Sári O. Horváth

Sári O. Horváth


English translation:  Patrick Mullowney


Part Two

of the TO BE OR NOT... trilogy



cast of characters

Meryl Streep, 69

Mária, 60

Laura, 40

Teó, 30

Vince, 35

Attila, 60

Laci, 40 [LAH-tsee, nickname for László]


Setting: present-day Hungary (2018)

LACI              Hey, get moving!

MÁRIA          What an asshole!

LACI              Motor’s running. There’s power in this little beauty, the Infiniti Q60. I could kiss this collaboration between Nissan and Renault. Not just anyone can drive a car like this. The starting price alone is 18 million smackers. [This price in Hungarian forints is roughly equal to $59,000 USD.] Get moving, you small fry!

MÁRIA          Some needle-dick is revving his engine behind me.

LACI              Bold curves and a design that suggests power. The twin-turbo, 405-horsepower, V6 engine is a breathtaking achievement. With the first digitally adaptive suspension, it’s incredibly sensitive. The new definition of driving.

MÁRIA          I wonder when he’s gonna blow his top.

LACI             Come on, granny! Why aren’t you moving?

MÁRIA          Smooches.

LACI              It’s some Tabitha driving... Should I bang you?

MÁRIA          Only if you have a rubber.

LACI              Jesus... Sick bitch. Rot in Hell!

VINCE           There was a multiple car crash on the highway. Half of them ended up                              in intensive, and half came to me. God, I’m in no mood for this today.                                  Wheeling around corpses sure ain’t what it used to be.

MÁRIA          They’ll put your kidneys to good use! I drive on and stop beside the                                 restaurant. It’s a business meeting.

LACI              I park, and here’s that Tabitha’s little Smart car. Who the hell drives                                 these things? It’s like a coffin. I go up beside the car and spit on it.

MÁRIA          For a while I think I should start taking taxis. Last time, some young man                        stepped off the sidewalk, and I almost hit him. All that came out of my                             mouth was “Hey, you stupid kid! You wanna die?”

TEÓ               I want to die!

LAURA         What are you doing?

TEÓ               It was a joke.

LAURA         Lord God, keep quiet! I have no need for this.

TEÓ               Just a joke, I told you.

LAURA         We were near Zenta. [present-day Senta in Serbia]

TEÓ               We had just left Zenta.

LAURA         A conference for writers and readers. And I brought along this little shit. Right as we leave Zenta, two in the morning, we’re racing back to Budapest, and he starts screaming in the car out of nowhere.

TEÓ               I want to die!

LACI              I want to die!

LAURA         That he wants to die and I’m a filthy whore. We were going 80. [80 km/h = 50 mph] I remember, because I slammed on the brake, but we were already up to 100. [100 km/h =  62 mph] He opens the door at 100 like he’s staying in Serbia and I’m a filthy whore.

LACI              I want to die, you filthy whore!

LAURA         I’d slowed down to 50 when he climbs halfway out of the speeding car. He put his foot out, and it grazed the concrete. I heard it. I wasn’t willing to go slower. I was a little curious. Would he really jump out?

TEÓ               I rose out of my seat. I was half out of the car. I could see the white stripe gliding along below me.

LAURA         He was half out of the car – like he wants to die here, and he wants me to die with him. And I’d practically chosen you. But here I decided, there’s no way in Hell. I’d rather choose dependable unhappiness than this basket case. Let someone else push your career along. I sure as hell won’t after this. You won’t kick the bucket in Serbia, because I won’t let you. No matter how much you scream, I won’t let you, because you’re a Hungarian citizen, you little shit, and it’s fucking expensive to bring a dead body over the border. That ain’t pocket change. Do you have insurance?

TEÓ               Huh?

LAURA         Do you have insurance?

TEÓ               Why would I?

MERYL          There’s no actress born before 1960 who got a part without Meryl Streep turning it down first.

LACI             I want to die, you filthy whore! The nerves are throbbing in my neck. I feel tick-tick-tick-tick. I climbed to the roof of a building. I believe I’m not of sound mind. Yes. Not of sound mind. If I’m caught, that’s what I’ll say. “But, sir, I was not of sound mind. Go ahead and examine me.”

LAURA         I pull him back into the car by force.

LACI              No one’s here. I can do what I want. All that’s rattling through my head is game over, I’m left here alone, everything’s fallen apart. Even though I planned in advance – what and how – it all fell apart.

LAURA         You can jump out at Szeged [in Southern Hungary], there you can jump, because I no longer care. But if I have to pay for your death, too, like everything else so far, that’s too much. Why are you laughing? You moron, what are you laughing at?

