MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
The Goalie's Anxiety At the Penalty Kick
WHEN JOSEPH BLOCH, a construction worker who had once been a well-known soccer goalie, reported for work that morning, he was told that he was fired. At least that was how he interpreted the fact that no one except the foreman looked up from his coffee break when he appeared at the door of the construction shack, where the workers happened to be at that moment, and Bloch left the building site. Out on the street he raised his arm, but the car that drove past --even though Bloch hadn't been hailing a cab--was not a cab. Then he heard the sound of brakes in front of him. Bloch looked around: behind him there was a cab; its driver started swearing. Bloch turned around, got in, and told the driver to take him to the Naschmarkt.
It was a beautiful October day. Bloch ate a hot dog at a stand and then walked past the stalls to a movie theater. Everything he saw bothered him. He tried to notice as little as possible. Inside the theater he breathed freely.
Afterward he was astonished by the perfectly natural manner of the cashier in responding to the wordless gesture with which he'd put his money on the box-office turntable. Next to the movie screen he noticed the illuminated dial of an electric clock. Halfway through the movie he heard a bell; for a long time he couldn't decide whether the ringing was in the film or in the belfry outside near the Naschmarkt.
Out on the street, he bought some grapes, which were especially cheap at this time of year. He walked on, eating the grapes and spitting out the skins. The first hotel where he asked for a room turned him away because he had only a briefcase with him; the desk clerk at the second hotel, which was on a side street, took him to his room himself. Even before the clerk had gone, Bloch lay down on the bed and soon fell asleep.
In the evening he left the hotel and got drunk. Later he sobered up and tried calling some friends; since most of these friends didn't live in the city and the phone didn't return his coins, Bloch soon ran out of change. A policeman to whom Bloch shouted,thinking he could get his attention, did not respond. Bloch wondered whether the policeman might have misconstrued the words Bloch had called across the street, and he remembered the natural way the movie cashier had spun around the tray with his ticket. He'd been so astonished by the swiftness of her movements that he almost forgot to pick up the ticket. He decided to look up the cashier.
When he got to the movie, the theater's lights were just going out. Bloch saw a man on a ladder exchanging the letters of the film for tomorrow's title. He waited until he could read the name of the next film; then he went back to the hotel.
The next day was Saturday. Bloch decided to stay at the hotel one more day. Except for an American couple, he was alone in the dining room; for a while he listened to their conversation, which he could understand fairly well because he'd traveled with his team to several soccer tournaments in New York; then he quickly went out to buy some newspapers. The papers, because they were the weekend editions, were very heavy; he didn't fold them up but carried them under his arm to the hotel. He sat down at his table, which had been cleared in the meantime, and took out the want-ad sections; this depressed him. Outside he saw two people walking by with thick newspapers. He held his breath until they had passed.Only then did he realize they were the two Americans. Having seen them earlier only at the table in the dining room, he did not recognize them.
At a coffeehouse he sipped for a long time at the glass of water served with his coffee. Once in a while he got up and took a magazine from the stacks lying on the chairs and tables designated for them; once when the waitress retrieved the magazines piled beside him, she muttered the phrase "newspaper table" as she left. Bloch, who could hardly bear looking at the magazines but at the same time could not really put down a single one of them before he had leafed through it completely, tried glancing out at the street now and then; the contrast between the magazine illustrations and the changing views outside soothed him. As he left, he returned the magazines to the table himself.
At the market the stalls were already closed. For a few minutes Bloch casually kicked discarded vegetables and fruit along the ground in front of him. Somewhere between the stalls he relieved himself. Standing there, he noticed that the walls of the wooden stands were black with urine everywhere.
The grape skins he had spat out the day before were still lying on the sidewalk. When Bloch put his money on the cashier's tray, the bill got caught as the turntable revolved; he had a chance to say something.The cashier answered. He said something else. Because this was unusual, the girl looked up. This gave him an excuse to go on talking. Inside the movie, Bloch remembered the cheap novel and the hot plate next to the cashier; he leaned back and began to take in the details on the screen.
Late in the afternoon he took a streetcar to the stadium. He bought standing room but sat down on the newspapers, which he still hadn't thrown away; the fact that the spectators in front of him blocked his view did not bother him. During the game most of them sat down. Bloch wasn't recognized. He left the newspapers where they were, put a beer bottle on top of them, and went out of the stadium before the final whistle, so he wouldn't get caught in the rush. The many nearly empty buses and streetcars waiting outside the stadium--it was a championship game--seemed strange. He sat down in a streetcar. He sat there almost alone for so long that he began to feel impatient. Had the referee called overtime? When Bloch looked up, he saw that the sun was going down. Without meaning anything by it, Bloch lowered his head.
Outside, it suddenly got windy. At just about the time that the final whistle blew, three long separate blasts, the drivers and conductors got into the buses and streetcars and the people crowded out of thestadium. Bloch could imagine the noise of beer bottles landing on the playing field; at the same time he heard dust hitting against the windows. Just as he had leaned back in the movie house, so now, while the spectators surged into the streetcar, he leaned forward. Luckily, he still had his film program. It felt as though the floodlights had just been turned on in the stadium. "Nonsense," Bloch said to himself. He never played well under the lights.
Downtown he spent some time trying to find a phone booth; when he found an empty one, the ripped-off receiver lay on the floor. He walked on. Finally he was able to make a call from the West Railroad Station. Since it was Saturday, hardly anybody was home. When a woman he used to know finally answered, he had to talk a bit before she understood who he was. They arranged to meet at a restaurant near the station, where Bloch knew there was a juke box. He passed the time until she came putting coins in the juke box, letting other people choose the songs; meanwhile, he looked at the signed photos of soccer players on the walls. The place had been leased a couple of years ago by a forward on the national eleven, who'd then gone overseas as coach of one of the unofficial American teams; now that that league had broken up, he'd disappeared over there. Bloch started talking to a girl who kept reachingblindly behind her from the table next to the juke box, always choosing the same record. She left with him. He tried to get her into a doorway, but all the gates were already locked. When one could be opened, it turned out that, to judge from the singing, a religious service was going on behind an inner door. They found an elevator and got in; Bloch pushed the button for the top floor. Even before the elevator started up, the girl wanted to get out again. Bloch then pushed the button for the second floor; there they got out and stood on the stairs; now the girl became affectionate. They ran upstairs together. The elevator was on the top floor; they got in, rode down, and went out on the street.
Bloch walked beside the girl for a while; then he turned around and went back to the restaurant. The woman, still in her coat, was waiting. Bloch explained to the other girl, who was still at the table next to the juke box, that her friend would not come back, and went out of the restaurant with the woman.
Bloch said, "I feel silly without a coat when you're wearing one." The woman took his arm. To free his arm, Bloch pretended that he wanted to show her something. Then he didn't know what it was he wanted to show her. Suddenly he felt the urge to buy an evening paper. They walked through several streets but couldn't find a newsstand. Finally theytook the bus to the South Station, but it was already closed. Bloch pretended to be startled; and in reality he was startled. To the woman--who had hinted, by opening her purse on the bus and fiddling with various things, that she was having her period--he said, "I forgot to leave a note," without knowing what he actually meant by the words "note" and "leave." Anyway, he got into a cab alone and drove to the Naschmarkt.
Since the movie had a late show on Saturdays, Bloch actually arrived too early. He went to a nearby cafeteria and, standing up, ate a croquette. He tried to tell the counter girl a joke as fast as he could; when the time was up and he still hadn't finished, he stopped in the middle of a sentence and paid. The girl laughed.
On the street he ran into a man he knew who asked him for money. Bloch swore at him. As the drunk grabbed Bloch by the shirt, the street blacked out. Startled, the drunk let go. Bloch, who'd been expecting the theater lights to go out, rushed away. In front of the movie house he met the cashier; she was getting into a car with a man. Bloch watched her. When she was in the car, in the seat next to the driver, she answered his look by adjusting her dress on the seat; at least Bloch took this to be a response. There were no incidents; she had closed the door and the car had driven off.
Bloch went back to the hotel. He found the lobby lit up but deserted. When he took his key from the hook, a folded note fell out of the pigeonhole. He opened it: it was his bill. While Bloch stood there in the lobby, with the note in his hand, the desk clerk came out of the checkroom. Bloch immediately asked him for a newspaper and at the same time looked through the open door into the checkroom, where the clerk had evidently been napping on a chair he'd taken from the lobby. The clerk closed the door, so that all Bloch could see was a small stepladder with a soup bowl on it, and said nothing until he was behind the desk. But Bloch had understood even the closing of the door as a rebuff and walked upstairs to his room. In the rather long hall he noticed a pair of shoes in front of only one door; in his room he took off his own shoes without untying them and put them outside the door. He lay down on the bed and fell asleep at once.
In the middle of the night he was briefly awakened by a quarrel in the adjoining room; but perhaps his ears were so oversensitive after the sudden waking that he only thought the voices next door were quarreling. He slammed his fist against the wall. Then he heard water rushing in the pipes. The water was turned off; it became quiet, and he fell back to sleep.
Next morning the telephone woke Bloch up. He was asked whether he wanted to stay another night.
Looking at his briefcase on the floor--the room had no luggage rack--Bloch immediately said yes and hung up. After he had brought in his shoes, which had not been shined, probably because it was Sunday, he left the hotel without breakfast.
In the rest room at the South Station he shaved himself with an electric razor. He showered in one of the shower stalls. While getting dressed, he read the sports section and the court reports in the newspaper. Afterwards--he was still reading and it was rather quiet in the adjoining booths--he suddenly felt good. Fully dressed, he leaned against the wall of the booth and kicked his foot against the wooden bench. The noise brought a question from the attendant outside and, when he didn't answer, a knock on the door. When he still didn't reply, the woman outside slapped a towel (or whatever it might be) against the door handle and went away. Bloch finished reading the paper standing up.
On the square in front of the station he ran into a man he knew who told him he was going to the suburbs to referee a minor-league game. Bloch thought this idea was a joke and played along with it by saying that he might as well come too, as the linesman. When his friend opened his duffelbag and showed him the referee's uniform and a net bag full of lemons, Bloch saw even those things, in line withthe initial idea, as some kind of trick items from a novelty shop and, still playing along, said that since he was coming too, he might as well carry the duffelbag. Later, when he was with his friend on the local train, the duffelbag in his lap, it seemed, especially since it was lunchtime and the compartment was nearly empty, as though he was going through this whole business only as a joke. Though what the empty compartment was supposed to have to do with his frivolous behavior was not clear to Bloch. That this friend of his was going to the suburbs with a duffelbag; that he, Bloch, was coming along; that they had lunch together at a suburban inn and went together to what Block called "an honest-to-goodness soccer field," all this seemed to him, even while he was traveling back home alone--he had not liked the game--some kind of mutual pretense. None of that mattered, thought Bloch. Luckily, he didn't run into anyone else on the square in front of the station.
From a telephone booth at the edge of a park he called his ex-wife; she said everything was okay but didn't ask about him. Bloch felt uneasy.
He sat down in a garden café that was still open despite the season and ordered a beer. When, after some time, nobody had brought his beer, he left; besides, the steel tabletop, which wasn't covered by a cloth, had blinded him. He stood outside the windowof a restaurant; the people inside were sitting in front of a TV set. He watched for a while. Somebody turned toward him, and he walked away.
In the Prater he was mugged. One thug jerked his jacket over his arms from behind; another butted his head against Bloch's chin. Bloch's knees folded a little, then he gave the guy in front a kick. Finally the two of them shoved him behind a candy stand and finished the job. He fell down and they left. In a rest room, Bloch cleaned off his face and suit.
At a café in the Second District he shot some pool until it was time for the sports news on television. Bloch asked the waitress to turn on the set and then watched as if none of this had anything to do with him. He asked the waitress to join him for a drink. When the waitress came out of the back room, where gambling was going on, Bloch was already at the door; she walked past him but didn't speak. Bloch went out.
Back at the Naschmarkt, the sight of the sloppily piled fruit and vegetable crates behind the stalls seemed like another joke of some kind, nothing to worry about. Like cartoons, thought Bloch, who liked to look at cartoons with no words. This feeling of pretense, of playing around--this business with the referee's whistle in the duffelbag, thought Bloch--went away only when, in the movie, a comic snitcheda trumpet from a junk shop and started tooting on it in a perfectly natural way; all this was so casual that it almost seemed unintentional, and Bloch realized that the trumpet and all other objects were stark and unequivocal. Bloch relaxed.
After the movie he waited between the market stalls for the cashier. Some time after the start of the last show, she came out. So as not to frighten her by coming at her from between the stalls, he sat there on a crate until she got to the more brightly lit part of the Naschmarkt. Behind the lowered shutter in one of the stalls, a telephone was ringing; the stand's phone number was written in large numerals on the metal sheet. "No score," Bloch thought at once. He followed the cashier without actually catching up with her. As she got on the bus, he strolled up and stepped aboard after her. He took a seat facing her but left several rows of seats between them. Not until new passengers blocked his view after the next stop was Bloch able to think again. She had certainly looked at him but obviously hadn't recognized him; had the mugging changed his looks that much? Bloch ran his fingers over his face. The idea of glancing at the window to check what she was doing struck him as foolish. He pulled the newspaper from the inside pocket of his jacket and looked down at the letters but didn't read. Then, suddenly, he foundhimself reading. An eyewitness was testifying about the murder of a pimp who'd been shot in the eye at close range. "A bat flew out of the back of his head and slammed against the wallpaper. My heart skipped a beat." When the sentences went right on about something else, about an entirely different person, with no paragraph, Bloch was startled. "But they should have put a paragraph there," thought Bloch. After his abrupt shock, he was furious. He walked down the aisle toward the cashier and sat diagonally across from her, so that he could look at her; but he did not look at her.
When they got off the bus, Bloch realized that they were far outside the city, near the airport. At this time of night, it was a very quiet area. Bloch walked along beside the girl but not as if he was escorting her or even as if he wanted to. After a while he touched her. The girl stopped, turned, and touched him too, so fiercely that he was startled. For a moment the purse in her other hand seemed more familiar to him than she did.
They walked along together a while, but keeping their distance, not touching. Only when they were on the stairs did he touch her again. She started to run; he walked more slowly. When he got upstairs, he recognized her apartment by the wide-open door. She attracted his attention in the dark; he walked to her and they started in right away.
In the morning, wakened by a noise, he looked out the window and saw a plane coming in for a landing. The blinking lights made him close the curtain. Because they hadn't turned on any lights, the curtain had stayed open. Bloch lay down and closed his eyes.
With his eyes closed, he was overcome by a strange inability to visualize anything. He tried to tell himself the names he knew for each thing in the room, but he couldn't picture anything; not even the plane he had just seen landing, though he might have recognized in his mind, probably from earlier experience, the screeching of its brakes on the runway. He opened his eyes and looked for a while at the corner where the kitchen was: he concentrated on the tea kettle and the wilted flowers drooping in the sink. He had barely closed his eyes again when the flowers and the tea kettle were unimaginable. He resorted to thinking up sentences about the things instead of words for them, in the belief that a story made up of such sentences would help him visualize things. The tea kettle whistled. The flowers were given to the girl by a friend. Nobody took the kettle off the hot plate. "Would you like some tea?" asked the girl. It was no use: Bloch opened his eyes when he couldn't stand it any more. The girl was asleep beside him.
Bloch grew nervous. If the pressure of everything around him when his eyes were open was bad, the pressure of the words for everything out there whenhis eyes were closed was even worse. "Maybe it's because I just finished sleeping with her," he thought. He went into the bathroom and took a long shower.
The tea kettle was actually whistling when he came back. "The shower woke me up," the girl said. Bloch felt as if she were addressing him directly for the first time. He wasn't quite himself yet, he replied. Were there ants in the teapot? "Ants?" When the boiling water from the kettle hit the bottom of the pot, he didn't see tea leaves but ants, on which he had once poured scalding water. He pulled the curtain open again.
The tea in the open canister seemed--since the light reached it only through the small round hole in the lid--oddly illuminated by reflection from the inner walls. Bloch, sitting with the canister at the table, was staring fixedly through the hole. It amused him to be so fascinated by the peculiar glow of the tea leaves while inattentively talking to the girl. Finally he pressed the cap back on the lid, but at the same time he stopped talking. The girl hadn't noticed anything. "My name is Gerda," she said. Bloch hadn't even wanted to know. He asked whether she had noticed anything, but she'd put on a record, an Italian song with electric-guitar accompaniment. "I like his voice," she said. Bloch, who had no use for Italian hits, remained silent.
