Above Úrkút, the sun wore its scarlet evening halo and was already setting when Joseph arrived back home.
There was solemn silence but he heard hints of quiet talk in the kitchen. As he approached, the aroma of paprika chicken tempted his senses, and his stomach started rumbling. In the kitchen, shafts of light filtering through the gaps in the lampshade dotted the ceiling. He noticed the brown envelope lying on the table, perhaps even before he saw his loved ones.
‘Hi, darlings. What’s happened? Are you conjuring spirits?’
His wife stiffened, looked at him and sighed.
‘No, we aren’t. We’ll only do that after you’ve been buried, honey. Although I’m not sure I’d conjure you up again.’
‘Mum!’ Angela shouted out and slapped the envelope with her palm.
‘He started it,’ Edith answered and touched the envelope. ‘And don’t damage that, let your father see it.’
Joseph fidgeted with the buttons of his cardigan, then stepped to the tap to pour himself a glass of water. He drank it slowly as if not really interested in the matter at hand. His wife’s patience ran out.
‘Look in this envelope, for God’s sake. You can see we’re waiting for you. He’s doing it on purpose, I swear he’s doing it on purpose. This man likes to annoy me just for fun sometimes.’
Joseph chuckled and walked towards them.
‘All right, all right … Take it easy. What’s the hurry?’
Edith irritably took the bundle of notes out of the envelope and waved it under her husband’s nose.
‘Aren’t you interested in this either?’
‘Well, well, well! Have we inherited something? Is there a letter with it? A last will?’
‘Be more serious,’ his wife rebuked him. ‘It’s no inheritance.’
Long silence ensued. Both watched the man’s face as his eyes skimmed the lines of the letter and noticed that he sometimes stopped reading and raised his brows. He also took out the Italian letter and looked at it for a long time, as if he could read it. Then he stroked the seal on it and stared ahead.
‘Yes,’ he whispered.
‘What did you say, honey?’
‘Only that this is wonderful.’
‘What’s wonderful? The money they’d give her, or the work they’re asking for in exchange?’
‘No, I’m thinking of this request and of the events of the last few weeks. Something, something great’s been unfolding,’ replied Joseph, drawing a deep breath.
‘But, Daddy, what do you think of this letter? Do you think they’re telling the truth?’
‘Well, honey, their arguments are quite convincing.’ Joseph laughed and ran his fingers over the dollar bills. ‘But this is still no guarantee.’
They passed the rest of the evening joyfully, making plans, talking about the journey to Rome and the future. They often interrupted each other in their excitement. The paprika chicken was eaten, which was the bit the late Tabby would have liked the most. She always liked munching on the gristle and on pieces of roasted skin, Angela mused, playing with the bundle of money. But Tabby was hanged. This spoiled her mood and she soon got bored with the family council and left.
In the sitting room, she turned on Joseph’s computer. Among her e-mails, she found one from Robert, who dazzled her with a wonderful love poem. It was a real masterpiece, especially because it was about her.
To Angela …
You golden, dainty cornstalk,
Caressed by heavenly wind,
Your hair flows everywhere,
Like amorous desert sand.
Like blue oases, your eyes
Live among the infinite dunes.
There the water of hope trickles,
Refreshing the tired wanderer.
Your heart conceals secrets,
But I’ve found them at last;
Hanging on your lips is
My heart’s joyous desire.
By the time she had reached the end of the poem, her eyes were full of tears of joy and she wanted to embrace Robert. She read the poem again in longing, her body and soul craving for him. She took out her phone, her heart thumping, called up Robert’s number, gathered her strength, and then pushed the call button. Robert answered sleepily.
‘Hi, Angie, is that you? What a surprise!’
‘I’ve received your e-mail!’ The words erupted from the girl. ‘You’re really sweet, and the poem you’ve written is breathtakingly wonderful. You’re really talented. I love you.’
‘Thank you, my love, but it was rather easy to write because when I think of you, words and feelings simply overwhelm me. You’re an angel, Angela.’
The girl weakened completely, she almost slipped off the couch she was sitting on.
‘I didn’t want to wake you up, my dear Robbie, but I felt I must call you. I’m yearning to be near you so much. I wish you were here!’
‘I can cycle over to yours if you like.’
‘You’re so sweet! But by the time you got here from Budapest, it’d be morning.’
‘And from Ajka?’
‘From Ajka? But how come? Are you still in Ajka?
‘Yes, I am, I didn’t have to go back, I put off my exams till later.’
Angela was overcome by wild excitement, and her mind fluttered from one idea to the other like a startled bat.
