The Model Worker The Model Worker
Illustration by Igor Kubik

The Model Worker

Artur Kornel
time 26 minutes

Warsaw, the near future. Work has become the privilege of the few, and people have everything done for them by intelligent robots. Wili, therefore, like the other inhabitants of the city, devotes his days to indiscriminate fun. But today, fate will smile on him.

Although he’d gone to bed in the early hours, he woke up before seven as usual. He opened his eyes and stared at the white of the ceiling for a good few minutes, trying to remember the details of the previous evening. He was thirsty, but not thirsty enough to get up and fetch a glass of water. So he lay on the mattress, turning from side to side. A few minutes later, bored to death of lying down, he stood in front of the mirror above the sink and recoiled at the sight of himself. The inveterate lack of sleep imposed by his nightlife was increasingly taking its toll. These days, he’d barely notice the dark circles under his puffy eyes if it weren’t for the greying beard and dull, wrinkled skin. “Not good, Wili, my lad, you’re turning into a zombie,” he said to himself.

He sat resignedly on the toilet and closed his tired eyes. Eventually he regained his mental composure. He got up, brushed his teeth, and put on his new T-shirt and a pair of trousers (expensive ones, because they’d been made by real people). Fresh coffee was waiting for him in the kitchen, just the way he liked it after a heavy night: sweet, fiendishly strong, slightly bitter, with plenty of milk. He took a big gulp, sat down nonchalantly on the designer chair, cup in hand, and said in a dramatic voice with a true actor’s flair: “Tell me please, Franz, what did I have planned for today? I can’t remember, I must be getting old.”

“You were planning to go for a bike ride, to test out your new equipment. The vehicle is waiting in the car park. I recommend the route along the Vistula. When you reach the Old Town, you can head towards the square. You were complaining recently that you’ve not been there in a while,” came the expressionless voice of the computer.

“Franz, I’ve changed my mind, I have no desire for any physical exertion. How much dosh will I lose?” He took a sip of coffee, looking wearily at the perfectly clipped fingernails on his left hand.

“The manufacturer pays 300 points per hour for testing the equipment. Supposing you left at eight and returned in the afternoon, you could earn 1200 points. It’s definitely a good offer, especially since your bank balance is a little low.”

“Twelve hundred, you say? Oh well, I’ll let it go. What else did I have planned?”

“You wanted to go to the Zachęta gallery, you were interested in a photography exhibition about life in the third zone. A sad image of misery and despair juxtaposed with the prosperity of the most highly-developed countries. A must-see for anyone interested in social issues.”

“How much is Zachęta paying?”

“Visitors receive 100 points. But personally, I recommend the cinema. The new biopic of Kazimir Malevich, directed by Viki Meister herself, is the best critically-reviewed film of the last six months. You’ll earn 210 points for watching it.”

“What about a lowlife party


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The Door The Door
Illustration by Kazimierz Wiśniak

The Door

Magda Kiełbowicz

Was it the working of the Virgin Mary that caused the door behind the side altar to appear before the eyes of believers? That is unknown. What’s certain, nevertheless, is that whenever somebody walked through that door, their life completely changed.

It’ll be about ten years since Hela Majchrzak discovered the door behind the side altar, and that’s how it all started. It happened to be her turn on Thursday, so off she went to clean the church. Along the way, she picked some flowers in the meadow to reward the Virgin Mary for having to stand there out of sight like that, even though in a new dress, freshly gold-plated, done in the spring per the pastor’s request. A special committee looked after the dress, because the church is old and everything inside is under special supervision. Why it happened, nobody knows to this day. Maybe it was true that the Blessed Virgin fell off the socle out of rage. After all, it was twice that she showed up in people’s dreams and both times said she didn’t want any gold on her dress. The pastor didn’t listen, the statue shattered into pieces and the door appeared from behind the plaster. Things went mighty quick from there. Hela screamed, people came running, and with joint efforts they opened the door. Common sense would tell it didn’t lead anywhere, but actually it did. It wasn’t the first time the human mind was proven too narrow to grasp the complete truth. Backside was the church garden, with espaliered magnolias, and behind the door something like a cloud of dust swirling and refusing to settle. Right away, somebody started whispering that this was some impure business and nobody wanted to step over the threshold first. Finally, Majchrzak shrugged his shoulders as he wasn’t bothered, laughed off all the superstitious jabbering, took a step inside, and disappeared. He didn’t return for three days, and on the fourth, he finally emerged—all quiet, calm, and at peace with life like never before. “Go,” he said. “Go in there. Go and see for yourselves.” One after another, people started walking through the door. Just beyond the entrance, each one was hit with all of their regrets, and long-lost memories. Granting a chance at life anew—only this time taking a better lead. Whoever made a mistake was given another shot. Those who took a wrong turn in the past, could now choose the right direction. Any wasted chances were available to be taken again—with a guarantee that after, one would return to their present self at peace. Only those who didn’t see anything in the dust were assured they steered their life well up until here and now. For half a year, the town glowed with emptiness. Because one day the post office was closed, then the bakery, and even the town hall, a timetable was made for appointments. Everyone wanted a face-to-face meeting with the past, to see if there was anything they could’ve done better. The pastor turned a blind eye to everything. Such is the unwritten law here, that the divine doesn’t watch humans too closely, and vice versa. He lost his patience, however, when the whole crew of dairy workers returned through the door right in the middle of mass. The pastor locked it with three bolts and only tolerated those returning after them. Where he hid the key, nobody knew. He threatened that anyone who tried again would be denied absolution, and without absolution there’d be no Kingdom of Heaven. Up there, they have their ways to check. The pastor never even peeked through that portal himself, and after giving it some thought, he turned to science for help. Science didn’t offer much, or perhaps it didn’t want to. Of the ten experts that put their mind to it, three just plain disappeared. It was the first time, it turned out, that you could not come back from behind the door at all. There came a time when everyone had settled their dreams and there was no more need to go to the other side. Some were even a little troubled by the lack of uncertainty in personal affairs. To regret nothing was like living half a life—seemingly fulfilled, but somehow incomplete. People started talking that it was high time to brick up the door and return the Blessed Virgin to her old spot. Nobody protested or noticed that the pastor quietly left the vote. It was already dark when the glow over town lit up the path to Heaven. Whoever could—ran over to help put out the fire, but the flame, cleverly kindled from the inside and got ahead of them all. Only then did people start asking where the pastor was, because he’d gone missing, plain vanished. The firefighters didn’t find anything and nobody tried to escape from inside the closed church. Apparently the dream of a better life can prove stronger than anything. They built up a new church in a year, but the memory of the old one remained. Sometimes they say it was all a dream, and maybe it was. But then again, have you ever heard of a dream that everyone dreamed at once?   Translated from the Polish by Mark Ordon   This translation was re-edited for context and accuracy on November 17, 2022.

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