember it perfectly:
Hurry, open the door,
the Messiah has come back!


In an official jeep, I thought to myself.


Then he automatically began to translate for me:11


Open up!
Open up this minute!


He was a man of precision,
he didn’t mince words.

Open up!
Open up!

As if he had said,
Juliet, let’s get ready,
they’re taking me away now, and…

I won’t say the rest...
I still hear it each dawn...

They’re taking me away now, and…

(Does say it, but with difficulty)

And we will never see each other again, don’t be scared.

It’s not true!
I don’t believe it!

You heard it too, don’t deny it.

I am not Job, you understand?
You hear me?
No and no!

The truth will come out at the trial, I told him.
Whose truth: theirs or ours?
We don’t have our own truth,
it wasn’t we who invented God...
The truth will come out, you hear?
Yes, that’s right, it will come out.
Yes, that’s right, don’t be afraid.

The seven children made me suspicious
from the start.
To whom do you give seven?
To whom?
To someone with whom you have unfinished business.
Job, I get the signs, don’t worry...
You gave him seven boys and three girls, seven and
lest he had any illusions and so that he might prepare

The visit.

You sent one of your devoted, dutiful angels,
armed from head to toe,
and butchered them.
All ten of them.
Seven boys and three girls.

The holiest of holy seven and the holiest of holy three, well, of course...

The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away,”
say the Scriptures.
Too beautiful.

To cast someone for this role,
I tell you!

I am not Job!
I don’t understand a word of Job,
not a damn word!

At least there is your voice in it,
I can hear that coming out.
Your voice.
At least that.

Are you there?

Go on, I said, open it,
before they break the door down and wake up the children.
The children.
Everything reminds me of the children...
The seventh was one then,
while the eldest -
wait, wait a minute -
the eldest was eleven.
And as bright as the rising sun.
Like my husband.**12
A big sleeper, at least.
I’ve got that to thank you for.
Slept like a log.
And the seventh, too.
Another big sleeper.
I give thanks for this as well.
He didn’t awaken, either,
not then.

They burst in,
how many, I can’t remember,
they stalked up and down the room,
always reminding us they had a written order,
an order they never showed us.
House search!

My husband** offered them a seat.
A seat!
Take a seat, gentlemen, he said,
with supreme restraint and strictness.
That’s what he called them...
Domnilor.13 A nice word, Domnilor.

Rédey14, the local doctor, once said, -
Professor Rédey, as it happens,
who was turned out of Kolozsvár15 university
on account of his unhealthy background -
when things are at their darkest, like now,
to be a pastor is still the safest thing...
A real life insurance, doctor,
that’s what my husband* told him,
eternal life insurance, you could call it.
Believe me, Pastor,
I know what I'm talking about!
A pastor is not expected
to call them comrade...
I call them comrade, can you believe it,
me, a Rédey...

(Plays the fool)

Comrade Count Rédey,
keep an eye on the
interests of the party!
Comrade Count Rédey must report!
A comrade in abasement and nothing else...
So said the local doctor to my husband,
then he cried, loudly.
I won’t survive this eternal,
degrading camaraderie...

He was right, I suppose,
he didn’t survive it.
He disappeared from the area after my husband.

Take a seat, gentlemen,
my husband* said.
I thought they wouldn’t even hear amidst all that searching.
But then something happened...
The officer, the official in charge of the operation,
some kind of major,
sat down facing us,
and the others lined up obediently behind him.
They were possessed by obedience.
That’show my husband* spoke to them,
like someone with power.
Thank you, my husband said,
first we have to observe
our morning devotions.

They don’t understand.

We have to say our morning prayer.
They understand.

Just go on, go on,
don’t mind us,
as if we weren’t even here.
Oh, but you are here,
said my husband,
as if he wanted to encourage them.

Then he took out his Bible
and read out the following passage,
listen carefully: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers,
. for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”


Entertain what?
Now forgive me, but...
Let us pray.

He cheated
That wasn’t the right passage for that day.
Was he reading that Scripture for my sake?
That they were angels,
sent heavens
and I was blind to this?

We bowed our heads,
he prayed out loud.
After the Amen he said,
a warm welcome, gentlemen,
do with us what you will.

Do their will they did,
no shortage of that.
They concentrated on his desk,
they collected everything
they found in the drawers,
then handcuffed him and took him away.

The angels!
The angels have gone with my husband!*
My husband* has gone with the angels!
With your angels!

The angel in the leather coat,
the chief angel, looked me over, all over,
before stepping out of the house.


