LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Copyright © 2012 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Volume 58, No.1 - Spring 2012
Editor of this issue: Laimonas Briedis
Translated from Tūzų
klubas (The aces’ club), an anthology
of short stories by Antanas Tulys, published by Terra Press, Chicago,
One Sunday at the end of July, when all the grass in the garden was already trampled and the ground had turned to dust, Doctor M. S. Abromaitis and his wife, Mrs. Stella Abromaitis, swept into the St. Bartholomew parish picnic in a long automobile, thinking to make a nice showing and then quickly disappear. The doctor parked the automobile by the gate so that no one would block it. He wanted to be the last to arrive and the first to leave. His wife Stella, or Stasytė, as the doctor called her, for whom the picnics were “the devil’s doing,” had already gotten into a fury on the way because the doctor was taking her there, and, jumping out of the car, sneezed angrily. Then she screamed:
“You’re nuts! You’re nuts and a fool, to think you’ll make a nice showing here with all these drunken people!”
It occurred to the doctor that his Stasytė’s sneezing, swearing, and contempt for the picnickers resounded throughout the grounds, reverberating against the trunks of the oaks.
“Not so loud! Stasytė!”
“Stasytė, Stasytė... but you take me out to places I don’t want to go,” she shouted.
“Be quiet! Or don’t talk so loud, so people won’t hear. We’ll make a quick showing—one, two, three—and we’ll tear out of here, we’ll be off in the fresh air again.”
The woman frowned again, stuck out her tongue, bent over and, a few seconds later, sneezed even harder. Then she spat and wiped her nose and mouth.
“Now, understand the situation I’m in—put a smile on your face, look happy, and don’t make such a sour face...”
“Make a sour face?!”
“A doctor’s success is based on and maintained by all sorts of supports, one of which is his wife. Do you want us to become rich, respected and an honor to God, or not? That’s what we’ll be, Stasytė, if you’ll help me.”
The doctor, sticking his cane under his arm, fixed his necktie and the collar of his jacket so that everything would be in its proper place. He stuck a fat cigar between his lips, lit it, and took his wife by the elbow.
“Let’s go. Keep your head high and smile,” the doctor asked gently.
The picnic was already in full swing. The air reeked of beer, vodka, sourness, and a dry, unfamiliar smell that arose from the parched earth. The grounds were packed full; men, women, and children were everywhere. It seemed to Stasytė that all these people were drunk. The children, too.
“They’re all drunk. The children, too. The children are drunk on this stale air,” Stasytė said loudly.
“Quieter, slower, calmer, Stasytė, so they won’t hear you.”
The men’s and women’s large bellies, particularly the women’s, and the fat hanging on their chins and arms irritated Stasytė even more.
“Just look at them! Look anywhere you want. Is this the place for us?”
“We make our living from them. People see you, and when they need a doctor, they remember you.”
“It’s really awful that a doctor needs to fall to these people’s level. Even for a minute. These people came to this country thin and hungry. Here they eat like pigs all the time, they turn into barrels of lard, they lose the character they came with, leaving a mess... And here we are with them, with these people?” Here she sneezed and spat again.
Because she had to sneeze again and was trying not to, she stood in the starting pose of a sneeze for a rather long time. Bent over, her tiny face puckered up, her eyes closed, her tongue stuck out. A tiny little woman in a white dress.
“What’s the matter with you now?”
The doctor’s words, like a smack on the back, straightened up the tiny woman.
“Dust, dust! Dust, stink, and nerves. That dry dirt gets into my nose, my mouth, and my eyes. How am I supposed to not sneeze?” she shouted aloud.
“Quieter, slower, calmer, Stasytė.”
He took her by the elbow again. This time he angrily pulled her arm and said:
“You stop sneezing!”
And she yelled:
“You stop shoving!”
“You’re making me lose my patience.”
“I can’t stand people with stomachs like cows.”
“What can you do, if we need them to support us? Let them eat, grow stomachs, and stuff themselves.