When she went out briefly to get something for breakfast--"It's Monday," she said--Bloch finally had a chance to study everything carefully. While they ate, they talked a lot. Bloch soon noticed that she talked about the things he'd just told her as if they were hers, but when he mentioned something she had just talked about, he either quoted her exactly or, if he was using his own words, always prefaced the new names with a hesitant "this" or "that," which distanced them, as if he were afraid of making her affairs his. If he talked about the foreman, say, or about a soccer player named Dumm, she could say, almost at once, quite familiarly, "the foreman" and "Dumm"; however, when she mentioned someone she knew called Freddy or a bar called Stephen's Dive, he invariably talked about "this Freddy?" and "that Stephen's Dive?" when he replied. Every word she uttered prevented him from taking any deeper interest, and it upset him that she seemed so free to take over whatever he said.
From time to time, of course, the conversation became as natural for him as for her: he asked a question and she answered; she asked one and he made the obvious reply. "Is that a jet?"--"No, that's a prop plane."--"Where do you live?"--"In the Second District." He even came close to telling her about the mugging.
But then everything began to irritate him more and more. He wanted to answer her but broke off in mid-sentence because he assumed that she already knew what he had to say. She grew restless and started moving about the room; she was looking for something to do, smiling stupidly now and then. They passed the time by turning records over and changing them. She got up and lay down on the bed; he sat down next to her. Was he going to work today? she wanted to know.
Suddenly he was choking her. From the start his grip was so tight that she'd never had a chance to think he was kidding. Bloch heard voices outside in the hall. He was scared to death. He noticed some stuff running out of her nose. She was gurgling. Finally he heard a snapping noise. It sounded like a stone on a dirt road slamming against the bottom of a car. Saliva had dripped onto the linoleum.
The constriction was so tight that all at once he was exhausted. He lay down on the floor, unable to fall asleep but incapable of raising his head. He heard someone slap a rag against the outside doorknob. He listened. There had been nothing to hear. So he must have fallen asleep after all.
It didn't take him long to wake up; as soon as his eyes were open, he felt exposed; as though there wasa draft in the room, he thought. And he hadn't even scraped his skin. Still, he imagined that some kind of lymph fluid was seeping out through all his pores. He was up and had wiped off everything in the room with a dish towel.
He looked out the window: down below, somebody with an armful of coats on hangers was running across the grass toward a delivery truck.
He took the elevator, left the house, and walked straight ahead for a while. Then he took the suburban bus to the streetcar terminal; from there he rode back downtown.
When he got to the hotel, it turned out that his briefcase had already been brought downstairs for safekeeping, since it looked as if he wouldn't be back. While he was paying his bill, the bellboy brought the briefcase from the checkroom. Bloch saw a faint ring on it and realized that a damp milk bottle must have been standing on it; he opened the case while the cashier was getting his change and noticed that the contents had been inspected: the toothbrush handle was sticking out of its leather case; the portable radio was lying on top. Bloch turned toward the bellboy, but he had disappeared into the checkroom. The space behind the desk was quite narrow, so Bloch was able to pull the cashier toward him with one hand and then, after a sharp breath, to fake a slap against hisface with the other. The cashier flinched, though Bloch had not even touched him. The bellboy in the checkroom kept quiet. Bloch had already left with his briefcase.
He got to the company's personnel office in time, just before lunch, and picked up his papers. Bloch was surprised that they weren't already there ready for him and that some phone calls still had to be made. He asked to use the phone himself and called his ex-wife; when the boy answered the phone and immediately launched into his rote sentence about his mother not being home, Bloch hung up. The papers were ready by now; he put the income-tax form in his briefcase. Before he could ask the woman about his back pay, she was gone. Bloch counted out on the table the money for the phone call and left the building.
The banks were also closed for the lunch break by now. Bloch waited around in a park until he could withdraw the money from his checking account--he'd never had a savings account. Since that wouldn't take him very far, he decided to return the transistor radio, which was practically brand-new. He took the bus to his place in the Second District and also picked up a flash attachment and a razor. At the store they carefully explained that the goods couldn't be returned, only exchanged. Bloch took the bus back tohis room and also stuffed into a suitcase two trophies --of course, they were only copies of cups his team had won, one in a tournament and the other in a championship game--and a gold-plated pendant in the shape of two soccer boots.
When no one came to wait on him in the junk shop, he took out his things and simply put them on the counter. Then he felt that he'd put the things on the counter too confidently, as though he'd already sold them, and he grabbed them back off the counter and hid them in his bag; he would put them back on the counter only after he'd been asked to. On the back of a shelf he noticed a china music box with a dancer striking the familiar pose. As usual when he saw a music box, he felt that he'd seen it before. Without haggling, he simply accepted the first offer for his things.
With the lightweight coat he had taken from his room across his arm, he had then gone to the South Station. On his way to the bus stop, he had run into the woman at whose newsstand he usually bought his papers. She was wearing a fur coat while walking her dog. Even though he usually said something to her, staring all the while at her grimy fingernails, when she handed him his paper and his change, here, away from her stand, she seemed not to know him; at least she didn't look up and hadn't answered his greeting.
Since there were only a few trains to the border each day, Bloch spent the time until the next train sleeping in the newsreel theater. At one point it got very bright and the rustling of a curtain opening or closing seemed ominously near. To see whether the curtain had opened or closed, Bloch opened his eyes. Somebody was shining a flashlight in his face. Bloch knocked the light out of the usher's hand and went into the men's room. It was quiet there; daylight filtered in. Bloch stood still for a while.
The usher had followed him and threatened to call the police. Bloch had turned on the faucet, washed his hands, then pushed the button on the electric dryer and held his hands under the warm air until the usher disappeared.
Then Bloch had cleaned his teeth. He had watched in the mirror how he rubbed one hand across his teeth while the other, loosely clenched into a fist, rested oddly against his chest. From inside the movie house he heard the screaming and horseplay of the cartoon figures.
Bloch remembered that an ex-girlfriend of his ran a tavern in some town near the southern border. In the station post office, where they had phone books for the entire country, he couldn't find her number; there were several taverns in the village, and their owners weren't listed; besides, lifting the phone books--they were all hanging in a row with their spines out--soon proved too much for him. "Face down," he suddenly thought. A cop came in and asked for his papers.
Looking down at the passport and then up at Bloch's face, the cop said that the usher had lodged a complaint. After a while Bloch decided to apologize. But the cop had already returned the passport, with the comment that Bloch sure got around a lot. Bloch didn't watch him go but quickly tipped the phone book back into place. Somebody screamed; when Bloch looked up, he saw a Greek workman shouting into the phone in the booth right in front of him. Bloch thought things over and decided to take the bus instead of the train; he turned in his ticket and, after buying a salami sandwich and several newspapers, finally made it to the bus terminal.
The bus was already there, though of course the door was still closed; the drivers stood talking in a group not far away. Bloch sat on a bench; the sun was shining. He ate the salami sandwich but left the papers lying next to him, because he wanted to save them for the long ride.
The luggage racks on both sides of the bus remained quite empty; hardly any of the passengers had luggage. Bloch waited outside so long that the back door was closed. Then he quickly climbed in thefront, and the bus started. It stopped again immediately when there was a shout from outside. Bloch did not turn around; a farm woman with a bawling kid had got on. Inside, the kid quieted down; then the bus had taken off.
Bloch noticed that he was sitting on a seat right over a wheel; his feet slipped down off the curve the floor made at that point. He moved to the last row, where, if necessary, he could comfortably look out the back. As he sat down, his eyes met the driver's in the rearview mirror, but there was nothing important about it. The movement Bloch made to stow away the briefcase behind him gave him a chance to look outside. The folding door in the back was rattling loudly.
While the passengers in the other rows of seats all faced the front of the bus, the two rows directly in front of him were turned around to face each other; therefore, most of the passengers seated behind one another stopped talking almost as soon as the bus started, but those in front of him started talking again almost immediately. Bloch found the voices of the people nice; it relaxed him to be able to listen.
After a while--the bus was now on the road leading to the highway--a woman sitting next to him showed him that he had dropped some change. "Is that your money?" she asked as she fished a single coin out from between the seat and the backrest. Anothercoin, an American penny, lay on the seat between them. Bloch took the coins, explaining that he'd probably lost them when he'd turned around. But since the woman had not noticed that he had turned around, she began to ask questions and Bloch went on answering; gradually, although the way they were sitting made it uncomfortable, they began to talk to each other a little.
Between talking and listening, Bloch did not put the change away. The coins had become warm in his hand, as if they had been pushed toward him from a movie box office. The coins were so dirty, he said, because they had been used a little earlier for the coin toss during a soccer game. "I don't understand those things," the woman said. Bloch hastily opened his newspaper. "Heads or tails," she went on, so that Bloch had to close the paper again. Earlier, when he had been in the seat over the wheel, the loop inside his coat collar, which had hung over a hook next to him, had been ripped off when he had abruptly sat down on the dangling coattails. With his coat on his knees, Bloch sat defenseless next to the woman.
The road was bumpier now. Because the back door did not fit tightly, Bloch saw light from outside the bus flash intermittently into the interior through the slit. Without looking at the slit, he was aware of the light flickering over his paper. He read line byline. Then he looked up and watched the passengers up front. The farther away they sat, the nicer it was to look at them. After a while he noticed that the flickering had stopped inside. Outside, it had grown dark.
Bloch, who was not used to noticing so many details, had a headache, perhaps also because of the smell from the many newspapers he had with him. Luckily, the bus stopped in a district town, where supper was served to the passengers at a rest stop. While Bloch took a stroll, he heard the cigarette machine crashing again and again in the barroom.
He noticed a lighted phone booth in front of the restaurant. His ears still hummed from the drone of the bus, so the crunch of the gravel by the phone booth felt good. He tossed the newspapers into a trash basket next to the booth and closed himself in. "I make a good target." Once in a movie he had heard somebody standing by a window at night say that.
Nobody answered. Out in the open, Bloch, in the shadow of the phone booth, heard the clanging of the pinball machines through the drawn curtains of the rest stop. When he came into the bar, it turned out to be almost empty; most of the passengers had already gone outside. Bloch drank a beer standing up and went out into the hall: some people were already in the bus, others stood by the door talking tothe driver, and more stood farther away in the dark with their backs to the bus. Bloch, who was getting sick of such observations, wiped his hand across his mouth. Why didn't he just look away? He looked away and saw passengers in the hall coming from the rest rooms with their children. When he had wiped his mouth, his hand had smelled of the metal grips on the armrest. "That can't be true," Bloch thought. The driver had got into the bus and, to signal that everybody else should get aboard, had started the engine. "As if you couldn't understand him without that," Bloch thought. As they drove off, sparks from the cigarettes they hastily threw out the window showered the road.
Nobody sat next to him now. Bloch retreated into the corner and put his legs up on the seat. He untied his shoes, leaned against the side window, and looked over at the window on the other side. He held his hands behind his neck, pushed a crumb off the seat with his foot, pressed his arms against his ears, and looked at his elbows in front of him. He pushed the insides of his elbows against his temples, sniffed at his shirtsleeves, rubbed his chin against his upper arm, laid back his head, and looked up at the ceiling lights. There was no end to it any more. The only thing he could think of was to sit up.
The shadows of the trees behind the guard railscircled around the trees themselves. The wipers that lay on the windshield did not point in exactly the same direction. The ticket tray next to the driver seemed open. Something like a glove lay in the center aisle of the bus. Cows were sleeping in the meadows next to the road. It was no use denying any of that.
Gradually more and more passengers got off at their stops. They stood next to the driver until he let them out in front. When the bus stood still, Bloch heard the canvas fluttering on the roof. Then the bus stopped again, and he heard welcoming shouts outside in the dark. Farther on, he recognized a railroad crossing without gates.
Just before midnight the bus stopped at the border town. Bloch immediately took a room at the inn by the bus stop. He asked the girl who showed him upstairs about his girlfriend, whose first name--Hertha--was all he knew. She was able to give him the information: his girlfriend had rented a tavern not far from town. In the room Bloch asked the girl, who was still in the doorway, about the meaning of all that noise. "Some of the guys are still bowling," the girl answered, and left. Without looking around, Bloch undressed, washed his hands, and lay down on the bed. The rumbling and crashing downstairs went on for quite a while. But Bloch had already fallen asleep.
He did not wake up by himself but must have been roused by something. Everything was quiet. Bloch thought about what might have wakened him; after a while he began to imagine that the sound of a newspaper opening had startled him. Or had it been the creaking of the wardrobe? Maybe a coin had fallen out of his pants, hung carelessly over the chair, and had rolled under the bed. On the wall he noticed an engraving that showed the town at the time of the Turkish wars; the townspeople strolled outside the walls; inside them the bell was hanging in the tower so crookedly that it had to be ringing fiercely. Bloch thought about the sexton being yanked up by the bell rope. He noticed that all the townspeople were walking toward the gate in the wall; one child apparently was stumbling because of the dog slinking between his legs. Even the little auxiliary chapel bell was pictured in such a way that it almost tipped over. Under the bed there had been only a burned-out match. Out in the hall, farther away, a key crunched again in a lock; that must have been what had roused him.
At breakfast Bloch heard that a schoolboy who had trouble walking had been missing for two days. The girl talked about this to the bus driver, who had spent the night at the inn before, as Bloch watched through the window, he drove back in the almost-empty bus.
Later the girl also left, so that Bloch sat alone in the dining room a while. He piled the newspapers on the chair next to him; he read that the missing boy was not almost crippled but had trouble talking. As soon as she came back, the girl, as though she owed him an explanation, told him that the vacuum cleaner was running upstairs. Bloch didn't know what to say to that. Then empty beer bottles clinked in the crates being carried across the yard outside. The voices of the delivery men in the hall sounded to Bloch as though they came from the TV set next door. The girl had told him that the innkeeper's mother sat in that room and watched the daytime shows.
Later on Bloch bought himself a shirt, some underwear, and several pairs of socks in a general store. The salesgirl, who had taken her time coming out of the rather dim storage room, seemed not to understand Bloch, who was using complete sentences in speaking to her; only when he told her word for word the names of the things he wanted did she start to move around again. As she opened the cash-register drawer, she had said that some rubber boots had also just arrived; and as she was handing him his things in a plastic shopping bag, she had asked whether he needed anything else: handkerchiefs? a tie? a wool sweater? At the inn Bloch had changed and stuffed his dirty clothes in the plastic bag. Almostnobody was around in the yard outside and on his way out of town. At a construction site a cement mixer was just being turned off; it was so quiet now that his own steps sounded almost indecent to Bloch. He had stopped and looked at the tarpaulins covering the lumber piles outside a sawmill as if there were something else to hear besides the mumbling of the sawmill workers, who were probably sitting behind the lumber piles during their coffee break.
He had learned that the tavern, along with a couple of farmhouses and the customs shed, stood at a spot where the paved street curved back toward town; a road between the houses, which had once also been paved but recently was covered only with gravel, branched off from the street and then, just before the border, turned into a dirt path. The border crossing was closed. Actually Bloch had not even asked about the border crossing.
He saw a hawk circling over a field. When the hawk hovered at one spot and then dived down, Bloch realized that he had not been watching the hawk fluttering and diving but the spot in the field for which the bird would presumably head; the hawk had caught itself in its dive and risen again.
It was also odd that, while he was walking past the cornfield, Bloch did not look straight down the rows that ran through to the end of the field butsaw only an impenetrable thicket of stalks, leaves, and cobs, with here and there some naked kernels showing as well. As well? The brook which the street crossed at that point roared quite loudly, and Bloch stopped.
At the tavern he found a waitress just scrubbing the floor. Bloch asked for the landlady. "She's still asleep," the waitress said. Standing up, Bloch ordered a beer. The waitress lifted a chair off the table. Bloch took the second chair off the table and sat down.
The waitress went behind the bar. Bloch put his hands on the table. The waitress bent down and opened the bottle. Bloch pushed the ashtray aside. The waitress took a cardboard coaster from another table as she passed it. Bloch pushed his chair back. The waitress took the glass, which had been slipped over the neck of the bottle, off the bottle, set the coaster on the table, put the glass on the coaster, tipped the beer into the glass, put the bottle on the table, and went away. It was starting up again. Bloch did not know what to do any more.
Finally he noticed a drop running down the outside of the glass and, on the wall, a clock whose hands were two matches; one match was broken off and served as the hour hand. He had not watched the descending drop but the spot on the coaster that the drop might hit.
The waitress, who by now was rubbing paste wax into the floor, asked if he knew the landlady. Bloch nodded, but only when the waitress looked up did he say yes.
A little girl ran in without closing the door. The waitress sent her back to the entryway, where she scraped her boots and, after a second reminder, shut the door. "The landlady's kid," explained the waitress, who took the child into the kitchen at once. When she came back, she said that a few days ago a man had wanted to see the landlady. "He claimed that he was supposed to dig a well. She wanted to send him away immediately, but he wouldn't let up until she showed him the cellar, and down there he grabbed the spade right away, so that she had to go for help to get him to go away, and she ..." Bloch barely managed to interrupt her. "The kid has been scared ever since that the well-digger might show up again." But in the meantime a customs guard came in and had a drink at the bar.
