Marcin Świetlicki's Twelve could be taken for a crime novel, or read as a rather successful pastiche of this genre. The action of this novel takes place in modern-day Kraków. The title's number corresponds to the number of chapters and refers to successive months of 2005. The story's hero is a former idol of teenagers, now a loser deserted by everyone, called the Master by its third-person narrator. As in a classic Chandler detective story, the Master is approached by a beautiful young woman – but her assignment is atypical: she wants him to free her from the ghost of a serial murderer from the distant past. Shortly a real corpse also appears, along with some substitute of private investigation undertaken by the main hero. Świetlicki does not worry the least about intrigue or tension, consciously disregarding the principles and norms of the genre. He makes it clear on many occasions that he is more interested in playing with the convention of the classic detective story than in writing his own crime novel. Neither is it totally clear whether we are dealing here with a crime, an attempt to untangle a riddle, or rather the hero's delirious delusions. Because the Master never sobers up. He is a true narcissist, concentrated on his own persona. In this way, "Twelve tends towards an existential novel, examining the question of loneliness, bitterness and the impossibility of coming to any understanding with anyone. Świetlicki's debut also provides a successful, though grotesque portrait of the city and its atmosphere. It is with irony and aloofness that the writer examines current Kraków fashions, poses and customs.
- Dariusz Nowacki
- A true hero should be lonely.
So the woman said, then got up and left. He went across to the window and watched her walk away. She moved with an air of confidence, carrying a large, elegant bag. The woman went across the snow-covered square, towards the train station.
She did not look around, did not look in his direction, even once. Though she no doubt knew he was watching.
Well, he wasn't left completely alone. Next to him, with both paws on the windowsill, stood the bitch.
- She's gone – he told the bitch.
- You see, she's gone – he repeated.
But she hadn't left because they had quarrelled. They never argued. Any time there was a probability, even the germ of a quarrel, he got up, left and went to his Office.
And then he came back and fell asleep.
They had not quarrelled at all, only eaten dinner and fed the bitch, but after dinner the woman suddenly fell silent, looked at the untidy apartment, which none of her interventions, efforts, airing or dusting had saved. The flat would not surrender to her. And neither would he surrender. He still walked around unshaven, smoked in the bathroom, threw cigarette ends in the toilet bowl and had no job, except daily getting drunk.
It's from happiness – he explained - It's from happiness you stay with me.
She did not believe him. How could you believe a forty-four year old man, who had long ago lost his identity card, job and passport, who had no telephone, computer, car, cash card or claim to being healthy, bright or provident? How can one believe a man who does not read the Warsaw colour supplements, does not go to the theatre or the operetta; how is he to be believed?
They had not quarrelled at all. She had merely finally looked with the coolness of reason at a flat that couldn't be tidied, at a man who couldn't be tamed and at a bitch that would never be normal.
So she went to the other room, packed her things and took her various feminine bathroom objects from their tiny, untidy bathroom.
The woman had said that a true hero should be lonely and without going into details, had left.
She did not leave anything behind in the flat. No scent, not even a hair. Having lived here almost the whole of January, she hadn't left a dent in this flat. She never managed it.
- Now would undoubtedly be a wise and beneficial moment to get up, go out, go to the Office and get drunk – he told the bitch.
The bitch had no name, was simply called Bitch.
- That's surely what the woman is thinking at this moment. That I will react like that. But her image of me was always banal. Because we will do no such thing. Because we will go for walkies. Because we are tough guys.
Bitch, hearing the word "walkies”, jumped up, barked and wagged her amputated tail. He got dressed, opened the door, and she took the lead in her teeth and rushed downstairs. They went out onto Little Square, passed a woman who lived in a neighbouring tenement, an old woman in a wig, muffled up in thousands of old rags, whom they always avoided ever since she had cursed them for having her rags sniffed at by the bitch. What are you smelling me for? Why are you sniffing? Who allowed you to do that?
They gave the old woman a wide berth and ran across Sienna Street to Planty Park, intent on organising a pee and a poop for the bitch. Once there, the bitch jerked unexpectedly, tore the lead from his hand and ran off towards Wawel Castle. With him shouting and running after her, she disappeared into the afternoon blizzard. For a long time, he still hoped he'd catch sight of her somewhere, but no, he walked for several hours, wandered along the Vistula and back, nothing. He suddenly stopped, looked around once again, felt the total hopelessness of the situation, and whistled helplessly, nothing.
So he went and got drunk.
– She'll come back – the bartender said.
- Well, I hope so – he answered the bartender.
- They always come back – said the bartender and without asking, poured him a hundred grams of Bulgarian brandy. – If they didn't come back, nothing would make any sense - he added, passing him the shot glass.
- Well, I hope so – he smiled at the bartender.
- Well, I hope so – he said into the glass.
- Oh, and I have a card here for you – the bartender suddenly remembered. – It's been hanging here for the last few days.
He passed him a small, pink, suspicious-looking card.
- I'll read it later – Master announced and put it in his pocket. He went back to his table and turned his back on the room. Then he changed to the seat across from him. Facing the room. He had a drink.
- And who's that? – demanded a tourist from Warsaw in search of Kraków's magical attractions, who happened to find himself in that very place at that very moment.
- What, you don't know? – Asked the bartender astounded.
- Well, I thought it was him right away, but he's changed a bit, right? He's turned grey, swollen up, got older. Is it really him? Does he come here?
- And where did you expect him to go? That small table is his, there's always a "reserved” sign on it, the owner thought that one up, because they were colleagues once, so that he will be an attraction here, he gets vodka in reasonable quantities for free, and in return he comes here and sits, but fewer and fewer people recognize him and even if they recognize him, they usually say something malicious to him, pick on him, it's totally senseless, this vodka for free, this his sitting here, but he and the owner are colleagues from way back, when they were into other business, not just drinking vodka... - the bartender was talking more to himself than the visitor from Warsaw, who obviously did not comprehend this reflective monologue, because he interrupted:
- A beer with Red Bull, please.
He took the beer with Red Bull, paid, and approached the table, the smallest in the whole premises, a table for two, standing almost in the glazed entrance.
- May I join you, Master?
- No, no you may not – the man sitting at the table replied.
- I won't disturb you, I'll just sit here with you, Master... - the man from Warsaw was not the type to be easily fobbed off. He smelt of some extremely irritating deodorant.
- Piss off - Master growled. – Just piss off!
Translated by Richard Biały