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Pavel & I

Dan Vyleta
Querido, Amsterdam,




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the ledge - flash version*

*
English

PAVEL & I — DAN VYLETA

17 December 1946

The boy was always around him then. Time and again he had to shoo him away into his room, only to see him re-emerge a few moments later, chewing at his lip with crooked teeth, and fussing. They did not speak. The boy tried to now and again, in German, or else in that flat-voweled English he had, but Pavel never answered with more than a gesture until the boy, too, took to this language of signs and trained his face to betray his purpose. It was during this time that the pain in his kidneys grew worst. They sat in him like stones, cold against his skin. He would trace their outlines gingerly, lying face down upon his bed. Every half hour or so they bid him get up, his kidneys, walked him over to the corner and pushed him to his knees in front of his chamber pot’s blood-flecked rim. At first he’d had qualms about exposing himself before the child and had tried to shield his nudity with the flat of his hand. Now it did not matter to him, and he even felt grateful when the boy drew near and stood over him, a hand upon his shoulder, and watched him squeeze crimson drops from his organ. Afterwards he would help him up, unbend those stiffened knees; time and again he had to walk them supple across the hardwood floor.
1.

 
PAVEL & I — DAN VYLETA

Upon every turn, his image in the looking glass, loathsome to him now with its hollow cheeks and stained overcoat, a woollen hat drawn low into his brow. And behind him, watching, the boy with the crooked teeth, running grubby fingernails into the window’s frost-lined glass and etching his name, always his name, Anders.
There was no noise to the night, no means of telling the time. He did not have a watch, had not owned a watch for a long time now. His kidneys were his only timekeepers, that and the interval it took for the frost to eat into the boy’s name and obscure it. Pavel longed for liquor but had none. Perhaps in the morning he would send the boy to find him some. He had cigarettes, of course, but dared not smoke them. Cigarettes were the only currency left to the city, would buy him coals tomorrow, could buy him company if he should seek it, six Luckies for a sympathetic lap and less if all he required were the services of a pair of German lips, cold-chapped and bare of lipstick that cost more than the sex. Once or twice that night he would bend to prize a pack from under the corner of his mattress, and sniff at the tobacco through layers of wrapping for minutes at a time, the boy’s eyes upon him, crooked teeth dug deep into his childish lip.
2.

 
PAVEL & I — DAN VYLETA

Then his kidneys would bid him kneel again before his blood-encrusted idol, his manhood between fingers that had long lost all sensation. ‘God,’ he cursed once, and meant nothing by it. Behind him, the boy moved his right hand in deliberate provocation, touched chin, belly and both sides of the chest. ‘Amen,’ he said, hardly a whisper, and for the first time in their month long acquaintance Pavel had the urge to lash out at him, though truth be told he loved that boy. Then the phone rang, rang shrill in the half-lit room, and before he even had time to wonder that the line was working again, he answered it mechanically, giving his number, one palm against the icy window, melting yet another hole into Anders’ frostbitten name.

It was the winter of ’46, Berlin, the city trussed up into twenty pieces like a turkey on Thanksgiving dinner, eight to the Russians and word had it not a woman there who had not been raped. A winter of death, people freezing in their unheated flats, impoverished, hungry, scraping together something less than a living from the crumbs that fell from their occupiers’ tables. And yet, amongst the misery, the first stirrings of recovery: a nightclub in Schöneberg, a working man’s brothel in Wedding; some bars around Zoogarten and in the December air the reek of the monkey cage.
3.

 
PAVEL & I — DAN VYLETA

Small time businesses, American customers, local staff. It was in one of these that Boyd White was standing, one eye out onto the street, where snow was trying to bury his car. He shielded the phone with his girth, his collar turned high over neck and chin, counting off the rings under his breath. Pavel picked up after the third.
‘Your kidneys keeping you awake?’ Boyd asked and listened to the lie that answered.
‘Glad you’re feeling better. Listen, Pavel, I need help. Are you alone?
‘The boy? Send him away.
‘What do you mean you can’t?
‘I’ll be there in ten. Make sure the downstairs door is unlocked. I’ll have my hands full.
‘Let’s say I’m bringing some laundry.
‘Laundry, Pavel. A man’s gotta wash.
‘Ten minutes, Pavel. Just wait in your place. And get rid of the boy.’
He rang off and asked the barkeep what sort of booze they were serving.
‘Potato vodka. Chocolate liqueur. French brandy, but it’s watered down and costs a fortune.’
‘You tell that to all your customers?’
‘Why not? My boss is an Arschloch.’
Boyd shrugged and bought a half bottle of vodka. He paid with some food coupons and whatever was left of a pack of cigarettes. They shared one, he and the barkeep, watching the snow come down through the dirty windows.
4.

 
PAVEL & I — DAN VYLETA


‘That your car?’ the barman asked enviously.
‘Sure,’ said Boyd. ‘If someone asks, I was never here.’ He put another half dozen cigarettes on the counter. ‘You hear me?’
‘Hear who?’
‘Thatta boy.’
Boyd threw the butt of his cigarette onto the floor and made his is way out into the cold. He walked over to the car, opened the back. Inside lay a trunk, the kind one uses for overseas travel, brass on the corners and two belts to hold it shut. Boyd ran a hand along its base, testing for wet.
Then he got back in the car, turned the ignition, and started off for Pavel’s place. A ten minute drive on ice slick roads and all the while his lips were moving, rehearsing the words he would have to speak.
Trying them on for size.

‘I swear to God I never saw him coming. I mean, Jesus Christ, who drives around looking out for a fucking midget? All I know is I was driving through one of the Russian sectors, a quart of rye for company, and then I hit him, hit something, and felt it dragging under the car. I get out and it’s snowing hard, my breath showing in the air and not a soul out. Some godforsaken alleyway, a handful of bathroom windows sticking out of the ruins, frost-blinkered glass, and not a light to be seen.
5.

 
PAVEL & I — DAN VYLETA

At first I think it’s my tail lights that are tinting the snow, but when I get my flashlight from out of the glove box, I see it for what it is, a path of red starting ten yards back and leading right up to my rear fender. So I grab under, feeling spooked you know, figuring I hit a dog or something, and what is it I touch? Two hundred dollars worth of cashmere wool, that’s what, warm and soggy with somebody’s dying. It takes me a while to drag him out, he’s got himself stuck to the axle, and by the time I am done and stand over the body something strange has started to happen. The alley’s filled with a half dozen cats, runty little things with their ribs showing and their tails worn high like they’re pointing to the moon. I stand there, breathing froth into the snowflakes and watch them gather ’round me, soft, kitty paws and now and then a patrol car rolls past in the distance. The cats are circling us, tails cocked at the moon, their muzzles bloodied by the tail lights’ glow. They are vicious bastards, let me tell you: frost on their whiskers, eyes like cut glass, a half dozen pairs, on me and the dead man. And then they start licking. Licking at the snow I mean, the blood in the snow, they lap it up like mother’s milk.
6.

 
PAVEL & I — DAN VYLETA

And all the while from their throats, from their whole bodies, there issues this sound, you hear it with your skin, it’s like an engine running under your palm. That’s when I realize they are purring, man, purring as they are feeding on the midget’s death.'
7.


     
The Ledge
editor-in-chief: Stacey Knecht, info@the-ledge.com
Thanks to: De digitale pioniers and
Het Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
Design: Maurits de Bruijn

Copyright: Pieter Steinz, Stacey Knecht
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