Daniela Kapitáňová

Samko Tále’s Cemetery Book

translated by Julia Sherwood

Reprinted with permission of Garnett Press.

The Second Cemetery Book

This is the second time I’ve become a writer because I’ve already been a writer once. That time I wrote the first Cemetery Book. Today I’ve become a writer again because it’s raining, and when it’s raining I can’t collect cardboard, because it’s raining. But the most important thing is that my handcart is in the workshop, because my rear-view mirror has been broken off, and I don’t know how to fix it because you need special tools etc. to fix it and I can’t do that, because I haven’t got them. My rear-view mirror has never ever been broken off before, though I’ve had my handcart for twenty-eight years, because I’m hard-working and people respect me for being hard-working.

The workshop is on the Island and it’s got special tools. The man who fixes things with his special tools is called Ján Boš-Mojš and the funny thing about him is that every time he says his name, Ján Boš-Mojš, he doesn’t say it, he sort of sings it like this: Ján Boš-Mojš. He sings his name to a sort of Ján Boš-Mojš tune. But apart from that he is hard-working and people respect him, because he has a son who is very ill with elypsy, and Ján Boš-Mojš has to look after him because elypsy is the sort of illness where you have to be looked after.

His son’s name is Ján Boš-Mojš Junior.

They’re both in my notebook, because I have three notebooks. One is called Christian Names, the other one is called Surnames and the third one is called Died. That’s where I write down everyone I know, because if I didn’t write down everyone I know, how would I know who I know, right?


I’ve got Ján Boš-Mojš and Ján Boš-Mojš Junior in my Surnames notebook down under the letter B and also under the letter M, because you never know what’s what and why and how.


I’ve got lots of first names in my Christian Names Notebook. Mostly they’re Peters. I’ve got thirty-one Peters, except that one of them writes his name like this: Petr and that’s the Czech way of writing it but I’ve got him down as Peter anyway because he’s not a Czech, he’s a Hungarian. The thing is, when he was born, the person in charge of writing people’s names in the Documents left out the second E, but that was when we still had Czechoslovakia so it was OK to write it that way: Petr, but it’s not OK to write it like that now, and he’d be hauled up for that, because in proper Slovak you have to write it like this: Peter. Or else change it.

Because that’s the law.

The best time to be a writer is when it’s raining because that’s when I can’t collect cardboard anyway because that’s when that idiot Krkan from Recycling won’t take it, because he says it’s wet, but he will take it from other people even when it’s wet, that idiot Krkan. He takes it from other people like that Gypsy rat-woman Angelika Édesová, and he takes it from her even if hers is wet. But I know what’s going on. What’s going on is that when that rat-woman Angelika Édesová comes in, he puts up a note saying ‘Back soon’ but he’s never back soon because he locks himself in the Recycling Office with that rat-woman Angelika Édesová and does sexual things with her. That’s why he takes it from her even when it’s wet and he won’t take it from me when it’s wet, but that’s his problem. He’ll see. He’ll get reported and he’ll be in big trouble for that. But I don’t care, because I’m hard-working and I can always find something to do, for example now I’m a writer.

The reason why it’s hard to be a writer is because it makes your hand hurt. Except that I have to be a writer because when I had my fortune told it said:

“Will write the Cemetery Book.”

It was old Gusto Rúhe who told my fortune and what he said was this: ‘Will write the Cemetery Book. But he is an alcoholic because he lives on alcohol and he smells really awful, because he often wets himself. Anyway.

He’s always sitting in front of the Pub by the Railway Station and he urinates into the Floral Display, and when he tells fortunes he spits, burps and slurps all over the place because he thinks that’s the law for fortune-telling.

Old Gusto Rúhe tells fortunes like this:

He tells fortunes due to a Moonstone.

Moonstone is a kind of stone that’s yellow and almost transparent, because you can see right through it. Its name is Moonstone. I haven’t got it down in my Surnames Notebook because it’s a stone and I don’t even know if that’s its real name, or if old Gusto Rúhe just made it up. It’s cold when you touch it. When you’re having your fortune told you have to hold the Moonstone until it gets all warmed up. And then, when it’s warmed up so that it’s all warm, you give it back to old Gusto Rúhe. And when he’s done with all his burping and whatever, he writes your fortune on the tarmac with a piece of chalk like they have at school. This is what he wrote for me:

“Will write the Cemetery Book.”

But old Gusto Rúhe is an alcoholic and he’d write any old rubbish in the world for an alcoholic drink, just to make people believe that his fortune telling is for real and to make them buy him an alcoholic drink because he is an alcoholic, even though it’s not good for you and it damages your organs.

I gave him some Cat’s Tongue chocolate for telling my fortune, but old Gusto Rúhe got really angry and started shouting that I would come to a bad end, and that frightened me, because even if old Gusto Rúhe is just making it up, it really happened once for real that he put a spell on Erik Rak. When I’m done writing this, I’ll write about him putting a spell on Erik Rak. But because he once put a really bad spell on Erik Rak, I decided to buy him an alcoholic drink. And then old Gusto Rúhe calmed down and he was calm again. And he stopped all his burping and slurping and spitting and wrote the word Boy on the tarmac.

The thing is I hate it when people call me Boy, because I’m not a boy, I’m nearly forty-four years old and people respect me because I’m hard-working, even though I don’t need to work because I have a disability pension due to my kidneys, and I have another illness as well that has a proper name, but that illness has nothing to do with my disability pension, I just have it. My disability pension has gone up quite a lot because people respect me.


People keep on asking me all the time to do deliveries in my handcart and when they ask me I do deliveries, even though I’m not supposed to lift heavy things, because it’s very bad for me. I have to take good care regarding my health because I have a disability pension, so I have to keep healthy because if I’m not healthy I could get ill and that would be very dangerous.

That’s why I have a healthy life of style and I take plenty of exercise out in the fresh air and I only have a light supper in the evening.

My hands and feet don’t swell up. In wintertime I wear thermal underpants. One pair of my thermal underpants is called Panther and another one is called Trikota. The underpants called Panther have an animal called a panther embroidered on the leg. The underpants called Trikota don’t have an animal embroidered on them.

People have to lift heavy things by themselves because I’m not allowed to do so by law, so I don’t care, even if they beg me. When we still had the Communist Party, I was nearly the only person in Komárno doing deliveries, but now the Communist Party’s gone and some shops deliver things, too. But back then it was only me and a few other people.

Another reason why some people call me Boy is because I’m not very tall because I didn’t grow very much, because I have this illness that has a proper name and with this illness you never have to shave and you don’t grow. But I don’t need to grow anyway because I’m nearly forty-four years old and nobody in the world grows when they’re nearly forty-four, right?


The thing is, even though I haven’t grown like everyone else in the world, it was me they picked to recite the Young Pioneer’s Oath for the whole class, because I was normal just like everyone else and I still am, because I’m no retard and I went to a normal school, not a Special School for retards, because I’m no retard. That’s why I was chosen to recite the Young Pioneer’s Oath.

The Young Pioneer’s Oath is beautiful.

I recited the Young Pioneer’s Oath on stage at the Cultural Centre in Komárno, and it was just me on my own reciting it for the whole class, and I can still remember every word of the Young Pioneer’s Oath. Nobody else remembers it any more, even though they went on to lots of different schools but I do, because I remember everything, because I’ve got I.Q.

My Grandfather, whom we used to call Grandaddy, went with me to take the Young Pioneer’s Oath because when he found out that nobody else wanted to go with me he got angry and said that the High Ups would find out and that those who didn’t go would get into big trouble. That’s why he went with me so that he wouldn’t get into big trouble.

When the Young Pioneer’s Oath was over, we went to a café together with Karol Gunár (PhD Social Sciences) and his daughter Darinka Gunárová.

I saw Darinka Gunárová yesterday.

Grandaddy invited us to the café, because I was the one they picked to recite the Young Pioneer’s Oath, and that was a big thing, so we all went to the café and had all sorts of fizzy drinks and pastries.

But the worst problem was that my Young Pioneer’s scarf wasn’t really red. It was sort of orange. The good thing was that it didn’t crease and its corners didn’t fray. But it wasn’t like all the other Young Pioneers’ scarves in our class. I still have it because I keep it wrapped up in a napkin in a box and sometimes I think about it a lot. Like why it wasn’t really red, but sort of orange. Then again, it didn’t need ironing. But it wasn’t like all the other Young Pioneer’s scarves in the world.

Grandmummy said that she would make me a Young Pioneer’s scarf that was really red and would crease and have corners that frayed if I wanted one, but I got frightened that Grandmummy might do something that wasn’t allowed, because back then you couldn’t just make your own Young Pioneer’s scarf because it wasn’t allowed. Because then anyone could have made themselves a Young Pioneer’s scarf, or even two, and that would have been quite out of order. Because then some person who had never been a Young Pioneer in their life could have had his own Young Pioneer’s scarf and that would have been a total disaster.

The thing is, Grandmummy was a tailor regarding men’s clothes and that’s why she thought that she was allowed to make Young Pioneers’ scarves.

We used to call our grandparents Grandmummy and Grandaddy, but only at home because it would have been weird to call them Grandmummy and Grandaddy in front of other people, because I don’t know anybody else in the world or in Komárno who’s called Grandmummy or Grandaddy. Because that’s in German and we’re in Slovakia.

But Grandmummy and Grandaddy were not German because they were in Slovakia, except that Grandmummy’s grandmother was Hungarian and her name was Eszter Csonka, meaning that she had a Hungarian name too. And nobody liked that.

I didn’t like it, either.

Grandmummy used to read German detective stories and she read them in German, except that she had to wrap them up in newspaper because Grandaddy was scared that they would get into trouble, because those detective stories came from a woman who had gone to Germany for emigration. The stories were called Allan Wilton. They were in magazines. They had covers too. The covers had lots of different photographs with lots of different people in them. I used to look at the photographs until Grandaddy said that they had to be wrapped up in newspaper regarding unvisibility. Grandmummy always used to tell me all about Allan Wilton and what he was up to, because he was a detective. I loved him because he always solved everything and he was very modest too. He was especially modest regarding women.

Sometimes the photos were in colour. But I couldn’t understand them in colour either because I don’t speak German because I don’t have time for such silly things. I can speak Slovak because I’m a Slovak and I can speak Hungarian because I’ve learned it because I’ve got I.Q., even though you’re not supposed to do that, because this is Slovakia.

© Mullek and Sherwood