Peter stood at the washbasin and dried himself with the towel: his shoulders, his stomach, his willy, his feet. If he did it in a different order, and he hadnt done that for a long time, his mother lost patience. She had put out a clean pair of trousers and his best shirt for him. Peter went to the window, tapped the pane and the seagull flew up. Now that the row of houses opposite was gone, along with the backs of the buildings and the next row of houses too, he had a clear view of Königsplatz, where the ruins of the theatre stood.
Dont be too late home, said his mother, as he was about to leave the apartment. Last night, she said, a nurse at the hospital had told her there were going to be special trains laid on today and tomorrow.Were leaving. Peter nodded, he had been looking forward for weeks to travelling by train at last.He had only ever been on a train once, two years ago, when he was starting school and his father had visited them. His father and he had gone by train to visit a colleague of his fathers in Velten. Now the war had been over for eight weeks and his father still didnt come home. Peter wished he could have asked his mother why she wasnt waiting for his father any longer, hed have liked her to confide in him.
Last summer, on the night between the sixteenth and seventeenth of August, Peter had been alone in the apartment. His mother often worked two shifts back to back during those months, and she had stayed on at the hospital after the late shift to work the night shift as well.When she wasnt there Peter felt afraid of the hand that would come out from under the bed in the dark, reaching up through the gap between the wall and the sheet. He felt the metal of his clasp knife against his leg, he kept thinking how fast he would have to whip it out when the hand appeared. That night Peter had lain face down on his mothers bed and listened, as he did every night. It was better to lie in the very middle of the bed; that way there was plenty of room on both sides for him to see the hand appear in good time. Hed have to thrust the knife in fast and firmly. Peter sweated when he imagined the hand coming up; he saw himself so paralysed by fear that he wouldnt be able to raise the clasp knife to strike it.
The Blindness of the Heart © 2007 by S. Fischer Verlag GmbH; English translation © 2009 by Anthea Bell, reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Atlantic, Inc.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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