I can't cry.
I’m easily suspicious,
but I can't cry.
I'm not much good at laughing, either.
But my children
persistently teach me.

When they cried,
my heart hardened.
With a stone-hard heart I thought,
they are crying for you, not for me,
to you, not to me.
Do something!

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?
And one of them shall not fall on the ground
without your Father.
But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Fear ye not therefore,
ye are of more value than many sparrows.”

Do you hear?
The little sparrows are crying!
My children want no more of you!
While I couldn’t bear it
if you were not.

(Inquisitive silence)

Are you there?


Are you alive?

but matter of factly)

I'm sorry, but I would not be able to mourn you.
How can a God be mourned?
I don’t know how.
There’s no special manual.
I can’t even mourn my own husband*,
not even him...

Is he alive?
That’s what the prisoners asked.
Nice place you've brought me to.
These people won't keep anything from me.


I offer myself to you,
take me, Maiden of Death, take me, take me...

The doctor told us
not to report my illness to the guards.
Did you hear? - he said to my eldest.
I heard! - he replied, sternly.

Next day, we had to stand out on the platz16,
and I collapsed.
The children were supporting me on both sides,
the youngest stood in front and comforted me.
Look at me, me, me, me...
The wind blew, stirring the dust up off the plain,
all of a sudden a whirlwind swept me off the ground
and I was carried away, away...
I flew over the prisoners’ camp,
while the children cheerfully waved goodbye.

I collapsed.


Are you there?


Imagine, I arrived with that suitcase there,
that we crossed the border with after the war.17
With whom?
With my husband, with my husband, with my husband.
It was our honeymoon.
You must have invented love, too!
Humans would never make up
anything as insane as love!

And this love triangle,
which was what I got:
my husband,
and me.

Don’t smile!
You’re laughing at me!

We fled to the East after the war.
Some joke!
We have no choice
but to go where you go,
and you had gone East...
this was my husband's decided opinion.

Are you coming with me? - my husband** asked.
No, I said, I won’t go with you.

We looked at each other.
Here I had a brief pause,
this pause was my space to demonstrate.
I was waiting for the storm cloud to engulf
his forehead.

I won’t go with you.
I am you, too, see?
I am not an other.
I am you.
and you are me,
not an other.

Surely you invented love!
Humans would never have come up
with such madness, that’s quite sure,
quite, quite sure.

“Whither thou goest, I will go;
and where thou lodgest,
I will lodge:
thy people shall be my people,
and thy God my God:
Where thou diest,
will I die,
and there will I be buried also...”

If you would tear it out of my heart,
Maiden of Death!
Tear the love out of my heart!

We dallied a bit before leaving.
I had packed my photographs in my suitcase.
He said
that we shouldn’t bring any,
that we had to forget Budapest.
To break off from Budapest.
What are you saying?
Do you have any idea what you are saying?
No way,
that’s simply impossible!
How can I go about forgetting Budapest?

There’s no other way,
my husband replied,
that’s what my husband* said, there’s no other way.

No other way of what?
No other way of leaving.


Listen, you are not very original, you know.
You’ve brought me here to the Danube again.
We saw the Danube from the train,
when they brought us here.
It was as big as the sea...
Sometimes Budapest,
Budapest or Vienna, is reflected from its waters.
There’s a mound in the camp,
barely a mound, a hummock,
from where you can see the Danube.

Once, when I was small,
my Viennese aunt came to visit,
my father’s sister.
She arrived to Budapest in a black, hand-cranked car.
The chauffeur waited outside as our rich relative
scattered her gifts, all in a hurry,
then left again.
Vanished, as if neither she,
nor the gifts she had just scattered
had existed.

I don't remember her name.
Is it possible it was never mentioned?
She only wanted to speak with my father,
she would not even accept
a greeting from my mother.
So my father gathered up the presents,
put them in her lap
and told her
never to come again.
She didn’t come again,
she didn’t come.
What happened that day?
I didn’t understand anything.

The Viennese relative left,
I never saw her again.
Why do we never visit our relatives in Vienna? -
I asked my father.
We have no relatives in Vienna, he would answer.
They rejected your father because of me,
my mother said.
Disowned him on account of marrying below his station.

I didn’t understand a thing.

There’s no way back,
there’s no way back,
try to understand, my husband said.
Why can't there be?
There just isn’t.

I looked at the photographs
and couldn’t comprehend what he was saying.

My sailor’s uniform!
Five seas once lapped Hungary’s shores
and when, after the First World War,
she shrunk up like an island,18
sailors’ uniforms were all the rage.
I was a sailor, too,
without so much as seeing a sea in my life...

