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PETKUTIN AND KALINA

Characters

One hundred and twenty dead souls (their voices and shadows)

Kalina: fifteen year old girl with beautiful, thick hair

Her Mother

Her Aunt Anastasia

Avram Brankovich: related to Count George Brankovich. Has a noticeable limp. Kyra

Brankovich: his wife

Vid: their son

Petkutin

Averkie Skila: the saber master

Papas Eleazar: friend of Kalina’s late father

Austrian Lieutenant: intelligence officer

Two Boys

Takes place in the 17th century, in a town on the Danube, in a nearby ancient theater and in Constantinople.


SCENE I

(Kalina’s house)

KALINA
(Playing what at the time was called the viola da gamba, akin to the modern day viola. Suddenly stops playing, hugs the instrument, squeezes it between her knees like a doll or a lover, and whispers to it) My darling, my darling, I’d love, I’d truly love (kisses the instrument) ... Know what I would love? A wedding. The two of us in love. You, my betrothed, handsome, with a three day old beard, sprouted in the throes of love, scratching away at me. We cat by turns with the same fork, and I drink wine from your mouth, You caress and embrace me until my soul groans in my body, and I’m mad about you and make you pee inside me, or however you say it. Come spring, we’re seen off on the traditional excursion. And everybody knows where all newlyweds go on excursions around here. To the ancient ruin with its lovely stone seats and Greek darkness that is thicker than any other darkness. Because the more candles you blow out, the thicker the darkness.

(Enter Kalina’s Mother and Aunt Anastasia.)

ANASTASIA
Look how Kalina has changed! Come here and let me embrace you! (Kalina does not move.) How are you Kalina? How do you feel? (Kalina bleats like a lamb and runs off) MOTHER Ah, how does she feel! All she does is grieve. Ever since her father’s death she’s been inconsolable. But it’s all in her head. On his deathbed her father told her that the future is not water and then he died, and she wept torrents of tears, at the cemetery the ants climbed up to her face on her tears.

ANASTASIA
She’s not grieving for just her father. She’s also grieving for a suitor. She needs to get married. And in Constantinople resides one of our great gentlemen, and he has male offspring, which is something worth thinking about. His purse in this life holds everything Greek dreams dream of from Kavalla to Zemun. Mind you, his younger son is not a good catch. I’ve just come from there, so I know. However, maybe he’ll pull himself together.

MOTHER
Tell me more, Anastasia, tell me more. ANASTASIA It’s terrible. Somewhere in Constantinople, this young man is lying behind a colorful stove built like a church and he’s suffering. He’s been peed on by the devil they say, and the young gentleman gets up at night, runs out of the house and sweeps the streets. Mora sucks him, nibbles at his heels and male milk flows from his breast...

MOTHER
Good God! And that’s what you’re offering as a husband?

ANASTASIA
No, no, he’s no catch. But Grgur, the elder son, now he’s the real thing. At a young age he thrust his slipper into the stirrup and drew his saber steeled with camel dung. He’s worth gold.

MOTHER
Now I know whom you’re talking about, Anastasia. Why that Grgur has so many bloodstained clothes there’s no end to the washing. ANASTASIA But Grgur’s father comes from a family of counts. Whatever you say, his father, Kyr Avram Brankovich, is a great gentleman and his pigtail is as thick as a horsetail.

MOTHER
It’s that pigtail I’m afraid of. Who is Kyr Avram? Does anyone know? And what is he like? I low can I give my child to a strange family? They are whispered about from Kavalla to Zemun. And that whispering is not in vain.

ANASTASIA
Then wait. Don’t give her to just anyone. I’ll look around. But be careful. Kalina’s dreams are already two stories high! You don’t have much time.


SCENE II

(A street of small town Baroque houses)

(Sub Danubian region)

1st BOY
You want to play?

2nd BOY
Play what?

1st BOY
How about swapping pants?

2nd BOY
All right! (They swap what are actually enormous white trousers with wide legs.)

1st BOY
Now tell me what you see looking out from my pants.

2nd BOY
I see Constantinople.

1st BOY
Not likely. I didn’t see it.

2nd BOY
Well I do.

1st BOY
What do you see in Constantinople’?

2nd BOY
I see Kyr Avram Brankovich limping down the street. (Imitates him, the two boys laugh.)

1st BOY
I saw Kyr Avram Brankovich too, but in the flesh!

2nd BOY
You really saw him?

