Thursday, 1 December 2011

Drunkard’s Tales by Jaroslav Hašek

Last week’s post on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trek through Mitteleuropa prompted me to mention Joseph Roth and Jaroslav Hašek, so I thought I’d carry on the theme and return, once again, to Drunkard’s Tales, Hašek’s boozy stories from old Prague...

Mr. Motejzlík’s Fatherly Delights concerns the eponymous new father and reprobate, who in the run up to the arrival of his son and heir, has been putting it about in the bars and shops around town that he’s already got a little boy at home. Realising that his wife might give birth to a girl, he back pedals and tells everyone it’s a daughter, then twins, then...

Finally, when the moment came that he was to become a father, he disappeared in the neighbourhood even though his in-laws were present, and at the pork butcher’s, the baker’s the chemist’s, in two pubs and one wine house claimed that it is a done thing, and again in his lying ways – a girl, boy – boy, girl – twins, triplets – boy, girl – girl, boy – to cut along story short he left himself a back door open. And when in the wine house he had his fifth glass of vermouth tucked inside, he exclaimed, “You don’t know how happy I am!” and went home.

Back at home, the drunken father is presented with the newborn:

When the midwife brought in the red infant, Mr. Motejzlík took hold of him and was in the hallway in a jiffy. He wanted to show it to the neighbours next door. They wrestled it away from him, and Mr. Motejzlík, shouting at the whole house in the quiet of the evening, “I have a son!” ran down and out to the restaurant opposite. There he ordered ten beers and told everyone he has a son. Since he told them half an hour ago that he had a daughter, an argument arose while Mr. Motejzlík was shouting, “I know better, it’s mine!”

The in-laws aren’t happy and show him the door, so Motejzlík spends the night on the toot, before trying to kip at a friend’s house. When this goes wrong (he sneaks in through a window and startles the man’s wife...) he creeps back home and sleeps on the sofa.

Still, Motejzlík is a doting father, if a little prone to festivities:

When somebody becomes a father, there are many little delights... What a great joy to note into your diary every gram that your offspring gains, slowly but surely, according to the implacable rules of nature. Then a new pleasure – your boy wants to drink. You take him to his mother and get back to your guests, take another bottle of cognac out of the cupboard, and while your little dear drinks, so do you and your guests to his health.

Once again, the in-laws show him the door and he ends up out on the pop. He comes back with a hare-brained idea that he wants his lad christened Hector, after the Trojan hero, but the family put the kibosh on that pretty quickly and tell him there’s no way the boy is having the same name as a butcher’s dog. Motejzlík storms off in a huff, but comes back a couple of days later, seemingly repentant:

Then he got ignored, shut in a room and when he spoke up at the door all contrite, “Could I please see my dear little son,” he received a curt answer, “When you sober up!” – “Sorry, I am really not drunk today, I would really like to see my own blood, dearest madam." The dearest mother-in-law did not answer and started to whistle an aria from the Huguenots, the part when they are starting to slaughter the Huguenots.

Father-in-law decides that Motejzlík is sober enough to make himself useful and sends him out to buy a pram, furnishing him with 150 crowns to fund the purchase. Motejzlík dutifully shops around, comparing prices and finally sits in a coffee shop working out which one is best value. Unable to decide, he goes back out to the street, only to find that it’s eight in the evening and all the shops are shut. The shadow of opprobrium has been cast on the night and he doesn’t dare go home:

All of a sudden Mr. Motejzlík began to feel the need to distract the thoughts of a hunted man with a jovial talk with his true friends, whom he saw daily at the restaurant U Zvěřinů in Košíře, whenever he managed to escape from home. So there he tried to banish his dismal thoughts with good beer, but still it was not the real thing, some excitement was needed to forget his sad lot.

Some wiseguy suggests a nightclub where they play cards, and before he knows what he’s doing, Motejzlík is changing a 100 crown note. Before long he’s down to his last 20 so he goes all in – “Everything for my little son!” – and scoops a monkey:

It was the next day around ten o’clock, when Mr. Motejzlík came back to his family and home. But in what condition!

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