August the 5th (continued)
It was lively in the main avenue. Lots of children and cyclists – workers coming out of the factories, shopgirls in bright clothes, carrying paper bags. Everyone spoke and raised their voices, wanting to make noise, as if they were drunk from the shimmer of the reddish dust that filled the air. This was not what I needed just now. I turned into a side street, sought out an isolated bench, all around me nothing but dusty bushes of bittersweet nightshade. A tree frog croaked on a branch, I sat there for a while and smoked one cigar after another.
What we like to call ‘thinking’ very often turns out to be an activity with which we ourselves have little to do. You sit there and see yourself as some sort of Laterna magica, into which a stranger’s hand inserts the little glass images and slowly pulls them back and forth. – A room with dim red light – Claudia comes in, slowly, elegantly – Claudia sits on the sofa – Claudia looks at me – she pours tea – she is standing at the great entrance – the same images over and over again. It is extraordinary how long we can think the same thoughts.
And along with this, a continuous, accompanying music of feelings, which also comes and goes without involving us – like the circulation of our blood. Now I understand the tree frog, who croaks the same tune to himself for hours on end.
It had got dark. Over in the avenue all was now silent. The points of light belonging to lit lanterns hung between the branches. I stood up. I was hungry and walked through the small side streets in the direction of the town. Wherever I looked, I encountered figures who, in pairs, – silently, close together, hand in hand – drank in the warm darkness.
Bohrer’s wine tavern lay on the edge of town. It is fairly lively on Sundays, but today, a Monday, was rather quiet. From the open veranda, you can look out over the vast plains, roads, fields. There were only two customers on the veranda, an old gentleman who had taken off his hat – his bald head shone yellow in the gaslight – and a man with a grey, wrinkled face. Both sat silently behind their wine glasses and stared out into the darkness that lay across the land. The waitress, a small withered creature with red, sleep-deprived eyelids, sat beneath a gas flame reading a book. When I sat down at my table, she wiped her eyes with a serviette – the novel had evidently moved her – and came over to ask me quietly what I wanted. “Is it sad, Fräulein, that book you’re reading?” I asked. “Very sad,” she said in a worried tone. The landlord walked along the veranda – a thin young man with gold-rimmed spectacles. He bowed deeply and solemnly before each of his customers, as if we were all thinking of the same sad occurrence – then he simply stood and looked out onto the dark plains. I continued thinking the same thoughts as before, but now they seemed a little more tragic. Something had happened to me today, that much was certain, but now it took on a tragic air. Come what may, it needed to be lived out fully. I always yearned to play the role of the director a little too much in my affairs; however, we only really fully live our lives when we know how to be our own audience. The problem is that I am a pedant when it comes to my thoughts. What was it that I was experiencing? To be in love – what does that mean? Definitions are always erroneous, but reassuring. I have a need for certainty…
It is strangely moving to gaze out over vast areas that have been consumed by darkness. All of us – the old gentleman, the man with the wrinkled face, the landlord and his old mangy dog, myself – we look out there as if spellbound. The dog occasionally lets out a husky, asthmatic howl. Dogs need to vocalise their thoughts. The land down below was lit up only by scattered lights from distant dwellings, tiny red dots of light that blinked as if threatened by the great darkness. Overhead, a hazy sky with a smattering of pale stars. And suddenly there arose in this silent darkness a voice – a man walked along a path in the distance and sang loudly, hoarsely – a mournful melody, then a single note, then la-la-la once more. The voice sounded so lonely in the darkness, lost, astray, searching. And then, on the other side of the meadow, a second voice rang out, a high women’s voice that followed the same tune, la-la-la, and the little single bridging note. The two voices came together – melted into one another, intensified from melting together. The old gentleman, the man with the wrinkled face, the landlord, they all raised their heads and listened, the dog pricked up its ears, the waitress looked up from her book. It was as if we had all been waiting for the two voices to meet. Suddenly, the song stopped dead. There was silence once more in the darkness. “Bill, please,” I said, and got up.
On the way home, it hit me: Of course, that’s what it is. We walk alone in dark solitude, that is our task in life, and sing out into the darkness. And suddenly someone answers – joins in our song – we believe that loneliness is finally leaving us for good – just that. All the couples on the benches there in the avenue sitting next to one-another, dreaming of a life together. This explanation calmed me.
Back home, on my desk, I came across the manuscript of The Golden Chain. I have set it aside. For the moment, I have other matters to attend to. No changes need to be made to my daily routine. Now I will let Frau Meirike know that she may arrange more flowers in my rooms, summer flowers with strong scents. Lupins, fragrant sweet peas and reddish-brown chrysanthemums with swollen golden hearts…
Translation © 2019 by Tony Malone. All rights reserved.