My mother shook herself and scratched herself. We walked along a narrow path, through meadows with yellow flowers alternating with fields, perhaps wheat fields.

“There,” said my father, pointing his stick horizontally away from himself at a second forest that looked like the first, which I had taken for a fir or a pine forest or an evergreen forest of some other kind, “there we can rest.”

I saw peasants standing in Sunday clothes at the backs of their fields. Their legs, their stomachs, were covered by the grain. They were giving worried looks, now up to heaven, now down at their fields.

“There’s a storm coming up,” they called out to each other.

Our shadows kept getting less and less visible on the path. I looked down, to make sure I didn’t bump into a stone. Meanwhile the heel of my right foot was hurting just as badly as the heel of my left. And whenever my mother stumbled, turned her ankle, stood still with her lips squeezed tight, it was hard for me to decide which foot I should put forward, which I should burden with the main weight of my body.

“Isn’t it beautiful here,” said my father.

“All right, all right,” murmured my mother.

“Stand up straight! Breathe deeply!” said my father to me. “Don’t hobble around like an old woman!”

At the edge of the second forest my mother sat down in her green suit on the green meadow, her back to the forest, her face to the sun. And while she pulled off her shoes I sat down next to her, and while I pulled off my shoes my father took the rucksack off his back and then sat down next to me.

We sat that way, in a row, our backs to the forest, our faces to the sun as it came through the gray clouds, and we ate and we drank what we had brought with us.

When my father wasn’t looking, I cautiously felt my heels, I tried to pull off my socks. “It’s incomprehensible,” my father cried then. “There he is with his hands at his feet again! Don’t act that way!” After a few unsuccessful tries I pulled my shoes back on. My feet were so swollen that it was hard for me to squeeze them in. “I’ve got to go,” I said, and I limped off into the woods with loose shoelaces and twisted toes.

Except for two bicycles at the edge of the forest, a woman’s bicycle and a man’s, which were leaning against each other so as not to fall over, I saw nothing at first that doesn’t belong in a forest. I went over to one of the few bushes so that I could examine my feet in peace. As I walked, I kept turning around toward my parents. They were sitting motionless, their backs turned to me. In their green and brown clothes they hardly stood out from the woods. I heard a rustle behind the bush. Between the leaves I saw something gray rising and falling and rising, in regular succession. I crept around the bushes. Behind it a man and a woman lay on top of each other, as though there weren’t room enough in this forest for two. They lay stomach to stomach, the man on top, the woman underneath. The man, in a gray coat and gray trousers, was completely visible from behind. And because he was taller than she, and because he was broader than she, he covered the body of the woman. The woman stretched out her naked arms and legs as far away from herself as she could. Motionless and without even making an effort to shake him off, and only now and again moving her legs, covered with mosquitoes and mosquito bites, or her arms, covered with mosquitoes and mosquito bites, and doing that over his back, moving them toward each other in order to scratch herself, she held up the weight of the man. Her head laid on the side, her face turned away, she was looking between the trees into the distance, without the slightest trace of anger or irritation, not even with any surprise, but as though the whole thing were none of her concern, as though it were customary to lie on top of each other in a forest that a whole village could have fitted into. It’s true that the burden was not so heavy seen from the side as it was from behind. Because on his underside the man lay with his legs on the ground between the legs of the woman. Because on top, to the right and the left, next to the shoulders of the woman, the man pushed his outstretched arms against the ground. In that way only their two stomachs were touching. From the stomachs upward, the nearer it came to the heads, the distance between them grew greater and greater. The only thing connecting their torsos was a necktie hanging down out of the man’s coat. Their heads were separated from each other by the width of two heads.

The man raised and lowered and raised his behind without let-up. With a red face and red-streaked eyes he goggled past the woman’s head toward the forest floor. He was panting so hard that someone who wasn’t looking at him might have thought he was the one who had to bear the burden.

“There’s someone there again,” said the woman.

“That ruins the whole thing!” said the man breathlessly. He looked at me over his shoulder with a funny expression, his behind pulled in and not moving. “Get out of here, you brat!” he cried. “I’m not going to start in all over again just because of you!”