Was the missing schoolboy back home again? the waitress asked. The customs guard answered, "No, he hasn't been found yet."
"Well, he hasn't been gone for even two days yet," the waitress said. The guard replied, "But the nights are beginning to get quite chilly now."
"Anyway, he's warmly dressed," said the waitress. The guard agreed that, yes, he was dressed warmly.
"He can't be far," he added. He couldn't have got very far, the waitress repeated. Bloch noticed a damaged set of antlers over the juke box. The waitress explained that it came from a stag that had wandered into the minefield.
From the kitchen he heard sounds that, as he listened, turned into voices. The waitress shouted through the closed door. The landlady answered from the kitchen. They talked to each other like that a while. Then, halfway through an answer, the landlady came in. Bloch said hello.
She sat down at his table, not next to but across from him; she put her hands on her knees under the table. Through the open door Bloch heard the refrigerator humming in the kitchen. The child sat next to it, eating a sandwich. The landlady looked at him as if she hadn't seen him for too long. "I haven't seen you for a long time," she said. Bloch told her a story about his visit here. Through the door, quite far away, he saw the little girl sitting in the kitchen. The landlady put her hands on the table and turned the palms over and back. The waitress brought the drink Bloch had ordered for her. Which "her"? In the kitchen, which was now empty, the refrigerator rattled. Through the door Bloch looked at the apple parings lying on the kitchen table. Under the table there was a bowl heaped full of apples; a few appleshad rolled off and were scattered around on the floor. A pair of work pants hung on a nail in the doorframe. The landlady had pushed the ashtray between herself and Bloch. Bloch put the bottle to one side, but she put the match box in front of her and set the glass down next to it. Finally Bloch pushed his glass and the bottle to the right of them. Hertha laughed.
The little girl had come back and was leaning against the back of the landlady's chair. She was sent to get wood for the kitchen, but when she opened the door with only one hand, she dropped the logs. The waitress picked up the wood and carried it into the kitchen while the child went back to leaning against the back of the landlady's chair. It seemed to Bloch as if these proceedings could be used against him.
Somebody tapped against the window from outside but disappeared immediately. The estate owner's son, the landlady said. Then some children walked by outside, and one of them darted up and pressed his face against the glass and ran away again. "School's out," she said. After that it got darker inside because a furniture van had pulled up outside. "There's my furniture," said the landlady. Bloch was relieved that he could get up and help bring in the furniture.
When they were carrying the wardrobe, one of itsdoors swung open. Bloch kicked the door shut again. When the wardrobe was set down in the bedroom, the door opened again. One of the movers handed Bloch the key, and Bloch turned it in the lock. But he wasn't the proprietor, Bloch said. Gradually, when he said something now, he himself reappeared in what he said. The landlady asked him to stay for lunch. Bloch, who had planned to stay at her place anyway, refused. But he'd come back this evening. Hertha, who was talking from the room with the furniture, spoke while he was leaving; anyway, it seemed to him that he had heard her call. He stepped back into the barroom, but all he could see through the doors standing open everywhere was the waitress at the stove in the kitchen while the landlady was putting clothes into the wardrobe in the bedroom and the child was doing her homework at a table in the barroom. Walking out, he had probably confused the water boiling over on the stove with a shout.
Even though the window was open, it was impossible to see into the customs shed; the room was too dark from the outside. Still, somebody must have seen Bloch from the inside; he understood this because he himself held his breath as he walked past. Was it possible that nobody was in the room even though the window was wide open? Why "even though"? Was it possible that nobody was in theroom because the window was wide open? Bloch looked back: a beer bottle had even been taken off the windowsill so that they could have a better look at him. He heard a sound like a bottle rolling under a sofa. On the other hand, it was not likely that the customs shed had a sofa. Only when he had gone farther on did it become clear to him that a radio had been turned on in the room. Bloch went back along the wide curve the street made toward the town. At one point he started to run with relief because the street led back to town so openly and simply.
He wandered among the houses for a while. At a café he chose a few records after the owner had turned on the juke box; he had walked out even before all the records had played. Outside he heard the owner unplug the machine. On the benches sat schoolchildren waiting for the bus.
He stopped in front of a fruit stand but stood so far away from it that the owner behind the stand could not speak to him. She looked at him and waited for him to move a step closer. A child who was standing in front of him said something, but the woman did not answer. When a policeman who had come up from behind got close enough to the fruit stand, she spoke to him immediately.
There were no phone booths in the town. Blochtried to call a friend from the post office. He waited on a bench near the switchboard, but the call did not go through. At that time of day the circuits were busy, he was told. He swore at the postmistress and walked out.
When, outside the town, he passed the public swimming pool, he saw two policemen on bicycles coming toward him. "With capes," he thought. In fact, when the policemen stopped in front of him, they really were wearing capes; and when they got off their bicycles they did not even take the clips off their trousers. Again it seemed to Bloch as if he were watching a music box; as though he had seen all this before. He had not let go of the door in the fence that led to the pool even though it was closed. "The pool is closed," Bloch said.
The policemen, who made the usual remarks, nevertheless seemed to mean something entirely different by them; at least they purposely mispronounced phrases like "got to remember" and "take off" as "goats you remember" and "take-off" and, just as purposely, let their tongues slide over others, saying "whitewash?" instead of "why watch?" and "closed, or" instead of "close door." For what would be the point of their telling him about the goats that, he should remember, had once, when the door had been left open, forced their way into the pool,which hadn't even been officially opened yet, and had soiled everything, even the walls of the restaurant, so that the rooms had to be whitewashed all over again and it wasn't ready on time, which was why Bloch should keep the door closed and stay on the sidewalk? As if to show their contempt for him, the policemen also failed to give their customary salutes when they drove away--or, anyway, only hinted at them, as though they wanted to tell Bloch something by it. They did not look back over their shoulders. To show that he had nothing to hide, Bloch stayed by the fence and went on looking in at the empty pool. "Like I was in an open wardrobe I wanted to take something out of," Bloch thought. He could not remember now what he had gone to the public pool for. Besides, it was getting dark; the lights were already shining on the signs outside the public buildings at the edge of town. Bloch walked back into town. When two girls ran past him toward the railroad station, he called after them. Running, they turned around and shouted back. Bloch was hungry. He ate at the inn while the TV set could be heard from the next room. Later he took a glass in there and watched until the test pattern came on at the end of the program. He asked for his key and went upstairs. Half asleep, he thought he heard a car driving up outside with its headlights turned off. He asked himself why he happenedto think of a darkened car; he must have fallen asleep before he figured it out.
Bloch was wakened by a banging and wheezing on the street, trash cans being dumped into the garbage truck; but when he looked out, he saw that the folding door of the bus that was just leaving had closed and, farther away, that milk cans were being set on the loading ramp of the dairy. There weren't any garbage trucks out here in the country; the muddle was starting all over again.
Bloch saw the girl in the doorway with a pile of towels on her arm and a flashlight on top of it; even before he could call attention to himself, she was back out in the hall. Only after the door was closed did she excuse herself, but Bloch did not understand her because at the same time he was shouting something to her. He followed her out into the hall; she was already in another room. Back in his room, Bloch locked the door, giving the key two emphatic turns. Later he followed the girl, who by then had moved several rooms farther on, and explained that it had been a misunderstanding. While putting a towel on the sink, the girl answered yes, it was a misunderstanding; before, from far away, she must have mistaken the bus driver on the stairs for him, so she had started into his room thinking that he had already gone downstairs. Bloch, who was standing inthe open door, said that that was not what he had meant. But she had just turned on the faucet, so that she asked him to repeat the sentence. Then Bloch answered that there were far too many wardrobes and chests and drawers in the rooms. The girl answered yes, and as far as that went, there were far too few people working at the inn, as the mistaken identification, which could be blamed on her exhaustion, just went to prove. That was not what he meant by his remark about wardrobes, answered Bloch, it was just that you couldn't move around easily in the rooms. The girl asked what he meant by that. Bloch did not answer. She replied to his silence by bunching up the dirty towel--or, rather, Bloch assumed that her bunching up of the towel was a response to his silence. She let the towel drop into the basket; again Bloch did not answer, which made her, so he believed, open the curtains, so that he quickly stepped back into the dim hallway. "That's not what I meant to say," the girl called. She came into the hall after him, but then Bloch followed her while she distributed the towels in the other rooms. At a bend in the hallway they came upon a pile of used bedsheets lying on the floor. When Bloch swerved, a soap box fell from the top of the girl's pile of towels. Did she need a flashlight on the way home? asked Bloch. She had a boyfriend, answeredthe girl, who was straightening up with a flushed face. Did the inn also have rooms with double doors between them? asked Bloch. "My boyfriend is a carpenter, after all," answered the girl. He'd seen a movie where a hotel thief got caught between such double doors, Bloch said. "Nothing's ever been taken from our rooms!" said the girl.
Downstairs in the dining room he read that a small American coin had been found beside the cashier, a nickel. The cashier's friends had never seen her with an American soldier, nor were there many American tourists in the country at this time. Furthermore, scribbles had been discovered in the margin of a newspaper, the kind of doodles someone might make while talking. The scribbling plainly was not the girl's; investigations were being made to determine whether it might reveal anything about her visitor.
The innkeeper came to the table and put the registration form in front of him; he said that it had been lying in Bloch's room all the time. Bloch filled out the form. The innkeeper stood off a little and watched him. Just then the chain saw in the sawmill outside struck wood. To Bloch the noise sounded like something forbidden.
Instead of just taking the form behind the bar, which would have been natural, the innkeeper took it into the next room and, as Bloch saw, spoke to hismother; then, instead of coming right back out again, as might be expected since the door had been left open, he went on talking and finally closed the door. Instead of the innkeeper, the old woman came out. The innkeeper did not come out after her but stayed in the room and pulled open the curtains, and then, instead of turning off the TV, he turned on the fan.
The girl now came into the dining room from the other side with a vacuum cleaner. Bloch fully expected to see her casually step out on the street with the machine; instead, she plugged it into the socket and then pushed it back and forth under the tables and chairs. And when the innkeeper closed the curtains in the next room again, and his mother went back into the room, and, finally, the innkeeper turned off the fan, it seemed to Bloch as if everything was falling back into place.
He asked the innkeeper if the local people read many newspapers. "Only the weeklies and magazines," the innkeeper answered. Bloch, who was asking this while leaving, had pinched his arm between the door handle and the door because he was pushing the handle down with his elbow. "That's what you get for that!" the girl shouted after him. Bloch could still hear the innkeeper asking what she meant.
He wrote a few postcards but did not mail themright away. Later, outside the town, when he wanted to stuff them into a mailbox fastened to a fence, he noticed that the mailbox would not be emptied again until tomorrow. Ever since his team, while touring South America, had had to send postcards with every member's signature to the newspapers, Bloch was in the habit, when he was on the road, of writing postcards.
A class of schoolchildren came by; the children were singing and Bloch dropped in the cards. The empty mailbox resounded as they fell into it. But the mailbox was so tiny that nothing could resound in there. Anyway, Bloch had walked away immediately.
He walked cross-country for a while. The feeling that a ball heavy with rain was dropping on his head let up. Near the border the woods started. He turned back when he recognized the first watchtower on the other side of the cleared no-man's-land. At the edge of the woods he sat down on a tree trunk. He got up again immediately. Then he sat down again and counted his money. He looked up. The landscape, even though it was flat, curved toward him so firmly that it seemed to dislodge him. He was here at the edge of the woods, the electric power shed was over there, the milk stand was over there, a field was over there, a few people were over there, he was there at the edge of the woods. He sat as still ashe could until he was not aware of himself any more. Later he realized that the people in the field were policemen with dogs.
Next to a blackberry bush, half hidden beneath the blackberries, Bloch found a child's bicycle. He stood it upright. The seat was screwed up quite high, as though for an adult. A few blackberry thorns were stuck in the tires, though no air had escaped. The wheel was blocked by a fir branch that had been caught in the spokes. Bloch tugged at the branch. Then he dropped the bicycle, feeling that the policemen might, from far away, see the sun's reflections off the casing of the headlight. But the policemen and their dogs had walked on.
Bloch looked after the figures running down an embankment; the dog's tags and the walkie-talkies glinted. Did the glinting mean anything? Gradually it lost its significance: the headlight casings of cars flashed where the street curved farther away, a splinter from a pocket mirror sparkled next to Bloch, and then the path glimmered with mica gravel. The gravel slid away under the tires when Bloch got on the bicycle.
He rode a little way. Finally he leaned the bicycle against the power shed and went on on foot.
He read the movie ad posted on the milk stand; the other posters under it were tattered. Bloch walkedon and saw a boy who had hiccups standing in a farmyard. He saw wasps flying around in an orchard. At a wayside crucifix there were rotting flowers in tin cans. In the grass next to the street lay empty cigarette boxes. Next to the closed window he saw hooks dangling from the shutters. As he walked by an open window, he smelled something decayed. At the tavern the landlady told him that somebody in the house across the street had died yesterday.
When Bloch wanted to join her in the kitchen, she met him at the door and walked ahead of him into the barroom. Bloch passed her and walked toward a table in the corner, but she had already sat down at a table near the door. When Blotch wanted to talk, she had started in. He wanted to show her that the waitress was wearing orthopedic shoes, but the landlady was already pointing to the street, where a policeman was walking past, pushing a child's bicycle. "That's the dumb kid's bike," she said.
The waitress had joined them, with a magazine in her hand; they all looked out the window together. Block asked whether the well-digger had reported back. The landlady, who had understood only the words "reported back," started to talk about soldiers. Bloch said "come back" instead, and the landlady talked about the mute schoolboy. "He couldn't even call for help," the waitress said, or rather read froma caption in the magazine. The landlady talked about a movie where some hobnails had been mixed into cake dough. Bloch asked whether the guards on the watchtowers had field glasses; anyway, something was glinting up there. "You can't even see the watchtowers from here," answered one of the two women. Bloch saw that they had flour on their faces from making cake, particularly on their eyebrows and at their hairlines.
He walked out into the yard, but when nobody came after him, he went back inside. He stood next to the juke box, leaving a little room beside him. The waitress, who was now sitting behind the bar, had broken a glass. The landlady had come out of the kitchen at the sound but, instead of looking at the waitress, had looked at him. Bloch turned down the volume control on the back of the juke box. Then, while the landlady was still in the doorway, he turned the volume up again. The landlady walked in front of him through the barroom as though she were pacing it off. Bloch asked her how much rent the estate owner charged for the tavern. At this question Hertha stopped short. The waitress swept the broken glass into a dustpan. Bloch walked toward Hertha, the landlady walked past him into the kitchen. Bloch went in after her.
Since a cat was lying in the second chair, Blochstood right next to her. She was talking about the estate owner's son, who was her boyfriend. Bloch stood next to the window and questioned her about him. She explained what the estate owner's son did. Without being asked, she went on talking. At the edge of the stove Bloch noticed a second mason jar. Now and then he said, Yes? He noticed a second ruler in the work pants on the doorframe. He interrupted her to ask what number she started counting at. She hesitated, even stopped coring the apple. Bloch said that recently he had noticed that he himself was in the habit of starting to count only at the number 2; this morning, for instance, he'd almost been run down by a car when he was crossing the street because he thought he had enough time until the second car; he'd simply not counted the first one. The landlady answered with a commonplace remark.
Bloch walked over to the chair and lifted it from behind so that the cat jumped down. He sat down but pushed the chair away from the table. In doing this, be bumped against a serving table, and a beer bottle fell down and rolled under the kitchen sofa. Why was he always sitting down, getting up, going out, standing around, coming back in? asked the landlady. Was he doing it to tease her? Instead of answering, Bloch read her a joke from the newspaper under the apple parings. Since from where he sat thepaper was upside down, he read so haltingly that the landlady, leaning forward, took over the job. Outside, the waitress laughed. Inside, something fell on the floor in the bedroom. No second sound followed. Bloch, who had not heard a sound the first time either, wanted to go and see; but the landlady explained that earlier she had heard the little girl waking up; she had just got out of bed and would probably come in any minute now and ask for a piece of cake. But Bloch then actually heard a sound like whimpering. It turned out that the child had fallen out of bed in her sleep and couldn't figure out where she was on the floor next to the bed. In the kitchen the girl said there were some flies under her pillow. The landlady explained to Bloch that the neighbor's children, who, because of the death in their family, were sleeping over here for the duration of the wake, passed the time by shooting the rubber rings from Mason jars at flies on the wall; in the evening they put the flies that had fallen on the floor under the pillow.
