Eight short stories of the trials and tribulations of life.
An Advent Miniature: Are you the one?
“Somewhere on your path stands fortune and it waits for you! It waits for you, just do not walk past it! You must not look to the clouds, for it is not there, do not stare at the dust of the street, for it is not there either! It will not run after you if you leave it standing, and will not hurry towards you despite all your calls! Just wait, look around you, believe —”
Bernhard, a young teacher, threw the book onto the table, stepped to the window, and looked irritatedly out into the dancing flakes. Across the square a poor trader was just then pulling his dogcart into view.
Bernhard smiled contemptuously.
“Now, he over there has certainly been his life-long on the street enough and has looked around to left and right until his skull has turned gray and his eyes stupid. He has found everything on his path — work, hunger, sweat, dust, derision, vermin, only one thing he hasn’t found is his fortune. But just wait, old fellow, somewhere on your path fortune is standing, I have it here in black and white! Fortune, that it is all gone with you, it will be, and that you will not miss.”
The young pessimist sank into his chair before his desk and propped his head in his hand. His “workroom” was large and conspicuously nicely furnished; but its name was misleading. For Bernhard almost never worked. When he was at home, he mostly lay on the sofa and read the works of caustic Frenchmen or deeply melancholic Russians; Germans were too sentimental for him, and when he caught one of their volumes, he mostly became furious and tossed the book aside.
“Always this old fairy tale nonsense about happiness, love and loyalty! As if there were such things! As if a sensible fellow could believe in such things! The fellows who writes such stuff are either terribly cheeky or terribly stupid!”
Whilst his room now was not a workroom, the room was nevertheless very necessary to him. He needed it as a refuge from his living room.
For in the living room was his wife.
Bernhard raised his head.
“I wish that everyone who was so mad as to believe in fortune would fall in like me. The number of fools would then be decimated, and that could do nothing to harm our enormously intelligent century. Fortune! The very name makes me angry. It is the dumbest, the most enormous lie with which people have conned each other. There is no fortune than at most in the imagination, and it is the worst mistake of our fantasy when it forms itself according to that despicable idea to which people sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice everything for the sake of a delirious moment, to which by necessity already on the following morning a gray emptiness must follow. Good Lord, yes —!”
He tears the window open. The old trader stops right before his house. He is puffing a little. A little old lady with a milk jug patters past.
“Now, father Gottfried, it’s going right bad for you, isn’t it? With the weather and your age, always being on the road —”.
“Doing badly? Me? Well, then you don’t know Gottfried well! It is indeed true, sometimes it is difficult, and it’s bad that my wife cannot go with me anymore. But doing badly? No, Ernestine, if I were to say such a thing it would be a sin! You see, when I now come home, cabbage and ham are waiting, afterwards I light my pipe and play cards with my wife. Well, what about that can you say is doing badly?”
“Yes, yes,” the little woman said, “you have always lived very well together, always very well!”
And the trader nods, and continues on. Bernhard forgets to close the window. He is taken aback. The old man who stamps and wheezes there through the cold air wants to be happy, he happy? It is hardly to be accepted that he was bragging. What is it then with him? Bernhard finds himself in an uncomfortable mood. He wants to cauterize it with the derisive thoughts that the “fortune” to eat sauerkraut, smoke bad tobacco, and play cards with an old woman did not excite him, but the attempt misfires, for he knows quite well that the alleged fortune, if it really exists, must be absolutely subjective. He leans his hot forehead on the cool windowpanes. A voice passes tormentingly through his soul, “There is surely fortune, but to know that, to believe that, that is already a fortune; and just because you have been entirely shut out by fortune, you know nothing of it!”
Bernhard needs air; he tears the window open again. Across the square a laughing worker is striding down below. A four-year-old lad flies towards him rejoicing; he is lifted onto his arm. In the square stands a young woman with a baby. She is waiting for her man. The cold December wind snarls about the worker’s face, but the spring sunlight is no lighter than his features.
Bernhard sinks groaning into a chair and covers his face with both hands.
“There is fortune though; I have seen it!” —
White flakes whirl against the windows. It is comfortably warm in the room, the clock is ticking softly, the evening is coming. With a hot countenance, Bernhard looks before himself. He thinks over his misfortune.