“Tiny ship on a sea of dreams,
sail, sail away with us
to a new world …19

Our whole class is wearing sailors' uniforms.
A girls' high school.
Enough sailors for a nice little flotilla,
real bomb-shells!

What was the name of our history teacher?
Forgive me, Sir, I can’t remember your name.
I am at war with names, Sir.
I simply cannot remember.

He stood in front of all those girls
with that forlorn cane in his hand
and quietly cried to himself.
He looked at us
as if in love with each and every one of us.
In fact, he was only in love with Gabyka.20
We called Gabyka, Géza’s Gabyka.
Géza’s Gabyka - that’s it!
Géza Porcsalmy21 was the teacher’s name,
doctor of history,
who had fled from Transylvania to Budapest
after the First World War.
He stood and looked at the map and cried.
A map he had himself prepared,
using black crêpe paper
to cover up the lost territories...
In line with the current political,
global situation, he told us,
not out of conviction...
A prepared map!
Five seas lapped the black crêpe...
And Dr. Géza was crying
while we strove to make ourselves inconspicuous.
I’ll admit, we giggled.

All except Gaby!22
Angelic little Gabriella!23
Teacher’s pet, Gabyka!
She cried, too,
cried together with Sir.

For teacher, a graceful bachelor of sixty-five,
it was love at first sight with Gabyka.
Gabyka, you understand
why my heart bleeds,
you understand, Gabyka!
History is a lesson for us all,
my dear Gabriella...
The complex relations of the great powers,
yet you understood at once...
and he struck the black crêpe with his cane.

Gabyka understood nothing.

She was not crying because she had understood,
she had not understood because she was crying.

Géza’s Gabyka always broke out in tears
if someone else did.
Whoever it was, for whatever reason,
in whatever circumstances,
she broke out in tears wherever she went
which proved most entertaining.

She cried loudly in the cinema,
she cried loudly in the theatre,
at the ice cream parlor,
at the dressmakers,
at the amusement park...

Gabyka, why are you crying? -
we would ask her.
I don’t know, but it’s good to cry, really good.
Géza’s Gabyka was the savior of our history lesson.
The pair cried until the fifty minutes was over,
it was like a shower.
When it came to crying,
no one could possibly outdo Gabyka.

This also proved her downfall.
The Second World War came and
for a little while some of the crêpe came off24
Dr. Géza’s map.
Then the war came to an end,
and Dr. Géza’s crêpe retook its place on the map.25

In 1950 Gabyka got married
to the local Communist party secretary.26
She had a great career in the party ahead of her.
They even began to mention her name at party headquarters.
They were trolling for fresh female recruits!
The time of the big mission had come.
Gabyka was assigned to frame some old party leader,
a woman,
a bourgeois blight.
a capitalist agent,
a snake nourished in the party’s bosom
as a spy of Tito.
Apparently, wise comrade Mátyás27
was there at the trial,
accompanied by Soviet comrades who were also wise.

And Gabyka read out the indictment with great energy,
bravely putting the woman’s offences to her face,
together with the undeniable proof.
When comrade Gabyka got to the part
about a snake nourished in the party’s bosom,
a spy of Tito, etc.,
the old woman comrade began to cry.
At first Gabyka's voice began to quiver,
she feverishly swallowed her tears,
took deep breaths,
drank water,
forced her trembling lips to smile,
all in vain...
She reached the end of the indictment sobbing.
The two women stood on the stand
and cried, bitterly...

Wise comrade Mátyás was red as a beet root.
He’d always been red,
but now he was beet root red.
He sprang up and stormed out of the room.
His entourage followed quickly at his heels
as if chasing him out,
but it was not they who chased him out.

Gabyka’s promising career in politics was in ruins,
even though the Communist party was in urgent need
of fresh women recruits!
Gabyka’s career was washed away by the thick streams of her tears.

Are you listening?
I would make her a saint.

You said,
rejoice with them that do rejoice,
and weep with them that weep.

I would make her a saint.
She disappeared down the tubes.
In our high school, she played the nurse, and I, Juliet.
She was a good nurse was Gabyka.
She disappeared down the tubes.

“ Mistress! – what mistress! – Juliet! – Fast,
I warrant her, she: -
Why, lamb! – Why lady! – Fy, you slug-a-bed! –
Why, love, I say! – Madam! Sweetheart! – Why, bride! -
Sleep for a week…”


Farewell, my nurse!


