A Discovery Behind the House

Ror Wolf

Artwork by Ifada Nisa

At the back of my house, I have just now discovered a pond. I do not recall seeing it there before, but yesterday, during an evening walk, I suddenly came upon it. I bolted, after slipping into my pants, stepping into my shoes, slinking into my jacket, out of my door with a giant leap and saw it there. I had taken the back stairs, pushed open the door, and there it lay, with its gorgeous wide curves, touched by moonlight. At that moment I heard the lapping of waves and the screaming of gulls gliding over it, the croaking of frogs in the reeds, the squelching of fish, which were leaping above the surface of the water and then falling back. With one bounce out the door, I stood in front of it and thought, while drinking in the scent of water lilies and taking off the hat that I never leave behind during my walks: certainly, it is not a large pond, that is true, but it commands, at least by my own measure, surprising dimensions. I am somewhat surprised that no one but myself seems to have noticed it. My neighbors never talk about it, they walk about with their faces, their hands hooked into their suspenders, chewing sunflower seeds and, after spitting them out, converse as usual about the events in the neighboring town without giving attention to what is right here.

I am sure that they, when they walk to and fro in front of my house in their coats, swinging their walking sticks and pointing them at objects that appear in the distance and then turn into cyclists and pedestrians, intend to deceive me because, in reality, they are pointing to the window behind which I stand; they describe a black night lit by the moon, use their sticks to deftly sketch with one movement the shape of the pond in the soil and show how I bolt down the back stairs out of the door. 

Their sticks are hitting me, bit by bit, all over my body. It may be, if I considered everything that could shield me, a consideration that wouldn’t even require much thinking, as this thought is an old one for me and always present, that, if I put my hands in front of my face and pulled on the heavy Siberian fur, there would hardly be a chance of hitting me, except between my fingers and through the eyehole cuts. But the fur has been locked away by my wife, and I am hardly able to lift my hands, weakened as they are, up to my chest, let alone to my head.

This is why, when they come hopping with raised sticks, quickly around the corner, I disappear behind the house, duck into the back door, and from there with a single leap over the stairs I hop through the door across the landing into the room and into my bed.

There I lie at night, the room is black, of a certain wooden hollowness, and sleep, or don’t sleep yet but lie awake, or not that either, rather, I walk back and forth, hear the snoring of my wife, which sounds from the bedroom, and begin to reminisce. I stepped out of the house into the garden, the wind was blowing and moved the water’s surface, in which the moon was mirrored, and then I took my hat off in this night. Those were my thoughts but, now that I have seen the pond, I also remember hearing, for a long time, the lapping of waves in quiet nights, waves that beat against the walls, the quiet, smacking knock of the water and the song of water birds merging with my wife’s grunting and her violent tossing, and mingling with the piercing screams she utters in her sleep. I also notice just now that I haven’t seen my wife, whom one could picture with a red face and hair resembling a tower or turban, that I haven’t seen her for a while, the kitchen was empty whenever I put my head round the door, the pots upended in the sink, the dishes crusted with leftovers, with oily skins, blackish glassy bits of potatoes, the bowls, heaped, with hardened fat, the cups with coffee dregs, the drain blocked by a fibrous residue. I remember how I stood at the sink to turn off the faucet, whose gurgling and dripping had driven me from my bed, I called then, stepping back from the sink, I called for my wife and when I didn’t receive a reply I went back to bed. I thought nothing of it, where are you, I called, she didn’t respond, she’s not here, I thought, where could she have gone? Those were my thoughts, and I called out again, where are you, but she remained gone. At that moment, I saw the bed with the duvet folded back, I thought nothing of it, but now that I return to the matter, when all the images come back, the empty kitchen, the empty hallway, the door standing open, now I believe that she went to the back of the house with the pond, which took her by surprise, that she went with her pear-shaped face to get flowers or, more likely, pears, or, more likely, herbs, and that, with her apron spread wide, she drowned.

Then I will tell my neighbors to come help me search. I go and get my pole, I am prepared for that, basically I expect everything. There it is, in the basement, leaning against the wall behind the potatoes, covered with fungi. The neighbors are sitting down in the tavern. I hear their hacking laughter rise up and the banging of beer mugs on the table after drinking, I do not like their gatherings, but my wife does, she sits down at the table with them, drinks from their mugs, bites into their sausages and eventually, everything drunk up, everything eaten up, she links arms with them; staggering, they get on their way towards my house, lock the bedroom door, and I hear the bedstead shaking and creaking.

If I look at it from this angle, I can be happy that she has drowned. I sort of am. My house is silent, beautiful silence, I am lying in bed and I think about my circumstances. I’m not badly off, I don’t complain, I own a house, a garden that slopes up towards the right, rises then vanishes in the distance, I have the pear tree, which, in this pear year, is creaking in the background, the shed with the chopping block, the spade, the rake, and now I also have a pond behind the house. When seen from the back room, its shape is oblong, and I, an ambler, a flâneur, a starer-in-the-air, even here at the window where I am standing, in this season I see myself in a shirt, I could wear my yellow garden hat on my head, the green apron slung around my waist, prancing on my light and airy garden shoes over the scrunching gravel path. On such a day, we assume, when I open the door to the shed and grab the rake, I will be seen, in my garden, which slopes up towards the right, the rake over my shoulder before sunrise, with my bounding gait, this is how it should be, leaping half in the imagination, half in reality. On such a day, as I imagine it in the back room, in the evening, the noise made by my neighbors, the slapping of cards, the closing of their beer mugs, is not there, and I hear the chirping of birds instead, the gurgle of water in the pond, and the fish moving along quietly under its calm surface.

