Frigyes Karinthy

Mrs. Buxbaum the Tree


But he didn’t die. The bullet had been removed from his stomach, the rope had been unwound from his neck as from a spool; the tram had stopped dead a few inches away; and the life-saver diving after him had caught him like a ball in mid air. In the hospital he behaved himself in an exemplary fashion: he did not pull faces at the bars, made no resistance under the shower, and only once was he obstinate with the doctor by insisting on being given cotton wool because, he said, his lungs rubbed against his ribs and hurt him. He also demanded sandpaper but never said what for.


He caught sight of the tree in the third week during the morning walk. At first he showed little interest in it, ignored it, pursed up his lips, did not go near it, turned his face away. Then, once, he accidentally trod on one of its roots.

“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t see.”


Later he stood before it, hands clasped behind him, and looked at it with a sideways appraising look, slightly sarcastic.

“A nice tree,” said the doctor, who was watching him.

“Yes,” he said dryly, “a nice plump tree. Very pleasant. You like it?”

And, slyly, he smiled at the doctor.


‘It’s a very nice tree indeed,” he said the next day.

From then on he spent much of his time down in the garden. He walked up and down the paths with backward looks. He eyed the doctor sullenly; then of a sudden caught hold of a smaller branch of the tree, drew it to himself, and kissed its tip. Coyly and coquettishly the tree pulled itself away.


For a few days he slept badly, woke up in the morning dazed and pale, dark rings around his eyes. Sometimes he sneaked out into the garden at night. In the morning he looked at the tree with veiled eyes, smiling mysteriously.

“Oh, these trip-me-up roots!” he said playfully.

And, panting, he hugged the tree.


“Autumn will be early this year,” said the doctor. “The leaves are already falling.”

He looked at the doctor with piercing eyes.

“Yes, they’re falling too soon,” he said emphatically. “And look—there’s no resin . . . it’s not flowing. Very peculiar . . . And the growth-rings round the eyes. . .”

Occasionally he would glance suddenly and with a look of hatred towards a corner of the garden where another, doddery tree was standing. He turned away as if offended.

“That’s an apple tree over there, too,” said the doctor.

“I know,” he said shortly. “Poor devil. What do I care? Why doesn’t he look out? One should look after one’s wife.”

And whistling provocatively, he swaggered past that other tree; cutting it dead he trod on its root.


“It’ll soon be bearing fruit, I think,” the doctor said.

“So it will,” he said with a patronizing air. “And what do you think about it?”

“Think about what?”

“Well, do you think it’ll resemble me?”

“The fruit of the apple tree resembles the apple,” the doctor said didactically “This is an apple tree. It’s like that other one over there in the corner. That is an apple tree, too.”

He gave a loud, sarcastic laugh.

“Do you think so? Just because the one over there in the corner is an apple tree, the fruit of this one will be like an apple?

Well, we’ll wait and see.”


“We’ll see whom it’ll resemble, doctor.”

It was autumn, and in the morning the garden was dark and damp.

“Doctor, you'd better have a cradle made,” he said. “It’ll be needed soon, I expect.”

“All right,” the doctor agreed and called up Ward D to ask if they had a vacancy because somebody had to be transferred from Ward C.


One morning the doctor woke up at six and as he yawned it crossed his mind that the apple tree was likely to have borne edible fruit by then and he would go down and look.

He saw him at once. Hanging among the leaves, somewhat shrunk, turned green already. Indeed it bore a resemblance to his patient.

The doctor shook his head and cut the body down. Then he telephoned for a cradle to be brought, made of boards.

SOURCE: Karinthy, Frigyes. “Mrs. Buxbaum the Tree” (Buxbaumné, a fa), translated by László András T., in Grave and Gay: Selections from His Work, selected by István Kerékgyárto, afterword by Károly Szalay, binding and jacket by István Bányai, 2nd ed., (Budapest: Corvina Press, 1973), pp. 198-200.

"Frigyes Karinthy, Humorist and Thinker"
by Miklós Vajda

Frigyes & Ferenc Karinthy in English

Frigyes (Frederiko) Karinthy (1887-1938) en Esperanto

Futurology, Science Fiction, Utopia, and Alienation
in the Work of Imre Madách, György Lukács, and Other Hungarian Writers:
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Sándor Szathmári (1897-1974): Bibliografio & Retgvidilo / Bibliography & Web Guide

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