Billiards at Half-Past Nine

Billiards at Half-Past Nine by Heinrich Böll, Patrick Bowles, Jessa Crispin

Book: Billiards at Half-Past Nine by Heinrich Böll, Patrick Bowles, Jessa Crispin Read Free Book Online
Authors: Heinrich Böll, Patrick Bowles, Jessa Crispin
Tags: Fiction, Literary
deferred to, without sharing it. I was always glad my father didn’t live to see me become an officer myself—lieutenant in the Engineer Corps Reserves. I burst out laughing that morning fifty-one years ago. I laughed and laughed. I knew I’d take a wife from one of those houses, that she would be called Brodem or Cusenius, Kilb or Ferve. She would be twenty years old and now, right this very minute, she would be leaving morning Mass on her way home to put her prayerbook back in the hall closet. She would arrive at just the right moment to be kissed on the forehead by her father, on the way, rumbling bass and all, through the hall and out to the office. For breakfast she would eat bread and honey, drink one cup of coffee. ‘No, no, Mother, no egg, please.’ Then she would read off the dates of coming galas to her mother. Might she go to the University Ball? She might.
    By the University Ball at the latest, on the sixth of January, I would know the one I wished to make my own, would dance with her. I would be good to her, love her, and she would bear me children, five, six, seven of them. They would marry and present me with grandchildren, five times, six, seven times seven. I saw my troop of grandchildren, and myself, an eighty-year-old patriarch, lording it over the clan I proposed to found. At birthday celebrations, funerals, weddings and silver weddings, christenings. Infants would be handed over to be heldin my old arms. There would be great-grandchildren for me to love as I had loved the pretty young things my sons had married. These, meanwhile, I would invite to breakfast, give candy and flowers, paintings and eau de cologne. I could see it all as I stood there, ready to begin the dance.
    I stared at the porter as he wheeled off my luggage in his cart to the house at 7 Modest Street, the padlocked hamper with my linen and my drawings, the little leather valise containing papers, documents and my money. My money—four hundred gold coins, net proceeds of twelve years’ work, spent in country builders’ field offices, working in the draughting rooms of second-rate architects, at workers’ housing developments, industrial plants, churches, schools, clubhouses sketched out, planned, built. Money which represented construction estimates plowed through backwards and forwards, to the very last dry specification—‘and the sacristy paneling shall be made of the best clear walnut, the best-grade hardware used.’
    I know I laughed as I stood there, yet to this day for the life of me I don’t really know why or what made me do it. But I can say I wasn’t laughing out of pure joy in being young and alive. There was mockery and derision in it, even malice, yet just how much of each I’ve never been able to tell. I was thinking of the hard benches I’d sat on during evening classes, when I went to learn arithmetic, mathematics, drawing, the manual arts, and how I’d struggled to learn dancing and swimming. I laughed thinking of myself as a lieutenant in the Engineer Reserves, stationed with the 8 th Battalion in Coblenz. At how I used to sit, in the city, at the famous Elbow of the Rhine, where two rivers come together, and there found the Mosel just as dirty as the greater stream. I had lived in twenty-three furnished rooms; I’d seduced landlords’ daughters and been seduced by them myself. I saw myself slipping barefoot through moldy-smelling hallways to exchange caresses, including that supremetenderness which again and again turned out to be a fraud. Lavender water and hair let down. Horrible living rooms where fruit never intended to be eaten grew old in bowls of greenish glass, where hard words such as brute, honor, innocence came my way and never a whiff of lavender water. Shuddering, I saw what the future had in store for me, saw it, not in the face of the ravished one, but in her mother’s face. Truth of it was, I was not a brute; I had never promised a soul I’d marry her; and I didn’t want to spend my

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