English translation: Veronika Lukács



Mother, a woman in her early thirties

Man, around forty or older

Girl, a six to ten-year-old girl



Neighbor woman, a woman in her thirties



The other male characters are played by one or two actors:



Postmaster, an elderly man

Neighbor man, a man around forty

Men in the tavern, of the generation who fought and returned from war

Barkeep, an elderly man

Priest, an ageing man

Children, between 6 and 12 years old


Authors comments


The stage is not set; a woman in her early thirties sits on a chair facing the audience (not necessarily centre stage). The scenes unfold in the space between her and the back of the stage, which is hidden by a black or other monochrome cloth. When the woman also acts, she stands up and joins the scene, then sits back on the chair.

The scenes portray a story, a cycle of thoughts or emotions. The scenes vary in length, as well as in the extent to which they relate to previous or following scenes.

Changes and pauses should be introduced through music and light.


There are two planes of time in the play: the present of narration and the past, or pasts, revealed through narration. Temporal separation may be indicated by duplicating the actors through the use of puppets. One actor can move more than one puppet, and it is the discretion of the director and actors to decide when and to what extent they step out from behind the puppet. Other tools may be used, such as showing certain scenes (the distribution of letters, the funeral, or the man’s arrival) through film, or there may be no props at all – only actors, or just one actor, the narrator, who embodies all the other characters or all the characters except the man.

I indicate several times within the text (often leaving it in the narrative space) when a new character speaks. The director can decide how often and when other characters speak (which may result in minor textual modifications). The less frequently the director allows the other characters to speak, the more powerful their utterances will be, and of course the riskier it will become to let them speak at all.

The little girl can be a real girl or a puppet that the mother moves, she herself stepping out into the girl as if into her own reflection, since these two characters embody the two-fold reactions that can indeed be a part of one’s thoughts, as well as the reality, in a situation such as this one.

Place and time: it is known that the story takes place during WWII, but the direction should strive, as the text does, to refer to war in general. Specifics should always be within clear-cut boundaries, so they preserve the reality of wars that are not far removed from us in time and space.

The story takes place in a village, but the costumes should steer clear from archaizing or invoking some kind of rural realism as imagined in the capital, Budapest. Similar to the language, the scenery, props and costumes should also strive to render the story absorbable and relatable to today’s audiences. The story is not necessarily rural; it is only a necessary framework within which this story unfolds.

When I wrote this, I had in mind all sorts of losses where a woman loses the person with whom she has been planning a life together. Perhaps that person has left her, or comes home only once every six months, or is dead, and the woman must adapt to this loss. I also had in mind all the men who, after a desertion of this kind, want to return to the reality of the past, as if time had stood completely still. I had in mind all men and women who believe it is possible to step into another persons past with ease, and whose murder will be practically unnoticed, like the slaughter of pigs before the Nativity Fast leading up to Christmas Eve. The story is real and symbolic at the same time, not rendering grand dramatic movements out of place.

The director has a great degree of freedom in directing this play. Nevertheless, as a writer, I would prefer the focus to be on the actor and text, and the reduction of props to a minimum.




Scene 1



Children are waiting in front of the post office. The woman sits downstage.


Child 1: When is he bringing them out?

Child 2: They’re already here.

Girl: I know we have to wait. They’Ll only come if we wait.


Child 3: Everybody knows that, but what’s the point of knowing when you’re so excited that you need to vomit already on your way here?

Child 1: Did you vomit? Child 3: You never vomit?

Child 1: No, not really. I vomited last year but not this year.


Child 3 Same with me. I won’t vomit next year, but now I’m only in third grade.




Mother: They waited there as they always did. I knew what was going on, as I often went myself, went with the child, so that she would know where to go, because I wasn’t always able to go, what with the animals and the land. The letters were sometimes dispatched too late from the capital and didn’t get here until sometime in the afternoon. The children sat down on the roadside and chattered away, unable to keep still, so full of impatience for the post office door to open and the postmaster to come and distribute the letters at last. They couldn’t be still. They just had to be talking, and they talked about what they would talk about any other day.


Child 1: When is he bringing them?



Mother:When is he bringing them?” one of the children asked. What else could she have said when the only reason they were there was for him to bring them out?


Child 2: Maybe you won’t get one, you know.



Mother: That’s what someone said, because it was like this. They thought if one of them was not getting any, the other would surely be getting one. It wasn’t something they dared to say out loud, but in their heads, they thought if the other child’s father had died, their own would surely be alive. They never thought of the possibility that both of them could have died or both could still be alive. They were like this. If one of them had died, then the other one had surely survived.



