Translated by Patrick Greaney

Dalkey Archive Press, 2015

 

It’s that time. Finally. He’s an old man. Today he’s sitting on his bench. It’s the first time. From now on he’ll come here every day. It’s his place of work. He’ll reminisce about his childhood. For five months. The old man flinches. That’s how it’s said. Frightened that how it’s said was said he flinches again. He didn’t even bring his pocket mirror. Tomorrow then. It’s too late today. It’s not worth closing his eyes now. The old man goes home like he will every evening from now on. No one he claims ever said anything about a deadline. 

 

He’s sitting there again. He doesn’t know yet if he should count his days. Yesterday. Today. The old man doesn’t appear to be in a hurry. He’s spent his life waiting for this moment. Now it’s here. Now he’d rather wait a little bit longer. His eyes are open. He just keeps on staring without seeing anything. If he closes them he knows the reminiscing will start right away. Not yet. Until the day before yesterday he was still alive. Now life is over. Childhood will be here any minute. Maybe he feels like taking a vacation on his bench. 

 

The old man doesn’t have a name. But he’s not naked. He makes a point of saying that. If people think he’s naked that’s their fault. His asphalt gray herringbone coat with the basalt gray buttons. His cement gray hat with a graphite gray silk ribbon thrown around it. The old man shakes his fists with rage at the chatter pitter-pattering down out of the blue out of his mouth into his ears. He prevails. It seems he’s allowed to make small corrections. Gray herringbone coat gray hat gray shoes. Maybe a gray scarf. Maybe some gray earmuffs. Gray mouthmuffs handmuffs nosemuffs. Gray woolen nosemuff on to warm up his he shakes his fists again. Coat hat shoes scarf. Those are his things. Maybe a pair of socks. That’s what he has on. That’s what he wanted to say. He tries to imagine what the old man looks like. Stupid of him he doesn’t have a pocket mirror today either.   

 

It would never occur to anyone listening to the old man talking that somewhere in this world there’s a bench the man’s sitting on. But there it is. A wooden bench. Green. The bench is outside. A park bench. Unfortunately though there’s no park.  The old man checks his watch. To give himself some life signs he breathes in and out for half a minute loud enough to hear himself breathe in and out. Slowly. After twenty-eight seconds he knows he’s breathed in four times and breathed out four times. To fill up the half minute the old man is faced with the choice of either continuing to breathe out by exerting pressure on his lungs for two seconds beyond the end of the exhalation part of the breathing-out stage of the fourth breath unit of the total breathing process in the current breath modeling experiment or opening his mouth two seconds too soon and suckingslurpinggulpinggobbling up into his hole some air that doesn’t even belong to him. Problem solved but he doesn’t say how. Too ashamed. He’d rather not be so totally transparent to himself so soon. He’s not going to lose track anyway. If he’d only decide to keep count today would be the third day. Time he stresses is not what he’s short on. 

 

Instead of reminiscing about his childhood he could describe the house that he leaves every morning that he returns to every evening. He won’t he swears ever describe anything at all. But why not. Why doesn’t he just stay in bed in the bedroom on the second floor and imagine he’s sitting at the kitchen table in the kitchen on the first floor writing something about the old man sitting outside on his bench reminiscing about his childhood. Most of the rooms in the house are empty. Not empty there’s some furniture in there it’s just the old man doesn’t set foot in those rooms. Why doesn’t he sit at the kitchen table and try there or get into bed and try there to reminisce about his childhood. Perhaps that’s the way it’ll be someday he says. One morning he’ll be too tired to get up from this kitchen table and throw on this herringbone coat as if he’d ever thrown it on put on this gray hat as if he’d ever for the ten or five minutes it takes to go down these streets through these woods no over these tram tracks through this meadow along this creek alongside this field or along anything else through anything over anything to this bench or one morning he’ll be too tired to get out of this bed pull on this robe as if he’d to go down these stairs into the kitchen or anywhere else into the cellar oil cellar coal cellar he shakes his fists one morning he’ll be too tired to wake up in this bed as if lachrymose blabbermouth he howls.

