I woke suddenly. At one moment I was still sleeping the dream of the waters, swimming in and out of wakefulness like a sluggish fish, and then suddenly I was there in the lakebed, aware of the taste of the earth, the touch of the rough stones and the tickly breeze. My body rolling along, tastes, smells attacking me – and the pain.
The splash of the heavy body was still rippling on my surface. I could feel how the contours were outlining in me: he was a large man, his eyes open. He was blinking, and looking into me. I am sure that he saw me as well.
He brought the awakening with him, and also the pain. His feelings were bitter, just like acid, and I shivered at the sight of him, as if a wind preceeds rain would have blown over me.
Go, I told him, and I was upset. He must have jumped from one of the cliffs along the beach, but I could not look around to see if there were others as well nearby who might pull him out, because the blueness of the sky, the sun-yellow crowns of the trees suddenly hit my eyes, now more freshly than ever before. I grew dizzy, but maybe that was also because of the man.
Immense love, immense pain, so big that I could not bear it. I wanted to break out of the bed, to escape. I was alert, uncomprehending and furious. All the drops in my body were protesting against wakefulness, but the pictures, the sounds and the memories were spreading within me and were tingling all my bodily parts.
I tried to shut myself away from him, while he was slowly sinking down to the abyss. When I wanted to throw him up, he swam a few strokes further down, and infused me with sparkling memory bubbles: a picture of a street, where he is running with a hot hand of someone in his hand. A room, filled with heavy green smoke. Grasping, falling. A kiss at the brink of fear. A loose lock of hair, without a face and a body, only a blonde spiral, beautiful like winter dawn.
With every bursting bubble I grew more and more awake, and something was stirring within me that should not have been there, not between the fish deep in the mud, nor on the floating surface. Something that was only made clear by the stabbing pain.
Why? I asked him, and looked into his wide open eyes. Why do you heap your burden upon me?
His eyes were blue and sad; death was already summoning him.
He woke me up. Never mind with what, but he woke me up, and against that I could do nothing.
Sadness was shivering in my face; not my own, however mine now.
I broke out of myself, grabbed his shoulders and started to pull him upwards. I knew that I would kill him, if I don’t save him.
Before I never felt sorry for the birds, never for the cold little life of the fishes, the immense quantity of insects. I did not feel sorry for that girl who drowned in me many years ago – but this was different. He has done something with me.
I threw him on the shore, and crawled up next to him. He closed his eyes.
The burning pain vanished, but I brought the faint throbbing with me.
I looked down on him. We were panting for breath, both of us. I looked back on my lake-self, and sat up. The body, formed out of the memory of the long dead girl, was obeying me. It was somewhat strange to be outside of myself, looking back on the mirrorlike surface that was only just touched by the wind, passing by into the woods. I do not remember how I got up on the shore, when did I break into two.
Inside me the water was splashing silently, and that calmed me. I was still myself.
The man was coughing as if he was choking, his blonde hair stuck to his forehead. I saw the fear in his eyes, and quickly leaned over him, tasted his lips, and sniffed the water into my mouth. When he got mixed up with me, inside me, the pictures attacked me again. A girl with white gloves on the bed. A square, the clock up high, with little people hammering in it. Then a crying face, the feeling of someone stabbing me, where there is no wound. Choking where there is no lake. Emptiness.
“Why did you jump?”
“Why did you pull me out?” he asked with a hoarse voice, and then he sat up and looked upon himself. He looked clumsy crouching and soaking there.
They look so graceful when still in the water, I thought. Out of it, they forget to move.
“You will catch a cold,” he said after a quick glance at me. “I left my coat somewhere around here.” He stood up, wringed his shirt, and headed towards the trees. His coat was hanging there on one of them, nicely hung. I was watching the lake until he returned. The surface was sparkling, and a new feeling shook me.
“Nice, don’t you think?” I asked, watching the play of the frills.
He stopped behind me.
“Yes, very nice.” He placed the coat on my shoulders and helped me to put it on. It was warm, nicely soft.
I looked up at him.
“I am Gabó” he said. “Thank you.”
“I … “ I looked at the lake, and recalled the girl, and the sounds that I had heard in the dreams. Steps, screams, stones playing ducks and drakes… “I am Tünde.“
Once I found the name, it was easier. I turned back upon him.
“Why did you jump?” I asked again.
“I would rather not tell you.”
“It is my business as well,” I said, and wanted to continue: you woke me up, but then he agreed with a stiff face.
“I think you are right, since you pulled me out.”
