The Mezzanine is the story of an unnamed protagonist, a man only known as “the following undersigned S.P.” an “an ex-antique seller, hotel owner and, in the past, never a prominent inhabitant of Ghent” who is busily at work writing his “denunciation,” a manuscript meant to clarify how he has reached his horrible state of degradation. It is a work that makes apparent many of Kachtitsis’s precursors: Kafka, Conrad, Dostoevsky, Joyce, even Proust, are all influences; Greek writers that also appear to have been of great influence, and little-known, unfortunately, outside of Greece, are Alexandros Papadiamantis, E.H. Gonatas, and Nikos Gabriel Pentzikis; the last two authors, in particular, sharing an affinity with Kachtitsis’s explorations of interiority, dream-like landscapes, the inner workings of the mind, and shifting states of consciousness.
This chapter, one that is representative of our narrator’s penchant for circumlocution, paranoia, and evasiveness, we find S.P. describing a journey he undertook in order to (possibly?) escape his ongoing guilt, only to find that escape is clearly an impossibility. The chapter also alludes to an incident at the mezzanine of the Atlantic Hotel, the scene for the pivotal (non) event that acts as the missing center for the entirety of the novella. This (non) event is the empty circle around which the actions of the novella revolve, an empty space that, to me, illustrates S.P.’s impossibility in dealing with the world around him.
This translation from Nikos Kachtitsis’s The Mezzanine is accompanied by George Fragopoulos’s introductory essay. That piece can be found here.
It has been a long time since I last wrote all this; and it has been an even longer time since it all actually came to be. Every moment has passed with but one thought in mind: what will become of me. It is this thought which finds me wherever I may be; it even finds me when I am sleeping, my mind stubbornly fixated on that one thought.
Nothing has occurred to ameliorate my disquietude; unless we consider beneficent a period of time when I made an anxious, monotonous, and exhausting journey to the innermost heart of the country starting off by train, and continuing further on by river-boat. Everything done in vain, my future coalesced into a single image: I would have been more cheerful, had I been dragged to the gallows, and I cursed the moment I undertook the trip. If only it were possible for such lamenting to bring something like relief . . . Firstly, I had no idea what I was looking for—neither did I know where I was going, and why. I continuously spoke of taking the train back, but something made me hesitate. I was trapped in a vacuum, an amnesiac to my own condition. Some nebulous presence seemed to have tormented me. It was as if I was commanded to wander aimlessly from place to place, being deprived of the right to return home if I wanted to—regardless of the fact that I didn’t want to. Out of stinginess, I also made the unforgivable mistake not to be accompanied by a servant, and the perpetual opening and closing of the suitcase proved a complete torture. It suffices to say that for a period of time, I kept the same dirty garments on—I could care less who I would encounter—simply to avoid opening my suitcase. I’ve always had the defect of overstaying my welcome, and then I become delirious, realizing I have to pack.
As for the landscapes that would admittedly enthuse even the most demanding of observers (they were beautiful), I showed not an iota of interest. Something made me retreat to the four walls of my room, drawn ever closer to my dark thoughts. I was assailed by my old mania of comparing such vistas to those of my homeland. I must confess, nostalgia is taking hold of me. I imagine certain deserted places without my presence. And the thought that I shall never see them again troubles me. If I wasn’t in such bad shape, I would travel there once again. This time, I would make the best of every moment—unlike last time when I was always in hiding. Most disconcertingly, my mind often takes imaginary flights over some verdant landscapes, particularly over a section with waterfalls.
The return from this trip was marked by similar afflictions: staying in mold-ridden hotel rooms, bedbugs performed exsanguinations on me. I haven’t mentioned it, but it is true. I was on alert every night, holding a pump of mosquito repellent in hand. I won’t persist on the issue, since Africa is filled with such bugs. In my private cabin on the train, I had to remind myself that I was not on a return trip to a prison (as I ironically told myself, hallucinating the most abject of jails, those very same images that came to mind directly following the war when I took shelter in a hotel room) but to my very own property, complete with all the most comfortable amenities and my devoted servants; and that the worst that could happen to me was death, with which I have come to terms a long time ago. Everything else is trivial after such a realization.
I uttered many such comforting words to myself. The hours never ending, the train moving at a crawl. However, as the train moved into the city and the afternoon’s sunlight, mixing with the train’s smoke, penetrated through the gaps of the flimsy blinds, I was troubled to no end by the thought that I would have to disembark at the train station, right across from the hotel’s yard. I had a stroke of luck, I encountered no one at that time (it was around 2:30), while a carriage, which was waiting for me after I had sent a telegram asking for one right before the train departed, picked me up at the station’s door before anyone from the hotel could lay eyes upon me. I ordered the driver to take me through the Black districts, keeping me far from the headquarters (far from those white walls, which I nonetheless glimpsed from a distance), avoiding the cemetery, and other familiar streets.
