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Part 1 Chapter 9

W HY DOES it make me so sad when I think back to that time? Is it yearning for past happiness—for I was happy in the weeks that followed, in which I really did work like a lunatic and passed the class, and we made love as if nothing else in the world mattered. Is it the knowledge of what came later, and that what came out afterwards had been there all along?

Why? Why does what was beautiful suddenly shatter in hindsight because it concealed dark truths? Why does the memory of years of happy marriage turn to gall when our partner is revealed to have had a lover all those years? Because such a situation makes it impossible to be happy? But we were happy! Sometimes the memory of happiness cannot stay true because it ended unhappily. Because happiness is only real if it lasts forever? Because things always end painfully if they contained pain, conscious or unconscious, all along? But what is unconscious, unrecognized pain?

I think back to that time and I see my former self. I wore the well-cut suits which had come down to me from a rich uncle, now dead, along with several pairs of two-tone shoes, black and brown, black and white, suede and calf. My arms and legs were too long, not for the suits, which my mother had let down for me, but for my own movements. My glasses were a cheap over-the-counter pair and my hair a tangled mop, no matter what I did. In school I was neither good nor bad; I think that many of the teachers didn’t really notice me, nor did the students who dominated the class. I didn’t like the way I looked, the way I dressed and moved, what I achieved and what I felt I was worth. But there was so much energy in me, such belief that one day I’d be handsome and clever and superior and admired, such anticipation when I met new people and new situations. Is that what makes me sad? The eagerness and belief that filled me then and exacted a pledge from life that life could never fulfill? Sometimes I see the same eagerness and belief in the faces of children and teenagers and the sight brings back the same sadness I feel in remembering myself. Is this what sadness is all about? Is it what comes over us when beautiful memories shatter in hindsight because the remembered happiness fed not just on actual circumstances but on a promise that was not kept?

She—I should start calling her Hanna, just as I started calling her Hanna back then—she certainly didn’t nourish herself on promises, but was rooted in the here and now.

I asked her about her life, and it was as if she rummaged around in a dusty chest to get me the answers. She had grown up in a German community in Rumania, then come to Berlin at the age of sixteen, taken a job at the Siemens factory, and ended up in the army at twenty-one. Since the end of the war, she had done all manner of jobs to get by. She had been a streetcar conductor for several years; what she liked about the job was the uniform and the constant motion, the changing scenery and the wheels rolling under her feet. But that was all she liked about it. She had no family. She was thirty-six. She told me all this as if it were not her life but somebody else’s, someone she didn’t know well and who wasn’t important to her. Things I wanted to know more about had vanished completely from her mind, and she didn’t understand why I was interested in what had happened to her parents, whether she had had brothers and sisters, how she had lived in Berlin and what she’d done in the army. “The things you ask, kid!”

It was the same with the future—of course I wasn’t hammering out plans for marriage and future. But I identified more with Julien Sorel’s relationship with Madame de Renal than his one with Mathilde de la Mole. I was glad to see Felix Krull end up in the arms of the mother rather than the daughter. My sister, who was studying German literature, delivered a report at the dinner table about the controversy as to whether Mr. von Goethe and Madame von Stein had had a relationship, and I vigorously defended the idea, to the bafflement of my family. I imagined how our relationship might be in five or ten years. I asked Hanna how she imagined it. She didn’t even want to think ahead to Easter, when I wanted to take a bicycle trip with her during the vacation. We could get a room together as mother and son, and spend the whole night together.

Strange that this idea and suggesting it were not embarrassing to me. On a trip with my mother I would have fought to get a room of my own. Having my mother with me when I went to the doctor or to buy a new coat or to be picked up by her after a trip seemed to me to be something I had outgrown. If we went somewhere together and we ran into my schoolmates, I was afraid they would think I was a mama’s boy. But to be seen with Hanna, who was ten years younger than my mother but could have been my mother, didn’t bother me. It made me proud.