He walked over to the shore, and I followed him. The earth was muddy where I had licked it.
“I was here two years ago with my wife. That is when I asked her to marry me.”
There was something in his voice that made me splash inside, possibly the acid memory of the pain. His eyes were red from the water, and he was gazing ahead. However, I was sure that he was aware of my presence. Even though he was lost in the past, even though he had just escaped death, he knew that I was there.
Only human beings can do this. Us lakes, mountains, we forget everything that is not present, everything turns into a dream, a passing feeling. Light and characterless. But to be there, to be aware, only human beings can do that.
“We were here on the beach.” He did not say more, and even though this memory did not wash over into me, I could see the blonde girl between the trees. And then he continued after all: “Today is the anniversary. She left with another guy two weeks ago.”
Suddenly he crouched. He was shaking as if he had been hit by a storm, and I had to give him a hug, to be the bed for his waves. I waited, whispered, and my water spilled over. When I dried my face, his tears smudged over to my lips from my hands. His were salty.
“I am sorry,” he said, and then smiled. “I am sorry, please would you mind giving me my handkerchief? There is a dry one in my coat.
In the end he was the one who pulled it out, because I could not find the opening of the pocket. He blew his nose, then pondered over something, and put it back.
“I am so sorry,” he said, and then looked at me. Already when he was floating around in me, and white bubbles were surrounding him, already then I believed that he could see me. Even now it seemed that he saw my true self. “I don’t know what you think about it.”
“I am not angry if that is what you are thinking about. You woke me up, but I am not angry about it anymore.”
“I am not angry at you either for pulling me out.”
“You did not really want to die,” I said suddenly, and closed my eyes. Pictures swam through the inner surface of my eyelids, just like fishes. “You miss her, and no one can replace her, but you did not really want to die. It really is so… final.”
The incredulous laughter got stuck in him.
“Who are you?” he asked.
I made the skin on my arms do waves. The sarcastic smile froze on his lips.
“Please do it again!” he asked hoarsely.
A wave ran through me. He could see how my body turned transparent, like a water column under the coat.
“All this can of course not be for real,” he said. I looked at him calmly, and waited.
Gabó pulled himself together at last. “I thought one shock was enough for a day. Please explain!”
I told him what I had seen. He filled in with the details, stuttering and jumping between the memories. His voice was warm while he spoke, even though I knew that talking was painful for him. The memories were like bubbles: he pushed them out of himself, so that he could sink into the cold unconsciousness.
As he was telling the story, as we were exchanging his memories between ourselves, slowly I tried to picture the woman he was missing. She was only present in his voice, in the flashing pictures, and I could not understand. Perhaps this was because she was not the one who had tried to drown in me, but Gabó. Him I understood: his pain was like December, when the memories of the warmth of autumn are still fresh, but spring is so far away that only the absence is present. Even hope hides away in the mud, just like the fishes.
As we were standing there on the beach, evening fell. In the end he went silent. For a long time I was only listening to his heartbeat, and neither he nor I thought or felt that we needed to talk.
When he finally spoke, it felt like it was only the evening wind that had spoken.
“I love her very much.”
“I can feel it.”
“I have to go.”
He took his coat.
“You don’t really need it, right?” he asked. “The coat I mean.”
I shook my head.
“Now what? Shall I leave you here?”
“Can I let you go?” I replied, and smiled.
“Don’t worry. There are no more lakes on the way home.”
I spent some time looking at his back as he was leaving, and then I splashed back into the lake, and leaned back in myself, sinking into the deep dream of waters.
As soon as he put his hand in the water, I woke up. I recognized his touch, the stinging pain, and arose from the water. Sometimes I waited for a while, to make him wait for me, but I always turned up earlier than he would get bored waiting for me.
He brought unfamiliar smells with him. There was always a book in his pocket. He usually read it on the train, until he arrived at the forest. His coat was full of stories, and so was he. He always spoke about the other people’s stories first, but then inevitably he would pass on to his own ones.
My water grew more and more salty as his tears got mixed up with it, although he cried less and less, and he spoke seldom of Anna nowadays. Sometimes we hiked in the woods, but most of our time we spent sitting on the beach. If it started raining, I melted back to my lake-self, because it was very difficult to keep my shape, and continued to converse with him from there.
This was different from sleeping the dream of the lakes. As if I had only just become my real self. The smells, the colours were sharp and sparkling, and I am sure that I would not have been able to dream Gabó up. Sometimes I recalled on the surface what I had seen, and we looked at the flight of the blackbirds again. Alone, I often replayed how I had pulled him out of the water.
