In front of a serene summer landscape Susanne and Christian go through the story of her love. Susanne, already promised to another man, feels a unprecedented affection for the human strong, unconventional but also aimless Christian, who brings them into a deep conflict and its controlled and manageable life suddenly call into question.
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Time of the Storks
ISBN 978-3-95655-296-0 (E-Book)
The book was published in 1968 by Seven Seas Publishers, Berlin.
Cover: Ernst Franta
Foto: Barbara Meffert
Translator: Eva Wulff
© 2017 EDITION digital®Pekrul & Sohn GbR Godern Alte Dorfstraße 2 b 19065 Pinnow Tel.: 03860 505788 E-Mail: [email protected]: http://www.edition-digital.de
Krempen lay forty kilometres from the city, and on Sundays railway connections were poor. Wolfgang had offered to drive her down, and insisted that she explain why she didn’t want him to. It was simply that she wanted to arrive there alone, and walk through the village as she used to, lugging her case. She would pass the meadows leading to her old school; and, under the inquisitive stares of the villagers, she would pause to put her trunk down.
She would see the distillery, no longer working but the chimney still standing, with a stork’s nest on top. What would the storks be doing now, in August? Preparing for their long journey, she thought. And on her journey, Susanne decided, she would have time to look forward to Krempen: to the little attic under the roof, the holidays, the long walks.
Wolfgang took her to the station. The train was late. Railway stations also observe the day of rest, she thought. They’re quieter, tidier — and the trains take their time.
“You’re staying a week?” he asked.
“Perhaps a little longer, if I like it.”
“Don’t forget we’re going on holiday ....”
“I won’t,” said Susanne. “And you mustn’t forget the fruit salad in the pantry. And do remember to eat once in a while.” Poring over his books, he often forgot about food.
How different people were. On the station, some hurried to and fro, others stood quietly by their luggage. The young man seated on his trunk was watching Susanne. Later he would say she had been watching him too, although she had only glanced at him for a second and then turned away with a disdainful look. She wouldn’t remember that: one often reacts without realising it.
The arrival of the train was announced.
“Shall I fetch you?” he asked.
“I’ll phone — or write.”
She stood at the open window of the carriage door. When the train started moving out he jumped up to kiss her again, and she realised that for the first time since she had known him, she was going alone on a holiday. No duties, no children. A whole week to herself: chatting with Gisela occasionally, reading, swimming, going down to the old wooden landing-stage. It was more than two years now .. . She’d been a child then, and now she was almost a married woman.
In the evening, Einstein will play the flute. He'll drive me mad one day with his eternal warbling, Gisela had written. Why had she married him if she didn’t love him? Because she could dominate him, and out of vanity. Susanne thought: The trains are a little slower on Sundays.
In Bieberstädt she had to wait a full hour for the connection. It was just six, and there was still a patch of sunlight at the end of the platform where she sat perched on her case. She had brought books and could have read, but she sat with her face up to the sun; and with the warmth and quiet, a feeling of tiredness came over her. Although she had slept till midday she was not completely rested.
She stood up and walked slowly across the rails. For a while she gave her attention to the flowers ringed by a little wooden fence next to the station. They were well kept. Flowers on stations.
The little inn smelt of beer and floor polish, and most of the tables were empty. Susanne ordered coffee and took a book of poems from her bag. The group seated near the bar were talking loudly about a man named Pansegrau.
“Waiter!” someone called from the window.
It was then she saw the young man sitting at the table on the far side. He handed the waiter his empty beer glass. A book lay before him on the table; but it was closed, and he was looking at her. He was somewhere in his mid-twenties and must have been looking at her for some time.
She tried to read but couldn’t get the feel of the poem because she felt his eyes on her and wanted to know for sure whether he was still looking. The coffee was hot and she saw that the young man hadn’t moved. He was still sitting there, his hands folded on the book, summing her up with an impudent eye as though she were the only thing worth looking at.
Hallo there. I’m through with my book and don’t feel like reading any more. So I’m looking at you — and you’ll be looking at me too, I’m sure. Are we waiting for the same train? We’ve at least an hour in that case. Meanwhile I’ve found out that you stop to look at flowers ....
Your farewell earlier on looked as though you were going steady. He’s a good-looking man and seems to love you more than you love him. And before the waiter brings my beer, you’ll look at me again.
He seemed the type Susanne didn’t like — the type that expected no resistance and were infuriated when they encountered it. They came to conquer but were not used to fighting. They’d done it so many times it was second nature. Their every action personified male aggression.
