László Krasznahorkai – The Bill
...this animal that is nothing but body, that's what people die for, for the moment, that splinter of time, when the animal appears, beautiful beyond comprehension...
Anticipation, a tingling of the skin and a racing of the mind similar to, say, that feeling a young man in a cafe experiences as he waits for the waitress, buxom and friendly, to return to his table to ask him if he wants another drink, and though he doesn't he will nonetheless smile and say yes, or he'll say no but ask for the bill and, when it comes, sheepishly admit he has changed his mind and order another (absinthe), and he'll hope, foolishly, thrillingly, for a brush of her waist against his arm, straining forward without seeming to in an effort to make it happen and then...
...people said that the Bergamo man, as they called you, was not in the least interested in fucking, and wouldn't even touch, merely instruct his models in his quiet polite way, how she should sit or stand, and then he'd just look, watching how she looked back at him, and then, after an age of waiting, would ask her to lower the left should of her chemise a touch, or to ruffle up the folds of her dress a little more...
...the Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai, in his short story, The Bill (trans. George Szirtes), understands the inflammatory excitement of anticipation, constructing his story as a repetitious piece in which the proprietor of a whore-house expands upon the delights of his courtesans to “Signor Bergamo”, or Jacopo Negretti, or Palma Vecchio, one of the three, two men real, painters, Italian, dead long since, and the other named after the town of Bergamo in Italy, probably fake; the proprietor describes the whores' appeal, their physical attractions, their breasts, hips, thighs, waists, the soft down between their legs, but the three men/man is voiceless, is a watcher, he prefers to experience the thrill of being about to participate, while never actually doing so; it is, we learn, a more personal and exciting form of intercourse, one in which the soft folds of a woman's dress will always, but never quite, fall away from their white, pale shoulder to reveal their breast – the nipple, as it were, remains ever-present but always out of sight...
...if you catch one in a moment of desire, at the moment when the body is most alive and burning with lust, how deep and mysterious and irresistible is the desire that forces you to want – to demand – possession of some object for which you are willing to sacrifice everything, even though it's nothing more than a small patch of skin, or a faint flush on that skin, or just a sad little smile...
...Desire, then, unconsummated and stronger for it, runs through the story as the narrator returns endlessly to the soft, inviting looks of the women he knows he can possess but won't, a desire that repeats, over and over, the names of the women (Ophelia, Veronica, Adriana, Danae, Venus), all “plump, sweet” and willing, a desire that reminds one of the hopeless young aesthete, sitting quietly and agonisingly by himself, wanting so much but knowing so little what to do with it but using that desire as a propellant to create, a force he feels strongly within himself and which requires a release not physical but mental, but he's spent just the same...
...desire consists entirely of anticipation, that is to say the future, because, strange as it is, you can't go back in time, there's no returning from the future, from the thing that happens next, no way of getting back to it from the other side, the side of memory, it's absolutely impossible...
...This young man, a stand-in for the author, a stand-in for the reader, a stand-in for anyone, really, who isn't themselves a young man, this young man is a representative of the future come into the present, for what does a young man have but future; Krasznahorkai links desire with memory and couples them with creation, putting forth the possibility that without the desire for a thing – a woman, a completed painting, a page scribbled with text – it cannot be achieved, and that to desire it we must further accept the impossibility of complete possession, that a woman received is a woman forever lost, that an idea written down is an idea forever dulled from what it could have been and was when it was in your mind, that the expression of a thing will never meet the anticipated expression of it, and that...
...there will come a day when we draw a line under it all, the day when we call it a day, adding up everything you ordered, and then...then it will all be over and we'll send you the bill, you can be sure of that.
The Bill by László Krasznahorkai is a short story from the Dalkey Archive Press' anthology, Best European Fiction 2011
Other stories from the Dalkey Archive Press' anthology, Best European Fiction 2011, include:
---United Kingdom: Welsh: Roberts, Wiliam Owen - The Professionals
---United Kingdom: British: Mantel, Hilary - The Heart Fails Without Warning
---Turkish: Üldes, Ersan - Professional Behaviour
---Swiss: Stefan, Verena - Doe a Deer
---Spanish: Catalan: Ibarz, Mercé - Nela and the Virgins
---Spanish: Castilian: Vila-Matas, Enrique - Far From Here
---Slovenian: Jančar, Drago - The Prophecy
---Serbian: Arsenijević, Vladimir - One Minute: Dumbo's Death
---Russian: Gelasimov, Andre - The Evil Eye
---Romanian: Teodorovici, Lucian Dan - Goose Chase
---Portuguese: Tavares, Gonçalo M. - Six Tales
---Polish: Tokarczuk, Olga - The Ugliest Woman in the World
---Norwegian: Grytten, Frode - Hotel by a Railroad
---Netherlands: Uphoff, Manon - Desire
---Montenegrin: Spahić, Ognjen - Raymond is No Longer with Us – Carver is Dead
---Moldovan: Ciocan, Iulian - Auntie Frosea
---Macedonian: Minevski, Blaže - Academician Sisoye's Inaugural Speech
---Lithuanian: Kalinauskaitė, Danutė - Just Things
Index of titles by The Dalkey Archive Press under review
Index of short stories under review
David J Single