Richard-Pupala
Richard Pupala studied journalism at Comenius University and scriptwriting at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. To provide for his family while studying, he worked as barman, on the staff of several weeklies and, for two years, as copywriter with the Monarch agency. Currently he freelances as a scriptwriter and dramaturg with various production and TV companies. He and his wife live in the Petržalka district of Bratislava. In 2007 he won the short story competition Poviedka, publishing his first book, Návštevy (Visits), in 2014. His collection of spooky short stories, Čierny zošit (The Black Notebook), appeared in 2017, followed in 2020 by Ženy aj muži, zvieratá (Women and Men, Animals), a collection of thirteen short stories. All three books were nominated for Slovakia’s most prestigious literary prize, the Anasoft Litera, with The Black Notebook shortlisted for the René Anasoft Litera (chosen by secondary school students), while his latest collection made it onto the 2021 Anasoft Litera shortlist.
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Ženy aj muži, zvieratá (Women and men, animals)
Pupala´s latest book manages to subtly link seemingly unconnected short stories into a greater, carefully composed whole in a way that is hard to define. At the same time, it provides fresh proof of the author’s ability to evoke a powerful drama in a realistic and yet very modern way within a very short space.With this book Richard Pupala continues his sophisticated and finely drawn yet distinctive reflections on important social themes. His focus is mostly on people on the margins of society, outsiders, or children from broken families, and the subjective way they come to terms with objectively difficult circumstances.  The men, but more often women and children, for whom the author has quite astoundingly profound empathy and “on whose behalf” he is able to speak, are people who are often disadvantaged, under threat or deprived of opportunities for getting ahead in life in the way they would like to.   In his latest book Pupala eschews any “literary” crutches. Instead, he offers a profound and – in the best sense of the word – realistic and consistently direct “Hemingwayesque” perspective on the dramatic circumstances of “ordinary” lives.
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mario.gesvantner@albatrosmedia.sk
Mário Gešvantner (agent)

Publishing House

Excerpt

Excerpt

Súkromná hodina matematiky

„Však on je normálny psychopat!“

Otec ziapal a mama ho tíšila, snažila sa ma brániť, ale tým svojím kunkavým tónom, na facku.

Ako keď som ju prichytil nad umývadlom. Vrátil som sa od kanála a šiel hneď do kúpeľne, aby otec nezbadal, aký som zablatený.

„Jéj, už si doma?“ vyskočila.

„Čo sa stalo?“

„Nič, bobáčik,“ hlúpo sa zasmiala. „Čo by sa malo stať?“ A z nosa sa jej pustila krv.

Mama ľudí znervózňovala. Tiež som bojoval s nutkaním ublížiť jej alebo ju aspoň šetrne, no rázne odsunúť z cesty. Jej náklonnosť som považoval za prekážku medzi mnou a otcom.

Prestaň – kurva – kunkať!

Bolo to jeho slovo, inde než doma som ho nepočul. K maminmu hlasu priliehalo tak, že mi ani nenapadlo pátrať, kde ho otec vzal a čo znamená.

Dozvedel som sa to náhodou, asi z nejakého dokumentu v telke. Muselo to byť na jar, možno v apríli, ešte pred hodinou matematiky u profesorky Badinkovej. Bol som ôsmak a celé dni som sa ponevieral vonku. Prekvapilo ma, že kunka, konkrétne kunka žltobruchá, je malá nevzhľadná žaba. A potom som ich aj počul naživo, kunky, a neznelo to ako bežné žabie kvákanie, bol to skôr spev. Namiesto tréningov a doučovania som chodil ku kanálu pri čističke. Párkrát som zmizol aj z vyučovania, z dvojhodinovky technických prác. Vôbec ma netrápilo, že to praskne. Mal som viac obľúbených miest. Opustenú stavbu s miestnosťou čiernou od ohňa alebo úsek pri trati, kde rýchlik zabil štyroch Afgancov. Hľadal som úlomky kostí alebo aspoň stopy krvi.

Najradšej som však chodil ku kanálu. Čupel som bez pohnutia v kríkoch a sledoval ľudí prechádzajúcich po chodníku. Bol som od nich sotva na dva metre a zdalo sa mi úžasné, že ma nevidia. Bol som neviditeľný a tajomný. Počúval som, o čom sa zhovárajú. Hľadel im do tvárí.

Občas ma zacítili psy, ale cez močarinu, presakujúcu z kanála, sa neodvážili. Otec mal možno pravdu a ja som sa tak trochu zbláznil. Chlapcom sa to stáva, zvlášť v tomto období života. Dnes viem, že to nie je nič výnimočné.