They were all alike, with their impudent coolness and complacent smiles, so sure of victory. She had experienced it all once before, five years ago. It was on the Baltic coast. The fellow had danced with her and then seen her back to the camping site. On the way back he tried to kiss her but she refused; whereupon he explained that when a
girl agrees to dance and spend the evening with a boy, she has automatically agreed that he may take her home and kiss her. That was the way of things. But when Susanne continued to refuse, he said she was not a normal girl. Cold and not normal. She was sixteen, he was twenty-one, and his accusation worried her for a long time ....
The waiter brought the beer. The young man drank then raised his glass to her, flecking the foam from his lips. Pretending her thoughts were elsewhere, she swept her glance indifferently past him, along the wall to the clock and across to the window. Outside, the signals stood impassively in the sun. The poem in her book, which she had read three times, said:
I clean my hands of plaster traces And in the vase the yellow roses Place:
Practising now for later days
— For tender hands.
The young man stood up, beer in hand, and came over to her. “May I?” he said and sat down.
She noticed immediately his light-coloured eyes — blue or blue-green but very pale and observant.
“Are you waiting for the six-fifty?”
She continued staring at her book, but it seemed silly to pretend he wasn’t there.
“And what if I am?” she said briefly, knowing it wouldn’t discourage him in the least.
“Then we’re both waiting for the same train,” he said.
She did not reply.
“Are you going far with your big trunk?”
“You’re not reading. You might just as well put the book down.”
She could either ignore him or put the book down. He was impertinent but he was right.
“What a shame —I would have enjoyed reading,” she said, placing the book on the table. He scanned the title and said,
“Someone once wrote, that to see the title of the book is halfway to knowing the reader. Would you agree?” “Perhaps. Sometimes.”
“Poetry is in fashion. Everybody’s scribbling verses. Are you?”
She shook her head. She saw now he was not absolutely sure of himself. He seemed a little more adult and less complacent, even a little timid. His glass was empty. He signaled to the waiter.
“Are you having beer?”
“No. But you’re drinking too much.”
“Yes,” he said simply.
“How many a day?”
After hesitating he said, “Twelve, fifteen. Last Thursday it was more — twenty-three or so.” He said it as if it were nothing, the normal thing. He seemed surprised that she thought it unbelievable or foolish.
“You’re ruining yourself.”
“Does it show?”
He proffered a cigarette but she refused, and his hand shook when he lit his own.
“I would have thought you wrote poetry,” he said, neither joking nor ironic but with a sort of regret. Could he really have thought so? There was a strange kind of honesty about him, a thoughtful, serious quality.
When they returned to the platform he was carrying her trunk in one hand, his and a briefcase in the other. He was nearly a head taller than she.
“How far are you going?” he asked.
“On holiday or do you live there?”
“Part o£ my holiday. I’m visiting someone.”
“Will you stay long?”
“Do you know the hole?”
“Quite well. I did my practical training there.”
The train should have arrived — it had gone seven. The platform and rails lay in the shadow of the power storehouse. Ten or twelve travellers waited patiently.
“My name is Christian,” said the young man suddenly. “Smolny.”
“I’m Susanne Krug,” she replied.
He held out his hand and bowed. He didn’t seem to know if he should smile or how long to hold the grip. Susanne withdrew her hand but momentarily she had felt the pressure and the hesitation and also the unexpected roughness of his hand.
“Shall I ask what’s keeping the train?”
She shrugged and thought: He’s different, he’s not that type at all. It’s so much nonsense in any case — there are no types.
“Why don’t they announce what’s happened to the train?”
“They probably think it’s not worth the trouble,” said Susanne.
“It annoys me,” he said. “They’re lazy because they know they’re going to get paid anyway. Doesn’t that make you angry?”
She said, Yes. From afar a train was approaching, and a garbled announcement flooded from the loudspeakers.
“They’re announcing the diving depths,” said Christian.
The train didn’t stop. It was a long goods train which clanked noisily through the station, each wagon with its own set of rattles.
Christian had stepped back from the edge of the platform and pulled Susanne towards him so that he stood between her and the passing train. He said something but the train carried his words away and she shook her head.
He didn’t understand. The rush of air blew her hair into her face. They stood facing each other and she thought: You’re not as I thought you were. I know your name now, but what does that mean? My hands hold my hair back so that I can look at you — and you’re different! Your eyes tell me you’d like to know who or what I am. Men always want to know so much, but you ... What made you timid? And why such hard lines round your mouth? And there’s a small scar above your eye....
