Kaffka Margit: Colours and years (Színek és évek in English)
Színek és évek (Hungarian)
Pár nap múlva volt a Gazdaegylet estélye, ezen az ártatlan néven a farsang első nagy és leginkább zártkörű bálja. Hanika, a Lipi szenzál varróleány húga, megint lázasan újította, áthúzta, frissítette a pompás ruháinkat a debreceni bál után. Anyám álmomból vert fel előtte való este, mert elfeledtem citromos crême céleste-tel bekenni a karjaimat s a nyakam, a hajam vuklikba sodorni és ócska kesztyűt húzni éjszakára.
Colours and years (English)
A couple of days later there was the Farmers' Union soiree, an innocent name for the first large ball of the carnival season and the most select one. Hanika, the younger sister of Lipi the broker, and our seamstress, once more frantically remade, altered and freshened up our magnificent dresses after the ball at Debrecen. The night before it, my mother woke me from sleep because I had forgotten to put lemon crême celeste on my arms and neck, to do my hair in ringlets and to wear a pair of old gloves for the night.
All the creme of society from three counties was at the ball, but the towns were represented only by us, the Kallóses, Reviczkys and Zimáns. Every year it was the custom to send invitations to the estate officials for the sake of propriety, but as usual not one of them came on this occasion either. Yet for once grandma herself had spoken to Vodicska, and had managed to arrange a welcome for him from a few influential families. But he did not come. 'Mummy's tied him to the table-leg; she wont let him go!' said my mother crossly.
At that ball I was in a foamy blue silk dress with a lot of lace about it, my mother in a yellow brocade embroidered with gold thread. When we entered, my heart leapt once again at the realization that we were still among the leaders.
Guests from the neighbouring counties entered in a single group after the first few dances. At first glance I caught sight of Endre Tabódy among them. I looked at him with a compelling, long, passionate female gaze, questioningly and encouragingly.
With a thrill of amazement I saw that he felt it; he looked around with restless and searching eyes, then with a changing, surprised expression caught sight of me and immediately made his way towards me. 'What do I want with him? What's happening to me and in me now?' I suddenly asked myself.
We began to dance, and I sensed that once again I was an attractive sight; people stopped to enjoy watching us. With halfclosed eyes I floated on the arm of the slender, good-looking young man, and thought that till today the delight of dancing had been only a shabby and stupid piece of play-acting; this was the real thing, and only now did I learn its true meaning. Up to now only my body swayed and became dizzy, the glamour of my blood floated around me only in deceptive ecstasy; but now in the depths of my soul something opened and sprang up with utter reality, and this fusion was so intimate, wonderful and pure that it would be impossible to give it a name. How good, I am now, how true, serious and precious! Why, he does care for me, he has not forgotten me! And even then, in the summer, he took me seriously.
I deliberately conjured up once again the vision of the poplars and the moonlight, the silvery dust and the far, far distant fields. Now a distant, precious, mythical blueness played over this vision; here music played and everything - youth and joy - flew and floated in glittering light and perfume... Once, just this once again!
Dizzy with weariness and ecstasy I got back to my chair. Endre exchanged a few polite words with my mother. 'Oh of course, one of the Tabódys from the Nyírség! Surely not Anna Pásthy's son? Impossible! Your mother and I were together at boarding school!'
The band struck up a csárdás and once again he was my partner. A few local acquaintances who were standing around waiting for me, went up to my mother, pretending to be annoyed. Once again Telekdy sat beside her the whole evening and only allowed her, with great condescension, to dance the quadrille. Only when the supper csárdás came to an end did my mother, scandalized, take me to task 'What are you doing? Do be sensible!' she whispered, stifled and somewhat confused. She herself did not seem to be certain what to think about the affair.
'I love you, I love you, I love you!' he kept saying to me passionately and stubbornly as he squeezed my arm close to his.
