August the 12th. Sunday night
I didn’t want to go and see the Daahlens today. Sunday visits are not really the done thing. But I was already out of the house by two o’clock. The day was all shiny – clean and bright, as if in its Sunday best. Out in the streets, it smelled of the Sunday roasts that steamed out of the open windows. The large avenue was still rather empty. Here and there a dressed-up maid, her face red and freshly scrubbed, waiting for her Sunday companion. I turned off in the direction of the Daahlen villa. I wanted to see how the sight of the house, which in the moonlight and dusk had been such a moving vision, affected me in the reality of the golden midday sun. I needed to compare the two images.
The house stood there quietly with its closed blinds, as if asleep in the sunshine. On the narrow side of the house, where the kitchens were situated, there was just a chair placed in a narrow strip of shade. A woman in a blue dress with white spots sat there – a large, pale face with several chins under a white bonnet, wearing black-rimmed spectacles. That had to be Julchen. She was holding a book and singing a hymn in nasal tones. It had the same sleepy, trembling rhythm of the cabbage white butterflies fluttering around the large, colourful flower bed in front of the stairs to the entrance. I walked around the house, following the garden fence. I wished to see the terrace by daylight. It was there. And so was Claudia.
She wore a white batiste dress along with a large white hat of the same material, and she was walking along the strips of lavender that mark the edges of the path in order to cut some with her garden scissors. As she approached the fence and stood up straight, she noticed me. I greeted her. She smiled slightly and nodded. When I saw her standing there, her pale pink face beneath the bright mass of curls, I felt such an attraction towards her that a lump formed in my throat. It was the first time since my youth for me to feel something strongly enough to bring me close to tears. Claudia sensed that – she must have sensed it – she stopped – with a large bunch of lavender in her hand, her eyes wide open, she looked at me as if she wanted to say: You see, we both feel the same way. “Ah, Herr von Brühlen,” she then added, “good morning! Wouldn’t you like to come in for a while and smell the lavender? There’s a small gate there in the fence.” – I joined her in the garden. She pushed the lavender bush, warm from the sun, towards me.
“I love to cut some,” she said, “and put it in with the washing. It gives it such a wonderfully old-fashioned smell.”
“Yes, my mother used to have cupboards full of it, too,” I said. I was self-conscious. My voice sounded slightly breathless, my heart pounded in my chest.
“You’re out for a walk so early?” Claudia asked.
“Yes – I – I wanted to see the garden and – and perhaps you, baroness, in the daytime. – Up to now, it’s all been rather – rather visionary, twilight – and moonlight – I thought…”
“And now?” Claudia asked, as if curious.
“Now? – Well – the visionary element is still there – it’s just – the vision now has other colours – now it’s a vision in white, rose gold and lavender blue…”
Claudia had seated herself on an overturned wheelbarrow that lay on the path and was looking up at me attentively. “That’s good,” she said. “Visions shouldn’t be – as one says – materialised – that’s what you say, isn’t it? – Visions are, after all, unaccountable.” “What’s that?” Claudia looked down in thought at her small bouquet of flowers: “I love to dream, it’s so pleasant. You lie there and bear no responsibility for what you experience – you don’t have to do a thing. It sweeps you up and carries you along.”
“That’s what happens in life, anyway – whether we want it or not,” I remarked rather emotionally.
Claudia looked up, a little surprised.
“Yes – you’re right,” she said. Then there was a pause. These pauses are common in my conversations with Claudia. I believe that they are the moments in which our sentiments are in particularly close harmony.
“Have you already been at work, baroness?” I asked, formally. This slight distance seemed important. “With my husband – the manuscript – yes,” Claudia replied briefly.
“Was it interesting?”
“My God!” Claudia said and shrugged her shoulders slightly, her lower lip appearing in a pout. There was so much of a stubborn little girl in these movements that I was involuntarily reminded of the five countesses in the large garden, who were always blamed for any mischief that occurred.
“My God – I hate these tribesmen with their impossible names and their stupid customs. But do you know what I hate even more?
“The kilometres. They’re always there – everywhere. You think, Africa – it’s all light and large flowers and colours. No – it’s simply full of these tedious kilometres.”
“Well, I suppose that’s unavoidable,” I remarked without much enthusiasm. But perhaps it was the right thing to say, what with Claudia criticising her husband.
“Why?” Claudia said disdainfully, “I walk – but I don’t walk kilometres.”
The conversation faltered once more. Now was the time to make friendly jokes. But I was too agitated.
“Will we see you this evening?” Claudia asked.
“Really, on a Sunday?” I replied, hesitantly.
“Goodness! Among friends,” Claudia said.
This “among friends” was there to act as a barrier. Yes, it’s best to erect barriers between us, to be obliging to our consciences, which are, however, far stronger than we think.
A bell rang out inside the house.
“Oh – time to get dressed!” Claudia called out in surprise, like a young girl late for a French lesson. We lightly touched hands, and I started on my way back, deep in thought.
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Translation © 2019 by Tony Malone. All rights reserved.