Fruits of the Inner City (Part 1)
The Surly Super, The Artist, All Nerves, Milkoholic
translated by Joe Váradi and published here with the permission of the original author Lackfi János
THE SURLY SUPER
Mr. Melon, the super, carries a giant
broom wherever he goes, it’s one of his weapons
as if he were a knight with a lance, or a pole-wielding
samurai, he keeps the peace, as he likes to say
constantly, if he didn’t do it, then
who would, all joking aside, who indeed,
and it’s true, we have no idea, who would
make the rounds, all high and mighty,
so everyone could hear him from a distance
and fear him from a distance,
who would drive off the stray dogs
and cats, who would shoo away the pigeons
as if they too were tenants who didn’t
follow all the house rules and regulations.
Mr. Melon has a stomach shaped like a melon,
this is his other weapon, he keeps it out in front,
and he brandishes his third weapon
his big booming voice,
and woe onto those who are late
with their water or utilities bills, woe onto them
who don’t sweep their section of the hallway,
who stomp around with muddy boots in the common
areas, who lock up their bikes in places
where it’s not allowed, whose kids, or parrots,
or dogs, or radios, or parties are
too loud or too messy
or too loud and too messy,
woe onto them, Mr. Melon will
swing his broom and grumble,
wobble his stomach and grumble,
brandish his voice and grumble,
Mr. Melon is armed and dangerous,
Mr. Melon is a force of nature!
Strawberry is a misunderstood artist,
which I understand.
I mean, I get it that
others don’t understand him,
but as for why they don’t, I have no idea.
Perhaps Strawberry is glad, secretly,
that nobody understands him besides me,
this way he can complain all he wants,
and I’m just a kid, I don’t count.
Actually, he’s pretty lucky to have me,
he can complain to me about all the other stinky
bums, who have no taste, who don’t get him,
starting with his very mean former wife,
who understood him so little that she left him.
And this is pretty obvious if you see Strawberry’s flat,
paints, wood shavings, canvases,
moldy leftovers, dirty glasses, dog-eared
books, filthy plates and utensils.
The stove and toilet look like they are covered
with brownish minerals. No one understands his art,
not the bankers, not the critics, not the gallery owners,
not even other painters, who are jealous of him,
not even the grocers, who won’t pay him with food,
though Strawberry has tried everything,
he’s painted pigeons, balconies, automobiles,
naked women, palm trees, lions and tigers,
everything that is beautiful. For these people? Useless!
He’s painted stray dogs, one-eyed hobos,
rusty water pipes, leaky rain gutters,
crumbling walls, flooded roofs, everything
that is ugly. For these people? Waste of time!
He’s painted three-headed lilac crocodiles,
pincer-nosed princesses, bicyclists with webbed feet,
tractors with flappy ears and curly tails. Haha!
Did they appreciate any of it? He’s painted color patches,
zig-zags, blurry blotches, circles,
squares, all-blue and all-green canvases.
These people? Radio silence! One night, totally fed up,
Strawberry dumped all his brushes, paints, books,
easels and paintings out of his window, and the
strange downpour cracked somebody’s head.
The police came and took Strawberry away.
I think they might have been the first
to finally understand his art.
Ms. Loquat’s skin really is just like
a loquat’s, it sticks to her bones, Ms. Loquat
is all nerves, a lit cigarette hangs from her lips,
always yelling after her three unruly urchins,
threatening to smack them upside the head, or make
mincemeat out of them, but she’s never done these things
for real, because the three boys are constantly running
this way and that, wailing, flinging their slippers, toy cars
or flowerpot shards down to the courtyard,
even at night you can hear them, dancing
on the ceiling or swinging from the chandelier
in the dark. Ms. Loquat complains that
they suck the joy of life out of her,
that she’s ready to drop herself off the ledge, but she
hasn’t done this yet either, she did drop a watermelon once
on the stairs, but not intentionally, it was for the boys
but the bag broke and the melon, big as a child’s head,
rolled down the stairs, step by step, until
it spilled its bright red insides, Ms. Loquat
chased it furiously, and in her rage
stomped it to a pulp, the sticky imprint
still visible on the floor the next day.
The neighbors have just about had enough of
Ms. Loquat’s temper, when she gets angry
the whole building shakes, and she often gets angry.
She gets the strangest ideas, too, for example
during the big heat wave, she declared that
there’s no way her kids are getting a heat stroke,
she put an inflatable pool filled with water
in the landing where the staircase turns, and
the three brats squealed, sprayed their
water guns, dove and splashed everywhere.
Worse still, people coming down the stairs could
hardly squeeze by, no place for them to step around,
they hissed that this isn’t the town pool, that they’d rather
not get soaked, Mr. Pear cursed when he stepped ankle-deep
in water and ruined his crocodile-skin shoes,
but then took back what he said and hurried
grumpily down the stairs, after Ms. Loquat’s boyfriend,
a shirtless Mr. Plum, appeared in her doorway, his
two-hundred sixty pound frame covered in tattoos.
Gooseberry drinks milk every single day,
I think that’s why he’s so pale, the milk got into
his bones, his muscles, it bleached his skin,
his hair, his eyelashes and eyebrows,
Gooseberry has milk flowing through his veins.
Gooseberry’s father brings up milk by
the case, trip after trip in the elevator, but
it always runs out. Gooseberry is like an
alcoholic, or milkoholic to be precise,
he stands in the kitchen window and guzzles
milk with glee. His mother says that it isn’t
milk that turned him white, he is so bleach
blonde because he is albino,
only his eyes shine bright red, and he cannot
be in the sun too long, his skin is so sensitive.
Gooseberry likes to play soccer in the courtyard,
kicks the ball against the wall, up until
Mr. Melon starts to chase him
with his broom, saying he will ruin the plaster,
and his father will have to pay for it. Other times a
neighbor will scream, this is madness! can’t live like this!
as if that blasted ball by that cursed child were
striking the neighbor’s very nerve endings
who does he think he is, Messi
perhaps, if so he can take his ball down to
Argentina, let him kick the walls down there,
maybe the locals will love him for it.
Gooseberry goes to the park too, usually
stands like a statue, ball in hand, by the field,
occasionally he’ll ask if he can play,
sometimes they even let him,
he just doesn’t get many passes,
let’s see if he can get the ball himself,
sometimes he gets tripped or shoved,
why doesn’t he stay on his feet …
What’s the matter, Snow White,
are you made of glass?
Gooseberry is not made of glass,
you can tell by his bloody knees
as he comes home from the park,
I guess it isn’t milk in his veins
the above is an excerpt from the children’s verse “Belvárosi Gyümölcsök” by Mr. János Lackfi — there are 19 more wonderful chapters