He was a brave, industrious youth years ago. At the time he had a head full of plans a heart full of hopes. He was gifted, he studied, he strove, and he thought a lot. His profession was too narrow for him, he was not content with his education. Thus he won little joy. In many of his colleagues he thought he discovered a smug contentedness which enraged him. “Study first though,” he said, “bury yourself in a thing, and you will see everything we lack.” He really liked to strike a superior note. The others considered him to be arrogant, but he himself thought that he was more thorough than the others, and championed the view that you must take all things as they are, must not gloss over anything, and must above all guard against self-satisfaction, for this was the greatest obstacle to all progress.
Of his future wife he drew up for himself exaggerated images, as self-conscious, ambitious young men do. She should be beautiful, educated, and rich! That old crazy formula! It was strange that his usually so critical head did not recognise the stupidity of his wishes.
He found a girl. He liked her, she chatted pleasantly, she wore an expensive dress. It was surely the right one! After eight weeks she was his wife.
The lonely man groans deeply. He has become unhappy with her and she with him. They had never understood each other, never! Already in the first months of the marriage they had completely fallen out. It was such a cold relationship between them, their occasional demonstrations of love were forced; there was no talk of inner happiness. He would have born it perhaps for a longer time, but the weaker woman soon broke down. And wonderfully — her erupting passion was clear to see.
“I shall have been beautiful! You liked me, but after a few weeks you grew tired of my face! I shall have been educated! I do not understand everything you are interested in; I am a woman and have no time for brooding and study! I shall have been rich! What I had is too little for you!”
The bitter truth passed cuttingly through his soul. And he, who had so often preached the self-knowledge which defends open, even harsh criticism, did not bear it himself. He was seized by fury, he sought after the words which would be most suited now to injure the woman, and he found them; he responded to her bitter accusation, “You are right!” — — —
Since that day he had not believed anymore in fortune. His life was also really too miserable as well. Not that the terrible feeling of hostility which both spouses harboured in that wretched hour towards each other would have remained permanently! People who are forced to converse with each other daily must at least get along outwardly. Thus did both he and his wife. A sad relationship, frequent quarrels, never a proper reconciliation, in the best case an indifferent being next to each other. And this state had lasted now for almost four years! A long time, long enough that a man can become a pessimist!
Bernhard groans deeply. What has become of him? He does not strive anymore, he does not hope anymore, he has long since put studying to one side, to his students he is a sombre, hard, not even diligent teacher. His colleagues avoid him. He is quite lonely, always alone with his resentment. And he believes firmly that his wife is at fault for all the disaster. He indeed does not think anymore of beauty and wealth, but he is aggrieved at her because he has become unhappy through her, because he thinks she could change it through indulgence and love.
Love? Now he starts a little. Is love a gift of grace, or must you earn it? Earn? Has he earned it? Before the wedding he begrudged his bride a few flowers and friendly words. And after the wedding? Earned love?
It is getting so oppressive for the brooding man, so oppressive. For the first time he is thinking that he is not unhappy alone, that his wife, who sits alone in there in the living room, is probably still more miserable than he is. And why is she miserable, why does she not return to him? Because he wounded her heart with his rough words, “You are right!” For the first time a deep sympathy for her rises in him, and an overflowing feeling takes hold of him.
“If it could all be different!”
He gradually becomes calmer. His resentment dissolves into sadness, and quietly, barely noticeable, something quivers through his soul which he has not known for a long time — a tentative wish for happiness. He listens at the door, nothing stirs within. But he knows she is sitting by the window and sewing delicate, fine lace on pretty little clothes. — In a few weeks he will have a child. — The first child! — His child, her child!
Why does his heart pound suddenly so heftily? A sweet image rises before his eyes, a child’s countenance with radiant, blue eyes, a face as rosy, as beautiful as that of an angel — who proclaims peace.
Peace? Peace between him and her?
With sudden resolve he steps into the living room. His wife does not look up, but he sees still that a drop falls down on the fine linen. He steps quietly over to her; he seizes her head with is hand and draws it gently to himself. A mixture of shock and delight shivers through her limbs. And she does not resist him.
He begins talking softly, “Martha, we are two unhappy people, for there is no peace between us. — But, Martha, Christmas is coming! — And, as the pious people believe, at Christmas a child brought peace, salvation and love into the world. A child, Martha!”
Gently crying, the woman presses against him. He caresses her head.
Outside the sun goes down and gilds the heavens. From far off a bell rings. And again the fair child’s face appears before Bernhard’s soul, and from the depths of his heart he puts the fervent question to the sweet apparition, “Are you the one that shall come to bring us peace and salvation? — — Are you the one? — —”