This dog belongs to me, said those wretched children; there is my place in the sun…
A person gets old. Korn can sense this. At night he dreams of endless forests and gigantic cities. But they are all sited so far behind him that he can no longer summon up the courage to enter them. He lies awake for hours and waits for the next train, which will loom into view in the gorge on the other side.
Sweat is running down his back, his heart is pounding, his hands are clenched, and he is biting the bedcover. But disaster is never long in coming. The train must follow the track, and on each occasion once it has reached the walnut tree, the floor sags and the entire house trembles and threatens to collapse on to Korn’s bed. From time to time he gets sick of being in bed, and he must get up and look out the window. At such moments he braces himself firmly against the wall and stares at the yellow eyes that loom into view in the darkness. He has never before been so filled with hate as at the present time. He hates everything, every human being, every train, every scrap of earth. He curses the earth, because he knows that it will ruthlessly devour him. Mercy is not mercy by any means. If only he never had to wake up in the morning ever again, he thinks. Everything is pointless.
In the morning he goes out and sticks his hand into the fissure in the wall. It keeps getting bigger and bigger. Every train enlarges the fissure, and so does every frost. “Almighty God in heaven!” he cries.
He puts on his coat and climbs into the pigsty. Not a day passes without his staring at the pig, speaking with the pig, coaxing the pig in order to make it fat. How beautiful such a pig can be. What wonderful eyes are embedded in its flesh.
“You haven’t got a heart, have you?” Korn says under his breath.
He thumps the pig on its back with a hazelnut cane and suddenly gives a loud laugh. The pig takes a leap at the wall and bumps its head. It oinks with delight, with enjoyment of life, and nuzzles its putrid pottage, which has been standing in the sun for three days. A horrible stench rises from the pottage, but Korn cannot smell it.
He bursts out laughing and says “buddy” to his pig.
“Buddy, you’re the only one who will be my salvation—you, a pig!” he says. He leans against the wooden barrier and peers into the sty. He reflects on how wonderfully the back of a pig shines, on what a magnificent shade of pink surges up in its floppy ears, almost like a rising sun.
“It’s alive,” he whispers.
The pig oinks, lifts its snout, and stares at him. Korn would like nothing more than to leap over the wooden barrier and caper about on the floor with the pig.
But Korn remains standing at the wooden barrier. It is as if he is nailed to the spot. His eyes bore into the bacon, and his mouth twists into a smile, for he knows that this pig, when it is slaughtered on Good Friday, will weigh more than a hundred and forty kilograms! Then he will drive into town with the meat and sell it at the market. Even after he has sold it all, a good fifty kilograms of pure bacon will still be left over. The bacon will be rendered and hung in halves in the chimney. Then, next Christmas, he will be a happy man, because he will buy a couple of bags of pears and make cider out of them, and Marie will bake white bread and sing songs to the accompaniment of her guitar.
“If there were any point to it,” Korn says to his pig, “I would stuff those rotten onions from the cellar into your maw as well. But there’s no point anymore. Fattening season is over. I could even cut you to pieces today, but I’m not about to do that. Today I’m not about to soil myself with your blood. Is your blood sweet? Pig’s blood exists for no other reason than to be seasoned with pepper and to taste good.”
Korn lectures the pig until it lays its head down on a pile of filthy straw and starts snoring. But Korn cannot deal with a snoring pig. He thinks about his sleepless nights, about the thoughts that torment him, about God, who keeps leaving him in the lurch when he really needs him. The pig bores greedily ever deeper into its slumbers. He loathes it because he loves it.
He cannot hear its oinks getting more forceful and protracted; he can no longer see the brute’s tail bobbing up and down. He feels a strong impulse to jump over the barrier and trample the pig underfoot until it emits its death cry and perishes. An abominable impulse, but he cannot contain it. He squeezes the cane between his fingers, lifts it high, and glances at the wall glistening with fat. Now he can smell the pig. He hardly dares to breathe. All is silent. His muscles tensed, he abides the oinking noise of the pig until its tail is curved downwards and the pig’s left eye is twitching. Then he bursts out laughing, leaps into the air, and with a cry strikes a blow on the clueless pig’s snout. With a horrifying wail of woe it is jerked into the air. It is as if the Devil were leaping up out of an abyss. Korn strikes blow after blow, once across its snout and then on its back, until he is out of breath and his heart skips a couple of beats. He drops the cane and clutches at his chest. Sweat runs down his pallid face. The pig is howling. It suddenly races from one end of the stall to the other, rolls around on the floor, rises to its feet, and collapses. Blood is streaming out of its red muzzle.
“I’ve got the power of life and death over my pig,” says Korn.
The pig calms down and lays its head down in the straw.
“It belongs to me,” says Korn: “I can do what I like with it. It’s my pig! I bought it, I fattened it, I love it, I hate it, and nobody will sell it but me. That’s right: nobody but me! But I don’t want it to snuff it today, not today. It must die on Good Friday.”
As Korn uttered these words, he was curiously calm, and he felt as though all his words made sense.
But suddenly he is assailed by a terrible pang of anxiety, he feels cold as the pig bleeds and its fat legs twitch, and he bends down over its crisp, shiny hair and runs his bare hand along its pulsating back. And his hands, that have so far been numb and cold and hard, begin to tremble, and his lips begin to quiver, and the blood in his body rises up against him.
“Why did I beat you?” asks Korn.
He kneels down in the muck; he sheds his boots completely. He slides his hand into the pig’s mouth; inside it he can feel the animal’s hot tongue. He picks up a bundle of straw and wipes the blood off the animal’s snout. Its entire fat body vibrates, the way a human being’s body vibrates with the fear of death. He shudders at the sight of the animal, which is trembling with pain, and he shudders even more at the thought that he was the one who dealt it those fearsome blows.
Three times in succession he whispers under his breath: “It’s a pig, and I am going to sell it…”
But it is no use. Those bulbous, radiant eyes are undeceivable. They gaze at the mollified man and refuse to let go of him. They follow him to the door, to the garden, and out into the forest.
When he comes back an hour later, the pig is still lying on the floor, and it seems to Korn as though in the meantime it has seen nothing but him as he leapt across the brook, as he sat down on a tree stump, as he knocked over the sponges with his boots, as he ran to and fro like a savage.
He does not say another word to the pig. He bends over it, and he is nauseated by his world.
“It’s alive,” he moans.
Then he waits for it to move. Slowly it pulls a leg out of the muck, then a second one, and finally it tries to lift itself up.
Korn does not budge. He is captivated by the miracle of the renewal of life. He has never before witnessed a resurrection at such close quarters or so distinctly. And this pig is a destiny; of this there can be no doubt. No, this pig is a life like any other, but it is a subaltern life, enslaved here for the sake of being weighed by the kilogram.
Three times the pig lifts itself up, and each time it collapses again. It oinks, and the tremulous quality of the sound coming from the animal’s throat digs deep into Korn’s heart. He can hardly stand to remain here any longer, but he stays put. He leans back against the filthy outer wall of the house. He can see nothing apart from the pig’s eyes.
Never again, he says to himself.
When the pig is finally standing and rooting the straw with its snout, Korn knows that it is not going to die before Good Friday. It will not manage to steal a march on his hands, and he shudders at the thought that this tortured life, which has climbed up out of the abysmal depths, is going to last only another two days. Two days! But the pig knows nothing. The first steps it undertakes lead to the trough, but it is empty, and the pig oinks, and Korn goes downstairs into his cellar and fetches the rotten onions. He brings back an entire armful. He drops them into the bucket, fills it with water at the well, throws in some old potatoes, and stirs. As he is doing so it occurs to him to add a couple of cabbage leaves. And so he goes and fetches them from the garden. He rolls up his sleeves and mashes the contents of the barrel into a pulp. From time to time the stupefying stench of the onions causes him to retch. But he knows why he is taking on this job. If there’s a good crowd at the market, thinks Korn, and I enjoy a little bit of luck, I’ll be a rich man in just a couple of days. And there’s nothing people here like more than pork. I’ll sell the whole hog myself. I’ll put on a white apron and set up a stall. And when they see what fine pork I’m selling, they’ll all come to see me. They’ll be elbowing one another out of the way! Then I’ll be able to buy a new pair of boots and Marie will be able to get herself a couple of dresses. I’ll have the pipes for the well fixed and lay out some money on shingles.
I mustn’t have anything hanging over my head!
He is sweating even more than earlier. But his heart has calmed back down. He picks up the bucket and takes it into the sty. The pig smells the food and rushes up to him.
“Watch your step now!” says Korn.
He shakes the pulp into the trough in such a way that little flecks of it splash back on to his face. Completely nauseated, he turns his head aside. Then he puts down the bucket, wipes his forehead, and listens to the pig slurping away.
At midday he sits down at the table and spoons up the soup from the tureen that Marie has brought him. He is hardly hungry at all, because he thinks too much, and a thinking person fancies at all times that his stomach has been well enough provided for. To be sure, if she had roasted some pork instead, he would be eating with much more gusto. As he raises the spoon to his lips, he thinks about his pig, and he says to Marie, who is sitting across from him with her hair undone and her lovely eyes: “Have you ever taken a proper good look at that sow?”
