Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Daniil Kharms | "The King, The Outlaw, and the Blacksmith"
THE KING, THE OUTLAW, AND THE BLACKSMITH
By Daniil Kharms
translated by Ilya Bernstein
“Why don’t we write a story?” said Vanya, taking out his notebook and putting it on the table.
“All right.” said Lenochka, sitting down next to him.
Vanya picked up a pencil and wrote, “Once upon a time, there was a king.”
Then Vanya stopped writing and started thinking. In the meantime, Lenochka peeked into his notebook and read what he had written.
“Hold on,” said Lenochka. “Everyone knows THAT story.”
“What story?” asked Vanya.
“You know... said Lenochka, “the one about the king who was in the middle of eating dessert, when he suddenly choked on a cookie. So the queen started hitting the king on the back to see if the cookie would budge. Only the king thought she was fighting so he hit her on the head with a glass. So the queen got really angry and hit the king with a dish. So the king hit the queen with a pot. So the queen hit the king with a chair. So the king jumped up and pushed over the table on top of her. But the queen crawled out from under the table and pushed over the cupboard on top of him. But the king crawled out from under the cupboard and threw his crown at the queen. But the queen pulled the king by the beard and threw him out the window. But the king came right back through a different window and pushed the queen into the oven. But the queen crawled up the chimney, climbed out on the roof, shimmied down a drainpipe, and came in again through the window. Meanwhile, the king was busy trying to light the oven. The queen sneaked up behind the king—and pushed the king into the oven. And the king fell right in and got burned to a crisp. That’s the whole story.”
“What a dumb story!” said Vanya. “I wanted to write something totally different.”
“So?” said Lenochka. “Write!”’
Vanya picked up the pencil and wrote, “Once upon a time, there was an outlaw.”
“Hold it!” shouted Lenochka. “I’ve heard that story too.”
“Really?” asked Vanya.
“Sure,” said Lenochka. “It’s all about this outlaw who was escaping from the jail guards and jumped on a horse, but missed the saddle and came crashing down on the ground. The outlaw shook his fist at the horse and jumped up again, but again missed the saddle and came crashing down on the ground. The outlaw got up off the ground, cursed three times in a row, and jumped up again, but again missed the saddle and came crashing down on the ground. This time the outlaw pulled out his gun, fired three shots in the air, and jumped up once more, but again missed the saddle and came crashing down on the ground. The outlaw threw his hat on the ground and jumped up and down on top it, and then jumped on the horse once again, but again missed the saddle, came crashing down on the ground, and broke his leg. That’s when the horse decided to move away from the outlaw. The outlaw ran up to the horse, limping, and gave it a whack on the head. Only now the horse just left. At this point, the jail guards arrived, caught the outlaw, and took him off to jail.”
“All right,” said Vanya. “So I won’t write about the outlaw.”
“So who ARE you going to write about?” asked Lenochka.
“I will write about a blacksmith,” said Vanya.
He picked up his pencil and wrote, “Once upon a time, there was a blacksmith.”
“Not so fast!” screamed Lenochka. “I know that one too!”
“Well?” said Vanya, putting his pencil down on the table.
“Well,” said Lenochka,” once upon a time, there was a blacksmith. And one day this blacksmith was hammering a horseshoe, when he raised his hammer so fast that the head of the hammer flew off the handle, went out the window, killed four pigeons, bounced off the water tower, broke a window in the mayor’s house, went through the mayor’s living room, where the mayor and his wife were playing checkers, broke another window in the mayor’s house, and flew outside. Then it tore down a street sign, knocked over a policeman, and bounced off the head of Professor Jonas Bagdonas, who had just stepped outside for a breath of fresh air. After bouncing off the head of Professor Jonas Bagdonas, the hammer-head started flying back in the opposite direction, knocked over the very same policeman for the second time in a row, swept a pair of scraggly cats off a roof, knocked over a cow, killed four sparrows, flew back into the smithy, and landed right back on the handle of the hammer which the blacksmith was still holding up in the air. All of this happened so fast that the blacksmith had no idea about any of it and just kept on hammering the horseshoe as if nothing had happened.”
“Fine,” said Vanya. “Forget the blacksmith. I have another idea. I’m going to write a story about myself.”
And Vanya picked up the pencil and wrote, “Once upon a time, there was a boy named Vanya.”
“But there already IS a story about Vanya,” said Lenochka. “Once upon a time, there was a boy named Vanya. One day, Vanya walked into—”
“WAIT!” cried Vanya. “I was going to write a story about MYSELF!”
“There’s already one about you, too,” said Lenochka.
“That can’t be,” said Vanya.
“Yes it can,” said Lenochka.
“Oh no it can’t,” said Vanya.
“Oh yes it can,” said Lenochka. “It’s called THE KING, THE OUTLAW, AND THE BLACKSMITH, and it’s all about you.”
Vanya went to the library, found a book called THE KING, THE OUTLAW, AND THE BLACKSMITH, and read it straight through from beginning to end.
But you already know what that book was about, because you have just read it yourself!
(c) Copyright, English language translation 2014 by Ilya Bernstein