After a few things had been pressed into the girl's hand--the first one or two she dropped again--she gradually calmed down. Bloch saw the waitress come out of the bedroom with her hand cupped and toss the flies into the garbage can. It wasn't his fault, he said. He saw the baker's truck stop in front of theneighbor's house and the driver put two loaves on the doorstep, the dark loaf on the bottom, the white one on top. The landlady sent the little girl to meet the driver at the door; Bloch heard the waitress running water over her hand at the bar; lately he was always apologizing, the landlady said. Really? asked Bloch. Just then the little girl came into the kitchen with two loaves. He also saw the waitress wiping her hands on her apron as she walked toward a customer. What did he want to drink? Who? Nothing right now, was the answer. The child had closed the door to the barroom.
"Now we're alone," said Hertha. Bloch looked at the kid standing by the window looking at the neighbor's house. "That doesn't count," she said. Bloch took this as a hint that she had something to tell him, but then he realized that what she had meant was that he should start talking. Bloch could not think of anything. He said something obscene. She immediately sent the child out of the room. He put his hand next to hers. She told him off, softly. Roughly, he grabbed her arm but let go again immediately. Outside on the street he bumped into the kid, who was poking a piece of straw at the plaster wall of the house.
He looked through the open window into the neighbor's house. On a trestle table he saw the corpse; next to it stood the coffin. A woman sat on a stool inthe corner and dunked some bread into a cider jar; a young man lay asleep on his back on a bench behind the table; a cat lay on his stomach.
As Bloch came into the house, he almost fell over a log in the hallway. The woman came to the door; he stepped inside and talked with her. The young man had sat up but did not say anything; the cat had run out. "He had to keep watch all night," the woman said. In the morning she had found him quite drunk. She turned around to the dead man and said a prayer. Now and then she changed the water in the flowers. "It happened very quickly," she said. "We had to wake up our little boy so that he could run into town." But then the kid hadn't even been able to tell the priest what had happened, and so the bells hadn't been tolled. Bloch realized that the room was being heated; after a while the wood in the stove had collapsed. "Go get some more wood," said the woman. The young man came back with several logs, some under each arm, which he dropped next to the stove so hard that the dust flew.
He sat down at the table, and the woman threw the logs into the stove. "We already lost one of our kids; he had pumpkins thrown at him," she said. Two old women came by the window and called in. On the windowsill Bloch noticed a black purse. It had just been bought; the tissue paper stuffing had not evenbeen taken out yet. "All of a sudden he gave a loud snort and died," the woman said.
Bloch could see into the barroom of the tavern across the street; the sun, which was quite low by now, shone in so deeply that the bottom part of the room, especially the surfaces of the freshly waxed floorboards and the legs of the chairs, tables, and people, glowed as though of themselves. In the kitchen he saw the estate owner's son, who, leaning against the door with his arms across his chest, was talking to the landlady, who, presumably, was still sitting farther away at the table. The deeper the sun sank, the deeper and more remote these pictures seemed to Bloch. He could not look away; only the children running back and forth on the street swept away the impression. A child came in with a bunch of flowers. The woman put the flowers in a tumbler and set the glass at the foot of the trestle. The child just stood there. After a while the woman handed her a coin and she went out.
Bloch heard a noise as if somebody had broken through the floorboards. But it was just the logs in the stove collapsing again. As soon as Bloch had stopped talking to the woman, the young man had stretched out on the bench and fallen back to sleep. Later several women came and said their beads. Somebody wiped the chalk marks off the blackboardoutside the grocery store and wrote instead: oranges, caramels, sardines. The conversation in the room was soft; the children outside were making a lot of noise. A bat had caught itself in the curtain; roused by the squeaking, the young man had leaped up and rushed toward it instantly, but the bat had already flown off.
It was the kind of dusk when no one felt like turning on the lights. Only the barroom of the tavern across the street was faintly lit by the light of the juke box; but no records were playing. The kitchen was already dark. Bloch was invited to stay for supper and ate at the table with the others.
Although the window was now closed, gnats flew around the room. A child was sent to the tavern to get coasters; they were then laid over the glasses so the gnats wouldn't fall in. One woman remarked that she had lost the pendant from her necklace. Everybody started to look for it. Bloch stayed at the table. After a while he was seized by a need to be the one who found it, and he joined the others. When the pendant was not to be found in the room, they went on looking for it in the hall. A shovel fell over--or, rather, Bloch caught it just before it fell over completely. The young man was shining the flashlight, the woman came with a kerosene lamp. Bloch asked for the flashlight and went out in the street. Bentover, he moved around in the gravel, but nobody came out after him. He heard somebody shout in the hall that the pendant had been found. Bloch refused to believe it and went on looking. Then he heard that they were starting to pray again behind the window. He put the flashlight on the outside of the windowsill and went away.
Back in town, Bloch sat down in a café and looked on during a card game. He started to argue with the player he was sitting behind. The other players told Bloch to get lost. Bloch went into the back room. A slide lecture was going on there. Bloch watched for a while. It was a lecture on missionary hospitals in Southeast Asia. Bloch, who was interrupting loudly, started to argue with people again. He turned around and walked out.
He thought about going back inside, but he could not think of anything to say if he did. He went to the second café. There he asked to have the fan turned off. What's more, the lights were much too dim, he said. When the waitress sat down with him, he soon pretended that he wanted to put his arm around her; she realized that he was only pretending and leaned back even before he could make it clear to her that he was just pretending. Bloch wanted to justify himself by really putting his arm around the waitress, but she had already stood up. When Bloch wanted toget up, the waitress walked away. Now Bloch should have pretended that he wanted to follow her. But he had had enough, and he left the café,
In his room at the inn he woke up just before dawn. All at once, everything around him was unbearable. He wondered whether he had wakened just because at a certain moment, shortly before dawn, everything all at once became unbearable. The mattress he was lying on had caved in, the wardrobes and bureaus stood far away against the walls, the ceiling overhead was unbearably high. It was so quiet in the half-dark room, out in the hall, and especially out on the street, that Bloch could not stand it any longer. A fierce nausea gripped him. He immediately vomited into the sink. He vomited for a while, with no relief. He lay back down on the bed. He was not dizzy; on the contrary, he saw everything with excruciating stability. It did not help to lean out the window and look along the street. A tarpaulin lay motionless over a parked car. Inside the room he noticed the two water pipes along the wall; they ran parallel to each other, cut off above by the ceiling and below by the floor. Everything he saw was cut off in the most unbearable way. The nausea did not so much elate him as depress him even more. It seemed as though a crowbar had pried him away from what he saw--or, rather, as though the thingsaround him had all been pulled away from him. The wardrobe, the sink, the suitcase, the door: only now did he realize that he, as if compelled, was thinking of the word for each thing. Each glimpse of a thing was immediately followed by its word. The chair, the clothes hangers, the key. It had become so quiet earlier that no noises could distract him now; and because it had grown, on the one hand, so light that he could see the things all around him and, on the other hand, so quiet that no sound could distract him from them, he had seen the things as though they were, at the same time, advertisements for themselves. In fact, his nausea was the same kind of nausea that had sometimes been brought on by certain jingles, pop songs, or national anthems that he felt compelled to repeat word for word or hum to himself until he fell asleep. He held his breath as though he had hiccups. When he took another breath, it came back. He held his breath again. After a while this began to help, and he fell asleep.
The next morning he could not imagine any of that any more. The dining room had been straightened up, and a tax official walked around while the innkeeper told him the prices of everything. The innkeeper showed the official the receipt for a coffeemaker and the freezer; the fact that the two menwere discussing prices made his state during the night seem all the more ridiculous to Bloch. He had put the newspapers aside after quickly leafing through them and was now listening only to the tax official, who was arguing with the innkeeper about an ice-cream freezer. The innkeeper's mother and the girl joined them; all of them talked at once. Bloch broke in to ask what the furnishings for one room in the inn might cost. The innkeeper answered that he had bought the furniture quite cheap from nearby farmers who had either moved away or left the country altogether. He told Bloch a price. Bloch wanted that price broken down item by item. The innkeeper asked the girl for the inventory list for a room and gave the price he had paid for each item as well as the price he thought he could get for a chest or a wardrobe. The tax official, who had been taking notes up to that point, stopped writing and asked the girl for a glass of wine. Bloch, satisfied, was ready to leave. The tax official explained that whenever he saw an item, say a washing machine, he always asked the price immediately, and then when he saw the item again, say a washing machine of the same make, he would recognize it not by its external features, that is, a washing machine by the knobs which regulated the wash cycle, but by what the item, say a washing machine, had cost when he firstsaw it, that is, by its price. The price, of course, he remembered precisely, and that way he could recognize almost any item. And what if the item was worthless, asked Bloch. He had nothing to do with items that had no market value, the tax official replied, at least not in his work.
The mute schoolboy still had not been found. Though the bicycle had been impounded and the surrounding area was being searched, the shot that might have been the signal that one of the policemen had come across something had not been fired. Anyway, in the barbershop where Bloch had gone, the noise of the hair dryer behind the screen was so loud that he could not hear anything from outside. He asked to have the hair at the back of his neck clipped. While the barber was washing his hands, the girl brushed off Bloch's collar. Now the hair dryer was turned off and he heard paper rustling behind the screen. There was a bang. But it was only a curler that had fallen into a metal pan behind the screen.
Bloch asked the girl if she went home for lunch. The girl answered that she didn't live in town, she came every morning by train; for lunch she went to a café or stayed with the other girl here in the shop. Bloch asked whether she bought a round-trip ticket every day. The girl told him that she was commutingon a weekly ticket. "How much is a weekly ticket?" Bloch asked immediately. But before the girl could answer, he said that it was none of his business. Nevertheless, the girl told him the price. From behind the screen the other girl said, "Why are you asking if it's none of your business?" Bloch, who was already standing up waiting for his change, read the price list next to the mirror, and went out.
He noticed that he had an odd compulsion to find out the price of everything. He was actually relieved to see the prices of newly arrived goods marked on the window of a grocery store. On a fruit display in front of the store a price tag had fallen over. He set it right. The movement was enough to bring somebody out to ask if he wanted to buy something. At another store a rocking chair had been covered by a long dress. A tag with a pin stuck through it lay on the chair next to the dress. Bloch was long undecided whether the price was for the chair or for the dress; one or the other must not be for sale. He stood so long in front of them that, again, somebody came out and questioned him. He questioned back. He was told that the price tag with the pin must have fallen off the dress; it was clear, wasn't it, that the tag couldn't have anything to do with the chair; naturally, that was private property. He had just wanted to ask, said Bloch, moving on. Theother person called after him to tell him where he could buy that kind of rocking chair. In the café Bloch asked the price of the juke box. It didn't belong to him, said the owner, he just leased it. That's not what he meant, Bloch answered, he just wanted to know the price. Not until the owner had told him the price was Bloch satisfied. But he wasn't sure, the owner said. Bloch now began to ask about other things in the café that the owner had to know the prices of because they were his. The owner then talked about the public swimming pool, which had cost much more than the original estimate. "How much more?" Bloch asked. The owner didn't know. Bloch became impatient. "And what was the estimate?" asked Bloch. Again the owner didn't have the answer. Anyway, last spring a corpse had been found in one of the changing booths; it must have been lying there all winter. The head was stuck in a plastic shopping bag. The dead man had been a gypsy. Some gypsies had settled in this region; they'd built themselves little huts at the edge of the woods with the reparation money they'd received for being confined in the concentration camps. "It's supposed to be very clean inside," the owner said. The policemen who had questioned the inhabitants during their search for the missing boy had been surprised by the freshly scrubbed floors and the general neatness ofthe rooms everywhere. But it was just that neatness, the owner went on, that actually fed their suspicions, for the gypsies certainly wouldn't have scrubbed the floors without good reason. Bloch didn't let up and asked whether the reparations had been enough to cover the costs of building the huts. The owner couldn't say what the reparations had amounted to. "Building materials and labor were still cheap in those days," the owner said. Curiously, Bloch turned over the sales slip that was stuck to the bottom of the beer glass. "Is this worth anything?" he asked, reaching into his pocket and setting a stone on the table. Without picking up the stone, the owner answered that you could find stones like that at every step around here. Bloch said nothing. Then the owner picked up the stone, let it roll around the hollow of his hand, and set it back on the table. Finished! Bloch promptly put the stone away.
In the doorway he met the two girls from the barbershop. He invited them to go with him to the other café. The second girl said that the juke box there didn't have any records. Bloch asked what she meant. She told him that the records in the juke box were no good. Bloch went ahead and they followed after him. They ordered something to drink and unwrapped their sandwiches. Bloch leaned forward and talked with them. They showed him their I.D. cards.When he touched the plastic covers, his hands immediately began to sweat. They asked him if he was a soldier. The second one had a date that night with a traveling salesman; but they'd make it a foursome because there was nothing to talk about when there were only two of you. "When there are four of you, somebody will say something, then somebody else. You can tell each other jokes." Bloch did not know what to answer. In the next room a baby was crawling on the floor. A dog was bounding around the child and licking its face. The telephone on the counter rang; as long as it was ringing, Bloch stopped listening to the conversation. Soldiers mostly didn't have any money, one of the girls said. Bloch did not answer. When he looked at their hands, they explained that their fingernails were so black because of the hairsetting lotion. "It doesn't help to polish them, the rims always stay black." Bloch looked up. "We buy all our dresses ready-made." "We do each other's hair." "In the summer it's usually getting light by the time we finally get home." "I prefer the slow dances." "On the trip home we don't joke around as much any more, then we forget about talking." She took everything too seriously, the first girl said. Yesterday on the way to the train station she had even looked in the orchard for the missing schoolboy. Instead of handing back their I.D. cards, Bloch justput them down on the table, as if it hadn't been right for him to look at them. He watched the dampness of his fingerprints evaporate from the plastic. When they asked him what he did, he told them that he had been a soccer goalie. He explained that goalkeepers could keep on playing longer than fielders. "Zamora was already quite old," said Bloch. In answer, they talked about the soccer players they had known personally. When there was a game in their town, they stood behind the visiting team's goal and heckled the goalie to make him nervous. Most goalies were bowlegged.
Bloch noticed that each time he mentioned something and talked about it, the two of them countered with a story about their own experiences with the same or a similar thing or with a story they had heard about it. For instance, if Bloch talked about the ribs he had broken while playing, they told him that a few days ago one of the workers at the sawmill had fallen off a lumber pile and broken his ribs; and if Bloch then mentioned that his lips had had to be stitched more than once, they answered by talking about a fight on TV in which a boxer's eyebrows had been split open; and when Bloch told how once he had slammed into a goalpost during a lunge and split his tongue, they immediately replied that the schoolboy also had a cleft tongue.
Besides, they talked about things and especially about people he couldn't possibly know as though he did know them, was one of their group. Maria had hit Otto over the head with her alligator bag. Uncle had come down in the cellar, chased Alfred into the yard, and beaten the Italian kitchen maid with a birch rod. Edward had let her out at the intersection, so that she had to walk the rest of the way in the middle of the night; she had to go through the Child Murderer's Forest, so that Walter and Karl wouldn't see her on the Foreigners' Path, and she'd finally taken off the dancing slippers Herr Friedrich had given her. Bloch, on the other hand, explained, whenever he mentioned a name, whom he was talking about. Even when he mentioned an object, he used a description to identify it.
When the name Victor came up, Bloch added, "a friend of mine," and when he talked about an indirect free kick, he not only described what an indirect free kick was but explained, while the girls waited for the story to go on, the general rules about free kicks. When he mentioned a corner kick that had been awarded by a referee, he even felt he owed them the explanation that he was not talking about the corner of a room. The longer he talked, the less natural what he said seemed to Bloch. Gradually it began to seem that every word needed an explanation.He had to watch himself so that he didn't get stuck in the middle of a sentence. A couple of times when he thought out a sentence even while he said it, he made a slip of the tongue; when what the girls were saying ended exactly as he thought it would, he couldn't answer at first. As long as they had gone on with this familiar talk, he had also forgotten the surroundings more and more; he had even stopped noticing the child and the dog in the next room; but when he began to hesitate and did not know how to go on and finally searched for sentences he might still say, the surroundings became conspicuous again, and he noticed details everywhere. Finally he asked whether Alfred was her boyfriend; whether the birch rod was always kept on top of the wardrobe; whether Herr Friedrich was a traveling salesman; and whether perhaps the Foreigners' Path was called that because it led past a settlement of foreigners. They answered readily; and gradually, instead of bleached hair with dark roots, instead of the single pin at the neck, instead of a black-rimmed fingernail, instead of the single pimple on the shaved eyebrow, instead of the split lining of the empty café chair, Bloch once again became aware of contours, movements, voices, exclamations, and figures all together. And with a single sure rapid movement he also caught the purse that had suddenly slipped off thetable. The first girl offered him a bite of her sandwich, and when she held it toward him he bit into it as though this was the most natural thing in the world.
