By Chris Wilson
“ I need a top-notch professional writer and Slavic linguist, for a guy called Petr Kohout. He’s a Slovak, , and he’s got a doctorate in philosophy,and he’s nuts about Slovak History. His writing is respected throughout Europe. Strange bugger though, he only writes in Slovak, but now he wants an updated English version of his biography.
We need him on our books Alan, he’s a big fish, he has friends in high places and can influence people. Get this right and you’ll be a literary hot-shot all over Europe, and, if you accept, there’s a damn good company share holding with your name on it waiting for you. You’re my man Alan, so are you game?”
Alan Perkins, a Slavic linguist, and a professional writer, reread the letter from his friend and publisher. Of course he was interested. This was the break he and his family had always been looking for. This was his ticket to stardom and international recognition. His mind was already screaming for more
Alan looked at his preliminary notes that lay close by him.
Doctor Petr Kohout, only son of an army General. Born 1935 in Bratislava . Married in 1960. Wife’s maiden name Gizela Láska. One child, a girl, named Libena. Primary language, Slovakian, secondary language English. Granted political asylum by the British Government in 1968 following the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, but a still a much-loved and respected father figure to his nation. Also a notable charity benefactor. That’s how Petr’s full time family archivist had officially described him, but other sources, outside Petr’s sphere of influence, hinted that there was more.
Singular in his opinions, and a dominant patriarch , one source told him. An authoritative figure, and not quite a paragon of virtue a said another. It was a third biographical reference which really caught his attention though .
The text spoke of power friends and dubious political affiliations, stating that murky waters flowed powerfully under a seemingly smooth, squeaky clean, and respectable tide . Such waters fascinated Alan as, upon investigation, there was invariably something to hide.
“Who are you Petr?” he murmured to himself as he sealed his letter of acceptance, and a letter of introduction to Petr. ”What are you hiding, what is your house like, and what about your wife and daughter? Why do they always support you, and so loyally stand by your side?”
“Hello Alan, come in and make yourself comfortable. This is my study, my little haven where nobody disturbs me. I must leave you for a moment, urgent business I’m afraid, but have a good look around you, I think you’ll find much to admire. I’ll be back soon”
Alan smiled as Petr scuttled away into the hallway.
“See a room and you’ll see a story” An old newspaper editor had told him, when Alan was a junior reporter . “ Look, learn, listen, keep notes, and tread carefully. It’s their patch remember, their territory, so be guided by their tongue wherever possible, and above all else, let them have their say!”
That was fifteen years ago, and now Alan was married with children. His notebook was a Smartphone, but the old man’s words still haunted him, and he looked around the room like a hungry fox in a well stocked hen-coop. He still took care though, and studied the room carefully. Foxes were wily old beggars, and had as taste for fresh chicken, but hen coops meant egg production, and sometimes farmers with guns!
“Some study, some room, and some story” He muttered to himself, and then he began to frown.
The walls and ceiling of the room were white, pure white, like a monastic cell, but a lavish cabinet in the right hand corner of the room destroyed any such simplistic ideals. Alan moved closer to see what lay inside.
It was a beauty. It was big, black, it demanded your attention, and its style and contents perfectly reflected Petr’s country of origin, and the upbringing he had enjoyed. At its centre sat an elaborate clock that Alan guessed to be of Central European origin, but more importantly, on either side of the clock, were Petr’s ancestors.
Encased in heavy silver frames their photographs radiated respectability and pride. Ramrod backed, stuffy, starched, and stern of face, they glared out at Alan. He smiled, but bowed slightly. By their glare he knew he had to behave.
A sparkling array of cut glass and wine glasses sat on the upper shelves of the cabinet. He loved glassware; especially older glass, and the pieces were exceptional. He didn’t need to touch the gold on the outside of the wine glasses, and he knew just how heavy the intricately cut, lead laden, glass bowls would be. Every item was of high quality, and every item reeked of his Slovakian ancestry, and of established family prosperity. But for all the magnificence that lay before him, the empty and silent glassware blankly stared back at him, and he sensed no warmth, no life, and no emotion except that of pride. He looked back across the room in desperation. There had to life in the room, there had to be some kind of energy, but for the life of him he couldn’t see where.
