Four novellas/short stories.
- “The Twilight”: An old woman decides to end it all, but not before telling a few home-truths to her husband.
- “The Last Child”: Dead souls become angels that do the work of taking souls to and from the earth. But what happens when an angel is sent to retrieve the soul of his infant brother? Will he be able to do it? Will his mother stop him carrying off her last child like all the others?
- “The Tale of the Rustling”: A fable of how the sounds of nature came into the world.
- “The Shadow”: A man’s matter-of-fact reaction to his wife’s death triggers a series of rumours amongst his fellow villagers.
Since Johannes Teuber had been pensioned, he had been completely forgotten. He lived in an isolated three room house whose windows looked across the rolling fields to the nearby mountains. In his rooms, such a perfect silence reigned that it occurred to nobody to think that someone lived there. Towards the second half of the morning, he climbed down the stairs with his noiseless step. His hands with his stick behind him, his face bowed in thought, he hurried to the field that he crossed back and forth, pausing from time to time and raking in the earth with his stick, as someone does who cannot come clean with themselves. He must not have been five hundred metres distant, thus he did not look any different in the field from a bare post, he was so thin and delicate. When someone talked to him, he raised his face so and spoke with a young, clear voice about the weather, the path, the harvest or whatever the inquisitive person began the conversation with, and smiled with his overly large eyes so deliberately that nobody tried a second time to take up a conversation with him. Whenever he walked around so aimlessly, in impassioned intercourse with something hidden, he wore the same grey clothes that he had brought over from his time in office, Sunday and weekdays, as if the rest was without meaning for him. He made a quite unreal impression, and hardly had his form vanished from view than it was difficult to imagine it in the flesh: so completely did he seem to be distant from everything that moves the lives of other men.
Nobody could specify exactly when he had come to Weißenhagen. When someone first noticed the little man, how he scurried busily, almost timidly through the heavily populated streets, he had already been living in the place a few years, and nobody was able to specify anything else about him than that he had previously acted as commissioner in Bechtelsdorf and was entirely “without dependents”. — —
At one time, still during his time in office, many, many years ago, after the long vacation, he appeared with a quiet, delicate woman on his arm. Assurance lay over his being, his step became firmer and more constant, his eyes saw more freely into the world. But, after how much time, nobody can say, he was walking alone again, yet hastier, quieter and more timid than before. It was said that the quiet, delicate woman was lying at home and dying. She struggled for many moons, seen and guarded by nobody but her quiet, strange husband. Finally he was walking behind her coffin: alone, pale and uncomprehending. With dry eyes, he shook the three little scoops of earth onto her coffin, had a headstone erected on her grave and went away, when he had viewed the work of the stone mason, never to enter the churchyard again. The tomb, a white marble cross, bore nothing but the inscription: Marie Teuber. The women who walked past and read the words, asked bitterly in their hearts how a wife could be buried so lovelessly by her husband and so soon forgotten. Thus it occurred that the pastor of Weißenhagen also became indignant over the hardheartedness of Johannes Teuber, even though, as a christian and teacher, he had to offer in every respect an exemplary front. To remind him of his duty to the dead, he summoned him one day to a severe lecture. When he had concluded his admonitions, Teuber sat silently, his face chalk-white, despairing, his eyes staring fixedly at his thin hands held entwined between his knees. Suddenly he rose up and stepped with raised arms to the writing table before which the pastor was sitting, stuttered something and finally screamed in great torment, “You know nothing at all!” Then he took his hat and went quietly out the door.