LOCKDOWN by László Garaczi reszlet


by László Garaczi


English Translation: Patrick Mullowney



Don’t be a fool! Be what others weren’t. Remain.
Don’t leave the room! Let the furniture have free reign,
blend in with wallpaper. Bolt the door, barricade in place
with a dresser from chronos, cosmos, eros, virus, race.


Joseph Brodsky, “Don’t Leave the Room” (1970)












Say you caught the sickness,

so you shouldn’t infect others.

Or say you haven’t caught it;

therefore, you’re not immune,

and you must continue to be cautious.

The victims, the carriers and the infected

are all exposed to infection.

Both inside you and not inside you –

Schrödinger’s plague,

or fate’s so-called fickle finger.

In the interest of our health, we should avoid contact,

although contact is indispensible for preserving our health.

What kills us, also saves us.

These are fundamentally contradictory concepts.

Collective isolation,

the body as a barricade.

Nature is a serial killer,

and like all serial killers, it desires

to be exposed. It leaves behind clues.

Bruce Willis dies of the infection,

but he breaks down the mutating white blood cells,

breaks the code and saves humanity.

Your task is to give form and rhythm

to the days that have become empty or unbearable

due to the commotion of the family going insane.

 You can take it as an adventure. Finally, something is happening.

At last, you can’t predict what will happen.

Self-governing dramaturgy

instead of dependability’s deadly boredom.

Depression thrives.

The urge to act holds sway over us again.

The number of suicides decreases

like during wars.

Present spawns future in torment and mirth.

But be on guard. Watch out

for the slap in the face;

because, no doubt about it, it’s coming.





The street is empty – clean, wide spaces.

Fresh air. Profound quiet, no motion.

LottsTown Plazais cordoned off.

The city underwater, mute daybreak.

A calm, peaceful world.

An empty trolleybus steals by stealthily.

In the park, yellow and violet petals thrive on bushes.

A scent of lilac. The wind ruffles a napkin in the grass.

Spring is coming on strong. Dazzling sunlight.

It’s hard to believe that the weekend will bring

storms and rainfall.

I do a lap. An idyllic post-battle landscape.

There’s a huge ad plastered to the construction site barrier

covered in graffiti. So it was, and so it shall be.

Opposite are the collapsed tents of the “park protectors”.

A girl in a red sweater rushes past me

silently on an electric scooter.

Spearheads atop the rusty iron bars.

A blackbird lands on the ground in front of me,

daring to come quite close, curiously,

cocking its head to size me up,

as though seeing a person for the first time.

A tree holds its own fallen leaves,

last year’s rotting foliage, high up on the lower branches.

This year’s fresh shoots and green leaves on the upper branches

seem to warn of some mutual neglect

in this flaunting of mourning and celebration.

I need to piss. The Masni Pub is open.

Presumably, its undulating, star-shaped roof structure

is visible from space.

The Great Wall, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and the Masni Pub.

A condom floats in the porcelain urinal

full of yellow piss.




Strolling beside the empty pitch, I recall,

once long before, decades ago,

how badly I fell on such a pitch during a football match.

I was in a favourable position, so leapt up to head the ball,

but I should have know that Zsohár

could hardly resist giving me a body check.

Such underhanded moves were not uncommon with him.

Somehow I’d hoped

that he would see there was no advantage in it,

but he couldn’t master his impulses.

They were losing. He was ahead of me by one year,

So he couldn’t let a seventh-grader take control of events.

I somersaulted in the air

and crashed knee-first on the concrete.

When I came to, I was sprawled on the ground.

Quite calmly, I determined

that the pain I was feeling was intolerable.

I’d felt nothing like it,

and I knew I never would again.

Somehow I had to bear, without crying,

this torment that exceeded all proportions.

I didn’t lose my mind immediately,

because I knew that the intensity

would surely decrease with time.

Universal human experience dictates this.

I held back the tears.

I waited for it to get better,

but it didn’t get better.

I’d never seen my father cry. A father doesn’t cry.

I mustn’t cry, either. And I wouldn’t.

Thus, I made an important step

towards becoming a man. I withstood the trial,

so they’d accept me as I am.

My knee was torn and burning.

The pain nearly lifted me on high –

above the fence, the trees, the rooftops.

Then, finally, it began to subside,

becoming granular like strewn fragments,

calming to a dull throb.

Suddenly, I nearly burst into tears.

When I was already over the hard part,

tears welled my eyes.

I stood quickly, gritting my teeth,

and hopped on one leg to the drinking fountain.

I opened the tap,

holding my face in the stream of cool water.