It was a long goods train, and every wagon shook with its own individual rattle.
They sat opposite each other in the train.
The forest ended suddenly, and across the lake and fields the horizon rose clear. The sun peeked out from a bank of clouds. A little way off the line behind a cluster of trees lay a village. It wouldn’t be far now.
“It was an old NSU, built in thirty-six,” he was saying. “A two-fifty, if that means anything to you. One of my mates gave it to me.”
“Do people give motorbikes away?” They were sitting by the window and she could watch him as he spoke.
“You couldn’t call it a motorbike any more — it was nearly thirty years old. Anyhow, one day he said to me, here, take the old crate. The frame had been welded several times... all sorts of illegal things. But at least it went, even on raw spirit. And then I had this accident. It was bound to happen. I was never sober riding,”
“Do you enjoy being reckless?”
He shrugged. “Not as much as I used to. But slowly you begin to grow up. I thought to myself, you’ll break your neck like this — and so I gave the thing away again.”
She nodded, noticing again the scar above his eye.
You haven’t realised yet that we’ve a whole week ahead of us, he was thinking. Perhaps you’ll stay even longer. You look as though you’ve got long, long hair. I like your eyes, but it’s too soon to tell you that, I suppose. Strange that I should want to tell you anyway -— I wonder why I do? You listen with your eyes ....
You’re thinking about that man now. Is he a doctor, an engineer? He smoked his pipe very professionally, like someone who can do more than just look handsome. Neither of you wears a ring. All the same, he cduld be your husband. You look at me but you think of him. Or of something entirely different.
Christian avoided her eyes and pointed out of the window.
“That’s Krempen over there,” he said. “Will I see you sometime?”
“I don’t think so,” she said, and didn’t even know where he was going.
“Where will you stay?” he asked.
“In the old school building, right under the roof — where I used to live. It’s a narrow attic with slanting walls.”
He nodded, noticing that she was pleased at the thought of staying there again.
“I’ve been wondering,” he remarked, “that you should be going to Krempen of all places.”
“What’s so strange about that?”
“The coincidence. I’m going there too.”
Susanne made no attempt to hide her surprise.
“What are you doing in Krempen?”
“We’re building underground gas reservoirs.”
Now, as Krempen came into view, she saw the great derrick rising beyond the woods. Susanne recognised the village but the derrick altered the whole aspect.
“I've read about these gas reservoirs,” she said.
“Then you won’t know anything about the men who work there, or very little. We’re a wild lot. They don’t like us in the village.”
‘We kick up a row at night when they’re asleep. We pester the girls — and we pinch things.”
“What do you pinch?”
“Rabbits. Asparagus. Chickens.”
“Do you, also?”
“Yes.” He said it without pride or boasting, and he did not rate the offence in any way. It sounded the most natural thing in the world. ‘We only take what we need.” “Is that so!”
“And you think that’s good?”
“But you do it all the same?”
He nodded. The train was already slowing. Christian took the trunks from the luggage rack.
“I thought you were grown up,” Susanne said.
“No, I merely said I’m beginning to grow up. And I’m offering very little resistance because, unfortunately, the process can’t be stopped.”
And since she remained silent, looking at him disapprovingly, he laughed and added, “For the first time I can see that you are a teacher.”
But Susanne didn’t laugh.
The village was a bare ten minutes’ walk from the station. Again, he carried both the cases. On the meadow, just short of the first cottages, stood the caravans of the construction workers. There were eight of them, grouped in a semicircle, each one freshly coated with varnish. On the other side Susanne could see the old distillery chimney. The stork’s nest seemed to be empty, but perhaps they were asleep up there.
“Are the storks still there?”
“Yes,” he said. “They have two young.”
“It must be the same pair," she said. “Storks always return to their old nest.”
“Is it true that they stay together all their lives?”
“That’s what people say.”
“But what if they don’t really like each other?” he asked, “and only find out later that they've made a mistake.”
“They probably don’t ask much of each other,” she said.
“In the village where we worked before, there was a nest on top of the fire brigade tower,” he said. “Last year the stork came alone and worked at repairing the nest from morning till night. Then suddenly Mrs. Stork appeared.”
“Perhaps he was still a bachelor,” she said.
“I’d like to see them once, when the whole lot flock together and then fly off.”
“I saw it three years ago,” said Susanne. “They gathered over there, near the ponds, and on the fourteenth of September they left. People here say they always migrate on the same day.”
“Will you still be here on the fourteenth?”
“You could be, if it happened to fall on a Saturday or Sunday.”