  

It’s his house because it belongs to him. It’s his property. The old man lives there all alone. No one has the right to dispute his right to the rooms he inhabits the rooms he doesn’t inhabit. It’s his house it’s his bench. He sits on it all alone. It’s his bench because it’s the same every day because he sits on it every day. It doesn’t belong to him. Everyone else has the same right as he does to sit on this bench. But it always seems to be unoccupied. Eight o’clock on the dot every morning the old man is at his place of work. It’s never been taken. Never when he’s gotten there has anyone else been sitting on his bench. Never has anyone else sat down on the bench while he’s been sitting there. Presumably there’d be room on the bench for three. That’s never been tried out. Every evening five o’clock on the dot the old man leaves his place of work. It’s his house it’s his bench it’s his childhood. 

 

Week two. The old man closes his eyes. Black square. Black rectangle black bar maybe. Be quiet look. Black surface. White dot on it. White dot is saying too much. There isn’t anything to see yet. A tiny nick barely visible against the black where the black’s a little less black. Black paint applied eons-thick a pinpoint of thinner black. A fingernail gets to work on the back of the picture and scrapes off the paper and one of the seven layers of black. Two of seven three of seven. The fingernail keeps scraping. Out of whose wart does it trickle into this hole. Constant dripping wears away a. A milk-black star shines in a tar-black sky. How is it the black material has gotten threadbare in one spot. Come up with a story for this point. After eons away with the eons the eons is laying it on too thick. Once upon a time there was a black. Since it had always been black it believed it could count on staying black forever. Wrong. One day it got a gray speck that everted and turned into a gray pimple the next day. Maybe it’s my redemption carbuncle grumbled the black exaltedly. The gray pimple didn’t grow instead it grew lighter every day. When it turns white it’ll fall off so prophesized the black and an immaculate black will appear underneath it. Wrong. When the pimple turned white the black got a second speck that everted and became a pimple the next day. Speck and pimple such was the progression were white from the outset. The next day two new white pimples appeared on the black. The new pimples such was the progression were pimples from the outset. An hour later such was the progression four new white pimples appeared on the black that together with the four old white pimples such was the progression after a minute such was the progression began to grow. Within seconds the black lost all its illusions. The white pimples it shouted are growing together into megapimples. Now the giant white unified pimple is eating up it shouted the remaining black. Wrong. Forty-nine percent of the black was bepimpled white. Then all of a sudden the white pimple scab fell off. Immaculate black appeared underneath. So much for the carbuncle the black smirked melancholically. Fell asleep in a bad mood.  And it lived blackily ever after. That is if its dream didn’t make it white. Or some other story. Like how the poor domino got numeric leprosy. The old man opens his eyes. Curses. Limps home. 

 

Everything said about the old man the man says himself. In many cases he might know what he’s talking about. In other cases he doesn’t.

 

He’s sitting on the bench. He’d like there to be a season. Autumn for instance. He says the word autumn but it doesn’t help. If someone were to come by he imagines they’d see the word AUTUMN with six capital letters standing up straight in the old man’s mouth. Wooden letters. My letters his letters. There’s no shit too pretentious for that degenerate childish brain to shamelessly crap out into the blabber potty. The inspired idea of having the letters first be green then yellow then brown and in November perhaps falling from the old man’s lips and gently drifting in the wind falling woefully wilted erratically to the ground is rejected without hesitation even by this autumnless twaddlemouth. Light blue he stammers and almost remembered something.

