2024/07/20 - 21:49

“Get up!” yelled Robinson . . .

“Get up!” yelled Robinson as Karl was just opening his eyes. The curtain hadn’t yet been pulled down, but you could notice how late in the morning it was from the sunlight evenly penetrating through the gaps. Robinson ran urgently with troubled glances here and there, soon he was carrying a towel, then a water bucket, then some laundry and pieces of clothing and always as he came over to Karl, he tried to encourage him to stand up by nodding his head, all the while showing what he was carrying in his hand by holding it out, as if this were the last day he were torturing himself for Karl, who of course couldn’t understand the details of his job on the first morning.
But soon Karl saw whom Robinson was actually serving. In an area Karl hadn’t seen yet, separated from the general room by two cabinets, a great bathing was in progress. You could see Brunelda’s head, the exposed throat – her hair was shoved against her face – and the nape of her neck rising over the cabinets, and here and there Delamarche’s raised hand held a sponge that splashed around as Brunelda was washed and scrubbed. You could hear the terse orders Delamarche gave to Robinson, who didn’t hand the things over through the blocked-off entry to the area, but instead had been assigned a small gap in-between the cabinets and a screen, where he had to stretch out his arms as he extended his hands and averted his eyes. “The towel! The towel!” yelled Delamarche. And Robinson, who was already looking for something under the table, had just barely been alerted to this task and was sticking his head out from under the table when it called out again: “Where’s the water, damn it!” and, stretching up over the boxes, Delamarche’s furious expression appeared . So far as Karl understood, everything you usually needed only once for washing and dressing was demanded in every possible order and brought out a number of times. A bucket stood on a small electric stove, warming water, and again and again Robinson carried the heavy load to the wash area between his spread legs. He had so much work to do it was understandable if he didn’t always keep to his orders, and once, when a towel was demanded, he just took a shirt from the large sleeping area in the middle of the room and threw it over the cabinets in a large ball.
But Delamarche also had some tough work and he was probably so aggravated with Robinson because he couldn’t satisfy Brunelda by himself – he was so aggravated that he completely ignored Karl. “Oh,” she shrieked and even Karl, otherwise uninvolved, jumped. “You’re hurting me! Go away! I’d rather wash myself than suffer like this. Now I can’t lift up my arm. It’s terrible how you’re pushing up against me. I must have big bruises on my back. Of course you wouldn’t tell me so. Wait, I’ll have Robinson look at me or our little one. No, I won’t do it, but just be a little gentler. Be careful, Delamarche, but I can repeat that all morning, you’re never careful, never. Robinson,” she yelled right away and swung some pantyhose over her head. “Come help me, look at how I’m suffering, this Delamarche, he calls this torture a bath. Robinson, Robinson, where are you, have you lost your heart too?” Karl made a quiet sign to Robinson that he could go in, but Robinson shook his head with lowered eyes, he knew better. “What’s the matter with you?” said Robinson as he bent over to Karl’s ear. “It’s not meant like that. I only went in once, never again. They both tackled me and threw me into the tub, so that I almost drowned. And for days Brunelda scolded me for being shameless and again and again she said, ‘Haven’t you been waiting a long time to be in the bath with me?’ or ‘When will you come to see me in the bath again?’ She only stopped when I begged her for some time on my knees. I’ll never forget that.” And as Robinson explained, Brunelda yelled again and again: “Robinson! Robinson! Where is that Robinson!”
However, in spite of the fact that no one came to help her and nothing happened in response – Robinson had sat down by Karl and the both of them looked quietly at the cabinets as Brunelda’s or Delamarche’s head appeared now and then – in spite of that, Brunelda wouldn't stop complaining loudly about Delamarche. “But Delamarche,” she yelled, “now I don’t feel you washing me at all. Where did you put the sponge? So get to it! If only I could bend down, if only I could move myself! I would show you how you’re supposed to wash. Where are my younger days, where I swam every morning in the Colorado on my parents’ property, the most agile of all my girlfriends. And now! When will you learn to wash me, Delamarche, you wave the sponge around, strain yourself, and I don’t feel a thing. When I said you shouldn’t rub me raw, I didn’t mean I wanted to stand here and catch a cold. If it comes to that, I’ll jump out of the tub and run away just as I am.”