When they stuff themselves and they need castor
oil, they call a doctor. I pour castor oil, dyed red, into their
stomachs. The next time—cascarilla, so they won’t realize
that it’s the same illness again—overeating.” The
doctor hoped to make his wife laugh by talking this way.
The two of them walked on.
The men, their shirts hanging out of their pants, the women, the children and the empty bottles of beer got in their way. People at the long tables piled high with food and drink were singing; at one table, “Stasys,” at another “When I Was Young,” at still another, “Why Shouldn’t I Drink and be Merry?”
The doctor smiled at this table, waved his cane, and said a few words. He sang:
“Why, oh why; why, oh why?”
“Let’s go,” yelled Stasytė.
Now she yanked at the doctor.
Going further, they happened on a long table, twice as long as the others, where quiet ruled. Here a young priest and some nuns were selling holy relics of an unimaginable variety. Stasytė bought a bone of St. Francis, or maybe it was St. Jerome; the doctor bought a St. Christopher’s medal, which he called a talisman. He stuck the amulet into the upper pocket of his jacket, the one closest to his heart.
Accordions wailed from all sides, penetrating like a needle into the ears of those nearby.
Dr. M. S. Abromaitis and his Stasytė passed by a large circle of people where middle-aged people and their children squatted, turned around, and sang: “And that’s the way we sow the poppy.”
They went by a man stretched out under the oak trees and snoring like Anupras’s accordion in the distance. From here, they could already see and hear the dance pavilion and, a bit further on, the bar.
Doctor Motiejus Abromaitis attached great importance to this picnic. To him, this wasn’t just any St. Bartholomew parish picnic, but Father Raibutis’s picnic. The day before, the doctor had purchased a white flannel suit, a white hard straw hat, white shoes, a blue shirt, and a yellow tie for this showing. Today he was dressed in new clothes from head to toe. The long, fat cigar was still smoldering between his lips when they got to the stairs of the pavilion. At that moment, the young folks were dancing the Big Apple, which had showed up the year before. The dance was complicated. In one part, you needed to gather into small circles with your body and feet matching the rhythm and one after the other, in turn, go out into the center circle, to “show” yourself, supposedly displaying an original step or a graceful pose, and then return to your spot. In other words, express yourself with something during your moment and hurry back.
“Let’s go dance,” doctor Abromaitis led his wife. Apparently, he had gotten the idea that it could be useful to make a showing here, to make some acquaintances. Up until now, no acquaintance at the picnic had noticed them. He guessed that no one knew yet that Doctor Abromaitis was at Father Raibutis’s picnic.
“Where’s your sense? Do you know how to dance the Big Apple? You don’t know how, but you still want to dance. Besides, where will you put your cane and cigar? What a laugh!” Stasytė warbled.
Stasytė was no longer tormented by convulsions of sneezing. She didn’t need to sneeze—so she didn’t any more. However, another misfortune turned up—an old itching on her bosom, just under her right breast, returned. A few years before, a little red circle had appeared there, something similar to herpes. A really terrible spot. When she got angry, the fierce itching would immediately attack her. It itched so badly that even in front of people she had to stick her fingers under her breast and scratch the herpes. She couldn’t resist. True, after a few years she got used to this discomfort. The matter became almost automatic. Frequently in company, leading a conversation with someone about what was or was not proper behavior in good company, without realizing it she’d stick her fingers into the front of her dress, scratch under her breast, and say that in elegant circles Mrs. Elena Zilis acts like a pig. Sometimes it took her a long time to realize that her hand was in a not very pretty spot. Now she stuck her hand down the front of her dress, which was low-cut, and scratched the herpes under her breast for quite some time.
The doctor poked her in the side.
“People,” he said quietly.
“Let’s go home!” she yelled, pulling her hand out of her dress.
The doctor didn’t answer. Without a word, he stuck the cane and hat into one of Stasytė’s hands, into the other the smoldering cigar, and then, with a single leap, he bounded up the three steps into the pavilion, grabbed a young girl standing nearby, and went to dance the Big Apple.