When I see a woman of thirty-six today, I find her young. But when I see a boy of fifteen, I see a child. I am amazed at how much confidence Hanna gave me. My success at school got my teachers’ attention and assured me of their respect. The girls I met noticed and liked it that I wasn’t afraid of them. I felt at ease in my own body.

The memory that illuminates and fixes my first meetings with Hanna makes a single blur of the weeks between our first conversation and the end of the school year. One reason for that is we saw each other so regularly and our meetings always followed the same course. Another is that my days had never been so full and my life had never been so swift and so dense. When I think about the work I did in those weeks, it’s as if I had sat down at my desk and stayed there until I had caught up with everything I’d missed during my hepatitis, learned all the vocabulary, read all the texts, worked through all the theorems and memorized the periodic table. I had already done the reading about the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich while I was in my sickbed. And I remember our meetings in those weeks as one single long meeting. After our conversation, they were always in the afternoon: if she was on the late shift, then from three to four-thirty, otherwise until five-thirty. Dinner was at seven, and at first Hanna forced me to be home on time. But after a while an hour and a half was not enough, and I began to think up excuses to miss dinner.

It all happened because of reading aloud. The day after our conversation, Hanna wanted to know what I was learning in school. I told her about Homer, Cicero, and Hemingway’s story about the old man and his battle with the fish and the sea. She wanted to hear what Greek and Latin sounded like, and I read to her from the Odyssey and the speeches against Cataline.

“Are you also learning German?”

“How do you mean?”

“Do you only learn foreign languages, or is there still stuff you have to learn in your own?”

“We read texts.” While I was sick, the class had read Emilia Galotti and Intrigues and Love, and there was an essay due on them. So I had to read both, which I did after finishing everything else. By then it was late, and I was tired, and next day I’d forgotten it all and had to start all over again.

“So read it to me!”

“Read it yourself, I’ll bring it for you.”

“You have such a nice voice, kid, I’d rather listen to you than read it myself.”

“Oh, come on.”

But next day when I arrived and wanted to kiss her, she pulled back. “First you have to read.”

She was serious. I had to read Emilia Galotti to her for half an hour before she took me into the shower and then to bed. Now I enjoyed showering too—the desire I felt when I arrived had got lost as I read aloud to her. Reading a play out loud so that the various characters are more or less recognizable and come to life takes a certain concentration. Lust reasserted itself under the shower. So reading to her, showering with her, making love to her, and lying next to her for a while afterwards—that became the ritual in our meetings.

She was an attentive listener. Her laugh, her sniffs of contempt, and her angry or enthusiastic remarks left no doubt that she was following the action intently, and that she found both Emilia and Luise to be silly little girls. Her impatience when she sometimes asked me to go on reading seemed to come from the hope that all this imbecility would eventually play itself out. “Unbelievable!” Sometimes this made even me eager to keep reading. As the days grew longer, I read longer, so that I could be in bed with her in the twilight. When she had fallen asleep lying on me, and the saw in the yard was quiet, and a blackbird was singing as the colors of things in the kitchen dimmed until nothing remained of them but lighter and darker shades of gray, I was completely happy.

  为什么一想起过去我就很伤心?这是一种对过去幸福时光的怀念吗?——在随后的几周里,我的确很幸福愉快,我拼命地用功学习而没有留级;我们相亲相爱,仿佛世界上只有我俩。还是由于我后来知道了事实真相?

  为什么?为什么对我们来说那么美好的东西竟在回忆中被那些隐藏的丑恶变得支离破碎?为什么对一段幸福婚姻的回忆在发现另一方多年来竟还有一个情人之后会变得痛苦不堪?是因为人在这种情况下无幸福可言吗?但是他们曾经是幸福的!有时候人们对幸福的回忆大打折扣,如果结局令人痛苦。是因为只有持久的幸福才称得上幸福吗?是因为不自觉的和没有意识到的痛苦一定要痛苦地了结吗?可什么又是不自觉和没有意识到的痛苦呢?

