Georg stood up embarrassed: "Leave my friends alone. Thousands of friends could not replace my father. Do you know what I think? I think you're not getting enough rest. But age demands respite! You are admittedly quite indispensable at work, and you know that, but if our store is threatening your health I'll close it tomorrow for good. No other way about it. We have to find another lifestyle for you, initiate you into something new. And I mean something radically new. You sit here in the dark when you could have a lot of light in the living room. You pick at your breakfast instead of eating to keep up your strength. You sit here with the window closed when the fresh air would do you some good. No, father! I'm going to fetch the doctor and we will follow his recommendations. We'll change rooms: you'll move into the front room, and I'll come here. This won't be much of a change for you and you'll handle it easily. But all in due time! Now lie down for a bit, you certainly need your rest. Come now, I'll help you get undressed; you'll see, I can do it. Or would you rather move into the front room right away? Then you can lie down in my bed provisionally. That would be a very smart thing to do, by the way."
Georg was standing right next to his father who had let his head and his shaggy white hair fall onto his chest.
"Georg," he said softly without moving.
Georg immediately knelt beside his father; he saw the pupils of his father's mild face looming large in the corners of his eyes directed right at him.
"You don't have a friend in Petersburg. You've always been a joker and even I haven't been spared. How could you have a friend over there! I can't believe that for a minute."
"Now think about it, father," said Georg, lifting his father from his seat and removing his nightgown as he stood there weakly. "It's been now about three years since my friend was here visiting us. I still recall that you weren't particularly fond of him. At least twice I had to disown him in front of you even though he was still sitting right there in my room. For sure, I understand your aversion towards him; after all, my friend has his eccentricities. But then, right after that, you had a nice chat with him. I was so proud, proud I tell you, that you listened to him, that you nodded as you spoke and asked questions about what he was saying. You will remember all this if you think about it. He told us some unbelievable stories about the Russian revolution, such as, for example, when he was on a business trip in Kiev he saw a priest standing on a balcony. The priest cut a bloody cross into the palm of his hand, raised it up before the rioting crowd and called out to them. You've since related the story a few times yourself."
While speaking Georg had managed to sit his father back down and remove his underpants, which he wore on top of his linen garb, as well as, more carefully, his socks. He began blaming himself upon seeing his father's not particularly clean underpants: I keep neglecting him, he said to himself. Keeping an eye on his father's change of clothes was surely one of his duties. He had yet to speak specifically with his fiancée about how he planned on taking care of his father in the future since they had agreed by silent consent that Georg's father would simply remain in the apartment. But now he decided that his father should come with him to his future home. Upon closer inspection, it almost seemed as if the care that they would be providing him in their new home might come too late.
He took his father in his arms and carried him to bed. A feeling of horror overcame him as he noticed but a few steps from the bed that his father was playing with his watch chain on his chest. He couldn't put him right in bed, so strong was his father's grip on his chain.
Hardly was he in bed, however, when everything seemed fine. He pulled the covers over himself, bringing them a tad above the shoulders. He sat up, fixing Georg with a not unfriendly look.
"Now come, don't you remember him?" Georg asked and nodded at him encouragingly.
"Am I properly covered?" asked his father, as if he himself couldn't see whether his feet were covered.
"You like it here in bed, don't you?" said Georg and adjusted the bedding to make him a little more comfortable.
"Am I properly covered?" asked his father again and seemed to be terribly interested in the answer.
"No worries, you're properly covered."
"No!" screamed his father, and to make his response even more pronounced, he threw back the covers with a show of strength that made the covers unfurl in the air for a moment. He then stood up straight on top of the bed, propping himself up with one hand on the ceiling. "You wanted to cover me, I know, you rascal, but as you can see I am still not covered. And that's all the strength you have, it's all too much for you. I certainly know your friend. He would have been a son after my own heart. And that's why you've been deceiving him all these years. Why else? Do you think that I haven't cried over him? That's why you lock yourself in your office, no one is allowed to bother you, the boss is always busy, only for you to write those fake letters to Russia. Thankfully no one has to teach your father how to see through the schemes of his own son! As you now have come to think, you would have brought him down, so down that you could have sat right down on him and he wouldn't have stirred, since now my lord, my son, has decided to get married!"
Georg looked up at the terrifying image of his father. His Petersburg friend, the one his father suddenly knew so well, gripped him as never before. He saw him now lost in white Russia; he saw him now at the threshold of an empty, pillaged store. He was still standing amidst the rubble of the shelves, the spoiled goods, and the falling gas fixtures. Why now had he had to travel so far away?
"Look at me!" his father screamed, and Georg ran, almost absentmindedly, to the bed to try to understand everything but tripped along the way.
"Because she lifted up her skirts," he began to pipe, "because she lifted up her skirts, that repulsive goose." And with that he lifted up his own clothes, so high as to illustrate his point and so high that one could see his scar from the war years on his thigh. "Because she lifted up her skirts so high, this high, so very high, that's why you came on to her. So that you could satisfy yourself with her without the least disturbance! And all you've done is shame the memory of your mother, betrayed your friend, and stuck your father in bed so that he can't budge. But he can budge, now can't he?" And he stood up completely on his own and waved his legs around. He was bursting with insight.
Georg was standing in a corner, as far away from his father as possible. A long time ago he had made up his mind to observe everything completely and precisely so that he could not be surprised, not indirectly, not from behind, not from above. Now he remembered his long-forgotten resolution and forgot it again as one might pull a short thread through the eye of a needle.
"But this friend has not been betrayed!" said the father, and his waving index finger strengthened his claim. "I was the traitor here."
"Comedian!" The word slipped out of Georg's mouth, and immediately realizing the mistake he had made, he bit his tongue. But it was too late, his eyes froze and his tongue stung in pain.
"Yes, that's right, it's all been a comedy, a good word, that! What other consolation did your old widowed father have? Tell me – and for the moment in which you answer may you still be my living, breathing son – what else did I have left, here in my back room, persecuted by treacherous minions, so old I can only feel my bones? And my son goes on a celebratory tour round the world, doing business that I had set up for him, gorging himself on pleasure trips and walking by his own father with the stoic face of a nobleman! Do you think I wouldn't have loved you – I, from whose loins you sprang?"
"Now he's going to lean forward," thought Georg, "and then fall and be smashed to pieces!" These words zipped through Georg's head.
His father did indeed lean forward, but he didn't fall. Since Georg did not get closer to him as he had been expecting, he raised himself once more.
"Stay right where you are. I have no need for you! You think you still have the strength to come here and you're just holding yourself back because you so choose. And that's where you're utterly wrong! I am still the stronger of the two of us, much stronger. Alone perhaps I could have repelled your attack, but your mother gave me her strength, and with your friend I formed a glorious alliance. And I have all your clients in my pocket!"
"He's even got pockets in his shirt!" Georg said to himself and thought that this statement could render him powerless throughout the world. For only a moment did he think this, then he forgot everything.
"Leave your fiancée out of this and come towards me! I'll sweep you to the side, you won't even see it coming!"
Georg made some faces as if he didn't believe what his father was saying. His father only nodded towards Georg's corner, confirming the truth of what he said.
"And how did you talk to me today when you came and asked whether your friend should learn of your engagement? He already knows everything, you silly boy, he already knows everything! I wrote to him because you'd forgotten to take away my writing utensils and paper. That's why he hasn't visited us in years: he knows everything a hundred times better than you do yourself; your unread letters are crumpled up in his left hand as he reads my letters with his right."
He swung his arm enthusiastically above his head. "He knows everything a thousand times better!" he cried.
"Ten thousand times better!" said Georg, trying to mock his father. But in his mouth the words sounded deadly serious.
"For years I've waited for you to come to me with this question! Do you think that anything else worries me? Do you think I read newspapers? There you go!" And he threw Georg a newspaper which had somehow been dragged into bed with him. An old newspaper with a name quite unknown to Georg.
"How long it took you to mature! Your poor mother didn't live long enough to see this red-letter day; your friend is going under in his Russia; three years ago he was already yellow enough to die, and I – well you know how things stand with me. That's why you've got eyes!"
"So you've been waiting to ambush me!" Georg cried.
His father then said with some sympathy: "You probably wanted to say that earlier. Now it is no longer appropriate."
And then more loudly: "So now you know what else there is apart from you. Up to now you only knew about yourself! You once were an innocent child, that's true enough, but you were also a devilish human being! And for that reason you shall know my judgment: I sentence you to death by drowning!"
Georg felt as if he were being chased out of the room; the smash with which his father fell on the bed behind him resonated in his ears. On the staircase, whose steps he rushed over like a sheer surface, he came upon his domestic help who was in the middle of cleaning the apartment after the night before.
"Jesus!" she cried and covered her face with her apron, but he was already past her. He sprang out of the gate and over the walkway, being drawn to the water. Now he held on to the guardrail like a hungry man to food. He swung himself over like the excellent gymnast, to the great pride of his parents, which he was in his youth. He held himself steady with weakening hands, espied a bus between the guardrails which would overcome the sound of his fall, called out softly, "Dear parents, I've really always loved you," and let himself fall over and down.
And at this moment there was no end in sight to the traffic going over the bridge.