A Canine Epiphany

Mister Kă is closely watching a pair of young-people-not-actually-young-seen-from-up-close, that pair of young-people-in-the-distance-who-look-different-from-up-close, that pair is getting on bus #92, the bus which is taking you, taking everybody, in the direction of the woods dividing the city of Stuttgart from the medieval town of Leonsberg, that bus taking you and your persona, estranged and projected in the form of the nondescript inscrutable gentleman occupying the seat next to the middle-section door, within reach of the button one must press in order for it to open automatically when the bus draws to a halt, in one of the stops along the route, its daily route, to the Schloss, to the Castle amidst the forests, on cobbled or tarmac roads, passing benches made of long logs, very solid logs. That pair is accompanied by a dog, a tranquil schnauzer, trained, very, very well-behaved, like all dogs around here, civil, used to public transportation, good-looking dog, very good-looking, and tame, and majestic, and slightly bored does he sit, resting his muzzle on his front paws, he has lain himself down on the bus floor and is looking the passengers straight in the eyes, and Mister Kă is just sitting there, with an inscrutable face, an ordinary face among the ordinary faces of this world, he is sitting next to the button that opens the door, so he is sitting right there and watching that good-looking schnauzer, trained, civil and bored, a schnauzer with shiny black fur, lying on the floor, with his muzzle resting on his front paws, while, beyond the smoked glass windows of the bus, forests crossed by alleys are flashing by in reverse. Benches as well. And wooden houses: shelter and rest for those that go on walks, for those that go jogging, for cyclists and their elongated aerodynamically shaped helmets. Nice dog. Nice places. Civilized. Mister Kă is sitting, enveloped in the same air of inscrutability, next to the bus-door button and as he sits there, for a moment, his memories turn autumnal, it’s not spring anymore, it’s a different year, it’s a different moment; it is drizzling; puddles stained with the diesel oil leaking from the TAF that belongs to Fekete Pedăr, the big-shouldered as well as big-mouthed TAF driver – or taffist – from the Morat Valley, right at the base of the hill covered in thick oak trees, the kind that shelter the Franciscan abbey’s park grounds. The Morat Valley is a place of no consequence, a lowly little place, and a very dull one at that, boasting nothing of interest, just like Mister Kă’s figure in that #92 bus. In the Morat Valley there are a number of tiny houses, wretched little houses are those in the Morat Valley, the houses of that valley have wooden porches, the floors are spread all over with clay, which the women smarten up each summer with something barbarically referred to as muruială; “I have done up the house” they would say, meaning that they took some red clay from a cavity at the foot of the hill and mixed it with water and cow dung and then daubed the floor with the concoction, or whatever we might call it, for we do not even know what it should be called exactly. And the only thing that lingers on from that time is the smell of chambers with freshly done up floors: “I haven’t seen the Morat Valley for ages”, Mister Kă is telling himself; he hasn’t seen it for 30 years, “I wonder, are those minute houses inhabited by a handful of poor devils still there?,” he asks himself, rhetorically and somewhat bookishly – that is, our dear Mister Kă, the protagonist of this shift from a subjective viewpoint to the indifferent remoteness of an unconcerned existence. He is watching, from his utter remoteness, inscrutably and shrouded in the restful guise of an ordinary look, he is watching the tranquil schnauzer and the weather is autumnal in a rainy way, drizzling, in that valley, thirty years ago; the water droplets are floating like a haze over the chicken coops, over the dilapidated stables that provided shelter for the cattle of that deplorable world in which the great miracle happened, that unearthly beauty, the one defying nature, about which Mister Kă, still an infant back then, was to find out a few days later. When that strange event took place it was already evening in the Morat Valley, an autumn evening, as I have said before; in the meantime the day-long rain stopped, and for a moment the light of dusk made its appearance, short and not at all accidental; the sun – a huge one – showed itself from between the clouds just before setting over the ridge of the hills with their medieval oaks beyond the park of the Franciscan abbey in the vicinity of the valley. And, of course, we tell ourselves (and Mister Kă is telling his own self of course) that weird dusk is not accidental and unrelated to what happened. In fact, the dusk would foretell the Epiphany itself with its auburn lights, like the kitsch paintings in the hallway of the Franciscan abbey’s church. Above the Morat Valley, the lights of a baroque, rococo, dusk where spreading in the firmament, with distant and bulging clouds, with the oblique light of the sun making its way between the chubby clouds so that everything, but absolutely everything, looked in the context like a picture, like a lithography, or that sort of thing, a Catholic, highly inspirational picture. Such was that evening above the hills and the Mureş gorge: a unique evening, gentlemen, an evening turned kitsch by the unearthly beauty of the sunset. An evening designed to celebrate the beauty of that apparition, of that Epiphany which took place in the backyard of that poor old woman called Saveta lu’Gugu. The bearer of this barbaric name was the witness of the Epiphany of that pitiable but still mysterious thing, and a beautiful thing nonetheless, gentlemen; we could resort to father fra Ruhe’s words, we could call out, just like he did, from the pulpit of the abbey chapel, with its decorative cupids and chubby little angels hanging from gilded trumpets, that in the old woman’s yard we, the unworthy, were shown the way of salvation by means of that Beauty which was beyond ordinariness. However, the story is a simple one, just like everything else is in the Morat Valley, my dear saintly gentlemen. As I was saying, at the time of the shewing, that Catholic and highly inspiring sundown was just happening over the expanse, its slanting rays enveloped (like in the lithographies hanging above the oven in the kitchens of the German old women of Lipova, of Neudorf or of Sarlota) the grand steeples of the Maria-Radna abbey, a place of holy pilgrimage and awe-inspiring history, a defence against the ottoman heathen of old. There, and not accidentally just there, the beautiful thing showed itself, it was there that it materialized while that dusk ended abruptly, as it usually does in autumn. In the yard behind the old woman’s wretched house the light was fading ever more, the old woman herself was bustling about in front of the table next to the back window, that tiny window with its flaking sashes, the paint all peeling off. Old woman Saveta lu’Gugu, the bearer of this harsh and ugly name, was wiping the table oil cloth and, when she glanced into the yard, she saw him in the meagre light that was still left after the chromatic orgy of that ignored sunset. We must say from the very beginning that she was struck with his beauty: it was the most beautiful dog that ever was seen. A large dog. White. Its fur of pure whiteness, a dog that trod gravely, right across Old woman Saveta’s yard, and in his walk there was something of a king’s solemnity, he was tame, that’s what it seemed, but also very strong, and his steps were equal, pensive like those of the philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius, and that unearthly dog went along slowly, an archetype and leader of all dogs in existence, of those that their masters walk in the alleys of the forest around Solitude Castle, of those intelligent and faithful-to-the-point-of-death, of the policeman’s dog, of those circus dogs that look like young ladies adorned with ribbons, of those that walk on two feet expecting a lump of sugar, of those giant dogs that save people buried by avalanches, of those that lead the blind through the big crowded city, of those dogs that pull sleighs in the cold of the polar winter, the stray dogs, the abandoned dogs at the side of the road, the blissful and the miserable folk of the canine world; there he was, in the evening’s scarce light, the king and archetype, the pure principle and the sublime essence of an ancient relationship with the world of humans, but something more still... the distant memory of an existence before the dawn of human history, when they had been the first ones called to be tamed, to be fed and to be caressed by human hands….

