MY GRANDDAD COULD FLY
At least that’s what was said by those whom he'd told the same.
It really isn’t my intention to make him into some kind of hero here in order to make it appear that I posses the same skill, which – I hope – I have inherited. And, anyway, he beat his wife, drank heavily and swore like a trooper.
Despite all of this, I am confidently able to say that he could actually fly because he was the kind of man who called a spade a spade except when he called it a shovel although that was where his sophistication ended. So, you see, he really did fly. He wasn’t one for metaphors, damn and blast!
(One time, he invited the bishop to the village and a miracle occurred: they say that he said that he couldn’t fly on that day.)
The folks in the village quickly got used to the idea – it was common knowledge and people would often say, without prompting: “Luke flew in the night!” No one ever saw him fly; some of the old blokes say that they used to see him drinking at a place known simply as “The Pub” much more often in the old days (“Alcoholic Beverages in Large Measures” was written in bold type over the door), or in the fields where he would workup the cash during the day to drink in the pub at night. Whatever the case, they were all convinced that he could fly because of the convincing way he told them. (There must have been something in the tone he used because it seems silly when you see it written on the printed page.)
No one ever dared look him in the eye and tell him it was all a bunch of lies. He was a temperamental type, a difficult man who always carried a stash of tobacco in a leather pouch and a tot of plum brandy in a hollowed-out bull’s horn (strictly for emergencies) as well as a knife slipped into the top of his boot. It was a real knife mind, no penknife. If ever there was a knees-up, the blood was sure to flow and the butchered individuals (along with their guts slithering in a bowl) were quickly carried by a gang of men to the hospital that stayed open to dawn on such exceptional evenings. Anyone who lived to tell the tale daren’t as much as look in his direction ever again. He smoked the roughest tobacco, drank brandy of undeterminable origin and his knife sliced with the precision of a scalpel – he operated like a kind of surgeon in reverse.
So no one ever dreamt of telling him that he was a rotten liar although they could have: by the time he started to spread the story that he had been able to fly for years and years, he was well into his sixties, only smoked cigarettes that he broke in half, his liver was pushing its way through his belly wall and he generally only ever used his knife when he needed to peel an apple. They still refused to laugh out loud because country folk have good memories and they just supped their drinks in silence. “Get off home, Luke, the wifely moan,” “I’ll fly,” and other such crappie one-liners were as far as it ever got. But this was serious drinking taken to its limits; all of them could do something out of the ordinary: lift a cow, scale a summit, swallow cinders and those who had no tale of their own to tell could all recall that my granddad could fly.
It was only his sons who had left to work in town who couldn’t be convinced when we paid them a visit; they said it was all stuff and nonsense. This would turn my granddad’s eyes bloodshot with fury and he’d flutter around the house all night long and I’d hide scared under the blankets because the effort made him puff and pant and sawdust rained down on my face from between the beams over my bed. I never dared to look and check to see if he was really flying out there but even if I had, something always seemed to be blocking out the moon and even though I could hear his snores coming from quite close by, I knew that he was circling the chimney.
The next morning it was always light again and he was out chopping wood for the fire, smoking half a cigarette, mumbling as he rubbed his belly at about liver height and peeling me apples from the tree. The old man never spoke to me.
It was only the next day that I would hear in the village: “Luke was out flying again last night!” They didn’t sound shocked when they said it but they didn’t sound all that relaxed either. And they never said it to me in person but to each other, over the fence, whispering and checking to see that they weren’t being overheard.
The men were still much more wary of his skill with a knife than they were of his aerial antics. Many of them carried the stitches in their bellies to prove it and their wives would stroke their scars on lonely nights and think back to the days when Luke wooed them all and won them.
They too knew that he flew at night but unlike the men-folk they thought it was thrilling and they’d giggle as they gossiped about it. I guess this must have hurt their husbands.
The men didn’t want Luke flying over their houses at night. They didn’t want him getting their fat and ugly wives all hot and bothered. There was work to be done in the morning, cows to be milked, stoves to be lit. But still they never dared do a thing about it. The council didn’t bother with him either: they were all superstitious, local boys in that place who could still remember slaving in the fields with the triumphant Luke and how scared they were of him back then. He, on the other hand, had stayed as poor as ever and didn’t sit at the same table but he could have handled any one of them if called on to do so.
But there was never any question of such a thing happening. The village operated in a singularly incestuous manner: orders arrived from the headquarters, mostly by mail, and the rest was left up to the locals. Everything went like clockwork: the threshing machine was made public property, fences came down and former farmhands got ink on their fingers.
Luke had nothing worth commandeering – because that’s the word they used to describe what they spent most of their time doing – though they still called him in but he never went. The truth was that folks would have given him their worldly belongings much more readily, they were afraid of him and his commanding presence would have saved many yards of good rope and fewer children would have been left as orphans if he had said: “I think we’ll have to take this, Elek, but I promise you’ll get it back if we live to see the day!”
Though he still never went and I’m not sure why. It wasn’t out of principle and neither was it laziness: these two phenomena were unheard of in those parts. Great principles and great ideas were never born because they were stifled by the booze pressed from sour grapes and, of course, the brandy. As for idleness, it wasn’t a luxury that local farmers on their kin allowed themselves or each other. It could only be done by someone with great humanity and this made the people of the village respect him even more. Everyone believed him and his three friends, flying, cinder-eating and all.
“Just who are you, Luke?” asked a young bloke, in the old days, with tears in his eyes and his hands pressed to an oozing stab wound.
“I am who I am!” he replied before stabbing him again.
“He was, in truth, a cruel and merciful God, a law unto himself and a man of great vision,” is how the vicar described him when he locked the church doors after the funeral.
They flooded the village the next day and not a living soul remained. They say that the ones who dared to venture back swore they saw a spirit flying over the lake that stopped every now and again and just moved upon the face of the waters.
Translated by Ralph Berkin
Published in: Yacht Life 2007/autumn 124-125.