1st BOY
Certainly. My father took me to Gyula and that’s where I saw him.

2nd BOY
So, what’s he like? Can he really devour the night the way they say?

1st BOY
No. He’s even more terrible. Honestly.

2nd BOY
What do you mean more terrible?

1st BOY
When he passes a flock of sheep or herd of buffaloes, the animals march in place as soon as they catch sight of him.


SCENE III

(Constantinople. The Brankovich Tower. Inside, lying and moaning behind a stove built like a little church, is Vid. Standing in the corner is a huge wooden monkey with a long penis. Avram and Averkie Skila are preparing for their usual saber exercise. Kyr Avram removes the long camel reins from the saddle, which is standing with all its bells in the middle of the room like a table. Avram tosses one end of the rein to Averkie and keeps the other. They turn off the light, leaving only the lamp burning under the icon. Slowly they wrap the rein around their elbows, approach one another and then suddenly attack with their sabers. Avram has a noticeable limp. When Mrs. Brankovich enters, they stop their exercise, Averkie turns on the light and leaves, while Kyr Avram, paying no attention to his wife, approaches the saddle as though it were a table and begins to write. Built into the saddle is an inkpot with writing implements)

AVRAM
(Swatting flies on his back with a whip.) I need to be alone for a while right now.

MRS. BRANKOVICH
(A strikingly beautiful woman) You want to go back to sleep so you can dream about your sister again? The one who in your dream lets you pick her breasts as though they were apricots? Look at yourself; you’ve already drained into your bed from all your dreams. You’ll wind up like this son of ours, behind the stove! (Exit. Enter Anastasia.)

AVRAM
Did you bring it?

ANASTASIA
(Takes out a knife and a bottle of red wine vinegar.) It’s all here. Let’s wake him up. (Walks over to the bed behind the stove and wakes ill) Avram’s son Vid, singing.)

VID
(Roused awake) Whoever curses with a bitter soul shall have his wish come true!

ANASTASIA
(Hugs him with marked sensuality) Listen to me, my darling! Take this knife. At the stroke of midnight pour the vinegar from this bottle over it. When Mora arrives to stick you, ask her to come in the morning so that you can lend her some salt. She can’t resist it and will come for the salt. Then, as soon as she agrees, this very evening in fact, while she is still on top of you and sucking you, stab her in the arm with the vinegar soaked knife. That’s all. Now go back to sleep. (Exit Anastasia and Brankovich. Midnight strikes; Vid pours the vinegar over the knife and pretends to be asleep. Enter Mora, all covered up and unrecognizable, followed by Anastasia bearing a torch. Mora, who is actually the unrecognizable Mrs. Brankovich, gazes upon the sleeping young man and her plaited tresses stand up like snakes. She buries her head in the young man’s chest and begins to Stick madly. He does not protest.)

VID
Come in the morning and Fit lend you sonic salt!

MORA
I’ll come, my sweet, I’ll come, your milk is like the sweetest honey. I’ll come, my love, to salt the milk (here Vid stabs her in the arm with the vinegar soaked knife; Mora cries out, Anastasia blows out the torch and the two of them run off.)


SCENE IV

(Enter Brankovich. Vid is sitting on his bed behind the little church like stove. Morning. There is a knock at the door. Brankovich opens it and standing there is Mrs. Brankovich in all her beauty but white as a sheet.)

MRS BRANKOVICH
I’ve come to borrow some salt. (Brankovich holds out the salt and grabs her arm. He discovers the knife wound and licks it.)

BRANKOVICH
(Addressing Vid behind the stove.) Your mother has come to borrow some salt. And her wound is sour. (Vid screams; Mrs. Brankovich runs out, carrying the salt.) Sons should not be made with women. They should be constructed so that they do not have a mother. And so that they do not need much time to grow. So that they are immediately ready for marriage! ... Anyway, the matter can be verified.


SCENE V

(The office of an Austrian Lieutenant who speaks with a German accent. Anastasia is ensconced in a sofa facing him.)

ANASTASIA
And so Kyra Sofia Brankovich was wounded with a knife in Constantinople. By her son, Lieutenant! By her own son!

LIEUTENANT
So you say, but what interests us is something else, although thank you for a most interesting report. (Takes a bag of money from his desk, rummages around in it and then holds out a silver coin. She leans over with her deep decolté and he, slightly surprised, merely drops the coin down her cleavage. She giggles. It becomes evident that he is slightly effeminate.)