I woke up in the morgue.
The guards had picked me up off the platz
and carried me directly to the morgue.
I was woken
by my eldest shaking and slapping me,
lifting up my eyelids.
A twelve-year-old Jesus was looking at me.
But I couldn’t hear what he was saying.
He grasped my nose and squeezed, squeezed...
What are you doing?
You’re strangling me!
Air! Air!
My mouth opened a crack,
and he put a knife-blade between my teeth,
while with his other hand he dripped honey and lukewarm milk into my mouth.

Honey and milk...

I collapsed back into the tranquility of unconsciousness.

The black crêpe paper...
It was a nice job, I remember...


This is where we fled,
in the direction of the darkly billowing crêpe...
With my husband,
and with my lord.

He was just running back
home, home, like the one in the Bible...
But I became a real fugitive.
I read in my husband’s indictment
that we, agents of Regent Horthy,28
were flung across the border
to confuse the impeccable fraternity
between our two nations
and weaken their solidarity in the struggle
against world capitalism.
My husband hadn't gone to university in Hungary,
no, no,
he had been trained in secret...

And so came the evidence:
God the redeemer, my husband had declared from the pulpit.
But what does a country,
which has already been liberated from the
exploitation of the capitalists and the landowners,
need to be redeemed from? -
was the judge’s eloquent reply.
And so on, and so on.

Where’s Géza’s Gabyka?
Where’s nursey?
You disappeared down the tubes,
or so they told me in a letter,
when wise comrade Mátyás
had also disappeared down the tubes.

And here I am, still down the tubes,
with Dr. Géza’s black crêpe
billowing above me...

Not even you can see through it.
Not even you!
Even though you can see everything.

I decided to outwit you,
to leave them in your hands,
all seven of them.

I am not Job,
I have no wish to survive them.
Not a single one of them, is that clear?
I surrender myself to the Maiden of Death...
I’ll outwit you, I thought,
turn my back on you and run headlong into death...

And what if he's no longer alive?
Beloved Angina Pectoris,
dear Maiden of Death,
if he’s no longer alive, take me as well, to him...
Take me, I am ready, I am ready,
look, my hands are empty,
I have nothing,
I’m not holding onto anything...
Take me, Angina!
When you take my heart into your hands,
grip it tightly,
tighter, tighter, tighter,
and take it away, away, away...

I will hide away from him
in death.


You have returned us to the wilderness.
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak comfortably unto her.”

That's what I read from the Book,
from your terrifying Book,
before I appeared at my husband’s trial...

I didn't cheat, no,
that was the passage for that day,
precisely that part.

I couldn’t believe my ears.
That morning, at any rate,
I understood it differently
from how you did,
if you’ll forgive me...

The Romanian wilderness
as far as the eye can see...
The Romanian wilderness as biblical landscape.
A very far East.
This is where you brought us.
Where your angels brought us.

I don’t want to hurt you
but these angels of yours,
if they're really yours,
don’t exactly attest to your good taste.
What a sight!
There were Hungarian29 angels among them, too,
you even sent some Hungarian ones -
they were no better than the others.

The trial was theatre at its grandest,
really great theatre:
a full house, the best audience
dying with curiosity.
Members of the press in their own box,
there to report the latest triumph...

I was sure of the not-guilty verdict.
You'd given us a good fright, well done,
I thought,
now it was finished,
after three months in custody,
he would now be allowed home.

I was standing behind him
when the Temesvár30 military31 court announced the verdict.
I gazed at his close shaven head,
I'd never seen it like that.
A lovely, beautiful head.
His every hair has fallen out by your will.
Keep an eye on them!

I had an irresistible impulse
to grab hold of that bald head
and squeeze it,
squeeze it,
squeeze it,
until every difference between us disappeared.
I made do with the chance to grasp
his handcuffed hands.
He took off his wedding ring
and dropped it into my palm.

What are you doing, you lunatic,
you God’s darling donkey, you?
What are you doing with that ring?
Is this as long as the holy bond lasted?
The “Till death us do part”?

I wanted to put it back on his finger,
but he simply squeezed my hand closed,
squeezed it...

They announced the verdict.
Everyone had to stand,
like in the church
when we said our wedding vows.
Then everyone sat down,
except me,
because neither did he.

So we stood a few seconds,
hand in hand.

He was escorted from the courtroom,
he didn’t look back.
Lest I turn into a pillar of salt,
I suppose.

I am not an I and he is not a he.
What does separation mean?


A woman came to us one night in Nagyszalonta.
Flee, flee,
they are going to arrest the pastor!
What are you saying, good lady?
I know it from my husband.
A big-wig from Nagyvárad32 visited them
at the secret police headquarters,
he told them.

