Forty years or so after the story was written, “Entbloessung” by Tadeusz Rozewicz, read in an East German translation picked up for 1 Euro at a second-hand bookshop in Berlin, randomly picked out of a pile. Read over several days, a few pages a night after work. A wandering story, snapshots of moments in an unspectacular life, of little point at times, no real direction to latch onto and read to completion. Not a story to stay up until 3 AM with, and if something else came along and reading did not fit into the night’s plan no worries about falling behind. Essentially continued being read because it had been begun.
And today. A perfect autumn weekend morning – the world damp from yesterday’s soaking rains, but the sky crystal clear and deep blue, a cool breeze keeping senses on their edges and jeans and long sleeves necessary for any extended time outdoors. 10:30 AM – the kitchen is once again clean, the last load of laundry is in the washer, the prior two loads on the clothesline, enough already done for the weekend to be considered productive, and the world quiet. Ideal for a long coffee break on the back porch, and the book lies at hand, begging to accompany the lingering sips.
Quickly the first two segments pass away, thoughts during a train ride and observations of buying a Christmas tree. Light, easy reading. The coffee is done, but the book has gained momentum, and a check shows the end of the story is in reach. Adjust the seating position, buckle in to take the story through to completion. More pointless meanderings, but determined to get through in this sitting, so page after page goes by. Now the lead character is getting ready for Christmas, and the first Christmas visit of an only daughter home from the first semester at college in the distant big city. Her mother died years ago, and the lead character’s widowed and childless sister who lives with him is both Aunt and Mother to her. Anticipation. A phone call, a friend says she’s been taken ill and won’t be coming, but will come later. Disappointment. Parental thoughts and concerns from both. They decide he needs to go to her, and his sister packs everything he should need.
My neighbor begins cutting his grass with his unmuffled lawn mower, starting by his house behind the cornfield. The tall, browning stalks transform the pitched noise into a tolerable drone. Against this the story meanders, the confusion of the father as, upon arrival, he finds his daughter has moved out of her dorm. Given a forwarding address, he stumbles through the city on Christmas day lugging a suitcase full of things for her after traveling all night. He encounters a confusing array of people, all of whom promise his daughter to be at the next place and confuse him, preying on him. He reaches a point where he arrives at a new location and meets one of the people from an earlier location, and begins to become agitated but realizes without these people he has no option. He recognizes that he is being played, but is forced to remain in the situation. Finally a man tires of the charade, and instead of sending him onward has him stay and sends someone after his daughter.
She appears, and he is confronted that she has dropped out of college and become a prostitute, and the man at whose apartment they are is her pimp. He tells her to pack her things and go home, but she begs her father to leave without her and leave her alone. Broken, he does so. He sits alone in the station and waits for his train home, and decides to go back to her. He gets to the building, but can only stand outside the building under her window and cry. He leaves and goes home, relating semi-cohesively a few occurrences between getting off the train and reaching their apartment.
“And all that which I’ve told has already happened. It will not change. My child is no more. My little daughter is no longer in this world. They found her in the pre-dawn grayness on the street outside her building. Lying alone underneath her window. Naked. As she came into the world. Only that her face had changed”
And now the days are as they were before. He combs his hair, buys his newspaper. But sometimes he freezes, holds a book or a spoon in his hand and can’t quite decide what they are used for. He had her brought home and buried in the town cemetery, and he talks to her as he walks by on his way to work.
Suddenly the entire story made perfect sense from the very first page. There was a foreshadow, 80 pages before the end, where in a description of a date with his future wife he described a conversation where they jokingly discussed if they should have a child whether it should be a boy or a girl, and the then curious line “but she is no longer there” which aroused notice as it did not fit there and was not alluded to again, and in context seemed more to reference the wife. Until the end.
The book lay open in my immobile hands, the last drops of coffee cold in the bottom of the cup. The drone of my neighbors lawnmower abruptly stopped and brought me out of the trance. My arms and fingers were numb, the clear blue sky had turned into heavy overcast, and my mind was full.