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Friday
Jul032015

Der Kaufmann

A very short story ("The Merchant") by this German-language writer. You can read the original here.

It is possible that some will sympathize with my plight, yet such is not my feeling. My small business so fills me with worry and concern that my temples and forehead ache. I do not even have the satisfaction of believing that this will improve, for my business is truly small. For hours in advance I am obliged to meet certain stipulations, possess a butler's memory, avoid terrible mistakes, and in one season calculate the fashions and tastes of the subsequent season. These are not, mind you, the tastes that would predominate among people like me, but among those inaccessible populations of the countryside.  

My money is in the possession of strangers; I might not know the true state of their financial affairs; and I cannot know the misfortune which could befall these people. How then could I defend them from it! Perhaps they have all become spendthrifts, regaling themselves at a party in a beer garden, whilst others, on their way to absconding to America, stop in for a short time.

Every workday evening now, when my shop is locked up, before my eyes flash hours during which I will not be able to see to my business's continuous demands. The very next morning, however, this anticipatory excitement dissipates like the receding tide. Yet it does not die out entirely and, without explicit purpose, takes part of me along with it.  

And yet such a mood does me no good. As my face and my hands are dirty and sweaty and my clothes stained and dusty, as my work cap sits on my head and my boots are scratched up by crate nails, I can only go home. And home I go as if atop a wave, the fingers of both hands clacking, and I glide on the hairy heads of children coming my way.

Yet the way home is short. I am almost immediately in my building. I open the elevator door and step inside.

Now I see suddenly that I am alone. Others forced to take the stairs grow somewhat tired and have to wait, their lungs pumping rapidly, until someone opens an apartment door for them. It is these people who have cause for annoyance and impatience. They come now into the hallway, where they hang up their hats, and only once they have crossed through their own glass doors and reached their own rooms are they truly alone.

I, however, am immediately alone here in the elevator. Bracing myself on my knees, I peer at the narrow mirror. As the elevator begins to lift itself upwards, I say:

"Be still, step back! Do you wish to go into the shadow of the trees, behind the window drapes, into the bower?"

I speak through my teeth and the landings glide by the frosted glass panes like tumbling water.

"Fly away. Your wings, which I have never seen, might take you to some provincial valley or to Paris, if it is thither that you so desire.

"Yet enjoy the vista from your windows as, from all three streets, the processions emerge. None will yield or give way to the others; all three will intersect and interweave; and, as you glimpse their final rows separating, so again shall you see empty space. Wave with your towels, be appalled, be touched, admire and laud the beautiful lady coming by.

"Go over the stream on those wooden bridges, nod to the bathing children, and revel in the hurrah of the thousand sailors on the distant ironclad.

"Pursue only the inconspicuous man, and once you have shoved him into a gateway, rob him, and then look back, each of you with your hands in your pockets, and behold how he sadly resumes his path into the alley on the left. 

"Spread atop their horses, the mounted police restrain the beasts and drive you back. Let those who would, I know, venture down empty alleys make those alleys unlucky. May they, I say, ride off slowly over the street corners and fly over the squares."     

Now I have to get out, leave the elevator, and ring the doorbell, and the girl opens the doors as I greet her.

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