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