Then, I splashed water on my knee as well.

I hissed and noticed how the blood

was running down the length of my leg.





I prepare the wine on the smoking table.

I lower the blinds

and turn on the lights one by one –

the reading lights, spot lamps, wall lamps, LEDs, strings of lights, screens, and displays.

This consciously designed arrangement

transforms the room into a fairyland.

A woman grimaces strangely, rolls her eyes

and blabs away on the muted TV.

I turn on the sound, but don’t understand what she’s saying.

It seems she’s trying to inform viewers

of something in the public interest.

This is indicated by her intonation and threatening half-smile.

Her gaze is entranced, focused on nothing;

meanwhile, her words tumble out incoherently –

repeated expressions randomly tossed together.

I concentrate, but the meaning does not coalesce

into any grammatical, logical or thematic order.

I begin to feel uncomfortable.

I turn down the volume. It’s quiet again.

Once more, the faintly glowing screen

is elevated to an integral component

of the atmospheric lighting.





Clouds swim past the sun.

A man in a hi-vis vest picks up rubbish from the path

using his staff with a claw at the end.

I watch his technique.

He drops the plops into a nylon sack hanging from his belt.

He finds a fat fag-end, sizes it up,

takes out a lighter and lights up.

He inhales the smoke deeply, holds it in

and closes his eyes as though he’s been waiting ages

for this unaccustomed pleasure,

which won’t be tarnished by any form of infected dirt.

He continues his work.

He picks up a beer can,

slowly crushing it with the beak on the end of his stick.

While doing so, he speaks to it,

encouraging it to surrender, it’ll all be over soon.

Or maybe he’s talking to his stick.

Or just muttering to himself.

No, his words are intended for the can.

His Adam’s apple rises and falls.

With a twist of the wrist, he sprinkles

the leftover beer on the grass.

His face shows no trace of aversion.

His joy and his expertise are clear to see – a job well done.

On communal waste-collection days,

he rifles through the piles of rubbish collected by others.

With the aid of his grabbing stick, yellow juice sprinkles the ground.

Nietzsche was an eyewitness to a horse

being whipped to death in Torino.

I think of the second-hand prosthetics at a market in Kaba [Eastern Hungary].

The man in the vest drops the crumpled can in the sack

and sets off for the lake.

The sun is shining – white and sharp.




A health-related walk –

that’s the phrase I prepared

in case the guardians of order submit me to questioning.

I haven’t seen a single copper so far,

only two sluggish security guards unpacking boxes

from a van beside the Olof Palme House.

I’ve been coming here since childhood in the secret hope

of spying stray animals escaped from the zoo.

On Kodály Circus, one night at the end of the war,

the patrolman shot some African lions.

They didn’t respond to his commands, “Oy! Hands up!”

A giraffe proudly holding its head up high on King’s Hill.

Waddling seals, frolicking gazelles

and clinging vervet monkeys.

Bengaltigers snacking on the remains

of the balloon-seller beside the ping-pong tables.

There’s fluff floating on the lake’s dark water.

I see the man in the vest again,

setting aside his claw-headed staff.

He throws pebbles, trying to hit a wild duck

while saying something in a menacing voice.

A few yards away, the wild duck sits

atop the water’s oily, shiny membrane, motionless and indifferent.

It turns its head to where the rock splashes into the water,

then back again in puzzlement.





I disinfect the seat with an alcohol-based spray.

I spread paper napkins beneath me.

When we arrive, I’ll put them in my so-called virus bag and throw them away.

I touch neither seat nor window nor table.

The conductor, with his smart reading-device,

will validate my e-ticket’s QR code off my mobile phone’s screen

from an appropriate distance.

My scruffy mask is moist on the inside

from my breath. I need a new one.

Pedro doesn’t wear a mask at all.

I hope he doesn’t forbid his girlfriend from wearing one.

Everyone chooses a seat

to be as far as possible from the others.

From here, I can only see the foreshortened head

of a bearded guy two rows in front of me.

I bought some scones at the station,

and I still don’t know how I will eat them.

A few people are waiting on the platform in Kelenföld Station.

I escape having to sit near anyone.

Pedro told me to behave strangely,

to frighten them off by muttering.

My smile won’t show behind my mask.

At that moment, a woman

in some bloody trendy protective eyewear

comes over and sits by the other window.

Her mask is the most professional kind –

N95 for medical operations,

100% filtering both in and out.

She looks like the freshly appointed leader

of some makeshift pandemic clinic.

She switched seats, she says,

because two blacks sat behind her, and she didn’t feel safe.