I regretted that I did not remember them, as they were standing on my beach: Gabó putting the ring on her finger, and them kissing. I would have liked to have shown him, but at that time I did not know who he was, and human beings were only light or heavy steps on the green, quickly fading sounds in between the trees of the forest.
With whatever hatred or anger he spoke of Anna, I am sure that he would have been happy about this: how had I seen them.
Even I did not know. I was asleep then.
One day I asked him to take me to town. I was afraid and expectant about his world that I had so far only experienced in a dead girl’s memories, as entangled pictures. But I felt that I had to know; I could not know it only from his words. It was not enough.
As the train left the station in the forest, Gabó reassuringly touched my knee.
“Are you sure?”
“I would like to see where you live.”
We talked so that I did not have to notice how the forest thinned out more and more behind the window, how the scenery grew duller and more grey each minute. Gabó spoke about the summer, the bird-catchers, whom he met frequently, the feeling when he could hold in his hand a bundle of feathers with a beating heart. He told jokes, put his arms around me so that I would not see the houses, but I escaped from his arms, and gazed out.
The houses were large and colourless, the balconies just like fungus on the trunks of the trees. The city was unfamiliar and cold, not at all like among the smudged-out memories of the drowned girl. I thought that I would be able to handle it, but it was all larger, more grey than I had imagined.
“Come on, I will take you somewhere where you will feel more at ease,” Gabó said.
He took me to a tiny tea house. There were pictures on the walls: lakes and mountains, sleeping and dreaming beautiful dreams.
“I live across.” He pointed over to the other side of the square, through the window, at the brownish grey block of houses. “I like this place.”
I did not ask if he usually visited this place with Anna.
“Look!” he showed me a small menu card, but I gave it back to him. I could not read. “I am sorry,” he said. “I forgot. Sometimes I just forget that you could be something else as well than…”
“A human being?” I replied smiling. “Sometimes even I forget. Sometimes the lake is the dream, and not the opposite.”
“Wait, I will choose one for you…The Dream of the Earth.” He looked at me. “No, in the end you will turn into a pile of mud.”
“I will splash you,” I threatened him, and splashed a couple of drops on his nose from myself.
“Mate. Hmm… You are my mate today, and tomorrow the big-breasted blonde ones. Wings of Winds? Wind easing grass instead of diuretic tea?”
“Give it to me!” I reached out for the little menu card.
He pulled it away from me, and laughed at me, his huge body shaking.
“But sweetheart, you can’t even read!” he giggled. It was true, and even though I was ashamed, I had to laugh with him.
“Never mind,” I said, and grabbed the card out of his hands, and just randomly pointed at one of the lines.
When he looked at it, he smiled at me warmly.
“You know what this is?”
I shook my head.
“It is called Forest Walk.” He took my hands for a moment. “Your hands are cold.”
“It is autumn,” I said. “When winter comes, I will freeze.”
I always had to remind him that I was not a true human being. He always forgot, and I was afraid that I would also forget. I was already far too awake, I knew too much about him. Sometimes I even kept my human shape in the lake, floating, and with my hair spread across the water, I watched the sky.
The tea arrived. This was the first human drink that I had tried. The tastes of raspberry and wild strawberry were floating in my body. It was hot, the sip I had taken was beaming inside me, just like the tiniest of suns.
“You are blushing,” Gabó said silently.
“It’s the tea.”
I drank the whole pot, steaming hot, as they do, and I enjoyed the heat spreading inside me.
“I have just drunk sunbeams.”
“Come!” he said suddenly, and reached for his coat.
He paid, and then we went out into the street.
“Where are we going?”
“You said that you would like to see where I live. Unless you mind.”
We cut through the square. We were halfway there, when it started raining slowly. The drops melted into me, disappeared as they touched me. I accelerated my steps.
It was getting heavier, and suddenly I got scared. The water diluted me, started rippling inside me. I felt it was calling me.
“Gabó… I am going to fall apart…”I whispered. Drops in my hair, on my arms, I could not feel my borders anymore. I wanted to swallow the rain, so that I could swell into something huge. A wave ran through under my clothes.
“What is wrong?” he asked, frightened.
“Quickly!” The unfamiliar water wanted to erupt from inside me, but I was far too small to open up a dam.
It dissolved my contours.
Gabó grabbed me and brought me up to the flat.
I vaguely remember that we passed by closed doors, and then we were just there in the narrow hall. Gabó’s arm held me strong. I could never evaluate his strength, he almost always splashed me apart. Now I was holding onto this.
He almost pushed me into the bathroom. I staggered, the rain filled me, and then I fell into the bathtub and lost my shape.
“Good heavens!” I heard Gabó’s voice, and then I felt that something was pulling me downwards. Darkness reached out for me and opened its gap.
Gabó’s hand reached inside me, searched for something, and then I heard a pop, and the force was not pulling me downwards anymore. A rather big bit was missing from me, but the essence was still there. That much I could fill out.
“Tünde!” he shouted above me, his two hands stirring desperately inside me. He did not see that I was still there.
When I rose from the bathtub, he pulled me close to himself. He was brutally pressing me, but on the other hand, I believe that the reason he was holding on to me so hard was because he was afraid that I would disappear too.
“I am here. You can relax… I am here,” one of us said.
I became his lake. I was not sure that he knew. I believe he did, but he never let me know, and he possibly even tried to ignore it, because however much he was dependent on other people, he could not bear it if someone depended on him.
And I kept my mouth shut; if there was something I was really good at, it was that.
I tried to be awake as much as possible even without him, so that I could tell stories about forests, the hikers and the birds. The mountains, crowned by the trees, were ours, the fresh air too. The city and all the other people were lost in the distance. Only this was ours.
I did not speak to him about what it is like holding onto wakefulness, which meant the memory of him, his voice and his person. What it is like staring into the starry night or the foggy morning in solitude, when the owls are hooting, and the woodpeckers are pecking away. I did not tell him what it is like waiting, and watching, scared, how the sun is crawling lower in the sky each day. I did not tell him about what it is like being wakeful among the sleeping mountains.
I also did not say what it is like being alive, walking next to him, holding his hand, or being in his arms, until the shaking lessened.
We did not talk about a lot of things, at least not in words. But I believe standing close to each other, infused in each other’s scent, is worth as much as talking.
The leaves had already fallen, and it took me great effort to ascend from the bed, my joints stiffened. Gabó had to hold me for a long time under his coat, for me to become liquid and tepid again.
The mud of the road was dug up by the jeeps of the forest rangers, there were neat piles of grey beech trunks in the side of the hill. Both of us climbed up on them, and held onto each other not to fall down.
“I have reclaimed Anna’s key,” Gabó said on the top of the pile of wood, and his ever-warm fingers held on to mine. His voice was of an ‘I don’t care’ nature, but I do not believe that it was the same inside.
“What does it mean?”
“We are getting a divorce.”
We looked in each other’s eyes.
“I am sorry,” I said, and although I did not know exactly what he meant, I could feel the importance of it from his glance. He had beautiful eyes, the colour almost like me on a summer day.
“I know, honey.”
We stayed silent for a while, and continued onwards on the forest road.
“It would be so nice if you would talk about yourself sometimes,” he said suddenly.
“What shall I talk about?” I replied.
We reached the top of the hill, the wooden look-out.
“What shall I tell you? What it is like to dream? I am not aware of anything at the time, the sounds only reach me from afar. Fishes swim around in me. In the summer I have ducks. I can feel when they eat, fly, dive, when they take their ducklings out on the lake for the first time…” I did not look back, but continued up the stairs. “Thousands die in me each summer. Thousands are born.” I went silent, and Gabó hugged me from behind. “When I am dreaming, I am not aware of anything. I do not wake up. I only am. Each life is a small wave on the surface that runs through, and disappears on the beach. Now, however, everything has changed. Lakes don’t usually think about what happens to the fishes. They don’t usually wake up. They don’t really know anything about death, or suffering, or about love. They don’t know anything.” I was shaking.
“It was me, right?” he asked quietly. “I changed you.”
I looked out on the naked forest, and the blue sky, where the clouds were lingering just like gossamer.
I wanted to talk about what was really important.
“I enjoy when you talk about yourself,” I said finally. “You have lots of friends, all of them are interesting.”
“You are the most important one of them.”
“And you are the most important being for me. I don’t know why, but you are. If it wasn’t so, you could not have woken me up.”
“You did not know me then.” He leaned on his elbows on the railing, next to me, and then he pulled away. “The urge always hits me, to jump into the deep,” he said with deep and quiet horror in his voice.
I looked down, but I could only see the fallen leaves.
“Is this why you jumped in me?”
“No, for you I fell,” he giggled.
I tickled him, until he laughed out loud.
“But really… why?”
“It seemed like a good idea. The lake was really lovely… you were lovely. And you know, there are times when a man gives up, even if he might regret it afterwards. I am sorry. You must have thought me pitiful.”
