Later Wednesday Morning
“Bless you,” growled Mad Šani.
Milka wiped away the tears that had sprung to her eyes from the sneeze. She staggered a little, glancing unwittingly at the sun, and sneezed a second time.
This time Šani didn’t bother to respond politely, but quickly disappeared in the direction of the back yard. He was hiding something awkwardly under his shirt. Milka hurriedly pegged out the rest of the washing and followed her father-in-law.
As a matter of principle, Šani Kujan, Maroš’s father, used to improve things that no one needed and develop things no one had asked for. He was a Renaissance man capable of installing in the house a pneumatic message system driven by an ordinary vacuum cleaner, through which he would send orders to the children, but he was not willing to mend a hair dryer or sharpen a knife.
“Narrow horizon,” is what he used to say.
Milka quickly glanced through the open window of the children’s room. With his tongue stuck out in concentration, Peťko was fitting together red and yellow pieces of Lego. She ran round the house and tried the handle of the back gate. It was bolted.
“Open the gate, Dad!” Milka called. “I know you’re there.”
Instead of an answer, there came the sound of metal scratching metal. Šani was putting the finishing touches to one of his devices.
“Dad!” cried Milka in a louder voice.
The scratching speeded up considerably.
“If you don’t open the gate, I’ll break it down!” Milka shouted angrily.
The grating metal sound stopped. After a short pause it was heard again, this time with an even greater frequency. Milka knew she couldn’t break down the gate.
“I’m going to get the axe!” she thundered.
The din of the work on metal was enriched by a quiet laugh. The gate was built in such a way that no one could get into Šani’s polygon without his permission. Now a hissing sound was heard. Šani had let some gas out of a cylinder.
“You’ll blow us all up! Me and the child!” Milka yelled hysterically.
Here and there the hissing of the gas drowned her voice. That maniac in his fortified garden was no doubt testing another of his inventions. The last device, a pocket flame gun for liquidating wasps’ nests, which worked on the basis of processed petrol, which Šani had distilled, unaware that he had produced something like napalm, had been confiscated by the police after he had set fire to a wooden fence, next to which the unfortunate wasps had built a temporary home. As the secretary to the mayor of Veľké Roje lived on the other side of the fence, police intervention had been speedy, brutal and effective.
“Police state!” battered Šani had yelled.
In its report the patrol claimed that Šani had attacked them with the flame gun and here the testimony of two policemen against a single witness still had the power of the law. Now it was evident that he was determined not to interrupt his experiment, because his son’s wife was on his land.
Milka took a step back, thinking that she would grab Peťko and their savings books, but then her fighting spirit returned.
“Dad?” she called out, seemingly calm, “if you don’t open the gate, I’m going to stop your experiment in the washhouse.”
The hissing of gas ceased. The sound of tools being put away could be heard and a moment later the metal gate was opened.
An angry Šani emerged. “Is it still going?!”
There was a dangerous glitter in his eyes.
Milka nodded. In the cellar, which in happier times had housed the washing machine, ironing board and juicer, there was now a cauldron with a stirrer, the handle of which kneaded day and night some kind of mixture, the purpose of which Šani had not disclosed to anyone. On paper the house belonged to her father-in-law and Milka Kujanová lived there with Maroš and Peťko only because there was no hope of getting a flat in Veľké Roje.
“I’ll turn it off, if you don’t show me what you’re doing!” the young woman declared with determination.
By the way, many men were willing to agree that she was beautiful when she was angry. When the heavens created her, they had run out of every colour except black, but her dark hair and eyes gave her oval face a touch of the exotic. When you met her, you had the feeling she reminded you of someone, but you let it go. Apart from Maroš, who had realised long ago that his wife looked like the illustrations from the The Egyptian, one of the few books he had read right to the end. For this reason he loved her all the more.
“I’ll turn it off!” Milka pressed him further.
“Narrow horizon,” her father-in-law growled and stood aside.
In the middle of the small garden, well hidden from inquisitive eyes behind a metal fence, stood a rocket, about two metres high. It was connected by hoses to welding cylinders and Milka felt sick. A few moments and they could have all been blown up.
The tip of the rocket seemed to be surrounded by bottle openers. On the round ramp twenty centimetres in diameter something was moving. Milka bent over the fuselage with its orange lettering SOJUZ 333. Thrashing about in the cabin of the space ship was a Peruvian guinea pig, attached there by adhesive tape.
“You’ve stolen Habakuk?!” she shrieked in the voice of a Greek goddess.
She began to tear off his fetters, but the guinea pig was in a perfect trap.
“You’ll kill us all!” she shouted.
The guinea pig, emboldened by the voice of its mistress, contributed at least its squeals to its liberation. Less than a quarter of an hour earlier it had been comfortably dozing in its cage, when the senile hands of the inventor had taken it out of the warmth and hidden it under his shirt.
“Last time you killed the gerbil!” Milka went on furiously.
The late rodent had fallen victim to an experiment in which he had unwillingly tested a centrifugal machine for astronauts, converted from a spin-dryer. The gerbil had not survived the acceleration stress of many G and Milka and Peťko had buried him in a chocolate box, wrapped up in aluminium foil.
“I took care this time!” objected Šani, offended.
Next to the torn adhesive tape there lay a pared carrot and half an apple, food for the future astronaut.
“If you don’t care about us any more, Dad, at least don’t take the boy’s pets!” were Milka’s final words.
SOJUZ 333 stood abandoned in the middle of the garden like a huge bottle of beer fated to weather for all time.
“Look, Habakuk’s been for a walk,” she lied to the child, putting the stressed guinea pig back in its cage.
It immediately crawled into its little kidney-shaped plastic house and stayed there for two whole days. Milka hurriedly dressed the boy and they stepped out into the yard.
“I’ll just get the key from the shop,” she told her son, going back into the room.
The part of the house in which they lived had, for obvious reasons, windows facing the street and not the garden of experiments.
It only took her a minute, but Peťko managed to run over to the half-open gate and his eyes lit up at the sight of his grandfather’s rocket.
“Booooom!” said the little boy.
“Would you like to fly? One day I’ll built you one like that,” Šani told him in a whisper, because his mother was approaching with ominously tight lips.
“Come on!” she pulled her reluctant son away to take him to nursery school.
“Narrow horizon,” the inventor summed up and returned to his spaceship ramp.
Not far away busy bees were collecting on their leg bristles nano-allergens from flowers, which by some mysterious process they would transform into popular honey.
Translated by Heather Trebatická