He had hardly called this out when I heard hurried footsteps behind me. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, looking over there!” cried my father, and with both hands seized hold of my neck and turned it around so that I was looking in the opposite direction with a twisted neck. My mother stood spinach-green between the trees, looking into her handbag with her face lowered and turned away. My father, without giving me time to turn around, his hands on my neck, yanked me toward her. And as I was walking backward, my eyes looking forward, my father was walking forward, his eyes looking backward.

“Why don’t you lie down right on the path!” he called out.

“Then people can see you a long way off!”

“Anyone who looks,” the man called out, quite out of breath, “has only himself to blame! When you get down to it, you have a choice between four points of the compass, and you can always look at the sky if the view everywhere else gets on your nerves!”

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself!’’ my father called out.

“Get off,” said the woman.“I’ve had enough now.”

“You don’t have to tell me that twice!“ cried the man. I heard a rustle.

“They’re not the least bit ashamed of showing their piggishness in broad daylight!” cried my father. “Don’t think about it don’t,” said my mother. She walked on slowly.

“I suppose you never unbuttoned your pants, either,” cried the man. “You manufactured that brat of yours by hand, I suppose!”

“It’ll be a long time,” cried the woman to the clatter of a bicycle driving off, “before you get on top of me again!” 

The man gave a nasty laugh.

“You’re not going to get anyone on top of you so quick,“ he cried. ”Leave that to me. Do you think it’s any fun when a girl doesn’t even resist, when a girl just lies down without the least objection, lies there motionless like a paralytic, doesn’t budge the least bit, doesn’t make the slightest noise!“

As we caught up with my mother, the man was riding off on his bicycle. My father let go of my neck. The rucksack hung limply down his back. My mother turned her red face toward the path.

”What,“ I said and was going to ask what the man and the woman had been doing.

“Shut up!” said my father.

“They were doing something,” said my mother, “that is not done!” Then my parents walked on even faster than before.

Beyond this second forest there were more meadows with yellow flowers and grain fields, maybe wheat fields. The path ran on toward a third forest, a fir or pine forest, like the first and the second forests.

The pain in my heels had spread evenly over my feet. They ached and burned and hung so hot, so heavy, that it was hard for me to lift them up, so that I often kicked stones.

“Take a look around you!” said my father. “The landscape is full of change.”

And I looked around on all sides, though one side would have been enough. Because all around the same thing was repeated with tiny variations. These yellowish-green meadows were followed by these greenish yellow fields followed by these brownish green, these more or less light woods always so easily seen through that I could make out the meadows and fields and meadows on the other side.

“There,” said my father pointing to the left, holding his stick out flat, “there you can see Field Mountain in clear weather.”

My mother and I, we looked off to the left at once. But between the meadows, fields, woods, and the gray clouds that were now covering the sky without a break I saw only the red-tiled roofs of a village and between the roofs the big round crowns of green trees, maybe oaks or ashes or beeches. I didn’t know. I didn’t want to know, either.

And behind Field Mountain, said my father, still holding his stick out flat,“ you can see Pine Mountain in especially clear weather.”

My mother and I, we looked off to the left at once. But the view was unchanged.

“Will you put a pleasant look on you facer!” cried my father. He knocked his stick against the ground.

And with a pleasant expression I looked past my father in front, past my father in back, into my father’s sports coat, toward the direction in which in especially clear weather you could make out two mountains in a row, looked pleasantly at the clouds, at the roofs, at the peasants, black figures, dwarfed more and more the further away they were, moving toward the village. The smaller they became, the nearer they got to the village, the more loudly the farm dogs yelped. It was a mixture of the high-pitched yapping of the little curs, which would bark hoarsely, pant, soon break off and then only now and then start up yowling again, and the tireless, deep howling interrupted only by growls, of the great watchdogs. The yelping was drowned out by the bell strokes of the church clock, it was probably after noon. It kept getting darker. This side of the village the peasants walked over a bridge. They passed one hand along the railing, with the other they held on to their hats. The wind blew the grass, the grain, the treetops to the left.

 

—Translated by Joel Carmichael