“No,” says Marie.
“Take a proper good look at her!”
Korn loses his temper.
“Don’t ask such stupid questions,” he says irately.
Marie puts down her spoon and sits bolt upright. She purses her lips and makes as if to leave.
“Keep your seat,” says Korn.
But Marie stands up and vanishes through the doorway and into the adjacent room.
Now she’s going to howl, thinks Korn.
He wanted to ask her if she had ever had similar thoughts on looking at a pig, thoughts that make you forget where you came from and where you are going. But that is all pointless. You can’t discuss things with women. He looks around the kitchen, and everything strikes him as being filthy and old. And as he is thinking about Marie, about how she was once young and beautiful and how she kissed him down at the brook in the rushes and boxed his ears, and how he bit her arm, causing her to cry out and run a fair distance into the woods, he can hear her whimpering behind the door.
It has been a long time indeed since he last felt an emotion as harrowing as the one that is now assailing him with main force. What he would really like to do is rush into the room and forget everything, everything, to lunge in there and scream. But he silently traverses the floorboards with his hands clenched; the blood is surging through his head, and stupefyingly savage currents of it are circulating in his brain, and he kicks open the door with his booted foot and sees nothing but his wife’s black blazing eyes, her hands, which she is holding up to her face in terror; he sees her healthy body, which is slowly shrinking back from him, step by step, until the exposed bed precludes all possibility of flight, and he sees Marie sinking down onto the bedcover, silently, unwistfully, as she welcomes him with her wide-open eyes.
As he comes to from his fit of inebriation, he realizes that his fingers are crushing her wrists, and he stands up and drops her—this being with a miraculous face in which lamentation in its entirety and beauty in its entirety and all the wretchedness of the earth are buried–like a piece of meat. He is suddenly revolted by his existence and wishes that using one of his cruel thoughts he could tear asunder the stone walls that surround him; he wishes he could run far away, into the countryside, where he can gaze upon the world with an unfurrowed face, without suffering a single one of his horrible attacks of nausea. He would now have given anything for an instant of genuine beauty, for a handful of godliness. Smiling, but begrimed to the very depths of his being, he goes to the door, and he thinks of what curious paths are traveled by mankind, of the puddles that they are obliged to wade through, while the sun is shining and the surface of the sea is holding its peace and a couple of birds are singing somewhere on the boughs of the forest.
“And then you always leave me on my own, always drop me,” says Marie, and she can feel the cloaks and deceptions falling away from her and she parts her lips, and it seems as though she could be thinking about how she might summon her husband back.
“Dreadful, it’s all dreadful,” she says, and, wracked by bitter agony, she turns so that she is facing in the opposite direction and begins to loathe her husband, who picks up his coat and leaves the house.
He walks diagonally across the field; his boots sink deep into the mud. He cuts off a branch to use as a cane and crosses the bridge spanning the brook. He stops beside the tall, old, furrowed oak tree and stares into the dark water, in which the willows are reflected like ghosts. There is not a human soul in sight. The farmers are all at home, playing cards or sweatily cutting open the bellies of pigs so that they will be ready for Easter Sunday and they will be able to sacrifice themselves to gluttony, to the cider and the doughnuts that cracklingly crumble between their teeth. But he is no farmer. He will not be eating any doughnuts on Easter Sunday, because Marie does not know how to bake them. She can only bake white bread and roast pork. He cheerfully reflects on how much he is looking forward to the roast pork and then gazes into the oily water-filled ruts left by the undercarriages that have passed through here since the most recent rainfall.
It is April, but Korn takes a seat in the grass, which is barely a finger high, and digs his boots into the moist, loamy earth. Once upon a time he was a child here in this neighborhood, then a boy, then a lad who wrung pheasants’ necks, and one fine day he had woken up and they had regarded him as a proper man. And he knows exactly when he turned into a proper man. That was on that evening when he had gone home after a wedding. It was over there behind the hay barn. But the barn is now deserted, and there is nobody, no matter how long he were to stand there, who would be able totally and completely to fathom that moment that signified the beginning of a new life for him. A new life! Korn can no longer bear to look over at the wooden hut. The new lives are now frighteningly old, he thinks. Annihilate the new lives!
It has gotten warm, and when he presses his palms into the half-naked earth, he senses the approach of summer. What will this summer bring him? What plans has this summer got in store for him? The beautiful summers are over, thinks Korn. There used to be beautiful summers. There used to be times when he slept through the night and listened to the crickets chirp. And he used to have dreams beyond anybody’s power of invention! Back then he would lie in bed with his arms and feet stretched out and gaze into the nights, which were so beautiful that he could not but find it embarrassing even much later. When he gazes at the mountains, he knows very well that they are no longer the same mountains that he saw ten and twenty years ago. Even the trees are different. The grass is different. The people are different; they dwell in the houses over there and get drunk every day and consequently bring into the world children who never get any taller than a meter and a half. Yes, and then they go dancing and slip into the haystack, and when they come out it is all over. Nobody knows what he is wrenching himself out of when crawls into the haystack. He himself crawled into it as well. Now he cannot get the thought of this out of his head.
