A Zander in Amberis a collection of seven quite long stories. The title itself is deliberately not related to any of them, and is a good example of the sense of the absurd, in the style of Beckett or Ionesco (cf. The Bald Primadonna), that has been Cegiełka’s inspiration in this work, and not just in composing its title. Most of these stories are written almost entirely (and in the case of the story entitled Crows, entirely) in the form of nightmare horror. They all start realistically, but it soon turns out that the fate of the hero (usually the same young man who smokes cigarettes by the ton) is burdened by some sort of bad luck, and that some organisation is hatching a cunning plot against him. However, our curiosity (we keep asking ourselves who? what plot? etc) is never to be satisfied, just as we shall never know why and by whom Joseph K. was being tried.
- Michał Witkowski
Piotr Cegiełka (born 1978) is a prose writer and playwright. He was the winner of the first Stanisław Czycz prize (awarded in Kraków 2001, as part of the “Tekstylia” festival). He lives in Płock, where he is studying Polish philology.
“Mr Jack?” I heard a man’s voice in my ear and opened my eyes. “Yes,” I replied and started wondering how this man had got into my flat. He was leaning over me, and I could easily smell his breath, which stank of cigarettes. I folded my hands behind my pillow and decided not to move. For a short while we stared each other in the eyes. I wanted to know what time it was, so I asked him. He said he didn’t have a watch. He was standing in the way of the alarm clock on my desk, but I didn’t dare ask him to move. He leaned even lower and whispered into my ear: “From now on you won’t be allowed to leave your flat.” “What?” I asked, and thought I must still be dreaming and hadn’t woken up at all. “You heard me. From now on you’re not to leave your flat. You are categorically forbidden to do so. Now please get up and give me your keys.” I pushed back the duvet and sat up on the edge of the bed. I stood up and went over to the chair, where I had left my trousers hanging over the back. I took my whole bunch of keys on their steel ring out of my pocket and dutifully handed them to him. He took them without a word and shoved them into a side pocket of his overcoat. “Is that all?” I asked. “Yes, thank you,” he replied. “I’ll lock you in on my way out. Don’t try to escape through the window it won’t work, you’ll only get yourself into even more trouble. Your flat will be watched at all times. Any attempt to escape could end in tragedy for you. I know it’s only the second floor, but if you’re caught by the guard you’ll inevitably be done for. On the spot. That’s our instructions. “What instructions?” “I can’t tell you any more. I’m sorry. Believe me, I really do feel sorry for you.” He went out into the hall and headed for the door. I rushed after him. “Hold on a minute, what’s all this about?” I cried. He threw up his hands helplessly and gave me a look in the same vein. “I can’t help you. I’m truly sorry.” He grasped the door handle and went out onto the stairwell. He closed the door and I heard the lock snap shut, which told me I wasn’t asleep after all and this really was happening. I went back into my room and stared at the bed. I didn’t know whether to get back in it or not, but in the end I just threw myself down on the bedclothes. I extracted my cigarettes from under the pillow and lit one. I glanced around for the ashtray, but it was at the other end of the room. I didn’t want to get up and fetch it, so I flicked my ash onto the floor. There I lay, uncovered, on my right side, with my eyes glued to the motion of the runaway second hand. The alarm clock said half past five. The sun was due to appear at about six, though it wasn’t all that dark outside any more. I couldn’t remember what day it was, Monday perhaps. A fine start to the week, I thought. A moment later I must have fallen asleep, because I woke up just after seven, still holding the cigarette burned down to the filter. I got up. I began to pick up the clothes that were lying about the floor and put them on in turn. One sock was missing, but finally I found it under the chair by the window. I sat on it and lit a cigarette. I leaned my elbow on the windowsill and watched the people rushing for the bus stop. The pavement ran right under the windows of my building. When I was little I used to open the window and spit on their heads. Now I was blowing smoke straight at the windowpane and watching it dissolve as it hit the obstruction, like circles in water when you touch the surface. I picked up the ashtray from the floor and set it on the windowsill. It was full to the brim and I had a tough time finding a spot to stub out my cigarette. Then I noticed a tall man standing in a gateway on the other side of the street whose appearance unsettled me. He was wearing a black hat and a floor-length grey overcoat, with the pointed tips of his black leather shoes poking out from under it. He looked exactly like the guy who had visited me in the night. But it wasn’t the same guy. That one had been more or less the same height as me, but this one made me feel like a dwarf. I knew he was looking at my window. As soon as I realised, I stood up and lowered the Venetian blinds. I watched him for a while longer through a small chink in one slightly broken blind, but he went on standing in the same spot. Let him stand there, I thought and went away from the window. I took the full ashtray from the windowsill and threw its contents down the lavatory. I went into the bathroom. I undressed and got into the bath. I sat down in it. I found the plug and blocked up the plughole. I watched for a while as the bath filled. I adjusted the water temperature once more because it was a little too cold. I reached for a lump of soap lying on the sink and began to soap my whole body. I sat there a little longer, idly waiting for the bath to fill up enough. Finally I submerged myself and took out the plug. Then I washed my head, but stood and leaned over the bath to do it. I rinsed it off with water from the shower. I dried my whole body with a towel and put on clean underwear. I twisted a ball of cotton wool into a taper and cleaned my ears with it. I blew my nose on a crumpled old vest that was lying on the floor and served me for this purpose. In the kitchen I filled the kettle and put it on the gas. I sprinkled some coffee into a glass, two teaspoons more than usual. I was still a little sleepy and wanted to wake up fully. I sat on a stool by the window and lit a cigarette that was lying loose on the table. Its filter was resting in a small mound of spilled salt. If it weren’t for Judyta, I’d get lost in all this mess. She was supposed to come and see me today, but I decided to wonder what that would be like later on. I got up and went into the hall. I tiptoed up to the door and opened the peephole cover. I saw a guy sitting on the steps in the stairwell. He was wearing a hat and was dressed in the same sort of coat as his two predecessors. I felt a bit afraid. I grasped the door handle and began to tug at it. The whole time I had my eye glued to the peephole. The guy in the stairwell didn’t even move, as if he was used to this sort of thing. He didn’t even look at my door, just went on staring at the wall in front of him without moving.