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by Ralph Messmann

The sour taste of beer is still in my mouth, but I manage to keep it in. Walking with my head down, I’m easy meat for the rain drops that feel like small brooks running down my neck. I trail through the streets while concentrating on measuring my steps by the square shaped slabs on the pavement. Two right, two left, two right. My mother used to count like this in the old days when she was still alive and knitting, and when everything was nice and easy. Whenever I miss a slab, I try and thread in the slip into an extended walking pattern. Two right, drop one, one right, drop two. Eventually a crack in the pavement marks a grinding halt to my garter stitch walk. As I trip, my chin dives into a shallow puddle that just about covers the ground. I wait for the pain to show its red screaming face, but my dazed body only vaguely detects the symptoms of agony. Instead, an all consuming feeling of numb indifference starts taking hold of me.

It is just me and the street. The pouring rain all around me conveys an impression as negligible as a flippant fly buzzing around in a speeding van during the early hours of a sweltering summer afternoon. My water soaked clothes have become the thermal hearth of my body, the street is my cradle. I let my face settle on the cold but patiently welcoming concrete. Ahead of me, only a couple of inches from my eyes, the street lanterns radiate a golden aura which is gently dispersed in the rain water rolling down the steep road. The lights’ flickering reflection is caught in a stream incarnating the aura of an immensely vast number of wake candles. I cannot take my eyes of the water; its subtle beauty entirely enthrals me. It runs down the asphalt in steady formations of low tidal waves that follow the same loose and unfathomable pattern as the flow of rivers and oceans; an order seemingly conjured up by some higher power. A couple of times, I try to single out one of the shallow waves, and then watch it float on. It will not work. The waves roll away from me, merge into each other, and eventually disappear without me being able to locate the very spot where everything gets lost. A phenomenon. Vague ideas of the stream being part of a movement subject to an act of providence dimly enter my mind. But it’s impossible to follow up on this notion. There is only one certainty that now dawns on me like the epiphany enlightens the apostle: knowledge will not help my situation. I am alone.

Now that I have regained consciousness, I gingerly lift myself to my feet. Looking down at my clothes, it strikes me odd that they look completely soaked. But I try and ignore what could be of any bother to me. After all this time that feels like a small eternity now, I still cannot get over her. It’s been years since she moved out, took the girls, and left me alone with my life. Coming back from work with a knit brow day in and day out simply killed it, killed it off. And then there were the weekends spent with the kids taking turns visiting my or her parents. And every year the same budget holidays by the sea. What should I have done differently? After all it was me who had to do this mundane job of road surfacing. And returning home from a hard day’s work of lifting paving stones and putting them in the same never-ending monotonous sequence did nothing to turn me into a well-balanced man. Finally, after the incident with the foreman that made me come home for good on that scorching day a couple of summers ago, she said she had no choice.

Of course, there had been better days. Never before had I felt this way about anybody. Being with her, I simply knew it had to be love. Just the way she used to laugh at all my silly jokes. Or the little sighs of cosy appreciation when her gentle hand lovingly stroked my, what she would call, teddy bear chest. Or how her eyes would squint with her head rocked back when she came to scream in the end as the two of us were lost in an ecstasy of forgetfulness. Looking back, she made time look smooth and tractable. Never again will she squint at me.

Back at home, I drop my damp clothes on the floor, and try to find warmth between the cold sheets of my bed. Covering myself with the quilt proves useless – a feeling of intensified sobriety is filled with a new sensation of emptiness, an oppressive emptiness. I know it won’t let me go to sleep. So my thoughts restlessly spin around in paved circles that are reminiscent of paint by number routines. I cannot help but let my mind wander from a to b to c, back to a while sometimes taking a detour traversing b again. But it is all paved. After some time, my spin gains such momentum that it feels as if an invisible force has pushed me into a carriage of a crazed roller-coaster, trying to take me for what could be a perpetual ride. I want to get rid of my churning stomach, but I’m not drunk enough any more.

Outside, a bright day breaks for birds and other non-cognitive creatures. Lying in my double-bed, I can hear them joining in their daily routine of courting each other. A couple of pigeons have begun to stir in the chestnut tree in the rundown courtyard I can see from my window. They have it good. It has been three years since I moved into this council house, and they still coo like new lovers, affectionately rub each other’s beaks, and groom each other’s plumage in a most caring way. I can see the nest they have made for their nestlings, a coarsely spun web of twigs and small branches providing them with a hearth of scraggy, harsh and gnarled comfort. It is their home. The dove couple always sit on the same branch, and whenever one of them flies away, it finds the way back to its mate with instinctive certainty. Now, after what seems years of mutual lack of regard, the third spring season has come to our neighbourhood, and their daily routine remains unfazed. They are unaware of any of their neighbours, and even a slammed window may at best make for a short fright, but is more likely unthinkingly ignored.

Pigeons lead a steady life full of regularities and indifference. They chirp, shag, and chirp.

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