“Kurban-roman”, a book of stories
(10, 5 author’s sheets)
Fragment from a story “Just what I thought”
Pan Tadeusz waved a hand at them, turned and headed off towards the farm. We watched as if in a dream when he came out of the gate with a shovel and moved towards the cow, which was half submerged in the snow, and slammed the shovel down on her backbone with all his strength.
The cow toppled over onto her side. For the first time all evening she let out a plaintive low.
“Well, which one of you is going to cut her?” Pan Tadeusz asked.
“Huh?” Stasik asked.
“Who’s going to cut her, I’d like to know,” he repeated, smirking into his moustaches.
“Yusya promised to,” I reminded those gathered around the fallen cow.
“I didn’t promise anybody anything,” Yusya replied shortly.
“I see,” Pan Tadeusz remarked and went back into the farm. Five
minutes later he came out with a hunting rifle.
“Shoot her,” he said, holding the rifle out to Yusya.
“What about you?” Yusya asked.
“What about me? No, no,” he shook his head in response to Yusya’s pleading glance. “I can’t kill one of God’s creatures. But cut up the carcass, sure, any time.”
“No, you can’t do that!” I said, falling to my knees and dropping my head into my hands. “You have to cut her.”
Pan Tadeusz squatted down next to me with the knife.
“Well, go ahead,” he said, holding out the knife.
I don’t know why I took it. Eyes closed and listening only to the whistle of the wind, I pulled off my gloves and put one hand on the cow’s huge, warm neck. I pressed the icy adze to the warmth of her life with the other.
“Let’s make it quick,” Pan Tadeusz remarked. “How long will you soak her?” He was referring to the snow…
Only Maruska’s head bobbed above the snowdrift. Her plush flanks were plastered with a layer of wet snow. I was able to notice Wecek, looking big and strong, drifting away in the puffs of steam coming from the nostrils of the animal.
“Let me help,” Stasik said, dropping down beside me. “Hold her head tighter so she won’t kick.”
“You have to tie her feet so she won’t kick,” Pan Tadeusz said as he pulled the rope from around her neck and began tying her feet.
“Well, everything’s ready,” he said, after giving us a moment. “Go on, cut, don’t be scared.”
Stasik pressed his hand against my palm. Our strength doubled, and then tripled when Yusya suddenly began singing the Koran in his beautiful velvety baritone, eyes raised skyward. “In the name of God the Merciful and Compassionate…” he sang, in rhythm with the icy wind. He always had an excellent ear for music and a lovely tone.
Yusya had sung in a boys’ choir at one time. And his magnificent baritone made it easier somehow to squeeze the knife handle and even wiggle it a little, imagining it was violin bow instead of an adze. And I felt Stasik’s thin, musical fingers quiver, like tongues of flame. It even seemed at one moment that my heart felt the source of his extraordinary talent. It was as if our student quintet was together again.
But Yusya’s song was almost instantly interrupted by the tortured gasps of the cow. The flesh in her neck was incredibly soft and hot liquid squirted onto my hand. Her milk was probably warm and soft like that when they milked her, I imagined.
“So. It’s that easy to kill,” Stasik said, for no obvious reason, as he stood up and brushed the snow off his coat. I can still feel the heat of his fingers.
For a long time we watched the cow’s legs jerk and the blood trickle from her. Blood flowed in a rapid stream from the neck artery and made pools in the snow, colouring it the pink of the evening sky. When Maruska stopped twitching and all the blood had flowed from the slit in her throat, Pan Tadeusz began dressing the carcass, right there on the snow. He picked and chopped at the head with the sharp shovel. He ripped open the lower belly with the knife and innards of almost all the colours of the rainbow – blue, green, red, purple, yellowish brown – spilled out. Then Pan Tadeusz carefully cut out the parts that had been promised to him for soup: the kidneys, liver, spleen (even though medical standards prohibit its use for food), stomach and pancreas offal, and the heart.
“Listen!” Stasik exclaimed. “She really wasn’t pregnant!” He seemed amazed by how much had come out of the cow’s belly.
“As you see,” Pan Tadeusz answered. He had already broken the joint of the heifer’s pretty leg and was cutting the sinew with a knife.
“The shank makes the best aspic,” he explained.
“Cold,” said Vitosz, clutching himself. “It’s getting cold.”