ANASTASIA
Now I want something from you, Lieutenant. And in return you will get a silver coin. (She thrusts her decolté into his face and with his two fingers he extracts the same silver coin.)

LIEUTENANT
You surprise me gnedige Freulein! What is it you wish to know? (Pockets the silver coin.)

ANASTASIA
We have a lovely girl in the family and we want her to marry a Brankovich.

LIEUTENANT
That’s nice. I wish the young Freulein every happiness ... Kalina? Nicht war? Her name is Kalina, is it not?

ANASTASIA
You know everything, Lieutenant, so please tell me what you can about Kyr Avram Brankovich. Who is he really? Or better still, what is he? What is the groom’s father?

LIEUTENANT
(Adopting a formal tone, his grammar bad, he recites a Serbian folk poem, obviously proud to know it by heart.)
Here they tell us

He has murmuring beard

When to church goes

And has scented soul

When from church comes…

ANASTASIA
That’s not what I asked, Lieutenant. Any fool standing by the church can tell me that. You tell me what it is that Kyr Avram actually does.

LIEUTENANT
That’s none of your business, it is the business of the imperial court in Vienna. But I can tell you what is rumored about Kyr Avram. That I can tell you with a clear conscience. However, perhaps you already know it yourself? He changes wives but never his mistress.

ANASTASIA
Lieutenant, I know more about Kyr Avram’s mistress than you do. So let’s get to the point.

LIEUTENANT
(Leans over, speaking to her in confidence.) Kyr Avram is not quite all there! When he was a young man he did not wash for forty days, then he stepped on the devil’s dinner and became what he became. He is a warlock!

ANASTASIA
(Leaps up in shock) A warlock! So that’s what Kyr Avram is! The body sleeps and the soul flies like a flock of doves, chasing the clouds, bringing and carrying away the hail! And on each shoulder he’s got a whip of hair...

LIEUTENANT
That I don’t know, but I do know that he belongs to the second camp of warlocks, and that in their celestial battle he outfought Mustaj Beg Sabljak, who belongs to the third camp. During the battle he was wounded in the leg and had to get himself a black steed, the sultan of all horses, which neighs in its sleep and is itself a warlock. In his celestial battles he protects our cattle, milk and wheat by riding the soul of his horse which transforms itself into straw ... They also say that in Constantinople he confessed and admitted to being a warlock.

ANASTASIA
And he ceased being a warlock after that?

LIEUTENANT
That’s right.

ANASTASIA
So what is he’?

LIEUTENANT
Now they protect him from being turned upside down while he sleeps because then he would never wake up.

ANASTASIA
(Cheerfully) So that’s how things stand with Kyr Avram! He’s one of those people who will be buried face down. All in all, it’s not as bad as I thought. And I don’t suppose it’s hereditary. (Quickly gets up and exits.)

LIEUTENANT
(Watching her leave) A woman without an ass is like a village without a church.


SCENE VI

(Constantinople. Brankovich is in his study, surrounded by books. A spiral staircase leads to the upper shelves of the library. Brankovich is making a small human figure out of earth and keeps spitting water on it to stop it from going dry. Suddenly he stops work, picks up a thick old book, leafs through it and finds the paragraph he is looking for. He reads. In front of him is a splendid blue and gold jar.)

BRANKOVICH
I “If, while working, a red flame bursts from the jar, the experiment has failed. If there is a flash of blue flame, that is a sign that the experiment is a success...” (Closes the book, places the earthen figure in the jar and, to give it life, recites the Fortieth Psalm.)

I waited patiently for the Lord and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings….

(The bell rings three times in the chapel next to the library, and Avram smashes the jar into smithereens with his stick. There is a flash of blue flame. Petkutin emerges from the mud. He suddenly grows larger and turns into a magnificently handsome naked young man. He speaks as though he were talking in his sleep.)

PETKUTIN
At the first ring of the bell I was in India. At the second in Leipzig, and with the third ring I entered my own body. (Stands up to his full height in front of Avram, who braids the boy’s pigtail and sticks a hawthorn wood spoon in it.) What is my name?

BRANKOVICH
Your name is Petkutin. (While speaking, he dresses Petkutin in sumptuous clothes.) You must live swiftly, all four seasons in each day; you have to catch up with your peers. It will give your thoughts calluses, stretch the muscles of your memory to breaking point, but you must become a young nobleman very quickly. (Kisses him on the brow and then pulls back to take a good look. Petkutin is dressed and looks marvelous in the splendid Baroque garment with its capacious sleeves.) And we shall find you a woman.