Fantasy. Language sweat gushes out of his every pore. Runs down over him flows together into a murky language stream. Swells up tears him along carries him along. Eyes closed. He can’t swim he’s just three years old. Does his underwater somersaults.  Eyes open. There’s the green bench. He just needs to stick his arm out of the surging water hold on tight pull himself ashore. That’s how he got here. He takes his seat soaking wet. He’ll dry out here. That takes time. He has he says more than enough time. It doesn’t bother him that water’s still dripping from his hat and coat. Calmly he watches as the water darkens the brown forest ground as it seeps into the pine needles. He closes his eyes. He’d like to reminisce without language about his childhood. 

 

Pine needles. Wooden letters. Coal cellar. Somersaults in the water. 

 

Prose. If some doesn’t get finished he’s finished. 

 

The old man has to eat something. Everyone eats something. Him too. To say nothing of drinking well then why doesn’t he just say nothing. Whoever sits on a bench for nine hours has to deal with hunger and thirst. It’s not enough to indicate that every morning at the kitchen table he eats two pieces of crispbread. Without butter. He’s never abhorred anything his whole life as much as he abhors butter. Just soft smeary butter only soft smeary butter he’s never abhorred solid butter. To be spread all over his two pieces of crispbread the butter would have to be soft and smeary. He’d never be able to spread solid butter back and forth on the two pieces of crispbread. The two crispbread pieces would fall apart on him under the knife. Crumbled up broken to pieces he would have a fit and smash the plate with the useless crispbread dust on the kitchen floor. Good thing it’s never occurred to the butter to do anything other than stay solid in which case he’s not disgusted and sticks it back in the icebox or get soft and smeary in which case he’s disgusted and throws it in the dustbin. Icebox dustbin since when has this geezer gone for local color antiquated lingo. Since when is this old man a geezer. Since when it’s not enough to allude to the fact that every night he gets drunk in his kitchen. He never leaves the bottles he’s finished on the kitchen table. Even when he’s dead drunk he still knows that in the morning some kitchen-table space will be required for the crispbread plate. Before bed he always carries the empty bottles over into the dining room that despite what he would have thought he sets foot in once a day for this purpose. He sets the bottles down on the dining room table. Once the table is covered he’s never calculated how long it takes to cover the table with bottles it’s once again for the umpteenth time time for Winkelried the breaststroke swimmer. Short performance no audience. He stands up in front of the long side of the table bends down and stage 1 with his head tucked down between his shoulders with his hands held together to form a handpointer he advances with his arms into the sea of bottles. Space for hand arm head chest stomach must first be conquered. A few bottles fall over that’s not worth mentioning. With his forehead pressed against the table surface he retools his useless hand pointer converts it into a double hand shovel by stage 2 turning his hands outwardsawayfromoneanother towardseachother so that now his hand backs are touching instead of his hand bellies. Then he takes a breath then he raises up his head then stage 3 his left arm with the left hand shovel and his right arm with the right hand shovel simultaneously sweep clean the left half of the table the right half of the table the whole table surface. All the bottles are lying on the floor most of them shattered some of them unshattered. Along with tonight’s bottles for whose sake the table surface has been swept clean. Exit Winkelried the breaststroke swimmer. No applause. But what does the old man eat what does he drink on his bench. No secret there. On the way from his house to the bench he makes a stop at the baker. Ten to eight sharp he buys three pretzels. The paper bag with the pretzels goes in his left coat pocket. The soda bottle he bought yesterday is sticking out of his right pocket. On the way home from the bench he makes a stop at the grocery store. At ten past five sharp he returns the soda bottle he finished that day and in exchange takes along the bottle he’ll finish the next day. Since the grocery store opens at eight in the morning and he has to be at his place of work at eight he always has to buy his soda the evening before. He doesn’t return the paper bag to the baker. When he gets home in the evening before he gets drunk in the kitchen he throws the paper bag into the living room that despite what he would have thought he sets foot in once a day for this purpose. He sits on the bench chews the last piece of the pretzel gulps down the last of the soda screws the twist top onto the bottle screws the bottle cap onto the twist top screws the bottle cap that is perhaps called a twist top onto the bottle’s bottle neck’s bottle neck end’s glass screw thread that might be called the twist top screws curses screws curses smoothes out the paper bag folds it sticks the paper bag in his left coat pocket the bottle in his right coat pocket stands up brushes the crumbs if there are crumbs off his coat goes home. Later on he’ll get drunk in the kitchen. On beer oh the beer he can’t get it in the grocery store from the baker sothenwheredoeshe. 