But she never carried out these threats – she wouldn’t have been able to do it anyway – Delamarche, out of the fear she could catch cold, seemed to have grabbed her and pushed her into the tub, because there was a strong splashing in the water.
“You always do that, Delamarche,” Brunelda said a little more softly. “You flatter me and flatter me again whenever you’ve done something wrong.” Then it was quiet for awhile. “He’s kissing her now,” said Delamarche as he lifted his eyebrows.
“So what’s there to do?” asked Karl. Since he had finally decided to stay here, he wanted to perform his duties. He let Robinson, who didn’t answer, stay on the couch while he began to pull out the largest things from the pile that had been pressed together into a bed during the night by the sleepers, so that he could lay everything from this pile into individual order, which hadn’t been done for a week already.
“Go look, Delamarche,” Brunelda said. “I think they’re taking our bed apart. With all this you have to think that we’ll never have any peace. You have to be stricter with these two, or else they’ll do whatever they want.” “That has to be the small one with his damned work ethic,” yelled Delamarche, probably wanting to plunge out of the bathing area, Karl threw everything out of his hands, but luckily Brunelda said: “Don’t leave me, Delamarche, don’t leave. This water is so hot, I get very tired. Stay with me, Delamarche.” Karl just noticed now how the steam behind the cabinets rose incessantly.
Robinson’s hand landed on his cheek, as if Karl had done something terrible. “Everything stays in the exact same condition as it was,” the voice of Delamarche clanged out. “Don’t you know that Brunelda always rests for an hour after her bath? Horrible mismanagement! Wait until I come for you two. Robinson, you’re probably dreaming again. You, you alone I’ll make responsible for everything that happened. Hold the boy down, nothing will be put into order according to his plans. I can’t get anything from you two when I want something, but when there’s nothing to do, the both of you turn industrious. Go hide somewhere and wait until someone needs you.”
But everything was forgotten immediately, because Brunelda whispered very wearily, as if she were overwhelmed by the hot water: “The perfume! Bring the perfume!” “The perfume!” screamed Delamarche. “Get moving!” Yes, but where was the perfume? Karl looked at Robinson, Robinson looked at Karl. Karl realized he had to take matters into his own hands, Robinson had no idea where the perfume was, he just lay down on the floor, running both of his arms under the couch but digging up nothing but balls of dust and woman’s hair. Karl hurried to the dresser standing by the door, but could only find an English novel, magazines and notes and everything was so stuffed in there he couldn’t close the drawers when he had opened them. “The perfume!” sighed Brunelda behind all this. “It’s taking so long! If I could get my perfume today!” Because of Brunelda’s impatience Karl wasn’t allowed to search anything thoroughly, he had to leave after his first superficial impression. The bottle wasn’t on the cabinets, on the cabinets were generally little bottles with medicine and ointment, everything else had already been carried into the bathing area. Maybe the bottle was in the drawer of the dining table. On his way to the dining table, however – Karl thought only about the perfume and nothing else – he knocked together violently with Robinson, who had finally given up the search under the couch and with a dim idea of the perfume’s location ran blindly into Karl. You could distinctly hear their heads slamming together, Karl stayed quiet, Robinson didn’t really hold steady, he screamed persistently and excessively loudly to ease the pain.
“They’re fighting instead of looking for the perfume,” said Brunelda. “I’m getting sick of this business, Delamarche, and I’m going to die in your arms. I have to have the perfume,” she yelled. “I absolutely have to have it. I’m not getting out of the bath before someone brings it to me, even if I have to stay here until evening.” And she slammed her fist into the water, you could hear it splashing.
But the perfume wasn’t in the dining room drawer, in the end there were some of Brunelda’s beauty supplies such as old powder brushes, little makeup containers, hair brushes, tiny curls and many ragged and stuck-together little things, but the perfume wasn’t there. And then Robinson, who was still screaming in the middle of about a hundred boxes and containers, opened one after the other and dug through them, always dumping half the insides onto the floor where they stayed, usually sewing things and letters, but he couldn’t find anything, which he signaled to Karl through shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders.
Then Delamarche jumped out of the bathing area in his underclothes as Brunelda cried desperately. Karl and Robinson quit looking and stared at Delamarche, who was all wet through and through, the water running down his face. “Now then, kindly start looking,” he yelled. “Here!” he ordered first for Karl to look and then “There!” for Robinson. Karl really looked and even checked the places Robinson had been ordered to, but he found just as little of the perfume as Robinson, who was eagerly trying to watch Delamarche, who himself stamped up and down the full length of the room and would have preferred to beat up Karl as much as Robinson.