I take out my snack and start eating,

so I don’t have to talk.

I pull the mask down to my neck,

so I can slide it back over my mouth at any time.

The woman pokes at her phone,

tapping the screen with her nails from time to time.

The conductor shows up like a train robber,

his bandana stamped with the railway [MÁV] logo over his face.

“Thank you, miss,” he says

as he deals with my ticket.

His strained voice makes me thinks he’s hiding a sparse,

but well-groomed moustache underneath the mask

like the train announcer woman’s uneven fringe.

His uncertain gaze could be related

to his pathetically concealing face-wear.

Despite the impeccably clean uniform

and the mask that commands respect,

he cannot compensate for the permanent loss.




It turns out the bearded guy has no ticket.

He stands in the aisle,

hunched over with the heavy burden of being busted.

From a proper distance, the conductor scolds him

for trying to travel without a ticket or mask.

Unfortunately, he cannot escort him to the platform

while the train is in motion,

so he must wait there until the next station,

where the local authorities will take over.

The hospital directress from Moson County

sniffs emphatically, saying,

“I smell a stench, only I don’t know who it is.”

I detect no stench.

There are two people nearby, the bearded man and me.

Either he’s emitting the stench, or I am.

I’m suspected – and not without reason –

in my cheap, filter-less cloth mask

and with crumpled napkins under my bum.

Although it’s strange that she can smell anything

in her super-mask.

If the stink can get in, so can the virus.

However, if the stench goes away now,

then the truth will be out: the bearded man stinks.

He’s a stinky free-loader without a mask.

It would be good to prove my innocence,

somehow clear myself of the charges.

But can a stench (which we don’t feel,

but someone else feels) ever really go away?

Perhaps she still smells it, even though I still can’t.

Torture never stops.




I look to see if there’s a message from Pedro or my students.

In March, we switched to remote learning.

I no longer had to go to school

or meet my colleagues.

I didn’t have to attend conferences.

Between my two Google Classroom courses,

I could drink a glass of wine in the kitchen.

Then, the online conferences began on Zoom

with topics like whether the students need to fill in

their copybooks on Google Classroom or the Chalk program,

or is it enough if they do it on Messenger.

I had more time. I slept less and less.

There should be a rule that it’s not allowed

to sleep less than five hours.

Regardless of how much I drank that night.

Nowadays, I average a paltry four hours.

For a while, I still followed current events.

I watched the press conferences.

“The victims suffered from pre-existing conditions,”

the woman on the TV explained.

“The virus was just the finishing stroke.”

That’s how she put it –

the virus was the finishing stroke.

I stopped watching the news.

Maybe I’ll sleep better.

I hear about everything, anyway.

I keep up on measures either talking to Pedro

or chatting with someone I know.

I hold my classes in the morning. I cook, I clean.

Every two days, I go down to the little shop.

One of my students thinks

the Fall of the Roman Empire was like this,

only without internet.

One parent told me she nearly burst into tears

when her mother read a story to her grandchildren online,

because afterwards, they couldn’t share a long hug

or kiss each other as usual.





I tuned into an internet radio programme,

a flash interview with a former Dadaist bad boy,

now a washed-up fop of a celebrity –

perhaps more infamous these days for beating women.

Yet, he still turns up now and again

when his drug use puts the wind in his sails

and he’s able to make the same provocative, sensational and yet

calculated statements that he did in his legendary youth.

This was not such a fortunate occasion.

A flattering, conspiratorial voice questioned him,

“Your legions of fans are curious

how you’re spending your time in forced seclusion.”

“With porno, thrash metal, and whisky,” he replied.

“Thank you for the interview.”

“Suck my cock.”





Lifeless communities. No motorists or cyclists

waiting beyond the barriers.

The doctor lady places white buds in her ears

and stares out the window.

I read an editorial, according to which

they will phase in the vaccine’s distribution

with a lottery based on date of birth.

And it will come with a wristband.

And with that, we can go back to pubs, restaurants, stadiums and pools.

I chewed the last scone. It was tasteless.

I checked my weather app.
They predict wind and rain for tomorrow.

I think I fell asleep from exhaustion.

The two of us remained in the carriage.

We didn’t look at each other.

From the start, we’d established

a stable atmosphere of mutual contempt.

I sniff to check if there’s a stench.

We don’t even exchange parting words at the end station.

Five of us leave the train at Sopron.

The platform is cold. My glasses fog up.

The waiting room has stained windows,

and the disinfectant smell gets under my nose.

Everything’s more heavy-handed in the countryside.

The culture of the provinces is all disproportion and exaggeration.