Child 1: And what if you’re the one not getting any.


Child 2: I’m getting one, because I didn’t get one yesterday.

Child 1: I get one every day.


Mother: One of them was getting letters every day, or at least that was what he thought, because the days he didn’t get any weren’t counted, although it wouldn’t have been possible for him to get one every day.” I get one every day,” he said, and I know whose son he was. Then, they carried on talking, with one of them saying, quite suddenly, “What it could be like there?” And the other one said she didn’t know.


Child 3: What is it like there?

Child 2: I don’t know.

Child 1: Do they kill people?


Child 3: No, I’m sure they don’t, you’re not allowed to kill.

Child 1: Why are so many of them dying, then?

Child 3: From the war, because there’s a war going on.

Child 1: The war can’t kill you, only another person can.

Child 2: Because you’re allowed to kill your enemy.

Child 4: And what if he dies?


Child 2: Serves him right, why did he become an enemy in the first place?

Child 1: He’s coming. The door’s opening.

Child 3: Don’t be stupid.

Child 2: What?

Child 3: With that enemy thing.

Child 2: What’s wrong with it?

Child 3: Dad doesn’t even know that person, how can he be Dad’s enemy?

Child 2: Because they’re the baddies, some people are baddies, you know.

Child 3: They have children, too.

Child 4: Even baddies get babies?


Girl: Mummy said they went only because they had to. Otherwise, they would have shot them if they hadn’t gone, because they were ordered to. At least, that was why Daddy went.

Child 4: Ordered to?


Girl: Yes. You couldn’t just say, “I don’t want to”.

Child 3: You can order people to do things like that.

Child 2: It’s either you or them. If you let them, they will win, like in football, you know, the whole thing is like a big…

Child 1: Drop it, will you, this football story? It’s stupid. In football, you have goals and not dead people.

Child 2: But there you also…


Child 3: Shut up, will you? Knock it off with your that damn football.


Child 1: My father is a hero, and that’s why he’s there, because he’s a real hero. He’s defending all of us.

Child 2: For sure.

Child 3: I hate the war.

Child 2: So do I.

Child 1: He’s coming.



The door opens and the postmaster steps out with the letters.



Mother: Then the postmaster came out as he always did and started to distribute the letters. He knew everyone. He knew which child belonged to whom.

Postmaster: Here’s one for you. And one for you. There. Nothing for you today, I’m afraid.

Girl: What about me?

Mother: Scared as she was, she asked, because the postmaster took pleasure in leaving this or that child out, even when he had letters for them. That was what he was like. He wasn’t an evil person. This was only his way of making the child even happier, when he said, ‘Oh my, how could I forget?’ And the child, sick with waiting to hear their name called – Would it be at the beginning or towards the

end of the list? – and not hearing their name called, the child, now on the verge of tears, would cry in joy at last.

Postmaster: Wait a moment. Yes, this one’s for you.


Girl: I knew he’d write. I knew, because he didn’t write yesterday. I knew it!


Mother: Her joy was the same every time – the joy of a small girl as she breathed in distinct gasps, inhaling one breath-full of air in three portions – with her face glowing as if the envelope were reflecting the sun’s rays on her. I knew her homeward walk. I knew she would stop at the bridge, over the brook where she was alone at last, and read. She would wipe her eyes. Her reading would stumble every now and then, perhaps because the writing was so terribly difficult to read, often written in tiny letters with a pencil, or perhaps because of what was written there.


Everyone runs home. The girl stops at the bridge over the brook and reads.



Girl (reads haltingly, repeating sentences and words): My lovely wife and sweet little Annie, I’m well and get enough to eat. My companions are decent people, and we help one another out. I hope you’re both well, that you can manage with the land and the animals, and that you’re not in danger. I miss you both terribly! I wish you many happy returns, Annie, and I’m sorry I couldn’t be there on your birthday. But, believe me, I shall be there for the next one. I kiss you both a million times, Daddy.



Mother: Each and every letter was the same, for these men were not used to expressing what was happening to them in writing. They had taken it for granted that others would just need to look at them to know how they were doing, but now it wasn’t possible for the others to look at them, for they were too far away to be seen at all. Every letter was the same, because if one was different, the censor looking over the soldiers’ letters would bounce it back, telling him to write another, similar to the ones the others were writing, and the ones he had written himself before this last one was bounced back. The girl looked at the letter for a while, read it again – perhaps she said that he was alive, or only said so in her thoughts – and ran.