She made no reply. Light shone from two of the caravans. It was beginning to get dark.
“Some fine asparagus grew over there in the spring,” said Christian, pointing to a field. “There was even more on the other side, but this was the best — and the most convenient.”
“It’s bad enough that you steal without trying to make a joke of it.”
“Don't you like asparagus? It goes well with schnitzel. And we don’t have a cook at the moment. He burnt his leg with chicken soup, and as soon as he’s recovered he’s going somewhere else. But while he’s sick he belongs to
our outfit and can’t be dismissed. So we do our own cooking: someone today, another the next. Do you like chicken?”
“Not stolen chicken, at any rate.”
“You can’t taste that it’s stolen,” he said. “Anyway we only have chicken when there’s not too many of us. If we took more than four or five there’d be trouble.”
“Why do you carry on so? You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
“How does one go about being ashamed of oneself?”
“I have two or three pupils who could explain that to you.”
Christian put the cases down. “Pity I’m not one of your pupils,” he said. “I’ll just take in my case and then I’ll come with you.”
“Thanks, but you don’t have to,” she said.
“I know. But I’d like to.”
“No, please don’t.”
“When shall we meet tonight?” he asked.
“We won’t meet tonight,” she replied.
His eyes were quite colourless now, merely faded. He did not insist on accompanying her, whether out of pride or disbelief in her refusal she did not know. Nor did he mention seeing her again. She gave him her hand to say good-bye and he held it longer than he had when they met. Perhaps he felt encouraged by the growing darkness or had misinterpreted her silence and the look in her eyes. She shook her head and he let go her hand.
"Thank you,” she said, picked up her case and walked away from him.
“See you soon,” he called after her, but she neither replied nor turned around. He watched her legs as she walked, and her pert little bottom. In fact, he had noticed it before.
Christian opened the caravan hatch and put his case down. Eduard was seated at the table, poking his knife into a tin of fish. He liked fish. The radio was playing. They greeted one another.
“Been back long?” asked Christian.
“Haven’t been back,” Eduard said. “Didn’t go.”
“Didn’t you want to go home?”
“Well, what happened?”
Eduard heaped fish on his bread and ate without answering. Christian started to unpack. Family, girls, affairs — these were not discussed here. This was a building site, one lived on call from one day to the next. It was just a roof, not a home, and there was no use for private sentiment.
Five hundred metres away looms the derrick. One is here to drill, and the derrick dominates all; you eat, sleep and relax in its shadow. Tt determines what you earn, when you go home. It tells you who to rely on, who to respect and who not to.
Can you stand on the site twenty hours at a stretch, sweating because the drill pipe’s broken loose and must be found? It’s down there somewhere, probably lying crook in a gallery. Three hundred metres deep and the tap-hook slips, so we have to try again. You’re sticky with filth and the rain’s running down your neck and your crudest curses are like music because they buck you up enough to carry on. Do what you like, but don’t give in. Stick it out. Don’t leave before the others do, before the whole thing works again, all that damned metal, the Kelly, the turntable, everything ....
If you can do that — then to hell with your useless past. Forget it. You know how it is here: you can stick your whole bloody meaningless past, because now you’re one of us, part of The Big Mole. We thrust our long, hard
snout (sharp with Swedish steel) deep into the earth’s belly, and drag it out again three hours later. That’s how long it takes with such a huge snout. Then in it goes again, and the whole derrick trembles because we have so much strength, because we are such terrific moles, such completely filthy, obstinate, magnificent moles ....
But if you can’t do it — then to hell with all your gab; the fact that your girl friend is an attorney-general doesn’t say much for her choice of you. We’ll give you one more try. And if you can’t become a mole — get lost. Should we ever have a spare moment we’ll wonder where your girl friend had her eyes.
“Why didn’t you go?” Christian asked.
“I just stayed, that’s all,” Eduard snarled. “I’m sure she preferred it that way.”
“On Thursday you said, I’d better go.”
Eduard waved him off impatiently.
“You’re a miserable, pigheaded mule,” Christian said.
“That’s my business.”
They fell silent. The conversation was at an end. Christian knew nothing definite, only that the matter involved another man. He would have liked to know more, to help Eduard by offering advice or a sympathetic ear. But perhaps it was easier for Eduard not to speak of it, so as to think of it as little as possible. Christian shut up, thinking: He’ll talk when he wants to.
“They collected the old rig yesterday,” Eduard said.