  我回想着过去,眼前出现了当时的我自己。我穿着一套讲究的西服,那是我一位富有的叔叔的遗物,它和几双有两种颜色的皮鞋——黑色和棕色、黑色和白色、生皮和软皮,一起传到了我手里。我的胳膊和腿都很长,穿妈妈为我放大的任何制服都不合身。我胳膊腿不是为穿衣长的,而是为动作协调长的。我的眼镜的式样是疾病保险公司所支付的那种,价钱最便宜。我的头发是那种蓬松型,我可以随心所欲地梳理它。在学校里,我的功课不好不坏。我相信,许多老师没有把我当回事,班里的好学生也没把我放在眼里。我不喜欢我的长相,不喜欢我的穿戴举止,不满我的现状,对别人对我的评价不屑一顾。希望有朝一日变得英俊聪明,超过其他人,让他们羡慕我。不过,我有多少精力,多少信心?我还能期待遇到什么新人和新情况呢!

  是这些令我伤感吗?还是我当时的勤奋努力和内心所充满的信念令我伤感?我的信念是对生活的一种承诺,一种无法兑现的承诺。有时候,我在儿童和青少年的脸上能看到这种勤奋和信念。我看到它们时,我感到伤感,一种令我想起自己的过去的伤感。这是一种绝对的伤感吗?当一段美好的回忆变得支离破碎时,我们就一定伤感吗?因为被追忆的幸福不仅仅存在于当时的现实生活中,也存在于当时没有履行的诺言中?

  她——从现在起我应叫她汉娜,就像我当时开始叫她汉娜一样,她当然不是生活在承诺中,而是生活在现实中,仅仅生活在现实中。

  我问过她的过去,她的回答仿佛像从布满灰尘的老箱子里折腾出来的东西一样没有新意。她在七座堡长大,十七岁去了柏林,曾是西门子公司的一名女工,二十一岁时去当了兵。战争结束以后,所有可能的工作她都做过。有轨电车售票员的工作,她已经干了几年了,她喜欢那套制服和这种往返运动,喜欢变换的风景还有脚下车轮的转动。除此之外,她并不喜欢这份工作。三十六岁了,仍没有成家。她讲述这些的时候,仿佛讲的不是她自己的生活,而是另外一个她不熟悉、与她无关的人的生活。我想详细知道的事情,她往往都不记得了。她也不理解我为什么对诸如此类的问题感兴趣:她父母从事什么职业?她是否有兄弟姐妹?她在柏林是怎样生活的?她当兵时都做了什么?"你都想知道些什么呀!小家伙。"

  她对未来的态度也是如此。当然,我没有想结婚组建家庭的计划。但是,相对而言,我对朱连·索雷尔与雷娜尔的关系比他与马蒂尔德·德拉莫尔的关系更为同情。我知道,腓力斯·科鲁尔最后不愿在他女儿的怀里,而愿在他母亲的怀里死去。我姐姐是学日耳曼学的,她曾在饭桌上讲述过关于歌德和施泰因夫人的暧昧关系的争论。我强词夺理地为他.们辩护,这令全家人感到震惊。我设想过我们的关系在五年或十年之后会是什么样子。我问汉娜她是怎么想的,她说她甚至连复活节的事都还没想。我们曾商定,复活节放假时,我和她骑自行车出去。这样,我们就可以以母子身份住在一个房间里,可以整夜呆在一起了。

  我的设想和建议很少有不令我痛苦的时候。有一次和妈妈一起度假,我本想为自己力争一个单间。由妈妈陪着去看医生,或者去买一件新大衣,或者旅行回来由她去接站,这些我觉得都已与我的年龄不相称了。如果和妈妈在路上遇到同学的话,我害怕他们把我当做妈妈的宝贝儿子。尽管汉娜比我妈妈年轻十岁,可也够做我妈妈的年龄了。不过,和她在一起,我不但不怕别人看见,反而还为此感到自豪。