This new confession made me angry, and glad and pained, as surprising and peculiar as if I had never heard it before. 'Like two boats moored alongside each other, I thought as I walked the length of the ballroom on his arm.
'Magda!' he whispered into my ear at dinner, when the first champagne-glasses had been filled, and for a minute our precious, silly, emotional and clumsy words and behaviour were not being
watched. 'At last, Magda, my only one, wait for me! For a while. I don't know what's going to happen – I myself cant yet envision how…, but I'll wrestle with anyone for you. Wait while at least I can think about it… They say you're engaged…'
All this doesn't depend on me, Endre, I replied resignedly, sorrowfully. But this great, piercing, sacred distress shot through me with a very strange sweetness. I would not have given it up for anything in the world.
On the other side of the ballroom, my mother was talking in whispers with Telekdy. They looked at me and I saw they were discussing me. What Endre Tabódy and I said to each other beyond that was irresolute, touching, almost welcome resignation. We knew nothing certain about our own and each other's future, but we scarcely dared to touch on the problem. We felt that all this had come very suddenly indeed, and perhaps we ourselves did not really trust in it. 'A lovely dream!' I thought, 'Nothing more! This, too, had to come now!' Listless music at dawn, stifling perfumes, drooping lace - a beautiful, sad, precious memory of those few foolish hours has been preserved in me my whole life through.
At three o'clock, though the ball was still in full swing, my mother beckoned firmly to me that we were to got home. Tabódy had already observed her disapproval. He escorted us to the door, kissed my hand there and looked long into my eyes. I knew that this was farewell. It had lasted up to then. Now it was over. Telekdy got into our carriage, and it was he who accompanied us home. My mother lit a candle, and in her slippers softly brought it to my bedside.
Are you asleep? – Crying? Magda! There, There, my dear little girl! My darling child!'
Fiercely I blew out the revealing candle in her hand and with a sudden, determined hug threw my arms around her neck. This, I knew, was a very rare moment between us, and something
to be kept secret next day, never to be mentioned; our kindred affection had to be buried in frigidity and everyday sociability. We hugged each other in the darkness and wept.
'My darling little creature, you clever little thing, just look! For us this just isn't possible; you can’t do this! It's a long, uncertain business and so much can happen in the meantime. These folks are wealthy, you can be sure they'd find it difficult to allow it. And all this is just talk, my dear; words, a sudden flame - they're nothing! Just one evening. Tomorrow he'll go home; the next day he'll say it to someone else, who knows who, from goodness knows where… Such affairs happen to every girl, but they're not serious. You're a child; just put an end to it now.'
Yes, yes! How sensibly she was speaking now. And exactly, precisely how my grandmother had spoken to her a few years before. And she was right; mothers are always right, I knew perfectly well. And I was far too sensible to take anything crazy or impossible into my head. And through my tears I said. 'But of course I know that, I know it! Do stop it!' All the same, I cried my eyes out for once.
'Today we've cleared the air between us, she said later, more calmly. 'I'm not saying that Telekdy wouldn't suit me either; I'm a bit older than he is, and he's a clever man, a fine one, too. And I've got to get married and get away from here! Today he mentioned Vodicska. And what battles he's had with his parents over you - he told him this - and that now they've come to terms with the idea... Well, that's how it is... He's a handsome, pleasant lad with a fine future. It's madness today to bother about a name... Maybe you might not settle down well either with a stepfather, and you've had quite enough of girlhood. Up to now you've come first, don't wait until your sun begins to set! Who knows whether anyone better will come along? Such things all depend on chance!'
This was how she spoke, so wisely, so maternally, and for quite a long time.
Next day Jenő Vodicska turned up in his black Sunday best and asked her for my hand.
My fiancé was the first man to kiss my girlish, haughty lips ceremoniously, tenderly and solemnly.
'Maggie, my darling, aren't I going to get any skin on my milk again?'
'Oh heavens, Jenő! Is it the skin now? Haven't you had enough of that? The milk from the woman at Börvely doesn't have any more on it!'