The first bore hole had been sunk with a Salzgitter, but in the last few days a Roumanian T50 plant had been brought and set up on the new drilling site. Some of the parts were missing, however, and work had come to a halt. The men had weeded out the herb beds and painted the caravans. Thereafter they began to build a pool — not for swimming but for keeping beavers in, complete with caves and cages. The entrance to the beavers’ dry home had to lie underwater. One of the men raised beavers at home, and it had been his idea to start a pool here, in the
space between the caravans. The men had become very enthusiastic after he had brought two of his animals back to the site and made a tasty beaver roast. The tail was the best part.
They relaxed for more than a week, only seeing the derrick from afar. But they began to miss their work: the nights were far too quiet without the grind of rotating metal — and they were earning less than they might have been.
“Did they bring the flush joint?” Christian asked.
“They want to bring it the day after tomorrow.”
“The drill pipe too?”
Christian started unpacking. Only the two of them lived in this half of the caravan, and they used the third bunk as a sofa. From his case he took clean linen, two books and a wrapped object.
“Sponge cake,” he said. “My mother makes it well. She says I shouldn’t go boozing with you again, by the way. She wants to know why I always let the others put me up to it.”
Eduard muttered under his breath. He was not in a bantering mood. Christian asked him to come along to the pub but he refused. The last episode of an adventure serial was on television that night. The ancient set in the kitchen caravan buzzed continuously; the milky picture seemed to be coming from outer space and sometimes it disappeared altogether. But Eduard wanted to find out whether the two stars managed to escape — and was annoyed that Christian found it boring.
“I suppose you’re clairvoyant and you know how it ends.”
“Can’t you see how it’ll end? It was obvious from the start.”
“To a smart aleck like you everything’s obvious,” muttered Eduard. “Such a smart little chap you are.”
“Well, you can watch that crap for all I care.”
“Of course. A moron like me has to actually watch it if he wants to see how it ends.”
“Nobody’s stopping you,” Christian said.
“No. Not you, that’s for sure.”
“Go ahead and watch it then.”
“I bloody well will.” Suddenly Eduard was shouting. “Have fun,” Christian shouted back just as loud.
“Go to bloody hell.” These were Eduard’s last words on the matter. No grudges would be borne, and by the morning all would be forgotten.
Before leaving the caravan Christian asked,
“Do you know where the old school is?”
“I only know where the new one is,” Eduard said. “What do you want with the old one?”
“I want to set fire to it,” said Christian, and left.
Christian walked quickly into the gathering dark. He stopped only to light a cigarette. A slight breeze had sprung up, and the evening smelt of meadows and hay. He regretted not having explained further about the telly serial. He had seen the third part at home when he’d had nothing better to do. Of course, the two would escape and the fat fellow would be caught in his own trap — that much was clear long ago. There’d be no real surprises now, only feeble gimmicks to draw the thing out.
There would be no new discoveries, none of that breath-taking unexpectedness you find in some books and in life — when you don’t know who you’ll meet before the day is through, for example. You know her name and how she does her hair and the fact that she teaches. You walk towards her now as you walk towards a strange city, or a new continent, or a star. Whether you discover her slowly or quickly is of no importance. You will be the discoverer.
His four-day anger had vanished now. That afternoon there had still been something left of the great fury that had overcome him when the letter arrived on Thursday —
fury which he’d been drowning in big chunks since that very night. Three months earlier, the letter would have left him cold. But to arrive now, now when he was actually beginning to look forward to studying ....
He had passed the entrance exam, bought a Russian textbook and sat evenings looking up forgotten rules, letters and words. They speak Russian in Baku, and it’s a language with six cases ....
Now, at this stage, it had occurred to them that they could not accept his matric certificate. Admittedly, it was pretty poor: a ‘D’ in all the important subjects. But couldn’t they have noticed that before? The damn thing had been lying in Berlin for months. They must literally have been sitting on it. What if we were all as muddle- headed? Here too, for example: they sink twenty bore holes, costing a few million, and then they say, Sorry, nothing will come of it because there’s no sandstone here after all.
But now Christian was resigned to his failure; it was too bad if they didn’t like his results. The last bit of anger had melted away with his chance encounter. Why did this girl intrigue him? There was something about her he couldn’t fathom. She held the promise of an exciting discovery.
He walked along the middle of the street which went right through the village. A car came up behind him, its lights throwing his shadow far ahead. He skipped and his shadow leapt ahead, grotesquely thin. Only when the car’s horn sounded angrily did Christian finally make way.
The village pub was crowded. Some of the men from the building site were there, at two tables they had pushed together. Christian pulled up a chair and watched them rolling dice, without feeling any desire to join in.
