August the 21st (continued)
The two men on the veranda were in good spirits. Spall was telling stories. Claudia joined them, wanted to laugh along with them, managed to force a laugh out, her eyes still unusually lively. Spall looked up at her in surprise, then got up, picked up a scarf that was lying on a chair, placed it around Claudia’s shoulders and said: “You’re all pale, you’re freezing.”
I found that rather disagreeable. He made it look as if it were his right, and his duty, to care for her. The whole situation had now become unpleasant. I took my leave. Spall chose that moment to leave, too, and fell in beside me. He spoke ceaselessly as we walked down the avenue, I have no idea what he said, I wasn’t listening. A great commotion was raging inside me. I repeatedly went over everything that Claudia had said, analysed it – dissected it with philosophical expertise. Back in town, Spall stopped in front of our club: “Shall we go up?” he asked. I hesitated. He was getting on my nerves with his persistent cheeriness.
“Come on,” he urged, “just for an hour. I still have something to do later tonight, so there’s no point in my going off to bed.”
You braggart! I thought to myself – but I went up with him, anyway. I myself was afraid to go home. It was as if a turn in my mood was lying there in wait for me, something melancholy and torturous.
The club had its usual summer air of abandonment. A few old men sat playing whist in the games room. In the reading room, an idle young doctor and an idle young lawyer yawned away behind their newspapers. We made ourselves comfortable in the dining room.
“I could do with some champagne,” Spall said. So we drank champagne. Spall retreated into his thoughts.
His attractive, impudent boyish face took on an older, almost sickly look. All of a sudden, he snapped out of it.
“Do you play at all?” he asked.
“No, I don’t care for that sort of thing.”
“I enjoy the odd game,” Spall continued, “just hazard, though, you know, it’s soothing to play along, just like a machine.”
“Yes, we like to think that we’re calculating. A machine also considers the clockwork inside its body as intelligence, but that’s rubbish, the wheels whirr around inside us, and we place our bets on a nine or a jack. It’s nice to bear no responsibility – don’t you think?”
It occurred to me that Claudia had also spoken of bearing no responsibility, and it touched a nerve.
“A matter of taste,” I interjected sullenly.
Spall smiled his practiced, cruel smile. “That’s also the appeal of adventures with the fairer sex.” He looked at me thoughtfully from behind his glass. “What do you think about women?” he asked. He was getting on my nerves.
“My God,” I replied irritably, “I don’t think anything about women. That’s like asking what I think about the days of the week. I don’t think about the days of the week. I just know Monday, Tuesday et cetera – and every Monday is different from the others, and I think differently about each of them.”
Spall nodded: “You’re right, but that machine feeling comes into play in affairs of the heart, too. The wheels whirr around inside us, and we do anything a woman wants, and then they whirr around again, and it’s over. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
I didn’t respond, the topic was all the more displeasing as it reminded me of my earlier conversation with Claudia. Spall was merely talking about some fling of his with a dancer. I stopped listening. I began to drink more quickly and became caught up in my impassioned thoughts. Spall looked up at the clock.
“Oh – it’s late,” he cried, “I have to go.” Such a Don Juan, I thought. And so we went. On parting, I ironically called out, “Good luck.”
“Thanks, thanks,” he said.
I was happy to be alone. The wine provided me with a pleasant, comforting feeling, with a hint of jubilation. I sat on the bench in the silent avenue, looked up at the sky, white in the moonlight, and thought of how Claudia had wept before me, for me, and that when a woman weeps before us, she is helpless against us. And then afterwards the petty hostility. I had to smile. I didn’t dare go home, I was wary of the silence of my bedroom. And when I eventually made my way home in the slowly breaking dawn and tried to sleep, what I had feared came to pass… a brief, restless sleep, then hours lying awake with nagging doubts that tore apart everything I had experienced, rendered it colourless, worthless. It was torture. In my childhood, as I was an only child, I was accustomed to playing quietly and happily in a world of my imagination. But every now and then, in the middle of my games, disillusionment would come over me, the excruciating realisation that this was no horse, but a chair, not a ship, rather a sofa. I was seized by terrible despondency, and I cried. “Why are you crying?” my mother would ask. “I can’t play,” I would reply. It was to this that my thoughts turned as I tossed restlessly in bed from side to side. I decided not to get up. I wanted to behave like the bats, stay in my dark corner and look angrily out of the gap that the day peeks in through. When Josef came in, I told him I didn’t wish to get up. I prevented him from opening the drapes, had him bring a light and my tea to the bedside. I acted as if I were ill, drank the tea, smoked a cigarette and asked Josef to entertain me.
“Yesterday,” he reported, “I happened to be at Zierer’s regarding your lordship’s shirts. Baron Spall was also there. He bought a travelling rug, a very nice, and expensive, travelling rug.”
“My God, Josef,” I sighed, “how tedious you are! Your social skills are declining by the day. What do I care about Baron Spall’s travelling rug? Why don’t you tell me about the time you were a boy and your father took you with him when he went mowing up on our estate, and you slept down with the grooms, and about how the horses sniffed at you with their cold, damp noses?”
“Well, it was like this,” Josef began. He had often had to tell this tale when I was feeling down-hearted and out of sorts.
I listened to him for a while, and then had the light put out and tried to sleep once more. I managed to gently drift off to sleep and awoke feeling much refreshed. I ate heartily, wrote this entry and now I will go and see the Daahlens. I am content with Claudia and myself once more, I am again sure of what we have, I understand the way we are, I am warmed by that pleasant holiday feeling that we get when something good and important happens in our lives.
Translation © 2019 by Tony Malone. All rights reserved.