I throw the napkins in the bin

and disinfect my hands.

At the bus station, there’s an old poster

with EVENT CANCELLED stamped in red across it.

I climb into the only waiting taxi –

in the back, as far as possible from the driver.

I give the address. He nods and starts the engine.

Just my bum touches the seat.

On the way, they taxi driver only speaks once.

He asks what day it is.




I haven’t been here in months.

I feared the flat would be in ruins,

But I was pleasantly surprised.

Sure the tenant owed me for the last month,

but he cleaned up the flat decently.

Nothing was stolen. The picture I had bought with Pedro

at the flea market still hung on the wall.

It seems, true to his word,

he watered the plants.

Not a single one seemed past rescue.

I decided not to pursue him any longer

over the unpaid rent.

The hibiscus and peace lily were rather wilted,

so I tended to them first.

The philodendron and ficus also showed signs of life.

I put a plate of water beneath them.

They’d hold up for a few weeks.  

Maybe somehow I’ll be able to drive out here for them.

I gave the flat a proper airing.

In the kitchen, I pushed the table back against the wall.

I wrote to Pedro on Viber that everything was OK.

It’s the type of message that requires no answer.

 I don’t want him to feel

that I’m clingy or that I want something from him.

Anyhow, he’ll be playing Hun Fighter about now,

perhaps completely drunk already.




I lie in the cold bed. I try to sleep.

I remember the first night I slept here alone

after Pedro moved out.

He took his clothes, his gadgets and electric toothbrush.

I had the whole flat to myself.

There was no one to adjust to.

I could do as I pleased.

I tuned into an animal channel on the TV

and turned down the sound.

With a glass of wine in hand,

I paced up and down naked.

It was dead silent. Nothing stirred.

I lit up a cigarette.

I saw myself in the glass door of the cabinet.

I struck poses. I shook my ass.

I thought of watching some porn before bed.

I lay down on the rug

and studied the painting on the wall.

The artist painted it on chipboard,

salvaged from demolition debris.

I don’t remember his name,

but the signature’s on the back.

It’s impossible to know what it depicts,

if his intention was to depict anything at all.

The title is “Black Polished to White”.

Grey stripes on a matte white base.

It could be the excavated shoulder blade of a cow

or a drone’s-eye-view of a snowy forest.

There are so many things you can see in it.

The reason I really like it is

the red spot on the right side.

I rose from the carpet.

On the TV, a hunter with a shotgun on his shoulder

stuck his finger in the corpse of an animal starting to rot.

He smelled it and gravely explained something.

I drew a hot bath.

I switched off the light and lit tea candles.

I lay in the tub for an hour.

I had to open the tap four times.

The piping hot water poured over my thighs.

The candles went out.

I couldn’t wait for the porn. I masturbated in the tub.

I made love to two Pedros at once.

One fucked me from behind, while I sucked the other.

All the while, they kept saying

what a rotten little whore I was.

Pedro doesn’t like it when I call him Pete,

which may be because, long ago,

there used to be a call-in programme called Pete on the Beat.

I came, whimpering softly.

My telephone vibrated in the other room.

I climbed out of the tub with difficulty,

dried off and looked who called.

A co-worker. I didn’t call back.

I had a few bites to eat and finished off the wine.

I went into the bathroom,

where there was still a humid fragrance of soap.

I brushed my teeth

and pulled the floss from its green plastic container

with a murmuring noise.

I knew that delicate rustle from somewhere.

Once, my father took us fishing.

The sun was shining as we sat on the wharf.

Nothing happened. Nothing was biting.

We talked. I felt great.

My father and big brother went to the food stand for some beer.

I remained alone. That’s when we got a bite.

The fishing line unwound from the reel.

Then, it got stuck and jerked the fishing rod along with it.

The fish took it away with all the rigging.

I sat there and watched. I couldn’t move.

I was such a young teen

that I couldn’t help giggling

when I spoke to a man.

I waited for them to return.

“You let it take the rod?

Why didn’t you do something?”

I giggled, but only to myself.

My father waved it off, telling my brother,

“Leave her alone. Nothing she could do.”




I looked at the wallpaper where it was more vibrant, behind the couch.

I tried to figure out what it depicted.

In the coming months, the solitude

sharpened my senses.

I remembered the reel’s rustling

and tried to determine the significance

of the spots on the cooker,

the pattern on the wallpaper, the picture on the wall.





Up above, the wind is picking up,

slapping TV cables on the sides of houses.

Today Hajni returns from Sopron.

Last night she sent a brief message that everything’s OK.