'You let it boil over, my love!…'
He muttered this in a stifled voice and rather indecisively, slowly measuring out the white milk with his beringed white hand.
The wintry morning sunshine gleamed cold as it played and glinted on his ring, on the silver handle of the ladle and the porcelain rim of the cup. The white brightness of the snow-covered world filled the fresh-smelling new dining room; in the big iron stove, wood crackled and spattered flames, and hot red flashes were reflected from the round eyes of the door and flickered playfully on the gleaming varnished side of the cupboard.
My husband had just gotten up. His moustache was still pressed down and his hair, wet and tousled from washing, stuck to his forehead; the whole man was fresh with well-perfumed water and soap. But just now I had seen him cutting his corns, standing with his legs wide apart and puffing in front of the washbasin; I had seen him clumsily filing his nails and cleaning his silk tie with a brush dipped in spirits. And now he was about to leave here tidied up, breakfasted, satisfied and smiling, while I picked up the rubbish after him, made the bed, carried away yesterday's dirty clothes, wiped the coffee-cup and immediately started rushing around again with the servant, so that by the time he returned at midday there would be order, neatness, cleanliness, lunch, warmth and everything. 'What would the master say?' we sometimes asked each other. The servant and I! Goodness, how crazy life is! And a year ago he looked after my invitation to the ball and carried my fan for me!...
Now - and it has been like this for almost a year, every day is more or less the same. I get up early and until this hour, rush right through the kitchen and the little three-roomed flat in
a running battle; in the drawing-room I have already dusted all
the porcelain figures on the tiny shelves, cleaned the cups and the lamp on the sideboard, then polished the silver with chalk-dust, swept and dusted and put everything straight. Till noonday it will be the same again: I beat carpets, polish door-handles, clean the vegetables and drive, stand over, curse and train the cook, who is also my lady's maid and only servant. And this – well, this is how it will be now for ever. How long?… As long as we live!…
Jenő drank up his coffee, ran his eyes over the newspaper, put on a coat and lit a cigar; then he came over to kiss me. But now I turned away in sudden dejection. 'Why, what's the matter?'
'Nothing!' I replied, tightening my lips. He gazed at my face for a while, then suddenly embraced me, forced my head back and planted a forceful, jocular kiss on my stubborn mouth. I burst out laughing; I was not one to put on an act. Then he pulled a lock of hair from under my red head-scarf and waggled it comically, gave me a slap on the thigh and suddenly let go of me as if something urgent had suddenly occurred to him.
'You're in for it next time the milk boils over, my little witch!' The front door had already closed behind him, and I drew away from the window so that he could not see me. For a while I looked at the snow-covered roofs of the houses and the frozen morning silence of Hajdú Town Street, and then at a frosty well-sweep in the yard of the Swabian house opposite, which creaked as it moved. How monotonous everything was, today, yesterday and for ever!
We had taken a flat in a cheap and out-of-the-way street, away from Jenő’s office, because we had to economize. He did not get much when he married me; there was scarcely anything left after buying the trousseau, furniture and some fine silver. And so our life consisted of great monotony, quiet and with a little comfort, just as when something is complete: it exists, and there is nothing to strive for, nothing to expect. 'Now he's gone, I thought; 'till noonday he'll be among people, hearing news, exchanging a few words, dictating in the office, going off to see the inspector, dropping in at the finance office, involved in a case at the law-courts, then towards noon he'll have a drink at the Stag, and cross County Street in front of grandma's house where my flower-filled window opened on to it in my girlhood. Then at noon he'll come home for a good lunch and a comfortable nap, to a homely, tranquil embrace in the clean and pleasant rooms, and maybe he'll not give a single thought to how much I gallop around here, hurrying and bustling about all the time. This is the unavailing, odd-jobbing drudgery that begins a new each day, the mechanism of housekeeping! Just for a man!'