“Every brute crawls into it,” he says.
He wipes the sweat off his face.
In exactly the same way they crawl into the haystack they go to church. Their prayers are always the same. And these are also my prayers. Suddenly the sunbeam has wandered off and Korn feels cold. He springs to his feet and begins running. When he is sure that nobody can see him, he shivers literally all over; then he is composed of thousands of emotions and walks like a king one minute and like a beggar the next. And he bursts into bestial laughter and thumps his cane against his boots.
He does not know how long he has been wandering around in the woods. But by the time it starts getting dark, he is already heading back. And as he hears the clock in the village striking the hour, he suddenly feels hungry again, and this hunger gnaws at him like an incurable illness. If there is anybody that has never forsaken him in his life, it is hunger and thirst. The older he gets, the more he needs in order to keep going. In the old days it was enough to take some bread and cider and fresh air in the evening. But later, after he left the area and went roaming through the cities, when he started cavorting with girls, and having to grapple with loutish blokes on building sites, bread was no longer enough. Then he needed beer and bacon and pork in copious amounts. He drank milk by the liter, and all of a sudden he came to abhor apples, which he had loved so much in his youth, and he no longer took any pleasure in their smell or in their sour sweetness as it trickled into the corners of his mouth when he bit into them. This machine, which he had built for himself over time, had to be maintained solely by him. But he never shunned a job! He had done everything that a human being who wants to live can do; he had ploughed, sweated, and reaped, and he has not only gotten to know the fields and the barns, in which a person can hardly breathe on account of the stench of the dried dung, but also savored the sewers in the cities, the lacerated streets in which sweat matters more than anywhere else. Until they half shattered his skull in the war and bestowed a pension on him, he had always been hungrily hitchhiking through the world. Then with his own hands, along with Marie’s, he built himself the house and went to bed and stayed there for three whole weeks. And at the end of the first spring, he noticed the first fissure in the wall, and from then on out he had not enjoyed a single restful hour.
“Not a single one,” says Korn under his breath, and this thought begins to worm into him, as it worms into so many people, and he tries to keep his mind fixed on thinking up a way of getting out of the horrible situation in which he now finds himself. He crosses his hands behind his back and walks along the railway embankment. As his footfalls become more and more calmly measured, the pounding of his heart becomes more and more agitated. But how ever long he thinks, all the paths that he is now surveying terminate at some obscure cranny of the world, at some site made of pure night and darkness. There is no such thing as mercy!
“I have failed,” Korn whispers.
A couple of meters shy of his house he stops walking. The windows of his bedroom are brightly lit. If he were another man he would go in there and be happy. But he is his same old self. He will never be able to slip out of his skin.
In the grass the crickets are chirping. Nobody understands the magnitude of the fear that is making him tremble. Nobody, be he ever so near, understands a single thing about the solitary human individual whose ear is perpetually turned to the gorge from which trains loom into view. He has closed his eyes and is waiting. But no train appears, and the night is cold, and with rapid footfalls the man heads for his house. He opens the door of the pigsty and peers in. The pig is illuminated by the moon. It oinks. It is alive! Korn is content. He turns around and inhales deep draughts of the evening air.
His wife appears in the front doorway. She is wearing her clogs and a coarsely woven apron over her dress.
“Come in,” says Marie.
She stretches her hands out towards him and pulls him after her into the house.
“I’m not tired anymore,” she says and fetches beer and cider and places a slice of bacon on the table.
He eats and thinks about his pig. He pictures it getting bigger and fatter.
“I’m thinking about how I’m going to sell the pig,” he says. They do not speak to each other beyond this point. They rise from the table and lie down. They behold the night and are filled with loathing.
As Marie is sleeping uninterruptedly on her side, he thinks that his life is over. I must put an end to it, he thinks. I must smash it to pieces; there’s no point to it anymore!
The man cannot sleep. He turns around and looks at Marie’s face. But the young woman is sleeping and her long breaths are calm. Korn loves her, but now he loathes the breath in her breast. He gazes at her forehead, which is illuminated by the moon as it traverses the fields outside; at her eyelashes, which lie above her well-proportioned cheeks. He shoves the bedcover off of his chest and sits up. Softly he gets out of bed. But the floorboards creak because the tips of his toes touch them. He feels chilly. He takes a couple of steps to the trunk and pulls out his coat. Then he looks once again at Marie’s face, worrying that she might have observed him. He goes outside and inhales the air, which here, near the lake, is cool and biting. He smells the water plants and the stars and the dead fish.