‘Could you really find your way here? And how would you get in? Oh, there’s a huge wooden step-ladder in the garden, I could lean it against the wall.’
With the phone in her hand, she stood up and excitedly paced the sitting room.
‘Who’s that, Angie?’ her mother called to her, looking in. But Angela just waved her out.
‘Hey, who’s that, is there someone else there?’ Robert asked her.
‘No, it was only my mother intruding … So, would you like to come over?’
‘Yes, sure. Remember, you’ve told me where you live: it’s not very far, only five kilometres. I’ll have to take a torch because the winding road from town to you in Úrkút will be dark. Do you really live right next to the karst nature reserve?
‘That’s a wonderful place, but it’s really spooky. I’m not afraid, your love will be with me – and, of course, my penknife.’
‘Oh, you’re a real hero.’
Having contrived their honey-sweet plan, Angela put the computer to sleep and, creeping past her parents, hurried to the hall. She rejoiced. Joseph and Edith did not seem to be paying notice to her: they were still talking about the envelope, enthusiastic about the opportunities. Angela put on her garden shoes and a coat and disappeared into the dark. The ladder she had to drag under her window proved to be terribly heavy. I wish you were already climbing it, my love. I can hardly wait.
When she reached her window and tried to put the ladder up, the top of the wooden monster was rocking so much it almost knocked the moon off its place. She stuck her feet in front of the wall, under the pitch-dark square that marked her window, positioned the ladder and tilted it. The ladder swayed majestically and hit the wall with a dull thud. They may have heard it. Fearing her father had heard the noise and would come outside and see the ladder, she ran to the veranda and pretended to be cleaning her boots, banging them against the ground, but nobody came outside. She put aside the boots and ran around to make sure their neighbour had not seen her. I hope Robert will recognize the house, she thought and plucked a white lily. “You’ll find the gate marked with a lily,” she wrote in her next SMS and looked up to the sky, which was now reassuringly starry. The universe radiated peace, while the chirping of crickets filled the garden, and only the parched stalks of flowers swished in the wind. Angela sneaked back into the house where her parents’ shadows were magnified to giants by the light of lamps. She dashed upstairs and right into the bathroom, where she undresses, turned on the shower and shivered under the caress of the hot water. She stood there for a long time, letting the water fall down her back. Robbie won’t arrive before eleven anyway, she thought. It must be pitch dark among the trees on the road. Oh, God, I wish he were already here.
She hoped her parents would retire to their room around ten o’clock as usual. She rubbed shower gel on her breasts and thighs, and the bathroom was soon suffused by the sweet smell of rose. She could hardly admit it to herself but, since Robert had kissed her on the neck on the lawn among the bushes, something had awakened inside her. It was a raging desire, a kind of dependency she was unable to free herself from. She missed the ecstasy and could hardly wait for it to return.
She turned off the shower, dried herself and twisted her wet hair into a towel. She could hardly wait for eleven o’clock, but, to her dismay, her parents were still up, huddled in the sitting room, at ten. They were warming each other and having a glass of red wine in the candlelight. Joseph trimmed the dripping wax from the burning candle and turned to passionately hug his wife. Angela was watching them from upstairs through the open slit of the door. They seemed to be almost one person in the light of the candle. They’re still in love with each other. How wonderful, after so many years!
Suddenly, her phone vibrated. It was Robert. Angela whispered into the microphone, shielding her lips.
‘Are you here already? Hey, these two are still awake. What shall we do? They’re still romancing in the sitting room.’
‘I’ll climb up quietly and hide in a cupboard.’
‘All right, but be real quiet. Have you seen the lily?’
‘I have and I’ve brought it back for you.’
‘Oh, you silly. I love you.’
‘I love you too.’
‘Fine, but climb really quietly. If we’re nailed, it would be a complete disaster.’
‘All right, I’m coming, honey. You can trust me,’ he answered in a playful voice and hung up.
Angela locked her bedroom door and rushed to the window. When she spotted the hazy outlines of the boy in the garden, she could hardly suppress her sniggers. Robert was approaching the house with the stealthy movements of a nomadic fighter, but clutching a lily in his fist instead of a war hammer. He crept up the dark ladder carefully but swiftly. Hardly had he reached the open window when Angela grabbed his head and hugged it to her bosom.
‘I could hardly wait for you,’ she whispered.
‘Me neither, my love. But I’d like to get inside: it’s not that safe to hang around out here.’
They exchanged a hot kiss, then the boy climbed inside and Angela bolted the window.
‘Now we only have to wait a while. I’ll check if you could get into the cupboard properly.’ She quickly threw clothes onto the bed and wrenched out a box to make enough space for the boy. She pushed him inside.
