Translated by Eszter Somogyi
Edited by Réka Eszter Szabó
Albert the Illiberal and his family live in peace and quiet. The father runs everything with firm hands. Every member of the family hands over his or her salary to him and Albert decides what or what not to do with it. There is no room for discussion; Albert rules, the others comply. Nobody can interfere with Albert’s decisions; not even his wife, let alone his children, his elderly parents or his near or distant relatives.
The house of the Illiberals is protected by a barbed-wire topped fence. Nobody can get in or have a peek at what lies beyond. They do not speak to the neighbours because they fell foul of them a long time ago. After work or school every member of the family goes straight home. Albert keeps a strict daily pattern: everybody has their chores. His wife cooks, does the laundry and cleans the house, his children study, the grandparents keep the garden tidy in exchange for food and housing.
Albert chooses his wife’s clothes and hairstyle, he decides what and where his children should study, what paths they should follow as grown-ups. He alone gets to pick what colour the new curtains should be, which clothes to buy, what should be for dinner and which TV show to watch, what radio programme to listen to. Together, as a family. Albert himself does not work because he has to manage his family. This does not stop him from mortgaging the house without a second thought to buy a Ferrari. True, his family cannot use the car because there is not enough room for them but sod them all, they would only soil it anyway.
The Illiberals never entertain guests. The ones who would come are not welcome and those who would be give them a wide berth.
In the house of Albert there is always order and discipline. There is no shouting nor are there any arguments. The decisions are made in no time, as everything is up to Albert. The grandparents – when they are not able to do their chores anymore – move to the shed at the bottom of the garden with the other junk. They only have to last till winter because there is no heating in the shed and they will freeze to death anyway.
Albert is extremely pleased with himself and he is convinced that everything is just fine. His first surprise comes when his children grow up and move out immediately never to return. And he is just as surprised when, after the house is struck by lightning and the roof is on fire, not a single neighbour comes to help and no relative wants to put the couple up. Still, he lives out his life thinking that he did everything just right.
In the house of Larry the Liberal there is always a lot of hustle and bustle. They have painted each and every room a different colour because everyone can decide for themselves how their room should be. The colour of the living room was decided upon together as they use it together. They discuss everything and they argue a lot. Agreeing about the Christmas decorations well into Eastertide is not unheard of.
At Larry’s family, everyone works, the head of the family included. The grandparents live with them as befitting the family members they are, and all the work is shared. There is no fence and there is always a lot of coming and going. They are always noisy; they all talk at the same time and it’s not unusual that no plumber is called to fix a broken tap or three of them show up at once at the call of three different family members. On such occasions they decide to discuss the matter in advance next time.
Sometimes they laugh, other times they weep or shout or sing. They break up and make up. If there is trouble they join hands, even if they were screaming at each other just a minute before. Regardless of all this, they are still able to buy a bigger house than the Illiberals, they eat better food, they go to the theatre, to concerts and on holidays. It is true that noone in the family owns a Ferrari but the grandparents are looked after right up to the end and all the relatives and friends are welcome to visit. In case of trouble all the neighbours help and the relatives chip in.
When the children grow up they do not flee the family home; they might move one block down the road but they frequently pop by. Albert and his family will never in a million years understand what is good about a noisy life, about arguing with each other and coming to late decisions sometimes. What is so fantastic about this mess, they wonder. Most importantly, Albert and his family will never get why everyone prefers the neighbourhood of Larry’s when in Albert’s house there is order, hush and discipline. And yet it is not attractive. Wonder why?