PETKUTIN
What is a woman?

AVRAM
You ask me too much ... Take this book. It’s by Pythagoras. This other one, which I was reading when I led you forth from nothingness, is the Bible. Take both and read one with your left eye and the other with your right. And when you reach the parts that Pythagoras took from the Bible, You will know what a woman is. (Petkutin opens the two books and reads them simultaneously, while Brankovich places a noose around his neck and goes to pray in the candle lit chapel in the adjoining chamber.)


SCENE VII

(Kalina’s house)

ANASTASIA
(Addressing Kalina’s mother upon entering the house) There’s good news and bad. Like salt and pepper! Do you want the bad news first or the good?

MOTHER
First the pepper.

ANASTASIA
Kyr Avram Brankovich’s younger son Vid passed away on Saint Kiriak Day this year. They’ve already buried him. The other son, the master master, has gone off to war again. And again they are sending blood soaked garments to Constantinople.

MOTHER
And now the good news.

ANASTASIA
Kyr Avram arrived in town night before last. He’s got a third boy, a foster son or something, who knows with whom. But the young man is just ripe for marriage. He is handsome and learned. He signs his name as quickly as catching a fly. And he is elegant: his sleeves are so big birds can fly through them. Kyr Avram has kept him hidden, but now he is looking for a bride for the boy. That’s why they’re here, he and the young man.

MOTHER
What’s his name?

KALINA
(Breaking her silence) His name is Petkutin and I’ve seen him already.

MOTHER
Where, for heaven’s sake?

KALINA
In our garden. He is handsome and is waiting for us to receive him. Aunt Anastasia brought him (Petkutin raps the iron ring on the door and enters magnificently attired, with two caps, one blue and the other yellow, the former on Ills head and the latter tucked under his belt. Petkutin and Kalina stand facing each other as though spellbound. Petkutin sneezes.)

MOTHER
Bless you!

PETKUTIN
(Bowing deeply) I got flower fever in your garden, Madam, the scent of the flowers is too divine. I’m not used to it.

KALINA
(Offers him a small jar of honey from the shelf.) Take a little honey and rub it inside your nostrils. It helps. (She rubs the honey into his nose.) There, like that! Is that any better, sir? (Anastasia and Mother look on in amazement.)

PETKUTIN
Much better. (Sneezes again.)


SCENE VIII

(Mother and Papas Eleazar in the latter’s chamber)

MOTHER
I beg of you, Papas Eleazar, you were a friend of my late husband’s, you know, you can advise me in his stead. Help me!

ELEAZAR
Advice is harmful to both the giver and the recipient.

MOTHER
In the name of our families’ friendship, help me! They are asking for Kalina’s hand in marriage.

ELEAZAR
For whom?

MOTHER
For Kyr Avram Brankovich’s third son. ELEAZAR (Silent for a moment) Petkutin?

MOTHER
Petkutin. But something is being kept from us. There’s some terrible secret. And I can’t find out what it is.

ELEAZAR
Don’t worry too much, Madam. Like us, secrets age ... But I’ll tell you what it is. Petkutin has no mother. Kyr Avram made him out of mud, breathing life into him by reading him the Fortieth Psalm.

MOTHER
How dreadful! And what kind of being is he now?

ELEAZAR
Kyr Avram tried to make Petkutin human in every way. He breathed a great deal of knowledge into him, and many virtues, along with good looks. But so that everything would be as it is with the living, his father breathed into Petkutin’s breast the oblivion of birth, and now Petkutin no longer knows who he is, he does not know that he was made out of mud and has no mother. And to make everything just as it is with the living, Avram also breathed illness into Petkutin’s breast, which, as with us all, leads to death. In Petkutin’s case it is a seemingly naive, mild illness.

MOTHER
What is it for heaven’s sake? ELEAZAR Flower fever.

MOTHER
That’s why flowers make him sneeze! But what’s the purpose of it all, Papas, tell me, I beg of you! What is It’?

ELEAZAR
It’s genetic engineering. MOTHER What did you say?

ELEAZAR
It’s the learning of great secrets, it’s getting closer to the avowed goal. We already know what man is made of, but we cannot know all the details until we piece together the mosaic of life. We want to learn what the living cell is composed of, and then to compose it ourselves, artificially. We’ve discovered just the tip of the iceberg called life. We place great hope in research into human genetic codes and reading the code of life.