“Delamarche,” Brunelda yelled, “at least come dry me. Those two still haven’t found the perfume and are getting everything out of order. They should immediately stop looking. And right away! But they’re still working like always, a box just fell. They shouldn’t lift anything anymore, they should leave everything lying there and get out of the room! Bolt the door behind them and come to me. I’ve already laid too long in the water, my legs have gone completely cold.”
“Right away, Brunelda, right away,” Delamarche called back and hurried Karl and Robinson to the door. But before he dismissed them, he gave them the job to fetch breakfast and maybe borrow a good perfume from someone for Brunelda.
“Your place is so disorganized and dirty,” said Karl outside in the hallway. “When we get back with breakfast, we’ll need to start organizing.”
“If only I weren’t suffering so much,” said Robinson. “And this treatment!” Robinson was certainly upset over the fact that Brunelda made no distinction between himself, who had served for a month already, and Karl, who had just walked in yesterday. But he deserved nothing better and Karl said: “You have to pull yourself together a little.” But, in order not to leave him in his despair, he added: “It’s only a one-time job. I’ll make a bed for you behind the boxes, and if only everything’s organized once, you’ll be able to lie there the entire day, so that you won’t have to worry and will become healthy very soon.”
“Now you see how it is with me,” said Robinson, turning his face from Karl so he could be alone with himself and his sorrow. “But will they let me lie there in peace?”
“If you want, I’ll talk it over myself with Delamarche and Brunelda.”
“Will Brunelda take consideration for someone else?” Robinson yelled and, without preparing Karl, struck out at the door they had just come to.
They walked into a kitchen, where a stove in need of repair shot out little black clouds. In front of the stove door stood a woman, who had seen Karl yesterday in the corridor and who with her bare hands was laying pieces of coal into the fire, which she examined from all sides. She sighed as she knelt in an uncomfortable position for an old woman.
“And of course these problems come too,” she said as she looked at Robinson, picked herself up laboriously, her hand on the coal-box, and closed the stove door, whose handle she had wrapped up with her apron. “Now, at four o’clock in the afternoon,” – Karl stared at the kitchen clock – “you still need breakfast? What a group!”
“Sit down you two,” she then said, “and wait for me to have time for you.”
Robinson took Karl to a little stool in the area of the door and whispered to him: “We have to obey her. Actually, we’re dependent on her. We rented the room from her and she can evict us at a moment’s notice. But we can’t change apartments, we would have to move all our things again, and above all things Brunelda is not transportable.”
“Aren’t there any other rooms in the hallway?” Karl asked.
“There is no one who will take us,” answered Robinson. “Nobody in the entire building would take us.”
So they sat on her little stool and waited. The woman ran constantly here and there between two tables, a washtub and the stove. By her yelling they learned that her daughter was sick and she had to worry about all the work, namely the serving and feeding of thirty tenants. And now the oven was defective, the meal would not be complete, in two giant pots a thick soup cooked and no matter how many times the woman examined it with a ladle and allowed it to pour down from up high, the soup would not be successful, it had to be the fault of that terrible fire and so she sat close by the stove door on the floor and worked the poker around in the coals. The smell from it had filled the kitchen, it got her to coughing so much that she grabbed onto a chair and did nothing but cough for minutes at a time. She often made the observation that she wouldn’t deliver breakfasts today, because she neither had the time nor the desire. So on the one hand Karl and Robinson had the order to fetch breakfast, on the other couldn’t force her by any means, they never answered her comments, but remained sitting quietly as before.
All around, on chairs and footstools, on and under the tables, even on the ground in a corner, the unwashed breakfast dishes of the tenants stood piled up. There were little cans where you could find a little coffee or milk, on many tiny plates were still some leftover butter, some bread rolls had tumbled far away from a large, fallen baking sheet. There was quite possibly a breakfast in everything taken together, which Brunelda wouldn’t be able to put down if she never learned of its origins. As Karl thought about that and a glance at the clock showed him that they had already been waiting there a half hour and Brunelda was probably raging and Delamarche probably riled up against the servants, the woman yelled at them as she coughed – during which Karl stared at her – “You can sit here, but the breakfast won’t come. Come back in two hours for supper.”