“Well,” said the innkeeper’s wife softly when she brought his beer. She smiled, and he realised it would be prudent not to ask her about the old school.
Later he went up to the bar where the innkeeper stood drawing off beer into the glasses and skimming the foam. Christian bought cigarettes and, in a roundabout way, he asked about the old school.
Good beef stroganoff depends on the gravy, and he had made that and the salad as well. She praised him for it and called him “my Einstein”, the way she always did when she had something good to say for him.
The women cleared away the dishes. In the kitchen, Gisela began to wash up, working swiftly and talking all the while without a pause, her hands moving surely and unhesitatingly through the task. Susanne asked for an apron and looked around for a tea cloth.
“Sit down,” Gisela said. “Karlheinz will dry up. He likes doing it. You sit down and talk to me.” But she kept right on talking. “He’s playing again, can you hear?” She paused. For seconds it was quite still, and the sound of the flute floated in from the other room.
“It’s his favourite instrument. Personally, I like him to play the piano. But he always plays the flute. The other day I hid it behind some old papers and said I didn’t know where it was. He spent the whole evening looking for it rather than play the piano.
“He’s driving the whole village mad. All the children want flutes now and they practise every night. He’s practically got a whole flute orchestra. Funny, isn’t it?” “There’s nothing funny about that,” said Susanne.
“I think there is,” Gisela said. “But mathematicians need something like that, I suppose. Einstein had his violin — and my husband’s got his flute.”
From the first day she knew him she had made fun of him. “Do you know what he reminds me of?” she had
once asked Susanne. “He reminds me of a small dog. He’s grateful for every glance you throw him.”
She had never dominated a man so completely, and soon began to misuse her power. She could humiliate him and he wouldn’t run away. She thought his devotion both flattering and tedious; and, infuriated by such endless patience, she took it out on him by inflicting ever new torments.
In the early days he used to call unexpectedly, and noticing her displeasure he asked, “Aren’t you glad I came?” Gisela would answer, “Of course not. We’ve got a date for Sunday and you burst in now — do you expect me to be pleased?” Then he’d put the flowers on the table and leave.
But she knew he would be back come Sunday — and she resolved to love him violently then. For, when she was in the right mood, she really did love him.
In the severe winter of ’sixty-three, when the university hostel had to close because of the coal shortage, he was the only one who did not go home. He stayed nearly two weeks, sleeping in an icy room without sheets on the bed — just so he could be there if she should need him. And she did. He was clever and hard-working, and even then a good teacher. In addition he carried out social work, was party secretary and secretary of the youth organisation. On top of it all he continued to gain top marks in the leading subjects.
Gisela was swotting for her exams and needed his help and experience. Her mother had offered to put him up in the living room, but Gisela flew into a rage at the suggestion. She wanted to remain free to decide when he should be around and when he shouldn’t.
She had her flirtations. One of the tutors paid her attention and she slept with him. But she wasn’t happy with the relationship for he bossed her and quickly subjected her to his will. She hated him for it; but he was a man of influence, a fact she had intended to make use of
to land her a job in one of the town schools. In the end however her pride made her drop the idea.
So she decided in favour of Einstein. He was not a man from whom she would have to beg. His cleverness and diligence would adorn her like jewels and pretty clothes — and after all, he was a handsome young man. If Susanne or Erika reproached her for her moods and selfishness she would say, “I am what I am — and I love him in my own way.”
What nobody had thought possible finally happened. They were married. At the traditional party on the eve of the wedding she had got tipsy. She lifted her glass and said, “I know that one night, next to me or on top of me or any way you like, he’ll discover his great formula.” Then she threw her arms round him and said, “They don’t understand us,” and spilt wine down his front as she kissed him.
Gisela washed the last of the pots. She was telling Susanne they hoped to instal water pipes this year. She was confident it would come off because the bookkeeper of the cooperative lived opposite and he also wanted running water in the house.
They used to have lunch at the cooperative, she told Susanne, but had then demanded that the cost of the food be reduced. “But the managing committee refused. We wanted to pay one mark, because they gave us stew four times a week. Don’t you think one-fifty is too much? Anyway, we eat at home now. Karlheinz is a good cook, his gravy was super again today. But you’re not listening!”
“Yes, I am,” Susanne said, but she had been thinking of the little room under the eaves, where she and Erika had lived during their practical training. She was looking forward to the morning, when she would look out of the window and see the village and the woods and the clay pits near Schafstädt. She would go to see Jürgen — Jürgen who used to collect insects and frogs, pack them in cardboard boxes and send them to the zoo in Dresden.
