My First Suicide. Jerzy Pilch
Praise for Jerzy Pilch
“A very gifted writer… The hope of young Polish prose.”
“Pilch’s antic sensibility confirms that he is the compatriot of Witold Gombrowicz, the Polish maestro of absurdist pranks. But readers with a taste for the fermented Irish blarney of Flann O’Brien, Samuel Beckett, and John Kennedy Toole might also savor Pilch.”
—Steven Kellman, Barnes & Noble Review
“If laughter actually is the best medicine, fortunate readers of A Thousand Peaceful Cities will surely enjoy perfect health for the rest of their days.”
“Jerzy Pilch’s Thousand Peaceful Cities are… the unruly, wonderfully erudite, and hilariously surreal product of a boisterous imagination set loose.”
—Valentina Zanca, Words Without Borders
“Fans of Gombrowicz will find this a much gentler, yet almost equally rich, examination of what it means to be an individual in a bygone world.”
—Jennifer Croft, World Literature Today
Also by Jerzy Pilch
His Current Woman
The Mighty Angel
A Thousand Peaceful Cities
Copyright © by Jerzy Pilch, 2006
Translation © by David Frick, 2012
Published with the permission of Świat Książki Sp. z o.o., Warsaw, 2010
First edition, 2012
First digital edition, 2013
All rights reserved
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data: Available.
This publication has been funded by the Book Institute - the ©POLAND Translation Program.
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The Most Beautiful Woman in the World
When great love comes along, a person always thinks he has fallen in love with the most beautiful woman in the world. But when a person has fallen in love with the most beautiful woman in the world, he can have problems.
If she wasn’t The Most Beautiful Woman in the World in the strict sense, she was in the top ten, and if it wasn’t the top ten, then the top one hundred—the details are unimportant. She was dazzling in a planetary sense.
I saw her, and I committed a rookie’s mistake. Instead of being satisfied with admiring, I resolved to conquer her.
I saw her at a certain reception—that is, I saw her for the first time and in person at a certain reception. Before then I had seen her likeness hundreds of times on various photographs, advertisements, posters, and billboards. The famous visage of the depraved madonna—which so excited photographers, cameramen, and directors—was universally known. The reception took place in the gardens of a Western embassy. It was a very significant, very ritual, and very annual reception. On the societal bond market, an invitation to that reception was considered an unusually valuable security.
The uniqueness of the garden reception at the embassy was also made clear by that fact that, in addition to the habitués—virtuosos at the art of the reception—lost intellectuals were wandering around, intellectuals who never attended receptions, but who had to their credit works devoted to the culture of the Western country whose ambassador was hosting the reception. They were distinguished by their archaic suits, immoderate gluttony, and great enthusiasm. When the jaded habitués confessed to them that they hated receptions, the intellectuals tried to comfort them somehow and urged them on to eat, drink, and have fun. The jaded habitués—who, at all receptions, would drone on gloomily about hating receptions, and who found an equally gloomy hearing for their confessions among other jaded habitués of receptions, who likewise hate receptions—gazed stupefied at the hearty, smiling oldsters, who, flushed with champagne, grabbed them by the elbow with an unexpectedly iron grip, led them to the groaning table and, looking around, exclaimed in triumph:
“But why so sad, young man! You’ve got to appreciate the sunny side of life! Especially today! Especially here! What a wonderful reception! You simply must eat something! Here you are! Exquisite fish! Exquisite cold cuts! Exquisite salad!” and they shoved plates into jaded hands, and piled up heaping portions and shoved them before jaded faces. “You simply must eat something! And then the drinks await us. The libations are excellent! Please be so good as to help yourselves!”—and the intellectuals, seemingly lost, but in truth feeling like fish in water in the gardens of the embassy, winked roguishly and dove merrily into the undulating throng.
It was a steamy July day. Clouds dark as lead and light as electricity were scudding along toward Warsaw from the west. The Most Beautiful Woman in the World didn’t budge from her spot for a good two hours. I circled.
At first I didn’t notice that I was circling. Without a goal—so it seemed to me—I sauntered about the gardens of the embassy holding a glass of still water. I didn’t particularly seek anyone out. Nor did anyone seek me. I instinctively attempted to avoid the bores who were lying in ambush for victims. After enough receptions, this ability becomes second nature. Bores lying in ambush for victims are like sharpshooters in war—they sow death. Somehow I managed to pull it off. True, one bore, a colorless columnist in civilian clothes, what might be called “Independence Style,” managed to take my bearings. He approached and began to blather—for the thousandth time he told the story of how he was arrested during Martial Law. I was already beginning to think I was a goner, but once he got closer, it turned out that my assailant, in spite of the early hour, was already distinctly fuddled—I lost him without trouble. I, of course, didn’t drink a drop myself; true, in the depths of my soul I wasn’t excluding the possibility that yet that evening, having locked myself up tight and alone at home, I might uncork a bottle, but here—out of the question.
By the time I was passing The Most Beautiful Woman in the World for the third time, I realized that I was circling, and that I was circling in ever tighter orbits. She stood near one of the numerous wicker chairs set out on the grassy areas. She was smoking cigarettes, which was a rarity among the stars, who were so hysterically concerned with their health. She stood, and she didn’t budge. Time and again some sort of jittery habitué would appear in her vicinity, tight like a bow string, but all of them flagged and quickly fell away.
I made ever smaller circles. I could already see quite well the legs that had paced the most prestigious catwalks of the world; the shoulders that, season after season, were wrapped in the most expensive creations of Dior, Versace, Lagerfeld, and Montana; the hair, fragrant with the most expensive shampoos of the globe; the décolletage boldly presenting the profile of the famous bust, which the floodlights of Hollywood film studios had briefly lit up. Briefly, since she hadn’t had a big career as an actress. That is to say, it is true that fifteen years ago she played a stewardess who served Harrison Ford a drink—even that was the pipe dream of the majority of professional European actresses—but