TEÓ               I always wanted to be a stunt double.

MERYL          I no longer have patience for certain things, not because I’ve become arrogant, but simply because I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me.

LAURA         You’re not fooling me. You were serious. You were seriously going to jump, because you’re a suicidal little freak. Right after Zenta, at 2 a.m., I’ve decided I’m leaving you. And next time, I won’t pull you back in.

TEÓ               It was just a joke.

LAURA         Next time I’m not pulling you back.

LACI              I stand on the roof. Across from me, Meryl Streep is smiling on a billboard so fucking confidently. Really, how does she do it? She’s looking at me. I move a little to one side, and she’s still looking at me. Stupid optical illusion. I think the smile’s been photo-shopped. It’s impossible to smile like that. Damn pretty, you have to admit. Meryl Steep is damn pretty. And smiling.

TEÓ                Look, Meryl Streep’s been nominated for an Oscar.

MERYL          I’m Meryl Streep.

LACI              I got tired of constantly projecting myself as successful. A person can’t wake up every day, day after day, with a grin on his face. At least, I can’t. Still, if I don’t believe it about myself – that I’m successful – others won’t, either. That’s why everyday I repeat to myself, “You’re successful, you’re successful, you’re filthy rich and successful and handsome.” Then, the bubble just bursts. I want to climb up on Meryl Streep.

MERYL          It’s terribly painful when people feel more than they are able to express.

LAURA         I found an old composition from primary school. “If I had magical powers for one day… If I had magical powers for one day, I would cure my brother who suffered a serious sports injury 11 years ago in Makó [in southeast Hungary] during his floor routine at a tournament. My brother was 17 when he had his accident. I was three months old. He has to be cared for and helped with everything, and I also help out. I feed him and give him drinks, and I bring him anything he can’t reach. He lives his life in a wheelchair and in bed, and I want him to be as healthy as he was so long ago. He’s my role model, because he’s always in a good mood, positive, and strong. First of all, I’d help my brother, but I’d help others, too, and make the world better. I’d like to be Supergirl. I’d love to fly and save people who are in trouble. I would teleport to another country, so I could meet as many people on the Earth as possible.” Now all that’s left of that is I’d like teleport myself to another country, and I’d go out sometimes to my family in the cemetery and tend to the grave.

MÁRIA          I fought for who I am.

MERYL          There are days when I feel my work is overestimated. But not today.

MÁRIA          This is a life’s work. A long life’s. Medical Wellnes Resort. True, I inherited it, but I still put a lot into it. Why should I climb to the top of the heap by 20 or by 30, only to be forgotten by the time I’m 40? No. Slowly, little by little, higher and higher. 

LAURA         I just sit at the grave, and still, I can’t ever believe it. At noon, you get a call. “We’re heading out. We’ll be there in ninety minutes.” Then, an hour and a half later, they’re not there. Instead, an unknown voice says there’s been an accident, everyone in the car died, the driver and the two passengers. It was even on the news. The driver and two passengers lost their lives when a driver on drugs in the opposite lane lost control of the wheel and crashed head-on into... I stood over the telephone and automatically called my mother.  “Mom, you died. You all died.”

VINCE           You know that movie cliché that in morgues they eat their lunch over the corpses? Check. But I made up my mind, if I ever sink that far, I’m out like a flash. Well, I sank that far, and I haven’t split. Sometimes I’ll smoke while I wheel them around, and sometimes the ash lands on them. I see the ash. Should I wipe it off or not? After all, they’re soon going to be ashes. I wipe it off. I imagine some idiot ashing on my face later. In the city, the most expensive rent is for businesses by the hospital, almost everywhere. Generally, funeral companies buy them up. They’re full of money. There’s always death, right? Business runs smoothly. The competing firms can’t wait to get in there someday.

MÁRIA          I had three husbands. The first died. I left the second one, because I got bored. And the third – well, sadly, he died, too – although I really loved being with him, and I never got bored. I think my first husband would have left me if he hadn’t died, but then he died before he could leave me. He died when he was 33. He went to work, and I went to the obstetrician, because I thought I was expecting. It would have been just the wrong time for a baby to come, so that morning was a little uncomfortable. My husband got hit on a crosswalk, and they left him there. He died in the hospital within one or two hours. I was just at the obstetrician’s. He examined me and then asked, “Would you like a child now?” I told him no. “Then, I have good news,” he said, “because you’re not pregnant. And would you like a child some other time? Later?” “Yes, later. Yes, I think, yes.” “Well, then, I have bad news,” he said, “because what has made you ill is early on-set menopause.” I married the second man, who was older than me and didn’t want children. Only he was altogether so boring, I couldn’t stand him. The third was a doctor, but his heart failed him. He had a younger lover who, in the course of one of their secret meetings, got him overexcited. My darling’s heart got too worked up, and she was stuck with him, stiff as a corpse. She just stared and stared in disbelief. She got so scared that she called me to ask what to do. “Loosen him up. I don’t know. Dance with him.” At that, she shrieked like a cat in heat, saying how could I be so cruel. So I asked her where they were. At Lake Balaton, in a rented house. “And the conference and the other doctors?” I asked. There was no conference. She was the conference. The undertaker went out to them, putting my husband in the back and the girl in the front, and taking them both home to Budapest.