It’s superfluous to add that during the entire journey on the train, as well as in the various hotels, I avoided even the slightest human contact, except in cases where it was utterly necessary. Generally speaking, I no longer have any encounters with people—I mean here, where I find myself. As far as food goes, almost nothing; I survive through decoctions. I no longer read: it is impossible for me to concentrate. It’s a shame that, when I first arrived here and we used to have our nightly card games and get-togethers, I thought I could isolate myself in order to read. I possess large tomes with the pages still uncut. And consider this, reader, that I stayed locked up in my own little environment—except for the rare and lonely walks I often take, primarily in the morning, to the other side of the jungle where the sound of moving feet are nowhere to be found, and where the possibility of running into another human being is nil. I have yet to pass by the cemetery—although, with the imaginative walks my mind takes to its gardens (if one could describe its green mass as such), it is as if I spend most of my hours there. I’ve meditated on this subject for a long time; I’ve even burrowed underneath the earth, like a worm, into the moist soil.
* * *
Previously, I wrote about my walks in the jungle. I’ve uncovered some shadowy regions where there is absolute silence, and isolation. I have made it a habit to go there often, I dress up as if I am going to pay someone a visit. Without my realizing it, I have developed a certain sympathy (I could call it mania too, but I cling to the word sympathy in order to avoid tenderness) for some timid tiny flowers, unknown to me until now, and unfortunately inodorous, which manage to survive in a quasi-alive state underneath certain tremendous mushrooms, ferns and lichens, which I despise as if they were actual humans. Once I brush them aside, having stepped on them with complete apathy, I bend down to my knees and with a flashlight, the same one that I used to use to determine the authenticity of certain rare objects in auctions, observe the tiny flowers from up close. With a considerable amount of paper from the time I used to accumulate supplies of just about everything, as if I were preparing to live on Noah’s arc, I made an album in which I symmetrically pressed flowers, those that bring me bliss. Having little knowledge in regards to botany, I have given them names of my own invention, names that remind me of certain perfumes.
But I stress: these are simple superficialities. I’m thinking if anyone were to observe my movements, which seem to be those of an absentminded hypochondriac, they would consider all these things as patchworks; minor habits to keep at bay all the things that besiege me. I know I’m defeated; all my actions are simply procrastinations. Such are my thoughts while standing beside my window, looking out at the constantly moving waters of the Wouri River, reminiscing about a past that will never come again. I am very preoccupied with the past. Despite the fact that I don’t do it on purpose, it does help to alleviate the pressures of today. There comes a moment, however, when I realize it is impossible to assuage the suffering that such fatal reminiscing brings. Wracked by guilt, I do everything in my power to erase from my thoughts that time of my life. But then, inexorably, the present arrives to further annihilate me. Because, as I’ve said before, I am not able to escape. Who would believe it if I said that since that morning on the mezzanine, I have lived with a fear of the night, that in the dark, with satanic glee and enjoyment, certain fingers will tickle the soles of my feet as they shoot out from beneath my bed sheets . . . True, this has never occurred; however, with all I have lived through, it is as if it happens every night.
If only this was all I had to cope with, I would endure it. I hear whispers in my ears even when walking around those quiet landscapes that I have described. As long as I am distracted by something—flowers, daydreams of the past—they don’t bother me. But once I become conscious of my own existence, the whispers begin again, along with the guilt. When I say whispers, I mean sounds like death rattles, inarticulate grunts that I can make no sense of, even though I suspect they are almost turning into words. I’m certain that were I able to overcome my fear, the very same fear that follows me everyday, I would reach some conclusions. I hear them uttering inside my ears, banging on my eardrums, with a hollow and rather confidential tone.
They sound like:
Hráh, hroúh, hré, hréh, gréh, fréh, vréh. Vré.
Froúh, kroúh, groúh, gráh.
Gráaaa, hráaa, kráaa, fráaa, vráaa.
Fréee, hréee, gréee. Gréee, Gréee, gréee. Fré.
Hré, hréh. Fráh. Fréh.
Hráh, hráh, hráh. Gréh.
The first time I heard them was after the events at the mezzanine of the hotel. I was at a deserted area that leads to the perfumery; I have yet to set foot near those grounds. I had come out for a walk after many days of complete isolation and fasting. At some point, I was overcome with the urge to turn my thoughts inward, to fix my eyes towards the heights of the evergreen trees—and to say a prayer—where the sun scattered its light in lines through the church windows. I had finished, and was ready to pull a flower from the ground, when I heard in my ears: Hrá, vrá, hrá, hré, etc. I ran to a tree like a miserable wretch, my back to it in order to save myself from further attack. They immediately ceased. They did not last long, only a matter of seconds, yet they seemed to to go on forever. The same thing happened to me in a hotel in the heart of the country, one night when, not being able to fall asleep due to the bed bugs, I got up for a moment facing through my window the darkened landscape. From that moment on, they have always remained with me.
George Fragopoulos lives in New York. He is currently writing his dissertation on modern American poetics. Lissi Athansiou Krikeli received an M.A. in TESOL from Teachers College, Columbia University, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center in the department of comparative literature. As a native Greek speaker, she combines her language expertise with her passion for literature in projects of translation.
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