Three joints for him, three for me.
For both of us, for him and me, he filled long white papers this morning.
Rolled them and put them in a slender metal box.
We go to the mountains, have spare time, spend it together.
I spare myself of cutting vegetables, cooking spaetzle, bottling sorbet, sweeping the kitchen floor.
He spares himself of saying vas-y, vas-y, disembowelling quails, preparing sauerkraut with sausages as Choucroute Alsacienne.
The paper between my fingers smells sweet. Tatters of fog are tied between the wet fir trees, hanging across the street. We can’t see more than the next fifty meters. He is watching me from the corner of his eye.
Do you notice anything?
His mother’s tongue, Alsatian German, sounds rough and harsh. Between him and me this is a secret language. Nobody can understand him except for me. The cooks and waiters in the hotel do not know whereat we talk. At times I don’t understand him either.
Je ne sais pas, I don’t know, I say.
We halt at a stony monument.
Every single fir tree here is sixty years old. Before the war this has been a healthy forest. After it, only rocks and soil remained. They planted trees and made them a living memorial.
I don’t say a thing.
Do you want to get off?
I light the first joint. After some draughts I pass it on, hand it over the little Peugeot’s gear. I feel the smoke burning down my lungs.
Très bien, mon petit soldat, he says.
Wads of smoke coming out of his mouth.
Why do you call me little soldier?
Because you work like that. You are like a soldier.
His eyes are blue, the white pervaded by red vessels. I only noticed that when we started to sit and smoke, in the evening.
On the first day I introduced myself, bonjour, je suis la nouvelle stagiaire et je viens d’Autriche. I am the apprentice from Austria. Lined up in a row they stood, in the dark kitchen, and shook my hand. The only thing I noticed about him was a grin, hiding underneath his nose, when he took a bow.
We cross a dam. To either side concrete walls are dropping down. At the bottom there are two dark blue circles.
We smoke the second joint up there, on a parking lot, listening to pop music.
Most of the time I hold the cones between thumb and index, like foreign objects.
We drive on. We meet only two cars. The rain blurs everything. Bernard has to go slow, the wiper hunts raindrops on the front shield. I recognize passers-by faces.
Daring, I say, smoking a spliff while driving a car. Cool.
My hands shake in excitement, or is it intoxication.
Well, he says, I wouldn’t show them as up-front as you do.
His grin now seems to be hiding behind his ear.
A very long moment passes. I let my hand drop.
Heat crawls from my neck to my cheeks. I look out of the window.
When the next car passes by, I hold my breath. I try not to show it.
When did you smoke your first joint, I ask him.
When I was seventeen. I was working on the, what is the name, you work with poisson, on the fish market. I worked on the fish market. Every night I went to this bar. The waitress liked me. She was older than me.
Once she took me to the graveyard. We smoked a joint there. Afterwards she seduced me. Between the tombstones. In the grass.
My image of him shifts. Sinks down, runs cold in the smoke, which fills up the interior of the car.
Who is that.
He carries on talking. I only hear a noise in my ear and realize, the rain has stopped. Up front on the hill I can see a clear blue sky. Soon we will reach it.
I look at him. Slowly the image shifts back into its previous place.
Three more days and nights before I go back to Austria. It is late, will soon be midnight. I am waiting for him in my room. It is located behind the lettering “Hôtel du Bosquet”. When I rise on my tiptoes and open the rooftop window, I can see his house through the “o” of “Bosquet”.
As soon as the lights in his stairway are lit, I’ll grab my jacket, leave the hotel through the backdoor and meet him at the little bridge. It will be the second time this week.
Before that, it must have been seven days, we have been to the mountains. The aftermath made me stay in my chamber, in the attic. Again and again I had to wash my face with cold water. My stomach seemed to hover above me. My head in a tunnel lined with wadding. The light of the day was still bright when I put my blanket on the six square metre linoleum floor of my room. To lie down.
The beat of the rain consistent on the roof. I opened the window to feel the fresh drops on my burning cheeks. He, too, stayed at home. Told them he had contracted a virus.
There is a noise. As I turn around, I see him in his dark jacket. All of a sudden I comprehend. The bearing of these jackets, with checked pattern on the inside, in Austria is subject to Neo-Nazis. I don’t want the image to shift again. Not three days before we say goodbye. There is not only one side.
Salut, I say. Quietly, hoping that he sees my smile.
A winding path leads into the forest. We walk slowly. Only our breath, a wheeze, the rustle of the trousers’ legs is audible. No moon to be seen tonight. In the second turn we leave the concrete path. Bernard is leading. The sounds of our steps die away as they meet soil instead of concrete.
Where do you take me, I ask.
Are you scared?
He does not turn round. He is making fun of me.
No, I simply want to know, I say and slow down.
He stops. Do you see the bank?
I exhale, relieved.
We sit down to overlook the village. Only a few lights are on. The cinema’s neon lamps shine bright.
I search the sky for constellations.
Do you know the Big Dipper? I ask.
It has four dots, looks like a quad.
Sure. It’s called Le Grand Ours. The Plough.
Ploughing a lonely furrow.
He takes a deep breath. Talks fast, in French.
Sylvie told me it’s not ok for her when you and me spend time, just the two of us.
But she suggested we go out, the three of us.
I sensed it.
I wait if he adds something to that. But only the trees whisper and creak.
Doesn’t matter, I think to myself. In three days I will be gone.
Are you sad now? he asks.
I understand her worries, I say.
Maybe it was too much for her, the time we spent. Maybe it was too much for her, our encounter earlier this week. When he undressed me in her kitchen, after we had a bottle of red wine and a bag of weed. Maybe it was too much that he opened my bra in her kitchen, I was sitting in the light of her candles, half naked. I remember.
But tomorrow night I will be sleeping in my parents house, who no nothing about Bernard and Sylvie. I will be eighteen, going to school. And nobody will ask about this particular night or any other.
We look at the stars. An orange dot gleams next to me.
I knew a girl like you was bad medicine, he says.
I raise my eyebrows.
There’s a cracking in the forest, as if a tall and heavy animal roamed the thicket.
Why bad medicine, I say. I think we’re rather soul mates than anything else. What’s that in French?
He passes the cigarette on.
Soul sister. I like that. I think that hits the mark.
Will you write me a letter, when you arrive at home, he asks.
Sure, it will be a pleasure.
We finish our smoke.
I listen to the trees and the wind, silently.
Monsieur Sautier, the patron, puts my bags in the trunk. They gather at the backdoor.
Salut, Catherine, à plus, they shout. See you later. Bernard raises his hand.
The car sets off. While we drive down to the city, I realize how straight-lined the grapevine grows. How accurate the rows are arranged. It feels as if this sight untangles a knot inside.
C’est affreusement vide depuis ton depart, he writes.
It is terribly empty since you left.
Spidery his handwriting, small circular letters drawn with blue ink.
I find spelling mistakes in some of the sentences. It upsets me.
As if he wasn’t allowed to make mistakes because it is his mother tongue.
In his letter he says I am someone special. He writes that he misses me.
Hours after I read it, I cannot sit still.
One page he has filled completely.
The second one is blank, except for three lines.
“Forest Noises” has been published as “Waldrauschen” in my book “Autumn Wood’s Colour” (“Die Farbe des Herbstholzes”) in May 2012.
Translation and Text © Marianne Jungmaier. Linz, 2012.