MÁRIA          What are you looking for?

LACI              Jesus, it’s that Tabitha form the Smart car. Calm down!

MÁRIA          Whatever it is, it’s not there.

LACI              What do you care?

MÁRIA          Hey, come down from there right fucking now. What are you doing? Throwing eggs at people from the roof?

LACI              It’s not eggs, ma’am.

MÁRIA          Then what?

LACI             You don’t wanna know. Have you called the cops?

MÁRIA          Were you throwing it at Meryl Streep?

LACI              Of course not, I adore her. At those people. Um, them...

MÁRIA          I wanted to be like Meryl Streep.

LACI             Me, too.

MERYL          I was 48... and I wanted to bury myself. And now I’m a real supernova, I’m on fire! Whatever I do, it’s in the name of all “older women”, and I’m proud of that. It makes many people happy and many people angry. Well, I don’t give a shit about them.

MÁRIA          Tell me, László…

LACI              Laci…

MÁRIA          Laci…. Why were you on the roof last night throwing a sack filled with... how should I say... fecal matter?

LACI              You mean shit? Because I’m a jealous, vindictive prick. And I was aiming at the restaurant, cuz the owner’s living with my fiancée now.

MÁRIA          I hope you’ll spare me the details.

LACI              I read it on the net. Some guy in China did it. But they caught him.

MÁRIA          How good that you keep up on world events!

LACI              So they asked my man [i.e., the man in China] why he did it, and he said his life was ruined, and he couldn’t bear to see someone else doing well. He was jealous.

MÁRIA          Some go swimming to relieve stress.

LACI              Do you often pick up guys on the street, ma’am?

MÁRIA          In films, they drop the formalities long before this.

LACI              I don’t like assertive women.

MERYL          People will say to me, “You’ve played so many strong women,” and I’ll say, “Have you ever said to a man, ‘You’ve played so many strong men?’” No! Because the expectation is men are varied. Why can’t we have that expectation about women? My daughters were born strong! I was quite intimidated by them.

LAURA         How would it be to be Meryl Streep’s child? You know you’re secure, you have money, you’re protected; because your mother’s respected, people respect and love you, too.

ATTILA         I chose, too. I picked a side. I chose the side that determines the punishments. Because I didn’t want to be on the other side. Those who say they were never ruled by anyone else are lying. Those who say they never belonged to anything are lying. That’s exactly the type that fits in everywhere the best. Only they don’t realize it. Whether they don’t dare to or don’t want to, it’s all the same. There were those I sentenced to life in prison. Actually, I didn’t give them life. The sentence was 40 years. If someone goes in at, let’s say, 35 years of age, there’s not much chance he’ll ever get out.

TEÓ                When it started to go to pieces... when I realized I was letting it go to pieces, I was completely aware that now, right now, it’s falling apart, but there was no use hanging on, because I couldn’t stop it. I went to take a shower, hanging up the pajamas and dropping the old clothes on the floor as usual. But when everything broke down, it wasn’t like that. Pajamas also down on floor over the smelly clothes from that day. The tears well up, I start shaking like hell, and meanwhile I say, “Now, here it comes.” I can almost touch it, but only the tears come.

LACI              You looked like this?

MÁRIA          Uh-huh.

LACI              Fuck, that’s harsh.

MÁRIA          How?

LACI             Time. Just like that, so mercilessly. How old is this picture? Ten, fifteen years?

LAURA         None of your business.

TEÓ               What’s none of my business?

MÁRIA          Five.

LAURA         It’s not, and that’s that.

LACI              Life, fuck...

TEÓ               Is that all?

LAURA         Why? What do you want?

TEÓ               An answer.

MÁRIA          It’s sure life doesn’t pick and choose. One minute, and you look like a raisin. And you’re gonna look like a rum-soaked raisin.

LACI              How’s that?

MÁRIA          Sticky sweet.

LAURA         Please, go to the doctor, to make it possible to love you.