Outside, he heard that the schoolchildren had been given the day off so that they could all look for the boy. But all they found were a couple of things that, except for a broken pocket mirror, had nothing to do with the missing boy. The plastic cover of the mirror had identified it as the property of the mute. Even though the area where the mirror was discovered had been carefully searched, no other clues were found. The policeman who was telling Bloch all this added that the whereabouts of one of the gypsies had remained unknown since the day of the disappearance. Bloch was surprised that the policeman bothered to stop across the street to shout all this information over to him. He called back to ask if the public pool had been searched yet. The policeman answered that the pool was locked; nobody could get in there, not even a gypsy.
Outside town, Bloch noticed that the cornfields had been almost completely trampled down, so that yellow pumpkin blossoms were visible between the bent stalks; in the middle of the cornfield, always in the shade, the pumpkins had only now begun to blossom. Broken corncobs, partially peeled and gnawed by the schoolchildren, were scattered allover the street; the black silk that had been torn off the cobs lay next to them. Even in town Bloch had watched the children throwing balls of the black fibers at each other while they waited for the bus. The cornsilk was so wet that every time Bloch stepped on it, it squished as though he were walking across marshy ground. He almost fell over a weasel that had been run over; its tongue had been driven quite far out of its mouth. Bloch stopped and touched the long slim tongue, black with blood, with the tip of his shoe; it was hard and rigid. He shoved the weasel to the curb with his foot and walked on.
At the bridge he left the street and walked along the brook in the direction of the border. Gradually, the brook seemed to become deeper; anyway, the water flowed more and more slowly. The hazelnut bushes on both sides hung so far over the brook that the surface was barely visible. Quite far away, a scythe was swishing as it mowed. The slower the water flowed, the muddier it seemed to become. Approaching a bend, the brook stopped flowing altogether, and the water became completely opaque. From far away there was the sound of a tractor clattering as though it had nothing to do with any of this. Black bunches of overripe blackberries hung in the thicket. Tiny oil flecks floated on the still surface of the water.
Bubbles could be seen rising from the bottom ofthe water every so often. The tips of the hazelnut bushes hung into the brook. Now there was no outside sound to distract attention. The bubbles had scarcely reached the surface when they disappeared again. Something leaped out so quickly that you couldn't tell if it had been a fish.
When after a while Bloch moved suddenly, a gurgling sound ran through the water. He stepped onto a footbridge that led across the brook and, motionless, looked down at the water. The water was so still that the tops of the leaves floating on it stayed completely dry.
Water bugs were dashing back and forth, and above them one could see, without lifting one's head, a swarm of gnats. At one spot the water rippled ever so slightly. There was another splash as a fish leaped out of the water. At the edge, you could see one toad sitting on top of another. A clump of earth came loose from the shore, and there was another bubbling under the water. The minute events on the water's surface seemed so important that when they recurred they could be seen and remembered simultaneously. And the leaves moved so slowly on the water that you felt like watching them without blinking, until your eyes hurt, for fear that you might mistake the movement of your eyelids for the movement of the leaves. Not even the branches almost dipping into the muddy water were reflected in it.
Outside his field of vision something began to bother Bloch, who was staring fixedly at the water. He blinked as if it was his eyes' fault but did not look around. Gradually it came into his field of vision. For a while he saw it without really taking it in; his whole consciousness seemed to be a blind spot. Then, as when in a movie comedy somebody casually opens a crate and goes right on talking, then does a double-take and rushes back to the crate, he saw below him in the water the corpse of a child.
He had then gone back to the street. Along the curve with the last houses before the border a policeman on a motorbike came toward him. Bloch had already seen him in the mirror that stood beside the curve. Then he really appeared, sitting up straight on his bike, wearing white gloves, one hand on the handlebars, the other on his stomach; the tires were spattered with mud. The policeman's face revealed nothing. The longer Bloch looked after the figure of the policeman on the bike, the more it seemed to him that he was slowly looking up from a newspaper and through a window out into the open: the policeman moved farther and farther away and mattered less and less to him. At the same time, it struck Bloch that what he saw while looking after the policeman looked for a moment like a simile for something else. The policeman disappeared from the picture, and Bloch's attention grew completely superficial. In thetavern by the border, where he went next, he found no one at first, though the door to the barroom was open.
He stood there for a while, then opened the door again and closed it carefully from the inside. He sat down at a table in the corner and passed the time by pushing the little balls used for keeping score in card games back and forth. Finally he shuffled the deck of cards that had been stuck between the rows of balls and played by himself. He became obsessed with playing; a card fell under the table. He bent down and saw the landlady's little girl squatting under another table, between the chairs that had been set all around it. Bloch straightened up and went on playing; the cards were so worn that each single card seemed swollen to him. He looked into the room of the neighbor's house, where the trestle table was now empty; the casement windows stood wide open. Children were shouting on the street outside, and the girl under the table quickly pushed away the chairs and ran out.
The waitress came in from the yard. As if she were answering his sitting there, she said the landlady had gone to the castle to have the lease renewed. The waitress had been followed by a young man dragging two crates of beer bottles, one in each hand; even so, his mouth was not closed. Bloch spoke tohim, but the waitress said he shouldn't, the guy couldn't talk when he was pulling such heavy loads. The young man, who, it seemed, was slightly feebleminded, had stacked the crates behind the bar. The waitress said to him: "Is he pouring the ashes on the bed again instead of into the brook? Has he stopped jumping the goats? Has he started cutting open pumpkins again and smearing the stuff all over his face?" She stood next to the door, holding a beer bottle, but he did not answer. When she showed him the bottle, he came toward her. She gave him the bottle and let him out. A cat dashed in, leaped at a fly in the air, and gulped down the fly at once. The waitress had closed the door. While the door had been open, Bloch had heard the phone ringing in the customs shed next door.
Following close behind the young man, Bloch then went up to the castle. He walked slowly because he did not want to catch up with him; he watched him as he pointed excitedly up into a pear tree and heard him say, "Swarm of bees," and at first believed that he saw a swarm of bees hanging there, until he realized, after looking at the other trees, that it was just that the trunks had thickened at some points. He saw the young man hurl the beer bottle up into the tree, as if to prove that it was bees that he saw. The dregs of the beer sprayed against the trunk, thebottle fell onto a heap of rotting pears in the grass; flies and wasps immediately swarmed up out of the pears. While Bloch walked alongside the young man, he heard him talking about the "bathing nut" he'd seen swimming in the brook yesterday; his fingers had been all shriveled up, and there was a big bubble of foam in front of his mouth. Bloch asked him if he himself knew how to swim. He saw the young man force his mouth open wide and nod emphatically, but then he heard him say, "No." Bloch walked ahead and could hear that he was still talking but did not look back again.
Outside the castle, he knocked on the window of the gatekeeper's cottage. He went up so close to the pane that he could see inside. There was a tub full of plums on the table. The gatekeeper, who was lying on the sofa, had just wakened; he made signs that Bloch did not know how to answer. He nodded. The gatekeeper came out with a key and opened the gate but immediately turned around again and walked ahead. "A gatekeeper with a key!" thought Bloch; again it seemed as if he should be seeing all this only in a figurative sense. He realized that the gatekeeper planned to show him through the building. He decided to clear up the confusion but, even though the gatekeeper did not say much, he never had the chance. There were fishheads nailed all overthe entrance door. Bloch had started to explain, but he must have missed the right moment again. They were inside already.
In the library the gatekeeper read to him from the estate books how many shares of the harvest the peasants used to have to turn over to the lord of the manor as rent. Bloch had no chance to interrupt him then, because the gatekeeper was just translating a Latin entry dealing with an insubordinate peasant. "'He had to depart from the estate,'" the gatekeeper read, "'and some time later he was discovered in the forest, hanging by his feet from a branch, his head in an anthill.'" The estate book was so thick that the gatekeeper had to use both hands to shut it. Bloch asked if the house was inhabited. The gatekeeper answered that visitors were not allowed into the private quarters. Bloch heard a clicking sound, but it was just the gatekeeper locking the estate book back up. "'The darkness in the fir forests,'" the gatekeeper recited from memory, "'had caused him to take leave of his senses.'" Outside the window there was a sound like a heavy apple coming loose from a branch. But nothing hit the ground. Bloch looked out the window and saw the estate owner's son in the garden carrying a long pole; at the tip of the pole hung a sack with metal prongs that he used to yank apples off the tree and into thesack, while the landlady stood on the grass below with her apron spread out.
In the next room, panels of butterflies were hung. The gatekeeper showed him how splotchy his hands had become from preparing them. Even so, many butterflies had fallen off the pins that had held them in place; underneath the cases Bloch saw the dust on the floor. He stepped closer and inspected those butterflies that were still held in place by the pins. When the gatekeeper closed the door behind him, something fell to the floor outside his field of vision and pulverized even while it fell. Bloch saw an Emperor moth that seemed almost completely overgrown with a woolly green film. He did not bend forward or step back. He read the labels under the empty pins. Some of the butterflies had changed so much that they could be recognized only by the descriptions. "'A corpse in the living room,'" recited the gatekeeper, standing in the doorway to the next room. Outside, someone screamed, and an apple hit the ground. Bloch, looking out the window, saw that an empty branch had snapped back. The landlady put the apple that had fallen to the ground on the pile of other damaged apples.
Later on, a school class from outside the town joined them, and the gatekeeper interrupted his tour to begin it all over again. Bloch took this chance to leave.
Out on the street, at the stop for the mail bus, he sat on a bench that, as a brass plate on it attested, had been donated by the local savings bank. The houses were so far away that they could hardly be distinguished from each other; when bells began to toll, they could not be seen in the belfry. A plane flew overhead, so high that he could not see it; only once did it glint. Next to him on the bench there was a dried-up snail spoor. The grass under the bench was wet with last night's dew; the cellophane wrapper of a cigarette box was fogged with mist. To his left he saw ... To his right there was ... Behind him he saw ... He got hungry and walked away.
Back at the tavern, Bloch ordered the cold plate. The waitress, using an automatic bread-slicer, sliced bread and sausage and brought him the sausage slices on a plate; she had squeezed some mustard on top. Bloch ate; it was getting dark already. Outside, a child had hidden himself so well while playing that he had not been found. Only after the game was over did Bloch see him walk along the deserted street. He pushed the plate aside, pushed the coaster aside as well, pushed the salt shaker away from himself.
The waitress put the little girl to bed. Later the child came back into the barroom in her nightgown and ran around among the customers. Every sooften, moths fluttered up from the floor. After she came back, the landlady carried the child back into the bedroom.
The curtains were pulled shut and the barroom filled up. Several young men could be seen standing at the bar; every time they laughed, they took one step backward. Next to them stood girls in nylon coats, as if they wanted to leave again immediately. When one of the young men told a story, the others could be seen to stiffen up just before they all screamed with laughter. The people who sat preferred to sit against the wall. The mechanical hand in the juke box could be seen grabbing a record and the tone arm coming down on it, and some people who were waiting for their records could be heard quieting down; it was no use, it didn't change anything. And it didn't change anything that you could see the wristwatch slip out from under the sleeve and down to the wrist when the waitress let her arm drop, that the lever on the coffee machine rose slowly, and that you could hear somebody hold a match box to his ear and shake it before opening it. You saw how completely empty glasses were repeatedly brought to the lips, how the waitress lifted a glass to check whether she could take it away, how the young men pummeled each other's faces in fun. Only when somebody shouted for his check did things become real again.
Bloch was quite drunk. Everything seemed to be out of his reach. He was so far away from what happened around him that he himself no longer appeared in what he saw and heard. "Like aerial photographs," he thought while looking at the antlers and horns on the wall. The noises seemed to him like static, like the coughing and clearing of throats during radio broadcasts of church services.
Later the estate owner's son came in. He was wearing knickers and hung his coat so close to Bloch that Bloch had to lean to one side.
The landlady sat down with the estate owner's son, and could be heard as she asked him, after she had sat down, what he wanted to drink and then shouted the order to the waitress. For a while Bloch saw them both drinking from the same glass; whenever the young man said something, the landlady nudged him in the ribs; and when she wiped the flat of her hand across his face, he could be seen snapping and licking at it. Then the landlady had sat down at another table, where she went on with her routine motions by fingering another young man's hair. The estate owner's son had stood up again and reached for his cigarettes in the coat behind Bloch. When Bloch shook his head in answer to a question about whether the coat bothered him, he realized that he had not lifted his eyes from one and the same spot for quite a while. Bloch shouted, "My check!"and everybody seemed to become serious again for a moment. The landlady, whose head was bent backward because she was just opening a bottle of wine, made a sign to the waitress, who was standing behind the bar washing glasses, which she put on the foam-rubber mat that soaked up the water, and the waitress walked toward him, between the young men standing at the bar, and gave him his change, with fingers that were cold, and as he stood up, he put the wet coins in his pocket immediately; a joke, thought Bloch; perhaps the sequence of events seemed so laborious to him because he was drunk.
He stood up and walked to the door; he opened the door and went outside--everything was all right.
Just to make sure, he stood there for a while. Every once in a while somebody came out to relieve himself. Others, who were just arriving, started to sing along as soon as they heard the juke box, even when they were still outside. Bloch moved off.
Back in town; back at the inn; back in his room. "Eleven words altogether," thought Bloch with relief. He heard bath water draining out overhead; anyway, he heard gurgling and then, finally, a snuffling and smacking.
He must have just dropped off when he woke up again. For a moment it seemed as if he had fallen out of himself. He realized that he lay in a bed. "Notfit to be moved," thought Bloch. A cancer. He became aware of himself as if he had suddenly degenerated. He did not matter any more. No matter how still he lay, he was one big wriggling and retching; his lying there was so sharply distinct and glaring that he could not escape into even one picture that he might have compared himself with. The way he lay there, he was something lewd, obscene, inappropriate, thoroughly obnoxious. "Bury it!" thought Bloch. "Prohibit it, remove it!" He thought he was touching himself unpleasantly but realized that his awareness of himself was so intense that he felt it like a sense of touch all over his body; as though his consciousness, as though his thoughts, had become palpable, aggressive, abusive toward himself. Defenseless, incapable of defending himself, he lay there. Nauseatingly his insides turned out; not alien, only repulsively different. It had been a jolt, and with one jolt he had become unnatural, had been torn out of context. He lay there, as impossible as he was real; no comparisons now. His awareness of himself was so strong that he was scared to death. He was sweating. A coin fell on the floor and rolled under the bed: a comparison? Then he had fallen asleep.
Waking up again. "Two, three, four," Bloch started to count. His situation had not changed, but he musthave grown used to it in his sleep. He pocketed the coin that had fallen under the bed and went downstairs. When he put on an act, one word still nicely yielded the next. A rainy October day; early morning; a dusty windowpane; it worked. He greeted the innkeeper; the innkeeper was just putting the newspapers into their racks; the girl was pushing a tray through the service hatch between the kitchen and dining room: it was still working. If he kept up his guard, it could go on like this, one thing after another; he sat at the table he always sat at; he opened the newspaper he opened every day; he read the paragraph in the paper that said an important lead in the Gerda T. case was being followed into the southern part of the country; the doodles in the margin of the newspaper that had been found in the dead girl's apartment had furthered the investigation. One sentence yielded the next sentence. And then, and then, and then ... For a little while it was possible to look ahead without worrying.
After a while, although he was still sitting in the dining room listing the things that went on out on the street, Bloch caught himself becoming aware of a sentence, "For he had been idle too long." Since that sentence looked like a final sentence to Bloch, he thought back to how he had come to it. What had come before it? Oh, yes, earlier he had thought,"Surprised by the shot, he'd let the ball roll right through his legs." And before this sentence he had thought about the photographers who annoyed him behind the cage. And before that, "Somebody had stopped behind him but had only whistled for his dog." And before that sentence? Before that sentence he had thought about a woman who had stopped in a park, had turned around, and had looked at something behind him the way one looks at an unruly child. And before that? Before that, the innkeeper had talked about the mute schoolboy, who'd been found dead right near the border. And before the schoolboy he had thought of the ball that had bounced up just in front of the goal line. And before the thought of the ball, he had seen the market woman jump up from her stool on the street and run after a schoolboy. And the market woman had been preceded by a sentence in the paper: "The carpenter was hindered in his pursuit of the thief by the fact that he was still wearing his apron." But he had read the sentence in the paper just when he thought of how his jacket had been pulled down over his arms during a mugging. And he had come to the mugging when he had bumped his shin painfully against the table. And before that? He could not remember any more what had made him bump his shin against the table. He searched the sequence fora clue about what might have come before: did it have to do with the movement? or with the pain? or with the sound of table and shin? But it did not go any further back. Then he noticed, in the paper in front of him, a picture of an apartment door that, because there was a corpse behind it, had had to be broken open. So, he thought, it all started with this apartment door, until he had brought himself back to the sentence, "He had been idle too long."
