It was horror mingled with a strong feeling of disgust that overwhelmed him when he found out that he would be… a father. The horror was all the greater given that he did not expect such a thing in the least. He had become accustomed to the thought (since he had begun thinking about these matters at all) that one day his family line would end with him, that long chain whose two last links he had known: his grandfather, who had been bent over as though someone had pressed him down towards the ground, with all of his juices dried up, like a mummy, and his father, who had been a timid, passing shade that went from place to place quietly and cautiously, as though he were tolerated out of good will, and whose gaze always seemed to beg for mercy and forgiveness…

His body was created from the blood of those two sickly, exhausted, and degenerate people… He had perceived the degeneration of the family already in his grandfather, and he could see it to an even greater extent and more gravely in his father. In the last years of his life – at a time when his peers could still work with zest and strength – his father would sit for long periods in his armchair, huddled up with cold by the warm hearth, attended to like a child… Racked at the peak of his life by an insidious illness, he had coughed and spat out the last remnants of his health for two years before his death.

Whenever he thought of him, he always saw and sensed in his father’s end a portent of his own fate. And gray would suddenly flood his eyes and the mood of a November cemetery would flow into his soul – the weight of deadening, cold air full of the mold of withering and decaying vegetation… At thirty‑five they will bury me, he said to himself with mathematical accuracy, and he had become used to this idea of an early death, which had become a fixed idea for him, and he almost pampered himself with it, demanding a special regard for himself from those around him, the indulgence of a person destined to die… It was not horror that he felt for the disease that had afflicted his father, but a charm, the charm of the sad smile of winter suns immersed in delicate mists, the magic of everything languorous, exhausted, everything that burns from its final remains and that is extinguished, so soon, when there is no more oil to moisten the scorched wick, carbonized from burning coals.

And now this surprise… changing everything he had built his life on… a sign that he was not yet exhausted, that there was still a little bit of life and blood in him for a new person… for his child, the heir of his name and of his illness…


A piece of sick flesh in the feeble, withered skin of an old man, running from open wounds… the rotting body of a cripple poisoned by him, by his corrupted, foul blood… this appalling vision gripped, horrified, and tormented him from the day when he found out that he had given life, despite his expectations, to a new human being…

He shrank from his wife from the moment he noticed her pregnancy (her body smelled of some common, repulsive scent). He was disgusted by the sight of small children, tiny limbs, downy or bald heads; he avoided them, so as to have as little contact as possible with them. He abruptly cut short one of his colleagues, who was telling him about the obedience of his child (he had him trained like a nimble little dog), and he turned away from another, and, to the latter’s great astonishment, walked off in the opposite direction when he told him that he had just had a boy, weighing such and such and so many pounds.

“It’s amazing how fat the boy is,” he had been saying, indulging himself, “and just imagine, Hrdina’s boy weighed only…”

How disgusting! Weighing children like carps for the Christmas meal!


One day when he got home from the office, as soon as he entered the corridor he caught the irritatingly penetrating fragrance of chamomile intruding into every corner, and, in the kitchen, instead of his wife his mother‑in‑law greeted him with a smile that was meant to be kind.

“So, dear son‑in‑law, there we have it…” she was saying, opening her mouth and showing the yellow remains of her rotten, stinking teeth.

He was angry that they had sent for her. A repulsive woman, she has to have her fingers in everything! He hated her already for the “dear” with which she had addressed him. He hated her for the willingness with which she always tried to meet his demands. He hated her for the smile with which she always tried to make herself as pleasant as possible in his eyes.

His wife lay on the couch sighing and moaning.

“I know I won’t be able to bear it…” she kept saying, terrified.

“Be quiet, Eminka, don’t complain, just be patient…”

The servant ran through the rooms, looking for and checking on various things, following the orders of “the old madam.” The midwife came, for whom they had sent a bit prematurely, but she soon left again, promising, to appease them, that she would return in a short while, after she had gone somewhere else. She was fat and panted, out of breath, as she climbed the stairs.

He tried to work in order to calm down. He opened a book, hoping to continue his reading, but he couldn’t; he couldn’t grasp the meaning. He wanted to write, but his thoughts were unfocused. He walked from the living room to the study and then back to the kitchen again, got dressed several times to go out, but undressed again each time.

“You can’t sit still, dear son‑in‑law,” his mother‑in‑law said. “Are you going to have supper? I’d like to send you to the pub for supper.”

“No,” he interrupted her almost rudely. “I’m not thinking about that at all.”

“Well then, don’t be afraid, it isn’t really so bad after all… and if I see that it’s even a bit dangerous, I will call the doctor…”

“All right,” he said, knitted his brows, and drummed nervously with his hand on the top of the desk.


For a long time the midwife didn’t come. They grumbled that she was negligent and sloppy, and that they should have hired a different one.

“Dear son‑in‑law, you could go get her,” his mother‑in‑law said. (That was the limit!)

“Let the servant go,” he said, suppressing a caustic remark. “We need her.”

“Well, then send one of the neighbors… I don’t feel l like looking for a woman, and I don’t know where to look…”

“God, you are good for nothing,” his mother‑in‑law laughed. “You know, it’s a habit with you. But you reap what you sow. So don’t neglect your wife and then growl like a bear that she’s not taking care of you.”


He escaped them when the belated midwife came, all out of breath. He felt he was superfluous, he was in the way, and the whole situation made him extraordinarily nervous. He seemed ridiculous to himself.

“I’m going to have supper,” he said. “I don’t suppose you need me…”

“I would have had supper brought to you,” his mother‑in‑law protested.

“There was no need,” he answered.

“The devil take it all,” he thought, walking down the stairs.

He was angry without even knowing why. Walking along the wide sidewalk, he struck his heavy walking‑stick against the pavement.

“A fine situation,” he said to himself. And in the end they’ll call the doctor in… yes, of course, a staid, wise man, who understands everything in the world, and he will look at the baby, critically, with a sharp magnifying glass, and then he will clap you on the shoulder in a quiet corner and he will say, “My friend, it’s bad” – and he will wink, as though to say, “Well, how could it have been otherwise, my friend – why did you get married when you are sick – it’s your fault, now you have a cripple on your conscience… for everything you permitted yourself in your youth…”

“That’s obvious, obvious!” he growled angrily, irritating himself. “No, no, I will not allow myself to be played with, like a ridiculous… male…disgusting…”

And he spat. They would flatter him:

“Just like his dad… Look, those eyes…” But secretly everyone would be thinking, “The poor thing, it’s a poor wretch. Yes, when daddy has fun when he’s free, then children cannot turn out otherwise… That’s clear…”

He clenched his fist in his pocket. Suddenly he raised his eyes and saw that he was standing absent‑mindedly in front of the display window of a puppet factory, clearly illuminated by several gas flames. Somehow ashamed of himself, he turned and rapidly rounded the nearest corner.

It was stupid of me, really stupid of me not to have stayed at home. Why wander the streets?… It would be best to give in to fate and play the role of a genial philistine at home… a father waiting for his first son to be born in the night… Ask the midwife, as though it were God knows how interesting, how warm the water should be when bathing the baby, and ask the servant if she has put the linen away properly and hasn’t forgotten to buy the baby powder… And walk around with my hands in my pockets.

“Good evening,” he responded to an acquaintance’s greeting. A smile flickered on his face. He recalled his acquaintance’s six children, all of them boys, amazingly alike, whom their father dressed all in the same gray uniforms when he took them down for a walk in the gardens in the summer. And he remembered the joke another colleague told once at the office, that each child is like an improved issue of the previous one, and that he was curious when Mr. X, the father of the six children, would finally get it absolutely right.

“Upon my faith, it is a good prospect to have a supply of such children… in gray uniforms, to take them on a walk and buy them pretzels… so that someone can make bad jokes about them…”

Life is repulsive, he concluded, and spat on the sidewalk.


He went into the café. He sat there until midnight, when the café was almost empty.

Fatigue settled in his soul. He felt apathetic towards everything. Only from time to time, remembering what was going on at home, did he knit his brow nervously.

The café was half‑illuminated. The billiards hall was completely dark. Burning gas lamps glowed feebly, sickly and wearily, in their last, exhausted glow, and their light was dispersed and reflected on the white walls, the glittering surfaces of the mirrors, and the gold of the cornices and corner decorations.

Cold and loneliness emanated from everything. Even the voices of several officers, who had dropped in a while ago, their sabers clattering sharply, disintegrated morbidly and frigidly in the spacious room. A waiter with a pale, sleepy face was walking like a shade from the buffet to a group of exotic plants, from whose broad leaves, which looked as though they were cut out from dark green silk, a monstrous Centaur emerged with the feeble luster of bronze.

He dreamed, fixing his gaze on the opposite wall, in the surface of the large mirror, in which a film of dull, almost downy gray coalesced, shifted, and merged. He was rocked in lethargy, in some kind of thoughtless paralysis, where the emptiness of thought was filled only by the nervous flickering of diffused light, and beneath that the lazy movement of something indefinite and blurred, like the undulation of barely perceptible particles of air. A subtle languor settled in his soul, and image after image arose in his thought in one uninterrupted series, the most various experienced impressions emerging above the surface of his consciousness and merging with one another. He was listless and enfeebled. And then there were only colors, peacefully and sweetly harmonized, that filled the emptiness of his thought, pink hues seemingly inhaled in fragrances, dried up, musical, rocked to sleep to a larghetto.

And suddenly something oppressed his mind: he was overcome by fear of the hopelessness of his entire life, which he was sleeping through more than experiencing; he was distressed by the awareness that he was cut off, separated from the whole, which lives and experiences life normally and rationally, to the last drop, in accordance with hallowed traditions – that only he (he was quite sure of this) corrupted it, making it unnatural and miserable, a series of perverse feelings, perverse pleasures, in a nervous, sickly irritation greedily consuming his health, his body… The last results… complete degeneration, he said to himself…

Suddenly it seemed to him that he had moaned. He fearfully looked around to see if anyone had heard. And heat coursed through his entire body… I will go home, he said to himself, and called for the waiter. In the alternation of the most unlike emotions he was suddenly overcome with compassion for those he had left, for the child, who had probably already been born and was filling the night with his crying for the first time… He felt as though he had awakened from a sick, feverish sleep. The solitude and emptiness of his environment, the sadness of the abandoned feather couches and armchairs, composing a group around the smooth marble tables, the cold whiteness of the walls, as though whitewashed in extensive oblongs, the soberness of the lines and contours of the gilded decorations, the hazy, dull surfaces of the large mirrors, the curtains closed over the windows, the gas lamps glowing red – all of it perceived in a single image brought him back to cold reality.

Putting on his cloak and hat, he left the café and went out into the cold night…


He could hardly breathe in the oppressive night air, full of water and mist, which completely stupefied him. He walked with a heavy, hollow step, which resounded loudly on the abandoned pavement, and fixed his sharp gaze on the heaps of hard, pitch black darkness, in which yellow stains of solitary gas lamps trembled as though injected into the black. He walked past the buildings with his head lowered, as though weighed down by the dead, boundless calm of the depths of night; he walked with the same measured and weighty steps with which he had walked during his nighttime wanderings in his student years, taking detours through the darkest, emptiest streets and lanes, immersed in vague dreaming. From the tower the clock struck twice, in heavy and protracted strokes that forced themselves violently on his hearing with the extended, booming echo of the bell.

And in the all‑encompassing, majestic calm of the ubiquitous night a reproachful voice suddenly resounded in the depths of his being:

“Why do you live such a perverted, inconsistent, unnatural life? Have you ever thought about that?”

He stopped.

“What does it mean to live? Is it to suffer? To experience?” He didn’t know.

“To experience? To exhaust everything to the last drop and then blame nature for not giving you enough?”

He did not agree, but remained frozen and contemplated.

I don’t live well, he said to himself finally, continuing on his way. And I have never lived well… In my earliest youth… perhaps… but then… and now… And he saw stains even where he had previously seen light.