Doctor Motiejus Abromaitis was tall, handsome, sturdily built, and young. He was also an unusually good dancer. Although he was somewhat older than the young people were, it suited him. The three spins he managed to turn, clasping the uncommon girl, were excellent and graceful, like someone who knew how to dance the Big Apple well. Seeing the expression of pleasure and satisfaction, signs of flirtation, on the girl’s face, he felt a quiet happiness within himself. As he was dreaming, he thought about how his wife sneezed and stuck her hand under her dress on to her breast. She did the same thing whether she was alone or whether she was in front of people. And he wanted everyone to look at him now. However, it was only three spins in practically the same spot, barely a moment. Then they needed to form circles. He and his partner merged into one such circle, where, managing to glance at the young, pleasant faces, he, the third in line, had to go out into the middle of the circle and make some kind of original gesture. He didn’t have time to think about it, or to imagine how to “show” himself here in front of these young people. When he had trained in boxing, he sometimes had to do all sorts of gymnastic exercises, which at times would turn out gracefully. He attempted to do some extremely quick crossings of the legs, which has some kind of name. And it would have been an excellent “show” if it had succeeded. However, the doctor’s leg slipped, and his bum sounded as it hit the floor. Hurrying to stand up, his leg slipped again, he fell with his bum again on the slick floor. One young man took him by the underarms and set him on his feet. Stasytė ran up, grabbed him by the arm and yelled:
“Doctor Abromaitis, stop rolling around the pavilion!”
The doctor left his partner without managing to say goodbye to her.
Such a mishap can happen to anyone. Even to a star ballerina. The doctor nevertheless tormented himself over it terribly. He threw away the unfinished cigar that his wife had only just returned to his fingers. A bit farther on, he took another cigar, angrily ripped off the cellophane, and lit it. In the meantime, his wife grumbled:
“You showed yourself! Now you really showed yourself. There’s your picnic for you.”
“You just watch where you put your hand!” cried the doctor.
“You brought this illness on me. It’s nerves. You’re a doctor, but you don’t even know how to cure herpes.”
Stasytė would have said still more, but she was caught by a convulsion of sneezing. She sneezed three times. One after the other. Like this—one, two, three. This time softly. However, a gust of wind that rose from who knows where caught her black hat and pulled it over her face.
Three drunken men going by cheerfully sang: “I’ve grown a gut, I’ve got a little Ford. Why not drink and be merry...”
That same moment, an annoying woman beset the doctor. Refusing to give up, she offered the doctor tickets to another picnic that was to be held the coming Sunday. As that one went off, another woman, who had been waiting behind the first one, latched on to him. She pressed the doctor and Stasytė to buy lottery tickets.
Stasytė, resolving to govern her nerves and hide her anger, overflowed with impatience and exploded like an abscess. She started sneezing and scratching herself under her breast at the same time.
“Doctor, let’s go home! I can’t stand it anymore! Let’s go!”
The woman retreated, and the doctor said to Stasytė:
“We’ll go by the bar, then we’ll leave. Keep your spirits up.”
“I’ve had it up to here,” she said, drawing her finger across her chin. “I’m going to go into hysterics; I’m going to be sick. I’m already sick.”
“Calm down. Take a look, how is my jacket in the back?”
“Your jacket’s OK, but there’s two gray spots on your bum. That’s your Big Apple diploma.” She was already in a better mood.
The doctor straightened his hat, felt his tie and his bum, grabbed the cane higher up, shoved the cigar from the side of his mouth to the middle of his teeth and said firmly:
“Let’s go to the bar.”
At the bar, at last, there were many people who noticed and recognized Doctor Motiejus Abromaitis. Including Father Raibutis himself. The priest was the first to give him his hand. Then he was greeted by the parish committee, a reporter, the organ player, two young priests, three funeral directors and a few other men and women whose importance he didn’t know.
Then Father Raibutis raised doctor Abromaitis’s hand up high by the bar and shouted:
“Gentlemen! Look here—this is Doctor Motiejus Abromaitis, our best doctor. He cures people even by mail. No one gets by without a priest, a doctor and a funeral director. When you need a doctor, you know who to call. Ladies and gentlemen, our doctor is Doctor Motiejus Abromaitis! Motiejus Abromaitis!”