Everything had gone well for a while after that: the lip movements of the people he talked to coincided with what he heard them say; the houses were not just façades; heavy sacks of flour were being dragged from the loading ramp of the dairy into the storage room; when somebody shouted something far down the street, it sounded as though it actually came from down there. The people walking past on the sidewalk across the street did not appear to have been paid to walk past in the background; the man with the adhesive tape under his eye had a genuine scab; and the rain seemed to fall not just in the foreground of the picture but everywhere. Bloch then found himself under the projecting roof of a church. He must have got there through a side alley and stopped under the roof when it started to rain.
Inside the church he noticed that it was brighter than he had expected. So, after quickly sitting downon a bench, he could look up at the painted ceiling. After a while he recognized it: it was reproduced in the brochure that was placed in every room at the inn. Bloch, who had brought a copy because it also contained a sketchy map of the town and its vicinity with all its streets and paths, pulled out the brochure and read that different painters had worked on the background and foreground of the picture; the figures in the foreground had been finished long before the other painter had finished filling in the background. Bloch looked from the page up into the vault; because he did not know them, the figures--they probably represented people from the Bible--bored him; still, it was pleasant to look up at the vault while it rained harder and harder outside. The painting stretched all the way across the ceiling of the church. The background represented the sky, almost cloudless and an almost even blue; here and there a few fluffy clouds could be seen; at one spot, quite far above the figures, a bird had been painted. Bloch guessed the exact area the painter had had to fill with paint. Would it have been hard to paint such an even blue? It was a blue that was so light that white had probably been mixed into the color. And in mixing them didn't you have to be careful that the shade of blue didn't change from day to day? On the other hand, the blue was not absolutelyeven but changed within each brush stroke. So you couldn't just paint the ceiling an even blue but actually had to paint a picture. The background did not become a sky because the paint was blindly slapped on the plaster base--which, moreover, had to be wet --with as big a brush as possible, maybe even with a broom, but, Bloch reflected, the painter had to paint an actual sky with small variations in the blue which, nevertheless, had to be so indistinct that nobody would think they were a mistake in the mixing. In fact, the background did not look like a sky because you were used to imagining a sky in the background but because the sky had been painted there, stroke by stroke. It had been painted with such precision, thought Bloch, that it almost looked drawn; it was much more precise, anyway, than the figures in the foreground. Had he added the bird out of sheer rage? And had he painted the bird right at the start or had he only added it when he was quite finished? Might the background painter have been in some kind of despair? Nothing indicated this, and such an interpretation immediately seemed ridiculous to Bloch. Altogether it seemed to him as if his preoccupation with the painting, as if his walking back and forth, his sitting here and there, his going out, his coming in, were nothing but excuses. He stood up. "No distractions," he muttered to himself. Asif to contradict himself, he went outside, walked straight across the street into an entryway, and stood there defiantly among the empty milk bottles--not that anyone came to ask him to account for his presence there--until it stopped raining. Then he went to a café and sat there for a while with his legs stretched out--not that anyone did him the favor of stumbling over them and starting a fight.
When he looked out, he saw a segment of the marketplace with the school bus; in the café he saw, to the left and to the right, segments of the walls, one with an unlit stove with a bunch of flowers on it, the one on the other side with a coat rack with an umbrella hanging from it. He noticed another segment with the juke box with a point of light slowly wandering through it before it stopped at the selected number, and next to it a cigarette machine with another bunch of flowers on top; then still another segment with the café owner behind the bar and next to him the waitress for whom he was opening a bottle, which the waitress put on the tray; and, finally, a segment of himself with his legs stretched out, the dirty tips of his wet shoes, and also the huge ashtray on the table and next to it a vase, which was smaller, and the filled wine glass on the next table, where nobody was sitting right now. His angle of vision onto the square corresponded, as he realized nowthat the school bus had left, almost exactly with the angle on picture postcards; here a segment of the memorial column by the fountain; there, at the edge of the picture, a segment of the bicycle stand.
Bloch was irritated. Within the segments themselves he saw the details with grating distinctness: as if the parts he saw stood for the whole. Again the details seemed to him like nameplates. "Neon signs," he thought. So he saw the waitress's ear with one earring as a sign of the entire person; and a purse on a nearby table, slightly open so that he could recognize a polka-dotted scarf in it, stood for the woman holding the coffee cup who sat behind it and, with her other hand, pausing only now and then at a picture, rapidly leafed through a magazine. A tower of ice-cream dishes dovetailed into each other on the bar seemed a simile for the café owner, and the puddle on the floor by the coat rack represented the umbrella hanging above it. Instead of the heads of the customers, Bloch saw the dirty spots on the wall at the level of their heads. He was so irritated that he looked at the grimy cord that the waitress was just pulling to turn off the wall lights--it had grown brighter outside again--as if the entire lighting arrangement was designed especially to tax his strength. Also, his head hurt because he had been caught in the rain.
The grating details seemed to stain and completely distort the figures and the surroundings they fitted into. The only defense was to name the things one by one and use those names as insults against the people themselves. The owner behind the bar might be called an ice-cream dish, and you could tell the waitress that she was a hole through the ear lobe. And you also felt like saying to the woman with the magazine, "You Purse, you," and to the man at the next table, who had finally come out of the back room and, standing up, finished his wine while he paid, "You Spot on Your Pants," or to shout after him as he set the empty glass on the table and walked out that he was a fingerprint, a doorknob, the slit in the back of his coat, a rain puddle, a bicycle clip, a fender, and so on, until the figure outside had disappeared on his bicycle ... Even the conversation and especially the exclamations--"What?" and "I see"--seemed so grating that one wanted to repeat the words out loud, scornfully.
Bloch went into a butcher shop and bought two salami sandwiches. He did not want to eat at the tavern because his money was running low. He looked over the sausages dangling together from a pole and pointed at the one he wanted the girl to slice. A boy came in with a note in his hand. At first the customs guard thought the schoolboy's corpsewas a mattress that had been washed up, the girl had just said. She took two rolls out of a carton and split them in half without separating them completely. The bread was so stale that Bloch heard them crunch as the knife cut into them. The girl pulled the rolls apart and put the sliced meat inside. Bloch said that he had time and she should take care of the child first. He saw the boy silently holding the note out. The girl leaned forward and read it. Then the chunk she was hacking off the meat slipped off the board and fell on the stone floor. "Plop," said the child. The chunk had stayed where it had fallen. The girl picked it up, scraped it off with the edge of her knife, and wrapped it up. Outside, Bloch saw the schoolchildren walking by with their umbrellas open, even though it had stopped raining. He opened the door for the boy and watched the girl tear the skin off the sausage end and put the slices inside the second roll.
Business was bad, the girl said. "There aren't any houses except on this side of the street where the shop is, so that, first of all, nobody lives across the street who could see from there that there is a shop here and, second of all, the people going by never walk on the other side of the street, so they pass by so close that they don't see that there is a store here, especially since the shop window isn't much biggerthan the living-room windows of the houses next door."
Bloch wondered why the people didn't walk on the other side of the street as well, where there was more room and where it was sunnier. Probably everybody feels some need to walk right next to the houses, he said. The girl, who had not understood him because he had become disgusted with talking in the middle of the sentence and had only mumbled the rest, laughed as though all she had expected for an answer was a joke. In fact, when a few people passed by the shop window, it got so dark in the shop that it did seem like a joke.
"First of all ... second of all ..." Bloch repeated to himself what the girl had said; it seemed uncanny to him how someone could begin to speak and at the same time know how the sentence would end. Outside, he ate the sandwiches while he walked along. He bunched up the waxed paper they were wrapped in and was ready to throw it away. There was no trash basket nearby. For a while he walked along with the balled-up paper, first in one direction and then in another. He put the paper in his coat pocket, took it out again, and finally threw it through a fence into an orchard. Chickens came running from all directions at once but turned back before they had pecked the paper ball open.
In front of him Bloch saw three men walk diagonally across the street, two in uniform and the one in the middle in a black Sunday suit with a tie hanging over his shoulder, where it had been blown either by the wind or by fast running. He watched as the policemen led the gypsy into the police station. They walked next to each other as far as the door, and the gypsy, it seemed, moved easily and willingly between the two policemen and talked with them; when one of the policemen pushed open the door, the other did not grab the gypsy but just touched his elbow lightly from behind. The gypsy looked back over his shoulder at the policeman and gave a friendly smile; the collar under the knot of the gypsy's tie was open. It seemed to Bloch as if the gypsy was so deeply trapped that all he could do when he was touched on the arm was look at the policemen with helpless friendliness.
Bloch followed them into the building, which also housed the post office; for just a moment he believed that if anybody saw him eating a sandwich out in public, they could not possibly think that he was involved in anything. "Involved"? He could not even let himself think that he had to justify his presence here, while they were bringing in the gypsy, by any action such as, say, eating salami sandwiches. He could justify himself only when he was questionedand accused of something; and because he had to avoid even thinking that he might be questioned, he also could not let himself think about how to prepare justifications in advance for this possibility--this possibility did not even exist. So if he was asked whether he had watched while the gypsy was being brought in, he would not have to deny it and pretend that he had been distracted because he was eating a sandwich but could admit that he had witnessed the event. "Witnessed"? Bloch interrupted himself while he waited in the post office for his phone connection; "admit"? What did these words have to do with this event, which fur him was of no significance. Didn't they give it a significance he was making every effort to deny? "Deny"? Bloch interrupted himself again. He had to keep his guard up against words that transformed what he wanted to say into some kind of statement.
His call had gone through. Absorbed in avoiding the impression that he was prepared to make a statement, he caught himself wrapping a handkerchief over the receiver. Slightly disconcerted, he put the handkerchief back in his pocket. How had he come from the thought of unguarded talk to the handkerchief? He was told that the friend he was calling had to stay quartered with his team in a training camp until the important match on Sunday andcould not be reached by phone. Bloch gave the postmistress another number. She asked him to pay for the first call first. Bloch paid and sat on a bench to wait for the second call. The phone rang and he stood up. But it was only a birthday telegram arriving. The postmistress wrote it down and confirmed it word by word. Bloch walked back and forth. One of the mailmen had returned from his route and was now loudly reporting to the girl. Bloch sat down. Outside on the street, now that it was early afternoon, there was no distraction. Bloch had become impatient but did not show it. He heard the mailman say that the gypsy had been hiding all this time near the border in one of those lean-to shelters the cups-toms guards used. "Anyone can say that," said Bloch. The mailman turned toward him and stopped talking. What he claimed to be the latest news, Bloch went on, anybody could have read yesterday, the day before yesterday, even the day before the day before yesterday, in the papers. What he said didn't mean anything, nothing at all, nothing whatsoever. The mailman had turned his back to Bloch even while Bloch was still talking and was now speaking quietly with the postmistress, in a murmur that sounded to Bloch like those passages in foreign films that are left untranslated because they are supposed to be incomprehensible anyway. Bloch couldn't reach them any more with his remark. All at once the factthat it was in a post office that he "couldn't reach anybody any more" seemed to him not like a fact at all but like a bad joke, like one of those word games that, say, sportswriters play, which he had always loathed. Even the mailman's story about the gypsy had seemed to him crudely suggestive, a clumsy insinuation, like the birthday telegram, whose words were so commonplace that they simply could not mean what they said. And it wasn't only the conversation that was insinuating; everything around him was also meant to suggest something to him. "As though they winked and made signs at me," thought Bloch. For what was it supposed to mean that the lid of the inkwell lay right next to the well on the blotter and that the blotter on the desk had obviously been replaced just today, so only a few impressions were legible on it? And wouldn't it be more proper to say "so that" instead of "so"? So that the impressions would therefore be legible. And now the postmistress picked up the phone and spelled out the birthday telegram letter by letter. What was she hinting at by that? What was behind her dictating "All the best," "With kind regards": what was that supposed to mean? Who was behind the cover name "your loving grandparents"? Even that morning Bloch had instantly recognized the short slogan "Why not phone?" as a trap.
It seemed to him as if the mailman and the postmistresswere in the know. "The postmistress and the mailman," he corrected himself. Now the loathsome word-game sickness had struck even him, and in broad daylight. "Broad daylight"? He must have hit on that phrase somehow. That expression seemed witty to him, in an unpleasant way. But were the other words in the sentence any better? If you said the word "sickness" to yourself, after a few repetitions you couldn't help laughing at it. "A sickness strikes me": silly. "I am stricken by a sickness": just as silly. "The postmistress and the mailman"; "the mailman and the postmistress"; "the postmistress and the mailman": one big joke. Have you heard the one about the mailman and the postmistress? "Everything seems like a heading," thought Bloch: "THE BIRTHDAY TELEGRAM," "THE INKWELL LID," "THE SCRAPS OF BLOTTER ON THE FLOOR." The rack where the various rubber stamps hung looked as if it had been sketched. He looked at it for a long time but did not figure out what was supposed to be funny about the stand. On the other hand, there had to be a joke in it: otherwise, why should it look sketched to him? Or was it another trap? Was the thing there so that he would make a slip of the tongue? Bloch looked somewhere else, looked at another place, and looked somewhere else again. Does this ink pad mean anything to you? What do you think of whenyou see this filled-out check? What do you associate with that drawer's being open? It seemed to Bloch that he should take inventory of the room, so that the objects he paused at or that he left out during his count could serve as evidence. The mailman hit the flat of his hand against the big bag that was still hanging from his shoulder. "The mailman hits the bag and takes it off," thought Bloch, word for word. "Now he puts it on the table and walks into the package room." He described the events to himself like a radio announcer to the public, as if this was the only way he could see them for himself. After a while it helped.
He stopped pacing because the phone rang. As always when the phone rang, he felt he had known it would a moment before it did. The postmistress picked up the phone and then pointed to the booth. Already inside the booth, he asked himself whether perhaps he had misunderstood her gesture, if perhaps it had been meant for no one in particular. He picked up the receiver and asked his ex-wife, who had started by giving only her first name, as though she knew it was him, to send some money to general delivery. A peculiar silence followed. Bloch heard some whispering that wasn't meant for him. "Where are you?" the woman asked. He'd got cold feet and now he was high and dry, Bloch said and laughedas though he had said something extremely witty. The woman didn't answer. Bloch heard more whispering. It was very difficult, said the woman. Why? asked Bloch. She hadn't been talking to him, answered the woman. "Where should I send the money?" His pockets would be empty soon if she didn't give him a hand, Bloch said. The woman kept quiet. Then the phone was hung up at her end.
"The snows of yesteryear," Bloch thought, unexpectedly, as he came out of the booth. What was that supposed to mean? In fact, he had heard that the underbrush was so tangled and thick at the border that patches of snow could be found at certain spots even during the early summer. But that was not what he had meant. Besides, people had no business in the underbrush. "No business"? How did he mean that? "The way I said it," thought Bloch.
At the savings bank he traded in the American dollar bill he had carried with him for a long time. He also tried to exchange a Brazilian bill, but the bank did not trade that currency; besides, they didn't know the exchange rate.
When Bloch came in, the bank teller was counting out coins, wrapping them up in rolls, and stretching rubber bands around the rolls. Bloch put the dollar bill on the counter. Next to it there was a music box;only when he gave it a second look did Bloch recognize it as a contribution box for some charity. The teller looked up but went on counting. Before he had been asked to, Bloch slid the bill under the partition through to the other side. The teller was lining up the rolls in a single row next to him. Bloch bent down and blew the bill in front of the teller, and the teller unfolded the bill, smoothed it with the edge of his hand, and ran his fingertips over it. Bloch saw that his fingertips were quite black. Another teller came out of the back room; to witness something, thought Bloch. He asked to have the change --in which there was not even one bill--put in an envelope and shoved the coins back under the partition. The official, in the same way he had lined up the piles earlier, stuffed the coins into an envelope and pushed the envelope back to Bloch. Bloch thought that if everybody asked to have their money put in envelopes, the savings bank would eventually go broke. They could do the same thing with everything they bought: maybe the heavy demand for packaging would slowly but surely drive businesses bankrupt? Anyway, it was fun to think about.
In a stationery store Bloch bought a tourist map of the region and had it well wrapped. He also bought a pencil; the pencil he asked to have put in a paper bag. With the rolled-up map in his hand, he walkedon; he felt more harmless now than before, when his hands had been empty.