Jednu kunku som vylovil z vody a ďobol do nej palicou. Spravila niečo nečakané. Horeznačky, s vytočenými kĺbmi, sa energicky prehla – akoby ma chcela odstrašiť tým, že praskne, predvádzajúc žiarivožlté fľaky na bruchu. Netušila, aké má šťastie. Dostal som chuť pichnúť do nej ešte raz a silno zatlačiť, a taká chuť je vzrušujúca, no ovládol som sa – tajomný a ušľachtilý – a zase znehybnel, spomalil dych, to mi šlo na jednotku. Keď sa kunke zdalo, že nebezpečenstvo pominulo, ot njene oči la sa na brucho, zase sivozelená, a odskákala do bezpečia pod hladinu močariny.

Spev kuniek sa mi zdal krásny. Neviem, či ho otec niekedy počul. Bol v ňom smútok. Rád som kvôli tomu spevu počkal pri kanáli do tmy. Detský psychiater, doktor Malnoczký, muž s maličkým noštekom, sa ma pýtal, či masturbujem. Otcovi potom vysvetlil, že som len mierne zaostal vo vývoji, ale všetko doženiem.

Netušil som, že predtým zašiel otec do školy. Spýtal sa, či mu nechcem niečo povedať, napríklad o mojich známkach. Nechcel som mu povedať nič. Videl som, ako zovrel päsť a zhlboka, prerývane sa nadýchol. Neudrel ma do tváre, len do ramena – až mi cvakli zuby. Bolo to prvý a posledný raz, čo sa ma takto dotkol. Dozvedel sa, že som si katastrofálne zhoršil prospech, žiacku som preventívne do školy prestal nosiť. Z matematiky som prepadal. Preto mi vybavil doučovanie. Profesorka Badinková učila na gymnáziu. A predtým prednášala na ekonomickej univerzite.

Otec ma odviezol pred osemposchodový nezateplený panelák a čakal v aute, kým vojdem. „Už ti nikdy nebudem môcť veriť,“ povedal mi po údere päsťou do ramena. Zvonil som v bráne, nikto neotváral a otec na mňa hľadel z auta. Dnu ma vpustil telnatý chlap v šľapkách so smetným košom.

„Ku komu ideš?“

„K profesorke Badinkovej.“

Významne prikývol a stlačil gombík.

„Rodina?“

„Synovec.“

Rád som klamal a hľadel pri tom ľuďom do očí. Smetný kôš smrdel po rybách.

Zase som zvonil. Zdalo sa mi, že to trvá večnosť. Otec by mi neveril, že nebola doma. A keď sa dvere konečne pootvorili, akurát na hlavičku s veľkými slnečnými okuliarmi, v prvom momente som si myslel, že stojím oproti dieťaťu. Predstavil som sa a pripomenul doučovanie. Profesorka bola menšia ako ja. Pozrela na hodinky, ktoré nemala na ruke, a vpustila ma dnu.

Asi som ju zobudil. Bola útla, vo vyťahanom svetri, bez veku. Mala krátke vlasy. Do očí som jej pre tmavé sklá nevidel, v prítmí bytu sa musela pohybovať po pamäti. Usadila ma v obývačke so zatiahnutými závesmi. Zažala lampu v rohu a zapálila si cigaretu. Izba nebola pekná a mne sa to páčilo. Chvíľu si ma mlčky prezerala a potom vyhlásila, že dúfa, že nie som príliš hlúpy.

Prezrela si učebnicu matematiky, ktorú som priniesol so sebou. Listovala v nej čoraz prudšie, s cigaretou medzi prstami, až sa zdalo, že posledné stránky vytrhne, hundrajúc popod nos: „Lineárne nerovnice... kružnicový oblúk... výsek... kombinatorika...“ A všimol som si, že okrem svetra má na sebe len hrubé pančuchy s dierami na kolenách.

Učebnicu odhodila na gauč vedľa mňa. „Dnes na teba nemám veľa času,“ povedala. „Budeme sa chvíľu rozprávať, nezáväzne...“ Vstala a odišla do kuchyne. Počul som, ako otvorila chladničku. Vrátila sa s fľašou Martini rosé. Načiahla sa do police po krištáľový pohár a naplnila ho ružovým vermútom.