MOTHER
I don’t understand anything, Papas Eleazar. What are you talking about’?

ELEAZAR
About getting the sequence of the human genome. No one has ever managed to do it, except God. If Kyr Avram’s experiment with Petkutin proves successful, we’ll know that the structure of the human genome is 3+ 1 +3!

MOTHER
But if God has given us life, what do we need another motherless life for? What’s the purpose of it’?

ELEAZAR
To create models of experimental life for various human ailments, to achieve treatment by means of genes. Every gene can be transplanted into any plant or animal, even into water, creating whatever is desired.

MOTHER
And what is desired?

ELEAZAR
We would like to correct many of our misapprehensions, our moral views, our concepts of life. We will have to realize that we are alone in the universe and we will use that knowledge for better or for worse. We will have to agree on the road mankind will take. We will probably come closer to understanding life as such in the Universe…. In other words, we are searching for the prehistoric Adam whose soul and body are as big as a continent, a whole state made up out of all the dreams ever dreamed since the first man and first woman. Through him we hope to return to our status before our fall into sin and expulsion from paradise, to a time when Adam was still on the ascending ladder of the celestial powers.

MOTHER
(Depressed) I know, I read Dictionary of the Khazars. But what am I to do about my child’?

ELEAZAR
What happens with our children is never our decision.


SCENE IX

(A bridge. On the bridge a bench; under the bridge a swing. Everything is covered in snow. A wonderful quarter moon glows in the sky.)

KALINA
(Runs in, panting, and kisses Petkutin who is waiting for her.) My mother kept me. I had to wait for her to leave. Now she’s at an old friend of my father’s, at Papas Eleazar’s, and I took advantage of the occasion to sneak away. I have to get back before she returns. Have you been waiting for me long?

PETKUTIN
Somewhere on the shores of the South Seas, where the stars are the farthest removed from their images, voyagers on a ship ate a huge tortoise. Five hundred years later its shell was discovered on the same shores by a sailor who sought shelter in it for the night. The next morning, rested and cheerful, he poked his arms, legs and head through the openings of the armor and, continuing his own private little game, lowered himself into the sea. Half a millennium later, the tortoise shell once again echoes with the beating of one heart and once again knows how to swim. Thus does your heart echo inside me.

KALINA
Don’t talk like that. Such words give me the chills. (Petkutin wraps his fur cape around Kalina.) Whence this love, Petkutin’? Whence this sublime thing, this joy, this concentrated strength that has spilled from me into you and from you into me? Where does something like that come from in a human life?

PETKUTIN
Man lives in time. But sometimes a drop of eternity trickles into his life, interrupting the course of time. And man calls it fulfillment or conception, whereas in fact, for just a moment, it places the human being in the service of eternity.

KALINA
But that eternity keeps changing. Look at us, it starts off softly, gently, and then gets stronger and more frenzied...

PETKUTIN
Then it climaxes, only to move slowly away from us, because eternity leaves us to our own wretched time again. It’s like being expelled from paradise. (Love scene. Kalina is sitting on the swing. Petkutin comes up to her and gently swings her; her legs poke out on either side of him. When they reach their climax he lifts her off the swing and, still inside her, carries her, walking like a blind man. That same moment the quarter moon drifts under the bridge. When their passion subsides, they sit on the bench. They look as though they really have been expelled from Paradise.) On that swing you wanted me to be somebody else so badly that you turned me into somebody else at the very moment I was spewing my sperm and couldn’t defend myself. For those few seconds I really was somebody else. Tell me, who was I?

KALINA
You were a man.

PETKUTIN
It was awful being somebody else. And during that time you were not somebody else, when I love and who loves me. On the contrary, you were the real thing. (Scratches his knee.)

KALINA
How would you like us to feel after being expelled from Paradise? After making passionate love you scratch yourself. Does the truth itch?

PETKUTIN
(Confused) No, but my knee often does.

KALINA
I hope you know what it means when your knee itches.

PETKUTIN
I’ve no idea.

KALINA
That’s because you don’t read enough.

PETKUTIN
What don’t I read?

KALINA
What your nails inscribe on your knee while you’re scratching It. Because it is your death that is actually communicating through your itch. It’s like a correspondence with death, that scratching.

PETKUTIN
(Sneezes and his knee immediately begins to itch. He scratches himself.)

