Short story collection
Jan Polkowski
Doorman and other stories

An account of the chaotic and uncertain structure of reality

One glance was enough to conclude that the resident of the flat was a nutter. Back then I used to be cautious with my judgements and weigh my words carefully. It seemed to me that life was like a job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Connections and confections; the curtain never falls. Sneers, caresses, frills, excesses and arse-licking. But in this case, it should be firmly said that the fellow – when he was still alive – must have been seriously screwed up.

I was frantically wondering if there was something to hang a story on here, something about him and this whole rather sad situation: a low-key tale, perhaps a little secret. I didn’t expect anything sensational, but I could use a spicy morsel concerning the freshly discovered stiff. I wasn’t looking for material for the Odyssey. I was just sniffing around routinely, to get my per-word fee for an evening beer and a buttered bread roll. And, unfortunately, I found it. (…)

I should have said to myself, this is a nobody, found another topic and shut him up inside copy totalling eight hundred characters with spaces. There would have been nothing left of him, zero, and zero problems. Zero questions and a hundred times less answers. He could have been a boring loony at most, the latest exposure of a banal downfall, nothing more than a strained pretext to scribble a slim note for the prying column about whatever.

The right words used at the appropriate moment can save a person’s life or honour, restore order, create distance or build a defensive wall, act as an effective vaccine against all sorts of shit that a stiff might be storing in his cavernous closet. Or in his suspect skull. That’s why one must use words extremely carefully. Use a slightly different word than is called for and the next thing you know, your dirty laundry is airing out in public, or you’re hanging naked and defenceless in front of a camera, waving your white CV out the window, and losing face, cash, status or love. Or everything at once. (…)

There were stacks of papers everywhere. On the desk, the kitchen table, the dresser, the chairs; the floor was covered with cardboard boxes, plastic crates and bags filled with papers. They were spilling out of two large rucksacks and even fermenting in the pots in the kitchen, except for one that was full of cooked and dried-up buckwheat groats. The overwhelming majority of these papers were single sheets the size of an average book, each containing a few handwritten lines. I glanced at them. I will never forget that moment. To be honest, I didn’t even get to the end of the sentence. It didn’t make the least impression on me; it didn’t inspire a hint of a deeper thought. I only noticed that there were no cross-outs or corrections in the text. Only later did I realise that the contents of every single page were identical. These were not notes; the text was, as the old term goes, a fair copy. (…)

The handwriting on the various sheets was fairly uniform. It might have belonged, and probably did belong, to the deceased resident. It was only after years of comparisons and intense study that I noticed the differences between individual instances, for example in the shapes of letters. For quite some time I was an ignorant amateur; I could not decipher the author’s purpose or understand the intentions behind that kindly hand.

There were two reasons for the differences in the shapes of letters. One, rather obvious, was the author’s age and state of health, meaning the increasingly uncertain, feeble hand and failing eyesight. The second, much more important and less obvious, as I will explain a bit later, was the result of the eccentric recluse’s attempt to record his bizarre ideas and theories.

From the short story Thirty-three words

Translated by Eliza Marciniak

Short story collection
Jan Polkowski
Doorman and other stories

An account of the chaotic and uncertain structure of reality

Publisher: Instytut Literatury, Kraków 2019
Translation rights: Instytut Literatury, krzysztof.korzyk@instytutliteratury.eu

The latest short story collection by Jan Polkowski – poet, prose writer, columnist, publisher and editor – is modest in size: just four pieces. However, this slender volume is anything but modest when it comes to the writer’s craft and the depth of his insight. It is anything but modest in its language, which flows in beautiful, striking phrases, or the importance of its subject matter, or the spell that it casts on the reader from the very first page.

The protagonists of these stories are desperados of a sort – people who are alienated and absent, who have turned their backs on the world and withdrawn from it, who are shut in a hermetic universe of their own passions, fears, desires, doubts or delusions. A provincial newspaper journalist in search of an exciting news story enters the flat of a dead philologist – a mad cataloguer of a single sentence, the seeker of a language within language and the sworn enemy of the printing press – and against his own will finds himself heir to the dead man’s lunatic researches, taking on the stranger’s personality and descending into madness. Two musicians, an aging and isolated couple, sing a song about eternal love, but it is not clear how much of it is devotion and how much possession. A rich notary caught up in a complicated romance, which is devoid of affection and hence a future, passively remains in a marriage that is exactly like his romance, entertains fashionable company by making up stories of someone else’s life, and on the train home on the eve of the Second World War changes his plans and remains to the end of the line. A painter living as if in a trap, in a world defined by his own obsessions, spends twenty years painting thirteen versions of the same painting of the same woman and then at one stroke decides to draw a line through everything he has done and disappear.

