Bornholm, Bornholm

Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki
Bornholm, Bornholm
  • Znak
    Kraków 2011
    240 pp
    ISBN: 978-83-240-1499-6

Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki, who until now has made a name for himself as the author of excellent short stories and novellas, has now penned a novel with a wider-ranging storyline. The result is extremely interesting. The plot of Bornholm, Bornholm occurs on two levels. One storyline tells the tale of a German called Horst Bartlik, a thoroughly ordinary biology teacher, who during the Second World War is sent to a unit stationed in Bornholm. The second is set in the recent past and consists of monologues spoken by a man who is telling his mother, who is in a coma, everything that he has never dared to tell her before. What connects them?
Despite appearances, a lot of things. During the war Bartlik had an affair with a Danish woman who fell pregnant. He is the grandfather of the man reciting the monologues, who has no idea about him. Both of them have problems with women. The German is dominated by his frigid wife. He does not love her, and living with her is a trial for him, but he stays because of the children. Only while on service in Bornholm does he discover his own masculinity and inner strength. The Danish man spends his whole life trying to break free of the toxic influence of his possessive mother, who has brought him up on her own and wants to control everything he does. He does his best to create a complete and happy family, but suffers endless defeats.
Once again Klimko-Dobrzaniecki tells a story about people who are struggling with life and who cannot find a place for themselves, or build lasting relationships with those closest to them that are based on sound principles; they are lonely, unhappy people, quivering with suppressed emotions. This writer is a gifted storyteller, so the tales of both his main characters are very absorbing. All the more since Klimko-Dobrzaniecki presents them in his typical bitter-sweet style, softening the dark mood of the story with humour and irony.

- Robert Ostaszewski


You’ve always been worried about my health. Mothers must have an instinct to want to go on protecting something they carried inside them for nine months. They want to protect it even when that protection is not necessary. I think I’ve had a moderate share of illness, I mean I haven’t been ill too often. You must have thought I wasn’t ill often enough, and maybe that’s why you kept trying to murder me. Because in those days I thought you were killing me with all those unnecessary, extra medicines. The doctor never prescribed them, did he? Once he told me to sweat it out, not to get out of bed and to drink a lot. But you jolted the cupping glasses... You scalded me very badly that time. You never apologised, though you must have known you’d hurt me. But you were too proud to apologise. You’ve never apologised to anyone, the word sorry has never existed. Why can’t some people say sorry? Why do they wipe that word from their minds? Do you remember how I went about with huge blisters on my back? Of course you do. You played the sympathetic nurse. You told me not to lean back against the chair too far or my blisters would burst and it’d hurt even more.
Only once they had burst were you happy, because those holes in my back had to be dressed. And the cracking scabs were the limit. Lastly there was some nice cream to rub on, and you were thrilled. “Oh, how beautifully it has healed,” you say, “you can hardly see a thing”. You lead me by the hand to the big mirror in the hall, tell me to turn around and stand still. You run into the bathroom to fetch your round mirror in the green frame, and you press it into my palm. “Look!” you say, angling it so that the reflection takes in my back, and at the same time so that I can easily turn my eyes towards the smaller mirror. So I look, and it makes me want to cry, because my back resembles a coarse blanket covered in brown spots.
And as for all those pills and vitamins – that was the ultimate. You come into my little bedroom. In one hand you’re holding a mug of milk. The other is clenched. Then you sit at the foot of my bed and open it. I can see some round coloured things that have stuck to each other, but they’re not sweets. None of those round things is sweet. Quite the opposite. They’re bitter. I know, because one time I bit into them and had to go and be sick. You sit there with that glass of milk and that coloured poison, and you look into my terrified eyes and ask: “One after another, or all at once?” Then I reply that I’ll swallow them all. I open my mouth and you shove in the pills and tell me to swallow them. And I do it, though I can feel most of them getting stuck in my throat and I can tell I’m about to stop breathing. But seeing my eyes are starting to water, you prudently hand me the mug of milk. I don’t choke. It all goes sailing down into my stomach, and then you kiss me goodnight and leave; shortly after I feel a terrible burning, which sooner or later is sure to pass. Yes, when I stop burning, I’ll go to sleep. I’ll wake up very healthy, because once again you’ve stuffed all those wholesome pills into me. For years to come you’ll go on experimenting with my health. All in good faith, I know. You did everything for me in good faith. You know what? I’ll tell you something, because now I can. Now it won’t hurt either you, or me. I couldn’t bear those pills any more, I felt as if eventually my stomach would explode in the night, or it’d swell up so badly that I’d change into an enormous balloon and rise up, bed and all, first glide over our orchard, then over the neighbours’ houses until I ended up above the beach. Then the wind will send me west. I’ll leave our island. You’ll wake up in the morning and be struck with horror, because neither I nor my bed will be there in my little room, and you’ll start running about the orchard in a panic. In the end you’ll trip on a mole hill and fall over. A mole will emerge from the hill and point his big, spade-like paw to show you the way. You’ll go there and see the redcurrant bushes in front of you. They’ll have gigantic fruits, the size of plums. You’ll be amazed, but you’ll pick one of the mutant currants and cram it into your mouth. You’ll feel yourself gag, because the fruit will taste like a medicine factory, and you know why? Now you’re sure to guess or you already know. It’s all the same to me, so I’ll tell you anyway. One day you made a mistake. You know, Mum, when you brought me that mug of milk for the umpteenth time in a row with your hand full of pills and watched me swallowing them nicely, you trusted they weren’t ending up under my tongue, I wasn’t hiding them, I was a good boy and a good son. You gained confidence in me, and one day you started leaving the mug of milk and the pills on my bedside table. And then you’d just come in for the empty mug and ask if I’d swallowed the pills. I used to lie and nod my head. Feeling that you’d done your duty with regard to your only child, you’d pick up the empty mug and put out the light. I used to drop the pills behind the bed. I knew you cleaned our house on Saturdays, so on Friday afternoon, when you’d gone shopping, I’d pick up all the medicine from behind the bed – there’d be a pretty good collection – go into the garden and bury it under the currant bushes. I’ll tell you, Mum, I did it with real satisfaction, because I knew you were poisoning me, though I’m sure you did it out of love. That balloon almost came true, didn’t it? It’s amazing how childish dreams and fantasies actually can be realised, their fears too, because you remember what started happening to those bushes. You were astonished at the way they began to wilt and wither. I can still see you in the orchard. I’m sitting on the windowsill again. And you’re standing next to them, examining them carefully. You’re touching the leaves, turning them over like coins. You can’t think where this disease has come from – everything around them is growing nicely, going green and producing fruit. But these poor bushes are dying. Then you call me and show me, saying: “Look son, the same thing would happen to you if you were stubborn and didn’t take your medicine. Just take a good look at these bushes.” You stroke my head and hold me tight. “These bushes are dying because they’ve caught some terrible illness. If you didn’t regularly take the pills I give you, you might end up like these currants too. You might wither and die. And then I don’t know what I’d do. You’re everything to me.”

Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones