In his not really breathtakingly long life (at the moment of death he was five days short of 213), Davorin Pickles, an associate professor at the department of molecular turbulence at the Emona “Institute for Frequency Chemo-Physics”, came to thoroughly know two – or more precisely put – almost two women.
The first one was called Shpela-Rosamunda Smack. They met at a party thrown by one of Davorin’s friends from the institute, who had just received his second doctorate in chemo-physics. Shpela knew nothing about chemo-physics, for she was merely one of the “secretaries for intimate matters”, one of many employed at the institute so that the various tastes of the men could be catered to.
When it came to “intimate matters” scientist employed by the institute divided into two groups of approximately the same size: Some (the majority of whom were married) made use of the services of “special secretaries” also during working hours. They did so with incredible intensity while observing turbulence reactions on zebra-rabbits from the planet Klangisarius. To the others (the majority of whom were unmarried) the complaisant girls went almost unnoticed. When he met Shpela, Davorin was a novice (having been employed by the institute for a mere seventeen years), but his affiliation to the group of the unmarried and special girl-ignorant employees was clear. Every novice holding a FFCP (Faculty of Frequency Chemo-Physics) degree first became associate assistant if he was so incredibly lucky as to be accepted. The easiest way to move on from this position was by means of a kick in the behind (officially explained as “the consistency within the meaning of Article 98674 of Chapter 875 of the 5432 pre-draft of the Law on Self-Regulating Perfecting of Personnel Matters”). Advancement was usually not possible for the initial twenty years. Since all matters pertaining to personnel were dependent entirely on heads of individual departments, it was crucial that each novice thoroughly study their own conduct towards their boss. It was of te outmost important, for instance, to always keep a light close at hand, even for non smokers. Novices, officially referred to as “associate assistants” were the most vulnerable and most prone to be on the receiving end of various department heads’ throes. The external manifestation of this relationship was mirrored in the habit of lax and informal addressing of assistants for whom strict regulatory formal behaviour was dictated. Because Davorin strongly wished to remain at the institute while advancing to the level of full assistant of the first grade (out of 115) as quickly as feasible, he sedulously kept to al rules and regulations and lived on the most part for his work both in the office and at home. Most of all, he vigilantly minded never to show the least bit of interest in who was the supreme head of the institute. Such an interest would prove most perilous for any institute employee, especially of course for novices. No one knew the supreme head, not even department heads. David had heard his hierarchically hardened colleagues whisper that the man is some sort of “professional toothpick manufacturer” which he took to be a sort of delicate metaphor, meaning who knows what.
The celebration of the colleague’s second doctorate (The man’s name was Pancras Pointer) left Davorin with the memories of two experiences. The first one was tied to the new doctor: when the celebration was turning into an increasingly relaxed party, the tipsy Dr Pointer, whose dissertation became a subject of some novices’ very obtrusive praise, lost his temper:
“I wipe my arse with such science! Each of our scientists must sooner or later admit to themselves that all we are doing here is copying obsolete discoveries of others! Let me tell you, my dissertation at the United Kingdoms of Upper Ceramica is not fit to be a secondary school diploma! That’s how it is! Disgusting!” And he smashed his glass against the floor.
The following day they found him with a large cleaver through the throat nailed to a wardrobe in his office at the institute. The institute employees fearfully rumoured about a “gigantic toothpick” and it took Davorin some time before he realised they were referring to the knife that extinguished Pointer’s life. Otherwise there was no investigation of the death and the matter was soon forgotten.
The second experience which had an even bigger impact on Davorin was Shpela. Through cigarette smoke, alcohol fumes and increasing tumult he noticed her big brown eyes continuously glaring at him with unusual loquacity and devoted warmth reminiscent of a moist glare of a deer or calf. Afterwards events unfolded swiftly: an unfinished dance, a fragrant summer night, wild gasping in the high grass. Nine months later Davorin Pickles was Shpela’s husband and little Mark’s father.
“That harlot sure managed well for herself, didn’t she?”
“That Shpela, Smack...”
“Oh yes, she caught that beanpole... that numbskull, Davorin... What’s his last name again? He has a weird last name...”
“Pickles.... Hahaha! He really is a proper pickle... With his nose and fish-face... Hahaha...”
“Well it was high time for her... She was past her prime as a secretary. They were just about to transfer her to the cleaning staff, don’t you know...”
Davorin overheard this exchange while relieving his bowels at the institute lavatory. He sat quietly, locked in the stall while his colleagues were emptying their bladders into the toilet bowls on the other side of the partition wall. Davorin saw red and came very near to fainting. He composed himself with great effort and took special care not to make the tiniest of sounds. Long after his colleagues had left the lavatory, he remained stiffly seated on the toilet, his empty stare fixed on the door in front of him. The vulgar writing filling the surface in his view which he normally read with great interest did not register with him this time. The only thing that distinguished him from a sculpture was a nervous tick of the left eye and sporadic contracting of the lower mandible. This had not occurred ever since he was a child and glimpsed his father hanging from a timber in the attic. From then on in he could think one thought only, and he thought it intensively, revenge. It was as if he were spellbound, in a sort of feverish nightmare at the bottom of an unknown endless aquarium. He forgot that Shpela was an exemplary wife and mother who, so to speak, licked at his palms like a devoted and loyal animal. The more attentive she was, the more his hate of her waxed. It kept ringing in his head: “Whore! What an incredibly shrewd whore! And she set her sights on him of all people, on him the honest idiot! Of course, who else!”
Shpela noticed the change in her husband, even though Davorin was always slightly awkward, sparing of words, his thoughts elsewhere.
“Oh you poor dear! Tough day at work?” She enquired compassionately. To Davorin it sounded patronising, as though she were speaking to a rather underdeveloped ill child, who would lose is his way in the great big world, were it not for her guidance. This further incited his wrath. He only managed to keep a calm exterior because he had years of experience in keeping things bottled up. However it is not certain that he would not go raving mad were it not for a film he saw, entitled “Cold Revenge”. He rarely found his way to the cinema but this time the title reeled him in on his way home from work. He took it to be a mysterious sign intended especially for him. It was a crime story of below average quality. The only thing that made an impression on Davorin was a single sentence uttered by the main protagonist: “Revenge is best served cold, otherwise it sticks in your stomach.”
He was strangely calm, almost enlightened, when he left the cinema. Of course, thoughtless revenge is a primitive reaction one reads about in crime section of the news: “P.K. slaughtered his wife T.K., a mother of eleven, in a jealous rage; after committing this act he jumped into the river, swam it and threw himself in front of a train...” Rural delirium! An intellectual, a chemo-physicist with a degree ought to come up with something a bit more brilliant. His revenge will be drastic but brilliant in the sense that he will prove to Shpela that she remains an ordinary fucker, a tramp not an exemplary wife and mother she strives endlessly to portray in order to deceive her husband, her surroundings and herself.
With no word to his wife he sold a large piece of land he had inherited near his father’s native village. The place had become attractive to city folk who built their summer residences there, and so the price went up. Thus he was able to aid the head of his department (who was also the chairman of the institute commission for the fight against corruption) in purchasing a sports astroplane, for which he was short of funds. The head of department repaid Davorin by approving his request for a year’s stipend in the Untited Kingdoms of Upper Ceramica. Davorin was extremely pleased. “On the twentieth I am leaving for a year to work at the chemo-physics department at Cow-ward in upper Ceramica,” he informed his wife in passing on the night of his very successful meeting with the head of his department. Then he began to prepare for bed and caught a glimpse of his wife sitting up in her bed – some sort of book in her lap. He noticed no specific change in her face, only those big brown eyes glaring through him as though he were not there.
“Jake the Robot from the institute will mow your lawn, fix the grate on the terrace, paint the pantry and clean the boiler in the downstairs bathroom. I have already programmed it, all you need do is call it on the phone. Best to do it when Mark is at your mother’s,” he added and pulled the covers over his head.
“Just you wait, I programmed it to do something else as well,” he thought to himself. “To do that which you need the most, but we are through...”
The room was enveloped in silence. Only after a while the wife spoke with a strange hollow voice:
“Sweetheart, do you believe that souls migrate from one body to another?”
He would ignore any other question, but this one was just too strange. He pulled the covers from his face and propped himself up on the elbows. He looked at his wife who was holding out her hand handing him a book. He read the title “Documented Reports on Soul Transmigration”.
Davorin never reached for the book. For a few moments it looked as though he didn’t know what to do, then he snorted contemptuously and, without a word, hastily wrapped himself back in the covers.
“Davy, read this article! I’m sure you’ll be interested,” said Stella and handed him the “Hew York Semite”.
“What’s it about?” he asked nonchalantly and put on his glasses. The he started reading the article Stella had marked in red:
“In Emona, the capital of the Duchy Solovenia, a strange occurrence took place at the house of the noted chemo-physicist Davorin Pickles. A homoid robot named Jake and the chemo-physicist’s wife Shpela were found dead in a love embrace, The robot died from over-excitement while the woman was smothered to death in his impetuous embrace. The neighbours were the first to come upon the couple as they were drawn in by passionate screams and noises from the open bedroom next to the terrace...”
He looked up at his wife from behind the newspaper.
“Why would I be interested in this?” he asked with a slight air of uncertainty.
“You are Davorin Pickles, Davy,” his wife replied calmly and smiled with her big brown eyes. “When you came to the United Kingdoms of Upper Ceramica, you never reported at the institute where you were supposed to work, but instead bought documents from the mafia, in the name of a Sicilian citizen, David Curama, then you got me to marry you, since only a husband of a born Ceramican can receive Ceramican citizenship...”
“You... You... How do you know all this? You are.. also...” stuttered Davorin.
“Of course, I am also not really Stella Holboonk. My real name is Shpela-Rosamunda Smack. Remind you of anyone?”
Suddenly her voice sounded terribly familiar. He felt the hair on the back of his head stand up. He screamed as though a brutal fire flamed up inside him. He waved his hands in the air and took a single unnatural leap from the armchair to the window. After this, only the curtains remained fluttering. Stella’s apartment was on the 213th floor.
Translated from Slovenian by Jaka Jarc