Essay
Marcin Wicha
Things I Didn’t Throw Out

A one of a kind meditation on the loss of loved ones

My mother adored shopping. In the happiest years of her life she’d set off to the shops every afternoon. “Let’s go into town,” she’d say.

She and my father would buy small unnecessary objects. Teapots. Penknives. Lamps.

Mechanical pencils. Torches. Inflatable headrests, capacious toiletry bags and various clevergadgets which could be useful when travelling. This was strange, as they never went anywhere.

They would trek halfway across town in search of their favourite kind of tea or a new Martin Amis novel.

They had their favourite bookshops. Favourite toyshops. Favourite repair shops. They struck up friendships with various – always very, very nice – people. The second-hand bookshop lady. The penknife man. The sturgeon man. The lapsang souchong couple.

Every purchase was a ritual. They noticed some extraordinary specimen – in a shop with second-hand lamps, where the lamp man held court, a very nice chap, to use my father’s jaunty word.

They looked at something. Asked about the price. Decided they couldn’t afford it. Went home. Suffered. Sighed. Shook their heads. Promised themselves that once they had money to spare, which should happen soon, they really must…

For the next few days they would talk about the unattainable lamp. They wondered where to put it. They reminded each other it’s too expensive. The lamp lived with them. It became a part of the household.

Dad talked about its remarkable features. He sketched it on a napkin (he had an excellent visual memory), pointing out how original certain solutions were. He stressed that the cable had textile insulation, barely worn. He praised the Bakelite switch (I could already see him taking it apart with one of his screwdrivers).

Sometimes they’d go to visit it. Have a look. I suspect it never occurred to them to bargain at the same time. In the end they’d make the purchase.

They were perfect customers. Kind-hearted. Politely interested in new merchandise. Then Dad tried the green Frugo soft drink and had a heart attack in a shopping centre. We had time to joke about it. Even the doctor at the A&E thought it was funny.

A thin trickle was all that was left. The TV remote. The medication box. The vomit bowl.

Things that nobody touches turn matt. They fade. The meanders of a river, swamps, mud.

Drawers full of chargers for old phones, broken pens, shop business cards. Old newspapers. A broken thermometer. A garlic press, a grater, and a, what’s it called, we laughed at that word, it featured in recipes so often, a spatula. A spatula.

The objects already knew. They felt they’d be moved soon. Shifted into wrong places.

Touched by strangers’ hands. They’d gather dust. They’d smash. Crack. Break at the unfamiliar touch.

Soon nobody will remember what was bought at the Hungarian centre. Or at the second-hand shop. The regional crafts shop. The antique shop, in times of prosperity. Later, for a good few years, trilingual greeting cards would come, always with a photo of some plated trinket. Eventually this stopped. Maybe the shop owner lost hope of further purchases. Maybe they closed up shop.

Nobody will remember. Nobody will say that this teacup needs to be glued together. That the cable needs to be replaced (where to find another one like this?). Graters, blenders and sieves will turn into rubbish. They’ll stay in the estate.

But the objects were getting ready for a fight. They intended to resist. My mother was getting ready for a fight.

“What are you going to do with all this?”

Many people ask this. We won’t disappear without a trace. And even when we do, our things will remain, dusty barricades.

Excerpt translated by Marta DziuroszExtended English sample available: anna.rucinska@nurnberg.p

Essay
Marcin Wicha
Things I Didn’t Throw Out

A one of a kind meditation on the loss of loved ones

Publisher: Karakter, Kraków 2017
Translation rights: Andrew Nurnberg Associates, anna.rucinska@nurnberg.pl

Marcin  Wicha’s  compact  book  is  in  part  an  autobiographical novel and in part a meditation on  the  loss  of  loved  ones,  on  the  formation  of   Polish-Jewish   identity   and   on   the   complex   mechanism of remembering. The narrator of Things… goes  through  objects  left  behind  by  his  deceased  mother. At the same time, using very sparse, carefully calculated words, he creates a profound portrait of a person  wounded  by  history  and  national  prejudices,  an  ironic  and  sharp  analysis  of  familial  relations,  as  well as an interesting description of post-war Poland.The   mother,   the   main   protagonist   of   the   book,   personifies  uncontrolled  vitality  and  expressiveness,  a  permanent  state  of  readiness  to  fight  for  one’s  own  opinions,  sarcastic  resistance  to  the  impact  of  one’s surroundings and, at the same time, feeling the fragility of life, not being rooted in the social fabric and the presence of fear just under the skin. Manifestations of   her   explosive   temperament,   dramatisations   of   everyday life and skilful mixing of irony with directness together  not  only  mask  sensitivity,  but  also  proffer  a  demanding  lesson  in  truthfulness.  The  mother,  the  torturer constantly challenging her loved ones, turns out to be an irreplaceable teacher of caution needed in relations with people and with objects.

For  objects  carry  the  memory  of  people  who  have  passed  away.  “We  won’t  disappear  without  a  trace.  And  even  when  we  do,  our  things  will  remain,  dusty  barricades.”  Books play  a  special  role  here  because  they  say  most  about  us  and  specifically  about  who  we tried to become, to no avail. But other objects also register snippets of human experiences, for example a gold coin which, during the war, could serve as a pass to avoid the Jewish fate.

This elegy on a mother’s passing and on the formation of  the  Polish-Jewish  intelligentsia  in  its  entirety  is  brilliantly written. On one hand there is melancholy, on the other – it is aphoristic, colourful and restrained; it is serious, with a fine sprinkling of invigorating humour. The  author  uses  counterpoint  and  contradiction  with  splendid  results.  He  switches  between  the  general  and  detailed  perspective,  and  interlaces  the  high  nostalgic register with refreshing anecdotes.

This book is similar to numerous records of inherited memory of the 20th century tragic history and at the same time, due to the quality of the writer’s eye and style, is one of a kind.

Piotr Śliwiński, translated by Anna Błasiak

 

Publisher: Karakter, Kraków 2017
Translation rights: Andrew Nurnberg Associates, anna.rucinska@nurnberg.pl

Selected samples

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