Maybe This Time

Maybe This Time by Alois Hotschnig

Book: Maybe This Time by Alois Hotschnig Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alois Hotschnig
 
     
    Whenever I left the house, they lay on their jetty and when I came back, hours later, they were still lying there. In the sun, in the shade, in the wind and rain. Day in, day out, every day. There were two gardens of empty, rundown houses with a few trees and hedges between us. Reeds and driftwood were washed up along the shores. Their jetty was no different from the others. A fence of wooden planks protected them from the wind and their neighbours’ eyes. A pot of lobelias sat on a shelf attached to the planks. Behind it, a plastic palm tree waved above the water. This tree belonged to the little girl one jetty over. The girl couldn’t get enough of climbing up and jumping into the water, going under and resurfacing, screaming and going wild with excitement.
    My neighbours seemed as indifferent to the child’s game as they were to all their surroundings. Nor did anyone appear to take any interest in them. No one ever paid them any attention.
    They lay so peacefully on their deckchairs and for a time I assumed they must be happy. But after a while I began to wonder if they enjoyed their sedentary lives. And with each passing day I found it harder to bear the sight of their dogged indolence.
    Through my binoculars, I saw that they were younger than I had reckoned from a distance. Now they appeared not exactly young, but prematurely aged, perhaps. I wondered why these people appeared so familiar. And I wondered why I wanted to approach them, even though I never did.
    Their idleness disturbed me. But they seemed content. It was as if, having found each other, they had accepted the way things were. Evidently they had already said all there was to say to each other. They never spoke, unless it was through the signs and symbols they traced in the air with their hands. Not once, however, did the woman ever glance towards where the man pointed.
    They lay next to each other on their deckchairs, arms by their sides, legs bent or straight. For hours they didn’t move, not even to wave away the mosquitoes or scratch themselves. Every day, every night, always the same. Their stillness made me feel uneasy, and my unease grew until it festered into an affliction I could no longer bear. At first, I had thought them part of the idyll I had come here to find, but now their constant presence irritated me. When I realized how easily one could see into my house from their jetty, I felt annoyed, caught out, exposed. Under surveillance, even. Yet I was the one who never let them out of my sight. Whenever I left the house, I looked over towards them, and if ever they weren’t there when I came back, I couldn’t relax until they returned. I now thought of them more frequently and more intensely than was good for me, and I began to feel that I was intruding on their territory. They made this clear to me. Or this, at least, is what I believed I could read in the man’s expression whenever we caught each other’s eye.
    In the morning when I sat down to breakfast on my verandah, he was already staring at me. Throughout the day, not one of my movements escaped his notice. Not once , however, did he feel obliged to offer the slightest acknowledgement. His behaviour exhausted me, but it also impressed me. I even welcomed it, since I wasn’t seeking contact either. Yet, because his eyes continually scrutinized me, I was always just on the point of greeting him. But then again I was never quite sure if he was actually looking at me or simply staring into space and so I stopped myself each time. As the newcomer, I didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot with my neighbours. For a while I tried hard, no doubt too hard, to get their attention. But they gave no response. Initially I put this down to possible visual impairment, until one day I saw them waving back at someone in a boat out in the middle of the lake. Their failure to greet me was clearly deliberate. Still, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. After all I had chosen this

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