She watered the plants for the last time.

I can’t get that out of my head.

I embark on my usual walk in the park.

I put on a coat, because it might rain.

A police car crawls down the street.

Four are seated inside.

They scrutinize me as they pass.




I sit on a bench beside the Olof Palme House.

A lukewarm wind blows. Grey clouds gather in the sky.

It feels like closing time, and I’m the last guest

before they shut the large cast-iron gates,

which they never had here and never will.

This is no aristocratic garden.

The commoners have assembled here for 150 years –

for beer, frankfurters, social-democracy, and green grass.

I talk with Hajni on the speaker. She’s on the train

and tells me how she watered the flowers.

Her voice is weak and hoarse.

They haven’t locked down the city, she says. She’ll soon be home.




Out of nowhere, a voice shouts at me from behind.

I spin round. I almost drop my mobile.

It’s the litter-picker.

He’s directly behind me, so close

I could reach out and touch him.

He crept over and hollered at me.

In his hand is the gripping staff.

His mask hangs loosely from his neck.

He has deep-set eyes and lips like leather straps –

his lips chapped, the skin cells dead,

the corner of his mouth frothy.

He has a cold, fish-like gaze.

I haven’t been this near to anyone in months.

He’s invaded my intimate sphere,

crapping up my aura.

How alarming people are up close!

The reek of his run-down body and clothes –

cabbage stew, urine, and decayed teeth.

He repeats his yammering. He wants money for food.

The stick in his hand seems to emphasize

the seriousness of his request –

only it’s not a request, but an order.

I shout at him. Why the fuck is he bugging me?

He humbly repeats

that he just wants a little money for something to eat,

if I could spare some for a miserable wretch.





There are fewer travellers than on the way out.

The paper crinkles under my bum,

crumpled up from all the adjusting.

I remove the paper and throw it in the bin.

It doesn’t matter now, anyway.

Speaking to Pedro, we were cut off.

I wait a minute and call him back. Again, he hangs up.

I don’t get it. Why does he bother picking up at all?

After Pedro cheated on me and left me,

we met at a spot call Gas Spritzer

to discuss the details of our split.

In Sopron, the City of Fidelity, it’s a ruin pub

where you can bring your dog.

The speciality is pizza with nutella –

tasty and disgusting.

We sat out in the courtyard in a booth

constructed from rough boards.

At 2 p.m., there was no one besides us.

We hadn’t met for weeks.

Our talk began with common chit-chat,

as though we were pals

who’d just run into each other.

We ran out of empty topics of conversation.

Forced silence descended upon us.

Pedro was drinking a Virgin Sopron Beer[1]

with “Sopron Virgin” printed on the glass.

I began to lose my composure.

The gravel shrank beneath (the soles of) my feet.

I ask, “So how’s your little girlfriend?”

“Fine,” he says cautiously.

“What’s her name?” I ask.

I regard it as innocent, naïve interest.

He says the name, but somehow

his mouth moves so strangely.

He purses his lips nervously.

In all the years we’ve spent together,

he’s never pronounced a word this way.

His skin cells tense up,

rub and smack together,

as he breathes his lover’s name into the air.

Muscles, nerves, folds, fibres and membranes

that I haven’t noticed before.

Tension puts up this protective face,

lurking in the flesh till the proper moment,

so he can name his sin with casual indifference.

It’s all exclusively about me,

since I’m still the closest to him.

I appreciate most deeply and precisely

(the significance of) how he stresses his words.

He could say the name of his love to others

with pride or cool nonchalance –

only for me his mouth quivers.

I am this quiver,

this shudder of disgust,

the trembling of my shitty prick of a husband’s meaty lips

when he says the filthy whore’s name.

I’ll never forget how,

sitting in a cracked plastic chair,

leaning a little forward,

betrayal ripples in the air

with sensual self-gratification.

“Zita,” he says,

and a sick half-smile spreads over his face.

I haven’t seen this either –

the self-confidence, the contempt,

the reflection of secret joy.

Now he can say it out loud. It’s no problem

if the name and the smile give him away –

because, partly, it all has to do with me;

and, partly, it’s none of my business.

I only serve as an occasion

for expressing his inner bliss.

Shamelessly, he dons his new mask.

“Look,” he says triumphantly, “look, it’s my new mask.”

I fear his mouth will freeze like that,

twisted like in a stroke. Then, whatever he says,

I will hear that word.

His mouth will move, his tongue will roll,

his lips will tense and relax,

and he’ll only be repeating that name.



[1]“Virgin” refers to the fact that this is a non-alcoholic beer.