Girl: He’s alive! He’s healthy and alive!



Mother: He was alive, she said to herself, and that she’d run home to let Mummy know that he was alive. And she ran, though I didn’t see her yet, for the place she ran through wasn’t visible from the yard where I was, not far from the gate. Then, all of a sudden, she ran into my field of vision, full of joy, her hand gripping the letter.




Mother: When she reached me, she held the letter up to my face and said, ‘He’s alive, Mummy, he’s alive,’ and I told her that he passed away.

‘What’s passed away?’ asked the child, her eyes staring at me. Eyes like her father’s, I thought. And I also thought,No, her eyes are just partly his, because they’re also partly my own,’ and I decided to focus on the fact they were my own.

Girl: Mummy, what’s passed away?


Mother: I told her that person had passed away.Who are you talking about? Which person?’ the child demanded.

Girl: Who are you talking about? Which person?

Mother: The one we’ve been expecting so long.

Girl: You mean Daddy.

Mother:Yes,’ I said, and my voice was no different as if I had said a number, one or two.

Girl: This letter just arrived, and I read it already, and he’s doing fine.

Mother: The letter was written earlier.It happened while the letter was on its way.


Girl: What happened while the letter was on its way? I don’t understand. What happened?

Mother: He died.

Mother: I told her that he died while she was bringing the letter home, stopping at the bridge over the brook to read it, and God knows how many times she’d read it there. Many times, because she didn’t manage to read it through first time round – partly because of her father’s handwriting, partly because her eyes kept welling up with tears, and she couldn’t see the paper properly. Then, in the meantime, someone came from the post office with a telegram. She just looked at me, then at the letter, as if she were searching for something on me, on the letter, or somewhere in the air between the two of us.


Scene 3


He’d died a hero’s death and his repatriation would be taken care of, said the telegram, and he’d been awarded the Small Silver Cross, because he’d died.He didn’t die,’ said the child.

Girl: Mummy, he didn’t die, here’s the letter, and I believe it’s true. There must be a mistake. It shouldn’t be us getting that telegram, not us, and they must have written Daddy’s name on it by mistake that it was him. In the war, everything must be all mixed up. Mummy, the person who died is somebody else. I know it can’t be Daddy.

Mother: I think I told her they don’t make such mistakes over there. They don’t make mistakes about death, because that’s what they’re like, being only able to speak the language of deathabout things becoming scarcer, such as ammunition and people. Everyone speaks this language over there, regardless of whether they’re Germans or Russians; although they face each other, they understand each other, having forgotten their own languages and found this common language instead. He’s died and from now on we must live knowing he isn’t with us anymore. From now on, that’s how we’ll have to go to work in the fields, that’s how we’ll have to go to church, that’s how we’ll have to go visit relatives, just the two of us, while those people have more people. And we mustn’t think of missing him, and the only thing left for us to bear in mind is that he’s passed away.

Girl: He isn’t dead to me!



Scene 4


Mother: Everyone in the village found out, and they were sorry for me, because you have to be sorry for someone like me. But in reality, they were happy that it wasn’t their husband or son that had died a so-called hero’s death.

Woman: When is it coming?


Mother:They said on Wednesday,’ I told them when they asked.

Woman: They’re getting him home quite fast.

Mother: Yes, fast.


Woman: What will you…? now that he won’t be around.

Mother:I don’t know,’ I said.I’ve got the child,’ I said,the child’.

Woman: It’s good you have her.

Mother:Yes. But she’s a child, after all, and when she isn’t a child any more, she won’t be around for me. Truth is, I’m on my own now. And I need to get used to thisthat it’s me on my own,’ I said, because this was on my mind at night while I was still awake, that I was on my own now and that’s the truth, and the child is around only for a while, and my duty is to raise her and send her away  from me, so I will have to bear my own irreversible solitude alone, even when I’m ill and no longer able to take care of myself.

Woman: We’re all on our own.

Mother:Yes,’ I said,but isn’t it good to have someone around when you’re on your own?’