Korn is fearful in the darkness. He is frightened by the silent cry of a cricket, by the sobbing of a wagtail, by the flight of a bat; he is startled by the cracking of a brittle branch that was torn off the apple tree during the recent spell of windy weather. As he gazes at the surface of the lake, his youth emerges from the clouds, and he thinks back on the boat-trips he took with the old fisherman, who used to catch enormous fish in his nets and would start praying out in the old tub when he had caught enough by his own standards. Then the strange man would kneel down, place the big fish on the wooden plank in front of him and start praising God and extoling the earth and all of heaven. Then he would murmur some strange words about birth and death, about bread and children, and with his chapped lips he would softly sing a song that followed Korn into his dreams. He sang:
from Fishy’s mouth
peers out a dream.
Don’t clear off,
stay in sight.
Drink the gold
of the moonlight.”
Korn croons the song, but even while its words are still in his mouth, his entire past life strikes him as dilapidated and shattered. He thinks that people must always be shattering everything beautiful. They ruin everything—songs, cathedrals, the endless fields, the pure images of childhood.
He walks barefoot in the garden, whose ground he broke the evening before. He kneels down and palpates the soil with his hot fingers. It is moist and soft. It is friable. It is still unseeded, but soon everything will be green again, and the plants will come into bloom, and the stalks will rise and bear fruit. No, thinks Korn, here not a single piece of fruit will grow, not a single flower will bloom. The garden will be bare, fallow and bare.
Then he looks up at the sky, and for a few breaths he sucks the air out of the darkness as he did in his childhood. He would now very much like to live around people who would destroy this image for him. But they do not live out here. They live elsewhere, in the places the train runs to. And Korn’s eyes fix on the track and follow the silver trail that ends over there by the elder bushes. The railway is his destiny and his nemesis. He takes a couple of steps towards the house in order to take a look at the big fissure. By a year from now it will have all come tumbling down, he thinks. He looks up at the roof-truss, which is shifting, constantly shifting, like the windows, which are slowly shattering and which make eerie cracking noises at midnight. The ground is cursed. He has the worst soil in the region. Never before in his life has anybody cheated him so badly. He bought the lot in the expectation of living out the rest of his life there, because he thought that everybody has to have a spot that belongs to him, a place that he can hole up in and where he can do what he likes.
He cannot allow himself to think about the mortar, about the trunk, about Marie, about how she bawls him out and about how she plunges into the lime pit and he has to fish her out of it like a burning corpse. He pounds on the outer wall of the house until blood is running out of the tips of his fingers. He howls and collapses against the wall.
Suddenly he starts worrying that Marie might have heard him and that she is now observing him from some dark corner. He looks around, but nothing is stirring. His entire body is trembling. He stands up and peers through the window at her bed. She is lying there, and she looks as though she is passing through a dream.
Exhausted, he slinks into the house. But he knows that he will not be able to sleep, takes the candle out of the cupboard, lights it, and goes back outside. Now he scrutinizes the entire house; he shines the light of the candle everywhere, into every fissure, into all the joints and crevices. All the while the moon watches him with mouth torn wide open.
He moves forward to the end of the garden and trains the light along the row of beets. A week ago the fence was standing perpendicular to the ground. By now it has fallen over. The crumbling soil has pulled it down. He says nothing and stares at the clods of earth.
In the gorge the lights of a train loom into view. The rails tremble and clink. But Korn, who has been cheated out of every last vestige of a future, remains obdurate; with his eyes tightly shut he stands firm on the soil until the roving monster propelled by colossal death’s paws is gone.
His decision remains firm. He will annihilate himself. He will hang himself from a tree or bludgeon himself or lie down on the tracks. He will sacrifice himself to his enemy like a meat offering. Nothing will stop him. Tomorrow he will slaughter the pig and cut it into large pieces. He will hang the bacon in the chimney and look on as Marie tenderizes the pig’s big, bulbous head, along with its eyes and brain, by boiling it in the kettle. And he will say nice things to her and step outside as if he were going to come back soon.
As he steps back inside the house, he hears the pig. But he is now past revoking his decision. He will not wait until the house collapses over his head, until he turns to begging. He will take his Good Friday morning communion, and before nightfall he will be dead. On Easter Sunday he will be resurrected! He will select the best means of killing himself and vanish without much ado. What is a human life? he asks. What difference does one piece of flesh make one way or the other? And the soul? Where is my soul? It torments me; there’s no use in my lugging it around.