KALINA
See, your death is jealous even of your cold! Let’s have a look. (Puts on Petkutin’s vest and reads what the nail has written on his knee.) “Un bonheur formidable (également comme malfortune) nous font vieillir avant la date”. Look, it’s writing to you in French! It says: Great happiness, like unhappiness, makes us age prematurely!”

PETKUTIN
There, it has revealed a secret to us.

KALINA
The hell it has! I invented the whole thing to console YOU.

PETKUTIN
(Covering his knee.) Then I’ll tell you a real secret. A terrible secret that isn’t invented like yours.

KALINA
Who’s your secret about?

PETKUTIN
Me. Me and my father. If he is my father.

KALINA
No, you will not tell me a secret. A terrible secret about you and your father.

PETKUTIN
Don’t you want to hear it? Why not?

KALINA
Because you don’t know that terrible secret about yourself. No one knows the terrible secret about himself. So no one can tell it to others.

PETKUTIN
But I can sense it.

KALINA
Of course you sense it, but you don’t know it. You can’t know even what I know about you. For instance, sometimes I see how you change the color of your own hair without being aware of it. I see it, not you. Anyway, I Could also tell you something about myself. I could say this, for example: “My homeland is quietude, my food silence. I sit in my name like an oarsman in a boat. I can’t fall asleep I hate you so much. Because you do not have a death the way I have!”... But I keep silent and don’t say that to you ... Because I love you and shall always love you forever and a day.

PETKUTIN
All right. Then I will tell you something else, some thing that isn’t a secret. My father and I are coming to ask for your band in marriage.


SCENE X

(Kalina’s house. Kalina is alone, playing her instrument, the viola da gamba. Suddenly she stops playing, hugs her instrument and squeezes it between her knees.)

KALINA
My darling, my darling, I’d love, I’d truly love... Would I love or wouldn’t I? I want you, I don’t want you? Why do I need you, why do you need me? (Takes some lip rouge and rubs it into the shells of her two ears.)

LIEUTENANT
(Peers around the door and enters the room, singing with a German accent.)
The foot, the foot or the green mountain,

The black horses are merry,

Their silver saddles breaking,

Their golden reins shaking,

For a long journey making,

To ask for Kalina’s hand.

(Bows to Kalina and suddenly goes rigid.) What is that? Smells have gone wild in your house! That is a bad omen! How then, Freulein, are you supposed to clap your ears and agree to whatever they offer? (Enter the ladies of the house, Mother and Anastasia, leading in their guests, Avram Brankovich and Petkutin, both dressed in all their finery. Everyone sits down.)

LIEUTENANT
What a lovely sight and what divine guests! It is an honor for a man of the service to be in such a home and with such fine people. The cook dishes out soup, and God happiness ... (Suddenly stops in mid sentence because everyone in the room seems to be behaving strangely and there is an unusual silence.)

MOTHER
(To ease the tension.) As though an angel passed over head. We all fell silent.

ANASTASIA
(Suddenly breaks the silence, speaking firmly.) Kalina, this is the last time I’ll say it! Do not marry the son of Kyr Avram! He isn’t what he seems. He’s bewitched. He isn’t of human ilk. On Monday evening he takes not the next day but some other from his future, using it in the morning instead of Tuesday. When he comes to the day he has taken, he uses the skipped over Tuesday in its place, and so evens out the number. But beware! In situations like that the seams between the days do not join properly; terrible wounds appear in time, wounds that can devour a living being…. You will be the first they’ll devour!

KALINA
Petkutin, is that true?

PETKUTIN
It’s is the first I’ve heard of it.

KALINA
Well, then, Aunt Anastasia, let me tell you something. In a way what you said is true. But it is true for us all. Our days emerge so that our first clay, like an egg about to hatch a chick, carries, nourishes and finally delivers the thirtieth day of our life. The second day of our life conceives and carries the next, thirty first day, and so on until a dead chick is hatched from the egg...

ANASTASIA
Leave the story telling, Kalina, I’m talking about fate and your future, and you’re asking me what day it is today.

KALINA
Aunt Anastasia, what day is it today in Old Pazova?

ANASTASIA
Thursday, which means that in New Pazova it’s Friday, market day. We can talk this way too, but look, your suitor is standing right here and this is about the two of you.

KALINA
I know, Aunt Anastasia, that you like to suck young men. Is it me or Petkutin you are afraid for?

MOTHER
Kalina, I beg you, stop joking around! Papas Eleazar, an old friend of your father’s, told me everything. Petkutin is made out of earth. He isn’t a living being like the rest of us!