But in this pond, I remember, in the dark of the water, at its all-the-way-down, there is my wife. With her heavy, bloated body, her apron spread out, her pear-shaped face, among the slithering streaming weeds, the wide open mouth, with the sticklebacks in the mouth cavity, on the tongue, the lips, the sticklebacks locked, with whipping tails, thrashing, with her drop-shaped face, the sticklebacks teeming, locked, the distended belly, the black garter splitting on the thighs, the reeds, the cattails, the unbuttoned blouse, the churning of the bottom sludge, the carps, the pikes, two meters long in favorable conditions, the gaping mouth, the teeth sunk in, the slick, tumid body, the shut mouth, the softly rising blood, the waving and swaying of water plants, the teeth bashed in, the puffing skirt and, on the surface, the apron with plucked kitchen herbs.

If I pull my wife out of the water, in this state, with this pole, when I pull her up into my boat and show her to the neighbors who are lining up on the shore, they will think that I pushed her into the pond, with a rock around her neck, in the setting sun, during an evening walk. One of them remembers hearing a scream. Another speaks of the splash caused by a body thrown in the splattering water. A third then mentions my laughter at her thrashing and sinking, at her slow descent in the moonlight behind the house. No, I am not looking for her, it is better that she stays where she is, because if she’s not in the kitchen, she’ll be in the bedroom, and if she’s not there then she’ll be elsewhere, and she likes it, she opens her parasol, sips her cocoa, takes off her corset. No, I in my slippers in the back room, propped up on the window sill, in a dressing gown, I am not looking for her, that’s where she should stay, at a table, on an esplanade, military march music playing, on a train and there in a smoking car, with a companion, swaying with the rhythm of the wheels.

The pole stays in the corner, in the basement, behind the sprouting potatoes. What, I wonder as I am closing the window, should be done now. I think that is easy, the pond, though I like to look at it, with its calm surface, I will fill it up, make it disappear, it is going to be easy in one long night, I will fill it up. With soil from my flowerbeds, soil from my compost heap, with my cellar potatoes, in there with the potatoes, my moonshine, together with the moonshine, with the preserves, the jelly, the dried fruit, all in there, my wife’s clothing, the slice of crumble left over from the morning, the sofa and the net curtains from the parlor and the napkin rings and the armchair for company, the chandelier, the jar of herring in tomato sauce, the garden hose, the opera glass, the dishes from the sink, the photo from the time with my wife on a trip to the mountains and the pencil sharpener shaped like a small globe and my hat clip, no, not my hat clip, the crancelin book, the berry fruit book, the pear harvest book and a few other books about gardening tasks.    

So. The pond is gone. My neighbors, what else do you want, now nothing can bother you, nothing, you can think nothing, imagine nothing, nothing. I will make off, over the mountains, nothing keeps me here, the opportunity has arisen, my house is empty, my garden, this garden sloping upwards to the right, the garden grazed, my pond, the pond filled in, I’m free to go.

The light of the rising sun falls through the back window, I pull the gloves over my hands, it is time, I think, I button up my galoshes, the neighbors, I think, come up with ideas when sitting down, I’m adjusting my tie, they may suspect that I filled in the pond to hide my wife’s corpse, I pull the hat over my bald head warmed by the morning sun, then, I think, everything would have been for nothing, I pull on the coat, where is the coat, into the black coat, slide some provisions for the journey in my pocket, it is true, I think, I need to hurry, take the umbrella from the hook, in case of rain, I don’t like getting wet, I do not like water, the mere thought of water, of a slough, a pond, even a small one, makes me uneasy, I have, I think, no time to lose, bolt down the stairs, am already out on the street, away, I think, that is simply a necessity, pat my pockets, ah, my ticket, I forgot it, so back and up, I take to my heels and reach the closet where it must be.

When I fumble in between the starched clean scented sheets, I cast a last glance out of the window, it is morning, a beautiful day. Over there the neighbors are leaving the tavern. They move, swaying, with waving sticks, towards my house, the first one, Beck, is already standing in my garden, beer foam still stuck in his beard, where are you, he is calling. I duck and look for the ticket. The drip of the faucet sounds from the kitchen.

We have come to look for your wife, Beck calls, where is she, where is your wife. I cover my ears and race down to the back door, down the stairs, breathlessly leaping out of the door, through the garden I see the pond, filled in the pond, I think, I can think, I run, I really want to be able to describe it, behind me I hear their panting and the stomping of their steps, where is she, Beck screams and waves his stick, where is your wife. I pass the shed, there’s the tree with the pears, I watered it for a long time, cared for it and sprayed it, trellised and pruned it, I painted the white ring around its trunk and shooed away the birds, slayed the voles, and while I’m running I remember the thumping of the log, the squealing of the small, wriggling bodies, the raising and positioning of the fruit picker, the screeching of my wife with the apron spread wide, with her legs apart in the evening air, the soft thudding of the pears. Those are the thoughts, while I’m running, past the shed and further past the pear tree and on and on with these thoughts, my house is shrinking, and it disappears in the background, while I am running and running on and on.

translated from the German by Barbara Thimm