(3) A healthy-looking man from the country-side

Nightly Promenade

Nightly Promenade

After he had lost his grammar and no longer talked in coherent sentences he became more and more careless about explaining things to Rosa. He even forgot about his wholesome life in the countryside and preferred to stay in the house. He drew the curtains of his study during the day and reacted aggressively towards Rosa when she wanted to let the sunshine in. One day when Rosa had led him to the window of their bedroom which opened northwards onto the wide marshes and a milky-blue, vast horizon he restlessly shifted from one leg to the other, shielded his eyes with his right hand, blinked and abruptly tried to declaim his monologue about the “The breathing sky above the countryside” which Rosa had listened to so many times – but he broke off after only  a few tentative and stunted utterances like “I am breathing, Rosa” and “Sky-high, skylight, my love”. He had finally lost the thread of his endless story-telling. Something in the distance had silenced him, Rosa thought. Then she saw that he had to avert his eyes as if the openness of the landscape outside pained him. He turned away, took some steps into the room and sat in the easy chair with his back to the window so that he could look at the faintly expressionist oil painting of a landscape which had hung on the white wall opposite the window for nearly two decades. He stared at it for long minutes, sitting like a school boy, who had to decipher and read out messages from an ornamented canvas, messages from some painted trees along a narrow path which lost itself into a blurring horizon. Or was it a lake? Or the Baltic Sea where he had traveled several times? And wasn’t there a remote house with a white chimney? But he couldn’t make out the well-known patterns of the painted landscape and suddenly one of the trees, must be an oak tree, he thought, turned into the appalling profile of a wildly laughing, dark man. A grimacing face as big as a tree crown in heaven. It reminded him so irresistibly, so insistently of someone but he didn’t know. So he started all over again and looked at the trees with their late-summer foliage, the sandy path, the greenish bushes left and right, the white chimney, the shimmer of the Baltic Sea –  and again that face jumped at him, that vulgar, healthy-looking man, who peered and cheered out of the painting, again and again.

He went on like that for days and months until he lost his mind, completely and for ever. Rosa decided to give up the house and found a nursing home in the nearby town which had a garden with a bench against a white wall, for him to take rest in the evening sun. She told him to say good-bye to the countryside and the house. If he wouldn’t take a stroll along the river, through the village and around the garden. If he wouldn’t look at the rooms again. Come on, touch the walls and the furniture, feel the oak planks of the floor. She asked him if he wanted to take the easy chair and the painting to his new home. He seemed to listen to her while at the same time he was staring at the painted landscape and rapidly shuffling his feet. Then he grunted and, with a terrible vigour, he shouted at the painting:  “Who are you? Tell me! I want to know!” Afterwards he calmed down quickly and never said a word again when somebody was around. Rosa had  the oil painting cleaned and expensively framed for her new apartment in the city. Sometimes she used to stand very close to the painting and studied the vigorous brushstrokes, the layers of colour, the texture of the oil paint. “I will not tell you”, she would say.

 

 

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