The doctor took the cigar, the cane, and his hat in his left hand, raised his right high and waved to everyone at the bar. His head was raised high, his face smiled widely; he was handsome, pleasant, and looked like he was a good doctor.
While the doctor’s name was still echoing around the bar, the priest nudged the reporter Žvirblius with his thumb and loudly, so the doctor would hear, ordered:
“Vince, you put it in the paper, that Doctor Abromaitis was at our parish picnic. You know how.”
Father Raibutis then went over to the cash register, into which the dollars flowed like people into church on feast days.
The doctor pulled a ten-spot out of his pocket and threw it on the bar.
“A round for everyone,” he said.
“Please wait—Gabrėnas is treating,” interrupted the priest, whose keen eye guarded both the cash register and what was going on around the bar.
At the same time, two bottles of beer came up on the bar. One for the doctor, one for his wife.
The priest jumped up on a chair next to the cash register and shouted:
“Gabrėnas is treating everyone! Drink up! Gabrėnas never regrets a dollar for the honor of God and the church, and never will. If all of my parishioners had such a heart, today we’d have a cathedral, not a church. Gabrėnas knows that at a bar you need to drink, not waste time. Gabrėnas has put up fifty dollars for everyone. Drink up! Quickly!”
Everyone around the bar laughed loudly and applauded the priest for speaking such frank words. They applauded the priest and raised their glasses to Gabrėnas.
The bar quieting down, the priest jumped up on the chair again. This time he explained where Gabrėnas’s saloon was and said:
“When you come to Gabrėnas’s, you don’t need to fear, even if it’s from far way. Gabrėnas will take care that no one picks on you.”
The priest went to the other end of the bar and gave Gabrėnas his hand. The saloonkeeper Gabrėnas wore a shirt with the tails out, his stomach hung to his knees, and he had already drunk a great deal. He was a man about forty years old, but he already had a belly like a cow. He felt like a big man in the midst of those drinking with his money. He also felt that he made a good showing. Like in the Big Apple Dance, the time had come for Gabrėnas to show himself, and so he did. Glasses were raised to Gabrėnas’s health and fortune, Gabrėnas’s name echoed; all eyes were fixed only on Gabrėnas.
Doctor Motiejus Abromaitis felt forgotten and left to himself. He began to get restless, feeling like this wasn’t the place for him. When the priest returned to the cash register, the doctor started telling the priest, in surgical terms, about an operation he had done the day before, and about another dangerous operation, requiring a great specialist, that he had to do the next morning. The priest didn’t know a thing about surgery or what the doctor was talking about. Besides, he was worried about business; perhaps for that reason he kept his eyes turned more on the cash register and on Gabrėnas.
Stasytė was quiet, but by now she really was furious. The men’s large bellies pushed her around and ground her, little thing, like grain in a mill.
The doctor had to drink three glasses treated by the saloonkeeper Gabrėnas. Only then did he get an opportunity to show himself. Now a ten-spot seemed too little. The doctor threw a twenty on the bar.
“For all of it,” he said, looking at the priest.
The priest again jumped up on a chair by the cash register and shouted:
“Doctor Motiejus Abromaitis is treating for twenty dollars! Drink to the doctor’s health!”
To Gabrėnas it seemed like the doctor was competing with him.
“Doc Ambra, Ambramatis, eh? Ambramatis? I know him. But he doesn’t know me yet,” shouted Gabrėnas loudly.
He pulled a handful of straggling banknotes out of his pocket, raised them up and yelled even louder:
“Doctor Ambramatis and all of you are pigs next to me! I could buy and sell all of you.”
Gabrėnas, shoving men out of his way with both hands and stumbling, went over to the doctor.
“Cheers, Doc!” the saloonkeeper yelled, grabbing the doctor’s right hand and smacking the doctor’s shoulder with his left.
