Years ago I went looking for a book of stories by Bruno Schulz because someone had recommended him to me. I had to special order one from a book store. The owner asked me if I wanted it in German or English. I thought, What nerve and said, “German of course.” The bookstore owner sort of shrugged and I got the German book.

With a name like Bruno Schulz, see, I had assumed that he was German and I like to read books in the original language when I am able. He turns out to have been Polish. You haven’t lived until you’ve read a German translation of stories by a Polish author who makes Kafka sound like Beatrix Potter.

Now I remember where I’d heard his name – a town up the road a ways does an annual puppet festival and the catalogue mentioned a performance for adults based on a dark Schulz story that sounded intriguing. Czech, I think the puppeteers were. The accompanying photo in the catalogue showed very demented looking marionettes.

The story
[Warning: not a meal-time story]

Met my wife at a birthday party for a six-year-old boy after work. Adults sat around drinking wine while children dismantled various things. I noticed that two of the children were very blonde and very thin, clearly a six or seven year old girl and her little brother, three or so. The girl was tall and skinny and looked smart and cute in a skinny bucktoothed little girl way. “I bet you looked exactly like that at that age,” I said to my wife. “My braids were tighter,” she smiled.

But the little boy. There weren’t enough chairs at the party, I stood behind my wife who sat between a friend on the right and an old woman on the left. Our oldest daughter sat sort of on the arm of my wife’s chair and sort of on her lap.

“That little boy looks like an evil Czech marionette,” I said to my wife and whoever else was in hearing range. “Ssh,” she said. “Poor kid,” I said. He was too thin, his head was too small for his age and his white-blonde hair was way too thin. He moved in that bobbly way, like someone who had just gotten off a long ride on a wild rollercoaster. His parents too looked older than they were, grey and tired as if they had been through something with him. His father wore an air of false jocularity.

He had his father’s face, all the same.

He went over to the old lady next to my wife, who turned out to be his grandmother.

“GGGRRGNG!!” he said. Imagine a language consisting only of guttural consonants, and him speaking it fluently as bratwurst and coarse cake exit his mouth and accumulate in the grass at his feet.

“An evil Czech vomiting marionette from a dusty Bruno Schultz pawn shop.”

“GGGRRGNG!!!” For such a small boy, he held a lot of bratwurst. His mother made a remark along these lines, something about him exceeding his capacity again, as if this were a common event.

She rushed him to some bushes to complete the evacuation. Then she got a handful of tissues and — the boy himself was clean, an expert puker — began cleaning up the grass where he had puked.

Unfortunately, at this time our older daughter decided she had to go see a movie with a girlfriend and I had to run her home to get ready and couldn’t linger and watch more of this. My wife told me later that wasn’t the last of the vomiting, though.

One response to “Marionette

  1. “You haven’t lived until you’ve read a German translation of stories by a Polish author who makes Kafka sound like Beatrix Potter.”


    “evil Czech marionette”
    comes to my mind:
    Svankmajer’s ‘Little Otik’