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The Bumper Dwarf February 24, 2009

Posted by thymeworks in Selected Tales, Warsaw Tales.
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by Wojciech Chmielewski

When the lamppost lights come on at dusk in Chłodna Street, her dark cobble-stones shine in all their former dignity. This moment is much enjoyed by the bumper dwarf who guards the gateway to one of the old tenement houses. The city, once, was full of such cast-iron bumper dwarves, two of them on every gate. It was their duty to defend the walls of tenement houses from their destruction by the axles of carts entering the courtyards and loaded with goods. The street once acted as the border of a small ghetto. From the gate of the footbridge built over it, at the command of the Germans, the bumper dwarf had a great view. He saw the city’s many Jews cross this bridge in droves, and once when a bomb hit the tenement house, witnessed his twin brother dwarf perish. Here once was the teeming Jewish quarter of the city. All that remains of it today are the cobble-stones of Chłodna Street and the rail, along which trams, bearing the sign “Nur fur Deutsche” once would rattle. The bumper dwarf remembers well that notice with that sign. But that was once and once … besides, those are other tales when this one is of our times in which the dwarf is witness to a conversation taking place between Yvonna, owner of a haberdashery and Marek. her old flame from primary school. The haberdashery occupies a small establishment which you must enter from the gate. When Yvonna and Marek were in love some time ago, they’d go to the cinema and buy ice-creams, hug in the discos, kiss in the cloakrooms. But that was twenty years ago. Now Marek is a taxi-driver, while Yvonne’s husband, Steven, works on a building site in England. He’s been abroad for more than half a year.

“Are you closing now?” Marek asks Yvonna.

“In fifteen minutes.”

“So what? Let me invite you out.”

“But where to? And why?”

Yvonna, despite her thirty five years and two children, who are presently staying with a nanny, blushes a little.

“I want to show you a new bar, with karaoke, we can do a bit of singing, the food is great: kebabs, barbecue pork neck- only the best, you know.”

“I’m on a diet.”

“A diet- but why?” Marek raises his voice a little, “As far as I see, you haven’t changed one bit. Seeing you again after these ten years…you know what? It’s as if we were back in that school class-room again with all those crazy teachers. Your dancing was the best! Are you still doing it?”

“No. Well, sometimes. At weddings, for instance. But you know how rare those occasions are.”

“In this bar you can even dance, there’s a  jukebox, you pick hits. The ones popular at our times.”

“Ha! You know,” Yvonne laughs and begins to draw the anti-burglar blinds in her windows, “I dreamt of you, once. It was a fairytale. During a Russian lesson you stood up and started fighting with a dragon. It had suddenly materialised and was wanting to devour me, I was really scared.”

The lamp posts cast delicate light on the cobble-stones and uneven pavement. Yvonna and Marek leave the shop, Yvonna turns the alarm on and closes the door. They are still talking, but the bumper dwarf hears nothing. For a few of moments he is sound asleep, lulled by the evening music noises of Chłodna Street and his memories. So he does not learn where Yvonne and Marek went, nor what transpired that evening.

Translation: Stefan Bodlewski

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