“What’s the pig-breeder’s son doing?” Susanne asked.
“He wasn’t much. You still remember him?” Gisela asked, surprised. Then she added, “I’ll go make up the bed. Or would you like to sleep down here? We’ll send Karlheinz up under the roof and you stay here. Would you prefer that?”
It was the last thing Susanne wanted. The fact that Gisela suggested it with such callous selfishness annoyed her and she said so.
“Why? He’ll like sleeping there,” Gisela said. “I wouldn’t even have to ask him.”
“He’ll go because you want him to. But I know he won’t like it.”
“Suit yourself. It was only an idea.” She took bed linen from a big cupboard in the hall, and called into the living room, “We’re upstairs, sweetheart. I’m making up the bed in the attic.”
Susanne took her luggage up. The right side under the roof had been made into an attic, and the little room housed two hostel beds, a table, two chairs and an iron stand for the washbasin. The lamp shade she had once made out of old postcards still hung there.
They made the bed.
“How’s Petrus?” Gisela asked.
“He got married,” Susanne said. “He met a girl, a nurse, and she became pregnant, so he married her.”
“That’s only proper,” Gisela said.
“No. It was indecent. He didn’t love her and only married her because of what people might say.”
“He says that to console you.”
“No, I know it’s true.”
“And Wolfgang?” Gisela asked. “How are his trees growing?”
“They’re growing fast. He’s got some in front of the house, and measures them every day.”
“When are you getting married?”
“Probably in October. He got a flat in a new block. It'll be ready in October. He showed it to me last week on my birthday, although he’s known about it for six months.”
“And didn’t tell you all that time?”
“No. It was a surprise for my birthday.”
“I could never do that,” said Gisela.
I know, Susanne thought.
He avoided the dice game because he didn’t want to drink too much and make a bad impression on her the very first evening. And he was determined to meet her tonight.
He had never watched “Long Street” before and now found it uninteresting. The only excitement was to try and get twelve hundred as fast as possible, then fall out and wait to see who would have to buy the next round. That way you could guzzle all night, with any luck. It was the only point to the game. Seeing the feverish expressions on their faces, it struck him he had never realised that before. But having nothing better to do, they were happy enough.
Looking on, he felt like an outsider, coolly observing a gang of dice fiends. The eagerness with which they pursued their game did not touch him, he thought it out of place and ridiculous. It was because he had something better to do, he realised. That was what created the chasm, making everything else seem remote. He was surprised that dice could ever have amused him.
They were playing a fast game. At times a player had as many as three beers queued up, unable to down them before the next round was over.
The innkeeper's wife seemed pleased that Christian was drinking very little, for she smiled more than usual. It was past ten. Perhaps she merely wished to remind him of what she had intimated before. The pub was closed every Monday, and this week her husband would drive into town and not return till Tuesday afternoon. Christian had replied evasively. He didn’t know yet which shift he would be working. He was glad about that because it wouldn’t have suited him just then. A little while ago, when she put the beer on the table, she had stood so dose to him he could feel her thigh. She was not ugly, but healthy-looking and always neatly dressed. But today she smelt of sausage soup.
When he paid for his three beers she seemed to expect him to tell her what shift he was working.
“Have you slaughtered your pig yet?” he asked instead.
“Yes, yesterday. Would you like some minced pork?”
“No thanks. I’ve eaten. And I have to go to the site.”
He pointed hastily to his watch. Ten-fifteen.
Somewhere in the village two dogs were barking. It was a moonless night and the air had not yet cooled. In daylight, standing at the post office, one could sec the drilling rig above the woods through a gap between the houses. But because it was standing idle all the lights were out, and it stood there quite solitary in the dark. Light gleamed from very few of the houses: villagers go to bed early.
“Opposite the church,” the innkeeper had told him, “where the cooperative has had its office since the new school was built.”
He saw the church faintly outlined against the dark sky and he kept to the left. Always when he passed this way he read the verse on the wall above the church portal. Come; for all things are now ready. It was inscribed Luke, with chapter and verse. He remembered the quotation when he saw the church, perhaps because of the late hour
and because — off his own bat and without any promise — he was making this visit.
She had looked at the flowers on the station. There were plenty of flowers in the front gardens here. Roses too. Opposite the fire brigade shed, where the light burnt, he clambered over the fence. He chose a small rose which had yet to open into bloom.
