Who I Don’t Know

Maciej Malicki
Who I Don’t Know
  • EMG
    Kraków 2007
    ISBN: 978-83-922980-3-8
    300 pages
    150x210

The fact that Maciej Malicki has written another splendid novel comes as no surprise, when considering that this late debutant, whose first book appeared only a few years ago, was very quickly hailed as the one our most interesting contemporary prose-writers, an author of intriguing and stylistically refined texts.  What may come as a surprise is that Malicki’s latest book is a detective novel. Is the author of A Piece of Water trying his hand at commercial prose?  By no means. In Who I Don’t Know Malicki maintains the unique and immediately recognizable diction of his prose, he makes no artistic compromises. He has written another installment of the story of the trials and tribulations of his author-narrator - Malicki’s prose is clearly autobiographical - writing reports of things “overheard” and “overseen,” jotting down chance tales and anecdotes, language quips, copying out startling or absurd wall inscriptions.  Malicki’s prose might be metaphorically described as an endless string onto which the author attaches the beads of thousands of existential details; in this latest book, he has merely added coral beads of a new variety. The detective-novel thread of this story develops around a mysterious inscription: “GROUND THE DIAMOND.” The author-narrator, as a collector of odd phrases, starts to be interested in this inscription, which he comes across in various circumstances and places. It quickly turns out that wherever the phrase appears, people die; and the author-narrator himself is in danger.  “Other forces” get involved in these serial murders - though it is not entirely clear if these are in fact murders - and force the author-narrator to co-operate with them. The novel he writes is to help explain the riddle of the serial murders. As it turns out, the author-narrator will have to pay very dearly for his attempts to unravel the mystery. Who I Don’t Know confirms that Malicki has unlimited literary potential; this is a novel that will be eagerly read by both those who love this author’s prose, and those who are declared admirers of the detective genre. 

- Robert Ostaszewski

Maciej Malicki (born: 1945) poet and prose-writer, made his debut in the Polish literary press in the 70's, but published his first book only in 2002.  Since then he has published a new book practically every year.ążkę.

Excerpt

I was sitting in Janek’s room, in an armchair by a small coffee table.  I was staring at a stack of typewritten paper.  Coffee.  From the speakers: music.  What music?  Makes no difference.  To hell with it.  Through the open window: sky, sun, birds.  The door creaked.  The music cut out halfway through a bar.  Janek.
“Here you are,” he mumbled.   
He sat in the other armchair.  Long time since he’d shaven.  Circles under his eyes.  Crumpled blue shirt.  A wreck.  I probably wasn’t looking that much better. Maybe even worse.  Make that a for sure.
“Maciek?” he asked, pointing a finger at the pieces of paper.
“Yeah. Maciek.”
“You going to read it?”
“For the hundredth time.”
“Yeah.  Hundreds of details.”
“Yeah.  Thousands.”
“You think you’ll find something?”
“I have to.  There has to be a response.”
“Think so?”
“I’m sure of it.  He knew.  He wrote the last sentence, sent it to me, and only then went into the square.”
“With full knowledge of why he was going?”    
“Yeah.  The fullest.”   
“Ewa?  I have to go.”
“Yeah.”
“Ewa? Take care.”
“Yeah.”
He left.  I sat there a moment more, got the file and went to my room.  I switched off the computer.  Keys, odds and ends, print-out for the folder, stuff for the backpack.  Doors.  Number one, number two.  Gate.  Keys.  I opened the trunk of my small black sports car and threw in my backpack.  I got in.  Took out the blue blinker from the right-hand glove compartment, stuck the light onto the roof above me, slammed the door and switched on a terrifying, jarring siren.  I made off with a screech.  I wanted to get home as soon as possible.  The cars spluttered.  Ten minutes.  At home there’s a shower and a pot of coffee. I took the folder with the print-outs from my backpack and put it on the coffee table next to the couch.  I turned off all the phones.  I broke all the regulations.  No point.  They know my address.  A pillow under the head, a lap robe just in case, though its warm.  I reached for the first piece of paper.  I started to read.  For the hundredth time.  But this time I had to find an answer.

***
There were a few letters lying on the desk.  Bills.  Sure.  Straight away.  And something else.  An old beige envelope with a gold inscription that said HOTEL PRESIDENT ZAMALEK – CAIRO.  Sent from Warsaw March twenty-seventh. Two stamps [the manor in Lipków near Warsaw (10 groszy) and Toruń (1.20 groszy)].  You could see at a glance that the sender had been working hard to change his handwriting style.  Black felt-tip – letters drawn on.  The big “M’s” looked like sharp mountain peaks or pyramids.  On the other side of the envelope, the same person had written OPEN.
I opened it with a silver letter-opener.  It has a beautiful, engraved handle.  On one side of the oval handle there’s a relief that shows five horses’ muzzles, and on the other - dogs’.  Again, five.  An old blade.  In the fifties it always lay in its place - by the edge of the sculpted oak desk in the presbytery’s office in Radosc.  In Father Biernacki’s office.  The desktop was covered with a green cloth densely stained with multi-colored ink splots.  I inherited the knife along with the desk.  The desk I hacked apart and burned in the garden by the hazel-wood back in the seventies.
I took a postcard from the envelope.  An advertising postcard like the ones that lie about cafes, pubs and restaurants.  Below the stamp you could see the inscription: NOT FOR SALE.  This one advertised the new collection of a big sports clothing and gear manufacturer.  I was in the photograph.  That is, it could very well have been my photo.  Three-quarters of a bare skull shot from behind.  The company tag visible on the jacket collar.  Yes.
For some time now I’d been going about in a grey cap with the same tag.  I’d bought it in Katowice.  Near the main Katowice train station.  In the main square, as they say. [I consulted the Katowice topography with A. - she wrote: [...] the square is so mewhat further, when you leave the station go right down the street with the tram lines.  The filthiest square I know.  In communist times they tore down the old buildings by the PSS shopping center].  I once bought glasses in that same shop.  Green ones.  But they broke after a week.  Oy, oy.
The postcard was addressed to: MR. MACIEJ MALICKI – WRITER. [Don’t call me names].  This time the handwriting was normal, and it reminded me of something, of somebody.  In the place for correspondence, written in the same hand: ...but He had his back turned the whole time... [“He” with a capital letter].  Then a date: MARCH 2006.  Yes.  I put the postcard back into the envelope and slipped it under a stack of papers lying across from me on the desk.  The desk is a modern one, in the “Ład” style.
I’d just got back from the seaside.  Spent a few days.  On the second to last I felt the sudden inclination to send a postcard with photo of a seal on it to a certain address in Warsaw.  But I couldn’t remember it.  I made a call and asked for it.  I addressed it, wrote out a few sentences, affixed a stamp [I don’t remember].  A few people added to it – mutual friends, it turned out.  We’d been drinking hard since morning, going from bar to bar.  We finally ended up in some port tavern.  I knew it from my previous trip to that town.  I recalled that among the nets stretched out over the fireplace there had hung a rifle.  This time it wasn’t there.  It wasn’t hanging up.  I asked the barman.
 
“Yeah, it was there,” he said. “But a few days back somebody broke in here
and used it as a club for smashing apart the poker machine,” he added. He went back into the storeroom and a minute later brought out the broken rifle, to prove it to me.  In August I’d observed a man in a wheelchair sitting in front of the poker machi ne.  He had no legs, and his arm had been amputated [cut off?] above the elbows.  He was getting along all right.  He was winning.  The next day the man was sitting on the cafe patio on the town’s main street.  He was eating ice cream and operating a small portable radio.  He pulled out the antenna with his lips.  Again, he was getting along all right.
“That’s a fisherman, he was once one of the worst bullies, and now this... it’s a sickness of some kind,” the waitress told me.

Translated by Soren Gauger