Pawel, a young businessman in debt to loan sharks, wakes up one April morning in a sea of debris, broken glass, ripped upholstery, and clothes spilling out of the wardrobe. He turns to two friends for help: Bolek, a former coal miner, now a drug dealer who lives in tasteless luxury; and Jacek, an addict, who is himself on the run through Warsaw, a washed-out city, a hostile landscape of apartment blocks, railroad stations, wild gardens, factories, and suburban wastelands.
In this novel Andrzej Stasiuk portrays a generation of Poles, freed from outdated ideologies but left feeling adrift and disconnected from family, neighbors, and friends. At once existential crime fiction and a work of art, Nine establishes Stasiuk as a major voice in European literature.
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Sold by:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|File size:||331 KB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Snow had fallen in the night.
Pawel got out of bed and went into the bathroom. The light was on, the mirror was broken. Tubes and brushes and bottles had been swept off the shelf, were all over the floor. A stream of white toothpaste had shot out and dried on the willow-green wall. Disposable razors had been snapped in two and stepped on into a torn box of soap powder. The cracked toilet seat lay in the corner. It occurred to him there was a lot of glass, so he went back to the hallway for his shoes.
He picked up one of the toothbrushes, rinsed it under the faucet, scraped some toothpaste off the wall. Then he squatted and chose a razor with a cracked handle. He found the can of shaving cream under the bathtub. It was dented but something still swished inside it. He shaved in what was left of the mirror. He splashed water on his face. The Old Spice had been crushed, but there was still something left in the white plastic cover. He shook the crumpled container. It made a grating sound like a deaf-and-dumb version of a child’s rattle. A few drops splashed onto his palm. He rubbed them on his cheeks. It hardly stung, so this time he must have managed not to cut himself. He took a leak and went back into the living room.
Things were no better here. More smashed stuff. The cracked silver casing of the cassette player emptied its colorful guts onto the floor. He flicked the light switch. The lamp was in pieces. The light of early morning hung like dust in the air. Something white poked from the ripped upholstery of the sofa. He smoothed it with his hand and went to the pile of clothes spilling out of the wardrobe. He sniffed a few things to find something clean in the semidarkness. He put on a shirt and sweater. By the bed he found his pants; he dug out some socks from an untouched drawer and pulled them on, and at last stopped shivering.
He sipped at his coffee and gazed through the window. Snow lay on the roofs and on the sidewalk; the black trees were white now, and everything resembled a distant Christmas. A red bus cautiously made a turn. Sleepily and soundlessly it straightened, receded down the avenue of lime trees. The treetops faded into the low sky. He listened for the patter of drops in the gutters. There was no sound. “It’ll lie for a while,” he thought. He waited for the coffee to rouse him into a nervous flutter, into anything like fear or at least surprise. He drank the last mouthful, rinsed out the grinds, washed the mug, set it to dry, and went back into the living room. He shoved the pile of clothes back into the wardrobe to make room to walk—ten paces each way, from the door of the kitchen to the balcony window. He counted his steps, to a hundred and more, but in the end gave up, leaned his forehead against the cold pane, and closed his eyes. “Think, think,” he muttered. “I should take something to help me sleep at night.” Outside the window a sander was passing, casting shavings of snow from the blue asphalt, but he did not see this, and when he opened his eyes, the white landscape had been scored by a horizontal line. He felt sorrow—the kind of sadness accompanying a memory that can’t be summoned in its entirety.
He returned to the kitchen. The clock showed 5:32. Most of the poorest were now up and on their way to wherever they had to go. The long straight stretch of road to the bus terminal had been cleared. The dark band led to distance and the future. Two baby Fiats were approaching like toys the color of cheerful fire and green metal. From the second floor, drivaers’ faces could not be made out, but he knew they were decent people: in less than nine hours they’d be coming back, in the same or reverse order. The bare asphalt echoed the growl of their two-cylinder engines. Two crows, indifferent to it all, remained in their chestnut tree, on branches that hung over the curve in the road like the spokes of a broken umbrella. The little cars accelerated and rumbled on, and Pawel felt a stab of envy in his heart.
He went into the living room to watch from the other window as the two patches of color grew smaller, disappearing in the gray mist of early morning, where the trees blended with the traction pillars. The ribbon of highway crawled onto the overpass across the train tracks, and for a moment it looked as if the little Fiats were climbing into the hazy sky.
He fetched the trash bucket, set it in the middle of the room. But all this mess wouldn’t fit in ten buckets. He kicked the broken bottles under the bookcase, and did the same with the books. Now he could even walk with his eyes closed. He extended the path to the kitchen window between the remains of the crockery. Ten and five made fifteen paces each way.
At five to six he said to himself: “Hell with this.” He put on his brown leather jacket in the hall, walked out, and slammed the door without even checking whether his keys were in his pocket.
On snowy mornings, when there’s no wind, the air of the city outskirts tastes of coal smoke, and the scrape of spades on the sidewalk is metallic. He decided to go to the terminal and sit for a while in a warm bus. Sugary snow stuck to the red twigs of the hedge. He passed an old-fashioned villa with a four-column veranda that had a child’s tricycle with an unmoving windmill stuck in a handlebar. On the path there were no prints except for a few cat’s paws. He passed the next house and two others, gray and square-cornered. The occupants had already left, removing the snow with the soles of their shoes. Mud and sorry grass remained. Then the buildings came to a sudden end to make room for the tapered bulk of a church. The brickwork had the color of congealed blood. Like a wound seeping through a bandage. At the far end of the street he saw a bus standing. There was no one around. Somewhere a dog barked. The yapping was drowned out by a distant clatter of railroad cars. It must have been an intercity or express train, because the sound quickly ended.
The warm purr of the bus made him feverish. In only a few minutes he had several dreams. People boarded and passed through his visions without dispelling them: the visions split, then fused again, because the stuff of the past from which they were woven still lived in the world. As alive as people. He dreamed several years, in episodes. He stopped at the night before, bounced back to his childhood, when no one yet imagined that commerce would save the world. He raised hisshoulders, stuck his hands between his thighs. Leaning forward, his eyes closed, he looked like someone teetering on a cliff edge and about to jump, or to lose his nerve and fall safely on his back.
The buzzer sounded, doors hissed shut, and the bus moved. He kept his eyes closed. It was a game: to guess where on the route he was—he’d open his eyes quickly, “Just checking,” and win or lose. Zawadzki’s house, the screwed-up Dumpster, the intersection with Bystrzycka, the stand of birch trees where the pissheads hung out on a bench, and so on till the next stop. Listening to the engine, counting distances in the dark. He’d get it right or not. It’s easier for the blind, because of the constant fear, and in the end they get used to it.
Feeling the bus turn, he looked out the window. The whiteness dazzled. The stop was coming up. A snow-covered square overgrown with bushes, then the tin wall of a warehouse and a path along which people approached from a small development of three barrack blocks where the weeks extended down long passageways: Monday at one end, at the other Saturday just beginning. The stop was deserted. The old-fashioned post was a red crayon stuck into dirty paper. Everywhere else they’d put up the new blue signs; not here. “Beirut,” he thought. “What do they need a stop for? They’re not going anywhere. They’re fucked.” And a sadness came, wretched self-pity, the kind of feeling you can get from memories, those unwanted images that crawl out from nowhere just when the mind needs to be cool, clear—as cool and clear as the present is.
Copyright © by Andrzej Stasiuk, 1999
English translation copyright © Bill Johnston 2007
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.