This book is a history of the illness of our times. It is an account of the chaotic and uncertain structure of reality. It concerns itself with the human being as a mystery deeper than the deepest chasm. It is an announcement of the end of the world.

Krzysztof Ćwikliński
Translated by Eliza Marciniak

Publisher: Instytut Literatury, Kraków 2019
Translation rights: Instytut Literatury, krzysztof.korzyk@instytutliteratury.eu

Selected samples

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Jakub Małecki
Malecki_Horyzont
Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki
HKD
Marek Stokowski
Stokowski
Łukasz Orbitowski
Orbitowski
Małgorzata Rejmer
Rejmer
Rafał Wojasiński
Olanda
Wojciech Kudyba
Kudyba
Włodzimierz Bolecki
Bolecki
Jerzy Liebert
Liebert
Wojciech Zembaty
Zembaty
Wojciech Chmielarz
Chmielarz
Bogdan Musiał
Musiał
Joanna Siedlecka
Siedlecka
Krzysztof Tyszka-Drozdowski
Drozdowski
Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz
Marek Bieńczyk
Bienczyk
Leszek Elektorowicz
Elektorowicz
Adrian Sinkowski
Sinkowski
Szymon Babuchowski
Babuchowski
Lech Majewski
Majewski
Weronika Murek
Murek
Agnieszka Świętek
Swietek
Stanisław Szukalski
Barbara Klicka
Klicka
Anna Kamińska

She climbed her first peaks in a headscarf at a time when women in the mountains were treated by climbers as an additional backpack. It was with her that female alpinism began! She gained recognition in a spectacular way. The path was considered a crossing for madmen. Especially since the tragic accident in 1929, preserved … Continue reading “Halina”

Wojciech Chmielarz

First, Marysia, a student of an exclusive private school in Warsaw’s Mokotów district, dies under the wheels of a train. Her teacher, Elżbieta, tries to find out what really happened. She starts a private investigation only soon to perish herself. But her body disappears, and the only people who have seen anything are Gniewomir, a … Continue reading “Wound”

Anna Kańtoch

A young girl, Regina Wieczorek, was found dead on the beach. She was nineteen years old and had no enemies. Fortunately, the culprit was quickly found. At least, that’s what the militia think. Meanwhile, one day in November, Jan Kowalski appears at the police station. He claims to have killed not only Regina but also … Continue reading “Penance”

Marek Krajewski

The year is 1922. A dangerous time of breakthrough. In the Eastern Borderlands of the Republic of Poland, Bolshevik gangs sow terror, leaving behind the corpses of men and disgraced women. A ruthless secret intelligence race takes place between the Lviv-Warsaw-Free City of Gdańsk line. Lviv investigator Edward Popielski, called Łysy (“Hairless”), receives an offer … Continue reading “A Girl with Four Fingers”

Ks. Tomasz Stępień

This question is closely related to the next one, namely: if any goal exists, does life lead us to that goal in an orderly manner? In other words, is everything that happens to us just a set of chaotic events that, combined together, do not form a whole? To understand how the concept of providence … Continue reading “Order and Love”

Jakub Małecki
Szczepan Twardoch
Wiesław Helak
Maria Wilczek-Krupa
Anna Kańtoch
Rafał Kosik
Paweł Sołtys
Dorota Masłowska
Wiesław Myśliwski
Martyna Bunda
Olga Tokarczuk
Various authors
Mariola Kruszewska
Waldemar Bawołek
Marek Oleksicki, Tobiasz Piątkowski
Wojciech Tomczyk
Urszula Zajączkowska
Marzanna Bogumiła Kielar
Ks. Robert Skrzypczak
Bronisław Wildstein
Anna Bikont
Magdalena Grzebałkowska
Wojciech Orliński
Klementyna Suchanow
Andrzej Franaszek
Natalia Budzyńska
Marian Sworzeń
Aleksandra Wójcik, Maciej Zdziarski
Józef Łobodowski

The work of Józef Łobodowski (1909-1988) – a remarkable poet, prose writer, and translator, who spent most of his life in exile – is slowly being revived in Poland. Łobodowski’s brilliant three- volume novel, composed on an epic scale, concerns the fate of families and orphans unmoored by the Bolshevik Revolution and civil war and … Continue reading “Ukrainian Trilogy: Thickets, The Settlement, The Way Back”

Piotr Zaremba
Wacław Holewiński
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