How quiet it is in autumn, a strange and unearthly quiet.
Everything is just as it always was, it seems nothing has changed. Neither the marsh nor the farmland, not the fir trees on the hills, not the lake. Nothing. Only that summer’s gone. October’s end. And already late in the afternoon.
A dog howls in the distance, and the earth smells of sodden leaves. It’s rained heavily in the last few weeks, soon it will snow. The sun is gone, and twilight shuffles over the hard ground. It rustles in the stubble as if someone were skulking around in it. And as the clouds come in, so does the past. I see you again—oh days of yesteryear! Your mountains, your trees, your roads—we can all see each other again now.
And the two of us, you and I. Your light-color summer dress gleams in the sunlight, joyful and wanton as if you had nothing on under it. The stalks of grain swayed back and forth, the earth breathed in and out. It was hot and humid, do you remember? The air buzzed like an army of invisible insects. In the west, a storm threatened. And the two of us far from the village on a steep, narrow path, then walking through the sheaves of corn, you ahead of me—but good heavens, what has this got to do with you? Yes, I mean you, dear reader! Why should I tell you about this? Come on now, don’t be like that! What’s it to you if two people once disappeared into a cornfield? After all, it doesn’t affect you. You have other things to worry about than someone else’s love affair—and it certainly wasn’t love anyway.
The fact of the matter was, I wanted every girl I saw, I wanted to possess her. God knows I never felt any “spiritual” connection. And her? Well, I thought she trusted me completely. She told me so many stories, both colorful ones and dreary, about her work, about going to the movies, about her childhood—the sort of things that happen in every life. But it all bored me, and once in a while I wished she were deaf and dumb. I was a brutish fellow then, conceited out of a roguish emptiness.
One day she suddenly jerked herself to a standstill.
“You,” she said.
And her voice sounded shy and wounded.
“Why don’t you leave me alone? You don’t love me at all, and there are lots of other women who are much more beautiful.”
“You’re good in the sack,” I answered, and my own crassness pleased me. I would have happily said these words a few more times—that’s how I was then.
She looked down. I acted bored, squinted through one eye, and observed the shape of her head. Her hair was brown, a completely ordinary brown. She wore it combed over her forehead the way she had seen famous models do who are walking advertisements for hairdressers. Yes, of course there are women with hair far more beautiful, more attractive in other ways too—but please! It comes down to the same thing in the end. The hair darker or lighter, the forehead covered or bare—
“You poor thing,” she said suddenly, as if she was speaking to herself. She looked me straight in the eye and gave me a gentle kiss. And then she was gone. Her shoulders lifted up, her dress crumpled. I ran after her for ten paces or so, then came to a stop.
Turned on my heels. Didn’t look back.
Ten paces long our love lived, bursting into flames only to go out the same moment it began. Not a love like Romeo and Juliet, that lasts beyond the grave.
Only ten paces. But for that brief interval of time, this tiny love blazed heartfelt and intense, filled with splendor like a fairy tale.
Translated from the German by Linda Frazee Baker.
Artwork by Michael MacTavish
Ödön von Horváth (1901– 1938) was a prolific Hungarian playwright and novelist who wrote in German. Born in the waning years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in what is now Croatia, he lived in Hungary and Austria before settling in Germany. In satirical plays such as Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald (Tales from the Vienna Woods, 1930), he showed the gullibility and egotism of ordinary people that led them to discount the evil of fascism, thereby making possible the Nazi rise to power. His stated aim was to “unmask consciousness” and reveal the anti-social instincts beneath. In 1931, he received the Kleist Prize, the highest award for German drama, two years before being forced into exile. His life and career were cut tragically short when he was struck during a rainstorm in Paris by a falling tree branch.
Linda Frazee Baker is a writer and translator of German literature. Her translations of Ingeborg Bachmann and Max Frisch have been published in Metamorphoses and Web Conjunctions; her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Sakura Review, Drunken Boat, and Folio. She holds an MA in fiction from Johns Hopkins, and an MA and PhD in English literature from Cornell and the University of California at Berkeley, respectively.
Read more from the German:
- Thomas Bernhard’s “Is It a Comedy? Is It a Tragedy?”
- Poems by Lutz Seiler, from in field latin
- Poems by Dagmara Kraus, from Gloomerang