In the left hand corner of the room stood an upright black piano. The warm summer sun caressed its open keyboard, but it stood as a stiff and awkward as the cabinet he had examined before. He looked at the sheets of music on the piano stand. It was an adaptation for piano of Eugen Suchon’s opera “King Svatopluk”.. He knew the opera well , so the links to Petr’s homeland were clear to see. It was strange though; the piano keys were incredibly clean, as was the whole piano, and the score looked practically new. Was the instrument ever used, was it yet another family heirloom , or was it merely for show.
He stepped back from the silent keys and the starched white pages, and prepared to move away. Then he stopped , for sitting on top of the piano lay three gleaming photograph frames. They were of a softer style of frame than before, but not even their softness could lessen the poignancy, and black and white imagery that lay within.
In one his wife, in the second frame his one and only daughter; Alan had seen photographs of both of them before. A sad smile played across both faces, and no joy radiated from their eyes.
Trapped within their frames, and mute behind the polished glass that held them, it seemed to Alan that they were silent birds in a beautiful gilded cage. The cage was furnished, they seemed fully fed and watered, but they could not seem to sing. For one crazy moment he wanted to strip away the glass and silver so that they might live and breathe.
Between them however lay the final frame. There was no photograph, just a simple pale blue ribbon, tied in the shape of a cross, and a plain blank nameplate. Alan knew of Petr’s longing for a son, maybe all that was missing from the frame was Petr’s tears, and the embryonic cry of a son who, after a painful and life threatening miscarriage, Petr and Gizela were never to know.
Two fresh cut, dew dropped, rose’s lay by his wife and his daughter, their delicate scent almost caressing and calling out to them, but there was nothing for his son but a bible. A small, black, leather bound bible, with its words and message locked away for all eternity behind a lock, a clasp, and a key. Locked away from the world, and alone in Petr’s mind, would anyone ever hear the lost boy’s cry, or Petr’s desperately lonely song.
Alan turned away, hot stinging tears welling up inside him. His mood changed however as in turning away from the piano his eyes, almost sore with emotion, fell upon a large oil painting that lay on the opposite wall.
Painted, and signed by Petr himself, it represented his time in Africa. A family group presented themselves to Alan. In the centre stood a man, and, kneeling by his side, his wife, and his daughter.
Alan looked closer at the picture, and swore. He was a great believer in sexual equality, and what he saw angered him. His daughter, plainly dressed and utterly subservient in posture washed his feet, while his wife, with her arms raised, as if she were a humble supplicant, offered up a wine filled goblet, and a plate of exquisitely prepared food.
He didn’t even look at them, but his hands, lightly placed on their upper temples, offered a prayer and a blessing in return.
Then came four Massi warriors, subdued and silent, their weapons lying in the dust, yet gazing at Petr in worshipful adoration, and to their rear six herdsmen, patiently waiting to do the same.
All their animals were silent; and even they had dropped to their knees.
Choking back a rising tide of bile and nausea, he turned away from the painting, but to his horror there was still worse yet to come.
Enthroned and enshrined within the rooms deep bay windows a magnificent table and high backed chair stood before him. It was a black leather topped antique mahogany Partners desk, but like a high altar in a great cathedral, it summed up Petr and his world. Eight books lay propped up before him. Side by side, handsomely bound, and spotlessly clean as if on parade. Philosophy, Catholicism, History, Art, Politics, great military leaders, white supremacy, and both belief and endorsement of Holocaust Denial.
They all shouted their message at Alan, and arrayed before them, as if speaking in unison of their owner’s wealth and character, an impeccably polished gold fountain pen, a handwritten manuscript, a letter to the London Times, and a laminated bill; from Fortnum & Mason; for Beluga caviar, preserved white truffles and a Krug, Collection 1981 Magnum bottle of Champagne.
Pride of place however, on a pedestal covered in purple velvet , was given to a Platinum photograph frame, and within the frame, a signed photograph of Andrej Hlinka; founder of the pro Nazi Slovakian Hlinka Guard.
Alan was Jewish, and his grandparents had been murdered in the gas chambers at Sobibor. An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, that had always been his lifelong philosophy, but now, as he looked at the table and its loathsome contents, wave after wave of revulsion swept over him, and all he wanted to do was leave.
