Love

The villages here are small and scattered. The houses are low, and trees hardly reach the height of the roofs before they begin to grow crooked. Once a young girl lived in a low-built, brown wooden house at the edge of the village. Her house looked more like a shed, since it consisted of only one narrow room. The door was usually open for everyone to look in. There one was her bed, with some brightly colored blankets spread over it. She often lay on the bed with the door open. One saw her bare legs and her checked dress. She always wore a checked dress and sometimes a dark knitted cardigan over it. When it was cool, she wore socks. The dress reached to her knees, but when she lay down, it rode up. Her shoes stood neatly one beside the other in front of the bed. Men sometimes went to her, they closed the door behind them and came out again after a while. If anyone had wanted to describe the girl they would probably only have been able to talk about her round knees, her white calves and the checked dress.

One day a man went to her and sat down on her bed, without shutting the door. Everyone knew the man, he was often in the tavern and hired himself out here and there for small jobs. He was stocky and had thick hair, and he was called Short because he was so small. In the tavern Short did not say much, he sometimes danced passionately, if the atmosphere was right, but immediately afterwards he stood at the bar again, picked up his glass of brandy and said nothing. But now he was sitting beside the girl and one could see him through the open door, as he talked. It was a spring evening and the wind rustled in the crippled little trees, and the girl could be heard laughing, as the sun went down in the distance. Come again, she said, when he wanted to leave, and from then on Short came every day. He sat down at the foot of the bed, so that one no longer saw her ankles and her feet, and talked. Sometimes one could see him stroking her legs as he did so, up to the hem of the checked dress and back again, always up and down. His voice rose and fell, he gurgled and murmured and laughed and his voice grew louder and sometimes his free hand drew pictures in the air. He told her about all kinds of things beyond the plain, which he said he had seen or which he had heard about. He described everything, as he liked, and that pleased the girl very much.

Meanwhile a change came over her. She no longer lay on the bed with the door open, but sat on the edge of the bed or on a chair in front of the house and sometimes she also stood in the door and leant against the frame. She clasped her hands behind her back and looked dreamily out across the plain. Often she sat or stood by the door and combed her long hair, then she looked very beautiful. Her hair was reddish and thick, and because she combed it so often, a delicate circle of single hairs always hovered around her head, which were electrically charged by the friction of the comb and strained in another direction than down. This circle glowed in the sunlight. People generally began to talk about her beauty and to pay Short a certain respect, whereas before he had been disregarded.

Summer came, and Short built her a summer shower behind the house, it was a simple tall wooden frame. A pail was attached at the top, which was filled with water. One could use the water cold, or wait, until it had warmed up in the sun. By pulling a string fastened to the edge of the pail it could slowly be tilted and the stream of water would be running out. The girl loved the summer shower very much, and when Short came to her, they could be heard laughing and splashing under the shower. Short also brought her a lamp with a red shade and a portable radio. The portable radio stood by the window and was turned on all day. The girl listened to everything, to all the music and every report. The red lamp stood inside beside the bed and spread a very soft light, which in the evening could be seen through the window. Short picked up the rubbish and all kinds of broken things from her garden and raked the earth. He planted flowers, which grew very quickly and gave off their scent, and he made a bench, on which they could sit together on summer evenings. There he told her his stories. One hand was often on her knee, with the other he continued to draw his pictures in the mild summer air. The girl looked very happily and pensively into the distance, where she perhaps saw all the things really taking place, about which Short told her. Sometimes Short wanted to particularly hold her attention, then he stood up and acted out a story for her. As he did so he twisted his body in every conceivable way, spoke and sang and howled in a great variety of voices and registers, while the girl stared intently towards the horizon, sometimes, however, also with a sad expression, because even when Short performed everything vividly and animatedly and no doubt with many embellishments, the stories were by no means all cheerful. The flowers were now so tall, that in passing one could only see the faces of the couple between the blooms, and when it grew dark, their faces hung like two white large patches framed by the flowers in the darkness, as if they themselves were two giant blooms of an otherwise invisible plant.

So the summer passed. That's love, people said to one another, and everyone knew they meant Short and the girl. Sometimes in the evening the two of them came to the tavern and danced. They only had eyes for each other, and an empty circle of respect formed around them, when everyone else took a step backwards, so as not to be in the way when they were dancing. Short had taught the girl all kinds of dances, as they were supposedly danced beyond the plain, and he requested the music for them from the accordion player. To do that he stood in front of the accordion player and with eyes shut and arms hanging straight down hummed the tune, to which he wanted to dance. It looked odd, but no one laughed, because the music, which the accordionist then struck up was always very beautiful and moving. Once after a very melancholy tune Short raised his hand and said into the ensuing silence, A hand for the accordion player, because he knows a thing about love. Everyone clapped and praised the accordion player, although they either didn't agree with Short or weren't sure if they did.

Autumn came, and a bitterness crept up out of the distance, almost everyone felt it, without being able to say, of what it really consisted. They looked for all kinds of words for it, which were supposed to mean something else than this bitter thing, but nothing fitted. One morning Short slammed the door of the little house after him and went away. The girl stayed behind and now mostly stood in the doorway. It rained a great deal, and her eye couldn't wander far. She still combed her hair very often, but because the air was so heavy with moisture, the circle of unruly hair no longer stood up around her head. It grew cooler, and she wore woolen socks under the dress, making her legs look very heavy. Many men took the path past her house and shouted something to her, but she made no reply. One day the rain stopped, and winter was in the air. The beginning of winter is marked by an acrid smell, a still, pale grey sky and a great, clear expansiveness of the landscape. Sometimes there's already some hoarfrost. The horizon is discovered anew, so to speak. On one such morning, as the young girl was standing in the doorway, a car came and stopped outside the house. A young man was sitting in it, who called to her: Get in. The girl hesitated, but the man called, Come on, we'll drive to the sea. It must have been these words that persuaded her to shut the door of the house after her and get into the pale blue car. So she disappeared. After a while rumors spread, according to which she was making preparations for her wedding in a village not so very far from our own. It snowed a great deal that winter. When the snow had melted, the wedding really did take place. The girl wore a white dress, which was a little tight around breast and shoulders. The dress was so long, that nothing of her legs could be seen. On her head she wore a veil. A band played, and there was dancing. Supposedly it was very lively. The men yelled and whistled, and the women laughed loud and gleefully. Someone said, the young girl had made a brief attempt to escape, but in her white dress she was soon noticed, and she was brought back. There will have been some who imagined her gliding through the night as a patch of white, as the music faded into the distance.

Short returned home and saw that the house was empty. At the tavern they told him the story about the car and the wedding. Short said nothing, and no one found a word of comfort. What could one say, as everybody knows, not a word in the world is any help against lover's grief. For many weeks Short sat at the end of the bed with the door open and looked out. Sometimes he ran his hand back and forth over the blankets, in a gesture as if the naked legs of the girl were still there. When summer came, he pulled the pail from the summer shower and tried to hang himself on the frame. But in the course of the year the wood had suffered greatly, and the frame toppled over, before the noose had tightened around Short's neck. He didn't make another attempt and left our district. After a while, people took away everything that could be used. The portable radio, the lamp with the red shade, the blankets and even the pail from the summer shower.