By then the undercover men
were attending services regularly.
My husband,
God’s curse,
delivered the word to them from the pulpit with zest:

“If the Son therefore shall make you free,
ye shall be free indeed.”

There you are!

The seeds fall on a rocky place,
I said to him,
among thorns,
which strangle them,
then strangle us,
and the birds come and pick at the seeds,
then pick at us...

That's not our business,
said my husband,
God’s farmhand,
there are seeds aplenty.
The sower just sows, sows,
that is his job...

The undercover men sat in the last pew
and listened to the service.
The children gave them a hymnbook.
I can’t read, said one of the men,
I don't have my glasses.
The children brought him glasses,
borrowing them from the bell-ringer.
The undercover man sang.
Or moved his lips up and down, at least...

You see, said my husband,
you see, he said happily.

(With affection,
like an endearment)

You God’s curse, you, I said to him.
Yes, he replied, yes,
I hope so.

He turns to me.
You don’t love them?
I turn to him.

But it’s easier then, he said.
Easier? - I asked.
Easier, he said.
Simple as that.

It’s the same with God, he said,
if you love him, it’s easier.
And that he exists
is also easier.

I thought of the children.
And if he doesn’t?
Is it easier then, too?
Yes, it's easier, easier if he doesn’t exist, too.

(With affection,
like an endearment)

You God’s curse, you, I said to him.
Yes, he replied, yes,
I hope so.

Thy staff and Thy rod, they comfort me
Well, we’ll see.

Where should we flee, good lady? -
we asked the woman.
Just flee, the woman said.
Don’t cry, we told her.
The woman left.

We looked at each other in silence.
If God be for us, who can be against us? -
I said to my husband,
so as not to be completely overwhelmed by fear.
Why, everyone, my husband said.
Everyone, don’t be afraid.

I’m not afraid.
I’m afraid.
I’m not afraid.
I’m afraid.
I’m not afraid.
I’m afraid,
I said to him.

Me too,
there, there...


I am engaged twice over,
here are the rings,
just see
how they look side by side
on one finger.

(Takes off one of them and puts the other
on the ring finger of her other hand,
then lifts them both up in front of
her as if performing puppet theatre)


It is my lady. Oh, it is my love!
Oh, that she knew she were!
See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand.
Oh, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!

Ay me!


She speaks!
Oh, speak again, bright angel; for thou art
As glorious as this night, being
o’er my head,
As is a winged messenger of heaven.


Oh Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.


I take thee at thy word! I take thee at thy word!


And the place death, considering who thou art.

(Stops the performance)

That should be cut out,
that “place death” line.
Let’s see,
let’s see, Juliet.
Now it’s your turn, Juliet.
It’s Juliet’s monologue.
My turn.


A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me;
he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.
My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire
in the vineyards of Engedi.

Behold, thou art fair, my love;
behold, thou art fair;
thou hast doves’ eyes.

As the apple tree among the trees of the wood,
so is my beloved among the sons.

His banner over me was love.

My beloved is like a roe or a young hart.

He looketh forth at the windows,
showing himself through the lattice.

He looketh forth at the windows,
showing himself through the lattice.

(The two hands come ever closer together,
then clasp each other as if in prayer.
She finishes the monologue in tears. Silence.)

I cheated.
I didn’t cheat.

Romeo and Juliet see the burning bush.
Juliet stands on one side of the bush,
Romeo stands on the other,
face to face.

They reach their hands out across the fire,
and they touch.
The two hands burst into flames,
they burn,
but they are not consumed...

(The two hands are in flames)

Juliet asks the burning bush,
what’s your name?
Romeo, too, asks the burning bush,
what’s your name?
A voice from the flames answers them.

And they are doomed,
They burn, but they are not consumed...
They are doomed...
They are doomed...

A classic
love triangle,
holy triangle,
oh God.


We read of the journey through the wilderness,
that’s how our day begins.
Why doesn’t God find himself a new people? -
I asked my husband.

Because he’s in love, my husband replied.

Then things are never the same, never the same.


We read of the journey through the wilderness,
that’s how our day ends.
Why don’t the people find themselves a new God? -
I asked my husband.

Because they're in love, my husband replied.

Then things are never the same, never the same.


We eat alfalfa for breakfast,
we eat alfalfa for lunch,
we eat alfalfa for dinner.

We pick the shoots off the alfalfa,
cut it into pieces,
cover it with water,
cook it until it’s soft,
add some salt.

There’s no salt.

Or sugar.

There’s no sugar.

We have to steal the alfalfa.
Steal it we do.

