Frigyes Karinthy

Two Games

I remember very clearly how I played on my own as a child without playmates and without toys, by myself, almost in a trance, oblivious of everything else, mesmerized, blind and deaf, utterly given up to the perilous intoxication of the game, the obsession of the game, the madness of the game. There is no more sacred drunkenness than that. I was a steed, nervous and snorting, with a golden bit in my mouth, and I stood stubbornly, my head down, pawing the ground impatiently. Or I was a steam engine, with dangerously red eyes of fire; my two fists were pistons, panting, pushing, screaming through the air, my lungs the boiler, blowing away, and smoke rose from my head.

Or I worked as an automaton, a machine bewitched, not for the whole world would I move unless someone wound me up first. A speaking machine spoke within me, a crying machine started off my tears, every bit of me only sprang into action when a button was pressed.

I was a sailing ship, silently gliding along Damjanich Street; in broad daylight I followed the course of the stars, a compass in my right hand, the steering wheel in my left. Carriages and people were so many sandbanks and rocks, Scylla and Charybdys, all dangers to be avoided with dexterity in order to fetch up triumphantly in harbour, in front of our house! I was the leader of the red ants, or a weathercock turning on the roof, I was a marathon runner or a flypaper, a dragon blowing fire and a signaling lamp, a sugar cone in winter, and a burrowing mole in summer. What an architect I was, I built whole cities underground, and what an animal tamer and chicken trainer I was. I taught cats to swim and fish to walk. What a miraculous being I was! Did you know that it was me who invented the aeroplane? Long before Blériot and Wright I rode the wind over Buda Castle, turning, higher and higher, proudly looking down on the gaping multitudes below.

Who now remembers the way I was when I was thirteen, scurrying along side-walls, thin and green-eyed, slapping the fence, sometimes skipping along, head aloft, sometimes trudging silently along, eyes cast down, arms crossed on my chest, as if marble boots were dragging my feet and some heavy weight were on my head. And who remembers me when, pale but head high, arms behind my back, I moved forward, slowly, very slowly, but with determination, with some sort of otherworldly pride of my transfigured face?

Now I can talk about my two most secret games and speak about them to those who used to turn round and look at me with surprise. Now I can say why I didn't look at them, why I didn't see them at all at such times.

I couldn't look at them, I couldn't see them because at that moment I was the centre of a great crowd. In the first game I was, a king. Heralds on white high-prancing horses marched before, me, raising their trumpets to their lips. Then followed the peers of the realm, knights in armour and councillors in their robes. Stands on both side, flags waving, pushing and elbowing crowds held back by barriers. That is how I entered the conquered city. Vienna today, perhaps London tomorrow. We are on the way, to the palace, at the head of my army. The queen waves from a balcony.

It was at times like these that I walked with a quiet, composed face, a benevolent smile and arms crossed on my chest, modestly and submissively as if going to church.

I liked the other game better, and I played it more often. This time too I walked between a mob held back by barriers. This time the mob roared and boiled over with imprecations. An iron chain bound my hands behind my back. Someone held it on each side, the executioner, all in red, walked in front of me. The place of execution was not far ahead, you could see the block standing high. As we came closer the growling died down, a paralysing fear gripped all hearts and squeezed all throats. Eyes dilated, mouths wide open with fear, they stare at me as, slowly, calmly, alone, I go on and on. Horror paralyses every muscle, feet are rooted to the spot, and in a black, deathly silence evil cowers, eyes abashed, whilst I, left to myself, march forward slowly and steadily, I who am conscience itself, condemned to death.

That's when, as a boy of thirteen, I walked along the street pale, head raised high, slowly, very slowly, with a sort of otherworldly pride on my transfigured face.

SOURCE: Karinthy, Frigyes. “Two Games” (Két játék), translated by Rudolf Fischer, 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. 190-192.

"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:
Select Bibliography

Sándor Szathmári (1897-1974): Bibliografio & Retgvidilo / Bibliography & Web Guide

Board Games & Related Games & Recreations: Web Guide

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