‘What’s the matter, darling?’
‘Oh, nothing, only the rail. I’ve hit my head.’
They started to giggle in muffled voices. Then came a knock on the door. Angela opened it with an innocent look on her face.
‘Angie, why did you lock the door with the key? Did you call somebody?’
‘Yes, Robbie called.’
‘It’s past eleven, call it a day and hit the sack. We’ll call Father Adriano tomorrow.’
‘So do you think it’s a proper offer after all?’
‘Your dad’s still kicking against it but I think I can persuade him. He doesn’t think you should accept it, but I think we shouldn’t let such a brilliant opportunity pass,’ Edith said while she cast a casual glance at the bed. ‘What a mess you’ve made here!’
‘Oh, it’s all right, Mum. Now, I’d like to sleep,’ she tried to shoo away her mother but Robert had to wait another twenty minutes in the darkness before all was still. Then Angela opened the cupboard doors wide and dragged the boy to her.
‘C’mon, honey, I can’t wait for you any longer.’
Angela was wearing a flimsy silken nightgown. Her fair curls were tangled. Her whole being was full of joy, the joy of love.
‘You look wonderful. A real angel on earth,’ the boy mumbled.
‘And you’re my prince coming to free me from the high tower of the castle.’
They kissed ardently and it was then that, like some electric discharge, desire ran through them both. They began to embrace each other passionately and Robert’s hands dug under her nightgown. The unexpected but pleasant stimulus made Angela curl, and she bit the boy’s neck. Her hands searched for his belt buckle and, as soon as she found it, she undid it in a frenzy. Blood thumped in her head when Robert freed her of her flimsy nightgown and stepped out of his jeans. As she tugged off his T-shirt, she felt his stubble scratching her belly. She almost went mad with joy and could hardly suppress her cries so she bit her own lips hard. Angela jerked with frenzy when Robert kissed her mound of Venus; she drew the boy up to her and dug into his hair. The two blazing bodies entwined tightly; ancient instincts had been woken inside them. Everything happened as swiftly as lightning and they were soon rolling on the bed, bodies entangled. They kissed and bit each other wherever they could.
Suddenly, Robert slid down and, freeing himself from her hugs, pinned her shaking thighs. Angela did not resist; she gave herself over to the ecstasy of the moment. She breathed rapidly, almost in agony, but she tried to stay silent. She felt the rhythmic movements of Robert’s tongue and felt light as a feather. She felt as if she would levitate at any moment. Barely two minutes later, she saw millions of colourful little balls on the ceiling. The world exploded and she groaned. Her hips shuddered and she pulled at Robert’s hair aggressively. When her nails sank into his neck, Robert winced, kissed her nipples, then her mouth, and penetrated her. Angela’s pupils dilated again. Robert began to move his hips rhythmically. The girl had never felt anything like this. She felt she was not on earth but in heaven. Rapture was choking her.
They hardly slept at all that night; they kept whispering ever more beautiful words into one another’s ears. Dawn caught them resting on each other. Robert carefully moved the head of the slumbering girl off his chest, silently got dressed and kissed Angela on her forehead. She stirred.
‘It’s all right, sweetheart, get going.’ Angela yawned. ‘Everybody will be getting up soon and you’d have to take cover in the cupboard again.’
‘I would do it again, if only I could be with you every night.’
‘I love you,’ she whispered. ‘Do you know that?’
‘Yes, I do.’
They took leave of each other with endless kisses and sweet words. As they had agreed, Robert returned the ladder to its place, with moves a lot more practised than those of Angela the previous night.
From the window Angela watched her love disappear in the morning mist and felt sad. I wasn’t able to tell him. But how could I have? Italy. Next time. Let me hope I don’t have to spend a lot of time there and we’ll soon find the people Adriano was talking about. I’m in love and this is all like a dream, she thought. Since she had resuscitated the dead boy, the world around her had burst into motion. She had received questions in e-mails from people who were interested in miracles, and a big television channel had aired an interview with her too. It made her quite anxious about this: she wanted to escape and disappear into the mist like Robert had done. This journey to Rome had come just at the right time. Hopefully, the whole story would be forgotten by the time she returned. More important things than this happen all over the world. I’m only a student after all.
She leapt down the stairs, singing,
full of love, and inhaled the smell of the
house waking in the morning. When she reached the bottom of the
staircase, she remained rooted to the spot – her father was already sitting
before the computer. The blue light of the monitor shimmered on his face. When
he looked at his daughter, he only smiled and said, ‘You could introduce the guy
to me too next time, honey.’