TEÓ                My nails get smaller and smaller. I can no longer chew on them, they’re so                      small.

MÁRIA          You can spot the changes best on the human hand. A pretty face and good figure are no use. Cuz you’ve still got your hand, of course, and that gives it all away.

LACI              I attended a liberal arts school for three years. Once I submitted an application. It was some scholarship for a study project. I didn’t get it. I went to the head of the department for what he had to say. “Not good enough.” Fine, that’s clear. He showed me the mistakes. It really was shit. They next year, I applied again. I still didn’t get it. Again, I went to the head of the department like, “What’s up, what’s up, what’s up?” “It was too good,” he said. “What do you mean, too good?”  “You no longer have to study this material. It’s already so strong, just finish it.” “But that’s why I applied for the scholarship, so I can write it.” “Just write it without a scholarship.”  “Are you screwing with me, scumbag?” He wasn’t ready for a reaction like that. He got upset and started rambling. That’s when I learned, performance doesn’t count.

LACI              I worked my way up on the pyramid scheme racket, and starting from there, I acquired everything. My girl was the first to ever oppose me in anything. The hell with her.

MERYL          I’m a strong gal. I carry it in my genes. My grandmother lived to be 93, and just like me, she never exercised at all. I have no patience for cynicism, excessive criticism, and demands of any nature. I lost the will to please those who do not like me, to love those who do not love me, and to smile at those who don’t want to smile at me. I no longer spend a single minute on those who lie or want to manipulate. I do not get along with those who do not know how to give a compliment or a word of encouragement. Exaggerations bore me, and I have difficulty accepting those who do not like animals. And on top of everything, I have no patience for anyone who doesn’t earn my patience.

ATTILA         Hi, Teó, why didn’t you tell me you broke up with Laura?

TEÓ               What’s up?

ATTILA         Are you asleep?

TEÓ               I was sleeping.

ATTILA         I saw her hand in hand with some dude on the riverbank.

TEÓ               What kind of dude?

ATTILA         A little bald on top, a gray-haired dude.

TEÓ               If he was gray and balding, he’s no longer a dude. It was her dad.

ATTILA         Didn’t her father die?

LAURA          Leave it.

TEÓ               I had no idea you’d be holding hands.

LAURA         What?

TEÓ               It’s okay he’s your husband, but holding his hand?

LAURA         He grabbed mine. What could I do?

TEÓ               Let go.

LAURA         Leave it!

TEÓ               I’m going over there.

LAURA         Leave it alone. Can’t you hear?

TEÓ               I’m going to off him, can you hear that? Hello?!

ATTILA         Hello?

VINCE           I found a notebook.

ATTILA         And?

VINCE           It was mom’s.

ATTILA         Where did you find it? Where, you hear me?

VINCE           In a box. The box.

ATTILA         Who gave you permission?

VINCE           What a lying dude you are!

ATTILA         Young man, if someone’s gray and balding, he’s no longer a dude.

VINCE           Why didn’t you tell us?

ATTILA         Would it have mattered?

VINCE           It still matters.

ATTILA         What are you doing back at home, anyway? Why aren’t you working?

VINCE           I’m just thinking.

ATTILA         You’d better think about starting a family. If you two continue like this, we’re going to go the way of the House of Árpád. [Hungarian dynasty of kings that died out around 1300]

VINCE           We won’t die out. Relax. Teo’s gonna have a kid.

ATTILA         Then that must be why Laura met her father.

VINCE           Are you stupid? What father? Laura’s whole family’s died off.

MÁRIA           When my first husband died... I sat at home, not understanding why the world didn’t end. I felt I had a mark on me, a sentence. He left one morning and didn’t come back, that’s all. There was a keen silence in the room. The postman came. I signed. “Have a nice day.” I looked out the window, and then I realized that we had no money. I had no money. I had to borrow for the funeral. Out went the letters. “Could somebody help? Naturally, I’ll pay it back in a couple of months.” I found the funeral crude. The priest yawned when he thought no one was looking… I wanted to sob, “You lowlife!” Someone laughed, because sometimes grief makes people laugh. With the corpses below the earth and the living up above, whee, we’re on top of the world, because our hearts are still beating! Now the deadline for the plot is coming up. I have to renew the rights. How many years should I renew it for? Because, the next time it expires, I may no longer be here. I made a vow that there will always be enough money in my account to cover my funeral.  

TEÓ               What the hell? Is there some front? Is that why everyone’s calling?

VINCE           Fuck, Teó, mom committed suicide.

TEÓ               What?

VINCE           I said it.

TEÓ               She was ill.

VINCE           I found it in her diary.

TEÓ               And?

