‘Experiences of Love’ (‘Seine Liebeserfahrung’) by Eduard Graf von Keyserling – Part Nine

August the 12th. Sunday night (continued)

In the avenue, on the usual bench, sat Toni.  She was wearing a white silk blouse, a golden belt and a superfluity of roses on her hat.  Her face was glowing with the heat, and her eyes were red.

“Have you been crying?” I asked.

She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and glared at me.

“I’ve been waiting forever,” she said – “I thought you weren’t coming.”

“Oh, is that all!  Well, let’s go.”  Toni got up and took my arm, confidently, a little roughly.  She took possession of me as if it were her Sunday right.  I didn’t find her as likeable today.  Silently, we walked along the avenue.  On a bench, there sat a girl with a light blouse and too many flowers on her hat.

“She’s crying, too,” I said.

That got Toni talking: “Well, of course.  You struggle through the whole week and look forward to Sunday, and you dress up in your best things, and then he doesn’t turn up –“.

“Yes – you’re right, that isn’t fair,” I said.  How clear it all was.  Down here, love is crystal clear – an institution – a right.

We walked away from the town across the large plain.  The paths here were full of the noise of Sunday strollers.  Everywhere you looked, dolled-up girls, hot and happy on the arms of their beaus.  Initially, everything set me on edge, but gradually a comforting feeling overcame me, one of being part of an organisation, almost an occupation.  We walked a long way out, where it was quieter.  The sun beat down strongly on the meadows.  There was a small quarry out here.  Juniper, heather, cat’s foot grew on the sides.  A large rock lay sunning itself at the bottom.  We climbed down – lay down on the rock.  Toni took her hat off, stretched out – blinked into the sun.  “Oh!  That’s so nice,” she sighed.  All the pleasures of a lazy Sunday took hold of her, radiated from her.  I lay on my back.  Juniper, wormwood and yarrow all emitted such a warm fragrance, it was as if we were in a kitchen where herbs were being boiled.  Little butterflies, bronze-coloured with steel-blue flecks, fluttered above us.  Singing softly to themselves, bumblebees flew lazily through the air and settled their velvety bodies on the flowers of the yellow thistles.

Tony was talking half to herself about other Sundays, in other places, with other men – how wonderful those days had been.

I closed my eyes.  – I wanted to see the vision in red-gold-white and lavender blue again. – My God!  But the holiday sluggishness took its hold on me, too.  All that with the vision, and Claudia and me – it was so complicated, and the idle pink girl beside me was so simple and natural.  My thoughts clouded over, I must have slept a little.

Then I heard Toni singing to herself tunelessly, sleepily.  I opened my eyes.  She lay there supporting herself on her elbow – her feet rose and fell in time with her song.

She had a blade of grass between her lips and in her hand a juniper twig, with which she slowly tapped the ground. – “Rai – la -la – la.”

“Toni,” I said, “have you ever – in the past – looked after livestock?”

Toni looked up.

“You were asleep.  Livestock?  Yes, I used to look after the sheep down on our place.”

“And then you lay around like that all day long.”

“Yes – long – the days were long.”

“And when you lay there all day long, were you always waiting for something?”

Toni thought a while.

“Waiting?  I’m not sure.  Yes, I was waiting for mother to call me to dinner.”

“Ah – you were waiting for dinner – of course.  Hey – come closer.”

Toni wriggled across the grass to me – snuggled up to me.

“Is this good?” she asked.

Yes, this was good.  I don’t know how long we stayed down there in the quarry.  The sun was already at a low angle above the plain.  Sounds of music drifted across to us.  That made Toni perk up.

“That’s the music from Deibler’s – and that’s from Bohrer’s,” she said.

“I suppose you’d like to go?”