As he goes into the house he realizes that he is going to hang himself from a tree, one somewhere in the woods, where it will be hard to find him. He does not want to be found right away. Ideally he would like to rot on an undiscoverable tree, to decompose into nothing. He would like to obliterate every trace of his existence, to undo himself completely. Marie must have her pig, he thinks. I will butcher it for her so that she won’t need to put herself to any trouble.
He blows out the candle, puts his coat on the chest of drawers, and crawls into bed. He pictures to himself the most gruesome images under the bedcover. But the moment finally arrives when he is taken by sleep. And Korn knows nothing more of anything until Good Friday morning.
The morning is gray and the air is muggy. He remembers what he was thinking before he dozed off, and he finds it wondrously spooky that his situation has not changed. It is the same as yesterday. He rises determined to kill himself. From time to time in his youth he wanted to kill himself. Your sole salvation is death, all the objects in the room say to him. He has divorced himself from them. He no longer feels any attachment to the pictures that gape at him from the wall, dusty, old, lacerated. He feels nothing more in the presence of his mother’s portrait. She gazes at him with a fearsome mien from within the carved black picture-frame. Her great, big eyes detest him. He is ready to exchange blows with her: never before in this picture has he so palpably discerned his mother’s unkindness. The coldness of her eyes, the gloominess of her entire being. He is filled with an ever-mounting loathing of this originator of all his suffering. A loathing of all human beings. No, he is not finding it difficult to divorce himself from the earth. It is a multi-million-faced phantom, a specter, a madhouse. Fly from it, run, fling yourself out of it and into the abysmal depths. Slash thine own throat, for thy blood and thy death are thy resurrection!
He slips on his boots, washes himself, and gets dressed. Then he goes and opens a drawer of the chest and pulls out of it a small strongbox. He sits down at the table and writes his will as Marie is unwrapping the laundry at the window.
He bequeaths the house to Marie. He can hardly write, but what he is writing is plainly legible. He thinks about what else he is going to leave behind. He will simply bequeath everything to Marie, who loves him and loathes him and who will not grace him with a child. He will commit everything to her, because she also put herself through bloody hell as they were building the house and he has beaten her and she has forgiven him for it afterwards. By this point he can scarcely keep the pen in his hand. But he pulls himself together and fills out the remainder of the sheet. He signs his name at the bottom, folds the paper, stands up, places it on top inside the strongbox, and places the strongbox back in the chest of drawers.
For a while he stands at the window and looking out. Marie is bent directly over a large basket, from which she pulls pieces of laundry and then hangs them from the clothesline that stretches from the apple tree to the garden fence. Ideally he would have said something to her, but behind the apple tree a heavy sky is spreading across the countryside as before a long rainfall. The mountains move closer and stand out clearly in the föhn air. The fields are sweating. He turns around to get everything ready for the dismemberment of the pig.
As the church bells are ringing, he sharpens the large knife. Then he washes the dust off the large iron mallet. He fetches the small knives from the kitchen and places them on the hallway table. The young woman places a large bucket of water on the hot stovetop. He and Marie pull the large washing trough into the middle of the tiled floor.
She is delighted, he thinks.
“It’s been two years since we last slaughtered a pig,” says Marie. He says nothing in reply.
Calmly he takes down the iron chains above the door and stretches them from the floor up to and across the washing trough.
“There hasn’t been one this heavy before,” says Marie, and she thinks that she will fill the black puddings as soon as her husband has eviscerated the pig.
Once they have cleared away from the hallway everything that will not be used in the slaughtering and have all the necessary tools ready to hand, they both walk over to the door and sit down on the bench.
“You’ll be able to go to the market by Wednesday,” she says. “Yes,” says Korn, and he knows full well that Wednesday no longer means anything to him. She wipes her fingers clean on her apron.
“On Easter Sunday I’m going to church. Whether you like it or not,” she says and gazes at the floor. “I don’t go at all all year.”
She is expecting her husband to lose his temper, but he simply looks askance at her and says, “Then go!” And his brain cannot grasp how one can go to church when one knows that everything goes awry, that one will be annihilated by God. Throughout her life Marie has had a profound relationship with God. Curious. He loathes people who love God. This is why he wants to kill himself.
They sit next to each other silently thinking, but then Marie suddenly says, “I am very happy.” He senses her hand as she clasps it in hers, and her breath, and all at once everything inside him begins to waver, and he hears his wife speaking, and certain moments, a thousand memories, return to him, his days in the marsh and the beautiful hours in the woods, the quacking of the ducks and the water that laps against the boat, and the blue sky and the smell of the fruit-trees in his garden and the head-high stalks of grain in which as a child he used to lie down and dream long dreams, and endless shining nights, stars, and mountain-tops.