„Nemáš rád matematiku alebo ju nechápeš?“

Zamyslel som sa:

„Kým sa skončí hodina, zdá sa mi, že umriem.“

Napila sa. „Chcelo by to ľad,“ zamrmlala a upriamila na mňa tmavé sklá. „Asi netušíš, aká je matematika krásna.“

Rozhovorila sa. Fajčila jednu od druhej a medzi vetami chlipkala vermút po dúškoch ako múdry vtáčik. Kládla mi otázky. Určite som už počul, že matematika má veľa spoločného s hudbou. Nie s Elánom, pochopiteľne. A školské osnovy jej krásu zabíjajú. Nepamätám si presne, čo všetko mi povedala. Možno spomenula, že matematika je o vzťahoch. A viac o dôležitých otázkach než odpovediach. Žiaden dospelý sa so mnou takto nerozprával. Určite nie v škole. Matematiku začneš mať rád, hovorila, alebo to dnes hovorím ja, ak pochopíš, že je plná záhad, ktoré čakajú len na to, kým ich rozlúskneš.

„Je to dobré?“ spýtal som sa a ukázal na fľašu. Výrazne zdobené vinety vermútov priťahovali moju pozornosť.

„Je to sladké a horké,“ povedala, dopila a zaklonila hlávku.

Keď odišla na záchod, napil som sa z fľaše. Mala pravdu. Najskôr som na jazyku zacítil omamnú sladkosť, cez ktorú sa vzápätí predrala horká, dospelá chuť. Kým sa ozval splachovač, odpil som si ešte niekoľkokrát a po tele sa mi rozlievali vlny tepla.

Chcela vedieť aj niečo o mne. Povedal som jej o rodičoch. O tom, že otec neznáša mamu a už ani mňa. Pripadalo mi normálne, že to hovorím, v obývačke plnej dymu. Jednu cigaretu tipla v polovici a druhú si hneď zapálila.

„Matematika je vo všetkom,“ vyhlásila.

Hľadel som na kolená.

„Vo mne?“ spýtal som sa.

„Aj v tebe, ty trkvas,“ povedali diery na pančuchách.

Hodinu zrazu uťala. Zahasila cigaretu a zavelila, aby som šiel domov.

„Nabudúce si porozprávame niečo o pravdepodobnosti.“

Otec zacítil dym z cigariet. A potom alkohol z môjho dychu. Plietol sa mi jazyk, skôr zo strachu než z vermútu. Mamu silno uštipol do líca a držal, kým sa nerozplakala. A hneď ráno zašiel do gymnázia.

Profesorku Badinkovú prepustili. Mala už jedno napomenutie a v kabinete jej našli fľašu. Otec napadol mamu ešte raz a potom od nás odišiel. Podal žiadosť o rozvod a založil si novú rodinu. Mama bola dlho nešťastná. Chcela poznať odpoveď a hľadala ju v sebe. Chvíľu trvalo, kým si zvykla, že je spokojnejšia ako predtým. Istý čas tomu pocitu nedôverovala, asi preto, že ho dovtedy nezažila.

Otec s nami prestal udržiavať kontakty. Jedného dňa cez letné prázdniny som ho zbadal na pumpe kdesi za Kremnicou, už ako vysokoškolák. Mal so sebou malého syna. Z kufra zaparkovaného auta vytiahol mikinu a protestujúceho chlapčeka do nej navliekol. Zdvihol ho do náruče a poriadne mu zo žartu prdol pod bradu. Malý sa dusil od smiechu. Otec si ma všimol, keď ho ukladal do sedačky. Istý čas som si nahováral, že ma nevidel, ale pohľady sa nám určite stretli, to pamäť nevymyslí. Nastúpil do auta a odfrčali. Nezazlievam mu to. Mohol som mu mávnuť, keby som chcel.

S druhou rodinou mu to vyšlo lepšie. Výživné platil načas, až kým som nedoštudoval.

Mama sa nezmenila. Ani moja manželka ju nemá v láske. Ľudí stále znervózňuje, tak ako mňa. Naše deti rozmaznáva a ony ju majú rady takým tým banálnym spôsobom. Je len otázkou času, kedy pred ňou začnú utekať.

„Jéj, ty zase kunkáš!“

Baví ma to; myslím, že aj ju.

„Ozaj?“

„Už s tým prestaň.“

Na jar sa chodím poprechádzať ku kanálu. Vzal som tam aj rodinu, ale smutný spev neviditeľných žabiek so žltými bruchami na moju ženu ani deti nijako zvlášť nezapôsobil.

