(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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(2) A healthy-looking man from the countryside

Tulips' Invasion

So you sit at the family table and hear him talking about the beauty in his life. That those Dutch tulips have invaded the countryside and how everything has lost its grace. You look at the vegetable soup which Rosa has cooked and which is his favourite soup, at least that’s what he says today.

Oh, Rosa, such a wonderful cook you are, I do think, you are, why haven’t I told you earlier. Oh dear, I’m so sorry about my forgetfulness, Rosa. In the morning, when the carrots – oh, I saw all these yellow-red carrots that the farmers brought and, of course, their wives, yes, they have wives, too. What’s her name, Rosa? Why do I always  forget her name, for Christ’s sake! I am so so sad, Rosa, eh, shall I apologize now? You are right, it’s always a good time to say sorry, no need to wait for next week and why shouldn’t I do it now: Rosa, my dear, I do thank you for not forgiving me! Wait, don’t interrupt me, it’s the right moment. You see, I will cry, yes, I feel the tears. That beautiful name, it always reminded me of the Queen of Sheba, tell me, Rosa, please do! You know, remembering keeps me sound and healthy – am I not a healthy-looking man, Rosa, haven’t I always been? Oh yes, I like your soup, it’s a carrot soup, with parsley and sage, ha ha. You keep my memory going round and round in circles, Rosa, like a merry-go-round on a country fair and we’re shouting together, jipiee!  Am I too loud, Rosa?

He puts down his spoon and he wonders about the other figure at the table. Who is that shadow at the family table? Doesn’t speak and doesn’t move away. Must be Rosa’s dumb son who has come for dinner, too late as always, but there he’s sitting at my own table and doesn’t say a word. Oh, it’s a very tasty meal, Rosa, my favourite one, you know. You, eh, you are right, my country-wife, I have to eat now. But where has he, yes, why has that son of yours taken my spoon away?
He is staring at you across the table and for once you want to hurl your soup plate at the stout torso opposite you. You want to see the soup splashing over his shirt, the vegetable chunks drop on the white table linen, see him open his mouth in pain and you want to hear Rosa shouting and screaming: Her silly name is Carmella, you damned philistine, you bloody self-righteous man! Her name is CARMELLA! Your warm and pleasant and fragrant Carmella! Your Queen of Sheba, smelling of wood and whatsoever! Carmella, your once-in-a-lifetime and never-ending affair, your pain and your tears. And you cannot forget her, you terrible, healthy-looking man from the countryside!

But Rosa doesn’t break the silence of the sunny spring day and sits upright at the end side of the table. And as you have decided to put your feet under his table, you patiently reach over to push the spoon back into his sight so that he can reach for it himself. And you let him unravel and rewind the endless thread of his words without interrupting him. Thousands of empty words and you have an eternity to watch him carefully, the slow chewing movements of his broad jawbones, the regular parting of his lips, the momentary baring of his big teeth when he once and again smiles at Rosa while he is finally spooning in the vegetable soup. And it strikes you that above his mouth the craggy face doesn’t show any motion. It would always stay solemn. No blinking of the wet, brown eyes, which are sheltered under carefully clipped, bushy brows. When you were twelve he frequently invited you to watch him clipping his brows in the bathroom. Yes, I am from the countryside, he used to say. I am at home here – but I am a literary man, too. I have to mind my P’s and Q’s, you know, what I mean, son? A man of letters has to please the ladies with poems and with cleanliness, take that into your book of manhood, ha ha!

When you were fourteen you stopped following him to the bathroom mirror and kept staying at your friends’ places in the nearby town. But sometimes, at night, you stood outside the house and looked up at the lighted living-room window from a distance. You never saw him in the window frame, not even his shadow.

(1) A healthy-looking man from the countryside

He is tall and broad in his shoulders. He looks just a little bit too heavy and, yes, he is slow. That’s what you have already expected when he was walking towards you. He is slow in speech, in vision and in hearing alike. He has knitted his thinking into the outside world and it takes him much time to follow his own complicated patterns. That knitting business happened a long, long time ago, probably when he was still a boy. Everything had been so flat, that’s what he remembers about being a small child. But after he had started weaving his words into the flatness next to him everything became light and friendly and comprehensible. For ever and ever, if he only stuck to it. All that he has forgotten and so he doesn’t realize that his gazing at you is meaningless. That he is unable to understand by using his senses. Instead he needs endless chain molecules of words to decipher life around him. While talking to you he actually reads from a kind of woven carpet – tales from Arabian nights in chemical codes.

A single voice and a body plus high-pitch and a mouth plus wood and a shadow –  must be Rosa in the living room. Oh, Rosa, you’ve brought flowers, ah, yellow tulips, my favourites in April. And I can see, they aren’t from those endless rows of greenhouses in the Netherlands, they are from here, from the countryside where we live. Have I told you about the article on cultivating tulips in the Netherlands? I am all against greenhouses, you know that, but in the countryside it’s different. I’m glad we have some farming left so that we can support our local dealers. You are right, I shouldn’t talk like the government does. But it’s true what the mayor says, we do live in a closely-knit, eh, human, let’s say, eco-system, together with the local farmers, and their wives. And of course, there’s more to it than producing and selling and buying and, eh, vice versa, year after year. It’s tradition and it’s future, and it all happens at the same time, Rosa. Shouldn’t you take the white porcelain vase instead of the glass vase? The cylindrical form looks somewhat industrial, doesn’t it? Thank you for the beauty in my life, Rosa. I see, it’s already time for dinner.

But he doesn’t see, he’s only using words.