Friday, November 7, 2014

"a wind-propelled hat"

From the novel in progress, an excerpt from the title story, "Antosha in Prague."
Suvorin,
Have Moscow and Petersburg burnt to the ground? Has there been an outbreak of Black Plague? Has my first play been revived only to fail with a great public outcry of disgust and I am now persona non grata even to my friends? Why do you not answer my letters? Today it is cold and a wind rushes violently down every street in Prague, as if the seasons are quarreling and winter has for the moment taken the upper hand from springtime. The sky is crowded with scruffs of lumpy gray clouds, like undercooked dumplings or boils full of pus. I’m told that rain is normal for spring here, just as it is everywhere in Europe, but it is unseasonably cold these last days, and in fact it hasn’t rained in nearly a fortnight. After breakfast I wrapped myself in my winter coat and walked through the Mala Strana, a tall hillside of parkland, fruit trees, abandoned hermits’ caves, and cultivated grape which rises up south of the old royal castle. There is a church and an ancient monastery at the summit of the hill, which you mount by following a winding stone pathway with many staircases and steep granite inclines, built centuries ago by peasants during a famine in exchange for rations of bread from the king’s stores. It was windy in the park, the trees rattling like an orchestra of skeletons. My hat was blown from my head and though I chased after it, it was lost over an old stone wall that seemed to materialize from nowhere. The wall was higher than I could climb over without a ladder. I must have looked like a madman, sprinting through the trees and waving my stick while shouting in Russian at a wind-propelled hat. It was an expensive hat, Alexey Sergeyevich. I shall have to visit the Jews and buy a replacement. Just this morning I wrote to the Actress and told her that I’m considering taking a different room in the hotel, because there is too much light from the street when I attempt to sleep. I’ve been out all day—it took me forever to find my way back to the hotel once I wandered from the park—and I stopped at a large restaurant a mile or so up the Moldau for supper and a lot of local wine. The food was nothing although the rolls were excellent. I won’t bore you with a critical review of the soup and fish, however. You see how tired I am: I was writing about my rooms here, and drifted off into complaints about a meal. Half an hour ago I returned to the hotel, picked up my key and found no letters at the front desk, and then I came up to my suite. After turning up the gaslight I was overcome by the most peculiar feeling that either the management has in fact put me and my luggage into a different room while I was outside being blown about like a kite, or else every stick of furniture, every wall hanging, every rug and vase, has been shifted in a clockwise direction around the rooms by a few inches. It strikes me as both radically different and obviously unchanged. I might say it’s as if the room itself has set its mind to oppose me in some manner. Yes, this sensation is impossible to describe yet it is nonetheless real. Perhaps they merely came in and polished the floors. Perhaps it’s merely that I drank too much Bohemian wine with supper. It’s nearly one o’clock and I must sleep. There is no light shining through the bedroom window, which is good. Write to me, Alexey Sergeyevich. Remember to suggest stories for Marx, the German.
Yours,
--A Chekhonte

11 comments:

  1. I continue to be intrigued by your writing. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. With this new book, I feel like I'm finally learning how to really write. It's tempting to burn everything I've written before now. I won't, of course; I have three book out on submission right now. But this new one is a real book.

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    2. Well, writers are always starting over once again. It's good to start and feel that you know what you are doing! (Me, I'm back from seven weeks away, and all at sixes and sevens and rushing about like somebody in a tempestuous ballad where there are numbers--a sign of something--and the occasional talking bird.)

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    3. It's true, I think every new book is the book, the only proper novel I've written. But I wouldn't have it any other way, of course.

      I just last week wrote a story with a talking bird! His name is Dmitry Nikiforovich.

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  2. Burn nothing! Learn from Kafka. He wanted his work destroyed after his death. Thank goodness, his wishes were ignored. So, keep up the good efforts. I will be able to boast someday that I knew him when he was just getting started. Then I can say that I know another famous and successful writer.

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  3. This character seems more like you than any of your other characters, Scott. I want to read the entire thing. I love that there is a sense of magic here, even though nothing is actually unusual or impossible.

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    1. Well, a cranky, middle-aged writer, right? The epistolary title story quoted here is only about 1/5 of the whole book. But I think the other 4/5 of the collection will be pretty good, too. Hopefully I'll have finished a first draft by springtime, and I'll send you the MS.

      Have you seen Mona in the Desert yet? I can't remember if I sent it to you. I'm still hammering away at the structure of that one; it's turning out to be more difficult than I thought it would be. I keep changing my mind about the narrator's level of sincerity and the amount of metafictional content I want in the narrative.

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    2. Remind me of all the books you have written, Mr. B (The Astrologer, Cocke & Bull, The Last Guest, The Hanging Man, Mona In The Desert--am I missing one or more? I am pretty sure I read an early draft of Mona in the Desert, but I may be confusing it with another book. Either way, I would love to see how it has evolved!

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    3. You are missing Go Home, Miss America. It feels like there should be more, but I guess there aren't. You'll have to be patient for Mona, but I promise to let you see it after the next revision. Spring, like I say. If things go according to plan. I have no idea what I'll work on after the current project. Maybe the thing about the aging violinist who is selling his beloved antique instrument to a younger player. Maybe the thing about the Austrian philosopher and his English translator. Maybe the Antarctica thing. Maybe Moby-Dick.

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    4. Ah yes! See, I often confused Go Home, Miss America with Mona In The Desert because somewhere along the line I imagined Miss America walking in the desert and forever linked your two books. I look forward to meeting Mona whenever you are ready! I'm curious to see if the Antarctica thing becomes a book, Mr. B. You sure do talk about that one a lot.

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    5. The Antarctica book requires a lot of historical research that I've been putting off. For a couple of years, I see. I have to sit down, figure out the structural details and just start writing the damned thing. Maybe next year. My prediction is that I write the violinist thing next.

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