Excerpt - Translation

Translated from Slovakian by Julia Sherwood

A private maths lesson

“The kid is a regular psycho!"

            My dad was shouting as my mum tried to calm him down and protect me, except that she did it in that annoying, yelly-aching voice of hers.

            Like the time I caught her leaning over the washbasin. I’d been to the canal and when I got home, I headed straight for the bathroom, before Dad noticed that I was covered in mud.

            “Oh, you’re back already!” she said, startled.

            “What’s wrong?”

            “Nothing, sweetiepie,” she said with a silly laugh. “Why should there be anything wrong?” And she got a nosebleed.

            Mum often rubbed people up the wrong way. I, too, had to resist the temptation to hurt her, or at least to push her aside gently but firmly. I saw her affections as standing between myself and Dad.

            “Stop that bloody yelly-aching!”

            This was his word, I never heard it anywhere except at home. And it fitted Mum’s voice so well that it never even occurred to me to try to find out where Dad got it from and what it meant.

            I discovered what the word meant by chance, probably from some TV documentary. It must have been spring, April perhaps, just before my maths lesson with Miss Badinková. I was in eighth grade and used to spend whole days roaming the streets. I was surprised to learn that the yellow bellied toad was an ugly little frog. And then I got to hear them live, the yellow bellied toads: it didn’t sound like ordinary croaking, more like singing. Instead of sports practice and the tutors, I used to go to the canal by the sewage works. Sometimes I’d also sneak out of school during the two-hour technology workshop. I didn’t care if I was found out. I had several favourite places. A room in a deserted building site blackened by fire, and an area close to the railway tracks where an express train had killed four Afghans. I used to look for bone fragments or at least some traces of blood.

            But the canal was my all-time favourite. I would crouch motionless hidden in the bushes and watch people walk past. I was less than two metres away and thought it was amazing that they couldn’t see me. I felt invisible and mysterious. I would listen to them talking. Look into their faces. Sometimes a dog would catch my scent but didn’t dare to approach across the swampy area around the canal. Dad might have had a point, I might really have gone a bit crazy.  It does happen to boys, especially at that age. Now I know that it's nothing out of the ordinary.

Once I fished out a yellow bellied toad from the water and poked it with a stick. It did something unexpected. With its belly up and joints twisted, it arched vigorously, as if it wanted to deter me by bursting, and showed off bright yellow spots on its belly. It didn’t know how lucky it was. I felt like poking it again and pressing down hard, an exhilarating sort of desire, but I controlled myself – mysterious and noble as I was – and froze again, slowing down my breathing, something I was brilliant at. Once the toad sensed that the danger was over, it flipped back onto its belly and bounced off, grey-green again, back to safety below the surface of the swamp.

            I thought the singing of the yellow bellied toads was beautiful. I don’t know if Dad had ever heard it. There was a sadness to it. I was happy to sit by the canal until it got dark, just to hear it. The child psychiatrist, Dr Malnoczký, a man with a tiny nose, asked me if I masturbated. Then he told Dad that I was only slightly delayed in my development but that I would catch up.

            I had no idea that Dad had been to my school. He asked me if I had anything to tell him, about my grades for example. I had nothing to tell. I saw him clench his fist and draw a deep breath. He didn’t hit me in the face but instead punched my shoulder so hard that my teeth clicked. This was the first and last time he touched me like that. He’d found out that my grades had worsened catastrophically. I had stopped bringing my pupil’s record book home a long time ago, to be on the safe side. I was headed for a fail in maths. That was why he found me a tutor. Miss Badinková was a teacher at a grammar school and before that she had taught at the university’s department of economics.

            Dad drove me to an old-style eight-story prefab block and waited in the car until I was inside. “I’ll never be able to trust you again,” he said after punching me in the shoulder with his fist. I rang the bell at the entrance with Dad watching from the car. There was no answer. A portly man in flipflops carrying a rubbish bin let me in.

            “Who have you come to see?”

            “Miss Badinková.”

            He nodded and pressed the button.

            “A relative?”

            “Nephew.”

            I enjoyed lying to people while looking them in the eye. The rubbish bin stank of fish.

            I rang the bell again. An eternity seemed to pass. Dad wouldn’t have believed that she wasn’t home. When the door finally opened a crack, just enough for a little head with big sunglasses to poke through, my first thought was that I was looking at a child. I introduced myself and said I’d come about the tutoring. The teacher was shorter than I was. She glanced at a nonexistent wristwatch and let me in.