Outside the town, at a spot where he had a full view of the area, he sat down on a bench and, using the pencil, compared the details on the map with the items in the landscape in front of him. Key to the symbols: these circles meant a deciduous forest, those triangles a coniferous one, and when you looked up from the map, you were astonished that it was true. Over there, the terrain had to be swampy; over there, there had to be a wayside shrine; over there, there had to be a railroad crossing. If you walked along this dirt road, you had to cross a bridge here, then had to come across a wagon trail, then had to walk up a steep incline, where, since somebody might be waiting on top, you had to turn off the path and run across this field, had to run toward this forest--luckily, a coniferous forest--but someone might possibly come at you out of the forest, so that you had to double back and then run down this slope toward this farmhouse, had to run past this shed, then run along this brook, had to leap over it at this spot because a jeep might come at you here, then zigzag across this field, slip through this hedge onto the street where a truck was just going by, which you could stop and then you were safe. Bloch stopped short. "If it's a question of murder,your mind jumps from one thing to another," he had heard somebody say in a movie.
He was relieved to discover a square on the map that he could not find in the landscape: the house that had to be there wasn't there, and the street that curved at this spot was in reality straight. It seemed to Bloch that this discrepancy might be helpful to him.
He watched a dog running toward a man in a field; then he realized that he was not watching the dog any more but the man, who was moving like somebody trying to block somebody else's way. Now he saw a little boy standing behind the man, and he realized that he was not watching the man and the dog, as would have been expected, but the boy, who, from this distance, seemed to be fidgeting; but then he realized that it was the boy's screaming that seemed like fidgeting to him. In the meantime, the man had grabbed the dog by the collar and all three, dog, man, and boy, had walked off in the same direction. "Who was that meant for?" thought Bloch.
On the ground in front of him a different picture: ants approaching a crumb of bread. He realized once again that he wasn't watching the ants but, on the contrary, the fly sitting on the bread crumb.
Everything he saw was conspicuous. The pictures did not seem natural but looked as if they had beenmade specifically for the occasion. They served some purpose. As you looked at them, they jumped out at you. "Like call letters," thought Bloch. Like commands. When he closed his eyes and looked again afterwards, everything seemed to be different. The segments that could be seen seemed to glimmer and tremble at their edges.
From a sitting position, Bloch, without really getting up, had immediately walked away. After a while he stopped, then immediately broke into a run from a standing position. He-got off to a quick start, suddenly stopped short, changed direction, ran at a steady pace, then changed his step, changed his step again, stopped short, then ran backward, turned around while running backward, ran forward again, again turned around to run backward, went black-ward, turned around to run forward, after a few steps changed to a sprint, stopped short, sat down on a curbstone, and immediately went back to running from a sitting position.
When he stopped and then walked on, the pictures seemed to dim from the edges; finally they had turned completely black except for a circle in the middle. "Like when somebody in a movie looks through a telescope," he thought. He wiped the sweat off his legs with his trousers. He walked past a cellar where, because the cellar door was half open, tealeaves shimmered in a peculiar way. "Like potatoes," Bloch thought.
Of course the house in front of him had only one story, the shutters were fastened, the roof tiles were covered with moss (another one of those words!), the door was closed, PUBLIC SCHOOL was written above it, in the garden somebody was chopping wood, it had to be the school janitor, of course, and in front of the school naturally there was a hedge; yes, everything was in order, nothing was missing, not even the sponge underneath the blackboard in the dusky classroom and the chalk box next to it, not even the semicircles on the outside walls underneath the windows and the other marks that, in explanation, confirmed that these scratches were made by window hooks; in every respect it was as though everything you saw or heard confirmed to you that it was true to its word.
In the classroom the lid of the coal bucket was open, and in the bucket itself the handle of the coal shovel could be seen (an April fool's joke), and the floor with the wide boards, the cracks still wet from mopping, not forgetting the map on the wall, the sink next to the blackboard, and the corn husks on the windowsill: one single, cheap imitation. No, he would not let himself be tricked by April fool's jokes like these.
It was as if he were drawing wider and wider circles. He had forgotten the lightning rod next to the door, and now it seemed to him like a cue. He was supposed to start. He helped himself out by walking around the school back to the yard and talking with the janitor in the woodshed. Woodshed, janitor, yard: cues. He watched while the janitor put a log on the chopping block and lifted up the ax. He said a couple of words from the yard; the janitor stopped, answered, and as he hit the log, it fell to one side before he had struck it, and the ax hit the chopping block so that the pile of unchopped logs in the background collapsed. Another one of those cues. But the only thing that happened was that he called to the janitor in the dim woodshed, asking whether this was the only classroom for the whole school, and the janitor answered that for the whole school there was only this classroom.
No wonder the children hadn't even learned to read by the time they left school, the janitor said suddenly, slamming the ax into the chopping block and coming out of the shed: they couldn't manage even to finish a single sentence of their own, they talked to each other almost entirely in single words, and they wouldn't talk at all unless you asked them to, and what they learned was only memorized stuff that they rattled off by rote; except for that, theycouldn't use whole sentences. "Actually, all of them, more or less, have a speech defect," said the janitor.
What was that supposed to mean? What reason did the janitor have for that? What did it have to do with him? Nothing? Yes, but why did the janitor act as if it had something to do with him?
Bloch should have answered, but he did not let himself get involved. Once he got started, he would have to go on talking. So he walked around the yard a while longer, helped the janitor pick up the logs that had been flung out of the shed during the chopping, and then, little by little, wandered unobtrusively back out onto the street and was able to make his getaway with no trouble.
He walked past the athletic field. It was after work, and the soccer team was practicing. The ground was so wet that drops sprayed out from the grass when a player kicked the ball. Bloch watched for a while, but it was getting dark, and he left.
In the restaurant at the railroad station he ate a croquette and drank a couple of glasses of beer. On the platform outside, he sat on a bench. A girl in spike heels walked back and forth in the gravel. A phone rang in the traffic supervisor's office. A railroad official stood in the door, smoking. Somebody came out of the waiting room and stopped again immediately.There was more rattling in the office, and loud talking, like somebody talking into a telephone, could be heard. It had grown dark by now.
It was fairly quiet. Here and there someone could be seen drawing on a cigarette. A faucet was turned on sharply and was turned off again at once--as though somebody had been startled. Farther away people were talking in the dark; faint sounds could be heard, as in a half-sleep: ah ee. Somebody shouted: "Ow!" There was no way to tell whether a man or a woman had shouted. Very far away someone could be heard saying, very distinctly, "You look worn out." Between the railroad tracks, just as distinctly, a railroad worker could be seen standing and scratching his head. Bloch thought he was asleep.
An incoming train could be seen. You could watch a few passengers getting off, looking as if they were undecided whether to get off or not. A drunk got off last of all and slammed the door shut. The official on the platform could be seen as he gave a signal with his flashlight, and then the train was leaving.
In the waiting room Bloch looked at the schedule. No more trains stopped at the station today. Anyway, it was late enough now to go to the movies.
Some people were already in the lobby of the movie house. Bloch sat with them, his ticket in his hand. More and more people came. It was pleasantto hear so many sounds. Bloch went out in front of the theater, stood out there with some other people, then went back into the movie house.
In the movie somebody shot a rifle at a man who was sitting far away at a campfire with his back turned. Nothing happened; the man did not fall over, just sat there, did not even look to see who had fired. Some time passed. Then the man slowly sank to one side and lay there without moving. That's the trouble with these old guns, the gunman said to his partner: no impact. But the man had actually been dead all the time he sat there at the campfire.
After the movie he rode out to the border with two men in a car. A stone slammed against the bottom of the car. Bloch, who was in the back seat, became alert again.
Since this had been pay day, he could not find a single empty table at the tavern. He sat down with some other people. The landlady came and put her hand on his shoulder. He understood and ordered drinks for the whole table.
To pay, he put a folded bill on the table. Somebody next to him unfolded the bill and said that another one might be tucked inside it. Bloch said, "So what?" and refolded the bill. The man unfolded the bill again and pushed an ashtray on top of it. Bloch reached into the ashtray and, underhand, threw the buttsinto the man's face. Somebody pulled his chair out from under him, so that he slid under the table.
Bloch jumped up and in a flash slammed his forearm against the chest of the man who had pulled away his chair. The man fell against the wall and groaned loudly because he couldn't catch his breath. A couple of men twisted Bloch's arms behind his back and shoved him out the door. He did not fall, just staggered around and ran right back in.
He swung at the man who had unfolded the bill. A kick hit him from behind, and he fell against the table with the man. Even while they were falling, Bloch slugged away at him.
Somebody grabbed him by the legs and hauled him away. Bloch kicked him in the ribs, and he let go. A few others got hold of Bloch and dragged him out. On the street they put a headlock on him and marched him back and forth like that. They stopped in front of the customs shed with him, pushed his head against the doorbell, and went away.
A guard came out, saw Bloch standing there, and went back inside. Bloch ran after the men and tackled one of them from behind. The others rushed him. Bloch stepped to one side and butted his head into somebody's stomach. A few more people came out from the tavern. Somebody threw a coat over his head. He hit him in the shins, but somebody elsewas tying the arms of the coat together. Then they swiftly beat him down and went back into the tavern.
Bloch got loose from the coat and ran after them. One of them stopped but did not turn around. Bloch charged him; the man just walked away, and Bloch sprawled on the ground.
After a while he got up and went into the tavern. He wanted to say something, but when he moved his tongue, the blood in his mouth bubbled. He sat down at one of the tables and pointed with his finger to show that he wanted a drink. The waitress brought him a bottle of beer without the glass. He thought he saw tiny flies running back and forth on the table, but it was just cigarette smoke.
He was too weak to lift the beer bottle with one hand; so he clutched it with both hands and bent over so that it didn't have to be lifted too high. His ears were so sensitive that at times the cards didn't fall but were slammed on the next table, and at the bar the sponge didn't fall but slapped into the sink; and the landlady's daughter, with clogs on her bare feet, didn't walk through the barroom but clattered through the barroom; the wine didn't flow but gurgled into the glasses; and the music didn't play but boomed from the juke box.
He heard a woman scream in fright, but in a tavern a woman's scream didn't mean anything;therefore, the woman could not have screamed in fright. Nevertheless, he had been jolted by the scream; it was only because of the noise, because the scream had been so shrill.
Little by little the other details lost their significance: the foam in the empty beer bottle meant no more to him than the cigarette box that the man next to him tore open just enough so that he managed to extract a single cigarette with his fingernails. Nor did the used matches lying loose everywhere in the cracks between the floorboards occupy his attention any more, and the fingernail impressions in the putty along the windowframe no longer seemed to have anything to do with him. Everything left him cold now, stood once more in its place; like peacetime, thought Bloch. The stuffed grouse above the juke box no longer forced one to draw conclusions; and the flies sleeping on the ceiling did not suggest anything any more.
You could see a man combing his hair with his fingers, you could see girls walking backward as they danced, you could see men standing up and buttoning their coats, you could hear cards sloshing as they were shuffled, but you didn't have to dwell on it any more.
Bloch got tired. The tireder he got, the more clearly he took in everything, distinguished one thing fromanother. He saw how the door invariably stayed open when somebody went out, and how somebody else always got up and shut the door again. He was so tired that he saw each thing by itself, especially the contours, as though there was nothing to the things but their contours. He saw and heard everything with total immediacy, without first having to translate it into words, as before, or comprehending it only in terms of words or word games. He was in a state where everything seemed natural to him.
Later the landlady sat down with him, and he put his arm around her so naturally that she did not even seem to notice. He dropped a couple of coins into the juke box as though it were nothing and danced effortlessly with the landlady. He noticed that every time she said something she added his name to it.
It wasn't important any more that he could see the waitress clasping one hand with the other, nor was there anything special about the thick curtains, and it was only natural that more and more people left. They could be heard as they relieved themselves out on the street and then walked away.
It got quieter in the barroom, so that the records in the juke box played very distinctly. In the pause between records people talked more softly or almost held their breath; it was a relief when the nextrecord came on. It seemed to Bloch that you could talk about these occurrences as things that recurred forever; the course of a single day, he thought; things that you wrote about on picture postcards. "At night we sit in the tavern and listen to records." He got tireder and tireder, and outside the apples were dropping off the trees.
When nobody but him was left, the landlady went into the kitchen. Bloch sat there and waited until the record was over. He turned off the juke box, so that now only the kitchen light was still on. The landlady sat at the table and did her accounts. Bloch approached her, a coaster in his hand. She looked up when he came out of the barroom and looked at him while he approached her. It was too late when he remembered the coaster; he wanted to hide it quickly, before she saw it, but the landlady looked away from him and at the coaster in his hand and asked him what he was doing with it, if perhaps she had written a bill on it that hadn't been paid. Bloch dropped the coaster and sat down next to the landlady, not doing one thing smoothly after the other but hesitating at each move. She went on counting, talked with him while she did, then cleared away the money. Bloch said he'd just forgotten about the coaster in his hand; it hadn't meant anything.
She asked him to have a bite with her. She set a wooden board in front of him. There was no knife, he said, though she had set the knife next to the board. She had to bring the laundry in from the garden, she said, it was just starting to rain. It wasn't raining, he corrected her, it was only dripping from the trees because there was a little wind. But she had gone out already, and since she left the door open, he could see that it was actually raining. He saw her come back and shouted that she had dropped a shirt, but it turned out that it was only a rag for the floor, which had been lying in the entryway all along. When she lit the candle on the table, he saw the wax dripping on a plate because she had tilted the candle slightly in her hand. She should watch out, he said, wax was dripping onto the clean plate. But she was already setting the candle in the spilled wax, which was still liquid, and pressed it down until it stood by itself. "I didn't know that you wanted to put the candle on the plate," Bloch said. She started to sit down where there was no chair, and Bloch shouted, "Watch out!" though she had just squatted to pick up a coin that had fallen under the table while she was counting. When she went into the bedroom to take care of the girl, he immediately asked for her; once when she left the table he even called after her to ask where she was going.
She turned on the radio on the kitchen cabinet; it was nice to watch her walking back and forth while the music came out of the radio. When somebody in a movie turned on the radio, the program was instantly interrupted for a bulletin about a wanted man.
While they sat at the table, they talked to each other. It seemed to Bloch that he could not say anything serious. He cracked jokes, but the landlady took everything he said literally. He said that her blouse was striped like a soccer jersey and wanted to go on, but she asked him whether he didn't like her blouse, what bothered him about it. It did no good to assure her that he had only made a joke and that the blouse went very nicely with her pale skin; she went on to ask if her skin was too pale for him. He said, jokingly, that the kitchen was furnished almost like a city kitchen, and she asked why he said "almost." Did people there keep their things cleaner? Even when Bloch made a joke about the estate owner's son (he'd proposed to her, hadn't he?), she took him literally and said the estate owner's son wasn't available. He tried to explain, using a comparison, that he had not meant it seriously, but she took the comparison literally as well. "I didn't mean anything by it," Bloch said. "You must have had a reason for saying it," the landlady answered. Blochlaughed. The landlady asked why he was laughing at her.
The little girl called from the bedroom. She went in and calmed her down. When she came back, Bloch had stood up. She stood in front of him and looked at him for a while. But then she talked about herself. Because she was standing so close to him, he could not answer and took a step backward. She did not follow him, but hesitated. Bloch wanted to touch her. When he finally moved his hand, she looked to one side. Bloch let his hand drop and pretended that he had made a joke. The landlady sat on the other side of the table and went on talking.
He wanted to say something, but then he could not think of what it was he wanted to say. He tried to remember: he could not remember what it was about, but it had something to do with disgust. Then a movement of the landlady's hand reminded him of something else. He could not think of what it was this time either, but it had something to do with shame. His perceptions of movements and things did not remind him of other movements and things but of sensations and feelings, and he did not remember the feelings as if they were from the past but relived them as happening in the present: he did not remember shame and nausea but only felt ashamed and nauseated now that he rememberedwithout being able to think of the things that had brought on shame and nausea. The mixture of nausea and shame was so strong that his whole body started to itch.
A piece of metal knocked against the windowpane outside. The landlady answered his question by saying that it was the wire from the lightning rod that had come loose. Bloch, who had seen a lightning rod at the school, immediately. concluded that this repetition was intentional; it could be no accident that he ran across a lightning rod two times in a row. Altogether he found everything alike; all things reminded him of each other. What was the meaning of the repeated appearances of lightning rods? How should he interpret the lightning rod? "Lightning rod"? Surely that was just another word game? Did it mean that he was safe from harm? Or did it indicate that he should tell the landlady everything? And why were the cookies on the wooden plate fish-shaped? What did they suggest? Should he be "mute as a fish"? Was he not permitted to talk? Was that what the cookies on the wooden plate were trying to tell him? It was as if he did not see any of this but read it off a posted list of regulations.
Yes, they were regulations. The dishrag hanging over the faucet told him to do something. Even the cap of the bottle left on the table, which by now hadbeen cleared, summoned him to do something. Everything fell into place: everywhere he saw a summons: to do one thing, not to do another. Everything was spelled out for him, the shelf where the spice boxes were, a shelf with jars of freshly made jam ... things repeated themselves. Bloch noticed that for quite a while he had stopped talking to himself: the landlady was at the sink gathering bits of bread out of the saucers. You had to clean up after him all the time, she said, he didn't even shut the table drawer when he took out the silverware; he just left books he had looked through open, he took off his coat and just let it drop.