“Come on,” she says, and he feels her love, and as she races into the house, singing all the while, the entire colossal edifice that he has been erecting over the past two days collapses like a lie. He sits motionless on the bench. Then he stands up and runs after his wife, and it is as if the entire ghastly world is falling off his shoulders piece by piece.
“Look after the pig,” she says to him.
She is almost merry.
Korn goes outside to do the pig in. For the first time in a long while, he can breathe properly. Rubbish, he thinks, nothing but rubbish. Why kill? Why annihilate oneself? Why? I am not going to kill. Not myself! I am going to take the pig to the market.
“The pig will be my salvation!” he happily howls.
He kicks open the pigsty and whistles a couple of notes. His burdens fall from his shoulders like a phantom. But as he is taking the cudgel down from its hook, his limbs thrill with terror. The pig is lying motionless in the dung. Its body is bloated, almost twice as fat as at its last feeding. Its legs are splayed out on all sides. On its snout glistens a large ball of yellow foam. Korn, who has flung the cudgel into the muck, leaps over the wooden barrier in a single bound and kicks the pig’s carcass with his booted foot. He tramples the pig’s swollen body underfoot and like a man in the grip of demonic possession screams, “Marie! Marie! Marie!”
The animal is awash in blood and a fetid yellow liquid is flowing from its side. In his fury the man no longer knows what he is doing. He jerks the pig’s head into the air and shakes it. He tries to turn the carcass over onto its other side, but its cold insentient flesh is heavy, and Korn stops and gazes into the muck, with which the yellow juice that is still streaming out of the pig is mingling.
“Marie!” cries Korn, and at that very moment the young woman wheezes into the sty and starts wailing. She throws herself at the pen and stares at the brute. But for all her gazing at it, it is no longer alive; its eyelids do not twitch, its tail is motionless.
She tugs on its hind legs and drags the carcass over to the patch of wall below the casement window. Marie is shuddering with nausea. She runs out of the sty, and Korn hears her continuing to shriek for some time. She throws herself onto the bed and tears the cover to pieces; she races in and out of the room like a savage while Korn stands in the gloomy corner of the sty and never takes his eyes off the pig. She clutches at the wall and tears her nails. When he takes just one good look at the swollen closed eyes of the swine, from which the fetid juice is flowing, his stomach heaves, and he crouches down in the corner. He wipes his mouth clean with his arm, and now shivering at the sudden onset of a fever, he climbs over the wooden barrier.
Later, still wearing his boots, he kicks over the table in the hallway on which the knives are lying. He also knocks the large bucket off the stove, and the boiling hot water floods every corner of the room. He drags the washing trough out of the hallway, lifts it high above his shoulders and hurls it over the embankment and into the ditch down below, where it lies smashed to pieces. Marie is standing at the bedroom window with her fists pressed against her pallid face and beholding the labor of annihilation.
By now this man on the rampage has become implacable. She is terribly afraid that he may have completely lost his senses and that now he will not even stop short of attacking her.
He calls out her name. Completely against her will, she gropes her way towards him and does what he orders her to do. She follows him into the pigsty and leans against the damp, filthy wall as Korn breaks the pen to smithereens with the large iron mallet.
Later he says: “Deal with it!,” and she pulls the pig out of the sty and, sweating all the while, drags it along the garden fence through the mud. Marie collapses. Then she lifts herself back up. She deposits the pig not far from the walnut tree. She gathers some twigs up into a pile. She places some rotten branches on top of it. Then she rolls the pig up to it and covers it with bales of hay.
Feeling freezing cold, Marie sits down in the grass.
Korn walks with long strides into the house. The young woman stares at the pig that was supposed to have brought happiness and benediction. She does not know how long she has been sitting there and weeping. She cannot take it all in. It is as if hell itself is ascending the devastated house.
As her husband comes towards her from the meadow, she starts screaming again. But suddenly she feels ashamed in the presence of this silent person who is setting fire to the pile. It bursts into flames, and a large fire devours the pig. The smoke is driven across the fields by the wind.
The two people go into the house. Korn locks himself in the bedroom. Marie sinks to her knees and prays. She looks out the window.
By dusk only a single ember is still visible. It, too, disintegrates in the supervening darkness.
The shadows of clouds envelop the house, which stands like a last sign of humanity at the edge of the woods, as the moon, holding its peace for fear of death, rises above the lake. It forsakes the blackened mountains and casts its beams over the spine of the landscape. A feeble light staggers out from the house and into the ditch, moves erratically along the train tracks. It is Korn, who is taking flight from his dwelling. His footfalls increase in pace; it is as if the Devil were driving him towards and across the waterlogged fields.