That “Doc,” his right hand being squeezed as if with a pair of pliers, and the palm on his shoulder, were the same to the doctor as if someone he didn’t know had spit in his face. Besides, the sweaty saloonkeeper’s palm left a spot on the doctor’s white jacket. The surgeon valued his new suit. He immediately noticed Gabrėnas’s palm and finger prints on his shoulder.
“What are you doing? I don’t know you and don’t want to know you. Take your belly somewhere else,” said the doctor angrily, pulling his right hand roughly away from Gabrėnas’s hand.
“Maybe the doctor’s not doing well, maybe business is poor, since his belly’s as lean as a hound’s and his little wife’s sickly, with her hand sticking under her boobs,” Gabrėnas merrily rattled on.
The doctor took his wife by the elbow. He wanted to leave the bar. However,
Gabrėnas grabbed him by the shoulder and turned him to face him.
“Wait, Doc, what’s the hurry?” Gabrėnas laughed.
“Leave off! I’ll give it to you in the snout,” the doctor threatened.
“You? You—give it to me in the snout?” the tavern keeper wondered. He swung the back of his hand under the doctor’s stomach.
Doctor Abromaitis suddenly bent over. His white hat rolled off under a stranger’s feet. Moving backwards, people trampled on his hat. He recovered his breath, straightened up, and glared at Gabrėnas. The trampled hat, the dirtied shoulder of his jacket, and the blow under his stomach enflamed him.
Stasytė, seeing her husband’s eyes, understood that there would be a fight. She got in between the doctor and Gabrėnas and shoved at Gabrėnas.
“You leave him alone! Go on!” she shouted.
Gabrėnas picked up the tiny woman under her arms and set her on the bar. Then he turned to the doctor again.
“Now I’ll give it to you in the ear. But I’m a good sport. I’ll let you give it to me first. You punch me with all your might, and then I’ll punch you.”
Doctor Abromaitis, when he was in high school, had studied boxing for three years and had a mean right hand. Until then, he hadn’t had an opportunity to use that branch of knowledge, but he felt that he hadn’t forgotten it yet. He glanced at the men standing around and saw that Gabrėnas had a lot of friends who could attack him. He wasn’t afraid of them, either. He could lay them out flat or drive them off.
“Guys, take this animal away. Otherwise I’ll knock his teeth out and break his jaw and ribs,” the doctor said.
“Punch me, punch me! What are you waiting for? Then I’ll punch you,” Gabrėnas shouted.
The knuckles of Doctor Abromaitis’s fist went smack!—like hitting a drum, straight at Gabrėnas’s chin. Breaking bones crunched. Martynas Gabrėnas, a three-hundred-pound man, stretched out on the floor like a pancake and passed out.
It was just as he had expected—Gabrėnas’s friends attacked the doctor. He defended himself with his left, since his right hand was numb. The priest ran out with a raised stick. He screamed:
“No fighting! I’ll give it to all of you! Godless people showing up to ruin my picnic.”
The bartenders, the organist, the reporter, and a few more men ran up. They surrounded the doctor.
Things calming down a bit, Stasytė shoved her way over to the doctor. She gave a horrible shriek:
“Doctor! Your hand is bloody!”
Doctor Motiejus Abromaitis lifted his hand and went pale. All of the bones behind his knuckles were shattered. Shards stuck out from the skin. The same with the left one. The doctor worried that perhaps in the future in the future he would no longer be able to operate. For that you need dexterous fingers and hands that don’t shake.
“Take me to a hospital, quickly,” he asked.
At last, Martynas Gabrėnas came to, and stood up. His face was twisted, his chin hanging. Apparently, his jaw was broken. Maybe both of them.
“And take him to the hospital quickly, too,” doctor Abromaitis advised.
Mrs. Stella Abromaitis was now behaving like a real madwoman. She cried, screamed, charged around, and got in the way of those hurrying to help. Somewhere the shiny feather on her hat broke off and now hung on the webbing and stuck to the woman’s left cheek.
At the bar, the cheerful mood had already returned. The organist led a song and Father Raibutis took up his position at the cash register. Somebody was already treating “everyone at the bar.”
Translated by Elizabeth Novickas