We serve the alfalfa broth
with toasted bread.

There’s no bread.

If there is, better to make soup with it.
Soak the bits of bread in hot water,
that’s the soup.
You must not soak it for long
or it will break up altogether.
A two course meal.

But better days will come.
Under the leadership of my eldest,
the boys steal early sweet corn.
Cornfields as big as countries!
The guards shoot without warning,
so the operation can only be conducted
at night.

The change in the law
enjoys unanimous support:
thou shalt not steal – during the day.

Then it’s the ripe sweet corn's turn.
You have to wait until the wind
blows from the guards’ direction,
so the dogs can’t smell anything.
Boiled sweet corn is the plat du jour of winter.

Maybe it was Satan who created winter? -
ask the children.
Satan never created anything,
I tell them.
Well, the children are skeptical,
Satan must have created something...


A lawyer came,
bringing a straw mattress.
You shouldn’t be without a straw mattress,
said the lawyer.
We’ve been prisoners for years
but never had a straw mattress.
Thank you, I said.
I looked closely at his uniform.
I’m a lawyer, said the lawyer.
Very well, I said, thank you for your kindness.
Send the children out into the courtyard,
said the lawyer.
Go on, my little sparrows, go on, don’t be afraid.
I see they’ve put a roof on the house.
Who did that?
The Franciscan prisoners, I told him.

The fifth roofing in a row.
The wind had blown off our roof
like someone’s hat
and ran, ran with it through the wilderness.

The Franciscans had roofed it again,
those good Poverelli.
The Franciscans? - he said,
They will be going home soon.
He’s lying, I thought.
Thanks be to God, I replied.
This has nothing to do with him, said the lawyer.
But there’s still a chance for you, my love, he said
Why does he call me “my love?” - I asked?
Sorry, I’m sorry, he said,
and with a sudden movement clutched my hand
and kissed it.
I pulled away,
and had to stop my hand in mid-air
from smacking him on the cheek.
Sorry, I’m sorry, said the lawyer.
You’re still such a wild one! - said the official.
Congratulations, he added.
He placed himself on the straw mattress.
I retreated to the window, so the children could see me.
He opened his briefcase and took out a stack of papers.
There is a new law governing this instance.
What instance? - I asked.
I thought of his cheek, which I hadn’t actually hit,
but my intention was obvious enough...
Oh, come on, said the lawyer good-naturedly,
forget the attempted assault on an official.
This is something quite different, pay close attention.
If you divorce your husband,
your kinship with a political prisoner will be dissolved
and you will be freed. You could leave at once...
I said nothing.
You would only be divorced on paper, of course,
only in the eyes of the law.
You would instigate the divorce, which
in these circumstances, would immediately be approved.
I said nothing.
You can even wait until he is freed
and marry officially again.
If you still want to.
If you both still want to, said the lawyer.

And then my whole body was suffused
with an intense heat.
I felt happiness the likes of which I hadn’t felt
since my husband* was sentenced.
I could restrain myself no longer,
I let out a scream...
You see, I am the bearer of good news, madam,
said the lawyer on the mattress of straw.

He stood up and lit the candle on the table,
then returned to the mattress.
Good news, good news, I thought to myself,
the best there is.
He’s alive!
My husband’s** alive!

My husband*, my husband* lives!

This is the first news of him you’ve sent me!
For five years I haven’t heard a word about him...
Just the two rings on my finger...
You’ve well and truly starved me...

I looked at the lawyer,
as one might at an angel.
At your angel, bearing good news for me
at your request.


Maybe I took that looking a bit too far...


The lawyer was pleased as Punch
at the progress of events.
He took off his jacket,
loosened his tie.
Let’s get the formalities over with, shall we?
Sign here, and here,
the rest is my job...
And yours too, of course, if you know what I mean...
The lawyer smiled that charming smile,
our job, the two of us.
We will officially forward this to the prosecutor,
and inform your husband in prison
and you are free to leave...
You are free!
Even before the Franciscans!

I looked at the document,
I read the prepared text.
It said that I was showing contrition
for not having recognized in time
my husband’s subversive and treasonous activities.
And that I wanted to begin a new life
and to raise my children
in this new spirit...

Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband and lord? -
Juliet asks her nurse.

I went to the table
and held the paper above the candle,
only for it obligingly to catch fire
and be destroyed in an instant.
There was a great light in the room.
The children ran in
like a well-trained troupe.
They stood side by side
and gazed at us without a word.

I see,
I see,
said the lawyer in uniform.
He picked up his jacket and walked out.

We put the straw mattress outside in front of the building.


I made the mistake
of telling the children the news.
He's alive,
he's alive,
he's alive.


(Sardonically, ironically)

And then began for us the era of hope.
A mistake, a big mistake.

Wasting away in hope
while still nothing happens.
He’s alive, he’s not
He’s alive, he’s not
He’s alive, he’s not...

I am going after him, alive or not...

I arrived at the following solution:
if Job dies before his children,
then the children don’t have to die.
I’d found the answer!
I summoned Angina Pectoris,
the black lady, and she came...

A love triangle,
with the tip pointing downwards...

Frailty, thy name is woman!

There was a woman in the camp,
she weighed sixty-six pounds, if that.
Everyone called her
Sixty-six pounds.

She visited each of the huts every day,
passing on certain information she had gleaned,
that the Americans were coming
and that they would liberate us.
She had seen them in the cornfields around the camp.
Their camouflage is perfect,
absolutely perfect...
The Americans are here,
everyone get ready for the day of liberation,
America is watching over us...

She had learned from a reliable source
that the first secretary, our country’s wise leader,
the genius of the Carpathians,
had openly showed penitence
at a people’s meeting in Bucharest.
He had cried loudly into the microphone,
said ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys,
then asked the people
that he be allowed to spend his remaining days
in a monastery in Moldavia.
And that they restore the king from exile
without further delay...

Poor delirious Speranţa!
come in
and have something to eat...

Tie up the dog first!
There is no dog, Speranţa.
Then why do dogs
chase me all night long?

Give me potatoes,
lots of potatoes...

There aren’t any, Speranţa,
there are sweet potatoes,
the children found some.

Eat, eat.

Sixty-six pounds of hope.

Take the hope back...
Take it back, take it back, take it back...
We don’t need it, take it back...

Do you hear?
They say there is no God.
That’s what they are saying.
They gathered us together in the correction hut
and brought it to our attention
that there is no God.
Yes, they set up such a hut
in which to educate us.

There is no God,
yes, you are the issue.

They all completely agree,
the Romanian, Hungarian, Czech, Polish, German even the Chinese
comrades, with our Soviet brothers
at the helm.
Just imagine it!

People run into each other in the street:
Did you hear? God doesn’t exist.
I’ve had my suspicions for a long time.
Well, God bless!
And they shake hands,
as if to congratulate each other
that you don’t exist.

There’s even been a party resolution about you.
There is no you!
Maybe you already knew.
The news has even made it here, to our camp.
In actual fact,
the Soviet brothers,
God be merciful to them,
sent Yuri Gagarin out into space
to have a look,
to meet you.
Yuri Gagarin came back from space
and solemnly declared that God wasn't there.

Standing him up like that,
not very nice of you...
So you are partly responsible, you see,
for what they are saying about you!

Just don’t tell me
that the reason you weren’t there
is that you are everywhere.

Questions? Are there questions?
Speranţa put up her hand.
When was Gagarin up in space?
When exactly?
They told her when exactly.
April 12th, 1961.
Wait a minute,
said Speranţa,
wait a minute!
Right then you were right here
in this very camp,
for Speranţa met you.
You even exchanged a few words,
so Speranţa said,
and asked whether they could tell Gagarin
that there had been a terrible misunderstanding!


Are you there?

My eldest slaps me,
shakes me, slaps me wildly.
I can’t see anything.

Open your eyes,
open your eyes at once.

Wait, let me help,
I'll pull up your eyelids,
I don't care if it hurts, it's good if it hurts.


I can’t see anything.

Look at me, look at me, look at me...

Do you know who you are you talking to?
Who are you talking to so endlessly, so incessantly?

Am I talking?

You’re arguing, you're talking, talking,
you are right in his face, incessantly.

He grabs my nose, as if to punish me.

Knife blade.
Honey and milk.

What did he say to you?
That I should not flee from him, to him.

Flee from him to where?
Well, to death. To him.
But he doesn't want to receive me.

Alright, that's alright then.
Just obey him and come back.


They came that night, all seven of them,
and stole me from the morgue,
hauling me back in a wheelbarrow.

I see the flame
of a candle burning.

A choir of angels, finally.
They are singing,
do you hear?
The children are singing,


You came to me and said,
it is not enough to be faithful to just one person.
A third is necessary in order for the giving of one's word to have meaning.

Who were you?

You curse from God, you!
Wasn't it you?

You curse from man, you!
My husband!*

I will return to them.


A twelve-year-old Jesus leans over me.
this is my son!

We brought you back
so you won’t die here.

I won’t die?
No, no, we are not letting you.