The front of the old school faced the street and next to the door hung the sign of the cooperative. Light burnt behind two of the windows on the first floor. Everything else was in darkness. He couldn’t see a garret or a window. On one side of the house stood a gable and gateway which led to the courtyard. Christian shuffled his feet then listened. He tossed a pebble into the darkness, but no dog answered him. He had had experience with dogs before. Climbing over the locked gate into the courtyard, he saw the illuminated attic at the back of the house. The window stood wide open. All was still save for the faint barking of a dog somewhere in the distance.
He thought of calling her name. She would hear it if she were in the room. Hello. Here I am. It’s a nice night to be out. There’ll be a bit of a moon later on, and down by the pines it smells like the Black Forest.
What nonsense. I don’t even know what it smells like there. But I do know where the hay is lying on the meadow. And then Christian thought: She’s not the kind who’ll come down just like that. And in fact that’s why I’ve come, isn’t it. She won’t let herself be persuaded that easily. Not from this distance.
Christian found the back door of the house; it was bolted but not locked. He could sec the slip bolt. The window next to the door was open but rather high. He found a chopping block in the shed and rolled it up beneath the window. Now he was able to look into the hall. He lit a match and saw that he was unable to reach the bolt.
Man, he thought, outgrew the animal kingdom by learn-
ing the use of tools. Christian found them in the shed, neatly lined up. Pic took a spade and managed to push back the bolt. Come, for all things are now ready. He walked now on stockinged feet, his shoes in his pockets because he wanted his hands free. Big notice boards listing the fulfilled and uncompleted plans of the cooperative lined the hall. It smelt of school, of damp woollies and blackboard sponges — a smell not to be got rid of. The creaking of the staircase was unavoidable. Again and again he stopped and listened. When he arrived on the first floor he counted his matches. He had six left.
Susanne had got into the habit of reading before going to sleep, even when very tired. How long she read did not depend only on her faculty of reception; that could be prolonged if the book interested her enough. She liked to stop in the middle of a page, never at the end of a chapter. She would make a point of reading a little of the next chapter before she stopped. And she could never drop off with a book in her hands. It was as inconceivable as going to sleep while studying, or writing a letter, or walking through town.
She would write to him tomorrow. She had heard a great deal of discussion on this book, and Wolfgang had finally asked his aunt in Stuttgart to send it to him. Pie liked it, he said, although he had not finished it yet. But he had given it to her to take along anyway.
So now she read about the drummer boy’s grandmother: as a young girl she had worn four skirts; and, sitting on the field by the potato fire, she had hidden a fugitive from the police under her skirts, so that his pursuers were unable to find him. But the fugitive under the skirts was not idle while he waited; and he showed
his gratitude for protection in his own way, by impregnating her then and there, while his pursuers dashed about, amazed that a man could have disappeared so quickly and so completely.
There were books which gave her a good feeling. She thought this one eccentric and she liked neither the world it described nor the imbecile drummer boy. She couldn’t yet explain why. She didn’t like it but she kept on reading, feeling it was too early to judge after only seventeen pages.
She had paid no attention to the noise in the courtyard. After a time there was silence. But now it sounded as though someone were on the stairs and had struck a match. Then came a creaking noise very near the door.
She put her book down.
“Susanne,” a voice called softly.
“Are you asleep?” He was annoyed with himself for putting the question — she had already answered it! So he added quickly, “It’s Christian.”
“What do you want? How did you get into the house?”
“I wanted to call you from the courtyard, but then I thought I’d better come up.”
Not remembering whether she had locked herself in, she got up quietly, crept to the door and turned the key. Only then did the frightening thought strike her that he could have walked straight in, could have stood there in the middle of the room. What a mad fool. He would have sat on the bed: Here I am with my pale eyes — and you thought I was shy. She slipped into her blue bathrobe.
“What do you think you’re up to?” she called out.
“It’s such a warm night outside
“Are you crazy? Or what’s wrong with you? Have you broken into the house to tell me that?”
“There was only a bolt. And very loose,” he whispered. He was having fun, but didn’t want to laugh out loud. “I wanted to ask you something.”
“Stop this nonsense and clear out!”
“I really did want to ask you — to go for a walk. On a night like this you should be out in the open air. You’ll see, that’s the sort of night it is.”
“I don’t want to be out in the open. Do you understand that?”
“But why not?”
“I just don’t want to, that should be reason enough.” “And what do you want?”
“I want you to go.”
He had been squatting by the door and now he sat down. “You should sit down. Do you have a chair in there? Or sit on the floor. I’m sitting down out here.” He tapped on the door with his fingernail. “Are you still there? Where are you?”
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