VINCE           It’s in there. Written down.

LAURA         When’s the last time you were out with people?

TEÓ               What counts as people?

LAURA         Today?

TEÓ               Four or five days ago. Or maybe a week. I don’t know.

LAURA         Did you speak to anyone?

TEÓ               I’m speaking to you now.

LAURA         Anyone else.

TEÓ               No one contacted me.

LAURA         You need to find work.

TEÓ               I have some, but I don’t give a shit. Railway Man. The State Railroad called me. That I have to draw Railway Man. And another company wanted a logo. I waited two months, and then I drew three lines. They jumped for joy. “This is fucking great!” They thought I’d spent two months on it. I want to be sick. It’s great being sick. Then, you can say, “I’m sick”, and there’s no questions asked. If I had cancer, people would see me differently. This is like that, isn’t it? It’s the same. Exactly the same. It cripples me, it takes my strength and all my will to live.

LAURA         You’ve lost weight. Your leg.

TEÓ               I lie in bed all day. I barely sleep. At most, I go to the toilet. Of course, the muscles wear down. It looks just like when they took the cast off after six weeks. Even the color’s the same.

LAURA         This is not healthy.

TEÓ               Why? Is what you’re doing healthy? Or what others do? The way I hear my neighbor sneezing, is that healthy? They can hear me farting back.

LAURA         Do you eat regularly?

TEÓ               Yeah, Red Bull.

LAURA         I’m sick of you always snapping back at me.

TEÓ               Believe me, I’m much more sick of myself.

LAURA         We can’t go on meeting.

TEÓ               What you mean we can’t?

LAURA         Not this way.

TEÓ               Is there someone?

LAURA         You mean besides my husband? No, no way.

TEÓ               You sure?

LAURA         Sadly.

TEÓ                Going. All going somewhere. The people. Where are they going? I get on the bus. The trip is 15 minutes. I’m sweating like a pig. It’s withdrawal. I recognize it. From the station to my door, that’s another 3 minutes. If I meet someone, I have to greet them. Greetings, and then rush to the door. To the drawer like a flash. In the drawer is the Frontin. I pop 3 Frontin and sleep like a baby. I’m no longer aware that I’m on this earth. Now it’s not enough that I’m sweating, I get the runs. It must be from all the pills. My stomach and my guts are all screwed up. Going. All going somewhere. I graduated 13 years ago. At the time, I didn’t even consider what the good of it was or the sense of it all. For 13 years, I only shit my pants over whether I got to school on time, or whether I’d learned the material. But no one tells you, “Get ready, because one day it may occur to you – the point of this whole game – and if you’re unprepared, you’ll be shaken up and everything will turn upside down.” No one talked about that, just the fucking scoldings – that you have to be on time, because then you’ll be a fine person and successful. I get up in the morning, I lie down at night; and in between, I’m happy if strangers and the people I know just leave me alone. I sit on the bus. There’s a traffic jam. It’s certain I’m gonna shit myself. I’m mad at my parents for putting me in this world. I can finally say it. I’m mad at my mom for leaving me here. Laura’s always asking...

LAURA         Teó, who are you so angry with? Who hurt you, so you have so much anger inside?

TEÓ               I didn’t ask to be born.

LAURA         No one did.

TEÓ               Show me.

VINCE           There’s a bunch of pages missing.

TEÓ               Where are they?

ATTILA         I threw them out.

TEÓ               And why not these?

ATTILA         Sometimes I read from it.

TEÓ               And it’s better and nicer this way, huh? Now there’s nothing in it you don’t like.

VINCE           Why’d you rip them out, dad?

ATTILA         I don’t know.

TEÓ               Of course, you do.

VINCE           And did you know she did it on purpose?

ATTILA          Do you even know what it’s like? Getting smaller and smaller and feeling like you’re a burden on everyone.

TEÓ               Was mom a burden on you?

ATTILA          Of course, she wasn’t! But she didn’t feel that. She decided to end it, so you two wouldn’t remember her as some comatose vegetable.

TEÓ               I don’t want to live, either.

ATTILA         You’re not sick. You’re just a self-pitying bastard.

VINCE           Teó, don’t be stupid.

TEÓ               Self-pitying?

ATTILA          A nonfunctional bastard. Is this how you’re going to behave in front of your kid? Pissing and moaning over everything? Laura’s going to have two children at once.

VINCE           Stop it! Teó!

TEÓ               I hate you!

ATTILA         You think I don’t know?

TEÓ               I grab the chair and throw it at him.

ATTILA         You know what I tore out? The part about Zoli. [ZOH-lee, nickname for   Zoltán] I burned it.