Tache Of The Velvet Manor

excerpt A lens-like sky distorting the lingering stars as they grinned their incongruous grins descended upon the frail, yet unmitigated, blue of the world at large. When he woke up, the way you may wake up when you've slept off a death, Mammon the old sighed the sigh of a devil defeated. The wisps of morning haze had yet to lift; they would mix for a spell with the slumbering haze in his languishing mind:"There seems to dawn another day of sorts!" he mumbled and circled the room with his eyes till he caught sight of Mammon the Young spying on him from a corner.He pointed a taper-thin finger ending in an endless length of claw-like curved nail and as he scratched at the air with that nail, a sound akin to a screech took shape into the air with an unsuspected will of its own, as if at the mere behest of his finger the air all around him had shrunk to a tangible point, and his nail had been suddenly able to scratch upon it."Come!" he called, and Mammon the Young duly rose up and came.He kissed his son's forehead, and the kiss took the shape of a slimy contour as if left by some slug in its passage. With a wan smile, Mammon the Young pried himself loose from the kiss, and the slimy contour hovered on in the air."Now what?" asked the old man at length."Nothing at all…" the other replied, his own son, that is. "Looks like another day has come to stay," he added, and went back to his corner and sat down on a pile of mildewy books which he kept sinking through in slow motion, mushy books molding his shape like the wax of a candle you are apt to be lighting on a bright summer day, and as you remove it from wherever it rests, your fingers are sinking unhindered into its yellowish wax.His face spectral and hollow, Mammon the Old lifted himself as high as he could manage, and his beard waved for an instant through the air of that morning. And grinding his teeth he next lifted himself all the way up and thus came into full view, skeletal and grinning."You thought I was already dead, didn't you," he intoned, and the rags he was clad in rustled in unison with his words.The rats that had nestled close to the warmth of his body gathered all to one side to take in the scene. One foot clear off the floor, he attempted taking one step; having failed that, his eyes' livid globes merrily rolled in their sockets, and quite unconcerned.Quite unconcerned, Mammon the Young was watching his father the way you would watch some strange, unknown plant afloat on thin air, fully aware such an occurrence is well nigh impossible, yet if see it you did, nonetheless, you would put all the blame on yourself, since no blame whatsoever could be put on the plant, let alone on the air. We had behaved cowardly all throughout the spring of 1817, yet not any more cowardly, for that matter, than all throughout the winter or, come to think of it, the autumn, when we first undertook to make it somehow into Mammon's chamber, and there wait by his side for the two to pluck up enough courage to kill him, and having done that, to go on with the deed and actually kill the old man, for crying out loud. So as we did find him dead, the noose that had strangled him still in place around his throat, a length of rope like any other rope since, indeed, all rope is the same up to the moment you take the decision to make it into a noose and slip it round someone's neck and pull hard at one end with a view to assaying what's tougher – the noose or the life of the fellow, whose eyes are bovinely bulging at you out of his head, so having found him stone-dead and studying him for a while, our eyes fastened on him and that rope, we did know we were cowards all right, yet no greater cowards than we'd been on any given day we had spent by his side all together. By no manner of means greater cowards. And as we kept staring at him at a loss what to do next, at length Lord Lapai attempted crossing himself, yet no sooner had he conceived of the move and lifted his hand to his forehead to carry it through than Mammon the Old, stone dead as he well might have been, did open his mouth and replied:"I am dead, yet not to such an extent that crossing yourself should be even remotely appropriate." And thereupon his lower jaw dropped in genuine deadmanship and the whites of his eyes flashed out white through the slit in his slightly raised eyelids. Now those were the last words of Mammon the Old, and his death was, subsequently, final and endlessly real… Ştefan Agopian (born in 1947) is one of the most original novelists and an active journalist. Tache of the Velvet Manor (pron.: tu'ckeh, first published in 1981, the Prose Award of the Bucharest Writers' Association), the bizarre story of a 19th-century aristocratic family, is "an extreme point of the gradual emancipation process of Romanian prose, not only from the socialist-realistic dogmatism of the 1950s, but also from the rigors of canonic realism as a whole." (E. Negrici)

by Ştefan Agopian (b. 1947)