Bloch answered that he really felt that he would let everything drop. It wouldn't take much for him to let go of this ashtray in his hand, it even surprised him to see that the ashtray was still in his hand. He had stood up, still holding the ashtray in front of him. The landlady looked at him. He stared at the ashtray a while, then he put it down. As if in anticipation of the insinuations all around him, which repeated themselves, Bloch repeated what he had said. He was so helpless that he repeated it once more. He saw the landlady shake her arm over the sink. She said that a piece of apple had slipped up her sleeve and now it didn't want to come out. Didn't want to come out? Bloch imitated her by shaking his ownsleeve. It seemed to him that if he imitated everything, he would stay on the safe side, so to speak. But she noticed it immediately and mimicked his imitation of her.
As she did that, she came near the refrigerator, on top of which there was a bakery carton. Bloch watched her as she, still mimicking him, touched the carton from behind. Since he was watching her so intently, she shoved her elbow back once more. The carton began to slip and slowly tipped over the rounded edges of the refrigerator. Bloch could still have caught it, but he watched until it hit the floor.
While the landlady bent down to pick up the carton, he walked one way and then another; wherever he stopped he shoved things into the corner --a chair, a lighter on the stove, an egg cup on the kitchen table. "Is everything all right?" he asked. He asked her what he wanted her to ask him. But before she could answer, something knocked on the window in a way the wire from a lightning rod would never knock against a pane. Bloch had known it a moment beforehand.
The landlady opened the window. A customs guard was outside asking to borrow an umbrella for the walk back to town. Bloch said that he might as well go along with him, and the landlady handed him the umbrella which hung under the work pants on thedoorframe. He promised to bring it back the next day. As long as he hadn't brought it back, nothing could go wrong.
On the street he opened the umbrella; the rain immediately rattled so loudly that he did not hear whether she had answered him. The guard came running along the wall of the house to get under the umbrella, and they started off.
They were only a few steps away when the light in the tavern was turned off and it became completely dark. It was so dark that Bloch put his hand over his eyes. Behind the wall that they were just passing he heard the snorting of cows. Something ran past him. "I almost stepped on a hedgehog just then!" the guard exclaimed.
Bloch asked how he could have seen a hedgehog in the dark. The guard answered, "That's part of my profession. Even if all you see is one movement or hear just one noise, you must be able to identify the thing that made that movement or sound. Even when something moves at the very edge of your vision, you must be able to recognize it, in fact even be able to determine what color it is, though actually you can recognize colors only at the center of your retina." They had passed the houses by the border by now and were walking along a short cut beside the brook. The path was covered with sand of some kind,which became brighter as Bloch grew more accustomed to the dark.
"Of course, we're not kept very busy here," the guard said. "Since the border has been mined, there's no smuggling going on here any more. So your alertness slips, you get tired and can't concentrate any more. And then when something does happen, you don't even react."
Bloch saw something running toward him and stepped behind the guard. A dog brushed past him as it ran past.
"And then if somebody suddenly steps in front of you, you don't even know how you should grab hold of him. You're in the wrong position from the start and when you finally get yourself right, you depend on your partner, who is standing next to you, to catch him, and all along your partner is depending on you to catch him yourself--and the guy you're after gives you the slip." The slip? Bloch heard the customs guard next to him under the umbrella take a deep breath.
Behind him the sand crunched. He turned around and saw that the dog had come back. They walked on, the dog running alongside sniffing at the backs of his knees. Bloch stopped, broke off a hazelnut twig by the brook, and chased the dog away.
"If you're facing each other," the guard went on, "it's important to look the other guy in the eyes. Beforehe starts to run, his eyes show which direction he'll take. But you've also got to watch his legs at the same time. Which leg is he putting his weight on? The direction that leg is pointing is the direction he'll want to take. But if the other guy wants to fool you and not run in that direction, he'll have to shift his weight just before he takes off, and that takes so much time that you can rush him in the meantime."
Bloch looked down at the brook, whose roaring could be heard but which could not be seen. A heavy bird flew up out of a thicket. Chickens in a coop could be heard scratching and pecking their beaks against the boards.
"Actually, there aren't any hard-and-fast rules," said the guard. "You're always at a disadvantage because the other guy also watches to see how you're reacting to him. All you can ever do is react. And when he starts to run, he'll change his direction after the first step and you're the one whose weight is on the wrong foot."
Meanwhile, they had come back to the paved road and were approaching the edge of town. Here and there they stepped on wet sawdust which the rain had swept out to the street. Bloch asked himself whether the guard went into so much detail about something that could be said in one sentence because he was really trying to say something else by it. "He spoke from memory," thought Bloch. As a test, he himselfstarted to talk at great length about something that usually required only one sentence, but the guard seemed to think that this was completely natural and didn't ask him what he was driving at. So the guard seemed to have meant what he said before quite literally.
In the center of town some people who had been taking a dance lesson came toward them. "Dance lessons"? What did that phrase suggest? One girl had been searching for something in her "purse" as she passed, and another had been wearing boots with "high tops." Were these abbreviations for something? He heard the purse snapping shut behind him; he almost closed up his umbrella in reply.
He held the umbrella over the customs guard as far as the municipal housing project. "So far I have only a rented apartment, but I'm saving up to buy one for myself," said the guard, standing on the staircase. Bloch had come in too. Would he like to come up for a drink? Bloch refused but stood still. The lights went off again while the guard was going up the stairs. Bloch leaned against the mailboxes downstairs. Outside, quite high up, a plane flew past. "The mail plane," the guard shouted down into the dark, and pushed the light switch. It echoed in the stairwell. Bloch had quickly gone out.
At the inn he learned that a large tourist group had arrived and had been put up on cots in thebowling alley; that's why it was so quiet down there tonight. Bloch asked the girl who told him about this if she wanted to come upstairs with him. She answered, gravely, that that was impossible tonight. Later, in his room, he heard her walk down the hall and go past his door. The rain had made the room so cold that it seemed to him as if damp sawdust had been spread all over. He set the umbrella tip-down in the sink and lay on the bed fully dressed.
Bloch got sleepy. He made a few tired gestures to make light of his sleepiness, but that made him even sleepier. Various things he had said during the day came back to him; he tried to get rid of them by breathing out. Then he felt himself falling asleep; as before the end of a paragraph, he thought.
He woke up gradually and realized that somebody was breathing loudly in the next room and that the rhythm of the breathing was forming itself into sentences in his half-sleep; he heard the exhale as a long-drawn-out "and," and the extended sound of the inhale then transformed itself inside him into sentences that--after the dash that corresponded to the pause between the inhale and the exhale--in--variably attached themselves to the "and." Soldiers with pointed dress shoes stood in front of the movie house, and a vase was on the TV set, and a truck filled with sand whizzed past the bus, and a hitchhikerhad a bunch of grapes in his other hand, and outside the door somebody said, "Open up, please."
"Open up, please." Those last three words did not fit at all into the breathing from next door, which became more and more distinct while the sentences were slowly beginning to fade out. He was wide awake now. Somebody knocked on the door again and said, "Open up, please." He must have been wakened by that, since the rain had stopped.
He sat up quickly, a bedspring snapped back into place, the chambermaid was outside the door with the breakfast tray. He hadn't ordered breakfast, he could barely manage to say before she had excused herself and knocked on the door across the hall.
Alone in the room, he found everything rearranged. He turned on the faucet. A fly immediately fell off the mirror into the sink and was washed down at once. He sat down on the bed: just now that chair had been to his right, and now it was to his left. Was the picture reversed? He looked at it from left to right, then from right to left. He repeated the look from left to right; this look seemed to him like reading. He saw a "wardrobe," "then" "a" "wastebasket," "then" "a" "drape"; while looking from right to left, however, he saw , next to it the , under it the , next to it the , on top of it his ; and when he looked around, he saw the , next to it the @ and the . He sat on the ,under it there was a , next to it a . He walked to the : :
. Bloch closed the curtains and went out.
The dining room downstairs was filled with the tourists. The innkeeper led Bloch into the other room, where the innkeeper's mother was sitting in front of the TV set with the curtains closed. The innkeeper opened the curtains and stood next to Bloch; once Bloch saw him standing to his left; then, when he looked up again, it was the other way around. Bloch ordered breakfast and asked for the newspaper. The innkeeper said that the tourists were reading it just now. Bloch ran his fingers over his face; his cheeks seemed to be numb. He felt cold. The flies on the floor were crawling so slowly that at first he mistook them for beetles. A bee rose from the windowsill but fell back immediately. The people outside were leaping over the puddles; they were carrying heavy shopping bags. Bloch ran his fingers all over his face.
The innkeeper came in with the tray and said that the newspaper still wasn't free. He spoke so softlythat Bloch also spoke softly when he answered. "There's no hurry," he whispered. The screen of the TV set was dusty here in the daylight, and the window that the schoolchildren looked through as they walked past was reflected in it. Bloch ate and listened to the show. The innkeeper's mother moaned from time to time.
Outside he noticed a stand with a bag full of newspapers. He went outside, dropped a coin into the slot next to the bag, and then took out a paper. He had so much practice in opening papers that he read the description of himself even as he was going inside. He had attracted a woman's attention on the bus because some change had fallen out of his pocket; she had bent down for it, and had noticed that it was American money. Subsequently, she had heard that similar coins had been found beside the dead cashier. No one took her story seriously at first, but then it turned out that her description matched the description given by one of the cashier's friends who, when he called for the cashier in his car the night before the murder, had seen a man standing near the movie house.
Bloch sat back down in the other room and looked at the picture they had drawn of him according to the woman's description. Did that mean that they did not know his name yet? When had the paper beenprinted? He saw that it was the first edition, which usually came out the evening before. The headline and the picture looked to him as if they had been pasted onto the paper; like newspapers in movies, he thought: there the real headlines were also replaced by headlines that fitted the film; or like those headlines you could have made up about yourself in penny arcades.
The doodles in the margin had been deciphered as the word "Dumm" and, moreover, with a capital at the beginning; so it was probably a proper name. Was a person named Dumm involved in the matter? Bloch remembered telling the cashier about his friend Dumm, the soccer player.
When the girl cleared the table, Bloch did not close the paper. He learned that the gypsy had been released, that the mute schoolboy's death had been an accident. The paper carried only a school picture of the boy because he had never been photographed alone.
A cushion that the innkeeper's mother was using as a backrest fell from the armchair onto the floor. Bloch picked it up and went out with the paper. He saw the inn's copy lying on the card table; the tourists had left by now. The paper--it was the weekend edition--was so thick that it did not fit into the rack.
When a car drove past him, he stupidly--for it was quite bright out--wondered why its headlights were turned off. Nothing in particular happened. He saw the boxes of apples being poured into sacks in the orchards. A bicycle that passed him slid back and forth in the mud. He saw two farmers shaking hands in a store doorway; their hands were so dry that he heard them rustling. Tractors had left muddy tracks from the dirt paths on the asphalt. He saw an old woman bent over in front of a display window, a finger to her lips. The parking spaces in front of the stores were emptying; the customers who were still arriving came in through the back doors. "Suds" "poured" "over" "the doorsteps." "Featherbeds" "were lying" "behind" "the windowpanes." The blackboards listing prices were carried back into the stores. "The chickens" "pecked at" "grapes that had been dropped." The turkeys squatted heavily in the wire cages in the orchards. The salesgirls stood outside the doors and put their hands on their hips. The owner stood inside the dark store, absolutely still behind the scale. "Lumps of yeast" "lay" "on the counter."
Bloch stood against the wall of a house. There was an odd sound when a casement window that was ajar next to him opened all the way. He had walked on immediately.
He stopped in front of a brand-new building thatwas still unoccupied but already had glass in its windows. The rooms were so empty that the landscape on the other side could be seen through the windows. Bloch felt as though he had built the house himself. He himself had installed the wall outlets and even set in the windowpanes. The crowbar, the sandwich wrapping, and the plastic food container had also been put on the windowsill by him.
He took a second look: no, the light switches stayed light switches, and the garden chairs in the landscape behind the house stayed garden chairs.
He walked on because--
Did he have to give a reason for walking, so that--?
What did he have in mind when--? Did he have to justify the '"when" by--? Did this go on until--? Had he reached the point where--?
Why did anything have to be inferred from the fact that he was walking here? Did he have to give a reason for stopping here? Why did he have to have something in mind when he walked past a swimming pool?
These "so thats," "becauses," and "whens" were like regulations; he decided to avoid them in order not to--
It was as if a window that was slightly ajar was gently opened beside him. Everything thinkable,everything visible, was occupied. It was not a scream that startled him but a sentence upside down at the top of a series of normal sentences. Everything seemed to have been newly named.
The stores were already closed. The window displays, now that nobody was walking back and forth in front of them any more, looked too full. Not a single spot was without at least a stack of cans on it. A half-torn receipt hung out of the cash register. The stores were so crowded that ...
"The stores were so crowded that you couldn't point to anything any more because ..." "The stores were so crowded that you couldn't point to anything any more because the individual items hid each other." The parking spaces were now completely empty except for the bicycles of the salesgirls.
After lunch Bloch went to the athletic field. Even from far away he heard the spectators' screaming. When he got there, the reserves were still playing a pregame match. He sat on a bench at the sidelines and read the paper as far as the supplements. He heard a sound as if a chunk of meat had fallen on a stone floor; he looked up and saw that the wet heavy ball had smacked off a player's head.
He got up and walked away. When he came back, the main match had already started. The benches were filled, and he walked beside the playing field to the space behind the goal. He did not want to standtoo close behind the goal, and he climbed up the bank to the street. He walked along the street as far as the corner flag. It seemed to him that a button was coming off his jacket and popping on the street; he picked up the button and put it in his pocket.
He started talking to some man who was standing next to him. He asked which teams were playing and about their standings in the league. They shouldn't play the ball so high in a strong wind like this, he said.
He noticed that the man next to him had buckles on his shoes. "I don't know either," the man answered. "I'm a salesman, and I'm here for only a few days."
"The men are shouting much too much," Bloch said. "A good game goes very quietly."
"There's no coach to tell them what to do from the sidelines," answered the man. It seemed to Bloch as though they were talking to each other for the benefit of some third party.
"On a small field like this you have to decide very quickly when to pass," he said.
He heard a slap as if the ball had hit a goalpost. Bloch told about how he had once played against a team whose players were all barefoot; every time they kicked the ball, the slapping sound had gone right through him.
"In the stadium I once saw a player break his leg,"the salesman said. "You could hear the cracking sound all the way up in the top rows."
Bloch saw the other spectators around him talking to each other. He did not watch the one who happened to be speaking but always watched the one who was listening. He asked the salesman whether he had ever tried to look away from the forward at the beginning of a rush and, instead, to look at the goalie the forwards were rushing toward.
"It's very difficult to take your eyes off the forwards and the ball and watch the goalie," Bloch said. "You have to tear yourself away from the ball; it's a completely unnatural thing to do." Instead of seeing the ball, you saw how the goalkeeper ran back and forth with his hands on his thighs, how he bent to the left and right and screamed at his defense. "Usually you don't notice him until the ball has been shot at the goal."
They walked along the sideline together. Bloch heard panting as though a linesman were running past them. "It's a strange sight to watch the goalie running back and forth like that, without the ball but expecting it," he said.
He couldn't watch that way for very long, answered the salesman; you couldn't help but look back at the forwards. If you looked at the goalkeeper, it seemed as if you had to look cross-eyed. It was like seeing somebody walk toward the door and instead oflooking at the man you looked at the doorknob. It made your head hurt, and you couldn't breathe properly any more.
"You get used to it," said Bloch, "but it's ridiculous."
A penalty kick was called. All the spectators rushed behind the goal.
"The goalkeeper is trying to figure out which corner the kicker will send the ball into," Bloch said. "If he knows the kicker, he knows which corner he usually goes for. But maybe the kicker is also counting on the goalie's figuring this out. So the goalie goes on figuring that just today the ball might go into the other corner. But what if the kicker follows the goalkeeper's thinking and plans to shoot into the usual corner after all? And so on, and so on."
Bloch saw how all the players gradually cleared the penalty area. The penalty kicker adjusted the ball. Then he too backed out of the penalty area.
"When the kicker starts his run, the goalkeeper unconsciously shows with his body which way he'll throw himself even before the ball is kicked, and the kicker can simply kick in the other direction," Bloch said. "The goalie might just as well try to pry open a door with a piece of straw."
The kicker suddenly started his run. The goalkeeper, who was wearing a bright yellow jersey, stood absolutely still, and the penalty kicker shot the ball into his hands.
Copyright © 1970 by Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main English translation copyright © 1972 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc.