Atropos is the goddess who cuts the thread of human life; as a nurse who works in a ward for dying children, from where no one ever goes home, and who is also a lesbian, mourning the sudden death of her lover, she notes in her diary: “When I started to write it, I didn’t know it would be my salvation, my regeneration…. I’ll publish it under a pseudonym, as a man. There will be three women’s stories, three Fates, three goddesses of destiny.” So who is the author of this secret trilogy? It seems to be by life, memory and death.Death is symbolised by the figure of the nurse. Her experience shows that breaking the thread of existence is always accidental (like the unexpected death of the woman she loved) and inevitable (isn’t our life like a hospital ward from which there is no return?)Lachesis is the goddess who guards the thread of life; as a woman of advanced age, a Jewess who survived the horrors of the Holocaust, she is meant to symbolise memory. In one scene, during a performance of Jewish music at Kazimierz in Kraków, in the crowd of young people enjoying themselves the tired Lachesis suddenly sees some shrunken figures emerging from the gates of the former ghetto. So the role of the goddess who is meant to guard our life turns out to be not just caring for us and making sure fate does not cast us too soon into the embrace of her sister Atropos, but also – when it does happen – that we remain in memory, and live on, at least in this way.To put things in order: the story about Lachesis is the first part of the secret trilogy. Atropos comes in second place, and the whole thing closes with the story of Clotho – the one who gives life. She is a prostitute, a tragic figure, and yet paradoxically she is the happiest of the three. Reconciled with what gives her existence, she simply tries to live – distinguishing good from evil, and humbly accepting the challenges thrown at her by fate and, moreover, looking towards the future with hope.Marek Soból has written a lyrical tale about the doubts and expectations that we all experience in life. By giving his heroines the names of the Greek goddesses of fate, he has shown that we live in constant tension between the random nature of what happens to us and the inevitability of what awaits us. And as we have no influence on the vectors of our continued existence, we should accept fate at face value. In other words, we should take as a motto for life a simple and beautiful remark made by Clotho: “And if the weather’s nice, we’ll go for a walk”. And that’s all.
Life is entirely made up of stories. When we listen to them, they seem terrifying or beautiful, and we feel envy or joy in our hearts because they didn’t happen to us. But does it matter who went through it all, does it matter what is the truth and what is fabrication? Anyway, sometimes I myself don’t know now. My whole life I’ve been collecting these stories, writing them down on little bits of paper and putting them with my own ones, and now I feel as if they’re all mixed up, and in the end I don’t know which one belongs to whom, which is true and which is made up – I’m so old now and I remember less and less. Some of them I have lost, some I have had to write out over again, but I am still able to tell them beautifully, and young Michel can sometimes sit here all evening listening to me. Even if you were to beg me, I won’t tell you what is the truth and what is not, what I dreamed, what I heard, and what I actually experienced. As it is, I have betrayed a secret to you that no one else knows about, I have no idea why, perhaps because you have such a kind look in your eyes. So do I – that’s why they all believe me and keep coming here for the next instalment, but in any case tomorrow or in a week from now you’ll be leaving for Poland, so why shouldn’t I own up to you?
Henryk always used to say that…
But maybe there never was a Henryk, because there couldn’t have been. Maybe I dreamed him up for myself and that’s all. Do you think it would be so easy to find a man like that? Maybe I made him up for myself, stuck him together from various tales, most of all from Madame Greffer’s stories – I haven’t known her for at all long, only a couple of years, but once, when she was having a better day than usual, she told me she used to be a painter and she was rich, and she had a lovely car; she was the one who put those peppers on the bar, and that wasn’t at all long ago, only yesterday, and standing there like that they really do look very pretty. Apparently she was some sort of countess or someone like that, but her father lost everything, they took it all away from him after the war because he was a Fascist, a high-up official, and had lots of people on his conscience, because the officials were more to blame than anyone in the war, they filled in all the tables and forms recording the numbers of carriages full of people, thousands upon thousands of bodies burned in ovens, execution upon execution carried out, and although it wasn’t them that did the shooting, although it wasn’t them that kicked me, without them the whole machine would never have functioned; and their hands never shook – they had their homes and their beautiful wives, and clusters of children, and every morning they went to work, opened drawers, took out more forms and filled them in diligently, number after number, name after name, until they’d amassed millions of those forms. Then on Sundays they went to church, and when the war ended, they said they didn’t know what they were doing at the time, or that they did it out of fear, and some still say that to this day, but I simply don’t believe them…
But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.
Madame Greffer’s father spent the rest of his life in prison. She escaped from Austria to Paris, when she was still very young, and she painted here, and apparently she was quite well off, but she has nothing left because she drank it all away, ran through the lot, and apparently she had a man like that, not like Henryk, but almost the same. He died a long time ago, and I don’t know how he died, but I do know that since then on she doesn’t do anything any more, she just wanders around with those dogs, so she must really have loved him very much. That’s a fine story too, but you must admit the one about Henryk was finer. It’s so nice to believe for a few hours that such things do happen, that such people are sometimes born somewhere; you sat here in such a dreamy state, and the question passed through your mind whether your girlfriend or wife will ever talk about you the way I talk about Henryk. You were listening to me, but you were also wondering if you deserved such love, if for your girlfriend or wife you are the sort of person Henryk was for me, and if she is the sort of person for you that I was for Henryk. It’s all so mixed up and blurred now, sometimes I think I invented him for myself, and sometimes I think he really did exist. I remember that aeroplane of his so well, those sails of his, his smell and his warm hands…
A long time ago in one of the cabarets, or rather in a theatre, in Montmartre, in the middle of the show a man stood up in the audience and shot one of the actresses – he pulled out a pistol and shot her right in the face, then fired several more times when she was already lying there. Someone rushed at him and they took away his pistol, beat him and tied him up, and it turned out that one of the spectators was a police commissioner, so they quickly called for the gendarmes and wouldn’t let anyone leave, and the commissioner began the investigation almost immediately. He didn’t ask anyone any questions, because everything was already known, he just wrote down statements, so that afterwards the murderer could be charged, and he refused to let anyone go, so they all got very upset, saying it wasn’t legal, and finally they conspired and tried to force their way out, but at that point a lot of gendarmes arrived and everyone began to write out statements, while she was lying there covered in blood, and it looked terrible – I know what I’m saying, because Henryk and I were there, and when two hours later everyone was completely exhausted, the women were in tears and the men were nervously pacing from corner to corner, smoking one cigarette after another, then it turned out that it was all a performance, just theatre, and that none of it was real – no one had shot anyone and it was all just acting. But for all those people that meant nothing, because for two hours they had seen a real murder, experienced it to the full and lived through it with their every nerve. For two hours they had sat imprisoned by the police in that cramped theatre staring at the blood, and as they took away the body they knew they’d never forget it. For them it really did happen.
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones