Patka Esterhazy, a rich widow and one of Dodge City’s main Krasznahorkai translators, has died.

There are several translators of Kraznahorkai from the Hungarian in Dodge City, this being a town that does things for itself. But Patka Esterhazy, reputed heiress to the so-called and much-discussed European Fortune, has, over the past two decades, easily emerged at the fore of that pack, both for the elegance of her English renderings and the sheer stamina of her working method, which often involves producing more than one version of each of the dauntingly dense works of the, according to Susan Sontag, “contemporary Hungarian master of apocalypse who inspires comparison with Gogol and Melville.”

I remember, for example, reading five Melancholies of Resistance last year, all Esterhazy translations, and each more precise and impeccable than the last. The only other competing Dodge City translator still in the game at this point is a beer-bellied single dad named Tom O’Brien, whose mastery over the language was called into question after his competing version of The Melancholy of Resistance emerged with the title “Under the Volcano.”

It was a scandal. Anyway, Patka Esterhazy is dead.

This leaves the question of the European Fortune, which spent the better part of the last century burrowing into the minds of Dodge City’s romantics like a miniature Mothman Prophecy.

The question of her death — from sly poisoning? Some wonder. — is inextricable from the question of the Fortune’s fate. To whom will it go?

Well, if her Will is to have any say, it may yet go to her “milquetoast descendants” but only if they “find the dregs of character in their desiccated husk collapsed honeycomb hive-minds to embalm, bury, and consecrate me themselves. No pro’s of any kind are to lay a finger on me — that includes you, Father Kokoschka. I want them to come firsthand with death. I want them to have to see it and touch it and be there with it. No delegating this time, nancies. No phoning it in. Try not to take the easy way for once, fuckwads.”

Until then, also according to the Will, the Fortune has been packed into a giant burlap sack, the kind that brings coffee beans from Brazil, and suspended by a crane arm from the courthouse over the Town Square, hanging like an anvil. We walk beneath it, staring up, waiting for manna to fall.


It’s been a few days now, the body putrefying in the bed where it was found, and her milquetoast descendants have not yet found it in their hive-minds to embalm her. They bicker and snipe, and it’s unclear if they’re even looking for it in their hive-minds or not.

We all linger around the house, with its pretty yellow rose garden, as everything takes on an armpitty Faulknerian vibe. The days get hot as we wait and wait to see what’ll happen, smelling the body, hearing the bickering.

The pro’s — the whole crew from Stanstead’s Funeral Corp. and the Graveyard Shift Boys and of course the clergy — all step in, saying, “Let us take care of this, c’mon, the Fortune will just go to the town or whatever,” but things aren’t about to get that simple around here.

Rumors start up, some involving the Will (how it wasn’t signed by a real Notary or anyone official, even that was an amateur affair, so it can’t be taken at its Word) … others about Esterhazy’s long campaign of intimidation and abuse toward her milquetoast descendants (and who were they anyway? The poly-mothered kids of some alcoholic brother who died in a minor border skirmish? An adopted gaggle?). It was said she’d forced them to clean her septic tank, forced them to eat expired, unlabeled canned and jarred food from her barely-functional fridge, forced them to rub palm oil into her caving-in joints for hours on end … that she’d trapped them for long hours in rooms alone with ink, ink, ink black heart at the heart of Krasznahorkai’s literary enterprise, which, it was said, she had so deep in her possession that Krasznahorkai himself had had to call and request her permission each time he wanted to use it for another of his novels, some of which W.G. Sebald would in time compare to Gogol’s Dead Souls.

In any case: infighting, putrefaction, putrefaction, infighting, grubbing over that Fortune that hung and hung over the Town Square from the arm of a crane that would eventually, one presumed, have to return to the work it’d been previously engaged to complete.


Finally, the milquetoasts found it in them. The Amateur Funeral took place on a Monday (they were afraid Sunday would ring too doctrinal).

We all came out to see it. It wasn’t in a church or a graveyard, but on the grounds of an old paint factory, where there was a partially laid-foundation that could be used as a grave site, chunks of stone and concrete piled nearby that could be hauled and kicked on top of the body to cover it.

It looked as though they’d sucked its innards out with an air mattress pump set to Deflate, though that’s just a guess. The body was slumped and looked fairly dry, at least, and parts of it looked carved in the manner of a turkey, though incompletely.

It was wrapped partially in cellophane and partially in tin foil, and what looked like a strip of an old T-shirt covered its neck.

The milquetoasts — there were five of them here, with rumors that two or three more had stayed home, cowering in the shadows or crying in the shower — brought it to the foundation pit on a dolly, and, in front of us all, tipped it as unceremoniously as possible over the edge. It landed with a dusty thump, not the splat we’d been expecting. Looking down at it, we could see patches of makeup and lipstick rubbed nearly at random across its face under the wrapping, and a couple of barrettes jammed into its hair and a Q-tip in one ear.

Then came the sermon, or the consecration. The milquetoasts took turns reading from a Good Book they had clearly produced the night before, or that morning — it looked like a bunch of stapled-together printed pages and some notecards and napkins, and contained a combination of made-up-sounding Hungarian phrases, fortune cookie aphorisms, psychobabble, and an assortment of recent news snippets and book reviews.

Then they threw some chipped concrete and a tire on top of the body. She looked like that Witch crushed under that House.

We all nodded our heads solemnly but the milquetoasts enjoined us not to — again, too doctrinal. So we tried to just feel weird instead, to feel no way in particular, to have none of the feelings about death we were accustomed to having, or had always expected to have.

Once we’d done that, we went in a pack to the Town Square to see about the European Fortune.