In the beginning there was harmony. It so happened the seven-headed dragon had shed off his every mask, lilacs hung thick over the gardens, rainbows bridged the souls of men and from the barbecues a scent of fried sausages came wafting into the air. A man well over six feet tall stood leaning against the counter in the dead center of the plaza, ignoring the crowd entirely, his full beard streaked auburn and silver with grease and time. Gnawing on a crust of bread contemplatively, he dipped it in mustard, wheezing as he swallowed with a sip of zesty wine. Kálmán Czinege - it's him we see - was happy. For his daughters he'd bought china-faced dolls, for his wife a pair of Arabian shoes sewn from blackbird's hide, and for his little boy a handful of gray and red marbles that spilled forth from the eyes of a weeping Bohemian Jew. As for his mistress, well he was bringing her a book procured by an Armenian from Urfa. It was bound in fish scales, the off-white pages bearing dreams with a whiff of myrtle. Beside all of this, the cart was laden with two barrels of Tokaji wine, lard buckets, smoky juniper spirits, a bag of flour and some salt from the mines at Dés. His meditations are jarred by a mousy-faced little man smelling of cheese. He stands there beside him indifferently, keeping up a steady flow of plum brandy, the spectacles trembling on his nose, exuding an air of apologetic humility, except for the eyes. Looking up straight into Kálmán Czinege's raven-black pupils, that gaze seems to penetrate into and beyond the flesh and veins, numbing his head and decomposing his thoughts. It is a green gaze, scathingly green. Or yellow, like wild honey trickling in a field of rustling reeds. Maybe even gray, like the little cloud of Serb legend. The cloud that froze over Gorice some seven decades ago now, and nobody can wipe it from that damned sky, though the Emperor sent all his greatest scientists and loudest hucksters, and anyone else who was up for the job. But try as they might using curses, blessings, spells and hexes, the cloud wouldn't budge. It protested the clerical litanies, undaunted by the crucifix in Calvinist or papist hands, unfazed not only by the rabbi of Namény, but also a dervish of Adrianople called in under utmost secrecy and sworn by Muhammad's beard to be the best cloud clearer around.
As for these two, they don't talk much. Entranced, the big man follows after the little one, who keeps pouring brandy down his throat even as he walks. Leaving the marketplace along the butchers' street, bluebottles see them through the Cluj gate, up to the little wine-press house nestled in the Bishop's vineyards. Scrambling ahead, the short skinny man produces a rusty iron key from one pocket, fits it in the lock and gives it two turns to the right, two left, then two right again. The ritual opens the rickety wooden door, and the wind stirs a musty air right into their noses. Later on the bearded man swore by his own son's life there had been little potbellied hairyfaced fairies leading them up the mountain, singing and cursing and shouting obscenities he blushed to even think about let alone speak them out loud. The press house welcomed the newcomers with a beaten earth floor and candyfloss cobwebs. The two men stop to face each other. For minutes they are speechless, or not quite speechless, but speechless all the same. Meanwhile outside, time hurtles on, walnut trees fall, grapevines wither as maggots devour their roots, mortar shells crash, the city gates they'd walked through earlier are torn asunder by a bomb bearing a star insignia, various languages are outlawed, vicars abandon their churches, people are buried, their bones crumble to dust and out of living memory. At long last the little man heaves a sigh and reaches for a handkerchief, dabbing at his eyes as if in tears. Then clapping his hands, to Kálmán Czinege's utter amazement as the cloth fell to beaten earth, white smoke escaped the legs of his trousers as the smell of incense filtered through the cracks in the cellar walls. Snorting and sneezing like the burly man seems to just barely have escaped suffocation, probing himself as if to make sure he's still all there, finally exiting the press house and sitting on the moist ground outside. Legs shaking, heartbeat pulsing in his throat, he turns aside to vomit bile. Wiping his mouth he starts back to where he left the cart, never turning back as the wine press blurs to a mirage behind him, perhaps never real in the first place, as the soul stiffens, crusting over with traces of red wine and mint leaves. The bearded man's eyes cloud over with tears, falling thick and yellow and sweet as nectar, while he reaches for a flask in his pocket to collect them. Better safe than sorry. Could come in handy for a grippe remedy.