“Come on, Robinson,” Karl said, “we’ll put the breakfast together ourselves.” “How?” yelled the woman with an inclined head. “Please be reasonable,” said Karl, “why wouldn’t you give us breakfast? We’ve been waiting now for half an hour already, that’s long enough. You’re paid for everything and we certainly pay a better price than all the others. Of course it’s annoying for you that we breakfast so late, but we are your tenants, we have the habit of breakfasting late and you have to accommodate us a little. Today it’s especially difficult because of your daughter’s illness, but because of that we’re prepared to put our breakfast together from the leftovers, so long as there’s nothing else and you won’t give us a fresh meal.”
But the woman didn’t want to get involved with anyone in friendly conversation, even the leftovers of this mass breakfast seemed too good for these tenants; but on the other hand she’d had enough of these two servants’ pushiness, so she snatched a pot and stuck it in Robinson’s belly, who grabbed it after whining a little, so that he could hold the pot to receive the food the woman would find. She loaded the pot with a bunch of things, but the entirety looked like a pile of dirty dishes, not like a serviceable breakfast. Still, as she pushed them out and they hurried bent over, as if they were afraid of the swearing or the jabs, Karl took the pot out of Robinson’s hands, because it didn’t seem secure enough with Robinson.
Karl sat down in the hallway with the cup on the floor, once they were far enough away from the landlady’s door, so he could clean out everything in the pot, collect the things that went together, pour the milk together, scrape the leftover butter onto a plate, then remove all signs of usage, and then he’d clean the knives and spoons, evenly cut the half-eaten rolls and give everything a better look. Robinson thought this work was unnecessary and maintained that breakfast had looked worse often enough, but Karl didn’t let that stop him and was quite happy that Robinson wouldn’t be taking part in the work with his dirty fingers. To keep him quiet, Karl had given him, just once he told him, some cake and the thick residue of a tiny container once filled with chocolate.
When they came to their apartment and Robinson, without any hesitation, placed his hand on the doorknob, Karl held him back, because it wasn’t yet certain if they were allowed to walk in. “But yes,” said Robinson, “now he’s just doing her hair.” And actually Brunelda was sitting in an armchair with her legs spread wide apart in the stuffy and enclosed room, and Delamarche, standing behind her, combed her short, probably very tangled hair with a deep expression as he bent over. Brunelda wore a loose dress again, but this one was of a pale red color, it was probably a little shorter than it was yesterday, you could see the white, coarse, knitted stockings almost up to the knee. Impatient over how long the combing was taking, Brunelda darted her thick red tongue here and there between her lips, and sometimes with the shout, “But Delamarche!” she tore herself completely free of Delamarche, who waited quietly with an upraised comb until she laid her head back down again.
“It’s taking a long time,” said Brunelda to everyone, and she said to Karl in particular: “You need to be a little quicker if you want someone to be happy with you. Don’t take the lazy and greedy Robinson as an example. You had breakfast somewhere in the meantime, I’m telling you that next time I will not tolerate it.”
That was very incorrect and Robinson shook his head and moved his lips silently, Karl saw that you could only have an effect on these people if you showed them indisputable results. He took a low Japanese table out from under a table, put a tablecloth over it and placed the things he brought with on top of it. Someone who had seen where the breakfast had come from could have been satisfied with the whole of it, but otherwise, as Karl himself had to say, there were things that could have been criticized.
Fortunately, Brunelda was hungry. She nodded pleasantly at Karl as he prepared everything and she often slowed things down as she took away a mouthful with her soft, fat hand that knocked into everything possible. “He did good,” she said, eating noisily, and then brought Delamarche down to the couch as he left the comb stuck in her hair for later work. With one look at the food, Delamarche also became friendly, both were very hungry, their hands hurried back and forth over the dishes. Karl realized that in order to keep people happy here, all he had to do was bring as much as possible, and in recognition of the fact that he had left a few edible items on the floor in the kitchen, he said: “At first I didn’t know how everything had to be arranged, next time I’ll do better.” But even during this speech he knew whom he was speaking to, he was much too self-conscious about these things. Brunelda, satisfied, nodded to Delamarche and gave Karl a handful of crackers in payment.

Revision: 2021/01/09 - 23:40 - © Mauro Nervi

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