“Yes, we’ve got to,” she replied firmly.  So off we went to Deibler’s.  In the large beer garden beneath the dusty trees, people were sitting across from one another.  Red-faced waitresses hauled over large portions of veal cutlets and pork cutlets and paper serviettes.  On every table, dressed-up girls with their young men.  On every face exhaustion, in every eye drowsy disappointment.  The men had red faces from drinking and were overly loud.  A couple argued, and the girl started crying.  The military band bashed out a march.  Later there was a cornet solo, Schubert’s serenade.  Quiet once more, everyone stretched out on their benches contentedly.  The girls looked into the distance and their faces fell a little, as if they were about to cry.

“And?” I asked Toni.

“Very nice!” she replied.  Her arms crossed beneath her breasts, she sat there with that same drowsy, disappointed look in her eyes.  The sadness of this Sunday drawing to its close lay heavily upon everyone.  There’s only one way to deal with it – go home together – hold one another and forget.

“Let’s go,” I said.

If it wasn’t written in these pages, then for me it would be as if it had never happened.  That is how Sundays must be for those who work.  Nothing exciting remains of them, simply a touch of tiredness – a few wilted flowers.  Work begins again, and you can look forward to the next Sunday.  I, too, am setting off once more, ready to work on my arousing and enigmatic experience of love.

August the 13th.  Night

The moon can now be seen, round and bright, above the Daahlens’ park.  Today Claudia kept her distance from me.  We spoke to each other for a few moments, regarding trivial matters, and there was something unusual in her voice – something glassy and lifeless.  I understood.  I, too, was making an effort – with cold civility – to keep the same distance.  I know how we both were suffering.

August the 15th

Today I played chess with Daahlen out on the veranda.  Claudia and Spall were speaking fairly quietly at the other end of the veranda, yet I could tell from their voices that they were arguing.

“What’s up with the pair of you?” Daahlen asked.  At that, Claudia came over to us, sat down quietly next to me.  Spall left soon after.  We played the game to its conclusion in silence, then I turned to Claudia.  She had pushed herself far back into her armchair, almost curled up on herself.  Her eyes wide open, she stared up at the moon.  Her face was wan in the moonlight, her eyes rather dark.  I had to say something to her, no matter what, just to caress her with the sound of my voice.

“Don’t you think, Baroness, that the full moon can send us into ecstasy – a cool sort of ecstasy?”

Daahlen took up this topic.

“Very good.  Moonlight has something striking about it.  Not here, but certainly in Africa.  Oh!  You have a talent for nuances – you’re a Lebenskünstler all right.”

“What is that, a Lebenskünstler?”Claudia asked, and she sounded irritated, almost hostile.

“A Lebenskünstler, that is to say an artist of life, dear child,” Daahlen lectured, “actually lives a work of art, lives in such a way that others can draw inspiration from it, as from a work of art.”

“Right,” Claudia said, and laughed maliciously.  “That can’t be much fun, living like – like a finished painting.  When a work of art is produced, then it’s always clear, I think, in advance what the outcome will be.”

I decided to chime in meaningfully:  “We know that, anyway.”

But Claudia stubbornly contradicted me.

“I don’t see that at all.”

“It’s just that we don’t want to believe it,” I continued, and my voice also contained a note of irritation.  Claudia shrugged her shoulders.  Unprompted, probably in an attempt to calm the situation, Daahlen began to talk about the Niam-Niams.  Then I left.  Let it be thus.  We both struggle and suffer.

August the 16th

Love drives one person towards another, but it has nothing to do with making that other one happy, as people are wont to say.  This calculation of happiness has nothing to do with love.  Perhaps we only bring one another pain.  It is wiser by far not to love.  Love is illogical, and we struggle against it, but it is stronger than our logic, and therein lies its magic

August the 17th

Claudia is wan and quiet.  We haven’t exchanged a word that – concerns us.  But she sits quietly next to me, our hands lie close to each other and long for one another.

August the 18th

I am starting to believe that I am feeling the deepest sympathy with Claudia and her helplessness.  I sense the depth of her helplessness by comparing it with my own.

← Part Eight     Part Ten →

Translation © 2019 by Tony Malone. All rights reserved.

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