The Deadly Supper
By Karl and Josef Capek
Translated by Joe Bandel
Copyright Joe Bandel
The nine of us were having supper with Prince Ama Hahabe in a sudden and destructive impulse of spontaneous boredom. It was a dark inspiration of his own making. As if there was no other means of cheering himself up at his disposal. The melancholy Prince had gotten it into his head that he would share his misery and that is why the nine of us sat at this gloomy supper. Goor, the organizer of our club, Guignard, a player in the club; Cepel, an adventurer; Bernhard Hadra, a failed restaurant owner; Vámes, whom you will find under the table; Baron Ralph, the waiter and myself.
And before it was midnight Goor had cursed, Guignard had sang, Hadra had given a speech, Vámes had sat in gloomy silence and Cepel had fled together with Ralph. And the sad host had stared in despair and dullness across the tabletop comfortably pleased at the reinforcement of his melancholy mood.
“All the joys of life are sadness, anxiety and painful travails. The virgin dreams of love and her portion is only shame. The heart dreams of happiness and reaps only lust. Happiness! Tell me, what is happiness?”
“Not to be born,” said Hadra.
“To be born dead,” joined in Vámes.
The desperate Baron wrung his hands.
“And I allege that happiness could be near; that happiness could be near, yet the hands could not seize it, the feet could not reach it. Not with the feet that walk everywhere and stumble over everything. Oh, Goor, dear friend, prove to me that you are a friend and curse for us!”
And Goor cursed in five languages in the manner of a bum that lived in two worlds; along with the living expressions of an Italian sailor he tied together the sharp abuse of the Irish and the genuine curses of the Prague dialect; and then switched to the expressions of the new Greek and closed with the powerful crudeness of the cowboys from Frisco, in which he accompanied his outbreak of speech with the mimed shooting of a revolver.
“Philosophy is a touchstone,” exclaimed Hadra thoughtfully, “and the touchstone is black. Gorgias has said: ‘Nothing exists’; but that is too optimistic. Everything exists and it is a tragedy. Listen, I don’t believe in any Gods; if there were Gods they would not have created the world and then abandon their own creation.”
“Oh yes,” sighed the Prince.
“And listen to this,” closed Hadra. “Man comes into this world in an expulsion of blood; and then he lives, that means, he has the gout, colic and migraines: and in the end he dies of crabs or gallstones. My brain is heavy and black like a splinter of slate. I don’t want to spit upon mankind.”
“You have your heaven, I live for my belly,” spoke the fat Baron Ralph. “I have one solid point in my head, and it lifts up my life like a harsh solid rock. My life is nothing other than that of a predator, that is what I have toiled away at for the last 40 years for the sake of my belly. Oh how difficult it has been!”
“Gentlemen,” Guignard gave his gloomy opinion, “we are born through love and through love we pass away: and the woman’s bed is our cradle as well as our coffin. Man has one single vulnerable spot. The illusions in his heart. Woman has one single vulnerable spot: her virginity. Once, in order that she was not violated, men both hid and guarded her. Today, to make sure she is not violated man gets rid of her. I myself go like a mountain man into a steep shaft, and I am frightened at my encounter with the darkness.”
“Woe to the world!” Spoke the gloomy Cepel. “If a man wanted to strike out all the flaws in themselves with red, the entire blood of the folk would not be enough. All of humanity is a tragedy and a drama without any resolution to the problem.”
“Silence,” answered Vámes grinding his teeth, “aren’t we all mortal? Life will solve all of our problems soon enough.”
Vámes, stood up and extinguished the light. The blue flame of the burning punch glowed in the darkness and lit his face with the paleness of a corpse.
“The hour comes,” intoned Goor’s voice from out of the gloom, “and inner human darkness honors the white worm and its silent visit. Man is a locked box and death is Pandora: the curious virgin opens the box and its stench pours out.”
“Man is a king,” spoke Hadra. “He carries purple in his veins; as soon as I have had enough, I will set myself on a powder keg and fly to the face of God. Ho ho, red splatters in God’s silent face and even bloodier noise in God’s home, that’s what my death will be.”
“In Massachusetts,” said Goor, “a farmer died, and the frozen spasm of his death grimace smoothed itself into such an infectious smile, that the widow together with the orphans danced with laughter around the blessed breadwinner.”
“My uncle,” Cepel shared, “had a hernia and was afraid of dying. After he had the operation, the doctor came and said, ‘You are spared. You will live.’ And my uncle died right then and there in the overwhelming joy of having his life returned to him. See, even life nurses a deadly danger within itself.”
“The inventor Piettak in Bremen invented a suicide machine, a kind of private guillotine with an electric motor; the machine was majestic, but when he tried to use it on himself, the apparatus malfunctioned. He shot himself in the heart, but missed, because his heart had an abnormality and was on the right side of his chest. He gave up and decided during his convalescence to live longer; he lay in bed and determined to live a life like Tolstoy and Müller, but his house collapsed down on top of him and buried his plans.”
“I know death,” spoke Goor darkly.
“The one paradise is an eccentric departure like the antics of a clown, who abandons the crowd; I know strange accountings, that are half joke and half horror.”
“One of my friends put an ecrasite pellet in his cigarette: he smoked it and was blown to pieces. The Duchess Ljutkoff was crushed by a cat: but that was a cat exhibit at an art show in London.”
“My brother Karl shot himself with a projectile, on which the name of his girlfriend was engraved and which was later enameled in a special order by the jeweler Joseph Pronck.”
“The philosopher Swalmius put a hole through his heart with a wooden nail. Rallaro … but that goes without saying. There are people, which through their departure defile the majesty of life and dirty the majesty of death. There is death-“
“I know a death,” the silent Vámes suddenly spoke out. “An unbridled, terrible and unheard of death. I know a death- fearful and puzzling- one that would crush your thoughts and choke your throat- a death that once occurred and that still terrifies me, until I can’t sleep-“
“Well?” asked the waiter tensely.
“Wait, I’m not well,” whispered Vámes, “another time. Another time-“ and he looked with evil, unfriendly eyes in front of him and slowly nodded his large ugly head. And suddenly his head struck heavily against the wood of the table and Vámes body slid down from his chair and under the table; there was a short frightened tumult, and then the waiter drug the unconscious body out into the hallway.
And after a while the waiter announced:
“The gentleman is dead!”
The Prince paled.
Berhard Hadra clutched at the corpse of his friend.
There were ten of us at the supper that the Prince gave out of boredom: Goor, Hadra, Guignard, Vámes, Cepel, Ama Hahabe, Ralph, the waiter, Death and myself; and shaking our heads we said among ourselves: Speak with a woman about love and you call up love. Speak with a man about thirst and you call it up as well. Speak of death, and it will come. Yet, the entire human race speaks of happiness and it never comes. Too bad about Vámes.
And “Too bad,” the Prince complained, “that he wasn’t able to finish his anecdote.”