“No. I was angry. However I did not think you pitiful. It is not pain that is pitiful.”
“The one that causes it,” I said.
Gabó did not utter a word. He spoke with his silent sighing on my neck.
I could only just remember that I had seen a dream under the ice. This time it was not the thoughts of the bored fishes that were streaming through me lazily; I could feel Gabó’s warm hand. I was sleeping peacefully under the cover of the ice, the thoughts were warming me.
Then the ice started breaking in spring. I was lying in my bed, sliding in and out of the dream as I have been doing for centuries, waiting for Gabó.
I could hardly feel his calling. When he dipped his hand in me, the old pain was only a faint, dull throbbing, and I had difficulties waking up.
“I thought you wouldn’t come.” Gabó straightened up, and held me close.
“I always come when you call for me.”
“The other day you did not come.”
Inside me there must have been a tiny splinter of ice left, because I felt cold. I did not wake up to Gabó?
“It was winter.”
“But there was no ice anymore.” It frightened me; I felt like disintegrating on the beach.
We sat down on our favourite log of wood on the beach.
“Talk to me!” I said, and I was tense.
And Gabó spoke. About the split-up family at Christmas, the empty bed, about dark loneliness, about the fact that he had missed me. He was holding my hand all along, and I began to feel like I did in autumn. The long dream split up into pieces.
Gabó told me about books, poems – he once said that he would write one about me as well, but in the end nothing came of it –, about the bird table in the garden at his parents’ house.
And then with the same tone of voice as he spoke about the sparrows, he continued:
“I have met a girl as well.”
I smiled, because it was spring, and because there was nothing else I could do.
“We really understand each other. We have a lot in common. When we laugh, we are the only ones who exist. Can you understand that?”
I looked back at him. He was happy and sad at the same time.
“I am only a lake. But even I understand that.”
“It is so good that finally I am not alone.” In his voice the amazement was still vibrating from the feeling of finding someone.
“I am glad,” I said, and meant it.
Still there was sadness between us, a peculiar gap that is present mainly when you are with someone that you really miss. I am a lake, and he is a human being. It is that simple.
When I saw him next, he was not alone. A slim, dark-haired girl was with him on the beach. Gabó’s hand woke me up from the dream, but I did not get up from the bed; I stayed silently on the bed of rocks.
“Is the water cold?” the girl asked. She had a nice voice.
“Not that much,” Gabó replied, and whispered down at me. “Are you there?”
I only shaped my face for him.
“Yes, I am here. I can see you.” I looked over his shoulders. “I can see her.”
“Don’t you want to come out?”
I looked deep into his eyes.
“You are not really eager to see me out there.”
He made such a torn face that I felt sorry for him.
“Listen! I am your lake. Always… But now, return to her…” I reflected over it, and watched the waves as they reached the shore. “After that, come back on the beach and kiss her!”
“What are you muttering?” the girl asked giggling, and stepped closer.
“Kiss her!” I said determined, and disappeared.
Gabó straightened up. It was not even his choice, it was the girl who embraced him first. I was watching them from the bed, and made the lights glitter at them. They were pretty together.
Gabó emerged from the embrace a little tensely, and then with a glance at me, he started to pull the girl away into the forest. I will be back, his eyes promised.
“Be good,” I splashed after him quietly. I am not sure he heard it.
I waited until they left, and then I floated away relaxed and licked the shore where they had just stood.
I know that Gabó will return one day with or without the girl, and that he will put his hand in the water to wake me up. I think that I will sleep. Not out of sheer spite, or anger. The fact is that the pain is not strong enough anymore to rouse me.
But I will make an effort. I would like to be conscious for as long as possible, watch the mountains, the lingering clouds. It would be good to hear the owls, however lonely the forest is.
And I would very much like it if they came to visit again. Now I know far too much to just sink back into the dream. I would like it if Gabó would look into me again, just like when he threw himself in me, and see themselves on the beach.
I will be around much longer than the girl, or Gabó, or even the trees.
Lakes do not know about death, pain, or love. But inside me, a couple of drops of tears and raspberry taste are circulating. That much I can feel. That much I know.
Translated by Noémi Szelényi
About the author
Csilla Kleinheincz is a Hungarian–Vietnamese writer living in Kistarcsa, Hungary. Besides translating classics of the fantasy genre, she works as an editor at Delta Vision, a major Hungarian fantasy publisher. “A Drop of Raspberry” was published in Interfictions anthology (Small Beer Press) and translated into Czech and Estonian.
Photograph by Judit Lőrinczy
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