 

The old man is offered a contract. Everything he says is treated as if it were on paper. Everything on paper is treated as if he said it. Excellent working conditions. Without thinking about what the contract might mean he accepts what he’s offered by the old man. 

 

Twaddles eyes closed twaddles eyes open twaddles.

 

His life. There’s nothing to say about it. Knowing he had his childhood before him he quickly had it behind him. Five months is a long time. He no longer knows how long he’s been living alone in the house. 

 

It’s hard to answer the question of whether the old man stinks. It’s likely that he stinks but not enough to make himself nauseous. A restrained foul-smelling odor that complements the gray of his hat and coat. Anxiety alms ass abscess old ocular offal evening excretions. The old man is not of the opinion that of all the letters A O and E have the most disgusting smell. A homeowner is not going to get alms anyway. He is not at all of the opinion that sounds that letters are fragrant or stink.  Whoever believes such a thing he yells should be he pauses pauses too briefly punched in the face. His tongue ripped out if he’s talking his writing hand chopped off if he’s writing. But why is he talking like that. He tries to shake his fists but doesn’t succeed. Instead an involuntary wave of rage sends ripples down his back. Pathetic body tremolo. Man and bench as gray green yolk within the fragrance egg grayly sourly housing the yolk. As a yolk in a yolk. Suddenly the wave ebbs away. The old man is busy creating order. Him the cock’s treadle the bench the yolk foul smell egg white and shell. If someone were to get too close to him greet him lean over him still clueless sit down next to him his nose would break the shell and would become aware of the vaporous clouds of putrefaction rising up from the old man and hanging in the air around him. Creating order means recognizing that the first and innermost layer often called the kernel or empty coat is made up of gray flesh and the second and middle layer often called the skin or even wrapping paper is made up of the herringbone coat and in contrast the third and outermost layer often called the imperial husk or the celestial cloche is made up of the odor coating. Unfortunately the old man ascertains that what reaches his nostrils doesn’t always remain the same. What smelled moderately foul yesterday smells immoderately foul today. Skepticism would be out of place here. The old man stinks. But creating order also means identifying the source of the stink. It’s not the coat it’s not the scarf it’s not the old man’s gloves shoes socks that stink. It’s not the hat that stinks the stink emerges from under the hat. The old man’s flesh stinks. His words stink. That’s not the same thing. New questions emerge that are difficult to answer. Does the flesh stench recur in the words’ stench. Does the word stench generate the flesh’s stench. Would his flesh if the old man were mute stink less. Would the old man’s words if he were fleshless stink even more. He eats his pretzel takes a gulp of soda. Wonders if he should think something up to fill up the empty coat. Ties his shoelaces tighter. Looks forward to his beer. 

 

To the left of the bench there’s a trashcan. To the right of the bench and behind the bench there are bushes. Unfortunately the old man has not been granted a tree. Alder he laments oak maple October. The rustling of the names of the tree of the names of the month. Cloudssunfograinwind. Dew and no dew. The first frosts. Hoar-frost.  He’s not sure. Crows jackdaws. If he has to pee he steps behind the bench and does it in the bushes. But who wants to know that. In front of the bench there’s the path the bench is on. Beyond the path a field. Beyond the bushes begins the forest. The woods. He knows they wouldn’t be woods if there weren’t trees there. No consolation. No reason to turn around. The woods behind him don’t make up for the linden tree the beech the walnut tree the chestnut. 

 

All he has is language. That’s why he hates it. Because he hates it he’ll bite his tongue off. Some day. He says so. 

 

 

 

 
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