from DREAMS AT THE END OF THE NIGHT
by Ewald Murrer
What does this mean, we come home, and you ask us for what reason have we come?
â€”Kobo Abe: Intruders
When he woke up he remembered that before falling asleep he had carved some wooden animals. He looked next to the bed, and there they lay â€” several indistinct four-legged figures. He lay there a minute longer, as there was nowhere to rush off to. When he got up, he gathered together the figures into a box in which were already stored a number of these toys he always carved when he could not fall asleep. This happened often. He held some of them in his hand a while longer, stroking their forms and blowing off the tiny shavings of wood. He shoved the box under the bed. He was now completely awake and he slowly put on his clothes, which were wrinkled and threadbare. An attempt to straighten the creases of his pants, smooth out the folds, and remove the stains occupied him for a moment. But it proved unsuccessful and he let it be. He went to the kitchen. The quiet in the apartment seemed oppressive to him, as he was accustomed to noise and constant chatter. In the calm and quiet of morning he felt uncertain and vulnerable. He opened the refrigerator and rummaged through the wrappings that had been left there from various foods, none of which were to be found any longer.
“The salami that was there yesterday was eaten during the night by Patricius Lang!” the voice of an informer said behind him.
He turned and saw the face of Child-Robert.
“He ate it all and didn’t share it with anyone!” Child-Robert grumbled further.
“I thought you were all vegetarians,” he answered.
Child-Robert gave a faint smile, as if he would like to scoff at his ignorance. He left the kitchen and in the room next-door he could be heard turning on the radio and fiddling with the tuner. He apparently was not satisfied with any station because he eventually left it on one that was playing a kind of music which seemed to be making an attempt at being spiritual. The room resounded with the querulous voices of several people, the protestations of awakened sleepers. Child-Robert did not want to switch off the radio or turn down the volume; he babbled something about its importance for the forthcoming day. The voices slowly calmed down and the apartment filled with drowsy figures.
The wood-carver went to the bathroom. He had an urge to dip his head in cold water and wash the night from his eyes. The bathroom was locked â€” behind the door someone was singing, the song muffled by the sound of the running water. He knocked on the door:
“Hurry up in there,” he said to the someone who was in the bathroom.
“Lovely morning!” this someone rumbled. It was Stationer Seling.
“The wood-carver stood by the door a while longer and listened to the water reverberating as it struck the tiles. After he had been waiting what seemed like a long time, he wiped the sleep from his eyes with the back of his hand, took a few steps, and considered where he should go. He heard a din of chatter coming from the room and, wanting to stay clear of it, he vacillated as to whether he should go in. A small group of people stood by the door leading out the apartment to the hallway. Count Herbert Lusperto de Pedurac was helping Carmen von Bulow on with her coat; Paul Linde was shining his shoes; Professor Exner was wistfully observing them. He went up to them and also put on his coat. He wanted to get away from the full apartment.
“Is it unlocked?” he asked.
“Only the concierge can unlock it,” Exner replied.
“Who’s the concierge?” he asked in confusion, for he no longer knew his way around his own home. He wondered in vain if his apartment had ever been furnished with a concierge. He remembered only that he had always unlocked the door himself. He hunted through his pockets, trying to find the key Ã‘ he found none.
“The concierge?” said Exner repeating his question.
“Aren’t you the concierge today, Count?” he said to Lusperto.
“Not me,” replied Lusperto, “I thought it was Carmen.”
“No, no, I’m not the concierge,” von Bulow protested, “the concierge is surely the professor!”
“I was the concierge yesterday,” said Professor Exner impatiently, “I handed the keys over at midnight to the new concierge!”
“Who is it then?” cried out the carver of little animals.
They all shrugged their shoulders. Carmen von Bulow rushed into the room shouting:
Seling responded from the bathroom:
“The concierge is Mr. Velebny!”
“Where is he? If he’s the concierge why isn’t he by the door!” said an irate Lusperto.
“Mr. Velebny!” they all shouted in unison. Only the wood-carver stood silent. He wanted to flee. All these voices were driving him to desperation.
“Child-Robert came shambling from his room with a bottle of liquor, his eyes agleam.
“Who’s calling for the concierge? Who needs a concierge? Walk through the walls, ye of little faith!”
Exner and Lusperto smiled at him apologetically as if he had caught them at being spineless.
“It will be a long time still before we find the way!” exclaimed Exner, and they both threw themselves against the wall in an attempt to pass through it. But they did not go through. Shrieking in pain they ricocheted off, fell to the ground, and rubbed their bumps.
“My poor little thing!” said Carmen, throwing herself at Lusperto. “My poor little thing, are you hurt from not passing through the wall like you wanted to?!”
Child-Robert shuffled right up to them, holding the bottle of liquor over his fly. He waved the glass penis in front of Carmen’s face:
“Drink from the cup of knowledge, lass!”
“Carmen gave him a smile and continued to caress the brow of the injured count. The carver of little animals looked at Child-Robert in disgust. This odious person had set his stomach churning, and he so wanted to clench his fists and batter the swollen face of the silly, cheerful child. But the thought of his own skin coming into contact with Robert’s skin proved an insurmountable obstacle. So instead of pouncing on him, he turned away. At that moment Professor Exner was raising himself off the ground, saying:
“We need the concierge. We haven’t yet reached complete perfection and must still heed all the laws of the universe! The globe is covered by an atmosphere whose confines are a glass sphere, through which only the most qualified may pass. Only through one’s own diligence is it possible to learn this vocation. Let us, then, be more diligent, that we may be able to pass freely through the sphere in whose center we currently reside. Once we know how, we shall even walk through walls!”
Child-Robert said: “Mr. Velebny, who is the concierge, left early this evening. He locked up behind himself because the concierge cannot leave the door that is entrusted to him unlocked!”
These words calmed Exner, Lusperto, and von Bulow. They peacefully faced the wall and waited for Velebny to come and unlock the door. Yet Velebny was not coming.
Even so, only the wood-carver showed impatience â€” the others quietly waited.
“Midnight is still a long way off. The conciergeship runs till midnight,” said Lusperto.
When darkness fell, the wood-carver withdrew to his bedroom. He undressed and lay down. Unable to fall asleep, he carved some small animals. Before midnight he heard the clicking of the lock in the now empty hallway; he heard Mr. Velebny unlock the door and enter the apartment. Then he overheard several words, from which he made out that the conciergeship was changing hands. Judging from the voice, the concierge designated for the following day was: Child-Robert. As he was falling asleep in the bed above a floor strewn with little animals, he heard steps descend the stairs, the door creak, footfalls on the street. A dream came to him: the little animals on the floor lined up in neat intervals, and he counted how many days remained until he would be the concierge.