PETKUTIN
Father, is that true?

AVRAM
The truth is merely a trick.

MOTHER
Where is his mother, then? What kind of a man is he if he hasn’t got a mother?

KALINA
Don’t fret, Mama, I’ve got a mother for both of us. Don’t worry, I’m more likely to do harm to Petkutin than he is to me.

MOTHER
Daughter, you’re risking your life. And the lives of your offspring. Who will your children be?

KALINA
You didn’t know who your daughter would be, either. So listen, and you too Aunt Anastasia. Listen well. Kyr Avram did such a good job when he made Petkutin out of clay that he fooled everyone. (Petkutin cries out, the Lieutenant reaches for his weapon and moves slowly towards Petkutin, his hand gripping his saber.) Remember how you welcomed Petkutin into this house as your own flesh and blood? He fooled me too. I fell in love. Madly in love. And I’m still in love with it, whatever it is. So, he fooled the living.

LIEUTENANT
(Is now right in front of Petkutin, but instead of taking some sort of military action, he sniffs, him and, looking at him adoringly, says in an enthralled voice:) It’s easy to fool people. (Snaps out of his trance.) People are gullible.

KALINA
Yes, people are gullible and that’s why that test with people isn’t enough for Kyr Avram. He wants to test Petkutin one more time. He wants to establish irrefutably whether his work, his son, or whatever he is, whether Petkutin is so perfect a replica of a human that he can fool even the dead.

MOTHER
Now I know, Kalina, why I was afraid of you when you were still nursing at my breast! Whenever I talk to you, my child, I always want to have a good wash afterwards. For goodness sake, what do you mean ‘fool even the dead”? Since when can the dead be fooled?

KALINA
After the wedding, when we go to the traditional excursion site, to the ancient theater with the stone seats, there will be an opportunity for Petkutin to confront the dead. Only then will we know whether Kyr Avram Brankovich’s experiment with Petkutin is a complete success or not. Only then will I know whether my husband is like all other human beings. Whether my husband is a man or not.

PETKUTIN
Father, what is Kalina talking about?

AVRAM
How do you know all this, girl?

KALINA
Love sees all and knows all.

MOTHER
You aren’t going there with him, are you? Just think, since when you have been, and then think, nevermore! If you lose your life then there is no more Kalina! Only your soul will be left. But Petkutin’s father can make him out of mud again whenever he wants!

AVRAM
Of course I can. Anybody can if he knows how. But not everybody knows how.

MOTHER
There, you see Kalina!

KALINA
Mama, you know that the future is not water.

BRANKOVICH
(To Kalina) Do you want to be my daughter in law, girl?

KALINA
I will be biggest mistake of your life, Kyr Avram.

MOTHER
Petkutin, say something, I beg of you. You know everything now; it’s all clear. Will you make Kalina unhappy? Can’t you spare her that dreadful day? Haven’t you got a soul?

ANASTASIA
No, he hasn’t!

PETKUTIN
(Takes Kalina’s hand and addresses her.) Growing under the heavenly equator is a huge poisonous mushroom and on its cap are little edible mushrooms, which make its poisoned blood sweet. The local deer like to revitalize their male strength by eating the edible mushrooms off the poisonous cap. Those that are not careful and take too deep a bite, nibble off the poisonous along with the edible mushroom and die of the poison. Every evening when I kiss you I think: it’s perfectly natural that one day I should take too deep a bite...

LIEUTENANT
(With delight)
Look, soldier, look

If you see your own image;

If you do not,

Mount your horse and flee...

Well, my dear ladies, duty calls.

Will there be a betrothal or not?

PETKUTIN
That is for Kalina to decide.

(Kalina slowly lifts her skirt, reveals her leg, takes off her shoe and holds her foot out to Petkutin. He takes a shiny ring out of his sleeve, places it on Kalina’s toe and thus completes the betrothal. Kalina’s mother screams.)


SCENE XI

(A ballet or pantomime of the wedding of Petkutin and Kalina, carefully performed according to Serbian custom. See Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic Rijecnik and ethnographic dictionaries.)


SCENE XII

(An ancient theater, half in ruins, overgrown with weeds and shrubbery. The carved names of the bygone spectators are still visible on the seats. Enter Petkutin and Kalina. The acoustics are louder.)

KALINA
I’m starving. Shall we make something to eat?

PETKUTIN
There are only buffalo droppings to make a fire with. (Collects the droppings into a pile.)

KALINA
The mushrooms will smell.

