August the 8th
I can now with great certainty state that love is an occupation – an occupation that fills your days.
Thus far in my life, I have, I believe, done little for others. It has come to pass that everything I have done has been for myself alone. Now it seems as if I am doing everything, no matter how insignificant, for someone else – for her. Previously, I didn’t let people close to me – I needed to be alone. Now it is as if I am never alone – I constantly sense the presence of another – her presence. And what do I do, then, during all these days full of bright sunshine here behind my yellow drapes, amidst the heady aroma of sweet pea blossoms and lupins? I translate Plato, edit my work, organise my library, but in truth, I am always doing something different – and always the same thing. My main occupation is feeling. I now understand the crickets, who all day and into the night, assiduously, passionately bring forth the same note from their bodies, as if this note were the only matter of importance in this world. These are observations that I am convinced of.
I didn’t want to visit the Daahlens this evening. It seemed the right decision. Claudia could walk through the park alone again, stand alone by the pond in the moonlight. In such moments of lonely sensations, our feelings grow clearer and stronger than in the calming and intoxicating times spent together. However, in the evening I walked out to the avenue, sat down on a bench and watched as the evening sun lit up the windows of the Daahlens’ villa. I intended to sit there until darkness came. It would do me good, I thought, to be surrounded by the whispering community of couples in love.
A little shopgirl sat down next to me on the bench, a chubby, blonde young woman. She set the cardboard box she was carrying down next to her on the bench. Tiredly, she stretched her legs out, tapping the tips of her shoes together. She pushed her little straw hat back slightly, revealing a few damp, blonde curls. Her face was round and pink, her baby blue eyes lay softly beneath slightly plump eyelids. There was a calm, peaceful expression on her face. I found it soothing having this girl sit there next to me. She looked over at me and then away again – as they all do. With this kind of girl, you need to use the same calm, tried-and-tested method – just as with ironing or putting gloves on. If it works, why change it? This is how I started a conversation: – It was hot today. – Yes, it was. – She wanted to wait here until it had cooled down a little. – Yes, that was true. – Was she waiting for anyone else? – No, who would she be waiting for? – Well, on summer evenings, people are usually in pairs. – True, but she didn’t have anyone. – Had he left her? – Yes – he had. A deep sigh stretched her red-and-white-striped blouse.
“Is your name Toni?” I asked.
“How do you know that?”
“You look like a Toni.”
“You’re right, Toni Ledrer, I work for Großmann in the glove shop on Herrnstraße.” – “Ah, I know the one, the large shop where it’s always so gloomy and solemn. There’s a strict, elderly lady with gold-rimmed glasses at the till, and the young women help the customers on with their gloves quietly and seriously.” – “The old woman’s mean,” Toni confided, “and we’re not allowed to talk at all, and we can’t sit down much, either.”
“So you come here in the evening to talk and sit down?”
“Yes, if there’s anyone here to talk to,” said Toni dreamily. “I live so high up, the nights get so hot up there. You don’t feel like going to bed.”
“I would wager you have one of those little lamps that gives out a yellow light, and you stand there, all white in front of the mirror, and lift your arms to tie your hair up…”
Toni looked at me in surprise: “Well – how else am I supposed to do it?”
Dusk had fallen. The moon shone through the leaves of the chestnut trees.
“Let’s walk for a while,” I suggested.
Toni stood up obediently, smoothed her dress out and picked up the cardboard box. Slowly, we walked down the avenue and turned into the small, dark side streets.
“Wouldn’t you like to take my arm?” I asked.
“I’d be delighted,” she replied. She took my arm, as all these girls take our arms. They hang a little heavily on them, pressing our arms gently against their breasts. We didn’t really have anything to say to one another. It was enough just to feel, touching one another, how our pulses took on the same rhythm – they danced together. And Toni’s had a calm, yet energetic rhythm. When the path took a turn, and the half-moon suddenly became visible in a bright, clear sky, Toni looked up, blinking, and said: “How beautiful! Oh, how I love the moon.”
“Let’s go to Bohrer’s for dinner,” I suggested.
“There’s no need,” Toni said, “not today, on a work night.”
We went anyway. Our arrival caused quite a stir. The old gentleman, the man with the wrinkled face, the small, pale waitress, they all looked up and regarded us seriously and with reproach. The old dog, who was sitting at the entrance looking up at the moon, growled quietly.
“What would you like?” the waitress whispered.
We seated ourselves in a corner. The plain out in front of us was full of a white, misty light, and lonelier than ever. Toni stretched her feet out under the table, just as she had on the bench, and lay her hands out flat on the table, then she ate slowly, carefully, chewing every mouthful while looking up at the moon. We drank a small glass of slightly acidic sparkling wine. Every now and then, Toni sighed so deeply that the seams of her red-and-white-striped blouse seemed ready to burst.
“What are you sighing for?” I asked.
“Because it’s so good here – so good,” she said. “It’s so peaceful,” – she yawned discreetly. Yes, I too was beginning to feel sleepy and contented. It was as if I had worked hard all day and could now stretch out my limbs and relax. I was in the mood for a little conversation.
“Is it hard, putting gloves on for people?” I asked.
“Well,” Toni said, “I’m used to it. Yes, some people hold their hands wrongly. But let’s not talk about gloves.”
No – let us not talk about gloves or the tribulations of life. Why speak at all!
“It’s late,” Toni eventually said, and we went. In the narrow path between the bittersweet nightshade bushes, she stopped, right in front of me.
“I’m going this way,” she said. – I kissed her. Her lips were soft and warm, like the lips of a drowsy child. “I’m free from two o’clock on Sunday,” she said as she went off.
The pleasant, contented feeling lasted all the way home. But when I stepped into my rooms, Claudia’s arousing presence returned. I went straight to bed – I was tired and slept soundly.
But as I was falling asleep, I thought of Toni again, it was as if I were being rocked to sleep by the gentle, regular rhythm of her pulsing blood. Surely I can find room for her in my affairs, too…
Translation © 2019 by Tony Malone. All rights reserved.