  Scene 5


Then the coffin arrived, a tiny coffin, although my husband had been a big man. They said I wasn’t allowed to take a look at him, because the explosion had completely torn him apart. Because it was an explosion, mines of some sortthat’s what the unit had stepped on, not knowing they were there, and everyone flew up in the air so that the pieces had to be gathered together and assembled again to see what belonged to whom. One of his companions wrote to me later. He had survived, having fallen behind unintentionally. Perhaps he had to retch out of fear and raised his head only to find his companions’ body parts flying, scattered in the air.The bodies of his companions,’ he wrote, although a minute before they shared a joke and talked about the marvelous paprika chicken with dumplings their wives made. Thinking about it was a bit like being at home. And the bodies of these companions, ripped apart, bloody and mixed with mud, got blown up into the sky. As for himself, he’s been unable to return home ever since, lying as he is in hospital. And the pills he’s given are supposed to make the image fade in his head, but the image refuses to fade and continues to run through his mind despite the medication. And his doctors are of the opinion that if the pills make him sleep, then the treatment is successful, even though his dreams too are filled with the image. So he wakes drenched in sweat only to continue seeing it in his waking hours.How small it is!’ said the women. ‘How on earth could that big beefy man become so small?’ I heard everything they said, because I was there when they said these things, and they were saying them everywherenext to me, behind me. They were there, because they were expected to come in situations like this and experience how someone had lost the person who was, for them, still alive.



Scene 7


Mother: It stank, everyone could smell it, and I thought fluid would start oozing from it any minute, but it was wrapped up neatly, rolled in a tarpaulin which didn’t let dampness through, only the smell. It was a horrid feeling that this stench was actually your husband. I waited for it to be over, as soon as possible – for the priest to speak faster, for the man in uniform not to say anything on behalf of the armybut he did, nevertheless, while we were all on the verge of fainting in the putrid smell. Then, at last, the coffin was lowered into the hole, and the earth fell on it with a thud. They began singing, “Your pain has carried you, here is you grave now” at the top of their lungs, as if they wanted to use the force of their voices to obstruct others people’s paths to the gravetheir loved ones’ paths, for exampleand that was when the tightness in my chest began to let up.That’s it, he’s been taken out of my life for good. He’s been transported into another world where I am not there. He’s gone, he doesn’t exist for me any longer,’ I thought as the soil was being raked smooth above him. It was odd to begin with, but I pulled myself together and forbade myself to dread the void creeping into the place where he had once been. But there was no void, because I stopped looking into that part of my heart where he used to be.It’s not him,’ the child said, as the cross was pushed into the little mound.

Girl: It’s not him!


Mother: His name was there, lived from and to, and what was between thefrom’ and theto’ was short, so short.It isn’t,’ she said.


Scene 9


Mother: It happens sometimes that the father isn’t around, because he’s disappeared or died, or just won’t come home. He’s gone off somewhere, and no amount of waiting can bring him back. A last letter arrives from across the ocean, saying we can follow him once he’s earned enough money, but no more letters come, because the money that would have been enough is now needed for another person, other children. And then it’s like this: without him. That it’s me and the child and no other person, not even the memory of the other person. No, I didn’t want anyone else instead of him.

They would come, on their way home from the tavern. They were already back homeback from imprisonment, all of them allowed to return. They were emaciated and grey with shoe box-like skin, but transformed back into local people after a whileat least, on the outside – because no one could know what lay in the deepest recesses of those hearts, which they had lugged home from the war and prisoners of war camps.

They came from the tavern and shouted through the gate how they wanted to come in. It would do them good and do me good as well, since we share the same hardship – namely, that they aren’t getting it, because their wives had become like this. They don’t want it and come up with all sorts of reasons why not, the simple truth being that they had gone off men, which is to say the thing I thought was good had turned bad for their wivesnamely, the fact that the men had returned. At first, everything seemed fine,  but the women later told those war-weary men how long it had been with them not around – that they imagined them to be different, not like the way they were when they returned at last. And it would be no use for the men to tell how it was where they had been, what had made them turn out the way they had, because no one could possibly imagine that, only those who had been there. So they keep mum about it, just like the women keep mum about how it was while the men were not at home.They just don’t want it anymore,’ they said as they walked home from the tavern, and that I would surely enjoy it with them, since I was missing the same thing they were missing. But I wasn’t going to let them in, no way. The last thing I needed was for them to breathe on my bed and leave their smell lingering there the following day. Or for the child to wake and ask, ‘What is Mr Laci doing in our house? What is Mr Imre doing in our house?’ For her to cry out upon glimpsing the man in the bed,I told you Daddy would come back,’ only to run up to the bed and find that the man her mother was cuddling with and who she herself is now cuddling with is not her father, after all, but the father of one of her classmates from the street.