…we would like to apologise for the rhetorical explosion, but emotion grips us with each word said, we are completely like father fra Ruhe, we are aware of the inappropriate overtones of our exaltation which, unfortunately, we can barely contain…
And, as I was saying, that dog went along calmly, with dignity, somehow aloof from everything around him, he headed for the mulberry tree at the back of the yard, towards the gaggle of geese that stood by a mangled saucepan of water, and the geese made way for his passage, respectfully and without any fear, without any gaggling; they made room, the same way that the people of the court would stand aside, with affection and loyalty, when the emperor, tsar or Kaiser show themselves at a royal ball, on a fashionable festive occasion, and, on each side of the corridor they bow devoutly and with the joy of participating in such an occasion: that is how the respectful geese stood aside from his path, from that pensive passage full, like I said before, of the dignity of ancientness, of an ancientness as old as the human race.
Old woman Saveta looked stupefied through the minute kitchen window and that’s all she got to say: “dear Mother of God, now where did this’ere doggy come from?”, that’s all she got to say and rushed to fetch her broom and started for the yard, and go out into the little light before nightfall she did, but didn’t get to say “scat, you!”, she didn’t get to say anything, the yard was deserted, only the empty corridor could still be seen amidst the geese and their intimidated and nervous silence could still be perceived, just like the kind that one experiences when it so happens that one runs into the unearthly.
Later on, a few days after that occurrence, the old woman told various people how there appeared, in the evening, in her own yard, “this big doggy” and how he went along, and how the geese didn’t get scared, and how Azor, her watch dog, did not even bother to get out of his cage, and just stood there tied with his chain and did not make one sound, although otherwise, in similar situations, he barks at every little thing. It has surely been the dear departed Gugu, she believes, although she is not that convinced about it, it must have been something else. Translated by Sebastian Bican

by Daniel Vighi (b. 1956)