Milk and honey.

Why won’t I die?

Because you already died once.
That was enough.

The room is full of wild flowers,
wreaths of wild flowers.
There’s a clergyman, too,
but it is not you.


Where are the flowers?
Where did they go?

The sun is shining,
the children carry me out to the courtyard.

They put the flowers
on the acacia tree, the roof, the walls, the fence...

I walk on!
I walk on!
I walk on!

My lord!
My husband!
My beloved!

1 Pron. LOO-poo.
2 Juliet and her family are ethnic Hungarians, all born (with the exception of Juliet herself), in Romania, and living there as a minority among ethnic Romanians.
3 The Hungarian name for the Romanian town, Salonta; pron. NAW(DY)-saw-lohn-taw.
4 Pron. LOO-poo-leh.
5 The most common word for husband in Hungarian is férj. However, the word úr, which can mean both husband and lord (the latter having both secular and religious meanings), is also used. In the original Hungarian text, the author chose to use úr much more than férj, playing on the double meaning. This word-play is untranslatable, but an asterisk indicates where the original uses úr as opposed to férj.
6 Juliet is from Budapest, coming to Romania only after her marriage, and does not easily speak or understand Romanian.
7 Her children speak Romanian because they are educated in Romania at state schools.
8 Her parents' apartment, where she grew up.
9 The Romanian Plain (also the Wallachian Plain or Câmpia Română in Romanian) is that part of Romania bordered by the Danube in the east, south and west, and by the Getic Plateau in the north. It includes an area called the Bărăgan where the Communist government sent thousands of political prisoners.
10 “Open up! Open up this minute! Police!” Pron. Des-kee-DEHTS! Des-kee-DEHTS ee-med-dee-AHT! Mee-LEETS-ee-ah!
11 Juliet's husband is from Transylvania in Romania, and although an ethnic Hungarian like her, he speaks Romanian as well as Hungarian.
12 Occasionally in the original text, the author uses a word of his own coinage, férjúr, which combines the Hungarian word for husband, férj with the word úr which can mean both husband and lord. This is indicated by a double asterisk.
13 “Gentlemen.” Pron. DOHM-nee-lohr.
14 Pron. RAY-deh-ee.
15 The Hungarian name for the Romanian city, Cluj; pron. KOHL-ehzh-vahr.
16 The square of the camp where daily roll calls took place and where prisoners were often required to stand for hours on end; pron. PLAHTS
17 They moved to her husband's home in Romania after their wedding in Hungary.
18 After World War I, under the terms of the Treaty of Trianon (1920), Hungary lost 72% of her lands including Transylvania, which became part of Romania; Carpathian Ruthenia, which became part of Czechoslovakia; most of Burgenland, which became part of Austria; and Medimurje and Prekmurje, which became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Hungary now no longer had access to the sea which she had previously had for over 800 years through the Croatian coast and the port of Fiume.
19 A rather kitschy Hungarian love-song of the period.
20 Pron. GAW-bee-kaw.
21 Pron. GAY-zaw POHR-chal-mee.
22 Pron. GAW-bee.
23 Pron. GAW-bree-el-law.
24 In 1938 and 1940, under the Vienna Awards administered by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, some of the territories lost by Hungary after World War I were restored. These included parts of Southern Slovakia, Carpathian Ruthenia and the northern half of Transylvania.
25 The post-World War II Treaty of Paris annulled Hungary's claim to any of the territories which she had regained under the Vienna Awards, and Hungary's borders returned to their post-World War I status.
26 In 1949, Hungary became the People's Republic of Hungary, with a constitution modeled on the 1936 constitution of the Soviet Union.
27 Pron. MAHT-yahsh.
28 Pron. HOHR-tee. Miklós Horthy was the Regent of Hungary during the interwar years and throughout most of World War II. He was hated in Romania, particularly for his visit to Hungary's newly regained territory of Northern Transylvania in 1940.
29 Ethnic Hungarians, as well as ethnic Romanians, worked for the Romanian Communist authorities in various capacities.
30 The Hungarian name for the Romanian city, Timisoara; pron. TEHM-esh-vahr.
31 In Communist Romania, there were two types of courts, civil courts which prosecuted civil crimes (theft, assault, murder, etc.) and military courts which prosecuted political crimes, i.e., anything that was considered a crime against the ruling authority. The latter were notoriously harsh and unjust.
32 The Hungarian name for the Romanian town, Oradea; pron. NAW(DY)-vahr-awd.
33 “Hope.” Pron, Spehr-AHN-tsah.

Copyright© 2003, 2007 András Visky