Peter Adolphsen is a Danish writer whose acclaimed novels include Machine and Brummstein. His âFourteen Small Storiesâ appears in the anthology Best European Fiction 2011. âLuboslav HaÄekâ is a piece from his debut Small Stories collection.
Authorâs website: www.peteradolphsen.dk
1. On 31 August 1924, Luboslav HaÄek, animal trainer in a circus in Bohemia, made a sudden movement.
Go to 2 if you want him to start off in the big top.
Go to 3 if you would prefer him to be behind his trailer.
2. Unfortunately, the nearest tiger, already in a bad mood because it had arthritis, swiped at Luboslav and tore the left side of his face.
Go to 4 if you want him dead.
Go to 5 if you would rather he was depressed.
Go to 6 if you think he should go on with the show.
3. Happily, Lola Miranda, the little tightrope walker, reciprocated his kiss.
Go to 7 if you want her to love him.
Go to 8 if you would prefer her not to.
4. He was taken to hospital where the doctors stitched his face and gave him a blood transfusion. Unfortunately, the blood was contaminated and he died that night.
5. He was disfigured to such a terrible extent that from that day onwards all men shunned his company since his appearance reminded them of their own inner monsters. His loneliness was so extreme that he considered taking his own life. One pale winterâs morning after yet another sleepless, freezing night at the encampment in Novi Sad, things came to a head, and Luboslav went down to the Danube and climbed over the railings of the iron bridge to throw himself in.
Go to 10 if you want this venture to succeed.
Go to 11 if not.
6. The wounds were not serious, and after a quick patching up he was able to take to the arena again and complete his act. The applause was wild. People whistled and stamped their feet in the bleachers.
Go to 12 if you want his happiness to be complete.
Go to 13 if you would prefer his triumph to end in bitterness.
7. This first uncertain, quavering kiss was the beginning of a lifelong love. The couple lived a picture-postcard marriage, reaching eighty together. And if they are not dead yet, they can still be seen on the streets of the Grinzing district of Vienna â two tiny, wrinkled folk, smiling slightly, possibly on their way to the supermarket.
8. âOh, weâre lovers now, are we?â she exclaimed. âDoes that mean youâre going to buy me cakes and flowers then?â
Go to 14 if you think he should buy her cakes and flowers.
Go to 15 if you think he shouldnât.
9. There is no reference to this section anywhere, so you, dear reader, are obviously lost. As a discreet penalty, you should
Go back to 1 and start again.
10. His whitening fists let go of the railing.
11. He shuffled out over the river at an angle from the bridge. The drizzle pricked his face. The wind tugged at his clothes. His arms ached. The cold iron railings cut his fingers. The river was like black glass under the cloudy sky.
Go to 16 if you think a passer-by should come along.
Go to 17 if you would rather they didnât.
12. The story of this courageous performance spread like wildfire through the circus community, and Luboslav soon rose to become one of the most renowned animal trainers, invited to perform for kings and presidents. He gradually expanded his act from the original three tigers to include lions, camels, horses and bears â he even trained elephants. Later, he married a diplomatâs daughter who bore him three sons, all of whom became animal trainers. Shortly before his death in 1964 he was honoured with the Medal of Merit at the Montreux circus festival.
13. Luboslav was drunk with triumph for the rest of the night, but by morning he was feeling the consequences of his vain exultation: the wound would not heal. It was infected, and he would have to live with the pain for 35 years until his death in 1959 in a grubby old peopleâs home in a village in the Mecklenburg Lakes, with that night still fresh in his mind.
14. âAnything for you my dear,â he mumbled, and averted his eyes. Over the next few months he spent himself poor buying the cakes, flowers and other assorted knick-knacks necessary to retain the affection of Lola Miranda. One day he made up his mind that this would have to stop, and that the little ladyâs worldview was warped. In a fit of hysteria she threw a high-heeled shoe in his face. Several years later he still had a small, white scar on the bridge of his nose.
15. The little tightrope walkerâs obtuse, prosaic manner shattered Luboslavâs illusions. âNo, I will notâŚâ he responded breathlessly, pulling himself free.
Go to 18 if you want him to reconsider.
Go to 19 if you want him to stand firm.
16. At that instant someone shouted: âHey! Stop! Young man, what are you doing?â Luboslav lifted his head and saw an elderly, well-dressed gentlemen running across the bridge with his umbrella raised. Suddenly the wind caught his hat and sent it flying out over the river. The man pulled up abruptly for a fraction of a second and cast a disconsolate look after the hat, but then thought âTo hell with itâ and rushed towards Luboslav again. âStop! You still have a thousand things to live for,â he cried anxiously. The sight of the manâs expression in that split second caused Luboslav to burst out laughing. Out of breath, the man reached him and caught hold of his arms. âAnd after all that, youâre laughing!â he muttered slightly resentfully. âWell, if Iâm still able to laughâŚâ thought Luboslav to himself, and with the help of the well-dressed man he crawled back onto the bridge.
17. He waited for the right moment and finally felt the courage to let go, but now his hands would not open; he had cramp in his fingers. He leaned back against the bridge and took a deep breath. He looked once more at the black water beneath him, but now the moment had passed, and Luboslav realised the extent of his defeat: he was not even master of his own death. He climbed back onto the bridge and trudged, stooping home.
18. But he turned around after a few steps. Lola Miranda stood thunderstruck, abandoned in the milky light from the trailer window, and he felt a wave of pity break within his breast.
Go to 14.
19. âYes you will!â she shrieked and stamped the ground like a spoilt child who feels hard done-by. âJust a little flower, a little cakeâŚâ He stopped a little way off, not turning round but just standing there, hunched over for a moment as her eyes burned the back of his neck. âThe camel and the eye of the needleâŚâ he muttered and walked away.
Translated from Danish by Dennis Duncan
Published by agreement with Leonhardt & HĂ¸ier Literary Agency A/S, Copenhagen. All rights reserved.