Ivan Kraus: CLASS STRUGGLE
Rubrika: Literatura – Fejetony
Sometimes my mother had a curious way of talking to my father.
"That's your fault," she would level at him after she had been standing in some queue or other. Other times, such as when she had been waiting a long time for a tram and got home late, she would point at my father and say, "That's your fault too!"
Father soon realised that Mother addressed him as a representative of the party whose remaining several hundred thousand members didn't happen to be on hand at that moment. Out of an innate sense of self-preservation he used to keep a low profile at such moments.
On one occasion, Mother came and showed him some coffee she had just bought at the shop. She did so spontaneously, without her customary prologue or warning. Father, who until then had been accustomed to drink coffee but not observe it, was rather caught unawares.
"Just take a look at that!" Mother instructed him, showing him the packet.
Taken somewhat aback, Father looked alternately at the coffee, which was a familiar enough object, and at Mother whom he also thought he knew up to that moment. "What do you have to say about it?" Mother asked after Father had perused the packet for several moments.
Father said nothing. It must have been the first time he'd been given such a task. No one had every asked him to comment on coffee before. He was undoubtedly capable of speaking on all sorts of topics, but coffee was not one he found inspiring.
I'd go so far as to say coffee left Father cold.
He enjoyed drinking it but it had never occurred to him to talk about it.
"Take a good look!" Mother instructed him with a louder voice.
Father did as he was bid and truly looked with such attention that nothing could have eluded him. But however hard he looked, nothing occurred to him. At that moment Mother lost her patience and asked him to kindly look at the price. Then she held the packet right in front of his eyes and announced to him that the price of coffee had gone up again. And when my father simply shrugged helplessly, my mother brandished the coffee and shrieked: "That's the way you run the economy!" Another time, the gas pressure was low and Mother, who was unable to finish the lunch, instructed Father to go into the kitchen and see what he'd caused. Father said he had no wish to go there because he could well imagine what low gas pressure looked like and would sooner stay in the living room. However, Mother eventually forced him to go and he stood gazing at the gas.
"Shame on you!" Mother said after his examination. Father then returned to the living room to continue reading some article about the successes of socialism. Father wasn't the only party member in the family. Uncle Rudolf, Aunt KateÞina and Uncle Petr were also "comrades".
We were very fond of Uncle Rudolf. As a lawyer he had once defended the future Bulgarian Communist leader Georgi Dimitrov in court. He had spent the war in England along with Aunt KateÞina and their son Petr, because the Germans had issued a warrant for their arrest immediately after they occupied Prague. Uncle had a serious illness that kept him bedridden for over twenty years.
On one occasion he was visited by some government minister who brought him a medal. Uncle put the medal back in its box and tossed it under the bed. He objected to the fact that the party could be led by people like that particular minister. Uncle's wife, Aunt KateÞina grew beautiful cactuses. Even late in life she went on writing books about little pioneers and even littler working-class children. Nobody wanted to publish her books because my aunt's memory wasn't very good and she got lots of things muddled. Later, when she too was bedridden, various nurses would come and look after her. Auntie would address them as comrades. One would look after her during the day and another at night. Another one would do the shopping and water the cactuses. The comrade who was in charge of the cactuses was the most important comrade in my aunt's eyes. My mother, who was irritated by the fact that Auntie wrote about socialism and didn't know the price of groceries, suspected that even the cactuses received some special sort of nourishment that was denied to non-party cactuses.
The relatives who were in the party also did not see eye to eye. My father had a splendid rapport with Uncle Petr and they both got on well with Uncle Rudolf, from whom they concealed the latest news for fear it would be the death of him. Neither of the uncles got on well with Aunt KateÞina, even though one was her husband and the other her son.
Oddly enough all our Catholic relatives were fond of my father, particularly Mother's sister, Aunt Anna, who admired him above all because he managed to live with our mother. Even Aunt Marie, whose family had been factory owners, got on well with Father.
But Father got on best of all with Granddad, who was the most inveterate opponent of the Party in the entire family.
Over the years the opinions of some of my relatives changed. Aunt Marie who initially always harked back to the good old days eventually became acclimatised and maintained that one had to make the best of a bad job. Uncle Petr fled to the USA, sending his party card back to Prague in a registered envelope and adding that he vowed never to return.
The complicated political relationships in the family also left their mark on me. I used to go the Uncle Rudolf's and Auntie KateÞina's and drink coffee made by one of the comrade nurses and eat cake baked by the other. At one time I used to pay regular visits to Aunt Marie's, where a Miss Jane would come to teach my cousin and me English.
During our breaks we would take tea and my aunt would recall in English her childhood spent in a villa garden and servants dashing about the garden with strawberry gateaux. Auburn-haired Miss Jane would sip her tea and sigh in perfect English: "Oh, how lovely... oh, how beautiful!"
Then during the holidays we would travel to see Aunt Anna and our five pious cousins, who would take me to a monastery and tell me that only the church could make a man of me in such evil times.
At home I spent most of my time with my grandfather (who dubbed all Communists criminals, murderers and swindlers), my father (who sat there meanwhile reading the Communist newspaper), and my mother (who agreed with my grandfather).
The only Party member my grandfather didn't condemn, was my father.
My mother condemned the Party as a whole, including my father.
The upshot of all this was that one morning I made up my mind and announced to my father that the day was coming when we would have to liquidate him.
"What?" my father said in surprise.
"We'll have to hang you, Dad," I said, trying to remain calm, as becomes a true revolutionary. My father stared at me mystified across the table top, before laying aside his newspaper and asking, "Who?"
"Pavl‡sek and I," I said proudly.
Pavl‡sek was a fellow pupil of mine who had decided to initiate the resistance within his own family and root out the evil. To my astonishment, Father recovered his composure after this news and calmly went back to reading the paper. The calm with which he learned of his fate came as a shock to me. Of course I knew that he must be accustomed to all sorts of things after his years in prison, but I have to admit I was expecting him to go slightly pale or his hands to shake. I thought he might be rather more concerned about the sentence I had passed on him, and want to know a bit more about the reasons for my decision. I had imagined him starting to defend himself, for instance, and pleading for a lighter sentence, such as life imprisonment, say.
But nothing of the sort occurred. My father went on calmly reading his newspaper and drinking a cup of that coffee whose price had gone up again.
Nothing is more disconcerting to a revolutionary than to be ignored by one's class enemy. I was annoyed and decided to inform the other reactionaries in the family straight away. So I immediately told Granddad and Mother of my plan
But my allies disappointed me.
Grandfather, who for years had counted on an uprising (which he always expected would take place in the spring around nine o'clock in the morning - the signal to be a siren on the radio and the sound of church bells) suddenly threatened to give me a good hiding if ever I spoke to my father that way again.
My mother, whom I regarded as my revolutionary mentor, went even further.
She threatened to stop my pocket-money.
For a thirteen-year-old revolutionary that would spell bankruptcy, of course.
Disappointed by my own family's faintheartedness, I informed my school friend how things had turned out.
However, I discovered that his revolutionary ardour had also cooled somewhat. He told me the time wasn't ripe yet, and so he was going fishing with his class enemy.
Originální ilustrace pro Pozitivní noviny © Ing. arch. Miloslav Heřmánek
Tento článek byl v Pozitivních novinách poprvé publikován 01. 06. 2009.