            Apparently, I’d woken her up. She wore a shapeless jumper. She was slender and ageless, with short hair. I couldn’t see her eyes through the dark lenses. She seemed to navigate the semidarkness of her flat by memory. She showed me to a seat in the living room with heavy curtains that were kept drawn. She switched on a lamp in the corner and lit a cigarette. It was not a nice room, and that appealed to me. She watched me for a while in silence and then said she hoped I wasn’t too thick.

            She took a look at the maths textbook I’d brought along. She flipped through it with mounting fury, cigarette between her fingers, nearly ripping out the last pages and muttering under her breath: “Linear inequations… circular arc… sector… combinatorics…” I noticed that the only thing she was wearing apart from the jumper were thick tights with holes at the knees.

            She flung the textbook down on the sofa next to me. “I don’t have a lot of time for you today,” she said. “Let’s just have a bit of a chat.” She stood up and went to the kitchen. I heard her open the fridge. She returned with a bottle of Martini rosé. She reached for a crystal wine glass on a shelf and filled it with pink vermouth.

            “You don’t like maths, or you just don’t get it?”

            I thought about it.

            “I feel like I’m going to die by the time the lesson’s over.”

            She took a sip. “It needs some ice,” she mumbled and fixed her dark glasses on me. “You probably have no idea how beautiful maths is.”

            She started to talk. Chainsmoking and sipping vermouth between sentences like some wise little bird. She asked me a few questions. I must have heard that maths had a lot in common with music. Not as in the band Elan, of course. But school curricula were killing its beauty. I don’t remember everything she told me. She may have mentioned that maths was about relations. And more about important questions than answers. No adult had ever talked to me like that. Certainly not at school. You’ll get to like maths, she said – or maybe it's me saying it today – if you realize that it’s full of mysteries that are just waiting to be cracked open.

            “Is it nice?” I asked, pointing at the bottle. I was fascinated by the strikingly ornate vermouth label.

            “It’s both sweet and bitter,” she said, finished her drink and tilted her head back.

            When she went to the toilet, I took a swig from the bottle. She was right. First an intoxicating sweetness spread across my palate, followed immediately by a bitter, grown-up taste. Before I heard her flush, I took a few more sips. Waves of warmth surged through my body. 

            She then wanted to learn something about me. I told her about my parents. That Dad couldn’t stand Mum and that lately he couldn’t stand me either. It felt quite normal to be saying these things in the smoke-filled living room. She put one cigarette out halfway through, then immediately lit another.

            “Maths is in everything,” she declared.

            I stared at her knees.

            “In me?”

            “In you too, you dimwit,” said the holes in the tights.

            Suddenly she cut the lesson short. She stubbed out the cigarette and ordered me to go home.

            “Next time we’ll have a chat about probability.”

            Dad smelled the cigarette smoke. And then the alcohol on my breath. I was slurring my speech, though more from fear than the vermouth. Dad gave Mum a painful pinch in the cheek and kept pinching until she started to cry. The next morning he went round to the grammar school.

            Miss Badinková was fired. She’d been reprimanded once before, and they also found a bottle in her office. Dad assaulted Mum one more time and then he left us. He sued for divorce and started a new family. For a long time, Mum was unhappy. She kept looking for an explanation and tried to find it in herself. It took her a while to get used to being happier than before. And she needed time to trust this feeling, probably because she had not known it before.

            Dad broke off all contact with us. One day, in the summer holidays, a university student by then, I spotted him at a petrol station somewhere near Kremnica. He was with a young boy. Taking a sweatshirt from the boot of a parked car he pulled it over the little boy’s head. He picked him up and gave him a playful but mighty punch on the chin. The kid was choking with laughter. Dad noticed me as he strapped the boy into the child seat. For a while I tried to convince myself that he hadn’t seen me, but our eyes did meet, I’m sure of that, and memory doesn’t lie about that sort of thing. He got into the car and zoomed off. I’m not cross with him. I could have waved to him if I’d wanted to.

            He was luckier with his second family. And he paid alimony until my graduation.

            Mum hasn’t changed. My wife doesn’t like her either. She still rubs people up the wrong way, myself included. She spoils our children and they love her in that banal sort of way. It’s just a question of time before they start running away from her.

            “Mum, you’re yelly-aching again!”

            I enjoy this and I think she does too.

            “Am I?”

            “Stop it.”

            In springtime I go for walks by the canal. Once I took my family along but my wife and children weren’t particularly impressed with the mournful singing of the invisible little toads with their yellow bellies.