All their loud boasting about how big they were was in vain, their frantic grabbing of their crotches in front of my gate. I knew they shouted and grabbed so that the deed would be done – which, in fact, never got done. They were like this, they said, and the women also thought that I wanted what they themselves didn’t, because I hadn’t ended up loathing my husband, since he hadn’t come home for me to end up loathing him. They whispered behind my back that Anna was having visitors. She must be. Some of the men, after having a glass too many, actually thought they’d been in my house and went on telling everyone who’d listen in the tavern that with me they had felt something they’d never felt before in their lives, not even the very first time they did it. Then, the other men would get jealous, hearing how they’d managed to pull it off. Even the priest asked me about it when I went to confession, prodding me, asking if I had told him everything.Yes, everything,’ I said.

‘That’s not much,’ said the priest.


‘What else should I?’ I aked,What else should I say, when no situation arose where sin could be committed?’

Priest: There is surely something you must tell me.

Mother:What?’ I asked, unaware of what he had on his mind, whereupon he named a man who had confessed to a sin he had not committed, because he didn’t remember not committing it, but the priest was certain it had happened, and now he was waiting for me to confess to it. He told me he would come by to see how things were in my house, if everything was as it should be.A family visit,’ he said. ‘A broken family visit,’ he added, laughing at the word ‘broken’. When he came by later, he asked the child something, if she was still waiting for her father, and the child said yes and he would come, because she’d been praying for him. To this, I retorted that praying was good for nothing, especially not for things like that. It was indeed good, and I shouldn’t be telling the child such things, said the priest, because she would end up not believing in God, not believing that God is omnipotent, able to do anything. Things he’d already done by destroying that person, for example. Things like that, too.

‘He can’t be omnipotent, if what he creates is not everlasting, can he?’ I asked the priest, but he had no idea what I was on about. And, in the end,  neither did I, only sensing a deep-seated anger against this being who had created a world where people perish like that. Why would I want His name to be hallowed, why would I want His kingdom to come? What sort of kingdom is that? Why should He  have His will? What sort of will is that? ‘What a lot of nonsense,’ I thought to myself, I will never utter this prayer anymore in my life,’ not wanting anything at all from a god like thisnot wanting Him to want anything from me, either. From now on, we should be strangers to each other, and He shouldn’t reside in the place inside me where he used to.

Priest: Shouldn’t the child go to bed now?


Mother: He said,Shouldn’t the child go to bed?’Yes,’ I said, ‘Go to bed, sweetie.’


Girl: I don’t want to just yet.

Mother: Why not?

Child: Perhaps Father will tell me more about Daddy, where he is now.

Mother: He won’t be telling any more stories, I told you.

Priest: I don’t know where he is.


Mother: Then the priest said he didn’t know.Don’t you?’ the child asked, because it hurt her to hear that the priest knew way less than she did, even though he lived partly in the church and partly right next to it in the rectory. And with that, she went to her room. When the door closed behind the child, the priest asked if I still had some pálinka [fruit brandy] left from last year’s brew. I said I had it all. I hadn’t wanted to sell any of it, because I didn’t want the men to frequent my house, and I myself don’t drink.Will you be so good as to pour me a glass?’ said the priest,I could really do with a glass this evening. There’s only the evening prayer and some Bible study left.’ ‘Of course,’ I said taking the bottle out of the cupboard to serve him. As I passed him the glass, he reached out a hand, his right hand, but with the other he grabbed me from behind and pressed my skirt against my body with his palm. What can you do in such a situation? I didn’t know what you’re supposed to do. My face flushed, and then, ‘No, Father, it’s wrong. Your vows don’t allow this. Not for a priest.’ But he said, of course, it was possible. He would go to confession where his friend sits in the confessional, and he will tell him everything and receive absolution from him. It goes the other way, too, when his friend does it. They have this agreement.But, Father,’ I said, and now I was able to push his hand away, although I felt heat from the trace of his hand.No, do you understand, no!’

‘What no?’ the child ran out of her room, and the priest went red.It’s the pálinka,’ he stammered. ‘The pálinka’s gone to my head.’

Priest: The pálinka. It was the pálinka.


Mother: He said it was the pálinka’s fault.What no?’ the girl asked, but the priest said nothing except good night and that he’d drop in again on a family visit. But he never came and even turned

his head away when we crossed paths in the street. This, in turn, led other people to believe that was because he knew my sins, though he himself had sinned. But who on earth would think a priest could be a sinner? At most, those who he’d tried to do the same with and who did do it with him, but not me. Not that it made much of a difference, because I was never to be in the right – what with the very different version of the truth the others believed about me.