There was a little platform out on the roof, where he used sometimes to stand his telescope and observe the stars or the moon: the moon when possible. It was not a very safe platform, just a little ledge of the roof, outside the window at the end of the top corridor: or rather, the top landing, for it was only the space between the attics. Hannele had the one attic room at the back, he had the room we have seen, and a little bedroom which was really only a lumber room. Before he came, Hannele had been alone under the roof. His rooms were then lumber room and laundry room, where the clothes were dried. But he had wanted to be high up, because of his stars, and this was the place that pleased him.
Hannele heard him quite late in the night, wandering about. She heard him also on the ledge outside. She could not sleep. He disturbed her. The moon was risen, large and bright in the sky. She heard the bells from the cathedral slowly strike two: two great drops of sound in the livid night. And again, from outside on the roof, she heard him clear his throat. Then a cat howled.
She rose, wrapped herself in a dark wrap, and went down the landing to the window at the end. The sky outside was full of moonlight. He was squatted like a great cat peering up his telescope, sitting on a stool, his knees wide apart. Quite motionless he sat in that attitude, like some leaden figure on the roof. The moonlight glistened with a gleam of plumbago on the great slope of black tiles. She stood still in the window, watching. And he remained fixed and motionless at the end of the telescope.
She tapped softly on the window-pane. He looked round, like some tom-cat staring round with wide night eyes. Then he reached down his hand and pulled the window open.
‘Hello,’ he said quietly. ‘You not asleep?’
‘Aren’t YOU tired?’ she replied, rather resentful.
‘No, I was as wide awake as I could be. ISN’T the moon fine tonight! What? Perfectly amazing. Wouldn’t you like to come up and have a look at her?’
‘No, thank you,’ she said hastily, terrified at the thought.
He resumed his posture, peering up the telescope.
‘Perfectly amazing,’ he said, murmuring. She waited for some time, bewitched likewise by the great October moon and the sky full of resplendent white-green light. It seemed like another sort of day-time. And there he straddled on the roof like some cat! It was exactly like day in some other planet.
At length he turned round to her. His face glistened faintly, and his eyes were dilated like a cat’s at night.
‘You know I had a visitor?’ he said.
‘Your WIFE!’ — she looked up really astonished. She had thought it might be an acquaintance — perhaps his aunt — or even an elder sister. ‘But she’s years older than you,’ she added.
‘Eight years,’ he said. ‘I’m forty-one.’
There was a silence.
‘Yes,’ he mused. ‘She arrived suddenly, by surprise, yesterday, and found me away. She’s staying in the hotel, in the Vier Jahreszeiten.’
There was a pause.
‘Aren’t you going to stay with her?’ asked Hannele.
‘Yes, I shall probably join her tomorrow.’
There was a still longer pause.
‘Why not tonight?’ asked Hannele.
‘Oh, well — I put it off for tonight. It meant all the bother of my wife changing her room at the hotel — and it was late — and I was all mucky after travelling.’
‘But you’ll go tomorrow?’
‘Yes, I shall go tomorrow. For a week or so. After that I’m not sure what will happen.’
There was quite a long pause. He remained seated on his stool on the roof, looking with dilated, blank, black eyes at nothingness. She stood below in the open window space, pondering.
‘Do you want to go to her at the hotel?’ asked Hannele.
‘Well, I don’t, particularly. But I don’t mind, really. We’re very good friends. Why, we’ve been friends for eighteen years — we’ve been married seventeen. Oh, she’s a nice little woman. I don’t want to hurt her feelings. I wish her no harm, you know. On the contrary, I wish her all the good in the world.’
He had no idea of the blank amazement in which Hannele listened to these stray remarks.
‘But — ’ she stammered. ‘But doesn’t she expect you to make LOVE to her?’
‘Oh yes, she expects that. You bet she does: woman-like.’
‘And you?’ — the question had a dangerous ring.
‘Why, I don’t mind, really, you know, if it’s only for a short time. I’m used to her. I’ve always been fond of her, you know — and so if it gives her any pleasure — why, I like her to get what pleasure out of life she can.’
‘But you — you YOURSELF! Don’t YOU feel anything?’ Hannele’s amazement was reaching the point of incredulity. She began to feel that he was making it up. It was all so different from her own point of view. To sit there so quiet and to make such statements in all good faith: no, it was impossible.
‘I don’t consider I count,’ he said naïvely.
Hannele looked aside. If that wasn’t lying, it was imbecility, or worse. She had for the moment nothing to say. She felt he was a sort of psychic phenomenon like a grasshopper or a tadpole or an ammonite. Not to be regarded from a human point of view. No, he just wasn’t normal. And she had been fascinated by him! It was only sheer, amazed curiosity that carried her on to her next question.
‘But do you NEVER count, then?’ she asked, and there was a touch of derision, of laughter in her tone. He took no offence.
‘Well — very rarely,’ he said. ‘I count very rarely. That’s how life appears to me. One matters so VERY little.’
She felt quite dizzy with astonishment. And he called himself a man!
‘But if you matter so very little, what do you do anything at all for?’ she asked.
‘Oh, one has to. And then, why not? Why not do things, even if oneself hardly matters. Look at the moon. It doesn’t matter in the least to the moon whether I exist or whether I don’t. So why should it matter to me?’
After a blank pause of incredulity she said:
‘I could die with laughter. It seems to me all so ridiculous — no, I can’t believe it.’
‘Perhaps it is a point of view,’ he said.
There was a long and pregnant silence: we should not like to say pregnant with what.
‘And so I don’t mean anything to you at all?’ she said.
‘I didn’t say that,’ he replied.
‘Nothing means anything to you,’ she challenged.
‘I don’t say that.’
‘Whether it’s your wife — or me — or the moon — toute la même chose.’
‘No — no — that’s hardly the way to look at it.’
She gazed at him in such utter amazement that she felt something would really explode in her if she heard another word. Was this a man? — or what was it? It was too much for her, that was all.
‘Well, good-bye,’ she said. ‘I hope you will have a nice time at the Vier Jahreszeiten.’
So she left him still sitting on the roof.
‘I suppose,’ she said to herself, ‘that is love à l’anglaise. But it’s more than I can swallow.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57