She’s squatting on the carpet under the table, trying to pretend not even to be there: maybe she will be forgotten. Drawing closer to her mother’s slim radiant golden brown leg, she doesn’t touch it to keep her presence secret and not get sent out to play in the yard. The other pair of legs are longer and thinner than her mother’s, the thin feet tucked in shy toe socks and very flat heeled lace shoes, like huge little girls’ feet. Sometimes Piroska sees the feet and their big-nosed placid-eyed owner in the street bent in the shoulders and clutching her purse to her stomach, one step behind and hurrying after her cocky squat straw hatted bowtied husband. Long-necked and sad-eyed: she’s like a lovely, sad giraffe.
’Flóri dear, I’m sick of it! There he is, sprawling like a stone idol, slurping the soup something horrible, you know what they’re like, just stares with those evil little eyes of his, eyeing the ladle to see if I’m taking the meat... The window, if you’d just close it, dear... Because they always have to dish out goulash soup on Friday, and I always get ready so that I’ll only take potatoes, maybe some noodles, but he always sits down right next to me and just stares and stares... Knows I’d been going to the nuns, that’s why... And so you know, I’d made up my mind that no, I’m not having any of the scraps, mind you it’s not even proper meat just scraps, and I won’t be bothered about that stone idol any more, I’d rather go mop the corridors and then I always think what if they give me the sack here, or even worse if I give mine trouble, if they sack Laci from the forestry on my account or if they don’t let my Judit into high school – and then I do take a little of the meat, but I can barely get it down my throat and I ask the Good Lord for forgiveness – but he’s sure to forgive, right, he knows it wasn’t out of greed...? And you know the worst thing?’ The whispering voice heats up: ’That I feel – I could strangle that stone idol! Though you know it’s written to love our enemies and then to turn our other cheek... I try to pray so I won’t hate him, and I always tell myself these are unfortunate simple folk we could have maybe offended by some past accident and they should be understood, but no use... I still do want to pour the steaming bowl of goulash over his head!’
Bony, pale blond shins in sandals. The woman that went with them, like a drawing almost right: large forehead, thin blond hair, too arched eyelids over big shy blue eyes, her nose just slightly longer than should be and always a little red from colds – almost-pretty almost-princess. She’s called Médi, a girlfriend of her mother’s. The big, reddish hands hide sorrowfuly in the broad flowery skirt’s pockets or fiddle nervously with the purse buckle:
’Flóri dear, I’m so afraid... In the mornings already when I go to the office my legs tremble and my stomach cramps... Come right in your ladyship: that’s what he tells me each time he asks me in, and opens the door for me with such mockery... And now I can’t find the Russian wool folder anywhere, they’ll say there’s intentionality behind it, especially with the Russian wool... They’re just looking for the pretense to have me out sweeping the yard too, and that’s just if I’m lucky, because what if they say I did it on purpose, sabotage... What will become of my dear old parents, if they take me away... Oh, dad, he’s not afraid, very military attitude to this too you know, he’s prouder than that, they can’t humble him, he says... And that the best company’s there nowadays among the street sweepers: all barons and generals...’
Translated by Dániel Dányi
Read another excerpt from the novel in The Hungarian Quarterly