THE WOMAN FROM THE FOUNDRY AND THE MAN WITH THE RUCKSACK
The woman, who is employed at the foundry, found her eye caught by a fairly old man who, with a fully-packed rucksack was pacing up and down the riverbank, a man who was wearing buckskin lederhosen tied up at the ankles, a pair of high-topped lace-up boots, a coat made of milled cloth, and a sturdy felt hat on his head. She thought there was something terrifying about the face of the man, who seemed, like her, to be impatiently awaiting the arrival of the train, this man who now and then would quite unwarrantably shove another person out of the way in order to keep his own path clear. She had already observed the man on her way to the stop and begun forming thoughts about him. The man was a complete stranger to her. He also was a stranger to her male and female coworkers, who on the way to the stop had successively asked her about him in the most unobtrusive fashion and invariably by means of the same question: who is he? Most people can be quite easily placed by their clothing, by their hats and coats and footwear; having categorized what a person is wearing, one can immediately establish where he comes from. The foundry’s employees are immediately recognizable, as are the warehouse staff, the woodcutters, the day-trippers from the city, brewery-workers, railway-men, postmen, miners. But the man with the extraordinary felt hat on his head, with the extraordinarily highly topped lace-up boots, the man with the coat of sturdy milled fabric, with the buckskin lederhosen tied together at the ankles and not under the knees, was irritating. And to a most appalling degree he irritated the woman from the foundry, who suddenly, at the same time as several of her male and female coworkers were beckoning her over to them, walked up to within a pace of the man and ordered him to open his rucksack. The stranger, utterly taken aback by her super-suddenness, being mindful of this woman’s menacing and malignant comportment towards him, and of her ultimately unmistakable suspiciousness of him, opened his rucksack, and the woman from the foundry peered into it. Disappointed, the woman raised her head, and the man with the rucksack resumed breathing. The rucksack had contained nothing but a rolled-up Hubertus coat. At this moment the train pulled up to the stop. The foundry workers climbed aboard; the woman from the foundry climbed aboard as well. In the poorly lit and overheated train she tried to find a seat as far away as possible from the strange man with the rucksack, which was already beginning to give her the creeps again.
Source: Thomas Bernhard, Werke 14, herausgegeben von [Works, Vol. 14, edited by] Hans Höller, Martin Huber und Manfred Mittermayer (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2003), pp. 393-4. Originally published in Almanach 4 für Literatur und Theologie, edited by Dorothee Sölle et al. Wuppertal 1970, pp. 23f.
Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2016 by Douglas Robertson