He moved away from the table, but the Gods were against him, for Petr came back into the room
“I’m sorry Alan, I had to call my agent in Bratislava. Now where’s my coffee and my cake, my dear wife promised me, it should have been here by now!”
He opened the door, and barked out an order to his wife and daughter who, out of sight from Alan, submissively murmured in return. Petr came back into the room, rubbing his hands together.
“Won’t be long now!”
He sat down in his study chair by the table. Leaning back he seemed to be gleefully thinking of the refreshments to come. There was a gentle knock on the door.
Petr’s voice cut brutally through the air.
Eyes down, his wife and daughter sidled into the room. They carefully placed Petr’s coffee and cake on the table beside him. A crumb fell on the tabletop. Petr frowned at his daughter, and pointed at the crumb. She came across and removed the offending article. She retreated to the door with her mother. Huddling together, as though seeking comfort from one another, they looked back towards Petr. He glanced at the refreshments. Looking back at the two women, he nodded; raised a hand in faint acknowledgement, then dismissively waved them away.
Quietly, like war-weary and frightened ghosts still trapped on an old battlefield, they hesitated and smiled, very briefly, at Alan before quickly leaving the room.
They were alive though, and being in the land of the living, they deserved a life of their own.
Would they ever get such a life?
Would they ever find peace of mind, and would they ever find out what it really meant to be happy,?
Would they ever feel the warmth of an arm around the shoulder, and trapped in the stale fetid air of such their family mausoleum, would they ever be able to breathe ?
Petr grabbed, and then greedily devoured, a large slice of cake. He took another piece, and settled back in his chair
“Now Alan, where are we up to!”
Petr demolished his second piece of cake, drank his coffee, and then gazing lovingly at his study table he tenderly ran his fingers lovingly the eight books that lay beside him.
Lovingly and affectionately, they almost seemed to respond to him, and cuddle up to his side.
“Ah yes, soon we will take a little walk around the room so you will understand my family history and my background, but first you must meet my babies, my beautiful and so very special babies. Tell me Alan, what do you think about Holocaust Revisionism, and the cause of white supremacy? How much do you know about military codes of conduct, the tactics of war, Art, and European history; and what do you think of the soul?
Alan looked at him in silence, and then, with a quiet murmur of non-committal neutrality, he turned on his voice recorder.
There was no need to reply. The king was on his throne, the king had spoken, and the king’s words were important . All Alan needed to do was to worship him, and watch , listen, and learn.
“ So Alan, there we are. Now you know my history, my country, my family, my code of conduct, and everything else that I, as a man of high principle, believe in. I think, through my knowledge of the world, and our words we can create something very special. Do you have a contract with you Alan, if so, I am ready to sign!”
My books, my babies, and everything I believe in. My-my-my.
Head back, and with his arms stretched out behind him, Alan leaned back on the park bench beside a bed of spring hyacinths, and breathed in a deep draught of fresh, clean, and delicately scented air . The prize was his for the taking, fame lay at his fingertips, and all it needed was a signature, a handshake, and a confirmatory call to his publisher; and then the deed was done.
There would be no such riches however, for, as Alan had left Petr in his inner sanctum, he had pushed such prizes away. There had been a handshake, but only in parting, but there was no signed contract, no promise of collaboration, and no phone call to his publisher.
Petr had taken a full hour to sing his own praises. A full hour to explain to his views on life, the proud lineage of his family, the excellence of his character and his belief in family values, yet Alan, the humble benefactor of such a glorious discourse, had never felt so angry, dirty, and ashamed.
For a moment, a brief yet terrible moment, he had almost countersigned the contract drawn up by Petr and his publisher, as such an offer would have secured his family’s future, but then anger and revulsion had swept over him as regards Petr’s views, history and character. So, with a polite, but firm refusal, he had quietly driven away.
Petr’s Biography would be written, some other writer would make the headlines, and gain money, shares, and recognition, but not Alan. He looked skywards and thought about the victims of the Holocaust, and about his own family. The silent voices, the lost lives, loves, and stories of his people, and–as regards his family–the rough and tumble-down nature of their lives and their joyous laughter; and the love, warmth and freedom, that all of them so freely enjoyed.
Thank God, this was one assignment that had he had passed over; and thank God that this loathsome day had come to an end.