PETKUTIN
No they won’t, we’ll salt the fire (takes salt from his pocket and salts the fire) and wash the mushrooms with wine (washes them).

KALINA
(While Petkutin works on the fire and roasts the mushrooms and blood sausages, and then sits on one of the seats overseeing the meal, Kalina steps forward stage center and declaims.) When we go to sleep at night we all turn into actors and every time play our role on a different stage. And by day? By day, in our waking hours, we learn that role. Sometimes we don’t learn it property and then we must not appear on stage, so we hide behind other actors who know their lines and movements better than us on this occasion ... And you, you come to the theater to see our performance, not to act. I hope I catch your eye when I am well rehearsed, because no one is either wise or handsome all seven days of the week.

PETKUTIN
(Sneezes and 120 seats in the ancient theater echo his sneeze.)

KALINA
(Applauds.) Bravo! (The two of them laugh and embrace. He kisses her and the 120 dead spectators echo their kiss, but more loudly.)

PETKUTIN
(Takes stock of the scene.) They’re not joking. They’re following our every move. I feel quite alone here, like a plant or an animal or just water; I’m rather afraid of people. The living and dead alike. You, Kalina, are the only thing that binds me to the human species. Don’t plants, animals and water deserve a better fate on Earth than the one you people have planned for them? Like me, they’re afraid of you. What I’d like to see here is that Christmas play called The Crèche. You know the one with the lamb, the apple and the river? (Kalina lays the meal out on a large square block of stone in the middle of the theater and Petkutin reads out the spectators’ names carved on the seats.)

PETKUTIN
Caius Veronius Aet ... Sextus Clodius Cai filius... Publila tribu... Sorto Servilio ... Veturia Aeia...

KALINA
Don’t summon the dead! Don’t summon them; they’ll come! Their thirst has been growing for two thousand years. Psst! (All the dead in the audience shout in an echo: Psst!) They crave our warm blood. It is better to give them something. Give them each a cent to redeem our selves and make them merciful. (Petkutin removes five coins from his sleeve and places them on the table.)

PETKUTIN
(Counting) One, two, three, four, five! ... Now I’ll cut the sausages and the meal can begin. (Petkutin unsheathes his knife and just as he is about to cut the sausages he sneezes, cutting his finger. His blood trickles onto the fire and sizzles.)

KALINA
(Cries out) You cut yourself! (At that moment 120 shrieking and howling dead souls descend upon them from the audience. Petkutin draws his sword to protect Kalina, but they are as swift as pain and pull her apart before his very eyes, tearing her flesh to pieces, until her cries become one with those emitted by the dead around them and until she herself joins in devouring the uneaten remains of her own body. Then silence descends. Petkutin gazes desolately around the stage, completely lost. After a while an invisible hand picks Kalina’s red cape off the ground and puts it on. The empty cape approaches Petkutin and addresses him in Kalina’s voice.)

KALINA’S
GHOST Come!

PETKUTIN
(Glad to recognize her voice, he embraces her but behind the voice sees nothing other than the purple lining of her mantle.) I think something terrible happened here a thousand years ago. Somebody was torn to pieces and devoured. The blood still lies on the ground. I don’t know if or when it really happened. Whom did they devour? You or me?

KALINA’S GHOST
(Invisible in the red mantle.) Don’t be afraid! Nothing happened to you, they didn’t tear you to pieces. And it happened a little while ago, not a thousand years ago.

PETKUTIN
But Kalina I can’t see you, which of us is dead?

KALINA’S GHOST
You can’t see me, young man, because the living cannot see the dead. You can only hear my voice. As for me, I don’t know who you are and I cannot know until I taste a drop of your blood. But calm down, I see you, I see you clearly. And I know that you are alive.

PETKUTIN
Kalina, it’s me, your husband; your Petkutin who loves you, don’t you recognize me? Just a moment ago, if it was a moment ago, you kissed me.

KALINA’S GHOST
What difference does it make, a moment ago or a thousand years ago, when this is now?

(Upon these words, Petkutin pulls out his knife, raises his hand to the spot where he thinks his wife’s invisible lips are, and, with a swift move, cuts himself. Blood gushes forth but it does not spill onto the hot stone because Kalina catches it on her lips. She screams upon recognizing Petkutin.) It is you, my love, Petkutin! (Tears Petkutin to pieces like carrion, greedily drinking his blood while the other ghosts of the dead swoop down on them from their stone seats.