  如果现在我见到一个三十六岁的女人,我会认为她很年轻,但是,如果我现在看到一个十五岁的男孩,我会认为他还是个孩子。汉娜给了我那么多自信,这使我感到惊讶。我在学校取得的成绩引起了老师们的注意,他们已对我刮目相看。我接触的女孩们也察觉到,我在她们面前不再胆怯,她们也喜欢我这样。我感到惬意。

  我对与汉娜最初的相遇记忆犹新,当时的情景历历在目,这使得我对后来发生的事情,即从我与她的那次谈话到学年结束之前的那几周内发生的事情,反而记不清了。其中原因之一,是我们见面、分手都太有规律了。另一个原因是,在此之前,我从未有过这么忙碌的日子,我的生活节奏还从本这么快过,生活从未这么充实过。如果我回想我在那几周内所做的功课的话,我仿佛感觉到我又坐在写字台旁,而且一直坐在那儿,直到把我生病期间所落下的功课都赶上为止。我学了所有的生词,念了所有的课文,证明了所有的数学习题,连接了所有的化学关系。关于魏玛共和国和第三帝国,我在医院的病床上就读过了。还有我们的约会,在我的记忆中,这时约会的时间持续最长。自我们那次谈话之后,我们总是在下午见面。如果她上晚班的话,就从三点到四点半,否则就到五点半。七点钟开晚饭。开始时,她还催我准时回家,可是,过了一段时间以后,我就不止呆一个半小时了,我开始找借口放弃吃晚饭。

  这是由于要朗读的缘故。在我们交谈之后的第二天,汉娜想知道我在学校都学什么。于是,我向她讲述了荷马史诗、西塞罗的演讲和海明威的《老人与海》的故事——老人怎样与鱼、与海搏斗。她想知道希腊语和拉丁语听起来是什么样。我给她朗读了《奥德赛》中的一段和反对卡塔琳娜的演讲。

  "你还学德语吗?"

  "你是什么意思?"

  "你是只学外语呢,还是自己的本国语言也有要学?"

  "我们念课文。"我生病期间,我们班读了《爱米丽雅·葛洛获》和《阴谋与爱情》。这之后,我们要写一篇读后感。这样,我还要补读这两本书。我每次都是在做完其他作业之后才开始阅读它们。这样,当我开始阅读时,时间就已经很晚了,我也很累了,读过的东西第二天就全忘记了,我必须重读一遍。

  "读给我听听!"

  "你自己读吧,我把它给你带来。"

  "小家伙,你的声音特别好听,我宁愿听你朗读而不愿自己去读。"

  "是吗?原来如此?"

  第二天,我仍去她那儿。当我想亲吻她时,她却躲开了:"你得先给我朗读!"

  她是认真的。在她让我淋浴和上床之前,我要为她朗读半个小时的《爱米丽雅·葛洛获》。现在我也喜欢淋浴了。我来时的性欲,在朗读时都消失了,因为朗读一段课文时要绘声绘色地把不同的人物形象表现出来,这需要集中精力。淋浴时,我的性欲又来了。朗读、淋浴、做爱,然后在一起躺一会儿,这已成了我们每次约会的例行公事。

  她是个注意力集中的听众,她的笑,她的嗤之以鼻,她的愤怒或者是赞赏的惊呼,都毫无疑问地表明,她紧张地跟踪着情节。她认为爱米丽雅像露伊莎一样都是愚蠢的、没有教养的女孩。她有时迫不及待地求我继续念下去,这是由于她希望这段愚蠢的故事应该早点结束。"怎么会有这种事呢/有时我自己也渴望读下去。当天变长的时候,我读的时间也长些,为的是在黄昏时才与她上床。当她在我怀里入睡,院子里的锯木声沉默下来,乌鸦在唱歌,厨房里也只剩下越来越淡的和越来越黯的颜色时,我也沉浸在无限幸福之中。



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