And I avenge myself for that on my surroundings. What others like is repulsive to me, my wife is repulsive to me, even the child I have sinned so much against is repulsive to me. I have never known what it means to live; I considered all of the debauchery and extravagance, spending and squandering that I have engaged in to be life, I considered my vices to be virtues and privileges, my laziness to be work, myself to be a model and everyone else to be caricatures good for nothing but laughing at.

What now? What now? The question seemed to cut into his head. Continue to live so miserably? Or truly live? And how should I live?

He listened for that inner voice, but it no longer answered him.

It’s too late, it occurred to him. Too late! I’m lost! He trembled.

I can’t remember, I can’t fix anything, I have destroyed everything, I have lost everything. And if not everything is lost yet, I will lose it very soon, because I don’t know how to live.

He felt as though crushed by the weight of this sudden realization. That’s the way it is, he said to himself. I am lost, he repeated monotonously.


He stopped in front of the building where he lived and looked up at the windows of his apartment. It was dark, veiled, silent. A sense of abandonment gripped him when he looked at the four dark oblongs decorating the façade of the building.

And he was overcome with compassion looking at it, compassion for everyone who was waiting up behind those closed curtains. Something has happened, he said to himself, and it lay in his soul like a leaden weight. And everything is my fault, it occurred to him. The suffering of my wife when she sees that she has given birth to a sickly, ugly child, and the present suffering of the child, and… the suffering that will afflict him in the future. And the innocent creature will have a terrible, miserable existence, for which I alone will be responsible… I alone… for the sins of my youth…

He stood and thought for a long time. Finally he walked slowly to the gates of the building and was about to ring the bell to call the caretaker, when he remembered that he had the key in his pocket. He took it out and opened the heavy gates.

In the dark entryway a broad band of yellow light cut through from the narrow frame of the elongated window of the caretaker’s apartment and suddenly and unexpectedly broke up against the violent solidity of the pavement and the opposite wall. The mood of late waiting, of sleepless nights spent walking back and forth, intruded in a quick flash on his thoughts when he saw the motionless glow of this late light cutting into the darkness.

He remembered his student years, and the image of himself sitting at his desk flew through his head – his head propped up on his hand, studying, practically in the last days, for exams – but it was a vague, blurry image, which disappeared immediately when the darkness of the stairway sealed his eyes, leaving behind only the impression of something insignificant, miserable, and depressing.

He stopped. There was a deathly silence in the entire building. But suddenly it seemed to him that he heard a weak whimpering and crying… the crying of a child… His throat contracted, his chest felt as though it were seething, and his heart pounded hard twice, and then it seemed he was all trembling inside. The narrow width of the staircase seemed to grow even narrower, and the darkness, thick and cold, seemed to pour through his entire body, into all his pores, into all his blood vessels, into all his veins. He felt and absorbed into his being the timid anxiety of that late night. It hummed and roared inside him, and it seemed to him that he perceived the hissing of his own blood.

He mounted the stairs mechanically, holding his breath, and he didn’t stop until he got to the last floor, to the door of his apartment. He felt for the keys, impatiently and nervously, in a feverish state of tension, anxious for his torment to end when he saw what had happened during the night… but his hand dropped again, the tension of his nerves weakened, and his whole body grew stiff.

He heard someone pacing inside – he knew well the heavy, uneven echo of steps through an empty room at night: he remembered them from the night when his father had died and his mother had paced around in silent despair until dawn, unable to wait for the end of darkness…

Then he heard the frightened sound of the door to the room opening, and the footsteps fell silent… it was dead everywhere, as though a leaden weight hung on everything – not a single sound was heard…

With his ear pressed to the wood of the door he listened so anxiously and fearfully that he heard the beating of his own heart. All of the heat of his whole body became concentrated in his burning temples, and the blood flowed into his hot eyes. He waited for crying to come from inside, nervous, heart‑rending crying… the crying of his child… but he did not hear anything anymore, it was so quiet everywhere, nothing could be heard, nothing moved… Only the breath from his own chest moved through the empty fear of the night, uneven and broken…


That night the child had been born dead.

Translated by Kirsten Lodge.

From: Jiří Karásek: Otcovství. Studie. Niva 4, 1893–94, č. 5, 1. 1. 1894, pp. 69–71.