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Part 1 Chapter 10

O N THE first day of Easter vacation, I got up at four. Hanna was working the early shift. She rode her bicycle to the streetcar depot at a quarter past four and was on the streetcar to Schwetzingen at four-thirty. On the way out, she’d told me, the streetcar was often empty. It only filled up on the return journey.

I got on at the second stop. The second car was empty; Hanna was standing in the first car close to the driver. I debated whether I should sit in the first or the second car, and decided on the second. It promised privacy, a hug, a kiss. But Hanna didn’t come. She must have seen that I had been waiting at the stop and had got on. That’s why the streetcar had stopped. But she stayed up with the driver, talking and joking. I could see them.

The streetcar passed one stop after another. No one was waiting to get on. The streets were empty. It was not yet sunrise, and under a colorless sky everything lay pale in the pale light: buildings, parked cars, the new leaves on the trees and first flowers on the shrubs, the gas tank, and the mountains in the distance. The streetcar was moving slowly; presumably the schedule was based both on stopping times and on the time between each stop, and so the speed of travel had to be slowed down when there were no actual stops. I was imprisoned in the slow-moving car. At first I sat, then I went and stood on the front platform and tried to impale Hanna with my stare; I wanted her to feel my eyes in her back. After some time she turned around and glanced at me. Then she went on talking to the driver. The journey continued. Once we’d passed Eppelheim the rails were no longer in the surface of the road, but laid alongside on a graveled embankment. The car accelerated, with the regular clackety-clack of a train. I knew that this stretch continued through various places and ended up in Schwetzingen. But I felt rejected, exiled from the real world in which people lived and worked and loved. It was as if I were condemned to ride forever in an empty car to nowhere.

Then I saw another stop, a shelter in the middle of open country. I pulled the cord the conductors used to signal the driver to stop or start. The streetcar stopped. Neither Hanna nor the driver looked back at me when they heard the bell. As I got off, I thought they were looking at me and laughing. But I wasn’t sure. Then the streetcar moved on, and I looked after it until it headed down into a dip and disappeared behind a hill. I was standing between the embankment and the road, there were fields around me, and fruit trees, and further on a nursery with greenhouses. The air was cool, and filled with the twittering of birds. Above the mountains the pale sky shone pink.

The trip on the streetcar had been like a bad dream. If I didn’t remember its epilogue so vividly, I would actually be tempted to think of it as a bad dream. Standing at the streetcar stop, hearing the birds and watching the sun come up was like an awakening. But waking from a bad dream does not necessarily console you. It can also make you fully aware of the horror you just dreamed, and even of the truth residing in that horror. I set off towards home in tears, and couldn’t stop crying until I reached Eppelheim.

I walked all the way back. I tried more than once to hitch a ride. When I was halfway there, the streetcar passed me. It was full. I didn’t see Hanna.

I was waiting for her on the landing outside her apartment at noon, miserable, anxious, and furious.

“Are you cutting school again?”

“I’m on vacation. What was going on this morning?”

She unlocked the door and I followed her into the apartment and into the kitchen.

“What do you mean, what was going on this morning?”

“Why did you behave as if you didn’t know me? I wanted . . .”

“I behaved as if I didn’t know you?” She turned around and stared at me coldly. “You didn’t want to know me. Getting into the second car when you could see I was in the first.”

“Why would I get up at four-thirty on my first day of vacation to ride to Schwetzingen? Just to surprise you, because I thought you’d be happy. I got into the second car . . .”

“You poor baby. Up at four-thirty, and on your vacation too.”

I had never seen her sarcastic before. She shook her head.

“How should I know why you’re going to Schwetzingen? How should I know why you choose not to know me? It’s your business, not mine. Would you leave now?”

I can’t describe how furious I was. “That’s not fair, Hanna. You knew, you had to know that I only got in the car to be with you. How can you believe I didn’t want to know you? If I didn’t, I would not have got on at all.”

“Oh, leave me alone. I already told you, what you do is your business, not mine.” She had moved so that the kitchen table was between us; everything in her look, her voice, and her gestures told me I was an intruder and should leave.

I sat down on the sofa. She had treated me badly and I had wanted to call her on it. But I hadn’t got through to her. Instead, she was the one who’d attacked me. And I became uncertain. Could she be right, not objectively, but subjectively? Could she have, must she have misunderstood me? Had I hurt her, unintentionally, against my will, but hurt her anyway?

“I’m sorry, Hanna. Everything went wrong. I didn’t mean to upset you, but it looks . . .”

“It looks? You think it looks like you upset me? You don’t have the power to upset me. And will you please go, finally? I’ve been working, I want to take a bath, and I want a little peace.” She looked at me commandingly. When I didn’t get up, she shrugged, turned around, ran water into the tub, and took off her clothes.

Then I stood up and left. I thought I was leaving for good. But half an hour later I was back at her door. She let me in, and I said the whole thing was my fault. I had behaved thoughtlessly, inconsiderately, unlovingly. I understood that she was upset. I understood that she wasn’t upset because I couldn’t upset her. I understood that I couldn’t upset her, but that she simply couldn’t allow me to behave that way to her. In the end, I was happy that she admitted I’d hurt her.

So she wasn’t as unmoved and uninvolved as she’d been making out, after all.

“Do you forgive me?”

She nodded.

“Do you love me?”

She nodded again. “The tub is still full. Come, I’ll bathe you.”

Later I wondered if she had left the water in the tub because she knew I would come back. If she had taken her clothes off because she knew I wouldn’t be able to get that out of my head and that it would bring me back. If she had just wanted to win a power game.

After we’d made love and were lying next to each other and I told her why I’d got into the second car and not the first, she teased me. “You want to do it with me in the streetcar too? Kid, kid!” It was as if the actual cause of our fight had been meaningless.

But its results had meaning. I had not only lost this fight. I had caved in after a short struggle when she threatened to send me away and withhold herself. In the weeks that followed I didn’t fight at all. If she threatened, I instantly and unconditionally surrendered. I took all the blame. I admitted mistakes I hadn’t made, intentions I’d never had. Whenever she turned cold and hard, I begged her to be good to me again, to forgive me and love me. Sometimes I had the feeling that she hurt herself when she turned cold and rigid. As if what she was yearning for was the warmth of my apologies, protestations, and entreaties. Sometimes I thought she just bullied me. But either way, I had no choice.

I couldn’t talk to her about it. Talking about our fights only led to more fighting. Once or twice I wrote her letters. But she didn’t react, and when I asked her about them, she said, “Are you starting that again?”



























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