Korn rushes towards them like a person who dreads something. He has only one thought in his mind: to kill himself quickly. In one hand he is hauling a length of rope. He runs between the blackberry bushes, crosses the brook, pauses for a moment, breathless, rallies his forces, and dives into the woods.
In the ravine he trips over the roots of a mighty tree. He skins the palms of his hands and bruises his forehead. But he does not cry out. Silently he stands back up, grabs the rope, and races onwards. He has no specific tree in view. But it must be far enough from the house that nobody will find him for some time. He shudders with the first mortal terror of childhood.
He senses the boundless beggarliness of his sex.
In the middle of the woods, which he has roamed through with the animals on many a summer day, in which he has feasted on berries and mushrooms, he throws himself into the moss and presses his face against the pliant earth. He uproots the plants, having become insensible of his body and of his blood. It was only a couple of paces. And all at once the faces of all the people he had ever encountered in his path through the world appear before his eyes; the dropsical faces of merchants, the strumpets with whom he had spent entire weeks, the young girls, the fisherman, Marie, her mother, old men and cripples; they all pass by and gape at him. He sits up and gazes into the darkness.
They are annihilating everything, thinks this human individual, and he cannot get to his feet, rather, he gazes with eyes wide open into the great event. There are colossal shafts that swallow up everything. Every tree will be gobbled up by the animals of midnight, house and home, everybody with whom he has cavorted on the barn floor, with whom he has smelled the moist odor of hay and the fumes of the pigs, with whom he has drunk warm milk from the trembling red udders in the stables, all of them have risen from their musty beds, all the cripples whose eyes have recited the entire inconceivable beauty of the earth, a brother and sister who reeled past before the Epiphany and squeezed splendor into their addicted breath. Ah, if only he could swing an axe and trample the other one’s back underfoot! But man and beast perish before sunrise! This is the life of the earth, says Korn, and he stands up, grabs his rope and starts looking for a tree. Now he knows that there is no longer any possibility of turning back, and that the end has opened up before him, and that abysses are gaping ahead of him like new bridges to an amiable landscape.
He walks silently through the woods, and the stench of the moss pours into him and pervades him with pungent force. He has only a single quietude in view. It lies beyond the border. It lies beyond the train tracks and houses, beyond all the churches and houses of God, beyond all the fraud and all rapacity.
Then he is at the firs, at the place where he is going to draw his final breath. He walks up to all the trees and examines them carefully. But most of them are too weak, and Korn is worried he might hang himself on a bough that will snap off afterwards and leave him lying in agony on the ground. He wants to be sure of dying. It has to happen quickly. For that a strong bough is necessary. But he must be able to climb it easily. Once he is up there, he will put the noose around his neck and jump off. For a moment he reflects on what an appalling sight he will be with his tongue hanging out. But he quells every emotion. He laughs so loudly that it echoes back from the depths of the woods. This echo makes him fearful anew, but he contorts his face and laughs again until he is sure that he is no longer capable of feeling any emotion.
At last he has found the appropriate tree. Nobody can see it. The animals pay it no mind. He slips off his boots, holds fast onto its bark, and pulls himself up. Everything is happening just as he imagined it would. Now he ties the rope firmly to the bough and prepares the noose. It is strong. But as he is putting the rope around his neck, the midnight frost makes him shiver, and with eyes wide open he sees the great ball of the moon breaking forth from the blanket of clouds above the mountains. And suddenly his eyes see hot circulating blood, and as he peers into the darkness, he is appalled by the most horrifying sight in his life. Between two trees he sees a large cross, to which a living human being is firmly nailed: it is Jesus Christ, the son of God, who is agonizingly attempting to tear his hands free of the plank of wood. Korn stares at the cross. He hears the son of God scream. Suddenly he hears a million voices, and they are all screaming around the son of God, and not a single one of them becomes visible, not a single one of them comes to help the dying man, who snaps his gory eyes wide open and sinks down.
Then he throws away the rope and leaps from the tree to the ground. And he runs after the crucified man, ever deeper into the night.
From all sides he hears the bells of Easter.
They are ringing, ringing, ringing!
Source: Thomas Bernhard, Werke 14, herausgegeben von [Works, Vol. 14, edited by] Hans Höller, Martin Huber und Manfred Mittermayer (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2003), pp. 516-539. Originally published in Stimmen der Gegenwart [Voices of the Present] 1956, edited by Hans Weigel; Vienna and Munich: Herold, 1956; pp. 158-179.
Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2017 by Douglas Robertson